Wednesday, December 31, 2008

the good in 2008

Every year has its rough spots and challenges. This year the Anchorage biking and outdoor-loving community sure had our share. It was one of the coldest summers on record with lots of rainy days. Two people were seriously hurt by two different brown bears in my favorite park leading to an exodus of park users and a trail closure. Politically, Alaskans had to do lots of explaining to friends in the Lower-48 after our governor became a vp candidate. Some politicians went on trial and to jail.

But, looking back there were plenty of positives in my 2008.

I went to Italy with my aunt.

I rode my snow bike lots, especially with Jon.

Jon helped me build wheels for my single-speed project.

I got a new distributor for my book.

I skied with my friends, Jo-Ann & Corinne.
We had more snow in one day in April than we ever expected! (That's maybe not necessarily good, but it gave us something to talk about.)
I biked with my friends, the Alaska Dirt Divas.Jon & I hiked.
Skinny bike trails were built by Singletrack Advocates.

We didn't get rained on during my birthday ride.

My friends & I had three sunny days in a row for our biking overnighter at Eklutna Lake!

Jon & I flew south to experience summer.

Our candidates won! (all but one; sorry Ethan)

I still have health insurance!

Jon and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary.

The journey continues.
I wonder what 2009 will bring,
Adventures and quests.
Small discoveries and joy.

May you share it with friends.
May you remember to get more photos
of you with your sweetie.

Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

cold hands, warm hearts

Eric and Jennifer met last year at the ice carving competition. Just over six months later they got married. Their wedding, coincidently took place on our 10th wedding anniversary -- yes, the day Jon gave me the pair of pigs. Sure, that's a short time to meet and get married but when it's right, it's right.

Today they were downtown at Town Square Park carving their new creation in a prominent spot above the skating rink when a local reporter approached.
Eric carving ice into water.

The couple told the story of their sculpture then told her how they'd met. I could see the reporter's interest. How wonderfully romantic it is to return to the place where they met and enjoy the activity that brought them together. Single-digit temps were chilling most people and a gaitor covered Jennifer's smile, but that kind of happiness could melt the ice in the rink.

Jennifer carving a salmon.

The carvings should be done by Sunday evening for the judging. I think I'll check 'em out again.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

christmas in the garden

Snow was falling this Christmas day. It was mostly quiet but we made sure to fit in some outdoor activity. Since I'm off the bike and skis for a bit, we went out together -- I had my snowshoes and Jon had his boots and gaitors. If we have any holiday tradition at our house, above all it is that we get outdoors to do something.

We've had several snowstorms in the last few weeks with no wind or warm weather to blow or melt it away. The trees are bent by the weight of the snow, some of them crushing fences, others leaning against neighboring trees, still others arcing over until their smallest twig-size branches hit the top of the snow that is on the ground.

Jon listening to the gurgling creek.

We were in the Alaska Botanical Garden, wandering on the nature trails, then on the creek ice. Nobody else was there, though we did watch a moose munching on twigs inside the garden. A couple years ago the garden installed a perimeter fence to keep the ungulates out. But with all the trees that were knocked down in the windstorm two months ago, I'm sure there are places where the fence has been toppled.

Garden-variety moose munching branches on a leaned-over tree.

It was good being out in the garden on this short winter day with no one else around. As we prepared to leave, we began to hear ravens overhead as they made their evening journey back toward the mountains where they spend the night after a day in town.
Jon rests on a bench.

With the holidays winding down and my hand making a steady recovery from surgery, I hope to be back on the bike in maybe another week or so. I can probably ski sooner. Either way, it'll be good to get back into some sort of consistent exercise schedule after a couple months of commitments to other things. That'll be a good way to start the year.

Friday, December 19, 2008

shops they love

my commuter w/SnowCats, studs and poagies

Back in September Jon was interviewed for an article in Bicycling Magazine. He talked about winter cycling and the equipment that makes it easier for us to ride year round. While we were on vacation in October a photographer stopped by to take some shots for the story. We weren't sure when the story would appear, then the emails started.

People from Chicago, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Toronto -- the list keeps growing -- had received their January issue of the mag. Now they were looking to make their commutes better, warmer, safer. Many had never heard of studded tires and handlebar poagies, then here we were, this family-owned shop in Anchorage getting a little attention from around the country and from our neighbors to the east. Each day a few more emails and phone calls. People wanting to talk about riding conditions and how much daylight we have (not much right now). People very appreciative that we could help them out.

It took a few weeks for us to get a copy of the issue and overall it's pretty accurate as far as the equipment and the recycling go. Jon hopes to not be called out as a fraud when people learn that he doesn't commute every day as the article stated. I imagine him saying he commutes "most every day" and having that key modifier dropped. Oops.
Jon arrives at work wearing his homemade face mask.
Judging by the beardcicles, must be around zero out.

There's lots of competition among shops in Anchorage, especially to get the limited winter market. Through the article, the shop's customer base just ballooned to include much of North America. I think that's pretty cool. It's also cool when our longtime customers come in and say they saw and liked the article. It validates what we've built over the last 10 years. It also makes a very slow time of year just a little more interesting.

Monday, December 15, 2008


frosted tree at
the Beartooth Theater Pub

A good film, like a good trail, makes me want more. Maybe not more of the movie, but to take off where the film left off. One we saw at the fest was called "Carrot Cake Conversations." Filmed in Singapore, it follows the characters through one night and early morning as their paths intersect and carrot cake is consumed. It wasn't a spectacular film, but it held my interest. One question raised: are there carrots in carrot cake? A little search revealed that the answer is "no." Daikon radish? Yes. One site explained that the Chinese characters for carrot and radish are very similar. I don't know anything about that, so will take them on their word.

I found recipes and a little history of the food and wondered if I could possibly make this popular dish. Let's add that to the to-do list, the non-cooking girl told herself. Then on Saturday as I talked with some friends they mentioned the food malls in Singapore. "Did you have any carrot cake?" I asked, wishful. They had, and now I'm dreaming of a new city to put on my list of places to go.

That's just one of the beauties of film. It can take us to a different place, time, or culture. It can inspire our senses, remind us of times past. It can make us wonder. It can also answer questions we didn't know we had.

Like a movie we saw on Friday which reminded most of the audience of a time they remembered as it recounted the story behind many of the hit records from the 60s. The Wrecking Crew is about the studio musicians behind hundreds of albums produced in LA during that time, including what we've heard called the "wall of sound." As a Generation X girl, I've grown up hearing this music because that's what was on the radio or the stereo. They were the songs of the Boomers and they permeated our lives for a long time. Still do. Like many people, I didn't realize how many groups did not perform their own music.

After watching the film, the song resonating in my head is Glen Campbell's Wichita Lineman. Wow, what a tune! I have a version performed by Michelle Shocked with Freddy Fender & the Texas Tornadoes that's pretty great but c'mon. Is there a voice like Glen Campbell's out there? And now that I know the story of the bass player, Carol Kaye, who came up with the opening riff on that tune, it adds another dimension to the song.

Now that the film festival has come to a close, I can get back to the holiday-time chores, look forward to the new year and see if any airfares inspire me to book a trip someplace warm. Maybe I'll even get those Christmas cards addressed.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

it's film fest time!

through the steam on my lens

Today I had the day off and since the snow had been falling since early last evening, I headed out to the park for a ski. I was the third person on one of the trails, after a snowbiker and a hiker. The park was mostly silent as the snow insulated the park from most road traffic noise. A few birds, their songs unidentifiable to me, flew through a meadow. I haven't been doing any biking this past week. I have a good reason, though.

Each December for just over a week, Jon and I put aside any bike commuting aspirations, delay addressing holiday cards and beg off work early so we can take in the films at the Anchorage International Film Festival. This is the eighth year of the fest which brings in features, some classics, documentaries, shorts and animation. Local entries are included in the "Snowdance" portion of the program.

The festival is a movie-going buffet for us since each year we get the all-films passes and hope to pick the best films and see the most we can. This year, I'm not as obsessive as I've been in previous years. One movie per night can be enough... but not always. Tonight, it's the Bear Tooth at 5:30, then the Museum at 8. If you're an Anchorageite, you should check out the second half of the fest. If you're a filmmaker, hey, submit something for next year. I'll go see it!

Monday, December 8, 2008

let's review: 08 concerts

Friday evening we went to a concert with some friends. The opening act didn't get me too excited. My mind wandered to the best concerts I saw this year. Anchorage gets smaller acts, but we also occasionally gets some big names. Heard of that Sir Elton John fellow?

The shows I most enjoyed this year were a few I mentioned in earlier posts: the Carolina Chocolate Drops (returning in May '09!), Trombone Shorty and Hamell on Trial. Each act was incredibly different in styles and material. But they shared one thing: energy. When I go to a concert, I've probably had a busy day but I don't want to be lulled to sleep (it's happened... a few times). I want something that makes me want to move; and sing and shout. I also want something that makes me feel. That makes me laugh and cry. To paraphrase Hamell, I don't want someone who just goes halfway.

After the second half of Friday's show I'll add another artist to the list of performers I would see again, Dan Bern. He's been to Anchorage a few times and we have one of his CDs, but I wasn't that familiar with his work or his performance style. He's a story teller with the sometimes mischievousness demeanor of a little boy who's just said something clever or naughty. Very funny and with a range of material from his own works to classics like "House of the Rising Sun." Even though it was getting late when he wrapped up, I could have stayed for another hour listening to him.

Thanks to Corinne & Paul for treating us to this show. See you next time.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

goodwill to all

I made it almost to work in a mostly pleasant commute. The sun, though behind the clouds, was rising. The temperature was in the high 20s. My route was almost entirely ridable. The pedestrian signal at Lake Otis and O'Malley was working again.

The most nerve-wracking part of my ride was upon me. The short stretch on Huffman Road between Gregory and Huffman Park Drive, then the shop. I had a clear shot with a green light, keeping just left of the soft snow off to my right. I was in the traffic lane, because I am traffic.

View Larger Map
A car passed me just before the underpass, getting very close. We got to the next light at the same time, me in the right lane, him in the left. That's when he powered down his window and yelled at me, asking why I hadn't moved over. He answered his question by calling me a f*ing idiot. Then he kept yelling until the light turned green and he sped off. I pulled off my mitten with my teeth and flashed him a peace sign. I tried to find him after he pulled into the business park. No luck but my adrenaline was going.

I was working on what to say, and kept thinking about it as I let myself into the store. Now, every one of us has those days when we say something that we wish we could take back or rephrase. And I've even yelled at people on my commute, usually to let them know I'm at an intersection they just rolled through... But on my commutes I've never experienced quite this level of verbal assault. Someone asked if it made me mad, but that's not the word for how I feel. Confounded. Shocked, saddened.

Just because this guy couldn't wait two seconds to get past me and had to try to tear me down with words, I've let him control many of my thoughts for the day. But it's reminded me that I should try to remember that every person I encounter has other things on their mind; other things going on in their life and I should try to be patient with them. Because I don't want to be that guy.

What if I'd found him? All I had wanted was a chance to say "peace on earth; goodwill to all."

Saturday, November 29, 2008

i'm serial

On Friday I was at the ReadAlaska Book Fair, working a table, plugging my book. One thing I love about this annual event at the Anchorage Museum is that I see lots of people I know. People I know from all different walks of life. Some bike people; some not.

One person who came by the table was David, my mandolin teacher. "What?" you ask. We didn't know you play the mandolin. Well, David keeps making the assumption that I've been playing, practicing my chords and tunes, but today I admitted to him in front of witnesses that I am a serial hobbiest. Maybe you know what I'm talking about. Maybe you share my affliction. for those not familiar, let me explain:

Back in 2002, I walked across the street from the shop where I still work and ordered a mandolin. Never played one, but I like the sound and I like the size. I have a bit of a music background, so figured I'd pick it up just fine. I played and practiced, every evening learning scales and tunes, then moving on to chords. Started playing a bit with friends. Then in 2004, also known as the Year of the Book, I learned to knit.

Knitting became my writer's block refuge. Not sure what I wanted to say that day? Sit down with the Stitch 'n Bitch book and learn a new technique. Scarf, hats, socks, vest, mittens, NPR. Yarn store, books. Knit for a few hours and wonder where the time went. Instead of paragraphs, I had rows of stitches and was making my way up to an armhole. Felted mittens came into play (the most useful thing I made since they're fabulous for winter cycling).

Away went time to play music; I was making things. But in a few years, I drifted away from my proposed knitting projects. I can't quite pinpoint how this happened. But I have been writing more - if only here on this blog.

Then we come to the museum. Talking with David, then talking with a photographer I know about maybe learning to take better photos, then with a watercolor artist about the beauty of plein air painting, then a felt artist about the process of working with wool and silk to create her shawls and scarves. I thought about all the things I would love to learn, different things I'd like to try in order to gain more understanding and appreciation for different art forms. Did I mention pottery?

I've come to believe that learning new skills keeps the mind sharp. I told David this and I think he got what I was saying. But I guess it's sad that I haven't pulled out the ol' mandolin in quite some time, not to mention the circular knitting needles. If only I was able to manage my time in such a way that I could fit in all the things I enjoy. Returning to something, just like starting in the first place just takes a first step. Right?

Monday, November 24, 2008

ghost bike

A few days ago, Jon and I were driving through Midtown and saw a Ghost Bike. It was white, covered in frost -- a stark sight. I hadn't known it was there, but quickly realized that this was a memorial to a young man whose name I didn't yet know. I found out later it was placed at the intersection after a memorial ride, attended by about a dozen cyclists who then dispersed into the wintery night.

There's no name on the bike. But it was placed there in memory of Jonathan Johnson. According to the local paper, Jonathan was struck by an SUV on October 20th as he rode his bike through the intersection of 40th Avenue and C Street. It was during the early morning commute. He was 19.

I didn't know him, but I did learn that he was the oldest of six kids. Anyone who has lost a sibling suddenly, tragically and so young can relate to the grief that this is causing them. As his brothers and sisters mark life’s milestones, they will hopefully grow into adulthood and lead satisfying lives while Jonathan will be forever remembered as he was. Nineteen.

Today I stopped by the site and stood near the bike as cars zoomed past or stopped at the intersection. Nobody asked me what I was doing, what the bike meant. Maybe they knew. Maybe they weren't curious enough to ask. As I crossed the street back to my car, the walk light came on and two cars made right turns in front of me before I could step off the curb. That's Anchorage. We must be ever vigilant.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

winter biking with the travel guy

So there I was checking the email and hitting the links in my emails when I went to a site with a very short winter biking video. And it's filmed partly at the shop where I work. You never know what's going to happen when you have a day off.

Scott McMurren is the guy you want to know when you're looking for great travel deals in and around & to and from Alaska. He loves this place and his enthusiasm is contagious. Can you tell? Now I think I should get my handlebar-cam set up so I can get some winter footage. I'll let you know how that goes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

the good, the bad & the ugly

Two recent stories in the Anchorage Daily News highlight some of the ups and downs of commuting in Anchorage. While we have a great system of recreational trails, many of us commute on more direct routes, such as on roads and streetside paths where we must remain incredibly diligent about safety at every single intersection. Not to say that I'm not careful when I'm in my car, but we're a little less visible and much more exposed when on our bikes.

Years ago, when I was learning to drive a car, my brother Mike told me this: always expect the other person to do the wrong thing. Good advice whether you're driving a car, riding a bike or even on foot -- don't expect people to see you or wait for you. It's been years since I listened to that advice, but its simplicity is something everyone on the roads and trails should remember.

The least pleasant part of the commute: the nasty fumes
from poorly-maintained vehicles and diesel trucks.
Why do drivers want to floor it to go by me?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

and the senator from alaska is...

Today, Alaska is closer to a resolution. After months of campaigning, early voting, election day and two weeks of wondering since that day, we found out who won the US Senate race. Maybe. Because with close races, there's bound to be a recount, though I do have faith in our voting system.

The contenders, in case you've been sequestered for the last year were: an incumbent, convicted felon, octogenarian (I have nothing against people in their 80s. My parents are in their 80s. But neither of them should be starting a six-year term in the Senate) who wishes he could spend more time with the grandkids; and the current two-term Anchorage mayor. Tonight, the local paper declared Mayor Mark Begich the winner.

Besides hoping for a new senator, I've been hoping I can hold my head high when I next visit the Lower-48. I mean, it was hard enough explaining Governor Palin to my sensible Midwest siblings. How would I have begun to explain Alaska politics had Stevens won? Just look at the numbers: he got 147,004 votes, while 150,728 went to Begich. Not a huge margin, but a win nonetheless. There are a few more out-of-state mail-in votes to be counted, but I think it's over.

It's a sad end to a long career and I even hope that Stevens skips the appeal and just asks W for a pardon. Isn't that what the last days of a presidency are for? Now the lesson for us all: don't accept gifts you don't want and be diligent with your paperwork.

Now, on to biking topics!

Monday, November 17, 2008

good to be out


Sunday I had a lovely commute to and from work. Snow was falling in the morning and I didn't have to rush to get there on time. It felt good to ride the route with snow under my wheels. On the way home, Jon and I took our favorite little commuting route through the woods - Lynx Trail, Moose Track, Salmon Run. We stopped to look at the ice on the creek. Not too cold. It was nice to be on a route I know so well riding by the light of my headlamp.

Truth be told, up until Saturday yours truly hadn't been outdoors on the bike in a week. The temps were rising but instead of riding to work, I have been in the midst of making changes. If there's one thing a biking vacation tells me, it's what kind of shape I'm in. This year, not so good. Not enough long rides to make long rides in the sun easier. It didn't help that I acquired what I called "desert crud" just a week into the trip. Darn cough morphed into bronchitis, the other reason I thought I'd stay indoors.

Instead of subjecting my sad lungs to the cold, I climbed on board the trainer. I know, I know! But sometimes it's the only way. The happy part is that the new trainer we have is less boring than the old one. It rocks! Literally, it rocks. It's a Kinetic Rock & Roll and it sways from side to side when I ride. I think it makes it more comfortable because it's more like riding on the road, but without the fear of crashing on rollers.

The other change is that I'm trying to make time to go to Pilates. It's been ages but I went to last Monday's class and my abs still hurt when I arrived at the Wednesday class! I'm not big on suffering, but feeling that muscle soreness told me one thing: they were working.

One thing that keeps me from going to Pilates classes is that it doesn't work with my bike commute. So my goal is to find a balance of enough commuting, enough Pilates and enough riding on the trainer. Plus knowing when to say "enough!," and push away my dinner plate. Now that's hard.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

the buzz

After over four years of work and talk, fundraising and planning, then even more work, Singletrack Advocates (STA) has a new network of trails that are open and ready to ride. And after last Friday, the trails have some possible names. I say possible names, because the names for which a group of STA volunteers voted must go through a lengthy process before being approved.

First there's a committee, appointed by the Mayor. The committee decides on the names, which go to the Parks & Recreation board. After approval, they go to the Anchorage assembly where they will, hopefully, be approved. Then the signs are printed and installed. Pretty soon the names appear on maps. Quite a process.

But for Anchorage-area cyclists and other trail users, I give you Trail Names. Because the only way for these trails to know their names is for us to use them. If you've been on the trails lately, you've seen signs for Intermediate, Advanced and Connector routes. They are:
The Hive (the outer-most loop which is marked with blue reflectors and signs that say "Intermediate);
Stinger (the inner, "Advanced" loop, marked with either red or white reflectors);
Janice's Loop (runs southwest of The Hive to a connector trail);
Drone Lane (connector trail which connects Janice's Loop to the trailhead which is just south of the Hilltop nordic ski jumps.

Are you lost yet? Ok. Then go to this website and register as a member so you can view the map that's posted there. It'll all make sense when you see the map.

Now get on out there. And may I suggest that if you are a snowshoer, could you go out and pack down that fresh snow?

Friday, November 7, 2008

go ahead and ask

The excitement and decisiveness of Barack Obama's win on Tuesday was tempered locally by the continuing strangeness of Alaskan politics. I know, this blog is supposed to be about biking, so, yes, I did bike to the polls on Tuesday, then into work. Where I spent the early part of the afternoon alternating between working and hitting the "refresh" at NPR's election map before we hooked up a t.v. and started watching the coverage as it unfolded, flipping from NBC to PBS to Comedy Central. Later, we joined friends to watch more numbers come in.

So much has been said in the last couple days, what can I add but my voice with others around the nation to celebrate this victory. I'm happy about what it says about our country, that we can transcend a history of painful racial divisions to elect a man for the ideas he brings and (to use the words of Dr. King) for "the content of his character." I add my tears of joy to those of people from all backgrounds because now I feel we are united more than ever before. It is truly beautiful.

But, while watching the national returns lifted our hopes, the local results brought on a sense of frustration and disappointment. For those of you in the Lower-48 and the rest of the world, this whole Senate race isn't over yet. There are tens of thousands of early votes to count. There's still a chance that Mark Begich will unseat Stevens. And if he doesn't, I imagine you can chalk up a win for the Republicans after Stevens resigns and the special election puts our now world-famous governor into a Beltway position in the US Senate. (That's my unhappy prediction, shared by many others here.) Count every vote, I say, until we know who wins this race!

Monday, November 3, 2008

evolution of a vote

Early this past February, as I made my way to the Super Tuesday Alaska Democratic Caucus, I wasn't sure who I would support in this election. I parked my car almost a mile from Begich Middle School and began walking past the cars that lined the road, all on their way to caucus. It was the longest traffic jam I've ever seen in Anchorage. Inside the school, things were even more chaotic.

In the small gymnasium it was find your precinct, take a card, wait a long time, then disperse to your designated classroom. For my precinct, almost half of us couldn't fit in the room! While I was excited about the process and the enthusiastic turnout, I left the school without casting a vote and feeling dismayed that I had missed the speeches that should have swayed my vote.

Later that month, as I headed off to a trip overseas, I took Barack Obama's book Dreams from my Father. I didn't have much time to read it until the end of the trip when I stayed with my parents for a week in Wisconsin. I kept remembering the optimism of a shopkeeper in Rome telling me that, based on astrology and my earth sign, this was a good year for me and this was also a good year for Obama. (I haven't really evaluated my year, but his has been going pretty well.)

As candidates left the race, I would remove their bookmarks from my browser and pretty soon with my increased familiarity with Obama's background and positions, I was ready to jump in with my support. Watching and reading his speeches helped solidify my views. I trust him.

Finally, with the election tomorrow, I'm ready to head to my polling place (I like to vote on Election Day). Then after work we'll get together with friends in what we hope will be a great celebration for Obama and for some of our statewide candidates - please, please, please. We may even head to Election Central to take in the atmosphere if things look like they're going our way.

But, I still wonder about people who haven't made up their minds; who say they don't know enough about the candidates and their positions. My goodness, if they have access to a library, bookstore or a computer; if they're willing to read some of the analysis from a multitude of sources, they should be able to figure this out. Let's hope they make the best choice on Tuesday. Of course that's code for: I hope they vote for Obama!

Friday, October 31, 2008

just look

We explored this slot canyon just outside Page, AZ. (The first pic is Jon at the entrance.) We were there at the same time as a photography group, carrying their tripods and much fancier digital cameras and even light meters.

At one point, a man said, disappointedly to one of the leaders, “I’m just not finding anything.” Before I had a chance to say anything, the leader told him he would take this man to an area where he would find something he liked.

What I wanted to tell him was this: put down your camera, stand in one place and just look. Look at and experience all that is around you. The shapes, the colors, the light. The layers upon ancient layers of sandstone. Just look.

Since Jon wielded the camera most of the time we were in the canyon, that’s what I was doing, experiencing the canyon without the filter of a framed lens. It was refreshing not worrying about how a shot would turn out. And maybe it helped me notice things just a little bit more.

Monday, October 27, 2008


Have you had one of those moments? You approach an obstacle on the trail. You think, “I can ride that.” You roll closer... “yeah, I can ride that.” Then, when you’re upon it, (when, if you analize afterward you know you’d already passed that critical moment when the decision should have been made) the “NO” voice screams from your inner self.

In that moment on the Hurricane Rim trail, when I hesitated and hit the brakes instead of going for it, the bike reared up, tossing me forward. I let go of the bar and landed on my hands and right forearm, the bike tumbled down the sideslope and a scream which I didn’t know I was capable of making left my throat.

I scurried down to fetch my bike, saw cactus thorns embedded in the rear tire, a few scrapes in my saddle. I apologized to my bike as I inspected it, then hauled it back up to the trail to look at the rock, admonishing myself for making such a bad decision. But, fewer than seven miles into what turned into a 25-mile loop, I wasn’t about to give up. I walked a few technical stretches after that, but once we connected to the next section of trail, I was able to reclaim my groove for the day. Mostly.

The bruises appeared quickly on my arm and on my right leg (which I think made contact with the handlebar). But it’s tough to recover that sense of oneness with the bike after having such a disagreement with what it can do. When people say their bike is better than they deserve, what they really mean is that the bike can better handle challenging terrain than they can. While some people have the confidence to believe they can ride just about anything on a trail, many of us are just not all that sure of our handling skills until we’ve been put to the test. Then it’s a matter of incrementally pushing ourselves from one hurdle to the next, seeing just what we can do. Committing to the line.

Then, the vacation’s over and we have to relearn it next time.

And that’s where we are this evening, holed up at the El Rancho in Boulder City, NV. Jon packed the bikes while I read him the headlines from the Anchorage Daily News. By this time tomorrow, we’ll be back in Anchorage. Back in our own home. Remembering trailrides, starry nights, last night’s campfire and miles of trail.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

return to thunder mountain

According to notes in our guidebook, we first pedaled Thunder Mountain back in 2002. We’d been told it was a great ride on IMBA-designed singletrack. We couldn’t pass it up during our first biking trip to southern Utah. I remember the challenge of the ride and the cool temperatures as we biked it that morning. Now we were back, getting the bikes ready at the trailhead, hoping to win the race with darkness.

The day had started early in Page, AZ, with the drive into Utah to see some rock formations known as the Toadstools. Ten miles on a dirt road in a minivan takes awhile, but we were rewarded with up-close views of dozens of these sandstone pillars, many topped with conglomerate rock. After the drive out and lunch, we headed for Thunder Mountain.

Funny how little I remembered of that ride six years ago. I remembered that it was singletrack with lots of climbing; I remembered the hoodoo rock formations, similar to what one would see in Bryce Canyon. What I didn’t remember was how the trail sweeps into the drainages in banked turns, then sweeps out again in a series of descents and climbs. I forgot the tight switchbacks we had to negotiate to return to the canyon floor, and I forgot the buffed out last mile or so that eased us out of the canyon as daylight was fading. No wonder the guys we met at the trailhead were grinning so much when they came off the trail.

Just a few more days left in our Southwest biking vacation. We have a few more days of riding in the sun before heading north and getting ready for the Alaskan winter. I’m almost ready.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

don't go off the trail

All this, and more!
Notice the first aide kit...

Leonard called over his shoulder this recommendation as we started on a new loop in the Fantasy Island trail system in Tucson. Soon, I knew why: if I didn't keep my speed down, I'd go barreling into one of the hundreds of cacti that lined the singletrack. The trail twisted left, then right and left again.
Prickly pear, barrels and others whose names I don't yet know were just feet apart.

Despite the feeling of emptiness in the desert, we encountered a few of these rabbits.

When we finished riding all the loops we wanted, I looked at my odometer: 24 miles! How the trail designers made a system this extensive on a piece of desert said to be less three square miles gives me hope for the potential mileage we can tease out of the project on the Anchorage Hillside.

Of course this trail has little elevation change except where it dips in and out of the rock-filled washes or rises to a low viewpoint. I think I could ride this trail system many times and not get bored. But a guide to cacti would be helpful, along with some Slime for my tubes.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

be careful what you ask for

Jon, finds some slickrock in Sedona.

Just outside Phoenix.

We came for the heat, and heat we have. This evening, sitting outside a cafe in Tucson, AZ, I looked up the temperatures in Anchorage. In the mid-thirties around much of the city. I'm adjusting to the combination of darkness and warmth here. Because in Alaska, if it's warm, it's not dark. I associate dark, starry nights with bundling up in a down jacket and Uggs. On this trip, we take every opportunity to eat outdoors. In tank tops or short-sleeve shirts.

But I've also had to remember to hydrate: I think, therefore I take a sip from my hydration pack. That's the only way to deal with the temperatures as we make our way south. The biking continues to be challenging and fun, but the biggest challenge is the heat. I take my time pedaling. Take my breaks under sparse, shady trees or cacti. Try to eat. Reapply sunblock.

Leonard above Sedona.

Today, after riding for five days straight, we took a rest day, which means we slept in, then did a short hike in the Suguaro National Park before heading into Tucson for dinner and a stroll around the University area.
That's a tall one!

Tomorrow, we ride again. I'll do my best to be ready.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

we'll follow the sun

...In this case, we'll follow the warmth. As we prepared to leave Moab on Monday morning (thanks to Fred & Susan for putting us up), Jon pulled a water bottle from the car... frozen! Using "head south" as our rallying cry, we hit the road.

Monument Valley, Navajo Nation. If you've seen any
John Wayne westerns, you've seen some of the sights in the valley.

South, toward Arizona where we drove through Monument Valley, then pulled into Flagstaff as darkness was settling in. Next day, we rode some trails on Mount Elden. The ride started at about 7,000 feet, then climbed from there - we figure to about 9,100 feet. My legs were willing, but the lungs burned. It's a tough reminder to us sea-level people - the mountains are beautiful but they can be tough.
Jon lands after a small jump.

Of course, the climbing was rewarded with some sweet, twisting, flowing, singletrack descents on trails that were sometimes rocky, but also sometimes covered with pine needles.

This is what we do.

We camped out that night just south of Flagstaff in calm, somewhat warmer conditions. It was good to be bundled into my sleeping bag without all that dust flying around.

Today, we met our friend Leonard for a ride in Sedona. Lower elevations and hotter conditions. Riding with someone who knows his way around made it fun... even when I was pushing. I split from the guys when they wanted to do another longer loop. A wise idea - by the time they met me at the Bike & Bean, they were both spent, while I was lounging outside with my iced latte talking to a cyclist who is biking her way to Central America to do volunteer work.

Tomorrow, we ride again with Leonard. Funny, he lives in Anchorage. We've known him for years and I volunteer on the STA steering committee with him, but I can only recall riding with him once before. How is it that we have to come all the way to Arizona to ride with him and enjoy dinner together? Well, here's to bikes, to travel, to good food and friends with whom to share them.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

twenty-four hours of dust

Jon waits for me to catch up.

Just days before we left for our vacation, Pete called to tell us he would be racing in the 24 Hours of Moab the next weekend. After little hesitation, we figured we'd head to Moab, Utah, to join him and check out this popular event.

We arrived on Thursday and checked in with his friend at Poison Spider bikes, got a few provisions and headed out to Behind the Rocks to camp. Other people had already started to arrive, so we found Pete's spot (reserved by a friend) and pitched our tent. The wind had already begun, but we weren't too concerned.

Next day, we biked the 15-mile course to see what the racers were in for. It wasn't bad on the trail, but at the camping area the wind continued. Back in town, we met Pete for dinner, then it was back to the race course where the wind quieted, then resumed with full force in the night. In the morning, it wasn't letting up. Tents were flapping, the wind forcing them to tug at their stakes. Bandanas and Buffs covered faces. Dust settled on our teeth. Trucks sprayed water on the ground.
The wind did die down now and then, but it didn't stay calm for long...

Pete after the first lap.

Cullen (Pete's friend) biked to the race pulling all his equipment,
including a back-up bike, in a BOB trailer.
He's doing the race as self-supported as possible.

Which is worse: the wind or the rain? Even considering my whining about the rain this past summer, I guess I'd take the cool rain over the hot, dust-filled wind. A soaked tent or a tent filled with dust? Don't try to tell me one is worse than the other - they both are miserable, just in different ways. Tonight, we decided to not suffer - we found one of the few vacancies in town. I'm not eating dust tonight.