Monday, July 2, 2012

Summing it Up--Our Biking Vacation

Six months ago I would not have even conceived of this biking trip.  A year ago I would have said, "No way, I can't bike those trails!"  And even more so, I wouldn't have thought the kids could do it--or would even want to. What happened to take us from "No way" to "Yes!  Let's do a 10-day Alaska biking trip!"

The kids are both teenagers now.  During each stage of their development we've had to reinvent our family, so to speak.  We have to tweak our vacations to fit their need for adventure, level of fitness, interests and needs.  At the same time we have to balance it with Douglas and I, our needs (yes! for adventure!), time, budget, level of fitness and interests.  We've been on the Alaska Highway 5 times in 5 years of being in Alaska.  Been there, done that, and though it could be explored more fully, it is a long haul and gas is stunningly expensive along it.  So in contemplating an Alaska trip, I tried to think of something that would 'grab' the kids.  Aurora pooh-poohed mountain biking, said it was too easy and suggested we do the entire 38 miles of the Resurrection Pass in one day.  A few days into our vacation she ate her words, and she realized that she loves to mountain bike.  It is challenging, a bit dangerous, provides an awesome adrenaline and endorphin rush, and she gets dirty!

It has been over a week since we've been back home and I am itching to get out and bike again.  But what did I learn from all this?  What were my observations?  Here are some thoughts:

All geared up and ready to go for our first ride on the Russian Lakes Trail
Gear:  The amount of gear needed seems intimidating:  bikes, helmets, biking gloves and shorts, hydration packs.  In our case, multiply by 4.  And then add accessories for the bikes.  Douglas and I were still wearing our helmets from high school (want to guess how old those are??!!), but our biking shorts had long since disintegrated so we had some investments to make before we could go on this vacation.  I wouldn't do it without padded biking shorts--that made all the difference in comfort.  And we just wore our junkiest shoes because they ended up getting completely muddy.   An odometer is an investment I highly recommend.  It was very helpful to know how far we'd biked, and the new odometers have miles per hour in addition to mileage.  What we have discovered recently in looking at bikes is that Douglas and I are on bikes that are waaaaaay to big for us.  Doug rides a 23" (meant for people about 6'4"), and I ride a 21".  We should be on 19" bikes probably.  So we were hauling around a lot of extra bike and lost a degree of maneuverability in the process.
Gear check:  Wheels get rattled loose, junk gets caught in the gears, mud clogs up the brakes.  Every so often when we were on the trail we'd call out "Gear check!" and we would all check our wheels for tightness and basically look over things to make sure all was well.  This is so important, and I'm glad we did it as about every third time we checked there was something that needed adjusting.  My only next time for this is that we know how to repair bike problems a little better.  We had some problems that we had to work through on the trail that bike repair/maintenance tips would have helped.

Food:  We were expending huge amounts of energy during our bikes and hikes.  Having substantial lunches plus snacks was an essential part of enjoying ourselves.  Though I kind of felt like bear bait, we generally had some sort of high protein lunch:  ham or tuna sandwiches or sausage and cheese.  It has to be food you want to eat.  The last day when we climbed Hope Point all we had was dry stuff:  chips and crackers and granola bars.  They weren't appetizing so the kids didn't eat much.  That affected the quality of the hike.  When out there I was so aware of food as fuel.  In our sedentary culture we often lose sight of the connection between food and what it is really doing, beyond comfort and satisfaction:  fueling our bodies.  When exercising hard for 3-5 hours a day I became so aware of my dependence on my fuel and the ability of that food to actually "fuel" me.

Water:  Hydration packs are the best!  Denver has a 3 liter pack and I have a 2 liter pack.  Douglas and Aurora have water bottle holders on their bikes.  Everyone had to have their own water.  As the week wore on and the weather got warmer (ooooh-60 degrees!), we took more and more water each day.  Normally when we hike mountains we have a bunch of waterbottles and we shove them in the backpack and they are so clunky.  Having the hydration packs allowed us to take a lot of water plus food and extra clothes.  We also had one backpack that we dedicated to rain gear, an emergency kit and bike repair items.

Bear:  In a week of biking, we really didn't see a lot of fresh bear scat.  The Russian Lakes Trail had quite a bit of fresh scat, and that was our first ride when we were still naive newbies.  Our bikes make noise, but usually we don't talk a lot while biking, so I would whistle when I had enough breath to.  I admit I was particularly nervous when we did the downhills because we were going so fast and going around curves and could easily startle a bear on the trail.  We didn't have a gun or bear spray with us.  Were we dumb?  I don't know.  

Point to point:  We'd taken 2 cars on this trip, hoping to do some point-to-point bike rides, since all the passes are point-to-point.  However, the shortest one would have been 23 miles (Johnson Pass), and our conditioning level wasn't there yet.  So we settled for out-and-back, which was fine too because it was a bit more predictable (when we turned around we knew just what was coming!).  Plus, every trail seemed to be uphill, so when we turned around they were all downhill.  Be a bummer to miss out on the downhill!

Gear, gear, gear!

Will we do this again?  Yes, in a flash!  We all enjoyed it, and it will only get better as Denver gets in better shape and as both the kids develop skill and technique.  Our AK biking adventure was a success!  And I discovered that "Yes, I can do it!"