Thursday, November 15, 2007

Into the morning

Date: Nov. 15
Mileage: 25.1
Hours: 1:45
November mileage: 329.7
Temperature upon departure: 30

I rolled out of bed at 10:17 a.m. Alaska time, after having that reoccurring dream in which I am driving a huge car full of friends into the remote desert at night, and everyone is sleeping, and I want to sleep so badly, too, but I feel this sense of urgency and I just can't stop. I wrapped up my short NPR interview just shy of 4 a.m. and crawled into bed without taking a shower, still coated in sweat and reeling with irrational nervousness about the outcome. I remember next to nothing about the 4 a.m. conversation and am still too nervous to listen to it. (It's funny how afraid I am of the sound of my own voice. When I write I can self-edit, but when I speak, whatever spews out is what is recorded for humanity. I don't like to feel responsible for it.) But ... uh ... I think it went pretty well. I thought it was just going to be a quirky little snippet on the Bryant Park Project, but they put my story and bio on NPR.org! Holy cow! The big time! If you happened to click over to this blog through the NPR page, welcome, esteemed public radio listeners. This blog is both a training and personal journal with the results of an amateur photography hobby mixed in. To get a sense of who I am and why I am so "into" winter cycling, a couple of my favorite posts are this one and this one.

I took advantage of the scheduled early-morning call to squeeze in a midnight ride, my first of the year. Midnight rides are likely going to be the most valuable miles of my training this winter. All of the necessary Iditarod components are there: darkness, loneliness, cold, sleep deprivation. I was coming off a long day when I set out for a 25-mile late-night (early-morning?) ride. On Wednesday morning, I completed my full-body weight-lifting routine, which takes about 60 minutes, plus a 75-minute run on the elliptical trainer, then a 10-hour-long day at work. By the time I ate a snack, suited up, and kissed Geoff good night, it was 12:45 a.m.

It's hard to describe how different cycling at night is compared to the day. With all the cars off the road, and all the house lights turned off, even familiar terrain takes on a wilderness feel. Visibility fluctuates from the whole universe of stars to a foot-wide circle of pavement illuminated by a headlight. Shadows become bears and bogeymen. Time rushes forward as though carried by a dream, or it stops altogether. Miles disappear, or they drag mercilessly. There is no uniformity or familiarity. There is only a subdued sort of awe ... amazement at having the world to yourself, and yet remaining lost in a very small, very personal space.

Temperatures dropped into the 20s and the weather quickly turned to freezing fog. Thick particles of blue ice streamed through my headlight like the light-speed scene in Star Wars. It was all I could see for miles. I had brought my iPod with me but left it off for the first 15 miles. All I could hear was the crackle of my tires on the frost-coated road. For much of the ride I was lulled into near-meditation, thinking nothing and feeling nothing, only to be snapped back occasionally in frantic moments of mild panic and confusion.

Past the Douglas boat launch, long past the end of the North Douglas neighborhoods, far away from the city lights and beyond where a car would ever venture at 2 a.m., I broke out of the fog. The clear sky opened up into a startling menagerie of stars, stars upon stars upon stars, like a bulging sky ready to burst at its seams. It was one of those gasp moments, and because I knew I was alone, completely alone, I turned off both my headlights, and pointed my bike into the direction of quiet darkness, and just rode.