Sunday, March 30, 2008

More movie fun

Date: March 30
Mileage: 13
March mileage: 606.2
Temperature: 37

I did a short ride up the Dan Moller Trail today that turned into more of a moderately long hike. I was gone for nearly three hours, but the opportunity to leave the house and its incessant blaring of college basketball, plus the four-mile descent that takes all of 15 minutes, made it all worth it. I made another short video today during the downhill run. This one is much better than Friday's. I got a better angle by stuffing my Olympus point-and-shoot in my goggles, so I had a ghetto helmet-cam thing going on. One thing I noticed after watching the clip is that it actually makes the ride seem fairly smooth - there's no indication that I spent most of the narrow stretch correcting my line with my handlebars while my rear wheel fishtailed wildly in the snowmobile-churned sugar snow. It may be proof that I do in fact have sound upper body handling - or it could just be poor quality footage. Either way, I got my hands on some video editing software, so today there is music and titles. Enjoy!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

The push

Date: March 28 and 29
Mileage: 12 and 30.1
March mileage: 593.2
Temperature: 42 and 35

Spring has taken over Juneau with a vengeance. The roads are dry (and dusty). The sea-level snow has all but retreated. People are having big bonfires on the beach even as temperatures drop into the 20s. March in Alaska means it's still cool, but the 7:30 p.m. sunset and the day's slow creep into the 40s leaves no doubt: 'Tis a beautiful season.

The best part about this time of year is there is still good snowbiking to be had, if you are willing to work for it. And by work, I mean walk. And by walk, I mean climb. And by climb, I mean lean hard against the bike as you slip and grind and grunt your way up 1,800 vertical feet of slush in a little more than two miles. The effort will leave you red-faced and stumbling through your light-headed hallucinations of swirling stars. But rub a little of that corn snow in your eyes, place your wheel on top of a hardpack trail atop the high mountain meadow, and just roll. I can promise you'll start to feel a whole lot better, quickly.

Spring can actually be the ideal time for snowbiking if the conditions are just right. Day thaws and night freezes polish the snowpack to a crusty sheen. Hit up a snowfield early in the morning and you often don't even need to stick to the trail - just ride the crust (half the fun is the nervous anticipation of when your front wheel is finally going to break through.) But I woke up late Friday and wavered a bit on the walk up, so by the time I made it to Spaulding Meadow early in the afternoon, the 40-degree sunshine had done its damage. But there was still much slushy fun to be had on the rolling snowmobile tracks, running my tires at ~6 psi. And thanks to the bare dirt patches that pepper the snowmobile access trail, I had the place all to myself.

Saturday brought a different kind of bike hike - much less dignity and much less fun. After pulling my Roadie out of the basement earlier this month, I admittedly did little (no) spring maintenance. The roads are still littered in winter debris, and I'm pretty much at a flat-a-day average, but until today, they've all been on the front wheel. But as I rolled past Mile 11 Douglas Highway, I felt that familiar bobbing in the back. When I went to remove the wheel, I discovered it no longer had its quick-release skewer. It had a regular skewer that Geoff uses to ride the bike on the trainer during the winter. And I just stood there, picturing my Allen wrench, safely stowed away in my Pugsley, some 13 miles distant. (doh!)

So I began the walk, reasoning that it was a nice day and I was bound to see another cyclist go by. If I didn't, plan B was to walk to my friend Holly's house, some four miles distant, and borrow the tool from her. I moved to the left side of the road and glanced away from passing traffic. I have strong personal convictions about hitchhiking - I'm not going to do it unless I'm gravely injured or gravely late for work. If a motorist stops to offer unsolicited help, great. But I'm not going to ask for something I don't need.

But after two miles, my feet were killing me and it was becoming apparent that I was going to walk the full four miles. I started jogging, but the awkward cleats on my clipless shoes made a horrible clacking noise. I pictured them being ground to dust in the gravel. I halfway hoped this was happening. I keep the clipless pedals on my bike because ... I don't know ... maybe because I'm lazy. But there's much I don't like about them, and right at the top is walking . (Seriously, what use does a forgetful tourist like myself have for tiny, uninsulated shoes that lock me to my bicycle and serve no other practical purpose?)

I was less than a quarter mile from Holly's house when two cyclists went by. I asked the woman if she had an Allen wrench, and she was kind enough to let me borrow her bike tool. I wrenched the wheel off in a second and waved them back on their way. Then I fixed my flat, tightened the skewer with my half-frozen fingers, and shot down the road. It occurred to me that my rear wheel may pop off at any second. But it felt so good to not be walking that I really laid into the pedals. I probably hit a personal speed record over that stretch, but I'll never know because to odometer screen froze and went black while I was playing around by an icy waterfall. (Seriously, that Roadie is such a wimp.)

Anyhow, if I haven't had enough bike pushing already, I think I'm going to try to wake up early to hit some Douglas Island crust tomorrow. I made my first-ever video while I was snowbiking Spaulding Meadow on Friday. I must have turned the camera on some strange setting because it's cast in purple. And because I shot it by holding the camera against my handlebar as I pedaled along the trail, it's more than a little Blair Witch Project-esque. I really wanted to shoot the downhill stretch (oh yes, I did ride down, often using my right foot as a brake/ski.) But after five seconds, a dropping of the camera, a too-late grab for the brake and a fishtailing crash, I realized that wasn't going to happen. But I have a link to a flat stretch here: I call it "A Minute of Snowbiking in Juneau, Most Likely Uninteresting to Everyone But Me."

Spaulding Meadow from Jill Homer on Vimeo.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

My world in old ways

Date: March 27
Mileage: 90.4
March mileage: 551.1
Temperature: 39

I had this idea that I was going to do a long ride today. I didn't know how long it was going to be. It was going to be long. The weather forecast was stellar. I packed water and food. I was thinking maybe all of the Juneau roads. I've never done that in one day before. Eaglecrest is still ice-packed, but everything else ... could be 135, 145 miles.

But then I stayed up much too late last night, staring at Northern Lights. Then my annoying cats started to pounce on me at the crack of dawn. By the time I stumbled out the door, bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived at 11 a.m., the glare of the sun hit my face like a brick. As I pedaled down the road, my head pounded and my stomach churned. And even as I crossed the bridge to face the full force of the beautiful day, all that awesomeness that encompassed me last week just wouldn't solidify. There was no way around it. I felt crappy. There would be no effortless hundred-plus miles today. I pretty much doubted I would even be able to rally for a painful hundred miles.

What commenced was basically the opposite of what happened last Thursday. I arrived at the glacier cutoff and wanted to turn around, but I didn't (I did skip the spur, though, so riding all the available pavement was out from the get-go.) Then I limped out to Tee Harbor and wanted to turn around, but reasoned that since I had bothered to carry three water bottles, and all of that food, I might as well keep going. Then I started to eat my food. It was beyond terrible. I had one good Clif Bar, and everything else was nearly inedible. Do you ever carry the same piece of food for about two dozen rides before finally eating it? Do you ever carry food that you have no idea where it came from? Do you ever carry food that you know you don't like but don't want to waste, reasoning that a cyclist on a century will eat anything? Yeah, I did all that. So what I ate was one waterlogged Clif Bar that tasted strongly like mildew, one strange chocolate bar that tasted strongly like dust, and one package cola-flavored Clif Shot Bloks. (I seriously dislike those. I have several stocked up and keep giving them a chance because so many people rave about them. But all I taste is waded-up cubes of vegetable shortening drenched in Safeway-brand soda.)

But I still kept going because it was such a nice day, and I didn't really have anything else planned. When I rolled into the far-away land of Echo Cove, bleached in snow and blazing in warmth, I was glad to be there. I thought maybe I still could take this thing all the way, even if I wasn't feeling great. I've definitely felt worse.

And I actually did rally all the way through downtown Juneau, moving toward Thane, thinking I could at least make a century out of the day. Just then, the front tire deflated. I sat in the shade to fix it, not really registering that early evening was setting in and the temperature was approaching freezing. My pump had rusted shut and I struggled to crack it open. My fingers went numb as I fumbled with the rim and tube. Geoff rolled by on his commuter bike just as I was finishing up. He was heading home. I followed him.

It's strange to have a ride like that, because now I'm sitting here wondering whether or not I wasted my day. There are always chores to do, annoying cats to feed, groceries to buy and bills to pay. Why spend all afternoon on a bicycle if I'm not totally loving it, and not training for anything to justify the effort? But at least I got out and experienced Juneau on a sunny day. I never regret doing that.