Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Tough days

Date: Jan. 3 and 5
Mileage: 31.5 and 30.1
January mileage: 108.9
Temperature upon departure: 22 and 18

Geoff and I were talking today about how Juneau's weather for the past six weeks has added that extra layer of tough to our already daunting winter training habits. Almost every day has been colder than average, or snowier than average, or some combination of both. Geoff is already making regular declarations of "I hate winter." I would never make this statement, ever, but even I am beginning to feel tinges of fatigue as I step out into a new day of whiteout conditions and contemplate another ride churning 8 mph through sandy powder as snowflakes fly up my nose.

Juneau has received about 18" of snow in the past three days, which isn't a huge amount for 72 hours. But it's fallen consistently, in the form of tiny, pointy flakes, for most of that time. It's made the riding mostly horrible, because the trails are all knee deep in powder and the roads are even more treacherous. Constant snow means snow-removal crews only plow the driving lanes, and everything they scrape away ends up in the shoulder as many inches of loose, uneven, partially packed powder. I can ride through it, slowly, if I deflate my tires to 5-7 psi, but I never quite know when I'm going to hit a loose spot or a patch of ice and fishtail my way right under a truck. I've become more and more anxious about riding in traffic in the snow, until even the idea of using my bike to commute to a trail where I can hike is daunting. Geoff has skinny tires on his commuter bike and just rides in the driving lane, but I can't do that. I just can't. At least in the shoulder, I'm somewhat in control of my situation. In the driving lane, I'm at the mercy of traffic, which also happens to be navigating treacherous snowy conditions. Scary.

Right now I'm in the midst of amping up my training ahead of an upcoming vacation. I was hoping to log about 40 hours in the 10-day span between Saturday and next Monday. After that, I'm going to spend a week in Hawaii, where I snagged a sweet companion fare ticket to tag along with Geoff as he races the HURT 100 in Honolulu. My plan is to hike to volcanoes, jog on the beach and rent a road bike, a real road bike - I may even bring my own clipless pedals and shoes - and ride it all over whatever island we're camped on (hopefully we'll make it to another island besides Oahu.) I could ride that thing hundreds of miles and it would be a rest week. I'm looking forward to it.

But first, I have to earn it. Here's how it's going so far:

Saturday, resistance training on the bike, 27 miles, 3.5 hours. I rode out to the Valley and back on roads, with about 1.5 miles of pushing on unplowed bike paths. The weather was pleasantly mild compared to recent subzero conditions, with temperatures in the low 20s and intermittently heavy snowfall followed by long breaks in precipitation (so nice to take the gold-tinted goggles off once in a while.)

Sunday, heavy resistance training on foot, about 8 miles, 4 hours. I woke up to heavier snowfall and didn't feel like riding my bike anywhere, so I embarked on the one hike I can do from my front door. The lower Mount Jumbo trails are hard to stretch out to four hours, but I made it work by leaving the barely recognizable snowmobile tracks several times to blaze a few spur trails through thigh-deep powder. That has to be the most strenuous full-body workout I've ever tried. Just getting one foot in front of the other in snow that deep takes a lot of back and shoulder work. I was just below the Jumbo Bowl when I saw the first snowmobiles of the day. They blazed over the tracks I had broken and then told me I should turn back because there was a lot of avalanche danger that day. I wanted to ask them what they were doing on the trail if it was so dangerous, but instead I said, "Yeah, I know. I'm not going further than the hut." It would take the avalanche of the century to reach that spot, but I did venture a little beyond it, just to get a glimpse of the stark north face of Mount Jumbo.

Monday, a rather pathetic attempt at speed work, finally submitted to resistance training, 30 miles, 3:15 hours. I thought the plows wouldn't come through if there was only an inch or two of fresh powder, but I was wrong. They still further mucked up the road shoulders, so I still had to work hard for not much payout. I kept a more strenuous pace than typical workouts, but I don't think I'm allowed to call 10 mph "speed." I saw a couple of ice climbers, a rare sight in Juneau, where typical freeze/thaw cycles never allow strong enough ice buildup over the waterfalls. But this has been a cold month. I'm pretty sure the temperature hasn't gone above freezing since Dec. 10. We're expecting more snow tomorrow, followed by another kick into the subzero range. Tough days, tough days. But, I have to admit ...

Tough days can be beautiful.


  1. Our daughter is in Oahu this week....pack your sunscreen, it's been sunny and in the 70's and 80's.

  2. Kepp your chin up, hard work this week will earn you two compelete days of laying on the beach reading a good book, without guilt!

    Ok there will still be some guilt but it will be ok

    Go boarding and enjoy the powder!

  3. I like that first photo. Good composition. Also, I like it when the bike is smiling in the foreground.

    Slept out in the treehouse Sat night with my 6 and 9 year olds. It's not subfreezing in a bivy but the kids did great at 20 degrees. Forty below "Alaskan guide" sleeping bags help. I used a lighter bag that I carry on my bike just to be sure the kids were ok. Made myself a sort of cold canary. The feet got a bit nippy but I wasn't speaking in tounges or anything so it was all good.
    Keep enjoying winter and don't let the metal monsters intimadate you off the road. You paid for it too.

  4. You should move to Homer. No, wait.....

  5. Whoa, those do sound like some tough days but great preparation for the Iditarod.

    After years of thinking about it, I'm going to be receiving a snowbike (Fatback) in the next couple of weeks. I'm convinced that it'll be great on the trails. However, I keep wondering how it will do on icy roads when I'm riding to the trailheads. I wish Surly made studded tires. Any insights?

    Enjoy the sun in Hawaii!

  6. Hi Jill-

    I am reading your book and enjoying it immensely. I'm sad that I'm almost done!

    You might want to try to visit Kauai while in Hawaii. There's great hiking in the Waimea Canyon and along the Kalalau Trail. :o)

  7. I'm so glad you're going to go (Hawaii). I rememeber commuting and it was pretty scary. Still gotta love winter.

  8. If you're going to rent a bike, taking your own shoes and pedals (and a wrench?) is definitley the way to go.

    JAT in Seattle

  9. I've been following your blog for sometime now. I'm recovering from back injuries and miss being able to train. (believe it or not..!)

    Weather here in MD is about 38degrees F and a fine drizzle. Ha Ha... that's nothing to you I'm sure.
    You are awesome and very inspiring..!

    Remember, rest is just as important.!
    Enjoy your trip to Hawaii.

    LS whitecat.

  10. recommend taking the lane or get into skiing.

  11. Commuting in the winter is tough. We have surprisingly similsr conditions in Central Washington right now. They use that liquid de-icer. And yes they plow all of the snow into the shoulder. My favorites are the people who decide, it came from the road so they shovel it back out into the road, making the shoulder even narrower.
    I agree with Geoff, take the right tire lane. I also use one of the tail lights made by Dinotte. They are incredible. People see them and move over or slow down. In my 8 years of commuting, it's the best tail light I've ever owned. Hope that helps,

  12. I imagine when Geoff says, "I hate winter," he may also mean by extension, "I hate Juneau!" Didn't he miss all the great sunny weather of summer? Was there any?
    Have fun in Hawaii. I am envious.

  13. Love the pics--can't believe you can actually ride in that snow!
    Ride One or Ride None!

  14. Jill, Love the camera work! Have a good time in the tropics.

    KB, here are a couple of tips for the ride to the trails on slippery/icy roads when not using studs.

    1. Look at the terrain ahead of you and pick the best routes.

    2. Ride slower to the destination trails and take your turns without leaning the bike over.

    3. Make slow, small steering corrections.

    4. Be ready to put those feet down if the front tire breaks loose and also be ready for your foot to slide out from under you.

    The above tips will help keep you upright but expect to dump the bike when you start pushing the limits.

    I also epoxied two rubber blocks in each Sorel winter boot bottom then screwed in a few grade 8 hardened screws into those blocks then cut the heads off and sharpening to a point the left over exposed hardened screw...Don't walk on you're wife's wood floors!

  15. KB,

    I've had pretty good luck with the Endomorphs on hard ice, especially when run at low pressure. There's so much rubber in contact with the ground that as long as I don't make any sudden moves or slam on the brakes, I don't slide. Ice under new snow is a whole new problem, however. There have been days when I've opted to use my studded tires and stay on the roads rather than use my Pugsley to commute to trails, because of precarious road conditions. I'm with you in wanting to see a studded Endo, although I'd probably rather see one with more aggressive tread, for climbing on snow-covered slopes. That tire would be terrible on ice.

    ... I appreciate the suggestions about riding in the lane. Since I'm out there training for a bike race run entirely in marginal snow conditons, riding in the shoulders is actually really good for me. I just have to use extra precaution so I'm always in control, because swerving on the trail is one thing, but swerving in traffic is not acceptable. I've actually seen people skiing in the road shoulders, but trust me, with my skill set in skiing, I'm better off on the bike.

    Really looking forward to Hawaii. I'm pretty sure I haven't felt an outdoor temperature over 74 degrees since 2007.

  16. Ooooh Honolulu, I'm so jealous!!

  17. If you are looking for a good place to rent a bike in HNL, call Boca Hawaii www.bocahawaii.com they have bike they rent. If they don't have what you need then Bike Shop Hawaii might. Hope you enjoy your time here. And if you want an easy way to go to the outer islands check out the super ferry at www.hawaiisuperferry.com Have fun.

  18. Hi

    I think this day is so tough in your life.

  19. Post more pics!!!
    I'm loven' it!!!



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