Date: Feb. 10
February mileage: 223.9
Temperature upon departure: 22
By the time I reached the top of the second flight of stairs, my heart was racing. I hoisted my bike over the final step and dropped it with a thud on the ice, then leaned against the house until my head stopped spinning. Usually, my pre-ride weight training doesn’t leave me more exhausted than the ride itself. But, then again, I’m not used to packing a bike weighted down with most of the gear you’d need to survive a winter night in Denali.
After I caught my breath, I purposely went out and rode the hilliest route I could find. Motoring up hills seemed vaguely harder, but downhills are what really brought weight gain into the forefront of my thoughts. At one point, I hit 32 mph while coasting down a snow-covered slope (the kind of surface in which brakes are generally a bad idea.) Scary.
After I came to the end of the road and turned away from the sun, I caught my first glimpse of my shadow pedaling that bicycle behemoth down the street. It looked so funny, lumbering ahead of be, that I couldn’t help but surge toward it. The return ride was noticeably faster.
After I returned home, I pulled out my bathroom scale to weigh it for curiosity’s sake.
The verdict: Bicycle and stuff = 47 pounds. Once I throw in water, a few articles of extra clothing and food, I could be pushing 60. So I have a little weight problem. Oh well. Things could definitely be worse.
Much worse. On a more somber note, I have been reading all of the race reports from this year’s Arrowhead 135. Harrowing, harrowing stuff - hypothermic cyclists who had to be dragged off the trail in their sleeping bags; people who froze their hands changing tires; severely frostbitten toes. They were people who didn’t seem to fully grasp the realities of -30 ... people no different than me. I read these stories with the morbid fascination of someone who could experience the same thing in a week’s time. I read them while chanting to myself that the chance of -30 is very, very slim. Then I nestled further into my warm computer chair and struggled with those sweeping thoughts about the grand insanity of it all.
A copy of Wend Magazine came my way earlier this week. Inside is a great article by Mike Curiak, the endurance cyclist who has singlehandedly conquered many of the most difficult mountain biking challenges in the United States. But in this article, he doesn’t talk about his triumphs and trophies. He talks about a single incident along the lonely Iditarod trail, where, buffeted by 80 mph wind and subzero cold, he contracted hypothermia and nearly died. Despite all of his experience and preparedness, he found himself buried in the depths of a storm in one of the most remote regions of the world. He knew in his heart that no one was coming. And as he lay wrapped in his sleeping bag, slipping further and further toward unconsciousness, he realized that no one could save him but himself.
The next thing he realized, or at least the next thing he wrote about, was the crackle of a fire in a village cabin some five miles down the trail. An Alaska Native man on a snowmobile found him cocooned in his bag and carried him to safety. I found it to be an inspiring story ... that even at his most alone, he wasn't alone.