We got up pretty late as usual. It was a beautiful sunny day, and the yellow leaves on the trees were a striking contrast against the bright blue sky. It was most definitely autumn, and I loved it. Leaves covered the ground and continued to fall, flipping over in the breeze as they did.
After our usual late start and milling around doing not a lot, in a lot of time, it was 1.30pm by the time we hit the road, headed for Glenallen. The scenery was so beautiful and the sun really brought out the colours of the trees; a vibrant mixture of yellows, oranges and reds.
There were gorgeous mountains on both sides, and as we came round a corner there was a particularly beautiful view on our right. We stopped and admired it, it was too good not to.
As we continued on we spotted a big white thing in the distance to our right, and as we got closer we discovered that it was a huge glacier. Having not done any research on the road it was a very pleasant surprise! Sometimes it’s nice to do a little research so you don’t miss anything, but on the other hand it’s fun to have the surprise. Luckily on such a long trip we can afford to do a bit of both!
It was really low and fascinated me, I couldn’t stop looking at it, hoping for a closer look. The road got closer and closer, but not close enough, so I found a little dirt track that looked like it went down to it and went exploring.
Unfortunately I soon came to a barrier, and a private property sign. Tempting as it was to sneak under and ignore the sign, I thought better of it, mainly due to the fact that pretty much everyone in Alaska has a gun. We got back on to the main road and continued on, hoping that there would be another chance to get down to it. Just as I was losing hope we saw a little store by the side of the road and a sign that said ‘Glacier Access’. Rather intrigued we went in to investigate, and discovered that is was $20 to access the glacier, payable at the building down the track to our left. I must have been feeling a bit tight that day, as I wasn’t so keen on parting with my hard earned cash. We decided to ride down the track anyway, and see if we could haggle a discount or something. Unfortunately the guy on the front desk appeared to be feeling as tight as I was, and wouldn’t budge on the price. It was $20 each no negotiation; you drove down a track for about half a mile then could walk the rest of the way to the glacier. After a few minutes deliberating we decided to do it, it was 5pm so we had enough time to get down there and get our monies worth, just. I’d also never walked on a glacier before, so it was a good opportunity to get up close and personal with it, without the chance of getting shot whilst trespassing on someone’s land. We rode down the muddy potholed track and made it to the car park, where we left our bikes and continued on foot.
You had to follow the cones and walkways through the wet muddy bit, before finally getting on to the ice. It was so cool getting to see one up close, and the ice was surprisingly grippy. We had to climb up and down, working our way further on to the glacier; jumping over holes and streams that ran through the ice, it was awesome.
Melt water ran through gulleys, and bubbles were trapped on the surface, making the ice look like fancy flooring you’d find in an expensive house.
We were there for quite a while, playing, filming, and taking photos…
The light began to drop, so we decided to head back and made our way across the ice, forgetting you had to follow the cones and walkways to get through the wet muddy bit. We went quite far left and ended up in what was like sinking sand/mud. First it went up to my ankles, then I stepped again and it went higher. Ed said to stay still but slightly panicking and trying to get out I stepped again, and went even deeper. I then nearly wet myself laughing and had to call for Ed to come and help me out, anything I tried to do just made the situation worse! It was funny though.
We eventually got back on to solid ground, and my legs felt so heavy with all the mud. I tried to wash it off in the melt water but it stuck like shit to a blanket, it wasn’t going anywhere!
We eventually made it back to the bikes and continued on our way to Glenallen, about eighty five miles away.
After the glacier the scenery changed, with leaf covered trees being replaced with firs. The light was dropping fast, and by the time we got to Eureka to fuel up it was already quite dark. It was sixty miles to Glenallen, and I was in two minds whether to carry on or not. We fuelled up then decided to go for it, despite me not having a headlight; it wasn’t my brightest idea and I certainly won’t be doing it again. Due to having no headlight I put my indicator on, which flashed randomly when it felt like it. It meant that drivers could see me, but due to messing with my night vision it meant that I couldn’t see anything myself. And not only was it dark, it was seriously cold too. We’d committed to it so pushed on, but I was so cold that my neck and shoulders were stiff and tight, and my arm muscles were aching from gripping on to the heated grips so tightly. Not having experienced cold weather so far on the trip, my body wasn’t used to it. I couldn’t wait for it to be over and to get to Glenallen, I was desperate to get somewhere warm and have something hot to eat. I do have to say though, it wasn’t quite as bad as when I got lost on the way from Chichester to Cheltenham and ended up in Poole. But it was getting close. (look on a map to see what a monumental navigational f*ck up that was!) I was in summer leathers, in driving rain, freezing cold, and I was lost with a dead phone battery. The stupid thing was I had a waterproof suit in my top box that I’d forgotten about. Idiot. Thinking about when a situation was worse, kind of helped get me through it and made me feel better, but it didn’t stop me from wanting it to end. We finally got to Glenallen, but the relief was short lived when we discovered that there’s basically sod all in Glenallen. It was also at that point that I learnt that just because a place has big letters on a map, doesn’t mean it’s of a reasonable size. It just means that it has big letters on a map.
Cold and hungry we stopped at a restaurant, only to discover that it was closed. Disheartened we continued on, desperate to find something, when we eventually came to the end of the road. There we found an open fuel station, and better still, a small trailer selling Thai food. We hurried over and knocked on the window, and a little old lady appeared. She was actually closed but could do us curry and rice each, for $10 a box, suddenly we were saved! We sat on a bench but it was so cold and windy we couldn’t warm up, so sheltered round the other side of the building. Sat on the dirty floor we devoured our food, out of a polystyrene box with a plastic fork. It was then that we looked at each other and laughed. Living the dream indeed.
Once we were fed it was time to find somewhere to stay. We asked around and got directed to the Northern Lights camp-site, literally a stones throw away. ‘Ooh is that a sign of fate I’ll get to see the aurora tonight?!’ It was closed but we went and found a site, and set up camp for the night. In between putting the tent up I darted in and out of the trees, sure that I could see a streak of aurora. Or was it cloud?! I never did find out, as I forgot to put my alarm on and slept straight through. Better luck next time.
It rained during the night and we woke in the morning, surprised by the arrival of sleet. It was rather chilly to say the least. We tried to get the water off the tent before packing it up, but then both agreed it was fairly pointless and we were fighting a losing battle. We packed up as quick as we could then went and had a hot drink and some breakfast, before fuelling up and heading in the direction of Valdez. The rain and sleet had stopped, but it was still fairly overcast to begin with. We rode for a short while and the clouds began to clear, giving way to some welcomed blue sky.
And about half an hour later we stopped by a lake so Ed could tighten his chain; something I always forget to do!
The road continued to be fairly flat, with trees lining both sides. It was turning out to be a surprisingly nice day, with more blue sky appearing. Soon the landscape changed and we approached the mountains, and as we rode past them I was struck by their beauty; green, lush and full of life. They particularly struck a chord with me.
And then, up ahead, a glacier appeared, settled amongst the peaks. I already felt that we were in a special place, but it was then that I felt that more beauty was yet to come.
Soon we were climbing up and over the pass, and despite being covered in cloud and not actually being able to see the view, it was stunning. I don’t know why but I still felt a strange sense of awe, even with the clouds. We dropped down and continued on, where we rode through Keystone canyon. It was amazing. I’d never ridden through anything like it before, it was huge, green, and beautiful. I loved it. We rode past permafrost sandwiched between the rock, and saw huge waterfalls that gushed down the steep rock faces. They were spectacular.
There is some interesting history too. From 1910 to 1916, copper and gold mining flourished in the Valdez area, and there were attempts to build a railroad through the canyon and in to the copper country. Rival railroad corporations fought a gun battle in the canyon to secure a right-of-way-north of Valdez, and a tunnel, which was built at the time, can still be seen as you ride through the canyon.
It’s fun to learn about the history of an area, you can let your imagination run wild, envisaging what it would have been like back in the day. We continued on and out of the canyon, and after a long straight we approached Valdez. It was there that we spotted huge birds of prey on the beach. We parked our bikes up and carefully made our way over to have a look, so as not to scare them off. To my delight they were eagles, and lots of them. The big ones flew off but what looked like juveniles stayed on their rocks and branches, undisturbed by our presence. It was a real treat, for me at least.
We soon rolled in to town, eyes peeled for somewhere to stay. Once again our tent was soaked, so camping had been thrown out of the equation without the need for discussion. We asked at several camp-sites if they had a cabin we could ‘camp’ in, but everything was overpriced. I mean $100? For what is essentially a shed? I don’t think so. Slightly defeated we decided to get some food, so headed down to the waterfront. Re-fuelled and warm we continued our search and came across a B&B; at $55 a night, and with the lure of a double bed and a hot shower, we didn’t need much convincing. Before we knew it we were both sprawled across the two double beds, not doubting the expenditure for a second. ‘This was a VERY good idea!’
We woke in the morning, and after a customary lie-in, opened the curtains. The forecast had been cloud and rain, yet here I was looking out of the window at the most beautiful sunny day. Perfect. We packed up the bikes, settled up, then went in search of breakfast, where we found a lovely spot by the marina.
I couldn’t believe our luck with the weather, and after chatting to the locals about how rare it was I felt even luckier. After breakfast we enjoyed a little ride round, past the marina, round the bay and through the town. I instantly liked Valdez, it was beautiful.
Ed had been having trouble with his rear brake, basically it didn’t work, and his front brake also didn’t work due to a snapped brake cable. He’d actually done quite well not having any brakes, but not being the safest thing to have wrong with your vehicle we decided it was time to take a look. We found a NAPA automotive store and set to work on the bike. It looked like the brake shoe had worn down, so not having a front brake cable Ed swapped the brake shoes over, thus enabling stopping on his bike without the use of feet or engine.
While we were outside the store quite a group had assembled around us, all interested in what we were doing and where we were going. As people drove past they’d see something was going on and stop and come over for a chat. I found there was a real sense of community in Valdez, something I feel we’re now lacking at home. It turned in to some sort of village meeting. At one point I was chatting to a lovely guy called Scott, he was brilliant and really nice to talk to. We were chatting away when he said ‘Will you be here in fifteen minutes?’ I looked around at the crowd and said ‘Yes, most probably!’ He then said, ‘Wait here, I want to give you some salmon!’ He disappeared off in his truck and reappeared fifteen minutes later, with a big pack of salmon that he’d smoked himself. Amazing! It was so kind and thoughtful of him, I couldn’t believe it.
After a bit more talking it came time to make a move, time was ticking on and we still needed to get some supplies from the supermarket. I love talking to people but it’s hard to get away sometimes! We made our excuses, went to the store, then headed out of town. We were riding along when we saw a sign for the old town site. Turned out the city was moved to it’s current location four miles down, after it was devastated by the 1964 Good Friday earthquake.
The only old town Valdez structures that can be seen easily at the old site are dock pilings, the foundation of the post office (now used as a memorial) and gravel roads. And it was on one of the dock pilings that I spotted an eagle.
Eager to get a closer look I carefully rode closer, in stealth mode, which is easier said than done when riding on wet, slippery, algae covered stones. I soon gave up with the bike and continued on foot. I carefully walked towards it, getting closer and closer, it was magnificent. I couldn’t believe how close I got to it, and managed to get a few photos before it flew off, displaying its incredible wingspan. They really are amazing creatures.
Satisfied with my eagle count (I’d actually lost count of the amount of eagles I’d seen after being in Valdez) we continued on, and found ourselves in the canyon again. It was just as brilliant the second time round, and interesting seeing it from a different view point, spotting things we’d missed on the way in.
Next stop was the pass, and as the sun dropped it cast a beautiful pink hue over the mountains, and stained the clouds a pretty red. There’s something I love about that time of day, as the sun gets low in the sky, there’s a certain sort of calm that comes with it.
We then spotted a track that went out in to the mountains, so Ed went to investigate and was pleased he did.
And as the sun dropped further, so did we, winding down to the bottom of the pass. We rode a little further then decided to find a place to camp. There was no point riding at night, it wasn’t as safe and we’d miss all the stunning scenery, something neither of us wanted to do. So around the 37th milepost we found a perfect spot, surrounded by mountains and next to a river, with a sandy spot for the tent. It was dark by the time we’d set up, so with our head torches we went and cooked dinner away from the tent, aware that bears could be in the area. And that evening I was particularly nervous and paranoid, constantly looking over my shoulder, thinking that every splash in the river was a bear coming to steal my dinner! I think Ed was feeling a little the same. It’s funny how your imagination works. The sky was perfectly clear and star spangled, and with no light pollution it was a real sight. I wondered if the northern lights would make an appearance, but as the cloud came in I used that as an excuse to stay in the tent. There was no way I was going to stand outside in the pitch black on my own as potential bear fodder, sod that!