Cycling from Alaska to Montana: Interview with Alana
I met Alana my first week of freshman year at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. She was a striking upperclassman: beautiful, confident, with the soulful, strong singing voice of an angel. Alana has only gotten more badass in the 9 years since I met her: She’s now working as a union carpenter in Portland after finishing her third summer of commercial fishing in Alaska. She also just completed her first-ever bicycle tour, pedaling over 1,700 miles with her boyfriend through the wilderness from Alaska all the way to Montana.
Note: This interview is rated “R” for language and partial nudity. As you can imagine, Alana can drop some F-bombs. (It's one of the many things I love about her.)
What's your bike like? Does it have a name, a personality?
My bike is a Gary Fisher mountain bike, born sometime in the '80s. I've tried coming up with a name for it, but I more often refer to it simply as “my bike” or “my Gary Fisher”. It's a steel frame, beige, never very clean and not pretty, but it sure as heck gets me there.
Where do you live? How often do you bicycle there?
I live in Portland and am, for all intents and purposes, a fair-weather rider. During the warmer seasons I try to ride to work and social functions rather than drive, and I enjoy taking part in many group rides. I haven't been riding lately because I got a construction job that has me driving long distances for work and with lots of gear in tow.
This August & September, you went on a pretty epic bicycle tour. Was it your first time traveling long-distance by bike?
Yes. I went with my boyfriend, Alex. We started in Anchorage, Alaska, and ended in Whitefish, Montana. We hitchhiked about 600 miles, biked about 1750, and it all took 44 days.
How did you get the idea to make that journey by bicycle? What inspired you?
This summer was my third summer fishing for sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay. I thought that my work season was going to be 3-4 months long. Alex, knowing that he'd be missing me during this time and also possessing a years-long desire to adventure in Alaska, decided to plan a trip of his own to the Last Frontier. When it was discovered that my season would in fact only be 1-2 months long, he suggested we fill the second half of the summer with some couple’s adventuring.
I was open to ideas, but none of them really appealed to me (trips to Mexico, finding more work together in Alaska...). Then one night, out of the blue, he asked me if I'd like to bike back from Alaska with him. Without hesitation I said “yes”. I have no clear reason why my answer was so immediate and certain. It was pretty much sealed from that moment.
What were your personal motivations for the bike tour?
I have always been a fan of doing things that I've never done before, and the more physically/mentally challenging the better. This includes challenges of the physical, emotional, interpersonal and intrapersonal varieties. It's probably the napoleon complex in me, being 5'0”.
"I have always been a fan of doing things that I've never done before, the more challenging the better... It's probably the napoleon complex in me, being 5'0"."
I was not an experienced rider. I had never so much as ridden out of town before, let alone gone on an overnight bike trip. But it seemed like a challenge that would be both difficult, attainable, and rewarding, which is how I like them.
Alex had been on several bike tours before, the longest I believe being a couple weeks. I felt free to say “yes” because I knew that I could trust Alex to lead us through a trip like this, with his biking and camping knowledge.
How did you prepare?
Uh...I did not. Well, Alex and I went on a 20-mile bike ride one day after buying my first pair of padded bike shorts. It was maybe a month before we left. We loaded up my panniers with a bunch of water and wine for weight, and rode into the countryside. I did well. Other than that, nothing. We didn't even figure out a route until we met in Alaska for the tour – and even then, it changed halfway through the trip. Be flexible!
Tell us some of your favorite touring memories.
Oh my god, I don't know where to start...I laughed so much. Alex and I had a fucking blast being silly as fuck, and he sure knows how to crack me up. Once or twice I could hardly keep my bike moving, I was doubled over laughing so hard.
We had so many epic WarmShowers hosts, too. I loved experiencing the wood sauna at my friend's house with a few other naked people in Palmer, Alaska on our first night of the tour. That shit was, like, 115 degrees or something. Alex said it was certainly the hottest he'd ever experienced in his life. It was a great, symbolic, relaxing (kind of), cleansing, communal way to start off the bike tour.
The few folks who picked us up hitchhiking also left us with very fond memories, stories, and landscapes. Fondest of these folks to us is Ray, who was the only person on tour to pull over when we didn't have our thumbs out. It just so happens that we had literally decided 2 minutes before that we in fact needed a ride for the very first time. What are the odds?
Ray was very unassuming, very humble, but eventually let us know that he (at 70 years of age) had just completed a cross-country bike tour. We ended up sharing a campsite that night, and a soak at the famous, insanely gorgeous Liard Hotsprings: three crystal-clear, neon blue, naturally-heated pools with smooth pebble bottoms.
I especially loved my one afternoon to myself on tour, in Banff. We were waiting out some weather and Alex was sick in bed, so I went out on the town in the pouring rain in my rubber slippers and had a blast eating baked goods, listening to live acoustic guitar, looking at art, and food shopping. It was one of the only times I was able to feel “normal” on tour (“normal” meaning “not a bike tourist”). Make time for moments like that.
Tell us about a time when you experienced fear.
I think the only time I experienced fear was this one particular downhill about halfway through our tour. It was night time, and raining heavily. I had taken my helmet off earlier during some nice weather and easy riding, and had forgotten to put it back on. I was still wearing my bike cap. I topped out on a hill and began gaining speed as I heading towards a bridge at the bottom.
As I picked up speed, I felt my hat threaten to leave my dome, so I tilted my head down to avoid the wind catching its brim. The rain was pelting my face, so I squinted one eye closed and tried to stare at my goal, many yards ahead, through a single, half-shut eye, peering up from under my eyebrows, reaching probably 30+ mph in the wet weather.
I yelled out, willing my tires to keep gripping the road and for no cars to come speeding down from the top of the hill on the opposite side of the river. I made it. Honestly, I felt very alive after that.
What surprised you about bicycle touring?
That it was so doable.
What was most challenging?
I had a few “biggest challenges”: my saddle sores, dealing with Alex during our most severe moments of disagreement, and dealing with the rain towards the end of tour.
"I had a few 'biggest challenges': my saddle sores, dealing with Alex... and dealing with the rain."
I started the tour with a men's saddle, not knowing any better, and developed severe sores on day three that lasted until after our first break, which began on day 10.
I'm using the word “severe” to describe broken skin, pussing, and eventually the swelling of my labia majora and minora in response to constant overstimulation. And when I say swelling I don't mean, like, slightly puffy. I mean my vagina looked like the Elephant Man's face.
During those 7 days we rode an average of 50 miles a day. Getting on and off the bike was the hardest part. Thanks to the swelling, the sores spread to the sensitive skin of my labia minora, which stung every time I peed, forcing me to hold back tears and enabling me to fully empathize with anyone who's ever had genital herpes. A 3-night, 4-day rest and a new bike saddle with a GENEROUS cutout changed my tune for the rest of bike tour.
What did you learn about yourself on this trip?
I learned that I am capable of anything. It's a lesson that I had already learned, but it's one of those lessons that you must keep relearning over and over again in life. I don't think you should be satisfied with surprising yourself just once before you die.
"I don't think you should be satisfied with surprising yourself just once before you die."
Alana's Interview is Continued in Part Two...
Alana on Instagram: @gnats.in.my.wine (bike tour) or @alana.ks (personal)
Alana's blog: alanaandthesong.tumblr.com
Want more interviews with amazing female cyclists? Read On.
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