ALASKA
(after the fact)
Elaine Doll-Dunn
June 20, 2010

Okay, the age-old question is definitively answered. Bears in the woods? Yep. I just ran the Mayor’s Midnight Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska. A good portion of it was run on a narrow pathway through the dense forest of the Chugach mountains, and I can state categorically that many bears, or one with a digestive problem, had tread that path before me. I will admit to hoping he/they were far ahead or had ensconced himself/themselves in the shadowy woods. I just kept moving and muttering our mantra, “You don’t scare me! You don’t scare me!” Yeah, right.

And moose. We were instructed to take cover if we encountered a moose…of which there could be many. We did see one; growing up on a cattle ranch with some fairly hearty Herefords did not prepare me for the mammoth proportions of this ‘big deer’. With a head like a giant ball-peen hammer and a body that was part horse, part camel, part leggy deer, they are beautiful in a so-prepared-for-their-environment way…long legs to navigate the snow, sharp hooves to paw for food, and shovel-like antlers to literally scoop snow. Well planned.

click for a larger view

Ah, but the race. It was a glorious and beautiful marathon run on bike path, forest trails, city streets and a short sprint on a high school track. With the majesty of the mountains, glacial and remote, the forest primeval silent with who knows what wild animals lurking, and the beautiful city central to it all on the Cook Inlet, just off the Bering Sea. I’m sure I could see Russia as I looked to my left from atop one air-thin peak.

Every marathon is redolent with lessons. This, the 47th in my collection of states and 116th for a grand total, left me with these dozen impressions.

1. A blowout on interstate 90 doing 75 mph results in a new and wonderful relationship with Triple A and my rosary…getting to the plane on time is another story.
2. Usually when I travel that far and for that many hours I arrive where no one speaks my language. It was like stepping off a plane in Spearfish…Alaskans are us down to the non-accent.
3. Glaciers are blue, and they ‘calve’…a term I normally associate with cattle.
4. The one-lane Anton Anderson Memorial tunnel, longest in the world (2.5 miles), is time-shared with a train. The steep, jagged Chugach Mountains crown the coastline of Prince William Sound along the scenic Seward Highway…entry to Whittier only via that tunnel. I could have skipped it; the girls bullied me. Terrifying. I think they deliberately turn the train lights on half way.
5. We traveled across three time zones to be served a fine wine by a cool bartender from…Gillette??????
6. The Galloway method of marathoning…run one minute of every mile….works. I was out there a long time, but after 7 decades on this planet I like taking my time with the scenery. I still placed second in my age group…don’t ask.
7. Fully aware of lurking wolves, lumbering bears and beluga whales…I was relieved the bear I encountered was delightfully friendly, as was the gentleman who took our picture and got it to me via e-mail.
8. The last mile includes a long and steep uphill, walk able only. I have to wonder if the race designer runs.
9. A shower, big steak, and wonderful jazz music in a posh place is a great recovery option.
10. The sun set at 11: 55 PM. and rose again around 3:30 am. I like that.
11. Anchorage is in the Temperate Zone, ocean and mountains keep the climate moderate; no extremes.
12. I don’t like sleeping on a plane over night in the middle seat.
Back to the bear question, it’s much like our trip to Scotland when we wondered what men wear under their kilts. As with the bear, some lessons are concretized when learned experientially.

Happy miles, my friends….I hope Leading Lady is not a pretend run for you, but if it is…watch out for bears.

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