Sunday, February 08, 2009

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 like a blanket against the pedestrian barrier. It didn't even hear it clatter amid the ceaseless roar. Daggers of rain pierced my cheeks. I moved the battered bike windward, leaned against it, and kept walking. I nearly turned around right there, but decided if I could just make it over the bridge, things would get better.

I churned out Thane Road directly into the gusts, but a least there the wind was buffered by houses and trees as it rushed along the steep face of Mount Roberts. Near the bottom of the second hill, my studded tires slipped and washed out on the wet ice. I went down, elbow first into a puddle. I swore out loud and picked myself up, holding my sore elbow against my side, dripping rainwater and grit as I made all the mental promises that I don't really intend to keep, but that make me feel so much better: Throw away the Nokians; Renew my gym membership; move far, far away from Juneau and never look back.

But because I get so stubbornly locked into things, I still fought the wind to the end of the road and turned around, playing Russian roulette with patches of wet ice as the gusting tailwind determined my speed. I had little choice in the matter, brakes and all. When tailwind gets overly pushy, it stops being fun.

And of course, grumpy as I was, I was thinking, "Can it get any worse than this?"

I rode the freight train of wind past Snowslide Gulch at about 12:15 p.m. I was probably in the shower when the avalanche came down at 1 p.m. It tumbled down the mountain like a rock slide, 300 feet long and 18 feet high, completely burying the road before settling into the sea. The debris effectively blocked off the community of Thane and its dead-end road from the rest of the world. Right now it seems that there wasn't anyone driving by when the slide came down, but in the Russian roulette game of life, that possibility is always there ... you never know ... it could happen to a random hapless cyclist who picked Thane Road because it's usually the most wind-protected area, who fell off her bike on the ice in nearly that exact area a mere hour earlier, who thought she was having a bad day ...

I guess it can always get worse.