Hikes and bikes

I hope I never get bored with walking, hiking and generally welcoming the opportunity to be outside rather than indoors.

While Liesel stayed in with her Mom to start the process of ‘sorting stuff out (*)’, I accepted invitations from Liesel’s friends to join them.

Jyoti, Suvan and I had a nice walk in Kincaid Park, on yet another trail. Each one seems to be hillier than the previous one! We saw a moose and her baby but, other than a couple of birds, no more wildlife.

Moose and mooselet

Jyoti was kind enough to offer me fried eggs and toast for lunch and I’m too much of a gentleman to decline, so…

After a chat, we walked again, this time along the road where the roadsweeper swept by in a flurry of water and gravel from what may be a quarry over the road, or. more likely, a building site.

I turned left for home, Jyoti turned right to meet up with another friend. The rest of my day involved puzzles and looking at Liesel’s ‘stuff’.

(*) When I say ‘sorting stuff out’, I mean Liesel is going through her possessions deciding what to keep and what can go. At the same time, she is hoping to encourage her folks to get rid of some of their clutter too, 50 years of it.

This whole project will be a labour of love and hard decisions. Liesel and I spent two years selling things on eBay, giving away via Freegle (formerly Freecycle) and taking to charity shops. Sadly, some items ended up in a landfill site. Liesel’s parents’ house is even more chockerblocker fuller of stuff than ours ever was.

For my next hike without Liesel, Una and Jyoti took me to another skiing venue, Hillside. The only reason I didn’t have a go at the ski jump was, there was no snow. Also, the idea of climbing up that ricketty-looking structure is even more scary than actually skiing, never mind jumping. Plus, I’m not Eddie the Eagle.

Ski jump

It was great to see so many other people out today, too, mountain bikers, hikers, runners and I know that most of them are probably skiers in the Wintertime.

Back at home, the pile of stuff on the landing had grown. There is talk of a garage sale at some point.

Liesel and I went out to do some errands and we later watched Gideon playing soccer. His team won by a mile – but compared with the team he played with in Fairbanks a few weeks ago, they all looked so titchy!

Arsenal

The football pitch must be close to the airport, judging by the number of planes that flew over. We also saw a skein of geese. Flying south for the Winter? Not yet: they landed in the pond just behind the fence.

Gooses and gooselets

But most excitingly, my quest to take a good photo of a dragonfly continues. It they won’t land and sit still for me, I’ll just have to capture them in flight. So here are a couple of the best pictures so far:

Dragonfly

Liesel and I went to the gym where I spent some time on the treadmill, including a 12m37s mile. Liesel spent longer exercising here, but by the time we left, we’d both built up a good appetite.

It’s week two of the quest to acclimatise me to Japanese food. Tonight, we went to Sushi Garden. I thought I’d have a beer and asked for an IPA. I didn’t expect a bottle that big, a pint and a quarter of ice cold beer. No wonder I couldn’t finish my meal of two different vegetarian rolls. There was a lot of food there, to be honest. The first plate was enough for me but when the second plate turned up some time later, I knew then I wouldn’t complete the mission.

Then a lot of TV, more than we’d usually watch. Two early episodes of Father Brown but more interestingly, the first stage of this year’s Vuelta a España, the Spanish cycling grand tour. The commentary was cringeworthy but at least we found a way to fast forward through the adverts. And we turned off the annoying loud beeps that accompany every button press on the remote control.

Mr Blue Sky

Again, plans to get up early to exercise were thwarted. We had a bit of a lie-in instead.

We had plans to meet up with Monica for a coffee so we drove into downtown (is that the correct phraseology?) on a gorgeous, warm, sunny morning. Mr Blue Sky at last made an appearance.

Blue Sky reflected in a rare skyscraper

We paid a quick visit to the museum where Monica works but decided that we would have a proper visit and wander on a wet day: today was a day for walking outdoors.

The mountains looked spectacular. I think it’s the first time we’ve seen them from Anchorage not at least partially obscured by clouds.

Chugach mountains with cloud behind, not in front

We walked through the city for a while then Liesel drove me to the lagoon. The dragonflies are huge but none were sitting still waiting for me to take a photo. I don’t think we even saw one land briefly: maybe they can’t. One day I’ll snap the bright elusive dragonfly of love.

Nice antenna beyond the lagoon
Munchin’ moose
How to make a boring old fence look nice
Alaskan dogs can read

PS – here is a picture from Liesel of early onset Autumn. A few leaves are changing colour so we’re looking forward to the full experience of Fall real soon now!

Autumn colours

But one sunny day does not a Summer make. The following day was wet again. Despite this, I went for a walk on my own keeping a sharp look-out for moose, bears, cyclists, joggers and cars turning into side streets from all directions. We’ve been here a month nearly, and I still don’t always look the right way when I’m about to cross the road.

Talkeetna

Plans to get up early to exercise were thwarted. We had a bit of a lie-in instead.

Talkeetna is a small town about 80 miles north of Anchorage. If you’re planning to climb the highest mountain in north America, Denali, this is where you’ll come to prepare.

Model of Denali as seen in the Museum

Jyoti was kind enough to drive us to Talkeetna for a couple of days. She has a Mazda. Liesel and I have a Mazda at home too. But Jyoti’s is twice the size.

In fact, most cars in Alaska are twice the size of what we’re used to seeing on the roads in England. They’re small trucks, really. But at least the spaces marked in car parks reflect this, you don’t usually feel you’re going to hit the next car if you open your door too wide.

On the way to Talkeetna and on the way back, we stopped for a coffee in Wasilla, at yet another branch of Kaladi Bros. Here’s a top tip. If you visit, beware their toilet, it’s booby-trapped. Not only does the door lock not work properly, but when you flush, the lever springs up and hits your fingers. Once bitten, twice bitten.

Wasilla (to be added to the collection of missing letters)

This isn’t going to become a regular feature, don’t worry, but here is a picture of my lunch today. We stopped at the Denali Brewing Company and tasted some very tasty beer, ale and mead.

Before
After

A good friend of Jyoti’s, Diane, has a lovely log cabin in the woods a few miles outside the town and this is where we were spending the night.

Diane’s cabin in the woods

So we dropped our stuff off and then Liesel and I drove into town.

We’d had our wedding reception at the Roadhouse in Talkeetna all those years ago. We’d nailed the bottle top from our celebratory champagne to the doorframe and we were delighted to see that it’s still there.

Our bottle top from 12½ years ago

We walked around town, even though it was drizzling slightly. The potholes are something to write home about: Talkeetna’s very own little lake district.

Potholes worse than Surrey and Manchester

The museum was interesting too: again, more artefacts from the early days, especailly describing the building of the Alaska railroad.

Total Eclipse of the Sun, 1963
Probably not what it says on the tin
Making good use of local furry wildlife

We wandered down to the river, also named Talkeetna, which flows into the. Susitna. Because of all the rain recently, it was very high, hiding the beach, and flowing very fast. There are plans to dam the Susitna and of course there is a big campaign against the dam.

Talkeetna
No explination

The mountain climbing season is very short, April to June and numbers are limited to a mere 1500 a year. It must be like Piccadilly Circus up there sometimes! It would have been great to hire a small plane and fly round Denali National Park, or even to get on the train. But as subtlely hinted at elsewhere, the weather wasn’t really conducive to good seeing conditions.

We had our evening meal with Diane, her husband Jim, a pilot, and their son Luke. It was only a 5-minute walk between the cabin and their house, but we drove and probably just as well, because over there, through the trees, we caught sight of a moose with her twin calves.

Where are the mooses?

After a good night’s sleep disturbed only by the usual calls of nature, we went to Diane’s again for breakfast. During the night, in the gloom, I thought I’d seen a moose right outside the cabin. It wasn’t moving much. But in the cold light of day, I walked round and discovered it was just a fallen tree pretending to be a small moose.

Jyoti, Liesel and I went for a walk along the trails that had been prepared by Jyoti, her husband Mike and others, years ago. We were close to Z Lake, walked around X Lake and passed close to Y Lake. No, I haven’t forgotten their names: those are the names.

Unless you’re a bear

It was an undulating trail and again I was grateful to be walking it rather than failing to ski it.

We picked and ate cranberries (very tart), rosehips (pithy and seedy) and blueberries (quite sweet) on the way round, but we left the mushrooms and toadstools for someone else. The grasses were fascinating too and I know Sarah would have been interested. Not as much poop on the ground as there’d been at Hope last week.

Poisonous things and cranberries
Blueberries

The views of the lake were stunning, it was quite calm and would have been inviting were it not for the leeches that live there.

X Lake
X Lake

We were joined on our walk by a couple of other visitors to the state. Hannah is from Germany, here with her daughter Viktoria (not sure about the spellings). Viktoria is also on a gap year so Liesel gave her our details, and who knows, maybe we’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when.

Just a few puddles to negotiate

It was mostly dry as we hiked the trail, but it did begin to spit slightly when we drove back to a bakery/café called Flying Squirrel. We had a good lunch of soup and bread (Mick) and grilled cheese sandwich (Liesel). Diane appeared too as did our new German friends.

The drive back to Anchorage was uneventful, apart from the stop at Wasilla and the rain becoming more and more torrential. Over the Knik Bridge, it was pure white outside, we couldn’t see anything: this must be what it’s like driving through a cloud.

Not a pleasant drive back to Anchorage

Early plans to see a movie were dealt a severe blow: tickets had sold out. So while Liesel and her girlfriends went to The Beartooth for a meal, I went to the gym for a quick go on the treadmill. I decided that rather than just plodding along on it for a long period of time, I’d walk/run a mile as quickly as possible. 13 minutes, 52 seconds.

I had a look at the other medieval torture machines available for use, each designed to cause pain to different groups of muscles. The only ones I’d be interested in using are the stationary bikes, although the saddles tend to be too wide, and the rowing machines because at least I can see what I’m supposed to be doing!

I had a coffee at Kaladi while listening to the conclusion of The Scarlet Pimpernel, I browsed the books again at Title Wave, and met up with Liesel and Jyoti later.

The Big Breakfast

A pleasant early morning walk around to Jyoti’s for breakfast. Banana loaf from Una, plus fried eggs and toast. Lots of toast. While Liesel, Jyoti and Una went shopping, I went back home and caught up on the admin: journal, bills, emails, deleting rubbish photos.

It’s election time here in Alaska, well, the Primaries at least. There are boards all over the place. This one intrigued me as being slightly oxymoronic:

She’s not getting our votes

Yes, what a big breakfast. I had no need for lunch nor dinner, just an apple and some crisps. It was nice having a bit of a break in the house though.

45 minutes on a treadmill is not as much fun as walking around outside for 45 minutes. Every time I go to the gym, I come to the same conclusion.

On the other hand, I did listen to part 1 of a radio dramatisation of The Scarlet Pimpernel. Everyone else in the gym was probably plugged in to some high-BPM, motivating, loud, thumpy-thump music. Not me!

It was raining. Some of the gutters above the shops have broken, so walking from one shop to another meant having to dodge cascades of water.

I was on my own after being dropped off by Liesel and her Mom. While entertaining myself, they went shopping. That’s two days’ shopping in a row for Liesel. She’s going to need a bigger bag.

I wandered around Title Wave too, noting down some books that I’d like to read one day. I was delighted to hear the Bee Gees playing in the shop. Well, a record of theirs.

It was raining. Cars driving through the car park had to try very hard not to splash people as they drove through the puddles.

I had a coffee at Kaladi Brothers again: possibly the best coffee in Anchorage. One thing I’ve noticed is that the free wifi offered in shops here seems to work. No need to register, just enter the well-publicised password and it works. Now that is civilised.

It was raining. There were some bedraggled people around, but nobody looked particularly miserable.

I wandered down to REI. I do need some new shoes and I thought I’d have a quick look here. I know what I want, I know the make, I know the size. But the choice available was overwhelming. Familiar brands as well as far too many unknown ones.

Liesel collected me, we went home and before going round to Jyoti’s for dinner, I attempted some of the puzzles in the newspaper. They seem to be much harder on a Sunday.

It was still raining.

I mentioned the Scarlet Pimpernel earlier. I brought recordings of a few radio dramas with me, and I was hoping they would last me most of the year. Well, I’ve listened to all 10 episodes of Dust: La Belle Sauvage read by Simon Russell Beale, but I think in the wrong order thanks to the way the BBCiPlayer works and/or the way I saved the files. I also listened to The Citadel, a series from Woman’s Hour about a Welsh doctor in the 1920s written by the same author as Dr Finlay’s Casebook.

I do miss listening to my regular favourite radio programmes and podcasts, though, but at least we’re not spending too long with our brains being turned to mush by American TV.

Sights and Bites

Jyoti came and took me for another hike in Kincaid Park, this time on the Mize Trail. In the Winter, most of these trails are groomed for Nordic skiing. I had a go once, several years ago, but I’m never going to be a champion skier. Trying to slide up even the slightest incline with shiny planks strapped to my feet is an impossible task. Fortunately, the snow hasn’t arrived yet so today we just had to walk it.

My legs were itchy from yesterday. Not itchy from the exercise nor from needing more exercise, not that sort of itch. I’d been bitten by mosquitoes. I’d caught a few in the act, but many more got through my defences.

Scratching is not an option, although tempting: no need to haemorrhage in Anchorage.

It was a nice warm day, and as I had my bag with me, Jyoti asked me to carry the hairspray. I thought it was a bit unnecessary to walk through the woods carrying hair product, but there are some eccentric people around. Then I read the label:

BEAR spray!!!

I think today’s trail was a bit more hilly than yesterday’s, but we were rewarded with some lovely views.

View towards the inlet

As we left the park, a couple were just beginning their hike, ding-a-ling, ding-dong: they were wearing bells to deter the bears. Jyoti and I won the no-bell prize by just not being at all quiet.

We’ll come back here later in the year to watch the colours change through Autumn, aka Fall, then if we’re still here after that, the views will be even more spectacular through the denuded trees!

But I won’t be skiing anywhere, don’t worry.

Archery here, frisbee golf there, we should have worn hard hats

In the afternoon, I exercised the old grey matter by completing a crossword and a sudoku. The first such puzzles for a month, so my new resolution is to get into the habit once again.

Today’s not really very scary thing was me going to a Japanese restaurant so that I can learn what is safe to eat before we visit the country. Ronnie’s is Klaus’s favourite resaturant but a quick look at the menu beforehand was disappointing for me. Nothing vegetarian. Even the bean curd dish has beef in it. The soup is all based on fish broth. In the end, I had a very nice selection of veggie tempura: but even here, the menu offered half veggie, half shrimp tempura!

Asa and Gideon returned home today as their parents are both back from their trips.

Children’s decorated stones in the park

Anchored Down in Anchorage

Mick is hoping to purge this earworm by mentioning it here. Anchored Down in Anchorage by Michelle Shocked is a great song, but I wish my mind would concentrate on a different one about AK or preferably, about something entirely different.

Monday was a day of rest. Asa’s interested in cookery and he scrambled some eggs for our breakfast. And we went out for some shopping, stopping at a coffee bar, of course.

Unfortunately named napkins

In the evening, we went to collect Gideon from his football practice. He enjoys playing in goal but for the time we were there, all the play was at the other end of the pitch. As I walked back to the car with him, he was dribbling his football and his control was very impressive!

The field has several colonies of mushrooms should they get hungry during a game.

The next morning, we went to the gym where our 12-year old Training Assistant, Hannah, got us to do some exercises. And tried to sell us more services, of course. We’d rather be outside walking or cycling but the weather recently has been a bit damp and the immediate forecast doesn’t look too good either. But we do need to build up strength and stamina before our long trek in Japan.

In the coffee shop afterwards (it had to be done!), we bumped into Suvan: we were planning to see him later in the day too at his Mom’s house.

In the afternoon, we took Asa and Gideon to the movies. Christopher Robin is very enjoyable, very gentle with some nice nods to the original Winnie the Pooh stories.

We went round to Jyoti’s in the evening for her gorgeous Indian food. Suvan was there too with his gorgeous new bride Kayla.

Liesel, Suvan, Kayla, Jyoti

We took Asa to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center at Portage. Gideon didn’t want to come because the animals make his hands smell. Which may be a euphemism for he wanted to stay in to play computer games. The weather was dry but a couple more degrees of heat would have been welcome.

The Center does take in orphaned and injured animals and, for us, provided a good way of seeing some genuine Alaskan wildlife albeit in an artificial setting.

Moose
Noncustomary speed limit
Musk oxen
Arctic fox
Sitka deer
Three-legged porcupine called Kit-Kat
Black bear
Black bear in the water
Wood bison
Not a real bear

On the way to AWCC, we stopped at the Alaska Bakery. I have never been defeated by a cinnamon roll before but this one was enormous. Cinnamon roll?It was a brick! I ate it in three sessions during the day. Yes, I should have taken a picture of it.

When we got back home, Liesel and I went for a quick walk up the road with the dog who was limping a bit and she knew when she’d had enough. It was just great being outside for so long today.

It’s not every day you get woken by the phone ringing at 7.00am. It was the crew delivering the new dishwasher and the new oven telling us they were on their way. We both stayed in bed until they’d gone.

Jyoti called as well to say she was coming over at about 9am and as it was 8.45, I knew I had plenty of time: she is Indian after all 😉 but she showed up just a few minutes later, and the three of us went for a walk to Kincaid Park and around the trails.

Asa and Gideon went for a quick bike ride to Kincaid too, and on their way back home, they told us that there was a moose around the corner with her baby. We didn’t know how the dog would respond so we turned back, and found a different rute through the park.

Jyoti and Liesel

We found Beercan Lake, aka Campbell Point Lake, the location of our marriage ceremony all those years ago.

In fact, we realised it was exactly our 12½th wedding anniversary, half a silver!

Liesel and Mick, without skis this time

After the walk, we went to a great resaurant called South for a late but very welcome breakfast. I liked one of the paintings on the wall but Liesel thought we probably wouldn’t be able to afford it. So I snuck a photo instead.

A terrific painting
Lending library, we’ve seen a few of these cute little boxes
Yes, we went into this shop

In the afternoon, we took both boys to Color Me Mine, a paint your own ceramics shop. It was a lot of fun but it’s fair to say that other customers had more artistic talent than we do. The items will be fired in the oven and we’ll be able to collect them in 7-10 days.

Like the local orange juice, 100% concentration
Liesel’s penguin

I don’t think I’ve played Monopoly for a quarter of a century or more but the rules came right back to mind. We played the Alaska edition which was fun, but the funniest thing was, Gideon’s cheating was more blatant than Asa’s. Even so, I was declared the winner in the end because I had more properties. But, really, the game lasts far too long for young folks and I even thought that when I was myself a young folk.

Monopoly

The Alaska edition has groups of land mammals, sea mammals, cities, natural features and the Chance and Community Chest cards have been given an Alaskan flavour. No “You came second in a beauty contest” here, it’s “You have won second prize in the miners and trappers ball costume contest”. You can go to jail for “exceeding legal fishing limits”.

Hope for the Best

Hope is one of the very early pioneer gold rush towns. Depending on who you believe, it’s named after one of the first prospectors or after the sense of optimism felt by the men. And the population was mostly men, just a couple of women to do the laundry and provide other services.

The population is now 159 according to the lady running the of Hope and Sunrise Museum.

Phil and Una have a cabin here which they share with three other families. They visit once a month and they invited us (me, Liesel and Jyoti) to join them this weekend. We’d had a late night Saturday, a good night’s sleep and a not too early rise on Sunday morning.

Taxi service in Hope

The rain was still falling, more drizzle, really, as we walked to Creekbend Café for breakfast. We hoped for an improvement in the weather because the one thing we wanted to do in Hope was to go for a walk.

After breakfast, Liesel and I paid a visit to the Museum. The history of the place is fascinating. We’re pretty well-off now in the early 21st century: we just can’t imagine moving away to a strange place, a new town even, hundreds of miles from home, on the off-chance of being able to find enough gold to make the trip worthwhile.

At the museum, there are some of the old huts and equipment. The huts were transported to the museum as they stood in the way of a new bridge built for the new Seward Highway some years ago.

Bigger than the one that used to be in Cedarcroft Road, Chessington
Quonset hut
Prospectors’ huts

I walked down to the campground, as close to the sea as I could get without squelching through the quicksand-like mudflats.

The view from Hope over the inlet

The weather had brightened so I was keen to go for a longer hike. So was Phil. But the three girls turned their noses up and stayed behind for girly time and girly chat.

Phil had recently heard of a trail that is only known by the locals, so I can’t reveal its top secret location. But it was a wonderful hike through the woods. And I can confirm that bears do do that there.

Bear poop, there was a lot of it

We looked out over the sea, The Turnagain Arm, from various places where the path approached the edge of the bluff. The tide was going out as revealed by the rocks and mud in the middle of the inlet. In fact, this is the site of the highest tide in the whole of the USA. There was a lot of fungi present, some edible, but I didn’t risk it. Where the soil had been washed away, trees now grow sideways out over the water.

A cartoon mushroom
My guide, Phil, a fun guy
Much more fungi
The inlet with mud and rocks revealed by ebbing tide
Tree hanging on by its fingernails

This was bear country, but we heard no animal sounds, not even birds, just the wind rustling in the trees. We turned back after a while and retraced our steps back to the car. On the drive back to the cabin, Phil showed me a log cabin newly built by friends of theirs. The logs used are from local trees.

There is another road that leads up towards the mountains. Phil has mountain-biked there, sometimes being taken to the top so that he can enjoy the ride back down. He offered to take me along this road, and it was indeed a very pleasant drive. Lots of fireweed, though mostly past its best. The sky by now was a beautiful blue colour and listening to Dark Side of the Moon was the unexpectedly perfect soundtrack to the ride.

Near the top of the road are some small lakes, known as tarns. This is a term I usually associate with the small lakes in the mountains in the north of England, it seemed odd terminology for outback Alaska. Beautiful, though, just the same.

Family of ptarmigan
Tarn

A campground was perfectly located, but again, the bear-proof food storage bins were a stark warning that we were in the bears’ domain.

Stream near the campground

On our return, the ladies had moved from the kitchen to the living room, but hadn’t ventured outside despite the improvement in the weather. Phil and I raved about the newly discovered and very secret trail. We decided to go back, all five of us this time, so that’s what we did. The tide in the inlet was even further out this time. The bear scat was still there, though I’m not sure Liesel believed me, or was impressed, when I said that on our first jaunt, it had still been steaming!

On the drive back to the cabin, we encountered real, live, actual wild moose. A Mum and her baby were eating the vegetation right by the road, although the baby retreated fairly quickly. It was nice, at last, to see wildlife land-based mammals bigger than squirrels and bunnies.

Moose and baby
Mama moose

Back at the cabin, we packed up for our departure but before that, we picked and ate tons of raspberries growing wild in the garden. Why haven’t the bears eaten them yet? Oh, they’d been by and had a few, aparently. I really didn’t expect to eat wild berries in Alaska, how can it ever be warm enough for such things to grow? This is my prejudiced gut feeling about Alaska but it’s not as bad as all that in the, admittedly short, Summer season.

Raspberries

On the drive back to Anchorage, we stopped at the famous Double Musky Inn in Girdwood. Liesel has been talking about, salivating for and lusting after their cheese jalapeño rolls, so that’s what we bought. Very nice, very tasty. Plus, on the way in, a strange young lady gave me a hug, her equally intoxicated partner shook my hand and again I thought, what a friendly place this is. Jyoti asked if I knew these people. Well, I sort of do now!