Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Yukon Ho!

Date: Aug. 13
Mileage: 21.1
August mileage: 315.1
Temperature upon departure: 68
Inches of rain: 0"

"But if something hurts so much, how can it be enjoyable? At the point where physical stress begins to take you beyond what you imagine to be endurable, you enter new territory of understanding, an expanded psychological landscape. ... The pleasure comes when you grasp just what has happened inside your head and spirit. It doesn’t stop when the bike stops, when you reach the top of the col or peel off at the end of the ride, so tired you can hardly think or stand straight. That’s where the pleasure begins. The self-knowledge."

I took Roadie out for a short test spin this morning (Yes, I really did wear that T-shirt and those socks. I really am turning into my father.) I was planning to weigh the bike before the trip. But as I huffed and puffed and hoisted it up the stairs, I thought better of it. I don't want that number spinning through my head as I'm chugging up a 3,500-foot pass tomorrow. In cases like that, ignorance is about as close to bliss as I'm going to get.

The first few seconds on a loaded bicycle are always a scary experience for me. I feel like I'm going to tip and tumble and I wonder how I'm ever going to pilot the thing one mile, let alone 100 miles or 1,000 miles. But once the tires get rolling, I find my balance and almost forget about all that extra weight ... until the first hill, that is.

Eight hours from now, I'm going to leave on my trip around the Golden Circle. I don't know what I'm going to tell the people at Canadian customs. That I'm going to be back in Alaska in 48 hours? They'll never buy it. They'll tell me it can't be done. Maybe it can't be done (by me.) Or maybe it will be frighteningly easy. Most likely, the effort will fall somewhere in between ... full of that phantom fatigue that burns behind your eyes when all there is to see is endless miles of raw, uncaring beauty.

I don't have any expectations for myself but to finish; I don't have anything to do out there but ride. If only life could be as simple as the road. And yet, I fully expect to suffer in kind. A road with no forks means there is no escape; and, not unlike life, its unrelenting pull only goes one direction.

I wonder if the Canadian customs agents will ask me the omnipresent question ... Why? As in, "Why would you try to bike to Skagway in two days, when you could just do it in nine - with vehicle support, and smoked salmon for lunch, and a place to lay down for the night where you will not have to shiver yourself to sleep?" It's a good question that ripples across most aspects of modern life. This ride does not need to be hard. I make it artificially hard. I seek out the suffering. I do not know whether I do so because there is something missing in my life, or because there is something to gain. It may be a little of both.

I can not visualize the words, but there must be a reason to choose battle over comfort, even when the fight is an entirely selfish one, and there is nothing to gain but a vague notion of self-confidence. Will I earn it? I don't know. Every battle won only leads me deeper into the war.

"Herein lies the heroism of this beautiful sport — the inner revelation that makes the cyclist impervious to ordinary weakness because every ride he has ever made exposes him to that defeatist voice; he has known it, faced it and conquered the fear of it, again and again and again."
- Graeme Fife