Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ferry Ride

Days 28-31, July 21-24, 2008-1,500 miles via ferry. I'm going to cheat today by combining all of the days on the ferry. We got on the ferry in Haines, AK about 7:30pm on Monday, July 21 and will get off the ferry in Bellingham, WA on Friday, July 25 at 7:00am.

When planning the trip, I had lots of mixed feelings about whether to ride all the way back or whether to take the ferry back to the lower 48 states. I had talked to people who did it, and most said they felt it was a good experience.

From a financial viewpoint (which always must be considered), riding was probably a little cheaper. The ferry, with bike cost over $800. But the price of gas in Canada, the wear and tear on the bike and rider, and the lodging costs incurred made the ferry only a little more expensive than riding. So, the deciding factor was to do it for the experience of a multi-day ferry ride.

It was a good decision. The flat tire reinforces that I made the right decision; no worries about the plug not holding. Only have about another 100 miles of riding from Bellingham to Seattle and the nearest BMW dealership. And a tire is waiting there.

The ferry, the Columbia, is a big ship. It will hold 499 passengers and hundreds of vehicles of all sizes and descriptions. It's big. Looks like a luxury liner at first glance. But it's pretty spartan once inside. It has nice viewing areas in the front of the boat, two dining areas (snack bar and restaurant), a bar, a movie theater, cabins (2 twin beds or 2 sets of bunk beds) (some of which have bathrooms), and a solarium on the top-rear of the boat. Limited Internet service is available--in order to connect, I have to get up early before other computer-users are up. And the connection is very slow. It's too slow to post pictures, but I'll post pictures when I get a faster connection on the mainland.

The solarium has been our home on the voyage. It's an area with glass panels on top and the sides and open to the rear of the boat. Infrared strips provide needed heat to keep it from being cold. Behind the solarium is a small deck area in which tents are pitched.

Initially our plan was to get on-board, secure the bikes, and run upstairs to get a lounge chair and pitch the tents. The plan partly worked! We secured the bikes in the hold, ran upstairs and found that the wind was blowing a gale. We grabbed a chair each and vacillated over whether or not to pitch the tents. In the end, we decided that pitching the tents was probably a bad idea because of the winds.

Just to explain, the tents are held in place via duct tape to the deck of the boat. We were afraid that the duct tape would not hold and we'd lose the tents and contents to the straits of Alaska. In retrospect, the tape held for those who were brave enough to try it, so our decision can be challenged.

But the deck chair was not bad at all. It folds flat, making into a bed. I laid my bumblebee down for the mattress, then my summer sleeping bag on top of the bumblebee, and my other sleeping bag to sleep in. More comfortable than I thought, and almost equal to my cot. Not too bad!

Gary choose to use his air mattress instead of the chair, so his sleeping accommodations have suited him well.

We've seen several whales, a Gray Whale and a Killer Whale. And we've seen tens of thousand mountains on either side of the waters. The route, the "Inside Passage" is part of the Alaskan Highway System. It's the same route used by the luxury liners, so we're seeing what those passengers see. The waters are blue-green and crystal clear. Beautiful waters. But, truth be told, I've seen enough mountains and pretty water to hold me for a while. They get pretty boring when seen day after day.

There's a naturalist on-board from the National Parks Service, who does presentations from time to time. They have covered bears, whales, and navigaion. Interesting presentations.

The bikes are on the main deck. I'd call it the hold, but they refer it to the "Car Deck" when making announcements on the boat's speaker system. We have access to the bikes when the boat is in dock or every 6 hours, whichever comes first. Otherwise, the hold is not available to the passengers.

The boat's movement is almost imperceptible. There's a constant vibration from the propulsion system that's a bit annoying when I pay attention to it. Otherwise, you can't tell we're moving at all. No up and down motions. The only motion felt is when the Captain changes course left or right. And that is pretty slight.

The ferry serves several towns along the way, so we dock from time to time to let people and vehicles on and off. So, we have new neighbors occasionally. The boat was in port two times long enough for passengers to disembark and go into town. I chose to go into town only once in Ketchican (yesterday).

Probably the best part of the cruise has been meeting fellow riders and talking about the bikes and adventures. We've made new friends from the Seattle area, Moab, Las Vegas (Kurt), Anchorage, and other areas. One of them is a native of Brazil, and I've enjoyed listening to him and his banter about bikes. The one from Moab does tours of Utah and Colorado; I might look him up sometime to arrange a tour. Getting to know them a little and enjoying the chatter back and forth has been a great surprise.

All in all, the ferry ride has been good. As I write this, we're on the last full day of the ride, and have no ports to visit. So, it will be an opportunity to have a final bull session tonight before disembarking tomorrow morning. I'm pleased with my decision to do the ferry.

Tomorrow--disembarking and riding to Seattle for tire and the unknown...

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