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Archive for the ‘winter in Alaska’ Category

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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Easter Snow

If you look closely you can see the falling snowflakes.

I love the spring snow.

It falls kerplop from the sky, fat and wet, and coats everything with a layer of buttercream frosting. It conceals the ugliness of April, the dog poo, road grime and beer cans tossed carelessly into the ditch. My friends, dismayed by Easter snow, curse the sky and go grumbling about their errands. I too have been eyeing my sandals with desire. But today I don my boots and, like a kid at the first of winter, gleefully kick my way down the drive to fetch the paper.

Spring snow doesn’t last and that’s its saving grace, the reason I’m happy to see it. The flakes wet the road, settle the accumulated dust and wash it into the grass thrusting up on the verge. Spring snow is only a shadow of its grimmer self that crowded in all winter, and over-stayed its welcome. Spring snow breezes through in ephemeral beauty and then dances off with the strong, warm sun in an April pas de deux.

Hard, cold evidence of the Easter Bunny.

I look out my window to see the spruce dressed only in their lacy petticoats. The birches are heavy with melt, water dangling in crystal pendants from every red-hued twig. And next to the house, their fresh green poking through new white, the crocus are looking confused. But I know that the crocus will triumph, that their season is ascendant regardless of the unexpected blanketing. The old crumbles and the new springs forth, blooms in glory and then crumbles and dies in turn. Soon enough new snow will fall and remain again. But spring snow is only a tease, concealing, then revealing the season of rebirth.

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Would that I could!

A friend posted this photo on FaceBook today, and I immediately co-opted it for my profile picture. When I filled up my car yesterday evening, I paid $4.26 a gallon. Today I passed a station in Wasilla where regular is $4.32. Believe me, if I could ride my bike to where I need to go these days I would!

I rode outdoors for the first time this season last Monday. In truth, my friend and ofttime bike partner Sharry unknowlingly shamed me into it. She lives in Valdez, the snow capital of the western world, and posted in her own blog that she had ridden that day. She said she was missing me, her partner in misery. In Valdez it was snowing lightly and only about 35 degrees. Farenheit.

So, there was nothing for it but to unhitch the mountain bike from the trainer, pump up her tires, dig out my windproof tights and smart wool turtleneck and slog up the subdivision road in the slush. Once on the main road things were fine, fairly dry and without ice. The potholes were fierce though. It’s pothole season you know; every little blemish in the pavement is full of water, which freezes, expands, breaks away a few more pieces of aggregate each night. Day comes with the traffic, which rolls over those slightly larger, water filled dimples. Water hammer effects force the loose aggregate out of the hole, which refills with water, freezes, expands ad infinitum. Pretty soon you could hide an elephant in it, and four bales of hay to feed it with.

It was glorious to be out there riding, regardless of potholes, wet patches of road, dust and traffic. Here it was about 40 degrees, and at 5:30 was still wonderfully light. I expected to see moose along the way, but was disappointed. Masses of chickadees sang their heads off and the birch twigs glowed red with that special hue they take on at this time of year.

In my route I avoided all but a half mile of the Old Glen Highway, mostly because the bike trail that I normally use is right now impassable, and I knew the highway would be full of impatient commuters anxious to get home for that first beer. I admit to being a bit car shy since being knocked into the gravel while riding in Iowa last October. The mountain bike does not have a mirror, and I could not hear the traffic behind me very well due to the earband I was wearing under my helmet. I almost turned around at the highway junction, just to avoid it. But fuck it! I thought. I am not going to be intimidated, I refuse to let trepidation cripple enjoyment of my favorite activity. The only way to get over being afraid of the horse is to get back on.

And, just as before, people went around me, people slowed down when passing me, people didn’t deliberately run me down, if only because of the hassles with their insurance company. Things were fine, and though I will probably have a few qualms again when I ride on the road, I’ll get over them.

I will.

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Now that we don’t have a dog to do the job, each morning I trudge the winter driveway to retrieve the paper. Lately I’m discovering the snowy equivalent of crop circles–mysterious marks magically materializing each morn. Back indoors, instead of scanning the news I peruse Peterson’s Guide to Animal Tracks, trying to decode a mystery laid out white on white.

Rabbit sign I recognize. A butterscotch bunny lives under our deck, a fugitive from captivity across the street. Each day her fresh tracks stipple the snow that is newly dusted across the porch by evening breeze. My husband says she’s recently been joined by a snowshoe hare, but to me their tracks are indistinguishable. From the looks of the trampled yard they’ve been waltzing together all night.

More mysterious are the small, round, many-toed footprints that hug the bermed edge of the driveway. Cat? Small dog? Fox or marten? Whatever it is shows purpose, for the track is arrow straight and even-footed. There is no hurry, no deviation, no snuffling nose prints or sideways leaps of startlement; they suggest a critter on a mission, coursing relentlessly across my property, over a snowdrift and into the wooded distance.

My neighborhood is a marriage of suburban and rural. Most folks have let the birch woods encroach close upon their homes, but lilac and bird cherry are thick on the lawns. Not half a mile away the Jim Creek Trail cuts its narrow rutted way to Mud Lake. Behind this, cliff-hung and stern, rises Byers Peak. All these, the source of our alien visitors.

One morning, in search of my daily dose of the world, I came across a fresh mystery. I’d been following the rabbit’s crisp prints in new snow. She had apparently been in no hurry. Suddenly, as if dropped from the sky, a set of large canine prints appeared, paralleling the rabbit’s track. About five steps further I found what appeared to be evidence of a skirmish; an odd circular mark, looking as if created by an abrupt reversal in direction. There were no signs of mayhem however; no blood, no bits of fur, no change in the canine prints, nor even a sudden end to the rabbit’s. It simply looked as if the bunny had performed a quick, unplanned pirouette, and then calmly continued across the street in search of breakfast.

Crop circle weird.

One reason I pay attention to tracks is that they remind me of silent movies—they are stories told without benefit of an important element, and often the viewer can only guess hazily at the true plot. Imagination is crucial to unraveling meaning, and one must be adept at identifying the players by sight alone.

I admit that this particular story left me baffled. What tale did those markings tell? Did the rabbit even create that imprint? Her crisp footprints never hinted at panic or speed. And where did the dog—or perhaps coyote—appear from? I discovered no marks in the deeper snow of the yard that led to the sudden tracks on the drive. Could a bird have created that mysterious gouge? I’ve seen raven and owl landings in deep snow; a circular hollow surrounded by feathery finger-like parentheses. This looked nothing like those marks.

Here was a tale inscribed in a foreign language, a confirmation that other creatures than I call this place home. There are alien beings out there who write in characters I can only imperfectly decipher while leading lives mostly hidden from my view. But these creatures understand the script perfectly; the stage is set, and their stories play out beneath the silent trees. Only new snow in the dawn reveals that they were ever here.

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Looking out my front door today at 2 p.m.

Winter’s always a little hard for me. OK, let’s be honest–winter is always a LOT hard for me unless I get out and walk or ski in the weak, low sunshine almost every day. So, quite often, that makes it hard for me to read my friend Sharry’s blog .

Sharry writes often about her outdoor doings. She bikes, skis, snowshoes, snowmachines, runs, walks–well, you get the picture. And she lives in a small town in Alaska, the snow capital of the world, and still manages to do these things, mostly without requiring an exercise partner to boot her butt into the activity. I admit right here, publicly and up front, that I am jealous of her ability to motivate herself.

Sharry's world-famous moose impression

Oh, I have my excuses. Don’t we all? I don’t have anyone to go with and it’s so lonesome /boring/ perilous (take your pick) getting out by myself. I can’t go today–it’s too cold/dark/windy/slippery (again, your choice). And so I find myself in a downward spiral of motivation. The less I go out and get sun and exercise, the less motivation I have to do so, the less energy I have, ad nauseam. Clearly I need someone to boot my substantial butt into activity!

I’m not a big maker of new year’s resolutions. I do think about my current situation towards the end of the year, and I note things that I’d like to change, do or become, but I don’t write a list, and I don’t proclaim publicly or privately that I have resolved to do such-and-such. I have joined a women’s exercise group this past week however. I figure it can’t hurt to widen my circle of acquaintance, nor to feel obliged to show up at the gathering and lift weights or walk with these women.

I was feeling a little smug with this group on the first day. I am probably the youngest, and probably have been the most active over the past year. The weight training exercises were really simple, slow and easy, and I wondered to myself how long I would be content to be in such a beginner group. Until the next day; it seems the chair squats took their toll on these legs that had not straddled a bicycle for nearly three months. As they say, pride goeth…

I’m glad to get out in the fresh air. I’m very happy to be meeting new people, doing new things. I really want to find a friend who is willing to drag me out skiing, willing to ride Bodenburg Loop with me, willing to bring the newbie with her when she goes mountain bike riding. I doubt I will find that person at this weight training group, but who knows?

I know for sure I won’t find her sitting at home in front of the wood stove.

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