Sunday, August 26, 2012

bear photo ops

On Friday, a hiker was killed by a grizzly in Denali National Park. We know that one of the last things he did was to watch and photograph the bear as it foraged for berries, then eventually moved toward him. We're still learning the details and the man is getting lots of criticism for how he broke the park's rules about staying away from bears and moving away if one is encountered unexpectedly. But I can't help but put myself in his shoes.

In the spring of last year, I agreed to write an article about places to bike along Turnagain Arm. A new trail in Portage Valley takes cyclists and walkers up the glacier-carved valley to Portage Lake and the visitor center opposite the receding glacier. The valley is fairly narrow, but is traversed by the railroad, a road and Portage Creek, which flows from the lake into the saltwater of Turnagain Arm.

Portage Lake on the Trail of Blue Ice. May, 2011.

Smaller streams feed into the creek and ponds dot the landscape. Up high are hanging glaciers. Then there's the Trail of Blue Ice. I started at the parking lot near the lake, winding through the forest past a campground, parking lots and ponds. Though never far from the road, it was easy to forget the road was nearby. I saw a family riding the trail that morning. I'd also seen a pile of bear scat near where I'd begun my ride.

After riding to the end of the trail and chatting with some visitors from the Lower-48, I turned around to head back. Though it was late May, the leaves hadn't opened on all the trees and shrubs. Riding into a clearing, I could see a black shape through the brush. I stopped and snapped a photo, not sure of the figure, then it disappeared. I rode a little farther up the trail. Then I saw the black bear in that clearing and I did the wrong thing.

I stopped again, pulled my camera from its case and snapped a few more photos. It was my third bear encounter in two weeks and at the moment I wasn't afraid. Lucky for me, the bear did the right thing and ran back into the brush. It was only then that the adrenaline hit me and I started getting nervous. I needed to get out of there; I hoped the bear wouldn't change its mind and give chase.

Black bear; Trail of Blue Ice. Portage Valley.
Soon I was riding past a pair of moose browsing in a pond, then made it back to the parking lot. I realize it was a pretty foolish move on my part just to get a few images. I've been close to many black bears on the trails around Anchorage. That doesn't make it any safer for me than it does for anyone else. To say they are unpredictable creatures is probably wrong. I'd say, bears are predictable: when they see you, they very often will run away. But as with may other predictions, you could be wrong. Best to back away, leave the area.
To clarify, grizzlies and black bears respond differently to any given human behavior. If you're inclined to go into the backcountry, or even one of our municipal parks, it's best to learn to recognize behavior, know how to respond and learn how to use bear spray. Here's a place to start. Be safe.

Friday, August 24, 2012

who are you?

What defines you? I sometimes wonder. Before I moved to Alaska, before I met Jon, I would have said I was a hiker. I enjoyed hiking. But Alaska introduced me to a different kind of hiking; and Jon introduced me to mountain biking. Soon, I was identifying as a cyclist. My loves: mountain and touring. My desire: mountain touring. I have a short list. Then I placed it on hold.

My shoulder injury and eventual surgery have given me a little perspective. I've slowed down. Looked around more. Hiked places where bicycles aren't permitted. Trails I hadn't hiked before. A few friends have joined me, but most of my biking friends are doing what they love: mountain biking. Something I've told myself to not even think about for the last several months. Then, last week, I brought my snow bike home from my friends' house.

I'd loaned it out during the winter for a couple friends to try out and so it wouldn't be here in the house tempting me to go riding when I shouldn't. Before I put it in the car for the trip home, I pedaled it around on their street. It felt odd, stretched out, awkward to control. Once home, I pulled it out of the car, told Jon I'd rode in circles and he gave the only comment I could have expected: prove it! So, I again rode in circles, practiced my steering, feeling the stretch and the stress on my right arm.

Carefully riding in the cul-de-sac.

I still felt a long way from riding very far on the bike. Meanwhile, my occupational therapist had just released me from our twice-weekly sessions. I had an exercise list for getting stronger and increasing my mobility. I'd gone swimming and running in an effort to increase my strength and fitness. And I continued hiking.

Watermelon berries along a trail.

Pixie eye primrose, I believe. On the trail to Hidden Lake.

Last Saturday, I was hiking with my friend on the Rabbit Lake trail, one of my favorite hikes in the front range of Chugach State Park. We wound through a narrow wiggly stretch; I mentioned that it would be really fun on the bike. Returning from the lake, I noticed a slight blip on the trail and noted: this would be a good place to catch air, if I was the kind of person who caught air, that is. This is when my friend told me I was getting better; I was ready to start biking. I was reading the trail like a mountain biker, noting the grinding climb, the winds, the rocks.

She was right. I am ready to think like a mountain biker again. So yesterday, I decided to take a little spin around the neighborhood. Since the Mukluk (snow bike) is my most upright-fitting bike, I adjusted the seat and took off up the hill. I rode through streets I've walked many times in the last few months. I'd forgotten how much faster I can travel on the bike! I'm not sure how long I was out riding - not very; maybe 20 to 30 minutes - but it feels like I just overcame another tall hurdle in a series of hurdles. Getting so much closer to embracing one of those things that, much as I sometimes pretend doesn't, helps to define me. I am a cyclist.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

sweet land

This morning my radio alarm blared the static-fused voices of the in-between. Not really on a station, but blaring, nonetheless. I reached over to turn down the volume and adjust to my station, but without my glasses couldn't see if I was going the right direction.

Finally landed on a station and a preacher was preaching and his words revealed his fear that in 30 years, this country would no longer be a Christian nation but a Muslim nation. Unless things changed. Good God! I changed the station (to my liberal public radio) then turned off the alarm.

It hurts my ears, and something much deeper inside me, to listen to the hatred coming over the airwaves. And it saddens me to think of all the listeners who follow, all the children who are taught this by their families and their churches. It saddens me to think that so many people want this to be a land that is not inclusive. Because there is always a group, it seems that people turn upon to hate. When it is a professed Christian preaching the hatred, it is pure frustration.

My ancestors, like most Americans, were immigrants. They were from Europe, though the rumor of the "Arabian" man who climbed into the family tree has always intrigued me. And reminded me that we don't always know who's back there even if we have tried to figure it out through Because not all of it is written down. So, besides the mysterious man, there's some German, some English, some Irish, Scottish. People who didn't always get along. People of different faiths (yes, both my grandmothers were Catholics married to Protestants, gasp!)

I wish people would stop hating each other, stop teaching hatred, and come together to solve our country's actual problems and lend a hand across the globe. We are a nation of people of diverse backgrounds. People have freedom to practice their faith, whatever that may be. We even have the freedom to not practice any faith. And that doesn't make any one of us less deserving, less American. Isn't that what makes us the US? United in our liberties?

 We all remember these words from The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus:
...Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

How about these?
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome;

I don't often get into this kind of subject, but it bothered me & I thought I'd better say something about it. I guess I just want my fellow Americans to behave like decent human beings.