Showing posts from March, 2006

Work too hard

Date: March 30
Mileage: 22.6
March mileage: 366.9
Temperature upon departure: 34
On the iPod: "King's Crossing" ~ Elliot Smith

Squinting against radial gusts of wind, I waver a little at the intersection. Which way to go - left or right? One way is West Hill, the short way, the traffic-clogged highway spewing mud and melted snow. The other is East Hill, the long hill, the beast, the lung-searing climb that chews up my studs. The wind goes both directions. I go east.

The hill sets in fast, pulling hard at legs that sat unmoving, atrophied, dead weights for nearly eight hours prior. Wind grit builds up on my teeth and I clamp my mouth shut, squint downward, watch the odometer. 5.8 mph ... 5.9 ... I'm already sick of being out here. It's gray with little flecks of snow blowing around. And around and around. Wind hits from new directions. I tilt again. Studs grind into the pavement. I stand. 6.4 mph .... 6.7.

How high does your heart rate have to be to go to find that place…

Step away from the cereal

Date: March 29
Mileage: 17.1
March mileage: 344.3
Temperature upon departure: 37

If you could give up just one thing - just one - that would instantly improve your nutrition and diet, what would it be? Trans fat? Refined flour? Red meat?

You know what mine would be? Artificial coloring. That's right. Not because I believe this colorful little chemical has any negative effects in itself, but because Yellow No. 5 seems to grace all of my most secret, most shameful indulgences.

In most bad eating situations, I'm a rock. I can turn down chocolate without flinching. Pizza? No thanks - I had yogurt for lunch. Even the free morning donuts at work, which my coworkers would argue have a gravitational pull equal to that of the Sun, don't get me excited. My coworkers think I'm a health food hero, known even to turn my nose up at Girl Scout Cookies (which I love, by the way.)

But then I leave work. I go for a bike ride. I come home to a house filled with produce, look around my kitchen w…

Cycling as a cure-all

Date: March 28
Mileage: 26.0
March mileage: 327.2
Temperature upon departure: 41

I almost feel guilty for heading out today, but it had to be done. It was sunny, 40 degrees (thems T-shirt temps!), and I needed to vent stress buildup from a frustrating day at work. Something was going to have to give, and that something was my bum knee. So, with a noticeable gimp in my gait, I saddled up Roadie and headed out for more than an hour (Ok, Ok ... It was probably closer to two hours than one. I like to think I'm fast on Roadie, but I have to be reasonable.) It was a great ride - breathing hard into the stiff salt breeze, then riding its tailwind to tear-inducing speeds on the way back. And by the end of the ride, my knee was feeling light and limber (despite the fact it's still bleeding a little. I probably should have gotten the thing stiched.) How much will I pay for my ride tomorrow? Whatever stiffness returns, it was worth it.

As I rode along East End Road today, I thought of a blog …

I hurt

This is the skiing picture from the Saturday post I never did, back when I finally became comfortable in my stride. Back when I had a perfect run atop soft, gliding snow. Back before I felt like I had a run-in with the angry side of a truck.

Yesterday's collision with the road made scrambled eggs of some important muscles - muscles I use to walk, to sit, to sleep. So every movement today has been slow, deliberate, ginger to the point of paranoia. That's impact. You never feel it until the next day. I've had some spectacular snowboarding spills. I've been in minor car accidents. But nothing quite delivers a full-body beating like kissing pavement.

And I thought Roadie was in need of a tuneup. Some have asked me why I call my "other" bike Roadie when it isn't a road bike in the classic sense of the name. It's an IBEX Corrida, about two years old - all stock components because - really - I'm not that big of a performance nut. I bought my first Corrida …

Signs of Spring

Date: March 26
Mileage: 54.0
March mileage: 301.2
Temperature upon departure: 38

Free Roadie: Can you imagine the frustration of sitting in a corner all winter long, watching the mountain bike go out day after day, knowing you'll only get a few spins when "Arrested Development" is on the TV. Then, one day, even that goes off the air. And you watch the snow piling up outside, thinking you may never, ever have relevance again. It's been a long winter for roadie. The snow may still be high. The chill still has its bite. But March is nearly over, so it seemed high time to drag roadie outside for a real ride.

Watching the tide: "It's like getting behind the wheel of a BMW after spending a winter driving a truck," Geoff said. Road bikes are so light and smooth. We were coasting ... flying ... effortless speed. It gave us a lot more time to look around. Taking in swift gulps of salt-flavored air, I had one of those "Oh, yeah, I live by the sea" moments. I…

Congratulations, Wilco

Date: March 24
Mileage: 31.3
March mileage: 247.2
Temperature upon departure: 34
On the iPod: "Waiting for Something" ~ Sense Field

This is Wilco van den Akker, and he's someone you've never heard of. Google his name, and all you'll see is references to a site called Sleepmonsters and a bunch of stuff supposedly in Dutch. But don't be fooled by his obscurity. This guy is one hardcore adventure racer.

This morning, Wilco won the 1,110-mile Iditarod Invitational march to Nome in something just shy of 27 days. He's one of only two people who attempted to finish the race past the 350-mile mark, after nearly two dozen dropped out. He's spent nearly a month hiking through this godforsaken Alaska wilderness, watching dogsledder after dogsledder go by - and seeing few other signs of civilization. When he finally arrived in Nome, at 12:04 this morning, the only people there to greet him were two local police officers - who were probably more concerned about the moti…

Slogging blogger

Date: March 22
Mileage: 15.4
March mileage: 215.9
Temperature upon departure: 33

It's light enough to ride now until 8 p.m. 8 p.m.! The sunlight has turned everything into a slushy, soggy mess. Since I usually ride in the evenings, I get the worst of it. Today I felt up to a short ride, but had a hard time coaxing myself outside because:
1. I still have a cough.
2. The trails were too soft.
3. The roads were a mess.
4. My new fenders haven't arrived in the mail yet.

But I still went out. Coasting downhill was a bit like being sandblasted with wet chunks of mud ("The goggles! They do nothing!"). Riding uphill I learned that snow is in fact not the slowest surface for two wheels. That distinction belongs to a dirt road that is still frozen up to the top inch or so, leaving only the thinnest layer of mud to soak up massive quantities of melted snow.

I think I'm going to try to ride more in the morning, when everything is still nicely iced up. That, or I'll incorporate a p…

I'm not here right now

The sick is starting to loosen its grip, but it still has me grounded just as the weather took a turn for the warm (hit 40 degrees for the first time since ... December!). Three days off the saddle may be the longest I've gone without a ride since ... December. Sugar looks so dejected right now - tires deflated to 20 psi, the front wheel still detached after being carted home from Caribou Lake, and coated with the trail grime of the ages because I haven't mustered up enough respect to drag him out on top of my feet-deep snowpack with a garden hose. At least he's not wired to the life support of a magnetic trainer like Roadie is (which I haven't ridden any actual distance since ... December.)

Today was a day full of monotonous tasks and the inevitable zoning out that these tasks cause. Do you ever experience this? One minute I'll be copying and pasting articles into html, washing the dishes or - heaven forbid - driving. Then, suddenly I'll find myself slipping in…

First day of sick

I am officially annoyed. It's bad enough to get sick at the beginning of the week, when I can't take any time off from work, so I have to spend the day listening to others complain about my infectious nature while a vice grip slowly tightens around my chest and head. But yesterday, while rummaging around my medicine cabinet, I discovered the leftover antibiotics from last year's bout with bronchitis - dated March 23, 2005. Kinda eerie to think that my germs keep a schedule almost as reliable as Christmas.

And it's annoying because every year I manage to skirt through cold and flu season without so much as a sniffle, only to pick up some utterly derailing - and often undiagnosable - bout of gunk at the end of March. This seems to happen to a lot of people, who mostly blame the change of seasons as a culprit for the massive failure of otherwise iron-clad immune systems. I used to accept this theory as fact, but now I have my suspicions. Last year, I lived in Idaho, where …

You learn something new

Date: March 19
Mileage: 8.0
March mileage: 200.5
Temperature upon departure: 26

At the end of the first of many long, empty straightaways that traverse the frozen bog to Caribou Lake, I accidentally swerved off the trail and spun around just in time to see Geoff throw his bike - quite literally - down on the snow and begin walking toward me. It was four miles and a little over an hour into our ride, and he had "had it." "This is ridiculous," he said. "I'm putting in five times the effort of walking to go walking speed."

He makes a good point. Plenty of new snow and warming temps made for soft, punchy riding - on the precipice of rideable, but in my opinion - not too fargone yet. Still, there could be no laboring under any delusion today that cycling was the most efficient form of travel for the conditions. As Geoff pointed out, there's walking. There's skiing. Heck, one of those low-riding "big wheel" tricycles would probably fare better.…

Like these pictures?

Date: March 17
Mileage: 18.6
March mileage: 192.5
Temperature upon departure: 9 (morning temp)
On the iPod: "Sunshine Highway" ~ Dropkick Murphys

For some reason Blogger isn't letting me upload my photos, so I'm reposting an old November favorite. That's OK, because all the pictures I took during yesterday's commute are muddled by nasty grayness and funk that has settled in for the weekend (you know the type - flurries, 50 mph wind gusts, whiteouts of blowing snow). That - and staying out late on St. Patrick's Day - kept me lazy and grounded for most of today.

So I made a "First Winter in Alaska" screensaver. I never realized I how many pictures I have. It's obnoxious, really, considering my extremely amateurish photography equipment and the fact that nearly every snapshot was taken in the small radius of my hometown. But the screensaver was entertaining - especially when I added music. And more than anything on this blog, people seem to like my p…

Flirting with hypothermia

Date: March 16
Mileage: 20.5
March mileage: 173.9
Temperature upon departure: 13
On the iPod: "Landed" ~ Ben Folds

I left work today wearing a kind of hybrid setup I use for commuting - jeans and long johns, cotton T-shirt, two fleece layers and my waterproof shell. The temperature in town was probably in the high teens. It was 5:15 p.m. I started up the long East Hill climb and overheated almost immediately. It wasn't just extra sweat - it was a serious concern for me. Enough so that I stopped at the first turnout I saw, stripped down to only my T-shirt and shell, removed my outer mittens, ripped off my balaclava and continued up the hill.

I was feeling good at the top, so I continued east to the summit of Skyline and hit the snowmobile trails. I tried some less-traveled trails today, so I was working hard - doing a lot of postholing, occasionally falling over, just like old times. Pretty soon it was 6:30, with the sun drifting low on the horizon. The entire hill fell into sh…

Back to the trail

Date: March 15
Mileage: 15.2
March mileage: 153.4
Temperature upon departure: 19
On the iPod: "Cry Freedom" ~ Dave Matthews

The trails are finally setting up again enough to be rideable. It's not warmth that's causing this, but sunlight, so there's still plenty of powder. The skiers have monopolized almost all of the established trails near my house, so I still have to keep my distance. But I'm starting to learn that there's just about nowhere in Alaska a snowmobile won't go. And I'm right behind them, knifing over the glistening trails and dreaming of a time - not too far away now - when massive snow dumps will no longer be a concern. What snowpack we have will melt slowly in the increasing glare of daylight sun, then settle and harden during the freeze of night. Do you know what that means? The wilderness I call home will soon be blanketed - blanketed! - by rideable snow. Hardpacked, glistening, absolutely boundless snow. No trails needed. I'm so…

Floppy mining

I remember reading a survey a while back that said more than 50 percent of Americans view themselves as writers in some capacity. I'm sure now, in the era of blogging, that number is probably closer to 98 percent, or equal to the literacy rate - whichever is higher. I, too, went through a period when I fancied becoming the kind of writer who has a near-constant harried expression and pencils in my hair. I call this period college. That phase is usually one of those things most people grow away from, like 2 a.m. pizza runs and long dialogs consisting entirely of Nietzsche quotes. So I didn't give much thought to fiction writing after I sloughed off that pre-graduate glow. Until tonight.

I have a laptop on the verge of meltdown, so I spent the better part of the evening moving files onto another computer. This laptop is so old that I have to use floppies to complete the task. Remember floppies? They have enough storage to hold about one fifth of a Green Day mp3? Yeah. It was a ti…

Hey, this is my blog

Instead of writing one of those dreaded "oh, I have nothing to write about today" posts, I thought I'd share an excerpt of an article I wrote a few years back. This is back when I still thought of myself as mainly a "cycle tourist," and was trying to conjure up a definition of what that meant. So, in honor of the Iditarod race, here's "Of Dogs and Cyclists."

"... See, cyclists are a lot like dogs. No, not because they eat protein snacks and bark at cars. To most, a cyclist is a cyclist - but that doesn't stop the proliferation of a startling variety of breeds.

First there are commuters. Commuters are the Labrador retrievers of the pack. Throw them a good bicycle route, and they'll keep coming back. They love a good game of "catch"- that is, sprinting to catch green lights. They're highly sociable, largely domesticated and don't mind being leashed to the same roads day after day.

Then there are the recreational riders, t…

Kick'n it old school

Date: March 12
Mileage: 27.8
March mileage: 138.2
Temperature upon departure: 29
On the iPod: "When I Grow Up" ~ Garbage

This morning, Geoff decided - rather randomly - that he wanted to race the Kachemak Ski Marathon. The race started at 11 a.m. He got up, got ready, and got to the race start just in time to enter the 25K.I dropped him off and took my car down to the end of the race, then went for a bike ride from there. The gravel roads were pretty sloppy today, and I'm still recovering from something or other (I don't exactly know what. I'm just not in my best physical form.) So the ride was a bit of a slog. It's strange because I felt great during a snowshoe hike yesterday - felt like sprinting to the top of the ridge because the hiking was so effortless. Maybe I'm just experiencing a touch of bike burnout. Geoff was already back when I got home. He said he struggled to keep his balance and took a couple of big spills, but otherwise had a great race. He wa…

From the cold sunlight

Date: March 10
Mileage: 31.2
March mileage: 110.4
Temperature upon departure: 18
On the iPod: "Third Planet" by Modest Mouse

Today I learned that by riding the most direct route, it takes me 17 minutes to bicycle commute to work. It's a 15-minute drive - 6 miles on winding roads, and you can't really leadfoot it much faster. So that's good news - I can never use being late to work as an exuse not to ride. Going home, of course, is another story. I haven't taken a direct route home yet, but I'm not looking forward to actually timing myself on that climb. The goal, I guess, is to get much faster at it. Right now I'm still happy if I can keep my speed above 5 mph on the 2.5-mile stretch that makes up most of the elevation gain. That's spinning in low gears on a full-suspension mountain bike, and I can't stand at all because the road surface is still too icy (I'd just spin out, sort of like a rear-wheel-drive truck with no sandbags in the back. My …


Date: March 9
Mileage: 23.4
March mileage: 79.2
Temperature upon departure: 17
On the iPod: "Mormon Rap" by early-90s BYU students

One of my resolutions for spring is to bicycle commute more often. Some people have asked me why I didn't commute more during the winter - after all, I wasted a lot of energy driving to and from work and then riding 10 to 40 miles afterward. Three words - I was scared.

Many people live in cities and have the luxury of choosing from a number of side roads to spin down on their way to town. I have but two choices, and they both involve:

* Dropping from my house, at 1,200 feet elevation, to near-sea level in 2.5 miles on
* a narrow, winding road with blind corners and steep drop-offs, riding alongside
* heavy rush-hour traffic, because everyone who lives on the Ridge has to take the same road out which
* just happens to relatively poorly maintained in the winter, meaning months on end of either glare ice/packed snow; soft, punchy sand/snow mix; or outrigh…

It does exist

The Kenai Peninsula is hosting the Arctic Winter Games right now, and Homer just happens to be the home of curling. After spending the 2002 and 2006 Olympics scratching my head at this sport from a safe distance, I went to Ice Rink today to check out a few rounds. Geoff and I watched the undefeated Alaska girls take their first loss in a close game against Alberta (Alberta? Alberta isn't an Arctic territory!). We cheered the boys from Nunavut (after all, how often do you meet someone from Nunavut?). But we spent most of our time in a penalty box loudly discussing our theories on how the game was played, how ridiculous the scoreboards were, and what we thought was covering the bottoms the the players' shoes. (All the while, the Northwest Territories boosters looked at us like we had just shuffled in from Mars.) All in good fun. After two hours of concentration, I think I may have a vague idea about what curling is. Understanding the rules, the scoring or the object of the game …

Looking for heroes

Here's yet another Alaska thing I haven't become accustomed to yet: The compounding daylight. At a rate of five more minutes every day, it doesn't take long to stack up. Today I came home from work much later than I had planned. It was 5:30 p.m. and overcast, and I just assumed it would be dark in another half hour. Not really feeling motivated to attempt a night ride, I crawled on the trainer and started cranking out minutes, thinking I'd probably just stop as soon as it got dark. But then 6:00 came. Then 6:30. I was feeling good and decided to go long, and before I knew it, 7:15 came with usable daylight still lingering outside. Who knew?

The Iditarod dogsled race is going strong. It's immensely popular up here, so it gets a lot of ink. Consequently, I've found myself following the mushers' progress, grazing through statistics and reading about people in a sport I never thought I'd be interested in. But, when I think about it, these long-distance mushe…

The Good Fight

Adam Bartlett took this picture during the Iditarod Trail Invitational. He posted it on the Alaska MTB forum. Check it out. He took some amazing pictures during his six days in the Great Nothing.

So now the Iditarod dogsled race is on. Yesterday the rugged mushers and their puppy teams flew over the terrain I slogged through during the Susitna 100. Today the leaders crossed Rainy Pass, fast on their way to McGrath - and nipping at the heels of the last forlorn racers of the Invitational. The carnage of this year's human-powered Iditarod is almost complete, with the only a few racers fighting through the last 50-mile stretch (only one guy, so far, is going on to Nome.) Those who are still out there are pushing 10 days. Think, for a minute, what you did with the past 10 days. Went to a couple of movies? Put in 60 hours at the office? Shopped for bicycle parts? Even if you didn't do much, adding up 10 days of tasks seems like a lot, doesn't it? Now imagine that you spent thos…


Date: March 5
Mileage: 27.1
March mileage: 55.8
Temperature upon departure: 29
Listened to: "The Kids Aren't All Right" ~ The Offspring

Well, I finally broke down and bought an iPod. It's actually out of character for me to purchase a shiny, trendy little gadget (I may be the only person who grew up in the 90s and drives a car with a tape deck.) But I think it was the Susitna race that finally convinced me it wouldn't be a bad idea to own a decent MP3 player. Normally, I prefer to ride free, without the noisebox crowding out all the ambient sounds. But with Breakup approaching (that's these Alaska types term for Spring), I realized that I may soon want to start packing on road mileage. And since I live at the very southern end of a peninsula, there's pretty much only one direction I can go for any distance. I realized that the Sterling Highway northbound may start to get very boring if I don't blast a little Yellowcard now and again.

There was nothing reall…

Backyard backcountry

Geoff's on a big skiing kick right now. Geoff, new hobby and eBay can be a daunting combination. The last time he did this (with bikes), he ended up with a Trek 5200, a Trek Fuel 100, and a lot of miles I couldn't keep up with - even when we went riding together. But at least cycling was something I could do.

After he spent the morning surfing the Web for info on pricey ski equipment and reading about "Cross-Country Skiing 101" from some library book, we went out for a backyard expedition. He went on his backcountry skis. I snowshoed. I gave myself blisters trying to keep up, but the rest of my bruise-free limbs let out a collective sigh of relief. We went out for a long trek, following Bridge Creek downcanyon over an impressive network of trails broken by other skiers. Everywhere we traveled, all I could think was, "Man, a little colder weather would turn this into some great single track." Or, "I bet with low tire pressure I could ride these snowmobi…


Date: March 3
Mileage: 28.7
March mileage: 28.7
Temperature upon departure: 31

Tough ride today, for a town ride. It included:
1.) three miles of ice bolderfield
2.) puddles
3.) 5.0-magnitude earthquake (OK. That actually happened while I was still at work.)
4.) random, balance-threatening blasts of sidewind off the Bay
5.) more traffic than usual (The Salty Dawg Saloon opened for the season today. I don't understand the big deal, as this is the first time it has actually been open since I moved here, but the number of vehicles parked in the vicinity of that little shack made me wonder if the Academy Awards moved north.)
6.) puddles
7.) slush trail
8.) nearly endo-ing after plowing into a deep snow drift at 15 mph (I just assumed it was fairly solid. But ... it wasn't.)
9.) puddles
10.) arriving home looking like I took a swim in a coal-mining tailings pond.

There were also a large number of state trooper vehicles lurking around. It was a grim reminder of tragedy, which, even without the air…

This guy wants in

It was snowy today, a little wind, low 20s. I had planned to attempt a trail ride in honor of Peter and Rocky, who won the Iditarod Trail Invitational at 7 this morning. But when I got home from work, a little later in the evening than I had hoped, looked at the newspaper and saw "Sweet Home Alabama" slated to air on one of the channels my TV picks up, well ... I spent the better part of the evening on the trainer. I have been sufficiently lulled by post-training complacency. But, for what it's worth, it was a good trainer ride. A commercial-laden chick flick can really stack on the minutes.

I didn't think the long winter would get to me, but something about the recent explosion of daylight, compounded by the calendar's turnover to March, has got me looking at the cold and snow with a confused melancholy of sorts. Where I come from - the land of salt and sand - early March is the time of year when temperatures start climbing into the 60s. The grass looks green aga…

Crazy race

Ok. I admit it. I never really "followed" racing. I don't even actually understand what those guys do in the Tour de France. I know I see a lot of cyclists and they're going really fast. But the actual strategy the event escapes me. (Yellow, polka dotted jerseys? Does it ever strike avid pro cycling fans that some of the revered traditions of the TdF may seem a little, well, kooky to the untrained eye?)

Now, having admitted that embarrassing fact for all of the bicycle-blogging world to see, I also have to admit that I have become absolutely captivated by the Iditarod Trail Invitational. With nothing more to watch than spare, often long-delayed reports on racers' current placement on the trail, I have been caught up in a whirlwind of imagination about their trail conditions, method of movement, weather, and just what exactly they might be thinking about as they gaze across endless dunes of windswept snow over the treeless tundra.

The three leaders in the race took…

Take a left

Date: Feb. 28
Mileage: 18.4
February mileage: 433.3
Temperature upon departure: 10

A friend of mine is back in town after an extended trip home to Venezuela. She told us that the phrase her family uses to describe Alaska literally translates to "go to the end of the world, then take a left." (of course, it sounds much more alluring in Spanish.)

Today was a ride of subtle annoyances and short attention span. It was frosty out with a sharp, sustained wind (another friend informed me that the wind-chill factor was "minus 17, at least.") Lo these past few months, I've gotten pretty good at looking at the thermometer and knowing exactly what to wear, so I never felt chilled. But today conditions were just perfect for "cold headaches." You know, the kind you get when you suck down a Slurpee too fast? Yeah. You can get those cycling, too - especially if you're heading up a steep hill, right into the wind, and you start breathing too hard.

I rode an all-too-fam…