Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Liquid gray infinity

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 days, but I know it’s not really a fair comparison. Their hobbies don’t send them out into the slush and biting cold, splattered in grit and varying shades of bruises. Their hobbies don’t require wearing soggy clothing made of unnatural fabrics and coping with equipment that seems to be in a constant state of disrepair. My hobby defines me as quirky and a little bit crazy, and I find it impossible to explain my way out of that.

There are times, though, that I ask myself the same question. It usually crosses my mind in the midst of a rough ride or the conditions I dislike the most - the watered-down slush, the wind. The rain.

Today I stopped at the North Douglas boat launch to pour the water out of my shoes and wipe my Camelbak nozzle free of a solid layer of grit. Nobody was out in the monotone drizzle of a Monday afternoon, and the calm water reflected the silence. Luxurious, billowing clouds draped over tree tops and tumbled down the mountainside like stain fabric.

I sat down for a moment on the beach, littered with broken mussel shells that sparkled in the dull light. I thought about my routine and its strange motions, and I thought a little about “Why.”

I live in a liquid world where everything is fleeting and nothing stays the same. The only thing I’m really certain of is the passing of time, the waves of good and bad that carry me forward. And the details - the possessions I acquire, the way that I look, the places I go, the people I meet, the people I love - are too often little more than glimmers of the present in a sea of memories. It's all too easy for me to drift away with the tide, become lost in that ocean, and forget that life is something that happens, not something I have.

What I really want is to live at the crest of every moment - every frightening, joyful, exhausting, brilliant, mundane moment - as they pass me by. And bicycling, in a way, is my means of staying afloat.


  1. Woha!

    Golly Jill thats pretty well put!

  2. That is indeed awfully well put. There's something about cycling that is so liberating.

    Great site!

  3. I found your site through the 2007 voting going on. I love how you state your feelings. I love the pictures of your travels. I think it's very right for you to question others on their free-time activities. Theirs may not be as gritting and cold, but it's for them to figure out. It sounds like you LOVE your experiences on your bike.
    I have never been one to bike but you make it sound thrilling. Please keep your posts going...you give such great descriptions it's like we are there with you!

  4. your posts and your pics have been amazing lately. Bike your brains out Jill, sounds like you've got a good grip on whats important. we'll try not to give you any grief. -nl

  5. People comment on how much they love your pictures....I like them to. But what keeps me coming back to your blog is your writing. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences in such a beautiful way.

  6. My favourite Mint Sauce cartoon (mountain biking sheep(!)) is where, he's riding up a drudgery hill in drizzling rain, bouncing off boulders with rain running off his nose, thinking, "Why? why? why?" then he comes over the ridge to a view of golden sunrays peeking out underneath purple clouds on a wild landscape and coins the phrase,

    "It's a 'this is the why?'" moment.

    Because for every 10 rainy / icy / gritty days, there's one "this is the why?" day that makes them worthwhile.

    For me, it's also about feeling a bit of fragility in a cotton-wool world and doing things the hard way so that when fate spits you out the other end still alive you can be proud.

  7. hey jill, this is one of my favorite posts that you've written so far. i think most everyone i know up here can relate almost exactly to what you wrote. except we're mad about a different sport. and this winter has been for us like one long slushy, rainy, windy bike ride would be for you. no snow. none. 6 inches in the last month. warm, sunny days melting the little snow we do have. gives me too much time to think about what i'm doing with myself, and if revolving my life around skiing is really such a good idea.
    what am i saying, of course it's a good idea. peace out - jen

  8. Afloat!?
    You are positively levitating!

  9. Perfect.

    I voted for your blog before reading this post. My vote was cast mostly out of bikey solidarity. But then I come back to find this beautiful, moving post and realize that you deserve it even without the tribal influence.

    Thank you.

  10. I would think one look at your pictures would answer most people's "why?". I guess we could ask the same of members of various Polar Bear Clubs, winter joggers, golfers, cross country skiers. It's something we love - so - we do it. It's not going to make sense to them, but it does to us. You remain an inspiration to me, and I'm sure many many others.

    Now that I've buttered you up... I've got a favor to ask; I'm working on a review of balaclavas and wanted to ask you some questions about what you wear. If you get a spare moment can you e-mail me at warren_lee913 at yahoo dot com? I'd appreciate it.

  11. Agreed. You so perfecly captured the passion that so many of us share. Thanks.

  12. So, when do you plan on writing a book?

  13. Jill,
    A friend sent me a link to your blog. Love it. What the rest of us can only be content to feel, you are successful at capturing in words. If ever anyone asks me the "why" question, now I have a website to direct them to.
    Congratulations with you '06 Susitna finish. You have some solid mile behind you this time. It is very impressive. You are going to have fun this year. Start slow, eat often, avoid going into checkpoints (they are evil), and finish strong.
    Like you I am a little obsessive about biking, although unlike you I might not necessarily be compulsive. To give this hypothesis a chance I am in the process of tyring a new training philosophy: "less is more". Here's the catchy slogan that goes with it: "why suffer now when you can suffer later".
    This year I am going to McGrath on the Iditarod Trail Invitational, so I will miss my favorite race the Susitna100.
    Enjoy the taper and have fun with the race.
    If you're ever in Anchorage and looking to go for a little spin, or discuss nutrition or winter bike clothing ideas look me up.
    brij_potnis@yahoo.com or 250-0132

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  15. Geoff, it is good to hear that some of my comments might have made a positive difference in somebody’s life. Very neat! Thanks for sharing that.
    But I don’t get the crazy part (where you claim you are “not crazy enough to ride 100 miles on snow”). At least when the going is good you get to bike, but if you sign up on foot then the going never gets better. :)
    2005, though, there were times I was hoping I’d signed up on foot. That year I pushed 54 miles.
    And pardon me for not remembering that conversation. It might have something to do with having been abandoned by my friends who were supposed to pick me up and the prospect of spending the night soaking wet with a sleeping bag in the same state.
    Now that I think about it, that was good conditioning for what is in store for this year’s 350.
    Geoff and Jill, I look forward to hearing stories from your adventures. Enjoy the moment.

  16. Jill,

    You can not explain the pleasure you get from cycling to anybody who has not experienced the high from the level of total fitness that you have.

    Every two years I pack my bike with 40 kilograms of camping and cooking gear and ride for 17 weeks every day over Alps and high passes for up to 12 - 14 hours per day. After 7 weeks I reach a plateau of never getting tired. After 4500 kilometers (and I have tested this over many many tours) I reach a state of euphoria and I can sprint all day for 120 kilometres never getting tired and sprinting at full strength even up mountains. The last 7 weeks of my tours are heaven where I sing and laugh and totally enjoy pain free sprinting all day. It means I am totally fit.

    Nobody who has not ridden every day like you do and who goes through the pain barrier after only 20 minutes of hard sprinting (I force myself through the pain barrier as quickly as I can each morning) could possibly understand what it is like.

    Most people who ride empty bikes for 1 - 2 hours never reach the pain barrier, never push themselves and therefore do not get the pleasure of the high.

    I am coming to Alaska from May 2007 to September 2007 for a cycling tour starting in Anchorage. Could you please tell me what the rainjacket you use for riding in continuous rain. My current jacket lets water down the front of my neck and after a days riding in heavy continous rain I am wet down my shirtfront.

    Keep riding as you find it a pleasure and don't bother trying to explain it just enjoy.



  17. You're not crazy Jill, you're an adventurer. You make things happen. So many people don't do things because they believe they can't, but not you. You live life to the fullest - some people just watch it pass by. Lucky you, because of this you see and experience wonderful things that they never may.

    Well, maybe you're a little crazy, but in a good way! ;)

    Namaste, Jill.


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