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.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Rock Climbing in Greece

I'm not sure how I learned about Kalymnos, Greece. Friends have been asking us ever since we returned from our trip there in March/April. It's a small Greek island closer to Turkey than mainland Greece, famous for rock climbing. My guess is that I read about it in a climbing magazine(?).

We found the flag of Turkey washed up with all the other garbage on what could've been a pretty beach

The short history of Kalymnos climbing started around 1996. Since then, 3400+ sport climbing routes have been built, and the economy on this tiny island has been transformed. We stayed in an AirBnB, and our hosts were overwhelmingly kind and generous. They even had us over to their other house for dinner.

Although we stayed in the lower level, our AirBnB hosts gave us access to the upstairs balcony

Our first day climbing. The water was so clear and the views were overwhelming.

One of the main restaurants catered to climbers, and we giggled everyday when passing this sign

Stunning views

We're 1.5 years into rock climbing, and Kalymnos was a great place for us to work on our skills. On our off days (our bodies would probably have appreciated more of them), we explored underground caves and hiked (a couple pictures below).

Our favorite kind of adventure - no tourist infrastructure. Entering a hole in the side of mountain blocked off by a goat gate.

Heading into "The Underworld" cave

Hiking around the small neighboring island of Kalymnos called Telendos

Beautiful, protected spot to anchor your boat (hard to tell there is a boat down there). View from atop Telendos island.

While we rock climbed, we could usually see the sparkling blue and turquoise Aegean Sea. We were there during March and April so the water was still too cold to swim. We tried one day, and made it up to our knees. We realize now why Greece is so popular in the summer for the stunning beaches.

Telendos Island - a short ferry ride away

When asked about our trip, there's pretty much only two things that I feel I *must* share. First, I was overwhelmed by the wild herbs that grew everywhere on the island. We had fresh thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, and parsley everywhere we walked and climbed. The sage, thyme, and oregano grew out of the walls we were climbing. Back on the mainland, just outside of Athens, we walked through wild chamomile. All of it smelled delicious.

A typical oregano bush right on our walking path

Oregano for dinner
Chamomile growing like a weed

The other notable thing was the cats. Stray cats were everywhere. Some of them were really sickly and made us feel horrible. We took as many pictures of cats as we did architecture and rock climbing. We bought a lot of cat food, too.

The stray-cat whisperer

Our nightly visit with one of the local kitties (who wasn't a stray)
The cats at our AirBnB that we fed everyday

At the end of our month on Kalymnos, we headed to the Peloponnese region on the mainland to a budding rock climbing area called Leonidio (map above). We stayed there a week, but wish we had stayed at least a month. Similar to Kalymnos, the climbing, hiking, views, food, and hospitality really impressed us. In Leonidio, the lemons and oranges grew everywhere with the delicious smell of orange blossoms in the air.

Just another 500 year old building in the small town of Leonidio (lemons on the tree behind me)

Soaking our feet after a long day of climbing

Visiting Greece really struck a chord with us and we hope to be back. If nothing else, it instilled a new sense of wanderlust that I hope will keep us exploring.