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Having had to move again, we are now in our 5th address in 7 months. (Wood Street, Eric’s basement, E Street, Crestwood Street, and now O Street.) Remaining friends, our trio dissolved we moved without Eric into our cool new apartment downtown. Unfortunately, in the shuffle of moving, Dan lost all of his pants. He swears that he remembers packing them when we moved from E street, but aside from one pair of jeans and his mountain pants that he wore through most of the winter while living at Crestwood, he can’t find any of his other pants. It’s simply a mystery, because it’s not like we could have left anything at the last place, and of all things, why just his pants? Some of those pants were pairs that he had worn for many years, so it will be a sad grieving process.
Anyway, our new place is great. With huge windows on the East and South walls, the sunlight streams inside the apartment all day long. In fact, it’s almost too bright, and Dan has to keep one set of blinds closed since sunglesses don’t work so well when you’re trying to look at what’s on your computer monitor. Sampa likes the place as well, and she spends hours each day basking in the sunlight atop her kitty tower. Looking off of our deck, we can see the Cook Inlet and watch the jets take off from Anchorage airport. And being sandwiched right between the departure airspaces of Merrill Field and Lake Hood, there will be plenty of small airplane traffic flying overhead everyday.
Back to the sun. It sets at 9:00PM tonight, although by the time you read this, it could be setting well past that, since we keep gaining almost 6 minutes of light each day. Summer is definitely on the way! At least in theory anyway, since there is still snow everywhere and it was 16-degrees when Amy began her 5 minute trek to work this morning.
Amy’s marathon training is coming right along, and this past Saturday, we did our third long run/skate ski together, this time 4 1/2 hours and about 22 miles. Leaving our apartment, we walked about 4 blocks, got on the coastal trail and then went all the way to Kinkaid Park and back. It will be interesting for her to start doing some running on the road, since all of her training has been on snow and ice while wearing heavy trail shoes and those little shoe spikeys. We bought our tickets to beautiful Kodiak Island and are excited to go down there for a fun filled Memorial Day weekend.
We have another adventure planned for next week. We’re going with Eric, Julie and Eric’s friend Dan O on a four day traverse of the Eklutna Glacier, otherwise known as the Eklutna Traverse. To give you an idea of what we’ll be doing, here is a trip report from one of Eric’s friends who did it a few years ago.
In preparation for this really cool Alaskan big glacier adventure, we went out with Eric and Julie yesterday to practice glacier rope techniques. Neither Amy nor Julie have ever done anything like this before, so we ran over the skills of how to rope up for glacier skiing and do crevasse rescue. Not that we plan for anyone to fall into one but the thing about glaciers is that they all seem to have those pesky crevasses on them. Some more than others. Of course we’ll be very careful and all that stuff, and are excited about having a few days in the big mountains.
In addition to beign good experience to practice with the ropes and gear, it was great to get out on a very sunny Sunday afternoon and play in the mountains. Again, it was a bit strange to have the sun be so high in the sky so late in the day, but it gets us excited about thinking about all the outdoor fun to be had outside after work in the summer. Ideally, we could leave the house at 6:00PM when Amy gets home from work, go up and hike or bike for a few hours, get back at midnight (with it still being light) and still get 7 hours of sleep.
Mt. Redoubt keeps spitting out big plumes of ash every week, and in fact, one morning, we had a dusting of fine gray ash in town. You could see it on car windshields and the snow. Overall, we’ve been pretty lucky because it could have been much worse, and it still can I suppose.
In other Alaska news, apparently, the bears have been waking up early, and a couple of them have been wandering around on the trails and chasing skiers. One fellow even got chased up a tree by one particular grumpy black bear who has been causing trouble and eating trash in the Hillside area of town. Living in close proximity to bears is a fact of life here, and generally the two species try to leave each other alone. However, when a particular bear becomes too used to humans and starts causing problems, it usually ends up getting shot by the Fish and Game Dept.
And finally, we discover that good old uncle Ted Stevens was innocent all along. Who would have thought? And of course, the Palin Family Saga continues with the whole family mad at baby daddy, Levi Johnston, after he went on the Tyra Banks show, and with Sarah Palin’s sister in law getting arrested for burglary.
It’s better than TV.
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.
Well, it’s almost officially winter here in Anchorage, although to the untrained eye, it would seem as if winter is already in full swing. Temperatures have been steadily wavering between just above freezing to just above zero, and there has been snow on the ground for well past a month. Over the weekend, we were treated to 35 degrees and freezing rain, followed by 25 degrees the next day, which basically turned the entire city into a sheet of ice.
Driving, and walking for that matter, is absolutely treacherous, but who needs to drive. Our bikes are fully winterized with flat pedals, fenders, blinky lights and the all important Nokian Freddy studded mountain bike tires. Each tire is embedded with 336 carbide studs which cut right through the ice and allow you to speed along over the slipperiest of terrain. It’s fun to whiz pas cars at intersections that are spinning their tires and going nowhere. Dan is out on his bike running errands around just about every day of the week, no matter what the temperature. Every errand is like an all terrain mountain bike ride, since you have to negotiate snow and ice piles, the occasional unplowed sidewalk and of course, traffic.
Amy still bundles up and walks to work every day, and enjoys making fresh powder tracks along the downtown park strip when it snows. Running after work is made more difficult by the ice and hard snow along the sidewalks and bike (now ski) trails, but she puts on her shoe spikes and makes an adventure out of it. The two of us run together about once a week. She’s doing well in her job and has settled in well with the nice people at her office. She still works weekends at The Sport Shop, but will cut back after Christmas.
Dan is progressing well with his flight lessons. He’s up to 7 hours now, and looking ahead to his first solo, which could happen sometime in the next few weeks. He studies his flight manuals and Federal Air Regulations guide and practices on the simulator at home. He’s also made some really good contacts with some local ad agencies, and has shot photos a few times, although with the sun so low, and lots of cloudy days right now, the low level of ambient light makes action photography somewhat difficult. On of his photos was recently published in the current issue of Alaska Magazine.
One new activity that we’ve discovered is skate skiing. We’ve rented and borrowed skate skis a couple of times and have tried this fun new sport along the bike trails, and out at Kincaid Park, which is without a doubt one of the finest nordic ski areas in the country. Over a hundred miles of ski trails wind through the forest and most of the trails are lighted. Eric also took Dan out to Hillside ski area, another great nordic center in the Anchorage foothills. It’s still a little awkward, since neither of us grew up on skis like so many of the little kids you see out on the ski trails, but it’s definitely fun and will take some time to learn.
And of course, everyone wants to know how we’re handling the darkness. Today the sun will rise at 10:03AM and will set at 3:42PM, which makes the day 5 hrs, 38 min. It’s a little strange to get used to, but it’s more intriguing that anything else. Amy takes walks every day at lunchtime and Dan is out on his bike during the day alot, but it is definitely a little weird to see cars drive with their lights on all day. It’s like we’re in Canada or something. We basically have two more weeks of shortening days, and then they start getting longer again. We’ve heard that January is the toughest month, it’s after the holidays, it’s cold and it’s dark. We’ll see how that goes. We watch lots of Netflix, make homemade pizza and try to do other fun stuff to keep us busy. We’re looking forward to having a fun Alaska Christmas here together.
So, that’s the update for now. We hope you have wonderful holidays and wish you all the best.
12-degrees in Anchorage this morning, with an icy fog that hung over the city. Perfect conditions for a couple hours of exercise/playtime/adventure before Amy had to go work at The Sport Shop. We suited up, donning wind pants, balaclavas, and enough layers to keep us warm for an hour-long run, which we followed with an hour-long bike ride.
The air temperature was so cold, especially during the run, that any exposed pieces of hair, whisker and even those tiny little hairs on your face that you can’t even see, became covered in white rhyme ice. We saw a number of other people out on the trail walking and running, and everyone had the same look; like we were all some kind of strange ice creatures.
We finished running at about 9:00 AM, just as the sun was rising above the Chugach mountains to the east. The fog began to burn off as we headed out on our bikes, which was an even colder experience, because canvas, mesh cycling shoes, even with thick wool socks, offer absolutely no cover from the icy wind. Our feet were cold within minutes, and began to freeze after we ride through a long icy slush puddle that splattered ice all over the tops of our shoes.
They were uncomfortably cold by the time we turned around to head home, and by the time we were finished, they had that painful freeze that hurts with stabbing pain when you warm them up. Amy’s feet were worse, since they had a thicker coating of ice. In fact, her shoes were literally encased in solid ice to the point that it impossible for her to untie her laces. We need to figure out better shoes for winter bike riding. More on that later.
All in all, it was very enjoyable way for us to spend the morning together. Ain’t married life great?
The other night, Dan took part in a game of Bicycle Polo with some of Eric’s friends. Played down on the Park Strip at sunset on Friday evenings after work in the fall, essentially, Bicycle Polo is just like real polo. Ok, so it’s not exactly like regular polo, because regular polo doesn’t involve Wiffle™ bats, a Wiffle™ ball, or pedaling your bike, (cruisers and fat tire bikes preferred) in low gear like crazy across a wet field while trying to avoid (or cause) collisions with other players who may or may not actually have control of the ball.
Of course, “control of the ball” really just means whoever is closest to hitting the ball as it rolls near or under their bike, which is not always very easy, especially to a Bike Polo novice like Dan. You quickly find out why plastic Wiffle™ bats make much more sense than wooden mallets after you bash your bike, yourself or other players with the bat as you ride around the field frantically with one hand.
The only real rule, is that you cannot hit the ball unless you’re on your bike with both feet on the pedals. After all, it’s Bicycle Polo, not Standing On or Next to Your Bike Polo.
The final score? Let’s just say that the team that Dan was on got schooled. Big Time.
Last Sunday, Amy had her first full day off since she started working her two jobs, so we had a chance to get outside and enjoy the great Alaska outdoors for the first time since moving here. We spent the day hiking in the Chugach Mountains with our new housemate Eric.
Parking at the Glen Alps Trailhead, the three of us hiked up and over the ridge below Little O’Malley Peak, across a large flat expanse called The Football Field, and over to a pass that leads down towards the Willowah Lakes. Although it’s just outside of Anchorage, and quite low in elevation, compared to Colorado, the terrain here is pure alpine and it is as ruggedly beautiful and appealing as any mountain area. The accessibility to this kind of terrain is quite literally one of the main reasons that we moved up here.
As is easily discernible by the photos, the snow has started to fall here at the higher elevations. Although we’ve had none in down in town yet, the tops of the peaks have received a healthy dusting and we were easily tromping through five or six inches during our hike. Although by the date, Fall has just started here, in reality, it has been in full swing for weeks, which means that winter is not far off. It’s actually been in the 30’s some mornings, but it seems as if the wet weather is finally behind us. As of late, the sun has been out every day and we’ve seen some really beautiful sunsets over Cook Inlet.
Of course, being Autumn, means that the moose are getting more ornery and more grumpy, especially the males. We saw three moose right at the beginning of the hike, and then as we were hiking back down a long valley on the way back, we came across three more, including one particularly large male with a rather big rack who startled us as we came around a corner.
We immediately turned around and backtracked, but he kept following us up the trail, so we did the smart thing. We ran away.
The moose was very uncooperative, and we were forced to take a rather wet moose detour through a wet, boggy patch of tundra, and at one point, Amy went up to her thigh in mud. Dan was about to ready his camera for what surely have been a great show, but then Amy called out, “Hey guys, I’m stuck!” so Dan did the chivalrous thing and helped her out of the mud, while a young male with tiny antlers eyed us with his ears back. In return, Amy later promised to get caught again in mud another time so that Dan can get the shot.
Eventually, we made it safely back to the trail, and when we climbed back up the valley to the trailhead, we were greeted with an amazing view of Alaska’s Big Three: Denali, Foraker and Hunter, the three tallest mountains in the Alaska Range. It’s not often when you get such a clear view of them all the way from Anchorage, but when you do, you can see just how impressively massive Denali is.
As we’re finding, mountain biking in Alaska is a little different than it is in Colorado. For one thing, the main obstacles are not jagged rocks and sand, they’re puddles and wet tree roots that crisscross many of the trails. Hitting a wet rood the wrong way can send you down pretty quickly as Amy quickly discovered, as can wet leaves on the paved bike trail, as Dan found out, quite painfully. Both of us are now sporting large bruises on our hips- Dan left side, Amy right.
Last week, Eric led us on a couple of mountain bike tours around the Anchorage trails. Many good ones lie in the forests right in the city limits, and even more just in the parks at the edge of town. With fall in full swing here, the scenery is beautiful, and the hillsides are covered with changing aspens. As of right now, it’s even still light until about 8:30pm, which gives enough to ride after work, although with each passing week, the sunlight hours will diminish.
On our way back to Eric’s house after the first day, we saw a big mama moose and her two youngsters foraging in the woods about thirty feet off the bike path. So far that brings our moose count up to 4.
Except for yesterday, it has rained at least some ever day that we’ve been here, but that hasn’t stopped us from running or biking when we feel like it. We’ve seen actual sun and blue sky a few times, and a couple of really gorgeous sunsets.
Anchorage has a great system of paved bike trails that weave around the city, including a 12 mile Tony Knowles Coastal Trail. It begins right downtown and passes through the marshes, mudflats, forest and cliffs right at the water’s edge along the Cook Inlet. In the winter, the bike trails are used as cross country ski trails, and not only are they popular exercise trails, they are extremely useful for just getting around Anchorage on your bike, since riding on the street means navigating lots of traffic. In the non winter months, the trails are always full of bikers, walkers, runners and cross country skiers training on their roller skis.
About halfway down, the coastal trail passes right by one of the runways at the Anchorage International Airport. It’s one of the busiest airports on the Pacific Rim, and you can watch the planes come in one after another as they prepare to land. The trail is so close to the runway, that if you stand in the right spot, the jets are only about 100-feet over your head right before they cross over the fence and touch down. It’s really impressive, and quite exciting to watch, especially the 747’s, which are huge, and very loud!
Another fun feature on the coastal trail is the planet walk. Small displays that feature models of the sun and all nine planets are spaced in relative size and distance from each other, starting with the sun, right downtown, with Mercury, Venus and Earth within a few blocks of each other, and Pluto 12 miles away at the other end of the trail.
The other day, we rode our bikes along the trail and of course giggled when we passed Uranus. “Hey look, there’s…” We didn’t quite make it to Pluto, because we had to turn around when we came upon a moose standing on the middle of the bike path. She was drinking water from one of the rain puddles on the trail. Moose are apparently a pretty common sight on the trails, and they always get the right of way.