Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I love this clear, cold weather

Date: Dec. 14 and 15
Mileage: 42.2 and 17.3
December mileage: 418.9

It occurred to me today that I am in the midst of a full-on outdoor binge. I noticed the to-do list from my "other" life stacking up, so I crunched the numbers. 5.5 hours Thursday, 7.5 Friday, 4 Saturday, 3.5 Sunday and 3 today, for total of a 23.5 hours of moderate to strenuous physical activity in a week that still has two days left in it. I mostly feel it in my throat, which has become raw and scratchy after 23.5 hours of heavy breathing in cold, dry air. But beyond that, I feel great - so much better than I have the past couple weeks, when I had admittedly succumbed to a mild bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder and the general gloom and doom of the times. A little Vitamin D and a lot of exercise has recharged my outlook, and I don't want to stop, and don't plan to, quite yet, because I think the occasional binge is good for me - especially in context of training for the days-long continuous effort of the Iditarod race.

The temperature's hovered in the low teens since Friday — often with hard gusting winds that drive the windchill well below zero. I tested out some potential race gear but still wore essentially the same thing that I had been for riding when it's 38 degrees and raining ... just substitute the soft shell outer layer for Gortex and nylon, a vapor barrier for neoprene socks, and a balaclava instead of a fleece headband. I still wore the same kind of polypro base layer and fleece pullover. I was dying of heat pedaling up the Dan Moller trail today. I was overdressed for sure. And my thermometer still couldn't decide if it was 9 or 10. I made a mental note that if it's actually dry outside, I can add at least 30 degrees to the temperature.

I also made a mental note to write a letter to Surly bicycles and ask them if they've ever considered designing an alternative Endomorph tire for hilly terrain. The current version has virtually no tread, so even on well-packed snow trails, it slips out too easily going up steep hills. My ideal tire for snowbiking in Juneau would still be 4" wide, but have aggressive tread and studs. Each tire would weigh about 70 pounds and would be incapable of rolling faster than 8 mph on pavement. But on narrow singletrack and steep snowmobile trails, it would be a dream wheel.

I'm also thinking about modifying a pair of leggings by adding extra insulation in the butt area. Not the sit-bone area, where the chamois goes, but up high, where all of the surface area is. My butt cheeks are always cold when the temperature drops below 15 degrees, even when the rest of my body is sweating bullets. I mentioned this to Geoff and he said it must be a female thing, because he's never experienced the "cold butt" phenomenon. Then I mentioned it to an avid snow cyclist in Anchorage, and he suggested that my body's, um, "insulation" is probably the culprit. It makes sense. Unlike muscle, body fat doesn't produce its own heat, so it's more susceptible to the cold. Because Geoff has close to zero percent body fat, he wouldn't understand. I guess until I can find a way to alter my genetic makeup or drop my own body fat percentage near zero, I'll have to come up with a creative way to keep the, um, "insulation" warm. Kind of gives new meaning to "junk in the trunk." :-)

I'm hoping to get out for a good trail ride tomorrow before I finally take Pugsley in for the repairs he badly needs. I'm hoping for continuing high energy and (relatively) low temperatures.
Saturday, December 13, 2008

Product testing

Date: Dec. 13
Mileage: 10.1
December mileage: 359.4

I bought this coat, oh, maybe two months ago on super clearance from, hmm, probably Backcountry.com. It's an Outdoor Research soft shell coat, and it's ultra light for a winter coat. They only had large. I thought, "eh, I'm not all that small of a person." I really wanted to try it out. It arrived in the mail, and it's pretty much a tent. It's huge.

Still, for a coat that was only about $50, I still wanted to give soft shell a try. Problem is I really haven't seen the right conditions for testing. It's either been too warm or too wet. So when I woke up today to a temperature of 20 degrees at sea level and a wind advisory - 30 mph gusting to 50 mph, I thought, "Oh good, coat weather!"

I also wanted to give my new Arc'teryx soft shell pants a test run, which I've been reluctant to wear while riding my bike for fear of tearing the cuffs. So I set out today for a short ride and long hike in the Hard North Wind.

Pugsley's out sick with a number of problems that I really need to attend to but haven't had time, which is why I've been riding my Karate Monkey so much as of late. My plan was just to commute to the Dan Moller trailhead and hike from there, but I found the snowmobile trail in near perfect condition for snow biking. In fact, the somewhat unique condition of the trail - hard-packed ice with an inch or so of sugar on top - was actually better suited to the Monkey than my Pugsley. The Monkey has deep treaded tires that can dig into the sugar, and studs that grip the ice underneath. The Endomorphs on Puglsey would just wash out on top of the sugar. So I was able to ride a long way up the trail on my 29'er, which was, in its old-school way, quite thrilling.

The sugar became deeper and eventually I had to ditch the bike and switch to snowshoes. After I strapped my pack back on, I inadvertently buckled the waist strap around my Camelbak valve and didn't notice until the front of my fleece shirt was pretty well soaked. My thermometer was already giving me readings in the mid-teens, and I could see snow tearing off the ridge in what appeared to be an intense wind. But since there's always the option of turning around, I thought, "Well, might as well see what this coat can really do."

So up I marched with my soaked shirt and super clearance coat, warmed by the hard effort but admittedly nervous about the arctic blast that surely awaited me at the top. I crested the ridgeline at a moment of relative calm - I didn't know then, but the Hard North Wind was actually an ebb and flow of calm moments followed by intense gusts - and took a minute to pull on my balaclava. While I had my mittens off, I checked my thermometer - 8 or 9 degrees flat - and snapped some pictures. Even in the calm window, my fingers went stiff and began to ache within seconds. Just as the mittens went back on, the gust hit. "Wow" is all I really have to say about that. A blast of white powder came tearing toward me like a fireball in a bad action movie. I saw it coming, and all I could do was hold my mitten over my eyes, look down, and brace myself. It wasn't hard enough to blow me over - so perhaps only in the 50 or 60 mph range. But the wind chill. Wow. I could feel it seeping through my cupped mitten and stinging my face. It whipped around my ankles and needled through two pairs of thick wool socks. But my torso, wet shirt and all, felt surprisingly warm. The legs weren't too cold either.

I stood there about five minutes longer, completely still, just to gain even a small grasp on how I might deal with such a windchill wearing such a coat for a much longer period of time. About three more big gusts came through before I turned around and headed back down. My gloves - lined with down, which I wore all day yesterday and again today - had frozen almost solid where they had been soaked with sweat. Once I was out of the wind, I pulled one off to beat some of the ice away, then reached inside my coat to feel my shirt. It was relatively dry. I mean, for having been soaked with at least a cup of water, not to mention all of my sweat, it felt pretty much dry. Which meant not only was that coat impressively windproof, but it was breathing, and releasing all of my inner moisture back into the cold dry air. Which is all I needed to know. I already have plenty of waterproof clothing. This seems to be a great coat for winter - real winter. If only I could find it in medium.

As far as the raffle for LIVESTRONG contributions, Daniel R. won the Olympus camera. Dan said he lost his father to cancer three years ago, and was really happy about the effort to raise money for cancer research. Alex O., Lisa B. and Richard B. all won books. Two of the winners had one already, but they were still gracious about being the runners up. I'm going to hold a raffle for another book as soon as I figure out Elden's random raffle process. I'll post the winner on Monday. I'm going to continue to hold a raffle for one book every Friday, so keep donating! Your chances of winning will be much better this week. Thanks again to everybody who gave. Donate here.

Also, I had a stack of book orders come in recently and I want you guys to know that I'm going to get those out Monday, so if you ordered in the past few days, you should see your book(s) by Wednesday or Thursday. For everyone else, I wanted to announce that I'm expecting a good-sized shipment on Tuesday, and feel pretty confident that I can get any books ordered before Thursday sent out in time for Christmas (I even grilled a postal worker about this. He insisted that three business days is still the norm.) You know, books make great gifts. (More about the book here.) I always give books to people for whom I otherwise couldn't think of anything to buy. Even if the person on your gift list doesn't like biking, if they enjoy adventure stories or maybe just want a reason to feel better about their own hobbies, they'll probably like it. You can buy signed copies directly from me by clicking on this button. I can ship one, two or three books for $4.80 flat. $9.60 if the shipment is international. I can personalize the signature and ship to any address. Just indicate where you'd like it to go in the message box!

12 hours in photos, part 2

Date: Dec. 12
Mileage: 85.1
December mileage: 349.3

So I rode my bike for seven hours today. The time was actually on the long side, about 7.5 hours, but I felt great. So much better than I felt all day yesterday, when I was fresh. Riding back-to-back long days is something I plan to continue to do this winter whenever I can make the time for it, and the plan is that they're only going to get longer. But today's ride was helped by the fact that it was one of the most beautiful days, well, ever. A brilliantly sunny day followed by a full-moon night. One of those days where I was out for seven hours and hardly felt the effort, because I was so busy looking around and saying things out loud like, "Wow" and "Fer reals? Reals." I also stopped to take a few photos. Today just happened to be the latest installment of this other blog I contribute to, "12 Hours in Photos." The idea was that on Friday, Dec. 12, all of us would document 12 hours of our day, one photo for each hour. This was my day. It was a good one:

9 a.m. The view at breakfast. Yawn.

10 a.m. The trip to the post office is becoming a daily chore for me. I don't mind at all. :-)

11 a.m. Riding into the Mendenhall Valley on the Dredge Lake trails, mouth agape.

12 p.m., heading back toward the highway on some nondescript road. Mouth still agape.

1 p.m.: Life's good between Reeses Peanut Butter Cups.

2 p.m.: An interpretive photo of the Hard North Wind. It brought in a blast of frigid air from Canada, gusting right in my face. The temperature was probably about 25 degrees. The windchill couldn't have been warmer than 5.

3 p.m.: Alpenglow on the distant mountains.

4 p.m.: The last bit of daylight and a really bright planet over Auke Rec. I'm not sure which planet it was - a bright one.

5 p.m.: The self-portrait I took after my sad attempts to take a photo of the moon. I don't have a proper camera for night shots, so you'll just have to take my word that it was the most amazing full moon I have ever seen. The Hard North Wind was tearing clouds of snow off the mountains. As the moon rose, it illuminated the ridgelines with this soft, intense glow, almost as bright as daylight. I couldn't take my eyes off the moon, which was rough because I was back in the traffic of Juneau proper and it was rush hour.

6 p.m.: Having dinner with Geoff, our friend Christina and a couple of our parasitic cats.

7 p.m.: Trying to figure out what's going on in my friends' children's play. At this point, my head was nearly as fuzzy as this picture.

8 p.m.: For seven-hour rides in the freezer, there's no better recovery food than a huge spread of Christmas cookies.