One of the things I am really hoping to do this summer is several bike tours around Alaska. In order to tour the trails and roads of this great state, however, I must first figure out how to leave the city of Anchorage on a bicycle. So as soon as I came to town, I started asking around about the best way to ride to the Mat-Su Valley. The responses were surprising: "What do you want to ride for the Valley for?" "Oh, you'll have to get on the New Glenn Highway for most of it," and, "I don't think you can do that."
Really? In all of Anchorage, no one regularly rides bicycles to the Mat-Su Valley? It seemed implausible. It's the only way out going north. And as someone who spent the last four years in a place where the only road out of town dead-ends after 45 miles, I could not fathom how all of the people I asked about that ride had never even been remotely curious about it. Suddenly, the simple act of riding a bicycle to the Mat-Su became a challenge.
I casually mentioned it to my friend Mark in Eagle River, and he replied, "I have always wanted to do that! It would be like PBP (Palmer-Birchwood-Palmer, which is a real event, so I guess organized rides to the Mat-Su do exist), only backward!"
Only we didn't know the way. Our only agenda was to stay off the New Glenn Highway as much as physically possible. We started in Eagle River and made our way north on the bike path. After that ended, we made a few unnecessary detours up into the hills, often being forced to loop back to where we started (Mark started labeling these side-trips "Adventure One, Adventure Two, etc.") We hopped a gate near Mirror Lake and made another meandering trip into the community of Eklutna. We were finally forced onto the New Glenn, skirting a gravel-coated rumble strip as trucks streamed by. But that was only for a mile. We jumped off at the next exit, found suitable back roads for a few more miles, conceded to the New Glenn for another mile or so, before finally connecting with the Old Glenn and our free back-road passage to Palmer.
The riding was fantastic - greenup has just started in Southcentral Alaska, and the landscape was filled with tiny leaves set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains. We stopped at the Coffee and Cream to celebrate our success with espresso before heading back a few miles to Butte to have lunch with my friends. We took one more five-mile detour while checking out the reindeer farm and discovering fairly late that the loop road we were on actually looped in the wrong direction. Still, the ride can be done with minimal highway time. This was a great revelation for future trips. Mark is a gear geek and GPS'd and Power Tapped the entire ride, even though it was more of a leisure cruise than anything. Here are some of the stats:
Distance: 76.18 mi
Elevation Gain: 2,441 ft
Calories: 3,767 C (I think this is because Mark is a big guy.)
Avg Temperature: 59.5 °F (I think this is because we spent more than an hour indoors. It wasn't much above 55 most of the trip.)
Moving Time: 04:56:30
Elapsed Time: 06:18:33
Avg Speed: 15.4 mph
Max Speed: 33.0 mph
This weekend I attended the 2010 Alaska Press Club conference. The introductions were a little awkward at first - "I used to be an editor for the Juneau Empire, but, um, now I'm not." When the notion of a voluntarily unemployed journalist was met with slack-jawed stares, I sometimes even added the qualifier, "Yeah, I left for personal reasons, not professional ones." But as the workshops progressed, the more people I met that still gave me a card and said, "Send me an e-mail; we;'ll talk," the more comfortable I felt saying, "I'm a freelancer." Even though I don't have much to back up that statement yet, I stopped feeling the need to apologize for myself.
The last time I attended the conference, in 2007, the atmosphere was decidedly more grim - along the lines of "Blogs and Craigslist are closing in and journalism is dying." This year, the mood was more, "Journalism is dead! Long live journalism!" It says a lot that our keynote speaker this year was a guy from Twitter. More and more mainstream journalists are embracing the new model, which is that there's no model at all. Journalism is simply the art of telling stories, in any way one wants to tell a story. I attended a workshop titled "Entrepreneurial Journalism," where the presenter proudly listed all of the failed magazines and start-ups she had been a part of before the successful one she landed in. Her theme was "%$@# Fear."
"Think up an idea, and try it," she said. "What have you got to lose?" She asked me what my idea was and I told her my story of a decade of working for community and daily newspapers before landing open-ended in Anchorage. "But I also have this blog," I continued, "About living in Alaska and endurance biking."
"There you go!" she said. "That's you! Use that!"
The hope and enthusiasm was contagious. I was frantically typing ideas onto my laptop as fast as they occurred to me. Some of them were way out there. Most of them were way out there. But for all of my life, I have always been a person that said, "I could never do that." Now, I'm beginning to ask myself "Why not? Why couldn't I do that?" Just as I've had to do so many times in my endurance biking, I'm beginning to look into the heart of my anxieties and saying "%$@# Fear."
Tonight I attended the awards banquet. The Empire couldn't afford to send anyone out to the conference this year, so they asked me to step in for them in proxy. It was a jovial setting, and the Empire pulled in an enormous number of awards - 21 in all. I won third place in "Best Page Layout and Design" and first place for "Best Graphic." Best Graphic! That's competing against all of the newspapers and magazines in Alaska. First place! I was stoked, because I'm not even a graphic designer ... anymore.
But that's OK. I can still be a graphic designer, and a layout artist, and a Web master and a writer and photographer. I can be anything I want to be, and that's why I'm going to succeed in the new world of journalism. $%$@# fear.