Monday, October 30, 2006

While I was sleeping

Michael Penn, a photographer at the Juneau Empire, took this photo last night at about 12:30 a.m. At that time, I was just about to doze off in an effort to go to bed at a decent hour so I could get up early and take this picture:

Not to disparage the Blackerby Ridge or its fresh coat of velvety snow, but I'm feeling a little cheated. The northern lights only come to Juneau on a clear night once every 487.3 years or so, and I missed them. Missed them so I could wake up marginally early, hike up the geological Stairmaster known as Blackerby Ridge, stair-step my way down, go to work and wait for the end of Daylight Savings Time to kick the sunset up to 4:15 p.m.

I did have a good morning, though, all said and done. The upper portions of Blackerby Ridge are covered in nearly a foot of new snow, deep and heavy atop ice-caked mud and partially frozen streams. I dressed well for the sub-freezing temps but not for the slippery conditions. I spent the last half of the morning wet from the knees and elbows down.

The biking season here is definitely in transition. Geoff and I headed out yesterday morning and didn't make it more than a half mile from the house before we both crashed down on a steep stretch of black ice. It must have been a funny sight to see. I hit the downhill slope and my front wheel slipped almost immediately. I dipped into what I feel was an unusually graceful fall - hanging at a 45-degree angle for several fractions of a second, I tucked slowly into the skid, landing square on my left hip, where I and my bike continued to slide down the road for about 20 feet. Geoff tried to swerve around me and down he went as well, also taking a fairly minor fall - although from his road rash I can tell he wasn't as lucky to land on top of the ice. We decided to turn around right there. I walked the whole way home to put off dealing with major chain suck. I really am going to put my studded tires on my mountain bike now ('tis time). I'm also going to start building up my snow bike.

The beginnings of it came in the mail earlier this week. Right now it's nothing more than a Raleigh frame and 2"-wide snowcat rims. (I love these things. The rim tape doesn't even cover half of the rim's surface.) I have to start buying parts. I still have some decisions to make. Like V-brakes versus disc brakes. How to set up the drive train. I've wrestled with everything from single speed to single-ring crank to triple ring. I think I may just go with the triple ring. Although I like the simplicity of a single speed, I'm more drawn to the versatility of a 27-speed. Weight is truly not an issue with this bike. And although it's nice to have less moving parts that may seize up in the cold, I really believe I'll need the low gearing for new snow or bogged-down slushy conditions. After all, my goal in building up this bike as opposed to just riding Sugar all winter long is to do less walking.

Anyway, if any out there has experience with snow or wide-rimmed bicycles (or just bicycle building in general) and has some good advice for me, don't hesitate to tell me why I'm an idiot. Does anyone know if there's such a thing as gear grease formulated for lower temperatures? Anyone have any bicycle parts lying around that they're looking to get rid of? Your comments are always appreciated.
Saturday, October 28, 2006

mmm ... slippy

Date: Oct. 27
Total mileage: 41.3
October mileage: 373.6
Temperature upon departure: 38

That's it. Time to break out the studs.

Well, it's not quite that time of year yet. But it is approaching that time of year when nightly freeze-ups and a snowline down to 1,000 feet means it's not a great season to take the roadie up to a ski resort. But, like I said, snowline has crept down to 1,000 feet, and I love snow. I wanted to take some crunchy steps through the frosted grass and wrap my fingers around an dripping early-season snowball. So when I woke up to a blindingly clear morning, it seemed a no-brainer to ride up to EagleCrest. And I did get my feet on some snow. I also had the opportunity to do plenty of walking down the ice sheet that had once been a canyon road. 'Tis the season to keep roadie at sea level.

When we finally did hit the thaw during the descent, I amped up to 30 mph and received my annual lesson in the degrees of windchill. I've never learned the math, but I do know that my odometer screen begins to black out when the temperature drops into single digits. My odometer screen blacked out. I nearly did too, by the time I reached sea level with frozen tears still clinging to my face. 'Tis the season to dress in many layers. Why must I relearn this every year?

In all honesty, I am excited about this semblance of a cold snap. Last winter, I lived in a marginally more temperate climate, where the temperature actually varied by more than 5 degrees from week to week. This winter, I essentially live in the Pacific Northwest - Seattle, if you will, but take away 20 or so degrees Fahrenheit. Like Seattle, it doesn't snow all that much here. At least, it doesn't snow much on the sea-level population center. However, a healthy annual precipitation means that once you hit a certain elevation - terrain located almost solely on steep, foreboding mountainsides - it snows lots and lots and lots (and lots). So winter activity, I hear, is mainly a choice between freezing rain and avalanches.

I know. I have it soooooo tough. But I do think it's a unique situation that poses a lot of outdoor recreation challenges many people never think about. Challenges that I have yet to learn about. But I did get an important first lesson today - wet snow, overnight freeze, skinny tires and gravity are never a good combination. Now where did I stash those studs?
Friday, October 27, 2006

Herbert Glacier Trail

Date: Oct. 26
Total mileage: 13.2
October mileage: 332.3
Temperature upon departure: 39

Here is one trail that I would just love to give myself most of a day sometime to ride repeatedly, again and again, five or 10 times. Geoff thinks I'm crazy in this regard - why ride the same trail even twice, let alone over and over in the same day? (and it's not even a 24-hour race) But the Herbert Glacier Trail is one of those rare trails that I could lose myself entirely in. It's flat and fast, protected from the bog by a fine layer of gravel and sand. But upon this narrow strip of civilization I can move freely through the dense forest, skimming virtual walls of sky-blocking trees at 10, 15 - even 20 mph, if I felt so motivated. The flow becomes so natural that it's easy to forget I'm destination-bound, until, after about 4.5 miles, I arrive at a stunning dead end.

The trail may be on the easy side - but it's not mindless. There's a few quick rock jumps, some mud holes, some stream crossings, some tight edges. Geoff mulled this tight spot for about five minutes before deciding that the margin of error was too small, and the consequences of error too high.

I had decided long before that I wasn't about to risk a five-foot dive into a fast-flowing glacial river while air temperatures struggled to hit 40 degrees (and the water was most definitely a bit colder.) But the time spent off the bike was short, and was quickly reimbursed by four miles of flight, tearing through deep, winding canyons of trees as the Herbert River gurgled alongside.

As we pounded out the last mile, the sky broke open into a fierce hailstorm. Chunks of ice trickled down my collar, hit my nose, landed in my eyelids. I held my eyes wide open against the sharp edges, waiting for the hailstones to melt rather than brush them away. I didn't want to take my hands off the handlebars and risk a disruption. I was moving, flowing, a river.

We tried another nearby trail - made, mostly, of wood planks and muddy roots - and both took a beating. I went down hard on a wet wooden bridge and developed a throbbing goose-egg the size of a softball on my left arm. Geoff's water resistant coat soaked through and he was fastly approaching hypothermia. But I still felt tempted to do another run up to Herbert Glacier. I didn't tell Geoff that.

Maybe someday I will go back and do it again. And again and again. To see what it's like. To feel the hard effort of a good endurance ride. To feel the soft rain filtered through thousands of evergreen branches. To feel the smooth flow of the forest in silence.

To feel like a river.