Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Finishing Alaska and the long drive south

Part of traveling successfully is meeting random people and befriending them. I happened to be at a berry-winery when at the same time as a fella from Wasilla and struck up a conversation with him...foolishly he gave me a business card and the offer of a flight in his plane.
3.5months later I took him up on that offer and turned up on his doorstep (with some warning).

For the whole afternoon I was grinning ear to ear as he took me on a scenic tour. The weather was sunny and cloudless with minimal wind so we were able to fly closer to the mountains and glaciers than usual. Memories of this flight can be summarised with x3 moments
1. Flying over the glacier's and the glacier lakes. Looking down into the crevasses and that magic blue colour.
2. Landing next to a glacial lake and finding the canoe left for people to canoe around the icebergs on the lake...hence we did...WOW
3. Flying over bears, mountain goats and Dall sheep

The other Alaskans I meet that week were some young fella's who help me push the Red Rocket out of a glacier stream I had become bogged in...maybe parking in the creek to wash car wasn't such a great idea after all!
These guys after rescuing me and the rocket invited me on a canoe trip down the Kink river. What a way to spend the arvo, a lazy float down stream with beers and good company.

My last stop in Anchorage was a sad one as I left behind a family who had adopted me as a son. However we were able to have some great memories as we went Kayaking on several lakes, rode a GoldenWing bike, feasted on homecooked Ribs and pumpkin pie and I also did several walks - finally the Crow Pass was complete!

Driving south I was stunned at the fall colour's, the memory of golden yellow leaves blowing across the road will stay a lifetime. After a quick 1000miles I made it to Skagway where I could walk the Chilcoot Pass.

This historic walking track was a highway of men carrying supplies to the goldfields in 1898. I carried a respectable 50pounds but nothing on the 1000pounds that the Canadian official's demanded be taken as supplies to the goldfields to ensure people could survive the winter.
I also had stunning weather and was blown away by the scenery. To get back to Skagway I caught the WhitePass railway...WOW as train journeys go this one had the best views.

The Casiar Hwy is slower but more beautiful, so it was an easy choice to go this way. The signpost forrest in Watson Lake was bigger than could have ever imagined with people from everything leaving directions and distances to their homes.

The was plenty of wildlife (black bear in particular) alon the Casiar but also evidence of forrest fires, lakes, volcanoes and my last chance to enjoy spruce forrests. A side trip into Hyder was well worth it to drive so close to the glaicers.

I was fortunate enough to be able to drive Hwy 99 in canada not once but twice is still the most beautiful hwy I have ever driven no matter what time of year!

I had some hastles getting back into the USA from customs...I had been over here to long for his liking and none of my answers were able to convince him that I was trying to living permantly in the USA. Finally after 50min of waiting I was through into the lower 48 again and had a win of sorts by breaking his stern face with the comment I just want to get home to see my mum!

I then heading to Crater Lake national park as the weather gods where being nice to me one last time! This volcanic crater is similar to Mt Gamiber in South Australia but MUCH MUCH bigger. I was convinced to go for a swim in it...rewards but cold. Hiked to the most amazing view points and realised I was not ready for children when I overheard a Dad explaining that he had to hold onto his kids tightly because he didnt want to have to climb down to rescuce them...I thought it would be much easier just to have another kid than climb down to get the stupid one who fell!

After Crater lake I decided i could squeeze the Lava Beds national park in also...well worth it to go caving on this trip. Seeing the flow paterns of the roack and walking through this geological gem was somehting else and also the amazing forests surround the national park.

I headed south again and this time just kept driving until I reached Los Angeles. I did so early Sunday morning and was exhausted but thogh i should wait until a respectable hour before waking Adrian. I lay down on the roof of the car to read my book and promptly fell asleep...the neighbours didnt like this and called the cops on me and was a classic ending to my drive south!

Over the 10days drove 4000miles, used 142gallons of fuel and spent umpteen hours behind the wheel. I had become attached the Red Rocket...the little gal just kept on going going going so to have to sell her was not easy...well emotionally anyway because it took less than 5hours once I had listed it online.

The last few days in LA I was to wrap myself in cotton wool to make sure my good luck didnt come crashing down...well i tried but them decide how often do you get to drive in chaotic traffic and do it in a monster truck...literally a BIG finale for a BIG holiday in a BIG country.

See you all in Australia very soon...


Monday, September 6, 2010

Magic Bus - Into the Wild

Alaska has had its share of famous traveler's; Capt Cook early on and recently a young lad called Chris McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp. The book and movie "Into the Wild" have made the kid famous.
He came to Alaska to discover himself and did well enough to survive off the land (subsistence living) for over 100days. This requires some considerable skill but he also was way under prepared and forgot the some essentials which led to him starving to death in a remote area north of Denali NP (18years to the day I was there!).His home away from home and final resting spot was an old Fairbanks school bus aka the Magic Bus parked in the middle of nowhere along the Stampede Trail.The bus has become a pilgrimage sight of sorts to backpackers all over. Sadly many of these folk didn't learn from watching the movie or perhaps they didn't finish the book because the Stampede trail continues to claim lives. 3 days prior to me walking the trail a female backpacker was killed attempting to cross one of the glacial rivers, she fell and her backpack held her under the water.Walking the Stampede Trail was a beautiful trail leading to the bus 20miles from where you park your vehicle. I was warned by numerous locals and even a park ranger about the river crossings but when it came to it my long legs and that I use trekking poles make river crossings much easier than it was built up to be...I also crossed it the correct place and at the optimal time of day.As I walked around the corner of the trail to find the bus I felt something stir inside me, it happened again sitting inside the bus...I was surprised to have felt anything as I normally remain aloof to the touchy-feely crap associated with places...the place really did have a feeling to it...I guess it was striking a chord with how it easily it could be me through some simple errors finding my end in an isolate corner of the world.
I spent a couple of hours at the bus, taking the typical photo's, reading the graffiti on the bus and plaques to his memory. I had planned on lunch there but it felt weird to be eating were he starved so I walked back to a decent blueberry patch and soaked up the sun before the return trip along the trail.Remember Alexander Supertramp's words of wisdom - "The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."



Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Denali - Mt McKinley

You know when you are back at one of the most prominent tourist destinations when you start paying tourist prices and see "Princess" tour buses rolling past.To see Denali NP and Mt McKinley are the sole purpose of many people visiting Alaska - it is that good!

Access into the NP is limited to a well run bus system, no private access is allowed and it caters nicely for as many tourists as it does. I unlike most tourists who only go on a day trip into the park, I went hiking for x5 days.
The bus trip in made me re-evaluate my plans as there was going to be a music festival that night so instead of camping by myself I followed the crowds and went to my first music festival. Being 90miles along dirt road with restricted access there was only 75-100people at the festival, the music was Bluegrass and Folk and it was a great evenings entertainment standing on the road with the stage also on the road...very low key and very cool. It was nice to wake up early though and escape the sea of humanity/tents and the few stoner's and drunks still up and about.I had planed on hiking further than I did the first day but between the incoming rain clouds, carrying a heavy pack of full of food/jumbo bear container and the constant bending over to pick handfuls of blueberries I didn't get far before setting up camp. However during arvo the sun came out and I started to get sick of blueberries so I found some amazing tunnels left behind from lakes in/on the glacier to climb around in.
I found ways to add blueberries to everything...the best by far was breakfast with porridge, almonds, cranberries and more fresh blueberries. Otherwise a blueberry crumble could be improvised by using a oats/honey bar sprinkled over the top after heating them. Yum Yum Yum! (it is also amazing the colour that they turn number 2's!)
The weather whilst in Denali NP was stunning...I saw the mountain for 4 consecutive days...most people don't even get to see the mountain as it hides itself in cloud 70% of the time. I was ambitious in my ridge climbing route and seemed to find the steepest points to climb over (would have been more fun without a 25kg bag on my back) but every time it was worth it for the views provided!

I saw numerous Grizzly bear feeding on the berries but there was x1 bear who rather than ignore me like every other bear decided to come within 15m and then do several bluff got my heart rate up anyhow! It was the first bear that wasn't scared of me...I didn't feel safe and the bear spray looks pretty small when a bear is that close. There was a classic moment when I was fumbling with the safety switch on the spray and I dropped the spray completely...I would have loved to seen my face at that stage scrabbling to find it while watching the bear getting closer and closer! Pity there are no photos...when I realised he was coming for me I put the camera away away quick smart and started screamed blue bloody murder at it. No amount of talking/screaming, clapping, banging my bear bell seemed to alert the bear to the fact I was not breakfast! I was backing away from the bear for 0.5mile before it decided that enough was enough and he went back to his berries felling pretty chuffed I'm sure that he got that response from me! I was pumping with adrenaline!!!
I had some amazing campsites, the most memorable was camping on top of a ridge when the weather changed later that evening...hail and snow decorated the tent nicely and between the squalls the rainbows over the tent made nice pictures!Following the national park I walked the Kesugi Ridge in the Denali State Park. This ridge line walk offers incredible views of the mountain and the colours were again beautiful.
I promised myself when I first got to Alaska to spend the money on a plane flight around Mt McKinley if the weather was clear enough. The day I got to Talkeetna where the airport is it was perfect! It is hard to describe the size of the cliffs carved out from the glacial action or the speed at which the 20,000ft peak rises out of the low-flat terrain to the north south. Landing on the glacier was so much fun and to see it in sunshine and perfect conditions made the flight worth every cent!With Denali done I had now just about 'finished' Alaska and I could say to everybody I had been everywhere in Alaska...more places than the person asking anyhow!


Monday, August 30, 2010

Dempster, Dalton & Denali Highways - A dedication to the Red Rocket!

These x3 highways are really roads to no-where, but as they say the journey is the important part not the destination!

Dempster Highway

The Dempster Hwy is Canada's most northern road, it is 670km one way to Inuvik, all dirt and rough as buggery for many a mile! This road decided to give me a flat tire and many hours of nervous driving on mud...muddy part was fun but the fact that they build roads up this far north with a 14 foot gravel base to insulate the permafrost meant that I was slipping and sliding on a road with rather large drop offs each side!
I shared this highway journey with a young Swiss fella who was great company and pulled a classic comedy act every time an on-coming truck passed as he would duck for cover from the flying rocks...he must have known something I didn't because after a fit of laughter at this action I passed another truck that sprayed a rock which hit with enough force to knock a chunk of glass on my lap!
We spent a total of 50min in Inuvik (end of the road) and decided that we might as well start the long trip back...after an obligatory photo of the church built in the shape of an igloo. Over 2.5 days we covered 1300km on dirt and brought back memories of living/driving in Australia. Grand total of x1 flat tire and x3 large rocks in the windscreen...I thought the Red Rocket had sustained worse damage after parking it in the creek for a wash...she certain sparkled afterwards but it also washed the mud out of only one-side of the wheels...hence the vibration when I got to the bitumen was took my non-mechanical self a while to realise that I could fix this problem by chipping the remaining mud out!
Dalton Highway aka Haul Road

This road extends 700km north of Fairbanks to Alaska's North Slope...built to provide services to Deadhorse/Prudhoe Bay and the oil industry is is also maintained extremely well...gotta keep the money flowing! It has a vicious reputation as being "as rough as buggery" but apart from the first 20miles (this is to scare the tourists off I believe) was one of the best dirt roads I have ever driven.The landscape when you head as far north as the Dempster/Dalton take you is stunning. The Dalton starts in the Boreal/Spruce forest and rolling hills, it passes over the Yukon river and other drainage's. Each rolling hill provides a vista and then it starts to become more rugged as it reaches the Brooks Ranges. They are the last barrier before the tundra starts, the tundra not being entirely flat until closer to the roads end. I drove this road in Autumn and was fascinated by the colours.The other feature that is constantly with you when driving the Dalton is the Oil Pipeline. Built above ground to stop it melting the permafrost it is a feat of human perseverance over nature. It cover 800miles in total in areas that freeze/remain frozen all year, suffer earthquakes and the shear distance make it a constant feature in your photos.

(Nice picture showing a moose eating pond-weed and the oil pipeline behind it)

I didn't make the roads end as 30miles north of the Brooks range I decided I had seen enough tundra.

Denali Highway

This highway is not even in the Denali NP or state park but rather is a connection between other highways, although it once was the road of choice to access the Denali area (gold prospectors). With "fall" colours in full swing it is extremely pretty and it was a slow 135miles getting in and out of the car, again and again for photos.
As I had no-where to go I hadn't already been once I was at the roads end I simply turned around and drove the 135miles back...good thing I like to drive! I had a stupid moment when I drove down a side road to investigate a possible campsite and slipped off the road. I had to hail down x2 German blokes to help push me out...more mud to play in!

Tribute to the Red Rocket
People (Alaskan's) laughed a lot when I said I was going to drive my tiny truck on these highways...the Red Rocket performed fantastic. A real disco car...flashing lights on the dash (minor things like airbag, battery, engine, etc) and a disco chandelier windscreen...with so-many cracks is glows and refracts sunlight! The little truck also has the added bonus of that she does much better economy than the monster rigs most Alaskans drive...about double their economy in fact! Last but not least she has become a home away from home...the canoe rack now supports a sheet of wood which I use as my tent base...yep I pitch my tent on the roof of the Red Rocket!

Cost of buying/maintenance = approx $15per day...cant get a rental for that cheap and there is still hope that might get something for it before I leave!

Keep your fingers crossed the Red Rocket makes it another 4000miles south to Los Angeles!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Wrangell St Elias National Park

This national park is the largest in is BIG...combine it with Canada's national parks and Glacier NP and you have the largest area of internationally protected environment on the planet...and bugger-all roads into and out of it...sounds like a place to loose yourself! (or get lost)

As all regions with crazy geological features and earth movements it was heavily prospected and mined 'back in the day'. Kennecott is the remains of a copper mine in the heart of the National Park and is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen/been to!
For a avid bush-walker it has everything...Mountains, Glaciers, Flora/Fauna and Historic landmarks.
A photo of the mine buildings does better justice than to describe it...
It is amazing that it has was built at all and in the isolation that it is located...'back in the day' when men were real men and everything was built but hand and carted across terrain not meant for human habitation.
The mines are perched high up in the cliffs of the mountain were the copper rich seams were was all dragged up by hand and later tramways (how did they pull those cables up has me still stumped). Hiking to the mines is rewarding exercise and then you get to play in the abandoned buildings which they just simply walked away from when mining ceased...everything is still in the buildings as it was cheaper to leave it and buy new stuff than cart it out of the isolation.
The minerals (particularly Cu) have created the most amazing rocks, the vivid green and blue rocks are constantly catching your eye. The slopes on the which the mines are built are hard to get up but faster going the small video shows...the longest scree slopes I have every gone took millimeters off my boots "skiing" down the scree...mostly out of control!
Once on the mountain tops the views of the glaciers were the best I have every encountered...the most memorable part was watching the scenic flights circle BELOW me while on the top of the changed my mind rapidly about paying for a scenic flight after that!
The converging glaciers and ice-falls (where the glacier descends rapidly to create huge crevasses) create the most unbelievably stunning landscape and you can sit watching them for endless time thinking of the forces involved and the power that water/ice has.
The Wrangell St Elias NP will remain my favorite memory of Alaska no doubt is a big call after seeing the sights I have seen this trip but what a place and probably the deciding factor is what fantastic weather I had whilst there!
Hopefully you enjoy the pics as much as I enjoyed the experience!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Tim bare's some facts on bear's.

One of the questions I keep getting from people is about bears and my safety.

Admittedly I had reached the point of "I don't care if I get eaten...tried my best not to and now its in the hands of mother nature and her appetite"

Just like Australian snakes they have a bad rap...have I ever been bitten by a snake...nup...ever been struck at...well yes but I was tormenting the snake with a stick at the time. My point is the same for bears...treat them with respect and they will/should leave you alone.

Strangely even Alaskans are funny about bears, personally I think it is more to do with an excuse to carry a gun around than anything else but they are always shocked that I haven't got a rifle or 44 magnum hand gun in my pack.

What have I got to defend myself against a bear...common sense (blowing my own trumpet a bit here), a bear bell, bear spray and hopefully luck!

Know your bears...what to do when you finally meet a bear and which type. There are x3 types but I wont see a Polar bear unless I make it way way north to the ice. Apparently it is OK to be racist when talking about bears so there are Black bears and Brown bears...both are big and have attacked/kill humans before.
Black are vegetarian while brown are just plain hungry!
So for a black bear I know I have pissed it off and it is probably something to do with cubs so back away slowly and get out of to you bear...let it know your human and then fight for your life if this doesn't stop the black bear's attack.
A brown bear is much bigger and nastier hence their nickname 'grizzly bear'...don't bother fighting back on these big fellows...back away again and if you get attacked play dead...protect the organs and hopefully once play time is over your are still alive. You are allowed to fight back if still alive after 10 min and being attacked...very complicated but it will never get to this stage if you have common sense!

They call a bear bell in Alaskan circles 'bear bait' and the old joke that you find them in bear poo...funny... but just like pink shirts Alaskans don't like wearing them...I don't like wearing it but it works! It jingles all bloody day...jingle jangle jingle jangle...if you don't hear me coming then Darwin's theory on natural selection doesn't give you good odds at surviving in the wild! They alternative is to sing...bear's don't like ABBA apparently...I don't like to sing while walking so bear bell it is.

Bear spray...the most use this will be is to season a steak at the end of my travels as it is capsicum spray...pepper spray...just in a 'bear size' spray pack...I personally think this is even safer than carrying a gun because if a bear attacks you have to be a mighty good shot to disable it and to not just piss it off further OR turn a mock charge into the real thing! The least bear spray can do is make me taste so bad that there is a body to for mum to come and get!

Common sense is watching for signs of bear, looking for clues of them being around recently and/or places where they might be feeding (rivers/berry patches). No rapid movements because apparently they like 'fast-food' also. Talk to them and back away, wait for them to move on and/or change your plans.

Lastly is at night when you have made camp...I hate having to pull my backpack up a tree...hard yakka but this way they wont be able to get my food or be tempted to get my food from my tent whilst I am around it. I even try to cook at a different place and wear different clothes than what will be in my tent at night.

Respect the bear, make noise and you will only see the back of it...if not then I have been proven wrong and unlike work (pharmacist) where if I am wrong I could kill someone else...if I am wrong then it is me who could be killed...much easier to LIVE


Thursday, June 17, 2010

Homer and the Keani Peninsula

Homer is renowned for being the capital of halibut fishing. I organised myself a half day fishing charter and was more than happy to catch the 2 fish quota. Halibut is a white meat fish that grow to some stupidly large sizes. The fish I went home with were babies at 20lb each but when they sell for $16+ a pound (lb) it made the cost of the charters highly worth it! There is no skill or art to fishing bait your hook (circle hook) and let it hit the bottom. When it starts pulling wind it up and decide if the halibut is big enough for your liking. You don't have to set the hook...yanking on it will just pull it out...simply wind it up! Halibut is like a flounder so not even a fighting fish...simply wind away and marvel at the fact it has both eyes on the same side of its head!

Russian history...Alaska was purchased off the Russians in the 19th century...pre oil and gold...silly buggers! Hence there is a strong Russian culture even today. I went exploring the head of the Kachemak Bay and found myself amongst the strict Russian Orthodox community, beards, women dressed like they did 100 years ago and speaking Russian as primary language.

Later that afternoon I went scenic driving and drove through another Russian community that welcomes the 'infidel's' (people like me) - still Russian orthodox though. I called into the cafe/gift store as it had been recommended and the Russian lady wouldn't let me leave without feeding me a Russian meal...for a cost of course so I could help save the Russian kiddies...really I was hungry and interested in what Russian food would be like (since when have I cared about a child or a child somewhere in stomach is much closer to home!)

The meal was amazing and will be remembered as much for the food as her personality...planting the seed for Tim to travel Russia...

Clamming is the family outing for many young Alaskan families. During the low tides the families descend on the glacial mud flats and suck or shovel clams from the mud. It looked like fun but the thing I love most about Alaskan camping holidays is every kid has an ATV to ride and there are trailers and large 4WD pickups everywhere.

The other Alaska past time is fishing...the salmon swim upstream during a few weeks each summer and come in such numbers (usually) that everyone including the bears are satisfied. Russian River is the place to be when the salmon a passing and you will line up with hundreds of others to cast your line for salmon.

Capt. Cook also travelled the Alaskan coast so I felt obliged to spend a night in the reserve named after him...stunning sunset at 11pm!

By now the red rocket had done 800+ miles and had developed a shake so back to anchorage I headed.


Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Kachemak Bay

I had a quick turnaround in Homer, enough time to stock up on dehydrated food and I was shuttled across the bay to go walking for 6 days.

Homer and Kachemak bay were blessed with non-stop sunshine for my entire trip, gorgeous summer weather in Alaska!

The highlights of Kachemak Bay were:

Glacier Tram - a cable cart which hauls hikers from one side of the river to the other. It took 20min of sweating swearing and force to pull myself across but least my feet didn't get wet (another disadvantage to solo hiking). On the way back I had to pull the tram/cable cart across the river first then pull myself across...30min of solid effort!

Emerald Lakes would imply a green colour but the snow and ice were only just breaking up. Beautiful vista's and fun following fresh bear tracks in the snow!

Grewingk Glacier - I camped not 200m from the Glacier and spent a morning climbing on and around it (as much as I dared without crampons). Love the glacier ice, its colour and the power carving the rock steadily and surely.

Black Bear encouters - these few bear that I did see must have been stupid or really deaf (I wear a bear-bell). Although they are the size of x4 dobermans they wanted nothing to do with me...and scampered away up and over the ridge line or into the forrest before I could even think about a photo opportunity. Black bear are the little tackers and are eaten by the brown (grizzly) bear so see these bear made me somewhat happier knowing the big fella's weren't around.

Poots Peak - Not only was this a mountain with an exposed rocky ridge to stand on the unexpected delight to sneak up on a Mountain Goat mother with a kid (baby goat) was enthralling to watch. They kid obviously learnt very very quickly to be sure footed as it was learning to walk on a cliff face! Coming down the peak was either the slow and steady way or run down the avalanche path...being sensible you know which route I chose and damn it was fun and fast!

Bush Bashing - seemed like a good the time! Found out why they call it Devils Club...spent the next week popping pussy thorn heads from legs/arms thanks to this plant. It grows on wet slippery slopes and is about 1 inch thick so when you start you loose your balance or slip instinct has it that you will grasp it...the Devils Club is a fine name as is leaves you with a handful of spines. 2hours to bush bash less than a mile...wont be making my own path anytime soon!

Sea Otters - while waiting for the water taxi to collect me I spent the time on a rocky outcrop watching the Sea Otters dive for shellfish and float on their backs whilst eating them.


Kodiak Island

My first destination in this large state was going to be an island south of the mainland and I timed my trip perfectly. The Kodiak Island Crab Festival was happening!

To get to Kodiak I had to board another ship and found it wasn't just a small trip..9hours later we arrived! We left Homer (the mainland) in perfect sunshine and arrived to rain.
However out of place I looked wearing shorts in the rain in Alaska I wasn't put off and still made it to the camp ground to set up my tent in the rain. The next day I was expecting the best out of Kodiak's festival, the rain didn't keep people away, when you live in Kodiak you just get on with life and ignore the weather. The best thing about the crab festival was the King Crab...dirt cheap and super fresh...yum!

I filled as much of the day in as possible watching the festival events then decided a nice brew would help dry me out and an get me out of the rain for a while. 4 hours and 2 large pints of stout and it was still raining outside (brewery licences allow only x2 pints in Alaska). I gave up and went home to my tent to wish for better weather tomorrow.

It was raining when i got up the next day! Since the locals were out and about I ignored the fact I was riding a bicycle and they were in cars whilst it was raining. The brewery visit opened up a guided tour of the coast guard base from a fellow patron but that only lasted 3 hours of the 18hours of sunlight so I ignored the rain and rode out to a 'Lord of the Rings' Forrest (Spruce trees covered in lichen/moss) and walked the rain.

The next morning waking up to the rain again I decided that it would never stop so I organised to go walk-about anyhow...even the locals thought I was crazy! The walk took me to a different part of the Island where I found that it didn't always rain...I had 6 hours sunshine in 3 days!

The walk was stunningly beautiful along the coastline. Cliff faces, meadows, moss covered spruce trees, streams and inlets to cross and beaches to walk along (in the rain). My animal encounters included seals, bigger white giant seals, whales, Orca's trying to catch a seal, bison and most impressive of all were the Bald Eagles. The campsite to beat all campsites was when I woke up to Bald Eagles sitting on a log not 5m from my tent! I spent an hour thinking how lucky this stupid Australian was and that not many Americans have even seen an Bald Eagle let along this close (in the rain). Sadly I did not see any Kodiak Brown bears (supposedly bigger than mainland bears) perhaps it is fortunate that I didn't see any.

I had my birthday on Kodiak Island so I spent the day climbing a mountain only for the cloud to obscure everything before I got to the top.. That night I set up camp in amongst some pine trees a short trip away from a dehydrated food for Tim's birthday dinner. Fresh beer, clam chowder and some interesting locals to talk to before retiring to my tent to sleep to the sound of raindrops. Happy 27th Birthday Tim :)

The ride back to Homer was far more eventful than the trip out. The boat left late (it was raining), got delayed further waiting for the local fishing boats, was delayed at the next port and a storm en route slowed us even further. We arrived 4 hours late. The trip was how you should travel the authentic way across sea in Alaska. The Alaska Marine Highway boats are basic, they do offer cabins but the best way is to join everyone else and lay out your sleeping mattress and sleep on the deck (enclosed fortunately). The only downside is that the waves were that big I found my sleeping bag wouldn't stick to the thermarest and I would slide back and forth with the swell...kind of a gigantic water bed!


Week 1 in Alaska

Buying a car...not exactly the easiest way to start a holiday.
I rode a bicycle around Anchorage to see in all about 20-30 vehicles...Craig's List offered a listing for a 2WD Ford Ranger...2WD meant that it was unpopular in Alaska where everyone drives a 4x4.
On first glance the "Red Rocket" don't look like much but then having a windscreen with that many cracks makes it look kind of chandelier-ish refracting the light.
The poor thing needed a good home and $850 later she had an Australian owner...without a home!
Then began the fun of trying to figure out what problems I inherited for spending so little. Insurance in the USA...crazily expensive for bare coverage and yet registration was $15.
As for a road-worthy...still drives doesn't it!
I then packed my bag (notice the singular) and drove south.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Getting from Florida to Alaska the long way!

The Coral Princess - 30days at sea from Ft. Lauderdale to Whitter Alaska!

Aruba: Beautiful little dutch colony. Went snorkeling here, diving under the mast of an old war wreck and scaring the scuba divers down deeper was the highlight. Plenty of fishy stuff also!

Cartargena (Columbia): Old Spanish fort and walled city were the attractions to see. Alet having her photo taken with Columbian lady, so much colour but to much clothing for that heat! Had a feed of fish and banana fritters and back to the ship (and air-con).

Panama Canal: The size of the Coral Princess leaves 6 inches space each side and 1 foot short of the maximum length...this is how to fit a VERY large ship into an elevator (lock) your life you must see at least 1 transit of the lock system, incredible how the ship is manoeuvred and raised, hard to believe created 100+years ago!

Puerto Amador (Panama): A taxi driver played tour guide and showed us the city and Old City (another Spanish fort) Seafood curry in a pineapple was lunch and back to the ship (and air-con).

Puntarenas(Costa Rica): 'Pura Vida' - Spanish for 'all is good'...yep love the life in Costa Rica...and the Zip Line's. Great tour through jungle, a fauna/flora talk with the downhill rush of Zip Lines!

Huatulco (Mexico): For a few hours we could escape the ship to enjoy a beer on shore. I explored the town first trying to find a pair of cobra cowboy boots (no luck) and also mango (the ONE food not available on the ship).

Acapulco (Mexico): Here I refused to go along with the geriatrics and wanted to feel the pulse of the place. I hailed a local taxi bus and had a flamboyant ride along the coast, went to the aquarium and was amazed at the human sardines on the beaches (public holiday in Mexico brings everyone out). The city is famous for its cliff divers...yeah they had bigger balls than I do...its a big jump off and you have to time it perfectly so that you land in the top of the swell or your going to hit the rocks under the water!

San Lucas (Mexico):
The end of the Baja Peninsula is a mecca for American tourists and deservedly. Its close to the USA, beautiful (deserts and dramatic ocean) and things are cheap (Mexico). I spent the day snorkeling where the oceanic currents swirl and create a fiesta of fish. Pity about the sunburn but beautiful location.
Los Angeles (California): Here I rung Adrian and we went for Taco-Van taco's...just as good again. Big ship but still doesn't compare to the feeling of riding in Adrian's monster truck!
Victoria (Canada): Until this stage I had been filling time on the ship reading, eating, going to the gym, eating, talking to the old folks, was nice to be able to go for a run on terra firma! Although I had been in Victoria before it was a totally different was sunny and the British buildings and manicured gardens were fantastic to walk around.
Vancouver (Canada): Did a complementary tram tour of the city...nice way to catchup on some sleep before re-joining the ship.

Juneau (Alaska): I went Zip Lining again...totally different to Costa Rica. The spruce and hemlock (pine trees) held the cables and you went whizzing over snow and creeks...very different to the tropical jungle of Costa Rica. Then a visit to Mendenhall Glacier...the first of many glaciers I would/will see in Alaska!

): Snorkeling...yep another snorkeling experience and probably the best and most memorable. The water may have only been 8deg Celsius but nothing that a wet suit couldn't keep out! Gloves and booties but stunningly beautiful. The sea felt thick and soupy with life and to dive between the kelp was amazing. So many starfish, sea cucumbers and hermit crabs. FANTASTIC
Vancouver (Canada): Caught up with Matt who has a very enviable job-holiday working between Canada and Hawaii. I made it back to the ship with plenty of time to spare yet held it up...apparently $10,000 USD per hour to dock at the port and I held it up...caused some tension obviously. I had been waved onto the ship with a valid Visa stamp that needed to be re-validated...bugger!

Ketchikan (Alaska): I had come a long way to go hiking in was only small day hike but enough to want more...strange to find solitude after 5 min outside the town...tourists madly buying "crap" and salmon 'this and that'...nice to escape humanity before re-joining the 3000+ people on the ship after a few hours of solitude!

Juneau (Alaska): I went for a walk up around the hills behind the capital city. Great to get outside and walk again and then the added bonus of being in the right place at the right time get a free Glacier flight.

): More day walks...this time followed by a beer sampler...a sign of things to come in Alaska. Wild-west appearance to Skagway, looking forward to getting back later in the summer and making it to the top of the trails that I couldn't get to because of so much snow.

Glacier Bay National Park &
College Fjord are where those cruise ship advertisement photos are taken of the Alaskan cruise experience. However most tourist don't get to see the glacier because of rain, clouds, mist and the other examples of fine Alaskan weather (even in summer). The days we were there were perfect - sunshine, clear skies and the captain was able to take us right up to the glaciers where we could watch them calve (break off) into the water. The cruise ship experience wouldn't be complete without a smorgasbord of Alaskan salmon and a buffet to feed on whilst viewing the glaciers!

Whittier (Alaska): Time to long last I was getting off the ship! What a fantastic month, I don't know how I will ever be able to repay Alet for inviting me on the ship. Amazing memories and a different way of travelling. Not going to mention the cost because you wont believe it anyway!
If I make it to a ripe old age book me onto a Cruise boat...apparently it is cheaper than a retirement home and much more fun and I can eat myself to death!

Considering my famed appetite and the amazing buffet selection I came out weighing just the same...perhaps slightly fitter though as I spent those long hours at sea not only eating but watching movies from the treadmill or bike
Thank Alet and thankyou Princess Cruises!