Date: Jan. 22 and 23
Mileage: 16 and 100.4
January mileage: 633.5
Temperature upon departure: 11 and 15
We were 30,000 feet over Yakutat after another brutally long, overnight flight from Kona to Honolulu to Anchorage en route to Juneau when the clouds started to clear. I gazed with chest-tightening awe over the ice field below, shimmering pink in the morning sun as glaciers flowed like suspended-motion whitewater rivers around the coastal mountains. My forehead was pressed against the window when a flight attendant came on the intercom and said, "If you're reading a book or looking at a computer, you better put it down and look out the window right now, because it doesn't get any more beautiful than this." I realized that she was right. Hawaii is beautiful; often stunningly beautiful. But it's true when they say there's no place like home.
My total sleep on that endurance flight amounted to about an hour and a half, tops, and I was already seeing double when we arrived in Juneau at 9:30 a.m. We stepped out of the airport for our first taste of outside air since Kona - 10 degrees and sustained 25 mph wind driving the windchill below zero. It felt 80, maybe 90 degrees cooler than the warm breeze over the Pacific the night before. We were still in our Hawaii clothes. "Ga! It got cold again!" I yelped, and ducked quickly into my roommate's car.
But beyond the chill, the day was absolutely beautiful, and I knew that sleep deprivation is one of the skills I have to hone for the ITI. So after we arrived home and unpacked just a bit, I headed out for a bike ride.
My roommate told me the week before, a "Pineapple Express" direct from Hawaii had blasted Alaska with unbelievably warm temperatures. He said the temperature rose to 55 degrees in Juneau, about the same temperature it was in Honolulu the night Geoff ran the HURT 100. The warm temps brought rain on top of the old snow, which had refrozen to concrete-like consistency. You can hardly ask for better snow-biking conditions.
I quickly adjusted to the huge temperature drop and headed up the Dan Moller trail. The trail is steep enough that I can only ride up the majority of it in the most supreme conditions. Thursday had those conditions. I sweated and gasped my way up five miles of crust, stopped at the Ski Bowl and turned around, almost shaking with nervousness about the idea of dropping 2,000 feet in five miles on a trail that's roughly as hard as a sidewalk. But as soon as I let off the brakes, I was caught up in the rush of pure, well-earned speed. I caught several blips of accidental-but-sweet air off the snowmobile moguls and careened through pockets of sunlight as spruce trees whirred past. It was so, so fun. Worth any amount of sleep deprivation.
Today I set out for a long ride. Last week, while Geoff and I were waiting for our rental car in Kona, we ran into Jeff Oatley, a cyclist and ITI veteran who lives in Fairbanks. It was yet another completely random and unlikely encounter of which we had several during our stay in Hawaii. We talked for a bit about the race. Jeff asked me how many "hundred milers" I was doing in prep for this year's ITI. "You know," I told him, "I don't think I've done any hundred-mile rides yet."
Today I set out in below-zero windchills, on my Karate Monkey because ice conditions are so treacherous right now. But I felt great, completely fresh - probably because I'm coming off a week of serious tapering - and decided that maybe today would be the day to go for 100 miles.
It was not easy. Five miles from the end of the road, all road maintenance ended, and the leftover snowcover was deeply rutted and frozen solid. I found a snowmobile trail off to the side and used that, but even that was so hard and rutted that my arms started to hurt from lack of front suspension, and I nearly bucked myself off my bike twice before I finally made it back to the relative safety of ice-covered pavement. I drifted through various levels of sleepiness but mustered up the courage to cut away from the direct route home and ride the spur I needed to complete to net 100 miles. I actually started to feel good again as I returned, only to run over a tack with my front wheel and discover that I stupidly had not put my tire levers back in my pack after the Hawaii trip. My options were to try to remove a tight studded tire on a metal rim with my bare fingers in below-zero windchill ... or walk three miles home. I chose the walk. It actually felt good at first ... warmed my feet right up ... but quickly became a tedious march that seemed to never end. I returned home just over nine hours after I left ... still not a bad time for a winter century. What's more important to me than the mileage is simply spending that long out in the subfreezing weather, eating frozen Clif Bars and drinking instant-brain-freeze slushy water. And pushing my bike for a fair distance. That's the experience that counts.