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Atigun Pass continued

August 26, 2011

Barb got my message that I was ok.  She tells me how proud she is, that after Atigun Pass “…it’s downhill all the way to Coldfoot!”  I suck up her words like a cat drinking cream.  We hug again, the passengers pile back into the van, and they drive off.

I stand beside the road, staring up at Atigun Pass.  I tell myself I can do it, I know I will do it.  It’s only two miles long, only some 4,500 feet high. 

It’s a 12 % grade.

I start.

The pass starts with a preamble of sorts.  Here the grade is perhaps 6%.  As you ride the preamble you can see the steeper grade cut into the mountain.

Looking north from Atigun Pass, slide marker 303. There is perhaps another 1 1/2 miles to the top.

I make it up the preamble and start the tough stuff.  Where men show what they are made of.  Where the tough get going and the going gets tough.  Where wimps fear to tread.  I don’t get too far.  At slide marker 303 I give up.

I am pissed at myself.  I feel like a failure.  But again, I am too tired.  I start pushing the bike up the hill.  I console myself with the fact that even walking it is pretty tough; that I am getting over the pass on my own power.  I try to walk 100 paces and then take a break.  Usually I can’t do it.  Maybe 50 paces.  Maybe 75 paces.  100 is really tough.

After a half mile or so, I see a guy coming downhill on a bike.  He stops; we chat.  His name is Matt and he is from my neck of the woods: Cincinnati, Ohio.  He’s in his early 20’s and appears to be in great shape.

Matt has a mountain bike with front and rear panniers.  He seems to be lightly loaded.  He’s been riding around Alaska all summer.  He plans to ride to Prudhoe and back.   I ask him why.  He says: “I saw a dot on the map and a road leading up to it.  I decided to ride it.”  Matt says it’s another mile to the top.  I never ask him if he walked up, I assume he rode.  We say good-bye and go on our ways.  I start counting paces again: ” One, two, three…”

I don’t time it, but it probably takes me an hour to get to the top.  Finally I am there!  It’s cold and very windy.  I put my jacket on.  A truck approaches from the south, slowly grinding up the hill.  I step aside, giving him plenty of room.  Finally he passes and I try to mount the bike.  Straddling the top tube, I tell my foot to get on the pedal.  I pick it up and put it down.  Pick it up and put it down.  Parkinson’s is giving me a hard time; I can’t quite get it on the pedal.  After several attempts I’m on the bike and headed downhill.

The road surface is terrible.  Washboard ruts and heavy gravel limit my top speed to 15 mph.  The road is narrow and a fall off it is certain death.  My hat threatens to blow off: the heavy wind is in my face.  I grab the hat, rip it off my head and shove it in my mouth.  I ride the brakes, trying not to skid the front wheel.  The road’s steep descent makes it tricky.

Now a truck approaches from behind, he evidently has more control than I because he’s hauling ass.  I stop, pulling  off to the right.  He blows past, leaving a choking cloud of dust.  I start off again; with the heavily loaded bike the road is really treacherous.  I had wanted to get some speed up and have fun, but it’s just too dangerous.  Riding the brakes is tiring, negotiating the turns tricky, and the trucks unfriendly.


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One Comment
  1. sarah permalink

    write a book “Dalton”

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