I like a slow, steady pace when outdoors. Activities that don’t require too much coordination suit me well.
My beloved family — my husband and stepdaughter — with whom I have been quarantining this summer have noted my visible lack of physical grace. I learned recently that they share routine quality time together watching episodes of what they’ve coined “Alli Doing Things.”
“Alli Doing Things” apparently consists of me puttering around outside in the garden or otherwise stiffly going about my outdoor tasks. I’m just not naturally physically adept, and it shows. My husband helpfully performed semi-robotic movements, parroting me shoveling something into a wheelbarrow in jerky motions. Good feedback, I guess.
Anyway: Adding speed or obstacles to my lack of poise and balance is a recipe for disaster. I’m good at plodding along, not zipping around and through. I do things, but slowly and deliberately.
This is why it’s especially amazing that the three of us decided to take an ATV tour as our last big family hurrah of the summer.
Put another way, we’ve been bored out of our minds and mixing some speed and a new activity into our day-to-day routine sounded fun. Even to me.
And what better place to start than our backyard?
The ridiculous thing about this story is that we live less than a mile away from famed Jim Creek, in the Butte neighborhood of Palmer. In our nearly four years in this neighborhood we have walked, run and biked parts of this trail system, but in this world-class playground for four-wheelers and snowmachines, we have never once tried a motorized activity.
Truth be told, I’ve barely been on an ATV. Sure, last summer when I hopped off the plane at Fort Yukon I was greeted by someone driving a four-wheeler. I threw myself and my luggage aboard for the five-minute ride into town. But that’s it. I wasn’t even driving.
We had the idea to try ATVing because there’s a guided tour outfit practically in our backyard, at the end of our quiet street. Word to the wise: Being a good neighbor is excellent advertising.
My husband and I have noted since we moved in that the ATVs running across the foot of our driveway from Alaska Backcountry Adventure Tours are slow and respectful as they move through the neighborhood. When we thought about this last summer hurrah, they came to mind as a hyper-local business we would be happy to support, especially since the coronavirus has driven tourism revenue off a cliff.
And, ATVing is an inherently socially distanced activity.
We signed up for the all-day tour out to Knik Glacier, a popular year-round destination. It’s exciting knowing you get to spend an entire day rolling through your extended backyard until you hit ice, especially when you haven’t been doing much.
Our guide smiled as he gave us the spiel about matching his speed and going especially slowly and respectfully through the neighborhood toward Jim Creek. We learned how to operate our machines. Our gear was stowed in dry bags, and there was additional rain gear if we needed it. Me being me, I called ahead to ask about their sanitation practices during COVID-19 and felt comfortable using their helmets and machines.
My husband and stepdaughter started out in a side-by-side, a two-person ATV. I was on a standard ATV.
I wondered what went through our guide’s mind as he watched me try, and fail, to move the machine forward. I was having difficulty finding the throttle. We hadn’t yet left the parking lot and still had a full day ahead of us. Alli doing things, indeed. He wheeled over, showed me — again — how to move the machine, and in another minute I’d figured out how to jerk the ATV ahead and we were off.
You guys: ATVing is fun. Really, really fun.
Our backyard is not without its perils. There are multiple creek crossings en route to the glacier. I was very glad we had a guide. He paused at regular intervals throughout the tour to give us clear instructions how to navigate any given section. Maybe ruts were coming up, and the safest way through was to keep our wheels in the ruts, or we needed to follow him exactly through a crossing, keeping our eyes on his machine and not the fast-moving water.
We saw moose, because of course. There were bear tracks as we neared the glacier. We felt the air turn abruptly chilly, the cold radiating from the wall of blue ice. We stopped for lunch at a popular spot in front of the lake at the foot of the glacier, layering up and eating with a full view of Knik Glacier dominating the skyline ahead of us.
I won’t be investing in an ATV of my own anytime soon. Honestly, I don’t trust myself not to get stuck or otherwise do something stupid — again, I do things slowly. It’s when you speed me up that there’s trouble.
But the daylong trip to the glacier was absolutely worth it. For other Alaskans looking for socially distant activities that feel like a mini-vacation, this is a fabulous way to get the family outdoors or go on a novel date.
And if I can do it, you can too.
Alli Harvey lives in Palmer and plays in Southcentral Alaska.
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