I turn onto the Old Sterling Highway. It’s punchy ups and downs on dirt. The riding is fairly easy. I start getting really sleepy. I didn’t expect this. I’ve ridden through the night plenty of times-- once even riding through two nights on an Arizona Trail time trial. I’ve got to get it together! I start listening to Mythos by Stephen Fry. It’s his funny rendition of Greek Mythology-- pretty weird to listen to in a sleep deprived state, but it keeps me awake. At some point, my bike computer freezes, but I don’t notice. I descend to the main road and I think I’m following the track and I take a right. The sky is getting brighter. This just doesn’t seem right. I zoom in and out on my bike computer and realize it hasn’t changed in many minutes. I stop to check the track on my phone on Komoot-- I’m definitely off. I pull up the cue cards.
“Leave Sunrise Inn and head west (left) on Sterling Highway.”
Whoops! I turn around and pedal three miles back to the track. It happens.
Back on track, I turn up a steep dirt road and up to fantastic views of Kenai Lake. Then, I’m back down to the pavement through Cooper Landing. At four in the morning, even if it’s light out, I don’t expect anything to be open. To my surprise, there’s a large brown tent advertising coffee and crepes. I actually brought crepes with me on the ride and I’m still packing them. I’m not stopping. I see Dylan’s bike and then Dylan out front. I pass Wildman’s and then turn left on Snug Harbor Road and past a sign that says “Old Lives Matter” in dripping red paint. Dylan catches up with me and we start chatting on the climb. I’m warming up.
“Did you see that place back there? I stopped to have a coffee. A guy at the stand saw you ride by and asked if you were my riding partner. Then, he said it should be illegal to ride this road on a bicycle.”
We both laugh. We’re wearing matching grey jackets and we definitely look like some kind of team.
We pull over at different times to take off layers. My chain is making a total racket and it’s driving me nuts. In desperation, I squeeze some hand sanitizer on it and move on.
“No more pants!” Dylan calls out.
I feel the hot sun on my skin. Dylan is stopped at the Russian Lake trailhead having an energy bar. I stop to take my inhaler. He pulls out a toothbrush and toothpaste.
“It’s a new day!”
The trail goes right back into the shady woods and it’s cold. I start seeing bear scat close to the entrance and continue to see it throughout the trail. I don’t keep count, but there must be at least twenty piles. We are in their territory.
Dylan and I are back and forth and sometimes together. I’m mentally losing it and turn to tell him so.
“Really?!” He responds in a goofy grin and in that moment I know we’re both totally out to lunch.
I start listening to Mythos again and take a caffeine pill and hope I can pull it together. The trail is very overgrown. I can’t always see the surface and I take my time riding over it. I’m listening to the origin of Cupid and Psyche and it’s all very weird-- Stephen Fry calls it a cross of Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella and my brain is in a strange place. If it wasn’t so wet or so cold, I’d probably stop and close my eyes for a few minutes, but it must be near freezing and I have to keep moving. The last time I see Dylan, he’s pulled over putting his rain pants back on. The only other person I see is a male hiker with long hair, a beard and a short rain skirt. I hate to say it, but he kind of has a Charles Manson smile. I know I need to eat. I have a large pouch of Trailbutter with a screw top. It’s so cold that it’s congealed into a brick. I try squeezing it out the top, but it won’t budge, so I rip the package in half and start gnawing at it. It kind of feels like eating a baseball of nut butter and it tastes damn good and I’m feeling pretty savage cause I know this is going to make a huge mess in my Mag-Tank.
After hours of slow pedaling, I make it to a wide gravel trail and I feel like crying out in joy. I put in pop and start cooking. Now, I’m passing hikers out on this beautiful Saturday morning and I feel like a million bucks. I hit the roads for a minute and then turn into the Cooper Landing trailhead for Resurrection Pass and this is it-- I just have to go up and over and back to Hope. It’s baking sun. I keep listening to music and I’m loving it. The lower section is overgrown, my knuckles are knocking into branches and I keep pushing through. Higher up, I pass through the burn area from a massive forest fire last summer. Then, I’m next to Juneau Lake and then I’m up to the tundra and I take the winter route. It’s a little longer and it’s narrow, but it’s rideable. Some day riders pass me the opposite way. Once beyond them, I see a fun size Snickers and some loose M&Ms and a couple of hunter sticks. I imagine at another time if I had run out of food, this would’ve saved my bacon. I’m drinking GU Roctane Summit Tea and I’m feeling great and I’m sweating like crazy. I’m still wearing a wool long sleeve because I don’t really want to stop, but I realize this is ridiculous. I stop and take it off and pee and put my music away.
Up in the tundra, passing Devil’s Pass cabin a woman standing by a bike calls out, “You’re Lael, right?”
“Nice to meet you!”
I keep cruising. At the actual pass, there’s a mix of young people and older people on bikes with camping gear. It’s idyllic. I’m so happy to be up here. Over the top, I’m behind a group of three on bikes. I don’t want to spook them, so I ride a little way until they notice me and pull over. I’m flying down and having fun and trying not to think about the actual mileage to the finish-- trying to enjoy this, but my wrists start hurting and if I’m to be honest, I really want to get there. I remember the story of the sons of bitches and the big MFer and I stay patient until the end. I pass so many families enjoying the day. Everyone is kind. We’re sharing this place and we’re happy to be here and I’m thrilled that I get to finish under the sun.
I make it to the trailhead and the dirt road and there are five miles left, mostly downhill and I’m thrilled. I pass Stacey and Scott and it’s so great to see them. I pass a big group with a lot of kids by the airstrip and they’re cheering.
“Two miles to go!”
I get that lump in my throat and I almost start crying because it’s so nice to be welcomed back. It’s only a day since I left, but it feels like there’s a whole world in between. I’m physically and mentally spent and I’m pedaling with all my might, but I don’t have high gears and my chain is skipping all over the place and I don’t care. I love riding my heart out at the end of a race. There’s no feeling quite like it-- you just want to get there. It’s like returning home. I make the turn onto Old Hope Road, then past Food on Second, to A Street and Main Street and the Seaview. A small crowd of bike people are cheering and everyone else is just doing their own thing. It’s a perfect day for a picnic in Hope.