Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year

This is one of my favorite photos I took in 2007 ... serendipitously captured while I was wandering lost in the woods below Heinzleman Ridge in September. I like the way the beams of light slice through some shadows and slip behind others. I like the intense illumination on that single bush in the center. And I like the context ... the first streaks of sunlight to cut through the fog. Everything below here was shrouded in a thick cloud. Everything above was glaring and clear. But for these few steps in my meandering search for a trail, the two worlds collided, perfectly.

New Year's is a good time to write a reflective year-in-review blog post. Here's mine.

January: The holidays. January became consumed by my training for the Susitna 100. It was a fun month because nearly everything I did had some connection to cycling. I spent my mornings plowing through snow drifts and skirting icy roads. I wandered into work with wind-burnt skin and more times than not, a huge smile spread across my face. Then I would spend the rest of the day stealing moments to research gear and plot different rides and type up reports. It's amazing I managed to keep my job.

February: The race. Everything about February centered around the Susitna 100, which took place on Feb. 18. The first half of the month involved more preparations than training as Geoff and I tried to gather up required gear, tweak my bicycle and his sled, and somehow pack it all in boxes that we could take on a plane with us to Anchorage. But all that stress seemed to melt away when I set my bicycle on the frozen ground and began to pedal into an expanse of snow. I love that place, that Susitna valley. Even after those 100 miles left me with little more than an injury that stole three months of the year, I wouldn't take it back.

March: The knee debacle. That knee injury I sustained during the Susitna 100 followed me into the next month, when it became apparent that I was probably in for a long recovery. I remained defiant during the first few weeks, and continued trying to ride my bicycle through sometimes blinding pain and Juneau's snowiest month on record. Nearly 100 inches dumped in my backyard over the course of the month, a beautiful barrage that I hardly took the time to appreciate. But I remember it now.

April: The waiting. April was a quiet month; I might even say the cruelest month. By then I was fairly entrenched in a routine of physical therapy, doctor visits and mundane gym workouts. Meanwhile, I didn't feel like I was making any progress. Instead, I felt like I was cycling through an loop that offered neither hope nor relief. I remember traveling to Anchorage for work and visiting old friends from Homer. As we sat around a table at the Glacier Brewhouse, I began to wonder if my whole Juneau existence had perhaps just been a bad dream.

May: The desert. It was an ideal reunion - friends who went to college together and dispersed to far-away lands such as Alaska, Ann Arbor and northern Idaho, reunited in the remote Utah desert for a week of biking, backpacking and general debauchery. While setting up camp in a dry wash deep in a canyon on the southern edge of the state, we came across black bear tracks. So we followed them up a side canyon, tracing the path of the unlikely desert dweller until the walls of the canyon cut us off. At the end, I think we all had a better sense of the way life's mysteries interconnect.

June: The comeback. At the first hint of feeling stronger, I went on a bit of a cycling bender. And after a substantial stretch without it, I felt like a recently-reformed crack addict who suddenly discovered heroin. Even as toned down as my fitness was at that point, every mile I pedalled seemed effortless, from my first summer century to riding 12 hours of the 24 Hours of Light in Whitehorse, Yukon. Unless I'm forced to abstain from cycling for three months, I'll probably never again experience that inexhaustible feeling.

July: The summer. A friend came to visit us from Washington, D.C., and had the amazing fortune to experience a four-day stretch of consecutively sunny weather in Juneau. One Friday night, we were sitting on the beach in our T-shirts, roasting salmon and watching a brilliant sunset linger over the horizon. "Is it always like this here?" she asked. "Not even remotely," I replied, "but when it is, it could make you forget a month of grayness."

August: The distance. I set out to test my endurance by touring the "Golden Circle," a series of roads that connects the sister communities of Haines and Skagway in the most roundabout way possible - by stretching across a mountain range and meandering through interior Yukon for 371 miles before returning to Southeast Alaska. I experienced a startling range of highs and lows in that often brutally hot, aggressively hilly 48-hour whirlwind tour. I also gained more confidence that I can handle the distance when I need to.

September: The mountains. I took another subtle hiatus from cycling to prepare to walk across the Grand Canyon in late September. I spent the month stomping up and down all the major trails around Juneau, bulking up my quads and gaining a better sense of the sweeping geography that towers over the place where I live. The Southeast Alaska tundra above 2,500 feet has become one of my favorite places to visit ... windswept and barren and nothing like the light-smothering rainforest below it.

October: The rain. Nearly 16 inches of steady rainfall, drenching all but one of October's 31 days, pretty much defined this month. Fall in Juneau can be downright dreary, and I burned it up by embarking on a month of "speed work." I emerged with prune-like fingers, a runny nose, and a better understanding that as long as I live in this waterlogged place, I will probably never be "fast," but I will always be "tough."

November: The decision. I actually struggled for a while with the question about whether I really wanted to spend the winter training for a race like the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Although I have been eyeing this event since 2006, I had no idea if I was actually ready, and still don't. But in deciding to enter the race, I gave myself a free pass for a near-daily adventure.

December: The beginning. Back to the holidays, the training, the uncertainty. I don't know where I'm going. But at least I know where I've been.


  1. Let me be the first to wish you a happy new year! I just came across your blog, and I must say you rock! Keep on, keepin' on...

  2. Thanks for a year of beautiful photography! You could easily make a calendar with those shots right there.

  3. First of all, I agree with fridrix about the calendar remark.

    Second, is the Iditarod Invitational the same thing as what used to be known as the Iditasport? Just wondering.

  4. Hi Jill,

    I've only been reading your blog for a few months now (still catching up with years past, and enjoying the ride), but I wanted to thank you--again--for sharing your experiences, thoughts, and dreams with us, and for doing it so well.

    As an avid cyclist, I enjoy reading of your adventures on two wheels. As one who plans on moving, in the not too distant future, to my own idea of paradise--somewhere along the SE/SC Alaskan coast--your life "up in Alaska" provides daily inspiration for my own dreams. I even love the weather up there, and how it shapes the land and the sometimes peculiar residents; both human and otherwise.

    For all you've given me, there's something I'd love to give to you...the inspiration to try the "bicycle of the sea"...a sea kayak! You're surrounded by such beautiful waters, and it would be a shame if you were to spend all your time so close, yet so far from the magic that beckons.

    I hope your knee recovers well, and that your Iditabike experience will be at least as interesting as your training has been. Happy 2008!

  5. Hi Jill. Thought you'd be interested in this:

  6. I think that photo of you eating lunch on an iceberg is my favorite. Happy new year!

  7. I agree w/amblus, that is quintessentially Alaskan. Frame that one.

    And a mention in VeloNews?! Qua cyclist, that has to have you beaming even wider than the NPR gig.

    Best in the new year.

  8. Happy New Year to you! I've been reading your blog for a couple years now and I don't start the day without you're blog!

    I enjoyed reading that you commuted into work....keep it up! I commute into work everyday and know the struggle.

  9. Awesome Inspiration to ride outside in the winter. I have from Canada and they guys are telling me to suck it up!

    Happy New Year

    Tyler Lord

  10. Seems I can't type either..haha I (am) from Canada and (the) guys are telling me to suck it up. Proof Reading is Key!

  11. Hey Jill, you made Velonews site of the day today. Hope you have a great 2008!

  12. Here's to you never leaving home without that camera! My computers would have no backgrounds if it weren't for you! Thanks for keeping this blog and here's looking forward to reading about you and geoff and the adventuresome spirit that permeates your writing and photos. I think it is something in our genetic code, expressive in some, recessive in others, but a genetic trait that comes through in your writing and photo essays that is so captivating.(that whole "searching for the new world", "westward ho", the "new frontier", "boldly going..." gene).

  13. L ... this race is essentially the same race as the old Iditasport, with different organization and set-up. But as far as I understand, the route is the same ... following the Iditarod Trail.

    Melissa ... thanks for the inspiration. I have made a few plans to go out seakayaking, but have weaseled my way out of all of them so far. See, I actually have a completely irrational but somewhat debilitating fear of moving water. It stems from some bad river rafting experiences, but it causes me to become very nervous and sometimes make bad decisions in the face of waves. I'm trying to take baby steps to get over it before I take the helm of any craft in the big, cold ocean. But it is one of my goals.

    And Happy New Year to everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

  14. Hi Jill,

    About the idea of sea kayaking...

    I understand how some experiences can cause us to fear/avoid certain things. My mother wouldn't try to ride a bike or learn to swim for years, because when she was young, while learning to ride a bike, she rode into a small canal and landed in the water right next to a crocodile. "Bike/water/crocodile" was an unpleasant association that took her years to overcome (even long after moving away from crocodile country!).

    There are many experienced paddlers in Alaska (whitewater and sea paddlers), so perhaps you can find someone willing to help you feel more comfortable with the whole idea.

    The "Knik Canoers and Kayakers" paddling club (KCK...based in Anchorage) is a club that has members from all parts of Alaska, and they sponsor several pool sessions for instruction and/or practice during the Winter months. They also have a pretty active email discussion list--"Eddyline"-- and you don't have to be a member of KCK to subscribe/participate. If you're interested in finding paddlers in your area, the Eddyline list is a good place to start:

    Anyway, I do understand your reluctance to get out on the water, but if you have even the slightest interest in overcoming that reluctance and trying some paddling, I'm sure you won't be disappointed. After all, you really are living in one of the world's greatest paddling destinations (the entire Alaskan coast, especially the SE/SC coast).

    If you do decide to try some paddling, and find that you really enjoy it, I'll be happy to share all sorts of information/resources with you that you might find helpful as you're getting started. Just in case, here's an email address where you can each me:

    willkayakforfood [at]

  15. Jill, I was just catching up on your blog today and must say I feel very much the same as you in thinking about this past year, and the new year to come. I love how you simply put it...

    I don't know where I'm going.But at least I know where I've been.

    I'm writing that one down. I admire you so much. Next time I'm sitting in Statistics 3200 miserable and frusterated, I will think of you cycling in ridiculous temperatures over hundreds of miles, and maybe it won't seem quite so bad.
    xoxo Sara

  16. We got wind of you on NPR today and now we are enamored by your blog. You are a talented writer and photographer. My avid skinny road cycling distance-mania juxtaposed to your "Northern Exposure" spirit, is deeply inspired. Whatever you do Jill, your happy can-do spirit will be the expression.
    And Carry On!
    Paul Habib Austin, TX

  17. Hi,

    Are you still in Juneau?
    I've done the Susitna 100 twice in 1999 and 2000.

    As far as i know 2 friends of mine and i are the only people from juneau who have done you.
    It's funny i hurt my knee also the first time but did rather well the second year.

    How is the training going?
    Maybe we could collaborate about winter juneau training tips?



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