Wednesday, December 07, 2016

5 degrees in paradise

One of the reasons we moved from California to Colorado was to live among winter again — to sit by a wood stove and sip hot chocolate, watch snow fall outside the window, and justify having a sauna in our back yard. In eight months, Colorado has given us little tastes — May snowfall and October cold. But today was probably the first day of "real" winter — several inches of new snow fell as overnight temperatures dipped below zero. In the spirit of the "nearly wordless Wednesday" blogging tradition, this is a photo post. 

 Early morning light filters through fog over the backyard.

 Weather station shows 0.9 degrees.

 Beat begins his morning commute to work. It proved tougher than he anticipated.

 A few hours later, I set out for an afternoon ride. Temperatures had warmed to a balmy 5.4 degrees.

 Walker Ranch.

 Relentless climbing, rewarding views.

 First tracks.

 South Boulder Creek. It felt very cold here.

 Climbing away from South Boulder Creek was hard.

 Fading to cloud.

 Hints of sunlight.

 After an embarrassingly short distance, I realized three hours had passed, so I stopped for a snack.

Steam rises from Gross Reservoir. 

Monday, December 05, 2016

It doesn't have to hurt

"Are we really going to do this?" Beat asked as the truck rocked rather combatively. 

"Well, we already drove all the way here," I replied. "Here" was a pullout on Rollins Pass Road, a 45-minute drive from home. In the truck's bed were our fat bikes, recently refurbished after months of hibernation. My bike still had a Nome mileage sheet pinned to a pogie, and a once-cherished but soon-forgotten emergency collection of duct tape, zip ties, and parachute cord in the frame bag. We were here to enjoy the first day of fat bike season, but 45-mph wind gusts and an icy gravel road scraped clean of snow made it suddenly unpalatable. 

 There's one thing to be said about driving to an activity: You're more likely to make yourself go through with it. The west wind blew directly into our faces, and I was buffeted all over the road as I tried to mount my bike. If I could keep the front wheel pointed in a straight line, I was fine, but even a slight shimmy would send me veering toward an intimidating patchwork of ice on South Boulder Creek. Beat said the partially frozen stream reminded him of the many creeks one must cross in Alaska, and I agreed. I watched black water churn under fragile ice bridges and felt decidedly dizzy.

After 15 minutes, we had pedaled all of a mile up the road.

"This isn't very fun," Beat said.

I nodded in agreement. "But what a great workout. My quads are already sore. I'm going to start doing leg lifts at the gym, that's for sure."

 As we gained elevation, the road surface varied from wind-scoured, rocky dirt to deep, drifted snow. A few intrepid jeeps had ventured up the road, laying a narrow and erratic trail for us. Where trees offered wind protection, the surface resistance was just as taxing as riding into a 30-mph wind. I had to slow to something below a crawl just in order to process the necessary oxygen. The worst effects of my cold had dissipated significantly, but it left behind a heap of congestion, adding to the chronic congestion that I always battle. So I was breathing through a goopy straw at 10,000 feet, fretting that the things I want to do this winter are impossible — probably more impossible than ever.

 Really, though, I can only spend so much time fretting about breathing and not feeling strong. Snow flurries sparkled in the sunlight, and the wind bellowed through the trees. I gazed over the wind-swept valley and remembered that this is the sensation I love — churning through a heap of powder, fighting with every last whisper of strength to propel myself into a menacing wind. The wind and snow don't care about my dreams and goals, and I appreciate this. Endurance snow sports are entirely about strength and perseverance in the face of the absurd, the menacing, the unpredictable. It's this microcosm of life that I can't get enough of, even as I grow older and less capable for reasons I don't understand.

 This, like life, is as beautiful as it is hard, which is why it remains worthwhile. I'll just keep doing the best I can, relishing every breath of the monstrous wind.

Monday: Treadmill intervals, 0:30, 3 miles. Weightlifting, 0:40. Run, 1:00, 4 miles, 754 feet climbing. I drove home from Utah on this day and stopped by the gym on my way home. A half hour later, I jogged out to meet Beat during his evening run home from work on the West Ridge trail.

Tuesday: Rest. The man cold clamped down hard overnight. I woke up with a throat so sore it hurt to turn my neck, and I felt weak and feverish throughout the day. I was convinced I was coming down with bronchitis.

Wednesday: Elliptical machine "strength workout," 0:45. Weightlifting, 0:40. I had been quick to overestimate that cold, as it seemed quite bad for 24 hours. On Tuesday it was difficult to get up off the floor, but I felt significantly better on Wednesday morning. I went to the gym for low-impact exercise, using lots of hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, although I would think the contagiousness of my cold dissipated with my symptoms. I did still have a sore throat and the start of persistent congestion.

Thursday: Elliptical machine, 1:30. Weightlifting, 0:20. Still didn't feel strong enough to venture outside. I hear it got a bit cold during the week.

Friday: Mountain bike, 2:16, 13.2 miles, 2,233 feet climbing. A light storm dropped about an inch of snow. I still felt somewhat weak and was having some difficulties with breathing, and the added resistance of snow didn't help. But I really enjoyed this ride — a mixture of sun and flurries, and the trails were deserted.

Saturday: Run, 2:17, 9.1 miles, 1,631 feet climbing. I wore my Salomon Spikecross shoes for the first time since the 2015 White Mountains 100, and wasn't thrilled with the sudden impact of non-Hokas. Perhaps I've ruined myself forever with cushy shoes, but my shins and hips hurt almost immediately. I felt okay but hiked more than I usually would.

Sunday: Fat bike, 4:19, 23.4 miles, 1,705 feet climbing. I wish I could say I felt strong and that the Fat Pursuit is going to be great. No, it's probably going to be a disaster. What's new?

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Man colds and insecurity

Last year's Fat Pursuit, around mile 95. Crazy eyes because I thought I was dying,
while the rational side was doing everything to debunk this fear.

Earlier this week I came down with one of those "man colds" —  you know, colds that are so much worse than regular colds that they dramatically increase the urge to complain to everyone around you. I'm very cautious about respiratory infections these days. Productive coughing has limited my desire to venture out into cold, dry air for lung-searing efforts. So it will probably be a lost week of training. Oh well. Shrug.

The timing was great for Beat to sign both of us up for the Fat Pursuit 200-mile bike race in Idaho, which is just over a month away. Although I failed in this race last year and fear I'm in even worse shape this year, I had to concede that unforgiving training rides are in order. Rides where quitting feels like the third worst option, next to dying and permanent injury. The fact that I'm sitting out the better part of a week of training with a man cold proves I've gone soft on myself this year. That's all well and good, but won't cut it on the Iditarod Trail. Alaska does not care. 

Last night I had coffee with a woman who signed up for the Fat Pursuit 200K. It will be her first endurance race. Of course she's done many interesting and challenging adventures all over the world, and is taking this race so seriously that she's been sleeping on her back porch, "to get used to the cold." I'm looking forward to joining her for a long ride or two, but I'm worried she's going to bury me, and told her as much. 

"What about the thousand miles in Alaska?"

Earlier in the day, I had a phone interview with a magazine writer about my book "Into the North Wind." I've had some reservations about this project, because it hasn't sold as well as my other books, even the one that was just a reprint of old blog posts. What did I do wrong? What's so bad about it? Was it a mistake to release it one week before the election? Maybe I've finally tapped out the audience for "Jill doing snowy adventures" — which is fine. I'm lucky I've carried it this far. Still, what should I do now? The projects in which I've made the most progress with are really more of the same. Should I pursue more magazine and newspaper writing? Is it even appropriate to do adventure journalism in this post-truth world? Where everyone is so overloaded with content that it loses all meaning? But what else is there? Maybe when we get back from Alaska I can see if the Daily Camera needs a copy editor. I'll work cheap. 

Yeah, I'm having a bit of a crisis of confidence right now. It was an interesting interview, though — one that cut at the heart of "why," a question that always forces me to reconsider my reasoning for these types of experiences. She enjoyed the book, and was even more curious why I chose to publish it the way I did, basically letting it linger in relative obscurity. I was a bit taken aback by this question. I mean, you don't get much more obscure than bicycles on the Iditarod Trail. I'm lucky to have an audience at all. But it brought up another reality I've been considering — that the nicely profitable self-publishing bubble has burst, and publishing in general is shoring up for continuing, probably permanent downturns, and in 20 more years no one will read anything but social media and the Breitbart News Network. 

Also, Fat Cyclist ended his blog. Fat Cyclist was relatively new MSN Spaces site back when I discovered it, within a week of launching "Up in Alaska" eleven years ago. I think this means my blog is next on the chopping block. Sad face. 

I swear it's the man cold that's making me sound so defeatist. 

I am looking forward to going back to Idaho and taking on a course that so thoroughly whipped me last year. Whatever the cause of my breathing attacks, I've learned that I can't fight through them. It's a downward spiral of wheezing and gasping that eventually leads to extreme fatigue and dizziness. This will be my first endurance race of any kind since March, which is probably the longest I've gone without racing since I started racing. It will be useful to test my breathing and fitness in a high-pressure environment. And if this race is a huge fail, well, that hasn't stopped me before. 

Now to go hit the gym. I promise I am using tons of hand sanitizer and washing machines thoroughly. I wouldn't wish man colds on anyone.