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Breathing Deep

In all my life I have never lived in a town that smelled so good in the spring. Now, granted, I’ve lived the past 40 years in the winter capital of the world–Alaska. There, after the snow melts and the dirt starts to thaw it smells of rotted grass and dogs’ calling cards. Sure, after the cottonwoods start to bud out the air turns sweet again. And in the small towns I’ve called home you can’t get air any fresher or less polluted with car exhaust or coal smoke. But still.

They don’t call Missoula the Garden City for nothing.

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For the first sixteen miles my teeth were cold, cold enough to make them ache a bit. But that small pain could not wipe the smile off my face, even as that smile caused the pain. Spinning along the road in the 45 degree sunniness, cold teeth were simply a byproduct of  my cycling happiness.

The road is flat, or nearly so, from Missoula out to the tiny hamlet of Clinton. Our turnaround point is really just a Conoco station along I-90, famed among the bike club members for its hot coffee, fried chicken and corn dogs–all satisfyingly greasy fuel for the self-propelled.

Riding out with a dozen other Missoulians on Bikes I had taken my accustomed position, at the rear of the pack. The gracious ride leader John, who “sweeped” me along, entertained me with stories from his 37 years in my new home town. The conversation included–as so many of my recent ones have–a common Alaska connection. He told me of riding the train from Fairbanks to Denali to Talkeetna; I regaled him with stories of bringing cruise ship guests up from Whittier on that same conveyance. We agreed that late May is the perfect time to visit–no bugs, few tourists, great weather.

I thought to myself, “those sessions at the gym are really paying off!”, as I whirred along at 16 miles an hour. Then we reached Clinton. And standing outside, stretching and having a snack with the group I became aware of the breeze. From the back. Unless I was facing towards Missoula; then it was coming from the front.

“This can’t be right” I thought to myself in confusion. “Sharry’s not here with me. How is it we have a headwind?”

For the last sixteen miles my teeth were cold, and again they ached a bit. This time it was from grinding in frustration and grimacing in pain. It turns out that the road from Clinton to Missoula is NOT flat, not even relatively so, at least not if you’re bucking a headwind. What took a joyous hour going out consumed more than twice that coming in. But. Still.

What’s that saying? A bad day of fishing beats a great day of working? Yeah, just substitute the activity. Today’s cold teeth were just fine, regardless the cause.

Making a New Home

We arrived in Missoula on November 13, just  when we’d planned, and with no breakdowns or collisions with wildlife on the lonely, snowy road from Alaska. We came with the clothes on our backs and what could fit into our modern equivalent of the Conestoga wagon…skis and snowshoes, bikes, computer, a few treasured photos and 12 cases of smoked salmon. The essentials.

I KNOW I can get one more case of salmon in there somewhere!

I KNOW I can get one more case of salmon in there somewhere!

A spritz at the carwash and they'll be raring to go!

A spritz at the car wash and they’ll be raring to go!

Within a week we were in a new place–barren but with lots of potential for becoming a home.

But, what do I sit on?

But, what do I sit on?

Oh yeah, we brought the camp chairs!

Oh yeah, we brought the camp chairs!

Stock up on the essentials first...

Stock up on the essentials first…

Much to our delight we found that the thrift shops here are treasure troves, not junk shops. 

Finally-enough seating that we can have a party!

Finally, enough seating that we can have a party!

It's all coming together at last.

It’s all coming together.

Tom is in his kitchen and all is right with the world.

Tom is in his kitchen and all is right with the world.

Yes. Home at last.

Thankful for Non-Events!

Nothing happened.

That’s the best news a winter traveler can, with thankfulness, convey. No flat tires; no blown head gasket; no unexpected encounters with Ice-Age-looking bison standing on the dark highway.

This big boy hardly even looked at us, pulled over beside him for a picture.

This big boy hardly even looked at us, pulled over beside him for a picture.

Driving the 2638 miles from Palmer to Valdez to Missoula, Montana we suffered nothing more than a few too-many-miles-in-the-car arguments and a little sticker shock at both the gas prices in Canada and the low mpgs my poor little overloaded Camry got. After a wonderful gathering in Valdez at Sharry and Thane’s house to say goodbye to dear friends, we motored out on the great adventure, just hours ahead of a wet and sloppy 29 inch snowfall. And our luck held all the way to Montana and beyond–just today it is snowing a little bit in the hills around Missoula. Just enough to wet the roads and wash some of the dust off my trusty steeds.

A spritz at the carwash and they'll be raring to go!

A spritz at the carwash and they’ll be raring to go!

We have a couple of great leads on a place to live. We have met Darrah, Lydia, Mike and Arlen, my co-workers at Adventure Cycling. We have a wonderful home-cooked meal already under our belts thanks to Shawn, and an invitation for chili and dominoes at another new friend’s home tonight.

Nothing happened. But stay tuned!

Watson Lake

Watson Lake

Elk near Toad River

Elk near Toad River

They WON'T get off the salty road!

They WON’T get off the salty road!

This young man was encountered between Liard Hot Springs and Dawson Creek--in November!

This young man was encountered between Liard Hot Springs and Dawson Creek–in November!

Dream Job Redux

The very picture of happiness

The very picture of happiness

You know how it is, when you wish and work and wrangle for something you are convinced is your heart’s desire? Your positive thoughts, like an arrow, shoot straight from your heart to that all-consuming objective. Swoosh–miss; swoosh–grazed it! Swoosh–SMACK–bullseye! Snoopy-like dance of joy with ears in the air and a fat grin, whoop of exultation and a rush of adrenaline. On October 30 I got the telephone call that set me to dancing, that is changing my life.

Perhaps you read, a few months ago, about my Dream Job? It’s official; I am moving to Missoula and joining the amazing group of folks at Adventure Cycling Association, as part of the Tours Department team. The company offers more than 80 bicycle tours in 2014. I will join Arlen, Darrah, Lydia and Mike, shepherding these trips from Advertising copy to Zeroing out the last of the invoices. (I know, that was a real stretch…) I have a company email address and some business cards waiting for me–it must be true! I am beyond excited.

But one should always be careful about what one wishes for. Since the reality hit home I have been vacillating between “Wahoo!” and “What was I thinking?” The former is self-explanatory. The latter is a result of saying so long to family and friends-adopted-as-family; of the triage required to select what comes with me right now; of the madcap dash to winterize and button up the house. The over-arching mood is one of joy and excitement, but mixed in with all my hurrahs are the “darn, I’ll miss them” and “wow, I never did climb the Butte” wistfulness. In other words, a mixed bag, just like all of life tends to be. Not unalloyed joy, but joy, nonetheless.

And so I ask you friends to think positive thoughts for our journey of 2500 miles; maybe your concerted will can hold the snow at bay and prevent icy roads or buffalo collisions. No harm in trying, anyway. Wish me luck! Dream job, here I come.

It all has to go in here...

It all has to go in here…

Fall

Highbush cranberry

Highbush cranberry

I had a dog who smelled like this when he was wet. Not completely unpleasant; the iconic fragrance of Alaska autumn.

Iconic, because the odor is wild; tangily sweet-tart, musky, a little doggish. It smells red. I envision the bears feasting, the ptarmigan and their offspring gorging, the kuspuk-and-raingear clad women braving wind and wet to bring home a harvest of these fat, succulent packets of concentrated vitamin C.

It is the overriding aroma of my cycling forays at this time of year. Especially on sunny days the crisp air is pungent with highbush cranberry and wet, decaying leaves, that winey fall essence of change. In the year’s dying I am energized, deeply alive to the wild beauty that is my privilege to call home.

I ride.

I breathe.

I smile.

Home...

Home…

Four Months

First snow 9-23-2013 (4)

Global Warming, Global Schwarming–I’m freezing my @ss off!

I had the window open last night for the fresh, cold air that I love to sleep in. As I gradually awoke at about 7:30, cozily tucked in under the down comforter and cuddled up to Tom, my eyes suddenly flew open in a panic. I knew immediately what that eerily quiet, muffled not-noise meant.

Snow.

127 days without snow. May 18th I awoke to daffodils buried in three inches of the stuff; today my beets, leeks, herbs and gladioli suffer the same fate. For heaven’s sake, the leaves haven’t even started to properly fall yet.

Well, perhaps I won’t have to mow the lawn again after all.

First snow 9-23-2013

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