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Denali, Mt. McKinley to some

Denali, Mt. McKinley to some

“My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: Riding a bike to the library.”
 –Peter Golkin

I travel without a smart phone. In fact, with the exception of my own organic and home-grown brain, I travel without a smart device of any kind. Oh, I have considered getting a tablet for use on bike tours and for just fooling around with at home. But then I am in a restaurant, a bar, at a picnic or in a state park and I see folks tethered to their electronics, engaging with the screen and ignoring their family, companion, spectacular scenery…well, I’m reluctant to join those ranks.

And so, instead, I go to the library.

Did you know that there are more libraries in the U.S. (thank goodness) than there are McDonald’s or Starbuck’s restaurants? 96% of Americans are served by a local library. This translates into the fact that everywhere so far that I have bike-toured I’ve been able to access my email, use the restroom, find or trade a free paperback, ask directions, update my Facebook page and this blog, get a restaurant or campground recommendation from a local–well, you get the picture.

Instead of querying Siri I am of necessity approaching a friendly face, excited by the possibility of making a new friend. This, for me, is almost the entire point of travelling by bicycle in the first place. If for some it is all about the journey, for me it is all about the folks I meet along the journey; down the Mississippi, riding Fairbanks to Anchorage, my life in general. Cycle touring is by its very nature a rather solitary pastime, even when you do it with friends. We all ride at a different pace, and there are few places where it’s really safe or considerate to ride two abreast. On long tours I usually go hours at a stretch without much interaction with my fellow travellers.

Thank you, local governments, for the havens that are your libraries.

The library in Nenana, Alaska

The library in Nenana, Alaska

Case in point, the library at Nenana. Sharry and I were riding, both with colds that were rapidly becoming worse, from Fairbanks to Wasilla. Our first day was 53.6 miles of uphill, 90 degree misery. It should come as no surprise that we decided to recover for an extra day at the Nenana RV Park. At breakfast I inquired about a library–truly, I did not expect one. Nenana is a town of only 400 people, and is isolated by nearly deserted highway for 60 miles in each direction. The town itself is peppered with boarded up buildings, and I don’t think there has been anything new built there for decades. The very streets were barren of cars, kids, dogs or any other signs of life–but for a lone raven, playing with a bit of tar paper that had come unstuck from an adjacent roof.

But YES, there was indeed a library, and it opened up at 11:00! The prospect of lonely hours to idle away while we coughed, wheezed  and sneezed in the tent receded into the distance, and our gloom lifted. There was indeed a book exchange, there were indeed friendly faces, and in looking at my email, I found happy news about a job I’d applied for.

It was a long, hard, hot and hilly  ride to get there, but bicycling to the library is one of my favorite activities, too.

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This morning's ride is cancelled...

This morning’s ride is cancelled…

“Bikes are a right livelihood.”

–Scot Nicol, founder of Ibis Cycles

For several years I have dreamed of making my living, somehow, in an activity that relates to cycling. Aside from applying for every position I am even remotely qualified for with Adventure Cycling, I have not really done much to make this dream a reality. For Adventure Cycling, I would be willing to uproot myself from decades in Alaska, haul the detritus of all that time to Missoula, and once again begin to build community. And believe me, I know to the bone just how wrenching that uprooting and rebuilding process is.

Robin Bylenga, my hero!

Robin Bylenga, my hero!

If I wanted once again to be my own boss, own a business, work my sit-bones off, there is always a bike-related opportunity. There is a whole crop of new, woman-owned bike shops springing up in the Lower 48, and Pedal Chic’s Robin Bylenga really epitomizes why they are successful. Women are woefully under represented in the cycling community. I won’t patronize a shop where the mostly male employees look at my short little cylindrical self and automatically steer me to a trike or cruiser. I know more than one woman who is so intimidated by the steel-calved, Lycra-clad image of cycling that she won’t even consider a bicycle as an addition to her gym membership. Bylenga is changing that, one lavender two-wheeler and stylish helmet at a time.

I believe cycling is a natural for women, where the camaraderie, the deep support and encouragement traditional in the biking community is just waiting for our embrace. When we make it our own, we really can have it all–on the bike path with orange cruiserthe 5  year old on training wheels and the baby in the trailer; in the triathlon with the new orange Schwinn Mother’s Day gift; screaming along the Woman Tours Southern Tier ride with a mag tailwind and a huge grin.

Enduring this tortuously delayed spring in Alaska I dream of acquiring a CyclePub and going into partnership with Arkose Brewery  here in Palmer. Or modifying my old knobby-tired rambler as an Ice Cream Bike, which might actually be self-defeating, since I would probably eat up all the profits. As I sit writing this, on May 18, I stare out at the freshly fallen three inches of snow, with “Jingle Bells” grinding an inescapable loop through my brain. Missoula is looking better and better every flake that falls.

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“I feel that I am entitled to my share of lightheartedness and there
is nothing wrong with enjoying one’s self simply, like a boy.”
–Leo Tolstoy, on learning to ride a bicycle at age 67

I doubt this is Tolstoy, though he looks 67...

I doubt this is Tolstoy, though he looks 67…

Entitled to lightheartedness, to enjoying one’s self like a child…I like Tolstoy’s sense of entitlement. There has been a lot of talk of “entitlement” in the news lately, and none of it is lighthearted or joyful. Perhaps it is because of the delayed spring-both seasonal and political-that we have had lately.  This has been America’s winter of discontent, of malcontents, of contentiousness. (Gotta love those Latin root words…)

Entitled to lightheartedness. That is the takeaway phrase from Mr. Tolstoy’s quote. A difficult frame of mind to maintain through the necessity of work, the vicissitudes of spring weather in Alaska, the relentless barrage of the 24-hour news cycle. Cycle…hmmm. Sounds like a great idea to me.

I think I’ll go just now and refresh my sense of entitlement. See ya!

Good mood

 

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“It is the unknown around the corner that turns my wheels.”
Heinz Stucke, on the road touring since 1962

When I read this quote by the most amazing cycle-traveller in the world, I was immediately transported back to 1965, when, lying in my bed at night I would listen to the radio til I fell asleep. Petula Clark’s Round Every Corner infused me with a sense of adventure, restlessness, and hope. Being only 14 however, I could not figure out just what to do with that inspiration.

These many years later I realize that I have actually lived much of my life inspired by the desire to see what’s around those corners. I interrupted college  to fly off to Lake Tahoe with a highschool friend; I’d never been more than 150 miles from my hometown before then. I bought my first car and drove across the U.S.–twice! I moved to Alaska–my god, ALASKA!–which my parents are still trying to fathom.

My husband didn’t have to try very hard to get me to subscribe to his philosophy of “Let’s Leave Tonight”, a wholehearted embracing of the spontaneous. We’ve never been big into planning, which has its own pitfalls. But we’ve managed to have some mighty good times  by doing the unexpected, the unplanned. Our favorite Mexican vacation is to fly into our destination without a hotel reservation, then explore the Zona Touristico for a little family owned, Spanish-only posada to settle into. Our best road trips, by bike or car, involve the unexpected connections we’ve made by exploring around those corners, being open to the cosmic Possible.

Heinz and Petula have it dead right. “What’s the use in cryin? Happiness is lyin’ ’round every corner!” Let’s leave tonight.

Let's Go!

Let’s Go!

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Carol, who called me Saturday from the local bike shop, Backcountry Bike  and Ski did so to ask me my considered opinion about mountain bikes. Her grandson was in the market for a new bike.  Backcountry was having a 20% off sale on last year’s models and Carol inquired about what I would recommend.

Now, I am not the one to ask, and I told her so. “I trust the staff there at the shop completely” I told her. “Follow their advice. If they don’t have what he needs, they’ll tell him so.” As soon as I hung up, I uncovered the super-secret cash stash I had squirreled away and hot-footed it down to the  shop.

Last summer I had participated in the first women’s mountain biking clinic offered by Erin, the shop’s only female employee. Even though I had injured myself the first time out, the fire was lit, and I yearned for my very own bike that fit only me. I’d been using Tom’s second bike, and while it had been fine for gravel roads, it proved to be too unwieldy for me on steep uphills and single-track.

Sharry's pal, Pali

Sharry’s pal, Pali

Last fall, after my knee healed for the most part, I’d ridden the Jim Creek trail with Sharry and her new bike, Pali. That muddy ATV track proved to me that I needed more instruction, and a steed that was proportioned for someone only 5’1″. I’d been mulling and mumbling and gnawing on the subject for months. Carol’s call was the catalyst I needed to finally take action.

And voila! With Erin’s invaluable help and Tom’s complete support (“It’s your money–spend whatever you need to feel comfortable!”) I am now paired with something that fits like it was made for me. Now, if the snow would only melt faster…

MY new pal!

MY new pal!

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“I shall be telling this with a sigh somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I– I took the one less traveled
by, and that has made all the difference.”
–Robert Frost

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Robert Frost was one of my favorite poets in high school, which is about the only time I’ve read much poetry. I know–he’s a bit sentimental, a little old-fashioned, very mainstream and structured. Still, I loved him when I was 16 because I was those things myself; though I certainly saw myself, then, as more the “road less traveled” type.

The only other poetry I have read recently has been those things posted by my friend and writer extraordinaire Colleen Friesen. She clearly reads a lot, and reads poetry, among many other types of writing. (I won’t say “literature”, because her tastes seem  more eclectic than what commonly falls into that rather narrow category.)

I’ve resolved to do a bit more writing myself, but find myself a little less than disciplined. I am a mentally avid cyclist who finds herself marooned for six months in the land of ice and snow. Every two weeks Bike Bits, the online newsletter of the Adventure Cycling Association, arrives in my mailbox and taunts me with tales of round-the-world travelers, fund-raising rides, interesting artwork composed of bike parts–you get the picture. Prefacing each issue is a quote, usually bike- or travel-related, that kind of sets the tone for the issue. I’ve determined to take that as my structure, my inspiration, my timetable. Every two weeks at a minimum I will try to post to this blog.

So, I limbered up the old Google and read the poem entirely through, for the first time in way too many years. Frost’s point, so poignant, about wanting to travel both roads through the yellow wood, brought to mind all those choices I’ve made that have closed off other paths. Though I am content, for the most part, with the roads I’ve taken, still there is that sigh of wistfulness for avenues that might have been. And many times I have said to myself “I can come back to that–I’ll do that another day”, but opportunity doesn’t arise anew, I never quite come upon that not-chosen path again. “…way leads on to way…”, and I’m left with memories of the long and satisfying journey, blemished only by a hazy yearning for more.

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“Riding trails with your dog restores a bond lost in some evolutionary
belch. You travel at the same speed, over the same terrain, neither of
you slowing to compensate for the other. You’re equal playmates with
mud in your teeth.”
–Allison Glock

I’ve been thinking lately about just how lazy I have been about updating this blog. Many reasons occur, none of them able to stand up to any real scrutiny. Then, like an arrow from the Muse, I get my bi-weekly Bike Bits newsletter from Adventure Cycling. Lightbulb; each issue they begin with a cycling-related quote. So will I do also, and see where it leads me. Therefore, this view from the seat of my bicycle.

Faithful Companion

Faithful Companion

Roxie was the fastest dog that my husband and I have ever had. Tom swore she was part greyhound, and not just because she could run. Billed as a full-blooded Labrador when we got her as a pup, she grew up a long-legged beauty with absolutely no use for her nose. You know how, if you’re riding in the car with your retriever, and you roll down the window-even a little bit-the dog will be in Heaven? Not our girl. She insisted on sticking her head right between us, peering out the windshield, intent on whatever it was she thought we were chasing. You couldn’t make her lie down in the back; you would think she was lying on a bed of nails, whining and yipping and generally embodying misery, her own and ours. But boy, did she like to run. Did I mention she could really run?

So, the quote above really brought back memories. I started taking Roxie out with me on the bike path in Valdez when she was just less than a year old. She was far too young to run with the bike, especially since I always wanted to ride the whole 14-mile round trip. So instead, I donned my in-line skates, and away we went. At first she was on the leash-after all, she was young, and not completely voice-trained yet. I worried that she’d be forever tripping me up, questing back and forth across the path, following her nose. She soon proved that was simply not in her repertoire. And she was very smart-it took only one instance of rolling over her toes before she kept completely out of my way.

When I finally felt she was ready to accompany me on the bike, I bought one of those spring-loaded leash holders, the kind that mounts on the seat post or chainstay. Mistake. Have I mentioned that Tom taught her to skijor the winter before? First time out on the bike she must have thought we were just going on a faster, warmer pulling adventure. We both did some major freaking out. All told, we fared much better with a length of rope; I could steer with one hand and hold the rope in the other, and she learned not to get too far ahead. As I said, smart girl.

With both the skates and the bike Roxie and I eventually graduated to untethered travel. Man, would we fly down the bike path, both of us grinning, the wind in our ears and our tongues lolling! She kept one eye out, getting to the other side of the path when I pointed, heeling when we encountered other traffic and blasting through the ponds and wet spots along the entire length of the trail. She was a tireless and uncomplaining companion, a treasured playmate when I went solo on the trail. We’d ride the out-and-back in about an hour. Once home, after a drink of water and a quick nap she’d be back at the door, begging for a repeat.

Boy did she like to run.

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