It was the coldest night I have experienced. I was shivering no matter how many layers I put on. Lying in my cot, huddled in my sleeping bag bag - not even showing my nose, I remembered with regret that I was planning on taking my insulated winter cycling jacket with me. At 7 a.m., I got up from a restless night and took a hot shower, hoping to get warm. Pete and Neil were eating breakfast at the picnic table outside. I grabbed a coffee and joined them. We sat in silence, just occasionally breaking it for a meek conversation when Joan and Lisa spotted us.
Here we were 13 days and 480 miles later. We were companions through a physically and mentally challenging trip and about to return to our distinctly different lives. There was so little and so much to express that we could not find the words. Small talk was safe.
Our train was leaving a little after noon, but we had to be there at 10 a.m. to crate our bicycles. Jamie did well given the strenuous terrain. Two broken vendors I fixed temporarily with wires and a lost screw. No flats. It felt weird to crate her. I have not been separated from Jamie and her well-engineered design for two weeks.
We arrived after an eight-hour train ride in Anchorage. During the ride, I was standing at the open wagon window feeling the sun and the cold air on my face. Mount McKinley was slowly disappearing. Last glimpses of Alaska passed me like the silty rivers with floating trees.
At the station we mounted our bicycles for the last time and headed back to the hostel where some would stay one more night. Jon and I had to catch the midnight and 2 a.m. flights. He was heading back to San Francisco.
Both of us rushed to break down the our bicycles at and pack them into the bicycle boxes. I was struggling to take off the pedals and Joe had to help me.
We joined the group for our last supper of delicious pizza and salad before heading to the airport at 11 p.m.
The goodbyes were very sad. I could not find Lisa for a goodbye hug and was getting upset. She did find me just before I was ready to jump into the cab.
I will miss Neil's dry, smart-ass humor, as well as Joe's foresight and help with all the mechanicals. Pete's stories about his cars and bikes. Joan's smiling face, even when it was hailing. Lisa's frank advice and her thoughtfulness. Ron's watchful eyes and generosity. Phil's jokes about how I should be used to gravel because of all the Brooklyn's potholes. The other Joe who is a super kick-ass cyclist and my hero. Gosh, cycling across America in 25 days!? Insane! I teased him that we should get together in 35 days.
I will miss Jon the most. We bonded initially over technology since we both work in similar fields. Our conversations graduated during the trip to deep topics about life and relationships. I'm glad that he was the last person I said goodbye to at the airport.
As I write this I have tears in my eyes from the amazing trip and thinking about the events. How can someone really describe this experience? It pushed me to my limits in many ways. While sitting in the plane that will take me far away from what just happened, I'm left with the memories of amazing landscapes and new friends.