Military News

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Airman recounts experiences with JBER Outdoor Rec

Commentary by Airman Christopher R. Morales
JBER Public Affairs

8/13/2015 - JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- I was nervous. Not only had I never mountain biked before, but I was also carrying expensive government equipment.

Halfway through the trail, exhaustion hit me like a truck. I was trying to take my time and not make any more mistakes. But before I knew it, there came a sharp left turn and I went straight downhill.

Then I totally crashed.

One hour earlier: a group of cyclists, including new riders (me), seasoned and everyone in between were preparing to ride "Middle Earth," an intermediate-difficulty trail in Kincaid Park with Dave Mazur and Karl Lavtar from the Outdoor Recreation Center as our guides.

I had a GoPro on my helmet and a camera in my bag. As a public affairs specialist doing a story about outdoor activities, my mission was to take photos - almost out of the question while I'm biking.

Luckily, the guides gave me several occasions to travel ahead and "camp" for photo opportunities.

We began on a paved trail to test our gears, which was quite relaxing. It felt like there were no worries in the world, just feeling the wind flowing and passing perfectly curved turns.

However, from then on out I knew it was not smooth sailing. Call me Airman Ahab, because when the rubber of my fat-tire bike hit the roots and rocks it felt as if I was being flung at sea in an epic bout with Moby Dick.

Waves of earth took their toll; I had to get a grip if I didn't want to fall behind ... or down.

But alas, my efforts were in vain.

I ate dirt a total of three times that day but, more importantly, I swallowed my fear ... fear of seriously injuring myself and more than $5,000 worth of camera equipment. I only got a couple of scrapes and dust in my bag; no biggie.

As a photojournalist, my job is to get out there and catch the story; a wild beast that needs to be tamed for the general public's viewing.

Photo shoots like this, where I have to keep up with the group and take photos on the side, are difficult because it's a beast that comfortably travels great distances on treacherous terrain and I still have to take perfectly exposed, composed and timed photos.

As a hermit, my comfort zone is a well-known environment - whether it is my room, my desk or my favorite café.

But getting outside and enjoying Alaska for what its summer has to offer provides a sense of adventure and wonder not normally obtained in my everyday life.

Sure, I go out on photo shoots with aircraft, wildfires and even explosives, but none of them have tested me like the ORC did on our trips mountain biking, rock climbing and stand-up paddle boarding.

The ORC's trips are geared for challenge levels ranging from no experience to experts, everything is challenge-by-choice and the goal is to have fun, Mazur said.

As summer slowly escapes us we need to prepare ourselves because winter is coming.

I can't wait to challenge myself against the freezing cold and heavy snowfall - and maybe break my previous record with a triple front-flip down a slope.

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