Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic 2020

August 7th, 2020

It was early morning and Tom and I were walking up Yacko Creek, with 40 or so miles to go.  The valley was covered in low lush green grass, the sky was clear and blue, and the walking was great.  After rushing by a mining camp guarded by a friendly looking black lab, and a much less friendly pit bull mix, we were happy to be away from people again.  Off in the distance, some dark shapes were moving around in the grass.  Ravens maybe, I wondered?  We got closer, and Tom and I started wondering aloud what they were..  Soon we were close enough to see it was a small wolf pack, with the younger members bouncing around like puppies while the older ones lay in the sun.  I grabbed a rock, readied my trusty anti bear air horn, and told Tom to get the bear spray.  About the time we figured out what they were, they noticed us, and after giving us brief consideration, they headed off into the neighboring hills.  I could see them occasionally as they weaved in and out of the dwarf birch covering the hillside before disappearing.   Tom and I sped up a bit, feeling their eyes on us as we walked up Yacko Creek in the morning sun. 

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The Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic is a point-to-point semi-organized event that has been held since the early 80s.  The route changes every three years, with the current route going from the Cantwell area to Sheep Mountain Lodge near Eureka.  My normal partner for these sort of adventures, Tom, and I had done a shorter version of this twice, but didn’t do it in 2019 due to a schedule conflict.  Fortunately this year due to Covid we had lots of free time and we were in.  The current route is much longer than the one we had done before, though – instead of nearly two days, we were looking at possibly six days.  It was a daunting prospect! 

In the leadup to the event we studied maps, and talked gear, and generally obsessed too much (or at least I did), eventually settling on a route hitting the ATV trails in the Nelchena area.  Hopefully we would be able to take 50+ miles of ATV trails to the finish, avoid any huge climbs, and enjoy some great walking.   We also decided to take only one boat, a two person packraft, hoping to use it only to cross the Susitna.  We had been warned about giant beaver swamps and slow walking on Tsusena Creek, but we were hoping the lighter packs would make up for it. 

The day before the race, Amanda (Tom’s partner) drove us down to Cantwell, graciously driving us to the start for a brief pre race meeting, followed by pizza.

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A highly trained and very bouncy young dog who was apparently trained as a search and rescue dog at Barry Switzer’s Ground Zero Emergency Training Center. The owner was unimpressed that I didn’t know who Barry Switzer was, but the puppy could fetch tennis balls like a champ!

In the morning Amanda dropped us off at the start (thanks Amanda, you rock!!).  Alaska outdoor superstar Luc Mehl was there and said hi, but I’d had way too much caffeine and was so worked up I think I came across as either insane, on meth (or crack), or both.   Which is sort of funny, as the only other time I have met him in real life was on the iditarod trail 200+ miles into the ITI with less than 6 hours of sleep, and I was pretty manic.  After a slightly awkward (but not nearly as much so as AlaskaCross ) start we were off.  

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The first 30 miles or so were great walking, as we walked up the Jack River, and over to the Tsusena.  We had two groups ahead of us, plus a random person with a white pack we saw just as we reached Caribou Lakes. The Tsusena was great walking, until it wasn’t, as we hit some huge lakes created by beavers, followed by brush.  Eventually it got too dark and we called it good, setting up our tiny tent and getting 4 hours of sleep.   


Our schedule of making camp just as it became hard to see and getting four hours or so of sleep, plus maybe two more hours of fiddling and setting up and taking down camp continued for the rest of the trip.  We had a freeze-dried meal each just before going to bed. Alas, the first night I woke up with hunger pains and had to scarf down some nuts, then again later some cheese. (Tom says the cheese part happened the night after.)   Apparently “Night Cheese” is some sort of 30 Rock in-joke, and Tom made fun of me a lot for it, though I should point out I never saw 30 Rock.  

Night cheese..

After that I made sure to supplement my freeze-dried meals with nuts and coconut oil for more calories.

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Our campsite for the evening..

In the morning we continued down the creek, occasionally seeing the flash of a paddle through the brush along the creek as seemingly everyone floated by.   The walking was never horrible, but in places it wasn’t very fast.  We did find several miles of old trapline that was occasionally flagged and ended at a tree stand and a short airstrip that provided several miles of great walking. 

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Eventually we crossed to the other side of the creek, and I dunked my “nice” camera when I misjudged how deep the creek was – it was so clear it was several feet deeper and a lost faster than I expected.  Alas, that was the end of the good photos, and I had to rely on my phone for photos after that.   The camera survived though; the lens just had some moisture in it.  Good thing I didn’t bring the good lens, but instead my junker lens!

We finally reached some ATV trails, which we took to the lakes near Tsusena Bluff, which we followed over to Deadman Creek.  We saw a huge tripod in the distance, and were surprised to eventually walk right up to it.  It turns out it was an artificial eagle nest installed in the early 80s – neat!  

AMWC 2020 AMWC 2020 ASWC 2020 An eagle’s nest!!

From Deadman we walked a mile or so up the Susitna to a small creek which we took down to the river. 

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We made a very uneventful crossing, and slowly climbed up to the Fog Lakes. 

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We crossed Fog Lakes as a rainstorm slowly blew in, climbing up over a small hill, to camp in the rain on an unnamed creek as it got dark. 

In the morning it was dry and sunny, and we hiked up into Tsisi Creek, over to Kotsina Creek, and camped near darkness at the divide between George and Goose Creeks.  

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Heading down to Kotsina Creek

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Camping between George and Goose Creeks

The walking was mostly great, and I enjoyed the sun, briefly hiking in my underpants to let my pants dry.   We went to sleep to clear skies, and woke 4 hours later to an icy tent.  Hiking on Goose Creek was great, but alas it turned away from our destination and we had to head up into the dwarf birch near Busch Creek on some small hills leading to the Black River.  Shortly after crossing Busch Creek we had our first bear encounter as we startled a medium sized brown bear who took off bounding up the hill like we were the devil incarnate.  Tom and I both wished we could run uphill that fast; that bear flew.  By midday we hit the start of the ATV trails, which turned out to be a small road that started semi randomly in a huge open swamp.  

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Civilization!

Near the swamp we had our second bear encounter as  a mother bear and two large cubs saw us way in the distance on the other side of the swamp and again ran away at top speed.   Hurrah for well behaved bears!  

A few miles down the road we ran into some footprints.  Later we were to learn Matt K, Brian P, and John P had taken this trail over to and up the Little Oshentna, crossing over Horse Pasture and into Caribou Creek.

The trail ( actually a dirt road) was great walking, and soon we zoomed to the Black River, where we had to inflate and cross one at a time.  I had brought 100ft of p-cord to shuttle the raft back and forth, but alas, that much p-cord turned out to be a big pain to manage, and after several attempts and one huge mess of tangled lines we managed to both get across.  
Several hours later we had to cross the Oshentna, but this time we just both got in the boat at the same time.  Alas, after deflating we learned there was another channel to cross.  Sigh.  Soon we were across, and were back on the fast walking mini-road, only to take a wrong turn and end up at the Oshentna again, headed in the wrong direction. 

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With some backtracking we made it to the correct trail, which alas became a bit of a muddy mess. 

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In the evening we camped at the intersection of two ATV trails in a little pass, on a wonderfully clear and beautiful evening.  

In the morning we awoke to a hard frost with chunks of ice on the tent, and clear skies.  We zoomed along attempting to stay warm until the sun hit us.  We followed Yacko Creek though some mines, passing some old mining equipment, through some much more active mines, and eventually out into a beautiful green valley where we surprised a small pack of wolves enjoying the morning sunshine.   Our plan at this point was just to push though and hopefully finish in the early morning, ideally making good time on the great ATV trails.   

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Tom drying stuff out winter classic style.. but more dusty


Fortunately the trails remained great, but it was oh so hilly, hot, and dusty.  My feet were not enjoying the hard surface.   We had two biggish climbs, then topped out at “Monument”, before descending to Crooked Creek.   From the top of Monument we had cell service, so I called my wife Nancy and my daughters to say “Hi” – the joys of modern life!   From there we had intended to take the Crooked Creek trail, but alas, we wasted several hours trying to find the trail before bailing and walking around it to Belanger Pass trail, swacking though dwarf birch in the almost dark before hitting the trail.   In honor of getting back on the “easy walking” we had a freeze dried meal each, then walked in the dim light up a thousand feet or so vertically, to descend down a wide road to a muddy and mindlessly straight Squaw Creek trail. 

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Early morning manic Belanger Pass trail selfie..


It was surprisingly warm up high, and more surprisingly, pretty cold after we descended. 

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Squaw Creek trail, in one of the less muddy sections.. so straight, so boring!

Squaw Creek Trail was a blur of mud and mist in the distance that ended finally at 6am when we turned off to bump into some folks I had talked to at the start eating handfuls of donuts.  Now minus the donuts they were huddled around a fire, looking warm but glued in place.   Apparently there was yet another beaver swamp and one of their group had fallen in at 3am, getting completely soaked and resulting in a nice big fire and naps for the lot of them. 

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The donut guys, in happier, drier times.


I moved on quickly, as otherwise the lure of the warm fire would suck me in, and soon it would be me napping.  

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We inflated to cross the beaver swamp, only to find it was actually very shallow for the most part, too shallow to paddle, and only deep in one narrow section dug by ATV traffic.  Then it was up and over the side of Gunsite mountain, then down to an abandoned section of the Glenn Highway, where we pounded out several miles of pavement, followed by a few more miles of sleep-deprived wandering on social trails before finally reaching the finish at Sheep Mountain lodge. 

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Lifelike pavement walking action!

Amanda was there to meet us with Professor the Black Lab, and we were back in civilization, with food, showers, and all the comforts of life. Hurrah!   As we signed in, I was surprised to see just two groups (four people) finished ahead of us.

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Amanda, being the wonderful person she is, had booked us rooms (I even got my own, double yay!), and had food for us – triple yay!   After a nap, we hung out with the other groups who finished. Alas, the winner and new record holder and master packer (his pack was tiny!!) Sam Hooper was already long gone, but Matt, Brian, and John were there and we chatted a bit.  Then we took naps before meeting the next group coming in: Luc Mehl, Lee Helzer, and Alan Rogers.  Then it was dinner, and more sleeping before the long drive back to Fairbanks, chauffeured by Amanda while I sat in the back seat petting ‘Fessor. 

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We made a brief stop in Delta for weird Russian foods from the IGA for my daughter Lizzy, and a burger for Tom, before finally making it back to Fairbanks.

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Квас!

Gear

We took a single packraft.  That was a mistake, probably, as we didn’t get any breaks for our feet.  If I do it again, I will take my own boat.

We took a small 3lb tent, a Tarptent Rainshadow.  It is a great tent, but too small for two adults to sit up and do things like fix their feet.  This slowed things down a bit.  I would take a different tent, or at least a tent that two people can sit up in at the same time.  Perhaps a mid, as the bugs were almost non-existent for the most part. 

We both brought sleeping bags and closed cell foam pads.  I brought a 30 degree bag I originally got for my daughter lizzy.  It worked great.  

We took an older MSR Pocket Rocket and a biggish titanium pot that is the lightest pot I own.  I would have taken my MSR Reactor, but it is on the fritz and takes forever to boil.  In retrospect, I would have taken a Jet Boil or something that boils water faster.   We had a freeze dried meal every evening, which is the only time the stove was used. 

Foot stuff – we brought ¾ of a roll of Lukotape, and used it almost completely up, and lots of a homemade hydropel replacement that our friend Beat made.  I also had a small amount of Sportslick.  The hydropel replacement works great, much better than anything I have used before (at besides hydropel 🙂 ).   Next time I will bring lots more. 

We both brough trekking poles.  Well worth it for the creek crossings, of which there were lots. 

Shoes – I used inov-8 Roclite G 275 and they mostly worked great, until they didn’t. They have weird non-eyelet things for the laces, and they were almost completely destroyed by the end, and I had to cut up a sleeping pad to cushion the front of my shoes for the last 30 miles.   I wore a thin liner sock and a thick outer sock.  Mostly I was happy, I just wish those shoes’ lacing system was a lot more durable.   I would use something else next time.

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Not impressed by the lacing system..



I took a HMG 4400 pack. I have a love hate relationship with that pack. At the upper 30lbs of weight I had in it, floppy and uncomfortable would be the best words to describe it.  After 25 miles I had to stop and repack as it was so uncomfortable.  Also, I wish it was made out of VX style fabric rather than dyneema as it seems to be aging really fast.   However, it is light, and it is laid out well, with good pockets.    And my other pack of a similar size is around 1lb heavier.   I don’t think I will take it on trips where I am carrying more than 30 lbs again.  Maybe I am just a wimp. 

Navigation – we had print maps of the route, made with Caltopo, and the route loaded on two cell phones, with a Garmin etrex 30 as a backup. Next time I might just leave the etrex at home, as cell phones are much easier to use than the etrex is.  The print maps were great for route discussion. 

Food 

I took about 16 lbs of food, hopefully enough for 6 days, plus 1200 calories of “emergency chocolate”   That works out to be a little more than 2.5 lbs a day, and included a freeze dried meal.  I bought two of the Expedition Foods (https://expeditionfoods.com/ ) 1k calorie meals and those rocked – they tasted good, and were noticeably more filling with no need to wake up in the middle of the night for a snack.  Alas, they are expensive and they have no US outlet and are based in the U.K.  The Thai curry was particularly delicious.  For the “normal” calorie meals I brought macadamia nuts and little packets of coconut oil to add calories, which seemed to work great.   I had about 8oz of either cheese or pepperoni per day, which was great.  Next time I might bring twice that.  The rest of the 2.5lbs per day was mostly candy bars (mars bars, snickers, m&ms, a few granola bars).   This was a mistake – I bought too many candy bars and not enough nuts and simple carbs.  I was probably short of protein.  Next time I think I will bring some powdered recovery beverages, instant breakfast mixes, or something similar – something I can just add to a Nalgene of water and drink.  I had brought several packets of chai mix which was wonderful just added to cold water in my Nalgene.   I had some electrolyte tablets but didn’t use them.  I should have; my feet swelled up huge the last day, possibly due to a lack of protein or electrolytes.

Nancy suggested I add some pilot bread, which was great.  Next time I will bring a lot more simple carbs in an easy to digest form like that, possibly with other crackers or chips like Fritos.
My daughter Molly (kids are useful for something!) vacuum sealed each day of food individually, and that worked well. 
I finished with a day and half to two days worth of food.  Since it took us about 5 days that seems to be about right. 

Route

Our route was a mixed bag.  The walking was mostly good, besides Tsusena Creek and some of the muddier ATV trails.  The ATV trails got boring quickly, though, and it would have been nice to see some of the higher country.  Not floating was a bummer, as it meant we were always on our feet while traveling.   Next time I think I would try to do more floating, which could be hard if Caribou Creek and Tsusena are both running high.  It sounded like Tsusena Creek was continuous class II+/III last year, which might have been more than we were willing to do.

What would I do again?  

  • Sleeping 4 hours a night was good – we were mostly functional and made pretty good time. It also let our feet heal up and dry off. 
  • A freeze dried meal a day worked great – some sort-of-real food was very nice
  • A tent – a tent was excellent, as it rained a fair bit. 
  • Trekking poles – I almost didn’t bring them, as they weigh slightly over a lb – like half day of food! 
  • Leukotaping my feet two days before, completely covering the heel and the front and using tape adherent (tincture of iodine) worked perfectly.  The original tape stayed on for most of the trip. 

What would I change? 

  • I would bring a different tent, possibly bigger, maybe without netting, so two adults could sit up at the same time to treat their feet and do other tasks.  Perhaps a mid.  A HMG mid if I won the lottery. 
  • Different food. 
  • Different shoes that didn’t have the lacing system fall apart. 
  • More foot lube. 
  • More leukotape – we almost ran out! 
  • Bring a boat per person! 
  • Possibly a different pack
  • Leave the etrex at home, possibly bring another usb battery instead, maybe a AA powered charger. 
  • Cut more weight out – my pack was too heavy.
  • bring compression socks – my feet swelled up a bit the last day, and got really big when I finished!
  • carry my “good” camera in a waterproof bag!
  • Probably lots of other things I am forgetting. 

After Affects

My feet swelled up huge, but otherwise I was mostly fine. I had two small blister on my feet, and one blister on my hand.

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My feet though..

Finally

I would like to give a huge thank you to Amanda for driving us around, picking us up, getting me a room at the finish, providing food, and everything else – thanks Amanda!!! 

Thanks Tom for accompanying me – it was fantastic traveling with you!

I would like to thank Nancy and the twins for letting me disappear on this harebrained adventure.  Thanks, I love you guys so much, and really appreciate your willingness to let me disappear for a week (or several) occasionally.   

I will probably update this post as I remember more things as I remember them. 

Luc posted a wonderful write-up here, with as always better words and photos. Plus he made a video!!

2020 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic: Talkeetna Mountains from Luc Mehl on Vimeo.

Thanks for reading!

Map

Alaska Cross 2020

June 19th, 2020

Alaska Cross is point to point semi-organized semi-race. It originally went from Chena Hot Springs to Circle Hot Springs, then branched out to several other destinations. In the latest incarnation it goes from Lost Creek (mile 6 of the Dalton Highway) to the Wild and Free headquarters at Eureka AK. I did it last year with Ned Rozell and had a great time. This time I was back, with Tom, and hoped to take a “better” route. It is about 46 miles in a straight line, but folks are free to take whatever route they want.

The start is pretty awkward as usual, though perhaps a bit more so with the “promoter” Mark Ross sending us off with some sort of late 90s music that I had not heard before.

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

There are many route options, but almost everyone took an ATV trail for the first few miles, then groups started peeling off to take their own routes. Tom and I headed up to a ridge that extended for the first 28 miles.

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

The next 20+ miles were a mix of okay walking and tussocks, with a bit of brush tossed in.

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

When Tom and I first crested onto the ridge there were around 7 or so folks ahead of us, and gradually that thinned out to just one – Brent Sass of Wild and Free Mushing. We would see Brent on and off again ahead of us for rest of the race, always on the next ridge ahead of us.

Alas, it was really hot, and there wasn’t much water on the ridge. By the time we started dropping off the ridge I was very dehydrated and starting to have trouble eating. Tom needed a quick break to adjust his shoes and I ducked behind some rocks to take an dehydrated emergency potty break (a number two) . Alas, just as I was finishing up when Matt (I think) passed by. I hope he didn’t see me and wasn’t traumatized for life. My apologies Matt!

Once off the ridge we took an old road which varied from really great walking to a muddy and brushy atv track for a few miles before heading up to a ridge we would take most of the remaining distance to the finish.

We finally had good access to water and I drank three liters over the next few miles, and stocked up for the high and presumably dry ridge we were taking next. Alas, even after I was bloated with water I was still dehydrated.. too much, too late I guess.

I did stop and take photos of the little shipping container shelter Ned and I peeked into last year. Last year Ned had said he was very tempted to take a nap in it, but I vetoed that idea thinking it was a moldy mess. In a little more daylight it looked a lot more inviting and not all covered by mold as it looked to me the year before, but fortunately it was only 8:30, way too early to take a nap.

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020 Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020 Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

The climb up to the final ridge looked huge from below, but it didn’t take that long to hike up it. Alas, my stomach was feeling off from being dehydrated and I was having a hard time eating the food I bought. Next time, fewer Snickers and more cheese or other non-sweet high calorie items. Tom gave me his only cheese stick, for which I was very grateful – thanks Tom!

The ridge went on, and on. Up and down.. but the walking was great!

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020 Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020 Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020 Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

Eventually we left the nice ridge and headed down to the Hutlinana River. Just before we headed down I saw the rind of a tangerine or other small orange on the ground next to some footprints in some dry caribou moss. This ridge is pretty remote, so I can only assume it was from last year…

We headed down to the river in a nice brush free gulley, and quickly found a winter trail we took over to the Hutlinana hot springs trail. Alas the beavers had been very active, and several times the trail went into waist deep pools before we crossed the Hutlinana, and started the six mile walk to the finish just as the skies opened up and dumped rain on us..

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

We arrived at the finish around 9am, just after the rain stopped and the sun came out. It was a very welcome relief to lie in the sun on the grass of the Wild and Free homestead, drinking cold pop from a cooler in my truck and listening to the dogs howl and watching them play. I was pleasantly surprised that only four people had finished ahead of us – Brian, Nick, Bob, and Brent. It seemed like we were going so slow I expected everyone to be ahead of us. Eventually we found everyone napping in the workshop and we headed in for a nap before driving back to the start.

What a great way to spend 24 hours, I had a blast. I will probably update this with some lessons learned and other information as I get a chance.

Thanks for the company Tom, and congrats to everyone who showed up for the long walk, and Brent and Ida for hosting us at the finish!

The results from Mark R, who likes the results listed from last to first:

 
AKX 2020, June 13, After-math:  

11.  Mike Fisher,  Brandon Wood    - Scratched at 25mi. returned to lost creek. 
10. Drew Harrington, Chris Miles   -   34hr. 43min.
9.  Tait Chandler, Todd Vorisek    -   30'  35"
8.  Mark Ross, WM*                 -   30'  27"
7.  Tracie Curry, Clinton Brown    -   28'  32"
6.  Matt Blood                     -   27'  14"
5.  Jacob Buller                   -   26'  53"
4.  Jay Cable, Tom Moran           -   22'  51"
3.  Brent Sass                     -   22'  21"
2.  Bob Gillis, WM*                -   22'  15"
1.  Nick Janssen, Brian Atkinson   -   21'  58"
   
*Wildermeister

Our route, and stats in Strava:

Some things that worked:

  • I am using new shoes – Inov8 Roclite 275. I love them – blister free
  • Foot-lube – I stopped briefly and re-lubed my feet at half way or so. That seemed to work great.
  • I didn’t run out of food – hurrah! I was definitely close last year.
  • Once again, using a cell phone for navigation rocked.
  • We really only stopped once for Tom to deal with his feet, and for me to go to the bathroom.
  • the last ridge was way nicer than the Elephant Mountain route I took with Ned last year.

Things that worked less well (fails!):

  • I got dehydrated – I should have brought more water carry capacity and started out with more water.
  • I overtreated some of the water I had with chlorine dioxide using aqua mira, which made my stomach feel a bit off, or made it worse.
  • I brought too much sweet foods, and the non-sweet foods I bought – mainly pistachios – were hard to digest. I ended up chewing a whole mouthful, then washing down the paste with a big gulp of water. Not ideal. Next time more cheese and similar stuff would be good I think, and less candy. I had a huge handful of sour patch kids at one point and that really sat in my tummy like a rock for hours.
  • I had chafing issues – I wore a belt and that had my pants a bit too high and I had some rubbing issues. Chamois Butt’r helped, but if this was longer it could have been an issue.

Moose Creek with the Family

March 26th, 2020

With the COVID 19 outbreak, school closures, the White Mountains 100 canceled and social distancing looming Nancy and I discussed doing a last minute family cabin trip. The cabins do not see that much in the way of visitation, and hopefully would be safe from threat of COVID 19. After checking the reservation system for the White Mountains NRA, we noticed that Moose Creek cabin was open Monday night, and we quickly booked it planning to head out there via snow bike. It should be a mellow 16 mile bike ride one way.

The day before our trip I went for a 9 hour ride with some friends, and it was soft and a bit slow. When I got back I suggested we should consider skiing, but was poo-pooed. Hmm..

After a bit of work, we managed to get all four bikes, two dogs, and all our gear into (and on!) the truck, and headed off to the trail head. A bit of re-packing and bike juggling we were soon hitting the trail.. which was alas a bit soft.

A meltdown or too later, once everyone had tire pressures more appropriate to the conditions we made slow but steady progress towards the cabin.

Moose Creek with the family Moose Creek with the family Moose Creek with the family

It was warm and sunny, but there was almost no traffic on the trail.

Moose Creek with the family Moose Creek with the family

At about 5 miles in I told the twins we had three hills to go. Which to my mind was correct, but set off a lot of argueing about what was a hill and what wasn’t. Apparently I missed lots of little hills in between those “three” hills, and Lizzy offered to make three little piles of snow to ride over so we could then “be there”. Much eye rolling ensued, for once with me doing the eye rolling. While heading up the final big hill to the cabin Molly told me “You can’t understand how tired I am!!”. Many snack breaks and five and half hours later we finally arrived at the cabin.

Moose Creek with the family Moose Creek with the family

Moose Creek was still warm from the last visitors, so we quickly had it nice and warm, and even had a pine marten frollicking downhill from the cabin.

Moose Creek with the family

The evening was spent snuggling with the dogs..

Moose Creek with the family

.. hanging out, eating, and reading. The current “reading aloud” book was by Arther Ransom , with one of the main characters had to be in quarantine while recovering from the mumps. Strangely pertinent to the current times, as we had been reading this book since a bit before the current virus crisis…

Moose Creek with the family

The evening went by fast, and everyone hit the sack early – one of the advantages of family bike trips!

In the morning we headed out and enjoyed firmer trails on the way out.

Moose Creek with the family Moose Creek with the family

After a stop for ice cream bars at the local convenience store on the drive home, everyone agreed the trips was “ok”. 😀

I was quite impressed by the twins willingness to ride their bikes for nearly six hours on their first winter bike trip ever.

Stay healthy everyone!

Eagle to Central on the Yukon Quest trail

February 19th, 2020

In 2018 a friend and I biked from the Fairbanks area (Chena Hotsprings) to Eagle.  It was a great trip, with mostly really nice trails but cold weather. I had plans in 2019 to bike most of the full route, but alas family stuff intervened – my wife Nancy snapped her achilles while at a trampoline park.  Ouch! Note to everyone – trampoline parks are not for the 40+ crowd! This year I had hopes of biking some part of the route, but I was having trouble finding anyone interested. Fortunately José Bermudez got in touch and was ok with me joining him for the first part of his Eagle to Kivalina (a small village north of Kotzebue) Trans-Alaska trip.  

Our trip got a bit of a rough start.  We were scheduled for a 9:00 am flight, and after some weather delays we arrived at 4pm in Eagle to 4”- ish of fresh snow with more still coming down.. And it was -20F.   To folks not from interior Alaska, it is hard for the air to contain enough moisture to make snow at sub zero temps, so it is somewhat rare to see that much snow at these temps.  So rare that another passagager assured us the forecast was wrong, as it couldn’t snow at -20F. Sigh.

The next day we set out.  We were staying at the Eagle store and hotel, and I had bought several pounds of additional food after an old timer who runs the Clinton Creek checkpoint on the quest told us we were too early and were not going to make it.   Making my 80lb bike a 82lb bike. So heavy! 

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central /center>

 The riding was slow for the first few hours until we were passed by two National Park Service rangers heading to Slaven’s roadhouse, a historic roadhouse 100 miles from Eagle. 

Eagle to Central

Eagle to Central

Eagle to Central

The ranger’s packed trail was much faster, but alas our plans of making it 50 miles in to stay with some friends were not going to happen without a long day, so we ended up at another family’s place just off the river.  They are famous with the Yukon Quest mushers as the “Brownie Stop” as they leave homemade brownies out for the mushers. 

Eagle to Central

They put us up for the night, providing us with a fantastic dinner, and I drifted off to sleep the sound of their sled dogs howling.   In the morning we headed out, finding the trail much faster, and made it to our original destination in the early afternoon.

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central


We spent the afternoon chatting with Tim and Tova, and ended up spending the night, having talked most of the afternoon and early evening away in spite of our plans to just “stop in to say hi”.  In the morning we pressed on to Kandik cabin.

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central


So far the temperatures hadn’t been truly “cold” but had been between -20F and the mid -30Fs – cold but not epic cold.  José hadn’t had a lot of experience riding at these temps and was getting a crash course. Fortunately he adapted, dealing with the layering, hydration hose, and tire pressures issues fairly well.  Kandik cabin is a very cool spot and a neat cabin, but alas, not very windproof, so at these temperatures with a breeze it was hard to keep it warm. In the morning we hit the trail to the coldest weather of the trip, near -40F, enjoying fairly firm trail to Slaven’s.  

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central

Slaven’s was filled with NPS volunteers setting up for the dog race so we quickly moved to the much quieter public use cabin nearby.  We had arrived pretty early, so we planned to leave in the early am hours as the trail breakers were supposed to be in that evening late.  Fortunately they showed up in the early evening. Unfortunately we got to talking and our early am departure turned into a late morning one.  Socialization – it will be the end of us all! 

The trail breakers told us that from the Smith’s (aka the 40 mile cabin since it is 40 miles from Circle) to Slaven’s there was a ground blizzard with near zero visibility.   Leaving Slaven’s the trail was ridable but soft… but soon we were in the ground blizzard and big sastrugi (wind-driven snow ridges) meant we were walking our bikes.

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central

Fortunately it wasn’t that bad, but we did end up walking most of the way to Smith’s cabin.  After warming up the cabin we watched from comfort as the leaders passed by, then hit the sack with plans to leave around 3am. For once we were not distracted, and made it on the trail at 3am. The trail was firm and fast from all those little dog feet pounding it down and we zoomed towards Circle.  It was clear the trail had been quite windblown, and in one section there was a bit of a yard sale and I picked up a gopro camera as well as several mittens. On the way to Circle we passed five teams. 

 Alas, the lead dog of the the first musher we encountered, “Ranger”, freaked out and caused a big tangle.  I had been really worried about this. Everyone with the Quest kept assuring me that it would be fine to have us out there, but I was really worried about annoying the mushers and causing an issue.  I had insisted we be off the trail when the leaders passed by so we didn’t damage anyone’s chances on the pointy end of the race. The rest of the mushers went by without issues, though later I was to learn that most of them didn’t really know what we were.  Apparently at the next checkpoint they had a laugh as they discussed who they thought we were. One thought we were another team they passed, another a moose.. Because of course moose have headlamps. 

We chatted a bit with the last musher, Dave Dalton. He was a bit sleep-deprived, and was just standing on his runners  as his dogs rested.

Our conversation went somewhat like this: 

Dave: “I think they are breaking trail.

Me, after looking down at the rock hard trail, “I am not sure, it looks great to me.” 

Dave: “They are breaking trail.  It sure doesn’t look like 12 teams are ahead of me.  I think I am going to let them keep breaking trail and give them a bit more time. ”

Me:  “ Looks good to me – you should get going.”  While thinking of course it doesn’t look like 12 teams are ahead of you, the next one is a half hour ahead of you, and half of them are almost 12 hours ahead of you! 


The remainder of the ride into Circle was a bit boring, but fast.   The trail was routed more on the river this year, so I got to see a few big cliffs and bluffs rather than swamp, which was nice.   We arrived in Circle just as they were closing up the Circle checkpoint in the firehall. Circle is a very small community, and their firehall is appropriately small –  it fits one very tiny fire truck with enough room for another pickup. José I think was hoping we would hang out here longer but I was in a hurry to get to Central, take a shower, and have a burger.   The 34 miles from Circle to Central were on a dirt road, and were uneventful but hilly. At Central my burger need was fulfilled, but my dreams of a shower were dashed. Also, our path forward looked unclear, as the highway was closed due to high winds and drifting snow.  In the morning I after asking around about trail conditions and being told it was unlikely the trail was still in I called it quits. I hitched a ride back to town with the Quest cleanup crew heading back with a load of port-a-potties. “Classy.” as one musher put it. José rode on to Fairbanks on the highway and eventually the local trails and arrived three days later.  After a bit of recovery and recouping he headed out again. Unfortunately his trip ended two days after leaving Fairbanks. Hopefully he will be back next year to complete his route.

This trip was very fun, but a bit slower than I expected.  The trail was mostly ok; it looks like we averaged about 5mph for most of the trip, which isn’t bad, all things considered.  It wasn’t as cold as last time, but it was definitely not warm. We saw lows near between -30F and -40F, with highs of -20F most days.  Watching José adjust to riding in the cold was a reminder about how steep the learning curve is, and how much I take for granted the skills I have picked up over the years that let me be comfortable at those temperatures.  Not that I am perfectly comfortable at those temps – I have yet to figure out how to not get the neck of my jacket wet and frozen after 8 hours sub -20F temperatures for example. However, I am mostly pretty comfortable. José seemed to pick up the skills and adjusted pretty quickly, and after the first two days seemed to be doing fine.  

This is a hard trip – it is remote, it is cold, the logistics are somewhat challenging, and there isn’t a good way to bail out between Eagle and Circle. 

A big thanks to José for the company!  

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.

Early winter Windy Gap Early winter Windy Gap Early winter Windy Gap

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.

Early winter Windy Gap Early winter Windy Gap Early winter Windy Gap Early winter Windy Gap Early winter Windy Gap Early winter Windy Gap

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!

Early winter Windy Gap Early winter Windy Gap

Thanks for reading, I hope everyone is enjoying winter!

Winter begins..

October 8th, 2019

It looks like it is here, hurrah!

Winter Begins

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!