Alaskology

About the blog: Alaska is a wonderful and fascinating place. Whether its backcountry hiking, coastline kayaking or dining on a downtown deck, there truly is something for everyone. This blog picks up where the annual Daily News Visitors' Guide leaves off. The guide is published in late April, but that's just when summer fun starts heating up. Throughout the year, we hope to give readers a look at Alaska through local eyes. The blog also serves as a calendar of what's going on, a place to look for some outstanding vacation deals and other cool stuff. We invite your comments and your questions. E-mail me at alaskology@adn.com.
About me: I live in Anchorage, Alaska's largest city, and I served as the special sections editor at the Anchorage Daily News for nine years. My wife and I have been Alaska residents since 2000 and never plan to leave.

100-mph wind-driven love? - 12/5/2011 10:30 am

It's 'that' season - 11/8/2011 5:19 pm

Winter is on its way - 10/28/2011 4:07 pm

Changing seasons and reasons to smile - 10/3/2011 2:24 pm

People, animals love summer - 6/22/2011 1:13 pm

Bike to Work Week - 5/17/2011 5:05 pm

Cyclist dies ... is Alaska safe? - 4/5/2011 2:58 pm

Glorious winter fun - 12/22/2010 8:49 am

Moose and McKinley

You know it's going to be a good day when you see a moose before heading to work and you see Mount McKinley on the horizon during the bike commute.

An early-morning visitor to my backyard.An early-morning visitor to my backyard.

OK, that's not necessarily true. Some days can start off great and end like a stinker.

But, for me, seeing a moose just a few feet off the back deck is one of Alaska's special treats. I've been an Alaska resident for more than six years, and I've seen hundreds of moose. Gina and I have nearly bumped into them while hiking or mountain biking, but I never get tired off seeing our gangly ungulates.

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Breakfast at Snow City Cafe

Wednesday was Health Fair day at the Daily News. There were booths to get information on diabetes, exercise, colon cancer and so on.

We also could get blood drawn for tests. While it's not one of my favorite activities, it seemed like the right time to do it. While I'm not particularly fond of needles or the sight of blood, one of the big reasons I don't get the blood tests more often is the 12-hour fast that's required.

I'm a breakfast-eating machine. Within 30 minutes of waking up, I must have breakfast. So waiting two or three hours for breakfast puts me in an ill mood.

What better way to break out of that funk than a big, hearty breakfast? When that's what I want, I head directly to Snow City Cafe on Fourth Avenue and L Street in downtown Anchorage.

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Turnagain Arm Trail hike

Mile 1: Jen and Gina hike along the Turnagain Arm Trail between the Potter trail head and the McHugh Creek trail head.Mile 1: Jen and Gina hike along the Turnagain Arm Trail between the Potter trail head and the McHugh Creek trail head.

We sat down to a grilled cheese dinner a little after 10 Sunday night. I had a smile on my face.

Late-night meals are one of the perverse pleasures of spring/summer/fall in Alaska. You have to play outdoors while you can, and with the sun setting around 10:40 p.m. you can play deep into the evening.

Dinner followed several hours of hiking along the Turnagain Arm Trail. It's one of my favorite places in the spring. Usually, the snow melts away quickly on the south-facing slope, and the 9.4-mile trail has a variety of plant life and wildlife. Sunday, we saw a couple moose and Dall sheep. We heard that some folks spotted a black bear, but all we saw was a pile of scat. And the trail head is just a few miles outside Anchorage.

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Springtime in Alaska

A young moose feeds along the Campbell Creek Trail in Anchorage.A young moose feeds along the Campbell Creek Trail in Anchorage.

Finally!

This was the weekend all Alaskans were waiting for – bright sunshine and 60 degrees. The only problem was trying to fit everything into just a couple days. Bike rides, hikes, work in the yard, the downtown market – there were so many things to fit in.

Hopefully with these photos, you can enjoy a quick trip through some of the things that make springtime in Alaska great. Days like these probably won't last forever, so we've got to enjoy them while we can.

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It's market time

One sign that summer is edging ever closer is the opening of Anchorage's downtown markets. The Anchorage Market and Festival has been a downtown institution since 1992 and attracts locals and visitors alike. At 10 a.m. Saturday (May 13), the market will be bustling. (In fact, some vendors are up and running before 10 a.m. if you're pressed for time or want to get an early start.)

Vendors set up shop in a parking lot at the corner of Third Avenue and E Street. It's a great location – Ship Creek is just down the hill and on clear days the Alaska Range, including Mount McKinley, is visible to the north. The market is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday until Sept. 10.

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New bikes, new riders

It was shakedown Sunday on the new road bikes.

Despite strong winds and some rain, I enjoyed the new road bike on Sunday.Despite strong winds and some rain, I enjoyed the new road bike on Sunday.

Gina and I did make it down to the Indian-to-Girdwood Trail as planned. However, the light rain and howling winds were not part of the plan. As beautiful as Turnagain Arm is, the winds there can be brutal. And Sunday they were a bit rough.

Every couple miles we stopped and made an adjustment or two to the bikes. We ended the ride with the wind at our backs and smiles on our faces.

We had to cut the initial ride a little short because we had double-booked our biking Sunday. We were going to help a friend plan her bike-commuting route to work. So the road bikes went back in the house, the trusty commuter-friendly Gary Fishers came out and we were off on another journey.

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Bike fever ... a healthy illness

I spent part of Thursday afternoon and evening shopping for a road bike. It's not that I don't still love my Gary Fisher Hoo Koo E Koo mountain bike, it's just that sometimes you want to go a little faster and a little farther.

Also, I simply can't keep up with Dave K. on my mountain bike. (Not that a road bike will make that much difference.)

And it’s easier to dream that you're Lance Armstrong on a road bike.

But bike shopping isn't easy. Actually, I've been agonizing over this purchase for more than a year. Here is a small list of bikes available in Anchorage: Cannondale, Ellsworth, Giant, K2, LeMond, Novara, Orbea, Scott and Trek. Too many choices. And you can spend a lot of money on a new bike. Sadly, I don't have a lot of money.

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Cyclists, moose and flats

In a little over 14 hours, I experienced both the highs and lows of bicycle commuting.

On Monday's 12-mile ride home, I came across 26 other cyclists. At least half of them were obviously commuters – probably a record number for me to ride with. There were a few recreational cyclists and a few kids out for an after-school ride. But seeing others – especially those new to bike commuting – using pedal power put a smile on my face. Perhaps gas prices from $2.81 to $2.86 per gallon for regular unleaded will inspire others to leave the car at home a few days per week.

After hopping back on the bike this morning, one of my first sights was a moose browsing alongside the trail. After more than six years in Alaska and hundreds of moose encounters, I still smile when I come upon one. Of course, I always give it a wide berth, especially if it's a cow moose with a calf or two. Moose calves will start showing up around town in a few weeks.

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Our dirty little world

My wife and I participated in two rites of spring for Alaskans on Sunday – exchanging winter tires for summer tires and picking up trash. At first, it sounds like a boring weekend afternoon spent doing chores. And, at least partially, it's true. But it's also quite rewarding – and one more reminder spring really is here.

After several months of snow, trash is piled up along Alaska's roads and pathways.After several months of snow, trash is piled up along Alaska's roads and pathways.

By the time most tourists arrive in Alaska, the hum of studded tires has quieted and the roadsides are clear of six months of accumulated trash. In that respect, tourists are lucky. By May 1, Alaska drivers were to have their studded tires removed from their automobiles. It was also the first workday of the annual Citywide Cleanup. Businesses are encouraged to let employees have some time off in the morning to clean up the community and then head off to a luncheon to celebrate the job they're doing.

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Biking troubles

I've spent the last couple posts complaining about the slow arrival of the spring/summer season. On my way to work Thursday, I came across a guarantee that summer will come – construction signs.

Construction on Bragaw Street has closed a portion of the Campbell Creek Trail.Construction on Bragaw Street has closed a portion of the Campbell Creek Trail.

And right in the middle of a beautiful bike path.

The Campbell Creek Trail meanders for about eight miles from a corner of Far North Bicentennial Park southwest toward Campbell Lake. The eastern portion of the trail has some of the newest and nicest paved trails in Anchorage.

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I want spring

The complaints are getting louder by the day.

"I want spring!"

That's what one of my co-workers said this morning. This comes after another night of snow at my house. According to my count, spring officially arrived 37 days ago on March 20.

Waking up to another wintry morning on April 25.Waking up to another wintry morning on April 25.

Alaskans know that "calendar spring" and "real spring" are two different things, but it's time for the temperatures to start warming up and the snow to finally melt away. This morning, a time and temperature sign I passed said 28 degrees. I guess that's not so bad when compared with the 22 degrees it said about 10 days ago.

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Saying goodbye to winter

What was supposed to be our first camping trip of the summer season turned out to be our final camping trip of the winter season. As the snowflakes dropped on the ground Saturday morning, thankfully we were tucked comfortably inside the Yuditnu Creek Cabin.

A campfire warms the body and the mind.A campfire warms the body and the mind.

After work on Friday we grabbed a pizza from the Bear Tooth Theatrepub and headed up the highway toward Eklutna Lake. A three-mile hike along the Lakeside Trail with full backpacks got us to the cabin about 9 p.m. – the sun was still up and we had the campfire roaring in just a few minutes. It's always nice when the previous cabin-user leaves some already-cut, dry firewood stacked and waiting.

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What is Alaskology?

This weekend, the annual Daily News Visitors' Guide hit the streets. If you live in Alaska and weren’t careful, you might have tripped over it — it's 160 pages, has more than 50 stories and hundreds of advertisements.

But it's not nearly big enough. It barely scratches the surface of what Alaska offers the traveler. So, with the latest guide, we're also launching a new blog: Alaskology.

The blog will keep our Visitors' Guide alive throughout the summer. It'll be a glimpse of what Alaskans do to enjoy their long summer days — hiking, biking, camping, fishing, trips to the museum, First Friday art walks, downtown dining and more.

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