Saturday, July 21, 2007

Midnight mountain biking in Fairbanks

Saturday July 21st
We're in Fairbanks!
While staying at the GoNorth hostel, Muza was just about to go and have an afternoon siesta at 9pm or so, sleepily walking out to the van someone calls out: "I think the phone is for you Kiwis". Laughing and thinking "can't be!", he answered it anyway. Suddenly the siesta was off and the local party was on. Excited at the thought that there were climbers involved, we were happy to see a bunch of older guys hanging off the side of the house and there were plenty of northern lights in the air, if you know what we mean. It only took a few bottles of wine and a small amount of interrogation before we became Alaskan Alpine Club members.
Logan, the guy on the phone, who we briefly met in a restaurant in Valdez and given us his number, lives in the cabin and tent shown on the photo with his partner Moe. They are both laywers and spend half their time on a 30 foot yacht sailing around the world.
Well this crazy guy took us mountainbiking last night. Before leaving Danielle was trying to get information out of his mates to find out what this mountainbiking expedition was going to be like, for some piece of mind. They said they didn't know either, not a clue. Through the hills of Fairbanks, a 13 mile loop, how cool.
We left at about midnight, still kinda light of course, with him and two mates after having parked our van on top of the hill at an ex-top secret Cold War missile silo and repeater station, maybe. Riding our bikes mostly downhill on an old trail through thick shrubs and trees all the way to a pub down the bottom. At about 2 am we rocked up to this pub and had a drink after which we drove back to our van on top of the hill. Got there around 4am!
Vinnie loves off-roading, look at him!

Denali National Park

On our perilous journey north in the land of the midnight sun, daytime heats of 30+ degrees, hundreds of miles of taiga and tundra landscape, but mile by mile the highest peaks of the Alaskan Range and the North American continent come into view: Denali 'the mighty one'.



Muza and I bought a canoe!
After quite a few debates on whether it would be too heavy on our fibreglass roof and pop-up.... we bought one anyway!
Worked till 'de kleine uurtjes' (dutch meaning late) putting some anchor points onto the roof to hold the canoe on. This picture was taken on our first canoeing trip on the Nancy Lakes an hour north of Anchorage. This was a canoe loop trail that crossed 14 small lakes with portages connecting them. This means carrying your canoe across trails to the next lake, which can be quite a challenge especially at the end of the day. We saw a moose and thought of how much the crew would have liked this place. What a pity!

Loosing the crew

Tuesday July 10

To my knowledge the plan of attack was to check out of the condo, drive up to Anchorage, where the crew would pick up their 7-birth campervan, while Duane and I did some errands and then we'd meet up and start heading north together. I thought.

I hopped in the car, then Duane told me we'd see them in Anchorage but they had decided to flag going up north on a roady! WHAT?

Apparently the night before while having some drinks, it was decided among the others that instead of heading up north to Denali NP and then the Arctic circle, they were keen to hang out on the Kenai Peninsula instead. Salmon chasing.

Duane and I headed up to Anchorage anyway and thought perhaps we might change their minds. The plan was to keep in contact by walkie talkie and meet up in the Wallmart carpark, they had seen on their way south from the airport.

So there we were at appr. 3.30pm at the Wallmart carpark with the Walkie Talkie switched on, calling out for the Kiwihookers, over... no response.

So we waited, until 9pm, then went to see Ocean's 13 (good) with the biggest popcorn and icetea I've ever consumed ( you gotta love America)

Next morning: No sign of our Kiwi friends. We had found out that there was another Wallmart in Anchorage but that one was in town, while we were at the bigger store on the route from the airport south.

So we emailed them and got a reply within half an hour from Debz: we're in Seward now, come round.

To cut a long story and several emails short: They really were going to hang out on the Peninsula, while Duane and I really wanted to start heading north to see Denali and do some canoeing/rafting in the Brooks Range, not to mention the summer is short and we've got a long way to go.

So unfortunately we had to come to the decision to go our own ways. A real shame, because we had hardly caught up with eachother and had been looking forward to a fun roadtrip together and some hiking.

Quick trip to Homer

Friday July 6th

Drove to Homer with the goal of doing a few days of Woofing. Initially I had thought of that, so I had something to do while the others went Halibut fishing. Duane was pretty keen to join them, so I made alternative plans. The halibut fishing turned out to be $230 for a day, just for Duane, so he decided to join me.

In retrospect the others (now named Kiwi-hookers) did not think too much of this fishing experience. Debbie said it's almost like commercial fishing, where it seems very crucial to reach your quota and that with a whole lot of boats all lined up for the ultimate fishing spot. Not so much a sport and not very relaxing at all they claimed.

In Homer we were meeting a lady that I had arranged to see, through ringing some places listed in the Woof-book. She was a great lady, very fascinating, who was born in Homer and lived there her whole life. She worked long hours so her garden, quit amazing, was needing some attention. That would be the job to do. Duane and I walked through the garden with her while she talked and then had some watermelon in her kitchen. Her little house was like a museum of thrift shop items and nicknack's. Not a piece of wall was visible! My family's nightmare.

I had loads of fun chatting to her but I think Duane was getting bored. When we left we didn't really make any arrangements to work for her and would keep in touch. Obviously Duane told me straight away that staying there would send him up the wall, so that was out, for him.

We searched the Sandspit for some hot chips/fries without luck. Saw some stickers saying: 'Homer, a quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem'. I think that's true because it simply wasn't possible to order chips without fish!

Across from the Sandspit lies the Kachemak Bay Wilderness Park to which one either catches a watertaxi or a plane. We ran around from one company to another in an attempt to arrange a 2 night trip. We booked a watertaxi in, with 2 kayaks, then we'd kayak through a lagoon to our camping spot, next day kayak back to drop off point, leave kayaks to be picked up, hike to another spot, stay overnight and hike back to the watertaxi the day after. So we did.

The kayaking was real nice, saw some seals popping their heads out of the water, stearing at us, and caught the tide in to our campingspot. Apart from the Mozzies it was a real nice night. Wine, campfire and the first time in our tent on a wooden platform.

Note: very difficult securing a tent on a wooden platform!

Sunday 8th, after tying the kayaks off high on the VERY tidal beach ( I wasn't going to and that would have meant my kayak floating away with the incoming tide, thanks Muz) we set off to pay the Grewingk Glacier & lake a visit. This place was stunning so we just stayed. Icebergs floating in the water and an ultimate selection of firewood. We even spotted a black bear munching on a grassy meadow. Some crazy people in drysuits waded into the water and started playing around on an iceberg, which later that night fully collapsed making a lot of noise. Imagine being on it then.

Monday 9th, We made it back to the watertaxi early after a quick explore to a handtrolley above a raging river of glacial water. Hard work that is, pulling yourself across by pulling on the rope. We drove back to Kenai for 1 last night in the condo with our friends.


tuesday July 3rd

We drove to Kenai to meet Jo, Geoff, Debbie and Michael. For those who don't know who they are: Jo is Duane's sister & married to Geoff. Debbie is their very good friend and so is Michael.

They would arrive in Anchorage at 2.30 pm, pick up a rental car then drive down to their Condo. We had asked the address at the Funny Moose Lodge headquarters a few days earlier and so were waiting for their arrival from about 8pm...

It wasn't until about 11.30pm they showed up. Wound up about the owner of the lodge and the expectation they had had about a cabin at the side of a salmon river, only to find out they were staying at a 'condo' - terraced housing - 'rijtjeshuis' (dutch) in a residential part of Kenai. No river in sight.

But a few drinks quickly eased the pain.


This is a very common site in the Kenai Peninsula, elbow to elbow to catch salmon!! Crazyness.

Valdez to Whittier

Friday June 28

After having spent a few days in sunny Valdez, where we met some great locals and finally sat outside without worrying about mosquitos (sooo nice!) we jumped on a ferry to Whittier. Initially we had planned to drive to Kenai, where we were meeting the Maxwells, Debbie and Michael since ferry crossings with a vehicle are rather expensive, but then we decided to sneak me on so we would save one fare. Well that didn't quite go as planned as we discovered the signs about number 1 state of alert/security due to terrorism and vehicle searches and all that sort of thing. We chose to save ourselves a LOT of hassle and paid full fares.

The ferry took about 5 hours to cruise through beautiful Prince William Sound, home to whales, whalrus, otters, orkas, seals and ICEBERGS!

What a great way to see this area. We decided we'd come back later to do an organized 7-day seakayak trip through the glacial waters.

Whittier, our ferry destination, was struck badly by the massive earthquake in '64, which destroyed the 1 apartment building that most of the Whittiers lived in. Now, as you come into Whittier by boat, one new apartment building greets you and this is where almost all residents of this tiny town live!!

The old building is still standing since no one is sure what to do with it.

Apparently this town gets so much snow that they thought it would be easier for everyone to reside in one building. Less snow clearing.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Exit Glacier, Seward

Monday July 2nd

We stayed in a hostell in Seward that night and went for a popular day hike up the side of Exit Glacier that flows out of the Harding Icefield. It was a great hike, saw 7 black bears and some dahl sheep ( or goat, not sure through binoculars). Very, very sore knee on the last stretch of the hike down, not a good thing. (Had it looked at by now, nothing to worry about)

Where are the young people?????

With the observation on RV's comes another one:

Where are the travellers of our own age?

The bulk of RV owners are retired americans who now have made the RV their home and travel their livestyle for most of the year. The campervan'ers are mostly German or Dutch and a lot of these vehicles are rented. These people are usually retired as well and if not, they are at least 45+.
We have stayed in a few hostels, where we have met people our age but on the road, at reststops, provincial/state park campgrounds the selection is limited to families or 45+ 'ers.
When we first arrived in San Francisco and explored Yosemite NP for a few days we saw a lot of young people, so do they just hang out down there?
Maybe the ones that do make it up here, travel by bus from one hostel/hotel to the next and then book package deal tours to see/do the highlights.
I suppose a big difference in travelling Alaska and parts of Canada, compared to places like Australia, is that you need more toys and equipment to be able to enjoy yourself. Duane and I now have bought two bikes and a canoe, so that when we get to a lake we can go and explore. There is so much land out here and so few people that one really has to be selfsufficient. No coastline of easy accessible beaches, warm enough to swim and provide fun for days, but an ocean of trees as far as the eye can see and way beyond with a lake behind every second trunk.
Water in the lakes, rivers and ocean is often too cold to swim in and if not there is a high possibility of Mozzy invasion!
It's maybe not that this part of the world has more extremes than a place like Australia, because in many ways they are actually very similar:
  • Big country, not a lot of people per square kilometre
  • Loads of gravel roads, not well maintained
  • Wildlife that is very capable of killing and eating you
  • Areas where there will be no one to turn to for help in case of an emergency
  • ...and much more

Perhaps it's the types of extremes that are more or less easy to cope with..

RV's : Recreational Vehicles

Canada and the US sure are the Lands of the RV's. Every single reststop you pull into is full of them. They come in innumerable shapes & especially sizes; not so much colour ( the interesting one I believe).
Often they tow cars, even 4WD's, have bikes mounted, as well as canoes. The owners obviously come in all sorts too. One thing most of them have in common though is having little wee dogs they sometimes allow to venture outside, on a leash of course, cause you wouldn't want the little darling to escape to fall into the claws of a.......................marmot or porcupine!
These little creatures are walked around the reststops for a few minutes before savely returning to the RV.
I often wonder if, apart from fuelstops and perhaps Visitor Info Centers & supermarkets, these little dog outtings are the main 'outdoor activity' for these 'Recreational' Vehicle drivers...
I could of course be very wrong, but it sure looks like a rather introvert world, that of the RV'er.
Although, even Duane and I have found ourselves guilty, in several occasions, of adopting this vehicle syndrome. We blame it on the ohhh so evil bloodsucking little fuckers: The MOSQUITO.
I simply have no positive angle to take to justify their existence.
Yes they are food for birds, frogs, fish and insects but so are ladybugs! Maybe we could have a few more of them!

And so returning to the vehicle syndrome....

We stayed in this lovely little campground in Stewart BC (pre mozzytent) and had to close all doors and windows, locking ourselves inside the van on a most beautiful sunny summer day, because of those little suckers.
Looking outside we were surrounded by campervans with tinted windows behind which people were 'recreating' in the same way. The only difference: they had aircon and a toilet.
The result of this phenomena is that the opportunity to meet fellow travellers is greatly reduced.
Other than a short conversation with a lady in the restrooms, while she was......washing her tiny shivering poodle in the handbasin (obviously), we were lucky enough to meet some guys our age, when our car wouldn't start due to a flat battery.
So maybe that's the key to meeting people here: Car trouble