Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ashes to ashes

Date: Jan. 11
Mileage: 13.6
January mileage: 164.4
Temperature upon departure: 22

Somewhere, hidden deep within a shroud of fog and the forgotton hours of the morning, Augustine coughed up an explosion - unseen, unheard, almost as if it never existed, except for the five-mile-high ash cloud that is now probably drifting over Denali National Park.

The volcano began was is expected to be a series of escalating eruptions this morning at 4:44 a.m. It was enough to raise the concern level to code red and keep people glued to their radios and raiding the stores for face masks and Spam - but didn't really do much else. The ash headed north and east and pretty much away from Homer, Anchorage and any relatively populated area of Alaska. The fog stayed, blocking anxious eyes from any view of the rumbling mountain, and gripping the town in an eerie sort of silence.

My editor rushed into the office first thing this morning to demand I upload an update the the Web site. In the great irony of weekly newspapers, our current issue - published yesterday and released two hours after the volcano blew - ran with the headline "Scientists say eruption not imminent." Our ad rep won the office poll with an exact guess of Jan. 11 - but in the great irony of advertising executives didn't even take the opportunity to gloat. We just typed quietly and waited for a glimpse of ash or a phone call from an panicked resident - anything - but all we did was wait. "Something's just off about today," my co-worker said. Maybe it was because a volcano 70 miles from here erupted. Or maybe it was because a volcano 70 miles from here erupted and nothing happened.

Geoff and I had made plans tonight to see an avalanche presentation by Jill Fredston, but I had a free 90 minutes between work and the slide show to catch a trail ride. I looped around the crunchy ski runs along the crest of Diamond Ridge, racing the fog as it climbed out of the valley until I was encircled, and then enshrouded. Today's ride was sponsored by Tracy in Iowa, for the intended purpose of buying chemical handwarmers. It's funny because suddenly, with seismic activity on the rise again and "escalating eruptions" looming, I may have a more immediate need for a medical face mask and a stack of good DVDs for when I have to do a lot more of my riding indoors. Or ... maybe not.