Day 10 (July 9): Valdez-Homer

 

Today I started very early. I woke up at 4:30am in order to make it on time for the ferry. Well, …, it happened again, I was the first one 🙂

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I was enjoying the view for some time, …

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While the rest of the vehicles were arriving.

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I was glad I wasn’t the only one on motorcycle because I was a bit worried about “that tunnel” in Whittier (we’ll talk more about that later).

While the ferry was gliding on perfectly calm waters between the islands and fiords, I was busy with one of three activities: eating, sleeping, enjoying the views.

After six hours of perfect peacefulness,  we arrived to Whittier, Alaska. I was feeling a bit uneasy about “the tunnel”. The fact that there was five of us on motorcycles made me feel a bit better.

“The Tunnel” – source: Alaska.org web site

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“Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel—the longest (2.5 miles) highway tunnel in North America, and the first designed for -40 Fahrenheit temperatures and 150 mph winds!

The one-lane tunnel must be shared by cars and trains traveling in both directions, and it usually needs to be aired out in between trips (with jet turbine ventilation, another first!). This unique design that enables a single lane of traffic to travel directly over the railroad track saved tens of millions of dollars over the cost of constructing a new tunnel.”

Now you get my point. I have to ride through “that”!  I went straight from the ferry terminal to the tunnel. Dayan, a nice guy in a yellow suit put me in the special line because as he said, the motorcycles get unstable inside and that’s why they go last. He also said that I had 8 minutes before I go in. We had a casual chat for a couple of minutes until I clued in that none of the other bikers showed up! Where the heck are they! I can’t go in this thing alone. While my mind was spinning in a mild panic, Dayan started talking again, but this time he put on a very official voice:

“Sir, you understand that you will be riding 2.5 miles in a single line between the train tracks 4 feet apart”?

Yes I understand.

“Sir, you understand that if you touch the train tracks with your tire on either of the sides you will likely fall.

Yes, I understand.

“Sir, you understand that you will be riding on metal plates in between train tracks which are also wet because of the natural water drainage from the ceiling of the tunnel?

Yes I understand.

“Sir, you understand that there are jets inside in two locations to blow the car exhaust gasses out and when they blow they can give you a jolt and destabilize you?”

Yes, I understand.

“Sir, if you fall, please do not attempt to pick up the bike. We have over 50 cameras active. We will see you and come to help”.

Yes I understand.

“Sir, you ….”

For God sake, if I hear one more thing that can go wrong, I am turning my bike around and going back on that ferry, wherever it goes. There must be a road with a less complex tunnel wherever the ferry ends up going. Off course, I said this with my inside voice while Dayan was still providing the official information.

“Sir, in one minute, I will get a call and you will be ready to go”.

I am still the only rider in front of the tunnel. I guess, I am on my own.

“Sir, it’s time to go”

Off I go, …I entered the tunnel. I carefully crossed one train track and positioned myself right in the middle between the tracks while keeping a constant 40km/h. At one point I noticed that in all that effort to do everything right and provide maximum concentration, I stopped breathing. Well, that’s not going to work for 6 minutes – estimated duration at 40km/h.

After a while I was convinced that 6 minutes was over, but there is no fricken light at the end of the tunnel anywhere on the horizon. And those jets, I didn’t like the sound of them as I was approaching them. The first one was ok, but the second one gave me a bit of a jolt and pushed me over a few inches.

Stay focused, stay focused, don’t look at the speedometer, stay focused, don’t look at that flashing light on the wall, stay focused, ….

There is the light, I can finally see the end of the tunnel. “Don’t screw it up now” the inner voice was telling me. “Stay focused – the game is not over yet”.

As I was crossing the exit line, I started screaming in my helmet. This was the most intimidating 6 minutes in my life on a motorcycle. I was happy it was over but I was also proud I did it.

For the next few hours I was riding through pristine nature surrounded by mountain peaks and glaciers. I took so many pictures of those yesterday, plus I was a bit mentally exhausted from “the tunnel” so I decided that I will not be taking pictures for a while, I’ll just enjoy the ride.

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I have only 150 km left until my final destination for today but I started feeling that the 4:30am start was making an impact on me. The espresso bar by the side of the road appeared just in time.

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I had my regular double-double (read as: two times double espresso) and I was ready to go again.

Shortly after that I arrived at the town of Anchor Point – somewhere around here is the most westerly location reachable by road in North America.  A few minutes later I found the actual point and the sign.

Yeeeeeeeeeeeeessssssssssss! This is it! I made it!

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It felt great!

I still had two more objectives for today.

1.      To go inland as far as I can go. And for that I picked the village called Nikolaevsk.

2.      To go literally to the end of the road in this part of the world – the end of Homer Spit.

From Anchor Point I took a detour. Instead of continuing south, I went as far as I could east towards Nikolaevsk.

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After awhile, I was there. I stopped by the local church where people were gathering and it felt like I was teleported to another continent. They all spoke fluent Russian while English is more of a second language. The original Russian traditions, religion and culture is completely preserved including the dress code.

I got Father’s permission to take a picture of the interior of the church.

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There is only one café in the village – Samovar Café.

That’s where I met Nina. She asked me if I was hungry and what I would like to eat for dinner. My understanding of traditional Russian meals is very limited therefore I suggested she pick a few things for me.

I had borscht, pel’meni and Russian tea with desert.

It was absolutely delicious. It tasted like a home cooked meal. I was grateful that Nina prepared all of that for me considering I was the only guest and that she missed her local church gathering to serve me. While eating my dinner I learned a lot about the local community and culture.

As I was driving back towards the main road, my mind was still spinning. I couldn’t believe that there are villages in Alaska that are still 90% Russian spoken. What an experience.

Now I am heading towards Homer. I arrived within an hour and continued straight to Homer Spit. When I got on the spit I noticed a lot of interesting shops and restaurants as well as may people camping on the beach. That must be cool, spending the night at land’s end.

Famous Salty Dawg Saloon.

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After a few more minutes of riding I was at the actual “Land’s End”, literally.

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What a day! I’ll remember this day forever!

 

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3 thoughts on “Day 10 (July 9): Valdez-Homer

  1. Zoran, I could feel myself riding with you through the tunnel. What a harrowing adventure that was. Your telling of the multiple cautions was stellar. I was thinking that you would have said to him……”Well should I shit my pants before or after i cross the tracks.

    The Russian village was a beautiful reminder that the Russians owned Alaska before the Americans and the Russian People stayed with their homes and family traditions including the Russian Orthodox Churches.

    I keep meaning to ask you what camera you are using…..I am a tekkie camera guy so always like to know about cameras and lenses. I hope you have lots of disks with you too.

    Congratulations on achieving your trip goal to Land’s End. Safe trip tomorrow. Peter B

    Like

  2. I agree with Peter B. Found myself holding my breath as you described going through the tunnel. OMG.
    Congratulations on reaching Lands End and all of the great moments in between!

    Like

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