Saturday, November 26, 2011

Culture shock

As the three of us ran into the finish line together - Beat, me and our new Canadian friend Patrick - I absorbed the strange familiarity of the scene. Beautiful Nepali children twirled in rapid circles, world flags flapped in the breeze, and the November sun cast brilliant light on the 8,000-meter peaks towering over the valley. A race official draped a medal over my neck as an old man dabbed red paint on my forehead. We had come a long way in one week. Farther than I could yet understand.

Contrasting the celebratory scene was a memory from the night before the race began, in Camp One just outside of Pokhara. I stumbled out of my tent for the fifth time that night and sprint-shuffled to the toilet, making it just in time to experience the startling sensation of purging a nearly clear liquid out of two ends simultaneously. I have had the flu and intense food poisoning before, but I had never before been so sick to really experience what it's like to have a body reject itself. As I stumbled back to my tent, I became so weak and dizzy that I had to lay down in a rice paddy, with my head resting on a clump of grass. They sky was white with stars, surrounding a sliver moon. The snowy mass of Annapurna South seemed to glow in the starlight. "If I don't start the race tomorrow, they won't let me continue. I won't be able to see any of it. Any at all."

I don't remember much about stage one. I remember Beat coaxing me out of the tent to the starting line and force-feeding me Hi-Chew candies. I remember sucking down sips of water at the first checkpoint and gasping as I struggled to keep it down. The race volunteer looked so concerned I thought for sure they were going to pull me out of the race, if I didn't quit myself. I remember wanting to quit. I remember Beat pulling me up the first mountain by holding one of my trekking poles as I limped along behind him. I remember vomiting water and Hi-Chews right in front of two Nepali children. I remember taking stone steps one at a time between rests with the other sick back-of-packers. I remember the Annapurna skyline in the sunlight. Actually, I guess there's a lot I remember about stage one. It was a difficult challenge unlike anything I've ever taken on.

I didn't want to gut out the first stage of Racing the Planet Nepal but I did. I'm so glad I did. It was an incredible experience and as the time comes I'll have much more to say about it, and of course tons more photos. More to come.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Links to the other side of the world

Beat put me on a mandatory absolute taper after I complained of *slightly* sore knees during our ride on Sunday (hardly my fault. I believe it was Beat who coaxed me into powering that hog of a Fatback up 2,500 feet of hill.) Complete rest is working out for the best anyway as I've plunged into a whirlpool of things to do, including calling practically every pharmacy in Santa Clara County in search of a backordered typhoid vaccine.

And suddenly it's here. Late Tuesday night we leave for Nepal. There's about 36 hours of travel in there, but eventually, theoretically, we will end up in Nepal. Until two months ago I had never even ventured outside of North America and now I'm traveling to a region that is geographically and culturally unlike anything I've ever experienced. It's been a perspective-changing year of adventure for me, and this one is the largest of all.

The race Beat and I will be participating in begins November 20. The route covers 155 miles and 30,000 feet of climbing in the foothills of the Annapurna Range in six stages. There are more than 200 competitors. Beat has placed in the top 10 in past Racing the Planet events. We are not planning on running together. In fact, my plan is to save my knees and satiate my camera's memory card by largely power-hiking through the stages, which average about 25 miles each. I'll save the hurrying for less sensory-overloading adventures. But, if you're interested, you can follow my progress at these links:

Follow the latest news and results of Racing the Planet Nepal:
Event Web site
Daily stage updates
Daily results
Stage photos
Breaking news

There is a fair chance that I will have little to no Internet access during the next three weeks, so this blog will have to go on a mandatory taper itself (although I'm confident the post-Nepal deluge will more than make up for it.) In the meantime, the holidays are coming up. If you have someone on your list who is into cycling, adventure, or reading about cycling adventures, consider giving them one of my books. Both are discounted for the holidays and will be available for shipping after I return around the first week of December. "Be Brave, Be Strong" is the story of my attempt to ride as fast as I could down the spine of the continent in the 2009 Tour Divide. Since I released the book in June, it has received a number of positive reviews, and promises hours of entertainment during the long winter months. (The other one, "Ghost Trails" is about winter adventure on the Iditarod Trail in Alaska.)

Order signed copies of "Be Brave, Be Strong" for $12.95 each at this link. The books will be shipped with a personal message to the address of your choice after Dec. 10.

Signed copies of "Ghost Trails" are available for $14.95 and the two books together are $25.95. Priority shipping is $4.95 for up to three books.

And, if you don't want to wait for early December shipping, you can order from Amazon at this link.

Or, if you have a brand new e-reader on your Christmas list, you can order copies of the eBook at these links. The Kindle versions include photos for only $4.99. The iPad and Nook versions are discounted to $2.99.
"Be Brave, Be Strong" for Kindle
"Ghost Trails" for Kindle
"Be Brave, Be Strong" on iTunes and B & N Nook
"Ghost Trails" on iTunes and B & N Nook
Saturday, November 12, 2011

Three adventures and a wedding

A deeper exhaustion was setting in, the kind that seems to trickle through my veins like chain lube on a cold morning. Even simple tasks lagged beneath a slow drip of energy. Tiredness like this doesn't happen in an explosive burnout; rather, it seeps in through the cracks, the bike racing and the hiking, the sleep deprivation and the shivering, the calorie deficits and traveling, always moving. Bill, Mo and I didn't arrive in Draper until late Tuesday evening, and then there was lots to do — laundry and unpacking, hanging up wet camping gear, shower and important e-mails, dinner in there somewhere. My dad pointed to a pair of snowshoes and poles he had borrowed from his friend. "We can go hiking in the morning, if you want," he said.

I stayed up way too late writing a blog entry, which, like a diary, I use as an outlet for images and thoughts that I sometimes just have to get out of my system before I can sleep. But 8 a.m. came awful early. Maybe I haven't adjusted to Mountain Time yet. Then I remembered, Daylight Savings Time already took care of that. The extra hour hardly helped my cause; I was either racing a bike or vomiting. Either way, that hour took place a long time ago, or at least felt that way, and time's slow trickle only added to my feelings of sluggishness. But cutting tracks up the snow-blanketed Wasatch Mountains is just not something I can do anytime I please, especially with my dad. I loaded the borrowed gear into his truck. We drove to the Red Pine trailhead, which was completely empty despite the bluebird morning, and started hiking through a foot of fresh powder. Dumped by a big weekend storm, it was the first major snowfall of the winter. We were tromping down the season's base.

The air was a brisk 25 degrees or so, but the reflections of the sun and muscle burn of powder stomping soon brought my energy levels back to normal. I've long believed that all it takes for me to snap out of slug mode is a good, hard climb — at least until the endorphins wear off. Regardless, I was really enjoying myself. My dad, who is about to enter his first full season of winter hiking, only recently discovered the joys of the snow slog. Breaking trail in deep snow requires the effort of three to four miles to travel one — of this I am convinced — and no other numbers really matter. Two and a half hours of hard stomping brought us four miles and 3,000 feet of elevation gain to the frozen shoreline of Upper Red Pine Lake — altitude 10,200.

"Wow, feels high up here," I said to my dad, although the moderate altitude really just seemed like an convenient excuse. I felt tired as would if I had run twelve or sixteen miles, although I acknowledge that my tiredness was more cumulative than a reflection of the difficulty of the hike. After all, my dad felt fine. We examined the route to the upper ridge and debated climbing there. Excitement prevailed, and I really wanted to go. However, the conditions on the upper slope were discouraging. There was too little snow over the boulders to travel with the snowshoes, but too much to simply hike and not risk a bad ankle or knee injury. We agreed that Upper Red Pine Lake was a great final destination, and loped back down the trail as my exhaustion settled in like a peaceful blanket.

I vowed to rest over the next two days, but I think anyone who as been part of a close relative's wedding understands how that didn't really happen. I started to wonder if I had dug a hole I wouldn't be able to crawl out of before Nepal, but in the same breath, I wasn't really that concerned. There was no acute strain, and no pain — just peaceful, almost blissful fatigue. Evolution gave us all the ability to walk for five days straight, and modern culture gave us the ability to choose not to. The more I experiment with endurance sports, the more I believe endurance is a matter of choices more than physical abilities or exceptional talent. I decided to choose to not be tired, and hauled some more heavy boxes across the parking lot while wearing a bridesmaid dress and stiff shoes. Here I am with my sister, Lisa, who is a full-time, swing-shift nurse and the mother of an extremely active 20-month-old. Compared to her, my own claims to tiredness are pathetic excuses.

And it was a fantastic experience to see my sister Sara and her new husband Spencer so happy. It was also fun to visit with people who I haven't seen in 15 years. Now my baby sister's all growed up, sniff. And yes, I will purposefully rest as much as I can in the week I have remaining before Racing the Planet Nepal begins. My three Utah adventures and being a part of Sara's wedding were more than worth the withdrawals I had to make from my energy bank, and the deficit won't last long. I'm back in Cali now, meeting Beat's new hexapod robot (yeah, there's a funny story; boys and their toys). I'm also unpacking, packing, back to running (six miles today, felt great), nervous, excited, loving the adventure of life.
Thursday, November 10, 2011

Recovery in Zion

My earliest memories of the outdoors — well, beyond a kiddie pool in the grass and Texas fire ants — take place in Zion National Park. There is something about evening light on towering cliffs in the Court of the Patriarchs that inspires a bewildered and lasting kind of awe, even in a six-year-old. I love this place. I sought it out frequently as a teenager and once crossed the entire park from north to south as a twenty-year-old backpacker. I still get back as often as I can, preferably in the late fall, after the crowds have gone and the canyon has erupted in a palette of primary colors — red rocks, yellow leaves and blue sky.

Bill had never visited Zion before, so I convinced him to take a couple of days after the 25 hours of Frog Hollow to explore the park. "Call it active recovery," I said with a wry grin. The three of us hadn't slept at all on Saturday night, I rode a mountain bike 169 miles and Bill cranked out an unfathomable 260. Really, what we should have done was found the nearest bed and collapsed for three days, but we convinced ourselves that five hours of leisurely hiking would work just as well.

Our first active recovery adventure was the Angel's Landing trail, where a blaze of fall colors lined the cliffs. Bill brought his big DSLR camera and the hikes involved a stop every three minutes or so to capture the moment. As evidenced by this blog post, I was pretty camera happy myself. And if you've ever been on a hike with three camera-crazed people, you'll understand how slow, stop-and-go hiking can sometimes be even more exhausting than running. But the scenery was incredible.

Angel's Landing is an impressive example of extreme trail engineering. These are the "switchbacks" that allow people to amble up what used to be a cliff.

Then come the chains that aid people across a narrow sandstone fin and actual cliffs. Bill and I were both struggling quite a bit on this section — blame sore quads, numb fingers and weakened legs. At one point I got down in a squat and wasn't sure I could lift myself back up. Bill also wasn't a huge fan of the exposure. But wow, what a view.

There was a dusting of new snow in the higher elevations. That and the diminishing clouds made for a dramatic skyline.

Gazing over the 1,500-foot sheer drop to the valley below, while feeling proud of ourselves for managing a 1,500-foot climb one day after a 25-hour race.

Bill learns how Angel's Landing earned its name.

Bill, Mo and I gather for a group portrait at the top.

Somebody built a snowman with the last of the melting snow at the top. His face seems to convey a kind of existential crisis.

Working our way back down the chains. Again, the sore quads were not happy.

We arrived at the bottom of the canyon and started up the Emerald Pools trail. I haven't even been there since I was a child (if you've ever visited Zion's during the peak tourism months, you'll understand why.) But it was a treat to go in the fall.

Surprising how difficult four miles with about 400 feet of climbing can feel. But wow, worth it.

We spent the night at the national park campground, trying to use our still-somewhat-wet Frog Hollow gear to stay warm. We built a fire and sipped chili-pepper-laced hot chocolate, then retreated to our tents as overnight temperatures dropped into the low 20s. I woke up several times in the night thanks to restless leg syndrome, and went for moonlight walks to calm down my twitching muscles as I sipped water to quell a ragged cough.

The silver moonlight on the cliffs was stunning. But by 7 a.m. I felt fully spent rather than rested, and still had to make my way through the morning as Bill and Mo got a slow start. Keeping yourself warm can be surprisingly strenuous if you don't have much energy to begin with. I walked and packed up and ate breakfast and walked some more as my core temperature just continued to dip lower and lower. In its own way, my shivering morning at the campground felt like as much of an endurance test as Frog Hollow itself.

But most of that was forgotten as the bluebird day revealed itself. We vehicle-toured the eastern side of the park and managed one hike on the Canyon Overlook Trail — two miles round trip with a short nap on the ledge. Still wrapped in my down coat, wool socks and mittens at 50 degrees, I pulled my hat over my face and basked in the sun as the chill finally started to melt away from my core.

It was a beautiful, if not perfect, way to recover from Frog Hollow.
Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Twenty two hours

Why would you want to ride your bike around in circles for 25 hours? I mean really, why is that fun? Or satisfying?

The truth is, I adore 24-hour mountain bike racing, because the experience can be anything you want it to be. If you want to get a bunch of your friends together and knock out some laps while you eat pizza and drink beer, you're welcome. If you want to don fairy wings and a tutu and race solo on a 37-pound fat bike, you're welcome. If you're a numbers geek who wants to test a well-crafted strategy, you're welcome. If you simply want to ride your bike a lot and feed your endorphine addiction, you're welcome. And if you want to race until your eyes bleed, you're welcome. I appreciate this democratic, free-spirited approach. The 24-hour race entices a full spectrum of enjoyable characters in a bike binging festival complete with live music, fire jumping and baked goods. Really, what's not to like?

The 25 Hours of Frog Hollow is touted as "the world's longest one-day mountain bike race," because it takes place over the fall-back portion of Daylight Savings Time, when there actually are 25 hours in a day. The race is held on a rolling desert mesa just outside Zion National Park on a 13-mile loop consisting of jeep roads, swooping singletrack, and a few miles of mildly technical chunk just to keep everybody honest. Now in its third year, the late-season race boasted more than 200 sign-ups, with an impressive 50-plus people in the solo category. The list included a few friends and several more people who I've wanted to meet for a while. And the course is fantastic, with jaw-dropping scenery around every corner and an amusement park-worthy descent that I could ride a hundred times and never grow tired of that trail.

Still, I didn't plan to sign up for the race this year for several reasons. First and foremost, my big event of the year — Racing the Planet Nepal — fell only two weeks later, and I was concerned about recovery. Not only that, but training for a self-sufficient stage race on foot really couldn't be more different than training for a 25-hour mountain bike race, and I wasn't about to cut into my Nepal preparations. Third, I felt my base was precarious at best, thanks to severe reduction in my bike mileage this year, the result of an uptick in running, travel and injuries. Fourth, if I crashed my bike or otherwise injured myself in a way that prevented me from participating in Racing the Planet Nepal, I would never, never forgive myself.

But my good friend from Montana, Bill Martin, was planning to return to Frog Hollow and never gave up on trying to convince me to join him. As began to plan logistics for traveling to Utah for my sister's wedding, I realized I wouldn't even have to necessarily go out of my way to make the trip. Then, to complicate matters, Beat — who has finished a couple of Racing the Planet events and knows exactly how tough they are — encouraged this inadvisable mountain bike diversion and even went so far as to sign me up in the solo women's category without my direct consent. Perhaps it was meant to be.

Photo by Dave Nice
But I have never been one to take the most reasonable route, even within my own questionable endeavor. I showed up in Utah with a single duffle bag of supplies, including a day's worth of "nutrition" that I scavenged from the scraps in my cupboard. Most of the rest of the gear was warm clothing, which I brought because the forecast was calling for overnight temperatures in the low 20s, about 50 degrees colder than anything I've become accustomed too since I moved to California. Because bike transport is so spendy, I rented a race bike from Over the Edge Sports, a Niner R.I.P. 9 with loads of travel — and a lot weight. What kind of idiot rides a completely untested bike in a 25-hour solo race? Yeah, that was me. I didn't even remember to bring my own saddle. But I have to say, the Niner was a sweet ride. I like the big bikes.

Bill and his girlfriend, Mo, picked me up at my parents' house in Draper, and the three of us made our way to the southwestern corner of the state. Bill, who was sponsored in this race, set up an elaborate staging area in the cold rain. My staging area is that backpacker tent in the background. Happily for me, Bill said I could huddle under his canopy and even ask his pit crew, Mo, for favors. But I resolved to be as self-sufficient as possible.

The weather did not improve on Saturday morning, when we awoke to cold rain that became a driving sleet during the pre-race meeting. I felt nervous about the conditions but tried to improve my outlook by telling myself that horrible weather was a good thing, and might even give me a competitive edge I might not otherwise have. But despite my confidence that I could gut out the horrors of a cold, wet morass — deep down I was not looking forward to the suffering that entailed.

Luckily, the weather broke and the sky started to clear just before the 10 a.m. start of the race. In Frog Hollow tradition, the clock instantly set back to 9 a.m. and the group set out for 25 hours desert bliss.

There was fresh snow on the surrounding bluffs, almost down to the higher elevations on the trail. A stiff, frigid headwind greeted us on the climb, which I purposely started off the very back so I could stop and shoot photos without causing a disruption. I'm always most enthusiastic about taking pictures at the beginning of races, and I never regret taking the time to do so. Sure, it causes me to put in my slowest times when I have the most energy, but usually by hour twelve I am so steeped in a schizophrenic wave of bliss, self-loathing and apathy that I don't even bother to shoot glazed-eye self portraits in the dark. And yet after the pain has ended and the glory subsides, these images remain, and they bring back memories of the good hours.

Ah, the good hours. Thanks to that cold wind, it never felt particularly warm, even though temperatures probably climbed all the way into the mid-40s. I slowly moved up through the pack and chatted with fellow characters at the back, the guys wearing tutus and other last-minute, in-over-their-heads entrants such as myself.

I genuinely enjoyed the initial jeep road ascent — after all, steady climbing is something I am good at. The climb was also the only part of the course where I was even remotely "fast." I was riding for "Team Self Preservation," which meant I was so overcautious about injuring myself that I didn't take even the slightest chances, and purposefully walked around several obstacles that I could normally ride, but didn't want to test the consequences of my slim margin of error. So the rockier parts of the course became a tedious chore, and the climb was physically taxing, but there was always a reward on the horizon — the Jem Trail.

The Jem Trail is actually the first piece of singletrack I ever rode on a mountain bike, on a borrowed Cannondale 12-speed way back in 2002. The trail is still every bit as thrilling and fun to me as it was back then. It flows across the plateau like a ribbon in the sand, contouring the rolling landscape with banked turns and a smooth surface that promotes high speeds. I could ride it fifteen times in a row happily, and ambitiously hoped to log this many descents.

In juxtaposition to the fast and flowing Jem Trail was several miles along the rim of the Virgin River, a trail that Bill refers to in a hushed and hateful tone as "those rocks." I would add "soul-destroying" as an adjective. The problem with the rocks was that there wasn't anything terribly difficult about them — most were broad and flat, and piled in such a way that the magic line wasn't hard to find. But unless you were fully alert and paying attention, it was all too easy to slide off a ledge and slam into the side of another rock or overcorrect and veer off the trail. I had two near misses on the rocks before I decided I would add them to my list of walking sections. This earned me more slowness and also a mounting frustration with the section, because the rocks weren't that easy to push, either.

Meanwhile Bill was motoring along, lapping me once every three or so laps, which means I had plenty of chances to say hello. He told me he had broken himself in an effort to hold off a guy who went out fast and ended up burning out anyway. Every time he passed, he looked like he was nearing that bleeding edge, and still he stopped to ask me how I was doing. "Bill, I'm fine," I said as though that answer should be obvious. After all, I'm me. Thanks to my mindset and the way I train, I really only have one speed, and it's not usually that painful to hold it indefinitely — surely not in as little as 25 hours. At the same time, my cruise control mentality can and has put me on top of several races. Slow and steady. The tortoise and the hare.

Slow and steady. Soak in the scenery. Get unexpectedly blissed out on the random inclusion of a Lady Gaga song in my iPod playlist. Climb hard until my head spins and heart vibrates with raw energy. Launch into the Jem Trail with the cold air burning my cheeks. Sprint down the fireroad. Curse and stumble on the rocks. Vow to quit early. Obsess about the peanut butter sandwich I'm going to make after this lap. Plan a strategy for quicker pit stops. Forget it. Stumble some more on the rocks. Curse some more. Bribe myself with the promise of a nap. Arrive at rocking timing tent to fresh banana bread. Forget why I was so mad. Repeat.

The problem with an all-day race in November is that it includes a lot of night riding— more than 13 hours worth. Added to the extended darkness was the already cool weather and clearing skies that turned the desert to an icebox. It didn't take long for the temperature to drop below freezing. My Camelback valve froze, and I had to chew on the hose to loosen the ice. I got caught out on my first night lap underdressed, and shivered in my pit as I pulled on extra layers, mittens and vapor barrier socks. Racers with thermometers told me it was 25 degrees, possible as low as 20 degrees in the lower washes. But my winter layers allowed me to pedal in equilibrium. I made significantly fewer stops and continued to crank out laps in the frost-tinted darkness.

I had finished my first lap in last place in the solo women's category, and slowly worked my way up to fourth place by evening. After soon as darkness fell, Mo informed me that I had moved up to third place, and then second. By early morning I was in first position, ahead of several sponsored racers who I assumed were unable or unwilling to deal with the cold. I knew if I just kept motoring along, I could likely hold on to the lead to the end. I was well on pace for fifteen laps, which had been my no-freaking-way outside goal. I had weird mixed feelings about possibly winning this race, one I didn't feel I deserved to win. "No one races to be the best at cold tolerance, except for me," I thought.

It's possible this strange psychological reaction contributed to what happened next, although I'll never really know. But during lap thirteen, my race went from nearly effortless to unbelievably painful, in a single heartbeat. What happened is that I had been severely craving salt for a while, but didn't really have anything salty to eat (I know, poor race nutrition planning, I know.) I did have a can of tuna in my after-race camp food, so I pried it open and started gulping it down. The tuna was quite possibly the driest substance I have ever ingested, like eating chunks of sand. I'm not sure what about my body chemistry made the tuna taste so dry, but I guzzled at least a liter of water and some Diet Pepsi to get it down.

I felt a huge burst of energy afterward and motored up the climb at full intensity, which was in all fairness about the same intensity I was holding at the beginning of the race. But by the time I hit the top of the final steep climb, I had become incredibly dizzy, to the point where I had to put my foot down and force deep breaths to collect my senses. I launched into the Jem Trail as nausea took over. I stopped pedaling and tried to coast but the bike seemed to slow to a stop, forcing me to pedal, as though the Jem Trail suddenly became a climb. A gradually downhill fireroad also forced what felt like maximum effort. By the time I reached the trailhead to the soul-crushing rocks, I was vomiting tuna and water everywhere. Instead of feeling better afterward, vomiting made me feel even worse. I relented to walking the three-mile rock section extremely slowly as most of the field passed me, asking me if I was okay. I said yes, but I was a mess.

I stumbled back to the pit at 7 a.m. and collapsed in Bill's camp chair while crying to Mo that I was so sick and couldn't even muster the wherewithal to stand up. She told me she had a bad feeling about the tuna and I acknowledged that her judgement was probably sounder than my own after 22 hours of riding. But regardless of any poor decisions I had made, it was too late to do anything about it now. I knew I had plenty of time for one more lap, but I was convinced I felt so bad that I would probably have to walk anything that wasn't solidly downhill, and there wasn't much of that on the entire course. Thirteen miles of slow pushing was going to take me ... well, it was going to take me a long time. And I unfortunately possess the mindset that 24-hour racing is supposed to be fun. When it stops being fun, my motivation withers entirely, even with a potential win on the horizon.

I went to lay down in my tent to see if that made me feel any better. Mo informed me when my chaser had passed through the timing tent and went out for lap fourteen. I felt this wave of relief, because even though it meant I had a real decision to make, it also signaled to me that any potential undeserved win had become impossible, because there was no way I was going to successfully chase down anyone. Not in my condition. Still, I was disappointed in myself, because I had encountered a real test, an extreme low point. Challenges like these are fundamental in my "me against me" racing motivation, and overcoming these challenges has proven to be my largest personal reward. This time, I chose not to battle my low point. Instead, I writhed in my tent and waited for 10 a.m.

After 10 a.m. came and went, my thirteen laps at 22:00 put me in second place behind Bec Bale, who won with fourteen laps and the new women's solo course record at 24:55. If I had gone out again, it's likely she still would have beat me; I was moving that slow at the time. After four hours of fasting I was able to take in some Nuun (electrolyte-laced water), and after another hour or so I started on the simple carb route to recovery. Based on the way I was feeling the following day, I concluded my severe nausea was a result of poor food planning that created an electrolyte imbalance. But who really knows? Maybe I had a bad can of tuna and genuine food poisoning. There can really be so many reasons for this type of reaction. All that really matters is how we confront the challenges that come our way.

Still, I am happy with the overall result of the race. I didn't think I'd actually get on the podium, let alone have a real shot at the win. And except for that last hour, I had so much fun. Bill ended up winning the men's solo race, in a rather incredible come-from-behind effort against fellow snow bike racer Dave Byers, who is one of the competitors I was looking forward to meeting. There's a good story there if Bill ever finds the time to blog about it.

Thank you to race director Cimarron and all the volunteers — an awesome group that included Fixie Dave Nice and Bill and Kathi Merchant — for sitting out all night in the icebox to make Frog Hollow the fantastic event that it is.
Thursday, November 03, 2011

Six years

Pack training on Black Mountain, descending into the Silicon Valley.
That's how old this blog becomes today. Six years — that's about, what, 72 in Internet years? Arcticglass has become that old woman you see taking her little dog on a morning walk around the neighborhood. She has a bit of a limp and usually wears way more warm clothing than she needs, but at least she's still getting out there. She's the one who still remembers what it was like when you actually had to know some code to post any graphics in your layout, and recalls the days when most of the Blogger templates looked like a mixture of creepy wallpaper and Powerpoint slides. And yet, she misses those good old days, the days before Facebook and Twitter, when the kids had longer attention spans. Back then, she could still impress people with photos taken with a 2.1 megapixel pocket camera and posted as 112x200-pixel graphics, and people would actually read the story behind the photos (yeah, Flickr annoys her, too.) All the kids these days want to read is 140 characters of nothing, or stock images plastered with some kind of vague inspirational quote that will get you unfriended my your more discerning friends. At least those more discerning people still read blogs. Well, at least she hopes they do. She suspects maybe no one reads blogs anymore. But even if she's just sitting alone in her rocking chair, ranting to herself, she doesn't mind. You can do that kind of thing when you're old.

Yes, Arcticglass came on the scene in the heyday of blogs, and has gleaned much enjoyment out of her many prodigious years. Her progeny includes 1,413 posts, 18,293 comments, and beloved photos — almost too many to count. She sometimes wonders what her twilight years will bring, but she's not ready to wind down yet. There's still much blogging to be done, and many adventures to be had, even though November 3, 2005, was a long, long time ago.

Happy sixth blogiversary, Arcticglass.

I spent the evening packing my gear for the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow. I won't be indulging in any of my past lighthearted smack talk because I am starting to feel timid and nervous about the race. Although I rode a snow bike in the White Mountains 100 in March, I haven't raced a mountain bike since last year's Frog Hollow, which I raced duo with Beat. Training for a 100-mile foot race followed by months of injury and travel effectively cut mountain biking out of my summer activities. Adding to my feelings of inadequacy and underpreparation is the current weather forecast for Hurricane, which is calling for temperatures as low as 23 degrees. Jumping from 80 degrees straight into a full day and night of that is probably going to be a decent shock to my system. I can only hope I have some lingering muscle memory to help me cope with a long, frosty night. I did pack a lot of warm gear. To my sister, Sara: I hope you don't mind if I wear a bike jersey and tights to your wedding. I simply don't have room in my duffle for anything else. (I kid, I kid.)

Why is it that every time I visit the desert, I bring a deep freeze with me? I don't even live in Alaska anymore. Ah, well. It's nearly time to stop whining and start riding. I can't wait! Wish me luck.
Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Actually, I don't like packing ...

... but when I have a big adventure in the works, the kind where much of my enjoyment and perhaps even my survival hinges on being well-prepared, I like to be, well, prepared. I am trying to finalize all of my equipment for my weeklong trek in Nepal, because once I leave for Utah on Thursday I will effectively be in transit for the rest of the month. Today I gathered up everything that I intend to haul during the 155-mile stage race. It was quite the haul; the little things sure do add up.

I haven't yet weighed the food but I'm guessing it's close to half the total weight. If I have time I'd like to weigh and then calculate the actual calorie numbers. I have seven dinners (700-800 calories each), three breakfasts (Beat and I will split the breakfasts, so 300-400 calories), four bars per day (about 800 calories), and supplemental peanut butter and jam (about 450 calories per day.) I threw in three small bags of gummy candy as a treat. This gave me the idea to replace my own stash of food bars with strategic candy bars, which I can later trade with other competitors for food bars at a three-to-one or four-to-one ratio. I mean, after four days of Builder Bars, what wouldn't you trade for a Snickers? It's really not a terrible idea. If I was going to cut weight from my pack, the food supply would be the place to do it. Anything else would be minimal. I'm already bringing only just enough clothing to stay warm if we have weather in the 30s or 40s and rain (this is possible, even likely.) If we have that kind of weather and I'm already soaking wet, well, I better hope those gummy candies help stoke the core furnace, and accept that I won't be feeling my fingers and toes for a while.

Some of this stuff is required race gear but not a terrible idea — blister/first aid kit, emergency bivy, compass/whistle, two headlamps, flashing red light, multitool, hat with neck cover, extra socks, gloves, fleece hat, rainproof jacket, sunscreen, sunglasses tights, shorts, two shirts, sleeping bag (not pictured here) and electrolyte caps. I added a few more drugs, toothbrush, wet wipes, soap, tablet towels, iodine, knee braces, sleeves, buff, gaiters, underwear, rain pants, mitten shells, insect repellent, titanium spoon and a more extensive foot kit. My pad is a RidgeRest Solite, and yes it is my preferred sleeping pad and yes I want every square inch of it (sleeping pads seem to be one of the larger points of contention when it comes to backpacking and bikepacking.) I will bring the tyvek suit and flip flops for camp. We're going to spend plenty of time sitting around and I expect to be fully soaked with hamburger feet; for about 8 ounces total, they will at least be a worthy experiment in warmth and comfort. I snuck in a pair of fleece socks for sleeping. I'm also going to bring an iPod shuffle and a charger that uses two AA batteries. Totally worth it IMO. I'm bringing my "big" camera, also worth it. There's a chance I will sneak in a back-up-camera, just in case. I think the only thing I have left to acquire are packets of Via from Starbucks.

Altogether, the pack weighed in at 21.2 pounds without water (or the camera, which I forgot to put in before I weighed it, but including the sleeping bag.) I could probably agonize and shave another two pounds off my optional gear, or give up my comfort items, or decide to put myself on a diet, or I could just woman up and carry a 25-to-30-pound pack. This is, after all, a vacation, and I think being hungry and cold sucks worse than having sore shoulders and moving slow. The knee braces and poles are a crucial part of my kit, but my knees have been feeling progressively stronger during my recent training runs with the loaded pack. I think I am *nearly* ready; as ready as I can be.

Other than that, I am tapering. Beat and I enjoyed a quiet weekend of running with the packs and Halloween dinner with friends. Today after a productive morning of writing and afternoon of packing, I didn't get out the door for my ride until 5:20 p.m. I was a little shocked when it started to get dark thirty minutes later. It's still 80 degrees during the day here, so I almost forget that the winter months are upon us.

I am having a weird sort of taper. I feel strong during my hard-effort pack runs but weakish during my mellow, short bicycle rides. How this bodes for the 25 Hours of Frog Hollow, it's tough to say. At least I don't have phantom pains or an imaginary cold quite yet. Currently the weather forecast for Hurricane, Utah, calls for showers on Friday, and clear on Saturday with a high of 45 degrees and low of 27. I used to be a decent cold-weather rider, but now I live in a place where it's 80 degrees pretty much all the time, at least into November. I'm going to be one of the least acclimated people out there, so yes, I am a little concerned about the cold.

But I am excited! Only five more days. I guess this means I should really start to think about what food and gear I'm going to use during Frog Hollow. I haven't even begun to pack for that one.