Thursday, January 17, 2008

I broke both my snowshoes

How, you might ask, does one go about breaking two individual snowshoes on the same day? By accidentally running them over with a car? No. By hucking off cliffs? Sounds fun, but no. By practicing my kickboxing with a Sitka spruce? No, it's really much more mundane than that. First, you take a pair of cheap collapsible snowshoes. Then you use them to break your own trail up a typically steep slope in Juneau, Alaska, through wet, deep, heavy, heavy snow (I mean, really, is there some kind of lead pollution in the precipitation that nobody knows about?) Fail to notice that the back end has come loose after two miles. Continue stomping around, breaking crucial plastic parts and filling up the tubes with lead-based snow. Act surprised when the back end finally snaps off. Try in vain to wedge it back on to the front. Repeat with other shoe.

I was hoping to put in a long day on my bike sometime this weekend, but the weather turned absolutely atrocious: Temperatures in the high 30s and heavy, heavy (lead-based) rain. This heavy rain has been going on for more than 24 hours, and has turned all of our snow-packed roads to precarious wet ice sheets and our trails to mush. The rain continued today. I could ride in this for sure, but I figure any more than four hours in this kind of weather only stands to teach me three things:

1.) How many changes of clothes I can pack in one drybag.
2.) How long I can endure moving mild hypothermia.
3.) How long I am willing to put up with absolute misery just to ride a bicycle.

None of these are very fun lessons to sign up for, so I rationalized putting off the long ride at least a day, if not until next week. (I could, after all, just put in three longish days on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.) Snowshoeing, on the other hand, sounded much more appealing today. Snowshoeing also stood to offer some valuable lessons:

1.) How my new GPS maps work.
2.) How much of a chance I stand in navigating myself now that I have GPS maps.
3.) How well my high-end endurance is holding up, because I have yet to find a more strenuous activity (that doesn't involve the highly unappealing act of running) than uphill snowshoeing.

So I set out up the Auke Nu trail knowing I could cut out at Spaulding Meadow and navigate myself somewhere else. I was hoping to connect with the Montana Creek trail or something similar. It's not a far distance on screen, but it was a pretty ambitious idea given the conditions. The trail was only broken to the John Muir cabin turnoff, a grand distance of about 0.8 miles. After that, I was sloshing through a foot or more of new, unbroken snow that had been condensed and softened by the rain. About two miles in, I found myself pausing every 50 steps or so to catch my breath. I felt like I was hiking at high elevation.

My right snowshoe finally broke while I was wandering above Spaulding Meadow at an elevation of about 1,500 feet. It took me 15 yards to notice, mainly because I was often sinking up to my knees in the snow, even with snowshoes on. I tried to continue, but it quickly became apparent that the half-snowshoe setup was really throwing off my balance. The other one broke off shortly after I turned around. I kept my half-showshoes on all the way down the mountain, but my heels sunk in so deep that it continued to feel like I was walking uphill.

The hike rounded out to about three and a half hours. It was shorter than planned, so I spent another two hours at the gym. I finished reading "Freakonomics." I did come home with a few other valuable lessons, too.

1.) GPS is pretty good at overall tracking, but despite its claims, it doesn't seem to make satellite connections when there is heavy tree cover ... at least, it doesn't at my slow rate of speed. My odometer listed my total moving time as 1 hour 25 minutes and my stopped time as more than 2 hours. I took my fair share of breathers, but I can guarantee I wasn't stopped for 2 hours. It also listed my final mileage as 3.5. I would estimate, based on the maps alone, definitely more than 7. The total elevation gain, 1,900 feet, seemed much more accurate.
2.) My new boots are really comfortable for hiking, but because they're about three sizes too large, I have to wear at least three pairs of socks to avoid weird rubbing. This will probably be ideal when it's minus 20 out, but it feels uncomfortably similar to walking on hot sand when it's 35.
3.) Never pin expedition hopes on a pair of no-name snowshoes purchased for $20 on eBay.

Oh well. At least I got 2 years out of them.


  1. Have you tried hiking with ranger beads to better measure your distance? When I go hike, I try not to rely on the GPS too much but go with the beads once you have a pace count set. Land nav skills are good to have.

  2. Wow Jill. That's icky weather. We are expecting wind chill reading from -27 to -37 here in MN. I will not be biking out in that. Running...maybe.

    Nice snowshoes. I would say $20 sounds about right and I am amazed they lasted as long as they did.
    I've never used GPS. I would love to have to have a little hand-held GPS, but I'm not sure what to buy. Also, I'm not too keen on another piece of electronics and also not sure how much faith I would have in one. I'm still a map and compass person. It's that whole "Murphy's Law" thing that keeps me from taking the plundge. However, If you or anyone else has a suggestion I could be talked into one if it's not too much $$$.

    I love checking in on your progress and really admire your energy and drive. The photos......they are the best. My friends all tell me I take good pics, but girl, yours are absolutely fantastic.
    Ride On!

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

  3. GPS's are fun and you can do all sorts of nifty navigation tasks with them but they do not replace a good map and compass and basic navigation skills to be sure. Greatly augment but not replace. My Garmin ETrex can't find satellites in cloud cover or in the forest, batteries die, etc. That said, I've been playing on a very cool website lately - You or Geoff may already be familiar with it. If all you do is turn on tracking when you start and turn it off when you stop and save the track, then you can easily upload it to MB. Even newbie's (like myself) can master those GPS skills. You never have to mess with your GPS on your outing. Once your track is uploaded, you can choose between satellite image, Topo map, Google maps, etc for the background and see your route. The Map player feature moves a dot along your route simulating your speed and stops while a graph shows your elevation, speed, etc. at any given point. Another feature is "Dot Racing" where you choose more than one track and watch the dots "race". A nifty way to analyze multiple routes to the same place or your performance on a particular route across different trips and conditions. It's just plain fun to watch, easy to use, richly informative and it's all free. It would also be another way you could share your training efforts with your loyal readers.

    For example, here is my little bike commute to work:
    Here is a dot race of two different routes home:,4744828

    Your mountainous excursions around Juneau would be way more interesting to see.

    If the simulations don't work it may be that you have to install Adobe's SVG viewer first.

    I have no affiliation with MB btw, and there may be other sites doing this.

  4. I'll trade you our recent sub-zero temps for a week. :)

  5. Matt, I think you knoweth not what you're wishing for. But I'd take that trade in a heartbeat.

  6. I agree with you Jill. I can't even imagine having to ride or run in that slop. At least the colder temps. bring with it firm ground or in this case snow pack. Didn't mean to mock your snowshoes. I'm sure that at $20 you more than got your moneys worth out of them. I'll hope and pray for some cooler drier weather in your area. All the best.

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

  7. Some good but tough lessons learned.
    One bad day entitles you to dozens of good days so get ready to enjoy.

  8. A little inspiration for you Jill


    As I float along on frozen snow
    I wonder if it notices my frozen bike
    I don't care my tires float
    My mental train is clear

    I fly faster down the trail
    I float over snow
    I ride the bike thru howling wind and brutal cold
    Old man winter is ripping at my bones
    I wonder if I’m insane as I race to McGrath

    As snow whips around
    It burns my face
    The fate of my toes are at stake
    I think to stop
    I say I will not
    I round the turn
    The finish line in site
    It's definitely not about the bike!


Feedback is always appreciated!