Date: Fri, 14 Jun 1996 17:18:26 -0400
Copyright (c) 1996 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.
Chapter 22 - May 24 to June 7 Bellingham, WA to Mosquito Lake, AK - 8210 miles cumulative
Sitting in a comfortable, airline style seat, sheltered from the chilling breeze and rain we sat in the front, glass windowed viewing lounge of the Alaskan ferry the M.V. Columbia. When not shrouded in gray clouds, the green, pine clad hills guarding the inside passage were decorated with low hanging, white puffy clouds. Apart for an occasional fishing boat or cabin, our ferry was the only sign of human presense. This is God's country, pristine wilderness that has only been moderatly touched by mankind. And we are lucky enough to have the opportunity to see it.
Our date of embarcation, May 24, was filled with preparations, doing laundry, buying groceries, getting mail, and attempting to get the email (not entirely completed). Then it was off to the ferry dock where we waited with the tandem toting couple, the two older bike touring men from Ohio, and a plethora of kayaks. The ferry was late in arriving, so we were late in departing.
We rolled our bikes onboard, grabbed tent, sleeping bags, food, and clothing, and headed for the lowest outside deck on which tents are permitted. We promptly pitched our little blue Sierra Designs dome tent amongst a field of other dome like tents in colors of green, brown, blue, and red. Instantly a small tent city having its own peculiar charactr and personality became latched to the ferry deck like so many giant barnacles would attach to the boat's underside.
Immediately people's life histories spread among the gossip networks at unbelieving speed. "Are you the couple going on the multiyear bike tour." we heard on numerous occasions. I suppose when you spend several days in close quarters with a group such as this, gossip travels fast.
Ketchikan, or as the locals like to call it "Catch and can", was our first stop after 36 hours afloat. Skrunched between the waters of the inside passage and the mountains the little town of about 8000 is a mere 5 miles long and 1/2 mile wide. It seems to have three main industries, salmon canning, paper pulp, and tourists. It seems that daily two of the huge Pacific ocean cruise ships dock and belch out their load of 1600 plus tourists onto the previously quiet streets of the main old town area. During those hours everything is crowded as they head for every corner of the island via bus and walk the streets. The cruise ship docks are right in the downtown area, as opposed to the ferry dock which is 2 miles out of town. Since we had the opportunity to wander around the less tourist packed areas of town this onslaught didn't really bother us all that much.
Apart from the small town, the majority of the surrounding land is part of the enormous Tongas National Forest. The largest National Forest in the country, it encompasses most of the Alaska southeast panhandle. And what an incredible forested land it is. This area is the single largest temperate rain forest in the world. A rain forest is defined as any place that receives over 150 inches of rain per year. Ketchikan gets 160 to 200 depending on the year. A temperate rain forest is cool, temperatures usually under 70, as opposed to tropical rainforests where it gets quite hot. The residents of Ketchikan, having an interesting sense of humor, claim they have the tallest barameter in the world. Outside town is a 3000 ft mountain. "If you can't see the peak, it's raining. If you can, it's going to rain". Our first afternoon it was true to form and it drizzled. But the second and third days the sun came out and we were treated to glorious views of the mountains, lakes, and rainforest.
There are two museums well worth visiting. One is in the Southeast Alaska Visitor Center, where you can also go to make back country trip plans into the Tongas National Forest. They have an interesting rainforest display, I guess for those who don't care to get their feet wet by taking a hike. They also have displays about their main industries, about the very controversial Tongas logging issue, and about the Tlingit Indians.
Logging the old growth forests of Tongas is an incredible hotbed that would surely start heated debates and even out and out fights if you said something on the wrong side. Many people in town rely on jobs at the pulp mill. They even display yellow ribbons on their cars to support logging. Yet there are many who would completely ban the logging. The display in the visitors center states that by the year 2026, I think this is right, the Forest Service plans to allow clear cut logging on 26% (that's total since they started keeping track in 1954) of the old growth forest that can feasibly be logged. It's something like 500,000 acres. Old growth forests are defined as forests where the majority of trees are 150 years or older, many are between 300 to 1000 years old. The forest service also insists on large borders between clear cut areas and sensitive streams and lakes so as to minimize the amount of soil runoff. Replanting of trees is not required since in this rain forest new trees resprout real fast. Most of Tongas is already set aside and can never be logged and this acerage has increased continuously over the last century.
Now they didn't state whether this 26% clear cutting is a one time deal or if the pulp companies can keep coming back every 20 to 30 years to log again. I would think if it was just once, this would be a reasonable compromise since by 2026 the trees in the area that was harvested in 1954 would then be 72 years old, half way there. As long as that's it. No more. But I'm sure there's much more to the issue than I know about. But I have a feeling that the Forest Service has once again found itself smack dab in the middle of a war between business and environmentalists and always seeming to be the bad guy to both sides.
On the other hand, a lot of the wood that is harvested is simply cut into small blocks, sent to Japan, and made into millions of those wooden chop sticks that are supplied at every fast food restaurant and that are simply tossed after a single use. Is it wise for us to be sending one of our precious resources out of the country to be processed and discarded, yielding almost no economic benefit to U.S. citizens. Yet, aren't we guilty of the same indiscretion with our taking the oil resources from the middle east, turning it into plastic cutlery which is also used and tossed. Plastic certainly stays in the ecosystem longer than wood. But we need the trees and plant life to produce our air. Is it better to use metal that you wash. But, what about the water damage. There just doesn't seem to be a good answer that doesn't have some negative repercussions. "If I had the answer, I'd be a millionaire."
The other museum located in the same building as the library, concentrated on the history of a canning ghost town named Loring. I guess Ketchikan was just a sleepy little fishing village while Loring was the main center for salmon canning back in the late 1800s. The Alaska Packers Association (APA) set up several canning factories along the inside passage. During the winter months they were essentially abandoned as the salmon only return for spawning in the late summer and fall. In the spring, the company would load men, mostly chinese laborers and white fishermen, and supplies to last the summer aboard their 18 iron hulled sailing ships. The shis would sail north, unload, spend the summer canning, and then return in the fall with a full load of canned salmon. They did everything at the cannery including making their own cans from the tin sheet stock they brought. Imagine the hustle and bustle in San Fransisco as the APA worked to ready their 18 ships of the Star fleet for sailing. And when they returned in the fall, the city must have bristled with excitment. Accidents, decay, fires, and other calamities befel all but 2 of these magnificient ships. And one is (folks in San Diego should have guessed this one by now) the Star of India now part of the San Diego Maritime Museum.
The salmon industry went through lots of ups and downs, competition was fierce and they way over fished bringing near disaster on the industry. They partially recovered by starting their own fish hatcheries, required by law for sometime and then done voluntarily. But after the high demand of WWII, there was a huge glut of canned salmon on the market. The cannery at Loring just couldn't survive. The cannery buildings have gradually been reclaimed by the forest and only a few houses are still occupied, mostly only in the summer months.
Ketchikan seemed to grow into a more bustling town as a result of the mining industry. Naturally as a stopping point for all those lonely miners, fishermen, and salmon canners it developed a fairly bustling prostitution business. In 1906 the "girls" were ordered to locate themselves along the shores of the Ketchikan river. From there about 30 houses built high on stilts housing these ladies were built. It was said that Ketchikan was where "both fish and fishermen went upstream to spawn." Business thrived until about 1954 when the Federal Judiciary uncovered all sorts of scandle, they didn't say exactly what. That closed the door on the famous Creek Street's colorful history. Now it's just another stop for tourists. Trinkets and food are now sold instead of pleasures of the flesh.
Ketchikan is actually two small towns, Newtown to the north, connected by a short 500 ft tunnel. This tunnel is on record as being the only one in the world that you can drive through, around, and over. We rode through, around, and walked over. Also, 2 miles south of Ketchikan is the small town of Saxman, inhabited mainly by the Indians. Saxman was actually named after an English school teacher who, with 2 others, drowned while looking for a place to locate a school for the local Indian Children. It's a well kept community, not showing the ills and destruction we've seen in many Indian reservations. But, this is not an Indian reservation and most likely the citizens are fully employed rather than simply getting wellfare. They care about their community.
In the center of Saxman is a beautiful park containing the largest number of northwest Indian totem poles in the U.S. They line the street leading to the park and then line the park itself. Most stand about 30 ft high. Many have carvings of bears, beavers, fish, fog woman, eagle, raven, and killer whales up their entire length. Many have a long space left unccarved, used to symbolize the loftiness of the character on top of the pole. One real unique one had a likeness of Abraham Lincoln at the top. The totem poles were created to memorialize someone or to celebrate a special event or to tell a story. They were not worshipped, which I'm sure the early missionaries thought.
The size of Ketchikan was just about perfect for a 3 day visit. We had only about 2 1/2 days and ended up foregoing some long hikes in the rain forest. But, even in our current retired state, time is not infinite.
The sun was shining and only traces of cottonball clouds broke up the continual sheet of baby blue sky. A rugged strip of dark green mountains with snow caped peaks was framed between this sky and its reflection in the water. We floated along the glass smooth water at about 10 to 15 knots. Orca (killer) whales surfaced, sent up their misty spout of water, and dove. Black and white harbour porpoises chased along the side of the boat. For miles and miles, hours and hours we saw nothing but wilderness. No roads, no cars, no houses. Just trees, water, and sky. Only the channel bouys and navigation aides indicated any presence of humanity. In all my life I've never seen such expansive wilderness. Distances so large I couldn't begin to imagine them if not having seen them.
Hundreds of pine covered islands dot the inside passage like so many green pearls dropped from a broken strand. I was reminded of when, many years ago, my parents took us to the Thousand Islands in Upstate N.Y. While cruising around on a commercial tour I dreamt about how wonderful it'd be to own one of those islands. My own little country with my own little boat dock and a small cabin. It'd have to be big enough to have enough trees to provide shelter from winter's fury but small enough to walk around in about an hour. So while floating up the Inside Passage I had to do some imaginary real estate shopping. "Brian, do you think they'd let me buy that one? I'll just put a tiny cabin on it. They can have it back after I'm gone. Hmmmmm?" But I'm afraid that's one dream that will have to go unfullfilled.
We had two brief stops. At the sleepy town Wrangell we had just enough time to get off the boat to stretch our legs and peruse the large selection of rough garnets sold by the local Boy Scouts. This troop owns one large rock containing thousands of garnets. They chip off pieces and sell rocks with garnets or individual garnets for just a few dollars to the ferry and cruise ship passengers. I'll bet this is one well funded Scout troop.
Another stop was at the much larger and very touristy Sitka. Sitka has an interesting history as the Russian capital of North American, New Archangle. After a brief war with the Tlingit in 1804, the Russians settled in, built homes, church, shops, even a museum. It was quite a bustling town especially when compared to San Fransisco and Seattle at the same period. The main reminders of its Russian heritage are the Sitka National Historic Site and St. Micheal's cathedral (a gray clapboard church with bright blue onion shaped spires). Otherwise all other references to its Russian past are contained in gift shops and are for sale. We had only enough time for brief visits to the park and cathedral before scrambling back to the ferry.
Our last side trip before reaching Haines was Juneau, Alaska's capital. It was in the Auke USFS Campground that we once again encountered one of those bizare coincidences. For the past year we've been writing long letters to another couple who are currently biking around Australia. Lynn and Gerard are rather unique in that they are traveling with a rather large dog, named Sadie, in a trailer. In Auke we met Marnie and Allyn, another Australian couple who like to bike tour, canoe, and do all sorts of adventure type traveling. They're here in the states for a 2 year visit. Through our brief discussion we learned that Marnie and Allyn not only know Lynn and Gerard, but have met them, spent several days with them, and were even to have them as guests in their home, but time didn't allow that. In fact, I seem to recall Lynn mentioning them in one of her letters, but I'd have to look back and check. Geez, small, small world ain't it.
We switched from the Auke village campground to the Mendenhall Lake campground where we moved ourselves into a split level campsite with a view. Our kitchen was on the top level and the bedroom on the bottom, both surrounded by 25 ft tall pines. Our back patio was the jewel. Overlooking the lake filled with milky, green water whose color would put the finest Chinese jade to shame. Beyond the lake, snuggled between two mountain peaks is the huge Mendenhall glacier. It's 1 1/2 miles wide and 12 miles long. We can even see the characteristic blue ice caused by the refraction of light against the ice crystals. The color of the lake water is caused by the refraction of light against the suspended glacier flour. It's a campsite with a million dollar view costing only $8 for the night.
The Mendenhall Glacier visitor's center housed in a very 1960s style building with a large observation floor having a curved glass picture window is located in a spot that was entirely covered in ice a mere 60 years ago. The glacier is receding at a rate of about 50 ft per year and the ice moves downhill at an astonishing 2 ft per day. Consequently it's very, very dangerous to walk on the ice as pieces are continually breaking off (called calving). The glacier starts in the cirque (circular valley where snow collects) called the Juneau ice field. There are about 36 glaciers originating from this ice field, 50% of all glaciers in southeast Alaska and a mere 5% of all Alaskan glaciers. Evidence of the glacier abound in the landscape, striations caused by the grinding of the ice trapped rocks and silt against the bedrock, small water filled pockets called kettles caused by chunks of ice left behind, and the terminal morain some 2.5 miles from the glacier's current location.
A mere 16 miles from Juneau, this is one of the most heavily visited glaciers in all of Alaska. Cruise ships dock at downtown and send bus loads of tourists in two shifts, morning and afternoon. Having a short 40 minutes to "see it all" they go to the photo point, snap a bunch of pictures, and depart as quickly as they came. We quickly discovered the best time to visit was right at lunch time, between bus shifts, and the best place to go was the short 1.5 miles up the east glacier trail. Tourists do ask some funny questions, OK I mean really dumb questions, like; "What's the altitude of Juneau?", "Is that the glacier's natural color?", and "Why don't they clean all that dirt off the glacier?" Imagine being a USFS ranger trying to keep a straight face.
On our second day we caught the local city bus and headed downtown where we spent the majority of the day at the Alaska State Museum. A real bargain at just $3 per person the museum houses fantastic displays on the Alaskan gold rushes (Klondike, Juneau, and Nome), the four main Indian groups (Tlingit, Timshian, Aleut, and Eskimo), the Russion occupation of Alaska and the Alaska purchase agreement, and many striking photos about different aspects of the salmon from their life cycle to Russian fishermen, to Japanese canneries.
I came away with two very strong memories. First on the gold rush. In 1897 the sailing ship The Portland returned from the Yukon to Seattle with some 2 tons of gold in her cargo. This started a mad rush of mostly men, nicknamed stampeders, to the Klondike gold fields. There were two approaches, dock at Skagway and walk over White or Chilkoot pass or take a boat all the way around by St. Micheal to Dawson City. The pass, being less expensive and faster, was the favorite approach and most took Chilkoot.
Now, at the summit of Chilkoot pass the trail enters the Canadian Yukon territory. The Canadians were pretty darned organized and well established in this area before the Americans arrived. They realized that thousands of ill equiped men tramping around in the wilderness in the winter could cause lots of problems for them, starvation, lost people, fights. Therefore, to enter Canada they required everyone to pay a fee and to carry enough food and supplies to last a year. This could amount to a good 2000 lbs gear per person. Keeping in mind that most of these men were walking, how did they carry all this stuff over the mountain pass? Some hired Indians as porters. But most carried their gear, one bunch at a time, the entire way. They'd grab what they could, carry it some distance, stash it, and then go back for the next bunch. It may take a good 20 trips along the same stretch of trail to get everything from the last cache to the next. Imagine thousands of these people hiking back and forth all day long along the same stretch of trail, they must have gotten to know each other quite well. Certain spots along the trail became places for stores of huge amount of stuff, the pass summit for instance. Yet little theft happened. In the second year three trams were built to haul stuff over the pass for a fee of about $.05 per lb. But, by then tens of thousands of people had already passed this way on foot.
The enormity, hilarity, and insanity of this most strange event really hits home with the huge photo shown at the beginning of the display. A B&W shot of the last ascent to Chilkoot pass. Snow white mountains with ragged rock outcroppings provide the backdrop. People are gathered around small buildings and tents at the base. A black continual line of humanity stretches into the distance up to the summit and smaller huddles of people are sitting on the ground next to the line. My first thought was, "Hmm, an old time ski resort. This must be the tow line." Boy, was I wrong.
The second item was the artwork of the Indians. We've had the opportunity to see weaving, woodwork, and sewing examples from many of the Indian groups in the south and west. Eventhough their work is quite fine, it just doesn't compare to what these Alaskan and far north Indians have created. Beautiful carved wood formed into poles, masks, figurines, and incredible bent wood boxes, painted or finished to a beautiful woodgrained luster, many decorated with inlaid shells. The detail is just outstanding. The kayaks and canoes are also extremely sosphisticated. Constructed with a spar and stringer type formation used in the finest European sailing ships of the time, but covered with bark or seal skins they are light, fast, and very functional.
And finally, the basketry. The Aleuts make perhaps the finest woven baskets I've ever seen. They use grasses, split them into fine fibers, dye some to make decorations, and then weave baskets that can have up to 1000 stitches per inch. Some of the baskets are large, for food storage, and must have taken over a year to make. Some are tiny, tiny baskets (Barbie doll size) with teeny, tiny covers. Absolutely amazing. If there were a way, if I could, I'd love to get my hands on one of these baskets. But I have as yet to see one for sale. Besides the price would be unfathomable.
We strolled around town after the daily cruise ship had pulled in its plank and headed on. Apart from being a quaint old town, we noticed that some of the more interesting, unique, and downright wierd people come out of hiding. Everyone seems to yell. Yell at each other, passersby, themselves, or just into the air. Why? Who knows. But haven't you ever been so mad, just so angry you wanted to yell at someone, anyone, even just to the wind to release the shear frustration of being too civilized to do something more violent. OK a little extreme. But, yelling is a good ay to relieve anger.
After visiting the very touristy downtown with one shop after another displaying Alaska Eskimo dolls, ulu knives (looks like the blade from The Pit and the Pendulum movie), packaged smoked salmon, and the usual T-shirts, caps, and just plain stuff. Not of much interest to us. But we did visit the public library which has a great view of the bay, the state and city offices, the graves of the founders (Harris and Juneau) as well a memorial to chief Kowee, the marine park, and Bullwinkle's pizza parlor. Enough of Juneau and time to head to our final ferry destination, Haines, and get back on the bikes.
Haines is a small town of about 1165 full time residents. Unlike Skagway, whose population is almost entirely seasonal, Haines is an actual town that continues to function in the winter. Not a product of the gold rush, Haines actually is the result of a Prespeterian mission. In 1847 the Tlingit Chilkat indians living in the Klukwan village just up the Chilkat valley asked to have a mission established near their village. The missionaries arrived along with a very famous explorer, John Muir. They described how upon their arrival the Indians showered the waters around their boat with bullets. When the canoes were grounded, the Indians picked them up, men and all, carried them to the door of the chief's house where a great feast and hours of preaching began.
The mission was established in a place called Dei-shu (end of the trail) by the Indians. They named it Haines in honor of a woman of the Prespeterian church who happened to control the purse strings. I think Dei-shu would have been better.
A small part of the gold rush did come to Haines up the Porcupine creek. A small claim yielding about $1.5 million was discovered and exploited by a guy named Jack Dalton. Dalton, in fact, seemed to be into everything; store, bar, gold mine, toll roads. You name it, it had something to do with Dalton. But the town's biggest claim to fame was Ft. Seward, also named Chilkoot Barracks for a while to avoid confusion with the city of Seward. Established in 1907 it was intended to keep a lid on problems associated with roudy miners. Instead the tour wound up being quite easy with training and social activities taking most of the time.
Situated on 4000 acres just south of town, the fort is composed of large starched white buildings positioned in a rectangle around the usual grassy parade grounds. Officer's row along the top commanding the best views, noncomm officers houses along the sides, and enlisted mens barracks at the bottom. There was also a fire station, education and recreation (E&R) building, PX (of ciourse), hospital, mule barn, and signal building where messages were sent to Seattle via underwater cable that is still functional today, athough not used. The base was closed in 1941 and purchased by a bunch of easteners in 1947 in an attempt to preserve the fort and start up new businesses. Most failed, but the Indian arts center, a hotel, and B&B still thrive.
It was in the Indian arts center that we met Fred. Although in his mid 40s like Brian, his face was remarkably smooth and hair free of gray. Maybe there's something to be said about living in a place having long winters. In previous years he's done some bike touring from Seattle to Texas and having just bought new touring bikes for him and his wife, he now is planning a trip to Chile. Well, that started us off on a long talk about touring, engineering, satellites, nutty drivers, the works. It always happens when you get bike tour enthusiasts in the same room.
Haines itself is a great little town. It seems to be trying to become more of a tourist attraction without becoming overrun like Ketchikan or Skagway. The dock has just enough room for one cruise ship and maybe a small tour boat. The ferry dock is 4 miles north of town and there's only a couple small hotels and B&Bs. So the number of visitors that can physically be in town on a given day is limited. This has helped the town retain its rustic, frontier feeling. Main street is lined with buildings dating from the early 1900s that have been carefully preserved in their original appearance. Tourist and art shops fill many of the buildings, but there's also a nice grocery, hardware store, library, pizza parlor, and restaurants.
We wandered for hours, visiting the Sheldon museum which has loads of information about Haines and the Indians, touring around the fort, walking up and down the streets peeking in the store windows, and shopping for food (Brian's favorite passtime). At the base of Main street is the small town harbor where you can dock a small boat for $4 per night, larger boat for $7, or even get long term dockage rates. Sailing yachts, pleasure fishing boats, a few cabin cruisers, and lots of gillnetter commercial fishing boats hug the docks. Gillnetters catch fish by throwing out nets that catch fish by their gills. They're easily recognizable by the large round spool on their stern, used to draw up the net.
We watched as one boat unloaded its haul of halibut, a large, flat, oval shaped, gray colored fish. Huge fish almost as tall as me came out of his hull. I can't recall seeing fish so large in any place but an aquariam. Everyone on the pier seems to know everyone else. In fact, everyone in town seems to know everyone else. A real small town atmosphere where everyone watches out for each other and also knows what everyone else is doing. Small towns do have advantages and disadvantages. People seem to really enjoy living here in the summer. But I do get the impression people get tired of the winter, blowing winds, cold rain, not much snow, and just dusky dark all the time. Perhaps winters in upstate N.Y. aren't so bad after all.
There's a small water taxi, run by Glen and Alison Jackson, between Haines and Skagway across the deepest fiord in North America, the Lynn canal. 360 miles by road, the water distance to Skagway is a mere 15 miles, 1 hour. So Glen and Alison have filled a perfect niche. They own the large, bihulled boat they had custom manufactured in Naples, FL of all places. They said it was cheaper to pay for the boat, $400K, and the transport, $40,000, than it was to have a boat built on the west coast. It was their sixth year and 3rd boat and they're now actually making money. They call themselves the "water taxi that could".
For us, the trip was worth every penny of the $60.80. On the way over and back we saw ten bald eagles, a group of about 6 sea lions, a Dall porpoise, and three whales. More wildlife than we've seen in in all our weeks in Yellowstone, Grand Tetons, Rocky Mountain Nat'l Park, and Glacier Nat'l Park put together. And we haven't even ventured into the interior yet. Even at the docks of Haines we spotted three adult bald eagles with their crowns and tails of snow white and three juvenile eagles that were still mottled brown all over. I imagine there's no other place in the world where one can see so many eagles at one time.
Skagway. Well, what can I say. Historicaly it's fascinating as it, along with the now extinct town of Dyea (Di-ee) were the jumping off points for that mass of humanity that crossed the passes to the gold fields near Dawson in the Yukon. The National Park Service has created an historic park that includes the Chilkoot and White Pass trails, most of the buildings in downtown Skagway, and several buildings in Seattle (representing the very beginning of the journey). The visitor's center displays numerous pictures from that most fantastic journey, shows movies and slide shows, and provides a great walking tour, all for free. But ...... The rest of downtown was simply a hodge podge of tourist trinket shops selling the same stuff they sold in Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka. The only item truly worth investigating are the Aluet woven baskets and ivory carved by the natives. The rest, mostly junk.
The town of Skagway is tucked away at the farthest nothern extreme of the inside passage. It sits at the end of a river that leads up a long and gradual climb into the Yukon interior. It has a permenant population of about 700. Yet during summer, its docks can support four large and one small cruise ship virtually magnifying its population ten fold. Consequently everything, and I do mean everything, in town is geared to satisfy these brief visitors. Many of the downtown buildings are actually owned by the Park Service and are leased to the businesses. They've all been carefully renovated to their 1910 appearance. In fact, the renovation may have been done too carefully. Everything looks clean, neat, and just a bit too perfect, too Disneyland. In 1910 the streets would have been mud, paint would have been chipping and falling off, and things would just looked lived in. More like the town of Haines, in fact. We concluded that it was interesting to see the history of the Klondike and Skagway, but we much prefer the real town of Haines. We would be quick to recommend that people heading for the interior start at Haines rather than Skagway.
"Thus toiled we, the army of fortune, in hunger, hope, and dispair."
The Trail of Ninety-eight by Robert Service
Reading this from a poem displayed with a B&W photo of the gold fields near Dawson I still find the whole concept of the rush across Chilkoot Pass so unbelievable. The whole idea of 10 to 20 K men and women climbing back and forth across the same path so many times, headed for rivers that were claimed long before, and all for a metal whose primary use is for decoration.
Here's a rather interesting fact about bike touring Alaska that we learned from the book Alaska Bicycle Touring Guide by Pete Praetorius and Alys Culhane. Back in 1898 the adventurous gold seekers in Skagway were amazed to see several hardy souls climb off their sailing vessel, bikes and gear in hand. They rode over the 3000 Chilkoot pass to the Klondike gold fields. Some even headed onto the town of Nome and the Bearing Straites. All done in the winter by following the ruts left from dog sleds. Remember, there were no roads. And we thought we were tough.
Our last morning in Haines we awoke to beautiful, sunny skies with soft white puffy clouds. Bald eagles lazily floated round and round on thermals just over our head. We packed up our lives and stuffed everything back into the panniers and headed into the interior. As bike touring days go, this was perhaps the most perfect of all. The road was flat with a barely perceptible climb along the Chilkat river. Temperatures were a perfect 73 degrees and the wind gave us a nice push. Tall Sitka spruce trees lined the road and the enormous, rugged, snow capped Cathedral peaks smiled at us in the distance. We stopped after a short 30 miles, at the very aptly named Mosquito lake. A small black water lake that happened to be a smooth as glass this particular night providing a crystal clear reflection of the mountains. As I strolled along the slightly muddy gravel road I thought to myself, "Heaven. I'm in absolute Heaven."
Appendix A - Route
Alaska ferry along inside passage to Ketchican, Juneau, Haines, Water taxi Haines to Skagway and back Haines Highway to Mosquito Lake
Appendix B - Camp sites
Signal Creek National Forest campground at Ketchikan 2 nights ($), Auek Village Campground near Juneau ($), Mendenhall Lake Campground near Juneau 3 nights ($), Portage Cove State Park near Haines 5 nights ($), Mosquito Lake campground ($)
($) indicates fee camping
Copyright © 1995-2011 by Caryl L. Bergeron - Distribution for personal use permitted. Distribution for other uses with written permission.