It is possible I’m not on bike tour anymore, just hopping around on boats, with short bike rides in between.
The Alaska Marine Highway is quite a posh way to travel! These boats are grand. I was too excited to get to sleep at first when I got on in Homer, even though it was already later than I was used to being awake. I found a spot in the solarium and claimed a deck chair to sleep on. The boat was supposed to leave at 2, though I could board with pedestrians as early as midnight. In spite of my excitement I managed to lay down and pass out before we left, though this was more thanks to extra slow loading of cars, which led to us not actually taking off until 4am.
I made a friend and agreed to share a campsite. Got off in Kodiak that afternoon and spent a day and a half wandering the island. We stayed up at Fort Abercrombie, where there were lovely rocky beaches, fort ruins, magical seeming mossy spruces, plenty of salmonberries, and definitely a Kodiak bear or two-which everyone else camping here came face to face with! Town was pretty quiet Sunday, and I didn’t plan well enough to get as far as I could have in the time I had. But I went on lovely hikes, sat on some beaches, watched sea lions and eagles, got lost in the woods…
No trip to Kodiak is complete without running into a gigantic bear, but when traveling by ferry the visit is over when the boat leaves.
The ferry system is sometimes referred to as “the poor man’s Alaska cruise” which is fair I guess (though not the cheapest way to travel by any stretch). There are cabins you can rent, but most people don’t bother-there are only a few rules on where you cannot sleep, and many lovely comfortable places you can. Many outside decks and indoor viewing lounges, a cafeteria and movie theater… so fancy.
We stopped relatively often, in coastal and island towns, many of which have no road access out. Sometimes the people from town come onto the boat to eat in the cafeteria while docked, a chance to get junk food as a woman in Chenega Bay commented of her fellow town people. She was trying to sell us jelly, which I didn’t buy, though I did talk to her a little- she is also an biological consultant doing environmental work and told me she’d help me find a job if I decide to stay.
Whittier is a popular place to get on, since it is close to Anchorage, so we got lots of new people. We had two hours in Yakutat, which was a nice town, and not too hard to tour in this time. I started with my new friends, walked up to the bar, Lael went for a run, I went next door (the other place open was a free library/cafe/gift shop spot called Fat Grandma’s), got some books and then ate (salmonberries, strawberries, nagoons) all over town till time to go.
From the boat we saw many marine animals, whales and orcas and porpoises and birds. There were some experienced birders hanging out on the frontmost accessible deck, and sometimes I’d join them and then they’d point out any interesting birds. Mostly just saw albatrosses and puffins.
I got off of the M/V Kennicott in Juneau, and stayed there for five and a half days, till the next boat that goes all the way to Bellingham. I biked out to the north end of the road that first night. There is a southern and surely many eastern extremes of roads, too, but I did not visit them all. This isolated little city is beautiful. Juneau sits in the middle of the largest temperate rainforest, sandwiched between the coast, coastal islands, and mountains, waterfalls, and an expansive icefield, with some very accessible glaciers. I came across thimbleberries here! They are another cluster berry, but soft, almost velvety, and seemed sweeter than salmonberry, and maybe a little tamarindy? They might be my favorite. I spent a day in a kayak, paddling along the coast a ways, watching fish jump out of the water, exploring some of the little islands.
I stayed at the hostel in town two nights. I haven’t done a lot of hosteling, but it is a nice change to sleep inside and have a secure place to leave things without being a guest and in someone’s space. This place cost $12 and a chore per night which seemed pretty reasonable. A nice thing about hostels is meeting other travelers- sharing stories, advice, and what we’ve learned, exploring together, and maybe passing along tips and contacts when we are going in opposite directions. There is an important, though perhaps subtle difference between travelers and tourists (which is pretty obvious in cities like Juneau which is populated every day by cruise ships stopping through).
I also met a bunch of people who live in Juneau, many of whom invited me to do things or come over or whatever, which mostly didn’t work out, but I did go out for a dinner party potluck thing with some folks I met at the arboretum one rainy morning. I was reminded not to count on plans made with people, probably ever.. several fell for the last day in Juneau through, but did so in a way where I just didn’t hear from folks, rather than letting me know anything. I tried not to feel like I was just stalling the day away. I got some more snacks for the boat, visited Douglas Island and Treadwell Park, wandered in the rain. I spent a while in the library. It was good to get on the ferry again, to move on. I like having the chance to start over so often when I feel like I have made mistakes, though obviously that is unsustainable.
I made a few more short term friends on the next ship-the M/V Columbia. The vessel was set up a little differently, and the staff were different, of course. The solarium was more open and the purser was very fond of making announcements. We spent a few hours in Sitka, and later made some short overnight stops in other towns that I didn’t get off in-though some of the people I met departed then, and then had almost a full day in Ketchikan which I spent walking all around. We left there at 5pm Wednesday and didn’t make any stops again until 8am Friday (7 alaska time). This last day was clear and pleasant weather, and we could see stars that night. I did lots of reading, talking to people, walking in circles, napping, etc.
Bellingham is a cute town. Everyone there knows it is the most special place, and is therefore unable to say anything nice about any other places. It is beautiful and geographically well situated for all manner of awesome activities, and full of way too hip, semi-aware people. I wandered, spent a shift volunteering at the community bike shop, then went for a nice bike ride out of town with one of the mechanics I met there and his friends. I got overwhelmed quickly here, and found myself to be pretty grumpy. Explored the next day a bit, but then jumped on a ride offered to get out of town. There was a lot of public fruit though, plums and blackberries everywhere- I ate many!
Going out to Mt. Baker was nice. From where I was dropped off it was mostly up a long switch backing but mild grade road. It was dark already when I parted from the person I got a ride out with (he was heading in a different direction for an adventure of his own, but rambled at me for a while first). I went a few miles up till I found a level enough spot to camp, and went the rest of the way in the morning. There are trails from the end of the road, it is a popular place, though almost all of the people I talked to were from Pittsburgh (I did not take a huge sample). There were blueberries along the trail, and then lower I found way more along a ski lift path, where I ate many and collected even more. That night I camped with some traveling crystal miner, moonshiner, circus type people who had just settled in Kendall for a while. They fed me veggie sloppy joes and I played with their kitten!
Vancouver was two short days of riding away. I felt welcome right away at Southlands Farm. It was a bit chaotic, it is an educational farm, they have many projects going and there were camps running during the day, kids all over. Jordan recruited me for a river trip to get logs, and we took a quick swim in the river while we were at it. Vancouver is a notably bike friendly city, with well marked routes all over town.
Another ferry to Salt Spring Island, where I spent the weekend. I rode all over the island, went to a play, star gazed, hiked in Ruckle Park, and went to the Garlic Festival. I tried to hook up with a friend from the boat over, but it didn’t quite work so I took the last ferry over to Vancouver Island Sunday night. Leaving the island is a free ferry ride. I made some friends on this boat, too, one who rode her bike across Canada last summer, who live in Victoria, and I stayed with them the next night when I was there.
I don’t think I’m very good at traveling. I feel like I am rarely in the right place at the right time, or I don’t know what to do with the places I am. Sometimes I thoroughly enjoy the beautiful scenery and everything I find, the weather or the fruit or the people. But at times I feel I’m just going through the motions, trying to enjoy what someone has recommended, or a place that just feels like another place, lovely as it may happen to be. I am also not great at blogging. Did you know this is very hard? It takes weeks to write anything down, and by then there is just so much to cover. I’m sure it is hard to read, too-this isn’t good for anyone, to the extent that it matters at all.
There was one more ferry, from Bainbridge Island into Seattle, yesterday afternoon. That was a lovely ride, and gives an excellent view of the city from the water, if you’re into that sort of thing. Many people were taking pictures of it, though, so I couldn’t bring myself to do the same. I’m staying with a friend who moved here from Pittsburgh a few years ago, had a fun night with him, now I’m off to explore a bit.
Oh, Aryn, your posts matter very much! I know they do for me when. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy reading about your journey, your connection to the people who’s paths you cross, and your general musings on life, landscapes and things in general. I get so excited when I see your name pop up in my email folder. I want to save them to read when I am relaxing and able to concentrate on your words. But most of the time, I am just excited to read your post and so I dive right in. Journaling/blogging can be hard, but for me, it is so very worth it! I think it will be important for you too in the years to come Keep it up, it for no other reason than to give us poor folks back home an absolutely wonderful break in our day!.Oh, and try not to overanalyze what you think you should be doing or experiencing and just enjoy the moment – no one is judging you. Mostly we are just envious of the travels you are getting to experience!! Love you. Aunt Cheryl
Aryn: Your blog of your journey has been amazing.
I have told many people about our chance meeting in April and your journey and everyone has been amazed at what you have accomplished.
You have experienced so much that the rest of us can only dream about and enjoy through your blog.
Keep up your great reporting and keep on riding.
By the way, how many miles have you cycled and how many tires have you replaced?
I love your blog. It isn’t quite as “pretty” as some, but that helps me know how real it is.
I’m at work, listening to the Supersaturated Sugar Strings on Youtube.