Out of the Office: Beliefs, perceptions and the summits of Cooper Landing

I send photos from my hikes to family members, and this summer, my 3-year-old nephew had seen enough.

He complained the images were useless to him because they didn’t include signs or obvious trails. That meant he could never find those areas, so he requested a simple snapshot of my house instead.

And that got me thinking about July 4, 2000, and an interview I did with Leon Galbraith.

Galbraith, then a senior-to-be at Skyview High School, had just finished fourth in the Mount Marathon junior race in Seward.

I asked what he did to train for Mount Marathon while living in Cooper Landing, which has plenty of peaks but no trail signs on the highway to point the way skyward.

He gave me a bit of a quizzical look and said there’s plenty of mountains in Cooper Landing, specifically mentioning the trail up Slaughter Ridge.

Until my nephew registered his complaint all these years later, I let the moment quickly pass from memory because I had more pressing things on my mind.

I was about to make my debut in the men’s race, and while I’d done trail-sign ascents like Hope Point and Bird Ridge, both on Turnagain Arm, and Skyline, in the Mystery Hills, I hadn’t spent a second running mountains in Cooper Landing.

In hindsight, that provides a valuable lesson about how humans use a mix of beliefs and values to perceive the world around them.

According to “The Body Has a Mind of Its Own” by Sandra Blakeslee and Matthew Blakeslee, “Your mind operates via prediction. Perception is not a process of passive absorption, but of active construction.”

The cortex, where nearly all higher-order brain functions are carried out, has six layers of cells, with the lower areas taking in stimulus.

Stimulus doesn’t passively travel upward. The Blakeslees write that for every fiber carrying information up the hierarchy, there can be as many as 10 fibers carrying predictions and beliefs down the hierarchy.

“Many of your perceptions — what you see, hear, feel, and think is real — are profoundly shaped and influenced by your beliefs and expectations,” the Blakeslees write.

This method of operation — the constant melding of past experiences and beliefs with current stimulus — makes our brain exceptionally agile and powerful.

It’s why Roger Federer can do what Roger Federer does at Wimbledon while neuroscientist Daniel Wolpert points out in a 2011 TED Talk that pouring water into a glass without splashing any out constitutes a doctorate project at a top robotics institute.

But as my nephew shows, our brain has its pitfalls. He has already learned that hikes mean trails and signs. This will most likely end up being a deep-held belief that influences his perception.

One day, he might ask a runner who lives in an area surrounded by mountains how he or she trains for Mount Marathon, because the routes to none of those peaks appear in the book “55 Ways to the Wilderness.” None of those trails have signs.

It’s a haunting revelation. What else have I missed? What other deep-held beliefs about people or things — the way they look or act — have created a blind spot all these years?

I don’t know.

But what I do know, what I figured out about the mountains of Cooper Landing in my 20th summer on the peninsula, is that the empty vastness of Harding Icefield can be seen from the jumbled rocks atop Langille Mountain.

The bushwhacking, if you lose the trail on the way down from Axis Peak, involves trough after trough of devil’s club and great hordes of mosquitoes.

And the Cecil Rhodes traverse is the king hike of the peninsula.

Driving through Cooper Landing will never be the same. I know now it’s possible to train for Mount Marathon there.

Reach Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak at jeff.helminiak@peninsulaclarion.com.

More in Life

People gather in Ninilchik, Alaska, on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, for Salmonfest, an annual event that raises awareness about salmon-related causes. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Unhinged Alaska: Bones

Just as we approached Ninilchik, we remembered that the Salmonfest would be in high gear

File
Minister’s Message: What a Friend we have in Jesus

Can Jesus really be your friend? Jesus said so Himself.

The procedure for this quick kimchi is much less labor-intensive than the traditional whole head method, and takes less time to ferment, making it ideal for first time kimchi-makers. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Garden fail — but kitchen win nonetheless

This quick kimchi technique is less labor-intensive than the traditional method

Kate Lochridge stands by one of her paintings for a pop-up show of her work on Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, at the Homer Council on the Arts in Homer, Alaska. (Photo by MIchael Armstrong/Homer News)
Pop-up exhibit shows culmination of art-science residency

The exhibit by Kate Lochridge came about after her internship this summer as a National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration Ernest S. Hollings Scholar and Artist in Residence

File
Minister’s Message: The power of small beginnings

Tiny accomplishments lead to mighty successes in all areas of life

A copy of “Once Upon the Kenai: Stories from the People” rests against a desk inside the Peninsula Clarion’s offices on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Off the Shelf: Hidden history

‘Once Upon the Kenai’ tells the story behind the peninsula’s landmarks and people

Artwork by Graham Dale hangs at the Kenai Art Center in Kenai, Alaska, on Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2022. These pieces are part of the “Sites Unseen” exhibition. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Apart and together

‘Sites Unseen’ combines the work of husband and wife pair Graham Dane and Linda Infante Lyons

Homemade garlic naan is served with a meal of palak tofu, butter chicken, basmati rice and cucumber salad. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
On the strawberry patch: Naan for a crowd

When it comes to feeding a group, planning is key

P.F. “Frenchy” Vian poses with a cigar and some reading material, probably circa 1920, in an unspecified location. (Photo courtesy of the Viani Family Collection)
Unraveling the story of Frenchy, Part 6

The many vital chapters in the story of Frenchy fell into place

File
Jesus, God of miracles, provides

When you are fishing or eating them, remember how Jesus of Nazareth used fish in some of his miracles

Sugar cookies are decorated with flowers of royal icing. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Blooming sugar cookies

These sugar cookies are perfectly soft and delicious, easy to make, and the dough can be made long in advance