Date: Feb. 26
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 enjoyed the challenge of trying to pedal through stuff that very recently I would have deemed unrideable, but there are only so many times you can bury your front tire in a drift and slam your crotch into the handlebar stem before you start asking yourself - why? (I'm sure if I were a member of the opposite gender, that question would have been asked much sooner.)
There was some poetic justice to today's ride, as we swerved down the final steep hill to the reservoir. Geoff, who is by leaps and bounds more athletic than I am, said "You know, I have a lot more appreciation for what you did last weekend." And I know, deep down, that winter cycling isn't the classic struggle of man against man or even man against self. No, it's the much more modern, much more sinister battle of man against machine, in a place where the very tool you chose to save you can become your worst enemy.
That said, the Iditarod Invitational racers are clearing checkpoints pretty quickly. As of early this afternoon, four bikers had already passed the 130-mile point. That's 24 hours for the leaders. Now they're really moving into the Alaska Range, above treeline and onto the sweeping tundra so remote the race organizers call it "The Black Hole." As of 3 p.m., Rocky Reifenstuhl was one of two in front. His brother, Steve, is marching the 350-mile distance on foot. He did the race last year, and here's what he said about the experience:
"The edge with which I am dancing is where the mind can make the body perform beyond what is believed to be possible. It is spiritual, it is dreamlike, it penetrates to my core and when I come back from it, I know I was there, and it beckons for months afterward ... At the finish line in McGrath, the physical and the emotional unite in a crescendo of emotion, pain, elation. The "other" becomes a memory. This unique reality has been reached by the passage of miles, time, physical exertion, psychological strain and sleep deprivation. It is so close to me, yet a world away."