Alaska

Winter’s icy clutch has come

 

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The arrival of the winter solstice yesterday made me think about winter, in its most raw, powerful form.

I used to live in a wintry place, Anchorage, Alaska. I spent six years there, meaning six winters. One measures a true year in winters in Alaska. I first feared the cold, and then embraced it after I took up skate skiing. Soon, I found myself skiing almost every day of the winter season on Anchorage’s miles of multi-use trails and its world-class ski trails in Kincaid Park and on the Anchorage Hillside.

In 2008, the winter was particularly nasty. We had a stretch of days below -10 F for almost two weeks. I was sidelined with a bad running injury, and I was unable to exercise like I normally did. The hoarfrost was both beautiful and terrifying, because it signified how dangerous the elements were. To this day I don’t know how the ravens, moose, lynx, stellar jays, owls, foxes, wolves, and other local critters survived such conditions, with no respite from mother nature.

I did love my walks, and I used my period of convalescence to document the icy beauty of the Anchorage area, including some festivals where ice sculptures were installed in a downtown park that was turned into an ice skating rink. It was so cold that year, qualifying heats for the U.S. National Cross Country Ski Team were cancelled at Anchorage’s Kincaid Park because of the potential harm the cold could have to the athletes.

So, on our first day of winter, in the northern hemisphere, I say, all hail winter. May your icy clutch be gentle and memorable.

Advertisements

Fall surf season has arrived with the Alaskan storms

It has been little more than a year now since I began surfing in Oregon, mostly at Seaside. It is about 85 miles from Portland, which means I can only get there once a weekend, if I am lucky, given my commitments.

My regular weekend trips that have been taking place since May are now drawing to a close with the arrival of storms that howl out off the North Pacific, from Alaska all the way down to northern California. Waves can kick up to larger than 10-12 feet when they hit the Oregon Coast. It can be a nasty brew of churlish waves, dangerous rips, and strong winds that stop even the hardiest surfer. I have been thoroughly pounded in these conditions.

I went out last weekend, and I paid dearly. The waves ranged from five to seven feet, and many pummeled me. Two weeks earlier, it was almost the same.

From here on out through the spring, surfing will be sporadic. I will monitor the weather forecasts and see if those red blobs on the radar translate to large winter swells offshore. We occasionally get breaks in the weather, and everyone comes rushing to the coast.

It is amazing to see how tough and talented many of the local surf crew are. The best and also the more protective “locals” were ripping it at Seaside Point, which is infamous for its localism and attitude. I spotted overheads at least 10 feet high that the very best short board surfers were carving gracefully with their lines. The point is just to the far left of the moonrise shot, where the rocks touch the water by the trees.

Fourth of July, Anchorage Style (2007)

(Click on each photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

It is the 241st birthday of the United States of America. For the 231st party, in 2007, I was in Anchorage, living the Alaska dream. On a typically cloudy Anchorage July day, I walked from my nearby home to downtown and caught the annual Fourth of July parade.

These parades are magnificent in Alaska. Alaskans know how to make them inclusive and celebratory for everyone who calls the Great Land home. They show participants what community means, because in a harsh place, you have to rely on others. You really cannot do it alone.

The parade in Anchorage also brought back fond memories of seeing July 4 parades in Sitka, where I once lived briefly in 1992, and then visited for a Fourth of July in 2004.

The 2007 parade in Anchorage featured a diverse stream of floats and bands, from the U.S. military, the city’s diverse ethnic communities, musicians of all kinds and the LGBTQ community. If you cannot make it to Alaska for a Fourth of July parade, you can enjoy this one from a decade back. Have a great holiday.

Alaska fall colors, as good as it gets

The past few days of news just totally sucked the wind out of my sails. Syrian conflict and refugees. Remembrances of 9-11 and how our country responded to this challenge. Global warming. It just goes on–argh!

So what to do? Remember, there is nature, nature, nature. I miss what Alaska could give me on a crisp, clear fall day. The colors and the cold air are without peers. Though, I would love to see what the fall colors in Kamchatka look like–I bet as pristine. So, in honor of tuning out the world and turning on to nature, I present for you fall in Alaska. All the shots were taken in Chugach State Park and one of the moose in the driveway next to my house in urban Anchorage. (Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

 

Fourth of July, Alaska style…ah the memories

(Click on each photo to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

Fourth of July is always a great time to enjoy the outdoors and the incredible nature in Alaska. Many Alaskans who live in its largest city, Anchorage, celebrate by going to Seward for the annual Mt. Marathon race. This is a 3.1-mile race, with an elevation gain of 3,022 feet, and slopes average 34 degrees. This all takes place above the breathtaking scenery of Resurrection Bay, where sea otters and orcas can be spotted from the boat and even the shore.

Up to 10,000 people will gather in the city’s historic downtown for the start and finish of the state’s most famous mountain race–and there are many mountain races. This contest is the shortest of the state’s “official” mountain races, but one of the most grueling, because of the sheer verticality of the climb and the risk of injury.

One year an older male racer who likely never should have competed went missing and his body was never recovered. Another year a man suffered brain trauma during a terrible fall near the end of the descent. So this is not a race for sissies and people who do not respect and understand the mountains. A bunch of my friends always competed, and I went a number of times during my six years living in Anchorage.

The race pictures seen here are from 2009 and 2010. The 2010 shot features the top three female runners: hometown favorite and champion Cedar Bourgeois, Olympic skier Holly Brooks. and Olympic skier Kikkan Randall. That year, Bourgeois won her sixth race in a row (tieing a course record), with a personal best of 51:48. All three of these racers are among the state’s finest athletes ever. Randall and Brooks have competed for the United States Nordic Ski Team in the Olympics.

The other pictures shown in the gallery come from the Forest Fair, a laid-back carnival and craft fair held during the Fourth of July weekend in Girdwood, the scenic town at the base of the Chugach Mountains about 45 miles from Anchorage. It celebrates its 41st year right this summer. I loved this event. The setting is unbelievably gorgeous.

Sadly, in past years, the local yahoos–and they are many, and awful–became so rowdy and engaged in so many drunken and destructive behaviors, organizers wisely shut the event down. If you go the the Greal Land (aka Alaska), don’t worry about the bears. Make a lot of noise, and you will be perfectly fine. Happy Fourth of July, Alaska!

Roger Gollub: doctor, leader, mensch

A year after the utterly senseless killing of the best man I have ever known, Dr. Roger Gollub, I decided to pay tribute to him around Westchester Lagoon, in Anchorage. I put these signs up on a cold November Saturday, in 2009. It is where Roger often went for walks with his dog, Sophie, and it is where we spent some memorable moments walking and talking about nothing in particular at all. I cannot claim to have known him that well. But I still miss him, and so do hundreds and hundreds of his former patients, coworkers, family members, and friends. Thanks for everything, mensch!

Leaving Alaska on the Inside Passage

Five years ago almost to the day I left the Great Land, as Alaskans call their home. I departed the exact same way I came up, taking the Inside Passage on the Alaska Marine Highway, from Haines to Prince Rupert, BC. (FYI, that is the state-run ferry system.) That is just an incredible way to experience one of the world’s cleanest, healthiest, and most scenic waterways and landscapes.

I captured all of these photos on my pont and shoot Canon, which did what I wanted to do–preserve a memory of a very important moment in time when I transitioned from one stage of my life to another. (Click on each picture to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)

The Resurrection River, Alaska

One of my favorite day trips from Anchorage was traveling to Hope, Alaska, and then heading up the Resurrection Trail on the Kenai Peninsula. Lots of bears in here, but almost no salmon. I think the salmon runs had been decimated by placer mining on the Resurrection River, and fish and game officials were trying to restore the runs as I was leaving the state in 2010. Ran and biked many times along this beauty, including a 50 mile ultra. Always great in June.

Welcome to Alaska

This is an oldie, and a goodie. I converted this to black and white. Every May I grow very nostalgic about Alaska and the amazing memories that it seared into my soul. Thanks, Alaska. Still loving and missing you very much.

For those who have not driven to Alaska, this is the entrance sign to Tok. I took this photo 11 years ago, and I do not know if it is still hanging. Things can take a beating in the winter there. (Click on the photograph to see a larger picture on a separate picture page.)