Thursday, April 30, 2009

Los Angeles

"It's a really good place to find yourself a taco."
Or so the song says.
Making good on the previous post, here's the deal on that trip to Los Angeles.
Narva has been living in a similar rent free situation to myself, working at a private boarding school in Ojai, Ca, +/- 2 hours outside of LA.
After his students graduate at the end of May, he'll be trucking back east to work his summer gig at camp in New Hampshire.
We'd sort of discussed the idea of me flying down there and making the long haul east more of a mountain bike road trip.
That was last fall. Over the winter a couple things shook out on the old home front back east, and though the east coast isn't high on my travel list, it made a lot of sense to try and get there during that time of year.
Among other things, my little brother Tony will be graduating from high school on June 13, and I felt like that was something I should try to be around for if I could.
Tony is the kid to the left not picking his ass. Sorry Tony, thank your sister and the facebook.

As a bonus, Tony be flying back up here with me the day after to spend a week fishing.
But that's the end of the trip.
I'll get into LA late May 28 with some clothes, riding gear and Mari, my full suspension rig.
Narva and I will be in Ojai for a few days before hitting the road.
The itinerary isn't set in stone but the rough looks like this:
Leave Ojai after the school's graduation, go to Las Vegas and ride Boot Leg Canyon.
Bootleg Canyon Photo courtesy
Haul north through the rest of Nevada, a knick of Arizona, Utah and slide into Grand Junction, Colorado, probably spending two days riding the trails around Fruita.
Fruit, Co. Photo courtesy of
Recover, and power across the mid-west to the east coast with a hopeful pit stop in Saratoga Springs to hot the Stables trails, possibly see sites elsewhere; finally coming to an end at the Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vt.
Tom shreds "Toady's Tour" at the Kingdom Trails in East Burke, Vt in May of 2008
That should take about a week and a half I'm guessing. From the northeast kingdom Narva and I will go our seperate ways; Narv to New Hampshire and myself to to Middlebury.
To some, that might sound like an awful lot of driving and crappy road food for not a ton of riding.
For non-MTBrs' to put this in perspective, the U.S. has several 'meccas' every rider hopes to visit at some point in their life. Fruita, bootleg and Moab Ut , We'll probably skirt the later of because of heat, are way up there and top out the southwest's hajj list.
The Kingdom, while not quite able to stand up with the great west, still attracts thousands of riders from the metro northeast and Quebec each summer. I was always one of them.
Yours truly ripping "Sidewinder" at the Kingdom in May '08.
I'm also hoping of course to get to spend some time on the trails I grew up on in and nearby Middlebury.
When I get back into camp around 1 a.m. June 16, it'll still be light, even if its cloudy overhead.
Additionally every cabin will be booked and the whole crew will be up for the summer.
There are two guests in the first two weeks of June while I'm gone as of now, then the masses pour in for the final two weeks of the month.
I'll be back in it elbow deep by the time I finish breakfast the next morning.
I can't wait.

Spring has sprung in the last week. I know no one in the Lower will be impressed, but temps made it into the low 60's and it was NICE.
Joe and I put the plywood up on the roof of Adam's cabin addition after I got out of the office this evening. After diner I waxxed my skis and board on the deck wearing just a t-shirt while drinking a cold one, soaking up this view:
The river's already rising and the shore ice, though still several feet thick in some places, is receding.

The receding ice is exposing the last vestiges of fall. The bugger managed to get freeze dried on the ridge of a large boulder.

The first green things I've seen, in camp, looks like devils club

Monday, April 27, 2009

The summer cometh, so do life changes

This morning I woke up in Alaksa to see the dawn of an important date. First, I've lived here for exactly one month and one week short of a year, but far more importantly, I have only a month left in my current position at the Clarion.
On the evening of May 27 I'll leave the Clarion office as a general news reporter covering the education, river and state legislature beats.
I'll be boarding an Alaska Airlines flight the next evening with a bike and a backpack, bound for Southern California.
What happens over the next two weeks is content for another post, but on June 15 I'll touch back down in Anchorage.
The next day I'll begin working at camp again.
I'll also start a part time gig at the Clarion, managing content for a new weekly fishing section called "Tight Lines."
My responsibilities for the paper will include compiling a weekly peninsula fishing report, formatting a fishing column from a guest writer and taking my fishing report online in the form of a short Internet video clip where I'll deliver the forecast "live" from the banks of the Kenai River.
I'll be able to do everything from camp, only going to the office to help out here and there.
At the end of the fishing season sometime in August I'll go back to full time and pick up my old beats for another winter.
This development is nothing short of a phenomenal situation, very much in keeping with the trend since I got here.
For the last several months my future at the Clarion has looked like a leaky boat with a near empty fuel tank being tossed about in the high seas of the stormy Gulf.
Originally my editors planned to let me go, hire an intern for the summer and than bring me back at the end of the fishing season.
Then corporate instituted a hiring freeze, and all bets were off. If I left, there was no guarantee they could bring me back.
My editors were hoping I might split between the two jobs.
Not going back to camp was out of the question. Between my weekly wages, plus tips, room and board, I make about twice as much gutting fish than I do at the paper, even paying for private health insurance.
That's peninsula economics.
Arguably, camp is only a short term gig, and with a down economy it might seem wiser to hang on to a steady job, however, working at camp offers one major benefit: free rent for the following nine months.
It's time to be clear on something.
If I paid rent, if I paid the increasingly expensive utilities in a dark cold climate, if I didn't have a freezer full of fish, this blog would absolutely suck.
Trips to Turnagain Pass wouldn't be determined by the safety of the snow pack, but my ability to get to work, keep the lights on and keep bread on the counter.
I exaggerate a bit, but given my wages (I make less than $13/hr) I certainly wouldn't be able to get out into the mountains or south to Homer as much as I did this year.
That being said, I'm extremely blessed to be in my present situation, and its something I hope to hang onto for a while longer; but that's also a different post.
With such low pay, I could find work as a substitute teacher or work retail, and while I might have to cut back a little, I'd still hang on to my limited expenses.
With that out of the question, my editors next proposed I stay on part time.
The issue however, is that during the last two weeks of July and first week or so of August I put in long hours (average of 14), I don't shower - much -, there's no one to pick up the slack in camp when I'm not around and the few hours of rest I get I use to fish and sleep.
Suffice to say, I wouldn't be able to commute an hour round trip to work for say, 10 hours a week.
In March I began put out feelers into the community and see if I could start working any leads early. I was quite sure I'd be working somewhere else besides the Clarion when the leaves began to again yellow.
Then a week and a half ago, the managing editor told me about the Fishing section idea, and by the end of the week it was on me to make it happen.
I'm now in the process of getting things set up in advance so that during the heat of the fishing season I won't get crushed by it.
I don't feel that I'm totally out of the woods just yet, but far enough.
The industry is in the midst of a face changing transition that involves throwing journalists out of newsrooms like drunks from a bar, and I could be part of that "shift."
That however, is out of my hands.
I just got back from a great weekend in Anchorage, a place I'll likely live one day not too far down the road.
While I look forward to that day when it finally arrives, it's a place where I hope to continue to be a visitor for a little while longer.
I'm excited to spend yet another year in this beautiful place.
It's an area where steady work is thin and sometimes hard to come by, and those that have it live a dream.

No photos from "Los Anchorage" this weekend, here's some from two weekends ago on the Anglers Trail on the lower Russian River. Blogger ate them last time:

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Shifting gears

Last night I was captured in sleep by one of those extremely vivid dreams. I was skiing trails I knew well on a full moon night, conditions were windless, the sky cloudless, the snow fast and firm.
I dreamt however, that the snow would all melt at sun up, and I'd never see conditions this good again for months to come. When i finished my long lap around the trails I was inclined to keep skiing through the rest of the night knowing what awaited the next day.

With the end of every season comes a bitter sweet time of looking back and looking ahead.
Of course, with snow still on the ground, I'm still on the skis on the weekend "harvesting corn," soaking up the extended rays and enjoying warmer weather, at least by Alaska standards.
All the same the riding season is in full swing as noted by my earlier post, consuming my energies, both physical and mental. Typically I've shifted out of my winter routine at the beginning of March. The obvious length of Alaska's winters, paired with my new found love for skate skiing, lead me to extend my season into April this year.
I could have pushed it farther too I suppose, but at some point summer will show itself and I'll be glad I've got some base miles on the bike.
That being said, looking back is sometimes easier than looking ahead.
This was a banner year for XC skiing and me.
I said that of last winter too, that's true, and it was.
What came out of last winter however, was that I wanted to be a better, stronger, faster XC skier.
I was pretty sure this time last year however, that was just a pipe dream.
In the four years I lived in Saratoga, my final one was the only year the area had consistent snow coverage through the whole season.
East coast skiing I think is also more supportive of classic technique.
One thing that came out of last season as well was that I wanted to learn to skate ski.
Doing so would have been far more difficult on the icy Saratoga trails, and perhaps I would have had a chance closer to home in Middlebury with two ski areas nearby, but the Tsalteshi are groomed by a skate skier and skied mostly by skate skiers.
The track is set when conditions permit, but in the six month season that wasn't all that often.
I forced myself through the painful beginnings of learning a new sport.
I almost quit when my shins burnt to the core, when I felt like vomiting because from going full bore everywhere since that's all I knew, and yet for all the energy I blew with poor technique, I was destroyed after only a short distance.
A daily internal argument ensued each evening at the trail head convincing myself not to just hop on classic skis, on which I could go much farther and for a while, faster.
I didn't appreciate having the temperature dive a few degrees and make my wax job worthless either. On Monday conditions could be amazing and I could ski a loop effortlessly, only to have a new layer of snow and a new storm system push through and make the same loop a living hell.
I could have just rode a bike in a trainer each night; it would have been warmer, easier and more consistent.
I knew nothing, but just doing what felt right, slowly building up muscles that had never been used before, but just kept going each day after work.
In the process I became more proficient at dressing for the varying degrees of cold, learning to get a full workout down to negative 27 degrees.
By the end of December I was skiing faster on skates than I could on classics, at the end of January I found I could finally ski longer more satisfying distance before burning out, and by the end of February signed up for two races.
Suffice to say, my results in the races are still a source of pride and something I never could have imagined in the beginning of the season.
So now reflecting on on my achievements from the winter, and knowing that I could still in fact be coasting on the snow after work instead of taking a literal and figurative gritfull of sand in the face on a road bike, is a little tough.
At the same time, I've always said, whether for the summer or winter, the best thing you can do is leave a season with a sweet taste in your mouth, ready to go back for more in a few months.
I'll probably squeeze just a few more skates out of the year while I'm at it as well, like say, about the time most my east coast readers are wrapping up lunch Friday.

On Tuesday morning as I headed out the door I noticed an eagle flapping about in the water on the other side of the river. At first I thought it might be injured, but quickly realized it was probably up to something and grabbed some binoculars. Sure enough the bird pulled what I'm pretty sure was a duck out.
Ducks have been hanging out in the open water in the slack eddies of shore ice since breakup, and the hapless fowl are easy targets above for the famished raptors. I used Joe's camera with a better zoom and higher resolution, but even so it was a distant shot, this is about as good as it got.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ice bike

With the weather only moderately cooperating so far, I'm now into my third week on the bike and equally, off the skate.
I'll talk more about the transition later this week, but for today I thought I'd share a story from my ride Friday, which from its getgo, looked to be one of the most comfortable road rides I was set go on this year.
In an event rarer than a 70 degree day, there was almost no wind.
Additionally, the thermometer in camp read a whopping 45 degrees.
Though dressed in more layers than my riding buddies in the Lower, I felt scantily clad with knee warmers in place of tights and arm warmers in place of a thermal and a long sleeve jersey. A typical peninsula rain was typically falling, and then not, and then falling, but in these parts, such rain is "dry."
I had to start my ride by hiking out of course.
Although Greatland St. is largely broken up and ice free, the driveway is still locked up in the winter's wrath.
Making it up the hill in cycling shoes on ice requires an interesting climbing technique where I put all my weight back on my heel, the only part of my shoe with any traction.
I made it up with no backward flips, bounced down my road through the glacial melt filled potholes and hit the highway west toward Soldotna.
Everything was looking good for the first 15-20 miles or so.
Then summer ended.
The Kenai Gods, struck with rage at the sight of my exposed pasty white flesh, unleased their fury.
Down came the mercury and the white stuff.
The temperature took a 10 degree dive and light snow started coming down.
Perfect I said, I love riding my road bike in a light snow, it adds flavor to the ride and makes them memorable in that way. Plus, you know, it's badass.
I smiled for a second, thinking, "This is the definition of early season road riding in Ak."
Then I suppressed an afterthought that went, "This is the definition of time to go home, things are about to turn sour."
Light snow became steady snow after a few minutes, soon morphing into white out conditions.
I hooked back up onto the highway heading back to camp, but as I came to the juncture of the beginning of a ~ 10 mile loop, the cold must have got to me; I turned off.
I think I figured that with the poor visibility, I'd be a little safer off the main drag.
Maybe I thought the added half hour plus of exposure would put some hair on my chest too. Wait, I’ve got enough as is, hmm.
At the very least I decided, the snow wasn't sticking yet, and that's the only thing that could have made the ride even more ridiculous.
Oh, guess what? The gods listened.
A mile or two later, the biggest flakes I've ever seen started tumbling out of the sky.
These things were albino Sumatran Jungle Moths tumbling out of the heavens.
When I caught a flake in the face, it easily covered an entire lens, giving a new definition to the term white out.
This is what the snowflakes I was riding through looked like, except, white.

With such big flakes falling this intensely, snow started sticking while my tires did the opposite. Additionaly up to an inch of snow/sluch/ice hung onto my helmet, the front of my bike and exposed skin.
My uncovered shins turned a deep shade of hot pink - nothing like frost nip.
I went into survival ride mode, firmly agreed with myself that this would be a ride to remember if I could ride out, and bailed; numb in all senses of the word.
The stares I got from passing motorists were priceless however.
As an extended ending to my little winter outing, I cast aside all that I know about cold weather care and jumped into a piping hot shower just the second I made it in the door. In about 30 seconds my legs started to itch so severely I thought I was going to cry when suddenly I realized I was burning myself but was too numb to tell.

My bike doesn't have any white on any of its components. Ice, already starting to melt off, clings to the entire front from the bottom the the fork up to the head tube, while even more sticks to the seat post and rear brake.

Good thing I have lots of vent holes in my helmet to fill up.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Redoubt, seen on Sunday evening. There have been no eruptions since Saturday, however, Crude production on the West Side of Cook Inlet has been crimped and the Drift River Terminal is being mothballed until furthur notice.
The economic implications have yet to come to bear, but it seems likley they may begin to take effect this week.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Overheard this weekend:

"Where else can you watch eagles lock talons and free fall, see an erupting volcano and ski some of the best snow of the season in the bright warm sun on an April morning?" -Justin
True life in rugged Alaska.
I live a tough life up here, just so stressful sometimes its amazing I even wake up in the morning. To break the tension I like to "get away from it all," which in a place like this, is tough, but you do what you can.
Friday was pretty gross -- really -- windy, snowy, not good for much, so I decompressed a little. Saturday I woke up to bright blue skies and a volcano spewing ash on the southern peninsula. So much for getting one last skate in on the Homer trails.
I went over to the Tsalteshi after a light breakfast and skated for an hour on the freshly groomed snow that fell the night before while temps climbed into the lower 30s.
I eventually caught up with a couple other skiers and Bill, the groomer.
Hopefully before spring really kicks in here, I'll learn to drive one of the snowmachine groomers so next season I can pull some shifts keeping the trails in shape.

The view of Redoubt from just outside Soldotna a few hours after it popped Saturday morning.(click to enlarge).

After the snow got sticky a few other skiers and I talked up how tough we had it.
I headed back to the lodge, had a quick lunch, and threw together some hiking gear before departing for the Skyline Trail head.
I haven't been to the top of Skyline in about six months, and I decided it was time to bag another peak.
The Kenai Front Range doesn't get a lot of snow, and the peak to the west of the trail gets a lot of sun and wind, so I decided to go nail it and see what kind of views it offered of the volcano.

Obviously on such a nice day, everyone else wanted to get out of the big cities of Slowdotna and Kenai, and it was bumper to bumper the whole way out of the city.

Oh my god, look at the ashhole on my tail, he might just as well park in the back of my car! Crazy traffic, it never ends.

I was lucky to squeeze into the parking lot at the trail head. People everywhere. They're going to have to build a new bigger lot I think, like Wal-Mart sized lot. Heck, they ought to just build a Wal-Mart at the trail head so I can do my shopping while I wait in line to get on the trail.

From the trail head.

Redoubt viewed from the trail.

Headwaters of Mystery Creek.

I sort of used my equipment in reverse to summit. I was able to bare boot a little ways, but overflow left sections of the trail covered in sheet ice so I strapped on the crampons. I'd forgotten how awesome it is to wear a spikes. Just below the col where the trail ends, I put on the snow shoes and climbed to the summit crest, before snow cover thinned out to nothing but a few little drifts, bare booting the rest of the way to the top.

Ripping wind and a 360 pan from the summit.
After summiting in about an hour and a half I walked back down into the lee side and crashed into some bare tundra for a little siesta. Sometimes I just try and imagine what this place would have looked like fore all the people got here...wait

The distant Harding Ice Sheet.

No Name Mountain.

Hideout Hill, Hidden Lake, and Lower Skilak Lake.

Upper Skilak Lake.

A hazy view of Redoubt from Sterling on Saturday afternoon. The emission of sulfur dioxide, carbon dioxide and tons of particulate matter leaves a familiar east coast summer haze over the peninsula these days.

Friday, April 3, 2009


A second volcano erupted today, this one purely political in nature. As a result I got stuck in the office for 12 straight hours covering a series of explosions that will in the next month likely put more hot air into the atmosphere than Mt. Redoubt could ever wish to.
That's not really important at the moment however, other than the fact that I'm obviously beat.
For this reason I'm going to leave you with two hideous, and one hilarious picture with very little information other than this, these pictures are no longer an accurate reflection of myself.

Hey there, you like candy? Wanna go check out the inside of my sketchy van?

Please, for my own benefit, take note also that my former beard has left a distinct tan line across my cheek.


One of the stips of the office beard growing shin dig was that when you took yours down you were supposed to sport a 'stache for a day. I planned ahead, got all my face to face interviews out of the way, and sported this ugly looking thing for April Fools. I actually didn't even notice it was there, except that every time I went to the bathroom and saw my reflection, it made me shudder and jump back in surprise, while my coworkers couldn't keep it together.

*Disclaimer: This is by no means a jab at any moustache sporting readers, just a simple and clear visual that the 'stache DOES NOT WORK FOR ME IN ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM. Power is with all those who can wear it and not send shivers down the spines of small children, haha.