Friday, October 05, 2007

Almost like fall

Date: Oct. 4
Mileage: 46
October mileage: 101
Temperature upon departure: 41
Rainfall: .01"

When I first moved to Juneau, a friend told me that the Native people of Southeast Alaska had a dozen words for rain, a dozen words for wind, and nothing to denote the seasons. That's obviously a complete fabrication, but when the gray days really start to stack up, you begin to wonder what that would feel like ... to believe things never changed.

But every once in a while you wake up in the morning, and the day just feels the way you think it should, the way you think October should, the way October used to feel, back when you didn't live in a temperate rainforest, and the Pacific Ocean didn't hold the temperature hostage, and the leaves didn't stay green until they died, and things changed.

Maybe it's the morning after a the first frost, after the night sky was so clear that the stars burned into your retinas before you could close your eyes. Even when heavy fog moved in with dawn, you knew it was still clear and bright up there somewhere, and you intended to find the sun.

Maybe you used your mountain bike to look for it, pedaling through the sticky air as your breath swirled in cumulus clouds around your face. The leaves crackled and disintegrated beneath your tires, only slightly less green now that they'd died. But as you climbed into the strengthening light, the leaves almost seemed yellow. Even orange.

You climbed until the frost rematerialized, holding the dead leaves hostage beneath white capsules of ice. You climbed until your breath felt hot against your face and the sweat trickling down your neck nearly froze en route. Then suddenly, almost without warning, you emerged from the fog into the blazing truth of morning ... a morning so clear the sky burned navy blue against the snow-capped peaks; the sun burned your retinas until you closed your eyes, and saw stars.

It made you think about they way October feels, the way October felt in all of those Octobers passed. Maybe you were sprinting down neighborhood streets with bags of candy, or standing in line for a concert, or cycling through an inferno of red maple trees in upstate New York. Maybe you were scrambling on granite outcroppings in the foothills with a kite in your hands, the way you did in junior high, with the cotton string wrapped around your wrist as you climbed. You let the kite go into the cold wind, watched it tumble and swirl over the abyss, watched it catch a breeze and dance in air so crisp and sweet you could taste the possibility, the promise of a new year, the promise of fall.

And you think it feels like that. Almost.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007

PFD day

Date: Oct. 2
Mileage: 28
October mileage: 55
Temperature upon departure: 45
Rainfall: .74"

Today marks the first wave of permanent fund dividend checks. This is the day every eligible man, woman and child in the state of Alaska sells their soul to Big Oil for a taste of that sweet, sweet oil money. And thanks to "The Simpsons" movie, now everyone else in America knows what the urban legend of "paid to live in Alaska" is really about. You know that part where Homer drives across the state line and the customs agent tells him that all Alaskans get a stack of bills so they will look the other way while oil companies exploit the environment? Yeah, it's something like that.

Suddenly, we're all flush with $1,600 in free money. Most Alaskans do the rational thing with their PFD - they blow it on some impulse buy, like plane tickets to Hawaii or a down payment on a new snowmachine. This is the first year I'm eligible for the PFD. I did the rational thing with mine, too. I spent it in July, on a new snowmachine. I call him Pugsley.

I did not refuse the PFD. I don't think, when I gaze deep into my greedy heart, I could ever do such an audacious thing like turn down free money while the Alaska economy is squeezing $5 out of me every time I buy a gallon of milk and $12 for a case of Diet Pepsi. But still ... it feels a bit dirty. Call me a pinko greenie, but I am not a big fan of the PFD. It is not my money. I did not earn it. I was a mishmash of molecules when oil first started flowing through the TransAlaska pipeline in 1977. I was in fifth grade when the Exxon Valdez dumped millions of gallons of crude into the Prince William Sound. I remember seeing the televised images of sludge-coated sea otters gasping for air on the shoreline. It was one of the saddest things I had ever seen. I wanted no part of it.

Now I am part of it. I still own a car and take warm showers. I don't deny that oil feeds the very economy that allows me to live comfortably and work in Alaska. And I didn't refuse the PFD. I can think of hundreds of social programs where I would rather see the money spent ... Alaska could have universal health care; the best education system in the country; we could buy our politicians for a lot higher bribes then they're taking from VECO and the like. But instead, we all get $1,600 to spend on snowmachines. But I didn't donate my PFD to a good cause. I spent it. Before I even had it in my hands. So I am part of the system. One could say the worst part.

Man, now I feel guilty. And I haven't even gotten my PFD yet (I didn't file early enough and have to wait two weeks.) I think I will go soothe my shame with a $1 can of Diet Pepsi.
Monday, October 01, 2007

Training vs. survival

Date: Oct. 1
Mileage: 27
October mileage: 27
Temperature upon departure: 47
Rainfall: .94"

I think cycling is good physical therapy for an injured foot. I get all of the benefits of warm blood flow without any of the motion that sparks pain. That is my theory, and I'm sticking with it.

So I have this idea about training to be a faster rider. It is loosely based on ideas I culled from magazine articles and blogs, minus the necessary gauging equipment and coaching: intervals, climbing, and in general more riding near my perceived lactate threshold (i.e. sucking as much air as I can tolerate without passing out.) While ramping up my effort on the bike to improve my fitness seems like a great theory in abstract, I think it is going to be much more difficult to achieve in actual practice.

I rode an easy spin with a tailwind out to the glacier to check out the new slab of bright blue ice exposed Saturday during the largest calving in years (I couldn't see much of it behind the detached chunks of ice floating in the lake and blocking the view.) Deciding that my foot was a nonissue, I resolved to work on my speed by riding all-out for a mile, then recovering for a mile, than going all-out again, etc., all the way home.

The first interval went well. I was riding a bike path, huffing audibly and peeling off layers in the 47-degree dampness of the afternoon. Shortly after my first recovery period ended, however, I turned to face the brunt of the headwind. The rain kicked up a notch and, because I had stashed all of my rain layers away, needled through my jersey and stung my skin. I was hot and cold at the same time, unsure what to do about it, and already committed to the hard pedalling. I decided to tough it out.

By the beginning of interval three, I was just plain cold, and wet to boot, but I was nearing home, and it was time to ride hard again. As I launched into the pedals, the fountain of snot that I had been fighting back through my sinuses suddenly gushed into my throat, leaving me choking and sputtering and slowing my speed just to catch my breath. The horizontal rain was moving fast enough now to force my eyelids into rapid blinking. In the confusing midst of strobelight vision, I caught a long line of jarring potholes just as traffic was really bearing down. I regained my composure, put my head down, and spun the pedals. I no longer had any goals in my mind. I was in survival mode ... conserve energy ... keep eyes open ... move toward home ... move toward home.

I feel like I can rec ride in this stuff forever. But speed? There's got to be an easier way.