Friday, March 09, 2012

Clear sky send-off

 Alaska sure knows how to break my heart.

After Beat returned from McGrath, we had two more days to kill in Anchorage before our scheduled flight back to California. Beat was predictably exhausted and slightly shell-shocked, but managed to walk out of his eight-day ordeal relatively injury-free. I'll probably write a bit more about Beat's Iditarod experience and the aftermath in another blog post, but he's doing well. He had painfully cracked finger tips from continuous freezing and thawing, and a bulging blister under his big toenail. However, he was already up and running the following day, modeling his powder snowshoe sprinting skills for our photographer friend Dan. Dan and Amy took great care of Beat by baking a steady stream of pizza and cookies, and they let me borrow their snow bikes for some crunch-time White Mountains 100 training.

 Alaska blessed my snow-biking frenzy with blue skies, perfectly groomed multiuse trails (the Tour of Anchorage just came through here last Sunday) and fast-flowing, foot-packed singletrack. Birch trees shimmered with frost, the Chugach Mountains carved a dramatic skyline, and I had to consciously decide to close my mouth to keep my teeth from freezing through my grin. Luckily Dan's schedule limited me to a few hours each day because I easily could have burned every second of available daylight (and there seems to be a lot up there now) out on those trails. I even question the actual training value of the hours I did steal, so lost was I in snow-rolling bliss.

The problem with sunny March days in Alaska is that they all but force you to fall in love with this place all over again. The wooing doesn't let up for a second:

It's beautiful when you're driving along the Glenn Highway ...

It's beautiful when you're gassing up the trucks you borrowed at $4.31 a gallon ...

It's beautiful when you're commuting to the airport beneath a full moon and the strongest solar storm since 2004, witnessing luminescent waves of white and green aurora despite layers of light pollution.

And just when you think you can't possibly fall any more deeply in love, it's time to cram your exhausted body onto a red-eye flight and jet back to reality. I am happy to be home, though. Happy to be back in familiar settings with my own bikes, excited to see my cat again, excited to get back to more focused work, looking forward to some real down time with Beat (that is, after I cram in a "peak" training weekend on the Fatback.) It was predictably gorgeous in California this afternoon, with skies as clear as those in Southcentral Alaska and temperatures near 70. I went out for a road bike ride, where I simultaneously felt ridiculously fast as well as overheated and sluggish. Still, it was fun to feel the effortless freedom of rolling pavement after weeks of trudging through snow, and I'm really looking forward to a night in my own bed.

But I will be back, Alaska. In two weeks, actually. After that, I'll just have to see how long I can resist the magnetic pull.