Monday, June 29, 2009
I've biked in Anchorage for over a dozen years. I've done some tough rides; all of the mountain bike passes: Powerline, Johnson, Resurrection. Lost Lake trail, with climbs so grindingly steep that I had one friend tell me she would never ride it again, remains one of my favorites. But I'd never biked up Potter Valley Road.
Okay, okay! You could say I had my reasons (like a climb up Stuckagain right near my house) but mostly I just avoided it. It's out of the way - in other words, I'd bike five miles past my work to get to it, ride up, then ride back down and continue either to work or to home. When I'm commuting, I don't normally add an extra loop, because in the morning I'm arriving just in time and in the evening I feel spent. Besides, that ride is for racers, I thought. But last night my excuses were overridden by Jon's encouragement, a warm evening and a few shots of Hammer Gel.
View Larger Map
It's a short hill at just under two miles of pavement, but steep and filled with switchbacks, which actually make for an easier climb mentally. There's nothing that looks more daunting to me than a long, straight hill (Rabbit Creek Road). After biking from the shop, I reset my computer so I could time the ride, just so I'd know. I put my wind vest and ear band into my backpack and clipped into my pedals.
Then I paced myself, turning the pedals over and over in my low gears, thinking about the time Jon and I were biking on the Coromandel in New Zealand pulling our BOB trailers with all our camping gear. Remembering that turning the pedals is always easier than walking when you have a loaded BOB. But now I was on my carbon road bike with my fancy new carbon saddle. There was no way I wasn't going to make it up in one try. The question was: how much will it hurt?
Jon disappeared around a bend early on, promising to document the trip with the camera (I also didn't want to carry the extra weight up the hill). When I saw him riding toward me I knew I was close to the top. He rode alongside snapping a few shots. Then he pointed at a line painted on the pavement and said that was the end. Ahead I could see the pavement give way to gravel, so I looked at my computer: 17 minutes and 40 seconds. Done.
I was careful to not overcook the corners on the descent. Then we headed home, Jon convincing me to go up Rabbit Creek to Hillside Drive. I was relieved that I always carry an energy bar, just in case because I did need it. At home, after stretching, I powered up the computer to see the race results for the ride. Some racers do it in under 10 minutes. One of my friends did it in just over 17, so, of course, I wonder how fast I can do it next time.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I told someone I felt more Alaskan after the fishing trip I took with Jon and our friends last week. I've been fishing before, but unlike anyone I know who's gone salmon fishing here, I've never had one on the line. Not one. I'd go with Jon. Cast and reel, cast and reel. Watching as he'd haul in another and add it to the stringer in the river. Soon I'd retreat to the bank or the tent with a book and fall asleep as he fished until it was too dark to see the water or he had his limit. That lasted a couple of seasons before I stopped going.
For the last two years Jon's gone fishing with friends during the personal use fishery at Kasilof on the shore of Cook Inlet. He doesn't call it fishing; he calls it harvesting. (For each family, the head of household can get 25 fish, then 10 more for each additional person in that household.) Rather than standing on the river bank casting a line, people set out nets, either attached to something on shore, or anchored just off shore. The net is dropped, with the heavy lead line sinking while the lighter buoy line floats. The net is strung between them, floating vertically in the silty water as the salmon head up the inlet for the mouth of the Kasilof River.
Our nets are dropped off shore from a small boat. After a few hours waiting and watching from shore, a group goes out to check the net and pick out the fish. I volunteered to pick the net, not knowing how much work it would be but excited to experience the process. I'd already seen fish hauled ashore by other set-netters the night before and wanted to see what our nets had captured.
I went out with Jon and our friend John who was at the motor and oars as Jon & I picked. When I hauled the first fish over the bow, Jon said you have to kiss the first fish you bring in. I could have argued and said that was just crazy. On the other hand, what harm would it be to kiss the first fish and thank it for swimming into our net to become dinner? So I pulled the slippery, silver fish to my lips, gave it a kiss and put it in the basket. I know it's not an official tradition, but I don't think it's such a bad idea. Besides, after 15 years here, this was the first fish I had ever pulled out of the water. Finally I had my fish! But there were lots more to haul in.
We camped for two nights above the high tide line in the days leading up to the summer solstice. We walked along the rocky beach, stayed up late and got up early (before 6am). It was the first camping trip of the year and as always, it felt good to be back in the tent, even when I was lying awake listening to rain on the fly. We were among dozens of other families who were doing the same thing we were: getting our catch of fish to fill the freezer or pantry so that we could do all the other things we want to do to fill our long summer days.
After spending Saturday and Sunday evenings at home processing: Jon cleans and chops the salmon into chunks; I wrap and vacuum seal; label and freeze them, we're ready to get back to the other outdoor activities we love. And this winter we'll appreciate that we took a few days to fill the freezer.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Three riders. Perfect conditions, meaning no downed trees to cross, only a few areas with water on the trail, no crashes. Fifty-nine piles of bear scat but no other sign of the critters, except the note in a cabin logbook talking about a bear than gnawed on the door.
A grouse chick didn't know what to do when her mom & sibling scurried down the trail in front of us. I stepped off the trail and carried my bike around it.
We met a trail crew at the lake when we stopped to eat lunch on the breezy shore, away from the bugs. The guys had finished working on another cabin and used bikes and BOB trailers to get around on the trail. Everything fit into the float plane and they waved as they took off, headed back to Seward.
Wildflowers in the sloping meadows.
Sunday, June 7, 2009
In the fall of 2004, I went to a meeting of the Far North Bicentennial Park users. It was their first monthly meeting after returning from a summer hiatus. The room was packed. A few days earlier, someone had posted signs in the park urging park users to attend. There was chatter on the online forums.
The reason: some trails had been widened and smoothed to make trail grooming for skiing easier in winter. Cyclists were mad; skiers didn't get it. There was lots of frustration at the meeting. People weren't sure how to get all the user groups to get along. I remember finally saying something about people getting involved if they want better trails. Others said the same.
Soon, I received an email about a meeting to talk about what we mountain bikers could do next. What started was an idea for Singletrack Advocates (STA). We were going to maintain trails, preserve skinny trails. We would even create skinny trails. I don't know if at that time many in the group envisioned what would happen in the next few years. Trailbuilding schools with IMBA, consulting with the municipality and trail design experts, working with all the different park users to build understanding, organizing the mountain biking community. Attending meetings.
Then, last year the group put in nearly eight miles of twisty, rolling singletrack in the same park. An all-volunteer group. And like any group that gets things done, it's the unifying force of one person that makes all the difference. A person who can rally people, work with different user groups, find the resources and keep charging through, breaking red tape like a champion crossing the finish line.
When Jon and I rode the STA trails this evening after work, I knew that without our fearless leader, Queen Bee, I wouldn't have been wearing that perma-grin as I descended on Stinger. There would not have been a Stinger. Thanks Janice for keeping at it and for rallying all the volunteers. And thanks volunteers and steering committee. I'm proud to be a part of STA.
Please, sir, can we make some more?