March 20

Saturday March 20th The day before spring...

Well, I am getting close to 400 miles for the season so far, not bad for Alaska, and not bad considering we received at least two feet of snow in March. 

I set out a little after 2PM on a beautiful Saturday. My goal was 200 miles. Where I live in Alaska one would be hard pressed to go 200 miles without backtracking. However, once the road known as "the Burma" melts, and the road over Hatcher, or better yet the Denali highway is open, it may be possible. For now though, I am resigned to Riding South toward Anchorage (fat chance) East out of Palmer on the Glenn Highway, or north on the Parks.  East sounded like a safe bet, So, I rode west. Yeah, a rode a little toward Anchorage, but only to get to the Old Glenn Highway exit. I sort of knew better. That section of the old Glen Highway winds along with the knick river at the valley floor and is flanked b 6000 ft peaks to the south. The highway huggs close to the shear slopes of the Chugatch range so is in the shade all winter, and well into late may. Though there was a little meltwater tricking across most of the length, it was in fact water instead of black ice, as I has half suspected. 

The road turns almost due north after about 18 miles, and crosses the still frozen Knick River. In this picture, taken just north of the bridge, you can almost see the river. On the other side of the river, up against the mountain slope, is the Old Glen Highway. 

I rode on north through the little berg we call "the Butte" I will have to take some pictures of the Butte for anybody to appreciate it. (I can hear the Alaskans reading this and chuckling.) I am not even going to try to describe it here.

In about another 15 miles The old Glenn highway tee's at the new Glenn Highway, and heads east. This is the only road out of south central Alaska. It eventually hooks up with the traditional Richardson going north, then the Alcan going east again out of Alaska. 

East of Palmer, the New Glenn (or just the Glenn) begins its ascent out of the Matanuska River valley. To the south of the highway are 100+foot bluffs that plunge to the braided gravel and ice expanse of the Matanuska River. South of the river is more Chugatch mountain range.

For the first couple miles east of Palmer the north side of the highway consists of high farm fields. These fields are fertile from of millennia of high winds bringing rich organics off the surrounding mountains mixing with the talcum powder fine till of the nearby glacial valley's. 

farmers were brought to this place in the 1930's to farmstead. This make palmer as close to a midwest farm town as one is likely to encounter in Alaska. Beware though, The winds along this part of the valley are epic. 

Fortunately for me, on this beautiful Saturday the winds were calm, and the road clear of most of the debris of winter.  

Up and down and around the geologically young glacial moraines of this part of the valley, the highway follows the river. through the very small town of Sutton. Built on the only streight stretch of the Highway, sutton features a generl store/Gas station/Laundromat. and a post office.  Sutton's heritage is that of a small mining town that supported a few small coal mines in the surrounding foothills. Now , it is just a quaint but beautiful blip on the map.

Up and down, and around some more, the highway climbes through the valleys of a couple tributary rivers such as Kings, and the Chickaloon. Though I have never actually been there, I understand that their is actually a town, or more precisely an Indian village called Chickaloon. I have heard it could be a rough place for a white guy on a beemer without proper introductions, so I have yet to venture up Chickaloon road to the town. 

The other side of chickaloon the highway climbs again, this time for at least a few thousand feet. I had ridden my planned 35 minutes east, and the elevation gain was becoming evident in the dropping temperatures, so I turned around. I know from experience, that it only gets colder the further east one goes, so for now, for march, I had ridden far enough. 

The way back always goes quicker, though this stretch of highway always begs me to stop and take pictures, the twisties, hills and valleys keep me riding. I was in a race with the setting sun, so I resisted the urge. I did almost have an unplanned stop when I passed a state trooper in the oncoming lane, he was either busy, or not paying any attention, when I looked down at the speedo to make sure I wasn't speeding to bad, it read a touch over 95. Oops, too late for reaction, so I waived non-chelantly, and continued on my merry way, expecting at any moment to see him turn around. He didn't, so I didn't slow down. 

I took a shortcut back to Wasilla called Palmer Fishhook road. It rides through the aforementioned farm fields, and eventually winds up through Hatchers Pass. That is a ride for a warmer month, so I turned west at Trunk road, and made my way back to the Parks Highway headed north through Wasilla, Houston, and all the way to Willow.  I suppose this part of the road would be spectacular, if not quite obscure to anybody from someplace else. It is kind of like an extended stretch of one lang small town. Their are desolate areas, and their is sub-urban sprawl. As most roads in Alaska it is two lanes with 3 lanes of traffic, so my attention was on the road, instead of anything that may be notable. I was also paying close attention to where the meltwater was dribbling across the road, as those places may be ice on the way back. 

Willow, is a great place to buy gas, this time of year on a motorcycle, that is about all one can do in Willow. I negotiated the frozen slush of the parking lot, and paid "last gas for miles" prices for a couple gallons of the good stuff. We don't even notice anymore what we pay for gas up here, but I know it was in excess of 3.90.

Turning around, confident that I would make my 200 mile goal by the time I made it back out to Knick (no where near the Knick river of earlier) I headed down the highway with the setting sun at my back or off my right shoulder. The whole road was in shade now, and I paid very close attention for the telltale darkness of hard slippery water. With a bit of trepidati, I turned west off the Parks Highway on jonson road. I wasnt sure if the secondaries were all ice/snow free yet, but there was only one way to find out. Johnson let me to Hollywood, then to Vine (yep, right there at the corner of Hollywood and vine) Up a short jaunt to Knick Goosbay, and 10 miles southwest back to the homestead. This time of day, with the fading darkness my attention was between the potential black icee, and the potential roaming moose, An encounter with either would probably shorten my riding season.

Back at the homestead, I threw a bunch of wood on the woodstove, and opened it wide. Nothing like a blazing wood fire to take the chill out of these bones. Sitting on my perch in front of the stove, i tallied up my miles for the day. 196. Damn it! Back on the bike, and a quick ride down to the end of KGB to top off another 5 miles. Now, I can sleep...