03 July 2012

Southeastern Alaska and the AMHS--Part 2

Sitka is a beautiful little town on Baranof Island, on the edge of a rainforest yet right along the coast. When we got off the ferry, we had two option--drive left 3/4 mile to the end of the road, or to the right where the town was 7 miles away, and the road ended about 14 miles away. Not much in the way of roads, and no way to ride out of the town. The only way in to Sitka is by sea or sky.

After visiting the visitors center and learning the campground on the southern edge of town was having bear problems, we chose to camp on the north end of town, but needed to have lunch before setting off. As we left the visitors center, a local woman who drove a taxi told us about Baranof Brewing Company and gave us their business card. A few minutes later, as we wandered the streets of downtown looking for a restaurant we thought we wanted to try, a girl asked if we needed help finding something. We told her what we were looking for and found out it was only open when cruise ships were in town. After we told her we were looking for a good local lunch spot, she pointed us in the direction of the Larkspur Restaurant. It was great, and in that short time, we got a taste of the friendliness of the locals.

We returned to the bikes and noticed a sign hanging over the parking lot saying there would be an all-you-can-eat crab feed the next afternoon at 3. WHAT!?! Count us in!

We headed north to our campsite, and for the story of that night and the next morning, see the post titled "Bear--Part Two".

After we made the decision to find a hotel, we headed to a coffee house with wi-fi to do some research where we found Ann's Gavan Hill Bed and Breakfast. After contacting Ann and telling her we would be there later, we headed to the raptor center. Unlike the American Bald Eagle Preserve that was a bit of a disappointment, this place was amazing. We saw a number of birds who had been injured and were unable to be reintroduced into the wild, but we also saw the rehabilitation habitats that housed, at the time, 10 recuperating bald eagles, and two beautiful snowy owls. After the tour, we talked with the tour guide for a few minutes, and because we stayed, we got to experience a young bald eagle up close, as she was brought out to do a demonstration for a small group of people. It was so neat and she was so beautiful!


This is how I kept my feet dry in the heavy rain days. Yup, that's a grocery store bag wrapped around my foot!

We left the raptor center and went back downtown for the crab feed. This was an event! I was a little afraid it would be all tourists, but as it turned out, it was a community event. It was held at Crescent Harbor in the work shelter where local fisherman hang nets and do off-boat work. There were no tables, and locals in the know bring their own tables, chairs, tablecloths, candle holders, floral centerpieces, and bottles of wine with wine glasses. It was great! It was, of course, raining, so we just left our motorcycle gear on, stood in line and received HUGE Dungeness crab legs, salad, bread, dessert, and drinks, and then found a seat on the edge of the water to enjoy our crab. The taxi driver walked by at one point and asked if we had found a good place to stay. We told her the story, and I again marveled at the local attitude towards visitors, which though similar to Haines, differed greatly from Seward!

We also ran into a couple of women from B.C. who we had met on the ferry, and sat chatting with them for a while. As we were leaving and getting back to the bikes, we ran into a local who had attended law school at DU and stopped when she saw our Colorado license plates. As it turned out, people in town recognized us wherever we went the whole time we were there after seeing the bikes. People wanted to talk to us about riding and tell us about the guy in town with the KLR all set for touring (which we saw walking through town the first day).

We checked into the B&B and headed off to the brewery to sample their beers. When we returned, we were ready to spend the rest of the evening in the hot tub and relaxing. At breakfast the next morning we got to meet the other two couples staying there, and really got to know the proprietor, Ann, and her sister Joan. They were such lovely people! Ann is a transplant from Texas who moved to AK when she was 24, and stayed. She had recently been diagnosed with breat cancer, sought treatment in Texas, and returned home to continue running her business while undergoing chemo. Her sister, who lives in Dallas, had come to Sitka to help her out, and getting to know these two women was inspiring.

Ann sent us in the direction of The Fortress of the Bear, a volunteer based not for profit which has created two 3/4 acre habitats for orphaned brown bear cubs. One habitat has the two original siblings, and the other has three siblings who wandered into the still-being-constructed second habitat on their own after being orphaned. We were there for just under two hours watching these bears from an elevated platform. They were fascinating! It totally helped me understand their interest in my motorcycle and my helmet as I watched them play, play, play, with each other and items in their habitats. One of them had a particular fascination with a metal dustpan. As it turns out, they make good toys, water scoops, and hats. If you're a bear, that is!

That afternoon saw us back at the brewery for lunch and hiking through the rainforest. This was unlike any other hike we had done as we constantly came upon huge beautifully carved totem poles. They are just along the trail, and we learned a little about the history of them. We also learned a little about the surfing off Baranof island, some of the best on the west coast. In case you're wondering, a wetsuit IS necessary unless you like swimming in mid 40s water. Brrrrrrrr!

The next day we were to leave on the 4:00 ferry. We spent a little time downtown going through the galleries, and I found a book at their bookstore that I had been looking for in every town since Talkeetna. Way to come through for me Sitka! We also hit up the Back Door Cafe on the recommendation from my friend Robyn.

We were sad to head to the ferry, yet ready to hit the next adventure. We stopped at the grocery to load up since we would be on the ferry for three nights. We had earlier picked up a couple pieces of smoked salmon and kept them frozen so we could snack on it the next couple of days. I knew as we wound down our trip and headed inland again, the opportunities to have such amazing, fresh seafood would dwindle with distance--we got it while we could.


01 July 2012

South Eastern Alaska and the AMHS--Part 1

On our first ferry ride. This would be the only time we were given this amount of space to tie down the bikes. The other 2 boats would find us tying down awkwardly, side by side. Never mind the fact that we paid for 20 feet of length on the boats!

I love Haines! Let me start with that. It is a darling little town that is not owned by the cruise lines. Several towns along the inside passage are, and the one we visited was completely not interesting to us. Our original plan was to go to Skagway, but we kept meeting people who said we should go to Haines instead. So we took everyone's advice and changed our plans.

We rolled into Haines and stopped at the visitor center to chat with one of the most helpful people we had yet encountered. She told us about two different campgrounds and we chose the state park campground. It was beautiful, and once again we had the whole campground to ourselves.

We had been given a coupon book at the visitors center, and directions to the Haines Brewing Company. It was located at the fairgrounds, in one of the buildings in the set built for White Fang. The brewmaster was a kick and we had a great time talking beer and trying tasters. Down at the end of the set was a pizza joint. We headed there and had a dinner of really fantastic pizza.

One of the truly amazing things we saw in Haines were the bald eagles. Not the ones at the American Bald Eagle Foundation (which was a bit of a let down, to be honest) but the ones flying over our heads and out over the bay on the way to and from our campsite. We had to catch our first ferry on the American Marine Highway System on the afternoon of our second day in Haines, so we rode to the opposite end of town from our campground where we heard there were more of them and bears. We were not disappointed at all! Sat and watched bears for a good hour,but also got to see more bald eagles.

Later in the afternoon, we headed for the ferry dock and got ready for our first trip. It would take about 7 hours,dropping us off in Juneau. Although this was not our destination, we had to stop there to change boats in order to get to Sitka. We would be in Juneau from 11pm to 8am. We needed to be at the ferry dock between 6 and 6:30 to get checked in and in line, so that left us a few hours in the middle of the night during which we needed to get some sleep.

As we were undoing the straps holding down the bikes, one of the crew members told us about some picnic sites on the coast with covered tables. He said they were large and really nice, with enough room underneath to pitch a tent. We rode off the boat and found the sites pretty easily. We left the bikes up on the road (after checking to make sure there were no "No Camping" signs anywhere) and walked down a slippery staircase, in the rain (duh), and found one of the picnic pagodas. The coast was really beautiful--what we could see in the midnight twilight and rain--and we quickly set up the tent and got a few hours sleep.

We made it to the ferry dock in time to talk with a few motorbikers on their way north. In the parking lot, in the rain, I talked to the first female rider I had seen on the trip. She was a little older than me and much more interested in talking to Josh, so we didn't talk about much. But it was good to see another female motorbiker. We told them about road conditions up north and what the weather had been like. W wished them luck and they loaded up.

We had another half hour to wait before we loaded, so we spent it playing silly games and smacking each other in the helmet like children, much to the amusement of the other passengers dry and warm in their cars. We were on the "fast ferry" that morning, a catamaran, and it took about 4 hours to get to Sitka. As it was early afternoon, we drove downtown, parked at the visitors center and wandered. It was good to get off the boat and we were ready for our 3 days on Baranof Island.