Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Lost in the woods

Date: Sept. 12
Mileage: 18.1
September mileage: 292.6
Temperature upon departure: 48
Rainfall: 0"

My attempt to climb Heinzelman Ridge this morning was thwarted in one of the worst ways ... I became hopelessly lost in a bog.

These things always start out with the best intentions - setting out with an ambitious pace aimed at finishing the hike by noon; picking a new trail because it seems more adventurous; and, OK, maybe paying a bit too much attention to my iPod.

Either way, I was not as bewildered as I should have been when the trail I was following, the one that had gradually become more overgrown and congested with deadfall logs, finally petered out. "No big deal," I thought. "I couldn't have lost the real trail too far back." So I retraced my steps until I came to something that looked marginally like a spur trail, and began to move back up the mountain. When that trail petered out, I looked for another, and then another.

I forget that this whole mountain range is crawling with bears. They create plenty of their own trails, huge networks of really convincing trails. But their destination isn't Heinzelman Ridge. Pretty soon, neither was mine.

By the time I decided to hit the abort button, I hadn't seen anything resembling a foot trail in 20 minutes. I was basically just bushwhacking through devil's club and trammeling skunk cabbage at that point, with only a vague idea of which way was north and which was was south. My only real option was to point straight down the mountain, and hope gravity would lead me to the highway. Bushwhacking laterally is one thing, but bushwhacking downward was treacherous. I was falling headlong over roots I couldn't even see and picking up thorns from an assortment of strange plants. The alders became thick in spots and it was all I could do to thrash through, with my jacket pulled on just to keep my arms from being slashed to bits.

By the time I intersected anything I recognized, I was only a few minutes from the highway. I stumbled back to the trailhead, frustrated and determined never to try Heinzelman again without adequate companionship. Even as time-consuming as that mess was, my hike still came up an hour short. I decided to use the window to squeeze in a short bike ride.

Everything at sea level was shrouded in haze, but at least I knew where I was going.

The sun came out, and I felt like a rockstar

Date: Sept. 11
Mileage: 30.5
September mileage: 274.5
Temperature upon departure: 65
Rainfall: .04"

You know what may just be the easiest workout in the world? Anything when it's 65 degrees and sunny.

When there are days on end of solid rain, I never seem to notice the way they add up. The grayness slowly creeps into my head, settles in my lungs and sloshes around in my limbs. Before long, I'm so weighted down in weather that I can scarcely turn pedals without teetering on the edge of unconsciousness; every frustrating attempt at effort only makes me go slower. It occurred to me yesterday that I should probably just give up on this whole fitness dream, as I was obviously becoming more and more of a slug by the mile.

Then the sun comes out, and it's like someone has tipped over the heavy bucket on my back. I can almost feel the weight draining out as I spin into the bright, mundane morning, lungs and limbs renewed. It's not often that my flat-barred, platform-pedalled, fender-adorned, waterbottle-cages-hanging-off-the-fork road bike sees 20 mph on the flat highway. It's even less often that the unlikely pace continues for 15 miles.

If I ever moved to Southern California, I would probably become such a skinny-tire road geek; it feels so amazing to believe I'm moving fast.

But for now I will live in Southeast Alaska; I will count the sunny fall days on one hand, and I will dream of the season when I can finally set out on sluggish slogs through an endless expanse of snow.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Finally ate all of my Susitna food

Date: Sept. 10
Mileage: 34.4
September mileage: 244.0
Temperature upon departure: 58
Rainfall: .43"

Geoff has been out of town for 10 days now, and it shows. The cats, which are used to taking advantage of Geoff's and my opposite schedules to come and go as they please, are no longer on speaking terms with me - their current jailer. Instead of meows, I get cold glares when I come home, even after I pull out the Whisker Lickins.

There also is nobody around to do the grocery shopping. One could argue that I am not incapable of buying my own groceries, but I figure, why should I spend a perfectly bikeable hour pushing a wobbly-wheeled cart around a store when there are perfectly edible calories still sitting around the house? That Costco-sized jar of olives, that bag of lil' hotties chili peppers, that freezer-burned loaf of bread. Are these things not food? The shopping can wait.

I used to make myself big salads for lunch, with fresh tomatoes, mixed greens, red peppers, feta cheese, pecans, bagel chips and ripe plums. I have been reduced to eating peanut butter and jam sandwiches for the past three days, and even now I am down to the dredges of peanut butter. Today I came home from that hardest ride I've done all month ... full speed out to North Douglas, red zone climb to Eaglecrest, into the wind home ... and gobbled up my lunch. That dredge sandwich on stale bread just didn't hold the way I hoped it would.

So I mined the cupboards. I pushed aside Geoff's Power Gel packets, that ancient bag of trail mix and stale corn chips to discover a Hershey's Special Dark chocolate bar stuffed in the darkest corner of the shelf. The wrapper looked like it had been taken for a swim at some point, worn white in the corners and crinkled beyond legibility, but it was chocolate! I tore in.

The thick, waxy block crumbled as I chewed it but didn't dissolve. I choked a little on the chocolate dust and held the bar up to the light. It too had white lines across the surface and was cracked and crumbly. "How old is this thing?" I thought. "Where did it come from?"

I mined my memory for its origins. Shortly before we moved to Juneau, I urged Geoff to stop buying candy on account of my extreme sugar addiction that can't be controlled. He complied, and since then I've been sneaking fruit leathers and spoonfuls of jam to get my sugar fix. I initially assumed this chocolate bar moved up from Homer. But how did it escape me all this time?

Wherever it came from, it was pretty disgusting now. I moved to toss the whole thing in the trash when I suddenly recalled an image of a stack of chocolate bars stuffed deep in the pouch of my bicycle frame bag. All around them I stashed the things that would be consumed shortly ... the peanut butter and jam sandwiches, the fruit leather, the trail mix. But the chocolate was my safety food, only to be eaten in a dire emergency, a life-or-death situation. That's the way it stayed, pressed into the deep freezer of the Susitna Valley in February, slowly crystallizing and hardening as we travelled together around the lollipop loop of the Susitna 100.

That was the time my inner furnace flickered; I remembered the way my teeth chattered as I chewed, putting every ounce of faith I had in fuel, cherishing every precious calorie I was carrying. I thought about the value this chocolate once held and couldn't bring myself to toss it. I took another bite.