How Alaskan's Survive Winter

It’s February. The temperature outside reads 16 degrees F and feels like 2 degrees F. Today is warmer than it has been. What do you do with a sunny day that raises the spirits? You go out and have an adventure. The winter sun combined with the cold is magical and transforms the landscape into a peaceful winter wonderland. I have come to appreciate the peace and calm of winter.

Most of Alaska is tundra, rain forest or bog. There are so many places unreachable in warmer months. In winter, for the most part, the extent of your ambition and power are your limitations for where you can explore. Rivers, tundra, bogs all freeze making what is impassible 70% of the year possible now as one is no longer restricted by trails and roads which, by August are overgrown.

There are a few favorite fat tire bike rides that locals do every winter when the conditions are right. Fat tire biking to Kink Glacier is one of them. This is not for the faint of heart nor the ill prepared. This ride requires patience, perseverance and the proper equipment as a round trip ride can easily total forty miles.  If you go at the right time and know the right trails, you can make it there and back in just over 20 miles. For the most part the bike ride is leisurely and flat as you bike up a frozen river to the face of Kink Glacier. Knik Glacier itself measures 5 miles wide and 25 miles long which provides endless exploring and amazing photography opportunists once you reach it.

I enjoy the power of my own two legs, the steady and methodical peddling along flat terrain. My saddle bags are full of snacks, extra layers and a stove for a warm drink once I reach the glacier. This is a journey, one to be savored. I set in at a pace that keeps me warm and comfortable but not one that breaks a sweat. Stopping when I want to take pictures and capture moments that, once the ice is melted, I will not see again.

This is what winter in Alaska is all about, this is how we survive. Waking up before the break of dawn, in January and February is not hard to do, drink coffee and eat a hearty breakfast before heading out for the day. I get excited about the adventure and opportunity of the mountains and landscape in which I live. Granted, I also have the gear to be able to go out in 2 degrees and stay warm. I have learned a few lessons, some the hard way, one of them is that there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad gear. I live in Alaska because I love to play, I love to go on adventures and I love to be outside. Therefore, there is no off season.

 

The Mountains Are Calling

I fell asleep last night to the sound of rain, relentlessly pounding the roof then falling to the ground, puddling briefly before continuing down into the earth. August in Alaska. I woke up this morning to the clouds breaking apart and the sun shinning through. This first thing I always do after I wake up is go to the living room window and look out at the Chugach Mountains. What kind of day it is going to be in the mountains today? The clouds puffed up over the peaks filtering the morning light. While the mountains were still in shadows this morning, the silhouette brought a smile to my face. Beautiful.

Opening the front door I stepped outside and was met with crisp, refreshing air with a bite of cold. I know this air; fall. This is the feeling of snow looming in the near future. Just as you can smell rain and feel heat, snow also has a tell. Driving to my favorite coffee shop the clouds gave way and the sun reached the peaks, termination dust. The first dusting of snow signaling the end of summer is near. For me, this used to mean it was almost time to put the running shoes and bikes away and get the skis out for their first wax.

In more recent years my skis have stayed in the garage. My mountain bike and I go for longer rides further into the late fall. When the snow finally decides to stay for good through the winter I switch to my Fat Bike. It was instant love when I road my Fat Bike for the first time a few years ago. The five inch tires and extra wide handle bars, it was an entire new biking experience. We are not yet at the point in the year where I have to put my studded tires on my Fat Bike by any means, my mountain bike and I have several more weeks of exploring and riding to do. Just, perhaps with a few more layers than last week.

It is just this enjoyment of biking and exploring that has lead me to start up Alaska Trail Guides. I am lucky that my dream has come true and that I am able to live my passion. When I am not biking and sharing Anchorage and its trails with those who are visiting, I am out on my bike exploring, riding and looking for new places to share with people.

My most recent longer bike ride lead me into the Chugach Mountains. Pulling into the parking lot on a Tuesday morning I was shocked at how busy it was. Just three years ago I was coming here on weekday mornings and the parking lot would maybe be ⅓ full. This particular Tuesday it was 90% full. People are making their way to the mountains and trail heads more and more which is great to see. Get out! Enjoy the day and be an active participant in experiencing the world. My dog jump out the car to go great another as I unloaded my mountain bike. A few short minutes later we took off down the trail. This particular trail head is a jumping off point of large trail system and most hikers go up the nearest mountain. My plan, to bike as far as I could see up valley. Within a mile we had left the crowd behind and were on our own.

The trail is an old wide gravel road no longer used by vehicles. With mountains rising up on either side, a creeks steady flow can be heard below, I peddled further back. My dog dogging off the trail every now and then as the ground squirrels chirped. Song birds singing and jumping about in the alders that line the trail. The wilderness is never quiet, but it is peaceful. On the look out for moose and bears I made it to the saddle, about 6 miles up valley. Taking some time to enjoy a small mountain lake and my lunch, my dog waded in the water cooling off and getting a refreshing and much earned drink of water. Getting back on my bike we began our gradual decent back towards Anchorage.  

As the winter draws nearer I know that this is a ride I can continue to do late into the fall and early winter. As the snow starts to fall I will switch to my Fat Bike. Hopefully I will have the pleasure of sharing this ride with you. 

I met a man named Scott

Last week, I met Scott. I had the pleasure of spending two days biking with him, connecting and sharing. Now, before I continue I would like to throw out there that I have been guiding for 10 years. With this in mind, I have met a lot of people, no two people have ever been the same. The two days with Scott encapsulate why I love guiding and why I have such a passion for owning and running my own company.  Within the first minute of meeting Scott he asked me a question that I have never been asked before: “Will there be any stops along the way where I can play my guitar?”. I did quick scan for his guitar and did not see it. Scott continued: “if there is, can I can run up to my room real quick and grab it?” We were going mountain biking in Kincaid Park and it was forecasting rain. Straight from the singletrack trails we were to jump onto the Coastal Trail and head to Downtown Anchorage. I explained this to Scott and let him know that tomorrow (day two) there would be a couple great spots along the way, as we would be on pavement out the Turnagain Arm with better weather and the vehicle would meet us with his guitar.

The weather held and we did not get rained on. We biked two loops adding up to about nine miles of singletrack, splashing through puddles, exploring the woods, learning about the native plants and simply enjoying the moment. A female moose (cow) with her calf greeted us as we transitioned from singletrack to pavement. At a respectful distance we were able to observe her and her calf graze along the edge of the trail and disappear into the woods.  My first day with Scott I appreciated his genuine interest in the moment and the world around him. I also learned more about the guitar.

3:33 pm. Every moment in time has the potential for being imprinted on us. This moment in time was one for him. While the reason is not a happy one, Scott has taken it and turned it into a positive influence in his life. Scott experienced a loss a few years ago at 3:33 pm. Someone who left this world before his time. I have a feeling Scott has always lived mindfully, however, since he made a point of no longer putting off till tomorrow what he can do today. One of those things was playing his guitar. He had been doing what most of us do, I will play tomorrow, I will make time tomorrow. Scott’s tomorrow became today and now he makes a point of picking his guitar up everyday and playing.

Day two, I picked Scott up, guitar in hand and we headed South. The sun was coming out and it promised to be a beautiful day. We started our drive out the Seward Highway. I can not count how many times I have done the drive to Girdwood, however, it never gets old and if you look around there is always something new to see. Scott quoted John Muir and I am sure it tied into the conversation and beautiful scenery, but what sticks with me is the quote: “for going out, I found, was really going in.” Shortly after, he picked up his guitar, the conversation quieted and he started strumming. The feeling in the van was calm and reflective.

Our first five miles of our bike ride were peaceful. The tide was high, the wind was quiet, the birds were awake and the sun was out. Scott’s mindfulness and appreciation of where we were was very present. We paused at various view points along the Bird to Gird path and shared information and stories as we biked. At Bird Point we met up with the vehicle and he swapped the bike for his guitar. Wandering out the view point he found a spot in the sun, pulled out a travel chair and settled into strumming his guitar. I asked him how he decided what to play. His response was simple: “I play what the moment feels like”. I sat near him and enjoyed his music, watched the birds flying, the tide transitioning and people passing. My thoughts wandered and reflected on what the moment inspired. He would occasionally ask a question, showing that as he played he was also reflecting and watching the world around him. We chatted quietly then settle back into the music and reflection.

The second half of our ride was similar to the first. The day continued to warm and the morning stretched into the afternoon as we arrived in Girdwood. Guitar in hand, Scott peered out the window as we made our ascent to 2,100 feet in the tram at Alyeska Resort. Overlooking Girdwood we continued to swap stories and share good memories. Finishing up a well earned lunch we wandered down the stairs off the back side of the tram building to find a good spot to sit and play guitar. Up in the mountains in Girdwood Valley, Scott sat and strummed as inspiration lead him. I had the pleasure of enjoying his music three times over the course of the day. Each time a different tune, happy, calming and fitting to the moment.

While Scott found Alaska Trail Guides and I helped him during his Alaskan trip to exercise, wonder and find inspirational places to strum his guitar. I equally enjoyed our experience and adventure together. The two days biking with Scott embodied my motivation and reason for starting Alaska Trail Guides. They solidified that I am on the right path and that people who search for what they want will find it. I look forward to sharing many more experience with those who travel to Alaska.

Elly