Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Five years

(Photo of my backyard in Homer, Alaska, on November 2, 2005)

Wednesday, November 2, 2005. The hum of mountain bike tires on wet pavement lulled me into gray daydreams — flickers of my cold concrete office, the puzzle pieces of newspaper design, an interview with an artist — set against a backdrop of a steep hillside dotted with log cabins and Tyvek-coated shacks. My commute. Behind me, Kachemak Bay was shrouded in clouds, but still sparkling beneath a far-reaching finger of pink sunshine. I turned off West Hill and continued churning up the gravel of Diamond Ridge. It was only 4:30 p.m. and already daylight was fading. I rose above snow line and watched my front tire carve treaded tracks through a dusting of powder, which became deeper as I climbed. I had never ridden a bicycle through snow before. I was struck by the sudden silence; the snow muffled my tires and resisted my pedal strokes, until the entire world seemed to dissolve in a slow-motion dream. I exhaled. My frozen breath swirled in front of my face like silk curtains. I turned onto my side street and sliced through the powder, past the moose tracks, past the horse whose long hair was speckled in snowflakes, toward my own large single-room cabin in the woods, high on the bluff above Homer, Alaska.

I had lived there just over seven weeks, and was still completely awed by my surroundings: the sparkling bay, the snow-capped Kenai Mountains, the ash-belching volcanoes, the quirky downtown buildings and cobbled-together cabins. I pulled my bike up the porch and looked out over my backyard. The view was absolutely jaw-dropping — rolling hillsides of spruce trees and alder blanketed in snow, all framed by the white mountains. I went inside and fished through several drawers until I found my camera, a cheap 2.1-megapixel Fuji digital that I acquired when I decided to move to Alaska. After all, you really shouldn't move to Alaska without a camera. I had only taken a handful of pictures so far — mostly of the amusingly vintage furniture we purchased at local garage sales to fill the spacious single room and loft, of my cat stalking voles in the tall fireweed, and the crumbling outhouse in the front yard. But the wintry scene demanded photography, even low-tech amateur photography. I snapped one or two shots and went inside to warm my numb fingers and toes.

Later that night, I sat down to send a few e-mails to my family and friends. I muddled for words to describe everything that was happening — new job, new partnership, new life in a place that in nearly every way was worlds away from the life I knew before. “Today I rode my bike in the snow,” I typed in the subject line, and fired off my picture to the people I loved and missed.

“I really need to start a blog,” I said to my then-partner. “It’s hard to keep up with e-mails.”

“You mean Bike to Shine?” he asked, referring to the blog I kept to document our Alaska road trip and cross-country bicycle tour in 2003.

“No,” I said. “I already shut that site down. I need an Alaska blog. One where I can keep in touch with everyone and post pictures at the same time.”

I returned to the computer and set up a new account with Blogger.com. I scrolled through the templates and picked the cool blue hues that reflected my snowy location. I chose the url “Arctic Glass” because the phrase evoked sheets of ice on the ocean and the glistening silence of frozen tundra. It was also how I once misinterpreted a line from the Modest Mouse song “Grey Ice Water.” From the lyrics of that song, I also chose the name of my blog: “You got a job … Up in Alaska … It’s easy to save what the cannery pays cause there ain’t no way to spend it.”

The next day, I typed up my introductory post and announced my new blog’s existence to all of my family and friends. “I’m going to update it in lieu of the mass e-mails I’ve been sending,” I wrote. “Expect lots more pretty pictures of Alaska, which I hope will convince you all to come visit me in Homer.” I didn’t know if anyone would read it. I didn’t know that a scattering of early comments from strangers would ease me into Alaska’s widely dispersed winter cycling community. I didn’t know I would discover a race called the Sustina 100 and decide to use my blog as a training log. I didn’t know that readers’ financial support and encouragement would boost me through the completion of my first race ever — ultra or otherwise. I didn’t know that readership would continue to grow as I documented my ongoing discoveries in Alaska. I didn’t know that support would stay when I made the difficult decision to move to Juneau. I didn’t know my interest in photography would expand from nearly nonexistent to a daily habit. I didn’t know that I would continue to turn to the blog as a cathartic and creative outlet. I couldn’t anticipate the way my relationships with friends and family would enrich and grow in the way they did, because I had never before found such an effective way to communicate what was going on with me. I had no concept of the way tracking my training in a public forum would propel me to get out even when training was the last thing I wanted to do. I couldn’t foresee the way this self-fulfilling cycle would propel me to success in undertakings such as the 350-mile Iditarod race and the 2,700-mile Tour Divide — endeavors that on November 2, 2005, would have seemed wholly ridiculous and impossible to me. I didn’t know this public forum would introduce me to an array of new people, several of whom became some of my closest friends. I didn’t know I would generate 1,276 posts over five years, an extensive record of a half decade of my life. I didn’t know the blog would see the dissolution of everything that sparked it — living in a quirky cabin in Homer, my training logs, my partnership, and even my life in Alaska — and still continue to develop and grow. I didn’t know that ~2,000 people would click into it daily, drawing a small but substantial pool of like-minded people from all around the world.

(Photo of my current "backyard" - Missoula as seen from the top of Mount Sentinel at 7:33 p.m. November 1, 2010)

I didn’t know that this blog would change my life. But I’m grateful for every facet of it. Happy fifth anniversary, Arctic Glass, and thanks to everyone who’s joined me for any part of the journey.