Archive for the ‘biking’ Category

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2017, part 4

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017


This is part four – part one can be found here, part two can be found here, and part three can be found here.

Leaving Unalakleet and Kevin behind was pretty sad, but I was cheered up almost immediately when a couple from Buckland stopped to talk to me. They were on their way back from a trip to St Michaels via the sea ice, which seems to me to be a pretty crazy adventure. The rest of the ride to Shaktoolik was fast and pretty fun.
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Just as a I crested the final hill before the descent into the bay outside Shaktoolik I was passed by Mitch Seavey, who asked me if this was the final hill. I was pretty amused, as he definitely should know better than me. His dogs were in fantastic shape with upright happy tails, which made my day.
Shaktoolik desent..
Shaktoolik truck
Arriving in Shaktoolik, I quickly found the school where I was hoping to spend the night, but when I knocked to be let in, some Iditarod media folks told me that the school was closed and they were the only folks allowed to use it – doh! A quick call soon had a very helpful local named Marvin had me inside the school and comfortably tucked into a corner. Alas, the Iditarod folks got revenge by walking back and forth down the hallway, setting off a motion control light near by and waking me up every 30 minutes.

The next morning came way too soon, and soon I rolling on the sea ice towards Koyuk.
Musher on the sea ice outside Koyuk
Shaktool to Koyuk trail
Seaice before Koyuk
The ride to Koyuk was mostly uneventful, though I was pretty fried when I arrived. After a quick stop at the store, I found the school and the very helpful principal helped me find a box of supplies I had sent out. Alas, I was having a hard time staying awake, so I arranged to spend the night in Koyuk, planning to head out in the early AM hours so I could hopefully arrive at White Mountain at a “normal person time”. At this point I had one goal- to arrive at White Mountain and Nome at hours that everyone would be awake to talk to and wouldn’t inconvenience my hosts. I was set up in a cozy room in the school, the same room I was in last year, though the school was without running water, so alas no shower. I hit the sack, planning to head out at 1am. One am arrived sooner than I would have liked, but I got moving and was on the trail quickly. The ride to Ellim was fast.
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I bumped into Paul Gebhardt just off the sea ice, feeding his dogs. He was bundled up in so many layers he looked like he was wearing a giant hoop skirt, with skinny legs sticking out from the layers. The extra layers were justified – it was a bit cold, nearly -30f. He seemed to be in great spirits, and his dogs were chowing down or rolled up into balls resting. I chatted for a bit, then rode on to Elim, where I hit the store to grab some snacks, including my new favorite foods, a quart of chocolate milk and more Fritos, then headed to the school to eat, then was back on the trail.

Just outside Ellim while pushing my bike up a hill I was surprised by a famous musher Jeff King, and in my hurry to get off the trail fell over with my bike on top of me. The first couple of dogs ran over me, then when the musher hit the brake. His leaders, who were a little over eye level with me, looked down and gave me “That is not where you are supposed to be, idiot!” looks. I will never forget the look of scorn on the faces of those dogs. Mr King was very apologetic, and we both spent the seconds it took to get me off the trail saying we were sorry to each other, before I was out of the way and he was off up the hill again.

The next leg into White Mountain was pretty uneventful until I neared Golovan.
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Golvin sea ice
Golovan is a long narrow town set on a strip of land jutting out into a bay. As I neared town I could hear the wind howling on the other side, so I knew things were about to get unpleasant. Once I rode through town it was a headwind all the way to White Mountain. Mushers kept passing me, and I tried to draft them, but I am just too big, and their draft isn’t tall enough. A musher in an orange jumpsuit kept having trouble, where his dogs kept turning to run 90 degrees to the wind. I had sympathy to their plight.

A mile or so outside White Mountain two snow machines pulled up, jumped off, and one of them offered me a fifth of Fireball – Bill and Adrian had caught up with me. Bill was planning on sweeping the course, and I had been expecting them to catch up with me ever since Ruby – and they had arrived! After a quick chat and a burrito (yay for snowmachine cookers!), they zoomed off, and I caught up with them in White Mountain. I arrived a little after 10pm, hours after I hoped, but everyone was awake. At White Mountain we stay with Joanna and Jack, who very kindly open up their home to the racers. Their house was full of activity, with their children Ki (probably misspelled), and Liam running around, Bill, Adrian, several guests, and one of the film crew, Kenton. A full house, and it was great to suddenly be around people again!

Arriving in White Mountain is always fantastic – Joanna and Jack really welcome us into their home, with lots of great food, a shower (yay!), and a place to sleep. I was very happy to have arrived. Alas, I did have to leave, so I set an alarm for 6am, and tucked myself away into one of the kids’ beds in the top of a double bunk. Kenton apparently found this amusing, and started trying to interview me while I was conking out.. I expect I didn’t make much sense. Thanks, Jack and Joanna, I will always be grateful for the warm welcome!

The next morning I rode the rest of the way to Nome, with a brief stop at Safety for a burger. Folks always talk about the burgers at Safety, so I was looking forward to something awesome – the frozen gas station style reality was a bit of a letdown.
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20 miles out..

I made it to Nome at around 6pm, and was met by a small crowd. The next few days were a bit of a blur, and I had a case of “mushy brain” making thinking a bit slow. I stayed with Glenn, Sue, and their four dogs, who kindly let me take over one of their couches for a few days while waiting for flights out. I will be forever thankful to Glenn and Sue for letting me crash on their couch – it was like heaven!

It took a few days to get out, given all the Iditarod traffic, but on the upside, I got to hang out with Glenn, Sue, and two of the other racers — RJ Sauer and Tim Hewit. I also hung out a bit with Jorge, the walker I ran into at 3am at the North Fork cabin. Eventually I was back on a plane to Anchorage, where my sister (thanks Theresa!) gave me a ride back to my folks’ house, from which I drove back to Fairbanks and back to my family. It was great to see Nancy, Molly, and Lizzy again, and to be back home.

I would love to thank everyone who helped me along the way – Scotty, Jack and Joanna, Sue and Glen, the Schneiderheinzes in Mcgrath, the miners in Ophir.. I am sure I forgot folks, but thanks!

I awe a huge thanks to the folks who organize the race – thanks to Bill and Kathi, O.E., Adrean, and everyone else who makes things happen.

I would also like to thank my very understanding family, Nancy, Molly, and Lizzy, for allowing me to do be away from the family so long – I am forever thankful for you understanding!

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2017, part 3

Saturday, July 22nd, 2017


This is part three – part one can be found here and part two can be found here.

Leaving Ruby was a bit hard – the food, the warmth, and the people to chat with were a fantastic change. I told Scotty I would leave at at 5am, but overslept, and he had to prod me awake at 7am, and I left 8:30am ish. Leaving Ruby, there were dog teams everywhere. The ride from Ruby to Galena was amazing – happy mushers, a bit crazed from lack of sleep, kept me company for the whole ride, and I was in heaven. If I rode hard I could just keep up with most of the teams. I really enjoyed the ride.

The first musher to passed me.

One of the highlights was riding along behind a musher in an orange jacket who appeared to be cooking a giant pot of something in a little box behind him, while riding the sled. He would turn completely around, facing backwards, and alternate between waving a huge metal ladle around and stirring the pot, all while his dogs were going full tilt down the Yukon River at 9ish miles per hour. The other funny encounter was a musher in dark clothing who was singing to his dogs some sort of nonsense song. It really made my day!

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About half way to Galena a snowmachiner pulled up and started asking me about my ride from Skagway – apparently I was being mistaken for Jeff Oatley. Alas, I am not nearly as fast a rider as Jeff.

He asked me how my ride from Skagway was going, mistaking me for Jeff Oatley.

The ride from Galena to Ruby was very fast, and I arrived at around 3:30pm.

Nancy had booked me a room, as I was planning on a pretty mellow day, and texted me that Kevin was in the same bed and breakfast, and was apparently sick. There had been some sort of stomach flu going around, or at least it sounded like it. I hadn’t seen anyone with it, but it sounded like Kevin might have had it – a huge bummer. I was given directions to the place I was going to stay, but they didn’t make a lot of sense, and after asking some local kids watching the dogs at the iditarod checkpoint, I wandered around a bit, trying to locate the store and the B&B. Eventually I asked someone where the store was, and was pointed to a large, unmarked, grey building I was standing next to – duh! I went inside, grabbed a bunch of food, including several apples, added in a giant container of pedialyte, and headed back out to locate the B&B. While balancing the box on my bike while riding down the main drag, a red SUV pulled up and the driver introduced themselves – it was the owner of the B&B – hurrah! She gave me much better directions, and took my box of food, and soon I found myself back inside, saying hi to a very sad and not well looking Kevin. We chatted briefly. He was having trouble keeping food down (and in!) and was having a rough time. I gave him the pedialyte, and he went to bed. It made me very sad to see Kevin. Up to this point, he was having a great race, and should have been almost two days ahead of me.

I cooked up my food, which mostly consisted of apples and two large pizzas, and took a shower, my first since McGrath, while they were cooking. The Sweetsir Bed & Breakfast in Galena is a fantastic place, and includes full cooking facilities and laundry facilities. The shower was truly magic, and having clean stuff again was even more awesome. I chatted with Kevin before hitting the sack, and he was feeling a bit better, but he made an appointment with the local clinic to get checked out in the morning. I slept in an actual bed for the first time since the start of the race – it was like heaven. I was pretty bummed about Kevin’s illness though, and was really hoping he would be better in the morning.

Unfortunately the owner of the B&B had it booked the next day by a group from the Alaska Dispatch, and she was pretty concerned that her other guests might get ill. Instead of kicking us out, she found other accommodations for them. This was amazingly nice, and I was very impressed. Anyone passing through Galena should check out this B&B! I was pretty concerned that everything in the whole town would be booked up, but it appeared that there were still lots of places with space, which was sort of mind-blowing, as it seems to me that Galena would be the ideal place to watch the dogs race.

The next morning I got up, ate a giant breakfast, and amazingly Kevin seemed on the mend, and wanted to continue – hurrah! On the way out of town we planned on hitting the “store”, and I followed along after Kevin, and soon I was very confused, as Kevin appeared to be taking us the wrong way. Kevin insisted he knew where we were going though, and lo and behold we arrived at another unmarked building with a small but well stocked store in it. I picked up a bunch of the little babybel cheeses – very tasty and still edible in the cold, a big Dr Pepper, and a large bag of Fritos – hurrah! After checking with some locals we found the trail out of town, and were soon zooming down the river to Nulato.

Kevin, back on the bike, and zooming!

Bishop Rock (I think)

Last year the ride to Nulato was overland, and wandered through swamps and forests. This year it was entirely on the Yukon River – wide, flat, and fast. Kevin was zooming, and even sick was riding faster than I was, and slowly rode away from me. I would occasionally catch up when there was some trail confusion or someone who stopped to talk, but then Kevin would slowly ride away again.

One of the highlights of this year’s race was talking to folks on the trail. Just outside Galena we bumped into someone traveling from Koyukuk, who stopped and talked for us a bit, talking about growing up in Tanana (a village about 200 miles up river), and deciding he really wanted to see the ocean. He traveled downriver until he met his wife-to-be in Koyukuk, where he now lives.

Koyokuk snowmachiner

I spent the rest of the ride to Nulato thinking about him floating down the river 40+ years ago on his way to sea the ocean.. Several other groups stopped to chat, including Jon (I think!) the mayor of Galena, who was returning from taking a group of Chinese visitors on a mushing trip from Nome, and another Jon from Fairbanks who volunteers at the White Mountains 100. Jon the mayor told us that Jeff Oatley had ridden from Galena to Kaltag in one day on his “vacation” when he rode from Skagway to Nome earlier this winter, putting a bit of pressure on Kevin and I to get moving.

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If Jeff could do that on his “fun” ride, we better get moving as were were racing (or at least, as in my case, pretending to).

Soon Kevin and I pulled into Nulato, making our way to the school, where I had a drop box waiting for me. We were slightly ahead of the mushers at this point, and I was amazed by all the activity in Nulato. Nulato has a bit of reputation, but everyone has always been nice to me there, and this year was no exception. The school was the Iditarod checkpoint, and there were tons of people just standing around waiting for the dog race to arrive, which meant we were the only excitement, and were offered dinner and cheesecake. I was a bit worried – we had been told not to expect or ask the Iditarod folks for anything, and I had always avoided them, thinking I would get in their way, annoy them, or otherwise cause trouble, but the folks in Nulato were very welcoming.

The Nulato checkpoint crew

A local lady plopped a cheesecake in front of Kevin and I, and told us to eat up – and we did, and it was amazing! We had a bit of confusion about how far it was to the next stop of Kaltag. The official mileage chart on the wall of the checkpoint said 50, which seemed way too far, given I think I rode it in four or so hours the year before, but a local soon corrected it saying it was only 35 miles. We headed out. Kevin soon zoomed off, and I slowly ground away riding towards Kaltag. I arrived a little after 11pm, and beelined for the school. Alas, it was locked up and dark, and I didn’t see Kevin anywhere. Expecting he headed out to the Tripod flats cabin further down the trail, which I was not up for as I needed sleep, I knocked on a nearby door, the one I thought was most likely the home of the principal, and was soon tucked away in the school, making dinner – hurrah!

The Kaltag school was the start of my troubles with motion-sensing lights. I found a nice room to crash in, and went to sleep, but every time I rolled over the lights turned on, even though I was pretty sure I had all the switches “off”. Eventually I moved a bunch of stuff to block the sensor, and got some sleep. In the morning I headed out again, a bit groggy from the interrupted sleep. I had a bit of trouble locating the trail out of town, but two kids on a very old Bravo snowmachine took me to the start of the trail heading out of town, and soon I was zooming along towards Unalakleet.
My escort out of Kaltag
I was excited to see Kevin’s tracks again, as it meant he was ahead of me, hopefully recovered. A hour or so outside of Kaltag I was passed by the Iditarod Trail Breakers – the crew that mark (and when needed break) the trail for the dog race. They were super cheerful, and told me Kevin has spent the night with them, and had left a hour or so ahead of me. It was great seeing them, as they are a bit of a legend. Hours later I pulled into the first shelter cabin on the Kaltag portage, and was a surprised to see a bike outside – I had caught up with Kevin. Kevin was looking a bit rough, and after a bit of rest and a bite to eat we headed out together.
Heading to old woman cabin
The ride to the next cabin, which was not very far down the trail took forever, as the trail got softer after several groups with giant paddle track machines passed us. We pulled into Old Woman cabin, and after finding it warm we decided to get some sleep and hope the trail hardened up overnight. Kevin was looking a bit rougher, and alas, was having trouble eating.

Tripod flats and Old Woman cabin had been just stocked with wood by a BLM crew from the Unalakleet National Wild River, and it was in great shape.

In the early hours of the morning we set out, and were happy to see the trail was much faster. We rode into Unalakleet, arriving in the early morning, and headed right into Peace on Earth Pizza – hurrah! Peace on Earth is a pretty nice pizza place in Unalakleet, and has some of the better food on the trail — besides Joanna and Jack’s in White Mountain, and of course Tracey and Peter’s in McGrath! I asked if they had any fruit, and soon they had a bowl of frozen wild Alaskan blueberries in front of me, as well as a giant pizza – heavenly! The frozen fruit was pretty awesome, and really hit the spot.

Alas, Kevin was looking even rougher, and had noticeably lost weight. He scratched in Unalakleet, and in the saddest moment of my race I left him to fly home the next day.

Kevin and I had talked about scratching earlier, and I told him of my scratch in 2012 in Skwentna, when I just wasn’t prepared to push my bike as much as I had to, and destroyed my feet. Scratching there made a huge impact on me, and molded how I approached the race in the following years, and I have always regretted not continuing. I am not sure I could have actually continued, but the ..

ITI 2017 thoughts..

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Shaktool to Koyuk trail

I finished the 2017 Iditarod Trail Invitational, riding to Nome. I placed first, with one of the slower times in recent times. A bit bittersweet, as the one of the other Fairbanks locals, Kevin, had to scratch when he reached the coast after coming down with a GI bug, that later turned out to be giardia. Up to that point he was having a great race, and would have finished well ahead of me.

It was a completely different experience from last year – I really missed the steady presence of Kyle and the socialness of Bill. The section from Ophir to Ruby nearly broke me, with nights in the mid -30fs and day time highs in the single digits combined with not seeing another person for nearly 48 hours. I did however, see many dog teams, and got to experience the trail in a completely different way.

It was a huge learning experience for me, one that I am still processing.

I am mostly recovered now, nearly a week since I finished. I am finally not waking up 3am by dreams were I still haven’t arrived at Nome and need to get up and ride 🙂

I am going to put together full write up, but meanwhile Bikepacker has some of my photos and a bit of the story up at here.

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I hope everyone is enjoying spring!

Snow..

Tuesday, December 6th, 2016

We finally got snow, and soon after it stopped I was invited out to Eleazar’s again. The snow really transformed the world, and made it seem like winter is now here.

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It was a fun trip, and it is great to be riding on snow again. It is looking like the winter is going to be fantastic! Thanks for the trip David!

ITI – 2016 Part 2, This time to Nome!

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

A bit of a warning – this post is on the long side.. ok actually its very long side..

Part 1 can be found here.

In the morning we woke up to a wonderfully clear day in Ruby, with what appeared to be a tailwind – hurrah!
After a breakfast of pancakes and some final packing, Bill, Kyle, and I headed out.

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I had been dreading riding on the Yukon river, as I have never found traveling on rivers to be all that exciting.  Too much flat endless white stuff, stretching out seemingly forever in front of me..  It always seems to like I am not going anywhere.

We did hear via the grapevine that Phil H., who should have been two days ahead of us at this point, had suffered some bike trouble just outside Galena, and had lost half a day there, but had apparently made good time.

We left The River’s Edge B&B, dropped down on the river, and headed downriver to Galena.

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The ride from Ruby to Galena was very fast.  The Yukon River was not what I expected, with lots more bare ice, silt, and rocks than I anticipated.

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Soon after we  left Ruby, Bill zoomed off ahead, while Kyle and I chugged along.   I felt a bit guilty at this point, as I think I was slowing Kyle down a bit – he is definitely a faster rider than I am.

The ride to Galena was mostly uneventful, besides some funny signs warning about a “bump” just outside town.

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The bump appeared to be a slight bulge in the ice, which was pretty funny, as the ice is anything but flat, and the trail on the river was filled with larger bumps.

We were meet just outside Galena by Bill and Larry, a local who was following the race, who directed us to a local B&B which had a room set up for the racers to crash in.   Bill had wandered around Galena a bit, and had picked us up  microwave hamburgers, which tasted awesome!

We spent the next hour or so repacking our bikes from our drop boxes, mellowing out, and eating.  Before we took off, Larry called ahead to Nulato, the next stop on the route, and got us permission to crash on the floor of the Catholic Church.

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Leaving Galena

The ride from Galena to Nulato was pretty interesting — a bit of river, a bit of swamp, a few narrow sections of nice trail looping though the trees, and tons of long, narrow beaver ponds.

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I think this section is normally on the Yukon, but the river hadn’t frozen up completely, and the trail was routed overland.

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About halfway from Galena to Koyukuk we started seeing lots of snowmachines, and we eventually bumped into the owner of the Galena B&B. After thanking her, and talking for a bit, we learned there was a basketball tournament that evening in Koyukuk, and folks were headed back to Galena and Nulato.

We passed Koyukuk in the early evening, all lit up in the dark, and it was back on the Yukon.  About halfway between Nulato and Koyukuk we stopped briefly and then noticed there were lots of eyes staring down at us, reflecting the lights of our headlamps.   Kyle thought they might be wolves, but it is hard to say.  Regardless, they didn’t seem too traumatized by us, and kept watching.

Just before arriving at Nulato, my bike made a grinding noise, and my gears started freewheeling without any resistance — not a good sign.  I took my wheel off, and was amazed to see the lower 10 gears on my cassette had fallen off.  I fiddled with it a bit, but I wasn’t sure how to get it back on.  I was pretty sure at this point I was hosed. After shifting around a bit I found my lowest gear still worked, and after telling Kyle and Bill to continued on to Nulato, I slowly followed them, spinning away.  We ended up spending the night in a Catholic Church, getting a wonderful meal cooked for us by Brother Bob at 1am, and a fantastic pancake breakfast at in the morning.

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Brother Bob, and a fellow who gave me some bailing wire.

Bill, who owns the Trek Store in Anchorage, helped me try to put the cassette back together, and we set off in the morning, only to have my cassette fall apart again immediately.
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We headed back to Brother Bob’s, where we fiddled with it a bit more, but I couldn’t figure out how to get the lower 10 gears of the cassette to stay on.   Eventually, I gave up, and told Kyle and Bill to head out.

This was the lowest part of the race for me — I was pretty sure at this point I was going to end up flying back to Fairbanks to swap out the wheel.  I had been told there was a 11am and 3pm flight in from Fairbank, and started spinning slowly up to the airport, which is on a bluff overlooking the river, or so said my gps.   After a bit of 3mph spinning, I quickly realized that as it was just after 11am, and I had seen the flight land at 20 minutes ago, I just wasn’t going to make it.

So I made the demoralizing trip back to Brother Bob’s porch to hang out and wait until the next flight.  While I was waiting, I took the cassette apart again several more times, and eventually figured out the cassette only fit on in one orientation, and once I got it lined up correctly, the lower 10 gears snapped on – and I was back in business!  It was still unclear how it snapped off in the first place, but it seemed solid, and after a few hard mashing sprints to test it out, it looked like it would hold up, and I set off to go catch up with Kyle and Bill. I did pick up a length of baling wire — if worse came to worst I could wire it together, which would hopefully hold until I reached the nearest town.

The ride to the next town of Kaltag was fast, but very uneventful, and a bit boring.

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This was the Yukon I was dreading — flat and seemingly endless.  Fortunately, it was warm, I had a slight tailwind, and the riding was very good.    I tried to put on an audiobook, but my player was malfunctioning, alas.

Eventually I made it to Kaltag, where I just missed the Post Office closing, and ended up stopping by the store to grab some snacks  — mainly a bag of bagels, two small containers of yogurt, and a small jar of peanut butter.  I ate two bagels and the yogurt which was fantastic for dinner, and after asking for directions on the way out of town from a young guy manning the store, I headed out.

The next section of trail was the Kaltag portage, which leaves the Yukon river (yay!) and heads overland to Unalakleet, on the coast.  As I was heading out of town, I was very surprised to see Kyle and Bill riding on a road paralleling me a mile or so off, then watched as they turned off and continued down the Kaltag airport’s runway.   I turned around and headed after them, but quickly decided it wasn’t going to happen — it was going to take a while for me to get to the trail they were on, and with that lead, I wasn’t going to catch them.   I could see trail markers on the trail I was on so I knew I was headed the right way, and headed back down the trail.   A mile or so out of town, I remembered I was supposed to call the ITI organizers when we leave the Yukon river, and stopped  to get out my cell.  After wasting a bit of time screwing around with my phone I discovered I couldn’t get cell reception, gave up and headed back down the trail.    After 20 minute or so, I ran into Bill and Kyle – hurrah!  They were super surprised to see me and were pretty happy my bike was working again.  They had taken a long break at Kaltag, and were pretty well rested, and quickly disappeared down the trail.  

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Hopefully I would catch up with them again at one of the shelter cabins along the trail.  At the first cabin, the Tripod Flats cabin,  I could smell smoke, and knew they were inside, warming things up – hurrah!   After a nice evening of dinner and a good night’s sleep, we headed off to Unalakleet.

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The Kaltag Portage trail is pretty spectacular — very scenic, and very beautiful.  The trail was in fantastic shape, and it was warm and calm, with clear skies and fantastic views.  I think this was one of the highlights of the race for me.

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About 15 miles or so outside Unalakleet we ran into some bikers headed the other direction.

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It turned out two guys were on a overnight trip to Old Woman Cabin to spectate and say hi to the ITI racers as they passed by.   After a bit of chatting we parted ways, and we continued on.  Unalakleet is famous for Peace on Earth pizza, and we were determined to make it there before they closed!

As we neared Unalakleet, the snow started disappearing, and soon we were riding on bare ice and dirt.  

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Soon we were riding down the main street of Unalakleet, where I stopped to get some more white gas and some ice cream for later, while Bill and Kyle attempted to figure out where the Post Office was.  I came out and they were chatting away with some folks who had been following the race and had come out to say hi as we passed through.  They directed us to the Post Office, where we had drop boxes waiting for us.  I had been warned the Unalakleet Post Office wasn’t the most friendly, so I was expecting trouble, but as we were waiting in line to get our boxes, the postmaster walked up and excitedly started talking to us about the race, and before we knew it he was outside with us looking at our bikes, and asking questions.  

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As we talked to him, there was suddenly a deep voice from seemingly out of nowhere asked us if we would like some coffee.  After a quick bit of searching for the source of the voice I looked up to see a man leaning out of a small second storey window above the PO looking down at us.  I passed on the coffee, but thanked the disembodied voice for the thought.  After a bit more chatting with the super friendly postmaster, we headed off to have pizza.

We arrived at Peace on Earth only to discover they were closed for another 45 minutes.  Two phone calls later the manager arrived, opened up, and we sat down to unpack our drop bags, and gorge on pizza.  The pizza was fantastic, though I was sort of overwhelmed by all the food and supplies in my drop box.  I felt a bit like a child on Christmas Day, confronted by too many new toys and unable to decide which to play with first.   I only had a limited space on my bike, and picking what I was going to take with me was a bit overwhelming.

Eventually, we dragged ourselves out of pizza heaven, and headed down the trail.  Our plan was to stop at the Foothills shelter cabin.   The ride out of town was gorgeous, and I got my first real views of ocean from the west coast of Alaska — one of the highlights of the trip!

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There wasn’t a lot of snow, and the trail mainly seemed to consist of a strip of ice in ATV ruts, but it was scenic.  I was pretty surprised how hilly it was — we seemed to either be going up or down, without a lot of flat in between.  

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Perhaps I had been spoiled by all that flat river.. We arrived at the cabin in early evening, warmed it up, and enjoyed leftover pizza, and for Bill and I, icecream.  Kyle is alas, lactose intolerant, which I wasn’t aware of when I picked up the ice cream as an evening snack.

In the morning we headed out and made our way to Shaktoolik.  As we left the foothills, we headed out across a lagoon to the village, and finally hit some real wind.  This was my first encounter with any strong wind so far, and I quickly had to rethink a few things.  First, I needed more layers on my lower body, and second, while the ruff I had on my puffy jacket was awesome, wearing my puffy jacket while biking at these fairly warm temperatures (teens F)  made me much too hot.

At Shaktoolik we biked through town, eventually finding the school.

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After asking if it was okay to come inside, we came in, and talked to the kids, had lunch, and re-shuffled our layers for the next section, the ride to Koyuk across the sea ice of Norton Bay.   The students and teachers were super friendly, and very excited about the upcoming Iditarod dog race.  I ducked out briefly to run across to the store, where I wandered around in a daze, overwhelmed by all the food options.  Eventually I grabbed some junk food and snacks, and joined Bill and Kyle in an empty cafeteria for lunch.

I took the time to swap my ruff over to my shell jacket.  When I purchased the ruff, I was given the option of setting it up so I could move it from jacket to jacket.  I had been given mixed advice about this – several people told me it was a good idea, and others had told me it just made it heaver and harder to deal with, and I would not want to switch it anyway.   The option to switch it turned out to be pretty awesome — the ruff turned out to work great on my shell, and it was way too warm (around 5F for most of our ride from Shaktoolik to Koyuk) to ride in my puffy jacket.

The ride to Koyuk was neat, but took forever, and I soon got sick of the novelty of riding on sea-ice.  

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The wind, while not blowing super hard, was pretty relentless blowing into our faces, and the trail was mostly firm, but had sections where it was too soft or the crust wasn’t strong enough to hold my weight.   Bill and Kyle had the advantage of being much lighter than I am, and could float over the soft stuff like angels, while I bogged down like a pig wallowing in mud.   The final 10 miles to Koyuk seemed to take forever.   We could see the lights of Koyuk, but they just didn’t seem to get any closer.  Finally we arrived, and connected up with someone affiliated with the school.  Alas, I forget his name — he was super helpful though, fantastic guy!  He let us in, and set us up in the preschool room, where we made ourselves at home.
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Photo by Kyle Amstadter

Koyuk really reminded me of my home town of Skagway.   We arrived at around 10pm, and there was a basketball game going on, giving me flashbacks of being a kid in a small-town in Alaska.  The school even had the same feel..

In the morning we headed out, making our way back onto the sea-ice, though this trail seemed much firmer and the riding was much faster.  The ride from Koyuk to Elim was a surprise — it was really interesting, with diverse scenery, with sea ice, forested hills, wide open, and wind blasted fields.

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Bill got a bit antsy about the idea of missing his drop box waiting for him in the Elim Post office, and possibly a bit frustrated with my slow pace, and he took off.  Hopefully Kyle and I would meet up with him again in Elim.    Eventually I stopped and added a bit more air to my tires, and immediately I sped up considerably.   Kyle and Bill were both running tubeless setups, and I was pretty amazed by the difference they had in their rolling resistance.  I definitely had to do more tire pressure adjustment.  I think tubeless fat bike wheels must just roll easier than their tubed counterparts.  Some tubeless wheels are in my future, I think!

As Kyle and I neared Elim we started seeing signs of civilization — in this case, lots and lots of boats, of various sizes and states of repair.

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The last mile into Ellim involved, much to my surprise, biking up a huge hill on a plowed road, but it did provide some awesome views of the ocean.

Elim was a fantastically welcoming town. As we biked, a fellow on an ATV stopped to ask us if we needed directions, and he pointed us towards the school, where Kyle and I had drop boxes waiting for us.  Unbeknownst to me, my wife Nancy had called a village elder she knows from the Alaska Forum on the Environment conferences to let her know I was coming in, and she had a group of kids waiting for us to direct us to the school, and help me find the store.  Just outside the store I ran into a lady who told me she was just checking to make sure the store was open and was going to check to see the school was open, as Nancy Fresco’s (my wife) husband was biking in.   I laughed and introduced myself as Nancy Fresco’s husband, and thanked her.  It was surreal experience, being escorted through the village store by a group of 3rd to 5th graders all asking me questions about what I was doing, while I was asking them questions about life in Ellim, all while trying to quickly pick out food from the small but still overwhelming selection in the store.  On the upside, I eventually just started asking the kids to help me find stuff, and once I started that I quickly got what I needed and was ready to check out.  Just after I checked out, the checker handed me the phone, saying it was for me , and it was the village elder, Emily Murray, calling to let me know my drop box was at the school, and the door was open, and I should just come in and get it, and make myself at home.  A fantastic welcome to Elim!

We spend a few hours in the school, snacking and talking to the principal and his family about life in Elim.  The discussion reminded me a lot of growing up in Skagway, with the same problems of being an authority figure in a small town, and being unable to escape that role in such a small community.   Eventually we pried ourselves away, and headed off to White Mountain, though not before calling ahead to Joanna, a local in White Mountain, which was hopefully our destination for the evening.  Joanna has an almost mystical reputation in the ITI.  Folks always talk about how fantastic it is to arrive at her house at White Mountain, and I was eager to experience this!

The next section was a bit of a blur.  We headed out onto the sea ice briefly, where the for the first time I could actually see the ocean from the ice I was biking on, which was a bit disconcerting.  

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Fortunately we headed back onto land, where we headed up and over some large hills, before descending down to Golovin Bay and across to Golovin.  Golovin Bay was a bit surreal.  Last year some of the Irondog folks had major trouble here. I think one team ended up ditching their snowmachines in the middle of the lagoon in several feet of water and having to walk to shore.  Fortunately, the ice seemed thick and sound, and the trail was more of a hard-packed runway than almost anything we had been on for most of the way so far.  We zoomed across the bay to Golvin, where we briefly stopped out of the wind for a snack, then biked across town and onto more ice for the final stretch to White Mountain.   The ride from Golovin to White Mountain seemed to take forever.  Although we where making good time, it just didn’t seem like we were going anywhere, possibly due to the featureless terrain and darkness.   A few miles outside White Mountain, a snowmachine pulled up, and a woman introduced herself as Joanna.  We were unbelievably excited to see her.  I think Bill told her “I could hug you,” and she said, “While that would be nice, you should keep biking, White Mountain is just around the corner.  She headed off and we followed, and soon enough we pulled up into White Mountain, where we were welcomed into her home, in the early hours of the morning. I ended up crashing on her couch, having I think the best sleep of the race, after a fantastic bowl of soup.  Joanna and her family — Liam, Cha, and Jack — are amazingly nice, and it is hard to describe how fantastic it was to be welcomed into her house.   While chatting with Joanna, it turns out we have many mutual friends in Fairbanks, and she is even familiar with the neighborhood I live in — it is such a small world!

In the morning we had a wonderful breakfast, and headed out for the last push to Nome.   I didn’t know what to expect for the remainder of the trail, but I was pretty surprised by all the climbing there was.  After winding through some river and swamp, we were soon climbing up and down some large hills, giving us fantastic views, but a lot more climbing than I expected!

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 Eventually we descended down to Topkok, where we ducked into the shelter cabin for a bit of lunch.  After Topkok, the amount of snow dropped considerably, and soon we were zooming along on firm, hard-packed trail.   The next day was the Nome to Golovin snowmachine race, and lots of folks were out riding fast, getting some last minute practicing in.  

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We didn’t have any close calls, but some of the snowmachines were going pretty darn fast.   The rest of the ride to Safety was pretty fun, but largely uneventful.  This area is notorious for a short section where there is occasionally a “blow hole”, where the wind can be very strong.  Fortunately, while it was windy, the blow hole didn’t seem to be in action when we passed through.  Eventually we arrived at Safety, where I hoped to maybe get a bite to eat or at least some pop, but alas, they were not open yet.  We were welcomed inside though, and we chatted a bit with the owner, who was in the process of getting things ready for the dog race.  They had a very comfortable couch, but while I would have loved to just crash on it, we had to get going if we were going to finish!

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Photo by Kyle Amstadter

The last 20 miles were all on a road, which was a mix of very fast, and slow, depending on how much traffic and drifting there was.  There seemed to be at least two other options, and I was a bit sceptical that the road was the most reasonable, but it worked out in the end.    Parts seemed to take forever.   Some old friends of ours from Fairbanks, Sue and Glenn,  had offered to let me stay with them in Nome when I finished, and I was on a mission to arrive at a reasonable hour and not get them up in the middle of the night!  A few miles out of town, a truck pulled up, and it was Sue and Glenn! After a brief chat, we got back going again — the finish was just around the corner!   As the miles counted down, I watched for each mile post.. five, four, three, two, then, alas, there was a loud pop, and I didn’t have any gears anymore.   A little over a mile from the finish, my lower 10 speeds of the cassette popped off, leaving me just the big ring again.  And since the road was now completely snow free, spinning away at 3 miles an hour was going to be torture.  I tried to fix the cassette the same way as before, but no dice.  I couldn’t get it back on.  The frustration!  I suggested that Bill and Kyle continue on, but they weren’t having it, and soon had a tow system set up.  Bill towed me into the finish.  

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Photo by Kyle Amstadter

It was fantastically nice of him, and one of the highlights of the race for me.  Thanks, guys!

We were met by a small crowd of folks, including the winner Phil H, who finished just a day slower than the record.   I sort of wandered around in a daze, glad to be done, but not quite processing everything going on around me.  Eventually we all loaded up into Sue and Glenn’s truck, and drove over to their house, where we spent several hours talking and enjoying some fantastic homemade pizza!   Bill and Sue in particular were in heaven — they are both super social folks who love to talk.  Eventually we headed off to bed, and in the morning we toured Nome a bit, got our bikes headed back to our respective homes via Northern Air Cargo, had lunch with Phil H and his family and, I saw Bill and Kyle off at the airport.  I hung around for the next day, then flew back to Anchorage, where my sister gave me a ride to my folks’ house in Wasilla.  I mellowed out for a day before driving back.

Phil had an amazing race. I think he would have broken the record if he hadn’t had two serious issues with his bike. He had a crank fall apart on him outside Galena, and his chain fell apart on the sea ice outside Koyuk. Both times he had to wait for replacements to arrive. A huge congrats to Phil for such a fantastic race!

Just in case it isn’t clear – we had amazing trail conditions. It is hard to imagine the trail being nicer, any my fast time was due entirely to that, so my sub 13 day time should be put in that context. Snow bike riding is mostly about conditions, and I lucked out, the conditions were as good as I think it is possible for them to be!

I finished mostly physically intact.  One hand was a bit numb, but otherwise I had no major issues, besides having sore legs for a solid week to 10 days after the race.   My knees gave me trouble for the first half of the race, then I didn’t seem to have any issues.

I would like to thank my family for allowing me to take time away from them to train and to do this race. I really appreciate your understanding, and I love you guys!  I would also like to thank everyone I spent time with on the trail: Frenchie (Alan), Ken, Morris, Bob, and of course Bill and Kyle.   Spending time with you guys on the trail was one of the highlights of the race — thanks guys!   I would also like to thank all the folks who helped me along the way: the folks at Yentna Station, Skwentna, Shell Lake lodge, Winter Lake Lodge, the crew at Rohn (Adrian I hope you got your whiskey!) , the Petruskas in Nikolia, Tracy and Peter in Mcgrath, the folks at River Edge B&B in Ruby, Larry in Galena, Brother Bob in Nulato, Emily Murray and the school principal and his family in Elim, Joanna and her family in White Mountain, and Sue and Glenn for welcoming us to Nome.  Thanks everyone!  You guys made this experience possible for me, and I will be forever thankful for your kindness along the way.

Last, I would like to thank Bill and Kathi for putting on this race.  I am sure it is tons of work.  Thanks for doing it — it is truly a unique experience!

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Photo by Kyle Amstadter

A Post Script of Sorts..

When I finished at Nome, and took a glance at the news, I was saddened to hear about Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle’s encounter with a drunken snowmachiner outside Nulato.  When I got back home, I got questions about it.  I didn’t spend much time in Nulato, but the 12 hours I was there, I found it to be a perfectly normal place, filled with helpful, nice people.  This was true of all the communities I passed through and everyone I encountered on the trail and in the villages.  Everyone was friendly and helpful, and I had nothing but positive experiences. That isn’t to say what happened to Jeff King and Aliy Zirkle wasn’t horrible – it was, it just wasn’t the experience I had.

Improvements

There are lots of things I wished I could have improved on, but mostly I think I was under-trained for this race.  I think if I do something like this again, I need to work in some structured training of some sort.  I also need to think more about the food I put in my drop boxes.  I think if I ever have to eat another Snickers bar I will puke!  Otherwise I was mostly pretty happy with my performance in the race. I did feel like I was slowing Bill and Kyle down, something which I feel quite guilty for.   I might update this later, as I think over what I would do differently if I do this race again.


Folks who are gear phobic, should skip this bit — it is just a discussion of what gear I took.  Please, note I am not an expert, and we had really good conditions this year, so your mileage may vary.

You have been warned..  🙂

The bike

I rode to Nome on a Fatback Corvus, which I was super happy with.  The bike isn’t perfect — I wish the bottle cage on the down tube was further down, and I wish the fork had mounts for bottle cages as well, but it rides great, and the carbon fork’s flex is awesome in bouncy tussocks. I love that bike!  I was amazed how much more comfortable the carbon fork is vs the aluminum fork I used last year.  My setup is a pretty normal stock SRAM XO based setup, with a few unusual bits — a b17 Brooks saddle, and groovy Luv Handles handlebars.   The Brooks sort of grew on me — it squeaks, but it is very comfortable, and I had no butt issues of any sort when I finished at Nome.  The handlebars are awesome — just the right amount of bend, and I don’t have to worry they will snap in half if mistreated like carbon bars might.   If anyone knows of anyone selling one, I would love to buy it!

The one serious issue I had with the bike is the SRAM 11 speed cassette fell apart on me at Nulato, and again a mile from the finish.  These “xdome” cassettes come in two parts: the lower 10 gears, and the big 42 tooth cog.  The lower 10 gears just fell off the rest of the cassette.  I could pedal in the big 42 gear, but it was geared very low, as I run a 26ish (it is an oval ring) front, so if I spin hard I can get up to 4mph —  better than walking, but not by much.  I was able to get it back together after some fiddling in Nulato, but when it fell apart again a mile from the finish, I could not get it back together. I might be done with SRAM’s cassettes.

I used Northern Air Cargo to ship my bike back from Nome, and alas, they didn’t do a very good job.  The bike arrived heavily scratched with a dinged up derailleur.   If I ship stuff with them again, I am going to see about insuring it, or at least some “do not scratch, be careful” labels.  I think they must have strapped it to something with metal hooks around the fork, as the scratches are deep!

Food

I sent drop boxes to all the villages I passed through on the Yukon, plus all the villages on the coast.  I quickly ran out of ideas, and just randomly stuffed the boxes with whatever candy and junk food I could find.  Belvita breakfast crackers/cookies, and Oreos were the surprise hits — I ate pretty much all of the ones I sent out.   I got pretty sick of Snickers, and of beef jerky.  A major oversight was that the drop boxes ended up at places I often spent the night in, and they often didn’t have food there. I should have packed some heavier dinner and breakfast foods in the boxes to eat when I opened them up.   Otherwise I was mostly pretty happy.  I packed way more freeze-dried food than I used, but that probably was good, as we had fantastically good trail, and if things had taken longer that extra food would have been appreciated.  Several times I ended up having freeze dried food for breakfast, which while okay, wasn’t the most awesome — in the future I will pack something for breakfast besides Sweet and Sour Pork!

Gear

For sleeping gear, I packed a minus 40 bag and a regular length Ridgerest pad.  For clothing, a light weight puffy jacket , a puffy down jacket, puffy pants, two sets of long underwear pants (one light, one heavy), a long underwear top with a hood, and two sets of underpants.  I also packed some “town clothing”:a lightweight shirt and a superlight set of shorts Nancy sewed for me.   I was very thankful for the shorts, as they gave me something to wear when staying at schools etc, or when my clothes were getting laundered, which I did once at Ruby and once at Mcgrath.  For rain, I packed a rain jacket and rain pants.   I wore some Marmot pants that worked great, and a Mammut soft shell that has now seen four ITIs.  I love that jacket!  I had been warned that I should get a ruff for the wind on the coast.  I was initially pretty skeptical, but ended up getting one, and was amazed how big of a difference it made.  I didn’t wear a facemask the whole time!  Admittedly, it wasn’t very cold, but in the windier sections I probably would have needed something, and the ruff completely avoided this.  That was money well spent!  I brought some Primaloft mitts, and two facemasks/balaclava, and an extra hat.

For cooking gear, I packed a titanium pot and a new style XGK with an very old pump from one of the original XGKs.  I had been told the new pumps don’t work well in the cold, so I used an old one I had lying around.  It worked great, though it was loud and heavy.  I might take a Whisperlight if I do it again.

For more photos check out my Flickr gallery:
ITI 2016 - Nome

4 hours of sunshine..

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Winter is here in the interior, and we are now down to around 4 hours of daylight (give or take a bit). Those four hours of daylight can be pretty wonderful though..

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On a warm and windy Sunday David P and I headed out to enjoy an overnighter at Borealis Cabin in the White Mountains NRA.

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David enjoyed his new bike, a Ice Cream Truck, rocking the largest tires currently available.

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Remus..

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And Shiloh enjoyed the trip as well..

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The evening in the cabin was uneventful, with lots of eating and lolling about, and an early bed time.   I expect I beat the twins to bed that evening.

 

The trail was fairly firm for the ride in, but it snowed overnight, leaving us with with a bit of pushing and slow riding on the way out..

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Once the sun was up, the sky was fantastic though – pinks and reds all day long..

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Thanks for joining me, David it was a great trip!

Winter is fun, and I am glad it is here!

 

First ride of the season in the Whites..

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Winter has (sort of) arrived here in Interior Alaska. Alas, we are a little short on snow, so all my exploring has just been out of my house, and my go too loop is getting a bit boring, as I have been hitting it about twice a week. After hearing that the trails in the White Mountains NRA might be in good shape, I decided to go check things out.  The plan was bike out as far as I could towards Borealis Cabin, then head back.

The trails started off good..
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Got better..

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Then started getting a bit bumpy as I reached the valley and started towards Borealis Cabin.

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There wasn’t quite enough snow to fill in the holes between tussocks, but it was ok biking, though a bit rough.   Shiloh, a new (ish – we have had him since mid March) member of the family seemed to enjoy his first long bike ride.  I have done day trips with him on skis in the 40 mile range, but those are slower than biking.  He did well, and seemed to be picking up the flow.  I am looking forward to many more adventures with him!  We got him from the pound, who picked him up as a stray, so we don’t know much about his life before us.  He has definitely had some time in harness, and he had his dew claws removed, so there was some mushing in his past, but the rest is a mystery.

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Remus is a old hand at this, and had a blast.   Not bad for a 12 year old dog!

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A bit past the turn of for Eleazar’s Cabin the snow thinned out a bit more, bring on more bumps..

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Just past Borealis the traffic dropped off on the trail a lot, and the main trail less than a quarter mile later.   There was some traffic on a slough, so I explored that for a bit, though eventually the snowmachine tracks turned around, and I headed back.   The ice on Beaver Creek was thin but passable.

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The ride back to the truck was uneventful.  The off-ice is growing fast, but was all fairly bikeable.

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As a side note, BLM put up a new sign at Borealis, and I was amused that the mileages are off by more than a normal amount.
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Lee’s Cabin is roughly 14 miles from Borealis, so the sign is about 5 miles off. Most of the signs in the whites are off by a bit, but this is more than the normal amount. I forgot to check, but sign this one replaced had the distance to the next cabin down the trail, Caribou Bluff wrong – folks traveling east would see a sign saying 10 miles before crossing Beaver Creek, then in a mile or so, see this signs predecessor saying it was 11 miles away, even though it is a mile closer to the cabin.  For tired travelers this was a bit demoralizing – going from only 10 miles to go, to finding out a mile later you still had 11 miles left!

It is pretty funny they would go to the trouble of making the sign, but not checking the distances against their own publications:
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I hope everyone is enjoying winter!

Winter..

Thursday, February 6th, 2014

We have been having a strange winter this year, complete with rain and ice storms, and many January days near freezing. It hasn’t been good for skiers, but the warm snaps have made for fantastic trails.

I have been attempting to put as many miles on the snow bike as I can in preparation for the ITI, but I have probibly not been getting as much time in as I need. Such is life.. but it is hard to complain with the fantastic weather we have been having, and the wonderful trails.

I managed to escape for day to put in a 75 mile day ride in the Whites, which was fantastic.

Near freezing on the hills, and near zero in the valleys – not much to complain about.

One of the better rides I have enjoyed this winter, and I wished it never ended. If I would had a way to let folks know I would be out longer I would have probably extended the ride to the whole loop. Alas.. but it was still a fantastic day!

I hope everything is enjoying their winter!

First snowbike ride of the season in the Whites..

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

I love the White Mountains in winter. The area sees lots of use, and has a fantastic winter trail system, with great scenery and views. With a Monday free Remus the Dog and I headed for a bike ride in the Whites.

There was a 4 to 5 inches of fresh snow over a nice packed trail. It was mostly rideable..

Though occasionally not..

There was a strong temperature inversion, and the valleys were really cold…

so I stuck to the trail that stays high, and powered on through the soft snow.

Remus had a blast, and enjoyed my slow biking. Snow biking is a bit hard on him, with his short little legs. He prefers I go slowly, and the fresh snow gave him his wish.

On the bike tech note, I am trying a Fatback Sterling tire in the back, setup tubeless. So far I am pretty happy with it, though it is a bit smaller than I would have liked, and it packs up quite a bit in new snow.

I am also running a Bud in the front, and that thing really makes a huge difference is soft snow.

It is going to be a fun winter!

Sorry for the low words to picture count, more coming soon.

The Kenai 250

Friday, July 5th, 2013

For the last couple of years I have been thinking about doing a multi-day (something longer than a 100 miler) summer mountain bike race. Alas, summer multi-day races seem to be more of a lower 48 thing and out of my reach, so I was super happy to hear about the Kenai 250. After getting the ok from Nancy, I signed up! It is a bit of a drive, but it seemed like a great way to scratch the “long race” itch and explore some trails I had not been on before – Yay!

The race starts and ends in Hope, Alaska, a small town south of Anchorage. It seemed to hit most of the major trails in that area – Resurrection Pass trail, Devil’s Pass trail, Johnson’s Pass trail, Lost Lake trail, and a bit of random extras. On the downside, it included some pavement, but such is life.

The weeks leading up to the race I kept hashing over what I was going to take – trying to figure out if a sleeping bag & bivy were needed, how much food, how much clothing, how much rain gear, etc. In the end I decided to err on the side of safety, and brought lots of clothes (well, perhaps not lots, but a fair bit of extras, including a puffy jacket I never used), full rain gear (yay!), and way too much food.

I drove down from Fairbanks with my friend Tom, who was going to hike the Resurrection Pass trail while I was racing, and was going to meet up with me at Hope, post race. I dropped him off at Cooper Landing, then continued on to Hope, where I got settled in, got my bike mostly packed up, then took a short spin around town. On my short ride I saw two bikes decked out with bike packing gear, and chatted for a bit with two racers, Chuck D. and Tony A. As we were talking, two other racers arrived, and folks started talking about the trails the course is on, bears, beers, and all the other manner of pre-race randomness.

Eventually I dragged myself away to go get some sleep and obsess about packing my bike. In the morning I zipped over to beautiful downtown Hope, and enjoyed the small group of racers in various stages of readiness. A rough count showed a little over 10 racers – a small crowd, with a few familiar faces. After a short pre-race meeting, we were off. Things started off slow and steady, as folks zoomed up the dirt roads leading to the start of the Resurrection Pass Trail.

(Its easy to talk photos while biking on the road..)

Once we got off the road and onto the trail I jumped back and forth between Mark and Chuck, with the single speeding Jay from Vermont zooming ahead.

I chatted a bit with Chuck on the way up to Resurrection Pass, but alas, he was way less winded than I was, and could chat away going up the hills while I was left gasping – such is life. On one of the hills I screwed up a shift and my chain dropped between my rear cassette and my spokes, leaving me annoyed and futzing getting the chain out while the others zoomed away. After a bit of pulling and tugging I got the chain out (I really need to start taking bike maintenance more seriously!) and got moving again. This happened several more times during the race, but I was too worried about adjusting it in the wrong direction and didn’t mess with the limit screws. A bit more bike maintenance before the race would have made things a lot easier!

At the top of the pass, Jay was stopped taking photos of the fine view, and I stopped for a moment to say hi, then headed down to enjoy the fantastic downhill ride into Cooper Landing.

Mark and Chuck really kicked into high gear, and zoomed off. I didn’t see Chuck again until after the race, and wouldn’t see Mark again until Seward. This section is always a blast – fun and fast, and easy riding – yay! Near the big lakes (Juneau Lake?) I passed Tom as he was hiking towards Hope.


(Photo compliments of Tom)

Just before Cooper Landing I started running into hikers, and had to slow things down a bit as to not mow anyone down. Eventually it was out onto the road, and up into the Russian Lakes trail system. From this point on everything was new to me, and I was happy to be on new trails!

The first couple of miles of the Russian Lakes trail were a bit slow, as there were lots of hikers and a bit of brush. With all the pre-race talk of bears I was pretty paranoid, and keep up a nearly constant racket of “whoop, whoop”, “BooYah”, and “Hey, hey, hey!”. I am sure everyone I passed thought I was insane. At one point I surprised a pair of bow hunters all dressed up in camo. The idea of bow hunting (or any hunting at all) in such a crowded area seemed insane to me, as the idea of chasing a wounded black bear or moose down the busy trail would have given me pause, but each to their own. Once I got away from the trailhead the hikers thinned out a lot, and I enjoyed zooming over alpine meadows and stands of huge trees.


(Me, looking tired on Russian Lakes)

The grass and greenery were pretty thick in the meadows, and it was often impossible to see where my tires were – I eventually gave up worrying and trusted the trail builders not to have hidden huge rocks.

This worked fine except for a short section where I smashed my right foot into a rock at speed – ouch! Eventually it was back onto dirt road, then onto pavement, through Cooper Landing and onto the Seward Highway. Alas, with the road came rain, first sprinkles, then dumping. Not the end of the world, but thank goodness for full rain gear. As I changed into rain gear I noticed I no longer had a camera – apparently it fell out of my jersey pocket somewhere on Russian Lakes.


(Last photo from the race – one of the handful of Russian Lakes bridges.)

I debated going back, but quickly resigned myself to its loss. The camera had seen many adventures, but losing it meant no pictures from the race, which was not a happy thought. It was apparently picked up by Jay, and made its way back to me a month or so after the race. As I passed through Cooper Landing I made a quick stop at a drive-through coffee shop, getting a huge brownie and 16 oz latte to go, and made a quick stop at a random gas station for more snacks.

The section around Cooper Landing was pretty intense traffic-wise, but it was short, and there was a nice dirt road connector that skipped some of the madness before hitting the Seward Highway – yay! After the Seward Highway it was back onto trail and I spent a bit of time biking in circles looking for the right trail. The cue sheet said “Lost Lake” trail, but the only trail I could find was labeled “Primrose Trail”. With all the rain it had been easy to follow Mark and Chuck’s tracks on the soft trail, but everything here had gravel on it, making finding them impossible. I soon gave up and headed up the Primrose trail, and after a half mile started seeing Mark and Chuck’s tracks again – yay! It was a blast – lots of muddy biking though the forest. Eventually the trail climbed out of the trees into the alpine, and I enjoyed the views while zooming along. I had been warned that a few sections here were pretty tricky, but everything seemed ridable, except for a few steep sections of stairs that I walked. It looked like Mark and Chuck just hammered down them, but I keep worrying about some tricky section of doom right at the bottom of one of the steep sections, and kept things slow. The ride down was fantastic, and I never encountered anything particularly tricky – yay! I am a klutzy rider in anything tricky, so I was super happy not to run into anything hard. The rain was starting to let up, but as I made it back onto the Seward Highway, it started getting dark and I started thinking about places to sleep and how likely it was I could find a nice dry tree to bivy under. Everything looked wet and a bit miserable, so I was getting resigned for a long night of wet biking.

I zoomed into Seward, enjoying the ride on the bike path into town, to find Mark sitting under the carport of the Holiday Inn, looking a bit wet as he munched on a pile of snacks. I said hi, and we talked for a bit, and Mark mentioned that he had failed to find a hotel with any rooms free. Hmm – a hotel! A nice dry room – now that’s a thought. He also relayed the news that Chuck had bailed due to all the rain. Chuck lives in Seward, which was a major disadvantage in this case, as he had a nice warm, dry house calling him home. Mark said he was going to head off down the trail and bivy under a tree for a couple of hours, and I headed off to continue my loop though Seward, haunted by visions of a dry hotel room.

Seward at 12:30am on a rainy day is a funny place. The streets were mostly empty, except for the random people wandering around, most of whom appeared to be a bit drunk and staggering. It sort of felt like the start of a low budget zombie movie. The race route had us going though Seward twice and so I got a pretty nice tour of downtown Seward. After passing a few hotels I randomly picked one, dropped in, and checked to see if they had any rooms available – and I was in luck, though got a bit of sticker shock from the price I was quoted. I headed back out, got to the end of town, then headed back. On a whim I stopped at another hotel, and asked about rooms. I was told yes, they had a room available, and I was nearly floored by the price – damn! Apparently my expression was less than favorable, and the guy at the desk dropped the price twice before I could say anything. Since it was still more than the first place, I headed out, and on the way back though town stopped at the first hotel and enjoyed several hours of sleep in a warm, dry bed, though with a lighter wallet. I must have been quite a sight – completely soaked and muddy – but they didn’t kick me out, though the desk attendant thought I was insane when I showed up to check back out 4 hours later. I was in too big of a hurry to dry out, and left all my food on my bike, which I regretted when I was woken 2 hours later by hunger pangs. After a bit too long inside I packed up and headed out, stopping for a handful of snacks at Safeway before getting back going and heading out.

By this time the rain had stopped and it was overcast but dry, which made for much nicer biking. The next section of trail was on something signed the “Historical Iditarod Trail”, and was a blast – lots of narrowish trail winding though huge trees, with the occasional bridge. After crossing back over the Seward Highway, things got even more fun, with dryer trail and some long sections of raised bridging. While zipping across a small creek, I had my only flat when a sharp bit of slate slashed my front tire open, leaving an inch-long slash in the middle of the tire. Several minutes of fiddling with a tube and boot and I was back on the trail, though I took sections with sharp looking rocks a bit more slowly. Soon I was back out on the Seward Highway, with a brief detour on a wonderful single track loop, before hitting Johnson’s Pass trail.

Johnson’s Pass was fantastic fun, with pretty much no pushing to speak of and wonderful biking. Midway though Johnson’s I encountered two of the Forest Service’s trail crew, both on bikes with trailers of tools. I stopped and chatted for a bit, then pushed on. Soon I was back on pavement, heading towards Devil’s Pass Trailhead. For the first 8 miles or so there is a nice wide separated bike path, which I took advantage of, even though it is slightly longer. It was nice to be off the road and to enjoy spinning while listening to an audiobook (Cold Days by Jim Butcher, completely escapist trash, but just the thing 200 miles into a race.) Soon the path ended, and it was back on the road. I think I was honked at about 5 times in this section, which was surreal as I was riding right on the white line, and being very well behaved. Eventually I started getting close to the trailhead, and saw a biker parked outside a restaurant – it was Mark! I pulled over to say hi – and chatted for a bit.

Mark had stopped for a bit of food with his wife Darcy, and was mellowing out. I was tempted to stop and enjoy a burger, but the lure of the last ~30 miles of trail was calling, so I left Mark to his meal. Most of the race up to this point was all new to me, but I was about to be back on trail I had ridden before, and was really looking forward to the long downhill ride into Hope! The climb up to Devil’s pass was fun, but did involve a couple of brief sections of pushing, and several water crossings. Mark caught up to me just as I left the treeline, and we rode up over Devil’s Pass and over Resurrection Pass together.


(Devils Pass, 20 hours before I biked though it. Complements Tom.)

At this point in the race I really only had two gears that were working reliably – and that combined with the granny and middle ring were the only thing I had going at this point, and shifting between them was stiff and slow. I probably should have stopped and cleaned the mud off my chain and added some oil, but I was way too tired and lazy to deal with it.

I had my first and only crash of the race when I bounced off some rocks and turtled upside down on the side of the trail, right in front of Mark – awesome! Near the top of Resurrection Pass I started losing air from my rear tire, and had to stop and add more air, hoping the Stans would do its magic, but no such luck – for the last hours of the race I had to stop every half hour or so to add air. I probably should have just put a tube in at this point, but was not feeling motivated enough to deal with it. Mark pulled over just as we entered tree line to go bivy in a nice stand of spruce, as his light was not bright enough to ride though the trees with. I pushed on though, making tons of noise as I bounced and banged the last 10 miles into Hope. I finished a little after 2am, happy to be done and back at the truck. I was surprised to see folks still wandering around Hope at 2am, though the bar was closed. Tom had left a note saying he was camped at a nearby FS campground, but I soon gave up finding where he was camped and crashed in the back seat of the truck, happy to be in clean, dry clothing and to be munching on Tom’s big bag of Triscuits.

All and all I was quite happy with my performance in the race, though I made tons of small mistakes, and rode a fair bit slower than I should have. Such is life. This race is highly recommended, and a great way to see a lot of trails in South Central. I am super envious of all the fantastic riding in this area! The experience really made me interested in doing more of these.. now if there were only more of them in Alaska!

A big thanks to Sharon and Michael for organizing the event, Tom for accompanying me for the drive up and back, and of course Nancy and the Twins for letting me escape for several days. A huge thanks to Jay from VA and Michael for getting my camera back to me – hurrah!

Some post race notes, in semi random order:
Things that worked
* Bright light – I brought a fairly bright light, and didn’t regret it. Something brighter might have been worthwhile.
* Rain gear – I brought rain pants and a e-vent rain jacket, and it was worth the extra weight.
* “alt” handlebars and “paddle” grips – This was my first long race with some funky new style bars, and I loved them. Combined with ergon style paddle grips I didn’t have any hand numbness problems or any upper body stiffness or soreness, which was pretty nice. Sold on this setup, at least for long summer races.
* cue sheets – first time I have ever used/taken them -awesome.
* gps with tracklog- without I gps I would have been confused at several points or just plain got lost. It was 100% required for me, perhaps the locals wouldn’t need it.
* “Relevate Designs seatbag”:https://www.revelatedesigns.com/index.cfm/store.catalog/Seat-Bags/Viscacha I have never used these things in the rain before – it worked great, and after lots of rain everything in it appeared to be dry. Very impressed!
* extra layers – at 1am extended downhills in the rain take a lot out of me, it was worth the weight carrying extra layers. I brought extra socks, 1 pair (never used, but almost got them out at one point to use as mittens), extra polypro top (used), neopreme socks (never used), windproof vest (used, a lot), windproof top (used, a lot), light weight puffy (never used), rain mitts (used). Would take everything again. Long downhills in the rain are cold!

Things that did not work well
* too much food – as usual I packed way too much food.
* bike prep – I dropped my chain behind the cassette 10 miles into the race, which could have been avoided by taking the time pre-event to actually look over my bike and make sure everything was shifting properly.
* rigid bike – about half the racers were on full suspension bikes, which I think was a good call. 200+ miles of bumps was a bit much. It was ok, but I think I could have made better time on my FS bike. Next time!
* fragile tires – I punched a rock straight though my front tire, and put several slashes in the rear tire. The rear tire leaked constantly the last 10 miles, and I had to pump it up about 8 times, which was a huge waste of energy and time. I think running more durable tires would have been a good call. In the front I had a no longer made WTB Prowler SL, which while being a great front tire has a very thin casing. The rear tire, a S-WORKS FASTTRAK, was shredded with three or so slashes that showed a good deal of thread and had to be tossed after the race. Something in a similar vein, but with more cut resistance would be a good call. Also tubing a tire at the first sign of tubeless failure would have saved some time and frustration. I need to find a WTB Nanorapter like tire with a tougher casing!
* drive train maintenance – I could have been faster and it would have saved my knees some ware and tare if I had stopped to clean the mud off my chain and re-oil it occasionally.
* a whistle or some other non-bell noise maker – I spent a lot of time making “Hey Bear!”, “Whoop, Whoop!”, etc noises as I moved at a pretty good clip though some fairly dense greenery and trees. Making noise was pretty important not to mow down a bear, or another hiker, but some other scheme, perhaps a whistle or something similar would be better, as I was pretty sick of shouting after a while.
* disorganized shopping – when I hit stores (three times I think – cooper landing, moose pass, seward) I wandered around shell shocked, confused about what to get, and taking forever. I should get some sort of shopping snack plan before even walking in, so I don’t waste so much time dinking around!
* poor riding skills – I don’t get much time riding anything challenging in Fairbanks, and I regretted it several times in the race. I need to make a concerted effort to seek out more challenging riding, so don’t just fall over when going over rocks.

GPS tracklogs on “Strava”:http://www.strava.com/activities/65521084 and “Garmin Connect”:http://connect.garmin.com/activity/339228729 . Don’t look at those too closely, all it does is show how depressingly slowly I biked :).

My total time was 42.5 hours.

I am already looking forward to next years race! I think someone fast (Like Chuck D!) could do a sub 30hr easily, or sub 24hr with some effort.

PS: I wrote this post in early October, 2013, but dated it July 6th, the day I finished the race.

PS#2: I would like to thank my wonderful wife Nancy for not minding me disappearing for several days to do this race, Jeff G. at “Beaver Sports”:http://www.beaversports.com/ for some last minute bike maintenance (yay for working brakes), and the folks at “Goldstream Sports”:http://goldstreamsports.com/ for helping me out a bit with bike fit.