Thursday, December 21, 2017

Halcyon days

Beat and I are returning to Alaska for the holidays, a yearly tradition that we skipped last year because we moved to Colorado, "which already has winter" ... until we realized it doesn't. Actually, although I miss seeing my family, I love going "home" for Christmas. Alaska at solstice is uniquely magical. I'm really looking forward to this trip. 

Because we planned some ambitious overnights near Fairbanks, I had planned to take it easy this week — a bit of a "rest week" to shore up strength that will be sorely needed for the difficulties ahead. On Monday I wiled away the afternoon with work. When I finally looked up from the computer, it was too late to drive to town and go to the gym. 

With an hour until sunset, I opted for a short run on my regular route. I walked out the door feeling sleepy and sluggish, but as soon as my feet hit the dirt, my legs felt refreshingly light. A mile buzzed on my watch, and when I looked down, I was surprised to be moving so fast* (a relative term) when this pace was so easy* (also relative.)

I tend to have a lot of fun with exercise when I'm experiencing an "upswing" in my health. I don't push myself hard — because during downswings I have to push hard just to move forward, so I'm not inclined to continue the practice when it's not necessary. Instead I relax, and relish the exhilaration of a temporary but joyful ability "to run and not be weary." I passed the trailhead and made a last-minute decision to head up to Green Mountain. Glances at my watch revealed more pleasant surprises ... so easy! So fast! (all relative.) 

Ice packed the trail and I took careful steps, but still stayed well ahead of my usual paces. The final pitch to the peak was a patchwork of ice and rocks. I scrambled upward, using my knuckles when needed. Just as I hit the peak, the sky lit up with an incredible crimson sunset. So beautiful! So late! I donned the headlamp that I stuffed in my pocket before I left the house. I had nothing else on me — no water, no camera, no phone. I was angry about my inability to take a photo, and then reminded myself that it's more important to experience the fullness of a moment, rather than get caught up in the futility of documenting beauty.

I picked my way downhill, crab-walking a few spots, as the sky became brighter and redder, and dammit, that spot right there would be perfect framing for a photograph. Why do I care so much? About taking photos of another (yawn) sunset? I smirked at this annoying aspect of my personality, and continued to lope down the trail, alternating brief glances between the sketchy ice and the stunning sky, yet never missing a step or slowing my pace. One of my best runs in months. 

After another great run on Tuesday, I noticed 60-degree temperatures in the forecast for Wednesday. Oh well, so much for taking a rest week. The last day of autumn brought my last long ride of 2017 — sunny, warm, and although not quite calm, the cooling wind was not unwelcome. 

I aimed for one of my many Colorado nemeses, Caribou Road. It's steep and coated in ball-bearing gravel, but then again everything around here is steep and coated in loose gravel, even pavement, so I'm not sure what makes Caribou Road so hard. But it gets me every time. By the time I grind past the stone facade of a long-abandoned mining town, I want to die. Having "upswing" fitness doesn't change this, sadly. 

With searing lungs and lactic-acid-filled legs, I finally topped out at 10,200 feet. Temperatures were still in the high-40s, warm enough that I didn't need to put on a hat or gloves as I sat on the dry tundra and made a picnic out of two almond bars. "This is almost nicer than any day in summer up here," I thought ... one day before the winter solstice.

I had a little more time to spare, so I continued along FR 505. Old snow maintained surprising depth in the forest, but the trail was nicely packed down and 90 percent rideable with skinny tires. Problems arose because the tires aren't studded, and the trail was occasionally coated in white ice that was impossible to discern from packed powder. A few tire slips alerted me to the dangerous game of roulette I was playing, but I chose to ignore the risk in favor of snow biking! In summer! (Oh right, it's December.) There was no surprise when the tires finally washed out and I slammed into hard ice, bruising my hip, shoulder, and a goose-egg-susceptible spot on my upper shin. Arrrrgh!

"You deserved that, you idiot," I grumbled as I limped back to the gate.

All was forgiven as I descended Caribou and swooped around the singletrack surrounding Mud Lake. The afternoon light was gorgeous and I still didn't need a jacket. "This really is the most wonderful time of the year," I thought.


With Solstice, winter came roaring into Colorado, and the temperature plummeted 50 degrees. When I woke up to take out the trash on Thursday morning, it was 10 degrees and snowing.


Again, I'd planned to go to the gym during the day, because missing two weeks of strength training would be unconscionable. But then Beat texted me and said the roads into town were bad ... well, the roads are bad! I suppose I'll go for a hike instead.


My bruised right leg was quite sore from my bike crash, and conditions were not conducive to easy walking — 2 to 4 inches of dry, powdery snow masked rocks and old ice. So I needed to wear studded shoes, while hiking over and around slippery boulders that I could not see. Stumbling and swearing became frequent occurrences, but it was such a beautiful afternoon.

 A single sunbeam pierced the fog, casting a bright spotlight on the shortest day of the year.

At Bear Peak I sat for a few minutes, hoping the setting sun would cast more intriguing light patterns through the fog. But it only took a few minutes to remember that 10 degrees and breezy is actually pretty cold, and not conducive to summit picnics.

The descent was fairly awful. I don't want to talk about it, except for I do, because this blog understands me and my clumsy lamentations. Despite moving about as slowly and deliberately as possible, I could not keep my feet stuck to the ground. In a third of a mile I slipped on snow-covered rocks and fell at least three times, knocking my butt or my bruised right leg. After I cleared the steep part of the ridge, I spent 20 minutes convinced that I had dislocated my thumb. But it feels better now. Everything is fine. All's well that ends well.

Hopefully I'll figure out how to walk on snow in Alaska. Until then — welcome, winter. I have missed you. 

13 comments:

  1. That's crazy temp changes! I have often wished for the room, and the money, to have a home gym for just those occasions when getting there is treacherous. It's also way easy to talk myself out of the time it takes to drive there and back.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I admit I actually like the ritual of going to the gym. It's a pleasant place and it's just the right amount of social interaction to make me feel like not a complete hermit. ๐Ÿ™‚ I've tried the home stretch training routine and I hated it. If that were my only option, no doubt I'd succumb to my laziness

      Delete
  2. I can't believe the schizophrenic (or maybe I should say bipolar) weather you have been having. And I can't believe you are still biking on your mountain bike! Great photos. I wish you had gotten one of the sunset but better to just enjoy the view sometimes.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Eh. These scenes are always better in memory than reality. I was in a great mood, which exaggerates the wonder. See you soon!

      Delete
  3. We finally got about 6 inches of snow in town. Now if it will just last till Christmas...
    Wishing you energy reserves while in Alaska...
    Mark, from Lovely Ouray.

    ReplyDelete
  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete

  5. I totally understand the "taking picture" issue. Sometimes I scold myself to stop and just simply take in the beauty. Even though you're carrying some bruises it sounds like you had a great time. Have fun in Alaska and have a wonderful Christmas!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was admittedly a bit rough. But worth it. Merry Christmas to you!

      Delete
  6. I too understand the "taking picture" issue. Its justified, as I do regularly scroll through and I am taken back to the magical moment. So glad you had your camera on Thursday. Have a fabulous time in Alaska.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I sometimes contemplate taking a month or two away from carrying a camera and social media and blogging, to see what changes about the way I perceive things. But the I'm so worried about losing the memory later in life. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Delete
  7. Awesome ride! Looks like it had a little bit of everything.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I admittedly sorta love how warm it's been. I'll miss having easy access to these places when ice and snow finally takes over.

      Delete

Feedback is always appreciated!