Sunday, October 31, 2010

Hectic weekend these past few days. I did make it to Anchorage to pick up a new pair of skate ski boots and poles. I was too busy with other activities that maybe I'll post about here one day, but not today, to get out and do much more.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I pumped out 5,000 words today at work for three separate articles and I have to say, those are about all the words I have.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Late season on the Russian

We seem to be having an Alaska version of an Indian Summer up here. By northern standards that means temps in the mid-40's or better and not raining. Kjell and I rode the Russian Lake Loop on Saturday in a really nice window of clear weather.
We started out with the plan that we would ride to the top of Snug Harbor Road to the top of the Russian Lakes Trail, and head down the trail to test things out.
Freeze-thaw conditions can make trails unrideable, so we figured that if we got a mile or two in and were spinning our tires on slime and much, we could bag it and still do a 35 mile out-and-back.
Leaving the Russian River overflow lot a little after 1, we made good time on the road and climb up from Kenai Lake, reaching the trail head in an hour and 20.
After a short break, we took off down the trail.
My hope was that the Russian's tendency to stay on well drained soils and side-hill across slopes would mean that even though the temps are swinging back and forth across the freezing mark everyday, it wouldn't have an affect.
My hunch was dead on. To add to that, even when the sun comes out as it did, it's so low in the sky now it can't get the power to really nuke the ground.
The trail wasn't quite frozen like concrete, but was more than hard enough that we never had an issue where we were spinning tires in sticky muck. I was actually a little nervous there would be slime ice on the dozens of little old bridges. Fortunately that was never a problem.
The riding turned out to be about as good as I think I've ever seen it on that trail. The notoriously obnoxious vegetation was withered away and the trail smooth and dry.
The only thing lacking was the normally lush verdant views and wildflowers that make the trail such a great early season ride.
Not lacking, however, were bears.
I was thinking that they might have cleared out of this very 'beary' corridor now that the fish are all gone.
While they were mostly moved out of the lower valley, the bench between the intersection with Resurrection River Trail and Upper Russian Lake was thick with bears. If someone stumbled upon the trail from the wilderness, absolutely nothing would tell them that it was actually a human path. It literally appeared that a parade of bears had marched through there.
Someone might want to leave those bears some pepto-bismol too

Click to enlarge (CTE)

Riding up Snug Harbor Road. Bone Peak beyond.

Shot Peak across an unnamed pond near the crest of Snug.

Bone, from the same pond.

Cooper Lake, looking back a mile or so in on the trail.

Jeezum Kjell, slow down, you're breaking the bridge! (CTE)

There's a section of trail that's slowly been getting washed away by a creek that jumps its banks every chance it gets. Last time was up here in June and riding in reverse, we plowed against flowing waters and I recall that the little waterfalls had plunge pools underneath. As I came down this time I barley dumped it into a 4 foot crater at the beginning of the wash out. After that I figured I'd be safe and dropped the little guy above this hole thinking this one would be the same. Oops! (CTE)

Cooper Mountain above Echo Pond.

Peak 5107, possibly AKA, Menker Peak?

Through the cotton woods below Upper Russian Lake. (CTE)

A view along Russian River.

A view to Lower Russian Lake.


So even though I had to work on my actual birthday, I was thankful the Kenai Gods let me ride into my 25th year the day before.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


For the gods of the Kenai's ears are sensitive and their demeanor wicked.
It's the season of in between, one where the snow has begun to accumulate again in those hinterlands winter retreats to through the summer, but has yet to swoop down upon the lowlands.
One should always be careful what they say and what they write, for the gods are fickle and cruel.
"Looking forward to a white winter?" They'll ask, laughing as they smite thee with a wet forty-degree rain.
Just as they have been know to unleash horrendous blizzards in the months of April and May when the sun starved denizens of this land look hopefully toward the heavens for a reprieve.
Now is the time to wait quietly, enjoy a nice weekend if it comes, roll up the sleeves to catch the dimming rays of light, and try not to sigh too deeply in the morning when the mercury has not fallen below the red line drawn across the integer, 32.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lazy weekend

Nothing exciting to report this weekend, but it was a good two days to catch up on rest, knock out a few projects and smoke two loads of fish.
Nothing says fall in Alaska like the sweet smell of a smoker mixed in with cold winds, rain and snow.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The call

It’s 6 p.m., the sun is falling behind the snow covered mountains, a bitter northwind is freezing my thinly covered arms, and I still can’t see the crest of this climb.
For the better part of the last 6 hours my legs have been spinning a set of pedals connected to gears that move a chain that in turn spin another set of gears which finally grind my whole back wheel over the three inches of crusty snow.
It’s early October, I’m trying to make it to the high point of a moraine south of Lost Lake.
I knew when I set off on this ride it was going to be rough, and now, I just want it to be over.
The 30 some odd mile Lost Lake Loop, cut into official existence last summer, is living up to all that I have made it out to be.
I launched from the trailhead around noon thirty and set off up the Seward Highway to Bear Lake. Once in the woods the wide ski trail narrowed down, and narrowed down some more, until it finally devolved into a rugged single track trail traversing the steep eastern shore of the lake.
Out in the glass flat water, salmon, small silvers, or pinks I don’t know, are leaping to the surface.
I’m hoping that I won’t find any fish pigs on this ride; it’s not the time of year to hang around with them.
The trail’s pretty nasty, and short sections just aren’t rideable, while others are just a pleasure.
Eventually I arrive at the lake’s northern shore and hook into another ski trail. A long and sometimes un rideably steep climb awaits.
Most sections could be pedaled I suppose, but skinned pine logs jut laterally across the trail in places to drain the intensive rains that fall here, and their surface is smooth and slimy.
My back tire, which already struggles to find traction on the Eastern Kenai Peninsula with it’s relatively low profile tread meant for the more typical dry western single-track conditions, stands no chance at these grades on such a surface.
The long climb makes my heart run hard though, and in the not even 40 degree air, the heat dissipates easily.
Eventually I level out, the trail begins to duck and weave in some places.
Now when I point downhill and see those same wood lined water bars, I feel it, you know, it, climb up the back of my throat.
If my front tire jumps to the side, the resulting impact will be swift.
There’s little to see above me, or side to side, except everything I guess.
For the most part I’m surrounded by a boreal rainforest.
Every so often I notice a small pond, and even less often I’ll cross an open swamp on a long bridge.
Some of the bridges have even been built with steps as they change elevation. My favorite of them all will drop down several decks before climbing back up them. Each flat is at least the length of a bike.
Somewhere in a hollow, I make a drop and in the distance, through murky distance I see an orange and black creature trotting toward me.
It’s a dog, a German Sheppard. I hoot, and not a second later I see the florescent colored jackets of the dog’s two legged companions in tow.
They’re about as surprised to see me as I them.
One shouts, "What a nice day," as I say hello and pass by.
"It sure is," I call back, knowing this could be one of the last like it.
It’s somehow comforting to see them, yet this is a generally unknown trail. Perhaps I’ll see many.
Fifteen or twenty minutes later I know I must be getting closer to Divide, the separation of the massive Snow River drainage and the small creeks that fall to Seward.
The trail is dropping elevation from the ridge I’ve followed, and in a moment of absence, I’ve failed to notice I’m about to roll over a solid foot to foot and a half root drop.
I hit the brakes.
The front wheel drops with a thud into some deep muck and comes to a halt.
In a fraction of a second my back tire comes off the ground and I find myself suspended in this awkward position.
I hold there for a moment, senses I don’t have to control anymore are firing away trying to pull me out of this mess. My left hand is flicking away at the front brake trying to adjust one pivot point while my lower body is gently nudging to the left in an attempt to carefully drop the bike sideways so that it sets back down, off angle, but back on the rear wheel.
Too late, I cross over the point of no return; snap-snap and I click my feet from the pedals and leap forward into the muck, nailing the handlebars on the way down.
Damn, I suck in some wind.
The crash will hurt me more mentally than physically. This is a long ride and I can’t afford to psyche myself out like that, but now my mind is already working on that problem, and trying to figure out how I could have saved that situation.
I guess that’s why I’ve only crashed once this season, right?
Next time though, I need to be on it, and roll that drop with speed; pay attention.
To add to the sudden burst of anxiety a fresh set of grizzly tracks appears on the trail in front of me. They’re pretty good sized.
I heard the highway a few minutes ago, but now I don’t hear it anymore, and the bear seems to be sticking to the trail that I’m buzzing right along.
Around the corner I see a silver object through the trees. It’s the small trailhead and the truck of the same hikers I saw earlier I assume.
I’m pretty happy to be off that trail all of a sudden. It’s already been two hours.
On the side of the highway I sit down and pull out my sandwich.
For nearly five minutes not a single car goes by. Then one does. Then nothing.
I’m on the road now, headed back in the direction I’ve traveled, only to shoot back off, on the west side of the highway now.
I follow an old double track trail for a short ways before it dives back into the forest.
It’s drier here.
The wooden drainages aren’t slick at all. A few of the long bridges are covered in a cold sweat that makes the tires sweep from side to side at points, but it’s much easier going now.
This section will go by faster, but it’s far more draining than the last.
Sometimes just a vertical foot or two, sometimes dozens of vertical feet, will be burned up on a descent, only to have to make it up again, over and over.
The climbs seem to outweigh the descents 5 to 1 though.
There are more lakes in this section too. A few provide glimpses to the snowy mountains where I’m headed.
As I ride along one lake, the tall white stocking legs of a moose catch my eye across the way.
How many moose do I see in a week? I don’t know. They’re more of a nuisance and a safety hazard.
But this one is huge, and in the broken glimpses I get, I see it’s a bull, adorned with a healthy set of antlers.
He’s grazing in a swamp, the last of the autumn leaves shaking around its forested edges and the brown grass waving at snow covered peaks beyond.
It’s too perfect.
He knows I’m here too, making a loud grunt at one point while looking my way.
Why make enemies?
The ride goes on for an hour and change before the trail again begins to make a long descent.
Around a corner I sweep to the junction of the Primrose Trail.
After another break, I begin the long climb to Lost Lake.
It’s quarter after 4 as I leave.
This is the do or die point.
I could have just followed the rest of Primrose back to Kenai Lake and taken the highway back to Seward, or even ridden the last section in reverse.
Now I’m committing to make it the next 14 or so miles back to Seward in the wilderness, come what may, with three and a half hours of daylight and unknown high elevation trail conditions left.
It’s instantly amazing though, the difference between the much older Primrose Trail and the fresh loamy trail I’ve been on for the past few hours.
Sure, the Primrose is steep, and in some sections just unrideable, but for the most part it’s lower section rolls much more smoothly under my tires than anything I've done all day.
Somewhere just below 2,000’ I see my first patch of snow on the side of the trail.
Climbing steadily it doesn’t take long before it consistently coats the ground nearby, but the earth of the trail itself is still snow free for some time.
I eventually hit a fairly long stretch that is too ledgy and steep to ride and requires a good deal of hike-a-bike.
When I finally get out of it, I’m at treeline, and now I’m riding, sometimes on a frozen hard trail, sometimes through a miserable crust snow.
I start to think that I’m making a big mistake.
The snow is horrid. It’s been nuked by the sun, but has now refrozen into a crust that breaks with a loud grinding sound under my front wheel and saps energy from my already destroyed legs.
If things get worse, if my bike breaks down, I’m in real trouble.
I contemplate turning back around. The descent down Primrose won’t be much fun, it’s just a rough drop, and it’ll be too late to take the single track even part of the way back to Seward.
The idea is gone. Whatever. I’ll make it out.
Time seems to slide by slowly in the graying light.
This is normally the fastest part of this ride, other than the speedy drop back down to Seward on the Lost Lake Trail.
In sections, where the trail is snow free, I accelerate.
At one point the tension lifts.
Mud and snow flies from my racing wheels as I ride through this alpine wonderland.
I crash through the icy white and rebuild my speed on the exposed but mostly frozen glacial gravels.
The fun ends eventually.
I finally dip down to the outlet stream of the lake.
The wind is cold as I hoist my bike and walk over the one rail bridge.
On the other side, I feel drained. I lean into the hillside as I try to pull on my arm warmers and a jacket. I need sugars.
I start to eat a protein bar, and as I look around, I see fresh bear tracks in the snow. They look to be black, they’re small. It’s probably a bear looking for a den site.
The wind seems to blow a little stronger, and I suck down some water to soak the dry and unappetizing bar.
It’s been hours since I saw another person. I haven’t heard anything else today besides the sighing of water coming out from the loam as my wheels pressed down upon it, the occasional grunt of the changing gears of my bike and the thoughts in my head.
It’s unreal.
I bite off another piece and again soak it.
I can’t afford to stand around. I’m wasting heat, but I can’t chew fast enough damnit.
I look again at the bear tracks. I won’t see anyone else today I think, maybe real close to the bottom of the trail, but that will be it. It’s too late.
Ten minutes later I’m at the halfway point between Primrose and Lost Lake trailheads, and squarely at the bottom of the long climb up the moraine.
The climb is always a long one, deceiving in height, but it’s smooth and steady when it’s not covered in snow.
This time, it will take a good ten minutes, but I’ll pedal its entirety, despite winter’s attempt to keep me from doing so.
I don’t care anymore. I don’t know what it is my body is burning. I don’t know why I keep going. I don’t even know why I do this stuff in the first place.
I do know though, that not a half hour after I pull over the top of this moraine, I’ll be back down at my car, and there, I’ll just wish that I could do it all over again.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Lost Lake Loop '10

As promised:

Old-growth forests outside of Seward.

Sorry, he was pretty far away.

Getting dark above treeline.

Mt. Ascension.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The downside of running

So it’s officially changed seasons up here.
Well, so much for wishful thinking anyway.
It is that time of year though when activities that were good and fun in the previous months are no longer so, and those that will be fun in the months to come are still sorely lacking an important medium: snow.
Until that stuff starts shaking loose from the clouds, I’m in an awkward and annoying period of limbo.
As I’ve said in this blog too, while skate skiing is fantastic training for pushing pedals, it’s not a mutually beneficial relationship, so I can’t just keep riding my bike into the waning daylight until the trails are groomed with perfect corduroy.
On Monday I headed into the woods with ski poles all the same, picked a hill and did what might have been construed as some sort of ancient rite before the forest spirits, but is otherwise in small circles referred to as “hill bounding.”
Basically you pretend you’re skiing by, ya, bounding up a hill, practicing different techniques.
It’s actually no easy task.
As the name implies it involves hills; and the incorporation of poles means upper body and core muscles get used in ways they haven’t been in a long time.
The hill bounding, however, I can mostly tolerate because I know I’m strengthening stabilizer muscles that I’ll be happy aren’t floppy and weak like the rest of my body the first time I get out on skis.
Ditto for the indoor circuit training we do afterwards.
But with the specific ski centered training also comes running.
Snarky comments about running being an activity that I only participate in when I’ve got a hungry bruin that want’s my rumpsteak on my tail aside, I actually do try and make a habit of running through most of the year at least once a week.
At that level, it’s OK.
But now, I feel like I’m running a lot, or, at least 2-3 times a week, so I guess that’s a 200-300 percent increase.
Let me say a few nice things about the sport that is running.
It is a heck of a workout. I feel muscles flushing with blood and lactic acids that I don’t usually notice in other activities. You never stop while you’re out there either, and during the week any activity I can do that works me hard in a short amount of time gets points.
It’s also slower, and great for enjoying the scenery. I couldn’t believe the things I was noticing this week on a pleasant afternoon on trails that I’ve skied and biked literally hundreds of times.
I also like the sense I get running uphill.
I’m not sure about that either, but there’s just something satisfying about chugging away up a long climb.
But once up top, well, it’s all downhill from there.
As I see it, I guess, humans evolved to the place that we currently hold on the food chain not because we kept running downhill, but because we learned to take advantage of our gravitational conquests.
I don’t climb mountains all winter to walk back down them.
I don’t ride up long glacial valleys so I can hop off and walk my bike back down either.
If there was any confusion about that please know now that it’s all about that ride (board or fat tire) back down.
But every time I beat my throbbing legs over the crest of a hill on a run and a small wave of euphoria washes over me, it’s robbed by the prospect of knowing that the plodding will just go on.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cyber snow junky

As the snow starts to fall on the upper elevations (somehwere someone made first tracks this weekend and it wasn't me!) I'm going into hyper-active snow watch mode.
This is an addictive habit that might have been a lot harder to feed only five years ago and non-existent at the beginning the decade.
Thanks to the wonders of the Internets, however, I can follow every flake of snow that settles and every line carved in that snow almost anywhere in the Kenai’s or Talkeetnas.
Take a look at the right side of this blog and you'll see a list of fixxes, I mean links, that get me through my week.
Sure you may have thought they were a neat array of other web sites to check out, but between avalanche advisories, trip reports and up to the minute web cams you're looking at a cyber dope dealer that serves a la carte.
It's pretty phenomenal how well technology is stealing the mystery out of weather prediction.
This is particularly evident in the array of remote cameras and weather sensors located in all parts of the state.
From the comfort of my living room, in one click I can determine that despite the fact that it's clear and beautiful here in Sterling, in Summit Pass it's socked in, calm and pouring at 1,000' above sea level.
With a second click from by 'favorites' tab I can find out that just 2,000' above the afore mentioned sensor, the temperature is below the magical number 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Yet another click and I can see hourly images captured from another ridge 30 miles away in Turnagain Pass that show snow piling on the tundra.

A view from an FAA web cam in Palmer this afernoon. Looks nice!

This weekend I learned of yet another site managed by the Federal Aviation Administration with web cameras all over, and I mean ALL OVER, the state. It's awesome.
On Saturday afternoon, trying to decide if I should call the day a loss to the buckets of rain falling outside my window and hop on the trainer for an indoor spin I Iinstead, checked the camera in Anchor Point, an hour and 20 minutes south of here, around noon.
The skies were clear, and to the view south looked great.
The National Weather Service radar showed the storm tracking north, and I knew if I held onto my figurative handlebars, the skies would likely clear here in another hour too.

A snowy view from another FAA cam west of Lake Clark Pass taken at 4:30 this afternoon.

Guess what.
They did. And while it was nothing to write home about, at least I was able to avoid yet another ride on the trainer and get outside for a couple of laps around Tsalteshi.
In the months to come I’ll save myself a great deal of consternation and heartburn as I flip through my browser tabs in the dark hours of winter mornings reading ‘snow-tel,’ temperature inversions and gauging visibility in the mountains an hour and change away before my eggs and bacon are even out of the fry-pan.
Is bacon grease bad for keyboards?