We made the short trip back to the train station and boarded it for Whittier, lining our bikes up in the baggage car. My nose was mostly glued to the window, watching the scenery go by...mountains, glaciers, clumps of fireweed, all manner of things to whet my appetite for the closer views one has when on a bicycle.
Whittier, a rather small town of approximately 350 residents, was originally settled to serve the US military during World War II. Dismal looking during rain it is definitely not a town that might be mistaken as a tourist destination, with its still obvious damage from the 1964 earthquake which rocked the area.
At the Whittier Cafe we were ordering our pizza lunch when in walked the sheriff, a stereotypical old style town sheriff having lunch "with some of the boys in the town." Their conversation that I was able to overhear concentrated on 1) The upcoming moose season and 2) Guns for the aforementioned activity. As an advocate of live-and-let-live, I was disgusted, but kept my own counsel.
There is a gift shop in town with the usual interesting Alaska gift items, with one addition to attract customers. Outside in a large pen is a very friendly reindeer! The owner of the store often brings her into town. I, as well as others, took the opportunity to pet a reindeer.
Our ferry from Whittier to Valdez, the M.V. Bartlett resembled the other marine highway ferries that I have sailed on, albeit smaller. I could have found my way around the decks blindfolded. I preferred to experience the scenery, wildlife, and weather from outside, so spent most of my time prowling the railings. This paid off - I was able to see seven or eight breaching killer whales.
We were fortunate - our ferry captain chose to nose the ferry "up close and personal" to the huge Columbia Glacier in Prince William Sound, cutting a meandering course through the sculpted-aquamarine icebergs. Passengers left the warm confines of the inside for a closer look, lined up two and three deep along the ship's railings. The weather cooperated; the drizzle quit and the sun flirted with us. Amazing how close the ferry did nudge up to the Columbia Glacier and all of its little icebergs floating about. We were sailing through chunky iceberg soup. Some of the larger pieces resembled ice blue sculptures, created by a determined artist. I imagined shapes and personalities for the 'bergs as if they were clouds and I were lying on my back in the summer grass.
Our dining experience on the ferry was filling if not gourmet fare. We indulged in self-prepared tuna salad sandwiches, celery, cheese, crackers and Oreo cookies - those items which appeal to the most basic needs of the biker/camper!
We are in the land of bald eagles! Perched high in the spruce trees, they look for food, swooping downward, beaks poised for the catch. And ride the air currents skyward. During the salmon run, food is easily available. Dead salmon, picked apart by eagles, litter the creek and river banks.
After disembarking the ferry in Valdez we congregated into a riding group and headed off to find our night's lodging at the Eagle's Rest RV Park where we had reservations. Although disappointing in it's lack of attractive tent sites, barren of vegetation except scruffy grass, the shower and laundry facilities were excellent. And cyclists are particularly choosy about their showers. My observation is that if you get a group of cyclists together to compare notes regarding their experiences, the subject of showers invariably elicits detailed commentary. My tent is wet and so is my ground pad...the only solution to keeping my down bag from getting damp is to layer my dry rain gear between my sleeping bag and ground pad.
The weather was cloudy and cool upon our arrival in Valdez, after a day of both rain, sun, and then eventually more rain squalls. Maybe, just maybe, it won't rain overnight while we sleep.
It's Gold Rush Days in Valdez while we are here. We'll check it out tomorrow.
Copyright (c) Judith J. Colwell, 1995. All rights reserved.