Showing posts from November, 2009

Rainforest trail

This is where I go when time closes in,
This place hidden away from the seasons.
Too dark for berries.
Too dense for snow.
This is where I go.

This is where I ride when weather closes in,
And sheets of rain fall from the sky.
Sheltered and narrow,
This is where I ride.

This is where I climb when life opens wide,
With choices strewn about a borderless maze.
Endless loop,
Lost in time.
This is where I climb.

Ride to mile 25

I finally switched out the tires on my mountain bike. This is perhaps the latest I've made the switch to studs since I moved to Alaska. As I pumped the front tire up to 55 psi, the valve started to make that horrible hissing noise that indicates I have only seconds to release pressure before the twisted tube explodes (I pop more tubes this way than I'd care to admit.) I frantically grabbed at the hose and valve but it was too late. The tube exploded out of the tire right in my face, and the blast startled me so much that I jerked my hand away from the valve and punched the hub hard enough to bruise the entire backside of my right hand. My cat cowered against the door, horrified. I thought I had screwed up any opportunity to ride the ice-slicked streets, but then I found another heavily patched 29" tube stuffed in an old Camelbak.
This is my fifth season as a holiday orphan. Every year I tell myself that the expense, work hurdles and hassle of holiday travel isn't worth…

Erin and Hig

The following is an article I wrote about a couple who is stopping in Juneau next week to give a slideshow presentation about their yearlong, 4,000-mile journey up the Pacific Coast. If you must buy something on Black Friday, I recommend buying Erin's book: "A Long Trek Home: 4,000 Miles By Boot, Raft and Ski." Find out more about it here: Until then, Happy Thanksgiving!

4,000 miles by boot, raft and ski

By Jill Homer
Juneau Empire

When Erin McKittrick and her husband, Brentwood “Hig” Higman, last visited Juneau, an unseen October drizzle pattered on their tiny rafts as they paddled into the inky darkness along Gastineau Channel. At first, the city was just a small island of lights in a sea of night. Then they could make out the fog-obscured shapes of buildings, and then the crimson stream of car lights on Egan Drive, and then the imposing towers of the cruise ship dock where they landed.
“As we paddled into Juneau, the rain seemed unrelen…


Running on the Dan Moller Trail at about noon yesterday. I've been short on time these past few mornings and playing with options for shorter, higher-intensity workouts. Running in the snow has all the intensity of running in loose sand on a beach, except for add a steady incline. I'm in pretty good shape for foot-powered stuff because of all the hiking I've been doing, but my lungs were being put through a shredder. Six miles took just over an hour. Slow but painful. Powerful stuff, running. No matter how you approach it, or where you do it, it burns.

Same run, same spot, today. During the descent, I punched through a deep posthole, wrenched my knee, and had to walk down.

Another Sunday with Pugsley

I've still got the bike love. Lately, I've been genuinely worried about it fading. I mean, these things happen. I rode a bicycle across the country in 2003 and then barely touched it for the next two years. This past summer, with three months solely focused on mountain bike training and a 2,700-mile jaunt down the Continental Divide, was pretty much the bike binge to end all bike binges. I've been admittedly bipolar about the activity ever since. But snowbiking brought me out of my first bike funk; who knows, maybe it can happen again.

This is what it looked like when I woke up in the morning. I'm still sick, sore throat and the like, but when you have a free morning and a date with your favorite snow bike, these things just don't seem to matter.

I hit up the Lake Creek trail. The gate's still closed, the snow's still shallow and the muskeg definitely isn't completely frozen yet, but the trail was surprisingly rideable up to the first meadow.

The thing abo…

Warm light on a winter's day

There's one main reason why winter is genuinely my favorite season of the year in Southeast Alaska. Spring has promise and new growth; summer has warmth and ease; fall has color and storms; but winter has stark, seemingly endless, staggering beauty.

Of course this beauty begins with snow, lots of it, as it whisks through white, bright sky, dressing the hemlock trees in billowing gowns and smothering the rot and decay on the ground. This elevation on Douglas Island, about 2,500 feet, is already coated in more than five feet of fluff, in mid-November. As the season progresses, snow becomes all-encompassing.

Another catalyst of beauty is the low winter sunlight, which in the north sometimes fails to reach above the mountains. Here in Southeast Alaska in mid-November, the sun lazily stretches out from the southeast at about 8 a.m., rolls over a shallow arch low on the horizon and slumps beneath the mountains to the southwest sometime after 3 p.m. Daylight is short and often smothered in…

Mountaineering 101

My friend Bjorn is teaching me how to climb snow-bound mountains. It is not an enviable task. First, you take this rank beginner person whose natural inclination toward vertigo has led her to avoid climbing all of her adult life, then drag her up to a cold and barren environment that is completely unforgiving of any error. I certainly don't try to hang out with people who may turn out to be liabilities, and yet Bjorn was the one who called late last night and asked if I wanted to accompany him on a November trip up Mount McGinnis.

We both brought snowshoes but never took them off our backs. The snow was weird and unconsolidated, meaning I was slipping on frozen grass even as I stood in knee-deep fluff. We picked our way up a thickly wooded area between two large avalanche gullies, using tree branches as pull-up bars to lift ourselves over chin-high bluffs and grabbing at thin blueberry twigs when the footing gave out underneath us, which happened frequently. It was surprisingly str…

Breaking trail

The other day, while I was musing about starting to train for the Susitna 100 and/or the White Mountains 100 (i.e., my winter bike race season), a friend asked me if I planned to start doing intervals. I avoided the question, unwilling to admit that I was still planning on training for real races that involved bikes by doing whatever I felt like doing, which recently hasn't involved nearly as much cycling as my previous winter bike race seasons, and even less in the way of something resembling an interval. "There must be a way," I thought, "to incorporate strenuous, lung-busting workouts, like the kind you get when you sit on a bike trainer and pedal really hard for three minutes and more slowly for one, into an winter outdoor activity that is actually fun."

I think I found it.

Snowshoeing. Now stay with me here. You take a layer of bottomless fluff and spread it over a slope that varies from 30 to 60 degrees. Then you try to climb it, for two and a half hours. …

Sunday with Pugsley

I woke up late and intended to bike commute to work today, so I set out for a meandering pleasure ride through the Valley. Friday's strong cold front brought 170-knot winds to Sheep Mountain and mudslides to downtown, but it also brought something nearly everyone at city level has been craving — snow.

This isn't exactly what I consider snow biking — it's a soft dirt trail with a couple inches of fluff on top. But it is sweet just the same — the silence and simple beauty of white powder, the brow-furrowing challenge of negotiating well-disguised-but-not-yet-buried roots and rocks. Basically everything that Pugsley is good at, but then again, Pugsley is good at everything.

The Dredge Lake trails always flood in the fall, and they haven't yet completely frozen, so riding around the glacier moraine was a fun mix of powder skimming and "bike-swim."

I circled my favorite singletrack loops a couple times and veered onto the beach, where the sand was partially frozen an…

A strange form of life

There is an incredible wind and rainstorm going on outside right now. Boats are knocking around in the harbor. Water is streaming across the road at a hydroplaning velocity. The Sheep Mountain weather tower at 4,000 feet recorded wind gusts of 115 mph, which on the East Coast would be a Category 3 hurricane, with below-freezing temps and daggers of snow. Here at sea level, we're getting gusts to 65 mph. It's entirely too insane to try to pilot any kind of bicycle. I wavered on going out for a run. I'm still wavering.

This reluctance to go out in insane weather has instilled a certain sadness, because it reminds me that I'm not training for the Iditarod this winter. There's a sense of loss, not having that in my life, which right now means I don't have even a remotely rational reason to go out and face the 65 mph blowing rain with a sense of duty. Now, if I go out in the hurricane, it's because I'm crazy enough to go out in the hurricane, not because I ha…

On water, on ice

The alarm clock went off well before sunrise, to a morning thick with fog and drizzling rain. Sean and I had harbored ambitions about Mount Olds, that scary mountain that I couldn't summit a month ago — and now it's November and requires snowshoes and an ice ax and an avalanche beacon and seven hours of free time before work. Those ambitions dissolved in the cold rain, and it was not hard to let them go. Sleep comes easily to the relieved.

And just like that, it was nearly 10 a.m., and I was just about ready to give up on the day when Sean suggested we go sea kayaking on Mendenhall Lake instead. I really wanted to, but wavered. For reasons that wouldn't make any sense to him, I am every bit as scared of paddling across the calm surface of a lake as I am of climbing a 4,500-foot monster mountain on November 10. I have an irrational fear of water that runs deep, which I can trace back to the time I accidentally wandered into a water-blasting ride at Sesame Street World in Tex…

Gold Ridge

Another stellar day today. Sean and I were able to get out for a fun hike up Gold Ridge - a little wallowing in waist-deep drifts on the way up, and a little sledding on our butts on the way back. I'm plotting another adventure, so I don't have much time to blog tonight, but I wanted to post my pictures. Bluebird sky and sparkling snow — it's like a divine, calorie-burning dessert. I'm a happy hiker.

Sean standing over Gastineau Channel. This is before the wallowing began in earnest.

The wind-drifted snow created cool ice formations.

Juneau's version of the desert.

Sean walks along Gold Ridge. I really like this photo.

The Juneau Ridge and a fog-shrouded Blackerby Ridge in the distance.

Looking toward Sheep Mountain and Clark Mountain.

This tower of unknown origin toppled over and was devoured by rime ice.

Sean brought homemade pizza, topped with asparagus, tomatoes and Yukon Gold potato slices, to snack on at the top. It wasn't even frozen yet.

As we slid down, clouds …