Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"The point of snow sports is hot chocolate"

Date: Dec. 25
Mileage: 30.4
Hours: 2:30
December mileage: 583.4
Temperature upon departure: 36
Precipitation: .31"

Geoff was on NPR today!

It has been really interesting to listen to the feedback Geoff and I have received since we decided to enter the Iditarod Trail Invitational. We've heard a fair amount of commentary, not only from friends and family, but also from strangers - radio personalities, marathon runners, people who blog in Ajax, Ontario. The general reaction is “They’re crazy. They’re going to hurt themselves out there.” And yet no one has stepped in and tried to stop us. Instead, we receive an abundance of encouragement and advice. I think nearly everyone who stumbles across our story has some understanding of how it feels to aspire to something so extreme, it all but promises both the depths of suffering and the apex of joy. If they had no comprehension of that feeling, they simply wouldn’t care.

One aspect of this race that is incomprehensible to nearly everyone is how Geoff and I fit in it together. I ride a bicycle and he runs. In the real world, these are very different activities that have very different techniques and ends. A cyclist, even a poor cyclist, is nearly always faster than a person on foot. But on the Iditarod Trail, our playing field is much more level. I have a hard time explaining this to people. Geoff, who is a much better athlete than I am, can hold a steady run/walk average of 4-6 mph almost indefinitely, and can do so even on poor trail conditions. I can swing wildly, from riding 10-15 mph on hardpacked snow to walking and pushing my bike at 2 mph through a number of much more common snow conditions, such as fresh powder, wind-blown drifts and sandy “flash-frozen” snow. In the end, if I hold a 4-6 mph moving average over the course of the race, I’ll be more than happy with it. Truth be told, I will be happy just to finish the race. And as long as I am relatively healthy and my bicycle is still basically in one piece, I’m willing to give myself as much time as it takes. Of course I know it’s a race and of course I want to be fast. But to put it in perspective, beyond just Geoff and myself: The women’s cycling course record for the 350-mile race is 5 days, 7 hours. By contrast, the course record for a man on foot is 4 days, 15 hours. If history has been any indicator, in all likelihood Geoff, on foot, will beat me, on a bicycle, to McGrath.

Still, my physical fitness is one of the few things I can control about this race, and I want to be as prepared as possible in this regard. I can’t believe it’s already nearly Thursday again, and with it, another plan for an endurance-building long ride. Tomorrow I plan to shoot for several continuous hours in the saddle rather than the stop-and-go conditions of trail riding. Pushing a few big gears will help me pinpoint some nagging pains that have been cropping up, and it will be fun to shoot for some bigger miles ... I mean, as big as they go when it is 25 degrees and snowing, and you are hunkered over a full-suspension mountain bike with studded tires. I am just hoping the temperature drops below freezing and the roads are not as sloppy as they've been, or I’ll never be able to ride it out.


  1. I think that's awesome that you guys are doing this! I love reading your blog and I can't wait to read about your race!! Best of luck to both of you and in your training!! You guys are doing what some people could only dream of doing....

  2. Hi Jill,

    First, ditto what "anonymous" said above.

    Hot Chocolate is certainly a worthy reason to engage in any snow sport, so I can't argue with that, but in this sharing of your personal journey with us, you're also shedding light on yet another "point" even more important than simply winning a race. It's about the journey itself, and where it takes you in ways that can't be measured by mere miles or speed.

    Though I am an avid cyclist, and I'm looking forward to "snow cycling" myself when I finally make the move to Alaska, I've spent even more of my time over the past ten years paddling a sea kayak; mostly solo, and often in conditions that many consider to be "crazy". Though I love the physical challenge, love the paddling techniques involved, and I even love building my own boats and carving my own paddles, it's the sublime intimacy with, and appreciation of the wonders of this world, and of this life, that inspire me to travel this particular journey in my own way.

    As I read your blog, I see much more than just a person driven to achieve a goal. I see a person on a journey of discovery of self and beyond, and *this* is the point of life itself (in addition to Hot Chocolate, of course!).

    Thanks again for sharing even a small bit of your journey with us!

  3. Hi Jill!
    Just listened to Goeff on NPR. I must say I was agast at the other guy who wondered why we didn't have laws against people going out and running a race like this. Sad.

  4. To me these events are a race to finish, not a race to the finish.

  5. The best part of my ride, back on Monday, was the part when I got home. Susan had made up some hot chocolate and it was warming in a pan on the stove watiting for me. Yum!! Hot chocolate and a hot shower is the best way to end a winter ride.

  6. This a dumb techie question, but what's your pugsley set up like? I've heard about freewheels freezing up in Alaska. Has that happened to you?

  7. Here in San Francisco I really enjoy the commute time more than any other part of the day. It's mind over matter, no matter the weather.My son thinks me crazy as do my co-workers for my modest 7.6 miles one way.I do it in all conditions and only skip out if I have a social engagment that can't handle a bike. Keep it up and thanks for writing.

  8. I'm pretty sure the radio guy was just making a joke. The Bryant Park Project people have actually been really understanding through this whole quirky thing.

    Doug ... I'd agree that hot chocolate and a hot shower after a winter ride is heavenly - when the ride goes well. In the event of mild hypothermia or frostnip, there is little in this world that's more painful than a hot shower.

    Nathan - Most people in Alaska repack their freewheels with special grease made for subfreezing temperatures. I don't have this grease yet, because I live in a fairly mild climate, but I plan to have this done by the experts in Anchorage before the race.


Feedback is always appreciated!