Showing posts from January, 2009

Finding myself

So my "Find Me SPOT" arrived in the mail today. It's my parents' Christmas gift to themselves me. The deal is I carry a big orange hunk of plastic with three easy-to-use "Help, "I'm OK" and "911" buttons, and the device tracks me wherever I go and transmits my location to a remote Web site. After I reportedly lost myself for three days during last year's Iditarod Trail Invitational race, I think my parents just decided the SPOT would pay for itself in anxiety medication.

Today I set out on snowshoes with the SPOT and my GPS to intentionally get lost in the woods. I have an unnaturally terrible sense of direction for an adventure junkie, and I'm trying to sharpen my woeful skills in reading the terrain and route-finding. The idea is to cut my own trail through the dense woods, reading the topo maps, distance and elevation on my GPS as I go, and track my progress so I don't wander around in circles. And yes, I recognize that it i…

Conflicted, part 2

Date: Jan. 26 and 27
Mileage: 25.6 and 27.1
January mileage: 739.4
Temperature upon departure: 22 and 26

I admit I was more than a little disappointed when the snow returned. Deep snow followed by heavy rain followed by unseasonable warmth followed by a healthy freeze had settled Juneau's snowpack in a way that almost everything was rideable, everything. All of those places that I usually need snowshoes and a fair amount of time to access - the Douglas Island backcountry, Spaulding Meadows - I could ride, and quickly, covering so much normally forbidden ground that I could hardly haul myself off the snow and into the office in the afternoon, knowing that any time not spent chewing up crusty backcountry before the snow fell was time wasted.

Then came the snow, soft powder, 12 inches or so, much to the delight of skiers and disdain of crust-seeking cyclists. I was pushed back on the roads, all 80-odd miles of them, again facing one of the things about Juneau that has gotten under my skin…


Date: Jan. 24 and 25
Mileage: 11 and 42.2
January mileage: 686.7
Temperature upon departure: 16 and 15

Frost had started to form on my sweat-soaked hair as I heaved my bike over a four-foot cliff and stepped gingerly onto ice-coated roots to climb up beside it. I gasped and grunted and pushed the bike's rear wheel forward while I clawed at petrified snow with my bare fingers. I stopped to catch my breath and look up at the trail - a continuing series of steep "steps" just like it. As a hike, the lower portion of the Mount Jumbo trail is a relaxing jaunt through the woods to gain 500 feet in a half mile. Throw in a big, awkward bike, and it becomes quite the grind.

But I knew it was all worth it because at the top of that small climb lay the Mount Jumbo muskeg - a fairly large area of stunted trees and open space that was, for now, covered in the most ideal kind of concrete snow. The kind of snow that's so smooth and icy hard that you don't even need a packed trail to …

Happy to be home

Date: Jan. 22 and 23
Mileage: 16 and 100.4
January mileage: 633.5
Temperature upon departure: 11 and 15

We were 30,000 feet over Yakutat after another brutally long, overnight flight from Kona to Honolulu to Anchorage en route to Juneau when the clouds started to clear. I gazed with chest-tightening awe over the ice field below, shimmering pink in the morning sun as glaciers flowed like suspended-motion whitewater rivers around the coastal mountains. My forehead was pressed against the window when a flight attendant came on the intercom and said, "If you're reading a book or looking at a computer, you better put it down and look out the window right now, because it doesn't get any more beautiful than this." I realized that she was right. Hawaii is beautiful; often stunningly beautiful. But it's true when they say there's no place like home.

My total sleep on that endurance flight amounted to about an hour and a half, tops, and I was already seeing double when we a…

Painless view of HURT 100

Date: Jan. 17
Mileage: 77.6
January mileage: 507.1
Temperature upon departure: 75

Geoff told me that, even though I attended the race meeting with him Friday night, it wasn't very likely that I'd find the race start on my own Saturday morning. "I'll be fine," I answered. He left at 5 a.m. with the car for the start of the HURT 100, a 100-mile ultramarathon that climbs 25,000 vertical feet over the five loops of a rooty, muddy, narrow 20-mile course. It was Geoff's "training race" for the Iditarod Trail Invitational. I don't claim to be nearly that ambitious about my training, so I set out to spectate the race and do some urban road biking.

I left the hotel room at 8:21 a.m., hoping to cheer Geoff on at the end of his first loop. Unfortunately, he hotel had stranded us on the 43rd floor, one floor down from the top. The first elevator arrived vacuum-packed with people. The second came 10 minutes later under similar conditions. The third had a little m…

Hawaiian desert, Hawaiian snow

Geoff's and my first reaction after arriving in Kona on the Big Island was startled sense of relief. We had spent five days plunged into the heat and crowds and traffic and HURT 100 race fanfare of Oahu. All the clamor and noise and Mai Tai-flavored, manicured beaches had come to define Hawaii for me, my first time in the state. So the sound of rustling palms in an otherwise quiet breeze over the open Kona airport was almost startling. The town rested on an open hillside, swept in dry grass and desert-like vegetation. "Wow," Geoff said. "This place is like, normal."

We drove out to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park and set up camp beside a rust-colored lava flow, speckled with dry-climate plants that could have easily stood in for salt brush and juniper. I felt like I was in Utah, camped on the sandstone with only the endless ocean horizon 3,000 feet below us to suggest otherwise. Geoff was recovering from his 100-mile race and the purpose of our Big Island vacati…

Wind and waves

Date: Jan. 14, 15 and 16
Mileage: 30.5, 55.1 and 34.2
January mileage: 429.5
Temperature upon departure: Low 80s

My Hawaii trip so far has been a comedy of errors, but I'm starting to settle into the flow. I feel perpetually lethargic because of all of the heat and sun and the Benadryl I'm sucking down (I seem to be allergic to a lot of different things down here.) But this island is nothing if not beautiful and an adventure in itself. True to my vacation record, even Hawaii managed to throw exciting weather my way.

The first thing we did after the car rental place opened for the morning Wednesday is drive around looking for the start of the Hurt 100. We ended up on a high bluff at sunrise, where I caught my first glimpse of downtown Honolulu. From a distance, it's breathtaking.

I rented a road bike from this place called The Bike Shop. It's light and fast and holds its own on gravel, but the traffic on this island takes some getting used to. It's been really windy, wh…

Aloha ... can I come back?

I found this photo on an old post that I started writing but never finished. I'm not sure exactly when I took it. It looks so serene, so welcoming, so cold ... so very different from the place where I am at right now.

OK, so I'm killing some time in the nether regions of the Alaska Air check-in part of the Honolulu airport. It's 3:53 a.m. Honolulu time. There is some infuriatingly mellow island music blasting over the loudspeaker in this not-quite-inside, not-quite-outside kind of a room, and I'm already down to boxer shorts and a T-shirt, sticky with heat and sleep deprivation. Just need to make it until the Thrifty Car Rental place opens. Just a little longer ...

I know, I know. I'm in Hawaii on vacation and I'm not allowed to complain, especially since I haven't even escaped from the airport yet enough to give island life a chance. I guess it just feels good to vent after really bad flights. I know everyone has bad flights. This was the worst flight ever. …

I feel so fast

Date: Jan. 11
Mileage: 41.3
January mileage: 309.7
Temperature upon departure: 35

Ever have days when you would rather do just about anything besides drag yourself outside? I actually have lots of days like this. I can usually overcome the feeling, and was nearly to the point of beginning the suit-up process when Geoff returned from his morning run and said, "Do not go out there. It's nasty out there." What, you might wonder, could possibly be so bad? Deep subzero temperatures? 50 mph winds? Whiteout blizzard? No, in the case that statement was a warning that it was warm outside. 35 degrees warm. Warm and wet and sloppy.

Still, I reluctantly persisted. I dug my rain gear out from the bottom of the pile - first time it's been above freezing in more than a month. I left Pugsley at home in favor of studded tires, knowing that rain quickly turns packed snow into the slipperiest substance on Earth.

I put set the wheels down on wet ice and pointed north. As the studs scraped ove…

Hold back the rain

Date: Jan. 10
Mileage: 30.1
January mileage: 258.4
Temperature upon departure: 24

Saturday, tempo ride, 30 miles, 2.5 hours. My knee felt much better today. Still some soreness, but I've concluded the problem was almost entirely in having my seat too low. I originally lowered it to help leverage better steering control on the foot paths (i.e. winter singletrack.) I greased the seatpost heavily because it is a tight fit anyway and always a beast to adjust, and I'm guessing that caused it to slip down a little more before it froze in place. I fixed the problem today with a little help and a lot of leverage from Geoff. I am going to install a new seatpost soon.

But I felt a lot more comfortable and even a little faster heading out North Douglas today, despite yet more new snow. I pedal as hard as I can, until my quads are screaming, but that doesn't really translate to speed in these conditions. I've decided that any time I average more than 10 mph, I can count the ride as a &…

Powder dump

Date: Jan. 8
Mileage: 52.4
January mileage: 228.3
Temperature upon departure: 6

It's amazing how warm single digits feel after a short swing into the subzero range. Even when the sun is gone, and icy flakes are falling from the sky, there's a certain warmth to the air that can only be felt after dips into something much colder - like climbing out of a glacial lake on a cool spring day. I think that may be the only reason people can tolerate living in Interior Alaska. I check the current weather for McGrath almost every day. During this past cold snap, which lasted more than a week, every time I clicked on I saw current temperatures of -43, -47, even -55. always includes a "feels like" reading with the actual temperature to account for windchill, but during the cold snap, the "feels like" temperature just read "N/A." I thought about writing and telling them they should change "N/A" to "outer space"…

Much better

Date: Jan. 7
Mileage: 38.1
January mileage: 175.9
Temperature upon departure: -5

Wednesday, cold-weather acclimating, 38 miles, 4.5 hours. Clear cold weather arrived as promised this morning. I was giddy about it. Not only was it a (brief) respite from the snow, but it also was a chance to try out some gear combinations I have been thinking about running. I wanted to ride longer than four and a half hours. But it seems that although I possess the willpower to drag myself outside in subzero weather, I am still unable to drag myself out of bed earlier than 8 a.m. Before I receive criticism from early risers, I just want to say: You try working until close to midnight and then get up before dawn in the midst of a four-hour-a-day cold-weather training binge. It's not easy.

The last time I went riding in the danger cold - New Years Day - I found myself dangerously close to hypothermia. The last time I went riding in hard subzero windchill - yesterday - I sustained mild frostnip on the tip o…