Day 3: Ferry to Valdez - Alaska Loop 2015 - CycleBlaze

July 14, 2015

Day 3: Ferry to Valdez

My legs felt a bit tired in the morning after yesterday's walking. Not a problem because today I ride the ferry to Valdez. The ferry doesn't depart until 2:15 PM, so I have a lot of time to kill.

I organized my stuff, mended socks, called my wife and parents, and went to the museum. The museum is mostly about the military history of Alaska. Interesting exhibits about the evolution of Whittier and the deadly battle to recapture Attu Island from the Japanese. It's not well known that Japan occupied part of Alaska during World War 2.

Late in the morning I left the key in the condo and took the bike down the elevator. I stopped to look at the fancy catamaran at the ferry terminal. It goes to Cordova, a much bigger fishing town at the opposite end of Prince William Sound, inaccessible by road. The high speed catamaran gets to Cordova in 3 hours. The regular ferry takes 8 hours. One of many examples I saw on this tour showing that the state of Alaska is steadily improving transportation.

This high speed catamaran gets to Cordova in only 3 hours, a town that can only be reached by boat or plane.
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Then I pedaled towards the tunnel to have a look at what's over there. A bike trail leads from the harbor to the tunnel. Near the tunnel is a giant parking lot for vehicles waiting to go through the 1-lane tunnel shared by cars and trains.

Path from the Whittier tunnel to Whittier.
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I had lunch at the Chinese buffet in Whittier. It was decent but it doesn't seem to be popular with the locals. Then I went over to the ferry dock and checked in. I waited a long time standing in the rain outside in lane 0. Not sure why they make cyclists and motorcyclists wait out in the rain for so long. On the ferry I surrendered my fuel canister to be stored in a walk-in fireproof vault.

The rain never stopped while I was in Whittier. About 44 hours.

I will ride this slower ferry 5 hours 45 minutes to Valdez.
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It was still raining when the ferry departed, but the rain slacked off after an hour or so. Most of the 5 hour 45 minute ferry ride was dry. I even saw tiny bits of blue sky. The clouds were much higher than yesterday. I could see more of the mountains but could seldom see the top of the mountains.

View from the ferry.
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The ferry is transportation. It doesn't slow down for wildlife or glaciers. It's on a schedule. The scenery was very nice, but it went by more slowly than on the 26 Glacier Tour's high speed catamaran.

Partial view of the mountains and glaciers.
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The number of fishing boats increases dramatically as the ferry approaches the Valdez arm of Prince William Sound.

Fishing trawlers were a common sight, especially near Valdez.
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I had peeks of high mountains through the clouds. In one place the clouds parted to show a huge glacier in the distance.

I presume that's the 5 mile wide Columbia glacier.
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I had dinner at the restaurant on the ferry. I ordered the featured dinner, blackened salmon with butternut squash and garlic mashed potatoes. It was made to order by the chef who was clearly tired of making burgers and fries and glad that somebody finally ordered the good stuff. One of the best meals of the tour.

The snowy peak jutting above the clouds gives a sense of how big the mountains are.
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Coming in to the Valdez arm (fjord in Prince William Sound) the ferry passes near Bligh Reef, where the Exxon Valdez ran aground in 1989 causing the biggest oil spill in U.S. history. There is no obvious sign of the oil spill now.

Oil tanker leaving Valdez.
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Approaching Valdez the ferry passes the oil terminal on the right. This is where oil is transferred from the Alaska Pipeline to tanker ships.

Rainbow over the Valdez oil terminal.
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The ferry arrived in Valdez at 8:30 PM. Valdez is a town of 4000 but it doesn't look like much from the approaching ferry.

Ferry approaching Valdez.
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I pedaled off the ferry and explored the town a bit. It's mostly flat and doesn't have much character. It has a community college and a larger fishing fleet than Whittier. It also has a small convention center. Below is a pond with a swimming beach. I didn't expect to see a swimming beach in Alaska.

I was surprised to see that Valdez has a swimming beach below the convention center.
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Valdez tour boat dock. Behind is the main strip of tourist shops.
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Tonight I stay at the Best Western at Valdez harbor. The nicest lodging in town, adjacent to the fishing harbor. Only $170 by making a nonrefundable reservation long in advance. Totem Inn isn't much cheaper and the location isn't as good.

Valdez gets 64 inches of rain per year. 1/3 as much as Whittier, but still much more than Anchorage gets. The sky was partly cloudy. I really appreciated that after the nonstop rain in Whittier.

Sunset at Valdez harbor. Photo taken at 11:05 PM with my phone's camera.
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Today's town of Valdez is 5 miles from the original town site which became a salt marsh after the 1964 earthquake.

I was surprised to discover that Valdez has more RV parks than motels. I didn't expect Valdez to be such a popular destination for motor homes. Valdez has far more tourists than I anticipated. I expected Valdez to be primarily an oil town but the fishing and tourism industries are also quite large.

Valdez is the northernmost ice-free harbor in North America. That's why the oil terminal is here. 61 degrees north latitude, but it's a temperate rain forest. The world's northernmost temperate rain forest. Not far inland the climate is much colder.

Distance: 10.5 mi. (16.8 km)
Climbing: 183 ft. (55 m)
Average Speed: 7.8 mph (12.5 km/h)

Today's ride: 11 miles (18 km)
Total: 79 miles (127 km)

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