Thursday, April 17, 2008

Juneau multisport

Date: April 17
Mileage: 21.1
April mileage: 376.9
Temperature: 30

When I woke up this morning, a swirling blizzard was raging outside. Of course I was thrilled about this development on a Thursday morning. "What should I do today?" I asked myself as I hurried to gulp down my Special K so I could get outside before it melted. "Should I go for a bike ride? A hike? Maybe try to do a snowboard run?" Then it hit me. Why not do all three?

I don't really have the gear to just ride my bike with a snowboard on my back. I tried to stuff the board in one of my larger daypacks, but its angle and height made my shoulders ache something fierce - not to mention the way it caught the 15 mph headwind like a giant sail. My original destination was Eaglecrest. I made it about eight miles past my house, just shy of the cutoff, before I decided that there was no way my screaming shoulders could survive the climb. I turned around with a new destination - the Douglas Ski Bowl.

I parked my bike on the snowmobile trail just as the powder started to become soft and deep, and strapped on my snowshoes. The storm had moved on and the clouds were starting the clear out. I could see strips of blue sky above my head, and something strange, something bright ... could it be the sun? I could hardly believe it.

In the walk up, the presence of that alien orb made everything feel superheated. Sweat poured from my scalp. I only had about 30 oz. of water with me, no sunscreen, no sunglasses ... but I was all but bounding up that trail, just happy to be awake and alive and bathed in sunshine.

I reached the ridge and looked out over Admiralty Island for the first time since January. I miss that view. I live my life in the shadow of the Douglas Island ridge, when all that time this horizon stretches just beyond my grasp.

As I traversed the ridgeline, a wicked north wind tore off the slopes. I put all the clothes I had brought with me back on, and still the chill cut through. As the frigid wind gnawed at my cheeks, I wished for a face mask I didn't have. I went to drink the last of my precious water out of my Camelbak. The valve had frozen completely solid. The fact that had happened made me smile. It was April 17. But being amused by frozen water didn't change the fact that my body was headed that same direction if I didn't get out of the wind. I hated to leave the ridgeline and the view, but then I remembered: My fun was only just beginning ....

I dropped into the canyon, paralleling someone's high-line snowmobile trail in a soft cloud of powder. The whole world disappeared behind silence and weightlessness, falling and flying at the same time. When you spend all of your time on a bicycle, you forget what that feels like. I was completely in awe. I stopped in the bowl and climbed up for more. I couldn't figure out why I hadn't just spent my whole winter powder boarding. It took me a couple more runs to remember ... I'm really much better at cycling than I am at snowboarding. Everything's beautiful until you take a nosedive, then it's just bounce, bounce, followed by a lot of exhausting swimming.

On the way down, I swerved to miss a big knoll only to realize I had nearly run over the Dan Moller Cabin ... normally a two-story structure that sits at about 2,000 feet elevation, still completely buried in snow. It was a somewhat painful reminder that hiking season is still a long, long time away.

But that's OK. Winter can stay.