Thursday, January 18, 2007

Lonely out here

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. That sign stands near mile marker 40. But between miles 36 and 37, I noticed the snow depth on the road had exceeded five inches and snow was still coming down hard. Even atop a paved road, five inches of snow means you have to earn every mile and earn it well. I was riding at about 8 mph at that point and working extra hard for less and less distance. Riding to the end of the road would have meant an extra hour back to the point where I was, and I was becoming concerned that the snow would become so deep it may not even be rideable soon. And 40 miles is a long, long way to walk. (Unpacked snow depth would probably have to be in excess of 9 inches to become unrideable on a road, but it was coming down hard. In retrospect, I still feel it was a valid concern.)

So I turned around, just over 3 miles shy of my goal. I have still never ridden all the way out to the end of the road from my home. Someday. Some other, 85-mile day. When the miles aren't quite as hard-earned.

Overall, it was a pretty tough ride and of course I didn't eat enough. The last 10 miles, when I was back in the city, there was a 25-mph headwind whipping up the road, dark had descended and the temperature had bumped up to an extremely soggy 35, were especially difficult. For a while, I was having that full-body nauseated sensation where it feels as though my body is trying to reject itself. I saw an open, half-filled cup of ranch sauce on the road and had a more-than-fleeting urge to eat it, even though I still had a granola bar in my pack. (I think this is the reaction of long physical exertion. Our minds start to reject reason and react solely on instinct.) When Geoff did his 30-mile run, he tore open a pack of sport beans and dropped most of them on the road, then actually stopped to pick them up before thinking better of it. These reactions sound so repulsive now, but they seem perfectly normal when you're in the depths of your tunnel, mind completely closed to everything but the faint light at the end.

Now that I'm at home with plenty of ice cream and veggie lasagna in me, I'm feeling much more normal. I'm a little disappointed. I was kind of looking forward to floating around in that cloud for the rest of the evening. In all, my ride was just less than 80 miles. It took me a hair over eight hours. I dressed well, but wet is wet. I was never able to stop for longer than two minutes. I ate three granola bars and three fruit leathers, for a total of about 600 calories. I'm pretty proud that I actually made myself eat that much - but it wasn't nearly enough, especially considering that lunch was supposed to fall somewhere in there. One of these days I will learn how to eat while bicycling. And one of these days I will return from a ride without pruney toes, but neither is likely to happen very soon.