And Now Winter!

December 18th, 2019

I have done a few overnight trips so far this year, all to cabins in the White Mountain NRA. I love the Whites – it is nearby, has great trails, and a wonderful cabin system. So when I received a last minute invitation to Windy Gap cabin I jumped at the offer. I was even more excited after calling BLM to see if they had any information on the trail conditions to learn they had just broken it out. Hurrah!

Windy Gap cabin is 30 miles from the Colorado Creek trail head I came in on, and the ride in was scenic, but a bit slow.

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There were tons of caribou tracks and more wolf tracks than I think I had seen in my entire life so far. It is great to see such a healthy ecosystem. Near Beaver creek I saw a small herd of caribou who took off soon after seeing us.. fortunately Eddy the dog didn’t chase them.

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It was much colder than I expected , the forecast was for a high of 16f, and a low near zero. It turned out more like a low of -20f, and a high of zero, with a few sections of brisk wind. I wasn’t dressed quite warm enough, but I survived, and it was a good wake-up to winter riding conditions.

Early winter Windy Gap

The trail was mostly in very good shape. The section from wolf run cabin to windy gap had been broken out just a few days before, and it was in great shape for biking.

Near the cabin the only crossing of Fossil Creek was a bit iffy, with shelf ice hanging a foot or so above the creek, which was maybe a foot to a foot and a half deep. No big deal on skis or a bike, but it could be an issue for a snowmachine, as it could be hard to get it the front out to make it out of the creek if it goes in…

Early winter Windy Gap

The evening in the cabin was pretty mellow. The host arrived on skis a few hours after I did, but took only slightly longer than me to get in. On skis this was an achievement as the conditions were less than ideal for skiing – hardcore!

In the morning we headed out, enjoying the nice walk up the hill, then the long downhill to Wolf Run cabin..

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There was a few miles of tussocks and low snow cover outside Wolf Run cabin. Maybe not the best skiing, but it was fine for biking. Though I was a bit worried about getting a flat..

Early winter Windy Gap

The moon was amazing!

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Thanks for reading, I hope everyone is enjoying winter!

Winter begins..

October 8th, 2019

It looks like it is here, hurrah!

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I had heard that the White Mountains NRA had a bunch of snow so with a Monday free I decided to go check it out.

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There was a surprising amount of snow, and the trail was mostly in very good shape.

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I hope it is here to stay!

Moose Creek Cabin with Molly

October 8th, 2019

Last winter our family picked up a fat bike for the twins from a family friend (thanks Amy!). Alas, one bike for two kids is a recipe for unhappiness, and it was slightly too small for Molly (the younger but taller twin).  So this bike became Lizzy’s (the older but shorter twin), and the hunt for another fat bike began. After much bargain shopping we decided to build one from scratch using the extra bike parts I had laying around and a frame we found on discount from Fatback Bikes.

Molly was interested in building it up, so over the course of several evenings she put it together (minus the headset and cranks – I don’t have the tools for those).

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I think she found the experience to be pretty rewarding, and hopefully it will set her up for better understanding of how to fix it (yay!).

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I was pleasantly surprised by the frame – it is one of Fatback bike’s rhinos, their aluminum framed “budget” fatbike. Their latest frames are very refined – I am impressed!

Shortly after Molly’s bike was finished the twins ended up with a Friday off from school, and I pitched biking out to a Whites cabin Friday night. Lizzy, alas, had a climbing competition Saturday morning and couldn’t go. Molly really really wanted to go ride her new bike, so Nancy and Lizzy stayed home to climb. Molly and I headed out to Moose Creek cabin in the Whites. Nancy unfortunately had to work on Friday, and got the short end of the stick.

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The ride out the cabin was fun, but a bit muddy. Molly had a “getting mud on her new bike” meltdown, but otherwise seemed to have a great time.

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Eddy and Shiloh (the dogs) also enjoyed the trip, and Eddy in particular was excited to see snow again.

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He is a little over a year old now, and very bouncy. This was his first overnight cabin trip – something that I hope he will do a lot of in the future – and he behaved himself admirably.

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The evening at the cabin was spent playing Go Fish (the only card game we could remember the rules for), (Not actually true, we had to look up the rules on Dad’s cell phone – Molly) reading, and goofing off.

In the morning thanks to a hard frost the ride out was much less muddy.

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I am looking forward to many family bike (and ski!) trips this winter. Hopefully more snow comes soon!!

Thanks Molly for editing this blog post! 

The Hot Springs Trifecta

August 28th, 2019

Several years ago, some friends and I, inspired by Ed Plumb’s epic trip to Dall Hotsprings , talked about using the Kanuti river for a longer trip looping back to the Haul Road.  After a bit of discussion, the plan morphed into a three hot springs trip. First, float the Kanuti River from the Haul Road, stopping at Kanuti hot springs for a soak.  Then float down the Kanuti river for another 20 miles and hike to the Upper Ray hot springs. Finally, walk or float to the Lower Ray hot springs and then back out to the road.  It seemed viable, but while I was aware people had floated the Kanuti River below the traditional take-out for Kanuti hot springs, I had not talked to them about it. While the walking looked good on the maps who knows how it would be in person.   Early this June, Ed, Matt, Chris, and I headed out to see if we could pull it off.  It was going to be awesome — a new section of river, two new hotsprings, wahoo!   Heath and Patrick joined us for the first leg, floating to the first hot springs, Kanuti, and shuttled Chris’s truck to our take-out (thanks guys!). 

We left town fairly early in Chris’s “fry truck”.  (Chris and his wife Robbin heat their house and power their truck with used oil from local restaurants.)  We drove the Kanuti River, and after a bit of futzing around, put it and began the adventure, yahoo!  

Hot Springs Trifecta

The water in the Kanuti River was high, and the float was fun and fast.   The day was beautiful, with lots of sun and a brief rain squall that mostly avoided us. 

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The birds of prey were out in force, and we saw quite a few large raptors and a few owls.   The hours sped by, and soon we were at the take-out for hotsprings number one. Kanuti has had a problem bear for the last few years, but fortunately we didn’t see it.  Alas, it was a beautifully hot day, and unfortunately that meant the hot springs were a bit too hot to soak in for very long. On the upside, it was great to see the field of grass and wild chives surrounding the hot springs in the summer again.  It feels like a green oasis, and smells unique. 

We still had a long float ahead of us, so we said goodbye to Patrick and Heath, and continued floating down the river.  The Kanuti to our takeout was an interesting river – mostly pretty mellow, with a few splashy sections with large rounded rocks.  If the water was a lot higher, those splashy sections would have been a handful. At one point we came upon a cow moose with a young calf in the middle of the river, and we tried to gently sneak by, but they kept going downstream slightly ahead of us — until a black bear charged out of the brush on one of the banks and attempted to snatch the calf.   Much to our happiness and the bear’s sadness, the cow and calf escaped, leaving the bear splashing in the stream. It climbed out bedraggled and wet, and then disappeared into the brush along the bank. Matt is a biologist for the National Park Service, and explained the cow was probably aware of the bear and had been sticking to the river so that if the bear had attacked it could have used its longer legs to stomp the swimming bear and gain the upper hand.  Much to everyone’s happiness (besides the bear’s, I expect) our involvement hadn’t driven the cow or calf into the bear and caused a disaster… 


As we neared the ridge on which we were going to begin our hike, it soon became apparent that the nice campsite overlooking we Kanuti River wasn’t there.  Instead the bank sloped somewhat steeply up to the ridge.. We spent a few hot hours hiking up to the first flat spot we could find, at the high point of the ridge.  

Matt, happy to enjoy some cold snow after a long climb in his dry suit..

Matt had packed a few beers, and they were enjoyed in style, with a view. Thanks Matt! 

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The next day, we hiked over to Tokusatatquaten Lake, a beautiful lake with awesome sand beaches and really nice walking. 

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It is in a truly wonderful spot, and if we had been faster it would have been a great place to camp.

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Alas, it was late morning, so we pushed on, enjoying great ridge hiking and neat tors while a thunderstorm passed off in the distance. 

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Chris, retying his shoe after a tumble in the alder..

We had planned to camp at the Upper Ray hot springs, but a mile or so of dense alder slowed us down enough that we camped on a ridge above it. In the middle of the night, I woke to wolves howling in the valley below us.    

In the morning we zoomed down to the Upper Ray, enjoying awesome walking.  We saw our first sign of humans since leaving Kanuti, in the form of a survey cut.   We followed a hot stream of water through a dense patch of cow parsnip (the northernmost patch I have ever seen!) to where the water came out of a bluff into a neat pond. 

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The water was hot, and very refreshing, with minimal sulphur smell. Alas, we couldn’t spend all day there, and we headed for what we hoped to be a shortish day to the Lower Ray.   Ed had been here once before, and had hiked on the south side of the creek, and said the hiking was pretty bad. Instead, we tried to take game trails on the north side of the creek.. It mostly had good walking, but it was very indirect.  After several hours of averaging under a mile an hour in a straight line we gave up, and put in and tried floating. The Upper Ray is deeply incised in silt banks, so it was sort of like paddling through a mud canyon. And it was muddy. Everyone else seemed able to keep mud out of their boat, but I wasn’t, and by the end of the day my boat weighed a ton with all the extra mud in it.   I made a serious tactical error and left most of my food in my pack, which was stuffed into my boat, and I only had 2 candy bars for most of the day.. By late afternoon I was full-on hangry. Fortunately, Ed took pity on me, and gave me some more food to tide me over. Eventually we made it to the Lower Ray hot springs – hurrah!

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The Lower Ray hot springs is a neat place. The hot water comes out of a gravel bank, and flows right into the Ray River.  It had by far the least alge I have ever seen in a hot spring. Alas, it also had cow parsnip. The camping was great, too — a heated gravel bar, how can anyone beat that! And ever better, there was an old cabin across the creek. I love old rusty stuff, and this cabin was full of it — some old, some new.. It looked like it had been visited somewhat recently, but alas was a bit run down..

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The final day, we floated out to the road.  This section of the Ray had several sections of class II-ish rapids.  They were just bouncy enough to be fun, but not very threatening. By late afternoon, we made it to our takeout, and after a short but steep climb to the road, we were at the truck, and heading home. 

The upper and lower Ray hot springs are unique and well worth visiting.  I am already scheming ways to get back there. 


Thanks for the company Ed, Matt, Patrick, Heath, and Chris!

Our route

Chena Hot Springs to Eagle on the Yukon Quest trail

July 17th, 2019

Preface – I have a bit of a trip write-up backlog now, and am finally getting this trip written up, over a year later. Sigh..

The Iditarod (and the “race” on the same trail, the Iditarod Trail Invitational) gets lots of press and interest, but there is another long sled dog race in Alaska, the Yukon Quest, that receives a bit less attention, but has a reputation for being remote, cold, and hard. 

In 2017 Jeff Oatley and Heather Best biked it near the tail end of the mushers, and I watched them with envy – it looked like a great snow bike tour!

Other folks have biked it, though not (to my knowledge anyway ) recently. I think Pat Irwin and Mike Curiak did in the early 2000s on semi-fat bikes, as did Andy Sterns, so this isn’t new. 

In 2018 things aligned such that I was able to do a portion of the route with a friend David, from Chena Hot Springs to Eagle, which is about 250 miles if we skipped the section of the trail on Birch Creek (slow, winding, and really cold).

The ride was awesome fun, though cold, windy, and remote. 
We started off with Rosebud and Eagle summits… 

Meredith Mapes on Rosebud
David, climbing the last bit of Rosebud summit
Looking down from Rosebud..
Heading down..
Winter single track, heading to Birch Creek
Heading up Eagle Summit just after dark

Then spent the night in Central, enjoying the last burgers and showers we were to see for 5 days. The next day we took the road over to Circle..

The road between Central and Circle

It was much hiller than I expected, and the downhills were petty cold at the -20f to -30f weather. When we arrived at Circle a photographer told us it had been -58f on Birch Creek, which caused a bit of a freakout, as our next leg had us riding up the Yukon River, a pretty cold place. After a bit of inreach texting back and forth with some weather folks, we headed out, pretty sure those seeing -58f were either confused or found a black hole sun cooled spot. 

This area in Alaska gets strong inversions, so low spots can be particularly cold. Alas, the Yukon river is pretty low..

The first night on the river we spent in “Brian’s Cabin”, a neat but run down shack, and in the morning we were welcomed by sub -40f weather. For the rest of the trip we tried to hit the trail at 6am, well before sunrise at 9:30, because I have always felt it is way easier to head out in the dark and cold looking forward to a warm(er) sunrise, than it is to set out in the sun, looking forward to a cold(er) sunset. Until the last day near Eagle, we saw mornings in the sub -40f, and mid day highs of -20f to -30f, sometime accompanied by stiff headwinds – it was cold!

Just as the sun rose we ran into the red lantern, camped out on the river. She had broken her headlamp, and camped when daylight ran out in a cold little hollow in the river. Quest mushers are amazingly tough..

Jennifer Campeau, getting ready to leave as daylight finally arrives.

The next three days we rode up the river, to Eagle, spending the night at Slaven’s a historic roadhouse staffed by a horde of National Park Service folks, and with a family in a giant octagon log cabin. I had been told the river was scenic, but I had dismissed this as unlikely, as I have spent a bit of time on the lower Yukon, which is wide, flat, and boring. I was wrong – it was fantastically beautiful! Alas, it was too cold to get very many photos (or any good ones at all ).. 

This section of the trail is very remote. On the 160 miles of river we traveled, we saw the Yukon Quest trail breakers once, the red lantern once, and no one else on the trail until just outside Eagle. There are a few families that live on the last 40 miles, and they were very welcoming. 

Wood island brownie stop..

At our last stop on the trail, at Trout Creek, we stopped and talked to Mike who runs a “hospitality stop” there in a little cabin he owns. Mike said over the years he has had three groups on bikes stop by stop by in the last 20 years. 

The final 30 miles into Eagle were a slog into a really stiff headwind, on bare glare ice in -10f weather. We arrived to a nearly deserted town, and it took an hour or so to find the place we stayed at. For most of the trip I was regretting my tire choice of a D5 on the back, and a Wrathchild on the front, as we had nice firm trail conditions and the Wrathchild rolls really, really slow on cold hard snow, but the last few hours I was amazingly thankful for the more aggressive studs and grip. 

This was a really fun, but very hard adventure! I have biked the Iditarod trail to Nome three times, and to McGrath three times, and this was a fair bit harder. Perhaps I was just lucky and had good trail conditions (I have been told this countless times), but the combination of shorter days and low sun angles means it is pretty cold and never really warms up, and the it is very remote.

Thanks for the company David!

AlaskAcross 2019

June 25th, 2019

It was near midnight, and Ned and I had just dropped down to an old road, flanked by huge thickets of alder.  It was like walking in a tunnel, but I was oh so excited to finally be walking on a firm surface again after hours of tundra and tussock walking.   As we made our way through the leafy tunnel I could just barely pick out an old camping trailer that has been taken over by the brush. As we got closer I noticed a weird grunting groan was coming from it.  

I was starting to panic, thinking it was a bear huffing at us.  I started shouting in an attempt to scare it off, and grabbed some rocks to start chucking in case something came rushing out.  Ned, perhaps more wisely, shouted “Mark, is that you?”, thinking that perhaps Mark Ross, the AlaskAcross “promoter” who had taken a route around this patch of brush, was playing a practical joke on us.  After a long minute of looking in the brush, and realizing the noise wasn’t changing regardless of our shouting or a rock or two chucked, I moved around until I could peer into the trailer. Inside, a big porcupine was chewing on the floor in a loud but very non-threatening way.   Crisis averted, we headed down the trail with an extra adrenaline powered skip in our step. 


AlaskAcross is a local point-to-point human powered unofficial “race”.  It was traditionally from Chena Hot Springs to Circle Hot Springs, but Mark Ross has been experimenting with other routes.  This year’s route was from mile five of the Dalton Highway to the Wild and Free homestead in Eureka.  In a straight line it was about 46 miles, but unlike the classic route, there were no floating options (that I was aware of, anyway), so it was all walking.   I had marked out a route sticking mainly to ridges, which I hoped would have good waking. Given that it was around 60 miles, I expected we were looking at 30 hours of walking.   My default partner for these events, Tom, was away in Valdez so I emailed Ned Rozell to see if he was interested, and he emailed me right back saying he was in.  Hurrah! Ned is a calm, steady walker who has done some amazing things in Alaska’s backcountry, including walking the entire length of the pipeline twice. 


The morning of the event, Ned and I drove out to the Dalton, where we met up with a few other folks, including Mark Ross, the “promoter” as he likes to be called.  Mark was in fine form, wearing a hat that appeared to be a wolverine hide that he called “wolfie”. 

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Mark always comes off as slightly crazed, and he was in fine form.  Something can be said for the craziness, as he has been rallying folks for these long walks since at least 2007 – that is more than a dozen years of folks wandering through the wilderness getting a bit out of their comfort zone. 

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After a bit of futzing around, the eight of us took off. 

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Everyone headed down a narrow ATV trail, winding through the lowland and up to a ridge that we would take for nearly 25 miles. Gradually the pack broke up, and Ned and I were by ourselves, except for the distant dots that were Tracie and Brian, the eventual winners.   The hike up the ridge was pretty good, but the ridge quickly turned into endless tussocks and cotton grass.

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I am not sure what the proper name is for the white flowering plant that grows on the tussocks [multiple species of the genus Eriophorum — Editor], but it was everywhere.

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  Fortunately, the walking wasn’t bad, as there was a nice ATV trail along the ridge, except for a few miles that were, alas, very brushy.   It was very tussocky though, and would have been truly miserable if the ATVs had not flattened out the tussocks.

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Twelve miles or so in Mark Ross appeared out of nowhere and joined us for the next 20 miles. 

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Apparently he had found what he thought was a great route, which included a different way up to the ridge.  He was pretty surprised to see us and was irritated to know that everyone was ahead of us. Mark added to the adventure, as his “real” job is as a naturalist at Creamer’s Field, and he has a wealth of information on animal life in the boreal forest.   At one point in the late evening he and Ned stopped to measure the active layer [meaning the depth of the thawed soil above frozen ground, if you’re not from around here — Editor] with his hiking poles in and out of the ATV trail.  Mark had tactically removed the baskets from some ski poles and was using them as trekking poles, which made them easy to sink into the soft tundra and great for measuring the active layer, but not great for walking, so Mark was using them upside down or in “Tundra Mode” as Mark called it.  

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Later, when passing a small thermokarst [I’ll let you look this one up — Editor] pond, I stepped over a small frog, and pointed it out to Ned, who was excited enough to take a photo. 

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I guess wood frogs are not very common at 3.5k feet, well above treeline. There was then an extended conversation on how the frog could survive, with Mark providing a timeline of the exact terminal temperatures the frogs could survive, and how scientific thinking has evolved over the last 30 years, and how they can survive body temperatures down to 0°F.  Life must be harsh as a frog on a ridge covered in snow for six` months.. 

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Eventually we dropped off the ridge onto the “Chocolate Creek Trail” which I had been told was nice enough to ride a bike on.  It turned out to be an old road, probably put in to an antimony mine on Sawtooth Mountain, a ridge above us. Our first few minutes of enjoying the fine walking were marred only by the terrifying porcupine. 

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In the 1950s and 1960s, Joseph E. Vogler and the Killions hauled 500 tons of antimony out of the mine before the market collapsed overnight, and they left it semi-intact. Apparently at the top of the mine there are tons of antimony ore in rusty barrels still sitting there.   Joe Vogler was a political figure in Alaska in my youth, and the leader of the Alaska Independence Party, which had seceding from the U.S. as part of its platform. He was killed when I was in college, and his body wasn’t found for several years, before showing up in a gravel pit north of town.   Conspiracy nuts still think the CIA killed him to prevent Alaska from leaving the union. Walking the old mining roads made me feel like I was walking part of Alaska’s history – I was walking the roads that gave Joe Vogler his first start.

All that was left was an old road, a very overgrown runway, and a very creepy looking shipping container on wheels set up with bunk beds.  We poked our heads inside the container, and I was surprised to see the door still latched. When I opened it, a huge cloud of bugs swarmed out. Alas, it was dark with no windows, and looked like it had a thick layer of mildew all over everything, so my motivation to poke around more and take photos was very limited.  

A few hours later, Mark dropped off after pulling on a balaclava and saying he was going to take a nap.   Ned and I trudged onwards, eventually ending up near Quail Creek, and after a bit of route-finding confusion we found ourselves walking through a quiet mine at 7am.  It was very tempting to go knock on the bunkhouse doors and ask about the best route into Eureka, and maybe even get a cup of coffee, but we resisted, We walked through the silent equipment, eventually finding an ATV trail heading up Quail Creek, but alas it petered out.  Soon we were bushwacking and skipping from game trail to trail, working our way up Thirteen Pup Creek. Pup is apparently a miner’s term for a very small branch valley or creek. Eventually we reached our final ridge, Elephant Mountain, a series of little peaks that are connected together.  I was nearly out of food at this point – apparently my plan of 3000 calories of energy bars plus three monster cookies from Bun on the Run was not going to work. Climbing up the ridge was hard work on our slow legs, but we made it.

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I was pretty confused about why Elephant Mountain was called what it is – when looking at it on a map it doesn’t look anything like an elephant.  Stupid miners! Ned pointed out at one point that the northern ridges that are all exposed rocks had lots of little Elephant faces in them, thus probably the name.  Silly miners, actually looking around them at the rocks instead of trudging head down though the tussocks!   

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On the first ridge of Elephant Mountain I inreached Nancy (my wife) to let her know that we were six hours out.  Alas, those six hours included two half-mile-long tussock fields, a bushwack though alders thick enough I couldn’t see the sky at several points, and a winding spruce forest that seemed to never end before finally hitting a dirt road that led us to Eureka and the Wild and Free homestead.  

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My friend Trusten was there to meet us, and I was so excited to see him. And he had pizza! After a few minutes of hanging out, we packed up and drove down the road to the Tolovana trailhead where we camped until morning, then finished up the drive home. Thanks Trusten! 

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A huge congratulations are due to Brian and Tracie, who came in 12 hours before us and rocked the course! 

A huge thanks to Ned for his company on this long walk – you rock Ned, I couldn’t have asked for a better traveling companion. 

1.) Brian Atkinson & Tracie Curry            26hr 38min

2.) Drew Harrington & Chris Miles          29hr 13min

3.) Mark D. Ross                                      35hr 59min

4.) Jay Cable & Ned Rozell                      37hr 18min

5.) Scott Brucker & Steve Duby      (bailed to Elliot Hwy mi108)

Things that worked: 

  • I carried a bike bottle and a small ¾ liter water bottle.  There was lots of water around, so that was more than enough.  Perhaps later in the season that would have been a problem. 
  • My shoes – I have some “special” Montrail Mountain Masochist II shoes that I love.  I love them so much I bought three pairs when they looked like they were changing the model.  Alas, the model was changed, and these are my last pair of them. So sad. About 65 miles, and no blisters! 
  • Smartphone navigation – I had print maps, as had Ned, but mostly we navigated off an old smartphone of mine with the Lotus Maps app.  It worked great, and kept us on course for the most part. I think the end of the specialized GPS is pretty much here – the apps like Lotus work so much better. 
  • A “real” camera – I brought my Sony Nex-6 with a 12-105 lens.  That camera rocks, and takes much better photos than I can do justice to with my limited skills. 
  • My feet and body held up for the extended walking just fine.  I had been pretty worried that without riding to Nome or doing anything else epic had dropped enough I couldn’t pull something like this. 

Things that I should have done differently:

  • I should have brought more food.  I was going to bring a large bag of Fritos, but alas, my little pack was stuffed completely full.  I should have added an extra 2000 calories at least, as I was rationing my food for the last 12 hours.  It wasn’t the end of the world, but I should have brought more food. 
  • I needed to have brought a slightly bigger pack so I could pack more food (see above).   I was using a small 12 liter pack, and once it had my “minimal” safety gear (small puffy, long underwear bottoms, shell, fire starter, first aid, water treatment, maps, phone) it didn’t leave a lot of room for things like food. I either need to use something bigger or pack better. 
  • I should have taken more photos (shipping container – I am talking about you!!)