Monday, August 31, 2009

not all out to get us

I was lurking on the local bicycle forum where someone had posted a link to some stats about bicycle fatalities. Knowing what mistakes drivers and cyclists make might help protect us from ourselves and others out there. This summer, two of my friends were involved in out-of-state bike/motor vehicle collisions. They're both okay, mostly. One was a hit & run. No known witnesses, no memory. He just doesn't know. I've suggested he post something on Craigslist in the area where it happened in case someone showed up at home & told their partner or parent that they didn't know what they hit with the car. I guess I'm just the kind of person who likes answers. Because if I don't have the answer, I'll just make up a story.

In my mind, the story has now evolved into an illicit affair, a sports car (based on seeing the bike), drugs or booze and lots of denial on the part of the driver. (Maybe I should write fiction.) I don't understand not wanting to know. I have so many curiosities and unanswered questions jumping around in my mind. For example, what is kitty thinking when I place the laptop upon my lap and she decides there's still room for her? Does she think she's being replaced as official lap warmer? Is she competing? Does she realize she's covering the mouse? You see what I mean: I like to have mysteries solved. But, I digress.

I haven't been bike commuting to a job for over a month. Doing a little mountain biking and riding my single speed across town occasionally. I'll admit my mileage is down. So, the other day I decided to ride over to my sister's place in South Anchorage for a little family get-together. My nephew's 29th birthday. (Happy birthday, Craig!) It was mostly the commute I used to make to the shop, except instead of descending to the business park, I had to climb up her winding street at the very end.

Even though I haven't biked the route in awhile, I'm very familiar with the motorists' behavior at the intersections, especially my favorite: Lake Otis and Abbott. Here's what happened. The traffic had the red. As the crosswalk light turned white, a pickup driver pulled through the crosswalk without stopping, slowed down and turned right in front of me. "That was my light!" I yelled through the open window as his passenger gave me a "what the hell is your problem?" look. After I crossed the intersection I laughed at how they probably couldn't even hear me but I was right. They hadn't stopped. They didn't yield. Hadn't looked. But I never assumed they would. Never assuming is part of our protection.

After having biked that route to & from work for years, I never expect any right-turn-on-red drivers to stop. But I almost always yell something at them. Maybe, over the years, I've even called some a bad name. Or two. I was commuting, what do you expect? Bikers can't occasionally have a little commuter rage? At least I've never purposely run into a car like someone I know. Of course, not all drivers are so ignorant or arrogant.

On occasion, a car will pull slowly up to the crosswalk, see me and stop. I am able to make eye contact with the driver, get a wave to go ahead. When they do that, I smile and say "thank you." By taking the time to notice and acknowledge me, they have just brightened my day and for a few moments, I have hope. Not every driver is trying to run us over. I figure they're another biker. Or they have actually read the rules of the road. Or they're Chechakos and haven't learned that in Anchorage stop lines are just a suggestion. To those drivers who follow the rules: thanks! To those who don't look and don't care: I wish for your children to become cyclists; avid cyclists. Will you see us then?

Friday, August 28, 2009

learning to ride

I learned to bike one September day when my cousin Dan was visiting from up the road. A year younger than me, he had biked down from his home on the dairy farm my aunt and uncle owned. My family didn’t have many bikes; maybe we didn’t have any. Bikes were luxuries tough to attain for a family with 10 children to feed and clothe. There were no hand-me-down bicycles for me. So, although I was just starting third grade, I had never even been on a bike.

When Dan offered to show me how to ride, I was enthusiastic. Never mind that it was a gravel driveway with not much room to ride before entering the gravel road where I would have to either turn right to go down hill or left to climb up just a bit more to the crest of the hill. I didn’t think that far ahead, nor did I make it out of the driveway before the bike tires washed out from underneath me and I landed with my left knee pounded hard into the dry, dusty gravel.

Blood flowed down my leg. I don’t know if I made it into the house. Maybe someone else relayed the message to Mom who was inside and would need to drop whatever she was doing to take me to the emergency room for stitches. The car ride to a hospital about 10 miles away would have taken us past the gravel pit, past the round barn and across the railroad tracks that were right next to the hospital. One year those tracks would carry the late-night train that slammed into Mom’s car where it sat stalled on the tracks, door left open as she ran for safety moments before the impact. Not how she anticipated ending her shift at the hospital.

I asked Doctor Strong if I could watch as he worked on my knee. First the injection to numb the throbbing that had started. Then I remember sitting up on my elbows as the needle dove into my skin and out the other side, the sutures tied in little spider-leg looking black knots on my torn skin.

My memory tells me that I wore a dress to school that Monday and walked up the stairs, taking one step at a time, with one unbending, bandaged knee to the third-grade classroom. In a way I was proud of my injury. This was what I had done. I rode a bike! It was an accomplishment and I wanted to be the center of attention, as I had been on the table in the emergency room that weekend.

I don’t remember the next time I rode a bike, but even after that short, less than 50 yard-long ride, I knew how to ride and I would never, despite gaps of years, forget how.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

focus... focus

From the wall of Yak & Yeti restaurant.

Is focus really a good idea? Can one have too much focus? Consider this: we just saw the movie Julie & Julia about Julia Child and a blogger named Julie Powell who dedicated a year to cook her way through Child's book Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The film tracked Child's life in Paris as she became The Julia Child and Powell's goal to get through the book and share what was happening with her readers. Cooking was her stress release from her job. But then the challenge became the stress.

Julie's blog was noticed by the conventional media, then it became a book and then the movie. And I think to myself, self, where are you going with this blog? I've talked about cycling, about hiking, skiing, reading, berry-picking, travels. A little about art and politics. Books and music. I've even written about writing. Hmm. So, I'm trying to figure out where to go next, but what I don't want is to have a singular topic because my life is more than just one thing. In fact it is so darn multidimensional that I sometimes do lose my focus.

A few days into the writing workshop, I told the workshop director that I wanted focus. She really couldn't help me find it, darn it. Through writing exercises, readings and discussions, I was reminded that writing doesn't just rely on focus. Sometimes we need to look at the diffuse topics around us. Pull together the seemingly unrelated threads, find coherency in the babble. I've been writing on a variety of topics for the past week since my return, jumping here and there, playing with many forms of writing, and I already see that some of those threads are weaving together. Don't want to force them, though. Must be patient with myself and the words and thoughts that emerge daily.

"Are you going to write something?"

I have some stories. I have some ideas. And I would love feedback as I start putting them out there... stay tuned...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

writing life

On the Root Glacier!

I returned Tuesday night from a week-long writing workshop in McCarthy where my only contact with the world outside the Wrangell Mountains was the phone call I made to Jon from a pay phone outside the bar. Disconnected from Anchorage, I felt more connected with the world of that valley, my thoughts and the community of writers there. After an eight hour drive, I was back to my world of hot showers, store-bought bread and the internet.

Kennecott Mine

Back online, I scrolled through a the stack of emails to find a note from Deb Vanasse at the 49 Writers site. Though none of my entries was chosen as a finalist in the Ode to Dead Salmon contest, one entry stood out to anthologist Michael Engelhard. Michael is taking submissions for Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots of Alaska, which will be published by the University of Alaska Press.

I'd marked the deadline for submissions on my calendar but hadn't thought of what I might write. When I wrote the piece that he liked, I was just having fun, playing around with words, stereotypes and a familiar expression about the Alaskan dating scene. I hadn't seriously considered it would have a life beyond the website, but now it will. It will be published in the anthology. Wow! How about that?

When I couldn't build with words, I could build with rocks...
until the river rose and wiped it away.

Opportunity comes in so many places, but some of it we must seek out. Playing with words and ideas will expand where we can go with our writing. I see that I need to give myself the freedom to write in different forms than I normally do, allow myself the fun of adding details I think are silly or over the top, and give myself permission to let my words run wild with metaphors before I tame them into beautiful, thoughtful prose or poems.

Late summer by the Root Glacier.

Where I go with my writing is up to me. Nobody else. That idea is both exciting and scary. Oh, to be alive!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

to McCarthy

I'm headed off to McCarthy tomorrow for what I hope will be a creative week. Mentally expansive is what I'm looking for. It's a long drive, maybe eight hours. I'll have a passenger, another writer from Anchorage who I've never met. Is it a good idea to take that long a drive with someone you've never met? Well, all the stories will be new and it's better than taking an eight hour drive with a friend who you didn't realize would drive you nuts in two hours (which is what happens in movies; it has never happened to me). I'm looking forward to it.

It's been 15 years since I was last in McCarthy. At that time I was a newbie, a real Chechako, having just moved to Alaska, not knowing whether I was staying, yet hoping I was. I didn't have a full-time job yet, so when I wasn't doing temp jobs or taking up space in my sister's basement and eating her food, I was traveling around with my dog and a couple of guys I'd met on the ferry between Prince Rupert, BC, and Haines.

Back then, you'd drive the 60-mile gravel road between Chitina and McCarthy, park in the gravel parking area at the end of a road, climb onto a hand tram and shuttle yourself across the river. Sometimes, for a fee, a local would ferry passengers across on the tram, but often you were on your own. I remember sitting in the tiny cage, my dog at my feet, one of the guys hanging off the outside of the swinging cage while the other handled the cable. For a girl who doesn't like heights, it was a bit scary watching the river tumble beneath us. But, it was the only way to get there so there was no choice. I don't remember much more than hiking a bit on the glacial moraines (I think that's where we were), making our way to the Kennecott mine buildings and strolling around the town. We didn't really take the time to settle in and get the feel of the place before continuing to Valdez.

I don't know how much has changed, but a bridge spans the river now, so I won't have to brave the tram to get to McCarthy, home of the Wrangell Mountains Center, which puts on the event. I got the schedule today and now have a better idea of what to expect: writing, some hikes, some discussions, writing some more.

A change of scenery usually inspires me. Hiking in new terrain; among different mountains; a group of people all focused on getting their creative juices flowing. I'll emphasize focus. Because while I just said a change of scenery inspires me, I'm often busy doing other things when I'm out there. Maybe I'm biking, hiking or berry picking, and by the time I pull out my notebook at the end of the day I'm so tired that I can barely start putting thoughts on paper before I nod off and the pen drags to the bottom of the page. Even when I carry my notebook on a dayhike, I am restless in the moment and often don't take the time to write down all the thoughts and clever lines I came up with through the inspiration of a little fresh air. Hell, I might have had the health care crisis solved if I had only taken the time to write it down!

This evening, I've been gathering my gear, rereading the info and hoping for a little bit of sunshine while we're there. I also hope this helps me continue the journey of banishing my fears and honing my creative voice. That's a big expectation. But why not?

I'm not sure if there'll be any posting from McCarthy. If not, I'll be back in a week. Carry on!

ode to dead salmon

Hello friends -

I have been writing (and rewriting) and want to share with you the three entries I sent to the Ode to Dead Salmon contest on the 49 Writers site. Go here for the contest. Here for my entries. There are bound to be lots of great entries, in addition to the ones already submitted, from writers vying for a chance to win a t-shirt from Ray Troll and accolades from their peers.

I'll admit I did get a little inspiration here.

Thanks for stopping by.

Monday, August 3, 2009

downtown Anchorage

Downtown Anchorage, viewed from the popular,
paved Tony Knowles Coastal Trail,

and from the new Singletrack Advocates
mountain bike trails.

Welcome to August.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

soggy unicorns

The Soggy Bottom 100 (plus) mountain bike race started this morning in Hope.

Jon and I got some inspiration from this poster to make some trophies. Actually, I saw a unicorn at Metro Music & Book and got the idea that we should do something for the winners. Classic Toys had finger puppets and Jon mounted them on the stands for the male & female winners. And that's the difference between how Jon and I approach things: I would have just said, "here, have a unicorn," while Jon turned it into a trophy to present to someone. Something they can display on their mantle, along with broken derailleurs and oosiks. Hmm, maybe he just wanted to use his power tools...
if you aren't seeing unicorns, you aren't riding hard enough!

Then, for Carlos, the guy who puts it all together each year, the large unicorn I first saw at Metro...and a monkey (I don't know why - Jon's just creative that way).
Luckily, Jon also found someone to take the trophies to Hope where the race starts and finishes at the Seaview Bar. Thanks, Jim.

There's been lots of rain in the last week, so I hope it's sunny on the peninsula like it is today in Anchorage. I also hope the bottoms don't get too soggy. Me? Maybe I'll go for a little ride in town.