Showing posts from November, 2008

A ride in black and white

Date: Nov. 30
Mileage: 20.2
November mileage: 831.1

Sometimes when I ride in a storm, the world looks black and white.

Right now the canyon is dripping with clouds so thick that they blanket the air and smother the falling snow. Powder-coated alder branches draw faint lines in the fog, but for the most part, the landscape is featureless. Wet flakes fall in silence and I can’t see them or hear them. But I can feel them on my face, so I know it’s snowing.

I pedal hard circles in high gear to stave off a creeping chill. Despite the steep pitch of the trail, I’m not working hard enough to muffle the shivers. The snow is too soft and uneven for the warmth of work. It requires cold concentration — an intricate slowness.

This is the place I like to be most of all — locked in an effort that has no room for tangents. In this white world, it's just me and the climb; keeping the wheels on the trail, keeping the pedals in motion. For a short while, not much else matters. Not much else exists, the s…

Feels like summer

Date: Nov. 28 and 29
Mileage: 40.3 and 15.0
November mileage: 810.9

Cloudy. 47 degrees. Light rain. I complained a fair amount during the frequent days when the weather was like this in July and August. But in late November, it actually feels pretty nice. The temperatures have been so mild that there isn't a speck of snow or ice left on most of the roads and trails. I even recommissioned my road bike and rode it for the first time in two months.

Yesterday I peeled off a number of layers I didn't need, rolled up the sleeves on my hoodie and rode a brisk tailwind 25 mph along the North Douglas Highway. With no gloves and no hat, I could feel the cool breeze streaming around my skin. The bike's skinny tires hardly made a sound on wet pavement. Then, while fighting the wind back the way I came, I glanced over at the most amazing rainbow arcing over the Mendenhall Glacier - a nearly perfect frame. I slammed on the brakes, nearly tipped over because I forgot I was still attached to …

Thankful for sucker holes

Date: Nov. 27
Mileage: 52.2
November mileage: 765.6

More than food, more than water, there are some rides where what I want most in the world is a shot of sunshine.

And some rides, I get one.


Date: Nov. 24 and 25
Mileage: 28.4 and 22.1
November mileage: 713.4

The bike training has been going well lately. Really, too well. I've been implementing planned levels of exertion and trying to push myself, but I usually emerge feeling like I'm lacking something. I need to dig deeper. I need rides in which I go to bed feeling absolutely exhausted and wake up pumped for the new day. I need the pain and triumph of a good, long ride. I need the time for a good, long ride.

Right now I have a little time to kill while I wait to pick up my friends at the airport (another delayed flight. Sigh.)We have a pretty low-key Thanksgiving planned, and I'm excited about that. I am sad that I'm missing out on the Homer family extravaganza for which my mother baked nine pies and my sister committed to wearing a special shirt. The day after Thanksgiving, my sister and cousins celebrate Black Friday by standing in line outside a Fred Meyer or Target at some horrific hour of the pre-morning.…

Friendly fall

Date: Nov. 23
Mileage: 26.2
November mileage: 662.9

Today I went "snowshoeing" up the Mount Jumbo trail without ever actually strapping my snowshoes on. The snow was just too uneven - as much as thigh-deep out in the open, but barely covering the ground beneath the trees. By the time I reached the really steep pitches of the mountain, sinking up to my knees in snow was preventing backsliding much more effectively than the snowshoes could.

I took what must have been a rather spectacular fall on the way down. It's a shame no one else was around to see it. Back at elevations where there was only about a half-inch of snow on the ground, I managed to wedge my foot beneath a root protruding out of the dirt. It completely halted what at the time was a pretty fast descent, and sent my body tipping forward down a 60-degree slope. Many seconds seemed to pass as I dropped through dead space. I actually had time to think about pulling my arms to my chest and did so - thereby possibly av…

Southeast Alaska armor

Date: Nov. 22
Mileage: 30.1
November mileage: 636.7

My friend Brian took this photo today during a random drive-by on the North Douglas Highway (hope it's OK that I posted it on my blog, Brian.) I think it shows me in my element - draped in a baggy, dripping coat and riding through grimy slop in the rain. It also shows the clothing system I've settled on and am actually pretty happy with when it comes to dealing with common coastal Alaska riding conditions.

During the winter in Juneau, it's common for the city to receive a few inches of snow overnight before rain takes over during the day. The snow turns to slop and slush, and rain continues to fall from the sky, resulting in conditions that can only be described as "cold and wet." Underline the wet. I've done a lot of trial and error runs, and finally arrived on a clothing set-up that can keep me warm for at least five hours. I haven't yet had the mental stamina to test it any longer in what is admittedly no…


Date: Nov. 20 and 21
Mileage: 22.7 and 56.4
November mileage: 605.6

I had a five-hour ride planned for today, the beginning of my weekly "long ride" series in which I ride an hour longer each time and eventually start adding extra days. Five hours is always the first of the focused efforts. I planned a hard, steady ride out the road. The goal was a steady tempo pace with no breaks, but I stopped at the Mendenhall Visitor Center to use the bathroom and got completely sidetracked by the beautiful state of the Valley trails.

An inch or two of fresh snow had been hardened in the just-below-freezing air to a dense crust, nicely grippy and fast. I wound through the forest surrounding the Dredge Lake area and then hit up the tight singletrack near Montana Creek. For someone of my skill level, mountain biking is by necessity less effort than riding on the road. I often have to stop to walk around rock gardens or up an icy hill after spinning out. There's enough stop and go, hesitati…

I'm famous!

Date: Nov. 19
Mileage: 16.5
November mileage: 526.5

OK, not really. But check out my guest post today on Fat Cyclist's blog, "So you want to ride a bike on snow."


Date: Nov. 17 and 18
Mileage: 32.2 and 35.0
November mileage: 510

I felt strong during my two "tempo" rides today and yesterday. My plan has been to ride three or four of these rides every week: two to three hours of semi-uncomfortable effort. But I am almost certainly on a fitness plateau right now, because these rides have become much too easy. I know the obvious answer is "ride harder," but I almost feel like my lungs and heart have outpaced my legs, and I just don't have the muscle power to push the pace much higher. I know I probably do, I just need to find it. And of course there's the short cuts - more intervals, climbing, squats. But there's just so much fun riding out there right now - frozen trails, hardened muskeg, shattery paper ice (see small photo) and dustings of new snow. I keep telling myself I can start building again in December. :-)

I was able to get in plenty of bursts of hard effort today after I snapped the rear shifter cable on my mo…

First tracks

Date: Nov. 16
Mileage: 12.4
November mileage: 442.8

When sunlight emerges from the cold and rain, the only question is where to follow it. The obvious answer is along frozen streets, into the mountain shadows and higher until there is nowhere to go higher. Climbing toward the sun.

The day started out with a little bumpy ice biking on the frozen muskeg. Then I hid my bike in the woods (too well, as it turned out, when it took me a few passes to find it later in the day). I strapped on my snowshoes and cut a path in the crusty snow all the way to the Douglas Island ridge.

The first steps over the crest of the ridgeline are always breathtaking. Generally, I have been traipsing through shadows for most of the morning. The low sun, which never extends beyond the other side of the mountain, makes its first appearance through snow-laden branches. Just beyond the trees are the peaks of Admiralty Island, wrapped in clouds, and the shimmering surf of Stephens Passage.

All around, sunlight glistens in…

Cold November rain

Date: Nov. 15
Mileage: 29.0
November mileage: 430.4

No one appreciates the tyranny of 34 degrees and raining.

There's just no way to stay warm when it's 34 degrees and raining. Warm some of the time? Yes. Warm most of the time? Maybe even. Warm all of the time? No.

Eventually you’re going to hit a slow technical stretch or an extended downhill, and your energy expenditure is going to plummet. And where energy expenditure drops, so follows body temperature.

There’s just no way to avoid it. Wear waterproof clothing if you want to be soaked in sweat. Wear water resistant clothing if you want to be soaked in rain. Either way, you’re soaked, and eventually, hyporthermia’s going to get its icy fingers around your skin.

When it does, you have two choices: Surrender or fight. Surrendering’s easy. Go inside. Take a painful shower if you must. Fighting’s harder ... and in the end, more fun.

Imagine that you’ve just arrived at the bottom of a five-mile descent. You’ve spent the past 10 minutes b…

November is lovely

Date: Nov. 10, 11, 13 and 14
Mileage: 17.0, 28.4, 60.3 and 22.1
November mileage: 401.4

November is one of the many months of Juneau in which you can have it all within the span of a three-hour ride: Rain, sleet, snain, snow, full-on blizzards, wind gusts that will suck the air right out of your lungs, more rain. That's essentially been the theme of my training this week: Mastering the art of the all-weather ride. After getting knocked around by wind on the Glacier Highway today (literally knocked around, in way that threatened to blow me into traffic), I opted to head up the Perseverance Trail even though I was riding my ice bike. I got caught in a blizzard and about six inches of new, wet, unrideable-with-skinny-tires snow. Common sense would dictate I turn around, but I thought - "eh, need to get a feel for these conditions. It'll make me tough." So I slogged through it to the top even though the work itself wasn't as strenuous as the activity level I was shootin…

Iditarod fundraiser

It's a book! I made it! Available here!

OK, so, the book. This started in June when an Alaskan author named Seth Kantner (one of my heroes, but that's the subject of another post) came to Juneau to promote his latest book, "Shopping for Porcupine." That also happened to be the same day my parents flew into town to visit me. I dragged them almost directly from the airport to the bookstore to attend Kantner's signing and slideshow. As he flipped through photos of his hard life in the frozen wastelands of the Arctic, I kept glancing over at my mom and dad, expecting to see perplexed looks on their faces. But, like me, they seemed enthralled. I decided two things that evening: I needed to go back to the Iditarod Trail - if not in 2009, then someday. And I needed to get my 2008 experience on paper - not just the quick first impressions of the blog, but everything I could remember.

Before that night, I had already been working on essays of other past adventures, some of …

Yeah studs

Date: Nov. 9
Mileage: 46.4
November mileage: 273.6

The roads were too icy for biking with the skinny tires Saturday morning, and Geoff was planning to enter a foot race called the Veterans' Day 8K, so I went with him. It was the third running race I entered this year, and, not coincidentally, only the third time I went for a run this year. We showed up three minutes before the start and were still pinning on our numbers as we took off down the path. My shoes came untied quickly and I stopped to tie them. This happened three times.

The race was held on a bike path that I ride often, and I found foot pace to be unforgivably slow. Maybe it's just my foot pace that's unforgivably slow. Either way, the pounding was hurting my shins and I was not about to amp it up. Geoff passed me on his return trip well before I reached the turnaround. He won the race at 29-something minutes. I finished a few eras later at 43 minutes and change.

I returned home feeling a little like someone had tak…

Why winter is more fun

Date: Nov. 7
Mileage: 37.0
November mileage: 227.2

Friday, again. Time to put in my long day for the week. I promised myself I'd ride hard up to Eaglecrest, push my bike for a while, and if the snow was good, spend the rest of the day playing. Six hours of daylight between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., every one used well.

The weather was fabulous - 40 degrees, fog and snow flurries at sea level. But at 3,000 feet, temperatures were in the high 20s and skies were clearing. The thin snowpack has had a steady diet of rain over the past few days, and in its refrozen condition was in great shape for biking. The road itself was pretty chewed up by a SnowCat, but I could ride right on top of the frozen muskeg. I spent some time pushing my bike and descending (you know, carving turns) at midmountain before I ditched the bike and headed high. The clouds started to clear just as I was approaching the upper elevations. Most of these photos are from my long walk along the ridgeline.

The snow was still in g…

The plan keeps coming up again

Date: Nov. 5 and 6
Mileage: 17.3 and 16.0
November mileage: 190.2

I feel like I have a lot going on right now. I have been putting in quite a bit of time outdoors - out of habit, out of mental necessity - but it seems like my mind is usually somewhere else. There is a little voice of reason that is starting to shout: Training! Focus! Training! It's early November. I need a plan, I really do. And yet, when I'm out on my bike, aiming for miles or speed or a few bumpy turns on the ice-crusted snow, I'll find myself gazing blankly at the horizon, legs spinning on autopilot, focus elsewhere.

By this time last year, I had a pretty good plan for Iditarod training. It centered mainly on hours of exercise and time in the saddle - valuable, but in hindsight, only a small part of what I needed to actually be ready for the race. This year, I know I need more time on my feet, more weight on my bike, more impact, more upper-body everything. And that's just the physical fitness part, whi…

Breaking the silence

Date: Nov. 3 and 4
Mileage: 35.1 and 62.0
November mileage: 156.9

Sunlight poured in through the window as the dentist hovered over me with a miniature sandblaster. He wore a sticker that read "I ensured freedom by voting today." It was still only 9 a.m. As he ground away 15-year-old retainer glue, the whine of the drill competed with the yammering of high-volume news radio for nobody's attention.

"Wow, it's a nice day today," my dentist said.

"Hmmm mmmm," I gurgled.

Outside, people on the corner waved campaign signs. The streets were full of noise, honking and traffic, yelling and whistling. "Can I really handle a full day of this?" I wondered. I parked at a nearby mall and pulled my bike off the roof rack. I suited up in clothing that would assure me warmth - something that's been eluding me on bike rides lately - two fleece jackets, long johns, rain pants, balaclava, neoprene booties. I pulled into traffic and rode north.

Beyond the busi…