By Dante Petri, for the Redoubt Reporter
It’s been over three years since I last raced a mountain bike.
And three years later, with a heavier bike, possibly a slightly heavier body, and a whole heck of a lot less fitness than I had once, I finished the same way I did the last time I raced, in May 2008: Did not finish, though for very different reasons.
In three years it sure has felt like a long fall from the fall of 2007, when “Myrtle (the Broken Turtle),” my somewhat less-than-affectionate name for my not-always-so-trustworthy glory-hog bike, and I whizzed around the East Coast collegiate mountain bike race circuit picking up a few top-three placements and even a well-earned win. That was sort of a two-wheeled thesis defense at the time for my otherwise short-lived competitive cycling career.
It was a stinging sensation I felt in mid-August this summer, though, when a group of toothpick-thin, Spandex-clad bike racers from Los Anchorage smoked the heck out of me and my lungs right off the start on an afternoon race in a park just on the outskirts of the city.
This summer has been my first “real Alaska summer.” The word “real” is, of course, clutch in this phrase.
As far as I can tell, the last three summers were pretty real. But I told everyone this winter that this would be my first “real” one because for the last three I was living and working the fishing lodge/fish camp lifestyle.
Once the touristas started arriving to the Kenai Peninsula en masse in early June, my world stopped revolving around skis, bikes and mountains, and instead orbited around things like cleaning copious amounts of fish, managing what amounted to a small business processing fish, taking care of cabins that were always having issues, eating and sometimes even sleeping.
I learned in time how to better manage my life at the fishing lodge and take advantage of the lulls between fish runs and bookings to get out on occasional bike and ski adventures in June and early July, but once those reds showed up, my life basically ended until sometime in mid-August.
This summer, unlike the last few, promised a regular nine-to-five schedule in the city, with plenty of good backyard mountain biking and road biking, hikes a stone’s throw from home, and friends and places to meet them at all over town.
I definitely spent way more time turning pedals this year than I have for the last three summers, probably combined. It’s been really great.
For a while in late May through early July I was riding a Kenai Peninsula epic a week, it seemed, and I had hit all of the major and most of the minor rides the peninsula has to offer not long after the summer solstice. But something was missing, and I knew it.
No longer could I go throw a line in the water out my front step, and the feeling, or lack thereof, of that tugging fish on the other end began to gnaw.
When I worked at the fishing lodge, guests would always ask me, sometimes in envy, sometimes out of concern as I sliced through their endless catch, how often I got out to fish myself.
“More than enough,” was generally my answer.
If they looked confused I went on to explain that when all you do is fish and clean fish — and as a result smell like and dream of fish — one of the last things you really want to do in the rare, half-day off is fish.
Most of them got it.
But now I was at the other end of the spectrum. My driveway was paved in tar, not teal, glacial melt.
Sure, there’s fishing in and around the big city, but really, it’s hard to get that excited about glorified mud holes when you’re used to the expanse of the Kenai River.
So, at some point in July, I found myself throwing together gear for the weekend on a Friday evening after work, per usual, but this time it did not involve a bike. Just a weekend of fishing, cleaning fish, smelling like, and dreaming of, fish.
And that’s how the rest of the summer seemed to go.
I fished hard for a king, I flipped through the walk-on-water-thick and sometimes depressingly slow red run until my fingertips started going numb. No one had to ask me twice if I wanted to go wet a line, even in a 40-degree downpour at 10 p.m. And when I wasn’t fishing, I was helping my old friends at the lodge get through their workloads in exchange for the time on the water and their good company.
Now my freezer has a healthy orange glow, shaded green with fresh Matanuska-Susitna vegetables, processed by the hands of my green-thumbed girlfriend.
It stung the other week when I couldn’t hang with those Spandex-clad mosquitoes in the park on their bikes that cost orders of magnitude more than my car; bikes I admit I once might have been envious of.
And for a few fallible minutes, as I bailed out of the race and rolled along a quiet side trail back to my car, I wondered if I had made the right decisions with the short summer months. Perhaps I should have done things differently?
No, I probably did OK.
Those guys can keep buzzing around the park on bikes you couldn’t pay me to take to most of the places I like to ride, all for title of champion of the city that lies just 30 minutes from the rest of Alaska. I’ll eat the salmon and halibut I caught and ride a little slower behind them, I guess. Sounds more real to me.
Dante Petri is a backcountry enthusiast often blazing trails from the Kenai to Anchorage and beyond, whether on foot, bike, ski or anything else that gets him around. Read more about his adventures at http://atrailcalledlife.blogspot.com.