Friday, December 15, 2006

Ski by day, ride by Northern Lights

Date: Dec. 14
Mileage: 25.0
December mileage: 190.1
Temperature upon departure: 30

The afternoon is for skiing at Eagle Beach. The thick crust of old snow holds the sticks to the newly-dusted track, so all there is to do is stab, glide, stab glide, stab. The movement becomes a little tedious after three 2.5-mile loops around a state park, even as distant storms bleed splashes of black over the sky. Geoff seems to think otherwise, especially when he has finally found the perfect wax combination for his Rossignol classics. I ride some No-wax No-names, at about half the speed, and I consider it a triumph if I do not fall flat on my back (Atop a snowshoe-stomped ice patch, I was not so victorious today.)But we move and glide, taste the sweet rot of birch leaves that have somehow escaped the suffocation of snow, and I guess there are Zen moments in here somewhere, somewhere between the boredom and the terror.

We head home in the 2:30 p.m. twilight, and by 3:45 the sky is dark quilt of clouds patched with star-speckled squares of the night sky. I have hardly noticed how early it becomes dark because I work evenings. So the act of settling out for a night bike ride before rush hour traffic has even hit the streets is an unexpected thrill. My LED light illuminates the snow on the shoulder. In the flat light I have no concept of the ruts and ridges, and therefore no obstacles to dodge. I realize I am riding much faster and smoother than I have since the onset of winter. So I burn hard - and sweat hard, because I dressed for a crisp night chill even though 30 degrees is still 30 degrees no matter how dark it is. Quickly, I pedal beyond the subdivisions and the car lot, beyond the mailboxes and the trailer park, out to the old homesteads and cabins, the modified boats, the scattered Christmas lights blinking into the lonely wilderness - until civilization is behind be, and all that's ahead is the end of the road. And so I go there, and don't even notice the sky behind me clearing dramatically, until I turn around.

It is, simply, a moment of instant confusion and awe, the kind in which I'm off my bike and bounding through the knee-deep snow before I even take the time to process what I'm seeing. Across the channel, just beyond the moonlit mountains, I watch sharp streaks of white light slash deep, defined lines through the starry sky. And just to the north are the shimmering green waves that are so unmistakable and yet so elusive - the Aurora Borealis. I have lived in Alaska 15 months now, and never in this state - either by providence or bad luck - have I seen an Aurora so well-defined, even as this one sparkles and fades beyond a patchwork of clouds. And I don't know what to think about it, so I just stand there on the beach, up to my thighs in snow, while red blinky flashes unintentional holiday cheer - and everything becomes so breathlessly inadequate against the cold fusion tearing up the night sky.

And I don't know what to say, so I say "Thank you."


  1. We apparently had a lightshow all the way down to Ga due to a Solar Flare....

    It was too cloudy though here in Indiana to see it! :(

  2. I want to ride through Aurora in the middle of nowhere! Great post.

  3. We had the lights here in Wisco. But I went to bed too early and missed them.


  4. On a camping trip to the coast a couple of years back my dad & I were the last two people into the campground, and as we were setting up the sky turned many shades of red. It wasn't until we got home that we found out it was the Aurora -- completely breathtaking.

  5. I would love to see the Aurora.

  6. Jill!! I saw the aurora here in PA on Thursday night also! It was very dim, but my roommate and I went up on a mountain and could see it.. was a red bowl and some pale green moving streaks. I can't even fathom how amazing it would be to see it bright and colorful. I might have a heart attack the day that happens. :)



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