Today we have a great interview with Jill Homer – extreme cyclist, author and Alaskan. I think she lives about as far away from me as anyone in the USA can! Jill spends her days writing for a living, but when she’s not writing you will definitely find her on the road or on a trail in the Alaskan backcountry. She rides in all conditions – sun, rain and snow. Nothing will keep Jill from her next biking adventure.
You can find Jill on her blog Up in Alaska. She has some amazing stories and equally astonishing photographs of her rides. Alaska is truly the last great frontier.
So check out the interview. My questions to Jill are in bold and her answers are just below it.
Your hometown is just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. How did you end up in Alaska?
I’m the worst kind of cliche for an Alaska woman – I followed a man here. My former boyfriend talked me into moving up in 2005. We traveled through the state in summer 2003 and both fell in love with the landscape and the culture, but I was reluctant to move up because I feared the cold and isolation. I remember saying to him, “What in the world am I going to do all winter long?” The relationship didn’t work out but I’m glad living in Alaska – and loving winter – did.
Where did your passion for cycling come from? Did your family encourage you to ride or did you pick it up on your own?
I was like most suburban kids. I only rode my bicycle when my parents refused to drive me to my friends’ houses. I didn’t own a bicycle as an adult until I was 22 years old. My (now ex-boyfriend) and I were driving home from a camping trip in Moab, Utah, one Sunday afternoon when I saw a bicycle tourist riding up Spanish Fork Canyon. I said, “Wouldn’t it be fun to travel around on a bicycle?” That set a plan in motion a bicycle tour around the Four Corners area. I bought a touring bike and spent the summer “practicing,” which I later relented to calling “training.” Our two-week tour in September 2002 took us all around the mountains and deserts of Southeastern Utah and Southwestern Colorado. I came home from that trip completely hooked.
You wrote a book titled Ghost Trails. Did you always aspire to write a book or did it come about by accident.
I still have a paper I wrote when I was in first grade about “Where I will be in the Year 2000.” I wrote that I would be 21 years old and probably in college, where I was going to study writing because “I want to be a writer and write books.” As an adult, I swung that aspiration toward a career in journalism, but the desire to be an author has been there since I learned my ABC’s.
You have been blogging on Up in Alaska since 2005 – that’s a long time! How do you find inspiration and new topics to keep the blog updated?
With my blog, it isn’t hard because I just write about my life and I’m always out there living my life. I appreciate interest and input from readers, but I’m being honest when I say that I write my blog for my own benefit. I love looking back at old posts: the pictures, memories and insights into how I’ve changed. It is my
journal, only online and public. If it grabs people’s interest, great. The blog has put me in touch with some of the best people I’ve ever met.
Is there anything that blogging provides you that writing newspaper articles or authoring a book doesn’t?
Well, blogs are a stream-of-consciousness kind of forum, usually unedited, so they usually feature a much more raw and honest form of writing. Plus, there’s no limit on what you can write about. Newspaper articles and books aim to be more commercial, so they have to cater to the interests of larger audiences. On my blog, I could write about the kinds of mustard I have in my fridge if I wanted to. That doesn’t mean anyone is going to read it, but I could.
The pictures of Alaska on your blog are incredible – they alone probably keep a lot of your readers coming back for more. Is photography a hobby for you, or do you just point and shoot? What type of camera do you use?
I’m pretty sure my blog has a lot of “readers” that never actually read a word. I like to say that Alaska is like a supermodel – it’s hard to take a bad picture of it. Right now I just use a point-and-shoot, an Olympus Stylus Tough, to document my activities. But the act of just shooting pictures in order to preserve memories has generated more of an interest in photography itself, and I am looking to upgrade my camera.
What is the longest race/ride you’ve ever completed?
The Tour Divide, a 2,740-mile mountain bike race along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, which spans the Continental Divide from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. The race took me 24 days, and until this year’s race begins on June 11, I still hold the women’s record (which will likely be broken this year.)
Have you ever been on a ride and been stuck in a terrible situation? Maybe you’ve been lost, come face to face with a grizzly bear, or almost fallen off a cliff? You did recently get pretty close to a porcupine!
Porcupines are a real hazard! They’re low-profile, and they saunter onto trails and don’t move all that quickly away. You really have to watch out for them if you don’t want to end up with a tire full of quills. That said, I’ve only been in bicycle situations that felt terrible at the time, but in hindsight were just scary or
uncomfortable: Completely bonking at 2 a.m. in an extremely remote canyon in Alaska when the temperature was 20 below (during the 2008 Iditarod Trail Invitational), or being exposed to a horrific electric storm on a high Colorado pass during the Tour Divide. But I’ve always gotten through unscathed.
What type of bike do you ride?
I ride a 2007 Surly Pugsley as a snow bike, a 2008 Surly Karate Monkey as a mountain bike, and a 2004 Ibex Corrida as a touring bike.
Something a little more fun – what’s your favorite movie, TV show, and book of all time?
I love “Office Space.” That is quite possibly my favorite movie of all time, although I haven’t given that subject a lot of thought. My favorite author is Thomas Wolfe. His books really form one long semi-fictional autobiography, and I love those.
If you could go on a cycling trip anywhere in the world – where would you go?
For years I have aspired to travel across Mongolia on my bicycle. Someday I am going to do it. I’d also love to ride in Antarctica, although that requires major bucks I’ll likely never have.
I want to thank Jill Homer for giving me this interview. She’s been on some amazing biking adventures all across the country. You can help Jill realize her dreams by picking up her book Ghost Trails – I promise it’s not about haunted houses – or by donating on her blog. Definitely looking forward to those pictures from Mongolia.