Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rain delay

Date: Dec. 4
Total mileage: 22.0
November mileage: 22.0
Temperature upon departure: 34

Today a warm front settled in, bringing with it the snowpack-decimating rain that drips like acid from an electric blue-gray sky.

It was a sad state for a ride, but I still felt happy to get out. It was a shower of slush and enough ingested road salt to replace any electrolyte drink, but my legs felt strong and my lungs were happy to be back in the humid, sea-level atmosphere again.

I took the above picture yesterday while Geoff and I were skiing along the campground trails. I am getting better on skis. I don't really hate skiing. In fact, it is kind of fun in a simultaneously relaxing and frustrating way. And I stopped to visit my first Juneau home, camp site No. 5:

And as bad as those first two weeks were, I have to say, I'm lucky I moved to Juneau in August and not December.

I am giving myself until Friday to make a definite and binding decision on the Susitna 100. There are a lot of people who can't imagine spending $700 for a race, but I'm not exactly spending all that money on a race. I'm spending it on an experience, much in the way some people buy time on cruises or helicopter ski tours. There are definitely sillier things I could spend that much money on. An LCD TV comes to mind.

Carl Hutch (a race veteran himself) suggested I take it a step further at enter the Iditarod Invitational. This 350-mile winter race is a big dream of mine. There are some ways in which I eat, sleep and dream the ghost trail to McGrath ... but ... it may be a little more than I can bear ... this year. Who knows? I have been known to take bigger, crazier leaps of faith. But there's still a part of me that hasn't quite conquered the Susitna 100.

Tim answered my question best when I pondered what Pete - inarguably the best endurance rider in Alaska - might do if faced with a similar choice:

"Pete would jump on the ferry to Haines, then ride his bike all the way to the start. And he'd still kick everybody's ass. Pete's a mutant."

I wish I were a mutant. But I'm not. I'm just a 27-year-old masochist with a desk job, a brand new snow bike, and a strange taste in vacations. Maybe I can offset the cost of said vacation by designing and selling T-shirts. I already have the sketch in mind. I drew it while killing time near a giant dead polar bear at the Anchorage airport. It could work. Stranger things have happened.
Monday, December 04, 2006

Should I do it?

I was crunching some numbers today when I stumbled across a page on the Susitna 100 Web site that I have never seen before, the 2006 Photo Gallery, and discovered what I believe is the only picture taken of me during the entire Feb. 18 race (thanks to Mike Schoder). The number I was crunching was the approximate cost for me to do the upcoming race, on Feb. 17, 2007. Money is the excuse I've been using for my indecisiveness, but the truth is I've been hedging on this far too long.

It's already Dec. 3. And so I must decide.

"It would be cool," I'd say to Geoff. "But would it be $700 cool? Or $800 cool?"

But secretly, I'd be thinking to myself: "Would it be buy a new sleeping bag and bivy sack cool? Take three or four days off of work cool? Fly out to Anchorage in the middle of February cool? Spend the next three months forcing myself on increasingly lengthy, sleet-drenched, Taku-wind-blasted bicycle rides cool? Plod through the sleep deprived physical delirium of 24 hours with a bicycle just to see the sun rise over the Susitna Valley once more cool?"

But then I look at this picture from last year, and I already know the answer.

There's still the problem with committing to it, however. What becomes easy to do in my mind becomes harder to do when I'm staring at the Alaska Air flight reservation Web site. So I have to weigh the pros and cons.

- This year, I'll have a snow bike (which will probably be ready to ride by the middle of this month.) It's not a fatbike, persay, not a Pugsley, but is decidedly more snow-worthy than my skinny Sugar.

- This year, I'll have experience. Although that could instill a false sense of security, I at least won't walk into the frozen valley facing a complete unknown.

- This year, I'll have most of my gear upfront. It won't be like last December, when I started out the season riding in 10-degree weather while wearing four pairs of cotton gym socks.

- This year, I'll have more competitive drive. I've always been accustomed to coming in last, but the 24 Hours of Kincaid gave me a taste of the fresh air at the front of the pack, and I want more.

- I live in Juneau this year, not Homer, which means an exponentially higher cost of travel to get to the Big Lake area.

- I live in Juneau this year, not Homer, which means training in conditions that are likely leaps and bounds away from those on the race course: Deep, wet snow; warmer air; and the possibility of driving rain (all of these conditions would have served me well when I was training for last year's race, but what are the chances it will be warm and rainy two years in a row?)

- I live in Juneau this year, not Homer, which means shipping my bike via USPS more than a week before the race. And who trusts USPS?

- Last year, I was training mainly to give myself something to do over the long Alaska winter. This year, I actually know what I need to do to get ready for such a race. And it scares the #$@! out of me.

So I look at the logistics and I ask myself: What would Pete Basinger do? What would Mike Curiak do?

What would you do?
Saturday, December 02, 2006

Made it back. Mostly.

Date: Nov. 30
Total mileage: 28.0
November mileage: 279.9
Temperature upon departure: 18

(Today's photo is a picture of Spaulding Meadow as captured by Geoff on Thanksgiving Day. Of all the things I actually remembered to bring back from Utah, my camera was not one of them.)

I was sitting in an immobile plane at the Ketchikan airport, staring at the blizzard-obscured city across the channel and wondering just when my move to Southeastern Alaska went wrong.

Maybe it was the lady from Kenai who sat in the seat in front of me, jabbering joyfully about her epic flight from Anchorage to Seattle to Ketchikan, all in a so-far foiled effort to make it to Juneau. "I just know we're going to end up back in Anchorage," she laughed. "I hope you know people there because this airline (Alaska Air) knows better than to give people hotel comps."

Maybe it was my sinus infection and the unbearable pressure that only seemed to increase in intensity as we sat at sea level - a sensation of deep sea diving combined with menthol-laced strawberry cough drops and an iPod blasting Built to Spill. I just wanted my ears to pop. And I wanted to drown out the displaced cheerfulness of the Kenai traveler.

Maybe it was the laps that I speed-walked around a Seattle airport terminal in an effort to get some exercise during the long day of traveling. The fifth time I passed my departure gate, a woman asked me if I was lost. "I'm just walking," I said. "Flight delayed?" she asked. I just shrugged. "Can you believe this weather?" she asked. I shrugged again and looked toward the window. It looked like it was snowing.

Maybe it was the way that, in between blinding pressure headaches, I couldn't help but look back wistfully to the final few days of my Utah vacation - time spent commuting around the frozen city on a tiny mountain bike and communing with old friends who have no concept of weather slavery. They were all warm in their beds. I was on the wrong side of the nonexistent "Bridge to Nowhere."

Maybe it was the gnawing anxiety as the captain-of-few-words announced that he would "try for a Juneau landing," and took off after more than an hour of waiting. I have heard that descending into the wall of mountains that line Juneau can be terrifying, but could only imagine what that must be like as we bumped and bounced through the featureless static of driving snow.

Maybe it was the way in which every passenger erupted into a chorus of cheers before the plane even touched down, and continued clapping as it careened across a runway covered in two inches of snow, so unified in their appreciation that I couldn't help but laugh in spite of my wide-eyed terror.

Maybe it was just my need to grump because coming home from vacation is all about grumping - especially when it's December, and the sunset's now at 3 p.m., and the forecast calls for 10 days of warm sleet. I should have felt grateful to have slipped through the window of the storm. But somehow I just couldn't seem to find the method to this madness ... the happy medium in this land of extremes.