Saturday, February 28, 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 little shocked I came so close to moving here. I still think Anchorage would be a pretty nice place if it wasn't for the big sprawling city smack dab in the middle of it all.

One thing Anchorage does have going for it is an amazing trail system. I spent the first couple days crashing in the loft of Eric Parsons' house, just a small yard away from the place where all the magic happens at Epic Designs (in a just-above-freezing "sweatshop" filled with gear.) Eric was amazingly nice in not only providing shelter but also fast-producing a sweet set of pogies and fixing little tears and straps in the gear I've been relentlessly trashing since last year (I also, for the first time, had to own up to the creator for my notoriously harsh treatment of all of my gear ... "What did you do to this poor bag?!?" Me: "I thought they held up really well." On a side note, I received the same reaction and made the same response to Pete Basinger, who was also super nice in coming into the bike shop late Wednesday evening to overhaul my Pugsley. "Jill's bike is always in worse shape than she even realizes," he told Geoff. Me: "I thought it was holding up pretty well this year.")

Anyway, Eric took me on a tour of the techy singletrack up at Hillside. Kind of crazy riding for a winter trail on a bike that climbs like a pig and corners like a bus with a flat tire. But it was tons of fun. Between one little endo on those trails, a big hard fall on an icy patch on Spenard, and the worst day of my cold, I was feeling pretty beat up Wednesday night. So much for decompression before the race.

My time in Anchorage has for the most part been fruitful, though. I owe a huge thanks to Pete and Greg at Speedway Cycles for all of their help this year. Speedway not only overhauled my bike; they also outfitted me with a new set of wheels. The transaction happened so quickly and casually that I didn't even quite catch what kind of rims they are - but they're lighter and wider than my Large Marge rims, and will hopefully allow me to navigate through slightly softer snow, which I've heard there may be a lot of this year. "Worst trail conditions in years," has been thrown around once or twice, an assessment based on spotty trail reports and weather speculation. The weather reports still call for relatively mild temperatures, but there's more snow mixed into the forecasts. New snow and light trail use could mean a lot of walking.

Or not. That's what's so great about this race. No one really knows. And I feel a surprising sense of peace about the whole thing. I've certainly accepted the needed "come what may" philosophy and embraced that my presence out there has much less to do with time and distance and much more to do with raw exploration ... both of the landscapes inside my mind and out. Of course I'm anxious and fearful of the unknown and the solitude and the possibility of running into the extreme fatigue I experienced last year or weather conditions much worse than any I experienced last year. But at the same time, I feel calm. I'm on the verge of taking my last brave step into the inevitable.

For now, I just want to thank my sponsors:

Epic Designs, the go-to place for winter and summer bikepacking gear.

Speedway Cycles, home of the Fatback and the snowbiking center of Alaska.

Olympus Cameras, which outfitted me with a brand new Olympus Stylus Tough 8000 just days ago. I'm going to practice with the new camera a few times and likely take it in the race, because it has better zoom, more megapixels and is purportedly even more bombproof than my old camera.

And finally, if you want to follow my progress in the race starting at 2 p.m. Sunday, check back at this blog for updates from my SPOT tracker. You can also view my SPOT tracker shared page, and be sure to check into the latest updates from the race.

I might post a few more words tomorrow if I have time. It's coming fast.