Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Holding on to those past sunny days

The sun went away today, and I get the feeling that this time, it's going to be for a while. The last vestiges of the holidays have fallen away, 2009 is officially history, and I think most of us are asking ourselves, "What now?" I have a weather forecast full of sleet and snain and freezing rain, and a big question mark about where this new year is going to go. I have a lot of options. Too many options, not enough motivation, not enough courage.

Tuesday was the nicest day yet — temperatures in the high teens, no wind, pure sunlight. My body chose this time to come to come down with a heavy head cold, so my energy levels have been low. My friend Bjorn was leaving town Wednesday, so we went on a mellow goodbye walk across Mendenhall Lake. He fed me lemon ginger tea and we talked about how much he's dreading his upcoming trip, which I find hilarious, because his plan is to ride a bicycle from San Diego to somewhere on the East Coast via the southern states — basically a dream trip in my mind. What's even funnier about Bjorn's planned trip is that he's not a cyclist in any capacity. On the lake, the day before leaving, he asked me what kind of bike he should buy in California ("Um, probably a 26" rigid mountain bike with slick tires"), whether he should get one of those "fat butt" gel seats ("Um, not recommended") and where he should ride through New Mexico ("Just avoid I-10.") The final stab about Bjorn's bike trip is that it's not my bike trip, and it's going to ruin what was really my last best chance to learn basic mountaineering skills before summer sets in. No more sun, no more mountains. Suddenly, I feel more alone that ever before.

My wide-open question now is, what should I do in 2010? What do you think I should do?
Monday, January 04, 2010

Alaska slickrock

The temperature was 11 degrees with a light breeze when I pedaled down my driveway at 10:04 a.m. The back end of my snow bike bounced dramatically because I had been too lazy to pump my tires up from 6 psi. I labored along the ice-slicked pavement and veered onto the Auke Lake trail, which wove through tall hemlock trees as my frosted eyelashes blinked rapidly in a strobelight of shadow and bright sun. I crossed Back Loop Road and veered onto the Lake Creek Trail, a treacherous drainage route with a solid inch of glare ice masked by a half inch of fresh snow. I pedaled tentatively across the slick surface and stopped to cinch up my studded boots for the 1,800-foot climb. I doubted I'd be able to ride any of the steep uphill trail under those conditions, but I had this hunch that the climb would be worth it, just the same.

I stomped hard with every step to plant my boot bolts into the hard ice before skittering the bike up yet another short pitch. It was slow, and I was sweating hard — a stream of fallen droplets was frozen to the front of my fleece jacket. I hoisted my behemoth of a bike over a couple of deadfalls as a group of skiers, who were carrying their skis on their backs and wearing creepers for the hike up, caught up to me.

"Did you ride up this trail?" a friendly man asked me.

"No," I said.

"Do you think you'll be able to ride down?" a woman chimed in.

"Not without killing myself," I said.

The man looked justifiably confused. "So, um, what are you doing with the bike?"

"I'm hoping there's crust in the meadows," I said.

The man shook his head. "It's too high," he said. "There's probably still powder up top."

"Possibly," I said. "But I figured it was worth a look."

"Well, good luck," the man said. "If nothing else, it looks like a great workout getting that thing up here."

I nodded and followed behind, continuing to chat with the skiers through the final minutes of the climb. At the meadow, they stopped to put on their skis and I sheepishly wheeled my bike onto the untrammeled snow, braced for sinking failure. I sat on the seat and started pedaling. The rubber gripped nicely to the hardpack and I started pedaling harder. Suddenly, I was moving faster. And faster. Until the treacherous icy trail faded into the background and the whole unhindered freedom of Spaulding Meadow opened up wide. I carved playful figure 8s, plummeted into drainages and mashed the pedals until I was free again. I closed my eyes and dreamed of sand and redrock and desert sun, in a frozen world so similar that I almost forgot where I was.

Until I opened my eyes and remembered. And smiled.

It was a fantastic ride:

Alaska Slickrock from Jill Homer on Vimeo.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

New Year's

In 1999, I spent New Year's Eve wedged into a procession of people on the Las Vegas Strip, clinging to my friend's backpack as we were involuntarily nudged through the advancing crowd like pebbles in a glacier. I remember stealing glances far above the blaze of lights, squinting in vain to see stars, and secretly hoping that Y2K would come and plunge the shimmering chaos into relatively peaceful darkness.

In 2009, I walked away from downtown Juneau with a small group of good friends, squealing with equal parts delight and shock from the sudden transition of the overheated Alaskan bar to 5-degree air, and above us the new moon blazed so bright that we could see both shadows and stars. I felt a sense of peace and well-being, even hope, for the new decade.

One of my resolutions for 2010 is a little more focus and a little less flightiness, from my writing to my riding to my simple domestic chores. But I also vowed not to turn away opportunities to spend time with friends, even if it means setting aside plans and goals. (In past winters, I have been uber-focused, much to the detriment of my social life.) So on Thursday I went for a last-of-the-decade hike with Bjorn. We returned to Thunder Mountain, both silently hoping we would see the wolf pack we spotted on solstice, even though we knew it was more than unlikely. Severe wind-loading on the snow wall kept us off the summit, but that's OK. Views aren't bad below the avalanche danger zone.

On New Year's Day, four of us managed to motivate early for a crust excursion on the Dan Moller Trail. We were a strange crew - two walkers, a skier and a bike pusher, but we chatted our way up the icy slope. Libby and Geoff K. had to break off early to return and prepare cupcakes and sliders for the party that night, but Chris D. and I continued biker/skier to the ridge. It was a cold afternoon, with my thermometer registering 7 degrees and a brisk wind blowing along the ridgeline.

The snow was, quite fantastically, horrible for both of us (since skiers love powder and snow bikers love crust, it's rare for both to be dissatisfied.) But it's been more than a week since we've had any sort of snow, and there's been quite a bit of rain in there, followed by deep freeze, and the snow was so hard and rutted out by days of use that it was body-jarring brutal. Chris described it well as similar to being pulled into coral reef and dragged along the rough, jagged bottom. I lowered Puglsey's tire pressure to 6 psi just to absorb the shock and still took a beating. A few times, I dropped into ruts so deep I couldn't bounce out and had to brake and bail. Chris, who is a skilled skier, eventually just took his skis off and walked a good deal of the downhill.

Today I returned to Dan Moller, sans bike, with the Cliff House crew - my ex Geoff, Shannon and Dan - for a snowshoe run-hike. I should clarify that the boys brought snowshoes. I didn't even bother with them because I had been up there the day before and knew that most of the trail was concrete, and suspected that even the ridge had enough crust to support my weight.

The guys planned to traverse the ridge over to Mount Jumbo, which I didn't have time to complete before work, but I still had to keep their ambitious pace to my turn-around point. Shannon put the sentiment of the day well when we crested yet another little knoll, facing the tangerine glow over the Inside Passage, and said with dramatic sarcasm, "Man, that view just sucks. I hate living here."

Shannon and I were fairly amazed that we made it from the trailhead to the high point on the ridge in just an hour and a half, and it wasn't even difficult. Geoff pointed out that it's usually easier to move faster because it takes less time, and if more people realized that, he wouldn't win so many races. Ha.

I still have no idea what 2010 will hold. There are so many uncertainties and unknowns and for now I'm committed to just roll with it, let any goals and plans come to me when I'm ready, and not try to wedge myself uncomfortably into the flow of the crowd just because I feel a compulsion to always be moving forward. Time ultimately decides, and I'm OK with that. As long as I have a little help from my friends. Happy New Year, everyone.