Girdwood Bike Tour

Adam and I have started an annual tradition of forgoing big Christmas gifts for each other, and instead booking a long weekend at The Hotel Alyeska for relaxing staycation. Last year we brought skis (an outing that infamously resulted in this “Do’s and Don’ts for Adventure Couples” post), this year we brought fat bikes for a Girdwood Bike Tour.

The Watchman, from Advocate Cycles. The bike that launched a thousand rides.

Before checking in, we boomeranged down to Portage Valley to bike the frozen lake. Check it out on my “On the Trails” page for more information and pictures! Once we were in Gird, it was hot tub > sushi > bed, in that order and almost as fast as you read it.

Rolling into Winner Creek Gorge, in the Chugach National Forest
“Urban” Riding in Girdwood
The couple that plays together, stays together!

Girdwood has some seriously fun winter trails for Nordic skiing and fat biking (not to mention an entire downhill mountain). After a slow morning we set off in search of the elusive Chugach Powder Guides‘ trail to the CPG Powder Hut.

Related Reading: The Powder Hut is Sweet, But Don’t Tell Anyone (outside link)

The snow was deep, quick and we didn’t make it more than 30 minutes out on trail one before we dropped and turned back. Instead we off through the Chugach National Forest Winner Creek Trail, back to the Winner Creek Gorge and cat bridge. Bummer for us, the hand tram (see linked info) is closed in the winter – we couldn’t make it a long loop. We did the ~ 3 miles RT in an hour/hour and a half on firm, well-packed trails.

What’s the carrot on a stick after a long day’s riding?

Beer, obvi! From the delightful Girdwood Brewing Co.

One of the best parts about living in Alaska is that every town is “your town”, and despite the geographic mass – you actually know someone everywhere you go. It’s just luck of the draw, and the draw is stronger when there’s beer involved. We hadn’t been at brewery long when two friends popped in, and then two more, and another two more, and eventually there were 10 familiar, friendly faces gathered up around the fire pit outside. It was a good way to end the day.

The skies were grey when we woke up the next morning and I’m a totally fair-weather skier, so it was day 3 on bikes. Which, in all honesty, was just as much of a struggle as skiing would have been – I was tired! We didn’t feel like doing Winner Creek again or driving further south on the highway, so we biked up Crow Creek Road instead.

Adam and I have biked the Crow Creek Road before (The Best Saturday Ever, back when we were training for our French bike tour) – we only did 3 miles RT (of what could have been closer to 9-10) and it still totally kicked my ass this time.

Big mountains peeking out on us… Heading up, up, up!
I make this look good (and slow). Looking toward Girdwood Valley and Turnagain Arm from Crow Creek Road
From the Crow Pass Trailhead (winter parking lot)
There he goes! Beginning the descent from Crow Pass Trail (between winter and summer lots)
That’s my nervous smile. Too bad you can’t hear the sound of cold brakes through a picture! Shred it, I did not.

Post-ride it was off to Chair 5 for a classic Bloody Mary. Do you even come off the trail, if you don’t stop for a Bloody Mary after, man? I was so hungry I successfully devoured 1/2 of a deep dish Chair 5 House pizza, wrapping up a fantastic weekend and kicking off a detox.

When She Was a Girl

For the second year, I’ve submit a short essay for consideration to World Nomads Travel Writing Scholarship. My essay follows the theme of making a local connection. Should I be selected, I’ll be heading to Argentina with two other writers and a mentor, courtesy of World Nomads and Say Hueque Argentina Tourism. Winners are announced April 4, 2018. Stay tuned!

The hair on my arms was standing straight up, despite the warm sun shining on us. My throat tightened up as I listened, my eyes watered as she spoke.

It was a summer afternoon in Arromanche-les-Bains, a small village nestled among the D-Day beaches. Remnants of the infamous Mulberry Harbour are here, and we had spent the evening before gazing on them in the sunset. We’d been exploring the coast and D-Day beaches for a little over a week so far, stopping at monuments, museums, plaques, and seeing remnants of the destructive war on farm structures and walls as we bicycled by.

We were tenting in the municipal campground, soaking up the sun, drinking wine, cleaning our bicycles and doing wash. It was in the laundry room that I met her – an older woman, shorter than me with sandy blonde hair and colorful shirt. I initiated a clumsy conversation that progressed from laundry to pleasantries in mediocre French, and eventually found it’s way to English.

She was from Brussels, on an annual RV trip with her husband. She asked about our bicycle tour, and where we were from. To date, no one had cared that we were American. It was Alaska, our home, that caught their attention. Not that we could blame them – Alaska is a slice of paradise, and we were happy to speak to it. But not this woman. She honed in on America, and told me a story I could never have anticipated or asked for.

She was a child in Brussels during World War II. The war touched her town, her life, and made her frightened. There was no future – just surviving the present. She told me that she didn’t know if she would survive, and tried to explain to me the emotion, the fear, the electricity she was producing during those days. She was relaying the history she had lived to me, and it was holding me in place on the walkway.

“Americans…” she started. They liberated her. They saved her life and her family’s life. She was indebted to those soldiers. I was silent, locked on her eyes, face, mouth as she told me this story, and I watched her eyes water and her mind go somewhere else. “I come here often, to Arromanche. We go to the cemetery. And I walk from grave to grave, as far as I can, saying ‘Thank you for your service’ to each headstone.”

No plaque, short film, or cannonball hole could have prepared me for her story, and our shared emotional responses. I took in the weight of history resting on her, and despite the still air, I shivered. We wiped our eyes, shared a smile and went our separate ways.

Glissading Gone… ?

If sliding down a mountain slope on your butt is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

What goes up, gets to come down.

Little O’Malley Summit, Anchorage

Glissading is by far the simplest, and most fun way to get off a mountain summit* until I learn how to paraglide. By it’s definition, glissading is simple: the climber sits on her butt, leans back, lifts feet, and slides down the angle quickly and efficiently. Of course, there’s technique and considerations if you’re on a steep angle and/or carrying an ice ax (checking for that information). And if you know me at all, that ain’t my game.

For your viewing pleasure:

Glissading done well:

Glissading done… not well (sound on):

As if I ever do anything with style and grace… A nylon skirt, well packed trail and a just right angle were ingredients for one seriously fast and funny trip to the bottom. You’re welcome!

*I am not a mountaineer, ice climber, or other high-octane adventure seeker. I stick to low angles and elevations. Glissade at your own risk!