We rode back to Motoquest to say hello and pick up our post, when we spotted Mark again. Chrissy from Motoquest had kindly offered us a place to stay, so as Mark knew where she lived, he provided an escort. It was so nice to have a house to stay in, to recoup and relax. It’s amazing how the things you take for granted normally, are so appreciated when you’re on the road. Like running water, a bathroom and a shower, and a kitchen with an oven. We met Chrissy’s house mates Erica and Greg, then all headed out for pizza at Moose’s Tooth. If you ever go to Anchorage and like pizza, I highly recommend it. The Spicy Thai chicken was amazing, with slices as big as your head. It was a lovely evening, chatting, colouring, and eating.
The next three days were consumed by blog writing. So much had happened in such a short time, and I hadn’t even started to write anything. It took ages! I eventually got in to the zone, and it started to become easier, but it was still by no means easy. It didn’t seem to come naturally to me, or I was being too hard on myself. You’re always your worst critic.
Friday came and it was finally done, woohoo! I can’t tell you how happy I was to finish it. I had a real sense of accomplishment, plus it was a weight off my shoulders, I felt good. As an unintentional reward, Chrissy had arranged with her family to cook us native food, so we went over to her mum’s for dinner. It was amazing. A feast of moose soup, king crab, salmon; fresh, dried and cured, plus rice and vegetables. It was so tasty, we felt really spoilt. What was particularly good about it was that Aaron, Chrissy’s cousin, had hunted and caught everything himself. The entire meal would have cost hundreds of dollars if they’d had to buy it all, and even more if we’d had it in a restaurant.
We then got another treat. Aaron had built a traditional bathhouse in their garden, and they’d fired it up for us to use. It looked like a shed on the outside, but on the inside it was a lovely wooden sauna. Chrissy showed us what to do; cold bucket of water for putting on the coals, buckets, soap and sponges to wash with. She said ‘enjoy!’ then left us to it.
We stripped off, opened the door, and our faces nearly melted. There’s hot, then there’s f*cking hot! We left the door open and went inside. Before even thinking about it, Ed sat down on the seat and burnt his bum. I couldn’t stop laughing as I reached for a mat to sit on. It was so good, but we did keep having to open the door to give ourselves a breather, we’re not that hardcore when it comes to heat. Ed finally admitted defeat while I stayed in there, but only with the aid of the cold buckets of water. One for my feet to be in and one to keep tipping cold water over my head. Once all the cold water was gone, that was me done.
It did us the world of good though, well certainly me anyway. My skin felt amazing afterwards, I was squeaky clean. It was just what every traveller needs now and again, a good wash! We got dressed and headed back to the house to re-hydrate, one glass of water followed by one glass of red wine. A good ratio. We had a lovely chat with Chrissy’s mum, and eventually headed back. Needless to say, I slept like a log that night.
The following day, operation: ‘Fix Ed’s bike’ commenced. His bike had been bellowing out plumes of smoke, thanks to worn out piston rings. A simple fix we thought. Think again. You see the engine isn’t what it says it is. It’s stamped 1P54, which means it’s a 54mm piston. Right? Wrong. Upon removal of the piston, we discovered that it is in fact a 52mm. Unfortunately we had purchased and received a 54mm piston, and no amount of bodging and duct tape was going to make that fit.
Luckily Chief said we could leave the bike on the workbench at Motoquest, while we sourced and waited for the correct part to arrive.
As we couldn’t do any work to the bikes, and Chrissy had the day off, we decided to go to the Cultural Centre the following day. Chrissy is part native, she knows a lot about the history, culture, and modern life of natives in Alaska, and talking to her about family history had aroused intrigue and curiosity in me. I think it’s important when travelling, to learn about the cultures of the country you are in, to help understand the people, and why things are the way they are. There is a lot of alcoholism, drug and domestic abuse within native communities, and different people say different things as to why it’s there and what or who is to blame. Some blame the arrival of Westerners. There is no denying that Alaskan natives had suffered a cycle of historical trauma, from removal from their homelands, to violence and all types of abuse. As an example; It was interesting to discover that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, every village and community was systematically visited, and thousands of children were removed and put in to boarding schools. These were notorious for levels of harsh and violent punishment, humiliation, and sexual abuse. There they were taught that everything they knew was wrong. They were given haircuts, made to dress differently, and given European-American names. They were also forced to only speak English, and punished for using their native tongue. This caused, what some people believe to be, irreparable damage. They lost their languages, their culture and traditions, their parenting skills, their community support, and all the key components essential for healthy child growth and development. Many children didn’t even survive, and those that did are the parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents of native children today. Psychological damage and depression is linked to drug and alcohol abuse. And drug and alcohol abuse is linked to domestic abuse. Is drug and alcohol abuse a way of dealing with what has happened to them and their people? And once you’re in that environment, is the only way to recover and get clean, to leave behind everything and everyone you know? And what about money and support? If you don’t have enough of either, how do you make the escape? And then on the other hand, you have the people that say it’s the natives’ fault. That they’re lazy, don’t want to work, don’t want to change, and are using what happened to them as an excuse. But with so much damage caused, and so recently, can you really expect them all to just conform to a Western life? To just accept and forget everything that has been done to them and their people? The damage has already been, and continues to be done, however it’s important to point out that native people are fighting back, more than ever. They are fighting for what is rightfully theirs, taking control of their situation and destiny, and doing their utmost to protect and nurture what is left of their culture and land. Culture, language, and skills, are very much alive in many native communities today, and will continue to grow as the natives continue to fight for their right to live as originally intended.
On a lighter note, it was really cool to see all the buildings and learn about all the skills they used.
I particularly liked the ingenious way they dealt with deadly polar bears. They would get a 6 inch or so piece of baleen, which is a filter-feeder system found inside the mouths of baleen whales, and sharpen both ends.
This would then be whetted, folded in to a zigzag, then tied and left to dry. The dry piece would then be covered in fish skin or whale blubber and left for the bear to eat. Once ingested, the moisture and body heat caused the folded baleen to straighten out and pierce the stomach wall, thus killing the bear.
Ok, that wasn’t exactly a lighter note, but it’s pretty clever isn’t it!
We spent a couple more days at Chrissy’s house, bumbling around waiting for the correct piston to arrive. As a thank you for her wonderful hospitality, patience and use of her house, we treated her to dinner. It was the least we could do, she’d put up with us and all our stuff for a whopping 8 nights! Talk about outstaying your welcome. But she was really cool about it, and we’d really enjoyed hanging out with her.
We packed up our stuff in the morning. Ed’s piston was due to arrive, so we moved back to the House of Harley. It arrived early afternoon, and eager to learn more about bike mechanics, I assisted Ed in fitting it. All was going well, until we discovered that they’d sent the wrong head gasket. Really?! Luckily the old one was still intact, we were pretty sure it wasn’t contributing to the smoking, so left it in place and crossed our fingers.
We called it a day about 8pm, we wanted to go and say bye to Chrissy, and also needed some food. We were just about to jump on my bike, when I remembered I didn’t have a headlight! You see the problem with a broken headlight, is you don’t remember it needs fixing until it’s dark, by which point it’s too late. Ed’s bike wasn’t quite ready, but with 15 minutes of tinkering he had it running and we were on our way. We went and said goodbye to Chrissy, then went to Moose’s Tooth for a final spicy Thai fix. So good! We’d just got back in the tent, when I suddenly realised I didn’t have my camera. It would be an understatement to say that I panicked. We’ve discovered that if I lose something expensive or important, I instantly go in to meltdown, and can’t function until it’s found. Like my camera, wallet, or Scrat. Luckily Ed is far more rational and relaxed, probably because it’s not his stuff I lose. I knew I’d left it in Moose’s tooth, so he jumped on his bike and returned half an hour later with camera in hand. Phew! I won’t be doing that again…. Probably.
Ed also found out some interesting weather news on his mission. The waitress told him that a typhoon was headed for Girdwood, exactly where we were going. I didn’t want to miss out on the Peninsula, so decided that we’d still continue with our plan. I mean, how bad could it be?!
Despite Ed’s bike running, it wasn’t running well. With valve clearances checked, he suspected an air leak on the inlet manifold. He sprayed starting fluid on it to see if the engine picked up, which it did. He took the manifold off and checked the gaskets, all of which were fine. But not happy with taking it off once, he repeated the process, until third time (un)lucky it went ping! It turns out the air leak was being caused by a small crack in the manifold, and on the third time of being tightened, the crack became somewhat larger and the manifold broke in half. Bollocks. While he was busy doing that, I was busy packing all my stuff up by the tent. He walked towards me, and hoping it was to say that he’d finished, he said ‘I need you to come with me and flutter your eyelids, I need some welding doing’. All I could say was ‘What now?!?!’
The problem was it was aluminium, so it needed to be TIG welded. This unfortunately is a bit of a speciality. We really didn’t want to wait another 3 days for one to arrive, we were eager to get back on the road and down to the Kenai Peninsula. With no other option, we jumped on my bike and went in search of someone that could help. The first guy we went to see couldn’t help, but he did give us directions to a company that could. We pulled up outside the building and instantly thought ‘This looks like it’s going to cost us!’ I’ve often found that if you think that, it most probably will. We went in and explained the situation, which the guy seemed to understand. He then said ‘This is aluminum right?’ I had to stop myself from saying ‘Err no, it’s aluminium’ 😉 I was far too aware that we needed his services, and that now was not the time to be cheeky. He said they could do it, maybe today, and that it would cost $45-90. Ay?! $45-$90?!?! To fix a $7 manifold?! Thanks, but no thanks. I didn’t say it because I’m not that rude, but I really wanted to say on the way out ‘By the way… it’s a-l-u-m-i-n-i-u-m!’
Not willing to admit defeat, or part with that much cash, we went to check out another place we’d found. We went in and got chatting to them, and they said no problem, they could do it. I asked how much it would be, to which he replied ‘How much have you got?’ ‘Not much’, I said, with a cheeky smile. He laughed and took it in to the workshop. Fifteen minutes later and his colleague appeared with the manifold back in one piece. Yay! We couldn’t have been happier, especially when he told us it was free! Legends. We gave them a copy of Ed’s film to say thank you, and headed back to fit it. Ed spent all afternoon doing that, and crafting a particularly brilliant mudguard out of an old bin lid.
By the time that was done, and he’d by some miracle got all his stuff on his bike, it was time to leave. We said goodbye to Chief and Ovi, and went on our way once again. We’d of course left something at Chrissy’s house, so dropped by and picked that up. Her son Owen kindly picked us some apples from the tree to keep us going until dinner, with the help of a lift from mum.
We also had to drop by a shop on the way out of town to take something back, and by the time we’d done that it was getting dark. My headlight had randomly started working on the way to Chrissy’s, when it was light, but now it was dark and I actually needed it, it had of course decided to die. Wanting to continue, and needing to be seen, I decided in my wisdom to attach my head torch to the front of my basket.
Good for being seen, useless for actually seeing anything. Although to be honest it wasn’t much different to my standard 90 headlight, I could see sod all with that too! So with my pathetic light, and gale force winds, we made our way towards the Peninsula.