Thursday, January 08, 2009

Much better

Date: Jan. 7
Mileage: 38.1
January mileage: 175.9
Temperature upon departure: -5

Wednesday, cold-weather acclimating, 38 miles, 4.5 hours. Clear cold weather arrived as promised this morning. I was giddy about it. Not only was it a (brief) respite from the snow, but it also was a chance to try out some gear combinations I have been thinking about running. I wanted to ride longer than four and a half hours. But it seems that although I possess the willpower to drag myself outside in subzero weather, I am still unable to drag myself out of bed earlier than 8 a.m. Before I receive criticism from early risers, I just want to say: You try working until close to midnight and then get up before dawn in the midst of a four-hour-a-day cold-weather training binge. It's not easy.

The last time I went riding in the danger cold - New Years Day - I found myself dangerously close to hypothermia. The last time I went riding in hard subzero windchill - yesterday - I sustained mild frostnip on the tip of my left thumb. So today I gave a lot of thought to how I dressed and what I packed. I added an extra layer on both the top and bottom - polyester longjohns and polar fleece pullover. I also crammed my helmet onto an extra thick fleece balaclava and wore a neoprene face mask. And I used my bike pogies instead of mittens. Amazing what a difference a few small additions can make. A world of difference. The difference between quiet suffering and exhilarating freedom.

It was about 5 below zero in downtown Juneau, with cold mist wafting off the "warm" seawater of the Gastineau Channel.

I rode out to the Valley for a couple hours of trail riding. Before I left the house, I loaded up my bike with an excessive amount of clothing, food, and a couple random objects just to add weight. I've resolved to start riding with more weight to get used to the sheer grind of a loaded bike. I also tried out the water system I am thinking about going with in the race - one 32-ounce bottle in an insulated sleeve on the handlebars, and a 6-liter MSR bladder in pack on my back. I don't plan to typically carry six (well, seven) liters of water, but I did today, just to see if it bothered me. And to tell you the truth, I didn't even notice the extra weight. At all. I'm sure I was moving slower, but when it's minus double digits out, there's an east wind kicking up, and the whole world is washed in stunning color and light, you tend to have other things on your mind than your excessively heavy backpack.

The air felt extra frigid on Dredge Lake (a sinkhole on the glacier moraine), so I pulled out my thermometer to see what the temperature was. The red line was barely there, a little sliver hovering above the bottom-out zone of minus 20. That would make it 17 or 18 below zero - officially the coldest temperature I've ever seen in Juneau, and, with the exception of last year's Iditarod race and its 30 below on the Farewell Burn, the coldest temperature I've ever ridden in. And the amazing thing about it is that I felt toasty warm the entire 4.5 hours. It feels like a big victory, getting my cold weather gear right. It's liberating to affirm that I can move freely through weather and seasons that most people find oppressive and debilitating. When I pull off a long ride in near-record cold without incident, I feel like I can do anything.

My friend Brian took a photo of me riding along Glacier Highway while he was out trolling for cold-weather photos for the Empire. I can't be certain, but I'm pretty sure I'm grinning in this photo.

It's crazy to think that temperatures will be nearly 100 degrees warmer in Honolulu next week. Melting will feel strange.

32 comments:

  1. Hey Jill, On a trip to Denali several years back some new locals lent me some dog-sledding gear (face and hands) to satisfy my curiosity as to how well it performed relative to my climbing kit. I must say I was impressed. Ever considered using old school kit, or is that just not the done thing?

    Do you use trigger shift or grip shifts?

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  2. Great photos. Regards

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  3. dinglearm5:50 AM

    Do your eyelashes ever break off? They look like they could!

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  4. That's just sweet! We went out for 2 hours with temps in the teens and I felt good about that. I can barely fathom dropping another 30 degrees. It would be fun to try though.

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  5. Wow, that's cold. I went outside last night to put something over my dad's car windshield and started shivering. It was 38 degrees!! My blood has thinned so much since being up north. More than I realized!

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  6. I have to say, I am way impressed by your dedication. I've always said I prefer the cold to the heat, but that's really cold!

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  7. Boy, that is a real Mac truck you're riding! Yahoo says you guys got it bad up there weather wise. Cancelled cx ski races, a guy burning his cabin wood for heat against -60 degrees, gounded flights etc..

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  8. Great photos!!

    I learned about pogies from the background picture on your blog, and they've extended the temperatures that I can ride in dramatically! What a difference.

    Does the neoprene facemask make your sunglasses fog up? (are you wearing any glasses?) When I let my balaclava go over my mouth, my sunglasses immediately fog... so I've been skeptical of trying a neoprene facemask. However, I've been worried about frostbite on my face. Any insights would be helpful. Thanks.

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  9. You are a stud! That is some serious gear you have!

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  10. you look frozen! :( my brother lives in Alaska and is experiencing -60 right now. Stay safe and great pictures by the way!

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  11. I can see that smile
    It is that feeling you get when you have a great workout and your body is just screaming for more.
    Sweet

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  12. Jill- first time we see you in traffic. Do you have some reflective gear on your back/bike?
    kb peace out!

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  13. I get off of work at 8 Pm, and I can barely get up before 9! I would say you're an early riser.

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  14. Go gear! Happy to hear you've found the magic combo...I struggle with dressing for road bike ride on the coast (San Francisco) in the fog...can't even imagine the temps you're dealing with.

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  15. JimD in IL9:22 AM

    You... are... my... hero...

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  16. Anonymous9:48 AM

    Jill, the coldest temp I can remember being out in was -13F. My dad made me go cross country skiing with him. I actually love snowshoeing or hiking in such cold temps if I can stay warm. But I look outside of my window and I see 3 different plants blooming and I miss snow. And you look bad ass you your bike, like a terminator coming to conquer the world. Monika

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  17. Jill,

    What are you using on your hands inside the Pogies?

    Bare hands?

    Thin gloves?

    A problem I had in the past with Pogies was that my hand was actually too warm and wetted out the fleece gloves I had on (it was in some serious cold as well).

    Do you go bare hands and then just keep a pair of mitts handy in case you need to use your hands outside the Pogies?

    Inquiring hands want to know...

    Thanks.

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  18. Hi Jill! Great photos. My husband and I are big fans of your blog. He's training for the Leadville 100 in August. I think he's using you for motivation. :-)

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  19. Anonymous12:10 PM

    Say...is it too cold in Juneau to use regular suspension forks. I see that you are using rigid forks.

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  20. Awesome photo of the channel, I have ANOTHER desktop photo. Not sure why you don't consider yourself a photograper!

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  21. You are my new hero!

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  22. Now that is some serious winter cycling gear... ;)

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  23. Great photos! I've been following your blog for some time now. You got moxie kid!

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  24. Anonymous11:11 PM

    Way to rock the low temps Jill!

    I found some of the new style ski helmets for cheap in the thrift store. I'm planning on switching to these next time I'm out riding in sub twenty degree weather to see how they work. Been close to having my eyes freeze up a few times and with these helmets I'll be able to use goggles to prevent that.
    Thanks for the great blog! Long time fan, Raj

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  25. I had a look at your photo to see if your eyes were smiling but I can't tell. They're at that stage where the weight of snow makes them look droopy no matter what.

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  26. Al Raine11:18 AM

    We ride through the winter here in New Hampshire, only we don't need a Pugsley in the southern part of the state. Just studded tires on re-frozen snomobile tracks whenever possible. 10 F is about my limit. Using PI Lobsters this year and they're great. Thanks for the posts. -Al

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  27. Julie in Alaska3:37 PM

    It's just so dark in the a.m. I don't even really see sunshine until about 11 a.m. Have you tried Vitamin D? I tried it this winter and it seems to help more than my full-spectrum light visor. I can get out of bed and function like a normal person! Lots in the news lately about it (and noted none on the shelves here a week ago....). It helps; I take 4000 IU now, will back off to 2,000 until summer very soon. Very hard to go toxic on, too.......

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  28. Jill...you and the Pugs look out of place riding in traffic :) Love the pics!

    Enjoy the cold weather!!! I've been enjoying it here in MN.

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  29. Russell - trigger shifters. The pogies actually don't hinder hand movement at all - much less so than the mittens, at least.

    Dinglearm - I've never broken an eyelash to my knowledge. But they get harder and harder to melt the longer I stay out. And yes, they do obstruct vision.

    KB - I don't often wear sunglasses when I ride (not so very sunny here), but the face mask seems to help prevent fogging in my goggles, because it directs my breath downward.

    Kenb - I have quite a few reflective stickers on the bike, but they don't show up midday. I have a blinky on my backpack. I've had several red blinkies attached to my frame at various times, but they're always breaking off when I crash. :-)

    Kid, I have the same problem with a lot of heat passing through my hands. I was barehanded all day Wednesday, even down to 18 below (you can see my bare fingers in the photo where I am holding up the thermometer.) That's actually the reason why pogies bug me at most temperatures, but they're awesome when you need it. Once fingers do get cold, they're very hard to bring back.

    Al - thanks for coming here and buying the book! That's what I like to see. :-)

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  30. Tinker11:32 PM

    Jill, just came across your site, and have to say that, for Juneau, 18 degrees is quite low. I was born in Anchorage and spent years in the Juneau area (Tee Harbor, actually) and have been explaining how Juneau is mostly normal weather, even in Alaska, since it is on the coast and way south, at that.

    Anyway, when I went to college I opted out of the whole mess and moved to Texas, it was 78 here yesterday. Now I am more acclimated to 100 degrees than 20 degrees.
    It's a different challenge (heat stroke anyone? Dehydration and heat injury are always foremost, whether riding a bike or a motorcycle, down here. Good luck in the Great White North, okay?

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  31. I'm cold just looking at your pictures

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