Tuesday, August 9, 2011


I poke my head out from under my comforter and look out the large picture window to see that the cloudy skies and light rain continue. One of my plans while in Anchorage was to take a bicycle ride along the Coastal Trail but because of the wet weather I decide to walk it instead. I check my map to find the nearest access which takes me through residential streets and down a hill to a dead end. A little path runs under the train tracks to the trail that runs along the coast of the Knik Arm of Cook Inlet. 

The Tony Knowles Coastal Trail

The tide is out and the silty shoreline stretches out wide and wet. I’ve read stories about people getting in trouble because of the quicksand-like suction of the muddy flats so I venture out only where I can see the ground is higher or crossed by fallen trees.  It’s a pleasant, if grey, walk and it’s not long before I reach the northern end which climbs away from and above the coast and deposits me at 2nd Avenue, in the heart of the tourist district.

Side Street Expresso
I wander about on the streets on edge of the plateau which overlooks the tracks of the Alaska Railroad, reading the plaques identifying the remaining few humble homes built by the Alaska Engineering Commission for workers when the tent city in Ship Creek was moved up above the tracks for more permanent housing. Tucked away on quiet side street I find the appropriately named Side St. Expresso and make myself right at home. It’s one of those independent, left leaning, artsy and laptop-friendly coffee shops, at least one of which exists in most towns (several if in a college town). It’s nice to know they exist as far afield as Anchorage, and have been here for many years.  I will return here a few times to write.

I then rejoin the throngs of tourists and become one, splurging on a Cordova fleece vest that doesn’t turn out to be that much of a splurge since I wear it constantly in the field. While browsing for postcards my cell phone rings and Barbara Lydon, Wilderness Ranger from Chugach National Forest reports that she is leaving Girdwood and will pick me up at my B&B in about an hour. I head back and am rolling my luggage to the curb just as she pulls up. It’s great to finally meet her after corresponding by email and phone. We head down Seward Highway hugging the coastline in the slim space between the Chugach Mountains and Turnagain Arm for the 45 minute drive to the Glacier Ranger Station in Girdwood.

The bunkhouse at Glacier Ranger Station, Girdwood, Alaska
We pull up to the Forest Service bunkhouse, a large barn like structure up a small hill from the Ranger Station. Barbara grabs a big plastic bag of folded bedding from the laundry room and shows me the room where I will stay before and after we head out to the field. Most of the rangers stay in this dorm-like setting, including Barbara and her husband Tim Lydon, also a Chugach Wilderness Ranger.  Barbara leaves me to settle in and we plan to meet in the Girdwood Glacier Visitors Center at 8 the next morning. I drop the bag on one of the the bare twin beds and survey the room — industrial carpet, two beat up bureaus and a little night table.  Most ranger housing I’ve inhabited during my 8 previous residencies, in spectacular landscapes, has windows that afford majestic views of the parking lots. I note with amusement that the Glacier station is no different.  Just outside my door is the common room and dining room, both windowless and dark. The kitchen however is large and bright, and is the first place most rangers head after a day in the field. After I make up one of the beds and spread my gear on the other I take a short walk on the bike path that runs along the main road through Girdwood  then return to do a little warm up watercolor at the picnic table outside the bunkhouse.  

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