A long time ago, I wanted to know if the bike-ride down the Yukon River in Michener’s Alaska was feasible. Upon investigation it seems dangerous and project was deferred to “after children.” That way if I died in the attempt, at least there would be “survivors.” When I finally started thinking about the project again, my youngest was not yet born, but I was riding again to control weight gain. Motivation to ride is key. Nothing motivates like a goal. I’m not a talented athlete, so a race involving engineering and endurance appealed to me. After all, in my day job I was at that time an engineering manager, and there is no better teacher of endurance than the multi-year efforts required funding and building a fundamentally innovative project in the business-oriented corporations of America. The 100-mile Iditasport became my class A objective for the year-they goal you design the whole year or years to reach. It would be a supported ride, meaning at least if I did get lost or in trouble people would come looking for me. By the time I took on this crazy project, Michener had passed away, so at least he wouldn’t be around to catch any blame for possible fiascos that might occur.
Most of the lessons I learned came in training. I take that as a sign of a successful training plan, a plan I had help in designing from the local bike shop. Tom Ayers, who raced professionally AND climbed mountains for sport, ran the bike shop. He supplied not only expertise in training the machine that is my body, but in equipment like the batteries in my headlamp.
Some of those training rides were during the week I spent in the environment of the race just before the start. During that week one, a native Alaskan said to me as we started a ride at 40 below “This isn’t Colorado. You get lost here, no one will find you.” His example was Christopher McCandless, way before his cause of death was revised. I met Christopher’s father years after the race, and I was forced to ponder how my mother felt about this project. She didn’t like it one bit. Meaning to talk me out of it, she gave me book about people who wrecked their health in Alaska… and while it was a great story it did not dissuade. Sometimes to do big things you have to forgo other big things. I too have lingering health impacts from my time in Alaska. So why do it?
Some training lessons:
1. Get good knowledge of the terrain. I did and it made all the difference, between finishing and ending up like the pro that raced that year. She hadn’t studied enough and quit when the snow got deep, apparently, not realizing, she must let out most of the air to make her tires wide in deep snow.
2. Don’t set off cross-country in the dark - there are deadly cracks in the ice. A surprise close encounter with a crack during the day in training was an unforgettable lesson that may have saved my life during the race when I was off course and could see the lights of course in the distance across a lake- so tempting. But it could have been deadly and I’d have disappeared likely not even found in spring. I backtracked.
3. Duct tape on skin prevents frostbite. Movement prevents frostbite. Sweating or stopping long enough to thaw requires time or a change of clothes before going on. The enemies are direct exposure, stillness, and wet.
4. The payoff of meeting a challenging goal is real. Returning from Alaska I was so tired I could not lift my luggage into the overhead bin. It just wasn’t going to happen. It was embarrassing. I had climbed an ice wall using the bike like crampons (this is hard on the bike, I had to perform a repair after). All the strength training on arms paid off in that climb but I’d used all the strength I had. However, once recovered and home I was stronger than I’d ever been. I hit the spring in top form-and was fourth place in the time trial series for my age in my state that year (remember I’m NOT a talented athlete). The real payoff was later however, and unpredicted. Teaching a child that was having a hard time learning to read, I had more empathy and yet more discipline about not accepting failure. I both knew what it was like to have to keep at something you weren’t naturally talented at and that it would be worth it to read someday. Later still, I was intrigued about what made Roger Williams tick, knowing what had to do to get through a blizzard and emerge to found Providence. To say that another way, God can use just about any goal for His Glory in ways you cannot predict.