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Showing posts from February, 2006

Float on

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Well, I'm back to my Monday night routine, running on the hamster wheel at the gym, thereby inadvertently devoting an hour to wandering thoughts about ways to make life more interesting.

Today, for no reason, a mundane conversation I had with a coworker about a year ago suddenly popped into my head. It's been buried in the back of my mind, and I have no idea why it's even stored in my long-term memory - except as a glaring statement on how much I've changed since I moved to Alaska.

My coworker was training for the upcoming cycling season, and was trying to plan a fitness routine he could stick with. He hated the hamster wheel/spinning bike/whole indoor workout setup more than anyone I know. So he asked me what I knew about studs that you could attach to bike tires. He thought they might help him navigate icy Idaho highways during longer rides.

I remember shooting back a reply that was something along the lines of "That's crazy. Why in the world would you want to…

It's a struggle

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Date: Feb. 26
Mileage: 13.2
February mileage: 414.9
Temperature upon departure: 22

One thing that makes winter cycling so exciting and yet so frustrating at the same time is its total lack of predictability. Sure, you can gage weather conditions, new snow, temperature, etc. But you're never going to know what a trail will be - or become - until you're right on top of it. You could go out for a 13-mile ride that you'd successfully pounded out in less than an hour in the recent past, and watch it take you more than two.

Geoff and I went out for what was going to be our easy, pre-ski ride and spent over two hours navigating conditions that dangled on the precipice between rideable and not. Even the roads, which yesterday received about four inches of snow (not enough to plow on a weekend), were zig-zagging, fish-tailing affairs. On the trails we met soft, deep and sometimes all-together untrammeled snow (had I had my snowboard with me, I probably would have giggled with joy.) I en…

Practice makes patience

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It snowed most of the morning. Geoff and I went for a two-and-a-half hour cross-country skiing excursion. The sheer time on the skis helped me build confidence and some speed. It also left my hip flexors so sore that even walking now is more of a shuffle. I'm also feeling it in my much-neglected arm muscles and my Susitna "camelbak injury," a knot in my left shoulder that seems to just be getting worse. There is something to be said about cross training, and my lack thereof.

The 2006 Winter Olympic Games are almost over, and the pictures in the newspaper make me nostalgic for the balmy February nights of 2002, tearing through the crowded streets of Salt Lake City with a massive Canadian flag, just to stir things up a bit.

I came of age in the shadow of Olympic anticipation - learned to drive on streets under massive construction, lost my favorite wrong-side-of-the-tracks concert venue to a beautifying "Gateway" project, watched my alma mater squeeze out students …

Tough to quit

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Date: Feb. 24
Mileage: 29.9
February mileage: 401.7
Temperature upon departure: 18

Today Geoff and I went to lunch at our favorite semi-organic greasy spoon, Cosmic Kitchen (there are two types of restaurants in this town - the swank places that welcome Xtratuf-wearing locals with open arms, and the carrot-juice-brewing hippie places that also serve beef and cheese burritos the size of your head.) After months of hugging the horizon, the noontime sun ventured toward midsky, bathing the whole restaurant in white light. We took our plates into the glare of a south-facing window just as a family settled in next to us - only on the other side of the window, where snow-covered picnic tables lined the balcony. There they sat for nearly an hour - sipping coffee, munching on corn chips, soaking in sunlight - with steam pouring from their burgers and breath in the subfreezing air.

That's when I decided it would be a great day for a bike ride. I left work a little later than hoped, but I still t…

Big dreams

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Today I received a prize in the mail - a stainless steel mug that reads "Susitna 100 finisher" on it. Everyone who posted finishing times in the race wins the same. Since I've already plowed through all the Pepsi and Goldfish within chowing range, I thought I'd improvise on Kevin's request and make a self portrait of myself having my evening herbal in my "major award." Sorry, Kevin ... I can't sign it because I don't own any photo editing software. Plus, that's just an identity theft waiting to happen.

I look forward to putting this mug to good use this weekend when I kick back to watch the check-in times on the Iditarod Trail Invitational. This race makes the Susitna 100 look like a few turns down the Bunny Slope. I'd like to try it next year. I really mean that. With a little bike investment, a little more practice and a lot of workouts, it's not totally incomprehensible. By 2007, Geoff will be ready to take on the 350 miles to McGr…

Love and support

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Date: Feb. 22
Mileage: 17.8
February mileage: 371.8
Temperature upon departure: 25

First "after the storm" ride today. I didn't ride much differently than I would have before Saturday - in fact, I rode a little harder because I was thrilled to see patches of bare pavement on Skyline Drive (although the majority of my ride was still atop packed ice.) I noticed I had a lot of lactic acid buildup in my legs early on - probably because my muscles are still fatigued. But some good, hard gulps of subfreezing air felt good (how I missed that air on Saturday. Really.)

One thing I didn't quite realize the extent of was the mayhem caused by the Susitna 100 Web site's failure to post my finishing time until several hours after I came in. I was back in Palmer, showered, fed and semi-rested before I called my mom - who by that time was semi-frantic. Later, I found out friends of mine in Utah had been watching my progress with some trepidation - enough put in phone calls to any rac…

Now what?

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I went out for an easy 2.5-mile run today ... finally a cool down after two days laboring in a sleep-deprived haze. My knees are still a little sore. My legs are still covered in bruises from some of my tougher falls Saturday. I even still have remnants of blisters from the long trudge, but I the run definitely perked me up - helped me feel strong again. I think I'll be recovered from the Susitna 100 in no time. And now the sun stays up past 6 p.m. Twilight hangs on the horizon until 7. It may have been 25 degrees out as I jogged over the ice-slicked roads, but I felt like a season turned over. Winter ended for me out on that lonely trail. Sure, the wind and snow and subzero temps will probably haunt this place into April - but that doesn't seem to matter much. I threw myself into the bowels of subarctic winter so I'd no longer have to fear the cold. Now there's nowhere to go but Spring.

So now what do with myself? The cycling can only get better, really, because how ca…

Susitna sustained

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Did I finish the Susitna 100 with a smile on my face? Well, based on this photo Geoff took (that I don't remember him taking) - not quite. Actually, I look like a drunk zombie. But I gave that smile my best shot - just like the race.

Also, I forgot to mention in yesterday's post that Geoff won the foot division of the Little Su 50K. He came in first with a time of 3:54, just ahead of elite ultra-marathoner Julie Udchachon. I biked the first 25 miles of my race in about that time. He ran 31. Geoff's the champion. I'm not even a contender. But I do feel good about what I did. Really. I did something that as recently as six months ago I would have never imagined myself doing, and I had an incredible journey.

Yesterday, when I was mulling over some of the decisions I made on the trail - and the times I posted - Geoff told me, "Only you know what you did out there." He's right. The ideology behind the Susitna 100 is not necessarily to be the fastest runner or be…

Quick post post

Date: Feb. 18
Mileage: 104
February mileage: 354.0
Temperature upon departure: 32

Hello. I don't really have the time or coherence of mind to do a full race report by now, but I thought I could drop in a note for those who might be watching the Susitna 100 race results and are feeling a bit concerned that I checked in 13 miles from the finish at 5:45 a.m. and haven't finished yet (for the record, I came in at 9:54 a.m. I'm sure the Web site will update soon.)

I'm back and elated that I finished. I did manage to make most of my goals for the race - that is: survive, survive with all my digits intact, and finish the race. I was on pace to make it to the finish in 24 hours, but I wasen't paying attention and took an accidental 2-mile detour toward the end of the race that I had to backtrack - earning me an extra four miles but costing the 24-hour cutoff.

So I accomplished my goals. But in the fully-sunlit hindsight of my race, I'm feeling a little disappointment with my…

Last pre-post

Date: Feb. 17
Mileage: 11.2
February mileage: 250.0
Temperature on departure: 19

I just thought I'd do a quick post because I forgot to mention yesterday that the Susitna 100 race officials will be posting racers' progress live on their Web site. I'm not sure exactly where on the site this info will appear, or how up-to-date it will be, but there's a pretty good chance the World Wide Web know how well I'm doing before I do. How great is technology?

I wanted to put in a good, I mean really good, veg-out day today. But instead I spent most of the day doing last-minute TLC on the bike - gluing the tires to the rim, packing and repacking my gear, practicing tube changes on those awful-tight studded tires, adjusting the brakes and gearing, etc. I got out for a short ride early this morning to stay loose. I've been lulled into light dressing by the recent warm snap, and today's ride was a good reminder in one of life's important lessons - "just because it'…

Down to the wire

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We drove up to Anchorage today for the Susitna 100 mandatory pre-race meeting. Despite no real weight planning, my required gear barely made the minimum. The scale fluctuated back and forth between 14.9 and 15.1 pounds, before finally resting on 15.1. The girl let me go despite the fact that I had closer to 5,000 calories (I had forgotten that I had Geoff's race food in with my required calories.) Keep in mind, the 15 pounds doesn't include extra clothing, water or any food that I plan to eat along the trail. Still, I'm pretty stoked I came in that light.

I didn't learn too much at the meeting that I didn't already know. The race officials traveled the trail on Sunday to set up markers, and supposedly rain dumped down the entire time. There's still a threat of rain on Saturday, but if what some of the checkpoint volunteers have been saying about recent nighttime temps is true, the trail could be deliciously solid. Bad for the skiers - but good for me, if it stay…

Gained some weight

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Date: Feb. 14
Mileage: 13.4
February mileage: 238.8
Temperature on departure: 37

Yup. It took two and a half months, but I've finally collected and compiled the gear I need for the Susitna race. Today I loaded most of it on my bike (a bit haphazard, but daylight was a-fadin') and went out for a short ride. Including water and other gear I plan to hoist in my Camelbak H.A.W.G., the total addition is about 20-25 pounds. And you know what? I got better traction today.

I also whipped down the hills. And climbs? Well, I'm a slow climber anyway. I probably should have added the weight to my workouts before now, but I don't anticipate the gear making or breaking me. At this point, any semblance of good trail and weather conditions would have me so stoked I could probably set out on a loaded touring bike and be fine. Well, maybe not fine. But if I could just finish the race with a smile on my face, I'll chalk it up as "probably the best one I've ever done." (I kno…

Gloom 'n doom

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With eagle feeding in full swing out on the Spit, there's an eerily Hitchcockian feel out there - birds of prey peppered across the gray landscape, waiting out the silence with ominous glares. As for me, I've been feeling a little bit under the weather, in the more literal sense - as in oppressed by the weather. The local news is predicting lots of doom and gloom surrounding this week, which includes the Susitna 100. The Iron Dog snowmachine racers are tearing up the trails with as much force as they can muster in the soft snow. Several Yukon Quest dog mushers had to be airlifted off the trail after a storm (they're in a different part of the state, to be fair.) But still, weather.com calls for the delightful-sounding "wintry mix/wind" for Wasilla on Saturday, complete with a 35-degree high. I feel sad. I blame global warming.

There are some encouraging reports at the MTB Alaska forum. Although one rider mentioned renaming the race "Ididaswim," another …

Ski 'n cheese

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I slid off the road today on the way to the Nordic Ski Club's wine and cheese tour. Four inches of new snow atop freshly glared ice is a dangerous combination for little cars. It took a half hour of shoveling, eight people pushing and a truck with a tow line to get Geo out of the snow bank. Thank goodness for small-town hospitality.

I was pretty frazzled after the ordeal, but I did promise my editor I'd take photos at the ski 'n cheese. So I drove into the blizzard and hit the trail about 45 minutes late, with most of the pack far ahead and probably already polishing off the Swiss. The photo opportunities don't really get good until after the skiers have had their shiraz, so I didn't sweat it too hard. I skied into the blasting snow, trying to separate the trail from the landscape from the sky from anything else. I thought I was doing OK. But the adult nature of the event must have compelled the ski club to set up the expert course, because about 20 minutes into the…

Winter carnival

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Date: Feb. 11
Mileage: 39.5
February mileage: 225.4
Temperature on departure: 34

I took about 15 photos of the Homer Winter Carnival parade today, and this was the driest one I got. At this point I was straddling my bike, clutching my camera with soaked-through neoprene gloves and trying to shake about a half gallon of water out of my overboots as I watched Scouts in short-sleeved uniforms march by. It rained nonstop today, melting vertical feet of snowpack and unleashing the whole mess in chocolate torrents down the streets. That didn't stop the Homerites from turning out in droves for the annual "winter" celebration, despite that fact that the car race on Beluga Lake was cancelled due to standing water and the firework show was threatened by the compounding downpour. This kind of weather should have a season all its own - something rooted in the word "gunk."

I guess the weather didn't stop me from doing a four-hour ride today, which included a too-lengthy stop…

Countdown

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Date: Feb. 10
Mileage: 25.4
February mileage: 185.9
Temperature on departure: 35

Well, I can check the 10-day weather forecast and see the day of my race now; I'm receiving empathy e-mails from fellow racers. Looks like the countdown's on. I feel like I'm physically ready for the race, but right now I'm so obsessed with the weather that nothing else seems to matter. I might as well go eat a row of Oreos.

Instead, I took Geoff's advice to do one short-but-hard ride. Thanks to a full day of ad design (blah), I only had about a two-hour span between punch-out time at the office and the start of a foreign film I really wanted to see, "The Story of Weeping Camel." (Mongolia is definitely a place I want to bicycle tour through someday.) Anyway, today was probably not the best day to decide to go out at "run" pace. Above-freezing temps and a full day of rain unleashed havoc on the deep snowpack, turning every road shoulder and bike path into unholy basins o…

Just snow

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Well, the snow banks in front of my house are now officially taller than I am. Geoff estimated that about 7 feet of snow has fallen here in the past three weeks. The accumulation isn't quite as high thanks to near or above-freezing temps, but there's still plenty of snow on the ground. I feel tempted sometimes to let my restless cat go out exploring, but I fear I wouldn't find her until spring. Heavy snowfall and 50 mph winds this morning created an absolute white out, complete with about eight inches of wet, unplowed powder on the roads. I barely got my car out of the driveway, and only because I have to drop 1,200 feet in elevation did I even have a prayer of driving it to work. I arrived at the office windblown and soaked to my thighs from pushing my car.

"How come you didn't ride your bike today?" my boss asked.

I think she was joking, but I'm not sure. I have developed a reputation for bicycling in nasty conditions, and bike commuting when the driving&…

Getting there

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Date: Feb. 8
Mileage: 19.2
February mileage: 160.5
Temperature on departure: 26

Today's ride was sponsored by Andy. I realized that I passed 1,000 miles for my winter "season," which officially began Dec. 1. The total right now: 1,042.9. I've always been a recreational rider, and I think it has probably been a while since I logged 1,000 miles in a two-month span. I especially let myself go last year, when I discovered a cheap gym membership through my employer would allow me to spin myself into pretty good shape without all of the psychological turmoil of wind and heat and mud-soaked trails. My bikes, which together are worth more than my car, spent most of summer 2005 in my apartment gathering dust. What a fool I was.

Outside is where it's at, elements be damned. Doing all this winter riding has reminded me why I started cycling, back when I didn't really care about speed increments or my ghetto booty. I wanted to be entertained. I wanted to be engaged. I wanted …

Sloppy, sloppy

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Date: Feb. 7
Mileage: 32.2
February mileage: 141.3
Temperature on departure: 24

Today's ride was sponsored by Thomas, and by my beautiful sister Lisa, who has some very exciting "unofficial" news that I'm probably not allowed to publish, but I'm very happy for her nonetheless.

I got out of work just in time for the most beee-utiful day imaginable - that is, there was some semblance of sun outside. So I set out in a very good mood, only to realize very quickly that the price I would pay for the warmth and sunshine was miles and miles and miles of this mess ---> (and, really, this picture does it no justice.)

This point is about a half mile from my house. The going was slow, slippery and precarious, and I was trying to decide whether to return home and ride the trainer for some good, heart-thumping exercise, or stay out and ride in the slop to practice, well, riding in the slop. I chose the slop. And I'm glad I did. Because it was a beee-utiful day; I did get some…

Little tsunami

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We had a short-lived tsunami warning this morning. A complete false alarm, but it lasted long enough to send the reporters at my office into a frenzy and release a steady stream of cars into town as they raced to get off the Homer Spit. Little earthquakes, little volcanoes ... does it end? Or do we just learn to live with it, like we learned to live with freezing rain and Kelly Clarkson, letting the threat sink into our lives until we scarcely realize how unnerving it should be?

I'm still haunted by a night Geoff and I spent bicycle camping in a little park in Chester, Illinois. Swirling clouds gathered in the Midwestern sky as blasts of hurricane-force wind tore through the deserted park, ripping down tree limbs and blowing through the rickety public restroom structure - the only building within sight. I sat in a "covered" picnic area, both arms stretched across a Rand McNally map to hold it down, my weather radio turned to high volume against the howling wind. Scratchy…

Earthquake II

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Had the unsettling experience this morning of waking up to the bed jumping up and down as the bookshelf banged against the wall. High winds and warming had already sent huge slabs of snow on a 25-foot freefall from roof to ground throughout the night, but this was a much more prominent, much more sustained rumble. I couldn't tell what time it was, because the power had gone out several times already, and didn't even know what was happening in the black, inexplicable turbulence of it all. But either this Alaskan acclimation thing happens fast, or I'm more apathetic in the early morning than I even knew. Either way, I just thought "well, it's either an earthquake or an avalanche or the volcano finally blew its top over the entire Bay." Then I went back to sleep.

Turns out it was the former. At 7:15 a.m., a 5.3 earthquake hit about 18 miles south of Homer. A minor earthquake by damage standards, but large enough to be felt by people more than a hundred miles from…

End of the road, ma

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Date: Feb. 4
Mileage: 63.4
February mileage: 109.1
Temperature on departure: 20

Well, according to some scratchy multiplication I just did, I rode about 102 kilometers today. If I were in Canada right now, I would have ridden a century. In Alaska, however, my ride was just a 63-mile slog against gale-force winds.

Today's ride was hard because I felt like I was in a constant battle with forces greater than myself - deep, uneven snow drifts across every road and trail, hills that seemed steeper than they probably actually are . And the wind. Oh, the wind. For most of the ride I was heading north or south with the wind right at my side, gusting to 40 mph and forcing me to lean like crazy diagonal biker woman just to stay on the road. Riding east, the chill would bring tears to my eyes, but at least I couldn't see my odometer registering its ridiculously low speeds. But there were the rare and beautiful moments riding west, skirting along at an even clip with traffic, feeling those oh-…

TGIF

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Date: Feb. 3
Mileage: 32.4
February mileage: 45.7
Temperature on departure: 7

I took the "long way" to work today (if overshooting the distance by 27 miles counts as long). It was a beautiful morning - sun came out just after 9 a.m., stayed out for the first time in days and cut through the lingering cold snap that's on the cusp of snapping out of it. I was riding fast in hopes of putting in the full loop before noon. When I arrived at the cement box I had a stack of work and no snacks, so I ate a big piece of cheesecake for lunch (if there's one thing an office is always good for, it's copious amounts of free sugar.) The whole rest of the day I felt blah. I'm guessing cheesecake is not the best food for training.

So by that logic, the Subway sandwich, bag o' popcorn and diet Sprite for dinner was probably also not the best way to go. Oh well. It is Friday. I'm gearing up for a long ride tomorrow. It's supposed to be windy. That makes me feel blah, too…

Grounded

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Date: Feb. 2
Mileage: 13.3
February mileage: 13.3
Temperature on departure: 0

So it's Groundhog Day. When I was a kid, I loved holidays. All of them. Not equally, of course, but I made it a point to savor every one. I never could wrap my head around Groundhog Day, however. Even as a kid who carefully planned my March 17 wardrobe so as to wear the most esoteric yet unarguably green attire, the Feb. 2 holiday always seemed so pointless to me.

But now, I don't know. After all, Groundhog Day is all about blind optimism in the face of unyeilding forces. Shadow or not, I don't think there's a person in Alaska who wouldn't love to believe that some semblance of spring will emerge before March 21. Of course, our hometown groundhog would have to burrow through about four feet of snow before peaking his little head out to the 0-degree, blowing blizzard outside. At that point, any pronouncement with the word "spring" wouldn't really qualify as optimistic - more like …

Does goo freeze?

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I just ordered a pair of Neos from Campmor. I was going to go with neoprene booties and gators. But after talking to some winter cyclists who warned me of the dangers of stream overflow, I gave the Neos more serious thought. It seems like every week I purchase some type of new gear and I'm starting to feel the financial strain - but $60 for overboots that are infallibly waterproof up to 20 inches is a lot cheaper than paying a doctor to amputate toes. I won't be able to use my cages anymore - but I generally just let them dangle anyway when the snow is soft. I need feet to catch my falls. Feet are important. I feel good about my purchase.

Another thing I gave some thought to today (it was an elliptical machine and trainer day - lots of time for wandering thoughts) was food. Up until now, I've had this vague idea of my race requirement to carry 5,000-7,000 calories, 3,000 of which I have to end the race with. But what to actually eat? This is important because I want to go …

500

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Date: Jan. 31
Mileage: 40.6
January mileage: 501.3
Temperature upon departure: 11

Well, it's the end of the month. Geoff already pointed out how close I was to 500 miles yesterday, so I had to go for it. Just had to. Why put so much emphasis on an arbitrary number (and, due to some guestimation during one ride, not even an exact number)? Why not 497? 481? I don't know. We're irrationally drawn to even numbers. Anyway, it got me out for a healthy 40-mile ride after work today. Plus, it beats going to see the latest Hillary Duff movie at the singleplex.

It's funny, actually, because I was not feeling good when I first set out in the blowing snow. I got out of work late and then had to spend 20 valuable daylight minutes changing a flat on my back tire (the valve tore. Tube creep is one of the perils of running bicycle tires at low pressure.) Snowfall was light, but there was a fierce headwind out of the east sending drifts everywhere. Plowing through the accumulation made for …