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Showing posts from November, 2007

Flat disaster

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Date: Nov. 28
Mileage: 29.1
Hours: 2:30
November mileage: 691.4
Temperature upon departure: 30
Rainfall: 0

Well, I'm back from my camping experience, sans camping experience. I was feeling a bit despondent last night about the way in which I failed, failed before the cold settled in, failed before the darkness tightened its grip, failed before the lonliness gnawed at my sanity, failed before I had to gather water or eat food or even pull my sleeping bag out of its stuff sack. I failed. But it's a pretty funny story. Here's what happened.

I set out into the darkness with the evening rush hour traffic, swaddled in my best cold-weather clothing and hoisting what I estimate to be about 55 pounds of obese bicycle, food, water and winter camping gear. I was styling. A commuter passed me as I was climbing a short hill on the bike path, and then looked back as if to inquire whether I was going to give him chase. Excuse me? You try commuting with the necessities of life.

But the night sett…

Going camping

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Well, it's time to bite my bottom lip and plunge into the deep end, head first. I had the day off today as my obligatory "Thanksgiving" work holiday. I spent most the morning doing laundry, scrounging up food from our woefully empty cupboards, gathering camping gear, sorting clothing and stuffing my sleeping bag in its stuff sack. That last chore was a particularly evil beast. Either I am going to have to get much better at that, or I am going to have to allot a full hour and about 200 extra calories each day during the Ultrasport to sleeping bag duty.

The plan is to leave the house around 5:00 p.m., when the city is already shrouded in darkness, ride 30 road miles out to the glacier trail, and continue to ride, probably by doing out-and-backs on the glacier trail, until I am ready to go to sleep. I will then crawl into my sleeping bag/bivy combo, sleep as much as nature will allow, and then get up and ride home. That's the plan. I hope it works out as something simi…

38 and raining

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Date: Nov. 26
Mileage: 31.2
Hours: 2:30
November mileage: 662.3
Temperature upon departure: 38
Rainfall: .38"

Today was Groundhog Day, again. It's hard not to think about Bill Murray's bewildered face as the morning opens up to another gray slate, with snowfall at the same spot on the mountain and rain hitting the same spot on the porch as I look toward my routine: to bike, to eat, to work, to sleep, then to wake, again, to the gray. The weather has changed little in the past couple of weeks, and when I say little, I mean I'd be surprised if the temperature has varied more than 10 degrees. There's a bit of sun here, a blast of wind there, 30 degrees here, 40 there, but for the most part, it's just 38 and raining. Day and night. If it wasn't for my habit of crawling to a different corner of Juneau on my bicycle most every morning, I fear these days would be devoured by eerie sameness.

At least my rides are going really well. I have my 38-and-raining gear system to…

Went for a run

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Date: Nov. 25
Mileage: 16.2
Hours: 2:30
November mileage: 631.1
Temperature upon departure: 40
Rainfall: .03"

I rode all the way up the steep face of downtown Juneau just to confirm that my favorite trail near town is in fact closed. A sign at the trailhead informed me that it would remain that way until after Christmas. Apparently, the CBJ (an acronym which, when spoken out loud, can only be a disdainful reference to the City and Borough of Juneau) decided that the Perseverance Trail isn't enough of a highway already, and they're blasting out big chunks of mountain until the New Year. Truly disappointing.

So instead I wheeled over to Salmon Creek with this crazy idea to run up to the reservoir. I haven't done any free running, at all, since knee problems bogged me down in February. I haven't even hiked since the foot fiasco in late September. But I'd like to get back into both for the fitness benefits, and two slow, uphill miles seemed like a good start.

Salmon Creek…

Creating motivation

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Date: Nov. 24
Mileage: 25.1
Hours: 1:45
November mileage: 614.9
Temperature upon departure: 39
Rainfall: .19"

I've been feeling really strong lately, and I figure I should continue to chip away at base miles as long as the blurry line between buildup and overtraining hasn't been breached. I've decided that all of the training I do for the next four months is going to be entirely dedicated to three things: conditioning my body to stay hunched over (or beside) a bicycle for a long, long time; practicing different camping, repair and survival situations; and keeping my bad knee healthy. Speed won't serve me at all after several days on the trail, and I'm not even going to flirt with it. A rookie like me will benefit most from longevity, patience and confidence - as much as I can trick myself into mustering.

That said, there are definitely going to be numerous days, like today, where I am going to have a hard time dredging up motivation to ride. Surprisingly, the threat …

90 miles of Thanksgiving

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Date: Nov. 22
Mileage: 91.1
Hours: 6:05
November mileage: 589.8
Temperature upon departure: 38
Rainfall: 0"

Mile .5: If all is quiet on New Year's Day, Thanksgiving Day must make up the balance. In the minimalist light of 8:36 a.m., traffic pours over the bridge, steaming to the A&P, turning for Wal-Mart and Fred Meyer. It's rush hour with cranberries. My dreams of solitude diced, I'm reminded of at least dozen Thanksgivings, in the back seat of my parents' vehicles, with the low winter sun glazing the roadside grass in iridescent shades of yellow. It was over the river and through the woods with a freeway and strip malls. We would marvel at the stream of empty parking lots until we passed a single store buffered by a wall of cars. "Look Dad, ShopKo is open today!" "Anyone who has to shop on Thanksgiving is a loser," my dad would proclaim, and we'd all feel self-satisfied, but secretly, a little bit lonely.

Mile 31: I can't believe how war…

New NPR interview

Click here to listen!

I'm sending in a weekly blog post for the Bryant Park Project blog. It even has its own Main Series Page. It's a fun project and I think it's going to help keep me honest and determined in my training, now that the training log stretches beyond my family and extended network of InterWeb friends. I hope NPR continues to call me, because it will be probably be more entertaining to talk about my misadventures once I start camping out and putting in longer hours at night. Will Jill hold on to her sanity? Stay tuned!

I hope everyone has a great Thanksgiving. My plan is to earn my turkey. I mean really earn it. Happy T-day!

Embarrassing injury

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Date: Nov. 20
Mileage: 23.0
Hours: 2:00
November mileage: 498.7
Temperature upon departure: 34
Rainfall: 0"

I was strolling up to ask a co-worker a question today when he blurted out, "Are you limping again?"

"Huh?" I asked, confused. My knee felt great. My foot felt great. I'd been gimp-free for more than six weeks, just about a personal record.

"I don't know," he continued. "You're kinda limping. What happened? Is it that bike thing again?"

I suddenly realized the acute pain I was feeling must be physically manifesting itself. But what could I say? That bike thing? You mean that bike thing where I grunt on my heavy bike all the way up to Eaglecrest just to look for snow, and there isn't even much snow up there, but I ride anyway on a faint trail across the frozen tundra and I manage to ride really fast until I hit a puddle that isn't completely frozen and plant my front tire 8 inches deep and my bike stops cold but my body flie…

Pray for snow

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Date: Nov. 19
Mileage: 28.6
Hours: 2:15
November mileage: 475.7
Temperature upon departure: 35
Rainfall: 0.06"

I spent some time today scouting the Fish Creek area in hopes of locating future winter trails, should snow ever finally take hold in Juneau. While mashing over faint foot paths that cross slightly-frozen bogs, I found several tasty possibilities. But who knows what their conditions will be once the snow settles? I am actually considering joining the Juneau Snowmobile Club, so I can advocate for grooming and receive information about local trails. I can already imagine how I'll explain myself when they ask me what kind of snowmobile I drive ... "Well, it's gray, and it has a two-stroke engine with extremely low emissions, and big fat tires, and, well, it's a bicycle ..."

With no new snow for a week and no snow anywhere in the forecast, it is beginning to look like Juneau is going to have one of those "normal" warm winters. The cyclists I meet are…

I like my dirt lightly frosted

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Date: Nov. 18
Mileage: 39.6
Hours: 3:15
November mileage: 447.1
Temperature upon departure: 33
Rainfall: 0.05"

Mountain biking conditions were perfect today out in the Mendenhall Valley - maybe a degree or two below freezing, with ice-infused mud and sand hardpacked to crunchy perfection.

Riding along the Mendenhall Lake shoreline is usually like a bad dream - the one where you're pedaling in slow motion, and you crank and struggle, but no matter what you do, you just can't go any faster. Today the sand was frozen as tough and smooth as a gravel road. I became so absorbed in the thrill of amping up to 20 mph on a sandy beach that I forgot I wasn't on an actual trail, and nearly face planted over the sandy berms of slightly-frozen streams, more than once.

The trail riding was just as good. I challenge you to dream up a surface that would be more fun to ride across than paper ice - smashing and crackling and coasting as you draw a shattered line over what is normally the softes…

Cool! I'm in a book!

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An interesting thing arrived in the mail today: "The Bicycle Book: Wit, Wisdom & Wanderings," recently released by Jim Joyce of the Bike Exchange Web site. It's a whole book dedicated to bicycle essays and cartoons, written by various people who contributed to the Web site over the years. One of those essays happens to be mine.

It's been a trip back in time reading it again, because I always write so autobiographically. This is an essay I wrote in early 2004 - nearly four years ago - when I lived in a $300-a-month studio apartment in Tooele, Utah - an apartment that didn't even have a working refrigerator - and I spent my days dreaming about ways to support myself by becoming a freelance writer/graphic designer. I also spent my days riding over and around the Oquirrh Mountains on my first road bike, because my Trek 6500 was out of commission and wasn't very interested in mountain bikes at the time anyway. The essay starts out, "I have always thought o…

Six hours of wind

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Date: Nov. 16
Mileage: 77.8
Hours: 6:00
November mileage: 407.5
Temperature upon departure: 40
Rainfall: 0.56"

The morning weather forecast can say a lot of things I don't like to hear, but just about the worst is "Wind Advisory." Especially when such advisories are followed by specifics: "East winds at 35 mph, gusting 45-55 mph." Ga!

Because of work scheduling conflicts that revolve around other people's Thanksgiving plans, Friday was my only day off this week. So it was the only day I had to squeeze in a weekly "long" ride, which I've been trying to bump up by an hour since the beginning of the month. First week was four; then there were five. Today called for six. And a wind advisory. An east wind, which is a cross-wind both ways (the single long road here in Juneau runs north-south.) Oh, and there was a 100 percent chance of rain. And temps in the high 30s. Ga!

So I left in the morning with a somewhat shaky resolve, convinced I was going to b…

Into the morning

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Date: Nov. 15
Mileage: 25.1
Hours: 1:45
November mileage: 329.7
Temperature upon departure: 30

I rolled out of bed at 10:17 a.m. Alaska time, after having that reoccurring dream in which I am driving a huge car full of friends into the remote desert at night, and everyone is sleeping, and I want to sleep so badly, too, but I feel this sense of urgency and I just can't stop. I wrapped up my short NPR interview just shy of 4 a.m. and crawled into bed without taking a shower, still coated in sweat and reeling with irrational nervousness about the outcome. I remember next to nothing about the 4 a.m. conversation and am still too nervous to listen to it. (It's funny how afraid I am of the sound of my own voice. When I write I can self-edit, but when I speak, whatever spews out is what is recorded for humanity. I don't like to feel responsible for it.) But ... uh ... I think it went pretty well. I thought it was just going to be a quirky little snippet on the Bryant Park Project, but…

I'm going to be on NPR!

At least ... that's the theory. Laura from National Public Radio's "alternative" morning show, the Bryant Park Project, called me today to set up a short interview for tomorrow. I'm pretty sure I'm going to talking about biking, specifically snow biking, specifically snow biking in the Alaska wilderness. I hope I can think of interesting things to say, and I hope not too much fun is made at the "crazy biker's" expense.

The plan is to go live with the interview at 7:30 a.m. New York time, which, last I checked, was the sleepy side of 3 a.m. here in Alaska. That's either really early or really late; no matter how you slice it, though, it's the middle of the night. I'm terribly nervous and don't think I'll be able to sleep anyway, so I'm going to opt for the "really late" designation. This could be a good time to kick in some midnight training - something I sorely need, but that's really hard to motivate for. Wh…

Me and horses

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Date: Nov. 13
Mileage: 26.4
Hours: 2:00
November mileage: 304.6
Temperature upon departure: 37
Rainfall: 0.07"

I was speeding down a steep descent on the North Douglas Highway, tears freezing to my cheeks in the windchill and ankle still throbbing from an earlier spill, when I saw a dark figure in the distance. At first I thought “jogger,” but it was going to fast, approaching me with shadowy urgency, and my second thought was, “Oh crap! It’s a moose!” My heart shot into danger mode as my eyes darted back and forth, confirming that, yes, there was still a cliff directly to my right and the channel on the left. I had no way to escape and this moose was coming right for me and surely it would stomp me to death right here on the road before I ever got the chance to visit Antarctica or catch up on my New Yorker reading.

But wait ... there are no moose in Juneau.

I squinted at the figure and realized there was another animal right behind it, and behind that, headlights. It took me several sec…

Training for pain

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Dan V. asked a really good question today: What's my game plan for training for a minus 40 or minus 50-degree cold snap that could hit during the Iditarod Invitational? The truth is, I haven't really worked it out yet. I can buy all the gear in the world “rated” to these temperatures. But until I actually experience the danger cold, it’s impossible to know how my body will react.

Like at least 98 percent of Americans, I will never see those temperatures in the place where I live. Juneau is in the Alaska tropics. Only on rare occasions does it even drop below 0 here. The coldest temperature I have ever ridden a bicycle in was minus 18 degrees, pushing minus 30 degrees with the stiff gale windchill. It was brutal. I had to stop three times in a 150-minute ride to run up and down the highway just to warm up my feet. But I wasn’t wonderfully prepared back then. I think I was still in my cotton sock phase. And, when all was said and done, it wasn’t really all that bad.

At least once …

Sun therapy

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Date: Nov. 11
Mileage: 17.2
Hours: 1:45
November mileage: 278.2
Temperature upon departure: 35
Rainfall: 0.0"

I woke up this morning to lead legs. Stomped around the house, ate my carbohydrate-and-caffeine breakfast, and couldn't stop the sensation of blood congealing like cement in my veins. Clearly there would be no purposeful exercise this morning. I thought about building a cardboard divider shelf for my piles of winter clothing. I thought about cleaning the bathroom. I thought about reading Geoff's copy of "The World Without Us." I thought about the sunbeams streaming through the still-drawn blinds. I thought about the way the warmth of the sun trickles through clear air. I could probably go out in the 35-degree morning wearing polyester pants and a T-shirt. I thought about visiting the places where summer still lingers. Places best reached with a snow bike.

I shook out my legs some more and slogged over the bridge. The Gastineau Chanel was a stagnant sheet of gl…

The hours

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Date: Nov. 9 and 10
Mileage: 18.1 and 30.2
Hours: 1:20 and 3:45
November mileage: 261.0
Temperature upon departure: 37
Rainfall: 0.30"

My recent realization that the sun now sets before 4 p.m. has been a bit of a blow to my mood. At the beginning of the week, I was riding a sugar snow high and it was all I could do to straighten my face after hours of silly perma-grin. Now I am feeling the effects of greasy snow indigestion (not literal indigestion; just sort of a sinking feeling that not all is well.) At first I blamed the waning daylight. But now, I'm wondering if some of it could be mild overtraining.

For this race I plan to line up for in February, spending as much time as possible on the bike, on the toughest trail conditions, in the crappiest weather I can endure, is the most valuable training I'm going to get. Speed intervals, "time trials," weight lifting, hill climbing - these were all great exercises to build up my base. Now it's time to build up enduranc…

Five hours of fog

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Date: Nov. 8
Mileage: 56.2
November mileage: 213.6
Temperature upon departure: 33
Rainfall: 0.0"

Juneau can be so cruel. Even when the clouds break apart long enough to reveal more than a few fleeting moments of sun (and even that's rare. So rare), high pressure systems tend to build up a lot of fog. In many ways, fog-shrouded sunlight is the cruelest weather of all. You've been told the sun is out. You can sense it. You can imagine it. You can cling to the faith that it is in fact up there, somewhere. But you can not feel it. And you can not see it. In fact, you can't see anything further than five feet in front of your face. And, come to think of it, you're becoming more than a little tired of staring at the patterns made by the frost granules collecting on your handlebars.

So it went for my five-hour ride today. It started out well with a jaunt up Perseverance Canyon with Geoff in the morning. We were able to climb out of the clouds early and ride most of the trail w…

Recovering junkaholic

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Date: Nov. 7
Mileage: 15.2
November mileage: 157.4
Temperature upon departure: 34
Rainfall: 0.01"

I went to the dentist this morning, a few days after I became convinced that I had a massive cavity threatening to abscess into my jaw. Turns out I have nothing of the sort, but at least now there are a dozen really expensive digital photographs of the insides of my teeth stored in a computer somewhere in the purgatory of Airport Row.

I’m of course relieved by my no-cavity status, but there’s a thin layer of disappointment on the periphery. As the season of giving in approaches, I’ve been harboring this crazy scheme to reduce sugar in my diet. So far, I have struggled to find the motivation to even begin. I was beginning to believe a massive cavity may be just the kick-start I need to motivate toward ultra-clean living. But I need to be honest with myself. I’ve set a lot of goals in the past two years, and none of them have touched my diet. The sugar that remains is going to have to be sur…

Pugsley's first sun ride

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Date: Nov. 6
Mileage: 21.9
November mileage: 142.2
Temperature upon departure: 33
Rainfall: 0.0"

A perfect bike ride is a lot like a well-crafted chocolate chip cookie. Alone, the ingredients range from bland to intolerable: Tuesday morning, clear skies, light breeze, several inches of new snow, 33 degrees, early season inexperience, untested iPod mix and some tempered enthusiasm. But throw them all together, mix vigorously and bake in the rare November sun, and you have a bike ride that’s so rich, so sweet and so satisfying that you swear you could consume 100 of the same and never tire.

These rides are so delicious, in fact, that they inevitably stir up guilt from depths of pleasure. You question the wisdom of your line through the buttery snow; you wonder if its seemingly weightless airiness may suddenly turn on you, kick you sideways, send you sliding uncontrollably into a tree. You look up to a stream of snow tearing off mountain peaks in distant wind that hardly touches you; you …

My new frame bag

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This just arrived in the mail today, a new frame bag custom-made by my friend Eric in Anchorage. The picture's not great because I just slapped the bag on the bike during my dinner break, pump mount and all. But it seems to form-fit Pugsley like a fine glove, matching gray colors to boot, and it's so sleek and shiny. It's my first-ever custom-made piece of outdoor gear. I feel like I'm moving up in the world.

Eric's an engineer by occupation, and he's created these frame bag designs that have a lot of clever and innovative features - an internal mesh pocket, removable dividers that allow different compartments and also reinforce the already-obvious bombproofness of the bag. The top edge tapers out to allow maximum space without compromising your leg clearance. There's reflective strips on the webbing, heavy-duty zippers ... I keep discovering new stuff. It's a baffling concept to me ... to tell somebody, long-distance, "Uh, yeah, I'd like a fra…

Hey, it's the sun, and it makes me shine

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Date: Nov. 4
Mileage: 42.8
November mileage: 122.3
Temperature upon departure: 37
Rainfall: 0.0"

Don't you hate the mornings that you wake up feeling a lot less than spectacular? Maybe you have this lingering dull pain in your mouth, and a headache too because you were up for several hours in the night worrying that you have a cavity. And your legs still burn from weightlifting two days ago and your caffeine's not kicking in and you know you have a heavy afternoon workload waiting for you at the office and you think some Chips Ahoy and a nap sounds about perfect. These mornings are even worse when they happen on the only 25-hour day of the year. But even without that extra hour weighing on your conscience, there's the weather forecast calling for "mostly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of showers" to consider. Letting any morning that promises to be not only long but dry pass by in bed is an unforgivable waste.

It was in this condition I slogged out on my mountain…

Looks like November

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Date: Nov. 3
Mileage: 12.1
November mileage: 79.5
Temperature upon departure: 38
Rainfall: .10"

Perseverance Trail, again. I could ride this trail every day of the week, and nearly have this week. I usually avoided this trail in the summer because of the crowds. Hikers on Perseverance tend to be out to lunch - some literally were out to lunch, as in state workers on their midday break; and others simply could not or would not acknowledge me when I screamed "On your left! On your left!" as they staggered up the wide trail.

But as summer disappears, so do the crowds. I do not know where they go. This has always been a great mystery to me. Where do people go in the winter? The town's population doesn't change much. I still see garbage trucks picking up trash and baristas serving oceans of coffee. But everything else - the trails, the bike paths, the beaches, the back roads - seem to go into some kind of stasis. I wonder in passing where the people go. But frankly, I do n…