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.