Fairbanks and Chena Hot Springs

The next day the Fairbanks crew invited me to a cabin in the woods near Chena Hot Springs for the night.  Jake Timm, a KLR 650 rider, and I rode our bikes following the rest of the group in Josh’s truck.  The 70 mile ride was eventless until we lost the truck, which was our guide to the cabin.  Jake knew vaguely the location of the cabin, so I followed him on the backroads of the Chena River State Recreation Area.  His KLR, with a 21 inch front and much lighter chasis, handled the muddy, rocky terrain much more nimbly than my bullish, galoot of a road bike pretending to be a dirt bike.  Back a curvy, moss-covered lane with the sunlight ominously blacked out by overhanging black spruce and birch, a no-tresspassing sign suspended by a chain gate blocked the entrance.  This couldn’t be the cabin because they’d already be here by now and the gate would be opened, logic demanded.  For the next hour, we rode aimlessly wandering in hopes to accidentally find the cabin.  Maybe they traveled straight to the hot springs, we thought.  No luck.  Finally, we tried the dark lane again and the chain gate had been removed.  Molly, Josh, Tim’s wife, Kristin, were there. They stopped for groceries, and unbeknownst to us, we passed them enroute.  They spotted us riding around, but thought we were freeriding, rather than lost.  Sometimes miscommunication bestows gifts unplanned.  I just rode the backroads of interior Alaska with a new friend.  Unplanned, but unforgettable.  Adventure.

Another couple arrived later that night as we were roasting hot dogs over the open fire and imbibing potent potables.  Andrew had just returned from Denali’s base camp.  After spending weeks sleeping in a tent in a frigid, high altitude environment, he offered to stay in his tent outside so that I could sleep inside the warm, toasty cabin.  “The cold doesn’t bother me.  I’m Alaskan.”  Yes.  Yes you are, Andrew.

Interacting with Molly’s close-knit friend group in Alaska brought to the surface a yearning for something similar in my life.  Emily and I definitely had that in Louisville, where we both attended seminary.  Social life in Texas was sufficient, but lacking, and in Michigan, it has been non-existant.  Emily and I both have a free-spirited, individualist energy, but simulteneously yearn for connection in a community.  How does one balance those two, seemingly contradictory, notions?  I didn’t know it at the time, but Emily and I would find that belonging, that peace, that sanctuary again, in a place that we had already been.  As Jim James says in My Morning Jacket’s Circuital, we were “heading right back in the place that we started out .”

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