Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cry me an atmospheric river

Where did this week even go? I've been wrestling with two writing projects, in that sort of phase I think most people can relate with — the phase where everything becomes drivel and I need to step away for a while before the whole project is slashed and burned. Journalismjobs.com is a good diversion, a place I like to go to daydream about landing angst-free copy editing contracts that let me work on my own schedule. Twitter can erase a surprising number of minutes as well, for shouting at random into an echo chamber.

A college friend, Craig, came to visit from Alaska. We spent the weekend in the city doing city things — tapas at a Mexican restaurant; an afternoon at the de Young Museum of fine art; getting our exercise by walking eighteen blocks from the place where we actually found parking; being coerced into buying a 100-pack of fancy jasmine tea I didn't even want because, well, someone like me really shouldn't enter shops in Chinatown; late nights with other old friends talking about the best days that were now 15 (!) years ago; and attending the lively and harmonic Sunday services at the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church (Craig is a Mormon, but joked it was fun to spend one Sunday worshiping the sound of saxophones.)

I finally booked all the reservations for Fairbanks at the end of the month, and became immeasurably excited about Christmas.

Somewhere in there I remembered I needed to train a little for this 200-kilometer snow bike race in Idaho that's just a month away. After a weekend getting fat on tapas and dumplings, I lumbered outside on Monday afternoon to climb the best tear-inducingly steep roads near my home. Redwood Gulch (ouch) to Skyline (tell me that doesn't start to hurt after 3,000 feet) to Montevina (2,000 more feet of !!!) The tires cut like knives into the mud as I ground the road bike over Montevina's dirt section with the fading light, then nearly burned out the rim brakes on a pitch dark, damp pavement descent down Bolman. There was a certain exhaustive quality to this four-hour ride that left me dangling on threads, but I was glad to put in some saddle time before the storm.

The storm. "Hellastorm." Also "stormaggedon" to the Twitterati. A forecast for a particularly strong flow of atmospheric moisture was played up heavily in the local media, and I'm not sure anyone thought it would live up to the hype. Everyone likes to joke about how Californians can't handle weather, even Californians. Even I shook my head and recalled past days of weathering "typical" storms in Juneau — being knocked off my feet by wind gusts on Gastineau Ridge, full days of constant rain, nearly swamping my car on inundated roads dammed by piles of slush, spending on evening on a moored boat on Juneau Harbor as 60-mph gusts rocked the vessel violently against the dock. There was no way hellastorm was going to be that bad.

However, it sort of was. Locally there was widespread flooding, flash floods, 80 mph gusts recorded on nearby peaks where I ride my bike frequently, and, as of 6 p.m., 3.93 inches of rain had been reported at the nearest weather station to my house, since midnight. I used to track weather reports religiously when I lived in Juneau, and I don't think I ever saw a 24-hour total over 2.5 inches. If 3.93 inches fell in downtown Seattle, it would be the second wettest day in recorded history for that city. (Juneau's record single-day rainfall is 17.38 inches. So yeah. There's that.)

But yes, stormaggedon made a dent. Even amid three years of exceptional drought.

Of course, I made a big deal about going for a run on Thursday afternoon. Not because I thought we would assert any semblance of Californian badassery by going out in hellastorm, but because I thought it would be hella fun. I even put in extra effort to pick up Liehann at Google, braving standing water and multiple collisions on Highway 85, just so he could join. Liehann, Beat, and I hit a nearly abandoned Rancho San Antonio park for good splashy lunchtime fun. The gustier wind had calmed, so we weren't too worried about trees falling on us. But there were a lot of trees already down, including two elderly oaks that we simply couldn't climb over or find a way around without risking a high-consequence hack through poison oak. Trails were inundated by shallow streams that carved deep ruts into the surface, and puddles were sometimes shin deep. Creeks that are usually dry gushed with brown rapids, and the hills were a vibrant shade of green, when prior to Thanksgiving the grass was so dry it was gray. This was the most fun I've had with running in a while, and I've been having a lot of fun with running since I took it up again post-knee injury.

Beat and I signed up for a 50K run in Woodside on Sunday, which is admittedly not a great idea since ten miles is the longest run I've completed since the Tor des Geants debacle in September. But I'm so stoked on running right now that I just can't let it go, even with that Fairbanks trip and the 200K fat bike race on the horizon. Beat expressed strong disapproval at my desire to go snowboarding in Utah, citing high-consequence injury risk, but he's surprisingly nonchalant about this 50K. Of course I don't intend to jeopardize winter plans; I'm not above quitting a 50K at the slightest tinge of knee pain. But I'm unabashedly looking forward to this Sunday run, especially since it's supposed to be nice and sunny again. 

14 comments:

  1. Looking forward to reading about (and hopefully seeing pictures of) the big storm in Woodside. One of my favorite runs when I lived down there was Wunderlich. 5 miles up, 5 miles down. We used to try to get up from the parking lot to Skyline in under an hour and then turn around and race down as fast as we could. Stop at Roberts market for a snack on the way home. Enjoy the wet.

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    1. Thanks! Woodside is my favorite local course, starting in Huddart and working its way along Skyline to Wunderlich. We drop down to Salamander Flat before looping back up toward Huddart. If there are a lot of downed trees it should add to the excitement.

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  2. Oh good, no more Google comments. I don't like those. Where's the snow bike race? I don't know of anywhere with a lot of snow. It's distressing. Yesterday we had 75 mph gusts at my house. But no big media buildup. Glad CA is getting sone rain.

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    1. Yeah, I sort of liked that Google+ set-up, but Beat did not and I get that most people don't bother with a Google+ account.

      The bike race is outside of Island Park, heading toward West Yellowstone. From what I understand they're already grooming the snowmobile trails out there, but I'm not sure what the conditions are like right now. Fairbanks is finally getting some snow, which is a relief. I thought we'd be sled-dragging for twenty miles of glare ice, tussocks, and overflow. I may rent a bike for that trip, but also might just walk because it eases logistics, and most snow-biking is half walking anyway.

      It used to annoy me when relatively mild storms would get huge play in the media just because they happened in big cities, when the storm equivalent of a tropical hurricane in Juneau wouldn't even make the front page of the Empire. I do get it, though. It's a big deal when a dry year's worth of rain falls in one day on a population center of 7 million with limited infrastructure to deal with the flow. It causes a lot more disruption than storms that bring 36 inches of snow alongside 40 mph winds to a town of 30,000.

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  3. Some rain, that should say.

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  4. I briefly considered joining you guys on Sunday at Woodside. That idea was put to bed by my 5 mile recovery run on Wednesday after last Sundays 50 miles of road. Have fun in the mud!

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    1. Still recovering from the pavement pounding? It can't be that much worse than running Woodside on relatively little training and a base that's mostly biking. I haven't attempted a six-plus-hour run (run, not walk) since May!

      Also, isn't all of this significantly easier than any given day on a month on the Iditarod? :P

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    2. No, Jill. It is all significantly more difficult than any given day on the Iditarod...at least mentally. My dreams are filled with frozen tundra and crisp, sub-zero air.

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  5. 17.38 inches for Juneau is incredible, enough to give me rainfall envy!

    I checked to see how the rainfall in the notoriously wet UK compared. The highest 24 hr total is around 10 inches, well short of Juneau's 17 inches.

    There are couple of caveats. Only official recording locations count towards the records and there aren't any in the wettest parts of Scotland. Also the Met Office rainfall day runs from 0900 to 0900 so there may have been wetter 24 hour periods.

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    1. I found the Juneau numbers through some quick Googling. Not sure if it's official but it is somewhat plausible. However, Juneau is like most of the coastal Pacific Northwest in receiving frequent but light rainfall, usually less than 1 inch per day even if it rains nonstop for most of 24 hours.

      Conversely, here on coastal central California we can go months without any rain whatsoever, but it can be heavy when it comes. As of 1:22 a.m. our closest weather station recorded 5.51 inches for the storm (which started after midnight.) This is more than what was recorded in Los Altos in *ALL* of 2013. Pretty incredible.

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  6. The storm hit us (about 3 hours south of you) in the afternoon...we WERE scheduled to launch a spacecraft (I work at Vandenberg AFB) on an Atlas V...but the powers that be didn't scrub the launch until around 1:30 in the afternoon (like they didn't know the storm was coming or just didn't believe it). Being as I was 2nd shift (for the evening launch) I still had to work my shift while the storm raged. The winds out on unprotected Vandenberg were pretty fierce...when I did leave for home I was driving on roads that looked more like Mt bike trails...blowdown was EVERYWHERE! At some points it sounded like hail hitting my car, but it was debris from the trees blowing sideways.

    We sure needed the rain though...and at the moment we are on schedule to launch this evening (7:13pm I believe is the opening of the window). We really need to get this out of here..I want my life back!

    I'll be anxious to hear (and see, as I'm sure you'll have pics) what the trails are like in Woodside. I'm not a runner, but the Kings Mt Rd (and Tunitas Creek on the opposite side) is one of my FAV road rides up there, and then the Purisima Creek Redwoods also on the other side of Skyline is one of my fav Mt bike destinations. Along with the entire Saratoga Gap/Bay Area Ridge Trail system. I bet there'sTONS of blowdown.

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  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-pyC7WnvLT4

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  8. I've been living in nearby Sunnyvale and Palo Alto for 25 years and, yes, it was the biggest, It's definitely what the people and the infrastructure are used to. Snow flurries in Dallas have the equivalent "paralysis" effect as 3 feet in Buffalo!

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  9. I love the gnarly, torrential downpour pictures. I always love the idea of doing something outside when the weather is so horrible that you know rational people wouldn't consider doing what you're doing.

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