Posts Tagged ‘biking’


Saturday 13 May 2017, end of weeks 0a / 0b in Homer: too late… it’s really Sunday

Can someone please explain what’s wrong with me? At the beginning of the month I left the above Mexican Alaskan set-up, my neighboring puppies, and the chance for a real summer of hammock time, biking, and friends for another season of fieldwork in the Aleutians.

I believe there comes a time in every wildlife field technician’s career when he or she can no longer ignore the the little voice in the back of his or her head that’s been whispering, “Summer. You want an actual summer,” year after year.

That time has come for me, to the point where I would have been quite content if the government had shut itself down for the summer, thereby denying me the season of fieldwork. I’ve only ever had 1 true Alaskan summer, and that was when I worked on the Riverboat and at Trailbreaker Kennel in 2012.

tiglax in seward

Being paid for a day of roadtripping to Seward and driving the empty van back to Homer was great!

As I was driving back from meeting the Tiglax in Seward on Monday, I realized that I just want to bike, bake, read, write, and drive this summer. Those sound like the makings of a great summer – well, those plus eating Hot Licks ice cream, participating in the Midnight Sun Run, floating the Chena, backpacking, checking out the Chitina River (where everyone goes for fishing adventures), and just enjoying summer weather.

This comes from the realization that spending time in a place that means something to me (Fairbanks) lends itself to wanting to belong. Over the years I’ve become the person of whom it can be said, “Steph leaves… that’s what she does.” As much as I’ve loved my travels, this saddens me, as I’m learning people matter as much as adventure. Apart from when I have a puppy or my bike with me, I’m starting to acknowledge that my wandering ways are growing lonely.

Being in couplesville at the bunkhouse in Homer has emphasized how nice it would be to have someone else with whom to cook, plan, and wrap up loose ends before leaving for the summer. I was lovingly referred to as the “9th wheel” and “redheaded stepchild” of this year’s 3 Aleutian crews, which are composed of 3 different couples + me.

But enough of that for now. Since those knuckleheads in D.C. managed to agree on a budget, in the morning I’ll board the Tiglax for my westward cruise back home to Buldir with Kevin and McKenzie. We’re extremely curious to see what this year’s weather brings and how the birds’ breeding season plays out. I’m looking forward to sleeping to the sounds of waves and storm petrels.

The day before I left Fairbanks the temperature was around 60F, and I was itching for a final bike ride. I’d wanted to head down Chena Hot Springs Road (CHSR) but didn’t necessarily want the miles through town to get there, so I settled on biking Chena Ridge (left loop on map).

Unfortunately those 20 miles weren’t enough, so after my mid-ride muffin – because my hopeful mid-ride mojito venue wasn’t open yet – I decided to tack on Farmers Loop (right loop). Well, I got to the far end of Farmers Loop and realized I was just a little over a mile from CHSR, and before I knew it, Trekker had turned that direction and I had no say in the matter.

When I turned on CHSR, I had my usual goofy biking grin on my face and was loving life. I still needed to pack and take some belongings to storage, but biking was more important. By the time I forced myself to turn around, I’d learned that the big hills of the first 9 miles aren’t as steep as they look from a car. I’d also learned I should know better than to think bringing snacks wouldn’t be necessary. I know my riding habits.

By the end of the ride I was in no hurry to think about leaving Fairbanks, and I was thrilled to see I’d managed to squeak in a 60+ miler on my last afternoon. I could have gone another 20+ miles without a problem. Next time. That’s the dream!

First, it’s time for the dream of another long boat ride and season surrounded by seabirds.





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bike sketch


The bicycle means different things to different people. For kids, it’s a stepping stone to a new form of play. For bike commuters, it’s a source of transportation. For professional cyclists, it’s a hobby and money maker. For the average American, I’m guessing it’s a form of exercise.

Then there’s someone like me who smiles at the memory of a good bike ride while dreaming of the next. I can wonder why on earth I’m crawling my way up a hill and then remember as I feel wind-induced tears of joy as I fly down the other side. I can yell at the headwind while wondering why I decided it was time for a ride and then breathe easily as I smile at my speed and ride a good tailwind home.

Unfortunately, scooping dog poop and carrying buckets of dog food and water has kicked up my carpal tunnel syndrome, which has led to wearing my wrist brace day and night. Currently when I bike, my hands do go numb, so today I looked up how cyclists deal with carpal tunnel. Just reading someone’s comment of “I do not wish to give up cycling because of it” put me on the verge of tears.

Even when I’m not certain, my bike Trekker just seems to know what I need and where to take me. For me, the bike provides mobility, freedom, thinking time, self-torture, exercise, and happiness – sometimes all in one ride.

When I climb on my bike these days, it’s often just to get around town; my bike is my car. Yet because biking is in my genes, I often find myself shouting, “Yay biking! I love biking!!!” (Seriously, I should have started the sticker company that makes these.)water bottle

Despite the wind, on Tuesday I needed to go for a real ride – not just running errands. My one errand included dropping off the rest of the brownies and blondies I’d baked the day before; they needed to get out of my cabin – hence the bike ride.

As I left campus and started up into the wind on Farmers Loop, I was in the middle of a pretty intense thinking session. Staying in town for this long has shown me that I am indeed a human who wants social contact. As happy as I am with opening my door to 60 puppies with wagging tails in the morning, I’ve realized I don’t want to spend my evenings alone in the cabin.

This led me to thinking about life and what I want out of it, and that’s less than a clear road to me… as in it’s the trail-less wilderness of Denali. After roaming around in my mind for awhile, I needed to get out. Instead of only dwelling on my thoughts, I started singing some of the sad songs that I find beautiful; instead of slowing down for puddles, I started riding full tilt through them, delighting in the rooster tail of water spraying my face, coat, and shoes. Before I knew it, I was having a blast racing my way downhill, riding a tailwind into the beginning of sunset. My biker’s high had been a little slow to arrive but had finally kicked in.

The only downside was that my feet had grown cold from the wet and wind, which made me decide to briefly stop in Barnes and Noble. Really it was part of Trekker’s plan all along, I think, as inside I found the remains of a free food event. I inquired as to what had happened and learned that the Alaska Writers Guild had just held their monthly meeting.

“Are you a writer? If you’ve written a sentence, you’re welcome to come talk about writing and get input,” said a middle-aged male member.

Hmmm. Am I a writer? That’s something I ponder now and then. Was this serendipitous meeting meant to be a kick in the pants for the future?

After chatting for a bit, I sat by the fire to warm my feet and jump on better internet to check for sub jobs. Since poor Fairbanks is desperate for substitute teachers, subbing is my new time filler and money maker. Being in charge of kids who just want to horse around while teachers are gone isn’t my ideal job, but it’s something that allows for a very flexible schedule and challenges me to work around people.

Since I’m so inexperienced and rather out of my element, I haven’t necessarily been excited about most potential jobs. However, this time was different, as there was a job in a computer class at a middle school. The appeal lay in the class note, which read, “Students are working on a world tour project where they need to do research and find 21 places around the world they would like to visit.” THAT I could try to keep kids focused on all day. Travel’s the greatest!

With the job impulsively in hand, I realized I needed to bike the rest of the way home and get to bed before a day of travel talk. Yes, I’d be the annoying sub with far too much enthusiasm for the topic, and it would be great.

On my way home I was all smiles as I enjoyed the tailwind and sunset. Trekker had done it again, given me just what I needed: a 26 mile ride, a brief visit with a running friend I bumped into (not described in this post), ideas for the future, and the chance for a Steph-geared subbing job. Yay! Biking!


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