Saturday, February 03, 2007

15 pounds extra

Date: Feb. 2
Mileage: 58.5
February mileage: 70.6
Temperature upon departure: 28

I had stopped yet again to readjust the dry bag that was hanging off my back rack when I spotted another cyclist riding toward me on the icy bike path. This is the second cyclist I've seen on the road in at least eight weeks - the first was a bike commuter who nodded at me as we met blinky light to blinky light in the hazy evening. But this one looked like he might actually stop to talk to me. I was very excited for our prospective conversation. Since I was readjusting my bag, I was sure he'd ask me about it.

"So what are you carrying in there?"

"15 pounds of dumbbell weights."

"Um ... what?"

"Four weights, three pounds each, and a two-pound bar, and I wrapped them in a towel, and stuffed them in this bag with a bunch of clothes."

I had our entire exchange scripted by the time he rode up next to me, nodded with a hint of a smile, and pedaled away. No "You need any help?" No "Nice day, isn't it?" Maybe he was just in a hurry. Maybe I exude competence. Or maybe I just exude crazy.

I did, after all, spend the afternoon pedaling north with a bunch of iron weights in a dry bag. It was a great idea I had to practice riding with the minimum weight requirement of the Susitna 100 without actually packing all of my stuff - and getting it dirty, and wet, and possibly ripped. Plus, by loading up 15 pounds all on the back rack, I could test how strong it really was.

The largest difference I noticed riding with extra weight was how much more difficult it was to hoist my bike over snow berms or push it through extra icy stretches. I also seemed to go noticeably faster when the conditions were favorable - tailwinds and downhills. Uphills and headwinds, however, felt like more of a grind. I don't know if it was psychological or if the weight really made that much of a difference. My overall average speed was a few notches faster than it was during my 100-mile ride last week. Since I tend to ride fairly consistently regardless of how long I'm out, I take this as an encouraging sign.

Beyond the weight, today's ride was smooth and comfortable. These longer rides make me feel strong. To go out and ride 60 miles, then feel no different afterward than I would on a typical weekday ... it's definitely a positive feeling. Competency and control. I know the state's not permanent, but it's satisfying while it lasts.

Now all I can do is watch the weather report and wait patiently. If trail conditions are magically similar to today's ... glare ice coated in frost ... I figure it would take me about 11-12 hours to finish the race. And if they're like they were yesterday, it will take me closer to 40. I'm gunning for something in between.
Friday, February 02, 2007

Serenity now

Date: Feb. 1
Mileage: 12.1
February mileage: 12.1
Temperature upon departure: 30

There's something fundamentally wrong about walking with a bike. I mean, sure, it's a machine created for the sole purpose of propelling a rider. And sure, it's pretty pointless otherwise. But still ... what is it about the simple motion of pushing a bicycle that can reduce an otherwise rational cyclist to a sputtering, jello-legged heap on the verge of going Frank Costanza on that useless piece of ...

I don't know. I do know that it's something I need to steel myself against, so today I deliberately headed to a seldom-used backcountry ski trail, which, on a warm day like today, I expected to only be marginally rideable - if at all. It was an intentional hike-a-bike, and all started according to plan. The first mile and a half of narrow singletrack was great fun as long as I kept the intense focus required to stay on the trail. Then it became softer and punchier, until only a single divided ski track separated the "trail" from an endless pile of soft, halfway rotten snow.

So I walked. And walked. And rode a couple yards. And walked some more. And walked. And hit my calves with my pedals. And walked. And dragged my bike on its side when the snow became to deep to roll it through. And walked. And hoisted the bike on my shoulders for a while. And trudged.

And I remembered why I don't like riding with an odometer. I always feel like it's judging me. At one point I post-holed up to my thigh and had to leverage the bike to dig myself out. As I took a few quick leaps out of the hole and hoisted the bike over the drift, all the while gasping for breath while sweat poured down my forehead, I watched the odometer register 1.2 mph. Why must you mock me? You have no idea what this is really like!

You laugh ... but pushing's a vital skill to any well-rounded snow biker. I neglect it for the same reason I neglect lifting weights. The very act makes me question everything from my sanity to my existence. After about two hours I had covered five miles. I crawled over to the river bank and sat defeated in the snow. Sunlight poured through the still-frosted trees and shimmered in the mist over the river. My all-encompassing thoughts about five miles being a dismal distance and I need to get up right now ... those thoughts dissolved almost instantly. I pushed in deeper to make a comfortable seat in the snow and pulled a peanut butter sandwich out of my pack. And suddenly, I wasn't out on a torturous hike-a-bike. I was having a nice, sunny-day picnic. I decided to stay for a while.

I think Brij Potnis, the cyclist who came in first during the unending horror-ride that was the 2005 Susitna 100, put it best when he said, "Why suffer now when you can suffer later?"

Thanks, Brij

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Sunburned and loving it

Date: Jan. 31
Mileage: 37.3
January mileage: 893.4 (Oh, so close)
Temperature upon departure: 30

Climbing up from Sheep Creek today, I was trying to determine the strange sensation boiling up from my core. I held my hand over my eyebrows as I squinted into the blaze of sun. The gesture made me think of sunglasses. Sunglasses? I remember sunglasses. People wear sunglasses in the summer. Summer? I remember summer. It's hot in the summer. Hot? I remember hot. Could I possibly be hot?

Shortly thereafter, I started peeling layers off. I have a great clothing system in place that compensates for the nuances of even a couple of degrees. But it doesn't take into account dry weather and direct sunlight. First went the PVC layer. Then the gloves. Then the balaclava.

Suddenly, I was having all sorts of strange sensations. The wind flowing gently through my hair. A pleasant chill on my ungloved fingers as they clutched the cold handlebars. The warmth of sunlight on my bare skin. That sunlight, seeping into surfaces on me that are never exposed, ignited a rush of melanin that made me feel like I was out in the heat of July.

After my ride was over, I set to scrubbing the thick mask of slush grime from my face, just like I do every day. As the gray grit sloughed off, a tell-tale pink hue began to emerge.

I'm normally one of those people who becomes horrified at the prospect of even a minor skin burn. But, now ... well ... I don't even think the stores here stock sunscreen.

Even my coworkers noticed my new, healthy glow. "You look like you got some sun!" they exclaimed. To us pasty-faced Alaskans, it's the ultimate badge of honor.