Hatcher Pass Then Roller Derby Baby!

Becky and I decided to drive to Palmer yesterday and have lunch at the Noisy Goose Restaurant, one of our favorites here in the Matanuska Valley. As we were walking out to the car the phone rang and it was Jason calling, asking us if we’d come to a Roller Derby event being held at Pioneer Peak School, beginning at 4:00 in the afternoon. Jason has become involved in roller derby activities through his girlfriend, and is training to be a referee for the sport. We told him we’d be there, figuring it’d give us something to do, besides, I hadn’t left the house for nearly two weeks and needed to get out for a while.

Lunch was excellent, I had a patty melt and Becky had a small burger. We tarried through it, eating slowly and keeping up a pleasant conversation, but as we left the restaurant there was still a lot of time to kill before the Derby so we drove to Independence Mine, near the top of Hatcher Pass.

Hatcher Pass is beautiful most times of the year, but the first week in April isn’t one of those times, at least in my opinion. The mountains are still covered in deep snow alright, but not the pristine white snow of earlier in the season. No, the snow of April is a dingy dirty gray in most places, it’s once beautiful surface stained with glacial silt blown in by the wind from the Matanuska river bed. And, of course, there’s no lush green vegetation either, like there will be in another two months. The tree branches are still as bare as an arrow shaft, their bark even grayer than the snow. I guess I could go on, but you probably get my drift. It just wasn’t pretty up there. I couldn’t find a single thing that made me want to stop the car to take a picture.

Except Becky.

As we traveled back down the mountain, I pulled over at a wide spot in the road & asked her to stand near a snow berm that had been plowed up beside the road. It was a little windy outside, and I don’t think she was that excited about getting out of the car since she’s just done her hair, but she did as I asked anyway, bless her heart.

I was able to make a nice portrait of her that, I think, graphically demonstrates the difference between something dull and boring (the background of gray snow and gray trees) and something colorful and full of beauty (my wife).

I like the sort of extreme contrast here between the dull, colorlessness of the background and the vibrant color and beauty I see in my wife, Becky. I achieved this effect by simply using the onboard flash of my Nikon D200 to add some fill light to her face.


After we’d stalled long enough at Hatcher Pass we arrived at Pioneer Peak School just in time for the beginning of the Roller Derby Tournament. Yesterday’s match-up was between the Denali Destroyer Dolls, the group Jason is affiliated with, and a team that calls themselves The Devils Club.

It’s been a long time since I’ve watched Roller Derby. It used to be a popular sport in the 1960′s. It was televised every Saturday afternoon and I’d be sure to watch it if I could. I even went to a live event, featuring two of the teams I’d seen on television, when they visited my hometown of Yakima, Washington. Yesterday’s match brought back a lot of memories of those days, even though it took me awhile to remember the rules and scoring system.

I was allowed to be on the outskirts of the track to take pictures, as long as I took off my boots, so while Becky sat up on the gymnasium stage I roamed around with my camera. I wanted to get some good action shots of the girls as they sped around the course, knocking each other down while trying to score for their team, but I had a tough time of it.

For one thing it was really dark in there. Although the overhead lights brightened things up well, plenty good enough for spectators and participants, there just wasn’t enough light to take action stopping photographs with razor sharp details, even though I kicked the camera’s ISO up to 800.

So I improvised and started using rear flash and a slow shutter speed, panning the girls as they went by. Rear flash is a feature that causes the flash to fire at the end of the exposure instead of at the beginning as it normally does, which leaves a trail of blurred light behind your subject as it moves past.

That technique worked somewhat, & gave me a few interesting results, but I’ll need to work on it some more until I get the right combination of shutter speed and aperture opening.

Anyway, it was enjoyable watching these women having fun out there, amidst all of their yelling to and at each other, and the constant whistle blowing by the referee’s. Sadly though, the event had to be called when a member of the Denali Destroyer Dolls took a bad tumble with only five minutes remaining and broke her ankle. The match was called after that as teammates kneeled by her side, trying to give her comfort while they waited for the ambulance to arrive.

Becky and I left shortly after the accident and I never did hear the final score. While she watched the action yesterday Becky had befriended the mother of the woman who was hurt. We certainly hope and pray the young lady heals quickly.

Below are a few of the pictures I took yesterday that I felt were nearly suitable for posting here.

The next two photos were shot using the rear flash feature of the Nikon D200. I think I can create some interesting effects this way but I’ll need to do a lot of experimenting before I can perfect the technique for this sport.

Thanks for checking out Alaska At Sunrise today. I really appreciate it.

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