Doug Grosjean's
Alaska Trip Report

June 1999

Day 7; Friday, June 4th, 1999
Start: Everett, Washington
End: Bellingham, Washington
110 Miles

It seemed I hardly slept, but morning eventually arrives. And today it's a gray morning with drizzle.

I watch the local news, there's a big traffic screw-up south of Seattle on I-5. I hope Joe gets through alright, coming up from Portland this morning. And the beautiful Seattle weather of the past few days is history.

It's about 110 miles or so to the ferry at Bellingham, and I'm supposed to be there by noon, and I'm running a bit early about to head out the door when the phone rings.....

It's Robin's mom! Oh my - she talks my ear off about her kids (including Robin), my kids, life in general, Robin's dad, etc, etc, etc... Although I do appreciate the call, time is finite - and I really, really, really have to go...

And then I'm on the road. This is more like it, adrenaline pumping, anticipation, just a bundle of nervous energy headed north on I-5. Somewhere a bit north of Seattle, a light rain begins to fall.

Arrive right on time in Bellingham, get fuel and go to the ferry terminal.

The ferry terminal is a nearly new building, and very nice inside. It reminds me of an airport, full of excited people going places. The atmosphere is just different in such a place, you can feel the excitement and anticipation in the air. I get my ticket, but I don't see Joe yet. Probably no big deal, as the ship doesn't sail until 6:00 PM, but it sure would be good to see him again.

A dockworker has me pull the bike up to the front of the line. I'm hanging out there, just people-watching in the light rain and drizzle, and up rides Joe. Itís very good to see him again!

He gets his ticket, and then we wait outside in the dampness. And we wait, and we wait. A Ural with a sidecar pulls up, olive drab with a big red star on the side. There's got to be a story there! Then a guy on a DR-350, with some nice home-made saddlebag brackets and some soft luggage.

We introduce ourselves. The owner of the Ural, Brian, and the guy on the DR, along with the passenger in the sidecar, are going to a cabin that Brian owns way back in the woods somewhere in Alaska. They've done this trip a few times.

So what's up with the red star on the Ural? Brian tells us the star came in the mail a while after he bought his Ural, and he thought "Why not?" and stuck it on the sidecar. The whole unit looks very much like something out of a war movie, and you can't help but grin looking at it.

Joe and I and one of the guys from the Ural group walk into downtown Bellingham to grab a bite to eat, as the line is too long inside the ferry terminal cafe. We find a nice little bar with Mexican food along the road to the ferry terminal, and we enjoy talking about bikes, our waitress, and Alaska. She's a good waitress, and we're saying only good things about her. We walk back to the ferry terminal, and wait some more.

Then I see some recumbent bicycles waiting to go aboard, so I wander over and we talk. I really want to take one for a ride, but somehow am not able to get the nerve to ask. It's mostly "mature" riders, some of the bicycles have little one-wheel trailers behind them. They are doing a self-contained bicycle camping trip along the Alcan. They can cover 100 miles a day, for days on end they tell me, and they expect this trip to be very interesting... I bet it will be.

I call home, and shortly after that at about 3:00-4:00 PM the motorcycles are motioned aboard, up to the front of the hold, ahead of the cars.

The Ural group ties down quickly, and they head up to the solarium (a roofed open area on the rear deck, with heat lamps in the ceiling) to save us some lounge chairs.

Joe and I discuss the best way to tie down to the tie-down points in the floor, and it's about as close as we come to a disagreement on the entire trip. I like rope, I know how to tie perfect knots from years of kayaking whitewater and rescue courses, and can use the crappy rope that they have on board the ship to supplement my own good rope that has been holding down my luggage. It will be fine, Joe...

Joe is a webbing man, doesn't trust rope, doesn't think my knots are going to hold, and doesn't think that me tying to the front swingarm pivots to avoid marring the bodywork is a good thing to do. Gotta preload the front suspension to make it all tight and secure, I'm told. I notice he's not parking next to me.

Meanwhile, RVs are being driven aboard by their owners, people who retired long, long ago and who seem to have very poor depth perception. I'm glad we're protected by a large pillar, I doubt the RV drivers even see us. It's a very interesting place to be, what with looking out for the RVs, not tripping over the tie-down ropes, deck hands directing the RVs aboard, exhaust fumes.....

Alright, alright..... In a way, Joe's right - if you're not a rope man, bring tie-downs.

We head upstairs carrying our dry bags with tents, sleeping bags, and clothes. Huff, huff, huff.... up the stairs several floors, round and round, get lost, get found (the ship is 481 feet long, so it's more than just a little boat).... and we end up on the back deck, in the solarium.

Absolutely perfect!!!

While Joe and I were discussing rope vs. webbing, and while other less worldly travelers are trying to duct tape their tents to the wet steel deck, Brian and his friends have saved us a couple lounge chairs in the solarium directly under the heat lamps - we don't even have to set up our tents! Our area is the motorcycle gang block. We arrange our 5 lounge chairs around a central void, and into the void we place our luggage.

Sleeping arrangements on Ferry
On each lounge chair, we put a Thermarest and our sleeping bags. Officially this is a no-no; you can't "reserve" a lounge chair; leave it and it's gone. But on this sailing, the ship is only half-full with 500 people, and so there's no problem.

My Aerostich suit goes under my lounge chair, and into each pocket I put things that Iíll be needing for the ferry boat ride. Aerostich use #491 - makes a passable set of dresser drawers when placed full length under a lounge chair.

I look around me, and other travelers are getting comfortable on their lounge chairs, pulling out books to read, or Walkmans, or maps, or paper for letters home, waiting for the ferry to leave port. Some are snacking on food from their backpacks, and I notice a sign on the wall of the solarium "DO NOT USE CAMPSTOVES ABOARD SHIP". I see that few people are in a big hurry to set up tents, lots of travelers have simply placed their Thermarest pad on the floor and put their sleeping bag over it. It looks like a big slumber party, both sexes, all ages, many colors. Or maybe a refugee camp...

The ferry boat leaves the dock at around 6:00 PM, and I realize that we really are headed to Alaska!!!

I watch the ferry terminal pull away from the back deck. Two people in sea kayaks on the water below wave to us as the ship goes by. We just seem to very slowly gather speed as we head out into the bay.

Gosh!! I'm still wound up really tight! Like a nervous little kid at Christmas, I go to the front of the ship and check out the observation lounge and the bar. I go have a look at the cafeteria. A woman whose boyfriend is the cook on the ship shows me a display in the center of the ship where a video screen shows the ship's position in relation to the land, and our heading. Back to the rear deck, and I lay down for about 1.5 minutes, then I look over the back railing at our wake. Then I walk along the side of the ship, out on the deck, looking at the lifeboats. I don't want to lay down, I don't want to talk motorcycles, I don't want to socialize - I just want to see and experience the ship, and enjoy the ride....!!

Later in the evening, Joe and I and the ship cook's girlfriend all go up to the bar and share some drinks. Some passengers are in the bar playing Scrabble, and there's boxes of other games sitting on top the piano in the bar.

Eventually, the alcohol and all the nervous walking around the ship gang up on me, and I finally lay down and fall asleep on my lounge chair in the solarium under the heat lamps.

Doug Grosjean
Pemberville, Ohio