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Arctic Glass: Six Years of Adventure in Alaska and Beyond
by Jill Homer
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"Arctic Glass: Six Years of Adventure Stories from Alaska and Beyond" is a collection of essays from the Web site "Jill Outside." Jill Homer's intent with her lifestyle blog was to document daily adventures from the perspective of a nonathletic, small-town journalist who recently moved to Alaska. The blog quickly took on a life of its own, drawing readers from all over the world, who encouraged her to pursue a burgeoning interest in the extreme sport of snow biking. What followed is a transformation that few could have predicted -- Jill's development into an athlete who completed a 2,700-mile mountain bike race and crossed three hundred and fifty miles of Alaska's frozen wilderness under her own power. The following is an excerpt from the book, an essay about the roots of a deep-set desire: "Why?" Personally, I have never been all that interested in getting on a podium. I'm sure I would enjoy it were I ever to achieve it, but instead I continue to seek out races that are way over my head and glean satisfaction from simply surviving them. It would be logical for me to choose shorter, more surmountable goals, then work on my speed, work on my skills, perfect my strategy and finish knowing I did the very best I could do. But that whole approach seems so mechanical to me -- not that there's anything wrong with it, but it's just not who I am. I view my cycling not as mechanics, but as art. I don't want an instruction manual. I want a blank canvas, as clear and wide as the summer sky, that I can imprint with my joy and sorrow, and color with my blood, sweat and tears. Then, long after the race is over, and long after the race results have been relegated to the deepest regions of the Internet and the instruction manual has been rewritten, the experience is still permanently rendered in my heart -- a work of knowledge and beauty. "Why?" It's easy for me to say I race for fun, but I don't. Yes, I do think biking is fantastically fun. But if I was purely interested in fun, I would spend my holidays on fair-weather joy rides, taking in front-country scenery and sipping cold drinks on a beach. Instead, I take the hard way into the back-country, purposefully experiencing discomfort along the way. I could say I do this for my health, but battering my muscles and bones amid physical extremes, not sleeping and stuffing my stomach with refined sugars isn't doing my body any favors. I could say I race for personal challenge, but that's not entirely true either. Trying to build a bicycle or learning Spanish would be challenging for me, but I don't spend my time immersed in challenges that are actually useful. Instead, I go out and destroy bicycles, and grind my body into the dust, and cry out in pain and frustration and get back on the bicycle and do it again. I pay a lot of money to do this. I allot a large chunk of free time and vacation to this -- all because of these beautiful works of art. These works only I can see. These works that I can never forget. And I cherish the hard moments, the moments of despondency and unhappiness. I cherish these moments because they're intense and real, like bold, red brush strokes through a life of placid beige. And then, when the placid beige gets me down, as it sometimes does, I close my eyes and see the flickering green aurora that filled the sky the night I bonked on the Iditarod Trail ... the night I was so scared and weak that no movement before or since has been as difficult ... the night I was so overwhelmed and uncertain that I wasn't entirely sure I would survive. And the green waves of northern lights were so bright that they still reflect warmth and joy in my heart, two and a half years later. "Why?" I want to take the image of something impossible to me and make it real, make it possible, just for the sake of creation. In that, I feel a glimmer of what it's like to fully live.
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