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.