Alaska

Slideshow: Alaska to Alberta Not Covered in Glory I was lucky there were no witnesses when I tried to push an overloaded Succotash out the door. I forgot to shift her into low gear before I started up the driveway and I had to walk her up to the road. Three miles into the trip with no system failures, I stopped at the top of the small rise before the hospital to call Suzanne to let her know I was off. No answer, I left a voice mail. I remounted, and glided down the hill and there she was listening to my message and taking pictures. Final hugs. Gray, spitting rain, tires slick on the asphalt, a black Volvo with a bike strapped on its roof honked, the driver shot me a thumbs up. At the terminal, I stood last in line: an alien in tights, shoes that click like a dog’s overgrown claws, head gear that looks majorly encephalitic, and a diaper between my legs. It’s hard to take this sport seriously when it’s such a sartorial catastrophe. Sunk in my dweebishness, behind me, a silky voice spiced with German said: You’re riding a bike too? Six foot, bronzed, clear green eyes, with a translucent complexion, she leaned over my bike odometer and said, 13. First day, I murmur. In the ship’s hold, she secured her bike and walked away, swaying like a tall ship, her top gallants catching the sea breeze–no clicking shoes, no diapers. It could be done. Without apology, the ferry left me at Skagway below mean low water. It was still raining, the wind...

The Yukon

Metaphysics I’m a radical secular materialist, I don’t believe there is any higher power meddling, for good or ill, in my life. There are, however, two aspects of my life where I don’t poke at the metaphysics too much. First: Every lesson I’ve learned as a result of a dumb mistake—and there have been legions—I have paid a fairly low price for. Not that losing a hammock is serious, but it was a dumb mistake, and I got it back without having to repedal the pass. I have friends who are far better skiers who have broken legs, friends who are far better sailors lose boats, friends who stretch before they run, snap tendons. They get the serious pain; I skate. The story that flooded my mind on the way to Whitehorse was of a woman I’d met when sailing in Tonga who’d held a coconut in her hand and whacked at it with a machete. The blade glanced off the shell and sliced into the fleshy heel of her thumb. Fortunately, there was an American warship in the harbor and she and her husband leapt in the dingy and raced over. After the corpsman had sewed and bandaged her hand, he told her she’d cut the nerve and would never regain full functionality of her thumb. After she’d told me the story, she’d looked at me with great pain and frustration clouding her face and said: “It was a high price to pay for a little mistake.” I have driven knives and chisels into my hands, even burned the flesh through to the bone sliding down a rope, but never damaged a...

British Columbia

Another three days and I reached the turn onto the Cassier Highway. This road runs south behind the coastal mountains for 750 miles to the Yellowhead; the east-west road connecting the Rockies to the coast of British Columbia. I stopped at Sally’s Café and had an omelet and potatoes and toast followed by pie and ice cream and the sensuous pleasure of that good meal floated me down the first 20 miles or so of the highway.  Nether Regions Bikers’ shorts are made with foam sewn into the crotch. I bought two pair and a Costco sized tube of Butt’butter, a skin lubricant to help reduce chafe. The only thing that really worried me about being able to complete this trip was a sore (acheingly, I will not sit down, I will never ride again, sore) butt. To my distress, it was unclear from the directions whether one puts his/her lubricated butt directly on the foam in the short’s crotch, or whether one put it in underwear and then in the shorts. The biking literature was silent on this as well. Suzanne had given me a pair of 13:1 briefs. The ratio refers to the number of days worn to washings. 13:1 might be shocking for some, but was about my standard towards the end of my laundry cycle. The 13:1s, when slipped on, are snug, everything is well arranged, making me look very dapper and properly tucked away. It was a day out of Whitehorse, the butt had been mighty sore the previous day, when I first slathered on the Butt’butter and pulled on the 13:1s. Ah, the joy...

Alberta

The Great Divide Trail: Mile 0 Slideshow: Alberta to Montana By the time I had done my shopping, packed up, and found my way to the back parking lot of the massive Victorian Banff Hotel where the north end of the Great Divide Trail begins, it was past noon on July 29. An accommodating German tourist snapped a picture of Succotash and asked where I was going.   “Mexico,” I said. “On that?” Poor Succotash. And then I was off. The trail ran south beside a clear fast flowing stream, the rugged mountains of the Canadian Rockies bracing the sky, the forest deep and green, and the trail, at first smooth, perhaps groomed for the many tourists, soon turned rough and rocky. Succotash was banged and jarred, she rattled and lurched. I couldn’t, for the life of me, see how she could withstand 2,700 miles of this kind of abuse. I was right. First Days on the Trail For the first time I felt—not transported, it was too small, too tentative, too early in the trip, to call it that—say it was more of a joyful hop;one charged by the beauty of the country, the starting of a great project, of the body, mind, and soul all aligned and ticking over with the frictionless beauty of a good front wheel, and an absolute absence of traffic. I climbed over my first continental divide crossing on the Trail and camped by a clear-water stream that rushed thru a rocky gorge. On the afternoon of my second day, I left the Trail, turning down a side road, and biked a few...

Montana

My Orange I was twenty-one hundred miles out of Juneau when I arrived at the Montana border. If you haven’t been through a land border in recent years, you’re in for a surprise. There are huge hi-tech almost other worldly sensors linked by thick ropes of electrical cables that check everything coming into the States for radioactivity. On the Canadian side there’s a little outpost where an officer casually asks if you are bringing in any alcohol or firearms. Our propensity to overreact to our own fears can be humiliating. The officer who took my passport asked where I was going. Mexico, I said “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said. He also took my orange. I was verbally distressed at losing it. He told me I could replace it in Eureka, just 12 miles down the road, but wasn’t the loss of the orange itself that I mourned—it was that I’d been carrying it for miles and miles looking forward to the moment when, hot, sweaty, and thirsty, I would bite into it and luxuriate in the sweet juices filling my mouth and running down my throat. And instead of in my mouth, it ended up in a trash can. I am a rad-delayed-gratificationist. Except in chess, I’m not driven by impulse. An iconic example: On the pipeline, workers lived in camps and the food, within the standard American context, was very good; but within the hippie-vegetarian context, was shy on such things like wheat germ and tofu. So periodically, I’d mail a shopping list and a blank check down to a health food store in Fairbanks. At...

Idaho

Slideshow: Idaho and Wyoming Barely a Taste The Great Divide slices off only a sliver of Idaho—less than 80 miles. Mountain bikes are not permitted off road in National Parks, so the Trail couldn’t go through either Yellowstone or Grand Teton. Fortunately, between the two, there’s a small area of protected land called the John Rockefeller Parkway and to thread the gap between the two parks, the Great Divide Trail slips into Idaho. There was an other-worldly change in landscape crossing Red Rock Pass. From high desert wilderness, largely empty of people, on the Montana side to verdant valley with the early morning dew lifting off the grass and bushes as the sun rose, on the Idaho side. A few old homesteads were in the upper valley, but they soon gave way to second homes plopped in the middle of old hay fields with all the architectural finesse of a palm tree in Juneau. Horses, horse-trailers, big pick-ups, and the smell of bacon, steak, and homefries greeted me at the bottom of the valley. The cowboys, mostly with Utah plates on their rigs, were dressed in blue jeans, pearled shirts, and chipped and scuffed cowboy boots with two inch under slung heals. None waved, , much less invited me to join them for breakfast, perhaps instinctively knowing that some outfitted in lycra with a diapered crotch wasn’t one of them. I whizzed by and headed up the other side. And missed the turn back onto the Trail. By the time I realized it, I was a mile or so down the road and not interested in turning back. I...