Wednesday, March 26, 2008

My world in new ways

Date: March 26
Mileage: 19.1
March mileage: 460.7
Temperature: 37

As I bulldozed through the distracting crackle of empty mussel shells, my heart already pulsing 180 shots of blood per minute, I heard the one sound that could stop it all together ... "shhhhlorp." I struggled against the sudden sticky friction as my momentum plummeted ... 4.1 mph ... 3.7 mph ... 2.9 mph. I turned the front wheel sharply toward the shore and spun with everything I had. Every Alaskan knows the story of the duck hunter who sunk to his thighs in Turnagain Arm mud and had to breathe through the barrel of a shotgun until the tide washed over the top. It's urban legend, like the one where the phone operator tells the babysitter, "The person making the call is in your house." We like to repeat these stories to ourselves, even though they happened far away, and even though they may or may not be true, just to scare ourselves with a sound ... "shlorp." The faster I spun, the slower I moved ... 2.2 mph ... 1.8 mph ... as my rear wheel bogged down in a mere two inches of wet mud. Hardly enough to get stuck in, but still I pedaled frantically, urging my feet not to touch the beach or all would be lost. Never mind that it's not really true. I feel more alive for letting myself believe it.

I've ridden the North Douglas shoreline in bits and pieces, but never in one long strand. I've decided that Channel riding is crazy fun ... and hard. I have yet to find a stretch that's truly sketchy, but I've found pretty much everything else ... smooth gravel, hardpacked sand, soft mud, fields of broken shells, spongy grass, deep stream crossings, barnacle-coated rocks. What's most fun about riding on the beach is the sensation of being on a "trail" that's as wide as a football field, covered in a minefield of technical obstacles, and you have to pick your best line. If you choose poorly, you walk. If you choose really poorly, you sink. But if you choose well, you can cover an amazing amount of ground that doesn't always exist, at least as solid ground.

Today I covered a full seven miles, all the way from just north of the bridge to the wetlands where I crossed the Channel last week. It was probably the most strenuous ride I've done since the race. I felt like I was in my own new world, a personal wilderness, all the while closely parallelling a highway that I would later use to cut away those seven hard-earned miles in 25 minutes.

Still, it was worth it.

Tonight after leaving work I noticed a soft green glow splashed across the starry sky. Northern Lights are a rare, rare thing in Juneau - we're a bit far south for the bulk of them, and what does reach here is nearly always obscured by thick cloud cover. So I went home and grabbed my camera and raced back out to North Douglas ... for once happy to be traveling at 50 mph rather than 15. I don't know why I bothered with the camera. I took about three photos before I realized my limited point-and-shoot was next to useless. But it's really better that way. Instead of watching the Northern Lights through a viewfinder, I left my camera in my car and stood on the beach in my work clothes and thin cotten hoodie, letting my fingers go numb and my neck go stiff while I gazed at the stratospheric dance. Deep green light reflected on the water while waves of white slithered across the sky ... pulsing and fading in a random motion that had both rhythm and rhyme. I was struck by the timing - at least for me - beautiful opportunities to see my world from different angles.


  1. The duck hunter breathing through a shotgun barrel is true. Larry Kaniak's book Danger Stalks the Land has a chapter on the story. It isn't the only true story of a rising tide on the Arm killing someone.

  2. After enduring the Iditarod,this view of the Northern Dawn..was just for you, I would imagine it is sweeter as a gift than a phenomenon.

  3. ethereal. thats awesome to see. on a lesser note, we've been having spring weather in the 60s here for a few weeks, and woke up this morning to an unexpected winter wonderland. Stepping outside this morning I took a few minutes to just tilt my head and watch the snowflakes coming down- sometimes those moments in the quiet are a rare thing.

  4. Not only a snow bike, but a true beach cruiser.

  5. Most mountain bikers I know take the route of least resistance. They much prefer a broken-in trail that rides fast to a new, bumpy and slow trek on a new segment. I don’t mind breaking in new trail and I love opportunities to ride through the woods with no trail at all. That can be done in certain swaths of forests here in N. Florida in the winter months. The ultimate place to ride off-trail I think is on the slick rock of Utah, being careful not to break through the crust of course. But Jill, you are in a league of your own when it comes to off-trail riding. You seek out long grunts and routes of most resistance. You groove on the scenery, the increased physicality and the solitude. I admire that and thank you for sharing your adventures in words and pictures. Keep on trudging!

  6. These accidents are not urban myths, Jill. People in Alaska die all the time from all kinds of encounters with the natural world. I'm not saying don't go out there...but go out there with knowledge. Here's an extract from the Anchorage Daily News archive listing on the story of the girl in the mud...(one of the girls in the mud, actually). Just search on Resuce Woman Mud and see what you find....there are also listings on articles about ill-fated duck bikers, as of yet....but you should really research this before just heading out there. You are actually taking some real risks, I believe. You should chat with the local search and rescue folks.
    Author: MARILEE ENGE
    Daily News reporter
    Date: August 1, 1988
    Publication: Anchorage Daily News (AK)
    Page: A1
    Word count: 1758

    One week after a young woman drowned on the Turnagain Arm mud flats, Wasilla paramedics were awakened by an emergency call. A woman had been dipnetting at the mouth of Fish Creek and she was stuck in the mud. As the MatanuskaSusitna Borough divers hit the road in their rescue van, they were remembering the tragedy of 18yearold Adeana Dickison, who died the way nobody should have to die. She stood helplessly with one leg buried to the knee in glacial silt as the tide immersed her in 38degree ...

  7. Yeah, I get it. Mud is crazy dangerous. I was just going for a little joking in this post, but once again, I'm terrible at portraying humor in my writing.

    Most of the beach riding I do is actually up on the gravel-lined shoreline, not the channel mud. I venture onto the channel mud when the shoreline gets really rocky, but I am never more than about 100 feet from the actual shore (Channel crossing accepted. I'm not going to do that again.) My experience with quicksand, which is common in desert washes in Utah, is you have to stand in one place for quite a while to be sucked in to a dangerous depth. So I feel like quicksand is something you can escape if you are cognizant and backtrack to the nearest solid ground the second you start to sink in. I've never walked out onto the mud of the Turnagain Arm, and this is just a view based on my own personal experience. But it seems like a patch of mud that can encompass your legs in a matter of seconds is something out of a movie or a hyperbole-perpetuating book called "Danger Stalks the Land." (I have read it, by the way. Probably where I got that duck hunter story.)

    If the mud ever did grab me, I have those overboots that nearly reach my knees. I could pull out of those and slither on my belly until I reached safety ... if I really felt at risk, it would be worth losing a pair of N.E.O.S.

    Yeah, there's a real risk. And there's a real risk of getting plowed down by a black bear or caught in a blizzard or swept up by an avalance as I ride my bike down Thane Road. But here I am, still going outside.

  8. Don't shortchange yourself on your photo. Those of us in CA who may never see this appreciate your efforts.

    Tag me if I can do you a favor - normzone@thehottestmail.comyouknowwhattodo

  9. Jill, thanks for finding me. I hope you don't mind but I use your pics tons and tons of times, I always give you props though. Selfishly I am glad that you are staying in Juneau even though I know it's so crazy having the long distance thing with Geoff for a few monthes. And, I knew you were totally joking about "suffering this place", I was too. I actually thought it was funny, from what I have read about you, you'd already be out of Juneau for good if you hated it that much. I would love to email you when I get to town and see the trails. Thanks again for all the pics, (I promise if you want me to stop I will --:) also for all the info in your blog. You really helped me see how great, crazy, wet, slushy, and fun Juneau can be. We should be up there the end of April or so. Talk to ya soon...
    Have a great week.

  10. The true danger is to PUGS! Now, you may not have to do this in Juneau (ha) - but you must must must rinse that steed with clear water, every ride and days afta'

    The salt-sand/mud mix will destroy your drivetrain. Yep, I know you know this - I just keep picking those lil' rust spots off my Pugs from last years adventure...

    That said, there is a tide-cycle ride - a "salty bottom" event: Homer to Pt.Posession or some portion there of, proposed for the first week of May... got any airline miles left?

    I so enjoy your writing, and absolutely get you when you are "portraying humor". Thank you!

  11. Jill -- that photo of the bicycle track in the mud is crazy good.


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