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Ode to Anchorage

Tuesday, 15 August 2023, Anchorage

Who needs a national park to have an adventure?

The best schedule I could arrange for this trip included a layover in Anchorage before catching the US Mail flights into the next park. (They only fly on Monday and Thursday.) I figured I could find something to do in Alaska's largest city for two days (and another the following week). By the time I got here, I appreciated the chance to decompress, to come off the high of the last five days. (My father-in-law asked how I could top the last week. My answer: when you've done the best, turn your focus on the best of the rest.)

I loitered this morning, organizing my gear, piling up a load for laundry, uploading my paddling videos, considering how to re-pack for my next flights, and wondering whether to visit an urgent care for the ongoing arm pain.

I picked the right airBNB, since they provided mountain bikes for their guests. I looked at a tourist brochure for suggestions, then copied out directions to the visitor information office six miles away. Since the early morning blue skies had fled the onslaught of clouds, I checked the forecast: rain starting around 3:00 and continuing until dark.

Great. It's already noon.

I hopped on the bike and took off. Left at 72nd. Right on the frontage road. Left on Dowling. Right on the C St. Trail.

Oops! The trail i joined was the Campbell Creek Trail, which curves away from downtown. I had to ask five different people for directions before someone straightened me out, sending me back a half-mile.

Soon I sped north on the C St. Trail... until I hit construction. Detour signs directed me to the opposite side of the street, but there was no alternate trail there. For two blocks I wove through strip mall parking lots before I could get back on track.

Once I reached downtown, I again asked for directions to Visitor Info. With a total lack of signage, I had to have an older gentleman walk me there (through another construction zone). At least now I have maps.

Those travails killed my timing, as it had now passed 1:30. Luckily, I stumbled upon a food cart selling reindeer sausage (sorry, kids, but I'm eating Rudolf!), so that covered lunch. As I ate, I felt the first tentative drops of mist.

I didn't linger, since I still needed to find a grocery store, so I could heat up dinner tonight and avoid a rainy walk to a restaurant. On the C St. Trail, WalMart handled my needs, and I hit the road for my last miles.

With a couple of miles left, I noticed the pavement getting wet. Not enough rain to stop and put on my rain gear. The sprinkles ebbed, then began again as I turned on my street. Made it! No more marinating in wilderness...

Wednesday, 16 August 2023, Anchorage

As Ashley drove me to my room Monday, I mentioned checking out the Coastal Trail if the rain stopped. She laughed and said, "In Anchorage, 'Will it rain?' is not the right question. Instead, bikers ask, 'How wet am I willing to get?'"

All-righty then! I still checked the forecast, which said 'rain ending by 12:30.' How convenient - once I handled emails and confirmed my next reservations, I hit the road at 12:27. Leaden clouds still filled the skies and puddles dotted the trail, but it looked good to go. I headed west on bike paths paralleling Dowling/Raspberry Rd, heading for the southern terminus of the trail.

In the western suburbs, forests replaced businesses, and the trail trended uphill. As nature started dominating, I ran into a patch of dense drizzle. Within a minute I was drenched. But as Ashley hinted, that didn't stop people. As I slowly pedaled uphill, I came across a half-dozen or more roller bladers, all decked out in wet Lycra and spandex. As I passed one man pushing his way up the slope with ski poles, I commented, "That doesn't look easy!" He paused to catch his breath, then said, "You got that right!" Moments later I passed a man preparing to zip downhill. He grinned, and with rain dripping from his chin, said, "Isn't this great!"

The drizzle lasted 15 minutes, quitting once I reached the top of the bluff. The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail - named for the governor that got it built - started here,

heading downhill then paralleling the Cook Inlet. As I twisted and turned through the lush boreal forest (also known as taiga, or 'land of many sticks'), I wondered if the stories of over a hundred moose living in the city and frequenting the trails were true. Within minutes, I came upon three women standing beside the trail. "There's a moose right there," they warned me, pointing ahead.

Sure enough, Bullwinkle stood just off the trail, munching on the greenery,

enjoying a late lunch. (Rocky was nowhere to be seen.) I dropped my pack and slipped out my camera, getting a few shots. Despite my glee at photo-bagging another of the biggest wild species, I didn't feel the same rush as during our close bear encounters.

Okay, now I can relax and focus on the rest of the trail. When it reached the base of the bluff, I took the side trail down to the beach. Cook Inlet has the fourth highest tides in the world (with Canada's Bay of Fundy leading the pack) at over 30' - and the tide was out now. A vast mud flat spread out from a grassy bench.

Overhead, the clouds parted enough to dapple the scene in sunshine.

Continuing down the trail, I stopped at each of the benches, checking out the changing views. This was my day's only scheduled adventure, and I saw no reason to rush. At a few stops, the skyline of Anchorage perched in the distance.

Walkers, joggers, and other bikers shared the path - as did a few more minutes of a light drizzle. Further down the trail, the grassy bench disappeared, replaced by wide sheets of mud furrowed by miniature canyons. It looked like a scale model of Canyonlands!

Eventually I reached Earthquake Park, a memorial to 1964's Good Friday earthquake that devastated the state. Interpretive signs told of the shaking that lasted four minutes and its aftermath. Ports such as Valdez and Seward were leveled by fire or tsunami waves, or (in Seward's case) tsunami waves that were on fire (the result of an oil depot that ruptured and exploded).

The most visible evidence of the damage in Anchorage lies in Earthquake Park. Here you can see the land that dropped 25-40' and slid 100' shoreward. The terrain is now jumbled, hills, ruts, bogs all giving testimony to the fury of nature. A dirt nature trail runs through a portion of it, but several days of rain had turned it into mud, discouraging me from trying it.

Soon the trail entered the edge of the city. The trail attracted scores of visitors;

one electronic sign touted 100 cyclists today, 1500 for August so far, 3500 for July.

The character of the trail changed, passing houses and industry. On Chester Creek, the city had restored the environment, forming a lagoon that overflowed into a 'grass creek', which reflects the original native name for the area.

All told, I took 3½ hours to meander the 11-mile trail. From yesterday's ride, I knew the way home. By the time I got back, I could feel all the 25+ miles of the day. At least the rubber-band feeling in my arm had stabilized with two days of resting it.

Now I had the evening to repack for the next leg of my adventure.

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