After our relatively brief forray in the Yukon, we’re back in AK, Alaska. For now at least – within a week, I’ll be in Canada once more, heading to Banff, while Dan returns to his studies in Bozeman. Over the next few days we’ll be sailing our way down the western sliver of Alaska, a watery, mountainous passage, home to migrating whales and small communities that can only be connected by ferries – the Alaska Marine Highway – or by air.
First stop is Haines, a funky settlement with an appealingly scruffy and lived-in vibe, lined with quirky, storm-faded wooden buildings and fronted with its own little harbour. It definitely feels like Alaska. The rust-streaked, beaten-up pickups are back, debris is piled high in the yards, and everyone seems suitably bearded or outdoorsy or weathered. Overcast skies and drizzle has denied us of seeing it at its best, though even through the veil of mist, the vast baby blue glaciers that bulldoze their way gently between the mountains exude silent drama.
We’re also been invited in a great little home too, friends of Sitka-based Alexei who I met cycling in Bristol. Marnie is from Southern California but moved way up north to work as a physio four years ago; she’s plied us with fresh vegetables from the garden, and even given us a jar of blueberry jam and some packs of freeze dried salmon for the days ahead (the gadget to do this is pretty nifty, effectively a kind of food laminater).
There’s a cool community here – I’ve managed to get a much needed yoga class in, and this evening a bunch of her friends came round for a delicious harvest feast of salads and pies and tortellini and bakes.
It’s certainly much more my scene that the Gold Rush-themed Disneyworld of Scagway, where several cruise ships the size of small towns muscle in each day, looming surreally on the skyline, vying for as much attention as the glaciers themselves.
The descent to Skagway is a good one though – fifteen miles long, a smooth tarmac road wraps tightly round the mountains as it spirals ever further into this dangly finger of the States. Just watch out for tour buses, which seem to abruptly materialise in droves on the Canadian border, shuttling around armies of cruise ship tourists like a military deployment.
The ride across the border was characterised by a sometimes soul-destroying headwind, blustering through this region of glacial lakes and high tundra. The skies cleared briefly in Carcross, a hamlet between Whitehorse and Skagway, so we made the most of the break in the weather to head out on a mountain bike ride. A good move, as the area was said to offer one of the best descents in Western Canada…
We’d heard the trails here were world class – in fact, Carcross and Whitehorse are touted to be the next big thing in Canadian mountain biking. Luckily we bumped into a group of riders who drew us a map of a massive cross country loop; aptly it was on the back of a beer carton.
The general store in Carcross, which serves up particularly tasty $2 muffins – perfect fuel for the ride. Carcross is home to the Tagish First Nation and aside from the odd tuft of grass sprouting between train rails like unruly nose hair, it’s immaculately kept.
Now it’s time to sit back and enjoy the (ferry) ride…