Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Slightly stuck

My first day as one person working two jobs did not go entirely badly. In fact ... it wasn't a whole lot different, if only because Monday is such a long slog even when I'm just one employee. So I can't really fit in much else. Augustine Volcano has spit out enough ash that advisories have now been issued for most of southcentral Alaska. However, we haven't seen any evidence of ashfall in Homer yet. I came home and put in 90 minutes on the bike trainer. I was feeling pretty good about the minor successes of the day, so I cooked up some shrimp tacos and waited for Geoff to get back from his run. And waited. And waited.

He finally came in at about 8:45, coated in frost and grinning. He had held off running all day as he waited for the ash to come. Finally, at about 5 p.m., he got sick of waiting and took off for what he planned to be his longest training run before the Little Su 50K ... while it was 8 degrees outside ... and with the continuing threat of ash fall. And he ran 27 miles. Twenty seven miles! The first thing he asked was whether or not I went biking outside today. "To bad," he said. "You probably could have had 500 miles in January."

Holy cow! Is it already Jan. 30? I am a wimp. I didn't even realize it.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Frozen bikers

Date: Jan. 29
Mileage: 22.3
January mileage: 460.7
Temperature upon departure: -10

Today's ride was sponsored by Shawn in Arizona. Shawn's site has some great pictures of desert places that I miss, especially when the temperature is -10.

Today I did a quick highway ride in the morning, rolling alongside the Matanuska River 11 miles from Palmer and back. But I finally succeeded in impressing my friend Craig with my biking prowess when I told him I rode by "The Butte" (which is about eight miles from his house.) "You rode all the way out there?" he said. He was amazed.

I had to finish up early because I had a lot to do today, but we did make it out to Goose Lake in Anchorage to catch the last few laps of the Frigid Bits race. I met Tim at the end of his 10-mile race, as well as a few of Anchorage's hardcore winter cycling enthusiasts. It was funny to meet so many people that knew "of" me, because of this blog.

But Frigid Bits looked like a fun race - about eight cyclists on the course when we arrived, all spread out across a small lake, tearing around hairpin turns and huffing and puffing through their neoprene masks as they went by. It was especially fun to watch this guy (photo), who raced 15 miles of lake ice on a track bike. He was cruising, too. Look how fast he's going! I couldn't even get the guy in focus, he was going so fast (OK, OK, so that's actually an effect of my camera handling skills and not his speed.) Still, he's cool. The only way I could ever dream of being cooler than him is to show up to the next Frigid Bits race on the yellow banana-seat huffy I rode as a 6-year-old. I wonder if I could get my mom to pull that out from storage.

This seems like the kind of race that could be huge in Alaska in a few years. They definitly have a good start. I actually used to work for the guy who started the whole Lotoja concept (he went to school at Utah State University, liked to play in Jackson, Wyo., and wanted to see if he could bicycle between the two in one day.) So I know it dosen't take much to build a real world-class event if you have to right mix of unique concept, dedicated organizers and a core group of rabid participants. So keep up the good work, guys.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

I did, I did, I did ...

Date: Jan. 28
Mileage: 20
January mileage: 438.4
Temperature upon departure: -7

... The Iditarod trail. Is. Slow.

Of course, everything about today was exactly what I would expect of such an excursion. Temps were cold, but not unreasonably so. The trail was soft, but all-in-all better than I expected. Mt. Augustine decided today was the fourth of July, but all the ash headed south. Yes, today was a good day. An encouraging day. And yet, I feel the cold grip of this daunting task tightening around me. It could be my neoprene gear. But, no. I think it's the Susitna 100. It's going to be hard.

Well, duh. But sometimes it's hard to grasp the reality of things until you're down in the suck. Geoff and I went out today for a half-day ride (Geoff, who's training to run the Little Su 50K, has no interest in 10-hour bike rides.) We drove up Point Mackenzie Road so we could start immediately on the Iditarod. We planned to go as far as two hours took us and head back. What we got was 20 miles. We made a lot of stops that were more indicative of the recreational nature of this particular ride. Still, 20 miles, five hours. One hundred miles, well ... the math ain't hard.

But I don't feel disheartened. My warm gear performed beautifully for temperatures that didn't even consider climbing above zero. The particular section we did was a rollercoaster of short and steep rolling hills, flat frozen bogs and snowmobile moguls - a lot of fun. The pace was laid back enough that the effort didn't even demand that much energy (though the one time I tried to gnaw down a deeply frozen Power Bar while pedaling was pretty funny. Well, funny ... not pretty. Without becoming too graphic, I'll just say that it involved a lot of saliva, a chocolate goatee and a little bit of blood). Anyway, I have been planning this entire time for a race that would take about 24 hours. It's just, now, I'm starting to realize how long that actually is.

Heading back, Geoff and I both took spectacular crashes on separate downhills. Geoff almost pulled out of his, but didn't eject in time and hurt both his legs, not seriously. I lost control of my front wheel mid-hill and overcorrected. The bike slammed me down on my right shoulder before I even knew I was going down, then rolled right over me. It seemed bad, but the only thing that broke was the bracket on Geoff's large seat post bag. Luckily, I just won a new one from Fat Cyclist. It's funny how life works out like that.

I hope to fit in another four-hour ride tomorrow. I probably won't have a chance make it all the way out to Iditarod again, but I'm glad I was able to at least try it once. If I'll goes well, I'll be able to catch the Frigid Bits action in Anchorage. Now there are some real ice bikers. Should be fun.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

I love neoprene

Date: Jan. 27
Mileage: 18.6
January mileage: 418.4
Temperature upon departure: -4

Today was, well ... it was a bright, sunny day. Mercury hit somewhere around -4, but strong, blasting winds out of the north (for my ride today, a direct side wind both ways) really upped the shock factor. Then, atop hardpacked ice roads, there were the 35 mph descents. Brrrrr. Pretty safe to say, that was the coldest ride yet. At least, the coldest until tomorrow. Geoff and I drove up to Palmer today. And barring any unforeseen events, tomorrow we will ride pieces of the Susitna 100 course. The actual Iditarod trail. It's the reason we drove up here, so it will be hard to talk ourselves out of it. Temperature right now ... -12.

I've learned to love my neoprene gear above all. Face, hands and feet are all protected by a thin layer of that stuff, and it's simply amazing. Today, all I wore on my hands were a pair of neoprene gloves - the very same ones kayakers wear. I brought a pair of mittens with me, but I never needed them. My hands were toasty. I can't say the same about patches of my face that accidentally became exposed while I was adjusting my goggles. Today, I also learned how quickly skin can freeze. I'm definitely going to be more careful tomorrow.

Anyway, we finally arrived in Palmer pretty late tonight, so I should probably cut this post short. We went to the University of Alaska Anchorage Folk Fest. We had to sit through clogging but we saw a friend of ours play in her 14-member old-timey string band. We also saw a great bluegrass band called the South Austin Jug Band. Bunch of Texans visiting Alaska during a January cold snap. But they sure could play. Good times.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Danger cold

Date: Jan. 26
Mileage: 12.5
January mileage: 399.8
Temperature upon departure: 0

Still feeling a little on the sad side. It saps through my energy like a cold blast of Siberian wind, which also happens to be whipping through town. Geoff warned me about dressing thoughtfully for riding in the "danger cold." I can't really complain about temperature, though. It's -30 in Kenai (only an hour north of here). It's -45 in Fairbanks. I'm sure if it were to suddenly jump up to zero up there, little Fairbanks kids would probably go out to recess in T-shirts. Plus, thoughtful dressing has me feeling more comfortable riding outside than I do sitting in my office (where the heater is broken!!). If only my eyelashes would stop freezing together ... in my office.

I rode about a half hour on the trainer before dinner. The effort was so smooth and sweaty and mindless that I was tempted to do another hour or so after dinner rather than ride outside. But then I checked my e-mails, and saw a nice comment from Ricky, quoting something I said yesterday and simply replying, "thanks for that." It prompted me to saddle up.

Sometimes I get caught up in routine, and it's so easy forget why I ride. All those reasons I started out with, when I first crawled onto an 18-speed and rolled down my block - they're still there. For the landscape rolling beside me. For punishing climbs and sweeping views. For cold winds and breathtaking descents. For quickness and slowness. For unpredictability. For the simple wonder of it all.

Life could become so frustrating otherwise.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Time trial(s)

Date: Jan. 25
Mileage: 16.0
January mileage: 387.3
Temperature upon departure: -2

I got some frustrating news at work today. So instead of heading to the gym as I had planned, I drove straight home and planted myself in front of my heater. I spent a healthy chunk of the evening comfort eating and trying to absorb the prospect of a bleaker future in which I spend more time locked in the cement box. At 8:00 the temperature had dropped solidly below zero so I thought - eh - why not head out for a ride.

I rode up to my usual trail, but it's still really soft. I didn't want to devastate the skiers with Kenda canyons through their pristine groomers, so I decided to try timing myself on a series of one-mile stretches - time trials.

I rode along the gravel road that parallels the trail, caked with snow and glazed with glare ice. I tore down the road on tires deflated to 25 psi (I did leave the house thinking I was going to do some snow riding), bouncing over mounds of snow and swerving through unexpected drifts. The night was so clear I could look up and see only the distant stars spattered across glowing galaxies of even more distant stars; I could look ahead and see the whitewashed landscape illuminated with all the distinction of day. Who says there's nothing to see at night?

The first mile I posted 3:40. Didn't seem all that fast, but what do I know about such things? After all, my legs were cranking about as fast as they're gonna through the subzero night (I'm starting to understand why my car spits out so much more exhaust when it gets cold.) Mile 2 was a bit slower - closer to 4 minutes, but I forgot to register the time before I turned around, so I didn't have an exact time. By mile 3, my odometer had frozen enough that I couldn't read the display very well. By mile 4, it was invisible.

On the end of mile 5, I passed a guy walking his dog. So I just continued down the road because I didn't want him to pass him again. After all, the random passerby might just assume I was bicycle commuting - an assumption that gives me the desirable quality of strength through necessity. However, if I buzzed past him two or three more times, he would start to realize that I was out there on purpose - tearing through the -2 degree night, not even going anywhere, just doing circles. And, well, that definitely qualifies me for the "crazy" label. "I don't care if you think I'm a loser. I just want you to think I'm sane."

Earthquake

Date: Jan. 23
Mileage: 20.2
January mileage: 371.3
Temperature upon departure: 1

I know, I know, I'm overdoing the frozen face self portraits. But I just love the frosty eyelash look. I really think it could be the next innovation in eye makeup technology - a bold and stunning statement that says, "look at me! I move freely in the subzero wastelands. I'm sassy!"

Geoff and I were playing Scrabble after Telluride MountainFilm fest part 2 when our first real Alaskan earthquake hit. It generated a terribly predictable rumble beneath our seats, followed by the shifting and falling of a few household items. It measured only 4.1 on the scale, but it was the second earthquake I've "felt" in my life. The first also was in Alaska, out on the North Slope. I was sprawled on the soft tundra in my sleeping bag when I long, lolling rumble nudged me awake. I think that was a 4.8 quake - a pleasant experience, really, as long as you're out in the open where nothing can fall on you.

MountainFilm 2 also was a rumbling good time. The best film tonight was a anthropological mockumentary about the "Lost Civilization" of Mountain Village, Colo. Geoff and I visited this upscale planned community once, on a bicycle tour that took us through the San Juan Mountains. We rode the free tram from Telluride to 9,500 feet, and arrived at a mass of elaborate log castles, stone masonry and Swiss chalets that would put Park City to shame. It was about 8 p.m. on a September evening, and we saw absolutely no one the entire hour we walked around up there. Not a soul.

So, when the film was about to start, Geoff said, "You remember Mountain Village?"

"Yeah," I said, "I remember it was deserted."

The lights dimmed, and the ensuing film shed a lot of light on that confusing experience three years ago. It turns out Mountain Village was very recently inhabited by an entire civilization of second-home-owning, upper-class yuppies. Then, all of the sudden, they vanished. The archaeologists in the film concluded that their demise was quickened by a number of factors, including wilderness conditions unsuitable to their Land's End sweaters, their tendancy to drive ledge-rolling Hummers and their alienation of the Telluride ski bums whose labors kept them alive. Now the souless ghosts of their civilazation hover over the slopes - a reminder of the perils of living an unsustainable lifestyle. Who knew?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Blue Monday

I read this article that said today, statistically, is the most depressing day of the year. This assessment comes from some psychologist in Britain. Really, though, it doesn't take much of a genius to place the frowny face stamp on a random Monday in January. Who's going to disagree? It's 0 degrees outside. I had to spend the whole day staring at a computer screen. And my gatorade froze solid in my car while I was running at the gym. Still, declaring a day "most depressing" when you're only 23 days into a new year does cast a rather optimistic glow over the rest of 2006, doesn't it?

Geoff and I went to see the Telluride MountainFilm festival tonight. I always enjoy these film fests (I used to catch Banff every year), but they've especially become better as they've spread themselves further from the adrenaline-pumped, Limp Bizkit-blasting outdoor porn that used to fill the playlists (sure, every year, you have to endure one long film about crazy kayak stunts. But the rest of the films usually make up for it.) Telluride offers a lot of cultural films that really aren't as intellectual as they'd like to be, but are still entertaining. However, my favorite by far was the short story of a philosophical highway flagger who keeps a diary of his musings as stands alone along a remote and rural road. He writes poems, too:

I am Flagger, You Flagee
You must slow down when you see me
Your speed determined by my hand
Your will is now at my command
The limit's 20, not 23
I am Flagger, You Flagee

I am Flagger, You Flagee
I'm begging now on bended knee
Please, won't someone notice me
I am Flagger, You Flagee

His cry for recognition reminded me of the plight of the blogger:

I am Blogger, You Blogee
You must read while you upload me
Your attention determined by my haste
Your coffee break has now been a complete waste
The url's .com, not .php
I am Blogger, You Blogee

The last stanza, of course, needs little editing:

I am Blogger, You Blogee
I'm begging now on bended knee
Please, won't someone notice me
I am Blogger, You Blogee

On a related note, T. Stormcrowe had Gizzogle translate my blog into Snoop Speak yesterday. It definitely adds a spot of urban personality to my usual bland bike reports. So I, of course, have to post a link. But I also have to put in the obligatory disclaimer: It's a little less, um, PG-rated than my blog. Funny still. Here's the report from Drug Deala, Alaska Fer shnizzle.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Skeek

I meant to take a full rest day today, but eight inches of fresh powder was just too much to resist. So I went cross-country skiing.

My timing this weekend has been absolutely impeccable. I managed more than eight hours of biking yesterday just before the big storm hit, and found a 90-minute window between blowing blizzard and more blowing blizzard to skim the smooth ski trails. (Look at that fresh track, groomed only for me. Our local Nordic ski club really stays on top of things.) That didn't change the fact that it was 5 degrees out, but for the most part, it was ideal.

Sometimes I think it's strange, given the area I grew up in, the friends I keep and the lifestyle I've adopted, that I never became more of a ski geek (or, in the lingo of the knuckle draggers I rode with in high school, a "skeek.")I just took up the sticks this year, and I dropped the hobby pretty quickly when my ice biking efforts amped up. My downhill experience is almost nonexistent. Sometimes I wonder why I don't care more about skiing.

When I started snowboarding, I think there was a general consensus among the lot that skiers were snobs who thought everyone else was too late for the party (the theory was vocalized by a very popular bumper sticker at my high school. The sticker read "Alta Sucks," a reference to a Utah ski resort that refuses entry to snowboarders. Incidently, Alta was also the name of my high school.)Maybe there was some disdain developed early. But now I'm over the hill, and all my friends ski, so there's all kinds of questions about why I don't switch ... or at least try both.

The truth is, I'm an adequate snowboarder, but I'm a flailing mess when I combine skis with any kind of downward slope. It's funny because today, on my skinny cross-country skis, I did fine - even on the steep stuff. I probably forgot that I wasn't pedaling (After all, I've circled the same trail many times on my bike.) So maybe I'm not a bad skier. Maybe I just have a little too much of that "skeek" attitude ingrained.

Five miles went by pretty fast, and I made it home with a growing blizzard riding my tail. Now there's a good 14-16 inches outside, still coming down hard. Don't think Geo will be able to clear Shelton Drive (my street, rarely plowed). I wonder how the biking will be.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Long ride

Date: Jan. 21
Mileage: ~50
January mileage: 351.1
Temperature upon departure: 19
Total riding time: 8 hours, 33 minutes
Total full-tilt falls: 2

I have a little of that serene, drugged-out drowsiness going on right now ... long ride, big dinner, warm house, storm raging outside.

Today I set out just before sunrise with the intention of putting in an 8 to 10-hour ride that would mimic my attack of the Susitna 100. To do that, I had to ride on a lot of soft, rutted trails that are just punchy and slow and there's no way around it (winter riders call this stuff "mashed potatoes" ... in my case, very lumpy mashed potatoes). I rode the ice roads, open snow (about 5 inches of powder)and Caribou Lake itself. I also did a fair amont of pushing. Any food I ate, I ate while pushing. I kept my full stops to an absolute minimum, to keep my core temperature higher, and also because it's the way I deal with the muscle strain of long rides ... just keep moving, moving, moving, and there's less time for hurt.

My odometer crapped out right at the beginning of the ride, so I have no idea how far I actually went. But taking into account trail conditions, pushing hard and fast when I could on the ice roads, and overall time walking with the bike, I think guestimating my average speed at 6 mph is more than fair. Since my stopping time was almost nonexsistent, with 8.5 hours of riding, 50 miles is probably pretty close.

That's half my race distance-wise, and probably about a third of the effort required if conditions are similar or a little worse than what they were today. So I feel pretty good about the day, because I feel pretty good right now.

For all of the calculated logistics involved, today's ride was actually very enjoyable. The distance allowed me to ride out to some of the far reaches of the established snowmachine trails in the area ... windswept, frostbitten swaths of land peppered with mongrel hemlock trees and scrub brush. The snowmachiners I met out there regarded me with varied expressions ranging from subtle amusement to outright indignation. After all, a little mountain bike rolling across the open tundra is an affront to common sense. I don't deny it. My funniest encounter came as I was bombing down a steep and narrow trail. Two snowmachines stopped on the pond below to wait for me to pass. As they waited and watched, I felt compelled to let off the brakes and tear over the trail's mogels like a drunken downhill racer. It's amazing I didn't plant myself, as I did (and did quite well) a couple of times today. As I finally rolled to the safety of the pond and passed by with a hapless wave of my mitten, a little girl sitting in front of her older brother on one of the snowmachines screamed "I told you! I knew it was a girl!"

Several snowmachiners felt compelled to stop and warn me about the storm of the century headed my way. Though a light, misty snow fell most of the day (with about a 30-minute window of sunlight), the weather couldn't have been much better. I did end my ride about an hour early because the snow started to come down hard, and I was a little concerned about my Geo making the 45-minute drive home. Still ... 50 miles ain't bad. I guess I don't know that it was 50 miles. But, as Geoff said to me yesterday, "Eight hours on a bike is eight hours on a bike."

Friday, January 20, 2006

Still no pictures

Date: Jan. 20
Mileage: 26.9
January mileage: 301.1
Temperature upon departure: 15

I don't have much time to post tonight because my computer is still choking on me, and I am in the midst of packing for my big full-day bike excursion tomorrow. Weather forcast is for temperatures in the teens and a chance of heavy snow. I can't really tell whether I'm excited or not, but at least I'm not dreading it. Wish me luck. Pray for *no* snow :-)

Real headwind

Date: Jan. 19
Mileage: 15.6
January mileage: 274.3
Temperature upon departure: 12

No picture today. Geoff's computer is currently in 179.5 pieces, and the browser on my archaic laptop (connected by 28.8 dial-up) won't let me upload anything. Oh well. You can't win 'em all.

I left for my two-hour ride today at about 5:30. The thermometer read 12 degrees, but a stiff wind and swift circulation of floating ice particles made it feel much colder. I can't really account for the "feels like" temperature, but tonight's was definitely the chilliest ride I have done to date. So I tried a piece of gear today that I hadn't tried before, my neoprene face mask. Onward I churned up the first hill as twilight slipped below the jagged treeline, sucking down the moist backflow of my own breath. As I crested the hill, my vision suddenly darkened several notches, and everything else felt airy and light. I squinted and swallowed, for the first time noticing the subtle noose gripping my neck. The combination of the neoprene mask and my helmet strap were somehow blocking my airflow. I tugged at it for a while to no avail. Finally I tore the whole thing off. I'll mess with the logistics tomorrow. But the temporary oxygen shortage gave me a nice rush to start off the ride.

The first two or three miles are always the hardest. No matter how much you "warm up" before the ride, your legs turn to licorice the minute you step outside. As you work to get your heart rate up, streaks of wind find their way through any imperfection in your layers. Nostrils and eyelashes freeze shut, and cold air tears at your throat. You begin to wonder what traumatic childhood experience drove you to such unmitigated masochism. But then ... your legs begin to warm up. Your body settles in. You pry your eyelashes open, and the stark beauty of the frozen landscape opens up before you. You move freely with winter and there's nothing about it that can stop you, and you come to the calm realization that you will, in fact, survive, and you feel entirely alive.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

My proud moment

Geoff and I went to see "Wal-mart: The High Cost of Low Price" tonight. It's left me sullen and ponderous about economic downfall and corpocracy, but it doesn't benefit me much to write about things I know little about and for which shallow research will only succeed in further incensing me, so I'll write about something positive - bicycle accomplishments.

Fat Cyclist solicited cycling-related triumphs from his loyal readers today. I read through the list of impressive accomplishments but already had mine in mind. I mean, there was this one time, at band camp, that I rode my bike from Salt Lake City to Syracuse, New York. It's not the Race Across America or the Tour de France, but there are people out there that might be impressed by that. And, in my career, it's a given.

I went to the gym between work and the movie. Just as I was leaving, a woman on the recumbent bike complimented me for the hour I put in on the elliptical. I'm one of those shy people, so being complimented by strangers always catches me off guard. Especially when the compliment is directed at something so mundane. I smiled and said "thanks" but I felt as if she had just congratulated me for finishing all of my milk. Following our short exchange, there was an awkward silence and I sort of just slunk away. But, later, I began to wonder which one of us was actually being condescending.

We take our triumphs in degrees. My cycling accomplishments have slowly rended their way up from the first time I rode all the way from Salt Lake City to Draper (20 miles!) to rolling over Lizard Head Pass on my first bicycle tour to crossing the New York state line. Since I took up cycling in 2002, each triumph has had an escalating scope, but I can't say that the last was any more rewarding than the first. Now I'm planning to cross into what many tell me is irreversible territory - racing - in what is, for lack of a better term, an insane race. If I finish the Susitna 100, will it really make me feel any better than that first time I rolled up to my parent's house on the rigid, rusty mountain bike I borrowed from a friend? Or am I just locked in a punishing arc of diminishing returns, like a heroin addict hunting for the next fix? Too tell you the truth, I wouldn't entirely mind going back to a time when I would have felt great for spending an hour on a stationary elliptical machine. Is it too late for me? Am I lost?

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Ash cloud

Date: Jan. 17
Mileage: 16.4
January mileage: 258.7
Temperature upon departure: 22

So the sluggish but persistent Mt. Augustine has rended its way into the national news. Today was eruption number nine - could be 10. Who's counting? Well, certainly a couple of my especially jittery co-workers are. They rushed home the second the weather service issued an ash advisory for Homer (really, people, it's not like liquid hepatitis is going to rain down from the sky.)But we picked up their slack and still got our newspaper out by deadline, complete with more volcano information than any community newspaper reader could ever possibly digest.

After work, I went for a bicycle ride on low fuel (should have had more than Ritz crackers and half of a six-inch sandwich for lunch). It was more of a struggle than it should have been, but I was already well into my loop by the time I realized it. Still, a couple of descents off the ridge afforded some great views of Augustine's ash cloud drifting to the south and shedding its liquid hepatitis over the unpopulated waters of Kachemak Bay. After dinner I put in 75 minutes on the trainer and watched "Scrubs." Um, yeah. Good day.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Resolve

After the unexpected "volcano day" on Friday, today I had to put in extra hours at work to catch up. The above photo is about two weeks old now; it's funny to me that some of my favorite photos take a while to find a home.

I finally connected with Adrienne Albert, a California-based composer who is writing a symphony about the Homer area. She visited here last summer to absorb some Alaskan ambiance and gather inspiration for her composition. In August, she toured a sun-soaked coastal town teeming with thousands of tourists and overflowing in a glut of halibut, clams and salmon-fed bears. She decided to come back last week to see Homer in January. She wanted a full-spectrum perspective. What she got was a frozen tour of hoarfrost-coated boreal forest, a volcano spewing gray ash into the sky and a rather nasty cold. All I can say is, I can't wait to hear the finished product.

I had 75 minutes between my last page and the "King Lear" dress rehearsal, so I went to the gym. All the good machines were full, so I had to run on the treadmill for four miles before I was able to switch over. I hate running on treadmills. They hurt my knees, even more so than real running. But I have one month now until the long, hard, slog, so I came up with a couple of goals:

1. This weekend and next, I'm going to try and do one 8-10 hour, leave in the dark/come home in the dark trail ride that incorporates several miles of pushing through softer snow.

2. I'm going to do some more cross-training and intervals to keep my heart rate high for extended periods of time. A high heart rate is hard to maintain when I'm working on my handling on the snow trails, so this might mean a few more rides on pavement or the trainer.

3. I'm going to pray and pray and pray for an extended deep freeze. Tim tells me that the Susitna route is really soft right now. I'd love to see that trail as hard as Interstate 80. I don't care if I have to spend a day sucking down 20-below windchill. I just don't want to walk my bike for 100 miles.

And so it goes. Thanks to everyone for the good advice and well-wishing. Time to sleep.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Doubt and Redoubt

Date: Jan. 15
Mileage: 15
January mileage: 242.3
Temperature upon departure: low teens

Today Geoff and I drove all the way out to the end of the Bay to look for backcountry trails. We haven't been out that way since winter hit, mostly because it's a 45-minute drive (hard to justify when there's so much to do so much closer), and also because the entire area is populated by Orthodox Russians. I see them shopping at Safeway on a regular basis, in their homemade dresses and lacy caps reminiscent of southern Utah polygamist wives. However, driving out to their side of town is a little unnerving. I figure if they're still so culturally segregated after 150 years of U.S. occupation, there's a good possibility that they don't take to kindly to a couple of Outsiders bombing down their roads in a 1989 Honda Civic with two bikes strapped to the roof. But I could be wrong.

Anyway, we did discover the holy grail of Homer's winter trails, a far-reaching network that wraps around Caribou Lake. The area is breathtaking - for its proximity to Homer (also known as the banana belt of the North), the windswept bog around Caribou Lake has all of the frozen desolation and sweeping remoteness of the state's Interior. Geoff stood under the twisting branches of a black spruce and said, "Wow. It almost feels like we're in Alaska."

The soft, punchy, paw-pocked trails really put cycling into perspective. Out on the frozen bog, all travelers move against the elements - but cyclists, I think, fight the most of all. Six miles an hour on that terrain will keep your heart rate above 150. A hard sprint might net you 12 mph - if you can keep your front wheel moving in a straight line long enough to hit it. A typical endurance runner would bury me at those speeds. It's tough, slow, unrelenting travel. Even Geoff, who ran 15 miles in two hours yesterday and biked 15 miles in two hours today, agrees with me. Even so, we had a great time. And those 15 miles didn't wear me out by any means ... it was an enjoyable rec ride. But still, while crawling along similar terrain to what I'll actually be facing in my race, the doubt did start to creep in ("did I really sign up for 100 miles of this?")

It didn't help today that my friend, Anna, asked me today if I'm going to start scaling back my training. What? Scale back? I feel like I just started. I have yet to do a 50 miler, though that's more because I actually like to do other things with my weekend than bike nonstop. Still, Anna knows what she's talking about. She biked the LOTOJA (210 mountainous road miles) in 12.5 hours last year. She did her longest training ride more than a month out from the race. After that, it was all about winding down, building strength, and eatin' like a carbo-craving fool (and here I am, thinking about going on a diet.)

So what to do? Well ... Stay on the bike. Go back to Caribou Lake and put in a full day. Crawl out from whatever ice rut threw me sideways, take a deep breath of the cold wind pounding across the frozen bog, and keep on pedaling. I think I have it in me. I had doubts about my first century, but even after not training and not sleeping and not even having a clue about the wonders of drafting, I still did OK. Sure, the Susitna 100 is completely different. But, in many ways, it's not. Just gotta have faith.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Limbo

Date: Jan. 14
Mileage: 38.5
January mileage: 227.3
Temperature upon departure: 13

Today, I was very scientific about my bicycle riding. My process:

1.) Check the most recent seismic data from Mt. Augustine.
2.) Check the prevailing wind and ash data from the NOAA.
3.) Determine, based on wind direction, wind speed and ash reports, the minimum number of minutes it might take a noxious ash cloud to reach town should the volcano erupt within the next five minutes.
4.) Subtract about 45 minutes from that time, to be on the safe side.
5.) Viola! Bicycle riding increments.

I got two of these in today, each about two hours and 20 miles apiece. My morning ride was hard and tiresome on the snowy trails. But, I gotta say, a fine layer of fresh ash that fell with yesterday's snow made for some amazing traction going downhill. I also enjoyed looping the upper trail and following my glaring white tire tracks through the gray snow. On my afternoon ride, I stuck to the ice-paved gravel roads and climbed up to Ohlson Mountain Road. I hoped to stay out longer, maybe even push for 50 miles. But a really nasty snowstorm started, and I wasn't that confident in my ash projections. Plus, it was just cold today.

As it stands (at 7:30 p.m.), Augustine only erupted once today, at 12:13 a.m. I took this picture just after sunrise this morning. It's another molten hot magma mountain on Alaska's ring of fire, Mt. Redoubt, currently on his best behavior. Those clouds hovering below Redoubt meant there was no chance of seeing Augustine again today, but clouds sure beat ash. Pray for calm!

Friday, January 13, 2006

Stolen moments

Date: Jan. 13
Mileage: 24.4
January mileage: 188.8
Temperature upon departure: 18

Friday the 13th. I woke up, ate some of that cold cereal that I tried so hard to vilify yesterday and deliberately did not turn on the radio. I piled on layers, hoisted my Camelpak and went for an extended commute to work with Geoff. We rode Skyline, the snowmobile trails, the reservoir. I dropped down East Hill sucking up the wind chill at 35 mph and pulled into work just as my boss was duct taping the front door shut.

My odometer read 12:08 p.m. "So much for not exercising outdoors, eh?" she said.

"I take it the volcano went off again," I said.

She looked at me like I was wearing one of those sandblaster masks that everyone's been hoarding as a hat. "It's gone off three times already," she said. "The first eruption happened before 5 a.m."

She told me there was an ash advisory for 1 p.m. and she was shutting down the office. She told me I could go inside if I wanted to, but she had Saran wrapped pretty much every piece of electronic equipment inside. She told me she was duct taping the door either way. She was pretty much telling me I had a free day off.

"I could probably make it home by 1 p.m.," I said, but she insisted on driving me. We took the long way so we could loop around the Cook Inlet overlook and see if we could catch of glimpse of Augustine's ongoing temper tantrum - but it was just too overcast. The rest of the afternoon I lazed around the house guilt-free as snow fell lightly outside. At least - I'm pretty sure it was snow.

The AVO reported that the wind shifted and the ash advisory was lifted, so Geoff and I ventured out into the ghost town that Homer became. There had been a bunch of events slated for tonight and most of them were canceled - except, for unknown reasons, an impromptu bluegrass jam by the Homer Old-Time Fiddlers at Captain's Coffee and a reading by Fairbanks author Marjorie Kowalski Cole The poor woman drove all the way from Anchorage through an ash storm to host the publicity event on a night when all area residents were warned to stay indoors at all costs. The turnout, for the circumstances, wasn't too bad. I enjoyed the reading because, from my brief interaction with her, I sensed that Marjorie is the kind of writer I would be if I were a novelist - unapologetically twisting actual events until they take on a life of their own (not, of course, that I do that as a journalist.) Her husband talked about their adventures looking for an air filter in the sparsely populated southern Kenai Peninsula, and she didn't seem to care at all that just 70 miles away a molten mountain was belching thousands of pounds of glass shards. She read exerpts from her book and then talked for several minutes about how strange it was that she was the only one staying at her hotel. As it stands, the volcano erupted one more time, the ash never came, and seismic activity continues. Here's crossing my fingers that Augustine decides to call it a decade and give up, and if not, here's hoping that the wind stays at my back.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Step away

I did an hour-long ride on the trainer tonight so I could cook some dinner and amp up for a short outdoor ride later. It's finally good and below 20 degrees, so I thought I could try out some of my colder weather gear. Only now it's later and here I sit, losing steam by the second (much like Mt. Augustine, currently settling after her initial blow.) It's not that I feel psychotically compelled to ride every day. It's just that now the conditions are ideal - clear, calm, cold, and no volcanic ash clogging up the air.

Perhaps I'll leave first thing in the morning for an early ride before work. Hmmm - that sounds just like one of the "lies we tell ourselves" mentioned on Fat Cyclist's site. Reading Fatty's and other real racers' Web sites has fueled my ambition and focused my training, but one side effect of this information glut from endurance athletes is a heightened focus on a much more ambiguous part of myself - my weight.

I'm never been one to gain or lose weight too quickly, so I never really noticed the fluctuations. I was honestly shocked when I bought my first gym membership two years ago and learned I weighed 159 pounds (this happened mere months after I returned from a 3,200-mile bike tour that, at the time, I believed left me in pretty good shape.) But thanks to an increased level of road biking, my efforts to curb my Pepsi habit, and the peer pressure of well-meaning Spin Nazis at the Apple Fitness, I was able to shave off 30 pounds without trying to diet. I weighed 128 toward the end of summer 2005 and hardly noticed the difference, except for occasional comments my mom would make about my need to buy new pants ('but wearing jeans around your hips is all the rage ... isn't it? No?' The truth is, I'm tragically turned off to fashion cycles.)

But the only reason I mention all this now is because I'm gaining weight again. I have an admittedly ancient bathroom scale that was purchased at the Salvation Army when we first moved to Alaska. On first use, the needle hovered around 130. Now ... closer to 135.

I'm not sure why I'm gaining weight. I do think it has something to do with my increased physical activity over the past six weeks. It could be muscle ... although I haven't done all that much strength training to really build muscle mass. It could be that my equilibrium is thrown off and my appetite has skyrocketed, causing me to inhale box after box of cold cereal without the former benefit of guilt. I don't know. But the worst part is, I do feel guilty about it. Because if I'm going to be carrying myself over 100 miles of snowmachine trail in February, less of me is better - right? I haven't really decided whether or not I'm going to start a cliche New Years diet or simply ignore my scale and hope my body finds its happy place. After all ... you need body fat to keep you warm for winter riding, don't you? Oh, the lies we tell ourselves.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Ashes to ashes

Date: Jan. 11
Mileage: 13.6
January mileage: 164.4
Temperature upon departure: 22

Somewhere, hidden deep within a shroud of fog and the forgotton hours of the morning, Augustine coughed up an explosion - unseen, unheard, almost as if it never existed, except for the five-mile-high ash cloud that is now probably drifting over Denali National Park.

The volcano began was is expected to be a series of escalating eruptions this morning at 4:44 a.m. It was enough to raise the concern level to code red and keep people glued to their radios and raiding the stores for face masks and Spam - but didn't really do much else. The ash headed north and east and pretty much away from Homer, Anchorage and any relatively populated area of Alaska. The fog stayed, blocking anxious eyes from any view of the rumbling mountain, and gripping the town in an eerie sort of silence.

My editor rushed into the office first thing this morning to demand I upload an update the the Web site. In the great irony of weekly newspapers, our current issue - published yesterday and released two hours after the volcano blew - ran with the headline "Scientists say eruption not imminent." Our ad rep won the office poll with an exact guess of Jan. 11 - but in the great irony of advertising executives didn't even take the opportunity to gloat. We just typed quietly and waited for a glimpse of ash or a phone call from an panicked resident - anything - but all we did was wait. "Something's just off about today," my co-worker said. Maybe it was because a volcano 70 miles from here erupted. Or maybe it was because a volcano 70 miles from here erupted and nothing happened.

Geoff and I had made plans tonight to see an avalanche presentation by Jill Fredston, but I had a free 90 minutes between work and the slide show to catch a trail ride. I looped around the crunchy ski runs along the crest of Diamond Ridge, racing the fog as it climbed out of the valley until I was encircled, and then enshrouded. Today's ride was sponsored by Tracy in Iowa, for the intended purpose of buying chemical handwarmers. It's funny because suddenly, with seismic activity on the rise again and "escalating eruptions" looming, I may have a more immediate need for a medical face mask and a stack of good DVDs for when I have to do a lot more of my riding indoors. Or ... maybe not.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Rex-Kwon-Do

Date: Jan. 10
Mileage: 21.4
January mileage: 150.8
Temperature upon departure: 27

Today's ride was sponsored by Mellan. The hilly ride to the top of Skyline went faster than usual (got my 21 miles in about an hour and 45 minutes) - probably because the trail snow is pretty hard packed now. And where gravel roads have been scraped, a smooth layer of black ice is now almost entirely exposed (I love the riding but dread the trucks.) I topped out my speedometer at 36 mph coasting down that stuff. My slowest speed was 4.8 ... climbing what I'm convinced is a 60 percent grade (OK ... it's more like 14). But that ride is mostly a well-worn route for me by now, and I felt pretty good about pushing it just a little bit harder today. A great way to sweat off the Tuesday deadline-frenzy blues.

Later this evening, Geoff and I went to check out the weight room at the high school. It was classically ghetto - I half expected to see leather medicine balls and one of those vibrating strap machines. The funniest thing about the high school weight room is that, in the midst of circa-1970s leg presses and barbells with the weight readings worn clean off, there's a three-story, state-of-the-art indoor climbing wall. People in brand new climbing shoes and harnesses scurried up it as Geoff and I tried not to get crushed by the medieval weight machines. A Rex-Kwon-Do type was repeatedly death gripping some skinny kid with a white belt as Metallica blasted on a boom box in the corner. All in all, it was an interesting slice of local flavor, but I think I'll stick to the gym at the physical therapy clinic. I may have to deal with occasional fitness advice from Mr. Obvious But Oblivious, but at least the PT gym doesn't have that moldy aroma of rubber mats aged in decades-old sweat.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Brothers in arms

Yesterday's post generated some great recommendations, and I've learned a lot more about the wonders of bike pogies and leathermans. I really like the idea of chemical handwarmers. The only time I ever used them was during a Dave Matthews concert at a 2002 Winter Olympics medals ceremony. Back then, I was still clinging to my late adolescence and still thought I was pretty cool. So, of course, I attended an outdoor concert in Salt Lake City in February wearing only a hoodie, some ratty jeans and and equally worn-out pair of Vans. (It only took a couple more years for me to become one of those people that drives by school bus stops and wonders what's wrong with those kids.) Anyway, my mom gave me some handwarmers as an afterthought. I stuffed them into my pocket and welded myself into the people slew near the stage. However, I was already a little too old to be cool enough for the pit, and as the crowd amped up I was pushed further back into the cold winter night. Numbness had pretty much consumed my fingers, ears, face and toes, and was moving on to my torso by the time I remembered those warmers. And as I clutched them in the pockets of whatever useless cotton layer I was wearing, I remember the sensation as akin to wrapping my fingers around a uranium-laced rock - it felt so wrong, but yet ... so right.

Today I went to the gym for the first time since Christmas. I wanted to keep my heart rate uniformly high for an hour and then do some tricep curls. The gym I go to is really small, and the personal trainer tends to lurk uncomfortably, wait for you to get embarrassingly sweaty and then blurt out advice that seems obvious ("be sure to drink some water after you're done.") So I usually stick my face in a magazine while I'm there. Today, the place was packed with New Years resolutioners but the personal trainer still managed to corner me as I was bee-lining for the elliptical.

"Haven't seen you in a while," he said.

"Yeah," I said. "It's that busy time of year."

He furrowed his unibrow and I could see I was in for a lecture. "We all get pretty busy around the holidays," he said, "but it's important to keep up a regular regimen if you want to stay fit."

"Uh-huh," I said.

"Be sure to stretch extra long before you start," he said. "Don't want you to get sore."

"Sure will," I said. I didn't have the heart to tell him that it was kind of a down day for me.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Gear post

Date: Jan. 8
Mileage: 21.2
January mileage: 129.4
Temperature upon departure: 33

At the risk of embarrassing myself terribly with my lack of gear-related knowledge, I'm compiling a list of my current winter riding and Susitna 100 gear, all in hopes that suggestions, recommendations and maybe even some direction to good used stuff will come my way.

My bike: I ride a Gary Fisher Sugar 3 with women's specific geometry. Componentry is all stock stuff. I originally bought this bike with Grand Teton rock trails and the southern Utah desert in mind. Since I moved to Alaska, it's converted nicely to a winter bike, as I suspect any mountain bike would. It would be nice to find a rigid bike, or, if the heavens opened wide, an affordable Surly Pugsley. But for my first year of winter riding, this works fine.

My tires: Ok. I admit it. I went to the bike shop and bought the pair of Kenda studded tires that were on sale. If I could go back in time and purchase the Nokian Extremes, I'd do it (my knees, after taking the brunt of a good spill on today's icier stretch, would probably thank me.)

Footgear: Around here, I usually ride with a couple of pairs of socks and my hiking shoes. On the Susitna 100, I plan to wear: a liner sock, neoprene sock, big smart wool sock, lightweight winter boots, neoprene booties, and - depending on conditions - gaters.

Gloves: I usually go really light on gloves when I ride around here - unless temperatures are below 30, nothing more than my synthetic glove liners. During the race, I'll use those or neoprene liners with my new CZIP gloves and possibly, if the heavens open wide, bike pogies.

Head and face: I have a neoprene face mask, a thin synthetic head warmer, a polar fleece balaclava and goggles. Around town, even when temperatures have been near zero, I've gotten by with only the thin head warmer.

Legs: Around town I always wear fleece or nylon pants, or my snowboarding pants if it's precipitating. I need to figure out some good layering techniques for the Susitna 100. This is one area I'm awaiting recommendations.

Torso: I'll probably bulk up on the fleece and synthetic layers, and cover everything with a waterproof shell. Race organizers tell us to plan on a temperature swing of 40 to 50 degrees during the race, with possible temperatures that can range anywhere from -40 to +40 degrees. The torso layers are the ones that will fluctuate the most based on race conditions.

Stuff I'll be lugging on my bike rack: I'm still mulling the possibility of using small panniers, or just stuffing everything in a dry bag and strapping that to the rack. Carrying technique is something I haven't decided, but I do know what I need to carry. What I have: bivy sack, assorted tools, tube changing kit, spare tubes, knife, small cooking pot (to melt snow if needed), and spare clothing. What I still need to purchase: sleeping bag rated to at least -20, insulated sleeping pad, liquid fuel stove, map and 5,000-7,000 calories worth of food (I know. It's tempting to just carry a jar of peanut butter).

Water system: Camelbaks have great insulation against freezing, especially if I get a hose insulator, and I already have experience cycling long distances with one of those on my back. So that will probably be the way I'll go.

Miscellaneous: Really, if I'm forgetting anything that might keep me alive and/or comfortable, please feel free to drop in a cautionary comment. I'll probably carry Duct Tape, because I'm an Alaskan now. I have a Cateye 5 LED headlight as well as a focused LED headlamp, and I'll need to get spare lithium batteries for both of those. I need to purchase a reliable firestarter (no Bic lighters for me) and some matches. Plus ibuprofen ... and maybe some NoDoz (I know from experience ... I can go far on the wonders of caffeine.)

There's probably several crucial things I'm forgetting. As far as the actual race, my plan is still to just go out, try my best, and prepare for the worst. Trail conditions can swing this thing open wide, and there's really no way to anticipate exactly what I'm facing. The first woman cyclist to finish in 2004 crossed the finish line after 20 hours and 30 minutes. The roster's up now for 2006, my competition. My goals for the Susitna 100 are, in order of hierarchy:

1. Survive.
2. Survive with all of my digits intact.
3. Finish the race.
4. Finish the race in less than 24 hours.

All the rest is breathing and pedaling. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

My snowmachine

Date: Jan. 7
Mileage: 35.5
January mileage: 108.2
Temperature upon departure: 33

Today's ride was sponsored by Kevin. I set out a little later than hoped (noon), but made up for my procrastination with serendipitous exploration. I found a maze of winter trails and unplowed four-wheel drive roads networking through the woods just north of Skyline Drive. For a mile I'd plow through untapped snow, only to suddenly find myself on a well-traveled snowmobile trail, cascading over packed waves of powder. Then I'd hit the rutted and icy roads, bounce around for a bit, take a left turn and find myself up to my pedal strokes in powder again. Along the trails I came across two dog mushers. One stopped to tell me the trail I was on was a dead end.

"It ends at my house," the man told me. His 4 or 5-year-old daughter was clinging to the cargo side of his sled. Four restless huskies whined and nipped at the air.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't realize this was a private trail."

"That's OK," he said. "It's not like you're on a snowmachine or anything."

As he pulled away I could hear his daughter say, "Daddy, daddy, was that a bicycle?"

All in all, it was a fun ride, even though this kind of cycling turns up disappointing mileage for time spent in the saddle (in today's case, a little more than four hours.) But all this trail riding is necessary for me to improve my handling abilities in snow. Any snow or ice condition, for me at least, still wavers on the unpredictable side (I think of it as riding through deep sand one second and the next bouncing over large roots - and having no prior knowledge of the transition because on top, it all just looks benignly white.)

Very knowlegable folks such as mags (who, by the way, is a future Olympian) have asked me why I don't enjoy all this God-given white stuff in more natural ways, such as skiing. And I do understand the importance of cross-training to stay in good athletic shape (I do run from time to time.) But these rides, especially the trail rides, are as much about gaining skill as they are about building a solid set of quads. I am a rookie in the most unapologetic sense. I had never even seen a studded tire (bicycle or otherwise) until this year. And I don't have much time, so I practice - any free moment I have. I know that my success depends on my level of confidence, even more than it does on my level of fitness.

Earlier today, I thought I had a good idea for a post. But Geoff and I just went to see King Kong, and my brain is a little bit mushy. Kevin, my sponsor for today, suggested I do a Susitna 100 gear post - what I'm planning on using and what I still need. This sounds like a good idea (I admit it. I'm hoping to receive suggestions and recommendations all around.) So I'll pencil that one in for tomorrow.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Reservoir dogs

Date: Jan. 5
Mileage:15.7
January mileage: 72.7
Temperature upon departure: 24

There's something about bicycling on top of a mass of water that's so ... ethereal. Something about gliding atop the epitome of a smooth, flat surface; about the silencing strength of snow against the grind of wheels and the darkness of evening settling over a frozen landscape. Geoff and I hit the reservoir today after a harrowing descent down the rutted-out ice roads above. The sudden change amounted to the difference between weaving through Los Angeles traffic and an joy ride on the Bonneville Salt Flats ... all of the speed, and none of the stress.

After the ride I was eating a giant burrito and browsing the Anchorage Daily News when I came across a letter to the editor titled "Hopefully, violent collision with SUV knocked sense into winter cyclist." Of course, I knew that reading a so-titled piece of work would probably cause the burrito to churn uncomfortably in my stomach, but I read it anyway.

"I was initially sympathetic to the piece published Dec. 25, 'Cyclist happy to be alive after violent hit-and-run by SUV,' Mitch Lewis of Palmer began. "However, I had to wonder why the author didn't mention the obvious: This is Alaska, it is winter and the streets are covered with snow and ice. Am I the only one who saw this?"

I can just see Mr. Mitch Lewis of Palmer approaching the downed cyclist on the highway shortly after the accident.

Mr Lewis: "I'm sorry to see you're hurt, but I'm afraid to say you have no one to blame but yourself."

Cyclist, fighting for consciousness through a nasty concussion: "Um ... I'm pretty sure that SUV hit me."

Mr. Lewis: "Yes, but, it's winter out. (which is the best argument he poses in his letter)"

Cyclist: "I know."

Mr. Lewis: "So, if you agree with me on that fact, you can't deny the unreasonable risk of cycling in the winter in Alaska" (for Mr. Lewis's sake, let's just say he means the months between September and July.)

Cyclist: "But I was in control that entire time. That SUV hit me. From behind."

Mr. Lewis: "It's an infallible fact that Sport Utility Vehicles are impervious to the perilous conditions of winter roads. Therefore, sir, it must be your fault."

"To wish him back to the same place and frame of mind that would encourage him to ride a bicycle on the same snow- and ice-covered streets of Anchorage that he was almost killed upon in the first place, would be a misuse of glad tidings," Lewis wrote. "I hope he had a bit of common sense knocked into him and he takes the bus when the weather and streets warrant it."

And, Mr. Lewis, I hope you have a bit of common sense knocked into you when your SUV hits an ice patch on the Seward Highway and careens into the Turnagain Arm at 80 mph. Well ... that sounds a little too vindictive. My point is, the risk of any form of travel is increased by snow and ice. Personally, I feel a lot more in control navigating winter conditions down the 1,000-foot elevation drop of West Hill on my mountain bike than I do in my car. I only wish I could feel the same sort of confidence in the traffic barreling down with me.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Duck and cover

Augustine let off a little steam today, prompting a rush of calls to the Homer Tribune in the late afternoon. After about a half dozen calls I could practically hear my co-worker grinding her teeth through her usual cheery receptionist voice: "No, sir, we've already confirmed it isn't an eruption ... No, it's just steam venting ... We got that from the AVO (Alaska Volcano Observatory) ... Yes, I believe there is a difference ... No, sir, we can see it too ... Well yes, it does look like an eruption is coming, but ..."

People around town are on pins and needles right now waiting for this thing to blow. The scientists still have the Augustine alert on yellow, but these stubborn Homerites are convinced an eruption is imminent. Last week, my office took a poll on the date it will go. My boss has her money on Jan. 6 ... tomorrow. I'm last on the list, with what I thought was a conservative guess of Feb. 20 (This is probably more optimism than an educated predication. On that date, I'll be hunkered down 300 miles north of the nasty ash plume, sleeping off the Susitna 100. Then, not only will I not have to buy a face mask, but I'll also have a lot more recovery time from the race, stuck in Palmer as I'll be.)

Today I did a light training day - 50 minutes of "sprinting" intervals on the trainer. Perhaps I'll do a two-mile run before bed. My friend Dane's bivy sack arrived in the mail, which means the only gear I have left to acquire before the race is a liquid fuel stove, neoprene socks and a sleeping bag rated to -20. We're required to carry all of our camping gear even if we never use it - which adds a whole new layer to my training that I'll need to start on soon. But if the volcano goes off, I'm going back to bed.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Mmmm ... frosty

Date: Jan. 4
Mileage: 20.6
January mileage: 57.0
Temperature upon departure: 26

Today's ride was sponsored by Heather in Ohio, who sent a wonderful note that arrived by mail at my office today. (My co-worker, as she handed me the addressed envelope, said "What's 'The Cement Box?'") Heather recommended that I "go get some granola bars and goo and get after it." So today, I tried that (without the granola bars and goo ... but now I can go get some). Thank you!

I was sitting in the Cement Box around 2 p.m. today, staring at my computer screen and probably looking a bit distracted, when my boss said "It's a nice day. I'm going to go on I photo safari."

Me: "Mmm Hmmm." (You see, I call it the Cement Box because there no windows in my office.)

Boss: "It looks like a good day for a bike ride, too."

I just smiled. She knows me too well already. But her statement did coax me to the front desk, where I confirmed that it was, indeed, a very nice day. So I punched out early and took advantage of the blazing sunlight to attempt a longer trail ride. I dropped off Diamond Ridge and looped around the forest that parallels the Sterling Highway. The quick elevation changes give me a full smorgasboard of trail conditions: punchy, moose-tracked snow; packed powder; hoarfrost-covered grass; glare ice; gut-busting climbs and cheek-rattling descents. In short, my own little Susitna. Progress was fun but slow. I was a bit disappointed to return from my ride nearly three hours after I left - with most of my clothing layers tied in various states of removal around my body and coated in frosty sweat - and realize I had only covered 20 miles of ground. But I felt good today. Strong. I'm getting better - I really am. Wow. This whole training business really works.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Repairs

Date: Jan. 3
Mileage: 9.5
January mileage: 36.4
Temperature upon departure: 27

Good ride tonight ... less punchy because I made more of an effort to avoid the moose tracks, with snow so dry and clean that distant sparkles off my LED headlamp mirrored the pepper starlight in the night sky. It almost made up the massive computer meltdown at work today. As our missed deadline faded further and further into the past, we scrambled for solutions with an impatient pre-press operator bearing down from afar. I tell ya, I was this close to pulling out a typewriter, some glue and an exacto knife, and giving up on the whole computerized scandal of it all. But I guess that's the great peril of the digital age, isn't it? The more independence we gain from workaday labors, the more dependent we become on machines we can't begin to understand.

Me? I'm learning to fix my bike - one of the simplest machines available in the modern age. I need to master basic repairs as these longer, more remote rides become more common. Even simple things like changing cables or swapping out the chain frustrate and confuse me. I need to go through each step in slow succession, like a child learning to count to 10. Even then, my attention span usually prevents me from learning after only one demonstration. I have no talent for this stuff. I think this may be why hiking was my first and probably is still my favorite form of outdoor recreation. All you need is a good pair of shoes - and my early forays into the mountains are a testament that you don't even necessarily need that. All this gear just weighs me down. I am learning to live with it ... I do love cycling. And a bicycle, by definition of the sport, is a rather necessary piece of gear. If I want to ride a mountain bike 50 miles into the inhospitable Alaskan wilderness, I'm going to have to learn to fix the thing. But that doesn't mean my mechanical mental block isn't going to fight me every step of the way.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Food fight

Date: Jan. 2
Mileage: 8.7
January mileage: 26.9
Temperature upon departure: 25

Today I did an hour on the trainer and then went out for a punchy but exhilarating 8-mile night ride on the ski trails around my house. I have to admit, I'm going to be a little bummed when winter ends and all the good trail riding around here melts into the sog and bog of summer. I'm going to have to take up sea kayaking because the biking's gonna be bad :-)

Homer's infamous Eagle Lady restarted her annual bald eagle feeding frenzy recently. The population that consisted of a few dozen resident eagles is quickly growing to a few hundred. And while her well-meaning eagle baiting brings amazing photographic opportunities to the masses, I'm a bit torn on the issue of blatantly habituating wild animals. If you leave your garbage out where bears can get to it, you'll be fined - but somehow artificially supporting a nationally protected raptor is legal. The Eagle Lady claims the eagles wouldn't survive without her selfless charity. But they were doing just fine before she moved here - wintering in other places around Alaska, where they could still ride the thermal drafts over coastal mountains and hunt for their food. Now they all congregate in Homer and fight for scraps.

Wildlife officials say Homer's shorebird populations have suffered since the eagles started coming here in droves. My co-worker swears that his little Yorkie puppy was carried away by an eagle. He followed the Yorkie's tracks until they just ended in an untouched field of snow, specked only by a few drops of blood. It seemed as though if his dog was lifted up by the Rapture (or raptor). In the end, eagle baiting just isn't natural. But it's a touchy subject in this town. I'd be interested to hear what nonlocals think about bald eagle baiting.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year

Date: Jan. 1
Mileage: 18.2
January mileage: 18.2
Temperature upon departure: 32

Happy New Year to everyone! My celebration took a turn for the worse at the Edible Arts extravaganza when an all-too-tempting sushi dress (pictured) turned my night into an Edible Arts-born illness. I still sucked it up and waited out midnight while hunched over a table at Duggan's Pub, watching The Whipsaws and writhing in pain. Let this be a lesson - never eat perishable art; and don't sit in a smoky pub with sharp pains tearing at your intestines just because it's New Year's Eve. Once I got all of the sushi out of my system, though, I felt a lot better. I did a fairly relaxed ride along East End Road today and went home and took a nap.

I read a couple of year-end reviews in other blogs and enjoyed them. It inspired me to do one of my own. Here are Jill's memorable moments of 2005:

January: I learn to airboard ... a fancy sort of inflatable tobaggan with hard plastic edges to give its rider the illusion of control while she's careening down a narrow, tree-lined slope head first.

February: I discover Body Pump, and gain muscle definition in my arms for the first time in ... ever (and it's gone now.)

March: Nothing rings a bell. But early in April, I learned to draft off a herd of bison while bicycling in Yellowstone National Park.

April: I canoe down the Dirty Devil River, inspiring the best article I wrote for the Idaho Falls Post Register.

May: I go headlong over the handlebars during a mud ride in the Oquirrh Mountains, tearing some vital muscles in my left leg and walking like a rusty robot for the next four weeks. (I also earned the nickname "Gimpy McStiff," which followed me through the day I left town.)

June: I go on a crazy fun trip down the San Juan River with the Roberts family, full of stimulating conversations that led me to read three Jared Diamond books over the summer.

July: I discover the wonders of Lava Hot Springs, where I learned some real swim strokes and over the course of several weekends became a decent beach volleyball player.

August: I spend the month of my 26th birthday doing at least one thing that scares me each week: jumping off the 15-meter platform at Lava Hot Springs; hiking to the top of Mt. Borah; rock climbing in Little Cottonwood Canyon; rafting down the Snake River; applying for a job in Alaska.

September: I accept a job and move to Alaska.

October: I fly to Utah and hike across the Grand Canyon with my Dad and friends. Then I fly home to get my first real taste of Alaska winter, with a pre-Halloween snowstorm that dumped nearly a foot of powder.

November: I start this blog, thereby avoiding the necessity of buying a better TV for the long winter ahead.

December: I buy studded mountain bike tires, discover the wonders of winter cycling and register for the Susitna 100 race. Crazy training ensues.

That's my 2005. How was your year?