Sunday, January 15, 2006

Doubt and Redoubt

Date: Jan. 15
Mileage: 15
January mileage: 242.3
Temperature upon departure: low teens

Today Geoff and I drove all the way out to the end of the Bay to look for backcountry trails. We haven't been out that way since winter hit, mostly because it's a 45-minute drive (hard to justify when there's so much to do so much closer), and also because the entire area is populated by Orthodox Russians. I see them shopping at Safeway on a regular basis, in their homemade dresses and lacy caps reminiscent of southern Utah polygamist wives. However, driving out to their side of town is a little unnerving. I figure if they're still so culturally segregated after 150 years of U.S. occupation, there's a good possibility that they don't take to kindly to a couple of Outsiders bombing down their roads in a 1989 Honda Civic with two bikes strapped to the roof. But I could be wrong.

Anyway, we did discover the holy grail of Homer's winter trails, a far-reaching network that wraps around Caribou Lake. The area is breathtaking - for its proximity to Homer (also known as the banana belt of the North), the windswept bog around Caribou Lake has all of the frozen desolation and sweeping remoteness of the state's Interior. Geoff stood under the twisting branches of a black spruce and said, "Wow. It almost feels like we're in Alaska."

The soft, punchy, paw-pocked trails really put cycling into perspective. Out on the frozen bog, all travelers move against the elements - but cyclists, I think, fight the most of all. Six miles an hour on that terrain will keep your heart rate above 150. A hard sprint might net you 12 mph - if you can keep your front wheel moving in a straight line long enough to hit it. A typical endurance runner would bury me at those speeds. It's tough, slow, unrelenting travel. Even Geoff, who ran 15 miles in two hours yesterday and biked 15 miles in two hours today, agrees with me. Even so, we had a great time. And those 15 miles didn't wear me out by any means ... it was an enjoyable rec ride. But still, while crawling along similar terrain to what I'll actually be facing in my race, the doubt did start to creep in ("did I really sign up for 100 miles of this?")

It didn't help today that my friend, Anna, asked me today if I'm going to start scaling back my training. What? Scale back? I feel like I just started. I have yet to do a 50 miler, though that's more because I actually like to do other things with my weekend than bike nonstop. Still, Anna knows what she's talking about. She biked the LOTOJA (210 mountainous road miles) in 12.5 hours last year. She did her longest training ride more than a month out from the race. After that, it was all about winding down, building strength, and eatin' like a carbo-craving fool (and here I am, thinking about going on a diet.)

So what to do? Well ... Stay on the bike. Go back to Caribou Lake and put in a full day. Crawl out from whatever ice rut threw me sideways, take a deep breath of the cold wind pounding across the frozen bog, and keep on pedaling. I think I have it in me. I had doubts about my first century, but even after not training and not sleeping and not even having a clue about the wonders of drafting, I still did OK. Sure, the Susitna 100 is completely different. But, in many ways, it's not. Just gotta have faith.