Friday, January 25, 2008

12 hours and a hard fall

Date: Jan. 24
Mileage: 109.5
January mileage: 659.7
Hours: 12:15
Temperature upon arrival: 21 (forgot to check what it was when I left.)
Precipitation: 0"

I think I am really starting to get this all-day-on-a-bike thing dialed in. I finish the ride, eat a good meal, and almost instantly begin to feel fresh and halfway recovered. I almost feel as though I spent the day at work, not riding my bike. Almost. Except for the issue of the road rash on my elbow, and the dent in my hip. Well, it's not a dent, really; it's more like a lopsided purple goose egg. Either way, it's sure to become a solid streak of soreness before tomorrow. These long rides just wouldn't be the same without small disasters.

I finally peeled myself away from my warm house at 8:15 a.m. and headed directly for the Mendenhall Valley trails. The snow is really set up solid right now ... footprints, ice-covered roots and all. It's a bumpy ride. I wanted to test out the loaded-down bike on some technical stuff. The set-up actually did really well. The big handlebar bag doesn't affect the handling at all. The sheer girth of the bike actually makes it pretty fun to pilot on singletrack - like driving a monster truck over smashed cars. At Dredge Lake, I also met the only person I spoke with all day long, a man named Harry who just happened to write a response to my "Romeo the Wolf" story on NPR. Small place, this city.

While the bike handled well, continuing forward movement was another story. I am thinking about renaming Pugsley "Fat Lard." I'm fairly certain, after adding a camelback to the mix, that together we topped 200 pounds today. I was a little afraid to take him out on the ice for fear we'd go crashing through. I spent most of the day fighting the bizarre gusts of north wind, which in open areas blew at a sustained 25 mph. Even on long flat straightaways like the lake, I found myself saying things like "Well, 9 mph isn't so bad." And then it was 8. And then 7. Despite (or maybe because of) my slowness, I felt strong all day.

I headed out the road because the valley trails are only fun for so long. Snow conditions on the highway were hard and fast, but that infuriating north wind was not helping my cause. I was coasting down a long hill at Mile 38 Glacier Highway (mile 63 on my odometer) when an unexpected cross-wind gust caught me from the side and kicked the whole bike sideways. In my surprise, I over-steered toward the gust and planted my front wheel directly in a deep ice rut. An instant later, the rubber caught the edge of the rut and slammed me on the ice-covered road. It happened so quickly that I didn't even pull my arms out of my pogies. I just went down, hard. Hard enough that the impact swallowed up every last decibel of ambient noise until all I could hear was that quiet little voice of dread. It said, "There goes my hip."

Assuming bones are broken is always my first reaction to a big fall. It's strange, because I've never actually broken a bone. I guess I just assume that nothing unbroken could possibly hurt that much. I just laid there, right in the road, for quite a long time, seeing nothing but red and white sparkles and chanting "ice is hard ... ice is hard." The pain eventually subsided and I stumbled to my feet to inspect the damage to my bike (the truth is, whenever I take a big fall, I could care less what happens to my bike. I am in pain here.) I noticed the left pedal was dented in pretty severely (not like that matters. Tally one point for platform pedals.) But amazingly, my whole gear setup survived intact. The impact didn't even loosen a strap. (Tally one point for crashproof gearbags.) The red blinkie attached to my seat stays also broke off. I wouldn't learn this until it got dark.

This is the spot where I learned the red blinkie had broken off my frame. I have a spare, but it can only attach to my camelback, which meant I had to leave my camelback outside my coat, which of course meant my hose froze in about 30 minutes (I swear, I blow and blow the water out until my face turns blue.) My hip was really sore and this made me grumpy for most of two hours. I mean, this ride was hard enough before the throbbing hip. But as that pain wore off, I began to feel much better. The wind died down (of course, this just had to happen when it would have finally been a tailwind.) The stars came out. The night felt cool and calm. I had a baggie full of Triscuits - this black pepper flavored kind, which at home I find somewhat revolting but after double-digit hours on a bicycle, there's nothing better. Life was good.


  1. My friend likes to put pictures on his blog about the unfortunates of life...his toe and his wife's thumb that was injured by a cheese slicer are the most recent (and just gross to boot). I think just to shake things up a bit, you should show the purple!

    Seriously, great job otherwise and congrats on a successful ride. Hope your hip gets better soon.

  2. Just wondering Jill. Why wouldn't you use a tag-a-long trailer. Not one with a wheel but a lightweight sled if the race is all on the snow?

    One with a solid fix to the bike so it wouldn't run you over and runners to track straight when going downhill.

    I don't know, maybe I missed the reason for that a ways back.


    ps hope you're ok

  3. Cheers Jill, that truly is an epic ride in my book. I can't imagine doing what your doing, I was out on a Night Ride the other night and got separated from my group for about 20 minutes and I was a little creeped out. Glad to hear your setup is working well.

  4. bummer on the fall, but huge congrats on the ride overall. sounds like the storage bag setup went fairly well. My nightly rides into work now seem like I'm in hawaii :)

    From Denver, CO...

  5. Jill,

    I stumbled across your site while the other. I browse it regularly. I lived in Alaska (Fort Richardson) as a child on base and recently began thinking about taking a trip to Alaska more and more. Some friends of mine lived in Juneau for a fews year awhile back and loved it. Your site is great. Good luck in the race.


  6. Good job on the ride.
    Bad ice rut. Ouch.
    I hope you're OK and still moving ahead.

  7. Hello from Missoula Montana! Hope you heal well Jill. I love the third photo down (the shadow one). Excellent shot! Your blog is inspiring snow biking because not only myself but my friend is also jonesing for a Fatty bike. The only problem is the $$.

  8. I just wanted to say the idea and content you write for your blog are amazing. You ambition and drive is also quite inspiring - keep it up and good luck.

    JL - Oakville, On, Canada

  9. H2O blowback - I've been riding lately and the wind chills around chicagoland were -2 F with -20 wind chill. I kept my water clear for hours, but not the first day.

    This is what I learned:
    1. only blow back once to clear the hose, you do not want to fill the bag with air.

    2. after blowback, there's still water in the mouthpice (and lock if you're using one), empty the mouth piece by squeezing it open and then shake the hose and mouthpiece to shed the remaining water.

    3. must use a thermal kit on the hose to help with insulating it.

    It seems the only place my water freezes is at the end of the hose and mouth piece, so if I can get that part inside some layers, it will thaw pretty quickly.

    Good luck.

  10. Hey Jill,
    Sorry about your fall. Hope it heals quickly. I had a similar event in terms of the fall. Hit some very hard ice with my hip and got rewarded with a "purple goose egg" like yours. I was surprised it actually took a couple weeks to go away.

    Anyway, enough about that... Thanks for a great account of a truly epic ride. Fantastic.

  11. Good training. Jill. More time you spend outside, better for the race. Don´t forget to train your mind, probably in the race you will need most than your legs.
    At one point of the race to keep your mind in calm will be the most important.


  12. Way to tough it out! What am I saying... you just walking out your door this morning at 8:15 was way tougher than anything I did today. Keep Rockin'... Hope your hip hematoma heals quickly.

  13. Kudos on the ride Jill, but sorry about the mishap. Hopefully the hip will heal well and in time for the race. I'm hoping it's only superficial. Chances are good that it is. I truly admire your spirit.
    Ride On!

    Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."

  14. Sounds like a fine day of making lemonade. :)

  15. Hi Jill,

    Ouch! I landed on the same hip twice last year. As soon as one bruise was starting to heal I added another layer of insult to the same spot. I am not offering any medical advice, but I will share what I did in case it may be of any value to you.

    I am unaware of the laws, rules, and regulations governing physical therapists in Alaska. Some states allow patients “Direct Access” to physical therapists and other states require a physician’s referral (i.e. prescription). Nevertheless, the insurance companies actually trump everyone, because they will only pay if you follow their rules. Whatever the case, as long as a fracture (even a hairline fracture) has been ruled out, then therapeutic ultrasound (a different frequency than diagnostic ultrasound) or phonophoresis, where anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., cortisol, dexamethasone, salicylates) and local analgesics (e.g., lidocaine) are driven into the tissues by the energy of the ultrasound, will greatly expedite the reparative process.

    If the skin is not intact due to abrasion(s) or wound(s), then phonophoresis is not an option, but therapeutic ultrasound will still help bring the deep bruising to the surface and allow the deeper tissues to heal more quickly. Although the area will probably feel a little better immediately after an ultrasound treatment, it will often look much worse as the deep bruising comes closer to the surface. Since prescription drugs are driven into the tissues by the energy of the ultrasound, this type of treatment will probably require a physician’s referral. In many cases you have to directly ask the physician for a referral for the ultrasound or phonophoresis, because they may not be aware of or oriented toward physical therapy modalities.

    Perhaps these are not options. Epsom salt soaks in the bathtub, Edgar Cayce type castor oil packs (truly miraculous), homeopathic arnica (works best if taken immediately and a worthwhile addition to your kit), gentle massage, gentle stretching all have some value to expedite the healing and decrease the training downtime. However, with only three weeks to go you should be tapering your physical training. This injury may be a blessing in disguise to force you to taper. Nevertheless, the mental and bike/gear preparation will continue up to the start of the race. It is a good time to be validating/testing your gear, your nutrition and hydration plan, and finalizing your bike/gear strategies.

    I have one last suggestion based on this experience. For my own backcountry adventures I am going to buy a SPOT gps tracking device. The only one I am aware of at this point is the one sold by The device ($170) and complete service ($160) are around $330, but allows you to push a “911” button which sends a signal (including your GPS coordinates) to a satellite to initiate a SAR response. It also has an “OK” button to let your significant others know where you are and that you are doing fine. There is also a non-emergency “Help” button, which would relay that message (and coordinates) only to your support person(s). These three features are included in the basic service ($100/yr).

    For another $50/year (which I included in the $160) the device will broadcast a signal to a satellite every ten minutes so that your significant others (only) can track your progress (or lack thereof) on Google Earth. Personally, I am going to purchase that extra service for myself. For you, I don’t think it would violate the rules of the race, because it is a private one-way message. The device does not receive messages; it only transmits simple pre-programmed messages (“911” or “OK” or “Help”-non-emergency) with your GPS coordinates.

    I do not have the device yet, so I cannot vouch for its reliability. Hopefully, it is a real tool and not just a toy (like the buyer beware Hokey Spokes I recently purchased for my night commute). Gram weenies beware though: it weighs about 7 ounces! It floats. If you leave it on and have the extra tracking service ($50/year), then it is self-finding. Once I validate it, then I am going to use it for my Great Divide ride. However, it is just as valuable for training rides.

    I suspect many of your readers would be willing to chip in a couple of dollars to help you with something like this device, but they may not want to use Pay-Pal. You might think about setting up a P.O. Box for donations so that they could slip a couple of bucks in an envelope or send a check through the snail-mail; instead of the hassle of setting up and verifying a Pay-Pal account. That would maintain your privacy while opening up the opportunity for more people to contribute. Many of whom already enjoy reading your blog and have a vicarious stake in your safety and survival. Or, maybe the company would sponsor you? Perhaps if a few (hundred) readers emailed or wrote to the company about your blog and your endeavors, they might consider letting you “try out” their device. I don’t know, but you would still have to come up with the money to pay for the services.

    These are just ideas. I have no financial interest in this company. I don’t seek sponsors either. My opinions are just my opinions. I am just another schmuck who happened to hear about the SPOT gps tracking device while reading a blog; just like how I heard of your blog. However, you are a professional journalist, and you deserve to get some financial reward for the service and enjoyment you provide to us schmucks. That is my schmuckin opinion.

    I hope you heal up quickly. Best wishes on your training and race. Good luck and be safe!

  16. Jill et al,

    Here is a link to an Alaskan newspaper article from two weeks ago of a case where a SPOT saved someone's life after a fall in the north country. Check it out.

  17. Bob ... wow. You are a wealth of information. I have heard of that SPOT device before. I actually considered it for a while. I was going to tell my parents it was my Christmas gift to them :-)

    But I have to admit I felt a bit hesitant, mostly about the price, but also about the implications of a "save me" device. Would I be inclined to use it in a situation that was frustrating, but not necessarily life threatening? It's hard to say. I still can't gage exactly how I'll react in extreme situations. Still thinking about it, though. Thanks for all the info.

  18. Jill,

    When I was younger it was easy for me to think that my behaviors only affected me and no one else. Now that I have children and grandchildren I have to rethink that notion. So, let us gently remind ourselves that our behaviors have profound effects on many more people than we realize. Some of whom we know, many more of whom we will never know, and some of whom have not even been born yet. In mathematics this idea would be an extension of the chaos theory concept called the Butterfly Effect. Specifically they refer to the profound effect that the flapping of a single butterfly's wings in Brazil could ultimately be the initiation of a tornado in Texas.

    I profoundly hope that you are doing this race with very specific parameters in mind for determining whether you will continue or whether you will "pull the plug." In a previous comment I suggested some mental parameters and simple self-checks. Now let me suggest that you carry a little thermometer that you can use to check your body temperature. If it drops to a specific temperature and cannot be restored in a specific amount of time or is continuing to drop, then you "pull the plug." If your stove, lighter or matches fail and you cannot maintain sufficient hydration or nutrition you "pull the plug." If your sleeping bag and clothing is not sufficiently protecting you from the elements then you "pull the plug."

    Keep in mind that not "pulling the plug" is a mistake novices make. Experts will definitely "pull the plug." Experts drill for skill and the decision tree is preplanned. The decision to "pull the plug" is incorporated into the skills base. They do not have remorse about "pulling the plug." When the engine warning light comes on, they shut it down. They don't go into denial about the reality of the situation. When you live to tell about it, then it almost always feels like you should have continued. Unfortunately you often don't live to tell about it if you do continue

    Please don't forget that the SPOT also has a non-911 "Help" button. Maybe your chain broke and now it is too short to get around your desperately needed low gear on the rear cassette. Maybe your derailleur hanger bent and it snapped off when you tried to straighten it. Maybe some bearings got contaminated and seized up. Maybe the pawls in your freehub start slipping and although you aren't desperate yet you are hurting. You don't need the National Guard helicopter, but it is time to "pull the plug." Maybe your support person(s) just needs to contact the race support team and have them pick you up with a snow mobile. It would be nice if they knew where you were located and whether you were still moving. You may have to keep moving to stave off hypothermia. That way they could effectively and efficiently plan their non-emergency rescue. . I especially like the part of the SPOT advertisement that says that the SPOT takes the "search" out or "Search and Rescue." The "search" is the hard part. It is the part that wastes time and resources. "Rescue" is what they prefer to do; not "search" and definitely not "recovery." I think absolutely everyone would rather hear about the rescue than about the recovery.

    We each have to have enough direct and vicarious experience to develop good judgment. The trick is to be lucky enough to survive enough of those experiences in order to develop good judgment. It could be that there is going to be sufficient traffic and support during the race that a SPOT is unnecessary. As for me, I am going to get a SPOT. I am getting it as much for my training rides as for my big trip. Silly, silly me.


Feedback is always appreciated!