Monday, June 30, 2014

Another Alaska Travel Saga--Getting to Kodiak via Whittier

Aurora and a teammate had great track seasons so were invited to participate in an all the All-Star Brian Young Track Invitational in Kodiak a week after the state track meet. Transportation there was a ferry ride from Whittier to Kodiak. This led to yet another epic Alaskan journey which I thought I would share.

To catch the ferry at 10:30 on Thursday meant getting through the tunnel to Whittier no later than the 9:30 a.m. tunnel time, or to be safe, on the 8:30 a.m. tunnel time. For the folks coming from Anchorage, that meant hopping on a bus there, an hour drive away. Coming from Homer, that was a 3-4 hour drive, depending on construction road closures or traffic. So we opted to drive to Soldotna Wednesday evening, staying in a hotel and then get up early Thursday and catch the 8:30 a.m. tunnel opening.

Heading through the 2mile-long tunnel over the railroad tracks from Bear Valley to Whittier
We got through the Cooper Landing area construction with no stoppages and traffic was light, so we ended up making it to the tunnel for the 7:30 a.m. opening. With extra time we decided to go see the sights around town.

A spooky highlight of Whittier
First, of course, is a drive by the bombed out-looking building--the old military barracks from World War II. It wasn't bombed, just looks that way. Past that there is a small, picturesque overlook where a steam enters the ocean.

A pretty stream entering the ocean
After checking that overlook we took a left out of the parking area and drove on a wide, gravel road with a gravel bike path along the side. The road was wide enough for two cars to pass comfortably, with substantial guardrails, and seemed like a costly road to go...nowhere. There were no homes down it, and it just led to something of an overlook, but not with a particularly impressive view.

The wide road to nowhere
Then the road narrowed to what I consider a normal gravel road--one lane--and just for fun I followed it to the end to see where it went. It ended where the road looked like it had been dug out or washed out by a stream.

Road break

I parked there, determined to see where the road led, on foot now. But first I noticed a waterfall off to our right. We followed the path to get a closer look. It was actually a fairly impressive waterfall and a trail climbed alongside it for a short ways.

A large waterfall at the end of the road
Then we followed the road. Even between the two places it looked washed out it was substantial, and it led to a large, leveled area that looked like it had at one time been intended to be an overlook, which it would have had room for large recreational vehicles. Again, there wasn't much of a view, though it was pretty enough.

View from what looked like it was meant to be an overlook area
Enough exploring. We headed back to town and the ferry terminal. The runners who had ridden the bus from Anchorage had just arrived so Aurora and her friend joined them.

The diminutive ferry terminal in Whittier
The ride to Kodiak would be 20 hours, with the Region 3 team arriving the next morning in Kodiak, where they would be staying with different host families. A banquet would feed the 100+ athletes on Friday evening, when the kids would get their region uniforms. Athletes from Regions 1 and 2 (Fairbanks and Juneau) arrived by plane--a much less grueling travel arrangement.

Races were Saturday and Sunday evenings, which we thought was odd (all track meets are held during the day when it is warmer), but apparently were patterned after the Lower 48 where larger meets are held in the evening. This was only the third year the All-Star meet was being held. In 2010 Brian Young, a resident of Kodiak, died while descending from a climb on Denali. This meet was established in his honor. Sponsorships help make this an all-expense-paid trip for the best athletes in the state. If invited, it is paid for, though anyone with a qualifying time can compete in it.

It was a successful meet for Aurora, who won the 800 meter run and was on a sub-4-minute 4x400 meter relay, the first time that had happened in Alaska, but since the athletes are from different teams it is not an official time. She was also part of the first-place 4x800 team and got second in the 400 meter dash.

After racing Sunday evening the kids showered and got back to the ferry for the 20-hour ride back to Whittier, and from there the 4-hour drive back to Homer. These Alaska athletes have some endurance to handle all this travel!

The ferry backing up on its return to Whittier from Kodiak

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