Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hardship

Date: Oct. 18
Mileage: 17.9
October mileage: 355.6
Temperature upon departure: 38
Rainfall: 1.04"

I was nearly there, nearly to the southern tip of Douglas Island; even with the dismal visibility through swirling rain, it was nearly in sight. I mashed the pedals ... 9 mph, 10 mph - the fastest I had moved all morning. A long walk through a minefield of sharp rocks had yielded this thin gravel bar where I could ride, actually ride, like a delirious bird fighting the wind. The chill needled through every layer of wet clothing and gripped my skin like icy fingers. My own fingers had deteriorated from clammy to numb, and I was on my third set of gloves - my last - because I tried everything I could think of, and nothing really works in this weather. Nothing, nothing, nothing. (Edit: My bike pogies would work. I can't believe I didn't think of it earlier.)

I rounded a cliff and followed the gravel bar as it jutted out toward the open channel. After an entire morning of bouncing and skidding along a bumpy shoreline as slippery as ice, that simple left turn proved to be the ride's fatal move. I was scarcely out in the open when I was suddenly hit from the side by a blast of wind so strong that I felt like I had been punched in the lungs. The bike skidded sideways and I lost control, launching skyward like a sail behind ripped from a flimsy boat. I landed on the rocks several feet away from the bike, wrenching my (good) knee sideways with a sharp shot of pain, and then I crumpled like a broken kite. I had so, so had it with this ride. Had it, had it, had it.

I sat up and began to gnaw on the one Luna Bar I brought with me. I could see a definitive point in the beach less than a half mile in front of me. GPS showed me rounding the sharp curve of the island. That could be my destination - the end of Douglas - but I'd never know and I no longer cared. I decided the Luna Bar might just stoke my core temperature long enough to get me home before my fingers froze. I drank a bunch of water, too, because I hadn't bothered to sip anything in two hours, and hypothermia brought on by dehydration is a real concern. I no longer felt like I was a recreational rider dawdling around on a beach only nine miles from my home. I was on a real epic, and every mile from here on out was going to be a struggle. The thought of that fueled my fury - because I am always eager to overcome hardship.

With the wind I was flying, but I could still feel the chill ripping through. Snow accumulation crept down to an elevation only a few hundred feet above my head. If I wasn't at sea level, I'd likely be fighting a blizzard. The temperature was mid-30s at best, with a steady 25 mph wind gusting to 50. Even as I skirted the edge of dry land, I couldn't shake the image of a crab fisherman clinging to a boat in the brunt of a Bering Sea storm. I wanted to persevere, but I could feel indifference creeping in. My mind always seems to shut off when I'm struggling. It's almost as though my body decides that it can't expend any energy on frivolous things such as emotions and thoughts. Having experienced this state before, I've learned I can trust my instinct more than my mind. The miles flew by in this white fog of apathy, somehow completely free of the many near-misses and actual crashes I experienced on the way out.

By the time I reached the last big stream crossing, I had warmed up enough that doubt was beginning to creep back into my consciousness. I could feel the acute pain of warm circulation stabbing at my fingers. I just wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Since I was soaked to the bone anyway, I decided to ford the river rather than hoisting my heavy bike up a cliff so I could thread it across the narrow, rickety wooden bridge that spanned an upstream waterfall. I lifted my bike on my shoulders and began to step gingerly into the creek ... up to my knees, up to my thighs, up to my waist. The swift water began to sweep the bottom of the wheels before I even reached the center channel. I looked downstream and visualized the river ripping my bike from my hands, ripping me off my feet, and carrying us both out to sea. I turned around with a renewed feeling of frustration and anger at myself, and began the slog up to the bridge.

Once across the bridge, I was finally able to convince myself I was home-free. Just like that, all of that negative emotion flipped over to a massive adrenaline high. The last mile of beach was all rideable and I sprinted over it with rekindled energy. My hands came back from the dead and I could maneuver the bike with ease, powering over steep sandbanks and launching across boulders. I felt great, so great, like I had suddenly been granted some kind of cycling superpower. I laughed at yet another reminder of why I voluntarily take my Pugsley out on a trailless beach on the coldest, wettest day of the season - why I voluntarily put myself through hardship. I crave the lowest lows because I believe I can survive them, and I crave the highest highs because I believe I have earned them.

9 comments:

  1. Wonderful life in a wonderful place.

    Regards from Spain.

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  2. You are such a trooper! How's your knee feeling?

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  3. I can't believe I haven't suggested this before but...have you ever heard of Showers Pass jackets? Check out what people are saying about the fabric they use.

    I think you should send this post to SP and ask them for a free jacket in exchange for an ad and review. If anyone needs this, it's you!

    And no, I don't work for them, I just love my jacket. Did my first test a few weeks ago. Three hours of road biking in a solid, soaking rain and I was warm, *dry* and toasty--at least on top.

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  4. Wow, epic indeed. I can always count on you to make me feel like a pussy. I'm going to go swap my saddle out for a lava rock until I feel tough again.

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  5. Kronda, thanks for the suggestion. I'm always interested in new ideas for rain gear, but I'm skeptical just the same. I wore yesterday what I call my "Sitka Suit:" long-sleeve bike jersey, fleece jacket, PVC jacket (made of industrial plastic, nonbreathable waterproof) and a Burton winter shell with the waist band cinched up as tight as it would go. Every single layer was soaked at the end of the ride. It's possible that the jersey became soaked from sweat, but the fleece jacket was the clincher. I'm don't sweat all that much usually, especially in that kind of cold (and I wear that PVC jacket often.) If the jacket became that soaked from sweat alone, I probably would have croaked from dehydration.

    In everything I've tried in the past year, I've resigned myself to the belief that I can't stay dry, with the rain and the wind and water kicking up from the ground, fenders, great jackets, or nothing at all. I think my true test will be, "If I jump in a lake wearing this, will it keep me dry?" If the answer is no, then I'll know.

    Thanks Amblus ... the knee's fine. Just a little stiff and a big bruise forming. Ain't nothing.

    And thanks, Logan. You just made my day :-)

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  6. This is going to sound totally random, but you are such an Alaskan expert, I had to ask ya:

    Do they pumpkin patches in Alaska?

    See the end of this post for more details:

    http://travelsinwind.blogspot.com/2007/10/return-of-orange.html


    Grin.

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  7. Yeah I can understand your skepticism. And since I only live on Oregon which would be considered 'moderately moist' compared to what you put up with, here are some testimonies from field testers I think even you would consider hardcore:

    "What we do is long multi-sport adventure races. Once a jacket is soaking wet it is pretty miserable to wear. Now we get through a whole 1,000 km race with one [eVent] jacket. The way it is different from any other fabric in the market is that you won't get wet from the rain, but most importantly you won't get wet from sweat."
    - Anna McCormack

    "Had 2 days in the Alps with a customer after the show. Did a 12 pitch 10+ on great granite on the Salbit, 10,000ft Alpine peak, got caught in a monster electric storm on top and rapped the route in thunder, lightning and a heavy cascade of cold storm water, pretty epic but totally dry on my top half under a new eVent jacket. Quite a test! That's what you call corporate hospitality!"
    - Neil Mcadie, Rab
    Jess Rosskelley

    "A bitter, icy blast hit the Northeast Ridge of Gauri Shankar. I stopped climbing and struggled to keep my balance in the thin, cold air. The world outside my climbing parka and pants made with eVent fabric was harsh, but inside I was warm and dry, even from the sweat from my exertion."
    - Jess Roskelley

    It looks like Showers Pass and Keen are the only U.S. companies who are licensed to use the fabric at this time.

    If you do ever get one, I'll be interested to hear about your results!

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  8. So after reading your post I went to work and was looking for something truly waterproof to recommend to you (I recently got a job at a large adventure sports co-op that shall remain nameless). I didn't find anything after a full loop in the store, so I'm starting to think that maybe a dry suit is your best bet. If it works for winter water-sports junkies, I think it might just work for you. Maybe you could find one with a skeleton or confederate flag to match your face warmer!

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  9. Um -- my four-year-old and I had to ride our Xtracycle a block out of our way in 75-degree sunshine because of construction. Does that count?

    No?

    Damn.

    --
    Jason Crane
    RocBike.com
    "Nothing To Lose But Our Chains!"

    ReplyDelete