Friday, August 28, 2009

The time has come... set this plan in motion. Last fall I tossed the idea around of buying a proper winter bike. Not a fifty dollar bike with studded tires, but a real Fat Bike. I had grand plans to ride down various creeks in order to get to cool ice climbs, but I was talked out of it, convinced I didn't really need one and that I couldn't afford it.

The latter was true. But I rode a lot last winter and I ended up borrowing Brian's Snow Ho a lot. Well that Ho has been passed around enough. I have saved up and now it is time for me to get my own winter bike.

I purchased this today...

Which is a very large piece of a project that I hope ends in something like this...

(but not purple)

And then in a few months this...

(I stole this picture from Tim's blog)

But hopefully not this...

(this is actually more likely)

Yay Pugsley!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Orca Island and My Healthy Appetite

This blog is in danger of becoming a food blog. I made a batch of homemade soft pretzels the other night. Brian came home and had that "What's for dinner?" look on his face. He knows to never ask this out loud, but really, we all know who does the cooking around here.

"Beer and Soft Pretzels!" I said.

I thought this would get some sort of reaction out of him, but he just said, "Okay" and served himself two pretzels on a plate with a side of potato salad, like it was a balanced meal. Guys are great like that sometimes. A dinner of beer and pretzels seems perfectly normal.

This blog is also in danger of becoming a weight lost blog because then I proceeded to eat three of them in about 10 minutes, washed them down with two beers and had a huge ice cream sundae (with cookies mixed in) for dessert. What can I say, I eat when I'm bored.

Let's focus. Since no new adventures will be happening for a little while, here are some pictures from three days I spent on Orca Island back in July that I never posted.

It's a bit pricey to stay on the island, but definitely worth it. The island is small, just a pile of rocks, a few yurts and a dock.

A bunch of Laura's friends from New York were visiting so we shelled out the cash to stay in a yurt on Orca Island for a few days. This was my taper week before the Soggy Bottom.

It was a fun few days, even though we got trapped in the yurts for most of the weekend. It was nice to hang out with East Coast peeps again. A good dose of the East Coast sense of humor is necessary several times a year when living so far away. I fear that being too far from it for a long time is a putting me dangerously close to losing it forever.

Unfortunately it rained the entire time we were there. Remember back in July when Seward was flooded? Yep that's the week we stayed on Orca Island. But the kayaking is amazing here regardless of the weather. The misty rain gave our nighttime kayaking excursion an eerie effect.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Yeah, fine, walk the dog

I saw my foot for the first time in five days today. It was skinny and purple. Feet are already skinny so you can imagine my surprise when I saw that my foot muscles (who knew?) have atrophied already.

It happens fast. I'm losing my calf muscle in that leg too (bad for ice climbing!). I guess when you don't roll up on your toes, you don't use your calves.

Other than that it looked great. The toe is back where it was supposed to be and I was even able to lift it a little bit! Not too much though, because it is still healing. In one week I start in on physical therapy again.

I asked the doctor, "Soo, how much am I actually allowed to walk in this boot?"

He said, "What, do you want to go for a hike or something?" and laughed.

I lied and said, "No, but maybe I want to just walk the dog a little bit."

He said sternly, "Yeah, fine, walk the dog. But keep that boot on."

I really wanted to ask if I could find a way to install clips to the heel of this boot and ask him if pedaling a little bit would really hurt? But I didn't want to push it. He seemed annoyed that I wanted to mess with his masterpiece at all.

It's only been five days, and I'd like to get this healing process over with. So I will continue to rest and get things done around the house.

But man six days without hard exercise is tough. Your body gets used to a certain amount of exercise. I was biking and hiking up to 16 hours a week in July, so just stopping exercise all together is a huge jolt to my system. My body is longing for a hard effort and my lungs are like "WTF, we haven't been burning in a week, what is gong on?"

I'm hoping once my incision heals (it's huge by the way) that I will be able to start doing some swimming. More on that later. This week I'm just going to slowly start doing some weight lifting for my upper body, pull ups (need to get in climbing shape), and crunches. Hopefully that will be enough to get the endorphins flowing again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

My domestic weekend

I started taking Vicodin on Thursday afternoon because I feared the pain. I knew it was coming. I remember the last time I had surgery, the day after was the worst day of my life. I was determined to keep the pain under control this time, so I started in on the Vicodin a few hours after surgery.

I'm not sure how people get addicted to this stuff. I mean, yes, I was a bit giggly and taking naps in the middle of the day which was nice, but the side effects are awful! Like the non-stop itching. I got zero sleep on Thursday night because I was up all night SCRATCHING MYSELF EVERYWHERE. I googled "Vicodin itching" on Friday and yep, there it was. So I stopped taking the Vicodin Friday night and switched to Ibuprofen.

The pain never came. I thought wow this Ibuprofen really works. But then I thought, maybe there is no pain. So I stopped taking the Ibuprofen. No pain.

So I'm doing well. I still haven't seen my foot yet! I'm not allowed to take the bandage off until I go back to the doctor tomorrow. My brother joked that maybe now my toe would be sticking straight up in the air. Ha.

I can only be up for about an hour at a time, so I made a point to get something done or doing something fun every time I got up from the recliner. Here are a few things I did this weekend I am calling "My domestic weekend". If you are bored by all of this you might want to check back in a month or so when I'm allowed to walk without this damn boot and for more than an hour.

I picked raspberries out in our backyard...

And made jam!

I helped Brian make a raised bed for my garden next year! Probably was not supposed to be walking around in dirt with my boot, but I couldn't resist.

I organized my pantry! This will make all the cooking and baking I plan on doing very easy.

I made beef stew with sage dumplings and ate it with Brian... he's smiling because he's drinking his new favorite beer Tilborg Dutch Brown Ale.

I made banana pancakes on Sunday morning and we smothered them with jam.

I'm trying to figure out how I ate half a jar of jam in two days? Also, if I'm doing all of this cooking and eating, but no exercise how am I going to burn all of this off?

I also read some books, and stocked up on more at the bookstore. This domestic stuff is not so bad! I haven't spent this much time in the house since my last major injury. It's nice. I suspect I will tire of it soon though.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Surgery went well

After surgery I woke up in the recovery room in a daze, looked at the nurse and said to her, "Have we met?" She laughed and said, "No, I'm Ellen, the recovery room nurse." I realized then that this was an odd thing for me to say, but always seem to do this when I wake up from surgery.

I had a strange feeling of peace and contentment when I woke up from the anesthesia, and sort of secretly enjoyed being babied for a little while. Hot blankets, someone feeding me Sprite through a straw, animal crackers. For a brief moment I reverted back to being a infant.

This is quite different from an experience I had with anesthesia when I was twelve. I was in the hospital with a broken femur that I sustained a month earlier in a skiing accident. I had been in the hospital for a month in traction (basically in bed the entire time with my leg bent up in the air).

In order for the doctors to straighten my leg and then put me into a cast that would extend down both legs and up to my chest, I had to be asleep for a few hours. When I awoke from surgery it was a very different scene than what happened today. I didn't know it at the time, but now that I'm older I can say it felt like I had drank about 10 shots of tequila in one hour and then tried to lay down and go to bed. You know the spinning, nausea, feeling like you would rather die than feel like this, and the "I promise I will never drink again if this feeling would just go away!"

They wheeled me back into my hospital bed and what happened next conjures up images of the bedroom scene in the Exorcist. I was in a lot of pain and beating on my cast, yelling at everyone who came in the room, including a nurse who I called a "Bitch!" when she turned on a really bright light in my face. I think that's the first time I said that word out loud. My mom still to this day thinks I said, "Witch!" but I'm pretty sure that is not what I meant to say.

The room was spinning and they tried to sit me up and feed me ginger ale while I continued to whine and spew obscenities. Then all at once the phone rang (it was my friend Lesley from school), the spinning got worse, I said, "I'm gonna be sick!" and they put one of those crescent shaped bowls in front of my face as I projectile vomited all over the place about six times in a row, getting only a portion of it in the bowl.

Suddenly I felt great. The spinning stopped, the nausea was gone, the sun shone in the window, birds were chirping, I was smiling and sitting up. My mom handed me the phone and I said, "Heeellloo!" like nothing had happened. In the meantime my mom and the nurses all stood around the room speechless. Mostly because up until that point I was an extremely quiet patient (and little girl) and hesitated to even tell anyone when I was in pain.

I guess anesthesia is sort of like a truth drug. I am somewhat reserved, but my real personality comes out when I have been under.

So, the surgery went well. When I was waking up the doctor came in and said that they were able to find the two ends of the tendon and attach them without having to take a piece from my adjacent tendon. He said something like, "That baby is not coming apart this time, we really sewed it up!"

Now I'm at home resting and relaxing in a recliner. I've discovered the Netflix option to "Play Movies Instantly" and have been working through a large stack of magazines and books that have been piling up next to my bed.

It's really nice out right now, though and I'm feeling like I want to go outside for a run. Not gonna happen, but if this weather holds, I'll have to find some outdoor activities that don't require moving at all. Picnic anyone?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Time is running out

Two more days until I go under the knife. Last night I got out climbing with a bunch of coworkers who have been itching to get outside on real rock. It turned out to be a sunny, hot night, perfect for hanging out at Upper Pivot point.

I don't know why but climbing always gets put on the back burner in the summer for me. I guess it's because there is not a lot of really big inspiring rock in Southcentral Alaska so there is nothing for me to shoot for. I tend to need to set big goals when it comes to sports and just playing around in a crag isn't really a goal.

But it is freaking fun! And I wish I would have done it more this summer.

But time is running out. Tonight I plan on doing a hike somewhere and then maybe a bike ride tomorrow, just to get a little bit of everything in.

Miraculously the summer weather is holding on, making this one of the best summers since Brian and I moved to Alaska. Check out these blue skies in August!

To tell you the truth, I am beat. Because summer is so short (and it could start raining for weeks at any time now) Alaskans like to pack a ton of trips and activities into every week, with no time to relax. That way when fall rolls around, we are tired and satisfied and ready for a little break.

This summer was no exception and since we had so many nice warm days, we got out more than usual. We never knew when summer would be taken away from us, so we just kept heading out the door.

But it definitely wore on me. I've been sleeping for 9 or 10 hours a night now and still waking up feeling tired. It's time for the crash, so I guess I scheduled my surgery at the right time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Getting my Hiking Fix

I have been trying to get in a lot of hiking these last weeks before I have surgery. I probably won't be able to hike again until mid to late September. And since summer seems to be hanging on in Alaska, last night Brian, Niko and I set out from Mile Hi road in Eagle River, for what we thought would be a short jaunt up to Mount Magnificent.

"Two hours." I predicted, even though the "book" said four to six hours. It was only 2700 feet of elevation gain and 2.5 miles to the summit. How could that take four hours? I was thinking it would be like a double Flattop hike.

We took one liter of water each, a cliff bar and some skittles and headed up the narrow trail through the woods. After what seemed like four hours of hiking and a constant uphill battle on loose dirt and soft tundra we arrived at the top of the false summit.

We could see the actual summit across from us, but my uphill legs were protesting and I laid down in the grass having a mini temper tantrum.

"I don't want to go up there. I can't hike anymore. This hike is not what I expected it to be for a Monday night."

My gaze panned around the mountains and valleys that surrounded us and I realized how lucky I am to live here. The sun was still hanging high in the sky and it was probably around 9pm at that point. I realized that I was overreacting because I was tired. There were worse places I could be on a Monday night.

We summited Mount Magnificent and then ran back down to the car and arrived 3 hours and 40 minutes later just as the sun was setting. It was not a two hour hike, but we still beat the "book" prediction of four to six, which has been our goal lately on every hike.

Nine more days till I have surgery. I'm hoping to get out more this week and early next week before I can't walk again.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Relaxing at Crow Pass

This weekend we spent some time in the cabin at Crow Pass. The plan was to backpack the whole trail this weekend, but Brian ended up possibly having to work on Saturday night, Laura was sick and didn't want to hike the whole thing, and our friends Andy and Karen just found out they are expecting a baby and didn't want to push it too hard.

So, that left me to hike through. Since I didn't really feel like going it alone, we chose to relax and explore the area around the cabin at Crow Pass.

I have been through here a few times and have been wanting to stay in the cabin every time I pass by, so this year I got online six months ago and reserved the cabin. That's the only way you can do it, especially on a weekend.

This is a pretty popular hiking trail. We saw tons of hikers but luckily they didn't start until later in the day Saturday so in the morning we had the whole area to ourselves.

Niko and Andy and Karen's dog Chena had tons of fun playing on the tundra for hours. Niko deserved a weekend out after being left at home during all of my training rides this spring and summer. It's time for me and Niko to spend some time hiking.

But not for long, because I have surgery for my toe next week. I want to spend as much time in the mountains for the next ten days as I can. After the 20th it will be four long weeks of recovery.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Afraid of the Dark

I was amazed once I got back into Hope how many people were congratulating me, even though I arrived by car. "I didn't finish" I would say. And they would say, "I know, but congratulations on going as far as you did."

I have never received so much support in a race before. Even the guys who were busy finishing in under 10 hours took a moment out on the trail to give a few words of encouragement. Even people who I never met before, somehow figured out my name and cheered me on at the check point in Cooper Landing. And even now after having written my story of how I quit, people are calling and emailing to say that I did a good job getting that far.

But what went wrong, a few people asked. Was it my nutrition? Not enough training? These are valid questions. I started the day thinking I might be able to finish this race, and if I would have crawled out of Devil's I probably could have after about 18 hours. But what stopped me from finishing in a reasonable time? And what happened to my body on the climb out of Swan Lake?

I don't know. I'm still mulling it over. I know now that you can go into that dark place where I was at Swan Lake, but then come out fairly unscathed and able to ride. If I had continued my nutrition plan and gotten my crap together mentally, I could have finished.

The thing I haven't wanted to admit out loud is that that maybe I quit because I was afraid that as soon as I got back onto the trail, and everyone had left the Devil's trailhead, that I would be alone out on that trail in the dark and unable to ride.

Last year
I rode from Devil's to Hope in my portion of the relay. Three hours of this ride was in the dark. The terrifying bear infested dark. The place where this years Soggy poster really takes on meaning. The place where a man watched a squirrel eat another squirrel in this years race. The place where Cheshire Cats talk to guys riding winter bikes in the summer. The place with the scary unicorns.

Okay maybe I'm being a bit over dramatic. Am I really just afraid of the dark?

Photo by John Quimby

Monday, August 3, 2009

Still Smiling

I always wondered how people got to the point of breaking down and crying during a bike race. I mean, all they were doing was riding a bike, right? I had read a few different accounts of people throwing their bikes down and crying on the side of the Resurrection Trail and thought, how could it come to that point? I didn't understand.

But I never had to push my bike up out of Swan Lake after riding 60 miles before. And now I understand. I understand completely.

I was prepared to push the bike at that point, because I had heard Brian talk about it, and if he was pushing, I was pushing. What I wasn't prepared for was how my body would feel while doing it and the resulting mental breakdown in the miles after.

After the start in Hope I was quickly at the back of the pack, which was okay, because it was completely what I expected in a race like this. The people that finish this race are ridiculous athletes and I was glad to be able to participate. Despite all of the times I have said I would never want to do the entire 109 miles in one day, when I was out on the trail I said to myself several times, I am so happy to be in this race today. My mood was good.

I settled into my pace and felt good for the entire climb out of Hope. I stuck with my nutrition plan, despite having rocks and mud mushed into my shot blocks and mud all over the top of my bottle of Perpetuem. I would stick a block in my mouth, suck the mud off, spit it out and then start chewing. When I was little my grandfather used to call me "Dirty Harry" because I always had food all over my face or was playing in the dirt. This day gave that nickname a whole new meaning.

My legs felt fresh even at the top of the climb, I was only slightly worried because it took a lot longer than I thought it would to get out of the trees. After three hours of riding I was flying across the tundra in one of the nicest days I have ridden up at Resurrection Pass. The sun was out and the fireweed had grown over five feet tall in some places. I turned a corner and suddenly I was at the Devil's Pass cabin, which meant I had 17 miles of mostly downhill to the first checkpoint in Cooper Landing.

This section seemed to take long, but it was nice to see racers again climbing back up to the cabin. I realized then how important human contact is. Sometimes it seems like hours since you've seen someone and you wonder if you'll ever see anyone again. Just the slightest smile or "Way to go! You're doin' great!" picked up my mood and upped my energy for the next few miles.

After 6 hours of riding I arrived in Cooper Landing, the last person to check in there. I was content with this and felt good enough to begin the long climb back up to the Devil's Pass Cabin.

My crew was awesome. (Thank you Tim, Ken and Heather again.) They filled my water, changed my tube that may have been leaking, lubed the chain, and helped me untangle my headphones, so I could get some music on. I stuffed some food in my mouth and was on my way. Tim gave me a big push as I pedaled off and I said, "See you on the other side!"

I don't really ever ride with music, so I hadn't created a playlist and I randomly chose the Decemberists album "Hazards of Love" because I love it. This was a bad choice.

Some of the songs really had me hammering up the climb and others sent me into a dark sloooooow place where my mind wandered and I forgot where I was for a bit. I suddenly snapped out of it, looked down to see my speedometer at 3 mph and quickly shut off the music.

The climb was hot and I could feel the sweat dripping off of my face, but I still felt relatively good and as I got to the rolling section, I thought, I might actually do this!

Then I found myself at the intersection for the climb out of Swan Lake. I took the right hand turn into the rocky section and got off the bike. It was time to push. Since I was the last person to climb out of Cooper Landing, I suddenly realized I was alone again and that I would be for the rest of this climb.

What I didn't realize was how quickly things can turn around. Soon I was pushing up the steep, rocky slope giving it all I had. My upper body felt weak as I took small steps and my speedometer jumped back and forth between 0 and 1 mph. My bike felt like it weighed a thousand pounds. The sun was beating down on my head and I noticed that at that moment it was really quiet. Eerily quiet.

I had no idea how long this section of trail would be, but figured by the steepness of it, it had to be shorter than the section we came down. Still, even if it was only a mile, at this pace it would take me over an hour to push through it.

Eventually I popped back out of the top and turned my music back on as I got on the bike. I was still climbing and knew I had about 4 more miles of it, but it was more gradual at this point. To my surprise, I could not climb. I pedaled for a minute to total exhaustion and got back off the bike. I started to feel desperate. I briefly thought about turning back to Cooper Landing, but knew everyone would be gone at that point. I had to keep going and had at least 14 more miles until I reached the next checkpoint.

The song that was now playing on my headphones was depressing. Something about a man who was trying to get across the water to his true love and was trying to convince the water to let him cross. He said if you let me cross you can turn me into a rat when I come back. I stuffed some potatoes into my mouth thinking that food was the only thing that would be able to help me.

And at that moment when I could not even muster up the energy to chew my food, and I was feeling sorry for the man who could not get to his true love, I started to cry. It was pretty ridiculous now that I think about it. I was mostly feeling sorry for myself for not being able to chew and wondering how I could go from feeling so good, to feeling like this over the course of a half hour.

I thought about how long it was going to take me to get up to the cabin at this point. I wanted to sit down and come up with a plan, but was in a section where the brush was over my head and wanted to get out of there. I put on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and suddenly was able to pedal, albeit very slowly.

Then I saw the cabin. It looked to be about a mile away and I knew once I got there it would be 10 miles of downhill down to the next checkpoint. Just get to the cabin, I was telling myself.

I was riding now, but slowly and cautiously. A few times I crashed into the side of the trail for no apparent reason. I was having trouble controlling the bike. I shoved down more food and that seemed to help me with the climb.

In my mind I had already reached my limit and was just trying to get to the next checkpoint. I knew at that time that I was not going to finish the race. I had already decided to scratch at the Devil's Trailhead. But I felt surprisingly good about it.

I thought if I decided to quit during this race that I would feel bad about it. I thought that I would get down on myself for not being able to complete it, but after competing in this race I now know that it is harder than I ever imagined it to be. And for me to get to the Devil's Trailhead after riding for 72 miles and 11 hours would be a huge accomplishment.

I got up to the Devil's Cabin and saw some people up there. They were Frank and Lisa who I had met at one of the AEA races last year and they had chocolate chip cookies. I sat down and chatted with them and told them how I had decided to quit. Saying it out loud made me 100 percent sure that it was the right thing to do. It was nice to talk to people. Thank you Frank and Lisa for being up there and cheering on all the racers. They even carried up an extra sleeping bag in case someone needed to stay the night in the cabin.

When I started down the descent to the Devil's trailhead I was smiling. I knew I would be done soon. I saw Brian on his way up. He said he forgot his jacket, so I told him I was quitting and gave him mine. He said he had a chance to finish in under 12 hours and that he had to go. It made me happy that one of us was going to finish and that we both were going to do something we had never done before.

Back at the Devil's trailhead I saw the faces of 5 friends jumping up and down and cheering me up the last hill. I mustered up the energy to finish strong. Maura, Kurt, Ken, Heather and Tim were the only ones left in the parking lot and I was glad to see them.

They said, "She' still smiling!" and I yelled, "I'm smiling because I'm done!" I went on to explain how things quickly turned around since I last saw them. They handed me a beer and I heard Kurt talking to the people at the finish line, "Julie's here, she's smiling, and she's got a beer in her hand." I was smiling because I was done, but I was also smiling because I had already decided that I would be back again next year.

Thanks to Maura Shea and John Quimby for the photos.