Monday, July 24, 2017

Alaska Race Weekend: Alaska Men's Run & Pioneer Ridge Vertical Mile

I just love destination races.  While in Alaska, I had the opportunity to run a double-header weekend of both Alaska Men's Race on Saturday and the Pioneer Ridge Vertical Mile on Sunday.  Two very different races.  Here's my story:

Anchorage, AK
Saturday, July 8, 2017

Arrived a good hour early at the Anchorage Football Stadium for the Alaska Men's Run 5-Miler.  Was immediately impressed with how well organized the race was.  For example, both pre and post registration was all done electronically using an array of laptop computers setup at registration tables.  Course marshals looked dapper in their Alaska Military Academy uniforms.
Nice bibs.  Good cause.
Benefits the fight against prostate and testicular cancer.

Race out:
After a 2-mile warm-up, we were ready to go.  The pre-race instructions and speakers were a little long in the tooth, and the race did NOT start on time.  As an RD myself, I’ve learned over time to cut pre-race instructions to a minimum as many participants don’t listen and really they all just want the race to start.  The race course started and ended on the track, and while the rest of it was asphalt, none was on the roads, but instead utilized a bike path on the Chester Creek Greenway.
Before the start.  We're both wearing the club singlets.
We did get a few questions asking where Westerly is.

Just before the starting gun.  We're wondering how and when the
waist-high orange finish tape is going to come down.  My fears of getting tripped
up in it were unfounded.

After the national anthem, Matthew and I started out at about a 6-flat pace (pedestrian for Matthew, who was looking to conserve energy for tomorrow’s race).  About a mile in, Matthew was 2-3 places ahead of me and I caught up to the first of a number of youngsters I would pass.  Shortly thereafter, there was a brass band in the woods under a canopy playing patriotic music.  I don’t think I had ever seen that before at a race, and it was pretty neat!
A very rare easy tandem start to a race, where we're conversing and
hanging back a bit.

Running parallel to the Chester Creek for parts of race.
There was no cone turnaround but instead the course gradually looped around before doubling back on itself.  While sometimes a necessary evil, I do so despise cone turnarounds.  Mile splits:  6:08, 6:20, 6:14.

Race back:
I was feeling good on the way back and actually picked up the pace a bit to sub-6.  I passed one final competitor on the way back, finished strong on the track, and of course, saw the seconds ticking way from 29:5x and finished just over 30 minutes.  Final miles:  5:52, 5:53.
Matthew on one of the last bike path sections.
The course looked like this for most of it,
including whatever weird white plant blooms you see on the path.

Near the final turn before entering the track for the finish.

Finished!  (I've just crossed the finish line in lane 1)

Final results:   30:07, 8th of 227 finishers.  1st in age group.  Full results here.
How many races have you posed with a moose mascot post-race?
This is Alaska, after all!
A fun race on different terrain, and cool to race in Alaska.  My only disappointment was that despite specifying a medium size during online registration and reiterating it when picking up my shirt, I was inadvertently given a large size and didn’t notice it until later.  Normally, I wouldn’t care about a cotton race t-shirt, but this one said “Alaska” on it and was in my favorite color of blue as well.  Oh well, that’ll teach me to check sizes of shirts when I get them.

Pioneer Ridge Vertical Mile
Palmer, AK
Sunday, July 9, 2017

Wow, was this race epic!  I feel like I cut my teeth on mountain running by racing Loon twice, and while I still have so much to learn from that race alone, this took mountain running to a whole new level.  Studying this ahead of time, I knew at least a little bit of what I was getting into:

·         4.5 miles (shorter than Loon by almost two miles, although you have to run back down after the race)
·         5,300’ vertical gain (almost double Loon, and no flat or downhill sections).  Most vertical gain in an uphill ONLY race in Alaska.
·         Threat of bear attacks (a runner was killed by a black bear in not too far from here on a trail race last month, and that was the second bear-induced fatality of humans in Alaska this summer)

The bear factor and repeated warnings almost everywhere we went were freaking me out a little, but I tried to remind myself that I was statistically far more likely to die in a car crash than a bear attack.  Away with the pessimism, and on with the race report.

Shuttle:  Drove 45 minutes north from Anchorage and showed up at the shuttle point on the side of a rural road in Palmer, Alaska at about 9:30am, an hour and a half before the 11am race start.   A July start of 11am would be a death wish in New England with the heat, but this is Alaska, with much cooler temps still in the 50s at race start, and besides, I appreciated that the volunteers at the water stop and the top had to do some rugged hiking to get to their posts (no auto road, jeep roads, ski lifts, or other shortcuts).

Registration:  We parked our rental car in a dirt rutted out parking lot at the Knik River, where we got into the “shuttle” (a race volunteer’s large 9-seater SUV) for a 4-mile drive to the start.  The registration was as old school as it gets:  no pre-registration, a whopping $5 entry fee, a simple waiver/entry form to fill out, and you’re handed a bib.  No shirts, no requests for e-mail or even physical address, just sign off that you understand the dangers including possible death, and you’re ready to go.  The race rules are few, but are taped to the back window of the RD’s Subaru, as are the results for the past few years.
Aptly named outhouse at the start of the trail.
"Trail Head"!  Get it?  I chuckled, as I'm easily amused.

Warm-up:  At registration, we were instructed that any warm-up had to be done on the trail, and we were not allowed on the road as there was no shoulder and while there are few vehicles on the road, they travel very fast.  Normally, I’d be all over that trail warm-up requirement, but the problem here is the trail immediately started with some pretty hefty climbs on single-track and I didn’t want to exert much before the race.  We saw that other runners were doing a “warm-up hike”, and we got behind a group and followed suit.  Even that was mildly taxing, so we took a break after ¼ mile and then jogged back down.  There were markers with numbers incrementing by 200, which after a ways into the race I finally figured out were marking the horizontal distance you had travelled in feet.
Trail right from the start!
The warm-up was emphasizing that this would
be tough from the get-go.

Pre-race concerns:  At a talk before the start, I was comfortable (or so I thought) that there would be a lot of mud on trail from all the rain yesterday.  I also felt comfortable about making the aid station cutoff of 1:20:00, and full race cutoff of 3 hours.   There were the usual trail race remarks requesting runners to be honest about lining themselves up pace-wise, but there were two problems with this:   
Pre-race talk.

1.       I don’t know a single person here besides Matthew, so other than “he should go in front of me”, I had no idea as to any placement strategy.
2.       The distance from the race start to the trail head was less than 100 feet!

Three warnings the RD gave made me really question whether I was totally unprepared for this mountain race in the vast wilderness:

1.       We should be carrying water.  FAIL.  Yup, I see many runners with hydration packs.  Left my Amphipod back in Anchorage and my Camelbak back in RI.  It’s not happening.
2.       Carrying bear spray for this race is recommended.  FAIL.  Again, I see a number of runners with bear spray, some tucked into their hydration packs and others carrying the canister as a hand-held.  REI has provided bear spray for the race, and we can sign for bear spray and take a canister.  Should I do it?
Bear spray check-out at registration table.

3.       We should bring a jacket, as it will be cold on top of the mountain.  FAIL.  Again, looking around, I see a number of runners in tights, some already wearing jackets, some with jackets packed in their pack, and then there’s these two idiots from flat coastal RI wearing short shorts and a singlet.

Should I just drop out now and DNS?  Should I carry the bear spray?  Oh, you need to stop whining and man up already, would you please.  Looking around in more depth and taking a deep breath, there are many runners WITHOUT hydration packs, many NOT carrying bear spray, and while singlet wearers are the definite minority, I do spy one or two and even two guys that strip off their shirts just before the start.  Here goes nothing!

Mile 1 – “runnable”:  We toe a make-believe line towards the back of the trailhead parking lot.  There will be no gun or “on your mark” here.  The RD is in radio communication with finish line personnel at the top of the mountain (there’s no cell service here), and then he counts backwards from five and when he gets to zero, we’re off.  I’m in about 15th place to start and already have concerns that I started way too far up, as I’m breathing hard ascending the tight single-track switchbacks.  Matthew is a few places ahead of me, and soon he is out of sight.  About ¼ mile in the runner ahead of me switches to hiking mode.  It’s awkward, because there is still a pack at this point and tough to go around him.

By ½ mile in, I have passed another 2-3 runners, one of whom also switched to hiking, and the other two guys I just felt more comfortable running ahead of them.  One young guy goes with me and it’s just the two of us for the rest of the first mile.  At one point, I feel a hand firmly on my butt.  OK, this was not the type of excitement I was looking for.  (Remember, there is no one even within sight ahead or behind us, so what the hell?)  I look back at him, and he instantly apologizes and says he often finds himself running very, very close to runners.  Hmmm.

In the first mile, I've covered 1,100 feet of elevation gain in a mile split of just under 16 minutes.  The next few miles will only get harder.

Mile 1 to 2 - the mud:  Between the steeper grades, gnarled tree and tree roots across the trail, the trail turning to mud, and just feeling beat, with the next runner I come up to hiking, I join in behind him hiking, as my butt-touching friend moves ahead of me.  Over the next couple of miles, I am hiking more than I am running, but resume running at each opportunity that the terrain allows me to.  At some points, I move to the side of the narrow trail when I can get better footing, and in other places there are no options except to just plow through the mud.  I am so glad I do NOT have a hand-held water bottle or bear spray canister at this point, as I am often slipping in mud and using my hands to grab tree branches and plants to keep myself from falling backwards on steep inclines.
Two steps forward, one step back.
Hard to get traction in the mud,
even with trail shoes with lugs.
I learned later that some locals with
knowledge of this trail had put on
microspikes and ditched them at tree line,
retrieving upon return.

With mud this wet and deep,
you didn't slide back (note runner
at top of pic), but how fast can
you really run through this mud
interspersed with roots?  Note the deep
shoe prints sinking into mud at the
bottom of pic. 

Miles 2 to 3.5 - open climb:  The only water stop on the course comes just about mile 2, and is very much appreciated!  These volunteers had schlepped drinking water up 2 miles of mostly muddy single-track with over 2,000' of elevation gain!  I thanked these angels as I paused to savor the water.  This is also the first cutoff mark, with a strict cutoff time of 1:20:00.  I made it fine in about 36 minutes, but later learned a number of runners did not make the cutoff and/or decided the course was too tough and turned back.  The views are amazing from here, and I'm glad I stuffed my camera into a zippered pocket in the back of my shorts for pics on the way down.
Matthew and I at the Mile 2 water stop ( on way back down post-race).
Beautiful views of the Knik Glacier (just above our heads), Knik River, and surrounding mountains.
As we emerge above tree-line for good, the mud ends but the grade increases.  I am surprised but happy to see Matthew for the first time since the start of the race.  It seems like he is much closer to me than in reality, due to the fact everything is wide open now and there are a number of switch-back as well.  There are many sections with 30+% grade, and these are all hikes for me.  I'm getting tired, and in this section, I am passed by one, two, now three male runners.  Ugh.  They all appear much younger than me, but I still feel everyone in the entire race is about to pass me.   I keep thinking the peak in view must be the top, but we ascend false summit after false summit.  On one of the last of these steep climbs, as we're headed into the clouds, the 2nd woman passes me.  She is visiting here from Russia, and ran the famed and insane Mount Marathon earlier in the week.
One of many open sections of trail above tree line.
(Matthew on left; unknown runner at right)

Stunning views of Knik Glacier and snow-covered mountains
were visible through much of the upper sections of the course.

The course threw in a few technical sections
for good measure.

Mile 3.5 to finish - ridge running:  I didn't know it at the time, but the final mile or so is along a ridge, which while still going up, has leveled off considerably in grade.  This is very runnable and run!  We pass a small patch of snow, which I remind myself to stop and photograph on the way down, but it won't be necessary as the snow patches are appearing in increasing frequency and size now.  I keep the Russian woman in sight, and surprise, no one else passes me as I run most of this session.

Snow fields alongside the trail.
Finally I am seeing and hearing more people and know that I am very close to the top and finish.  The finish line comes into sight and I cross with a big smile on my face.  I catch my breath for a moment before catching up with Matthew. What an experience!  I made it! 

Runners on final ascent, very close to finish.
Finish line in sight (opposite red tent).
Isn't the volunteer dog cool?
The finish line! 
Red tape between two makeshift cairns.
Note the volunteers bundled up in winter jackets, hats, and gloves.  It's
cold up here!
We were originally told there would be limited water at the top, but the volunteers tell us there is plenty of water as they are pumping it from a nearby natural water source.  Cold and delicious water!  We hung around for a few minutes snapping pics but quickly got cold, ate the finish line food of one Snickers bar per runner (recommended to avoid bonking on way down), had another water, and started out jaunt down.
Snowfield at the finish line!
Yes, the snow is deep!  Awesome!

Final results: 1:33:10.  17th overall, 15th male.  Write-up and results here.   Full results here.
The return of 4.5 miles and 5,300' net loss was tiring on the legs, but obviously easier on the legs and other than stopping for pics and getting a water at the water stop, ran the entire distance.  At the bottom, plenty of food and assorted drinks awaited us.  All for our $5 entry fee!  Just an epic race!  One of the hardest and most exhilarating adventures I have ever done.  Life is short.  So glad we did this!  As someone at the race mentioned, it's going to be hard to go back to running road 5Ks after this!
Badge of honor:  Matthew's mud-spattered legs and shoes at end of trail.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Alaska Running and Adventures: Log 3-Jul to 16-Jul-2017

Note:  While I normally publish one week at a time, since my Alaska vacation spanned two weeks, I'm combining the blog post for both weeks here:  3-Jul to 9-Jul, and 10-Jul to 16-Jul.

Ah, summer vacation!  Whether that means a stay-cation, a visit to beaches or national parks, or visiting with family or friends, it's healthy and important to take some time off from work and refresh.  When the boys were really young, a lot of summer trips were camping in northern New England and nearby Canadian provinces.  Similar to (or perhaps because of) when my my parents took me to those places as a child, those were some of my favorite adventures and now I would like to get back to more camping.  But as our time on this planet is limited, I also yearn to see much more of it.  (Having an international family helps fuel my travel interests, as my Mom is from Germany and Jana from Taiwan.)

Matthew (21 months) and Mark (age 3) happily playing in the dirt at our campsite
we rented for several nights in Prince Edward Island, Canada - August 2001
As the kids got older, we expanded our trips and tried different things.  We went once to Disney and once on a Caribbean cruise, and while nothing is wrong with either, we found neither is "our thing" and we preferred more natural settings, especially the amazing national parks system we have.  Fast forward to 2017 and our summer vacation is a visit to the 49th state!  Alaska has long been on my bucket list, and the $379 round-trip tickets we were able to find (normally $800 to $1,000 or more) sealed the deal.  Matthew has researched running races in Alaska (surprise, surprise) and I'm thrilled that Mark is taking a hiatus from summer school in Florida to join us.  I guess he feels it's worth it to put up with his annoying and clueless parents for 10 days if he gets a paid trip to Alaska out of it.

Monday 3-July:  5 miles
Vacation minus two days.  Tom, Mike, and I have had a recent tradition on the 4th of July of a run at Burlingame, followed by a 1/2 mile swim, followed by breakfast.  With Tom potentially running a road race on the 4th, we moved it up a day.  Matthew joined us for the physical activities, and then left the old folks to go out to eat on their own. 

This was actually my first open water swim of the season, and the arms felt it.  Everything else was good with fun company and conversation to boot.

Tuesday 4-July:  14
Vacation minus one day.  Final packing.
AM:  7 miles at Breakheart Pond (Arcadia Mgmt Area) with Jonathan Short as our willing and knowledgeable guide.  Except for a short 1/2 mile or so of dirt roads, he found us some really fun single-track.  It was well marked enough that I think I could even attempt it on my own.  Will certainly come back.
I bought some Roman Candles
in NH recently, but unfortunately no
fireworks today, as it's early to bed before
tomorrow's very early start to the vacation.

PM:  7 miles at Barn Island mid-day.  This was a warm one at 80 degrees, but that's the reality of summer and I better acclimate a bit before races like the Blessing in just 3 weeks.  At least 5 of 7 miles were on wooded single-track; it was only running the open marsh trails where it was hard to breathe the hot sunny air.

Wednesday 5-July:  11
Vacation day!
AM:  5 miles at 2am.  Yes, 2am sounds crazy and probably is, but since I had to be up at 3am anyway for a drive to Logan for an early flight out to Alaska, I figured why not get up one hour earlier and get the blood moving to be wide awake for the drive?  Beach run in the dark at low tide was fun.  Used a headlamp to at least see washed up beach stuff and not trip over it.  There was one guy, probably drunk, laying on the beach in front of the Andrea listening to loud music.

PM:  6 miles at the Santa Monica Pier and beach, Santa Monica, CA.  We had an 8-hour layover at LAX (Los Angeles airport) before the flight to Alaska, so the four of us took Uber over to Santa Monica, where we ran, swam, and ate.  While a bit honky-tonk and ridiculously expensive, it sure beat sitting around inside the airport.
First time ever to Santa Monica, CA

The Pier was obscenely crowded.  You should have seen
Matthew and I weaving running between people.

Matthew and Mark at lunch on the Pier.
$111 for a mediocre lunch for the four of us.  This is LA.  Ouch!

Carnival atmosphere.

We wove around beach-goers on our beach run.

Thursday 6-July:  6
Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, we arrived in the 49th state!

Kincaid Park, Anchorage.  With little sleep, Matthew and I ran early morning in this deserted 1,500 acre park.  Worried about bears, but never saw any animals or humans.  Lots of cool single-track trails.  Also some steep hills near the water.
As with pretty much everywhere we would go on this trip,
only scratched the surface on exploring trails and parks.
Lots o' single-track.
Mix of forested trails and ...

open trails nearer to the water.
After a run and breakfast, it was time for the drive to Denali National Park.  5 hours in the car.  You drive for miles and miles of wilderness.  We saw a moose crossing the road along the way, but were not quick enough with the camera.  At one point, there was a sign that after the next village, there were no services or gas stations for the next 90 miles.  90 miles!
Trapper Creek, AK
With no other gas or meal choices, we stopped for lunch at the only game in town.
I mean no offense, but it was like something straight out of Duck Dynasty.
Yeah, no wifi in the boondocks at Trapper Creek.
The boys were not amused.

Trapper Creek bathroom.  What is it closed for?
Highlight of our drive was seeing Mt Denali come into view.
(Highest peak in North America at 20,310', this is still a good 100+ miles away!)

We were so happy to finally arrive.
Went on a very short hike to stretch out the legs.

The visitor center at Denali National Park is real cool
and informative, with many life-size displays like this.

Jana and her moose outside our lodge late at night.
(Sunset was about 11:30pm)

Friday 7-July:  6
Early morning run from our hotel to and into Denali National Park.  A mix of bike-paths to get us there and single-track trails once inside the park.
Along our run this morning.
 After breakfast, next up was a family hike from the Denali visitors center to Mt Healy.  This was about a 5.2 mile round-trip hike with 1,800' vertical gain.
A sign at one of the visitor center exhibits.
Yes, I understand that every creature fits into the ecosystem in some way,
but I still have a hatred and desire for extermination
of all mosquitoes, deerflies, ticks, parasites, and other vermin.

Early in the hike

Pretty cool view from the top.

What are Matthew and Mark looking at in the bushes?

Oh, it's Mark making new friends.
Here's Mark's friend again, posing for us.
Or is he laughing at us?

Saturday 8-July:  8
Alaska Mens Run.  5 mile race.  Race report and pics to follow shortly.
This was the only rainy day of the trip, so Jana and I spent the afternoon at the
Anchorage Museum, while the boys went to see Spiderman at an Anchorage movie theatre.
I found the museum to be a little underwhelming, but to be fair, its main exhibit
was closed for revamping.  Was both interesting and depressing to learn how the
US government treated the aborigines in the aftermath of purchasing Alaska
from Russia in 1867.

Sunday 9-July:  9
Pioneer Ridge Vertical Mile.  Epic and brutal!  Race report and pics to follow shortly.
Post-race we visited this running shop in Anchorage,
where they have their own mini track for trying out running shoes.
Had never seen this at a running store before.  Pretty cool!

The mountain race took up most of the day, but after dinner,
we went for a family hike at Thunderbird Falls (me in left).

The bottom of the falls.

Weekly mileage totals 3-Jul to 9-Jul:  62 miles running, 8 hiking.  Really happy to be back in this range.

Monday 10-July:  5 run, 2 hike
A new week, but the adventures in the 49th state continue, at least for a few more days:

AM Run:  Far North Bicentennial Park, Anchorage.  Legs were absolutely trashed.  Looking up trail maps for this park, I found there are over 100 miles of trails here!  This park is 4,000 acres, but if that's not enough for you, it backs up to the Chugach National Forest, which is the 2nd largest national forest in the entire country at 7 million acres.  Yes, million with an "M".

Fortunately, trails were very well marked, including distance to the next trail intersection, so we were able to run with confidence and make a nice loop through the woods.  A mix of double-track and single-track, this was easy terrain, which I needed as my legs were screaming (and me sometimes too!) on the downhills.

The aptly named "Bog Trail".  Yeah, that's quite the mud!
After breakfast, we headed 120+ miles south to Seward, on the Kenai Peninsula.  Halfway down, we stopped in Portage, Alaska to take a short 1-hour narrated boat tour out to the Portage Glacier.  Unfortunately, the boat trips were cancelled for the day, so we changed our plans to catch it on our way back north in two days, and instead went on a short hike on the Byron Glacier Trail.

The trail didn't go up to the glacier itself, but it did bring us to a snowfield that we could walk on and see the glacier.
Byron Glacier spilling down the mountain

Mark, Matthew, and a LOT of snow!
Yes, the wall of snow really IS that high!
At the snowfield, an Alaskan native excitably came up to me to
ask if we had the same level of crimes in RI,
and shook my hand thanking me for my public service.
Part way into his long conversation and questions, it dawned on me that
based upon the shirt I was wearing, he thought I was
a RI State Trooper, but by then it was too late to correct him and easier
just to answer his questions.

Majestic animals!
Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Fortunately the only bears we saw the entire trip were inside
the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center.
There is a fence between us, but even so it gave me the willies.  This bear to me
is what snakes are to Mikey B.

Finally we arrived at the cabin we rented just four miles
outside of Seward on a dirt road.  This was the most "Alaskan"
accommodations of our trip.  
Small, but very functional, including
a loft upstairs with beds for the boys.

Tuesday 11-July:  11 run, 3 hike
AM Run:  Lost Lake Trail, Seward.  The trailhead is conveniently located just 1/4 mile up a dirt road from the cabin we rented.  Jana, Matthew, and I ran to the trailhead.  We paused at the trailhead, where an older gentleman about to start a hike must have warned us three times that we should be carrying water.  I know he meant well, but it came off as a mild scolding implying we were weren't prepared and didn't bring the proper equipment, and made me question myself for a moment.  After I explained that I DO like to bring water when I'm running 20 miles or more and that we both (Matthew & I) ran Pioneer Ridge Vertical Mile just two days ago, he seemed to back off.

Then the three of us all started running uphill on the trail, and from there Jana separated off as she was going for less mileage.  While I would really have liked to run all the way to Lost Lake, it's 7.3 miles (nearly all uphill) one way, and with sore legs still from Sunday's mountain race, 15 miles of mountain running was way more than we were looking for, so we thought we might turn around about 4 miles in, but play it by ear.
Switch-backs and mildly technical in places

Right from the start, it was a pretty cool single-track trail through a spruce forest, with several switchbacks and stream crossings.  After about just two miles, we emerged from the woods and had partially obstructed views of mountain ranges on our left.  The further and higher we went, the views got better and better as we eventually had snow covered mountains on both our left and right, and views back to Seward and Resurrection Bay.  Majestic!
We ran through alpine meadows,

single-track high above the treeline,

and saw mountains covered with so much snow the snow would
likely last through the summer.
(This spot is where we turned around, after running 5.5 miles in)

We rounded out the morning with the four of us
visiting the Alaska Sealife Center,
which featured native Alaskan birds, seals, fish, etc.
In the afternoon, we visited one of the few accessible areas of the 670,000 acre Kenai Fjords National Park.  Would have loved to have taken the 8 mile "strenuous" hike up to the 700-square mile Harding Ice Field, a remnant of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago, but time was a prohibitive factor.  Also, the bear warnings that black bears are seen almost every day on the Harding Ice Field Trail kind of freaks me out.  Instead, we took a 3 mile hike out to Exit Glacier, one of 35 glaciers that are fed by the Harding Ice Field.
Before the start of our hike, there are more bear warning and bear attack signs to freak me out.
Regarding the second bullet above, how exactly am I supposed to fight the
grizzly bear while it's eating me?
(This is a National Park Service official sign and guidelines.)

Exit Glacier, with Harding Ice Field on top

Note the blue sections of the glacier in middle parts.
This is because the densest, most compact ice absorbs every other color
of the spectrum except blue, so blue is what we see.

Mark, with the prehistoric glacier up close and personal.
The rate and amount of glacial retreat is astounding.
At left above, you can see the marker indicating the forward edge of where the glacier stood
in the year 1917.  In 100 years, the glacier has retreated over a mile
inland and tall trees have emerged in its place.
Closed out the day going to a Salmon Bake for dinner.

Love the rustic feel inside.
This was our most "Alaskan" of dinners, and perhaps
best meal of the trip.

Wednesday 12-July:  6 run, 7 bike, 2 kayak
Final day in Alaska :(
AM Run:  After reading through various trail run suggestions, we went out to Caines Head State Park, which required driving a bumpy, dirt road south of Seward.  Jana started her run with us but then did her own thing, and Matthew and I headed out to Tonsina Beach.  The double-track soon turned into interesting single-track through a dense forest, climbing to cliffs above the beach, before sharp descents with switchbacks bringing us back to sea level 2 miles later.  The original plan was to run about 10 miles total, but the rocks on the beach were just too slippery to run on, so we cut the run to 6 miles.
Cool footbridge that we ran out to and across.

Resurrection Bay.

The rocks are nice to view and explore.
Not so great to run on.

Tonsina Beach.  Deserted.  Black sand.

PM Bike & Kayak:  Went back for our glacier boat tour on our way back north to Anchorage, but again the boat wasn't running due to mechanical problems.  Now we have the afternoon free.  Haven't been on a mountain bike since ... I can't remember when.  Probably was also a rental somewhere.  Our plan was to come and kayak for two hours, but since kayaks wouldn't be back and available for an hour, we split the difference and rode for one hour and kayaked for one hour.  Probably for the best anyway.  The mountain biking was an interesting diversion, and much like running, I preferred the single-track over the double-track.  As for the kayaking, not having much upper body strength, my arms get tired quickly.  The kayaks we rented had rudders, so that was an added dimension for me, but they really work!
(Mark)  First time any of us on a mountain bike in some time.

Mark kayaking across Eklutna Lake

Thursday 13-July:  4
Papago Park, Phoenix, AZ.
Yeah, probably not a great transition from Alaska, but the conditions of the $379 tickets were that it included a 7-hour layover in Phoenix.  After seeing Mark off for his connecting flight to Tampa, we left the Phoenix airport and took Uber to nearby Papago Park.  The 96-degree heat was overpowering, and my initial reaction was to abandon the run.  Matthew was less ready to give up, so we compromised and ran a shorter distance.
We're not in Alaska anymore.

Gives you a feel of the hot, arid, lifeless desert setting we ran through.
Striking scenery, but July is NOT the time to run here.

For those in the "but it's a dry heat" camp, it's still 96 degrees, dusty, and direct sun.  I somehow got 4 miles in, but that was including a number of stops where I found and shade and water.  To be balanced, the desert landscape is quite striking, but I'd just rather see it when it's a good 30 degrees cooler.
As we flew out of Phoenix Thursday afternoon,
this was the actual temperature.
Yeah, not for me.

Friday 14-July:  8
Arrived home at 3am.  Slept all morning until Noon.  Angry with myself for wasting the morning, but I needed my sleep, and reminded myself that Noon here is just 8am Alaska time, which I hadn't yet acclimated from.
Went over to Bluff Point for the Groton Fun Runs and get some exercise for the day.

Saturday 15-July:  12
First full day home.  Ran the Run for the Beavers race in Burrillville.  Race report to follow.

Sunday 16-July:  8
16th and final day of vacation.  Ran the Tillinghast trail system in West Greenwich with Matthew, and fed myself to the deer flies.  The reality of vacation being over and returning to work is setting in.  Sigh.

Weekly mileage totals 10-Jul to 16-Jul:  58 miles running, 5 hiking, 7 biking, 2 kayaking.  Great week of activity.

Quick recap:  
1) Anchorage area
2) Denali National Park
3) Kenai Fjords National Park and Seward

The map above should give you some picture of the enormity of our 49th state.  It's bigger than the massive states of California, Texas, and Montana COMBINED!  RI would fit into Alaska 425 times.  Alaska has the northernmost AND westernmost points in the 50 states.  (That's right, the western most point is actually WEST of Hawaii!)  Alaska has more than 50% of the entire US coastline.

The green tracts in map above are the US National Parks.  We only hit two, and as with everything else in Alaska, we just scratched the surface of the state on this trip.

A number of comparisons have been made between Iceland and Alaska,
as they have a number of features in common.
Having been to both, here are my very subjective and anecdotal observations (above).
Iceland basically has no trees, which makes trails barren, but compensates for this
with amazing waterfalls, cool features like geysers, hot springs, lava fields, and stunning fjords.
Alaska has amazing mountains and trails, but they're concentrated in remote areas and some sections
in between are rather sketchy.
Alaska has scary (to me) bears and plenty of mosquitoes;
Iceland is one of only four places in the entire world with zero mosquitoes and has zero bears.
(The few polar bears that come to Iceland on ice floes from Greenland are
promptly shot per Iceland's national policy to keep local people and livestock safe.)
Would I go back to Alaska?  Absolutely!  Definitely one of the coolest places I've ever been.  But if given my choice to go back to Iceland or Alaska, I would pick Iceland first.

Parting shot from our Alaska trip:  enormous, majestic, exhilarating.