Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Take me back to the start

Date: March 9
Mileage: 23
March mileage: 38.5
Temperature: 34

Every time Geoff and I go for a ride together, he can only listen to the creaks and groans emanating from my bike for a few minutes before he demands I pull over to assess the damage. Today it was a rickety bottom bracket and a rear hub that has become so loose the wheel sways from side to side as it rolls forward. Geoff is always disgusted with the perpetual state of disrepair in my old bikes, especially my mountain bike. And I take full responsibility for their sorry conditions. I put a lot of miles on them on awful trails and awful roads in awful weather. And the only question I ask when gauging my bikes’ fitness is, “Do I think (whatever part is creaking or clanking) will snap in half on me today?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to go.

That said, people like me shouldn’t own old bicycles, just like people who never check the oil and ignore the “check engine” light shouldn’t own old cars (Yes, I also own an old car.) Geoff has spent our first few days in Juneau pimping out his Karate Monkey, and has planted the seeds of 29er dreams in my head. I used to think a 29er was too much bike for me, but Pugsley and his huge tires essentially make him a 29er, and a sometimes-70-pound fat load to boot. My reasoning now is if I can handle Pugsley, I can handle anything.

Right now, though, I’m still just trying to handle cycling. I realize I haven’t given myself that much recovery time since the Iditarod Invitational. But how could I pass up a blue-sky day after a night just cold enough to freeze up the gunk, with Geoff actually ready and willing to join me for a mellow ride out Douglas Highway? We took the pace easy but I still felt heavy and tired with noticeable sharp knee pain toward the end. I may have to take another week or so off the bike. But if the sun comes out again, all bets are off.

Recovery continues elsewhere, including my efforts to re-establish a healthy relationship with food. From the second I recovered my appetite - during the “morning after” in McGrath - I’ve been eating everything in sight. I think I’ve gained two or three pounds back since the race - not that those pounds were all that missed in the first place. It actually would have been kinda cool to keep them off. But I’m so afraid of the spectre of the bonk now that I’ll find myself sprinting to the vending machine at the slightest tinge of hunger pangs. That would have been a great move during the race, but I have to remind myself that pounding M’n Ms at 4 p.m. is not healthy in the real world.

Beyond my semi-broken bikes and semi-broken body, every day I come to a new realization of just how valuable of an experience this race really was for me. One life lesson that comes to mind happened after Bill Merchant caught up to me at Bison Camp and I admitted to him that I had somehow tossed my headlamp during the day. I bit my lip and waited for the lecture about my stupid, boneheaded carelessness. Instead, Bill confided that he took a number of of own spills that morning, and one of those falls had snapped his GPS off its handlebar mount. “It’s lying out there a snow angel somewhere,” he said.

“Oh man, that sucks,” I said, thinking that Bill must have been devastated to lose a $300 gadget, and so early in his race to Nome. He just shrugged. “I didn’t really need it,” he said. “I’m just glad it wasn’t my mittens!” I remember looking at my own $20 pair of mittens and thinking about how carefully I had been guarding them, how much I valued them. Out on the trail, the value of your paltry possessions takes on a whole different meaning. Clothing becomes as valuable as the body parts it protects. Electronic gadgets are heavy luxuries. A hack repair job that keeps a bicycle running is as good as gold. Cash is worthless. And kindness can change the world.

Good lessons. And here I am, a week later, back in the real world, coveting a new bicycle.

Life is a mystery.


  1. "...every day I come to a new realization of just how valuable of an experience this race really was for me."
    That is exactly the best way to remember the last couple of weeks, and all of the training going into them.
    It may sound hackneyed, but that which does not kill us, makes us stronger. Push the limits.

  2. ...oh forget the bike and take care of Jill.

  3. This is a comment for your entire race and reports.

    It was AWESOME following along. Even though I have never met you guys my heart slumped in its own way to find out Geof would have to wait a year (or two. . . ) to realize this goal.

    I find your recollection of the events amazing. The story about crossing the frozen waterfall with your non-english speaking compadre really hit home with me. There is nothing quite as beautiful as showing another person "the way" and giving them inspiration.

    Incredible job at achieving what you wanted and having the compassion to share it with all of us.

    Absolutely incredible, now we must follow the others to Nome.


  4. Congrats on the self torture of "The Race". I too am a bike wrench and if my wife's bike creaks it drives me up the wall. On the 29'er issue, just get one. I ride a single speed, you may want gears because of your knees. They roll fast and over everything with ease. Peace out.

  5. "Out on the trail, the value of your paltry possessions takes on a whole different meaning...Good lessons. And here I am, a week later, back in the real world, coveting a new bicycle."

    And that's because you are human being that adapts to her surroundings. If you weren't you would not have made it through the race. If you weren't you wouldn't be teasing with the idea of Nome (yet). If you weren't you wouldn't survive your everyday life and the everchanging demands it places on your heart, soul, mind, and body.

    You are an amazing woman with an amazing spirit and I can only hope to face the challenges in my life with the determination in which you've faced yours.


  6. 29er, oh yeah! big wheels, big fun, big smile...and climb, climb, climb...you do live in juneau, you know!

  7. Life is fairly predictable. It's only a mystery if you don't understand underlying motivations. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs just kicking in..
    But you're always a good read!
    Cynthia in the Valley

  8. those last 2 photos of you look peaceful. I hope that's what you're feeling.
    Recover well.

  9. Slacker, get some miles already. I'm up to like, 38 for the month.

  10. I am very anal when it comes to my bikes. The car can fall apart, the roof of the house can leak, but heaven forbid the bike is dirty or not maintained properly when you leave the house.

    My bikes don't even stay in the garage. They have a cozy room in the basement.

    The group I ride with tends to give me a good deal of guff about it.
    Relax and relish your accomplishment Jill. If Geoff wants to fix your bike, well, more power to you : )

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

  11. Hey Jill,

    I remember talking to a guy that had just come back from a hike of the Adarondac trail. sic He said people wouldn't invite him over anymore for dinner because he would eat everything in site. Sound familiar?

    There are people who own things and there are people who fix them. Always has been always will be.


  12. No way a girl can have too many bikes !!

    no way, not ever, no how.

    lose the car, get the 29er

    Living car free is a liberating challenge too, I know.

  13. bicycles are organic
    we can grow accustom to their weakness
    the changes are subtle and slow
    sometimes they happen without us even knowing

    sometimes we get so slack that things get loose so that they are worn beyond adjustment of repair

    sometimes I let things get too slack
    but I always try to pull in the slack before things get dangerous

    my bikes tend to creak
    guess some of my friends fix my bike more for their ears than for my ride

  14. Thanks very much for sharing your adventure, Jill. I plan to do McGrath in '09, and your vivid descriptions will help me prepare.

    Your fellow female fatbiker, IvyFriday, in Anchorage.

  15. I think that FedEx should give you a new bike, what with all the good publicity you gave them. ;-)

    On the subject of good publicity, maybe Surly could/should come up wiht the goods...

  16. Hi Jill,

    Great ride, you are awesome.

    Check out Salsa's 29er's. You'd look great on a Dos Niner or maybe a Mamasita. Give Pugs a rest.

    Joe from cold and snowy Iowa

  17. Awwww... your blog makes me wanna go back there...

  18. Bike maintenance: I'm much too much of a slacker on that--I wish I had someone who wanted to take care of the bike for me! My son does enjoy spending some time in the garage, so my Kona got a good share of cleaning and loving last weekend. But overall, I feel a lot like this: http://www.yehudamoon.com/index.php?date=2008-02-17

    Especially in Juneau--it is hell on bikes. My old Kona Koa that I loved was purchased in Fairbanks in '94. After daily riding for 8 years there, we got a change of life in the Southwest--Moab trips and lots of volcanic tuft-dust and ponderosa pine needles in Northern NM. After a few years there--up to Juneau. Then after three years in Juneau I paid at least enough attention to notice the hairline cracks forming on each end of the stem/tube part of the frame. That frame was immediately retired and I went shopping--I tried out several 29'ers on trips to lower 48 bike shops. I ended up getting the Kona Kula 2-9. After a year using it daily in Juneau, I'm quite happy with it, but not as impressed as I was with the Kona. The Koa took all my maintenance neglect and kept going. The Kula is showing rust on several bolts and the crankset--maybe it is just my perception: the Koa came to Juneau with some "age" and the Kula started out new--but the black-matte paint on the handlebars rubbed off much to easily (I guess it wasn't baked on?!), the disc brakes exhibited too much stiffness when it got cool (20F)--I assume I just needed Simon in Fairbanks to give me the good "cold weatherization" the way he did when I bought Koa--he replaced the stock suspension forks with rigid forks that were wider so the snow cat rims would fit, redid all the fluids/lubs, etc... I just took the "stock" Kula 2-9 (I thought I'd come in from the dark ages and go with the suspension forks and disc brakes--although they are nice, I'm personally not convinced I needed 'em). I guess I'd be happy with my old black Flying Pigeon three speed internal to the back hub.. :)

    Overall--thanks for the great blogging from the trail. Want to come to the Univ., do a slide show and story on the ride, let students try out Pugs (?!?!) and give the Kona Kula 2-9 a ride around? It might be fun!

    A good day in Juneau:

    Awesome, inspiring ride!
    Matt (with an awfully bike-free blog at the moment, I'll have to fix that soon!


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