Dear Family and Friends!
Well, here we are again. It seems like ages since we have written last. To all of you who wrote letters, either email or snailmail, thank you, thank you thank you! Every bit is cherished. All of you who have traveled for any length of time know how much you look forward to mail!
Anyway, we are stationed in Port Angeles, WA until we leave with the morning sun tomorrow (Sunday [31 August 1997]). HA! Translation: until we get our lazy butts out of bed in the middle of the morning, go to church (hopefully) and eat lots of breakfast and then leave! We'll see. We have had a terrific week of almost rest. Kent's dad Bill and step-mom Anne met us here and treated us to an incredible Bed and Breakfast extravaganza for a week. We have gained back every single pound of flesh lost and actually added some! No joke! If any of you have ever read Barbara Savage's book, Miles from Nowhere, you will know what we mean. :) Anyway, I say "almost rest" because we were running around every day until late seeing every part of the Olympic Peninsula possible in four days.But it was a great time and after we spent 2 days at Brenda Lipe's house recovering and doing chores, I think we are ready to go. So, tomorrow, after church, we're on our way!
BAY AREA PEOPLE!!!!! We are planning on taking 3-4 weeks to ride through Washington, Oregon and Northern CA. It will depend upon how much interesting stuff there is and how many interesting people we meet. We will spend about a week at home and hope to see as many of you as possible (we've got to get our "fix" before leaving!). We will stay with Kent's folks in El Sobrante. As the time grows nearer and we are clearer on when we will arrive, we will send out another email and if you all can contact non-email people, that would be great and save my mom from rushing to send letters out!
The following is written for the newspaper and includes some of the stuff we wrote about from Sitka, hopefully in a little better prose. Writing on the ferry beats rushing under pressure to send a letter! It's not necessarily in chrono order and seems a little long to me but take it in small chunks and you should be OK!
Take care! We miss you! Love, Ann and Kent (from Port Angeles)
If you are following us on a map, this has been our route from July 2 to Aug 30:
Fairbanks -----> Denali -----> Anchorage -----> Valdez -----> Tok -----> Haines Junction -----> Haines -----> Ferry on Inside Passage: Sitka, Juneau, Skagway -----> Watson Lake (Alaska Hwy) -----> Prince Rupert (Stewart-Cassiar Hwy) -----> Ferry to Port Hardy on Vancouver Island -----> Victoria -----> Ferry to Port Angeles, WA
"Kent! Stop! Stop! Stop! Bear! Bear! Ahead on the right!" I yelled in Kent's ear. "Slow down! Let me get my camera out!" I continued as I fumbled to pull my camera out of my fanny pack.
"Are you sure it's a bear? It doesn't look like one. . ."
"Are you kidding? Yes, it is! Look! Slow down! Slow down!"
As our bike crept closer, the big black shape on the side of road resolved into two shapes: horses with bells around their necks of all things. "Well, they looked like a bear," I sheepishly said as I snapped a picture anyway to remind myself of how dumb I felt. Horses, of all things!!
The following day, our hunt for the elusive bears was rewarded. A young black bear was hanging out by the side of the road, munching on grass, across a wide ditch from us as we rode by. We stopped and watched him for a time until he noticed us and startled. What must we have looked like to him? A large multi-headed animal with a myriad of bright fluorescent colored shaped hanging all over it. I know what he looked like to us - exactly like a big stuffed animal with perky ears soft fur and a surprised look on its face. I can see why it is hard to convince people that bears are unpredictable dangerous wild animals.
We have seen more wildlife on this leg of our trip but experiences with people have left more lasting impressions on us. And this is as it should be, for one of the most important purposes of our trip is to meet people from different parts of North and South America. Corny through it may sound, more than inspiration from stunning scenery, more than the high from physical exertion, we hope to know people better.
Some people cross our path for only a short time, others for longer. We were riding along Kluane Lake (klu-ah-nee), a beautiful lake in the Yukon Territories (picture Tahoe without any boats or people). It had been an awful day for me - the tandem was making a horrible screeching sound that we could not diagnose, we had ridden into a stiff headwind over rolling hills ALL day and it was late. I was at the end of my rope, ready to scream in frustration when we heard, "Hey Kent! Hey Ann!" from a passing RV. It was Len and Evie, a couple from Wisconsin that we had chatted with a few days earlier. We first saw them at a roadside camp eating four rather large pieces of beef, each. We could not stop drooling as we set up camp and prepared our daily pot of macaroni and cheese. As they plowed through their meat, Len described in excruciating detail the salmon he had caught and stored frozen in the RV. More drool.
So, back to the present: there they were, driving next to us, smiling and waving, causing me to swallow my scream. We pulled over and they invited us to eat dinner at their campground 25 miles away. HA! We would be lucky to ride another two! We said we'd stop by the next day. When we arrived the following morning, they fed us like family - sodas, sandwiches, chips, fruit, "Can we make you some spaghetti?" And they sent us off with 2 steaks from Len's salmon which we cooked up that night in place of mac and cheese. Heaven.
Other changes to our diet were added when we met Franz, a German chef, who is also biking south. We first met on the ferry and rode together for three weeks. Who wouldn't want to ride with a chef? And so we learned to add variety to our meals: fresh vegetables, meat, fresh-picked mushrooms from the forest and the spice of choice: curry. Franz added more to our trip than just adventures in cooking. We now started out each morning with "Annie, Kentie, Franzie, GO!!" and "Thanks for the nice day guys!" as we finished each day, no matter what the circumstances had been. Turning our team of two into a team of three was not always easy for us. Bringing another person into the decision-making process was challenging: buying food, choosing campsites, deciding wake-up times and worrying if everyone was happy became more difficult. But because we all "have the sun in our hearts" according to Franz, we laughed a lot and met the challenges.
Other people would not have been as easy to travel with. We met a couple from New Zealand that has been riding for three years and is planning on ten. They were kind of like the older wiser bicycle tourists imparting wisdom to the youngsters. Good advice was cheerfully given in colorful Kiwi lingo. But every time we met them, the only conversation was advice they were giving us and I don't think we could have endured it for long. So, though we enjoyed the contact, we were happy to ride on alone.
It has not always been travelers that we have met. Occasionally we have the chance to stay in people's homes or simply spend more time learning about what their lives are like. One Sunday we were in the town of Sitka on Baranoff Island and we had redden into town from the campground seven miles away in order to attend church and see the sights. At church, we met two fishermen, Rod and Art and enjoyed listening to some of their stories. Later, as Kent and I walked along the town's dock, we saw a friendly slobbery black Labrador retriever "guarding" his master's fishing boat. Who can resist such an animal? Certainly we could not and we started playing with him. As we played, who should pop his sleepy head out of the cabin but Rod, whom we had met earlier. He called Tar off of us giving us a chance to wipe wet hands clean and we talked about his 20 years of salmon trolling. It seems like a lonely career. He leaves his home in Oregon to fish every year in Alaska, living on his boat for the entire season. He fishes long hours by himself staying out on the water for five days at a stretch before returning to the harbor to sell his fish, make necessary repairs and rest. It is a hard life and as it becomes more and more difficult to make a living from the sea, fishermen quit as Rod was planning to do, soon as he sold his boat. But he has many funny memories, one of which he shared with us.
It seems that one night Rod dropped his flashlight into the bilge and for some reason, just had to get it. So in order to see into the depths of the boat, he used the boat's spotlight. However, he inadvertently crossed the spotlight's wires with the engine's starter relay and when he turned on the light, the engine turned on! Which would have been fine except for one thing. The engine caught his long john union suit and started to pull it off! Soon his long johns were twisted around his ankles as he frantically tried to pull them off and he was hopping on one foot blinded by the spotlight. Finally, he was able to free himself, turn off the engine and begin the laborious task of tearing shreds of material out of the engine! What a life!
Sometimes we are glad that encounters with local people are fleeting. One time we took a rest stop at a lodge and as we munched on our granola bars, a Chevy Chevette pulled up to the gas pumps. Kent and I looked at it in amazement, barely suppressing our laughter at the state this vehicle was in. The wheels were each unique - one mag wheel, one mini spare tire, one bald whitewall and one regular tire. The rear bumper was dragging, the front bumper threatened to tip forward, the doors were mismatched and one did not close properly and the engine sputtered, gagging and wheezing as it drove in. A drunk local got out, staggered over to us and in a rather loud belligerent voice, told us to go back to Germany. "But we're not from Germany," we responded. Didn't matter to him. He went inside, came out with a six-pack of beer and his friend who told us not to listen to him said, "he's so full of shit, his eyes are brown!" They got back into car, it struggled back to life and they drove off in the opposite direction.
Amusing but thankfully brief.
At that time, the weather was thankfully pleasant. However, one old salt that we had met had given us sage counsel about the weather. "Look at that old volcano over there," he intoned, pointing towards another island. "If you can't see it, it's raining; if you can see it, it's going to rain." And as we were in Southeast Alaska, we knew we would ride through more.
An earlier part of the trip was particularly memorable because of the weather. We started from Haines Junction in cold, spitting rain after having already waited a day for it to stop. We packed up our soggy tent and fly, put all of our gear on the bike and rode to the grocery store for breakfast - the breakfast of champions: pizza, sausage rolls, bananas and milk - mmmmm! As we rode out towards the passes that would take us to Haines, Alaska, it was beautiful, in spite of the fact that clouds obscured much of the view. Then, about 30 miles later, pop - ssssssss - our rear tire blew out the sidewall and we had to pull over and put on the spare. We hurried because a freezing wind blew through all of our clothing layers and a car had pulled up to tell us that a black bear was a couple of hundred yards away downwind. At least it could not smell us! We got back on the road and not more than 15 minutes later - pop - sssssss. Damn. So we pulled over again and refixed the flat. You have to realize what an ordeal it is to fix a rear tire: take off the panniers, sleeping bags and Therm-a-rests, unhook the drum brake and caliper brakes, move the chain, pull off the wheel, take the tire and tube off, find the hole or holes, fix them, replace the tire and tube, etc. etc. etc. And then we got back on the road. All was fine for a time and the tense expectation that had gripped the muscles in my shoulders began to ease. None too soon. POP - sssssssssss. "God, what is the problem?!" The whole scene was reenacted except this time we discovered a burr on the rim and so we duct-taped it and the tube to avoid any more problems. All of this in increasingly bitter cold winds (headwinds, of course) and rain, but finally, no more flats.
As we continued to climb towards the pass, we decided to try to make it to a hiker/biker hut that someone had told us about - another 35 miles. But surely it would be warm and dry and we would not have to set up our wet tent. I tried not to let my hopes get too high; maybe someone would already be there, maybe it did not even exist. . . . But the wind and cold rain blowing in our faces made us hope against hope. It was 8:30 p.m. - the wind blew clouds across the road like fog in the twilight. Hints of tall glaciated mountains, black, lonely and barren, sometimes showed through. We were silent, riding through here, each of us wrapped in our own thoughts (which turned out to be the same: "Please, God, let the hut work out," "How many kilometers left," and "God, it's cold!!!!")
We almost rode past the hut for it looked like a tiny green tool shed. But it was in the right place, so we stopped and I ran over. Wrenching open the door, I grinned and called Kent to bring the bike. Inside was paradise. Two bunks, a table, counters, a wood stove, and best of all, a roof awaited us. Mac and cheese never tasted so good as in that warm dry place after a long, cold, trying day. As we added our comments and names to the journal that all travelers that stayed in the green box signed, we were thankful.
It seems that thankfulness has been an intimate part of our trip so far and as we look forward to riding into Washington, Oregon and California, we look forward to more terrific experiences!