Archive for the ‘Palmer Alaska’ Category

Highbush cranberry

Highbush cranberry

I had a dog who smelled like this when he was wet. Not completely unpleasant; the iconic fragrance of Alaska autumn.

Iconic, because the odor is wild; tangily sweet-tart, musky, a little doggish. It smells red. I envision the bears feasting, the ptarmigan and their offspring gorging, the kuspuk-and-raingear clad women braving wind and wet to bring home a harvest of these fat, succulent packets of concentrated vitamin C.

It is the overriding aroma of my cycling forays at this time of year. Especially on sunny days the crisp air is pungent with highbush cranberry and wet, decaying leaves, that winey fall essence of change. In the year’s dying I am energized, deeply alive to the wild beauty that is my privilege to call home.

I ride.

I breathe.

I smile.




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Farewell and Godspeed...

At first, I think it is geese.

Crane my neck, peer at the sky, damn near tip the bike over. OK, fine. I stop, dismount, take a proper gander at the wild blue and discover not Canadas, but Sandhills. Admitting the neck craning was appropriate, I laugh out loud.

Silhouettes against the hard blue-copper of mid-September sky; eerie, gargling cries bouncing off the Butte; circling, circling higher and higher until only that call remains, drifting, floating, wisping into nothingness. The cranes are taking wing for latitudes envisioned in their feathered-dinosaur dreams.

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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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This morning's ride is cancelled...

This morning’s ride is cancelled…

“Bikes are a right livelihood.”

–Scot Nicol, founder of Ibis Cycles

For several years I have dreamed of making my living, somehow, in an activity that relates to cycling. Aside from applying for every position I am even remotely qualified for with Adventure Cycling, I have not really done much to make this dream a reality. For Adventure Cycling, I would be willing to uproot myself from decades in Alaska, haul the detritus of all that time to Missoula, and once again begin to build community. And believe me, I know to the bone just how wrenching that uprooting and rebuilding process is.

Robin Bylenga, my hero!

Robin Bylenga, my hero!

If I wanted once again to be my own boss, own a business, work my sit-bones off, there is always a bike-related opportunity. There is a whole crop of new, woman-owned bike shops springing up in the Lower 48, and Pedal Chic’s Robin Bylenga really epitomizes why they are successful. Women are woefully under represented in the cycling community. I won’t patronize a shop where the mostly male employees look at my short little cylindrical self and automatically steer me to a trike or cruiser. I know more than one woman who is so intimidated by the steel-calved, Lycra-clad image of cycling that she won’t even consider a bicycle as an addition to her gym membership. Bylenga is changing that, one lavender two-wheeler and stylish helmet at a time.

I believe cycling is a natural for women, where the camaraderie, the deep support and encouragement traditional in the biking community is just waiting for our embrace. When we make it our own, we really can have it all–on the bike path with orange cruiserthe 5  year old on training wheels and the baby in the trailer; in the triathlon with the new orange Schwinn Mother’s Day gift; screaming along the Woman Tours Southern Tier ride with a mag tailwind and a huge grin.

Enduring this tortuously delayed spring in Alaska I dream of acquiring a CyclePub and going into partnership with Arkose Brewery  here in Palmer. Or modifying my old knobby-tired rambler as an Ice Cream Bike, which might actually be self-defeating, since I would probably eat up all the profits. As I sit writing this, on May 18, I stare out at the freshly fallen three inches of snow, with “Jingle Bells” grinding an inescapable loop through my brain. Missoula is looking better and better every flake that falls.

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Carol, who called me Saturday from the local bike shop, Backcountry Bike  and Ski did so to ask me my considered opinion about mountain bikes. Her grandson was in the market for a new bike.  Backcountry was having a 20% off sale on last year’s models and Carol inquired about what I would recommend.

Now, I am not the one to ask, and I told her so. “I trust the staff there at the shop completely” I told her. “Follow their advice. If they don’t have what he needs, they’ll tell him so.” As soon as I hung up, I uncovered the super-secret cash stash I had squirreled away and hot-footed it down to the  shop.

Last summer I had participated in the first women’s mountain biking clinic offered by Erin, the shop’s only female employee. Even though I had injured myself the first time out, the fire was lit, and I yearned for my very own bike that fit only me. I’d been using Tom’s second bike, and while it had been fine for gravel roads, it proved to be too unwieldy for me on steep uphills and single-track.

Sharry's pal, Pali

Sharry’s pal, Pali

Last fall, after my knee healed for the most part, I’d ridden the Jim Creek trail with Sharry and her new bike, Pali. That muddy ATV track proved to me that I needed more instruction, and a steed that was proportioned for someone only 5’1″. I’d been mulling and mumbling and gnawing on the subject for months. Carol’s call was the catalyst I needed to finally take action.

And voila! With Erin’s invaluable help and Tom’s complete support (“It’s your money–spend whatever you need to feel comfortable!”) I am now paired with something that fits like it was made for me. Now, if the snow would only melt faster…

MY new pal!

MY new pal!

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“I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– I took the one less traveled
by, and that has made all the difference.”
–Robert Frost


Robert Frost was one of my favorite poets in high school, which is about the only time I’ve read much poetry. I know–he’s a bit sentimental, a little old-fashioned, very mainstream and structured. Still, I loved him when I was 16 because I was those things myself; though I certainly saw myself, then, as more the “road less traveled” type.

The only other poetry I have read recently has been those things posted by my friend and writer extraordinaire Colleen Friesen. She clearly reads a lot, and reads poetry, among many other types of writing. (I won’t say “literature”, because her tastes seem  more eclectic than what commonly falls into that rather narrow category.)

I’ve resolved to do a bit more writing myself, but find myself a little less than disciplined. I am a mentally avid cyclist who finds herself marooned for six months in the land of ice and snow. Every two weeks Bike Bits, the online newsletter of the Adventure Cycling Association, arrives in my mailbox and taunts me with tales of round-the-world travelers, fund-raising rides, interesting artwork composed of bike parts–you get the picture. Prefacing each issue is a quote, usually bike- or travel-related, that kind of sets the tone for the issue. I’ve determined to take that as my structure, my inspiration, my timetable. Every two weeks at a minimum I will try to post to this blog.

So, I limbered up the old Google and read the poem entirely through, for the first time in way too many years. Frost’s point, so poignant, about wanting to travel both roads through the yellow wood, brought to mind all those choices I’ve made that have closed off other paths. Though I am content, for the most part, with the roads I’ve taken, still there is that sigh of wistfulness for avenues that might have been. And many times I have said to myself “I can come back to that–I’ll do that another day”, but opportunity doesn’t arise anew, I never quite come upon that not-chosen path again. “…way leads on to way…”, and I’m left with memories of the long and satisfying journey, blemished only by a hazy yearning for more.


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I am caught off guard, over and over, by the stunning beauty of the place I live in.

It’s the end of the season, my favorite time of year when every green leaf changes into its holiday clothing; scarlet, gold, pumpkin orange adorn every field, forest and glade. Sandhill cranes, Canada and snow geese, black-capped chickadees, ravens and magpies join in a rollicking, avian version of “On the Wing Again”, and my heart leaps into the air with them. I want to GO!

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