I never imagined this ride would scare me in quite the way it is doing. I am scared of heights – more and more so as I get older, it seems – and get queasy looking up at big cliffs etc. So riding these mountain roads and passes is making for a rather scared rider as I pedal my way through the Chugach and Wrangell mountains. It feels like I am in a fear sandwich – I get scared looking up at the rockfall slopes and am terrified by the edge to my right, often with a tiny barrier or none at all. My forearms are generally numb with pumping the brakes on such exposed downhills, afraid of spinning out of control into traffic or over the edge.
Yesterday was worst of all. The road wound round the mountain and over Caribou Creek before doing the same up the other side. I stood, frozen, for a full ten minutes at the start of it talking myself back on the bike. I even considered thumbing a lift and accepting a few miles of engine power. I didn’t. I wouldn’t. I haven’t. But I considered it. (Only the 6km between the China and Russia border have engine to their name.)
I was terrified, especially as it was such a long hill so I knew would take an age. I considered walking it but knew that would take forever and had just passed the signs staying ‘No stopping’ because of rockfall.
Instead I bargained with Chimpy and said I would ride really slowly and see what it was like. If I really couldn’t move then I would walk or consider flagging, in that order.
Well, I was really scared – almost crying with fear – but I did go fast enough to call it moving. When no cars were coming I rode in the centre of the road, away from the edge on my side. When the ‘Oversized Load’ convoy came past I froze on the tiny shoulder and look away from the edge, pretending it wasn’t there.
I was shaking by the bottom of the hill and pulled over to talk to the camera – often calming but sometimes it scares me more by talking out aloud. A yellow bus was coming down the hill and, just as I was saying how brave the driver must be up here, the bus stopped and the lady driver grinned and asked if I was OK. She came over to take a photo and gave me the best hug ever. I was still shaking.
Her husband also drives the bus and had told her to look out for me, apparently telling her to ‘look behind as you go past and see her brilliant smile.’ Good job she saw me there and not going down the hill as I wasn’t smiling at all then.
So here I sit in the cafe at Sheep Mountain Lodge – having loaded up on all the carbs I can (three pieces of pie and ice cream for dessert last night, much to the amusement of the waitress), wondering what the day will bring. The last few days have taken me weaving around mountains and up and down them, enjoying the bright yellow and rusty patchwork blanket of trees shouting their final hurrah as autumn starts stripping them bare. Snowy crag lines scratch out an aerial horizon high above me and the space between is filled in with the greys of gravelly rockfalls, the bright red of metal ores and the dark browns of heathers and berries turning wintry. Stunning doesn’t cut it. There is no way I can describe it justly – it is sublime and more. Inspiring and awesome in all senses of the word. I feel tiny among them and reminded that blips in the road of life are just that. The timelessness of the mountains and the swing of the seasons is a call to remember not to get hung up on the small stuff, just focus on having and feeling the best ride of my life, moment by moment, hill by hill. For all too soon, they will be beneath my wheels and memories of the ride I once had.
To see exactly where I am or have been, check out www.sarahoutencom/the-mission/journey-tracker/
If you enjoyed reading this, please consider supporting my L2L Charities : CoppaFeel!, Jubilee Sailing Trust, MND Association, WaterAid. Donate here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=SarahOuten Thanks to all who have done so far. Until next time, Sarah and Hercules x P.S Final Anchorage thanks to Team Cameron, Lisa Taylor, Jill Fredston and the Ruth and John on the tandem. P.P.S Thanks to Rob who stopped to give me beers on the road the other day.