It was so wet and grey that we couldn’t fully appreciate the scenery. It would have been a beautiful ride on a dry, sunny day, with mountains and hills on both sides. We rode past big lakes and through Chugach National Forest, and as we got nearer to Seward it cleared a little and I spotted a glacier to our left and more mountains. What else was being hidden behind those low grey clouds?? There was even a patch of blue sky, albeit behind us. We were both pretty saturated and cold by the time we got there, and rolled in to town resembling drowned rats.
We immediately went in search of the Seward Brewhouse, which had been recommended to us by the two guys in the car park in Soldotna. It looked like a nice place so we went in and found a table, eager to take off our wet gear. Looking forward to some warmth I was immediately disappointed, being such a huge space it was really rather cold. Ed was also disappointed; they didn’t have any WIFI. But we’d committed ourselves so ordered a drink and the recommended burger and fries, which thankfully pleased our taste buds (although I was so hungry I could have eaten a scabby cat and enjoyed it) and warmed us up nicely. We’d also by that point decided that we weren’t going to camp, getting into a wet tent with equally wet gear was about as appealing as getting kicked in the foof.
As there wasn’t any WIFI we finished up and went to look for somewhere dry and warm to stay. We felt like mini celebrities with everyone coming up to us for a chat, all interested in what we’d been up to and taking photos. It was quite strange if I’m honest. One slightly inebriated fisherman rather amusingly asked, while swaying and looking at the bikes, ‘Do you guys carry anything other than cuddly toys?’ As Scrat was peering out of my basket and Ed had Bear and Sammy the Iranian snail hanging off of his. Just as we were about to leave, a guy came out of the Brewhouse and asked Ed if he had any of his films with him, as he’d really like one. Ed was very flattered, so gave him one (a film) and we got chatting about the trip and where we’d been. It was nice to chat to him but needing to find somewhere to stay we had to make a move, however when we mentioned this he instantly offered us a place to stay; on his boat! Turned out his name was Chris and he was a commercial fisherman. He’d also just got back from being away, so luckily for us the boat was still warm. Perfect! As Chris was busy having dinner with his family, he gave us his number and said to call him in an hour or so and he would take us to the marina. With an hour to kill we rode round town and found a launderette with WIFI, the lady was just closing up but said we could stay in there while she was cleaning. Made a nice change from the response that you’d probably get at home in the same situation. An hour or so passed and we gave Chris a call, who came to meet us in his truck with his girlfriend Sam. They then led us to the marina and introduced us to our new home, which for us was very cool, we hadn’t stayed on a boat before. There was a little table and seating area, a little kitchen, big screen TV, beds and a toilet down below.
Chris cracked open some beers and we chatted for a while, it was so nice to talk about them instead of us for a change. Chris had just got back from three months away with just two other people, and I have to say I don’t think I could do that, I’d get cabin fever! It sounded like the money was worth it though, so maybe I could be persuaded. Although considering my recent episode in the plane, I don’t think I’d last three days out at sea, let alone three months, no matter how many people I was on there with! Bleurgh. Chris then cooked up some king crab for us to try which was amazing, and also got some homemade smoked salmon jerky out for us to sample, which was equally delicious. It’s quite addictive stuff!
Chris and Sam then left us to it, and just as we were unloading the bikes that were parked next to the boat, a guy called Ben appeared. He lived on the boat next door and was also a fisherman. Chris had already warned him we were on there, so he came over with a bottle of whiskey and even more smoked salmon! Ed was particularly partial to it, we discovered, as Ben and I were talking he’d managed to devour pretty much the whole strip. ‘Take this away from me!’ he said, licking his fingers like a deranged cat with it’s paw.
Ben then left, but not before giving us three more packs of smoked salmon to take with us, what a star! We thanked him then went to bed, sleepy after all the beers.
We woke to the sound of rain so treated ourselves to a lie-in; any excuse. Chris appeared around 11am and said they’d be back again around 3pm to do some jobs on the boat, but we were welcome to stay longer if we wanted to. We finally got up as I was hungry, and went in search of some food.
There were several different establishments to choose from, but we ended up in a cafe on the waterfront. There we had an overpriced panini and a coffee, enough to keep us going for a few hours at least. We were chatting away when Chris and Sam came in, turned out we’d been sat next to his mum! We chatted for a bit then they left, and we headed off for a little mission around town. I was interested in doing a tour of the Kenai fjords, but the weather and price was putting me off. We went and enquired and the lady was very honest. She said that most of the animals had migrated, and if the weather was bad the boat would have to turn round, although you would get a $50 refund of your $150. Now if the forecast had been good then I’d have definitely done it, however I have to admit that being on a boat in wet grey weather, with the possibility of not seeing much as most of the animals have buggered off, for $150 each, didn’t seem very appealing. The next tour was at 11am and there were spaces available, so we decided to have a think about it and decide last minute. With the weather still wet and grey, we had a wander round town and soon found ourselves in a converted church cafe.
It was a cool little place where they had three of my favourite things; tea, cake, and art. There was lots of art, sculpture and jewellry from local artists, and it was evident that Seward was a particularly creative town.
The cafe closed at 4pm so we headed back on to the main street in search of something savoury to eat. The food was too expensive for our meager budget, which we try our best to stick to despite often failing, so we went to the supermarket and picked up a hot chicken and two sides for a third of the price of a meal out. After a veritable feast and successfully fighting off our food comas, we gave Chris a call, who came and picked us up and took us back to his place. He had some friends over too so we spent the evening drinking wine and chatting about all sorts of stuff. We were rather amused when some random artifacts were passed around the room that Chris had found on his nautical adventures. Ed soon found himself feeling slightly uncomfortable holding a whale’s penis. He said it smelt funny; go figure. Sam and I then left the boys to it. She makes loads of awesome jewellery which really interested me, so she showed me that and we chatted for hours about all kinds of stuff.
I really enjoyed her company, she was really cool, and she gave me a t-shirt and an awesome pair of earrings before I left! She also really inspired me to make my own stuff when I eventually get back. Chris then came in to say he was tired and wanted to go to bed, turned out every one else had left! Ed and I gently wobbled back to the boat which was only about a mile away, it was good to get some fresh air after so much wine. By the time we’d got back and had some munchies it was 4am when we finally hit the sack.
We woke up at 11.30am; well that’s the tour out of the equation! It was raining anyway so we weren’t that bothered, and were happy to laze around and have some tea and breakfast.
Sam had kindly offered us the use of their shower, so we headed over eager to wash our hangovers away. Now the problem with a good shower is that you don’t want to get out of it, and it didn’t help that Sam had said to take as long as we wanted. Don’t need to tell me twice! I eventually dragged myself out of it and let Ed have his turn, while I admired all the random cool stuff they had in their house.
All refreshed, we had a sandwich, said goodbye to Sam then went on our way. We didn’t have to leave, Chris said we could stay on the boat as long as we wanted, and I have to say we were tempted, especially as the weather was supposed to be clearing up the following day. The thing is I really want to do the Top Of The World Highway to Dawson City, and we discovered that the road would be closed some time in September due to ice and snow, and we didn’t want to miss it. So with that in mind we headed out of town, but not before investigating the random sound my bike had started making. Luckily we didn’t need to take it apart, with Ed’s keen and well experienced ear he diagnosed it as the sprocket carrier bearing needing replacing. It didn’t sound good so we went for a ride round town to locate one. We had no joy at the NAPA automotive store so went and found another place, but they didn’t have one either. Bugger. We decided we’d just have to wait until we got to Anchorage, and keep our fingers crossed that it holds out until then.
So around 5pm we finally left town and headed for Whittier, around ninety miles away. And as Seward is a dead end, we had to go back the way we came, and it rained pretty much the whole way. Lovely. We didn’t let it get us down though (we’re from England after all!) and as we pulled over to use the toilets and stand under a shelter, I had a little dance to warm up and we laughed at how much water came out of Ed’s gloves when he rung them out. We also took comfort out of the fact that for at least two miles of the journey, we’d be dry. This was due to the fact that we’d be travelling through the longest railway tunnel in North America. We arrived at the tunnel at 8pm, saturated. The next passage was at 8.30pm which didn’t seem too bad, but we were soon told that because we were on bikes we had to wait until the end of the slot at 8.45pm before we could go through. We were cold and it was hammering it down, so we parked our bikes under the toilet block canopy and sheltered in the ladies toilets, where we made recipes out of jelly beans.
Finally it was our time to go, so we came out of hiding, jumped on the bikes, and made our way in to the tunnel. It was really weird riding through it but really cool, and luckily there were lights as I still didn’t have a headlight. I know, I know, bad Rachel. You had to ride in between the railway tracks, and shortly after entering the tunnel I understood why bikes went in last, as Ed managed to drop his tupperware box of pasta and I had to go back and get it. We were finally spat out of the other end where we were instantly confused, ‘Where do we go?’ It was so dark and no-where was lit up, so we couldn’t work out where anything was. We slowly rode in to the darkness and managed to navigate our way to a building with an open sign, and decided to go in to find out where everything was. Completely soaked, we went in and were greeted by a guy and a girl on the front desk. Their smiling faces however soon turned to those of sympathetic ones, as we asked where everything was was. ‘Err, this is everything…’ the girl said. ‘Oh’, we replied in unison. We hadn’t researched Whittier in the slightest, and it turned out that there was this place which was a hotel, and another place which was a pub, which may or may not be open. I could see that we couldn’t afford to stay, but Ed still asked how much it was. He looked at the leaflet and confirmed, ‘Yep, we definitely can’t afford that!’ It was $160 a night, no chance. The least we needed was food, and our hearts sank a little further when we were told that the kitchen might be closed. Bollocks. They disappeared off to ask, and to our delight reappeared with news that it was open for another half an hour, phew! We went in to the bar area and sat down, happy to get our wet gear off and be somewhere warm and dry, even if it was only for a short time before we were back out in to the cold and wet. Ed had a beer, I had a Guinness, and we ordered burger and chips, good ol’ comfort food. We were just sat there waiting, enjoying the warm and dreading the thought of having to put our tent up in the rain, when next thing we knew the young lad from the front desk appeared and sat down. ‘Right’, he said, ‘You obviously can’t afford to stay here, but most of the workers have left the accommodation we’re in, so I was thinking you could stay there if you want?’ AMAZING!! What a legend, he’d totally saved the day. It’s amazing how a situation can change in a matter of seconds. His name was JJ and he was from Arizona, as was his friend who also came to join us. We chatted for a bit and talked about travelling, as he’d been to quite a few different places. Then things got even better when our food arrived, it was so good and went down like something that’s very good at going down… I’ll let you think about that one 😉
They went out for a smoke and left us to it, while we finished our burgers then treated ourselves to dessert. The icing on the cake, excuse the pun, was that the waiter brought the wrong dessert out, so gave it to us free along with the correct one, result! I do like a good pudding, and a happy ending. Once we’d finished up, we went and joined all the other workers that were playing trivial pursuit. A guy had been to the toilet when we sat down, so when he returned and Ed was asking the questions, he said ‘Oh, so are we doing this in an English accent now?!’ Not realising that Ed and I were actually English. Rather amusing. The bar eventually closed up so we all made our way to the workers accommodation, which was a big apartment block. It seemed quite random having a huge apartment block there, but we soon discovered that it had originally been for military personnel. We lugged all our stuff in and JJ showed us our room, which was way better than a wet tent I can tell you. We then sat round drinking and talking, and some more people came over and joined in the fun. It was a really good night with some very funny, witty, and interesting people.
It was also heartwarming when we heard that a guy called Tyler, who worked in the kitchen, had seen us pull up and decided that even if the kitchen had been closed he’d have cooked us something hot to eat. It was really sweet, and even though it was open I still really appreciated the sentiment.
I was pretty tired as the night went on so wasn’t contributing quite as much, but was still being very entertained by everyone else, especially after the shots came out. We also found out it was JJ’s birthday the following day, so we gave him a copy of Ed’s DVD as a present, much to his delight. Eventually everyone headed off, leaving me, Ed, Tyler and Sam, who all raided the kitchen for snacks while I went off and hit the sack, unable to keep my eyes open any longer. I can’t do it like I used to!
We woke up fairly late and I got up to make some tea, pleased I hadn’t drunk much the night before. We milled around a bit then Tyler surfaced, so we chatted to him for a while before finally deciding to make a move. The slots to leave were on the hour, so not wanting to feel rushed we decided to aim for the 2pm slot, which we’d still probably miss but we’d give it our best shot. We went down downstairs and Tyler kindly helped us with our stuff; it’s amazing how much you can fit on to two little bikes. I walked over to my bike and became very confused as there was black fluff everywhere, all over my bike, all over Ed’s bike, and all over the ground. What the f*ck?! Turned out some pesky bird had been plucking away at my nice comfy sheepskin seat cover!! The little fecker. I did see the funny side of it though, I have to say I never expected that to happen. So somewhere in Whittier, there’s a very happy bird with a particularly warm nest.
We had a little ride round town, trying to get a feel for the place. It was a really weird town, originally a military base with bits kind of stuck on. If I’m completely honest I didn’t really like it at first, it was a bit all over the place and didn’t really seem to have an identity. It did however have a lot of history, which made it interesting. Here is an excerpt from www.whittieralaska.gov which might prove of interest to some of you.
This area originally was part of the portage route for the Chugach Indians of Prince William Sound traveling to fish the Turnagain Arm. Later the Russians and Americans exploring the region also used this passage. It was used by prospecting miners during the gold rush as it was the quickest passage from the Sound to the Cook Inlet and Interior regions. The city itself is a historical area, established by the U.S. Army during World War II. The Federal railroad to Portage was completed in 1943 and became the primary debarkation point for cargo, troops, and dependents of the Alaska Command.
In 1948 the military began construction of the first of two buildings for their military personnel as the Port of Whittier was then recognized as an ice-free, deepwater port strategically located to Anchorage and Interior Alaska. This remained active until 1960 at which time the total population was 1200.
The City of Whittier was incorporated in 1969. Today, less than 300 people reside in the town supporting the Alaska State Ferry, the Alaska Railroad, freight barge, commercial fishing, the Whittier Harbor, recreation and tourism with an annual visiting population of over 700,000.
Back to me writing again! One of the two buildings mentioned above was called ‘The Buckner Building’, which was built in 1949 and renowned as ‘The city under one roof’. It was used as a secret and self-contained military base, and when it was first built it had housing for 1,000 people, as well as a cafeteria, theatre, classrooms, radio station, jail, hospital, library, church, plus many other things. The building was eventually abandoned after the military ran out of uses for it, and it was then damaged in the 1964 earthquake as tsunamis hit the area.
And in Whittier’s defence the weather also wasn’t great, and everywhere was basically closed. I’m sure on a busy sunny day it’d be nice, especially as it sits in a bowl of mountains and glaciers.
We amazingly made it for the 2pm slot, and soon discovered that on the other side of the mountain the weather was much better; cloudy but dry.
We decided to stop in Girdwood for some lunch, while Ed made some calls to locate a sprocket bearing for me. We soon found one at a Yamaha dealership in Anchorage, the only problem was it closed at 5pm. It was now nearly 4pm, and for a normal vehicle it was a 45 minute journey, so for us it would be at least an hour. Some other bikers came over to chat to us, and I’d have loved to stay and talk, but we had to get a move on to get the bearing. I really didn’t want to spend another night in Anchorage, if I’m completely honest we’d spent so much time there that I was over it. As we made our way back the roads were so busy, being a nice warm sunny Saturday every one was out on their bikes, or in the car for a day trip. It was a small taster of what it could be like in the height of summer, and it made me thankful that we were travelling ‘off season’. We were going as fast as we could, when next thing we knew we had an unmarked police car with lights and sirens going, signalling for us to pull over. Bollocks. I instantly worried that we’d been speeding, so as I got off my bike I gave him a big smile, ready to apologise profusely in my best English accent. Luckily it turned out that we hadn’t been going too fast, we’d actually been going to slow. Again. I laughed to myself that I thought we’d been speeding, remembering that it wasn’t actually possible on our little bikes with all our stuff. We must have been doing around 50mph in a 55mph zone, so weren’t going that slow, however the policeman said there was a queue of about 30 cars behind us. As we thought we were going fast we didn’t realise it was a queue, we thought it was just traffic! We apologised and explained that we needed a new part for my bike, and were going as fast as we could. He was really nice about it, and just asked us to let traffic past when there was a queue of 5 or more. It keeps the other road users happy!
By this time we’d realised that we weren’t going to make it for 5pm, so called Yamaha who thankfully said we could pay over the phone, and they’d leave the part outside. We got there around 5.30pm, picked up the bearing then headed straight out of town, where we fuelled up and got chatting to another biker. He was really lovely and suggested we take the Old Glen Highway as it was more scenic. With no real plan, just a direction, we were glad of some local advice and happily took it. It was such a lovely evening, and so nice not riding in the rain. We picked up the Old Glen Highway for a bit but then it stopped; had we missed something?! We carried on along the new highway, a bit confused, but soon picked up the Old Glen Highway again, much to our relief. It was a really pretty road, quite windy, with trees all the colours of autumn lining both sides. It ran alongside the Knik river which looked really pretty as the sun got lower in the sky, and we were surrounded by big mountains and hills.
We crossed a bridge and found a spot by the river where we could camp, but I was aware we hadn’t done that many miles, leaving us too many to do the next day. Normally it wouldn’t matter how many miles we did, or where we got to, but with my Dawson City plan in action we had to keep on ‘schedule’.
I decided we should continue on a bit more, so we carried on and eventually joined the Glen Highway, just north of Palmer. We stopped at a really cool lookout, where the scenery was beautiful. A backdrop of big mountains, with a river splitting off in to different directions and colourful trees all around. Unfortunately the light was dropping so it wasn’t as colourful as it could be; sunlight would have really brought it to life.
We carried on and soon had our eyes peeled for a suitable camping spot; we were losing light fast and with no headlight I was now keen to find somewhere to stop. We came down a hill and round a corner, when I spotted a leafy track to our left. Upon further investigation we discovered that it led to a small unsignposted and unmaintained ‘camp site’, where there were about six camping spots all separated by trees. It was perfect. I immediately set to work putting the tent up, while Ed went on a mission for water. I have to say he’s much braver than I am, venturing off in to the woods in the dark like that. He doesn’t watch scary movies which is why he can do stuff like that. I on the other hand have watched lots of scary movies and horror films, and would therefore let my imagination run away with itself. There’s always a scene with a person walking through the woods, on their own, at night, before some creature comes out of the darkness and devours them. Let’s just say that I’d probably sh*t myself at the faintest sound and run back terrified and empty handed. I know, what a girl.