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Archive for July, 2013

 

 

Ever since I first read about them in the Adventure Cycling newsletter “Bike Bits”, I have wanted to go on a bike overnight. “What’s that?” you ask? Well, here’s what BikeOvernights.org has to say: A bike overnight is a short bike tour where you start riding on one day, stop and stay the night somewhere–a campground, a bed and breakfast, your cabin on the lake–and then ride back the following day–or maybe the next.

It can be the beginning of your love affair with short bike trips to interesting places or a gateway drug to long distance touring; any way you look at this, it’s a barrel of fun.

Right now husband Tom is not cycling. However, he loves to camp and to fish and is enthusiastic about sharing a tent with me even after decades of marriage. So when I proposed a bike overnight to Finger Lake three weeks ago he was gung-ho. “I’ll drive the truck so we can have the big tent and the canoe. I can carry the wine too–do you want me to bring the bedrolls or will you be using your panniers?”

I’m used to hauling my stuff, so I opted for panniers; after all, Finger Lake was only 12 miles away and it was a beautiful day. It took me about an hour and a half of smell-the-roses pedaling and a short, steep final uphill to arrive in Paradise–or what passes for it within that distance from home!

I called my friend Rene who lives close, and invited her to share a glass of wine, conversation and a spritz of mosquito repellant. This season the bugs have been horrific but easily deterred. The three of us sat up til nearly midnight in the wonderful Alaska summer twilight, laughing and talking, and in the morning Tom and I feasted on the fruits of his previous afternoon’s fishing foray. Trout for breakfast–YUM!

Finger Lake Fun!

Finger Lake Fun!

And just this Thursday we ventured a bit further from home. While Tom took the truck, duck boat and motor, I mounted my laden Terry bike and spun up the Parks Highway 29 miles to Nancy Lake. By the time I left in the mid-afternoon the completely cloudless skies had grown some thunderheads. I got sprinkled on a few times, but at 80 degrees I welcomed the cooling effect.

Nancy Lake sunset

Nancy Lake sunset

I’ve found that I love the solo riding. Yes, I miss my husband’s company. Yes, I really like the companionship of a couple of friends or a touring group. However, since I have to ride alone so much of the time I have grown to love it. No time pressure; stop for ice cream? Sure! Take pictures of the massed fireweed along the highway? I spent about a half an hour doing so.

But the best thing of all is the evening–the tent, the companion, the canoe, the loon cry. The journey is excitement; the destination, repose.

Fireweed

Fireweed

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July 4 at Summit Lake on Hatcher Pass

Let’s go to the lake on the 4th, OK honey? What?! It’s still frozen?!

I have to laugh when people who live in the 48 contiguous states–variously known to Alaskans as the Lower 48 or Lesser 48–tell me about their Fourth of July celebrations. I’ve been gone for so long that it sounds like tales from a foreign land. Trips to the lake, shorts and flip flops, crepe paper decked floats, picnics full of ants and honey bees, spectacular fireworks viewed from a blanket on the grass–all but dim memories from childhood. The 4th in Alaska is very different.

Take, for example, the photo above.

Friend Sharry, husband Tom and I drove up to Hatcher Pass today to do some hiking. We woke to cloudy skies today and temps in the mid-50s, a huge difference from a week ago when it was relentlessly sunny and in the high 80s. Oh well, we are now back to normal I guess. Anyway, since it has not shed a drop of rain in the last week of cloud cover, I didn’t think much about our plans.

I dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved shirt, taking my rain coat, another shirt and a fleece vest in my day pack, “just in case”. Oh yes, a hat (I hate having my head dripped on), sunscreen, bug spray, sandwich and water.

Following Sharry’s truck, I knew I was in trouble when we passed the 1000 foot elevation level and went from sprinkles to needing the fastest intermittent setting on my windshield wipers. As we climbed into the gray mountains I removed my sunglasses; I glanced at Tom, a reluctant companion today anyway. When we arrived at Summit Lake, elevation 3800 feet, I got out and told Sharry that we were not going to hike. Neither of us had really brought enough clothing to be comfortable at 40 degrees in the rain. No rain pants, no gloves, cotton jeans–what had we been thinking?

She, brave (read prepared) soul, slipped on her Helly Hansens, pulled up her hood and bounded off into the fog. We slithered back into the warmth of the car and made our slow, picture-snapping way down the Willow side of the pass. And what a breathtaking ride it is, even in the dim.

The view from the top of Willow Fishhook Road

The view from the top of Willow Fishhook Road

Crossing Willow Creek

Crossing Willow Creek

That side of the Palmer to Willow road is all gravel. Willow Creek and its small tributaries, which drain the steep-sided valleys, are full of gold mining claims, both hard-rock and placer. At this time of year, regardless of the weather, and because Alaskans really ARE tough, the valley was full of folks camping too. Sopping dogs and kids in shorts and parkas, grownups wearing camo hoodies and rain gear, tents, RVs, fifth wheel trailers, ATVs and any number of non-motorized water craft parked cheek-by-jowl in the few small pullouts along the roadside. There is plenty of private property in the lower reaches of the valley, all marked with No Trespassing signage. The road right of way is often the only place to camp.

Summer camping in Alaska...

Summer camping in Alaska…Note the warm clothing…

Camping. In 40 degree temps. In the rain. I can’t count how many times I have been a part of that scene. The smoke from the campfire hugs the ground, the thin heat from damp wood unable to lift it more than head high. Hot dogs take an eternity to cook on willow sticks held over such fires, and end by tasting like spruce boughs. Don’t even think about S’mores; the marshmallow’s pitchy flavor does not do justice to Hershey bars and graham crackers. Our only consolation is that the dark, cloudy skies will allow us to see those midnight fireworks after all.

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