Thursday, December 04, 2008

Joining Team Fatty

Date: Dec. 3
Mileage: 38.5
December mileage: 84.3

As many of you out there in the world of blogs already know, Elden aka "Fat Cyclist" aka "Fatty" has organized a massive fundraising effort for the LIVESTRONG Challenge. In honor of his wife, Susan, and countless others who are fighting a battle with cancer, he is aiming to raise upwards of $1 million for cancer research and support. I spent a few days thinking about how I could get involved. I didn't think I was going to sign up for an event because I wasn't crazy about the date of the Seattle event, and the others were just so far away.

But then I got an e-mail from my friend in Utah, Chris, who announced he not only committed to raising $5,000(!), but also intends to ride the century in Seattle(!!). Chris is not your typical cyclist. I'm not even sure he'd call himself a cyclist. He's a therapist who sometimes works upwards of 70-80 hours a week. He loves to hike and camp but rarely has time for either, and admits that right now he's "in the worst shape of my life." Chris and I traveled through Alaska, along with Geoff and another friend, Jen, in 2003. Just a few days into the trip, Chris learned his mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer. He was nearly on his way back to Utah before his mom strongly encouraged him to continue with the dream trip he had been planning for months. I watched him wrestle with his guilt and grief, and try to comfort his mom from afar. He had a head of long, wavy hair and he shaved it all off in solidarity with her. His mom won her battle with breast cancer. Many do not. When I found out Chris was getting involved with Team Fatty, I felt inspired.

I signed up for the event that I'm still not sure I'll be able to attend. I'd love to go, not only to ride with Chris, but to finally once and for all meet Elden (I know. It's crazy. He lives less than 10 miles from the place where I grew up, but we've never met.) So right now, I'm in for 100 miles in Seattle. That was the easy part. Now the hard part - raising funds. Luckily for me, Elden contacted me with a wonderful idea.

He is holding a series of raffles to help inspire people to donate a few bucks. Next Tuesday and Wednesday, he'll be raffling an Olympus Stylus 1030 SW digital camera. You may recognize this camera because I rave about it all the time. It's my camera, only newer, and less abused, and with even more special features. It's shockproof to 6.6 feet, waterproof to 33 feet, crushproof to 220 pounds of pressure and freezeproof down to 14 degrees (I've used it while it was 25 below and can attest that it continues to work well below 14 degrees.) And you can have a chance to win this camera by visiting next Tuesday and Wednesday and contributing to the LIVESTRONG Challenge. If you win the camera, you to can take mountain bike ride shots like this:

(OK, you'll have to come to Juneau to take a mountain bike shot exactly like this.)

I'm going to throw in a few books for the raffle as well. But, in an effort to coax a few people to donate early, I'd like to offer signed copies of my book to the first five people who donate $25 or more to the LIVESTRONG Challenge through my personal page. I'm "AlaskaJill" on the Seattle team. (Click here to donate.) Every cent will go to this amazing cause, so it's a good way to get the book if you've been thinking you might like to read it.

Also, I wanted thank those who recently bought signed copies of my book through my new Paypal page. The Thanksgiving holiday put my printing back a few days, but I am expecting my order on Thursday or Friday, and will send out books shortly after. I ship priority, so you should have them by the following Wednesday or Thursday. I want to apologize for the short delay, but I have things rolling now and my turnover times should be much shorter from now on. (I can process Christmas orders until Dec. 15. After that, there are no guarentees.)

There's a couple of new reviews of the book. One from Mike Jacobsen. (a cyclist in Washington), and a "non-biker review" from my sister, Lisa (not biased at all.)

I also got a few nice e-mails from readers, including this one from Heidi Olson: "I've really enjoyed reading your book - your descriptions of each day on the trail made me feel like I was right there. I had to grab for a warm blanket several times and I'm sure that I consumed more peanut butter cups then you did through the entire book."

And from Karen Ness: "I really enjoyed the way you flashed back to previous years leading up to move to Alaska, alternating chapters with your Iditarod travels. That was a great way to tell the story. It broadens your base and allows the reader to learn more about where you came from and how you got to where you were on the trail. The way you expanded your story helps for anyone who has followed along on your blog. It is a new story even to old readers."

So what are you waiting for? Go donate! (And then come back Tuesday and donate again for a shot at an awesome camera.)
Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Brutal wind

Date: Dec. 2
Mileage: 9.4
December mileage: 45.8

I could see a stream of snow pouring off Mount Roberts as I rode down the North Douglas Highway.

"Windy up there," I thought. "But that's a good thing. Good practice."

Most days, conditions are relatively mild in Juneau. So I'm always looking for unique opportunities — little tastes of the extreme. I parked my bike at the Roberts trailhead, readjusted the snowshoes on my pack and began hiking up the dirt. The trail was coated in flaky ice and a dusting of snow, but it was dry for the most part. Simple. I strapped on the snowshoes near the closed-down tram terminal and continued the hike over hard-packed snow. The breeze was starting to pick up and I checked my thermometer. 17 or 18 degrees. Perfect.

Just above treeline, the wind gained considerable force. The first big gust hit hard and I gasped as I pulled my Gortex hood over my balaclava. My knee-jerk reaction to a chill like that is always "Holy cow, I'm going to die." But as the wind continued to stream around my coat, I realized that I hadn't flash-frozen. I actually felt warm. And I remembered that, just as I hadn't in all the cold winds I lived through before, I probably wasn't going to die.

"This is awesome," I thought. "This is just like the Kuskokwim River valley."

Low on the ridge, sustained winds were easily 50 mph. The snowpack had been scoured. What was left was as solid as ice. The crampons on my snowshoes hardly left an imprint, but the footing was good. I leaned hard into the wind and continued up.

As I gained elevation, the really hard gusts began to hit. Some hurricane-force jet stream seemed to be moving along the saddle, and I was in its periphery. I wish that I had some kind of wind measuring instrument with me, because my guesses probably seem inflated. But I swear, some of those gusts were moving 70, 80 mph. Enough to stop me in my tracks, crouch down, and wait until they subsided. A small strip of exposed skin - my cheeks and nose - began to burn in the cold blasts, which made sense, because the wind chill was probably about -20.

Still I stood up, and thought, "Good. Feeling warm. Feeling good. Have to get used to this sometime. Might as well be now."

I knew there was no way I was going to climb to the ridge, but I let myself believe I was at least somewhat protected by the saddle and didn't think the wind would get much worse. I climbed over what I had already decided would be my last little knoll when I was hit by a blast so strong that I instantly dropped to my knees and instinctively grabbed for some nearby rocks. Hard to describe that gust. I've never felt wind so strong, ever, in my life. I'm sure of this. I became convinced I was going to blow off the mountain, even though I wasn't actually moving at all. But I death-gripped those rocks and buried my face in my coat as the wind poured around me. It just kept blowing and blowing and blowing. I started to fear that it wasn't a gust, but an actual sustained wind that I was going to have to fight. But it eventually calmed down a bit. I stood up, turned around, and with the wind at my back, moved very quickly down the mountain.

No real danger, ever, but it was an educational little taste of extreme weather. Baby steps up the big mountain.
Monday, December 01, 2008

More ghosts

Date: Dec. 1
Mileage: 36.4
December mileage: 36.4

In the winter, I know I've finished a good workout if my throat is burning.

I managed to suck a lot of cold wind today by cramming much more into four hours than I usually try to fit into my morning exercise. I sensed nice weather, dry roads, crunchy trails and beautiful new snow, and kept pushing, pushing, pushing toward everything.

I rode the big wheels to Eaglecrest and puttered around on the Cat track before I commenced the push. I really don't think there's a better full-body workout than pushing a big bike up a steep, churned-up Cat track. And there are few workouts that are more cheek-puckering than the ride down.

But the real gems of the day were these tree/ice formations hovering over the ridgeline. In the gray light, they looked like ghosts marching toward purgatory.

After I dropped off my bike, I hiked for a while with this skier. I never learned his name. But I like this picture, because his body is hunched over at the same angle as the trees.

There was a good hard base beneath the mostly wind-scoured powder. Possibly even bikeable out in the open. I definitely didn't need snowshoes.

Walking among the trees really gave the impression of strolling through a spacious gallery full of Gothic sculptures. Nature makes the best art.

I saw about a dozen people - quite a few for this still-closed ski area on a Monday morning. There's not much snow at the base, but probably a good five feet at the top. I still don't think it's going to open on Saturday.

Just before the terrifying ride down. The great thing about riding on snow is that you never really know what you're going to get.

I had to stop and put on mittens on the way down the road. I smiled when I saw streaks of sunlight on the mountains. I hope to see more of them tomorrow.