First Ride of the Year

The last few days, sick in bed, or working while sick, has made me feel weak and feeble. I awake today feeling a wee bit on the up side after over 10 solid hours of much needed sleep. Upon feet hitting the floor, I can tell immediately that my head is still in a haze and my balance, off.  I peer beyond the window pane, out to the street and see that it still has not snowed. In fact, it has been raining solidly for over a week now, and the ice and snow covered roads are bare for the first time since winter began back in November.

My bicycle, once the heroic and hardworking steed of honor and salvation, a beast of untamed and ultimate proportions, doing battle with many, many miles of Alaskan countryside, now sits, quietly and waiting; buried beneath several feet of snow. Neglected. I am ashamed to admit this: I haven’t ridden the Ogre in nearly 5 months.  I think of it often, but there simply is no time, and rarely, when there is, the lack of studded tires in the heinious Haines climate, dictates other, non bicycle activities. But today is different. The roads, mostly free of ice, command a digging frenzy and a prying free of the old beast. She comes free, I mount up and half expect her to buck me off in retaliation, but she seems happy enough and off we go.

Pedaling down Small Tracts Road on the moist road surface was a pleasure; the 3rd Ave hill was another matter altogether; a long stretch of gravel covered ice threatenes to spill the beast sideways and toss me henceforth into the trees. Luckily this did not occur, and I landed safely at Mountain Market for some morning swill.

After coffee, I decide to pedal over to the docks and harbor to inpect the water and get a perspective on Haines that I rarely see. It was good to look out over the Lynn Canal and spy the Chilkoots and smell the salty air, all the while caching glimpses of the waves crashing the beach head. I decide to head north, up the Haines Highway, past the tiny airport, towards Canada. As I pedal, a strange and delightful sensation washes over me: I see creeks roaring out of the hills and rushing greatly toward the Chilkat and to the Sea. The snow, peeling back from warm temperatures, reveal all sorts of oddities that have been buried for weeks. Could spring be coming? Of course it is, but probabely not any time soon. It is January 19th, and we are having a typical Haines warm spell that could fool the foolish: spring is still a ways off, but on this day, a day of 38 degrees and ice free roads, I feel like I am once again on a long a stupendous journey, traveling great and uncountable distances via bicycle, crossing mountains and rivers and forest and… wait a minute, I’m only pedaling up the road a couple of miles to check out the old, abandoned cemetery, just north of town! It is good to let my imagination take hold of my spirit and fly as free as any man on earth.  Every day is a day of great adventure. This is Alaska!

I arrive at the cemetery; it is quite old, with most of the tombstones dating to the 1880’s. Some are Native, some are White, all are forgotten, cracked, falling. Moss grows freely on all surfaces of concrete and wood. Spruce and Hemlock grow mightily above, guarding the dead. I walk among the graves, and imagine the funerals’ here, 140 years prior, even before the great Klondike Gold Rush, when Haines was primarilly Native and Russian. I take a few photographs and a chilling breeze picks up. I remeber that I am in fact still somewhat sick, and having to work the following morning, I decide not to push my luck and walk back to the Beast, shift into gear, and pedal south, to my new home town of Haines, Alaska.

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