Monday, August 12, 2013

The Northern Foothills

There's a bike path that extends north from Anchorage along the Glenn Highway as far as Eagle River. I rode it once in maybe 1984 when I was 11 and S__ had finished her first triathlon (The "Bud Light") on the Fort Rich Army Base.  I rode her bike back, maybe as far as home but my memory isn't clear on the point.

Bud Light -- that's its own blog post.  An internet search reveals nothing online about the Anchorage event, although there is some historical writing on a six-city Pacific Northwest Bud Light Triathlon Series from the mid-1980s.

On Sunday, July 28, I decided to explore some pavement I didn't know or didn't know well, so I joined the Coastal Trail (again -- maybe my sixth foray out there for this Alaska trip!) at Westchester Lagoon and pointed north.  The trail has been redone from Westchester to downtown and is beautiful smooth black pavement.  I pedaled past the Comfort Inn of BWR notoriety and out the Ship Creek trail, judging my direction by going opposite the BWR arrows Damon had followed home earlier that week.

Ship Creek Trail -- from the Coastal Trail to Mountain View
The Ship Creek trail threads the needle between industrial properties to the south, situated at the bottom of the bluff at the north edge of Anchorage, and Ship Creek to the north.  Across Ship Creek you see another bluff, this one "Government Hill."  Government Hill is a collection of old federal government-build homes for employees of the Alaska Engineering Commission, engaged in building railroad around the state.  The neighborhood has since become halfway posh, not a surprise with its location walking distance from downtown and its views across the Cook Inlet to Fire Island and the Alaska Range.  The trail ends by a school in Mountain View, something of a slummy neighborhood, and by going straight you quickly reach North Bragaw Road.

Aside #1:  A Google search seeking a picture of Mountain View turned up this intriguing factoid:  Mountain View is the most diverse neighborhood . . . in America!  It's also a crime-ridden 'hood; other Google results had "man kills elderly couple" and the like.

North Bragaw to Mountain View Drive and you find the Glenn Highway Bike Trail.  As described by the Arctic Bicycle Club, this runs from Muldoon Road past Eagle River -- "up to 37 miles round trip." The trail has been under construction but is rapidly coming to completion.  Much of it is beautiful riding -- flat, fast, and low traffic.

The trail passes Elmendorf Air Force Base and the Fort Richardson Army installation.  The latter is responsible for my family's being in Alaska:  Dad was posted to Fort Rich in 1970 as a lawyer in the JAG Corps.  Faced in 1973 with returning to a job in Kansas, he balked -- and the rest is history.

Elmendorf AFB

Fort Richardson
In Eagle River, the nominal end of the Glenn Highway trail, I found the Old Glenn Highway.  I didn't explore the Old Glenn Highway Driving Loop,  but after researching for this post it's high on the list for next time home.  According to one source,

The Old Glenn Highway is a delightful 19-mile country road that cuts through the heart of the original Matanuska Colony Farmlands and provides a scenic alternate route between Anchorage and Palmer, Alaska.

One wonders, after Damon's disappointment with the closing century of the BWR, whether a route through Palmer and returning to Anchorage via the Old Glenn Highway might not be a good choice for a course revision.

Aside #2:  Such a re-route, if it were undertaken, might cross from the Parks Highway to the Glenn via Hatcher Pass.  That would offer tremendous views and a final climb of some real note.

Hatcher Pass, Talkeetna Mountains, Alaska.
For a better look at Hatcher Pass, see this website for the Hatcher Pass Road Race!  Heck, who cares about the BWR?  Let's just go race 70 miles on dirt with 7500 feet of climbing!

I did follow the Old Glenn to the east of downtown Eagle River, then turned right on the Eagle River Loop Road, up a steep hill into the Chugach Foothills.  From there a left turn to the auspiciously named Skyline Drive . . . and 1500 feet of ascent over the three miles to the Mount Baldy Trailhead.

Mount Baldy, East of Eagle River, Alaska.
View from Skyline Drive.  This gate opens to undeveloped properties for sale . . .
From there?  Back down to Eagle River Loop Road and the Old Glenn Highway.  Happy not to be riding carbon rims on that descent!

And here's the great part:  the Old Glenn Highway trail continues north -- well north -- at least past the town of Chugiak (a bedroom town of Eagle River!) and Peters Creek, into a mountainside neighborhood a good 30 miles from Anchorage.  Somewhere there was Ski Road, at the top of which climb I heard a slow leak from the rear tire.  The tread on my trusty Grand Bois was worn through, but the tube was easy to patch and a boot cured the problem with the tire.

Bike Bridge over Peters Creek
Back home the direct route along the Old Glenn Highway to the Glenn Highway Trail, circling down the Coastal Trail past Valley of the Moon Park and up E Street.

68-some miles and 4200-some feet of climbing.  This ride was an A+.


Unknown said...

Sounds like a great trek! Greg, the photographer, was telling me about a mountain bike race that covers some amazing territory up there. Largely gravel, not very technical like on the East Coast. Sounds terrific.

If you can figure out a way to improve the last stretch of BWR, you should definitely let Kevin know. I died a few deaths in the last 40-60 miles.

Max said...

That view of the road on the link to the Hatcher Pass race is pretty sweet, isn't it.

Just a guess, but I would say you'd die a few deaths in the last 40-60 miles even if the route were reversed. Your plan to avoid that on day 2 by not sleeping was inspired, but there's nothing you can do about the let-down that comes at the end. (Interesting factoid: most mountaineering deaths occur on the descent. That isn't because the descent is harder. It's because the psychological shut-down that occurs after topping out renders climbers susceptible to dying.)

And, to be clear, riding fresh (as I was), the BWR route from Peters Creek to Anchorage -- I followed the route for that last 30 miles -- is really pretty nice riding but for the short stretch through downtown Eagle River.