Showing posts from October, 2009

Venture into the new season

It's been a good weekend. What I expected was rain and lots of time spent indoors catching up on chores; what I got was pretty much everything but.

I was in the middle of doing my laundry Thursday afternoon when I first noticed sparkles of sunlight breaking through the clouds. I stopped the dryer and figured I'd just air-dry the load on hangers, later, and hauled Pugsley out of the back seat of my car.

I took a quiet two-hour ride around all the trails of the Valley, rolling and fun with no real destination. A light freeze set in and the trails firmed up nicely.

And, of course, riding the big wheels on the beach is always a good time.

It was a great little breather between shopping and cleaning and laundry and going to see that new Michael Jackson movie. Like a whiff of the sublime amid the mundane.

I lingered for a while on the shore of the Mendenhall Lake to watch the sunset. I see so few of these.

For as serene as Thursday was, today was the polar opposite. I've been wanting …

First day of Pugsley season

(photo by Michael Penn)
Poor, neglected Pugsley. I finally headed out to my storage unit to extract him from cobwebs and dust. He still has the tiny road racing saddle I used as a placeholder after I stole the original seat to use on the Great Divide (and subsequently wore it to shreds and threw it away.) The lube is probably six months old. I don't even know what's up with the brakes. Much maintenance is needed, but today it did not matter. There was snow on the Eaglecrest Road, and it was fully necessary to get out and lay some first tracks.

I have no problem riding most of this steep road in the summer, but it's a beast with a 36-pound bike atop wet powder with a film of ice. I walked most of the way up with a group of hikers, who, like me, just wanted to get out and enjoy what feels like the season's "first snow."

It was cold and windy at the top — a small taste of the raging northeasterly Taku blast that is reportedly on its way.

I was dressed in rain gear r…


It's thrilling, really, that first moment your defenses are breached, that first trickle of water between your shoulder blades, like a slow, icy tickle on hot skin. Then the rain pants soak through, followed by the slow saturation of wool long johns. Then the neoprene gloves become clammy; they drip water when you clench your fists. Then more water seeps in from your neck line; it creeps up your arms and your waist; your fleece hoodie absorbs it like sponge, swirling water vapor inside your plastic jacket, condensing until there are more droplets on the inside of the sleeves than the outside. When the wool leggings won't hold any more moisture, lukewarm water trickles down your vapor barrier socks to your liner socks, which are already soaked with sweat anyway. You wriggle your white wrinkled toes and breathe in the thick humidity, the vapor of warm sweat and cold air surrounding your own personal biosphere. And you pedal harder into the geyser streaming from both sides of yo…

Geoff's big dream

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I'm in the photograph

It has been a rather dull weekend - dull meaning, mostly, that Juneau's normal autumn weather came back. It still has no real teeth to it ... a little rain, a little wind, nothing hurricane-ific. I rode 57 miles on Thursday, 27 miles today and did a 3.5-hour hike up Thunder Mountain on Friday.

The hike was inspired by a semi-sunny sucker hole that closed in very quickly. I decided to try out a new trail to the top. I located the trailhead on my map, and after about a quarter mile came to what looked like a three-way fork that was not on the map. I chose the path that went straight up the mountain, because that seemed like the most logical route. It petered out quickly and dumped me in a drainage - an obvious deer trail. But, bull-headed as I am, I continued to zig-zag between that drainage and another, bushwhacking through barren alder and blueberry bushes, until I was scrambling up a virtual waterfall, slipping all over the place and clutching devil's club stalks because they …

This amazing autumn

(My newspaper trail column for this week)

By Jill Homer
Juneau Empire

I feel like I have been getting away with something I shouldn’t be.

That first subtle tinge of guilt came as I crested the snow-swept summit of Mount Roberts one bluebird Friday, gazing out at a carpet of fog as it disintegrated over the shimmering Gastineau Channel.

“This is not what Oct. 2 should be like,” I thought.

And again, during a five-day stretch of unconscionably dry weather, when I climbed up to the Grandchild Ridge north of Mount Stroller White and sprawled in short sleeves on the soft tundra.

“This can’t be Oct. 14,” I thought.

My guilt about my glutinous consumption of late-season vitamin D reached a full boil on Tuesday as I marched through the soft snow near the summit of Mount McGinnis, looking at the startling contrast of light and shadow on the Mendenhall Glacier. “Oct. 20 and it’s still beautiful,” I thought. “This just can’t be real.”

In short, I have been getting out. A lot. In the sunlight. A lot. And …

My goodness, McGinnis!

I feel like I'm getting away with something I shouldn't be.

I blame this mountain, Mount McGinnis, which I first scaled on Aug. 20 as something entertaining and symbolic to do on my 30th birthday. Sure, there were mountains before McGinnis, but I feel like that one trip sparked the embers of what has become a full-flame fall trekking frenzy. I keep pinching myself, waiting for the weather to close in for good. But I also keep monitoring weather reports, wind data and the local radar with my own brand of analysis, and now there's a science to my madness.

Or pseudo-science, if you will. Take today: It was Tuesday, which has historically (since Aug. 20) been a good day for sunshine. Weather reports called for a 40 percent chance of rain. Less than half! Radar was noncommittal - therefore, non-damning. And it was Oct. 20, two months since the trekking frenzy began. Nice round anniversaries are good omens. Based on that data, I knew this: There was an 82.4 percent chance that it …


For the past three days, I've been down with a slight sinus infection that was threatening to work its way into my lungs. I had been feeling like I was on the ledge of a full-body rebellion as it was, so I reacted by sleeping and going to work and sleeping some more. Meanwhile, the refreshingly normal Juneau skies purged themselves of a lot of pent-up rain and my cold retreated, probably due to boredom.

This morning I woke up with actual energy for the first time in days, and all my body wanted to do was run out those last droplets of viral sediment. The rain seemed to cease and their were patches of sunlight in the clouds. I pulled the Road Monkey down from my car, where it was threatening to rust to the roof rack; amazing how a full week can go by just like that. "Today," I told myself, "I will ride hard."

Swirls of steam rose up where cars streamed down the wet road. I wanted to emulate that, so I laid hard into the pedals, breathing deep, raspy breaths as I f…


There is this peak in Juneau that I've wanted to climb ever since I first noticed it looming over my office building on a cold September day in 2006. It's called Observation, which I agree is a lame name for a mountain. But there's something about that name ... Observation ... as though all I would have to do is climb to the top, and I would be able to see everything, all of it. I coveted that view. It's never come together for me, most often for lack of time, others for weather closing in, others for outright intimidation by the scope and length of it. But lately I've been practicing mountain trekking, a lot. I have more experience, I'm more efficient, and I knew, based on weather reports, that Thursday was going to be my last chance this year.

Conditions were not perfect. Winds were still high, and the lateness of the season meant the ridge would be covered in ice. Clouds were supposed to close in by mid-afternoon, and I was coping with a heavy fatigue, poss…

This weather is killing me

I'm tired.

I climbed up Grandchild Ridge today. I didn't run my GPS, because I'm starting to burn through a lot of batteries as it is. But the ridge starts rolling at about 3,500 feet, and that's where I went, buffeted by cold wind and wheezing, not because 3,500 feet is particularly high, but because I was particularly tired.

OK, OK. It's easy to say. Aren't you bored of this stuff yet? Why not just take a day off? But look at that sky. I can't. Can't you see? I can't. I have the time. I have this perfect weather window that just won't quit. The only thing I don't have much of anymore is energy. These mountains lift my soul, every time, but my body is starting to wear down.

October Consecutive Bluebird Day Number Four. I woke up to my 7:30 a.m. alarm and debated it. I really did. I slumped out of bed, only to realize that the coffee beans I just purchased were decaf. Decaf! How am I supposed to survive like this? But pink hints of sunlight pou…

The wind we call Taku

Yesterday, as I was coming down the Sheep Creek trail, I crossed paths with another hiker wearing a big pack. "Headed to the ridge?" I asked him.

"Hawthorne," he answered. Hawthorne is a big peak, a majestic peak, one I covet but accept I won't reach this year. "How far did you go?" he asked.

"To about 3,000 feet," I answered. "There's some pretty intense wind up there; I got knocked around a bit, so I came down."

He took a big draw of air and sighed. "Taku winds are like medicine," he said. "Clears all the shit out." I nodded, and we continued on our way.

Taku is a Tlingit word for "stormy wind." Taku winds are big, mostly localized northeasterlies that hit Juneau in the fall and winter. Typically, they blow about 30-40 mph steady, gusting to 70 mph occasionally. Trees topple. Boats flip over in the harbor. The Taku winds stuck around today. I debated another day up high and decided against it. I head…

The weather's beautiful; Wish you were here

A fair number of my Juneau friends are out of town right now. They're in places as far-flung as Australia and Argentina, but they all seem to be following the over-arching theme of being as far south from Juneau as possible. It is, after all, October. Like January for Fairbanks-dwellers and every month that isn't January for people who live in Phoenix, October is the month we Juneauites scratch out on our calendars months in advance. "Rain season! Run! Run away!" And most of us do. Even I, ever year up until now, scheduled a Grand Canyon trip in October. I wasn't able to this year, because I took three whole months off during the summer to tour around Utah and the Rocky Mountains (places which, for the record, were uncharacteristically rainy.) So this autumn, I get to be the one who's stuck here.

Recently, I was hanging around a friend's place on one of those uncharacteristically beautiful bluebird September mornings when he pulled out his Hawaii maps to g…