Monday, May 07, 2018

Spring fever

For a week after I broke my toe, I didn't get out much. A couple of weight-lifting sessions at the gym. One bike ride on Sunday. Before the ride, I rifled through the darkest corner of my closet to find what I believe is the oldest gear I haven't yet discarded — a bulky pair of Montrail leather hiking boots that I acquired, secondhand, back in 2001. The boots have Vibram soles and a rigid toe box that effectively immobilize my forefoot, like a cast. Why do people choose to hike in such blister-prone clodhoppers? It's difficult to remember, although I saved them for a reason. As I clomped with my bike up the driveway, I felt safe. Secure. As though I could actually just walk over rugged terrain without rolling an ankle, blundering over rocks or breaking a toe. What a concept.

Thursday rolled around and I was beginning to feel out of sorts — one whole week with only one day outside, not my usual mode of operation. The day prior, my session at the gym had gone well. I'd finally surpassed 100 pounds on my 12-rep lat pulldowns, and was feeling chuffed about that. And also a little guilty. "You are wasting this good patch," I thought.

A good patch — those once-rare but becoming-more-frequent weeks when my body seems to find a healthy rhythm. My blood pressure drops. My resting heart rate also comes down. Sleep happens effortlessly. The air is suddenly full of oxygen, even at 10,000 feet, and I can breathe easy and pedal — even power — up a hill without feeling faint. The experience isn't quite like becoming superwoman, but it's close. My "old normal."

Of course, on Thursday I awoke to uninspiring conditions — 35 degrees, slush all over the roads, heavy slush still falling from the sky, and the Nextdoor Web site blowing up with panicked reports of cars off the road and school buses stuck and drivers turning around and returning home. Eek. The person I once was would have sucked it up and ridden a bike in such nastiness, but Juneau Jill is now just a figment of my past. Boulder Jill stayed home. I justified my decision with the fact that my toe is still sore, and the likelihood of having to push my bike through slush or crashing it on a slimy descent created too much risk. The power went out shortly after I escaped indoors, and for most of the day I got a lot of writing done, free of my usual distractions. Again I felt chuffed.

Then came Friday: Temperatures near 70 degrees, still a lot of snow on the ground, crystal blue skies and clear air. The most gorgeous day. After a week of rest I was bursting with energy, and coasted along almost effortlessly through a fairly stout ride (60 miles, 7,000 feet of climbing) over dirt roads that were still bogged down with peanut butter mud.

This was my favorite ride of 2018 so far — painless climbs, snowy spring scenery, and wild animals out in force (I saw cat tracks in the snow, a bald eagle, turkeys, elk, deer and a moose.) Even the descents were fun (when I ride in the winter, no matter what I wear or how many extra layers I pack, the 3,000-foot descents always hurt like hell.) I rode the Eriksen fat bike in anticipation of sloppy mud and snow-covered trails (ultimately I opted out of the trails, because a foot of unbroken slush promised lots of bike pushing.) Sadly, this was my first ride with "Erik" this year. Snow conditions were so intermittent during the winter. Fat biking opportunities were limited, and I always took advantage of snow days to snowshoe or sled-train for the ITI. Beat recently converted Erik to a 29+ with blingy new parts, and I have been making up for lost time with the beloved bicycle that once carried me all the way to Nome.

Looking toward Boulder amid the long, fun descent ... this one loses close to 4,000 feet. Descending these roads feels like being pummeled with a thousand tiny knives in the winter, but spring temperatures make room for actual enjoyment. So refreshing!

On Saturday I coaxed Beat out for a ride that's best enjoyed this time of year, when a nearby forest road is snow-free but still closed to vehicles. This ride contains one of my coveted Strava segments — those segments that Strava users frequent and start to challenge on their own merit, the way one might a 5K PR. Since I moved to Boulder, I've had to let go of Strava ambition, since my health issues and related decline in fitness correlated with entry into an unbelievably competitive population of athletes (seriously, I was able to skirt top tens on many segments in the Bay Area with its 7 million people. But not here in Boulder, no way.)

Anyway, there are of course some local segments where I value my "personal record." This segment climbs an unmaintained county road that has become severely eroded and somewhat technical. It's always a triumph when I can complete the climb without dabbing, and that rarely happens. There are a couple of power moves near the top of steep pitches that trip me up, nearly every time. Last Sunday — highly motivated by not wanting to land on my broken toe — I actually made it without dabbing and netted my fastest time. On Saturday and then again on Sunday, I faltered twice at the bottom of the hill — tripped up by brand new ruts from the snowstorm earlier in the week — and then dabbed again at two problem spots. Despite the resultant walking, I still netted another two of my top three times. Again, I was chuffed, and am recording them here on my blog, because it's so rare to be proud of an athletic accomplishment these days. ;)

My best time out of dozens came near the beginning of a six-hour ride, mashing the heavy hiking boots up to the 10,000-foot mark at Caribou ghost town. Beat used the afternoon to push through brutal hill repeats in Fern Canyon, part of his preparation for summer mountain races. I've already reached the point of pining for another race in my future, and gave some thought to an Alpine event at the end of August, while simultaneously talking myself out of signing up. Mountain foot races are something I am undeniably bad at in the best of times. I know I won't get better, because my descending/balance management has only worsened with age/experience. I'm not even capable of running at the moment, so at best I'll have three months to train. And although I feel strong right now, and cling to optimism that this good patch will stick, I'm still anticipating more lapses in my health/fitness. It seems likely that I'll again be a hormonal puddle by the end of June. And yet.

Well, at least I can enjoy strong climbs up 16-percent grades while the air is still full of oxygen. Sweat poured down my neck and back, and I had to constantly wipe sunscreen from my eyes. At the top I realized I was nearly out of water, but that's no big deal, this time of year. I cooled my knees in the snow as I scoped handfuls of slush from the most recent storm, filling my hydration bladder. Sweet, icy, back-cooling snow water. The best.

For a week that I'd deemed a rest week, this one ended on a stout note. In three days I rode 130 miles with 17,600 feet of climbing. All of those miles felt great. Even my toe didn't hurt, much. It's difficult to describe how incredible "normal" can feel, with memories of gasping and faltering on these same routes lingering in recent memories. If this relative strength continues, it will become my "new normal" and won't feel quite so amazing anymore. For now I can ride a surge of gratitude, hope, and the tiniest bit of desire to pursue something silly and reckless, once again. 


  1. I still recall the first time I noticed people, gasp, hiking in trail runners. It was in the Sierra, and they suffered greatly when it rained all day. Never, I thought, but by the end of the trip I was contemplating cutting my leather boots open because of the worst blisters I ever had. Good to know there are still uses for those things. Seriously, that was all we had back in the day. And people grimly warned about the disaster that would befall your ankles should you foolishly choose otherwise.

    1. I also remember painful blisters I acquired from hiking in leather boots as a teenager. Somehow I lost track of those, and spent my college years backpacking and scaling precarious walls in slot canyons while wearing high-soled Skechers and other ridiculous sneakers. I actually remember buying this pair of boots — they were a revelation to me, finally committing to being a real hiker. I don't remember exactly when I switched to trail runners, although I do recall hiking some of my first Juneau mountains while wearing a pair of cheap New Balance road shoes. Ah, shoe histories. My history is mostly bad shoes. No wonder I've become obsessive about taking care of my feet.

  2. I remember those clumsy, stiff-as-a-board "forerunner mountain boots." The salesman warned me that they took a YEAR to break in! Thank God those days are behind us...
    Congrats on your times and miles and elevation accomplishments. It's reassuring to nudge the old PR's.

    1. A year! There is still a subgroup of cyclists that swear by Brooks leather saddles, which also take about the length of time to "break in." No thanks. I appreciate the encouragement! It is a nice confidence boost to challenge PRs, even when they take place on silly Strava segments.

  3. Hello Jill , this a kind of random post, but I thought of you and your blog over the weekend when I was at a Killers concert. You introduced me and my family to the Killers with your snow biking film clip back up in Alaska, many years ago. We got into Sam's Town based on that and indeed , it is the only music my family can ever agree on listening to.
    So thanks, and by the way if you get a chance to catch them live, grab it! Phenomenal concert. Read My Mind was a highlight. Can you remember the post ? And when it might have been? I would love to revisit it.
    I have enjoyed your blog over the years. Thanks and warm regards, Sue

    1. Hi Sue. Thanks for the comment! I'm glad you enjoyed the concert — sounds like a fantastic experience.

      The snow biking video is still up at this link:

      The quality is awful. I apologize. My use of a cheap point-and-shoot camera, and basic editing software hasn't aged well. I filmed it on April 15, 2009 ... less than a week before I was set to leave on a months-long trip to train for and race the Tour Divide. I chose this song because it depicted my excitement and anticipation at the time:

      "I never really gave up on
      Breakin' out of this two-star town
      I got the green light
      I got a little fight
      I'm gonna turn this thing around
      Can you read my mind?"

      And, of course, the line that is still one of my favorites: "Wanna breathe that fire again."

      That day ... and song ... is still a bittersweet memory. It was just a couple of days before my long-term relationship unexpectedly ended, completely upending our dream summer. These days, I look back on it as a meaningful turning point.

      Thanks for the trip down memory lane. I will have to catch the Killers in concert someday. :)

    2. Wow, it is still great!! Thank you.
      It is my turn to go down memory lane re watching that clip. We lived in Calgary for a few years at the end of last century ( how old does that make me ?!!!) and had a love affair with the Rockies. All that snow and space.
      Back in Oz now and still dreaming of getting back there again one day.
      Thanks again. Really enjoy reading your blog. I live a little vicariously though your adventures.
      Warm regards,

  4. Maybe since your biking is going so well, you should consider the Tour Divide this year!! Your training has been going better than mine!

    1. Those 130 miles were my biggest week of biking in at least six months. Not exactly prime Tour Divide conditioning. But I am genuinely thinking about 2019. If my health/fitness seems stable by the end of summer, I may make more commitments. I still hope to make a day out of cheering for riders along Boreas Pass in Colorado. So I hope to see you out there!


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