Sunday, June 29, 2008

Hours and light

I just wanted to write a quick update on the 24 Hours of Light for family and others. I'm not going to expand on it too much right now because I am in a pretty somber mood. The friend who I have been coordinating with on the Great Divide Race updates, Pete, was the first on the scene at a horrific bear mauling at the 24-hour race in Anchorage - which was going on at the same time as my race. The attack involved a young girl he knew. I hope everyone involved will fully recover, but that still remains uncertain. Also, Geoff is having pretty serious doubts about continuing with the Great Divide Race. I can only imagine there must be some deep and dark self doubt involved with the decision-making process, but I have as of yet been unable to connect with him to talk to him about it. A bit of a dark day, and I could feel it, I could, even as I was surrounded by the cheery festival atmosphere of my race in Whitehorse.

I won the female solo division of the 24 Hours of Light, which I did by simply showing up. I rode my one required lap and 14 extra victory laps, which netted me second overall in the solo category - 15 laps to Jeff Oatley's 18 laps. I rode about 200 km of rough trail - lots of tight, winding singletrack with ~16,000 feet of climbing in 15 laps. I didn't spend myself. I took lots of breaks and a long nap, ate full dinners and breakfasts and hung out with friends, broke my chain and walked most of a lap after discovering I bucked my chain tool out of my frame bag (the trail was rough. Really rough. My butt misses my softtail.) I could have done more to push harder to reach the private places I seek when I do extreme endurance races. But I didn't dig deep and I'm not necessarily disappointed about it. The race organizers did a great job; besides the chain breaking, everything about the race flowed perfectly; I had a great time riding with friends and netted about $400 or $500 worth of Pearl Izumi schwag for my "win." The fact that I now feel about this race in a similar way that I might if I just went to a fun party or saw a really good movie must mean something. I'm sure I'll explore it more after I have slept a bit and hopefully have a clearer state of mind.

Friday, June 27, 2008

I smacked too soon (but I am gonna win)

I definitely feel silly about all my smack talk now, because I am in love with the Yukon. I don't want to beat the good mountain bikers of Whitehorse. I want to join them. They live in paradise - a Canadian Dream. An endless maze of singetrack that starts right out the back door. Dry, flowing trails that you have all to yourself. Amazing winter biking, too (sure, it's sometimes 50 below, but what place is perfect?) I'll tell you what place is close - Whitehorse.

I have experienced a ton of amazing biking in my first two days here. Probably way more biking than is healthy this close to a 24-hour race. But the lure of these tight, rolling trails is too strong, and I have lived in Juneau too long. In the land of roots and mud, you can forget what mountain biking can really be like. I am a singletrack-aholic from a prohibition town, currently on a bender.

My friends and I spent today in Carcross, a trail system with built jumps and berms (trails made for mountain biking! What a concept!) Unfortunately, I made a dumb mistake on an easy spur called "Old Wagon Trail" of all things, and went butt-over-face over the handlebars. I jammed my right knee right into my chainring and ripped a deep gash across my kneecap, and now it is swollen and sore. I'm hoping it loosens up before the race tomorrow. But even if it doesn't, I'm still going to win the race, which I'm kinda bummed about.

Why? Because I found out at the race meeting that I am the only woman competing in the solo class. Not only that, but I must be the only woman who has ever competed in the solo class, because I found out I am racing against my own course record. That's right. My no-training, still-injured, half-time effort of 2007 is supposedly the women's course record. Sigh.

There's still the boys to race against, but that's gonna be hard. I'm up against a couple of local heroes and Jeff Oatley of Fairbanks, a multiple (fast) finisher of the Iditarod Invitational and the first American to cross the finish line in the 2007 Race Across America. Oh well. It doesn't hurt to aim high. Gimpy knee and all.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Dear Canada: Fear me

Date: June 24 and 25
Mileage: 18.0 and 12.1
June mileage: 677.1
Temperature: 61 and 57

I'm trying to get myself pumped up for the 24 Hours of Light. So I thought ... what the heck? Why not engage in a little good, old-fashioned trash talk.

Dear mountain bikers of the Yukon,

You may not remember me. It was just a year ago I first visited your fine land, but I was forgettable back then - the chick with the knee braces and the squeaky full-suspension 26'er. I pumped out a respectable number of laps before midnight, then I ate some soup and crawled into a tent. Just another one of those girls that couldn't handle the full 24 hours, right?

Wrong. I'm coming back. And I'm bringing with me a full year's worth of healing, training, glucosomine and suffering. I'm bringing a full year's worth of technical riding improvement and a new 29'er that can roll over your puny interior-of-the-continent black spruce roots like they were brittle pencils. I'm bringing my healthy knees and rain-soaked Juneau conditioning and Iditarod-forged perspective on just how relatively pleasant 24-hour races really are. In short, I'm bringing my "A" game.

Plus, I am an American and we all have a bone to pick with you Canadians. Your dollar surpassed ours in value, which we are supremely unhappy about. You have that universal health care while we American athletes must routinely decide between physical therapy and food. Yes, we're sure there must be something we're better than you at. I know the answer: 24-hour races.

Why? Well, for one, we train in miles, which make your puny Canadian kilometers look like, well, like something that is a little more than a half mile. And we train in the land of (relatively) cheap gasoline, big cars and abundant off-road vehicles. We dodge Hummers and split trails with roaring ATVs. And, let me tell you, you haven't raced a mountain bike until you've tried to outrun a snowmobile. And don't underestimate our egos. We Americans always believe we're better at everything, even if we're really not. But in this game, believing is half the battle.

Yes, dear mountain bikers of the Yukon, I am coming up from my land of moss and rain to tear across your tundra with nothing to lose and nothing to prove - except that I'm here. And I'm ready. And I'm going to win. And into next year, you will remember me by my scorch marks.

You have been warned.

Sincerely, Jill from Juneau

Monday, June 23, 2008

Forced taper

Date: June 22 and 23
Mileage: 21.2 and 17.7
June mileage: 647
Temperature: 60 and 62

I am getting in a really good taper this week. Only rode an hour and a half yesterday and an hour today. I have so many little errands to run, I likely won't even be able to make the commute tomorrow, and late Wednesday night I leave for Canada. Often when I say I'm insanely busy, it's not really the truth. But right now, I really am that busy. The other day for lunch, I ate several spoonfuls of spicy peanut butter (spiked with cayenne pepper) that was given to me as a Christmas gift. And that was it. It was about all I had left in the cupboard. So this wonderful taper isn't exactly accompanied by wonderful nutrition. I am still trying to decide what I'll eat in the 24 Hours of Light. I am thinking one small water bottle every lap, every other one spiked with Nuun, and a Power Bar or Pop Tart for every two laps (it will probably take me an hour to do each lap.) The temperatures will be mild and the sweat factor will be low, so the Nuun should offer plenty of salt replacement. I have given up on the dream of eating protein (or liquid nutrition) during long efforts.

I heard from Geoff today for the first time since the GDR started. To be honest, I did not expect him to call, at least not this early in the race. I remember when I was riding the Iditarod, my mind was operating in a different universe, one that was repelled by the outside world. When Geoff called me in Nikolai, I was not happy to hear from him. Not at all. In hindsight, it's hard to explain why that was the case. But there is a zone in the midst of a long, hard effort - a quiet feeling of enchantment, that helps a distressed body keep on keeping on, often happily. Forces from the outside world seem to break that enchantment, at which point it's easier to slip into depression and despair.

But anyway, Geoff did call from Wise River, probably during one of his moments of lucidity. I was happy to hear from him this time. Our conversation was not much different from those before the race. No, "Hey, I'm on this crazy hard journey, I've ridden 500 hard miles in just over three days, how are you?" It was just, "how are you?" And I didn't reply, "Oh, I'm trying to prepare for this race that seems so pointless compared to what you're doing, and I'm in a living situation that is really stressing me out, and my job is still hard and I'd love to gripe about it to someone who could listen." No, I just said, "I'm great." But I think both of us understood what the other meant.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

These long days

Date: June 20 and 21
Mileage: 20.7 and 32.3
June mileage: 608.1
Temperature: 64 and 54

As I suspected, I have been completely consumed by the Great Divide Race since it started. There have been a couple of other things in there. On Friday, I went fishing out North, where the reflection of the Chilkat Mountains glimmers in glassy bays and I could just dissolve in the scenery, and sometimes do. I caught a small halibut and a yellow-eye rockfish. The "chicken" halibut made for a heavenly lunch, which I scarfed as I listened to the first wave of GDR call-ins. There have been bike rides, work, movies, a new roommate, anger and stress. But, always on my mind, the GDR and its slow march south.

While Brian and I fished on Friday, a humpback whale circled our boat, again and again. A couple of times it breached far out of the water. It blew geysers of water so loud that they startled me. Sometimes it came so close to the boat I could see the deep shine on its skin; of course I never had my camera out at the best moments. Eventually, I just put my camera down and focused on my bobbing halibut pole, and the quiet reflection of the mountains, and the ripples from the humpback twirling around our boat like ribbons on a Maypole. And still, the GDR.

We were both amped up on caffeine and the promise of the solstice, so we caught a late movie downtown, where club music rattled the air and teenagers weaved through the streets like spawning salmon. We saw "Get Smart" and laughed the whole time - so much better than we thought it would be. It was still light outside well after midnight, and the music still pounded, and the teenagers were still out, and the longest day faded on its arc toward winter. And still, the GDR.

I rode today in the rain. It's been quite a while since it rained so hard it made my nose run, but that happened today. It was a short ride. I'm tapering for the 24 Hours of Light, which I don't think about any more. Geoff is doing awesome in his race. His last SPOT showed him in likely second place between Seeley Lake and Lincoln, Mont. He sounded very happy in his first call-in. Like a lifelong "Price is Right" fan who finally has his chance to come on down. I saw a picture of him at the start of the race, the only one of 18 looking at the camera, with a huge smile and two thumbs in the air. It made me feel so exuberant - and sad.

And still, the GDR.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

GDR 2008

Date: June 19
Mileage: 54.2
June mileage: 555.1
Temperature: 57

Today I went out for my last longish ride ahead of the 24 Hours of Light. I dawdled through the gray morning and left around 2 p.m. in light drizzle only to return with the high 8 p.m. sun over a cerulean sky almost completely flush of clouds. A mood-brightening development for sure. I hit up all the trails in the Valley. All of 'em. Well, there were probably a few singletrack spurs that I missed (there are lots of trails out there that you can only follow for a quarter mile before you're forced to backtrack.) I also made my first-ever wheeled attempt of the East Glacier Trail. I definitely ventured beyond my comfort level, both on the climbs and descents - but especially the descents. In doing so, I also pulled, unintentionally, the coolest mountain biking move I have ever successfully rolled away from. I was bombing down the switchbacks, a little faster than I probably should have been, when I hit a hairpin curve I had no chance of rounding. Beyond the curve was a pretty good drop - the bushes probably would have caught me before I fell too far, but I was destined to shoot off the ledge. So I did what any novice mountain biker would do - I completely locked up both brakes. The front wheel wedged up against a couple of small boulders, which probably prevented an endo, and the back wheel swung around, in the air, at a perfect 90-degree angle. And just like that, I was still on my bike, suddenly facing the right direction down the trail. So I just let off the brakes and continued on my way. Not that I'll ever, ever try that again.

As I puttered around the Mendenhall Valley trail system, Geoff was in Eureka, Mont., making his last preparations for the Great Divide Race, which begins tomorrow at high noon in Roosville, Mont. I have been recruited to help update the call-ins on the race blog, a task I am both looking forward to and dreading (I already spend all of my time working, biking, trying to feed myself, and occasionally visiting my friends. Where am I going to dig out the free time to listen to and transcribe daily call-ins from what will probably be about 20 racers?) But I am excited about becoming more intimately tied to this race, even remotely, in solidarity with Geoff and his monumental task ahead. If I don't find myself too in over my head, I hope to add a little color to the coverage, sportscaster-style, beyond the verbatim phone-call transcriptions. Pete B. has given me the OK to do so. I'll just wait until he asks me to reel it in. But if my blog's quality suffers in the coming weeks, it's because I have my ears glued to Divide racers' descriptions of everything they ate at the last town they visited.

In our final pre-race conversation, I gave Geoff my love and wished him the best. I'm heading out fishing early tomorrow, so I probably won't talk to him again until he finds a working pay phone somewhere on route. It's hard to tell how I feel about everything now that it's obvious he's actually going to attempt the GDR. I also have been following Chris Plesko's singlespeed Divide attempt. His stories are interesting, but I find myself almost more interested in the little bits of commentary from his wife, Marni, who is also playing the role of the GDR widow, at home worrying herself sick some of the time. I've tried to figure out if I feel worried or scared for Geoff, and the truth is, I really don't. I know he can handle whatever is out there. I do know that. I don't know if he can finish the race, and frankly, I don't even really care. Because I know he will have a grand adventure, come what may. To me, that's what's really important.

Go Geoff!

Commuting is easy

Date: June 18
Mileage: 39.7
June mileage: 501.9
Temperature: 51

Dull twilight clings to the horizon at 11:30 p.m., casting a purple glow on wisps of fog draped over the mountainside. My headlamp captures streaks of rain like static in on a TV screen. As the static flickers, it stings, and I glance downward to watch my knees churn. In the yellow light they don't even seem like a part of me, the one who already is zoned in on late-night relaxing and the promise of the weekend. But all the while, my legs carry on, a simple crankshaft spinning mindlessly over the wet pavement.

I started bike commuting more than a month ago, and it no longer feels like extra work. In fact, it doesn't even feel like any work. I used to climb into my car and now I climb on my bike. Little else feels different.

I thought turning myself into a bicycle commuter was going to be my great challenge for the summer, but I was wrong. It isn't hard at all. It took me all of two weeks to get my logistics dialed in, and now I just go. I have to schedule my morning rides a little better to make time, and sometimes I have to put on a rain coat before leaving. But usually I just stuff my work clothes in a plastic bag, walk out the door wearing whatever was sitting on top of my "junk clothes" drawer, and let myself get a little wet. It's only 25 minutes for crying out loud. I keep extra sets of junk clothes at work to have something dry to wear on the ride home. I even had my hair chopped off to shoulder length so I can blow-dry it a lot faster.

To other cyclists out there who don't bike commute: I encourage you to give it a go. One habit translates well to the other. And, honestly, I'm not one of those commuters who feels all smug when I ride by a sign advertising $4.35/gallon gas or walks through the office in bike shorts so all can admire my rippling quads (Ha!) I'm not part of the car-free chorus, I'm just one of the recent converts, let in on the hushed secret that commuting isn't such a big sacrifice after all. So join us in bike commuting, bask in its easiness, and watch it make a big difference in many other aspects of your life.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Yeah for me

Date: June 17
Mileage: 42.2
June mileage: 462.2
Temperature: 57

Yes, this is completely just a bragging post. I learned today that I received a first place award in news page design in the 2007 Society of Professional Journalists’ Pacific Northwest Excellence in Journalism competition. (Take that, Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana!)

This is a big deal for me. Maybe even bigger than winning the 24 Hours of Light! (which also will happen this month, by the way. Ha!) I've mentioned before that I'm on a somewhat rough and rocky trail in my career right now, but navigating that kind of terrain makes the podium placement that much sweeter.

I think some readers of my blog might be surprised by the fact that while I play one on the Internet, I'm not actually a writer. I'm a graphic designer. I tried reporting early in my career, but after several brain-numbing city council meetings and reprimands for not being hard-hitting and confrontational enough, I drifted over to the other side of the newsroom. Now I work in copy editing and page layout. I love it, and I'm good at it, but it doesn't transfer well beyond the lumbering Titanic that is the newspaper business. Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts laid out my current situation well in his column today: "Virtually every newspaper is going through the same thing: shrinking profit margins, declining circulation, staff cutbacks and morale at subterranean levels as journalists struggle to figure out how we can save the American newspaper. But I have come — reluctantly — to believe we can't. We must blow it up instead."

I can argue my case all I want ("But I'm a good page designer! Look, I'm an SPJ best!") It won't help me much once media sources phase out newsprint and replace it with online design (which, as you can tell from this blog, I'm not so adept.)

Still, I can work. Here. Now. In beautiful Juneau, Alaska, at what is, despite all, a pretty great newspaper with a pretty good, albeit one-and-only, news-page designer (Ha!) And I'll adapt with the changing times. Earlier in my career, I'd be pretty stressed out about this situation; I'd probably be dusting off my 1997 food handler's permit and digging out my old law school applications. This is another area where my traveling and cycling habits have changed me - I've not only become better at embracing my own strengths and weaknesses; I'm so much more willing to embrace the unknown.

OK, tomorrow, back to your regularly scheduled bike programming.

Parents part two

Date: June 15 and 16
Mileage: 19.4 and 28.0
June mileage: 420.0

I feel much more exhausted right now than I do when I'm cycling all the time. Strange to feel like I'm on vacation in my own hometown, but it's been a good week.

Dad in snow.

Mom in snow.

Dad and I rode out to Herbert Glacier. I was bouncing over the big boulders of the glacier moraine, thinking that was terrain only Pugsley could handle, and looked over my shoulder only to see Dad right on my tail on the Karate Monkey, with the fork still locked out no less.

He's a natural on a mountain bike. I guess years of dirtbiking on the rugged trails of the Utah desert will help with that.

Even out the road into the wind, the pace kept up. Riding Pugsley on the road felt like a pedaling a reconfigured paddle boat with two flat tires. I can't believe I spend entire winters on that thing. But I guess the glacier moraine riding can't be beaten, except by my dad.

Together we made the year's first attempt of Mount Juneau. After a couple of heart-stopping, scary steep snow crossings, we lost the trail entirely and ended up way off the route on the west face of the mountain. We bagged it there, about 3,000 feet up. A good attempt. I feel so much braver when I'm hiking with my dad. I think it goes back to my teenage years when I believed he would always be there to protect me. I still feel that way.

Don't forget to go over the Fatty's site to fight cancer and win a great bike.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

The parents in Juneau

Date: June 12 and 14
Mileage: 12.1 and 17.1
June mileage: 372.6

My parents flew up from Salt Lake City for a few days. This is the first time they've visited Juneau. They weather's been blah and I've already dragged my mom on more hikes than I think she would prefer, but the Alaska bug has burrowed in. She seems genuinely excited for the next day's adventures, even if the shopping is somewhat sub par ("How many Glacier Soap stores are there?")

My dad caught his first king salmon, a 25-pound, 34-inch monster. Later we trekked up Mount Roberts; Mom motored the whole way up, and didn't even complain when the hot chocolate stand at the Tramway was closed. Later we had the most delicious, melt-in-your mouth salmon dinner. Nice to have someone in the house who can cook, again.

Mom thought Pugsley was a riot, and Dad and I went on eBay and searched for his first non-motorized bike in what must be decades. He bought a nice, steel-framed Trek 820, perfecting for commuting and long jaunts around the Salt Lake Valley. I'm working on turning my parents into Alaskans, but first I'm going to turn them into cyclists.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

I am not my job

Date: June 10 and 11
Mileage: 12.1 and 42.7
June mileage: 343.4
Temperature: 51 and 55

It's been a rough couple of months at my place of employment. And, like the stock market and oil speculation, things just keep getting bleaker. Today the Powers That Be pulled us all into the conference room. Being gathered as a group is never a good thing these days, and everyone in the room sat in shadowed silence, braced for bad news.

The latest cut is our retirement benefits. Indefinitely. There was wide-eyed shock before the protests began. "Human capital is all you have." "We are this industry." "Our attrition rate is at an all-time high right now. Those of us who remain are already weighted beyond capacity and hanging on by threads. We live in one of the highest cost-of-living cities in the U.S., and now you're giving us one less reason to stay?"

The PTB just leaned back in his chair, himself just a messenger of the Corporate Overlords. He nodded in empathy and didn't really have to say it. The economy is tanking. Our industry is dying. What are you going to do?

I don't know. I guess I'll just keep riding my bike.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Tracking Geoff

Date: June 9
Mileage: 41.1
June mileage: 288.6
Temperature: 46

I had to take a day off yesterday because I was so sore from my silly little mud run. It was a good thing because I got a lot of cleaning done - once I freed my hip flexors from their overnight seize-up enough to walk, that is. But I was still disappointed. I've reached a point where I can go for 10-hour mountain bike rides and not even feel lethargic the next day, but I can't run four measly miles. Just when I thought I was in pretty good shape ... I'm not.

This is the part where experts recommend cross-training. I think that's an excellent idea. After the mud run, I browsed the Southeast Road Runners' Web site and found a few more races I'm interested in: A late-July mountain run, a five-mile hill climb and a possible road 10K (not because I'm crazy about the idea of a road 10K; I'm just curious how long it would take me to run that far. I'm guessing 9-minute miles multiplied by six.) I am interested in joining more organized events this summer, but the bicycle club's schedules rarely work for me. The only mountain bike race is a three-day series with individual races that are discouragingly short (What do you even do in a three-mile race? Red-line until it's over?) Plus, the running crowd seems cool. Whether I actually motivate to train on my feet remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, I am spending my time virtual-stalking Geoff, who left Salt Lake on Friday for his pre-GDR bicycle tour north. Geoff has a satellite tracker. After mild panic made the family rounds during my Iditarod debacle (where, unbeknown to me, I went missing for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours), Geoff's mom bought him the SPOT receiver and threatened him with future panic if he didn't carry it along the Continental Divide. Now, all he has to do is push a button and his exact latitude and longitude point is broadcast on his very own tracking site. I have been watching him wend his way through central Idaho and imagining the spaces - the Salmon River valley, the snow-capped Sawtooth Mountains, the places I never visited enough when I lived there myself. Every time I hear from him and listen to his daily misadventures, listen to him rattle off a litany of mileage, wind and weather statistics, I'm reminded of the way bike touring can so easily descend from adventure to lifestyle to career. Geoff's in career mode right now, and he has a particularly tough job ahead of him. I really don't envy that job with the mindspace I'm in: flighty, unfocused, thinking about becoming a runner ... But I do check up on him a little more than is probably normal. Maybe it's because I really do want to be a part of the grand adventure. Or maybe because this is what our relationship has come to ... upside-down teardrop icons on a Google map.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Mud run

(Photo by Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)

Date: June 7
Mileage: 12.1
June mileage: 247.5
Temperature: 51

The mud swallowed my shoe with a deep, slimy "shlorp." I pulled against the current with my free leg, but I was stuck, actually stuck, with frigid water rushing past my shins and salty liquid that was either sweat or sea water seeping between my lips. "Wow, I'm actually going to lose my shoe," I thought, and bent forward to gain more leverage. Another loud "shlorp" finally released my shoe, coated in five inches of cement-like mud but still attached to my foot, and I bolted toward the mirage of dry land, only to find more channels, more mud. Blood dripped down my legs from a menagerie of cuts sliced by the razor-sharp tall grass. The cold salt water burned my skin until it went numb. Tourist-laden float planes buzzed overhead. They were no doubt enthralled by the string of crazy Alaskans stretched out across the channel, a strange parade of running shorts, flailing arms, splashing, plunging, mud and blood. That's how fun the Spring Tide Scramble was.

The day turned out to be absolutely gorgeous, although a little on the chilly side. I showed up decked out in full winter layers, which I slowly shed as the sun sliced between clouds before the race began. I still had my wool socks on, which the real runners found amusing. "You're going to pick up some water weight there," one said. We all knew we'd come back carrying several pounds of mud. We talked about the course, an imaginary line from the island to the airport and back. "How far is it?" I asked. "About four miles," one guy told me. "But I think the winner last year finished it in 36, 38 minutes. It's a slow four miles."

I lined up with a friend whose boyfriend was racing the seven-mile version - a loop race but with more road and less mud. (Our out-and-back race had no road and all mud.) Our only goal was to beat him back. "How long do you think it will take you?" she asked. I looked up thoughtfully. "I don't know," I said. "Whenever I ride my bike on the beach, I usually spin 4 or 5 mph. I'm hoping to hit that."

I of course had to emphasize that I never run - *never* run - in order to pre-emptively disqualify the inevitable athletic embarrassment I was facing. The only rule in the race was to make it to point B and back. How we got there didn't matter. Someone shouted go and I jogged until I found a comfortable spot behind somebody else. I passed a couple of people and some simply dropped back, but for the most part, I stayed right on at least one person's tail for almost the entire distance, letting them choose the route and the steps over a course that had no boundaries. In the meantime, I felt pretty fresh and probably could have easily passed some of my "pacers" simply by amping it up a few more notches. But I've been out there before and I know some of those channels run deep. I was going to make sure I could see the head of the person in front of me at all times.

I met Karen on the turnaround and stopped briefly to take her picture (I had to stop because I discovered earlier that all the shots I took while moving came out slanted and fuzzy. Yes, I did actually take time to edit photos in the middle of a race that I was participating in.) At that point I was three or four minutes ahead of her. "What do you mean you don't run?" she said, smiling, but with a tinge of exasperation in her voice. A little ego boost to help power back over the mudflats. Thanks, Karen.

The fatigue set in during the final channel crossing, when that last "schlorp" sucked all the energy out of my legs like a vacuum. I stumbled for a hundred yards because I could not make my legs move faster. I felt like I was moving through wet cement, or one of those dreams where you want to run but you're stuck in place. I slogged and slogged and finally reached the razor grass again, where fresh skin cuts motivated me to high-kick like I had bees in my shorts and get the %$#@ out of there. Fun, fantastic fun. I finished with a time of 45:06, which I think made me either the fifth or sixth woman across the finish line. About 12 minutes behind the overall winner. I'll take it.

Another photo taken by my co-worker Michael. A few things stood out when I saw his photos. First was, "Hmmm, my shoelace is untied." Second was "Wow, my legs are really, really, really red." Third was, "I should have tried to reel in that No. 309 rather than stop and take a bunch of photos." Fourth was, "That really was a fun race."

I think I may have to re-examine my whole "running is awful" stance.

Competitive drive in neutral

Date: June 6
Mileage: 76.2
June mileage: 235.4
Temperature: 53

I had planned to "peak" for my 24 Hours of Light training this weekend, so it seemed prudent to do a longish ride today. I actually got some good riding in yesterday, so it didn't have to be epic. I just needed to chug out at least 10 hours for the weekend. Herbert Glacier and back sounded grand. Done and done. But what I really wanted to do was a car shuttle out to the Montana Creek side of the Windfall Lakes trail so I could bike out to Herbert Glacier and then walk to connect the two. I hear the hike is on questionable trail and about 11 miles one way - really need a weekend day to do something like that. Since my parents come to town next weekend I'll likely not get another chance this month, and then after that the mountains will be free and clear of snow and hiking the flats won't be as appealing. Oh well. Five hours on the bike won out.

I've had a good month of bike training, but in all likelihood, I'm done now. Don't get me wrong. I'll still ride my bike, excessively, but my other interests are starting to creep in now. My friends are starting to talk about sea kayaking. There are still so many trails in the area I've never seen because they're unbikeable, and I've been feeling an urge to spend more time on my feet. And beyond exercise, there just needs to be more time for barbecuing, for wandering the beach at sunset, for fishing and reading and going to plays. It's summer. The off season.

It's funny, more and more I'm realizing that I really am backward like that. I love to focus, focus, focus in the winter, and work hard with a set schedule and difficult goals in mind. Maybe it's to stave off the darkness and cold. Maybe it's to feel driven and strong when the rest of the world slips into lethargy. I don't know. I do know that summer comes and whatever shreds of competitive drive I even have start to unravel, and I begin to slack. When I started the summer I wanted the 24 Hours of Light to an "A" event, to be important. I really did. But my heart's just not in it. I guess I can't expect to be on all the time.

It's too bad, because I really believe that 24-hour racing could be my format if I ever devoted the kind of focus I put into winter cycling - which I'm not all that good at but love just the same. But 24-hour racing rewards all of my strengths - sleep deprivation, mental determination and keeping my butt in a saddle for a long period of time. And 24-hour racing is kind to many of my weaknesses - route finding, speed and technical savvy (anyone can ride a root-choked minefield given a dozen tries). Put me in an average field and I'll slowly chip away at it with my sheer turtle staying power. People who are good at sleep deprivation and sitting in a saddle all day and fast will destroy me, of course. That's why I'll never be a pro. But put me in a 24-hour race that I've really prepared for and I won't sleep, I won't crash hard and I likely will shine. Not that I know this for a fact. I've only ever ridden in one 24-hour race that I took seriously at all. That was two years ago, long before I had a clue what I was doing, when I was still a rank beginner on a mountain bike, and was sick half the time from really poor eating choices. But I stayed awake, and mostly stayed on the move, and ended up placing fifth overall, in a field of about 20 men and one other woman who was way behind me.

I had big hopes for the 24 Hours of Light, but they've been fading with the increasing sunlight and melting snow. I'm still going to go to the race and go hard, but I don't see the next three weeks advancing me much further toward that goal than I've already come. That's OK. It's summer and there's so much life to experience. The super-focused, intense biking can wait, and likely will wait, for first raindrops of autumn to fall again.

But, speaking of competition, I registered for my first race of the season. A couple of months ago, I crossed the Gastineau Channel with my bicycle and thought I was all adventurous for doing so. Turns out there are people who venture out that way every year, in a race, and they don't even use bicycles! So tomorrow I am headed out there to join the Southeast Road Runners for the Spring Tide Scramble, more popularly known as the "Mud Run." I have been warned to bring shoes I never plan to wear again. The race goes through knee-deep water and the forecast is calling for wind and rain with a high temperature of 48. I'm pretty sure I haven't run any significant distance since Nov. 11, 2006. So the plan is to go out and undo a month of hard cycling training in one reckless run across the Channel. Great fun! Here's a Google map of the course:

Wish me luck!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Good day exploring

Date: June 5
Mileage: 53.7
June mileage: 159.2
Temperature: 51

I read an interesting article today about a study that tracked 100,000 undisclosed cell-phone users in an undisclosed location outside the U.S. Besides the obvious ethical dilemmas involved with nonconsensual tracking, the scientists in this study noted that nearly 75 percent of the people being tracked never ventured further than a 20-mile radius from their home in six months. Half the people stayed in a circle little more than six miles wide. I know this is "outside the U.S.," far away from American car culture supposedly, but I wonder how many Americans mirror this lifestyle. How many Americans rarely see the spaces more than 20 miles from where they live?

It's interesting to me because this is my biggest issue with the place where I live. I have a somewhat-smaller-than-20-mile radius to explore, and beyond that, I can't go anywhere that I can't reach with my own two feet (or arms, if I had the courage to paddle out of here) or rather expensive mass transit. There are no roads or trails to lead me out of this place. I'm trapped, and sometimes I feel that way. As much as I love day-to-day life in Juneau, this aspect of living here is difficult for me. Travel was always such a huge part of my life when I lived in the lower States. Nearly every weekend, I set out across a piece of my own radius, back then probably 300 miles wide and sometimes more. It's definitely good that I drive *much* less now, but I still miss those new spaces and adventures. Especially now that I realize bike travel can easily extend into the hundreds of miles, a car wouldn't even be required.

I set out today in a light drizzling rain with my large pack and bike lock, because I had a bunch of errands to run. I picked up a few things and stopped for a lingering lunch, where I read about all those people who aren't trapped where they live and still never venture more than a few miles from home. I hadn't intended to do any recreational bike riding today, but when I stepped outside after lunch, the sun had broken through the clouds and I was conveniently located in the Valley, where all the best trails are. So I set out for a little trail riding that turned into a lot of trail riding, with a big pack, books and a few groceries on my back. It's been so unseasonably dry that the trails were almost dusty, such a rarity here, and I was able to bomb over a several lines of singletrack that are normally too muddy to bother with. The lower Montana Creek trail led to the upper Montana Creek trail, where the dry track allowed me to climb beyond the old road and onto entirely new trail (Windfall Lake?). I followed it for a while, even though it was way beyond my skill set - shin-high roots, collapsed bridges, plenty of cliffhangers and hike-a-bikes that were barely walkable (you know, the kind where you have to hoist the entire bike on your shoulders and hope you don't slip because you are going to tip backward off a cliff with a only a steel bicycle to break your fall.) But it was new trail, and I was really excited about that fact, and when the riding was good it was amazing - sometimes a whole 100 yards at a time.

So after that adventure I had to check out the Lake Creek trail - which is a great winter riding trail but I suspected was nothing in the summer. I was right. The Juneau Snowmobile Club did a great job of laying gravel over the first mile, and after that it just disappeared, completely, into a muddy bog. I slopped over several yards of the swamp to see if more solid trail reappeared in the woods, but in the process was attacked by about 1,000 mosquitoes. I nearly forgot to grab my bike as I sprinted back to the gravel and high-tailed it out of there. But for that short stretch it was fun to see old winter haunts in full bloom.

After that I was in a pleasant mood and hit up my favorite trails, Dredge Lake, West Glacier, etc. I ended up with a fairly long day - hard to say how long after my shopping and the lunch stop, but probably at least five hours of riding. You know it's a good day when you arrive at home, the sun is shining, and your commuter pack is splattered in mud. It helps me feel better about my small space, because within are so many spaces I have yet to discover.

Late edit: Interesting NYT article about the Juneau Road. (Thanks, Fred) For the record, I'm an agnostic about this road. It is an expensive project and environmentally dubious and still goes to "nowhere," as far as state connections go (Skagway is about 800 miles from Anchorage.) I'd probably be more firmly against it on days that I'm not so wistful to leave town.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

More green-up


Date: June 4
Mileage: 18.7
May mileage: 105.5
Temperature: 46

This is a fun time of year. The rain seems to have much less bite, and all of the benefits of being inundated with 90 inches of annual precipitation finally start to shine through. I like the greenness.

It also makes for more interesting exploring. Even well-trodden paths like the Perseverance Trail look different every time. Especially amusing right now is the presence of full leaf cover in areas where the ground is still 90 percent covered in snow. Birds are chirping, leaves are rustling in the warm, drizzling rain, and the slush is still knee deep. In a place where winter slithers in over a span of months, summer is surprisingly impatient.

I saw my first bear of the season today, a little blacky on the other side of the creek. Summer is here.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

My clipless platform

Date: June 3
Mileage: 35.7
May mileage: 87.2
Temperature: 48

The other day, someone asked me why I use platform pedals on my bikes. It’s a good question. Platform pedal use does seem to run against the grain of most acceptable bicycle accessory standards. It’s a blatant rejection of nearly universally adopted technology, and, unlike fixed-gear bikes and leather saddles, you don’t even get cool points for your retro grouchiness. In fact, I think there are even fixie hipsters who sneer at platform use. Platforms are for children, and BMX bikers ... and me.

I do feel like I’ve given clipless pedals a fair chance. I’ve had a pair of LOOK pedals on my road bike, off and on, for more than a year now. All of that pedaling has given me lots of time to think up reasons why I like platforms better. So here is my “Top 10 Reasons for Reverting Back to Platform Pedals” list:

1. I hate being stuck with one pair of shoes. There are so many subcategories to this - shoes get wet and take two days to dry; shoes make toes go numb on any ride longer than three hours; shoes don’t match clean socks. Then there are all the times I want to wear winter boots and times I want to wear knee-high overboots and times I want to wear running shoes. Platforms allow this kind of freedom.

2. Cold feet. I can only fit one thin pair of socks in my cycling shoes. This makes them essentially useless any time the temperature is lower than 45 and it’s raining. And yes, I do own neoprene booties.

3. I hate being stuck in a pair of shoes I can’t walk in. Put on a pair of shoes made to attach to your bike and suddenly you’re stranded on the thing. If you need to walk anywhere, for any reason, you either have to click-clack awkwardly forward or strip down to your sock feet.

4. For the aforementioned reason, clipless pedals complicate commuting. I’d need to carry an extra pair of shoes nearly everywhere I went.

5. Also for that aforementioned reason, clipless pedals really punish simple mistakes. Forgot your pump or Allen wrench? If you get a flat, a five-mile walk to the nearest gas station is fair punishment. But five miles in cleats? That’s just cruel.

6. I actually destroyed my first pair of cleats in less than a year because I walked on them too much. I ground them down to little nubbins and they wouldn’t attach to the pedals anymore. I like to walk.

7. I’m still a lousy enough technical rider that the ability to bail off the bike quickly has saved my skin more than once.

8. I’ve never noticed any real power benefit to clipless pedals. Maybe I’m just doing it wrong, but I’m dubious of the notion that they actually make any difference at all.

9. I’ve don’t have a problem with my feet slipping off my spiky platform pedals. I do have this problem with my clipless pedals, thanks to the aforementioned destroying of my cleats and the fact that my new ones still randomly slip forward when it’s really wet out (yes, I do have them set as tight as they will go.)

10. My knee problems increase exponentially if I push a steady rotation for too long. I move my feet all over the pedals - sometimes with the tips of my toes barely touching the edge, sometimes pressing down on my heels. This seems to alleviate a lot of the repetitive motion pressure. I can imagine all kinds of sports medicine specialists would tell me this is wrong, wrong, wrong, but it has allowed me to stave off nagging pain and ride with happy knees for an entire year.

So there you have it, my pedal platform: Free your feet, and free your mind.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Scouting

Date: June 1 and 2
Mileage: 39.4 and 12.1
May mileage: 51.5
Temperature: 62 and 57

My parents are coming to visit me next week. This will be their first visit to Southeast Alaska. I thought about pushing the typical tourist excursions ... helicopter tour of the ice field, wildlife cruise to Glacier Bay, etc. But then I thought it would be more fun if I could show my parents Juneau the way I see it. My dad loves hiking, so I have been hitting some of the nearby trails to gauge the progress of the snowmelt and decide how enjoyable they'd be in a week and a half. Today I tried the Mount Jumbo trail. All was clear up to 1,300 feet, but beyond there it was still pretty deep with hollow, slushy snowpack. I made it to about 2,000 feet before I decided I was way off the trail and hopelessly lost, and followed my faint footprints home.

I'd really like to show my dad the best of Juneau. After all, he was the one who introduced me to this place we call the Great Outdoors. If he hadn't hooked me on hiking when I was still a surly teenager, who knows what my hobbies would be today? Knowing what I was like then, I'm guessing they would involve hanging out in coffee shops, going to see oddball art house comedies and blogging about indie music.

I'm pretty sure I met my diverging path in the summer of '96. I recall that time as a rather rough summer for me. I had this horrible job as a “bagger” at the local Albertsons where they wouldn’t even let me wear red shoes. I had a boyfriend I couldn’t stand, although in the typical fashion of a disenchanted teenage girl, it took me most of the hot, stagnant summer to figure that out. I was facing a senior year in high school that I really just wanted to get over with already. And through it all, my dad was trying to introduce me to the mountains.

It’s fun to think back on my feelings about mountains as a teenager. Mountains were there, sure, but they didn’t quite compare to busting a path to the stage at the Warped Tour or the true exhilaration of cruising down State Street in the passenger seat of my friend’s Karman Ghia. But hiking was a great way to burn up a Saturday morning until something better came along, so I started to accompany my dad on Wasatch Range excursions. We took a few short trips together. And then, one day in August, he asked me if I wanted to hike Mount Timpanogos.

Timpanogos was beyond my comprehension. It was 18 miles round trip. I didn’t know the elevation or climbing or technicality. All that mattered was that it was 18 miles, which sounded like a long way to drive in a Karman Ghia, let alone a distance to walk. But in the same way I used to pretend I liked whole wheat hot cereal and Star Wars, I wanted my dad to think I was strong and tough and I said I would go.

I was so nervous when we packed up the car before dawn and made the long drive to the trailhead. I had "race day" sickness - a hole in my stomach that gurgled and churned and didn't stop when we set into the trail, steep from the get-go and chilled in morning stillness. Dad plied me with granola bars I had no appetite for so I stuffed them in my pocket, and up we marched, up as the morning dissipated into a blazing blue sky, up beyond the treeline, up into a granite-walled valley, up the granite walls, up to a point where we crested a narrow ridge and stood overlooking the city of Provo, so far below us that it appeared as geometric shapes sparkling in the sun. I was blown away. Sweating and lightheaded and blistered and sick to my stomach, but blown away. We picked our way to the peak, where Dad fixed me a cream cheese bagel asked me how I felt.

And I remember I felt pretty good.

I remember the date, too, because that night I scrawled a characteristically dramatic entry in my journal, with a cartoon self portrait - shaded darkly in pen, dressed in subtly ironic thrift-store clothing and drawn much thinner than I actually was - standing on a rock outcropping with arms raised straight out. "Today I climbed a mountain," were the only words. Aug. 2, 1996.

Sometimes when I think back to that hike, I believe that was the bottom of what became a future of climbing. And sometimes I think everything I've done since that day will never quite top it, no matter how far I go.

Either way, Dad, all this is your fault.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The end of May


Date: May 30 and 31
Mileage: 8.4 and 41.2
May mileage: 1,188.4
Temperature: 61

"You've certainly done a lot of biking this month," my mom said to me on the phone today. "Is it because Geoff's gone?"

"I think I've ridden about 990 in May," Geoff told me as he was driving from Moab to Salt Lake to start his long bike trip north. "I'm training for the longest mountain bike race in the world, and you're still riding more than me."

So now I have a just-shy-of-1,200-miles month. The majority of the miles were spent on a mountain bike on pavement, usually either touring, commuting or traveling to and from trails. If I break down the factors that led to all the miles, they're really more complex than just a good, old-fashioned bike binge. For starters, I took up bike commuting in earnest this month. That's only cut very minimally - if at all - into my regular riding, and adds an average of 60 miles per week - 240 miles over the month. I started out May sincerely dedicated to endurance training, which has devolved into a looser commitment to weekly mini bike vacations. Either way, both endeavours stack up mileage. One demands hours in the saddle and the other awards hours in the saddle.

My ride on Thursday definitely landed on my "top five best Juneau rides ever" list. I didn't write about it afterward because I had "Oh, the Places You'll Go" stuck in my head for most of the day. Like any poem or song in which you don't know all of the words, I started to invent my own. And after nine hours of pedaling I had a whole new version looping through my head, so I had to go home and type it out. But, in the interim, I had an amazing bike ride. The weather of course was perfect (how long can this last? It's been 10 days at least. I feel like I've landed in the Southeast Alaska twilight zone.) I rode Herbert Glacier Trail for the first time this year (finally clear!) and went on to Eagle River, riding much farther than I have before (Eagle River is a nasty trail and more often than not a hike-a-bike, but if you put up with the walking, there are some fun stretches.) I did take a rough fall over one of the epic root piles along the Eagle River, but I'm such a timid technical rider that I consider mountain bike falls - as long as I come out relatively unscathed - to be a good thing. I had planned on returning home after the Eagle River ride, but spontaneously decided to go north instead. I went to the end of Glacier Highway, where a large gate blocks the entrance to a gravel road that I assume is the pioneer construction of the proposed (and currently in limbo) Juneau Access Road. I've never been brave enough to venture out that way, because I fear large restrictive gates and their warning signs. But on Thursday I threw caution to the wind and ducked under the gate. The gravel was really rough (like "I wish I had full suspension" rough) and blocked in two places by landslides large enough to prevent any vehicle from going through - even ATVs. I was disappointed to discover the road only extends about five more miles before it literally drops right off into Berner's Bay. But after skirting around a big bad gate and two landslides, it was exciting to stand on the edge of the water and know I was truly "out there."

Then I felt fresh and energetic the whole way home. My GPS was registering triple-digit miles and the wind was blasting in my face. It didn't even seem real to feel as good as I did, but I felt great. I arrived at home after 9 p.m. - having had waited until noon to leave the house. Then I busted out a quick and rather eclectic dinner with the meager, meager food I had left in the fridge, and raved about my bike ride to my roommate until he got tired and went to bed. After that, I didn't sleep for most of the night. I was pumping all kinds of endorphins and adrenaline and it was nearly impossible to come down. I'll never understand people who say "I'll sleep well tonight" after a good, long ride. The exact opposite happens to me. The better (and longer) the ride, the worse I sleep. But it's worth it.

Of course I was a zombie on Friday after waking up at the crack of 7 a.m. to go fishing (didn't catch anything). Friday had just a short ride to commute to a friend's BBQ. Today was half-hearted hill intervals up to the ski resort and the commute to work. This is the way May ends. Lots of bike riding. The way it all came about is still a little vague. Like I said, I've kind of given up on the presumption that I'm "training," more than I'm just "having fun because I really do enjoy biking and it is especially rewarding when the weather is nice like it has been most of this month." And I don't feel like I've spent more time than usual on a bike - but there is a project I started in earnest toward the end of April that's been stalled out for four weeks. I haven't been back to the library in at least that long. I still have Netflix movies that Geoff rented before he left that I should really just send back and cancel the subscription because it's stupid to pay $9.99 a month to keep red envelopes on a desk. The TV remains unplugged since we pulled the cord when the energy crisis began in mid-April. And I do have a problem with continually running out of fresh food. (People think gas is expensive. Bike fuel is expensive.) So maybe there have been small lifestyle shifts toward higher mileage. But I like to think I'm just getting faster.