Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Ashland

We made what was essentially a three-hour stopover in Ashland, Oregon, so Geoff could run with famous people ... Hal Koerner, Kyle Skaggs' brother, et al ... I guess Ashland is a mecca for ultrarunning. It's not hard to see why. It's dry, warm but not hot, and the trail system is amazing.

My time window for riding was fairly short and of course I started out having no clue where I was going, but I managed to find a Pacific Crest Trail access route. First dirt singletrack of the year! Yeah!

Holy cow, I'm rusty on dirt. At least I was never very good to begin with. I have a feeling I'm going to be dusting myself off a lot this summer.
Add another town to my ever-growing list of "Places I Could Live."



Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Portland

It was 46 degrees and raining when I left the house this morning. The air smelled like apple blossoms, fresh grass and dirt, but it felt like home. I started somewhere in southeastern Portland. Somewhere ... where, I didn't know. I didn't know that it mattered. I haven't been to Portland since the 90s and I've never had any talent for feeling my way through a city - map, directions or nothing at all. So I figured I'd ride blindly into the late-morning chaos and I'd have to end up somewhere ... where, I didn't know.

I wandered south for a while, picking my way through connecting bike routes and trying to stay cognizant of where I had been. Finding my way back in a strange place is always a big concern for me. It never comes naturally. About an hour passed just wandering the streets of the greater Portland area and figuring I'd never find my way out of strip mall suburbia. That's when I stumbled onto the Columbia Gorge Highway. A lucky find for sure. I was suddenly immersed in a deep canyon with light traffic and spring exploding everywhere.

Once the highway threatened to drop down to I-84, I veered off on an even smaller road ... Larch Mountain Road. The rolling hills along the Sandy River became a steady climb. Lots of logging roads intersected the pavement. I ventured out a couple of doubletrack roads, but they were severely muddy to the point of terminal tire suck. And, anyway, I was more interested in figuring out where this Larch Mountain Road went. I hoped it would be somewhere high.

I went up until the road became impassable at 3,500 feet. Oh yes, I did find snow.

I ended the ride with 84 miles and 4,700 feet of climbing. I guess I haven't really been keeping track of my recent mileage, and may not for a little while. It's been hard to quantify my rides since I left in Juneau because they've been so interspersed with travel and everything else that has been going on. I consider biking my down time, time to reflect and try to make some decisions. I forget that I'm still technically working out, and never really think about it, so I can honestly say that I'm not sure whether I've been feeling physically strong, normal, or weak. But it's been rewarding to travel so many new places on two wheels, especially when fate spits me out somewhere like this.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Prince George to Vancouver

Still lots of driving and a little riding. Hopefully I'll find more time to write soon. I found a little crust biking outside of Quesnel. I have a feeling this will be the last I see of snow for a while.

The hills of central BC. Looks a lot like central Oregon.

Geo's first taste of spring along the Fraser River.

"Road biking" near the Vancouver airport with Jenn, one of my Whitehorse friends who now lives in the big city.

Dike trail with Ben. It was an amazingly nice day in Vancouver. What can I say? Canada loves me. Hopefully the weather will hold as we drop into the States.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Dease Lake to Prince George

A lot is happening right now and there's been no chance to process much of it at all. It feels like someone hit the fast-forward button on my life, and I've felt numb to all the miles behind me and terrified of the miles steamrolling toward me. Meanwhile, I've been working hard to churn out the requisite number of miles each day, both in the car and on the bike. There's not much space to summarize right now ... life in fast forward contains a lot of static ... but the trip, as road trips go, has been eventful ...


Up at 7 a.m. to ride out of Dease Lake. The temperature was low enough to turn fairly deep puddles into solid ice ... probably 25 or 27 degrees. My Camelbak hose froze. I, despite layering up as best I could with the "summer" clothes I have with me, also froze. I haven't been that cold in a long time. Definitely since before the frostbite incident.


The ride was hilly and high, as northern BC rides go. I rode hard and felt little in the way of pain or reward until I realized I couldn't feel much of anything, including my arms or legs. Brrrrr.


We rolled south. I shivered. We talked.


The deep snowpack persisted even as we dropped to latitudes equal with the southernmost tips of Southeast Alaska - just a few miles to the west. We made jokes about driving to Prince Rupert and getting back on a ferry bound for Juneau. It was hard to watch the road-level snow finally fade away. I've been sad about the prospect of leaving the North, even temporarily.


We spent Friday night with friends in Smithers. Had a great dinner, late night sipping tea and not worrying so much about everything, when we got an 11:30 p.m. knock on the door. "River's flooded," said the woman holding three huge flashlights. "It's comin up about a foot a minute. I'd take stock of what you'd take with you and be prepared to get out of here quick."


We hadn't received any official evacuation calls, but as we looked out the window we saw flashing lights stretched across the neighborhood. "They're doing rescues," the woman told us. "There are people over there in trees." We ventured outside to survey the scene. The RCMP had most of the neighborhood streets blocked, but we followed one street until we could see the alarming swell of the river. This photo is taken at the head of a neighbor's driveway, about two blocks and an equal number of feet of elevation from Kelly and Adrian's house.


Sleep was restless and I half feared ... and half hoped ... that I'd wake up to find that my car had headed downstream without me. But the flood had started to recede. I set out on my bike and rode non-blocked streets on the outskirts of the flood plain until I found the source ... a big ice jam that was starting the break apart. Our friends' house was spared. And luckily no one was hurt, but we learned there really were people in trees and property damage looked extensive.


I continued my ride through the morning, seeking higher ground. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful region. Rolling river valleys and shimmering satin peaks.


The drive south continues. Maybe tomorrow we'll hit spring.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Roll south

This will be my last night in Juneau for a couple of months.

We board a ferry to Skagway tomorrow morning, and from there it's on to Whitehorse, then down the Cassier Highway to visit friends in Smithers, B.C., and Vancouver, then Seattle, Portland and San Fransisco. Geoff has a race on May 2, but we have just a little over a week to get there. I'm hoping the old Geo makes it.

I really don't have the words for how I feel about leaving Juneau at this time. Life moves faster than I do. Sometimes there's not much more to say. I'm excited but apprehensive, too. I've been having deep doubts about the Great Divide. Like maybe it's not the right place at the right time, this time, but this may be my best and last chance. Even everything after San Fransisco is looking a little hazy. But it will be an adventure. Life's always an adventure. Usually the biggest things happen when you least expect.

I expect to post as much as I can along the way. I'll likely cling to this blog as my window home; it has always been a great place to both dump thoughts at random and organize them into a sense of perspective. So don't worry about radio silence. :-)

Wish me luck.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A sonnet

"Ode to Spring Snowshoeing"

With sunscreen slathered on winter pale skin;
I approach a sea of snow, smooth and wet.

Glistening ice crystals invite me in.
Snowshoes hold me above slushy depths.

In the calm of a warm Sunday morning,
Lethargic mosquitoes buzz by my ear.

Avalanches could drop without warning,
So I seek out places open and clear.

Open, so open in rich April light,
I run hard; my legs and lungs gasp for more.

On a canvas where creation takes flight,
I could leap off a cornice and soar.

White spires line paths to the great beyond;
It’s how I’ll remember you when I’m gone.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Nearing an

Date: April 17 and 18
Mileage: 37.4 and 32.2
April mileage: 656.6
Temperature: 46 and 40

I was still stoked from all of my Tuesday snow biking when I pounded out 60 miles in less than three and a half hours Wednesday, and since then, I just haven't been able to get my legs back. I've gone out looking for them, but mostly coming up with nothing. Lack of enthusiasm; dull ache in my quads; urge to lie down and take a nap in the boggy, ice-crusted grass.

"Maybe you're coming down with something," Geoff said.

"I'm not sick," I said. "Just tired."

Sometimes life catches up with me. And sometimes it just rushes by.

I struggled under a crush of boxes and bins as I hauled another carload of crap to the storage unit. One of the benefits of moving often is that it allows you to regularly assess your worldly possessions and realize just how little they mean to you. I can't manage to completely part with this stuff, but yet I can leave it all behind. I lifted the only light bin in the mix and peeked inside. My winter sleeping bag fluffed up and tried to escape the rigid confines of hard plastic. I slammed the lid back down and smiled. That sleeping bag has been my lifeline in hard times, and yet its only real worth is in the places I carry it. I stacked the bin at the top of a small pile in a plywood-lined closet, turned off the light, and left.

As I dug through my car, I found an old piece of paper stuffed in the door. A long list of numbers filled the faded sheet, front and back - a score card from a series of Gin Rummy games that Geoff and I played as we meandered across the country in 2001. I fingered the old paper, ripped and crinkled with rain drops, ballpoint pen faded yellow, and followed the long string of numbers until they petered out, final score 1,993 to 1,926. Geoff won. He was the one keeping score, adding numbers in his head beneath the labels "J-Pod" and "G-Pod." I smiled, because I didn't even remember referring to each other with that kind of nickname, and it was long before the days of iPod, but, either way, it was probably looked just as geeky then as it does now. But that was more than 120,000 miles ago; the Twin Towers still stood in New York and we were still innocent; or, at least, we hadn't discovered ultra-running and cycling yet.

Every time I approach a life change, I'm met with all sorts of regret and unrest. It's not focused negativity; it's just there, reminding me that, regardless of what happens, I can't return to the same situation as the same person. It reminds me that I didn't do things perfectly, that I don't always treat my life with the awe and love it deserves even as I struggle with powerless legs as the rain dissolves the snow and exposes a winter's worth of decay. That maybe Geoff and I haven't been spending as much time together as we should because we've been so caught up in our own lives. That maybe it will be strange to get in a small car and travel across the continent together, again.

But I found this old scorecard, and maybe now, eight years, 120,000 clicks on the Geo's odometer, and countless running, biking and hiking miles later, we can pick up the Gin Rummy game where we left off. There's adventure in that, too, in an innocent way that all the ultras we pour our hearts into can never fill.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Packing up

Date: April 14, 15 and 16
Mileage: 21.4, 58.9 and 44.7
April mileage: 587

It's been a tiring few days of hard riding, heavy packing, and trying to close up shop at the office. My to-do list seems to be getting longer rather than shorter. I've had a surprisingly Zen attitude about it all - not feeling the least bit guilty about cutting out in the morning for three-hour rides, purposely forgetting my cell phone and leaving half-full bins stacked up in the bedroom for days on end. I really did do my taxes at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday night. We just set up our storage unit today. We're set to board a ferry next Wednesday morning, and I haven't even gotten the oil changed in my car yet. Now I'm half-fried from riding hard in the afternoon on no food (tried to squeeze the ride in after a long string of errands, and it was a long time after lunch and a bit longer than I had planned), and I'm just sitting at the computer, frivolously clicking away at a keyboard. The Zen attitude persists. Come what may.

But in their own way, things are coming together. I got my Karate Monkey back from Glacier Cycles today. The Reba fork is back on, the studs are about to go, and it has a whole bunch of shiny new parts that are just screaming, "Ride me on dirt!" Around here, however, there's still none to be found. I have to settle for gravel-coated pavement and the occasional spur onto the beach.

But speaking of packing, I just received these great new bags from Eric over at Epic Designs. He's come a long way since I received my first round of winter bikepacking gear back in late 2007. The gas tank is streamlined for maximum space, and the bags are made out of what appears to be bombproof, waterproof material and zippers. Super sweet! I love that I can cull everything I need in this world from bins and bins that I have to haul to a storage unit, to only what I can fit in a few bike bags. I'm already trying to determine how many peanut butter cups I can fit in the gas tank. Geoff is going to take my Pugsley bags, which fit his mountain bike much better than they fit mine. We're hoping to take some overnight tours together in the next few weeks.

We also finally found a home for these little devils - my roommate's cats, Suki and Izumi. He's actually been out of town for the majority of the past year, and Geoff and I won't be around to care for them over the summer, so they had to go. Shannon found a nice woman who was willing (I'd go so far as to say excited) to take both of them, so they won't have to split up. Geoff's and my cats are going to stay with a friend who lives next door to open woods, so I anticipate they'll have a fantastic summer crouching in blueberry bushes and slaying voles. Everything's starting to come together.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Video blog: April snow biking

This may be my best video blog post yet. Seriously. I think I'll submit it to Cannes.

Music is "Read My Mind" by The Killers. Enjoy.


Snow biking - a great way to avoid doing taxes from Jill Homer on Vimeo.

Pondering platforms

Date: April 13
Mileage: 36.3
April mileage: 462
Temperature upon departure: 39

Ever since I removed the Look pedals from my road bike to accommodate my obnoxiously big overboots, I feel like I have finally been set free. I don't have clipless pedals on my snow bike. I don't have them on my mountain bike. And now that I am officially clipless free, I'm free to do anything I want - wear an obnoxiously big overboot over comfortable running shoes and/or sandals, place my foot anywhere that suits me, and pedal down the road.

I admit that I never became all that attached to my clipless pedals. I just didn't understand them. In most long-distance riding, emphasis is placed on relieving your pressure points. Use lots of different hand positions. Stand up and sit down in the saddle. And yet, people feel perfectly comfortable having their foot locked in one small place for hours at a time. I don't. Sometimes I ride with my heel resting on the platform. Sometimes I push down with my toes. Sometimes I even ride the proper way. The truth is, I move my feet all over the pedals, usually intentionally, as a way to relieve knee pain and foot numbness and generally just mix it up.

I won't even go into how much I hate cycling shoes. Yes, I know they make shoes that you can technically walk in. But those shoes are made by cycling companies, who don't seem to understand the first thing about walking. Their shoes start out uncomfortable and quickly deteriorate to shreds while the cleats are ground down to useless nubbins.

Then, what do you do if the pedals, heaven forbid, get unworkably clogged with mud or ice? Really, what do you do?

But the truth is, I've been thinking about converting my mountain bike to clipless for all the bikepacking I'm going to be doing this summer. I'll give clipless advocates the truths they hold dear - that clipless pedals do give the rider a power advantage (I happen to believe it's pretty marginal, at least it my case.) And, in extreme technical mountain biking, where accidentally slipping off the pedals at an inopportune moment could send a rider headlong off a cliff, clipless pedals can save lives (I've never come close to attempting this kind of extreme technical riding.) Still, while I'm willing to accept the advantages of attaching myself to a bike, I'm having a hard time overcoming the disadvantages.

How can I get the power advantage of clipless pedals while still maintaining my ability to relieve joint pressure by moving my foot around? I know they make platform/clipless hybrids, but those seem pretty spotty to me. And what about those horrible shoes? I don't simply want shoes that will work for walking in and out of stores. I want shoes that I can use to hike across the Grand Canyon, 25 miles with 7,000 feet of climbing, carrying a bike and gear on my back. I'm not saying I'm actually going to do this ... but I wouldn't mind having shoes that could handle it.

I really believe that platform pedals with Power Grips are the answer for me. Am I crazy?

Are there any other former platform pedal die-hards who managed to make the conversion and never looked back? I'm open to suggestions.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

First hike

Date: April 11
Mileage: 34.2
April mileage: 425.7
Temperature upon departure: 43

I finished out my monthlong membership at the gym on Friday, rode for a couple hours Saturday and got this idea in my head that I really wanted to go for a hike today. I haven't hiked since before the frostbite incident. I still have a lot of soreness in my toes and they haven't taken all that kindly to shoes yet, but I've survived a few "hike-a-bikes" OK, so I thought a bikeless hike would work fine. I even brought my hobble sticks (some people call them trekking poles. I only tend to use them when I'm injured, so they have that association for me.)

The snow on Douglas Island is in great shape right now ... too soft for biking and too wet and condensed for skiing, but just right for snowshoeing. I worked hard going up the mountain because I wanted to cover a lot of terrain and hiking, after all this time spent almost exclusively biking, felt strangely slow. Even with just a single polypro layer on, I was dressed way too warm for a partly sunny Easter Sunday, and I was soon shedding a steady stream of sweat all over the snow. I could hear songbirds chirping. It's the first day this year that I can honestly say felt like spring.

But it didn't look like spring. Above treeline, I found myself traversing a naked ridge through rolling clouds. I had this sensation of snowblindness, scanning for the contrast of white on white until I had to shut my eyes, because I couldn't see. It's a disorienting condition, and somewhat scary when I was trying to stay in the center of the wide ridgeline to reduce my presense in possible avalanche zones. I couldn't tell whether I was walking on flat terrain or about to step off a cliff into a white void. Then, just like that, the cloud would roll away and I could see many dozens of miles into the distance with sharp clarity. It got to the point where I would just stop walking when a cloud rolled through, and continue forward when blue sky returned, knowing it would be fairly easy and safe to follow my own tracks back whenever I finally turned around.

When I finally did turn around, the skies were really clearing up and I had been walking for a long time. I still felt great, but I hadn't really planned for the fact that steep downhill hiking in shoes happens to put a lot of pressure on toes. After about a half mile I was in quite a bit of pain, leaning hard on the hobble sticks and limping slowly down the mountain. A couple of snowmobiles passed me and I resisted the urge to hitch a ride. I knew I was going to be fine. This pain isn't really a cause of long-term nerve damage; it's more of an effect. I'm already feeling much better - but it did take what felt like an eternity to wrap up that hike.

It's funny how when you are concentrating on your mP3 player to take your mind off a painful task at hand, all of the words in all of the songs seem written just for you. I think I've found my new theme song for the time being - "Extraordinary Machine" by Fiona Apple:

I certainly haven't been shopping for any new shoes;
And I certainly haven't been spreading myself around.
I still only travel by foot, and by foot it's a slow climb,
But I'm good at being uncomfortable,
So I can't stop changing all the time.

I notice that my opponent is always on the go;
And won't go slow, so as not to focus, and I notice
He'll hitch a ride with any guide,
As long as they go fast from whence he came;
But he's no good at being uncomfortable,
so he can't stop staying exactly the same.

If there was a better way to go then it would find me.
I can't help it, the road just rolls out behind me.
Be kind to me, or treat me mean ...
I'll make the most of it, I'm an extraordinary machine.