At this point I was faced with a decision to either ride north via the Denali national park and on to Prudhoe Bay or head south.
I'd weighed the pros and cons of doing the Dalton vs Dempster prior to leaving and eventually decided on the latter for a number of reasons. Someone had also mentioned that the national park scenery was basically what I'd just experienced on the Denali Hwy but with endless tourists in buses mixed in.
I still had a lot of riding to do and so it was a pretty easy decision for me to push south on the George Parks Hwy toward the Kenai Peninsula.
Granted the service was a bit slow but I still rate this motel a solid C+ !
South of Ancorage the Seward Hwy winds itself around the Turnagain Arm of the Cook inlet. This wonderful two lane road boasts scenery that's stunning even by alaskan standards.
Trainspotting isn't nerdy if the trains are effing cool right ?
Rode through the Maynard mountain into Whittier via a super cool single lane hole in the rock that's shared by trains and cars.
It's certainly a good test of ones focus to ride down a 2.5 mile slippery band of concrete and steel knowing that if you contact the rail either side you're going down. Just to keep things interesting they've installed a few jet turbine fans for that surprise crosswind blast.
Apparently motorcyclists come unglued on a regular basis in this tunnel so to avoid them becoming speed bumps for the trucks they make all bikes travel at the end of each scheduled opening.
(Yeah I got busted for stopping and taking that picture.)
• WHITTIER •
I'd previously read about Whittier in Klancher's book on Alaska — in it he has a colorful photo of a nice looking cafe and describes the town as having a "stunning setting with funky places"
I arrived in Whittier on one of the few wet and foggy days I've had on this trip. I'd just spent a very damp night camping at the base of a glacier so I must admit my expectations were calibrated for something completely different as I exited the tunnel. My mind was set on finding the funky cafe in Klancher's book and stopping for a nice hot coffee and croissant or something.
I never really found that cafe but as I rode around what I did discover was one of the weirdest towns I've visited in awhile. Whittier was built by the US military as a strategic shipping port and is now home to about 180 people. Two huge decaying buildings basically dominate the place.
One of them, the Begich Building, houses 85% of the town's population plus the police station. From the outside it looks like the kind of dreary high-rise you would've found east of the Berlin wall
The other is the 270,000 square foot, 6 story Buckner Building. Once the largest building in Alaska it was built to house thousands of military personal as "a city under one roof." It contained a cafeteria, classroom, radio station, jail, hospital, library etc. Abandoned after the '64 earthquake it's now just a decaying shell full of asbestos — vandals have pretty much broken everything they can get their hands on. Too cost-prohibitive and logistically difficult to demolish and remove it just sits there as a memorial to the cold war.
You can find a brilliant video of a guy skiing through it here: http://vimeo.com/50860740
To be honest it doesn't take much of a ride about town on a grey rainy day to understand why the residents refer to the town as "Shittier" — However I liked it's stark contrast to the jaw dropping beauty of the Alaska I'd experienced so far.
I wished I'd researched more about Whittier's urban decay prior to arriving and taken some photos while I was there. I think my only regret for the whole trip was choosing to have (an albeit delicious!) lunch at the Inn At Whittier rather than explore the Buckner Building ruins.
Kinda kills me to see what I missed out on:
After heading back through the whittier tunnel the weather cleared up and I was once again immersed in the beauty of the Seward Hwy
Jerome Lake just before the Sterling Hwy turnoff.
Set up camp next to the Seward harbour, lit a fire and spent 3 glorious days just taking a bit of a breather from the trip.
Seward is a really nice spot to take a break in. The town is cradled by beautiful mountains and the campsite is within walking distance of interesting bars, restaurants and cafes. Down the end of the main street is the Alaska Sealife Center which is worth a visit but not cheap to get in at $20.
I spent an hour there trying to get a decent picture of a puffin flying underwater. Not easy given the constraints of trying to capture a fast moving animal through thick glass under low light. I must have taken 50 pictures and really the best I have to show for it is this somewhat blurry shot: