Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Eaglecrest, twice

Date: Oct. 15
Mileage: 34.6
October mileage: 313.1
Temperature upon departure: 43
Rainfall: .45"

I am very lucky that I don't have a coach to breathe down my neck and assault me with numbers and statistics and myriad equations to prove that I'm not trying hard enough. My imaginary coach is irritating enough, especially now that she has an odometer and GPS and my bad habit for reading training blogs to back up her claims. She hovers over my shoulder, chanting witless mantras such as "Go! Go! Go!" "I ... am ... doing the ... best ... that I ... can," I huff back, sometimes out loud, for emphasis.

My imaginary coach always backs down. I live with my guilt. I embrace my freedom. I adapt. When road interval training turned out to be a hideous exercise in breathing through an unmitigated runny nose, I took the intensity workouts indoors. I can run just as hard on an elliptical trainer, and while I'm recovering, I read books. I've burned through three so far this month. My current subjects of choice are nonfiction about Alaska mountaineering and dogsled racing. I am learning tons.

Now my imaginary coach is telling me I should spend more time climbing. "Best bike workout there is," she tells me. "Good for the quads." As limited as my climbing options are, it's not quite as monotonous as the gym. So I listened this time.

Today I rode the "Double Eaglecrest." My GPS tells me this ride climbs 2,958 feet in 34 miles. Of course, most of that climbing happens in the 10 miles it takes to ride up the Eaglecrest road twice. It's a respectable grade.

It seems a bit silly to use a 26" full-suspension mountain bike for a road climb, but that's my best option right now. Little did I know it was going to be the perfect bike for the job today. I was actually enjoying the slow comfort of the squishy saddle when I passed a large road machine - sort of an industrial weed whacker - about two miles into the climb. The thing was crawling down the mountain and leveling every bush and tree within 10 feet of the road - probably to make room for a snow berm come winter. The air was suddenly overcome with the strong scent of evergreen - the kind of overzealous pine aroma that reminds me of a kitschy Christmas store. And behind the machine, I could see why. The weed whacker left a trail of debris that stretched the entire width of the street - twigs, leaves, spruce bows, spiny devil's club shoots, even logs. It was a complete minefield.

I was gunning for 90 percent effort for the first climb, even as I ran over some obstacles and dodged others. Easy enough, right? Now turn that around, factor in a wet road and a 35 mph, teary-eyed descent, and you have a swerving, exhilarating mountain bike ride that is every bit as exciting as, well, a real mountain bike ride.

The weed whacker operator had destroyed another half mile of road by the time I climbed past him a second time. By then I was at 80 percent effort and starting to feel it. I was a little less alert on the second descent and nearly launched over one of the logs. I like to think I would have landed it. Towards the bottom, there was a break in the clouds and I could see a half rainbow floating overhead. I took a picture and continued on my way before the full view opened up - the rainbow disintegrating across a deep gray sky that stood in stark contrast of the snow-covered mountains, the low-lying clouds, and the muskeg bathed in new sunlight. The moment became so beautiful that I said so, out loud, adding a swear word for emphasis.

I think even a real coach would approve.