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On to Anchorage

Anchorage feels like an old flannel shirt to me. You know, the one you wear when you're puttering around the house or raking leaves on a late-fall day with a nip in the air. I don't want to wear it all the time, and it's certainly not dressy enough for company, but it feels comfortable when it's on. It's soft and warm, and it's fabric and odors are reassuringly familiar. In short, it feels good.

If the push to Deadhorse was grand adventure, the visit to Anchorage is more a trip down memory lane. With a couple of years absence to live in Fairbanks and Ketchikan and to finish college in Illinois in the mid-70s, I called Anchorage home from 1969 to 1984. It was here I married, divorced and re-married and here my oldest son was born in 1970. I received my CPA license and started my first business here. We left in 1984 because we finally tired of the long, cold winters, but since many of our friends still live here, we return often. It is good to be back again; it is good to be home.

Update about Julia: While the rest of us struggled to reach Deadhorse, Julia rode first to Denali Park in the rain, and then on to Anchorage to stay with friends.

Denali National Park was established to protect Mt McKinley, at 20,320 feet the highest point in North America. While the great peak Denali ("the great one" - the Athabascan Indian name commonly used by Alaskans) is awe-inspiring on the few days each month it is not hidden by the clouds, the abundant wildlife is the primary reason for a visit. Julia rode the shuttle bus the ninety miles each way to Eielson Visitor's Center, a full eight hour round trip, and saw caribou, moose and grizzly bear in number, but the clouds didn't part for a look at the great peak. Like most other visitors to the park, she still came away enchanted.

Day 16
August 2, 1999
Anchorage to Homer

We awaken to dense cloud cover and a driving rain. While we enjoyed several days of sunshine during the first week of this trip, since we arrived in Fairbanks only our time in Deadhorse has been without rain. The clouds are so low this morning even the foothills of the majestic Chugach Mountains, rising to heights of 7,000 feet almost directly from sea level (as Anchorage is an ocean port) and just a stone's throw from the city, are obscured. Jan has decided to stay in Anchorage with the BMW, but the rest of us are bound for Homer, on the shore of Katchemak Bay 250 miles south of Anchorage.

Without the slower BMW we set a brisk pace south on Seward Highway as we follow the shore of Turnagain Arm, the towering peaks of the Chugach Mountains still obscured by the thick cloud cover. We pick up our speed, to somewhere north of the legal limit, and quickly pass the long line of RVs bound for Seward, Homer and salmon fishing on the many rivers of the Kenai Peninsula. It feels good to be back on the road after two days of relative inactivity.

Bear Glacier hangs high in the Chugach Mountains, just 50 miles south of Anchorage.

As we approach Alyeska Ski Resort and the village of Girdwood, thirty miles south of Anchorage, we get our first break in the weather in a week. The sun finally burns off the cloud cover to reveal the many splendors of Southcentral Alaska. As we near Portage, just fifty miles from Anchorage, glaciers hang high in the bowls of surrounding peaks. I count six glaciers clearly visible, the pale aqua hue of their exposed faces resulting from pressure across eons of time, and contrasted against the slate gray of the peaks. We briefly visit Portage Glacier then ride south across Turnagain Pass.

Tom, Randy, Eric & Julia with Portage Glacier in the background - 50 miles south of Anchorage.

I'm taken back to 1979 on a prior motorcycle trip with my son Greg. We are headed to Homer for a weekend in early May. Its cold when we leave Anchorage and by Turnagain Pass we are down to 30 mph in a blinding snowstorm. It's cold enough for a blizzard but warm enough it doesn't stick to the pavement, which on a motorcycle makes a road virtually impassible. At the rest area on top of the pass I stop and we both hunker down to warm our hands behind the mufflers. Seventy-five miles later, past rushing rivers, tree-clad slopes and snow-covered peaks, we arrive in Soldotna for the night, soaked, frozen stiff and exhilarated by the ride. Well.........I was exhilarated; guess I should check with Greg at some point.

The fast-flowing Kenai River, 100 miles south of Anchorage.

As we head south through the pass and pick up speed, Randy feels his engine seize momentarily. We explore the cause, which Randy quickly and correctly diagnoses as a problem with the counter balance. The bike sounds the same to Eric and me, and I am unconvinced, but Randy can feel the new vibration from the engine. He is frustrated as the KLR is a brand new motorcycle with less than 6,000 miles on it, but does his best to take it in stride and we ride on to a dealer in Soldotna who confirms Randy's diagnosis. Since the parts will have to be shipped up from the "Lower 48," he arranges to have the bike shipped to the Anchorage Kawasaki dealer and continues on to Homer double up on my Cavalcade.

Soldotna, AK - Randy's KLR breaks down.

Morning clouds have given way to brilliant afternoon sunshine and blue skies as we enjoy a rare day of beautiful weather and make our way past Kenai Lake, and the Russian and Kenai rivers with anglers lined up elbow to elbow in pursuit of the elusive king salmon. We won't fish today.

The blue-gray waters of lower Cook Inlet expand westward for several miles as we pass through Clam Gultch, Ninilchik, Deep Creek and Anchor Point. Each holds vivid memories for me of lost youth and simpler times, and stories that perhaps can be told another day. By 9 P.M. we make Homer and the excellent B&B Julia has found.