Finally one Friday was sunny and the temperature was nearing 10. Rose suggested that we snowshoe some of the singletrack trails known as Baseball Boogie by the snow bikers. The sky was a deep blue and everything below was black and white. Except for Rose ....
Our friend Pam in Talkeetna organizes weekend rambles throughout the year. On Halloween (no, not technically November but pretty close) she suggested hiking in the Peters Hills. Fourteen of us, plus Bhikkhu, carpooled out past Petersville to tromp across the tundra. A few inches of snow had fallen, which made it easier to cross the dwarf willow and grassy tussocks. The day was brilliant and clear, possibly in the high 20s, though a stiff Arctic breeze from the north made it difficult to tell. The reward for braving the cold and wind was looking at sculpin under the ice of a high lake and reaching a view of the Alaska Range (Denali on the right in the above photo). After a beer at the Forks Roadhouse, we went to Rick and Kathy Ernst's where Kathy had prepared a meal for 14 on an hour's notice because Trapper Creek Pizza, our original dinner destination, was closed for the month.The following weekend we went back to Talkeetna for more rambling. On Saturday Paul played ice bocce with a group on Lake 5. Bhikkhu and I hiked out to the Susitna River with Ellen, Kathy, Molly, and Loki. We shuffled along clear ice on Birch Creek slough and the edge of the river. Unlike the previous weekend, the day was gray and calm. More typical November. B and Molly found salmon carcasses to nibble (before we chased them off over and over), and Loki and I both wondered if the ice was really thick enough. I could see to the bottom and it looked like a thin layer of ice over clear air.
On Sunday we joined a group at Talkeetna Lakes. Seven of us skated for an hour on X Lake before a large group arrived for a hike. Then we switched to hiking boots and started on the trail around X and Y Lakes. About halfway around, we dropped off the trail to a frozen wetland. On the other side, we entered a forest along a creek. Our destination suddenly appeared in the midst of the birch and cottonwood - a huge erratic boulder left by the glaciers.
From the here the group split. Some returned to the trail. The rest of us, listening to some crazy voice, opted to hike out up the creek through a canyon. This route took us through high golden grasses, across frozen oxbows of the tiny creek, through spruce muskegs, along birch hillsides, and into thickets of alder. Bhikkhu made most of the return trip in my arms or Paul's jacket because the undergrowth was thick and his back legs slipped into a hole in the ice at one crossing. Just as the sun set and we wondered if our leader really knew where he was going, the thin asphalt ribbon of Comsat Road appeared ahead. Pam and Roger hosted the entire ensemble and more for soup and potluck at their house.
Eventually he needed to get a haircut and we took him to a groomer. By then we thought he probably is a purebred bichon but we didn't need to have him groomed like one. Just an all-over cut, maybe a little shorter on his legs. The groomer managed to detangle the mats on the backs of his legs and on his stomach; and she cut him like a Bichon Frise. That's what he was for Halloween.
Twelve years ago today we were decompressing from a 5 week trip to Eastern Europe and a 5 hour trip across Denver in a snowstorm from the airport to our house. We've been thinking about that trip since dinner last night. Some coincidence, or possibly subconscious thinking, had us making borscht from local root vegetables for dinner and renting a Czech film, Up and Down, for the evening's entertainment. We have fond memories of that fall trip ... European castles and palaces around the Czech republic, visiting the birth place of pilsner, fall colors on the Danube bend in Hungary, small wineries in hillsides where it cost more to use the public bathroom than to buy a glass of wine, the open-air market in Vienna. We had wanted to visit the Czech Republic and Hungary before they became too-Westernized and as expensive as the rest of Europe.
Last night's movie was a reminder, however, that as tourists we let ourselves be distracted by the architecture and scenery and overlooked the poverty and social problems that these countries faced then and still face. The movie, while entertaining, is a commentary on the struggle of Czechs to accept immigrants and on the black market that runs on either exploiting the immigrants or importing them illegally. The gypsies, or more appropriately, Romanies, have wandered this part of the world for centuries seeking a home and acceptance. That was clear when we arrived, especially at the large train and bus stations. Romanie women and children approached tourists with open hands.
While some Czechs have never accepted the Romanies, they are now confronted with people fleeing Asia and Africa in search of employment and a better life. The resulting changes in neighborhood character and a continuing struggle by some to recover from the economic effects of communism cause some of the movie characters to blame the immigrants for all past, current, and future downfalls of Czech society. At the beginning of the movie, it seems clear who is the bigot and who is 'nobly helping' the refugees. Events show, however, that prejudice is lurking just beneath the surface for all. All, that is, except the person who left the Czech republic for sunnier shores.
I thought the message that getting away is the only way to escape the bigotry was a little harsh toward the Czech people. The country to which that character emigrated has its own prejudices against the dark-skinned people who were there first. If we all have to flee to someplace without prejudice to change ourselves, where will we go? I do agree that sometimes travel gives someone a different perspective that you can't get by staying home. But if we can't change ourselves in our homeland, we'll all be wandering lost and disaffected like the Romanies.
The great park ride came on the Monday evening the next week. The light was golden, the trees were golden, I felt golden. I pedaled the same old lovely Chester Creek trail, the leaves blanketing the gray strip of pavement. At the end of that trail, I crossed on the pedestrian bridge over Northern Lights, went around Goose Lake, over to APU and then the Native hospital, and across Tudor on that pedestrian bridge. I continued past the Trail Closed signs on the re-routed Campbell Creek greenbelt trail to reach the Old Rondy trail into Far North Bicentennial Park (FNBP) and the Campbell Tract. Soon I left construction and traffic noise behind.
This evening all I carried was bear spray in the bottle cage and water, a snack bar, and my 35 mm camera in my pack. I didn't pull out the camera until I hit Old Rondy because I knew I would stop often once I started clicking. And I did. At the first creek bridge, I photographed trees, the creek, geese flying overhead, and leaves on the ground. Every time I came to a spot that the sun hit, I had to stop to capture the golds. Old Rondy to Salmon Run, to Viewpoint, up to Service High, then the multi-use trail paralleling Abbott Road and finally, to my neighborhood. With stops for photos, the entire trip home was almost two hours, twice the normal commute time.
A few evenings later I took Bhikkhu back to FNBP for a walk in the evening light. We walked a few of my favorite little singletracks that cut across the main trails. My destination was the highest hill on the lit loops, but a mama moose with two calves were already enjoying that view. We managed to find several other places where the evening light made the fall foliage glow. Dusk sent us back to the car with the hope that we'd have a few more evenings of light.
The weekend after Labor Day, however, was the first taste of why we bought the boat. Harbor life has its conveniences and entertainments, but cruising from bay to bay is what we want to do. That weekend, we got to one bay for one night.
The weather was typical Alaska coastal fall - rainy and cool. At night it was pitch black. When we rowed to shore to walk Bhikkhu around 10:00 pm, we wouldn't have been able to see the boat if we hadn't left a light on in the cabin (the anchor light wasn't working). In the morning we woke to a thick fog and heavy rain. Not ideal conditions but we didn't care. We were moored in Thumb Cove in our very own sailboat.
In the top three was the Divas 3rd annual weekend at the Serenity Falls cabin beyond the east end of Eklutna Lake. The weather was just as beautiful as last year, only warmer and with less termination dust on the mountains. We also filled the cabin both nights with Divas, which doubled the turnout from past years. Like last year, we hired the concessionaire to take firewood, wine, water, and other heavy consumables out for us the day before. That left us with our personal clothes and overnight gear, group kitchen ware, and most of the food that we would eat.
The fun was being together -- shimmying across log bridges, playing rousing games of Yachtzee and combat-style Sporks, enjoying good food cooked on a woodstove, trying to finish off 4 5-liter boxes of wine, relaxing in the sun by a pond, pedaling under the golden fall leaves and bright blue sky. We were blessed.
more photos from the weekend are on my photo page:
I work up at 4:00 this morning. I laid there for a few minutes, listening to Bhikkhu fluff his bed, before I realized that my thighs were burning. I took two ibuprofen and laid in bed, wide awake, for a while longer. When I got up at 5:15, I knew that I was not riding my bike to work. My legs hurt and my energy level would be nil on less than five hours of sleep.
So ended my attempt to go car-free for a work week, maybe even a week. I had thought of the challenge as a way to get in shape fast - my own boot camp. Maybe if I'd been biking more this summer, riding 23 miles a day, with a 700 foot elevation difference between home and work, would have been sustainable for a few days in a row. I knew it was going to be hard; I just didn't know it was going to hurt.
So I carpooled with Paul to and from work today (still earned 2 points for the Green Commute Challenge). I had missed this time that we had to talk about the day ahead or debrief about the work day behind. And the irony that most of my biking meant that he was the sole occupant of our car did not escape me. That's why the challenge was not really about reducing our household's carbon footprint. It was about reducing the imprint my own feet make and pushing myself to try something new.
I was disappointed but I'm not beating myself up. Now I've got incentive to bike to work more often because I really think I should be physically able to bike it everyday. And I realized that I've got a much better car commute than most people because I get to spend it with my best friend. Either way - bike or car - I've got it good.
The first thing I heard when I woke up this morning was that it was 32 degrees outside. My first thought: I didn't cover up the greens in the garden. My second thought: I was going to bike to work with a damp head this morning. Luckily we dodged the first frost (32.25 at our house!) and my crops survived another day. I dried my hair a little more than normal and a skull cap under the helmet kept me warm.
This was a long day. I had a Great Land Trust board meeting from 5:30 to 7:30. By the time I chatted and changed into comfortable biking clothes post meeting, I was assured of riding home from dusk to dark. I slipped into the garage just before 9:00.
My legs are tired. I was glad to hear that Paul had walked Bhikkhu. And he had chicken breasts on the grill!
One more day to bike this work week. Paul is going to join me again. We've got to leave a little early because I have to give a presentation in the morning. I know my legs will make it to downtown. Can they make it home one more time?
I don't know how many other cyclists were commemorating World Car Free Day today but I do know that there are many more people cycling to work in Anchorage than when I first started doing it 9 years ago. Maybe it's the new Elmore Road from my part of town. As much as I didn't want that road to slice through those wetlands, it sure has improved the bike commuting with its wide path, bike lanes (if you like to ride in the street), and limited intersections. Plus the view is nice.
Paul and I pedaled downtown together on this fine morning with the clouds lifting and no rain. From Elmore we could see that the snow line has come down quite a bit further in the last two days. During the day, I could watch dark clouds lower over the mountains. The wind picked up downtown and I wondered how wet and breezy a ride it would be home. The rain held off and the wind abated, and the ride home was almost as pleasant as the ride in.
I forgot to lube my bike chain when I got home last night after riding for an hour in the rain, and the chain squeaked all the way home today. I don't know if that made the pedaling harder or not, but it certainly distracted from the tranquility of the Chester Creek trail. Surprisingly, my legs didn't feel as tired as I had expected for my second day of riding 23 miles round trip.
This was also my fourth ride in the past five days. This last weekend was the Divas' annual fall trip to the Serenity Falls cabin east of Eklutna Lake. On Friday we loaded our bikes with provisions for 3 days, 2 nights, in panniers, bob trailers, and/or a pack on our backs. Then we rode out 12.5 miles to the cabin. The trail only has one technical spot and it mostly follows the 9-mile lake shore, so the elevation gain isn't great. There are a few long hills past the lake on the way up the river to the cabin. Without an extra 30 - 40 pounds of gear, it's a fun, fast ride. With the weather and fall colors we had this last weekend, the weight is just another reason to slow down and enjoy the scenery. On Saturday we hiked 8 miles and on Sunday we loaded back up and rode out.
So tonight, my legs are a little tired. I have lubed the touring bike and the mountain bike, and the touring bike is hanging back up on its hook. It's the one I outfitted for commuting, but the mountain bike has two more chain rings that come in handy for hill-climbing. I think I'm going to need them tomorrow for the third day of my motor-free work week.
Today, the fall equinox, was my first day. I almost changed my mind when I walked B in the cold, dark, and rain at 6:30 am. A quick check of email included one from a biking friend who was going to try also to go car-free. An email from my friend Rose reminded me that she and her husband bike to work almost every day, and that today is Rose's birthday, and that it's also International World Peace Day. Given that the fight for oil is a huge source of strife in this world, I thought I'd do my part for peace and not use any gas for the day.
By the time I got out of the house, the rain had stopped and I was pedaling through tunnels of golden birch leaves. As always, the bike commute in was invigorating. Total pedaling time: 47 minutes, which is just a little slower than typical for the 11.25 mile commute.
On the ride home, I felt like I could do this every day this week ... until I got to the last 3 miles, which are steadily up hill. Total pedaling time: 65 minutes. A few minutes slower than usual, maybe because the ride included an extra half mile over the morning commute to check out a alternate route at the Tudor-Elmore intersection.
Tomorrow is World Car-Free Day. Paul has agreed to commute to and from work via bike with me. So I'm almost assured of meeeting the challenge two days. Wednesday will be the tough day -- I've got an after-work meeting which won't lengthen my trip much but will ensure a partial ride home in the dark and will make me figure out how to safely (and drily) carry a laptop.
If I can make it four days in a row, I can rest and telecommute on the fifth, which still earns GCC points and fits with my normal work week. Then I hope to stretch the work week challenge to a full week motor-free and only bike or walk on the weekend. Wish me luck!
We went to Thumb Cove for the second time this summer. Instead of paddling kayaks out or getting a water taxi, we motored our sailboat south from Seward. Saturday was rainy and still, so no sailing. We putzed along at 6 knots, one of the few boats out in the post-Labor Day era. We tied up to a buoy half-way down the cove. Our 24 hours in the cove included several walks along the beach, a long night of sleep, and a relaxing morning reading and talking sailboats while sipping buckets of strong coffee.
The fog lifted and the rain finally broke around noon on Sunday. A light southerly breeze picked up and we cast off from the buoy. We sailed most of the way back to Seward, until the wind lessened near the head of the bay. If we hadn't needed to pull the boat out of the water and drive back to Anchorage, we would have pushed that little breeze as far as we could. Much of the allure of sailing is taking things slower.
And thankfully, B does seem to like the boat. But as Paul says, " when you sleep all day, how can you not like something that is two-thirds bed?"
The boat: a 1988 Jeanneau Tonic 23, which means it's roughly 23 feet long at some point. So it's not what you'd call a yacht. This is probably not what Ted Kennedy sailed. Well, maybe when he was 10.
We were attracted to the fact that the interior has wood finishes, a small gallery, a functioning head (that's a toilet for you non-sailors), and the boat can be trailered. It seemed mighty small last weekend as we loaded gear on board -- kitchenware for the galley, tools for repairs, bedding for our berth, clothes for the weekend, a full bag of books about sailing and sailboats, and food for 3 days. Eventually, we found room for most of it and could see how we are going to be very comfortable on this little boat.
Where will we go? Hopefully some exploring of Resurrection Bay yet this summer (that's where the boat was located). Maybe to Prince William Sound next summer. Who knows?
Gathering from what Nature is planting has been less of a regular activity. When we lived in Talkeetna, Paul caught the fishing bug and spent many an evening casting for kings and coho. We ate well. In the first few years after moving to Anchorage, most of our fish came from friends who worked with Paul at Katmai or Lake Clark National Parks. They had subsistence rights and would share some of their harvest. In the last few years, we've supported the Alaska commercial fishery and have enjoyed scallops, shrimp, halibut, and salmon from the local fish counters.
Berry picking in Alaska is almost as popular as fishing. I've picked some high bush cranberries over the years and have made liqueurs or mixed them with my apples for jams. We've picked blueberries, huckleberries, salmon berries, and raspberries if they've presented themselves some place where we're hiking. Most of those have just gone into our mouths immediately. We've never picked with the intent to fill the freezer.
Last year our friend Jon, an avid (obsessive?) blueberrier and mushroom picker, showed us how to identify bolete mushrooms in the local woods. He guided us again a few weeks ago to make sure we knew what we were doing (and to feed his own addiction to the hunt). Since then we've pulled a few from our yard and our neighbors and have filled up a large ziplock bag with dried mushrooms.
Summer is turning to fall here in Alaska and the primal urge is on to fill up the larder and get ready for winter. Last Sunday Paul went fishing for coho with two friends in Talkeetna. While he was casting at Birch Creek slough, I picked blueberries and boletes around our cabin. In the days since, I've been checking the garden to see what needs to be picked. Raspberries and strawberries are ripening daily. The pea pods are almost too big to eat and the romaine is reaching high to be cut. Last evening I trimmed back the basil in the living room window and froze some pesto. The tomatoes are finally ripening and once again I remember why I try to grow them without a greenhouse -- the harvest may be small but no tomato tastes as sweet as the one you just picked. I picked the end of the rhubarb over a week ago and it's time now to boil up what didn't become cake or compote and jar up some rhubarb-ginger jam.
With all these fresh, local foods, both homegrown and wild, in the kitchen, the tastes still fresh in my mouth and mind, I think that I ought to make more time for berry picking, fishing, mushrooming, and gardening. Maybe I don't garden and gather just because it feels good and right. Maybe it's because these foods just taste so good.
This Sunday was a little drizzly but I really wanted to go for a hike. I suggested Rabbit Lakes trail on the edge of town. It's a little over 4 miles to the lake, mostly above treeline, and we've only hiked it once, several years ago now. The first few miles are steadily up hill and the last bit is fairly level, slightly rolling. It seemed like a good hike with Bhikkhu if he got a ride up the steepest parts.
Thus was born the Bhikkhu Carrier. Paul quickly converted an old external frame pack by stuffing a 12-pack beer box into the lower half and I added a towel for cushion. The towel would also serve a dual purpose of drying B off if the rain picked up. The top flap on the pack could be loosely fastened to keep the rain off his back. Paul could stash snacks and water in the outer pockets.
Bhikkhu hiked up the first mile or so with us and then Paul carried him for a couple of miles. The higher we got, the wetter and windier it became. A friend of mine ran past us down hill, trying to get warm. Berry pickers on the slopes had their hoods up and seemed like they were kneeling on the ground as much to stay out of the wind as to find the berries.
When we crested out past the 3 mile mark, Paul observed that the weather was much the same as the last time we'd hiked this trail. That time we had returned to the car soaked. We agreed that continuing on head down into the wind and rain didn't sound like much fun. The lake was just out of view but the black clouds gathering over it were plain. We pulled Bhikkhu out of the pack and the three of us hiked back down the trail to the dry car.
The septic tank replacement is a good example. Having a huge hole dug in the yard under a large flower bed, part of the driveway, and the main walkway to the house means that there is going to be some work to do on our part and the rest of it is going to cost some money. Even though neither one of us would choose this as the way to spend two August weekends and half a dozen evenings, we didn't moan about it too much. Why? Probably partly because we both do enjoy working in the yard and improving our home. But also because this would be an opportunity to make some changes that we never would have put into motion otherwise. All that asphalt that the previous owners needed for snowmachine trailers or whatever -- some of that's gone. The pretty campanula that became an aggressive ground cover -- buried with the new tank. The dry creek bed that we admired on the garden tour last month -- it's inspiration is meandering through the renewed flower bed. The possibility of having another sewer backup into the basement -- not while we live here.
We spent the first weekend of the month in the Seward area. We camped two nights at Primrose Campground, the Forest Service campground at the very southern tip of Kenai Lake.
On Sunday we hiked the Ptarmigan Creek trail before joining the long lines of cars wanting to beat the traffic.
Paul's sister Mary and her husband Gerry arrived on the 6th. Their visit prompted our first outing on the Winner Creek Trail and handtram near Girdwood.
The last Sunday of the month was the annual Anchorage garden tour. Friends Pam & Roger from Talkeetna and their neice from Oregon joined us for our annual bicycle tour of the gardens. Paul and I pedaled over 41 miles to see some beautiful backyards in our fair city.
And the little dog became a hiker, lost some weight, got curlier, and is totally spoiled. We saw his twin at one of the gardens and have decided he's a purebred Bichon Frise.