Monday, July 31, 2006

Wintry ride

Date: July 30
Mileage: 39.2
July mileage: 710.3
Temperature upon departure: 47

It's been a little while since I doubled over in the shower to claw at the searing, itchy pain of blood circulation returning to my feet. But that happened to me today.

How quickly my long-term memory fails me. I looked at the thermometer before I left and observed the 47 degrees it was. I stepped outside and felt a light drizzle hitting my skin. But I'm so inclined to routine that my mind said "July" even as February weather descended outside. I thought little of my cotton T-shirt and light rain jacket, the only layers that stood between me and a soggy refrigerator.

I froze. It wouldn't have been all that bad, except for I stopped to wait for Geoff at the fishing hole. And waited. And waited. I was already drenched from a two-hour ride and standing still beneath a narrow balcony for a half hour nearly put me into convulsions. I was shivering profusely by the time I realized the pain I was in for if I didn't get moving. So instead of fishing like I had planned to do, I biked 9 miles home in a state that ranged between shivery annoyance and mild distress. I could have stopped at a number of businesses along the way, but at that point all I could think about was a hot shower. If staving off hypothermia in July isn't bad enough, the worst irony was that hot shower. Wincing through the prickly warming of my numb extremities was by far the most unpleasant experience of the day.

Geoff called me a few minutes later to urge me to come back to town, but it was too late. I was spent. The task of staying warm can be so much more exhausting than riding in the sun. As cold rain continued to pound the roof, I settled in with some hot tea and read an article about the Badwater Ultramarathon. Ah. I love Alaska.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Lazy Saturday

Date: July 29
Mileage: 26.3
July mileage: 671.1
Temperature upon departure: 62

I have here a picture of Geoff modeling the latest in Homer summer fashion. I promised him I wouldn't put it on my blog.

Geoff's dad and brother-in-law are in town soaking up all things Alaska. The brother-in-law toiled through a three-day backpacking trip and hasn't seen a grizzly bear yet, but now that there's a clamming trip planned, I think his vacation's looking up.

I should have spent some time packing today, but I didn't. At this point, I'm pretty much just planning on combing the house the day before I leave and cramming stuff into my car in descending order of importance until it's full. Why are you laughing? Honestly, I can't think of a more efficient way to pack. It's like preparing for an evacuation as a wildfire rages closer. Only in these moments of heightened urgency can you decide what's truly important to you.

OK. You got me. I just hate packing. And I hate moving. Which most who know me don't expect since I uproot on average about once a year. On the plus side, despite a 25 mph west wind, I did get out today for a great road ride. I rode a double loop that took me up the strenuous East Hill climb twice, sweating out the smoky remnants of a beach bonfire that dragged on until 3 a.m. Friday night and burning off about a half pound of flame-broiled marshmallow smores. It's funny because I woke up about four hours after I went to bed and felt awful all morning. But as soon as I got out on the road, I felt energized and strong. As far as cycling goes, I am actually pretty well rested. I pounded out an average speed of 14.5 mph, probably my best yet for that steep loop. And I did it twice. And I had that fierce west wind. Good ride.

That doesn't excuse me from not doing much else today, especially when I have so much to do.

But ...

That's not how I want to spend my last days.

I want to eat marshmallow smores and soak up some good spruce smoke, ride the great hills a few last times, maybe catch a halibut or some razorback clams.

If I leave the blender behind because of it, so be it.

P.S. Notice that my photo from yesterday has improved. Thanks to Mike for souping it. You think a person in my profession would have home photo editing software, but that's a fallacy. Most people in my profession can't afford home photo editing software. Now you can actually see the car. Also, Mike used the phrase "Andy Warhol Sucks a Big One" on his blog, so he officially has my deepest cinematic respect. Thanks, Mike.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Gonna miss it here

Date: July 27
Mileage: 29.5
July mileage: 644.8
Temperature upon departure: 53

A week is all I have left in the Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea.

Everything I do now is shadowed by the notion that it could be my last time.

My last time dodging erratic pedestrians on the Homer Spit;

My last time sweating up East Hill;

My last time pedaling down an abandoned road in search of an unobstructed view of the 11 p.m. sunset;

My last small town surprise - an overturned Subaru laid to final rest beside the silent shadow of Mt. Redoubt.

I know it's not the last. I know it's not yet over.

But I already miss it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Recovery rides

Date: July 25 and 26
Mileage: 13.7 and 25.4
July mileage: 615.3

I can't believe I forgot to mention the outcome of Geoff's race, which took place the same Saturday as the Soggy Bottom. He ran the Crow Pass Crossing, a marathon-length technical mountain run. I hiked it on July 15 and it nearly took me out of commission. Geoff somehow managed to sprint over the rough trail in 3 hours 17 minutes, (interestingly, exactly 10 hours less than it took me to bike the Soggy Bottom course) and placed fifth overall in the race. It's pretty cool, because his standings place him in the top 10 mountain runners in Alaska. And this is something he just decided to take up this year, just for fun - sort of like the afternoon I returned from a three-mile snowshoe hike and decided it would be good times to bike a frozen wilderness century. This state, I'm telling you, does funny things with your mind.

I did a couple of recovery rides on the road yesterday and today that felt pretty good, except for the fact that I'm still covered in tender bruises that hurt like crazy every time I bounce over a pothole or washboard gravel. I know I'm running the risk of a comment flogging, but I thought I'd talk a little bit about my interesting (and unintentional) experiment in ride nutrition on Saturday.

I woke up late in the morning and had to rush to the starting line before 9 a.m. In doing so, I neglected to make the Gatorade I had intended to nurse throughout the race, make my peanut butter sandwiches or eat breakfast. I downed a packet of fruit snacks (Shrek brand, very tasty, 80 calories) and handed my stash of power bars to Carlos to shuttle to Copper Landing and Devil's Pass. I stashed a couple more in my camelback and took off.

Now, I learned on the 24 hours of Kincaid that solid food does not agree with me during a day of near-constant riding. Because I hadn't had the time in the past month to experiment with conventional forms of liquid nutrition (and because I live in a small town where such things aren't readily available), I settled on using Gatorade, power bars and fruit snacks to get a bulk of my calories. But when I set out on the trail, my appetite disappeared - as it always does - and I never really got it back. With the sharp abdominal pain of Kincaid still fresh in my memory, I decided I wasn't going to hit the power bars until I could feel a bonk coming on. And so I continued.

Here's where my well-deserved flogging comes in. I never felt the bonk coming. And I never actually, well, ate. At Copper Landing, mile 44, I had a 16-ounce bottle of Gatorade and five Nilla wafers (about 150 calories.) At Devil's Pass, mile 70, I forced down Luna Bar (about 180 calories). The sag wagon had long since disappeared with my extra stash of bars, so I grabbed a packet of Gu and one more bottle of Gatorade and continued on. When I reached Resurrection Pass, mile 82, I knew in my heart I should eat. There aren't a whole lot of edible products in this world that I like less than Gu, but I remembered that during the Salt Lake Century I ate a chocolate almond Clif Bar that tasted better than any brownie I have eaten before or since. So I gave it a try. I slurped up the Gu - vanilla, clear, the consistency of snot - and then I washed it down with lemon-lime Gatorade (about 200 calories). I don't know that I have every tried to ingest anything more disgusting. I winced for a solid half minute. Then I resolved to make it back without any more experiences like that. But, if you do the math, my total intake for the entire day was about 600 calories. I returned from the ride at 10:17 p.m. and managed to choke down a Pepsi and a Power Bar (a whopping 370 calories!) before I went to bed. I smile when I think about what my calorie deficit must have been that day.

It's interesting to me, as a newbie to all this, that I never bonked. Not eating is definitely my natural tendency during hard physical events, but I know that what I did was wrong to the point of being reckless. I had extra food on me, but not much. I know now that liquid nutrition isn't optional for me. I have to try it. Even though it's expensive and hard to find, I need to do the research. I hear that Hammer stuff is good. Anyone have any recommendations? (Anything but Gu. I'm going back to good ol' Shrek fruit snacks. With the red donkeys ... mmmmmm.)

Monday, July 24, 2006

Why I like endurance

One of the great things about putting in a good, hard day on the road or trail is that supreme feeling of tiredness you get right afterward - those rare moments when you curl up on the couch with a cold can of Pepsi and let your fatigue wrap around you in a blanket of calm satisfaction.

I have never experienced that after any of my endurance events.

Usually, I spend the first few hours after the ride wishing I owned a loaded gun. After a fitful night of sleep, I spend the next day in a "I-feel-like-I-was-hit-by-a-truck" state. By day two, I have a vague recollection of what normal might feel like, and by day three I'm itching to get back on my bike. There's no Pepsi. No supreme fatigue. Only the cold motions of recovery.

So a very good question that I'm often asked is - "Why?" Why put myself through it?

I think it goes back to high school, when I was looking for a place in the world. I was an odd duck like everyone else. I was introspective but not intellectual, smart but not studious, active but not athletic. I never played competitive sports and wasn't about to join the Mathletes, but I used to wonder - why can't there be a sport for the nonathletic? An intellectual challenge for the nonacademic? I never knew I could have it all in a single event - endurance cycling.

Endurance cycling, especially the kind that pushes you deep into the remote wilderness or the frozen tundra, is an exercise of willpower. An exercise of survival. An exercise of that dogged determination we like to call "inner strength." There isn't a choice in this world I could make that would allow to me to go out and run a four-minute mile. But I can go out and ride 100 miles, 200 miles ... maybe 1,000 miles ... because I decide to. I like that.

"It's all mental from here on out," people like to say. And it's true, except for the fact that your body isn't a direct extension of your mind. It can break down. It can run out of gas. It can fail the world's greatest Zen cyclist, just as easily as a Wal-mart bike can drop a derailleur. So you train. You go out nearly every day and you ride a little faster or a little further, and you feel yourself growing stronger. You learn that you can make a decision to be stronger. I like that.

And when I make a decision to be stronger, I make a decision to be less afraid. Hail and lightning. Bears and rattlesnakes. Rivers and drop-offs. These things scare me - to the point where my heart still skips a beat when I hear a Ptarmigan tearing through the grass even when I know there are no snakes in Alaska. But when I ride until I become so lost in the here and now that I forget to be afraid, I slowly learn that there's no reason to fear. I like that.

It's a cliche to say that endurance cycling is a Zen thing, but it's true. It's a rare experience to let my mind drive my body to its bruised and battered breaking point, only to watch it return with more confidence, more appreciation, less fear. I like that.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

A little soggy, A little foggy

Date: July 22
Mileage: 106
July mileage: 576.2

I am really starting to grow into mountain biking, and not because I'm a natural. Quite the opposite - every pedal stroke is a small struggle - but it's always a challenge, and I'm completely addicted.

That said, I took a decent thrashing in yesterday's Soggy Bottom 100 - trail rash, bumps, bruises, bent fender, broken spoke, seatpost askew, flat rear shock, mud in my teeth. Through it all, my workhorse of a mountain bike motored on and carried me to the finish in 13 hours 17 minutes - which isn't as fast as I had hoped for, but after a few violent spills and some hard lessons about the demoralizing power of downhill, I'm pretty glad to be one of about half in the field to just have finished 106-mile course.

The ride got off to a great start Saturday morning, launching from the cheering crowds of the Seaview Bar and Campground in Hope. The 16 or so riders split off into two packs of eight, of which I happily joined the back and coasted six miles to the trail. When we hit the dirt, I started passing people. I was feeling great - better than great. Without even putting in a hard effort, I managed to climb to the front of the "back" pack and hit Resurrection Pass - mile 25 - before 11:30, just under two and a half hours in. I believed I was on solid pace to finish in about 12 hours. Then I took my first fall.

For most of the course, the trail snakes through the loose boulders and gravel of open alpine tundra and the roots and overgrown vegetation of the forest - all very beautiful, but very much remote wilderness. Sometimes no wider than two bike tires side by side, the trail left little in the way of exit points, and my technical riding skills don't really include bunny hopping at 15 miles per hour. I was only two miles into my descent when I first bit the gravel - hard. Never one to take personal injury gracefully, I took to holding my brakes with a kung fu grip while I brooded on my sore, swollen right elbow. The next 18 miles of downhill went pretty well - except for the fact that it took me nearly two and a half hours to ride that stretch. And to be honest, I was a little relieved to hit Cooper Landing and flip a U-turn for the subsequent 18-mile climb.

I know my limitations with my set of technical skills, and I also know that in mountain biking, falls are going to happen. But it's hard for me, during the long haul, not to let them get to me. I took two more dives near the pass going back up, and by the time I hit the Devil's Pass Trailhead, my pace having slowed considerably, I was feeling a little discouraged. Ironically, my turning point came just after a fall about halfway up Devils Pass - my worst fall, actually. Locked in a steady climb, I felt an encouraging surge in strength and upped my speed through a narrow stretch of overgrown trail - at this point, thinking I still had a chance to finish in under 13 hours. Moving about 7 mph, I completely overlooked a big boulder and hit it head-on, bouncing sideways and tumbling over what turned out to be a very steep embankment. I first touched down about five feet below the trail, landing on my shoulder and flipping a half somersault as my bike sailed overhead. For what must have been several minutes I lay there on my side - my bleeding, battered legs "pinned" beneath a 30-pound mountain bike, soaked in the prickly discomfort of rain-drenched devils club and staring almost helplessly up that steep hillside. As those silent seconds passed, my situation became a whole lot clearer - and and a whole lot funnier.

I realized that for nearly 50 miles of the physically difficult course, I had become so consumed with "not" falling that I had completely lost track of my forward motion. In fact, I hardly even noticed any actual fatigue while I was dwelling on what are really just a few silly bumps and bruises (and, from what I learned after returning to the start, were actually on the low spectrum of injuries acquired by competitors during the ride.) At that point I had been alone long enough to feel no shame in talking to myself, so I launched into an audible self-lecture about not being such a baby as a clawed my way back up the hill. I returned to the trail, righted the front wheel, mounted the odometer back on and took a long look up the pass - with wispy clouds blanketing the peaks over an open sea of purple lupine. I was filled with a strange reassurance that these sort of moments are rare - moments to experience what it's like to be completely alive.

So I finished the ride. And I'm glad I did it. It was tough for me, but not in the ways I expected - which is an all-around great life lesson. I surprised myself with my physical capacity in climbing and also learned a little more about my limitations, with more understanding about how far I have come - and how far I have left to go.

Carlos, the godfather of Soggy Bottom and an all-around great guy, said it best when he quoted William Blake ... "you never know what is enough until you know what is too much."

So thanks, Carlos, for inviting me to the Soggy Bottom (And also to Carlos' sponsors, such as Banjo Brothers, who help keep this "nonrace" alive.) I had an amazing experience, and met some great people. It's a little sad that just as I'm starting to become a part the Alaska endurance mountain biking scene, I'm leaving it for the far away climes of Juneau. But I'll be back. Bumps and bruises can't keep me away.

Also, I'm sorry I don't have any good pictures. This photo I took the night before in the Hope Campground. I tried to go really light during the race so I left the bulky digital behind. In neglecting to bring nonessential items, I also neglected to really bring much in the way of food. But more on that tomorrow. Now, it's time to sleep.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Feelin' soggy

The stats

The truth

Date: July 19 and 20
Mileage: 14.3 and 24.1
July mileage: 470.2

The Soggy Bottom 100 is upon me.

This is the last race of my 2006 Alaska endurance trilogy. Time will tell as to whether it's a grand finale or "Scream III."

Single-track century. 11,000 feet of climbing. Technical stretches. Time cut-offs. Self supported. 40 percent chance of precipitation.

I've been trying to will myself strong ... as if self-fulfilling prophecy could make it so.

"It's only 106 miles. Traversing 40 miles of uninterrupted wilderness. With just myself and people who are expected to pedal a whole lot faster than me. How bad could it really be?"

The numbers are daunting, but when I step back from them, I'm surrounded by a new reality.

Self supported on wilderness singletrack - just me and my bike and some Power Bars ... a jingling bear bell ... maybe some Catherine Wheel pulsing through the iPod (don't judge me; I keep the volume low) - climbing until the lush spruce forest gives way to devils club meadows and alpine tundra, with its stark gray gravel sweeping down snow-streaked mountains. Bouncing through scattered rocks and dried mud pockmarked with bear tracks. Pounding that final pedal stroke over the crest before dropping into another tear-inducing descent.

The mileage will come on its own.

Hopefully.

Wish me luck.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Movin' on up (er ... down)

Date: July 18
Mileage: 28.9
July mileage: 431.8
Temperature upon departure: 56

Well, I'm moving to Juneau. It sounds a bit rash, I know, but it's actually the culmination of several weeks of events that started the day they handed me number 111 at the 24 Hours of Kincaid Race (Elevens, my friend Ryan always told me, signify shifts in universal or personal patterns i.e. routines.) Anyway, the next day I received a cold call from The Juneau Empire. Next month, I'm going to be working there. Crazy how quickly life can shift gears.

While Juneau is technically in the same state I live in now (and who am I kidding ... it's the capitol), moving there is no small matter. It's about the distance equivalent of moving from Denver to San Francisco, if the only way to get to San Francisco was to drive to a tiny upstate town like Arcata and then hop a slow-moving ferry down the coast. Oh ... and throw in an international border crossing as well. I might as well move to Seattle. At least it stops raining sometimes there.

But that's precisely the reason I'm excited. Juneau is this mysterious community isolated by a wall of steep, vast mountains and hundreds of miles of remote coastline. With 30,000 people, it's the second largest city in Alaska and the center of its government - all squashed into this unlikely place teeming with grizzly bears and avalanche danger. As a former denizen of the wide-open Mountain West, who grew up with Interstate dependence flowing through her veins, I find this kind of lifestyle very intriguing. So I'm going to give it a try.

Also, I'm completely in love with Alaska, and I realize that I've only scratched a small surface of this bewildering state. Moving to Juneau, I know, isn't exactly going to open up opportunities to move freely through the Arctic. And yet - it's another piece of a vast puzzle. For that reason, I couldn't resist.

When I think about leaving Homer, I feel sad. I feel anxious. I feel anticipation. I feel angry at myself. I feel excited. I feel terrified. I feel like I need to stop thinking about it even if it does make the hill intervals go faster. Change is so hard, and unfortunately I'm one of those people that thrives on it, craves it, consumes it with reckless abandon. I like the fact that there's something new around the corner. It gives the present so much more meaning.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

One weekend, two passes

Date: July 16
Mileage: 15.3
July mileage: 402.9

I honestly used to think I was in really great shape. Then I did this hike called the Crow Pass crossing, which looks like a gentle traverse on a map but is in reality 26 miles of limb-pounding, joint-jarring terrain broken only by heart-stopping stream crossings. Brrrrr.

Geoff is actually racing this course next weekend, crazy man, so we set out on Saturday to check out the trail. We had no great plan for getting back around (Girdwood and Eagle River, an hour and a half apart by road, are hardly an easy two points to connect.) Also, I've done almost no hiking this summer. But, hey, I had that great biking base. I was insistent on going the whole way.

It was a little after 10 a.m. by the time we left. Despite a heavy drizzle, fog and temps closing in on 40, the hike to the pass was a breeze and I was feeling great. We crossed several glacier-fed streams that were running swift and strong but nothing higher than knee-deep. Soaked clothing kept us going at a brisk pace. At mile 8 Geoff announced that he was going to run ahead to experience running on the rocky, slippery trail. He told me he'd meet me at the Eagle River crossing, which we believed to be somewhere near mile 18 or 20. I continued slashing through overgrown brush. Even though the rain had stopped, the tall, wet grass provided a continuous cold shower.

Finally, the trail descended into the woods and the grass let up, only to be replaced by a group of backpackers who convinced me that I was going the wrong way when they, in fact, were the ones headed the wrong way. We didn't figure this out until I had followed them back up the trail at their turtle pace for more than a mile, only to meet another group of backpackers who confirmed my suspicions. Frustrated, I turned around and jogged back down the trail, only to meet the Eagle River and a shivering, irritated Geoff at mile 14.

Because the river crossing was so much sooner than we anticipated, he didn't want to go ahead but didn't expect to wait for me for so long. The backpackers caught up and we began our river ford together, linking arms while we moved sideways through the thigh-deep glacial torrent. The river was at least 150 yards wide, nearly waist-deep at its deepest channels, with 33-degree water flowing so fast and hard that the slightest movement threw me off balance. As my orientation disintegrated, so did my confidence, and I froze like a novice climber clinging to a cliff, draining all of my strength and energy into involuntary immobility. Geoff, who had already made it across, actually got back in the water to help me through it. Because of my small meltdown, we each spent about 10 minutes in that frigid water. Geoff was near hypothermic by the time we got out, but, mercifully, the remaining 12 miles of the hike was flat and fast, with enough bouldering obstacles and log crossings to keep the blood flowing.

Anyway, we got out at about 7 p.m., more than 70 miles from our car and no real plan for getting back. Luckily, we have some benevolent friends who picked us up and took us to their home. With nothing more than the soaked gear we had carried over on our backs, we ate a warm meal, took a shower, and passed out on the floor.

Today we had this plan to check out my race course, riding 50 mountain bike miles in the process. When I woke up this morning more sore than I have ever been, ever, except for maybe that time I rolled my road bike - well, I figured that the entire loop wasn't the best plan. But I thought that a two-hour ride wouldn't be unreasonable. So I hobbled over to my bike, spent several sharp seconds coaxing my left leg over the saddle, and set out on the Devil's Pass trail. Sure enough, my biking muscles still proved to be in decent shape, and I was able to ignore the subdued screams from those annoyed hiking muscles that kept getting in the way as I pedaled most of the way to the pass. It was great to check out the one leg of the course I hadn't seen before, even if I did lose my bear spray somewhere along the jarring rocks of that technical singletrack. However, after that marathon hike, with the Soggy Bottom 100 only one week away, I probably just officially had the worst training weekend ever ... except for maybe that time I rolled my road bike.

Friday, July 14, 2006

A fed moose

Date: July 13 and 14
Mileage: 26.7 and 15.2
July mileage: 387.6

Had a bit of a disconcerting experience with a local moose today. I was riding home from work when I encountered a young bull about a half mile from my house, munching on weeds at the side of the road. I stopped about 150 feet down the road and snapped a couple of pictures (not this one. This one I took several minutes later). Then I waited for something to happen - a truck to go by, or him to move. I don't really like passing moose if I don't have to. But then he caught wind of me, looked up, and started walking toward me. He didn't seem aggressive, but I was intimidated enough to back up and turn up a side road. And he continued to follow me, as I walked my bike backward up the steep gravel. He was just ambling along like he wanted something from me, but I just wanted him to go away.

The road turned out to be a driveway that dead-ended after about 50 yards. He was gaining on me, still at the same pace, and it was obvious no fear of me and was going to accost me whether I liked it or not. My heart was racing. I bent over to pick up a rock that I had no idea what I was going to do with, and started yelling "Hey stupid moose, go away!" (A small variation on my usual 'Hey stupid dog, go away!') He stopped and stared at me blankly. It seemed pretty clear at that point that the moose was just waiting for me to whip out an apple or peanut butter cup or something, so I pushed my bike in front of me and began walking briskly beside him. As soon as I had my back to him, I jumped back on my bike and pedaled as hard as I could.

It seems pretty funny to me now, but I was really scared. Stupid suburban moose.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Mmmm ... 5-cent Powerbar

Date: July 12
Mileage: 30.1
July mileage: 335.7
Temperature upon departure: 55

If you ever make it down to the End of the Road, Alaska, the Homer Tribune just published my own limited and subjective Biking Guide to Homer. Those are the trails. Here's the mountain/road package. Hey, I tried.

Theroretically, I should be entering the "peak" of my summer bicycling season in the next few weeks. It's hard to peak out when there aren't any more hours in the day to train. Since I still only have about an hour or two each weekday to ride, I've been trying to up the intensity - more hills, more attempts at speed, etc. I'm not all that savvy as to what these efforts have won me in fitness, but they sure do make me voraciously hungry.

This irritates me, because the hunger binges are becoming harder to avoid - and doing so just makes me grumpy. If I actually sit it out long enough, my appetite returns to normal and I can be satisfied with the appropriate number of calories. But if I don't sit it out, it's all-out, hands-in-the-Froot-Loop-Box binging. Must ... resist.

Geoff recently returned from Utah. Before he flew home, he made a stop at Market Square in west Salt Lake. Market Square sells discount food in the academic sense - although as far as quality, it ranks somewhere below a church food pantry but above the City Dump.

Anyway, he returned with two huge sacks full of assorted energy bars: some mashed, some melted, most expired, but all well under a dime a piece. I ate one yesterday - I believe it was flavored like Honey Nut Cheerios - and to my astonishment, I didn't feel the urge to double over or sprint frantically to the bathroom. At least I know they're probably safe. Geoff has many dozens of these bars stashed around the house, so my new plan is to regulate myself to these when I feel the urge to binge - by carrying them on rides and also by setting up a strict, self-regulated rule that only the bars are available for an hour after a hard ride. My hope is, that when left to the choice of waiting out my cravings or choking down some unidentifiable 5-cent barwith French packaging and the look of a Tootsie Roll that has spent the past decade eroding beneath a couch cushion - that I'll take the path of easy resistance.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Baiku 2

Date: July 10 and 11
Mileage: 18.4 and 30.6
July mileage: 305.6

The mileage stacked up
Over these thoughts, stashed wayside
And still I rode on

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tour de Point

Date: July 9
Mileage: 66.2
July mileage: 256.6
Temperature upon departure: 60

Today I latched onto the Sunday ride of local road cycling club - the "Homer Cosmic Hams." With about nine or ten regular members, they comprise the only club in town - although that's one more club than I thought there was.

Not that I'm all that familiar with club riding, but this group seemed to have a particular tint of good ol' Alaskana. For one, half of the "road" ride was on a pockmarked stretch of gravel that I had previously only dared to ride on my mountain bike. (I rode my road bike today, because I figured these guys knew what they were talking about. My lower arms are still tingling.) For two, most of the members showed up on all manner of Frankenbikes - an old Cannondale mountain bike outfitted with slicks and a strange single front shock, a 1970s green Fuji with a much newer red front fork, etc. And three, after finally getting into a groove in our paceline on the descent into Anchor Point, the guy in front yelled "Espresso stop, half mile!" and everyone fanned out into a breakaway sprint that I haven't seen since the last time I snuck a peak at OLN highlights.

But these guys and one woman - three in or around retirement age - sure could haul. Not that they even cared. Besides the coffee break, there were three or four other stops at the top of hills while we waited for the rear to catch up. I was pulling when we reached the end of the loop and no one even raced in front of me. There never seemed to be even a hint of competition, despite the fact that the group is currently training for the Ride for Life and the MS 150.

But the best parts of riding with this club:
1. Before we left, they made clear that under no circumstances would I be left behind if I didn't keep up.
2. They didn't act surprised when I actually did keep up.
3. They were very tolerant of my total lack of paceline experience, even as I coasted as many as two bike lenghts behind the person in front of me (I know ... the nerve!)
4. The chided me for the state of my helmet, which means
a. They care; and
b. They know what they're talking about.

We rode 28 miles together and it took a nearly 2 1/2 hours. But my bike computer registered an average moving speed of 18 mph, and that's factoring in the gravel and the huge hill climb. These are cyclists who know how to enjoy the ride.

I thought my reputation as a local journalist and somewhat notorious winter cyclist would precede me, but sadly, no one had ever heard of me and most were surprised to learn my true mission - which was to write an article about the local bike club. Interestingly enough, most of them had heard of Geoff, thanks to this article, and his penchant for standing out as the only classic skier during this past winter's very popular nordic ski races.

"Oh, you're that running guy's girlfriend."

Sigh.

So if I ever meet up with these guys again, I'm gonna rock that paceline.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Indecision

Date: July 5, 7 and 8
Mileage: 34.8, 26.4 and 25.5
July mileage: 190.4

Sorry for my absence. I spent a few days wallowing in indecision, like an uncomfortable dreamer locked in a losing fight for consciousness.

It's a strange state of discomfort - never quite in the moment, yet never able to completely let my mind wander. I'd stare vacantly at the back of the cereal box or watch my cat cross the yard and wonder where my mind had been, where it was now, what had I been thinking about before, did I draw any conclusions, what did I want to eat for dinner tonight, would it really be all that unhealthy to eat cold cereal again ... Finally, I'd give up and go for a bike ride.

That's how I did all of my riding this week - just sort of set out without really deciding to. That's the consequence of having a big decision to make. It erodes your ability to even make even the smallest decisions, decisions that are usually unconscious pieces of an everyday routine. One minute, I'd agonize over whether to take out the trash or wait until tomorrow. The next, I'd be spinning my mountain bike down Diamond Ridge and wondering how exactly I got there.

As a result, I generally had no idea where I was going. So I've been frequenting some old winter haunts - places I hadn't even thought to ride since breakup gave way to summer because, well, it just isn't that appealing to ride a full suspension mountain bike on a smooth gravel road when there are so many clear trails and good pavement opened up. But when autopilot kicked in, I'd find myself coasting down roads I'd ridden dozens of times - when they were cold, and barren, and covered in ice.

On Friday evening - before a long insomniactic night of rockabilly at Kharacters and dancing with spit rats who chided me for my "affluence" (because I have a washer and dryer) - I had a rare moment of clarity at the top of Ohlson mountain. I had been really lost in thought for the better part of an hour before. I remember little of the 13 miles that took me there and only vaguely recall the switchbacking climb to the top - mostly in short gasps. But I do remember standing beside a grove of lupine at the summit, emerging from my stupor just long enough to realize how lush and blindingly green everything was - as though I had expected the snow and silence and gray.

It really surprised me - not because the view was beautiful (although it was) but because my expectations of it deviated so drastically from the obvious. It's July, I thought, and I'm in Alaska, and I've been here 10 months, and I've never taken the time to really look at a devil's club blossom, and it's already July. Suddenly, everything around me had a thrilling sort of novelty.

Sometimes I become so mired in the miles, the routine, that I fail to notice my world changing all around me. Such is the root of all indecision.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

I think I'm goin crazy

Date: July 3 and 4
Mileage: 14.4 and 32.6
July mileage: 103.7
Temperature upon departure: 62

This is a picture of me in 2003 - frou-frou pajama pants tucked into my socks, a ski jacket complete with dangling ski tags wrapped around my waist, struggling to keep my Trek 6500 vertical on smooth doubletrack (look - my eyes are closed and I'm about to go off the trail!). Sigh.

I still use that same stupid helmet, but in many other ways, I have made huge leaps and bounds in the sport of mountain biking in the past three years. I've never had much confidence in my technical skills, nor have I had any reason to have much confidence in my technical skills - but I really surprised myself with my maneuverability around the 24 hours of Kincaid loop. Today, before the fourth of July festivities began, I set out to test myself on the Homestead Trail singletrack. Four miles of roots, switchbacks, milkweed canyons so tall and narrow that I couldn't see the trail at all, grass that brushed my forehead, narrow planks over swamp, and enough blind curves to keep my butt cheeks nice and puckered during the entire hour I spent exploring out there. But I came out of the forest feeling full of Independence.

I also spent the better part of the morning reading up on the Great Divide Race, having just discovered that fellow blogger Cellarrat not only participated in this year's race, but also was the racer who had his bicycle tragically stolen mid-race. He's always had encouraging things to say about the silly stuff I do Up in Alaska, and connecting his name and face to the event has made it all the more real for me.

That's a bad thing.

Because, of course, I had to go and dig up a "before" picture. That might as well be a picture of me straddling a Huffy with training wheels or lugging around 100 extra pounds. Because I understand its context, it just screams to me, "look how far you've come."

And then I begin to wonder what I could do in three more years,
And then you'll be 30.

Given the time to train, research, purchase, prepare,
Why don't you get a haircut and get a real job?

Given more endurance events that will allow me to understand my limits,
And who didn't sign up for the Fireweed 200 because they thought it would be too far to drive?

And with every chainring stab and bloody knee, whittle away at my fragility
Doesn't matter; you're still a 'fraidy cat.

That maybe,
Not a chance

Just maybe,
Remember, you're the kid who never climbed the rope in gym.

I could ride the Great Divide.
Geez, you do one 24-hour race, and suddenly you think you're Trish Stevenson.

It's such a long shot.

But these dreams have a way of setting themselves in motion.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

In your head

Date: July 2
Mileage: 50.4
July mileage: 66.7
Temperature upon departure: 55
A reporter asked Geoff an interesting question the other day that I had never thought much about before - when you're out running or biking solo for four or eight or 24 hours, what do you think about? A lot of people would like to believe that the act of engaging in intense physical activity will lead them to life affirmations or ponderings on the human condition. But really, as Geoff answered, it's no different that driving or sitting alone in a coffee shop. What does a person think about when forced to spend four hours by themselves? Mostly, the random and the mundane.

People who know me know that I like to mark random and mundane anniversaries, and sometimes I spend the solo time on my bike dreaming them up. Today I did a three-hour ride that was intermittently chilled with headwinds and sweaty while tailwinds held the air stagnant as I climbed a couple of long hills. But I also realized today that July 2, 2006, marks nine years since the incident that remains my closest brush with death by outdoor adventure.

I coaxed my boyfriend at the time to hike with me up the Pfeiferhorn, an Alps-like pinnacle that towers above the Salt Lake valley. He was, for the most part, terrified of mountaineering in general but wasn't about to let his 17-year-old girlfriend out-man him, so he followed me tentatively as we traversed a knife ridge and scrambled up the scree-lined face of a mountain so steep that from a half-mile away it looks like a sheer cliff. Everything was going textbook well, and he was pretty buzzed by the time we began to work our way down. I thought for sure that I had him converted.

We were crab-walking down a boulder outcropping when he made a joke about skiing on the snowfield that plunges down the length of the bowl - about 1,000 feet elevation - into Lower Red Pine Lake. Not understanding that he was entirely kidding, I said "That's a great idea!" Why labor down a mountain when you don't have to? So, equipped with only an old book bag and a plastic zip-lock baggie that had formerly held my lunch, I stepped out onto the snowfield and motioned for Eric to come join me. He stood almost frozen in place as I turned to make what may be the stupidest single motion I have ever made - I placed that zippy neatly on the crusted snow and sat down.

The fraction of a second that my butt had contact with that plastic zippy was the closest I came to any semblance of control. Within another fraction of a second, my body was careening, zippy-free, in a downward spiral toward the lake. The boulder outcropping where Eric stood was mere feet from my path; he swore for months afterward that he saw my head hit a rock. But all I felt was the burn of ice shards against my bare skin. All I saw was a whirpool of blue sky. And all I could think about was a trick I had learned the previous winter - that if I wanted to stop my snowboard, all I had to do was turn sideways. Problem is, I had no idea which direction sideways was.

After several of those eternal seconds, by some miracle clearning all of the thousands of boulders scattered over the snowfield, I planted my feet in a large depression and managed to make them stick. My body still swung around until I was lying sideways, facing up the mountain, squinting at the tiny stick figure of Eric waving from a rock many hundreds of feet above my current position. It took him a full 15 minutes to get down to me, and by that time I had crawled back to the boulder outcropping, stood up, and erupted into fits of laughter. I never saw my book bag - or the zippy - again. I also never convinced Eric to go "peak bagging" with me again. And I have never since, even with an ice ax, tried glissading. Good life lessons - those are the random things I think about while I'm grinding at the pedals.

On the boardwalk

Date: July 1
Mileage: 16.3
July mileage: 16.3
Temperature upon departure: 58

Wow. Until today, if someone had asked me if there were any good mountain biking trails in Homer, I would have scrunched up my nose and told them sure - but if they had anything longer than a three-mile ride in mind, they'd have to wait until January.

When I heard rumors that my ice-biking Mecca - a vast network of snowmobile trails weaving through the muskeg around Caribou Lake - had a rideable summer trail, I was very skeptical. But today Geoff and I decided to drive out there and see for ourselves.

During the winter, the Caribou Lake Trail rolls over ridges on punchy, snow-covered double track and traverses the bogs on fast, smooth ice roads. To my pleasant surprise, in the summer it does pretty much the exact same thing - if you replace snow with rutted dirt and the ice roads with hundreds of rough-cut 2x4s.

Fast and fun - and so completely rideable that you can go all the way to the lake and back without so much as getting your feet wet (unless you're like me, and try to shortcut across a bog only to sink up to your rear derailleur in sludge.) The mosquitoes will keep you moving - but everything else about this trail is like that California Adventure Park at Disney Land - all of the pleasure; none of the effort (OK ... Maybe a little effort).

I'm not even sure who put a trail this sophisticated out at an absolute end-of-the-road, middle-of-nowhere destination. My best guess is local land owners, who use ATVs to transport supplies into their remote cabins. But I think local bike enthusiasts helped. Either way, it rocks. Now, when I meet a person that tells me they're coming down here to catch a halibut or fish for king salmon in a slough, or do whatever people come to Homer to do, I'm going to insist they bring a bicycle. "This trail is pretty much the best thing about Homer," I'll say. And, depending on the day, I might even mean it.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Guilty until proven innocent

There is something seriously wrong with the Tour de France. Really. To dash the hopes of thousands by kicking out your top players mere hours before the event. Barry Bonds is under intense doping scrutiny, and they still let him play. Why? Because he's interesting at it. That's the American way.

I'm not saying I'm an advocate of illegal substance abuse; but what happened to burden of proof? I think casual fans such as myself should toss their cable boxes out the window in protest. Then they should tune into another crazy long bike race where substance abuse is still limited to caffeine, and perhaps the occasional something that a Ninilchik resident would grow in their attic.
The Great Divide Race has been plugging along for just over a week now. Eight racers started the 2,500-mile epic across the Continental Divide trail. I believe five are still in, laboring toward the Mexican border. All the updates are posted on a very thorough blogspot blog. Beats OLN anyday, if you ask me.