Monday, March 18, 2013

Best (and worst) taper ever

Wednesday morning — three days out from the tough hundred-kilometer snow run I've had on my calendar since December. I woke from a restless and yet disorienting sleep, with lungs raw from processing subzero air and legs feeling like they'd been injected with sand. My fingers were swollen and my eyes were scratchy and red. My appetite still hadn't returned, but cup after cup of hot water mixed with Starbucks Via coffee powder went down with ease.

I was contemplating which day I should make a break for Southcentral Alaska when I received an e-mail from my friend Joel, inviting me on a twenty-mile ride around trails on the outskirts of Fairbanks. Joel was one of the three-way-tie winners of the Chena River to Ridge 45-mile race on Saturday. He's a fast guy. My legs said no but my heart wasn't so sure. When was I going to be back in Fairbanks again? How many chances would I ever have to ride these great trails? And if Beat can get up every day and drag his sled for forty-plus miles, then there must be something to the notion that consistent movement can delay the need for sedentary recovery. Could we make it a shorter ride? I inquired to Joel. Sure, he replied. We could shave three miles off the route by cutting out the Ballaine Road climb. Seventeen miles it was.

It took a few miles to shake the sand out of my legs, but as soon as we veered off the University bike path into a skier-packed singletrack trail, I found my fire. Joel led the way as we wended through the woods and veered onto a rolling powerline beside Ester Dome. The snow was packed hard and I could pump out a 10 mph average with ease. I don't think I've traveled that fast on a bike since I left California. It felt like flying. So fun. We wrapped up the seventeen miles with breaks in less than two hours, but afterward the sand in my legs solidified to a painful cement. No worries. It will take me two days to drive from Fairbanks to Homer. Rest days.

My trip to Fairbanks was so fantastic. Every day, friends and just-met new friends fed me dinners and lunches, invited me on rides, and gave me a warm place to stay. It was a social flurry and actually tough to break away for the solo ride in the Whites that I had been planning, even in the middle of the week. Fairbanks is a frigid place full of warm and friendly people. I really do like it there. I left Thursday afternoon to more blue skies and great views along the Parks Highway.

I spent Thursday night with Dave Johnston and Andrea in Willow. Dave is recovering well after his incredible near-record run in the Iditarod Trail Invitational. It was great fun to chat with him and listen to his take on his experience ... "Walking is hard. It's just easier for me to keep running." "Oh this hat? I've had it for years. I like the flaps over the ears." "I brought too much stuff and had to justify it by using things when I didn't really need them. Then I wasted too much time putting on stuff I didn't need. Next time my sled's going to be lighter."

"Next time?"

"Oh yeah. I've already forgotten how much it hurts."

I woke up Friday morning to bright sunshine and headed out the door in my short sleeves to start packing my sled for the Homer Epic. After about ten minutes my fingers went rigid. "What's up with that?" I wondered. "It's not that cold." I moved to go back inside and noticed the thermometer read zero degrees. Acclimation?

I lived in Homer from September 2005 to August 2006. I made many drives up and down the Kenai Peninsula during that time and rarely appreciated how stunning that stretch of highway really is.

Somewhere near Turnagain Pass. My fingers had thawed so I did more sled packing here.

Near Cooper Landing. "If my legs are up to it I should hike part of the Res Pass trail on my way back," I thought. Hmm ...

The view that captured my heart as we rounded this corner on September 11, 2005 — Baycrest Hill. It's strange, because I left Homer almost seven years ago and have only been back once during that time. Still, more so than other places I've lived — even Juneau — I can wander the streets of this Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea and feel like I never left. This is the place where Alaska won my heart. Regardless of all of the wonderful things that came after, Homer has those deeply embedded first love memories.

The Homer Epic 100K held a pre-race banquet at Land's End. This is the group photo of many of the participants of the ski, bike, and foot race. I didn't make it outside in time to be in the photo, but I was able to take a photo. The banquet was fun but had the jittery atmosphere of pre-race nerves.

I had no reason to feel anything but terrified at the prospect of dragging my baby sled for 62 miles over the steep climbs and frozen swamps in the hills beside Kachemak Bay. Still, I felt this gratifying calm — a sense that everything was just exactly right.