Showing posts from October, 2007

Happy Halloween, everyone!



Sometimes I wonder about the fundamentals of life. There is food, water, air, shelter; these things are absolute. Then there is human contact, required by all but a few. After that, in deciding what I, as a human, "need," there is a lot of gray area. I have my job, my source of income, which my lifestyle demands I make an effort to keep. But my lifestyle goes way beyond food, water, air and shelter. I have my family, who provides love and support when I need it. But at the same time, I don't feel a strong drive to start a family of my own. What I have left are the optional things I "do:" socializing, reading, writing, studying, and of course, somewhere near the top is the cycling. These things consume enormous amounts of time and I wonder to what end. Certainly they are the choices I've made, but how much do they reflect my needs?

Of course the complexities of human emotions obscure any simple explanation about our needs. If everything a human needed was foo…

In the spirit of giving in

Date: Oct. 29
Mileage: 25.1
October mileage: 634.9
Temperature upon departure: 39
Rainfall: .51"

I had decided to finish out the rest of my week's workouts at the gym; give myself a mental vacation, where I could just lift weights and read books and not worry about my disintegrating rain jacket or the wind cutting through my neoprene gloves. Then I thought, why should I let the weather beat me? I only have a few days left in this training block anyway.

Today: Intervals. Two miles on, two miles off. They're part of my month of "speed" training. Sometimes I think I really do feel stronger, and sometimes I think I'm fooling myself no matter what I do. But since I'm only playing this game against myself, I have to decide whether I win or lose. Sticking to a plan is only fleetingly satisfying, but movement through the landscape always feels like a win.

In the driving rain I look directly at the ground. The scattered leaves on the pavement blur into color bars. The d…

Gone 'til November

My weekend ride:

Geoff's weekend ride: (photo by KanyonKris)
Date: Oct. 28
Mileage: 36.4
October mileage: 609.8
Temperature upon departure: 42
Rainfall: .29"

A couple of weeks ago, Geoff was eating breakfast and staring at a slate of gray outside the window as I rattled off the day's weather report. I don't remember the weather report. It probably contained rain and wind and a whole lot of windy rain. Then I began the half-hour-long process of suiting up for the day's ride as Geoff calmly walked over to the computer, called up his Delta Airlines account, and spent every last one of his airline miles to reserve a plane ticket to Las Vegas. "If I don't get out of here soon," he said in his calmest voice, "I'm going to snap."

On Thursday, Geoff left for his I-can-no-longer-tolerate-Juneau-in-the-fall vacation to the Mountain West. The premise of the trip was a bit shaky - a chance to visit friends in St. George, a White Rim ride with strangers he&…

Eating and hypothermia

Date: Oct. 26
Mileage: 32.5
October mileage: 573.4
Temperature upon departure: 39
Rainfall: 1.36"

I had a cold-weather epiphany today: The secret to staying warm is staying fed.

It seems pretty simple, but it hadn't really occurred to me how important fuel is to the whole equation. I've been reading different accounts of people who contracted hypothermia while mountain climbing. In many cases, they were bundled up and climbing fairly strong. The temperature didn't change. The weather didn't change. One minute they were fine, and the next minute they were hypothermic. What happened? Does hypothermia really strike at random? Without warning? The whole idea was very scary.

Here in Juneau, during the fall monsoon, the temperature drops very slowly over time as the wind gradually picks up strength. It gives off the illusion of consistency, but there is change. By late October, the tail-end of the monsoon, the daily high temperatures have dropped from low-50s to high-30s. The …

Thursday Pugsley expedition

Date: Oct. 25
Mileage: 9.4
October mileage: 540.9
Temperature upon departure: 41
Rainfall: 0.25"

Another Thursday, another low-mileage, time-consuming, mud-slinging, shin-bashing exploration ride on the Pugsley.

Another ode to the big wheels, great conquerors of mud.

Geoff told me I should try to ride the Treadwell Ditch Trail, the closest trail to our house. It's a cross-country ski trail that's marginally bikeable in the winter, when the snow conditions are good (which is to say, terrible for cross-country skiing.) But in the off-season, the trail is so crappy muddy that even hikers rarely use it. An endless web of wet roots makes it completely unrideable (wet roots are, after all, the slipperiest substance known to mountain bikers. You could run an oil slick across a patch of glare ice, and it still wouldn't be as slippery as a string of wet roots.) But Pugsley is such a tank that you don't even have to pick the perfect line through the roots. You just point the bike …

Into the Wild

Date: Oct. 24
Mileage: 31.3
October mileage: 531.5
Temperature upon departure: 39
Rainfall: 0.30"

Last weekend, Geoff and I went to see “Into the Wild” with several friends. As we were walking out of the theater, I was just about to rave about the movie when my friends lit into the film’s subject, Chris McCandless. The conclusion they drew was that Chris was a “total douche” and the actor who played him was “not believable” but the movie was “OK.”

We didn’t have a chance to discuss it much further, but I wish we had. Of all of the books I’ve read, Chris McCandless is one of those literary figures that stuck with me, like Edward Abbey or the pseudonyms of Thomas Wolfe (because I’m drawn to creative nonfiction and biographies, most of my favorite literary characters were living, breathing people.) Like any favorite literary character, I saw pieces of myself in Chris McCandless and empathized with his pain and his joy. I read Jon Krakauer’s book long after it dropped off the best-seller l…

And so it begins

Date: Oct. 23
Mileage: 23.2
October mileage: 500.2
Temperature upon departure: 39
Rainfall: 0.15"

Earlier this afternoon, probably shortly after reading my Iditarod Invitational announcement, a friend e-mailed me a link to a blog entry, posted today. The title of her e-mail was, "So is this what it's like?"

And the answer, I sincerely hope, is "Yes, that's what it's like."

Then this evening, rather randomly, I received another e-mail from the author of that blog entry, a gesture of support from a person who actually knows what it's like:

"I'm a bit envious of your position — learning how to train and prepare for that race is also a great way to learn about life. It’s an ongoing process that I don’t ever seem to be able to get enough of, and each year as I find myself approaching Knik I’m forced to answer a lot of scary questions about where I've been, what I've done, and what I’m about to do. Not just with the race, but with my life.&q…

Pulling the trigger

Date: Oct. 22
Mileage: 25.9
October mileage: 477.0
Temperature upon departure: 42
Rainfall: 0.49"

I entered the 2008 Iditarod Invitational.

I was hoping to wait until the end of the year to do so, after my bad knee had at least two months of cold-weather training behind it. But this race is becoming irritatingly popular, and a nearly full roster forced my hand. It's a big commitment ... securing a lot of time off work, sending in the entry fee. Backing out now would be like giving up on Everest. Backing out now would only happen in an unforeseen emergency, or if I decide I am truly incapable of attempting this race. It's a big commitment.

Geoff recently entered the race, too, so we are in it together. He entered the "foot" division as a runner. I entered the "bike" race. We're both likely in for a lot of walking, but at least I'll have the option of riding a big-wheeled bicycle when the going is good. But Geoff, as crazy fast as he is, will still prob…

The difference between exercise and cycling

Date: Oct. 20
Mileage: 32.1
October mileage: 451.1
Temperature upon departure: 34
Rainfall: 0.57" (yesterday and today)

Back in 2005, beneath the warm blue skies of Idaho Falls, I was a complete gym rat. A little hard to believe, right? I received a free membership to the Apple Fitness through my employer. My tight-knit group of copy editor co-workers talked me into attending exercise classes with them. Pretty soon, I was at Body Pump every Wednesday and Friday, followed by a rigid ritual of cardio. Tuesdays and Thursdays held spin classes; Tiffany and I would set up on the stationary cycles in the back and mash away our work-related stress in a cloud of techno-pumping, fitness guru-screaming, black-light-enhanced white noise. It was my routine. I cherished it. My bicycle - the Ibex touring bike that I still ride today - sat stashed in a corner of my apartment while the farm roads of Idaho Falls stretched out for hundreds of scenic miles, all unridden and unloved.

It was a strange so…

Day 1 of no rain

Date: Oct. 19
Mileage: 63.4
October mileage: 419.0
Temperature upon departure: 37
Rainfall: 0.00"

The reason I started keeping statistics at the top of each blog post is because I saw it as the best way to quantify my "training" for future reference. Since this whole blog is the story of how my bikes make me feel ad nauseum, I figured tracking my mileage, monthly mileage, temperature and rainfall would help me draw patterns and answer questions: So why did I feel that way? How can I avoid it (or recreate it)? Ect.

But my system is I'm afraid fundamentally flawed. As impossible as it it to truly track a ride, the spartan way in which I'm going about it is a travesty of misinformation. Take today and yesterday, for example. Compared to yesterday's 37 degrees, today's 37 degrees felt like a subtropical sunbake on a summer afternoon. Compared to yesterday's 17.9 miles, today's 63.4 miles felt like an after-dinner spin around a suburban park. Compared to ye…


Date: Oct. 18
Mileage: 17.9
October mileage: 355.6
Temperature upon departure: 38
Rainfall: 1.04"

I was nearly there, nearly to the southern tip of Douglas Island; even with the dismal visibility through swirling rain, it was nearly in sight. I mashed the pedals ... 9 mph, 10 mph - the fastest I had moved all morning. A long walk through a minefield of sharp rocks had yielded this thin gravel bar where I could ride, actually ride, like a delirious bird fighting the wind. The chill needled through every layer of wet clothing and gripped my skin like icy fingers. My own fingers had deteriorated from clammy to numb, and I was on my third set of gloves - my last - because I tried everything I could think of, and nothing really works in this weather. Nothing, nothing, nothing. (Edit: My bike pogies would work. I can't believe I didn't think of it earlier.)

I rounded a cliff and followed the gravel bar as it jutted out toward the open channel. After an entire morning of bouncing and …

Day 35 of rain

Date: Oct. 17
Mileage: 24.6
October mileage: 337.7
Temperature upon departure: 41
Rainfall: .13"

There actually have been breaks in the weather this month - big, beautiful holes sky that occasionally remind the skeptic in me that there is a great emptiness beyond the crushing ceiling of clouds. But as soul-lifting as these weather breaks have been, none of them have been long enough to encompass a 24-hour period between midnight and midnight. And so the rain streak continues. Day 35:

I woke up late, finished a quick succession of sprint intervals up to Eaglecrest and took advantage of the fact I was on a mountain bike to practice my plank riding. Wet wooden planks are my worst nemesis, whether I'm on bike or foot ... even the crampons on the bottom of snowshoes don't seem to prevent me from flipping butt over back on the slippery surface. So I made a few runs on a quarter-mile-long section of planks across the Nordic park. During the snowless season, it's better known as &q…


My new sleeping bag arrived in the mail. I was thrilled. I carried it to the bedroom and pulled it out of its stuff sack, watching in wonder as it self-inflated to a mass only slightly smaller than my bed. I tugged at the industrial-strength zipper and crawled inside. It was there, enveloped in a mountain of down, that I basked in the afterglow of consumerism. I congratulated myself on my shrewd eBay shopping - well, lucky happenstance - that netted me a nearly brand new, relatively rare product for less than half its retail price.

Beads of sweat started to form on my neck as I slipped deeper inside the bag. Buyer's remorse was beginning to trickle in. What was I thinking? What was I planning to do with this thing? Good deal or not, how could I go and spend more money on a sleeping bag than I did on my first mountain bike? I'm a cyclist, for crying out loud, not a mountaineer gearing up for a solo summit of Kangchenjunga.

I have never been the ideal American consumer. It's …

Eaglecrest, twice

Date: Oct. 15
Mileage: 34.6
October mileage: 313.1
Temperature upon departure: 43
Rainfall: .45"

I am very lucky that I don't have a coach to breathe down my neck and assault me with numbers and statistics and myriad equations to prove that I'm not trying hard enough. My imaginary coach is irritating enough, especially now that she has an odometer and GPS and my bad habit for reading training blogs to back up her claims. She hovers over my shoulder, chanting witless mantras such as "Go! Go! Go!" "I ... am ... doing the ... best ... that I ... can," I huff back, sometimes out loud, for emphasis.

My imaginary coach always backs down. I live with my guilt. I embrace my freedom. I adapt. When road interval training turned out to be a hideous exercise in breathing through an unmitigated runny nose, I took the intensity workouts indoors. I can run just as hard on an elliptical trainer, and while I'm recovering, I read books. I've burned through three so fa…

Two road bikes bite the dust

And here Geoff waited, for nearly two hours, hoping his rescue ride would pick up the pace.

Date: Oct. 14
Mileage: 40.1
October mileage: 278.5
Temperature upon departure: 46
Rainfall: .31"

Another break in the weather drifted past Juneau this morning. This one was more glorious than any of the breaks from the past month - clouds nearly clear-cut from the sky; sun that nearly blinded eyes unaccustomed to unobstructed light; temperatures that nearly allowed one to roll up a sleeve. Yes, it was a beautiful morning. So Geoff and I decided to go for a "long" road bike ride.

Before we even made it past the house, Geoff observed that my crank was really loose. He pulled the crank and discovered the bottom bracket was falling apart. Probably just a few spins away from falling to pieces. I should have noticed it earlier, but I recently reinstalled my clipless pedals, and assumed the loose feeling and strange clanking was the pedals' fault (after all, I like to blame all of my ridin…

Day 30 of rain

Date: Oct. 12
Mileage: 35.4
October mileage: 238.4
Temperature upon departure: 45
Rainfall: .22"

Well, it's official. The last day that Juneau received no precipitation was Sept. 12, making today the anniversary of a solid month of rain, and counting. Thirty days of rain. Straight. Thirty. Days.

In those 30 days, 15.4 inches of rain has fallen on West Juneau. For October, the average monthly precipitation in Seattle is 3.2 inches. It's also 3.2 in Syracuse, New York. Atlanta sees 3.0 inches. In Anchorage, it's 2.0 inches. In Minneapolis, it's 1.5 inches. Salt Lake City has 1.4 inches. Lincoln, Nebraska, has 1.2. San Fransisco only sees 1.1. Denver gets 1.0 inches. Phoenix gets 0.6 and Las Vegas enjoys the light drizzle of 0.2 inches of monthly rain. In Juneau, we get more than 15 inches in a month. Fifteen! Just trying to help keep everything in perspective.

All this rain means the Dredge Lake trails could use a good dredging, but that didn't stop me from heading out…

South Douglas attempt 2

Date: Oct. 11
Mileage: 14.8
October mileage: 203
Temperature upon departure: 44
Rainfall: .50"

I seem to always pick the absolute wettest times (otherwise known as my weekend mornings) to go out for Pugsley rides. These rides are a barrage of wet from all points in space. The simple fact that it's raining doesn't even register after I've spent a couple of miles on a saturated trail, being bombarded by wet clumps of mud (those 4" tires can kick up some impressively large clumps of mud.) Thoroughly mud-soaked, I then hit the slippery wet rocks of the wet beach and mash my wet pedals up to creek crossing after creek crossing, pedaling up to my ankles, wading up to my knees, sloshing my way through the rising tide. Sometimes I think I should just buy one of those balloon-wheel pedal boats and get it over with.

A pedal boat would have come in handy during today's ride. I'm wise enough now to actually check the tide charts before I go out, but not wise enough to wake…

Anticipating winter

Date: Oct. 10
Mileage: 23.1
October mileage: 188.2
Temperature upon departure: 42
Rainfall: .51"

Before my lung-busting climb and nose-freezing descent of the Eaglecrest road this morning, I noticed several heating oil trucks parked along the North Douglas highway. Homeowners stood outside with gray looks on their faces, watching hundreds of their dollars being pumped away into rusty holding tanks.

This afternoon at work, my boss - who happens to sit in the desk next to mine - decided to set up his full-spectrum therapy light. We’ll both be happily clicking away at our computers until he turns to answer the phone, and suddenly I’m blinded by hundreds of watts of Seasonal-Affective-Disorder-blasting brightness.

Winter is coming. Am I the only one who’s happy about this?

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the unlimited daylight and marginally warmer temperatures of summer as much as the next person. But winter! Winter with its promise of snow-swept skylines and crisp air and trails frozen to smoo…

Snowline creeping down

Date: Oct. 8
Mileage: 31
October mileage: 155.1
Temperature upon departure: 44
Rainfall: .11"

Today I had a regular session of weight lifting on my schedule. That did not sound appealing when I woke up to the usual view of slate gray stretched across the sky. I gathered up my gym clothes and fired up the coffee maker. As it gurgled, I stood by the window and admired the new snow, accumulating below treeline and creeping a little lower every day. The snowline is almost like a time marker, counting down the days until winter. Juneau weather is nothing if not predictable. Probably one of the few places in the world where the forecast is right 90 percent of the time.

But today, behind a horizon of freshly-fallen snow, I saw something altogether unexpected - a patch of blue sky. As I ate my breakfast, it continued to expand until the sun emerged, casting strips of golden light across the grass. By the time I stood up to change into my gym clothes, the solid slate of gray in the sky had disi…


Date: Oct. 7
Mileage: 23.1
October mileage: 124.1
Temperature upon departure: 42
Rainfall: .31"

Everything about my October training plan has been a bit of a struggle for me ... more time crouched over sweaty weight benches, less time on the bike, with the time I do spend on the bike generally of the red-faced-and-huffing variety. This picture I took on Thursday was all about pleasure ... a mountain bike ride with Geoff. That was a day off. The days on, of which I am gunning for five a week, consist of trips to the gym and these lung-burning cycling intervals that I don't enjoy but believe are crucial to my fitness - if only in my own mind.

I still haven't figured out how to integrate my intensity training with the fall monsoon. A workable medium between hot, cold and face-stinging rain is nearly impossible to find. Today I rode the most difficult route in my rotation - the sprint climb to Eaglecrest (which is less of a sprint and more of an energetic chug.) My legs are current…

Spending spree

So the other day, when I admitted to feeling a little guilty about greedily accepting my big check from the state, I also admitted I already spent it. This is technically true - over the summer, while I was dropping something in the range of $1,300 to build up my Pugsley, I promised myself I was doing so on PFD credit. But there are those nagging facts that the credit card bill has been paid, I still have a big guv'ment check trickling my way, and I have needs, real needs, itchy needs that recently erupted into a full-blown case of spenditis.

The first box from Sierra Trading Post arrived today. Inside was a badly needed pair of new trail-running shoes (because, yes, I am in the process of blaming my current foot woes on my assortment of terrible shoes. My overuse injury is definitely not my own fault, no way.) Also inside was this sweet new Marmot winter shell, all waterproof Gortex with all the pockets on the inside to keep your Power Bars and fruit snacks from freezing. I order…

Almost like fall

Date: Oct. 4
Mileage: 46
October mileage: 101
Temperature upon departure: 41
Rainfall: .01"

When I first moved to Juneau, a friend told me that the Native people of Southeast Alaska had a dozen words for rain, a dozen words for wind, and nothing to denote the seasons. That's obviously a complete fabrication, but when the gray days really start to stack up, you begin to wonder what that would feel like ... to believe things never changed.

But every once in a while you wake up in the morning, and the day just feels the way you think it should, the way you think October should, the way October used to feel, back when you didn't live in a temperate rainforest, and the Pacific Ocean didn't hold the temperature hostage, and the leaves didn't stay green until they died, and things changed.

Maybe it's the morning after a the first frost, after the night sky was so clear that the stars burned into your retinas before you could close your eyes. Even when heavy fog moved in wit…

PFD day

Date: Oct. 2
Mileage: 28
October mileage: 55
Temperature upon departure: 45
Rainfall: .74"

Today marks the first wave of permanent fund dividend checks. This is the day every eligible man, woman and child in the state of Alaska sells their soul to Big Oil for a taste of that sweet, sweet oil money. And thanks to "The Simpsons" movie, now everyone else in America knows what the urban legend of "paid to live in Alaska" is really about. You know that part where Homer drives across the state line and the customs agent tells him that all Alaskans get a stack of bills so they will look the other way while oil companies exploit the environment? Yeah, it's something like that.

Suddenly, we're all flush with $1,600 in free money. Most Alaskans do the rational thing with their PFD - they blow it on some impulse buy, like plane tickets to Hawaii or a down payment on a new snowmachine. This is the first year I'm eligible for the PFD. I did the rational thing with mi…

Training vs. survival

Date: Oct. 1
Mileage: 27
October mileage: 27
Temperature upon departure: 47
Rainfall: .94"

I think cycling is good physical therapy for an injured foot. I get all of the benefits of warm blood flow without any of the motion that sparks pain. That is my theory, and I'm sticking with it.

So I have this idea about training to be a faster rider. It is loosely based on ideas I culled from magazine articles and blogs, minus the necessary gauging equipment and coaching: intervals, climbing, and in general more riding near my perceived lactate threshold (i.e. sucking as much air as I can tolerate without passing out.) While ramping up my effort on the bike to improve my fitness seems like a great theory in abstract, I think it is going to be much more difficult to achieve in actual practice.

I rode an easy spin with a tailwind out to the glacier to check out the new slab of bright blue ice exposed Saturday during the largest calving in years (I couldn't see much of it behind the detache…