Sunday, April 30, 2006

Hill day

Date: April 30
Mileage: 75
April mileage: 568
Temperature upon departure: 40

Had a strange moment of de-ja-vu that inadvertently lead to yet another roadie crash.

Ok, Ok, the truth is, I'm just a sadly predictable klutz. But the timing was interesting nonetheless.

Today was a "hill day" - three big climbs with elevation changes between 1,000 and 1,500 feet in 2-5 miles, buffered by plenty of rollers. I spent most of the day listening to new music that I downloaded on my iPod yesterday. As I crested to highest point of the day - elev. 1,500 feet - the music switched over to a song I had heard only once before, a song implanted in such a surreal region of my memory that up until today I thought it was a dream. Turns out it's "DARE" by the Gorillaz.

Before I even registered the music, the memory came flooding back - midnight programming on the one radio station I could pick up on my little AM/FM, droning with Top 40 pop broken by frequent, jarring static. I was pedaling my mountain bike across Flathorn Lake during the Susitna 100. I had lost the trail the moment I hit the maze of snowmobile tracks steaking across the ice, but I was following a distant light that I knew had to be the next checkpoint. Its yellow glow flickered in the deep ink darkness, broken by its own static as drizzling rain slowly turned to snow. I got off my bike to negotiate patches of soft snow when I stepped directly into a shin-deep puddle of overflow. The change in terrain startled me so much that I lost my footing and, in catching myself, shoved my bike onto its side in the slush. I remember just standing there, looking at the fallen bike and listening to radio static. Then, just as I moved to pick the bike up, an eerie voice began to climb out of the hole. It started almost indistinguishable from the white noise, but began to gain almost disconcerting clarity against the darkness and snow ... "Jump with the moon and move it; Jump back and forth. It feels like you would let yourself work it out."

Today, the same surreal notes came on my iPod just as I was rounding a corner to begin my descent back to sea level. I hit a patch of loose gravel, swerved out of control, and ended up laying my bike down after I had slowed to about 8 or 10 mph. I sat up on the pavement and rocked back and forth as I waited for the blind streaks of pain to stop shooting through my left hip. "Wait," I thought ... "I know this song."

" ... It's DARE ..."

I think it's time admit that I have a road bike coordination problem. But, for now, I'm blaming involuntary flashbacks. Or self-fulfilling prophecy. Either way, roadie, again, came out impressively unscathed.

Tomorrow is May 1, which means it's no longer legal for me to ride - or drive - around with studded tires. I have to get my car changed first. Geoff and I spent a half hour excavating my summer tires from a snowbank. It was like looking for buried treasure, digging through six feet of condensed snow, hitting small trees, logs, and finally ... yeah! tires.

I'm going to wait another couple of weeks to change over my mountain bike tires. I'm still holding out for another day of perfect concrete snow.

Oh yeah ... don't forget to vote Buckwheat for President.

We are not unique snowflakes

Date: April 29
Mileage: 16
April mileage: 493
Temperature upon departure: 43

Today I read an amusing editorial in the Anchorage Daily News, addressing the grand delusion of many Alaskans - that we are unique, special, not like other Americans. Set apart by latitude and buffered by a rather large foreign country, I guess it would be difficult not to feel separate-but-equal.

But ever since I moved here, I've been more than a little bugged by the sense of entitlement at large. The state pays people just to live here, and still people whine about a 3 percent sales tax, they whine about paying for education, they whine about pesky federal mandates like wildlife refuge designations, but then beg the federal government for more road money. Alaska seems to have a serious case of youngest child syndrome, which of course bugs me because I come from an oldest child background. I'm the one who had to deal with a 10 p.m. curfew and had to begin working at age 11 to support my teenage lifestyle. So I can't stand to see an entire state act like the family princess, crying about the unfairness of a midnight curfew while Daddy doles out another 20 for a trip to the mall. You get my point, don't you?

So it gives me great joy to see someone tell Alaskans that they are, in fact, not unique and special snowflakes. While there is a small percentage of the population, mostly Native, who still live a subsistence lifestyle in remote villages, most of us are middle-aged, white-collar, suburban working stiffs with 2.3 cars and a lifestyle dominated by climate-controlled buildings. The only difference between us and some guy in Cleveland is that we can go skiing on glaciers in our backyards or drive to the closest body of water and catch a king salmon. But how many of us actually do?

Sure, there's a definite distinct culture in Alaska. The scenery is beyond amazing. The history is certainly on the interesting side. Latitude gives us the whole daylight thing and, economically speaking, we still have youth on our side. But does that give us a mandate to demand respect from the lower 48 while we cry to Daddy because Big Brother wouldn't give us bridge money? I may be an older child, an outsider looking in and looking out again, but I don't think so.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Cool photo

Date: April 28
Mileage: 26
April mileage: 477
Temperature upon departure: 40

I don't know how kosher it is to post a copyrighted photo on a blog, but since this isn't exactly an enterprise of any sort, I'm just going to go ahead and do it.

A former co-worker of mine, Troy Boman, just sent me a link to a photo of his that won a second-place award from the National Press Photographers Association. It's impressive because Troy works for a small community newspaper that covers a massive sprawl of salt and sand known as Tooele County, Utah - and he was up against big guys like the New York Daily News in this contest. I always thought it was kind of strange that Troy didn't move up to the big guys. He's always had this amazing ability to capture striking moments of clarity in the vast and mundane ... the face of a terrified boy standing amid an indifferent crowd ... the calm acceptance of a once-comfortable man suddenly doused in the mud and blood of his own mistakes. It's very real. I really like this photo.

Today I rode some sprint intervals ... full-out, red-in-the-face, I'd-puke-if-I-went-much-harder intervals. Tough to do, but definitely worthwhile. I rode a 3-mile stretch of bike path with a fierce north wind. I did 1.5 miles of with-the-wind warm-up, 1.5 miles of tailwind sprinting, 1.5 miles of headwind recovery, and 1.5 miles of headwind sprinting - times four. The tailwind sprints were wicked fun. I don't have a computer installed on my road bike yet, but I must have been pushing 35 mph, judging by my sustained place in traffic. The headwind sprints were like nothing I've experienced in a long time. I couldn't even hold back my wheezing gasps during vain attempts to not frighten the oncoming pedestrians. All I could do was chug by, trying to keep the donkey sounds to a minimum and locking my perma-grimace on the pavement. I thought about the virtues of drop handlebars ... may be a good purchase to make. But, for now, I'm thinking about buying a camera.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Snow and light

Date: April 27
Mileage: 22
April mileage: 451
Temperature upon departure: 38

Warm day today. Temps even thought about hitting 50, but didn't quite make it. I seem to be writing an overabundance of extra-bloggy blog posts lately. The past month has been awash the mostly gray, windy, semi-warm, still-won't-melt-the-crust-on-my-driveway permanence that dominates "spring" in Alaska. My muse has been running a bit low, so I complain about the weather and take pictures out my bedroom window.

We now have officially more than 16 hours between sunrise and sunset, makes it hard to get those requisite 8 hours of sleep in. I'm one of those people that can barely dress myself in the morning, but I build energy as the day goes on, so it's also hard for me to go to bed. I had a really tough ride today, basically inexplicable as to why I was struggling so much. Lead legs on the commute. Dizzy up the hill. Spinning low gears on the gravel. It's probably just a matter of needing more rest than I anticipate, but my body just doesn't understand. When there's light on the horizon and snow on the ground, it just feels early, no matter what the clock says.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Training?

Date: April 26
Mileage: 24
April mileage: 429
Temperature upon departure: 35

Today's ride was sponsored by Shasta, who just bought a new bike and is doing some training of her own down in Dairyland. I had about 50 free minutes after work to ride today. It was a seriously short period of time for an outdoor bike workout, but I made up for it by upping my effort. I can't honestly say that I was burning everything I had, but the total mileage - 18 - didn't seem too bad, after factoring in a couple of hill climbs and a light headwind. That's - what - about 21 or 22 mph average? I could definitely improve on that, and I'm thinking that might be a good idea.

I've been trying to visualize some summer training goals that have a little more strategy than my winter training, which mostly revolved around doing a lot of crazy cold rides. So far, most of my ideas revolve around crazy long rides - which are seriously hard to make time for, especially when I have to do the whole job thing and still make time to go see "The World's Fastest Indian," like I did today. Plus, I'm going to have a few kinks in my schedule during the next two months, including two trips to Utah and my parents' visit to Alaska. There are about 18 days in there that I'm just going to lose, and there's nothing I can do about it. Not that I'm complaining. These are things that actually are more important the riding - making sure my family and friends still remember me, seeing my little sis get married, visiting the desert in the spring. Still, somewhere in all of this, I have to find focus.

So I thought it might be a good idea to train for speed. Get my lungs in good shape. For that, I thought about putting in more workouts on the hamster wheel, where I can monitor my heart rate to ensure I actually am working near anaerobic threshold, and I can also gage my progress. But, for the most part, driven training is still very new to me, so I'd love some advice. I have, now, exactly two months. I currently have a good base, but I need to work longer to get back the endurance I had in February, and I need to work harder to build up the strength that summer trail riding demands. It's also important for me to practice, practice, practice, because technical riding is still a weakness of mine. I also need to utilize cross training, because these next two months will include lots of hiking, sea kayaking, running and other miscellaneous outdoor opportunities. So, doc, what do you recommend?

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Top 10 reasons for insanity

Date: April 25
Mileage: 41
April mileage: 405
Temperature upon departure: 40

Now that I'm planning on riding the Soggy Bottom 100, I should probably make a full disclosure about another summer race that is pretty close to making it on my "must do" list - the 24 Hours of Kincaid.

I know what you're thinking. Why put myself through that ... again? After all, there is a definite point where a mountain bike event stops being a race and starts to become, well, something else entirely. An exercise in insanity. Insomniac theater for athletes. There are only so many times you can ride around a loop before everything turns loopy.

There are so many reasons why riding the 24 Hours of Kincaid would be a bad idea. So I compiled a list of the relative few that make it a good idea:

1. I've already ridden/walked with/stared at with bitter resentment/and ridden a bike for a 24-hour period, so I know it's not outside the realm of possibility.
2. Not many women enter this race solo. Last year, I think the race only had one or two, so I'd have a great chance of finishing in the top 3.
3. I'm not sure what trails the 11.5-mile course covers, but I have ridden Kincaid Park before. Once. Three years ago. Therefore, I have experience.
4. The race is four days after summer solstice, so "night" riding will be almost nonexistent. There will only be about a two-hour period that I'd even need to use a light.
5. If my bike breaks or I bonk along the trail, the worst penalty I'd endure is a 5.75-mile walk to the starting line, not a painful death by hypothermia.
6. I'm not sure how many laps I could do in 24 hours, but last year's last place finisher did one. I'm fairly certain I could top that.
7. Sugar would finally have a chance to do what he does best: hop roots and negotiate hairpin turns. Now, if only I could catch up.
8. Training for this race will give me an excuse to do fun things like go on midnight trail rides or try to ride my road bike to Anchorage.
9. I've already learned the secret to surviving a 24-hour endurance event: Eat. Eat. And try to ignore the purple bunnies dancing across the trail.
10. I'm pretty sure that crazy races make me a better person.

What more reason do I need?

Monday, April 24, 2006

It's soggy out

Woke up this morning to more snow. I thought it was just as well because I was running behind and wasn't going to bike to work anyway, but the slush got its sweet revenge when it took me 10 minutes to back my car out the driveway. (When you drive a Geo in Alaska, it's all about patience.)

I thought more about yeserday's harassment incident. At the time, I was not really frightened. I just assumed they were bored idiots out for a joyride, who passed me once and thought it would be fun to go back and rile me up. It was enraging, sure, but I never felt in danger to the point where I actually would have pulled a can of bear mace on them (especially considering the high percentage of concealed weapon permits in this area.)However, it did think it strange that they were so old - they looked to be in their late-20s or early-30s, definitely old enough to know about the legal implications of terrorizing an unarmed cyclist. Also, as a strange coincidence, earlier that morning Geoff saw a white minivan with three people rumble down the driveway. He said the driver, a male, waved at him as he tried to turn the van around, apparently indicating that he mistook the driveway for a road. That happened at 11:30. About 40 minutes later, I was buzzed by a white minivan with three or more adults as it passed me 31 miles up the road. Coincidence? Or strange intersection of fate?

On a happier note, I received an e-mail the other day from Carlos, Alaska's own mountain-bike-race extraordinare, inviting me to participate in the Soggy Bottom 100. The Soggy Bottom is a 106-mile mountain bike race up an over the Resurrection Pass trail on July 22. "You have a sponsorship for the ride," he wrote, "so no moola is required." Can you believe it. Me? Sponsorship? A personal invitation to a race? How cool is that? I feel like I'm moving up in the world.

I think the Soggy Bottom is going to be a great ride, and will happen at a point in the summer when I hope to be at my strongest. It bills itself as the longest summer backcountry bicycle ride in Alaska (as opposed to winter, where the Iditarod Invitational has it beat by about 1,000 miles.) But the wheels are turning, plans are materializing, and it's definitely time to get my summer training started. Although, if it keeps snowing like it has, I may not actually get to practice riding on actual trails (the ones made out of rocks and roots and dirt) much before July. At least I have the local yokuls to keep me on my toes.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Harassed

Date: April 23
Mileage: 63
April mileage: 364
Temperature upon departure: 36

I'm not a big fan of biking on the Sterling Highway anytime, but I've noticed that the further north I ride, the deeper the twilight-zone factor is. It's a strange land of driven unemployment; of rows of single-wide trailers that serve simultaneously as day-care centers/ kennels/ charter offices/ tourist lodging and summer coffee shops; of inexplicable architecture and fake flowers planted in the snow.

So when a white minivan blew by me today blaring its horn, I wasn't surprised. This highway has a wide shoulder with a rumble-strip buffer, so traffic isn't usually very threatening. I nearly had it out of my mind when several minutes later, a startlingly similar van approached from the oncoming lane and swerved toward me, blaring its horn and swerving back into its own lane. My heart was racing against the surge of adrenaline and rage, but I stayed the course on the highway. I just couldn't believe that this van would turn around and come at me again.

No sooner had I thought it when I heard that high-pitched horn blast from behind. Everything around me turned red. I mashed into the pedals and began sprinting as I heard wheels hit the rumble strip, slowing down, no more than a few dozen yards behind me. I pulled further right until I was practically bouncing through the weeds, now 10 feet from the lane itself, just as this van pulled up beside me. A woman who at quick glance looked to be about my age rolled down the passenger-side window and screamed at me. No words, just screamed - "Ahhhhhh." The van was straddling the rumble strip, rolling at my pace only a few feet away. I could have reached out and punched the woman in her ugly face, and I'd be lying if I said there isn't a part of me that savors the thought. But I knew for my own safety that all I could do was look ahead as if no part of me noticed, and pedal against the tide of boiling blood. Finally, after an eternal second, the white minivan pulled away and headed down the road.

That is the exact point where I turned around and pedaled the way I came. I had not quite reached my destination. I was 31.5 miles from home.

The minivan did not come back, but it took quite a while before I calmed down and started thinking other thoughts besides a vengeance-tainted resolve to hunt that minivan down and cut the brake line. Why is that if someone pulls a gun on you, you can call the police? But if someone harasses you with a two-ton minivan filled with adults who are probably driving drunk at noon, your only recourse is the pull off the road and hide in a bush, or put up with it. Next time I ride the Sterling north of Anchor Point, I'm bringing my bear mace. And not because I'm afraid of bears.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Herd mentality

Date: April 21
Mileage: 31
April mileage: 301
Temperature upon departure: 38

During the past week, I have come to learn that there actually are other recreational road riders in Homer besides myself. They seem to be enthusiasts - meaning they're sporting no visible cotton on their bodies and riding bicycles that most likely weren't manufactured in China. However, like me, they always seem to be traveling solo. Scattered. Alone.

It's still too early in the season to know for sure, but it seems that there's no bicycle organization in my town. No bike club. There wasn't even a bike shop until very recently. Today I was thinking about organizing all of the lonely pedalers I've encountered into some sort of cohesive group - if nothing else, to find occasional reprieve from the near-constant wind on the Spit.

But as soon as I thought of it, logistics and doubt began to creep in. For one, I live in a terrible place to start a road bike club because I live in a terrible place to road bike. There's a 17-mile loop of bike paths and light-traffic roads that can be enjoyable, but that's about it. We have the Sterling Highway going north (the only artery in and out of town.) We have East End Road going east (narrow, winding ridge road used mostly by crazy Russians with large trucks and a tendency to drive 60 mph.) We have short stretches of neighborhood pavement with potholes that could swallow a Subaru. And the rest is gravel. Lots and lots of gravel. It's dismal, really.

And then I have my whole herd complex. I am exactly the wrong person to organize group rides, if only because I am terrified of riding in groups. I have clusterphobia. Those who occasionally scroll down through this blog probably saw my gaping knee road rash a few weeks back (still healing.) I sustained that in a crash with the one person I was riding with. Put me in the middle of a peloton amping up to 30 mph, and I am likely to cause a pileup of catastrophic proportions.

Cast that aside, and I still have the whole politics of a bike club to deal with. I still remember a "friendly" road ride I showed up for a few years back, a 30-mile jaunt down a board-flat stretch of the I-80 frontage road near Salt Lake City. I arrived on my Trek 6500, knobby tires running at about 30 psi, and I was wearing - tsk tsk - a T-shirt. The pack dropped me before I even had a chance to learn anyone's name. I was stuck in the back with an older gentleman who rode beside me as I puffed along and lectured me on the values of good gear and regular training. I know he meant well, but about 12 miles into the ride, I had had quite enough. As we approached a muddy four-wheeler trail heading off toward the Salt Lake, I said "I think I'll check this out," and bounced away from Mr. Bike Snob and the distant peloton. After that, I always saw group riders as the "Cool Kids Club" that I was definitely not a part of.

Who knows, though. The sheer lack of pavement in my town means I am probably going to pass my fellow riders more than occasionally. Maybe the group thing will just happen naturally, like rogue ducks joining a V-line. I just probably won't be the rider out front. Probably best if I'm not in the middle, either, for the safety of others. Put me in the back, and I'll probably end up where I started - alone, but happy.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Just for the halibut

Today I was finally indoctrinated into tourism side of Homer, which is known far and wide as the "Halibut Fishing Capitol of the World." (Note the addition of the word "Fishing" to that motto. If you just want to eat a halibut around here, you still have to dish out $12 a pound.) I hooked up with the Chamber of Commerce crew to tag some "little guys" for the annual halibut derby. After we tagged the requisite number of fish, they let us catch a couple of our own.

Compared to the rest of the boat, I had an awful morning. I caught three cod, had four incidents of snagging other peoples' lines, and then nothing - for hours. I just stood out there in the wind and blowing snow, wielding a fishing pole that weighs as much as my road bike and practically tap dancing to maintain an on-board (as opposed to overboard) position in the rising swells. I had taken two Dramamines to ward of seasickness but wound up feeling pitched and druggy instead. After a while it was hard not to ask myself - "and this is fun, why?"

At about noon, I was reeling up what I was certain was another cod, and I was thinking about the Popeye forearm muscles I could build if I did this kind of fishing everyday, when my first flatfish finally surfaced. No sooner had I reeled him in the boat and dropped my line back down when I felt another familiar tap-tap-tap. Second halibut, within seconds. And just like that, I was done. Four hours of nothing. Eight minutes of fishing. Done.

But there is a certain satisfaction, a feeling of warmth and independence, in pulling up your very own "little guy" - one that will net you a cool 10 pounds of moist, melt-in-your-mouth fillets. It makes the whole morning of mindlessly bouncing a four-pound sinker with frozen fingers seem entertaining - even exhilarating. In this way, fishing can be a lot like bicycling. Or mountaineering. Or hitting yourself repeatedly in the head with a hammer. It doesn't feel good until you stop.

On the Arctic Blast

Date: April 19
Mileage: 18
April mileage: 270
Temperature upon departure: 29
On the iPod: "Grey Ice Water" ~ Modest Mouse

"You're standing by the grey ice water
out in the wind above ground out in the weather
you had yourself a crazy lover
becoming frozen trying hard to forget her
you got a job up in alaska
it's easy to save what the cannery pays
cause there ain't no way to spend it

at home on a boat, it's a fish trap

You're standing by the grey ice water
out in the wind above ground out in the weather
you took the path of least resistance
on the phone cutting out talking
short to long distance

at home on a boat, it's a fish trap

you're standing by the grey ice water
out in the wind above ground out in the water
you had yourself a crazy lover
become unfrozen trying hard to forget her
you got a job up in alaska
it's easy to save what the cannery pays
cause there ain't no way to spend it

on the arctic blast
on the arctic blast
on the arctic blast
on the arctic blast
on the arctic blast

on the arctic blast
on the arctic blast"

Picture: Chris on the Sagavanirktok River; June 5, 2003

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Me vs. All

Date: April 18
Mileage: 56
April mileage: 252
Temperature upon departure: 45
On the iPod: "To the Sea" ~ Razorlight

After several days of snow, it felt warm out today. Downright balmy. I forgot about windchill. Now my throat hurts. But I wasn't the only one who emerged for spring's first, best gasp.

Ever have one of those days when you feel like you're in a constant competition for space? I wanted to put in a 50-mile day while it was nice out, but I didn't have any interest in venturing into the great beyond just yet (North Sterling Highway. Fresh snow banks. Scary.) So I did my favorite 17-mile loop - thrice - with an extra 5 miles to say hi to Geoff. The problem with this strategy was that I had to ride out and back the Homer Spit, thrice.

It seemed like everyone and their dog took to the Spit today: the walls of walkers; the precariously swerving mountain bikers; the streams of cars; and the road riders donning their shiny new lyrca, which had obviously been stuffed in a dark closet since Christmas. I had the most fun with the road riders. They were probably out for their first or second ride of the year, whereas I've been riding all winter, but they don't know that. All they see is this awkward cyclist clad in baggy fleece and riding a roadie with flat handlebars, fat touring tires and a Subway cup full of watered-down Diet Coke stuffed in the water bottle cage. I must have looked ridiculous out there, which is why it was that much more fun to blow by the roadies, humming some silly song as if the process was effortless (although, I have to admit, I was huffing a little myself. Some of those fair-weather roadies must have indoor trainers.)

The pedestrians, however, often presented an insurmountable obstacle. When the Spit is busy, it's impossible to win as a cyclist. If you take to the road, cars will honk and swerve and generally act more aggressive than usual because There Is A Bike Path Right There. But if you use the bike path, you will undoubtedly approach a group of oncoming walkers, as I did today, strolling side by side and taking up the entire trail with no intention of moving out of your way. Today I approached four women on a narrow part of the trail, after a long straightaway - which meant they had a chance to see me coming for several minutes. Within about 50 feet of them, it became apparent that my only options were to: hit the guardrail, drop off a 15-foot embankment, slam directly into one or more of them ... or stop. I practically had my foot down on the pavement before one woman reluctantly slipped a little ways to the left, giving me about a 10-inch space to wedge through. Grrrrr.

I guess I can deal with it if it means the weather stays above 45 and sunny. It's not likely, but still - I'll take the pedestrian clog over sleet any day.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Easter ride

Date: April 16
Mileage: ~25
April mileage: 196
Temperature upon departure: 27
On the iPod: "Back to the Earth" ~ Rusted Root

When Dutch explorer Jacob Roggeveen "discovered" Easter Island in 1722, he Christened it with a name that evokes images of a springtime oasis with chirping birds and flowers. Then he wrote in his log:

April 5, 1722 (Easter Sunday) "We originally, from a further distance, have considered the said Easter Island as sandy; the reason for that is this, that we counted as sand the withered grass, hay or other scorched and burnt vegetation, because its wasted appearance could give no other impression than of a singular poverty and barrenness."

April 16, 2006 (Easter Sunday)
9:20 a.m. "The goal"
So the plan is to take advantage of the crust snow to find a trail through the wilds of Crossman Ridge to the oasis of Bridge Creek. All of the kiddies and their snowmobile-riding parents are down in town combing the muddy fields for half-frozen eggs and those individually wrapped marshmallow things that taste like glue. There should be no disturbances. I anticipate smooth riding.

~9:35 a.m. "No Water"
Still five miles from the trailhead, I realize in the midst of my first climb that I forgot my water bottle. Shoot.

~10:20 a.m. "Hit snow"
Long climb to the trailhead only to discover several hundred yards of thick mud before I can climb on top of the snowmobile trail. I find it to be glassy and as solid as concrete, if a snowmobile had torn through the wet cement prior to its hardening. It's a technical mess of ruts and divots, but it's fast. So, so fast.

~10:35 a.m. "So Fast"
Despite several snow drifts that stop me altogether, it only takes about 15 minutes to whittle away all the elevation I gained in an hour. I am bouncing and turning, rolling on top of ruts and dropping back in. I am unstoppable.

~10:50 a.m. "Hmmmm"
The snowmobile trail I was following has mysteriously petered out into the woods. I don't see any opening through the trees, so I'll have to turn back and find a different trail.

~11:20 a.m. "Hmmmmmmmmmm"
I've found remnants of a summer trail - an interpretive wooden marker. But no sign of a main trail. Just snowmobile tracks heading in every direction.

~11:30 a.m. "I forge my own trail"
I have an idea of the general direction of Bridge Creek, and the crust snow allows me to ride atop it through the woods. I weave in and out of trees but the woods become too thick. I'm off the bike and walking, tripping over stumps and the emerging skeletons of bushes until I arrive at an impassable ravine.

~11:45 a.m. "Climbing back"
I follow my own trail back to the snowmobile tracks I originally left, only to realize that they seem to go in all the wrong directions.

~11:55 a.m. "I pick the wrong trail"
Still hoping to find the magic route through the woods, I follow a single snowmobile track downhill, again flying, bouncing, having a great time ... until the trail dead ends.

~12:10 p.m. "I'm thirsty"
It's hard work walking back up these trails. They're steep and what little traction they provide make it nearly impossible to ride, so I get off the trail and mash my way through the breaking crust as I pedal uphill.

~12:20 p.m. "Snowmobile maze"
I begin to wish I didn't use the trails at all. My tracks are indistinguishable from the ruts and divots of the snowmobiles. I have no idea which trail is mine. I have no idea where to go.

~12:25 p.m. "I'm lost"
I begin think I'm not on my original trail. I'm veering way too far north. I think I may be dropping into another valley all together.

~12:40 p.m. "Definitely on the wrong trail"
Now I'm practically to creek elevation, in the wrong canyon. I thought the downhill would be a shortcut back to the reservoir but I was so, so wrong. Time to climb again.

~12:45 p.m. "I'm thirsty"
Need ... water.

~12:50 p.m. "I eat snow"
It tastes like dirt.

~1:00 p.m. "These woods are a wasteland"
I never really noticed how many of these spruce trees are dead, or how many skeletal branches clog up the woods. And what's underneath all this snow? Probably a bunch of dry grass that's going to ignite into massive wildfires come summer. But would it really be so bad for someone to build a cabin down here?

~1:05 p.m. "I begin to regain my sense of direction"
I'm pretty sure I'm heading due south, so if I can just push through these woods, I should come to the trail just above the reservoir. Just walk in a straight line.

~1:10 p.m. "I hit drifts"
Beneath the trees, the crust hasn't set up as much. I think the sharp ice shards are cutting holes in my pants; doesn't help that I'm sinking up to my thighs.

~1:15 p.m. "I find the Homestead trail"
Rejoice! Rejoice!

~1:25 p.m. "I make it back to the reservoir."
I pedal as hard as I can while mud splatters everywhere.

~1:45 p.m. "I make it home."
And drink about a gallon of water and weak Gatorade.

Happy Easter!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Enough already

Date: April 14 and 15
Mileage: 23 and 27
April mileage: 171
Temperature upon departure: 28 (Friday) and 33 (Saturday)
On the iPod: "Modern Romance" ~ Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Yesterday was Geoff's 30th birthday. Today is tax day. Tomorrow is Easter. Talk about a strange holiday weekend.

I sure do get lazier on the weekends. I blame stressful weekdays. And late Friday nights. And disconcerting weather. I'm starting to understand why many Alaskans, even us soft-skinned southcentral types, start to become a little, well ... touched ... as time goes by. I mean, we do live on the edge of the world amid vast amounts of uninhabited space. But I think it's the whole nine months of winter that really gets to our collective psychological health. Pretend for a minute you're a person from California, approaching this place on a plane. Outside is a brilliant, burning sun, still hours from setting at 7 p.m. On the ground, you see people milling around in shirt sleeves, which makes sense to you because, well, it's April and it's an incredible sunny day. Then you see this crazy cyclist bundled to the nines in full winter gear and face mask, and that makes sense to you too, because, well, Alaska is known for its crazies. After the plane lands, you step outside to the full blast of gale-force winds whipping freezing spray off the ocean, the temperatures hovering in the low 30s, the 25 mph wind driving the chill to bone-freezing depths. Suddenly, your entire first impression is flipped.

What's the deal with those short-sleeved pedestrians? The answer: It's the driest, and therefore sunniest time of year in these parts. They've been bundled up in Carharts and flannel for seven months. So as far as they're concerned, it's summer. They'll thaw out their digits when they get home.

So what's the deal with that cyclist? She's fighting this freezing blast of headwind with just about every piece of gear she remembers using during some of her tougher December rides. Now that it's April, she has to admit that she's a little tired. She's learning to adapt to this cold place. She even thinks she's doing a good job of it, but she has to admit it's gotten to her, just a bit. She hasn't seen an outdoor thermometer reach 50 degrees since her first month in Alaska, in September. She came from a place where April meant new life, tons of green, chirping birds ... the whole package. Then she moved to a place where April means dry wind and dust and crusty snow that refuses to melt beneath a glaring sun that refuses to give warmth.

Maybe she just needs to get used to it. Maybe she, too, will be tooling around in minimalist clothing within the year. Maybe her problem is she's just not crazy Alaskan enough.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Bedroom view, 9:38 p.m.

Date: April 13
Mileage: 23
April mileage: 121
Temperature upon departure: 27 (morning)
On the iPod: "History of a Boring Town" ~ Less Than Jake

Today's was a rough and windy ride. After I arrived at home, I tore off my helmet and balaclava, but my face still felt warm. The day was by no means warm, and neither was the house. Could it be? I walked toward a mirror. Red tint ... darkened freckles ... well, what do you know? The year's first sunburn.

It's like a rite of passage, a mark of my arrival into spring. I still associate the annual ritual with a sunburn I sustained almost exactly 10 years ago. I remember the date because it was tax day, April 15, 1996. My best friend and I walked out of our third period English class and kept on going. We were both car-less at the time and completely without a reason to leave school, but I remember that the sun was blazing overhead and it had to be at least 85 degrees out. Spring fever beckoned and we walked like zombies toward it ... just walked ... for hours. We must have covered nine or ten miles before we finally made our way home. When I walked in the door, my mom took one look at me and turned a shade of red that I had never seen before. That is, until I looked down and realized my arms resembled radioactive lobsters. Nearly every inch of exposed skin was a glowing marquee that said "I didn't go to class at all today." That year, I was punished twice.

This year's burn is decidedly subdued. More like a sunkiss, a spot of faint color in the narrow slit between the middle of my forehead and the tip of my nose. That's the year's first sunburn, Alaska style. I'll take it.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Holy bike gear Batman

Date: April 12
Mileage: 21
April mileage: 98
Temperature upon departure: 40
On the iPod: "We Are Nowhere, And It's Now" ~ Bright Eyes

eBay is an amazing thing. It brings the world's biggest garage sale to your doorstep, and whether you're a resident of New York or Alaska or Kalamazoo, it's yours for the taking if you want it enough.

Today Geoff stumbled across a listing for a huge lot of mountain bike gear. Absolutely mammoth. We're talking more gear than most ever dream of owning in their lifetimes, and then some. The seller is a chick who recently retired from racing, and she is unloading all of her stuff in one lump package. Her auction doesn't even list everything she is selling. It includes (and of course is not limited to):

* 10 different pairs of biking gloves
* 18 3/4 pairs of biking pants (don't ask me what the 3/4 implies)
* 20 pairs of shorts
* "Soooooo many tops" (her words)
* 3 vests
* 9+ jackets
* 9 half-tanks (what's a half-tank?)
* 10 hats
* 50+ pairs of socks
* and enough random maintenance stuff to get any century-a-day rider through the next decade.

It's excess in its most blatant form, thrown at the World Wide Web At Large for a starting bid of just $600. I gave it some serious thought. I mean it. There's a good chance this girl, a former racer, is smaller than I am. But I'm 130 pounds myself, so the difference is probably negligible enough that most of it would fit me, especially since some of the sizes are listed as "medium." But what in the world would I do with 18 3/4 pairs of cycling pants? Currently, I don't even own one pair. It's funny, actually. When it comes to consumer products, I inherited from my dad a kind of blanket practicality that borders on indifference. My current cycling repertoire (that is, my clothing that actually qualifies in the category of strictly cycling gear) includes:

* 3 pairs of well-worn bike shorts (well-worn in that every single pair went with me on a cross-country tour two and a half years ago, and I still have yet to buy new shorts)
* 2 long-sleeve bike jerseys, both generic
* 3 short-sleeve bike jerseys, also generic
* one pair short padded gloves
* one pair full padded gloves
* one helmet

Wow. That may actually be it. I don't even own clipless pedals, for crying out loud. I'm a sad case. Hopeless, as my mom would sometimes say when she tried to take me shopping. Not that I wouldn't like to own stuff. I really do appreciate the edge or comfort a really good piece of quality gear can provide. And I have been really diligent lately about buying stuff ... warm stuff ... stuff I needed to keep me alive.

But then this auction came along, and it was going to bring it all to me - more stuff than I could ever dream of using, and all I had to do was click a button. Alas, the auction ended this evening without meeting the reserve, so I'll never know how close I came. However ... she may relist. How much do you think a lifetime supply of cycling jerseys would be worth?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Crunchy goodness

Date: April 11
Mileage: 24
April mileage: 77
Temperature upon departure: 32
On the iPod: "The Plan" ~ Built to Spill

Boy was I grumpy when I set out on my bike ride today. It started out as a sunny day and deteriorated quickly. By the time I left work, it was blowing snow. On top of that, I forgot my ski goggles. I guided my bike through the white static while trying to look anywhere but forward. The present came to me in a cinematic flicker of involuntary blinking. I was annoyed, but I wanted to take others' good advice about getting back on the bike, because I've already had plenty of days off.

Amazingly, about seven miles into the ride, I began to loosen up. The knot of irritation released in bursts of energy. I embraced my blindness and accepted that I was moving by shapes and sounds. And I began to think that maybe I'm not tired of cycling. Maybe I'm just tired of winter.

On the way home, I rode beside an open field of smooth snow. I don't know why I pulled my bike over a six-foot snowbank to reach it. The snow conditions are changing so quickly that I could have encountered anything. I could have sunk up to my hips in ice shards or collapsed into a hollowed-out slush puddle. But what I found was hardpack so solid that I barely left footprints as I walked. That's when I knew I had arrived.

The rumbling crunch of studs hitting hardpack snow is a beautiful sound. I zigzagged through the field because I had nowhere to go and no place to be. I was as free as the bald eagles that I scared from their perches. They circled through a swirl of falling snow and landed a hundred yards ahead, and still I rode toward them ... a directionless pursuit. I dropped into a gully and began to follow a stream bed, pedaling hard enough to feel the cold wind burn in my lungs and the enduring thrill of weaving around bushes and trees ... create-your-own-singletrack. The snow was soft enough in spots that the occasional posthole had serious consequences (think brake check). But I was amazed how easily I could decide where I wanted to be and just float there. I was a rider without a trail, with no need for a trail. The world was my trail.

And I began to think that maybe I'm not tired of winter. Maybe I just have the wrong ideas about spring.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Cyclists' block

I am in need of some serious motivation. Like Matt Foley kick-down-your-door-and-enlighten-you-about-your-future-in-a-van-down-by-the-river-type motivation. I have a serious case of cyclists' block, and I'm not sure how to get through it.

It was so easy in the winter. Basically, I had a plan to do this frozen-tundra century that was so overwhelmingly terrifying that everything (and I mean everything) seemed pleasant in contrast. Now I'm facing decidedly easier conditions. Sure, the "paved" roads are so riddled with frost heaves that I can get some serious (and I mean serious) air on my road bike. And sure, a fierce west wind coupled with 25-degree temps dropped the wind chill down to single digits today. And sure, the slow-moving spring break-up causes all (and I mean all) surfaces to turn to soup. But still, there's no excuse for my inability to get out and ride.

This morning I woke up, dressed in some cycling gear, went downstairs and stared at my bikes. Just stared at them, for several minutes. Then, almost inexplicably, I went back upstairs, grabbed my gym outfit and keys, and left for work in my car. I can't explain why I didn't want to ride this morning. I just couldn't face it. Then, after I left work, I had this idea to pick up where I left off and go for an evening ride. But once outside, the wind hit me like a blast of freezer burn. I grabbed my iPod and high-tailed it to the climate-controlled elliptical trainer.

As I turned the hamster wheel and browsed a great article about Edward R. Murrow, I thought about writers block and the way it can feel like it's never going to end. I'm starting to think that maybe cyclists experience the same thing. It's frustrating, after a full-steam winter, to suddenly hit a wall. It's even more frustrating because summer, the actual bicycling "season," is just about to begin. But I'm still holding out hope that my cyclist's block ... much like the ice-choked Tenana River ... will soon collapse under pressure from the relentless Arctic sun and melt into the even flow of summer.

Where's the inspiration? Where's the passion? Where's Chris Farley when you need him?

Back from the trenches

This weekend was the first time I'd spent more than a few hours in the City of Anchors since I moved up here. Anyone (in any profession) who's ever attended a conference already knows what I did: ate greasy mall food and overpriced-but-still-greasy bistro specials for three days straight; spent the daytime hours sipping lemon tea and purified water in stale, 80-degree hotel conference rooms; absorbed a lot of industry knowledge laced with a touch of trademark self-importance; stayed out way too late every night in crowded reggae clubs; and tried in vain to sleep in a frigid hotel room with snoring coworkers.

Talk about exhausting. It was a lot of fun to meet the denizens of Alaska's alternative press, including the folks of Insurgent 49 and The Ester Republic. Through it all I only really got out once, on Saturday, for an eight or nine-mile run along the coastal trail and the perimeter of the city. That small tour of Anchorage made me feel more homesick than I have since Christmas. There are so many similarities between Anchorage and Salt Lake City. I actually spent much of my outside time entrenched in moments of de ja vu: the apartment decks lined with bicycles; the nondescript architecture; the sun-lit viaducts; the big, barren body of saltwater nearby that seems to be largely ignored. Both cities feature towering mountains wrapped around nearly-tapped-out suburban sprawl. They both have populations in the quarter-million range. They're both clinging to the fading soul of their downtown area while the parking lots and trinket shops quietly move in. Salt Lake and Anchorage could be sister cities, if it weren't for Anchorage's insistence to put a moose, bear or eagle on just about every enterprise in town.

All in all, I overindulged and spent too much money, but I met some passionate people and did a lot of speed learning. Will I be a better journalist for it? I don't know. You got any more of that lemon tea?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Racing twilight

Date: April 5
Mileage: 17
April Mileage: 53
Temperature upon departure: 37

I'm going to be on hiatus for a few days here so I can go up to Anchorage and hobnob with real journalists during the Press Club conference. The bikes are staying home, too, which means I'm going to have to spend the weekend sucking in those city fumes and making a mockery of running with my 10-minute miles. Maybe I'll get lucky and the hotel will have a fitness center. Maybe I can even challenge my boss to a treadmill race.

On second thought ... scratch that. But one thing's for sure - I do need to start thinking about training again if I am going to attempt any major summer events. I can't believe there's less than two months until June! I still leave the house every morning in the shadow of massive banks of snow. The old-timers tell me the spring thaw will wipe it out quick, but, really ... I'll believe it when I see it. For now, I feel pretty confident in my belief that I am currently living under the beginnings of a new glacier.

Today I had already put in about 10 hours at the office and driven home when I had to return to town for a literary reading by some local authors. I wanted to get in some riding today, so I took my bike. The reading was good but dragged on until a little after 9 p.m. By the time it ended, the sun was well below the horizon, and I was facing my usual epic hill climb on a road bike with no lights and about a half hour of twilight left. So I scrolled through my iPod until I found some old-school Rage Against the Machine and I pumped it, hard. I even began to slip into that place where I hear nothing and see nothing but gasps and flashes of light - "the tunnel," as I've heard it called. It's a hard place to force myself into, believe me, but I really am that scared of traffic.

When I arrived at home it was 9:30, which means my average for the climb was about 10 mph - far faster than I've ever done it. So maybe there is hope for me yet.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

I used to be better at my job

Date: April 4
Mileage: 31
April Mileage: 36
Temperature upon departure: 41

Had one of those long, frustrating, hectic days at work that buzzed by before I ever looked up at the clock. I came home, ate because I felt a little hungry, and headed out on Roadie. At first I put the bike on top of my car, but when I couldn't get out of my driveway due to shin-deep slush, I just saddled up and rode my bike from my house - slush, mud, gaping potholes on all. I should do cyclocross.

I had a great ride, and I was amazed how little traffic there was. There didn't seem to be a car on the road. When I finally completed the climb back home, I found out why - it was 9 p.m. I don't care what people say. I love Daylight Savings Time.

Also, today I found out I won an award from the Alaska Press Club! I wanted to thank Mary for leaving a comment to inform me of this. Turns out I won third place for "Best Layout and Page Design" for a page I designed back in November called "Hanging 10 at 10 degrees" (It's about people who ridiculously attempt a summer sport - surfing - in the middle of winter in Alaska. How could I possibly relate to such a thing?) I was happy about the award, but it's hard not to feel overshadowed by my place on the short podium.

See, when I was a bright-eyed graduate fresh out of college, I secured the feature editor position on a circ.-7,000 community newspaper in Tooele, Utah. What a great job, right? I was but a week on the job when I rolled into work bright and early on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. When I stepped into the newsroom, it was just a few minutes after 7 a.m. MST - just in time to see something very shocking live on the T.V.

That day, I had a reporting assignment prescheduled at the Deseret Chemical Depot. I was supposed to participate in a mock decontamination drill the DCD had planned, then come back to the office to complete my duties as feature editor. Convinced that World War III was beginning, I still drove out to the Depot because, well, it was my job - a brand new job - and I didn't know what else to do. The problem is, the Deseret Chemical Depot is a chemical weapons incineration plant. They store chemical weapons, massive quantities of mustard gas and other lovely products that could easily wipe out the entire western half of Utah with one swift hit. I arrived that the depot at about 7:30 a.m., just a few minutes before the entire facility went into complete lockdown. No one was allowed to leave, including me.

As the only "media" within reach, the DCD commander dragged me into his office and explained the entire situation to me. He spent over an hour with me alone, waxing eloquent about the futility of terrorism and the stregnth of spirit in America. I scrawled pages and pages of notes, convinced that I, a measly feature editor, was about the write the Tooele Transcript-Bulletin news story of the year.

When the Depot finally cleared me to leave, I drove as fast as I could back to the office, equipped with my Pullizer-worthy notes and action photographs of soldiers barricading the entrances. What a great local tie-in to the news story of the decade, right? When I got back to the office, I excitedly told my editor what had happened. He smiled and told me to give my notes and photos to a news reporter. "You have feature pages to design," he said.

And as I watched the Pentagon burn, the Twin Towers fall, the entire world as I knew it collapse around me, I designed a freak'n feature page. It was about a guy who builds cement flower pots in his backyard. I slapped it together, sent the thing to press, and turned back to watching the TV.

When the 2001 Utah Press Association awards banquet came around the following year, guess which page won first place in the "Best Feature Page" for small newspapers? That's right. The one dated Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

I think that was the day I lost my passion for these awards. Or maybe it's because, with just a week of experience behind me, I created something I'll never be able to top.

Turtle

My coworker took these pictures of Geoff making the transition from foot to bike - that smirk on Geoff's face is his reaction to all the cheering he received because he was the first runner in. I got my triathlon results today. I jogged the 5K in 31 minutes (I expected as much.) I climbed the 7.5K mountain bike leg in 29 minutes (at least that time was in the top half of all competitors, which I think is not bad for racing at my "commuter" speed), and finished the 5K ski in a dismal 41 minutes. There was only one guy in the entire race that skied slower. Judging by the amount of time I spent on the ground, I'm guessing that guy broke something.

This winter has been my first experiment with regimented exercise - training if you will - and I am definitely learning something about my physical inclinations. Geoff has been blessed with the enviable talent of both speed and endless endurance. I, unfortunately, will never have speed. But I do believe that endurance is within my grasp.

See, I lack the two most important qualities for speed - the muscular makeup to achieve it, and the competitive drive to work for it. In all honesty, I raced a sprint triathlon at the same speed I would have if I was running a course five times as long. I waved at runners as the blew by me and made self-depreciating comments to the skiers who stepped over me on the trail. Even without taking the race seriously, my "go-get-em" drive was seriously lacking.

And this is the exact reason why I believe I could be so good at endurance. My body finds this physical threshold of long-term comfort, and it holds me there. There isn't a competitive synapse or hormone burst in me that's willing to break it, risk it for something better. And I could just continue at this level for - well - I'm not even sure how long. I remained at this level for most of the 24 hours it took me to do the Susitna 100. I didn't experience any discomfort beyond general sleeplessness and soggy chill, and my muscles recovered very quickly after the race. As it turns out, my "Sea to Ski" experience was somewhat similar.

I am a turtle. A spectacularly slow turtle. But I do believe that, with the will to do it, I could use my turtle powers to finish just about any distance, within a time that's considered reasonable, and have a great time doing it. All I need to do is work to increase my comfort threshold - for example, adding miles per hour to the the speed I can comfortably bike at. If I can do it for one hour, I can do it for 24. I'm not saying I'm certain of this. But I do hope to test this theory further as the summer season approaches.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Triathlete

Date: April 2
Mileage: About 5
April Mileage: 5
Temperature upon departure: 35

Today I raced the Homer Sea to Ski Triathlon.

Ok. Maybe "raced" is a bit of a stretch. While fighting off wind exhaustion and sore calves from yesterday's "out in the weather" camping marathon, I jogged a 5K, pedaled a pretty decent 7.5K mountain bike climb and - while still spectacularly awful - did manage to get through a 5K cross-country ski without stabbing myself with a ski pole.

But the important thing is, I completed my first triathlon. Which (I think) makes me a triathlete. Never mind my general disdain of running, the fact that climbing is my weakest link as a cyclist, or my stunning inability to stay vertical on a pair of skis. I am Ironwoman.

Geoff and I decided to do it on a lark. It was a sprint event after all, so there wasn't too much worry about not finishing or hobbling to the end. Plus, today was a beautiful day. And, according to current forecasts, it may be the only one until May. It was a good way to spend an afternoon - meeting athletic neighbors, getting some good exercise. I decided from the get-go that I wasn't going to race it hard. We took off from the Mariner Park (the "Sea" part of the name) at 1 p.m. Headwinds were blowing fierce right into our faces, which made it feel much colder than the 35 degrees it was. Still, that didn't stop Geoff from taking off like a flash and finishing first on the running leg with what he guestimates was probably a 18 or 19-minute longish 5K (the results aren't online yet, but I'll be happy if mine was close to 30 minutes.)

Those 10-minute miles placed me solidly in the back third of the pack, so I had the thrilling opportunity to pass a lot of people on the bike leg. We were climbing, climbing, I was riding easy and passing cyclists (OK. So most of them looked suspiciously younger than 16. Still). When we reached Highland Drive, the gravel road was a slushy, icy, unplowed, pothole-filled mess. I was so thrilled. "Finally!" I thought. "This is my event." Forgetting that I had filled my tires to a solid 45 psi, I tore through the slush with reckless abandon, swerving down the rolling hills and pumping hard up. I passed more people. Mud flew in all directions. I flew forward. Dozens disappeared behind me. I was reaching the middle of the pack - I was beating many of the relayers. The race would have been mine - but then it was time to ski.

The ski started out with a steep downhill. I missed the first turn and planted my bad knee in hard ice, literally screaming out in pain because I was unable to hold it in. The trail was icy and hilly - unfortunantly for me, it was mostly downhill. Skier after skier flew by. I limped along. At one downhill, I fell near the top, lost my pole, skidded all the way down, and literally had to crawl back up the hill to retrieve it. Then, after failing to duck-walk up another steep, icy hill, I abandoned my vertical stance again in favor of a few quick frog hops (I learned this technique as a mediocre snowboarder.) There are so many ways to explain why my ski leg was so, so pathetic. And yet, I had fun. The sun was shining. I could hear a bull horn blowing in the distance. What was there to complain about?

I think my final time was about 1:40. I really hope my run/cycle was under an hour, and only the ski was that mind-numbingly awful. The truth is, I didn't keep track of my time, so I don't really know. But I didn't race hard. I feel better now than I did when I woke up this morning (except for my knee, which broke open again on the ice skids). So, all in all, I'd say I came out ahead.

By the way, about that picture - my feet aren't really that big. In my ignorance of European sizes, I bought a pair of ski boots that are really about a men's 10. I wear a women's 8.5. Could that be my problem? I'd like to blame something.

Triathlete, out.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

April fools

April came around and Geoff and I finally got around to going winter camping. It was pretty cool. By that, I mean it wasn't a disaster. By that, I mean it wasn't a spectacular disaster.

We left for Caribou Lake in a raging snowstorm - him on skis and dragging what turned out to be a very study sled setup, me slogging behind on snowshoes and carrying what wouldn't fit in the sled on my back. We hiked into the wilderness about five miles on Friday and set up camp a little ways off the trail. I took off my snowshoes and instantly sank up to my crotch. It was all snowshoes all the time from that moment on.

We built a fire that provided warmth only in that it needed to be fed constantly with the thin, wet spruce branches we were trying to burn - so we had to do a lot of hiking, sawing, hauling, repeat. We began cooking dinner before we realized that we forgot to bring any silverware, so we had to eat this thin, soupy vegetable mixture in tortillas - slopping half our dinner over the firepit/snowbank (um ... the bears are still sleeping, right?). The new snow was heavy and wet, and it soaked into everything - gloves, coats, pants, base layers, skin. Our only respite was a little four-season tent, which wasn't waterproof on the bottom, and which soaked up the melting base with reckless abandon.

I slept through the night but was reluctant to get out of the tent in the morning, knowing the only thing I had to look forward to was eating gruel ... I mean oatmeal ... with a spruce twig and pacing around camp in my sopping wet clothes (sitting still for more than a few minutes was out of the question in the building windchill.) Geoff and I set out on a day hike around the lake that slogged on for six of its own miles. We returned to camp, ate tuna sandwiches as fast as we could get them down our throats while our body temperatures ticked down several increments, then began the march home just as the snowstorm was picking up steam into a full-on, into-the-wind, white-out blizzard.

And as I shuffled across the barren surface of a frozen lake - a space so choked in the monotone whiteness that walking with my eyes closed only improved visibility, with windburn searing my cheeks and chin - a painful sort of irony struck me. April showers - April fools.

Nature can be so cruel.