Saturday, December 09, 2006

Susitna Dreams II

Date: Dec. 8
Total mileage: 21.1
December mileage: 116.1
Temperature upon departure: 39

Geoff and I rode out to the local bike shop to collect the finishing touches (for now) for the Snaux bike ... three silver spacers for the fork. With the headset mounted, I took it out for its maiden voyage up and down the slush-covered street in front of my house. It shifted really smooth, and it had great control through the slush piles despite its 2.2" tires pumped up to 35 or 40 psi .(It may just be all in my head, but I really think the extra surface area of those Snowcat rims will make a world of difference. And even if it is in my head, who cares? I'm steering better, ain't I?)
Plus, the bike is really comfortable. It's hard to describe. And I admittedly didn't ride it very far. But it felt like a beach cruiser ... just kick back, relax and enjoy the ride. If this early assessment holds true, it's a pleasant surprise. That's exactly what I want in Snaux bike ... I want it to be my long-haul trucker, my 18-wheeler, my motorhome. I want to be able to sleep on this thing. (multiday endurance, here I come!).

A few people have asked why I put gears on it rather than building it up as a singlespeed, and comfort is the main reason why. Snaux bike doesn't need much gearing in the snow (there are only so many ways one can ride 6 mph). But I'm sure I'll appreciate it greatly if I ever decide to load him up with 50 pounds of gear and ride across backcountry Canada. Or the Great Divide. (Or the Bering Strait ... eh, Shawn?) Who knows? It could happen. I'm full of dreams today.

I pretty much just slid comfortably into the realization today ... call it acceptance, if you will ... that I'm going to attempt the 2007 Susitna 100. Maybe that acceptance came over sushi diner last night, while I was commiserating with my friend about the outrageous price of a plane ticket to Anchorage. Maybe that acceptance came while I was limping Sugar across an unplowed section of bike trail this afternoon, gleefully fishtailing through anything I didn't flat-out walk. Or maybe that acceptance came when Geoff reminded me ... again ... that we could easily go beach camping in Hawaii for a week for what it's going to cost us to do the race. I don't know when it happened. But somehow the reality settled in. It's not like I really have choice.

After all, how will I ever be ready for the 2008 Iditarod Invitational if I don't get a good dry run in first? After that, it's only one (giant) step to the 2009 Great Divide Race.

There are certain paths of life that draw us in, like magnets - forces that drag us beyond free will into the murky landscape of predestination. Sometimes the pull is so strong that resistance eats away at core of one's self, until all of the drive has been sucked out and only a shell remains.

I don't know that I really believe that - but how else do I explain to my baffled friends and family why I feel compelled to take a winter vacation to a place where snow, wind, distance, fatigue and subzero cold could promise nothing more than a heaping plate of suffering?

How else could I explain why opting for the Hawaii vacation - and spending an entire winter looking forward to white sands and a pina colada - would make me absolutely nuts by February?
How else could I explain why I am so excited to no longer have any good excuse for not going out for a ride for the next three months?

I can't. And so I blame destiny.
Friday, December 08, 2006

Rain ride, noon to dusk

Date: Dec. 7
Total mileage: 40.0
December mileage: 95.0
Temperature upon departure: 37

I left my house a little after noon today and rode until it was dark enough to necessitate the use of red blinky. That isn't as long as you'd think. It's well shy of 3 p.m. these days.

Of course, I didn't see the sun actually set because it rained, continuously, over the entire ride. This picture that I posted today is an old picture. There was no semblance of sunset or sunrise today, and those beautiful piles of snow are quickly becoming a memory amid the sagging snowmen and smoke-colored slush streaming down the streets. The clouds hung low enough that thick fog enveloped the tips of even the shallowest hills. And I tried everything - and I mean everything I have in my clothing arsenal, shy of a plastic garbage bag - to stay dry, and I still got soaked. First I felt the rain dripping down my waterproof pants. It cascaded over the gators I had cinched as tight as they'd go. Then it began to pool on my neoprene booties, where icy water slowly but surely soaked through to my shoes, and then my wool socks, and then my liner socks, then right to the curled pink prunes that were once my toes. When I came home, I had to wring out my long johns and fleece liner just to go in the house. My "water resistant" coat is still dripping.

I guess it's just been a while since I've had to deal with this much rain. And of course I fiercely miss the crispy cold. But it really wasn't a bad ride. In fact, I enjoyed it. Squinting against the continuous spash of rain only further obscured the gray-washed landscape. I was in my own little world out beyond the traffic flow, absent-mindedly spinning to the South Austin Jug Band and rubber-necking the moaning torrents of imprisoned creeks struggling to break free from their half-frozen shells. The slush piles provided plenty of quick, snap-back-to-reality action.

And - most importantly - I stayed warm. Despite that fact that it was 37 out, and raining, with windchill, and I had been completely soaked for the better part of two hours. I think this is proof of just how well my body is adjusting to the cold. I couldn't have stayed out in weather like that for more than an hour this past August without breaking into pre-hypothermic shivers, even though it was generally in the 50s and I rarely got soaked through. But now, in December - with basically the same clothes on, no less - I feel fine. Isn't it strange how bodies adjust like that? A few weeks in the 10s and 20s, and suddenly that wet 37 is downright balmy.

I have heard this before but I'm really starting to believe it's true - if you want to be comfortable riding in cold conditions, you just have to do it. It will hurt the first couple of times, no matter how carefully you dress. But soon, you'll figure out which layers work best in which conditions, and dressing will become second nature. And then, and even more wonderful thing will happen: Those cold temperatures will start to feel completely normal.

How else could those people in Interior Alaska and the Yukon do it? I've always wondered that. -30 degrees? Everyday? Now I'm starting to understand.

It's all about acclimatization.
Thursday, December 07, 2006

Almost done

Date: Dec. 5
Total mileage: 23.0
December mileage: 55.0
Temperature upon departure: 36

I am ... or more accurately, Geoff is ... putting the finishing touches on “Juno’s one and only snaux bike” (Carlos’ words, not mine. I think the ‘snaux’ spelling of snow is a dig on the faux way it imitates better bikes such as the FatBike, and the term ‘one and only’ is a dig on the warm and rainy region of Alaska in which I live.) All it needs now is a headset, which is on its way from Singapore. It also has a few things I intend to replace: the fork, because it can’t support disc brakes as it is now (and V-brakes won’t clear the snowcat rims) and the tires, which are currently my 2.2” summer MTB tires, but which I intend to replace with 2.75” mega downhill tires. The new tires will barely (if at all) fit the frame - but if they do, they will be oh-so-floatatious.

I have not ridden the bike yet, but I feel very optimistic about its future. Geoff built it while I was in Utah. While I acknowledge that this only serves to further handicap my bike-repair disability, I do admit that I’m somewhat relieved to be riding something that doesn’t have the scars of my workmanship. We designed it to be an all-purpose bike. It will serve me well in the snow, but will also double as a good Juneau mud’n ride (especially with year-round studs, which grip like ice picks to wet roots and wooden planks). It also will be a great gravel-road and trail touring bike and a sturdy commuter, especially after I outfit it with a rear rack. This overweight snaux bike could very well put my Sugar out of business.

We had to zip-tie the cables to the frame in order to run full housing (full housing prevents cable failure due to ice buildup). The parts are mostly bargain basement mountain bike parts from eBay, flown in from around the country. The stem took an inexplicable side trip from Louisiana to Indonesia and just arrived (three weeks late) on Monday. Take that and the headset from Singapore, and my snow bike is better traveled than I am.

Speaking of traveling, I just learned about the Trans Iowa race. How perfect is that ... Iowa is one of the few states I have never been to (along with Florida, Hawaii, Michigan, Wisconsin, and probably a couple others.) I imagine all of the cool cats from the Lower 48 will be there, and I'd love to go. Another $700 race, maybe? That sure doesn't leave much left for the 24 Hours of Light. Good thing I didn't blow all of my rent money on bike parts (Thankyou, Shimano LX).

I can't wait to get out and ride my snow bike. It's 40 degrees out now, and .75" of rain fell today. Looks promising.