Thursday, January 28, 2010


It's a lie, a fraud. The picture doesn't tell the entire story, so now I'm going to clear it up. Make it right. The thing is, sometimes I'm a chicken. Sometimes I'm a chicken right at that moment Jon hits the button that takes the photo and I'm captured pre-dab, pre-bailout, pre-scowl, just before I stop and say, 'Why do you always have to take a picture right at the hardest part? You know I can't do it!'

But he doesn't know. Jon thinks I can do most anything on a bike that he can. I just need to trust myself and try. And the thing is, most of the time he's right. Then again, once in a while, I'll do something and he will be surprised because he didn't think I could. I love surprising him on a hill climb with the sound of my breathing when I'm so close that if I'm not careful and if he slows down I'll tap his wheel with mine and come to a stop... Ah! I digress.
Ping! Early January, before I bailed.

You see, there's this tiny section on the Stump Trail, aka: Area 51, Speedway, Regen (choose your moniker) that I call 'Pinball.' When coming from the south, there's a tree on the left, then right, then another on the left in such quick succession that you have to go very slowly and make a quick flick of the handlebar to get through them, or, as one friend does: lean your shoulder on one tree and push off from it, hence, 'Pinball.'

Well, this little three- or four- foot section just freaks me out. I think I'll hit my handlebar on a tree and crash into the next, not a graceful (or painless) experience, I'm sure. So I ride up to it, slow down and do the sensible thing: I dab. I drop my left toe to the snow and push off, unscathed, but also not satisfied with my performance - though I'll admit, I'm very good at the single- and the double-dab.

The day Jon caught me in Pinball, he was sure I could do it. Later my friend told me his leaning technique. It made sense, but I worried that I'd lean and miss the tree, scraping myself along the bark as I fell into the snow, my steel-framed snowbike landing on top of me, my bloody face staining the snow. I've biked the trail several times since that day, always with a little dab and today was no different: I approached, slowed down, closer... dab! Ah! Then, instead of dropping down the hill, I stopped, turned my bike around to start back toward the trees.

I noticed the birch and spruce trees around me, snow draped over downed trees and bent-over branches. I noticed a bike imprint in the snow on the side of the trail. The air was still and balmy, in the mid-20s. A perfect day for a do-over. I rode to the trees, slowly, slowly, dab! Uh! It was closer and it didn't seem as scary. I could do this, I thought. I rode up the trail and turned the bike around again, riding slowly, looking at the trees. Where should I look? I entered Pinball, wiggled my bar right, then left, slipped through. Ha! I kept going, then stopped at the top of the hill, turned the bike around. Must get it from this direction, too!

A few more passes from both directions, my handlebar poagies rustling as they brushed against the trees. No dab. I pedaled, slid back on my saddle and dropped down the hill. Pinball was mine! Sure, I'll have to ride the entire trail to know that I truly have it, just like a figure skater: it doesn't matter that you can land a triple lutz in practice, you have to be able to land it and finish the routine.

I finished my ride and thought of the other Pinball-like sections that have trapped me before. Now that I have this one, I should be able to do others. It was just a matter of stopping and being willing to try over and over. It certainly helps to have a warm day for practice.
Kepler-Bradley, last May, just before my bar hit the tree.
(See my left foot about to evacuate?)

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


I used to think January had to be a slow time. Not much going on. Hibernate. Curl up on the sofa with the books I started in the middle of a rainy summer day, then put back on the shelf when the skies cleared. And stayed clear. Not this year.

Recently a friend commented on how quickly her home-office desk got cluttered this winter. 'Didn't you just clean it?' someone asked. But I understood what was happening. Because the same thing happens to my desk. When the conditions are good to be outdoors, the desk receives but gives up nothing. The cycling clothes and base layers pile up in the laundry basket while the wool hangs to dry before the next wearing.

I measure my contentment in loads of polypro laundry and the menagerie of boots and gloves hurriedly stashed on the shelves by the front door: cycling boots, ski boots, hiking boots and Uggs. Liner gloves, wind gloves, woolen mittens, insulated mittens. Neck gaitors of varying weights, ear bands and hats.

Above Anchorage in Chugach State Park.
(Yes, you should have a permit to bike this trail in the winter.)

In my datebook, I jot down: 'bike ride with Jon,' or 'ski with Jo-Ann.' 'Pilates @ 11.' Snowshoe or hike. I include trailheads and routes, temperatures and equipment, time of day. The spaces fill with outings and events: movies, the Folk Fest, fundraisers, writing group, planning meetings, dinner with my sister.

This is what a winter of good health and no injuries looks like: Like summer, but with more layers and no mud, bugs or bears.

This Saturday and next, I'll participate in a writing workshop. In the past when I've attended classes or workshops, I've searched for focus, dug for meaning. Now, the focus comes to me in bursts of inspiration, fueled by cold winter air.

Years ago, before I moved to Alaska, a friend said that if I told the world what I wanted, I would get it. This winter, I told the world nothing and somehow it found me: a convergence of ideas and energy and hopefulness. I want to tell the world, 'don't take it away!'

Thursday, January 21, 2010

watching ravens

watching ravens 1

We heard the ravens outside the window
Saw them on the street
their wings batting
claws grasping
One on its back
on the packed snow
the other above
Their caws and cries
pushed through the double panes
Is this a mating?

Or a fight
over yesterday’s scraps of trash
fallen from the garbage truck?

In the middle of the January cold
in the middle of the quiet afternoon
these thieves have descended
from their mountain hideaway
following the smell of warm food
fast food, grease-covered and still steaming,
waste left over from trash day.
It feeds their winter hunger
makes their black feathers shine,
iridescent in the welcome sunlight.

watching ravens 2

Driving east one afternoon
down Northern Lights Boulevard,
the street whose name evokes mysterious beauty
but which is a thoroughfare of plainness
with brown-sugar snow filling the gutters and crosswalks
exhaust melting the ice on the rutted pavement
night-time cold refreezing it,
a flash of black caught my eye
and I spotted a raven pair
flying side-by-side above the sidewalk
alongside the boulevard
keeping pace as I accelerated past the green light,
was caught by the red light.

And they flew by,
trading places in a double-helix dance
returning home for the evening
with the other commuters,
heading east
looking to the mountains
just as the alpenglow set in.
Cinderella must be home before midnight
And the ravens, home before dark.

Monday, January 18, 2010

a real alaskan

2007 - Hiking above Na Pali

I was reading on a local site about what it takes to be a real Alaskan. Deb said she didn't think someone could be a real Alaskan unless they'd been to Fairbanks in the middle of winter. Maybe. But I think a real Alaskan is someone who's been to Hawaii in midwinter. And enough times that they have a favorite roadside produce stand, fish market and place to watch the sunset. If that was the litmus test, believe me, I am a Real Alaskan.

In less than a month, Jon and I will take off for the small island of Kaua'i where we are fortunate to have a place to stay for a couple weeks. I already have started dreaming about the ocean and remembering my morning routine: wake before sunrise, brew a pot of coffee and take a mug along with a book out onto the lanai to watch as the sun emerges from behind a palm tree. The sprinklers will have left the grass wet, surfers will be greeting the day by paddling out from the beach nearby.

I'll read, and look up from my book to watch the sea turtles' heads peek up from the surface of the ocean, just beyond the lava rock. In a few days, the sound of the ocean will have seeped into my being. I'll go inside for a coffee refill, wake Jon and we'll start our day together. Snorkeling, swimming, hiking, eating, breathing deeply the warm salt air.
Na Pali Coast

I'll feel the sun's warmth filter into the deepest parts of my body until I forget the chill I get from skiing, biking or just shoveling the driveway.

I would love to visit Fairbanks in the middle of winter. But I think the only way I could do it is if the next trip was to beautiful Kaua'i.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

night ride

Riding through the tunnel of light
thrown by my headlamp
I follow a ribbon of hard-packed snow.

I weave between trees
over hills and into dips,
over unseen bridges
and frozen creeks.

Sparkles of January snow
drift from the evening sky
landing in grooves
carved by tires and skis
traveling this route before me.

My legs power me uphill,
hold level as I coast down,
duck under a frost-laden,
low-hanging branch.

Ahead of me, I see the two other riders
their lights pointing the way
reflecting off the white snow.
I know this trail

Remember its twists,
its rolling dips and moguls.
At night, though,
Lit by the helmet light

I'm not thinking about where I am
or what comes next,
just what I can see now
That tight corner
That too-close tree.

I try to not think about the riding
How I'm doing
I just pedal and move with the bike
Stay on the firm sweet spot.

We ride together, bunched up,
then we ride apart
Sometimes I'm in front,
Sometimes middle or back
As we leapfrog along the way.

I'm riding at the back, out of sight
When I round a bend and there they are
"You were just behind us"
I'm happy that I'm not holding anyone up

I'm happy that I'm in balance
That I'm staying on the trail
That my legs agree to work at play
And my smile freezes in place
in the fifteen degree cold.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

setting goals

goal: more napping next to alpine lakes

Here we are. Already the seventh day of the new year and I've yet to make any promises. I've tried. I've started a NY Resolution post a few times, yet they fall flat. Maybe it's a mental backlash against implementing change merely because it is the beginning of a new calendar year.

Why is it we make the same promises at the beginning of each year? Losing weight, working out more, eating more sensibly, etc. Could it be because the new year happens during the darkest, starch-eatingest time of year? That it happens just after everyone has had their fill of cookies and chocolates and has attended multiple holiday get-togethers which involve sitting around eating foods we don't normally eat in quantities that we don't normally consume?

The holidays make the promise of a change in the new year seem less arbitrary, especially for people in Alaska and other cold, dark locales. Most people I know don't need to make self-improvement vows during the month of July. It's summer! We're super active. We're biking and hiking, running and paddling. We don't need to diet. (We might need to clean our houses, though.) Winter is when the body naturally wants to stock up. We want to sit on the sofa and read a book, or watch a movie and eat a bowl of popcorn. The human version of hibernating. At least that's how it sometimes feels. Yet we don't want to feel like sloths when it's time for the flurry of summer. Often I even embrace the winter.

I get outside a few times a week on my bike, skis or snowshoes. Yesterday, with possible freezing rain in the forecast, I opted for indoor workouts: Pilates class in the morning, then I set up my road bike on the stationary trainer and pedaled it for an hour. I've been doing my best to ignore the cookies, chips and chocolate that send their little signals over my wifi: "rose, we're still here." Thanks to the trainer, on Wednesday, it was me: 1; snacks: 0.

In the name of tradition, I will set some goals: I promise to enjoy life and to take good care of myself. I will appreciate the people in my life. I promise to ride bikes often & take time out to look at the world around me. I'll hike. I will try new things, travel new routes. I will gaze at the mountains. I will stop to watch the moose. I will do my best to look positively upon the new year and all it brings.

Thanks for stopping by.