Wednesday, December 21, 2011

relativity of pain

This was my week of answers. And if you ever doubt that worrying won't make things better, I like to think that my worrying about a worst-case scenario for the shoulder has paid off in a better diagnosis than expected. The wait for the MRI report was mentally excruiating and I promise I won't schedule a Friday test again.

When I saw Dr Mike on Tuesday, he went over the written report with its medical terms like acromiom, subacromial and supraspinatus. A few terms I'd heard before, but I'd have to look them up online to remember what they were. What we were looking for was whether the labrum was torn. We went to the computer to look at the images and he pointed out all the places things were injured, reminding me that most of his earlier diagnoses were confirmed (like the impingement and swollen bursa).

He showed me that I did indeed have the labral tear, albeit a small one. Not as bad as when he tore his a few years ago when he crashed doing 50 mph on his snowmachine. (I love active doctors who get what it's like to be a patient.) He recommended a consult with a surgeon to confirm that it wasn't bad enough for surgery and to start treatment with a cortisone shot - but only when I was ready to commit to his regimen which I'd need to stick with for seven days to get the best result from the shot. Okay, I scheduled it for the next day - today.

At noon today, I let him do the shot into the right shoulder. After the assistant applied my Hello Kitty bandage (nice touch) I moved the arm around and massaged from the area of the injection toward any area where I felt pain for about two or three minutes. Then it was the ice pack for 40 minutes. It was a piece of cake. The worst part was driving home in my manual-transmission car. It fact, that's been one of the most painful things I do, but I can't just switch hands.

Now, my regimen for seven days is this: Contrast therapy (5 min. ice; 15 min heat; repeat) then apply his special "Dr Mike's Sports Cream," followed by 5 or so minutes of neck & shoulder stretches. I must do these four times a day! As I write, I have a heating pad on my shoulder - tip: oversized fashion scarves are great at holding a heating pad in place.

There are a few things I find interesting about this week's experiences. First, after I learned the tear was not as bad as I'd thought, the pain diminished throughout the day so that by evening it was not too bad. I'm fascinated by how involved my brain has been in interpreting my pain. Second, after reading over the MRI report at home, something was missing; I confirmed it with Dr Mike today - the rotator cuff is not torn after all!

I'm newly optimistic about the treatment, hoping that the shot and the PT will help me avoid surgery, hoping I have a faster recovery and am on the bike when the pavement clears. After all, I have places to ride, things to see and do, candles to burn on both ends. Those are some great thoughts for this solstice. I'm on the upswing.

Before I sign out, I want to thank you - my friends, family and followers - for your words of support and encouragement. It really helps to have you share your experiences and kind words. Happy return of the sun; and Happy Holidays! Cheers!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

counting days

This time of year, I count down the days. Not just the days until Christmas or the new year, but the days until that yearly shift when the days stop getting shorter and begin to get longer. We're now just a few days from solstice when we can begin counting as, imperceptibly at first, our daylight returns.

Far North Bicentennial Park, Dec 15, 2011

I'm noticing it even more this year as I turn to the vitamin D and try to get out a little during the daylight (I won't call it sunshine because that's been scarce). Last week's film fest and icy weather made me a little lazy, but this week I've been out three times on the snowshoes, stomping around Baxter Bog with one of my friends, then on my own in Bicentennial Park. But even my anticipation for solstice and the January trip Jon and I are taking has been a little dulled by my injury.

On a follow-up with my doctor on Wednesday, I told him I knew the recovery would be slow but the rest, physical therapy and daily exercises hadn't led to much noticeable change. He had me schedule another test. I almost cried at his office and regretted not having done the MRI right away, feeling I'd lost time in my recovery especially if it does reveal another injury. Surgery, he told me, is the only treatment if the labrum is torn. We scehduled the MRI for Friday.

After the visit, I ran an errand at New Sagaya's. While wandering among the saki sets and tea pots thinking about the ache in my shoulder, a song came on the sound system: 2000 Miles, by the Pretenders. What combination of tempo, melody and lyrics, I wonder, could make me feel so sad and reminiscent as this song did at that moment? I tried to not think about what the upcoming test might reveal, tried to not feel sorry for myself but swallowed the lump in my throat and headed for the nearest cashier. Save the tears for in the car or at home.

On Friday, I went in for the MRI. I tried not to think about the results as I lay inside the cylinder while buzzers went off and I closed my eyes, imagining 3-D slices cutting through my right shoulder. I focused on the different sounds the machine made, then stayed calm as the technician announced the next test over the intercom. Before and after the test, we chatted a little about bikes and biking, but I didn't feel so much enthusiasm as I felt reminiscent. Not really wanting to think of my favorite rides from last winter either on snow or ice. Knowing that one of the things I love about winter is out of my reach this year. I even miss skiing.

I'm hoping for the best, but trying to be realistic about what the next few months might look like. Whatever the MRI reveals, I won't be doing much dancing around a fire this solstice. There will be no midnight bike rides for the new year. I'm already trying to prepare myself for a different kind of Hawaii trip this time. One that involves less time in the water snorkeling & swimming and more time visiting cultural sites & resting with a book in my lap. We leave a month from today. Now I'll start counting the days and make sure I'm in shape for hiking.

Feb 2010 Waimea River, Kauai

Friday, December 2, 2011

side effects

Injuries are not all bad. Since I began my shoulder rehabilitation, it has been much easier to glue my butt to my favorite chair and write for several hours at a time. Some days I don't write as much, but I'm seeing progress on a longer piece I'm working on. Is it a novel or novella? Time and a little guidance will tell.

I'm reminded of a novel I read while on my trip in October. The premise was great but I often felt the author was drawing out the story through needless repetition. Sometimes repetition works, but to me it bogged the story down. At the end of the book was a Q&A where the author explained that the novel had originally been a short story upon which he elaborated. Aha! I felt kind of cheated, like I should have been reading a series of short stories instead of a novel that didn't keep me awake in my tent.

So I'm trying to be careful with my story so that it keeps moving along. While I'd shared the premise of the story with Jon, I hadn't yet shown it to anyone. Then I had an unusual opportunity to edit a story for a friend. My friend Mika lives in Japan and travels the world as a journalist, including trips to the Middle East and other Asian regions. Her stories are published only in Japanese-language publications. This fall she made a trip to London to research a story about a male belly dancer of Turkish descent who had grown up on the island of Cyprus.

The dancer, named Ozgen, wanted to read her story, however Mika doesn't typically write in English so she asked if I would edit her translation. I read over her story trying at first to not think about what I would change, but just to get the sense of it. Despite instances where the word order was complicated and a few cases of missing pronouns and articles, I could usually understand what she was saying. In some cases, even though her word order didn't follow typical construct for English, I liked her descriptions better than any 'correction' I could have made. It seemed that changing it too much would have taken away her voice and her unique way of seeing things. I made my edits and emailed the revision along with a few questions I still had.

After she cleared up my questions and sent the story to Ozgen, she told me he'll be posting it on his website. I haven't seen it there yet, but you can find some pretty cool videos of him dancing!

Now, about the 'time and guidance' I mentioned earlier. I asked Mika if she could provide some advice to me on the story I'm writing. The one that may be a novel. Because some of the characters are in Japan, and because it deals with historical & contemporary issues, I've asked if she can confirm some of the elements of the story. I'm concerned about the sense of place and how I represent the characters. While I'm trying to decide when to schedule a visit, my research has been limited to the internet and the Loussac library. Both are helpful, but there's nothing like being there.

With a commitment made, I spent the early part of this week cleaning up a draft of the first section of the book before I emailed it (along with a list of my intentions and concerns) to Mika on Thursday. This is the farthest I've gotten in creating a work of fiction longer than my many unresolved short stories. But, now I feel compelled to finish it. Mika has promised to help, telling me most eloquently: "It is important to have readers as an escort runner to finish the book." I await her edits.

Monday, November 21, 2011

thanksgiving in anchorage

November temperatures have plummeted, leaving Anchorage below zero for several days, with a slight respite on Sunday when it crept to 10 above and some declared it a heat wave. We have over a foot of snow, which I much prefer to last year's chinook when the streets were a glaze of water-covered ice. That was the day I drove to the Valley to pick up our Alaskan-raised turkey for Thanksgiving dinner.

There will be no local turkeys roasting in ovens this year (unless people raised one themselves) and as our guest list grows, I imagine we bought too small and may need to grill a little salmon to supplement the turkey. Whenever we host Thanksgiving, we seem to invite so many people that some of them need to bring their own plates. Even though I usually like my quiet space, on holidays, I think I revert back to the chaos of my childhood when there was a house filled with all us kids and maybe some cousins, aunts and uncles.

Up until a week ago, we weren't sure what we were doing. My sister moved away from Anchorage to Montana earlier this fall and my niece and nephew plan to spend the holiday with their dad. We hadn't received any invitations, and it was only after Jon bought one of the smallest turkeys at the store that I suggested we should figure out what we were doing. So Jon started asking people at the shop and I invited a couple friends who didn't have solid plans. The list started growing and is open to expand.

As the guest list grows, I look forward to the house being filled with conversation and laughter and food - all the makings of a traditional holiday, with the Alaskan twist.

I haven't been in the Lower-48 for the holidays since I moved here in '94, but I'm sure not much has changed in how most people spend holidays there. Many go back to their hometowns to be with family, several generations gather around the dining room table. Card tables are set up to handle the overflow. It's a little different here. Sure, plenty of people have extended families here, but lots of people don't and many of them don't want to deal with the hassle of traveling to visit family Outside* during the craziest flying days of the year.

So people build their own families for celebrations. Co-workers who have become friends. For us, biking friends. Where in the Lower-48 people feel a little awkward being the 'orphan' invited to a family gathering out of sympathy (also common for chechakos** to feel this way), here it's an attempt to create a community and maybe it's a way to support each other as we begin settling into the darkest, coldest time of year. I think everyone should have a place to go for Thanksgiving. I love these gatherings that bring together people from different backgrounds and geographic regions for a big feast. It's as Alaskan as blueberry pie.

*anyplace in the United States except Alaska and Hawaii, aka 'The Lower-48.' Not to be confused with: 'It's 20 below outside!' where the word is not capitalized.
**a newcomer to Alaska (similar to greenhorn or tenderfoot) Opposite of a 'Sourdough.'

Sunday, November 13, 2011

oh, my shoulder!

Mention the slightest ache to my cycling friends and they're bound to fill me in on a similar injury they've had. Some have been healed with the help of a good physical therapist, some swear by injections, still others detail surgeries and rehabilitations that brought them back from the sidelines. Now I'll have a story for them.

This summer and fall, I would sometimes mention 'my picky shoulder.' Let me back up: I was helping excavate the foundation, and could only shovel so much before I'd have to take a break. I felt terrible for not digging more and not being able to throw the dirt very far but my shoulder had begun to hurt. Then I began helping with trail work at Kincaid Park, using the loppers or the McLeod, sometimes chopping with the Pulaski. Again, the shoulder would get aggravated, but I could deal with the pain, then rest it and get back to work. Then I did a ride on part of the new singletrack and took a spill - okay, I endoed - on a steep section. After my hands hit the freshly-sculpted dirt, I brushed myself off and hopped back on the bike to finish the ride. No big deal.

In late September, I took the Fargo - my drop-bar mountain-touring bike - to Eklutna Lake for a camping trip. That's where things got worse. Pulling the Bob trailer and not having suspension was not so bad, but having my arms extended for the road-style handlebar had me nearly in tears once I got home from the trip. I did some icing; took something for pain and tried to ignore it. I also avoided trail work and stayed off the bike for a few days. I had a Utah trip to prepare for. I needed to not hurt.

Before packing my bike for the early October trip, I did one final mountain bike ride on the new trails at Kincaid. I took it easy, careful to not launch off any of the little jumps that are featured on the trails. The shoulder felt pretty good and even seemed to get better throughout the trip. But after returning to Anchorage and doing a few more rides, the recovery seemed to plateau at the 'nagging-pain' level. I had to find out what was going on. So this past Wednesday, I went to see Dr. Mike, the guy I see when I hurt myself or when my sinuses are acting up.

Let's just say that Dr. Mike confirmed my suspicion. And then some. Bursitis in the right shoulder (I thought that was for old people!) and a small tear in the rotator cuff. Ouch! I have a friend whose rotator tear was healed through physical therapy; a few more have gone through surgery. But I can't even start the recovery until the swelling subsides. (Dr. Mike said the bursa is normally the size of a dime but mine was the size of a ping-pong ball!) My regimen for the first week is to ice the shoulder six times a day for 30 minutes each time. That's practically a part-time job! I'm applying an anti-inflammatory cream (it's just a coincidence that the manufacturer is ENDO Pharmaceuticals) and an oral anti-inflam. The other part of my regimen is to rest the shoulder. And that's the tough part.

I'm not going to ski; not going to bike; not shoveling snow, not lifting heavy dishes onto high shelves. Wait, did you hear that I'm not going to be biking? That's right. It's snowshoes for me until further notice. Today I even had one of my friends pick up my Mukluk snowbike so I won't have to look at it sitting neglected in the corner of the guest room while we have these awesome snow conditions.

I hope to make the most of my non-biking time. I'm already snowshoeing more than I would have. I'm also dedicating a little more time to writing, applying a little sitzfleisch, you could say. As long as I keep myself busy and keep the word counts up, I think I can deal with a little time off the bike. I'll let you know how that goes.

Friday, October 28, 2011

utah images, with more words

When we last left our story, I had completed a 5-day organized trip in the Canyonlands/Maze area of Utah. The last day is always the toughest as I hate for such adventures to end...

After the five-day organized trip ended, most of the group headed into town (Green River) to Ray's for a burger and a few pitchers of cold brew. Nothing like a bacon cheeseburger after a few days on the trail, not that the guys didn't feed us well. Believe me, we were never wanting for food or beverage. But sitting at a table after having showered and put on a dress to show off my new tan (it wasn't just dirt) made me feel pretty darn special.

The next day, Lori, Bev and I bid farewell to our friends, got a few items in Green River (including some luscious melons) and hit the road, heading south toward Moab. We made a side trip into Arches where a half-hour hike turned into a nearly two-hour adventure (I don't know how that happens) to Delicate Arch. We visited a few more arches before retreating to the car and driving to Moab to get food for the next few nights of camping out.

A rare moment when the arch isn't overwhelmed
with a bunch of tourists, Divas included!

Lori and I pose inside one formation with Delicate Arch in the background.

Heading south, we noticed some deer crossing signs and had our eyes peeled, but the first time I spotted one, standing sideways in the middle of the highway, I slammed on the brakes and we were all a bit stunned. After the deer left the roadway, I saw three or four more waiting in the ditch next to the guardrail. We would have to be vigilant. We'd spot a deer, slow down and hope for no collisions.

In Blanding, a closed visitor center had us a bit worried since we hadn't yet figured out where to camp, but outside the restroom Lori found a brochure with a list of sites. Could we make it before dark? Luckily we could and we did, watching for deer the entire time!

It took a long time for the sun to peek over the canyon wall.
Bev and Lori enjoy coffee at Comb Wash.

The next morning, after coffee and a little something to eat, we hit the road once again. Just a few miles onto a two-lane road through grazing land, we came up a rise and in front of us was the largest elk I've ever seen. (Come to think of it, I've only seen elk from far in the distance.) He stood sideways in the center of the road looking at us as I again slammed on the brakes and all our gear slid forward in the car. Now we were awake! He strolled off the road and I began to accelerate, but it took a few minutes before our adrenaline had settled down. Soon, we were at the switchbacks in the road that would lead to Mexican Hat and which provided vistas for miles to the south. We could see as far away as Monument Valley.

Not as narrow as it initially looked.

I chatted with a few geologists who were making sketches at one of the switchbacks. Students? Turns out they were working for an oil company studying the layers of the rock formation because it resembles a formation that is submerged in the ocean and is a prospect for drilling. Interesting.

Moving along, we skipped a canyon hike in Page in favor of getting closer to Zion so we could spend the next day there. We did stop in Kanab for camping information and to have dinner at Nedra's Too, a little Mexican place which had outdoor seating and wifi. My, how times have changed since Jon and I first rolled into that town over 10 years ago. Of course I wished we had more time to check out the town, but we needed to find our campsite.

When we reached the campground at Coral Pink Sand Dunes we learned it was full! Now what? I asked the ranger if there was anything else nearby. He gave directions and sure enough we had passed a small dry campground (no water available) on the way to that one. We quickly set up our tents in the fading light then Lori and Bev gathered enough wood for a small fire where we could toast our final night of camping.

The moon had yet to rise and the stars shone through the clear skies as the temperature dropped. We made plans for an early start and retired to our tents. I jotted down some notes, then read for awhile, but it seems I had a very good sleep that night, one of my best sleeps of the entire trip, but that's another story. The next day, we would drive the tunnel into Zion, spend the afternoon in the park then head south for our final night.

After driving through the tunnel into Zion, Lori & Bev snap photos.

The thing about Zion. Zion was crowded. Maybe not by summer or Lower-48 standards, but for me it was crowded. The shuttle buses taking us up the road to the short hiking trails were nearly full . We chose a hike to some pools. It was a rocky trail, a slightly challenging hike for people who don't hike at all, but pretty easy for us. But when we got to the pools, they were noisy with families and children yelling. I don't know what I expected, but our destination was not a peaceful respite.

Continuing our thru-hike, we stopped off the side of the trail for a little lunch then took a little side trip on a trail that soon dead-ended.

After our lunch we detoured onto a trail that dead-ended due to a
washout. Nobody was there. The pond drained
over the ledge...

...creating this waterfall.

I could have stayed there for some time. Returning to the main trail, we found that the second half of the route was paved! That would explain the baby strollers I'd seen! No wonder there were so many people - the route was set up to make it accessible to almost anyone. Which is actually a beautiful thing: families and elderly grandparents enjoying an outing; it was quite unexpected. But I could have gone for a less-traveled route where there would have been room to relax in quiet contemplation. Not something you'll get on the developed trails.

Into a canyon with lots of other hikers.

But I did enjoy the sun and the heat and sitting on a green lawn at the visitors' center. Another hike in a canyon followed by a bus ride back to the parking lot and we were ready again to hit the road, driving through Hurricane and hopping on the interstate, navigating through Las Vegas until finally we reached Boulder City. I'm a creature of habit: when I find something I like, I keep going back. Pulling into the parking lot at El Rancho was one step from being home.

The room at El Rancho had plenty of space to spread out. Before we did anything else, we packed our bikes back into their boxes for the next day's flight. I was tired and hungry and irritable. I didn't know what I wanted to do next: dip in the pool, eat dinner, crash? So I took a walk. I walked toward downtown where cafes have sidewalk seating. It's a town Jon and I have visited several times as we've begun or completed vacations in the southwest. I took a seat in front of a breakfast cafe, melting in the 90 degree heat even though it was after 8pm. I wasn't just tired and hungry; I missed Jon and I was ready to go home.

Back at the hotel, Bev and I ordered food from a local restaurant. When it arrived, I looked at it and wondered why I'd ordered so much. The kabobs and rice also came with a huge salad. Plus the woman at the restaurant had talked me into the key lime cheesecake. I'd set up my Thermarest on the floor near the unused tv and Bev and I ate while Lori hung out at the pool. Bev finished her meal and I was still at it. Lori came and went. I ate half the dessert, thinking maybe I'd share it with Lori. It was not to be. I devoured it!

I guess I sometimes forget how much I travel on my stomach, Jon never lets me go so long without eating. I'd better tell my friends that if they want to keep me from getting cranky, they'd better keep sending the food my way.

I've had over a week to reflect on this trip, to consider the bike riding, the hikes, the road-tripping. It's great fun to take a trip like this with the girls, but there's still nobody I'd rather travel with than Jon. Even though he drives me crazy in the same ways I probably drove my friends crazy (such as not knowing where we'd spend the night until we're pitching our tents). Guess I didn't realize how alike we've become in our travel styles. Or maybe I was like that all along.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

oh, sweet singletrack!

After the sun set last night and the sky grew clear and star-filled, the temperatures dropped below freezing. Before going to bed, I hoped that today would be a good day to ride the Kincaid Park singletracks. When I biked the new trails last Saturday, the ground was beginning to thaw creating slick spots where the moisture couldn't seep farther into the freezing ground. In a few places, ruts had begun to develop from all the tires hitting the trails during the recent wet days we've had here in Anchorage.

This morning, the temperatures across town had dropped from the 40s into the 20s, freeze-drying the muddy ground into a crunchy, crumbly surface. I brushed the dried dirt off my bike, lubed the chain and loaded the bike in the car to head out to the park.

 Ice next to the trail - ride those banked turns!

In the past few years, I hadn't done much riding at Kincaid. The park is across town and the trails hadn't been all that interesting to bike. We have great riding on the east side on trails that begin just two miles from my front door. No need to drive; just ride up the road and I'm on the trails. But I helped work on the new trails and I wanted to have a chance to ride every inch of them before the snow flies. I know the snow could land in town any day.

For today's ride, I rode the main loop counter-clockwise, the opposite direction from what I'd done the last couple times. I also rode for the first time a small loop that wasn't complete before I left on vacation earlier in the month. (It's the section on the bottom left of the network that looks like a little animal). On that loop, I criss-crossed or rode next to the wider ski trails a few times, probably causing a little puzzlement on the part of two walkers who I encountered at least four times.

With all the twists and turns, the rolling climbs and descents, the mountain views and the intimate feeling while riding among stands of birch, I couldn't help but smile. I thought about all the people who came out to volunteer to build the trails; people who sacrificed their own riding to help bring  better riding to everyone in Anchorage. The numbers are impressive. We had 241 different people volunteer - many of them more than once - for 20 work sessions. Kids, adults, cyclists, runners. People from organized clubs (including the Dirt Divas) and people who just felt like they wanted to be a part of making this happen. Pretty cool people making some sweet trails! I'm glad I can be a part of it.

Here's a map I got from Lee Bolling, one of the idea guys behind 
this project. It'll give you an idea of what we have. The new trails 
are in light yellowish-tan.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

adventures past

The photo caption woke something in me. A memory; something familiar but I wasn't sure. I was browsing through old issues of the local newspaper when I saw images of workers cleaning a beach fouled by an oil spill in New Zealand. Jon had his laptop out so I asked if he'd bring it up on a map. Sure enough, we'd been there.

Not only had we been by Papamoa Beach when we cycle toured in NZ back in 2004 (so long ago), but we were so struck by the beautiful setting that we stopped riding after only 13 kilometers so we could spend the day on the ocean before heading inland.

We were one week into our four-week trip and the previous day's ride had been long and hilly and fraught with stress as we entered Tauranga in the company of double-trailer semis and logging trucks. With relief we'd found a campsite at Mt Maunganui and a great restaurant just a block away. Across the road was the ocean - or more accurately, the Bay of Plenty.

The next day, we pedaled down the coast not sure how far we would ride, but keeping our eyes open for the next place to stay. The pine trees and the water lured us in. As we rolled into the Papamoa Beach holiday park, the wind was picking up. While checking in, we debated a tent site or a room. That's when the rain started. We took a room in a cabin that had a view of the water. The rain subsided as we walked a few blocks for lunch and groceries, a bottle of wine. Later we spent time walking on the beach watching the big waves come in with the storm. Jon went for a run.

Reading over our notes brought me back to that trip, the high dunes we crossed between our cabin and the ocean, the ferocity of the storms which originate in the Antarctic to pound the coastline, drench the inland and provide winds to power you or demoralize you, depending on your direction of travel.

Now the coastline has been fouled. It's not that I care more about a place just because I've visited it, but this disaster hits the part of me that loves visiting new places and learning about different parts of the world. I feel more connected as I recall that the young woman who checked us in told us that her grandfather had planted the pine trees we were admiring. How much will her livelihood and that of so many other Kiwis be impacted? What about the wildlife; the penguins and other sea life? My heart goes out to them.

The clean-up has been in progress for a couple weeks now, but Alaskans know that initial clean-ups often only take care of the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Messes are quick to make; but sometimes they take a generation to clean up. That oil is going to be in the Bay of Plenty for a long time. What a shame.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

utah images, part two

A bunch of the Dirt Divas did a five-day organized trip with the same guides as last year. I wasn't quite sure where we were or where we were going, but the company's motto "Go with the flow" suited my mindset. My goal was to ride my bike, see some sights and hang out with friends. Oh, and to maybe drink a little. Let them handle the details.

We began on the upper left (off the map) and finished
at the "You are here." Because of our group size, we were
limited to camping outside the National Park, but the
guides found great campsites with canyon views.

First day. Our campsite is just around the corner.

Canyon hike after riding to our second camp on Day 2.

A potty with a view. Tough to tell, but this is pretty close to the edge.

Day 3, on our way to Hans Flat and the Flint Trail.
Sunblock, anyone?

The gang. Thanks to Lily who works at the ranger station for taking this photo.

An we thought our house needed some structural work!

Guide Ben, looking into the canyon; that's where we'll
be after descending the switchbacks in the morning.

Still life with bicycle. I still love riding my Giant Trance Advanced.

Miner cabin near the Flint Trail.

Flint Switchbacks. Click the photo to see the van. Brin had to do five-point
turns to maneuver the corners. Glad I had new brake pads! I learned last
year, it wouldn't be a canyon ride without switchbacks!

End of Day 4. Long day of riding, some steep descents, a short hike
and our
first campsite attempt thwarted. Home is where the tent is,
though without Jon this year. There was more room in the tent but
I'd rather he had been there. Just not the same
without him.
Even the guides missed him.

Early morning on Day 5. Brin gets the coffee started as we wake up.

Twenty-three plus miles later, a view of Lake Powell. The van and
lunch are just around the corner. As is a cold beer and my cotton
skirt. Someone said I'm always the first one to change out of
my cycling shorts. Kind of a no-brainer.

utah images

Just a few images from the first few days of the trip:

Lori on Hurricane Rim, being chased by a thunder storm.

Bev on Hurricane Rim.

Cactus on Bev's shifter. Not a good landing, but we made it
back to the car and had our picnic before the thunderstorm.

Lori, Bev and me with Fixie Dave at Little Creek Mesa.
Let the slickrock riding begin!

Fixing a shifter with a bungee. One hook inserted into the
top, the other into the bottom where the pin was missing.
It held and the brake worked great. Ride salvaged!

Lori on slickrock at Klondike Bluffs; steeper than it looks.

Dinasaur track at Klondike Bluffs, north of Moab.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

equipment check, part two

Fate, coincidence, serendipity. Call it whatever you wish, but the beginning of this trip has been all that.

It's hard to make a long story short and maybe that's not the kind of storyteller I am, but this story begins last fall on the last day of a trip Jon and I took to the Southwest. Maybe it starts the day before when we were riding at Gooseberry Mesa and my riding was all off. I was crashing into ledges instead of going up them. I was bailing out of things I should have been riding. It was not a good day. But we camped on the mesa that night, since it's once of our favorite places to camp. In the morning Jon suggested that I should have a better ride to end the trip; a good ride; a ride on the JEM Trail, just below the mesa. My spirits lifted, I got my gear together. Jon dropped me at the southern trailhead. As he was doing this, we came across another rider. A guy on a fixie. Named Dave. He was posting signs for an upcoming bike race & said he worked at the local shop, Over the Edge. Off we both went on our rides and when I returned to Anchorage, I looked him up and made a facebook friend request.

It wasn't that he was a total stranger in my mind, for he is one of the few riders to even attempt to race the Great Divide - the Continental Divide trail from Canada to Mexico. So, he knew at least one person I knew.

A year later, earlier this week, my friends and I were in Hurricane. We stopped at the shop to get information on what was good after the recent rains. After a short ride that included one tumbling friend and a jumping cactus, we headed back to town. Not before a thunderstorm rolled in delivering a deluge of rain and booming thunder. The local cafe had just closed for the day and we were looking for a place to get a hot coffee and some free internet. So, we stopped in the shop. "Hey, aren't you Dave? We met last year...." I mentioned facebook. I asked where we could get wifi while we figured out what to do. "Where are you staying tonight?" he asked. "We were going to camp, but with this, I don't know." Soon he was typing at the computer and pulled out a map and directions to his place away from the town center.

It's rare to get this sort of offer, I think. But not all that rare among people I know. Jon and I love hosting people at our place when we can. We love the story sharing and just having someone else around once in awhile. So my two friends were pretty excited about the offer, though reasonably skeptical at first. When we found the house, though, we were pretty excited at what felt like expansive surroundings - especially since the previous night we had all assembled our bikes in a small hotel room, squeezing ourselves between the beds and even into the bathroom to find space.

We had just begun making ourselves comfortable when Dave arrived. We shared a meal and beers as rain blew against the dining room window. After a bit of discussion, Dave offered to take us on a ride I've been wanting to do for a couple years: the trails at Little Creek Mesa. Little Creek is the mesa just south of Gooseberry but word was you need to go with a local/guide to really have a good time without getting turned around and helplessly lost. We headed out for the ride and spent the afternoon riding, learning a few tips and wearing ourselves out. But I had one little issue.

My front brake had too much throw in the lever, almost touching the grip before the brake fully engaged. I'd noticed it earlier in the season but forgot to mention it to Jon before the tip. Dave looked at it and recommended new pads. After the ride, we swung by the shop and picked up pads which Dave installed back at the house. He made a little adjustment on the reach and I took the bike for a test ride. It felt better and the levers felt even. The next morning, Dave headed off for work and the three of us were on the road by 8:30, headed for Green River but hoping for a ride just north of Moab before driving back to Green River.

At Klondike Bluffs, I pulled the bikes out of the car - just two of us were going to ride - and put my wheel on. The brake felt good until we started to ride and I pulled it a few more times. It was't working. I had no front brake (I thought). Upon closer examination, I found that the pin the lever pivots on was missing! Oh crap. I showed Lori who said that's happened to her before and someone told her to find something, anything, to put in to keep the lever in place. I suggested going back to the car and looking for the part. Lori suggested a bolt, but my pin had no threads. We ended up grabbing a mini bungee cord putting one hook in the top, wrapping the cord around so it was snug, then putting the other hook in through the bottom. Worked like a charm and the brake actually felt better than it has for the last few months thanks to the new pads.

But I needed to fix the lever before this five-day trip that starts Sunday. So after finishing the ride and feeling certain the shops farther down the road, in Moab, would be open, we packed up and drove south, something I didn't want to do. I was tired, sweaty and had friends to meet for dinner. Upon arriving at Poison Spider, we saw the parking lot was roped off and there was a party going on. It was part of a celebration for Outerbike, a public bike demo event held in the Moab area.

After getting the parts from the service guy, Randy, I asked about a couple people I knew. Yes, he told me, the one guy still works there but is at the 24-hour race. The other guy, he didn't know, so he asked another person. "Sure, he's around. He's on the floor." Someone else chimed in: "he's outside, there." Finally I saw our friend Pete. I snuck up behind him and gave him a big hug. He turned around: "Rose! Is Jon here?" I told him why I was there. We laughed and I shared my stories and plans. Then he kept pointing out or reintroducing me to people I'd met before. In fewer than five minutes, I had talked briefly with a handful of guys I know from Anchorage or other parts of Alaska.

Small world, yes? And I was thinking to myself, had I fixed that in Anchorage, I wouldn't have done it here. Had I not had Dave make a little lever adjustment on my brakes, the pin may not have fallen out and I would have never taken that detour to Moab. But life works that way. It seems that so often for me, people, events converge in the most extraordinary ways, that I can only think that forces around me do conspire to make things happen. Usually in a good way. And the energy it creates is a happy buzz that can be contagious.

Dear readers, having a little tech issue getting pics posted. I'll get some up here after I figure it out or when I return home to my usual equipment. Thanks for reading.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

equipment check

We've had several beautiful days this past week, with sunshine on gold-yellow leaves and the smell of decaying leaves in the air. Snow has begun creeping down the mountains. Despite the perfect conditions, I hadn't been on a bike since last Sunday. Instead, I've been resting a sore shoulder that has endured a busy summer of riding, shoveling and miscellaneous trail work.

This evening after the shop closed, I planned to meet a couple friends there so Jon could help them box their bikes for a mountain bike trip a bunch of us girls are taking to Utah. I figured I'd box my bike as well.

Before meeting them to talk about the trip & do the boxing, I decided to head over to Kincaid to ride on the new singletracks and see how the shoulder responded to trail riding. I didn't give myself much time and the new trails twist and turn so much that it was easy to lose my sense of where I was on the trail system. Occasionally I'd cross one of the wider trails that were designed for cross-country skiing and take note of where I was, or I'd take a turn and end up on one of the long-used social trails. What I really wanted to do was to not worry about where I was but to just enjoy that experience of exploring new trails while the leaves were beginning to cover them in their bright mosaic.
picture yourself on a trail in a forest...

Eventually, I looked at my watch and realized I was to meet my friends in about 10 minutes, yet I was on a section of trail that was new to me, so I wasn't quite sure where I was relative to the parking lot. I rode past an old VW, long ago abandoned in the woods. At an intersection, I turned right but still wasn't sure. Then I met another rider and decided to backtrack and take the other option. Soon I was on the Jodhpur Trail, recalibrating my brain for a quick ride back to the trailhead.

I could have been out there all afternoon. Had I started earlier, I could have biked those trails one way, then the other, exploring every spur. I didn't want to box up my bike. The riding was perfect. But there's always a hitch. My front shifting was getting ever worse as my ride went on. I had to turn my shifter one click extra to move up from my granny to my middle ring. Then two clicks extra. I made a mental note to have Jon look at my shifting before I boxed the bike.

Good thing I went on that ride, for more than just my mental health, too. Turns out, the cable had frayed where it was attached to the derailleur. By the time my ride ended, only a single strand was left.
connected with one thin strand...

glad I caught this!

Once again, timing was everything; I was relieved I'd done the ride - and that I stopped riding when I did. And since I never did get around to boxing my own bike, maybe I have time for one more ride before we leave. You know, to stretch that new cable.

Friday, September 30, 2011

cabin weekend

The Fargo with Bob trailer.

The day after my birthday was the beginning of the fifth annual cabin weekend with my mountain biking group, the Alaska Dirt Divas. The twelve-mile pedal on the fairly easy Eklutna Lakeside Trail was made a tad more challenging when hauling gear in Bob trailers or in panniers. But it's well worth it in order to haul out our personal gear plus fresh produce and other goodies for meals.
Riding out to the cabin.

This was the second year we've rented the Serenity cabin for three nights. I love having a couple days to lounge around, do dayhikes or just get to know each other better. I used some of my free time to sit on the deck or in my bunk working on my fiction. I especially enjoyed the deck time on Friday when I could sit in the sun with the sound of the river and the falls keeping me company. Wind on Saturday sent me inside to my corner bunk where I put in my ear plugs and was able to write by the light of the window while people chatted not 10 feet away.

I hoped people wouldn't think I was being anti-social. Thank goodness my friends seemed to understand that when the inspiration was there, I should be left alone to work with it. - Thanks, girls!

Besides having time for writing, I loved strolling on the river bed near the cabin. The smooth rocks that have been tumbled under the weight of the glacier sometimes seem to call out to be stacked into balanced sculptures. It's a good way to pass the time and leave something for other people to look at. It also lets me be creative without using words, just making forms.

My favorite rock stack.

Hiking trail on the way to the glacier. I like how this path
is bordered by trees and rocks. It gives me inspiration for
how I can use all the big rocks we excavated to make paths
through the yard and build borders for gardening.

After packing up on Sunday morning, the ride back to the trailhead was different from most years. It was the nicest day of the weekend with little wind and clear, sunny skies. (By contrast, last year we rode back in wind and sleet!)Barely a ripple showed on the water. Our group of 11 traveled mostly together, taking breaks near the water, delaying the trip home where we would to return to our lives and families and, invariably, backlogs of email.
We'll just hang out here a little while longer...
Dora, Michele, Jo-Ann, Stacey, Kass.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

where it goes

Mid-way through the exterior project.
Imagine: moss green with cedar trim.

Where has the time gone? The birch leaves are a brilliant golden-yellow on this gray day. The rain yesterday left enough dusting of snow on the front range peaks for me to want to wrap another layer around my shoulders even though I'm sitting in my living room. Fall is here ahead of the calendar, as is typical in Anchorage. Because fall is catching-up season in Alaska, I'll give updates on previous posts.

People have asked about the beach biking trip I had planned with Jon and a few friends. That fell through the day before we were to leave when our support driver had a work emergency. Jon and I both felt a huge weight slip from our shoulders because we'd been working until dark the previous days trying to finish insulating the foundation so we could have the perimeter of the house backfilled before we left. Though I was momentarily disappointed, never have I been so relieved to cancel a trip. The timing was all wrong. As it turned out, a storm blew in from the Gulf of Alaska and our friends in Homer (the destination town) said the weather was cold and wet that week. We could do the ride another time, and maybe under better conditions.

Mount Redoubt. Instead of biking here...

I was insulating and backfilling here.

Since Jon had the next five days off, we were able to finish the backfilling and move on to the above-ground walls. We've been researching siding and trim, trying to figure out which materials look best and will last longest with minimal maintenance. It took a few weeks, but I think we've decided on the siding. The challenge is getting it in from the distributor in time to get it onto the house before the snow flies, which was my goal. (Yes, I'm good at setting goals for Jon, but I will have jobs in the project - I love painting, so I'm in charge of trim.)

So, here we are, three weeks into September. Leaves falling. Chill in the air. I'm looking forward to seeing what this place will look like all decked out in siding and with snow in the yard. Jon said the color scheme we've picked (with him giving me the final word) reminds him of a cabin in the woods. That's what I'm going for. Sounds inviting. I'll show you when it's done.

Lest you think I've had no bike rides, I have biked on the new trails being built in Kincaid Park and even managed to enjoy an afternoon of mountain biking with some friends on the Matanuska Lakes/Crevasse-Moraine trails. Beautiful fall rides! I need more of that.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

granite counter tops

Jon rounding the first corner.

On Labor Day two years ago, Jon and I began our odyssey of home upgrades by tearing the deck off the back of the house. What followed was two months of work that included a garage expansion and some structural repairs. We also added a prow-front to our early '70s split-entry house. (Now more than two people can stand in the entry at one time.) The project involved a new foundation for both additions.

After the initial work was done by the contractors, we had an energy audit and began an 18-month (with gaps here & there) campaign to improve the energy efficiency of the house. Insulated the attic to R-49, replaced the windows and the sliding deck door, added caulking to gaps and installed new bathroom fans. Oh, and we had a new boiler and water heater installed. We came in just under the deadline for an Alaska program that reimburses part of what people spend on energy upgrades based on how much their homes improved. In June, our home was declared "5 Star" by our energy rater. That's pretty darn good.

But before the energy rater left, Jon and I asked if it would be worth it for us to follow through with Jon's plan to excavate and insulate along the outside of the foundation. The entire foundation. The answer was "yes." Since we plan to be here for some time, Jon really wanted to do this project and had been researching for months by talking with experts, visiting a few informative websites (including this one) and making plans. I was not so keen on the idea.

Where Jon sees a challenge he wants to take on, I see an insurmountable project that will take over every part of our daily lives, take us away from doing fun things (like hiking, biking & camping) or going on trips. I really like going on trips. I wasn't always as enthusiastic and encouraging as I could have been, but when it comes to Jon and his ideas about the house, he is usually right.

After a few dedicated days of digging a trench around most of the foundation (with the help of a friend), removing shrubs and a tree we didn't want to remove but had been planted way too close to the house and pressure washing the dirt off the concrete, we were ready for the materials.

There are a few methods for doing this outer wall insulation. Some said to put the sticky vapor barrier against the concrete, then put the foam board against it and back fill. The more we researched and thought about it, the more this didn't make sense. Why leave the foam insulation outside the barrier when we've read that even foam loses some of its insulating value when wet? Jon posed the question on one of the building sites and another person concurred. Now we were set.

On Friday, our friend Kip came over to get us started. First they applied the barrier along the footer, then glued the foam board to the foundation. After that, we added the barrier over the board and up onto the wood sheathing just above the foundation. After Kip left, Jon and I continued into the evening until two sides of the garage were done. By then, we were much more confident working with the tar-like sticky backing of the barrier and we were still getting along.

One of the things that bugs us (Jon especially) is that our general contractor never talked about this method (or any method) of insulating when he was working with us daily on this expansion. When talking with our energy rater about it in June, he commented that most people would rather spend that money on a granite counter top which people can see rather than on something nobody would ever see because it's buried under the back fill. But I know we'll see the difference in the gas bills over the next two decades we expect we'll be in the house. And in case you're wondering: we will be redoing the kitchen. And the counters, I think we'll use laminate.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


A few weeks ago, trail building began on the Kincaid singletrack project. About nine miles of skinny trail will wind through the park on the west side of Anchorage. Not as steep as the STA trails that were built in 2008 on the east side, but the same group is in charge: Singletrack Advocates.

It's been a rainy month but the handwork is coming along. The volunteers go through after the Sweco to cut remaining roots from the tread, then shape the trail so that water will flow off instead of pooling in low spots or eroding a channel on slopes. Did I mention volunteer crews are spending a few hours a night doing this work?

This moose knows the trails aren't ready yet.

Imagine the dismay and utter frustration when one crew last week was working on building a banked turn, only to have a pair of impatient mountain bikers ride by on the unfinished, soft trail. Mind you, at every possible trail entrance are orange fencing and signs announcing the trails are under construction and not open to ride. Imagine how much more incensed our group is that one person has complained, yes complained, on a forum that our trail project is affecting access to the places he's biked for years! You can read my friend Tim's open letter to the guy and others like him here. Tim's good at using the f-bomb; I am not.

That doesn't mean I'm any less ticked at this guy & people like him. But you know, in this world, there are givers and takers. I always hope that I can balance what I gain by helping with building or maintaining the trails and encouraging my friends to do the same. When I go out on the new trails when they open, I want to go out knowing I helped, not thinking that I cut a rut in new trail that another crew had to then fix.

But there will always be takers who think it's only about them. Fortunately, in this project, they are outnumbered.

Friday, August 19, 2011

making plans

Last month I mentioned to a friend that I wanted to do a beach ride from Kasilof to Homer on the fat-tire bikes. Then I didn't make any plans. When she brought it up a week or so ago I realized that the summer was fast slipping away and we'd better get planning. I pulled out the tide table book and started studying, looking for the lowest high tides in an area with tides that rise over 20 feet.

On the beach near Kasilof with my Mukluk.

Now it looks like we'll head out sometime around Labor Day. We may start at Clam Gulch instead of Kasilof, but we're still working on the plans. I think biking the western shoreline of the Kenai Peninsula to Homer is going to become one of those summer rides that is anticipated by fat-tire cyclists as much as a hard-packed singletrack through snow on a moonlit night. I know when I got my taste of it while at our set-net site in June I wanted to just keep on riding to see how far I could go.

View Larger Map
Of course, we wouldn't be on the road.

And as if I wasn't already planning it, the crew from Salsa, a filmmaker and some friends made the ride earlier this week. Doesn't that give you something to look forward to?