Monday, January 21, 2008

Happy Blue Monday

Date: Jan. 21
Mileage: 12.6
January mileage: 521.8
Hours: 2:45
Temperature upon departure: 27
Precipitation: 0"

A couple of years ago, I learned a psychologist had proclaimed the third Monday in January to be "The Most Depressing Day of the Year." (Yes, I also know it's Martin Luther King Jr. Day. But the psychologist is British and probably didn't mean to coincide the two.) I like to acknowledge the passage of "Blue Monday," if only because the day is usually anything but. I love mid-January. It's the time of year I'm pushing toward the peak of my training and riding an endorphin high that can't be crushed by even the heaviest office workload. Days are becoming noticeably longer. Winter has settled into its maximum splendor. Spring is on the horizon.

The weather forecast today called for "mostly sunny." So I was more than a little disappointed when I woke up to a thick bank of clouds hovering above the city. I suited up for the possibility of precipitation and set out with plans for a recovery-type ride on the road. But at the last minute, without even thinking much about exactly why I had changed my mind, I grabbed my Pugsley and hit the Dan Moller Trail instead.

I complained enough the other day about all the rain we received, but it left behind the most ideal trail conditions imaginable. The Moller gains ~500 feet of elevation per mile and has always been an uphill hike-a-bike, even in the best of conditions. But today, with packed snow condensed and frozen to gravel-road consistency, the trail had set up beyond the best of conditions. I was able to ride effortlessly - well, I was able to ride huffing and sweating and wrestling off extra layers and averaging about 4.5 mph. But I rode!

I didn't have to gain much elevation before I emerged from the low-lying clouds and realized that it was, in fact, a sunny, beautiful day. The trail took a steep turn up the canyon, and I relished in listening to the rolling crackle of rubber rather than the crunch-crunch of trudging feet. Even when the trail hit a grade that would have been only marginally climbable even on dirt, I continued to spin and spin furiously until the back wheel refused to inch forward. By the time I was finally, actually pushing, I was only one mile from the top of the ski bowl.

I pushed my bike until even pushing became impossible, and the only place left to go was the near-vertical face of the ridgeline. I layed the bike down and continued to climb up the mountain, kicking steps into the snowpack and hoping my gloved fingers worked as an adequate substitute for an ice axe. I clawed over the crest of the ridge and with one final push - a powdery pull-up - I met the first direct sunlight of the day.

Suddenly I was facing the backside of Douglas Island, looking out across Stephens Passage and Admiralty Island. Elevation was about 2,500 feet.

Sea-level was still shrouded in clouds. I stood at the cusp of treeline and open slopes of untouched powder. I longed to carve some curvy lines and decided that someday I would figure out how to carry a snowboard on my bike. Winter multisport-style.

Instead, I slid on my butt back to the bike and set into the screaming descent. Two hours up and a half hour back. I bounded over an unbroken stream of snowmobile moguls with my butt hovering inches over the back rack and tears streaming down my face in the cold wind. With no powder to kick us sideways, Pugsley and I picked up the kind of raw speed that narrows focus to each single moment, locked in silence without anticipation or fear. We rode the wave of blue shadows, snaking through trees and plummeting into the clouds - where it was still Monday, but different somehow.