Alaska has been experiencing one of the finest falls in recent memory – cold frosty mornings followed by clear and calm days, one after another. I’ve been bolting from my work every day, for at least a couple hours, to build and ride local trails, but the tug of a multi-day escape had begun to gnaw at me. I try to listen to and be guided by these longings whenever possible.
In less time than it took an autumn leaf to fall to the ground, my weekend get-away was a fully solidified plan – a micro-adventure to ride the mountain trails of the central Kenai Peninsula and to sleep under the full moon.
After a three-hour drive, my truck came to rest on a quiet dirt road. I changed clothing and unloaded my bike as fast as possible. After the autumnal equinox, we begin to lose daylight here like a ship with a cannon hole below the waterline, and I couldn’t stand to forego any more of the precious commodity.
“I love my bike,” I thought, as I rolled up the first hill. My tires bit into the frozen ground like Velcro, and the higher I climbed, the colder it got. If not for responsibilities, I could do this for days – weeks even. I tried to temper myself. As I rode on, I escaped into future-trip scheming, as is often my want, and absorbed the surroundings. No one or thing to distract my musings.
Spruce grouse, AKA “trail chicken,” and Wilson’s snipe flushed in front of me as I rode, and a moose rustled her annoyance at my slow uphill approach. The thousand-pound beast casually yielded to me, though, and she ambled off the trail before assertive coaxing became necessary. I’d imposed on her solitude. Silently, I thanked her for not being cantankerous as I continued on, and up.
The trail eventually leveled off, I shifted into a higher gear and passed into a long mountain shadow. “The far end it,” I thought, “will be my turn around.” But when I reached the sunlight the hard trail was too tempting, and I couldn’t yet bring myself to come about. I donned a balaclava, tightened my windbreaker hood, and relished the sting of cold on my cheeks. The frozen ground begged for snow.
Another grouse flushed ahead of me. As my eyes followed the bird as it flapped forward, I noticed a raptor sitting in a small tree. The prey was flying straight into the clutches of a powerful predator – the goshawk. A burst of energy erupted from the tree as the hawk rocketed into a head-on collision course, and in an instant, the grouse turned 180 - frantically flapping for its life – straight toward my head. As it struggled for speed, it also gained slight lift and missed collision with me by mere inches. I could feel its displaced air as it sped past – the hawk closing the gap. Before I had time to put my foot down the chase had moved on and the forest was once again silent.
That evening I slept in the back of my truck with my head sticking out the tailgate. The full moon peeked through the silent forest and I thought of something my mom used to tell us kids. “Some people,” she said, “say you go crazy if you sleep under the moon. I say you’re crazy not to try.”
As I slumbered, the first snow of the season blanketed the ground. Trail riding in the mountains had ended for the season and clouds obscured the moon. My longing had been perfectly timed and satiated, and I was reminded of the rejuvenating power of the micro-adventure.
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