Sunday, May 02, 2010

Welcome, almost summer

The coming of May always seems to ignite a flurry of new activity among Alaskans. In my four summers here (five if you count tourism), I have yet to fully grasp why the frenzy is so sudden and furious. I mean, yes, it is a bit warmer outside (42 degrees when I left the house at 11 this morning. Strangely does not feel warm after three weeks in Utah and California.) And yes, there is still usable twilight at 11 p.m. (which I haven't used since 8 because I've been inside typing up a resume/cover letter and an article query; and, yes, I am proud of myself for spending three hours doing this.) And yes, the snow is mostly gone (but seriously, who doesn't like snow?) What I can't understand where everyone went in January, during one of those crisp bluebird days when the land was full of sparkling beauty and the trails were empty. I just don't get it, I really don't, why the mania is so acutely seasonal.

Still, summer fun is incredibly fun, and the timing is good when I'm trying to learn new landscapes and meet new friends. On Saturday, a woman who I worked with very briefly in Juneau, who now lives in Anchorage, invited me to join her on a group bike ride. The circumstance itself was interesting, because we were coworkers for all of a week when I first moved to Juneau four years ago. She understood my plight of being a stranger in a strange town and invited me to a barbecue, which happened to be her goodbye barbecue because she was moving to Anchorage. Now, four years later, I'm in the exact same position and she's still as friendly as ever. We met up with the Arctic Bicycle Club for their Saturday ride from Anchorage to the Eagle River Nature Center. Despite a few inches of fresh snow on the hillsides and a forecast that called for more white stuff, nearly a dozen people showed up for the May Day ride (this is one of the things that amuses me about Alaskans, because dates seem to matter more than actual weather.) We endured a brief hail storm, but the rest of the 40-mile ride was washed in sunlight, with a mellow pace and smiles all around because for some, it was the first outdoor ride of the year.

Saturday night was the "Welcome Almost Summer" barbecue with several Anchorageites/fellow endurance nuts that I met when I visited Fairbanks in March. We grilled outside the house in light, cold rain as a small herd of moose casually grazed the brush in the front yard; we ate big plates of fresh grilled vegetables and summery salads, and then drooled over pictures from the Wilderness Classic, where the guys who completed the race skied 180 miles in about four days over a remote, rugged and deep-frozen mountain range in northern Alaska. That's Alaskans for you - celebrate summer prematurely while dreaming and scheming about faraway winter.

Today I met up with a man I met during Saturday's club ride and a few of his friends for a hike up Mount Baldy. It was a pretty laid-back trek, more about the "thinking about it" breaks and "butt sledding" than hiking (we actually trudged back up hills a few times just so we could "sled" back down.) I have to admit that even I will be pretty excited when these ridges finally clear of snow and their possibilities really open up. But as long as the snow remains, at least the trek down is fairly fast.

Later in the afternoon, we regrouped for a ride around roads in Eagle River and Chugiak. It was great fun, and we already have a hill climb slated for later this week and a possible ride to Palmer on Friday (I don't know why I have become so fixated on riding a bicycle from Anchorage to the Mat-Su Valley, but I seem to already be recruiting others in my cause.) It's been fun to spend a weekend hanging around several groups of people and wonder if I may eventually work my way into part of a "crowd." It will be pretty funny if a simple group bike ride leads to me hanging around a bunch of people from Eagle River, who seem to share a healthy rivalry with Anchorage (as we stood on top of Mount Baldy, I looked out at downtown Anchorage and made the mistake of saying, "Yeah Anchorage," wherein I was warned to instead say, "Boo Anchorage; Yeah Eagle River.") Either way, that's part of the fun of being a stranger in a strange town.