Saturday, June 30, 2007

Perpetuation

Date: June 29
Mileage: 36.2
June mileage: 598.2
Temperature upon departure: 61

So Geoff just casually announced to me today that he is planning to line up for the Great Divide Race next June.

And, um, I think he's serious.

And, um, I think I believe him. It's one thing to say such a thing a year in advance. It's quite another when Geoff says such a thing a year in advance.

And I thought I was climbing way out on a limb by announcing in the midst of a knee injury that I'd like to ride in the Ultrasport race to McGrath next February. Clearly, I have no concept of ambition. That, and Geoff has no concept of prudence.

I'm not sure how I feel about his intentions. On one hand, I'm excited, because I know him and I know it's something he could excel at, even with the odds stacked against him. I also know that he would put his whole heart and soul into it and be gone for weeks, if not months, to prepare for and participate in the GDR. That should probably bother me ... that some dumb 'ol bike race is more important to him than hanging out with me, or that some dumb 'ol bike race is more important to him than building a "real" life. But I don't really feel that way. When I think about Geoff racing the GDR, I first feel empathy, and then envy. I think our relationship works because we're equally afflicted with the same misguided passions ... and equally self-involved.

June 2008 is a long way away. But I know - from the first time I thought it would be "interesting" to move to Alaska, or "fun" to ride 100-mile winter bike race on the Iditarod trail - that these ideas have a way of becoming self-perpetuating. It will be interesting to see what the next 12 months bring. But I already suspect (with relief, but also disappointment) that it's not going to be a mortgage and ceremony where someone smashes cake in my face.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Whew

Date: June 28
Mileage: 22.3
June mileage: 562
Temperature upon departure: 67

What a week. I feel like I've been locked in a dead sprint since the morning we left for Whitehorse a week ago. Every second of that "vacation" was about moving moving moving. Then, to make up for it, every second since has been about working working working. So I sit at my desk stewing in a steambath of my own sweat because I work in a building with no air conditioning - which would never matter, if the sun would just go down once in a while. The deadline crunch weighs down when I have nothing but fumes left. My vision is blurry. My mind is oatmeal. And, to top it all off, my legs and arms have turned into a colorful cacophony of scratches and bruises ... most from collisions I don't even remember.

The best one yet happened the night before last. Unable to sleep in my bed, I was thrashing to and fro on the floor, nearly unconscious, when I somehow kicked the iron base of the bed with a force I didn't even know I was capable of. After several eternal seconds of writhing and whining, I woke up enough to realize that I hadn't shattered my foot. But by then, the adrenaline surge had taken over. I was up for several more hours, reading New Yorkers and watching dawn grow brighter and brighter. It's a terrible biological joke ... the more fatigued I am, the harder it is for me to rest.

So I've been taking my breaks on the bike. When there are a dozen other things I should be doing - grocery shopping, laundry, dishes, unpacking - every pedal stroke is like a deep breath into a fog of soothing sea sounds. There are days when I can meditate really well while I ride, zoned in to ebb and flow and nothing else. I hit my destination and remember almost nothing that came before, but I feel oddly relaxed and rested. You would think that kind of feeling would come from puttering along out there, but that never seems to be the case. I check my speedometer and usually find that I ride faster than average when I'm zenned in. I think this is the case because when I'm conscientious, I do entirely too much thinking about headwinds and hills.

And I think about those guys out there pedaling the Great Divide route, and how even at my hottest, sleepiest, more stressful part of the day, they still have it so much harder than me. I think about that old cliche about how the worst day on a bike is better than the best day at the office, and I laugh because that's so completely untrue. I laugh, and I feel peace. And I ride.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

T-shirt not included

I am feeling much better about my knee today. I put in an hour of interval "running" on the elliptical trainer and didn't even notice the kickback. The soreness seems to be fading almost as quickly as the after-ride fatigue. I think I just had to vent a little yesterday. It just wouldn't be my blog if I didn't complain about my knee.

I also spent a decent part of the morning pouring over the logistics of the Yukon Gold Ultra. It's a 100-mile mountain bike or trail run held in Whitehorse at the end of July. I had looked over elevation profiles and maps and rules and was nearly definite on wanting to do it until I came across the price.

$400 CDN. Ouch.

Triple-digit entry fees seem to be the norm for most ultra-biking events. I can't say I blame organizers. There's a huge amount of work involved in putting these races together - marking out dozens of miles of trail, positioning volunteers, enticing participants with T-shirts and decorative mugs. The price is likely justified, but it definitely puts events like the Yukon Gold Ultra out of my reach.

If I really wanted to ride a summertime hundie, I feel like I could map out my own course, support my own self, and be happier with the experience in the long run. I can see this becoming my longterm trend. I think as I become more immersed into the world of endurance cycling, I will find myself wading further from organized "races." This seems to be a habit for a lot of people - evident in the recent explosion of popularity in grassroots endurance rides: Kokopelli Trail, Arizona Trail, Kaibab Monstercross, Grand Loop, Great Divide. All self-supported. All only loosely organized. All free.

These events had their fair share of growing pains this year, with government regulation filtering in, fines, and participants haggling about the "rules" of the ride. I think the result of this is that some of the events are going to blow up into "real" races, with thousand-dollar entry fees. And some will slip further underground. I'm beginning to think I'd like to follow the underground crowd.

As for planning (and training for) the rest of my summer, I'd still like to ride the loop between Haines and Skagway (especially now that I have driven the Skagway-to-Whitehorse leg and am more terrified of it than ever.) I may try to head out to Anchorage in September for the Soggy Bottom 100 if I can swing the travel costs (though as I recall, with a $60 entry fee, this event is more reasonable than most.)

But beyond that, I like knowing that the sky's the limit. I'd love to plan a long mountain bike ride in the Whitehorse area. But I don't have to hold myself to the confines of the Yukon Gold Ultra if I'm willing to do my own legwork. And for $400, I could definitely afford to do a little legwork. It's hard to be self-motivated. But at the same time, I believe it also makes accomplishments more rewarding. I can see myself perched on a ridgeline in a frigid downpour, gasping for breath and trying to choke down a Clif Bar, all the while knowing that if I just turned around right there, nobody would care. There would be no DNF attached to my name if I quit; no win if I continued. To move forward in those conditions - cold, tired and absolutely anonymous - would, I think, be a great test of mental strength. It builds the kind of confidence you can keep in the vault for years.

And there are so many options out there for that kind of adversity. After all, $400 will buy a decent plane ticket. (Or a ferry ride to Prince of Wales Island. Hundreds of miles of abandoned logging roads in Southeast Alaska. Anyone else game? I could name the event the "Rain and Tears Trail Race.")

I still think it's going to be a great summer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Afterthoughts

Date: June 26
Mileage: 13.2
June mileage: 539.7
Temperature upon departure: 66

Today was a downer day for sports fans. Three guys dropped out of the Great Divide Race, including the only two I've actually met - Dave Nice and Pete Basinger. I know this kind of thing is a given in a race as difficult as this, but now I feel like I have nothing left to look forward to in the GDR. I guess the way in which that superhuman JayP is calmly chipping away at the record is pretty exciting. Still, I'm a bit bummed. Le sigh.

This morning I felt fairly strong, so I thought I'd head out for the obligatory "recovery" ride to see how all the parts held up. I was thinking back to the 24 Hours of Light and how that ride couldn't have gone more perfectly for me. The highs were many and the lows were nonexistent. If there had been any low points during the event, I know I would have instantly used my bum knee as a reason to drop out. But the low points never came. No muscle fatigue. No saddle sores. No stomach pain. Not even a decent enough crash to give me some writhing time on the ground to think of all the better things I could be doing to burn up an afternoon. There was nothing to even stop me beyond a vague idea of an injury caused by overuse that could likely be re-injured by overuse. But at at what point in the healing process does conservative become over-conservative? When does nurturing become babying? When do reckless leaps of faith become necessary steps forward?

In the day following the ride, I spent some time considering that precarious line. Because at some point, I'm going to want to be competitive, and I'm going to have to make a decision to ride long and push hard. After Sunday, I became convinced that I was ready to take that plunge. But today's recovery ride has me backpedalling again. After 13 easy road miles, I have a lot more soreness now that I ever had during, before, or after the 95 miles of Saturday. Maybe those 13 miles were the proverbial straw on the mountain biker's back? Or maybe this is just my body's way of saying that I wasn't quite ready for 12 continuous hours of Light. Something to think about as I hobble to bed tonight. Like I said, kind of a downer day for sports fans ... at least, for this sports fan.

But an e-mail full of random photos from Whitehorse definitely perked me up. Here's a few, in no particular order, courtesy of Jen:

The Vomit Comet. If you rode this spray-painted single-speed beauty with a blow-up doll mounted on back, your lap counted as two.

Anthony and Ben model their ultra racing gear.

Anthony sports his homemade hydration helmet.

Geoff and Brian head out for the last lap of the day.

The illustrious cowbell.

The downhill free-riders prep for some sunset madness.

Antonio was gunning for the combo best shirt/heaviest bike award.

Geoff scarfs down some midnight pizza. Ben becomes tired just looking at him.

Me and Chuck after our respective "last" laps (although I technically rode one more.) These are the 1 a.m. faces of people who know the pain is over and now it's time to really let loose.

Brian from Anchorage passes off the baton to Whitehorse Ben and his noble steed, Donkey.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Best ... 24 ... ever

Date: June 23
Mileage: 95.4
June mileage: 536.5
Temperature upon departure: 18 C ?

So, I have a new theory. I haven't had much time to think about it, as Geoff and I walked off the race course at 1 p.m., took a quick shower, drove two and a half hours to Skagway and caught the 4:30 p.m. ferry to Juneau ... but I think I've figured out the perfect recipe for a unfailingly successful 24 hour race. First, bike like a maniac for 12 hours. Then party like a rock star for 12 hours. Seriously, you can't go wrong. Of course, Geoff thinks you should just bike like a maniac for 24 hours, net nearly 200 rough dirt miles and break the course record. But what does he know?

It also helps if, on the way to your race, you catch a motivating glimpse of a Yukon Cow. Bears and those northern Canada skeeters will keep you moving fast ...

So the 24 Hours of Light. Where even to begin with a race like this? Within one hour of arriving in Whitehorse, we had met up with the captain of a team-of-eight-minus-one - the "Magnificent Seven" - were offered a place to spend the night, made friends with a fun group from Anchorage and were served delicious tuna burgers and grilled vegetables at a complete stranger's barbecue. The next day, when we arrived at the race start, I met up with more Whitehorse locals and walked around looking at their bikes, talking to them about their trails, marveling in the dry air and tiny spruce trees piercing terrain that's literally webbed with hundreds of miles of singletrack. Within 18 hours of arriving in town, I was already forming plans to sneak over the border in the middle of the night so I could take up residence as an illegal alien in the Yukon.

The race course itself was rough and fun. The official course description called for 12.5-kilometer laps with 300 meters of climbing per lap. I measured 7.9 miles per lap, and 300 meters converts to just less than 1,000 feet. Ouch. Tough, too, because nearly all of the climbing was on sandy double track and most of the dropping was on tightly-wound singletrack. Either way, it's pretty slow going for a technically challenged gimp like me. I hooked trees a couple of times and body checked many others. But fun, so fun. And physically, I felt amazing. I made frequent mental notes about how my bad knee was feeling and, despite being relatively out of shape, wasn't prompted to worry about much else. I just kept a really comfortable pace and only had to endure a health lecture from Geoff every three laps, which is how often he lapped me.

As to doing a bunch of loop-de-loops ... I really don't mind. I still had a great time. How many 24-hour loop races net you views like this? This picture was taken during my "Midnight" lap by the way - 11:35 p.m.

Midnight also was the time I hit my "best case scenario." I promised myself if I rode for most of the first 12 hours, I would definitely not ride any more. As it was, 12 hours more than doubled the most time I have spent in the saddle since my knee injury. Not a smart jump, and definitely not smart to go any higher. But honestly, I was bummed when midnight came around. I was feeling great, and eating well, and generally keeping my pace of 1-hour laps with a 10-minute break between each one. But my knee was starting to feel sore. So I stopped, loaded up the ice, and took up residence with the "Magnificent Seven." A coffee cart in the parking lot was dolling out free drinks to your heart's desire, and I went on a caffeine bender that filled most of the so-called "dark" hours (which is when the orange light of the sunset/sunrise hovers on the horizon, and nonlocals realize why the only rule in the 24 Hours of Light is "No Headlights Allowed.") In that time, we munched on soup and bread and collected free schwag, danced to thumping 80s/techno mixes and clanged a cowbell as wig-clad racers flowed through.

At 3:30 a.m., the party was winding down. I still had a couple of gallons of lattes to move through my system, so I committed with a team racer from Anchorage to ride one "sunrise" loop, to compliment by last "sunset" loop and make it an even 12. I thought at the end of that lap I'd have a dirt century. But at that time of night, I really can't do math.

The final lap was amazing. After three hours of rest and soup and lattes, I felt like I had the ability to ride out and conquer the entire Yukon. I was soaked in late-night delirium, pumping and mixture of endorphins and caffeine and feeling no pain. I rolled onto a long stretch of singletrack that follows a steep ridgeline and looked out over the river valley. The pink reflection of dawn floated over tree tops and blazed gold in the still water. The landscape was bathed in light, as it had been and seemed like it always would be. It's hard to describe the feeling of moments like that once they've been lost to the haze of sleep and memory. I do know that I reached for my camera, and then for some reason thought better of it. Maybe I sensed that any image of that moment would only disappoint me.

I finally did pull out my camera to take the clock view of the end of my last lap. I have no idea how it ended up being nearly 5 a.m. I felt like a rode that last lap in 20 minutes, I felt so awake and a alive. But that's what a 4 a.m. high will do to you ... it will make hours seem like minutes, whether you're circling yet another loop or standing awestruck on a ridgeline shrouded in hypnotizing light.


I knew even before I returned at 4:47 a.m. the lap 12 was going to have to be it for me. My knee was stiffening up. There was no doubt about that. And once I stopped for sleep, I knew all of the effort of the afternoon was going to catch up with my out-of-shape body. Plus, I had no choice but to stop for sleep, because I was the designated driver. Still, so many voices in my mind just kept saying "Go! Go! Go!" There was so little left to say no. Some people have a crack habit. I have a bicycle habit. But we all suffer and sing for the same reasons.

As it was, I had a restless nap and was back up at 8 a.m. to continue cheering on Geoff. He was riding an amazing race - which I'm sure he'll describe on his blog soon enough. But it was his first mountain bike race - endurance or otherwise - after spending most of the summer training to run what is essentially a wilderness marathon. But in that bright Yukon air, he was inspired to ride 25 laps ... just shy of 200 miles and 25,000 feet of climbing ... and capture what many in the Whitehorse crowd believe is the course record. I finished with 12 laps ... about 95 miles and 12,000 feet of climbing. Despite only riding half of the time, I still won my class. There was only one other female racing solo, so it was a bit of a shallow victory. But I will take the win, and all of the beauty and good energy that came before it.

Now, 12 hours later, my knee has loosened up considerably and feels OK. Driving up and over White Pass at 3 p.m. was by far the most painful and difficult part of the entire endeavour. I'm still riding a bit of an endurance high and it feels pretty good. I made a bunch of new friends and maybe someday I will talk them into shielding me from Canadian immigration officers when I decide to skip the border. But until then, I will always have the 24 Hours of Light.

Friday, June 22, 2007

The longest day

"I'm an American on the Canadian Shield
And I'm putting down roots in your frozen fields
It gets cold but you feel so good to be a stranger in town
Where you're understood" - Sam Roberts

The sun rose today at 3:51 a.m. It set at 10:08 p.m. More than 18 hours of full daylight, six more of varying levels of twilight, but the day doesn’t really feel that long. It will this weekend.

I spent the morning prepping my bike, organizing my gear, debating whether or not I’m going to bring a frilly dress to wear during the late-night loops. I’m taking a minimalist mantra with the 24 Hours of Light - minimal effort, that is - so every second spent trying to pry rusted parts off my snow bike and not reading GDR updates felt like an indulgent waste of time. But I guess it is important that my mountain bike have some sort of headlight mounted on it, despite promises that there's no need (I know twilight can get dark 'neath the black spruce shadows.) Also better if I don't continue to ride on the worst seat I own. It wasn't much, but I was working slow enough that I had still wasn't done by the time I left for work.

Geoff has been pressing me about what I’m going to eat during the race in Whitehorse. I don’t really know and kind of like not knowing. I’m curious to see if I can make a go of the provided race foods, be it French fries with gravy or those ketchup-flavored potato chips (you know, Canadian food.) But just in case, I have a stash of 10 Power Bars, 10 “Finding Nemo” fruit snack baggies, and some turkey jerky. I’m totally prepared.

Geoff also has been pressing me to form a “best-case scenario” plan. This would be my set plan to stop myself at a certain point should I by some miracle make it through more than several laps and still feel as amped as a roller derby star on speed. Truthfully, I don’t have a plan because the best-case scenario has drifted far from my thoughts. I’m too busy limping on the wrong knee to be worried about the right one. I’m vaguely aware of forecasts for thunderstorms and rain and cold and honestly, I hope they come true. They’ll give Geoff and his Juneau training a real advantage, and I have some New Yorker magazines I’ve been meaning to catch up on. I’m totally prepared.

But I think the most important thing about keeping my preparations on the pseudo level is that I’m completely at ease right now. Last year - just about exactly a year ago - I was nauseated with anxiety for days before the 24 Hours of Kincaid. It was an unnerving state, because Kincaid was my “C” race and the one I thought would be the easiest (in some ways, it was.) Still, it was 24 hours on a bicycle, an idea I would have never been able to even wrap my head around if it wasn’t for a fairly arduous Susitna 100. I had a vague idea that I could ride the duration of the race, but not fast, and I was sick with the kind of performance anxiety that dictates that you must do something badly in order to succeed at all.

Then I lined up at the start. I took an early wrong turn, had to backtrack nearly a mile, and ended up chasing the back of the pack. Kincaid was a tightly-wound 10.5-mile loop, made mostly of steep gravel pitches and teeth-chattering drops over rocks and roots. My heart rate was through the roof and I was sick to my stomach by mile 6. It was about then that something clicked. I was trying too hard. I was taking the race too seriously. Did it really matter that there was no one behind me? I had 24 hours to get it right. So I calmed my breathing, slowed my stroke, and rode my way to fifth place. Overall. Top third. I had made peace with my inner turtle. All was sublime.

So now I head into the 24 Hours of Light a three-legged turtle (well, more like two; it’s too bad I don’t have one of those bikes you can pedal with your arms.) I definitely don’t have any expectations for myself because I didn’t train, didn’t plan, and haven't even healed completely from my injury(s).

So my best-case scenario? It’s that I’m even able to ride at all. I’d like to keep it that way. The rest is just detail.

Wish me luck. And some pictures for the weekend:

Another view of Nugget Falls. I think the falls themselves are more striking without the glacier in the photo.

I have to file this one under my "Sometimes I have way too much fun with the self timer" folder.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I am not my bike commute

Date: June 20
Mileage: 36.3
June mileage: 441.1
Temperature upon departure: 53

It’s time for me to admit my secret shame.

I don’t bike commute to work.

I bike commute to a lot of other things. Barbecues. Errands. To get my sushi fix. Shopping (and I’m still trying to figure out a good way to haul a 36-pack of Diet Pepsi the five miles from Costco.)

But not to work. It’s three miles from my home. I ride right by the building every time I head to the Mendenhall Valley (which is often.) Still, I haven’t been able to cowboy up and straddle all of the obstacles that make riding to work and back on daily basis a mounting inconvenience.

I am so ashamed.

When I started riding again last month, I decided I was going to start working on the logistics that would allow me to phase out my car. Today I made a dry run to see what a typical bike commuting day would be like.

First of all, I planned to do a bit of extra riding beforehand and then meet a friend in the valley. Because I wasn’t going to make it home between these plans, I packed up my camelbak with everything I’d need for the ride and work - water, bike lock, mittens and a coat because it looked like it was going to rain. After that, I was barely able to wedge in my work shoes. So all of my work clothes - business casual, no less - had to be bunched into a plastic grocery sack and stuffed in a messenger bag, which I then tied to the Camelbak. (I can not wear messenger bags the way they’re intended. They always swing in front. I don’t know how commuters do it.)

So with that awkward setup, I set out for a fairly easy spin north, riding with the wind and amping up my usual average mph. It did rain a little but not hard. I had mostly dried out by noon. But in the time crunch, I didn’t have a chance to eat and soon it was time to sprint to work. Had to crank it up a notch to make it by 1 p.m., no time to stop, locked up my bike and skated into the office in my bike shoes. I took a quick paper towel bath in the restroom and loaded up with the deodorant I was carrying, but after 33 miles I really should take a shower. Unfortunately, the closest available one is at my gym, which is two miles from my office and less than a mile from my house anyway. If I was going to go to all that trouble, I’d just go home. And then I’d be back where I started.

So maybe I smell. My coworkers wouldn’t tell me ... I know they’d just lie if I did stink. I did ask. But I also had that no lunch problem. I bought a soda from the vending machine and ate the ancient Clif Bar in my camelbak, along with a baggie of fruit snacks and a granola bar that I had in my desk. Lunch of champions. Now I have to wedge out a long enough break to bike home for dinner. If I can’t, it’ll be a vending machine dinner.

I do have a few kinks to work out in this whole bicycle commuter thing.

But I guess it’s not that bad, in the end. At least, it won’t be bad until the rainy season really kicks road grit into full gear. Those will be some epic paper towel baths.

Addendum: So I did find the time to bike home for dinner. I pedaled up to the first intersection and passed a woman who was sitting on the curb next to an overturned bike, looking dejected. I asked her what was wrong, and she told me that her chain had fallen off and she was trying to get ahold of her boyfriend. "Oh I can fix that for you," I said, and did, getting only the smallest amount of grease on my index fingers in the process. I crossed the street feeling like a hero, but when I came to the bike path I mindlessly tried to make the impossible 25-degree-angle turn required to jump on it without stopping. Realizing my misjudgement only when I had essentially stopped moving, I toppled over before I could click out of my pedals. I took an Ergon Grip right to the stomach, instantly making me feel nauseated and out of breath. Those things may be comfy for hands, but they pack a mean punch. Also, I bashed a fist-sized goose egg into my left (good) knee. Now it's all stiff. My good knee. Just in time for a 24-hour bike race this weekend. Misadventures in commuting continue ...

Monday, June 18, 2007

Choices

Date: June 18
Mileage: 25.1
June mileage: 404.8
Temperature upon departure: 49

Yesterday I penciled in a weightlifting session at the gym and this morning I scratched it out. Instead, I chose to go out for yet another bike ride. I chose to go for a ride because my eyelids felt as heavy as my legs. I chose to go for a ride because I should be “tapering” for whatever “race” I may be registered for this weekend. I chose to go for a ride because it was 49 degrees out. I chose to go for a ride because it was raining.

But I chose it, so therefore I’m free.

I moved against the wind at a decent clip, fighting my way north in a barrage of rainwater that didn’t concern me, with a slight chill that didn’t affect me. I chose the rainwater. I chose the chill. I chose the subtle pangs of muscle fatigue. I had nothing left to fear.

Beyond me was a world I cannot chose, so it is more fascinating than anything I can imagine. Drapes of clouds drooped over the mountains. Heavily weighted by water vapor, the clouds fell beneath treetops and rose again in swirling puffs of gray. The view was strikingly similar to that of a forest on fire, spewing streams of smoke into a hazy sky.

I wavered on the pedals a moment, only because I remembered the way the mountains burned. When we were kids we would mash our fixed-gear Huffy’s all the way to the top of the highest neighborhood street, where an unobstructed view of Lone Peak revealed the source of the brown smog, and it choked out the horizon. Smoke rose from rows of charred brush. It was dull gray like the overcast sky, but in spots it was as black as our magic-maker-colored fingernails. The air smelled toxically sweet, like barbecue-flavored potato chips gone horribly wrong, or the time Andrea stuck a Barbie in the oven, just to prove that things melt. We’d crinkle our noses and lick our lips to taste the carbon, and we’d gasp as faraway wisps of fire stabbed at the air. We’d say it was ugly but we knew it was beautiful, with its crimson-filtered sunsets and flames that glowed orange in the blackest part of night.

Even long after we stopped riding our bikes, and bought beater cars and moved to the city, we’d still drive to the benches and sit for hours, just to watch the mountains burn.

Now the wildfires are far away, replaced by a world cold and drenched in natural flame retardant. The air smells sweet like springtime, with earth doused in moss and lupine. But the image remains.

Will I ever chose to live in the desert again?

Will I ever chose to not ride a bicycle again?

Will I ever have it taken away from me again?

I think I may be destined for it all. But beauty will always be a choice.


(I realize I basically took this exact same photo yesterday. But today there were fewer boats, more distinct reflections, and otherworldly blue light on the glacier - which didn't really register in the image, but just the same ...)

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Lead legs

Date: June 17
Mileage: 35.4
June mileage: 379.7
Temperature upon departure: 54

Shortly after heading out for a ride this morning, I noticed a sensation that I haven't experienced in months: sluggish strokes, blood pumping like peanut butter, invisible weights wrapped around my shins ... lead legs.

Sure, it meant I was going to have a rough morning. But beyond that, I was pretty excited about the development. Lead legs without knee pain mean I have finally hit a point in recovery where I can tire out my muscles without overtaxing my joint. That they were tired out at the beginning of the day means I've been riding too much overall, but still ... that's training! Actual training. Oh happy, oh joy.

Truthfully, I haven't had any major knee pain since just before the calendar turned over to June. Weight training and stretching finally earned me the range of motion I need to turn pedals, and since then, it's just been a matter of doing so. My recent mileage spike might make it seem like I've gone trigger happy. But in reality, I've just used cycling to replace my menagerie of lower-impact cardio exercises (indoor swimming and the elliptical machine ... who wouldn't want to replace that?) My overall activity has only increased ... well ... it hasn't quite doubled. Actually, it's a fair amount lower than double. Still, I do deserve the lead legs.

Of course I'm not fully recovered yet. I'd be an idiot to believe that I am. During my quad stretches, I still can't pull my right heel all the way to my butt without some pain. The invisible barrier still springs up when I walk down stairs. But I am so, so close.

(The ski resort is one of the few places on a summer Sunday I can go to be alone.)

Now that I've made my health case, this is the part of the blog entry in which I admit that I just signed up for the solo female category of the 24 Hours of Light. I mulled my different options, including not riding at all, and decided that I'd have the most fun if I had the freedom to decide when (and whether) to ride.

I know it sounds crazy. But you know, despite the implications of a 24-hour race, there's nothing in the race rulebook that stipulates that you have to ride straight through those 24 hours. You could ride for four. Or eleven. Or one. That's the beauty of a race against time. Everyone's a finisher. (Not unlike life itself, one might say.)

I feel like I should do something special, like wear a costume or commit to only eating Lucky Charms, just to illustrate my true intentions with this race. Any ideas?

And despite the voices of reason and common sense, I honestly believe that my worst worry will be lead legs.

Biking with Geoff

Date: June 16
Mileage: 30.7
June mileage: 344.3
Temperature upon departure: 65

Geoff and I both spend a lot of time cycling, but rarely together. There are several of reasons for this. Like many people, our schedules and abilities only brush together in thin strands. He works afternoons; I work evenings. He's training hard for serious races; I'm still leery about laying hard on the cranks. Geoff has technical experience that stretches back to the days when I still believed 10-speeds were the end-all of cycling; I ... well ... I'm still focused on keeping that whole crank-turning thing together.

So we have our different paces. We have our different priorities. He wanted to ride 50 miles. I wanted to be at work by 2 p.m. But like all those couples engaged in a constant struggle between ESPN and The Food Network, we make it work. He turns the volume down a bit, and I pretend that the joys of technical singletrack aren't terribly overrated (After all, we're only riding loops over the footprint of a melting glacier, not traversing the Rocky Mountains.) And as he ever more gently urges me to try cleaning a log I've already nearly endoed over, I'm definitely thinking, "we should do this more often."

Not that we're really that incompatible cycling together. I guess I just think it's funny that we have any differences at all, when we're both overzealous about the exact same thing. It's like sharing the same religion, going to the same church, sitting in the exact same pew, listening to the same sermon, and envisioning two different rewards. He's thinking "Go to Heaven." I'm thinking "Stay out of Hell."

But when we waver long enough to work our way to middle ground, we find ourselves riding together, here.

(I don't know why these pictures are so blown out. I think I'm not the only one overwhelmed by all of this clear-sky sunlight.)


(At first glance, this picture is boring. But I really like the distinct layers of green hues.)

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Draw'ring

This time of year, by the time I crawl into bed, the sun is already on its way back up. This means I have sunlight blazing in my face for nearly the entire span of time I'm attempting to sleep. My summertime insomnia is back in all of its hazy glory; combined with a recent increase in activity, which also wreaks havoc with my internal clock. But being sleep-deprived is not the end of the world, and it does make for some interestingly dreamlike mornings.

Like this morning, I could not stop thinking about Equus. It's a play I went to see with Geoff and friends last night. It was by far the most graphic play I have ever attended; but its message was equally haunting - the tortured psychologist, who has nearly gone mad over the enlightenment that life is meaningless without passion, in the end realizes that passion itself is a hopeless pursuit. Heavy stuff. I chewed on it for a while as I prepared to go hiking, and for some reason - at the last minute - decided to throw a sketch pad and pens in my pack to do some drawing.

It was a strange idea, and a definite diversion from my usual hiking habits. I like to go as far as I can as fast as I can without stopping much. I like the idea of covering more ground and pushing for a destination rather than lingering on dewdrop-drenched spider webs and sprigs of grass. But that was the idea I had for today. I was going to stop, and linger, and make field sketches of ferns and chunks of glacial ice. But after a few miles and stopping and going, I remembered why I don't attempt this often. I have grand plans to create an image of the world as I see it, and I end up with drawings like this:

Awwww ... a black bear on a snow bike. These anthromorphized critters are the kinds of doodles I make when I am either listening intently to a lecture, or have my mind turned off completely (like when I'm in a meeting.) But more often than not, they're what come out when I'm zoned out. And it's interesting to me that I'd so quickly dive into doodling when I was really trying to be tuned in. But I think this is, whether I like it or not, the way in which I see the world. When I am truly lost in a moment, my mind fluctuates wildly between past and future without lingering long on the present. Thus, I'd be tempted to sketch out a winter-esque picture of a little bear in a hat, when what I was really looking at is the scene in the photo at the top.

Anyway, those are the doodles I make, and these are the blog posts I make when I am in the throws of an excessive-daylight-driven insomniac episode. I am really enjoying the summer though. We went to a barbecue tonight. It was warm enough out to wear a tank top (yes, I have lived in Alaska long enough to consider 65 degrees tank top weather.) And as I was gnawing on a juicy chicken skewer and looking across the channel with strips of orange sunlight lingering over the horizon, I felt completely at home. I think, someday, when people ask me what was the best thing about living in Juneau, I will say "June."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Bender

Date: June 14
Mileage: 89.1
June mileage: 313.6
Temperature upon departure: 61

Self discipline has never been one of my strong traits ... especially when it comes to bicycling. I don't do intervals because I don't like to watch a clock. I don't monitor my heart rate or calorie intake or elevation profiles. That I've been able to bicycle a lot of miles during the winter months isn't really contradictory to this character flaw - I take plenty of sick pleasure from riding around in horrid conditions. But I take even more sick pleasure from riding around in nice conditions.

I left the house today with 40 oz. of water, a rain coat, sunscreen, a single Power Bar and a baggie of fruit snacks in my Camelbak. I had absolutely no expectations setting out at 8:45 a.m. ... maybe check out the latest line of crusie ships, take an easy spin north and be back before 11.

It's interesting how a ride with no purpose and no plan can be so helplessly self-perpetuating. The wind was moving out of the south, so I went with it. I hummed along with my intentionally lo-fi iPod playlist: Elliot Smith, Sufjan Stevens, Pinback. Every once in a while, that soft little voice of reason would tell me that now would be a good time to turn around.

But something else ... maybe those small pleasures that tug at my senses ... something just kept pulling me forward. A bald eagle hovering on the breeze above my head; the faintly lilac smell of lupin; the clouds rolling eastward in the clearing sky; the hordes of mosquitoes lingering at my back. Before I even realized it (really), I was at Berner's Bay - the end of the road, 45 miles from my house.

There was some guilt there, but more strongly, there was a sense of finding my way home after an extended period of wandering. I have not been to Berner's Bay since January. I remember it in its loneliness, frozen and remote. To see it vibrant and colorful, flowing with kayaker traffic and camper-toting trucks, was a cathartic shot of symmetry. I relished in the rush, and then I rode it home.











January ...................................................June

As I try to gain back my sense of what is enough and what is too much, I am inevitably going to hit some snags. But I truly feel that today wasn't one of those snags. In the back of my mind, I have the voice of reason chanting the virtues of prudent moderation, of small increments, of 10 percent plus 10 percent plus 10 percent. Then I have what's in front of me, calling with a color-drenched intensity that makes reason easy to ignore. Today, as I awaited the final stop light at the Douglas Island bridge, feeling strong, loose and still raring with energy, the world in front of me said "You should just ride to Thane and make it an even century." To which the voice of reason replied, "Don't be a %$#% idiot." (Yes, voice of reason sometimes has to use strong language to get my attention.

Still ... it's hard out here for a gimp.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

First climb

Date: June 12
Mileage: 23.3
June mileage: 201.2
Temperature upon departure: 50

After a winter of perilous ice conditions and a spring of perilous joint conditions, it has been at least six months since I've made the short jaunt up to Eaglecrest Ski Resort. The meat of the climb rises about 1,300 feet in five miles. Nothing to write to your Congressman about, but not too shabby for a sustained climb, either.

I hadn't made a hard effort since I started cycling again, and today was no exception. Still, just by nature of moving fast enough to stay upright on the bike, some of those pitches required at least moderate effort. When I'm going at moderate pace, I think about my quads. I focus hard on the muscles, firing and contracting, until I form a vague mental picture of pistons churning inside of an engine. My idea is to put all of the effort on my muscles, and remember that my knees are just being pushed along for the ride. I have no idea of this is proper therapy, but it seems to help. My pedal-turning comfort has improved drastically since I stopped "using" my knees. Who needs 'em? Someday I will have artificial robotic joints, and this will all be a distant memory.

The Great Divide Race is coming up on Friday, and I am starting to get very excited about following it on the blog. For me, this is way more exciting than the Tour de France (which is probably also coming up soon. Who knows?) My friend Dave Nice leaves this morning for the Rooseville Montana, the starting line of this 2,500-mile mad dash. It all begins at high noon. If I was a bettin' gal (which I am), I'd wager:

Pete Basinger sets a new course record in just over 15 days.
Matt Lee is really close behind, like 15:10:30.
Jay Petervay, who no one has heard from in days, rolls in at 15:20:00.
Dave Nice finishes strong and sets the fixie course record in a little less than 30 days.

As my illustrious Sen. Ted Stevens loves to say, "My guess is as good as anyone's."

I can't wait.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Canadian dream

Later this month - well, in 12 days - Geoff is registered to ride his first 24-hour hamster race in Whitehorse, Yukon: The 24 Hours of Light. For a while, I was not planning to go at all. And then I thought - hey, road trip to Canada (and a ferry ride ... I do love those salt-encrusted snack bar pretzels.) But the reality is, Geoff does not need me as a one-woman pit crew. No matter where I exist in his Solo Spectrum, he will most likely do his own wrenching, make his own sushi, mix up his own Perpetuem and generally glower at my 4 a.m. cheerleader chants (believe me, I know how it feels.) So what am I to do? Might as well enter the race.

Now, don't freak out. I am not looking to break any personal records. I am not looking for anything beyond a fun mountain bike ride in a place where it's warm and LIGHT (I used the capital letters because Whitehorse has nearly 24 hours of it.) Why not plunk down the $60 Canadian (that's like, what, only $700 U.S.?) and be part of the event?

There is a chance I might be able to land a spot on an eight-person team. There will be cowboy hats. And debauchery. And no nudity (I don't know whether I'm relieved or disappointed.) If that does not work out, I might just 24-Solo it. Ride whenever I want. Take lots of breaks. Relish in the midnight sun lap. Stop if it hurts. Eat lots of Geoff's specialty sushi. In short, a Canadian dream (similar to the one I have planned for later this summer, without the crushing mileage.)

I have until June 19 to commit. But look at me ... I'm already giddy.

Also, I wanted to thank everyone who e-mailed me today about a photo CD. I have already set aside my Iditarod trail fund, and mailed the CDs out this afternoon. The Ultrasport is an entirely different beast at the end of the tunnel. But even after four months of struggling with injury, I still feel the same way about it that I did in February - I got on this train, and no matter what happens at this point, I'm going to have to confront the beast head-on.

Might as well start out in the Light.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

I updated my photo CD

Date: June 9 and 10
Mileage: 14.4 and 40.6
June mileage: 201.2
Temperature upon departure: 63 and 69!

Way too much riding this weekend. I feel a little like a relapsed user - elated because the immediate pain has subsided, but guilty about the future consequences. There has been a rash of sunshine and I have been scratching at it incessantly ... biking, hiking, more biking. Something needs to rein me in ... or rather, rain me in. I'm sure that will happen soon enough.

The plus side of relapse is that I have been suddenly injected with more energy than I've had in a while. I've used the extra time to work on some projects I've been meaning to get around to. One was finally updating and organizing my vast collection of Alaska photos that have been lingering as anonymous files in limbo since September 2005.

In doing so, I also compiled a collection of 320 of my favorite scenic shots - many that have appeared on this blog, and some that haven't - for an "Up in Alaska" photo compilation . The winter before last, I mailed a similar (but much less extensive) CD out to readers who chipped in a few dollars to sponsor my 2006 Susitna 100 race. I thought I'd put the CD out on the table again, now that I'm beginning to horde funds for a future Iditarod Trail expedition (and already missing the prospect of mid-work sushi runs.) Amounts are completely optional. If you'd like to save your money for worthy causes but still want a CD, all I ask is a minimum of $4 to cover materials and shipping. The photos are of course open to all uses and reproductions. I like to think of this blog as similar to public broadcasting, without the decorative tote bags. I embark on these long-suffering rides for your (and my) entertainment.

You can click on the button below for paypal access, or e-mail me at jillhomer66@hotmail.com. In the meantime, I'll leave my final justification for the mileage spike.








It's just so nice out.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Perseverance

Date: June 8
Mileage: 31.8
June mileage: 156.2
Temperature upon departure: 58

As I rounded a sharp corner of Mount Juneau switchbacks, I nearly collided with the rear end of a mountain goat. At the time, all I saw was a bulk of white. My knee-jerk reaction was that I had run into a trail hog of a hiker, but then she turned to look at me. It's a strange experience, looking into the eyes of a wild animal standing at arm's length. I wondered if the respective reflections of ourselves would come to haunt us later -the way I could almost see my shadow framed by mud-streaked dreadlocks of white fur and wicked looking horns, flickering in the depths of those dark brown eyes. It's hard not to speculate about what the animal may have seen in my eyes; did she see the strands of broken connections that could have made us siblings in another life? Or fear? Or just a faceless threat? Not that it matters. It was a fraction of a second, and then she turned and sprinted up the trail, scaring out of the bushes a slightly smaller version of herself as they retreated together. By the time I wiped off my own stunned inaction and wrestled my camera out of my shirt pocket, they were far up the trail ... much too far for the money shot. But that eerie portrait remains.

I took my mountain bike up the Perseverance Trail this morning. First time this year. Near the trailhead, I passed a group of three women hauling telemark skis on their backs. As I was wondering, "What are they going to do with those skis?," they were probably wondering, "What is she going to do with that bike?"

I'm becoming better at my late-season snow biking ... but June 8? This is getting ridiculous. There's no accounting for elevation, and since there isn't, I thought I'd see what the south-facing side of Mount Juneau looked like.

I made it up about 1,200 feet before the snow fields really started to become thick. I know from past experience hiking with others that my own gage for perilous snow crossings is set pretty high, but after the first one I didn't see a single set of footprints that weren't hoof-shaped. It was just me and the goats up there - me clinging to the slush in my bike gloves, them hopping up boulders with the kind of grace I will always envy.

I almost believed I could be that invincible all they way to the peak, but I finally came to a snowfield I wasn't willing to cross - 15 feet high with a waterfall raging through the hollowed-out space below. Like I said, my gage is set high.

Back on my bike and flying down Perseverance as it hugged the precarious ledge of lower Mount Juneau, I couldn't shake the thought that I never really had anything to fear. Haunting brown eyes ... thin shells of snow ... everything fades into safe memories as life rushes forward. And I can't help but think that this ...

This is why I'm a happy person again.