Saturday, March 28, 2009

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 the bandages), but I think I've actually found a way to keep my toes relatively dry (with the exception of trapped sweat, which is closer to damp than the swimming-in-a-slush-pond soaked that my feet usually are after a snain ride): Loose nylon sock to hold sweat somewhat away from the toes, loose vapor barrier sock, huge calf-high wool sock, tights stretched over that, sandle, waterproof overboot, and double-layer rain pants pulled over the top to keep water from seeping in. Dare I say such a setup can keep my feet dry indefinitely? It certainly seems that way after five hours in the slush geyser. Can't say that at all about the rest of my body.

Mostly based on the weather, I had decided to spend the weekend venturing forward in moderation. Riding in snain for anything longer than two hours is miserable, and working out at the gym for anything longer than two hours is miserable. But do both in the same day, and you have a four-hour day that is definitely tolerable. That was my plan. It went well yesterday. I kept my feet dry and I started reading a bad book (why is it that so many bike touring books are nearly unreadable? As in, "I ate this pie, and it was good, and then I rode up this hill, and it was hard." How are all these books getting published? ... said the self-publisher.)

Anyway ... two hours of riding followed by two hours at the gym was the plan today as well. I rode out toward North Douglas but quickly found myself in two to four-inch deep glop. Cars were swerving all over the road and I was having a tough time riding a straight line myself. I turned around to seek out something with a semblance of pavement, and started north toward the Valley. I was riding strong with a tailwind, walking all of the snow-covered bike paths, and actually feeling pretty good. I decided to push on a little longer than two hours, took the long way around Mendenhall Loop, hammered against the pounding headwind, jogged the unrideable bike paths, and had to stop at the Breeze Inn for a Snicker Bar and Gatorade because I was pretty severely bonked and wasn't carrying any food. Then, with sugar coursing through my blood, I decided to tack on another extra 10 miles of slow slush riding out to Thane before finally heading home. And just like that, a planned 20-mile ride became 55. I arrived home at 4 p.m., having left a little after 11 a.m. and telling Geoff I would be back at "1 at the latest."

"I was starting to get worried about you," he said. "I thought you had to be hurt or broken down or something, because there's no way you stayed out that long because you were actually enjoying yourself."

I looked at him, with my polar fleece jacket and rain pants dripping brown water onto the linoleum, waterlogged mittens wadded up in my hands, wet hair clinging to the clammy skin on my neck, socks pretty much comprising the only dry piece of clothing on my body, and I just smiled ... because I had been enjoying myself.


  1. Jill -

    I have a horrible case of spring fever, right now. I just can't wait until our trails dry up. Seeing you riding in the slush just, well, yeesh! ;-)

    I can't wait to see some summer pedaling pictures. :-D


  2. Jill,

    As far as good touring books go, I recommend "Into Thick Air" by Jim Malusa. You'll love all the dry places he ventures off too and dare I say it, he can write well. Don't worry, you won't hear about the ho-made pie.


  3. Your biking book is really good but I guess you already read it.....time to switch genres?

  4. i just dont understand how you could get that much enjoyment doing the same activity every day for hours, forever....

  5. Ummm Sam, as Louis Armstrong once said, "If you don't know I can't explain it to you." I got stuck working my week end off, but what is on my mind is I have Monday off, and I get to ride my bike 6 hours over dirt, snow and mud. :-)

  6. Sam ... people who say things like that tend to watch a lot of TV.

  7. I can't believe the low quality of the comments to this wonderful post by Jill when at last after the accident in the overflow and the long medical doubt misery and danger following the ITI missteps she's back in the heart and soul saddle a bit for one of the first times, and feels a little bit her more regular happiness and sense of self again, a sense of self which is physical movement based. Don't the readers - I mean the commenters - of these blog posts care about the author? If not, why even read it? Why comment?

  8. Sam:

    You mean how can somebody ride in crappy weather conditions over the same road and trails she's probably ridden a hundred times already, day after day, after day, after day, after day, after day, and STILL enjoy it ?.

    I think it must be some form of self-flagellation.


    If she's back riding already that means the frostbite must not have been that serious as was originally believed. Anyways, I've seen a guy with a prosthetic leg from the knee down racing in a 24-hour MTB race, so even if she HAD lost a few toes to frostbite she could have still kept on riding.

  9. Jill,

    Saw this on Amazon and thought of you.

    Supposedly it is the bomb at keeping casts/legs/booboos/etc. dry.

  10. Hey Jill ... Right now I am reading Bill Bryson, a walk in the forst, or whatever, about his hiking the Appalachain Trail. It's very candid and quite entertaining.

    I suspect note-taking to be the bain of really good story telling by allowing us to remember the truly unmemorable. For example, when I look back at my travels to Cheoung Ju, South Korea, I rarely recall with any purpose the hundred or so times I had bebimbop, but I can clearly articulate with infinite detail the one time I ate raw, live octopus with chili and whole cloves of garlic in a late night soju bar.

    I'm glad to hear your bnack on your feet and able to enjoy riding in frozen slop.

  11. It is amazing where we all get inspired and motivated. I am wondering should I train tommorrow or not and you are redesigning a method of keeping your toes dry whilst you ride through "snain" - love that term.....we just get wind...and wind is just wind unless it is "effing windy"...or words to that effect....flat and windy here with no snain.

    I also have a confession, that I read your blog and a lot of very literate cyclists who blog and then write my usual "I ate pie and it was good" style I am just so motivated and inspired by you today to:-

    a) Not complain about training and just get it done and enjoy it (whichy I usually do once I get on the bike so that is not a real problem)....definatley not complain about weather, and
    b) write a more inspired blog as that was why I started blogging, to express the frustrations I felt about being a female in a male dominated racing set most of the time, and the unfairness of that.....

    I love reading blogs that include references and great pictures and are a whole reading experience.

    Love your blog...your tenacity to get out there and ride in some very testing conditions is I take rice bubble bars on my long rides, they are cheap and hit the spot...

  12. Hey Jill,

    good to read you're back on the trail and loving it. I know exactly what you mean... Once you're out there and going... The heck with the weather and conditions!! Nothing is more purifying than a good ride in shitty weather...

    Janneke from finaly sunny and warming up The Netherlands

  13. Yay! Congrats on the progress! You bring a big smile to my face this monday morning, I'm so happy for you! Thanks again for sharing your story :)

  14. Jill - glad you are doing well on the bike again.

    If you were from a place less rainy than Oregon, I would dismiss your reference to waterproof shoe covers. But since you are from Juneau, exactly what brand/model of shoe covers are you using that you have found to be that elusive thing - 'waterproof'?

  15. To Thane in the snain is good for the brain.

  16. I am stuck in LA because that damn volcano keeps canceling all of my flights home. I miss the crappy weather. This endless sun is actually getting kinda old.

    That is awesome that you are out and about.

  17. A question for you...

    How do you get all your stuff dry again to go out the next day? (or even within a few days?)

    I live in Sydney, and only have 1 or 2 layers to get dry, and numerous changes of clothes, but unless your wardrobe is the largest room in the house, I can't see how you could have clothes to wear every day!!?!?!?


  18. Clydesteve ... they're called NEOS overboots. Any model will do. They're waterproof as long as you don't rip holes in them (I tend to). Catch is there's no way to attach clipless cleats to the outside.

    Grant ... I definitely only wear stuff once (except for the rain pants and jacket. Those I hose down when I my bike and I go through our regular post-ride hose-down.) Then I hang it up where it won't grow mold, and do my laundry about once a week. I don't bother with bike jerseys or shorts in the winter, so I have lots of inexpensive synthetic layers to choose from.

    I'm actually the kind of cyclist that rarely wears cycling-specific clothing. My few jerseys and bike shorts just hang in the closet and gather dust, but I love my myriad of inexpensive polar fleece leggings.

  19. Jill,
    I just followed a link to your site and stumbled on the several years old writeup on your 'frostbite' race. And the 'snain'.
    I live in Cleveland and commute year 'round. Not like Alaska, but your description of trying to stay dry in the slush sounds familiar. I've tried the same gear you have. The NEOS boots work nicely if they fit tightly. I managed to find a shoe/NEOS combination that is snug.
    But an alternative is Tingley boots. They're big rubber galoshes, about calf height and they fit snugly. The mailmen in our area use them and that's how I found out about them. They're pretty durable and not too expensive. I put giant 4-way stretch fleece socks OVER my shoes and under the Tingleys. They absorb the moisture and are easy to dry out.
    I have no idea what to do about keeping hands dry. Everything wets out eventually. Gloves, mittens, etc.

    Also I remember falling into a lake years ago up in Canada east of Lake Superior. It was the coldest day of the year. 40 below. I was on snowshoes, my wife behind me. I saw a clear 'path' between 2 lakes that avoided a brushy island. The folks up there would have known what it was - a stream entering the lake. I'm from the city and was clueless. One step onto that 'path' and a trap door opened. I don't remember being wet or being cold, just the shock of falling. I got myself out right away on the solid lake ice. My Sorels were drenched. I could feel the water sloshing inside. As my wife came running towards me I removed one Sorel to empty the water only to find just a few drops come out. The rest must have frozen into the felt. Same with the other foot. I had my wife take a picture, donned my heavy down park, balaclava and everything else in my pack and started running back to the cabin, some 4 miles away. I assumed my foot was warm as I couldn't feel anything cold. Actually it was numb. After about a mile I started sweating heavily and then my foot started burning. I got back okay and my foot was okay, but from reading your description, I was lucky to be so near the cabin and warmth. I could have had frostbite too in other circumstances. Anyhow I hope you keep on with your blog. It's fun to see these grand scenes of 'out west'. On our snowiest days Cleveland looks just like that. Almost.
    Marty Cooperman


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