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.
The mind boggles just the thought of it and you are so courageus. You made it despite your fears. Well done.
Happy cycling and meeting all those lovely folks.
Take good care
K & C
Look after yourself. You are scaring me!
Sarah, I’m the bus driver, Suzie, who gave you a hug. Let it be known that I don’t stop and hug very many people along the highway. In fact, you are the first. To think that you crossed oceans in your tiny craft, then shook with fear on this road. We all have our fears.
Bless you on your journey. Looking forward to following along with you.
Hi Sarah, after reading about the inner battle you are experiencing, don’t be afraid of taking a vacation! You have done so much already. Perhaps your mind is speaking for your best interest! Your fans will be behind you no matter what. As for us, we are in awe of your accomplishments and wish most strongly that you take care of You!
Sherry & Doug – Ninilchik
Sarah…. I stopped and talked with you yesterday after you crossed Caribou Creek. I was the guy that had the dead battery after we talked. I’ll be following you on your blog site. It was nice meeting you and I wish you all the best in your trip. Stay safe!
Happy and safe riding, Sarah .
( Phuc and I had a very nice memory meeting and sharing some snacks with you at the junction of Seward & Sterling highways – Tern Lake on Sept’1 while we were on the way to Anchorage from Homer )
You are in our thoughts and prayers.
Susan & Phuc.( Texas)
Sheep Mountain Lodge has great food! Glad to took a break and hopefully took in the wonderful views. While the adventure might be scary and you question your skills, you’ve got it in the bag! With all you’ve experienced over the past few years, you can tackle anything and be successful! Keep the faith and know I’m giving you a big ol ‘ virtual (((HUG))). Stay smart and aware and you’ll stay safe. Good luck on the future miles.
Still following you and watching the elevations on Google earth as you go up and down.
You need a chinaman / eskimo to ride with you to ride between you and the edge
No need to be scared, just think of all the niles that you have done already and no problems.
Take care and you will come out on top.Every one is behind you.
Cheers and keep going
OK you you scared me.
I read your blog then looked at tracker and thought something had happened.
Went to close down and found the reason. Whew.
I have a good mate who would reassure me and put up with the torrent of my filthy language when occasionally we would find ouselves in real difficulty on some rockface or another.
Now he can hardly walk with arthritis. Thus, there is worse than fear – there is the degradation of exclusion from the mountains and sea.
The last time I began to go up the mast, I felt the urgent need to tell him where my will was hidden.
All he could do was stand at the bottom. Sadly, to ease his pain, his movement had me swinging violently like the bob of a metronome at the top of the mast.
Thus there is also humour and doubtless more to come. Cheer up mi’ duck.
I am with you on that Malcolm. Definitely rather have these physical things to challenge me than ill health.
Love your blog, just checked out your location and woweee girl..you’re gonna need some snow tires pretty soon. Love the photo’s and stories…keep em coming but in the mean time,think of all you’ve overcome and be grateful for your fear as it keeps you alert and motivated to keep moving. Keep on trucking…hugs from a big fan!
The ice tyres (spiky) are in Edmonton waiting for me and I may need a snow bike before the end! Hercules going well for now.
Not so much facing your fears then – more a question of keeping them strictly to each side of you! A definite case of being doubly brave. Well done you! Keep remembering, you and Chimpy are in charge. On the positive side, the mountains and lakes and autumn colours look just amazing (just found the first verse of ‘From a distance’ echoing around my head: ‘From a distance the world looks blue and green,and the snow-capped mountains white. From a distance the ocean meets the stream, and the eagle takes to flight’ – magic song) and the people sound really warm and friendly. Enjoy!
Isn’t it funny that fear never strikes where you have anticipated it. That’s what makes it even more scary. You are just a normal real human being – ie there are challenges that nearly get you stuck. I think you need troups of us (those who don’t mind heights) to be virtual edge-blockers. Perhaps you could imagine some of us lining the difficult bits of the road like you had the names in your boat to mark the miles while ‘the only way is up’ (or down – which may be worse!) as you find your way forward! Mountains are pretty non-negotiable in the options they offer for negotiating them! Walking changes the speed of the view and may reduce the sense of emergency, and Chimpy sounds as if he bought the genuine offer of compromise. I’m sure he appreciated your kindness and honesty with him. I’ve loved reading your descriptions, and the blog comments of others who have faced fears too. Good courage, and may your monkee soon feel cheekee again. xPam
Good idea Mrs S – I shall try the ‘edge blockers’ and see if you guys work! Monkee always cheekee, even if a little quiet at times 🙂
Sarah, you departed us here in Homer, but you never left us. We ride with you still. Be Brave. Be Confident. Be true to yourself. Sheep Mountain marks the beginning of the Race Across Alaska, and those of us from Homer who have braved that Race, are riding beside you, in spirit, even now… and you inspire us. Go Girl !!
Thanks Joe. Great to meet you all in Homer.
Great to catch up with your latest adventures on your travels. Your journey and your writing inspire many to seek out their own challenges and adventures.
I’ve been on an adventure of my own over the past twelve months, writing a walking guidebook ‘Saddleworth Discovery Walks’ the book has now been published and now a new challenge begins to share the book with those who would like to read it. Life’s challenges are what keep us alive and they come in many forms.
Stay safe Sarah and look forward to reading your on going reports.