28 June, 2009

Spencer Glacier Whistle Stop

****Long post due to lots of pictures****
****and potentially boring (to some) glacial geology****

Yesterday was a *lovely* day!! Greg found out about a train trip to Spencer Glacier. It's a "whistle stop" on the way to another location (Anchorage, Girdwood, Portage, Whittier, and Grandview). So you get on the train in one location, then it stops in the middle of nowhere and you get off - then it picks you up again later (don't miss it!) and drops you back at the car. Apparently the Alaska Railroad is working on developing a few spots (plans for 5 so far - Spencer is the first, and only as yet) that are accessible by rail, but not by car. I see huge marketing potential here, but I also appreciate that you'll never be able to get everywhere by car, especially in our LARGE state. So having the opportunity to get some places by other means is nice.

At the Portage Train Stop

We started the morning by driving out to Girdwood to have breakfast. It's a beautiful drive along Turnagain Arm, and is also just a few minutes from the Portage train station. We ended up breaking our fast at the Jack Sprat Restaurant. It's a quaint little joint, and the food is good. A nice way to fuel up for the day ahead. In preparation for the trip, we made sure to pack water, snack bars, rain jackets, bug dope (necessity!) and of course cameras. Turns out we didn't need the rain jackets, but I'm sure if we hadn't had them it would have poured. =)

This was my first train-ride - although I'm not really sure that it should count. I mean, it was less than 15 minutes from boarding at Portage to getting off at the Spencer stop. Somehow, I was thinking it'd be a little longer for the ride... oh well. It was magnificent scenery - we even saw a moose (but I didn't get pictures). Just so happens that this was also a geocaching event. Surprise, surprise... Not! Some of the cachers on the trip were spending the night - others (like us) were day-tripping. Seems that there are one or two (and now two or three) caches out in the Spencer Glacier area...

We stayed together long enough to get a photo, then our group split up. Sam & Jennifer hiked out to the viewing area on their own, visiting with various groups of cachers on the way there and back; Greg headed out to the glacier and beyond for caching and pictures; and Todd, Anita & I opted to take the ranger guided tour to the viewing area.

It's an easy, well maintained trail that goes 1.3 miles from the whistle stop to the glacier viewing area. Many of our glaciers are receding. You can ask anyone who's been here for a while about Portage glacier, and you'll hear about how "years ago, I could see it from the center, maybe almost touch it... now you have to take the boat tour..." I'm sure Exit & Harding glaciers are faring about the same - although I haven't been to either this year to see (with my own super-non-scientific evaluation). Anyhow, it's fun and interesting to have another glacier to visit. And because it's in recession, we get to see the many different land formations, vegetation, and effects of having a glacier-in-recession in residence. Very interesting! =)

Spencer Glacier through the Trees

****Glacial Geology starts here - you can skip the blah, blah if you like...****

Avalanche Chutes

One of the first stops along the route had spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, a flowing river, and a train bridge. The guides explained about the milky color of the water - nothing lives in glacial streams because of the silt (so fine, it's the consistency of flour). The water is extremely cold (glacial melt, remember?) and no light penetrates beyond the first few inches - so there's no photosynthesis, no air, no plants, no fish. Next to the bridge is a structure that houses the avalanche cannon (seen below). The train to Whittier/Seward runs year-round, and this area (especially in the higher elevations) can get upwards of 100' of snow. To ensure the tracks are clear, they use the cannon-like apparatus to trigger controlled avalanches. You can look at the surrounding terrain and see the deep grooves in the mountains caused by avalanches (seen above) - snow tumbles down, ripping up trees & vegetation on the way down; succeeding melting further erodes the soil causing a channel; further wind, rain, & snow deepen the channel, etc.

Train Bridge & Avalanche Gun Housing

Further along the walk, we learned about kettles - deep pockets in the landscape caused by the glacier scouring over the land. Now they're either large depressions, or sometimes stagnant water-filled ponds. At the end of the glacier, there are typically hills of rocks (morraines). This is from the rocks dropping as the glacier melts. You can see how far a glacier reached by these hilly areas - the ones farthest out mark the apex of the glacier and likely will have greenery as the cycle of life begins again; the ones in closer are just big mounds of rocks. Our walk didn't get close to any of the newer morraines, but I stood on one farther out covered in greenery (with a seagull's nest on it) to take some pictures.

Example of Regrowth
low vegetation & moss

Looking towards the glacier, I can see the pool of water that feeds the river the train bridge crosses. And closer, I can see the "mud flats" - wet glacial silt left behind as the water recedes. Closer yet, there's low lying moss and ground cover. Behind me, alder bushes and short trees. And farther behind me, taller trees and larger vegetation. The cycle of life is renewing. Plants and life are overtaking the barren grounds left from the scouring ice. Kinda cool to see evidence of the cycle at work! =) Oh! In case you didn't know: glaciers make v-shaped valleys, while rivers carve u-shaped valleys; glacial ice is so dense it looks blue; ice worms live in glacial ice; fjords are glacial valleys covered in water; glaciers are always moving forward (advancing), but the rate of melting may exceed the rate of advance which causes the glacier to receed. (Volcanos have some interesting geology too... and I already know I'm a dork.)

Regrowth and Scale (people to 'burgs)
water, mud, low vegetation, bushes, trees
and the morraine covered in plant-life

****Glacial Geology torture ends here...****

We got a great view of Spencer glacier - although not close enough to touch. Greg's hike took him much closer, and he could have gone even farther but didn't want to miss the train so he came back a little sooner than he would have liked. We saw some beautiful wildflowers - lupine seems to grow everywhere, and the fireweed was growing (but not blooming, and *definitely* not gone to seed - a harbinger of an early winter, so I was happy about that!). We also found a seagull's nest on the morraine we walked out to for pictures.

The hike back was pleasant, and we made it in plenty of time to catch the train - even with a detour to check out the campground. Our group together again, we got to exchange stories about where we'd been and what we'd seen while we waited for the train to pick us up.

I sat on the opposite side of the train from the journey in, to see what I'd missed before... nothing much - just more stunning scenery. I took a couple pictures through the window as we traveled, and am pleased that some of them turned out. The train also stopped to pick up rafters - they'd gone to Spencer to put the raft in and then floated down to where the train stopped to pick them up. We watched as both guides got stuck in the same place - one group of rafters was told to bounce up & down (to help loosen the raft?), so they looked like a quick-paced people version of whack-a-mole, on a raft, in life vests. =)

And the fun didn't end there. After we got back to Anchorage, we headed over to Todd & Anita's to barbeque and check out all the pictures everyone had taken (gotta love digital!!). All in all, it was an incredible day! The weather was fabulous, the scenery was spectacular, and the company was marvelous. How can you beat that?!?

21 June, 2009

Marathon Madness

Saturday was The Big Day: Greg's First Marathon. He's been training since last fall to run in the Mayor's Marathon. It's an annual event held on the Saturday closest to Solstice. All this meant that I had to get up at 6:30am - yes, AM - on a weekend. (Because we all know it's all about me, right?) I was only snappy with him once, as I was still waking up, and he was only grouchy with me once, as he was dealing with pre-race jitters. =)

We picked up James & Stacy on the way to the race. I'm not sure why they opted to leave the warm haven of blanket heaven and dreams, but I'm grateful. We hooked up with his training buddy, Jeff, and Jeff's family (Julie & Milo) while we were there. Race organizers thoughtfully provided bug dope (since some of the course is through the woods), and rain coats (look at the picture carefully - it's very funny) since it was cloudy and threatening to rain.

After a little bit of stretching and a trip to the port-a-potty, the runners were ready to go. I was amazed at how many people were here to run the race. This event also has a half marathon and 5.6 mile race, but both of these started later and in a different location - so everyone at our starting point was either there to run, or to see someone off at the start. I didn't realize there were that many crazy people around here... Oh, wait! Looks like I was one of the crazies since I was there, and Greg was even crazier since he was running... ;)

When Stacy agreed to join me for the hurry-up-and-wait-while-you're-supporting-a-marathon-runner, she mentioned breakfast. Well! If I'm going to have to be up early, then wait around for a few hours, why not kill some time by eating greasy eggs & bacon?!? It was a *great* idea. Plus, we found out Julie (Jeff's wife, aka Mrs. Furious of roller derby fame) was going to be in the Pride Parade (with the Rage City Roller Girls) downtown. So, after the boyos got to running, we booked it to breakfast downtown so we could also catch the parade.

The morning clouds cleared out, and we had some really nice weather. (I'm still wondering how Greg didn't overheat in his long-sleeved shirt and running pants...) The parade was lots of fun (and breakfast was delish - mmmmmm, bacon!!). One of my favorite entrants was this last guy. No affiliation and no paperwork for the MC to read off - he was just a guy who wanted to join the parade, so he grabbed a flag and started walking. Gotta love it!! =)

From there, we headed to the fourth (of only five) viewing spot along the course. I was hoping to catch sight of them there and cheer them on, then go to the fifth area, then book it to the finish. We unpacked the camp chairs, our snacks, and the books, then settled in to wait. Didn't get any reading done, since we cheered along every runner (and many walkers) that crossed our path. But no sign of Greg or Jeff. We waited an hour, but knowing that Greg's goal was to finish in under six hours, we were worried that we'd miss everything - including the finish. So we packed up, skipped the fifth viewing spot, and headed directly to the finish.

It's a good thing, too... we were waiting at the finish line for maybe 15 minutes when Jeff came in. He finished in 5:47 - even with a bum knee, tweaked somewhere along the race but he persevered and was able to finish. We waited some more, and just as I was getting antsy, Greg rounded the corner for the home stretch. He finished in 5:56 - accomplishing the goal of competing in a marathon AND finishing in under six hours. You can see the official times here.

We did have a celebration dinner that night. It was lots of fun, and nice to visit... even if two of the participants were stiff and sore and not very mobile. I hear there's another Anchorage marathon in August - Humpy's Marathon. So maybe this post will have a followup: Marathon Madness II... =)
Way to go, Greg!!

17 June, 2009

Family Connection

Last night I got to meet a new cousin. Well, he's not new per se, but I hadn't ever met Larry before - he's a cousin on Greg's side from Oregon. He's in town traveling for work, and got in touch to see if he could hook up with Greg. I *love* getting together with family - and getting to know new family too!

Greg played tour-giude for the afternoon by taking Larry to hike Flattop. Definitely not for the faint-of-heart, but apparently the views were great last night.

I met them at Moose's Tooth for dinner and visiting. Mmmmm... pizza.... We spent a very enjoyable evening getting acquainted (in my case) and reacquainted (for Greg & Larry, since it's been about 15 years since they've seen each other).

Next time we're in Seattle, we'll have to give Larry some notice to see if he can make it up to visit... or maybe just plan a trip to the Oregon coast. I hear it's really pretty down there... =)

13 June, 2009

In Celebration of...

Aunt Carol
Mom Morgan

Today was the annual Alaska Run (& Walk) for Women, in support of breast cancer awareness and women's health. I've done this for several years now. Normally, I wear a sign in celebration of Aunt Carol, who is a breast cancer survivor. This year I added another name - Mom Morgan, who is also a survivor. Thankfully, I don't have anyone to put on an "In Memory of..." sign.

Last year is documented here - according to my post there were about 4500 participants, and I heard this year they had almost 5500 sign up. Once again, it was amazing to see so many people out in support of something - a cause, survivors, those passed on. We started mid-way through the 5-mile un-timed pack - the 1-milers and runners had already gone. Even then, there were hordes of people.
Middle of the Pack


Looking Back

Today was a great day for the walk - cloudy, but not rainy, with a bit of a breeze to dry the sweat. It's a five mile trek that goes through the middle of downtown, then out to the coastal trail. Along the way, we passed a pianist, a Scottish band, and a violin/guitar duo. Additionally, we saw the train, and had great views of the inlet. If I'd waited just two minutes to take the picture of the boat, it would've had a big airplane over it. =)
Scottish Band


Boat in the Inlet

After the walk, we headed over to Moose's Tooth to have lunch and celebrate some more. All in all, it was a great experience.

07 June, 2009

Sunday Afternoon Fun

Today was absolutely *gorgeous*!! Warm & sunny (I even turned on the A/C in the car - that doesn't happen very often for me!), it was the perfect day to have people over for a get-together. I can only hope that the rest of the summer has more days like this in store for me...
The Girls

The Boys

We were going to play a game (Killer Bunnies was high on the list), but it was so nice outside that we had to move the party outdoors. So we opted to play Bocce Ball. Seems that our lawn has some subtle hills and valleys that make for an interesting playing field. Let's just say that I am *not* overly skilled at this sport, but I was able to score a couple points so I didn't disappoint my team. And I couldn't be too down about anything, since I was standing in the sun with my friends & family on a lovely Sunday afternoon...

Hanging Basket

Saturday Hiking

Jennifer, Greg & I headed up to Flattop for a hike yesterday afternoon. Greg took the route all the way up to Flattop, while Jennifer & I settled for our first trip of the season around Blueberry Loop.

Some great scenery throughout the hike. I don't think I'll ever get tired of seeing different aspects of downtown Anchorage - although I particularly like the shot through the trees above.

I know they call it Flattop because it's flat on top, but I hadn't ever seen it from this perspective before... it really *is* flat on top (not just hidden in the clouds). One of these days, I'm going to hike to the top - but for now, I'm content to do the Loop.

06 June, 2009

Another Run

Earlier this week, Greg found out about another run and decided to enter. Skinny Raven's Twilight 12k. Skinny Raven is a sports shop downtown that sells great shoes. At least, that's what I know them for... since I've purchased at least three pairs of Dansko's from them. They also have running shoes and other sports gear, but I *do* love my shoes. =)

I hooked up with Greg & Jeff before the race to wish them well. This is probably the longest race that Greg's done yet. Without doing the actual math for conversion, my guess is that 12k is approximately 7-8 miles. (This is based on the assumption that 5k is just over 3 miles, so 10k is over 6 miles, and 2k is a bit over a mile...)

After the start of the race, I had about an hour to kill before it was time to be at the finish. So I called my sister, Sheri - and we chatted for the whole time. So here I was, wandering around downtown (and watching people fly kites) while I was talking on the cell phone. I busted my second pair of plug-in earphones for my cell. Let me tell you... holding that little phone to you ear for an hour or so can cause cramping in the arms. I really do need to invest in a bluetooth headset.

I was too slow getting my camera out to get a picture of Jeff finishing the race. He was about 6 minutes earlier than Greg. I did have the camera ready (and managed to actually get most of Greg *in* the shot) to get Greg as he kicked it to the end. His time ended up being 1:15, finishing 171st. Just another step on the road to the marathon... Way to go!!