The dream is over. We all know the story of Dorothy just clicking her heels together to return home, and it happened almost as fast as that for me.
After slowly battling my way up to the windswept Alaska border on Monday afternoon, the wild 3000-foot, 14-mile descent to sea level at Skagway set the pace for my return to Minnesota. I coasted into downtown Skagway with less than 5 minutes to spare to meet the boarding deadline for the M/V Columbia bound for Juneau. Twenty-four days of bicycling totaling 2651 miles ended in the vehicle deck of the big ship. When I arrived at the Juneau ferry terminal, in the early morning darkness of a typically damp, cloud enshrouded Juneau day, I had no further transportation arrangements yet made.
As the town woke up, things started to happen fast. A call to Alaska Airlines confirmed that they had bicycle shipping boxes available at the airport. An internet station in the ferry terminal gave me the opportunity to tinker around with flight possibilities. An immediate flight out in the next couple of days looked like it would have been over $1000, so I checked the long shot of cashing in frequent flier milers with NWA, and, lo and behold, I got a positive result for a flight that same afternoon at 2:55! Routed through Seattle, then via a commuter flight to Portland, topped off with the red-eye from Portland to Minneapolis. Well, it would save $1000.
So I quickly biked the six miles to the Juneau airport, got my bike box, and started repacking away. I forgot to bring a wrench that could remove the pedals, necessary to fit into the box, so the ticket counter personnel hunted around and eventually found a narrow enough wrench to do the job. Well, that's Alaska for you. They're used to stranger requests and quirkier folks than me. By lunchtime, I was munching away on a Caesar salad, and waiting to begin my 12-hour flight marathon.
Every experienced air traveler should fly out of the Juneau airport at least once. For thousands of feet after takeoff, you can look out of both sides of the plane and see trees. Real close. C'mon baby! Let's get this thing up there. Then you disappear into the clouds, hoping those trees, and the mountains attached to them, are getting no closer. Finally, you emerge from the clouds into the sunshine, a fleeting substance that rarely makes it to the ground in Juneau.
Twelve strung-out hours later, I was getting off the plane in Minneapolis. I was gone long enough to forget about the humidity.
The dream was over, but the bigger dream lives on. I had just motivated myself to do something that few 59-year olds can comprehend, let alone be crazy enough to actually try. Yet the secret is to remove barriers to our dreams and move ahead with our lives. I really wasn't in a race with a 19-year old kid with a Duluth pack tied onto his 10-speed, heading up a gravel road he knew nothing about; I was in a race with a 59-year old who needs to look ahead and win the next battle.
I have some tough times ahead in my fight with renal cell cancer. Tougher than cranking a bike up the 14-mile Steamboat Mountain grade on the Alcan Highway? Tougher than picking my way through a herd of ornery buffalo blocking the way north? Tougher than battling across the endless plains of North Dakota against a headwind that would have blown Columbus all the way to Egypt? Tougher than trying to quickly set up a small tent in a rain-soaked forest with every mosquito north of Vancouver dive-bombing away? Time will tell. Thank you for listening.
I want to extend my thanks to many of those who supported my trip. First, my family as always, provided their encouragement. My mother, who mailed us cookies and bike parts to general delevery addresses all over the north 40-years ago, this time left me cell phone voice mail messages to pedal on! My wife Denise, who has to pick up the load on the home front when I am gone. My daughter Kaitlyn helped with updates to the blog. Thanks to my brothers and others in the family as well.
The patience of my friends at work - Midwest Mountaineering - is appreciated. After all, it's adventures like this that allow us to say "ask us, we've been there."
To Kevin and the crew at Freewheel Bikes, thanks for your patience swapping parts and fine tuning the Co-Motion. The 30-day checkup will also be a 3000-mile checkup.
To Greg and Sam at Mountainsmith/Detours: the packs allowed for worry-free cycling in the rain and dust. Sure beats lashing a Duluth pack onto a rack every morning!
To Troy and Kevin, the Mountain Hardwear representatives, the 1-lb. Phantom bag and 2.4 lb. Stiletto tent were light and great, and I promise they will be clean again before the show season!
Camelbak Elixir, a mineral supplement for hydration packs, provided by the BestRep group, proved its worth to me in all the hot weather I had. Remember, when Canadians complain about 30-degree temperatures, they're talking Celsius.
And Serfas sunglasses provided a pair of their Kamber model, light and very suitable for bike touring.