Thursday, December 20, 2018

Halcyon days, 2018

From Greek mythology, "halcyon days" refers to a period of calm weather and prosperity near the winter solstice. I appreciate the phrase for its modern connotation of happy days in the past, but its original meaning holds true for me as well. Winter solstice is a wonderful time of year, and not just because of holidays ... which I admittedly barely celebrate these days, unless an Alaska friend invites me to a Christmas dinner. No, I love solstice because it's the first day of my favorite season, a beautifully lit time of year, and I also welcome the gradual return of afternoon sunshine. It also helps when these short days are blessed with beautiful weather.

Yes, it's been a good week — the days have been relatively nice and calm, the nights mostly filled with the warmth of returning to my own bed, decent sleep, and considerably fewer odd dreams. I've felt energetic and fit. Most importantly, I'm no longer captive to a deadly chest cold.

I almost forget how quickly I snapped out of the death cold until I reconstruct the timeline. Last Tuesday, when Dennis invited me to join him on a Friday afternoon ride at Brainard Lake, I was still spending nights writhing and coughing with with my head propped up on three pillows to prevent drowning in my own crud. Optimism was low. Three days later my lungs were almost clear and I was raring to go. I couldn't wait to power my monster truck fat bike up some steep, sugary trails.

Clearly I wasn't fully recovered by Friday. We did only two laps for a total of 12 miles at Brainard, but it felt as exhausting as a full-day effort. The singletrack was skier-packed, so trails were often only about eight inches wide. To either side of the narrow track was seemingly bottomless fluff, and my front wheel kept veering into the trap. I crashed at least five times on the first round, often at high speeds because I was trying to keep up with Dennis. Usually it's good strategy to ride with others who are more skilled than you, but for me it's a dangerous proposition. I'm amazed I wasn't more hurt. After a full-somersault that left me buried to my neck, an endo, and a few more regular-old tip-overs, I ended up with a patchwork of bruises on my legs and right arm. Somewhere in there I managed to rip the entire backside out of my pants, which I didn't even notice until I started to wonder why that usually well-protected part of my body was so cold (luckily I was carrying primaloft shorts to cover up.)

It wasn't until we were climbing for the second round that I realized my camera was also missing — it had been stuffed in one of my pogies, and obviously fell into one of the half-dozen holes. I wasn't even going to mention this to Dennis, as it seemed impossible I'd ever find it. Instead I took some time to mourn the loss of yet another camera as we climbed toward gorgeous evening skies (I perked up when I realized I could take sunset photos with my phone. Priorities.) We chatted about our mutual fear of ice and decided to ride along the lake anyway, until Dennis broke through a weak spot near the shoreline and tumbled over a slushy hole. Seeing that he was still dry and unhurt, I felt a little more comfortable with the tally of individual embarrassment, and admitted I lost my camera in a crash more than an hour earlier. He offered to help me find it, and we shared more embarrassing bike stories as we pedaled toward the trail.

As dusk deepened, we donned mittens and dug through my first hole — the one that softened the blow of the full somersault. Nothing. The second hole was impressive. It looked as though someone had excavated a dead horse from the snow. This large crater seemed especially hopeless, but we dug anyway. Incredibly, after only a minute or two, my ice-crusted mitten managed to hook the lanyard, and out came a camera. Amazing! I was so happy that I did a little dance, notching up the embarrassment tally one more point. But we had an incredibly fun run down Waldrop, and I didn't crash again.

Despite the multitude of bruises, I was stoked on fat biking and couldn't wait to get back out on Sunday. I decided to reduce my chance of further injury by taking on the wide, gentle grades of Rollins Pass Road.

I hoped to find a trail used by snowmobiles, but instead had to hike around two AWD vehicles that were badly stuck, just a half mile from the junction. Beyond that, older truck ruts had filled in with sugary spindrift that deepened as the road climbed. By mile three of the snowy road, there was barely any evidence that anyone had been up here in weeks.

Beat and I have tough sled-dragging trips planned for our holiday in Fairbanks, and since I have not trained all that well for such an arduous effort ... (okay, I've done no training) ... I decided it would be good refresher practice if I pushed my bike for a while. There was just enough semi-breakable crust and wind-scoured bare patches to keep me pedaling fifty yards here, ten feet there — just enough to persist with what was often a nearly impossible tromp through thigh-deep drifts. I actually made it four more miles up the road. Those four miles took me nearly two hours, which sparked a little bit of pride. A truly slogarific effort — Yeah, I haven't lost it, baby.

It was a gorgeous day, though, and the meditative rhythm of the hard slog put my head in a peaceful place. I was pretty stoked on life the whole time, even though I hadn't planned on riding alone on Sunday. (Beat was still in the throes of the death cold, and Dennis had come down with a cold himself and had to understandably cancel planned bike explorations.)

From there, my week filled up with mostly mundane chores such as packing for the Alaska trip, finishing a few deadline-sensitive projects, the usual number of medical center visits for allergy shots and blood draws. When I could, I escaped outside to stomp on a couple of PRs. I noticed during my routine six-miler on Tuesday that I was running rather effortlessly and well, so on Wednesday I went out to see if I could best my time on the tough climb up Mount Sanitas. Although my breathing is strong right now, there are other parts of me that aren't quite as well conditioned, so I experienced the now-rare feeling of my leg muscles giving out before my lungs. I still nudged the 1,300-foot ascent under 30 minutes, but only barely. I still have a lot of fun going for personal bests when I believe I can.

As I ride the latest inexplicable crest of my fitness rollercoaster, I've made a New Years resolution to deny its existence as well as I can. Although my latest search for answers has led to some interesting theories on overtraining syndrome, persistent inflammation, and self-preservation mechanisms, I'm currently operating under the hopeful placebo theory and trying to convince myself that a slump simply won't come. That didn't work so well in October, but if all else fails, I'll resist the urge to complain even if it means radio silence. This is my promise to myself. Stay healthy, or no blogging for you.

 Today I had a little more time and what I thought would be warm sunny weather, so I set out for a six-hour gravel grinder. I think I was clinging to memories of last year, when it was nearly 60 degrees the day before the winter solstice. As such, I wasn't mentally prepared for the frigid wind sweeping down from the Divide. Even as I climbed the steep grades of Gap Road, my shoulders ached with cold and my teeth began to chatter.

"Maybe it isn't that warm today," I thought. My suspicions were confirmed when I coasted through Nederland, where the bank clock thermometer registered 23 degrees. "Well, it's still like 40 degrees warmer that it will be in Fairbanks next week," I reasoned ... but the wind chill was not allowing for such self-delusion. I decided I didn't need to practice being cold and finally put on more layers. They were adequate, but I was still a little rattled. Expectation means a lot when it comes to comfort.

Despite not having a lot of bike fitness in my legs right now, I felt pretty good ... even when ice-cream-headache-inducing wind gusts forced me to pedal hard downhill on icy, snow-swept gravel. I only hope this sense of wellbeing can persist through the rest of the year, as Beat and I have some tough, high-mileage days planned for the White Mountains, and the weather forecast is all but promising nearly constant subzero temperatures. I'm so excited! 


  1. "Holiday" and "sled dragging" don't seem to fit too well in the same sentence. Of course, I often fit "holiday" and "20 mile days on the PCT" so I get it.

  2. What you do for FUN constantly amazes me Jill (well, to be fair, in that respect my 6-8 hr solo mtb/gravel rides fall neatly into that insane category to most of the people I ride with). And I can't believe you found your camera in the snow! I would have given you odds right at zero for that...well done! Enjoy your sled-slogging in Alaska over the Holiday break...I hope Beat is recovered enough to enjoy it also (I have no doubt he will go even if he's not even close to 100%, but that doesn't make it 'fun' even for a guy as tough as Beat). Mary nailed it: "("Holiday" and "sled dragging" don't seem to fit too well in the same sentence.)" I'm still chuckling over that...good one Mary!

  3. Glad you caught a great wave! :) and hope that the momentum carries you to the next. That Seinfeld inspired quip on blogging was great, still chuckling about it.

    Jeff C


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