Author Topic: Anchorage, Alaska  (Read 1850 times)

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Offline LawDog

Anchorage, Alaska
« on: February 03, 2012, 03:55:58 pm »
I realize that Alaska isn't the first place anyone thinks of when contemplating the best cycling locations, but we actually have a few cities that are very bike-friendly. Few riders are willing to venture out into the cold during winter, but some still do. I live in Palmer, Alaska (about 50 miles northeast of Anchorage), and there are about a dozen other riders that I regularly cross paths with during winter. Anchorage has far greater numbers. But winter riding is a different topic. Right now I just want to show you why Anchorage--despite having only a seven month cycling season--deserves to be recognized as a great town for cyclists.

The city itself has a population of about 250,000. But it offers much more than other similarly-sized cities in the lower 48. Partly that is due to the fact that Anchorage is the defacto cultural hub for an area extending nearly a thousand miles in any direction. Partly it is due to the great degree of wealth that oil money has bestowed on the community. For a multitude of reasons, Anchorage is just a cool town. You wouldn't normally find shops, restaurants and museums of such caliber in a city so small.

The layout of the city is greatly impacted by geography. An ocean inlet bounds its northern and western borders. Mountains form is eastern and southern boundaries. There are passes through the landscape that allow for one road heading south to Seward and one road heading north to the Mat-Su Valley. Those geographic limitations forced Anchorage to become a compact city. So it never suffered the suburban sprawl that plagued so much of the country.

The timing of the city's growth is also important. Anchorage hit its big boom in the 1980s. The oil pipeline that began construction in the 1970s brought jobs and construction. And there was so much money flowing through the state's coffers that they felt they could do everything that they wanted to do. There was no limitation of resources. The schools need new books? Buy 'em. Bigger playgrounds? Build 'em. A new hospital? Make it happen. And someone was smart enough to point out that it would be really nice to have a series of interconnected trails for cyclists and pedestrians covering the entire city and separated from traffic. Guess what--we got it.

You can bike across huge segments of the city without ever getting near a car. You'll roll down shade-covered paths, through parks, past lakes, all while gazing up at the glory of the Chugach Mountains on the edge of town. A short deviation from the bike paths and along the roads will bring you to anywhere in the city. The drivers are polite (for the most part) and accustomed to bikes being in the road. The ones to watch for are the tourists in giant RVs, because you know that guy isn't used to handling a 40' long caravan and has no idea how long it takes to stop. You can find a map of the bike paths here:
http://www.trailsofanchorage.com/TrailwatchMap.pdf

If you want fat-tire recreation, Kincaid Park has miles and miles of trails to explore. This little oasis on the western edge of town allows you to leave all visible signs of civilization behind. No road noise. No businesses. A plane may fly overhead occasionally. Once you leave the parking lot you won't see any cars, but you will have to keep your eyes open to watch for moose. A map of those trails is here:
http://alaska.org/maps/kincaid-park-anchorage-map.htm

We've got several great bike shops. Speedway Cycles is the home of the Fatbike, for those interested in riding year-round. REI has a huge store here. Paramount Cycles and Chain Reaction cater the the up-scale riders. There are several locations from which to rent bikes for the day. I would recommend Pablo's, just because I like the guy's story. He's a Mexican immigrant (a legal one) who ran a little food stand downtown. One day he was talking to an Australian couple, and they commented on how great it would be to bike around. So he loaned them his bike and his wife's bike. He really wasn't expecting payment, but the couple insisted and they left him an envelope with some cash in it when they returned the bikes. That gave him the idea to keep a couple of bikes with him at the food stand and rent them out. That idea grew, and soon he was really in the business of renting bikes and just making food on the side to feed his customers. He's now got a website here:
http://www.pablobicyclerentals.com/

I don't expect Anchorage to supplant Portland or Madison. I don't expect Bicycling Magazine to come shoot a cover expo on this little town in the far north. But I think cyclists should know what a great place this is to go riding. People think of Alaska as a place to take a cruise, or go hunting or fishing. Cycling doesn't usually top the list. But it should. Anchorage rocks.