• Karl Sander

The Voyage South - Part 1

The trip home began in mid-May and took almost two weeks. The movers had come and gone. I'd hired a maid service and carpet cleaner to get the apartment squared away, and started packing up the things that I'd either asked the movers to leave, or they forgot. Meanwhile, down south, Karissa had an early flight from Seattle. So early, in fact, that she didn't even go to sleep before catching a 2 AM shuttle to Seattle. She arrived in Anchorage at 9, and we made one last visit to Humpy's before heading to the apartment to finish loading. Her approach was more effective than mine, and I suspect that she would have been much better at Tetris that I ever was. With that, we waited for my landlord. It afforded us the opportunity to make an unexpected final trip over to Simon and Seafort's, a downtown steak and seafood place where I'd made the barroom something of a second living room. Yet we never did get in touch with the landlord, and finally left the keys with the next door neighbor. Our ferry reservation wasn't until the next day, and the terminal in Whittier was only 45 minutes away, but there was a tunnel to go through. Not just any tunnel, either – a single lane tunnel with railroad tracks running down the middle. It alternates direction according to a published schedule, and so we figured it would be wise to spend the night before as close to the terminal as we could. That also meant we could afford to be more leisurely on our drive. With Karissa in the car and me on the motorcycle, we left downtown Anchorage behind us. After three years and almost nine months, I had started the trip home. In this case, a leisurely drive meant a couple last stops at Anchorage area breweries. For a state with only about 750,000 people and the lowest population density in the country, the brewing scene in Alaska was impressive. I knew I'd miss it, but I also knew there were more than enough breweries to console me back in Washington. Still, it seemed like a good idea to grab a couple growlers for the road (and boat). We also made a stop in Girdwood, the funky little hamlet at the base of Alyeska where I'd skied the last the last four seasons. It's home to the Double Musky – a famous restaurant so popular that I'd never actually succeeded in finding a spot. Yet I was somewhat determined to take Karissa here on our way out of the state, so we stood around a bit before a pair of seats opened at the bar. Fortunately, decades of miscellany decorating the walls and ceiling gave us plenty to look at while we waited. We split a couple appetizers (French pepper steak tips and peel-and-eat shrimp, for the record) before getting back on the road. A gas stop before leaving Girdwood, and we were on the way to Whittier.

The Inn at Whittier

Photo by Karissa Sander

The weather had held out well so far, but as we cut east across the top of the Kenai Peninsula from the end of Turnagain Arm, rain rolled in. Aside from the leather jacket, I wasn't exactly prepared for it, but there wasn't that much farther to go. And besides, I'd ridden through a freak snowstorm crossing Stevens Pass in Washington, so I'd had it plenty worse. Our efforts to not miss the 8:30pm eastbound tunnel opening succeeded, so much so that the attendant at the toll both seemed surprised that I didn't mind the fact we'd have to wait. Of course, I'd be waiting longer: the tunnel holds motorcycles till the end of each period so that riders don't have to worry about cars behind them (apparently that's a concern for some riders). I had completely forgotten this in the two years since I brought my bike into Alaska through the same tunnel. The rain was more of a light drizzle while I waited. Fortunately, it wasn't terribly cold. At least, not by Alaska standards. Soon enough, it was my time to enter the tunnel. I was the only motorcycle and had the 2 ½ miles to myself, and popped back out into the rain on the Whittier side. Fortunately, Whittier isn't that big, so it didn't take long to get to the hotel I'd booked. Karissa, who had been sent through the tunnel earlier, had no idea where we were going but the town's small size made it pretty easy to tell her how to find me. The Inn at Whittier is a cute, small hotel right on the water. Our room was comfortable, and there was a small bar on the ground floor with large windows looking out over Passage Canal.

Whittier Waterfront

Photo by Karl Sander

The next morning, we left the inn and checked in at the ferry. Before having to stage our vehicles, we had time to visit the delightfully named Lazy Otter across the street for coffee and breakfast of smoked salmon spread on bagels. From the staging area, we watched the MV Kennicott approach, turn, and back into the pier, and soon enough it was time to board. They took me first on the motorcycle and sent me to the bow to tie down. The ferry's website and reservation office are pretty insistent that motorcyclists need to bring their own tie-downs (which I did), but the crew on every boat we boarded offered to loan me some of the ship's straps. I declined, as the ship's straps' hooks were so big I wasn't sure what I'd actually hitch them to on the bike.

The Lazy Otter

Photo by Karissa Sander

With the bike tied down and the car parked, we unloaded what we figured we'd need for the next two nights and headed to the purser's counter to get our room, a small interior two-berth space in the bow. After we settled in, we explored the ship. I had ridden Kennicott between Bellingham and Whittier a few summers before, so I knew my way around a bit. We wound up on the stern in time to see the crew cast off lines, and we were underway.

MV Kennicott approaches

Photo by Karl Sander

Loading MV Kennicott

Photo by Karissa Sander

Next Week: Crossing the Gulf of Alaska and two busy days in Juneau

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