The morning’s low-hanging sun was in my face, and it felt good.
The cut of the bike tires through a thin layer of snow covering glass-smooth ice made a “swishing” sound as I pedaled the last mile to the south end of Eklutna Lake, following a straight line of ski tracks I had made only a few days earlier.
Conditions on the lake during the first two weeks of February had been perfect for skiing, skating, biking, hiking and snow machining. The smooth ice would have been an ice boater’s dream had there been some wind.
During the first five miles to the south, at least as far as the Kokanee cabin on the western side of the lake, the snow was carved by numerous tracks from all these recreationists. But in a couple of places, perpendicular to the tracked highway, were the straight and steady footprints of coyotes—crossing the lake from east to west.
I’ve often heard coyotes around Eklutna Lake, but it’s been a few years since I’ve seen one.
The straight-line pattern of their tracks is readily distinguishable from those of dogs accompanying recreationists.
On the far end of the six-mile-long lake, however, most of the snow was undisturbed by tracks, and my studded-tire mountain bike made the trip relatively easy. A lot of winter cyclists opt for the fat-tire bike, but so far I’ve held back getting one because I don’t think I’d use it often enough.
I made a straight line for the airstrip, arriving about 1-1/2 hours after leaving the parking lot. There were no indications on the runway that ski-equipped airplanes had landed recently. I enjoyed a leisurely lunch at one of the picnic tables, then biked over to the narrow road that leads to the lake bluff, which was heavily eroded in recent years.
Over the years I’ve returned to this spot often because back in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it’s where my sister and I had picnics. In those days the road was open to cars, and we made the trip over the rough lakeside road in her old Buick sedan.
The place is also special because, in the 1980s and 1990s, I took my children there for picnics and sometimes for camping.
Before it succumbed to bank erosion and fell into Eklutna River, friends and I occasionally stayed in the Dan Alex cabin, built in 1927. Also in the 1990s, I often camped at this spot before and after climbs of Bold Peak, which towers over the area.
During one of those trips and with nothing to do, I attempted to make a phone call to my wife with one of those old analog cell phones. After trying for about an hour, I was astounded when a call actually went through. It is commonly known that analog phones could operate with a weaker signal, and my theory was that I somehow bounced a signal off the northern face of Bold Peak.
Slower ski trip: Three days earlier when I skied across the lake, I met an ice skater who seemed to be gliding along effortlessly. “You’re really moving out,” I commented. “Going a lot faster than me!”
He showed me his skate set up, which are long (Nordic) blades attached to ski boots. It seems they’ve become quite popular in recent years and are available at Alaska Mountaineering and Hiking (AMH) in Spenard. Some of the blades, he said, are up to 20 inches long.
Unlike my relatively quick bike trip, my ski sojourn was about three hours each way, although I know skate skiers could easily halve that time.
The sun shone brightly on the lake, but as the afternoon progressed, the light was quickly retreating. I raced to catch the sun’s last rays, but was soon in the shade and could feel the temperature drop at least five degrees.
Only one other couple were on the lake, and through a brief conversation, I learned they had stayed at the Kokanee cabin the night before. They were on skis, and the guy pulling the heavily-loaded sled hinted how cool it would be for someone to pull it across the lake for him. It didn’t dawn on me until about 10 minutes later that perhaps he’d wanted me to pull his sled across with my bike. “Darn, it wouldn’t have been that hard,” I thought.
On the last mile, I heard the hoots of an owl on the eastern side of the lake – probably a Great Horned owl.
I felt somewhat tired after the bike trip but recalled that over the past eight days, I had gone back and forth across the lake three times, for a total of 36 miles. “Probably a bit obsessive,” I thought. But every time meteorologists had forecast snow during those two weeks, I figured the lake’s primo conditions would come to a quick end.
It’s certainly no secret, but outdoor enthusiasts have come to know that with the vagaries of our weather, especially here in southcentral Alaska, we have to grab opportunities when we can, and we just get out there.
Frank E. Baker is a freelance writer who lives in Eagle River with his wife Rebekah, a retired grade school teacher.