The Iditarod Trail Invitational 2022

October 6th, 2022

(This blog post is way late, from late February of 2022, I am just way behind on writing anything.)

In 2021 it seemed like I didn’t do anything interesting.  Living in a mixed-generational setting made COVID more high risk for those around me… limiting travel and lots of other fun things.  It wasn’t a huge deal in the scheme of things – I was healthy, my family was healthy, and I was employed, but I was feeling “under adventured”.   In the late spring of 2021 the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) signups opened up, and on a lark, I signed up for McGrath.  The ride to McGrath is simple, with minimal logistics, and if nothing else happened all winter fun-wise it would give me something to focus on and an adventure of a sort.    And so, on a late February afternoon, I found myself at Knik lake again getting ready to ride to McGrath.  

I have mixed thoughts about the ITI these days.  Perhaps I am getting a bit old and becoming an old fart, grumpily muttering about things that are not the way they used to be.  I was not excited to see the organizers had added a stop at “Butterfly Lake” in the first 30 miles of the race – it really seems to me that the ITI is pretty uninteresting until after Skwentna – otherwise it is just river and swamp on fairly well-traveled trails, but now with some extra mileage though the outskirts of Big Lake.   It wasn’t a lot of mileage though, so I figured it would just be a few extra hours and it would be over – no big deal.  

Zooming an hour in

Zooming along with Aaron W a few hours in…

In the weeks before the race started the organizers sent out an “athletes’ guide” as they call it – and I
was pleasantly surprised.  There were lots of small changes in how the Nome-bound part was presented that I really appreciated and were, from my POV, very well done.   The Nome-bound race after McGrath, to me, is mostly an unsupported bike, walking, or skiing trip.   Besides the flown-in drop the ITI provides, mostly they are providing a list of contacts for the stops along the way, and it is up to the racers to do their own logistics and to behave themselves.  The “behave themselves“ part has been historically a bit problematic. These communities are small, disadvantaged, and pretty isolated.  The ITI racers passing through really stick out, and I think the guide does a much better job of pointing out to the racers that how they interact with the communities will affect how the racers behind them are treated, possibly for years to come.  I am still quite impressed by how much time and thought they put into the guide. 

The start was chaotic as usual, with people taking off in all kinds of directions across the lake, then folks riding too fast and too slow on the narrow trails just after crossing Knik Lake.  

The first few miles zoomed by, and soon I was at the turn I normally took to a road, but instead I went straight and boom, I was on new trails – yay! 

Still zooming


The new trails were quite a change – neat, narrowish, and well-used, with little rolling hills.  A nice change from the road I normally took.  Eventually, I hit the railroad bed, and slowly spun along on some softer trail. Just as the trail was firming up, there was a loud crack and my bike suddenly got all floppy.  

Ugh.

Much to my sadness I soon realized that I had cracked the seatpost, and my seat was now in a mostly reclined position. Yuck.  My bike had been making creaking noises, and I guess I just finally figured out where they were coming from.  I texted my brother John who lives in Wasilla, and a musher friend, Andy P, who lives nearby, but no one had a seatpost that would fit.  Double sigh.  I texted my wife Nancy who would see about getting me a post sent to one of the checkpoints and posted a photo with a note to Facebook in the off chance someone in the greater neighborhood had a post. 

I decided to push to the next road crossing, where I ran into a friend of a friend who let me raid their toolbox to strap random tools to the post in hopes of splinting it up.  

Attempting a repair..

Helper dog helps

Helper Dog helps..

That got me a bit further, but the post eventually was so floppy it was just riding on my sleeping bag roll on top of my rear rack.  Eventually, I was forced to just walk my bike whenever there was anything soft, and stand up and pedal everywhere else.  I was so slow it felt like everyone had passed me.  Eventually, even a skier passed me! 

Chet the skier catches up

One eternity later I made it to Butterfly Lake, where the owner of Fatback cycles, Greg Matyas, was helping run the checkpoint.  He whittled a piece of firewood, while I was talking too much and probably sounding like a lunatic, telling me it wouldn’t be a problem, I could ride to McGrath with the fix!  He also got my wife Nancy in touch with someone from his bike shop who would see about getting a post sent out to one of the checkpoints.   Thanks, Greg!

Another, slightly better fix

another use for firewood..

I was in a bit of an odd frame of mind. While breaking the seatpost was bad, I was feeling a bit like it was very much a “first world problem”.  The war in Ukraine had just started and was very much on my mind.   Europe had always seemed to me to be a very civilized place, and it was hard to imagine there was a big land war happening right there.  While Ukraine is far away, it is near too – there is a sizable Ukrainian immigrant population in my hometown of Fairbanks.  On most mornings I pass a Ukraine immigrant janitor busily cleaning the entryway as I enter my work building.  The nearby town of Delta has a large Ukrainian immigrant population (ironically referred to as the “Russians” by most people), and the grocery store (the IGA) has a neat selection of unusual eastern European food my family always stops to check out when we pass through.  Growing up in rural Alaska in the 80s the threat of the Russians invading was this sort of an ever-present thing in a small but vocal minority.  In 2017 when riding to Nome I stayed with a local teacher who ended a lot of his rants about things going downhill, not working, or just being not quite right with “And then we will all speak Russian!”  So while my seat post was broken, at least I wasn’t being bombed. 
I left Butterfly Lake, and a few miles later the seatpost repair failed, and the post snapped completely, and that was that.  From then on I rode standing up, which was an interesting experience.  It was super fast, but my legs and knees hurt so much.  By the time I made it to the second checkpoint Nancy had let me know I was getting a post on the “mail plane” to Skwenta the following morning, so I just had to make it there, and things would be fine.  I arrived in Skwentna in the evening, had a ton to eat, then slept through the night, and in the morning I had a post! 

Yay! I swapped out the seat, and was back in business – hurrah!  At this point, I should give a huge thank you to Cindy at Skweena, Nancy, Cynthia from the ITI who took the post from the bike shop to the plane, and Pete Baysinger who told Nancy about the mail plane.  Thanks, everyone! 

The nice folks at Skwentna

The rest of the ride to McGrath was fun, with great weather, mostly a really fast trail, and my legs kept feeling better and better each day.  It was odd – after riding so much standing up my legs and knees actually started feeling a bit better each day rather than feeling worse like they had in the past.  I took a bit of the new ice road from Shell to Finger Lake, and a bit more of it to the steps, and was sad to find out I could have taken it the whole way from Skwenta to Helicopter Lake.   And even more sad to see the trail up off the Happy River steps was now a road.

The "trail" up the Happy river steps

I could have driven my Impreza up it, it was so hard, flat, and firm.  A bit of a bummer, as while it was easier, it was way less scenic, with a neat single track through the trees replaced with a wide open road.  I feel bad for the Winter Lake Lodge operators, as the ice road is visible from the deck of their lodge. Quite a treat for the guests…

The trail after Finger lake

It wasn’t all happiness – there was a tiny bit of pushing my bike.

Heading to Rainy Pass lodge

Almost to Rainy Pass Lodge!

On the upside, the checkpoint at Finger Lake now had unlimited burritos (I even took one with me – yay!!) and Rainy Pass Lodge had a wonderful new cabin for us, with lots of bunks – a new stove, power, and bright lights! Spacious luxury, no more drafty cabin cluttered with the heads of African game animals haphazardly decorating the walls. 

The ride from Rainy Pass lodge to Rohn was the most fun I have ever had on the Iditarod trail – it was clear, sunny, and calm, with amazing views.  The trail was chewed up with footprints, but semi-rideable, but that just gave me more time to enjoy the scenery.  So nice! 

Leaving Rainy Pass Lodge

Ptarmigan Pass

Ptarmigan Pass

Ptarmigan Pass

Ptarmigan Pass

Ptarmigan Pass

Ptarmigan Pass bike selfie

Ptarmigan on Ptarmigan Pass

Avalanche in the valley heading up to Rainy Pass

Heading up to Rainy Pass

Casey climbing Rainy Pass

Rainy Pass bike selfie

Avalanche detritus after Rainy Pass

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In Rohn, I enjoyed delicious soup and brats and kept everyone up chatting for way longer than I should have (sorry Petr!), then I left for Nikolia.

Wolf Tracks

Egypt Mountain

Fairwell Lakes

Petr napping in scenic splender

Petr sleeping on the trail. Alas, I woke him up, after keeping him up talking too much. I felt pretty bad about it afterwords..

Somewhere after the Fairwell lakes the bumps started.

Sand hills, looking south

 The Iron Dog racers use a race tactic that involves digging trenches with their tracks to slow down racers behind them.  I hadn’t really seen it besides in the treed sections from Ophir to Poorman, after McGrath.  This year it was really trenched up wherever the trail was in the trees and narrowish (so where the trenches would be hard to avoid for the Iron Dog racers and thus most effective for slowing down racers behind them) from the Fairwell area to 10 miles out of Nikolai.  So. Many. Bumps! 

Snowmachine ruts

Trench-tastic!

It must have been very warm when the Iron Dog racers passed through and then refrozen, as the trail was rock hard. Iron hard.  I could ride pretty fast so long as I stayed in the “ski” part of the track, and not the trench part, but I had a few hard crashes where branches caught me.  Riding in the trench was hard, with constant deep drops followed by steep climbs out. 

Snow machine parts lost on the trails Iron dog machine bits

Irondog leftovers… The bumps doing their job, slowing down the folks behind, ha!

At one point I walked around a moose in the trail and was able to go completely around it walking on top of a really firm crust on top of the snow.  Amazing!  I spent a bunch of time thinking about the mushers who were going to be traveling this in a few days – I hope they were warned! 

Mirages

Fata Morgana..

Sullivan Creek bike selfie

Manditory Sullivan Creek bike selfie!

Birch forest outside Nikolai

Birch forest outside Nikolai

Nikolai arrived, and I got a burger and a bit of sleep then headed out again to McGrath. 

Denali!

Looking back at Denali

I was crushed when I arrived in McGrath to see a biker I know from Fairbanks showered and fresh-looking when I was positive he was lying asleep under a table when I left Nikolai.  How could I be so slow and out of it that he passed me without me noticing and was so far ahead of me?  I was crushed!  Fortunately, it turned out I was confused, and it was someone else under the table, and he had left Nikolai hours ahead of me.   It was also great to finally catch up with Kevin B, whom I had ridden a lot with to Nome in 2018.  He’s a local Fairbanks super-biker.   He had an ORV accident in McGrath a year and a half ago, crushed one of his legs, and had a long slow recovery.  It was great to see him back on his feet and kicking butt!  He had an awesome ride, and finished a day ahead of me!   The finish was in a new location, a lodge that is slowly transitioning to an operating state.  It was quite a change from Tracy and Peter’s, and I missed their good cheer, but it had its advantages – it has a little coffee shop with actual good espresso!  I had a really good latte, hurrah!   After a bit of food etc, I was on a plane heading back to Anchorage, where I spent the night in a fancy hotel, back in civilization.  Yay! 

Flying out of Mcgrath Leaving McGrath

This year’s ITI really left me so much happier with the event – I had so much fun even with a broken seat post.  I think the event is evolving a bit for the better, which was great!   Even the new stop at Butterfly Lake is a bit of an improvement, with a bit less road, and less swamp.  I left much happier about life, with a good fun adventure under the belt, and a post-trip positive buzz that lasted for a solid month.  Yay! 

I would like to thank my family for letting me disappear for a week, Nancy for helping me get a new seat post (Nancy you rock!), and Cynthia and Kyle the organizers of the ITI for putting on an ever-improving event (your work is really appreciated!). Cynthia in particular took the time to pick up a seat post from Speedway and get it to the mail plane – that is way, way beyond anything I expected, and I really appreciate it!  I would also like to thank Cindy at Skwentna for helping Nancy connect with the folks running the mail plane, and Pete Baysinger for pointing out to Nancy that she could get me it that way.   Thanks, everyone!

A Postscript of sorts:
Roughly a year ago I broke a fancy carbon seat post on my commuter snow bike. Perhaps breaking it is an exaggeration, it was an older Easton post where the aluminum head is glued to the carbon post, and the glue gave out.

So I looked through my parts pile, found the heaviest aluminum alloy post I had, used that, and reused it on my new bike. Obviously, this didn’t work out. I have a tendency to just reuse stuff until it breaks, then I am surprised when it breaks. Nothing lasts forever, and I need to start replacing stuff. Hopefully, my lesson was learned, but it now feeling like all my bike stuff is falling apart from old age all at once. As I write this just discovered my brooks cambium seat I love is falling part. Sigh, I guess entropy never stops!

Empty Denali

September 10th, 2022
Walking around the closure

Last year when the Denali NP road closed at the “Pretty Rocks” slump, I was very tempted to just haul my bike around the closure and bike the road after the slump. I assumed it wasn’t legal in the park to push or ride one’s bike around the slump. Roughly a year later and after my friend Tom suggested it was possible, I did some research and noticed it was not only legal (that is “allowed”) and appeared to biked somewhat frequently. Strava segments on the Park road after the closed bit showed a fair bit of traffic. So, on a overcast Saturday morning Tom and I meet up at the Denali NP’s Backcountry information center, got some permits, hopped a bus to the end of pavement, and started biking. I was somewhat bemused by the Denali staff, as just about every interaction could be summarized as some variation on “your not going to make it”, and constant reminders of how long it was to our selected backcountry units just past Toklat.
The ride to the road closure was fast and fun, though Tom got two flats in the first 25 miles, and there was one bus jam for a bear that we couldn’t see.

Neat Clouds



Soon we were dropping down the stairs to the East Fork of the Toklat river, after one last “that is a really long way to push that gravel bike” from a NPS staffer, and we were down riding then pushing up the river bed to go around the Pretty Rocks slump. The last NPS staffer said there were currently no NPS staff on the other side of the road, and the road was in bad shape. Our plan was just to go up the East fork of the Toklat, then head west towards the creeks draining down from Polychrome Glacier, then take a wash back up to the park road.

Pushing

Pretty Rocks Slump

Pretty Rocks Slump


That worked well, though the route was mostly a bit too rocky for me to bike on my touring tires in a safe manner. After a few creek crossings, and a little more than two hours of walking with the bikes we were back on the road, biking towards Toklat.

Empty roads


It was easy to find the right route, and there were lots of tracks to follow. Biking the road was an interesting experience – we had it entirely to ourselves, with no traffic besides three bikers and two people on foot. The road was mostly intact, though I was surprised by one unexpected drop-off around a corner, it wasn’t very deep and I made it over without going over my handlebars.

We camped in our unit as it started to get dark, and I fell asleep to rain the tent fly. In the morning we rode to Kantishna and back near the Eielson Visitor Center.

Neat clouds

Empty roads past Toklat

Eielson was creepily empty. On the way in we saw several Camp Denali buses there, with folks going for hikes, but the place was otherwise completely abandoned. Oddly, mechanical noises were coming from the building, and it looked like the heat was still on.

Empty Ellison

Empty Ellison

Folks can't read apparently

Toklat was also a ghost town with the bus schedule from a year ago still up.

Schedule from last years closure

Loved the LOTRs reference

A funny note left in the bear lockers at Toklat with a Lord of the Rings reference.

Kantishna still had stuff going on though, the outhouses at the runway were still open, and the lodges seemed to be all still in operation in one form or another.

Almost to Kantishna

The road near Kantishna, which is new to me, yay!

Extreme Danger!

The Kantishna airstrip signage is a bit over the top..

Our second night’s campsite was the best I have ever had in Denali, with a wonderful view of the Muldrow glacier. The sunset was fantastic.

Best Campsite Ever!

The following day we biked back out, running into a few more hikers, but otherwise didn’t see anyone else until walking around the closure, where we ran into a few hikers, and could see a few more in the distance.

The ride was a complete blast – the road is mostly in better shape than it is with buses. Almost no washboard and just a few short sections washed out. It is a like a 20ft wide bike path, though really scenic country.. so hard to beat!

Denali, from Stony Overlook

Denali, from Stony Overlook

Denali!

Wildlife wise we had a pretty busy trip – there were sheep on several ridges, but they were far away and only little white dots. We saw several groups of caribou in the distance, one quite close up, and several moose in the distance, and a bear on the bus ride. Just about all the megafauna besides a wolf!
We did have to detour around a bear near Stoney Dome on the way out. After waiting 15 minutes or so for a bear happily eating berries 20ft or so from the road, we pushed our bikes off the road and around the bear, well outside the suggested 300-yard safe zone, the NPS requires.

Walking around the bears

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Pearson's Cabin

Road damage

Leaving the road for the detour around the slump

Slump

Heading up back to the road

The climb back up the “civilaized part of the road..”



A few hours later we were back in civilization, wandering around looking for the employees-only bar Tom was fascinated with. Biking around the employee’s only area reminded me of working in Skagway in my late teens and early twenties, not the happiest time of my life, and I was made a bit melancholy, and left Tom to his devices and drove home, making it in time to see the twins before they were asleep.

The closed part of the Denali road is a pretty interesting experience. However, seeing Denali’s response to the closure was a bit odd – they seem to be operating like the closed area is just gone. There was very little sign of any motorized traffic from Eielson to Toklat. All the outhouses were closed and locked up outside Kantishna. A bit odd, as while the road is closed, the area beyond it is still quite accessible, and is going to see a fair bit of bike and foot traffic. The NPS staff seem to be discouraging anyone from biking or otherwise traveling past the closure. Perhaps that is understandable, but given we saw several Camp Denali buses, it is still quite possible to drive the road after the closure, and I would have hoped Denali would have moved to have some sort of reduced presence, not a complete abandonment. As one NPS wildlife person told me “As far as we are concerned no one is driving the road.” when I asked about traffic from the lodges.

Some notes for others interested in biking the road past the closure:

  • The route around the slump is 5 miles. It is possible to ride a bike through most of it, though my little tires made that hard. Staying closer to the hill seems to have firmer and a bit smoother surface than the more actively flooded area. On an unloaded mountain bike, it should be almost entirely ridable. There are at least two water crossings, so expect wet feet.
  • Riding your bike off the road in Denali is apparently fine so long as you are not causing “resource damage”, whatever that means.
  • The walk around the closed part took Tom and I a little over two hours each way. YMMV.
  • The Denali staff say you can camp 150ft from the road centerline, not the 1/4mile that normally is required.
  • A backcountry permit is required to camp, and you need to get a backcountry unit to camp in, and camp in that unit. Be prepared for the backcountry permit process to take a while, and have all the stuff required (bear canister/ursack etc)
  • Expect the Denali staff to be skeptical and tell you it will be much harder than expected.
  • Expect no assistance from the NPS past the closure. I would have enough food to walk my bike to Kantishna or back out.
    • Which really, wouldn’t be that big of a deal – if you push your bike 12 hours at 2.5 miles an hour that is 30 miles, you could make it from near Eielson back to the area served by the busses or Kantishna in less than a day. It wouldn’t be fun, but totally doable – I would just keep in mind you mind have to do that if something goes wrong, and be prepared.
  • Be prepared to have some long bear delays.
  • Have fun – it is a blast back there, and enjoy it, in a year or so (or 10 if the NPS decides to re-route all the way around the Polychrome area. ) it will be back to “normal” with busses of people driving out and back and only getting out to go the bathroom.

So… Get Out and Bike It!

(Before some idiot does something stupid, wrecks it, and it is closed to bikes. 🙂 )

PS: Does anyone know what this sign means? I thought it meant to wait 10 minutes if you see sheep, others thought it means the road is closed 10 minutes after the hour, any idea what the official meaning is?

Odd Sign

Beaver Creek & the Summit Trail with the family

August 22nd, 2022

Note – This trip was in June 11-13, 2022, but I am falling behind on my blog..

A long time ago our whole family floated Beaver Creek, and hiked out the Summit Trail. Lizzy (daughter), Nancy (wife) both decided after that trip packrafting was “dumb”. A few years later Molly (other daughter) gave it another chance and had a blast. With a weekend (plus a day) free, Molly and I decided to do it again, floating Beaver Creek in packrafts and meeting up with Nancy and Lizzy half way out on the Summit Trail. This time we were joined by Ruby the loaner dog, who we were taking care of while her owner was off on the north slope. Our dogs Shiloh and Eddy are terrified of water, and are in no way packrafting dogs. It was a great float, the float was fantastic, the weather warm… just about perfect, though the water was a bit slower than ideal..

Ruby the dog on lookout beaver creek Mellow beaver creek floating
Lunch

Hot lunch – luxury!

Fellow travelers

We stopped briefly to check out an old cabin on the USGS topo maps, and found it – yay I love rusty old stuff!

Old Cabin

We spent the evening in Borealis Cabin, enjoying the clean (yay!!) and warm cabin as the temps dropped to near freezing overnight. Ruby enjoyed snuggling with me and found the cabin full of exciting smells.
In the morning we crossed the creek and started hiking after watching some beavers busily doing beaver things.

A Beaver on Beaver Creek! Ruby waiting with Molly for a ride

Ruby waiting for a ride across the creek..

Shuttling across Beaver Creek

Shuttling across the creek

Fording Wickersham Creek

Wading Wick Creek..

Footprints on Wickersham Creek

Busy banks!

We then hiked to the trail shelter, roughly 12 miles from the river. The trail was mostly great once off the winter trail (tussocky!), with marvelous colors and great views.

Tussocky Ruby The summit trail! PXL_20220612_195135432 PXL_20220612_195438110 Going under..

Under…

And under..

“I can make it!” – Molly

Eventually we made it to the trail shelter where we caught up with Lizzy and Nancy and spent the evening enjoying snacks, books, and games.

In the morning we headed out and hiked the rest of the way out..

Lizzy is preped for the bugs!

Lizzy, well bug proofed

A bit of spruce pollen

Pollen-licous!

Shiloh is unimpressed

Shiloh the dog is not excited about this hiking stuff.. 🙂

Lunching

Lunch!

BLM had installed new boardwalk on the really muddy section, and it was a fantastic addition – thanks BLM!

Eddy leading the way Eddy leading the way

The family dropped me off at Cleary Summit, and I biked to Nome Creek to fetch the car. The ride was great, but I didn’t bring enough food and bonked a bit.

The Davison Ditch! Nome Creek Road Almost done..

We are so lucky to have the Whites and Beaver Creek so accessible to us. It is amazing to go on a three day trip and to have the place completely to ourselves. Yay! Thanks again BLM for such a wonderful area! And of course thanks to Molly, Lizzy, Nancy, Ruby, Eddy, and Shiloh for the company. And Sinbad the cat for watching the house while we were away 🙂



A Family Tour of the White Mountains

May 3rd, 2022

Leaving my office, I headed out into a dark -36f late afternoon to start my car and drive home. I started it up, then got out to unplug it*. Just after I unplugged it, I heard a “beep,beep” as it locked itself..
Crap.

After trying all the doors, I headed back inside. We have two keys to this car, and the other one is at my house, three miles away. After calling my wife Nancy who didn’t pick up, I started panicking and I called my daughter Lizzy, asking her (very optimistically!) if she could bring me the other keys.

Much to my surprise she said “Sure!”

30 minutes later Lizzy showed up on her fat bike, with the keys, and quickly unlocked it and headed out. We had to stop for gas, as it turned it was almost out. Wow.

Covid has been a bit rough on the twins. One year of online schooling, then it was back to school, with masks. First home made cloth masks, then N95s.. Limited social interactions, and so much fear. To top it off, the school bus was only running ever other week due to driver shortages. The twins decided this school year that they were just going to bike to school, as it is only three (ish) miles one way, mostly downhill in the morning on the way in. After finding out they could beat the school bus (the biking route is more direct) they were even more excited about biking. As the fall transitioned to winter they switched to snow bikes, with bright head tail lights lights, reflective vests, and warm clothing. A bit to my surprise they kept doing it even as it became honestly cold, close to the -40s. As far as I know, they have never been late. I tried to bike a few times a week with them for the ride in, but school starts early (7:30am!), and I am not as a consistent of a bike commuter as they are.

Cold biking Cold biking

Photos from a different, slightly warmer day where I biked in to school with the twins.

Fast forward half a year, and we were heading out on a family trip, heading around the White Mountains NRA “main loop”, stopping at Borealis, Windy Gap, Cache Mountain, and Moose Creek cabins. The twins had been to Moose Creek in the winter before, were I had to make the “no complaining while going up hill” rule as the twins (Lizzy in particular) would complain how miserable the biking was going up each of the hills, then would be perk up and continue on happily when it flattened out. They had also been to Borealis before too, but in the summer only. It would be their longest winter bike trip, and I was a bit worried they would be unhappy, warning them in the days leading up that they might have to walk up a lot if the conditions were really bad.

Yeah yeah, Dad.

The first day of the trip, three miles from the parking lot, after several crashes and one mini soft snow melt down, everyone had a break to snack and recover.

My bike is so heavy!” – Lizzy.

I was a bit worried that this was going to be a long, long trip.

Five days later, 90+ miles later we were back in the same spot, heading the other direction, everyone, tired, but happy and joyful.


First day went by quickly, with great trails besides a bit of soft snow.

Whites Loop with the Family

The ride was mostly uneventful, though at the top of the first decent Molly and I stopped a bit for her to take some photographs from the first scenic view stop.

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

Eventually Molly finished taking photographs and we rode down the final hill, only to see a group of people with several dogs teams making camp. I stopped and chatted then looked for Molly and Shiloh the dog. No Shiloh or Molly. A bit more chatting, and still no Molly or Shiloh the dog. It was starting to get awkward, as they were waiting for me to go by… so I turned around and headed back up the hill. Part way up Shiloh the dog and Molly showed up. Apparently she had dropped her sunglasses at the top of the hill, and had to go back. I grabbed Shiloh, and we passed the dog teams with lots of barking – apparently this is the most exciting thing that had happened to the dogs in the team all day.

We arrived at a pre-warmed Borealis cabin, with embers in the stove that were soon rekindled into a nice blazing fire. The evening was spent hanging out, cutting wood, and enjoying a mellow evening.

The morning it was -30f ish at the cabin, probably much colder on the river, so we waiting until 10am or so when the sun was hitting us before heading out. It was in the single digits but felt warmer in the wonderful sun.

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

The twins enjoyed the firm trails, and the great views. And hot lunch – since this was a “mellow” trip, I brought various dried or freeze dried meals that could be made with hot water from a thermos for lunch. It was a hit.

Whites Loop with the Family

Enjoying Heather Choice African Peanut Stew from the discount bin at REI. So fancy!

The twins had a blast and were handled the single digits in an occasionally brisk breeze. Nancy was also excited to be riding this outside the White Mountains 100 race, at a slower pace, and enjoying the trail.

Whites Loop with the Family

Shiloh and Eddy the dogs also had fun, though Shiloh likes to pretend he wasn’t..

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family
Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

Molly needed to take some panoramic photos (panoramas?) for school, and I told her about the new climb a few miles before Windy Gap cabin, where she stopped to get a bunch of photos. They turned out pretty well.
The twins handled all the biking and the hills pretty well – all those days riding to and from school had given them lots of biking base!

limestone jags panorama

Then it was a long downhill and a few flat miles to the cabin. Alas, the cabin hadn’t had any recent visitors and was much colder inside than out. Walking into it was like entering a freezer. Once the fire was going it started warming up, but Lizzy was quick to find the warmest spot, in the loft directly above the stove.

Whites Loop with the Family

It was still mid afternoon once the cabin warmed up, so I headed out with Eddy to go checkout Windy Arch, a few miles from the cabin. Eddy wasn’t having it though. He kept looking at me like, “What are you doing?” and once he figured out I was going for a ride he abandoned me and ran back to the cabin. I had a great ride though, even though not even the dogs wanted to join me.

Whites Loop with the Family

This was the first cabin that was totally new to the Twins, and they enjoyed hanging out in it, with lots of reading, snacking, and dog snuggling. And doing puzzles – someone had left a small puzzle that gave into a relentless attack by Nancy and Lizzy.

Whites Loop with the Family

The next day we headed up and over the divide to Cache Mt cabin.

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

We stopped briefly in at the “Ice Lakes”, a mile (ish) long section of ice for Molly to take another panorama and to have lunch.

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Photo taken by Molly

The trail was remarkably good, and we rode almost all the way up and over the divide, following some recent wolf tracks.

Whites Loop with the Family

Once over the divide it was a quick ride down to our next stop, Cache Mountain cabin. I had one over the bars crash right in front of Lizzy which she found endlessly funny.


The next morning we headed to our final cabin for the trip, Moose Creek cabin. I was a bit worried the trail would go downhill, but it stayed nice. The twins were troopers, riding up all the hills, including pushing up one really steep and rock hard hill that I almost couldn’t get my bike up.

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

Molly’s rear break did explode all over the trail at one point, but we were able to get it back into some assemblance of working. Apparently her pannier hand been banging on it all year, and eventually the outer park of her disk brake broke and shot off powered by the return spring.

Moose Creek cabin had a deck of Uno cards, and many, many games of Uno were played.

sleeping shiloh

Photo taken by Molly

The final day went by fast. It was much warmer, in the mid 20s which felt so balmy! Everyone in the family had done this last 17 miles of trail several times at least, and were well aware of the climbs and zooming fast downhills.

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

Eddy caught doing a 180 to checkout a sniff. He did it so fast it looked like his nose had been glued to the ground yanking his body around..

Whites Loop with the Family

A happy family, almost out..

When we finally made it out I was happy the trip went so well, but sad it was done. I had been very worried the trail would be a mess with lots of walking, but everyone had a blast. The twins had enough biking base they were not super tired at the end of the days, but tired enough they didn’t get bored – perfect! 🙂 Nancy enjoyed doing the loop outside a race context, and I had fun spending time with the family. Eddy the dog just enjoyed being out, though he has all the cabins memorized at this point, as he had been around the loop three times this year, but I think enjoyed the slower pace, with more time to sniff things. Shiloh the dog I think thought the days should have been shorter, maybe eight to ten miles, with lots more stops to pee on things, and more snacks.

Sinbad the cat was very happy to see us on our return, even giving the dogs a few sniffs to say high, but probably thought our trip was way too long and had way too much time away from the cat who was surely going to expire from lack of attention! (Sinbad did have several caretakers who spend several hours with her, so she was not completely deprived.)

I do feel so lucky to have the White Mountain NRA – the trail and cabin system is top notch, and is one of the highlights of life in Fairbanks.

Yay for winter!

Editors Note: This post was edited and all the wrong details were corrected by the super amazing and very superb Molly!

Good think you have me to fix all your mistakes!” – Molly

2022 WM100

March 29th, 2022

As sort of a last minute thing I signed up for the White Mountains 100 last fall, in a last minute panic that another winter would go by and I wouldn’t do anything “fun”. I ended up being on the waitlist, and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward several months, and a few weeks out Stacy the organizer told me I was in, just as I got back from the Iditarod Trail Invitational. My motivation was a bit lacking, but I said yes, and thus found myself at the starting line at a wonderful 8am morning. I went out as hard as I could, and stayed riding as hard as I could. It was much hotter than I expected, and I was overheating right out of the start, and missed my tire pressure by a lot. When I finally stopped to put more air in just after the first checkpoint I put in 30 pumps, and it was noticeably faster. Duh! 45 ish miles in I tapered it back as my legs and body started objecting loudly. By Borealis I was pretty toast, and was having a hard time eating, and went pretty darn slow for the last 20 miles. Such is life. It was fun though, the second most fun I have ever had in this race (the first being 2019 when I rode it with my wife Nancy). I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, though better than I deserve for not getting in much high intensity riding this winter.

The weather was fantastic!

2022 WM100
2022 WM100

I didn’t plan my food very well, and ended up having trouble eating after the first 50 miles, but such is life. I had a blast though.

A few miles out from the finish I saw Tyson F riding towards me, and I stopped and congratulated him on his win. He said something about riding around the loop again, and I thought he was joking. It turned out he was serous, and he did another lap, finishing before the cut off. Wow!

When I finished I checked in with the headquarters to see how everything is working, as I provided the laptop, and a few other computer items for them, but alas, apparently I suck at it as I gave them the wrong charger cord and they had to round up another computer. Duh! Next year I will have to be a bit more organized about it I guess, I felt pretty bad to have messed that up. Fortunately they found something that worked out so it wasn’t the end of the world, but I should have screwed that up!

A huge thank you to everyone who makes this race happen, as always it is the most fun 100 mile snow race out there!

Photos:

Strava:

White Mountains Loop..

January 26th, 2022

Social media media reminded me that I normally ride around the White Mountains NRA’s main “loop”, which is a great 100 mile loop though most of the interesting parts in early January, and inspired, I booked a cabin trip. Then snow came (and lots of it!) and slowly the trails improved.. then more snow. So I moved the trip, and finally, with news that the far part of the loop was in, and with a forecast warm weather into the teens it was on.


The Whites are a special place for me..

The first day Eddy the dog and I (Shiloh the dog stayed home, as he isn’t into long days, the Twins had school, and Nancy had work and nicely took over parenting duties) rode to Cache Mountain Cabin.

It was beautiful, but cold – near zero Fahrenheit up high..

Looking back towards Moose Creek White Loop 2022 Sunset White Loop 2022

It was much colder down low, and when Eddy and I crossed Beaver Creek it was surprisingly cold. Cold enough my face felt numb in the still air. When we arrived at the cabin it felt a fair bit warmer, and it was -20f. The evening in Cache Mt cabin was spent relaxing and enjoying the evening, warmed by the huge stockpile of wood the “wood fairies” (aka previous visitors) had left us.
I was a bit saddened to see a big dent burned into the wall of the cabin – it looked like someone had hung a lantern on the wall of the cabin, and it at set fire the wall, burning a sizable dent in it. Sad..

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The next day Eddy and I rode over the divide to Windy Gap Cabin. I was hoping for a good trail, but was prepared to walk the whole way. Fortunately the trail was great! Alas, it was overcast with lightly falling snow so not very scenic, and I didn’t take a lot of photos.. The ride up to the pass was warm, and soon after leaving the cabin it warmed up to well into the teens, which was great. I was so warm I took off a bunch of layers as a rode up to the top, following the tracks of a large wolverine (no photos alas) most of the way to the top.

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The ice lakes were mellow, with very little water..

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I did find a dog bootie on the ice lakes with “fulda” written all over it. Later I put it on Eddy, joking it was his “Euro clubbing wear” with some folks we passed. It turns out it is a classic, from the 1997 Yukon Quest dog race! Amazing it is still around..

I have been bringing a small large mouth vacuum insulated container for lunches, and that has been rocking – it is so nice to have a hot lunch quickly while riding..

Lunch

It was much colder on other side of pass (or divide as folks like to call it), and I nearly froze my butt off until I stopped and added layers.

Shortly after the ice lakes the trail got a lot softer with no traffic since the last snowfall, and while it was still ridable, it was slow and high resistance.

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Some bike selfies..

White Loop 2022 White Loop 2022

The wood fairies were out in force again, and I was happy to see a huge amount of wood at Windy Gap cabin. Yay!!

The evening was spend warm and mellow, listening to the wind howl outside.

Late in the evening a big dog team arrived with a snowmachine and a huge sled that made a wonderful looking trail. They were heading to wolf run cabin and were a bit lost, we chatted for a bit, then they were off. The next day we headed out to complete the loop, excited by a much warmer and calmer day.
The trails were busy on the way out, and I saw lots of people I knew..



Yay for a nice three day trip in the Whites! I returned to town a bit beat, but very enlivened by the trip that was ordinary enough I feel a little silly writing about it. Double yay for fun ordinary adventures!