Saturday, December 31, 2005

Last minutes

Date: Dec. 31
Mileage: 42.6
December mileage: 381.1
Temperature upon departure: 27

Today was sunny, calm, below freezing (but just barely). Perfect way to end the year. I biked the North Fork gravel road for a loop with a lot of ice and A LOT of hills. When the loop was over, I had biked for 3 hours and 39 minutes, and traveled 42 miles. On the way down to Anchor Point, I broke my mountain bike top speed record and coasted at 35 mph for nearly a mile. The last three miles consisted of a steep climb (one of four long hills on this ride) where I rarely broke the 5 mph barrier. When I arrived home, I thought I was shot. But then I ate a couple of peanut butter balls and took a big swig of water, and felt pretty good. I really should have gone for the last 19 miles. I especially felt that way after I found out that Geoff did a 15-mile run in Palmer this morning - before going out for some afternoon cross country skiing. But, considering my original goal for this month was 225 outdoor miles, I think I did OK.

Well, now it's time to go nosh on edible arts and get my New Year's on. Here's wishing everyone out in bloggerland a Happy New Year. May 2006 be filled with epic rides and powder-lined slopes - and may the wind always be at your back.

After dark

Date: Dec. 30
Mileage: 21.4
December mileage: 338.5
Temperature upon departure: 30

Today's ride was sponsored by Adam, and by Richard. Thank you! I left after work at 4:45 p.m. and did most of my ride in the dark - my longest night ride to date. It was a little surreal. When night strips the landscape bare, the shadows start to creep into your thoughts. I've had similar experiences hiking at night in the winter ... when there's only the dark and the silence, all of your senses are thrown into doubt. You wonder if you're colder than you feel. You wonder if the crunch of your tires on snow is as loud as it sounds. You know exactly where you are, and yet you can't help but wonder if you're lost - turned down another trail, slipped into another dimension, maybe. It was really interesting - never scary or dangerous. Just interesting. Night riding is definitely something I'm going to work harder to acclimate myself to before the Susitna 100. Plus, now I know exactly what I want in a bike headlight - which almost the perfect opposite of the one I have now.

Tomorrow I'm going to try to get up early (i.e. before the 10 a.m. sunrise) and pound out some miles before the New Year. Why? I don't know. Something to do, I guess. I probably should mix it up a bit and go cross country skiing - but the snow is so intermittently icy and slushy right now that if I was going to kill myself doing any winter sport, XC skiing in that stuff would probably be the way I'd go. Plus, I'm in training. It sounds so weird to say it.

I'm feeling bummed because Geoff just returned from New York but won't be able to come down from Anchorage until Sunday. Which means my New Year's Eve will probably go something like this: take as long a bicycle ride as I can stomach; down a couple of bowls of cold cereal for dinner; eat a cupcake shaped like a volcano at the Edible Arts Extravaganza; get my groove on with the hillbilly Anchorage band that I interviewed earlier this week; and go with Jen to the Masquerade Ball, where we will wear props left over from a middle school production of "Romeo and Juliet" and scream "Happy New Year" to no one in particular - at least no one we know.

Another holiday without the people I love. Oh well. At least there won't be another one for a while.
Friday, December 30, 2005

Snow ride

Date: Dec. 29
Mileage: 11.3
December mileage: 317.1
Temperature upon departure: 31

My snow ride today was slow ride. (sponsored by Adam. Thank you!) It took me nearly one and a half hours to do those 11.3 miles, mostly because I was dabbling on the ski trails while squinting against a torrent of wet, stinging flakes. And the conditions, well ... fresh, wet snow atop old rain-soaked snow means everything's soft and sinking. I was hoping to pound out 20 miles today, but I was not liking the visibility as it became dark. Plus, I had that annoying Foghat song running through my head ... Substituting some lyrics of course, and mashing my pedals to the rhythm ("snow ride ... take it easy.") Oh, and I received a dirty look from a skate skier. I always try to stay as far to the side as possible when I ride on established trails, but I think in these conditions, no one is happy.

There was one break in the blizzard early on. I pulled out my camera to snap a picture, only to find the lens, the screen, the viewfinder, pretty much everything soaked (it's not blurry - it's artistic.) It was a wet day. But a lot of fun! I am becoming much better at that whole steering thing. I'm also keeping my feet inside the cages for much longer periods of time. (Snow is a very unpredictable surface, but I am learning to trust my bike and steer through it rather than put my foot down ... just like learning to ride in sand.) I'm up to 317 outside miles this month. Think I can break 400 by New Year's? I doubt it ... but it's fun to dream.
Thursday, December 29, 2005

Cool before fumes

So I received some lectures for my post yesterday, and rightly so (apparently, even my use of the word 'bonked' was a bad choice, although I have no desire to find out its other meaning. Each hemisphere has its own way of mangling the English language. Those Aussies probably wince at the word 'bonked' the same way we do when a Brit asks if he can bum a fag.) Anyway, I probably have a tendency to embellish a bit, and I really wasn't as bad off as I made it sound. I was just trying to point out that I'm not laboring under a delusion that a few weeks of training is going to turn me into an unstoppable endurance racer.

I know nutrition is important (I had Alpha-Bits for breakfast - now featuring "0 grams of sugar" and "rich in whole grain like Cherrios, plus has letter learning fun!") And I know training is important (Three-mile run and 45 minutes on the trainer today, thank you very much.) And I'm learning that understanding when to say when is important, too (although I think that actually having both the time and determination to overtrain would only happen in my deepest dreams.) But when I'm down in the trenches, pushing my bike through torrential drifts of snow, all of my preparations, the Alpha Bits and the evening jogs, will fade into memories of a pleasant but distant past. In those dark moments, everything will be a battle of wits, Jill against herself. I think my best defense against the dreaded "scratch" is gaining an understanding of what my body can do when it's running on little else than Power Bars and pure will, and train myself to extend that fuel a little bit further.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Date: Dec. 27
Mileage: 16.4 (plus one hour on the trainer)
December mileage: 305.8
Temperature upon departure: 35

Cyclists have their own term for the special, fluffy sort of feeling one experiences when their blood depletes entirely of sugar, when their legs go AWOL and they begin to see imaginary bunnies darting in front of them - they call it "bonking," and it basically means you've gone as far as you're gonna.

I've never bonked before, although I have many experiences where I think I may have been on the precipice. Either way, bonking is definitely something I fear, and training for the Susitna 100 is as much about preparing for the psychological warfare of bonking as it is about building up my quads.

Today I was so, so tired when I stumbled home from work just before 3 p.m. I don't know why. Getting to bed late and waking up early wasn't exactly it, either. My whole body was on the riot path. Since Tuesday is the one day of the week when I can reliably return home while there's still a smidgen of daylight, I try to get out first thing. I went upstairs and commenced the layering process, pulling on a pair of fleece pants and socks, and then just stopped - for no reason - and stared into space for the longest time.

When I finally got out the front door, there was a driving sleet coating everything as it hit - my front steps, the packed snow, my jacket, my bike. Official sunset wasn't for another hour, but a dark mist soaked the sky with all the monotony of night. Every bit of common sense I have been blessed with was yelling, "this is not the kind of day for a bicycle ride." But one of my New Year's resolutions is to no longer allow myself the luxury to decide that.

I did the slow climb to Ohlson Mountain Road and back, bouncing over then rock-hard snowbanks along the way and trying to push harder, but mostly forgetting to do so. I came home feeling full to my waist in lactic acid and, well, sort of fluffy too. It wasn't even a hard ride, so I was frustrated with myself. I made some dinner, cleaned up, and began to think about how I hadn't tried hard enough.

I don't know why I kept going. It was 7 p.m. and all I wanted to do was sleep; I'd just felt off and I had been that way all day. Just one of those days. But I got on the trainer. I had to see what it felt like. I had to know. Also, it seemed like the perfect time to finally get around to watching "Teen Wolf Too" (a friend in Idaho gave me the DVD before I moved to Alaska because he thinks I'm in love with Jason Bateman. Whether or not that's true, it still has to be one of the worst teen movies ever made - and that's saying something.) Anyway, as I pedaled and willed myself to push harder and tried to keep from wincing at the dialogue, I began to feel better. I put in 65 minutes before deciding I had successfully conquered the creeping "bonk." Now I feel a lot more energized - go figure.
Tuesday, December 27, 2005

More sunset goodness

Today I drove from Palmer to Homer (5.5 hours), worked a full shift in the cement box (8.5 hours) and watched a movie while putting in 80-percent effort on the trainer (1.5 hours). All in all, a pretty full and pointless day. I have been trying to develop a regimen for my New Years training. In order to get through some creeping self doubt, I have been experimenting with power of positive thinking. My mom told me that the friends and fam liked my last childhood sports story. I have only a handful of athletic stories from my education years, but this one is by far my favorite:

When I was a junior in high school, I somehow slipped through registration without enrolling in a required phys-ed credit. When my counselor realized the mistake, there was only one class available during my free period - boys basketball.

The class was actually called "Fundamentals of Basketball" and there was no implicit gender requirement. But 30 out of 31 students in that class were boys - and not just any boys. They were the casualties of our 5A state champion basketball team, a fiercely competitive squad that generated a lot of castaways. When boys didn't make the cut, they landed in Fundamentals of Basketball - bitter, rough and only interested in my presence if they were part of the designated "skins" team. (I self-regulated myself to "shirts," but, interestingly enough, Coach never made any rule about this.)

So, for a shy girl with too many "Less Than Jake" posters on her wall, this was the kind of teenage torture that only seems possible in John Hughes movies. I was plowed into and run down and fouled and rarely had possession of the ball anyway. I took the beatings with a quiet sort of grace - my only defense - but Coach did have one after-game ritual that seemed particularly cruel.

At the end of every class, Coach gave one boy one shot, and one shot only, to land a free throw. The other members of the class could bet on whether he would make it or not. Each stood on the side they were gambling on - yea or nay. Whoever bet wrong had to run one lap around the track before they could shower. If the shooter missed the toss, he had to run either way. After several weeks, nearly every boy in the class had taken that shot. Coach said it was my turn.

As I walked to the line with a greasy ball in my hands, all of my classmates without hesitation moved to the "nay" side. It may have been the only time the decision was unanimous. I don't remember. What I do remember is standing at the free throw line and feeling a tingle of resignation creep through my fingers. I thought of the cold wind outside, the smirking faces of the boys who had it too easy, the image of myself jogging alone along the lonely track. The sophomore gym class had finished their tumbling workshop early and were lingering on the bleachers, waiting for the bell to ring. Their faces, too, melted into the blur. It was all going dark. I probably even closed my eyes. Then I shot.

The groans that quickly erupted from the "nay" side nearly drowned out the cheering sophomores. I never heard the "swoosh," never saw the ball drop neatly through the webbing and land with an even bounce directly below the basket. When I looked up, Coach was herding more than two dozen slump-shouldered boys toward the track. "I guess you're the only one who doesn't run today," he said to me. As I walked in disbelief toward the showers, the sophomores gave me my first - and only - standing ovation.

It wasn't long after that when my counselor announced she found a spot for me in the sophomore gym class. Without regret, I traded boys' basketball for badmitten and bowling. But for days and even weeks later, girls I had never met would approach me in the locker room and say, "you're that girl that made all the boys run!" All I could do was smile and nod. Yes. Yes I was.
Saturday, December 24, 2005


Here I am in Palmer, Christmas Eve, 250 miles from my bike and 3,000 miles from home. I went for a 90-minute run along the Matanuska River this morning that felt amazing. The last time I was here - Thanksgiving - I was definitly not in the kind of shape to run for 90 minutes straight. And now I am. How quickly my body has responded to relatively casual conditioning really surprised me. I felt strong, in charge. I was tearing off layers like it wasen't 18 degrees out; feeling the crisp air on actual skin; sprinting, sweating, gliding across the windswept ice.

I eventually came home because it was 11 a.m. and the sun hadn't yet crawled above the mountains. It felt like a good idea at the time, but now it's high noon and the sun still hasn't made it up (my friend Craig informed me that this time of year, in never does); I've eaten a bowl of Special K and two salmon-shaped Christmas cookies; and all I want to do is head back out. All I can think about it taking off down the river, running harder, faster, colder, until I don't have to think anymore about how homesick I'm feeling today; about how much I miss wearing my Christmas jammies; about what I would give right now to eat an ice cream sundae while watching "Christmas Story" and playing Scrabble with my sisters. This year is my first year as an Orphan. I thought I was prepared for it, but it's hard. It's harder than I thought it would be. In comparison, running is effortless.
Friday, December 23, 2005

Where I live

Date: Dec. 22
Mileage: 3.3
December mileage: 289.4
Temperature upon departure: 27

It seemed like a good night for a solstice ride, but I wasn't out the door until 10:15 p.m. On my way up to the trail my headlight went out and my brakes were slipping under all the new, wet snow. That deflated my resolve just a bit - I was grinding into the soft trail (mostly for naught) and it was dark - really dark. Solstice dark. A good thing to practice - but the headlight I need.

I was happy, though, because my illustrious Sen. Steven's first bid to open oil drilling in ANWR failed in the Senate. It's a mixed happiness because I feel a helpless sort of pity for my state's senior senator. I always picture him bent over some table in Congress, with his rumpled "Incredible Hulk" tie and the creeping great-grandfather sadness of his 80-plus years. He looks so tired and I think he just wants to go out with a bang. That's all he wants. But his bridges to nowhere crusade was just embarrassing. And now there's the band-aid ANWR solution that does little more than add to Alaska's fat coffers (not that I'll see any of that money. All of this revenue comes back as rebates for "real" Alaskans. We newbies get pay the tourism taxes and send our children to substandard schools.) But using ANWR to curb the mounting oil crisis is like trying to make Koolaid with a teaspoon of sugar ... you can make a little Koolaid, but try to spread it around and everyone's only going to end up with a bitter taste in their mouth.

For those who support the issue, all I ask is to consider what good it will actually do. Keep a few million cars on the road for a couple more years? Then what? I've stood on the edges of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge; I've looking toward the sweeping tundra, rolling over an endless horizon; brown, desolate, still clinging to winter in June - and so unspeakably beautiful.

I'll give up my car. I will. Just tell me how to fight for this world's last true places.
Thursday, December 22, 2005

Snow and solstice

Five new inches of powder in my front yard and a final daylight loss of 0 minutes, 3 seconds. It only goes uphill from here.
Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Color and light

Date: Dec. 20
Mileage: 12.3
December mileage: 286.1
Temperature upon departure: 29
Sunrise: 10:05 a.m.
Sunset: 4:04 p.m. (tomorrow, the same)

The light is fading, but tonight I ride.
I ride with a remnant sunset,
and its flecks of cayenne pepper
searing the lavender sky.
Beneath sunset, Mt. Augustine looms
in steam and subdued silhouette,
fighting the twilight for distinction
before the pitch descends
and shadows contract.

I ride with the pitch,
only a dull yellow beam between me and nothing,
only the ice spray glittering like disco glass,
and screaming descents into nothing.
Moose tracks dig empty holes.
Great tussocks roll over snow,
and I bump. I ride.

I ride until there's no distinction between trail and field
until the white opens wide beyond darkness,
until strips of green stretch over the northern horizon.
Could be the apocalypse.
Could be the aurora.
The world is fading,
but tonight I ride.

... Tonight's ride was sponsored by Kevin, a yearround rider of the truest type down in St. Paul, Minn. The bicycle poetry was, well ... OK. I don't usually do poetry. But I felt inspired in that direction this evening because today, one day before solstice and 11 days ahead of my deadline, I surpassed my Susitna fundraising goal and subsequently put a check in the mail. I entered the Susitna 100. I'm in the race. There's no turning back now. And it feels good. Really good. I'd really like to thank everyone who helped me reach this point.

It doesn't end here, of course - not even close. I have a lot of training to do, so I'd like to set forth a new proposal. Between now and Feb. 15, I'll ride two miles for every dollar raised. One mile ($0.50) will be donated to the Lance Armstrong Foundation to support the good fight against cancer. And the other mile ($0.50) will help pay race expenses, including food, lodging and transportation (I'd love to ride my bike the whole way, but the race does begin almost 300 miles from my house.) And from now on, the wimpy roadie miles don't count. Unless, of course, all the snow melts.

Then it's time to rethink my decision to live in southern Alaska.

Bright spots

Today I learned through the reporter grapevine that a prowler was lurking around the building I work in one week ago Sunday. He hauled in several gallons of gasoline and set them down in strategic spots throughout the halls. After successfully shutting off the sprinkler system and making away with a fair amount of merchandise from a hardware store, the would-be arsonist fled for unknown reasons and left everything behind. My initial thought upon learning how close my employer-issued iMac came to being an friedMac was "Joy to the world, the school burned down." But then I remembered that losing my job might be a bad thing, even on a Monday in the midst of the holiday slew.

But I successfully made it through at least one day; three more to go. Such is life. I came home after enough hours in the cement box to fill in two healthy shifts. I rode the trainer for an hour so I could watch "Arrested Development." (Yes, I do get nearly four channels on my analog, antennaed television.) Then Geoff, our neighbor Jen and I enjoyed a lavish Indian feast. If there's anything Geoff has down pat, it's Indian food. I knew I moved to Alaska for a reason.

It's funny how even the most dreaded days can turn out surprisingly well ... or at least seem so in retrospect to the alternative. I avoided being a victim of arson and even arrived home in time to watch the only show I care to watch on TV. And before you ask, 'who in the world watches 'Arrested Development' anyway?,' I have this to say: There are dozens of us! Dozens!
Sunday, December 18, 2005

Oh, I'm stressed

Date: Dec. 18
Mileage: 43
December mileage: 273.8
Temperature upon departure: 39

Today's ride was sponsored in part by my good friend, Jen, who is currently freezing her ski tips off in Alta, Utah. Jen is the bomb. This picture of a "b'eagle" kick'n it atop Salty Dawg also is for her. Go B'Alaska!

I get the sense from some of the e-mails and comments I get that many believe I live a charmed life up here in the not-so-frozen north. And I do, really - the scenery, the strange encounters, the wildlife, the biking. I love it and that's what I write about. But I still have my desk-jockey alter ego to contend with, and she is having a hard time sitting out this Sunday, knowing that when Monday comes there will be so, so much to do.

I don't typically get the Sunday blues, but this week before Christmas is going to be tough. The phrase "I'm going to be so busy this week" is pretty vague, and doesn't really get to the heart of what most of us do in our off (i.e. non-biking) time.

I'm a journalist ... a small-town journalist. I work for a weekly community newspaper. Weeklies are nearly universal in their penchant of hiring ridiculously small staffs to multitask (i.e. stumble) through each issue, and I was hired to multitask that multitasking. I sometimes write in my blog about my work as an arts and entertainment reporter. Despite the fact that I usually write between 3 and 5 articles a week, reporting is only a small part of what I actually do. What makes my job a job is my work as a production editor. I am the person who each week takes a random jumble of ads, photos and haphazardly-written stories, throws them on a computer, shakes them around a bit, and hopes beyond hope that a coherent and even well-designed newspaper comes out. Sometimes, I find a nice flow. But most weeks, I feel like I am staring down a 5,000-piece puzzle with a 2 p.m. Tuesday deadline.

It's especially hard this week because my boss has been laying on a beach in Hawaii for three weeks, and the staff shortage has finally caught up to us. The reporters already don't turn in their stories until the 13th hour, so on Friday afternoon they piled on me a couple of sickly-sweet holiday stories that I need to interview for (and write!) tomorrow. Why can't I start on them until tomorrow? Because the people I need to interview are busy enjoying their holiday, and won't be available until then. So, basically, tomorrow will be like trying to put together a 5,000-piece puzzle while talking on the phone, scribbling madly on a notepad and piecing together a couple of 600-word articles. Then on Tuesday I'm supposed to edit it all. Well, if a four-letter-word is accidentally dropped into the copy somewhere and makes it to press, don't blame me. (I'm just kidding, Carey! I don't think my boss reads my blog ... but you can't be to careful.

OK. I'm done ranting. But everyone needs a chance to vent once in a while. One of the reasons I went on a 43-mile bike ride today was to work out some of that anxiety. I think I'm feeling better now. I usually am able to deal pretty well with stress. In this profession, you really have to be. No matter what size of publication we work at, journalists live and die by deadlines, low salaries and public scrutiny. So most of us become either a.) a person who actually thrives in stress situations and becomes more productive (or crazy) in the process. Or, b.) a person who dies of multiple ulcerations of the stomach at 41. Every once in a while I worry I might become that second person. Then I remember - "oh yeah. I'm signing up to ride 100 miles over ice on my bicycle, by choice." That makes me feel much better.
Saturday, December 17, 2005

It's summer out

Date: Dec. 17
Today's mileage: 32.3
December mileage: 230.8
Top speed: 36 mph
Temperature upon departure: 39

Today's ride was sponsored by Kevin in Wisconsin, and by Eric and Jesse. So much love, so much riding.

Geoff and I dropped off the ridge for a 32-mile loop, squinting against the spray of rain water and grit and watching rogue rays shimmer on the sea. The wind was calm, the water as smooth as glass. And as the sun gained more ground through parting clouds, the summer recreationalists began to emerge from their warm cocoons, blinking against the bright reflection and stumbling into surreal summer wonderland filled with Christmas lights and the gray remnants of melting snow.

It wasn't exceptionally warm today, nor was it exceptionally sunny. But the combined efforts of two weeks of unseasonably warm weather, calm air and a thin but clear window after days of drizzling rain coaxed everybody outside.

We rode along the Spit, drafting a flock of sea birds as they rose from the shoreline - now stripped of all its ice - and coasted lazily toward the sky. The summer recreationalists nodded as we drifted by - the old couple and their swerving mountain bikes; the little dogs with their joggers, bundled up and panting; the roller-skier on skates, planting her poles in the pavement and looking none too happy about it. I saw more cyclists out today than I ever did on any Saturday in September - some looking uncomfortably cold; others looking as if they couldn't believe themselves what they were doing. We just smiled and kept moving. We weren't special today - just part of the flock, two more people who saw a sliver of summer emerge from a six-hour-long day less than a week before solstice. And now I feel so torn. Do I want winter to come back? Do I want global warming to just take this thaw and run with it? Or do I want to just continue no matter what the weather does? So much love, so much riding.

Pedaling backward

Date: Dec. 16
Today's mileage: 21
December mileage: 198.5
Temperature upon departure: 45

Today's ride was sponsored by Moe at The Bike Geek. This outpouring of generosity has inspired me to get in the saddle even on days like today - where I had a lot of writing to do, a *required* Christmas work part at 3 p.m., and an entire of day of yucky warmth and constant rain. (For those riders down south who balk at my complaining about 45-degree temperatures, try to visualize that with a stinging drizzle, sea spray and headwinds approaching northern Nebraska-strength) Ok. You caught me. It's not always brutal cold in coastal Alaska. But most of the time - in the winter at least - most of us here wish it was.

I took my new gloves for a test ride today - kind of an interesting day to do it, what with the warmth and soaking weather. Not really conducive to warm winter gloves, but they held up well in the rain and proved their waterproof abilities. Even the zipper, surprisingly, was impenetrable. But I'm feeling some blogger's remorse for yesterday's post. Sometimes I forget that the things I write in here can directly affect people I know and love. I hope they understand that I think the world of them, and that the story was meant to demonstrate the irony of my connection to those gloves - while Eric and I didn't get along in grade school, we seem to have a lot more in common now. And I feel the need to say - on the record - that my memory of events 20 years ago isn't foolproof. I don't want to say without a doubt that one person made fun of me for throwing baseballs dismal distances when, in fact, in may have been another. And, really, they were very dismal distances and probably deserved some ridicule.

That said, and speaking as a person who is not much of a gearhead, I really think winter bikers should give these gloves a shot. The zipper allows for needed ventilation when sweating is a problem (such as steep hills.) The materials are quick-drying synthetics with leather palms that will withstand long periods of gripping handlebars. And freeing the fingers without removing the glove is a handy feature for those who need to make quick use of their hands without risking long exposure. Here is a link to the contact form if you are having any problems reaching the Web site. And I want to say that hopefully tomorrow I'll come up with a more inspired post. Today I did a rainy bike ride, went to two holiday parties and ate a lot of garlicky foods and sugar. I'm about ready to pass out.
Thursday, December 15, 2005

It's Christmas to me

Well, I tore into the Christmas care package my parents sent me today. For the record, I let it sit almost 18 hours before I finally thought to myself - I'm 26 years old and I'm spending the holidays 3,000 miles from home. I'll open my Christmas gift whenever I want.

On top of a generous helping of calorie and nostalgia-laden peanut butter balls was a pair of CZIP Gloves. They were a cool surprise because they actually are so perfect for my two favorite winter sports - ice biking and snowboarding. Plus, they are unforgettably linked to my long past of physical limitations and subsequent accomplishments.

See, the gloves were designed, patented and are now being marketed by my playground nemesis, Eric Vaughn. I went to kindergarten with this guy, as well as every grade thereafter. And before my childhood experiences faded into the gloss and glamour of memory, he held a special, cold place in my heart.

I was always the kid who was bad at sports - threw the baseball in the dirt five feet in front of me; couldn't launch a kickball to save my life. He used to tease me for it. That's all, really, but these things tend to stick to impressionable minds. I once owned a notebook with at least five pages full of the repeated sentence: "I hate Eric Vaughn."

Eric, of course, grew up to be a athletic, charming, good-looking guy. I didn't play sports in high school, but I started long-distance hiking. I took up snowboarding. I never played kickball again, and I got over it.

In October 2004, my dad and I were planning a trek across the Grand Canyon. We latched on to the annual excursion of the Vaughn clan, including - (cue obvious plot twist) - Eric Vaughn. Hiking the Grand Canyon from rim to rim isn't exactly a Sunday stroll. It's about 26 miles long, with an elevation drop (and subsequent gain) of 6,000 feet. October temperatures at the rim can hover just above freezing. Temperatures can also climb to 100 degrees at the river - during the same day. It's a tough hike. Some might say a physical accomplishment. And there I was, 24 years old and and hiking with the kid who teased me for planting baseballs when I was 6. So, needless to say, I was feeling pretty competitive. I decided that day, no matter what, I was finishing that hike. I wasn't going to let any donkey drag me out of there - not unless I was fully and irrevocably unconscious.

And I think I did pretty well, all said and done. With a relaxed pace, we finished in about 11 hours, including breaks and time spent waiting for people who had to drag a little more. I felt energized when it was done. And, with Eric pulling just ahead of me - a little bit redeemed.

Now he's a big-time outdoor merchandising entrepreneur. And, I gotta say, he designed a really good pair of gloves. The upper glove is attached to a zipper so you can free your fingers without removing the glove - perfect for quick flat tire changes or stuffing down a Powerbar. With a thin pair of neoprene liners, they may be perfect for the Susitna 100 - if for nothing else, to remind me that I gotta keep plugging away. Lest I want to go back to being that picked-on kid, staring at a baseball in the dirt and wondering if it will ever go any further.


So they tell me Mt. Augustine's about to blow. It's rated "Code Yellow," for what that's worth (just like the United States has been in a code yellow terrorism alert since, well, since the British were coming.) This photo is actually Mt. Iliamna. It could be Mt. Redoubt. I don't know. What I do know is - I live near a lot of volcanoes. And one of them, they tell me, is about to blow.

I never really thought about volcanoes before I moved to Alaska. An active volcano is something that belongs on a tiny tropical island, somewhere deep and warm and surrounded by chanting natives hoisting a screaming virgin up the face. No one told me that Homer was surrounded by these things - one big geothermal hug.

So I came into work today, wide-eyed and clutching the Anchorage Daily News with a shot of a big, steam-spewing cone on the cover. My co-worker just laughed at me (she has lived in Homer since the beginning of time, or at least since 1986 - the last time it blew its top.)

"It's not so bad," she said. "It just gets really foggy and dark, and everyone stays home for a couple of days."

"You can't even go outside?" I asked.

"Oh, you can go outside. Just try not to breathe too much."

I wonder what it would be like to ride a bicycle in a few inches of fresh volcanic ash. I imagine it would be a lot like riding in powder snow - airy, slow and locked in ethereal silence. It would probably be really enjoyable ... except for the not breathing part.

Unfortunately, I didn't take advantage of the still-available oxygen in the air to ride my bike today. I did manage a good, sweaty 75 minutes on the elliptical trainer at the gym. I feel it was an accomplishment only because I managed to ignore a leering bodybuilder that entire time. But I do have a deficit of cycling mileage that I owe - and this makes me very happy. I want to thank everyone who's helped me out in my miles-for-dollars Susitna 100 bid. I am close to my goal, and with any luck I'll be able to file my application to the race toward the end of this week. In answer to Fritz's comment yesterday, I am good for every mile. Come wind, ice, blizzard, or the most horrifying condition - rain, I'll bike it. I have until Dec. 31, so bring it on!
Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Night crasher

Date: Dec. 13
Today's mileage: 14.2
December mileage: 177.5
Temperature upon departure: 25

I have a better picture from Sunday, but this is one I actually took today, so there you go. I'm still aiming for journalistic realism. Today's ride was sponsored by Cyclelicious, a great read for everything from unfair cycling legislation to calendar girls who can't ride a bicycle to save their life. Also, Cyclelicious is one of the top-ranked bike blogs online, so I thought I'd make today's affiliate ride a good one.

By the time I dismounted from my swivel chair and left the cement box, the sun had already set. I decided to grab my headlight and head up to the reservoir - try my skills on the snowmobile paths up there. Unfortunately, after the thaw some ATVs and other wheeled vehicles drove up and down the trail, creating deep, frozen ruts that all but trapped me once I dropped into them. I tackled the trail with all of my lung-searing strength going up, remembering that speed and balance often go hand in hand. However, that theory didn't work as well coasting down. With only my tiny yellow headlight to guide me, I weaved in and out of those ruts and tried to keep my unmoving pedals just above the berm. Eventually - although a more appropriate word is probably inevitably - I overcorrected just enough and slammed right into one of those ATV canyon walls. Instead of jumping over it, the wheel lodged in the snow and I stopped dead. Or, rather, the bike stopped dead. I went for an extended ride over the handlebars.

Usually snow is pretty forgiving. However, snow that has soaked up four days worth of rain before freezing again is about as soft as concrete. I knew the moment I hit that I wasn't injured at all. But I lay there for a while anyway, staring at stars as they slipped behind wisps of clouds and thinking only of blunt pain and the repeated word "hard, hard, hard, hard." I got over it soon enough, though. I stood up, brushed off the powder, and worked my way back to the road ... humbled, but determined to keep trying.

Night rider

Date: Dec. 12
Today's mileage: 6
December mileage: 163.3
Temperature upon departure: 19

Monday's my long day at work. Dec. 12 is a rather short day in the year. But that doesn't mean we can't get out for an evening jaunt on the ski trails (shh ... don't tell the Nordic skiers. They don't like us using their trails. But I figure - what they can't see can't hurt them.) Snow conditions were ideal today, but I am still working on developing my trail-riding technique. Navigating deep ruts covered over by soft powder takes a fair amount of concentration any time, but it's definitely tougher in the dark. Of course, I gotta learn it - just like I need to learn to change a tire with mittens on (but I'll save that frustration for another day.)

Today's ride felt pretty technical, especially during climbs. For that, I feel lucky to hail from the desert. Riding in snow is in many ways similar to riding in sand - a lot of swerving and correcting, grinding without earning much distance and using lower RPMs/higher gears to get through the tough stuff. I lowered my tire pressure to 20 PSI. I may try it lower next time. Also, I think I may start looking for a "snow bike." I feel sort of bad putting all of this abuse on my Sugar when most of its amenities aren't even needed, and some (such as full suspension) are actually detrimental. I'm hoping some local resident will put an old Cannondale mountain bike in the classifieds - one of those classic workhorses built in the '80s with no suspension and room to spare for some huge tires. Who knows - it could happen.

Geoff commented today that he no longer feels the urge to whittle away the winter months while we wait for the backpacking, camping, canoeing, 11:30 p.m. sunset bike-ride summer days that we moved here for. For a few months, he has been mulling whether or not to apply for one of those winter fishing boat jobs - the kind that steal months from you at a time but send you home with fat pockets. However, today he said he didn't think he could face the grind, knowing now all of the fun recreation he'd be missing back home. It's one thing to say that in the summer - but the winter? I think we've arrived.
Sunday, December 11, 2005


Date: Dec. 11
Today's mileage: 25.1
December mileage: 157.3
Top speed: 28 mph
Slowest speed: 2.5 mph (didn't know it was possible to ride that slow until today.)
Temperature upon departure: 31

Great ride today, sponsored by my good friend in Salt Lake City, Chris. Chris spent three months living out of a van with me, Geoff and our friend, Jen, towing four mountain bikes across the length of Alaska. We traveled from Prudhoe Bay to Juneau, and pretty much everywhere inbetween. We all developed an Alaska lust that none of us has been able to kick. I'm happy to see Chris is still with us in spirit, nudging us along as we navigate these northern climes.

A freezing rain hit overnight that iced all the roads. I headed out for what I intended to be a short ride. As I headed upward, the ice slicks turned to snow cover, and I began to think about riding to the highest elevation in town - the top of Ohlson Mountain, 1,513 feet. I thought the ride would give me great practice for conditions I am likely to encounter on the Iditarod - snow that had softened, been driven on with snowmobiles, and frozen over in strange shapes. Also, I was feeling some lingering rebelliousness stemming from an e-mail I received this morning (my first angry e-mail! I'm so proud.)

The writer took me to task for my statement yesterday that McNeil Canyon Elementary, at 1,350 feet, is the highest school in Alaska. While I can't vouch for that claim, which is listed on the school's official Web site, I did have some objections to his final statement: "I've been to Homer. It's as flat as a baby's bottom there. You people have no concept of high."

First of all, the simile is all messed up. Baby's bottoms aren't flat. They're round. A more proper simile would have been "the Platte River Valley," or, if he was holding out for a cliche, "a pancake."

Secondly, I'm sure the "Homer" he's been to is in fact the Homer Spit, a thin strip of sand where Homer funnels most of its tourists. I have nothing against the Spit - I rather enjoy it there (see yesterday's picture.) But municipal Homer ranges in elevation from sea level (the Spit) to 1,500 feet (Ohlson Mountain). I wouldn't exactly call that flat.

Thirdly, while I don't in any way claim to be a world-class mountaineer, I have been to the top of Mount Whitney, 14,496 feet. I think I have a pretty good grasp on high.

I'm guessing the anonymous writer probably lives in Anchorage or some other area in Alaska that sits in the bottom of a basin surrounded by huge mountains. Indeed, Alaska has the highest mountain in North America, multiple mountain ranges that stretch across the state and volcanoes that reach more than 10,000 feet from base to tip. However, the sheer extremes of climate created when high elevation is combined with northern latitudes make it impossible for most people to live more than a couple thousand feet above sea level. Alaskans are lowlanders in a mountainous state - I think that's one fact many residents never really wrap their heads around.

That said, I had a really fun ride to the top of Ohlson Mountain. Maneuvering over thick chunks of ice had the technical feel of riding the rocky trails of the northern Uintas. Coasting down those iced-over gravel roads gave me more confidence in my studs. Then, about five miles from home, I literally watched winter return to town as a thick fog enveloped the Bay. (The photos posted here have a time elapse of about three minutes). Within two minutes of the last photo, an icy rain began pelting down. By the time Geoff came to rescue me (I had been gone nearly three hours after telling him I was going out for a 45-minute ride), it was snowing hard. Now there's about two inches accumulation. Yes, winter is back.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Date: Dec. 10
Today's mileage: 33
December mileage: 132.2
Temperature upon departure: 32

"I haven't been that terrified on a road bike since we left Missouri." What thaws must freeze, such is the code of Alaska. Geoff and I headed out East End Road today, giddy to cycle 17 miles of rolling hills on the newly exposed pavement. Mostly ignoring the closer-to-freezing temperature on the bank clock in town, we parked the car at the Homestead Restaurant and began the long climb toward the ridge. We pedaled upward, about 3.5 miles and 1,000 vertical feet, until the ice on the road was so thick that our back wheels started spinning out. Geoff stopped just shy of McNeil Canyon Elementary (which is, incidentally, the highest-elevation school in Alaska) and posed a very good question that I hadn't thought much about at 8 mph - "what's this going to be like coming down?"

And I meant what I said to him once we returned to the safety of sea level after white-knuckling the brakes down that ice sheet. Geoff opted for faster - less likely to fall. I opted for slower - less likely to hurt as bad should a likely fall happen. We both came down unscathed - but, man. I felt as cold as ice at the bottom, and not because I wasn't dressed for the weather. The last time I was so scared on a skinny tire, I was trying to outrace freeway-speed traffic on a narrow, shoulderless stretch of U.S. 50 in rural Missouri. All of Missouri is a crap shoot if you're on a loaded touring bike, but at least the roads don't ice over often down there.

We took advantage of our surging adrenaline to ride another 26 miles around town and out the spit. It was a good day and I'm happy for this short window of road bike freedom, but I think I'm going back to the studs.

Well, tonight I get to go to a Contra Dance. (I'm a small-town journalist. Don't ask.) I just learned that a Web site called the Outdoor Bloggers Network has nominated Up in Alaska as one of a couple dozen up for "Best Outdoor Blog of 2005." I don't know that it's really a fair nomination, seeing as this blog has only been in existence since November. But, for what it's worth (and I'm not quite sure what it's worth) you could surf on over and cast your vote, if you want. The site is weighted pretty heavily toward the hunting and fishing sector, so your vote might be my best chance. The site is located at
Friday, December 09, 2005

Roadie gets the December treatment

Date: Dec. 9
Today's mileage: 32
December mileage: 99.2
Total riding time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Top speed: Judging by the truck that faded behind me on East Hill, at least 45 mph
Temperature upon departure: 40

Today was all about color, sugar and speed. I love it. While the good folks down in Austin, Texas, are digging out of an ice storm, I'm pacing trucks on my road bike - in Alaska, in December. Sometimes, life turns upside down and smiles at you.

No one at the office wanted to work today. The publisher announced yesterday that we were having a pot luck and *no one* was allowed to bring anything but desserts. Even the girl who brought in Fuji apples the size of small pumpkins was frowned upon. So we stuffed our faces with cookies, brownies, pistachio pie - then, bloated and reeling from sugar shock, we pulled down all the Christmas decorations and started throwing tinsel everywhere. At about 1:30 p.m. I looked outside and could see a hint of sun showing through the rain clouds. And I knew - just knew - a rare window had opened.

I arrived home at 2 p.m., unhooked my road bike from the trainer I thought it would sit upon for at least three more months, walked it along the precarious ice sheet that my driveway has become, and went for a ride - a fast ride. After a month on the mountain bike slogging through the snow, I was coasting along pavement and sucking in warm breeze like it was suddenly spring. Everywhere colors emerged that have spent so long buried in hoarfrost - deep greens and yellows reflecting off what was left of the snow, blue and orange in the sky. The headwind out of the west was fierce but I rode as hard as I could, and felt like I was flying.

Geoff joined me for what turned out to be the last half of my ride - down the Spit and around Kachemak Drive, for 17 miles. By the time we returned, just after 4 p.m., the sun was long gone. The clearing sky signaled the cold will return. Alas, it's December, and there's nothing that will stop it. But - for a small window within winter's icy grip, I had a 32-mile road ride on a 40-degree afternoon and almost believed it was spring. Now Geoff and I are headed to Foreign Film Friday at the college, but I wanted to say thank you so much to Holly and Kris, who sponsored today's and Monday's ride and stoked my further excitement for the Susitna 100. It won't be anything like today, but with any luck, it'll feel even better to come home from.
Thursday, December 08, 2005


I was going to write a post about the beauty of 2o-degree weather when this damp, gray, slurping muck is the alternative, but Tim beat me to it. Still, I watch the winter melt temporarily around me and I remember that life creates beauty where it will - snowbanks dressed in mud; the late-morning sunrise slipping through a blur of precipitation; flattened blades of grass that haven't seen light since mid-October.

I tried out O.V.'s recommended one-hour ride on the trainer today. Pretty effective. Back when I was more of a gym rat than a snow bunny, I used to attend spin class religiously on Tuesday nights. Plowing through those intervals today reminded me of my favorite spin instructor, Nick, who was constantly prompting us to turn our dials to "thick mud" setting. "You're out on the trail!" he'd yell. "You're riding in thick mud and it's raining! Let's see you ride in the rain!" And we'd all grind into the pedals, but of course, we weren't kidding anyone. We were all riding in a climate-controlled gym, listening to empty-calorie techno music and staring at a neonn-splashed mural of a mountain landscape. How could we be anything but disconnected, thinking about our day at work and mulling whether to have salad or salmon for dinner. I'm happy to keep riding outside, even if that means mud and rain and the unavoidable chill of 35 degrees and soggy.
Wednesday, December 07, 2005

You talk'n to me?

I don't have much time to write today, but I just had to post this picture. They may flock to dumps and snack on dead fish, but they have so much more personality than seagulls. This one looks just like one of the Seinfeld street toughs to me ... he's hawking this piercing glare, but you can see right through those ruffled feathers. Before he was so rudely interrupted, he was probably saying to his otter friend, "Don't you just love the blue sky today? Look at the way it reflects on the snow. Oh I just love it. It's just gorgeous, simply marvelous."

Slush puppy

Date: Dec. 6
Today's mileage: 12.8
December mileage: 67.2
Top speed: 27 mph
Temperature upon departure: 36

Conditions were not ideal for cycling today. We've had about 70 inches of snow up on the ridge so far this season, and none of it has had much time to melt - until today. I've heard these warm spells hit, but they're rather disconcerting. A month goes by with below-freezing temperatures, and then, all of the sudden, one morning you walk outside and don't feel the urge to take off in a blind sprint for climate-controlled buildings. And all of your coworkers say it feels like springtime; meanwhile, you're up to your ankles in slush and wondering - "now how in the world am I going to bike through this?" It ain't easy, I've learned. The best parts of riding today: while pushing my bike up one particularly slush-covered hill, I slipped on a patch of ice and went knees-down into the muck, thereby learning that my bike gets better traction than I do; and, I enjoyed watching my headlight beam dance all over the place.

I didn't have any sponsors for today's ride. For people who may not read this blog much, my December theme basically centers around soliciting sponsors to help me pay the entry fee to the Susitna 100 - because, well, if you read my profile, you'll see I'm a journalist, and I still value food and shelter over cycling (I know, I know - I've got to rethink my priorities.) But today, I've compiled the top 10 reasons to donate a few bucks to my Susitna bid:

10. Because the Susitna 100 is just like the century ride you did last year - only it follows 100 miles of the infamous Iditarod trail deep into the subarctic Alaska wilderness, which just happens to be locked in the icy grip of winter still, and the bulk of the ice-covered course has to be ridden in the dark.

9. Because you're thankful you don't have to do it.

8. Because there are still six months and 24 days until the Tour de France.

7. Because your gift subscription to Bicycle expires this month, and you think you might like to read something that doesn't make you feel heartsick every time you turn a page to yet another streamlined carbon machine that costs more than your bike, car and CD collection put together.

6. Because you were always a little suspicious that those people who let dogs pull them along were cheating (no offense to dog mushers! I really do have a tremendous amount of respect for the sport.)

5. Because Syracuse football sucks this year.

4. Because your sponsoree (that's me) has never entered an organized race - anytime, for any reason. Therefore, her mettle has never been tested in a competitive situation. For all anyone knows, she just might win this thing.

3. Because your sponsoree's mettle has been tested - 3,200 mile cross-country bicycle tour; summitted high points in four mountainous states; hiked the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim, twice; survived a sudden downpour in a slot canyon; and stayed awake during (an almost actually watched) an entire Star Wars trilogy marathon once - thereby earning the confidence that she can survive this thing.

2. Because your sponsoree is one of those crazy, wild, can't-give-up-cycling-for-five-months-so-she'll-just-have-to-deal-with-subfreezing-temperatures-and-two-feet-of-snow types.

1. Because your sponsoree is just like you.

You'll find a handy Paypal button in the sidebar of this blog. For the cost of a cup of (hopefully Starbucks) coffee, you can sponsor a poor cyclist like the one you see in this blog, giving her the hope of a brighter future, or at least a really wicked "I rode the Susitna 100" T-shirt, which she'll cherish for the rest of her life. Won't you click today?
Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Gearing up

I didn't ride my bike today. I worked a 12-hour shift in the cement box. Then I spent an hour at the gym running on the elliptical trainer. It said I burned 818 calories, but I don't know what that means. You can't measure that in elevation or miles. If you measured it in Pepsi, that would mean I get to drink six cans of Pepsi. Not that I actually believe those calorie logs anyway.
This picture is a couple weeks old, from a walk I took on the Spit. You're probably getting sick of my sunrise/sunset pictures. Keep in mind, when the daytime logs in at less than six hours, you don't see much else.

I ordered a load of warm gear online today. When that package comes, it will be better than Christmas - as long as the package comes before my credit card statement. People who knew me back in the day (five years ago) would probably be amazed at all the stuff I own now. My good friend, Monika, still remembers (and regularly reminds me of) the time we hiked Upper Black Box (a 14-mile-long slot canyon in San Rafael Swell, Utah, with hiking that consists of long intervals of swimming, walking in ankle to chest-deep water, and Class 4+ to low-5s scrambling.) I wore boot-cut jeans, a Gap T-shirt, and the same pair of Sketchers I regularly wore to work, complete with three-inch-high soles (remember when those were popular?) She'll never let me live it down.

But, back then, I didn't own a stitch of clothing that wasen't made of cotton. I had a designated snowboarding outfit and a pair of hiking boots. I reused the same Evian 1-liter bottles to carry my water. I layered white gym socks if my feet were cold. I hiked the craggy, 11,000-foot peaks of the Wasatch with the same backpack I carried my high school books in. And I was happy then, content. What happened?

Well, I started biking. Then I moved to Alaska. Now I'm on back order for a pair of lightweight trail-running boots rated to -20 degrees. What is the world coming to?
Monday, December 05, 2005

Anchor's away

Date: Dec. 4
Today's mileage: 17.3
December mileage: 54.4
Top speed: 29 mph
Temperature upon departure: 8

Today's ride was sponsored in part by The Old Bag, and by John in Maine. Thanks, guys, for keeping me on my toe clips ... so far. Long way to go, still.

The ride went shorter than planned today when Geoff and I headed down to the Anchor River to look for a winter trail, which was displayed with some prominence on our map. It was eight bone-chilling downhill miles to the Anchor, only to arrive to a half-frozen river and no sign of a trail. Even the moose we saw near the bridge was breaking his own path through the snow. My guess is the river itself is the winter trail. But because temperatures haven't been any higher than a degree or two above freezing since people had pumpkins on their porches, I have to wonder when exactly this winter trail forms.

After that, we had only the long climb home, plodding slowly through gritty snow on the Sterling Highway shoulder with a lot of time to think about all of the gear we need to acquire. I'm pretty well equipped - with the exception of footgear, which I am especially lacking (I snowshoe in the same pair of trail-running shoes that I hiked the Grand Canyon in). At 8 degrees, today was an eight-sock day. I do think it's time to plunk down a few bucks for neoprene booties.

My editor is out of town, and 'tis the season for a disgusting glut of newspaper advertising and the feel-good copy that fills in the blanks - which means it's going to be a long, long, long week starting Monday. I can see spending most of those precious few daylight hours in the cement box - maybe an incentive to catch up on my night riding. We'll see how it goes ... I'd love to be able to owe y'all the mileage so I have absolutely no excuses to stay indoors. Just think ... a couple of bucks could mean months of virtual cycling entertainment at my expense. It's like reality TV, except it's real, and there's no TV (sorry, Fat Cyclist.)
Sunday, December 04, 2005

Blind spots

Date:Dec. 3
Today's mileage: 20.0
December mileage: 37.1
Total time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Top speed: 26 mph
Temperature upon departure: 9

Today's ride was sponsored in part by Tracy in Iowa, and by The Old Bag. Two inches of new powder meant I didn't break any speed records today, but I did get some great lessons in maneuvering. My favorite part of the ride was blasting down a decent (probably 8 percent) grade on Skyline Drive. Powder clouds whipped around me as I coasted down the untapped shoulder, carving a perfect line in the thin layer of new snow. It was a single moment, but felt quietly flawless, like I was floating - like I was snowboarding. Toward the bottom of the hill, I met one of the few vehicles I saw today - a full-sized Chevy pickup buried to its sideview mirrors in a snow bank. Its path was carved in the powder as well - and was decidedly less pretty than mine. How a vehicle that size left the road is beyond me, but judging by the dirt and rocks strewn across a 20-foot radius, I could tell it was a mighty struggle. As I slowed down to go around the truck, three people in the ditch looked up from their hapless shoveling with the most forlorn look on their faces . They all had the exact same look, blank expressions with a tinge of desperation in their eyes. My heart broke for their plight, but, alas, I was not towing a 5-ton winch, and felt any offer of contribution by a rogue biker might only exacerbate the situation.

When I returned home from that adventure, Geoff and I went cross-country skiing. I am definitely worse at skiing than I am at cycling, but the flailing downhill stretches are always a good exercise in humility. For some reason, it was simply impossible for me to keep my skis parallel at crucial moments today. Those periods of sliding with my butt on the back of my skis really helped wash away any feelings of superiority I may have developed whilst passing that poor truck. I have to admit, I did feel a shameful sense of pride on my ability to outmaneuver a $35,000 vehicle down a hill. No more, though. We all have our moments. That truck could have just as easily been me, torso buried in the snow, a disembodied pair of legs with skis attached kicking wildly at the sky.
Saturday, December 03, 2005

"Pain and suffering"

Date: Dec. 2
Total mileage: 17.1
Total time: 1 hour, 44 minutes
Top speed: 32 mph
Temperature upon departure: 11

Today’s ride was sponsored by Tracy of Iowa, donated very generously under the heading “pain and suffering.” Geoff and I left at the crack of dawn, and by "crack of dawn," I mean it was 9:30 a.m. We cruised up the packed snow of Skyline Drive and headed for Ohlson Mountain. I was having a hard time keeping my eyes on the road as a blaze of sunlight erupted all over Kachemak Bay, due south above a shock of whitewashed mountains. It hasn’t snowed since last weekend’s powder dump, and we had some pretty good speed going throughout most of the hilly ride – including a 32-mile-per-hour plummet down one ice-covered hill. You can’t do that on a skinny tire … or, at least, you can’t do that and live to tell about it.

I arrived home, drenched with sweat from overdressing. On this rolling glacial terrain, you can’t have it both ways – you either freeze on the downhills or sweat on the uphills. Geoff chooses to deal with the discomfort of warming up his digits after a frosty ride. I’d rather sweat a little or strip a few layers if I need to worry about being drenched on a long downhill. But either way, you learn to adjust. Eleven degrees doesn’t feel so cold anymore; the long darkness doesn’t feel like such a hindrance. We're products of our landscape, and so we move through it.

Geoff installed my new bicycle computer yesterday. This is the first one I've ever owned. I always resisted computers for various reasons - partially because I like the uncertainty of free movement, and partially because I don't want to become a clock watcher, straining to beat some imaginary time or speed while breathtaking scenery disappears behind my tunnel vision. But it is nice to have; today I was able to pinpoint a turnaround spot that would get me to work by noon, and thanks to the computer I estimated my time pretty close to exact.

I’ve been thinking more about my goal of riding the Susitna, and I’m feeling both nervous and excited about the prospect – a good combination, I think. I am prepared to do what it takes to get myself ready, and I really do appreciate the support. If you read yesterday's post and thought I might just be ranting again, I want you to know that I am good for every mile. I still need to tell Geoff about my plans, but I'll get around to that. He probably believes this will bring about alot more suffering than enjoyment for me, but I still feel a sense of purpose when I think about it. It gives me something to work for beyond the meager paychecks of employment and the simple pleasures of day-to-day life. Even after one day, I'm already finding support from all over. I feel like a one-woman-all-cyclists team. So, whatever happens, thank you!
Friday, December 02, 2005


I spent an hour grinding away on my bike trainer today, staring at a fuzzy television program I couldn't hear anyway and thinking about how I'd really like to attempt the Susitna 100. Geoff is still talking about doing the Little Su 50K ... he thinks he may even run it ... but I don't know. If we're going to all that effort, why not go all the way? I know, I know. I've already had the "crazy" talk with Geoff. And I know I'll need to acquire some more gear and a little good 'ol Alaskan toughness and all of that. But still, I kinda want to do it. Why, you ask? Well, why cross the country on a bicycle? To see if I can.

I still have that other aforementioned problem of paying the entry fee. I came up with an idea while riding the trainer that may seem more crazy than wanting to do this race in the first place. In charity rides, people usually put some sort of monetary value on their miles and collect pledges. So here's what I resolve to do ... I set up a little paypal donation box in the sidebar of this blog. For every dollar, I'll ride one icy mile on my mountain bike before Dec. 31 (the payment due date). Even if I have to ride in the middle of the night in a blizzard to meet my goal, I figure that will do more to help me get ready for this race than anything. I'll keep a log of the rides and their sponsors on this blog, and offer regular updates of my progress. And, if I come woefully short of the entrance fee or if another unforeseen circumstance keeps me out of the race, I'll donate any funds raised to a worthy charity such as the Lance Armstrong Foundation. Is that too crazy of an idea? (Keep in mind I just thought of it a couple of hours ago while I was sweating buckets on my living room rug.) I don't know. I mean, I'm not a nonprofit and I can't offer tax deduction receipts, but I thought it might be worth a dollar or two to some out there just to read about the horrors of headwinds at -5 degrees. So I'm posting this idea it for now, and saying thanks again to all of the great bike bloggers out there.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Sunrise, sunset

9:45 a.m. I've been working for nearly three hours now, long enough that the room goes dark when I move my eyes away from the computer screen. My coworker walks in just as I stuff another handful of Fruit Loops in my mouth. "How long have you been here?" he asks. My shoulders go up in a halfhearted shrug. I answer with some loud crunching. "Well, you should go outside." I shake my head. "Why?" More crunching. He points to the digital camera sitting on my desk. "The sunrise is killer today."

4:35 p.m. I forgot my headlight again. I'm pedaling toward home, but at the last minute decide to turn left instead of right. Twilight's disappearing fast, but I want to get a good sprint in before the ride's over. The temperature's single digits ... again. I feel like I'm used to it, but the renewed wind tears into my eyes - the only body part exposed to it. I can barely see, but I'm not deterred because I know this road by heart by now anyway. I stop at the overlook because, well, you have to stop at the overlook. I rub my eyes until my hands feel warm, then look southwest. Remnants of sunlight reach into the graying sky, stretched so thin behind sunset that they appear almost desperate. I thought they were long gone, but then again, what meaning does a good hello really have if it never leads to goodbye?

Chasing sunset

So studs rule. I blew out of work today just in time to catch the last hour of depleted daylight - the 3:45 p.m. sunset and subsequent hour of twilight. Most of the ridge roads are packed snow and ice - a little precarious on treads, but as solid as pavement with studs. I climbed up a steep hill, one that's gravel in the summer and loose enough that you really have to throw all your weight on the back tire. Today I just cruised up it, standing, as sunset's shadow inched over the crest. I thought I could beat those last orange rays to the top, but the packed road quickly gave way to a soft snowmobile trail. I upped the RPMs but just kept grinding into the powder and falling over. I'm learning that when you're an ice biker, powder is bad. Especially when there's two feet of it, and a handful of snowmobiles do not a packed trail make.

Oops ... I forgot that I'm in Alaska now and need to call them "snowmachines." But I'm rebelling and keeping my native tongue. I'm from Utah, and I can say "fark" instead of "fork" and "crick" instead of "creek" if I want to. But to me, a snowmachine will always be one of those contraptions that spits powdery fountains of fake snow all over ski slopes when the real stuff ain't comin.' That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Becoming frozen

A four-day weekend means putting in a long, long, long day on Monday. I had to dig into the archives today for an illustrative photo - this is the Kasilof River, shortly after the first deep freeze. There were nearly two more hours between sunrise and sunset when this picture was taken - we're down to just over six now. Life does slow considerably in the winter, and the dark and cold seems to spark a subculture of people affected by SAD, or "Snow Activity Disorder." In Idaho, almost no one I knew ever even heard of ice biking - the only one who had said, "well, that's one way to ruin your tires."

My group of friends in the spud state went skiing occasionally; the hardcore among them tried ice climbing once or twice, but most curled up in the winter and watched "Survivor." Even with the Tetons nearby, I never found anyone in eastern Idaho who felt any urge to break a winter trail in knee-deep powder in the dark, ride a bicycle on a snowmobile path or go snowboarding if temps were approaching something even close to single digits. There are so many more people in Alaska who treat all those activities with the same blase participation that one might compare to swimming in the summer. It's just what you do. It's fun. They've all learned that if you wait out the weather in Alaska, you won't see much more action than "Survivor" can give you.

Since I started this blog 'lo those four weeks ago, I've come across a surprisingly supportive community of bikers and bloggers in cyberspace. Seems there's a lot of us out there who pedal vicariously - me wistful for the searing sands of the San Rafael Swell, others curious about the frozen north. I wanted to thank Gilby and Mark for the props; Tim in Anchorage for being a great ice bike mentor; John for being tough enough to live in Fairbanks; and Filtersweep for introducing me the Norway, future site of my dream bicycle vacation; and all y'all who come to visit. Drop me a line and tell me where you're riding.
Monday, November 28, 2005

Susitna dreams

Scenic drive back down the Peninsula today. A blanket of frost gave the trees a skeletal look and new snow oozed down evergreen branches like frosting; the air was as clear as a cold day and the sunrise sent steams of pink light down the whitewashed mountains. A rather rough freeze has transformed the Turnagain Arm into a boulderfield of ice. I looked out at the tortured seascape and instantly thought of Death Valley, a beautiful, rocky desolation born of heat, not ice.

We stopped at a bike shop in Anchorage and bought studded tires for our mountain bikes. And it looks like we'll have snowcover to practice on for a long time now. We returned home to nearly two feet of new powder on everything, as demonstrated by this photo - I call it "Geo Prison." We spent a better part of the clear and cold evening stamping through thigh-deep snow to find the snowshoe trail we've been working on.

Anyway, Geoff and I were so giddy at the prospect of extending the cycling season indefinitely that we picked up a brochure for the Susitna 100 and began planning our training regimen. We thought we were all bad because we even had thoughts of participating in a winter bike race that crosses snow-covered tundra during the deep freeze of subarctic night. But then we discovered the prohibitive entrance fee, regulating the races to those who have, well, a little bit more than blind gumption and gear. But (wink wink) if anyone out there - anyone at all - feels inspired to sponsor us in our efforts as virgin ice bikers tackling a decidedly hardcore bike race in the frozen north, we will proudly display your logo and our gratitude on this blog for as long as it takes. I'm not joking. Really. Why are you laughing?