Wednesday, May 30, 2007

10-month itch

Date: May 28
Mileage: 21.1
May mileage: 154.5
Temperature upon departure: 51

In April 2003, I moved out of my college student commune and into an extended period of homelessness, some of which I had only my bike and whatever I could carry on that bike. Since I returned to the real world, I've never lived in one place longer than 10 months. In fact, all of my moves - Tooele, Utah; Idaho Falls, Idaho; Homer, Alaska - have all been spaced between 10 and 11 months apart. I didn't plan it that way. It's just eerie how life progresses.

I moved to Juneau 10 months ago. After a short period of homelessness during my first weeks here, I was certain the move would become very temporary. I don't think I would have guessed that this rainy, isolated, rainy, expensive, rainy place might go on to become my most prolonged post-college home.

There is enough not to like about living in Juneau. Unless I land a job bribing state legislators, I don't think I will ever be able to afford a home (or condo ... or single-wide trailer) here. There is nowhere to throw away a car. There are less than 100 miles of paved public road on which to ride a bike; and about one quarter that amount of bikeable trails ... and it's arguable that none of the roads or trails are actually "bikeable." After all that, there's no need to even consider the annual 90 inches of rain. People in Juneau forget what it's like to not be soaked.

But at the same time, there is a lot to like about living in Juneau. And it is so easy to forget after 10 months of domestic living on the outskirts of society. I rode my bike out to North Douglas yesterday, thoughts lost in the rotation of things I needed to do later that day ... grocery store ... pay some bills ... write an e-mail to my grandmother ... have all those pages to make at work ... grocery store ...

I reached my destination at False Outer Point, a campground where people set out on foot to fish from shore. The entire stretch of road was mobbed by parked cars; the shoreline infested with Memorial Day fishermen; the channel choked with boats that had launched just a mile down the road and anchored mere feet from each other, all apparently competing for the same salmon. After a winter of relative peace, I found all of the human traffic to be suffocating. I grimaced and motioned to turn around without even stopping when I caught a glimpse of a tour group filing out of a bus. And old woman that looked to be 80 or 90 clasped the arm of a middle-aged woman, her yellow blouse and bright red floral skirt whipping in the wind. I stopped on the other side of the road and watched them walk slowly together to the overlook - a simple sea-level view of a narrow channel and the snow-capped mountains of the mainland. The middle-aged woman reached in her purse to pull out a camera. The old woman, freed from her companion's grasp, suddenly lifted her arms into the air. Just like that ... those frail, skinny arms, framed in flapping yellow fabric, stretched toward the sky like a soloist in the Hallelujah chorus. I looked at her, and then I looked at what she was looking at, awestruck.

I moved on without thanking her, though I wished I had ... for allowing me, for a moment, to see my world through her eyes.


  1. re: "The old woman, freed .....I looked at her, and then I looked at what she was looking at, awestruck."

    You painted a lovely scene

  2. Hi Jill,
    I have been a fan of your blog for about two months. You have inspired me to get up and try the bike again. I have not been on a bike in 12 years (been having babies). Just reading about your experiences and adventures brings out an inner drive to ride and run again. So Thanks!

    Your post today moved me to tears, don't we all get in the rut of everyday. Your taking that moment to see the world through the eyes of that elderly woman was priceless. Thanks again!

  3. ...this rainy, isolated, rainy, expensive, rainy place...

    I guess you've noticed it's been raining! We(very rarely) have had summers or periods in which we were hoping it would rain - hard to believe I know.

    A very touching post, some of the visitors (especially from the Midwest) have dreamed and waited all their lives to come to Alaska to experience what so many of us here tend to take for granted.

    David Kent

  4. Once while I lived in Alaska my good friends came for a visit. We began in Anchorage, drove to Denali, Fairbanks, and then down the Richardson Highway toward Valdez, taking it all in. Finally, as we neared Valdez, I stopped one last time in Keystone Canyon to show them Bridal Veil and Horsetail falls. She (I'll call her "G") suddenly began clapping, and I saw her start to tear up. I asked her if she was okay. "Yes, it's all just so... beautiful, I feel like I need to applaud nature."

  5. Very moving post. You're an awesome writer.

  6. Yes, your writing is beautiful. Your back drop is gorgeous and the pictures wrap them up into that "piece of arctic glass" that you let us look in and get a glimpse of your life. Beyond words.....

  7. Thanks, guys. It was one of those things that moved me at the time, but I didn't really think about why until later. I wish I had walked up to speak with her. There's just so much now that I want to know about her.

    David ... did you know you're my neighbor? I love your Web site. Still check it most every day, even though I don't go outside to ride my bike as often as I used to. Keep up the great weather work!

  8. I loved the story of the woman with her arms up in the air. Very cool!

    Your story reminded me of the time a friend of mine came up from Texas for the first time. She could not get over the mountains which had long become just a part of the view - nothing spectacular to me anymore.

    I was surprised every time that she gasped and ooo'd and awww'd as we drove along. I appreciated her "reopening" my eyes then to the beauty of our mountains here in Alaska.

    I still look at them, think of her and smile.

  9. Guess I should have prefaced it by saying "Hi Neighbor!"

    I've been reading your blog for some time, just haven't commented until now - had to find out about the gal who rides through rain, and snow, and sleet, and rain, and mud, and gravel, and slush, and rain, and wind, and traffic and rain, and... (well you get the idea).

    Sorry to read about the saga of your knee, I've had troubles with my knees since my mid-twenties. Hopefully your knee is on it's way to healing.

    Glad to be of service with the web site!



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