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.