Sunday, June 1, 2014

Dark Horse

Wispy, white clouds fingered through the Chugach mountain range, making their last ditch, frozen deposits onto the hilltops before spring finally gave way to summer this 31st of May. Despite the previous three weeks of fantastic, clear blue skies, the precipitation was having its way this weekend.

It had been over a year and a half since last I competed in any sort of multi-sport event. For whatever reason, I decided to focus on cycling for a while and got terribly distracted from the type of racing I somehow seem to do very well in.

The Anchorage community makes the most of its summers and racing is certainly not least of those activities so many people dive into.

When I pulled up at 0605, I was expecting to be fighting for a good parking spot; surely every other racer has that mindset of arriving at the transition area asap and setting everything up just right. Turns out, all of 3 people think that way up here. When I noticed the transition area void of racks, I asked my fellow early riser if they hadn't put them up yet. "Well, this is a...BYOR event." I stared at him, incredulous. He nodded, "yup." To my great fortune, one of the volunteers had an extra one, bless her. Crisis averted, I got my brand new TT bike all set up and ready to go, going through motions long removed, but well remembered.

With a forecast of rain and sadness, the pool swim got underway around 0800. With only six lanes and a field of at least 350 racers, there was a lot of standing around waiting for a lane. Those seeded in the first wave, my competition for the day, had finished the race by the time I even got wet. I was later told those individuals watched the chip-timing screens eagerly watching my splits.

 3, 2, 1...the race I had spent the last five months or so preparing for was underway. I tried not to think of it like that but here I was, testing my mettle against some of the best Triathletes in the state. 500 yards later, I ripped off my goggles and swim cap and made for the doorway to the 45 degree drizzle to T1. I couldn't have chosen a better spot for my bike in the transition area. It allowed me quick access to both the bike start and finish so I would have minimal time pushing around my newly acquired steed. Two days removed from a fresh fitting and only about 90 minutes of training time on my new TT bike, I mounted and rode away whilst old, well worn memories of transitioning flashed back.

 With no fewer than 22 ninety-degree turns, the ride course today was very technical by any race standards, not to mention 850 feet of climbing and moist roads. Still, with my new speed machine and amazing Zipp 808's, I flew through the ride averaging over 23 mph. The run, ironically, was the one screw ball in the race. With a nagging pain in my left achilles, my run training has gone by the wayside a bit over the last several months. I determined I would fall back on my running background and focus on swimming and riding while it healed up.

The run was easily the hardest part of the race. In the past, I savored the run, couldn't wait to get back to my forte, passing, passing, crushing the competition with my running...shall we say, prowess; alas, I was beset with wretched abdominal cramps (no doubt due to all that core work I did last week during four days of army combatives) and was just barely able to hold on to a 6-minute pace for the most part. Hilly though it was, I managed to navigate the 5k course in a good enough time to knock off the previous third place finisher. But wait, a podium finish? My first race back in so long!? I was STOKED! In the last few months, I was getting worried that my training and racing regime was slowly loosing that spark that burned so fiercely in my college days. Today, though, there wasn't nearly enough rain to put it out.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Tanning Bed

Kincaid Park was full of the usual crowd. It was a warm, 25 degree March day under the unveiled Alaska sun. The top layer of snow was slowing yielding to the rising ambient temperatures making my ski session a little dicey at times. Most of the trail was still well-groomed, though, and 12k went by pretty quickly. As I unclipped and made my way back to my car, a 737 flew just overhead, taking off from Ted Stevens a few miles away, just like I'd be doing the next evening.

As soon as I saw that first Joshua tree and the warm, Arizona breeze hugged my body with a happy welcome, I couldn't wait to get my bike back out and enjoy some long, long overdue time in the saddle on roads far away from the likes of ice and snow.

The US Military Endurance Sports team has been growing quickly over the last 12 months and this year's training camp brought us to the southwest, to the land of cactus and sand. After a meeting Sunday evening, the 60 or so riders hailing from all over the country made their way to the DoubleTree's spacious hotel rooms in an attempt to adjust to the new time zone. I'd only ever known one other team member since joining over a year ago so I was very happy to have the chance to finally mingle in a medium other than facebook.

There would be four groups riding the loop today and after some deliberation, I opted for the A group. If for no other reason, the B group was leaving at 9:30 instead of 10 and I didn't feel like waiting an extra half hour, so...

Once we navigated over some sun-baked neighborhood roads, we made our way out of town and headed west. The day's route was flat and fast, a chance to make sure our steeds were ready and able to roll after all that travel before heading to the hills later this week. Knowing I'd have some adjustments to make in my nutrition compared with riding on snow, I had to make a concerted effort to drink plenty and often. The follow car was a huge help, replete with water and Honey Stinger products.

After some mildly rolling terrain, we passed over I-17 and cruised on long flat roads, taking turns defying headwinds, desert mountains far off to the front and sides. We refueled once more at a gas station before crossing I-10 and heading north for home. Miles passed quickly by and we were back at the hotel in a quick 3.5 hours.

My pale, arctic skin, white as the snow I left behind, ended up not faring too well under this sun. After a cool splash in the pool, I noticed I had definitely missed some spots with my spf 50, but maybe the burn was a long time coming anyway.

Bring on the hills.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Training in a Box

Ripples of rosy red light reflect off the low hanging clouds announcing the late arrival of the winter sun, still hiding behind the Chugach mountains, reluctant as ever to let its beams fall fully on the valley beyond. Despite this, the temperatures have been consistently warm for the past several days for the first time this season. The full clouds, untouched by below freezing temperatures, had the audacity to drop rain on our arctic city in the middle of January. Our nicely packed snowy trails got dampened by unwelcome, unfrozen precipitation. Many were ruined for the time being, at least until the weather starts to act a little more like it's supposed to this time of year. Still, the coldest month is yet ahead and I imagine it won't be long before another whiteout takes care of those slick trails.

It's been a little over two months since the last time I enjoyed a ride on my skinny wheels upon unfrozen roads. Though it seems like a lot longer, there are many nights I dream of spending a day in the open sunlight on two wheels, deciding my route at each intersection. My big ol' gnarly snow bike has been a fun distraction a few times a week and I'm quickly learning that my local fat bike friends live for this season and would like nothing more than to play in the snow year 'round. As fortunate as I've been to be sent here, this is one of the reasons I don't think I could ever settle down in the Far North.

Today, though, riding outdoors wasn't an option at all, seeing as how practically everything was covered in icy death. I needed to get outside, though. As much as I enjoy my four day weekends, I often find myself spending most of them alone in this long, dark dark winter. Friday night small group was cancelled due to weather, no one was going out to watch football and I didn't want to watch NFL by myself. I've had my training to keep me sane and my two wheeled steads to keep me company (which I think sums up why I'm single). I've found ways to make myself hurt, sweat, and suffer in my little pain cave on my turbo trainer, but today, I wanted out. It was time for another long run, a thing not too often marked down in my training log these days. With a good pair of YakTraks on my trail shoes, I should be fine. At 33 degrees, it wasn't exactly a day to bundle; two layers on top and my shortest, short shorts I have. Maybe I could get a little vitamin D out of the ordeal.

I hadn't been out on my normal fat biking routes since the freezing rain and I wanted to see if they would be ridable. To confirm my suspicions, they were still pretty slick and didn't seem worth riding on, at least if I wanted to get an actual workout in. With spikes on my shoes, I actually fared decently, though I later realized it took a toll on my right knee. cop pok, cop pok. Footprints from countless dog walkers made days ago were frozen solid along the Chester Creek Trail, and considering how it was all the same hue of grayish white, texture was often difficult to determine until after each foot strike.

The trails continued to wind through neighborhoods and by the time I started back toward home, the sun finally produced some rays, spearing through the snow-covered evergreens as I progressed along the shore of a white pond. The plight of the rainforest shrubbery came to mind; with a canopy above, little beams of photons were cherished and hard to come by, yet they make due, they thrive. I can only imagine how my complexion looks against my Southern counterparts.

My run completed, I was quite satisfied with the pace I was able to maintain given the conditions. Having said that, it's very difficult at this juncture to really tell how I'm doing, relative to my competition, anyway. I have my data, I have my training plans but I haven't really raced in months. I just like to think that this is like the time where young Leonidas ventures up into the mountains to undergo his final testings, left alone in the cold, before he makes his kill and returns a king...

 After a soothing, warm shower, I opened my inbox to find an update from the local cycling club. The race calendar for the summer has been posted. With hill climb series, centuries, stage races, and Wednesday night classics, it's quite a line up. I open up a live stream of UCI's first event of the year, the Tour Down Under, and picture all the races I'll get to, get to participate in over the coming months. With as long a break as Alaska requires me to take, the racing season is gonna be that much the sweater, and with my new, beautiful Italian dream bike sitting in my living room, it's gonna be the fastest year yet.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Frosty Bottom 50

Last November, several members of the local mountain bike group were hard at work in Kincaid Park to blase new trails for many to enjoy for years to come in the north part of the park. Luke Simpson was one such outstanding member of that community who had a passion for so many amazing outdoor activities one can do in this fair city. One November day, Luke was riding along through some fresh berms and double table top jumps when something went wrong. An unfortunate crash sent Luke, happily married, father of two young ones, to the ICU with broken ribs, vertebrae, nose, and other facial bones. He suffered a stroke as a result of 3 of 4 major arteries leading to his brain suffering damage. Currently, he is in Craig Hospital in Colorado receiving treatment. He has cognitive function but hasn't been able to speak yet, though his vocal cords are intact.

I read about Luke's story in the front page of Anchorage Daily News on my way home from the race while I sipped on a hand crafted mocha at SteamDot Espresso. I remember his name mentioned before the race started but didn't know about what had happened. The race was mentioned in the article as it was part of a fund raiser for his recovery. Over 200k has been raised and I'm happy to say part of my race registration went towards that. I need to be reminded now and again that these races aren't about me or the other individuals.

The day of the year's first bike race started out in a warm, dark Anchorage winter morning. At 29 degrees, I only needed two layers; I knew chilliness wouldn't be an issue. The lead train stayed together for the majority of the out leg on the way to Bicentennial Park. There were something like 30 people trucking along but the pace was far from blistering. Few people were really willing to take the lead a pull hard (I was stuck in the back, so...). Once we hit Anchorage's eastern-most park, the terrain got a little more technical and the group quickly split up. The turn around area lead us through some single track before spitting us back onto the wider multi-use trails where we could open it up again. The single track was in pretty bad shape; the pack was pretty rough and there was just a rut running down the middle that you had to try and sort of balance on. I remember seeing two very large moose in my peripheral; wouldn't be a winter race in Alaska without 'em, I guess.

I had taken a wrong turn in the park which cost me a minute or two so I had some catching up to do once I hit the wider trail. By my estimations, I was about an hour from the finish when I got out of the woods so I laid down the power and hit my functional threshold pace. I held it steady there and flew past a few other guys in my pursuit of the leaders. Things were going well until I got back on the coastal trail. With something like 400 other riders out using the trail that day, this bit wasn't in very good shape. I quickly got bogged down and it took me too long to realize I was gonna need to let a lot of air out of my tires to get through. For a moment there, I felt like I was recreating that scene from Cool Runnings were their sled crashes and they have to shoulder it to the finish line. I quickly stopped caring about what place I was in. I had gone all in over the last 40 minutes and I was counting on that last bit of trail to be as good as it was going out.

It ended up being a mostly good day and a huge improvement on my last fat bike race, which I'm not going to talk about. Let's just say I ended up swearing more than I should've.

I got home and immediately crashed on my bed after a wonderful hot shower, my body aching all over with that pain of a ride well done.

Luke, get well soon.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Spring, come quick.

It's that special time of year, that time where I can go home early and sleep in more often than not. It's a thing to cherish and enjoy to the full because it will be back to the usual grind in no time at all.

For the first time in quite a while, I don't really have much in terms of a training goal set up for the coming year. I have visions of grandeur about teams I want to make and races I want to win and on and on but living in a place where any corner on the road could easily send your car spinning uncontrollably isn't exactly conducive to relentless outdoor training like I'm used to. I've had to adapt in a big way. Gone are the days where my biggest threat to riding outside was a 2 hour thunderstorm. Needless to say, my trainer is getting a lot of love; I'm glad I decided to invest in a nice one a while back. I've spent a good amount of money on indoor training videos and have been getting a ton of use out of them. The pool has also been an increasingly attractive option.

Recently, I put in an application for the All Army Sports triathlon team to potentially compete in Ventura, CA this June. I realize it's still a long shot but I'm going for it. Training to tri up here in the dead of winter, I've found, keeps my Itch at bay much better than trying in vain to maintain bike fitness on the trainer and the Fatback alone. ...I'm really looking forward to the spring Break up where the roads will finally be free of icy death.

Skate skiing's been a fun little adventure but I'm still struggling to understand the technique. In the meantime, I'm smokin' myself on the world class Nordic ski trails all over this city. It definitely could be worse. (Not to mention my ventures down to Alyeska 50 minutes away.)

This March, if all goes to plan, I'll get to train with my cycling team for the first time since I joined, down in Tuscon. I'm pretty excited for the warmth. The warmest it has gotten here is about 25; no hope for melting ice.

To kick off the year, I've registered for the frosty bottom 50k, a fat bike race across Anchorage and back. It's a little more like a road race in that technical skills on single track aren't really a factor as all the trails the race is held on are wide and flat. The very next weekend, there's an indoor triathlon on post consisting of 20 minutes for each event. I'm not really sure how it's gonna work but I should be able to win it considering the lack of competition but it's free and seems like a good brick workout anyway.

The days are slowly but surely getting longer and my new Pinarello should be here within the next two weeks. I can't way to roll around on her this march through the sands of Arizona.

Spring, come quick.

Remember my affliction and my homelessness, the wormwood and the poison. I continually remember them and have become depressed. Yet I call this to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord's faithful love we do not perish, for His mercies never end. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Midnight Musings

Friday evening...or is it Saturday morning by now? The beads of water on my car's windshield that never seem to evaporate refract the single street light that casts its luminescent glow on my little corner of the earth in a land so far away from what used to be considered "normal"... "usual" ...perhaps banal, that even watching college football, reminiscing with my new friends about times long ago in southern college towns, seems like talking about a vivid dream we had in some parallel life.

The last several nights, I've lied awake in bed with countless thoughts about the now, about the future, flooding my brain. Work has been weird. One day I'm staring at an inbox with so many people demanding so many things of me, tasks I really must defer to my NCO's; the next day, once my senior officer finally got back from emergency leave, I'm kicking my feet back and loosing myself in a book in an office with no computer or anything else exciting to speak of. Today, though, I got to sail in the Alaskan winds above the Ft Richardson Drop Zone in my sixth jump out of a high performance aircraft (seven if you count my adventure in Cedar town).

When I was in North Hollywood visiting my brother and sister in law about a month and a half ago, which now really feels more like the better part of a year, one of the last pieces of advice my brother bestowed was to meet people who really only have a few things in common with me. Meet people who don't ride bikes, who don't consider running part of their identity, and learn. Never stop learning.
Listen to those who's unique experience enhances your own growth...well I'm paraphrasing here but you get the idea. God and His eternal wisdom have allowed me to do just that. His people are indeed everywhere and I know now more than ever that He will never, ever leave my side. How could I possibly deny His presence when I find myself in apologetics and theology classes on weekday afternoons, conversing with fellow believers like we were old friends after cursory introductions...

The forecast calls for more rain. This Alaska rain is most certainly a far cry from the rolling thunder storms I'm so accustomed to. I'm starting to really look forward to the winter. I've been told to enjoy the 50 degree weather while it lasts, but, dang, I really wanna get back on some skies again for the first time in, what, nearly a decade? I'm stoked to get out on my new fat tire bike and tear up some local, snow packed trails.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Far North

 The plane departed from Los Angeles at 9pm on a warm, dark California evening and traveled toward the arctic lands far away over the course of the next five hours. A warm orange glow from an old sun reluctant to set seaped into the 757's passenger windows by the time it was around midnight, Alaska Standard Time. Watching the sun "rise" at a time of day it was supposed to be setting was my first experience with this eccentric climate.

Last december, I found out the Army was sending me to the Yukon. I wasn't exactly thrilled at the time; I was still enjoying a balmy Alabama winter and wasn't at all prepared to live on the opposite side of the earth so early into my career. This clip from Cool Runnings immediately came to mind:
After five months in Missouri, though, I was about ready to live anywhere but Ft Leonard Wood and was really wondering why I ever fretted about my upcoming move.

My first few days quickly turned to my first few weeks and before I knew it, I had already caught my first salmon, raced in three bike races (including the Tour of Anchorage consisting of 5 different races), and found the best places in the city for a roast and a brew. I've taken every weekend to explore somewhere new. Anchorage is a truely unique city, not just in America, but as far as I'm concerned, anywhere. It's a 12 minute drive to Ship Creek, right in downtown, where I caught two silver salmon (I've learned many new names for salmon up here) and stocked up the freezer with delicious fillets. Another 40 minutes down Seward highway, the world class ski resort, Alyeska, is nestled just outside the small town of Girdwood in the southern portion of Chugach.

Anchorage is bounded to the east by the Chugach Mountain Range. This range is riddled with hiking trails which turn to ski trails when the powder begins to fall. Books fill the shelves of the local REI with places to explore within just an hour's drive. On clear days, the beauty of the surroundings, especially when seen from the top of a mountain you just climbed, is really too much for the eyes to process.

My first PT session with the soldiers here consisted of meeting at a trail head in Eagle River and hiking for half an hour to the top of Mount Baldy. (Eagle River is sorta like the suberbs of Anchorage). Once there, we could see out for miles upon miles. The distant peaks looked like a painted backdrop from some western movie. It was just too majestic, too specacular to absorb with a few glances.

There always seems like there's something else to do. I've been hard at work exploring as much as I can around the city but there's so much here and so much more to see. It's gonna be a packed three years.

So I'm sure there have been plenty of lists like this made but here's my take:

You know you're in Alaska when:

People move here becasue Texas was too small.

You know the moose in your neighborhood by first name.

The guy that comes to hook up your internet looks like he just emerged from the woodline wherein he built his log cabin by hand many years ago. You may have been his only human contact in weeks.

Your boss encourages you to get things done faster because today, low tide is at four in the afternoon, the best time to catch silvers on Ship Creek.

You never buy fish at the grocery store.

A day that's sunny and 70 degrees is worth its weight in gold.

A five dollar footlong is a seven dollar footlong.

If you walk into your realty office to sign a lease in full cycling kit, no one bats an eye.

If you want a firearm, you must be tall enough to reach over the counter...and that's it.

And finally, if you tell someone you went to school at Auburn, they reply, "Is that the 'Roll Tide'?"
And the response is your hand planted firmly on your forehead.