Thursday, May 10, 2012

Week #8, Tok to Talkeetna.

Week #7, Whitehorse to Tok

Video of week #7:

A portrait

After 7 weeks on the pedal, my body is slowing down and wearing out. I'm trying to be careful. Mindful of every muscle, every fiber, every twitch. Trying to be gentile and conservative. This is a three part adventure and the second is about to begin. I just need to hold on. But I am getting so tired. Every time it snows or gets really cold, I feel like I have to wait another day before Spring arrives. But sometimes, motivation and compassion finds me on the side of the highway. Lifts me back up and pushes me onward.

I sat facing the wind, bike laying in the gravel next me, looking at the snow blown tundra and hanging glaciers on the mountains in the distance. Even after I tried to warm it in my pocket, the Cliff Bar was stiff and chewing it wore out my jaw.

I could hear the approach of the vehicle but didn't care to look behind until it sounded unusually close. As it passed and nearly drove off the road I notice a young girl smiling and waving towards me. She must have forgot that she was driving. I watched her correct the wheels back onto the road and off into the white distance, she disappeared. Not the first time this has happened.

Quiet. The cold wind gently whispering through the tiny bits of brush not covered by snow. I can hear another car approaching, this time I look up and can see that it's the young girl, driving back towards me and she is slowing down and pulling over. I don't move. I'm waiting for the crazy reason she has to talk to me.

The car door opens and from behind it pops a tall blond in coke bottle glasses with a long dress that is too thin for this time of year; she says "What are you doing? I mean, I see this guy on the side the road in the middle of nowhere, sitting next to a bicycle in the snow; and I think to myself, I have to ask him what he is doing." She sits down in the gravel next to me. For the next half hour we talk about strangers meeting in the snow on the side of the Alaskan Highway.

No other cars go by. She gets up to leave and ask "can I take your picture?". This is not unusual and I have a well practiced pose. A lot of people take my picture but this time it feels different. She shows me the black and white portrait. I love it. Me and nothing in a picture.

We don't exchange names, emails, Facebook accounts. She just leaves me as she found me. Again, I love it. I like thinking that somewhere, there is this black and white image of me on some girls computer. Just a face on the side of the road in her journey along this highway. It is as simple as I can be boiled down to. I hope it goes into a gallery somewhere. Guy on bike, in the nowhere of snow blown tundra, having his portrait taken.

Green Tea

Standing in a clearing on the side of the road. I always make sure to stop in wide open areas so that I can see what's coming out of the bushes. I'm trying to eat a Snickers Bar but when they freeze, it can break your teeth. Snow flakes are gently blowing through the shivering trees. It's late, really late. I'm hoping to make it to the next town by 9pm but as the minutes fade away, so does my strength.

A small pickup truck drives by. I wish I had a vehicle right now. I'm shaking, hungry, and a little worried that I don't have the strength to make it into town before the last restaurant closes and I'll have to go to sleep with an empty stomach. I gnaw off a small corner of the Snickers Bar and break it in the back corner of my mouth.

From around the corner the small pickup truck that passed me a minuet earlier, pulls around and swings right up to me. The window squeaks down and this long grey hair flys out. A wrinkled, sun blown face is unveiled. She says "would you like some hot tea? I just made a pot and have plenty to share".

I'm shivering. My lips won't stop shaking to let me speak. The rattling in my bones is vibrating my brain. I'm stupid and don't like tea so I say "I'm good, but thank you". She looks at me with a bit of earnest and tries again "are you sure? I just made it". "yea, I'm okay" I mumble back. All I can think is that I don't like tea and this old woman should leave me alone to shiver in peace. Cant she see that I'm trying to be miserable. Her persistence is impressive as she says again "are you sure? It's really cold out here and you look like you could use something warm. It would only taken second."

I want to please everyone, so for her sake I agree "okay, I'll take some". I'll suffer through some boiling hot tea and waste 5 minutes of strength and daylight that I don't have if it will make her happy. Besides, I can probably slip into the conversation that I am not too proud to accept rides from people if they offer.

She pulls over and pulls out two well worn bamboo cups, a dented and scratched metallic thermos, and pours me a cup of green tea. I stuff my Snickers bar into my pocket and reach out a shaky fist. Oh the warmth as my hand latches on to the cup. My other hand unfolding from my chest to squeeze the cup in front of my face. Steam rising up, kissing my nose and melting the snow flakes on my checks. How foolish I was to defy this woman.

This is the best damn cup of tea I have ever had. It's bitter and burns my tongue but I want to dive into this cup. Wait, she's taking to me; I should try to listen. Ah who cares. I'm probably near death but too cold to notice. I need to drink this tea and save myself, pay attention latter.

I finish my cup. I think she can see a bit of color coming back to my face. I didn't get to slip into the conversation anything about accepting rides from strangers, but I think I can make it to town. She packs up the tea set and wishes me luck. I still don't like tea, but I love this old woman.

"Know who you are, Know who you want to be, and Follow your dream
-Antonio Figureida

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Week #6, Muncho Lake to Whitehorse

Video of week #6:

As I wind my way north. The mountains are giving way to hills and the road is becoming wobbly as it flows over the melting permafrost on the flat tundra. In some places the highway crews repair and patch the road with a thick layer of tar and cover it with gravel for a sand paper like finish that is as course as my unkept beard. They call it Chip Seal and I think it is worse then the hole or frost heave that it is covering. Slowing me down with every vibrating bump while shorting the lifespan of the tires.

The only benefit is that I'm not the only one that the roads force to take heed. The cars and trucks would be stranded for weeks if they busted their suspension, and so they too have to navigate the drops, heaves, holes, and soft spots with care if they want to make their destination on time and in one piece. Otherwise they fly past me as if they had wings and were trying to take off. And who is to stop them? When you have one Highway Patrol officer for every 8,000 square miles, it's not likely that anyone gets caught for speeding.

The days are getting longer and longer. It's strange because time starts to not be very important. You can start anything at 5 in the afternoon and still have 6 hours of sunlight to finish it. I can wait till 3 in the afternoon to begin a 100 mile ride, and a lot of time I do; it's the warmest part of the day. As magical as this never ending visibility is, there are a few down sides. Most notably, it is hard to go to sleep at 11 pm when the sun is still up and it's hard to not wake up at 4:30 am when the sunlight is nearly bright enough to read by. Also, I've succumbed to the fact that I will not be able to catch an Alaskan sunrise because I will not be getting up 9 hours before noon to catch it. And similarly I don't think I will be filming any sunsets as I need too much sleep to stay up that late.

But the long days are bringing warmth and the possible arrival of Spring. Every day feels like the last day of winter and I have so much hope that it is. With every additional snow flake, ball of hail, freezing night in the tent, I tell myself that it will be the last. And though this has yet to happen, I have to believe and convince myself that it will. Otherwise I don't think I could keep on going. I have to pretend that I will know what it feels like to be warm again and that it will happen soon. If I thought that I would make it all the way to Mt. McKinley with ice on my back, freezing wind on my face, and clouds in the sky, I'd rather just drive there and save what little enthusiasm I have left for the climb.