Posts

Showing posts from March, 2008

More movie fun

Image
Date: March 30
Mileage: 13
March mileage: 606.2
Temperature: 37

I did a short ride up the Dan Moller Trail today that turned into more of a moderately long hike. I was gone for nearly three hours, but the opportunity to leave the house and its incessant blaring of college basketball, plus the four-mile descent that takes all of 15 minutes, made it all worth it. I made another short video today during the downhill run. This one is much better than Friday's. I got a better angle by stuffing my Olympus point-and-shoot in my goggles, so I had a ghetto helmet-cam thing going on. One thing I noticed after watching the clip is that it actually makes the ride seem fairly smooth - there's no indication that I spent most of the narrow stretch correcting my line with my handlebars while my rear wheel fishtailed wildly in the snowmobile-churned sugar snow. It may be proof that I do in fact have sound upper body handling - or it could just be poor quality footage. Either way, I got my hands on…

The push

Image
Date: March 28 and 29
Mileage: 12 and 30.1
March mileage: 593.2
Temperature: 42 and 35

Spring has taken over Juneau with a vengeance. The roads are dry (and dusty). The sea-level snow has all but retreated. People are having big bonfires on the beach even as temperatures drop into the 20s. March in Alaska means it's still cool, but the 7:30 p.m. sunset and the day's slow creep into the 40s leaves no doubt: 'Tis a beautiful season.

The best part about this time of year is there is still good snowbiking to be had, if you are willing to work for it. And by work, I mean walk. And by walk, I mean climb. And by climb, I mean lean hard against the bike as you slip and grind and grunt your way up 1,800 vertical feet of slush in a little more than two miles. The effort will leave you red-faced and stumbling through your light-headed hallucinations of swirling stars. But rub a little of that corn snow in your eyes, place your wheel on top of a hardpack trail atop the high mountain meadow…

My world in old ways

Image
Date: March 27
Mileage: 90.4
March mileage: 551.1
Temperature: 39

I had this idea that I was going to do a long ride today. I didn't know how long it was going to be. It was going to be long. The weather forecast was stellar. I packed water and food. I was thinking maybe all of the Juneau roads. I've never done that in one day before. Eaglecrest is still ice-packed, but everything else ... could be 135, 145 miles.

But then I stayed up much too late last night, staring at Northern Lights. Then my annoying cats started to pounce on me at the crack of dawn. By the time I stumbled out the door, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived at 11 a.m., the glare of the sun hit my face like a brick. As I pedaled down the road, my head pounded and my stomach churned. And even as I crossed the bridge to face the full force of the beautiful day, all that awesomeness that encompassed me last week just wouldn't solidify. There was no way around it. I felt crappy. There would be no effortless hundred-plu…

My world in new ways

Image
Date: March 26
Mileage: 19.1
March mileage: 460.7
Temperature: 37

As I bulldozed through the distracting crackle of empty mussel shells, my heart already pulsing 180 shots of blood per minute, I heard the one sound that could stop it all together ... "shhhhlorp." I struggled against the sudden sticky friction as my momentum plummeted ... 4.1 mph ... 3.7 mph ... 2.9 mph. I turned the front wheel sharply toward the shore and spun with everything I had. Every Alaskan knows the story of the duck hunter who sunk to his thighs in Turnagain Arm mud and had to breathe through the barrel of a shotgun until the tide washed over the top. It's urban legend, like the one where the phone operator tells the babysitter, "The person making the call is in your house." We like to repeat these stories to ourselves, even though they happened far away, and even though they may or may not be true, just to scare ourselves with a sound ... "shlorp." The faster I spun, the slower …

Covering ground

Image
Date: March 25
Mileage: 42.5
March mileage: 441.6
Temperature: 32

A co-worker who doesn't know me very well stopped me today and said, "Hey, I saw you out on your bicycle by the ferry terminal the other day. Wow! You're really covering ground."

"Which day was that?" I asked, because it seemed the natural response.

"That day you were out by the ferry terminal," he answered.

"Could be a lot of days," I said.

"You mean you've been out there more than once?"

I just smiled because the ferry terminal is only 12 miles from downtown Juneau. There seems to be this perception among non-cyclists that their world is a very, very big place - too big to traverse without the aid of big machines and fossil fuels. It takes a slow-moving cyclists' perspective to realize that our world is in fact a small place, because all it takes is patience - just patience - and you can go almost anywhere.

Right now I'm suffering from a bit of "my worl…

Dear Sugar

Image
We have to talk.

We've been together what ... three years now? I still remember our first ride. I pedaled you up Emigration Canyon - pavement, oh the indignity. But on the way back there was something about you - something so young, so enthusiastic - that coaxed me to veer onto a trail. We shot down the narrow singletrack, both knowing that I possessed the handling skills of a three-legged dog. But you were so smooth, so responsive, that I suddenly felt I could do no wrong. You might say that was the day I fell in love with mountain biking. Love at first sight. If only it could stay that way forever.

I always loved the way that, despite your specialized status as a full-suspension cross-country mountain bike, you were willing to be anything for me. You were my trail bike, my winter commuter, my snow bike and my road warrior. You were my endurance racing bike, my expedition bike, my training bike, my recovery bike ... even my touring bike. But the years go by, Sugar, and things chang…

I rode my bike across Gastineau Channel

Image
Date: March 22
Mileage: 28.4
March mileage: 399.1
Temperature: 35

Well, in keeping with tradition, I spent my Easter Sunday on a close-to-home adventure that I didn't set out to have. I was all dressed up this morning for a relaxing road ride out North Douglas Island when my parents called to wish me Happy Easter. In the half hour that commenced, the temperature slipped and it started to snow. I grumpily grabbed my Pugsley and instead set out for an expected sog-fest, justifying that as long as I was dressed up, I might as well still go biking.

After nine miles in the slush shower I was more than ready to turn around, but at the last minute veered off on the Mendenhall Wetlands access trail. The tide was really low and the sand had set up nicely, covered as it was in a dusting of snow. I rode to the water's edge and etched an arching path along the shoreline. The Gastineau Channel carves a narrow moat through the towering mountains near downtown Juneau, but out here the water dispe…

Not too bad for a senior and a girly

Image
Date: March 21
Mileage: 48.1
March mileage: 370.7
Temperature: 37

So Kathi and Bill Merchant rolled into Nome at 2:48 a.m. Friday with a race time of 25 days, 12 hours and 58 minutes. Lots of milestones there: Bill's the oldest man ever to ride a bicycle to Nome (is he really a senior? I doubt it. He strikes me as a 30-year-old, but he's probably in his early 50s.) Kathi is the first woman to ride a bicycle to Nome, and now holds the overall female course record on the Northern Route. The two of them have probably had this goal on their mind for many years. I can hardly imagine the sense of accomplishment (or relief) they feel right now, but I wanted to send them my congratulations. Bill and Kathi, Carl and Pete, and everyone else who tackled the trek to Nome this year (six so far have made it, and one more is on the way): You are my heroes. How cool is it to have sports heroes that you can connect with in such a personal way? Most people have to settle for looking at Web stats an…

First day of spring

Image
Date: March 20
Mileage: 100.1
March mileage: 322.6
Temperature: 40

At 9:48 last night, just as I was rolling out the last newspaper pages and preparing the leave work for the weekend, the vernal equinox happened. And just like that, the days became longer than the nights, winter was no more, and the calendar heralded its triumphant successor: The first day of spring.

I lazed about most of the morning, unwilling to commit to any activity, watching raindrops hit the window. But then, just after 1 p.m., the rain stopped. I could see hints of sunlight over Mount Roberts. I thought I should go for a little bike ride. A trip to Thane sounded nice - 19 miles round trip, rolling hills, wind protected. I packed a raincoat, my camera, a $10 bill and a half-empty bottle of four-day-old water. I was good to go.

But as I crossed the bridge, warm sunlight broke through the clouds for the first time in what seems like weeks. I looked out over the channel, so calm I could see all the way to the sea floor. …

In defense of music

Image
Date: March 19
Mileage: 28.0
March mileage: 222.5
Temperature: 35

Geoff and I both set out for separate rides today (different departure times, different goals), but we both returned home at the same time. He seemed to be in a grumpy mood, said something about awful weather, but I couldn't figure out what his problem was. I hosed the slush off my Pugsley and the grit off my clothing, poured the standing water out of my shoes, regaled Geoff with the tale of the white-out blizzard I encountered at Eaglecrest (“You couldn’t tell the sky from the road”), sloshed into the shower and doubled over in pain as the hot water hit my frozen feet like hydrofloric acid. Then it kind of occured to me ... that sure was a crappy ride.

But for some reason, I was in a good mood. It was hard to discern why. Here I am, no training goal in mind, resting period, putting in all this junk mileage, and still happily heading out into the crappiest crap Juneau has to offer. Couldn’t I just sit back with a cup of …

March already

Image
Date: March 18
Mileage: 19.3
March mileage: 194.5
Temperature: 37

I stopped for a break at the edge of Sheep Creek, uncomfortably aware of the passing of time.

Strange that it's not only already March; it's nearly April. I have been thinking a lot lately about Bill and Kathi on the Iditarod trail, fighting their way the last hundred miles or so to Nome. I connected with them only briefly during my own Iditarod tour, but I feel like I have a lot of emotional currency invested in their success. Fresh off what I viewed as an epic adventure, Bill, Kathi and I shared the couches around a warm fire in McGrath. We guzzled hot cups of evening coffee and told our trail stories as we fondled Bill's sweet "hand-me-down" Snoots bike. I was just so glad to be done with the race, and Bill and Kathi were so excited to get going again. I've never seen so much enthusiasm. I love the adventure, but it became apparent to me that they live the adventure. And I just can't fathom t…

Sunday morning, coming down

Image
Date: March 16
Mileage: 29.3
March mileage: 175.2
Temperature: 33

The sleet storm was reaching balaclava-piercing velocity as I turned off Douglas Highway into the dark shelter of the Rainforest Trail. A stick-thin strip of gravel snaked through the imposing crowd of Douglas fir trees, cutting an unforgiving line that was half covered in slippery snow. My entire worldview narrowed to the switchback that was immediately in front of me, and then the next, and then the next, as I wend my way downhill to the sea.

Sometimes I am grateful for difficult trails, maneuvers so near the limit of my ability that they clamp down on every corner of my mind. All I see is here and now. All I do is everything I can to not crash. The descending thoughts that tracked me to this point - the letdown beyond the big event, the settling emotions, the questions of what am I doing? Where am I going? Why am I still here? - everything stalls just outside the tunnel. I function as a machine with little room for ration…

Cost of fuel

Image
Date: March 15
Mileage: 43.4
March mileage: 145.9
Temperature: 28

Let me preface this post by saying that sometimes I like to play the devil's advocate - even on issues I strongly agree with, such as bicycle commuting. I can think of dozens of reasons why bicycle commuting is a great transportation choice - fresh air, good exercise, lots of fun, cutting down on fossil fuel use, reducing global warming impact, reduce traffic congestion, good for the environment, good for the soul, etc. ... But it seems one of the most popular arguments people make in favor of bicycle commuting is to "save money on fuel." Especially these days, with oil hitting $110 a barrel and rapidly climbing. Still, gasoline remains relatively cheap here in America. Personally, I drive way too much because it's "easy." So, selfishly, I wouldn't mind if gas jumped to $10 a gallon and forced me to give up my crutch ... although I wouldn't want to impose that kind of burden on people who…

My bicycle history

Image
Date: March 13 and 14
Mileage: 22.5 and 31.5
March mileage: 102.5
Temperature: 37 and 35

I dragged out my road bike today - first ride of the year. With an inch of new snow on the ground and temperatures in the mid-30s, it was a risky move. But after taking Pugsley to a few nearby trails yesterday and finding nothing but slush and mud, even a potentially icy road seemed more appealing.

As I hoisted the bicycle out of the basement and up two flights of stairs, I couldn't believe how light it felt. The reality of my road bike is it weighs about 25 or 26 pounds; it is unforgivably heavy for a road bike. But after five months on my fat bikes, it felt like a featherweight. I clipped into my pedals - so strange to feel so trapped. I coasted down the road, hitting 10 mph without even pedaling. When I finally fired my war-worn muscles into the effort, I shot up to 16 mph, 17, 18 ... By the time I crested the hill out of Douglas, spinning hard but well below a dead sprint, I moved beyond 20 mph…

Beach ride

Image
Date: March 12
Mileage: 10
March mileage: 48.5
Temperature: 36

I know I said I would stay off the bike until my post-race fatigue blew over, but when have I been good at avoiding bikes? I finally unpacked Pugsley from his FedEx box this morning. (Oh yes, I did swallow my customer service convictions and take the cheaper and more accessible FedEx Ground option out of Anchorage. Not only did they scan the box upon arrival, they tracked it to the point of redundancy and delivered it to my door three business days later. I wonder if FedEx has flagged my name for extra-careful treatment these days ... or if it's possible, just possible, that the company made actual mistakes when they shipped my bike out of Juneau. Not that FedEx will ever admit that, so I guess I'll never know.)

The tide was ultra-low when I set out, a condition that rarely lines up with my workout window, so I had to take advantage of all that open sand. Instead of my usual ride on slush-covered trails, I veered onto S…

Take me back to the start

Image
Date: March 9
Mileage: 23
March mileage: 38.5
Temperature: 34

Every time Geoff and I go for a ride together, he can only listen to the creaks and groans emanating from my bike for a few minutes before he demands I pull over to assess the damage. Today it was a rickety bottom bracket and a rear hub that has become so loose the wheel sways from side to side as it rolls forward. Geoff is always disgusted with the perpetual state of disrepair in my old bikes, especially my mountain bike. And I take full responsibility for their sorry conditions. I put a lot of miles on them on awful trails and awful roads in awful weather. And the only question I ask when gauging my bikes’ fitness is, “Do I think (whatever part is creaking or clanking) will snap in half on me today?” If the answer is no, then it’s time to go.

That said, people like me shouldn’t own old bicycles, just like people who never check the oil and ignore the “check engine” light shouldn’t own old cars (Yes, I also own an old car.) Geo…

Aftermath

Image
Date: March 8
Mileage: 15.5
March mileage: 15.5
Temperature: 41

Well, I've been off the trail for a week now. I'm finally back in Juneau, back at work, but still trying to plow through the solid wall of culture shock I first encountered when I stepped onto the tarmac at the McGrath airport. I feel like I have been away much longer than two weeks. It seems spring has come to Juneau since I've been gone, but little else has changed. Winter will surely be back for one final blast. Winter always comes back.

Physically, my body is recovering great ... for the most part. I went for my first bicycle ride since the race just this morning. I definitely don't have much oomph yet - my legs especially are sluggish and I still have to struggle up the smallest of hills. But at the same time, I don't seem to have any acute injuries. That's especially amazing after my first forays into physical activity: A few violent jolts following three days of basically sitting on a couch. On W…

Day seven: Ghost trail to McGrath

Image
Bathed in comfort at Nick and Olene's house, I made the mistake of reverting back to the status of a real person. I sat in discouragement as I examined my legs, a cacophony of bruises, swollen ankles and throbbing knees. I grabbed the loose skin around my abdomen and realized I had lost some weight. I had lost a lot of weight. Most of it was probably water, but still, it hadn't been that long. My head throbbed from a serious dehydration hangover and my stomach lurched from my frantic efforts to stuff down calories. Then I made the mistake of going online. I learned how worried people at home had become for my well-being. And then I checked the weather report. "Severe Wind Advisory" it screamed. "35 mph winds gusting to 50 mph. Wind chills to 60 below 0." I just shook my head. That couldn't possibly be real. I asked Nick, the wizened local, how he dealt with traveling in such weather. "I don't travel in this kind of weather," he said matter…