Sunday, August 26, 2012

Kennicott Red, an Amish strike, and a Very Expensive Day...

*The Kennicott Mill is located in Wrangell - St. Elias National Park and Preserve
The town of Kennicott is one of the most interesting places to visit.
We woke up in the brothel this morning and meandered across the street for breakfast before heading up to the mill town to shoot more photos. Jaz was in heaven on account of all the rusting industrial parts laying all over the place. She loves to photograph rust. Kennicott is her town! The old mill produced a ton of copper before it shut down for good in the 1930s. Today, it is an National Historic Landmark and one of the coolest places to visit. Off the beaten path, there are no large crowds here like Denali, and the coffee with a view at the Glacier Lodge is not that bad.

Sipping coffee from the deck at the Kennicott Glacier Lodge.
We kept running into a couple of Pennsylvanians on this trip. They stood out on account that they were in search of cigarettes at the end of the road last night and came up short handed. They needed to back track 8 miles to get a pack (not as far as our gas fiasco yesterday), and they sweet talked the shuttle driver into waiting for them in McCarthy. We leaped frog with these two gentlemen several times throughout the day. They were planning on seeing all of Alaska by car and were headed to Valdez via Anchorage, Denali, Fairbanks and McCarthy. They had a trusty little red rental car they were racking up the miles on.
It rained today on a muddy road. It was pleasant. I like the mud. At some point Jaz and I got separated. I just enjoyed the mud and the rain, and played the “Miss the railroad ties with your front tire game”…  GUESS WHAT.. no flat tires.

Old railroad ties can pop your tire.. you must be diligent and pay attention to the road
I finally caught up with Jaz and we made it off the dirt road into Chitina for lunch. Victoria, a local, had us laughing at all her jokes and soon we were on the road again.
We stopped at Liberty Falls and tragedy of the Amish kind struck Jaz. What is the tragedy of the Amish you ask… let me tell you little grasshopper. The Amish strike when modern equipment stops working (for whatever reason). Earlier Jaz’s phone stopped working - at first we thought the one Brothel plug didn’t work properly, but then we realized the phone just wasn’t holding a charge. The second act of Amish occurred when her camera stopped working.  Of course, dropping it in Liberty Falls could also explain the reason why her $1,700 camera stopped working, too. I glanced over just in time to see her slip on one rock and fall forward over another rock that was about the size of a chair. She hit the rock hard with her chest and her camera flew away from her body (still attached to her neck) and landed in the fresh mountain spring water. She grabbed after her camera, but it was too late, the entire thing camera, lens and all got submerged. Sigh. This is going to be an expensive trip for her. The camera was on at the time, so the sudden water/battery combo is not good. It’s completely dead. The lens has water in it.
We headed just a little ways down the road to the Copper Moose B and B. What a wonderful place to dry out and clean up the gear. We plan on leaving here very early so I can make a half day of work in Anchorage tomorrow.

Liberty Falls claimed Jaz's camera.
Even though the day was challenging and Jaz faces a trip to Stewart's Photo Shop (she will live to shoot another day) in the morn... a rainy day on the bike is better than a full day in the office.

Below is an image from the GoPro of Jaz crossing two bridges at the end of the dirt road to McCarthy. Most people give up their cars for a shuttle for the last 4 miles to Kennicott. We crossed the foot bridge. Check it out here:

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Snot Covered Rocks and Other Horrible Things

*Warning! Danger Will Robinson! This blog has a graphic image posted below of a dead animal. If you are easily offended, or don't want this experience, quite now. You have been warned!

Gas should be planned. No gas in Chitina. Last time I was here you could purchase gas in Chitina. Not so anymore. Closest gas… 30 miles back out of town. You would think there would be a warning sign that said it was last gas. 60 miles later we were ready.

Pumps padlocked and empty! Shit.
We rolled into town and had breakfast at the Hotel Chitina (on account that the Russians didn’t serve breakfast until 9 am). It was pleasant and we chatted with the locals. We were told that when the Kennecott mine closed down, Chitina nearly became a ghost town. A resident, just before she left, painted ghosts all over the buildings. Her name was Mary. Jim, another local wanted to share with us his good fortune. He took us out to his shed behind the restaurant. 

"Ghosts of Chitina" - by Mary
Dead bear. Gross. No rational explanation. Jim murdered the bear for no good reason except to have it’s skin. Apparently Jim’s skin is too thin. I was not going to post this on account that it may offend, but then I decided to post it. This is life in Alaska: Moments of absolute beauty punctuated with moments of human ugliness.

image of dead bear in blood
Why are humans so stupid?
Needless to say I was speechless when Jim showed us what he was proud of. Jaz and I sat there staring at this horrible mess. We left. We didn't want to talk about it. We walked quickly back to the bikes and rolled out of town... hoping that the more miles we put between Jim and Us, the better things would be.

The cool wind of the road helped.

I asked Jaz: is it better to ride on slick snot like mud… or to ride on slick snot-like mud covered with marble like rocks that roll under the tires, as you slide across the mud? She thought plain snot mud was better. So did I.

The road was nice, once past the snot covered rocks. The GoPro captured the drive. Still looking for fall, but it is elusive. Maybe in two more weeks. Too late for me.

Great views of the Copper River.
 The road used to be a rail bed that held the rails for the Copper River and Northwestern Railway which was constructed between 1908 and 1911. For 27 years copper was hauled out of Kennicott, before the last train left in 1938. Today, the rail bed serves as a 60 mile road into the heart of Wrangell – St. Elias National Park and occasional old rail spikes have surfaced. The biggest problem is remnant splinters of old rail ties that will flatten your tire faster than you can say…  “Crap I have no cell coverage, how do I call road side assistance?” I am carrying 2 spare tubes, a patch kit, a breakdown kit, and a pump that works off my battery. Let’s hope I don’t need it.

Old rail posts still in the road waiting to take a bite out of tires.
 We thoroughly enjoyed the ride on account of the wet road keeping dust down to a minimum but not enough rain to make it miserable. At the end of the road, we crossed two bridges to get into the town of McCarthy, and headed straight up to the town of Kennicott. You could spend days in this area and not see it all. 

McCarthy will always be a strange town. People talk to the dogs here… like they are people (different than the rest of the world… trust me). The dogs run wild, like the four-wheelers. Dogs, four-wheelers, and people gathered for a Tall Tale in the McCarthy Golden Saloon. We would have stayed to pitch our tales too.. but prime rib was calling at the Kennecott Glacier Lodge. The dinner was fabulous. Better than some dinners in Anchorage. The strawberries looked better than what we get there too. Hmmm…  how is that managed.

The weirdness of McCarthy is obvious immediately.
My room tonight served as a crib in a brothel of times past. I will be thinking as I lay in that bed… how many sex acts occurred in my room. It might be a sleepless night. Jaz was pissed I said that to her. Now she will not be sleeping either.

We are staying in crib #18.
Jaz resting on the porch of our brothel/room.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Looking for Fall

*My blog has fallen behind! Perhaps stories for times I’m home bond.  Although I did a nice hike in Alaska,  some great travels in Utah, and a quick trip to D.C., I’m skipping to this weekend in Alaska.

I rolled out of Anchorage today with the goal of visiting the largest National Park in the country, Wrangell – St. Elias. I worked most of the day, so I didn’t hit the road until 2 pm. with Jaz. This is a tough long rider to Kennecott Lodge, so it’s good to break it up into two days travel.  The total drive from Anchorage is 9 hours in a car. The last 59 miles can be a challenging dirt road and it’s best to be fresh.
Tonight we got ahead enough of the weekend crowd, but there were still a lot of rec vehicles to contend with. It’s that time of year when men are switching the fishing rods for their rifles, as hunting season begins. One thing both seasons have in common is camo - in all colors. Question: Why do men fish in camo? Perhaps I need some camo.

Do I need Camo to feel manly?
We headed north towards Sheep Mountain Lodge, through the land of slow RV’s that don’t pull over. This time of year, all the rigs were pulling trailers with 4-wheelers instead of boats.  We stopped at Sheep Mountain for a light bite on account of not wanting to die in the Holy City. The waitress threatened us not to bite the hand that feeds you (apparently Jaz was having too much fun with her).

The idea of this trip was to try to catch the fall colors. Although there has a been a slight nip in the air, I had all my heated gear on, the colors are not yet out. Maybe we will have better luck tomorrow.  We are staying at the Tonsina River Lodge, about 20 miles south of the turnoff to Chitina. 

We rolled into about 6 pm. The place was filled with truckers, local folks, hunters, and construction workers. The only food to be had was buffet style… meat. I don’t think I have ever eaten as much meat as I ate tonight. Meat lasagna, Shepherds Pie, Ribs,  and meatballs. No real veggies were served. The salad was so wimpy. I watched in astonishment as people loaded their plates with meat, sat down, and ate it all. I am going into a food coma now.

Everyone was sitting around the tv in the bar watching a reality show called Tazlina River Crossing (not far from here). The name of this place is Tonsina River. They laughed at the drama and shook their head and wondered why everyone in the lower 48 is fascinated with Alaska. One guy said… “Local’s don’t do some of the crazy things they show on those programs… we would all be dead.”
Tomorrow will be interesting. 59 miles of dirt road that used to be a railbed. Frequently debris from the railbed travels up and pops tires. I brought one extra rear and one extra front tube. Let’s hope my days of “Flat-Tire Kesler” are behind me!

Dead Head - Sheep Mountain Lodge,south of the Holy City of Glennallen... this sheep has a drinking problem...