Sunday, August 31, 2008

Obstructed view

There has been this ongoing theme this week of rain, mist and fog in the mornings, followed by beautiful afternoons. It works well for most people. Not so much for me. But September is nearly here and I've come to the troubling realization that I've spent precious little time in the mountains this summer. My high ambitions are slipping away with the approaching snow. I hoped to get up early and try to reach Cairn Peak today, but after my alarm went off at 6:45 a.m., I looked out the window to a low bank of fog obscuring even the tops of buildings downtown. So I went back to bed. Hiking for the sake of hiking is all well and good, but not at 6:45 a.m.

I woke up again at 9. It was still foggy. I no longer had enough time to push for Cairn. But I figured I might as well make the most of what was supposed to be a dry day, and head up Mount Jumbo. No new territory there. But I like Mount Jumbo. I can walk out my front door and be on the trail in less than five minutes. Climbing 3,500 feet in 2.5 miles is a brutally efficient workout. Plus, it's always scenic ... even in the fog:

Sure sign of fall: When the devil's club leaves begin to wither.

At the peak. I purposely made myself look like a marmot.

Just below the peak, the big cloud finally moved out of the way.

Come September, I'm always on the lookout for those first hints of termination dust. I've seen dustings of new snow already on 5,000-foot peaks, but it's a little early at 3,500 feet.

Cruise ship in the clouds.

And all along in the city, the sun was shining.

Maybe Cairn Peak tomorrow. There's always tomorrow.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Big day for Alaska

Date: Aug. 28 and 29
Mileage: 36.2 and 76.7
August mileage: 748.3

"Six hours," I told myself. "I should ride at least six hours today." After a failed attempt at a long ride on Thursday, lead legs, scattered rain and an actual doubleback while deciding to quit twice, I was all set to go at 9:30 a.m. I had slammed down a quick breakfast, browsed the morning paper, packed up my backpack and had even cinched on my helmet when I remembered I hadn't checked my e-mail yet. It was mostly junk and a one liner from Geoff: "McCain is picking Palin as his running mate!!!! busy day at work on saturday for you."

He had to be joking.

So I started to make the full rounds - CNN, New York Times, Anchorage Daily News, the Juneau Empire (to make sure they picked up the story.) Then it was on to all the inane little Anchorage Daily News reader comments, the political blogs, the Alaska blogs. There was an electricity to the air, even in my dark room in front of my computer, the kind of buzz you get when you realize you're witnessing a little piece of history. Because regardless of what your politics are, or how you feel about Sarah Palin (and believe me, I'm not a cheerleader), this is big for Alaska. We are a small state in political terms - 670,000 people, about the same as Memphis (where's that?) Veep nomination in a major political party is a big step for this small state, and it's exciting.

Of course the politics of the whole parade went through my mind, but first and foremost, I was enthralled by the notion. Here is a woman I see once in a while strolling down the streets of downtown Juneau. I even nodded at her once as I pedaled by, and she smiled back. There's a closeness to it, a sense of someone I know hitting the big time, and I couldn't pull away. Before I knew it, it was 11 a.m., and the phone rang.

It was my boss. Calling me in to work.

The Juneau Empire is a six-days-a-week newspaper, which means we don't publish a Saturday edition. Ever. But since this Palin thing is the biggest news to hit the state since Sen. Stevens was indicted, and this was actually semi-good news, no one wanted to wait until the story was good and stale for Sunday's paper. So they mobilized the staff to create a special Friday afternoon paper, an actual "Extra" edition. I can't imagine there are too many newspapers left in the U.S. that bother with extra editions anymore. I could almost see the paperboys in their wool caps and knee-length shorts waving papers around the streets of Juneau screaming "Ex-tree! Ex-tree! Read All About It!" And that was exciting. Even if it meant coming in to work on my day off. And forgoing my long bike ride.

So I rode into the office. The next four hours were a mind-numbing blur of stress and pressure. People breathing down my neck as I frantically dug around for archive photos and tried to make sense of the grand design. I rarely have high-blood-pressure days at work, but today was one of those days, and by the time we wrapped up the "Ex-tree!" edition by 3 p.m., my heart was pumping about 130 beats per minute and I was seeing double. But it was only 3 p.m. I still had time to get in at least some riding today. I headed north, planning to loop a few trails near Dredge Lake.

But when I reached the valley, I noticed clearing to the north. And, well, I am a sun chaser if ever there was a sun chaser. I amped up the effort and stayed on the pavement, burning the high octane as I raced out the road until I had a full shadow riding beside me. I turned around after two hours so I'd have plenty of time to make 7:30 p.m. dinner plans. But then I rode by Eagle Beach. And all around me was the intense sparkle of the sun contrasted against dark curtains of storms. And there was this rainbow, stretching like an umbrella over a patch of blue sky, and I couldn't take my eyes off of it. So I rode along the beach and stopped several times to take pictures. OK, dozens of pictures. OK, close to 60.

And of course, the pictures never come close to capturing these landscapes, but I have this tendancy - OK, this crazed desire - to try to hold on as long as possible, to hold on to these moments of color and light and sweeping vistas so startling that I forget all about my fatigue and my lead legs from Thursday and even about Sarah Palin and whether or not I've even given any thought to how I actually feel about it all. No, for a few beautiful minutes I'm just amazed. That's all that I am.

After my photo safari, I had to race toward home at even higher effort. I knew I was going to be late for dinner. I was becoming ravenously hungry, since all I had eaten for lunch was about a half pound of grapes, a bag of fruit snacks and two Quaker chewy granola bars, and that was all I had packed (I, stupidly, tossed a bunch of Power Bars out of my bag when I made the gear transition from "long ride" to "commute.") My friend promised to cook up a big lasagna for dinner and I started to think often about that, but as the evening sun descended, the color show moved forward. A sharp golden glow lit up the street, the spruce trees, the cars, the buildings, the devil's club-choked hillsides, until every color looked ultra-saturated, like an overeager Photoshop job gone awry. But it wasn't Photoshop, it was real life, so it was beautiful.

And even though I was hungry, and yes, probably tired, my pace never slowed. I was high on color and light, and I wasn't even all that late for dinner. And to think that I was almost out the door at 9:30 a.m., that I nearly missed out on all of it. Thanks, Sarah!

Friday, August 29, 2008

What the?

I know this isn't a political blog, but Sarah Palin? Hol-ee cow.

Two years ago, she was the mayor of Wasilla, population 8,000, and a long-shot primary candidate against an old guard Republican governor. Then she beat Frank Murkowski in the primary, beat a Democratic former governor in the general, came into town, and every once in a while I'd see her walking down the street as I was pedaling through downtown.

We're gonna miss you in Juneau.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Pay it forward

Date: Aug. 27
Mileage: 10.5
August mileage: 635.4
Temperature: 55

When I was in Huntington Beach last week, a group of So-Cal cyclists were kind enough to guide me on a tour of the coast so I didn't "go home and complain that L.A. is nothing but smog and too many roads with nowhere to ride." Today I had the opportunity to pay their kindness forward by guiding a Juneau visitor on a mountain bike ride so he didn't go home and complain that Juneau is nothing but rain and only one road that doesn't even go anywhere.

Steve is a software engineer from Denver and has already been in town for several weeks taking helicopter rides to the tops of mountains and installing wind towers. So, already his position is enviable, but he wanted to do some cycling on top of that. He's a self-professed "roadie," so I took him to the Juneau trail that in my opinion best works to convert any roadie to mountain biking (in that it's easy, fast and stunningly gorgeous) - the Herbert Glacier Trail. We had a fast, fun ride through the woods and a little techy mud'n'rocks at the end just to make it an adventure. I led us astray over the glacier moraine and we both ended up knee-deep in runny quicksand. Steve was really good-humored about the whole fiasco, even as we bushwhacked through thick alders to avoid what I called "dying" by becoming inescapably stuck in quicksand.

Always nice to meet another passionate cyclist; and Herbert Glacier via vehicle access is a great way to spend a day off (without the car, it's a 75-mile round trip ride). Right now I'm trying to psych myself up for some long slow distance, my specialty, and make it interesting by taking a tour of the hills.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The fallacy of water resistance

Date: Aug. 26
Mileage: 61.2
August mileage: 624.9
Temperature:
51

The argument about what clothing barrier will best protect a cyclist from falling precipitation while simultaneously rejecting inner condensation will go on until the end of time. I say such a garment does not exist. "A rain jacket can't keep out all rain and let out all sweat," Geoff told me once. "It goes against the laws of physics." Now, I haven't taken a physics class since I was in 11th grade. But I have owned a lot of rain jackets ... gortex, polyester, nylon, PVC. The driest by far has been the PVC - sure, it doesn't breathe, so it builds up a lot of inside moisture. But it's a tropical kind of moisture, warm and humid, and just a little bit damp - it's not the kind of frigid soaking I get once my other rain jackets give up the ghost and I'm left alone in the weather.

I feel strongly about this issue so today I actually set out to blog about it. Today's subject: My Pearl Izumi Vagabond jacket. I won this jacket in the 24 Hours of Light. It's a great jacket, actually - it has zip-off sleeves, fits well, retails for about $100. And, in its defense, it is not made for extreme weather. But today did not feature extreme weather. It was rainy and windy - normal weather.

This jacket was brand new on June 28. It has never been washed (I know ... ew). Here we have a picture about five minutes into the ride. See those glistening beads of water? That means the Vagabond is doing what it's supposed to, keeping the rain out. All is well, right. Right?

But here we have the jacket about 1:45 into the ride. Where did all the shimmery droplets go? Could it be that they've bounced clean off? Or maybe the jacket developed an invisible force field to further repel the raindrops that are still falling from the sky. Or is it possible, just possible, that the rain has soaked through?

Let's check ... roll up the sleeve. Yup, my base layer is soaked, at least as far as my elbow. Could it really be an inordinate amount of forearm sweat? At 50 degrees? Or could it be that my fairly new, $100 rain jacket is (gasp) letting in the rain?

Come to think of it, I am feeling pretty soaked. Once this jacket gets pretty wet, it's no longer very wind resistant either, and I can feel the chilled breeze moving through. Luckily, I carry back-ups in my trunk bag ... Polar Fleece. It's not water resistant in the least, but at least it's still warm even when it's wet.

So, my conclusion: Most rain jackets are good for 20, maybe 30 wet rides before they start breaking down. I've tried that spray-on waterproofing before, but mostly found it to be pretty short lived and not really worth the cost. The best plan when the weather is dipping into the 40s and raining: Stay warm. Wool is warm but heavy. Polar fleece is better. But PVC is best, and I usually return to it when I've come to the painful acceptance my latest "water-resistant breatheable" rain jacket just wasn't made for real rain.

If you go out in the rain, you're going to get wet. Accept it. I have.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Double the pain

Date: Aug. 25
Mileage: 27.5
August mileage: 563.7
Temperature: 50

I climbed the Eaglecrest road today, from the Mendenhall Wetlands (sea level) to the end of the new construction (high!). Twice. Doing two-minute intervals. Into a 20 mph headwind. Through a relentless downpour. I learned many valuable new things:

* It's impossible to recover from an interval on a climb.
* So eventually the interval and recovery periods look and feel more and more alike, which is impossible not to get frustrated about.
* At 40 mph, it is possible for raindrops to cause one's lips to bleed.
* Turning around to climb again at the bottom of a long descent really takes the edge off the hypothermia.
* I know the idea of hill repeats is to climb hard, turn around, and recover on the downhill, but I just can't face those frigid descents more than twice.
* Yet another expensive "water resistant" rain jacket has had the water resistance beaten right out of it. It was a nice two months, though.
* I need to purchase a pair of swim goggles. Any recommendations?
* I think we have reached the season of neoprene.
* I had no idea I had it in me to self-inflict such levels of agony.

I actually left the house today hoping to ride that road three times, but man, I'm going to have to get out of the house a lot earlier to achieve that. As it was, the double-back nearly broke me - it was one of those rides that left my heart rate still pounding more than an hour after I stopped. I managed 14 miles and 3,200 vertical feet of solid climbing, plus 14 miles of horrible downhill, in about 2:45. I had some good speed in my early sprints, but it got to the point where the granny gear was making an appearance during recovery periods on nearly level pavement. I feel really good about this ride because I know I gave it everything I had. That I managed it in just about the worst weather imaginable makes it doubly satisfying.

Call me a masochist, but I really feel like I've achieved something when I press as hard as I can against the struggle and come out feeling stronger. It's much better than the dough-girl feeling I have after I sit at my computer all day sipping Pepsi, even when I'm doing something most would consider "productive," like working or writing. Right now I can feel this edge starting to develop, in the form of achy leg muscles, and that's a good thing. It means I really am venturing outside my comfort zone. I had planned to take an easy day Tuesday, but I had forgotten it's the day of the primary election - which means I have the opportunity to go in late to work, but also have to expect I'll be at the office well into the small hours of Wednesday morning. So Wednesday will need to be the short day - and tomorrow will be perfect for that long tempo ride. I think I'm going to pump up the tires on the touring bike and go for speed. Call me a masochist, but I'm excited.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

If it ain't raining, we ain't training

Date: Aug. 24
Mileage: 50.3
August mileage: 536.2
Temperature: 52

Hunter down in Ketchikan (where it really rains) told me about this old Army saying, and I've decided to make it my motto for the upcoming fall. My goal for the next couple of weeks at least is to rapidly increase my time and effort on the bike ... mostly to see how it makes me feel and assess where my endurance is after two months of pretty lax base training. (And yes, if it makes me feel awful, I will dial it back.) Increasing time and effort to me means more miles and purposeful climbing at a tempo pace (and tempo pace to me means sustainable, but just barely.) So yesterday and today it was three and a half and three hours, respectively, of near-hurt (and sometimes outright hurt), with one beautifully restful stop each day for photos. Tomorrow I plan to do some hill repeats, Tuesday go easy, Wednesday ride another three-hour tempo, and Thursday do something long. On Friday I'll step back and see how I feel. I think it's a worthy experiment to see what kind of cycling condition I'm in - not that I have any reason to believe I'm in great shape, but I hope my muscles have good memory.

So far, these harder sessions have been less enjoyable while I'm riding, but they've left me feeling upbeat and energetic the rest of the day - more so than I have been during the work afternoon in a long time. It may just be that I still have a little California sunshine left in my blood, but even that's wearing off quickly in the latest rain deluge, which is not likely to let up anytime soon. It is, after all, nearly September. I can't expect to see the sun again in any kind of standard capacity until November (and no, sucker holes do not count).

Which makes any goals for longer, harder bicycle training sessions even more difficult. Bad enough to head out on a bike knowing you're facing three hours of self-inflicted pain. Worse yet if the slate-colored clouds have dropped to sea level and sharp daggers of rain are stinging every square inch of exposed skin. I don't even care about being wet and cold anymore, but I still have sunburns on my face, and those raindrops hurt.

More than a test of my fitness, this will be the ultimate test of my motivation. But I chanted Hunter's Army motto a couple of times this morning, and I have to admit, it did make me feel better. If it ain't raining, I ain't training ... because if it ain't raining, I'll likely be out on a leisurely hike, or otherwise doing something enjoyable to soak of every second of sun I've earned.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Eric's Lost Coast

Date: Aug. 22 and 23
Mileage: 14.7 and 46.0
August mileage: 485.9

I met Eric Parsons in April 2007, shortly after I posted an online forum message seeking a miracle-working knee doctor in Anchorage. I didn't find a doctor, but I did find a similarly injured, similarly minded cyclist living in Anchorage. We met up while I was in the city during a journalism convention. We limped around town and trails in the Chugach Mountains and commiserated. He told me he injured his right knee during the 2005 Iditarod Invitational and was still struggling to recover two years later. I told him I was unhealthily obsessed with that very race but didn't think my right knee, still locked up after two months of recovery following the Susitna 100, would ever be up to the challenge. I thought I could see a little bit of my future in his past, and it was cathartic to have a new friend who understood the psychological struggles related to long-term injuries. So after I returned to Juneau, we kept in touch.

The more I came to know Eric, the more I questioned whether he was crazy or just extremely, adventurously brave. He made regular multiday, solo mountaineering trips involving technical climbs when his knee was too sore to ride a bicycle. He attempted to paddle his tiny packraft through the fast-flowing ice of the Knik Arm, in January. He quit a cushy state engineering job and opened up a home-based bike bag business called Epic Designs. Then he got knee surgery and after that he really went nuts, with route-pioneering, bike-and-raft combo trips that pressed deep into Alaska's trailless wilderness.

Eric's latest adventure is a bicycle expedition along 300 or so miles of Alaska's Lost Coast, from Yakutat to Cordova. The route, undeveloped and remote, involves strenuous and slow coastal riding, bushwhacking, river crossings, glacier traverses, rafting through ice-clogged open water, the Gulf of Alaska's legendary storms, wind, rain, cold, etc., etc., etc. People have walked and kayaked this section of coast before, but no one has ever attempted it with a bicycle. Last Tuesday, Eric and his friend, Dylan, left Yakutat on their Surly Pugsleys loaded with Alpacka rafts, paddles, camping gear and what I assume must be a lot of butter, and set out into the wild to do something no one has ever done before - ride the Lost Coast. Last I heard from them, two days after they left, they were camped at the base of the "violent calving face of the Hubbard Glacier" and trying to figure out how to get across it. That's just the first of many, many obstacles, some of which may not even be surmountable ... but at this point in time, there's only one way to find out.

Eric is carrying a satellite phone on the trip, which he expected would take two to three weeks, and plans to call in with what he promised would be infrequent updates. I volunteered to post them on his Lost Coast Expedition blog (I know, after this and the Great Divide Race, I should start advertising my services as an adventure blogger.) I wanted to be a part of it because I think what Eric is doing is a truly pioneering experiment in just how far a mountain bike can go. Just as ultraendurance races such as the Great Divide Race and the Iditarod are starting to gain glimmers of recognition from the general public, cyclists like Eric are taking distance mountain biking to a whole new level - off the trails, off the maps, off the charts. Eric admitted this expedition has a high chance of failure - and in my opinion, that's a sure sign of the rare-in-modern-times opportunity to blaze new territory.

And as crazy as I think Eric is, I still like to believe I can see pieces of my future in his past.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Happy at home

Date: Aug. 19 and 21
Mileage: 52.4 and 44.3
August mileage: 425.2

I was working my way through one of many cattle shoots at LAX early this morning when a man behind me pointed to gray mass hovering over the airport outside the window and asked "is that smog or fog?"

"It looks like fog to me," I said. Then the woman in front of me turned around and said, "Oh no, that's smog." I just glanced out the window again at the cloud, somewhat amused that, regardless of what it actually was, I was in a place where it's hard to tell the difference.

And with that, I left California after what feels like a short lifetime but was actually just a long week of fun in the sun.


My cute family on the Matterhorn. My 26-year-old sister, Lisa (not pictured), was deeply traumatized by this ride when she was 4 years old. So the mechanized abominable snowman has made its way into family lore, and the ride is now a fam favorite.

So after my mom informed me they had purchased Disneyland tickets for the whole fam-damily, I did not admit to her that I was not excited about going ... especially on my birthday, especially when I had acquired a perfectly good if flat-prone bicycle that, despite the fact I ride all the time, I really just wanted to take out for a long day of exploring. But my mom loves Disneyland. Don't get me wrong ... I loved it too, as a kid. But my adult paradigm started to run against that grain and now I feel uncomfortable around all of the excess and crowds, who, as my dad quoted from an article, "single-handedly prove that the American economy is doing just fine when all of these people are paying so much money just to amuse themselves." Disneyland really plays up that "When You Wish Upon A Star" theme, which I think could serve as a thinly veiled slogan for the most toxic edge of the American Dream - that we should have everything we want handed to us out of thin air. That said, I'm certainly not a poster child for eschewing all over-consumption, and I can enjoy excess with the best of them.

After an ill-advised trip down Splash Mountain, my sisters get a small taste of what it's like to be a cyclist in Juneau.

Plus, Disneyland is just so nostalgic. It took me a while to get over the hump of herding myself through masses of humanity and exhausting my energy reserves by standing in long lines, but I finally hit my stride and started to really appreciate the time I could spend with my two sisters, who I never see anymore, and just enjoy the oddball way in which two 50-somethings and their three grown, childless offspring can enjoy a warm day of youthful amusement.

I don't know about the "Happiest Birthday on Earth." The crowdedest, maybe.

Thursday was a much more even day. I crawled out of bed early and rode my borrowed bike up the coastal highway to Long Beach, only to discover that the coastal highway through Long Beach is a high-traffic commercial zone that veers pretty far inland. Live and learn. We took a surfing lesson in the afternoon, where I learned how to get thoroughly battered in small waves by something that is considerably heavier than a boogie board. I was finally hitting my stride and nearly standing up on the board when the lesson ended two hours later. I'll likely never try it again - it's too hard for me to work through my irrational fear of moving water just to get out there in the first place. But, as my sister Sara said, at least we can knock "Try surfing" off our bucket list.

Oh yes, I took a picture of the picture.

I flew back into Juneau at 2 p.m. Friday. As usual, the city was obscured between a predictable but almost comforting blanket of fog. I was sleepy and mentally exhausted from 10 hours of airline transit, but I couldn't wait to suit up over my sun-blistered lips and unusually tan face and head out for a ride in the rain. I couldn't decide where to go. Muddy Perseverance? Sloppy Eaglecrest? Soggy trip to the glacier? They all sounded so appealing, and I feel like I haven't been here in weeks. I'm sure that feeling will wear off soon, but for now I will head out an enjoy it. In the same way I warmed up to Disneyland, these first few post-vacation rides in Juneau may prove my theory - that novelty and nostalgia are the perfect combination.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

29

Today's my birthday.
I'm going to Disneyland.
It's true. Hope I live.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Vacationy post

I realize that the following photographs are probably interesting to nobody but me. But that's what vacations are about ... having a good day and wanting to remember it, so you take your stand-and-grin family photos and post them on your blog.

I hooked up today with three riders from the area, readers of this very blog who offered to not only lend me a (very nice) bicycle for three days, but also took me on a morning tour of the area. The man who lent me his cyclocross bike, Mark, told me he didn't want me to go home and write the usual "IHATELA" visitor news. I have to say, the sprawl of humanity that covers the area freaked me out at first, but I'm really warming up to Southern California. We started in Huntington Beach and headed down the Pacific Coast Highway (I called it the "PCH" and my mom said "That sounds so Californian!"). We rode to Laguna Beach and then up the canyon to Irvine, rolling through some bike-path-laced hills back toward the PCH. Fun, really mellow ride, something short of 50 miles, a little daunting with all of the traffic and two flat tires, but a refreshing and scenic taste of this piece of California. Thanks guys!

We all went to In-N-Out Burger for lunch. Their menu is, um ... limited. Sorry guys, I still don't understand the hype. But it was a fun lunch. And a great ride. This is the best aspect of being part of the cycling community - no matter where you are, you have friends.

My two little sisters flew in this morning. Just about the time they came in, every single one of the clouds in the overcast sky had burned off. Just like that. In Juneau, that kind of cloud dissipation takes weeks. I was shocked. We hit up the beach first thing.

Later, we talked them into a group bike ride with the three working bicycles we had dug up, and one that had a wobbly front wheel and off-set (and rusted permanently that way) handlebars. This picture illustrates well what my sisters thought about the bike riding.

Before the midway point of our five-mile ride, the rear brake arm on Sara's Wal-mart mountain bike snapped off and the front pads were so worn they didn't work anyway. We turned around a limped home, with Sara bombing into the grass just to stop, my dad attempting to perfect the skewed steering of the wobbly wonder, my mom pedaling some bike that made loud grinding noises with every turn of the crank, me being yelled at by a passing (not oncoming) cyclist for riding into "his" lane in the 5 mph-max zone as I was trying to help Sara, and the whole time I felt really bad about riding the good bike, which no one wanted to ride because it had drop handlebars. But we laughed about it all the way home. Yes, we tourists are silly.

But that's what it's all about.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

You don't see that in Alaska

Whenever my friend Brian and I go fishing for halibut out of Juneau, we always get so many laughs out of the whale-watching tour boats. They motor in erratic circles around the bay like drunken drivers, chasing distant humpback spouts, and when they finally see a tail or a piece of fin, everyone rushes to one side of the boat and erupts in a loud chorus of oooooooo's.

Yeah, those silly tourists, they sure are funny. So funny that I debated whether or not I was ever going to admit to climbing onto one of those silly tourist-clogged boats to take a whale-watching tour out of Dana Point. But when I walked away with one of my coolest wildlife encounters, well, ever ... I decided it was probably worth taking a little ribbing from my Juneau friends.

We saw a couple of blue whales, estimated to be 60 and 70 feet long, respectively (two of the largest animals that have ever lived!). Blues, as far as I know, don't come anywhere near Juneau, but they don't seem to have any qualms about approaching silly tour boats. This one just lulled atop the water for a long time, spouting occasionally and briefly dipping under the water. It was so close to the boat that I couldn't even capture the full length of it with my camera lens, no zoom required. The tour guide, unable to determine what the whale was doing, finally just announced that it was probably asleep and we were moving on.

But the really surreal experience came later, when we were heading back in, sun-fatigued and half napping on the benches. A little girl walked up to the captain and announced she wanted to see dolphins. The captain just mumbled something about "we'll see what happens," and not five minutes later, the boat floated straight over a pod of 500 or 600 dolphins. They were shooting out of the water on all sides of us like salmon in a waterfall, a kind of rolling dance almost synchronized to the bounce and clap of the boat. A dozen or so locked on to our wake and swam right below the boat, like they were racing us, and we tourists just hung over the railing, gazing into the cerulean water and quietly wishing we could join them.

Now I've seen wolves in the wild, grizzly bears within feet of the trails I was riding and black bears in the Utah desert. I've seen moose and caribou and bighorn sheep and mountain goats way out in the wilderness where few humans venture. I see all kinds of marine mammals on routine bike rides and more eagles than I could ever count. But I have to say, those dolphins really did it for me. I can't help that I was on a commercial tour boat in Southern California.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Huntington Beach

So that's where I'm going on vacation. All week long, friends and co-workers have been asking me, "so where are you going?"

"Somewhere in Southern California ... near L.A. ... (trailing off.)"

You don't know where you're going?"

Um, no ... it's a family vacation. My parents planned it ... (trailing off.)"

"What are you, 7?"

But in a way, that's what this vacation is pretty much about. Being 7 years old again ... for all of the good and the bad of it. Today we set up on the beach and I actually went boogie boarding. I never saw much point to it before, but it is pretty fun. A couple of times I tried to paddle under the crest of the wave, like surfers do on TV, riding out that beautiful curve until it meets its natural conclusion. It didn't quite work that way for me. It was more like an underwater thrashing while the breaking water dragged me over a lot of abrasive sand. Even more fun was fighting the crazy tidal current as it dragged us out to sea.

I put on two different coats of SPF 50 and I still have a couple of burn patches on my back and legs. I think I'm blinding all of these beautiful Californians with my previously unexposed areas of pasty Alaskan skin.

My dad and I found a whole pile of beach cruisers in a garage at this condo we're staying in. Only three were semi-workable, and even then just barely. I don't think I'd ever get much of a workout spinning a clankety single-speed at 9 mph along a crowded bike path, but I suppose it's better than nothing. I didn't find much in the way of bicycle rentals in this area. I'll have to fan out my search area on Monday. I don't really know how far out of town I'm going to be able to get.

If anyone near Huntington Beach has a working bike they wouldn't mind renting to me, for compensation of course, for a week ... maybe you could send me your contact info to jillhomer66@hotmail.com. Anything would be much appreciated!

Friday, August 15, 2008

Sun shock

Date: Aug. 13 and 14
Mileage: 30. 7 and 44.1
August mileage: 328.5

My internet went down at home, but I'll always be a geek so I wanted to post my mileage before I forgot it, so I'm posting from a hotel room somewhere in the sprawl of Los Angeles. I just flew in from Juneau this morning. I heard the sun came out there today. I missed it.

I made two stops today - a beautiful flyover above the fjords surrounding Sitka; and Seattle, where I had a strange conversation with a man in which it took me at least two minutes to explain to him that I lived in Juneau, not L.A., and I was flying to my vacation, not home from it.

Then the plane dropped into the smog and the sprawl. The mountains were just ghosts in the hazy distance, and then it was just flat and buildings as far as I could see. I walked out the door into the warm sun and took off my outermost layer outside for the first time in, I don't know, years. I'm happy to soak it up when I can and I'm thrilled to see my family, but I have to say. Southern California ... I don't get it. Maybe I will in a week.

Until then, I'm on the hunt for a bike rental shop. There are at the very least endless roads here to explore, and I can't stand just leaving them there. I just can't.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Taste of October

Date: Aug. 12
Mileage: 25.3
August mileage: 253.7

I rode into some really driving rain this morning - blowing sideways, it was a 30 mph direct hit to the face with sharp daggers of water. The temperature was about 50 but the windchill drove it down to something that felt almost frigid, and I remembered what it's like here, at least most of the time, during the fall.

The miles are well-earned in Juneau falls and winters. I forget just how much so until I compare a fall-like day such as today with the relative ease of the summer days earlier this week. I head out with a plan to go hard, but usually start focusing so much on how miserable I am that I lapse into survival mode, put my head down, and grind through it. The nice thing about October compared to a day like today is that it actually is cold. After an hour or so my hands and feet go numb, giving me a good excuse to quit, unlike a day like today, wherein I have to admit that I quit early simply because I was miserable.

And in the back of my mind, I'm thinking, "The longer I spend at this, the more I improve my remote chance of actually being prepared for Trans Utah, which would enable a swift retreat to the desert for more than an entire week of that diabolical month everyone else calls October." The problem is ... it's August, and I already have my escape mapped out. I leave Friday for the faraway climes of Southern California, to laze in the sun and drink cold Pepsi and remember what it's like to wear shorts in the summer and probably not touch a bicycle for a full week. Mid-August, yes, well, now that you mention it, that would be a peak time to train for Trans Utah. Plus, the family vacation to California - looking forward to it though I am - puts a serious dent in my remaining vacation leave at work. October time off will come at a price. Compromises will have to be made. Pleas will have to be plead. All to do a ride that I won't be well conditioned for, in a venue that's more than a little out of my league.

But as I look out the window at the hard-driving rain, I wonder how I can afford not to.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Style and grace: Things I don't have

Date: Aug. 10 and 11
Mileage: 27.0 and 30.1
August mileage: 228.4

My new fried Terry is trying to teach me how to pop a wheelie. No big deal, really, just one of the most essential skills in mountain biking. And of course I was terrible. And of course I blamed my platform pedals. And of course I also blamed my natural lack of coordination (Jill: "It's like trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time.")

But he was persistent enough and even talked me into pedaling up the upper Salmon Creek Trail, a path I had jogged up many times but never dreamed people actually rode their bikes through the minefield of mud, downfalls and wet roots. People ride their bikes over lots of stuff, I've discovered. I'm still trying to get past the whole "but walking around that is so much faster and easier" philosophy. Problem with wet roots is they take a pretty good wheelie to climb over without washing out, so the lessons began in earnest. I'm always reluctant to let someone try to teach me mountain biking skills. A former boyfriend tried that in 1999, on the Slickrock Trail in Moab, and my feet didn't touch another bicycle pedal for three years. My current boyfriend tried that in 2003, in St. George, and I spent the next two years believing I hated mountain biking. Yes, mountain biking has been a slow transition for me, and of course, I blame the men. And my natural lack of coordination.

But Terry has been very nice and patient enough. We logged a good ride in the mist on Sunday. ("Terry: Looking out at the fog, I feel like I am at the Olympics!") I am still working on my writing, so I've been taking shorter, harder rides this last week. I think these time-crunched efforts are good for me. I nearly blacked out, twice, chugging up to Eaglecrest this morning, but I think I logged my fastest climb yet, and was out and back in 1:45.

Geoff was stuck underneath an ash cloud in Anchorage last night. Hopefully the airline let him on a plane and he's back in Juneau by now, or else I'm probably going to stay up until 3 a.m. typing again.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Back to normal

Date: Aug. 7, 8 and 9
Mileage: 30.1, 35.7 and 15.2
August mileage: 171.3

Sorry I've been away from my blog for a bit. Not that anyone probably actually noticed - but three days is a long hiatus for me when I'm in town.

I've actually spent most of that time at my computer, typing like a crazy person. It started Thursday afternoon. As expected, the sun went away and the rain came back. I did a hard interval-type ride out to North Douglas (intervals meaning I go as hard as I absolutely can until I think I'm about to burst, and then I recover until I think I can go hard again.) I came home completely spent, actually had to take a nap, and then I woke up and drove Geoff to the airport (He was flying to Anchorage to run the Resurrection Pass 100) I had originally planned to come home and ride again, but that didn't sound appealing at all. And just as I sat down at the computer to kill some time blogging and whatnot, it occurred to me that I actually felt like starting on this writing project I have been thinking about since April, but had done nothing with it beyond free-handing a rough outline on the back of a flyer. "I'll just pound out a few paragraphs and see what happens," I thought.

Lots of paragraphs happened.

I'm actually pretty excited about. The motivation is swirling, and the result has been encouraging. This is the kind of thing I'd want to print out for my grandchildren someday, the kind of thing that says "This is what Grandma was about before she turned 30." And if I never get around to having kids, I'll show it to my grandnieces and nephews. It's been fun, too ... a reminder that I do have the drive within me to be every bit as passionate about writing as I am about cycling, which is good news for when I am grandma-age and will have probably used up the warranty on my knees. I only hope I can finish a good draft before the motivation turns on me again. That's why I have been away from blogging and only going outside for the most minimal rides, because it's raining anyway.

A good sunset did come out tonight though - a few rays of light peaking through the fog. My co-worker and I walked out to the back of the GCI building and just stood on the shoreline, watching the sky as half-rotten chum salmon wrestled and flopped in the shallow water. We were on deadline, which made the escape that much sweeter.

Geoff called from Anchorage to tell me he ran the Res Pass 100 in 17 hours and change - four hours faster than the previous course record. He insists he kept his promised conservative pace and ran it as a "training" run. "That's like 10-minute miles," he said. "If I went any slower I'd be walking."

I wanted to tell him that if I ever had to cover 100 miles on foot in one unbroken stretch, I'd be crawling. (When I did that course, or at least one very similar to it, in 2006, with my mountain bike, it took me 13 hours.) It made me even more hungry to attempt the Soggy Bottom 100 again later this month, but I've been very noncommittal with my cycling as of late. Oh well. Back to Microsoft Word.