Saturday, July 16, 2011

Chatting with Artists, Dinner with Mermaids, and a Growler of China Poot Porter

The Mermaid, hanging from the ceiling, at the Saltry - Hailbut Cove.

Headed out of the city this weekend and went south to the coastal town of Homer, Alaska. I have always liked Homer more than any other “get-a-away” spot from Anchorage. As they like to say on their bumper stickers, “A quaint little drinking town with a fishing problem”…

I headed out of Anchorage on Friday morning, and we pretty much got the jump on the fishing traffic. Places like the Russian River and Kenai River, as well as Deep Creek were filling up though; I imagine the entire population of Anchorage headed south too.

We stopped at the Sunrise in Cooper Landing and to my surprise… the Skillet Lickers were performing that night, again. The last time I came through this was the case… back in May. Either the Skillet Lickers don’t get around much, or they really like Cooper Landing.
We pressed on to Homer and got here with enough sunlight and day left to relax on the deck and soak up the rays. In Alaska, no matter where you are, the sun making a grand appearance on a cloudless day requires that you stop what you are doing and enjoy the moment. Quiet chatting, beer drinking, and relaxation went on for hours!

View just as you come into town of Homer, AK.

The next morning, we headed out to the Homer street fair… this was the lucky weekend where all the artists and such get together and do a small fair. It took place behind the grocery store… not the high school like we had been incorrectly tipped. We then moved on to the spit to catch the Danny J. across the bay to Halibut Cove. We boated passed the bird rookery which was alive and well with gulls, puffins, and ducks. There were a couple of sea otters and seals, but mostly gulls. The bird noises were amazing and such a yammer… I filmed a video of it, I hope you can hear them over the boat.

Once we landed at Halibut Cove, which is mostly a fisherperson/artist community, we ate lunch in the sun at the Saltry and walked the decks and visited the galleries. Since Alaskan’s don’t get to see much sunshine… we tend to be clammy white and pale… so when two days of sunshine appear in a row and we enjoy them.. what happens? SUNBURN? Judy is now a lobster!

We stopped at the Homer Brewery so I could pick up a growler of China Poot... friends in Anchorage we have 6 days to drink it - CALL ME!

The evening settled into relaxation and more chatting and taking it slow…. What a great way to spend the weekend. We head back to Anchorage tomorrow morning… and I get a couple of days before I am packing to ride my motorcycle to Denali National Park, with a loop to Fairbanks for next weekend, and a nice drive back down the Richardson Highway, instead of returning back on the Parks Highway and Denali.

Bird rookery in Kachemak Bay near Halibut Cove

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Top of the World - Alaska

Dempster Run to Inuvik (part 1)...

Jaz’s bike wouldn’t start this morning in Dawson. Apparently it was unhappy… and some damn thing about FOB or electronic key ignition… at any rate, the little thingy needed a battery. We walked down to the gift shop/hardware store and they had one in stock! We were on the ferry and soon headed towards amerika. The rain poured and poured. I had all my heated gear on. Since the roads were mush, even motorhomes were passing us. One particular motorhome (aka BUS).. passed us fast and with ineffective mud flaps kicked mud up all over us. Jaz shook her fist and yelled and flipped them off… but they didn’t even tap a brake. We had to stop so Jaz could recover her goggles. We have traveled this road 3 times in 3 weeks. This particular crossing was the worst. Pot holes have become deep… and Jaz was, of course hitting every one of them. Frost heave type trenches across the road had filled with water and and the mud was really soft… the trailers and motorhomes were tearing these areas up and they were a real challenge to go through with the motorcycle.

As we continued to wind through the county side, higher and higher (they call this Top of The World because of the view), the soft shoulders became softer and softer - apparently too soft for motorhomes!

We rounded a corner and Jaz’s motorhome buddies were teetering on the edge… they had lost control and slip off the road. They were dangling precariously on the ledge.. Close to the tipping point. The slope below, if they tipped would have sent them rolling down at least a couple of thousand feet. Help was on the scene, so we kept on going. Later in Chicken… we couldn’t help but chuckle… at the idea of the motorhomers being scared shitless and then having to climb out of the driver’s side window. This is what movies are made of! I know it is poor taste to laugh at other peoples misfortune… but since they almost caused us to crash, and they seemed to be okay… we couldn’t help it. Jaz imagined a small yippe dog… on the dash… as these types of travelers inevitably have… yipping and shitting on the dash as the big rig slid. We passed one more big rig in a similar predicament before we got to Chicken, this one not as dramatic, but pretty messed up. This camper had on a yellow slicker and a lawn chair out… waiting for help. We figured with a big semi type tow truck needed for both of them.. it was going to be a wait. It was nice to see something other than motorbikes crashed on the road. It looked like over half a million dollars’ worth of rigs…

AND THEN… there were no chicken pot pies in Chicken… dammit! They were out… apparently the motorhome traffic was high and they were sold out…

We rolled in to Tok and we are currently celebrating the presence of tarmac… (as Ewin would say)…

Tok has a liquor store that is open 24 hours – 7 days a week. No massage therapist though.

Tok Liquor

Chicken Pot Pies in Chicken...

We both lounge reluctantly in bed this morning.. listening to the rain bounce of the metal roof. It has been coming down steady for hours. The weather forecast for Alaska today looks just as bleak. We need to cross high on the Top of the World Highway today… a place that has the potential of turning into a muddy nasty slippery mess. We drink more coffee.

From Dawson to the Canadian Border we have mostly gravel (about 66 miles), but from the border to Chicken, Alaska its mud (about 110 miles). Sigh.

I’m thinking a hot chicken pot pie in Chicken will be in order. We also need to cross the ferry one least time to get to the US side. Long day in the rain.

Crossing the Yukon River by ferry and Paddlewheel Graveyard

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Steamwheeler Graveyard

The Seattle.. forgotten...

The air horn went off in Dawson.. we were concerned… but the locals just ignored it. We assumed we could too. We spent the morning washing the bikes of all the caked mud and making sure the small parts work smoothly. We then headed over to the paddlewheel graveyard across the Yukon River. The Yukon River was too high to access via the beach. It took us a little bit of bush whacking to find it, and we are certain we crossed through the most pristine mosquito breeding ground the Yukon Territory has to offer…

Eventually we found it. The steamwheeler was the primary form of transportation in the goldrush days. Many travels came in through the Yukon River. The need for the ships decreased, and they were basically parked on the banks… to rot. Decades of vegetation growth and weather has hidden these ships and they have slowly rotted silently… forgotten. All the ships have collapsed onto themselves, and certainly what is left standing is not safe to explore. We climbed around as close as we dared, but they look and feel like card houses ready to completely fall. Because Parks Canada or the Canadian government has NOT made access to the graveyard easy… most tourists never venture out. They are unmarked with no parking area.

Jaz photographing the wheel on the steamwheeler

provides scale.. these things are massive!

There are seven ships out there. My favorite is the Seattle (no3). I think because that is the first one that you come to, and you can still clearly see her name on the hull. The Seattle was completed in 1898 for the Seattle Yukon Transportation Co. It arrived in Dawson on Aug of 1898 with 175 tons of freight. She lies forgotten in the trees.

We finished up with the steamwheelers and stumbled across a couple of women smoking pot. They offered to share the weed, but we refrained… although chuckled.

We then moved on to the restored Dredge that Parks Canada manages. We took a wonderful tour of these machines that chew the landscape up and spit it back out in piled of tailings that still… after a hundred years has not regrown. Amazing stuff!

View from the top of the Dome looking down on the

Yukon River

From there we drove to the top of the Dome for an overlook over the Yukon River valley… they sky was angry and I got to experience thunder and lightening… not something too common in Anchorage. Alas.. I ended once again.. nursing a Black Death at Kate’s. Tomorrow… we head back to Alaska over the Top of the World. It has been raining… we are hoping that it stops so that the trip will be dry and the road safe. Depending on time, we may go to 40-mile… 120 mile detour. We will see..

A chewy piece of equipment... a dredge...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The End of the Line...

Jaz called the trip just north of the Arctic Circle. Although I still had ability, and my bike had more to offer, as well as Jaz... her bike had given everything it could give. We had a hug at the arctic circle and agreed to turn around... 195 mile short of our 1000 mile goal.

Being reasonable girls... we decided that the last 195 miles were not worth paying the price others were paying. There were 13 motorcycles on the Dempster these last 3 days, including us. We were the only women. 5 riders crashed, only 1 was able to continue riding their bike.

Me standing at the Arctic Circle...

The road was a huge challenge. I had one close call... I think the insides of my thighs are bruised from squeezing the tank and trying to regain control of the massive fishtails I got pushed into. I recovered, but barely... Jaz had enough close calls that it prompted her to lay face up on the picnic table recuperating at the Arctic Circle for several minutes.

We turned around and I added this road to the list "Things left undone... that require another attempt"... enuff said on that.

600 miles of dirt road in 3 days!

The road kept us guessing...

The mud was like sheet-rock paste...

No sooner did we return to Eagle Plain, gas up again, did we run into Chuck from Idaho. Chuk, we suspect, like some of the other boys... was going just a little to fast for the road conditions. He unfortunately paid with his bike... but he was okay. We chatted with him for a little bit. He was heading north when he hit a patch of that dreaded "black mud" and before he knew it he was fish tailing... and could not regain control of it. He went down hard. The bike engine guard got pushed into the head of his BMW1200 and cracked the case... he leaked all his oil out. He flew off the bike into the bushes and thought he cracked his collarbone and hurt his ankle. He destroyed the front and rear ends of his bike and had a nice little pile of items such as dash, tail lights, speedometer... It looked like a very expensive pile. He let me take photos for my blog...

Cracked engine...

Front damage...

Chuck's expensive pile....

Chuck recouping from his fall...

See the thing is... the black mud was like sheet-rock paste. It filled your tire treads and made your tires completely smooth... so you had no tracking or control. The mud was sooo heavy, it was like cement... At least knobby tires had a better chance, but her tires, as well as Chucks didn't stand a chance. If you are going to do this road... make sure you have the right tires for the job. That will make or break whether you get to the end!

Second... don't pack top heavy. Jaz made it as far as she did because she has such a low center of gravity. We saw three folks in Dawson tonight getting ready to start the road tomorrow... two of them were pretty top heavy. Finally, make sure you have extra days in case the weather goes bad and you have to wait it out. Don't rush.

We are sitting around in Dawson recovering now. We are one day ahead of schedule now... we are trying to decide what to do with that.

I just wanted everyone to know we are off the Dempster.

The Bartender said… “The Beer Truck Showing Up on Time is More Dependable than the Sun Showing Up”…

With that in mind we have decided to press north to see what we can see. Before I went to bed last night, the sun shined on the boggy roads for at least 2 hours. If it holds through the night, it may not be so dangerous. We have heard that the road from here to above the Arctic Circle holds up well, and we should be able to do at least another 40 kilometers.

It’s good that we move on, one way or another. We were sitting around drinking and eating… not a good hobby to have. We were also keeping the locals amused. At one point, I wondered if the full-bodied taxidermied caribou in the corner was male or female. You see, both males and females have antlers. This started a discussion about the only way we could really tell is for one us to walk over and check the animal “out”. This of course had the Canadians rolling on the floor, including the owner. Now… I was not going to crawl under a stuffed dead caribou to determine it’s sex, no matter how bored I was. Jaz was game. It was male… the owner also confirmed. There you have it…. This is what we do when we are bored.

Jaz trying to determine the sex of a caribou...

On a heavier note. We will be careful and slow tomorrow. My bike does not weigh as much as hers. If she goes down, she is coming in at an estimated 1200 pounds. Pick that up in the mud. The entire time we have been here other riders have been amazed that she has gotten that bike up here. We actually thing that her weight, low center of gravity, and insanity is the winning combo. Here is where I add my disclaimer… she is a trained professional at being insane… don’t try this at home. All of us dual sports are top heavy. Even with our nobby tires, packed efficiently, we still wobble when the bikes slide and wiggle. If she had put better suited tires on her Harley… she would put us all to shame. I keep telling her to write an article for some Harley focused magazine. Maybe she will. The larger 1200 BMWs are doing the worst. They are the heaviest of the dual sports and seem to be the most top heavy. My KLR is doing fine, but the wobbles are frightening in the mud. The are a fare amount of Suzuki's up here too. One Harely.

Wish us luck… we are riding into the sunrise (I wrote this last night… so hopefully I am right).

I really like Canada. They are getting it right… it seems. We keep wondering what it would take to become citizens, but then I recall their latitude is still pretty high for what I thirst. Too many years in Alaska.. I want warmer climes. Besides… I am wondering when the Canadians are gonna build a wall along their border to keep us out… we are so silly.

Update: The sun us shining and not a cloud in the sky! It is warming fast. We should be on the road by 8am. Not sure what wifi is like at the top of the world... but I hope I find out. The GPS is acting up. So I'm not sure if it is working. I changed out the batteries again.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Still Holed Up Under the Dead Head Drinking Lead Dog Ale

The dead head is of course a massive beheaded moose hanging over my head in the bar…

My view looking straight up for two days...

To make matters worse… I just found out I am drinking the last bottle of dark beer in the place! The restock truck does not arrive until tomorrow. I hope I am long gone before that!

I failed to mention a horrible horrible thing that occurred yesterday- something that will scar me for life.

I came to the bike yesterday and saw Jaz talking to a nice couple from Holland. She was holding her keys out towards them. They said no and quickly got in their car and left. I asked what that was all about. Apparently in the stress of the moment, recovering from her day of death grip and IFR.. she lost her senses. She was actually offering to trade our motorcycle keys to the couple in exchange for their MINIVAN… a damn MINIVAN. I was horrified.

I got to admit.. she quickly pulled it back together… and is now concerned that I will tell anyone that she suggested such a thing… I swore I would only blog about it….

I think we are making a home here… the locals have embraced us and have been asking a lot of questions about beers in Anchorage, gambling in Alaska, and what life as a native is like in Alaska and the US. We got the ultimate compliment when the garage bay was offered to store our bikes out of the weather.

Either the sun will come or the beer truck… I’m not sure which will arrive first. It rained all day today again and the roads have not improved. Here is hoping for sunshine.

Playing with my hipstamatic app.. here is where I have been hanging out for 2 days waiting out the rain. The folks at Eagle Plains Lodge have been wonderful.