Biking to the coastal trail relatively easy — except for the headwinds

Wednesday, May 30, 2012 - 21:07
Frank Baker’s bicycle sits near the Tony Knowles Coastal trail in Anchorage, with a view of the city and Chugach Mountains beyond.

I always wanted to see if I could bike from Eagle River to the end of the Anchorage Coastal Trail and back—roughly 45 miles by my calculation. I finally got around to it May 10 under partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the high 40s and low 50s, with green just popping out in the trees.

For the Spandex crowd on the skinny-tired bikes, sleek helmets and toe clips, this might not be an epic feat. It took me about three hours each way on my mountain bike, and I suppose they could have done it in half that time. I’m not sure if the speedsters, however, would have bothered to take a few side trips down to Cook Inlet to take in the sights, sounds and smells of the ocean, or pause to watch cargo jets rumbling overhead as they arrived at and departed from our busy airport.

At the time, the flat stretch of bike trail along the Glenn Highway from the Anchorage Landfill parking lot could have been described in one word: Garbagy. (After Spring Cleanup Week, however, the transformation has been remarkable!).

Every year I complain about winter’s accumulation of trash, speculating on how it gets there. While some believe it comes from improperly covered truck loads, others posit that it’s blown there during wind storms. I’m not much of a UFO buff, but could it be possible aliens from trashed-up worlds are dumping all their garbage here?

But I digress. Getting back to the bike trip, here’s the route I took: Riding along the Glenn Highway trail to Boniface Parkway, I then cut over to Boniface and took it south all the way down to Russian Jack Park on Debarr Road. Still heading south, I turned into the woods and followed the trail until it brought me back out to Boniface, and then to Northern Lights Boulevard. At this point I turned right, or west, and continued alongside Northern Lights to Goose Lake Park trail. From this trail, near the lake, a bridge goes over Northern Lights and leads to the Chester Creek Trail. After crossing Northern Lights on the bridge, I hung a left and followed the Chester Creek trail west all the way to the Coastal Trail at Westchester Lagoon. At that point I turned left, or south. The distance of the Coastal Trail to its end at Kinkaid Chalet is about nine miles.

Like the Glenn and Chester Creek trails, most of the Coastal Trail is flat, until you get about ½- mile from the Kincaid Chalet. A long “heartbreak hill” had me walking my bike with a tongue hanging like a necktie; while younger, sleek-helmeted Spandex riders pumped their way up to the top in Lance Armstrong style.

I noticed the wind as soon as I got to the top of the hill and rounded the front of the Chalet. Immediately, I began looking for a sheltered spot to have lunch out of the wind, which was coming from the southeast. I called a friend and announced that I had it made, since I would be returning home with a tail wind. WRONG! (Most people probably don’t remember this TV show, but whenever I hear an emphatic “wrong” like this, I think of John McClaughllin, host of the news-debate show called the McLaughlin Group. He loved saying the word).

For most of the ride back, especially the Chester Creek and Glenn Highway portions, I had a psyche-crushing headwind. A friend and amateur meteorologist later told me that a prevailing southeast wind turns into an east and sometimes northeast wind when you’re close to the Chugach Mountains.

By the time I got to the big American flag along the Glenn, I was trashed, walking my bike slowly alongside the now familiar trash.

A bike rider stopped to ask me if I was alright.

“Just tired, thanks,” I said. “I can’t believe this headwind when it’s supposed to be out of the southeast.”

The wind wasn’t bothering him, it seemed, as he quickly pedalled off into the distance. In fact, it didn’t seem to be bothering anyone except me. Despite the headwind, I can’t complain. It was a beautiful spring day, wasn’t too cold, no bugs, and it was great to see people out and about enjoying the day—people on roller blades, people with dogs, others with baby carriages and some folks kneeling in the woods with white plastic sacks – perhaps foraging for mushrooms.

I’ll credit myself with doing two smart things on this ride. I packed extra water on my back carrier (however I later learned there is water at Kincaid Chalet); and I gave myself lots of time. Counting side trips, lunch and losing the trail for a while in Russian Jack Park, the entire trip took about seven hours.

On my next ride, however, I am going to spend more time trying to figure out which way the wind is blowing, if that’s possible.


Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River.

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