A wheelchair accessible path leads to the Russian River Falls on Sunday, May 24, 2020 in Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

A wheelchair accessible path leads to the Russian River Falls on Sunday, May 24, 2020 in Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

Out of the Office: Trails that wind, hearts that find

As with a lot of things, Alaska has been lucky to be far removed and largely untouched by the disastrous effects of the novel coronavirus. Our case count has been low, and our death toll markedly so.

Many of the restrictions keeping the virus at bay in Alaska have been lifted, but it’s still here. One might not have known it from the positively packed trail to the Russian River Falls in Cooper Landing a few weekends ago, but it is.

Since the beginning of social distancing efforts, Alaskans have been taking to the outdoors in droves. Some of them have always been doing this, and no doubt were a tad surprised and maybe a bit miffed to see their favorite, normally empty trails filled up with more and more people in search of relief in the form of outdoor recreation.

The trails that lead to both Russian River Falls and the Upper and Lower Russian Lakes are a prime example of Alaskans taking advantage of the fact that, for now, hanging out “together” outside is a heck of a lot safer than jamming out in a crowded, stuffy bar. The trail is wheelchair accessible, with smooth turns and a wide, even path. It offers a slice of the vibrant Cooper Landing wilds to those who are not physically able to traipse up climbs like Slaughter Ridge.

The trail is popular among mountain bikers and families with young children, which was on display when a friend and I decided, rain be darned, we were going to enjoy the walk and the view of the rushing river and falls at the end. Scores of little ones tottered along the trail with their guardians, some dressed head-to-toe in matching rain gear and XtraTufs, others in a hodgepodge of coats and boots that looked like they maybe belonged to one of their siblings.

Some little tykes were carried along on the backs of many strong, patient mothers — others fearlessly led the way, walking sticks in hand, while still others had clearly had enough of the rain and were being coaxed down the trail back to their vehicles between despondent sighs and vicious pouts.

The trail was admittedly a little more crowded than we would have liked, and indeed more than we felt totally comfortable with. My friend and I took a detour just ahead of the falls down the path that leads to a fishing spot along Russian River. I had been there a few years prior, and reflected on the hysterical fun some friends and I had wading into the freezing water in an eddy along the river’s edge.

On this day, the rain had helped the river to reach a steady rush, water churning much higher up the banks and in a much less inviting way than the day my friends and I decided to venture in.

Very few people had meandered down this part of the trail, and it provided a moment of respite to explore the nature around us, soaked as it was.

Back on the main trail, the gaggle of children, families and couples was gone. It seemed they had rushed in and out of the scenic overlook at the falls, as quickly as the river. The walk back was peaceful and void of people to dodge as we tried to maintain proper social distance. The way there had been like a friendly yet awkward live game of tetris.

I couldn’t begrudge a single one of those families for picking the same day as us to get out and enjoy the Russian River trial. In fact I was surprised and impressed so many had decided to do it on such a dreary day.

If there’s any positive to come out of the COVID-19 pandemic (and I know we’ve all been looking for some) it’s that it’s maybe reminded Alaskans just how lucky they are to have such wild, rugged and vivid nature at their fingertips. With outdoor activities being some of the safest ways to spend our time these days, many people have been flocking back to popular trails and excursions.

Just like the die-hard gym rats must be patient with the influx of post-Christmas exercisers clogging up their treadmills and bikes for a couple weeks in January, so, too, must the avid outdoorsman be patient with the many Alaskans who are learning to take fuller advantage of what they have in front of them.

The beautiful thing about Alaska is that she was here before any pandemic, arms wide and inviting. She was prepared to be our escape then, and she’s happy to help us now when we seek refuge from the compounded stresses of our new normal.

Alaska, with her peaks and valleys and winding rivers, has a different sense of time than the rest of us. She’s got nowhere to be at the moment.

She’s here for us now, and she’ll be here for us when it’s over — her ears perking up ever so slightly in gratification when a boot or bike tire crunches the gravel of a well loved trail.

Out of the Office is an outdoors and lifestyle column written by staff at the Peninsula Clarion and the Homer News. Reach Megan Pacer at mpacer@homernews.com.

The Russian River Falls flow through the trees on a rainy, overcast Sunday, May 24, 2020 in Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

The Russian River Falls flow through the trees on a rainy, overcast Sunday, May 24, 2020 in Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

A wooded path dotted with slick, wet rocks leads back to the main route to the Russian River Falls on Sunday, May 24, 2020 in Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

A wooded path dotted with slick, wet rocks leads back to the main route to the Russian River Falls on Sunday, May 24, 2020 in Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)

More in Sports

Alaska 20 player Mose Hayes pitches during an Alliance Baseball League game against Dimond on Saturday, July 4, 2020 at Karen Hornaday Park in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by Megan Pacer/Homer News)
Homer splits July Fourth games with Dimond

In a rare appearance in Homer, Alaska 20 split an Independence Day… Continue reading

Ninilchik Rodeo returns to its roots over July Fourth weekend

The annual Ninilchik Rodeo, held every July Fourth weekend, celebrated 60 years… Continue reading

Nick Varney
Reeling ‘Em In: Kings still around at fishing hole while silvers not yet here

The weather was phenomenal over the Fourth of July weekend. Visitors, as… Continue reading

Alaska State Parks logo. (Image courtesy Alaska State Parks)
Kachemak Bay State Park trails report

The trails report is provided by Park Specialist Eric Clarke. General information… Continue reading

In addition to hiking trails, the Kenai National Wildlife trail crew maintains canoe trails in the Swanson and Swan canoe trail routes as well as the Swanson River. (Photo by Kasey Renfro/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Refuge Notebook: Rains, rocks and trail work on the Swanson River

Rain pounded against the windshield, encouraging a creeping melancholy as I drove… Continue reading

The view from Slaughter Gulch trail on June 20, 2020 in Cooper Landing, Alaska. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)
Out of the Office: Life on the Edge

Are you a planner? An organizer? A list-maker? I’m not. I love… Continue reading

Reeling ‘Em In: Fishing Hole snagarama ends today

The Spit’s Fishing Hole has been sort of drag lately. In fact,… Continue reading

Alaska State Parks logo. (Image courtesy Alaska State Parks)
Kachemak Bay State Park trails report

The trails report is provided by Park Specialist Eric Clarke. General information… Continue reading

Yearling brown bear cubs near the Russian River Ferry recently. (Photo by Matt Conner/Kenai National Wildlife Refuge)
Refuge Notebook: Tales of a federal wildlife officer — Brown bears at Russian River

The opening of this year’s sockeye fishery at the Kenai/Russian River confluence… Continue reading

Most Read