I’ve been a fan of Blackpool Football Club for a long time and travelled all over the place in the spirit of that support. This past season I’ve seen some good matches, but also endured trips to grounds that have not been so kind; at Crystal palace we got thrashed by a team playing a level below us and my journey to Ipswich was a 3 hour battle only to see us go 1-0 down in the first 30 seconds. People who follow lower division smaller clubs will understand that glory is often a pipe dream.
Things have been different for the Tangerines this season; Ian Holloway and Charlie Adam have driven us into the Championship Playoff final and ultimately to Premiership football. I left for Alaska a week before that Playoff final and have often been tempted to wallow in my regrets at not having booked a flight for a week later. Not only have I not been a part of our greatest day for 40 odd years, I will also miss Blackpool’s season in the Premiership. It probably sounds daft, but I’ve been thinking about this a lot and every time I do it is hard not to feel terrible. I imagine what it would have been like to rise in celebration with my Dad as one of my favorite players, Brett Ormerod, slotted that winning goal. I will never get that missed moment back.
I do not mind missing the World Cup as I am English and we always disappoint. In fact I think that competition will be more enjoyable away from the English media. But missing the Pool’s Premiership adventure hurts. I cannot even really comprehend that they are in the Premiership, weren’t we travelling to Barnet, Oxford United and Wycombe Wanderers a few short years ago!?! I should be happy but at times have felt hollow and actually pretty sad.
How am I going to come to terms with this? Well it has already started and it has already reinforced a valuable life lesson. Firstly, the Premiership is the world’s most globally viewed domestic league, so if I am going catch any matches next season the chances are now a hell of a lot higher. Secondly, I have had an experience on the Denali park Road that I would not have had otherwise, an episode that has gone some way to pacifying my pain.
A few years ago I was doing some research for a television production company into the Denali National Park. There was a feeling that running a National Park would provide ample ammunition for an enthralling documentary series. My studies bought me to Denali National Park. Housing North America’s highest peak in Mount McKinley and some incredibly telegenic wildlife, the Park had the type of Ranger infrastructure that would be genuinely interesting to follow through a season. Part of its suitability came from the Denali Park Road, a 90 mile long road that runs west from the Parks Highway into the depths of the reserve, concluding in a small private settlement called Kantishna. Only the first 15 miles of this road is open to public traffic, after this access is essentially only by bus, foot or bike.
The park road is unpaved, heavily undulating and runs through an area of natural wonder where moose, wolves and bears all roam free and Golden Eagles soar above. Why would anyone want to cycle that? That was what I thought when I was hunched over my computer in that London office. Why would anyone want to risk getting eaten by a bear to ride a road that doesn’t take you anywhere? This thought stuck with me long after that project was put to bed. I knew there must be some powerful incentive that would drive people to follow this road. So I did some research on the internet and began to appreciate the stunning beauty of the Park and the unparalleled views the western end of the road could offer of the mighty Denali mountain. My mindset also began to evolve; I should not be dwelling on the threat of bears but the rare opportunity to view at close quarters so much majestic wildlife in its natural wilderness habitat.
I’d wanted to visit Alaska for a long while, ever since Northern Exposure had been on the TV and figured that I would have an opportunity to visit Denali National Park when that trip came about. This was long before any thoughts of cycling the Americas and so the idea had melted back into the shadows of my mind, nestling cosily near the pipe dream corner. So when I started planning my route from Prudhoe down to Tierra Del Fuego I knew that the Denali Park Road would have to feature. Accordingly I planned to start my trip cycling north from Anchorage along the George and Parks Highways to Fairbanks partly so I could take in the Denali Park. I knew that if I reached the Park before June 1st then I’d enjoy vast sections of the road without traffic and generally enjoy the place without the hordes of tourists whose buses would be denied the full length of road.
So there turned out to be a simple trade-off; riding the Denali Park road in peace and as the seasons changed versus Blackpool at Wembley. I had inadvertently chosen the former, never believing that the Pool would get as far as the playoff final when I booked my plane ticket. I had therefore made the decision before I appreciated that there was a decision to be made, so what’s the big deal? The deal is that by being on the Park road at the time I was (24th to 29th May), I had an experience that I could not have had at any other time. I cycled from Toklat down to Kantishna and back totally alone, without any traffic. I enjoyed a night at Wonder Lake waking up to one of the most magnificent mountain vistas alone and in the spirit of my expectations of wilderness. I met some truly great characters in Florent, Aurelie and Bart that I would have missed otherwise. I was able to lodge at the deserted Eielson Visitor Centre and enjoy incredible hospitality from Bart just days before it would be overrun with hundreds of package tourists. And I was privileged to be there over the few days when the parks flora and fauna swelled with colour from a bleached out brown to a vibrant life affirming green.
The lesson I have learnt and the thought that is helping me come to terms with the brilliance of Blackpool Football Club is that we can’t have everything. Some opportunities may pass us by and some experiences will hurt, but so long as we are intent on driving our own lives and not just riding them as passengers it is likely that times missed can be offset by memories gained. I still wish I’d been at that football match but I’ve come to the conclusion that I have nothing to regret. We forge our own destinies and cannot rely on those of others (whether they wear tangerine shirts or not) to bring us happiness and fulfill our dreams.
Anyhow, I bought a bit of Seaside to that road, chanting Blackpool songs to alert the bears as I rode. None of them attacked me so PNE obviously aren’t so popular in Alaska!