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Tuesday, September 5


Field of flowers along the coast of Maine.

The trip had now taken me to Upstate New York for the show in Syracuse.  Tiffany would fly out of Syracuse and then I'd have about three weeks to explore Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire.  Crossing into Vermont and Maine allowed me to tick off the last of the fifty states.  I'd been to every state, not on this trip but over the years, except Vermont and Maine, so it was somewhat of a milestone for me.  I think on this trip I ended up in something like 32 states.  Most of them I'd been to before but was still racking up the numbers.  My original plan was to cross over into Canada  New Brunswick and Nova Scotia but to be honest, I was road weary and just didn't feel like doing the extra miles.  Once the decision was made not to cross the border, I opted to spend that time along the coast and up in the northern woods of Maine exploring some of the backroads before pointing it south for the next shows in Maryland, Virginia and the last one in Atlanta.  I'd also heard that the coastline was as good as Oregon's.  It's not.....not even close in my opinion.  Don't get me wrong, it's scenic and all, just not like the west coast. One down side is everything is private, expensive and overrun with people.  They've got more rules and regulations up there than a simple man can keep track of.  No dogs on the beach, no dogs on the boardwalk, private beach, no beach walking between 5-9 pm, private sidewalk, stay off jetty, stay off the dock, private marina, no parking, no camping, private trail, no bikes, no fishing, it goes on forever. If that's not enough, I'm not a fan of established campgrounds and finding places to camp for free is tough along the coast.  There just isn't much public land like out west. I guess if you're from the area you might know of some spots but I had a hard time finding them.  When you did find something that you thought would be fine someone would show up and run you off.  Yes, I got run off by law enforcement and civilians alike. You stop and ask a local where you might find a backroad to just pull off somewhere to spend the night and they look at you like you've lost your friggin mind.   Everything along the coast is controlled access in order to get that mighty dollar or to keep the riff raff out.  Bar Harbor is nothing more than a huge tourist trap.  Two hours there and I'd seen enough.  It is literally crawling with people during the summer months. A lot of money people with big fancy homes along the coast.  I did enjoy the 4 nights I spent in Acadia National Park just outside Bar Harbor but that was the exception along the coast.  The National Park had nice campgrounds at a reasonable rate and I got lucky, as the ranger had a section where they were placing only adults so I didn't have to deal with screaming kids.  Once you leave the coast and get up into the northern woods of Maine it's a different story and one can find plenty of solitude and some good boondocking spots, but it's still nothing like out west.  Vermont was kind of a bust for me as the weather was miserable.  I really didn't get to see much of it. I did have to stay in the town of Brattleboro for two days and nights as Petey had to see a vet.  Nice little town with a lot of history but it rained the majority of the time.  I guess I'll have to go back.

One thing I checked out prior to crossing over into Vermont was the historic Fort Ticonderoga on Lake Champlain   This is well worth the stop if ever in the area.  I really like old history stuff like this and all of the staff dress in full regalia and perform all tasks just like they did in the period.  Very few people were there due to the nasty weather and I was lucky enough to meet the gunsmith who was working on one of the museum pieces.  They have an extensive gun collection to view. He let me hang out with him in a side room and was a real interesting fella to talk with.  They really get into the daily re-enactment and don't have power, heat or lights to the old fort.  All work was done by hand and they were even preparing their lunch over an open fire.  I didn't get any outside shots as it was raining like hell all day. 

After spending the day at the fort there was a nearby small ferry which crossed Lake Champlain over into Vermont.  I missed the last ferry of the day so spent the night there at the ramp to catch the ferry the following day.  Great spot to spend the night right along the lake. As you can see, I was heading into some bad weather on the Vermont side.  This weather would stay with me for the following week.

Petey had to spend all day at the vet so I spent the day roaming around looking at old churches hoping it'd help Petey.  This one was abandoned and over 125 years old.  He was having his teeth cleaned and I always worry anytime they have to put him under.   I was happy to pick him up later that afternoon. 

A little groggy, but he survived.

Camped in the VFW parking lot in Brattleboro, Vermont that night.  While Petey was recovering a storm passed through that evening and I caught some good light as the sun set.

After the drenching rains in Vermont I dropped south and headed towards the coast of Maine. I got as far north as Bar Harbor.  I lucked out and had perfect weather for the week or so I spent along the coast.

 Nubble Lighthouse, York Maine.

Shoreline Acadia National Park

 Cape Neddick, Maine

Seal Cove, Maine.

I had planned to follow the coastline all the way up till I ran into Canada but had a change of plans.  I'd seen enough of the coastline and the associated crowds so I wanted to get back off the beaten path a little so headed up towards Baxter State Park.  It's located in the north woods of Maine where the Appalacian Trail ends at Mount Katahdin.  It's really not a State Park as it's not controlled by the State of Maine.  Guy by the last name of Baxter, go figure, donated over 200,000 acres back in the early 1900's and set up a private trust with some pretty stringent rules in order to keep the area wild.  I was looking forward to spending a week or so in the park but when I get there I'm told that no dogs are allowed in the park, period.  Not even allowed in the campgrounds, much less the trails.  It was either get rid of Petey or move on.   Disappointing as I had wanted to summit Mount Katahdin.  A river guide I met told me of an area I should go check out if I was looking for some solitude and the possibility of seeing some wildlife.  It was close by so I headed off the following morning.  It's an area which is on some kind of list to be designated a National Monument and is getting a lot of attention Maine National Park/Monument. Within its 3.2 million acres there really isn't any type of infrastructure, just some dirt  roads, a few hiking trails, couple of outhouses and that's about it.  From my observations and talking with the locals they want to keep it that way and do not want to see the area designated a National Monument.  If you mention the proposed monument in a coffee shop you'll get an earful on the matter real quick. I spent five nights in here and saw quite a bit of signage entering the area as to why the locals didn't want it.  I'm sure if they pave it, throw in some real shitters, few gift/ice cream shops and an overpriced campground the hordes will eventually show up.  I'm all for protecting areas like this as long as they don't turn it into another Disney Land.  Locals say save it by not issuing any type of development or land use permits but keep the damn government out of it.  I pretty much had it to myself, other than the millions of skitters and a few Moose, for the five nights I spent there.

 Mount Katahdin in the background.  Ending point for thru-hikers on the Appalachian Trail.

Drone shot of camp looking towards Mount Katahdin. 

Camp visitor.

 Couldn't believe how much noise could be generated from a small pond I was camped near one night.  Had to of been hundreds of these guys in there.

Mom and her chick.

  Walked right up this bull before I even noticed him.  We stared at each other for awhile and then he disappeared in the brush.

Another young bull right across from camp one morning.

 Wooden bridge crossing the Penobscot River.
Drone selfie.

Beaver on a perfectly still morning.

Drone shot with a moose crossing the marsh in the foreground.  I never fly the drone in close proximity to wildlife and when I launched the drone I didn't notice the Moose.  As I was flying the drone up this creek I noticed it and ended the flight.  Got a couple of distant shots and then brought it back to me.  The drone, not the Moose!

White Mountains of New Hampshire and points south next...............

Sunday, August 27

Alaska by Air - Tacoma by Sea

      Our ride south as we pull away from the dock in Anchorage.

I'm still not caught up on the blogposts from my five month trip touring the US but a quick trip up to Alaska in the meantime deserves a post.  After returning home in early August I had a couple of weeks of downtime before Tiffany and I were scheduled to fly to Alaska for a few days before boarding a cargo ship, M/V Northstar of Tote Lines, to get us back down to Tacoma.  Tiffany had won the trip last summer at a fund raising auction where the boys went to high school.    Tote donates passage to various charities but is not allowed to actually sell passage since they are a cargo vessel.  We were the only non-crew on the boat.  We boarded the boat in Anchorage on a Sunday around noon and arrived at the Port of Tacoma on Wednesday around 3 p.m.  It was a unique experience and one we were both glad we got the opportunity to do.  It's a no frills vessel, as it's a working ship, but we were provided a nice stateroom with a living area, attached separate bedroom, private crapper/shower and three square meals a day.   Had a TV with some DVD's, stocked fridge (sodas only as no alcohol is allowed on the ship) small library, games, etc.  The crew, which totaled 24 men, does nothing for you other than feed you, make sure you don't get in the way and provide a few tours of various sections of the boat.  You have access to the bridge, your stateroom, the galley and a couple of outside areas off the bridge.  Unless you're with one of the ships officer's that about covers it.  Ninety percent of the boat is set up to haul cargo so there's really no where to just roam around.  Very interesting as to how they load and unload the cargo.  It's what they call a RORO vessel.....Roll on, roll off.  All cargo is wheeled and the longshoremen can unload and load within 10 hours.  They dock according to the tide in Anchorage and only have the 10 hour window to get it done so the ship can get out on the next incoming tide. Cargo consists of semi trailers and vehicles.  Car/RV dealers and rental car companies transport their vehicles this way as well.   Pretty impressive watching them load the ship.  They're fast and they don't waste any space.  It's packed when they're done with it. The bridge is up top, our stateroom was one flight down and the galley right below that.  Not a whole lot of room to roam around in for almost four days.  I asked the Captain where in the hell the hot tub and pool were?  He stated they hadn't gotten around to installing those just yet. We're both glad we got to go but not sure I'd sign up again unless I had no other way to get back.  I've flown to Alaska, driven a truck to Alaska, motorcycled to Alaska, done the inland passage ferry from Alaska and taken a fancy cruise ship up once.  I'll opt for the drive, either truck or motorcycle any day over the other means. This was one of those experiences where once is probably enough.  I've heard of people going across the Pacific via cargo ship me, that would be a long couple of weeks. 

Before boarding the ship we had a couple of days to kill in the Anchorage area so we booked an Air BnB in Anchorage for two nights and then one one night in Seward.  Friday was taken up with some hiking at the base of the Chugach Mountains along Lake Eklutna where we spotted two black bears and one sow grizzly with cubs.  All were at binocular range photos.

Lake Eklutna with the Chugach Range in the distance.

Break time.  We watched a black bear from here which was working his way along the shoreline on the other side of the lake.

Saturday we left Anchorage for the drive south on the Kenai Peninsula en-route to Seward with a stop at Bird Creek to watch some combat fishing.  I call it combat fishing because at times the fishermen are literally standing shoulder to shoulder.  I've done this and to be honest it's not a lot fun.  When you hook a fish it can get pretty hectic when it's really crowded. I've seen this place packed with fishermen before when the Salmon are really running.  I've also seen grizzly show up to fish.

I have hiked and camped out of Seward during some of my previous trips to Alaska and really wanted Tiffany to hike in and see the Harding Icefield if the weather would cooperate.  It's a strenous hike at about 10 miles roundtrip.  Distance is really nothing, it's the 3200 feet in elevation gain that first four miles that is the ass kicker.  Last time I hiked in here the weather was crap and you couldn't really see much of anything as I was in and out of the clouds.  This time, it was a perfect day for hiking.

Saw another black bear going in but as you can see, binoculars were in order again.  Would have been a good shot with the glacier in the background if I could have worked my way down to him and gotten close enough.  This is as close as we got and this was taken with a 600 MM lens.  Oh yea, black spot in grass on right side of picture in case you're asking.....what bear?  Told you we were a long way off.

 My hiking partner with the Exit Glacier in the background.

Exit Glacier coming off the Harding Icefield.

Tiffany likes to motor along when she hikes where I like to stop and doodle at every opportunity as evidenced by the distance between us in this picture.  As long as we were up high in the alpine zone I didn't mind her taking off but down lower in the thick stuff we stayed close as I was the one carrying the bear spray.  Since Tiffany had never done any hiking in Alaska I let her know that her normal head down, haul ass mode may end in her  becoming lunch for some surprised Grizzly.  She actually slowed down a little!

On the hike in observed these two on Exit Glacier.  Being there un-roped could end bad for someone.  I've done it, but it's not the smartest move I've ever made.

 Tiffany taking in the view.

Had to do the selfie thing overlooking the Harding Icefield.

Emergency shelter along the trail near the edge of the ice field.

After a great day of hiking we went back into Seward for a good meal, cold beer and a night in a motel that was 116 years old.  We don't think the place has seen much renovation in the past 116 years.  It was a cool spot with a lot of history but I was so tired I couldn't even think about the camera.  We ate and passed out.  Following morning we re-traced our drive and headed back into Anchorage to board the ship.

We were greeted by a representative of the ship and shown our stateroom.  From our windows we could watch the loading of the cargo.

First Engineer giving us a tour of the engine control room.

Cut out of the Northstar.  Ship was built in 2003 in San Diego for Tote Maritime and designed specifically for the run between Anchorage and Tacoma.

   Here we're standing on the stern of the ship with John, the Second Mate, who was a really nice guy.  He does six weeks on, twelve hours a day - seven days a week, and then has six weeks off wherein he starts it all over again.

 Tiffany headed down into the bowels of the ship.

 Anchor locker.

 On the upper deck this is the only way to get to the bow.  They leave just enough room along the side to walk.  They don't waste any space as they like to is money on a ship.

Tiffany watching the pilot out of Anchorage leaving the dock.  We were told that we could come up on the bridge but were not to engage in conversation with any of the crew leaving port unless they engaged us first.  Well, the pilot pictured here did start talking with us and showing us what he was doing on the computer when the Captain cut that short.  He, the Captain,  took us off to the side and told us that when leaving the dock he wanted his crews full attention on their jobs as he had to get a 150 million dollar ship over some very shallow shoals.  The Captain later told me that that particular pilot loves to talk and he should have addressed it with him since we were on the bridge.  I thought maybe we were going to get booted off on the first day! He realized we didn't start the conversation and the pilot was at fault.  The ship has a pilot, who is not part of the crew, take the ship out of Port and the same happens when coming into Tacoma.  The pilots know the waters from years of doing it and comes on board specifically for that purpose.  Other than when leaving or entering port you could ask the crew or Captain anything and they were more than willing to show you what was going on.

The twin propeller shaft is over 145 ft in length.

Once leaving the Port of Anchorage you head out to open sea before turning south.  After about 6 or 7 hours you start losing sight of any land and are in open sea until arriving at the Strait of Juan De Fuca.  We had some bad weather the first couple of days with some rolling seas.  It wasn't real bad but you certainly knew you were on a ship.  The weather turned nice again as we entered the Strait so the camera came back out.

Pilot boat coming alongside near Port Angeles.

Pilot leaving the pilot boat and coming up the ladder.  A fall from here would be a long one.

 Seattle skyline.

 Port of Tacoma.

Tug coming alongside to get us lined up for the dock.

Trip complete.