Thursday, November 30, 2006

Cold in Utah

Date: Nov. 29
Total mileage: 24.0
November mileage: 251.9
Temperature upon departure: 15

Seems like it's cold everywhere. Just when I was lamenting the way the sunny tropicalness of my Utah vacation has been cut short, I checked out the West Juneau Weather Station to discover a record low of -12 last night and about 15" of snowfall today. Yikes.

Plus, I have a cold. It has been lurking all week and I have been generally ignoring it. But all this dry air and elevation finally caught up to me today when the mercury dropped into the teens before noon. I set out for a two-hour ride that I had all mapped out in my head before I left. I popped in a cough drop and headed up Wasatch Boulevard on my friend's midget mountain bike (I believe it has a 15" frame.) I was only about 10 minutes into the real meat of the climb before I started wheezing. "This is insane," I thought. "I haven't been doing much riding, but I shouldn't be this out of shape." I cut back the effort but after only 200 more yards I could hardly breathe. I jumped off my bike and dropped to my knees in the snow, wheezing, coughing, and spitting up all kinds of unpleasant gunk. I sucked at my camelback but it was already frozen solid. And just when I had made up my mind to turn around, my coughing subsided, my throat cleared and I felt more awake and alive than I had all day. And with the blaze of cold sunlight streaming over the whitewashed Wasatch mountains and crisp snow clinging to the pavement, I situated my balaclava over my face and finished my ride.

I know if I end up with bronchitis or the flu, I probably deserve it. But I think I am going to beat this cold, ride it out so to speak. I spent the night with my parents and sister, walking around downtown Salt Lake and looking at Christmas lights. My mom's and sister's terror-stricken faces as we stepped out into the "crazy cold" was almost as entertaining as the twinkling trees themselves. I told my mom she would never survive if she ended up in the upper Midwest or, heaven forbid, interior Alaska. She didn't disagree. Someday she and my dad will retire somewhere warm. Then I actually will be able to take tropical vacations from Alaska during the winter rather than just settling for a place where the low is 6, not -12.
Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Other stuff to do in snow

Today was a day to help teach my youngest sister how to snowboard and steal a few gleeful powder runs in the extra space of a resort day, the space that I usually reserve for eating lunch and going to the bathroom. My two sisters and I decided a week ago that snowboarding at Brighton would be the perfect sisterly outing, and somehow we picked the perfect day to do it (if your idea of "perfect" is a near-whiteout and 15-degree temps.) But what we did have was plenty of famous Utah snow - piles and piles of crisp, dry powder so indistinguishable from the blizzard-stricken terrain that I would occasionally blast through mounds as high as my waist, emerging from the swirling cloud of ice jolted but not slowed. I took a few swims, but the snow was so light and airy that it was easy to stay afloat, skimming the silent surface on my rental hovercraft. Even my newbie sister got the hang of it early on, and a good time was had by all.

It's days like these that cause me to take stock of my hobbies, in my continuing quest to make sure the bulk of my time and energy is going into the right one. After all, I have more than a few friends that are crazy dedicated to skiing, those who wheel their lives around it, who are (or at least were) willing to be "bums" for the cause. So I turn my focus from those eight perfect powder runs between the entertaining snowboard lessons, and rechart the day as a whole: wake up at 7 a.m.; drive to the ski shop to get fitted for a board ($16, at a 50% discount); Drive to the mouth of the canyon; catch the skibus ($6 round trip); buy a day pass at Brighton ($40); board board board board; wait for the ski bus; buy a $4 coffee cart drink while I'm waiting; wait some more; cram into the skibus with a full load of wet, lethargic people; sit on the bus as it inches down the canyon for 45 minutes; and leave the mouth of the canyon just in time to drive through rush-hour traffic all the way home. And all of the sudden, all I have left of my perfect day is about $70 less than I used to have and sore knees.

Don't get me wrong. It was a beautiful outing. Plus, the sisterly time is priceless. But, at the end of the day, I have to say that I'm still glad I'm a cyclist. And I sure hope all that fresh Alaska powder settles in and hardens up before I get home.

Pictures of Zion

I took a trip to the desert.

My parents first brought me here when I was just a small child.

I have spent many miles of the many years since trekking the length and depth of this land.

And still it awes and confuses me.

Most people know that "Zion" indicates a promised land, but don't know that the word "Kolob" indicates the place closest to heaven.

I believe everyone chooses their own heaven.

I already have mine picked out.
Saturday, November 25, 2006

Gone home

Date: Nov. 25
Total mileage: 15.0
November mileage: 227.9
Temperature upon departure: 42

One of my favorite authors, Thomas Wolf, is given credit for coining the phrase "You can't go home again." I think about it every time I come home to Utah, when I struggle with the cognitive dissonance caused by the fact that I can, and all too easily.

I think this actually happens to a lot of people, because those who thrive on change can find the things that don't change slightly unnerving. So when I go to my grandparents' house on Thanksgiving Day, with the same early 70s cottage wallpaper I have always looked at, and the same mashed potatoes in the same bowl on the same table, and the same picture of me at 16 years old on the wall, and suddenly one of my cousins walks in and she's 10 years older than I remember her being, well ... it feels like ... unraveling.

But this is Thanksgiving for me. I easily become unraveled when the life that's my life now and the life that was my life sometime in the past collide. That's sort of what my week has been like so far. I thought I was starting to come out of it today - I helped my sister move into her new condo; then I borrowed a friend's mountain bike and tore through the singletrack that weaves between South Mountain neighborhoods. It felt like my life, only in this louder, sunnier place. But then I went to visit an old, good friend tonight. I had tracked down a rare CD on that I was going to give to her for an early Christmas gift. It's a 1996 release of a band we used to request ad nauseum on our favorite radio show, KRCL's Static Radio on Saturday nights, because we could never find it at music stores. It was a used CD, so I popped it into the stereo on my way over to her house. And suddenly, there I was again, driving down State Street on a Saturday night in the same 1994 Toyota Pickup I used to prowl streets in as a teenager, pumping Guv'ner and suddenly wondering if this whole Alaska thing, this whole adulthood thing, was really all just a strange dream.

Anyway, the involuntary melding of real and nostalgia isn't the only thing that happened to me since I flew to Utah. I played the Alaska card quite well last night, when a cop pulled me over after my friend Jen and I left a bar to head home. I was driving her truck because she had had a couple of drinks. I was trying to figure out a strange steering wheel and some intense blind spots when I spotted flashing red lights in the sideview mirror. I have to insert here that the truck is equipped with difference license plates than the ones actually registered to it, supposedly (Jen tells me) because the old ones are rusted on. Anyway, the cop of course asked me to get out of the car to take a field sobriety test. I thought for certain I was going to fail, because even though I was sober, that hasn't stopped me from failing field sobriety tests in the past (call me a bad driver with poor balance.) He was examining my driver's license when he asked me if I knew why he pulled me over. I shook my head. "You have a brake light out," he said, "and you were driving really slow."

"Slow?" I asked.

"About 15," he said.

I didn't know how to respond to that, but it all came spilling out anyway. "I'm from Alaska," I said, noting that he was still holding my license. "I don't do a lot of driving where I live and I'm not used to all these wide city streets and cars and lights and ..." I rolled my neck like gave him my best overwhelmed-wilderness-dweller smile.

He handed my license back to me. "You have a smart friend to let you drive," he said. "But just remember that here, you need to go at least 35."

Then he took off. No ticket for the illegal registration. Or the tail light. No field sobriety test. It was my best cop experience ever.

I guess I never even got around to talking about my bike ride today, but it's late and I should go to bed. Also, I don't think I'll have any pictures for the next few days. I'm pretty sure I've tried everything. Hope you all had a great holiday.
Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Time for a vacation

Date: Nov. 21
Total mileage: 15.0
November mileage: 212.9
Temperature upon departure: 18

This seems to happen every year. The onslaught of winter arrives hard and fast. I have a minor freak-out and do something nutty like buy tire chains or decry the beautiful barrage of snow. There’s a short period of confusion when I wonder how in the world I ever learned to steer in powder or spend less than 30 minutes dressing to go out. And then suddenly, without even focusing, everything becomes clear. Images of green leaves and flowing water fade into the recesses of my memory, and the monochrome world in which I move becomes a place of beauty and ease. I throw the tire chains in the trunk, slap on random pieces of clothing, and go for a bike ride.

I’m finally completely comfortable with winter. So it’s a bit funny that I’d pick this time of year to take a vacation home. No self-respecting Alaskan heads south at the beginning of winter. But it is Thanksgiving, which is at least a semi-legitimate holiday, and since my employer has decreed that I will work Christmas, it’s now or never.

So I’m headed to tropical, sunny Salt Lake City for the next week. My plan is to eat without remorse all the turkey, cranberry sauce and homemade coconut cream pie I can stuff down (and skip all the other crap.) Then I will try to burn off all the T-day guilt with an ill-conceived run. Then I will spend the better part of a day trying to overhaul my little sis's old 10-speed. I will use it for most of the week to get around town, until a massive failure of the bottom bracket will force me to abandon the bike near the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon, where I will then hitchhike up to Brighton and finally get around to doing some real snowboarding. Yup. That's probably what'll happen. I can't wait.

I'll let you know how the 10-speed tune-up goes. Until then, Happy Thanksgiving all.
Monday, November 20, 2006

I stop being such a wimp

Date: Nov. 20
Total mileage: 36.0
November mileage: 197.9
Temperature upon departure: 19

The first rays of the 8 a.m. sunrise nearly filter through a mass of featureless gray that has become the sky; it's nearly cold enough to ensure hardpack and it hasn't snowed in nearly four hours, so it seems like a good morning to ride.

I swerve across the unplowed street as my gray-faced neighbors dig through mountains of snow. Some are looking for their newspapers, some for their cars, some for their kids. Most regard me with surly grimaces, but the few smiles I see are like a shot of Red Bull. It is early, and Monday at that. I head north beyond the idling garbage trucks, the hulking snow plows, chained-up tow trucks and the cars they're pulling out of ditches. After eight miles, I'm far enough north to be almost completely alone.

Blocks of ice and chunky snow keep me on my toes, but I ride as hard and as fast as the drifts will let me because the cold sweat against my skin feels good. Thick clumps of snow drip off tree branches like gooey cake frosting; across the flat muskeg, powder mounds remind me of air-puffed marshmallows. It doesn't surprise me that I'm thinking about sugar, but I do wish I remembered about they way water bottles can freeze shut in a nanosecond. So instead of dwelling on thirst, I think about the way the landscape reminds of my childhood, walking through a Christmas tree lot with row after row of white evergreens, the kind coated with spray-on permafrost. I laugh about the way the real thing makes me nostalgic for the imitation.

A man in a big truck stops just to ask me how I can ride through the snowy shoulder. I show him the studs on my tires and explain that with one-wheel drive, the thin powder actually adds traction over the glare ice on the road. "Yeah, but you can't do any hills, can you?" he asks, and I tell him that I just came down a 1,300-foot drop from the ski resort, and I still have the gravel in my teeth to prove it. He doesn't seem to believe me; he probably still thinks I'm crazy, but I think our short conversation will leave him with a different understanding about the ease of winter travel.

On the way home I still see people digging out their cars, and I start to think that I'm not the crazy one after all.
Sunday, November 19, 2006

Uncle! Uncle!

Sunday: Snow...Heavy at Times...Windy. Snow accumulation of 12 to 19 inches. Highs around 32. East wind to 25 mph with gusts to 45 mph. Decreasing to 20 mph in the afternoon. Chance of snow 90 percent. (courtesy of National Weather Service)

OK, winter. Good joke. We're all laughing. 45 inches of snow? In a week? In Juneau? We thought it was pretty funny. We broke out the moldy snow shovels and rusted-out plows and all had a hearty chuckle about how you got us pretty good. So why are you still here, lingering, threatening a seemingly unending barrage of snow? I say, winter, there's no need to be a bully. Enough is enough.

Don't get me wrong. I'm on your side. A "winter" person through and through. I can do snow anyway you send it - love the powder for snowboarding; love the wet stuff for snowshoing; love the crusty, icy stuff for snowbiking. But in all things, moderation. Sinking up to my thighs and becoming stuck in wet concrete snow, spinning out on newly plowed roads, and scaling snow berms taller than me is not moderation, winter. Oh, and biking? That hobby I have that keeps me (mostly) sane? Playing Chicken with SUVs in the ice-coated bobsled run between neck-high snowbanks is not moderation, winter. I believe in Russia they called that Roulette.

At least the ski-area season-pass holders are happy. Keep it up, and they'll be able to slip down the slopes until July. In the meantime, I'm learning one of those life lessons about a little too much of a good thing.

I miss the rain.

But don't ever, ever tell anyone I said that. I'll vehemently deny it forever.

In the meantime, winter, can't you lay off a little? Just a little cold sunlight, a little settling, a little freeze-over, just to get me back on the trails, on my bike, where I belong?

Thanks again.

- Jill
Friday, November 17, 2006


Isn't it interesting how uncannily black and white this picture looks? It's not. I uploaded the photo in its raw capacity, with no special camera settings and no photo editing software to speak of. This is how my camera saw the world this afternoon. The more I scrutinize it, the less color I see. Sometimes life is like that.

Four hours of cross-country skiing today - most of it on unbroken trail through deep snow - was extremely hard. I emphasize the superfluous adverb I can go out and ride a bicycle or hike for four hours like it's a pleasant walk in the park, but for some reason that much skiing has me scanning the snow for a final resting place. It doesn't make much sense because I was never working hard enough to even break a sweat. I may have used more upper back muscles than I'm used to, but I'm not sore now. So what gives? Why does skiing cause so much fatigue? I thought maybe I just had low blood sugar, but I don't know. I joke about this alot, but maybe my body is willing to admit what my mind won't ... maybe I really do hate skiing.

If it doesn't snow six inches tonight like they say it's going to, I might be able to go for a bike ride tomorrow. I could go just the same, but only the plowed roads are rideable right now. And with four-foot-high snow burms spilling out over already narrow lanes, I'd likely be killed. I guess it beats skiing.
Thursday, November 16, 2006

This is just the backyard

I haven't attempted to ride my bike at all in the past few days. I have a hard enough time walking when I go outside. The district closed school both yesterday and today (which I think is a bit wimpy for a measly two feet of snow.) Still ... they told me it never snows in Juneau. They told me it would be ice and rain all winter long. I know I've only lived here three months, but, looking out my window over my whitewashed backyard, I think it does snow in Juneau. Maybe even often. So I have to wonder ... what does this winter hold in store for me?

I finally took my car in to have the studded tires installed today. I always procrastinate things until they become not only an annoying but also inconvenient chore, so I was more than a little irked when a walk-in showed up five minutes before me and stole my 11 a.m. slot. But my conversation with her was an excellent example of how I think so much more like a cyclist these days.

She told me that her studs were already on rims, and she changed them herself earlier this week, not realizing that they had all leaked out most of their air over the summer.

"I drove around for two days on nearly flat tires," she said. "I didn't even realize it."

I think she expected me to laugh. I just nodded and - without really thinking it through first - replied, "That's probably the best way to run them in this kind of weather."

And I was about to launch into an explanation about the way low-pressure tires create a lot more rolling resistance, how the rubber grips better to slippery surfaces and the how the increased surface area floats more easily over deep snow, but her furrowed-brow look of confusion snapped me back to reality.

So instead I just mustered a half-hearted laugh as though I had just made a bad joke.

She ignore it entirely and said, "Yeah, I thought I'd be here all day, but it's just a quick fix so they got me right in."

I went to the gym for an hour and then walked back to pick up my car. I drove away with four 14" studded tires running at a full 35 psi. I listened to the oh-so-familiar crackle of carbide on sheet ice and wondered what might happen if I ran them at 15.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Cat blog

A few days ago, a commenter asked me about the status of my transient cat, who joined me in Juneau about a month after I moved here. I just wanted to report that the cat who hates to travel (and I mean really hates to travel), and who has lived with me in four different houses across a span of states more than 3,000 miles apart, appears to be happy at home.

It’s kind of a funny story how I ended up with this cat. I’m not a typical pet owner and never really set out to become one. I was living in a little studio apartment by myself in a quiet little town called Tooele, Utah. Geoff and I had spent the day mountain biking in the Stansbury Mountains, and we were unloading a slew of bike gear when this little cream-colored furball streaked into the kitchen through the open door. She had a dirt patch on her face and looked so small and frail that I felt compelled to rifle through my cupboard until I found a can of tuna.

“Don’t feed it if you don’t want a cat,” Geoff said.

“It’ll just be this one can,” I reasoned, and popped it open.

“Congratulations, you now have a cat,” he said.

I just laughed. She polished off the tuna and disappeared out the door. I thought I’d never see her again.

That is, until I found her waiting patiently on my porch when I came home from work the next day. I gave her an old can of pink salmon and shut the door behind her. She ate the entire can of greasy fish and left again.

But then she kept staking out my porch every day around 5 p.m. She’d sprint toward my car as I rolled into the driveway, meow loudly and trot behind me as a walked into the house. After I ran out of cans of meat, I began to give her bites of my dinner - macaroni and cheese, chicken, cherrios, goldfish crackers - there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t eat. Soon I found myself purchasing a little box of cat food at the store, and then a big bag of cat food, and then tuna treats, and then a litter box and cat bed - and before I even realized it, I had a cat.

For the longest time I called her “Kitty,” and sometimes “Sadie,” which is the name of my parents’ cat. So when it finally came time to admit that I had adopted her, several months after we first met, I finally gave her a name - “Cady.”

I nearly lost her when I moved from Tooele to Idaho Falls. She still spent most of her nights outside, sometimes disappearing for days at a time. I couldn’t find her when I made my final move, so I drove away from my empty apartment, convinced I’d never see her again.

I was so depressed about it that about a week later, my parents drove more than an hour one way just to look for her. It was probably a small miracle - but didn’t seem to be at the time - that they found her parked right in front of my house as if I had never abandoned her.

My parents have said that she’s the one who adopted me, and she must have not realized what she was getting herself into. Every time I move, she has to endure a painful transition of being stuffed in a cat carrier and carted across epic distances, refusing to eat or drink for an entire day and crying the entire time (and I mean the entire time). But every time we arrive in a new place, she acts as if she’s never been happier. I think she’s a lot like me.

It’s hard for me to predict how many more times Cady and I will move away, how many more new cat enemies she we make and how many more vole populations she will eradicate. But I do believe this - that if she could go back to that summer evening in Tooele, with the sickly sweet stench of apricots rotting in the hot August air and strange creatures hoisting scary metal contraptions into a dark cave of an apartment - that she’d still pick me.
Monday, November 13, 2006

Big snow

Date: Nov. 13
Total mileage: 10
November mileage: 161.9
Temperature upon departure: 27

A storm moved in today that has so far dumped more than a foot of snow. It could dump another foot before the clouds move on. That’s great weather for weaving a fleece-blanket cocoon, curling around two cozy cats, and soaking up steam from a big cup of hot chocolate. It’s also good weather for biking.

We went out for a ride this morning when the storm totals were closer to 4" - enough to send cars swerving all over the roads, but not enough to bog down the bike paths to the point of walking. It's a fun adventure to go out for a ride when the snow is coming down that hard. Familiar scenery disappears behind a veil of white static. And during rare breaks in traffic, with metal-tipped tires disappearing beneath soft powder, the silence is nearly absolute. I, of course, forgot my googles, so I spent most of the ride focused on abstract tracks in the snow.

Every single flight in and out of Juneau was cancelled today - in a twist of luck, stranding in surrounding airports all of the state legislators who were coming to town for a special session they didn't want to attend - and, in a twist of poetic justice, also stranding the Lt. governor who was partially responsible for the unwanted session in the first place. In the sweep of the storm, we were effectively cut off from the rest of the world. With nowhere to go and nobody but Juneau to answer to, residents closed offices early, ran errands on skis, went sledding down paved roads, and pedaled snow-caked bikes across town. And just like the lip-biting children praying for "snow day," I know we're all going to be glued to our radios tomorrow morning.
Saturday, November 11, 2006

Veterans Day 8K

About twice a year, I go for a run. That's enough for me.

On a fluke this morning, Geoff and I entered the Southeast Roadrunners Veterans Day 8K race. I never quite know what to expect at these organized events. But when we showed up at the starting line 10 minutes before the race began, I think I expected to find a little more than two race organizers and about 13 other racers huddled beneath a tiny blue booth.

At 10 a.m., the small group was off, pounding the snow-packed path beneath eye-stinging flurries of snow. I watched the runners disappear behind the first bend, and just like that, I was all alone.

So I continued through the icy forest, thoroughly enjoying my iPod mix and thinking that I probably could run faster than 7 mph - but why kill myself? At mile 2, Geoff passed me hot on the trail of some young guy, followed by the only other woman I saw in the race, a few more men, a couple of old guys and finally, a 9-year-old boy. Then I was alone again and knew I would be for the remainder of the race. I stopped at the 2.5-mile cone, tied my shoelaces that had been flopping around for a mile and a half, took a few deep breaths, and began to jog back.

In the end, I finished dead last with a time of 45:37. That's 2 minutes behind the 9-year-old boy and nearly 10 behind the other woman. Geoff of course finished first in about 31 minutes, and then he jogged back another mile to finish the race with me. I guess a could let a performance like this hurt my self esteem, but I'm just not a runner and feel I can't really complain about 9-minute miles (a pace which, if it weren't for the stress on joints, I feel I could continue pretty much indefinitely - much like riding 15 mph on the road.) This is how I like to do these things. I don't like to be willfully uncomfortable, even in a race, but I don't mind going comfortably forever. I still maintain that the reason I finished dead last was because the only people willing to show up for a race across snow and ice in a 30-degree snowstorm were probably focused runners, and crazy ones at that.

But enough of this hike/board/ski/run nonsense. Time to get back on the bike.


Date: Nov. 7
Total mileage: 18.8
November mileage: 151.9
Temperature upon departure: 39

Geoff and I made plans with friends to go cross-country skiing in the afternoon, so of course I went for a bike ride in the morning so I could actually do something fun with my day.

Not that I hate cross-country skiing - entirely. It's just something that I have spent a year trying to learn, without the benefit of any gained skill. And it's hard to willfully to do something that involves spending half the day at varying levels of out-of-control, usually preceded by horror and followed by pain. But I go and I try to be a good sport, even when the little voices in my head remind me how much easier it would be to just ditch the useless sticks and walk.

We started out at EagleCrest, crossing a muskeg bog and weaving through the forest. I don't remember exactly how many times I fell (and for reasons I'll later explain, I thought a lot about it later in the evening.) But it was quite a lot. One of those times, my wallet fell out of my coat. I didn't realize it at the time.

We finished the route and decided to drive all the way across the valley to the frozen-over Mendenhall Lake. The snow-covered ice was fast and fun, and without any hills or logs or gravity to trip me up, I was loving it. As we approached the glacier, a dark animal crossed our path. We argued for a bit about whether it was a wild animal or a dog, but as it loped gracefully across the ice, we slowly began to realize that it was a lone black wolf.

If you squint really hard and use a large portion of the right side of your brain, you can make out the little black dot in the lower right side of this photo. That's the wolf, as captured by my crappy camera. He looked a lot closer in real life.

We glided all the way out to the glacier and back, returning to the trailhead well after dark. When we arrived at home it was 7:30 p.m. I had spent an hour and a half on my mountain bike and five hours on skis. And that's when I realized my wallet was gone.

I tore apart the house looking for it, hoping beyond hope that I had left it home all along. But as I began opening and closing the freezer and dishwasher, the dark reality had already set in - I had lost it, somewhere between my house and miles and miles of frozen wilderness.

So, sore and tired from a daylong adventure, Geoff and I headed back up to Eaglecrest with our headlamps and two bicycle headlights, retracing on foot each gliding step we made earlier that day. I stopped at all of the spots where I could see obvious body imprints, digging around for a while with no luck. The wind that tore through the treetops all day had finally died, and all we could hear was the squeak and crunch of our footsteps in the snow. Above our heads, the crystal sky opened up into millions of sparkling stars, more than I think I have ever seen since I moved to Alaska. "At least it's a nice night for a walk," Geoff said. I just growled.

We returned to the car and Geoff began to walk toward the second half of the figure-8. "It's not that way," I said. "I only took one fall on that entire stretch, and Holly was right on my heels at the time." I remembered that fall perfectly, and described it to him: Going down a hill, I hit a buried log and fell forward on my own skis. She said something about how I my body stance stayed the same even as I went down, like I didn't know it was happening. Geoff told me he knew the exact place I was describing, and it wasn't that far down the trail. I wanted to put up a fight. I was fatigued and hungry and ready to go home and cancel all of my credit cards. But I relented.

We walked a half mile down the trail as I continued to describe all the other things that managed to stay in my pockets: $1.95 in change, $4 in one-dollar bills, 2 fun-size Kit Kats, 1 granola bar, an unused wad of toilet paper, and my giant archaic digital camera. I was still trying to convince myself that I never had the wallet on me, and started to launch into another florid description of my fall when he shined his light right down on the now-exposed log - and next to it, a little black rectangle with the tell-tale rubber band wrapped around the back. My wallet ... a little frozen, a little snowpacked, but still wrapped around each and every one of its valuable contents.

A wolf sighting and a the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack, wallet-in-the-wilderness ... in the same day. What are the chances?
Friday, November 10, 2006

Powder suck

Well, I made good on my promise and went snowboarding today. Actually, I take that back. I went hikeboarding today - meaning I hiked my board up a mountain, and then I hiked it back down.

Nearly two years off a board has washed my memory of the fact that I am really not very good at it. Especially when the condition of the snow is 18" of wet powder atop a base of rocks, squatty spruce bushes, and the spiny, skeletal remains of Devil's Club shoots. It's really too bad, because the day started out so well.

We started at the base of a closed-down Eaglecrest Ski Resort, with temperatures in the low 30s and huge snowflakes falling from a partly cloudy sky. We found a well-packed trail and marched up to the top of the mountain in less than an hour. Staring down at 1,400 feet of vertical, I was giddy - "I could do two more of these today," I thought. And the view from the top was great.

Unfortunately, the drop from the top was sheer and we are but novices coming off a long hiatus. It was not the time to launch into a black diamond run. So we hiked around the face and started at a spot that rollercoastered slowly downward, with several hills that involved a progressive repetition of: inching forward on my back edge; carving a single turn; shooting at an uncomfortable speed down a straight line; digging my board into one of the aforementioned spruce branches; finding my momentary thrill as I shot into the air; before tumbling face-first into two feet of loose snow that had roughly the same density as liquid lead. After the flailing, digging, swearing aftermath finally set me free from my snowman cocoon, I'd hike up the next hill and start anew.

This process basically continued for 1,400 vertical feet - except for when we reached lower elevations, the bushes actually stuck out of the snow, and I was struck through my pants more than once by painful Devil's Club spines. When I finally reached the bottom, it was nearly two hours later, closing in on sunset, and I was exhausted. Geoff fared a little better - but not much. At the base, he immediately threw his board back on the car and spent the few minutes of remaining daylight cross-country skiing.

I think it was a smart move on my part to take up snowbiking last year. All the other gear-assisted winter sports are just not my friends. Oh, I'll keep snowboarding. Just point me to the groomers.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Into the gray

Standing outside my office, 3:30 p.m. yesterday...

Standing outside my office, 2:30 p.m. today ...

9" of new snow means ...

Not going snowboarding Thursday would be a crime.

I voted for Pedro

Date: Nov. 7
Total mileage: 19.7
November mileage: 133.1
Temperature upon departure: 22

Wow. I'm fried.

I'm also too hopped up on Diet Pepsi to quite quit the computer yet, so here I am, still - after 11 straight hours of this - watching these election returns trickle by, and blogging.

Newspaper journalists and politicians are alike in that they live for three things - natural disasters, wars and election day. I too got caught up in the ballot-day frenzy, participating in loud whoops and rounds of applause in front of the TV, gnawing on practically petrified pieces of Domino's pizza, updating every five minutes, and scrambling in the final, stressful hours of the morning to lay out all of the late-arriving stories. It was a roller coaster of an evening, and I leave it feeling a little despondent.

I expected this. All of the candidates I would have voted for lost - soundly. My vote - had it existed - wouldn't have even mattered. U.S. House Democrats trounced the incumbent Republicans - soundly. It could signal changes in the direction of the war and the economy and the environment.

Or, it could not.

I set out on my mountain bike before work today, relearning how to negotiate snow-packed roads. People moved dream-like through a nearly deserted downtown, with entire streets full of tourist shops locked away from the icicles. I caught a soft pile of sandy snow with my front wheel and side-swiped a guard rail. I had to laugh at the way simple things can so easily become hard.

I crossed the bridge into the dark shadow of Douglas Island, its towering mountains locking away direct sunlight until spring. As I rolled over the bridge's summit, I noticed a strange figure circling an intersection roundabout - otherwordly at first, but as I got closer, I saw glasses, a frizzy wig, and a wheel - a single wheel - spinning through the crunchy snow. I squinted at his sign and prepared to shoot him my best icy stare as I went by what I was certain read "Vote for Palin."

But when I finally met him face to face around that ice-slicked circle, I saw what he was actually advocating.

"Vote for Pedro."

And I realized what he was actually saying was, "Smile. It's all just a silly game anyway. And, regardless of your feelings about chimichangas, all of your wildest dreams can come true."

And I couldn't help it. I smiled.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Just vote

Tuesday is general election day.

Don't forget to vote.

I won't be, because I am a L.O.S.E.R. After raving about how much I hate all the bureaucracy that goes into registering to vote, I promised myself I'd do it. Then I put it off, and put it off. Then, finally, I went into the DMV. I waited over an hour to apply for my driver's license, and when I asked for a voter registration form, they informed me that I had missed the 30-day cutoff.


That doesn't mean I can't do endorsements though, for those Alaska voters who were coherent enough to register in the state they live in.

If I could vote for governor, I'd vote for this guy: Andrew Halcro.
Sure, he doesn't have a prayer of actually winning this race. And it's easy for me as a non-voter to say I'd quote/unquote "throw away" my vote on him. But he's a former Republican state representative who got little liberal old me to root for him, so I can't be the only one. Plus, I have this hang-up about wanting to "throw away" votes on the delusional hope that important leadership positions will be filled by people who are smarter than I am. Tony Knowles might be. But Sarah Palin? Eeeeeeee.

If I could vote for Congressperson, I'd vote for Diane Benson. I've only ever lived in states with embarrassing loyalty to out-of-touch career politicians (please, Orrin Hatch anyone?) But Don Young? 17 terms? Please, please, please stop the madness. But speaking of throwing away votes - Geoff tells me he's going to cast one for Juneauite Bill Ratigan, who is running under a party called "Impeach Now." This irks me to no end.

As far as national races, it's almost hard for me to say what I'm rooting for. I'd like to see the Democrats take control of Congress, but at the same time, that would mean hang-ups and squabbling and vetos and little-to-no action from the Legislative/Executive branch for two whole years. Actually, on second thought, that would be wonderful. Go Dems!

But no matter how you feel about the whole thing, you might as well take five minutes Tuesday to show up the L.O.S.E.R.S. like me, the ones glancing wistfully as we pass bustling polling places, and cast a vote. I'll be the one awake until the wee hours of Wednesday morning waiting to see the results (I have to - it's my job), knowing full well that I had no say in them.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Cold on the road

Date: Nov. 5
Total mileage: 29.0
November mileage: 113.4
Temperature upon departure: 21

I took roadie out this morning for a spin across Juneau. It was a great morning for a cross-town ride, with the sun beating down on streets so dry that the salt streaks crackled, and so deserted that I heard little else. People for the most part seemed huddled in their houses, with the exception of a massive gathering of ice skaters on the (barely) frozen Twin Lakes. As they swirled and scuffed the blinding glare of the transparent surface, I realized I could look right through the ice and see lake grass swaying beneath them. Those skaters are truly brave pioneers of the early winter, I thought. And we're all in this together.

I realized that today was the first time - ever - that I have taken out my road bike in below-freezing temperatures. That in itself is a daunting endeavor, because even the smallest streaks of black ice can take those skinny tires down without even flinching. But today was just cold and dry enough to ensure crunchy roads, and I was feeling fast.

I tried a different sort of cold-weather cycling ensemble today because I hate to do laundry like to experiment. Although I own all the good gear, I'm becoming more convinced that you don't actually need to spend money on a bunch of new gear to survive - and even enjoy - winter cycling. Here's what I wore today:

- 1 pair fleece pajama bottoms that I stole borrowed from my sister
- 1 ratty old polyester T-shirt
- 2 fleece jackets, one that was purchased at The Gap and another that was a Grand Canyon souvenir
- 1 pair ski mittens, no liners
- Balaclava, purchased from Nashbar for $5.99
- 2 pairs cotton (gasp) socks
- 1 pair winter hiking boots (full disclosure: these boots are rated to -20, although I think that rating only applies if the wearer is actually walking)

That lack of exterior shells made for really good moisture circulation, and even though I was working fairly hard, I didn't retain much sweat. The double polar-fleece layer provides a decent windblock even at speeds of 20 mph and temperatures in the low 20s. Feet are always the hardest part of the body to keep warm on a bike, but lacking good insulated shoes, wool and/or neoprene socks can provide plenty of warmth. And if that fails, you can get off your bike and walk until your feet warm up.

So here's my challenge to you: If you think you might be interested in cycle commuting during the winter but don't want to drop your entire PFD check on a bunch of new clothing, try experimenting with the stuff you have. Most people who live in a cold climate own cold-weather gear; it's just a matter of figuring out what works best for you.

Sweat a lot? Better layer up. Anticipating a wet snowstorm? Break out that old ski bib that's been in your closet since 1987. Own anything made of wool? Great. Use it. Socks especially. Avoid cotten, but recognize that as long as you're not soaking your shirt through and through with sweat or precipitation, it has the same power to keep you warm as the latest polypropylene blend (Still, avoid it, though, because you can and will sweat. Wet cotten is like wearing an icicle suit.) Look at the labels on the clothes that you no longer wear, the ones that have been abandoned to closet rot. Those nylon dress pants wick moisture away like you wouldn't believe. Polyester makes a great base layer. Maybe your dad has an old leisure suit stashed in the basement that you could substitute for your usual NYU sweats. Over it all - coat, gloves, hat. Everyone owns those things.

There's a lot of positive things to be said about having a $700 Gortex coat and N.E.O.S., but it's my unpopular opinion that as long as you own winter clothing, you can be a winter cyclist.

Just be creative.
Saturday, November 04, 2006

Blog appreciation day

Date: Nov. 3
Total mileage: 41.2
November mileage: 84.4
Temperature upon departure: 25

So "Up in Alaska" turns one today.

This is actually post No. 271. I know what you're thinking. Two hundred and seventy one posts? Deee-yam, that girl needs to get a job. I just want to go on the record and say that I have a job. A very productive, blog-free job. Promise. Blogging is what I do when ... well ... when I should be watching TV. Blogging is what I'm doing when Geoff walks up to me holding some dismantled bike part and I hiss "shhh ... you're making me miss today's Fat Cyclist."

It's funny, because when I launched this thing, I had no intention of penning a daily biking blog. I just thought my friends and family were starting to get sick of all of the attachment-clogged mass e-mails I started sending when I moved to Alaska. I didn't actually think anybody besides my mom and my friend Monika in Ann Arbor would ever browse the thing. But the greatest thing about an open blog is the way it pulls you into this virtual community of like-minded people from all over the world. Friends and family, for the most part, reacted to my blog with deafening yawns. But who knew there would be so many strangers in the world who would participate in my rambling "bike-hike-rain-snow-reminisce-about-random-moments-in-the-past-ad-nauseum" conversation?

So I just wanted to use my one-year-anniversary post to say thanks to everyone who stops by, especially to those who say hi once in a while, to those who supported me in my foray into mountain bike racing and who offered encouraging words and suggestions. Who knew I'd still be at it one year - and 271 posts - later? Good thing I'm not one of those people who watches "Lost."

As for today - clear weather continues to hold on in Juneau, to the amazement of nearly everyone. I rode my bike out to the Herbert Glacier trail to meet some friends this morning. Who knew it was 30 miles away? By the time I reached the trailhead, I was already dripping with sweat and the rest of the ride (10 slow miles on a trail covered with 1-2 inches of snow) was mostly just a battle to stay warm. We reached the Herbert Glacier, with a fierce wind blasting off the snowfield and hitting our watery eyes like thousands of tiny needles. I'd put the windchill in that spot at about -10. That'll wake you up, quick. We went with our friend Geoff (not my Geoff, another Geoff I know. It was me and two Geoffs with a "G.") He's one of those people who's great to ride with - doesn't care in the slightest about making good time or covering good distance, but everything is glorious and breathtaking, and he'll remind you of it at every turn. He stops to inspect icicles. I like that in a riding companion.

Here's hoping the weather stays clear and cold, and that this blog survives to see Nov. 3, 2007.
Thursday, November 02, 2006

Terra Firma

Date: Nov. 1 and 2
Total mileage: 45.2
November mileage: 45.2
Temperature upon departure: 30

Oh man. I love winter mountainbiking.

Seriously. I wouldn't have guessed it a year ago, when the idea was just starting to drift into my realm of understanding. There's a lot of winter cycling enthusiasts here in Alaska, but I used to think it was just a form of survival rather than an actual hobby. After all, we have a lot of winter here. And not everyone wants to spend six months stuck to skis.

But there's a lot of ways that biking in the winter is - well - better.

Don't get me wrong. Summer is always amazing. It's beautiful, challenging ... and boggy. Especially here in the southeast, but the Kenai Peninsula isn't exactly Moab. The singletrack trails are often a maze of wet roots, puddles and tire-swallowing mudholes. There's gravel river beds, but there's also long stretches of moss that are best compared to cycling across a field of wet pillows. Like I said - it's beautiful. It can be colorful too - especially if you're someone like me, prone to bruising.

But then comes the freeze-up. Geoff and I planned to ride the single track trails in the Mendenhall area today. Almost as an afterthought, he talked me into installing my studded tires first, and the transformation was amazing. Suddenly, I was gripping to the web of wheel-throwing roots with all the ease of a skilled ice climber. We flew over frost-dusted gravel and clenched our teeth across lightly frozen puddles, with the stomach-squeezing crackling inturrupting our prayers to 'just let the ice hold me this one time through.' It always did. And it was a great ride. No wet feet. No mud caked to the drivetrain. No slipping out on wet wooden planks. If you ask me, ice can be a cyclist's best friend. But studded tires are what make or break such a relationship.

We stayed out a little later than planned - and three hours into the ride, we watched the 4 p.m. sunset engulf the Mendenhall Glacier in soft pink light. In deepening shades of red, the twilight set in. We pulled frost-covered masks over our faces and hunched into the tear-inducing race against the dark. Weaving through the blind shadows of hoarfrost-coated spruce trees, I felt complete faith that the ground beneath me would hold me up.

I love winter mountainbiking.
Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hippy Halloween

I overheard a woman today talking about her kids' plans for Halloween. She and her neighbors got together and planned a Halloween scavenger hunt of sorts, where the kids go from house to house making crafts, playing games and enjoying heart-healthy treats such as carrots. Although I have no objections to their efforts to phase out the sugar glorification that is trick-or-treating, I did feel a tinge of regret for adventure lost to the new generation.

I grew up deep in the 'burbs, where rows and rows of houses stretched uninterrupted for miles. Most of the time, the area was as boring as plaid. But once a year, the pumpkins came out and the neighborhood glowed with endless opportunity. I was 10 or 11 - arguably a little too old for trick-or-treating - when I realized that given an infinite amount of time, the rate of gain also was infinite. But I had but limited time. I had one freakin' night. And I wanted to make the most of that infinite possibility of gain, so my friend and I formed a plot.

We set out as soon as we noticed the first trickle of toddlers hit the street. I believe it was about 4:30 p.m., with the afternoon sun still blazing over the mountains. I don't remember what my costume was. It hardly mattered. We tentatively knocked on a few doors, and when no one made a comment about us being out too early, we upped the pace.

We scoured our own neighborhood before darkness had even completely set in, so we crossed the busy highway and knocked on the first door in our first unfamiliar neighborhood. I looked down the street at the yellow lights illuminating dozens of waiting houses. I imagined the neighborhood beyond that and the neighborhood beyond that, and announced to my friend, "we should move faster."

She had no objections. Hoisting the now-bulging pillowcases over our shoulders, we raced - literally ran - from house to house, hastily knocking on doors, stretching out cramped arms and screaming 'trickertreat' in breathless gasps. As soon as the Kit Kat hit the stash, we broke into sprints renewed - probably leaving the homeowners more than a little bewildered at their open doors. But it didn't matter. We were in a race against time, no longer hearing exclamations of "aren't you a little old?," "my, you have a lot of candy in there," and "do I know you?" We ran by one house that was handing out Dixie cups of hot chocolate. My friend looked longingly at the relaxed trick-or-treaters sipping their hot drinks, but I grabbed her hand and urged her to pass the house by. "Waste of time!" I said.

With that, 7 p.m. became 8 p.m. became 9 p.m., and the miles just flew by. It's easy in the fog of memory to exaggerate distances, but I'll use this example: My dad and I did I five-mile run when I went to visit last year. I had definitely trick-or-treated beyond the furthest reaches of that run. By the time people really started to complain about the late hour or outright refused to give us candy, our pillowcases were so full it was hard to keep them closed, let alone hoist them the two or so miles we had left to walk home. I can recall few other times in my life when I was so proud of my accomplishments.

I imagine those women I overheard today would have called me greedy. I like to think of it more of Halloween capitalism, and a great adventure race at that - prowling those dark, unfamiliar streets in a whirl of adrenaline and endorphins. I find it hilareous to think that my youthful candy obsession may have sowed the seeds of my current bicycle riding obsession. It's like that Gumpism - life is a box o' chocolates. You really do never know what you're gonna get.