Date: Sept. 1 and 2
Mileage: 23.4 and 8.2
September mileage: 31.6
Temperature upon departure: 49 and 54
The mountain bike ride to the trailhead is 4.1 miles; much of it gut-busting climbing if I ride it at all. This leg usually takes about 30 minutes, but I figured it may be the best area to shave time. I cranked in the middle ring until my lungs began to sear, my back wheel spun out and I could scarcely muster the energy to lift the front tire over logs. Head spinning and hands shaking, I fumbled with my bike lock until I managed to wrap it around a tree trunk. I looked at my watch. 25 minutes.
The trail to Mount Juneau climbs 3,000 feet in a short two miles. The early hike required active recovery to regain some semblance of consciousness. After 10 minutes, I knew I was not on pace, so I stepped it up. My heart rate climbed to that blood-toasting range of 80-90 percent of maximum. I intended to keep it there all the way to the top. When it comes to high-intensity workouts, hiking will always beat out biking for me. I could not sustain that level of effort on a bike and still maintain my ability to operate said bike in any kind of functional manner. But the simplicity of hiking allows my brain to flail around in the darkness of the pain cave while my body blindly marches upward.
But I did not actually reach the pain cave until the final half mile. The trail becomes so steep that, at any given point, my nose almost touches the same dirt that will hold my feet in four more steps. Millions of years of evolution to achieve bipedalism were thrown out the window as my hands spent more time on the ground than my feet, gaining elevation like an awkward ape on a death march. My mind began to scream sputtering pleas to stop, but the watch in my pocket had a different opinion. "You've done this hike in less than an hour before and you can do it again," it said. "March!"
After that, there was little else but a tunnel, silent and ever-shrinking, and the presence of the watch as it ticked upward. I knew I had reached the peak only when the sharp line of the trail petered out. I looked at my watch. 56 minutes. Sunlight began to creep back into my field of vision. As the tunnel faded away I noticed puffs of morning fog still lingering over the city. The distant mountains loomed in deep shades of blue and the channel shimmered, actually shimmered, like a sequined gown twirling beneath a disco ball. Even the peak was splashed in crimson - the first hints of fall color on the alpine tundra. I didn't notice any of it before, but I hadn't really been looking.
I put the watch away, and didn't look at it again.