Alaska 2023

Day 09

July 16

I'm up and out early as the ferry from Valdez to Whittier boards at 7:00 AM and check in is at 5:30 AM.  

As I walk up to the front door to check in I see the sign -

'Motorcycles REQUIRED to provide

their OWN tie-down straps'



So I go inside and ask the human at the desk,

"Do you sell straps?"

His nonchalant reply is

'We don't sell them and there's nothing is open in Valdez that does before the ferry leaves."

So I realize I'm in a mighty fine pickle as an unstrapped motorcycle on a wet slick ferry deck in rough waters does not bode well for a pleasant ending. What frustrates me is there was nothing on their website to tell me when I registered as a motorcycle. I have lots of straps at home that I would have gladly brought if only I had known. It's a real tough spot - I can't skip the ferry but I really don't like idea of BlueBelle with no straps getting tossed on her side. I decide I'll see if I can buy some from the folks in one of the cars or trucks as they start pulling in.  

I see young Canadian couple in a truck camper that could be a prospect so I walk up and peck on their window. I tell them

"I'm not bumming but I'm in a bit of a pinch" and I explain to them the situation.

"I'll be glad to pay you whatever you want if you've got some straps you can spare" I add.

They are more than gracious and ask me "How many do you need?"

I tell them "A couple should work just fine" and they hand me over two nice straps.

"What do I owe you?" I ask.

"Nothing, we've got plenty" he replies.

I thank them and tell them "Let me get your picture so I can post it on my website. Just think, you'll be world famous after that" and we both laugh.


The ferry arrives in the fog and overcast and it looks like a bit of a gloomy day. As I wait for the boarding call, I strike up a conversation with an older couple. They are from Israel and over here touring on vacation. I enjoy swapping tales and such with them since they have a bit of a unique perspective living where they live. We joked about getting old and the challenges we face. As we part, the man looks at me with a smile and says

"You're not old - you're still riding!"

and I file that one away to be used to remind myself when I'm feeling OCD - old, cranky and disgruntled.

I board carefully as the ramp is a bit wet and slick and I get directed to my stop without any drama. As it turns out, I am the only motorcycle on the ferry this morning. I get BlueBelle secure and strapped in and head upstairs since most long ferries do not allow anyone on the vehicle deck while in transit.  
This is the good ship Aurora, built in 1976 - almost 50 years ago.  
I've learned one thing riding on ferries - you do not want to rush into the restaurants right when you board because that's what everybody does. I walk around a little bit to wait for the lines to go down. As I will come to appreciate, the food on the Alaska Highway ferries is good and very reasonably priced.  
And as is my usual habit, I find where the lifeboats are located and see what they look like. To me, it's a bit like knowing where the fire escape is in a multistory hotel - you hope you never need the info but you'll be glad you do if you do need it.  
It's quite foggy as we make our way out of Valdez so there's not too much I can see.  
It starts to clear up a little bit and I can make out some lovely snow capped mountains as we move along.  
We head through the middle of a bunch of commercial fishing boats - they seem to be everywhere.  
What I find interesting is they must be drag netting as they use a small inflatable boat to run out the end of their massive nets.  
We pass by some icebergs - not the Titanic size - but icebergs none the less. They have this lovely blue green color to them that I don't know if is reflection or the actual color of the ice.  
The fog has partially lifted but it's still pretty overcast.  
I have to wonder if anything besides some wildlife has ever set foot on these isolated islands.  

I manage to get a picture of the Aurora's bell then I hear rough sounding voice from above -


As it turns out, one of the deck hands had left a door open that they were not supposed to. Me being the curious animal that I am went through it when I saw the bell to get a picture. It ain't the first time I've been fussed at and probably won't be the last. When you've been hollered at by the USMC's finest drill instructors nobody else quite measures up.


The fog lifts a bit and I get a better view of some of the rugged landscape as we make our way to Whittier. I strike up some interesting conversations with other folks on board. Some are bicyclists who have been in a rally called the 'Fireweed Rally' - a 200 mile run from Chickaloon to Valdez. What is interesting is this rally is a 'self supported' rally - any thing you need from medical help to supplies is on you. Another lady lives up here in a 'yurt' year round up. The definition is -

A yurt (from the Turkic languages) or ger (Mongolian) is a portable, round tent covered and insulated with skins or felt.

I can't imagine living in such a thing where the temperatures are what they are but she says the stove in the middle works really well.

Much like I saw going into Stewart and Hyder, I see the waterfalls tumbling down the mountain side here.  
Whittier is a docking spot for some of the cruise lines and I have found that makes a lot of difference to the local economy.  
Soon I'm off the ferry and into Whittier proper - and it's still raining a bit.  

I come to the 'world famous' tunnel and there is quite a back up of vehicles. The officer in charge tells me when I pull up -

"Motorcycles go last so WHEN you crash emergency vehicles can get to you quickly."

If that ain't real encouragement I don't know what is.

Once I finally get into the one way tunnel I can see why he said that. The railroad rails are wet which means if you stray over and hit one, it will get ugly. Also the distance between the rails is only 4 feet, 8.5 inches - about a yard stick and a half wide. And the tunnel goes on for 2.6 miles and is not very well lit. It is not a ride for the faint hearted or the nervous because if you don't have a real steady hand you will hit the rails and go down just like he said.  
So needless to say I am very glad to see this - the end of tunnel and have no plans of ever coming this way again. It's a bit like a whipping - maybe necessary but awful glad when it's over.  

I soon pass on to the Kenai Peninsula -

The peninsula extends about 150 miles (240 km) southwest from the Chugach Mountains, south of Anchorage. It is separated from the mainland on the west by Cook Inlet and on the east by Prince William Sound.

It's land of glacier covered mountains ...  
and lovely glacier fed lakes that have that green hue to them and..  
road construction as so much of the area up here does.  
I arrive at my hotel for the evening but evidently they are having trouble with their cleaning people. Since it is raining outside, I drag all my stuff into the foyer and find a place to sit. Several people besides myself are left sitting for almost two hours before they can finally assign us rooms.  
Much to my aggravation, I get a room where there is no elevator access so I cannot use a luggage cart to haul all my stuff up.  
And then I find that the only way the clerk could put me in a room farther away from the front door is if they put out on the fire escape - which is right outside my door. At least it won't be a long walk to get out if this place should catch on fire.  
It's a nice enough, with a lobby furnished with various wildlife exhibits.  
They have some pretty massive moose heads ...  
wildcats ...  
wolves ...  
and elks.  
I decide I'll walk further into downtown area and see if I can find restaurant for supper and I settle on one called the Chattermark.  
I order a fish dish of some sort and it is okay but nothing to write home about - except the high price for what you get.  
But I'm only here for an evening not a lifetime and I am glad at least I survived the Whittier Tunnel with no drama and have now seen Steward with my own peepers. I make it back to my room and work hard on giving my peepers some rest and the plan works very well.