Showing posts from February, 2008

Report from Nikolai

Sorry to everyone for the concern.

I am doing the best that I can. It probably seems that I have slowed way down but that has mostly been my way of dealing with the cold and being out here in Interior Alaska by myself, which is causing some anxiety and has made it hard to sleep even when I am stopped.

I took a hard fall at the Post River waterfall (the trail actually goes up a waterfall) and pulled my right hip flexer muscle. This has made it really painful to push my bike uphill, and my pace over the millions of small hills before the Farewell Burn was downright glacial ... take three laboring steps and stop, repeat. Luckily, it is pretty flat from here on out. Hopefully I can get through this without further injury.

Cold weather has been a struggle. I bivied just below Rainy Pass one night as I pushed my bike through the knee-deep snow for 45 miles. My thermometer bottomed out at 20 below. I bivied again last night at Sullivan Creek when I kept literally falling asleep and falling off …


Pugsley and I had a happy reunion at Speedway Cycles yesterday. He is in the best shape of his life ... a new freehub, fully winterized, a single speed hub and cog on the front wheel in case I have any trouble with the rear drivetrain, new crank, new cassette, new brake pads, new chain, new computer mount, all lovingly put together and adjusted by the great mechanics at Speedway. We went out for an eight-mile ride on the precariously icy bike paths of Anchorage. Everything felt amazing. I can only hope I'm in as good of shape for this ride after my long rest. I feel pretty good. I'm so nervous now that my hands shake a little when I think too much about it, but I am excited. The weather forecast looks promising to say the least. If the weather holds up even close to what they're predicting for the next week, the race to McGrath could see some of the most comfortable conditions it's had in years (a little cold along the Kuskokwim, but it nearly always is.) Trail conditi…

Leaving Juneau

Date: Feb. 21
Mileage: 30.1
February mileage: 297.7
Hours: 2:00
Temperature: 40

Head finally (nearly) clear, preparations finally (nearly) complete, I went for one last ride in Juneau. I began to question the wisdom of my (nearly) complete taper, with my legs pumping endless fire into the (nearly) spring air. I wondered if maybe I am too rested, too complacent, too fat and lazy for the daunting day that now is just below the horizon. But today I felt like I had a hundred million miles in my legs, and I rode that feeling effortlessly to the end of the North Douglas Highway.

I stopped on the Mendenhall Lake wetlands to take one last look across the Channel. The valley stretched toward the city, the thin strip of familiarity through a crush of wilderness. I let my eyes drift up to the ice cap and linger on the great unknown beyond. I felt like this would be the last time I would ever see this view of Juneau - not because I am really overdramatic like that, but because I feel like, no matter wh…

Good news!

I just spoke with a truck driver in Anchorage who told me he had my bicycle and was five minutes from Speedway Cycles, the bike shop that was going to give Pugsley a "cold-weather" lube and tuneup. I don't think I'll feel completely at ease until I have the bike in my hands, but knowing it has been found and is on its way to its destination is a big weight off my head.

I want to thank everyone who made some noise and helped mobilize FedEx in my plight. My status as just another person in a crush of delayed packages didn't entitle me to any special treatment, but I really think the response to my desperate situation convinced the company to take some action, and almost definitely made the difference between my package arriving today instead of sometime next week. So thanks to Angela at NPR, my bull-dog mother who spent more than an hour on the phone with a range of different people, my dad who wrote e-mails to the higher ups, and anyone else who weighed in. Also, I…

Finding Pugsley

Well, the saga continues. Today I had both my mom (who is much better at wading through the murk of corporate America than I am) and NPR's Bryant Park Project lobbying FedEx on my behalf. They both received a version of the same runaround I was getting yesterday, except for today the customer service people added bad weather as a reason packages didn’t go out earlier. I wanted to tell them that I live in Juneau - if the weather was too bad this week for flying, that must be the case 348 days out of the year. When the radio host told them she was from NPR, the customer service agent reacted by saying, “We don’t respond to threats.”

I dropped back into the Juneau office again later this morning to play their own weather argument against them - if the bike’s still in Juneau, I said, I want it back. The woman at the desk made a call, chatted for a bit and then said to the person she was speaking with, “Yeah, that’s probably her. I probably have her right here.” Then she cupped her hand…

My bicycle is missing

Date: Feb. 18
Mileage: 18.0
February mileage: 267.6
Hours: 1:30
Temperature: 38

Last week, when I was having a bad day amid all my bicycle preparations, I jokingly mentioned that I might not mind never seeing my bike again. Today I’m despondent that I may just get my wish.

This is hopefully nothing, and I am trying to take a stubborn stance of optimism, but the fact is Pugsley is lost in a FedEx vortex right now, and no one seems willing or able to tell me where it is.

When I dropped the bike off on Wednesday, I was under the impression that it would go out that day and be delivered Friday. But in actuality, it sat at the Juneau FedEx center until Monday and was in theory picked up in the afternoon - although no one knows for sure, because no one bothered to scan it. Now I have the national customer service agents telling me that my package does not exist, and the local people telling me that it may be on its way to Anchorage, but it definitely is no longer in Juneau.

I stopped by the office …

A reminder that anything can happen

Wow. Tough times at the Susitna this year - which may go down in Alaska mountain biking lore as the "Carnage 100." I grabbed the above picture from an online post by "Mesotony" (Sorry, Tony, I don't know your real name.) It shows skiers fighting a ground blizzard on Flathorn Lake. The race had everything: 50 mph winds, soft trails, blowing wet snow, big drifts, and more bicycle pushing than any sane person would be willing to accept. A suprising percentage of the field didn't even bother to start. Of those who did, at least half scratched. Those who chose to stay and slog it out had to earn - really, really earn - every mile. The winning cyclist (and second person across the finish line), Pete Basinger, spent more than 25 hours grinding out what he reported to be "25 miles of pushing, 50 miles of granny gear, low pressure, searching for a track firm enough to ride and then about 25 miles of good riding, but never really fast." Last year, it took P…

The Su 100

Date: Feb. 15 and 16
Mileage: 30.1 and 20
February mileage: 249.6
Hours: 2:30 and 1:45
Temperature: 38 and 34

Right now, as I sit at my office desk staring into a computer screen abyss, there are people out there, somewhere, racing in the Susitna 100.

I don’t know too much about them or the conditions they’re facing. The weather report yesterday said there was new snow. Lots of new snow. And cold. A little cold. The kind of conditions that could make for one tough bicycle race, and I think about the racers out there, somewhere, and I wonder how they’re feeling. I try to send out positive vibes, well-wishes to the sky, to tell them I understand their pain. But I don’t. I am sitting at my office desk, climate controlled, with a Diet Pepsi in one hand, and I only have my own experiences to relate to.

I still blame the Susitna 100 for putting me on the trajectory I currently follow, the one that will have been straddling the starting line next week to face the same trail, the same snow, the same…

Heat wave

Date: Feb. 14
Mileage: 40.2
February mileage: 199.5
Hours: 4:00
Temperature: 39

I set out today under drizzly skies and my very best slush suit. The weather forecast called for 42 degrees.

I shimmied the handlebars over what after three solid days of rain has finally returned to bare pavement. The studded tires crackled and I tried to remember the last time I rode this mountain bike; before I moved - two weeks, at least, maybe three. The last time I rode this mountain bike, the hub froze. Today it darted across the pavement, light and fast. A cool 35 pounds lighter than my fully-loaded Pugsley. I felt an invisible burden lift away.

The rain started to dry up just as the sweat started to flow. I stopped to peel off my layers - balaclava and gloves stuffed in pockets. The fleece hoodie tied around my waist. Bare skin and a 15 mph tailwind. Only the decimated snowpack betrayed an exciting sensation of summer.

I arrived at the glacier in what seemed like record time - something more akin to summe…


This has been a rough few days for me. Even with copious hours of help from Geoff, it seems like all I have done is work on my bike. I’d wake up in the morning and do the washing, the gear prep, the tinkering, then come home from work at night for more gear prep, more tinkering, then wake up the next day and do it all again. I was relieved when I finally hoisted my boxed-up bike across the wet ice that was once the FedEx parking lot and watched an all-too-cheery delivery guy haul it away. I half hoped I’d never see it again.

That’s another thing I’ve been struggling with since, oh, about Monday - a vague (or sometimes very acute) sense of dread. The kind of dread that gurgles up from my gut, casting a gray pall over the already dreary gray days, telling me that I would rather do anything than slog across Alaska tundra on my bicycle. This isn’t wholly unexpected. I struggled a lot with a similar sense of foreboding before the 2006 Susitna 100, although I wasn’t willing to admit that to …

My ride, pimped

Date: Feb. 11
Mileage: 20.5
February mileage: 179.8
Hours: 2:00
Temperature: 34

I went for one last ride on the Pugsley yesterday, fighting rapidly rising temperatures and a proportionally deepening layer of slush. When I came home, I was thrilled to find a small package from Eric at Epic Designs. Inside: The Complete Snow Bike Racing Kit® (just kidding. That's not really trademarked.) I had a mere three hours to play with it this morning, which is what I did rather than break my bike down like I was supposed to be doing. It took me more than one of those hours just to get the front bivy bag figured out. But once I did, I still managed to get my entire, not-so-conservative winter kit - minus a few small items - stuffed in these bags. And that was without much planning or thought. With a little more time, and a fair amount more practice, the remaining items (a few more packages of food, chemical warmers, ice cleats, goggles, first aid kit) should slide right in. As it is, the frame bag …

Back to details

Date: Feb. 9
Mileage: 22.1
February mileage: 159.3
Hours: 2:30
Temperature: 7
Snowfall: 8"

I spent the month of January feeling more and more lost in the big picture of the Iditarod Invitational. Now that last-minute preparations have narrowed my focus back to the little details, I am actually feeling less anxiety. Give it another five days or so. The race starts two weeks from this afternoon.

Geoff and I finished packing up our food drops. Combined, we have 40 pounds of duct-tape-wrapped “food bombs” ready to ship. Among his more interesting additions are two packages of precooked bacon (until about two months ago, Geoff was for the past 10 years a vegetarian), Hammer Perpetuem and 2,700 calories of Reeses Peanut Butter Sticks. I kept my drops simple, knowing that in the survival state endurance cycling induces, monotony, simplicity and precedence are key. My food bomb consists of one pound dried fruit, one pound nuts, 8 oz. sunflower seeds, 5 oz. chocolate, 9 oz. turkey jerky, four Po…

Trying to soak it all in

Date: Feb. 8
Mileage: 36.2
February mileage: 137.2
Temperature: 5

It's been tough to go out in this wind.

Even as I tell myself how valuable it all is, to forge into the big gusts and learn how well my boots hold up, and my gloves, and my Camelbak hose, I still hesitate. This drains me, every hour of experimenting drains me, the constant fighting against the crosswind blasts, the needles of frigid air that always find their way to tender patches of skin, the cold I can still feel even as I tell myself it's fine; I'm fine; that when I have my layers on, it's the same thing as riding when its 60 degrees. It's not. I'm not. Fine, that is. My eyes are bloodshot. My legs are too tired for legs that have averaged 9 mph on a snow-packed road for four hours. I have a two-inch snotcicle hanging off my goggles. I stop to take a picture of it, but it breaks as I'm fumbling with my camera.

It's tough to get out of the shower after a ride like that. I stand unde…

What does 50 mph headwind feel like at 6F?

Date: Feb. 7
Mileage: 27.5
February mileage: 101
Hours: 3:15
Temperature: 6

It's interesting ... it almost feels hot.

But not hot in the way you'd hope hot would feel.

No, it's a more acute heat. A furnace blast that needles its way into every weakness in your clothing and sears your skin. The slit between my goggles and balaclava; the tip of my nose; the open space where my coat stretches over my backpack; the fleece gloves as I pull my hands out of my pogies; everything burned red and tingling. I can understand how easy it becomes to confuse cold with hot, even as I wince against an ice-cream headache and a bombardment of wind-sharpened snow.

But even more amazing is that, in the midst of all this, I can pull my balaclava over my forehead and nose, reach back and tuck my insulation layers into my pants, pull on my mittens, and disappear into my own little climate zone, facing the 50 mph wind gust as it blasts me with super-cooled air and feeling almost ... normal. Although pedal…

Ode to Pugsley

Today I went to the gym for 90 minutes and felt pretty strong. I didn't push all that hard, but I feel like I have likely surmounted all but the residual annoyances of my cold. Since I don't want the germs to come rushing back to action, I won't particiate in all of the activities I was planning for this weekend. But I do hope to get out into the latest cold snap and its 30-below wind chills to test gear, including my Ghostbuster-worthy hydration system.

Beyond that, it seems being sick and going to the gym isn't very condusive to good posts for my photo/lifestyle/training blog, so I thought today I'd do a blog dump of sorts. I have a picture of downtown Juneau as seen from the Treadwell Ditch trail, taken Jan. 14. I also thought I'd include my latest NPR post. Like many cyclists, I have a bad habit of humanizing my bikes. A while back, I wrote an apology letter to Sugar. Recently, for my NPR blog, I wrote a love letter to Pugsley. I was running on minimal sleep…

Sick day

Today I took the first full day off in ... I don't know. It's been a little while. I was terrified yesterday that I might be coming down with the flu. I experienced one of those flash fevers where it's all you can do to stumble to the bathroom before you pass out. Then I used my dinner break to take an 80-minute nap (my boss was really reluctant to let me leave work because half the staff is out sick right now, and I felt just guilty enough about it to cave in.) I spent the rest of the evening slumped over my desk, went home and slept for nearly 10 hours, and woke up feeling at least 70 percent better. Not better enough to justify plowing right back into my routine, but better enough to mill around the house looking for productive things to do.

One thing I did was tape a thick layer of some old-fashioned, Home Depot-style bubble insulation around my Camelbak hose. I have had endless problems with water freezing inside the hose, even after I bought an insulated bladder, and …

Sick, again

Another self-portrait from yesterday's "ride." We've had a lot of new snow this week, which means more walking than riding on these excursions. Walking, I've learned, is generally less fun. I've found creative portraiture helps pass the time.

So I finally caught the office bug that has been making the rounds. This one already has taken me down much harder than the last one. It's actually pretty strange for me to be sick twice in the same season. My immune system is usually ironclad, but maybe all the recent stresses, moving, working, training, and other miscellanious tasks were more than my body could handle. Either way, I'm bummed about it. This was going to be my last week of training; regardless of what I end up doing this week, I'll have to launch into a pretty serious taper by this Saturday. And right now, my prospects are going rapidly downhill. Earlier today, I thought I could still train lightly through what seemed to be a minor cold. Then …

The story of stuff

Date: Feb. 3
Mileage: 8.2
February mileage: 73.5
Hours: 2:00
Temperature: 27
Snowfall: 4.5"

In August 2005, I was cinching up the roof rack straps on the 1996 Geo Prism that held all of my worldly possessions when it occurred to me - I owned way too much stuff. Two bicycles on the roof. A trunk full of clothing. Electronics and a microwave and dishes in the back seat ... everything packed and ready to make the 3,000-mile trip up the AlCan Highway to Homer, Alaska. I didn’t know where I would be living; I didn’t know where all my things would go. Some of it had spent my entire Idaho Falls residency stuffed in bins and hidden in drawers. But still I held on to it ... the remnants of priorities I thought I had managed to shed.

In August 2003, I was cinching up the panniers that held what for the next four months would be all of my worldly possessions. Even then, it was an obnoxious amount of gear to be carrying on a bicycle: four full changes of clothing, eight pounds of laptop computer st…

Peak weekend and the big move

Date: Jan. 31 and Feb. 1
Mileage: 78.0 and 65.3
January mileage: 833.8
February mileage: 65.3
Hours: 8:15 and 8:00
Temperature: 8 and 20

This week, I learned an important lesson ... do not try to peak out your training and move to a new apartment in the same weekend. I don't know what's more exhausting: Hauling all the pieces to a king-sized bed a half block over glare ice; making dozens of weighted-down trips up two flights of stairs; cycling two consecutive eight-hour days; or attempting to organize a glut of stuff in an apartment already occupied by somebody else. I am going to go ahead and say the last task is the most exhausting. It's the only task not yet completed.

Still, I have been terribly busy, so I'm sorry to the people I owe e-mails and phone calls to. I don't even have much time to blog right now. But I had a encouraging, successful weekend of training in two very different conditions: Cold and clear, then warmer and snowy. I thought I'd throw in a pictu…