Headwind weary and Montana bound, I’ve been pushing the pedals. When the wind blows the wrong way, there can’t possibly be anything right with the bike– the rear rim too heavy, the chain is not properly lubed, the tires too wide-not enough pressure-not supple enough. When the wind stops, life resumes. Minimally damaging whatever parts of my knees can’t handle my overexertions, I insist that I hit my Montana-bound mark of eighty-two miles a day. Better, Dease Lake is 86 miles away and there’s a proper grocery store that some precede with super-. Aside from headwinds I’ve met great fortune and kindness on the road, especially along the busier Alaska Highway. I was given two cartons of Powerbars by a Argentina-to-Alaska time trialist with an RV support vehicle; an amateur videographer donated two oranges, a fruit cup and a strawberry Boost beverage in exchange for an interview; and I found an unopened bag of trail mix on the roadside.
I wake early and start cycling late as grey skies and headwinds keep me sipping coffee and typing in my tent until almost noon. I finally emerge. Fifteen miles later I take refuge at a tourist shop selling locally mined jade, but offering free coffee and tea as an attraction. Cup after cup of Folgers keeps me from braving the reality of my self-imposing situation– that I am to ride 86 miles. I emerge again, finally, at two in the afternoon. Sure, the road is beautiful and the riding is swell– at least this is what I tell oncoming cyclists enjoying the tailwinds, oblivious to their fortune.
Thirty miles down the road I gain a fluidity which draws power from all over. No more am I simply pushing the pedals with the appropriate muscles. Now, I am pedaling. Standing to climb to maintain twelve or fourteen miles per hour uphill, and pedal pedal tuck——-downhill. Quick stop for river water, boiled hot for instant coffee. The last grocery didn’t have anything but Maxwell House in a really big can and instant coffee crystals require less fuel and less mess. Pasta and black pepper and an unripe avocado make a bunch of calories that taste like a meal. I bought five green avocados in Whitehorse four hundred miles ago, and they’re still mostly green. I’ve been out of salt for two days, and that’s a damn shame. Instant coffee, and bland avocado pepper pasta with no salt. Actually, I like it. Ride more.
My legs warm around dinnertime after the usual forty five miles into the day, and the winds settle for the eve. Forty-five more miles to Dease Lake could be five hours of normal cycletouring, or I can ride my bike and be there in just over three. Ride.
Medium warm-cool summer night with enough cloud cover to conceal the actual time of day, but real trees taller than twenty feet and lakes are finally familiar and might as well be Pennsylvania. Climbing-descending 800 feet at a time over the lakeside topography, the road is rewardingly rolling. Climb fast, descend faster. For the first time in days I stop staring at a slow moving odometer on the Cateye cyclocomputer, and ride. Three at a time the miles pass, as each 5 km road marker reminds. Descend tuck– 44mph. Eighteen miles to Dease. Refill the bottle from a small-thunderfall of water from the mountain. Always drink half, then refill. Carry less when possible. Nine miles and chat with three Spanish cyclists, one on an early Kona Explosif designed by Joe Murray, with a purple fork and a U-brake in the rear. Yes, it’s a snow bike. We all take pictures and laugh and carry on in separate directions. Food and coffee and cold clean water are fuel, and companion cyclists are dessert. Eight, seven, six at sixteen miles an hour and when I get there, to Dease Lake, the store is closed and the town is asleep in broad daylight at nine PM. I’ll buy salt, oats and apples in the morning.
“Timeless” is the title-track from John Abercrombie’s 1974 ECM release, featuring Jan Hammer on keys and Jack DeJohnette on drums.