Saturday, August 30, 2008

Big day for Alaska

Date: Aug. 28 and 29
Mileage: 36.2 and 76.7
August mileage: 748.3

"Six hours," I told myself. "I should ride at least six hours today." After a failed attempt at a long ride on Thursday, lead legs, scattered rain and an actual doubleback while deciding to quit twice, I was all set to go at 9:30 a.m. I had slammed down a quick breakfast, browsed the morning paper, packed up my backpack and had even cinched on my helmet when I remembered I hadn't checked my e-mail yet. It was mostly junk and a one liner from Geoff: "McCain is picking Palin as his running mate!!!! busy day at work on saturday for you."

He had to be joking.

So I started to make the full rounds - CNN, New York Times, Anchorage Daily News, the Juneau Empire (to make sure they picked up the story.) Then it was on to all the inane little Anchorage Daily News reader comments, the political blogs, the Alaska blogs. There was an electricity to the air, even in my dark room in front of my computer, the kind of buzz you get when you realize you're witnessing a little piece of history. Because regardless of what your politics are, or how you feel about Sarah Palin (and believe me, I'm not a cheerleader), this is big for Alaska. We are a small state in political terms - 670,000 people, about the same as Memphis (where's that?) Veep nomination in a major political party is a big step for this small state, and it's exciting.

Of course the politics of the whole parade went through my mind, but first and foremost, I was enthralled by the notion. Here is a woman I see once in a while strolling down the streets of downtown Juneau. I even nodded at her once as I pedaled by, and she smiled back. There's a closeness to it, a sense of someone I know hitting the big time, and I couldn't pull away. Before I knew it, it was 11 a.m., and the phone rang.

It was my boss. Calling me in to work.

The Juneau Empire is a six-days-a-week newspaper, which means we don't publish a Saturday edition. Ever. But since this Palin thing is the biggest news to hit the state since Sen. Stevens was indicted, and this was actually semi-good news, no one wanted to wait until the story was good and stale for Sunday's paper. So they mobilized the staff to create a special Friday afternoon paper, an actual "Extra" edition. I can't imagine there are too many newspapers left in the U.S. that bother with extra editions anymore. I could almost see the paperboys in their wool caps and knee-length shorts waving papers around the streets of Juneau screaming "Ex-tree! Ex-tree! Read All About It!" And that was exciting. Even if it meant coming in to work on my day off. And forgoing my long bike ride.

So I rode into the office. The next four hours were a mind-numbing blur of stress and pressure. People breathing down my neck as I frantically dug around for archive photos and tried to make sense of the grand design. I rarely have high-blood-pressure days at work, but today was one of those days, and by the time we wrapped up the "Ex-tree!" edition by 3 p.m., my heart was pumping about 130 beats per minute and I was seeing double. But it was only 3 p.m. I still had time to get in at least some riding today. I headed north, planning to loop a few trails near Dredge Lake.

But when I reached the valley, I noticed clearing to the north. And, well, I am a sun chaser if ever there was a sun chaser. I amped up the effort and stayed on the pavement, burning the high octane as I raced out the road until I had a full shadow riding beside me. I turned around after two hours so I'd have plenty of time to make 7:30 p.m. dinner plans. But then I rode by Eagle Beach. And all around me was the intense sparkle of the sun contrasted against dark curtains of storms. And there was this rainbow, stretching like an umbrella over a patch of blue sky, and I couldn't take my eyes off of it. So I rode along the beach and stopped several times to take pictures. OK, dozens of pictures. OK, close to 60.

And of course, the pictures never come close to capturing these landscapes, but I have this tendancy - OK, this crazed desire - to try to hold on as long as possible, to hold on to these moments of color and light and sweeping vistas so startling that I forget all about my fatigue and my lead legs from Thursday and even about Sarah Palin and whether or not I've even given any thought to how I actually feel about it all. No, for a few beautiful minutes I'm just amazed. That's all that I am.

After my photo safari, I had to race toward home at even higher effort. I knew I was going to be late for dinner. I was becoming ravenously hungry, since all I had eaten for lunch was about a half pound of grapes, a bag of fruit snacks and two Quaker chewy granola bars, and that was all I had packed (I, stupidly, tossed a bunch of Power Bars out of my bag when I made the gear transition from "long ride" to "commute.") My friend promised to cook up a big lasagna for dinner and I started to think often about that, but as the evening sun descended, the color show moved forward. A sharp golden glow lit up the street, the spruce trees, the cars, the buildings, the devil's club-choked hillsides, until every color looked ultra-saturated, like an overeager Photoshop job gone awry. But it wasn't Photoshop, it was real life, so it was beautiful.

And even though I was hungry, and yes, probably tired, my pace never slowed. I was high on color and light, and I wasn't even all that late for dinner. And to think that I was almost out the door at 9:30 a.m., that I nearly missed out on all of it. Thanks, Sarah!