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
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,
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 was blowing up the pass and the clouds scudded just out of reach. It was late in the afternoon when I made it out of town, after a last futile search in the
A tourist asked warmly where I was going and I told her Mexico. Unironic concern flooded her face: “You’re going the wrong way.” I was headed north.
The road turned vertical at 3
At seven mile, I crawled into the belly of the clouds.
At thirteen mile, deep in the clouds, a van with two bearded twenty-somethings slowed. The window rolled down and with
“Mexico,” I said and they belly-laughed at the utter implausibility of it.
Moving at a medium walk, I wobbled back and forth across the road to take the pitch at an angle. Every few minutes I look between my legs to check that Succotash hadn’t maliciously shifted up a gear. Three times, I quit peddling and walked, but when walking, my inboard leg banged into the pannier behind me. My front wheel was loose in the forks. Procrastination, denial, and foolish hope kicked in and I decided to wait and fix it when I make camp that evening. It was a fateful decision.
Some few miles south of the summit, I unpacked a bag looking for some electrolyte flavoring to make the water go down easier. I still hadn’t my packing well organized, and things not needed during the day were on top, things needed at the bottom. I found what I was looking for and repacked. Sort of.
Over the top, at 3280 feet, around 8 pm, we raced down the other side, the clouds higher, the pass rocky and
Twelve miles later, I pulled over to set up camp. Even as I reached for the straps securing the pannier, I knew my hammock wasn’t there. What synaptic failure precluded my brain from letting me know miles and hours ago? I search anyway–without luck. I rigged the tarp as a lean-to and the light drizzle whispered on the green nylon during the night.
I had no choice but go back over the pass to look for the hammock. I’d spent the previous evening trying to resurrect my short term memory and figured I’d taken it out when searching for the electrolytes and had failed to repack it–leaving it on top of a rear pannier.
I hung all but survival gear in a tree, breaking another rule–never to separate yourself from your gear–and headed back. If I didn’t find it, I’d drop down to Skagway, eating all the altitude gained the day before, to call Suzanne to airlift my tent up. Biking the
I tightened up the bearings and headed out. On the first spin of the wheel, the bearings cracked and crunched. Clearly, Mexico wasn’t in their destiny.
I checked in at customs, but there was nothing in their lost and found. Above customs was a Ministry of Transportation shop. I pushed Succotash up and knocked on the door. A young guy with a backwoods Canadian accent let me in and gave me all the tools I needed to clean the bearings. The bearings were still good–I had five full minutes of joy. Then I took a look at the cone nuts–around which the bearings spin–and they were chewed up. I filed them as smooth as I could, thanked my man, and headed up the pass.
“It’s like a
“I think we just passed it.”
He couldn’t fix the cone bearings though–and I headed to Whitehorse.
While I was whizzing back down the pass with my wayward hammock once more in my possession, the chain started making a scraping noise. That voice in my head, my constant, nay, relentless companion, told me to ignore it: It wasn’t anything; I could take a look at it later. In meek submission, I capitulated to it and pedaled merrily along, listening to my cranky chain.
But the night before lying in my improvised lean-to, reviewing the day’s disasters, I’d committed myself to
Even with that lesson freshly burned in my mind, it took me a mile or so before, I asserted myself, pulled over and investigated. Like the bearing oil, I assumed the rain had washed the lubricating oil out of the chain. Experimenting, I put a drop of chain oil on the joint of every link. Back on the bike, the chain was smooth and quiet and we zippered along.
I was astounded at how difficult it was to learn my lesson and how seductive my little voice was. For some years now I’d known that that little voice that runs nonstop commentary and backseat driver directives in my head was not my friend, but more often my saboteur.
There was another lesson in this incident, one not yet fully learned–but would be (frustratingly) soon: Don’t
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