Perspective essential for Anchorage's carless commuters

Alli Harvey
Pedestrians cross E Street at 4th Avenue in downtown Anchorage during a snowstorm last winter.
Bill Roth
Photo by Alli HarveySome commutes in Anchorage have more logistical complexity than others.

There are perils lining the path between home and work for every employee in Anchorage this time of year. There are moose on the Seward Highway, snow and ice until April and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas" on every radio station all the time.

However, perhaps no one's winter commute is scarier than the person getting to work without a car.

These commuters boast an array of gear -- from warm boots and a bus pass to a fat-tire bike and painfully bright lights. But the most important equipment for commuting car-less isn't anything they sell at REI.

Commuting without a car in Anchorage is about hardiness, creativity and having zero sense of shame. Read on, commuters, for a better understanding of what it takes to navigate Alaska's biggest city without a personal vehicle.

We're not in Fairbanks

First, please think of Fairbanks, Anchorage's hardy neighbor to the north. Fairbanks has ice fog. Fairbanks residents suffer from notoriously poor air quality. The temperatures speak for themselves.

Yet, there are Fairbanks bike commuters. They pedal even when the metal on their bikes gets so cold the wheels threaten to stop moving at all. They pedal through fog, air you can chew and profound cold.

Anchorage cold is not profound, not by comparison. Anchorage ice fogs are dainty and the air sparkles like the zero-degree sun on a massive snow bank. Anchorage residents who ride to work in the winter remind themselves that even when it's rough, it's not Fairbanks. Even when it's cold, it's not that cold.

The mighty waves of Minnesota Drive

There are tidal waves that occasionally cascade over the hapless sidewalk commuter during "melty" times of year. These waves aren't caused by the pull of the moon, but the tires of an unobservant Subaru careening through puddles next to West High.

After getting drenched in soot, grit, sand and lingering oily film, a commuter can boast a complete visceral understanding of what the term "run-off" means. The toothsome crunch is "run-off"; the grimy trail down a right pant leg is "run-off."

Unfortunately, the commuter cannot boast any measure of respectability. She looks ridiculous walking along stained, dripping and freckled with black flecks of gravel.

Luckily, the ridiculousness doesn't last long, because imagination and foresight have led to:

Desk drawers equipped for emergencies

Filed away in the Anchorage winter commuter's desk, between the reports and the copies of receipts, is a spare pair of everything.

Essentially, it's the set of clothes Anchorage parents send their recently potty-trained children to school with; the major difference being these clothes in the desk drawer don't come with apple juice and an afternoon nap (unfortunately).

These clothes are for when emergencies like the Tidal Waves of Minnesota hit, or when the car-less Anchorage commuter forgets to bring pants for the office (it happens).

The clothes cache is a delightful surprise when forgotten and then re-discovered, like a $20 bill in the pocket of last year's winter coat.


Someone else is doing it better and cheaper than you

For every incredible, strong, resourceful, talented and fit car-less winter commuter, there is another out there that is twice as awesome.

She is on the trail, gliding along on skate skis with perfect poise and form. Her commute is three times farther than every other winter commuter in Anchorage. However, she doesn't sweat and therefore doesn't arrive at the office looking as splotchy as a red-checkered tablecloth. Somehow, she always evades the Tidal Waves of Minnesota. She commutes in the clothing she'll wear the rest of the day, and they are without a wrinkle or snag; all of her other gear is gifted to her by brilliant friends and relatives.

For her, car-less winter commuting is as easy as driving.

The rest of Anchorage winter commuters must simply imagine.

Alli Harvey lives in Anchorage, where she works, plays and shares a car with her husband.


Daily News correspondent