Monday, February 27, 2012

my inner snowshoer

A dead birch in Bicentennial Park hosts new life.

Friday night I was driving out of my neighborhood when I saw the distinct single beam of a bike headlight as a cyclist pedaled up the path along Patterson Street. It was a perfect 20-degree evening and the routes had been cleared of the previous night's dusting of snow. In my warm car I felt a twinge of sadness that I have not been biking.

Yes, it's been a challenging year for winter cyclists in Anchorage. Even fat-tire bikes are no match for another foot of powder or a path that has just been buried by the road plow. But I've commuted or biked for fun in the winter for so many years that not doing so reminds me of the rides I've done under the best conditions. Rides on firmly-packed trails that twist through the birch and spruce forest, crossing ponds and narrow bridges. I recall last winter's adventures up rivers, to glaciers, on lakes and up long trails normally reserved for my summer rides.

It can get pretty demoralizing when I dwell too long about how much I miss the riding. But that usually happens during time spent alone. When I get out with friends I realize what I've gained by being off the bike and embracing my inner snowshoer. After all, before I was a mountain biker, I spent much more time hiking. Once I got into mountain biking, I followed Jon's motto: If you can bike it, why hike it? Yet getting out on foot has its advantages.

Last Tuesday, I met my friend Diana for a snowshoe. We hadn't seen each other since summer. We stomped around on the new Kincaid singletrack trails. At our hiking pace, we were able to catch up on what's happening in our lives. We stopped to look at the shapes of the trees, admiring how the fresh snow decorated the deeply-crevassed bark on the cottonwood trees. At our slower pace, it was also much easier to examine the animal tracks that had been left in a fresh snow. A few hares, some dogs and a few mystery tracks - several which turned out to be squirrel tracks. Things that I may have only glimpsed out of the corner of my eye while I rolled along on the trail were now in focus for me.

Spruce needles resting atop the snow after a wind storm remind me of eyelashes.

On each foray onto the trails, I notice something different. See a track I don't recognize. Look at a tree and notice its angle, its height or the other organisms that use the trees as their homes. The rise and fall of the route; who has traveled it before us.

The body print of a mystery animal in Bicentennial Park
keeps me curious. Do you know what made these?

While I miss getting out on a bike and wonder with a bit of anxiety whether I'll be able to ride this summer, there's another part of me that appreciates the frequent snowfalls and even the debris that lands on the snowy trails after a wind storm. The snowshoes and poles are now fixtures in the back of my car. And yesterday when I was out with my friend Jo-Ann she commented that when my shoulder is better we should continue to venture out on snowshoes. She's right. And I'm glad I can appreciate my snowshoe adventures for what they offer, not merely think of them as a substitute for something I'd rather be doing.

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