A friend busted my chops about the "martyr" musings in the my last post. She had been there through the latter part of the Nightmare and saw much of the worst of it. Not to the degree that Duncan did, but much of it. So she, virtually, hit me upside the head to remind me I had little choice in the matter and was not, in fact, a martyr.
There's an interesting aspect to the psychology going on in me. It makes no sense, but then again this kind of damage rarely does. You're raised in an environment where you are blamed for everything. You are the scapegoat that's used so your parents can avoid their own failings. They tell you the company is failing and the house is being foreclosed upon because you didn't do some little thing. "Your mom will be homeless and it is solely your fault.", he would say. You're 12 and you absolutely believe him and the implications terrify you. This goes well into adulthood. "Get over it, you're an adult now.", I think from time to time. But you can't change how you feel, at least not easily or quickly. Like some tall oak tree that's grown up organically on crooked ground, when you look at the world level it seems crooked. It's not the ground you're used to walking on.
At some point when things get difficult, because it's what you're familiar with and it's what you've been trained to believe, you want to believe that it's your fault. It makes so much more sense to you that somehow the bad things happened because you did something wrong. If only you could do it better the bad things wouldn't happen. As I write this I realize I sound somewhat like a abused wife. You know, that typical thing you always hear abused women say, "If only I didn't do the things that make him angry, he wouldn't do the bad things he does to me. It's my fault.".
It's the same with being sick. I keep thinking at some point that I am in fact not sick, I've just been making it all up. Then I have a beer or eat something with starch or sugar in it and the next 5 days are spoken for. It's similar with the Nightmare. The hardest thing to accept is that it wasn't my fault, that I did the best I could and was just up against impossible odds and managed to pull it all out at the end. Seeing it that way is too "level". Even six months after it all resolved by the skin of all of our collective teeth, I still can't shake the feeling that I made it worse. (And notice I didn't say "I resolved" ... ) That somehow someone else in the same circumstances could have done it better. My attornies and broker have told me otherwise, and yet I still can't shake the feeling. I feel no sense of accomplishment. I feel no sense of pride. I don't even really feel relief. I don't know what I feel, but it's not good.
So when Matt said I sounded like a Martyr at some emotional level I felt, "Aha! Now that makes sense. That explains everything. I brought it on myself ...".
The night before I left Fairbanks, I went back to a local dive called the Boatel Bar for a drink. It's strictly a locals hangout and was, once again, a place filled with colorful characters. As fate would have it, or habit, Brian from the previous night was there. He had not had quite as much to drink and was more talkative. He apologized for asking me pointed questions the night before. "It was a bit long and boring. No fun. I apologize for asking.", he said. Fair enough. He got to talking and while he talked for a very long time it was never boring. An energetic, almost spastic guy with twitchy movements as if sped up by stims, he described his antics. "Little impulse control.", I remembered myself thinking. "Yea, I'm the guy, if you say jump off a bridge I'd be like 'yea!'", he exclaimed making a V sign with his hands and waving them wildly.
He describe snowmobiling across water in some detail. I had seen snowmobiles cross finite bodies of water at speed but what I did not know is if you balance them right you can just keep going. He talked about going back and forth across the open water in February. There's a powerplant up the river that dumps its hot waste water which keeps the ice melted.
Well, as it happened he was running across the water at speed when he realized the ledge he used to get back up on the ice had fallen in and it was now a 2ft tall embankment. As he told the story, waving wildly and moving around on the bar stool emulating his body position on the sled (snowmobile) like a motorcycle racer sometimes does, he described carving a short left hand turn only to have the sled point to high up losing it's bouyancy. Down it went with him on it into the drink, in Alaskan February temperatures. He went on to describe getting to near hypothermia as he swam and broke through ice to get back on shore and back into the bar. The entire story had happened right behind the bar, which as the name implies is directly on the river. Listening to him talk about spending the next five days trying to recover the sled was amusing. He said once he got it out of the water and extracted an eel from the airbox, he was able to revive it with some work and still runs it.
He works up in Prudhoe Bay on an oil rig and makes in six months nearly what I make in a year. It seems like a good gig, if you can get it. I asked him a some questions about his job and he described some facets of his daily routine but didn't seem to interested in describing it in detail. What he did mention sounded like really hard work.
He mentioned he had an aunt who lived not far from the Yukon River bridge on the Dalton highway. He talked about masks that members of his family had made, some of which are on display at the Smithsonian he said.
As I watched him waving his hands around with exaggerated facial expressions, I realized, finally, what his appearance reminded me of. A Vulcan. Same haircut. Same general facial features. He could have gotten cast on the spot, well, that is if he could calm down a bit. An amusing guy to listen to although I don't think I'd get in a vehicle with him behind the controls. "Impulse control.", I thought.
He did get serious at one point where he talked about how he helps support his mom. He's got some demons of his own. In a way he reminded me of Lance, always moving so that he doesn't have to stop and think.
He wanted to head to some other bar. "We probably won't ever meet again.", I said as we both got up to leave. "Yea, I guess not." he replied. "It was good meeting you."
I have to admit this has been an unanticipated part of this trip. I've gotten to get glimpses into quite a number of diverse lives. Out here I am less judgemental and more open. Out here I seem to be completely comfortable talking to people who, at home, I would probably not engage in conversation. There is probably a lesson in there.
I headed back to my room at the motel, all the while smelling the overpowering camp fire smell of a nearby forest fire that had been raging for some days now.
Morning came again, as it usually does, too early, but I had managed to sleep fairly well for a change. It had rained yesterday and overnight. It was much colder today, however.
I answered some emails, packed up my gear and headed to a nearby Denny's that claims to be the northernmost Denny's there is.
As I went to get gas I noticed how ominous the clouds looked. "Hmm. I'm heading to the coast today. I wonder if it's going to be like that trip to Prince Rupert with Duncan all those years ago.", I thought as I shuddered.
"I've had a pretty good run. Actually it's been a strangely long run of good weather. My luck is bound to run out.", I thought as I got back on the bike and headed out. A thermometer on a billboard read 51degF.
I headed South towards Delta Junction with the intention of reaching Valdez that evening. Valdez is only 366 miles from Fairbanks. "I should be able to make that with time to spare.", I considered naively. Within 20 miles, the drizzle started. It was an annoying kind of drizzle that wets the faceshield of the helmet just enough that you have to wipe it repeated to restore your vision. The road was already thoroughly wet. The further south I went, the further the temperature dropped.
Clouds hung eerily low over the horizon and surrounding mountains. The drizzle slowly turned into a persistent cold soaking rain. I had to stop to put the tank bag rain cover on. I couldn't take pictures with the good camera, because it was raining too hard.
Despite the rain and the darkness of the clouds I was making good time. RV's and trucks were causing their usual spray but I was getting around them handily. There were plenty of good passing sections. At one point a car flashed it's lights at me so I slowed down thinking there was an officer ahead. But none was to be seen. Then a while thereafter another car flashed it's lights at me and then another. "Shit. I bet my headlight has failed.", I thought. Sure enough, the 18 year old headlight bulb had burned out. I had a spare buried in the rear cowling under the seat under all of my gear. It was raining solidly now and puddles of water were forming in the depressions of the uneven frost heaved road. Some of these puddles were deep enough to shock you awake.
I really didn't want to replace the headlight in the rain. That would have sucked so I continued on constantly looking for a covered place to do this job. The rain got worse. As had been predicted, the water proofing I put on my boots only works for a finite period. My feet were good and soaked through by now. After 20+ years or wearing military issue combat boots I fear I may finally need to break down and get myself a waterproof riding set.
According to the thermometer it was now in the high 30's. The rain mits that I put over my gloves also have a defect. Eventually water starts running down your arm and into the mits and soaking your leather gloves. Unpleasant. The Transit Suit fits too tightly around my arms to put the suit over the gloves and mits. "Thank you Duncan once again for the heated handle bar grips.", I said aloud as I switched them on high. My hands may have been wet but they were not freezing.
The Transit Suit, as advertised, was completely water proof IF you remember to close the pockets. As I have mentioned before and I am sure you believe me, I am a genious. I left all the suit pockets unzipped. Yea, Genius I tell you.
The rain mits have a nice squeegy thing on them which makes clearly the faceshield of water mist and rain a breeze. Unfortunately, this was the kind of rain where you found yourself doing that constantly, at least every 30 seconds just so you could see.
The clouds got darker and darker. Everything was wet on the outside. I was starting to get concerned about visibility. Without my headlight oncoming traffic can't see me. It seemed like ages before I finally came upon a gas station at a lodge.
It was really coming down now and to add insult to injury it was coming down at an angle.
I walked in to the office to pay for gas and asked if I could stay under the gas pump cover, which was at least partially out of the rain so I could replace the headlight bulb. "I can do better than that. Around back there's a large generator shed. It's covered and because the generator is running it's warm.", the attendant said.
This turned out to be a lifesaver.
Despite the electric vest and the heated handle grips I was pretty good and cold. Soaked frozen feet were making it uncomfortable to walk. The "shed" was more like a huge barn with a concrete floor. The generator which occupied a quarter of the space provided all the power for the lodge. It was warm, albeit poorly lit.
I remember seeing a couple of guys, one with a passenger, on a couple of mid-70's vintage 400cc bikes. I think they may have been Kawasaki's or Hondas. I couldn't tell. They had milk cartons bungied to the 70's style sissy bars. They didn't have any good gear and looked like hippies. "That's how you do it.", I had thought at the time. "Slowly, on a shoe string budget going from campground to campground. Not high dollar, on some German machine with all this gear and electronics.", I thought as I pondered how unfortunate I was that I was so fortunate and could afford to travel the way I do.
"Today, I am grateful I am fortunate. I love my heated vest, my heated handlebar grips and this expensive water proof Transit Suit.", I thought as I slowly started taking gear off. "If I were those guys, I'd be hating life much more than I am right now. I am just uncomfortable. In this weather they would be miserable.". It was pouring down rain outside, but the heat from the generator felt good.
It had been 18 years since I changed the lightbulb in my bike. The spare is also that old. I'll have to remember to get another spare as soon as I can. Getting stranded without a headlight on a bike is a Bad Thing. I checked the owners manual to review how to remove the thing. As is the case with most things, getting this !#$!@# headlight bulb out involved some contortionism, patience and pain.
It took me over 45 minutes to get the old one out and the new one installed. But I was strangely calm about it. It took the time that it took. I didn't rush it. I had no schedule. "I'll roll into Valdez around 10PM", I thought. "That might be a problem.". But I was committed now. Unhurried, I checked tire pressure which I hadn't done in a while. I added some air to the front and rear using this cool Aerostich mini-compressor I got and packed up my gear. "Yea, I'm fortunate to be fortunate.", I thought.
I thanks the attendant for the use of the shed and then headed back out into the pouring rain and was on my way. I just rode. There were things I would have taken photos of, but it was raining too hard. Then I remember the backup indestructible camera that takes lousy photos. I pulled it out and put it into my pocket.
Duh. "Remember to zip up the pockets. Nobody reminded me to do that. They're always telling me not to die or get eaten by grizzly bears but ...", I laughed.
I was good and cold, but it was not unbearable. I have certainly been much colder. "This is going to be one of those standard comments after a while. Maybe it'll become standard comment #1. 'Thank you Duncan for the grips'", I kept thinking over and over again. There are few things in life that feel as good as release from discomfort. Hands cold. Press button. Hands warm now. Ahhhh.
As was the case in 1992, when, for 500 miles in the rain, Duncan would persistently say with that annoying optimism he musters simply to bug me, "Look! There's a break in the clouds. I'm sure the rain will stop any minute now!". It's didn't. Prince Rupert is some kind of Northern Rain Forest. It rains all the time.
So when I saw in the distance ...
... I thought, "Ah, mother Nature, I'm on to you. You teased me before but I'm just not buying it this time!". On I rode undeterred by the sunshine peering through the clouds. "Sucker hole", I thought.
Now having the indestructible camera soaking in my wet pocket, I was free to take pictures.
I pondered , "How can you tell you're in Alaska?".
Yup. If you have to be reminded not to shoot from the roadway, you're in Alaska.
Mother Nature continued to try to tease me, but I coldly ignored her advances, knowing that she was just trying to make me hopeful so she could crush me again. Abuses relationships are like that, after all. You just have to learn to stop hoping and realize She's Evil.
At one point she actually made it stop raining for a while, maybe 45 minutes. I thought to myself this can't be true. The clouds were hanging very low overhead. I don't remember ever seeing clouds like this before.
These clouds were crazy low. The rain stopped and started. It would turn to drizzle for a while. Then, as I started to climb what I thought was a pass, I saw some very ominous looking clouds. These clouds were a dark blue and situated between two mountain peaks.
I started running into a mist as if I was riding through a cloud. It was an annoying mist requiring me to constantly clear the faceshield. It had gotten colder still and the shield was fogging up quickly on the inside.
The clouds continued to amaze.
There was this one cloud hanging down low in front of a mountain seemingly just a few hundred feet above the road.
It started to rain again just I had started becoming hopeful. Then I saw it.
I hoped to see the glacier I've been told you can walk on. I've never seen a glacier up close before. The rain continued as I climbed the mountain. Temperatures had risen for a while but were no dropping well into the mid thirties.
Then I ran into fog, only it wasn't fog, it was a cloud.
I've ridden in fog before but this was ridiculous. It was wet. Very wet. So wet in fact that I couldn't keep the faceshield clear. I suffered constant visibility problems and could only do about 15 mph. It got much thicker than what's depicted in the photo. This was taken right at the beginning.
It went on for miles. I rode with the fourway blinkers on. It got so thick that while riding next to the yellow line in the middle I could not see the white line on the side. I was afraid some idiot would come through too fast and run me over I was travelling so slowly.
But I couldn't go any faster safely. To make matters worse, the road surface was very slick.
This seemingly went on for miles and miles.
On the other side of the pass I descended and ended up in a very cool steep and narrow canyon filled with low handing clouds and waterfalls.
Of course, it was still raining but no longer quite as hard. It was still cold.
I finally made it into Valdez just before 10PM. To my dismay seemingly every hotel was booked solid. I was thoroughly chilled and not looking forward to attempting to camp or riding back three hours to next nearest town. I went to three separate hotels until I found a motel with a room available.
The amount of money I've spent on hotels, eating out and gear is starting to make me sick. Maybe we'll call this the Worlds Most Expensive Sunday Drive. Things in Canada and Alaska are just crazy expensive.
There was a restaurant in walking distance that was still open. Leaving all my gear on the bike, I walked over because I was starving. It was a weird place. As Duncan would say, "There's only bad music on the water.". This was true of this place as well. The bartender, who really couldn't be bothered to tend bar, was playing with her iphone that she had plugged into the stereo.
Eventually I managed to get a drink and dinner. Eventually a guy sat down next to me just before the kitchen closed and ordered dinner. I thought I recognized the accent but I wasn't entirely sure. I asked him where he was from. "Germany", he replied. "Wo aus Deutschland?", I asked (Where in Germany?). He was from Berlin. They have a slightly different accent there which is why I didn't recognize it. His name is Eike. He had been kayaking on the Yukon river for some long time by himself. Hard Core. We talked for a good long while. I mentioned the boat tours, but the forecast for the next day was supposed to resemble what I had just experienced. We agreed to meet at 11AM in front of the restaurant and would decide what to do then.
It's simply crazy how many people I'm meeting. Maybe it's because most of the people I'm meeting are themselves travelling and are thus in that same open state of mind. I don't know.
I went back to the my room and promptly took a long hot shower and went to bed.
I didn't sleep well. Morning rolled around and I was awake shortly before 8. The hotel made a big deal out of breakfast. They have a full breakfast room with a complete kitchen so I had hopes for breakfast. Cold cereal and muffins is all they had. Great. I walked around town in search of a place to get something to eat.
Along the way I thought, how can you tell if you're in Alaska?
If the bars open at 8AM, you're in Alaska.
It was still dark from thick clouds which still hung eerily slow over the landscape.
The water in the marina here at Valdez has this unnatural aquamarine color.
I had breakfast at another inn and a couple cups of coffee. I was once again a a stupid tired walking corpse. Despite that, I kept a careful watch on the time since we had said 11AM.
Now if he had been an American, I would have questioned whether or not he would even have shown up. Even then, one would have considered a window of maybe half an hour early or late to be "normal".
But this was a German and that means two things. He'll be there because, he said he would be there and he'll be on time.
So I quickly walked over to a coffee stand, got my fifth cup of coffee for that morning, and headed over to the agreed upon spot. I was 2 minutes early and he was no where to be seen. At exactly 30 seconds before the hour, he walked up coffee cup in hand.
I have some difficult understanding him. He uses a lot of vocabulary and slang I'm not used to but I can follow along. I haven't been speaking enough German lately so I was looking forward to a day in the language. The weather was still off. Clouds and fog were everywhere. We decided that a boat tour wouldn't be worth it so we opted to walk around town. He had wanted to check out some kayaking and sports stores looking for a hand held radio or Personal Locator Beacon. We walked around town chatting. At one point we came upon an interesting tracked vehicle.
For when the snow if Really Deep.
We walked over to the tourist center because I wanted to get some information on the boat tours. The lady there started showing us photos she had taken nearby. "The salmon are running. It's low tied. There will probably be bears and eagles as well. If you hurry you might still be able to make it.", she said.
Eike had a rental car so we raced, jumped into it and headed to the place the lady had mentioned. It took much longer to get there than one would have guessed looking at the tourist map.
When we arrived the tide was already coming back in, but we could see quite a number of birds and alot of fishermen. "This must be the place.", Eike said. We got out of the car, cameras in hand and climbed down the rock embankment. Watching the water carefully you could occasionally see the splashing of salmon as they ran through shallow parts.
It's the splashing of a salmon. It was the best I could do.
In the distance I spotted an eagle. There had been a number of them while we were in the car, but most had flown off.
One could get a sense of how much the tidal difference in this area is. Most of the ground we were standing on, many feet above the water line, was still wet and covered in what I guess was kelp.
Fishermen lined this one little section of stream through which, apparently, a crazy number of salmon were swimming.
They didn't even bait the hooks. The salmon that were being pulled out weren't even hook on their mouths. Maybe were hooked on the side.
They would simply cast the line out, drag the hook across the stream and pull out salmon after salmon. One guy were saw, in particular, bothered both of us. He pulled out salmon after salmon and as he pulled the fish off the hook, he threw it on the ground and just stepped on it.
Both Eike and I were appalled at the simple disregard. "No respect. No decency.", he said. He went on to talk about the hunting license you get in Germany and how, when you learn to hunt in Germany, a certain amount of culture and respect is included. If you don't demonstrate an understanding of the hunters code, you don't get your license.
I mentioned the show I had seen where the moose was assassinated and his comments mirrored the ones I made in the blog at the time. Maybe it's just a German thing. There's a different set of values, a different way of looking at the world. There are right ways and wrong ways of doing things.
Hooking some fish and smashing it on a rock just isn't right. "You have to use a knife and make it quick.", Eike said. Most fish lying on the beach after having been stomped on were still moving.
This scene is going to stick with me for a while. It disgusted both of us so we left. The next low tide is as midnight. We've been told to be careful as we're planning on heading back out there to see if we can see any grizzlies. Yes, yes, I'll be careful.
We talked about the bears and were warned by one of the fishermen that they tended to lurk just on the other side of the road. Eike had a rather sizeable rifle with him which he pulled out and put together.
Germans with guns.
He said in principle he has no problems with hunting but couldn't see himself going out and killing some beast. We discussed the relative merits of bear spray versus guns. I've been told most of the time a gun will just piss a bear off and that the bear spray tends to be more effective. Eike's point was that the reason the taser was invented is that people can learn to withstand pepper spray. He had heard if a bear has been sprayed in the past it's less likely to be stopped the second time around.
After leaving the salmon hatchery, we headed over to Valdez Glacier. I had heard from someone that you can walk right up to it. It took us a while to get there, but at least it was on the way back. It turned out I had been misinformed.
There really wasn't much of the glacier to see. It looked to me like it had receded quite a bit. There was a good sized pond and the glacier itself was far too long a walk for us to attempt it. We were both hungry at this point.
As we were getting ready to leave I saw a critter I have only seen once before.
Yermo the nature photographer. I'm guessing this is some kind of porcupine. We stalked the slow moving waddling beast but it was on to us and moved off into a weird grove of trees where it refused to pose for the camera.
All these trees were leaning to the right as if pushed by some force.
As we opened the door of the car to leave the glacier the mosquitoes swarmed. A dozen or so got into the car with us. Very annoying.
Eike suggested that we buy lunch at the grocery store and have lunch at the campsite where he was staying. It was an awful RV park with RV's of every shape and size visible as far as the eye could see.
"It'd be a great view without all the RV's.", I said. He complained about RV's that left their generators on after 11PM preventing him from getting a good nights sleep. "There are rules against that.", he said perplexed. It's a German thing. Rules are to be followed. For Americans, rules are more like guidelines. If it says 55mph, they usually don't ticket you unless you're doing over 75mph.
As we sat in the campground, this crazy bird walked up and stood staring at me from maybe less than 6 feet away.
It just stood there staring at me. Eike threw it some chicken, but the bird flew away. "I guess he didn't get it.", Eike said.
He had wanted to go to the Valdez museum. I decided rather than do that, since I was so tired, I would go back to my motel room and see about doing some laundry. Maybe I could sleep.
On the way to the motel, I stopped at the Lulubelle Boat office to see when the boat left the next day. It turns out they only run it once a day starting at 1PM. The nice lady is holding a spot for me. If the weather holds, I think I'll do it tomorrow. They say you can see whales on most days. Unfortunately, the tour lasts until 7 or 8PM depending on the wildlife they see. This means I'll be here another day. I think I'll try camping. The hotel costs are starting to hurt.
As I looked around the Lulubelle Office I saw it. The perfect dream catcher. "That's it!", I thought. I had had a vision of what I wanted to get and that matched it almost exactly. It was not for sale. Thwarted again.
I checked a few shops on the way back to the motel but found nothing. I took a short nap, did some laundry and checked email. Originally, I was thinking I was far too tired to write this post. "I won't have enough time.", I had thought.
But then I got this friend request on facebook by a guy from Dubai who was googling about trips to Alaska. He started reading the blog and send me a message about it. It turns out he likes the blog and wants me to continue writing it.
So with a little encouragement from a random stranger I mustered the gumption to put together this entry ...
I wonder, once I get back to my life, will I have anything to say that people will want to read?
And if I don't stop now I'll be late ... so I leave it as it is with all my usually typos and mis-edited sentences. My apologies to the readers. I wonder if we'll see any bear tonight.
@Ian There were grizzlies! 4 of them. A mother with three cubs. There were also countless eagles and a sea lion. More on critters on the next post.
@Duncan Heading out on a boat today to tour the icepack. It's supposed to be around freezing out there. There's a chance I might see whales. It's a long cruise, lasting over 7 hours. I'll stay here in Valdez one more day and head back out onto the road tomorrow.