Friday, October 4, 2019

Bike/Ferry Trip to Alaska

The idea started one day during some downtime at our favorite kitesurfing/surfing spot in Baja. Scott suggested we "bike to Alaska". What!? We had just finished reading a memoir of a young, unprepared guy who biked from Oregon to Patagonia. We also happened to have a Lonely Planet Alaska on our reading devices. After we thought about it a bit, we started to get excited about the possibility.

Over the proceeding months, we waffled back and forth about really doing it. Though we had road biked and mountain biked for years (OK, decades), we had never bike toured. We had also never camped in a tent (save for the 2 times in '97 on Mt. St. Helens  and Adams).

Sometime at the beginning of June, we made the call to do it. We scrambled to do research, buy all the gear (both biking *and* camping gear), and start the trip while the weather was still favorable. Thanks to our friends Robyn and Doug, who just happened to need a house/dog sitter, we had a temporary home base in Portland to gear up. We finally started in the middle of July.

Every horizontal surface at Robyn and Doug's was covered in boxes from REI, Amazon, and Sierra Trading Post.

Our second day on the road with beautiful Mt. Adams in the background

The trip took us from Hood River, Oregon up to Seward, Alaska. Our lovely friend, Michelle, wisely concerned for our safety, drove us across the river and up the narrow winding road a bit, so we actually didn't start in Hood River. We biked north up to the tip of Vancouver Island finally reaching Prince William Sound, Alaska, using 9 ferries along the way.

Let's just say, we learned a lot. We learned what it was like to bike with 50-70 lbs of extra weight (per person). We learned how to camp - tent, pads, sleeping bags, hammocks, stove, bear spray, cold showers with a water bottle. We also learned how to buy food for only 1-2 days at a time, which was a challenge for two people that make Labradors seem indifferent to food.

Camping at Potlach State Park on the Olympic Peninsula
The tidal changes are so huge that the beach disappears and pictures like this happen

Waiting for the tide to peak at Miller Peninsula State Park so that we could setup our (illegal) camp.
We had just enough room between the water and the cliffs to setup our tent.

We stayed two days at this gorgeous camp spot
Smugglers Cove Park on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia

Another beautiful camp spot (never mind the explosion on the picnic table)
Lois Lake, Sunshine Coast British Columbia

Evening walk
Sayward, Vancouver Island, British Columbia

Afternoon rock-and-stick baseball
Near Woss, Vancouver Island, BC

The most unique part of the trip was our ability to camp on the deck of the 2 long ferries (3 days/2 nights each). Talk about a view! The "Inside Passage" weaves between islands and peninsulas along the British Columbia and Alaska coastline for 3-4 days. We had great weather for most of it. The last ferry across the gulf of Alaska wasn't as scenic, because for most of it, there was nothing but rolling waves that made us a little seasick.

Our first ferry, from Port Angeles, WA to Victoria on Vancouver Island
We were glad we brought the binoculars to ogle the whales
Our arrival to Victoria, Vancouver Island

Horseshoe Bay, BC

Port Hardy at the north end of Vancouver Island
The launching point for many days and nights of ferrying

The newest ferry we rode - it felt like we were boarding a spaceship
This was the 16-hour day trip from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert

Beautiful weather for our 16-hour trip

Our 3 day/2 night ferry from Prince Rupert to Juneau
We couldn't believe they allowed us to hang our hammocks anywhere we wanted

Camping on the ferry. Amazing views and lots of fresh air.

Evening views of the Alaska coastline

Our final ferry heading out to the rougher waters of the Gulf of Alaska

We made friends with a few people on our ferry between Prince Rupert and Juneau. One of them lives in Juneau, and offered to lend us one of her sea kayaks. We paddled to the famous Mendenhall Glacier a few miles outside of town, just down the street from her house.

A day of hiking (rather than biking) in Juneau
Mendenhall Glacier

Early morning calm at the Mendenhall Glacier

Doug and Patty, our new ferry-friends

Our first sea kayak adventure complete. It was shockingly cold (can you see my clenched fist?).
Mendenhall Glacier, Juneau, AK

Nugget Falls, Juneau, AK

As we reached our northern ferry destination (Whittier) we spent a glorious day hiking around with 360 degrees views of Prince William Sound and multiple glaciers. Sadly, every glacier we saw was quickly receding.

The local saying is, "No matter where you are in Alaska, the weather is shittier in Whittier". The Amazon rain forest gets 9 feet of rain per year, while Whittier gets 19 feet. Lucky for us, it was one of the rare days with no rain and no wind. It was seriously glorious.

Morning arrival to Whittier

Quickly receding Portage Glacier

Prince William Sound

Water, glaciers, Prince William Sound

We left Whittier on a high note but soon had to pay for our good fortunes. We spent the next 3 days biking towards Seward on a busy, loud highway. It was so loud that we wore earplugs while biking, and could still hear the traffic just fine.  During our final day of biking, dormant forest fires were rekindled by strong winds, and we were engulfed in smoke.

A quick break while biking from Whittier.
Before the loud highway and smoke.

Still smiling, not realizing the smoke would lead to the end of our trip

It took us some time to wrap our minds around what was happening and what we should do. There was no where we wanted to be that wasn't smoked out. In the end, we spent 3 days in Seward wearing masks, even while sleeping, and trying to organize our escape from Alaska. We ended up changing our flight, taking a bus from Seward to Anchorage, and camping at the airport. Things ended a little early, but after 6 weeks, we felt like we could happily be done.

Luckily, a local firefighter had some extra masks for us, as they were sold out in the stores

Beautiful views in Seward. The south wind kicked in long enough for us to explore for a few hours one day.

Bike-box fort in the Anchorage airport
Not a bad night of sleep actually, and a fitting end to our camping/biking adventure.


Liz Ness said...

Love your post/photos and keeping up with your adventures! Wishing you all the best (always). =) Love your friends in Vancouver (Liz/Erik Ness)

Unknown said...

Wow, what a great trip, through our back yard - Fran and I met in school in Sooke and have traveled to almost all those places.
What's with the change in business hours??