Friday, May 30, 2008

Oh, the places we'll ride

Date: May 29
Mileage: 117.3
May mileage: 1,138.8
Temperature: 60

(With apologies to Dr. Seuss.)

Today is your day!
There's no work to do.
There's more time to play.
You have food in your pack.
And legs in your shorts.
And you can propel yourself.
On an adventure of sorts.
You have a bike. And you are what you are.
But as a cyclist only you can decide how far.
You think over your options, but it doesn't seem fair
You'll think, "But I always, always go there."
With your pack full of food and your shorts full of legs
You don't want to risk pedaling around in the dregs.
But this is not the day
To wallow in your abode.
The sun is out; it's time
To head out the road.

It's opener there,
Beyond the city we share.
Out the road, there are trails
That are seldomly used
Even by people as hungry
And leggy as you.
So when you find yourself alone,
In a place that's all new,
Just keep pedaling along.
Because that's what you do.

Oh! The places we'll ride!
Where the glaciers loom large!
Where the rivers run deep!
Where deer leap along roadsides,
And the mountains climb steep.
You won't turn around because you have the strength.
To go anywhere you want to - any height, any length.
Wherever you ride, you'll see beauty and awe,
Until you can't even believe all the things that you saw.

Except when you're marred,
Because sometimes, it's hard.
Those beautiful things,
Sometimes come with a cost,
And sometimes you're tired,
And sometimes you're lost.
And sometimes you're fighting
An unending wind,
Or jaw-jarring roots
That flip you end over end.
And when you're on the ground,
You're not in for much fun.
Getting back on the bike.
Is not always easily done.
The trail will keep going,
And you'll wonder what for.
There's beauty here,
But also violence and gore.
A place where you could break a collarbone or thumb.
Do you dare move forward? Do you dare say you're done?
And if you say you're done, where do you draw the line?
Go home? Take up knitting? Drink a gallon of wine?
Or stand up and keep pedaling down the trail?
Simple it's not, and you still could fail.

You can get so frustrated.
That you'll stare at the ground.
Zoned out to all of the color and sound.
Grinding on for miles without looking around.
Headed, I fear, to a place you'll feel bound.
The quitting place.
For people just hoping that the pain will end.
So they can go home, call their friends.
Sit on the couch and maybe pretend
That there is no need to ever bike again.
People just want to quit.
Quit dodging the trees,
Quit pushing until they wheeze,
Quit hurting their knees.
Everyone is just quitting.

No! That's not for you!
Somehow you'll pull through.
All the thoughts of quitting and fear.
You'll hop those bad roots.
You'll learn how to steer.
With your hair flip-flapping,
Once more you'll ride true!
With everywhere to go and everything to do!
Oh the places we'll ride!
Narrow trails riverside.
With the flow and the feel that there's no reason to hide.
All of the magical things you can do with your bike.
Will make you wonder what's not to like.
Fast! You'll go as fast as you want to go.
With the whole world willing you to never be slow.

Except when they don't.
Because sometimes, they won't.
There will be times.
That you hit a wall.
Slowness that feels even worse than the fall.
Just slow! Whether you like it or not,
Slow is something you will be quite a lot.
And when you're slow, it's a very good bet,
That you will believe your match has been met.
And you're done, forever, with nowhere to go now but down,
And you'll want to turn and head right back to town.
But on you will go,
Though the miles run long.
On you will go,
Though you feel you don't belong,
On you will go,
Quietly humming a song,
Onward beyond,
The end of the road.
Where gravel you've never ridden,
Stretches beyond Echo Cove.
The sign says "restricted,"
Which you decide means "no cars."
And you'll take this path
To places farther than far.

You'll get tired, yes,
you'll get tired yet again.
And jolted and tossed
And stopped by dead ends.
So be sure when you pedal,
Pedal with passion and grit,
And remember that cycling's
More than just a way to stay fit.
Just never forget to be flexible and strong,
And always mix up a good list of songs,
And will you succeed?
Yes you will indeed!
Joy is one thing cycling can guarantee.
Kid, you'll ride miles!
So be your name Raleigh or Surly or Trek,
Roadie or Pugsley or Kim or Shrek,
You're off to go riding!
To go anywhere you like!
Your trail is just waiting.
So get on your bike!

(For Susan)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Time to go grocery shopping

Date: May 28
Mileage: 31.2
May mileage: 1,021.5
Temperature: 64

My quads are killing me. Yes, they're sore from snowshoeing yesterday. Well, not really sore from snowshoeing - more like sore from that flailing, loping run thing I did most of the five miles down the mountain because I was running late for work. It's strange, because the muscles all but throb when I'm just sitting at my desk, but they feel OK when I'm pedaling. Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in a long ride tomorrow after all.

I sent Geoff a package today with his mail and various bike parts. Because it was one of those USPS flat rate boxes, I started looking for other things to fill the empty space. I added a pair of bike socks and a few New Yorker magazines that I already read. I thought about sending him some bike food, but I don't have any left in my own stash. I rifled deeper in the cupboards and rediscovered my box of Iditarod food. This is the food I actually dragged, stuffed as it was in a frame bag, for many grueling miles during the February race. Some of it went the entire distance. Actually, a lot of it did - because I didn't really eat much of anything during the actual event. Then the food came home with me - crushed, mangled, deep frozen and defrosted. I couldn't bear the thought of eating it, ever, or even looking at it again, really. But it was food, technically edible food, and I couldn't bring myself to throw it away. So today I sent it to Geoff. I'm not sure what he will think when he opens his package to find three-month-old baggies of mixed nuts and crushed-to-crumbs Trio bars. I do know that as the post office worker whisked the package away, I felt a tinge of sentimental attachment that I harbor for just about everything associated with that race. Even my gross old food.

After I sent the package, I realized the barely salvageable Iditarod stash was my only real option for having any food for a bike ride tomorrow. My fridge contains exactly three cartons of yogurt, half a loaf of bread, a jar of jam and a bunch of condiments that are probably expired and belong to my roommate anyway. Geoff used to do most (all) of the grocery shopping and I think Shannon and I are going through withdrawals. Literal food withdrawals. I cobbled together some frozen vegetables and chicken for lunch today, but that's not going to pack well on a bike ride. I may have to make a bunch of jam sandwiches. Life is harder without Geoff. In more ways than one.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Video blog: Summer stroll

Date: May 27
Mileage: 9.2
May mileage: 990.3
Temperature: 56

I'm pushing my highest-mileage month ever on a bicycle (I mean, besides my long bike tour.) Only about 25 more miles and I shouldn't have any problem surpassing it, although I try to tell myself it doesn't matter. I've long been converted to the idea of quality over quantity, and yet I still keep track of every mile I pedal, and get excited about distance. I thought about shooting for a month-end surge if for no other reason than to bump up the record to something harder to beat (and because all the saddle time is good training for the 24 Hours of Light, which is still on the docket.) But it's hard not to take advantage of a cloudless day to hike to elevation for some stunning views.

I have been thinking more about hiking lately, silently willing the snow to just melt already so there's more user-friendly access to high points. I feel like this is the summer to hit the mountains hard - I have a GPS now, a few maps, better emergency gear, and a better idea of accessible ridgelines and possible places to explore. I probably won't delve into any seriously deep exploration this year - these roadless areas demand multi-day time commitments, and I generally have about four hours in the morning, tops. Plus, I am just a walker in a maze of technical barriers. Maybe this is the year that I learn how to climb. As if one expensive, all-consuming hobby wasn't enough.

But, yes! Hiking. I'm so excited. I take little tastes on the rapidly deteriorating snowmobile and boot pack trails. I took some video footage today while I was walking on the Dan Moller Trail because I was excited about the color and light of the day - forgetting that pretty scenery doesn't really translate to heavily compressed, pixelated Web video. And walking doesn't make for exciting footage. Every time I make one of these video blogs, afterward I think they're really stupid and I shouldn't post them. But, then I go ahead and post them anyway.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Summertime, and the livin's easy

Date: May 25-26
Mileage: 26.7 and 45.1
May mileage: 981.1
Temperature: 66 and 59

My housemate and I received our long-dreaded electricity bill this week. I actually shuddered a little when he asked me if I wanted to see it. But all of our energy conservation efforts have paid off. We came in well under $100 when we were bracing for $200-$250. I'm sure we're not alone in being pleasantly surprised by our bill. Since the April 16 avalanches wiped out the city's hydro power, Juneau has cut its electricity use by more than 35 percent. The utility sends me the stats every day so I can post them in the newspaper, and they're downright amazing. Scott at AEL&P even made a nice graph. On April 16, Juneau used 972 MW-hours of energy and burned 84,417 gallons of diesel. On May 25, we used 551 MW-hours of energy and burned 33,388 gallons of diesel. A new record low. There are a lot of factors that go into energy and fuel use, but I think Juneau serves as proof that large-scale energy conservation within entire communities actually is a viable dream - as long as the incentive is good enough. People are being hit hard in the pocketbook, and so they're riding their bikes more often, walking more places, watching less TV, and generally experiencing a different quality of life. I'm not in support of natural disasters ruining valuable infrastructure, but I have to admit I view this "energy crisis" as an interesting experiment in positive change.

It does help that the weather hit 60 for the first time all year and climbed right up into the 70s this week. That's about as warm as it gets in this part of the world, and I've been venturing outside in short sleeves and shorts, soaking my pasty, hasn't-seen-daylight-since-August pale skin in UV rays until I'm dehydrated, sun drunk and covered in patchy burns where I missed a layer or two of SPF 50. I promised myself I wouldn't complain about sun as long as I lived in Juneau, but I have to admit that I did complain, a little, today as I explained to my co-worker that I couldn't eat anything hot - spicy or temperature-wise - because of the sun blister spread across my bottom lip.

But life in Alaska is pretty lax when it's summer and warm and the weather is beautiful. The sun sets so late now that I almost don't need to bring my bike lights to work any more, and it's wonderful to just walk out the door in whatever I feel like wearing and ride to the office without the burden of piles of soaking wet clothing. I like to tack on a few extra miles in the evening so I can roll alongside the water where deep orange streaks of sunlight brush across the horizon, painting over any remnants of the blues.
Sunday, May 25, 2008

Beyond the dead ends

Date: May 24
Mileage: 147.4
May mileage: 909.3

I’d been feeling a serious need to leave town, even if only for a day. With the crunch of work and travel time, one day was about all I’d have. But where to spend a day? A flight to Anchorage seemed excessive. I thought about Sitka with its logging roads and trails, but then I realized what I really needed was a long road ... a road that doesn’t dead-end ... a road that, at least in the deepest recesses of potential, is limitless.

The Haines Highway is one of two roads that link Southeast Alaska with the outside world. That and the Klondike Highway are two of the most beautiful routes I’ve ever had to privilege to ride a bicycle along, which I’ve done only once, during a whirlwind tour last August. Back then I put a lot of pressure on myself to complete this post-injury, pseudo-fast-tour, which, looking back, did cut away from the experience. This time I was going out solely for the joyride, as far or as little as I felt like moving.

I booked a round-trip ferry ticket with less than 36 hours layover. The Marine Highway System is still running the slow ferries out that way, which amounts to a 4.5-hour trip to move about 75 miles. People who have lived in Juneau a long time always seem to groan sympathetically at the necessity of ferry travel, the same way others might when told about plans for airline or bus travel. I don’t really understand the objection. The ferry is like a mini-Alaska cruise. Unlike air travel, which really is tedious, the ferry allows free movement, unparalleled wildlife viewing, hot food and showers. I like to catch up on my New Yorker reading and take naps. If I were to do this stuff at home, after a few hours I’d feel guilty about my idleness. But on a boat, you have no choice. So I soak it in.

I arrived in Haines at 9:30 p.m. and went to grab my bike from the car deck only to discover that the front tube had blown up. I mean, it literally blew up - it blasted the tire right of the rim and hung there in shreds. I have no idea how that happened. I pumped the tires up to 60 psi, which is still 5 psi below the posted maximum, and took the bike for an 18-mile ride before I loaded it onto the ferry. And it’s not like there are cabin pressure changes at sea level. A mystery.

I swapped out the tube with my only spare and cursed my stupidity at only bringing one spare. The Haines Highway is nothing if not remote - 150 miles of not even a cell-phone signal. It seemed reckless to head out without even one spare tube, especially since I had already had one spontaneously explode on me. I felt a little discouraged as I hoisted my backpack and labored the five miles into town. When I am “base-camp” camping I like comfort, and a lot of it. I had books, a pillow, clothing, food, to the tune of about 60 pounds of gear that hung over my head. The large pack pressed into my shoulders, kinked my neck and dug deep into my hips. Still, the soft pink light of sunset hung over the Chilkat Mountains, and I was happy to be there.

I had hoped to get an early start the next morning, but I thought it better to wait until Sockeye Cycles opened so I could buy a tube before hitting the open road. I toured around town to kill some time and set out for real around 9:30 a.m. The morning was nearly perfect - low 60s, mostly sunny, almost no wind (I tried not to get too attached to that last condition because I knew it was bound to switch to a mean headwind when the prevailing breeze picked up in the afternoon.) The road hugged the wide Chilkat River, with chiseled and whitewashed spires of the mountains as its background. “People in Haines live in paradise,” I thought. “I could ride this road every day” ... momentarily forgetting that if I lived in Haines, where the Haines Highway dead-ends, I wouldn’t have much choice.

(August ........................ May)

But you forget how freeing the simple idea of the open road can be. I didn’t know how far I was going to ride that day and liked that I didn’t know that. I put my GPS in my backpack and let it tick off the miles where I couldn’t watch them. I had tons of food, iodine tablets, lights, a bivy sack, extra clothing, and enough confidence in my abilities to know that I truly could go as long as I wanted - as long as I made it back it time to catch my 9 a.m. ferry the next day. That, to me, is one of the best benefits of fitness - the unhindered freedom to explore.

(Haines Highway Summit, one of the great 1,000-meter summits of the world, near km 104.)

The unwatched miles passed surprising quickly and before I knew it, I was crossing into Canada and beginning the happy crawl into the heart of the mountains. Old snowpack lingered well below the treeline, and above the treeline the snow was streaked and stark against the gravel and granite. I veered onto a pullout at Haines Highway Summit just as a tourist in a giant Cruise America rental RV pointed his camera right at me. “Bicycle with snow,” he shouted in a heavy, possibly German accent. I shot him my best expert grin.

(Here's what the Haines Highway Summit looks like without my hammy mug in the way.)

Beyond the pass, the breeze picked up at my back and I became painfully aware of all of those miles of soon-to-be-headwind behind me. 65, maybe 70 miles? The tundra was so stark and beautiful that the thought of turning around hurt, but I had to think hard about how far I really wanted to push beyond the pass, how late into the evening I was willing to ride, how excited I’d be about arriving back in Haines after all of the restaurants closed to eat a dinner of the same Power Bars and dried cranberries I had been stuffing down all day. I decided to end my pursuit of the open road about a half hour beyond the pass. I checked my GPS before I turned around. 68.7 miles.

Dropping off the Haines Highway pass on a bluebird day in May is an experience to be lived again and again, if only in my head. It's 18 km of my-big-ring-is-too-little free coasting, with a beautiful span of distant mountains blasting toward me at tear-inducing speeds. It is a feeling as close to flying as any I can imagine, and I have been skydiving. In fact, I was just talking about my skydiving experience with my dad, who, at 55 years old and not yet retired, has decided he’s going to go full-steam ahead with his life list of “someday” experiences. Last week he went skydiving, and afterward we talked about the float and fall. On Friday, as I descended the pass with the wind ripping at my cheeks and cool air pumping through my lungs, I wondered about my own "someday" list and what I’d put on it.

The river miles into the wind were predictably tiresome, and for the first time all day I had to remind myself that my legs felt great and the tiredness was just perception, my mind too focused on the understanding that this was a return trip and at the end there would be French fries. This shift in perception is another benefit of endurance training. Two or three years ago, if I was already a century into a ride with 40 more miles to go into wind and flagging, I would have been so frustrated. Now I've learned to take the ebbs with the flow and understand that while my mind is my strength in the battle to keep on keeping on, my body's still stronger than I know.

I was still back in time for dinner, a lingering stroll around town at sunset and a few minutes with acquaintances who had just arrived in Haines for the actual weekend - Memorial Day Weekend. I readied my gear to prepare for my return to my own dead-end roads, with the Haines Highway still stretched out limitless behind me, promising me it would always be there.
Thursday, May 22, 2008

Worth 1,000 words

Date: May 22
Mileage: 18.7
May mileage: 761.9
Temperature: 47

I am hopping a ferry to Haines for a couple of days. But I will be back when I get back.


Date: May 21
Mileage: 31.3
May mileage: 743.2
Temperature: 49
Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Finally caught one

Date: May 20
Mileage: 16.2
May mileage: 711.9
Temperature: 58
Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Snowline climbing higher

Date: May 19
Mileage: 9.8
May mileage: 695.7
Temperature: 52
Monday, May 19, 2008

The commute home

Date: May 18
Mileage: 51.4
May mileage: 684.9
Temperature: 45
Sunday, May 18, 2008

For anyone who was wondering

Date: May 17
Mileage: 12.1
May mileage: 633.5
Temperature: 43

Geoff finished this year's super-low-key version of the Kokopelli Trail Race, 143 trail miles from Moab, Utah, to Fruita, Colorado. He said he came in sometime after 5 p.m. today, which I think equals 17 hours and change. He said he rode most of the day with Dave Chenault and Fred (Wilkinson?), and the three of them finished pretty close together about 45 minutes behind Pete Basinger and Chris Plesko. Not sure about the other finishers. It sounds like a pretty brutal race. I just thought I'd post the report here since it's uncertain when he'll be blogging again.

I spent the morning fishing with Brian. We came up empty, again, which I guess is pretty typical for this time of year. I don't mind at all. I'm not much of a cook and don't even know what I'd do with a king salmon if I caught one. I just like to be out on the water, breathing in sea air, laughing at Brian's "old days of Juneau" stories and looking for wildlife. A humpback whale rolled up beside us, mere feet from the boat. It blew a spout of water and we could look right down into its blowhole, it was so close. It dove and came up once more about 50 yards away, kicking its tail up for the deep dive. I tried to snap a photo but the camera's delay netted not much - a bit of a tail fin. I posted it anyway.

Also, I received a copy of "Zinn and The Art of Mountain Bike Maintenance" in the mail courtesy of Dave Trendler at It came just in the nick of time, as the brakes on my road bike went out today. Both of them, at the same time. I nearly rolled right into traffic off the Juneau-Douglas bridge, just about the busiest intersection in town. I had to coast home from work, keeping my speed under 10 mph and using the rubber on the bottom of my shoes to stop. I wiped the brake dust off my rims and adjusted the lever tension as much as I could to no avail. I know how to replace brake pads but there's still rubber left on the current pads. It doesn't make sense that they wouldn't work at all. There must be something else wrong. I hope Zinn will show me the way. And if Zinn can teach me how to fix my mountain bikes (and my road bike, which is really just a mountain bike with skinny tires), then Zinn can teach anyone how to fix a bike. When I take the time to try, I'll let you know how it goes.
Saturday, May 17, 2008


Date: May 16
Mileage: 78.6
May mileage: 621.4
Temperature: 42

This past January, I went hiking with a friend who has one of those uber-stressful, all-consuming types of jobs. He claims to love it and earns his share of fulfillment from it, but this job leeches just about all the energy he has to give, emotional and physical. It was all he could do that day to motivate for our one-hour stroll in the snow. My friend, the same guy who used to leap up mountains and scale canyon walls, requested that we turn around after a mile and a half. As we returned to my house, he admitted that his job had changed him. "Sometimes I come home from work and watch TV for five hours," he said. "I used to feel guilty about it, but now I know that sometimes I just need to watch TV for five hours."

I nodded and tried to be a supportive friend, but the little voice in my head was screaming Why? Why? Why? Why?! I wanted to grab his shoulders and shake out whatever oppressive worldview was convincing him he needed this job and tell him to get back to the mountains, get out of Alaska if you have to, go back to the desert and quit your job!

But then he said, "It's sort of like your biking."

The phrase caught me off guard, because it resonated with unsettling truth. I work a relatively lax job and then come home and pour my creative energy into a blog, and then I wake up the next day and pound out the rest on two wheels. I have excess energy to spend and he has a deficit he feels compelled to conserve, but both of us have a need to approach equilibrium.

"Really," I asked myself, "what makes his five hours of TV any worse than my five hours of biking?" I mean, after you carve out the obvious health discrepancies. Whittle it down to pure emotional benefit, on a strictly psychological level. I bring this up now because I have been a little bummed out in general since Geoff moved south for the summer, and I am turning into a heavy bike user - I mean, more than usual.

Geoff mentioned on the phone today that my May mileage was a bit off the charts for not actually training for much. "Here I am, down here training for the Great Divide Race, and I look at your blog and you're still riding more than I am." (Full disclosure: My cycling miles are much easier.) He said this before I told him that I had ridden for about five hours today.

"Oh, it must have been a nice day," he said.

"No," I said. "It was awful."

"How awful?"

"Well, in five full hours it never stopped raining. Not even for a minute. Not even a sprinkly lull. Driving rain. My hands and feet went numb even though I was wearing all of the neoprene I own, and when I pulled my camera out of my coat about halfway through the ride, there was several inches of water built up inside my pocket."

"Oh." That was all he said about it, but I could tell what he was thinking: "Why? Why? Why? Why?!"

But what I wasn't able to explain to him is how much better I felt at the time than I did this morning. I was uber-moody when I woke up today. For whatever reason - the weather, the fun fishing trip that had to be cancelled - I was just sick of the world. I had already absolved myself of any real need to do a long ride this weekend, and my plan was to get more work done today - work that I've been putting off, because I'm always biking or blogging or doing other stuff I don't need to do.

But by 1 p.m., still unproductive and even grumpier, I finally just gave up. "Whatever, I'm just going to go out for a long ride." I set out in the pissing rain with a change of base layer in a ziplock bag - just in case - and thought, "I'll just go until I feel like stopping." I was feeling pretty awful heading out and moving slow to boot - which I was bummed about, because through all this bike abuse, I am trying to increase my fitness. I'm so used to southeast winds that I thought I was riding a tailwind and feeling awful and moving slow. I decided to turn around at 33 Mile (the mile marker on the highway, just about 40 miles into my ride) because I was picking up a pretty serious chill and I doubted the dry base layer would stay dry long enough to ward it off. When I turned around, I felt a rush of air at my back and realized that I had, in fact, been fighting a headwind the whole way out. After that, just like last week, the ride just got better and better.

During the last 10 miles, I rode by a lot of bike commuters - more than I have ever seen - moving with the 5 p.m. traffic. It brought joy to my heart, because the weather was as bad as it gets and still people were out riding. One guy going my direction passed me. He was wearing heavy-duty rubber gloves. "How's it going?" I asked. "How do you think it's going?" he answered. (He didn't say this maliciously, just truthfully - it was awful out.)

And then of course I chased him but lost him in the construction area. The rain drove down and the feeling in my hands and feet faded and still I felt amazing, riding with that wind, feeling that I could just keep going. But I had already turned my thoughts to dinner and maybe still making this party I had earlier resolved not to go to, grumpy as I had been. But when I arrived at home, I felt perkier, decompressed - equalized.

I do believe it's possible to be a substance abuser of your body's own chemical stimulants, just like it's possible to become dependent on the tranquilizing effects of television. Whether or not this is a bad or good thing, I don't yet know.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Two for the road

Date: May 15
Mileage: 42.1
May mileage: 542.8
Temperature: 51

Today was a productive day ... productive in that I didn't get a long ride in, but at least my cats won't starve. The consolation prize is that my fishing trip for tomorrow was cancelled due to terrible weather on the forecast, so there may be a cycling window in there. A wet, cold window.

The two hours I spent riding the Dredge Lake trails was full of strange weather windows. Cloudbursts moved through, almost perfectly synchronized, every 20 minutes. For five minutes the rain would come down in unbroken straight lines, and then start to taper off just as a clear patch rolled in behind the storm. For about one minute it would be sunny and raining, and then the sun would take over and suck back the moisture from the ground in billowing puffs of steam. It couldn't have even been that warm, but buried as I was in rain layers, the aftermath made the glacier moraine feel like a tropical rainforest. Then the cold would come back, then the rain. Repeat.

I finally took my road bike back into Glacier Cycles to be fixed. True to my avoidance tendencies, I never even looked at it again after I vowed not to. The same guy who sold me the shifter cable two weeks ago was there when I walked in. So not only did I have to own up to the shame of not being able to fix a shifter cable, but I had to admit that I had deliberately held onto the bike and didn't use it for as long as it would have taken to move up through their repair backlog. The owner, Dennis, was there and took a few minutes to assess the damage. I braced myself for a grim diagnosis. Many would expect a bike shop proprietor to point out every little flaw in a machine in hopes of making a big sale. But Dennis is a really nice guy, and he only recommended replacing the stuff that was truly terminal. He prescribed a new chain, new cables, new derailleur pulley wheels and a new cassette. The chain and cassette were so bad that I likely wouldn't have been able to adjust the cable to shift smoothly even if I had all the patience in the world (which, obviously, I don't.) Dennis congratulated me on finishing the Iditarod Invitational and complimented me on an article I wrote for the Juneau Empire about it. Then the mechanic rushed my bike to the front of the line and finished it up today ... even though their sign out front still puts the backlog at a week and a half. Who'd have known? ... there really are perks to being an Iditaveteran.

So I took Roadie out for an evening spin after I picked it up. I've become so accustomed to my mountain biking habits that I momentarily forgot which bike I was on and jumped up on a gravel embankment. The resulting spinout startled me so much that I nearly endoed the thing. But it's nice to have my bike back and working.
Thursday, May 15, 2008


Mexican Mountain, December 2004

Date: May 14
Mileage: 33.4
May mileage: 500.7
Temperature: 39

My computer's hard drive is all full up again. I'm tired of deleting my music, so last night seemed a good time to go through the old photo archive and cull. Bad idea. Instead of throwing away 1,268 of the 1,269 shots I have of my bike in front of the Mendenhall Glacier, I spent all my time browsing the really old photo archive just so I could feel wistful and, well, homesick.

Cataract Canyon, July 2002

Every May, my old college friends converge from our respective far-flung paths for a spring vacation in Utah. Recent upheavals at work, compounded by the two weeks of '08 vacation I already spent just to do the Ultrasport in February, prevented me from joining them this year. I was disappointed about my situation at first, until I learned their plan was a river trip. I generally dislike river trips. Sitting all day in the hot sun, doing nothing, baking, burning, unable to do anything about it because you're stuck on a raft, with the monotony broken only by completely terrifying whitewater rapids, is actually not my idea of a good time. "No thanks," I told them. That was two months ago. Today, I would give just about anything to be sunburned and bored and minutes away from churning over keeper holes.

Outside St. George, Spring 2004

I doesn't help that Geoff is currently having an amazing time on his Utah adventure, bikepacking on all the four-wheel-drive roads and trails that we used to always talk about but never attempted because we were so inexperienced and those places were remote, so remote. Now I have a little Alaska experience behind me, and suddenly those deep desert spaces don't seem so far away - even though they're more inaccessible now than ever.

Dirty Devil sidecanyon, May 2005

I am angry at myself for throwing away the Utah vacation. There is the fact that May time off wasn't really an option this year - but the truth is I didn't try too hard. I feel like there was something I could have worked out with my co-workers, with my savings, with unpaid leave. Did I need a new mountain bike? No. Do I need a week to run my bare toes through warm sand, laugh with the friends of my youth and roast in the desert sun? Yes.

Pelican Lake, March 2004 (Ice fishing is fun)

Sometimes I feel torn between Alaska and Utah, unsure which one is really my home. Even though Utah is the place where I'm from, there are a lot of ways in which it's wrong for me. I wither in any kind of heat, I'm disinclined to return to the freeway and suburban lifestyle I grew up in, and, the truth is, I've fallen in love with Alaska. I like that I can leave my house, walk two blocks, and hike up a mountain. I like taking 1,269 pictures of my bike in front of the Mendenhall Glacier because I like that I can ride my bike to a glacier that often. I like that it's winter six months out of the year. I like the Xtratufs-in-church Alaska culture and the small-town bohemian feel of Juneau. But Geoff, who grew up in upstate New York, typed something yesterday that really resonates with me ... "When you spend time outside in southern Utah, the red dirt just gets onto your body, and then into your body, and eventually into your mind and heart."

Buckskin Gulch, May 2001

Homesickness is exactly that, I guess.
Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Still the one

Date: May 13
May mileage: 467.3
Temperature: 45

When I left work at 11:07 p.m., there was still a strip of soft blue light stretched over the horizon. Sometimes I think I don't care much for summer, even Alaska summers, what with the bugs and the bear spray. But little things like this make me happy.

I am starting to really enjoy my bike commute. It's like free miles. I crank hard into work because I never give myself enough time. By the time I leave, there's almost no traffic. So I just turn on my headlamp, crank up the volume on my iPod, and stream through the cool night air until suddenly, I'm home. I'm hoping to make it one whole week without driving my car. Then, I plan to celebrate with a big trip to Costco. I'm out of cat food, cat litter, Pepsi, coffee and basically all forms of food. I plan to leave that store with at least 200 pounds in goods. I hope my neglected Geo can handle the load.

I did my "workout" today by going hard up the Perseverance Trail. The trail is littered in all forms of landslide and avalanche debris, and the recent blasting has created some strange new pitches. A few times had me breaching Zone 4 and going right to "Near Vomit Zone" ... not a place I enter voluntarily, although I do need to work harder to get in shape for real climbing.

I pulled out my Pugsley for the ride - not because any of the snowy patches on the trail are rideable (they're not) - but because Pugsley makes all the rest of the going a breeze. I was plowing through one landslide-wrecked stretch - alder branches, boulders and petrified chunks of snow all over the muddy trail - when I passed another mountain biker who was walking his bike. "Wow," he said. "You go." I laughed because I am never, never the strong one on technical trail. But with Pugsley, I feel like I can do anything.

Is it possible Pugsley is the best bike in the world? I think so.
Monday, May 12, 2008

Smells like spring

Date: May 12
Mileage: 31.2
May mileage: 440.2
Temperature: 41

I first set foot in Alaska on May 30, 2003. We rolled across the state line at a point much further north than the city where I live now, crossing the Yukon River on a ferry and entering the state on the “Top of the World” highway. The first Alaska town I visited was Chicken, followed by a few days in Fairbanks before we set out to drive our crumbling Ford Econoline van “all the way to Prudhoe Bay” on the Dalton Highway.

My first memories of Alaska are set in the drab background of early spring - barren birch trees, twisting black spruce and skeletal devil’s club stalks. Fairbanks was just starting to green up when we rolled through. But then we just kept moving further north, to places where the rivers were still clogged with ice and clumps of matted yellow grass carpeted the tundra. We crossed the snow-patched plain of the North Slope and took an oil company-owned tour bus the last nine miles to the edge of the Arctic Ocean. I remember walking onto the frozen surface of the sea as a 35-degree chill gripped the June air and thinking that weren’t driving “North to the Future.” We were running away from spring.

I didn’t know then that the life cycle moves very quickly in the Arctic, and that spring had already arrived. We had scarcely reached the northern edge of the Brooks Range on the return trip when green began to burst from the ground. Blades of grass poked up from the dry tussocks and white and pink flowers opened overnight. We set up camp near the Bettles River, and my three friends went to bed after a small thunderstorm rolled in. I took shelter in the van and read in the gray evening light until the rain moved through. From behind fading strips of storm clouds, the 1 a.m. sun emerged low on the horizon. The Bettles River, which seemed so quiet and peaceful just hours before, was roaring with murky storm runoff and floating chunks of ice. I put my book down and pulled open the van door. The sudden rush of aroma was so intense that I stepped outside just to make sure there wasn’t something wrong. There was an otherworldly sweetness to the air, almost chemical, like saccharin, infused with musty hints of mulch and cedar. It was a smell that had stagnated for months and months, frozen and flavorless in winter. With the accelerating thaw, all of the subtle odors that lingered through the seasons - the fermented berries of fall, the wilted flowers of summer, the wet grass and dirty ice and millions upon millions of newborn seedlings - broke free all at once in a blast of fragrance. It was almost like being sprayed in the face with strong perfume - revolting and exhilarating at the same time. It was the smell of the slow rotting of the dead and the rapid rush to new life. The smell of Alaska in the springtime.

The air smelled a little like that outside today.