Thursday, September 04, 2008

Then and now

Top of Mount Juneau, looking toward the Treadwell Gold Mine and the Gastineau Channel; U.S. Geological Survey Photographic Library, circa 1906.

Top of Mount Juneau, looking toward Douglas and the Gastineau Channel; Aug. 5, 2008.

Sometimes, we I feel like I'm approaching a threshold of change, I like to step back and think about the things that don't change.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008


Date: Sept. 1 and 2
Mileage: 25.0 and 28.3
September mileage: 53.3

I blogged last week about my goal of trying to put in a heavy-duty week of harder training to see how my fitness is holding up. The training didn't go quite as planned - I had a little mental burnout in the rain on Thursday and being called in to work prevented me from completing a long ride on Friday. But overall, it has been going well. I have been seeking out hills and riding them harder, heading out earlier and riding longer, and recovering well after long hikes, which is where I get my real climbing in (and build those oh-so-under appreciated hike-a-bike muscles.)

Why am I doing all this? Well, I mentioned a month or so ago about my interest in heading down to my home state in October to ride Trans Utah. I still want to do it. My big obstacle is still acquiring the time I need off work, which I am working on (gently) with my boss, but that's still a huge 'if.' If I can get the time off work, though, I've decided I want to do it. There are a lot of reasons why I shouldn't do it, and a few more reasons why I probably won't be able to, but still the desire lingers. I have yet to get my redrock fix this year, and imagining the warm glow of evening light sweeping across sandstone vistas as I roll along a rim on my mountain bike makes me more than wistful - it makes me jittery. Until the desert isn't just something I want. It's something I need.

But since Trans Utah is hard and will kill me if I don't get the best gauge I can on my base fitness level, I have to train a little right now on the off chance I can go.

These past two days have been relatively mellow, but I am going to try to ramp it up again for the rest of the week. Dave H. posted the ride stats today, so I have a lot to motivate me:

Elevation. The low elevation is 2,500 feet. Low elevation. Where I live, if you're at 2,500 feet, you're above treeline. I do almost all of my bike training below 1,000 feet. Which means the high elevation of 10,200 feet is going to hurt. Probably a lot. Not much I can do about that now; just hoping my formerly-mountain-dwelling cells have some kind of biological memory.

44,700 feet of climbing. That's just crazy talk. But I actually think I'm in pretty good shape for climbing. Not that I've put in any 10,000-foot days lately, but I'm recovering well from my harder climbs, and I am also pretty good at maintaining a steady (read: slow) pace through varying grades. If I can somehow put up with the heat, hydration and altitude, I think I'll be OK for the climbing.

320 miles. I'd like to do it in six days or less. If I go into it and this doesn't seem at all possible, I'll go as far as I can reasonably go in six days and take the most convenient bail-out. I can honestly say that I am not headed to Utah for any kind of supreme personal challenge or race. I am headed to Utah to go to Utah. The fact that Dave H. spent the past year drawing up a specialized mountain bike tour through some of the most beautiful country in the world is the big draw.

Gear. Lots of fun stuff to acquire. There is still the question of whether or not Geoff is going to do this ride. If he doesn't, I have nearly everything I need. But I am still hoping he has a change of heart and decides to ride with me. He's worried because he's not in any kind of cycling shape; he's had a pretty tough fall training season for the Wasatch 100 and a tough one ahead for the Iditarod Invitational 350. I keep trying to convince him that even my ambitious cycling pace is still supremely mellow compared to what he does. But if he doesn't go, I'll be able to use his sleeping bag, SPOT tracker, water filtration system and my own Epic Designs bags. All I'll need to figure out is food.

Bike. I have to figure out how to get my Karate Monkey in prime shape and in Utah. Given how much I despise Fed Ex, this is not going to be easy.

I have prepared much less for much longer bike tours and made it through OK. I think this could be a humbling and exhilarating experience, whether I do it alone or with Geoff. So I really hope it can work out.
Monday, September 01, 2008

Lost on Blackerby Ridge

There are a lot of gray areas to the state of being lost, but the moment of realization is always definitively clear. Gut-piercingly sharp and as heavy as lead, it's the moment you realize what it means to have absolutely no idea where you are.

To have no idea whether you're moving forward or back the way you came.

To have no idea which way is safe and which way is going to drop you straight off a cliff.

To have no idea what's more than five feet in front of you, because everything beyond that is fully shrouded in fog.

And it's hard not to panic. It's hard.

And I probably would have panicked, however briefly, however unjustified it would have been. I probably would have panicked had I not been hiking with a friend who I had invited (i.e. tricked) into heading up with me early this morning because "the fog is supposed to burn off. It did yesterday. It will today." I would have panicked if he hadn't been there, having equally no idea where we were, and following me with full faith.

I did not want to lose face. So I gulped it down. I death gripped my GPS. Even viewed from the 500-foot setting, my dotted path was a mess of curvy, crossing lines created when my friend and I lost each other briefly. There were times we double-backed. Then we would move forward a little more. We were so close to the base of the peak I have wanted to reach since 2006, but it was always too far away. Today, we were close. So close. I could see it. On my GPS screen. But everything else was fog. Just fog.

But it wasn't until shortly after I decided it was still too far away for today and turning around that the reality of the fog sunk in. The line of the wide ridge was invisible. Its rising and dropping contours were distant memories. We were nowhere. And it was so disorienting that I only had to turn around once, and suddenly I didn't remember whether I had made a 180-degree turn, or a 360. I did not know if I was facing up the ridge or down it, or maybe looking off to the side toward an unknown drop-off. There was no discernible trail, no landmarks. There was only my GPS, and its confusingly erratic dotted line that marked the way we came, so I had to follow it.

After a mile or so of successfully sticking to my electronic "trail," I became overconfident and stopped paying attention. We diverged off a side ridgeline and walked down it until we came to a sloping dead end. We were dropping too far. I held up by GPS and saw the big "Y" it had drawn. I had no idea how far the ridge dropped below us, or whether it was possible to reconnect. So, with panic bubbling back up my gut, we backtracked.

After that, I did not take my eyes off GPS. Hiking was like playing a video game, trying to trace the existing line as perfectly as possible and losing hard-earned anti-panic points any time I veered too far away from it. I loved that dotted black line. I love my GPS.

And I hate being lost. It's interesting how unsettling it is even when you have a GPS or compass - it's the sinking feeling that you are no longer able to rely on yourself. You are no longer in control of your situation. I have no doubt that had I not had the GPS with me, we would have been wandering in circles on top of that ridgeline until the clouds lifted or night fell, whichever came first. And I can all-too-clearly imagine the urge to panic in a situation like that ... well, did I mention I love my GPS?

I love my GPS.

And I've learned my lesson about hiking in fog. I had no concept before of just how truly disorienting it is. Plus, it's pointless. Nothing to see, no reason to go. GPS told me that we ended the day with 5,700 feet of vertical elevation gain and about 12 miles of hiking (its slow-moving mileage readings never seem even close to accurate, so I usually go by map estimates.) The whole debacle took seven hours, but it was pretty mellow aerobically. Add to that my three hours of Mount Jumbo on Saturday, with 3,300 of climbing and five miles of walking, and I've had a full weekend. Feels like my "high-impact" fitness is right where it needs to be - knees feel strong, legs feel strong. Hip flexors are a little sore (my hips seem to be a particularly weak point in my weight-bearing fitness. Need to work on those.) But the thing I feel best about is just being off that $%&@! mountain.

I love my GPS.