DAY FOURTEEN: THURSDAY, JUNE 25
The morning appeared with plenty of sunshine and some random clouds; another day in which your first breath outside made you feel real glad to be alive. As we loaded up the motorcycles for the day’s yet undecided destination, the Pink Dolphin stayed parked in its spot while the owners were obviously sleeping soundly in some of the other rooms we were repeatedly walking past. I closed my eyes for a second and said a little spiritual prayer to whatever higher power may be listening that this family would find their way north and back home safely. You really do meet some good people while traveling. Thinking of last night’s conversation brought a big smile to the face…a great way to start a day.
One of my biggest concerns the entire winter and spring as I planned and researched the Alaska adventure was what type of weather would be encountered. In 2014, I came within weeks of leaving for the 49th state when I had a flare up with the MS. Common sense said that it would have been foolish to do such an adventure, so I canceled it and went to Colorado instead as it was a much easier ride. Well, June 2014 came and it was one of the wettest June’s on record for the state of Alaska. I heard from some people that did the journey last year that it rained on them every day of their adventure. This was not the case this year.
I was very happy with the weather we faced. While we had a couple good frog chokers of rainstorms to ride through, overall the weather was beautiful and we dare not even ask for better. This morning was a fine example…the sun shining, the puffy clouds barely moving, the cool air exhilarating.
So with the bike now packed, I walked out to the main road to take a picture of the sign at the intersection. Behind where I stood was the road to Haines, a highly rated motorcycle road that would take us to Alaska’s Chilkoot Inlet and a passage on the Alaska Marine Highway System by ferry to Skagway. In front of me was the sign showing places we had already been and attempting to get us to go in one of those directions:
The asphalt road from Haines Junction to Jake’s Corner, just east of Whitehorse, would require three hours to ride. The distance from Haines Junction to Haines, then from Skagway to the same Jake’s Corner, required nearly eight hours to ride. This second offering did not include the time needed to await the arrival of the ferry or the passage on the boat from Haines to Skagway; which could add many more hours to the journey.
I was in Alaska living my bucket list dream. But this morning, the chest and side pain was really bad; I knew that going the direction of the ferry was going to hurt even more than staying on good asphalt for less hours. So I did what anybody else would do; I let fate decide. I started the bike, pulled to the end of the parking lot up against the road, and I waited for a sign as Jeffrey sat on his bike behind me. Our conversation this morning again had his confirmation that he would follow me anywhere and that the decision was mine alone to make. He knew that I was still undecided as I started moving the motorcycle…so he just sat quietly behind me; our two motorcycles’ engines the only sounds to be heard.
Looking left, I saw nothing but mountains and the route to Haines. Looking right, I saw a car pull out of a gas station and head towards Whitehorse. So I took the path less traveled and turned left. Haines and the ferry it would be. And as it would turn out, it would lead to some of the best moments of the entire trip.
The clerk at the Valdez Ferry Terminal a couple of days ago had told me that there were daily departures from Haines to Skagway leaving at 12:30 each afternoon. We simply needed to be there an hour early and we would have no problems getting on with motorcycles. Seeing how it was a shade after 6:30 AM, we had plenty of time to ride the roughly 150 miles to the Haines terminal. The pace therefore had no reason to be quick and I enjoyed leading the ride into the great unknown at a leisurely rate.
The view when one turns left out of the hotel parking lot and rides for about five minutes:
The road from Haines Junction down south to the international crossing back into Alaska has the Kluane National Park and Reserve of Canada abutting the entire road on the right side. A simply humongous national park, Kluane was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1973 for its glacier and ice-fields landscape as well as for its wildlife habitat.
We had rode next to Kluane NP and a number of its mountains the evening before; today’s ride did not disappoint either. Pronounced “clue-on-e”, this park contains Mount Logan, the highest mountain in Canada at 19,551 feet high in the sky.
Dezadeash Lake coming up on your left:
Dalton Post and Bear Camp areas:
Eventually one leaves the Yukon and actually enters into British Columbia before getting to the international border. I don’t remember a BC sign though along the road though but I may have missed it in the growing fog and rain showers that finally appeared this morning.
As we kept climbing in elevation, the weather got worse. Pretty soon we were riding in the clouds and getting wet:
The Haines Highway offers spectacular scenery and a varied landscape that will amaze photographers of any skill level. It even has a photogenic sign as well:
One more Haines Highway photo before we get to the US border:
The border opens at 7 AM and had been open for a little bit of time when we got there. Before I forget, because I keep forgetting to mention…crossing into Alaska is the time change location. You gain an additional hour. Going back into the Yukon, you lose it. We have flip-flopped like crazy for the past few days. I just kept my watch on home time so I knew what time it was there for phone calls and such and tracked the time change difference in my head.
Anyways…the border. So, what happens when two guys on motorcycles pull up to a United States border crossing, where a lone guard is working, who hasn’t seen a single vehicle all morning?
When you are with Jeffrey, you start chatting with him and both of you get off your bikes and you stand there in the road next to the booth for twenty minutes and BS with the officer. It was a interesting conversation; we found out that the officer had been stationed at Poker Creek previously as well as some other international locations on the other side of the ocean. The officer blatantly told us he loved his job and this current post was his favorite so far; not being a big fan of large groups of people, he enjoyed working out here and living in Haines down the road. Maybe this is the job I should have worked up for when I was younger. Sounds like heaven.
Before we left, we inquired as to a recommended place to grab breakfast when we got into Haines. Without a pause, he recommended the Chilkat Restaurant and Bakery on the corner of Dalton and 4th Streets. He mentioned that the donuts blew away chain places like Dunkin’ Donuts and that their made to order breakfasts were to die for. Coming from a world traveler such as this protector of American citizens from bears without passports, I figured how could we go wrong.
Once we entered Alaska once more the road really narrows. In some areas, you almost fee like the landscape has created a tunnel for you to ride through. There are some great photo opportunities on the side of the road of the Haines Highway as many fingers of both the Jarvis Creek and the Chilkat River waterways intertwine all around near the road as you get closer to Haines. Unfortunately, with the thought of a hot breakfast after riding through the wet clouds in the mountain pass, I did not stop to capture a single image through this area.
The Bakery was easily found and the border guard was accurate on the quality of the food. A large-sized omelette found its way in front of me in good time. As we ate, we chatted with the lady who was managing the cash register for take-out customers and who was cleaning tables in the bistro-styled restaurant. She told us we should call the terminal before proceeding there; the gossip grapevine had stated that due to weather, the ferry wasn’t coming to Haines today.
The clerk provided the terminal number and I made a quick phone call. Turns out the ferry was running today. Only that it has already left…at 3:45 that morning. The information I had received in Valdez was not completely correct as the schedule regularly changes depending on weather as well as what day it was. Jeffrey and I decided to ride over to the ferry terminal after we finished eating so we could figure out a new plan.
The Haines Ferry terminal:
We had arrived to an empty parking lot and nearly deserted lobby inside the building. We found a clerk who told us that we had missed the day’s ferry to Skagway by about six hours. After a quick chat, Jeffrey and I decided to just take the rest of the day off so I could rest my ribs some more off the motorcycle. We paid for a ferry ticket to Skagway for the next day, which we were assured would depart at 12:30 PM. Ferry passage was $31 for a person and the same mount for the motorcycle. I didn’t think $62 was too bad to pay for boat ride and the adventure of taking the Vstrom with me.
As we walked out to the parking lot, we ran into somebody we had met previously. I didn’t recall the woman, but Jeffrey knew her immediately. He knew her from a quick conversation in Valdez or Fairbanks, cannot remember. It is amazing that you just seem to keep running into the same people over and over on this adventure; something I have not mentioned yet. You could get gas some place remote, introduce yourself to somebody, and two days later hear somebody calling your name at another remote fuel stop or in a town’s restaurant. Way past ironic; it just became usual activity after a while on the road way up north.
Anyways, we told the lady that we were going to be stuck in Haines overnight. She immediately recommended a bed and breakfast she had used the night before that would offer the best views in the city, was fairly priced, and the owner was a delight to talk to (her words). She gave us the name of Fort Seward Bed and Breakfast, which we eventually found after stopping in the local town information office for help finding it. The B&B has a website at http://www.fortsewardalaska.com if you want to check it out. Fort Seward is a historical section of town overlooking the main area of Haines, the main waterway, and beautiful mountains.
As we made a few turns driving up the hill to the B&B location at the street address of House Number One, I noticed a small Ford Ranger truck following us. As soon as I pulled the bike over in front of the B&B, the driver pulled up alongside, turned off the vehicle, and started talking to me as if I was his best friend. And I mean non-stop; wanting to know about our bikes, our plans, how long we were staying, etc. Eventually Jeffrey walked over, I introduced my co-rider to the Ford driver, and I excused myself to find the owner of the B&B. It was only about 10:15 AM so I had no idea if they even had rooms available for non-expected walk-ins.
The Fort Seward B&B house:
The view from the front porch and one of the many available chairs to relax upon:
I found Norm, the owner, and regaled him quickly about our journey and needing a room. He wasn’t full at all; he had a couple and their two young girls upstairs and the bottom of the house was empty. I got a rate of $142.35 (with all taxes) for a very large room with two queen size beds, and lot of furniture in it:
I later found on that this B&B was one of the best rated B&B’s in southeast Alaska, according to Alaska Magazine. Turns out this was one of the first homes built near the old fort that used to be here; this house was actually for the commandant of that fort. Since becoming a B&B, they have had numerous celebrities and politicians stay there; paper notices and pictures were scattered throughout the home for proof.
Norm made us feel like family. He invited us to help ourselves to the fridge for snacks and to make our own breakfast if we wanted. It just so happened that the day before, Haines had found e.coli in their drinking water so the whole town was under a boil only warning. Norm had gone out and bought cases of water so we’d have drinking and lavatory water as needed. The two Jeff’s moved into the boarding room. We decided to do our own thing until dinner time; giving us some time alone to do as we desired. While Norm and Jeffrey continued to chat, I jumped back on the Vstrom to explore the town. Although I was very ready to rest, I love a seaside town and have found each to be unique in their own ways. The exploration was worth the discomfort.
One of the pull-offs around the water:
The local harbor and marina area:
I went back to the ferry office and retraced the route back to town more leisurely, stopping to take photos at each of the pull outs. I then went into town; against the need to rest my sore ribs, I decided to go walk the town proper and do something my wife loves to do but I hate…window shopping. I walked into a number of shops that were clearly in existence only to grab tourist dollars; nothing met my fancy to purchase. I found out that full-size cruise ships actually docks at a port near the downtown area to send hundreds of shoppers into the community. Gladly I heard that it had been there already this week so foot traffic was very minimal and relaxing.
After spending about two hours exploring, I decided to head back to the B&B to relax. Jeffrey had left his bike out front but has disappeared on foot; he was gone for the next three hours or so. I used the time to try to get some extra Z’s on the large comfortable bed that I had previously claimed. I finally got up after getting a quick nap in and went out on the porch and made a few calls and played on the Macbook Air I had brought along. It was time to back up the many hundreds of photos from all the SD cards to the laptop; once completed, I backed up once more to a Buffalo Ministation external hard drive I had brought along as well. Jeffrey had sneaked past me sometime during this process and was taking his own nap as well later in the afternoon.
Around 5 PM, I woke Jeffrey to see if he wanted to eat. Typical guy like myself, he bounded up and out we went on the motorcycles to try to find an open establishment. The first two places we stopped at were closed due to the town water issue. We ended up at the Bamboo Room Restaurant. And so it seemed the rest of the town found this was one of the limited places open; it got very packed shortly after we had entered. People were walking in, seeing it was full, and walking back out. The high-school boy working as a waiter did a great job of hustling; the food of a promised great burger was only mediocre and I’d recommend trying one of the many other establishments if visiting Haines.
On the way back up the Fort Seward hill, we decided to pull over and check out the Port Chilkoot Distillery Tasting Room we had passed several times in our earlier travels today. Located at 34 Blacksmith Street for you GPS lovers.
We walked in at the same time we heard a conversation with the attractive on-site host and another patron discussing the water situation. The distillery was open but had no ice to provide; all drinks would be served warm. This distillery started brewing their own beer years ago but moved on to hard liquors such as making their own bourbon and vodka. Ice was not imperative to improve on the offered selections but would definitely add to the overall experience. Sometimes you have a drink without ice. It’s an adventure, right?
As this conversation is going on and Jeffrey and I are each looking at a menu of taste samplings, a couple of very ragged twenty-something year olds, dread-lock headed and much in need of a showers, come walking in carrying a large Coleman-styled cooler. Opening it in the lobby, they revealed a humongous block of ice. Glacier ice. They were patrons of the distillery the day before and knew about the ice problems with the bad water in town. While visiting one of the local glaciers that day, they decided to bring back something that could be carried in their empty cooler back to their favorite Haines establishment. Once they yelled out what they had, the entire place went nuts with glee. There was probably thirty people both inside and outside sipping a drink or standing in line and everybody welcomed the opportunity to chill their drinks properly.
The sole lady working in the establishment was ecstatic. She immediately found a hammer…and started breaking off chunks to walk around and put in people’s highball and whiskey glasses who wanted a little coolness to their drink. Once done, she turned her attention to Jeffrey and I. “What will you be having?”, she asked. Enjoying an occasional bourbon at home, that was my choice. It was very, very smooth. With a slight smoked flavor and aroma, it had a hint of spice and oak as a good bourbon should have in my opinion. Very enjoyable. And the glacier ice was pure in color, flavor, and clarity with no type of visible contaminants. It tasted so good, many of us munched on it as we stood around talking once the spirits had been fully sampled. Had their been available room on the motorcycle, I would have considered bringing at least one bottle back that they offered.
Alaska’s a little different. Well behaved animals would come into shops with their owners and nobody raised a fuss. Around home, the SWAT team would have been called and four people would have been shot. At the Distillery, we had a visitor that everybody took a shining to:
Somebody recently asked me what was the single best moment of the trip. This had to be it. In this group of around thirty people were people from every walk of life. The dread-locked smelly guys. The pristine preppied college girls. A very aged couple of whom life had been very kind to over the years. The black fishermen coming home from a day at sea, smelling of fish and looking haggard. A Indian woman who worked at a nearby store. Two white motorcycling guys from Indiana and Minnesota. And not one person was snobbish. Everybody mingled, everybody shared stories, and everybody was treated as an equal. There was no cliques; everybody was even here. Each new stranger coming in were treated like Norm is when he entered Cheers. You just don’t see this where I live. It felt very good. And for a period of sixty minutes, I did not feel any pain as my mind went to the here-and-now and not the past.
This place is not a bar. It is a official tasting room location but it was packed with people; many who were frequent regulars and well known by the host as well as others there. Their hours are 2 PM – 8 PM, so no late night partying here. You must simply check out this establishment if in Haines. For you lovers of harder spirits that also enjoy websites, their website is located at http://www.portchilkootdistillery.com.
The choice came as to whether to get the motorcycles back home to the bed-and-breakfast or leave them here and walk up the large hill after another drink. Even though we were having a blast, we still needed to ensure our transportation was taken care of, so we left. Once I got off the motorcycle and sat on the front porch, I was done moving around for the evening. It was a great evening to sit outside…and I had no idea that I’d still be out there past 2 AM the following morning chatting with another person who found Haines as intoxicating as I did.
Over the course of the evening, you could see the cruise ships that had left Skagway ,under power through the bay, on the way to their next respective stops around the Alaska waterway:
Norm (B&B owner) had warned us that the next door neighbor was having a birthday party for a 75-year old relative and that half the town was going to be there. Sure enough, party was just getting going when we had returned to the B&B. Another hour later, and half the town was there. We were also told that they would be celebrating with a firing of one of the antique cannons from the old fort that would wake up the state. I just had to see this, so Jeffrey and I watched the activities from the porch. They had created a skit with people in costumes as a theater showing and we were able to watch from our vantage point. Sure enough…cannon goes off as part of it. I’m guessing people in New York probably called to complain about that noise. UN-BE-LEAVE-A-BULL volume that thing put out. I’m very surprised that Haines residents still have un-shattered windows in their homes.
(photo captured earlier in the day)
Shortly afterwards, the next door owner came over and invited the two of us to their party. Jeffrey jumped up and stayed there to help close it down hours later. I politely refused, quickly explaining my injury and the need to sit in one place for a while. When the cannon had gone off, the other party renting the upstairs of the B&B had come down. The wife wasn’t feeling good so she went back upstairs with the kids. The husband sat next to me, and within fifteen minutes had produced a six-pack of his preferred ale to share. It was a great evening of conversation with a guy who lived in Calgary that I never met before and will never see again. We talked as if we were life-long buddies; I simply enjoy great conversation.
I had ended up coming to Haines today entirely based on fate. Had I seen a car on the opposite side of the parking lot this morning at the Haines Junction hotel, I would have taken the much quicker road to Whitehorse and missed this day. As I looked out into the distance at the water and the mountain, I felt blessed that fate had offered a great hand to me.
Tomorrow, the truth about how to travel with motorcycles on water is revealed. We learn Skagway is not the town to be in when the cruise ships are in town. I come -this- close to going to Canadian prison at the whim of a customs officer.
Mileage: 172 miles (pretty sure; do know that so far I’m at 6,380 miles into the trip)
Areas traversed: Tok, Destruction Bay, Haines Junction
Tolls (ferry): $62