Saturday, April 04, 2009

This season isn't so bad

Date: April 3
Mileage: 42.2
April mileage: 99.6
Temperature upon departure: 21

Most people I know in Alaska are not hugely in love with the season of Spring. Around here we call it "Break Up," an ugly name for an ugly time of year. We've all endured a long, volatile relationship with Winter. There were times it was beautiful; others when we curled up with our SAD lights and looked photographs of our old love, Summer. But through it all, Winter stuck around, and now we're left with piles of baggage ... snowpack over our heads, punchy trails, chunks of ice swept beside the roads. As our inevitable but ugly break up with Winter begins, we begin to slough off the baggage only to find the ugliness Winter had shielded from us all this time ... piles of dog crap, sticky mud, a thick layer of loose gravel and sloppy slop slop. People put on rubber boots and walk around with sour looks on their faces, because it's too punchy to ski and too muddy gross dirty to do anything else. By the time the temperature climbs above 55 and the first sprigs of green appear on the alder branches, it's already nearly Summer and we're too drunk on warmth and endless daylight to really notice. But Breaking Up is hard to do.

I made good on my promise of getting up yesterday at 6:30. It was actually closer to 6:15, although I dawdled around and wasn't out the door until 6:51. The rising sunlight burned bright gold against a high, thin cloud cover. The thermometer said 21 when I left and the air tasted sharp and almost shockingly cold. It's funny how quickly the familiarity of Winter can dissolve away. That simple taste of freezing air jolted away the last of my sleepiness and I started pounding up the road. I climbed to the Dan Moller trailhead. Geoff had assured me that the trail wasn't even in. He ran up their two days ago and reported sinking up to his knees in fresh snow. But I had faith in Juneau snowmobilers, and knew that warm days followed by freezing nights meant even a handful of tracks would make a bomber trail.

I was right. Deep, rippling moguls meant I had to walk most the way up to the Douglas Ski Bowl, but I was rewarded by a screaming, air-catching singletrack ride down. I like to believe that downhill snowbiking has really improved my technical mountain biking skills. There's a lot of strange handling in snowbiking, including shifting my weight from side to side to stay on top of a fishtailing rear wheel. I guess I'll find out how many skills I've actually developed when I hit the dirt this summer. I'll have to remember that dirt is a lot less forgiving of endos than snow.

I was home before 10 a.m., which is usually about the time I set out in the morning. I rushed to a doctor's appointment and was given a clean bill of health. No more doctor visits. No more bandaging. No more sandals and booties. I can wear two shoes again, although I did yesterday and was uncomfortable the whole time. I'm still going to have a significant level of sensitivity in my toes for some time.

"It's amazing how fast people can grow skin," I said as my doctor sloughed off most of the remaining dead tissue.

"You seem to have been working double time," she said. "What's your secret?"

I didn't say it to her, but I'm going to go with cycling.

I put in a short day at work ... short meaning about six hours. It's a far cry from the previous six days, where 10 hours was starting to seem like an easy shift. My boss took a vacation and I've been in charge of the whole crazy operation since last Saturday. Thus, "Hell Week." I was working 10 or 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. every day - seven days of 10-13 hour shifts. Stress-filled, high-octane shifts at that. The kind of shifts where there's not even time to eat, and even bathroom breaks were so limited that I waited until my eyes were watering and I couldn't possibly hold it any longer even if the building was on fire. I was getting calls from the production department at 1 a.m. I was still trying to wake up at an early enough hour to have time to exercise. Now that it's all over, finally all over, I can look back at this past week with some sense of accomplishment, like a semi-successful endurance race. Agonizing, but, because it doesn't last forever, ultimately rewarding. I'm glad it's over.

After work, I spent 30 minutes trying to wrench my road bike back into some form of working condition. I haven't ridden this bike since early fall, when I turned my Karate Monkey into a skinny-tire touring bike and no longer had a need for this creaky old thing. I received this bike back in 2004 as payment for some writing work I did for the IBEX Bicycles Web site. It retailed back then for about $600. I've probably put something in the range of 15,000-18,000 miles on it with very few replacement parts (my Karate Monkey, on the other hand, is exactly one year old and facing the replacement of nearly everything. Pugsley at age two and a half has had two total makeovers.) Roadie, however, just gets more and more decrepit every year. I changed the tires, threw on some old platform pedals (my toes can't handle the clipless shoes yet), adjusted the brakes, greased the chain and made small shifter adjustments, tried to bend the fenders in a place where they wouldn't rub the tires, and took off down the road. Without even trying, I was suddenly blasting down the North Douglas Highway ... 20 mph steady, amping up to 25 many times although dropping to 15 up the hills. It still felt like I had a small motor attached to the rear wheel. I could hardly believe it. I pounded up Eaglecrest Road at 7-8 mph (I'm usually going 4-5 mph on my Pugsley and Karate Monkey), and was home from a 27-mile ride in a little more than an hour and a half. Geoff came back from his run as I was hosing the bike down.

"Holy cow, this bike is super fast!" I gasped as Geoff ran up.

"That bike is piece of crap," he said.

I propped it up lovingly and wheeled it back in the closet. How great of a season is it when you can snow bike in the morning and road bike with actual skinny wheels in 43-degree air in the evening? That's Break Up.