DAY FIFTEEN: FRIDAY, JUNE 26
Today would mark a much later departure time than any other date of the trip. The ferry would be leaving port at 12:30 and we were told to be at least an hour early. We decided to get there a couple hours in advance so we can see how things worked there, to walk around a little, and just relax there now we were good to load onto the boat.
Still getting up before 7 AM, I went into the kitchen and ate a half bowl of Wheaties topped with a small banana. Not a big of fan of cereal, especially grainy types, it was hard to eat more than a few spoonfuls. By 8:30 the bikes were loaded and we had found ourselves just sitting on the beds waiting for time to fly by; which it wasn’t. Outside it was very overcast, foggy, and not to be the best riding day. Gloomy. I hoped it wasn’t an indication or forecast for the day’s activities. Tired of just sitting around, we decided to head back to yesterday’s breakfast stop, the Chilkat Bakery, to grab a doughnut and some milk. Usually a morning coffee drinker, I had been slamming milk everywhere hoping that the calcium was helping with the healing ribs.
As we were putting our gear back on the bikes, we noticed that Haines had its own cruise ship in town today. We found out later at the bakery that Skagway was already full of cruise ships and the captain of the one here in town had made special arrangements to dock in Haines this day.
Apparently word hadn’t spread through town yet that a cruise ship was there; the streets were near deserted as we rode through. We noticed as we rode past the ship in the drizzly morning air that they had not started disembarking passengers yet.
Quick notes on Haines. It is 2-3 times bigger in size than Valdez was; at least the layout of the the town. While Valdez had the much better fishing marina, harbor, and terminal, Haines had the “more things to do” feel to it. Both are highly recommended visits to anybody going up north. By comparison, Fairbanks was obviously a much bigger city than either of these two towns, but Fairbanks felt like any mid-size city in the lower 48. If you have the choice, skip Fairbanks and stay south in the state (unless you are making a run for the Arctic Circle or Deadhorse; which then makes Fairbanks the correct staging point).
We spent an hour at the bakery before deciding to head over to the ferry terminal. Neither of us felt like really exploring more of the area; our luck would have had us ending up missing the ferry again. Arriving around 10 AM, we were the first ones there to line up.
Even though we had tickets, we were required to check-in to be assigned a staging lane to pull into. There were eleven marked lanes in the large rectangular parking (great picture of it if you Google Maps the terminal). I had originally thought that the lanes indicated what town you were taking the ferry to. Nope. It’s for different classes and weights of vehicles. Lane One, closest to the building, was for motorcycles. Light cars in lane two, pickups in lane three, and so forth to the really big RVs in lane eleven. After checking in, we moved up to the front of lane one. As we got back off the motorcycles, we saw more bikes pulling into the lot; they would eventually line up behind us. Even some Harley’s showed up to take the boat trip.
I walked around and took some pictures of the visible signage. This is what I call information overload:
A couple more feet and I could have been sitting in a federal prison for years I guess (instead of orange is the new black, I’d prefer plaid is the new stripes):
They are stern on stowaways up here:
If we catch ya, to the brig with ya, matey! ARRRRRRRRR!
Even found a bigger boat in case the purchase of the McPutt in Valdez didn’t work out for me in the future. This one just needs a “little” work:
Inside I went into the ferry building to take some pictures as well. Stuffed animals:
I really hate displays like this. Most of the time somebody goes out and shoots living animals just to make a few bucks and stuff them into a case that people just walk by without bothering to look over. Apparently these were wildlife that naturally died and were then stuffed. Um, sure..yeah…I bet that’s accurate.
Really liked this old poster hanging on the wall:
This brings me to another thought. We saw TONS of wildlife in Canada. Not much in Alaska in comparison. I think many of the animals were on vacation in the Yukon while we were up there.
Jeffrey made friends chatting with the adventure rider that pulled in directly behind us. Behind them, on the Harley’s, was a group of people that had been staying at the cabins with us in Valdez. As I said, small world up here. Don’t piss anybody off while visiting in Alaska; you are going to probably run into them three more times somewhere else in the state.
The air was very cool…a high blowing wind was dropping the air temperature into the high forties. With our layers of clothes, most of the motorcyclists were comfortable milling about outside. People in four or more wheel vehicles either hid inside the terminal or stayed in their RVs and trucks.
We eventually see a boat coming towards us:
The LeConte, our transportation to the thrills of the town of Skagway, has appeared:
Interesting story (as most things Alaskan are), the LeConte came very close to sinking in 2004. Read the story on Wikipedia; they got all the crew and passengers off and even had an elaborate procedure to transfer the cars in the ship’s hold off while it was in danger of sinking. The running joke became how we would attempt to salvage our motorcycles should the ship go down with us on it. My plan was to load up on life preservers and dive for Faith as it sunk. According to Wiki, this ship could hold 250 passengers and 34 automobiles. I think that number got very tested today, especially on the vehicle side.
We watched the ship’s hold open and vehicles start to leave:
Is this vehicle leaving the shipping or loading on? It’s facing the land; must be leaving the ship.
WRONG. All vehicles larger than a regular sized pickup (with no recreational equipment attached) are required to load backwards so they are able to pull straight out when leaving the ferry! You can tell many of the people driving their RVs had no idea this was required. The loading process seemed to take forever as the RVs and other four-tired vehicles loaded first. Many near heart attacks probably occur when people realize that they have to get their RV turned into the boat, a 90 degree requirement in a very tight spot…backwards, in the dark of a ship hold, being guided by staff who probably have a bet on which vehicle will be the first to skin the wall.
When all the cars and such were loaded, then the motorcycles went on last.
Let’s take a moment to dispel some myths we heard while researching utilizing the ferry system: We were told that the ferry service provided tie downs. NOT CORRECT, they had none for motorcycles. They had chocks for tires…that was it. We were also told previously that the bikes had a place to tie off to. NOT CORRECT. You have a place to tie off to if the ferry is light on cars and you park in their area. The ferry today was packed tight, as they told us it usually is. The bikes were told to park in the internal “big bay” area where some vehicles could use as a turn around point on-board (this is shown in the second photo above where the two trucks are waiting to disembark).
We had no place to tie off. So, we improvised. We had straps tied to straps tied to pipes tied to hanging cables tied to another bike tied to whatever. We had bungees, ratchet straps, chocks, and everything else we could muster up to try to keep the bikes in place.
Hard to see our work above, but believe me, it was like a spider’s web. And the Harley group was behind us and stuck in the middle of the bay. They had twice as many things attempting to keep their chrome from getting smashed up.
Eventually we were forced up into the ship. We’d just have to hope the bikes would still be standing when we got to Skagway.
We decided to bypass the internal observation lounges and just go up topside and be outdoors. The ship had a heated solarium area but no cabins for rent as some of the other ferries have for those on long voyages. A couple people we had talked to had been traveling for days from one small town to the next. They simply camped out under the solarium and took possession of a lounge chair to make it their home.
There was a lot of staff on this ferry walking around. It was apparent there was a lot of training activity going on; you could tell some of the staff were team leaders and had a few novices around asking lots of questions. We even got treated to the weekly Coast Guard required fire drill while on the moving ferry. We were all assured the boat did not have a fire and was not sinking as was being repeatedly blasted over the loudspeakers. It made me feel very secure seeing all staff in life jackets while none were offered to us very important motorcycle riders.
This ferry ride was only forty-five or fifty minutes in length once left the dock in Haines. In fact, if one stands in the correct place in Haines, you could see Skagway up the coast on the other side of the bay with binoculars. Imagine the waterway being a large “V”. At just left of the bottom point is Haines. At the top right of V’s line is Skagway. Not at all far…maybe twenty miles with a single chain of inline mountain peaks blocking the view between the two harbors.
Not to say there wasn’t things to look at while out on deck though:
We hit an area where the wind really came whipping through. As in you aren’t walking against it and it would blow you back from the ship’s rails if you weren’t holding on to something. I held on making sure to sit on the life jacket container (oops, never mind…you didn’t read that…I was really standing since you weren’t allowed to sit there). If you see pictures out there on the Net of some guy sitting on the red container, I don’t know who he was.
That little white tube thing in front of me in the above picture is one of two lifeboats. Yep, it’s a boat. It expands when opened to hold…now get this…100 to 125 people on-board. Technology, hmmm? It had BIG BOLD writing of things not to touch on it unless there was an emergency. Now how much of a enticement is that? The strength of the willpower required NOT to touch it…the evil side of me was coming out. Need something to change my thought process….wonder if there’s any donuts for guests on this ship….
We walked forward to the bow of the ship (that’s the front for you Army guys) but it was crowded and eventually the staff forced everybody to leave it since we were getting close to Skagway. Returned to my original encampment next to the enticing lifeboat, and took pictures of some of the cruise ships in Skagway’s harbor as we slowly past by:
The ferry finally docked and we were all allowed down into the vehicle hold. As all the motorcycles were parked in the departure bay, everybody else had to wait for us to unwind our serpentine of straps and put them back into their safe storage on the bikes. We were the first ones off and into the town of Skagway. Oh my. OMG. Whatever. It was like the boat had landed us in the middle of Disney Land on the fourth of July weekend.
Skagway was a town both Jeffrey and I could not wait to get out of. The sidewalks and streets were packed. I felt like I was in a parade and constantly slamming my brakes while some tourist decided he would turn and walk out in front of the bike to cross the street without looking. We even stopped at a medium-sized bar and restaurant so we could both use the restroom and maybe get a late lunch. The place was packed; that was thirty minutes lost out of our lives while we waited just to get a menu or even a hello. You could see it in the staff’s eyes working there…they all hated tourists. We eventually left; both of us deciding we had enough snacks on the bikes to hold us that we would eat at a pull-off up in the mountains outside of town.
The ride from Skagway to the Canadian border was another awesome ride; known as the Klondike Highway, it takes you to the tops of mountain passes. This leg had tons (and I mean very many) large tourist coaches. We’d manage to pass one of them climbing up the mountain at six miles an hour only to get trapped behind the forty more just like it just around the next curve. This continued up until about one or two miles from the border where the buses turned around. If you do this ride, and I recommend it, do it earlier in the morning. There are some great, and I mean awesome views on this road. We did not stop at many due to the volume of tourists and coaches clogging up the pull-offs.
It took much longer than it should have to get to the border which was located about twenty-five miles NE of Skagway’s town center. When we got there, we met one of the meanest / toughest / rudest / women I’ve ever come across working as Canada’s official greeter. Now remember, we have been in and out of Canada numerous times without a single problem. Of course, this would be another perfect record to be broken.
“Are you bringing any plants into Canada”?
“Have any food you are bringing in?”
“Well, yes…I think I have an unopened bag of Cheetos and maybe a Snickers.”
“Why did you lie?”
You know the type. It got even better when she asked whether we already had jobs.
“How long will you be in Canada?”
“Not too long, we are on the way home to the lower 48 and just riding through.”
“Are you both employed?”
“He is, I’m not…just lost my job before coming on this trip.”
“You know you cannot look for work while in Canada.”
“I wasn’t planning on it, just heading home.”
“Seriously, you will be arrested if you are looking for work here.”
“No problem, I have no interest in working in Canada.”
“WHY? What’s wrong with Canada?”
Yeah…that’s probably 99% accurate on the estimated four minute conversation that left me speechless more than once. I could see it coming…I was going to go to Canadian prison really soon. I was already thinking that I needed to go to the biggest person I saw when I got to jail and sucker punch them as I start screaming in an alien language so nobody would mess with me.
She must not like Americans. Or tourists. Or men. Or motorcyclists. Yeah, that must be it. Her testosterone is so high, she’s confusing the guy wearing 100% safety gear and riding an extremely filthy torn apart Vstrom that has bent handlebars with a patched member of an international motorcycle club riding a chromed-out Harley Davidson with ape hangers.
This was a long Q&A conversation with traffic piling up behind us; my getting the third degree for no reason, and she looking more and more pissed like I’m not giving the answers she wants to hear. I fully expected her to punch me off the bike or to tell me to pull over and come into the office or for a trained attack dog to come out of nowhere. When she finally told us to go through, I just looked at Jeffrey and shrugged my shoulders. He did the same back and off we went to not look for work in Canada. Part of the adventure, right?
We stopped at a fuel station in Carcross and was immediately made aware of the economic problems in the area. Let me first say that the town of Carcross is part of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, a clan-based system of government and one of eleven self-governing First Nations in the Yukon. As with many other native people in the areas we rode through, one could not help but notice the extreme poverty of the citizens as well as the very obvious, very expensive multi-million dollar government buildings in the community serving those citizens. Hey, we have the same problems in the lower 48 too. It’s sad to see no matter where you are.
I won’t go into some of the “bargaining” that was blatantly done in front of many others inside this stop between some local customers and the people behind the counter but they weren’t making any effort to hide anything from strangers like us who ventured inside. Upon exiting, I found two checking out our bikes a little too closely…okay, way too closely. They drifted back to the store’s porch when I told them to move on. Jeffrey came back outside and said that he was going to pick up a drink and a snack and both were way past their expiration dates so he thought better of it. We decided to just get on the bikes and move on. We didn’t feel threatened at all…but we were the outsiders and you can tell areas in which the citizens don’t want you there longer than you needed to be. We got our gas, time to go.
Canada has some great roads and scenery. The people…they are hit and miss. Just like in the US of A I guess. We aren’t any different than our neighbors to the north, eh?
We made a right outside of town onto Tagish Road, a cutoff between the Klondike and Alaska Highways.
As we approached the town of Tagish (a town on the opposite end of Marsh Lake, where we had stayed at the beach house on the way north), we got flagged down by a elderly woman who had her car stopped in the middle of the road, all doors open. She was frantic. I immediately stopped and Jeffrey pulled up alongside. She pointed into the brush on the side of the road, where an ATV had rolled on to its side. The woman had been alerted that her grandchild had rolled the ATV by another relative, got to the site in her car, and put him in the back seat with only minor injuries. She just couldn’t get the ATV righted up for another kid that would ride it back home. Apparently jumping up and down and looking like somebody in the car was dying is the way to get traffic to stop up there.
Jeffrey was the hero of the day as he went over to the ATV and managed to get it righted by rocking it. One of her other grand-kids jumped on it and took off onto a nearby trail. I was only concerned about the kid in the back seat, who only had some bumps. I told the lady to get him to a doctor. Back on the bikes, we caught up to the Alaska Highway in short time and headed southeast for Teslin.
When you get in this area, you will be amazed by the size of Teslin Lake. On the way north, we were in rain conditions that was getting worse and we were just focusing on getting to the rented beach house instead of sightseeing. Today, weather was better and good views of this very long lake. Measuring seventy-five miles long, you’ll ride next to it for enough time to wonder when the lake will ever end.
The entire ride from Skagway to the Alaska Highway was very enjoyable. The late start to actually riding kept us from getting lots of miles today but it just felt like another marathon riding day when we were done.
Eventually we stopped for food at the Yukon Motel and Restaurant in Teslin after fueling up at the Nisutlin Trading Post, a place we stopped for unleaded on the way north. The food was okay; about the only choice for a restaurant around, it was fine for acquiring calories. Getting late, we inquired about their motel only to find out it was full. We ran into a person we had chatted with on the ferry as we we leaving; they had made reservations the day before apparently.
As Jeffrey paid for dinner, I went back to the Nisutlin Trading Post to inquire about their rooms; which from the highway, looked like very bad quality rooms. At $120.75 for two double beds, that was acceptable. Inside the room, the bathroom had recently been upgraded and was nice. The actual room with beds, not so much. It was our only choice and we made the best of it for the evening. I was a little worried about some of the characters hanging out in the parking lot, until I remembered that I was parked next to a Goldwing towing a RV style trailer. I slept easier knowing that his bike was the obvious target in the parking lot should anybody look to mess with anything.
Tomorrow, I fall victim to a gas station’s unadvertised bad practices. We get to the Cassiar Highway and spend the entire day avoiding the bears that came from Alaska who are also vacationing. And we stop at a tourist trap so famous it has its own TV show on the Discovery Channel.
Mileage: 182 miles; 4 miles to the ferry, 20 miles on the water, 158 miles Skagway to Teslin
Areas traversed: Skagway, Teslin