9/24/20 – Next stop – Alaska
For getting to Alaska I had planned to take the Ferry from Seattle up to Juneau. This I had done 48 years earlier with my good friend Roger when we were Coke spies. We left with backpacks and sleeping bags, slept economy class in lounge chairs on the deck of the ferry, watched the orcas play alongside the boat, marveled at the glaciers of Glacier Bay, endured the rain, arrived in Juneau at 5 a.m., found a place for breakfast crowded with boozers transplanted from taverns for the required 2 hour closure, got right back on the ferry and headed back to Seattle. The weather was so miserable, and the people so rowdy we felt completely out of place. One drunken woman kept pointing at Roger and singing “ring around the collar.” We had no appetite to wander around Juneau in the cold and the rain.
Nevertheless, I was prepared to do it again. It’s always fun to see orcas. I wondered how much the glaciers might have receded.
When I checked on current ferry prices, I was astounded at how expensive it was. I couldn’t have paid that much back then in equivalent 1972 dollars. Even though I view flying as a last resort, I checked air fares for the sake of comparison. I found a direct flight from Portland to Anchorage for half the price of the ferry. I liked the idea of going to a new city and seeing interior Alaska instead of just the panhandle. Maybe I could catch the northern lights, or go to Denali. It’s a long way up there. To give perspective, Portland is half way between Anchorage and Mexico City. As I studied up on Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, and the feasibility of getting me and my bike up there, the allure of a new adventure won out. Besides, why spend twice as much money to do something I’d already done?
Getting Sunride up there was a challenge. First, the airline only allowed crated bicycles. The total dimensions of the crate (length, width, and depth) could not exceed 117”, and the total weight had to be under 100 pounds. Only a single battery, which had to be attached to the bike, was allowed. The TSA at the airport would allow a second battery but only if its capacity was under 160 watt-hours. Since Sunride’s batteries are 672 watt-hours, I would only be allowed the one, on the bike, in the crate. Borrowing the line from the movie “The Martian” I’d have to “engineer the hell out of it.”
First decision was to use Sunride, Jr., my bike without the overhead solar panel, for the job. With only one battery, I couldn’t use the on-board charging capability anyway. I could pre-charge my one battery with solar energy (rule # 1 for Sunride) and be able to ride 30-40 miles on stored solar energy once I reached Alaska. Given all the limitations of crate size, weight, and a single battery there was no other way. I didn’t count this as much of a loss. Sure, riding down the street with an overhead solar panel attracts a lot of attention, but it turns out in Alaska electric bikes of any kind are an eye-catching novelty. Furthermore, promoting solar energy in a state where half the year it’s dark would be a bit of a, shall we say, uphill challenge. Of course, half the year it’s light. They grow cabbages as big as basketballs. I could sell solar bikes in Alaska. A colleague once told me, “Patterson, you could sell ice cream to an Eskimo.”
I began the orderly break down of the bike. The front tire would travel in its own crate, along with the bike seat, foot-peddles, tool kit and other accessories. The crate itself would have to be lightweight. I considered building it out of aluminum but chose pine instead. For the front and back faces of the box I used old FAFCO solar pool collectors which proved to be lighter and more protective than aluminum sheeting. The tubular structure of the plastic solar collector gave the same cushioning effect as cardboard and was much more robust, and of course waterproof, another big advantage.
I bought some heavy-duty ball-bearing type casters from Wink’s Hardware to roll the large, unwieldly crate along. I fashioned a handle for the crate using a short length of ¾” PEX tubing, mitered at 45 degrees on the end, drilled holes through which I ran coarse SPAX lag bolts into the pine lid of the box. I held my breath as I held the handle and stepped onto the scales: 95 pounds; and the total dimensions were 115”. I was within airline specifications, just barely.
I also held my breath at the Alaska Airlines ticket counter as all the agents looked up dubiously when I rolled in with my two Sunride crates. There was an extra charge for the over-sided “luggage,” but bless their hearts they took it. I worried about baggage handlers wanting to sling it around angrily, but I knew it was built to take a bruising if one were given. Inside, the bike was pegged in place with galvanized plumber’s tape around the rear wheel and frame on all sides. The bike would not move inside the crate.
I got to hold my breath one last time as the TSA agents demanded I open both crates for inspection. I used a handheld stubby Phillips screwdriver to open the smaller crate in the top of which was a cordless drill for quickly removing all the screws on the face of both crates; about 50 screws in all. Both agents asked a lot of questions about my Sunride adventure as they politely and professionally did their job. We passed!
On to the boarding gate. Once at the gate I called my wife who had been patiently waiting at the cell phone waiting area for nearly an hour. Her instructions were not to leave until I had successfully checked my bags, been through the security check point, and made it to the gate. If the crates weren’t acceptable or if the higher watt-hour battery was rejected the whole trip would need to be aborted. It was a tense and exhausting hour before I arrived at the gate. We boarded a little after 6 p.m. Once in my seat I slept the whole way up on the 3½ hour flight. As we were about to land the flight attendant announced that the State of Alaska requires Covid-19 testing at the airport. There weren’t that many of us on the plane. In fact, I was the only one in my row which was great because I was able to stretch out and sleep. At the Anchorage airport we were herded past a Covid registration station. The cost was $250. I was stunned. “You can go into town and get tested first thing in the morning at a Walgreen’s or place like that and get it a little cheaper, but there’s a $25,000 fine if you fail to do so.” I told the helpful young Asian attendant, “No, I’ll just do it here.” She apologized several times for the cost being so high as she completed the on-line “paperwork.” She then directed me downstairs where the test would be administered. It consisted of my inserting a single swab up both of my nostrils and putting it back into the tube. The self-administered test took less than a minute. Someone made an easy $250 on that deal.
Finally, I went to the baggage claim, feeling a little anxious to see if my crates were in fact there and if they were intact. I looked around the conveyer belts and didn’t see them. Then, out of the corner of my eye, camouflaged against a black curtain wall, I saw them neatly parked.
The last bit of logistics involved going to the Enterprise Rental Car stand, picking up the mini-van I’d rented, driving around to the baggage claim area, parking momentarily with my vehicle unattended with the permission of the security officer who promised not to have it towed, racing in, grabbing my crates by their handles, and pushing them along the tile floor out to the van. I had already collapsed the rear seats so there was room. As I was loading the big crate a nice man offered to help. I went inside the van while he pushed from the back. All loaded, I drove to the Sockeye Inn just 5 miles from the airport where I would be staying. I left the bikes in the van overnight. The next morning, I would bring them into my ground level room, uncrate, and reassemble Sunride. All things considered, getting here went swimmingly well!