Monday, October 19, 2009

Kenai Peninsula

After spending a few days farting around Anchorage, flirting with girls in coffee shops and running errands, I decided to take a trip down the Kenai Peninsula, the blob of land that juts off the south coast of Alaska. The place I was getting new tires done wouldn't have my new front tire in for a few days, so I had some time to kill, and figured I'd see the sights.


Setting off down the Seward Highway from Anchorage runs you right along the coast for the first fifty miles, giving stunning views of the tidal flats and mountains. Etherwolf, my internet friend in Alaska, commented that the highway has an unusually high number of accidents on it. For the locals, it's just the main transport link to the towns on the Kenai, but then you also have the tourists gawking at all the scenery. The combination of people not paying attention to the road, and people in a hurry gives pretty bad results, and there's a LOT of little crosses and memorials all the way along the road.

At least there's good reasons to be distracted by the scenery. I mean, goddamn.

(To make it easier for those of you who aren't interested in mountains to scroll past)

After the first fifty miles or so, the road turns inland, heading up into the mountains and Chugach National Forest. By this time, I get an almost visceral reaction to seeing the slightly lopsided "Entering such-and-such National Forest" signs, as it means free camping almost anywhere I feel like.

This being national forest land, there were tons of little gravel tracks and trails off the main road, leading to clearings and things that often had pre-made fire-pits where other people had camped. I took advantage of one of these for the night, vowing to get to Homer the next day.


Almost as soon as I got back on the road, I encountered a reality of driving/riding in Alaska. Almost constant construction.

The road wasn't actually as bad as it looks. There had been some occasional rain for the last few days, but for the most part, the gravel/dirt was solid enough that I didn't have many problems, and the traffic slow enough that I didn't feel pressured to go faster then I wanted to.

I turned off the main highway, heading down to Seward. It was beautiful and scenic, as was just about everything else in this state, so much so that I was almost getting burned out on all the mountains.

This southeast half of the Kenai Peninsula is a huge plateau, feeding many glaciers that cut down through the mountains on all sides, ending in amazing valleys and fjords.

Most of the park is accessible by water only, but there is a road that runs in to a small visitors center which offers a nice hike up one of the glaciers.

Along with the requisite bear warnings.

I like that. "Unless it starts to eat you"

While the hikes did look like they would be pretty, I just wasn't in the mood for it. It wasn't that I was tired, I was just . . . I didn't have interest in anything except riding. It was one of those times when I was glad that I was doing the trip alone, because otherwise I probably would have been cranky if I had to deal with someone besides myself. And while going for a seven-mile hike up a glacier would have sounded neat to me on other days, right now it was totally unappealing. So I got back on the bike, and headed out of the park, going west on the Sterling Highway in the direction of Homer.

This part of the ride wasn't as scenic as the first part. The south and east part of the peninsula is rugged mountains, but the west side is gently rolling hills. I had it in my mind that I'd make it all the way to the end of the road at Homer, some ~150 miles away, although I didn't know exactly why. I just wasn't in a great mood, and didn't have motivation to do much of anything, let alone something touristy. So when in a semi-cranky mood, the best solution is to just keep riding.

I stopped for my version of lunch (Peanut butter) in the town of Soldotna, which seemd to be a mecca for fisherman. I wandered down a boardwalk to the river, where there were tons of people up and down the banks catching large fish with surprising regularity.

Inside the visitors center near the river, they had stuffed two of the record-setting fish caught here. I guess this river is renowned the world over for the colossal size of the fish, and I understand why. Fucking hell, I'd crap my pants if I saw something that sized swimming next to me in the water.

Continuing south down the Sterling Highway, I got to the end of the road a couple hours later, the town of Homer, on the mouth of Kachemak Bay. The road comes into the edge of the bay still up in the hills, and I stopped at a scenic over-look to snap some pictures.

The town of Homer is sort of in two parts. There's the business and residential areas that are on the mainland, and then a peninsula juts way out into the bay to house the port facilities, and touristy stuff.

After passing through the town (which wasn't notable in any regards), I went out onto the peninsula.

The end of the peninsula is a strange mix of tourist traps, condos/hotels, and port facilities. As generic as bits of it did feel, it was surrounded by some spectacular views.

Recreational fishing seemed to be a big draw here, with the rocky beaches covered with people in chairs holding fishing rods.

And even this far north, I found more evidence of exactly WHY the bottom fell out of the real estate market. Sure, smart people will tell you that it was mostly due to the securitization of home mortgages, which were packaged into CDOs and bought and sold so much that no one knew who the fuck owed who money anymore, but I disagree. The REAL reason that real estate prices died was because developers insisted on building places like this.

Seriously, who the fuck would want to live in something like that? Or even within eyesight of it?

Someone had told me that I should stop in here for some food, but . . . again, feeling cranky and anti-social.

The main drag of the peninsula was packed with mostly generic little tourist shops, but as I rode by, one of them caught my eye.

At first glance I thought it was a coincidence, but then, that was a picture of the Time Bandit itself . . . And that really was a crab pot.

The F/V Time Bandit is one of the ships featured on the reality TV show "Deadliest Catch", which chronicles the day-to-day goings on of crab fishermen in the Bearing Sea. It's called the deadliest job in the world, and is the only reality TV show that I allow myself to watch: Rather then the psudo-manufactured drama that permeates just about every other reality TV show on the planet, crab fishing really is fucking dangerous. Apparently, the show has gotten so popular that the Time Bandit (which is based there in Homer) has it's own gift shop.

As much as I would have liked to buy something kitschy, being on the bike leaves precious little room for souvenirs. Talking with the lady inside though, I did learn that the captain of the boat, Captain Andy Hillstrand, would actually be there the day after the next. *headdesk* I'm not kidding, I was sorely tempted to wait around a couple days just to meet him. Crab fishing is . . .

Okay, this sounds retarded, but it's a job I would love to have a shot at. Why? Because I'm fucking stupid, that's why.

As anyone who's ever seen the show can attest to, there is NOTHING about the job that is good, at all. I mean, sure I worked in Antarctica, which had it's crappy moments, but overall was fun, comfortable, and relaxing. Crab fishing is none of those. You're on fairly small (100-200 foot) ships in some of the roughest seas on the planet, in the stormiest time of the year, doing back-backbreaking hard work for hours and hours on end. The injury rate is nearly 100%, and each season sees at least a few guys killed, usually from being swept overboard or boats getting capsized by waves that can exceed 40 feet. The pay is good (very good) for seasoned deckhands, but greenhorns (newbies) make very little, and have to do the lousiest jobs. You spend the majority of the time in way sub-freezing temperatures, exposed on deck and getting regularly drenched in sea spray, while having to manhandle around those 800lb pots which are usually swinging from an overhead crane, while not getting tossed off the ship.

And if given a chance, I'd do it. Hell fucking yes I'd do it. And I already told you why: Because I'm fucking stupid.

It's the same reason that I took a job in Antarctica. And the same reason I went to school in India. And the same reason I decided to take a four-month-long motorcycle trip to some of the weirdest parts of the continent. Because for the last couple of years, my main interest has been on throwing myself into absurd situations, just to see how I react to it. Call it insurance against myself, against my future boring life.

Even if I do settle down at some point, and get a nice safe office job with a reasonable commute and good benefits, get a good 401k going and a low-interest mortgage on a condo, get a big fucking television with 500 channels, get a sensible car with good safety ratings and gas mileage, get a wife and some crotch-fruit, get to the end of my fucking life and realize that I'd spent my professional career working to some pointless fucking goal that ended up being completely empty when I got there . . . even if I get all that, I can look back on my life and realize that for a few years, I really did live. I did stupid, illogical things that left me poor with nothing to show for it expect pictures, experience, and a few scars.

That's why I want to go crab fishing. Because I think it would suck. And I think it would make me a better person.

And, ironically, that's the reason I probably won't ever get to go crab fishing. I don't think I could make a career out of it: I'd be a tourist, there for a season or two and then gone. And right now, the industry is hurting. Recent changes in regulations have put a lot of guys out of work, so there are a lot of fishermen, real fishermen to whom this is a career and a way to feed their families, who need the work a lot more then some shithead tourist kid needs it. The majority of the people out crab fishing aren't there for the adventure or action or because it'll give them good stories for picking up girls in bars, they're doing it because it's their job and what they've done their whole lives.

So really, my reasons for wanting to go crab fishing are all the wrong reasons.

So I suppose I'll stick to riding my bike to places that no sane person would want to go.

So I elected not to wait around for a couple days to meet the captain, which I'm still kind of split about. Maybe I should have. Who knows. But there was . . . besides the fact that I needed new tires, I had . . . an interesting feeling about a girl I'd met in Anchorage. So with little other reason for being in Homer, I turned around to head out of town.

It was getting to within a few hours of sundown, so out of curiosity, I pulled into a tiny little state-park-run campground on the beach to see about camping there for the night. And who did I run into by ShortguyonaBMW, from the campground up in Anchorage! We talked for a few minutes, but ultimately I decided not to stay there. It was right on the ocean and windy as hell, and they wanted $16/night. I said goodbye to ShortguyonaBMW, and headed out of town, stopping to take pictures of strange things as I went.

A . . . pirate ship?

Heading north back into the hills, I stopped to snap pictures of a couple of things I'd seen on the way in.

It was getting close to 11pm by this time, and they were closed. Otherwise I would have stopped there for food.

A few more miles down the road, there was this! I think this started life as an Airstream, but was now a giant bee

One day, Blode was playing with his giant bee (Giant bee, bee bee bee bee bee bee bee, giant bee bee bee bee bee bee bee be . . .)

(and if you understood the obscure internet joke that's a reference to, congratulations, you're as big of a dork as me. The rest of you can just ignore this last bit)

Even the mailbox was decked out.

Soon after I took these pictures, it started to get too dim to keep photographing with my point-and-shoot, and then it was almost dark. I was still feeling good energy-wise, and trying to stealth camp in the dark is very difficult. It was only 200 miles to get back to Anchorage, and simply because I didn't feel like sleeping, I rode through the night, getting back to the Harley campground in Anchorage at almost 3am. Just as it was starting to get light.

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