Leadville Silver Rush 50 (2014)

With great anticipation, I returned to the base of the Dutch Henry Ski Hill with my sites set on a sub 6:00 race.

_MG_3305 _MG_3304Drawing on my experience from last year, I was much more aggressive in finding a position towards the front.  I wanted to be able to attack the hill and be in front of the bottleneck that occurs a few miles in.

_MG_3308

My lovely wife. First race as a married man!

_MG_3307

My brand new mother in law. Crewing her first race today!

With almost double the training (literally, double the miles), I felt much more confident in my ability to excel in the race.

As the gun went off, I attacked the bottom half of the hill and found myself panting and out of breath about halfway up.  I backed off the pace but continued to be aggressive.  I didn’t want to get caught in the back when the trail goes to single track.  I lost too much time there last year.

_MG_3339

Get to this turn as quickly as possible. It will save you minutes.

_MG_3322 _MG_3324 _MG_3326 _MG_3328 The course meanders for the first few miles but after a steep drop, the climb begins in earnest.  From miles 3-10 you climb from 9,950 to 12,000 feet along a gradual 4WD road.  As you approach the top, it gets steeper and there are spots where I was forced to hike a bike.  I reached the top in 1:23, my goal had been 75 minutes so I was a bit behind but not terribly.  I quickly descended down to the first aid station and arrived only 2 minutes behind my goal of 90 minutes.

Christine getting me restocked.

Christine getting me restocked.

The big climb down, now it was time for the short, steep ones.

The big climb down, now it was time for the short, steep ones.

_MG_3349   _MG_3362 _MG_3368 _MG_3367 _MG_3370 _MG_3372 I was feeling good.  Nowhere near as cooked as last time.  I grabbed what I needed and rolled out.  It’s a fun descent out of the aid station and then the climb begins.

The climb was tougher than last year.  It seemed to be more rutted out and more loose than I remembered.  There was definitely more hiking for me and I started to fall off my goal splits.  I hit the turnaround 20 minutes behind schedule at 3:04.  It’s a faster course back, so I wasn’t tremendously concerned, but I knew the climb out from Stumptown was going to be tough.

Several of my amazing crew for the day.

Several of my amazing crew for the day.

Approaching the 2nd aid station.

Approaching the 2nd aid station.

_MG_3382

Storms were building and I was nervous about getting wet, but I decided to forego the rain jacket.  The climb back out from Stumptown is steep and can be quite a bit sketchy with riders coming down the steep single track from the summit.  I practiced my mantra of RFM..Relentless Forward Motion.  I had a bit of hole to dig out of, but I wasn’t done yet.

As I summited the the climb out of Stumptown, the wind was starting to pick up so I hustled my way off the 12,000 foot pass and into the trees.  There is a quick climb again before the long descent to 32 mile mark.  It’s only 300 feet, but if you’re not mentally ready for it (I wasn’t last year), it hurts.

I opened up the throttle on the descent and really noticed a difference in my full-suspension vs. the hard tail I rode last year.  I was also a much better downhill rider than last year.  Both of these helped my time significantly.

As I reached the beginning of the final climb, I doubled down and focused on pedaling.  The aid station at Printer Boy breaks up the climb nicely and that was my primary goal.  Try and gain as much time back before Printer Boy and then work my way up to the base of Mt. Sherman.

I got to Printer Boy at 4:36, only 19 minutes ahead of last year.  I was concerned sub 6 hours wasn’t going to happen, but the opportunity was still on the table.  As I climbed back up to 12,000 feet, my legs began to cramp up a bit and I had to stop occasionally to stretch them out, but I was able to continuously climb.  It’s straightforward and smooth, just long. You can see much of it the entire time.

I reached the summit at 5:16, 24 minutes ahead of last year.  I just needed a little bit more time to get under 6.  It was going to be an aggressive descent!

I let loose and tore down the hill.  The next 7 miles were covered in 26 minutes, putting me at 5:42 with 3 miles to go.  The final 3 are rolling hills that require your attention in shifting as well as digging deep to get up the small climbs.  I attacked with everything I had left and forced water down to keep fueling me.  I was cutting it close and I knew it.

To get to the finish line, you go on top of Dutch Henry Hill and down a trail just north of it.  I sprinted across the top and knew that I was under 6, but I pushed just to make sure.

_MG_3390 _MG_3392 _MG_3394

The clock read 5:57:11, almost 3 minutes under my goal.  Cut it close, but got it done!

_MG_3401 _MG_3404 _MG_3405 _MG_3402 _MG_3407 _MG_3409 _MG_3413 _MG_3412With my goal accomplished, we enjoyed dinner and a beer in the race expo.  The difference between how I felt this year vs. last year was night and day.  Last year, I was tanked and exhausted.  This year, I could feel that I had undergone a big effort, but I wasn’t dead.

Little did I know, I was going to need that feeling in a few weeks.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Day 7: Touring Anchorage and Red Eye to Denver

On our final day in Alaska, we finally slept in.  Being a more active honeymoon, we had been up pretty early on each of the days before.  We took our time getting out of the room and the Hilton was very kind to give us late checkout at noon and free breakfast without us even asking.  Before we left, we got our things packed up and ready to go.  We didn’t want to deal with it when we got back.

We went out for an early lunch at Orso (http://www.orsoalaska.com) to get our last fix of Alaskan seafood.  The restaurant was quiet but the food was good.  The asparagus and egg was a bold choice, but I would recommend it.  

Afterwards, we made our final trip to REI to return the bear spray canister we hadn’t used.  We felt kind of guilty about it, but it was $50 and we couldn’t bring it back with us per TSA rules.  When we walked up to the return counter, the customer in front of us was returning at least 10 canisters of bear spray.  Seeing that, we felt decidedly less guilty about our return.

Afterwards, we head out to Chugach State Park for a short afternoon hike.  We didn’t have a specific plan, but stumbled upon Flat Top Mountain, which offered amazing views of Anchorage and the surrounding peaks and bay.  

The trail varies.  Sometimes uber steep (like the start) and other times very gentle and wide.  We were disappointed by the condition of the trail.  Many people were just hiking anywhere with no regard for the mountain.  We even saw a group sliding down the tundra from the peak on their butts.  

_MG_3787 _MG_3788 _MG_3790 _MG_3792 _MG_3791 _MG_3798 _MG_3800 _MG_3803 _MG_3807 _MG_3812 _MG_3817 _MG_3809 _MG_3813 _MG_3819 _MG_3821 _MG_3826 _MG_3827 _MG_3831 _MG_3839

It was a 1.6 mile climb to the top, covering about 1300 feet of elevation gain.  It was a perfect workout and we found ourselves on the summit in a little over an hour.  There was a nice little section that bordered on class 3 just below the summit.  It was a bit sketchy with the a lot of rocks being kicked down on us from hikers above.  We almost turned around so make sure you choose your time and place wisely on this climb!

We made quick work of the decent and got back to our car around 50 minutes after leaving the summit for a total hike time of 2:03, covering 3.6 miles.  

Afterwards, it was off to King Street brewery (http://www.kingstreetbrewing.com), our sole remaining brewery to visit.  We had enjoyed their IPA in the tall boy cans throughout our trip so it was great to visit it’s home.  The brewery is small, but has a great tap room tucked away in an industrial park near Adventure Appetites (http://www.adventureappetites.com) where we had gotten our dehydrated food from a few days ago.  

IMG_1746

 

Our next stop was back to our favorite brewery of the trip, Midnight Sun (http://midnightsunbrewing.com) for some food and a couple more brews.  Fittingly enough, we sat at the same table we ended up on our first visit at the beginning of the trip.  We highly recommended this brewery as well.  It’s tucked away in an industrial park (different one than King Street) and has a great patio and a big variety of beers.  On our way out, we picked up an Arctic Sun Barleywine to cellar for a year and open next July to celebrate our honeymoon.    

IMG_1747

 

After this, we headed to the airport.  We were ready to sit still, even if it was a bit early.  We figured we could check in and grab a beer or two.  Not so.  Frontier doesn’t staff their check in desk until 2 hours before the flight.  So instead of being past security and relaxing, we were stuck in the check in area with 50+ other people who had the same idea.  Add on a 45 minute wait once the clerks finally showed up because everyone had to check in at once.  Frontier’s trend towards Spirit Airlines is not a good thing.  Cheap flights are great and all, but not at the expense of wasted time.

Once we were finally through, we found a spot and watched some of Captain Philips, which we ultimately finished on the plane.  Great movie if you haven’t seen it.

With that, we were back off to the Lower 48 and the wonderful state of Colorado.  Alaska is an expanse of wilderness that is unparalleled in anything that I have seen.  We spoke with a couple on our flight back that had spent the same 7 days here but had a completely different experience.  We look forward to returning and experience more of what The Last Frontier has to offer. 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Day 6: Denali, Denali, Denali!

We woke up in our fancy pants hotel in Talkeetna after a phenomenal nights sleep in a warm, dry bed.  We had explored a bit of the town (it took a couple minutes to do so) last night, but we wanted to check it out when we felt a bit more fresh so we headed down to town for breakfast.

We got ready and headed out the front door of the “non-view” side of the hotel.  Quick detour here.  When Christine had booked the room the night before, they had asked if we wanted a view side or non-view side.  It was a $50+ difference so we said, non-view and were greeted to a view of rolling hills and green forest.  We chuckled that this qualified as non-view.   We were about to understand why.

We rounded a corner on our way into town and noticed a bunch of RVs pulled off the side of the road.  We wondered why and may have made fun of them…until we rounded the corner and got smacked in the face with a massive view of Denali.  Our response to it was pure awe mixed with a “holy shit!”  We pulled over as fast as we could and tried to take pictures with our cell phones…which quickly revealed themselves to be incapable of capturing her magic, so we drove back up the hill to our hotel to grab my camera.  This is what ensued:

_MG_3730

Talkeetna pilots were taking off like crazy with the views.

_MG_3736 _MG_3722 _MG_3719  _MG_3724 _MG_3726

_MG_3767

Hard to captures faces in the foreground and Denali in the background but here is our best effort!

_MG_3754 _MG_3761 _MG_3765

To put into perspective what we were seeing (because the pictures certainly do not), the peak immediately to the left is a 14,000 foot peak and the far left is 17K.  This was mid-July and they are completely snow covered.  Quite the adjustment from Colorado where 14ers are bone dry this time of year.  And we’re a good distance away (50+miles?) as well.

We spent quite a bit of time gawking at the peak but finally decided to head down into Talkeetna for some food.  We ventured into the Wildflower Cafe (http://www.talkeetnasuites.com/wildflower-cafe.html) and just best the breakfast cutoff.  The shrimp omelet special was out of this world and needs to be in my life more often.  After breakfast, we took a little walk around town and stumbled on some fun/touristy places.

_MG_3751

Christine touristing.

_MG_3744 _MG_3745 _MG_3748 _MG_3749 _MG_3750

After wandering around Talkeetna, we headed back to pack up and make our way towards Anchorage for our last night in Alaska.  After packing, we considered driving back to the Denali viewpoint we had passed on the south side of the park, but as we were driving that way we noticed 2 things:

1. It was getting progressively cloudier.
2. It was a lot farther than we remembered.

So a little ways in, we turned around and pointed our car towards Anchorage.  I had been driving most of the way, so Christine took over and of course on the way out of town spotted a moose…while driving. I, the passenger, missed it!

Our moose.

Our moose.

The drive back to Anchorage was pretty straightforward, but we did finally hit up one of those espresso shacks in Wasilla…and it was delicious!

IMG_1718We also joined these folks in celebrating America.  Every. Damn. Day.

Down goes Britain!

Down goes Britain!

Once we got back in Anchorage, we check in at the Hilton (http://www3.hilton.com/en/hotels/alaska/hilton-anchorage-ANCAHHF/index.html) which promptly took great care of us with a few upgrades since it was our honeymoon.  I was exhausted so I took a lovely 5 PM nap while Christine venture around Anchorage at a local market of sorts.

_MG_3781

Reinder = Caribou.

_MG_3782

Alaska…Pissing off Texas since 1959. HA!

_MG_3776 _MG_3777 _MG_3778 _MG_3779 _MG_3783 _MG_3784 _MG_3785As I awakened from my doldrums, we worked out an evening plan to head over to Humpys (http://humpys.com/anc/) which was going to turn out to be an even better choice than we though.  We ended up sitting at the bar on open mic night with 30+ beers in front of us (http://humpys.com/anc/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/BEER2010-2.01.pdf).  Let’s just say we did alright.

Afterwards we paid a visit to the Snow Goose/Sleeping Lady Brewing Company (http://www.alaskabeers.com) which had just run out of IPA :-(.  However, the view was incredible as it overlooked the bay and we had a sunset view of Denali way off in the distance.

Despite the well-lit evening, we headed back to the hotel and fell asleep.  Sad that this was our last night on the Last Frontier but content with how we had spent our time.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Last Frontier Honeymoon: Honeymoon Day 4 and 5

Our final morning in Girdwood rolled around and we were ready for a change of scenery. The plan was to drive up to Denali State Park and hike Kesugi Ridge (http://www.backpacker.com/june-2012-life-list-kesugi-ridge-denali-state-park/destinations/16630) and hopefully get some views of Denali.

We started off the day with a visit to our favorite restaurant, the Bake Shop for the last time. With the weekend arriving (it was Friday), we had noticed a significant uptick in the population of the town and we managed to sneak in just before a line formed out the door for breakfast.

We of course had to make another stop at the Anchorage REI on our way through. The forecast called for rain so we picked up some rain covers for our packs as well as bear spray (that stuff is EXPENSIVE…but returnable!) and some food odds and ends. We had also read about a place called Adventure Appetites (http://www.adventureappetites.com) that made incredible dehydrated meals. The rumors were correct, but more on that later. I do recommend giving them 24+ hours notice though. They were able to squeeze us in on short notice, but it is definitely easier to call ahead.

A little preview of Adventure Appetites...and the rain to come later.

A little preview of Adventure Appetites…and the rain to come later.

IMG_1616

Tucked away in an industrial park.

Tucked away in an industrial park.

We finished our errands and headed up towards Denali.  The Alaskan interior is an interesting mix of suburban strip malls and wilderness encroaching on each other.  Oh…and copious amounts of espresso shacks on the side of the Parks Highway.

It’s a 3 hour drive from Anchorage to Denali State Park (2 or so if you’re Sarah Palin in Wasilla), so we just pumped up the tunes and kept watch for moose and bears (no luck).  We did however take a quick detour down the Talkeetna Spur to visit the Denali Brewing Company production facility/taproom (http://denalibrewingcompany.com) which is separate from their brewpub but was perfect for what we needed.  Denali makes an excellent blonde and Chuli Stout if you can track them down!

Late in the afternoon, we made our way to the Coal Creek Trailhead (George Parks Highway, Mile Marker 164) and started preparing to backpack.  It was great not to be worried about light.  We knew we had plenty of time to work our way to a decent spot for camping.

IMG_1619

Signing in.

Signing in.

The hike starts off gently climbing but quickly increases in steepness.  It was hot and muggy and the mosquitos were brutal, but the scenery was beautiful and took our minds off the negative.

IMG_1622 IMG_1623 IMG_1625 IMG_1627

One of the biggest differences between here and Colorado was the amount of water.  We constantly heard the sound of rushing water and passed a pond as well.  There were only a few cars at the trailhead, but we did pass one large group who had made a day trip up to treeline and back.  We also came across some fresh bear scat around the same time we saw them.  It was nice to be around quite a few people at that time.

As we gained treeline we started to get hungry and search for a spot to eat.  The wind had also picked up as we became more exposed.  We were able to find a spot to tuck away by a creek.  The mosquitos swarmed us but we were at least out of the wind.  The bowl we were tucked in was eerily silent but occasionally voices would carry in from an unknown location.  Definitely added a bit of creepy factor to it.

Christine quickly went to work on dinner and I chilled the beers in the creek.  It’s debatable which side was more important.

_MG_3699 _MG_3698 _MG_3697_MG_3690

Thing were starting to get tougher.

Thing were starting to get tougher.

Dinner was incredible.  We had hiked a little more than 4 miles, but knowing that if we wanted to leave a reasonable last 2 days, we needed to get to at least 6 miles tonight.  After dinner, we loaded back up, slightly lighter with less food and beer and continued on our way.  The trail is not challenging terrain wise.  Once you gain treeline, its rolls gently as far as the eye can see, but the weather can definitely increase the challenge factor.  This was the case with us.

Clouds were rolling in and out and with them came varying levels of moisture.  We would have been capable of getting to 7  or more miles, but the weather took its toll and we set up camp just past 6 miles.

IMG_1635 IMG_1636 IMG_1638

We got things set up and chilled a few more beers to enjoy once we were done.  We were fairly protected below the trail so it was quite pleasant.  Once the tent was done, we sat and enjoyed our beers overlooking where Denali would be.  While Denali was hiding, we could see her foothills and the beautiful rivers that flow beneath her.  Before bed, we packed our bear canister and I buried beneath a bunch of rocks about 200 yards away from the tent.

Find the bear canister!

Find the bear canister!

Despite the light hours, bed time arrived.  With it came the wind…and eventually the rain.  We would awake to a much different weather pattern in the morning.

Throughout the night, our little protected area became increasingly less protected.  I was woken up frequently by the wind (my bear paranoia didn’t help) and the rain seemed to be coming down increasingly harder every hour.  I was nervous to step outside in the morning.

We woke pretty later for camping, somewhere in the 8 o clock hour and immediately got to cooking breakfast.  We knew were going to need some fuel for the day so we chose the caribou (or is it reindeer?) and egg burrito option.  Cooking in the vestibule is a no-no, but we did it.  There was no chance we could have cooked in the rain.

Getting breakfast ready.

Getting breakfast ready.

We had a decision to make.  It was raining steadily, but we weren’t at risk for storms.  Were we willing to tough it out to see if it cleared up (the forecast had no indication of clearing up) and we could maybe salvage some of the hike?  Or, should we turn around and head back to the car and just call it.

We had a bail out point planned at Ermine Hill if it was needed.  It would be a big day mileage wise (15+ miles), but we had a big day ahead either way.  The other catch would be getting back to our car.  We would either have to hike 6 miles of road or hitchhike.

We chose to hike on.  We figured, we’re in Alaska, most of the steepness is done and who knows how the afternoon would be.  We could deal with wetness.

IMG_1643  IMG_1647 IMG_1649

The ridge itself is beautiful.  The low handing clouds completely socked is in and gave an eerie feeling to the hike.  It was something different and we actually enjoyed it initially.  Things however were about to get a lot tougher.

I had made fun of the ridiculous amount of cairns earlier in the hike for such a relatively straight forward trail.  It was in the clouds that I realized the necessity of them.  We could only see the next cairn the majority of the day.  It helped to keep us on trail as it sometimes faded away.

IMG_1651 IMG_1652 IMG_1653

The trail meanders for a while but then begins a decent climb around the 10 mile mark.  It’s only 300-400 feet, but in the rain with our packs on, it took its toll.  We also emerged on an exposed ridge that was just getting destroyed with wind.

Christine and I approached it and from a protected area, you could see that the wind was significantly worse.  You could hear it howling and see the rain blowing sideways.  I told Christine to put her head down and just hike.  She looked at me in disbelief and said “what do you think I’m doing??”

Approaching the ridge of suffering.

Approaching the ridge of suffering.

It was a tough 10-15 minutes and by the time we reached a protected area, we needed a break.  Thankfully we found a creek we could set up at and cook up some hot miso soup and pump water for the rest of the day.  The mosquitos were brutal (no joke in Alaska), but it felt awesome to sit down and get something warm in us.  At this point, I was pretty soaked through and realizing that it was time for a new rain jacket.

Christine wandering how we've arrived in this on our honeymoon.

Christine wandering how we’ve arrived in this on our honeymoon.

From here, the trail starts a long, gradual decent into the Ermine Hill junction.  Thankfully, the lower we got, the more the clouds started to break up.  We were greeted with the occasional view of the surrounding peaks, but only in our immediate vicinity.  Still, it was nice not to be hiking in a cloud anymore.

IMG_1666

What’s a little more water?

IMG_1671

Starting to enjoy ourselves a little more.

IMG_1675

Wait…there are things around except for the trail?!

IMG_1664 IMG_1667 IMG_1672

The mileage on the trailhead signs was a bit off and we found ourselves rolling into the Ermine Junction well over a mile past what we thought it would be.  This along started to break our spirits a bit.  We just wanted to sit and eat!  We ran into a group of high schoolers and asked them if they knew where it was and they told us it was right around the corner, which it was, but first we had the privilege of walking out onto an outcropping and getting to eat with a beautiful view that was finally starting to free itself from the clouds.

IMG_1680

What we wanted all along…and maybe that King Street IPA was pretty good too!

IMG_1676 IMG_1678

We rested for a bit and made the final decision to bail down to the Ermine TH.  The clearing weather had made us reconsider bailing.  We really wanted that view of Denali, but our current state of being drenched was the final nail in the coffin.  There wasn’t an opportunity for us to dry anything as their was still plenty of moisture around (it would rain on us later) and we had no desire to wake up drenched again on our honeymoon.

Down to the junction involves a far bit of bushwhacking and a marsh crossing that someone has built a high tech bridge of 2x4s across.  With the rain gone, it was rapidly getting hotter and muggier.

Christine demonstrates her impressive dry trail finding skills.

Christine demonstrates her impressive dry trail finding skills.

IMG_1691

We hit the official trail junction and confirmed our trail on the map.  5K (3.1 miles) to the TH…downhill.  We could do that.  We would be on the road in 1-2 hours.  Not.

Lies.  Damned Lies.

Lies. Damned Lies.

IMG_1697

Beginning the descent to Ermine TH. The clouds were starting to break up and awarding us some views as we snuck under them.

The trail is tight through here and we found ourselves brushing up against wet leaves frequently.  It can rain for hours but nothing gets you wetter than brushing up a leaf holding water.

As we dropped back into the trees, we came to a shortcut opportunity.  The trail cut off some sizable switchbacks.  We decided to take it (it was a posted short cut after all).  The trail was steep and would be manageable for someone with a lighter pack on, but it wasn’t worth it with our heavy backpacking packs.

The shortcut.

The shortcut.

We finally came to a creek.  It was at this point that we realized we were probably going to have to hike up to get back to the road.  There was a sizable hill in front of us and we could hear the road on top of it.  This was not a happy time for the newlyweds.

Yes...it's called Giardia.  No we didn't drink the water.

Yes…it’s called Giardia. No we didn’t drink the water.

IMG_1701

Still having fun!

We started to trudge out, noting that we had passed the 3.1 mile mark with plenty of uphill left in front of us.  We were trying to keep our spirits high, but it was getting late in the day and I was dreading the road hike back to the car.

I was also increasingly paranoid for bears.  We were in dense forest that had a very narrow trail through it.  We were tired and I didn’t want to get caught off guard.  Christine and I made a point to keep talking and be loud.  It kept our mind off the hike as well.

We finally came out on the trailhead over 4 miles from the trail junction.  My shoes had struggled to dry (don’t buy Patagonia shoes!) and I immediately set to taking them off.  I changed my pants as well as I figured most people don’t want to pick up a mud-caked hitchhiker.  Christine dropped her pack and immediately set out to hitch a ride.

Amazingly enough, I hadn’t even finished changing and she had already gotten us a ride.  It took all of 4 cars going by and an older honey bee farmer on his way from Anchorage to Fairbanks picked us up.  We excitedly hopped in and found our way back to the car.  Major thanks to him as he saved us 3 more hours of work and was very generous in giving us water and some food.

18.5 miles of backpacking in 24 hours and 6 miles of a hitch-hiked ride later, we were back at our car.  Sad to have had our backpacking plans foiled, but at the same time, so glad to be heading somewhere dry.  It was our honeymoon and my birthday after all!

This is what happens to a hotel room when you come in from 24 hours of wetness.

This is what happens to a hotel room when you come in from 24 hours of wetness.

IMG_1709

Birthday dinner in Talkeetna.  The other DBC!

IMG_1708

Ate every last bite.

IMG_1704

The Sarah Palin Burger

IMG_1713

Our lodging for the night. The only room left in town!

IMG_1711

Thanks Caitlin and Tom for the camping wine glasses…we put them to good use in our dry bedroom!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Last Frontier: Honeymoon Day 3

OK, so photo uploading quota problem fixed.  Let’s finish out this honeymoon!

We woke up from the previous evening’s accidental pitcher of IPA festivities ready to roll, but needing coffee ASAP.  There was one other coffee shop in town, The Grind (http://www.girdwoodgrind.com) so we headed there for our morning wake up.  They had great iced coffee along with a weird but fun vibe.  There is a stormtrooper in the corner…can’t say much more.

IMG_1592

The Grind

Our first major task of the day was to return the bikes, so we headed back to Anchorage.   The drive on the Seward never gets old.  Mountains and water are an amazing combination.  The Trek store wasn’t open until 10 so we ran over to grab a quick breakfast from Snow City Cafe (http://www.snowcitycafe.com/home).  Unfortunately, the line indicated this would be anything but a quick trip.  I left Christine to return the bikes while she waited/ordered.  She ended up being able to order a couple of green chili burritos to go.  They were both good, but they certainly were not Colorado Green Chili breakfast burritos.

When we finished our burritos, we frantically headed back to Girdwood.  We had paddle boards reserved in Whittier for the day, but had time constraints due to the tunnel into town.  Thankfully, after a quick grab of clothes, we made the tunnel just as it was opening to allow traffic into Whittier.

_MG_3594

The other side of the tunnel, but the same idea.

The drive to Whittier once you turn off from the Seward Highway is filled with glaciers.  We found ourselves looking forward to the drive home just so we could actually stop and check them out.

Now, the night before, we had been told by Kirby the Local that everything is Shittier in Whittier.  We could see why they said this as the town was pretty rough and minimal, but surroundings were amazing.  The mountains rose directly from the water and waterfalls tumbled from the clouds into the bay.

IMG_1595

The surrounding area of Whittier.

We picked up our paddleboards and got decked out in our wetsuits etc.  The Sound Paddler (http://www.pwskayakcenter.com) is phenomenal and we enjoyed our time with them.  If you’re looking to rent kayaks or paddle boards, these are the guys to go to.  Family run and very helpful.   We’d only done warm weather paddle boarding in Florida and Kiawah before so this was an adjustment.

IMG_2488

Rocking the cold water gear.

It was lightly drizzling as we left the dock and we were a bit apprehensive about our upcoming experience, but as we paddled away, the rain began to lift and it turned into a beautiful afternoon.  We paddled for 3 hours or so and during that time saw 2 Bald Eagles and a sea otter poking his head out.  We constant found ourselves staring at the glacier to our left as it occasionally peeked our from the clouds.

IMG_2493 IMG_2491 IMG_2494 IMG_2496 IMG_2497 IMG_2500 IMG_2499 IMG_2498 IMG_2502 IMG_2503 IMG_2507 IMG_2511 IMG_2512 IMG_2527 IMG_2515

 

At our turnaround point, we thought it might be wise to go and check out the waterfalls on the other side of the bay but after about 20 minutes of paddling and only covering a 5th of the ground we needed to, we bagged that idea.

Our paddle back in was beautiful and we were picked up by the Sound Kayaker Crew promptly and taken care of back at their home base.  We did meet a French couple setting out for a multi-week kayak to explore the islands and glaciers of the area.  Being that we’re not water people, this was not our first idea of fun, but it did sound incredible!

Once we had taken care of everything, we went to grab a late lunch/early dinner at the Swiftwater Cafe (http://www.swiftwaterseafoodcafe.com) which had been recommended by Mira from the Sound Paddler.  The food was incredible and we found ourselves enjoying it a bit too much and we missed our tunnel time to get back.

IMG_1603 IMG_1598 IMG_1597

We enjoyed the view for a bit longer and headed back on the 5:45 tunnel.  We had to wait a bit longer as the Alaska Train was using the tunnel.

 

The tunnel from Whittier back to Alyeska.  Notice the railroad tracks down the middle.

The tunnel from Whittier back to Alyeska. Notice the railroad tracks down the middle.

The Alaska Train

The Alaska Train

We took our time heading back and enjoyed getting a bit closer to the glaciers.  It was amazing to see how large the pieces are that fall off.  We had heard stories of calving glaciers and how loud it is as it falls, and this provided a bit of perspective to those stories. It was a bit chilly and very windy so we didn’t spend too long exploring.

_MG_3640 _MG_3632 _MG_3633 _MG_3628We were pretty tired by the time we got back so we had a quiet night.  We wandered over to Chair 5 (http://www.chairfive.com) again around 8 for pizza.  Knowing what we know about pitchers of IPAs, we stuck to regular pints tonight.

Tomorrow was a big day so we got to bed early.  We were looking forward to heading up to Denali and backpacking tomorrow and getting a change of scenery.

 

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Last Frontier Honeymoon: Day 2

Today was one of the days that I was most excited for on our honeymoon.  We were heading down toward Seward to ride the Lost Lake Trail (http://www.mtbproject.com/trail/5532161).  Not only was the trail supposed to be amazing but the drive itself was one of a kind as well.

We went back to our little breakfast place and split a meal this time.  We had been extra hungry the day before and still barely finished our meals.  The split was perfect.

The drive took an hour and a half.  We found ourselves constantly looking at the mountains in awe of the glaciers and just the sheer size and steepness of the slopes.  We also we’re shocked to find that the road was able to stay in the valley and was therefore much easier to drive than your standard mountain road.

I was somewhat nervous about finding the trailhead but turns out it was clearly marked and easy to get to.  We rolled into the large parking lot of the TH and we’re pedaling away a little bit after 11 am.

IMG_1522

Christine signs us in.

IMG_1523

The honeymoon registry!

The trail starts off in a dense and lush forest.  The riding was not very different from Colorado but the scenery was widely different.  No where in Colorado are the plants as big and green as they were here.

IMG_1526 IMG_1532 IMG_1529

 

The trail quickly makes it’s way to treeline (helps when it is around 2,000 feet not 12,000 feet above sea level).  There are several creek crossings as well as one waterfall crossing.  More on that later.

You soon find yourself on the side of slope, steadily freeing yourself from the trees.  As you do that, more and more of the alpine becomes available to your eyes.  Once we hit the ridge, we were greeted with 360 degree views of beautiful high peaks.  Some had glacier filled valleys.  Otherwise were bare and we frantically searched them for any sign of wildlife.  To our backs was the small town of Seward and Resurrection Bay.

_MG_3537

We’ve found the Lost Lake! So has the wind!

_MG_3555

Looking back towards Seward.

_MG_3535 _MG_3541 _MG_3548 _MG_3546   _MG_3554 IMG_1550_MG_3560 _MG_3558  _MG_3562  _MG_3565 _MG_3571 _MG_3572 _MG_3573

IMG_1546

It took us 2:05 to reach the lake.  Not sure whether it was the 29 inch wheels or the low elevation, but we had no trouble climbing.  Now the new challenge, descending on those same 29 inch wheels.

IMG_1554

The brief climb back up from the lake.

IMG_1540

Beginning the descent and learning how to handle the big wheels!

IMG_1542    IMG_1556

The descent was flowy and smooth.  There were the occasional technical spots but nothing sustained.  It was nice to be able to open it up in the openness of the alpine tundra.  In Colorado, you’d be dodging rocks left and right!

The descent was relatively smooth…except for one spot.

IMG_1562

Christine may or may not have struggled to clip in and proceeded to roll off the side of the trail (it was a very cliffy section, the picture doesn’t do it justice).  Thankfully, she was able to use the prickly bushes to stop her fall and she only went a few feet down.  Don’t worry, I asked if she was OK before I took the picture!

IMG_1565  IMG_1568 IMG_1575

We quickly found ourselves back in the forest and were once again amazed at the scale of the trees as well as the color of the plants.  The mosquitos were no joke as well.

Towards the end of the ride, I wanted to ride the waterfall.  I didn’t think it would be too challenging, but having falling water next to you is definitely a distraction.  I was not successful.

3 hours and 15 minutes after leaving the car, we arrived back at the trailhead.  14.4 miles had been challenging but we felt great!  We headed down to Seward for some beers and lunch (in that order).

We found our way into the Seward Brewing Company (http://www.sewardbrewery.com) which only had a few of it’s own beers on tap as well as a lot of Alaskan guest taps, but their food was delicious.  We quickly took down a salmon sandwich and Rockfish tacos.  Their building also has a tremendous amount of history that I encourage you to ask about when you go.

IMG_1577

We took a couple minutes to walk around town but it had grown very windy and cold so that idea was short-lived.

IMG_1581

Brrrr.

 

IMG_1580We packed up the car and got back on the Seward Highway.  Absent the pressure of getting our ride in, we felt like we had a lot more time to explore.  We capitalized on that opportunity by getting some fudge!

IMG_1585

Yes it is self-serve.  Yes the expect you to pay by holding you accountable to the honor system.  Yes it was delicious.

We found our way back into Girdwood and relaxed for a bit before heading out for dinner. First we stopped by the Silvertip Grill (http://www.silvertipgrill.com) for a couple of beers.  For those of you who know Crested Butte, this is the Brown Lab of Alyeska.  We discovered that if you both order the same beer (an 8.2% IPA), the server will suggest you get a pitcher.  When you get a pitcher of 8.2% IPA…things escalate.

Picture to come later when WordPress allows.

We then headed over to Chair 5 (http://www.chairfive.com) for some food.  Sticking with the Crested Butte references, this is the Avy of Alyeska.  Decent burgers and pizza for cheap.  Although it isn’t close to the Avy’s slices!  Anyway, our evening draws to an end here, but not before we meet Kirby.  Kirby took his boat over from the Homer area and his lasting piece of advice is that “Everything is shittier in Whittier.”  Why does this matter?  Tomorrow we head to Whittier to go paddle boarding!

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Last Frontier Honeymoon: Day 1

Christine and I are not the type to sit on the beach and do nothing for extended periods of time.  That being so, we decided to avoid the Carribean/Southern beach environment and head north to the Last Frontier for our honeymoon.  This is the story that followed.

Prior to even beginning the trip, Casey Brown Dog made his feelings clear on us leaving and laid down in our duffel bag.

Day 1

Direct flights to Anchorage are somewhat hard to come by from Denver, but we were able to find a relatively cheap option on Frontier (before they decided to become a slightly better version of Spirit Airlines).  We landed just past midnight in Alaska and as we woke up from our flight naps, we were greeted to a rising sun during the 11 o’ clock hour.

We headed down to our condo in Girdwood, about 45 minutes south of Anchorage.  The drive was beautiful and moonlit.  Despite the late hour, we were able to see the mountains and the moon reflecting off the Turnagin Arm.  We finally stumbled our way into bed at 2 am.

The next morning brought a slow wake up and quiet exploration of our surroundings in the daylight.  We walked about a mile up the hill towards the ski resort of Alyeska.  Girdwood was a bit smaller than I had anticipated so went to Alyeska for a breakfast at a great little place called The Bake Shop (http://www.thebakeshop.com).  It’s a small place with only 10 tables plus a few outside, but the espresso and food was phenomenal.  We didn’t know it at the time but this would become our most frequented place over the next few days.

IMG_1610

IMG_1612

We only and one thing to get done today: pick up the bikes from the Trek Store in Anchorage (http://www.trekstorealaska.com).  They rented us Trek Fuel EX 29ers at a great rate of $75 each for 2 days (they don’t charge for the day of pickup).  Before we did that though, we needed lunch.

Our first brewery stop of Alaska’s many offerings was the Glacier Brewhouse (http://www.glacierbrewhouse.com).  We ended up here by accident (I intend to take us to too Midnight Sun but fat-fingered the Google Map).  Nonetheless, we walked into a packed restaurant at 11 am on a Tuesday.  No doubt a good sign.  We took a seat at the bar and tasted a flight of their brews.  They had a solid IPA and an adventurous double blonde that left a little bit to be desired in the body category.

Glacier Brewhouse Sampler.

Glacier Brewhouse Sampler.

We headed over to REI afterwards to pick up a few odds and ends we needed.  Unbeknownst to us, this was the first of many trips.  We picked up a few odds and ends and made a dent in our wedding gift cards.  Bear spray was a necessity…but Christine disagreed…for now.  More on that later.

On our way back down to Girdwood, we headed to Midnight Sun (http://msbc2014.us.cloudlogin.co).  Tucked away in an industrial park, we felt like we were in Denver visiting Denver Beer Co. or Epic Brewing.  Usually a good sign.  Their beers were much more adventurous than Glacier and we found ourselves enjoy several tasters and a Belgian Pumpkin which was acceptable only because it felt like a fall day in Colorado.

Midnight Sun Sampler

Midnight Sun Belgian Sampler

When you find a brewery in an industrial park, you're doing it right.

When you find a brewery in an industrial park, you’re doing it right.

The drive between Anchorage and Girdwood is out of this world.  Steep cliffs border one side and the open expanse of the Turnagin Arm greets you on the other side.  We struggled to find a direction to look on the drive.  We allowed ourselves to become tourists and stop at Beluga Point to get a bit closer to the water.

_MG_3502

_MG_3496 _MG_3494 _MG_3491 _MG_3498 _MG_3474 _MG_3466 _MG_3473 _MG_3456 _MG_3444 _MG_3419

Back in Girdwood, we reassembled the bikes and took them for a test ride around town.  We rode around to the resort hotel which seemed a bit out of place and almost reminded me of something you would see in a stereotypical Russian picture.

_MG_3524

The tram didn’t take bikes so we rode up underneath Chair 7 and then took the Christmas in July trail down.  The trail was rated blue, but it was steep!  One of the first differences we noticed between CO and AK was that Alaskans don’t bother with switchbacks or taking your time on the mountain.  They go straight up or straight down.

Christine tried to climb on the chair...was not successful.

Christine tried to climb on the chair…was not successful.

Love summer chair love.

Love summer chair love.

We finished up the ride and headed back to our place.  We were still catching up on our sleep, but the light was keeping us awake.  We ordered a couple pizzas from Coast Pizza (http://www.coastpizza.com) and enjoy a couple beers we had picked up earlier in the day from La Bodega (http://labodegastore.com), a great bottle shop in Anchorage.  After an hour, our pizza hadn’t made it, so I called down and found out that it had been given to the wrong person.  They had gone to the wrong address and the person who answered was drunk enough that he actually accepted, paid for, and ate the pizza before realizing his mistake.  Coast Pizza took care of it and sent us home with a free pie and salad.

Anyways, we finally dug into a delicious pie, closed the blinds to actually make it feel like night and fell asleep.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment