from the sweltering hot and technically challenging trails of new jersey.
to the cool, comfortable trails of alaska, with their long, gradual climbs, roots, occasional rocks and assortment of unfamiliar animals.
i came seeking adventure, more enjoyable employment and a better environment for myself. i had my reservations about leaving family, friends and my beloved trails so far behind, but alaska's a big state, and was/is more than heavy enough to tip the scales in it's favor for me.
i like the cold, i like the woods, i dislike crowds. i've found the answer to all three of those here. i had come up for the susitna 100 back in february of 08, and the place just clicked. i had kind of had alaska in the back of my mind for years, and figured a bike race in february up here would be enough to let me know if i would be able to hack it with the weather. when i left i knew that i HAD to go back, for good. so i gave my notice at work and to my housemates/landlord. everyone was supportive. maybe just sick of the smell.
i left with some money saved, a new concept for me. after all, i intended for this one to be permanent. i was thinking that if, for some reason, i was unable to find work till the winter, i had enough to eek by on beans and tortillas. i left alot of my belongings and alot of untied ends in new jersey when i borded the plane. i've never been good with deadlines. arrived in alaska and was picked up by manny, who insisted i stay with him in his spare room till i was settled.
within the first week, i managed to fry something in my laptop beyond reasonable repair. falling back on my lack of ability to save, i ordered a new laptop.
the trails in anchorage, in the summer, were a blast. loamy, rooty, twisty and fun. the trails on the kenai penninsula, where i spent my first weekend were even better. long and fast singletrack. i managed a second place finish in a small, two day club race down there called the bon ton roulet two day. most of the photos i got from that weekend died with the cell phone i had been carrying. the scenery was fantastic though. it started friday night with an out and back on the crescent lake trail. from the start, one rider, chuck took off like a rocket. i managed to keep pace back a ways with paul and brian on the fireroad to the singletrack, but managed to pull away from them as we entered the singletrack. it was a really fun trail. fast climbing on dry switchbacks through spruce forest with occasional dips into rocky creek crossings.
i rounded one bend and saw a skid mark in the trail. further around the bend was scratched, with a stick i think, i abig X and the word "BEAR". at that point i began ringing my bell about every two seconds. i was used to northeast blackbears, who had always run the other way upon hearing or seeing me, but the bears up here are big, really big, and do on occasion eat people. i was definitely apprehensive. i was also greeted with a surprise a few more bends up the trail when i came upon chuck removing his jacket. he was happy to have someone to ride with, as the bear had freaked him out a bit, but i was spent. i tried to hang with him as best i could, but he was just going too fast, and was soon out of sight again up the trail. by the time he passed me on his return trip, he was nearly a mile ahead of me.
for as much fun as the ride up was, the ride back down was even better. really fast and fun. people had warned me about the switchbacks being treacherous on the way down, so i was cautious rounding the tight bends, but let it rip in between. coming into a benchcut dogleg in the trail, i managed to two wheel drift right off the side at i would guess maybe 15 mph by the time my tires left the trail. i looked down the hill i was about to tumble down and saw piles of dead spruce, their snapped in half branched sticking straight up. i thought for sure this one was really gonna hurt. somehow though, i managed to escape with only a little bit of scraped skin and some bruises, and the bike was fine. i climbed back up to the trail and took off again.
reached the fireroad and i was in rough shape. bonking maybe. i had to walk several of the hills, and was wondering who was going to catch me first, paul or brian. the fireroad portion had seemed sooo much shorter on the way out. finally though, i reached the final descent to the parking lot, and finished the first day in second.
i slept well that night, then woke up in the morning, and had a wonderful breakfast at a local lodge with carlos and paul. carlos is the race director, and drove me to and from the race, since i was carless at that point. we then headed to the start of the second stage, another out and back from the town of hope. it was originally going to be a point to point, but lingering snow up high made it what it was.
from the start, it was the same as the day before. chuck off the front, and me with two other riders till we reached the singletrack. from that point on i was alone till i saw chuck coming back down about a mile from where he turned around. this was a longer day, 44ish miles compared to the 24ish the day before. it took place on the ressurection trail, with similar terrain to the crescent lake trail. the biggest difference being that we climbed up above treeline before turning around at the first major snowpatch across the trail. as before, the descent was more fun than the climb, and this time, the last few miles of dirt road were actually enjoyable. i finished the day again in second. i think my combined time for the two days put me 20 minutes or so behind chucks combined times.
later that week my buddy kim called and told me of a job he knew of opening up in the valley north of anchorage. said to go sign up at the union hall and he would pick me up in a couple of days to come up for an interview. i met him at one of the local trailheads, we and several others went for a ride, then i headed up to the kittredge residence in palmer, where i stayed during the su 100 and where i'm sitting right this very second to spend a couple of nights and attend the interview.
i ended up getting a different job with the same company, and began work and my life in the mat-su valley that next week.
next installment will probably finish out the summer. and will certainly have more photos. i promise.