Monday, January 04, 2010

Alaska slickrock

The temperature was 11 degrees with a light breeze when I pedaled down my driveway at 10:04 a.m. The back end of my snow bike bounced dramatically because I had been too lazy to pump my tires up from 6 psi. I labored along the ice-slicked pavement and veered onto the Auke Lake trail, which wove through tall hemlock trees as my frosted eyelashes blinked rapidly in a strobelight of shadow and bright sun. I crossed Back Loop Road and veered onto the Lake Creek Trail, a treacherous drainage route with a solid inch of glare ice masked by a half inch of fresh snow. I pedaled tentatively across the slick surface and stopped to cinch up my studded boots for the 1,800-foot climb. I doubted I'd be able to ride any of the steep uphill trail under those conditions, but I had this hunch that the climb would be worth it, just the same.

I stomped hard with every step to plant my boot bolts into the hard ice before skittering the bike up yet another short pitch. It was slow, and I was sweating hard — a stream of fallen droplets was frozen to the front of my fleece jacket. I hoisted my behemoth of a bike over a couple of deadfalls as a group of skiers, who were carrying their skis on their backs and wearing creepers for the hike up, caught up to me.

"Did you ride up this trail?" a friendly man asked me.

"No," I said.

"Do you think you'll be able to ride down?" a woman chimed in.

"Not without killing myself," I said.

The man looked justifiably confused. "So, um, what are you doing with the bike?"

"I'm hoping there's crust in the meadows," I said.

The man shook his head. "It's too high," he said. "There's probably still powder up top."

"Possibly," I said. "But I figured it was worth a look."

"Well, good luck," the man said. "If nothing else, it looks like a great workout getting that thing up here."

I nodded and followed behind, continuing to chat with the skiers through the final minutes of the climb. At the meadow, they stopped to put on their skis and I sheepishly wheeled my bike onto the untrammeled snow, braced for sinking failure. I sat on the seat and started pedaling. The rubber gripped nicely to the hardpack and I started pedaling harder. Suddenly, I was moving faster. And faster. Until the treacherous icy trail faded into the background and the whole unhindered freedom of Spaulding Meadow opened up wide. I carved playful figure 8s, plummeted into drainages and mashed the pedals until I was free again. I closed my eyes and dreamed of sand and redrock and desert sun, in a frozen world so similar that I almost forgot where I was.

Until I opened my eyes and remembered. And smiled.

It was a fantastic ride:

Alaska Slickrock from Jill Homer on Vimeo.


  1. You hit it right on the money! I hiked up Lake Cr trail & skied Spaulding meadows a couple days ago. It was rock hard - some of the worst ski conditions ever. But - what a gorgeous place. Cold & sunny. Had a huge grin & couldn't stop laughing at the craziness of it the whole time I was there. That snow was so hard you could have driven a truck up there & hardly made a track.

  2. Me plus bike and gear equals about 175 pounds, and I punched in deep a few times and generally carved about a 1/2" to 2" track the entire way, so the crust wasn't quite truck worthy, but was fantastically fun just the same.

    I saw the skiers' tracks and it looked like they were having fun, too. That fresh snow on Sunday made a nice difference, I think. I'd head up tomorrow, but I think I might take advantage of one last nice day to go for a hike before the rain comes back. Of course, none of us like the rain.

  3. Trying to make my way back into the blogosphere in 2010. Of course you can't make a return without stopping in to see you, Jill. Another great post with great photos. Best of luck and hope 2010 is a fantastic adventure for you.

  4. Happy New Year, Jill!

    I got your book in my mailbox yesterday. I can't wait to sit down with a hot mocha and a blanket and read about your adventure.

  5. What a spooky photo; looks like you were riding up the hill when suddenly aliens levitated you to the mothership.
    Thanks for the video-really exciting ride.

  6. GREAT video!! I really enjoyed the videos you made early last year and am glad to see you make another one. That takes the feeling of "being there" to another level.

  7. Love the soundtrack. What is it?

  8. cool vid..havent heard that song for getting asked `did you cycle into work?`.try to explain its easier than driving in this weather were having in the UK..
    also having i think the only pugsley in scotland people freak out when they meet you up on a snow coverd hill and think it must be really hard..glad they all saw you flying down!

  9. Just watched your little video. Very cute. Yes it was "truck hard" when we were up on New Year's Day. Not so bad climbing up into the meadows and on to the highest ridge, but when we turned to work our way back I suddenly realized I was trying to balance on two little pieces of fiberglass with soft boots attached only at the toe with a small bar (we had our light touring gear) traveling steadily downhill at a relatively high speed across a hard frozen suncupped surface, very similar to shiny dented metal. Made for some hilarious balancing (especially when trying to turn or maneuver in any way) and added several points to our "if we can ski this, we can ski anything" chart. LOL!

  10. Thanks for the video. I know can understand why you do what you do: the same reason I climb.

  11. soundtrack is MGMT Fated to Pretend right?...

    I just got the book too, thanks!

  12. The song is MGMT's "Time to Pretend." Amusing choice, I know. I basically had it running through my head during the icy climb, and since I'm only willing to spend about 10 minutes making these videos, that's what went in.

  13. Dr. Insano's House of Pain approves!

  14. Hi Jill,
    Visiting you from my blogger friend, KB. I thought she was the only one who biked all winter! Guess I was wrong...
    Your video is amazing - I liked seeing your shadow. Wishing you great biking in 2010.

  15. It was nice to see sun, Jill! Great video!

  16. Jill,

    Love love love that song. I downlaoded it from Itunes about a month ago and probably listened to it 26 times on repeat right after, and still love it. Now I will think of you cycling through the frosty forest everytime I hear it. Thanks for the visual! Love you sister.

  17. Thanks, Sara! The idea of liking the same music as my 22-year-old sister almost makes me feel hip. Almost.

    Sorry to ruin this song for you with all of my snow and ice. ;-) Love you!

  18. I love the song! Monika, Paul, Jen and I saw MGMT play in SF this summer. They are good! Passion Pit too.


  19. What an amazing thing! Being able to ride in any direction through the meadow in the wintertime! All of the weather gods have to cooperate for that kind of experience to be possible! Thanks

  20. Gread vid w/ great music. Nice!


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