Thursday, June 29, 2006

A baiku attempt

Date: June 29
Mileage: 17.1
June mileage: 664.4
Temperature upon departure: 57

Got back on the bike
Saddle sores still scabbed over
Summer never waits

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Recovery

I've been feeling like a slug for the past couple of days, a little unsure about the point when my body goes from "recovery" to "atrophy while eating Tostitos on the couch." I hit the gym today because I thought it would be good for my energy level to get my heart rate up without stressing my impact injuries. Can't say it helped, but at the same time - it didn't seem to hurt. And that led me to another question - if 72 hours after a 24-hour race, I feel well enough to run for an hour, maybe I didn't push myself hard enough during the race itself. But how do you make that decision? Where does "pushing hard" turn to "massive meltdown in the middle of the woods?"

I am still dealing with Kincaid fallout. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever get the feeling back in my three middle fingers on my right hand - they're disconcertingly locked in that "asleep" phase that usually precludes the tingly feeling that leads back to normal circulation. I also regained that constant, sharp pain in my left shoulder, proving that it's not a camelbak injury, but rather a consequence of hanging over handlebars for 24 hours. As for my fingers - I blame the roots.

At the same time, I do feel pretty good for just putting my body through the 16 circles of hell. It has me asking those "what if" questions, and I'm already formulating a plan for "next time:"

1. Race more competitively. Now that I know I can ride it out, I feel like it wouldn't take an unreasonable amount of effort to ride faster.
2. Take less chatty breaks. This goes with being more competitive. On Saturday and Sunday, I wasted a lot of time stopped at my camp, nibbling on sandwiches and chatting with Geoff. This added to the enjoyment of the race for sure, but did nothing for recovery and generally slowed down my progress.
3. Experiment with liquid nutrition. Peanut Butter Sandwiches, while delicious, just don't ride well over the long haul, I've learned. I probably don't need to elaborate.
4. Start keeping closer track of my progress. If I had decided to make a push beginning at 5 a.m. rather than 9 a.m., I could have easily completed 17 laps instead of 16. As it was, I came up only 10 minutes short.

I already feel excited. It's amazing how quickly we forget the pain in the aftermath of one fleeting moment of triumph ... how I wasn't able to eat - and hardly drink - for the last 40 miles of the race as I struggled with sensations that my body was about to turn inside out ... how my forearms vibrated with intense pain as I flew over roots and rocks, unwilling to slow down and waste perfectly good gravity ... how after 18 hours in the same pair of sweaty shorts, I ended up with the equivalent of a diaper rash ... but that didn't matter anyway because I already had a saddle sore on the verge of bleeding.

And yet, every time I rolled through that checkpoint, I'd get this self-fulfilling surge of energy -adrenaline and dopamine, a dangerous cocktail that turns even the most unlikely candidates into endurance junkies. It reminds me of a quote I heard by Alaska endurance racer Bill Merchant that applies to his epic Iditarod Invitational race, but works well in this context, too:

"We go into the Alaska backcountry to see if we have any cracks in ourselves. We go back a year later to see if we've done anything about them."

Monday, June 26, 2006

Fifth place!

Geoff took this photo at the mass start of the 24 Hours of Kincaid race, a sprint to the bikes that were lined up 50 meters from the starting line. Before the giant stadium clock ticked 12:00:00, I had a quick exchange with the three women in the top left. They talked about how ridiculous it was to begin a 12 and 24-hour-long race with a 50-meter dash. But what a fun way to begin what can become a grueling, repetitive, sometimes excruciatingly slow race. I ran it. I'm not ashamed. Then I climbed onto my bike for the turtle crawl into fifth place of the solo division - and first woman, though there aren't separate rankings. It's my first time being in the top third of any pack, let alone some of the top endurance racers in the state. Slow and steady, but steady is key.

When I set out into the bluebird weather of high noon, I truly had no idea what I was in for. I rode Kincaid Park only once before, in July 2003, and I remember it as somewhat difficult - but then again, in 2003 I had about as much mountain biking experience as a 6-year-old in Kansas. And then I heard people talk about Kincaid as a "road bike" trail network. I figured - how bad could it be?

Either those people have one gnarly road bike, or the Kincaid race organizers, geniuses all, plotted out a loop to circle the toughest terrain that glacial moraine has to offer. Less than a quarter mile into the race the hills began - fast rising, fast falling, climbing a total of 1,100 feet in every lap. Interspersed among that steep double track was at least three miles of fairly technical single track - jumping roots, ducking fallen trees, and plummeting down veritable cliff bands with my butt so far over the seat that I could almost feel the tread on my back tire spinning around. It was difficult enough that after six miles I thought I was going to cry, because I thought there was no way I was going to be able to sustain such effort and focus for 24 hours. But at mile 7 the miracle of Kincaid opened up. The trail dropped into a roller coaster so fast and fun that by mile 10.5 - the starting line - I had completely forgotten why I was so upset. Then I continued that process. For 15 more laps. Those race organizers are geniuses.

The effort of going all night was actually my time to shine. With the 12-hour racers finished, and many of the team racers and most of their support network in bed, I suddenly found myself alone in the Zen twilight - pumping out the miles with serene complacency and a carefully selected songlist on my iPod. At 3:30 a.m., after just one lap with my headlight on, I watched the sun begin to rise in nearly the same spot I had seen it set three hours earlier. I did my fastest lap of the race in the quiet dawn between 3:43 and 4:55 a.m.

It's amazing how those quiet moments, rolling past patches of purple lupine or a moose settled in to watch you go by, add up to statistics that make your mom's jaw drop. Even today, I think about the way I just rode nearly 170 miles yesterday, climbing more than 16,600 feet in the process, all the while maneuvering all those roots and hairpin turns - and it doesn't even seem possible. At yet, at the time, it's just the process, the routine, the way things add up. Slowly. One lap at a time.

I feel like I have more to say, but it's just about time to hit the pillow. Tomorrow, I'll probably try again. In the meantime, I just wanted to thank my fellow racers for their support, Tim and Dave of Megasorass, winner Pete Basinger for being the inspiring machine that he is, and race organizer Reggi Parks for being so enthusiastic and cheering for me every time I went by that checkpoint. And of course, Geoff, for the 3 a.m. peanut butter sandwiches that showed up in the cooler and for lubing and tuning my bike when I was too fargone to care. These races are a team effort no matter how much you enjoy the solitude. That's what makes them so rewarding.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Kinsanity

Date: June 24 and 25
Mileage: 168.2
June mileage: 647.3 (inc. 18 miles June 22)
Temperature upon departure: 63

I'm back from the 24 hours of Kincaid race - long, dusty, hilly. Surprising technical stretches. Moose on the trail. Hills. Psycho porcupines. Deteriorating judgment. Long. Not that I'm nearly lucid enough right now to post a race report. The race organizers haven't posted the race results yet, but I surprised myself with my progress. According to the last updates I saw before I left Anchorage, I placed anywhere from third place to sixth place among all solo 24-hour cyclists, with the top finisher at 22 laps, second place at 19, and three others that were near me at about 16. Out of two solo women, I actually came in first by several laps. Hopefully they'll post the results on the Web site soon.

For 22 hours and 55 minutes I pounded out 16 loops, at 10.5 miles a piece. I kept a consistent pace throughout the race - my fastest loop was 1 hour, 12 minutes and my slowest was 1 hour, 23 minutes, and I took a 5 to 25-minute break between each one. Besides somewhat debilitating but temporary stomach cramps and a sideways fall over an especially rooty stretch of trail, I felt pretty good and strong throughout the sleepless night. But sleep is what I need most right now; I'll fill in the details tomorrow.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Sure they're weeds, but ...

Date: June 21
Mileage: 16.4
June mileage: 469.1
Temperature upon departure: 57

All I rode was the full-circle commute today, so I am officially tapering. It left me with the better part of the evening to scrub all the little components on my MTB with a toothbrush, switch the wheels, change the brake pads and finesse the shifting down to smooth, clickless transitions. Mechanical preparedness is probably the third most important step in preparing for an endurance cycling attempt, right behind buying the right food and building up an amiable attitude that will keep you semi-sane in the suck. How could those things possibly be the top three, you ask? Sure, training is very important. But all the past six-hour bike rides in the world aren't going to help you when your front derailluer refuses to shift into anything but the middle ring and you're doubled over your handlebars with gastrointestinal pain.

Attitude, Food, Good Gear. After that, it's all just breathing and spinning.

I found some great articles on ultracycling.com about preparing for a 24-hour bike race. Sure, all that training info now is too little, too late. But all I really needed to hear from those who know was in the closing paragraphs:

"Don't worry: Things can get a little weird during the wee hours of a 24 hour event. When this happens, don't panic - consider it a bonus. Others might have to commit a criminal act or spend years in an ashram to experience some of the sensations you're going to enjoy in the middle of the night. Laugh, store it in your memory bank, and keep riding.

Ultracycling is your hobby - it is not your job, it is not your punishment. You've prepared for months to get to this race and now that you've arrived, there's nowhere in the world you'd rather be. So put a smile on your face, put a song in your heart, and enjoy every minute of it."


Barring the smiles and songs - (I don't know that collecting mosquitoes in my teeth or humming "Birdhouse in Your Soul" for 24 hours will really be all that beneficial) - all the secrets to endurance bike racing lie in that statement. Tolerance for insanity and pre-emptive enjoyment. That's all it takes. Simple, right?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Midnight sun

Date: June 20
Mileage: 39.4
June mileage: 452.7
Temperature upon departure: Warm enough for shorts ... 55

Watching the sun set out my bedroom window at 11:40 p.m., on the first mostly clear evening in weeks, on the second longest day of the year (reduced only by the sole second that solstice will add to the total daylight tomorrow.) In my neck of the woods, there is no actual midnight sun: by 12 a.m., it has already slipped just below the horizon, on that half-submerged arc that will keep twilight burning all hours of the night until the first sleep-deprived rays rise again at 4. Sure, you can't get a tan here at 2 a.m. (I know from personal experience that a 2 a.m. tan is a hard thing to obtain even north of the Arctic Circle, where clouds of mosquitoes tend to block out the sun.) But this is a latitude I can live with, the romantic allure of all-night daylight aside.

Not that a mere 20 hours of daylight is too shabby. Still, I think I've done a pretty good job of avoiding the new-Alaskan tendency to cram a million little activities into days that unavoidably still have the same number of hours. Part of this is because I lead an active winter lifestyle that garners as much satisfaction from snow and ice as it does from dirt and lupine. Also, I keep a pretty strict summer weekday schedule: Blurry-eyed awake by 6:30 to 7:30, work until 5 or 6, errands, one-to-three-hour bike ride ... sometimes four ... dinner at 10 or 11, shower, computer, with time to spare to stare wistfully out my bedroom window, watching the red glow that will never quite dissipate into the horizon and wondering where my day went.

At least I don't mow my lawn at 1 a.m.

But I could.

Monday, June 19, 2006

110 hours until ...

Five more days. Just Five. That's how many days I have until the 24 Hours of Kincaid ride, also referred to as the 24 Hours of KinPain by a group of fellow bloggers who have formed an adequately-named team, Megasoreass.

I haven't talked about it much on my blog because, in all honesty, I haven't done much to prepare for it. I had big plans to carve out time for all-night mountain biking and 200-mile road rides. But that's how life sneaks up on you. The story's always the same. You grow up well-raised in the suburbs, graduate high school, get a college education. Then one day, you wake up and you live in Alaska, where you occasionally show up to work covered in mud and consider 24 straight hours with a bike seat wedged between your butt cheeks to be a rollicking good time. But the real irony is that you still have to hold down an office job for a living.

I may not be at the physical peak I had hoped for, but that won't prevent me from giving it my best shot. More than anything, riding in the 24 Hours of Kincaid will be an interesting experiment in personal psychology. People endure years of therapy to whittle their lives down to the stark truths that become second nature to trail-worn racers : That life is about understanding the essentials, sloughing off the excess and moving forward regardless. No matter what, you'll reach a finish. But the truly enlightened enjoy the ride.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Hope, Resurrection, Turn ... again

Date: June 17 & 18
Total mileage: 72.8
June mileage: 413.3

Geoff and I spent mountain on Sunday. We managed to find two of the more interesting established campsites on the Kenai Peninsula - the first night, high high on a ridge above Hope, where six sites are crammed into a spot only reasonably large enough for two or three; the second night, we found the only place below 2,000 feet elevation where it is still winter: a frigid wind pocket beside Portage Glacier. After an active night of being continuously woken up by 60 mph gales, we had to rise to another soggy morning so Geoff could run three miles up a mountain and I could fight similar gales for 16 miles of a rather lopsided 32-mile bicycle ride.

Saturday was much more pleasant. We spent the morning lounging at Tito's Diner in Hope. Then, full of breakfast and a well-sold piece of chocolate raspberry cheesecake pie, I headed up the Resurrection Pass trail while my friends waited patiently at a campsite for me to complete what turned out to be a five-hour ride. Geoff followed me for an hour, then turned around so as to not wear himself out the day before his race. I spent the rest of the time alone, mashing miles of mud and yelling out occasionally to the unseen bears whose tracks peppered the trail. Near treeline, I was singing a verse of "Third Planet" by Modest Mouse when I rounded a corner and saw two bikers trying to negotiate around a series of downed trees.

"You alone?" one guy asked me. I was terribly embarrassed, and started to explain that I was singing to warn the bears of my silent, speedy approach. Somehow, they interpreted my explanation to mean that I thought I was going really fast, which wasn't actually the case.

"Well, you better go by us," the other guy said.

I started to protest because I knew there was a big drop into a stream just ahead, but finally just went in front of them after it became apparent that these guys wanted to see for themselves what I bad ass I was. Of course these guys were on my tail, I mean right on my back tire, the entire drop. I felt like a total poser. So as soon as we crossed the bridge, I started pumping hard to gain some ground uphill. Pretty soon, the guys dropped off my tire. Then they were several hundred feet behind me. Then I couldn't see them at all. I didn't see them again until nearly an hour later, after I had arrived at the pass, eaten a Power Bar, and turned around to descend for 15 minutes. They were laying down on the side of the trail.

"Beat you to Cooper Landing?" one guy called out as I buzzed by (Cooper Landing is on the other side of the pass.)

"See you there!" I yelled, and continued in the wrong direction. I love how guys make everything into a race.

The next day, Geoff had his Spur Hill Climb on Bird Ridge, a lung-bursting mountain race that claws its way 3,400 vertical feet up cliff bands and loose gravel on its way to a short-lived summit. Geoff finished eighth or ninth among a group of a couple hundred runners. I would kill for that kind of front-of-the-pack status, but Geoff was disappointed. Guys. Go figure.

I spent those couple of hours working toward Anchorage in what I figured was a decent tailwind. I felt a little concerned when I reached the end of Potter Marsh and realized that I had covered 16 miles in about 40 minutes. But I had no idea what I was in for until I turned around into something that can only be described as a relentless wind tunnel. Every pedal stroke seemed to only propel me backward. I worked as hard as I could, but some of the larger gusts had me down to 7 mph, slower than I even ride the long hills around my house these days.

With just a few more notches in the wind force factor, I could have perfected the outdoor stationary bicycle ride. I think I know now how the Turnagain Arm got its name. Just a few more miles of that demoralizing headwind, and I would have turned around, again, to make my new home in Anchorage.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Go Rob Go!

Date: June 15
Total mileage: 37.3
June mileage: 340.5
Temperature upon departure: 49

I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to UltraRob, who is currently more than four days and a staggering 1,200 miles into the Race Across America. As of about 10 p.m. AST, they listed him in fifth place in the Men's Enduro category. He's probably rolling toward Kansas right now, quietly spinning away the dark, featureless night. Three thousand miles in 12 days or less. I've spent more time driving a car across the country. The Race Across America is a rare sort of event, reserved for those with the rare combination of both ultra-human strength and a respectable level of physical self loathing. How else could anyone opt for a week and a half without any measurable sleep - eating, breathing, peeing, dreaming, everything on the bike. Only the bike. And the country, the vast and beautiful country, broken down by legs and lungs and heart until all that's left is a tiny island of headlamp light drifting over bare pavement, and the endless sea of grasslands fading into sleepless oblivion.

Catching up

Date: June 13 and 14
Total mileage: 60.1
June mileage: 303.2

Yesterday I put in what I thought was a pretty good ride - rode the "hill loop" thrice, for a total of 36 miles with about 3,500 feet of climbing, a 10 mph west wind and an average speed of almost 14 mph. It was a good ride because I felt like I could put in several more of those loops. How many more ... I don't know.

I'm basically just tricking myself into believing I could possibly train for what I'm about to put myself through in the 10 days I have left. Really, I have what I have. And you know ... that's gonna be good enough. Because it has to be.

I've spent the past week showing my Utah-bound family the strange and beautiful side of this state that I love. They got the weeklong deluge that was our first wet weather in a month, but their rain luck was counterbalanced by unbelievable wildlife luck. If you squint hard enough at this picture, you can see the dorsal fin of a whale that rose and dipped alongside our little glacier cruise in Resurrection Bay. It's either an orca or a humpback. I don't remember, because we saw about a half dozen of each. Later that day, we hiked up to Exit Glacier and crossed paths with a mother black bear towing three tiny cubs (no larger than 20 pounds). Less than 50 feet in front of us, they ambled across the trail and each stopped to climb up a little interpretive nature sign that marked the path and drool all over the post about spruce trees. Of course, the only picture I took of that moment turned out like crap. Even worse than the whale picture, I'm afraid. This is what I get for throwing all of my faith into a 3-year-old digital camera with at least a 3-second lapse from button push to shutter click.

Besides that, they also saw a mother moose with a new calf trot through my back yard, a huge flock of sandhill cranes, sea otters on their halibut charter boat, stellar sea lions, puffins and mountain goats on the glacier cruise, more shorebirds, salmon, unidentifiable tide-pool critters, bald eagles, and another black bear on the bluff above the Cook Inlet. In short, in a week, we saw more wildlife than I've seen in my previous nine months up here. Go figure.

You know what's the best part about having your family visit you (I mean, ahem, besides the joys of family togetherness)? They show you all the ways in which your everyday life can be a vacation. Not that I didn't already feel that way. But I convinced my entire family to go on a 9-mile bike ride on the Spit; I convinced my mom to go hiking in the mud; I convinced my youngest sister that catching a big, bloody, and - in her mind - disgusting halibut would be ever so much fun. By the end of the trip, my dad was taking 30-mile bike rides on his own time; my mom was proposing muddy hikes that started at 10 p.m., and my sister was sampling grilled fish and telling me that Homer, with its fashion-challenged rubber boot fetish and shopping options limited to Safeway, hardware stores and useless tourist junk, was "pretty cool." It's funny ... all of my friends up here seem to dread the inevitable Outside family visit to Alaska. But I thought it was fun. (And I'm not saying that, ahem, because my family reads my blog. Ahem, ahem.)

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Neglect

Date: Hmmmmmm
Total mileage: 51
June mileage: 243.1

Still around, still breathing, not so much pedaling. My family's been in town, and you know how that goes - days that once sported 24 hours each suddenly seem to only have four. Busy busy busy, not that I have good exuse.

I left my camera at work. But here's some of the photos I've taken in the past five days:
*The blurry dorsal fin of a humpback whale
*An even blurrier photo of a black bear cub hugging an interpretive nature sign (I promise, that black blob is really one of three cubs that crossed my path behind an intimidating but indifferent mama bear.)
*A big glacier
*Another big glacier, blurred by a cloud
*Famous Alaska poet John Haines
*Baby moose
*My mom actually riding her own bicycle
*Poor, poor seasick Anthony (at least, I think that red blur slumped over the railing is poor, poor seasick Anthony.)
*Puffins and sea lions
*The great cat standoff

There stories are good, too, but maybe only to me.

I will come back eventually. Promise.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Ride too much

Date: June 7
Mileage: 22
June mileage: 192.2
Temperature upon departure: 48

First a confession, than an admission.

I'm not an athlete. So maybe I have a problem.

Commuted today and even then couldn't go straight home. Almost 200 miles in the first week? Seems a little high for a rec rider. A little low for a wannabe endurance bicycle racer. Where do I fit in?

Can't figure out if I'm addicted or dedicated. Chasing experience or escaping growth. A healthy hobbyist or a well-covered procrastinator. A driven beginner or a flailing expert.

In the end, they're all just euphemisms for the same thing.

Cyclist.

North Fork

Date: 6-6-6
Combined mileage: 65.4 (inc. June 5)
June mileage: 170.2
Temperature upon departure: 57

A loop ride is always a bigger commitment to make than an out-and-back ... Especially when you don't quite remember the mileage, and it's a Tuesday evening, and you think you're embarking on a sort-of "before dinner" ride. As it turned out, 40 miles on the mountain bike was a little more than I bargained for.

But, really, what's the harm in a 10 p.m. dinner and a few quiet grumblings about the four long months in which I lazily neglected to re-install Sugar's pedal cages and water-bottle holder? Small price to pay for three hours of free-rolling by fireweed blooms, coasting an uphill tailwind and cresting near the point where a local man was mauled by a grizzly last weekend. That's the kind of eyes-wide-open excitement that money can't buy and ski lift-served downhill rides can't replace. Never mind that downhill was almost slower, what with the headwind and my lamentable habit of white-knuckling the brakes on the narrower trails.

I've been thinking more about downhill since summer threw me back into this technical groove. What I thought was a great winter of skill-building snow riding turns out to not be sufficient experience for mud, streams and root-studded trails. What's the secret to downhill? (I mean, besides "Better Off Dead" sage advice of "Go that way ... Really fast ... If something gets in your way ... Turn.") Do I practice my bunny hops? Hold my butt over the back wheel and hope for the best? Buy a BMX helmet? Honestly, I'm new enough to this that I still get a big kick out of surmounting a crazy steep climb without putting my foot down. But often I dread the descent. I think it started with the endo I did on a tiny 20-foot-high roller that left me essentially crippled with blood clotting for six weeks. Gravity and I have never gotten along all that great, and adding wheels just seems to aggravate the tension. Has anyone else dealt with downhill-phobia? What did you do about it?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Snow, Hope, Powerline

Date: June 2, 3
Mileage: 76.2
June mileage: 104.8
Temperature upon departure: 60s

Had something of a whirlwind weekend on the road. At three weeks to Kincaid, it really should have been a power-training weekend for me. But there are ways to bypass obligation without regret: enjoy a mud bath on wheels down an avalanche-torn section of the Johnson Pass trail; take a half-century joy ride to Hope, Alaska - still America's "most scenic" byway to nowhere; and read a couple of New Yorker magazines cover-to-cover by a roaring campfire as the midnight sun rests - momentarily - over the Kenai Mountains.

Geoff is working toward this "Alaska Mountain Runners Grand Prix," and today was his first race of the season - The Powerline Pass. We drove up a day early to camp nearby and do the aforementioned mountain bike ride - on a muddy, debris-clogged trail that became entirely unrideable after only four miles (thanks to long fields of soft, punchy snow.) We hiked up another mile and a half before we crossed paths with a runner who warned us of "hordes of bears" at the lake. She was followed by a lone backpacker with a rather large rifle slung over his shoulder and a pasty, wide-eyed expression. I don't know what's more scary - the bears, or the guy with the rifle. Either way, we were ready to turn around.

Later that afternoon, I saddled up my road bike and headed toward the Hope Road junction. If you start from the bike path at the Granite Creek Campground, you have what turns out to be almost exactly 50 miles of scenic, smooth, nearly traffic-free road riding. I must have looked pretty funny out there with my mud-splattered face and legs - as well as and a rather prominent chainring bruise I sustained in an unsuccessful stream crossing - but I felt like a real roadie out there, tucked against my flat handlebars and surging up to 30 mph on a cruise to the coast. The yin and yang of bicycling.

Today was Geoff's race. He was due to start at 10 a.m., so at 9 I took off up the trail with the hope that I'd beat him to the finish line (I did ... barely.) I had a brisk pace going at first ... the whole time thinking, "I could bike this." But then those powerlines just kept on climbing. And climbing. And pretty soon, I was stumbling up snowfields and clawing at loose gravel, on grades approaching 60 or even 70 percent at times. In all, the trail gains about 3,500 feet in 4 miles ... most of it in the last two. And I'm thinking "how could people possible run up this thing?" But somehow, they do. Geoff ended up placing fifth in the race with a time of 42 minutes. It took me an hour and that much, arriving just in time to turn around and snap a few quick pictures of the leaders before the jogging descent commenced.

Watching those guys come up the mountain, hunched over and gasping for more of that rich 3,500-feet-elevation air, made me so glad that I'm not a trail runner. Give me a face full of mud and a chain-ring bruise any day. I'll walk what I can't ride, thank you much.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Sustained climb

Date: June 1
Mileage: 28.6
June mileage: 28.6
Temperature upon departure: 45

I stumbled across an article today about a woman who rode her bike from the Dead Sea to Everest Base Camp and then climbed to the top. The world's longest climb. Pretty cool. Sometimes I wonder how my life would be different if I had it in me to dream big ... crazy big. Given my predisposition to clumsiness and a paralyzing vertigo that I have yet to overcome completely, I'd probably no longer be alive. But if you could pick one crazy big accomplishment to be the first person ever to succeed in, what would it be? I wouldn't mind being the first person to ride my bike across the Bering Sea in the winter - thereby enabling me to literally ride my bike around the world. Of course, I'd have to convert my bike into some kind of paddle boat to cross the Panama Canal. And I'd have to skip Australia altogether. And I'd have to parlay my admittedly terrible sense of direction on ice floes that move faster than I do. But why nitpick? It's a fun dream.

All I have now is my own personal Everest, which is not so much an Everest as a daily bike commute - 1,150 feet elevation gain stretched across four miles (plus two miles of flats) - but it gets easier every time. When I started riding the hill on a regular basis last winter, I was lucky to keep my speedometer above 5 mph. Now I rarely dip below 6 and probably average closer to 7.5 mph - which, despite how slow this still might be, is (I think) a great improvement. I hope to use this hill in the near future to practice sustained climbing - you know, go up, then right back down, then up again. There's potential there to ride some real "elevation" over relatively short distances. I think the hardest battle will actually turning tail at the top of that gut-busting climb: licking the crusted salt from my lips and wiping streams sweat from my eyelids, knowing that my only reward will be the screaming 5-minute descent I use to tear away all that effort before I turn around to face it again.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

There's dirt on that trail

Date: May 31
Mileage: 15
May Mileage: 487.1
Temperature upon departure: 47

Today I hit the gym for the first time in weeks to test my endurance near my aerobic threshold (I know. I could just buy a heart-rate monitor. But I kind of enjoy working out while reading trashy magazines such as "People" or "Bicycling" once in a while.) I ran for an hour on the elliptical trainer. I kept my heart rate between 160 and 175 beats per minute, and ended up coveringmore than 10 "miles" (I've always been curious what an elliptical trainer "mile" equals. It's easier than running, but definitely more work than cycling.)

Anyway, I thought I'd come home from the gym completely worked, but I felt surprisingly refreshed. So I talked Geoff into an evening mountain bike ride, which we didn't end up leaving for until it was nearly 9 p.m.

We headed up the Homestead Trail toward our old winter haunts - now stripped of snow and layered in an interesting mix of deep ATV ruts, moose-trampled mud and sinkhole sand. The result is a double-track that's decidedly more technical than it was in December - but it's still low-level technical, and definitely a lot of fun. We spent the last three miles on nearby single-track, with a strange and difficult detour on what used to be a ski trail (and is now a pillowy, effort-absorbing cushion of matted grass). It was, for all practical purposes, my first trail ride of the year. I think, given the 9-month hiatus (based on the fact that snow riding's so different on nearly every level), I didn't do so bad. Of course, there are some that will argue that if you don't have a spectacular crash at least once during the first ride of the year, you didn't do so good, either. But after my hard run, just feeling up to a two-hour mountain bike ride is a good sign for me.