Plastic bags cover my feet to keep out the rain and the spray from my tires. My chain slips off the sprocket, again, unable to take the strain. The hill’s grade and the combined weight of me and the 30 pounds of gear in the panniers prove to be too much for the middle-aged mountain bike.
Juneau is a place of wet and hills. The hill I’m on happens to lead up to Mendenhall Lake, the glacier of the same name and the campground where I intend camp for the next four days.
My visions since my first ride in the Kluane-Chilkat International Bike Relay are of epic bicycle tours: grinding up mountain passes and sweating my way through the deserts of southwest U.S. or Australia or even Morocco with everything I loaded on my bike.
When I’m dreaming less ambitiously, I take on gentle days, riding from tavern to tavern in Ireland or Italy.
In reality, after a year of being a total slacker in my training and accepting the constraints of work, time and money, I decided to look closer to home. I bought panniers from the bicycle shop, drove myself to Skagway with the bicycle on the truck rack and committed myself to the short distances of road available from the ferry dock at Juneau.
I have to walk my bike up the chain-offending incline. I am tired …
I love the heated decks on the Alaska Marine Highway ferries, but my meagre night’s sleep was not enough to fuel this ride. To add to that, riding off the ferry was a bit of a wake-up. I thought I had planned for the rain but missed one crucial item, hence the plastic grocery-bag booties.
The Mendenhall Lake Campground is about five miles from the ferry terminal. The route is flat for a while, but then transforms into the chain-throwing hill as you leave the main highway and head toward the glacier.
In Juneau, you have to accept and enjoy the rain.
I am told that while clear days are stellar and show off the natural beauty of the area, they are limited in number. As my trip was only four days, I could not indulge in the fantasy that only clear, sunny days would make the trip a success.
I decided to treat the rain as part of the beauty that is southeast Alaska.
My ride into town that first day resulted in only a few scrapes and bruises. Juneau has spent a lot of attention creating great bicycling routes between the Mendenhall Valley and the city centre. Unfortunately some of the route could use a little signage.
The wrong turn I took let me see a little more of the town than I’d planned. I ended up riding past the hospital, down a dirt road and through a creek to get past an irritatingly placed fence. I did find the rest of the path with no problem.
I got to town, stocked up on food and bought a $2 pair of dry hiking boots from the thrift store. I also bought some neoprene shoe covers from the bike shop and arranged a fishing charter for the next day. All that done, I was totally beat.
Lucky for me, Juneau buses all have bike racks. I took the easy way back, getting dropped off only a mile or so from the campground.
I have to say, the next time I will bring my own extra set of dry boots. A mysterious but clearly audible click, coming from my right boot on every step, explained why the hiking boots had been abandoned.
I still have the boots. Every once in a while I wear them for a day and smile as they remind me of a great trip and of the fact that there are still a few roads around Juneau I haven’t ridden yet.
I also have a new bike, now, that I think will be able to handle the hills.