Friday, October 31, 2008

Worth the wait

Date: Oct. 30
Mileage: 35.1
October mileage: 514.6

October has not been kind to Juneau, weatherwise. The last dry day was Sept. 25, which was the day I left on my Golden Circle bike tour. It seems like ages ago. Since then, we've set a number of disappointing records ... daily rainfall records, consecutive days of rain, high wind speeds. We're still pace for a record number of wet days for the year (Up to 211 right now, but who's counting?) Complaining about rain in Juneau is like complaining about sand in the desert. But it would be a lie, I believe for any of us here, to say that waking up to the 34th consecutive day of dripping gray fog doesn't make us feel like eating a few thousand calories of pure carbs and crawling back into bed.

So my point is, after a streak like that, when the sun comes out, it matters. It more than matters. It nourishes. Like fresh bread and butter after a long fast, the long-hidden rays soak into skin and fill every cell with warmth and light. So when I woke up on Thursday to a clear day that I wasn't expecting, I knew it could only mean one thing - binge, binge, binge.

I took Pugsley up the Perseverance Trail. A couple of days ago, the bottom bracket started clanking and it got worse quickly. I know I'm gambling by riding this bike when the bottom bracket could crack in half at any second. But I figure the worse that can happen would be me becoming stranded. And what better day and place to get stranded than here?

But I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of riding a clanking, ailing bicycle for six hours, so I parked Pugsley and set out on foot up Granite Creek canyon. I wasn't planning on hiking, so I didn't have snowshoes with me. The snow quickly went from ankle-deep to knee-deep to thigh-deep. It was a huge, strenuous slog just to move slowly through it. The snow was crusty and heavy but highly collapsible - sort of like walking through shaved ice. I'm not even sure that snowshoes would have helped, because they likely still would have punched through and then become stuck in the postholes. Skis with good skins would have definitely been better - if I owned any. As it was, there were enough open stream crossings and bushwhacking that even the death sticks would have been difficult. It's all good, though. Any activity that's excruciatingly slow and needlessly difficult is great Iditarod training.

But, yes, Granite Creek Basin is a magical place and worth the slog. Hard to describe and impossible to photograph, but I love the way the ridge wraps itself around the valley like a chiseled fortress. And the snow. Oh, the snow. It was still crusty even higher on the mountain, and whipped by an intensifying wind, but I still wished I hadn't forgotten my snowboard, too.

Alder bushwhacking in thigh-deep shaved ice snow is almost as fun as snowboarding (um, no.)

But the sun. Oh, the sun.

I started to struggle when I was climbing toward the upper basin. There were steep pitches with no way around, and the wind chill was becoming a concern. When I left the house at 9:30 a.m. it was 35 degrees. But up in the basin it felt so much colder. It seems illogical that there would be that much difference in temperature, but I was convinced the temperature with windchill was well below zero. Could be that it's just early in the year and I don't have my cold blood running yet. But what matters is I was cold and that's why I turned around.

On the way down, I had an odd mishap. I was tracing a diagonal path, just above my original steps, down a steep pitch when I planted my right foot in a rotten patch of snow and sank all the way up to my waist. In my original struggle to extract myself, I managed to compress all of the snow around my boot until it formed an icy block. I'll admit there were a few moments of mild panic when I finally realized I was stuck. I knew I could tug my foot out of my boot to free myself, but I very well couldn't hike all the way down the mountain with only one boot. At least, not without losing a toe or two. But I pushed through the panic and formed a plan. I carefully pulled my leg out of the boot and spun my body around, laying on my stomach and holding the sock foot in the air. Then I used my mittens to dig a trench around the outside of the posthole, careful to remove the snow rather than push it over the boot. When I got down to boot level, I widened the trench until I could leverage my body and punch out the ice-snow barrier around the boot. The anxiety-filled process took at least 15 minutes, but when I finally freed the boot, I was so happy. It was the best part of the day. After that, I was careful to only step in my own footprints, despite the ankle-twisting risk, until I made it back down to the basin.

After that, it was a relaxing hike back down, with a little bit of elation about the genius way in which I conquered the boot-eating snow.

Then I rode back to town. The roads were bathed in direct sun. Everything felt so warm. Even though I was tired and hungry, I took off my extra layers, turned my bike away from home and rode north for a while, just to soak it in.


  1. I'm glad you had such an sunny and incredible day for your ride and hike. I can't believe how blue the sky is! It is beautiful!

    I am also glad you got your boot out. That could have been some miserable hours trying to get back down the mountain without it!

  2. Glad you got yourself out, life would have been torture without your blog!!

    Now that was a bit selfish on my part wasn't it????

  3. Those fat tires are incredibly cool. And you must be a heck of an athlete to push them through 30 plus miles!


  4. What an adventure. Congrats on the boot freeing...

  5. Sounds like a great way to get your daily dose of Vitamin D. Glad you got your boot back.


  6. I find myself laughing out loud at times while reading your blog. You are cool under pressure - I think I get more worked up trying to get toast out of the toaster than you do being stuck in waist high snow with your boot stuck in a block of ice. Nice.

  7. Those pictures are just amazing!

    Glad you were able to save your boot/foot/toes!

    Thanks for the awesome views once again!

  8. now its raining in seattle again. don't know if i have your balls to get out there in it.

  9. awesome day! we're just ending the rainy season down here in nicaragua, so i am especially happy to see the sun up where you are!

  10. Yay for gorgeous photos!

    "Excruciatingly slow and needlessly difficult" - reminds me of a hike last weekend near Delta...but somehow it's still fun in the end.

  11. Your story of getting stuck in the snow up to your waist brought up a mental image of the closing scene of Jack Nicholson in The Shining.

  12. Wow. This is really cool. I'm glad I found your blog!!


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