Thursday, September 25, 2008

Adventures in solitude

"So you just sort of go it alone?" my friend asked when I explained to her why I wouldn't be able to attend her gathering this weekend.

"Yeah, that's kinda the idea," I said.

"Why is that the idea?" my friend said.

"Well," I said. "For starters, it's pretty hard to convince other people that riding a loaded bicycle 110-150 hilly miles a day in the cold is a good time. And, anyway, I'll be visiting friends along the way and maybe even talking them into riding some of the route with me. For the rest of the trip, I'll just have all sorts of time to really think about things."

"What do you think about?"

"My life, my goals, stuff," I said. "These tough trips really help me separate what's important from the general fluff. Although, I have to admit, I usually end up spending a bulk of my riding time thinking about food and sleep."

"So are you scared?"

"Yeah. Yeah, I'm scared. But mostly of bears and weather and scary people. The loneliness isn't so bad."

Geoff woke me up this morning with a quick call to inform me he was no longer planning to run the Bear 100 on Friday.

"That sounds like the smart plan," I said. "What made you change your mind?"

"I'm still fighting off a cold," he said. "Plus, Dane and Jess invited me to go backpacking with them in Boulder (Utah) this week, and that sounded more fun. That's where we're headed right now. Reception is pretty spotty. I wanted to call before I was out of range completely."

"But you already registered for the race, right?" I asked. "Didn't you spend like $200 on it?"

"Yeah, but ..." The call cut out. I wondered what really made Geoff decide to dump his plans for the Bear 100. Dropping out because he had a cold on Wednesday didn't really sound like him. Was he scared? Less certain about his physical recovery than he let on a few days earlier? Or is it possible that he's making peace with the idea of moving back to Alaska?

After I got off the phone with Geoff, I noticed what an amazing bright blue day Wednesday was shaping out to be. I had promised myself I would take the day off. I have 370 miles to ride in the next three days, and none of those miles are likely to be easy. But, as I looked outside, I thought that some days, resting the body is not as important as stimulating the soul. Most days are like that.

Luckily for me, in my nervousness about preparing for my bike trip, I had finished packing on Tuesday night. So I had little else to do Wednesday but eat and work and wait for my ferry to pull into port. I headed over to Mount Roberts for the second time this week, in favor of "easy" trail and lax hiking.

However, I tend to forget how energizing a clear day can be, when heart-stopping beauty stretches out beyond the farthest reaches of my vision. I'm gripped with a desire to push and push and push toward the horizon until it ends, knowing it never will. That's how I ended up on top of Gastineau Peak again, feet almost floating atop a couple inches of new snow, facing east toward a snow-capped skyline that continues into Canada.

I looked down the ridge at a healthy coat of termination dust that may be here to stay and thought, "It's still early. If I don't bag Mount Roberts today, I'll likely not have another chance this season." So down the ridge I went, the joint-jarring consequences of a long hike unacknowledged.

And I was so glad I went to the top of Mount Roberts. To just stop and turn off my iPod and listen to the frigid wind and the absolute silence of solitude. These are the moments I wish I had more opportunities to share with my friends. But there is also he sense that the reality of listening to someone rip into a PowerBar or complain about the cold might just crush these fleeting, perfect moments. And then there's Geoff, who on a gorgeous day like Wednesday, would probably just do all the things I can only dream about doing while I stand on peaks. I could picture him running the crest of the entire ridgeline until he looped back into town. It's too bad he doesn't really like Juneau so much any more.

In the time I've spent alone this fall, I've worked on formulating a concrete reason why I can't leave Alaska. And what I've come up with is, over the past three years, I've never known a period in my life in which I was so consistently inspired. I started writing again, a hobby I had all but given up on, and developed a passion for something I never even used to think was all that interesting - photography. I've honed my physical fitness to levels I never imagined and forged my new skills into something even better ... inner strength. I think often about my life before Alaska, a life Geoff actually had to drag me away from, kicking and screaming. I was once scared of nearly everything, but I was especially scared of being alone. My life revolved around late mornings at the Apple Fitness club, afternoons and evenings at work, and late nights with my friends, sometimes out until sunrise. I thought I was happy. Then I moved away from it all, and learned I hadn't been happy. Now I am afraid to go back. How can I leave Alaska? Alaska is my muse.

When Geoff told me he registered to run the Bear 100 this weekend, he said he mostly just wanted a good, hard effort with the alone time he needed to think about his future. I told him that's the same reason I wanted to ride around the Golden Circle again. Now he's backpacking in the desert and I'm still planning to pedal into the Yukon, a vast amount of space in which to think, and a vast number of miles to ride on less rest than I should have given myself. But I look forward to all of it. I leave soon to catch the 12:15 ferry. Wish me luck.


  1. May I be the first to say GOOD LUCK! Love your pictures from today and the 21st. I find traveling alone is some of the best time for introspection...I hope you find something good...maybe that you've already found what you're looking for? ;-)

  2. Best of Luck Jill...hope you find some answers in the solitude of your trip!

  3. Good luck, Jill. Looking forward to your ride report, photos and the results of some great time for introspection.

    Spin On

  4. Jill,

    Godspeed to you and may you be filled with the wisdom to pursue life for what you are here on this beautiful planet!

    Have a safe and peaceful journey and be strong!

  5. Best of luck Jill. Hope entering into this solitude brings you the answers that you are looking for. Can't wait to read your next post. Hope you get some great photos too.

  6. Good luck Jill, I'm looking forward to your great photos and write up of your adventure. Have a safe trip.

    Mike J

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  8. Thank goodness you developed a passion for photography. No way you could be in Alaska and not be passionate about the landscape - it'd be a waste to not take all those pictures!

    Good luck on your trip. I'll be waiting.

  9. That first picture -- with the cloud bridge -- is amazing. Good luck on your adventure and your thoughts.

  10. Jill,

    I am still amazed by how easily you can describe your inner self. There is a romanticism in your words, a beauty in your photography and a strenght that permeates this blog.

    Take care,


  11. As someone who's left Alaska while still being madly in love with it, I can tell you: You take it with you. Once you live there, no matter where you go, you still have that part of you. I left for all sorts of reasons: school, career, sun, family... and have never regretted it, despite missing Alaska every day. But I see everything just a little bit differently now, and live a little bit differently, too. And granted, once I get these adventures done with, I'll probably look to go back. But just know, no matter where you are, you don't lose the muse!!

  12. Be safe. Enjoy the solitude. Good luck.

  13. Good luck and be safe! I can't wait to hear all about your adventure!

  14. Wow... Your photos are always great but those are just spectacular.

  15. Jill, I'll be thinking about you on your adventure. I was going to give you some advice about finding a guy who is there for you because you truly deserve that, but what do I know? It would be tough to be a girl in your shoes trying to find a man who understands your drive. Accept the Good. You deserve it all. and be safe!

  16. Three days without your Blog! I don't know what I will do. Be safe and may the wind always blow fromthe rear. Don't run from your fears, embrace the next chapter in your life. The GSMNP could be your next adventure.

  17. It's good to have time apart to consider these big issues, I think. Sometimes proximity clouds judgment.

    My then-boyfriend of 3 years and I went through a time that sounds similar to your current circumstance...oh, 16 years ago, or so. I was the one who wanted to leave Bethel (AK), and I did, heading for Santa Fe. A year and a half later, I was living on the Navajo reservation in AZ, and my old boyfriend was my new husband. Who would have thought? Not me. Now, sixteen years later, we're back in AK (well, we were back seven years ago.)

    Oh...our honeymoon was spent mountain biking in Moab ;)

    Good luck to you. I don't know if your path will lead to maintaining the old relationship, or heading in a different direction. Regardless, life will be good.

  18. Great blog post. Good luck on the journey; I'm looking forward to reading about it.

  19. Great post Jill - and good luck on the ride! It's just past 12:15 now so you should be on the ferry. Hugs to S&T - I miss them and the Yukon already so I feel for some of what you are describing in terms of your love for Alaska. I hope you find some solace in your aloneness along the Alaska Highway.

  20. Good luck, Jill.
    "Alaska is my muse." - I love that statement. A heavenly muse.

  21. Jill,

    Best of luck to you. Still love your writing and photography. You capture nuances in everything that you observe.

    Keep exploring in every way (says the slave to the desk and day job). Sighing wistfully...

    VA Biker

  22. Good luck on your adventure. Sounds like you need some time to think things out. You will do well in what ever you do.

    Take care.

  23. Good luck on your trip. I can't wait for the pics and stories of your adventure

  24. Jill,
    You're on the way as I write this, but I want to thank you for this blog entry.
    I retired from the US Army in March of '98 after twenty years of moving around. Debi and I got here in the Summer of '99 while cruising in a 20-ft sailboat. Haven't left yet.
    This is the place to reinvent yourself, to open your eyes and heart to the creative within you. I have been reading that in your entries. I hope that you can find your path during this trip. If not, then the road lies ever onward.
    Grace on you,

  25. "Alaska is my muse." Great line.

    I've always thought that nothing can make a person happier than a place that inspires them. My wife and I moved out here to Colorado from Minneapolis about 9 years ago. I'd wanted to live out here my whole life, and as soon as we actually moved here into our own place, I realized I was HOME.

    My wife would like to move back, to be closer to family, but she knows I can't leave. I miss the city of Minneapolis a lot - my favorite coffee shops (including Caribou Coffe - inspired by Alaska! - hmmm....), all the lakes, the bike paths everywhere, the vibrant downtown and uptown scenes, the liberal politics and culture, being closer to family, etc. I miss all of that, and the lack of all that are things I disdain about Colorado Springs (though neighboring Manitou Springs, where we actually live, is awesome). But the mountains here inspire me everyday, and I never stopped being in awe. Basically, as corny as it sounds, Colorado completes me.

    Earlier tonight I was talking about possibly moving on to Idaho, Utah or Oregon. Karen simply said to me, "You'll never leave Colorado." As soon as she said, I knew she was right.

    I hope things work out with you and Geoff, but make sure you commit to what makes you happiest. It may be that special person, but it could be that special place that makes you even happier. It sounds like that's what both of you need to figure out.

  26. I am so jealous, Jill. You found your muse.

  27. Jill - as someone who has been doing a fair bit of "searching," I really relate to this post. Nicely executed. I find life has two distinct phases - contentedness and searching, although they can intermix. While often painful, the searching times are - by and large - the most interesting.

    You're getting me stoked on biking. I'm kind of put it aside this summer for hiking, mountaineering and skiing, but am quite stoked to pick it up again when the time is right.

    Good look, happy travels.

  28. Jill - I just found your blog and all I have to say is "Wow!"

    You're living my dream. You're living the life I wish I would have chosen for my path in life.

    "Most (wo)men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them." - Thoreau

    You keep on plucking Jill!


  29. Ain't bikes grand? All that spinning is like some sort of mantra, clearing your head of clutter, making way for insight and brilliance.
    Just yesterday a friend thanked me for getting him out on a fifty miler. He had been having some emotional problems and could,nt quite figure out why. The ride helped him realize that he had only now started to fully grieve his wife's death a couple of years ago, now that his kids finally seem alright.
    I'm glad you are writing again. If Alaska does that for you, God bless her.

  30. Thanks Jill for the beautiful writing and photography; and for the inner peace and questioning you convey. What is not our life but the dynamic between finding and living in varying amounts of peace and introspection?

    Best wishes on your ride and future.


  31. I love your photos and your writing, Jill. This post should be up there on your best posts list. I really admire your soul-baring writing. I've been in AK three years, too. I've written the novel I always wanted to write (still working on it)and so I think of AK as my muse, too. There is an incomparable rawness here that you can't really find in the Lower 48. It turns your head around, and you want to experience it as much as possible. You've taken that to a whole new level. I saw you pedal across the lake and away on the Iditarod trail last year and it was truly inspiring to see you riding out into all that wilderness on a bike! Hope this trip in Canada is a fun one! With time, everything else will sort itself out. Sometimes my biggest flaw is my desire to push for results and finality when that is just not possible. Drift, wait, obey (I Ching) and keep peddling!

  32. The muse was definitely moving you when you wrote this: beautiful! I hope you're having the kind of trip you hoped for, whether it means the wind at your back and bluebird skies or rain & sleet in your face. Thank you for sharing your inspiration with us!

  33. Jill,

    Just was think about you and your big trip. Hope you are safe and having the time of your life.


  34. Wow. These are some great comments to come home to. Thanks to everyone for sharing your experiences and sending your well-wishes. It reminds me why this blog is so valuable to me. Thanks again.


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