Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The wind we call Taku

Yesterday, as I was coming down the Sheep Creek trail, I crossed paths with another hiker wearing a big pack. "Headed to the ridge?" I asked him.

"Hawthorne," he answered. Hawthorne is a big peak, a majestic peak, one I covet but accept I won't reach this year. "How far did you go?" he asked.

"To about 3,000 feet," I answered. "There's some pretty intense wind up there; I got knocked around a bit, so I came down."

He took a big draw of air and sighed. "Taku winds are like medicine," he said. "Clears all the shit out." I nodded, and we continued on our way.

Taku is a Tlingit word for "stormy wind." Taku winds are big, mostly localized northeasterlies that hit Juneau in the fall and winter. Typically, they blow about 30-40 mph steady, gusting to 70 mph occasionally. Trees topple. Boats flip over in the harbor. The Taku winds stuck around today. I debated another day up high and decided against it. I headed out for some skinny-tire trail riding.

I have ridden enough bad-weather miles in Juneau to know where the wind-protected areas are. I fought a few gusts out to Dredge Lake and started looping around the maze of singletrack. Sometimes I forgot I was riding 80 psi and a rigid fork and got jolted around more than I was comfortable with, but as I settled into my flow, I also forgot about the Taku wind.

You know how it is when you're mountain biking - especially with a challenging bike. Every ounce of focus zooms in to the few square feet in front of you; there is no room for anything else. You pedal and brake and squint at every bump on every root in your path, sometimes thinking too hard about it, more often not thinking at all. On singletrack, the world becomes very small, which I think is a big part of the appeal.

Lately, I have been spending a lot of time in mountains thinking big, in a large part because I'm admittedly struggling right now. I'm trying to decide whether I'm in a holding pattern or moving forward; I'm trying to decide whether I'm blissfully happy with my life in Juneau or just scared to change; I'm grappling with new feelings and coming to terms with old ones. I feel like something needs to be done but I'm not sure what it is. So I seek out mountains, and I reflect, and I hope that answers will come.

On my mountain bike, I just ride. Which is why, when I stopped for a break by the shore of a moraine lake, it didn't occur to me how strange it was that the air had become completely calm. The surface of the lake was still, like ice. I rubbed the sweat from my eyes as I looked up at a near-perfect reflection of the landscape beyond. I didn't wonder where the Taku winds had gone. I didn't think about what I should do with my life. I just smiled. Everything seemed clear.