I’ve Seen Glaciers, and I’ve Seen Rain

August 29 – Sept 4, 2021

If you’ve been reading along from the beginning (way back in 2015), you may have noticed that I occasionally title my blog posts with a twisted hint of a song lyric. Like this one, thanks to the 1970 James Taylor hit. This is usually caused by having way too much time on my hands while riding along, thinking about my next blog post. I kind of like it though, so I think I’ll try to work in more song references.

It’s been more than ten days since we’ve had enough wifi to post anything, so once again, it’s time to catch up.

We left Denali and headed to Anchorage, basing there for two nights. This allowed us to do a couple of things: the first morning we headed further south to Seward, and boarded another ship for a tour of the Kenai Fjords and glaciers. We couldn’t have asked for nicer weather, after spending so much time in the rain. In Seward it was in the low 60s and clear blue skies. The seas were calm, allowing our captain to take us to places he said he could only go a couple of times a year.

Peeking through an arch in Chiswell Island towards Kenai Fjords National Park. This is one of those places the tour rarely gets to go because the weather and seas were perfect today.

There are more than 35 named glaciers in Kenai Fjords, and their source, the Harding Ice Fields, covers more than 700 square miles. This is Holgate Glacier. To get an idea of the size of it, compare this photo with the close-up below, then look back at the lower right corner of the glacier in this photo. That’s where the boat is.

Closeup of the lower right corner area of the previous photo, showing the large tour boat. For perspective.

Harbor seal hanging out on an iceberg just off the Holgate Glacier.

We returned to Anchorage that evening, and the next morning we took another set of PCR tests to allow us back into Canada. We weren’t sure if we could find a lab closer to the border, since there isn’t much along that route (Tok, the closest town to the border crossing, is 90 miles away and has a population of about 1300). We had to time our tests so that we would arrive at the border within the required 72-hour window, yet we were headed to Valdez for a couple of days first, and Valdez is still 350 miies from the border.

After receiving our negative COVID results, we left Anchorage and headed for Valdez. There is no direct route. “As the crow flies”, it’s only 75 miles between the two towns, but by road it’s 300 miles. We got lucky and had decent weather almost the entire way, only catching the rain as we approached Valdez. Then it rained nearly the entire time we were there.

Matanuska Glacier, between Anchorage and Glennallen.

Worthington Glacier, near Thompson Pass on the Richardson Highway.

Horsetail Falls, in Keystone Canyon, just outside of Valdez.

Bridal Veil Falls, Keystone Canyon. Whoever names waterfalls needs to be more creative. These are about the fifth “Horsetail” and “Bridal Veil” falls we’ve visited.

The ride through Thompson Pass and Keystone Canyon into Valdez is very scenic, but there isn’t much in the town itself. There are boat tours out to the glaciers from here as well, and we saw a number of tour buses in town. One bus load of Korean tourists were staying at our hotel. I was curious how it was that a busload of Korean tourists could get into Alaska, since supposedly the US was still closed to foreign tourists. So I asked. It turns out they may be Korean (originally), and speaking Korean, but they live in Los Angeles.

I spent one afternoon removing the skid plate from the bike and scraping more Dalton Highway mud out (probably ten pounds worth). Between that and removing the mud on the rear wheel, I was able to reduce the vibration that I was feeling. While cleaning the bike, a couple of BMWs rode up. Jens and Kelly are from Lake Tahoe, and rode their BMWs up to tour Alaska; their last Alaska tour was on bicycles! We talked for a while before they returned to their campsite on the eastern edge of town.

The next morning we left Valdez in the rain, heading back the way we came and on towards the border. We had discussed spending the night in Tok, as our 72 hour PCR test window would allow us until around 11am the next morning to cross. But it was still fairly early in the afternoon when we reached Tok, and we decided to go ahead and cross the border, and stay in Beaver Creek, an even smaller town on the Yukon, Canada side. As we were getting gas in Tok, Jens and Kelly rode up. They had reached the same conclusion, so we decided to cross and meet up in Beaver Creek.

When we got to the border, there was actually a line of cars waiting to cross (mostly RVs and a couple of 18 wheelers) We were about twelve vehicles back, and it ended up taking about an hour to get through. As we sat in line talking with Jens and Kelly, a couple from Pennsylvania in an RV got out and walked back and started talking with Jens about his BMW GS. Jens said, “you look familiar. Do I know you? Did you ride an older BMW R80GS in Baja a few years ago, and broke down?”

Sure enough, they had ridden together in Mexico. Even in a place as big as Alaska, it’s still a small world.

After crossing into Canada (much easier and friendlier this time), we stopped for fuel and lodging at the 1202 Inn (named, as most things here are, for the milepost on the Alaska highway where it is located). Jens and Kelly chose to pitch their tent (for around US$10 for a campsite with a picnic table and electricity). We decided to splurge and get the “budget room” at US$40. All I can say is the bed was comfortable and the sheets seemed to be freshly laundered. The rest of the room hadn’t been cleaned, repaired, or updated since it was built some 50 or more years ago. It was a little creepy, but it slept just fine. Although the tent probably would have been just as good for thirty dollars less.

We had a great conversation with Jens and Kelly about their travels through Vietnam on two small Honda XR150s, and we introduced them to house sitting (which, by the way, we have three more sits confirmed over the next month, which will thankfully help lower the overall lodging expenses).

The next morning we said our goodbyes. Jens and Kelly headed for Whitehorse, as they planned to continue home via the Alaskan Highway. We turned off at Haines Junction, and once again re-entered the United Staes just north of Haines, Alaska. We thought we were done with the mud for a while, but it turned out there was eight miles of highway missing just before Haines.

The only polar bear we saw, and I’m okay with that. Outside our budget room at the 1202 Inn in Beaver Creek, Yukon. I told Kelly and Jens that our room reminded me of my grandmother’s house…about a decade after it was abandoned and just before they tore it down. Just kidding. They never tore her house down. This one is higher up on the “must raze” list.

With Jens and Kelly. We’re hoping to meet up with them again somewhere down the road.

Twenty five miles north of Haines, Alaska, just after crossing back into Alaska from Canada. These phone booths were just randomly sitting on the side of the road. I walked up and looked inside, and it’s complete with a notepad and a coffee cup full of pens. People have been signing in. I’m surprised it wasn’t covered with traveler stickers, but then again, I forgot to leave one of ours.

Near the Last Call phone booth was this tree with mileage signs on it, and a couple more phones.

We spent the night at the Salmon Run Campground outside of Haines. We were the only guests aside from some family members of the owners. Sadly, they explained that in the past year, they had taken in $1100 total due to the pandemic. Haines is one of those places that is hard to get to when you can’t drive through Canada.

Haines, Alaska.

Just north of the Salmon Run Campground is Chilkoot Lake. The last half mile or so of the road up to the lake is beautiful, and is a popular place to watch the bears.

We had the entire next day to relax, as we were boarding the 7:45pm ferry in Haines. This gave us some time to catch up on some things, and interview for yet another house sit in the Austin area for when we return (which we just found out we got!). I can highly recommend the Rusty Compass Coffee Shop in Haines. Great coffee, and free wi-fi.

Although we were in Alaska only a total of about three weeks, we hit a number of the high spots. There is certainly a lot more to see, and I already regret not making it to Kennicott-McCarthy. That’s at the top of my list for the next Alaska trip, along with the Bald Eagle preserve on the way into Haines.

It’s a long ride to Alaska, but there’s a lot to see on the way there, so we might as well do it again some time in the future. Or we could just be tourists, and fly there I guess.


One thought on “I’ve Seen Glaciers, and I’ve Seen Rain

  1. Or more appropriately for my off-road experience, the song snippet would be “I have seen rain, and I’ve seen mudholes”.

    We took one of those same boat tours out of Seward when we went back to Alaska on a job I had up there several years ago. Really cool.

    Nice photos.

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