September 16, 2013, Category: Alaska, Travel

Day one of our trip to Alaska. I almost crash on our short drive to Bellingham to catch the Alaskan ferry. Did you know you can set a tent and camp on the deck of the ship?

Day 1: The Alaska Ferry (Bellingham to Haines)

Check out the novel: Trudge On, Soul

The icy wilderness of Alaska is the perfect place to lose yourself. But Warren doesn’t want to lose himself. He wants to lose someone else.
The book, Trudge On, Soul, is the result of three long years of late nights, critique groups, and editing. If you haven't read the blog, I'd suggest you stop reading and at least click here to read the preview chapters of the book. The blog and pictures have spoilers and the book is a much better read. Think of the website as a documentary, and the book as an engaging movie. Triumph Motorcycles did an article on my Adventure here. A Photo Album of the trip is available here. Click here if you want to jump to the start of the blog with an index of each day.

The Adventure Continues...


Our trip started on a Friday, Aug 16, 2013. I wanted to go in early July but our work schedules made that impossible.  Although our late departure meant it would be colder and darker, it was also a slower time of year for tourism (so potentially lower prices, more availability, etc). We left on a Friday because that is the only day of the week the ferry leaves for Haines. Mike came up in the morning and Sandi and the kids sent us off. Aubree even brought over the kids she nannies so she could say goodbye. I had a bit of a hard time leaving them all. On all my other trips, one of them was with me. This time I was walking away from the whole family. Originally, Curti and I talked about him coming on this trip. His Ninja wasn’t really designed for a trip like this, though. Plus, he has his own life and a job that locks him down. As I was leaving, I wished he was joining us. I think maybe he might have been thinking the same thing.

WP_20130816_010I stalled for as long as I could, not wanting to leave and worrying about what I was forgetting (and the performance of my bike) and then we hit the road. And just like that, the trip had begun.

I’ve put about 8,000 miles on this bike and know it well. But riding it loaded down made it feel like a new machine. It wasn’t as nimble and I knew if I let it get the best of me, I’d drop it. I tried not to think about it, but it was one more worry to add to my growing list. We drove a whopping six miles before we had to stop (for gas). A lady saw our bikes and asked what we were up to, we told her we were on our way to Alaska. It sounded strange to be saying it.

As we approached Bellingham a horse trailer stirred up a hub cab and I found myself 15 feet behind a metal hub cap that was rolling on the road ahead of me. I yelled at Mike, he yelled back, and I steered right, the hubcap moved right. I leaned left, it moved left. The damn thing was possessed. The distance narrowed fast and I heard it smack my bike. I held my breath.

“You okay,” Mike asked.

“I don’t know, you see any problems with my bike?”

“No, looks good from here.”

No flat tire, everything seemed normal. I’m not sure exactly where it hit, but was relieved to be upright and rolling forward. When we looked at it later we couldn’t even see where it had hit.

WP_20130816_020-001We arrived early at the ferry. Boarding starts at 3:00, it leaves at 6:00, and we arrived before 11:00. We grabbed lunch and then pulled up in line behind a 70 year old lady on a trike. She was finishing up a 25,000 mile trip and heading home to Fairbanks. She was geared up in leather and looked tougher than the two of us put together. 25,000 miles! And I’m stressing about a little jaunt north? Although you can’t read it in the photo, the message on the back of her bike says something like “Just because you slept with me last night doesn’t mean you get to ride my motorcycle today.”

We talked to another guy who was waiting for another ferry to come in, his motorcycle was on it. He should have been on it but at a stopover, got the time wrong and wasn’t back in time. The ferry (and his bike) had left him stranded in Ketchikan, Alaska. He had to get a quick flight out to be waiting for it when it arrived so he could claim his motorcycle. “So don’t miss the ferry if you get off on the stopovers,” he said. Good advice. He also gave us some ideas on places to go once we started riding.

We waited quite a while in line, and it was really hot. When we rolled forward   I dug my ticket out of my wallet and stuck it on my lap and drove over the bridge to the ferry. This is when I noticed the huge holes in the bridge grate, if I put my foot down, I could easily lose my wallet and it would tumble down…far down into the ocean. Oops. But I stayed calm and all went well.

Setting up Camp on the Ferry

621119_10151933607191209_1186708222_oWe rolled in and tied down our bikes (they said you have to bring your own tie downs, which we did, but as it turns out they had plenty available we could have used). I had done my research about camping on the ferry and I knew we had to hurry to get a decent spot. So we rushed through, grabbed our gear, and made our way upwards. Deck after deck. I think there were six or seven total, it seemed like we climbed narrow steep staircases forever, lugging several large bags. The deck that was supposed to be the best for camping was already full of tents so we climbed one more level up, to the very top. A few people were already setting up tents out next to the railing.

DSCN0019I asked them if they had camped on the ferry before, they said no but they wanted a view. It was a hot day, sun was bright, no wind, and I suppose the idea of a tent out on the edge with a grand view of the ocean sounded ideal. But not for me, I set mine up smack in the middle of the deck as close to the “no tents past this line” as possible. It would get windy and it wouldn’t be this warm for long. We claimed a few lawn chairs in the Solarium right up by our tents (the covered, heated area next to the camping area). I had read to move fast on claiming your spot because they can go fast. We have no idea why we didn’t just relax and set up camp because our spots were claimed. Instead, we worked like we were racing against an oncoming downpour. Like banshees we raced fast and furious as if our lives depending on beating a nasty storm. When we finished, we were tired and drenched in sweat.

DSCN0075I brought a full roll of duct tape. The best technique is to put your stake through the loops of your tent and then tack it down good and hard. We used lots of duct tape. The heat melted it all together and I think fused it into some crazy epoxy goop, because our tents weathered the storm like no other. As we were taping I turned to Mike and said, holy cow, we are going to use the whole roll of tape on our first day, how are we going to set up our tents in the forest now? By the end of the trip, I wouldn’t even need to deliver my dry humor; Mike knew what I was going to say before I even said it.

After camp was set up, I went down to my bike and got my shorts, a tank top, and my flip flops. It was too hot in Levis. I changed and then felt kind of stupid walking around, in my mind others were saying “look at that idiot; he thinks he’s on a cruise ship.” But it gets worse. In my rush the night before to buy some flip flops, I had accidently ended up with what looked like a women’s pair. They looked femmy. And to make matters worse, we have a tradition that every time I go to Utah my nieces paint one toenail and I have to let it naturally grow out (to remember the trip). So in addition to the women’s flip flips and my out-of-place tropical attire, the top end of my big toe was purple. With glitter. Yeah, I know. Just wait until that 70 year old tough biker chic sees me; she’s going to throw me off the boat. “Nobody knows me,” I told myself, and walked on.

DSCN0020Mike and I explored the boat. Compared to the ferries I’d been on, this one was huge; a cafeteria, restaurant, movie room, multiple lounges, several decks of cabins, and a lobby. I was excited. Man, we were really doing it. Alaska! We pulled away from the dock and watched Bellingham fade into the distance as we stood in the sunshine on the back deck.



Click here to continue to Day 2.


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