My friend Scott was thinking of organizing another ice ride - this time on Twenty Mile River - for today. When I hadn't heard any firm plans by Sunday evening, I set my alarm and went to bed. This morning, I shot off an email letting him know I'd decided to run an errand (to Pilates class) but would be available after 11.
To make a long story short, I found out when I got home that he and another friend were heading off, meeting around 11. I called both numbers but they were gone. I figured I'd head down and check it out anyway. So, I gathered my gear and headed south, stopping at Huffman for gas. The north wind was biting at my fingers as I tried to get the self-pay machine to work. I wondered to myself why these machines rarely show which direction the magnetic strip should face. I began manually punching in my phone number, then it canceled the transaction because I didn't see the "enter" button.
After going inside to pay and fueling the car, I was cold. I wimped out and decided to not go. Jon had asked me to drop my camera off at the shop after my ride so I stopped in to give it to him. "You should go," he encouraged me. "It's probably not windy there." Though I hate making long drives solo, I was again convinced: I should go. At least check it out. Back in the car, I turned onto the Seward Highway and headed to Twenty Mile.
After Girdwood and just before the road to Portage, I could see people on the ice in the distance. I could catch them. I turned onto a short access road that runs next to the railroad tracks. There were two other cars in the parking lot: Yvonne's and one I didn't know. I geared up, crossed the tracks and headed out, following two sets of tracks. Not knowing the route, I tried riding up a slough, but didn't get far. I turned around and decided I'd follow closer to the river. That's when I noticed my front tire was losing air.
Out in a clearing I looked at the tire. There were several thorns embedded in the soft rubber. I'd picked up a few of these thorns before when I'd done a ride on the mudflats in Anchorage two weeks before. I laid the bike down and pulled out my pump, figuring I'd put in a little air so I could ride out and fix it later. Then I noticed the rear was a little lower than when I'd started riding. I'd made a huge mistake in riding where I should have known I'd pick up thorns. I should have stayed on the river bank or gotten onto the river ice, but since it was my first time there, I hadn't known the route. I started walking my bike. Then I heard a gunshot.
I looked up and yelled. I could see two people standing on the railroad tracks. I guessed one was a guy I'd seen earlier on my outbound trip. Hunting for rabbits, he'd told me. The second guy must have been the friend he'd mentioned. I didn't have time to take any more steps. Another shot rang out. I heard it land in the marsh grass. I didn't have time to panic. Terrified, I began yelling.
I yelled and waved my arms, sure I'd grab their attention in my green jacket and orange mittens. "Stop shooting! Do you see me? Stop!" Suddenly, I was afraid for my life. They must see me. How could they not? Why would they shoot toward me if they see me? Were they trying to scare me? I shouldered my bike and kept walking, then noticed they'd left the tracks. I hiked under the railroad bridge and to the parking lot. There I ran into a friend but told him I had to have words with these two guys.
"Were you the ones shooting?" I asked, recognizing the rabbit hunter. They were. "Didn't you see me out there?" "We saw you." They told me that those bullets hadn't come as close to me as I thought: "you were hearing the echoes," one said. "That was not an echo," I told them, "it was just feet away from me." I replayed in my mind the sound of the bullet sailing past me then hitting something in the grass. "But we were shooting into the ground." I suggested that it had ricocheted off something, like a rock. I didn't have much else to say. They didn't think they'd done anything wrong. If they had, they probably wouldn't have been in the parking lot when I returned.
I should have written down their license plate so I could have reported it - something about this had to be illegal - but I didn't. Instead I wrote a note to put on my friend's windshield so they would know that I'd tried.
It was a beautiful day at Twenty Mile. The sun was shining, there was barely a breath of wind. I didn't do much riding, but I am glad to be alive and unhurt.