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.


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  2. I grew up in Montana near where you lost your glove on the Great Divide. I also lived in Fairbanks, AK for about 4 years. I miss the greatness of outdoor opportunities and the harsh conditions. You make me homesick. Thanks.

  3. I'd make a list of what you want in life (both short term and long term) and how you imagine you can best get there. Figure out what it is that makes you feel like your life has purpose, and work towards doing/having that -- or figure out if maybe you already do have it and are just overlooking it.

    It seems that epic adventures tend to be your "rock," and without one planned things seem mundane. So, either plan your next big epic adventure or try to get comfortable in the now.

    Above all, embrace being single for awhile -- you will be a better partner if you're autonomous and comfortable being alone.

    My unsolicited advice :p

  4. It almost seemed like my windows were gonna blow in last night and reminded me of living/working at the Mount Washington Observatory in NH and trying to sleep with constant howling outside.

    My only complaint about Juneau is the the MTB'ing isn't very good - no offense if you like it. Perhaps I was spoiled in Utah for so long. Other than that, in my opinion this place is just awesome if you love the outdoors...which you obviously do.

    I definatley don't know what my future holds and that thought has always plauged me and made my mind race uncontrolably at times. I finally got over that fear, I think partly by purchasing a condo, and am happy to now live day to day. Although, everytime I see a job in SLC that would be worth moving for, my mind runs wild again.

    Anyways - still hoping to run into you out on the trail sometime. I'm predicting it will be after the first low snow when I'll be skinning up Eaglecrest and you'll have the snowbike out up there!


  5. Thanks Jill for the great photo for my computer at work of your bike in front of the lake. I love that photo. I can't tell you how many times people come up to me and ask if I took that photo being a photographer / outdoors person. I say no and give you the credit and just wish I had taken that photo. At least I get to see Alaska through your eyes and camera. Keep up the great blog. I still enjoy it after I think 2 -3 years of reading.

    John / Chicago

  6. Jill,

    Seeing your photos today make miss Juneau. I think I miss being by the sea, being a little or lot cold and wearing lots of clothes! I might just have to make the trip come early April for the folk festival...


  7. I wish I could have some of that clarity. Maybe if I stare at your pictures long enough...

  8. I LOVED this post and your Modern Romance post. You are on a roll honey. This whirlwind of peak baggin', biking and hiking has got your creative juices flowing. It's also got your mind spinning, but that's O.K too! Good thing for those moments of clarity.
    You've got to embrace every opportunity you get and that's what your fall has been all about. Enjoy it. Write about it. And dream about it in the dark months!

  9. geat writing,im glad you have found closure...onwards and upwards now...


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