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Showing posts from March, 2012

Finish and aftermath

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The sweet release of sleep only lasted about twenty minutes before I woke up with wrenching pain in my right big toe — the pain of renewed circulation. I endured another twenty minutes of intense throbbing and frostbite panic before I remembered that my toe had gone numb all the way back before checkpoint three, and the reason it went numb is because it was crammed against the tip of my boot while I pedaled. I tried to drift back to sleep, but then the coughing fits returned. I'd had a bunch of coughing attacks out on the trail but these were worse, searing my throat and producing crystallized chunks of phlegm that were a disconcertingly dark shade of brown. I managed to sleep fitfully for two more hours, then woke up to the sensation of shivering in my zero-degree sleeping bag. I checked the car thermometer. It was still four below outside at 8 a.m.

My plan had been to just wait at the trailhead for Beat to finish. I was too tired and apathetic to do anything else. But when I rea…

Fade to white, part two

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I didn't actually believe I was going to walk the entire rest of the race; I just needed a mental reprieve from maneuvering my bike and crashing and thrashing out of the snow and doing it all over again. I blamed my fatigue on my heart, but my mind was tired, too — tired of intense focus and anxiety. I pulled over to let a few skiers pass, gliding over the fluff. "It's too bad you don't even get to enjoy the downhill," Anchorage skier Abby Rideout said as she coasted by me. "Meh!" I called out with an exaggerated shrug as though I wasn't jealous of her effortless speed, which I was.

I hiked to the edge of the ice lakes and pulled microspikes over my boots. The ice lakes are not lakes at all but a narrow, sloping valley covered in a film of wet ice known as overflow. Overflow forms when an upwelling of ground water seeps over the surface of the snow in freezing conditions, building variable layers of ice and open water. The condition of overflow chan…

Fade to white

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My lactic acid-saturated legs were stomping out another 31-minute-mile when I crumbled. Or, more specifically, my heart crumbled. Its once enthusiastic thumping had faded to a humming-bird buzz, and a seemingly erratic one at that. Even this 1.9 mph bike-pushing pace was driving me dangerously close to what felt like a maximum effort, and I began to wonder if my heart had the capability to quit before I did. Is this what happens when athletes blow up? I mean not just bonk, but completely implode? I had often wondered, but I can't say I've ever gone hard enough for long enough to really find out. I suspected the White Mountains were going to show me exactly what it was like to defeat myself, here in the depthless expanse of the Cache Mountain Divide, where vision fades to white and the wind drives breathtaking cold in late March. Not the best place to suddenly feel like my body was broken.

Ah, back at the White Mountains 100. My favorite race. As Beat put it, the WM100 is one of…

We interrupt this spring ...

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... for more winter fun! And a story:

When I flew to Anchorage to run the Susitna 100, I spent my first night in Alaska with a good friend who I've known since college, Chris, and his wife Becky. I had spent most of the day Wednesday at various airports or on planes. I get airsick when I travel and never eat or drink much, so I was already depleted Thursday morning when I downed two cups of coffee while chatting with Becky. She mentioned she was going to go for an hour-long ski with her dog before work and asked if I wanted to join her. I didn't have ski equipment but I pictured classic skiing as something about walking speed (because when I do it, it is), so I agreed to accompany her on foot.

I threw on a coat over my cotton hoodie and put on extra socks, a warm hat, and gloves, because it was 20 degrees outside and I was still acclimated to balmy California. We hit a groomed multi-use trail near her house, and Becky immediately took off down the pre-set ski track. She was br…

Woodside to the sea

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You know what I love about road biking? How much distance and elevation it enables me to cover during relatively small efforts. Some days, I like a good challenge. Others, I simply want to cover miles, view new scenery, and taste different air. Today I had errands in Palo Alto, so I decided to head to Woodside and point my road bike west. I had three hours, so today's goal was "what can I see in three hours?"

I rode up and over Skyline Ridge and down Tunitas Creek Road, a thin ribbon of pavement wending through the redwoods. The weather was almost unrealistically perfect. I was wearing a thin long-sleeved shirt and a pair of tights, and I was comfortable during both the climb and the descent — never hot nor cold. After seven miles of mostly coasting on a smooth surface amid a temperature equilibrium, I began to have a strange sensation that I wasn't even there — that I was somehow distant from this place, sitting on a stationary bicycle and watching tree trunks stream…

Spring fever

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Leah and I coasted down Steven's Creek Canyon in a splatter of mud and explosion of green. Green everywhere — wrapped around tree trunks, saturating the canopy and littering the trail. Interesting weather pounded Monte Bello Ridge during my training rides and runs all week — gale-force winds, soupy fog, heavy rain, and even sleet. And somewhere in there, while I was squinting against the sharp moisture and rewarming my numb fingers in a drenched set of mittens, spring came, and suddenly the winter-muted landscape turned green.

The last remnants of what passes for winter around here are still holding on at the higher elevations. After the sun came out during our lunchtime run, Beat and I could see a film of snow on the peaks across the Bay. But spring fever hit me hard this week. I've been scheduling May visits from friends,  and scheming strategies for the Stagecoach 400, including a potential training weekend in April. I'm mulling a summer full of mountain binges that I…

The action kilt

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When browsing through photos from the Iditarod Trail Invitational, my friend stopped at a snapshot of Beat and Anne at the finish in McGrath. "What's he wearing? Is that a skirt?"

"It's not a skirt!" I said with mock offense. "It's an action kilt!"

It's totally a skirt. This ingenious piece of gear insulates body parts that don't make their own heat while preventing sweat from the ones that do. Insulated skirts took off in the women's outdoor gear market a few years ago after women discovered they were the ideal way to keep their tushes toasty while avoiding the thigh chaffing and sweating that often accompany insulated pants. Plus, you can just wrap these skirts around your waist whenever a chill hits, no shoe removal required. In addition, they're pretty cute — especially the models offered by Skhoop.

I acquired a Sierra Designs Gnar down skirt a few months ago, then wore it on our New Years trekking trip in Alaska. When I ra…

Cramming for White Mountains

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After we returned to California on Friday, I decided it was time to launch some focused training for the White Mountains 100. Problem is, the race is in two weeks, and I am back in a land without snow. My snow bike weekend with the girls and two three-hour rides in Anchorage were a good jump-start to my all-too-short fat bike season. These rides were also a reminder from my body that running muscles and snow-biking muscles are not exactly the same muscles, and the latter felt pretty flimsy and out of shape. There isn't much I can do about that in two weeks, but I figured it couldn't hurt to load up my Fatback with winter gear and ride up some hills. Long, slow climbs are probably the closest simulation to the resistance of snow that I can find near my home. Climbing on dirt or pavement more closely resembles riding flat snow trails, whereas the White Mountains are full of trails that go up, well, mountains. But every little bit helps ...

I am trying mightily to resist the urge …

Thoughts on Beat's ITI

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It's true that we can only view others' experiences through the lens of our own, and for that reason, few can grasp what an event such as the Iditarod Trail Invitational is really like. Bits and pieces reach us when we remember times when we were cold, or exhausted, or fighting mind-numbing tedium, or frightened for our lives. We feel empathy, and believe we understand, but we don't. Not really. This is why I shy away from telling others' stories, but I wanted to express a few thoughts about Beat's Iditarod experience from an outsider's perspective. In time I'm sure he'll write about his experiences out there, what really happened, even if few can understand.

2012 was the year of weather for the Iditarod Trail Invitational. Walkers and cyclists who pushed through to the finish saw raging blizzards and high winds obliterate the trail several times over, soft and sugary snow, rock-hard wind drifts, overflow, and a temperature swing of 90 degrees, from 40 a…

Return to Juneau

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Amid the whirlwind of activity during my three weeks in Alaska, I never had a chance to post about my short trip to Juneau. Thanks to an Alaska Air mileage ticket and a few extra days between the Susitna 100 and Beat's arrival in Anchorage, I had an opportunity to return to Southeast Alaska for the first time since I moved away in April 2010. I was excited to see old friends, eat a Silverbow bagel and drink some Heritage coffee, and walk across the Douglas Bridge while gazing lovingly at the Gastineau Channel. But more than anything, I wanted to visit some mountains.

Of all of the places I've lived, Juneau still holds the deepest level of affection in my heart. In many ways, Juneau feels more like home than Salt Lake City. In spite of myself I often bring up Juneau in casual conversation, enough so that most of my new friends have at some point asked me why I ever left. I tell them I had to leave because my life there just wasn't working. I felt I had given my best effort …