FAT BIKING, ALASKA
PHOTO BY: KELLI SPENCER
This is part of Portage Valley. It was my home in Alaska for a long time, with my dry cabin tucked away hidden in the mountains, and I have hundreds of memories here. Behind the half shown peak on the right is Portage Glacier. It’s hidden because it’s receded incredibly fast. It used to cover this entire valley, and when I moved to Alaska it peaked around the corner. Ten years before I arrived, it was out to where my bike is in the photo, and sadly, it’s predicted to be gone in the next 7-10 years. Next year it’s possible that it won’t run into the lake anymore. For the last 4 years, this lake hasn’t fully frozen. This is the first year I’ve been able to fat bike all the way out to the glacier. This is the first year I haven’t broken out my winter kayak to access the skiing across the lake. All these changes make me sad. I wish my friends could come see what I saw when I first came here and experienced the adventures I did when I lived in this area. But Alaska is changing. Things are harder to access, glaciers are disappearing, and wildlife is leaving and receding further and further away. I love this place. With efforts from people and companies like Protect Our Winters and Patagonia we can work to preserve these amazing places.
On this particular day, the conditions seemed great by my cabin. Conditions quickly became less than ideal. Winds started picking up, and when I got to the parking spot, is was full on gusting. I could,d either turn back and go relax in the local coffee shop with a cup-o-joe or push on. I layered up with everything I had in the car, gloves and liners, glacier glasses, checked the tire pressure on the fat bike tires...and set off into head-on gusting winds.
It was blowing so hard that the bike was moving sideways in addition to the forward momentum of me pedaling. Snow and ice crystals cut into the small part of my face that was visible, and I pushed on. It was HARD. It was COLD. It was FUN. I hadn't seen the lake frozen like this, so I was enjoying the ride (as much as you can enjoy it in conditions like this). What should have been a 45 minute ride turned into over an hour and a half ride to the glacier...but when I got there, I was greeted by one of my favorite glaciers and old friends: Portage Glacier. (yes...its my friend. I almost died here, I've skied here, I've explored glacier caves here, I've mountaineered here, I've ice climbed here, and I've sat 10 feet away in my kayak watching part of the glacier calve here. A lot of memories!).
Because the weather was so cold, I was able to climb through glacier tunnels and explore. I love that every time I'm here, the tunnels are different, the face is different, and it's always changing.