24 sep 09 footprints

could i have pedaled away from whoever made these tracks?

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.

23 sep 09 cold but not frosty

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?

22 sep 09 world car free day

North fork of the Eklutna River

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.

21 sep 09 motor-free day ... week?

This week is the annual Green Commuter Challenge (GCC) at my work place (an international NGO). As the coordinator for our office, I try to lead by example. Paul and I carpool most days, so I don't feel guilty about my normal practice. GCC, however, has the hope to inspire those who do travel by themselves in their cars to try something different this week. So this week I will try something different - I'm going to attempt to bike to work four days in a row.

Where did I get this crazy idea? Oh, I know this isn't a crazy idea to many people, and if I lived closer to work, both in distance and elevation, I wouldn't think it odd either. I've often thought about doing it. That's one reason why I outfitted my touring bike with fenders and a new bell in April. Why now? My crazy brother Scott. He's going Motor-Free all month. Granted, he's got advantages I don't have (lives close to work in a temperate climate), but I thought, if Scott can do it for a month, can't I do it for a work week? So I set myself a challenge.

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!

13 sep 09 thumb cove, different boat

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.

12 sep 2009 starter summer

Happy sailors on an unbelievable September day on Resurrection Bay

This has been a summer of firsts for us -- first dog -- and last week we purchased our first sailboat. Like the dog, I think we still can't believe we did this. Like the dog, we're wondering how this happened. Like the dog, the boat just seemed to be the right one.

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?

The name? We want to change it (can't write it down according to boating myth). Any ideas? Luna Sea seems to be a popular one at the Seward harbor. Wonder why?

Paul in the cockpit of our little boat with a much larger boat on the other side of the dock.

4 sep 09 fat of the great land

I've been an avid vegetable gardener for the last 12 years or so. Something about providing our own food just feels good and right. And it's another great reason to spend more time outside in the summer.

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.

Bhikkhu showing off part of our harvest

Here's an inspirational and useful website for cooking with gathered foods: fat-of-the-land.blogspot.com.

23 aug 09 rabbit lakes

Bhikkhu carrier = 1 old external frame pack
+ 1 12-pack beer box
+ 1 towel for cushion
+ 1 little dog who loves a ride

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.