Wednesday, March 23, 2011


My friend Keith has been a lot of things in my life. He and his wife, Leslie, were my first "trail angels" in the 2009 Tour Divide, providing me with shelter and much-needed perspective in the days leading up to the race. He's been my tour guide, my ski mentor, my bicycle dealer, my attached-at-the-wheels partner for a week of mud and suffering in TransRockies, my Thanksgiving dinner host and part of my "second home" in the unlikely but beautiful region of Banff, Alberta. The connection runs deeper as several of Keith's friends have become my friends. I have a what feels like a second (Canadian) family these days. And Keith introduced me to Danni in Montana, who inadvertently introduced me to Beat. It's intriguing the way these simple connections, born of a casual message from a stranger (Leslie wrote me an e-mail one fateful day in June 2009 that began, "I've read your blog ..."), can touch the deepest parts of our lives.

Keith had a four-hour layover at SFO, so I made the morning trip up to San Francisco to have coffee with him. It involved a 45-minute drive in rush-hour traffic on a rain-slicked I-280, a $12 parking fee and a mad dash across three terminals because I was already embarrassed how late I was. Still, all the rushing and hubbub of the airport dissolved as soon as I saw Keith's grinning face in the booth at Peet's Coffee. We had a great visit, talking about grand plans for future adventures and my new life in California.

"I miss Missoula," I said. "But so far, not in the way I expected to. It was beautiful with great trails and big mountains, but I find myself not really thinking about any of that. When I think of Montana, what I miss are the friends I made while I was there. I miss going up to Kalispell to visit Danni and I miss planning big backcountry national park adventures with Dave. I miss the bike adventures and going to movies with my friend Bill. We still chat online. It's not the same, obviously."

In my mobile life, I've had the fortune to make the acquaintance of some great friends, but they're scattered everywhere. There's the high school and college friends that scattered themselves; the ones I still keep in touch with now span the globe. There's the Utah friends who remained — the people I try to see when I'm "home." I have several current friends from past homes — former co-workers in Tooele and Idaho Falls, a former neighbor in Homer, a best friend in Juneau, and a surprising number of "new" friends in Anchorage, several of whom I was able to sit down and laugh with in February as though I'd never left. Then there are my bike friends: my other Canadian family in Whitehorse, Yukon; the "crazy Alaskans" connected by the White Mountains 100 who mostly live in Fairbanks; the enduro-freaks of the mountain biking community — all spread across the West; my Tour Divide friends; my Iditarod friends — several who reside in Europe. And now there are new running friends, and Beat's friends. They're all great people who have helped shape my life. And with the exception of very few, they're all hopelessly far away.

Since I was up north for the morning anyway, I agreed to meet up with a long-ago blog friend for lunch, a man named Shawn. I say long-ago because he and I had quite a bit of contact in my early days of blogging, in 2005 and early 2006. He was a friendly biking enthusiast in Arizona and I was an enthusiastic new Alaskan with an admittedly terrible camera. After commenting on my posts for several months, he wrote to me and offered to send me a Canon Powershot, free of charge. I've long since lost that camera, but it cemented my hobby of photo-documenting all of my outdoor pursuits in life. Shawn had some upsets in his own life, moved to the Bay area, and we lost touch not long after he donated the camera. I wouldn't have even suspected he knew I moved away from Homer, let alone Juneau and Anchorage and Montana, but through the magic of Facebook, he recently discovered I was living in California, and contacted me again.

We agreed to meet up in San Mateo for lunch. We'd never met in person, a strange phenomenon in itself, but in the context of modern life, never having met face-to-face seems to matter as little as a lapse of five years. I remembered Shawn was a foodie, the type who always posted photos of dinners on his blog, so I suspected the lunch would be tasty. I wasn't disappointed. There was a line outside Ramen Dojo at 11 in the morning. He waited in it for 20 minutes so we managed to slip in with the first wave, for a simple but sumptuous bowl of pork and noodles. We talked about biking and sea kayaking, culture and unemployment (Shawn was laid off from his job last year; he is still mulling how to shape the balance of work and life.) Shawn critiqued my chopstick technique. ("I lived in Salt Lake and then small towns — I never had a proper place to learn," I protested.) "Did you know there are 3,500 restaurants in the Bay area?" Shawn said. "You could eat at a different one every night for an entire decade."

We finished up lunch and agreed to meet up sometime for a ride. I left San Mateo with a warm kind of satisfaction — spicy lunch, yes, but also the knowledge that I had met a friend.

I've made a solid effort to taper this week, with only short rides and rest days, but I felt a strong urge to get out for a ride in the afternoon. It was just going to be what has become my routine favorite, the Monte Bello Road and back. But on my way up the road, a mountain biker wearing a helmet cam rode past. He asked me where I was headed. I was too embarrassed to tell him I was riding all the way up to the ridge just to head back down the pavement in an effort to make it a "short" ride ahead of a 100-mile snow bike race in Alaska, so I said, "Maybe Indian Creek to Steven's Creek Canyon."

"Oh, don't ride Indian Creek," he said. "There's a singletrack route that's way better. I'm riding with my dad; he's back a little ways. If you meet us at the backpacker camp, I'll point it out."

After I stopped to put on my jacket, the man's dad caught up and the three of us rode together. They introduced themselves as Jason and Scott. Harsh wind and hail pummeled us along the ridge, and Scott, the dad, made comments about my being hardcore, so of course I had to tell them I was a recent Montana transplant, and the weather, while wet and windy and actually quite cold, was "really not all that bad."

We started down the singletrack, a sideslope path that had been ravaged by the recent hard rains. We had to dodge deep trenches and patches of sticky mud, but that added to the excitement of the swooping descent. We dropped into the lush canyon, which was strewn with debris and deadfall from the recent high winds and heavy rains. Jason sidled up behind me, running his helmet cam, so of course I had to let off the brakes and swoop full-speed around the muddy twists and tight turns. I mean, I *had* to mug for the camera — never mind that it was a fairly reckless way for me to ride mere days before the White Mountains 100. Luckily, I didn't crash.

As we coasted back into town, they gave me the info for their Saturday morning group rides and asked for my e-mail so they could show me some of the "secret stashes" in the region. Scott grinned with the irony of the statement. They're not really secret, but they're known to local mountain bikers in a way that they can only be revealed by other local mountain bikers. Discovery is only possible in the presence of friends.

Then they actually did send me an e-mail tonight. I signed up for their Saturday group. I miss my Thursday Night Ride group in Missoula, but I'm grateful for an opportunity to make new friends.


  1. Friends and family are what it's all about in this crazy world. I joined the Navy when I was 17 (to escape FROM Montana, if you can believe it). That was LONG ago, but talk about having friends scattered across the globe! The great thing about friends is that time doesn't matter. Whether it be a year or a decade, we can get together and it's like we never left.

    It's great that you finally hooked up with some 'locals' to get the skinny on rides up there. Soon you will be giving all of us the scoop on great rides! Be safe out there, and good luck in the upcoming WM100!

  2. The great thing about the modern world is that it's easy to stay in touch with old friends. I'm glad you're making new friends already. Yay Jill!

  3. Jill, I'm beginning to realize, you are a kept woman. Not what I expected out of this, but I'll watch with interest.
    Not criticizing mind, just observing.

  4. I've tried all my life to be a kept woman but I keep meeting poor men! Ha ha. Actually I think Jill is devoting time to writing, which I am also very jealous of.

    I've worked all over the country for the national parks so I have friends all over, but it is hard when you really, really want to see someone and they are in, say, Florida.

  5. Ha ha — kept woman. It is true; I'm not an equal partner in this relationship when it comes to financial contributions. That fact is largely circumstantial at this point. Beat could have just as easily come to Montana and we could have made a go of it on my income. But for both financial and personal reasons, it made a lot more sense for me to come to California. In both moves, the earning power of the partner is substantially reduced — jobs aren't easy to come by in these markets, especially in this economy. Even if I sought out the first viable job I could land, I'd still be a "kept" woman because there's no chance the income could cover my half of the living expenses where Beat lives.

    I have managed to keep myself busy this week with a few magazine article assignments that will continue to bring in income for me — enough that I can still hopefully buy myself nice things :-) I've also finally started really diving into my book editing, which has been an impressively stressful and difficult task. It's not all bon-bons and bicycles for this housewife. But the dream is always that maybe someday I'll leverage future books to big money, and then I'll be able to keep Beat! It's unlikely, yes, but in my opinion a more worthwhile use of my time than pulling in $10 an hour at the local Subway at this point in my life.

  6. I never thought I'd hear (read) those words spill from your lips, but I'm glad you said it.
    There's nothing in the world wrong with this. FWIW, again having been down the road you're traveling but a long time ago, I see you giving in to temptation, facing reality and becoming a vagabond (and of course writing of these very adventures all the while) and living with a well earned smug satisfaction that, "Yeah, I've been there"...
    You read it here first, folks.

  7. Good luck and have fun in the White Mountains. Here's a preview from the Fairbanks paper:


  8. Z-man, Not really sure what you mean. For my entire adult life I've spent time on both sides of the workforce, by choice. I've fluctuated between being homeless and anchored, and this time last year I was doing this exact same thing I'm doing now, in Anchorage, sans-partner. So I don't really understand your statement.

    From your blog comments I gather I'm not really fitting into the smug pigeonhole you had in mind for me? Oh well. I never intended this blog to be a comprehensive summary of my entire life — it's just an outdoor activity and adventure blog, with few details about anything else that arguably makes up a larger part of who I am.

  9. Well, well, well. Smug? No need to get snooty. I was actually paying a compliment-again, but also just stating the obvious. You, me,(and that's where the relationship ends BTW) and a few friends are cut from the same bolt of cloth. Domesticity will not suit you, no matter how small a domestic role you have. I find this truth to be self evident. Your greatest drive, even greater than the want of/for love is to see what's over the next hill. Eventually you'll probably just go with it, totally, like being swept out by the strongest undertow.
    OK, so "you read it here first, folks", was a bit wise-ass. Sorry.

  10. If you ever find yourself in Boulder, I have an office full of mountain bikers that would love to be your friend. :-) Great post!

  11. anyone that ever read your blog knows that its adventure not money that you seek


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