Commentary

Crustlandia

Upper limit of the crust at 2,000 feet in the Chugach Mountains/Craig Medred photo

Early on Friday morning, I threw a leg over the top tube of a fat bike and rode for 35 minutes steadily upward from 1,000 to 2,000 feet in the Chugach Mountain Front Range.

Near the very edge of treeline, the white pavement of April finally gave way to pockets of soft, windblown snow that made it hard to maintain rear-wheel traction and forced me to turn back.

Lower down – between 1,500 feet and 2,000 feet where in summer a jungle of alders between the muskegs makes cross-country travel difficult and/or wet – the otherworld of summer remained buried beneath the winter’s heavy load of snow.

Oh if only Alaska was always like this.

Overhead the sun burned brightly, and the day was warming fast, too fast really. By 10 a.m. it was clearly time to bail before the pavement of morning became the mush of afternoon.

Heading downhill, I followed an old snowshoe trail hard to find beneath the snow. It offered some protection against a tire punching deep into a softening surface.

The bike computer warned of speeds of 15 mph at times. Even if a rider keeps his weight well back, a front tire gone missing in snow at that speed almost always results in a launch over the handlebars.

Mountain bikers have a word for this: Endo.

So I stuck to that old trail as wound its way into and through the woods, and even after there appeared the day-old, inch-deep, frozen snowshoe tracks of a neighbor out too late in the afternoon the day before.

The ride got rougher from there on, the bike banging through the frozen snowshoe prints. But it was impossible to complain. A winter of those snowshoes had, after all, helped to build a trail that doesn’t even exist in summer.

When I finally rolled back into the driveway at home, the temperatures was up to 45 degrees and warming ever faster. Water from the melting snow still three- or four-feet deep along the streets was beginning to run in streams down the pavement.

The flow would only grow through the day at the temperature climbed toward 60 in the sun.

The end

Only days earlier, Mother Nature had driven the knife through the heart of Old Man Winter.

At 8 a.m. on Wednesday, it was a motion-picture perfect “White Christmas” morning out the office window. By noon, the winds that sweep in over the Chugach Mountains from across the warm waters of the Gulf of Alaska 175 miles to the southeast were gusting to 50 mph; the temperature had climbed above 40 degrees; and rain was falling.

Despite an unusually cold March, by the standards of the past decade at least, and a frigid start to April, it was inevitable this was going to happen. The planet was repositioning itself in space in time with the season, the northern hemisphere tilting ever closer to a direct line to the sun.

The building strength of the heat in the sun’s rays was obvious even on the coldest of sunny days. There was no denying the warm season was out there somewhere waiting to arrive as surely as there is a new year every year.

But it didn’t really seem certain until Wednesday.

Mother Nature didn’t outright kill Old Man Winter, but she fatally wounded him. Now, it’s only a matter of time until he bleeds out.

How long that takes and how messy it gets remains to be seen.

In the snow-short winters of the last few years in and around Alaska’s largest city, the water and mud of the season Alaskans call “break up” has faded fast. Last year, many municipal bike trails normally closed until June 1 to prevent damage to muddy sections were open by May 15.

That isn’t looking likely this year with the snow and ice covering the trails just beginning to melt and the snow still piled feet deep in the mountains above them.

The mud season that comes in that brief period between winter and summer in the far north looks like it could be a long one this year.

But then again with luck, there might still be a few great days of riding left here in crustlandia before those thickets of alders emerge from the snow to confront off trails hikers with the alder-bashing hell that makes many wish for more trails in the trail-short 49th state.

I confessed to an old neighbor the desire it was always like this. He set me straight:

“No, you don’t,” he said. “All the Californians would show up.”

There was a time when I would have been of that mindset. Now, the situation looks somewhat different. With the Alaska economy tanking, it might not be such a bad thing if a bunch of techies from Silicon Valley decided Anchorage was a good place to set up a remote office.

 

 

 

Categories: Commentary, Outdoors

11 replies »

  1. Forgive me for generalizing, but it should be obvious by now that Silicon Valley techies and those from Portland and Seattle just love to @#$& everything up. Of course they like to destroy stuff as well.

  2. Well I was born and raised in Cali till 84 when I moved here.
    Does that make me Alaskan or Californian? Surely memories of Riding cable cars, china town, pier 39, and the Beaches in the 70’s paint a different picture in a mostly republican state at the time…were those good ole days? It wasn’t as expensive to live there in those Days, and the culture was rich and diverse in every neighborhood. People were proud and respectful, and we all learned from each other. Creating true Friendships. Try finding that now-a-days! It’s so profitable and constructive to Divide everyone up now that we’re all hypnotized by flickering screens! You don’t even own your own mind and thoughts!
    Praise You Craig! Cause getting out and seeing this reality called Nature is why we are here.
    The Californication of Alaska has been underway for a many years! Be careful what you wish for Alaskans! You may not be able to afford this Reality for much longer.

  3. Cat 5 Super Typhoon Surigae lashing the phillippines with 180 mph winds.
    Hopefully jet stream keeps it south.
    Otherwise an exceptionally wet spring could be on tap.
    Adventurous globe trotting surfers may cue up Ocean Beach in yakutat,with a sidedish of spring run steelhead fishing (if thats still possible).

    • Cat 5 traveling generally from E – W. I wouldn’t be on any of the newly built up ChiCom sandbars in the Spratleys right now. 2-3 of these and those boys will be an unpleasant local memory. Cheers –

  4. I said the same thing while riding a pristine southeast beach to fish last August. 75 degrees and nobody in sight.
    However, I never met a Californian I didn’t like.

  5. The biggest concern to Alaska going forward is the “brain drain” we are experiencing.
    Most carpetbaggers come to AK to leech off some political appointment or government job, not out of love for the culture and environment.
    One constant that I continue to see with ALL the friends that I have made over the years is that they are GONE.
    Alaska needs to find a way to retain the “good” people instead of just the oil industry folks who further degrade the environment by killing all of the state’s wildlife in their time off.
    Just had a buddy leave his cabin he built in Willow to return back to America…he was disgusted with the local economy & decided it would be easier to try and make a living in the lower 48.
    He says he is going to keep his cabin & vacation up here but I doubt that will be the case.
    Too much corruption in Juneau without strong leadership has gotten us to this point.
    The conflict of interest clause was tossed in the weeds & government continues to increase per diem while stealing the people’s dividend payments year after year.
    Most Alaskans do not even know that the PF had one of it’s best preforming years EVER last year.
    Those billions in Chinese stocks did real well, yet we are told our economy is in the dumps?
    Any other state would kill for 70 billion in stocks & real estate investments but the banksters on WallStreet keep the plebs in AK really lean…and have been since before statehood.
    We cannot even get bathrooms (or outhouses) at pull-offs along the highway up here…nope, tourists must squat behind trees and avoid the cow patties from those before them.
    It takes a special person to make this place home & enjoy the lifestyle you create….the Henry David Thoreau type of self-reliance individual seems to remain.

    • Steve,

      You’re aware that if it weren’t for all the oil folks you denigrate that 70 billion wouldn’t be there in the bank for you to claim as yours, right? Maybe all the “good” people you know that are leaving are doing so because they don’t bring anything to the table, or maybe you just run them all off?

      Oh yeah, and remind me if you will which lower 48 state you fled from. We surely have plenty of carpetbaggers, some even think they are somehow morally superior to the others while grouping an entire industry into the bad people club.

  6. Looks a heckuva lot like my 2017 Farley 7. Bluebird beach riding here on the Kenai. Ice floes are gone, sand is back. Great riding next to sparkling water. No gloves needed today at 50 degrees. Yes!

    • I have been riding off road since 83, it will always be an endo. In fact, I still call em ATBs from the days the name mountainbike had not settled in.

  7. A number of tech companies in Seattle are letting their employees stay remote. I would think most cities or states would welcome these people and their paychecks, which are usually distributed within the municipality they live in.

Leave a Reply to Greg Matyas Cancel reply