Life in the wilds of Bush Alaska can be rough on the body. For seven years I lived in beat-up cabin with a bad heater. There was dust and there was mold, and a great big Siberian husky added to the mix of unhealthy antigens I gulped down with my air. Clouds of mosquitoes made summertime exercise tedious. In the winter, exercise dropped with the thermometer. When it’s minus forty outside you’ll sear your lungs.
At the end of seven years my body rebelled and I came down with a dozen ailments all at once. I packed up and moved to Anchorage, the big city, to be close to medical care, to eat good food, and to live in a new and modern apartment.
Before long I was feeling better. My doctor sent me to the heart institute for a nuclear cardiac stress test to find out why I lacked energy. Seated in her office a few weeks later, she told me the results of the test: “Somewhere out there in the tundra you had a heart attack.” I fainted, falling into her nice flower display.
It was time to get back on the bike and loose the extra pounds. I was eating right and living right. Riding would bring me back to where I needed to be. None of my “real” cycling clothing fit, so I dressed up in camo Army surplus pants, Nikes, and a fleece pullover, and headed out on my brand new Specialized Globe.
I was curious about the Shimano Nexus 8-speed internal hub. I’d began my cycling career on a Raleigh Sports with a 3-speed Sturmey Archer hub, and now internal gearing was back. I had a dozen cool bikes in the garage, but the Globe was the right choice for the aging fat man on a crusade to restore his health.
The Anchorage bike trails are a dream. They wind through a greenbelt and along streams filled with salmon. Moose are common, bears are around but not encountered so much. The trails connect to nice roads winding through neighborhoods.
On a fine afternoon I was exploring one of these neighborhoods and wondering where to pick up the bike trail that would lead up Campbell Creek and eventually home. Fortunately, a bike rider appeared and I asked him where the trail head was.
He answered politely, but there was an air of resentment in his manner. As a former bike shop owner I recognized the problem immediately: this was a back-shop mechanic on his way home from a day of fixing flats, raising and lowering seat posts, and installing baby seats. He was embarrassed to be talking to such an un-cool “Fred” on such an un-cool bike.
I pulled up beside him, admiring his piercings, the tattoos, the stylish tilt to his cap. His bike was reasonable enough, but I could see from the way it was set up he was no bike racer. He stared straight ahead, doing his best to banish me from his seriously hip world.
“So, uh, you ride a lot?” I asked. “Yes, I do,” he answered, still not warming up to the the fat old dude on the dork bike. “You race?” I asked, observing that our road had just started to climb. It wasn’t steep, but it was a hill.
He gritted his teeth and I could see he wanted to get out of that big ring. “No, I don’t.” The hill was taking it’s toll. It was hurting me, but I could see it was hurting him worse. I rode along close to his side, wordlessly daring him to slacken the pace.
His breathing became heavy. He was bobbing up and down with the effort. With 20 yards to go to the top of the hill, I turned casually to him and said “You know, I’m recovering from a heart attack.” That did it. He sat up and began gasping for air. Not wanting to rub it in, I flogged my Globe and its internal hub over the top and on toward the bike trail.