Monday, November 11, 2013

An Unimpressive Performance

Those of you who are over 60 know both the gift of years and the ever-present awareness of time compressing: that quests and adventures, whatever flavor they may be, need to be planned for as soon possible; that do-overs are less likely to be options for us than for those 20-40 years our junior.

So it was for me in May 2011, age 65, at Calvin's 12-hr Time Challenge in Springfield, OH. I was riding unsupported that day; my goal: 300k (186 miles) in less than 12 hrs. I hit 186 miles in 11:30 and stopped. Goal accomplished. On the drive home,  back to Chicago, I realized that with just a bit more effort, a crew, and some good luck I could hit my coveted 200 mile mark in 12 hrs.

Moving to Tucson 6 months after Calvin’s meant that returning to central OH six months later for Calvin’s 2012 was not realistic; but hey, why not the newly created 6-12-24 hr World Championship Time Trial (TT), part of the RAAM Challenge Series, around the Salton Sea near Coachella, CA?? 

We marked our calendars for November 9, 2013. I would be 68. The chrono-age factor would be increasingly agin' me with each passing year. One of my mottos is: “Do it now!” This TT was definitely a “Do it now!” kind of thing.

My remarkable (for me) Mt. Lemmon summit (3hrs-4min) two weeks before the November 9th TT and my 80 mile ride with Team Soul and my son, Daniel, in Tucson one week before the TT at a 17.7 pace gave me confidence that the the TT would be a strong ride. 

I planned carefully: my nutrition, fluids, electrolytes; I stripped my bike of any unnecessary weight since Kirk would be crewing for me; I put on my new-to-me Zipp 404's (Thanks, Dan Fallon); and checked the weather forecast which was all good.  At a current riding age of 68, a “do-over” is unlikely; this is likely my one shot at a 12 hr, 200 mi PR. 

Kirk and I arrived in the Coachella Valley Thursday night so Friday we could drive the course familiarizing ourselves with directions, road conditions, availability of services along the route (which was none); availability of pull-outs for the support vehicle, (support vehicles must pull off 5’ to the right of the fog line. Time penalties can be assessed against the rider’s finish time for rules broken by either crew or rider). 

We bumped into Lisa Renee Tuminello, one of the 4 member Women's RAAM, Team Love Sweat and Gears,  and her crew (her Dad), at the Start/Finish on Friday afternoon also. They were there early to scout the course as well. It was great to chat with them both. She and I would be the only female 12-hr riders; she’s 24 years my junior. We chatted about riding together, sort of, since our distance goal was the same: 200 miles in 12 hours. Another RAAM rule is no drafting. A distance of 100’ must be kept between riders unless passing. But, it still would have been fun to have her on the road with me within eyesight up front or in my rear view mirror.

I’m getting a bit ahead of myself in my story, but hey, I think it’s called poetic license. One of the consequences of chrono-aging is that it takes longer to, literally, get up to speed; it takes longer to get your heart rate from resting to performance. So, when the  12 hr riders were released at the start at 6:00 a.m. Saturday morning, Lisa was out of the gate like a winning triple crown race horse. I would never see her again, not even at the finish.

By the time Kirk and I returned from circumnavigating the Salton Sea, the Start/Finish was teeming with 12 and 24 hr riders, their crew and support vehicles, and race officials. Everyone was busily applying Race Names/Numbers on the support vehicles,  yellow “Caution Bicycles Ahead”, amber roof top flashers, and having both bikes and cars inspected. We passed; that’s a good thing.

While we were decorating our car who should walk by but Sandy Earl who I had not seen in several years. I’ve been a Sandy fan following her on line since she raced Calvin’s Challenge to set the Women’s (recumbent) Record of 249 miles in 12 hrs. Then I found her working at Bike Friday in Eugene when I was visiting the company buying a Bike Friday Tikit. That was 2010 the year she raced Solo RAAM; I was glued to my computer as she raced her way across the country. Haven’t been in touch since then, but here we both were at the TT. She and Bill drove from Arcadia, CA but their vehicle broke down en route and had to be towed to the Start/Finish. Bill was to have crewed for her, but instead she would ride the 24 hr unsupported while Bill stayed back negotiating vehicle repairs for their return home after the TT. 

Kirk and Sandy Earl
Got enough sleep the night before the race and race morning went as planned. There would just be nine 12-hr racers, Lisa and me, and seven men. 

The way this works is there is a long  loop and a short loop. The 24 hr racers complete two 121.1 mi loops around the Salton Sea before moving the the 15.8 mi short loop. The 12 hr racers complete one 121.4 mi loop and then move to the short loop. The 6 hr racers only race on the short loop. And so, round and round we go until the clock stops at 6:00 p.m. on Saturday when the race is over for all racers of all distances. I would need to ride 1 long and 5 short loops to hit my goal.

With only 50 racers total, 30 of whom were 24 hr racers, the likelihood of seeing another racer on the long loop is slim, indeed. I would not see another rider until mile 130.

My first 11 miles were right on plan: 17-19 mph, feeling good, feeling strong. I would need to average 17 mph for 12 hours to make my goal of 200 miles by 6:00 p.m. 

At mile 11 I turned south on Hwy 111 which would be my road for the next 58 miles and virtually ground to a halt averaging only 14 mph. Don’t know why. Just was.

Yes, there was a little head wind, but gee, nothing to get excited about. But, if that was it, then I reasoned when I turned West on Rutherford and then North on Rt 86 I should be into a cross or tail wind. Maybe I could make up the gap then. Change of directions didn’t help much. 

I ate, I drank, I peed, I took my electrolytes. My spirits were okay, despite knowing that my goal was in serious jeopardy. While my body was certainly not performing in race mode, my head was still into it and I pushed on. My body wanted to call it a day when I completed the big loop, but my head and heart said ride on. I shed some clothes, felt like a new person for half of the first short loop. Back through the Start/Finish I pounded another Red Bull and a piece of Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate and felt like a new person again before beginning my second short loop.

The sun was beginning to set so I pulled off the road about 2/3 of the way through the second short loop to turn on my lights and change to my clear lenses. Whoa! I felt horrible: nauseated and dizzy. These have been precursors to my seizure episodes, my all of two, but they can certainly also be the result of fluid and electrolyte disequilibrium and just the result of blood being shunted to heart and legs. All I knew was I didn’t feel good. Finishing two short loops would give me 152 and change. There was time for a third loop, but why??

I was done for the day: one long and two shorts.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt that bad physically after a long ride. The day after, Sunday, I didn’t feel a whole lot better. Monday, two days after the race, I felt like I was pretty much back.

Don’t know what happened out there physiologically, probably never will. 

Some factors that I have considered are: 
  • The course was tortilla flat so there was never a break or change in muscle groups as you climb or descend. Not even any stop lights. Upright riders will typically have three sitting positions and a standing position they can switch between to break up the monotony and give muscles a break. Recumbent riders are locked into a single position for the duration.
  • The long loop around the Salton Sea is barren, desolate, hard-packed desert. No evidence of life anywhere except Kirk in my support vehicle who would come up behind me every 30-45 minutes, meet my needs, and hold back for another 30-45 minutes. I had imagined that the road around the Salton Sea would be closer to the water than it was. So if there was avian or human life along the water’s edge, that was literally several miles from my road, and I never saw any. 
  • Had I overtrained the couple of weeks before the TT? Didn’t feel like it, but....
  • Have my seizures impacted my ability to go the long distance? October 6th I was on a 90 mile ride and had a seizure episode between mile 40 and 50.

Yes, I’m disappointed I finished with 152 and not 200. Lisa finished with 216. WAY TO GO LISA!! The disappointment is really about the strong likelihood of there never being another opportunity for a “do-over”, given my chrono-age. 

Then again, in the big picture, how important is that goal anyway? 

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Stellar Mt. Lemmon, Stellar

Atop Mt. Lemmon is the Mt. Lemmon Observatory (which I have yet to visit, but hope to soon), so hence, one of the titular 'stellars'. 

Mt. Lemmon is also the venue for hundreds of local and visiting cyclists to challenge their climbing mettle. Some will just play on the mountain, parking at the legendary Le Buzz coffee shop 4.25 miles from mile 0 on the mountain, going up as far as their time or energy permit, and riding back down. Some will drive part way up the mountain, park, and then ride up some miles and back down to their car. Others will summit the mountain checking off another event on their bucket list. And still others will summit with some kind of regularity challenging themselves to higher levels of performance questing after a new PR (personal record).

Mt. Lemmon is awesome: Mile 0 is at about 2,300' elevation, Summerhaven is at about 8,700', the Ski Lifts are at about 8,900', and the Observatory is at about 9,100'. That makes the amount of climbing on our mountain comparable to that of the teeners in Colorado! Difference being, of course, is the base elevation and the summit elevation. But, one of the many cool things about Mt. Lemmon is that most riders don't need to acclimatize before summiting, like most of us would summiting a teener in CO.

From Mile 0 to Summerhaven is 25 miles, on up to the Ski Lifts is 27 miles. No services en route. That means bring your own crew, stash water on the hill, or carry your own. Expect temps to be somewhere between 20-30 degrees different between the top and bottom. Expect high winds up top; be prepared for storms up top that could include sleet and hail. Managing hyperthermia at the bottom and hypothermia at the top is part of the challenge. You can have a successful climb today, and a disastrous climb tomorrow, all the result of factors beyond your control.

I've lived in Arizona, 12 miles west of Le Buzz, for two years and have summited Mt. Lemmon 3 times. The first time was the end of June, 2012. It seemed as or late in the riding season as I could safely expect hyperthermia at the bottom to not 'get me'. I had never even driven up Mt. Lemmon so had no idea what to expect. A bent riding buddy, Mark Doumas, had summited Mt. Lemmon in the past, but never on his bent. He was up for the challenge. Wayne Cullop, President of GABA, also a bent rider, offered to crew for us, carrying water. We had a successful and joyful summit in 4'-40".
Mark Doumas at me at the Sawmill Cafe at Summerhaven
My second summit was in mid-November 2012 with my cycling buddies, Mark and Jeff from Wilmette. Mid November was likely the latest in the calendar year we could expect to summit before roads up-top might be closed because of snow. (Tucson get less than 12" of precipitation/year, Summerhaven 57", a mix of rain and snow). Kirk crewed for us. Good thing, too, because we had a major sleet and hail storm up top.

My second summit was in 4'-20"

1" of hail

Jeff, me, and Mark atop our condo back where it was 30+ degrees warmer than atop the mountain

My third summit was Monday, October 28th. I dubbed it "The Bent Assault On Mt. Lemmon. There were to have been 4 of us, all riding bents, all basically the same bike, 3 Bacchetta CA2's and one Bacchetta Ti Aero. Three of the riders would be traveling into Tucson, 2 from Phoenix, 1 from Prescott. As it turned out, pretty much at the last minute, the three travelers were unable to come, so I rode it alone, with Kirk being my trusty crew.

Having posted a 4-40 and a 4-20 before, I thought a 4-10 would be a reasonable projection.

I kid you not, I posted a 3:04 elapsed time, a 2:59 ride time. Where in the world did that come from??????

Best I can figure is:
  • weather was not an issue
  • new-to-me Zipp wheels (thank you Dan Fallon)
  • familiarity with the road
  • riding solo, meaning not feeling responsible to make certain others in my 'party' were enjoying the climb
  • no seizures or other body issues and no mechanicals
  • a seasoned crew member (thank you Kirk)
So, a stellar Mt. Lemmon climb, indeed!

Ooops! Another Seizure

After my first-ever seizure August 27th and after all the diagnostics and treatment planning was complete, I began my required driving restriction (gotta be seizure free for 90 days in AZ, but in AZ it's the honor system. No required reporting by the seizure owner or doc). 

October 6th, a Sunday, I decided to go out and ride one of my favorite stretches of desert: Park Link. Getting to Park Link is on a rather routine section of The Loop + a long stretch on the I-10 Frontage Road. But the 18 miles of 1-2% climb to the T-intersection with AZ Rt 79 is worth the 32 mile approach. My 40 mile return home would be via via Rt 79 and Rt 77 on heavily traveled, high speed roads until the last 11 miles which are bike-friendly and part of my regular Tucson routes.

At about mile 40 into the ride I began to feel strange, weird, and I got a little scared. There is a toddlers' book called, "Are You My Mother?" about a little bird who fell out of its nest and went hopping around the woods asking a variety of animals if any of them was her mother. Eventually baby and mama found one another. Well, I'm so new to this world of seizures, and everyone's seizures seem to have such unique and individualized manifestations, I find myself asking myself: "Are you my seizure?" And, as I'm sure you know, everyone doesn't lose consciousness with all types of seizure activity, and if you're alone, how do you know if you did lose consciousness unless you hurt yourself or someone else or something?

I pushed on to the intersection of Park Link and Rt 79 and stared at Rt 79, its 55 mph Sunday afternoon-return from the weekend of fun by pack of thunderous motorcycles and other big boy toys. I would be sharing this space with these big guys in my little  2.5' shoulder right of the fog line. 

While I've ridden this route several times, that day, October 6th, I knew I couldn't do it. Best I can describe is there was a breach between my cognition and my motor skills. I pulled over into a  safe swath of desert rock and called Kirk and asked him if he could pick me up. He was most willing, non-judgmental, and scampered those 40 miles from home to my desert corner in about 45 minutes. 

We agreed I would not go on unaccompanied rides longer than 50 miles so my apex would be no more than 25 miles, making a pick up fairly reasonable, until I have been seizure free for 90 days.

The docs tweaked my seizure med, both the amount and the time of dosage; it's now one month and 4 days post second episode and, as far as I know, I've been seizure free, although I continue to experience "things" and find myself asking, "Are you my seizure?"

Since Kirk and I will be riding our bikes across Vietnam in January, my new driving eligibility date looks like it will be February 1st, upon our return.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

20 Hours In The ER

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 was quite like any other Tucson summer day: mid to upper 90’s, a little more humid than usual since we were still in Monsoon Season, with enough cloud cover to give a little break from the unrelenting sun.

Tuesday, August 27th I rode, as I do most every day, averaging about 40 miles/day 27 days/month. Today I would ride to Sabino Cycles with the intent of buying a pair of Specialized S-Works 2013 cycling shoes, grabbing a summer salad at the Epic Cafe right next to Sabino Cycles, and then scouting out a bike route from my house to Kino Stadium. Kirk and I would be riding to the Stadium two days hence to meet some friends for the Tucson Padres last ever home game. They would become, henceforth, the El Paso farm team. 

I accomplished that agenda fully.

I arrived home about 4:00, settled in at the kitchen island over my computer to catch up on emails, social networking, data entry from my ride all while goozling a couple of glasses of iced tea.

Kirk left about 4:15 to go to the gym and attend a meeting expecting to return about 8:15 to a home-cooked Indian dinner.

I was surprised to notice that somehow it had gotten to be about 6:15. I would need to hustle to get some dinner underway and get showered. 

Ingredients all prepared and showered by 7:15, I decided to do my exercises on the 2nd floor so I could keep my eye on some boiling water.

Water boiled, I got up to turn off the stove and that’s the last thing I remember.

I did know I didn’t feel good, although I can’t tell you what not feeling good means. I felt like I wasn’t thinking clearly, but didn’t and don’t know what that means. Decided I better sit down, and so I did. I sat down in a recliner in the living room and hoped Kirk would come home soon.

When he came home about 8:15 I told him 10 times I was confused and I thought I had taken a shower. I don’t remember saying it even once.

Kirk told me we were going to the hospital and I meekly complied, surprised he knew where to look for my shoes. 

He asked me on the way to the hospital (4 miles tops) if I remembered that I had picked him up at the airport the day before. 

I did not.

He asked me if I remembered where he had gone the preceding weekend. 

I did not.

He asked me if I knew where we were going next weekend, Labor Day, (we’d be going to Breckenridge, CO for a friend’s wedding). 

I did not.

He asked me if I knew what day it was. 

I did not.

Did I remember where I rode today?

I did not. 

I asked him who the President was. He told me it was Obama and that I had voted for him twice.

Having practiced most of the questions on the way to the hospital  that I knew I’d be asked as part of my Mental Status Exam that I’d be asked when we got to the ER, I was sure I would PASS with proverbial flying colors. 

I failed. We hadn’t practiced what year it was. When asked, the best I could come up with was I thought it was in the 20’s.

And so for the next 20 hours we were in the University of Arizona Medical Center’s ER with everything there is to be monitored, monitored. There were lab tests, a CT scan of my brain, an MRI and MRA of my brain, a Lumbar Puncture, traditional x-rays, and a clean bill of health. No diagnosis.

It’s reassuring to know I didn’t have a brain tumor, cerebral arterial disease, infections, or...

But it is not reassuring to not know who our President is and what year it is and yet be given a clean bill of health.

Three days later I used that route I scouted out on August 27th, to ride my bike to the U of A South Campus to the Neurology Clinic. They diagnosed me as having had a Transient Global Amnesic Episode (TGA), a phenomenon of unknown cause, that typically only happens once in a person’s life-time; usually happens to people between the ages of 60-80, equally often in men and women. Interestingly, two days later a NY Times reporter wrote about his experience with a TGAwhich sounded exactly like  own, replete with the repetitive questions and comments. 

The Neurologists recommended I have an EEG, the one test not done in the ER the night of Tuesday, August 27th and Wednesday, August 28th. No idea whether EEG’s are even done 24/7 as part of acute care. Anyhow, rode my bike back to the South Campus (10 miles one way) a couple of more days later for my EEG, fully expecting it to be 100% normal, as every other test had been. And, having no history of seizures, head injuries, or brain infections, why would I, or anyone suspect an abnormal EEG. Guess you could say I have had a pretty ordinary, uneventful head life. 

To say it was a surprise would be a gross understatement when I received a call from the Attending Neurologist’s secretary from the Neuro Clinic, two days after the EEG, who said, and I quote: “We got the results from your EEG and it was abnormal. You have a Complex Partial Seizure Disorder. The Neurologist wants you to take this medication. What is your preferred pharmacy?”

Knock me over x3! 

First gut punch: My EEG was abnormal 
Second gut punch: I have a seizure disorder
Third gut punch: to receive all of this news from a secretary 

This is not good medicine, true that.

Over the next 10-14 days I got to know my PCP real well; I found an Epileptologist (you guessed it, someone who specializes in Epilepsy) who will oversee my brain; I accepted the fact I will not be driving until I’ve been seizure-free for 90 days (actually not a big deal for me as I’ve driven maybe only 2x/month since we’ve lived in AZ, but nonetheless it’s a restriction I need to take seriously); and I’ve adjusted nicely to my anticonvulsant medication.

No one has said I can’t ride my bike, and everyone knows I do. (By the end of September, despite all the doctoring, I will have ridden over 1,200 miles). What it does mean, riding-wise, is I am more intentional about sharing my routes with Kirk before I leave home, and he is more intentional about keeping his phone nearby when I’m out on the road.

Well why, you ask, at age 67 and 10 months did I have a seizure now? I’ve been asking the same thing. And, yes, I did, indeed have a TGA, which can be triggered by seizure activity. Frankly, I feel more comfortable knowing where the TGA came from rather than that it just happened. I’m not an easy subscriber to “It just happened” for anything. Cause and effect, even a perfect storm of causes and effects, makes a lot more sense to me than, “It just happened.”

Here’s the part of this whole thing that’s been hard for me to accept graciously and gracefully. At least 5 times in this doctoring process I have heard statements like this:

  • Seizure thresholds decrease in the elderly.
  • I recommend you take this medication as it is more easily tolerated by the elderly.
  • I recommend you take this dose of this medication because of your age.

C’mon now! I frickin ride my bike 12,000 miles a year; I climb a minimum of 20 flights of stairs a day in my 3-story house, I’m registered for a 12-hr Time Trial in Palm Desert in early November (racing age 68) where I have a realistic shot at completing 200 miles in 12 hrs. Dammit, I may be Senior, but I’m not elderly. I know, it’s semantics, but it sure is reminiscent of the little bullying rhyme of early childhood: “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me.” I never got that when I was in grade school, because names hurt then and they hurt now. What I get called now is just different. 


Thanks to all of you who have been far more compassionate than the medical community who dubbed me “elderly”. I’m ready to get on with my life: my life of advocacy for cycling in Tucson, my life of being an active grandma with my 7 grandkids (heading to Eugene, OR in a couple of weeks), my life of leadership at our church, my life of knocking off riding goals like the Time Trial in Southern CA, Kirk’s and my bike tour across Viet Nam in January, and riding in 5 more states in the US in 2014. By the end of 2014 I will have just one more state to ride in to have ridden in all 50. What’s kind of funny is, that one last state is South Carolina. I should have ridden in that State in 2011 when Kirk and I drove for 99 days to get from Chicago to Tucson. But, I broke my foot in Georgia and was off the bike for 6 weeks when we drove through South Carolina. 

Oh well, good reason to go back to the Southeast to pick up SC in 2015.

Thanks for caring, thanks for listening.

Monday, August 19, 2013

No Red Bull, Just Bull

One of the pleasures of living in Tucson has been the opportunity of sharing some two-wheeled miles with my son Daniel who has lived here for about 9 years. He is in that insanely busy decade of life (30's) when family, career, graduate school and more graduate school are nearly all consuming. (I remember well that decade of my own now 30 odd years ago). But yesterday was a special day for Daniel and me. His wife and 2 young children were out of town and we grabbed the opportunity for a long ride. 

We opted for an 80 miler heading down to Green Valley by way of Mission Rd., breakfast at Mama's Kitchen, and a Tour of the Titan II Missile Museum just 4 miles from breakfast, before catching an awesome tailwind and heading back to Tucson. 
Link to our Route from our MeetUp location:

I just love Mission Rd south of Valencia. I love that I'm on the San Xavier Indian Reservation; I love the 20 mile steady climb (about 1,700' in 20 miles; I love the virtual absence of traffic; I love the dense desert vegetation of Chollas, Palo Verdes, and Prickly Pears; I love the free range cattle I get to see nearly every ride; and am saddened by the inevitable road kill, this time rattlesnake and jackrabbit. While one of the cattle we saw was very dead, it was not a victim of roadkill; disease or dehydration I would imagine.

I have always wanted to visit the Titan II Missile Museum; geez, its original silo is only 15 miles (by car) south of Tucson. Growing up in the Cold War era under the roof of distrusting alarmist parents who built a bomb shelter in our basement, I wanted to understand this period of our history a bit better.

The Museum is underwhelming at first blush--about 12 exhibit cases, a gift shop and a ticket seller. Makes sense, though, as the missile, the control center, and more are all subterranean.  The docents, were, however, most accommodating allowing Daniel and me to bring our bikes inside for safekeeping during the hour-long tour since I foolishly forgot a bike lock for us. 

Turns out back then there were 3 sites for these ICBMs in the US: Tucson, Kansas, and Arkansas. For 20 years, basically 1962-82, two officers and two non-coms worked at the control panel 24/7. They were assigned to the Davis-Monthan AFB and commuted the 30 miles to and from the AFB and the Silo. The control panels they monitored, now 50 years old, are frankly scary simple looking given what their job was to monitor. 

I found myself having those same kind of butterflies in my stomach thinking about these highly trained USAF folks staring at the silent lights on the control panel 24/7 for 20 years. They were the same kind of butterflies I get when I've got motorists bunched behind me on a road where I can't get over to give them room to pass. How long will they be patient? How soon before they will just jump, take a risk, attempt to pass putting me and many at risk? 

The big buzz phrase was Peace Through Deterrence. Sounds a little euphemistic to me, but apparently it was effective since none of the ICBMs were launched with payload. 

It was good to hear that after the missiles were "decommissioned" as warheads, they were used to launch satellites of various kinds into space.

Consider a visit if you're in town.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fireweed Videos

Here are 2 links to professionally developed videos of Fireweed 2013.

Fireweed Part 2

There are two cameo appearances of me in Part 1, and one of Michelle. 

You'll see a couple of shots of Alex, a 9 years old wearing an Alaska State Flag jersey, who rode a total of 72 miles over two days to Valdez.

You'll also see several shots of Lew Meyer wearing a Grand PAC Master jersey. He's 79 this year and has raced RAAM most recently on the Grand PAC Master 4-Man Team in 2008, 2009, and 2012.

I bumped into Lew riding around in Anchorage after Fireweed. Unfortunately he had to DNF his 400 Fireweed race because of a mechanical.

Lew's a legend.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Yes, Pay It Forward; It's The Only Way

Michelle's and my Alaskan Adventure would have had a whole different character to it if it had not been for Barry and Joyce Weiss who live in Tucson in the winter and Anchorage in the summer. My chance encounter meeting them at our Bike Club's (GABA)November, 2012 was only because Barry was wearing his Fireweed Tee-shirt. The rest is history.

Their knowledge and experience of all things "how-to" made our planning this trip so smooooth. Their gracious, unending hospitality of chauffeuring us to and from airports, train stations, REI; letting us lodge in their spare bedroom for about half the nights we were in Alaska when not "on tour" to Seward, Denali, Fireweed, Valdez, and Whittier; keeping an eagle eye on the weather reports; and filling us full of AK stories. Their eagerness to show us their favorite routes by bike and by hike was nothing short of inspiring.

Thank you, Barry and Joyce!
Joyce atop Flatop Mountain with Michelle

Barry and Joyce
Barry and Joyce live even closer to Anchorage's Multi-use Path than I do to mine in Tucson. I see lots of lizards, ground squirrels, occasional Rattle and Gopher Snakes, Cooper's Hawks, Mourning Doves, and an occasional Javelina. But on their path you can almost expect to see Moose. I had to learn to not get into my focused Hammer-at-all-costs speeds because around the next bend you were likely to encounter a big one right smack dab in the middle of your path. You shall always yield to the Moose. Just a couple weeks before we arrived someone was stomped on my a Moose for failing to to yield.

Getting ready to say farewell to Alaska

Packed and ready to fly home
I will be keeping my eyes open for ways to pay my gratitude to Barry and Joyce forward.

Fireweed 5 Minute Video

Great professionally made 5 minute video of a 4-man team of 19 year olds who came in 3rd overall in the 200 mile Team Division. Definitely worth the watch HERE.

Fireweed: It Is What It Is

Word has had it that Fireweed is a TOUGH ride; after all, the 400 mile version is a RAAM qualifier. The words, "Thompson Pass" had put the fear of Alpe d' Huez in me, and maybe in others, too. 

The phrase: "It is what it is" is quite calming for me. 

It is what it is, just keep peddling and discover what's there. Quite often what's there is way less than what I had imagined. And so I left Sheep Mountain Lodge to discover some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable on a bike ride: verdant mountains whose tops poked through the clouds; waterfalls whose voice and lacy, ethereal beauty could bring tears to your eyes; warbling, roaring mountain streams that reminded me I was no longer in the desert; and cloud/fog so dense a car length ahead was the best visibility would get for several miles. Oh, and lest I forget, the glacial chill that penetrated every layer I had on when perched on top of Thompson Pass. 

This was not a hard ride, nor was it an easy ride, but it will always be remembered as a joy to ride.

Let the pictures tell the Fireweed story. 
Our Sheep Mountain Cottage
A rest stop at Mile 35 or so
Grizzly's even had a Red Bull at a decent price.

Worthington Glacier about 3 miles from the top of Thompson Pass
Top of the Pass: 2,678' elevation
Michelle can't pass one of these signs without saying: "Trucks on Cheese"
Bridal Veil Falls at the bottom of Thompson Pass, 22 miles to Valdez.
Almost there!!
Valdez finish

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fireweed Logistics

I was talking to a non-cycling friend and told her we had ridden Fireweed. She asked why we called it fireweed. Guess that's a really good question if you're not familiar with the ubiquitous plant that blankets Alaska in summer or are not listening to the regular chatter of cyclists about rides on their Life List.

Well, above is the plant, and below is a link to the Ride (click on the picture), which can also be ridden as a Race.

Sometimes I've been asked "How did you first know about Fireweed?" I have no idea. Seems I've always been knowing about Fireweed and hoping that one day I'd be fortunate enough to ride it. 

2013 would be the year.

Fireweed is rich with logistics, especially if you are coming from "the outside" (outside of Alaska) Actually, there were 6 from Europe, 1 from Canada, and 70 from the lower 48.
  1. The start is at Sheep Mountain Lodge 107 miles mostly east of Anchorage. 
  2. How do we, outsiders, get to Sheep Mountain Lodge? 
  3. How do we transport or bikes (recumbents with a longer wheelbase than standard uprights) from Anchorage to Sheep Mountain Lodge?
  4. The Fireweed Course is 200 miles one-way from Sheep Mountain Lodge to Valdez. So, even if we were to rent a car, we would not be coming back to Sheep Mountain Lodge, so....
  5. I should add we could have opted to return to Sheep Mountain Lodge from Valdez by turning the 200 mile ride/race into a 400 mile ride/race, but that would require a SAG/support/crew vehicle and we didn't have one of those.
  6. Fireweed is an unsupported ride, meaning you're on your own for repairs, food, clothing, etc. Of the 779 riders/racers of the 2013 Fireweed all but about 6 had a support vehicle with crew. Michelle and I and the other 4 or so, carried our provisions on our bikes for the duration of the ride, the day before the ride, and what we would need to get us home by Ferry from Valdez to Whittier, and by train from Whittier to Anchorage.
Barry and Joyce continued their consummate hosting of us by offering to drive us from Anchorage to Sheep Mountain Lodge. They would overnight in the area and then do a day-hike to Gun Sight Mountain. I had bought two Thule trays to affix on to the roof-top rails on their Subaru to rack our bents. We would then then overnight in Valdez, take the 7:00 a.m. Ferry from Valdez to Whittier, and the 6:40 p.m. Train from Whittier back to Anchorage. 

Now the ball would be in our court to ride the 200 miles from Sheep Mountain Lodge to Valdez in two days, overnighting 8.5 miles south of Glennallen, near Copper Center, in a delightful Bed and Breakfast, Sawing Logzz.

Sawing Logzz


Michelle took this pix. No idea who, how, or what it is, but it seems fitting for assailants on a bike path.

The fear and intense feeling behind the voice issuing this warning reminded me of my Grandfather's shouted declaration in the mid-1950's, "Put Down That Pitchfork!" But, my Grandfather was deep in sleep, dreaming about an encounter with a sizable farm animal.

But tonight the heralderer of this warning was a Native American, 30-something woman who was breathless, verging on panic, and desperately in need of a light for her cigarette. 

Michelle and I are not in the habit of carrying cigarette lighters, not exactly first on our list of on-the-bike-emergency tools, unless you're camping and hoping to build a fire, but not from tinder. While Michelle tended to the distraught woman, I started re-routing us away from the DON'T GO DOWN THERE 1.75 mile remote multi-use path that would connect us to the 3.5 mi multi-use path back to Barry and Joyce's house. 

The woman reported several males had attempted to assault her in the woods. Now it shouldn't be so hard to re-route to the Weisses via surface streets except that a) it was 10:45 p.m. and we had just returned from Seward by train (but it was still very light out), b) we were tired, c) we had never ridden in Anchorage and didn't have a clue where we were, where we were going, and how the city streets all fit together. We did have our GPS enabled iPhones, but for whatever reason I navigated us through several miles of wrong directions and turns resulting in it taking us twice as long and twice as many miles to get home.

Home at last

Glad the woman escaped her assailants and hoping she's on the emotional mend. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Anchorage to Denali National Park is 239 miles, about 4-1/2 hours going through Sara Palin's hometown of Wasilla, and Talkeetna, sort of an Alaskan version of Arizona's Tombstone, except Talkeetna has better Espresso shops.

We stayed in a "Dwarf House" whose other name is The Perch, so named because it was on the perch of a mountain. But I kept thinking we were talking about the fish called Perch and that was very confusing since we were in Cod, Halibut, and Salmon country. That said, these friendly Moose directed us to our Dwarf House.

This is our Dwarf House; notice how light it is outside and it was 11:00 p.m.

But the inside was extra special:

Michelle's bed is up top, mine on the bottom

Signature Denali! Oh and we saw bear (in the binocs) Dall Sheep, Eagles.

Moose abound

A 0.8mi hike up 1,000'
Denali National Park is 6 million acres ( the size of New Hampshire) and as such is only the 3rd largest National Park in Alaska! Denali is a place where you need to go with your backpack and plan to immerse yourself in her wondrous beauty for many days.

We did the best we could given our time constraints. We took a Shuttle Bus 64 miles (8 hours) into the Park. Our bus driver has been a Park employee for 22 years so had great stories and info, like:
  • Park sled dogs cover 3,000 miles per winter
  • Bull Moose antlers are 5' wide
  • Only 20% of baby moose survice--good feast for the Grizzlies
  • Rainfall 15"; snow fall 80"
  • Forest fires are left to burn unless they are threatening an important physical structure. So far this year 1 million acres have burned
  • 15% of Denali National Park (DNP) is covered by glaciers
  • Anywhere from 50-2,500 Snow Shoe Hare / sq mile
  • Only 49 wolves in DNP and 300 Grizzlies
  • 1,152 hikers have attempted to summit Denali (20, 322') so far in 2013. 700+ summited. Averages 17-27 days to summit, winds can be 127 mph, temps can be -43
  • Denali is only visible 25% of the time
We were lucky enough to see it back lit from Anchorage as the sun was setting. It's a treasure.

Denali on the right


The Train Depot: Fairbanks 356 miles; Whittier 62.5 miles, and Seward 114 miles. Elevation 38 feet
The original plan was to leave very early on July 5th from a grocery store parking lot in Anchorage and ride a 200k Perm to Seward. Completion of this ride would tick off another item on Michelle's Life List getting her ever closer to earning her RUSA Explorer Award. But, July 5th woke up rainy, cold, with no thought of improving. Plus, there was tell of road construction, etc., etc. en route. So, Barry loaded our bikes on his car and took us to the Anchorage Train Depot in hope that we could get on with no prior reservation. It was our lucky day. 

A portion of the Alaska Railroad Route: the portion we traveled twice, once from Seward, and once from Whittier
Opting out of the 200k was one of those "Plan-but-don't-plan-the-outcome" kind of things. Had we ridden we would have been wet, cold, and tired with no interest in exploring the quaintness of Seward: discovering Ray's Seafood, Nature's Nectars (an amazing Espresso shop on the main drag), riding around town on a folk-art mural treasure hunt, taking a boat ride to Fox Island and seeing Puffins, Humpback and Orca Whales, Eagles, Sea Otters and more; touring the Sea Life Museum because it was too wet and cold to outdoors thing, and riding to Exit Glasier in the rain.

We learned the operational definition of "socked in" when the clouds were so enveloping we could see mountain tops and house above the clouds! We learned that Alaskans are truly made of a different metabolism, certainly different from me. I'm fully bundled and covered while the locals are walking around in tank tops, cutoffs, and eating ice cream while the thermometer read 42.
Mountain above the cloud

Our train en route to Seward

Two of the 20 or so murals

Socked in. There are actually mountains behind those boats


Yes, it's 42

Exit Glacier to the right behind the trees. Yes, it's cold and rainy

10 years ago the glacier covered everything you see in the foreground

One of many Tufted Puffins