Friday, March 05, 2010

I guess this is the peak

I only had one goal for this weekend, and that was to do a lot of biking. This was my weekend to "peak" my rather scattershot training for the White Mountains 100, but I figured it was time to finally buckle down and put some long hours in the saddle. I tried to get all of my chores done during the week just so I would have all day to ride and all night to relax and visit friends on Thursday and Friday. I was aiming for 12-14 hours of pedaling over two days. And since the weather was forecast to be less than stellar (read: truly miserable — heavy wind, sleet, 32-35 degrees), I had to nix any kind of snow riding in favor of tagging some dead ends, which is what we here in Juneau are referring to when we go "road biking."

On Thursday I set out in hard-driving snow. I rode about 10 miles south into the wind with my eyes practically clamped shut, then decided to loop north instead. I stopped and grabbed my goggles just in time for the snow to deteriorate into steady rain, and continued out Glacier Highway toward the ultimate dead-end prize, "The End of the Road." Somewhere during this time I became fixated on the idea of tagging all of the major dead ends in town, which I once figured would net about 150 miles of riding. I've never ridden every road in Juneau in one day, or even in two days. It started to seem like a good goal — a way to give some sense of purpose to what was, in all honesty, long hours of pretty miserable riding.

I made it to mile 28, but the construction crew flagger on Glacier Highway told me they had just blasted and said I couldn't go any farther. When I protested and pointed out the truck she just let through, she said, "No bikers." I said, "But I'm wearing a helmet." She held her ground. "We'll be clearing the road for two more hours," she said. I turned around, frustrated that I wasn't going to be able to tag even my first dead end. But as I rode past the Herbert Glacier trailhead, I realized I could burn up some time attempting to reach the glacier by pedaling my mountain bike along the snowy trail.

The trail wasn't very snowy at all; it was literally a five-mile-long sheet of glare ice, with a few hundred yards of hard-packed snow and a tiny bit of dirt. The ice was thick and wet. I have a pair of studded tires on my mountain bike — Nokians, which are the best, supposedly — but I normally don't trust them as far as I can throw them. Still, I was feeling extra bold Thursday, and I figured the worst that would happen would be skidding out and landing in a clump of devil's club stalks. The studs actually got really good traction on the bumpy ice, and because the trail was so hard, I could ride as fast as I dared. As I neared the glacier, the trail shot up a steep embankment just above the Herbert River. I was nervous about the climb and didn't have much speed going into it. Sure enough, the rear tire skidded out about halfway up the hill. I put my right foot down but quickly realized my overboot had absolutely no traction on the wet ice, and both my body and bike were starting to slide backward. I lunged at the cliff to my left, grabbing a handhold and planting my left foot on a tiny rock sticking out of the ice just as the bike slid out behind me and skidded sideways all the way down the hill. I clung to the cliff, almost entirely supported by my hands, until I finally decided there was no way I could walk or climb down the trail. So I slowly lowered myself, sat on my butt, and slid down with my feet in front of me like a child on a slide. You'd think I'd be intimidated enough to turn around at that point, but I stood at the bottom assessing the short climb and finally decided I just needed more speed. I slipped and fell on the ice just walking my bike back to the point where I wanted to start. But I got back on the bike, gunned it with as much strength as I could muster, and powered up the ice with the studs crackling like bacon on the greasy surface. And I made it. I was seriously proud of myself. It was the best part of the whole miserable training weekend.

I went to the glacier, rode the ice-coated moraine for a bit, and returned to the highway. The flagger lady was still there, blocking the way. I wasn't quite ready to give up yet, so I formed a new brilliant idea about bypassing that section of highway on the beach. I have ridden long stretches of Eagle Beach before — however, never at high tide. I splashed through several sloughs before I landed in one that was a lot deeper than I had anticipated. Suddenly, the water was over my top tube, the bike stopped dead, and I put my foot down into hip-deep water. Not only did I get all of my food and extra clothing wet, but I soaked my feet and legs as well. At these temperatures, I have learned that soaked feet can go about an hour before things become seriously uncomfortable. I had at least 90 minutes of hard pedaling just to get home if I turned around right there, which, obviously, I did. I wasn't able to tag my dead end, but it was one of the more adventurous "road rides" I have ever done. And I still rode for seven hours, about 70 miles total.

Today, I aimed south again, but conditions were beyond brutal. The wind was driving the horizontal sleet so hard that it iced up my goggles within seconds, but without goggles I was entirely blind. Sideways gusts knocked me into traffic, and I couldn't look up for more than a couple seconds at a time. Luckily, I'm good at dressing for this kind of weather, so I was never cold. I was just miserable. There was nothing to see, nothing to do; I couldn't even listen to music because I had to rely on my sense of hearing to tell me where cars were since my eyes weren't working. The wind was blowing 25 mph, gusting to 45, with a mixture of snow and sleet and serious gray-out wetness. After two hours, I was 20 miles from home, thinking, "This is really quite stupid. I don't have to be doing this." I turned around right at that random point — 7-mile Douglas Highway — and rode the crazy tailwind all the way home. As the weather deteriorated even more, I put on a T-shirt and shorts and drove to the gym to finish out my last two hours of training on the elliptical trainer.

It wasn't what I thought it would be, but I got my 12 hours for the weekend. And because of the intermittent adventures and the fact that I managed to stay warm in complete crap weather, I feel good about how it went overall. I do think I'm physically ready for the White Mountains 100 — maybe not the best biker I could be, but I'm strong enough for most of what a race like that could throw my way. Hopefully.