Our arrival in Skagway was truly glorious. We descended from the clouds (literally) and came to the picturesque port-town of Skagway. Skagway is a beautiful little town nestled among rocky cliffs in an inlet in the very southern tip of Alaska. The town has one main street that looks like something out of a western movie. When we arrived, we all got people-whiplash as we encountered some 8,000 tourists that were crawling about the town. On busy days, five giant cruise ships unload their passengers, who spill into the town for several hours, buying gifts and, among other diversions, take drives up to the ‘Welcome to Alaska’ sign to take pictures. Then, as quickly as they arrived, they all climb back up into the cruise ships, leaving the Skagway a ghost town within minutes.
We quickly took care of our accommodations, and hit the town for a fun evening. We did a tour of all the pubs (3 of them) as a sort of victory lap, and found ourselves at the local brewery. We first noticed that something was awry when the brewery told us that they were out of like half of their beers. What kind of brewery runs out of its own beer?
It turns out Skagway is owned almost exclusively by the very cruise-lines that empty passengers onto its streets. Skagway thus amounts to a veritable amusement park with all money funneling back to the cruise lines. Kinda smart, really, but it sort of takes away a little bit of the magic. Oh well, it was a nice respite from the desolate stretches of road we had been on, and actually a pretty fun place to be. That night we treated ourselves to something novel: a roof! We stayed in a motel that night, and enjoyed the success of having arrived in Alaska at last.
We planned on taking a true rest day (with zero biking, not our fake rest days previously where we biked like 50 miles, and called it a “break”), and we learned that the town of Haines, a 45 minute ferry ride away was hosting the annual South East Alaska State Fair. We woke up the next morning to rain (surprise) and jumped on the 10:30 fast ferry to Haines.
The ferry ride can only be described as “grey,” as a thick fog engulfed most of the coastline and surrounding mountains, but it was still nice despite. Our bikes took a beating by the sea (something new) as they were perched on the bow of the ship in the driving rain.
We arrived in Haines only to be completely poured upon by an angry sky. Our first stop was an on-the-whole unhelpful visitor’s center. After arranging accommodations at a local B&B, we walked down the road fully decked out in rain gear to check out the state fair. It was a lot of fun despite the downpour and cold weather; there were booths with fair food - corn on the cob, fried dough, pizza, sushi, pie - these were all treats that we quickly delved into and enjoyed immensely. There was live music, a beer hall, and lots of activities for young and old alike. We were fortunate to have caught the fair, as it ended a day or two later.
During our rest day in Haines we also visited the post office. Here we were treated with two wonderful care packages, one from my mom and the other from Anita. We gleefully ripped open the boxes to reveal all manner of delicious foods, from fresh baked banana bread and shampoo/body wash a la Anita and homemade jerky and sausages from Mama Doan. Our many thanks go out to my mom and Anita, whose gifts gave us a lot of joy on a rainy rainy day. Thank you!!
It was at the post office that we learned about Matt’s loss, and we then switched to logistics mode to help Matt get down to California. The next few hours were a flurry of activity; we had to outfit Matt for his journey and get him ready to leave Alaska as fast as possible. It turns out Matt had to catch the 5 o clock ferry in order to be in LA the next morning, and we had to get him packed and going in a matter of less than 40 minutes. We took his bike to the local bike store to be shipped and bought a large duffel bag from the outfitter. Since Haines had a one taxi (which was up at the lake and would take too long to get to town), Matt hitched a ride with the shop owner to the ferry, which was several miles down the road. And with a whirl and a dust cloud, Matt was gone.
Aaron and I dealt with the traumatic loss of our third man by hitting the pubs of Haines. The highlight was when a group of drunk and rowdy sailors who were just getting off a cross Pacific sail and celebrating. They were about our age, and the first mate, Jimmy, who was 22 years old, got up at one point and rang the bell to signify that he was buying everyone at the bar drinks. Seconds later, a bill arrived for 127 dollars, which he drunkenly signed. We toasted him and started talking to him about his voyage, only to hear about his unrequited obsession with a girl in his crew who was also awkwardly sitting next to him.
Haines has a much different feel than Skagway. It is a town that is actually lived in, and has the feel of a fisherman’s port of call. Aaron and I really enjoyed the evening there, and felt refreshed for the coming days ahead.