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.