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Well, we officially made it through our first winter in Alaska, and over the weekend we were rewarded with near zero temperatures followed by a snowstorm that left us with about five inches of fresh powder. We know that Spring is slowly springing, though, because the pavement has been growing all over town. Of course with dwindling snow cover on main streets and parking lots also comes slush, so, while Dan took his truck out of four wheel drive for the first time in months, he put the fenders back onto his bike in preparation for some wet riding around town during the next few weeks.
On the first day of Spring, we saw our first bald eagle. The bird’s magnificent shape was unmistakable as it flapped its wings and landed right on top of a church steeple. It must have left Fort Collins a few weeks ago- Ryan, just how long to bird migrations take? We look forward to seeing many more around Alaska during the next few months.
One popular place for bald eagle watching is the Eagle River valley, which lies just north of Anchorage. Last weekend, we skied a few miles up the frozen Eagle River, which is a classic Alaskan backcountry river full of wide, shallow braids and gravel bars, and lined by some of the taller peaks of the Chugach Mountains. The area is full of wildlife in the summertime, and in fact, is the site of the Eagle River Nature Center. This area is beautiful and will be a wonderful place to explore even further when summer comes.
Our skate ski/trail running partnership continues to prosper, as this past Saturday, we went out for 4 hours, and over 20 miles, as we skied from the house and made a big loop of the trials around Campbell Airstrip and Hillside Park. Amy’s running ability has certainly recovered with great improvement since her injury two years ago and she feels confident about her training progress for the Crab Festival Marathon on Kodiak Island in two months.
On the bummer side, we have to move again. The woman who owns the house we’re currently living in sold it six weeks after we moved in and after telling us that she had taken it off the market. So, the two of us found a really nice apartment right downtown in an area called Bootleggers Cove, one block away from the water and about two blocks from the start of the coastal trail. It will be cool, urban living for the summer and our good renter karma has finally paid off, because our landlady seems like a super nice woman who gave us both a hug when we signed our lease. It’s a really cool location and we’ll be within walking distance to all the downtown attractions, a 10 minute walk to Amy’s office and living by ourselves like proper married folk. Not to say that we don’t still like Eric, and we’ll certainly miss his company… sometimes. 😉
Of course, this means that we will be spending our first anniversary weekend moving. Bah.
We had our first visitor! Our good friend Paul won the prize for first person to come up and see us. He got extra points for coming in the winter. His prize? Watching dog sled racing, Ultra Endurance racing and cross country skiing along the Iditarod trail.
With winter well on its tail end, March is a big month here in Alaska, especially the beginning of the month. March begins while Anchorage in the middle the annual Fur Rondezvous Festival, otherwise known as Fur Rondy. The festival goes back to the time when all the fur trappers and traders all came to town to peddle their wares for the season. There are lots of events downtown, and of course, sled dog racing. The World Championship Sprint race takes place over the course of the weekend and since the course follows the downtown streets and bike trails, it’s easy to be a spectator.
We watched on Saturday amid a heavy snowstorm and suddenly realized the magical quality of this special sport. As someone who has seen a real dog sled race, it was surprising just how quite the sleds are as they come by through the forest. We were watching on the trails with noone else around and all you could hear was the soft pitter patter of dog feet and the quite shusshing of freshly waxed sled rails. It’s a pretty cool experience.
On Sunday, we went with Eric to the Alaska Ultra Sport Iditarod Invitational Race start. This is the race where bikers and runners race 350 miles to over the Alaska Range to the town of McGrath, or for those super endurance folks, 1,000 miles to Nome. The bikers ride fat tire bikes, while the runners basically walk pulling small plastic sleds. It can take up to 2 weeks for the runners to reach McGrath and up to a month for the to reach Nome. For Amy, it was like being a kid in the candy store, since she’s been fascintated by this race for years. She hopes to compete in the future and tried out one of the racer’s sleds. Many of the racers use Eric’s Epic Designs Gear, so Dan shot photos of the race start and then went cross country skiing along the Iditarod trail with Amy and Paul. It was Paul’s first time skiing in years and he loved it! During our ski, we were passed by a few dog sled teams who were out for the day. It’s neat to see all the happy puppies with their smiles and flapping tongues as they trot down the trail.
We took Paul to the airport for his Sunday night flight and he ended his 48 hour, fun filled, adventure packed Alaska holiday. March Madness continued here the next weekend with the other two big events, the 27th Annual Iditarod Race and the Tour of Anchorage ski race.
The Iditarod is without a doubt, the biggest event in Alaska. Over 60 dog teams began this year’s 1,049 mile race from Anchorage to Nome. Saturday, March 7 was this year’s Ceremonial start. People line up all along the streets and trails to watch and cheer the racers as they cruise in a relaxed pace through Anchorage from Downtown, 20 miles out to Campbell airstrip in the Chugach Foothills. The race ‘restart’ was the next day, where the dog teams take off for real on their extreme, adventurous journey through Alaska. They face many hazards along the way, including extreme cold, navigating in whiteout storms, broken ice on frozen rivers and of course, cranky moose who are tired after months of winter and often refuse to budge from the trail even when confronted by dog teams. It takes the fastest racers about 10 days to reach Nome, although in the past, it has taken some racers up to a month.
The Tour of Anchorage is a 25k, 40k and 50k nordic ski race all the way through town. This year is was the day after the Iditarod Ceremonial start and so the party air continued along the trails in Anchorage through the weekend. We watched Eric and the few thousand other racers of all ages and body fitness ski on skate and classic gear sky by on the trails in our neighborhood, and Dan went down to the Weschester Lagoon to shoot the first waves of elite racers speed by in their skinsuits. It’s like the Old Town Marathon, Alaska style, and we hope to do the race next year.
Now on to Dan and Amy stuff.
First, the biggest news of all, Amy drove a car. Not just a car, a Hummer. Since she sold her 4Runner before moving to Alaska, She runs and bikes to work just about every day and has not really had any opportunities to drive since we left Colorado. Her streak was broken when the boss asked her to run an errand in her Hummer. Needless to say, it was an interesting experience for her.
Also, Amy’s job at the Sport Shop has ended for the season, so she now has full two day weekends off, which is great, since temperatures and daylight hours are both on the rise. We gain 11 minutes per day, and with Daylight Savings time now in effect, we can now see dim twilight past 8:00pm.
Amy’s running is coming right along and she hopes to do her first marathon since her injury at the Crab Festival Marathon on Kodiak Island in May. She’s been training on the snow covered trails, and in fact, we have found a fun new way to train and spend time together. Since Dan doesn’t really want to to run for three hours, he skate skis along with her as she runs on the trails. That way, we can spend lots of time together and train at the same time. We also bought metal edge touring cross country ski gear and are having fun exploring the trails in and around town and the foothills.
With pilot lessons coming along nicely, last Monday, Dan flew his first cross country to Kenai a couple weeks ago, and then his solo cross country flight last Monday. He went up to Talkeetna, which is about 60 miles north of Anchorage, and the town where most of the glacier and mountain air taxi companies like Talkeetna Air Taxi and K2 Aviation are based. A few days later Dan flew to Talkeetna agian with an insructor for his night cross country, where he practiced night landings before returning to Anchroage. At this point, Dan has logged 27 hours and hopes to have his license sometime in April.
Thanks for coming Paul, it was great to see you! Now, who will be the next person to win the Visit Dan and Amy in Alaska Prize? Lots of fun adventure and homemade pizza awaits those who make the effort.