Showing posts from February, 2009

I've got nothing to prove this time, just something to improve on

The past few days have been a whirlwind of last-minute prep, illness recovery, exploration and social interactions. It always feels like a reunion coming to Anchorage - a place where I have never lived. Of course, my visits to Anchorage area always become the anxiety-ridden punctuation marks to some big event. This year, I gave myself more time than ever for the sole purpose of decompression, which turned out to be a huge mistake. I caught a nasty, gasping cold the day before I left Juneau. The cold itself wasn't that bad, but I mean it when I say I haven't been sick once all winter. The timing seemed comical at best. My condition continued to worsen as I rode around the city searching for scarcely needed little items, usually somewhat lost and struggling to keep my Pugsley upright on icy, traffic-choked Anchorage streets. Because nearly the only things I ever do in Anchorage are run errands and eat bad food, my opinion of the place is a bit skewed. But right now I'm a lit…

Leaving warm and sunny Juneau

Date: Feb. 21, 23
Mileage: 25.5 and 19.7
February mileage: 601.7
Temperature: 34 and 36

I fly out Tuesday afternoon with Pugsley and two big bags of miscellaneous gear in tow. I'm going to spend the next several days in Anchorage and Palmer completing last minute prep, giving Pugsley a makeover, mad-rushing to buy gear I've forgotten and generally just getting my head out of the crush of things I have going on here in Juneau. I'm going to miss it here, though, because the weather has been so clear and seasonable and generally smile-inducing. I have been trying to get out for bike rides but haven't had a lot of time. I thought I was pacing myself well this year, but I'm still going to end up packing late into the night tonight.

Weather in Anchorage for the next week also looks pleasant - highs in the 20s and not a lot of snow on the forecast. Sunday's forecast in the Mat-Su Valley calls for partly sunny and highs in the 20s. Skwentna on Monday has a high of 30 and a …


Date: Feb. 19-20
Mileage: 41.2 and 16.5
February mileage: 556.5
Temperature: 32 and 34

There is little I can do to improve my fitness ahead of March 1 at this point. So I set out this weekend to simply do "fun" rides, thereby hopefully shoring up happy memories that I can look back at wistfully when things get rough in the race, as they inevitably will. "Oh yeah," I will tell myself. "Snowbiking used to be fun."

It may be the mild taper or the fact that six months or three years (depending on how you look at it) of training focus is narrowing toward something specific, concrete and real ... but I both physically and mentally felt better and stronger than I have in a long time. Everything came together at the right time - the warmth, the sunlight, the speed, the snow. It felt like a big smile from the universe, directed right at me. I decided to believe that's a good omen.

Yesterday morning, Pugsley and I motored out to the Valley at 18, 19 even 20 mph. I t…

Goodbye to a good car

Date: Feb. 18
Mileage: 28.1
February mileage: 498.8
Temperature: 36

The low-lying fog was just starting to break up when I wheeled my bike out of the shed just after 10 a.m. Streaks of sunlight tore through the gray curtain and dusted the road, which was already slushy atop a thick layer of decaying ice. I was dressed for springtime, a fleece pullover and tights, and it felt like springtime. In fact, this whole week has been unbelievably, unseasonably nice. It makes me glad I'm not moving away from Juneau just yet. If my original plans had worked out, this would have been my last week in town. It would have been a tough week to leave behind.

As I lubed my chain, I caught a glimpse through my spokes of Geoff's 1989 Honda Civic. The bike rack was gone, as was the strap that held the trunk shut. Melting snow dripped down the sun-faded paint and icicles clung to the rusted edges. I remembered Geoff told me a guy was coming to pick it up at 11 a.m. Geoff listed the car in the freebie ad…


Date: Feb. 17
Mileage: 20.2
February mileage: 470.7
Temperature: 34

Way way back in the early days of bike blogging, back when Fat Cyclist was still uploading satire to that boxy Live Spaces page and Bike Snob NYC was still in etiquette school, I used to scroll through "Bad Idea Racing" and dream about achieving the kind of blogging notoriety that Dicky seemed to enjoy on a regular basis. I commented on one of his posts back in 2005 and my blog received more kickbacks from that single comment than any other link, for days. I thought, "Once I score a mention from Team Dicky, I'll know I've arrived."

I never thought it would come in the form of a virtual ogling. (Sorry, Dicky, it kinda does feel that way.) But I was given fair warning and we both had a good laugh about it from our respective computers thousands of miles apart. I do love the world of blogging. It's such a bizarre community.

The issue at hand was a scene toward the end of my book where I describe…

Piling up

Date: Feb. 15 and 16
Mileage: 25.4 and 28.7
February mileage: 450.5
Temperature: 25 and 29

I leave for Anchorage in one week. I have a lot to do. And for some reason my co-workers won't take "Eat, sleep, breathe Iditarod" as an excuse for not exactly having 100 percent focus. When I think about race preparations or things I have to do just to leave my job behind for two weeks, my stress levels spike. But when I think about the race itself, I feel a strange sense of calm, as though I were anticipating a week of laying out on a warm beach and not a cold-weather suffer fest. I think last year's experience lent me a new perspective about the adventure. I was so amped up before the race, and then somehow so calm during the race. There were times I was hurting and times I was deeply afraid (the fear was always worse than the pain) ... but most moments of those six days were so fulfilling and meaningful and - dare I say - fun. You might say I'm looking forward to this year&…

The armor

Date: Feb. 14
Mileage: 30.1
February mileage: 396.4
Temperature: 17

I'm officially into the taper period of my training now, taking a few wind-down days to ride an easy two-or-so hours each day and sort my gear. I spent this morning collecting and trying on the clothing I plan to use in the race. I rarely wear it all together, "warm" as it is where I live, so I wanted to walk around in it for a while and make sure everything was comfortable and moved easily together. And I thought as long as I was trying it on, I might as well shoot pictures for a reference point when it's finally time to pack for this trip. So my photo essay today is "The armor:"

This is the base layer, an Under Armour syntetic-blend shirt, basic Canari bike tights with chamois, and RBH designs insulated high-rise vapor barrier socks. It looks like a silly super suit, so I struck a silly super hero pose.

The mid-layer is 2 mm neoprene shorts (to help combat that typically female problem of "…

Friday the 13th

Date: Feb. 13
Mileage: 22.3
February mileage: 366.3
Temperature: 20

Today was an absolutely perfect day. In Juneau, you can't get a better day than a day like today, unless it's summer, and even then, I'm not sure it would really be better. Warmer, yes. Different, yes. But there is something about the silk-smooth sweep of snow over the mountains, the ice glistening on the cliffs, the power-coated trees ... something about winter that makes a blue-sky, no-wind, sunny day just ... perfect.

I dragged my loaded Pugsley up the Dan Moller Trail. It's a short trip, mileage-wise, even when I add an extra leg of highway biking at the end. I was still out for nearly five hours. Climbing to the ridge on this trail usually nets about 3,000-3,500 feet of elevation gain, depending on how long I spend traversing the ridge. I don't drag my bike all the way to the top, but I take it as far as I think I'll be able to ride downhill, which even on a soft day like today is generally pre…

Nine hours of recharging

Date: Feb. 11 and 12
Mileage: 26.7 and 97.4
February mileage: 344
Temperature: 30 and 19

I really can not overexaggerate the energy that surrounds me when I wake up to the first sunny day after a long stretch of gray. Winter or summer, snow or rain, after a while, it just doesn't seem to matter. Gray is gray. And sun is intense color and open space, dry snow and packed trails. Sun is light. Why it would really matter what the temperature is, I've long since forgotten. Today was 20 degrees and as beautiful and energizing as any day in June.

I'd hoped to squeeze in about a 10-hour ride today, but it took me a while to pack up this morning. I loaded my bike with a good chunk of the kit I plan to carry with me in the race - about 10,000 calories in food (today, because I wasn't planning on eating the majority of it, mostly nuts and dried fruit), stove, chemical warmers, all my extra clothing (because it was so "warm" today, I was wearing my base minimum), ~four liter…

Book update

It's been a while since I posted an update about my book. I wanted to again thank everyone who has purchased it. I released it in November as a fundraiser for the 2009 ITI, and the royalties have helped me pay for the entry fee, travel expenses, food and new gear. I received my 2008 W2 tax form from Lulu the other day. When I showed it to Geoff, he said, "You earned as much from your book in a tenth of a year as I earned in a tenth of the year, working." I didn't remind him of all of the long summer nights I stayed up until 4 a.m. pounding the thing out. I also didn't remind him that the sum only included the books that sold directly through Lulu, and not the boxes I've moved out of the house. Anyway, it's been a lucrative fundraiser, and I wanted to say thanks again.

I also wanted to thank everyone who e-mailed me in the past month with contacts at bike shops and book stores. I'm sorry if I haven't gotten back to you. I made the mistake of posting…

Facing the anxiety

Date: Feb. 8 and 19
Mileage: 42.2 and 12.1
February mileage: 219.9
Temperature: 34 and 29

Iditarod Trail near Burma Road, Jan. 28, 2006

"Of course, everything about today was exactly what I would expect of such an excursion. Temps were cold, but not unreasonably so. The trail was soft, but all-in-all better than I expected. Mt. Augustine decided today was the fourth of July, but all the ash headed south. Yes, today was a good day. An encouraging day. And yet, I feel the cold grip of this daunting task tightening around me. It could be my neoprene gear. But, no. I think it's the Susitna 100. It's going to be hard."

It's funny for me to go back and read this old blog post from a training ride before the 2006 Susitna 100. I feel like I could have written it today. There was even a volcano erupting (Mount Augustine) to parallel the current restlessness of Mount Redoubt in the near area. But this blog post completely denies a raw anxiety that I remember hit fever pitch afte…

Just missed it

(photo by Peter Bibb, stuck on the wrong side of a big slide)

Date: Feb. 7
Mileage: 19.8
February mileage: 165.5
Temperature: 39

Every once in a while, I have a rare but memorable day where I come home from a bike ride grumpier than I was before I left. Today was one of those days. I planned a short recovery ride, 20 miles on pavement, and the roads looked almost bare thanks to an overnight scouring by heavy rain. But because city road crews never actually scrape the shoulders, I had to ride my brakes over wet ice as a strong southeast wind pushed my back like a sail. After two miles of hardly pedaling on flat road, I turned onto the bridge to meet the crosswind. Unobstructed over the Channel, the gale pulled like an industrial vacuum toward traffic, blowing 50-60 mph steady. Steering was an exercise in futility, coasting a vehicular game of Russian roulette. I crawled off my bike and started walking, bike on the leeward side, until the wind ripped it right out of my hands and tossed it li…

Seven hours of white

Marginal weather conditions showed up this morning as promised - heavy snowfall with temperatures right on the cusp of freezing, threatening to warm throughout the day and mix rain with snow for the worst kind of riding surface imaginable (in my opinion). It's like trying to pedal through a six inches of Slurpee.

I wanted to get outside for seven our eight hours today, and it was either that or a long hike. I picked the hike. Walking, actually, is a huge part of the Iditarod race, and I learned last year it's important to be in good trudging shape for slogs that can last upwards of 24 hours and more. To be best prepared, I'd actually have to get out and push my loaded bike, thereby building the shoulder and arm muscles that I am still probably lacking. But there's a limit to the misery I'm willing to endure when I'm just training. The idea of pushing my bike through the unbroken snow of the backcountry definitely goes beyond this limit. Slogging through steep, …

8.5 hours

Date: Feb. 5
Mileage: 93.4
February mileage: 145.7
Temperature: 28

I had a really good, strong ride today, according to the "sweat test." I usually feel I can't base the progress of winter rides on distance or speed, because trail and road conditions are so variable (and generally marginal at best, necessitating a lot of work to go pretty dang slow.) So I base my winter progress on the amount of sweat I generate. I always check the weather forecast and current temperature before I go. Since neither varies much in Juneau, I have pretty much down pat exactly what I need to stay warm but not overheat in the most common temperature/precipitation combinations (between 10 degrees and 40 degrees dry or wet I have down pat. Beyond those I have much less experience.) So, if I look at the temperature, and dress exactly how I think I need to, then head out and still sweat a ton and have to shed layers, then I know I've had a good, strong ride.

These eight and nine-hour rides don'…