Saturday, July 4, 2009

Juneau, the capital

The large, old ferry chugged its way down the Alaskan marine highway to Alaska's capital, Juneau. With clouds low on the hill and mountainsides, our focus was on lighthouses, wildlife on buoys (pronounce boooeees) and the odd whale and porpoises. There are another 48 hours or so of boat travel to get back to dry land, beyond Juneau, before we can start pedalling again, so plenty of time to enjoy the marine scenery. The southeast panhandle consists mostly of a string of islands, most inhabited by humans and certainly by bears and other wildlife. There is a coastline, carved by fjords but is impassable on the ground.

Juneau has a long history and relics of its golden past still remain in its architecture, and mine workings. Quaint narrow streets on the hillside and down near the harbour (now crammed full of massive cruise ships) are now scattered with tourist shops but also some very delectable destinations for hungry cyclists - Rainbow Foods (huge wholefood store), gelati at the Heritage Coffee House, a huge array of bagels, sweet treats at the "Pie in the Sky) and now, our favourite beans and rice at this internet cafe (buy a meal and get an hour of internet free!!).

Sailboats, dinghies, ferries, cruise ships and float planes negotiate their place in the Gastinau Channel between Juneau city and Douglas. A city is probably an over-statement for this Alaskan capital, strung out along the channel with the heart and stark contrast of early mining/frontier buildings and Russian architecture built from timber juxtaposed with functional concrete government buildings and mega stores.

We cycled in from the ferry along the long Pacific Highway, avoiding the fast-flowing traffice on the former highway and with a few misjudged diversions. When studying my bike computer to see how much further, a black bear crossed the road in front of Robert - totally missed by me!

Across the bridge, in Douglas, Roberts old uni friend, Meg, welcomed us into her home - a timber 1940's building with a history of many alterations but a broad view of the channel (and it's passing water-borne cities, cruise ships, and air traffic) and to the forested, snow-topped mountains beyond. From Meg's back door, there is a network of forest trails up the mountain side, through magical mossy forest, open alpine meadows with soggy muskeg under foot, which Robert and I explored one day to keep the blood pumping and make sure we didn't turn into squidgy blobs filled with pie, icecream and bagels.

Our visit to Juneau coincided with the 4th of July celebrations which also double up as 50 years since Alaska became a US state (and the 49th star on the flag). What a parade!! The river of floats, marching girls, dancers, bagpipes, first nation folk dressed in wolf hides and bicycles, vehicles and dogsled wove through the streets of town and ended up sandwiching us on the island in the middle of the main street. When we arrived to take up our position, I was intrigued by the number of children carrying plastic bags. Each group threw out a steady spray of sweets! There is no doubt that there were some very hyperactive children in town over the following few days.

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