I once heard dialogue on TV about the Grand Canyon: the one place that when people see it in person, it doesn’t disappoint. Truthfully, just once in my decades of exploration have I visited a place that disappointed [location withheld]. How inspiring and memorable a destination impacts me is less a measure of its “breathtaking” factor and more about the simple bits of beauty and the brief moments of discovery beyond the obvious focal points. I love the Spanish word “buscando” because I search for more than just a photographic view. The fragrant sweetness of the Great Basin, the soft meadows tucked above the Grand Canyon (see Jacob Lake from January 2012), and the rolling mist hovering above Niagara Falls do not disappoint me, regardless of the expansive iconic sites just around the bend. I look for the pieces and parts surrounding the highlights, not just the picture spot itself, to inspire me, to touch me, to alter me.
Alaska doesn’t disappoint. Glaciers calve into the bay, mountains scrape and poke into the clouds, and turquoise-tinted waters fed by millenniums of melting ice exponentially astound those who journey northward. As I stand on the edge of Mendenhall Lake with its frozen source across its shore, I am reminded that the thaw continues, and may be unstoppable, and I appreciate that I see the process midway between frozen block of ice and a completely liquid lake. Believe me, a glacier is an awe-inspiring site, but getting to its edge means even more. My legs pedal me to this site with the sweet and salty taste of the trail mix on my tongue and the cool, wet air spritzing my face. These sensory elements of my ride all make the background more than just a perfect camera shot, because the scents and pleasures of the day combine to not disappoint, even without the awesome glacier sliding for eons through the canyon across the lake.
On My Way
Along the road to the glacier, wildflowers dominate the foreground: white daisies stand tall and perky, with low leaves, allowing them to blossom independently of their life source. Fireweeds thrive and shoot upward showing their heartiness and durability, and their strength and determination to survive. Forget-me-nots, the Alaskan state flower, the petite, gentle blooms, with colorful petals, offer gentleness from the harsh winters. All three uninhabited floras remind me in their brilliant beauty of my own characteristics others overlook while driving past on their way to more spectacular vistas. I see myself in these flowers as I move through my life: the times when I reached for my independence, and learned to stand tall on my own; the struggles that forced me to hold strong and be determined to make my life what I wanted; and the times when leaving a simple and brilliant impression spoke louder than my voice. I take away a lot from the simplest surroundings.
As I bike to the end of the path at the University of Alaska, a paved trail shared by students and bears, I reach the beginning of a downward slope of the two-lane road. I continue to pedal to increase my speed, and then I let go. Stinging my face, the cool wind pinches my skin reminding me this is no dream, and it plays with my hair, lifting and dancing behind me as the bicycle flies. No conflict, no confusion, and no clutter distract my thoughts. Coasting downward, I exert no energy, yet the surge of adrenaline transforms into tranquility as I reach the bottom of the hill. Serenity and satisfaction surround me, and while I choose to ride alone, I am not lonely. Singularly exhilarated, and with the nexus of this ride still ahead, what I absorb from this journey makes reaching the destination more valuable. Whatever glaciers lay ahead in this lifetime will never disappoint me as long as I witness and recall the splendor along the way.