Sunday, March 12, 2017

Subzero respite

After he left the Iditarod Trail, Beat decided to spend another week-plus rambling north with me. Because I dropped out of the race only two weeks prior, there weren't many plans to work with. We were both feeling disappointed and moody, and uncertain how much more time we should burn in Alaska. Beat ultimately decided one more week would be good for him. I'm mostly incapable of giving up this place if I don't have to, but I was uncharacteristically unexcited about embarking on adventures. 

Our friend Kate lives on a homestead that borders the eastern boundary of Denali National Park. It's an enviable spot on a lake surrounded by sharp peaks, with the closest tiny towns still twenty-plus miles away. The neighbors have been there for generations. Despite the stereotype, they're friendly to outsiders who show up in rental cars with no engine block heaters (we were invited inside when we knocked on the wrong door, given a brief history of the homestead, and warned that our vehicle might not start in the morning.) These are the type of Alaskans who think riding a bike on the Iditarod Trail is normal, and who clear the ice to play hockey on Sundays, even at -40.

Kate graciously let us spend a couple nights in a cabin, and I was able to do a little work and get out for a 20-mile ride on a mushing trail out the Yanert River. Physically I have not been feeling strong, but if I keep my breathing in check — which I've learned actually means keeping my heart rate in check — I can muddle along just fine with no ill effects. Getting outside for an hour or three does wonders for my mental state — my focus seems to only get worse the longer I sit in disjointed contemplation. Until my health improves, I think this will be my mode of operation — going out for easy outings earlier in the day so I can work better in the afternoons. 

It was a gorgeous day in Denali, but cold. At 10 a.m. the temperature was still 35 below. I went outside to adjust some things on my bike, and broke a plastic zip-tie like it was glass. The pogies had gone rigid and the frame bag felt brittle. I stood outside for several minutes in my T-shirt, breathing in sharp air with subtle hints of cinnamon, relishing the tingle on my skin, and waiting for the cold to slam down like a lead blanket. I *love* that sensation, I mean, when I'm warm to start and know there's no danger. That level of cold quickly plunges to the core, at once filling me with exhilarating panic while beckoning me to its sleepy depths. After a few short minutes, I darted back inside the cabin and shivered contentedly.

I still waited until well after noon to embark on the ride, because that level of cold for hours is not so fun. I'd bundled up too heavily and ended up stripping down to a single jacket layer, and for a while no hat or gloves. Temperatures were still in the negative single digits at best, but I have been running quite hot lately. It's probably my thyroid. Strangely I still sleep cold and become chilled easily, but when I'm exercising, even fairly low temperatures start to feel intolerable (until they're not. I'm definitely not thermoregulating on an even basis.) But this subzero ride felt wonderful. Grinding along on a fairly slow trail, I managed to motor a ways out the Yanert before it occurred to me that the length of my ride would make me feel bad if I didn't turn back soon. But I could see the bend of the wide river, leading into the craggy peaks of the Alaska Range, and that faded desire for adventure finally returned. It took all of my strength to turn the bike around. Mostly because I really don't have a lot of strength.

By Tuesday we were in Fairbanks, and the temperatures were still 35 below in the early mornings, rising to just below zero by afternoon. I enjoyed another easy-going 20-mile ride from Goldstream Valley to the top of O'Conner Creek Trail. I'll admit to missing training, even the pretense of it. Although I haven't felt that fire for a while, even the hope of finding it gave some level of satisfaction. Dawdling around for my mental health isn't the same, but of course it's better than the alternatives. It's still Alaska, and still beautiful. 


  1. All that bright sun makes me feel warm! Since we haven't seen any in Seattle in awhile...

  2. "But I could see the bend of the wide river, leading into the craggy peaks of the Alaska Range, and that faded desire for adventure finally returned."
    "Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome." Arthur Ashe


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