Just 24 hours after we left Fairbanks, I curled up in my own bed and let the contentment wash over me like a warm shower. I was so happy to be home. And then, I wasn't as happy. It's always difficult to leave Alaska.
Beat unpacked Snoots and swapped the overbuilt (actually, built to carry huge loads) titanium fork for a carbon Fatback fork. Now the bike with rear rack, stocked frame bag, and platform pedals weighs 32 pounds — not bad. We're already scheming plans for Alaska next year, which may include (gulp) traveling together by bike from Knik to Nome. After having my ass — along with every last ounce of self-confidence — handed to me by the winds in Shaktoolik, I was terribly reluctant to launch Iditarod plans for next year. But I've been scheming and working toward this trip for two years already, and dreaming about it for much longer (ten years, actually.) I know I'd regret it if I let one confidence-shaking journey derail these ambitions.
So, that's the hope for now: Bike to Nome in 2016, with or without Beat (he may still want to walk, which I fully support.) I'm not even convinced cycling is the best way to go for me on the Iditarod Trail. Dealing with a bike does dredge up an enormous amount of angst, caused by anticipating bad trail conditions, facing weather that is truly unworkable, and the constant threat of mechanicals. When traveling on foot — which has fewer variables— it's easier to just accept tough situations and keep pressing forward. But I also can't fathom the physical difficulties of dragging a sled for a thousand miles. Presuming I'm given a chance to try (because I want to make the trip to Nome with the support of the ITI, so need to wait and see whether my entry is accepted), I still have 10 months to think about it.
Other than Alaska dreams, what's next? Beat is gearing up to travel to South Africa in June, where he and Liehann will ride the Freedom Challenge (the same 2,500-kilometer mountain bike event that Liehann and I rode last year.) I didn't have a strong desire to go back and ride this particular event again, so I won't be joining them. I presumed I'd come up with some great bike tour for myself, but here I am, mid-April, and still haven't made any plans. I did toy with the possibility of another run at the Tour Divide, but my fitness isn't where I'd like it to be in that regard. And although it would be great training for Nome, I'm not sure I'm excited enough about such a difficult endeavor at this time. I only want to ride the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route again if I'm going to go all out — to the limits of my physical abilities — and explore all the edges of my inner galaxy while viewing beautiful scenery outside. I don't have a strong desire to fast-tour this particular route, which may be all I'm up for right now. So, June plans also are in flux. I may ultimately just decide to nail down my Ann Trason book project, visit friends and family, and train for UTMB in a more focused way with lots of hiking and trail running. Or ... bike tour. Or both!
|I know, so many selfies. This was the only photo from this day that survived a serious case of sweaty lens smudges.|
After a month of riding a heavily loaded Snoots on soft snow, sometimes pedaling (actually sitting in the saddle and pedaling) slower than two miles an hour, riding my road bike feels effortless. I love how it zips up hills and actually coasts sometimes. I was beginning to think this bike pedaled itself, but when put to the test by 100+ miles of the Diablo Range with frequent 12-percent grades and 8,500 feet of climbing, this theory failed. This was a tough century, as Jan will agree. He often lamented how slow we were moving for our efforts. ("But our average speed is in the double digits," I'd marvel.) We fought gusty winds and mean climbs toward the 4,200-foot peak, followed by a stiff headwind all the way back to Pleasanton along the steep rollers of Calaveras Road. I was tired but still couldn't believe how fast and relaxing it all felt. That's the benefit I still carry from my 120-mile, five-day ride in Alaska: Try something ridiculously hard, and for a short time — while the memories are fresh — everything else will seem easy.