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Riding into Wonderland

A fat-tire cyclist heads for the sunshine kissing the Kenai Mountains/Craig Medred photo

SPENCER GLACIER – The jagged, unnamed and snow-covered peaks of the Kenai Mountains clawed at a perfectly blue sky on Saturday leaving snowmachine-touring visitors from that world outside Alaska in awe and reminding Alaskans just how special the 49th state can be when it is at its best.

And this was Alaska at its best.

An hour or so of pedaling on fat-tired bikes along well-packed snowmachine trails had taken us some 12 miles up the Placer River valley to the face of one of the state’s most-visited spring glaciers.

Behind was what in summer can only be described as a hellish terrain of bogs, beaver ponds, alder thickets, willow thickets, tussocks hidden in foot tangling sweet gale, mushy wet tundra and a maze of glacial river channels.

The effort required to cover two miles in an hour in this country in the summer is grueling, and here we were at the glacier in the same amount of time having never even broken a sweat.

Oh what a difference snow conditions and a good trail can make.

If you didn’t know what lurks beneath this vast, flat, field of snow feet deep, you’d never know/Craig Medred photo

 

There are few other places in the world where you can pedal a bike from the edge of the ocean’s saltwater to within feet of the face of a wilderness glacier at the back of a valley only 800 feet above sea level.

Most of the world’s fading rivers of ice are so remote or so high in elevation it takes considerable effort to get there. Not this one.

For less than $300, you can sign on for a guided, snowmachine tour to the glacier. Two Girdwood-based businesses, Glacier City Snowmobile Tours and Alaska Wild Guides, lead regular trips to the ice.

Or like so many others are doing these days, you can jump on a fat bike or strap on a pair of skis to make the trip on your own.

Just remember Alaska is a notoriously two-faced land. It can go from beautiful to brutal, sometimes in a matter of hours, and not just because a storm comes roaring in off the Gulf of Alaska to batter the Kenai Peninsula.

Spring sunshine and warm weather can sometimes be equally as bad at this time of year, ensuring that if you don’t get in and out early on a bike or skis, you’re risking a long slog through mushy snow back to the Seward Highway.

The upside of that experience is that it will leave you with an experience you won’t forget. The downside is also that it will leave you with an experiencyou you won’t forget.

It represents the quintessential Alaska wherein is found the best of times and the worst of times; the season of darkness and the season of light; the winter of despair and the spring of hope, as the author Charles Dickens once described these things in that time when:

“We had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

Dickens was, of course, writing about the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror, but he could well have been writing about the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic that has delivered upon many a modern-day reign of fear.

There might be no better way to escape it, at least temporarily, than to run away into the Alaska wilderness for a time.

A cyclist pauses while exploring the face of Spencer Glacier/Craig Medred photo

 

Go now. Go soon before this spring-team season of easy travel ends, before the over-abundance of sun and warmth that marks Alaska’s snow-free season kills the opportunity.

 

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