Husky House

Posts Tagged ‘Alaska’

2015 Teklanika-Polychrome Bike

Every year after Spring Road Opening and before tour buses start running on May 20, the Denali Park Road is open to private vehicles to Teklanika, around mile 30. Normally private vehicles can only drive to the Savage River at mile 15. It is a spring ritual for us to drive to Teklanika and ride our bicycles to Polychrome Pass and back to Tek, about 31 miles. This ride includes Sable and Polychrome Passes, and a very personal experience in the Park. This year we had a beautiful bluebird day, marred only by brutal winds. We saw a sow with a cub by the East Fork of the Toklat, Dall sheep on Polychrome, caribou, fox, moose and an assortment of ground squirrels and ptarmigan. It was one of the hardest rides of my life because of the winds, but very rewarding in terms of the accomplishment and the relative solitude of the Park pre-tourist.

Young moose along the Denali Park Road

Bill cresting Sable Pass on the way back to Teklanika.

Mt McKinley

 

This guy walked right by me like I wasn’t even there. I was about 5 feet from him.

MORE PHOTOS HERE!

2013 Fireweed Century Bicycle Ride

Last year Bill and I did the Fireweed half century (50-mile) bicycle ride.  Despite being a chilly, overcast day, with no fireweed in sight, the scenery along the Glenn Highway was beautiful, and the seed was planted in my brain to ride the century (100-mile) in 2013.   Last year we had signed up at the last minute, consequently we had to stay in Anchorage, about 2 hours away.  Accommodations along the Glenn Highway near the Sheep Mountain Lodge, where the Fireweed starts, are relatively scarce.  Sheep Mountain Lodge caters to returning race registrants, who usually book the following  year prior to leaving after the race.  Same with the Matanuska Lodge, about 11 miles from the start, where we managed to score a 2013 reservation by showing up immediately after the 2012 race and handing over our credit card.  Needless to say, we booked ahead for 2014.

My beautiful Trek rides like a dream!

 

I took my commitment to ride the century seriously, first by buying an awesome Trek Madone 4.6 and secondly, by hitting the road training as soon as the ice and snow were gone.  Of course, this winter hung around forever, getting my program off to a late start, thereby having to jump in at week three of the schedule, making my first long ride a 36-miler on May 24.  The Fireweed was July 13.  Although I had been riding my hybrid bike, as road conditions allowed, since April 20, I was concerned because I thought getting used to the new road bike was going to take me a while.  However, after a couple rides, I was in love with it, and every ride was a pleasure.  Bill also decided that he was going to try the century, also bought a new Trek, but did’t take training seriously.

Denali was distracting me on my ride through Broad Pass, almost causing me to run off the road.

 

We tried to make our long rides interesting by going different places and not riding the routes that we rode around home.  I enjoy riding along different sections of the Parks Highway, so we rode from Nenana several times and from Cantwell once.  Nenana was doable on a day trip from home, but required boarding the boys as we would be gone most of the day.  We rewarded ourselves following the long rides from Nenana with dinner at the Monderosa.  The Cantwell ride was my favorite.  Cantwell is 25 miles south of Denali Park, and the ride, that day it was 75 miles, took us through Broad Pass with incredibly clear and distracting views of Mt McKinley for about 12 miles.  The reward here was two  nights at the McKinley Village Lodge, pizza and beer at Prospector’s, ice cream at Denali Scoops and corn fritters at Alaska Fish & Chips.  Training can be really tough.

In at least some fairness to Bill, he had several equipment malfunctions (flat tires) that shortened some of his training rides.  On one ride, he had front and rear flats at the same time, and only one spare tube and CO2 cartridge.  On another he repaired a flat only to have it go flat again immediately afterward.  I can understand that, but he didn’t make up those critical long rides.

Since I had trained seriously and set goals for my ride, I was determined to ride the Fireweed solo and allow Bill to ride his own pace as well.  I told him upfront, and during all the training, that this was my plan, after all, this may be the only time I ride the century, and I wanted to see what I could do.  Despite Bill continually asking if we could ride together, this was my plan even at race start.  Although I was riding conservatively, because I had never pedaled 100 miles, Bill kept falling farther and farther behind, and despite my desire to ride my own pace, I waited for him at the checkpoints, then stopped and waited for him every 5-10 miles.  At the 50-mile checkpoint, Bill said that he might quit at the 75-mile checkpoint, as the heat was slowing him down.  At this point I realized that I had already sacrificed my race (ride), so I committed  myself to coaxing Bill to the finish line.  This was not a totally unselfish act, as I realized he deserved to finish the race, and even though I wasn’t going to ride my own race, I was going to finish 100 miles, and that wasn’t half bad.

Unlike the previous year, it was a beautiful, warm day, and the fireweed along the Glenn Hwy was bountiful and breathtaking.   All the scenery was amazing: glaciers, forests, lakes, fireweed.

A field of fireweed alongside the Sheep Mountain Lodge, where the race started and finished

Bill waiting to start the 100-mile ride.

Somewhere along the way...fireweed was everywhere!

The checkpoint volunteers were wonderful!

Bill cresting a hill along the route, this definitely wasn't a flat course.

Halfway!!!

It was a beautiful day and the scenery was stunning!!!

 

Hatcher Pass

Rainy days are good for something, like processing photos. In mid-July, on our way to the Fireweed bicycle race along the Glenn Hwy, we drove over Hatcher Pass, instead of continuing on the Parks Hwy, to avoid the traffic associated with driving through the Willow-Houston-Wasilla corridor. While the “short cut” took more time, it was traffic-free, incredibly stunning and well worth it. Next time, I want to hike and enjoy the scenery. But, for some reason, we are always in a rush.

I think it was around Parks Hwy mile 290 (just below the seemingly never-ending summer road construction in that area) where we turned onto the Fishhook-Willow Road to begin the 49-mile trek over Hatcher Pass, which traverses through the Talkeetna Mountains between Willow on the Parks Hwy and Palmer on the Glenn Hwy.  Like similar roads of this nature (Taylor Hwy, Denali Hwy) the road over Hatcher Pass is not maintained in the winter, beyond about 10-mile (the Independence Mine) from the Palmer side, and opens to traffic over the pass around July 4.

The photographer and hiker in me would like to explore this area more, and hopefully we will luck out and  have another beautiful day.

There’s gold “in them thar hills,” so it is probably in this creek, too. We saw a few signs warning people that claims were staked.

The sign on this bridge warns us not to pan for gold here.

Hatcher Pass is a paragliding and hang gliding playground as it is above tree line and there are limitless places to launch...almost always with an audience.

It is simply beautiful and worth the "detour."

Click here for a few more photos.

 

 

 

 

Fireweed 400 Bicycle Race Across Alaska

We are typically last-minute people; prior or long term planning just isn’t our thing.  With four Siberian huskies to consider, you think we would plan ahead.  Well, you would be wrong.  After a career in logistics and planning, I am now blissfully retired and planning is no longer an option.  All this is to preface that, at the last minute, we decided to enter the half-century field of the Fireweed 400 Bicycle Race Across Alaska, something that I had been craving to do for the past several years.  The race starts at the Sheep Mountain Lodge at mile 113.5 of the Glenn Highway. There isn’t much there and what few accommodations exist are booked about a year in advance, others camp on the airstrip at the Lodge.  I am not a camper.  Having made the decision to ride only 10 days before the race, the closest acceptable hotel was two hours away from the start in Anchorage, with Anchorage being six hours from Fairbanks, where we live; an inconvenience, but not a great one considering the opportunity to fulfill a dream.  As is our style, we departed Fairbanks late, arrived Anchorage late, had pizza and beer late, then got up early to make the two-hour trek to Sheep Mountain for the race, arriving just in time to get it all together to make it to the starting line.

The visual proof that we survived the Fireweed 400...and Bill is still smiling despite his crash!

 

It was all worth it. Despite weeks of rainy weather and overcast skies, it did not rain for the ride, and the scenery along the Glenn Highway was breathtaking.  I have felt better on bike rides, I think the all out last minute effort to make it to the start left me mentally, if not physically, fatigued.  But it was a great ride; note the use of the word “ride,” for us this was not a race.  The logistics and support were superb; I don’t think I have participated in a more finely tuned event.  Back at Sheep Mountain Lodge, at the end of the race, there was piping hot Papa Murphy’s pizza and an assortment of energy bars, real cookies and plenty of cold water for participants and supporters.

 

Spectacular views along the way included Sheep Mountain; the Chugach Mountains; several lakes; Eureka Summit, the highest point on the Glenn Highway and the Nelchina Glacier, just to mention a few.  The ride is a hilly one, with about 2300 feet elevation gain.  The ride went very smoothly, perhaps too smoothly, with us, the shoe always drops somewhere.  And it did.  About 100 yards before the finish, a guy was checking cyclists’ numbers so he could tell the finish line monitors who was coming.  We were told to wear our numbers on our right side, but the guy was on the left side of the road, so he couldn’t see them, and he yelled out for our numbers.  We were on a nice downhill to the finish, and had some speed.  I yelled out my number and kept going, Bill tried to turn around to see what he wanted and had a spectacular crash.  Classic Bill.  Fortunately he was able to get up and finish the ride, but was (and still is two weeks later), quite sore.  He does keep life interesting.

 

 

Winter Biking on Chena Lakes

Despite a colder than normal March, we have been enjoying riding our fat bikes, dreaming of riding in Denali Park and getting back on the road with our hybrid bikes.  The Denali Park Road has been cleared and on Friday, March 23, opened to vehicular traffic as far as the  Mountain Vista trailhead at mile 13.  Needless to say, I can’t wait to go, whether it is to run with the boys, ski, snowshoe or bike!

Last week we rode our bikes on the mulit-use trails at Chena Lakes in North Pole.  The trails were in great shape, flat and beautiful, and I hope to go back soon.

 

A trail through the woods at Chena Lakes

Sweet Pea taking a break on Chena Lakes

Bill riding on Chena Lakes

 

More photos of Chena Lakes

Sunday with Sweet Pea

Yesterday was one of those incredibly beautiful winter days when I just had to ride no matter how late I got started, sunset was about 6pm and I didn’t start until about 4pm.  I began riding at Pioneer Park and rode the bike bath into town, stopping to photograph Sweet Pea by two blocks of  beautiful Fairbanks ice waiting to be carved into art.  The Ice Alaska world ice art championships begin this week.  Closer to town, I stopped to photograph a bunch of crazy ducks that are overwintering on the Chena River in an area where warm water from the power plant prevents the river from freezing.  Many people have spoiled the ducks by feeding them, which has wildlife biologists in somewhat of a tizzy, because generation after generation of these ducks will overwinter here rather than do the normal thing which is to migrate.   You shouldn’t mess with mother nature.  I’m not getting into this argument, but couldn’t these ducks be the advanced beddown contingent?

Once in town, I crossed over the William Ransom Wood Centennial Bridge and descended onto the Chena River, where the Tired Iron Snowmachine races were wrapping up.  I had hoped the river would be good for riding, but the snowmachines had churned up the snow and it was too soft to ride without way too much effort to be fun.  So after about a mile I abandoned that idea, met with Bill who had come to join me, and we decided to ride on Fort Wainwright since we were on that side of town.  The riding on Ft Wainwright was on both a trail and the road, and was much more enjoyable than struggling through the soft snow on the river.

Sweet Pea leaning on two blocks of beautiful Fairbanks ice that are waiting to be carved into art

Crazy ducks; why would you overwinter in Fairbanks when you could just fly south?

The tired iron staging area on the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks

Bill on the Ft Wainwright bike path

Chena River on Ft Wainwright

Along the end of the runway on Ft Wainwright looking toward the ski area

 

More photos of winter in Fairbanks

Fat Bike Mania

Okay, so I am really getting into this fat biking.  What planted the seed for my fat bike was my seeing a couple people biking on the Tanana River last winter.  So ever since I got my fat bike last month it has been my obsession to bike on the Tanana.  I have snowmachined on the river many times, but always seem to be traveling too fast to enjoy the scenery, besides, riding on a snowmachine and peddling are two entirely different experiences, almost like being in two entirely different places while in the same place.  I have skied and skijored on the river as well, but cannot travel as far under my own power as I can on a bike.  I tried biking on the river several times previously, but the snow had not set up enough primarily because it had been too cold for snowmachiners and mushers to run the river and “make” the trail.  After a failed attempt to peddle the river last week, I was complaining about it to a couple mushers who were trying to drag a trail with the same frustration.  Several days ago (Sunday) I was talking to some mushers and they told me that after a week of friendly weather and a lot of snowmachine traffic on the river, the trail has finally set!  The following day Sweet Pea (my fat bike) and I went for a ride on the river, and it was intoxicating, almost like the first time I rode my bike into Denali Park!   I was a bit time constrained, so I didn’t take my camera so that I wouldn’t be tempted to consume time taking pictures, and wouldn’t you know it, I saw four dog teams and  two moose on the river.  Yesterday, I convinced Bill to ride the river with me and he experienced the exhilaration I was still feeling.  Fortunately there are dog teams on the river every day, and this time I had my camera, not that I haven’t captured this scene many times before, but each time is unique and engaging, like poetry in motion.  I am so blessed to live in Alaska and experience the allure of such deeply personal adventures right out my door.

A snowmachiner, two skiers and Bill share the Tanana River

Bill rides his fat bike down a cut bank from the Tanana River onto a slough

A musher coming down the slough, no matter how many times I see this it is a treasured experience.

 

There are more photos in the following albums:  Biking on the Tanana River or Winter in Fairbanks

 

Fairbanks at 40 Below

The winter! the brightness that blinds you,

The white land locked tight as a drum,

The cold fear that follows and finds you,

The silence that bludgeons you dumb.

The snows that are older than history,

The woods where the weird shadows slant;

The stillness, the moonlight, the mystery,

I’ve bade ’em good-by — but I can’t.

(Robert Service, The Spell of the Yukon)

On the Tanana River; it may be cold and we may be tired of it, but it sure is pretty away from the ice fog. 2012-01-28 at 14-33-30

Ice fog on the Chena River at 40 below 2012-01-14 at 15-34-56

More photos of winter in Fairbanks

 

Happy Solstice!

Today is my favorite day, tomorrow we will begin gaining daylight!  Total length of the day today:  3h 41m 26s.  We continue having the usual bizarre Fairbanks weather, one of the coldest Novembers on record and well on our way to one of the warmest Decembers on record.  This is a strange and wonderful place!

We recently returned from a week visiting my sister in Gig Harbor WA, aka civilization.  It is always nice to visit civilization (and of course my sister!), and it is always nice to come back home and reunite with the boys, who were in “camp” for the week.  Pelly and Dawson are again banned from Muttessori, so they had a play package to help burn some energy, while Clem and ET enjoyed socializing with the other “campers” at Muttessori.  All the boys were groomed and are so soft and beautiful.

 

The Boys

 

U.S. Naval Observatory
Astronomical Applications Department

 

Sun and Moon Data for One Day

The following information is provided for Fairbanks, Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska (longitude W147.8, latitude N64.8):

        Wednesday
        21 December 2011      Alaska Standard Time           

                         SUN
        Begin civil twilight       9:32 a.m.                 
        Sunrise                   10:58 a.m.                 
        Sun transit               12:49 p.m.                 
        Sunset                     2:40 p.m.                 
        End civil twilight         4:06 p.m.                 

                         MOON
        Moonset                   12:26 p.m. on preceding day
        Moonrise                   7:07 a.m.                 
        Moon transit               9:57 a.m.                 
        Moonset                   12:37 p.m.                 
        Moonrise                   8:49 a.m. on following day

Phase of the Moon on 21 December:   waning crescent with 11% of the Moon’s visible disk illuminated.

New Moon on 24 December 2011 at 9:07 a.m. Alaska Standard Time.

A Cessna 180, a Camera and Ice Cream

I enjoy doing totally decadent off-the-wall things and yesterday I did just that.  Our down-the-hill neighbor, Don, is a snowbird, except he lives in Ft Lauderdale and flies his Cessna 180 to Fairbanks every summer.  I call him and his wife migrants, because they come with the birds and leave with the birds.  Don is very generous and Bill flies with him all the time; for Bill and Don, being airborne is the destination, it doesn’t matter where they go.  I need a destination and a purpose.  Don knows I love Denali, and with the autumn colors bursting forth across the landscape, he offered to fly us to Denali so I could take some photos.  I didn’t have to think twice about that, I was ready to go!   Besides, I’d been harboring the urge for a mint chocolate chip waffle cone for weeks, and here was the opportunity to fly to Denali and satisfy that craving.  I was ready in a virtual heartbeat.  It was a beautiful day, the flight was smooth, the foliage awesome and the ice cream satisfying.  Of course, in Alaska, where the airplane is just an extension of the automobile, this isn’t decadent; it’s just another day.

Climbing out of Denali Park heading home to Fairbanks

 

More photos of flying to Denali

Ketchikan

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Counting time on either end of our cruise on the MV Misty Fjord, we spent three days in Ketchikan trying to cram in everything we could.  We arrived the afternoon of August 2, an incredibly warm and sunny day in a city located in the Tongass National Forest, the world’s largest temperate rain forest.  Either we were very lucky or our timing was perfect, as it rained only one day during our visit.  Average annual precipitation in Ketchikan is over 165 inches, ranging from a  low of 6.43 inches in July to 20.29 inches in October.

Do you remember the politically infamous “Bridge to Nowhere?”  Well, Ketchikan is where it was proposed to be constructed, to connect Ketchikan (on Revillagigedo Island) to its airport 1/2 mile across the Tongass Narrows on Gravina Island.  The 2005 Highway Bill provided $223 million for the bridge, which would have allowed people to drive to the airport rather than take a ferry across the Narrows.  So, since there is no bridge from the airport to Ketchikan, we did the bag drag from the airport to the ferry, paid $5.00 each and rode the ferry across the Narrows to pick up the shuttle to our hotel.  Fortunately it was a beautiful day, and we enjoyed the short ferry ride.  Even though the ferry lends extra character to Ketchikan, a bridge sure would have been nice and time saving.

The airport ferry (left) crossing the busy Narrows back to Ketchikan

On the ferry bound for Ketchikan

Being from a place with limited choices (Fairbanks), food and shopping are always the mainstay of any trip.  Although the food in Ketchikan was good, it was nothing to rave about, but it is always nice to have different choices.  I didn’t do any shopping, except for the obligatory tee shirt or two.  Since Ketchikan is a cruise ship port, there are many, many shops, and a disproportionate  number of high end jewelry stores, which must do well or they wouldn’t be there.  I never thought about going on a cruise to buy jewelry.  But then, there is Alaska gold jewelry.  Keep in mind that most of these shops board up for the season as soon as the last tourist walks out the door, and their owners set up somewhere warm and sunny for the winter.

Looking at Creek Street, a boardwalk over Ketchikan Creek in what was the old "red light district."

Cruise ship passenger doing their thing down by the docks in Ketchikan. Ketchikan is the first (or last stop) in Alaska for many cruise ships.

When cruise ships dock, passengers seek alternatives to cruise ship food, so the seafood shacks where crowded.  To be fair about the food, Bill enjoyed his fresh seafood; I don’t enjoy seafood.  Ice cream is also a priority for me, I have to have a waffle cone of one of my favorite flavors.  Apparently ice cream was also a priority for the cruise ship people, as it was nearly combat to get get one in what seemed to be the only ice cream shop in town.

Not counting the MV Misty Fjord and the Misty Fjords cruise and kayaking, which will be addressed separately, the highlights of our Ketchikan stay were ziplining, a bicycle tour and even more kayaking.  The disappointment was that we didn’t have the time to do even more biking and kayaking in such a beautiful place.  There is only one main road in town, the Tongass HIghway, which runs about 31 miles from north to south on the island, with Ketchikan virtually in the middle.

One of 34 totem poles in Saxman Native Village, about 3 miles south of downtown Ketchikan. Ketchikan has the world's largest collection of standing totem poles.

As for ziplining, this was our first time, and I can say that I am now a fanatic.  There are two ziplines in Ketchikan, one at the north end and one at the south end, and we did them both.  The Southeast Exposure Ropes and Zipline Park on the north end was the first we tackled.  I conveniently placed myself in the rear of the group, so I could watch everyone go before I had to make the leap.  But the guide fooled me and started from the back of the line, so much for that strategy.  The first step (off the tower) was the hardest, but as soon as I was in the air I was hooked.  I have been searching for a word to describe it, and I think “liberating” fits best.  The ropes were also fun, a nice addition to the park, and, for me, required more nerve than the zipline.

Bill on the "practice run" at Southeast Exposure's Rope and Zipline Park

Bill on one of the ropes courses at Southeast Exposure's Ropes and Zipline Park

Having had so much fun on the ziplines, we did the other course the next day.  Alaska Canopy Adventures is on the south end of Ketchikan and offers two courses, Bear Creek and Eagle Creek; we did the latter.  The course is higher in the hills with some longer runs, has three hanging sky bridges and the view from the lines is amazing. Both this and the Ropes and Zipline Park were fun, and I would do them both again.  I think I am addicted.

Looking off a platform at Alaska Canopy Adventures' Eagle course

One of the hanging sky bridges on Alaska Canopy Adventures' Eagle course

On the evening before our departure for home, Kelvin, Bill and I went on one last magical kayak in the waters of Clover Pass, on the north end of the island.

An evening kayak in Clover Pass before heading back to reality

There Are More Photos In My Ketchikan and Ziplining Galleries


An Offer We Couldn’t Refuse

Several weeks ago a friend of ours (Kelvin) tempted us with a stateroom on the MV Misty Fjord for a five day cruise and kayak around the Misty Fjords National Monument in the Tongass National Forest by Ketchikan.  We talked with Kelvin on Friday, and on Saturday we arranged air travel to Ketchikan, kennel reservations for the boys, and hotel reservations in Ketchikan on either end of the cruise.  It was amazing that we could coordinate these arrangements on such short notice, while Kelvin pulled together the logistics ( kayaks, coordinating with the Captain, etc) on the Ketchikan end.  On Tuesday morning (Aug 2) we departed for Ketchikan to catch the cruise which was scheduled to depart the following day.  The only time we had been in Ketchikan was in June 1991, when our Alaska Marine Highway ferry docked for an hour or so.  The only things I remembered about Ketchikan were the rain, the totem pole park and having a drink in a bar somewhere.  Travel to Southeast Alaska is either by air or water, there are no roads connecting it to the rest of the state.  We have basically avoided traveling to the southeast because of the travel logistics and the rain.

Alaska Air is the only commercial carrier servicing Ketchikan, and there are two routings; one though Seattle and the other a milk run through Southeast Alaska.  We wanted to use miles and the only approved routing for a mileage award was the milk run.  So off we went: Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau, Petersburg, Wrangell and finally Ketchikan; it was eight hours,  but flying in Alaska is beautiful. It is 40 minutes from Fairbanks to Anchorage (change planes), 123 minutes from Anchorage to Juneau, 25 minutes from Juneau to Petersburg, 10 minutes from Petersburg to Wrangell and 23 minutes from Wrangell to Ketchikan.  From Anchorage to Juneau we flew at 34,000 feet, Juneau to Petersburg at 20,000 feet, Petersburg to Wrangell at a lofty 5,000 feet and Wrangell to Ketchikan we flew at 18,00 feet.  We had incredible weather both ways, and the panorama was well worth the time, even though it was spent mostly on the ground turning the 737-400 at small airports.

We had an awesome trip with incredible weather and enjoyed Ketchikan, the cruise, kayaking and ziplining.  More on all this in upcoming blogs.

On final approach into Ketchikan

The Wrangell airport terminal

Taking off from Wrangell

The airport terminal at Petersburg

Taking off from Petersburg

Mts McKinley and Foraker

The Road Less Traveled

I think I have taken that road less traveled most of my life; I prefer things that are off the beaten path and perhaps that is why I live in Alaska.  For me taking the road less traveled means two things:  first, in the most literal sense of taking one road when most people take the other, and second, in traveling that road by a lesser taken method.  For example, Triple Lakes Trail is the road less traveled because most visitors to Denali usually have time only to ride the bus into the park or to hike one of the short trails at the park entrance.  Second, while most visitors to Denali ride the bus into the park, I prefer to ride my bicycle.  I may not cover as much ground, but I savor every bit of it and become enveloped by it, breathing its scents, feeling its rhythm and stopping when I want.

My husband and I spend as much time as we can in Denali during our short summer, balancing our fun with summer chores and being with the boys (our four Siberian huskies).  We take the boys to the park for day trips, but if we stay overnight they must be boarded.  Out latest trip to Denali was last week, we hiked Triple Lakes Tail and biked a bit.  We had hoped to bike from Savage River to Teklanika and back, but ran out of time, managing only a couple relatively short bikes.  Despite forecasts for rainy weather, we never saw a drop!

The park rangers continue to improve the Triple Lakes Trail, there were about 20 of them working on three or four different parts of the trail, and pretty soon you won’t have to bushwhack across the ridge.  After carrying my Canon 7D over the eight miles last time I hiked the trail, I decided to buy a Canon S95 and give it a test.  I think the pictures are just as good, if not better in certain lighting (by eliminating the “me” factor), and it fit in my pocket where the DSLR is annoying to carry over that distance.  But I definitely missed the quick DSLR response and recovery, as well as the more powerful telephoto lens.

Here are a few photos, the rest are in my Triple Lakes and Denali galleries.

Bill contemplating floating an inflatable kayak down Riley Creek

The road less traveled

A view of two of the lakes from near the top of the trail

Fireweed along the park road

I was riding my bike around mile 15 of the park road when this guy came trotting down the center of the road

Just another beautiful day in paradise!

A Run in the Park

July 9th was a beautiful day  so we took the boys to Denali for a run.  These runs are special, something the whole family enjoys as opposed to the usual runs around home. It was sunny, warm and perfect; Utopian.  The boys enjoyed the attention from people who visited with them and photographed them, and of course, we enjoyed showing them off.

Magnificent Mt McKinley, a feast for the eyes

Me running with ET and Pelly

Bill running with Clem and Dawson

Bill with Clem, Pelly, Dawson and ET at the Mountain Vista trailhead

Bill showing off the boys for admiring fans

Triple Lakes Hike, Denali Park

This is the 2011 version of this great hike.  The trail goes from the Visitor Center on the north end to the north side of the Nenana River bridge about mile 231 Parks Highway at the south trailhead, you can hike it in either direction. The Park Service has made major improvements to this trail, most notably the new bridge across Riley Creek at the Northern Trailhead and tying the trail into it. Last year we hiked from south to north and couldn’t find the trail off the ridge, so we did a bit of bushwhacking to get down to Riley Creek and then had to cross the creek via the Alaska Railroad bridge, which is trespassing.  However, this little act of defying the establishment was a hoot, and I will miss doing it now that the trail bridge is complete.  Also there are now mileage signs at both trailheads indicating the trail is 7.7 miles long, and there are signs marking the trails descending to lakes two and three.  The Park Service is still working on the trail and there are sections of the trail at the top that are being rerouted.  While the rerouting will create a nice trail, it appears that it will take you away from the magnificent 360 view along the ridge and take you along the Riley Creek side of the hill. This is still a great view, just not as sweeping.

In previous years, this was the only way across Riley Creek

The fantastic new bridge across Riley Creek

Since I was staying at a lodge near the south trailhead, I took a shuttle bus to the Visitor Center (north trailhead) and started from there, so I didn’t need to worry about catching the last shuttle back to the lodge.  At the end of the hike, all I had to do was cross the Parks Highway and walk across the Nenana River bridge and I was “home.”  I thoroughly enjoyed the hike, and it was comforting knowing that I was no longer going to get lost, since I started on the north end, crossed the new bridge and was immediately on the trail which followed along Riley Creek for a while before starting to climb.  In previous years we hardly saw anyone on the trail, but this year I met about 30 other hikers along the way.  Apparently word is out that the trail is useable from end to end.  On the way up the hill, about two miles into the hike, I passed a group of park employees who were working on the trail.  Several were using shovels to repair the trail while others were manually debarking fallen trees to use in shoring up the trail edge.  There is only one way to work for these employees and that is to hike.

Park Service trail workers debarking trees by hand for use as trail supports

More trail workers, it is because of crews like this that the trail is so great!

These photos describe the trail better than any words.  It was a pleasantly warm but brightly overcast day and photography was not too successful for this amateur.

The north end of the trail runs along Riley Creek before beginning to climb

A nice trail improvement

Along the way; I love all the shades of leaf green

Up on the ridge, I passed some bear scat on the trail not far from here

Amazing....I ran into a friend on the trail!

The first view of lakes 2 & 3 from the north

A tired hiker near the end of the trail

A bear of a ride….

On May 18, Bill and I departed Fairbanks on a road trip to Denali, Anchorage, Seward, Alyeska, Anchorage, and Denali.  The original destination was the Exit Glacier 5K in Seward, we had done the same round robin trip last year and enjoyed it so much that we thought we would do it again.  We had not planned to stay in Denali on the way south, as our favorite lodge was not yet open for the season, but a wild hair to bike another leg of the Park Road changed that. Last year we had biked from Teklanika (30) mile to the Park entrance, and I still had the crazy idea to eventually bike the entire Park Road, although in segments.  The tourist season had not officially started, so the buses were not yet running into the Park, allowing us to drive into Teklanika at mile 30 and bike roundtrip from there to Polychrome at mile 46.  The elevation ranges from 2655′ at Tek to 3900′ at Sable Pass to 3055 at East Fork River to 3695 at Poly, so it is a bit of up and down on gravel roads.

It was a beautiful day for a bike ride, with Mt McKinley fully visible

As luck would have it, it was a beautiful day, although a little windy, and since only a few Park Rangers and trainee buses were on the Park Road, it was peaceful and solitary.  After the last Ranger stopped and talked to us on Poly on her way out, about 7 pm, we were alone on the road that runs through 6 million wilderness acres, an expanse that people come from all over the world to see, and it is in our backyard.  We are so blessed.Bill wrote an email that accounts the ride, and I am inserting it here.  I just wanted to set the stage a bit.  Since I always have to say something, I will insert my comments in a different color.  Here is Bill’s account:

A perfect spring outing on the bikes. The day was sunny, windy and bright for the two of us, my wife Susan, the jock and I, to bike into Denali Park.  A friend of ours had done this trail a week earlier and the challenge was set for us to do the same.  The 35 mile ride was on a gravel hard packed surface, which sometimes was more loose than hard packed making peddling even harder.  It was onward and up and down steep hills as may be evidenced in the  photo as the old fart is pictured riding….or more likely struggling up to Sable Pass from the bottom of the valley.  Susan is, as always, up ahead and taking photos waiting for me to catch up.  It is very early spring in mid May and things have not begun to bloom or green up but the animals are stirring into the approaching summer.  We have already seen caribou, a wolf and numerous little marmots.  It is a hard ride though.  The picture shows me in my front tire fixation mode as the hills were increasingly tough for this senior citizen to negotiate along with keeping balance on some very loose gravel areas.  In the mid afternoon there where a few park vehicles to give us a fine dust coating as well.  Later we would have gladly welcomed their presence.

A look at the road surface

Bill peddling up Sable Pass

A couple little guys who emerged from their hole alongside the road and just loved having their picture taken

As the afternoon stretched into early evening, we reached Sable pass which is well known for being in the middle of bear country….and bear scat was already plenty evident. I guess for those who have never seen it they are like huge dog turd piles.  We stop at the Sable pass sign and I mimic a scratch and a much needed rest.  Bears really do use the sign to scratch and thus the park service decided to add some ticklers to help scratch their thick coats and hide.  You can not see it but there are little tufts of fur on some of the metal pieces.  And note that at 3900′ at Sable Pass we have to go down (to 3055′) and up to another pass a little over four thousand feet (3695′).  NOT EASY FOR OLD FARTS……but onward and upward we go.

The sign on Sable Pass has tines for the bears to scratch themselves

Finally we made it to the top of Polychrome Pass and you can sure see that we have gained some considerable altitude in this photo.  However, as we started down the road to go back in the early evening we found that while the park vehicle traffic had ceased, we were seeing bear scat and are obviously not alone.  We are now grasping what is more obvious  which is that we are NOT at the top of the food chain.  I was well behind Susan and was on the way back up to Sable struggling to get each pedal up when I look up and there comes Susan who tells me that she is not riding back to me for my health.  She tells me that there is a bear following her from the other side of the pass.  We dismount and stand together assessing what to do.  We have a long way to go back down and if it sees us try that as it comes around the bend upwind from us, it will likely make chase.  (We were a mile from the top of a four mile climb eastbound up Sable Pass and bear or not, there was no way I was going back down that hill) These bears can run at 33 miles per hour which makes even a down hill bike chase a loser for us.  I am assessing options and figure I will get the pepper spray out.  The wind was pretty constant and about ten to twenty miles per hour and in our face so pepper spray was really out of the question as it would just blow back into us.  So I told Susan to stand behind me and about that time the bear comes into view about forty yards up around a bend walking its pigeon toed gait toward us.  He is about a two to three year old three to four hundred pound male and likely hungry as it has come out of hibernation.

At last, Polychrome Pass, our turn around point. This is where we saw the last Park Ranger .

Mr Bear when I first saw him ambling down the road on his evening stroll

There are a lot of thoughts going through my mind like why didn’t I bring my gun etc.  I am also determined not to show fear of any kind and am surprised that I am actually pretty cool about this whole thing….or maybe in shock.  I am wishing we had something coming to our defense but know that as late as it is no vehicle traffic is left…most of those folks are already eating pizza.  I am thinking of a big rock but no time, hell, even a spear would be nice too.  We are on the up slope of a steep road cut from the side of the mountain and it has walls of some twenty feet high on our left and falls sharply off down another forty feet on our right.  THERE IS SIMPLY NO PLACE TO GO!!  Noting the bear is about thirty yards away and NOT showing any signs of avoiding us, I then tell Susan we will advance slowly with our bikes between us and the bear with raised arms and shout LOUDLY.  I am using as much command voice as possible, repeatedly yelling, “Get off my damned road!” with as much authority as I can muster.  I don’t remember what Susan was yelling but she was giving it her all too. (I was yelling “Hello Mr. Bear ” and waving my arms over my head) The bear meanwhile just keeps right on coming, in a rambling sort of stroll toward us and as it gets to about twenty feet from us I am thinking if he charges I will use the bike to try to shield us.  The rest will have to be as it must be.  I am mentally bracing myself for one hell of a thumping as it comes to about twelve feet from us.  Watching closely I notice it does not have its mouth open and its hackles are not up which are not signs of aggression.  It is not snorting or snapping its jaws either.  Suddenly it looks me right in the eye and in one spontaneous motion bolts ass over teakettle down the hill.  I see it tumbling and rolling head over heels down the forty feet and momentarily wonder if it is hurt.  Not so as it rapidly gains its feet and moves smartly on the valley floor continuing in its same direction of travel and AWAY from us. Susan actually manages to get a photo of it.  The photo preceding it is of the same bear as Susan first sees it coming up the hill and assumes it will not keep advancing….only it does and seems to her to have an increased interest in her.  In fact it moves into a trot and it is at that point that Susan decides it is good to come back to me so I can serve appropriately as bear bait. (No comment, “Discretion is the better part of valor.”)

Mr Bear after he tumbled over the side, a lot less concerned over his adventure than we were

END OF BILL’S ACCOUNT

And as if that weren’t enough adventure for one day, about two miles further down the road, as we were coasting down the east side of Sable Pass, still mulling over the bear encounter, we see another bear walking on the road.  My comment was, “Not another one.”  This bear knew that we were veterans and smartly took his cue to yield the road, but not before rising to sniff the air and check us out.  In both cases, we followed the NPS bear safety procedures, and are happy to report that they worked!  The following day, we made the requisite  bear encounter report to the Park Rangers.

Just another day in paradise

Back in Denali, where yesterday I biked the Park Road from the visitors center to Savage River and back.  I remember the first time I biked this section of the road, I thought the first hill would never end!  I am now much better prepared physically and mentally for this seven mile uphill peddle.  I don’t need to keep asking myself, “Will this hill ever end?” as I know exactly where the top is.  The first 15 miles of the Park Road are paved, so compared to the gravel road beyond (west) of Savage River this is a smooth ride.  Of course, since the first seven miles are uphill, the last seven are a nice long, relaxing downhill!  Considering the bear encounters on our RT ride from Teklanika to Polychrome several weeks ago, I felt much safer on this stretch of road.  Oh, I still need to write up that adventure.

Savage River

Along the Park Road

Lupine along the Park Road

Running in Denali

On Sunday I had an irresistible urge to run with the boys in Denali.  This is always one of those things where, after about 15 minutes on the road with the redheads going crazy fighting for a front row seat, we look at each other and ask “whose idea was this?”  I drove down, figuring Bill could handle dog control duties, and knowing (or at least hoping) that they would be calmer by the return trip.  “They” refers to the redheads, Clem and ET always settle quickly.  When we left Fairbanks it was sunny, but as we approached Denali clouds were rolling in, and by the time we started running it was snowing and blowing.  But any day in the park is a good day.  Road crews had started spring road opening on March 16, and by March 21 the Park Road was open to the public to the Mountain Vista trailhead at mile 13.  We parked by the trailhead and ran to the Savage River checkpoint at mile 15.  Although there were a couple cars parked by the trailhead, once we started running behind the barricade, we didn’t see another person, the park was ours.  It was so good to be back in the park after a long winter away, and I could feel myself beginning to revitalize.  We saw and heard a lot of ptarmigan and there was wolf scat on the road around mile 13.5, all of which had the boys in overdrive.

We started running from where the road was closed at the Savage River campground

Looking toward the park entrance from west of the Savage River checkpoint at mile 15. The truck brought in some of the heavy equipment used to clear the road.

The McKinley Chalet boarded up for the winter, there is nothing open in the park during winter.

Pelly (aka Curious George) on duty, he takes this responsibility very seriously.

More photos coming to the gallery soon!





March Madness Alaska Style

There is more than one kind of March Madness, and the one I am talking about is not at all associated with college hoops, rather the wonderful March weather and our  mad attempt to cram in all sorts of outdoor activities in the snow.  Sure you can do these activities all winter, but not under the brilliant sunshine and relative warmth and comfort of March.  Snowmachining: perfect.  Skiing: perfect.  Skijoring: perfect. Running: perfect.  As I grow somewhat wiser with age, or perhaps just lackadaisical, I am becoming a fair weather person.  For a long time I would run despite the winter weather; 40, 50, 60 below, bring it on, it was a challenge I relished, and there was plenty of it during our days at Eielson AFB.  Twenty years later, 20 below is my cut-off for daily running, but I will run every other day, no matter what, for the welfare of the boys (as well as our sanity), they must get out.  I am not so foolhardy as to believe that winter is over, but I am enjoying every day while this wonderful weather lasts. So when March arrives, and the severest weather is behind us for another season, we rejoice with jubilant madness and play!

Some major March events around Fairbanks include the Limited and Open North American Sleddog Races, the World Ice Art Championships and Nenana Days, when the ice classic tripod is planted in the ice on the Tanana River.

On Sunday we rode our snowmachines down the Tanana River and into the Rosie Creek area.  It was lots of fun and we found a powder meadow to play in with Bill’s Crossfire 800.  The Crossfire is so powerful it virtually floats on powder with very little effort, easily conquering terrain where I wouldn’t venture with my Arctic Cat 500.

Bill enjoying a powder meadow on his Arctic Cat Crossfire 800

Monday Bill and I skied at Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, and the trails were groomed to perfection.  Speaking of Creamer’s Field, in another month the first migratory Canada goose will touch down, signifying (hopefully) the end of another long winter.

Bill enjoying a March ski at Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge

I'm pretty sure I did that move (on the lower sign) when I was skijoring with Pelly and ET at North Star Golf Course yesterday

The next couple days were reserved for quality time with the boys, and on Tuesday we took them running at the University.  On Wednesday we skijored with them at North Star Golf Course and today we ran with them at home.  The skijoring was phenomenal, the boys amazing.  I never know what to expect when I hook up the boys and get behind them on my skis.  I had Pelly and ET; Pelly (like Clem) is a workhorse and ET is a slacker, often affectionately called lazybones.  Bill had Clem and Dawson.  To say the boys were ready to roll is an understatement.  It was all we could do to hold them back while we got into our skis, which took much longer than it should have because of this multitasking.  Since the golf course is primarily used by the Alaska Skijor and Pulk Association , the overabundance of scents drove the boys crazy, hyping them more than they already were.  Clem and Dawson claimed the first victory, dragging Bill full speed across the parking lot and launching him into the first bush at the trailhead.  At this point, I could no longer hold back my duo and off we went full speed down the trail.  While they respond well to Gee and Haw (right and left), “Whoa” is often not an option.  I can honestly say I have never skied this fast, and I have never seen ET run with such gusto.  It was a “kill mommy”  moment, but an absolutely beautiful site.  About three quarters of a mile down the trail, still going warp speed, Pelly stopped on a dime to “answer the call” and there was no way I could stop, so over the top I went, landing with a thud (see the sign above).  Eventually, after we each collected ourselves, Bill and I joined up on the trail.  We had a great time, and I can’t wait to do it again, hopefully minus the thud.

There are more photos in my Winter 2010-2011 album in my gallery.

Both Creamer’s Field and North Star Golf Course are meticulously groomed by volunteers from the Alaska Skijor and Pulk Association.

Running at UAF

It was a beautiful day today, so we ran at the University for the first time in a long while.  During most of the winter we run at home because it is usually warmer at the higher elevations.  It was good to be  back at UAF and good to feel like winter may be on the way out.  However, I long ago gave up allowing myself to be mislead by nice weather in March, especially early March, and I still have skijoring and snowmachining to do before winter is over.

Bill, Clem and Dawson running at UAF on a beautiful March day

ET and Pelly surveying trail damage at UAF from last week's high winds

Ice sculpture of Nanook, UAF mascot, at UAF

Nanook reflecting the sun

Nanook up close

It's impossible, but we always have to try to get all the boys looking in the same direction

COWABUNGA!

We finally had a respectable snowfall, and by that I mean about 21 inches at our house; the lower 48 has been stealing our snowfall this year.  This amount (at one time) is unusual for Fairbanks, we normally get our snowfall several inches at a time.  Well, with snow comes shoveling, and in this case, lots of it, we even called the snowblower into action.  Fortunately our snow is light and fluffy, not that heavy, wet, concrete-like east coast stuff.  It started snowing on Sunday, and I shoveled the driveway twice, removing about 3 inches each time, and by Monday morning we had another 15 inches on the driveway.  The boys were ecstatic, when I opened the garage door Monday morning to take them for their walk, they stared at the drift in front of the door looking for a way around it, then jumped right in.  Despite their joy over romping in the new snow, the boys were terrified to discover that it had desecrated their sacred pooping grounds.

Bill operating the snow blower

It took us about 3 hours to shovel the driveway and deck, and then shovel a path to the satellite antennas and shovel the snow from in front of them.  The antennas are just below the deck, and when we push snow off the deck, it falls in front of them; there must have been at least 5 feet of snow blocking the antennas.  After that, we were ready for a break, but it was not to be.  As soon as we got in the house, our neighbor called.  Her husband, Paul, had decided to drive his snowmachine to the shop and got stuck in a drift on the Tanana River, and asked if we would take our snowmachines and help him out (Paul has a heart condition).  The wind was gusting and the river was a virtual whiteout, it was no surprise that he was stuck.   There is never hesitation to help a friend in need, especially under these conditions, so we set about digging out our machines.  My machine would not start, so I stayed behind.  Just as Bill was getting ready to go, I looked up from trying to start my machine, and I saw four Siberian Huskies running full speed up the driveway, going for a romp.  The garage door was up and the wind blew open the door from the garage to the house.  So, while Bill went to help Paul, I went to round up the huskies.

After I returned with the boys, I went back to work on trying to start my Arctic Cat, and after about half an hour I was tired and quit.  I was  walking back to the house when Bill called my cell:  he, too, was stuck!  He had turned toward a small island to avoid overflow and got stuck on some dead trees that washed up during previous breakups.  He walked off the river to a nearby house and called me to pick him up.  He never made it to Paul.  Luckily a couple snowmachiners had stopped to help Paul.  They got him out, he went about  50 feet and got stuck again.  The guys had already taken off, so Paul started walking through the deep snow towards the Chena River, and another rider came along and offered to help, giving Paul a ride up the river to his son’s house.  Both machines remained on the river overnight.  We dug out Bill’s machine on Tuesday, and Paul had a friend help him extricate his.  Bill got stuck one more time on his way home, as he was coming up over a snow berm from the trail to our road.  I have never been happier that my machine would not start!

Digging out Bill's machine on the Tanana River; it is stuck between two washed up trees.

Bill's machine stuck in the snow berm coming onto our road.

There are more photos in my Mobile Me gallery

Teklanika Bike Ride (May 2010)

Okay, I’m continuing with my attempt to recreate some of the lost posts.  There is no particular order to this, just whatever I feel like tackling.

Our favorite lodge in the Denali Park area (McKinley Village Lodge) opened for the season on May 24, so we headed down that way for a couple days.  The first day we hiked the Triple Lakes Trail from end to end and the next day we rode our bikes from Teklanika out (east) to the Wilderness Access Center, about 30 miles.  To do this requires a bit of planning, which isn’t our specialty.  Then again, maybe the problem is in the execution.

First, a few words on  Park operations.  The Park Road is not maintained during the winter, and once snow falls it is closed at the Park Headquarters (mile 3) until after the Spring Road Opening, at which time private vehicles may access the Park as far as the Teklanika Campground at mile 29.  Once the summer season starts and tour buses start running, the Park Road is closed to private vehicles at Savage River, mile 15.  At the end of the season, mid-September, the Park Road opens to Wonder Lake (weather permitting) for four days to winners of the Denali Park Road Lottery.  Once the lottery drive-in ends, the road is once again open to Teklanika until conditions dictate its closure.  The Park Road is paved as far as Savage River, after that it is dirt/gravel.

Memorial Day was May 31, so the full shuttle bus schedule into the Park was not yet in effect and tourist traffic was still light.  We made reservations for us and our bicycles on a camper bus that dropped us off at Teklanika (mile 29), although we could have gone as far as the Eielson Visitors Center, about 66 miles.  The buses to Wonder Lake don’t run until the first week of June.  It was tempting to go beyond Tek, but discretion being the better part of valor, we settled on the 30 mile ride.  The bus dropped us off and we unloaded our bikes and gear, then waved goodbye as the bus pulled away on its way to the Eielson Visitors Center.  The round trip to Eielson is about 5 to 6 hours, depending on wildlife sitings, and, although we had no time schedule, we had hoped to beat the bus back to the Wilderness Access Center.  It was an absolutely perfect day, and I was so excited about the ride, as it was something I had wanted to do for a long time.  We had packed plenty of snacks and beverages and stuffed them everywhere we could before biking off down the road.  We took our time, enjoying the majesty of the park and the Utopian day.  It was Nirvana: paradise, heaven, bliss, ecstasy, joy, peace, serenity, tranquility.  Several years ago I became frustrated with flat tires and switched to kevlar lined tires, and I have blissfully biked without a single flat ever since.  Not so, Bill.  After peddling the long climb before a nice 2 mile downhill coast to Savage River, Bill got a flat tire.  No problem, right,  3 spare tubes to choose from.  Not so fast, all 3 were bad.  It took us about an hour to get a fix and move on, during which time we waved at a few buses, including our camper bus, as they passed by.  East of Savage River the road was paved and the riding smooth.  Despite the flat, it was a great ride, and we earned our pizza, beer and ice cream.

I consider biking in Denali Park a privilege, and I still have a goal to bike the entire 92 mile length of the Park Road, I just need to either work the logistics to avoid camping or get in shape to bike it all in one day.

Nirvana. Mt McKinley, all 20,320 feet. My Inspiration.

Bill fixing his flat tire

There are more photos in my gallery.