Friday, February 05, 2010

Leaving Banff

I had a great last couple of days in Banff. The weather, which had been stellar all week, really opened up on Wednesday and Thursday with blue skies and temps that actually climbed above freezing (as Canadians call it, "Zero.") My long streak of visiting Canada amid the best weather possible continues. I have this theory that Canada loves me.

On Thursday, Keith and I skied up the Chickadee Valley.

It's been a while since the Banff-Jasper region had much fresh snow, and the conditions included about two inches of fresh powder surrounding a slick, well-packed skin track. It was winter singletrack at its best. I continued to pine for my Pugsley. My trip to Banff was intended to ignite new passion for skiing, but I just happened to visit during a week when the snow biking couldn't have been better.

The skiing was pretty good too, though. A little more than a decade ago, when I was still a teenager, a friend asked me what my own personal heaven would look like. I replied, "Canyonlands with snow." (Canyonlands is national park in Utah, famous for its towering redrock cliffs and large desert plateaus.) In Chickadee Valley, I caught a glimpse of my original vision of Jill Heaven.

Later that day, I hiked to the top of Sulphur Mountain to kill a couple hours before the night's planned all-you-can-eat sushi bender and the long drive to the Calgary airport.

Sulphur Mountain is a special place for me. I first walked to the top on June 10, the morning after I arrived in Banff ahead of the 2009 Tour Divide. I was a mess of emotions, and a large part of me did not want to start the race. But as I stood on the Sulphur Mountain observation deck and looked out over the southern horizon, I felt this strong sense of peace that the Tour Divide was the right thing to do. This is that same view, eight months later. Mount Rundle is on the left and the Spray River runs down the valley on the right. The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route follows that river south.

I really had a great time going back to Banff, visiting the incredible people I met down there during the summer, revisiting special places cast in the blue light of winter, learning new skills and discovering new spaces of almost celestial beauty and fun. Thanks so much to Leslie and Keith for being great hosts, friends and teachers. (Click on the link to check out Leslie's blog. She's a distance trail runner and her blog awesome.) Banff really is a little slice of paradise.

Moving on ...

I'm back in Juneau and have a total of six weeks to train before the start of the White Mountains 100, a snow-bike race in Fairbanks. I used to use this blog as a training log to track my mileage and hours, but quit doing that shortly after I got frostbite during the 2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational and became a bit ambivalent to training. My plan for the next six weeks is to narrow my focus and pay more attention to the specifics of my workouts - both riding and hiking - so I'm going to start tracking again. I may not have enough time to really dial in my fitness, but at least I can push my own physical limits up to the event. So, for today's ride:

Date: Feb. 6
Mileage: 35
Time: 2 hours, 3 minutes
Weather: 39 degrees, light rain, southeast wind 10-15 mph
Details: Tempo road ride to Herbert River and back, intensity 65-90 percent
Note: Tendons behind left knee still sore from skiing, otherwise felt strong.
Wednesday, February 03, 2010

High country

This is a place that I love.

It's the corner of the Continental Divide, where Atlantic meets Pacific meets Arctic. "The apex," one might say, the center; the place where life can flow in any direction - a single drop of water, a fractal flake of snow, a moment in time. It's near here, on the Columbia Icefield, in the Canadian Rockies.

Look East. Look West. Look North. That's opportunity. But to start at the beginning, we look up.

This is a place where few venture; a world of rock and ice and little more. Water flows down; we climb. Trees give way to a sterile moonscape of pure beauty.

This is a place where I put on my sleeping-bag coat; turn to face the frigid wind and blasts of cold. I'm a biosphere of warmth, as long as I'm moving. I huddle in my sleeping-bag coat and march strong.

This is a place where I wander; both over the snow and inside my mind. I think about the far-away places the flakes atop these pinnacles may someday reach; the Mackenzie River, the Columbia River, and Hudson Bay.

It reminds me that nothing is permanent and nothing stays the same. It helps me feel more secure with uncertainty; more comfortable. I bundle up my sleeping-bag coat and start down.

This is a place; just a place. The Triple Divide is just an idea, someone's theory, somewhere else. We're just a couple of hikers out for a stroll - somewhere high, somewhere quiet, flowing home.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Today I rode a really nice bike in the snow

Keith and I are registered as partners in this year's Trans Rockies, a mountain bike stage race that takes place in British Columbia and Alberta in August. Keith is a rep for Rocky Mountain bicycles, which means I found a way to become a sponsored racer without actually being a real athlete. Hooray! One of the perks of our team sponsorship is use of a sweet, high-end mountain bike. Today I had the opportunity to try this bike out.

These are our team bikes - Rocky Mountain Element 90s. I'm not nearly enough of a gear geek to rattle off the different parts, but they're full-suspension, 26" aluminum bikes, weigh in at about 25 pounds, and have super bomber wheels, drivetrain, shocks, blah, blah, blah. The bike is worth nearly as much as what I paid for the car I've driven for the past decade (and for what my car is worth today, I'd have to sell 10 of them to buy myself this bicycle.) Needless to say, I was itching to take it out for a ride.

Drivetrain shot! Check out those sweet platform pedals. :-)

We took them on singletrack just outside Banff. Trail conditions were ideal for a ride on a lightweight, full-suspension bike: about 2-3 inches of fluff on top of frozen dirt, with just enough crust and narrow tracks to really make things interesting. We cut through the snow and floated over hidden rocks and roots. We hammered through wind-drifts and powered up steep hills like they weren't even there. This bike is significantly lighter than both my hardtail 29" Karate Monkey and Pugsley, which unloaded weigh in at about 30 and 36 pounds, respectively. Amazing how much a difference those 10 pounds can make. You don't even miss the big wheels because you are hovering above the ground.

Not to mention shifting and braking more smoothly than you ever thought possible because you have spent so much time riding lackadaisically maintained bicycles that have lived in soggy, icy Juneau for far too long.

Of course, snow is snow, and eventually powder will steal little wheels' traction. We did get spun out on a few hills, but for the most part our ride was best of both worlds - all of the fun of singletrack riding in the summer with all of the serenity and scenery of the mountains in winter.

After our singletrack ride, we headed out to Lake Minnewanka for "resistance training." I highly recommend this workout for other "sponsored" athletes like myself. Just put three inches of wind-crusted fluff on top of glare ice and be amazed at how hard you have to work for slow progress on a flat surface.

Keith isn't usually an outdoor cyclist during the winter. It's always fun to introduce snow-biking newbies to the initial shock of how much more difficult and challenging cycling really is during the winter. And it's not the cold factor (although I have to admit conditions for us today were downright tropical - just below freezing with intermittent sun and clouds.) But, no, the biggest challenge is the stuff on the ground: snow and ice and slush. The surface is ever-changing, but the one constant of winter cycling is that there's always something waiting to trip you up. And powering over, through and around these frozen water obstacles is, in my opinion, every bit as fun as rocks, roots and sand. Seriously. Did the groundhog see his shadow today? I hope so, because I'm not nearly ready for winter ... or my vacation ... to end.