Showing posts from March, 2009

Hell week

Date: March 28 and 29
Mileage: 31.1 and 20
March mileage: 312
Temperature upon departure: 35 and 33

I'm in the midst of a crazy busy seven-day span at work. 12-hour days and everything (and I figured out, factoring in recent company-wide pay cuts and an otherwise static weekly salary, that my big promotion is currently netting me something in the range of $2.46 an hour.) Since I pretty much only do three things with the majority of my awake time - bike, work and blog - it's been hard to make cuts. Daily blogging, as you can see, was the first to go. Biking I can do still do with the sacrifice of some of my non-awake time. If I ooze out of bed at 7 a.m., even though I don't roll home from the office until after 11 p.m., I can still ride my bike and/or go to the gym in the morning. This is the part where I can't help but laugh at the humor in a situation that has me - me of all people - sampling the life of a stressed-out workaholic. It's enlightening, really ... in a &q…

Embracing the snain

Date: March 26 and 27
Mileage: 21.3 and 55.4
March mileage: 255.9
Temperature upon departure: 34

I went to the doctor again Thursday, and am now feeling confident enough in the durability of my toes to start venturing out for some longer days of exercise. The weather, however, didn't have the same ambitions. 34 degrees with intermittent snow and rain ... actually snowing one minute, raining the next, repeat. In Juneau, we call it snain. It's even uglier than its name, and uglier still to try to ride a bike in. Gooey slush erupts from the road in a geyser of moisture that even the best mountain bike fenders can't contain (and I have to use a mountain bike just to plow through the thick slop) Meanwhile, moisture falls in cold streams from the sky. Imagine straddling a cold-water geyser in a downpour. That's what biking in snain feels like. It's impossible to stay dry.

But I've actually figured out a great system for my feet. It only took seven layers (nine including t…

Getting back in shape is hard

Date: March 25
Mileage: 35.2
March mileage: 179.2
Temperature upon departure: 33

Yeah, I'm ultra-busy at work right now and, OK, I still have frostbite on my toes, but I really have to get this bike thing going again. No more sitting at my computer with my foot up. No more sleeping until 9 a.m. If I am going to work myself up to the best biking shape of my life, I am going to have to trim the fat ... in more ways than one.

I was in pretty good bike shape a month ago. OK, I let it slide a little after that January trip to Hawaii, and in February I did a lot more hiking and swimming through waist-deep snow to prepare for the pushathon I was expecting the Iditarod Trail Invitational to be (I was right about the pushathon; I just happened to miss the bulk of the race.) But then came the frostbite, the downtime that followed, the somewhat conservative venture back to activity, and finally, less than a week ago, getting back on the bike.

I've been doing lots of interval sessions on the el…

Pictures from the drive home

No time to bike or blog these past couple of days. It's not even Hell week at work yet. That's next week. Some day I hope to look back on this span of months as "perspective." Right now I'm just hoping that three years of endurance training gets me through.

At least I had a good dinner break ...

Snow line

Egan Drive

Sandy Beach

There's always tomorrow.

Feels good to come back

Date: March 22
Mileage: 38.2
March mileage: 144
Temperature upon departure: 38

I intended to stick to roads for a while, but the trail looked irresistible where it branched away from the highway. Packed by a steady flow of feet and still firm in the late morning, it cut a six-inch deep line through the snow-crusted woods. It was so narrow that both pedals scrapped against the sides - true winter singletrack - but so smooth and flowing that I could navigate my rigid-fork mountain bike with ease. I breathed in large gulps of air, tasting warmth and fresh moisture. Light from the noon sun streamed through clouds directly overhead. Spring thaw has begun.

I wove through the woods, lost in thoughts about mountain biking and summer. I dropped down the moraine and rolled onto the lake. The narrow trail became bumpier - less traveled - and the walkers had inexplicably tracked a series of tight, hairpin turns across the wide-open lake ice. In the midst of a hard maneuver, I rolled right over a minef…

Moving on

Date: March 20 and 21
Mileage: 22.1 and 26.7
March mileage: 105.8
Temperature upon departure: 41 and 35

My blog has been a bit boring as of late, so I thought I'd point everyone to some great links on the Web. First is Geoff's exclusive interview with Jeff Oatley, the winner of this year's Iditarod Trail Invitational. The second is the blog of Cory Smith, who competed in the race on skis. He offers a three-part race report full of gripping detail.

Since I returned from Anchorage, several people have asked me what my future is with the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Everybody has either assumed that my frostbite has scared some sense back into me and I'll never return, or that my failure in this year's race will only fire me up more for next year. Both assumptions are untrue. My answer is I'm "probably" not going to enter the ITI in 2010 (emphasis on probably.) This was a decision I had made several months before I froze my foot. My obsession with this race d…

First day of spring

Scattered blizzards rolled through Juneau for most of the day - near-white-outs followed by squinting windows of sunlight. I drove to the gym with a high-intensity workout in mind. I've been using my quality time at the gym to catch up on back issues of the New Yorker and read "Desert Solitaire" for the fifth time (but only the second in the 2000s.) In a sign of improvement, I couldn't focus enough to read today ... seeing red spots and streaks of white ... the colors of strength, returning.

After 97 minutes and 1,353 estimated calories burned (yeah, right), I drove home feeling tired but unfulfilled. A rolling white-out filled the air with static and dissipated as quickly as it arrived, and to the south, the Channel shimmered beneath patches of blue sky. The temperature seemed to climb by the minute. I walked toward my house, weight firmly pressed on both feet, and wondered if this was my window. I've been plotting my return to the outdoors for a week now. It wil…

This is shaping up to be a tough month

My company had another one of those employee meetings today. I'm not at liberty to say what was said in the meeting, but let's just say it was another dose of bad news, the worst yet, but certainly not the last in a heavy regiment of bad news.

We were all herded into the press room, a cavernous cement warehouse that's always quiet in the afternoon. The first among us had to wait a while. The walls dripped with anxiety and a fierce silence. Small jokes crackled and dissipated. The air had a finality to it, cold and sterile, like a morgue.

I leaned against a post, unable to stand on both feet. I felt like the one trying not to burst out laughing at a funeral. The morbid urge almost seemed logical. It seems like we're just getting what we paid for in this crazy backward economy of ours, throwing around fake money and goals until neither have much meaning. Funnier yet to be a journalist, part of the very entity trying to carve out some sense in this cold war of financial pan…

Closer to fine

Spring is creeping closer; the sun is up until 7; and I am starting to think about riding again. It's a tough decision and I'm not sure how to make it - where do you draw the line between smartly conservative and borderline hypochondriac? At the same time, where do you draw the line between doable and reckless?

There's not a lot of sports advice about frostbite and activity out there. One might wonder how a few measly blisters on toes would even prevent a person from riding a bicycle in the first place. My problem is the injury cuts a little deeper than skin-deep. Circulation has for the most part returned to my foot, but left in its wake strange sensations and pains. The lower half of my foot is at once numb and hyper-sensitive. A burning sensation has become a constant. I still can't put much weight on my toes without streaks of pain. But I can press down flat-footed indefinitely. So I can walk with only a slight limp, but I can't negotiate much in the way of inc…

Shifting focus

No biking means I've had more down time these past two weeks. Most of that time, unfortunately, seems to trickle into the office (I've found that less biking in fact results in less photography, writing, and most of my other more fulfilling pastimes.) But I have been able to allot some of my downtime to going through my stuff and skimming off the bottom. It's amazing how a person can move to Alaska with only the things they can fit in a Geo Prism, and three and a half years later end up with rooms full of gear. But assessing some of the stuff that has survived my myriad moves has been fun and nostalgic. A random scattering of 4x6 disposable camera prints are right at the top of the fun list: things I can't believe I still have but can't imagine throwing away.

Above is a picture of me as a 17-year-old at the Hurricane (pronounced "Her'kun") Dunes, more commonly known as Sand Hollow, in southwestern Utah. The Her'kun Dunes were the ultimate escape wh…

New skin

I started with the recumbent bike and moved to the upright bike, spinning easy circles beneath the florescent lights of the gym. Ten days isn't a long time but it feels eternal, and the dull passing of time was wearing holes into my resolve to take it slow. By the third day of my renewed gym membership, I had crawled my way over to the elliptical machine, toeless surgery boot strapped to one foot, pressing down on my heel until I hit a good glide. I poured sweat onto the plastic machine and felt like I could sprint forever. Good. Alive. Happy to be out again, even if only inside.

I took a bath and changed all my dressings so my doctor wouldn't suspect anything, but she did.

"You've been getting this wet?" she scolded me as she pressed down on the wrinkled white skin on top of my foot.

"Maybe a little sweat," I said. "Or slush. It's been nasty outside."

"You shouldn't be walking around outside," she said. "You still have you…

One more rehash

Photo by Dan Bailey. Used without permission. Sorry, Dan.

I'm probably one of the few ITI participants who can stay in a race for all of 12 hours and still find a way to write 6,000 words about it. This is a column I wrote for the Juneau Empire. It seemed a good overview, so I thought I'd post it here.

"A unique cycling injury: Frostbite."

From a racer’s perspective, it was a perfect example of how a person can be on top of their game one minute and hip-deep in trouble the next.
From an adventurer’s perspective, it was a defining moment of hard reality amid months of hopeful preparations.
This is where I stood on March 1 at mile 27 of the 2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational, a 350-mile human-powered adventure race along Alaska’s most famous winter trail. It was my second year entered in the race as a cyclist. In 2008 as a rookie, I managed to land myself in plenty of troubling situations and still found a way to finish the race in a respectable time of six days, two hours…


Since I came back to Juneau on Wednesday, my life has fallen quickly back into its old routine ... minus, quite notably, the biking. I'm not sure when I'll be able to ride, or even really walk, again. But despite a building reserve of pent-up energy, I'm not in any mood to rush it. I'm willing to set aside the time it takes to heal. Meanwhile, though, the late winter is passing me by.

Geoff has not been able to shake his cold, but has been feeling similarly pent up by biological forces beyond his control. So today he announced he was going to the Mendenhall Campground to ski "for an hour, tops." And as I looked out at the seductive sunshine hovering over 10-degree temperatures with fierce winds, I asked if I could go with him.

I wrapped my useless foot up in three socks and a down bootie and planned to crutch over to a nice sunny spot and wait for Geoff until my left foot (the one with the feeling, and therefore the indicator) became cold. But as I approached t…

Watching from afar

I finally had a chance to go in to see a doctor in Juneau this afternoon. I wasn't sure who exactly to see in town, so I just browsed the Yellow Pages and became more perplexed with the choices before finally just calling a foot and ankle specialist (with the reasoning that, well, toes are part of the foot.) I was lucky to find an older doctor who had dealt with frostbite before (much less common in Juneau than you would expect in an Alaska city. People here are more likely to get trench foot.) Anyway, he informed me that "at worst," I'd lose the tip of my big toe. Most likely, I'll just lose my toe nails. The worst-case scenario isn't ideal because it will involve an outpatient surgery and prolong my recovery, but all in all, the prognosis is looking good.

Every single employee in the clinic crowded around my chair to take a look at my foot - apparently frostbite is a major curiosity. One woman brought out the clinic's brand-new camera and asked me to ro…

12 hours of fun

The 2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational did not exactly go well for me, but it was amazingly fun while it lasted. The fun and almost relaxed nature of those 57 miles into Yentna Station came as a surprise after the general gloom that hung over me all day Saturday. Thick flakes of snow fell on Southcentral Alaska for most of the afternoon, accumulating by the inch and promising to obliterate any sign of the trail out of Knik. My cold had flared up again, compounded by anxiety and, much to my annoyance about the timing, cramps. I was nauseated and on the verge of vomiting for most of the afternoon, chugging Alka Seltzer out of a water bottle and catching little cat naps as we drove around to pick up our last "Oh, I forgot this" items and watch our friend and her band play at a Fur Rondie gig. To make matters worse, Geoff had caught my cold and was plunged into the worst of it. As we crawled up the Glenn Highway in the fresh snow, passing at least 30 buried and upside-down vehicle…


So, what happened? As with most misfortunes, a little bad luck and a little bad judgment in a place where there's absolutely no margin for error, and I now have an incapacitated right foot. I spent six hours in the emergency room at Mat-Su Valley Regional last night. Most of that was waiting, but some of the waiting was connected to the fact that have a fairly serious case of frostbite that the doctors felt needed some outside consulting. Blisters have spread across all five toes and I have some black tissue on my big toe that is supposedly concerning. I will most likely not require surgery (i.e. I get to keep all of my toes), but I am in for a long recovery, and, as with all cases of frostbite, my toes will for the rest of my life be more prone to cold injury.

So what happened? Well, as is usually the case with bad judgement, I was feeling awesome. The day started out beautiful. Trails were slow and soft but rideable. I had everything dialed in. I rode with a peloton of six other …


Unfortunately, this year's journey on the Iditarod Trail has come to an end for both Jill and Geoff. From the race update:

There have been some scratches in Yentna... Geoff Roes also had knee issues. Jill Homer stepped into some overflow last night and as some frostbite on her toes. As far as I know it is minor, but not continuing on is a good decision to prevent further damage to the toes. Three of them flew out to Willow and Geoff and Jill are staying with friends in Palmer.

I know something of the disappointment of dropping out early in events like this, having done it myself. It's a tough place to be in, to say the least. But it's also the nature of these events -- everything needs to go right, otherwise it's better to live to race another day rather than push on and risk your health. It sounds like both of them made wise decisions. I'm sure they will indeed be back to race again another day.

Thanks for following along with these posts. I'll continue to …


That's the speed plot of Jill's ride so far. It definitely indicates some bike pushing and slow conditions. It appears things got slow right around Flathorn Lake. The Race Update indicates there is drifting snow in open areas (like an open lake!) on top of the freshly fallen stuff.

She rolled into the first checkpoint, Yentna Station, at about 2:40am according to the SPOT (the leaderboard has not been updated with an official time). By contrast, last year she made Yentna by 9pm -- about six hours slower! I'm sure she's taking it all in stride, and remember that last year trail conditions in the first portion of the race were just about ideal, so slower is expected.

I haven't yet seen indication that Jill, Geoff or Billy have progressed beyond Yentna yet. I'll keep watching.

30 down, 300+ to go

Jill at the start -- Photo courtesy Evan Hone

The sun is down on day one and Jill is some 30 miles into the race. So far so good -- temps are in the teens and the trails appear to be rideable. Her average speed so far has been above 6mph, which means riding. I had read on another racer's blog that there was 6-7" of new snow in Anchorage recently, so I was wondering if even the first few miles might be slow. I'm sure we will learn more about conditions as racers begin filtering into the first checkpoint, Yentna Station, sometime tonight.

I've been working on a better SPOT monitoring page. Something that shows both Jill's current position and the route with checkpoints. Here's what I have so far:

Hopefully I will be able refine it in the near future. Right now the checkpoints show up as the same symbol as Jill's current position. You'll have to click around to see which one she is (as of right now, of course, she's …

Jill on the move

The first few SPOT points have started trickling in, indicating the start of the 2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational for Jill!

In the above map you can see the Knik Bar where the race starts, and that she is rolling out over the frozen lake.

Unfortunately it seems Geoff's SPOT page is having some issues. I'm not sure what's up, but I'll try to see if I can get some points out of it.