Archive for March, 2010

The White Mountains 100

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

After a night with less sleep than I would have liked, Tom and I drove the 40 miles or so to the Mile 28 trail head for the White Mountains NRA for the start of the White Mountains 100 . The race started at 8:00am and required a check in before 7:45, so we left town at 6:20 to make sure we had arrived with plenty of time. We ended up trailing a long line of vehicles heading out of town, and much to our surprise, most of them turn into the parking lot for the race. After I did my required checkin with the organizers, I spent some time wandering around checking out the other racers gear and spent some time talking to a couple of the skiers. There were quite a few bikers on fat bikes of one type or another – some pugleys, some fatbacks, and a couple of bikes I could not identify along with some standard bikes using Snowcat rims. The skiers were a mix of skate skiers on super short skis, skate skiers on standard skate skis, and classic skiers.

Soon the officials made the 5 minute warning and everyone headed to the starting line. I gave the bikers a lot of room and let them take spots closest to the start, as they should be the fastest, and I didn’t want to block a bunch of the fast folks with my slow skiing. The officials did a count down, and we where off. The first mile or so of the course climbs a small hill, then starts a series of rolling hills that lasts the next 30 miles. All the skiers were bunched together in the beginning which made things a bit cramped for a while, but eventually things spread out as the speeder folks pulled away and the pack spread out.

I took the first 6 miles or so pretty laid back manner, letting all the fast folks by. I was to spend the 30 miles or so passing and being passed by Rorik the runner – he was amazingly zippy climbing the hills and would pass me on the climbs, but I would blast past him on the downhills. Rorik was to zoom to the Windy Gap checkpoint, then stop – he had a flare up of a recuring foot problem and would finish the race on snowmachine.

The next 12 miles went by super fast – in around three hours I made the first checkpoint, and chugged some water and ate some quick snacks.

After the first checkpoint I ran into several dog teams. The drivers of the teams seemed very happy and didn’t seem to mind all the extra people on the trail.

Between the first and second checkpoint the trail winds though some very scenic burns and tussock fields.

It was pretty windy but warm in the tussock fields, making for pleasant travel. This section is a bit mind numbing though – it seems to go on and on and the bits of exposed grass slow the skiing a bit.

Apparent I didn’t chug quite enough water at the first checkpoint – after 10 miles or so I started feeling a bit dehydrated, and by the time I made the Cache Mt cabin checkpoint, I was not feeling all that good. After forcing down a potato and quart of water and several glasses of Coke, I left the checkpoint still feeling a bit under the weather. Up to this point I had been skiing with Tom, but he was going a bit faster than me and took off about 20 minutes before me. The next section of trail had the first real overflow but it was very passable.

The 13 miles out of the Cache Mt checkpoint are a uphill, first gradually and then not so gradually. This section of trail is pretty scenic and very beautiful. I was still dehydrated and not feeling so hot, so eventually I stopped at a stream and chugged two more quarts, and started feeling better almost right away. I walked the final section to the top with two bikers, Anchorage Julie and Fairbanks Julie.
(Photo complements of Tom)
The next section of trail was fantastic fun – its all down hill to windy gap cabin, so the skiing was fast. The trail has lots of little ups and downs which are just challenging enough to me on my toes. Super fun! The ice lakes section was not all that bad and I skied about half of it. It was very windy on this section of trail – the main reason I took off my skis on the last half of the ice lakes was that I was being blown sideways by the wind. Dan the medic was hanging out in a tent just bellow the ice lakes making sure everyone got though this section intact and I stopped to chat with him a bit. The rest of the trail to the Windy Gap checkpoint flew by and soon I was there. The checkpoint was pretty packed but I found a seat and enjoyed some rice and meatball soup, two quarts of water, and another potato complements of Andy Stern. Andy had been given an extra potato at the Cache Mt checkpoint and he had taken it with him to snack on, but alas it froze, and he left it at Windy Gap, were it was eaten by me – hurray! After dinking around the checkpoint for a hour or so, Tom and I packed up and took off down the trail. The first 5 miles or so between check point #3 and #4 is super fun, with lots of small rollers and short sections of frozen overflow. It winds though big trees, and in the daylight has wonderful views of the nearby lime stone rock formations. Alas, it was quite dark, so no nice views, but it was still quite fun. It was quite windy near windy gap, but as we got farther down the trail the wind went away and soon it was very cold. I didn’t have a thermometer on me, but the fabric on my pack starts making crinkly noises at -15f or so, and it was definitely sub crinkly temperatures judging from the noises my pack was making.

It was quite scenic though, which clear skies and wonderful views of the stars. The trail was fairly fast do to all the skier traffic, and we made good time. After we passed the junction for the fossil gap trail we saw three lights behind us way in the distance. These later turned out to be three bikers traveling in a pack, as they arrived at checkpoint #4 shortly after Tom and I did. Checkpoint #4, Borealis Cabin, was packed with lots of racers taking breaks – there was quite a few bikers and several skiers. I headed up into the loft for a quick nap, but alas it was, much, much too hot for me to sleep. After 15 minutes or so I gave up, headed back down and ate some noodles and other snacks. Eventually Tom and I pried ourselves out of the checkpoint and headed back down the trail. We were quite close now – the remaining 20 miles or so normally take 5 hours or so, but alas it would take us a bit longer. After 2 hours or so we made it to the trail shelter checkpoint.

Tom retreated inside to warm up and snack while I chugged down water and snacks outside the tent.

I hung out outside talking to the saintly folks manning the checkpoint. Some friends staying at Eleazars had asked about me, and after they got my name, greeted me with “Oh, so your Jay”, which was somewhat ominous. It turned out all was well – my friends had made a positive impression and apparently they had hung out at the trail shelter for quite a while talking and enjoying some wine they had brought. After a short break Tom and I were back on the trail and we zoomed along and were soon back at the parking lot. I quickly changed into clean and dry clothing, got out my sleeping bag, and went to sleep in one of the arctic ovens setup in the parking lot by the race staff. I probably could have slept all night, but was awoken by Ti the medic, checking on Tom and I to make sure we were still alive. Tom, who was not napping and was buzzing from some caffeine pills (Tom say’s it was a “natural” buzz and no caffeine was involved) decided he was awake enough to drive us home, so we loaded up, and an hour later I was home soaking in the tub and enjoying dinner. Hurray!

The race was super fun – I would like to thank the race staff and organizers as they made it all possible and enjoyable. I have never done anything like this before but now I am definitely hooked – it was much, much more fun than I though it would be.

As this was my first attempt at anything like this, I would do a number of things differently. I am not a total novice, as I have done lots of fairly high mileage ski trips on snow machine trails, but nothing over 50 miles in a day. I have also done a number of “accidental” several day trips with no sleep, so that was not new to me. These trips have involved getting lost or having the weather chance and having to ski for 24 hours straight, or probably the least pleasant of my mega days – getting stuck on a treeless section Afognak Island for 48 hours. These trips were not something I had set out to do from the start however, which made them quite different – the race ended up being quite an enjoyable experience.

Things I would do differently:

  • I brought too much stuff – way too much stuff! I brought a 5f sleeping bag, and a pad – these were totally unnecessary, unless I was planning on doing it in “tour” mode and wanted to sleep outside.
  • Not enough water – I only brought a quart water bottle, which was not enough for the section between checkpoint #2 and #3 – two quarts would have been much better.
  • A better water carrying system – my water bottle was in my pack and I was not all that motivated to stop, get it out, and drink, so I drank less water than I should. I got pretty dehydrated at one point, which made me much slower than I should have been. On my long training trips I brought a water bladder, but I left it home as its a bit fiddly and requires some care to make sure the hoose does not freeze or leak. I should have brought it or some other system that allowed me to drink while skiing.
  • Too much time at the checkpoints – the checkpoints were like traps – you get in but don’t get out. I spent much, much too much time hang out in them. Next time I will try to get checkpoint time down to nothing – that would make a major difference in my overall time.
  • Ski harder – I took it nice and easy as I was not all that sure about how well I could do 100 miles. This was a mistake – the day after my legs were a tad bit sore and stiff, and the following day they felt completely fine. Normally (at least for me) the second day after a super long day my legs get quite stiff and this did not happen. I have felt a lot worse after 50 mile or even 30 mile day skis. I should have skied much harder – it felt really lame finishing this race and still being able to walk normally the day after.
  • Food – I brought I lot of granola style energy bars that I had chopped up into little pieces so they could be eaten while frozen. These were quite hard to push down while dehydrated – it was like trying to eat dirt. GU style gels went down quite well though – in the future I will bring a lot more GUs. The powerbar vanilla was like magic – went down well and provided a nice energy kick.
  • Skate – I did this race in classic style. Huge sections (the first 30 miles – besides the uphills that is – and the last 30 miles) were very skate-able. I should improve my skate technique enough to get some skating in.
  • Bike? – the bikers appeared to have a blast. I have a single speed “large” tired bike that use on the local trails – I will explore using that or something similar on our back-country trails and see how it goes. I should hunt down a pair of snowcats for my “regular” mountain bike and see if those give enough flowation on our trails.

Ah, so many things to think about for next year! Nancy has dibs on next years race, but if I can get child care and make it onto the race roster than I will do it again, as it was very fun and rewarding. If I can’t make it on the roster then I might take the family to one of the cabins on the course not used by the race staff and cheer the racers on. This race was so fun I might have a new addiction – think I will definitely do the Susitna 100 next year.

Sumer is now approaching – I have at least one more ski trip lined up – a kid trip out to a cabin I skied by in the race, but soon I will have to start thinking about summer adventures. Wahoo!

I would like to give a big thanks to my wife Nancy who allowed me to disappear for long periods of time to train for the race, and didn’t complain about my race obsession and even organized an after race party for everyone and Tom who did most of the race with me – it was nice to have company for the long dark sections – Thanks! Remus the dog was a fantastic training partner – a large handful of dog treats will be given to him as thanks. And finally, I would like to thank the race staff and organizers – major kudos and thanks to those guys. The race was super fun and was only possible due to all their hard work – thanks!

More Photos – White Mountains 100

Survived the 100

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

So, I survived the White Mountains 100. I will post a full writeup shortly, but in brief – it was super fun, and I would love to do it again. The organizers and volunteers must have put in a tremendous amount of work – major kudos to those guys, as they made the race possible and fun!

My wife Nancy has dibs for next years race, assuming the forces of the universe align such that she gets a slot and they decide to run it again. If twin care can be worked out perhaps we will both do it..

Speaking of Nancy the super wife, she has taken on managing the after race party.

Race Tomorrow

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Tomorrow is the White Mountains 100 . I have never done anything like this before – it will be a great (and hopefully fun) adventure! I believe I am ready to go, but who knows – I sure am taking a lot of stuff!

Race Stuff!

I am taking a spot tracker – folks are welcome to track me via it – don’t get too excited though, I am going to take this race mellow like, and will be happy if I am not last!

A visit to Caribou Bluff, but alas no Caribou

Monday, March 15th, 2010

My plans for this weekend included a solo trip to Caribou Bluff cabin the White Mountains NRA as a final shakedown trip before the race. Tom decided to join me at the very last minute as the warm spring conditions were too much to resist. We left town late morning and where on the the trail at around 11am. The “warm spring conditions” included a fair bit of wind, so it was not as warm as I would have liked, but still quite pleasant. I spent a bit of time chatting with a biker in the parking lot who was heading out to meet up with some skiers returning from a trip. We left a bit before the biker but he caught up with us and zoomed by as if we where standing still.

I expect in the actual race this will be the only view we will get of the bikers as they leave us in the dust.

After a couple of miles of skiing we ran into some folks we knew returning from a 5 day trip and after a bit of chit-chat, headed back on the trail. The next 17 or so miles went by quickly and as the day warmed it up it got amazingly warm and sunny. I did have a nasty spill on some overflow and wrenched my shoulder – but I survived and was soon skiing down the trail again. The overflow was quite manageable for this late in the season and was dry and fast – perhaps too fast, leading to my spill.

The trail was in great shape and the skiing was fairly fast. There was a small amount of fresh snow, but not enough to slow things down.

After four hours or so of travel we reached Beaver Creek and staring climbing up Fossil Creek Trail. This climb always seems to go on forever – its a bit of a slog but has pretty nice views.
I noticed a neat looking arch for the first time – I have travelled this trail about a dozen times and had never noticed it before. I would really like to get a chance to hike in some of this area in the summer, as the ridges look like they would be pretty good walking.

After a hour and a half or so we finally reached neared the high point for this section of trail and were treated to some wonderful views of the the White Mountains.

We then enjoyed a fun downhill to Fossil Gap Trail and a fast ski to the cabin. The days are nice and long now so even with our late start we still made it to the cabin with lots of day light. Caribou Bluff cabin is in a very beautiful spot – its up on a ridge with wonderful views.

The cabin is small but quite comfortable with a window that looks out toward the Limestone Jags – its very rewarding to sit in the warmth of the cabin and scan the nearby ridges for wildlife.

Remus enjoyed the trip in but apparently all those super long days have spoiled him – he still had an amazing amount of energy at the end of the day and spent quite a bit of time running around and exploring.

Alas, Tom’s feet had a battle with his boots – and apparently lost. Tom had replaced his ski boots due to a cracked upper and this was his first ski in the new boots – hopefully the ski was long enough to break them in for the race.
After enjoying a fine repast we turned in and hit the sack – only to spend the next couple of hours roasting due to a over stoked stove. In the morning we left early so we could get back to town with enough time to finish up the various chores that awaited our return.

The ski out was fun and fairly fast and even warmer than the ski in. We had a brief encounter with a moose who was enjoying the browse of the edge of the trail, but it quickly moved on and let us continue down the trail.

I was able to make in out though the overflow without any spills – which was quite nice.

Just past the trail shelter a super friendly snow machiner offered me a 7-up – which I gladly accepted! It was super refreshing and was much more drinkable than the near boiling water in my pack.

On the final hill into the parking lot I took Remus’s pack so we could go down the hills at a bit faster pace – Remus was a very happy dog!

Soon we were back at the trail head and driving back to town. Only 6 more days to the race!

A leisurely 40 miles

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

I had the day off from work and decided that it would be wonderful to do a longish day ski at a leisurely pace in the Whites. I decided to ski out to a ways past Borealis and back from mile 28, as the trail was rumoured to be in pretty nice shape. Its spring break, so I expected crowds, but I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of traffic on the trails. On the way in I saw a two people skiing out from Eleazars, and two people on snow machines leaving Borealis, and the way out two parties of snow machines and a musher, but otherwise I had the place to my self. The whites are a strange place in regards to traffic – some days I run into constant snow machine traffic and other days its completely empty.
When I waxed my skis the night before, the forecast was for a nice 20f to 25f, so I waxed up with blue Powergrip. When morning came it was 0f and I was too lazy to mess with rewaxing and just left it. Amazingly the blue Powergrip lasted the entire day, with a bit of rewaxing due to icing with the overflow. The day started windy and overcast with a fast trail due to some recent mushing traffic. I made good time and zipped a long at a good clip until 13 miles or so in, when I ran into the first batch of overflow.

A short bit of double polling and I was quickly past it, and off to the next section. The overflow continued on and off for the next 5 miles or so.

Fortunately it was pretty dry and not all that intense and thus very skiable.

My first major distraction occurred when a small owl flew over me and I photo stalked it for a while.

Besides the owl, there were large number of what appeared to me to be fairly fresh caribou tracks on the trail, something that I have not see before. I spent some time scanning the nearby hills in the off chance I would see them, but alas no luck. I would love to see some winter caribou!
I reached Beaver Creek a little longer than 4 hours since leaving the parking lot, and skied on for a ways, then stopped for lunch. My lunch was a healthy handful of bear claw almond pastries – yum, yum! They had been squished together due to my poor packing, but still tasted great. Fantastic! After shoving these down, I headed back out to the parking lot. As I crossed Beaver Creek it started to snow, and the trail began to slow down. The long ski down from the first hill past Borealis is normally a long pleasant glide, but the fresh snow pretty much did away with the gliding part. Eventually I was past by a musher and things sped up again. While the musher pasted she made a comment about how it looked like Remus was really enjoying himself.

It looked like Remus was enjoying himself because he was in fact having a lot of fun. Remus loves long trips – I think in his ideal world every day would involve a 40 mile ski. Perhaps he would prefer even longer days – so long as its not too hot Remus never seems to get tired. Shortly after we past the musher we made it to the trail shelter. I had smelt a brief wiff of smoke while crossing the last bit of overflow and was quite impressed the smoke from Eleasars could blow that far.

When I reached the trail shelter, the mystery was resolved – the shelter was unoccupied but someone must have been by recently as while the fire was almost out it was roasting hot inside! Remus and I spent 20 minutes or so hanging out in the heat of the shelter, drying off and in my case adding some tar wax for a bit more glide in the new snow. Eventually we pried ourselves out of the warm and snug shelter and headed back down the trail. The rest of the ski was quite uneventful except for a funny encounter near the trail creek trail junction – there was a blue down parka in the middle of the trail. Remus was quite suspicious, and after sniffing it, gave the scary parka a wide berth. I was not sure what to do – should I leave the jacket or pack it out – but since I thought I could hear folks on the trail ahead, I scooped up the parka and continued on. After a couple of jogs in the trail, I soon saw the travellers in the distance, and was somewhat baffled as to what was going on – there appeared to be a short gnome like person who was as wide as he or she was tall, along with two others messing with something off the trail. I as I got closer things cleared up – the gnome like creature was a young boy wearing a huge adult size parka that covered him so completely only six inches or so of this legs where exposed.. The other two were trying to dig out a snow machine stuck off the side of the trail – apparently they were on an evening jaunt out of the nearby Lees cabin. After handing back their parka I gave them a hand and the snow machine was quickly back on the trail and they zoomed off down the trail. The rest of the trail went by pretty fast and I was soon back at the parking lot, hungry but none the worse for the 40 miles. The hunger was dealt with by a nice greasy burger on the way back into town – hurra! Alas not Mias quality, but it was eaten quick enough I hardly noticed. Alas, Remus had to wait until we got home for his dinner.

A 50 mile day

Monday, March 1st, 2010

Since the White Mountains 100 is rapidly approaching, Tom and I decided it would be a good idea to get a longer day ski in to get a feel for what it would be like. I had pitched the idea of a out and back to Caribou Bluff cabin, which would be around 60 miles total, but Tom convinced me that an out-and-back to Crowberry Cabin would be a better idea. This was a good call, as the ski was pretty fantastic – the trail was in great shape and super fast.

We made pretty good time, making it to Moose Creek cabin in under 3 hours. The weather was mostly quite nice, though pretty cold and windy in the valleys. The total time was under 11 hours, with a pretty long stop at Crowberry for snacks and to melt water.
Near Crowberry we saw some very interesting weather related mirages.

By midday the sun was out and it was wonderfully sunny and hot. Perhaps too hot.. The last couple of hills before reaching Crowberry seemed to go on forever.

Eventually we reached Crowberry and crashed on the deck, melting snow and snacking while enjoying the sun reflecting off the cabin. After relaxing for a hour or so we packed up and headed back down the trail. It was a super pleasant (though long) ski out, with a number of long pleasant downhills runs.

We almost made it back before dark, though not quite – in the last four miles or so I had to get out the headlamp. The last three miles of the trail always seems to take forever, especially in the dark. There are not a lot of identifying features, except for the signage for the ski loop junction. I am always happy to see this sign, as it means its only a quarter of a mile until the start of the final decent into the parking lot.

One short and delightful downhill later we arrived at the parking lot and were soon munching chips. My legs were not as wipped as I expected, which was good news for the 100. Dropping the 60 miler down to a 50 miler was probably a good call though – I was pretty tired when I reached the car. I also appeared to have grown several extra chins too…

I am still refining my kickwax for these long day skis – I used green powergrip (applied with a heatgun then ironed on) topped off with 4 layers of Swix VR 40 blue on one ski and Toko binder with 8 layers of Start white and 4 layers of Swix VR 40 blue on the other. Both setups seemed to work equally well, and lasted for a very long time – I had to re-top off with Swix VR 40 blue twice but otherwise had excellent kick and fantastic glide though out the day.

More photos, for the picture inclined..

The 50 mile day