Monday, April 30, 2007
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 but friendly. In fact, we got more honks and waves today that the rest of the trip combined, and, unlike two-lane state highways, didn't have a single “rude driver” incident (as we all know, those drivers who swerve toward you on purpose are merely jealous.)
As we pass through a gray alkaline hill and began to drop into the Green River Valley, the end of our trip becomes real. Tonight we will dine at our favorite veggie burger stop, Ray’s Tavern, and by tomorrow evening we’ll be back in Moab, back to our car and the now inconceivably quick drive to Salt Lake.
How did we get here? The town of Green River draws nearer and I begin to realize how far we’ve come. Less than two weeks ago we passed through here, stopped our car in Moab, mounted loaded-up bikes for the first time in our lives, and now, over 500 miles later, here I am. I’ve seen the thick pines and glacial lakes of the San Juans, the destitute reservation, the rolling redrock of Escalante and the San Rafael Swell, and I did it all with my own body, with my own two legs. Really, how did I get here?
I think back to the way I felt when the trip started - tired and pessimistic. It’s that feeling of physical defeat- when just mounting the cold saddle sends sharp streaks of pain through your pelvis. Knees crack and throb as you rotate the crank. Eyes dry out in the heat and wind. Palms are red and raw. Even feet protest the pressure of pedals, and legs feel weary at the first sight of a steep hill.
As the third or fourth day winds down, all feels lost. You’ll never make it. Your body is shutting down, and you drift to sleep feeling a vague sense of disinterest. Then, the next morning, you wake up. Suddenly, inexplicably, everything becomes easy. Your pelvis is numb. Your hands are calloused. The wind prompts you to action. You mount your bike with the cold morning wind tearing at your nostrils, squint toward the mountains in front of you, and just laugh, because you realize you could go forever. Then, you just go.
This is a phenomenon I couldn’t begin to explain, but I can’t deny it either. Runners would call it “hitting your wall,” to burn until your fuel is nearly exhausted, until you can see your physical threshold blocking the finish line, and through pure mental will, you tear through it. Once you reach that wall, you’re either going to collapse, or you’re going to go forever.
And this is how I’ve felt since I woke up in the San Miguel basin on Day Four and realized that not only would I finish the climb that day, but I’d finish the trip. At that point, I had no more doubts in my mind. This is why I no longer fear the great distance of a cross-country trip. The question I'm asked the most when I tell people about my plans to cross the country on a bicycle is, “How will you ever make it?” I don’t know. I’m relatively inexperienced. I’m out of shape. I’m slow. But my will is strong, and I’ll make it. I just will.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
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 beginning to think 2007 is not my year. Now would probably be a good time to consider hibernation.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
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, and dipped my hands in the water. Even on that small surface of skin, the cold hit with sharp intensity. I lingered near the water as the chill trickled into my nervous system. How in the world was I willfully going to put my whole body in there? I looked over at the fishermen, a ways down the shore but sure to regard me as a nuisance. Across the channel were several drift boats that would probably feel obliged to "rescue" me. It was good to have people around but there were too many this time. It was a protected spot ... scenic ... a good place to swim ... another day.
Today, I have to work a longer shift so I am going to the little pool and hope to put in 100 laps ... no time to procrastinate near the ocean today, although I'd like to try again on Monday or Tuesday. All I am doing for the rest of the week is swimming and upper-body weight lifting. I am avoiding any impact workouts on my legs because I am headed to Utah for a week of backpacking and hiking, and I want to be as "healthy" as possible. As much as I hate to admit it, my legs do seem to feel stronger the longer I stay off of them. Next Saturday, one week from today, Geoff is doing a White Rim ride with our good friend Bryan and one to possibly several other talented endurance cyclists. I would do anything to be able to ride this trail. Utah in May, the rolling redrock in the company of old friends and new faces - I mean it. I would do anything. I'd give up all hope of 24 Hours of Kincaid, or the Fireweed road ride, or maybe even my UltraSport dreams. I want to live here, now. Unfortunately, where I am now would make this ride impossible, no matter how much I wanted it. Even if I was willing to accept the unknown consequences of what the future might hold were I to attempt it, there's no way I could even physically do it. As silly as this is going to sound, that reality just hit me the other day, and I've been feeling depressed. Even the hiking and backpacking is going to be a struggle. Part of me doesn't even want to make this trip to Utah because when I began to plan it three months ago, it was supposed to be a laid-back, chill trip - not a struggle. That's probably the hardest thing about injury, and the reason why I've spent two months ranting nonstop about it on my blog - and then turning around and doing the very things that will only prolong the pain. I want to live here, now. And I can't.
Friday, April 27, 2007
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 shoreline, but there are some realities that definitely make swimming daunting. There are sea lions, salmon sharks, the occasional humpback or killer whale, and, scariest of all ... the average water temperature is 42 degrees.
I can't find much information about swimming in the Gastineau. But it has been done. It would probably take a better wetsuit than Geoff's pink nightmare to last longer than a few minutes, but I don't know. When I lived in Homer, guys used to go surfing in January in the frigid water of Kachemak Bay, and they had some pretty rangy wetsuits.
Plus, I have mentioned before that I have a natural ability for swimming (survival long-term swimming, not fast swimming.) I also have a higher-than-average tolerance for cold water. I first realized it when I traveled through the Yukon and Alaska on a three-month car camping trip. My friends and I would bathe in glacial lakes. They would rush in and out of the water in spurts as they lathered up. I would crawl out a hundred yards or so and float on my back as cold sunlight sparkled off the glass-clear water. I loved those swims. And I would love to swim the Gastineau. Even if it was just for a few seconds off the shoreline of a picnic area as Geoff stood watch with 911 set on speed-dial.
It's not that I need craziness in my life (but who knows ... maybe I do.) And it's not that I can't bear lapping an 80-degree chlorine cesspool ad nauseum or lifting weights at a gym. I just need to get out there again. Hiking is so steep around here that it can be more stressful than pedaling, especially on the downhills, but swimming doesn't cause any pain at all. If it really fits my abilities like I think it could, I may find whole new places to explore, whole new ways to love life. (And, if it doesn't work out, I'm still in the market for a discount sea kayak.)
Thursday, April 26, 2007
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 the story of my cat, who one day hobbled home to my apartment in Idaho Falls with a huge cut on her right hind leg. The vet did a few tests (no kitty MRIs, but decent tests) and informed me that she had severed her Achilles tendon. The vet told me a $900 surgery would give her a 50-percent chance of partial recovery - granted she receive the requisite physical therapy (how do you get a cat to do physical therapy?). But in all likelihood, the vet said, she would never walk on that leg again. I struggled with the surgery decision for some time ... weighing the expense, researching the success rate, calling up specialty vets in Boise and Salt Lake, and watching my cat live a relatively happy life as a tripod. I decided against the surgery. I am a guilty pet owner.
Months went by like that. During that time, I was injured for several weeks and we were both awkwardly mobile together (something my landlord commented on constantly). Then, one day, I came home from a long weekend away - she had been inside on her own the whole time - and she was walking. Not tripoding. Not limping. She was walking. I never even saw the transition. And, to this day, I've never seen any hints of the injury. She can outsprint dogs in a heartbeat. And she's an active little kitty when she wants to be.
So the most likely scenario is that the vet misdiagnosed her and she recovered from what was probably just a bad cut with some tissue damage. But I like to think of it as a miracle cure. The way she just snapped out of it so quickly after so long ... I like to think that skill runs in the family.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
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 day in the 90s to cross the country on a bicycle. I was reading the part where he was making his way across Arkansas and writing about all of the delicious pies he was eating. I wanted to find out more about those pies and the quirky small-town folks he met, so after my prescribed 20 minutes were up, I sauntered over to the elliptical trainer.
That's how it goes down. 45 minutes passed there. After that, enough time had passed that I had to go straight to work from the gym anyway, so I killed 20 more minutes lifting ... including the crackle-inducing leg extensions (because I read somewhere that once that crackling starts to subside, I'm good to go, so I wanted to see if it was still there. It was.) But the real drawback of all that is, when I'm popping Advil and hobbling in the evening, I have no idea whether I can blame the 20 minutes of pedaling or not.
Today my plan is to pedal my prescribed 25 minutes and nothing more, and leave my book at home so I get good and bored in that time. It really doesn't even seem worth the effort of putting on gym shorts and my knee brace, but with two months of failure and a nonsurgical diagnosis, all I have left is baby steps.
The goal is that I'll understand when it's no longer appropriate to hold back. Moderation in all things. Even moderation. (Good quote, by the way, Dave.)
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Because I live in a small town on the outskirts of Alaska, I always have this sense of the smallness of civilization versus the hugeness of wilderness. But in Anchorage, a small city by most standards, the opposite feels true - civilization is bearing down and the wilderness is slipping further away. I had a whirlwind weekend trying to connect with everyone I know in the city. It seemed like one second I was meeting old names but new faces at a slide show in the Mat-Su Valley and the next I was at a random Anchorage watering hole, lapping up the gossip of a place I no longer live with a boss I no longer work for. I slept about four hours total each night and didn't work out for three days. That's right. Three days rest. By day three, I don't know that my gimp knee ever felt worse.
Now I'm back. It feels like a crazy long time lapse, when in fact it's only been a few days. I was surprised to come home and see some snow on the ground still. It seems like weeks should have passed. But I think all I need is some sleep and a good long day in grayness to snap me back to reality.
Thursday, April 19, 2007
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.
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
I had been instructed NOT TO MOVE, and to NOT TAKE DEEP BREATHS, and my concentration on that made me not only twitch involuntarily, but breathe at a rate I usually reserve for sprinting up hills. I tried to slow my breathing but NOT TAKE DEEP BREATHS, and I thought about the beach, swimming, cycling ... but for some reason my thoughts kept returning to sitting on a plane. Twitch.
The radio switched on to mumbling static, and then the radiologist said something about 15 seconds and URRRRRRRRRRMMMMMMMM ... loud buzzing jolted me out of my airline fantasy and into a state that I'd have to describe as light panic. It sounds like an extreme reaction to a very minor thing, and it was. But I couldn't shake the thought that the loud buzzing was the sound of an alien machine shooting waves of magnetic resonance or radiation or whatever they use, directly into my body. The radio only made it worse. When the machine wasn't buzzing, static voices rattled off the morning's news. URRRRRRMMMMMMMMM ... sccct scct "170 sccct died today in bombings around Baghdad" .... URRRRRRRRMMMMM URRRMMMMMM ... "Tech killer Cho Seung-Hui said in a video sccct sccct ... URRRRRRMMMMMMM."
The minutes ticked on. My muscles were so tense that I felt like I was going to roll right off the platform. Thinking about breathing wasn't helping, so I did something I haven't done since I white-knuckled the passenger's seat of a turboprop plane making its way up to 15,000 feet to outrun a big storm in southern Montana ... I started chanting the Lord's Prayer. You know "Our farther, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name." It's not even my religious background, but for some reason, it relaxes me. Yeah. I'm a nut.
But that's my MRI story. I've never dealt that well with anything medical. My sister's a registered nurse and I'm the type that gets lightheaded at the sight of blood. I'm also a bit of a technophobe. Combining the two is about guaranteed to send me into a mild psychotic episode. Especially when I'm directing all of my focus into NOT MOVING.
After my appointment, with the sun out and 50-degree clear weather, I thought I deserved to spend a better part of the afternoon relaxing on the beach and barbecuing Not Dogs with Geoff. Now I'm back to sane. Mostly.
(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 a city. 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 ice buildup. I opened the window because I thought the cool, salty breeze and sunlight would make me feel better. But it doesn't really work that way, does it? Bad moods definitely want to go and hang for a while in the dark.
Not that it was that bad. Everyone has bad days. Everyone. All the time. They're good for the soul, in the long term. I think some of my mood today stemmed from a doctor-scheduled appointment to get an MRI tomorrow. This can only be a bad thing, and here's why: If they find nothing, then I'm no better off than I am now, except for I'll never know what's wrong with me. I could just be a massive hypochondriac. And how do you recover from that? But if they find something, then that will confirm another fear of mine - well, two fears - fear of surgery and fear of the implication of wasting two whole months and then losing an entire summer. How will I forgive my lazy self? And if their findings are inconclusive, which is the most likely scenario, then not only have I wasted two whole months, and who knows how many hundreds of dollars, but I'll likely have to go on believing I'm a hypochondriac until I can plunk down a few thou for a specialist in Seattle. Wow. Getting old is fun.
So no, I'm not real excited to get an MRI. I can't make myself believe that anything that can come out of it will be good news. Why get it at all? Because life never changes through inaction.
Monday, April 16, 2007
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 enough melody to mimic complacency whilst pushing through the pain tunnel, and lyrics that won't challenge you to think too hard while you're in there.
This got me to thinking about taking up Fatty's challenge to make a hill-climbing playlist. So these are my seven songs. They are not my seven all-time songs, really, just the ones I'd put on my iPod right now, today. This list would probably be different tomorrow. I'm not sure how well these links will work. Not all of the songs had handy YouTube videos, including "Florida."
A lot of you have probably already posted your own seven-song list at Fatty's place. But feel free to send it my way. My iPod is dying for some diversity.
"Fire It Up" by Modest Mouse - "When we finally turn it over; Make a beeline towards the border; Have a drink, you've had enough."
"The Bleeding Heart Show" by The New Pornographers - "Watch 'em run, although it's the minimum, heroic."
"Wolf Like Me" by TV on the Radio - "We could jet in a stolen car; but I bet we wouldn't get too far; before the transformation takes; and bloodlust tanks; and crave gets slaked."
"What Never Dies" by Sense Field - "Some don't want to see you win; Some don't want to see you fly; Some don't want to see you live; They just want to see you."
"Looking at the World From the Bottom of a Well" by Mike Doughty - "Oh all the days; That I have run; I sought to lose that cloud that’s blacking out the sun; My train will come; Some one day soon; And when it comes I’ll ride it bound from night to noon."
"Miami 2017" by Billy Joel - Hey ... don't judge me.
Sunday, April 15, 2007
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 in the mail, I was so excited that I wore them around the house for an hour.
Also arrived recently in the mail were a couple of pairs of Ergon grips. Mr. Ergon himself sent them to me. Honestly, I was more excited about the idea of Jeff Kerkove offering to send me something than I was about the gear itself, but they do seem pretty cool. My hands regularly lose circulation and go "dead" when I ride for long stretches of time, so I'm excited to try them out. Someday.
Then, today I was struck with - in several separate instances - urgent desires to go out and buy a new seat, a new bike rack, and a short-sleeve jersey. I don't currently own even one short sleeve jersey. I need one, I reasoned, for my trip to Utah. Ha! That trip's in just over two weeks. What are the chances I'm even going to be bipedally mobile by then, let alone be up for a long enough ride to necessitate sweat-wicking technology? I'm better off spending my spare cash this week on a hair cut and a 40-ounce bottle of SPF 45, which is something I really will need for a week in Utah (but don't think merchants actually stock in Juneau.)
Even though Geoff's birthday was the other day and I didn't have any other ideas for a present, I have purposely been avoiding the local bike shop. I'm concerned I'll walk out with the latest carbon-fiber bank-account-drainer. I'm lucky that I live in a small enough town that I couldn't find a Pugsley if I wanted to. But why must eBay have such a convenient payment system? And why is Nashbar having so many great spring sales? Wait a minute ... free shipping? Must ... close ... Web ... browser. Now.
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 let that sentiment show when he describes his latest adventures to me, but sometimes I find myself tempted to turn the conversation back to baseball.
At least I still have snowshoeing, but likely only a couple more weeks worth. Rain showers strip the snowpack away like acid. April is the beginning of the dry season in Juneau, but that's definitely relative. Dry season here would be monsoon season in Utah. At least we're not having snowstorm tornadoes like the rest of the country.
I also have Folk Fest to drain me of all of my energy, and a 3 a.m. night does that well. Last night at the Alaska Hotel, I ran into a friend from Anchorage plays fiddle in an old-timey band. Her real life is filled with legislative lobbying and bar exams and "good, old-fashioned Asian discipline." But fiddling is her passion. "Folk Fest changed my life!" she screamed with startling intensity that could have been the Alaskan Smoked Porter speaking, but I think any self-restraint would have only stripped away the truth. I envied her too, because she had lifelong love where I only had a flirtatious night out.
Today, while burning my way through 90 cardio minutes at the gym with a Runner's World magazine, I read twice an article about marathoner John Kelley. In his story arc, it seems he never experienced a life half lived. He just started out strong and kept going. He's still going.
"The things we do should consume us," Kelley told the reporter. "If they don't, our lives won't have any meaning."
Friday, April 13, 2007
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 had finally ripped clean from my leg like it's been hinting at all this time. I lay crumpled on the rocks for several seconds, unsure of how to make my next move. If I got up to walk and learned I couldn't, I knew I'd be devastated. And not only that, I'd be stranded alone on a beach with the tide coming up and not a soul knew I was out there. But if I got up and learned I could still walk, I'd have a short hike and a long afternoon full of shame and regret ahead of me. Of all the fun things I could have done to unravel any progress I've made, a toddler walk on the beach would be about my last choice.
After the white streaks stopped shooting across my field of vision and my knee-jerk panic reaction subsided, I accepted the reality that I was OK. I stood up and oozed my way off the rocks at a literal rate of about 100 yards an hour. When I made it back to the safety of smooth gravel, my gait and speed returned fairly quickly back to normal. It seems that all I really did was bend my knee too far when I fell forward, and that pain I felt was just the "10" version of the normal pain I feel in other knee-bending tasks, such as pedaling a bicycle. No new damage, right? Just a little warning from the tender tissue. That's my story. I'm sticking to it.
Well. It seems I've gone off rambling about my knee again. I really intended this post to be about Folk Fest, which is an annual old-timey-and-other-acoustic-music event created to fill out a week of that dull time between winter skiing and summer fishing. Folk Fest is huge here in Juneau. I really had no idea. Half the town packs the city auditorium so tight that there's no room to dance, which is probably a good thing in my case, and countless musicians spill out in the streets, the bars, the motels - anywhere - to start their own renegade sets. We went tonight to see the headliner, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, because we heard they were the real deal. And they were. Alaskans really love their old-timey music, which always struck me as amusing because of our distance - both culturally and geographically - to rural Appalachia. But I am starting to understand the draw. This music will grab you and fling you around in leg-kicking frenzy and spit you out in an idealized world where nothing happened after 1929. I'm not going to pretend I know anything about the culture of old-timey. But I do know that it's a fun escape when it comes through town.
Also, since I'm on the subject of rambling, I wanted to say hello to all of the new people from all over the world who dropped by Thursday (thanks to Blogger for the link love.) More than 5,000. Wow. You may have even read a few posts and are probably wondering why someone would devote an entire blog to a knee injury. But there could be worse blog themes, don't you think? I mean, what's the deal with those people who pretend to have an informative regional blog and then just spend the whole time talking about their hobbies? Pathetic, really, when you think about it.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
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 and BYU students make up the bulk the trail’s regulars, it can’t exactly be listed under Xtreme. But throw in three recent college grads, a long night of partying, a sleepless 2 a.m. launch time, two frozen water bottles, six Jolly Ranchers and a single can of Red Bull, and you suddenly have something that skirts the gaping chasm of “Epic.”
I remember struggling up the ridge line at mile 7, about 5 a.m., when our silent suffering started to slip into audible abuse. After several long minutes of groans and grumbles and my comments about the brilliance of freezing water for a hike in the 35-degree chill of a September morning at 10,000 feet, we all just stopped. Cut to silence. And looked at each other. I could see in my friends’ eyes the dead-end fatigue I felt in myself. It was suggested that we turn around. I glanced up trail. The ridge was no more than a half mile away - and beyond that I imagined the wind-blasted ridge line, the strenuous scramble to the peak, and the inevitable sunrise over the Heber Valley.
And so I said, "Well, the hard part's over now. It's all mental from here." Somehow, I talked myself into believing that. And Monika and Curt, as though too tired to argue, nodded. So we marched.
At the peak, Monika - the only one smart enough to bring any sort of breakfast - shared her strange little soft cheese wedges with us before she and Curt passed out on their own respective rock ledges. I sat beside a weather tower and watched wisps of pink clouds burn away as the Wasatch Range stretched deeper into the morning. In the new clarity of daylight, I had a bewildering view of what seemed to be thousands of peaks. I wanted to climb them all. And even stranger, I thought as desperately lapped at wet ice through the narrow neck of my water bottle, is that I wanted to start that second, from that peak. I wanted to walk to the next peak, and then the next. As exhausted as I knew I was, I craved some sort of journey into the eternity I could suddenly see.
I think that's when I knew.
What's your story?
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
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 Juneau, back when I was a real baby about all the rain. But once I adapted to the whims of seafaring life, I downgraded my membership to punch passes and then barely used them. Life was good then. I got out a lot, and I fell way behind on my celebrity gossip. But now that I’ve sworn off cycling, my options are limited. It’s really best to keep my swimming down to two days a week ... at least until I chop off “that rattrap,” which is what Geoff calls my hair now. And I do need to do more weight training in order to build strength where atrophy reigns. So it’s back to hamster wheels and People magazine for me.
In the meantime, I continue to search for reasons. Back when life was good and I had no idea which body part Britney Spears shaved that week, Geoff and I actually had a couple of discussions about my one-note bicycle training. It think it was after we came home from some short cross-country ski outing. I started complaining about the various areas where I was more sore than I should be (in my ongoing effort to prove that skiing isn’t actually fun). “Well no wonder,” Geoff said. “It’s not like you ever use your feet.”
And it’s true. When I wasn’t bicycling, which was really rare, I was skiing, running on the elliptical machine or lifting weights. In fact, after snow first covered the mountains and I stopped hiking, I didn't participate in a single full-impact activity. I had been shielded from gravity since October. No wonder my knee buckled under the first sign of stress.
Now that I’m several months wiser, I’d swear my allegiance to cross training in a millisecond if I thought it could help. I realize, though, that I don’t really have a choice.
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
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 about gonzo races and the grimy athletes who compete in them is like candy to me. The more spartan and obscure, the better. Not doing any cycling of my own only fuels my fanaticism. Gwadzilla recently made an interesting observation about the state of specatorship. When a person says they "like" baseball or "like" music, it usually means they like others' baseball feats, others' music. Now, when I say I "like" cycling, I'm often thinking about events in the coming weeks that I'm not even connected to, but yet I look forward to them with a strange kind of zeal:
Arizona Trail 300, April 13: This race is still a pretty small affair, and I don't know much about it. But of all the mountain bike races out there, I'm most interested in ones that follow a multi-day, self-supported format.
Trans Iowa, April 28-29: I get a big kick out the fact that what seems to be the most popular event in grassroots distance mountain-bike racing happens to cross the state of Iowa. Now I've only glanced Iowa - barely - on the Interstate, so I'm in no position to judge. But ... Iowa? That anomaly alone makes this race very intriguing.
Kokopelli Trail Race, May 19: As far as I understand it, this race one of Mike Curiak's inventions. He's since passed the torch to others, which is just as well in these no-fee, no-support, no-podium events. This is one of the shortest of the gonzo events. At "only" 142 miles, it seems like it would be a good introduction into self-supported endurance racing.
Grand Loop Race, June 1: Another multi-day race. This one sounds intense. Not only is it 360 miles with about 48,000 feet of climbing, but racers attempt it in the stifling heat of the desert in June. It bills itself as one of the last, true, pure wilderness events, and I buy that assessment. Dave Harris is considering attacking this route solo, sometime in May, away from the already-small crowds and oh-so-subtle hype of the race itself. I like this kind of thinking, because it reaffirms my belief that the largest and most daunting events transcend competition into something else entirely.
Great Divide Race, June 15: This has to be the grand-daddy of all North American mountain bike races, although with more experience, I might be inclined to argue that the Ultrasport 1,100-mile race to Nome is even harder. Either way, GDR is the real deal. The amazing part is, there are 17 racers who are actually planning on attempting it. Some familiar names on the roster, too. The smart money's probably on Pete Basinger to be the first to Mexico, although Jay Petervay, Carl Hutchings and others I haven't even heard of will definitely put the hammer down. This should be a race to remember. I'm personally really looking forward to watching Dave Nice tackle the trail on a fixie of all things. These people are crazy! That's what makes these events so fun to watch.
There's probably a whole slew of other races that are still outside my radar, but if I stay off my own bike much longer, I'm sure I'll find them soon enough.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
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 might help; my weak and reluctant legs don't even seem to want to balance the bike upright. And there's that odd feeling. That disconnected feeling. That precursor to burning and stiffness that makes me want to toss any bicycle within view - stationary or otherwise - directly into the sea. My odometer registers 1.7 miles, and I'm fearful it came too soon.
But I resolve to strike my knee from my thoughts, because there’s a difference between pain and fear, and I don’t want to be directed by fear. Not thinking about my knee is easy, though, because my whole body feels so strange ... distant. My quads ache and my hands and feet tingle against the constant pressure. I shake my wet mittens until drops of water fling out, but digit circulation is gone for good. Motions that used to feel natural are now foreign and difficult; and I’m discouraged by the realization that my out-of-shape regression is complete.
I squint against the rain and wonder how this once-familiar route has changed in two months. Winter still lingers in the blackened snow along the shoulder, and fall remains on strands of rotten moss that drip from spruce branches. Summer drifts in through strings of sunlight beyond the clouds, and it makes me think that maybe nothing has changed since February, or November, or August even. Juneau moves so gradually through its seasons that they’re nearly indistinguishable; but there's something encouraging in notion that I haven’t been left behind.
As I feel less out of place, comfort creeps in. I spin these circles not against my better judgement, but toward it. As my muscles relax, the chill of 41 degrees and raining begins to sink in. There is no refuge from the cold at 12 mph, so I amp it up. It feels better to pedal hard, as though I could push bad blood out of my system. There's ease in movement that I didn't remember, comfort in speed that I didn't expect. So the miles spin by more quickly, less fearfully, as they did back in February, and November, and August. There is always time for regret and second guessing; but there's timelessness in the notion of letting go and moving forward.
I reach the boat ramp at mile 9 and look across the water for the first time in two months, shrouded in clouds as it always is, landscape unchanged behind a translucent sheet of gray. There is travel I take for granted and there is travel that I cherish. And this, on a wet April day along my routine training route, may be one of my favorite rides yet.
Friday, April 06, 2007
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 tolerance for heat.
Geoff took me out to Fernando's to celebrate my first "complete" (meaning I kept both feet on the pedals the entire time) bike ride since Susitna. The salsa was the clincher, though, because I was definitely feeling a little down. I had only planned to ride 5-10 miles, but in the back of my mind was hoping for longer. Before this afternoon, part of me was convinced my injured phase had nearly ended. Part of me feared that I had made no progress at all. The reality is, as it always is, somewhere neatly in between. This is progress, though. I think I count now four outdoor rides in six weeks. The first, I only made it 50 feet without pain. The next, about 500 yards. The third, just over a mile. And this, pain only right at the end, mile 7. I can say that I am becoming better at judging when harshness is approaching, and turning my butt around accordingly.
Improvement? Yes. Miracle cure? No. It's all in good time. And at least I know now that if cycling doesn't work out, I'll always have death salsa.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
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 going on. I think my physical therapist believes my original injury is well on its way to being mended, and I agree with her. The time for recliner chairs and potato chips has passed. Now my routine is all about strength building.
She gave me this long latex band that I'm supposed wrap around my feet and then use it for resistance as I sidestep down the hall. As I was trying it out at the office, I caught another glimpse of my reflection - framed by that malodorous neon green piece of rubber - and the thought crossed my mind that this may be the most asinine thing I have ever attempted. Downright silly. What’s the point of it all?
It’s a good question, really. I never pictured myself as the personality type that would go sniveling into physical therapy at age 27 with a minor injury. No, my strong pioneer Homer family ethic teaches me that if you can walk, and you can work, then you’re fine. So you can’t bike? Then you don’t bike. Quit your whining and go back to pick’n cucumbers. (I know, Dad, I wasn't the one that had to pick cucumbers. But it’s a good family allegory nonetheless)
So why do this work? I generally carry enough optimism to believe that time will bring most things around on their own, if I let them be. And I’m not exactly loving the two hours at the gym on a sunny, warm day. Or the silly little exercises with their unnatural positions and dead weights. I don't have to spend my day this way - I'm certainly fine otherwise. And yet, as long as I'm not riding, I greedily welcome this torture lite.
Interesting how things that are so obviously optional can start to move beyond that. There was once I time when I didn't ride bicycles, and time marched forward, and I was happy. Then I introduced cycling into my routine, coddled it, built it, wove it through the rest of my life. Now I can't let it go. Cycling has, in some ways, ingrained itself into who I am. I may be as simple as that. And so I fight.
And because I didn't want to overdo it, and because I had an extra hour to kill due to the whole election thing, and because if I spend too much time sitting at home I start to go nuts on the cookie supply, I went to the pool and swam a mile. It took 47 minutes. I'm getting a little (so very little) bit faster. I'm going to buy a swim cap and something that will hold my nostrils shut so I can cut through the water like a normal person.
Thank you to everyone who commented on my bike fit dilemma. These comments have been incredibly helpful. Not only have people provided good suggestions, but they've also helped keep me closer to the surface of reality when I wake up surrounded in sunlight and think "Today's the day to ride for four hours!" So thank you, again.
Monday, April 02, 2007
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 posthole overextension 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 strengthening exercises and staring in bewilderment at my bikes. Did they really betray me? I liked it so much better when I was the idiot that injured myself.
And the bigger question ... if I do recover from all of this, can I trust them? How can I really know that it's not just going to start all over again? Will every mile I pedal be another notch in my inevitable decay? Is there a way to get my bicycles ... you know ... tested for this?
I'm feeling a bit flummoxed by all of this. But at least now I have an excuse to sit on the couch with a pillow between my knees and call it "exercising."
Sunday, April 01, 2007
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 so alive.
I was only about an hour up the canyon before trail use had dropped off so dramatically that I had to stomp my own path through crusty snow. I turned on iPod and turned around, pounding a little faster through the postholes until I made it back to the main trail. "The Bleeding Heart Show" by The New Pornographers started playing. It's the kind of song you don't even really listen to until the chorus suddenly erupts in a string of joyful "Hey-Las." I don't know what happened. I broke out in a sprint.
Even beyond the music, I could hear my steps breaking across the snow ... crunchcrunchcrunch. No thoughts about bikes or knees or active recovery. Just running because running feels good sometimes, because the icefield looms overhead and you are alone in front of it, because you have nowhere to go and yet everywhere to be. I didn't stop until I was back at the trailhead, about two miles from the last step I had walked.
I still feel like my body is trying to tell me good is good, but trust and truth are two very different things. I go to PT on Monday. I don't think I'll tell them about the running, but I do think I'll keep my options open.