Yea, yea. I’m a year overdue still…
Once again, life was in a less than agreeable position, time to motivate. I revamped my studies by creating an application for Challenge Alaska. It would be a simple app that signed up volunteers to students, and I’d use a few new technologies to accomplish it, all the while I would blog about my steps taken explaining my thought process as simply as possible, the Feynman technique for those that know it.
Alyeska closed in late April, an inevitable event that necessitated habit change. I’d been keeping up on my running throughout the winter, but without much of a goal. The big 30 years loomed months away and I needed to have a personal challenge fitting of an aging body. The tram that shuttles skiers from the hotel to the mountain rises 2200 feet and operates during the summer months as a tourist attraction to offer views of the valley in its summer greenery and glaciers nestled in their mountainous crannies. It costs to ride up, but not down. With this knowledge, the plan to achieve 30k feet of vertical gain in a single day was hatched.
After a morning full of code, I would run the bike path to the hill and begin climbing. May was mostly battling through existing snow and sleet storms, coming home drenched, soaked, and very cold. When the ski runs began to shed their winter coat and I could truly start gaining some elevation on the mountain, I became accustomed to clapping and yelling every hundred feet to alert the bears of my presence. Bear spray always strapped around my waist. It was not until June that I could manage laps up to the tram. Training elevation gains measured about 10k a week with total mileage only in the thirtys. I wanted my up.
Concurrently, a trip home made me reflect upon my situation and I decided that if my career goals were not being met it would be time to go. With this soft pressure, I became more receptive to getting out and exploring, even though I was digging more and more into my savings by doing so. The first day of June brought a first legitimately labeled “summer day” with temperatures blasting into the 60s. The roommates and I went kayaking in Whittier and it proved without a doubt that south east Alaska was meant to be explored in this manner. Glacier after glacier we passed with views that make writing about them exceptionally frustrating… almost as frustrating as fighting the currents within the fjord itself.
The salmon runs were abundant and I quickly became familiar with the lingo of salmon color to species type. Undoubtedly the freshest resource, I began spending a few hours most days down at the nearby Bird creek bettering my cast and strip, flossing technique.
In late May I took a trip up to Fairbanks to float upon the high waters of the Chena river. Vastly different than the southern part of the state that I had been used to, the dramatic mountains were replaced by rolling hills of taiga forest. The soil was strange and water logged with the permafrost preventing it from seeping into the ground below; bubbling up like an improperly measured carpet.
Katchemak state park sits on the opposite end of the Homer spit and reminds one of Jurassic Park right down to the lettering of the welcome sign. To get there, we had to plan a skiff for dropoff and pickup across the bay. The high annual rainfall is optimal for lush rainforest plants, all of which choke the trail systems and overpower the bare-bones crew of parks volunteers attempting to hold the ferns, brambles, and devil’s club back with measly weed whackers.
Bear scat littered the trails and kept us on high alert, but apparently not high enough. As the three of us hiked around a curve, a rustle significantly larger than a squirrel manifested in a shaking of dense foliage to our right. Immediately our bear spray was drawn and “hey bear” was repeated about a hundred times as we hurried it out of there. In hindsight this probably confused the bear. It’s the only time in my life I’ve felt the need for a gun. Once we were about 50 yards away, we looked back and saw two black bear cubs high in a tree, and heard their angry mother huffing at us.
A confusedly marked trail sign placed us at a cabin we were not intending to stay in. Luckily it was unoccupied for the night and we enjoyed the cozy embrace of the old hewn logs. The following day we found our intended structure and enjoyed the impossibly long days hiking through the densest of foliage, another bear encounter, and a half completed hike up China Poot peak. I even rounded out my birthday weekend with a bit of dip netting on the Kenai river and snagged a few silvers.
The day of my challenge came and I was awake before the sun had crested the mountains. My first 4 laps I had to run up and down the mountain as the tram didn’t start running until 9. Once it did, I was averaging about 50 minutes a lap, snacking on peanuts, chocolate chips, and gummy bears in between. It was lap 6 where I started feeling the possibility of a cramp coming on. As I jumped over a rock it seized up mid air and I came crashing to the ground in agony just as the tram passed over. With 8 laps to go it was incredibly frustrating to have all the cardio I needed and most of my body in working order except my right calf. The laps slowed down, the sun meandered across the sky, the other hikers on the trail looked at me in slight horror as I would lap them limping up the muddy path. The tram operators were my biggest cheerleaders. A banana probably would have been a good idea. The sun was setting at the end of 17.5 hours as I exhaustedly and slightly deliriously entered the bar at the top of the lift, I ordered a beer, salt encrusted my face, legs were caked with mud, and the tally marks on my arm had the impression of tiger claw marks; 14 of them. I was amused when the bartender asked how my hike up the mountain was, “which lap?” I replied. She was new to the area and didn’t quite understand what I meant, for all I know she probably thought I was drunkenly slurring my words.
Coming down the tram for the last time and with dusk almost into its next phase of twilight, I got a good smirk overhearing a conversation. A hotel guest asked the operator, “what’s the most number of times you’ve ever heard anyone hiking up?”
“Well, I can’t give you a number for certain, but why don’t you ask this guy over here” smiling and gesturing to me.
“14” I said. “14 goddamn laps”. I can’t say my ego wasn’t stoked just a little bit by the applause that came after.