Saturday, May 01, 2010

Getting to know you

It's only my third day in Anchorage, and already I feel a mixture of triumph and guilt. Although I did get my most important resume package sent out and met with one editor, I really haven't settled in to start much of the work I promised myself I would start. So far I have a good excuse. It's not that I'm a bad self manager (cough, cough) ... it's just that I need to spend a little time getting to know this city.

And there's really no better way to get a feel for a city than by bicycle. On Wednesday, I honestly couldn't have told you where my house was in relation to downtown (and was yelled at by a taxi driver because of this.) By Thursday, I understood the triangle shape of the city, where many important landmarks were located on this triangle, and how to use bike paths to navigate the northern and central portions of town. By this afternoon, I could locate a multitude of different parks and major arteries, and already feel like an old pro of Anchorage (OK, not really, but at least I can tell a taxi driver where I live.)

All it took was 40-60 miles a day of relaxed if confused pedaling - sometimes in circles, sometimes on roads not all that suitable for biking, but always new to me, and always an adventure. I actually love biking around strange cities. I love the feeling of being completely, bewilderingly lost, and then passing unique and intriguing places as I search for somewhere familiar. Riding aimlessly around Portland and San Fransisco was one of my most effective methods for coping with my relationship breakup last May. Getting purposefully lost in the city also is great therapy for coping with the unsettling feeling of being temporarily displaced from my career.

On Thursday I wandered around the north end of town, finally putting together the Chester Creek greenway (seriously, what is up with all the spurs?) and checked out Government Hill, Mountain View and Muldoon. Then it was on up the Glenn Highway bike path, lost again in Eagle River while searching for a bike route north (how do cyclists get to the Mat-Su Valley? Do they just ride on the highway?) Then I took a nice respite from spastic city riding with a jaunt up the Eagle River Road, a quiet, narrow country road with light traffic.

On Friday I decided to ride around the perimeter of the city. My favorite ride in Anchorage so far has been the Coastal Trail. It's scenic, quiet and only seems to be lightly used, at least on weekday afternoons in April. I have yet to see a single person beyond Point Woronzof, so past there I really crank it up, laying into the pedals in my highest gear and leaning hard into the multitude of swooping turns. It makes road biking feel like riding singletrack (don't worry, I always slow way down if the turn is blind or if I see another person or animal. I understand the etiquette of multi-use paths.) From there, I made every effort to stay as close to the Turnagain Arm as possible. This allowed for lots of fun discoveries - winding through scenic neighborhood streets and riding rocky singletrack trails through parks with my skinny-tire touring bike. Using back roads, I managed to work my way to the Old Seward Highway, and from there jumped on Rabbit Creek Road and climbed up to the foothills, where I proceeded to make my way around the outskirts of Hillside (hilly). Then I raced a bus all the way home on the Lake Otis Parkway.

Now that I'm an expert (ha!) at riding a bicycle through Anchorage, I just need to find some riding partners. I have loads of free time as long as I can keep coming up with excuses not to do the work I promised myself I was going to do. So if you live in Anchorage and have a favorite place to ride, and don't mind showing it off to a newbie who doesn't own a real road bike and may never own a real road bike, because deep in her heart she understands she is merely a simple bike tourist who sometimes likes to play in the dirt and snow ... please get in touch! You can comment here or e-mail me privately at


  1. Hi, Jill. Might consider contacting (joining?) the Valley Mt Bikers & Hikers if interested in getting to know parts of the Mat Su Valley. They held a great intro to winter biking in January with instructors Bill & Kathi Merchant who you mentioned in Ghost Trails.

  2. Jill, you might enjoy riding up Hiland Rd (first right once you get off on the North Eagle River exit.) Quite the climb, but beautiful.

  3. Jill,

    Get familiar w/Kincaid park trail system once it dries, usually mid May. ~40 km of dirt trails, mostly double track, but some single too. Lots of ways to get there, via coastal trail or Raspberry road.

    Also, hillside trail system is fantastic, also once it dries. Spencer loop is my favorite. Access via Campbell airstrip road (off Tudor), or start at Service HS. Quite a maze of routes up there.

    Also, the new "Bee" trails constructed a few years ago by the mtb community. These are also in the hillside area. A definite must. All single track and they are lightly marked. May even be a trail map by now, ask at Chain Reaction.

    As for paved bike paths, lots more to discover in east and south Anchorage. Not all that well interconnected, but it's improving.

    And once summer arrives the Kenai single tracks (e.g. Johnson Pass, Resurrection Pass, Lost Lake) are some of the best in Alaska, maybe the country. I'll drop you an e-mail when some of us head down there, if you care to join us. Usually involves car logistics.

    There are some pretty cool (and challenging) rides in the Talkeetna mtns North of Anchorage. Haven't done those in years but they used to be fun. Anthracite Ridge, Hicks lake, etc.

    You can also take the hwy south to Indian and ride the bike trail all the to Girdwood (aka "Girdweed").

    Enjoy exploring. Send an e-mail if you care to, I ride around Anchorage quite a lot (

  4. Hmmm...Let me see if I can add anything.

    I live near Baxter and Northern Lights so I spend most of my rides heading into Far North Bicentennial Park or down the Glenn towards Eagle River.

    There is a very easy way to get on the bike path and go all the way to Chugiak/Peters Creek, though it really is not as clear as it should be. I don't think there is an easy way to go beyond and get to the valley.

    Hiland road is a great, long climb. It also has an excellent hike at the end of it (to Eagle/Symphony Lake).

    I split my time between a cross and road bike and try to ride most days, usually in the early evening. Let me know if you have any questions or want a ride :

  5. Atlanta, Ga., has only ever had one official historian: Franklin Garrett. He worked for Western Union and didn't learn to drive until he was middle-aged. Until then, he rode his bicycle everywhere, or walked.

    He rode as a child up Peachtree Street, beyond the county line, where it turned into an then-unpaved road, all the way up to the Fulton-DeKalb Industrial Airport. As a teen, he rode his Columbia three-speed to Baltimore, sleeping in corn fields, and rode the train back.

    In his free time, Garrett rode his bicycle to every cemetery in the city, recording every word written on their markers, stones and tombs. This is now part of the Atlanta History Center, and is known as the Franklin Necrology.

    Franklin Garrett said there is no better way to learn your city than walking it or riding your bicycle. Still true and always will be.

  6. Jill,

    Consider coming to a few of the Arctic Bike Club races or rides. There are several events every week. And if you don't want to actually race, they always need volunteers to help with registration and directing traffic. It's a great way to meet fellow cyclists and get to know people. Check out their web site for the full schedules.

    I'll also plug the Alaska triathlon club who has lots of events if you also like the running and/or swimming aspects. The two clubs have many of the same members and both clubs like to have fun.


    very beautiful your blog

  8. Wow--what an amazing view to ride to!


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