Sunday, November 30, 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 sting of snowflakes notwithstanding.

These places where I climb in the clouds are places that belong only to me, and to my primal urge to escape distractions. I’m not looking for the contrast of white on white. I’m not worried about the past or future. I’m not caught up in the stream of circumstance, fighting a lateral drift. I’m just moving and breathing. Living life at its simplest. It’s an unsustainable state, but I value these brief moments that have been stripped of self awareness as deeply as I value the most ponderous meditations.

This is the basic reason why I ride my bike nearly every day, and why I feel I have to go outside even in the rain and snow and chill. There are better ways to get exercise, but there is no better way to go places — both to the beautiful and mysterious landscapes of the world, and the even more beautiful and mysterious landscapes of the mind.

The low fog fades behind me as I gain elevation. The whiteout is replaced by a strengthening storm, but now I can see alder and spruce, coated in snow and leaning away from the wind. The towering cliffs are whitewashed and only vaguely recognizable as mountains. Snow covers the tiniest branches and the largest boulders. The land looks familiar, but in an otherworldly way, like an old chair draped in satin.

The snow on the trail becomes deeper until I’m off my bike and walking, but still I keep climbing. I focus on the white horizon and push harder. I wonder whether it’s the strangeness or the familiarity of the land that keeps me going, and decide it’s a little of both.

When the world becomes a ghost of itself, it only feels right to move forward.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

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 clipless pedals, wrestled out of my Camelbak and frantically rifled through the contents in an effort to find my camera before the light faded. But it wasn't there. I eventually dumped everything out of the pack, and the rainbow began to fade, and it wasn't there. Somehow, while reattaching the seat and seat post bag, looking for a spare skinny tube, pumping up the tires, adjusting the shifters and brakes and greasing the chain on my long-neglected road bike, I managed to forget my camera. Gaaaa!

Of course I indulged in a serious grump about the matter, and decided to work out my aggression by climbing the Eaglecrest Road at full throttle until the road conditions became too sketchy for my skinny tires. I ended up riding all the way to the top - the snow-free base of the ski area. Yeah, I hate to be the one to break it to Juneau skiers, but I don't think there's any way that place is opening Dec. 6.

Today I rode out to the Glacier to meet my friends and sustained two flat tires along the way. Right now, my road bike has a rear tire that is little more than a strip of cigarette paper with a faint hint of rubber. I've know this for months now, so I have only myself to blame for the flats.

Our friends and their 5-week-old daughter have been visiting us from the frozen land of the North - Palmer. Between hanging out with them and Thanksgiving, I haven't had much time to ride this weekend, but it's been fun to be predominantly social for a change.

I feel like I have a good long solo ride coming to me. Soon. Maybe when winter comes back.

Friday, November 28, 2008

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.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Streamlining

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. Then they rush into the store with a stampede of people, trying not to get trampled as they elbow their way into aisles full of what assume are still half-price socks and some sort of $10 DVD players. I've never quite understood the draw, and never participated in the consumer madness, but the images still drum up nostalgia, and I wish I was there just the same.

But if you are like me, and will be spending your Black Friday in the quiet company of friends and hopefully going for a nice long bike ride, you can still get your Christmas shopping done away from the crowds by purchasing the new version of my book! That's right, I fixed some (hopefully most) of the typos, tweaked the fonts, and scoured paypal for a way to sell books directly through my blog. That way, if you would like a signed and personalized copy, you can click on the gold "Buy" button and purchase direct without having to contact me first. (The e-mails stacked up quite a bit, and certainly revealed holes in my organizational skills. If you e-mailed me and I never got back to you, I apologize.) By clicking on this button, you can indicate in a message how you would like your books personalized, and paypal will calculate shipping and total price. You can pay either with your paypal account, or with a credit card. Keep in mind that buying books through this blog means they still have to go through a "middle man" (me) so turnover time will be about 10-14 days. I'm working on generating a specific Web site to better describe the book, including excerpts and reviews, which will hopefully give potential buyers a better idea of what they're getting.

I want to thank everyone who purchased my book so far. Thanks to you, I will definitely be getting that mountaineering coat I've had my eye on. I've also gotten some good and helpful feedback and am continuing to learn a lot.

If you'd like to purchase signed copies of the book, here's the button. I'm going to move it to my sidebar soon. But now, to the airport.

Happy Thanksgiving!






Monday, November 24, 2008

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 avoiding a broken wrist. Memory has a way of rewriting these moments as long periods - the way entire lifetimes can pass before eyes in a flash - but I swear I went through the motions of denial, terror, and finally acceptance before I hit. Shoulder first, then chin, turning a complete cartwheel before landing on my back. I laid on the ground somewhat stunned for a few seconds before I realized that I didn't feel hurt at all. I didn't even really feel the shock of impact. I stood up to brush the slush and mud of my clothes, making sure nothing was broken, and wondering just how I came out of the fall unscathed. As I looked at the ground where my body had brushed away the thin layer of snow, I saw thick clumps of moss. The moss was covering another layer of spongy mulch. I knelt and pressed my hands against the soil. It was as soft as a pillow. Karma smiled on me today. It was a simple act of tripping, but it just as easily could have gone badly.

I remain a complete klutz on my feet. That's the main reason I'll never be a trail runner.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

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 not my most favorite weather to ride in, but my theory is I could go most the day and stay relatively warm (excepting the occasional frigid downhill runs):

1. Gortex shell: Gortex actually does a pretty good job of keeping rain out, although my coat is large enough that slush does find its way in from the bottom.
2. Fleece pullover and polypro long-sleeve shirt: It seems polar fleece and polypro retain about the same insulation value regardless of whether they're wet or dry.
3. Mittens: Ski mittens and gloves are almost never actually waterproof, so if I'm going out longer than three hours, I usually take my handlebar mitts (pogies).
4. Rain pants: I don't own a pair of waterproof rain pants either, but spinning pedals keeps my legs warm enough that I don't worry too much about the wet factor on my legs. Keeping the wind away from wet mid and base layers is important; that's the main reason for the rain pants and the Gortex coat.
5. Polypro tights: Good insulator, and they don't soak up too much water.
6. NEOS overboots: After a couple years of chain rub and duct tape patches, my pair are admittedly no longer waterproof, although the used to be. Keeping the feets dry is key.
7. 50-below Arctic wool socks: Crucial once the feets do get wet.
8. Random shoes: Usually a pair of running shoes.
9. Ear warmer: I find it's easiest to regulate heat through my hands and head. Keeping a light layer on my head prevents me from overheating and sweating too much. Alternately, I carry a heavy hat to put on when I get cold.

So that's my wet snain/sleet/snow armor. I used to think it was impossible to stay out longer than three hours when the weather was in the 30s and wet. I no longer believe this, although I still like to avoid it when I can. (Too bad my gym membership expired.)

*****

Late Edit: I wanted to thank Dave C. for an insightful and illuminating review of my book. He took time out of his busy grad school schedule to write what could be a paper in and of itself (believe me, I wrote a lot of lit papers as an English major), and it's given me a few new angles to reflect on in this whole experience. Thanks. :-)

Friday, November 21, 2008

Sidetracked

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, hesitating over a tough obstacle at 4 mph and coasting down hills that it really is not quite as strenuous of a workout. But my technical skills continue to improve encouragingly, and you can't beat the fun factor.

Not that the road riding wasn't fun and gorgeous as well. I had a really good day today. It's true the ride itself was really no longer than those I've taken on recent weekends. I'm starting out slow by design, but I have to say, I can't wait until it's time to crank out some 8 and 10 and 12-hour days, coasting through the eerie darkness, listening to the crackle of my studs on fresh ice.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

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."

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bookkeeping

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 mountain bike. I feel bad for my Karate Monkey; only seven months old, and she's already been through the war. But after riding most of the morning with three speeds (and really only using the middle ring), I have to say, I still don't understand the single-speed thing. It's not a matter of being able to push a high gear up steep hills - that I can do if I have to. But I prefer to have my rotations per minute stay the same no matter how fast I'm going. Single-speeders must have their legs spinning all sorts of different crazy speeds. And once your RPMs drop down to two or three, don't you start questioning the efficiency of your one gear?

Also, I wanted to thank people who have e-mailed me about buying a book. When I made the offer, I didn't really formulate a plan about how I would organize requests and orders and the like. So what I have is an inbox full of e-mails, some of which I have answered, some which I'm not sure, etc. I plan to sit down and organize the whole mess on Thursday or Friday, so if I haven't gotten back to you yet, I apologize. I put in a big order Monday (and I want to thank those who already sent in Paypal payments; it made the prospect of ordering a big box of the exact same book much less painful.) I was told they would take six to eight days to print, so the turnover may be a little longer than I expected. I ordered some extras and can always order more, so if you are still interested in a signed copy or are hesitant to use the direct site, please e-mail at jillhomer66@hotmail.com.

Once I get a chance to really scrutinize and think about it, I may go the route of purchasing a distribution package, getting the book on Amazon and possibly into actual stores (maybe bike shops?). Of course, this would require a ton of marketing on my part, and convincing third parties that it's a worthy product. One of the main benefits of having an outside publisher (besides brutal, thorough editing) is marketing. I'm still not sure whether I want to step outside the safe boundaries of this blog. This was, after all, a personal project and not a commercially-minded venture. More of what I think I might get out of "Ghost Trails" is a learning experience that I can use as a springboard for future projects.

That said, I'm curious if any books have trickled in yet. I'm interested in feedback, any feedback. If you've had a chance to look it over, shoot me an e-mail or leave a comment and let me know what you think. I realize people aren't just going to receive the book and read the whole thing in a day (although it is a pretty quick read), but I just wanted to throw it out there that I'm interested in hearing your thoughts, whatever they may be.

And, just as a friendly reminder, it's still available here. :-)

Finally, I just signed up for Facebook! I still don't know why. Peer pressure, I presume. But that's the whole reason I started a blog, so maybe it will work out for me. My profile.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

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 a pillow of untracked snow. Trees slump beneath the weight of hard ice and everything is cast in stark contrast against the sky. I always have to squint but I hesitate to put on my sunglasses, for fear of shutting out even a fraction of the color and light. The landscape is so beautiful it hurts.

It's a happy hurt, a kind of ache, a sharp longing for distant joys of the past and unfiltered hope for the future. I stop to remove my hat, caked in frozen sweat, and smile in the cold wind.

Powder snow muffles the crunch of my snowshoes as I make my way along the ridge. A bald eagle screeches just a few feet above my head, but the only tracks on land are my own. Clear skies reveal ridgelines many miles away, and at elevation I can imagine these alien places are within my reach. Elevation reminds me that I don't really live in isolation; that even Juneau is connected to the world. In my mind I outline the islands and coast on a map that carries me down the Inside Passage.

The city looks warm and cozy. I have to be at work in a few hours, and the thought of leaving the mountains and the marshmallow mounds of trees is sobering. Down there are a hundred hanging indecisions, a wall of uncertainty and a company on the verge of bankruptcy. Sometimes I wonder how I can justify spending so much of my time pursuing frivolous activity while the world struggles. But it is here that I'm most powerful in the fight against despair. It is here that I remember the things that matter, forget the things that don't. It is here, on the Douglas Island ridge, where I could walk the same lines a hundred times and never feel anything short of awe.

What good would life be without awe?

Saturday, November 15, 2008

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 blasting through dagger-like sleet as downhill windchills of 20 degrees needled through your wet coat and rain pants like they were tissue paper. Your muscles feel like they’ve been injected with ice water. You go to shift down your gears, but your fingers are rigid. Your arms are sluggish. Your legs are so heavy and numb that they feel like they’re half detached from your hips. Your whole body feels like it’s locked in slow motion, and you alone have to rally these half-frozen parts into high burn if you want to get your body temperature back to normal.

And that’s the fight. It’s comical at first. Sort of like a drunken race: battling sluggish motor functions and a slight urge to go to sleep. You shimmy the front wheel on flat pavement, stand up and heave back and forth. But then your heart starts to beat a little faster. Icy blood flows in and flows out a little warmer. The warmth filters into your muscles and finally bubbles out on your clammy skin, still exposed to the rain, still covered in soaked clothing. But warmth returns! It really can. And when you feel that warm tingle, you know it’s working.

Defeating the tyrant of 34 degrees and raining is a wonderful feeling. You feel like you could go out and conquer the world, any time, any weather, until you go to work and a co-worker says something like “Feels kinda warm outside today, doesn’t it?”

No one understands.

....

Thanks to those who have bought my book. Really. You’re awesome. If you’re interested in international shipping, bulk orders or signed copies, please contact me at jillhomer66@hotmail.com by Sunday night. I’m going to put in an order Monday morning. And you can still purchase it here. It’s worth it. Really. ;-)

Also, I wanted to thank my sister, Lisa, for the sweet tribute that she posted on her blog. It made be tear up a bit. Thanks, Lis :-).

Friday, November 14, 2008

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 shooting for would have been. Now I'm headed to the gym for weight lifting and a more strenuous, less punishing interval session on the elliptical machine.

But I just wanted to write a quick blog post and thank everyone who bought my book so far. The response has been better than I anticipated given there was no build-up for it ... I pretty much just dropped it out there on Thursday. I've always been a bit dubious about the idea of bloggers writing books - the whole "why buy the cow" philosophy. But the support so far has been encouraging. You guys are the greatest!

For those who were thinking of purchasing a copy but found the shipping costs to be restrictive, I have an idea. Shoot me an e-mail at jillhomer66@hotmail.com and tell me where you live. I'll look up exact shipping costs from Juneau to your home and send you back a quote. If you decide you'd like a copy, you can pay me directly through Paypal (same e-mail address, or gold button in the sidebar of this blog) and I will send out for a bulk order on Monday. I can get a bulk discount that will offset the original shipping costs to me, so I think that should reduce the international shipping price quite a bit. Plus, I'll sign it.

Also, if you have a blog and are interested in reviewing the book, send me an e-mail or leave a comment with your blog site/contact info and I'll send you a low-res version of the eBook. (Not as nice as the one offered on the Web site, but perfectly readable on screen.)

I think an amazon.com listing is about six weeks away. But the publisher marketplace site really isn't so scary. Just think, for the price of a Subway extra value meal (or two, in the case of the paperback), you can have a month's worth of quality "Up in Alaska" material right at your fingertips. And you'll make me so happy. Go now! What are you waiting for? If you like the blog, you'll probably like the book. And if you don't like the blog, well, what are you doing here? (Click here instead.) ;-)

OK, that's enough of my marketing pitch. Back to you regularly scheduled bike punishment tomorrow.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

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 which I consider turning points in my life. When I started working on the Iditarod story, I noticed a lot of similar themes that cropped up in some of my old stories. The complimentary details seemed worth drawing together. I moved toward fusing the two projects - like parallel journeys at different points in time. The result is this book: My personal story of the Iditarod Trail and the far-reaching trails that led to it.

I finished it in September and didn't really feel compelled to add much to it. But I wasn't sure what to do with it. There was a sense that maybe it was worthy of publication, but I know myself well and I knew I was just going to bury it in a computer folder and forget about it as I avoided all of the work of trying to get a piece of creative nonfiction published. Years would go by and eventually the computer's hard drive would fizzle out and that would be that.

As I mulled just posting it on a blog (not this one, because this blog is already really long without the addition a 75,000-word post), I came across the idea of self publishing. I have lots of mixed feelings about self publishing, as I'm sure lots of authors do. But I put it together as a book and needled a little covert copy editing out of a friend and was fairly happy with the result.

All was uploaded and done about two weeks ago, but I've been hesitating because I wasn't sure this was what I really wanted to do. But now I don't just want to think about it anymore. This is how all of my best decisions are made. :-)

If you click on this link, you can purchase the book and help support my next big winter racing effort. By buying my book, you get a stack of new and interesting "Up in Alaska" material that you can read in bed, and I get a small royalty that I can put into my new-coat-and-peanut- butter-cup fund. The link will take you directly to the publisher's marketplace site. I understand shipping may be a little high, especially if you don't live in the United States. If that's the case, I am trying to get this listed on Amazon.com, but it will take several weeks at least. You can also download the PDF.

Finally, some of my friends and people I've met are depicted in this book (first-names only in most cases.) I worked really hard to depict the events as accurately as I could, but in the end, I'm relying almost entirely on my own memory. So I apologize in advance if you feel misrepresented in any way.

Also, if you come to this blog solely for the pictures, I am also thinking about putting together a fundraising calendar. And if you come to this site solely to compare your bicycle punishment to mine, don't worry, I'm still training hard and will be back to typing about that soon enough. :-)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

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 taken a swing at my legs with a meat tenderizer. I vowed never to run on pavement again. Then I finally sat down and took the time to switch out the tires on my Karate Monkey. I outfitted her with a pair of sparkling new Nokian Gnarly Extremes or whatever those 29" studded tires are called. And just like that, she went from being a blah touring bike to a heavily pierced, ice-crushing mountain bike vixen. She was beautiful.

Today I woke up to clear cold weather and a landscape coated in frost. I was feeling seriously sore - predictably - and figured my feet wouldn't be carrying me anywhere this morning. But thanks to all of my lopsided bicycle conditioning, I could still go out and spend four pain-free hours on a bike.

I hit up all the best trails in the Mendenhall Valley. They were crisp and dry and crunchy and in better shape than I've seen them in months. (In the irony of Juneau mountain biking, trails that are sloppy and muddy all summer finally become rideable after the season ends.) The area was peppered with frozen puddles and ice-coated roots that the Nokians ate up without complaint.

I was so stoked about the sunny weather and dry, hard-packed trails that I practically sprinted home on an ice-bike high. I jumped off the bike and landed on my aching shins, surprised by my continuing inability to walk normally. I hobbled in the house, where Geoff asked me how my ride went. "It was the best ride ever," I said. He just rolled his eyes, like he has taken to doing when I use this statement, but I mean it every time.

Friday, November 07, 2008

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 great condition on the ridge - hardpacked and smooth. I only sank in a few inches on my feet. I should have dragged my bike up there. It would probably be a little like riding sand-dusted slickrock.

Some trees have harder lives than others.

Clouds still hovered low over every ridgeline but mine.

There was amazingly almost no wind up high, rare for a winter day. Even rarer in late fall. I stopped at this spot and ate a Hershey bar. You know what's even better than sitting in the sun, soaking up its warmth and eating chocolate? Earning it.

Back down the ridge, looking for a way to this peak. I have to be really careful with my winter hiking because I'm still traveling without an ice ax and crampons (I really must buy some), and in the shade the snow was as hard and slippery as ice. I couldn't go anywhere where a fall would be disastrous, and I couldn't find a way to the peak.

Oh well. I'll just make up my own peak, like Dr. Cook's famed "first ascent" of Mount Denali.

Back down after several hours, realizing that I may just run out of daylight before I get any more riding in.

Cool clouds on the horizon.

Coming down was amazing fun. This is the "slickrock" muskeg that I was riding at mid-mountain. I cut off the road when it started to get sloppy and weaved through a few trees before emerging in the open. I saw a group of young skiers and snowboarders walking up the road. When they saw me coming, they started yelling, "Hey, biker! Yeah biker!" The terrain started to get a little sketchy, but I didn't want to lose face. I let off the brakes and slalomed through a shallow gully, punching through a small berm and shooting onto the bare gravel of the road just below them. I kept accelerating down the road as they cheered me on. I felt great about having actually survived the move and even better about the brilliant way in which I showcased my unique form of snowriding. I am Downhill Snowbiker.

I love winter.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

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, which only amounts to about 20 percent of being ready. After that there are gear decisions and testing, food planning and testing, weather conditioning, sleep deprivation, bicycle maintenance practice and mental preparations. And even if I get all of that right, that only factors in to about 20 percent of my probability for success. Everything else is luck and willpower. That's why I love this race.

But yes, training is still important, and my inability to focus right now may become a concern if it lingers much longer. There remains the option of soliciting the help of a coach. For anyone who knows me, the very idea would make them laugh out loud. "But Jill," they'd say, "Coaches are for people who race, you know, more than once a year. Coaches are for people who enjoy structure and who chose activities based on fitness value, not on how many pretty pictures they can take along the way. Coaches are for people who enter races that aren't based 80 percent on luck. Coaches are for, you know, athletes. Real ones."

And yet, any coach who says he's interested in the abstract discipline of "ultra-endurance" has my attention. Would such a coach share my view that success in this arena has as much or more to do with mental landscape as it does with physical conditioning? Or would the coach defer to what may actually be more useful knowledge, encouraging me to buy a heart-rate monitor and stick to my planned 15-minute intervals even when I think the weather that day calls for six hours of long slow distance and a few dozen pretty pictures? There is a chance I would never see eye to eye with a coach, but it certainly is worth some dialog, at least.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

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 businesses and polling places, beyond the houses and the campaign signs, the street became starkly quiet. Despite the nice weather, no one seemed to be venturing out the road - minds and hearts elsewhere, I guess. I relished in the solitude, in a place where rushing streams and soft wind drown out the constant yammering. But without the noise, I began to wonder why I had been so annoyed.

Political passion has eluded me for years. I registered to vote soon after I turned 18, and happily voted for Sandy City Council members in the 1997 election. I came back in '98 for my first statewide ballot. I campaigned fiercely for future Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson in '99, going so far as to wave a sign on a street corner. I joined a number of environmental activism groups, volunteered for university voter drives, and went with Nader in 2000. But shortly after I graduated from college, something snapped. My passion faded. I began to view voting as a statistical exercise in futility. I began to hear campaigns as meaningless rhetoric. I began to see major-party candidates as small variations of the same ideas. I became a political agnostic. I haven't voted in an election, any election, since 2002.

There was comfort in my apathy, safety in doing nothing. I never tried to defend my status as a non-voter, but I never did anything about it, either. I started to feel guilty in 2006, but failed to register before the deadline. I watched the results diligently and concluded my vote would have made no difference. I did not rush off to register after the election. I still hadn't registered by the 2008 primary. I did not register to vote until the first week of October, on the last day before the deadline, because I knew, despite my agnosticism, refusing to vote would only secure my place in purgatory.

The beautiful day kept me out on my bike until it was time to go to work. I did not have time to stop by my polling place first. I sat at my desk and tuned back in to the yammering, because that's what I'm paid to pay attention to. Bursts of excitement punctuated the air at the office, with all eyes on the election. By 6 p.m. Alaska time, major news networks were already starting to call the race. National reaction poured in. I browsed the Associated Press wire, looking for photos to include with the stories. The faces, the tears, the words captured my spirit in a way I haven't felt for eight years. Especially powerful was this photo, with Christine King Farris, sister of Martin Luther King Jr., and her granddaughter in Atlanta:

I took my break shortly before polls closed, went to the Douglas Public Library, and voted.