As we zipped across the dusky bay from Seldovia to Homer in his little skiff ‘Perl’, a grinning Chunk declared that I was like a lone wolf, heading out on my journey alone. A few nights later, tucked into the trees as half-convincingly as I could manage at hiding my tent and bike, I didn’t feel very brave. At all. Of course I followed all the routines of food bags up trees and a fire which I gallantly stoked until one a.m and of course the chance of any miscreant bear causing me issues is relatively slim. But all the same, my heart raced well beyond the time I reluctantly got into my sleeping bag after ‘Just one more load’ of wood on the fire, repeated many times.
Transitioning between different stages of anything, but especially this journey, always take me a little while, both physically and emotionally. The first five days of riding from Homer to Anchorage have been no exception. I beat myself up at taking so many breaks to start with, remembering Justine’s (relative) whip-cracking pace on the kayak and reminding myself of the miles left to the Atlantic coast, snow peering down at me from mountain tops reminding me that winter is on her way. Stop stop stop Sarah Outen. Be gentle with yourself, ease back into it, said the voice in my head. Really, this was just a battle with Chimpy (Remember him?) Once I had allowed myself that and really believed it, I was fine and had every break I wanted without guilt. After all, it is about sustainability. Aiming for a steady 50 miles a day I figured it doesn’t matter when I do those miles or how long they take me in a day – so long as I am off the road before nightfall.
Slooooooowly does it
That’s a good thing too because Hercules is heavy and, while I have pretty solid aerobic fitness after our 1500 mile paddle, my legs haven’t done too much work for some time. My pace slowed to an almost static 3 miles per hour up over the passes and hills – I could have walked quicker, were it not for the bike and his load. On the steep section of Rabbit Creek road on my run into Anchorage I was so close to going sub 2 miles per hour and wobbling across the shoulder that I almost walked in a bid to stay upright and alive. But I didn’t. I stood up on the pedals and squeaked out the last metres of the hill with squealing quads and heaving lungs, red faced and grinning. The rule is I only walk if I physically can’t make the bike move or if it is too steep an off-roady section of downhill. That and total breakdown, of which we haven’t had either yet for bike or rider, thankfully.
So really this is perhaps just a post to say there is nothing heroic or wolfish in my riding or being out here/there doing my thing. The only difference between me and the person at home is that I am out, doing it. You just have to get out and make it happen, whatever your ‘it’ needs to be, not being held back the ‘What ifs’ and fears. The cyclist who pulled up behind me on the Seward Highway said he could never do it…. I disagree. I am only riding a bike. Remember Gao? He rode across China with me on a whim. I am not saying that everyone has the time and space in their lives and families to do exactly what he did, nor indeed should they feel compelled to – just to do something adventurous, in whatever time and space you want. Because it really is quite magic.
Like a girl
That said, I am glad to be flying the flag for the girls as there is still far too much surprise at women being out and about adventuring and not enough real life (and not airbrushed/celebrity) sporty female role models in the media. I saw an ad for a t-shirt with ‘Paddling like a girl’ on the back recently. I would wear it with pride and shout down anyone who says anything derogatory about ‘throwing like a girl’ or thissing or thatting like a girl. I think it is akin to being racist to judge someone and their ability on gender. I am not the only one feeling it. As I trundled up Turnagain Pass, waving at a cyclist shape who became a woman in the opposite direction, she shouted ‘You’re a lady too! That’s awesome’. Absolutely – there are plenty of gals of all ages doing cool adventures all over. And doing cool living, too. Adventures don’t have to be big mad things happening away from home for months and years at a time. I think it is about the way you look at life, opportunity and each new day. It is about moments more than months. (See the brilliant Al Humphrey’s campaign for MicroAdventures for ideas on this alastairhumphreys.com)
Now, let me get down off my soap bike and tell you briefly about the ride up here to Anchorage. It was beautiful. Mountains bronzed by Autumn and sky blue glacial rivers carving their way downstream, weaving between peaks along the road. Inky black lakes reflecting the still shapes of spruce trees. Trees, trees, trees. So many beautiful trees. Hills that made my legs hurt and miles that made my bum hurt. Downhills run so fast and so close to the edge of the road with huge trucks hurtling by that made my heart skip and my forearms ache with gripping the brakes. Soft gentle mornings and velvety nights splashed with a bejillion stars. New faces and fleeting friends sharing time, food, shelter and stories. I coaxed myself up hills and gritted my teeth into tired miles, mind wandering and body thinking of other things to do, like stop and sleep. I high fived myself on making the top and talked myself calm again while rounding bends with fresh-air drops on the other side of hte barrier or no barrier drops. Some bits challenged me, others terrified me (rightly or wrongly) and plenty made me smile and laugh and feel happy as a pedaller on her bike. Only one bit made me cry – when I listened to a play list of music Lucy, my fiancee, had set up for me. Since Hercules and I (me?!) biked across Europe and Asia on the first leg of L2L in 2011 Hercules has remained the same but I have changed. I am not a lone wolf any more, which I reckon I probably fancied myself as some years ago. (This makes me think of the excellent book and film ‘Into the Wild’ and Chris McCandless’ experience of Alaska alone) I am one half of a whole now, looking forward to being home and together again as much as I am enjoying being on the road. Now harvest is over, Lucy should be coming out to pedal with me in a couple of months. Who knows where Hercules and I will be by then.
Lots of happy thanks to all the folks who have hosted me or helped me on this leg from Homer to Anchorage including Liz Taylor and Peter Brondz and Team Cameron. Thanks also to everyone who has donated to my charities. You can do so here: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-web/fundraiser/showFundraiserProfilePage.action?userUrl=SarahOuten
I shall set off from Anchorage at the weekend, heading North to Tok where I meet the AlCan Highway for the ride South to Canada.
Until next time,
Sarah and Hercules x
P.S For Alaskan viewers tune into KTVU Channel 11 on Friday (tomorrow) at 0615 to see me with the Day Break crew
P.P.S A We bid a fond farewell to Mel Johnson after two years excellent support and welcome back Sara Davies as Project Manager to Team L2L. Girl Power 🙂