Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Ya gotta start somewhere

And that somewhere for me is 3rd place. I came in 3rd in the beginner's mountain bike race at Kincaid tonight. I was nervous about the race all afternoon. I'm not sure why. I keep telling myself I am only going out for a ride, and I'm only competing against myself, but I still get nervous. I think it is because my accident always creeps into my mind when I think about going fast on a mountain bike.

Most of you probably know this story but for those of you who do not here it is. Two years ago and one month after I arrived in Alaska I went out for a bike ride on the Hillside Trails in Anchorage with Brian. It was the Sunday of Memorial day weekend and a perfect day. Before we left for Hillside Brian insisted that I buy my first helmet. I had never really ridden anything very difficult before so I never wore a helmet.

We were riding for about 20 minutes and I was loving it. I had never gone that fast on a mountain bike before and with each hill I was trying to go faster and faster. I arrived at the top of a pretty steep hill and let Brian pass and go down around the corner. I told myself I would pedal as fast as I could down this hill to see how fast I could go. Halfway down the hill and the next thing I know I am projected into the air. I flipped over onto my shiny new helmet, now 20 feet from where I was launched. My legs came over my head and crunch. I came to a stop and had the worst pain I ever felt shooting up and down my leg. The kind of pain where you think you might pass out because you can't handle it. After about 5 minutes of this, the pain started to diminish and by that time Brian had made his way back to me after hearing my screams.

I had broken my tibial plateau. Off. Not the first time I have broken a leg in half but this time I am reminded of it every time I turn my leg the wrong way and feel the seven pins that are in there. So to make a long story short, I told myself I would not let this stop me from biking. The first day I was able to put weight on my leg I went biking. Very, very slowly. I've slowly been able to work up to going relatively fast downhill, but not without fear. Every blind corner I come around I think about the steep drop-off that may be on the other side. Sometimes I walk down. Sometimes I clench my handlebars so tight I think I might snap them off.

So I think the nervousness today was because I knew that the race course would lead me to the "Advanced" ski trails that I had never ridden before. I took the hills pretty slowly at first, but there were so many that by the end I was completely comfortable going fast downhill again. That is the way it goes. You have to make yourself uncomfortable first and you will eventually find comfort.

Oh, by the way, did I mention there were only 3 people in the race? Minor detail...

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Harp Mountain and the Hanging Valley

Saturday we woke up to another beautiful day. Brian and I had not climbed a peak together since early August (well, except for Flattop), so we both had many ideas of which one to try. We decided on Harp mountain via the Hanging Valley Trail. Harp Mountain is at 5000-ish feet and starts at around 1700 ft, so we didn't think it would be too difficult.

We pulled up to the trail head in Eagle River to find a completely full parking lot with an overflow onto the road of about 25 cars. It's been raining for about two weeks and it seems that everyone is trying to get out before the rain starts up again. We were looking for some solitude, so were a bit disappointed, but we quickly found out that most of these people were within a mile of the trail head picking blueberries.

The trail winds down to Eagle River for about 2 miles, where you cross the river to get to the Hanging Valley on the other side. We climbed up to the valley and turned left to break off from the trail and start climbing Harp Mountain. We found a place where it was somewhat easy to cross the creek and then had a short bushwhack at the base of the mountain. We were completely above tree line the whole time, so we had amazing views of Eagle River Valley and Hanging Valley.

Since there was no trail we had three choices of how we wanted to get up to the peak. We could go up the gully in the middle, or pick one of the two ridges surrounding the gully. Brian said it was "ladies choice", so I chose the less daunting looking ridge, where I thought we would have better views. For some reason we were both feeling really sluggish and stopped for a lot of breaks. We scrambled up the ridge and got to a saddle where we knew we only had about 300 more feet of climbing. As soon as we got there we were socked in by clouds.

As we climbed the ridge the cloud we were in dissipated. At the top there were clouds swirling all around us, which made for interesting views. Rather than instantly being able to see in all directions, we had a different view reveal itself every few seconds. We were sitting at the top with another couple and their dogs, talking about and pointing at peaks in the area that we've climbed or that we hope to climb in the future. We saw Cantata Peak, Triangle Peak, and even got a glimpse of Anchorage and the Knik Arm. At one point we could see all the way back to the Eagle Glacier area where we got picked up by helicopter earlier this year.

I was getting cold so we started to make our way down. We saw a trail on the other side of the mountain that went directly back down to the road. We decided to take this route down and then try to hitch a ride back to the car. We ran most of the way down and then took a wrong turn at the bottom and had to bushwhack a bit. The blueberries were abundant in this area that no one seems to hike through, so we picked about two pints of them. Down on the road, no cars came by, so we hike all the way back to the car. At one point we stopped outside of a house to look at the map. An old man came out and said we should be careful, there is a mama grizzly bear and her cub that just came through his yard and up onto the road. We never saw her, and think she must have been scared away by our singing.

It was good to get back out into the mountains and hopefully summer will hang on for another week. Click here to see the rest of the pictures.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Goodbye to summer

At this time of year in Alaska any warm summer day could be the last that we see for a long time. It happens quickly and somewhat painlessly, but for the last couple of weeks of August you are always wondering if it is going to be the last day of summer. It has been raining every day for a few weeks now in Anchorage. I hate to say it but we've probably not been getting out as much as if it were sunny.

Today we woke up to beautiful weather. It was 65 and sunny. One of those perfect Alaskan days that we enjoy so many times in the summer. I rode my bike to work and took a little longer than normal and got into work at nine. Luckily I work for a great company where they understand. Brian and I both had plans to go for drinks after work but we both agreed that we need to take advantage of this day, because this might be the last one like it.

The sun sets at 9:30 now so we knew we didn't have a ton of time, so we hiked up Flattop. One last hoorah on the mountain that served as my training route earlier in the summer. Because of it's accessibility, Flattop Mountain is the most climbed peak in Alaska. It's also the most climbed peak by me, because I was training on it twice a week for Mt. Marathon.

So this weekend we are most likely saying goodbye to summer. But don't worry, this is where it gets good. Summer is awesome in Alaska, but winter is better. Here are some pictures from the hike today.

Monday, August 20, 2007

A well needed break

Brian and I took the weekend off to do some socializing. Summer in Alaska and the perpetual sunshine luring you outside everyday has caused me to neglect my friends. I felt it was time for some catching up. It was perfect timing as our friends Thor and Michelle announced they were inviting over their friend the Sushi Chef and having a little dinner party. Thor is the guy that convinced Brian to move to Alaska. Him and his wife live in this awesome house in the foothills of Anchorage that looks like a big red barn. Well, Sushi (and many, many bottles of sake) turned into a dance party and we ended up crashing at their house. We met some new fun people that live in Anchorage and had an awesome time.

I had forgotten what a bad hangover feels like, but was quickly reminded as I woke up Saturday morning. Needless to say Saturday was a day of watching movies, lying around the house, and feeling guilty because the sun was still shining outside and I wasn't doing my planned activities for the weekend.

Sunday brought more socializing. My friend and ice climbing partner Kim was back from a two or three week vacation and suggested that we do a "Godfather night" at our house. She had found out that our friend Trish has never seen any of the the Godfather movies and was appalled, so we all gathered at my house, made Lasagna, Spaghetti and meatballs, salad and wine and feasted for 9 hours while we proceeded to watch all three of the Godfather movies in a row. At 1 AM Kim even threatened to put in the "Bonus Materials" so I had to kick her out of the house.

All of this cooking and eating and sharing food with people has reminded me how long it has been since I've done this. Growing up I remember all of the feasts we use to have with my family. We'd get together regularly, cook, socialize and eat a big meal together. When I lived in LA for a year, I had 5 roommates and every week or so we would spend all day preparing a big meal for everyone to eat together. I miss doing this, so last night I suggested that we make this a regular thing. Especially now that summer is ending and we will soon be in these in between months of rainy weather cool weather. Besides we need to fatten up for the long winter ahead.

The next month or so is gonna be crazy so I'm trying to not feel too guilty. Next weekend since Brian is tapering for his race, and done training on the bike, we are going to do a longer backpack in the Chugach and try to climb some peaks. The following weekend is the Soggy Bottom 100. The 100 mile mountain bike race that Brian has been training for all summer. I agreed to take pictures at the race and will be supporting Brian so we will be spending all of that weekend in Hope, AK. After that we go to Michigan to visit Brian's brother and than to PA to see for our annual east coast trip. When we get back we have the Mountaineering club Ice climbing festival and that will kick off the season of training for ice climbing.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

...and more Raspberries

I've been picking raspberries in our backyard every few days for a few weeks now and they just keep growing. It's been a rainier than average summer and that in combination with all of the sunlight we get causes things to grow at an amazing rate. I've made raspberry jam, raspberry pie, raspberry syrup and today I made raspberry crisp. I looked out there today and there are more plump berries waiting to be picked!

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Maybe I spoke too soon...

So in the past few days a few Brian's riding buddies have been kicking around the idea of doing a long bike ride on the Kenai this Saturday. The idea was to ride up the Devil's Pass trail to Ressurection Pass and come down the Summit Creek Trail. It's about 1400 feet of elevation gain and a 23 mile ride. Since I haven't been riding all summer like they have, they tried to warn me that this is an experienced ride and that I should think about that before I come along. This just made me want to do it more.

So we woke up this morning and drove down to the Kenai in the pouring down rain. Aha! The perfect time to test out my playing in the rain is fun theory. We get to the trailhead and it's just drizzling, so we head off on the trail. It started out great, the first 6 or so miles you are gaining elevation, but then it levels off a bit and there is a section of fun rolling hills. I felt great and the hardest climbing was over. The rain was steadily getting more intense, but since it happened gradually it didn't really bother me.

We got close to the top and I realized that it was pouring down rain, blowing wind, and about 45 degrees, and I was soaked. At this time the trail started to get a bit more rocky, which is fine when it's dry, but I was having this problem of my wheel sliding over the rocks and taking the bike out from under me. I fell a bunch of times, but kept going. Then I did this sort of slow motion endo where my bike was vertical for a second and then instead of flipping over, I fell straight down over my handlebars and onto my face. I heard my neck go "crunch!" If you've ever been adjusted by a chiropractor you know the noise I am talking about. I got up and was fine, but I think I actually performed the first self neck alignment whilst mountain biking.

I was freaked out by the slippery rocks and my head was pounding. When I caught up to the guys I told them I thought it would be a good idea for me to start back down. Everyone was pretty cold and miserable, but two of the guys kept going and Brian was going to turn around with me. We kept riding for a bit up to Devil's pass and then turned around to face the wind and stinging rain for the ride back down. This is when I realized that there is a limit to the amount of fun you can have in the rain. After you pass that limit it becomes survival.

The ride down was just a race to get safely back to car. My hands were frozen, so I lost the ability to shift my gears. I literally could not push the shifters. I fell about 7 or 8 times and have to admit, one of those times I actually kicked my bike. Yes, I had a little mini temper tantrum on the trail. I got up and told myself that at 31 years this is not really acceptable behavior. :) I have to admit the ride back down was pretty grueling until we got back under the treeline. We made it back to the car shivering and happy to get some food in us.

Days like these seem to be more and more frequent since I moved to Alaska. Being out in the wilderness in Alaska has the power to break you. But you wake up the next day and you get back out there and you are stronger because of it. I just never thought I could be broken by the rain.. so maybe I spoke too soon.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

A crash course in clipless pedals

With the excitement of my new bike still lingering, and the hopes of becoming some kick ass mountain bike racing chick looming in the future, I entered my first Kincaid park race last night. Before last night I had only competed in two mountain bike races. A St. Patty's day winter race on the snow and ice at West Chester Lagoon, and the 24 Hours of Light in Whitehorse. Neither of which were very serious and more about the party before, afterwards and in between than the actual riding.

I have to tell you about my background with pedals. Since I started riding a bike again 3 years ago, I have always had the same old flat pedals that I used as a kid. I never got the toe clips, and I certainly did not have "clipless" pedals that physically attach your feet to the bike. Not with my luck when it comes to trying new things (The phrase "break a leg" is taken literally by me). But everyone I have ever ridden with would say, "You need to get clipless pedals." With the general rebellious attitude that I take on with most issues dealing with gear or anything else for that matter, I was convinced that I did not need them. But lately my lack of control when climbing hills and the reoccurring incident where my feet slip off the front of the pedal and scrape up my calves has convinced my to try them.

I was doing well. I have been riding for a week to and from work, clipped in to my pedals without incident. I love the clipless pedals. I have so much more power because I can use the force of both of my legs at the same time. One leg is pushing while the other is pulling. But I had only been riding on paved trails and sidewalks, with some short jaunts through the woods on roughly flat dirt, with a few roots. I wasn't too worried about the Kincaid race because I looked at the proposed course and there were very few sections of singletrack (which I hadn't practiced on at all).

So when Brian and I arrived at the race start, and the race director announced that the course had been completely redirected and that it now involved a ton of knarley new singletrack, you can imagine my enthusiasm. He also mentioned that if you intend to jam through the singletrack, get out in front so that you don't have to wait for the slow people. I promptly positioned myself at the back of the pack and took a deep breath. "5, 4, 3, 2, 1..go!" We raced about 50 yards down a wide doubletrack section and turned left into the most difficult singletrack of my life. I immediately found myself alone in last place and barelling through the winding track of roots, rocks, and devils club, still not clipped in with my shiny new mountain bike shoes chattering on the pedals. I rode like that for the first mile, falling over and frantically trying to get clipped in. I even got passed by a runner on the trail who I was struggling to keep up with. At that time I had the moment that I have at least once in every race when I think, "What the hell am I doing here?"

And then it happened. I came flying out onto a wider section of trail, pushed down with my shoes and heard the "click" of my right shoe, and then the "click" of my left shoe and suddenly I was in control and flying down a hill passing the runner and one other girl in the race. I prepared myself for the next singletrack section and sharply turned right and rolled down into the track. Now that I was clipped in, I was "jamming" down the course, powering over the roots, bouncing over the rocks, determined to keep the girl that I had passed behind me so that I didn't finish in last place.

I managed to keep her behind me for the rest of the race, and came in second to last in the beginners race (and overall)! Woohoo! More impressively I came in 4th in the beginners race, because there were only 5 people racing that division. I have to say that this was the fastest way to learn how to ride with clipless pedals and highly recommend this method. I love clipless pedals.