Beat joked about my first foray into athletic doping, but I was unconvinced. A low-dose prescription of oral Prednisone that was still battling the rash that had spread across my body? No, all it did was reverse the zombificition my body had descended into during the week, and allowed me to sleep more than 45 minutes at a time. I was feeling normal again, that's all. Saturday's slow run after a week of low activity let me breathe easy again, and I hoped I'd continue to improve enough to embark on the solo mountain bike ride while Beat organized his Iditarod gear on Superbowl Sunday. Since it had only been two days since I was unwilling to get out of bed due to the discomfort and pain of simply moving, I kept my expectations low.
I managed a 9 a.m. start but felt sluggish for the first two hours, trying to wake up reluctant leg muscles while my head swirled in a thick mental fog. Beat and I went to a dinner party the evening before, and stayed up well past midnight eating lots of dessert, which resulted in a mild sugar hangover. At one point I decided I was just going to ride to the top of Black Mountain and descend Steven's Creek Canyon, because a 25-mile ride was still a decent comeback from how downtrodden I have been feeling for much of the past two weeks. But then I reminded myself that it was Super Bowl Sunday, providing a rare opportunity to enjoy largely deserted roads and trails on a warm and sunny Sunday afternoon.
I made it my mission to ride as much (legal) dirt and trail as I could. I looped around the trails above Steven's Creek and veered over to Long Ridge to contour the hillsides on the other side of Skyline. It's all steep climbing and descending without a break, but I noticed that as soon as my head fog finally cleared, I felt great. Not necessarily stronger than normal, but incredibly enthusiastic. Suddenly it didn't make sense to do anything but ride my bike all day long. So I turned west and descended into the expansive forests of Big Basin Redwoods State Park.
This place is located less than thirty miles from the traffic-clogged Silicon Valley, a small spine of mountains dividing a narrow peninsula between the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay. And yet it's an wonderful wildland — rugged, densely forested, and largely free of development and motorized use. Given its proximity to the Bay area, it's also surprisingly uncrowded. I love Big Basin Redwoods, and every time I visit, I wonder why I don't spend more time exploring the extensive system of trails (where, sadly, mountain bikes are restricted. But there are plenty of opportunities for long trail runs.)
The routes where bikes are allowed are all extremely strenuous — a ripple of fall-line fire roads with 20-plus-percent grades. Even I could probably run these trails faster than I can ride them, given the number of 14- and 22-minute miles my Garmin was ticking off. But I was having so much fun, locking up my brakes through a rear-wheel gravel slide or cranking up a hill until my quads gave out, that I didn't care about my pace, the accumulating hours, or growing lateness of the afternoon.
Prudence was nagging at me to turn around when I discovered the McCreary Ridge trail, a sandy shoot that plunged down the spine of a narrow ridge, with big views on all sides. It cut so aggressively down the mountain that several sections were too steep for me to ride downhill, and I knew pushing my bike back up this trail was going to be a real grunt, but I was intrigued nonetheless. There are few activities I love more than exploring by bike.
I hoped to make it all the way to the coast, but evening was encroaching. I promised myself a 3:15 p.m. turnaround and stuck to it, even though the dense redwood forest of the lower elevations beckoned me forward.
Despite my sickness last week, and a reduction in cycling miles as I've tried to amp up training for running, I felt relatively little fatigue during this ten-hour, steep and strenuous ride. Fatigue started to catch up with me in the final hours because I didn't eat much during the day, but I was a bit baffled. Where did all of this energy come from? Is it really all contained in a 20 mg dose of Prednisone? I know the drug is a steroid, but it was still battling some serious inflammation (given my rash and swelling has not yet entirely cleared up.) I don't feel manic when I'm not biking, and have been sleeping just fine (worlds away from last week's insomnia.) But Beat has been teasing me for acting more "feisty" than usual. I admit I'm a little wary of this drug, but more than anything I do not want that debilitating rash to come back, ever, so I'll finish up my seven-day dose as prescribed and chat with my doc about the side effects.
And I also believe there's a good chance that my Super Sunday owes less to the side effects of Prednisone than the renewed joy of being alive, healthy again, and moving through a beautiful world under my own power. The sun set an hour before I made it home, and I was grateful for the nearly deserted streets. 49ers fans must be plentiful here. I wonder if their team won? (Just kidding. I know who won.) I turned on my headlight and descended toward a sparkling sea of city lights, swallowing a rush of cold air through a grin I couldn't contain. It was such a great day, doping or not.
Final stats: 74.2 miles, 11,273 feet of climbing, 9:54 total time, average speed 7.5 mph. Map and more stats are here for anyone interested in the route.
Just over two weeks ago, I was having dinner with friends in Fairbanks a few hours before heading to the airport. We were at a Thai restaurant with harsh lighting, and I was describing my exercise woes to friends I hadn't seen in a while. The quick explanation is: "I can't breathe when I exert myself, really, at all. It doesn't take much before I start gasping and become dizzy, and sometimes I have to sit down. I used to be able to run entire 50Ks with an average heart rate in the 160s, and now I rarely hit that number before I'm breathless." Corrine, who is a family doctor, looked over at me and said, "You know, your thyroid looks enlarged."
That set off a series of medical visits, and the latest was to an endocrinologist today. I'm very lucky to have good health insurance (thanks Beat!) and medical providers who sympathize with my desire to participate in the ITI, so they fast-tracked me through several tests ahead of the race. This much now …
My physical self has become a stranger to me recently; I don't really "know" my body anymore. I've mentioned the energy rollercoaster, the good days and bad, not quite knowing how much of this is adjusting to thyroid medications, how much is fluctuations of hormones, how much is psychosomatic, how much is just "me."
On one hand, I've struggled with real fatigue — feeling more sluggish in my daily routine, blinking against sleepiness at 3 p.m., sneaking off to take actual naps, and setting an alarm so I don't pass out for hours. This happens despite full nights of sleep and better morning alertness. I've learned that if I want to accomplish something mentally taxing, I'm better off attempting it before lunch. Jill one year ago would give a side-eye to this zonked-out person I'm becoming.
There have been other symptoms that one might ascribe to an underactive thyroid — I'm often cold in the afternoon and have to wrap up in my down com…
Simplicity. To pare life down to its basic necessities. This is the very reason I love backpacking and bicycle touring so much. And, paradoxically, it's also my largest obstacle to embarking on overnight and multiday excursions. I don't particularly enjoy poring over gear options and I'm especially resistant to the planning part of any trip. In my perfect world, a backpack full of gear and food would materialize and I would just pick it up and wander off into the mountains with no clue where I was or where I was going. Of course, if you want to return in good condition or at least alive, a plan-free trip is simply not realistic. But on Monday morning, as I tapped away at my computer and contemplated a hiking binge week, I wondered about the real possibility of an overnight, nearly-plan-free backpacking trip.
Keep it simple. I wrapped up my work and went to my gear closet to pull out my summer sleeping bag (down, rated to 20 degrees), Thermarest and bivy sack. A down coat, h…