Showing posts from October, 2006

While I was sleeping

Michael Penn, a photographer at the Juneau Empire, took this photo last night at about 12:30 a.m. At that time, I was just about to doze off in an effort to go to bed at a decent hour so I could get up early and take this picture:

Not to disparage the Blackerby Ridge or its fresh coat of velvety snow, but I'm feeling a little cheated. The northern lights only come to Juneau on a clear night once every 487.3 years or so, and I missed them. Missed them so I could wake up marginally early, hike up the geological Stairmaster known as Blackerby Ridge, stair-step my way down, go to work and wait for the end of Daylight Savings Time to kick the sunset up to 4:15 p.m.

I did have a good morning, though, all said and done. The upper portions of Blackerby Ridge are covered in nearly a foot of new snow, deep and heavy atop ice-caked mud and partially frozen streams. I dressed well for the sub-freezing temps but not for the slippery conditions. I spent the last half of the morning wet from the k…

mmm ... slippy

Date: Oct. 27
Total mileage: 41.3
October mileage: 373.6
Temperature upon departure: 38

That's it. Time to break out the studs.

Well, it's not quite that time of year yet. But it is approaching that time of year when nightly freeze-ups and a snowline down to 1,000 feet means it's not a great season to take the roadie up to a ski resort. But, like I said, snowline has crept down to 1,000 feet, and I love snow. I wanted to take some crunchy steps through the frosted grass and wrap my fingers around an dripping early-season snowball. So when I woke up to a blindingly clear morning, it seemed a no-brainer to ride up to EagleCrest. And I did get my feet on some snow. I also had the opportunity to do plenty of walking down the ice sheet that had once been a canyon road. 'Tis the season to keep roadie at sea level.

When we finally did hit the thaw during the descent, I amped up to 30 mph and received my annual lesson in the degrees of windchill. I've never learned the math, but…

Herbert Glacier Trail

Date: Oct. 26
Total mileage: 13.2
October mileage: 332.3
Temperature upon departure: 39

Here is one trail that I would just love to give myself most of a day sometime to ride repeatedly, again and again, five or 10 times. Geoff thinks I'm crazy in this regard - why ride the same trail even twice, let alone over and over in the same day? (and it's not even a 24-hour race) But the Herbert Glacier Trail is one of those rare trails that I could lose myself entirely in. It's flat and fast, protected from the bog by a fine layer of gravel and sand. But upon this narrow strip of civilization I can move freely through the dense forest, skimming virtual walls of sky-blocking trees at 10, 15 - even 20 mph, if I felt so motivated. The flow becomes so natural that it's easy to forget I'm destination-bound, until, after about 4.5 miles, I arrive at a stunning dead end.

The trail may be on the easy side - but it's not mindless. There's a few quick rock jumps, some mud holes, …

Sugar in pieces

All this time I've been desk surfing at work - busy, busy election season, you know - Geoff's been overhauling bikes like it's his job. He spent the past two on my mountain bike. Since yesterday he removed just about every moving part, greased it up, installed a new chainring and chain (my last one was stretched two inches from its original length), massively degreased the drivetrain, re-adjusted both the derailleurs and pumped up the rear shock. I don't even knowing what else he did to it when I wasn't looking. I, um, cleaned the cassette. Yeah, I've been working pretty hard.

I haven't had a chance to ride it yet, but I feel confident in making the statement that this is pretty much the best Gary Fisher women's specific Sugar 3+ mountain bike of unspecified year ... ever. I think the green sticker on the handlebars is what really puts it on top. That sticker has survived more rain and mud and abuse than even the headset could handle. You know that's…

My weather prediction

Date: Oct. 21 and 22
Total mileage: 49.4
October mileage: 319.1
Temperature upon departure: 43

I should be a weather guesser. Predicting the weather in Juneau would be my easiest job since I worked as a hamburger bun warmer at Wendy's. Why, just now, I pounded out a 195-day forecast that should get us through May 6, 2007. I'm betting on 75-percent accuracy, which is a better average than the NOAA. Our current weather guessers wouldn't dare put out such a report - they probably can't deal with the bleakness of reality. But, I gotta tell you, that one day of partial sun is worth living for.

I installed fenders on my road bike about a week ago, and I was happy to discover that they do in fact dispel road grit with about 95-percent accuracy. It's also nice to have water continuously splashing on me from only one direction - the sky. Someday they'll invent fenders to combat that pesky precipitation problem. Until then, I'll just have to rely on a marginal rainsuit an…

The precedent

I read in a recent issue of Backpacker (yes, while goose-stepping on an elliptical trainer) an article exploring the argument that adventure is dead. Obese accountants can eat filet mignon while rafting through the Grand Canyon. Weekend warriors with low-grade GPS units can trek the furthest reaches of the Brooks Range. The summit of Mount Everest can be bought. This article made a lot of points, but the basic idea I came away with was that the age of information has rendered the death of discovery.

It didn't leave me with any lasting disappointment. My opinion about exploration has always been that if I've never been there, it's new to me. I'll probably never vie to be the first person atop random peak #37 in the Alaska Range or to ride my bicycle across the frozen Bering Sea (not that I wouldn't love to ride from here to Russia.) But as long as I can wrap my adventure around dodging porcupines on a leaf-littered trail or carving tracks through thick, crunchy snow…


Date: Oct. 19
Total mileage: 36.0
October mileage: 269.7
Temperature upon departure: 49

I'm really not a sports fan.

I'm fair-weather to the very extreme. Meaning: I have no clue about backstories or statistics or strategies or, sometimes, even the basic rules. I carry all of this eye-rolling apathy into random games where everything is on the line and everything matters and everything comes down to one heart-stopping moment.

I always get sucked into the drama.

I always have my heart broken.

It happened in 1996 when the Alta High School basketball dynasty dropped right out of the bottom.

It happened in 1997 when the Utah Jazz lost the last two games in the championship series, both of which came down to three or four points right at the very end, to the Chicago Bulls.

It happened to me in 1998 when the University of Utah clawed their way into the NCAA championship series only to lose to Kentucky.

After the late '90s, my interest in basketball mostly dried up. I was happy again, as ap…

On again, off again

Date: Oct. 17
Total mileage: 25.2
October mileage: 233.7
Temperature upon departure: 42

Many cyclists I know, especially those who race their bicycles on a regular basis, have begun to talk about the "off season." As in most sports, cycling has found its drastic ebb and flow, which means from March to September all I hear about is trainingracingridingracingtraining. Then, October hits ... a couple of leaves drop ... and suddenly ... nothing.

Up in Alaska, far away from the velodromes and crits and Cat-4's and what have you, this "off season" is still very much a mystery to me. For what little racing I do - and for how liberally I'd have to use the term "athlete" to call myself one - I tend to have events spread fairly evenly throughout the year. I've been in a bit of a slump - I'll call it an "off-season" - since July. But pretty soon, at about the beginning of November, I'll have to think about upping the training and scheduling …

Zen and the art of ...

Date: Oct. 16
Total mileage: 40.2
October mileage: 208.5
Temperature upon departure: 48

Geoff informed me today that I'd have to be a very cold-hearted person, or, in better words, an idiot, to even think about riding my mountain bike before it gets a complete overhall, which includes new parts that have to be shipped to Juneau on a barge. Somehow, over a few months of tender, loving abuse, I managed to almost completely wear down all of the teeth on the middle ring. Then I rode it long enough in that decrepit state so it now also requires a new chain. And pedals. And shifter levers. And I think that in one or more of my many crashes, I may have slightly bent the rear derailleur. Other than that, it's golden! Why can't I ride it?

On the bright side, Geoff has been working almost nonstop for a week on our five bikes, and roadie has never been in better shape. Geoff even installed fenders. So the theory is now that I can go for a ride and not be sprayed continuously with road gri…

Glaciers melting

My co-worker likes to tell stories about his childhood in Juneau - in the late 70s, I believe - when he and his friends could play touch football directly in the shadow of Mendenhall Glacier's tilting skyscrapers of ice. Back then, the calving terminus stretched almost a mile beyond where it ends today. My co-worker predicts that in another decade, the glacier will climb away from Mendenhall Lake and recede up the canyon it carved during many millennia of slow, steady grinding.

It's sad, he tells me, to see something that held so much permanence for him as a child, and to watch it so quickly and effortlessly fade away. But when I look at Mendenhall Glacier, I don't feel his same sadness. My emotions are closer to the sadness one would feel watching a snowman grow emanciated in the March sun - a nostalgic sadness, dulled by the inevitability of it.

A poll published October 4 in the Anchorage Daily News said that four out of five Alaskans believe global warming is behind the p…

iHeart iPod

Date: Oct. 12&13
Total mileage: 45.3
October mileage: 168.3
Temperature upon departure: 41

I had a decent Friday the 13th with some unlucky twists. On the bright side, I got out for a road bike ride and a separate mountain bike ride. On the unlucky side, I skidded out on a metal-lined bridge on my mountain bike and slammed into a railing at about 15 mph. I also bonked pretty hard on the way home (I've been out of milk for three days and apparently am not eating enough for breakfast.) And it rained the whole day. And the Mets lost. Other than that, it was a good day.

I was thinking about the controversial issue of iPod use and bicycles after Tim posted an anti-bikePod article the other day. I am an unrepentant iPod user, and while I respect the arguments against it, I don't think it's fair to make blanket judgments that all bikePod is bad all the time.

I own a little iPod shuffle. I bought it solely for use in bicycling. I bought it with gratitude after a little FM radio lite…

Elevation's good

Ever since I learned the reality of fog in this area, I can't wake up to a view of blurry cloud cover and not feel the instant urge to head up. The fog here starts thick, and with temperatures in the 40s, could stick around all day. But I'm greedy and when I know the sun is up there, somewhere, I can't just let it hang out alone. So Geoff and I headed up Mount Jumbo, right here on Douglas Island and towering over our house every day. We rode to the trailhead and pounded out a quick "Pre-Mets-Game" hike. This is my Juneau-peak-bagging photo essay #2.

We finally started to see sunlight emerge from the fog at about 1,000 feet ... just about the time I was starting to get worried.

First view

I think this shot is interesting because I'm accustomed to hiking peaks in Utah, where everything is 11,000 feet high. So today, after we began to emerge from treeline, I saw this exact view and told Geoff it was going to take me all day to get up there. But this became a good e…

When the sun comes out in Juneau

I have 25 minutes left to burn off before work, ticking away on an elliptical trainer display. Streams of sunlight seep in from a narrow windows of my gym. Strange new shadows on the floor tell their own story, not of frumpy people engaged in pointless frenzy, but of kinetic energy breaking through illuminated dust. The woman who shows up every day at noon sharp, who has lost 10 pounds and made a point to record it for the "Juneau's Biggest Loser" registry, sighs loudly from the machine next to mine. "Ever feel like you're wasting your time in here?" she asks, not taking her eyes off the three ceiling-level TVs that have blasted plane crash news nonstop for the past 30 minutes. "Every time," I say.

I leave the gym at the height of lunch period, with high schoolers packed in the parking lot like spawning salmon. They dart in and out of the street and throw unidentifiable objects toward the sky, enjoying rare freedom from their narrow awnings and dri…

Sorry, Sugar

Open letter to my battle-scarred mountain bike:

Dear Old and Busted Sugar,

It seems you haven't been very happy with me lately. Seems like you're mad at the world. I guess I would be too, hunched against a damp corner with swamp water seeping out of my frame. We've been together, oh, about 18 months now - maybe you expected something better of your life. I just wanted you to know that this hasn't been easy for me, either.

I remember the day the UPS guy dropped you off. They called you a used bike, recently dumped by an anonymous eBay stranger, but you looked brand new to me. I still remember the first time we went out, joyriding the foothills outside Idaho Falls. We were both so young then, and inexperienced, and you seemed so fragile. I was terrified to get too close for fear you (we) would break.

Maybe that's how this all started. The early neglect. I had commitment issues. You were an inanimate object. Everything changed the day we up and moved to Alaska, with the w…

Did Juneau

Date: Oct. 7
Total mileage: 22.5
October mileage: 145.5
Temperature upon departure: 45

I finally got around to hiking Mount Juneau today. It almost didn't happen. I woke up - late again, of course - to a blanket of thick fog smothering the valley.

"What's the point?" I asked Geoff. "We won't be able to see anything up there." I thought I wouldn't have time before work anyway. I told him I would just go for a quick bike ride instead. He talked me into it.

Before we hit the trailhead, we were already climbing out of the clouds and into the bald blaze of a rare clear day. And then we just hiked - up, not out. The mountainside was so steep that we could peek over the edge at a nearly direct vertical drop into town. If I owned a base-jumping parachute, I think I could have landed on top of the capitol building.

As we watched the cloud cover slowly thin and drift away from the channel, all I could think about was how amazing it was that I could be standing there…


Date: Oct. 6
Total mileage: 11.5
October mileage: 123
Temperature upon departure: 46

I went mountain biking today. I didn't take my camera because I worried it would be swamped with water. I made a good choice.

We tried out the Dredge Lake trail system today. This area is actually a winter ski trail system, but where there's ski trails in the winter, there's bike trails in the summer, right? It was raining lightly and I expected standing water from heavy showers earlier this week, so I dressed to the nines - neoprene socks, neoprene booties, neoprene gloves, waterproof snow pants, waterproof (read: industrial plastic) shell. Also good choices.

What we found on the web of trails snaking across the rolling moraine beneath the Mendenhall Glacier was mountain biking unlike any I have experienced before. Both comfortable in its ease and confounding in its complexity, I don't know how to reconcile it into a comprehensive description. But I do know this: I like it. Love it. I'm…

The trouble with commuting

Date: Oct. 5
Total mileage: 45.3
October mileage: 111.5
Temperature upon departure: 47

I made a decision a couple of weeks ago that I was going to work toward reforming my habits to minimalize if not eliminate the use of my car. It makes sense on paper because I'm already accustomed to cold-weather cycling, I already own a nice headlight and set of bike panniers, and I live in an area where I couldn't travel more than 40 miles from my house if I wanted to. Of course, what's easy on paper is definitely not always easy in practice. Gas-guzzling habits run deep, and I'm beginning to realize just how tough continuous bike commuting would actually be.

For starters, I can't figure out how people in wet climates would get around the whole social stigma of showing up at their destination wet and covered in road grit. And I don't mean walking into a store wearing a damp waterproof shell. I mean showing up in a public place looking like a jeep that spent the past hour spinnin…


In an effort to whittle down my expenses, I'm dissolving some old bills that are automatically charged to my credit card every month. In doing so, I just learned that at the end of this month, my old Web site will no longer exsist.

It's a sad day for me - not because I maintain this Web site anymore. In fact, there's a whole lot about it that annoys me. But it's a record of my past. It's my journal, my scrapbook, my photo album, my pre-blog blog, all in one. But because it's electronic, and because I was young and naive enough to register it with a fee-charging site, it's being ripped from exsistence without a tear or a prayer.

Maybe this will teach me to start using an old-fashioned pen and paper. But, for now, if you don't mind, I'm going to post a few of my entires - for nostalgia's sake, for posterity, etc. ... otherwise, I'll lose them forever. This one is titled "definition of bike touring," dated Sept. 14, 2002.

That annoying l…

Soak up the partial sun

Date: Oct. 2 and 3
Total mileage: 66.2
October mileage: 66.2

City election night means I had to work late. Not late like "better order in dinner" late. Late like "wow when did it become 2 a.m.?" late. Elections always pump a little suspense and excitement into the newspaper business, but they always leave me with nagging guilt. I consider myself a fairly civic-minded person, but I carry the deep and secret shame of not having voted in a public election since 2002. The last presidential candidate I voted for was Ralph Nader (in 2000, not '04). I have a lot of excuses. I moved around a lot. I was out of the state at all the right times. But the truth is really much more superficial.

My name is Jill, and I am incapable of dealing with bureaucracy.

I know, it sounds completely silly. But it's true. I dread and put off simple things like registering a vehicle or filling out a change of address form at the post office. I've neglected to get an Alaska driver's …

First snow

October is my favorite month.

I live in a climate that doesn't see much fluctuation between summer and fall, which is all the more reason to embrace the subtle signs of seasons changing: clumps of yellow clinging to birch trees - the litter of dry leaves strewn along the streets. My favorite part of fall, though, is something Alaskans call "termination dust" — their phrase for the first snow. I like this phrase. There's a world of imagery in the word "dust," and "termination" implies an idea that is amplified by a lot of Alaksans who, like me, aren't from here: that snow equals winter equals darkness equals death.

Around here, winter is a season many people endure. It's time to recuperate from a mania of activity brought on by the endless light of summer. It's a time to drink Jack Daniels straight out of the bottle, one shot for every week until the next salmon run. I think it's funny how few "winter" people I meet in Alask…