Tuesday, April 08, 2008

April showers

Date: April 8
Mileage: 30.2
April mileage: 229
Temperature: 35

I love spring snow. I've always loved spring snow. But I even love it here in Alaska, where spring snow is not so out of the ordinary.

A thin white blanket settled on Juneau overnight, a temporary shield from the dull browns and wet yellows that dominate the landscape in April. So even though I had scrubbed Pugsley shiny on Sunday, thinking we would not be going out again for quite a while, I couldn't help but drag him up to Eaglecrest today.

Streaks of sunlight danced across the unplowed road, until the drifting clouds finally closed together. In a swirl of flurries I pushed up the slope, right on the trail of a pair of tele-skiers. When I caught up to them, they got a few good laughs. (I didn't point out that I, a post-holing hiker pushing a 35-pound bicycle, had caught up to them.) I did concede that I looked ridiculous, coated head-to-toe in slush and grit as I was, walking a bicycle up a ski slope in April.

"Can you control that thing downhill?" one skier asked me.

"When there's six inches of new snow, not so much," I said. "But the base seems good so it's worth a try."

I turned off at a green run called "Trickster" and kicked off. I don't remember much about the ride down because I was terrified, hearing only the squeal of my wet brakes and seeing only blasts of white, wet powder kick up from my wheels. Within minutes I was back at the road. The snowpack was quickly disintegrating to slush; my 4-inch tires blasted me with so much water I could barely keep my eyes open. There was little I could do but clench my fingers and toes in wet gloves and wet shoes and embrace the full-body pain that is a 20-degree windchill (downhill at 40 mph in 35-degree air) through soaked clothes on soaked skin. I hate it when rides come to this and I should, really should know better by now. I know enough to know that once the chill starts, I only become colder and colder and colder.

I also know enough to know that it's not the end of the world. Biking hard never seems to warm me up to optimal temperature (the faster I go, the harder the windchills cut through), but it does keep the hypothermia at its lowest level. The worst part about a too-cold, wet ride is coming inside once I'm done. I never have the time to warm myself slowly, so I have to go with the rip-the-bandaid-off route: A hot shower. It's the kind of pain that's hard to describe, but easily forgotten - memory is usually merciful when it comes to that level of trauma. If I could realistically remember the way those hot showers feel, I would probably never get on a bicycle again, at least when the temperature was below 60. Descriptions that run through my mind during those intense moments generally follow the lines of "A Million White Hot Needles of Death." That is, when I'm not trying to rip my hair out as a way to feel less pain.

So I took a bad shower and vowed, again, to always, always overdress when I'm cycling in wet conditions. Two more inches of snow fell while I was at work. The sun broke out again as I was returning from my dinner break. Filtered yellow light sparkled on the snow, which coated every tree, every limb, every tiny branch. Snow gave the land a color and depth that I had forgotten in the featureless wash of early spring. It looked so soft and billowy that I wanted to dive right in, and roll around.

It hurt to go inside again, but not in the same way.