Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Coming up for air

When I started feeling hints of a sore throat a week ago Monday, I joked with my coworkers that I was getting "The Swine." By Wednesday, I was on the floor. I barely got out of bed on Thursday; I just lulled around my room in a feverish delirium. Friday was only a little better. I finally dragged myself to the gym on Sunday but seriously sore muscles and lightheadedness chased me off the treadmill after only a half hour. By Monday, I had just about had it with "The Swine." I know it's not the end of the world. It's just that I'm one of those people who never gets sick. About once a year, I pick up a mild cold for a day or two, but that's usually it. It's been five years since I even had something strong enough to keep me off my bike or from going to work. So coming down with the flu, whether or not it was actually the swine flu, hit me hard.

Today I woke up to a lot of new snow and a car mostly buried in the driveway, so I decided to ride Pugsley to work. It had been a week since I had been on a bike, or even outside for more than a few seconds at a time. My muscles still ached and my sinuses were still clogged, but the simple commute into the office felt amazing. I pedaled hard, surpassing the muscle aches, sweating out the rest of my fever, smiling at all the fresh-fallen snow and gulping down the moist 25-degree air that felt both refreshing and - after last week's cold snap - downright balmy. Nothing sets up a singularly amazing bike ride like a week of "The Swine." In a couple more hours here, I'll set out to ride 11 miles home amid a snow-blanketed night. Just thinking about it makes me feel giddy.

Besides making my rather boring commute suddenly feel like a dream ride, another benefit of having the flu for a week is that my Divide writing project has taken off. I might as well just start calling it a book, because whether or not it's ever published, it's certainly long. One wouldn't think that a person could write 100,000 words about the lead-up and execution of a single bike ride. I wouldn't have thought so either, but I've surpassed 80,000 words and I'm not even out of Colorado. (I started this thing back in September, but I've generated the bulk of it in the past three weeks.) There were a couple nights in the past week where I felt too sick to sleep, so I took my mind off my crappy condition by laying in my bed with my chin still resting on a pillow, whisking myself away to better days by typing on my tiny laptop computer. Not sure how many of those words are actually coherent. I may end up needing to rework most of it. But the big benefit of the flu writing experiment was how deeply involved I became. I feel like I stepped wholly outside myself and disappeared into the recent past, overcome with a wash of experiences and memories and sometimes brutal honesty that I just had to let out. Like I said, I don't know how viable the project is outside my flu delirium. But, in its own way, this past week inside has been an incredible experience.

I almost hate to let the momentum slide, but it's really about time I start riding my bike again. The White Mountains 100 is a frighteningly close two months away.
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.