Saturday, December 27, 2008

Snow days

Date: Dec. 26 and 27
Mileage: 30.1 and 34.2
December mileage: 722.7
Temperature upon departure: 27

Well, I'm back home now after starting the drive north, running into a wall of whiteout conditions, and thinking better of crawling my front-wheel-drive-with-summer-tires sedan out to the Eagle Glacier trailhead for a 5.5-mile night hike and campout in the snow. I was going to meet my friends, who are staying at the Eagle Glacier cabin. My plan was to resist the lure of the toasty cabin, and instead test my trench-digging and sleeping-in-a-suffocating-bivy-sack skills by camping outside. I realize now that even though I couldn't make it out to the cabin, I could in theory still go camping. But I've been avoiding that crucial aspect of my training. Eight hours of winter bivying is in many ways more exhausting than eight hours of biking, so I've been waiting (stalling) for the perfect opportunity to come along. It's too warm tonight (25 degrees.) Maybe I'll wait for another cold snap ... next week ... maybe ...

It's been a snowy couple of days. We received about 18 inches of snow yesterday and today. While I enjoy the addition of new white stuff, it seems to bring out the worst in Juneau biking as long as it's falling. Yesterday, with all the trails snowed in, I set out to do some serious resistance training on the North Douglas Highway. I stuck to the far right of the shoulder, plowing through 8 to 10 inches of warm (i.e. heavy) powder, breaking a serious sweat even though I rarely broke 8 mph, and was often churning closer to 5 mph. It took me four and a half hours to ride 30 miles, in conditions as difficult and slow as soft sand, while icy flakes continued to blast my face in the headwind. Even though the road lanes were swept fairly clean by traffic, I avoided them almost entirely except for a few swings to veer around snow berms. The sheer physical effort I expended to stay on the shoulder is the main reason why I was supremely offended and annoyed when a guy in a truck stopped, in the lane, and rolled his window to yell at me. "You're a traffic hazard!" he said. "What's wrong with you?" All I said was "Whatever, dude," and kept on riding. But what I wanted to say is "I'm a traffic hazard? I'm a traffic hazard? I'm working my butt off to keep my bike a full two feet off the road. You're the one stopped in the traffic lane! Jerk off." But I'm too timid. I wondered if that guy would have even given me a second thought if I was jogging or walking a dog, or if he was just bombarding me with typical bicycle prejudice. I stewed about it for quite a while. Little encounters like that are enough to ruin entire rides, but luckily, I was soon north of the ski resort traffic, engulfed in beautiful white silence and lost in my maximum-heart-rate cloud.

I headed out to the Valley this morning to see if any of the trails had been packed down, and encountered another resistance workout just getting there. Anytime there's heavy snowfall, the city can take days (and, if the snow continues, sometimes weeks) to plow the bike paths. The problem with this lies in the fact that bicycles are illegal on Egan Drive, Juneau's freeway-like artery that is the only road through these narrow sections of town. This law is heavily enforced, making the bike paths mandatory. There's a mile of unplowed path near my office building and another mile near the airport, and the only way through is to push your bike through knee-deep powder. This adds a full 45 minutes of slow walking onto a ride that usually takes less than an hour. It's great if you're training for a race like the Ultrasport, but infinitely frustrating if you're trying to bike commute from one side of town to the other. The city and its overfull bus system are forever conducting surveys to see how they can convince more people to bike commute, and I want to don my Captain Obvious suit and show up at those public comment meetings singing "PLOW THE BIKE PATHS!" (and make it legal for cyclists to citizen-arrest idiots who stop in the traffic lane to lecture them.)

Yes, I like the snow, but I will be relieved when it settles down.