Saturday, July 24, 2010

that writing life

Last week I received in the mail a copy of Cold Flashes: Literary Snapshots of Alaska (University of Alaska Press). It's a beautiful anthology that includes photos and short pieces of writing, both fiction and non-fiction. And it includes a very short piece I wrote last year for a contest on one of my favorite sites: 49 Writers. Editor, Micheal Engelhard, saw it there, liked it and asked if he could include it in the anthology. I was surprised because I'd written it for fun, stretching my imagination to put together what I thought was a humorous story. Other people thought it was funny too, so now here it is in a book on my coffee table. I pick it up, read a story, enjoy the photos and am honored to be included. It's pretty exciting.

On Thursday morning, I received an email regarding a poem I posted here last October. The editor of a relatively new webzine read it, liked it and wants to use it in his publication. Sometimes blog comments are bogus, but I went to the link to check it out. Riders' Collective celebrates all aspects of cycling: Racing, touring, commuting, riding for fun. The editor, Paul, told me he searches the web for stories. One day he thought "How about some content from Alaska?" He did a search, read through some material (he must be very patient) and liked what he found here on Alaska Bike Girl.

I decided, why not share with a wider audience of readers my own view of the cycling experience? Who knows what it will lead to or who will notice my writing? While there's great satisfaction in knowing that fellow cyclists will read it and think: "yes; that's the experience," there's also the idea that it would be nice to make a bit of a living from my writing.

These editors have given me just the kind of reassurance I need to hear now and then: that something I've written is good enough to be published. The feedback tells me to keep plugging away; that if I keep working on small pieces when I am stuck on a larger puzzle, something may come of it. Because sometimes these little fictions and poems come to me when I'm trying to unlock my writer's block or writer's malaise. They're little byproducts I produce while trying to get back on track. Isn't it nice that they can have lives of their own?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

random moments of awareness

The first day of my bike trip, I was pedaling north on the Prairie Trail in Northern Illinois. The afternoon was warming up after overnight showers. Big, poofy clouds moved through the sky, leaving room for the sun to shine through. The cool of the damp trail and the heat of the air mixed as I rode through it. It felt like a small revolving mass of air, circling me: cool, then warm; cool, then warm. Such a strange sensation, I thought to myself as I pedaled through the surrounding grasslands, watching redwing blackbirds perched on fence posts and stubby trees along either side of the trail. My wheels were stirring things up like big paddle wheels, but I couldn't quite make sense of it at the time.

I stopped where the trail intersected a road, reached down to pick up a scrap of litter. When I stood up, my heart started racing, thumping madly against my chest. I could hear it and see it pushing against my shirt. Just days before the trip, while visiting my doctor for a refill of allergy medicine, he noticed a slight irregularity in my heartbeat when I sat up. Let's do an EKG, just to check it out. The tech hooked me up, ran the machine, removed the clamps and helped me remove the sticky dots. The doctor showed me the printout. It's unusual, he said. Unusual because it's normal, but not normal for someone your age. (Good news delivered strangely. Thanks, Doc.)

I decided I was overheated; had overexerted. That I wasn't acclimated to the Midwest with its heat and humidity. I didn't think at the time about the energy gels I'd slurped down that may have contained caffeine or how little sleep I'd had the night before. I saw a store just down the road. There was no bike rack, so I pushed my bike up the ramp while a woman held the door and asked the owner if it was okay if I brought my bike in. He started to make a fuss and I paused, sweating, heart pounding: I think I'm overheating. He looked at me. Everything I have is on the bike. I was channeling my friend, Sage, insistent that I would not take no for an answer. I leaned the bike against a counter. I was now the only customer in the store. I cooled slightly as I made a loop through the store and bought a Gatorade. I asked where the hotel was, thanked him and left. Outdoors, I drank some of the sports drink before tucking it into my handlebar bag.

I traversed the small town, spotted a place where I wanted to eat, then headed for the hotel. More hydration, aspirin. Showered. My heart was still pounding. I set the alarm and lay down between the cool sheets, dozing off. When I woke, my heart had settled down. I dressed, left the hotel and walked back to the center of town for dinner.

In the early afternoon, I came to an intersection at the center of an unincorporated town. I saw a picnic table outside a small store, but it was in the bright sun. After the heat of the day before, I was being careful. Across the road was a cemetery with fully-grown shade trees, a grassy lawn and two old stone walls framing the entrance. I leaned my bike against a wall, pulled out my leftovers from the night before and sat in the grass.

The pasta and sausage was even better than it was the night before and I ate forkful after forkful. I did remember to not eat too much because I wasn't sure what kind of climbing was ahead. I repacked my pannier and set off. Not five miles up the road, at a four-way intersection, was a bike shop and cafe! I couldn't believe my luck. I could get another spare tube (I'd used one of the tubes I brought earlier in the day), some more gels, a drink that wasn't water. As I stood at the counter talking to a young woman, I felt a sensation. Something creeping down my butt. I stopped mid-sentence and thought: tick! Do you have a restroom?

I walked past the kitchen and its alluring aroma to reach the ladies room. All I could think was how I'd been sitting in the grass in the middle of tick season and now maybe one of those parasites was crawling down my crack (sorry, sensitive readers!) searching for a warm, sweaty place where it could latch on for a feeding! I pulled down my shorts, sat down and started searching: there was no time to lose! I remembered camping with friends and doing "tick checks" after hikes through tall grass. I was on my own now (though I would have been way too shy to ask a friend to help with this kind of tick check). Upon searching, all I came up with was sweat. Beads of sweat creeping from the small of my back, down my backside.

For the paranoid, thinking sweat is a tick would be akin to thinking an old burned-out stump of a tree is a black bear. It probably isn't, but it's best to be sure. I blotted away the sweat and scrubbed my hands well. Note to self: don't sit on inviting grass unless you're willing to go through another panicked tick check. Next time, there may not be this much privacy.

Chipmunks were nearly epidemic along the Glacial-Drumlin rail trail. They appeared to be searching the crushed rock surface for scraps of food, seeds and who knows what else. Sometimes they would be in the center of the trail; sometimes, on the edge. When I got close, they would sense or see me, stop what they were doing and dash off into the ditch. I thought of all the times I'd seen a squirrel dart back and forth on a road, so uncertain as to which direction it should go until, in a frenzy it runs in a knot-like loop then freezes and is left squished on the pavement, a panicked look captured on its now flattened face.

The chipmunk, on the other hand, must be more evolved - or at least the ones along the trail were - as they seemed very decisive about which direction they would need to travel to escape my dangerous, crushing wheels.

Monday, July 19, 2010

week on the trails

No post in a week, Jon mentioned the other night as he visited this site. Indeed, and what a short post it was! It's not as though I haven't been doing anything or haven't been thinking big thoughts or putting those thoughts into words on a page. But a cohesive, well-written post is always my goal. Sometimes things call me away. Last week, those things were mostly outdoors. Sun or clouds. Hike, bike, repeat.

A good week in an Alaska summer is a week where my calendar is filled with notes about all the things I did that weren't chores or commitments. I hope they give me memories which I can arrange into stories for later tellings. Of course, the longer I wait to write about something, the less I remember the smells of the tiny wildflowers in the high country, the chill of the wind through my sweater and the ache in my muscles the next day. How beautiful it all is! Maybe this will suffice:

Last Monday's sunny skies coaxed me out for
my annual pilgrimage to Rabbit Lake.

Where butterflies danced along the warming trail,
rested on aromatic pushki

Puffballs were ready for harvest.
I breathed in their fresh, almost citrus scent,
imagined meals and Jon's delight

that I've joined him in the foraging.

Thursday, we hiked up Wolverine Peak, into the clouds that
sometimes obscured our city below. So near; so far.
And from the peak, below the cloud ceiling,
saw two valleys beyond:
Long Lake and Williwaw Lake.
Were we ravens, we could fly beyond the lakes to wilderness and glaciers.

Mountains, layer upon layer
I can imagine that it is all wild here, high above the city
where the plants have evolved with the wind.

We came upon an invisibleness of ptarmigan;
A hen and seven chicks in their summer plumage.
They scattered and
among the rocks and lichen and

sweet-scented alpine flowers
We descended as the clouds rose to meet us
They felt alive, breathing.

Obscuring paths, valleys and streams, the clouds rose
and we followed our route, passing through the layer of cool mist
To a place where color returned.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

the fargonauts

Four guys in their early twenties riding their bicycles from Anchorage to Portland. What's not to love? I met three of them this spring while I was working at the shop. The fourth is Sam, a guy I worked with for a few summers. Sam: the human beat-box.

I hope you'll visit their site. It looks like they're making the most of it, enjoying the journey & all the people they've met so far. Hopefully they'll stay enthused the entire trip. A great bike tour is one where you don't want to stop when you reach the destination. I know that feeling.

Tailwinds, guys!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

soggy bottom

Jon crossing a snowfield above Devil's Pass Lake.

Earlier this year, my friend Wendy said she wanted to do a race this summer and she wanted to do it as a relay. All she needed were two other riders to fill out the team for the 100-mile Soggy Bottom. (You see where this is going...) For some reason I must have said "yes." Or maybe I said something like: "that would be fun" or "I've thought about doing that." Well, Wendy has more initiative than I, and pretty soon I was committed to being on the team. Just a couple weeks ago, she told me she'd found our third team member. Now it's a go. I'm doing the Soggy.

I told her the leg I preferred is the final stretch covering just over 30 miles from the Devil's Creek Trailhead to Hope. I biked the route last year over the Fourth of July weekend with my friend Jo-Ann. It was a leisurely ride with plenty of breaks to snack, hang out in the sun and look at the wildflowers. This past weekend, I did the ride with Jon.

Rain was spitting as we drove to the trailhead. I wore knickers and started the ride with a jacket layered over a wool baselayer and jersey. I brought other warm gear as well. The descent at the beginning of the ride chilled me but I knew I'd warm up when I started to climb. A few switchbacks later and I was looking at my first unobstructed view up the valley. Clouds hung low in the mid-afternoon. Sprinkles dotted my riding glasses. These are conditions we expect later in the season, such as during the Soggy, rather than on the first weekend of July. I guess I've been spoiled the last couple of years...
Feeling pretty good!

Jon and I continued toward the pass, through creek crossings that ran deep and cold with spring runoff. Across snow fields that reached down from the high slopes into the valley. Through splattering mud; through rock fields. We passed some hikers and a couple dogs. The trail climbed and dipped, then climbed some more as we made our way up to the first pass. Wind blew, cooling us, so we didn't hang around for very long. We met two cyclists who gave us a trail report: It would get better when we got onto the other trail. First, there would be more snow to cross.

We pedaled between two small lakes nestled in the bottom of the valley. Last year, according to Jon, the lake water was warm enough for a swim. This year, our toes were chilled from the snowfields and creek crossings. My thoughts turned to the sauna in Hope...
May I just say that the cycling bolero is a wonderful
little invention? Sleeves that also cover the shoulders.
I was mighty happy I brought this - and it takes up so little room!

About 20 miles to go...
Jon, why are the fenders still in the car?

We turned north onto Resurrection Trail, where a thin, slick layer of mud on a relatively new section of trail made the turning climb a bit of a challenge. Then we pedaled more of the rolling trail to Resurrection Pass, with a tailwind to help us along. After a sandwich break, we continued north where we met our friend, Art, who would shuttle our car back to his cabin in Hope. He was completely dry with nary a speck of mud on his legs!
Wearing nearly everything I packed, even my ear band!

I kept thinking about the conditions. About my condition. Whether, during the race, I'll be able to get to Hope before darkness falls. I thought about how much time it will take each rider to pedal her leg; how much time it will take me. I admit, I'm not that fast. I normally ride at a comfortable pace; not overly slow or particularly fast on the climbs. But I don't give up either. Considering there were a few places - not many - where I had to dismount and walk; a few stops for photos or snacks, or to remove or add a layer of clothing; I still did the ride in under six hours. It's a month out and I know I can pick up my pace just a bit. I'll be able to ride more of the trail which will be clear of snow; I won't stop to chat. To be on the safe side, I'll carry a headlight. I'll hope for not too much rain in the days leading up to the race.

I now feel more mentally prepared for the trail than I did a week ago, but knowing I'll have to train in order to ramp it up even a little just goes counter to my personality. I don't have a racer's drive. I'm more inclined to stop and gaze at flowers and the views than at a heart-rate monitor. And while I love mountain biking, I'm not in it just to see how fast I can go. On Saturday, I remembered once again why I love to ride here: because biking can take me to some of the most beautiful places on the Kenai: the wide-open high areas of Resurrection and Devil's passes. I could hang out there all day. But in a race, that's not quite the idea. For this ride, I'll have to push myself and save the viewing for another day.
Looking southwest on the Resurrection
Trail, just after Devil's Pass junction.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

johnson pass

June 30
First ride on the Kenai
Dry trail until
avalanche fields.
and another
melt water running down the trail

Riding from lush greenery
into the remnants of winter
strewn with moss and shale
branches and dirt
snow reflecting
sun and clouds.
Trees, torn apart.

Back to summer
a gull
a bald eagle
a porcupine

A creek crossing
a hill climb
wet feet
dinging bell
squawking brakes
I watch my line and descend.