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Showing posts from January, 2007

Waiting for the fog to lift

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Date: Jan. 30 Mileage: 27.4 January mileage: 856.1 Temperature upon departure: 35
Rough day at work. I fried my brain, so today is a picture post. I thought about gunning for 900 miles this month, but I probably won't have the time. Either way, it's been a good run and I wouldn't give it up even if fitness came free.

Liquid gray infinity

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Date: Jan. 29
Mileage: 19.2
January mileage: 828.7
Temperature upon departure: 33

When the subject of how much cycling I do comes up in conversations with acquaintances, I usually try to downplay it as much as possible. Part of it has to do with my delusion of normalcy and my fear of being judged. “You do what? Every day? Out in the weather? Here?” After all, they know where I live.

But the main reason I don’t talk about cycling obsession with anyone but the best of friends is my fear of the best question of all, the question I don’t know how to answer — “Why?”

“You spend all of your free time biking?” For the most part. “As a hobby?” Yes. “Do you get paid at all to ride your bike?” Of course not. “Do you ever plan to make any money riding a bike?” Well, no. “Are you trying to lose weight?” Not really.

“Then ... Why?”

Sometimes I feel like rebutting by asking them why they spend their free time playing World of Warcraft or TiVo-ing whatever reality train wrecks they’re showing on TV these day…

Back in the Saddle

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Date: Jan. 28
Mileage: 25.1
January mileage: 809.5
Temperature upon departure: 30

Tough ride today. I blame the ill-fated bald eagle who found a decapitated deer head in the local landfill. Probably thinking it would be the envy of all eagles, it wrapped its talons around the trophy and took off. What it didn't put much thought into is how much more difficult flying can be when you're hoisting a head that weighs roughly what you do. The eagle banked right into the path of a live power line and bzzzzt ... 10,000 customers in Juneau lost power. (This is a true story. I work for the local newspaper.) And the end result ... I wasn't able to check the weather radar before I went outside.

I've been riding my regular mountain bike with studded tires since Thursday because I'm terrified about taking another dive. It does fine on ice, but is spectacularly inefficient in any sort of loose snow (I can't believe I spent an entire winter riding this thing last year. Swapping out…

Recovery bliss

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I was standing in the Costco parking lot in my T-shirt and jeans, absent-mindedly sipping on a generously iced Diet Coke, when my type-A alter-ego - that little voice that is always trying to nudge me into action - came waddling up beside me.

"What a waste," it said to me. "Look at the bright sun! The clear sky! The windsock hanging limp and motionless! Why aren't you out there taking advantage of that?"

"I promised my health-nut alter-ego that I wouldn't ride my bike today," I said. "My neck's still sore. I think I got whiplash when I crashed Thursday. See, I can't turn it to the left very far."

"Like taking a neck recovery day is a good excuse," it hissed. "You're only going to get a day like this once in an entire training cycle! You have to seize the day when it comes! It doesn't matter what you did yesterday or the day before for that matter!"

"You know, you're the reason my co-workers used t…

Big century

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This is one end of the Juneau road: Berner's Bay, North mile 40.

This is the other end: Thane, South mile 6.

Of course I rode past this point.

It's beautiful out there.

Then again, it's beautiful everywhere.

It was my new odometer's first day.

Date: Jan. 26
Mileage: 100.3
January mileage: 784.4
Temperature upon departure: 29

Today was my "long" training ride before the Susitna 100, and it went really well. I planned to stay out for 10 hours, but after 9:08 I had pretty much run out of road, and I felt pretty good about having 100 miles in the base anyway. I didn't do an extra spur to push my mileage over 100. Riding from my house to one end of the road and then back to the other is really exactly 100 miles.

The best part about today's ride is that any given hour was not any more or less arduous than the next. That's when I know I'm in a good endurance state of mind. During my 80-mile ride last week, I pretty much crashed and had to limp the last 10 miles…

I'd like to thank the academy ...

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Date: Jan. 25
Mileage: 32.0
January mileage: 684.1
Temperature upon departure: 31

So I was all set to log on this evening and write a quick post about what an idiot I am, when I checked the Web stats like a do all the time occasionally, and discovered that this humble little blog made it as a finalist of one of the categories of the 2007 Bloggies!

I bet you'll never guess the category.

Seriously. It would have never occured to me. But I'll keep you in suspense until the end of this post, because my story today adds a few sprinkles of irony.

For all of the cycling I've done, and for all of my cold-weather cycling experience, I still occasionally make some spectacularly stupid mistakes. Today I hoped to do a little trail riding, so I hauled my fat-tired-but-studless snowbike up the stairs to find our front driveway coated in a solid sheet of glare ice. If this wasn't an obvious enough warning sign, I should have also taken into account the heavy rainfall that literally flooded …

Cold and wet

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Date: Jan. 24
Mileage: 50.5
January mileage: 652.1
Temperature upon departure: 35

Today I had the perfect shot lined up. A small window of sunlight had broken through the clouds and cast filtered sunlight directly on the Mendenhall Glacier. The result was a blaze of blue so brilliant that it looked like it had been painted on by some overzealous Technicolor artist, flowing indiscriminately from ice to sky. I rode my bike a ways down the trail where bikes weren't allowed, pulled up next to the lake, and unpacked my Camelbak. I removed my camera from its four ziplock bags, pointed the viewfinder at that idealistic Antarctic scene, and click ... nothing. I had left my camera battery at home. I was pretty upset about it. Really. I had a pretty serious sulk going on. I nearly just turned around and went home right there. But then I thought better of it. And I rode for three more hours. And all was right with the world.

Today was a wet day. A wet day. If it were actually scientifically possi…

Nice surprise

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Date: Jan. 23
Mileage: 25.1
January mileage: 601.6
Temperature upon departure: 31

Today I received a couple of crucial packages. The first was from Dave Nice in Denver, who donated a Thermarest Z-Lite sleeping pad and dry bag to my Susitna 100 cause. As an added bonus, he also sent me the December issue of Modern Drunkard magazine and a bicycle patch. Now I have nearly everything I need - just waiting on a bivy and a couple more random things. Thanks Dave!

I also received my order from Cabela's. I finally bought a pair of pogies, or actually "handlebar mitts." I learned about these from another Dave. They're made for ATVs and snowmobiles, but a handlebar is a handlebar. These have built-in chemical handwarmer holders, and even come with a free pair! It's always fun to find a low-price version of some esoteric piece of gear. It's the John Stamstad school of thought - buy from K-mart, eat twinkies, and ride your ass off. These particular handlebar mitts actually com…

Blue Monday

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Date: Jan. 22
Mileage: 33.0
January mileage: 576.5
Temperature upon departure: 29

Lots of visitors stopped by the blog today. I looked into it, and it turns out if you do a Google search for ‘depressing Blue Monday,’ this blog is second on the list.

I’m happy to have this distinction, because otherwise I would have forgotten that today was, in fact, “Blue Monday,” officially the most depressing day of the year. It’s the day when miserable weather, mounting debt, loss of the holidays, lack of motivation and stunted New Year’s resolutions finally catch up to people. So a British psychologist took all of these factors and actually created a mathematical formula to determine that yes, the third Monday in January is in fact as bad as it gets.

I like to mark Blue Monday because, regardless of what you think about randomly-well-publicized-but-otherwise-arbitrary scientific studies, it doesn’t hurt to believe that the year’s only going to look up from here. And what better way to celebrate a sad wi…

Eating disorder

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Date: Jan. 21
Mileage: 29.0
January mileage: 543.5
Temperature upon departure: 35

One thing I have never figured out how to do is eat well while bicycling. It sounds so simple. Even sitting here tonight, contemplating turning the pedals and munching down some Power Bars, I think "that sounds simple enough." For some reason, it never works as well in practice. It's not that I don't want to eat. It's not that I am trying to lose a pound a day by completing 8-hour rides on a couple hundred calories (although wouldn't it be nice if it were that simple?). No ... I don't eat because my body tells me I can't.

It does this in several ways. When I'm cycling, most of my normal triggers turn off. I can ride and ride and ride, and as long as I keep riding, I will never feel hungry. My blood sugar will crash. My hands will start shaking. But I'll never feel hungry. However, I do eat, to ward off the hand shakes. In these situations, eating anything is about as …

Clipless-less

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Date: Jan. 20
Mileage: 25.1
January mileage: 514.5
Temperature upon departure: 35

In a post a couple of days ago, I thought I was admitting to a fleece fetish, but instead I was confessing a woeful lack of what some consider a basic piece of essential bike gear - the clipless pedal. It must have been quite the confession, because I have since been a peripheral part of at least a coupledebates.

I own three bikes - a "Roadie" that is really more of a light touring bike, a full-suspension mountain bike and a rigid big-tired mountain bike built for the main purpose of riding on snow. The first two have platform pedals with plastic cages. The "Snaux Bike" has only an oversized set of studded platform pedals and no grips. Of the three, the Snaux Bike has my favorite set-up. I find the total lack of pedal barriers freeing, especially on a bicycle where my day-to-day foot gear ranges from a small pair of indoor track shoes to a triple-sock stuffed pair of Northface winter boots…

Lonely out here

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Date: Jan. 18
Mileage: 79.0
January mileage: 489.4
Temperature upon departure: 33

Here in Juneau, we have a long, dead-end road that shoots out about 30 miles north of the last outpost of the population center and doesn't really go anywhere. We call it "Out the Road." I have personally spoken to residents who have lived here ten or more years and have never been to the end of it. And I'm guessing that there are very, very few who have ever ventured out that way on a random Thursday in January.

Today I rode "Out the Road." The last vehicle I saw turned off near mile marker 22. Beyond there, I went 15 more miles one way through a heavy snowstorm without seeing a single sign of life. Not a car. Not a snowmobile. Not a barking dog. Not even a raven. All I had was the increasingly snow-choked road and miles and miles of white silence. I loved it.

I had plans to ride all the way out to the end and take a triumphant self-portrait in front of the "END" sign. Th…

Just like Christmas

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Date: Jan. 17
Mileage: 38.0
January mileage: 410.4
Temperature upon departure: 32

I don't really mind being a job hopper, most of the time. Sure, I always misplace a lot of my possessions in the annual uprooting. And sure, I've been working for entry-level pay since I was 15. But the worst part about my constant freshman employee status is the way I get every single holiday dumped on me. I was the only one in my entire department to work Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. And what do I get in return? Random days off, three weeks later. I didn't get to choose them. So today, Jan. 17, was Christmas Day to me. Hooray.

I predictably used my extra day off to go for a bike ride. I told Geoff I was going to do my regular two-hour ride, but then I stayed out for three and a half hours. I didn't have a great reason. I'm going to try and ride 7-8 hours tomorrow, so I probably would have been better off keeping it short. Most of the paths and …

Downhill's the hard part

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Date: Jan. 16
Mileage: 8.0
January mileage: 372.4
Temperature upon departure: 32

I did some trail riding today. Three inches of new power. Soft-packed stuff underneath. Snow coming down hard. Decent elevation gain. Lotsa walking. Eight miles in two hours. It's been a while since I've done such a physically demanding, technically challenging ride. My calves are still burning. Good stuff, those mountain snowmobile trails.

This one was dramatically rutted. Some of the moguls were taller than my wheels. Geoff explained to me how snowmobilers make these bumps - by intermittently gunning and then releasing their throttle rather than just giving it even gas like normal drivers. It seems a little selfish to me, especially on a multiuse trail - but what can you do? Interestingly, they were a little easier to ride up and over on moderate inclines than they were on flat stretches. I think forced momentum makes all the difference.

Eventually, the trail became too steep to ride at all uphill. We…

Racing tug

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Date: Jan. 15
Mileage: 21.5
January mileage: 364.4
Temperature upon departure: 38

The wind advisory was extended to 3 p.m. Gusts to 50 mph, it warned. Warned of wind - but it but it felt more like taking a blunt hit to the chest. It's headwind like this that forces me to duck as low as I can on the handlebars, let my helmet take the brunt of the blast, and hope against hope that I'm still moving forward.

The highway south snakes along the narrow passage between the mountains and the channel. In high-wind high tides, the waves practically crash up on the road. Seagulls drift in with the surf. I watch them jump and flutter erratically over surging whitecaps. That's when I notice - churning several hundred yards distant over a parallel path - a barge-towing tug boat.

I mash the front shock over loose blocks of ice and notice that tug is moving the same, nodding through a surge of waves. As we heave forward, tug stays right with me, practically mimicking my every movement as we stru…

Remind me why biking is fun

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Date: Jan. 14
Mileage: 23.0
January mileage: 342.9
Temperature upon departure: 35

I had a terrible ride today. Just awful. It was like a really bad B-movie, almost comical in the way that all of the wrong elements fit perfectly together. It may even qualify for the over-the-top rating of “Worst ... Ride ... Ever.”

Not really. But by the time I set out today, all of the freezing rain had turned into plain ol’ regular rain, which streamed in torrents down the glare-ice-covered roads. I took my studless snow bike because I assumed I’d just ride in the snowy shoulder. But the rain-stewed slop that remained from Friday’s snowfall was nearly impossible to negotiate. The conditions were a sourdough starter for mushy disaster. On days like this, I should learn when to cash in my chips and hit the gym. But I can be pretty stubborn when I want to be. After all, I had just spent a half hour designing a new wet-weather ensemble, and I wanted to test it for butt-cheek-warming and dry-feet capabilities.…

Freezing rain

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Date: Jan. 13
Mileage: 36.1
January mileage: 319.9
Temperature upon departure: 29

I have heard about these storms hitting the Midwest, but I have never actually seen freezing rain. The concept doesn't even make sense to me. If temperatures are below freezing, and it's precipitating, why wouldn't it just snow? But I set out today in a cold drizzle that settled as droplets of clear ice on everything. Soon enough, the front end of my bike was covered in a frozen shell, and my coat and pants looked like I had been blasted with shaved ice. The rain made quick work of the snow-packed roads, too. Nine inches of new powder fell yesterday, so the shoulders were soft and deep. But the plow-scraped areas became as slick as hockey rinks. I made a solid effort to stay out of the path of traffic, even though it meant plowing my own path through several inches of ice-crusted snow. Such an interesting weather phenomenon, this freezing rain.

I have been feeling a little on edge lately. I think …

I'm learning

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Date: Jan. 11
Mileage: 25.1
January mileage: 283.8
Temperature upon departure: 17

Geoff and I spent the weekend at the John Muir Cabin, one of a handful of wilderness cabins that pepper the Tongass National Forest. This one is a pretty quick jaunt up ... about 3.5 miles, 1,550 feet of climbing, all of the clean, dry snow and open bags of marshmallows you could ever hope for. We cranked up the wood stove as outside temperatures dipped below 0, ate some kind of terrible reconstituted Indian lentil mush by candlelight, and watched the city lights of Juneau twinkle beneath thin strips of clouds. I slept for 11 hours last night, curled up in a -20 degree bag even though inside temps couldn't have been much below 60. I don't know what it is about wilderness cabins ... they always lull me into happy hibernation.

So I was even feeling a little reluctant to go out hiking this morning, but Geoff was excited to do some backcountry skiing, so I strapped on the snowshoes and waddled behind him …

Degrees of separation

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Date: Jan. 10
Mileage: 27.0
January mileage: 258.7
Temperature upon departure: 11

I think everyone has some type of clothing that no matter how many different ensembles they own, it will never be enough. Take shoes for example. Geoff owns several dozen different pairs of shoes. He used to own two pair of the exact same Montrails, for what reasons - I don't know. Maybe he carried them on runs as spares in case he was attacked by a shoe-eating pit bull. I, on the other hand, could care less about shoes. I own what is basically the minimum for the number of activities I do - about 10, including my cross-country ski and snowboarding boots. I do not own a cycling-specific pair of shoes. No one's ever managed to sell me on clipless pedals and I doubt they ever will.

I do, however, own a few jackets.

The number of those does approach the several dozen range. It may even be in the 40s, if you count sweaters and hoodies. Geoff will chastise me for stuffing the front closet with no less than …

5.7 Earthquake

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Date: Jan. 9
Mileage: 25.1
January mileage: 231.7
Temperature upon departure: 18

This is the second time this has happened to me. During the darkest part of the morning, right before dawn, the bed lurches forward and jolts me awake. My initial reaction is to squint at the alarm clock, 6:49. But the creeks and groans grow louder and the mattress continues to rumble beneath me. So I freeze in position and hold my eyes shut, hoping against a frightened child's hope that if I just pretend I'm not here, it will go away.

But then the tremors subside and the semi-conscious disorientation fades, and I can drift back to sleep with the comfortable assurance that it was only an earthquake.

This was the largest one I've experienced yet: 5.7, but its epicenter was 120 miles north of here. A lot of my coworkers didn't even feel it. My neighbor thought it was a gust of wind ... a 5.7 earthquake ... which I think is a good indicator of how bad the wind really gets here.

Any time Juneau skies…

200

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Date: Jan. 8
Mileage: 23.0
January mileage: 206.6
Temperature upon departure: 28

I don't have much time to post tonight because I read somewhere that the weather is supposed to be mostly sunny, and I'd like to wake up (mostly) early. But I'm indulging myself because I'm feeling good about hitting my mileage goal this week (Tuesday through Monday is a week.) Despite my illusions of being an endurance biker, that would have been one of my better weeks last year - and these were mostly snow-covered miles. And I don't care what they say in Anchorage ... snow miles are hard.

Today's ride was a quick (um ... two-hour) out and back to the end of North Douglas. It snowed hard the whole way out, dumping about an inch and a half of new powder in the hour I was riding north. Then it cleared up a little, and I did some beach riding. According to the local weather observer, there has been 22" of new snow since Jan. 4.

While I'm self-indulging, I might as well throw in a …

Like a virgin

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Date: Jan. 7
Mileage: 34.0
January mileage: 183.6
Temperature upon departure: 29

As far as bicycle riding goes, 2007 is going really well so far. I figure I put in 14-15 hours this week, just on the bike. Since I'm not counting New Year's Day (and who has the energy to do anything on New Years Day?), I'm on pace to have a 200-mile first week. This morning, we had about 3 inches of new snow and patches of actual sunlight. My ride took me through five miles of deliciously difficult trails around Dredge Lake.

The best part about this first week of January is how diverse all of my rides have been. I started the week on the road bike and moved to dirt singletrack with Sugar. The past three have been snowy bike path jaunts with snippets of trail riding. Despite a parking lot full of cars, I just couldn't stay away from Dredge Lake today. The area is a tight network of trails cutting through a glacial moraine. I've been dying to try it all winter, but I'm afraid of receivi…

Goal driven

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Date: Jan. 6
Mileage: 25.1
January mileage: 149.6
Temperature upon departure: 31

I am slowly amassing my Susitna 100 gear collection. I had all the gear last year, but because Geoff signed up for this year's race, and all of that gear belongs to him, I pretty much had to start from scratch. Yesterday, I ordered a -20 degree-rated sleeping bag. I'm not going to admit what brand it is or how much I paid for it, because it's embarrassingly low (yes, I know this bag could save my life. It's not cheap because it's ineffective. It's cheap because it's heavy :-) 6.1 pounds, actually. But I figured since I barely made the 15-pound weight cutoff last year, an extra pound or two won't be too hard to shave off elsewhere. As for the rest of my gear, I still need a bivy sack, a small closed-cell sleeping pad and some kind of lightweight mid-sized drybag that I can strap to the top of a bike rack. If anyone out there has this kind of gear lying around and doesn't nee…

Snow's back

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Date: Jan. 5
Mileage: 28.0
January mileage: 124.5
Temperature upon departure: 32

New snow today ... About nine inches of fresh, cement-thick Juneau powder when I woke up this morning. It was a friendly sight - after the successful castration last night of the Timberwolf tire, it was time to really see how deep this snowbike could go (sans knobbies, of course.)

I'm glad to report that the first experiment was a raging success. I was bummed to see that by the early hour of 11 a.m., the city had already plowed most of the bike paths. But the road shoulders, sidewalks and dirt trails were beautifully buried. Even at 20 psi (pretty high, really), I was able to plow straight lines through nearly all of it, from two-inch deep sections all the way up to nearly a foot. The sanded, slushy shoulders threw me a couple of times. I can't even imagine what life would be like on a truly big-wheeled bike. I probably should have just dropped for the Pugsley before I got entangled in Snaux bike. But …

I blame the sun

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Date: Jan. 4
Mileage: 47.0
January mileage: 96.5
Temperature upon departure: 28

I love this picture because its timing is uncanny. Geoff and I hit this frozen, snowless trail in the only window of clear sky that slid over Juneau all week. It was only about 45 minutes, but it gave us our first shot of direct sunlight in the New Year, and Geoff his first shot of direct sunlight in Juneau since Nov. 22. Shielded from the wind by the thick forest canopy, we broke through bars of sunlight and relished our own little piece of July. I could taste it and see it and even feel it, despite temperatures that hovered in the 20s (which, in direct sunlight, feel more like 75). By the time we made it back to the snow-dusted road, the clouds had closed in and the sun was gone. By the time Geoff cut off and I continued north, the wind picked up something fierce. For the last six miles of my ride, the city was engulfed in a whiteout blizzard. In my own unique way, I loved it all.

But the sun is a little lik…

Brand new treads

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Date: Jan. 3
Mileage: 21.2
January mileage: 49.5
Temperature upon departure: 36

The latest piece of Snaux bike arrived this week, via USPS parcel post (every single purchase I make on eBay, I beg the sellers not to ship parcel post. I tell them I will pay them the 38 cents they'll save. I tell them I live in Juneau %@$#! Alaska, the end of the line, the black hole of post-office shipping. And every time, they send parcel post and I have to wait six weeks for packages.) This package had the WTB Timberwolf tires I bought in early December. I got a little greedy and went for the 2.7" tires. It's finally starting to look just a little like those big-wheeled bikes I dream about. Unfortunately, the rear tire doesn't fit the rim ... but it could, if I shaved down the outer knobs a little. Has anyone ever tried doing that? If so, what kind of results have you had? And what do you use to cut away the rubber?

Today I rode alongside the beach I biked across the other day. An unusuall…

Liquidation

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Date: Jan. 2
Mileage: 28.3
January mileage: 28.3
Temperature upon departure: 40
iPod cycled through: "Reach for the Sun" by The Polyphonic Spree

The New Year is here and I am through mourning the snow. Inches and inches and inches of rain corroded all of the packed snow, seeped into the glare ice layer and finally stripped the road of all but loose gravel and wet pavement. So I wrestled Roadie out of the closet, brushed off a thick layer of October grit, pumped up the tires and tentatively limped across the street.

I did not want to ride like it was summer. I wanted to believe that streaks of ice threatened to yank my tires out from under me at any moment. I needed the fight and kick of snow to lift me out of the dripping gray monotony. But as the pedals spun almost effortlessly over hard pavement, I watched the odometer spin upward ... 16mph ... 17 mph ... 18mph.

I had been off the bike three days but it suddenly seemed like three months. We tore through needles of rain toward a s…

All is quiet on New Year's Day

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I think New Year's is a good day to feel subdued. A good day to feel contrite. A good day to pause at the "2007" scrawled across the front page and feel a little despondent about the passing of time.

New Year's Eve is all about the hunt. What do we keep searching for? I never find out. But I join the masses clawing through the wind-whipped streets, smoky bars and 2 a.m. Samosa stops. I want to believe we're looking for the defined moment, the sharp clarity that cuts a straight line between past and future, that carves away the bad and smoothes out the good. But all I see are the faces, hidden behind lipstick and glitter and cardboard hats. I hear the muddled voices, lost in the white noise. I hear them and see them again.

In 2006 in the fog of Alaska edible-art-induced food poisoning.
In 2005 in the deep snow drifts of the Uinta Mountains.
In 2004 echoed in the distant fireworks over City Creek Canyon.
In 2003 in the company of friends who were about to disperse forev…