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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Anchorage to Valdez

Aliza Kimbell at home in Anchorage, with Rocinante
On Tuesday the tenth I bid farewell to my hosts, Kelly, Charlie, Aliza and Taylor, and departed Anchorage.
Along the Seward Highway, southeast of Anchorage
Rocinante and I made a morning ride eastward down the Seward Highway, past the epicenter of the Alaska Earthquake of 1964. 

We turned off at the sign reading "Portage Glacier/Whittier." 
Portage Glacier, as seen from the road.
Ten mikes farther and I was at the toll gate to the 2.5 mile railroad tunnel through which one must ride to reach the Alaska Marine Highway ferry terminal at Whittier.

That tunnel ride on greasy steel grating laid between the train tracks was harrowing.  "We send the bikes through last, a minute and a half behind the last car, so that you can keep up enough speed to be stable," said the toll collector, handing me a brief brochure, "Information for Motorcyclists."  "We know that bikes can get squirrelly in the tunnel, and we don't want you coming into contact with the rails."  "Squirrelly" proved an understatement.  It was a lousy four minutes.  But, Rocinante stayed upright, and brought us to Whittier.

In Whittier I found a post office at the far end of a pedestrian tunnel
Pedestrian Tunnel
leading from the docks to the "city center," which is mainly made up of boatyards, railroad yards, and an apartment block in which the port's workers live.  I sent a card to Hannah Lehman, my 12 year-old granddaughter from Boulder, Colorado, who is presently attending a three-week American Dance Festival school at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.  Hannah is a long way from home, and I thought she might appreciate an encouraging post card from Daddy Duncan in Alaska.  The post office attendant in Whittier turned out to be one Suzanne Eusden, formerly of Gilford, New Hampshire, and a cousin of the Eusden family that frequents Randolph, NH.  She was once a "hut-man" for the AMC, and reports having owned five pairs of Limmer boots in her life.  When I told her that my daughter Christal (Hannah's mother) was once a lifeguard at the Ravine House Pool, and that my son Brian had once been a hut-man at Grey Knob in Randolph, she got quite excited.  Minutes flew by until I had to head back through the tunnel to catch my ferry to Valdez.
Aurora approaching Whittier

Departing Whittier

Low clouds hid peaks, but heightened drama.

As Alaska must have appeared to Captain Cook.

We passed many icebergs.  Glaciers contribute these hazards to the sea.

Sea lion, and a seal?


S.S. Sierra departing, laden, from Valdez

The ferry ride was dampened by the low clouds and rain, though we did see two whales, a couple of sea lions and an otter resting on a navigational buoy, and a few dolphins swimming on the shoreward side of the ship.  The Aurora was a perfectly fine ferry boat, and the ruggedness of the Alaskan shore was evident, with deep forested mountains appearing to rise vertically from the sea for scores of miles, and snow-capped mountains visible through breaks in the clouds.  Once in Valdez, I took advantage of my early "motorcyclist's priority" exit from the car deck to ride straight to The Keystone Hotel, the only inexpensive hotel in Valdez, and to book a room for the night.
Valdez from the sea.
So, this short trip had some adventurous aspects, one "small world" experience, and offered me a seaman's view of Alaska.  But the next day was to be adventurous, indeed, and as perfect a touring day as this Don Quixote wannabe could have imagined.

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