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Alaska Sojourn Part Five (longer)

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Part Five

The next morning we all left for Valdez. Since the Uuecks were accompanying us, we had benefit of a pickup truck to carry all the supplies. We had enough stuff for a small army; tons of food, tarps, tents, extra clothes, you name it we had it. For the next few days we’d be camping in luxury!

We rode the Richardson Highway (AK4) all the way to Valdez. What an unusual procession we were: A giant Harley, Mark with dog on tank, my GS, Mr. Uueck with HIS schnauzer perched up front, and Mrs. Uueck on her smaller Honda cruiser! As we got closer to Valdez, the scenery got even more impressive: rugged snow-capped mountains rose from the inlet, reflecting off the water. I thought I’d like to own property here, and I’m not the only one: property values have risen 300% in this area over the past ten years! And, we had lots of time to enjoy the scenery as the Alaska Department of Transportation was working on the highway. The flag-girl waved us to the front of the monster line of RVs and we chatted for an hour until the roadway opened up. We gingerly picked our way around potholes, through sand, and back onto the highway 12 miles further down…BTW, being a flag person up here is lucrative. They earn about $10K per season…

The juxtaposition of technology and rustic fishing village fascinated me. When I thought I’d find a filthy oil port like San Pedro, I actually found one of the prettiest places I’d yet visited. Ecologists say the area has not yet recovered from the huge Exxon Valdez oil spill of some years ago, yet to the casual observer, it was as if it had never happened. Bald eagles wheeled gracefully through the skies, otters swam the bay, and all manner of birds were hunting fish in the crystal-blue waters.

 

Late in the afternoon, we pulled into Valdez and rode to the ferry terminal to check it out. We had prepaid reservations, but we wanted the bikes parked in a safe, secure area while we went to find food. This was important because the ferry did not leave until 0500 the next morning. After eating, we’d have about 8 hours to sit around in the chill Alaskan dusk before we could board.

A pretty strange night: picture us all sitting around, all night waiting for the boat. When it came, we shook the soreness and cold out of our bones, fired up the bikes, and got them secured on board. I was pretty tired, but still took the time to make sure the bike was securely attached to the side of the ship. Once we were underway, Jeff pitched his tent and we dove in for some sleep. Even Jeff’s snoring couldn’t keep me awake!

Look up the word isolated in your dictionary. You’ll probably see a picture of Cordova. She’s a quaint little fishing village surrounded by mountains on three sides. Bald eagles, thick as crows glide effortlessly overhead. Her main street has all the necessaries: a coffee shop, a small grocery store, liquor store, laundromat, and several restaurants. The main thing Cordova was noted for however, was the friendliness of the locals. We stopped in the local grocery store and bought some coffees. The owner, a very attractive woman, told Jeff that if he needed a job, he could work for her, room and board included. Jeff, you devil you….

Anyway, sitting outside the store, people started coming up and asking us if we were the “motorcycles that pulled into town from California” Apparently word traveled quickly that strangers were in town. We got the feeling that tourists didn’t come here often. Most amazingly, an elderly man came up to us and started to tell us of his around the world motorcycle adventure he had taken in the 1920’s. We were skeptical. He went home and brought us newspaper accounts of his trip. Amazing! Another man easily in his 80’s drifted by to tell us about his Vincent and Indian collection up in his garage….

The only people who kept to themselves where the quiet Russian Orthodox women. Bonneted to signify married status, they kept to themselves, and occasionally allowed a half smile if our eyes crossed. They and their children were very beautiful in their traditional 1800’s-style Russian attire. One of the younger women seemed a bit more relaxed toward us, and I asked her permission to take a picture of her little girl, who was dressed exactly as she was in a long dress with very intricate brocade, bonnet and boots. She smiled, and said “no.” I smiled, and thanked her as we went our separate ways.

Coffeed up, we were ready to get on the road to the Cordova Glacier. It isn’t very hard to find since there is only one road out of Cordova, and the Glacier is at the end of it. But first, we had to repair another flat tire. This time it was Mark’s RT. Once again, locals swamped us, offering to help. Since the plug kit was working very well, and we were just about out of CO2 cartridges, the offers were taken up. One man who owned a tire shop gave us a hand. Soon we were out of town.

The pavement ended. The gravel began, as did the rain. Still not a bad ride to the Glacier. We rode past huge stands of timber and countless lakes. The topography reminded me of northern Minnesota. It was easy to slip into a rhythm of sightseeing and daydreaming! We were jolted out of our reverie when a big grizzly ran across the road in front of us…

We pulled into the State Park at the Cordova Glacier. The only other people there were the campground hosts, an older couple in a huge fifth wheel trailer. They had all the comforts of home, including satellite TV. They warned us to make lots of noise while walking the trails. Evidence of grizzly bears was everywhere. We surveyed the area, and picked a campsite big enough for all of us. Soon tarps were up, tents erected, and dinner was being cooked on open fire. Heaven on earth, this was….

We spent three days at the Cordova Glacier. Picture this: a scenic observation area on the bank of the Copper River. 1600’ away, on the other side of the river is the Glacier, which stands 200 feet high. It continually creaks and groans and every so often, a huge chunk falls off with a thunderous, ground-pounding roar! A wave travels across the water, and throws salmon up on the beach. Then, if you are lucky enough to see it, a grizzly comes out of the woods and grabs the fish. Awe-inspiring, or what??

In fact, I never got tired of watching this spectacle. The never ending grinding and roar as the glacier would explode into the water only 1600’ away was the most inspiring, powerful thing I’ve ever seen in my life…I hope I can return here to see this again before Princess Tours finds this place…

After a few days of the glacier, however, I was itching to get back on the road. Plus, the rain was getting monotonous. On the fourth morning we broke camp and motored out of the Park. Riding out was a challenge. After 3 days of rain, the perpetual creeks and small lakes next the roads were cresting over the highway. Gradually downshifting, we rode through puddles and across streams that covered the roadway., sometimes for hundreds of yards at a time. At least those knobby Contis, which were a deathtrap on the highway, were earning their keep!

We jumped on the ferry and hoped to get a nights rest during the seven hours it would take to get back to Valdez. Unfortunately, we seemed to be located in the “screaming baby section” and got no sleep. Groggily, we got on the bikes and rode to Copper Center to meet Denise, Mark’s girlfriend.

Since Denise did not have 40 days to ride, the plan was for her to fly up, rent an F650 in Anchorage, and join us for two weeks. Fortunately, the plan seemed to be working according to schedule. Soon Mark and Denise appeared. After laughing and hugs all around, we departed for Silver Lake Park, which is on the way to the Kennicott Mine.

I opted to sit out the ride to Kennicott Mine. Instead, I stayed at our campsite, reading, writing, taking photos, and thinking about my life. The campground here was one of the prettiest we stayed in on our vacation. The park sat on a grassy, tree-covered knoll facing the lake. In the background sits the impressive Chugach mountain range. Best thing of all-no flies or mosquitoes due to the breeze coming off the lake. Quiet, calm, and extraordinarily beautiful, Silver Lake was a great place to wax philosophical!

I was glad that I didn’t turn down the opportunity to be here. No matter how sad I felt, I was grateful to see the mountains, lakes, and streams. The incredible people I met, the far-out towns, and the challenges we’ve faced will all provide rich memories the rest of my life. Was I lonely at the time? Yes, and no. I grieved for my life gone away, but rejoiced for the options that lay ahead…later my partners returned from their ride to Kennicott. Jeff caught a fish. I cleaned and cooked it for the four of us. Delicious!!

 

Next Stop, Part Six, on to Anchorage for badly needed new tires!

 

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