Showing posts from April, 2007

Looking back

(Nebraska/Wyoming border, September 2003)

I've been put on alert that my blog has been a bit of a downer. So I'm taking a different direction today. Sometimes when I'm in a rut, I like to dig through pieces of the past as a road map to where I've been and where I'm headed. This is an excerpt from my old blog, dated Sept. 26, 2002. The context is my first bicycle tour, when I took to the lonely desert roads of Southeastern Utah and Southwestern Colorado for a 600-mile trip before I knew how to change a tire or even shift the gears on my $300 touring bike. I still see it as an ongoing journey.

Lucky day thirteen. We leave the jagged sandstone peaks of the San Rafael Swell and merge onto I-70, joining the swift flow of trucks and RVs in the emergency lane, concrete “wake up” grates and all.

Most bicycle tourists dread the stretches where the freeway is unavoidable, but I actually enjoy the large shoulders and gentle slopes of U.S. Interstates. The traffic is heavy b…

My grandma's prayers have been answered

I think someone stole my wetsuit.

It was in an ugly backpack in my car. Now there is no ugly backpack in my car. I'm still clinging to the fading hope that I misplaced it, but it's likely gone.

Also in that backpack was Essential Juneau Cycling Gear®, my neoprene gloves and socks. I would feel sad about this loss, too, if I was still clinging to the fading hope that I will be able to ride my bike before neoprene is rendered obsolete by 110-Percent Waterproof Spaceage Body Armor®.

My grandma didn't want me to go swimming in the ocean. Now it looks like I won't be able to anytime soon. Not only do I not have a wetsuit now, I also have a wetsuit deficit, because that one belonged to Geoff. So now I have to buy him a new wetsuit before I can buy one for myself.

The thief neglected to steal the big box of recyclables I still have to haul to the dump.

Also, I really did lose my camera last week. I think my doctor stole it. Either way, it's gone. No more camera.

I'm beginni…

Harder than it looks

I went to False Outer Point beach yesterday to look for a good swimming spot. I told myself I was just going to "recon" the area, but I did have a backpack with the pink wetsuit, my neoprene socks and gloves, and, just for good measure, a nylon balaclava that probably wouldn't do a thing to keep my head warm, but seemed worth a try. Air temperature was 40 degrees with light drizzle. I baby-stepped over slime-coated boulders, across a swath of crackling clam shells and past salmon fishermen hunched in a rain-drenched row.

I found a large rock outcropping to hide behind. Seabirds swirled around in a diverse congregation I never saw during the winter - two large herons, ducks, seagulls, ravens and one bald eagle in the midst. Even though I dressed for winter, I was already starting to shiver just standing there, and decided it was going to have to be now or never. But before I pulled the wetsuit out, I walked to the edge of the shore, lined in jagged, barnacle-covered rocks…

Worth an experiment, anyway

While I was in Anchorage over the weekend, Geoff cleaned out the storage closet and threw a bulky "Back to Utah" pile in the hall. On top of this pile was Geoff's old river rafting wetsuit - a full body neoprene neon thing that's pink and blue and, as I remember, makes him look like an ambiguously gay surfer hippy from the 80s. I swam for an hour at the local pool yesterday and thought about this wetsuit. Then I thought about it some more in the evening. Then, this morning, I tried it on. Geoff is taller and leaner than I am, and I've admittedly put on a little extra chunk since winter, but I was able to squeeze into the thing. I stood in front of the mirror for a while, wondering about possibilities.

To be honest, I have been thinking a lot about open water swimming recently. I live along a long stretch of protected Pacific water known as the Gastineau Channel. The tides are large but the waves are not. So the surf is often glass-calm, especially along the shorel…

Snap out of it

So, apparently, one of the unexpected side-effects of injury is insomnia. Never struggled with it before, but its been about six weeks since I've been able to ... you know ... sleep ... much. There's the issue of night pains, but even beyond that, there's the notion of using physical fatigue as a sleep aid. Back in the day, when I could throw down some four-hour mornings on the bike, make lunch, juggle a nine-hour stress fest at work, eat, blog, go to bed ... well ... I was always out before I hit the pillow. My co-workers may even argue I was out hours before. But now, I'm up in the morning ... I'm up late at night ... I'm up in the day ... and out of it.

I keep thinking that one of these early early mornings, I'm going to roll out of bed and be 100% fine. It's easy for me to carry this delusion because something similar happened to Geoff and his IT bands last year. Six weeks of searing pain ... and then, one day, he was just fine. I also like to tell t…

Sometimes pictures reflect moods

I like the swirling storm clouds in this one. Especially since the reason I stopped to take it was that small window of sunlight in the center.


Some days I feel despondent about injury, and some days I feel defiant. It is hard to wedge myself somewhere in the middle. But the only way to figure out how much is too much is to start somewhere near the bottom, which often feels worse than doing nothing.

I had an unsuccessful weekend of resting (although it was only resting in the physical sense. I haven't been through a whirlwind of activity like that in a while). My new plan is to slither back into cycling. And in order to not tempt myself into two-hour jaunts, I decided I was going to do that slithering at the gym. On their creaky, old, rubber-straps-for-toe-clips stationary bike. I hate that thing. Which is the perfect mindset to have when you're trying to avoid the temptation of overuse. I pedaled 20 minutes at low resistance. Mindless spinning, and in the meantime I read "Over the Hills" by David Lamb, a book written by a middle-age reporter for the Los Angeles Times who smokes and drinks and decides one da…

Weekend in the city

Flying is a strange experience. It's similar to an endurance event in a lot of ways. I usually spend my day wrapped in varying levels of anxiety, subsisting on Power Bars and Advil and copious amounts of caffeine. And just when I'm locked in the most uncomfortable position, head spinning as cramps crawl up my legs, I look out the window and see views like this - a crisp moment of clarity that convinces me it's time to just quit my job and toss my Advil and devote my life to mountaineering.

Of course, it's too easy to feel this way from the seat of a plane, even cramping and a little bit airsick, I'm still in a bubble of relative safety, warm and dry. This is similar to the work conference I attended this weekend, in a lot of ways. It was the Alaska Press Club conference, or "J-Week (J for journalism)" to the wide-eyed reporters who attend. It's a rallying cry for those of us who are trying to convince ourselves the newspaper industry isn't dying. …

MRI results

So what I actually have is chomdromalacia patella. ("Runners Knee," as opposed to "Jumper's Knee.") Softening and swelling of cartilage between the knee cap and femur. I also have a fairly large Baker cyst as a result of fluid buildup. This is good news, actually, on all sides. It nearly always is recoverable without surgery. Should be better by now than it is, but I have not been known to rest well. I have been told to REST WELL, but overuse only prolongs recovery; it does not usually do further damage.

I am headed out to Anchorage for a work conference and it may be a few days before I post again. I just wanted to leave on a happy note with another picture of sunshine in Juneau, because it may not look like this again for weeks. Have a great weekend all, and Ride Well.

Light torture

I stumbled into radiology at 7:15 this morning. I know that doesn't sound all that early, but with my work schedule and habits, 7:15 a.m. to me is like 5:15 a.m. to most people. They directed me to strip down and then steered me still crusty-eyed and wobbly-legged into a strange, silent room - large and empty with the exception of a single MRI imaging tube. I've heard that these tests are to be feared, but only by the claustrophobic, so I wasn't feeling too anxious. I laid on my back and the radiologist asked me if I wanted to listen to the radio. I just stared up at her, trying to coax my sleep-addled brain to turn on. Radio? What's that? I nodded weakly. "What station?" Station? What's a station? I mumbled something about NPR. She nodded and wrapped my leg, then left me alone in the room while the platform slid ominously into that alien tube.

I had been instructed NOT TO MOVE, and to NOT TAKE DEEP BREATHS, and my concentration on that made me not only tw…

Really warm

(This is the Douglas Island bridge. I realized that of all the pictures I post here, very few of them are actually of Juneau as acity. So I'm adding this to my "urban" series.)

It hit 50 degrees today. It may not be the first time we've climbed out of the 40-degree range this year, but it definitely seemed to be the most sustained and noticeable duration of warm weather yet. My neighbors were out in droves - laughing, jogging, riding their bikes. I was having a generally bad day. Early doctor's visit. Left my jacket there, with my camera inside the pocket. May or may not get that back. Reality-check call to my health insurance company. Bad run on a treadmill. Tight deadlines at work. Had to run a bunch of errands with my car. Every time I climbed inside, the sticky heat of the interior stoked my grump. The most beautiful day of the year, and I was stewing in my own bad mood. Well, that and a cloud of stagnant moisture that is finally evaporating after a winter of …

Climb mix

So the other day, Fat Cyclist challenged his readers to come up with a list of seven perfect songs to listen to while grinding the pedals up a killer hill. I didn't give such a list much thought until today, while turning the elliptical pedals at the gym and listening to the new Modest Mouse album ... yeah, again. So there I was, cycling through my boring routine and staring off into space when I noticed my field of vision begin to narrow. I snapped out of la-la land and realized that not only was my heart racing, but I was turning some crazy RPMs on the digital display. I didn't even make a conscious choice to go so hard. What made me do it? "Florida."

Exercise music is completely personal, of course, based on cadence preferences and general taste, among other things. But in my opinion, "Florida" is the most perfect hill-climbing song ever recorded. It has everything I need in a climbing song - a catchy beat punctuated by bursts of energy, an ethereal enou…

Gear displacement

I've been on a bike-gear acquiring tear lately. It's hard to say why. Logically, I know I'm only compensating for my current cycling inabilities. And psychologically, it hurts to watch this stuff linger unused in its original packaging. But emotionally, it feels so good to receive shiny little bike pieces in the mail and dream of a parallel universe where they're getting all that shine scuffed off on mud-soaked trails (or roads).

My recent purchases include a seatpost clamp, several water bottles, tire levers, tire pump, bike shoes and clipless pedals. This is my first clipless system ever. I have come out strongly against such a system in the past. I do not like the idea of being attached to my bike. But, then again, I do not like the idea of being detached from my bike, either. Clipless may aid an eventual transition back to cycling. And they may help better align my pedal stroke. So I placed an order for Look pedals and some skinny, ugly roadie shoes. When they came …


Signs of spring everywhere lately. Not new growth, per say; not sun, either. Just melt and light. Melt releases a world long smothered by winter. Streams flow free again. The tips of small willow trees peak out from the mushy snowpack. I go snowshoeing on an old, familiar trail and it becomes new again.

Early in my walk, I found a green plastic Easter egg. It had a fun-sized Hershey bar inside. It was all alone in the snow, in an odd enough place that it must have been dropped, not hidden. This is where I found it, near a half-frozen waterfall. And I was in a strange enough mood that I carried it with me on my hike and made it the subject of photographs.

My outdoor activities as of late, as sparse as they've been, have been fairly uninspiring. I'm reading nonfiction books about long-distance bicycle touring again, which, if my past habits are any indication, is a fairly clear sign that I'm slipping into a rut. I've been envious of Geoff and his training. I try not to …

Folk Fest

Yet another setback on the road to recovery. Maybe. The truth is, I've been functioning in this semi-injured state long enough that I don't really remember what normal is supposed to feel like. But I do try to be careful. These days, with summer approaching ever faster, I try to be so, so careful.

Today I had some grocery shopping and other mind-numbing errands to do. Before that, I decided to go for a walk on the beach. You know, slow walk on a flat gravel beach, skimming the surf and picking up seashells like toddlers and little old ladies can do. But the tide was coming up and on my way back, I had to climb up into the rocks to get through. I tentatively chose every step, taking advantage of every handhold and generally following the mantra of three-point contact. However, I was probably just shy of that number when I set my foot down on a slanted boulder and lost contact immediately. I plummeted down the slimy surface in a blinding flash of white pain. It felt like my knee …


Do you ever wonder how seemingly normal, otherwise-well-rounded people find their way into endurance sports? Of course there will always be genetic anomalies out there who can burn endless miles without even trying. But where does the rest of the field come from? How does a person look at something like a 24-hour bicycle race - the stomach-turning loops, the joint-throttling repetition, the creeping night fatigue and the 20-hours-per-week training it takes to get there - how do they look at something like that and say, “hey, that might be something I’d be good at”? Or even scarier - “hey, that might be fun.”

I’ve ask myself this question before. I feel like I can trace it all back to a single moonlit morning, when my friends Monika, Curt and I decided we wanted to see what the top of Mount Timpanogos looked like at sunrise.

The Timpanogos trail is in itself a fairly mellow hike. At 18 miles, it’s long but mellow. Of course there’s a fair amount of elevation gain, but since Boy Scouts an…

The time it takes to heal

Traveling at godspeed
over the hills and trails
I have refused my call
pushin' my lazy cells
into the blue flame
I want to crash here right now
the hourglass spills its sand
if only to punish you

for listenin' too long
to one song

“Sing Me Spanish Techno,” The New Pornographers

So I did a couple of things today that bummed me out. The first was visiting my physical therapist in the morning, still crusty-eyed from another rough night of sleep and carrying the shame of relapse. Instead of getting the stern lecture I deserved, I got some wince-inducing stretches that didn’t even touch my knees. For some reason, the PT has started to direct almost all of her focus on my IT band, which I don’t even understand. All I do know is I now have a new burning sensation - in my upper leg - and no real source of hope. And, if nothing else, a physical therapist should offer hope, don’t you think?

So after that I hobbled over to the gym and renewed my membership. I had a membership when I first moved to J…


So, as it turns out, venturing out for a mild 18-mile bike ride is overdoing it in my case. The effect is not unlike rewinding several weeks. I knew I had gone wrong when I woke up to sharp pains Saturday night and realized I couldn't bend my leg. Now my co-workers are commenting on my limping again. I'm aware that I've hit rock bottom .. well ... at least several times during the past eight weeks. But this has to be it. The very bottom. I am officially turning my back on cycling until I get this thing under control. The decision makes me feel at once relieved and devastated.

As my own prospects of a summer season becoming increasingly dim, I find myself drawn in to the exploits of the endurance mountain biking counterculture. I've never really been able to count myself as a sports fan - in fact, the prospect of sitting through an entire game of any sport is about as appealing to me as watching laundry dry. But ever since the Iditarod Invitational, any tidbit I can find…

One heavy February

Date: April 7
Mileage: 18.1
April Mileage: 25.3
Temperature upon departure: 41

I'm thinking I won't really ride today. I have residual regret from a relatively unsuccessful ride two days prior; my road bike is out of tune and rickety from a winter of neglect. I had become convinced lowering my seat would ease stress and pain, but my seatpost clamp is rusted shut. I wrench and wrench until the bolt is stripped. Now I'm locked in place. I can go as I am or give up as I should. But I already dressed up - layers of leggings, rain pants, fleece, neoprene socks, mittens and PVC shell, because bodily warmth is a hard thing to extract from the little ring. One mile won't hurt. Maybe five.

Roadie and I cut a tenuous line through a sold inch of road grit and gravel. I've only ridden a handful of times in two months, and somewhere in there I lost my desensitization to traffic. The cars come loud and close; I wobble and shake even on the shoulder. I think about how training wheels …

Victory, but not really

Date: April 5
Mileage: 7.2
Temperature upon departure: 37

Today I swam for just over an hour and rode a bicycle for well under an hour, but my most rewarding activity of the day was choking down death salsa at Fernando's. For a divey little Mexican joint with regular entrees as bland as funeral casseroles, that place has amazing salsa. You scoop up a small amount on a chip - it could be a tomato chunk, or it could be a chili pepper, not that it matters. Then, you stuff the entire chip as far back in your mouth and as far away from your lips as it will go, bite down hard and chew fast. The ensuing pain is beyond what any workout could prescribe; it will stomp all over your nagging knee pains, your sore calves and burning quads. It will rip through your nasal passage, shut down your vision and shoot a steady stream of white fire into your brain. It is real; immediate and an amazingly effective source of endorphins. And I will say, I normally have what I would consider an above-average …

Silly little exercises

This is going to sound idiotic, but I didn't really expect physical therapy to be such a ... well ... physical endeavor. You go to the doctor, they prod you with some cold metal objects, and then you go home, right? I didn't really expect to go to the doctor, do six repetitions of wall sits and wince my way through about three squats.

Actually, I can’t even call them squats. They weren't squats; they were girly little knee bends that my PT asked me to do in front of a mirror. After squat three, I caught a glimpse of the confusion on my face as my right knee buckled under my body weight. That’s right. Buckled. Practically crashed into my left knee. My PT stopped me right there. I think she was just trying to prove to me what I already knew ... I am one weak puppy right now.

I guess it makes sense. For four weeks, I limped to the point of nonuse. For much of that time, I might as well have had a cast on my right leg. Even when I started using it, there was a lot of favoring go…


Long night waiting for election results to come in. This state has far too many of those things. But I had a good morning in the subtle saga of knee recovery (Yeah. I guess this is yet another one of those kind of posts. You have been warned.) Geoff told me there was a new Modest Mouse CD out, so I downloaded the whole thing and spent more than an hour listening to it, doing my PT stretches and riding my bike trainer. It was a good hour, mostly because of the music, but also because I rode three whole 20-minute sessions on the trainer. I've done this before, post-Susitna even, but this was the first time I made it through even 20 minutes without throttling the handlebars to displace pain. It's still a little hard for me to sort out good burn - like the kind in my seriously out-of-shape quads - from bad burn - like the kind that comes and goes in front of my knee - but I'm pretty sure today's riding was all about good burn.

And because I didn't want to overdo it, an…

Chain reaction

These adventures in knee recovery are becoming really boring. I need to find something else to write about ... anything ... maybe tomorrow.

I went to visit a physical therapist for the first time today. She had some interesting theories about the origin of my knee pain - including a misaligned hip and an atrophied VMO quad muscle. She gave credence to my postholeoverextension theory, but emphasized that weak leg muscles won't support shock on a weakened knee. This injury has been building up since the dawn of my bicycling, she theorized, since I first sat down on a bicycle seat that I never bothered to measure on a bicycle I never bothered to check to make sure fit. I just bought these things online. A bicycle is a bicycle, right? Right? They're not precision instruments so specialized for body types that the slightest diversion leads to a chain reaction of deterioration and degeneration that can not be recovered? Right?

So now I'm doing my prescribed stretching/ITB band str…

Running start

Today I hiked up the Salmon Creek trail. It's of the few trails around Juneau I hadn't explored before - mostly because it was closed for several months during fall. By the time it reopened, I had enough time to learn it was an old utility road that meandered lazily up to a city water supply reservoir. It sounded painfully boring. But painfully boring makes for pain-free walking, so I gave it a chance. Despite the wide road it follows, the trail itself was a narrow slit through the snow, so smooth and hardpacked it was like singletrack from heaven. Every step on it sounded wasteful and wrong ... crunch, crunch, wish I had my bike ... crunch, crunch. The mainland mountains towered overhead. Beyond those peaks is the icefield that separates the Alaska panhandle from British Columbia. Whenever I think about this precipitous geography, it reminds me how thin my sliver of civilization is in this vast and untouchable wilderness. I like this reality. It makes me feel so alone ... and…

Out like a lamb

I'm taking a break from the Great Indoors.

The workouts are unquantifiable, but you can't beat the views.

Or the potential for new freckles.