Saturday, March 31, 2007

My 14-mile month

I feel like I'm going to be riding my bike again soon. I can't say why I feel so confident about it, especially since I have yet to obtain a proper opinion on the matter. But it just feels intuitive. It's like that time I hobbled around with undiagnosable muscle injury for a month (blood clots, probably.) One day, all of the tension just drained out. I didn't know it was over at the time, but I could feel it happening. It's more likely this time around that I've traded denial for self pity for clingy optimism. But who knows? I've been reserving strong judgement or reckless experiments for my PT appointment on April 2. And after that? I think I saw a horoscope somewhere that said April's the month to begin anew.

Today was a nice day, the first in a while, but I wasn't really able to capture any interesting pictures. The top picture was actually an attempt to photograph a bald eagle perched on a branch. But Juneau raptors are much more wily than the pet eagles in Homer. They generally move out of the way far too fast. So the eagle is long gone. What I do have is a photo of enough green to prove that I don't live in a black-and-white world. The massive snowpack is receding, however slowly.

I went out for a walk today wearing only my rain pants, a T-shirt and a hat. It was warm ... relatively ... it was 38 degrees. But the reflection of sun off the snow adds at least 40 degrees to the air temperature. I could have done that walk in a swim suit. I mostly just wore the hat because I have been swimming a lot lately, so any unrestrained hair flies around like the follicles on a person hugging the static electricity ball at the planetarium. The landscape was so bright white that I could not stop squinting. Couldn't make myself open my eyes. So I took a photo to illustrate the walk. Yet another self portrait. Yawn. Sorry.

Geoff and I spent the afternoon skiing at Eaglecrest. Well ... not exactly. Geoff spent the afternoon cross-country skiing. I did one lap and decided the snow was entirely too fast and scary, the possibility of further injury far too high, and the attraction of late-afternoon laziness too difficult to resist. So I plopped down at the top of a 15-foot snow berm and read a New Yorker magazine. For about 40 minutes. Just reclining in my self-molded easy chair, soaking up sunlight on my pasty Alaskan skin and deep-freezing my butt.

On the way home, Geoff's Civic rolled over to 300,000 miles. I decided to document the occasion. Unfortunately, the only photo that didn't come out irreparably blurry reads 299,999.9.

It's funny to be proud about the mileage achievement of a car. If anything, I should be ashamed to admit on my bicycle blog that I have been near a car that has actually been driven 300,000 miles while commuter bicycles everywhere gather rust. But there you have it. This car has been everywhere. It has more good stories over the course of its lifetime than some people do, and there should be no shame in owning a good car. Well, except for that whole global warming thing.
Tomorrow is supposed to be 39 and sunny. How will I stay off my bike?

Friday, March 30, 2007

Big day indoors

My hair is now officially an indoor fire hazard and my eyes are sore from squinting at small pages, but other than that, I feel pretty good right now.

So I spent four hours working out indoors today. I wasn't all that bad, physically or mentally. And it didn't even turn out to be a nice day outside, so I feel like I won this small battle.

I started at the pool, noon sharp. I'm not exactly sure how I feel about pool swimming. It makes me thirsty like the land of 1,000 suns, and makes my skin and hair feel like I just got back from such a place. But it goes smoothly enough in the meantime, and there's great people watching pretty much nonstop ... because I still can't put my face in the water without taking a big draw of liquid chlorine. I still need to figure that one out.

Open swim lasts two hours, and I thought I'd try to stick in out the entire time. But at about minute 94, I was hit with a need to visit the bathroom at a degree and urgency I did not anticipate. One minute I was fine, and the next, it was as though the entire weight of the pool and everyone inside of it came crushing down on my bladder. I did the last half-lap pulling frantically with my arms while squeezing my legs together. Then I waddled quickly into the locker room. By the time I came back out, about a half dozen children had taken residence in my lane. And since there was only about 20 minutes left in open swim anyway, I decided to call it good. 144 laps.

The I went to the regular gym. I did I few quick upper body lifts to cool down, and I ate a little baggie of dried fruit and nuts. Then I took up residence on an elliptical machine with a copy of "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime," which I bought at a garage sale months ago and have been meaning to read. Good book, and fast reading. Before I even knew it, I was on page 136. Two hours, 15 minutes.

Now it's been seven hours since I returned. I left the gym feeling a little depleted, mostly because it's impossible to drink in two hours the seven gallons of water the pool seems to drain from me. But other than that, I felt pretty strong. No knee pain out of what is ordinary. Good signs. Happy day.

Swim: 95 minutes, 2 miles (10,600 feet).
PedalRun (or whatever it is you actually do on a elliptical machine): 135 minutes, 16.8 miles (Distance according to the digital display. Who knows how accurate that is, but since I don't even know what an elliptical machine is supposed to mimic, what does it matter?)
Actual distance traveled: About 400 feet.

Life is a mystery.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Clean slate

The only exercising I did today was a 45-minute walk along the Mendenhall Lake shoreline. It was a rest day, but it seemed important to get out - if only just to look at a waterfall and snap a picture of a glacier. Thing is, there are a lot of places in Juneau to go "see." Lately, especially so on these sleet-streaked, featureless days, I seem to gravitate out here. Maybe it's the lack of contrast. Staring out across a rotting sheet of ice and wondering where it meets the sky. I spend more time looking in than out.

I've been working on changing my outlook about things. Before now, my philosophy about endurance cycling - and life in general, really - has been that if you want it, really want it, so bad that you've convinced yourself you need it, it's possible. Out of shape? No food? No water? If you had to bike that 100 miles to survive, you'd find a way to do it. Of course, I never lived by anything that extreme. But I like to operate under the delusion that I control my own destiny.

I'm learning, though, that wanting things ... even needing things ... isn't enough. Life is a little control and a lot of chaos, so in the end, you're not really the one behind the wheel. If you don't have any water, don't have any food, that's a correctable problem. But if that problem persists, you'll die, eventually. No matter how much you tell yourself you'd really like to keep going.

But I staggered upstream through a tough week on the job and it worked out for me; now it's over. Hooray. I have this plan to complete several hours of low-impact, high-energy activity tomorrow ... swimming, elliptical machine and the like. Maybe four hours. My idea was to test how my endurance is holding up. I'm actually looking forward to it, even if it is hamster wheel stuff. But then I hear that it's going to be a beautiful day ... partly sunny ... clean pavement ... may even hit 40. And a larger part of me is wondering how I can make that whole bike thing work. I'd like to ride out to the glacier. Snap a picture of some blue sky with a red roadie in the foreground. It sounds so idyllic. I know I'm going to resist temptation, though. I'm not even worried.

Maybe I just don't want it badly enough. But I guess that's not the point.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Ode to the gym: A sonnet

Ode to the gym and its hamster machines,
Where sweat, not love, drips onto the floor.
And bleary-eyed faces, as though in a dream,
Just keep circling and circling for more.

Ode to the worker, who each day at noon,
Chips away at her unyielding routine.
Where meaning is found in a glaze of tunes,
And Fox News full blast on TV screens.

Ode to gym and the peace that I find,
With nowhere to go and nothing to see.
Read magazines till my conscience goes blind,
And circle until my legs are set free.

Hearts beat in hopeful pursuit of each run,
In static frenzy we find our own fun.

Geoff has a blog


Fumbling Towards Endurance

Monday, March 26, 2007

Signs of spring 2

March snowfall: 92 inches
Season to date: 244.6

Today has been a day of weather contrasts. Sunny with fingers of warmth reaching through the air one minute, then snowing the next. It was perfect, really ... enough sunlight to perk up the sullen mood that comes from not enough sleep, but snowy enough to absolve any guilt about spending too much of the day inside.

Spring seems to be on everyone's mind. I think it's because the first signs of the season are starting to break through. Evidence of early spring in Alaska is very subtle ... even imaginary, in some cases. A sprout here, a non-raven bird there. Spring likes to keep a low profile here until it's suddenly summer, so, in the meantime, we cling to whatever clues we can find.

I remember last year, those subtle moments in which I first started to get a sense that the cold and snow would in fact not last forever. So I scrolled back, and found that the first concrete images of spring 2006 also appeared on March 26. Since this seems to be an anniversary of some sort, I thought I'd look for some Signs of Spring: 2007.

Something green punching through the snow: Actually, quite a bit of snow has melted since I first saw these spiny leaves poking out of several inches of icy crust. I'm not even sure what kind of plant this is, but it's about as impatient as plants come. Twenty bucks says the rest of the city's greenery doesn't show its face until May.

Midnight out at noon: I'm beginning to realize that my cats may actually make through the winter without killing each other. Too much time indoors makes for some spastic felines, but it's been almost impossible to coax them out during the day for months. Now they're raring to go out. They've even found places cleared enough of snow to soak up some sunlight. Good sign.


So much daylight: It's been strange to come home for my dinner break when it's still light out. I walk across the deck and notice that what I see is buildings and mountains, not blurs of orange light shrouded in fog. Pretty soon, it there will be daylight when I come home from work at 11 p.m. Strange.


Landlords still haven't taken the Christmas lights down: Back in January, Geoff and I laughed about this. In February, our neighbors laughed about it. Now it seems to be an unspoken oddity, like having 15 cats - humorous, but with a hint of sad desperation. But Christams lights are so out of place, they're a constant reminder of the passing of time.

Healing up nicely: So last year on March 26, I rear-ended Geoff on a road bike and body-slammed the snowless pavement at 15 mph. The crash ripped away a respectable chunk of my left knee. It took me a while to grow it back, and I didn't do a very good job of it, judging by the unsightly purple scar tissue that remains. Coincidentally, I was sitting at the edge of the public pool today when a lady from my normal gym swam up. She stopped to take a drink of water and regarded me for several seconds before she recognized me. (I think the wet hair and relative lack of clothing threw her off.) We've exchanged injury war stories in the past, and since my knees were right at her eye level, we only got our hellos in before she loudly asked "Oh no! Did you have to get surgery?"

I scrunched my forehead in confusion for a split second before I realized what she was talking about. "Oh no, no," I laughed. "That's my good knee."

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Cabin fever

I don't have any pictures today because I haven't been outside for a couple of days. Patience has never been a virtue of mine. And with work as busy as its been, and the rest of life as enclosed as it's becoming, I'm about ready to burst out the door in a fight-or-flight sprint from apathy.

I can't shake the feeling that if this were the era of survival-of-the-fittest, I would have already been culled from the herd. It's funny to think about life in the caveman days, wondering what would finally bring you down. Some would die in a vicious battle with a potential meal. Others would die in an arduous journey, or by accident when trying to impress a potential mate while jumping over fire. I would be the one to contract a minor injury and become the slowest in the pack by just a touch - but just enough - to fall behind when the predators came around.

I've done some more swimming in the past two days. My hair is like straw and I've been fending off a cramp in my calf muscle most likely caused by dehydration, but other than that, it's going really well. Today I swam 100 laps. It gave me some time to think about endurance swimming as a pursuit. If I learned some technique, worked on moving faster, figured out how to stick my face in the water without inhaling, and bought a good swim cap, I could see progression in this sort of a thing. Of course, swimming long distances in a pool is about as interesting as running 3,100 miles around a single city block. And if I wanted to do something fun, like, say, swim across Kachemak Bay or the English Channel, I'd have to become a lot less intensely afraid of moving water (deep water doesn't scare me. Waves and rivers do.) Other than that, to be quite honest, I think I have more inherent aptitude for swimming than any other sport I've ever tried. Strange to be so naturally inclined and yet so terrified of something at the same time.

Not that I want to be a swim dork or anything. This blog will go bicycle again. Promise.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

More avalanche photos



Sorry. I came across some photos of the recent avalanche in action, and I just had to post them for posterity. I'm actually not sure who took these photos or where they came from. They are one of those things that have been circulating in mass e-mails around town. And we identify with them and pass them on to our friends because we *almost* share a common experience.

Tonight I went with friends to see The Who's "Tommy" at the Perseverance Theatre. We were under the impression that we were going to see a local production in a small-town theater in Douglas, so we showed up thinking we'd just be able to buy tickets. They looked at us like we had twirled in wearing bed sheets and begging for free seats, but they did offer to herd us into a corner and sell us a seat if something opened up. It seemed unlikely that they'd have five extra tickets, but we persevered and they managed to wedge us into the last five seats available, even vaguely within sight of each other.

The play gave me an idea to create a rock opera about ice biking in the Arctic. In order to sell it to the masses, there would have to be at least one contrived love story about a cyclist who loses his way in a roiling storm, only be rescued by a beautiful Inuit girl who he then loses track of in another roiling storm. Then there'd be an encounter with a wayward polar bear, a harrowing ascent of some gnarly pass, a self-revealing moment of clarity beneath the northern lights, yet another roiling storm, and then a happy reunion. I can't decide what kind of rock would narrate the story best. I was thinking maybe Pearl Jam. Or Jimmy Eat World.

Um ... yeah. Anyway, hope you enjoyed the avalanche photos.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Laps

I don't start physical therapy until April 2, which means I'm on my own for another week. That hasn't proved the best place for me to be - I'm reminded of that fact each night when shots of sharp pain wake me up and some unlikely hour. Still, I'm dying to get this ball rolling. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

That's how ended up at the edge of the public pool today, blinking in a bewildered haze at the rush of swimmers crawling up and down every single lane. I arrived there a full 45 minutes later than I intended to. (That's about how long it took me to find my swimming suit, which I'm fairly certain I haven't worn once in nearly two years.) Finally, a teenage lifeguard walked up to me and explained that I could swim in a lane with someone else, as long as we kept a circular pattern. That sounded insurmountably complicated, so I pretended I forgot something in the locker room and waited in the shadows until someone get out. Appropriately, the free section was marked "Slow Lane."

I slipped into the water and it was cold. Freezing! I contemplated for a second jumping right back out, but I remembered that I was here to exercise and I'd probably warm up. So I took my first tentative strokes through the icy water. The feeling was vaguely nostalgic. When I was a kid, I was a natural in water. Never much of a swimmer - I never learned the technique and never really tried to. But I could maintain buoyancy for pretty much as long as I wanted. I used to spend the better part of a day crawling along the Bear Lake shoreline, looking for adventure. Adulthood has instilled in me a healthy (read: manic) fear of drowning and water in general, so swimming and I had parted ways.

But as I sliced through the water today, I felt a soothing release of bad energy that has been building up like plaque on my soul. The minor pain that accompanies pretty much everything I do - even walking across parking lots - had all but sloughed off, and I felt that now was the time - if there ever was a time to do so again - to go hard.

So I started ticking off laps, kicking gently with my legs and pulling hard with my arms. The echoing noise of the pool building roared and faded as my head bobbed in an out of the water. Every once in a while I would zone out and catch myself regressing into a lopsided sort of dog paddle. Then I would shake off the laziness and focus on raring back. I told myself I would keep swimming until it hurt or until my open-swim hour was up - whichever came first.

I was on lap 58, feeling dazed and a little sleepy, when I decided fatigue was probably going to come first. That's when a man with only one leg approached the pool on crutches and jumped in the lane next to mine. Watching him launch past me was the quick shot of inspiration I needed. He and I swam several laps pretty much side by side, with me pushing my best effort to keep up with a one-legged man. Then he got out and I thought - I have this hour in me yet.

I finished up lap 86 at 2 p.m. Time to get out of the pool. I wondered how many more I could do. I know it's not a good idea to push too hard in something you're not remotely in shape for ... but the idea of endurance swimming seemed so appealing at that moment.

I felt great and the buzz lasted almost 45 minutes - long enough for me to take a shower, drive over to Sandy Beach, and walk about a half mile along the shoreline. I was hoping for a photo safari of sorts, but the lighting was really flat, and it was raining. I was thinking about turning around for those reasons when I first realized that I was really feeling tired - tired enough that curling up in the sand for a little nap seemed appealing. Not only that, I was seriously dehydrated - dehydrated enough to have little bit of head swim going on, complete with a sore throat. Apparently, I had better workout than I was trying for.

When I got home, I did the math - 86 laps in a 75-foot pool equals 6,450 feet, which equals 1,965 meters, which equals 1.2 miles. It's funny to think that all of that effort will only net a mile and change in the water. An hour at that heart rate on a bike would probably put me at least 20 miles down the road. But I do know I wore myself out, pain-free. I think I'll go back tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

A good day to not be riding

(Photo by Brian Wallace/Juneau Empire)

So somewhere beneath this mountain of snow is Thane Road, a favorite route of mine. The road was of course closed for avalanche control when this one came tumbling down. But I think the gunners shot off a little more than they could handle. Road crews said it would be at least 10 hours before they could clear away the 20-foot-high powder wall, and there's a whole town's worth of people who live on the wrong side of this thing. Rough.

It's crazy weather day here in Juneau. We hit the all-time seasonal snowfall record early this morning - 195 inches (the official number is measured at the airport. Where I live, on Douglas Island, we have received closer to 240 inches.) Then it switched over to rain - heavy, heavy rain. Heavy in the way that waterlogged snow sitting atop a fresh powder slab is heavy. Avalanche danger right now is an understated "extreme." Flood advisories are rampant. They even threw in a wind advisory for good measure. Officials are telling people to drive at their own risk. If you don't get buried by a snow slide, you'll probably be swept away by a torrent from a flooded-out stream, or blown away by 50 mph gusts. Welcome to spring in Southeast Alaska - where winter doesn't just melt away. It implodes.

Either way, it's a good day to sit inside the office, ice my knee into dull-ache oblivion, and dream up ways to make a great gimp adventure out of it all tomorrow. Any ideas?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Patellar tendonitis

So my diagnosis has been upgraded from "angry knee" to "jumper's knee." At least this diagnosis makes a little more sense - even if it is a malady usually reserved for basketball players (and, apparently, people who can't pedal a bicycle as well as they think they can.) The bad news is my condition is at least "grade 3," which means I need to:

* Rest completely from the aggravating activity. Replace it with swimming/running in water (if pain allows).
* See a sports injury specialist/therapist who can apply sports massage techniques and advice on rehabilitation.
* Accept the fact that I've basically wasted an entire month.

The doc recommended physical therapy. That sounds expensive. But I'm willing now to accept that this is a problem worth throwing money at. The fact that I've been so stingy and stubborn is one of the reasons I've lost an entire month.

Because I acquired the injury in an interesting way - riding a 100-mile snow bike race - the doctor always ends up spending more time chatting with me about my bicycling than he does talking about my knee. He was asking me another string of questions about the Susitna 100 today when I finally dropped my most pressing question.

"So I want to be able to ride another 100-miler by early May. Think that's possible?" I asked.

"Yes, that's possible," he said.

I paused to wait for the qualifier, but it never came. So I said, "But ... um ... will I have time to get back into shape before then?"

"The idea is to not fall out of shape," he said.

I waited for more doctorly advice, but he just looked at me with a straight face. I was confused. This is the guy, after all, who recommended active recovery all along. But he wasn't gushing with specific suggestions. And because I'm pretty sure that I had it all wrong before, I went for something I've never tried."So, should I try swimming?"

"Swimming is good," he said. "Your physical therapist will be able to help you develop some recovery-specific exercises."

I felt a bit bewildered. There I was, fishing for an authoritative lecture about all of the things I shouldn't be doing, and I was only getting closer to having an actual MD tell me I should start riding my bike again. He chose that awkward pause to pick up our chat where we left off, in which I told him about my desire to ride the 24 Hours of Light.

"I'd like to ride the 24 Hours of Light," he said, "but I'm going to be in Coeur d'Alene that weekend."

I knew the doc was a cyclist, so I said, "Oh, are you going to do some riding down there?"

"I'm going to race the Ironman triathlon," he said.

"Ironman? Um. Wow. That's great." It's just my luck that I'd get a crazy enduro-nut for a doctor. He probably considers patellar tendonitis to be a perfectly normal condition, like blisters. He's probably tough enough to go out and run 100 miles through such a niggling injury, but that PhD degree forces him to recommend physical therapy to lesser animals like me.
This is all hugely speculative on my part, of course. But the diagnosis seemed to be good news either way. I had plans to go out after my doctor visit to consul myself with sushi. But instead, I decided to celebrate ... with sushi.

Now it's time to call those PT people and get to work. White Rim, here I come.



Into the daylight

I believe today is the Vernal Equinox.

In the northern hemisphere, that means springtime. In Alaska, it means cold daylight.

Twelve hours now. And very soon, much more.

I've lived through exactly two Alaska winters and one Alaska summer. I may be one of the deranged few who actually enjoy winter more. Don't get me wrong. Summer holds its own joy, and its own trials. I basically stumbled through last summer. Making a major move and enduring a period of homelessness in the middle of it all didn't help. I found myself pinned between obligation and the constant crush of activity. Winter is very liberating to me. The landscape freezes over. The world slows down. And I can move freely among it.

Summer is going to be very difficult for me if I can't ride my bike. I don't say this to fish for sympathy or diminish the trials of people who are truly suffering. I'm just making a statement that I suspect is true. It's not about my life one, 10 or 20 years from now. It's just about this summer, and how I watch the sunset creep further into the evening and resent that retreat. Longer days have a way of feeling much more empty. I've always believed my life to have a well-rounded array of meaningful elements, but some holes can be difficult to fill.

Like I said, though, I'm really not digging for sympathy. And I promised myself I wouldn't subject anyone who stumbles across this blog to my whiny rants anymore ... but ... It's been on my mind a lot. Probably because it's spring now, and I have a doctor's appointment this morning. There's not a lot he'll be able to say that will make much of a difference - beyond "major reconstructive surgery" (unlikely since he's already established minor injury, but you never know.) However, I am now sufficiently humbled and will take any advice more to heart. And I do think this month has been valuable in learning much more about my weaknesses ... both physical and spiritual.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Top o' Douglas Island

I hiked too long and too high today, and now I regret it. It was clear and calm and I was down to short sleeves in the 32-degree sunlight. Now ... swollen. I can't detect my tipping point, and I can't define my boundaries. Heaven knows I'd push them, though, even if I knew what they were.

I learned that a window of three hours will take me deep into the heart of the Douglas Island mountains. It's much further than I've ever been on my bike, because the canyon's grade increases significantly and the trail fades out into dozens of "high mark" lines. I always thought that "high marking" was the term for snowmobilers' testosterone-fueled efforts to kill themselves and all of their buddies in massive avalanches. But today I watched several snowmobiles roar up the slope before carving a graceful arc and descending in a cloud of powder. It looked wicked fun. I was jealous of them, and wishing that I had brought my snowboard with me, and at the same time, grateful that I didn't (Heaven knows I don't need to add that to my list of infractions.) That didn't stop me from traversing several of the less-steep high-mark lines in an effort to climb to the top of the ridge. I came pretty close a couple of times. But eventually, the slope would reach a grade in which my wimpy snowshoe crampons became useless. I'd take one last hopeful step before sliding backward about 30 feet. Clearly, I was inviting my own avalanche. So I turned around, bounded down the mountain as powder swirled around me, and went to try a high-mark line that *definitely* looked less steep. Repeat.

Not the best of physical activities, but good for the soul. Somewhere in here, I'll find a happy medium.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Snow walk

March snowfall in West Juneau as of 3/17: 82.2"
Season to date: 234.9"

I may have left the impression that the impact of not riding my bike and the recent deluge of mid-March snow has left me miserable. That's really not the case. I'm actually thrilled about the snow. Geoff predicts that this past storm was winter's last big gasp. With the 12 hours of daylight and temperatures threatening to creep toward 40, that may be true. Once the freeze breaks, the rain will return. Then I really will be depressed. So I'm trying to enjoy it while I can. I take a lot of snow walks. Maybe you'd like to join me today.

The above picture is my backyard. My patio table is buried in there somewhere.

This is my neighbor's house. He religiously snowblows and sands his driveway every day, methodically shooting all of that snow into neat piles that are now more than 10 feet high. Since the street itself is rarely plowed after storms, I can only deduce that all of that effort is the foundation of what will someday be the world's largest residential snow cave.

I only have to hike up two unplowed blocks to have a pretty good view of downtown across the channel.

The Dan Moller access trail itself is carved by skiers, and is thus only about .35 cm wide. A duck-waddling snowshoer could really twist a knee in this narrow shoot, so I have to walk carefully.

The view disappears behind the white-weighted canopy of spruce trees.

Soon, there's nothing to see but a black and white world splashed in shades of gray.

I nearly always turn around at an arbitrary point where elevation prevails and the forest begins to fade under the cloud cover. It's not that I mind hiking in the fog. But usually I have a time schedule to keep, so I go for say 45 minutes, turn around to take in the latest blank-slate meadow view, then start back. I'm now nearly as fast going down the mountain as I am hiking up it, which means I'm healing. And pretty soon, when this snow finally settles and hardens beneath the spring thaw/rain/refreeze cycle, I'll bring Snaux bike up here for a giddy downhill celebration.

Sunday link dump

I blew off a "Young Democrats" St. Patrick's Day fundraiser after work because I was too tired to function. Then I ate a big bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios, and now I'm up surfing the Interweb. I thought I'd share a few good links for those who have time to kill today.

She's even more of a exhibitionist than me. But she's beautiful and amazing, and I can't help but visit her blog every day.

The other day, I guessed his weight and won a prize. The best part? It's a surprise prize.

A bunch of people have come to this blog recently in Google searches for "March Juneau Snowfall." I get all of my information from my neighbor in West Juneau, who also is an amateur meteorologist.

I like the way he races. And I like the way he thinks.

If you think I'm crazy for aspiring to long-distance winter mountain bike rides, this amazing story will confirm your suspicions.

This one reads a little more sane (but only a little.)

Juancho and I are fighting the same battle. He's winning his.

Mocha Momma quit blogging earlier this month to make room for real life. I could take a hint, but instead, I'll probably go back and read all of her archives that I missed back when I had a life.

Also no longer blogging at his old site is Jim. Someone needs to help me find his new one.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Abstraction

March snowfall in West Juneau as of 3/16: 77.2"
Season to date: 229.9"

Today, while Geoff skate-skied a few laps around the campground, I went for a walk on Mendenhall Lake. I made up a few haiku poems while I was out there.


They protested war
Message obscured through cold glass
Smiling and waving

Walking on the lake
Where white is the one constant
And variable

This vacant landscape
Beauty that could make you cry
And yet feel nothing

Mood rollercoaster
I didn't buy this ticket
I just sat in back



Thursday, March 15, 2007

Just ... can't

Date: March 15
Mileage: 8.2
March mileage: 14.4
Temperature upon departure: 32
When I was 17, I wrote an editorial for my high school newspaper that I was really proud of at the time. It was our special "fitness" issue, full of exercise tips, nutritious recipes and columns about working out. And right in the middle of all that was my article, arguing - essentially - that exercising for the sake of exercising was asinine.

"We have classes to walk to and friends to visit and pickup volleyball games to join and punk shows to dance at, and you want me to wake up at 5 a.m. and go jogging? No thanks," I wrote. My point: Life was an exercise, and "exercising" was just a redundant waste of time.

I think of that article from time to time when I wonder how 17-year-old Jill would regard the fitness freak she's become. She had that idealistic slant that convinced her she would actually be able to spend her life in pursuit of intellectual and cultural enlightenment. The way she saw it, her body was basically just a vessel to carry her to the desert, the library, the basement of club DV8 ... anywhere that appealed to her academic sensibilities. I think she may have actually convinced herself that how she looked was not all that important ... good to be healthy, better to be smart. She also had a bit of a freewheeling hippy streak and listened to a lot of Phish at the time. One lyric that she scrawled across her notebook was, "Never understood what my body was for. That's why I always leave it layin' out on the floor."

I don't miss her music. But sometimes, I do miss her.

Another Thursday down, another attempt to ride the bike. New, soft snow required the use of Snaux bike, so I didn't have the pedal cages to lean on. But I decided that I was going to double pedal it today, or not at all. It became obvious pretty quickly that I just ... can't. But I wanted to. I can be so stubborn. I know it's detrimental. I can't help myself. But four miles was too far. I knew it before I even turned around. I already had some errant tears and an unwilling leg. I don't have an explanation. I don't have an excuse. I just have a reality. A physical hurdle that my mind can't beat. Or vice versa.

I spun a little and walked a little on the way home. The whole thing was a terrible idea. I was stiffening up again. Pain was increasing. I was regressing further with every mile. I was so angry ... mostly at my body, but with each step -as common sense settled back in - a little more at myself.

17-year-old Jill would be so ashamed ... Letting a small injury ruin an entire month, when it was obvious that it was just a minor setback that was taking a normal amount of time to heal (or would take a normal amount of time to heal if I gave in for a while.) Becoming so despondent over a stupid thing like a bike, when so many other pieces of life are so much more meaningful. "Limping down North Douglas Highway in a snowstorm just to prove your self worth?" she'd write in her editorial. "No thanks."

And I'm ashamed, too. When I was young and quick to rebound, I had little use for strong legs and high lung capacity. But now that I'm older and rickety, I'd gladly give up a few IQ points just to have two good knees right now. A larger part of me wonders why that's so ...

Acute angles divide my path that I have lost

March snowfall in West Juneau as of 3/14: 68.6"
Season to date: 220.8"

It seems like the snow is basically coming nonstop now. I think this makes me happy, although it’s difficult to tell. A hard seven miles on snowshoes definitely evens out my emotions for the rest of the day.

But during the hike, I felt positively giddy. I marched through the powder into the heart of Douglas Island, stripped down to bare hands, bare head and only a thin outer layer of clothing. Whenever the wind chill crept through my sweat-soaked shirt, that was my signal to work harder. One thing I’ve noticed about most Alaskans is they don’t get up very early ... or at least, they don’t get out very early. At 10 a.m., I was the first up the trail. At one point, a couple of snowshoers intercepted the path from the snowmobile trailhead, but I caught them pretty quickly. I climbed out of the woods and found myself in a bald, U-shaped bowl that really pushed the word “avalanche” into the forefront of my thoughts. I lost the trail across the sweeping meadow and continued for about 20 more minutes through thigh-deep snow. I stopped when I could no longer lift my right leg high enough to pull myself out of the drifts. All I could do at that point was plop down in the powder and soak up some of that delicious chill before commencing my race against the clock back down the mountain. As I was sitting in the snow, I noticed the other snowshoers winding their way along my erratic trail. I hurried back down the hill to intercept them and tell them they were going the wrong way, but they didn’t seem too keen on turning around. They told me they would just follow my trail because they didn’t think they were too far from the cabin at that point. I later learned from Geoff that we had likely all passed the cabin at that point. I feel a bit of residual guilt for leading people astray. But I can’t say it’s the first time.

One of the advantages to “cross-training” as a way to get around a bicycling disability is that it’s really pushed me off my plateau. Even though I’ve been by definition less active, I’ve spent more time weight lifting, stretching and snowshoeing, all of which seem to be great for building muscle. Just today, while examining my knee for swelling, I noticed new lines along my legs that I had never seen before. They could be fat rolls from all of the Rainbow Food I’ve been eating, but I like to think it’s the snowshoeing.

I haven’t made as much progress this week as I was hoping for. What keeps me off the bike is, to put it simply, pain when I bend my knee too far. It’s not pain caused by pedaling, sitting in a bad position on the saddle or pressing too hard on the joint. It happens regardless of the situation, whenever I bend my knee into an acute angle, every time. It’s almost as though a rubber band has been wrapped across my knee cap, and it snaps when it gets stretched too tight. I’ve been able to get away with riding on my trainer because my knee's “too far” angle is almost beyond what I need to bend it in order to pedal. And the pain is no longer prohibitive; it’s just nagging. But there’s no way it’s 100 percent yet. I still have a doctor’s appointment scheduled for next Tuesday. I'm still looking forward to it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The day I quit mountain biking

( After the four-year hiatus: Me on the White Rim trail in April 2003)


Today I made it another 90 minutes on the trainer. My Netflix DVD ended so I started it over from the beginning. I really need to get back outside soon. But since I can't quite do that yet, I thought I'd share the story of my first and nearly last time on a mountain bike.

I still remember the date - April 7, 1999. When I think of that time, I remember myself as a giggly little girl ... but in reality, I was a junior in college. Back then, I had a boyfriend who - not unlike the one I have now - was better than me at pretty much everything. But unlike the boyfriend I have now, he was either unable or unwilling to reach into that vast reserve of knowledge and teach me the ways of the great outdoors. Whenever we went snowboarding together, I would spend an entire afternoon dragging my bruised knees down whatever black-diamond slope he abandoned me on. When we went backpacking, he would laugh as I juggled my gear - a full-sized pillow and a $10 sleeping bag strapped to the outside of my bookbag - and then bury me on the hike up. Then, one day, he suggested we go mountain biking ... in Moab.

"Sounds great," I said. And in my mind, I was thinking, how hard can this be? After all, I had a 10-speed as a child. I definitely knew how to ride a bike - or at least I believed that adage about never forgetting how. He took me to Poison Spider bike shop. "What would you like to rent?" they asked me.

"Uh, a bike?"

"Mountain or road?"

"Um ... for slickrock?"

"Rigid or suspension?"

"Uh ... huh?"

I think think in local bike shop speak that's code for "Give this girl the cheapest bike and the nicest helmet we have." They gave me a hardtail with a squeaky little suspension fork. We strapped it to the top of my boyfriend's car with bungee cords, then hauled it up to the Slickrock Trail.

"They have two loops," he said. "One of them is painfully easy, and the other is pretty fun."

"Fun," I said. (I mean, what would you say given those choices? However, I should have known from several snowboarding experiences that to him, "fun" was code for "you're not going to get out of this without permanent scarring.")

It's been long enough now that I don't remember much about how the ride started out. There was a little tentative pedaling, a lot of walking, and an uneasy distance between me and my boyfriend. I spent so much time fixated on white dashes scrawled across the slickrock that I began to lose track of him. And as I looked back, I realized that I could be anywhere on this vast plateau hovering over the Colorado River and he was carrying all of the water. I had to keep up.

I began to pedal harder, catching glimpses of his silhouette coasting effortlessly across a moonscape of red rock beneath the harsh April sun. I had a fair amount of elevation on him, but that perspective was lost on me at the time. I wobbled a bit and mashed at the pedals, feeling a surge of freedom and power. It was beautiful and fleeting, and it absolutely shattered the second I crested the edge of what can only be remembered as a sheer, sun-scalded cliff. My front wheel was the last to relish in that freedom and power as it sailed into deep blue sky before slamming into the side of the cliff. There was enough empty space below for the bike to turn a complete 360. If I had any grace or skill at all, I could have flipped a full head-over-heels turn and landed on my wheels. But instead, I set the twirling bike free and landed on my face in a pile of hot sand. By sheer grace, my legs must have hit the slickrock first because they ended up bloody and torn, but I didn't snap my neck.

I remember laying motionless in the sand - stunned. All I could think about was how my face felt like it was on fire - and with my eyes shut I almost convinced myself it was only sunburn. But as I rolled over and got my first look at my legs, dripping crimson from slickrock rash that would make even the most hardened roadie cringe, I thought, "My 10-speed never did this."

I staggered to my feet and collected the bike - no worse for the wear, although I admittedly didn't really bother to check. The boyfriend was nowhere in sight. I commenced limping along those white lines until I was convinced nothing was broken. Then I walked normally for a while, leaving a lightly sprinkled trail of blood in the sand. I think a couple more miles passed before I found him. He was sitting in the shade, sipping the water that he had waited so patiently to share with me.

"What happened to you?" he asked.

"Crash," I said.

"You feel OK to keep riding?" he asked.

"If it's OK with you, I'll probably just walk to the trailhead," I said.

"Hum," he said. "I think it's still about five or six more miles."

(Indifferent nod from me)

"You sure you don't want to try riding again?"

This argument went on for about a mile before he convinced me to at least try to sit on the saddle one more time. Then it was tentative pedaling ... a lot more walking ... pedal ... groan.

And when I wheeled the bike back into Poison Spider, legs still covered in dried blood that had only been half-heartedly scrubbed with a Subway napkin, the bike shop guy asked me, "So how was it?"

"Great," I said. And in my mind, I was thinking, "Thank God I'll never have to do that again."

Monday, March 12, 2007

Haunted

It's just my luck that the minute one Iditarod race wrapped up, another one started. This year's dogsled race is actually pretty compelling, with your favorite redneck and mine, Lance Mackey, tearing up everyone's expectations. The backlash from this is that every day I have to scroll through dozens of pictures like the one above (by Al Grillo, Associated Press) on the AP wire - sometimes lingering on them well past the point of productivity - and the images have started to show up in my dreams.

I have a strange dichotomy following me through my post-Susitna life, the one in which I'm not riding my bike at all and yet spending more time thinking about riding my bike through increasingly more difficult and more mind-bending situations. Now I can't even imagine how I'll survive another year if I don't ride the 350 Iditarod trail race to McGrath in 2008. The strange dichotomy of this is that I can't imagine how I'll survive if I do. Why must it haunt me so?

I thought about the logistics as I was riding on my bike trainer today - 90 minutes working up to top resistance, a new post-injury record. I really wish I had the guts to ask more questions of the people who really understand the race. After the Susitna 100 ended, I spent about three hours sitting in a sweltering cabin and waiting for Geoff to find the energy to stand up. Also waiting in the cabin to find that energy was John Stamstad, who shared a table with us during the entire hazy recovery period. Stamstad ran the Susitna 100 on foot, but back in the '90s he was one of the pioneers of Iditabike ... as well as just about every other endurance mountain bike event that existed at the time. I mean, he's the John Stamstad. I had about a million and a half questions to ask him. But instead, I just spent a couple of hours sitting five feet from him, staring into sluggish space and saying nothing. He comes across as the type of guy who does not want to be bothered, and I do not like to be the one who does the bothering. At one point, Geoff asked him if he was going to do any rides while he was in Alaska.

"No," he said, "I don't race bikes anymore."

And in those five words came a million and a half more questions. But all we ever heard was those five words. It's good I found my way into editing, because I'd make a terrible reporter.

I guess the Iditarod Invitational is one of those experiences you really just have to figure out for yourself. I learned this during my first Susitna 100 ... nothing I read before the race helped me much during it. But still, I'd like to know ... what does -40 really feel like when you have no where else to go?

.....

Also - in the interest of being a good reporter - I should disclose that "Up in Alaska" did not win a Bloggie. So much time lapsed between voting and now that I nearly forgot all about it, but Fat Cyclist's latest post reminded me. He didn't win either, and that is truly a travesty. Up in Alaska, on the other hand, doesn't really deserve to win "Best Sports Blog." I'm sorry, it doesn't. It's only a bicycle blog because its sole writer is obsessed with bicycling, and it's a marginal bicycle blog at that - tainted with a lot of Alaska lifestyle, mundane stream-of-consciousness, wilderness daydreaming and other activities that have nothing to do with sports. Not that I wouldn't have loved to win ... and thanks to everyone who voted, regardless of who you voted for. Maybe next year. :-)

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Summer dreams

Daylight Savings Time always gets me dreaming about spring. Why did it have to come so early this year? We logged another 9-10 inches of snowfall today to add on to our 50 inches in March alone and 200 so far this season. That stuff stacks up and always seems to take its sweet time melting. So spring is nowhere near my horizon. Might as well dream about summer.

I think I have my 2007 endurance race season planned out. It’s a meager one for sure ... probably another trilogy this year, with a few long independent rides and maybe a mountain running race or two thrown in. The Susitna 100 has come and gone, so here are the other two:

24 Hours of Light (June 23-24?):
I know close to nothing about this race. I don’t even know exactly when it is. But I do know that it’s around the solstice and it’s in Whitehorse, Yukon, which is a small jump across the pond from Juneau. The only description the Web site gives is “No lights allowed (or required) ... Ride sweet singletrack and rolling terrain all night long with the glow of the sun as your guide.” It sounds like the 24 Hours of Kincaid with Canadians. Let the good times roll!

I wish I had a chance to ride more 24-hour mountain bike races. I live for the challenge of self-supported wilderness events, but the setup of a 24 gives me a place to shine. They’re perfect for me ... I’m not fast, but I can ride long stretches of time without stopping. Middle-of-the-night sleepiness is not a problem for me. Technical trail is only a problem if I’m unfamiliar with it and dogged by my typical lack of confidence. But give me 16 identical laps, and I’m bouncing off ledges with the best of them. In short, I actually love solo riding the hamster runs. But only one of them is within my reach this year.

So my other race is:

The Fireweed 400 (July 6-7):
I know. They’re so close together. That’s how it goes. I’ll probably ride this race one way or another. If Geoff gets into the Mount Marathon race, we'll turn it into a mini vacation and fly out together. I’ll ride the full 400 if I can find a willing (and therefore crazy) support crew. A friend in Anchorage is trying to help me recruit right now (If you’re in the Anchorage area, and you think hours of hours of puttering behind me in a rental car sounds like fun, drop me a line) If not, I’ll ride the 200 and consider an unofficial ride back.

This is a pretty serious roadie event - possibly the largest in Alaska - and I look forward to showing up at Sheep Mountain with my $600 flat-bar touring bike with its platform pedals and 27 gears, wearing running shoes and a big backpack so I can pretend that there’s not some petroleum-powered vehicle shadowing me the whole time. I do plan to train hard so I can ride it seriously - you know, at least come in before the cutoff. I have no idea what kind of pace I can maintain on a road bike. This is what makes this race so appealing to me. It's such a new concept for me.

Everything else is tentative. The Soggy Bottom 100 is in September, but it’s a lot of effort and money for me to take a weekend off work and buy a plane ticket to Anchorage, so it’s unlikely I’ll be able ride it this year. Same goes for any race in the Lower 48. The one exception is a trip to Utah I am planning, likely during the first week of May. Every year, Fat Cyclist and his friends put together a “Ride Around the White Rim in One Day” extraveganza, but I think RAWROD 2007 is in April. I’d like to organize one of my own White Rim assaults, but don’t have a friend in the world who would be willing to do it with me. So if you live in Salt Lake/Moab/Denver ... or anywhere, really ... and are interested in meeting in Moab for a self-supported (No vehicle. Carry all water and food) single-day ride around the White Rim trail sometime between May 4 and May 9, please comment below or send me an e-mail. I am serious about organizing this. And it would be cool to ride with some of my Mountain-West-based blogger friends if you're available (Dave Nice? Chris Plesko? Dave Chenault? Anyone? Bueller?). Anyone interested can reach me at jillhomer66@hotmail.com.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Reason to believe

Today was one of those days when it felt like a bad idea to get out of bed. I have very few of these, and I never know what to expect from them.

I spent two hours in the morning on the elliptical trainer at the gym, dripping sweat all over a borrowed book. It just feels so good to work some energy out, and when I move without expectations, it doesn't hurt.

After Geoff came home from work, we ate yet another meal of leftovers from the lunch counter (I swear, I am going to become very fat eating organic wholesome hippy food from Rainbow Foods.) Then he convinced me to go cross-country skiing at the glacier campground.

On the drive there, we approached a mass of traffic that can never be a good sign in this small city. Geoff let off the gas as I squinted in the distance for flashing lights, but saw none. Before we even knew what was happening, we found ourselves in the middle of a vehicle mosh pit. Cars were spinning in circles behind us, fishtailing beside us, veering directly in front of us, slamming into guard rails and into each other. Geoff wove his 1989 Honda Civic through the twirling cabaret of rubber and metal. I sat as rigid as a statue in the passenger seat, clinging to my hip belt and staring wide-eyed at the carnage ... almost beautiful in its slow-motion flow, like some cracked-out Disney on Ice dance where the grand finale is not exactly happy. By some divine hand, Geoff navigated his rust bucket over the ice untouched, and we slipped by the front of the storm ... a thick pileup of about a dozen cars in various states of crumpled. Didn't seem to be any injuries ... just a lot of business for the body shops in town.

"What just happened there?" Geoff asked after I started breathing again.

"I think we just avoided a 30-car pileup," I said.

After that, I couldn't imagine anything I wanted to do less than ski in the valley, but there was definitely no turning back at that point. Once on the trail, I did about a mile of grumpy kicks before I decided it was time to turn off my mind to how monotonous and tedious I think Nordic skiing is. Instead, I started chanting. "Kick ... Glide ... Kick ... Glide." I closed my eyes and felt the tracks slip backward beneath my feet. "Nordic skiing is great," I told myself. "You don't even need to be able to see." So I turned on my iPod and scooted along until I reached camp site No. 6. I always stop there when I ski by. I like to spend a minute beside the mound of snow that was once a picnic table and look at the sweeping view of a now-frozen swamp that was once so lush and clouded by mosquitoes. It was, after all, my first Juneau home. I feel a strange sort of comfort there.

Because I often fill my iPod shuffle at random from an amassed music collection of about 3,000 songs, I definitely have faith in the serendipity of shuffle. As I stood among the snow-masked memories of camp site No. 6, iPod chose to play an old song - one I downloaded back in the Napster days and don't think I've even heard in years: An Aimee Mann cover of a Bruce Springsteen song:

"Struck me kinda funny ... Seem kinda funny sir to me.
Still at the end of every hard day people find some reason to believe."

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Adventures of Unipedal

Date: March 8
Mileage: 5.1 (Made it further than last week)
March mileage: 6.2
Temperature upon departure: 34

This is the second time this week I've become self-aware of my own ridiculous behavior, and felt compelled to photograph it. Since I obviously set this picture up, I probably didn't look quite this ridiculous for the better part of three miles. But the truth can't be that far off.

I think my doctor is right about the resistance of outdoor cycling. It's just too much, too fast. But I made good on my promise to myself to try, and mostly good on my promise to stop once it hurt. Juneau received a massive amount of snow early in the week, and that's been followed up by a warm spell and a steady stream of sleet and rain. The snow pack funnels all of the melt-off into the streets, which means shin-deep slush, snow dams and flooding that can reach knee level. You don't pedal in this stuff. You ooze through it.

I noticed the strange feeling return almost immediately, and by mile 1, there was definite pain. By mile 1.5, I was mindlessly pulling my leg off the pedal. At mile 2, I just left it there, rigid and sticking straight out like a splintered board.

You'd think that pedalling with one leg would be either twice as hard or twice as slow. In reality, it's both. Since three weeks of rest and relaxation haven't exactly done wonders for my muscle strength, my left leg became tired pretty quickly. I made it another half mile that way, grinding through the slush at 8 mph. Cars streamed by and launched slush geysers far over my head. I wiped the cold goo out of my eyes and thought, "I must look like an absolute idiot." Out came the camera.

I feel a little frustrated about another defeat, but not that much. I can't expect whatever injury I have to become instantly healed just because I went to see a doctor. I thought a little more about my doctor's advice to wait another 10 days to get an MRI (I already have an appointment set up to do so, should I decide at that point that it's needed.) I think it's sound advice. I have considered the possibility that he's just waiting for my insurance check to clear before he welcomes me back in for tests. I mean - truthfully - young, single people who show up at a clinic driving cars like mine don't have the best reputation for paying their medical bills. But there's also the fact that ... however slowly ... my knee is getting better every day. If that stops happening, I'll start waving my Visa card around. I'm sure somebody out there will hook my leg up to a scanner. Until then, maybe there will be more Misadventures of Unipedal.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Spun out

You can always tell when Geoff or I are injured or burnt out, because those are the only reasons my road bike ends up mounted on an ancient magnetic trainer in the front room. It just sits there, propped on stacks of flattened USPS boxes, gathering dust as rain and sleet pound the front window and Geoff’s disassembled car racks crowd in like bars in a jail cell. Roadie on the trainer has become a depressing sight to me.

I set it up when the weather or trail conditions have become too much for me. I ride it for a day, and it reminds me how wonderful blowing snow and cantaloupe-sized ice chunks can really be. But when I set it up today, it was under doctor’s orders. It felt less defeatist and more purposeful. I started one of two DVDs I own - and have seen about 20 times - and set into easy spinning.

I didn’t feel any knee pain. I didn’t feel normal ... but no pain. The feeling was more akin to a slightly dislocated joint that was looking for its proper place. I planned to ride for an hour, and every 10 minutes I increased the resistance. At minute 52, a voice in my head started saying, “Please stop. Please just stop.” I was confused. The strange feeling was still there, but no pain yet. “Please stop,” it said again. So I listened. I jumped off the bike with 8 minutes to go. A few hours have gone by since. I have the same generally-improving stiffness I’ve had for weeks, but still no pain. I’m beginning to think I really am crazy.

The problem is, I don’t know if that voice spoke up because I was bored, or if it was protesting some inner trauma that I didn’t ever consciously connect to. I have never been very good at “listening” to my body. In many ways, I can’t even hear it most of the time. I actually believe that’s one of my assets, considering the sport I’m most interested in is endurance cycling. I’m not exceptionally strong or physically talented like Geoff. If I ever measured my VO2 max, it would probably be right around average. I’ve never been adept at muscle building, and my balance and hand-eye coordination are both atrocious. All of these attributes scream “NOT AN ATHLETE.” But when I get on a bicycle, I shift my body into neutral and turn my willpower on overdrive. Then I let my mind do all of the heavy lifting. It tells my body to keep going, and my body listens. It assures my body it can go forever. It makes my body believe that. My body has never failed me.

Until now, maybe.

I try to shrug this whole knee thing off and believe it’s not a big deal - despite the daily complaints on my blog that may indicate otherwise. I guess the complaints are closer to my reality, though. It’s been hard for me. It hasn’t been that long, but I already feel like I have a swath of emptiness in my life where bicycling once was. I’ve heard recovering alcoholics use the same words to describe their addiction ... that there’s simply a hole there, and nothing is ever going to replace it. But the big difference between them and me is they’re doing everything to stay away from that hole, and I'm trying to get back in.

I think maybe it’s time to try again. Don’t worry - I’m not going to overdo it. I’ll take it slow. I won’t push through any pain at all. I’ll listen if my body says “Please stop,” even if it is just saying it because dagger-like sleet is falling from the sky and a 50 mph crosswind is threatening to pin me to the pavement. But I need to show my body who’s boss. And it’s about time it started listening again.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

No news is good news, I guess

Well the doc didn't really find anything in my knee. He yanked my leg in weird directions and scolded me repeatedly for tensing up. He said he felt "residual inflammation." He said he heard "creaking." He diagnosed me with "angry knee." He recommended the same ol' "RICE" crap ... Ice, Compression and Excessive amounts of Advil. But not Rest. He recommended Rehabilitation. He told me to get back on the bike. "Don't ride outside," he said. "There's too much resistance. Put your bike on a trainer and spin easy."

I went to the gym afterward and ran on the elliptical trainer - no incline - for an hour. That motion feels pretty much normal at this point. Then I sat on the ancient stationary bike, set the resistance to "2" and started spinning. It felt really strange. Not necessarily painful ... but if I stopped thinking about it, I would eventually become aware of other physical reactions that are typically associated with pain ... white-knuckling the handlebars, biting my lip, and pressing my head against my arm. It felt unusual. Unnatural. I lasted 10 minutes.

The doc scheduled a follow-up for two weeks from now, and recommended waiting out an MRI scan until then. He seemed really confident in my health. His reassuring head shakes gave me a boost of confidence, but also made me second-guess everything that's transpired in the past three weeks. Maybe I'm looking to the wrong doctor. Maybe what I really need is a good psychiatrist to tell me why I might have a tendency toward self-defeating hypochondria. I know medicine can't do much for you unless you have a traumatic injury ... and this is almost definitely not. I have a fair amount of experience with "waiting it out." Strange, inexplicable and incurable ailments run rampant in my family. But the bad knees seem to be exclusively mine.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Lots of snow

The latest storm has dumped nearly two feet of snow on Juneau. The city closed all of the schools and gave non-essential government employees a paid day off ... which means none of the streets were plowed and all of the snow-day beneficiaries were funnelled onto nearby trails. I love days like this. I somehow ended up in front of snowshoer rush hour and punched a new path up the mountain. I walked up for one hour. It took me 35 minutes to walk down. I wandered off the main trail and postholed a few times up to my thighs - even wearing snowshoes. It was a real struggle to get out. The first time, I wrenched my bad knee beyond its point of sharp, blinding pain. After that, I just threw all of my body weight toward the direction of the trail (or my best guess of were it was) and swam out. I'm still not sure all of this snowshoeing is helping my physical situation. But I do think it's helping me maintain some kind of an aerobic base.

That other Iditarod race is going on right now ... the one with all of the puppies and the people on sleds. After spending the past week watching the progress of bikers and runners as they made their way over the Alaska Range, I'm amazed at the speeds in which those dogs can move. As a handful of ultrasporters continue on to McGrath and Nome, the Iditarod mushers are already passing them like they’re not even moving. Also out on the trail right now is Mike Curiak, a who is bicycling self-supported to Nome. Self-supported meaning he carries all of his gear. He buys nothing. He stashes nothing. He mail-drops nothing. He enters no buildings, sleeps in no cabins. And if a friendly musher offered him some smoked salmon on the trail, he would probably refuse it. There’s a rumor that he’s training for some 2008 expedition that will be even more remote and difficult. More remote and difficult than a 100-percent self-supported winter bicycle ride to Nome? I can’t even imagine where in the world that could possibly happen, but my money’s on a bicycle ride to the South Pole. Go, Mike, go.

Speaking of expeditions, there's a raffle going on right now to support Dave Nice's 2007 Great Divide Race bid. He had his bike stolen during last year's race, so this is bound to be his year. And you can help him! Visit Fat Cyclist's site for all the details.

I have a doctor's appointment tomorrow in my continued effort to figure out why I’m not riding. I’m hoping for a good diagnosis, expecting a vague and unhelpful diagnosis, and steeling myself for a bad diagnosis. If it turns out I’ve rendered my right knee unusable for an extended period of time, I’m already formulating a cycling plan. It involves a frame-mounted foot strap, a clipless pedal, and "quad of steel" workouts for the unipedal.

My two homes

(Picture taken Sunday at Knik Glacier, Alaska, posted with
other great pictures on a MTB forum thread.)

(South Window Arch, Arches National Park, Utah)

Geoff and I have started planning a spring trip to Utah. In the back of my mind, I'm thinking, "Do I really want to go back to Utah this spring? Why not save the vacation time to do something really cool ... like bicycle camp my way to Inuvik?" Despite the appeal of visiting friends and family, sometimes thoughts of Utah dredge up a 'been there, done that' sentiment.

I still can't deny - despite my current location in Juneau and 'born and raised' familiarity with my state of origin - that I'm completely enamored with Utah. I've become more lost inside myself within the shadows of towering sandstone canyons than I have in my wilderness treks through trail-less Interior Alaska. I've been gripped with more primal fear in the rushing rapids of the Colorado River than I have standing in the path of a grizzly bear. I'm always quick to defend my home state when Alaskans ask me how many 'sister wives' I had back home, or when they tell me how much Salt Lake City "stinks." ("You mean like that smell wafting in right now from the salmon hatchery?" I say.) But when people ask me when I plan to leave the land of snow and ice to return to the land of salt and sand, I always reply with a confused stare. What? Leave Alaska?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm here by the sheer pull of similarity. Utah is home to the many of the most remote areas of the Lower 48. Alaska is just remote. Utah has the suffocating heat and desolation of the desert. Alaska has the paralyzing cold and desolation of the tundra. Girdwood is basically Park City with a hippy problem. Anchorage is basically Salt Lake City with a moose problem. Homer could double for Moab if you replaced mountain bike and ATV-riding with halibut fishing. Even where I live, Juneau - which often seems like no place I've ever seen before - could find a lot in common with the Beehive State residents who live to ski and ski to eat (someone here told me once that Alaskans eat the most ice cream per capita. I had to dispute that one loudly, too.)

But there's something about Alaska - something that draws me further away, even as I spend my nights dreaming about redrock. Something that keeps me up at night, scheming about all the places I have yet to see. It's big. It's wild. It's full of life (Isn't that right, Anchorage tourism board?)

And it's my home.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

Better days

I spent less time wallowing in self pity and more time snowshoeing today. It worked out a lot better for me. The trail hadn't been broken since the big snowfall yesterday (about a foot at the trail head ... and seemingly exponentially more as it went higher.) I was buried to my shins in soft powder, swinging my hips dramatically to take the strain off my knees. The fluid motion felt vaguely familiar. I couldn't quite place it. It was like walking in quicksand, or running in a slow-motion dream. My arms skimmed snow drifts that topped out at shoulder level, sending clouds of ice crystals air-born. That's when I realized where I had felt this before. I was swimming.

....

I received a reply from the Fireweed 400 folks. They told me what I was expecting to hear ... No, you can't ride our race unsupported. But the assistant director, George Stransky, did take the time to write a thoughtful suggestion:

"Last year, a friend of mine entered the 200-miler (which we support with Aid Stations every 25 miles and discourage support vehicles and crew), then turned around and rode back to Sheep Mountain. He was not an official finisher of the 400 and did not qualify for RAAM or John Marino points, but he did ride the "400 miles" unsupported. He was just not part of the race. He did, however, get the T-shirt, recognition in the movie (see the interview with number 500), and the satisfaction of completing the distance. And, we were NOT responsible for him on his return journey from Valdez."

Sounds like a win-win situation. The thought of entering the shorter event crossed my mind. After 200 miles one way, I'd have to find some way back to the beginning. Why not just ride it? But as I considered it more, I thought ... why enter the race at all? If I'm not an official racer, why not just ride it at a more convenient time? Better yet, why not ride several hundred miles in a more convenient place? I've always wanted to ride the broken loop from Haines to Skagway. At 350 miles, it would be a good week-long tour. Or a crazy 36-hour sufferfest. I can't decide which would be more fun.

But deep down, I know the reason I enter races is to cement motivation for the long preparation. It would be too easy to drop out of a self-styled quadruple century. I have little doubt that I'd never do it, even if I set a date and bought a couple of ferry tickets. There's something about an actual race that brings heavy shame on the heads of the do-not-shows. Better to finish dead last than to not show up at all. Maybe it's those T-shirts they send you. ("Oh, you like this Fireweed 400 shirt? Isn't it cool? Well, no, I didn't race it, exactly. No, I was sitting on my couch, eating Oreos and watching the Food Network. But I entered it. And look, I got this RAAM mug, too! Can you believe they were five for $16.95 at Big Lots?") Who would dare wear a shirt from an event you paid for but never attended? You might as well just slap on a scarlet "L" for "Lazy."

Either way, I'm surprised I'm still considering it so seriously. I need my knee to heal up fast, and get back on my bike soon, before I enter anything crazy. The last thing I need is another T-shirt.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Still can't ride

Date: March 2
Mileage: 1.1
March mileage: 1.1
Temperature upon departure: 11

I tried. I tried.

The bike box was covered in several inches of snow by the time I finally dragged it into the house and sliced it open. I went to work restoring Snaux bike from a duct-tape-covered mass of aluminum and cables to something that might move forward again. But I had to make sure.

Juneau was in the midst of a "blizzard warning," but it seemed pretty tame ... about nine inches of new snow and only light powder falling at the time. Most of the streets weren't yet plowed, so I couldn't just coast and spin easy for a while. I had to set right into the crank, and the knee pain came instantly. I winced through it for a about a half mile, thinking that my knee was probably just stiff and needed to loosen up. But it just became worse. Eventually, my leg started involuntarily jumping off the pedals. If I had pedal cages, I probably would have just let it dangle there. But I needed the leg's dead weight just to keep the crank turning, and the angle of the up-stroke of was too much. I got off the bike and pushed it home.

As I was carrying my bike down the stairs, it somehow slipped out of my hands, bounced a few times and dropped into the yard. I'm not really sure what happened then. I lost it, a little bit. I plopped down beside it and had my own private temper tantrum, right there in the snow, swiping up clouds of cheek-stinging powder and everything. After that humiliating little pity party subsided, I propped up the bike and got out my camera to document the meltdown. I'm not sure why I did that, either. I'm still really embarrassed about it. Why am I writing about it? But it seems important to remember the low points. And today was definitely a low point.

I can't say why I became so consumed with frustration. I'm not exactly suffering, and there are people out there - like Lynda, who broke her collarbone in a mountain bike race on Feb. 17 - who obviously have it so much worse. But I guess that, as with any injury, there is always a lingering thought that "this knee is never going to work again." It's easy to push the thought in the back of my mind when I have an inexplicable little injury with no known origin and no real reason to exist. I can even tell myself that it's all in my head. But when that thought of permanent disability comes raring back ... no amount of denial can hold it off. And there I am, sitting in the snow, clenching my mittens so tight that my fingers hurt and thinking, "It's not supposed to happen like this. Not here. Not now."

I know. So much melodrama. I'm usually even-tempered, but every once in a while I revert back to the maturity of a 16-year-old. It's a good emotional release. I'll be OK. I promise. I even went a short snowshoe hike after that. With all of the new, deep snow, I really worked my calves without putting much pressure on my knee.

I have an appointment at a sports medicine clinic on Tuesday. I look forward to finding out that it really is nothing, that it's all in my head, and that I'm just acting like a toddler.