Friday, November 02, 2007

Warming up to the gym

Date: Nov. 1
Mileage: 13.2
November mileage: 13.2
Temperature upon departure: 42
Rainfall: .58"

I had some time to burn this morning before I had to pick Geoff up from the airport, so I headed up the Perseverance Trail again. The snow was mostly gone, which was not surprising. Driving rain today, and wind, charging north at a steady 25 mph. More of the same tomorrow.

As I'm working on forming a plan for my winter training schedule, I feel like I have to make concessions for the paradox of this common weather: Juneau is just warm enough to be unbearably cold. When the temperature drops below freezing, and precipitation turns to snow, it's much easier to stay warm. When I was a completely uninformed winter cycling novice, I used to pedal around Homer in single-digit temperatures wearing fleece pajama bottoms and three pairs of cotton socks. Totally happy. Now I have a tough time staying warm when the temperature dips below 40, knowing that as long as it stays above 30, I probably never will have a chance to feel warm.

Having tested every piece of gear I own, I know I can stay comfortable while soaking wet in 35-degree weather for about two hours, maybe three if the wind is light. When it comes time to make longer, slower training rides - and I've already blown off a couple - I'm at a bit of a loss. I can't afford expensive new gear that might actually keep me dry (and I have too many doubts to take the gamble). I've actually been scanning the classified ads for used wetsuits. My jokes about riding a bicycle in a single piece of neoprene have crossed over into serious consideration. Then there's my other idea - carrying a complete change of clothes in a dry bag. Or at least some extra layers that I can bulk up with when the barriers start breaking down.

It's an interesting conundrum that I didn't run into much last winter, partially because I lucked out with the weather, and partially because I didn't do many daylong rides. I have more aspirations for longer rides this winter. After stalling last weekend, I was hoping to start the series tomorrow with a simple, four-hour ride. Right now, I can all too easily picture myself blowing it off again, but hopefully I'll make a good-faith effort. Maybe I'll give that dry-bag thing a try.

Sorry to blog yet another weather rant. It truly is, as my co-worker describes it, homicide-inspiring. Geoff came back from Utah today, and I don't think I'll be able to talk him into staying in Alaska if this weather lasts much longer than another week. On the plus side, I am really pleased with the progress I have been making at the gym. I slog through this stuff twice a week, thrice on good weeks, in the back of my mind skeptical that it's working at all. But today I made a bunch of additions to my lower-body weights, with encouraging results. My leg extensions have been by far the most promising. My physical therapist last spring recommended I do these lifts to improve my VMO quad and other knee-supporting muscles. Throughout the summer, I couldn't even lift my legs from a sitting position, once, with no weights, and not feel pain. In late September, I resolved just to wince through the uncomfortable knee crackling and start with a set of 3-5 reps, at 5 pounds. In six weeks, I'm up to three sets of 12 reps with 20 pounds, and no pain. That probably still sounds pretty lightweight, but this is an area of my body that, at least according to my doctor, had atrophied down to nothing as recently as late April. So as far as I'm concerned, I am now Superwoman. Bring on the rain!
Thursday, November 01, 2007

Help me ride the Iditarod

Hi. My name is Jill, and I am planning to ride my bicycle in the 2008 Iditarod Trail Invitational. This event is a 350-mile winter wilderness race that follows the historic Iditarod trail from Knik to McGrath, Alaska. In order to get there, racers must pack all of their survival gear on bicycles specially built to ride on snow. Once out there, we must be self-sufficient for anything the Alaska winter can throw at us: wind, snow, flash blizzards, temperatures ranging from 40 above to 40 below, moose encounters, ice overflow, loneliness, isolation ... the list goes on.

I entered this event not only for the challenge, but also for the opportunity to ride my bicycle through 350 miles of some of the most beautiful terrain I can imagine. I am not a career cyclist. I do not have pro deals or corporate sponsorships. I am just a regular person with a passion for cycling - one might say a passion for extreme cycling.

I am self-funding this race on my small-town journalists' salary. It has really cut into the luxuries, but it is worth every penny to me. However, I have received tokens of help from people all around the world. I am always grateful to like-minded souls who generously give not only their monetary support, but also their emotional support. It feels great to be a regular passionate, cyclist sponsored by regular, passionate people.

If you would like to help sponsor my race, you can click on the gold button below to make a donation through the Paypal link. Or you can contact me by e-mail at I send to every sponsor a CD filled with scenic Alaska photography that I have taken - some that has appeared on this blog, and some that has not. The compilation now covers more than two years of Alaska living and offers hundreds of photos, open for any use - commercial or personal. I also include a link to blogs or other Web sites in my sidebar under the heading "this blog brought to you by." If you have any questions or recommendations, please e-mail me. And thanks again for reading.

Pugsley's first taste of snow

Date: Oct. 31
Mileage: 13.2
October mileage: 648.1
Temperature upon departure: 37
Rainfall: .98"
October rainfall: 15.65"

This morning, I dressed to go to the gym. Lower-body weight-lifting day. Ug. I thought I should be grateful for the diversion because the weather outside looked monstrous, as usual. But as I walked outside I noticed, stripped ever so lightly below the low-lying clouds, hints of powder white. That meant the snowline was low! Low enough to cover the Perseverance Trail! I had to go to it, to see it, to remember that there is life beyond relentless rain. But I didn't have much time. I ran inside and threw on a fleece hoodie, my helmet, some neoprene booties over my gym shoes, and my snowboarding gloves. With a cotton gym outfit as a base layer, I knew I wouldn't last long out there. But I didn't need long. I needed fast. And I needed snow.

Pugsley and I set out in light, sprinkling rain, but the lack of fenders had me soaked in about 55 seconds. We burned quickly through the late-morning traffic and up the canyon road, hitting the deserted trail in a splash of puddles and scattered leaves, the snowline now mere feet above us. And then, within minutes, it was below us.

I can't call it Puglsey's first snow ride because an inch of warm slush that melts on contact doesn't quite fit the description. But snow was there, coating the canyon like a thin confection glaze, oozing from the treetops and infusing the air with a sweet, metallic taste. I was filled with anticipation I could hardly mitigate. And like a kid who knows the free reign of her Halloween candy is all too temporary, I just had to go for broke.

I launched into a pedalling frenzy, fueled by a sugar snow rush and propelled by the never-say-die burliness of my monster bike. Despite the slush and ice, I was climbing the canyon better than I ever had, clearing a lot of rocky stretches that I usually don't. It's a strange working relationship that I have with Pugsley - it weighs as much as a downhill bike, and doesn't have the suspension that I'm used to, but the big wheels make me feel like I can do no wrong. They instill a confidence that suspension never could. And we burned, really burned. I was sweating bullets and feeling bulletproof.

I stopped at the top of the canyon to take a picture and finally put on the rain shell I had stuffed in my hoodie pocket. I realized there had been a light breeze at my back the whole way up, and it stabbed through my fleece-and-cotton ensemble as though the clothes were made of water, which, for all practical properties of absorption, they were. I knew I could make it home in 20 minutes at a good clip, which is a short period of time regardless of how poorly dressed one is. But I knew it was going to hurt. And I knew how it was going to hurt. And in the novelty of the tiny, sharp flakes of wet snow swirling around me, I took a sick sort of satisfaction in that knowledge.

The descent was short, wet, muddy, and felt like I was on the verge of being sliced to pieces by a chainsaw made of ice. It was everything I needed. For the first morning in a while, I did not miss the sun.