Wednesday, February 13, 2008


This has been a rough few days for me. Even with copious hours of help from Geoff, it seems like all I have done is work on my bike. I’d wake up in the morning and do the washing, the gear prep, the tinkering, then come home from work at night for more gear prep, more tinkering, then wake up the next day and do it all again. I was relieved when I finally hoisted my boxed-up bike across the wet ice that was once the FedEx parking lot and watched an all-too-cheery delivery guy haul it away. I half hoped I’d never see it again.

That’s another thing I’ve been struggling with since, oh, about Monday - a vague (or sometimes very acute) sense of dread. The kind of dread that gurgles up from my gut, casting a gray pall over the already dreary gray days, telling me that I would rather do anything than slog across Alaska tundra on my bicycle. This isn’t wholly unexpected. I struggled a lot with a similar sense of foreboding before the 2006 Susitna 100, although I wasn’t willing to admit that to myself at the time. It is all part of this great game, and that part that makes be long to wish away these next 10-odd days. Of course there will still be flashes of excitement, but I’m worried that all I may do for the next week is slink through my routine and brood.

I finally received the panic call from my dad the other day, who has been doing way more Internet research about this race than I would prefer. He informed me that, as he spoke to me, it was 43 degrees below 0 in McGrath. “Yes, yes I know it is, Dad,” I said.

“Do you know what that means?” he asked.

“Well no,” I said. “No, I actually have no idea.”

But what little I can imagine about -43 degrees on the cold side of the Alaska Range is completely lost on my friends of co-workers, well-meaning as they are.

“So, when’s your race?” they ask. I want to tell them that it’s not a race, it’s a full-on expedition with the added pressure to go fast, and I want to tell them that anxiety about performance is nothing compared to anxiety about perseverance.

“How long is it? 350 miles?” I want to tell them to take their Juneau concept of a mile and multiply it by at least four, that’s what a mile means in Interior Alaska wilderness.

“And you’re riding your bike?” And I want to say, I am taking a bike with me. I will use the bike when I can. But I have to expect the possibility that the bike will be more of a burden than a tool. That I may spend as much time pushing my bike as I do riding it. Maybe more. I want to ask them if they can understand the eternity of 2 mph when it’s spread out over 350 miles.

“And they’ll have checkpoints for you with food and stuff, right?” Checkpoints that are as much as a day apart, yes. That if you aren’t self-sufficient out there, you might as well be a couch potato with a solid training schedule of TiVo for how likely it is you’ll succeed.

“So I bet you’re getting really excited.” And I just nod, because I don’t know what to say.

But the truth is, I am excited. The Iditarod Invitational is a guaranteed grand adventure. Even if I slip on Knik Lake ice and break my arm less than one mile into the race, I will always be able to say, “Well, I dreamed it.” The most difficult step may just be showing up at that starting line. Hopefully I will be able to use some of these next 10 days to assuage some of my anxieties and get out more on my mountain bike, because this month has had entirely too much time off the bike. The Pugsley is gone and there are only a few small things I can do to prepare. The only training hump I have left to tackle is my fear.


  1. You go girl! I've been following your blog from New Zealand for some time now and I'm really impressed by your dedication, preparation and sheer enjoyment of your sport.
    Best wishes for the race.
    Mtbcat (NZ)

  2. These feelings are normal and part of the game. Why am I doing this is only answered at the end when you just know why. Coworkers will never get it and parents will never like it. You are well prepared for this and it will all work out in the end. As the adventurer's motto says "If you finish on time, then it was too easy to begin with". Besides, beauty doesn't know temperature, so that will always be a constant you can look forward to.

    Good luck Jill and I will be rooting for you in your bike pushing expedition of pain and beauty.

  3. I love your honesty in this post. I too am tackleing some Alaska based fear - although it does not involved 350 miles across the state.

    Tomorrow I have job interview with Anchorage School District. They are recruiting here on the east coast. If I get a job, which I hope I do, it is official: I am packing up and moving to a state I have never been. 4,000 miles away. By myself.

    So I know what excitement mixed with dread feels like just about now!

    I am sure I will say it again, but good luck on your ride. Live the dream!

  4. I have been reading your blog since November and when I found it, I went all the way back to the beginning to read everything. That being said, I'm glad to hear you are apprehensive. I think it means you fully appreciate the magnitude of what you are doing. It also makes it mean more when you succeed.

    Of course, it is human nature to try to find connections and similarities with others and every time I read one of your posts I compare what I am working toward with your goal. Even though mine are much simpler, shorter and essentially easier, I am still worried.

    The fact that you are worried about your adventure gives me hope because I know you will persevere, and maybe I can too.

    I can't wait to watch your progress online.

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  6. This last entry reminds me of one of Rocky's fight scenes. He's bleeding, sweating and only standing because he's getting battered into the ropes. Then, with the words, "But the truth is...", an uppercut! And fury unleashed on the opponent.

    Fear?! I've been reading your blog for the past couple of months and the only emotion I get out of it is ass-kicking confidence. You may be wrestling with some demons that you're not relaying to us out here. But I've never caught a wiff of anything but well backed confidence. Keep your chin up!

  7. Jill

    Go For It!!

    Sam (in the French Pyrenees)

  8. Good luck Jill! That feeling in your stomach may feel like dread, but it is called "living". Enjoy it.


  9. As a cyclist from balmy Minnesota, I find your story inspirational and educational. I found your blog by the great beauty of your photographs and became a regular reader because of the strength of your writing. With this post I will continue to follow to witness the courage of your convictions.

    I don't recall who I am paraphrasing but someone said that it isn't courage when one faces great danger without fear, true courage is only seen when someone knows great fear and chooses to proceed anyway. I am in awe of your courage and wish you the best possible adventure.


  10. Jill,
    Invite your dad to get you a "leash" as Mike Curiak calls it.

    The fear is normal and good.

    Your training is sufficient, just stay loose.

    Don't be afraid to "hyperload" (another Curiakism) - put on a couple pounds, because you will burn it off.

    Forget about fixing tires at -40 degrees. Be aware that tubes can splint at the seam and pumps break at that temperature (ala Curiak again)! Be safe, have fun, good luck!!!

  11. Jill, As the parent of Geoff, I can understand where your Dad is coming from - I have a lot of the same feelings bottled up inside me that I am sure he has. We will probably never like what you and Geoff are doing as long as it involves what we feel is very "dangerous" for you. I can understand the apprehension that you are feeling because I am feeling somewhat the same feeling also. I have asked myself over and over again - why are they doing this? - what will it be like? - will they be ok? - how can they be ready to do this? and on and on. You both are so motivated individuals and are so dedicated to what you set your mind to do. You have trained for this for a long time and just to be a part of something like this should make you so proud of yourselves. Even though I am horrified at the idea of the two of you doing this - I am behind you all the way and know that you are well prepared for this huge expedition. All I can say is that I will be glued to the internet to follow your progress and will be so glad when it is over (hopefully this is the first and last time you will do this). I don't think I can go thru another year of worrying about the two of you. It is almost time for the "great adventure of a lifetime". Get ready, get set and GO out and conquer your goal. We love the two of you and will be waiting to read your success story when it is over.

  12. Every time I do something big I start wondering why I'm doing it. I start thinking it would be so much easier to be like most people and just sit around and watch TV. But then life would be so boring. I really do live for the adventure.

    I had been so focused on packing and making sure everything was taken care of before Race Across America that it felt so good to get started. Once all the pressure of getting ready was gone, I was so relaxed on the bike. In fact I went off the road the first day because I was zoned out and not paying attention.

  13. You need only go back and read your ode to Pugsley to know that you will make it through together.

    The answer to -43 is...why yes that means it is going to be really cold - but that is part of the challenge no?

    Fear is natural and motivating - embrace, enjoy - then whoop its **s

  14. Jill, your getting us all excited! I am calling in sick and going for a ride ... er, push!

  15. To add to the many "encouragement" posts, remember that during the taper phase of training, feelings of discouragement, apprehension, fear, and even depression are's not just you. Many people, including myself, experience these feelings. A measure of comfort can be found in understanding they're part of the process.

    Trust in your training. You've put in the miles, you’re prepared, and you'll do great!!!

  16. "Endurance in patience concentrated."

    Each mile may seem longer than the last, but keep your pedals turning and your feet moving, and you'll find the finish line. Likely exhausted, frozen and hungry, but from what I've learned about you through your blog, I bet you'll have a smile on your face and will have learned more about yourself over the 350 miles than most do in a lifetime.


  17. You go girl!
    I've been reading your blog with a sense of awe and admiration during what has been a rather warm summer here in Melbourne...trying to imagine what riding in the snow must be like.

    Your photography is awesome, adding to my admiration for you and your blog.
    The sense of dread/horrified anticipation that you are experiencing now is one that all athletes contemplating something as huge as what you are doing will and should feel....its all part of the package.
    I hope all goes well for you . Total respect.

  18. If you didn't have aprehension I'd be worried about you. But because you have and are expressing your aprehension it means you understand the nature of the challenge you face.

    You have prepared your body, bike, and mind for this. Your bike has shipped off. Your body is as ready as it is going to be. Your mind is the only thing left that your brain has the possibility of defeating in an attempt at what it feels is self preservation.

    Fear is natural. Try to switch the focus to something else when those thoughts well up. You are prepared!

  19. As an old bike racer and rock climber, I discovered that the "butterflies" and sense of apprehension is your mind's way of preparing you for a good performance. You should be nervous, but not paralyzed by fear. Knock 'em dead!

  20. as a person prone to anxiety, anticipating the feeling of dread that can lead to depression battles before or on the trail (why am I doing this?), and allowing them into your schedule, (now is the time where I feel like crap, and I won't soon), is a great way to get past these hurtles and allows you to look forward to the next phase. You'll rock Jill, and I'm sure will be just enjoying the moment most of the way through, hardships and all, and will be smiling with the rest of us for you when you're done :)

  21. Jill,
    You have done the training and have prepared well for this race.
    I can't wait to read your report after the race that tells how well you did.
    Good luck and enjoy the journey.

  22. Jill,
    The fear and apprehension you feel are normal. They are also a good thing, because those are the two things that will keep you safe, and prevent you from doing something foolish. Not that you would of course. I'll never forget my first climb on Grand Teton. Very scared and always questioning what the hell I was doing. Once the climb started the apprehension went away, but the fear kind of remained in the background. It kept me sharp and I do believe it was that fear that kept me safe.
    You are, by the sounds of it, very well prepared. I feel confident that you and Geoff will both do great!
    I just hope you can manage to get some sleep, because I know that I wouldn't.
    Ride On!

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

  23. This epic trail will take you into places you cannot now imagine. It's a wonderful leap of faith. I love you for taking it. We will be thinking about you and praying for you and will be watching with great happiness to see where this takes you (in the years ahead). Breathe deeply, dreamer. jgp

  24. You don't have to go! Come to Tally and play ping pong and eat cheese grits.

  25. Jill,
    I keep thinking about reading your posts and watching the incredible mileage pile up. I keep seeing all of the truly wild conditions through which you rode some of those miles. You have prepared your physical state well. It looks like you have the logistics down by the looks of your fully loaded bike. Now is the time to put the finishing touches on mentally mastering the race, visualizing your progress, from start to finish. Plus you have that little added edge of this internet "fan base"! How can you not be successful. My thought is that if you can't do it, then it can't be done. Your readers know you can do it. I look forward to reading the full race report. Wishing you and geoff all the best!
    Ride strong.

  26. Wow - I'm looking forward to seeing how things go! Good luck!

  27. Good luck, Jill, Keep your mind in calm all the time (only think in the current moment, step, by step).


  28. Good luck Jill!

    I have no idea what on Earth its going to be like out there - I'm not sure there's any point in guessing - but I know that (a) you will turn up at the start line and (b) 1-mile-in-Lake-accidents notwithstanding, you've got it in you to turn the dream into an extraordinary achievement.

    We'll be rooting for you every (eight British) mile(s) of the way!

  29. Thanks to everyone for the encouragement. My head is in a much better spot today.

  30. Jill - I'm amazed you were able to do this. What a great accomplishment!!


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