Monday, June 9, 2014

Journey to Alaska and Prince of Wales Marathon

This page details the beginning of our journey up to the point of beginning The Honker Divide Canoe Route. To skip this section and jump immediately to the Honker please click here.

Sometime in the mid 1990s while working for the Forest Service on Prince of Wales island I flew in a float plane very low, due to weather, following a series of rivers and lakes. I was intrigued by this place and asked Jerry, the pilot, what we were flying over. He told me "The Honker Divide." At the end of the route we flew low over Thorne Bay, turned southwest, flew over Guard Island, headed down the Tongass Narrows and set down in Ketchikan. That flight over the Honker made me curious as shit. I researched some Forest Service maps and decided that someday I would tackle the Divide. Flash forward some 16 or 17 years and that day had arrived! 

These pages will describe our experience through the Divide, at least from my perspective. To give you an idea of our journey David recommended naming the trip report The Honker Divide: A Cautionary Tale! As I sit at my desk writing this around 256 and a half hours have passed since I stepped out of my yak onto the shores of Thorne Bay. That's long enough for much of the emotional pain to subside as well as the swollen hands, sore back, mosquito bites, blisters and bruises to have healed. Maybe I should have kept a live journal (I was too tired! Shit... we didn't even finish the beer we brought!) because 11 days later I'm thinking "that wasn't so bad..."

After we decided to rock the Honker I scoured the internet for trip reports, advice, pictures or any other first hand accounts from which to garner knowledge. Very little was found. Maybe that should have been a sign. This trip report is an attempt to leave a record for both myself and for others who someday may want to tackle this odyssey. 

Fuck yeah!

The Grey Fog 2.0 sitting in front of David's house in NE Portland. With the extra wide bars and the angled racks on the outside we were able to load all three sea kayaks on with ease. We listened to a ton of Marc Maron podcasts, Radiation City, Grateful Dead (I'm going through a phase I missed out on in my youth), GBV and Sera Cahoone on the drive up. What free spirits!

First stop was in Bellingham where we visited David's sister Hilary and her boyfriend Chris. An oyster and salmon feast awaited us on our arrival! We talked about this dinner extensively for the rest of our two week vacation. Especially when we weren't sure we would make it our of the Honker alive. There were three different types of oysters!

Day 1 beer count: 8. Pretty good for the first day! Mostly low ABV beer like Everybody's Brewing ISA, my favorite beer in the world right now! Sat around the fire chatting until midnight which left a lot of time for some quality beer drinking.

Waking in the morning in the backyard. On this trip David slept under the stars every night. It rubbed off on me and I learned to love it.

Next stop: Squamish. The Chief rises in the background. We were told this is the second tallest rock face in North America behind half dome. Squamish is a super bad ass outdoor town full of doers. We saw kite boarders, rock climbers, mountain bikers and beer drinkers all in action!

Enjoying some brewskies at Howe Sound Brewery. Great beer and food! But the beers come in at almost 7 bucks each... ouch!

Following the advice of my brother we decided to take the route through the mountains on Highway 99 passing through Whistler and meet up with Highway 97 at Hat Creek Ranch rather than follow the valley going through Hope. We liked this route so much we went home this way as well for some picture taking opportunities. Tall mountains and lakes were everywhere. In the Whistler area we saw tons of activity including small boats on many lakes and dozens of mountain bikers between trails on the highway. Very cool area! Also of note: we saw a family bike touring. Two parents with their kids in trailers loaded down with tons of bags. It looked like an insane amount of work. We also saw a car that had stopped on its way down the mountain pass to put out a brake fire. Exciting!

Despite a lack of any good wood David built a great fire at Whispering Willows campground. We pulled in after dark and left quickly after waking. This campground served our purposes just fine and we didn't see anyone else while there.

Day 2 beer count: 5. Not too shabby. Slowed down a bit from the night before but we got in late so that didn't help.

Morning at Whispering Willows.

Setting up camp at the Riverside Municipal Campground in Smithers. I really liked this place and the host was great to chat with. It was on the river and had showers and wifi. In the morning I went for a short beautiful run along trails that followed the river. The town of Smithers is very cool too. Make sure to check out the small but thriving downtown if you're ever here. We drove through downtown in the morning and got a bro-bra thrown our way before getting some beverages at a busy outdoor coffee shop where people were laughing and talking. Okay... we can move there. On our way out of town the bro-bra thrower was strumming his acoustic in the sun. We wondered if the ski resort helped the local economy as many of the small towns we went through looked like they were seeing some rough times but Smithers seemed happening. Maybe the vast distance to another large city helps.

Day 3 beer count: 3. Think I was just really tired at this point from our long journey.

Enjoying a beer at Breaker's Pub in Prince Rupert. Although not bad tasting, the east coast Canadian IPA they had on tap is more like a Budweiser than a Country Boy.

We caught the ferry at 10 pm after wandering around Prince Rupert for a few hours. They opened the ferry bar and we had a couple of brewskies before heading to the solarium.

Trying to get a few ZZZs before arriving in Ketchikan. We get in at 3ish and planned on heading straight to Max's house. We'll pick him up and then summit Deer Mountain!

Day 4 beer count: 7.5. Several beers in Prince Rupert and in the bar on the Matanuska ferry really added up, plus one more snuck onto the back of the ferry. I think we split one waiting for the ferry too.

Pulling into Ketchikan. I can barely contain my excitement.

David and Max posing in front of the familiar small pond seen after the second lookout on the Deer Mountain hike. It is still partly covered in ice on this late May day.

Traversing across some snow fields. The closer we got to the top the more windy and cold it was. Although I was never actually scared there were some sketchy areas where I sure didn't want to slip. It was steep crossing the snow!

Looking down through the fog towards David.

The summit! Ketchikan would show up occasionally as the clouds drifted by. We huddled in the woods at the top and enjoyed some PBR that Max brought. Good thinking!

Heading back down the mountain. We got breakfast at the Pioneer back in town and were in our hotel room by 11 AM. It already felt like a long day. Nap time!

What to do after waking from a nap? Enjoy a beer on the deck of our hotel on Creek Street. Shit yeah!

We couldn't resist.

David had never been to Ketchikan before so we did a afternoon bar crawl starting at The 49er. We made it to the 49er, The First City, The Asylum, The Arctic (where Gina met us in a taxi coming from the airport) and finally The Sourdough. Ryan met us at The Asylum.

We tried to recreate a picture that was 12 (?) years old. We haven't changed a bit!

Day 5 beer count: 10.5. My doctor would be proud! This was a 'start at 8 in the morning' drinking day with the PBR on top of Deer Mountain. Stops at The 49er, First City, Asylum, Arctic and the Sourdough and
really added up too!

The next day we were free until dinner at Laura and Max's house at 5pm. We decided to show David all over town. We started at the north end of the highway and eventually made our way to the very southern end. We covered all 26 miles stopping off at points of interest we wanted to show David or places he had heard about and was curious about. This included my old house on Guard Court ("me terrorize your house" house (nc-17)), Green Bean Coffee Company, Totem Bight, Mountain Point, Herring Cove, the vomit boardwalk (reenactment) and so on. We did eventually walk through The Plaza but I don't view that as a must visit anymore since they took out the Grillz machine.

And of course we stopped by the coolest bar in the world- Hole in the Wall! Check out the 360 Pano below of the bar's interior. So badass and a don't miss if you go to Ketchikan!

Day 6 beer count: 6. Not too bad following a 10+ day. Hole in the Wall and Max's BBQ were the main culprits this day.

The next day we lounged around a little bit, did some shopping and generally just got ready to catch the afternoon ferry to Prince of Wales. Something else I love to do while in Ketchikan is see Dave Rubin play music. Max told us he would be rocking at The Point cafe so we made our way over there. We got to catch about 30 minutes of the set. I'm a huge fan... excellent! Except they didn't sell beer at The Point. We made due with some Chai.

Ferry ride to the island!

David, Seth, Gina and Max drinking some beers on the dock in front of our cabin in Klawock.

We were treated to an amazing sunset! We took it easy because the next morning was the Prince of Wales Island half and full marathon! This marathon, which our Ketchikan friends have raved about for years, was the impetus for coming to Prince of Wales in the first place. Might as well do the Honker while we're here!

Day 7 beer count: 3. Took it really easy for the long marathon day ahead.

David, Max and I tackled the half. Here's a pic from my iPhone as I approach the turn around and halfway point.

A view during the run. Pretty bad ass!

The 26 mile marker. Seeing this felt so good. There was no way to catch the guy that I had been following for 4 or 5 miles but there was no way the guy that had been chasing me for 4 or 5 miles could catch me either. This was a very fun run that I would highly recommend. I came in a 2:06:41 which is the slowest half of the 5 or 6 I have ever run but this route is bit hillier than any other half I had done and it was muggy as shit. Having said that, I didn't find it particularly brutal in any way and would do it again in a heart beat.

David at the finish of his first half ever! Stud alert!

Stud muffins David, Max and I after ruling the half marathon. Not shown- the incredible salmon feed we got at the finish line.

We jumped in the car and cheered Gina on as she was rocking the full marathon like the stud hero that she is. Total bad ass!

We also cheered on Annette, a friend we made on the ferry who was from Wisconsin. She was on a bit of a vision quest bringing her husband's ashes with her on her trip. His dream was to see whales in Alaska. She went out on a boat the day after the marathon, found the whales he was looking for and spread his ashes at sea. A sad, happy and wonderful story. She Googled Alaska marathons, found the POW Island marathon and went for it. By the end of the day she had 100 new friends, including us. She was full of life and energy. Very cool!

Gina dominated the full marathon placing 3rd! Here she is being presented her third place plaque by former world record holding runner and POW Island marathon guest speaker Laura Skladzinski! I really enjoyed the entire marathon experience. It was well organized and everyone was very friendly. There were great aid stations that local businesses and groups put tons of energy into. There was a spaghetti feed the night before, a salmon feed at the end of the race, an awards ceremony that afternoon with a freakin ice cream buffet and then a gathering of runners at Hill Bar that night. It all totally ruled and was great fun.

There is no way 4 people can fit in the front of The Grey Fog 2.0 so Max volunteered to ride in the back during our beer run and return to the cabin.

That night we all went to the Hill Bar in Craig and partied. Here we are with Laura. She is super friendly and it was a trip to talk to her about her running experiences around all 50 states. She posted a great read about her experience visiting Prince of Wales island that echoes many of  my sentiments. Check it out!

Hill Bar heroes!

Day 8 beer count: 10! Back in it! Beers after the race, in the cabin and at Hill Bar were delicious after a half marathon!

Proceed to Day 1 of the Honker Divide!


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