sometimes you have to stop and smell the chamois butter

Friday, December 21, 2012

Alaska - the beginning

     Prior to space being the last frontier, there was Alaska.  A land that is big, proud, beautiful and waiting to eat you.

     I arrived in Anchorage around 1:30a.m. amidst overcast skies spitting a little rain against the breaking daylight.  The light and the time confused me, which was compounded once I saw how tiny Adrienne’s car was.  I looked at the bike box, then the car, then Adrienne and scratched my head.  Miraculously we drove away, bike and gear inside as well as myself, wedged sideways in the front seat.
     I was on a new place/travel buzz and Jason works late, so I waited up .  He rolled in around 3a.m. and we immediately commenced to geeking out.  Both of us are huge bike geeks and it was fun to check out J’s garage.  Bikes and parts tucked neatly in every nook and cranny.  There were photos, flyers,. and race numbers pinned to the wall, much like my man-shed, but neater and cleaner.  We blabbered about bike nonsense well into the morning until finally conceding to a little sleep.

     A few hours later we were at it again, running errands and tying up loose ends before our departure.  Jason had to work later and I needed to put my rig together.  The plan was to shove off after he got home from work in the early hours of the morning.  Since both of my people were at work, I went for a shakedown spin of Anchorage.  The bike path system there is amazing and I took full advantage cruising around and taking in the sights.  The weather had broken and as blue sky began to peek through the clouds, more and more people appeared on the waterfront.  After taking a quick lap through the city I headed back to base to make sure I was dialed for departure.
     Their dog Rizzo, looked over my shoulder as I tinkered on my rig, checking all the bolts and nuts one more time.   As I tightened the last strap I looked at my watch.  Midnight.  My mind was still very confused about the fact that it was still light out.  I killed all the switches and Rizzo and I called it a night.
     Half asleep, my brain acknowledges that someone is speaking.  “Dude let’s do this.”  My eyelids flicker open and shut to a lycra clad figure beside the bed, before finally focusing on J, fully kitted and ready for action.  I drug myself from the stupor and got dressed, trying not to look outside.  But I had to, because I needed to know what to wear- I was in Alaska now and my second biggest fear was weather.  A peek out the window revealed a light grey veil that would envelope us as soon as we began.
     I followed Jason as we weaved through a maze of bike path and dirt connectors.  He was giving me shit about my panniers making noise when we rounded a corner and spotted a moose.  She was eyeing us over and not looking like she would relinquish any ground, so we detoured our route.  We were to meet Greg from Speedway Cycles, as he was going to pedal part of the day with us, so we didn’t waste too much time getting out of the city.  The weather was consistently grey and the traffic on the highway section was a bit distracting, but I soon tuned it all out to the mind-blowing scenery that was unfolding.  Bald eagles soared around snowy mountains and a big old, proud Dall sheep watched over the blacktop scar from high on a rocky perch.  As the last section of bike path came to an end Greg had to peel off.  We bid him adieu and made our way to the next little blip of civilization that might have some food. 
     The ham and cheese croissant caught my eye and soon became my nemesis when I saw how large and in charge it was.  We had both pointed in its direction, sitting there commandingly in the case of donuts and other delights, wondering what the hell it was.  Like a typical dude, I didn’t want to ask but simply ordered the ham and cheese croissant.  Much to my surprise, the foot long flaky pastry that we both giggled at earlier landed on my plate.  Jason got one as well, and we attacked the buttery gut-bombs.  Stomachs packed with dough, butter, meat, and cheese, we lumbered to the beginning of the tunnel. 
     To get through the tunnel to Wittier we had to hitch a ride.  The tunnel is one of the longest in the world, at 2.5 miles long.  It was constructed for a railway to bring in and hide munitions from the Japanese.  The gal at the tollbooth was super nice and told us to wait by the bathrooms and she would get us a ride.  Less than ten minutes went by before a Dad and a couple of kids pulled over in a big truck hauling a boat.  They told us to load up and we both had work to get our heavy ass bikes in the back of the truck.  Once in the tunnel, I was stoked to not be pedaling.  It was dark and horribly stinky in the tunnel and we probably would have died from the bad air.  We finally popped out into the marina town of Whittier as I was mentally fending off a headache from all the gas and diesel fumes. 
     We were psyched, eighty-something miles in our legs, and plenty of time before the ferry was to depart.  Ahead of us was a five-hour cruise through Prince William Sound so we changed out of our riding gear and grabbed a beverage. Jason had not slept the previous night, so he looking forward to going down for the count. 
     After we settled, I walked around the deck, taking in the sights and snapping some photos.  The sunshine and blue skies were a welcome addition after our damp morning pedal.  Mountains stretched for the sky in all directions.  Bays embraced remaining glaciers and floating chunks of eerie blue ice.  Fishing boats and little schools of kayakers skimmed across the water, both out searching, but for very different reasons. There was an abundance of wildlife:  a pod of Orcas, a group of seals hanging out on and around a buoy, eagles and a multitude of sea birds, and the fluke of a humpback which totally blew my mind.  
     Five hours seemed like a really long time to be on a ferry.  As we approached Valdez however, I was glad to have the time to warm up and dry out.  The clouds had moved in and it was pissing rain.  First order of business was food.  The choices were few so it wasn’t long before we were devouring big plates of food.  Bellies full, we ambled outside into still pissing rain.  We discussed camping options as we pedaled around town.  Much to our delight we found a town park with a nice big gazebo.  It was late at this point and we weren’t very concerned about being hassled by anyone.  It felt good to stretch out horizontally and let the dripping rain fade out with the first day of our adventure.