In line with my belief in Karma (see here), I know that my pan-American adventure will treat me to incredible experiences, all that will eventually be ‘paid for’ with some inverse occurrence or feeling. As I sit at this computer it is my 44th day in Fairbanks and Wednesday the 14th July. This morning I had to postpone my bus ride up to Prudhoe Bay and the start of my trek south from Saturday 17th back to Tuesday 27th. It is Achilles tendonitis that is preventing me starting my ride south but immense kindness that is keeping me in Fairbanks.
People have been so friendly and accommodating to me while in Fairbanks that I have often wondered what price I will have to pay later down the road. When laid up with an injury it is easy to forget the life there once was, that without pain, worry and the constant reminder of your own physical fragility. I’ve often found myself forgetting that the swelling behind my right heel may be the misfortune with which I’m settling this karmic balance. Unlikely though, I actually think that the kindness I’ve been shown in this City is filling my karmic coffers as a counter weight to the uncomfortable conditions that will hit me further down the road. I will be spinning through Canada two months later than planned and it will get cold… Canadian winter cold.
As I sit here in my adopted house, on my adopted computer, my adopted car keys beside me here on the table, looking out over the magnificent vista of my sun soaked adopted city, any negative thoughts are easy to compartmentalize. I am committed to my trip and will not give in, so there is no point getting too depressed about my situation. Sure gloomy clouds come, but they soon clear with simple reflections on my fortune in Alaska and life in general. The more surprising thing for me and part of the reason why I started to post my thoughts and experiences on the grand computer web is that many of the people I meet are also committed to my journey. I have given nothing yet am living a happy and comfortable life in Fairbanks, always with a nice house, plentiful food and friendly faces. I have glimpsed the trappings of an Alaskan retirement and have to say that I quite like it!
The plan was that I would arrive in Fairbanks at the start of June, stay with my Warmshowers hosts, Phyllis and Chase, for a few days before two Canadian cyclists, Matt and Kyle, would pick me up on their way from Edmonton and we’d drive up the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse. From there I’d be ready to start my journey south to Tierra del Fuego. The acute Achilles tendonitis in my right foot obviously put paid to these plans. Matt and Kyle passed through and I stayed with Phyllis, a few days that quickly turned into nearly two weeks. With her husband Chase away in Colorado pursuing his own river based adventures, I was lucky that Phyllis welcomed the company. And great company she turned out to be, full of interesting stories, Alaskan knowledge and very easy to sit down and talk with. As I guiltily outstayed my expected tenure, talking with Phyllis turned my mind and thoughts away from my physical impairment and certainly arrested my wallowing reflex. When the big man, Chase, returned home, I was again treated to more fascinating insights and incredible travel stories. Listening to these two spin a yarn and gategrashing their family for ten days really made me yearn for companionship. Such a feeling is often foreign to me; perhaps an early indication of how I might react to a couple of years alone on the bike. I am pursuing a journey that I hope will strip away what I think I want and believe to reveal my true emotional core… I know it’s in there somewhere.
On June 10th I left Chase and Phyllis’s and moved into another Fairbanks house belonging to their friend Nanne. Fortunately for me she was heading down to the lower 48 to visit family and was happy to have me house sit until she returned on July 8th. This was an ideal situation for me and apparently also her. I had met Nanne a couple of times and wondered whether I’d hand my house and car over to me if the roles had been reversed. I’d like to think I would but back in England it just wouldn’t happen. It is Nannes house that I am still in; she came back on the 8th but is incredibly kindly letting me stay on. To say I am lucky would be a massive understatement, the house is cozy and fits my expectations of what an Alaskan maison should comprise. The fact that it is perched on a hilltop looking over Fairbanks with the Alaska Range and Denali in the distance, and that I have a new Subaru at my disposal can only really be classed as a massive bonus.
My days in Fairbanks have been often empty yet always full. As people have come and gone and my rehabilitation progressed through its phases, my routine and the tempo of my days have altered accordingly. I have my strengthening exercises to do and before I was able to get back on the bike to train (started a couple of weeks ago), I would do a mile or two a day in the pool to maintain fitness. Aside from physio, I fill my time reading, visiting Gulliver’s (the local second-hand book store), stocking up with groceries and hanging out at the library to check the Internet, read the papers and people watch. I have also been lucky that there have been regular sports events for me to focus on (see here).
For a couple of weeks I was lucky enough to have company in the house, this took the well-postured form of international dancing sensation Dante Puleio. A New Yorker of not too dissimilar age to myself (maybe slightly flattering) he was in Fairbanks to teach dance at the local ballet school. Dante proved a real breath of fresh air, impervious to my wit and colourful in every way. Not the type of person I’d ordinarily encounter and a reminder that there is depth behind even the most flamboyant of characters. We had a good time organizing our days so he could get to dance class and I could get wherever I needed to go. He was also an avenue for me to meet more people and we accordingly did, having dinner with a couple of his dance cohorts and going to my first baseball game with Alaska Goldpanners season ticket holder Ira. Otherwise, we’d tour Fairbanks in search of downtown or take a trip out of town to Chena Hot Springs.
During Dante’s stay Canadian cyclist Matt passed back through Fairbanks having cycled the Dalton Highway. He arrived at the house on June 18th to stay for a few days before forging south. A laid back 21-year-old, Matt was coming from the same place as me with his cycle ride to Tierra del Fuego. I was thankful to relieve him of his Dalton Highway topographical maps and get the inside track on spinning this icon. We spent some useful time pouring over maps of the Americas and assessing our respective route ideas and thoughts. Matt was now flying solo after his cycle pal Kyle hyper extended his knee on the Dalton, having to hitch out and fly back to Vancouver for treatment. He mentioned that of the five people he’d heard of cycling south out of Prudhoe that summer, only he remained uninjured. This selfishly made me feel a little better.
During Matt’s stay I celebrated my 30th birthday. I am not a birthday person yet probably celebrated this one more than usual. I was kindly taken out for dinner the night before by a group of friends and then on my birthday proper Dante, Matt and I travelled out to Fox to visit the most northerly brewery in America (Silver Gulch) and hit Foodstock (09), a small local music festival. Certainly a memorable evening packed full of ‘interesting’ characters (the older female ones taking more than a passing interest in Matt). The festival was part of the Fairbanks summer solstice celebrations, all the more poignant here on account of the almost 24 hours of sunlight. We would also travel downtown that weekend to enjoy the main solstice festival where musicians, dancers, crafters and curious mix of locals and tourists enjoyed themselves. I was disturbed by the strong presence of political party candidates who were canvassing at the event. Americans have a different relationship to politics than the British, something I find particularly worrying when you consider what some of these candidates stand for.
When at the Fairbanks solstice festival we ran into another cycle tourist, a French Canadian called Remi Lafreniere (www.remilafreniere.com). When I say that Matt and I are coming from a similar place with our tours, it can best be illustrated by the fact that we most definitely are not coming from the same place as Remi. He is going for a world record, not only touching the most northerly (Prudhoe Bay) and most southerly (Ushuaia) points of the Americas but also the most Easterly and Westerly. In 365 days he expects to cover 65,000km through 23 countries. His schedule is punishing, cycling well over 100 miles a day with one day off every 30. When we asked him how he does it he answered, “I sometimes cry”. Two men who have given up everything to cycle the length of the Americas walked away from meeting Remi with their jaws on the floor. This guy is truly nuts! Good luck to him.
Back to more fallible humans… My injury was recovering nicely until last Friday when it decided to come back with a vengeance. I’d been very gradually and sensibly building up my training (10% rule and all that) when one day I decided to try riding without my strapping… lesson leant. This is why I’ve now pushed my bus back to the 27th and spent the last week becoming reacquainted with the swimming pool and estranged from my saddle. I will be riding with my foot fully taped for the foreseeable future. My recovery has seen me visit a physiotherapist, had my legs Rolfed and been religious with my icing and stretching. Aside from this one mistake I don’t feel I could have done that much more to aid recovery without breaking the bank. My budget is taking a severe battering, as it is, being somewhat unfortunate that I should be stranded in the most expensive part of the most expensive country along my route.
I like Fairbanks but I’ll be glad when I leave. I’m not sure I could live here but I know I’ll be back: I have friends here and am desperate to experience an Alaskan winter.