Ketchikan, AK: All Trails Lead to Gold

On the way back from Los Angeles to Sitka, I had an 8-hour layover in Ketchikan. I did a little bit of research before I arrived, so I knew that I had to take a ferry from Gravina Island, where the airport is located, to get into town.* The booth to purchase tickets ($6 roundtrip) was right outside the airport, and five minutes after getting off the plane, I was being transported to Revillagigedo Island. Since the loss of my dear bicycle (I still have hope in humanity, and pray that it will be returned!), walking has played an increasingly important part of my life. At first, I would always think about how much faster I could get around on a bike. But now, given that I can’t make my beloved two-wheeled vehicle magically appear, I try to be more deliberate about strolling and sauntering. To pass the time, I listen to podcasts sometimes. But more often, I find myself walking in silence. I am trying to be more aware of the things around me.

The ferry stop is approximately 4 miles away from downtown Ketchikan, so I turned right when I hit the road and began walking at an eager pace. Surprised by the sight of a Safeway, I stopped in to fill up on water and purchased a couple of snacks for the day while I was there. After another half hour of walking, I was in town, taking in the distinct buildings, the empty boardwalk, and the dark waters. Ketchikan Map

I stopped by at the visitor’s center, but it was closed. I suppose the first week of January is not exactly high-season for tourists in Southeast Alaska. Visitor's Center This positive take on rainy season (which apparently occurs year-round) in Alaska made me smile. Liquid Sun Gauge Continuing my stroll, I began walking towards Deer Mountain. My internet research told me that DM trail would be a challenge, but totally worthwhile. Plus, its proximity to downtown made it accessible and possible to do in a few hours. I walked past the Totem Heritage and City Park areas, and when I hit Ketchikan Lakes Road, the pavement started going uphill. A little bit of wandering led me to the trailhead (turn left before the potholes and gravel roads!). Deer Mountain was heavily wooded, and the trail was clear and easy to follow. Average 850 ft gain per mile, but I only walked up to the snow line, about 2 miles up the trail, before turning around and heading back down.** Deer Mt Map It was Sunday, and several other parties were hiking as well, but I found plenty of time and space to be alone. I later googled views from Deer Mountain’s peak, and they are spectacular. Unfortunately, my eyes could not penetrate the thick fog that had enveloped the area. I would love to come back when it is less cloudy, and make it up to see the lakes and the cabin. When I was back in town, I had a couple more hours so I walked through Ketchikan’s own Totem Park, and stumbled across some gold. I found it strange that this precious metal would just be left there in the ground with a metal pole sticking out of it, self-proclaiming that it is, in fact, the “World’s Largest Gold Nugget”. But this is Alaska, and standard rules need not apply. I snapped a picture.

The solitary walk around town and on the trail reminded me of why I’m so fortunate to live in a place like Southeast Alaska. In Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka, I get to experience such a rich sense of the place and, even as an outsider, feel a deep sense of belonging. And in the past few weeks without my bike, I’ve learned that, in an increasingly fast-paced and frantic society, walking is a rebellious yet innocuous way to slow down and simplify our lives. It’s a more intimate way to get to know a place and see the impact that humans have on the lands we inhabit. I’ve found that walking, though sometimes slow and inefficient, is truly a wonderful way to get to know Alaska. This is not to say that I am abandoning my love for speeding around town on a bicycle. I’m just learning to appreciate a new speed until I am, once again, reunited with my two-wheeled companion. I’ve never put a quote on this blog before, but I want to end this post with one from Dickens:

“The sum of the whole is this: walk and be happy; walk and be healthy. The best way to lengthen out our days is to walk steadily and with a purpose.” DM Trail Scratch that, I want to end with this one (also Dickens). “If I could not walk far and fast, I think I should just explode and perish.”

*I later read up on the controversial history surrounding a proposed project to build a bridge from Gravina Island to Ketchikan. Apparently, the issue began in 2005 when a senator from Oklahoma offered an amendment to divert funds for the Gravina Island Bridge to rebuild a bridge that had been damaged by Hurricane Katrina. It became a point of contention for the 2006 senate candidates, and a 2008 presidential campaign issue. **Approximately 2.5 miles from trailhead to summit.

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Family, Pork, and Beds in Illinois

Crossing the border into Illinois was an exciting moment because I knew I would get to see family soon. On our second day in the state, we rode to Springfield from Effingham. It was the largest city we had seen in a while (since Louisville, KY) and the named streets were a welcome change from the numbered country roads we had seen for the last few hours.

On our build day in Springfield, our team split into two groups. My group cleaned up trash and weeds outside an abandoned building that was to be made into a Habitat for Humanity ReStore. After a long day at the site, we came back to our host feeling tired and quite accomplished. I was greeted by my aunt, uncle, and cousin in the church parking lot. We drove to the historic district of the city, where Abraham Lincoln’s childhood home had been renovated and preserved as a historic site and tourist attraction. We also visited the Lincoln Memorial, where some re-enactors were milling around in their anachronistic mid-1800s costumes. After strolling around, enjoying the downtown area, we went out to get dinner, where we had a great time talking about my strange new lifestyle, joking about our family, and considering the future. Exchanging ideas with people outside of the “B&B bubble” can be weird sometimes. But it is always a good challenge, making me reassess and reinforce my decision to bike across the country for the affordable housing cause.

The next day, we rode to Pittsfield, a small town of 5000 near the IL-MO border. According to some locals we talked to, Pittsfield is a slow and simple town, without many attractions. It does, however, claim to be the “Pork Capital” of the Midwest. I have to admit that the pulled pork we had for dinner that night was phenomenal. Our hosts greeted us with amazing decorations, like this adorable sweep scarecrow:

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Our night in Pittsfield will probably go down in Bike and Build P2C 2014 history as the night that we had the best sleep ever. Our hosts were generous enough to open up their homes to us, so all of us had the luxury of sleeping in real beds for the first time since the start of the trip. The host that Emma and I were assigned to was out of town, so we stayed in the William Watson hotel, which was a cute, old-fashioned place, decked out with mason jars, Campbell soup cans, and snowshoes on brick walls. The hotel’s decor gave it a nice, homey feel. Sue–thank you so much for your generosity. I appreciated that night of rest more than you will ever know!

Pleasant Pana

Pana, Illinois is one of the friendliest towns we have had the pleasure of visiting. Everyone we have come in contact with, from the drivers on the road, to our amazing hosts, to the enthusiastic kids at the local pool, has welcomed us with kindness and intrigue. Today was the first day that I started and ended my ride alone. I enjoyed riding with Rob, Emily, and Cindy for several miles, but it is nice to get some alone time to think about everything or nothing at all.

After arriving at the host site, Katelyn, Sarah and I made a quick trip to McDonald’s before heading to the pool. Spending some time in the water was a great way to recharge. I met six kids at the pool, who proceeded to show off all their flip, dive, and handstand skills to me. They were so enthusiastic and interested in our bicycle trip. After playing around with them for a couple of hours, I felt completely spent, but also reenergized about this amazing opportunity that I have right in front of me. Huge shoutout to Zack/Zach/Zac(?), the pool manager, for providing us with food and a place to relax!

Once back at the host, we were fed pasta, breadsticks, and the widest variety of deserts I have seen since the start of the trip. Several members of our team presented our organization to the church and community after dinner, explaining our organization’s mission and function.

One of the best things about the trip so far has been interacting with locals in the communities we visit. Whether it is about affordable housing, personal life and goals, or pre-teen crushes, these conversations always prove to be fruitful or funny.20140706-221718-80238009.jpg20140706-221717-80237858.jpg

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First Time Zone Change

On Thursday, after our long ride from Kentucky to Indiana, we arrived at Saron United Church of Christ in Linton, IN. It was a traditional and quaint town, with small but comfortable homes lining its main street. We walked into the church and were welcomed by upbeat jams blasting from huge loudspeakers. A Zumba class was in session, and even though our legs were fatigued from biking 130 miles, we decided to join in on the fun. That night, we were treated to an amazing dinner of sloppy joes and fruity deserts.

Yesterday was our first official off-day. We celebrated July 4th by walking and riding in Linton’s annual Independence Day parade. Harry, one of the gentlemen from the church, invited us to his farm after all the morning festivities. We were, again, fed by some very generous and skilled chefs. Some of my teammates tried (with no avail) to lessen the extreme tan lines from our jerseys and shorts. Others went for a splash in the pool or played cornhole. That night, Todd, who had purchased a variety of explosives from a local shop, led the team in some fun celebratory activities for Independence Day. It was a glorious day off.

This morning, we woke up feeling much more refreshed than usual. Starting our ride in the dusk, we felt the sun slowly rise behind our backs. It was a brisk morning, with mist floating lightly above pasture and water. Riding on wide gravel roads for several miles, it was both turbulent and tranquil. The backroads we were riding on, coupled with the pastoral landscape, were reminiscent of scenes from a country music video. The 90 miles from Linton, Indiana to Effingham, Illinois were relatively flat and seemed to take no time or effort at all. It’s pretty amazing how well the long and challenging days in the Appalachians have prepared us, both mentally and physically.

 

 

 

Reality on the Road

Before you start to think that this trip is full of light-hearted fun and games, or some cheesy but inspirational journey with a beautifully changing backdrop, let me give you an idea of our new reality (has it really been three weeks since we started?). Wake up has been 4:30 AM for the last three days. The high milage (130, 120 and 130 miles, respectively) means we set off on the road an hour earlier so some can arrive at the host at a reasonable time. For the rest of us, the early start allows us to finish. I am physically tired and mentally exhausted.

I’m not saying that we don’t have fun on this trip. I have laughed deep from my gut until my stomach felt close to explosion. I have heard interesting stories, and captivating songs, both played and sung. I feel proud to be even a small part of the affordable housing cause.

Most of the time, though, we don’t look like the adventure-seekers in Patagonia advertisements. Our team is scratched up and a little bedraggled from nights sleeping on the ground. At best, we look like a team of cyclists going cross-country. At worst, we look like a crew of crazies wearing the same red and blue spandex. We don’t smell great, and some of us walk funny. This may be a result of neglected saddle sores or sore legs. Usually both.

Along this trip, I have felt so many different and contradictory emotions. So much warmth and love from my fellow riders and our hosts. An unsettling sense of isolation and loneliness even surrounded by all that warmth and love. Tranquility and completeness in nature. Uncertainty and fear from the ever-taxing terrain.

Some days, the climbs seem to only get steeper, and the temperature increases exponentially as we inch towards the sun. Sweat flows into my eyes, stinging in a way that only a combination of sunscreen and salt can. I feel like a drug addict, panting and straining for that next shot of downhill-induced adrenaline.

Sometimes, on the toughest days, all it takes is a single moment of fixated resolve. Or a memory. Somehow, it helps to dig up those moments of courage and fear, happiness and heartbreak. The ones that make you panic just enough to get your legs going.

Through all this, there is a certain captivating sense of having penetrated a secret space of life-living. The panoramic views at summits are breathtaking, and not just because the ride to get there literally takes all the capacity that my lungs can handle. Looking back at the last three weeks, a lot of things blur together. I have learned a lot, though. From my teammates and leaders. From all the amazing people we have met along this journey. And from the road.

Sweep Day

Every day that we ride, two designated people are assigned to the role of “sweep”. Sweep stays behind the rest of the group, making sure that everyone is accounted for. Today, Grace and I were sweep, so we packed extra snacks, tube, tires, and a med kit.

It was a relaxed 70 mile ride with plenty of stretch breaks and shaded naps. Grace and I had some great conversations on the road before rolling into our host site at around 3PM. Before dinner, several groups presented their topics on affordable housing. Most presentations discusssed government regulation of the US housing landscape.

To recap the last few days, we rode across the muddy river into Ohio two days ago. That night, we stayed in Marietta, before biking to Wellston, 90 miles away. Marietta was a very historical place, with red brick roads and colonial-looking houses lining the streets. Wellston was a smaller, more industrial-looking, oil and coal producing town of about 5000 people.

Tomorrow, we will be working at a build site here in Huntington, West Virginia. It will be our first day off the saddle in a week, and I can’t wait to wake up at 7:30 rather than 5:30 for once. I’m going to catch up on all the sleep I have been missing. Hope that you are all doing well!

 

Cheers to the Unknown

I woke up today feeling pretty wretched. I thought I could fully embrace sleeping on hard floors, but my back and neck are suggesting otherwise. I also woke up with a sudden realization that this biking cross-country thing is a thing* that’s actually happening. On Monday, I will be attempting to sneak my bicycle onto a Providence-bound Amtrak train. Exactly one week from today, after meeting my teammates, getting oriented, and building in Providence, we will dip our wheels and head West.

The excitement and nervousness that have been festering in my stomach for the last few weeks have finally emerged as fear. I fear the physical and mental hardships. I fear the possibility of not fitting in with a group of unfamiliar individuals that I’m basically stuck with for the next three months. I fear the end of my “bright college years” (staying on campus has allowed me to disregard the fact that graduation was weeks ago). Mostly, I’m scared of stepping outside of my comfort zone and into this world of foolhardy expedition. I have to remind myself that good things don’t come easy, and that taking chances has allowed me to experience the most rewarding, the most beautiful, and the tastiest, things in life. Like leaving home for college, 4000 miles away. Like stepping near the edge of the Grand Canyon. Like giving grapefruit a couple more chances.**

I looked at our route today and thought about all things could be compressed and contained in each inch of my screen. Surely there are plenty of dirt roads, hills, vistas, and swimming holes that didn’t make it onto the map. Even if the physical landscape could be captured, there is so much more that is unknown–the spills and the successes, friendships and fights, and everything that is wild and beautiful on the road.

*adventure, enterprise, crazy dream, whatever you want to call it.
**hands down, my favorite citrus.