Monday, November 03, 2008

Happy birthday blog

Date: Nov. 2
Mileage: 29.7
November mileage: 59.8

It was a strange feeling, dropping away from the base of the ski resort and into a thick fog. Spooky ghost trees and skeletal branches masked the one thing I was really afraid of - ice. I hugged the shoulder in case I needed to bail into the gravel as wheels spun almost silently over wet pavement. Visibility closed in and the ghost trees disappeared, until all I had was a white line, drawing a vague path over the obscured road, buried and surrounded by a great gray kind of nothingness. A layer of frost collected on my black fleece hoodie and tights until I was little more than a shade of gray myself. With the unseen pull of gravity I flew through the cloud, cold tears on my cheeks, frosty mittens clasped on the handlebars, smiling at the invisible world. It was a strange feeling, being lost in a fog and filled with a sensation that can only be described as clarity.

So Monday is my third "bloggiversary." That's right. I've been blogging at this site for three full years. It's funny to think back to my reason for starting this site - as a way to convince my friends and family back home that my new life in Alaska was great and they should join me. Three years and 843 posts later, I still haven't convinced anyone I know to move to Alaska, but I have discovered a wide world of cyclists, Alaskans, adventurers, thinkers and dreamers, and I feel like I'm part of a virtual community. I was going to have a reader appreciation day to celebrate. But I'm not quite ready yet, so I think I'll postpone it until after the election. Everyone's probably so over-saturated in election stuff right now that they're not even reading blogs, so it's just as well.
Sunday, November 02, 2008

Harder than it seemed

Date: Oct. 31 and Nov. 1
Mileage: 72.4 and 30.1
October mileage: 587
November mileage: 30.1
October rainfall: 16.42"
October snowfall: 9.1"

I left the house on Friday telling Geoff I'd be gone about three hours, hoping to stretch that to six hours and 100 miles, and figuring I'd end up somewhere in the middle. The truth is I was feeling a bit battered from Thursday. After four hours of stomping around in heavy snow, I was sore in all sorts of new places, fatigued and somewhat windblown (or maybe just sunburned.) I also had a painful red ring (frostnip?) on my skin around both legs just below my calves where ice and snow had built up in my boots (yeah, I wasn't wearing gaters ... just boots and a thin pair of polypro tights.)

So I was not feeling 100 percent up to a long ride, but I was OK with that. I can ride all of the centuries I want, but my best training is still going to come from the spontaneous outdoor excursions where I don't quite dress right and don't bring the right gear and spend four hours hiking six miles and have random things happen like getting a boot stuck in the snow. There's still so much to learn. There's always so much to learn. The problem-solving, the hard lessons and discovering my strengths and weaknesses are my favorite aspects of winter training. Centuries are kinda ... boring.

Not to say I even came close to accomplishing one yesterday. I went out a little hard with an east wind sweeping at my side, just a touch underdressed for 39 degrees and scattered rain, and by mile 38, I'd had enough. I ate two Power Bars to try to coax my energy back, but it wouldn't come. I turned around. Several miles down the road, I took an extended break at Eagle Beach, laying on a picnic table and listening to the wind-driven surf lap the rocks. When I was too cold to rest any more, I reluctantly peeled myself off the table and took the short way home.

It was a hard day. Some days are like that. The only real downside to it all was that it killed any motivation I had for Halloween. Some holidays are like that. I woke up this morning resolved to do a pretty mellow ride today - active recovery of sorts. Surprisingly, I felt really good, and ended up pushing hard toward the end of the ride just for fun.

If I had a coach or any real training plan, I would probably have a better grasp on good days and bad. But for now, I really think it's better for a person like me to go with the flow; listen to my body; build up my strength with snowshoes, not weights; build up my endurance in hours, not miles; and sometimes get my boot stuck in the snow.
Friday, October 31, 2008

Worth the wait

Date: Oct. 30
Mileage: 35.1
October mileage: 514.6

October has not been kind to Juneau, weatherwise. The last dry day was Sept. 25, which was the day I left on my Golden Circle bike tour. It seems like ages ago. Since then, we've set a number of disappointing records ... daily rainfall records, consecutive days of rain, high wind speeds. We're still pace for a record number of wet days for the year (Up to 211 right now, but who's counting?) Complaining about rain in Juneau is like complaining about sand in the desert. But it would be a lie, I believe for any of us here, to say that waking up to the 34th consecutive day of dripping gray fog doesn't make us feel like eating a few thousand calories of pure carbs and crawling back into bed.

So my point is, after a streak like that, when the sun comes out, it matters. It more than matters. It nourishes. Like fresh bread and butter after a long fast, the long-hidden rays soak into skin and fill every cell with warmth and light. So when I woke up on Thursday to a clear day that I wasn't expecting, I knew it could only mean one thing - binge, binge, binge.

I took Pugsley up the Perseverance Trail. A couple of days ago, the bottom bracket started clanking and it got worse quickly. I know I'm gambling by riding this bike when the bottom bracket could crack in half at any second. But I figure the worse that can happen would be me becoming stranded. And what better day and place to get stranded than here?

But I didn't feel comfortable with the idea of riding a clanking, ailing bicycle for six hours, so I parked Pugsley and set out on foot up Granite Creek canyon. I wasn't planning on hiking, so I didn't have snowshoes with me. The snow quickly went from ankle-deep to knee-deep to thigh-deep. It was a huge, strenuous slog just to move slowly through it. The snow was crusty and heavy but highly collapsible - sort of like walking through shaved ice. I'm not even sure that snowshoes would have helped, because they likely still would have punched through and then become stuck in the postholes. Skis with good skins would have definitely been better - if I owned any. As it was, there were enough open stream crossings and bushwhacking that even the death sticks would have been difficult. It's all good, though. Any activity that's excruciatingly slow and needlessly difficult is great Iditarod training.

But, yes, Granite Creek Basin is a magical place and worth the slog. Hard to describe and impossible to photograph, but I love the way the ridge wraps itself around the valley like a chiseled fortress. And the snow. Oh, the snow. It was still crusty even higher on the mountain, and whipped by an intensifying wind, but I still wished I hadn't forgotten my snowboard, too.

Alder bushwhacking in thigh-deep shaved ice snow is almost as fun as snowboarding (um, no.)

But the sun. Oh, the sun.

I started to struggle when I was climbing toward the upper basin. There were steep pitches with no way around, and the wind chill was becoming a concern. When I left the house at 9:30 a.m. it was 35 degrees. But up in the basin it felt so much colder. It seems illogical that there would be that much difference in temperature, but I was convinced the temperature with windchill was well below zero. Could be that it's just early in the year and I don't have my cold blood running yet. But what matters is I was cold and that's why I turned around.

On the way down, I had an odd mishap. I was tracing a diagonal path, just above my original steps, down a steep pitch when I planted my right foot in a rotten patch of snow and sank all the way up to my waist. In my original struggle to extract myself, I managed to compress all of the snow around my boot until it formed an icy block. I'll admit there were a few moments of mild panic when I finally realized I was stuck. I knew I could tug my foot out of my boot to free myself, but I very well couldn't hike all the way down the mountain with only one boot. At least, not without losing a toe or two. But I pushed through the panic and formed a plan. I carefully pulled my leg out of the boot and spun my body around, laying on my stomach and holding the sock foot in the air. Then I used my mittens to dig a trench around the outside of the posthole, careful to remove the snow rather than push it over the boot. When I got down to boot level, I widened the trench until I could leverage my body and punch out the ice-snow barrier around the boot. The anxiety-filled process took at least 15 minutes, but when I finally freed the boot, I was so happy. It was the best part of the day. After that, I was careful to only step in my own footprints, despite the ankle-twisting risk, until I made it back down to the basin.

After that, it was a relaxing hike back down, with a little bit of elation about the genius way in which I conquered the boot-eating snow.

Then I rode back to town. The roads were bathed in direct sun. Everything felt so warm. Even though I was tired and hungry, I took off my extra layers, turned my bike away from home and rode north for a while, just to soak it in.