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.