Wednesday, March 19, 2008

March already

Date: March 18
Mileage: 19.3
March mileage: 194.5
Temperature: 37

I stopped for a break at the edge of Sheep Creek, uncomfortably aware of the passing of time.

Strange that it's not only already March; it's nearly April. I have been thinking a lot lately about Bill and Kathi on the Iditarod trail, fighting their way the last hundred miles or so to Nome. I connected with them only briefly during my own Iditarod tour, but I feel like I have a lot of emotional currency invested in their success. Fresh off what I viewed as an epic adventure, Bill, Kathi and I shared the couches around a warm fire in McGrath. We guzzled hot cups of evening coffee and told our trail stories as we fondled Bill's sweet "hand-me-down" Snoots bike. I was just so glad to be done with the race, and Bill and Kathi were so excited to get going again. I've never seen so much enthusiasm. I love the adventure, but it became apparent to me that they live the adventure. And I just can't fathom that our warm Saturday evening together was 18 days ago - 18 days ago - and they're still out there - still out there - locked in their epic battle.

"Crossing the sea ice in a storm with blowing and drifting snow and with no visibility has been the toughest section of trail for me. Last night I couldn't tell what was up or down or left or right where the horizon was or where the ground right in front of my feet was."

Kathi posted this from Koyuk after a 28-hour struggle to cross 30 miles of open sea ice - open sea ice - in a wind-driven blizzard. In all of the history of this race, no woman has ever cycled the Iditarod Trail all the way to Nome. If (and when!) Kathi gets there, she'll be the first. I have a hard time understanding just how difficult this endeavour really is, let alone describing it. Since I returned from McGrath, I have had friends ask me, "What's next ... Nome?" No, no, no, no. It just doesn't work that way. You don't just return from a first-time jaunt across the easy third of the trail and say, "OK. Now I go to Nome!" No. It takes a truly hardy soul to complete such an expedition. It's like comparing a climb on Mount Rainier to an ascent of Mount Everest. Both are hard. Both are dangerous. Both can even see the same harsh conditions. But one is accessible to most everyone who truly wants it. The other is nearly impossible to all but the few. Is a trip to Nome potentially even more difficult than a trip up Mount Everest? It's hard to say. Jose Diego Estebanez, a walker who is fighting through intense pain to bring up the rear of the race, has supposedly done both. I hope to ask him someday.

That said, there are still adventures within my reach. As April creeps closer, so does the date when Geoff plans to leave Juneau for his grand summer of adventure down south, the flagstone of which is the Great Divide Race in June. I'm insanely jealous of his summer plans, and lately have spent too much time wondering what exactly is holding me back from taking flight myself. My job, of course, is a crucial part of the equation. Without employment in one of the few appealing positions in town, I'm likely to be coaxed into moving to some place where it's hot six months of the year and crowded year-round: Some place that's not Alaska. That would be tragic. So I hold onto my anchor.

But sometimes, especially when I am reclined on the shore of Sheep Creek watching a storm of seagulls swirl over my head, I dream up schemes to hold onto my anchor and still take flight. Last summer, one of our photographers spent the entire summer in Norway. The newspaper hired out an intern who meshed well with everyone, took beautiful photographs and happily worked for slave wages. And the company still hired our main photographer back at the end of the season. Everybody won.

And then I got to thinking ... I have a public space on the World Wide Web. There's always the off chance I could capture the attention of an aspiring journalist college student who may be looking for a grand adventure in Juneau, Alaska. Maybe I could open their eyes to the exciting world of page design and copy editing. And then I could talk my employers into hiring an intern for a few weeks this summer ... six or eight ... while I jet off for my unpaid leave of absence.

Of course I don't have any authority to approve such a transaction. It probably involves plenty of red tape with both my company and the sponsoring university. But I could at least open up my powers of persuasion. Are you familiar with QuarkXPress, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator? Do you own an Associated Press Stylebook and browse it occasionally? Does your worst nightmare involve seeing the misspelled word "grammer" in print? Does your dream job involve working nights and weekends? E-mail me at and we can scheme together! I could even sublet my room while I'm away. You don't mind caring for four cats, do you?

Hey ... it's worth a shot.


  1. Wow I cain't believe I'm the first commenter. As a freelance writer/former copyeditor your proposal has me seriously scratching my stubbly chin. But why would you want to leave Alaska WHEN THE WEATHER IS STARTING TO GET NICE?????

    ---frïd in SC, high of 78'F today

  2. Actually I logged on because I have a technical question. What would you think about a "snow trike"? This would spread the load out over more tire area while being more resistant to icy slips. Just a thought.

  3. I admire the humble way you say that you have a hard time understanding just how difficult this endeavour really is, let alone describing her (Kathi's) experience. I can say that I, in Texas can't understand it all. But you have endured lots... and lots, and perhaps have more than a clue as to what she is and has gone through. I hope you let us know when you hear from them again.

  4. Jill, allow me please...
    Fridrix, your question about why would Jill want to leave when the weather is just starting to get nice is answered in her About Me and in her posts over time. She is inexplicably drawn to horrendous conditions. She seems to prefer a snow covered trail with no people to a summer dirt trail scattered with touristas. I'm sure in real life, she likes the seasonal variety but her affinity for extreme cold seems undeniable.

  5. From the sounds of it the front Guys in the iditarod had an easier trail to follow. I am betting that the Merchants Stay on the sea ice resembled your stay on the burn.

  6. FOUR cats? Your little family has grown! Congrats!

  7. Cat lady! I can't talk, I love my cat.

  8. That top picture is really beautiful.

  9. You're young, as you get older you'll never regret one more summer of freedom. What you might regret is not taking the opportunity. There'll be plenty of time to drop anchors in the future.

  10. Jill,

    Have you ever looked into the National Science Foundation's Antarctic Visiting Artists and Writers program? I was reading Terra Antarctica by William L. Fox while I was following your race, they went really well together...

  11. Fridrix, to answer your question, the weather never actually gets nice in Juneau. Sure, it warms to a balmy 50 degrees, and sure, the slush/snow turns over to 100-percent rain, but it's hard to think of such weather as "nice." But, yeah, summer is kinda fun here. I guess I should probably stick around.

    Trikes are probably great in expedition situations, but they'll never be popular in races. We have enough rolling resistance to deal with as it is.

    Aucilla ... it's true. I love the winter.

  12. Jill -

    Are you writing a brief note to every college newspaper editor you have even the slightest relationship to??? I'm going to send a letter off to the editor of Grinnell's (D&My Alma mater) school paper as he/she is most likely to know who on campus would be qualified and interested in convincing your boss to let them intern :)

    Why am I so eager for this far fetched possibility to come together??? You and Mary both on the GDR this summer - what woman wouldn't get excited about that!!!

  13. I am toying with the idea of spending the Summer in Alaska ...

  14. Hey Meredith,

    I wrote this post half in joking, although only half. I haven't made any really effort to solicit an intern, and would probably be smart to clear it with my employers before I start writing to colleges. But thanks for the letter if you've sent it. Any ball that starts rolling I wouldn't attempt to stop.

    Far-fetched possibility indeed. Even if I could score some free time this summer, I'm really unsure as to whether I'd use it to line up with the boys and Mary at the GDR. As much as I'd love to do the route as fast as I can ... someday ... I'm so not ready for it yet. I could just line up accepting my chances of finishing are pretty slim, and "tour" it while still trying to hit all the time cut-offs but not flog myself if I fall behind. I guess if I could get some time off work, I'd be stupid to not at least try. Sure, the GDR is huge, but just like everything - break it into small pieces, and it's not so bad.

    You should consider it! You and Dave are making transitions it seems. After trans-Iowa, you'll be good to go!


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