Thursday, September 27, 2012

September Unknown

Teal waters and golden leaves are dropping away. The sky hangs heavy and gray, threatening an unthreatening light rain, or patchy blue, who knows? In the water below me, hundreds, if not thousands, of pink salmon are porpoising.
Some rise and fall slowly like submarines, others leap skyward, and a few jet sideways across the current. A dozen or so of their dead brethren line the exposed gravel shore.
Along with them lies what might have been a 60 pound king salmon that found its final resting place nearby. Well, it was final, until the other night, when a bear dragged it from the submerged depths to eat the parts it wanted, leaving the rest as a lawn ornament.
In a large willow nearby, I find a mostly untouched 20-pound hen shoved into the branches. There’s no way she passed away there; I suspect the bear stashed her for dinner tonight.
Along with these pinks and the two kings, I’ve found at least one spawned out sockeye on the bank and seen one spawned out silver floating back down stream.
Alas, I have yet to see a single live silver roll, let alone take a lure, and my arms are tired as it is from a morning of hard work.
I hang it up and take a seat.
The river is quiet today. One man, alone in his boat, has made a few passes on the other side of the river for trout, and comes by maybe two or three times in the space of an hour, but that’s it.
It’s strange, everything seems assured right now. Fate will play out for the salmon, the slowly subsiding river, and the leaves and vegetation along the shoreline.
The blanket of clouds might keep it a little warmer today, but the deep cold will arrive, and with it darkness and snow.
It’s not how it feels in my mind though.
It wasn’t too many Septembers ago that I realized I was going to ride out a winter in the north on the shore of this river.
I watched all these changes, knowing only of green, summer, and life, and wondered with much anxiety at what lay ahead.
The delayed start to mornings, air wet with fall rains and scents of decay, reminds me of those days.
My nearest relatives were some 5,000 miles away then, and I knew only three or four people in the entire state.
I was scared. The sun climbed a little less every day, there was snow that fall by the first week of October, and bears roamed outside my window in the early dark hours of the morning.
It was all just an experiment. I didn’t have a job. I didn’t have a plan.
I had no idea a second run of burley silvers were inbound up the river; miles of mountain biking were still to be ridden; the best backcountry snowboarding of my life awaited in the mountains beyond.
My whole life was there, but what was in store for the next day was a mystery.
I spent that September applying for jobs, fishing the river, riding when the skies cleared, not sure where I would go next.
Every day felt like a new adventure though, and day by day, I fell more in love.
Sitting here today, I feel well-endowed comparatively, but I also know what tomorrow holds, and the excitement and mystery has slipped away.
I don’t live on these shores anymore, but they are as much a home to me as the place I was actually born.
We all come from somewhere, but ultimately, we must grow up, and that’s not always in the same place.
I was lucky that place was here, but in these days, when all feels so certain, I sometimes wish I could go back to that September, and not know, once more.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

More rainy weekends

A week ago the hype was growing, the snow was descending from the ridgelines, and talk of first turns on Friday was rampant.
Those dreams were erased, or transformed, when storm number 3 rolled in, warm and wet. Temps at 4,500 feet shot all the way up to 40, and down here at sea level, made it to the 60s in the sun.
The percipitation was plentiful though. Flooding has hit from Talkeetna - which was evacuated - to Seward and Valdez, which were both temporarily cut off from the rest of the state.
Friday morning, Dan, Mike, and I settled for Plan B and hiked up Wolverine Peak. The 8-9 mile summit grab was a good way to work on the "uphill legs" and enjoy the 6 hours in sunshine before storm 4 (ya, I'm keeping count) hit. We started early though, and made it back to town in time for a late lunch and beat the rain.

From the summit, looking east, Long Lake on the left and Williwa Lakes on the right.

Clouds moving in over the Williwa Lakes.

And Long Lake.

Kanchee and Knoya peaks, left to right.

Friday night we went to see Powderwhore's "Choose Your Adventure." Here's my quick and dirty review:
Not usually a fan of ski flics, but this was well worth the $5 admission, not just for the skiing, but the characters and commentary. They did a good job finding some folks who actually "live the dream," even if the dream means living in a 10' x 10' cabin in the middle of nowhere and consuming copious amounts of hard liquor (when not shredding). The Bob Athey segment takes the cake.
And trailer:

Monday, September 17, 2012

Closer to home and rainy day rides

Two weeks ago Southcentral got whacked by an early season windstorm that caused lots of damage to Anchorage (LINK) as well as outlying areas.
Camp was mostly spared, but Cabin 7, which usually gets a few shingles torn off the east-facing side of its roof every winter, got more than usual ripped off by the surly gusts, and Joe wanted to nail down some new ones before the snows hit, plus he needed an extra set of hands on a few other projects.
I don't really need an excuse to go down to Sterling - it's the closest thing I've got to home so far away from home, I kind of feel like I grew up there, and I always feel welcomed when I'm down on the Cen Pen whatever I may be doing.
This weekend was no exception. Spending time at camp this time of year I trip on the memories of my first September there, and sometimes wish I could return to that short period in my life once more.
This year was no exception, but I find that I'm far better endowed now than I was then, in friends, in knowledge, in life.
Unrelated, I realized this week, for whatever reason I don't know, that when I lived on the Kenai, I used to make a trip to Los Anchorage every 6-8 weeks depending on the time of year to get out of dodge for a weekend. As it turns out, things haven't actually changed all that much. This summer, I can't recall when the last time I spent a full weekend in Anchorage was, and have spent maybe a handful of single weekend days here. Otherwise, all of my free time has been spent to the south, to the point, that when I actually do spend a full weekend day in ANC, it's almost a break and a relief, though one I'm not eager to extend.
Strange, I'd never really thought about it until this weekend.
Anyhow, Joe and I re-roofed Cabin 7, pulled up some driftwood from the banks, and other assorted camp projects for a fairly productive Friday, just in time for wind storm number 2 to roll in.

As much of a weather junky as I'am, I try not to get into it too much here, but I had to save this. This is the zonal forecast map for the region. The colors are various and sometimes multiple warnings and watches that were in effect for Saturday and Sunday consisting mostly of floods, high winds, gale-force winds at sea, and immense waves. Note the western Kenai was one of the few areas not under some type of warning.

No meteorology background necessary, the storm was big, and as is noticeable, this week's mid-week storm was hot on its heels. We are now going into windstorm number 3 of the season.

The storm turned out to be not nearly as severe as expected. Saturday dawned gray with a really light rain. I hopped on the hard tail and headed up to ride Swanson River Road. The two-lane dirt road that was punched in to access the Swanson River Oil Fields (LINK) now leads about 30 miles into the heart of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge and is used sparingly by  canoeists and anglers accessing the Swanson River or Swan Lake Canoe Trail systems, moose hunters in season, and oil field service-related vehicles. The latter probably make up the bulk of the traffic.

Though I lived only a few miles from the road's start in Sterling for three years, never once did I touch it with a bike, and only a couple times did I drive maybe a dozen miles or so out in the winter to hike or hunt grouse.
The thought to ride it had occurred, but I never followed through.
On Labor Day weekend, also a bit rainy and drizzly, Adam, Brian, and I rode to the end of what's accessible by vehicle and back from Sterling, and were disappointed we had not done so years earlier.
The road is a rainy day gem. Lonely, leafy, winding, and surprisingly hilly best describe it. One's odds of seeing bears, lynx, or moose are high.
One word of caution, calcium carbonate is used for dust control, and mixed with water, it will cover everything. It is well worth lightly hosing off the bike after riding this when wet or corrosion and rust will soon follow.

I didn't have my camera with me while riding out Swanson, but foliage is peak and I did get a few shots from near camp.

With no king fishing this year on the river, I didn't get to practice running a boat much this summer. I hoped to do a little silver fishing, but the humpies were in really thick, the silvers thin, and I couldn't rally anyone to go with this time. Oh well, a beer on the dock is OK too I guess.

Sunday was pretty rainy all morning, but the clouds blew off on the drive home and the views were pretty spectacular.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Column: Busted Bikes

As run in the Redoubt Reporter:

By Dante Petri, for the Redoubt Reporter
I hate the summer-to-winter transition from the quick-and-easy lubing up of a chain and airing up of tires on a bike before heading out for a ride, compared to the much more laborious task of waxing, prior to skiing.

Photos courtesy of Dante Petri. Mountain bike components breaking on the trail might be a part of the sport, but a broken frame means it’s time to head to the bike shop. This 2004 Marin East Peak met its match outside of Fruita, Colo., in spring 2009.
It’s true, pre-ride prep is far quicker than pre-ski. That being said, I was reminded this summer by how much maintenance goes into bikes compared to skis when looked at in the big picture. Specifically, into mountain bikes.
This past winter was the first year I ever had what I might call a “ski mechanical.” Ultimately, this amounted to a busted boot and, a few days later, a busted binding, on a set of hardworking skate skis that were halfway into their fourth season and should have been retired a season and a half prior. They were well-traveled and worn down, and I made the wise and rewarding choice of replacing them with a new set of skis. I couldn’t have been happier with them. End of story.
If I did the same thing every time I had a significant mechanical on one of my mountain bikes, well, I’d probably have to get at least a couple new bikes a season.

Mud, rocks and roots all help grind down the parts of mountain bikes and make mechanicals inevitable.

As it is, I use the term “mountain bike” in the plural, as, like other cyclists who rack up lots of mileage on and off road, I have more than one bike to help spread out the abuse.
Even so, when I lived back East where the riding season was a good two months longer, I usually got off the bikes — all of them — for about two weeks in mid- to late July.
The R and R was for both for me and the two-wheeled beasts. It helped that this time of year was usually hot and muggy, punctuated by randomly passing thunderstorms that turned trails into swamps in only minutes. It also helped that my interest in bikes had usually passed its peak, and backpacking and swimming in cool rivers seemed much more appealing.
But even more, it helped that bikes are really just assemblages of numerous small machines, linked together, all waiting to fail at some point. And often, that was right about mid-July.
In the North, the riding season is compressed, and like other summer activities up here, I feel obligated to cram in as much warm-weather riding as possible.
I try to prepare for this by doing preventative maintenance at season’s end: bringing my rigs into shops for professional tuneups, sending parts back to the factories for rebuilds, and getting everything ready for the first days of spring. The end goal — have as little downtime as possible through the following summer.

Magic carpet ride or ticking time bomb? With mountain bikes, they’re one in the same. Even a sunny ride can go south fast thanks to a rotten stick, jagged rock or a worn-out component.
After a few years off the bikes, this summer I finally put in at least as much time in the saddle as I used to when I lived back East, maybe even a bit more. It should have come as no surprise that I hit my same mid-July meltdown again, just a month later due to a delayed start to the season.
I should have been forewarned of the impending disaster, as one of my Kenai Peninsula riding buddies, Adam Reimer, was afflicted first.
When the meltdown hits, it comes like a summer downpour, and often with little to no warning — in a mere 14 miles of one ride he managed to tweak his rear derailleur with a rotten twig, break a pedal and finally split the sidewall of his rear tire before finally admitting defeat and limping back to the car on the road. The sting was made only worse by the bright sun overhead, the dry trail conditions we knew would not last into the fall, and high expectations for a strong ride.
A week later we were back at it again, attacking the very same trail. This time, Adam came armed with a second bike just in case, yet only six or seven miles into this ride, as luck would have it, a sharp rock bit off a chunk of his rear tire and again his situation looked bleak.
For a moment, I thought Adam’s bike was going to become a permanent fixture in that ancient forest, wrapped around one of the giant, lichen-covered spruce trees. Further examination of the tire revealed we could patch the hole and finish the ride, even though we accepted a bit of risk in doing so.
My bike juju had just begun, though. We arrived back at the car, feeling victorious for a few minutes, before I noticed my fork had begun profusely leaking oil on the long descent. Ca-ching. A few days earlier I’d broken the shifter on my other mountain bike in the middle of a race. Ca-ching. Guess what? A few days later I broke a shifter clean off my road bike. Ca … are you getting the picture?
In a single week I went from three functional bikes to none.
I’d found my midseason slump, or, at least the mechanical version of it.
It was somewhat amusing for me, though, to compare how Adam and I reacted to our mechanical follies.
Adam, who is not only both more aged and wiser than I, but also a far superior athlete with a long history of competing on road bikes, has a bit less experience when it comes to the modern mountain bike.
I could really sympathize with him and his frustration when it looked like he was going to get the shaft two weekends in a row, though, even if I chuckled a little, because I knew the feeling, really well.
The problem with this sport is that we demand perfection from every ride. Sometimes, even when the sky is blue, if I don’t get to hammer as hard as I want to for whatever reason — trail conditions, bike problems, human problems or some combination of the above — the ride feels like a loss.
When you add in a week of being cooped up at work eagerly anticipating the weekend, only to have it not quite pan out, I’ve sometimes stood on the trail and felt like the very basis of my love for the sport was hissing out of me like air from a blown tire, 10 miles from anywhere.
“I should just take up running, or hiking, or going to the gym!” I think, sometimes out loud if I’m getting close to hysterics. “There’s no taco’d rims, blown-out hubs or shifty shifting in those sports.”
Many a time I admit I’ve come close to sending my bike airborne, lest a rider, out of frustration from what felt like an unending slew of breakdowns.
There comes a point in every bike’s life cycle where that’s probably not such a bad idea, but knowing where that point is, and accepting the breakdown for what it is, is as much a part of mountain biking as roots, rocks and mud.
When I snapped off my road bike’s shifter, I’m sure the look on my face was amazing, but after the realization hit that, yes, I no longer had a single functioning bike, I just sat back, shoved the shifter into my jersey pocket and smiled.
I knew exactly what I would not be doing for another week or so.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Posts of out order: Out and back from Hope

Maybe blog posts are out of order, but everything else in life feels quite in order, in all respects.
Time to get up to speed, catch up posts from the remainder of the summer some other time, maybe.
Adam, Brian, and I rode Resurrection Pass Trail from Hope to Cooper Landing and back (76 mi. round trip) on Sunday. This was the second time Brian and I did this ride this summer, and really the third for Brian, who also did the Soggy Bottom, which also ties in the Devils Pass Trail.
I did this particular ride on my 26-inch hard tail, as opposed to my full-suspension rig, so it was twice the ride it usually is for me. Hard tails are fun, they make you ride and don't cut you much slack, but that's not always a good thing on a ride that takes 9-10 hours.
We got a late start and ended up riding back through the pass at sunset, which would be awesome anytime of year, but this time of year with the fall colors and snow, was mind-blowing. We arrived arrived back to the cars at 9:15. The last 5 miles were pretty interesting: No lights so lots of faith and trusting instincts; and as Adam said, "avoiding anything on the trail that was big and white" (i.e., pretty much guaranteed to be a rock, root, or puddle). As for dark, wheel-eating holes, or bears prowling the banks of Resurrection Creek: well none this round. The scattered leaves did provide a great contrast to the dark trail surface in the twilight that reminded my of those glow-in-the-dark star stickers I had on the ceiling of my room when I was a kid.

Foliage is at its peak, and foliage here is just as abundant in the canopy or tundra as the forest floor.

At the pass, southbound.

The mountains south of the pass had a light coating of snow that was melting in the mid-day sun, making them glisten.

Juneau Lake, southbound.


At the parking lot in Cooper Landing the temp was 65 degrees and very comfortable. It would have been tempting just to fall asleep in the sun.

Northbound, stopped at the benches above Swan Lake for a snack around dinner time.

Brian joining us for some food before making the last push.

I talk a lot of smack about Resurrection Pass Trail:
It’s not technical;
It’s always muddy;
Most of it is flat;
Too many people;
The feds pump too much money into it;
There’s better places to ride.
That being said, I bet I’ve never ridden it once without having at least one moment where I’ve gone “Wow!” And fallen off into the bushes.

Approaching the pass around 7 PM.

Adam, catches up after layering up as we begin our final descent in coordination with the falling sun.