Tuesday, August 2, 2011

untangling the threads

A couple of missing segments; that's what
happens when the lines are made of tape.

Alaska has such a variety of trails. Point-to-point backcountry routes on which you cannot get lost (like Johnson Pass); routes that have a few critical intersections for which making a wrong turn will redirect you a few dozen highway miles from your intended destination (I wonder how many people have accidently started down Devil's Pass Trail when they should have been headed to Cooper Landing). Then we have the twisty-turny looped networks of trails such as Kincaid Park in Anchorage. But even more confounding to many riders are the mysteries of Matanuska Lakes & the Crevasse-Moraine trail systems.

Now collectively referred to as the Matanuska Greenbelt Trails, the area includes a state recreation area, a borough (like a county) cross-country ski trail network, trails on a university's experimental farm and some nature trails on a college campus. Wide trails, singletrack and in-between; it's all there. Ask many Anchorage area cyclists and they'll admit they get lost when they ride the trails. A local guide is helpful, but one of my goals is to map out my own big loop that includes a taste of everything and invites people to explore off my route. So last week I headed for Palmer to do a little ride.

Very helpful to find this map on a sign post.

I have always started my rides at Matanuska Lakes State Recreation Area (formerly Kepler-Bradley State Park) since the trailhead is closest to Anchorage and I don't have to pay a fee beyond my annual state parking pass. But I wanted to take my time exploring the routes that would most quickly lead to the newest trail loops in the greenbelt: Mooseberry Mesa and the Moose Poop Loop, built in 2005. I didn't have a very detailed map of the route, but picked up a copy of the Crevasse-Moraine map at the trailhead kiosk.

Before starting the ride, I highlighted the route I planned to take so I wouldn't have to guess where my next turn would be. I reset my computer to zero and got my voice recorder set up. Then I was ready to ride. At each "you are here" sign, I snapped a photo to make sure I could keep track of where I was on the map. Having biked it before, I knew roughly where Mooseberry was, yet it wasn't shown on my map. It wasn't until I was close to the Mooseberry entrance that I began seeing it listed on the new signs that have been installed (thanks to generous donations).

See, that really is the name of the trail.

One thing I've learned about trails is that with a good map, time and some patience, I can find my way. So, while it would have been easy for me to ask someone which route to take or ride with someone familiar with the route, I knew I needed to find the way on my own so that I can learn it, write a description and lead people on it. And now that I've got the Crevasse-Moraine side figured out, Mat. Lakes will be next. But I've spent some time out there over the years; that ride will feel more familiar.

As a side note, before I hit the trails, I stopped in Palmer and spoke with Tony, owner of Backcountry Bikes. He mentioned that someone he knew had recently gone out for a hike at Crevasse-Moraine and quickly gotten turned around. I assured him I'd call if I got lost. I didn't have to call, but it's a reminder that even a lifelong local can sometimes get turned around. Bring a map or pick one up at the kiosk. And don't forget the bug dope.

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