Archive for the ‘Races’ Category

Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic 2020

Friday, August 7th, 2020

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

ASWC 2020 ASWC 2020

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

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

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

ASWC 2020 ASWC 2020
ASWC 2020

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

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

ASWC 2020 ASWC 2020 ASWC 2020 ASWC 2020

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


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

Night cheese..

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

DSC01857

Our campsite for the evening..

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

AMWC 2020


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

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

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

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

AMWC 2020


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

ASWC 2020 ASWC 2020 The Susitna!


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

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

ASWC 2020 ASWC 2020 ASWC 2020 AMWC 2020

Heading down to Kotsina Creek

AMWC 2020 IMG_20200721_230541975

Camping between George and Goose Creeks

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

AMWC 2020

Civilization!

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

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

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

ASWC 2020

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

ASWC 2020

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

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

ASWC 2020 ASWC 2020

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


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

ASWC 2020

Early morning manic Belanger Pass trail selfie..


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

ASWC 2020

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

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

ASWC 2020

The donut guys, in happier, drier times.


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

ASWC 2020

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

AMWC 2020 AMWC 2020

Lifelike pavement walking action!

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

ASWC 2020

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

ASWC 2020



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

AMWC 2020

Квас!

Gear

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ASWC 2020 shoe fail

Not impressed by the lacing system..



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

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

Food 

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

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

Route

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

What would I do again?  

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

What would I change? 

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

After Affects

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

ASWC 2020

My feet though..

Finally

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

Map

Alaska Cross 2020

Friday, June 19th, 2020

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

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

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

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

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

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

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alaska Cross, Lost Creek to Eureka 2020

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

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

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

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

 
AKX 2020, June 13, After-math:  

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

Our route, and stats in Strava:

Some things that worked:

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

Things that worked less well (fails!):

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

Iditarod Trail, 2018 part 3

Friday, September 21st, 2018
Topkok.. Photo complements of Kevin Breitenbach

Phil H. was stopped in the middle of the trail.  We were two miles past the Topkok shelter cabin, in the notorious “blowhole”, a windy section of trail near the coast, 30 miles or so outside of Nome.   It was several hours before sunrise, and a bit windy, with blowing snow across the trail. As I rode up to him, he asked me “Where is the musher?” We had been passed a while back by a musher who was having trouble finding the trail, and I was confused about who Phil was talking about.  

Phil then pointed to a dog sled, sitting on the side of the trail.  Soon after I noticed it, I realized there was a whole team stretched out there in the snow, the dogs curled up in little balls to protect themselves from the wind.

But no musher.

Uh-oh.


This is the third and final part of my write up on the 2018 Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI).  The first part can be found here.

Kevin and I arrived at Shageluk at 10 am, and after we’d wandered around town a bit, someone directed us to the Lee’s house, where we had sent drop bags and might be spending the night.  We arrived in town happy to be back in civilization, and the first thing I did was use a flush toilet — hurrah! Shageluk is a small town of around 100 people situated with a range of hills on one side and vast open lowland on the other side.  Our plan was to resupply then head on to Anvik, but alas, a light dusting of snow made the trail nearly impossible to find in the flats outside Shageluk.

ITI 2018

The trail leaves Shageluk, follows the Innoko river briefly, then heads out across a series of open swamps before dropping back onto the Innoko, before crossing a few more wide open swamps, then though some mixed swamps and forest before crossing the Yukon and heading into Anvik.  

DSC09667

Alas, the dusting of snow and the very flat light made the swamps really hard to navigate, especially since we didn’t know where we were going.

ITI 2018
Markers in the fog..

I had a tracklog from 2013, but that was 5 years ago. I had no idea of the trail had changed or not. Three times we left Shageluk only to be turned back in the swamps. On the upside, we were well rested and enjoyed some of Lee’s great cooking, and were able to do our laundry and take showers.   Eventually a party that was supposed to be heading to Anvik passed though, and we followed their tracks out of town, only to have them take a wrong turn and head to Grayling instead.

We pressed on, and got a bit stuck near the halfway point, where we just hunkered down for the Iditarod Trail Breakers.  We had been told they would be by that evening, but we bivied in a nice grove of trees for 18 hours, and there was still no sign of them.  The bivy was cozy, but slightly wet. We had picked up blue tarps at the store in Shageluk, and were very happy to have them, as it was near freezing and lightly snowing — almost raining.   When I got hungry I was too lazy to find real food, and just grabbed whatever was in the top of my bike bag, which turned out to be a one pound block of cheddar, which I nibbled on for a few hours, slowly eating the entire thing.  It was delicious, but hours later I woke up with “cheese sweats” – all those calories were making their way through my system. At one point I woke up Kevin by loudly complaining I was bored – which I truly was. After 12 hours it became pretty clear that even I could get sick of sleeping.  Eventually we gave up and pressed on, making it a few more miles before the trail breakers passed us.

ITI 2018

Kevin and I were very happy to see them – finally a trail! The lead trail breaker stopped and chatted with us a bit. He remembered Kevin from last year when he stayed with them in Kaltag, and seemed honestly pretty excited to have us out there.   Not as excited as we were, though. Finally we would have a trail again!

The rest of the ride into Anvik was much faster and pretty fun, though the trail on the Yukon was very punchy.

ITI 2018

Just outside Anvik a snowmachiner came up and introduced himself — it was Jay from Anvik!   

ITI 2018

Jay is apparently dating a coworker of my wife, Nancy: Malinda. Alaska at times is a very small place. Jay told us we would be welcome to warm up at the tribal hall, which was also going to be the Iditarod checkpoint, and pointed us to the two stores in town.  One shopping trip later Kevin and I were busy munching away on heated-up frozen burritos, and in my case chugging down a half gallon of chocolate milk in the comfort of the tribal hall’s kitchen. Then it was off to ride on to Grayling.

The ride into Grayling was flat and very fast.  The trail was firmest we had seen in a while and looked like it got lots of traffic, and by the evening we were wandering around Grayling looking for Shirley’s.  Shirley runs a beautiful bed and breakfast in Grayling. Kevin had called her from Anvik, and she had mentioned over the phone she was going to put on steak. When we finally found her house (Grayling turned out to be much larger than I expected; Kevin and I got the scenic tour), we found her cooking away, making huge steaks, homemade french fries, and carrot cake with carrots from her garden.  It was truly awesome! Her home is a work of art, constructed of all kinds of random odds and ends, with musk ox pelts and a mammoth tusk taking center stage. One shower later I was tucked into bed, getting the best night’s sleep I’d had in a long while.

In the morning we were treated again to a wonderful breakfast, and packed up our bikes for the long, long trudge up the Yukon to Kaltag.   Judging from the slow progress Phil was making, the trail was pretty bad, and we expected we might have to walk most of the way, so loaded up with extra food. As we were leaving, Shirley got a phone call from the Iditasport, wondering if Jan Kriska was there.  We hadn’t seen him, but on the way out of town we stopped by the Iditarod checkpoint, and lo and behold his sled was there! We ducked inside, and found Jan dozing on the floor, but he popped up right when we came in and said hi. It was great to see Jan, and to see him in such good spirits.  He had a really hard race last year, and it ended for him in Ruby with damaged hands. This year he was having a great race, and was making good time.

The trip up the Yukon was a mix of good riding and slow walking.  I had been told the wind blows down the Yukon, but it seemed like it was mostly crosswinds that would blow in the trail.  Whenever the wind wasn’t blowing across the trail it was generally very rideable. In a few sections it was even fast riding.    The first night on the Yukon, Kevin and I bivied off the edge of the trail, and a few hours later I was woken up by the crunching and whirring of dog feet and runners on snow as the leaders passed us in the dark.  In the morning we woke up to a nicer trail, and quicky rode to Eagle Island, the iditarod checkpoint.

ITI 2018

Eagle Island had a reputation of being very unwelcoming to the ITI racers, but since the trail went up into the checkpoint, and there wasn’t a good way around we headed up into the checkpoint.  Fortunately they were pretty friendly and offered us hot water and we chatted a bit, then it was back on the trail.

Alas, the Yukon dragged on, and on, with a bit of walking, and lots of slow riding.

ITI 2018

A few fast sections gave me hope that the trail would firm up, only to be dashed by more soft and windy trail.   

ITI 2018 ITI 2018

In a few of these faster sections Kevin rode really strongly, and I just about gave up on keeping up with him, but the trail turned soft again and my slightly bigger tires allowed me to keep up.  

ITI 2018
Joar Leifseth Ulsom, the eventual winner of teh 2018 Iditarod
ITI 2018
DSC09745
Motivational lath..

As we neared Kaltag, the main body of the mushing field caught up with us, and mushers were passing us regularly, as well as the occasionally snowmachine. We also started seeing our first signs of the riders ahead of us since just outside Ophir, with the occasional tire track showing up.  

We arrived at Kaltag early in the morning, and headed to the school, where we unpacked our stuff, dried out, and chatted with other travelers.  In the smaller communities along the Iditarod trail the schools let travels stay in them for a small fee, as there are no other options. The Kaltag school was packed – there was a big group traveling by snowmachine, and a film crew making a documentary on Lars Monsen , a Norwegen dog musher.  When they introduced themselves I was confused, as there was another Norwegen musher, Joar Leifseth Ulsom, who was in the lead, and I didn’t know who Lars Monsen was.  Apparently he is very famous in Norway, and one of the film crew tried to correct my ignorance, filling me in with the details of his life. It was a bit of a shock to go from just Kevin and I, to lots of chatty people, though they soon left us alone, and I ended up just talking with the two guides accompanying them.  One of them operates a lodge on the Ivishak River in the Brooks Range, and we chatted a bit about summer adventures, which seemed a world away.   

Eventually we packed up our bikes and headed out, hoping to make it to Unalakleet.  

ITI 2018

The trail from Kaltag to Unalakleet is beautiful, but it tends to be slow. We were hitting it late morning, and there was a lot of snowmachine and mushing traffic, making it soft and a bit of a slog.   

ITI 2018
ITI 2018
ITI 2018

Kevin and I yo-yoed back and forth, each going at our own pace as the trail conditions changed. We stopped for dinner at the first shelter cabin, Tripod flats, where we were joined by some locals on their way back from Unalakleet.  We spent an hour or so talking, then headed on to Old Woman Cabin.

DSC09775

The trail was firming up at this point, and I was able to ride pretty fast, and was soon tailgating Hugh Neff. I was pretty hesitant to pass him, as I had passed him two years before when he was finishing the Yukon Quest and his dogs went from going six miles an hour to nearly eight, and I had to pedal like mad to stay ahead of them.  I didn’t want to repeat that, and ended up just riding slower, and staying a couple hundred feet behind him. Eventually we both pulled into Old Woman Cabin, which was warm and welcoming. I apologised for tailgating him, and he waved it off and started feeding his dogs, while I headed into the cabin to make dinner. Then he joined Kevin and I , and we talked for a hour or so. That hour was one of the highlights of the race for me: listening to Hugh Neff tell stories had me pretty spellbound.  

After the hour was up he headed out to press on to Unalakleet and we went to sleep for a few hours.  In the early morning hours Kevin and I headed out, and I was ever so happy to find the trail had set up and was really fast.  Kevin soon disappeared, riding like lightning, and I rode the 30 or so miles into town by myself, enjoying the near calm and misty night sky.  The sun was coming up just as I arrived in town, and I was disappointed to find Peace On Earth closed — no pizza!! Fortunately Kevin had arrived a good twenty minutes earlier than I and  spent that time wisely, tracking down the owner and he was going to fire up the oven and make us some pizza.

We ended up spending way too much time at Peace on Earth, eating and socializing, and soon were joined by Julian Schroder  and a few other Fairbanks folks who were in town.  I called Nancy and said hi, and then noticed that the ITI’s race tracker said Phil was still in town.  Hmm.. I was a bit worried Phil had scratched, but was distracted by pizza and people. Eventually Kevin and I pried ourselves away from the food and company, and after restocking our bikes with food headed out of town.   

Alas, the trail out of town that the Iditarod used was very punchy, and nearly unrideable.  The trail leaving town heads across a bunch of small ponds, and these ponds had soft crunchy snow covering them, with a bit of salt water overflow to top it off.   Kevin and I debated taking the road but ended up staying on the marked trail, which was a mistake, as it took forever to cross the ponds. When we finally hit the road that we should have taken, we found Phil waiting for us.   

ITI 2018

He’d had a pretty rough time on the Yukon, and by the time he had arrived in Unalakleet he was pretty wiped out. Jay P was just arriving at Nome at this point, and there was zero chance of catching him, so Phil decided to wait, rest up, and ride the rest of the way to Nome with Kevin and me.  It was great to see him, and I was glad he hadn’t scratched. Our plan was to make it to Shaktoolik, and that seemed pretty reasonable until we reached the Blueberry Hills shelter cabin and called ahead only to find out it was blowing really hard, with dog teams getting turned around, and other chaos.   Deciding it was better to wait and hope the wind died down, we crashed in the cabin, then headed out, as usual in the early a.m. hours to ride to Shaktoolik and hopefully Koyuk.


Shaktoolik is a small town on a little spit of land that juts out into Norton Bay and the wide open wetlands that surround it.    The trail into town drops about a thousand feet down to the wetlands on the inland side of a narrow strip of land, and is normally icy and windy.  I was a bit worried I was going to be in trouble, as I didn’t have studded tires, but while there were a few patches of ice, it was mostly snow covered, and pretty windy.   It seemed like it took forever to get from the base of the hill to the town, but after lots of slow riding and walking we pulled into town, and headed to the school. The wind was howling, and much to my disappointment, it was blowing from Koyok.  We were going to have a big headwind all the way to Koyuk..

ITI 2018
ITI 2018
Morning pizza outside Shaktoolik

Shaktoolik is in “civilization” and I had 4g cell reception, and checking the weather report quickly confirmed that it was blowing pretty hard.  The news reports had mushers getting lost going across the bay to Koyuk.. But on the upside, the forecast was that by midnight the wind was supposed to die down.  A few mushers were taking an extra eight hour layover in Shaktoolik to avoid the wind, and after a quick discussion, we told the folks at the school we were going to stay there for the day, and made ourselves comfortable.   There is a small village store right across the street from the school, so I headed over and picked up breakfast, lunch, and dinner: two boxes of pudding packs, some Ensure, cream cheese, a bag of bagels, two microwave burritos, and a two quarts of chocolate milk — heaven!

At midnight we headed across, and hurrah, the wind had died down, and we had a bit of a tailwind!  The ride from Shaktoolik to Koyok is always a bit stressful, as the trail goes out across a shallow bay and lots of little swamps, with minimal cover.   

ITI 2018

At night you can see Koyok from a long way before you arrive, as it is on a hillside, taunting you as it never seems to get much closer, Fortunately we arrived in daylight, but it still taunted us as we could see the town in all its glory hours before we arrived.   Just outside of Koyuk, Andy Pohl, a biking acquaintance, and Kristy Berington passed with their dogs, mushing into Kokuk. At the start weeks ago (it seemed like a year ago), Andy had joked that we would meet up at Old Woman Cabin, and I had said I would be happy if it was at Eagle Island.  Koyuk was inconceivable.

We arrived in the early morning, got a bit of sleep in the school, then headed out again.  Just as we were leaving town, Andy and Kristy passed us, zooming up the hills with all that dog power.  

ITI 2018

Speaking of hills, this year the trail from Koyok was routed overland, which meant a lot of extra hills and soft trail.

DSC09790
DSC09787

Up, down, up, down.. Eventually we made it to the main trail, and it got faster again, and we arrived in Elim in the middle of the night, a bit too late to find anyone to let us into the school unfortunately.   Peeking in the window I could see a bike in the library, and bike tracks outside the school, so I was pretty sure someone was in there sleeping, but they didn’t wake up to let us in. Eventually someone, perhaps a bit tipsy, noticed our plight and let us into the school after finding the janitor, and we crashed in the cafeteria, then headed out in the morning.  I never met the group staying in the library, but Kevin bumped into one of them while using the bathroom.

ITI 2018
Phil, enjoying a heathy breakfast..

The ride from Elim to White Mountain was awesome as always, scenic, but oh so hilly.

ITI 2018

This year the trail stayed overland when leaving Ellim, and went up and down, and up and down..

ITI 2018
ITI 2018

When I’d passed though Golovin the year before I’d noticed a coffee shop with an open sign that I almost stopped at, but I didn’t. I’d spent the next few hours sad that I hadn’t got some coffee, so this time I was pumped to check it out.  Alas, it was closed when we passed through, with a note saying the owners were on vacation. Poor timing — I should have gotten that coffee last year!

ITI 2018

The rest of the ride into White Mountain was fast, and we arrived at Jack and Joanne’s, where we were greeted by their sons Liam and Cha, and soon Jack. Joanne was away attending her mother’s wake in Pilot Station. Jack and Joanne are wonderful people, and I am always excited to arrive at their house.  White Mountain is also a bit milestone, as Nome is only 70 (ish) miles away. After a bit of sleep, I ate a big plate of eggs: the second pile of scrambled eggs I have had in the last 20 years. While I refuse to admit it to my daughters, eggs are not nearly as bad as I remembered. We headed out, Nome-bound at about midnight.

On the way into Golovin we had been passed by several dog teams, including one where the musher was sitting down smoking while making pretty good time up the hills, and another with a jacket saying the “Mushing Mortician”.   Leaving White Mountain I noticed there were several dog teams staked out at the Iditarod checkpoint, but it didn’t look like any were about to leave. The trail out of White Mountain starts flat, then after a dozen miles or so starts going up and down. On the hills were we passed by several mushers, all of whom were making much better time that we were.  Those hills are steep! We arrived at Topkok, which is at the bottom of a big hill and marks the start of the long, flat, and generally pretty windy ride to Safety.

As was to be expected, it was pretty windy, but there is a fairly big shelter cabin, and we ducked inside to get all ready for the push across the windy flats.  This area has the “blowhole”, an area where the wind is funneled into a channel, and it can be amazingly windy. I had never been through this area when it was truly windy, just windy, but we had Phil along with us, and he lives in Nome and was very used to the wind, and is very familiar with this area.   Supposedly the blowhole is pretty narrow, and if you just keep going you will come out on the other side. Tim Hewitt had told me a story of walking through the blow hole, and it was blowing so hard his sled was flying in the wind off the ground flapping around with all his gear on it. He said when he came out the other side he looked for something in his pocket and freaked out to discover there was a human hand in his pocket!  A hand that turned out to be his glove, blown full of snow.

Phil thought it would be windy, but didn’t think it would be a big deal.  At about 5:30 am we left Topkok. Almost immediately we were passed by a musher, then ran into him (or her — it was dark and windy) again, as he was zig-zagging back and forth across the trail.

ITI 2018

 Phil talked to him, and apparently he wanted to know how to find the trail. I could see Phill stomping his foot on the ground trying to convince him to look down, follow the snowmachine tracks, and stay on the hard pack.  Perhaps it is harder for mushers as maybe all the dog bodies block the view of the trail, but on a bike it is very obvious, even in the blowing snow and wind we had. While the trail is well marked with lots of reflectors, you can just look down and follow the skid and scrape marks from all the snowmachine traffic.   The musher must have gotten the gist, as he zoomed off and we didn’t see him again.

ITI 2018 – blowhole from JayC on Vimeo.

It was very windy, but we could still ride our bikes for the most part, though the trail had lots of little drifts in it and some of those were too big to ride though.  A few miles from Topkok Phil stopped suddenly in front of me and asked me “Where is the musher?” I was pretty confused — what musher was he talking about, the one that passed us a while back?  Phil pointed to something, which I quickly made out was a sled. Panic set in when we realized there was a dog team attached to it. We dropped our bikes and started looking around. Almost immediately we found another sled and dog team, and behind it huddling in the lee of it were two figures, both bundled up.  One had a facemask on, and it was impossible to see if he was conscious, but he wasn’t moving. The other was talking. Phil, Kevin, and I converged around them and tried to figure out what was going on.

The one who was talking told us that “Jim” had gotten his dog team stuck, and ran into trouble, and was now too tired to move, and he wasn’t going to leave him.  We asked him what we could do, and he said to get help, his hands were too cold, we needed to find Jim’s SPOT beacon and activate the SOS. We looked over the two sleds, and eventually located one SPOT beacon, and after triple checking with the musher who was talking (we later learned he was Scott Jansen) that he really wanted us to activate it, pushed the SOS button.  

The red lights started blinking, and it looked like it was working, so we put it aside, and asked how else we could help.  Scott asked us to find his satellite phone, which he said was in his pocket, so he could call and confirm someone was going to come out to rescue him.  He was dressed in some sort of snowmachine suit, with lots of pockets, and figuring the sat phone had to be pretty big I somewhat awkwardly patted him down.  There was no phone to be found. Kevin, Phil, and I then set out to find it, figuring it had to be someplace. Phil ended up finding it in his sled bag, and Phil placed a call for him to his wife, who much to my confusion seemed to be arguing with him about something.  At that point hopefully help was going to arrive, and we asked if there was anything we could do. Kevin was at this point pretty cold, and he needed to move, so Phil and I told him to head to the next shelter cabin, while we tried to see if there was anything we could do.  Scott seemed to be ok, just had cold hands, but he turned down my offers of hand warmers.

At that point it seemed like we had done all we could do.  Phil and I discussed getting out a sleeping bag, but those things are big, and we figured they would just blow away or immediately fill full of snow.  We checked with Scott, and it sounded like we had helped him as much as we could, so we set off to catch up with Kevin, and hopefully use my Inreach to contact Phil’s wife in Nome to call the troopers and confirm a rescue was in progress.  

Phil and I then headed out to catch up with Kevin.

Craig Medrid has a really good breakdown of the timeline on his website.

We arrived at the shelter cabin to find it the entry full of snow and nearly impossible to get into.  I was intent on texting Phil’s wife though, so I dove though a little hole in the snow drift blocking the door, and smashed down into some chairs as I slid down the other side of it into the first room of the cabin.   From there I text-ed Phil’s wife Sarah to call the troopers and please let us know if there was a rescue in progress, and if not, get one going! Sarah, being the awesome person she is, immediately texted me back letting me know that she got it, and was calling.  I climbed back out the little hole I had slid down, and fell out back into the wind, and we continued trudging towards Nome. I was feeling like a huge failure at this point, worried Jim was dead, and that we hadn’t done enough for them. So many second thoughts, so much thinking about what I could have done that would have made a difference.

Ten minutes later or so Sarah texted me back saying a rescue was in progress, the troopers were aware they needed to be rescued and help was on the way.  That was huge load off my mind, but we were a pretty sad group as we slowly trudge towards Safety. At some point a big wide track machine came very slowly up to us, and Phil talked to the driver, who was apparently out to check on the two mushers.  Later we were to learn she was Jessie Royer, a musher who had finished, then snow machined to Safety to see a friend pass though, and headed out to check on the mushers when it looked like they might be stuck. Phil told her where they were, and we continued on, only to see another group of snowmachines, this time big racing sleds come zooming up.  Phil talked to them and they zoomed off. After they were gone Phil explained they were with Nome search and rescue, heading out to find the mushers and bring them back to the Safety. A while later they came zooming back by, this time with the two mushers on the back of the sled. One of them, Jim I guess, was flopping around like a rag doll, and they stopped right in front of us as he had nearly fell off the back of the sled.   I was feeling a bit better now , as now they were at least alive and on their way to help. Hours later we pulled into Safety, the last checkpoint before the finish in Nome, and learned that both mushers were ok, which was a huge weight off my mind. Apparently after warming up in the Safety Roadhouse they were fine, and were flown to Nome.

After a few Cokes, at least one microwave “burger”, and a bit of chatting with the checkpoint volunteers, we headed out.   Everyone talks about the burgers at Safety, and the first time I was disappointed to find it was a microwave frozen burger-like thing.  Food, but not awesome food. They have Coke though, and that is like heaven.

Photo complements of Kevin Breitenbach

The last twenty miles into Nome were a bit of a slog, with slow trail chewed up by lots of snowmachine traffic, but eventually we hit the road, and zoomed into town.  I could barely keep up with Kevin and Phil, but they took pity on me and slowed down so I could keep up. There was a big group of folks waiting for us at the finish — I guess finishing with a Nome local has its perks!   Sue and Glenn, some (former) Fairbanks friends meet us at the finish, as well as Steve Cannon , and Kathi, the organizer of the ITI.  

Photo complements of Kevin Breitenbach

A few days of hanging out in Nome with Sue, Glen, and their dogs, and I headed home.

After an event like this I have a huge list of folks to thank.

First, I need to thank my family: Nancy, Molly, and Lizzy.  Thanks for your understanding and support; it means the world to me.  

Second, I need to thank everyone who helped me on the trail.  It is a huge list: the Petruskas, Tracy and Peter Schneiderheinze in McGrath, the folks in Iditarod, Lee in Shageluk, Jay in Anvik, Shirley in Grayling, the schools in Shaktoolik, Koyok, Ellim, and Kaltag, Joanna, Jack and their family in White Mountain..  Thanks ever so much!

I would also like to thank everyone I traveled with on the way to Nome this year: Nina, on the way to McGrath, and Kevin and Phil on the way to Nome.  Thanks for putting up with me, and for your company on the trail!


Finally, I really need to thank Sue and Glenn in Nome.  You guys have hosted me for the last three years in Nome, and I really look forward to the welcome.  Thanks ever so much for your hospitality!

I also would like to congratulate Jay Petervary on setting a new record and having a great race – congratulations!  Jay was so fast I think he was back home in Idaho playing with his dogs after several days of sleep when we finished.  

I will put up a follow up post with some details on the route, gear, what worked and what didn’t, etc.

Iditarod Trail, 2018 part 2

Saturday, September 8th, 2018

Owooooo!

ITI 2018

It was 12 a.m., and Kevin and I had just left the Big Yentna Crossing cabin.  I was rolling along after Kevin down a narrow trail with dense black spruce on both sides while admiring some really large and fresh wolf tracks in the trail, when I was suddenly surrounded by an amazingly loud noise.  At first I thought it was a snowmachine, come upon me all of sudden, until my brain finally processed it as wolves howling on each side of the trail, very close and very loud. Kevin later described it as biking into a big mushing dog yard — howling all around us, loud and close.  


“Kevin don’t leave me!!” I yelled, high-pitched and panicked, having visions of the wolves, judging me to be the slow fat one, picking me off as Kevin zoomed off.  Fortunately Kevin slowed down, turned around, and waited for me. After lots of yelling, the howling moved further away. I think the wolves were as surprised as we were, and freaked out when we biked by their cozy, snug sleeping spots along the trail.    It was possible Kevin was more worried about my shrieking than about the wolves.. On the upside, I didn’t need coffee for the rest of the night.

This is the second part of a three part post – the first one can be found here

The Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI), at least for the Nome-bound folks anyway, has two parts: the “short” race to McGrath, followed by the “long” race to Nome.  McGrath is always a bit of a madhouse. Tracy and Peter open up their home, serving endless quantities of yummy food. People are constantly finishing, and at times every surface is covered people either sleeping or eating.  For the folks heading to Nome, it can be really hard to get organized enough to leave, and then actually leave. Heading out and leaving all that company, food, and comfort behind is pretty hard. The last two years I have been in a big hurry to escape from McGrath and hit the trail, both to escape the vortex of comfort Tracy’s and Peter’s house is, and to get on the trail before wind and snow erase it.

This year things were a bit different.  “Traditionally” — that is what the old timers say — the Southern Route doesn’t get any traffic before the Iditarod trail-breakers pass though.  Alas, when I finished in McGrath the dog race hadn’t even started yet, so the trail-breakers were days away from coming through. So, I was working on the assumption there wasn’t any trail between Ophir and Shageluk.  

When I arrived in McGrath, Jay P, Phil H, and Kevin B were all there, thinking about heading out on the trail to Nome.   Local trail info was a bit mixed. Apparently some “Antler Traders” had passed through a week before, and a month or so prior, the trail-breakers had done a bunch of work on the trail, so there was a chance of a trail after Ophir.  Billy Koitzsch of the Iditasport (a similar race held a week earlier) was planning on breaking trail for his group, but it didn’t sound like his group was heading out immediately.

After getting some sleep, Kevin and I wandered around McGrath, chatting with locals and trying to figure out the trail situation.   We ended up chatting a bunch with Billy, and it was great to get some background on his event, and to learn more about his vision for his event.  

While looking for Billy we bumped into Jan Kriska, the walker whose sled I had followed for so many miles from the Innoko river to Ruby.  Jan is a great guy, and it was wonderful to meet him finally. Jan had a really hard race last year, and had to end his race in Ruby, short of Nome, but was back at it again this year, hoping to make it to Nome.  

We got a lot of mixed info, and when we headed back to Tracy’s and Peter’s it was clear we were not going to get any real details on what the trail was like.   Fortunately, Jay P was all fired up to head out, and was trying to roust the rest of the Nome-bound folks to head out. I felt a bit bad, but I tried to make it very clear I wasn’t in a huge hurry to push my bike all the way to Shageluk, then up the Yukon.  Phil seemed game though, and in the morning he and Jay P headed out.

Later I headed out to check on their trail, and was amused that they both took a wrong turn right out of the town.  By afternoon it was pretty clear they had a trail all the way to Ophir, and by evening it looked like they were making good time after that, so Kevin and I decided to head out early in the am.  I got all packed up, and ready to go, and in not so early am we headed out.

The race in McGrath was in a bit of a panic when we left; a foot racer’s gear had been seen minus the racer, and everyone was trying madly to figure out how to rescue him.  It was hard leaving on such a down note, and I didn’t find out what happened to the racer until Graying.

It felt awesome to leave town.  Kevin and I headed out together, and slowly made our way to the small town of Takotna.   Just outside town, Kevin stopped to answer the call of nature, and I continued on to give him a bit of privacy, but soon bumped into a Takotna local heading to McGrath to replace a shock on his snowmachine.  I chatted with him for a bit, talking about life, then mentioned that Kevin was using the bushes a little ways down the trail. He found that pretty funny, and shouted “Hurry up”, to which a faint “I am trying!” came back up the trail from Kevin.

ITI 2018

The trail past Takotna was pretty good, and got a bit better just outside Ophir.  

ITI 2018
ITI 2018

We stopped and chatted a bit with some folks at the Iditarod checkpoint, then continued on.  At the Ophir runway a Super Cub landed, taxied over to us, then powered down, and the pilot got out to chat.  It turns out it was “Manny”, a pilot from McGrath flying our drop bags out to Iditarod, who saw us and stopped to say hi and see how we were doing.  

ITI 2018

Alas, it looked like Phil and Jay might be outriding their drop bags. We rode into the night to arrive at the first shelter cabin on the Southern Route.  It was fantastic to be on new trail, and it was finally starting to feel like I was on a real adventure, heading out into the unknown — hurrah!

ITI 2018

Kevin and I spent the night at the Tolstoi Headwaters Safety Cabin, an awesome little White Mountains-esque cabin.  In the early morning we headed out, hoping to make it to Iditarod, where we hoped we could spend the night.

ITI 2018

This section of the Southern Route was awesome: huge views, beautiful valleys, and trail that was mostly in pretty good shape.   I had been told the Iditarod folks refer to this section as “the desert” — devoid of life and empty. I found it scenic and beautiful, though. Near one of the open sections I found a piece of lath from the last Iditarod race, in 2013.

DSC09569

It is amazing a little piece of lath could survive 5 years!

ITI 2018 ITI 2018 ITI 2018

At Dishna Creek we saw our first signs of human use since Ophir, besides a few martin sets along the trail.  There was a new-looking steel cable stretched across the creek, about 10ft up in the air, and the trail diverged a bit, with tracks going up river and down river.  The main trail was easy to follow, though.

ITI 2018


Coming down the one of hills into First Chance Creek, the trail went from awesome to complete churned mashed potatoes.  It looked like a big herd of caribou or bison (Kevin’s theory) had run down it, tearing the trail to shreds. After a mile or so the how and why became clear: some wolves had chased them down the trail, hoping to pick off one of them for dinner.  The animal tracks were over Phil and Jay’s tracks and still pretty soft, meaning it had happened fairly recently. A good reminder we were not alone out there and this “desert” wasn’t as empty as we had been told.

We arrived at the Moose Creek shelter cabin, 17 miles or so before Iditarod, after a couple of hours of post-holing around a huge open field.  

The folks making the trail appeared to have gotten lost, and veered away from the Iditarod trail markers into a wide open area with deep snow, making loops until winding back up to the actual trail and to the cabin.  The cabin was in great shape, and Kevin and I enjoyed an early dinner before heading down the trail again. Alas, it soon started snowing, the wind picked up, and the trail got very punchy, so the last few miles took forever.  

ITI 2018 ITI 2018


We arrived at Iditarod at near midnight, and quickly found our drop bags near the trail, then tried to see if we could find a place to crash in the cabins at Iditarod.  Alas, we ended up waking up some of the Iditarod checkpoint staff, but they seemed friendly, and quickly got us settled in the “mushers” cabin, and in the morning they made us breakfast.  It turned out the older fellow in charge had met Kevin at a party in Unalakleet the year before, after he had scratched, and had convinced Kevin to do it again rather than just riding the section he had missed.  We ended up talking a lot longer than we probably should have, and much to my amusement they started trying to recruit us to volunteer to staff the checkpoint next year. Initially I thought they were joking, but then one of them came and found us just before we headed out and got our contact info, so I think they were quite serious.  I felt pretty guilty; we had woken some of them up in the middle of the night, and then we had eaten their food, and yet somehow they still decided we would make good checkpoint helpers.

Leaving Iditarod, I was pumped up on a full belly and positive vibes from the cheerful Iditarod folks.  

ITI 2018

The next section of trail was awesome fun. The trail wound through a surprisingly thick spruce forest, over big open ridgetops, and across a few small creeks.

ITI 2018

ITI 2018

ITI 2018

A few of the high ridges were blown completely in, and finding the trail was a bit tricky, but doable.

ITI 2018

ITI 2018

ITI 2018

ITI 2018

Kevin and I arrived at the Big Yentna shelter cabin at around 7pm, and I suggested we crash there and head out at midnight, so we could arrive into the next town, Shageluk, at a reasonable hour.  Kevin agreed, and we crashed in the cabin, enjoying a few hours of sleep before heading out into the dark. The Big Yentna cabin was my favorite cabin on the southern route. It seemed a bit bigger, and has a huge barrel stove that heated the cabin up quickly.  It also had a radio, which I turned on, excited to hear about the outside world. The Russian language newscast that came out was a big surprise though, and I quickly turned it off, heading to bed with visions of a Russian sleeper cell hanging out in the cabin, waiting to pull off some epic caper.  

In the morning we headed out, Kevin riding a bit in front of me.  It had snowed a quarter inch or so, just a dusting of snow, and there was a set of big wolf tracks heading down the trail as it wound through a dense spruce forest.

“Hmm, those look fresh,” I thought to myself as we rode down the trail.  Shortly after that, there was a tremendous noise all around us, and it took a while for my brain to register it was wolves howling.   I think we had just biked into a pack of wolves bedded down on each side of the trail, and they were not happy to be woken up. I freaked out, and screamed like a little girl, worried Kevin would bolt down the trail, leaving me to be devoured by grumpy hungry wolves.  

Fortunately Kevin is a nice guy and waited for me, and we started yelling, and the howling quickly drifted further off.   Eventually we could tell they were a ridge away, safely away, and we continued down the trail, pumped up on the excitement of the wolf encounter.   

Nearing Shageluk we could see the lights of town, taunting us, but the trail dumped us out onto some bare ice on the Innoko river a few miles out of town, and finding the right trail into town took a while.  Soon, though, we made it to town, and were soon biking on firm packed trails, wandering through town trying to find Lee Wolvershine, who runs a small bed and breakfast and who we were hoping to stay with. Folks were friendly though, and quickly pointed us to her house, and we were back in civilization again — hurrah!  

Next up, Nome! 


Iditarod Trail, 2018 part 1

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2018
Photo compliments of Gary Baumgartner

The evening was getting on – it was getting dark, a bit of snow was falling, and the wind was picking up, blowing snow around.     Nina G and I were pushing up a little hill just before Low Lake around 20 miles from Rohn and 50 miles from Nicolia. It was the middle of nowhere, probably the remotest section of the Iditarod Trail before McGrath.  As I pushed up the hill, I noticed some new looking boot tracks, that looked a lot like bunny boots. “Thats odd.” , I thought to myself, who could that be? As I reached the top of the hill, someone popped out of the woods and said “Hi Jay, would you like some coffee?!” .    It took me a few moments to realize it was Gary Baumgartner, a Fairbanks area biker. I think Nina thought we were crazy – in the middle of nowhere someone pops out of the woods and knows who I am, and offers us coffee. Alas, we were in too big of a hurry, and passed on the coffee.   I still regret not stopping longer to chat and enjoy that coffee..

First, some background..  The Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) is a race on the Iditarod trail from Knik (a small town, if one can even call it that outside Wasilla), to McGrath and Nome.  The “Short” race ends at McGrath, and the “Long” race ends in Nome.   The race starts a week before the Iditarod dog race starts, and while it is on the same basic course as the dog race, it isn’t affiliated with the dog race in any way.  

I went into this year’s ITI with very mixed thoughts.   The race had a few major shakeups. Bill Merchant is no longer involved with race, and there seemed to be more than the normal level of friction with some of the stops along the way, including not staying at the Petruska’s in Nikolai.  To top it off, I was having a hard time getting excited about the first 300 miles to McGrath. There are lots of people, and the “fun” parts from Puntilla Lake to the Farewell Burn are book-ended by trail that is a bit ho-hum.

I drove down to Anchorage with a Fairbanks local, Lindsey, whom I met at last year’s Wilderness Classic.  I was a bit stressed out by the race, and I think talked her to death on the way down, but it was neat to hear her talk about the race, and see the race again from the perspective of someone new.  

Race day came, and my brother dropped me off at the race start (thanks John!), where I bounced around talking to people.  It was great seeing Bill Fleming — one of the original minds behind 9zero7 bikes — who towed me into the finish during my first ride to Nome!  I chatted with a few other people, including Andy P who had switched from his bike to mushing. Andy and I joked that we would run into each other on the trail.  Andy said Old Woman Cabin, and I said Grayling. It turned out neither of us were right..

Soon the race started, and everyone channeled their energy into pedalling (or walking if you are crazy, or skiing in the case of Lindsey). As usual, the fast group hit the road, and I didn’t see them again, zooming away at high speed, while I chugged along at a slower pace.  Eventually I hit the gas line, then Flat Horn Lake, and it felt like things were starting. The trail conditions were not awesome, but not that bad either. Eventually Yentna Station arrived, where I got the standard grilled cheese and soup, then headed out again for Skwentna.   The trail was now fast, and I zoomed along, going perhaps a bit harder than I needed to. I arrived at Skwentna a bit after Kevin B, Kyle D, and Phil H, and well after Jay P, the other Nome-bound racers ahead of me. This was the start of the pattern to McGrath: I would arrive someplace a little after Kevin and Phil, and they would leave a bit before me.  The McGrath-bound racers in the fast pack were all long gone. (Calling the race to McGrath “the “shorter race” has gotten me in trouble before.)

Skwentna is one of the few places I have found that I can get a good night sleep, besides Puntilla Lake, sometimes Rohn, and the Petruska’s in Nikoli, so I always try to get a nap there.  I have found I need at least 4 hours of sleep a day to keep things together and to stay motivated. I can do less, but for the 20 or so days it could take me to get to Nome, I have found that it is hard to stay motivated and functional if I get less. Cindy, the owner of Skwentna, is always friendly, and the last few years seems to get me confused with Tim Stern, from 2012, which amuses me to no end.   I got dinner, and headed up to find a bunk, only to find the room I was supposed to be in had a bleary looking Jay P in it, just waking up from a nap. Jay headed out, and I tucked myself in, and tried to get 4 or so hours of sleep.

In the morning I got a bit more to eat, and headed out, hoping to possibly grab lunch or breakfast at Shell Lake as I passed by.  The Shell hills are always slow for me, as I just suck at biking uphill, but I eventually arrived at Shell Lake. Nearing the lodge, I was surprised to see a bunch of signs announcing that the lodge wasn’t an ITI checkpoint, and that ITI racers were not welcome.  Yikes! The trail goes right by the lodge, so with a bit of trepidation I approached, and as I neared the lodge someone saw me, and invited me for breakfast. I sat down, enjoyed some pancakes, bacon, and a few cokes, and talked a bit with the folks helping out Zoe, the owner.  It was a pretty interesting conversation, a short summary being that fat bikers were once a novelty, but now are commonplace, and folks are getting sick of the ITI racers. Apparently the racers have become a pain, and the business they bring isn’t offsetting the nuisance they are becoming: waking the owners up at odd hours, leaving messes, breaking into their buildings, sleeping in random places, etc.  This made me pretty sad. I was left with the impression that a chunk of the ITI racers are not doing a good job of balancing their competitive drive with the need to be decent human beings on the trail. This doesn’t bode well for the long term, and I hope this changes.

The ITI isn’t a traditional race, with checkpoints staffed by the event and a closed course.  Only Rohn is staffed by the ITI; the rest are private businesses, or people’s homes. The trail is shared by lots of other users, all of whom have just as much right ot be there as we do.


Eventually I headed out, and enjoyed a nice ride to Finger Lake, and then on to Puntilla.  It was a bit windy, and some of the lakes before Puntilla were windy enough I had to walk sections, adding a bit to the experience.   Eventually Puntilla arrived, and I hit the sack, enjoying a few hours of sleep before heading over the pass with Nina G. It was a bit slow up to the pass, with a bit of riding, and lots of walking, but we hit the top at around noon, and were soon zooming down to Rohn.   

ITI 2018

It looked like someone had taken the Iron Dog route, rather than turning and heading up into Rainy Pass. Later I was to learn that Jussi Karjalainen had taken the Iron Dog route when in 4th place, and had slowly made his way across the pass until a plane dropped a note saying he was off course.  That must have been crushing.

ITI 2018


It was midday, but I lay down for a bit of a nap after eating a brat and chatting a bit with Adrian.  Kevin, Phil, and Aaron Gardner were also there, and headed out a bit before my nap finished.

After my nap, Nina and I headed out.  I had hopes of making it to Nikolai by early morning, but alas that turned out to be a bit optimistic.  The trail leaving Rohn was in great shape, and we made good time, but as we passed through the “new burn” the snow got deeper, and the riding got slower.  Near Farewell Lakes there are a bunch of rollers, where the trail goes up and down as it passes over a bunch of little lakes. On one of these hills I noticed what looked like bunny boot prints, and soon after that someone came out of the woods and said hi.  It took a few minutes for me to recognize Gary Baumgartner, a Fairbanks area biker. He offered us coffee and said hi. I passed on the coffee, and soon moved on. I was kicking myself later for not staying and hanging out with Gary a bit longer — sorry Gary!  He looked like he was in a comfortable spot, tucked away with an Arctic Oven and his Supercub on a little lake.

The trail soon degraded.  It was rideable in the treed areas, but in the open areas it was blown in, requiring a lot of pushing.   Eventually, in the early a.m., Nina and I made it to Bear Creek cabin, where we soon had a fire going, and hit the sack.   In the morning we headed out, just as Kevin arrived to warm up and dry out. The trail was much nicer from the turnoff to the cabin to Nikolai, and we made fairly good time.   The Nikolai checkpoint had moved from the Petruska’s house to the village community center, which was a bit sad for me, since the Petruskas had always been a very welcoming place to me. And it was sad to know that Nick wouldn’t be there with a warm welcome. Alas…   


The community center was easy to find, and Stephanie Petruska was there along with two ITI volunteers whose names I don’t remember.  After a burger I crashed under a table to sleep for a few more hours. There was a bit of a group there: Kevin B., Arron G., Nina, and briefly Phil H., who left soon after arriving.   In the early a.m., Nina, Arron, and I set out. It was a bit cold, slightly below zero, but the trail was fast and we made good time to the Big River junction, where the only trail in was the “overland” route.    Billy Koitzsch’s race, the Iditasport, had an Arctic Oven set up near the junction, and there was a bike and several sleds pulled out outside it. I was tempted to say hi, but I expect Billy would not have been happy to get woken up.

Last year  the miners in Ophir told me to take the “overland” route at Big River, as that is what all the locals use.  Other folks had told me it was hit or miss — sometimes it was in only half way, leading folks to spend a lot of time wandering around in deep snow trying to find a trail.  I was excited to get to try out the new route! Fortunately, the trail was in, and in great shape. At this point Kevin had caught up with us, and was zooming. Unfortunately, he zoomed ahead and took several wrong turns.  I think Billy had put in some big loops to turn around his snowmachine and Kevin explored several of them, only to come out near where he started. Soon the trail was back in woods and lakes, the side trails disappeared, and Nina and I slowly made our way into McGrath.   We arrived in McGrath in mid-morning, to a full house at the Tracy and Peter Schneiderheinze house.   It was great to sit down, eat, talk, and take a brief break from the trail.   Leaving McGrath is always hard, but there wasn’t a big hurry this year. The southern route doesn’t get much traffic (or so says common wisdom), so I wasn’t expecting a trail until the Iditarod trail-breakers came though.

I had been dreading the ride to McGrath.  I have done it five other times now, and it is sort of old hat.  The trail feels mostly the same from year to year, and I am always in a rush to stay ahead of the crowd.   This year was a bit different though, and I got to see some new faces. I was pretty impressed by Aaron Gardner in particular; he had a very good race as a “rookie”, and I loved following his “line” — that is, the tracks of his tires from Bear Creek Cabin to Nikolai.  He seemed to be always riding a fast line, and it wasn’t always the obvious one. He also bivied solo on the edge of one of the Farewell Lakes in windy, snowy conditions, which is not something a lot of rookies do.  It was also great riding with Nina Gaessler, and meeting some of the other new faces like Neil Beltchenko.

I am sorry for the high word to picture content.  I didn’t take a lot of photos, and this write-up grew longer than I expected it would be.

Next the southern route!

2017 Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic – No Sleep ’til Wiseman!

Sunday, July 23rd, 2017

To preface this post, this page is now near the top of the hits from Google for searches for the Alaska Wilderness Classic, which makes me feel a bit bad about it. This writeup is just intended to convey my experience, and I didn’t approach the event all that competitively, and I am a bit of a nincompoop. Luc Mehl has a much better write up and Andrew Skurka has a very nice writeup on the 2009 race – I would start with those to get a better idea about the event, rather than starting here. -Jay

For years I have followed the Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic, following the antics of Rocky R and Roman D, and later generations. I have wanted to do one for years, but alas, there was always some sort of conflict making so I couldn’t attend, or they seemed a bit too crazy. Finally last year the route switched to Galbraith to Wiseman, which is an area I am fairly familiar with (and shorter than some of the past routes!), and after sitting out last year due to conflicts, this year my friend Tom agreed to join me – yay!

We drove to Wiseman, spend the night camping on the lawn of the Arctic Getaway (great folks!), and the morning loaded up and drove to Galbraith. There were 14 folks and 7 teams doing the event, including another group from Fairbanks.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
The Winning Edge
Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Lindsey and Ellen, team Giggle

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Matt (I think)

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Harlow in his bug proof ultra running attire

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
John (I think)

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

After a bit of futzing around and someone waving a flare gun around, it went off (fortunately pointed up and safely at the sky), and at around 12 we were off!

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Our plan was to take the “direct” route over to the Hammond River, going over 4 passes, and floating the Hammond out to Wiseman.

Things started well, zooming along enjoying the fast walking..
Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
photo compliments of Tom

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
photo compliments of Tom

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alas, when we reached the final pass, we couldn’t find a way over it, working from the west side to the east side. It ended in a small glacier which had a pretty shallow angel, but was a bit too steep for me to feel comfortable to walk on. Later I would find the Toby and Harlow walked straight up it.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Failing at route finding.. photo complements of Tom

It was pretty socked in, and the brief glimpses of the east side of the pass showed cliffs – so we turned around and headed back down to take the scenic route around the passes.

On the way down we bumped into Lindsey and Ellen on the their way up. We wished them luck with the pass. I was pretty sure they would find a way across, Tom was less certain. Later we were to find out they found a pretty straightforward up it on the east side.

We headed back down, and over to the Itkillik River, taking a pass over to an unnamed creek that lead to the creek. It was mostly uneventful though at 2am I got a bug stuck in my eye, and there was a few minutes of fussing before I got it and a ruined contact out of my eye in a comical bit of futzing.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

We headed over to the divide between the North Fork the Koyukuk and the Itkillik, then headed down to the North Fork.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
photo complements of Tom

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

There is a deep canyon were the north fork drops off the divide, and while I had been told it was possible to walk the canyon, we walked the benches above the river. Eventually we dropped down to the river, and followed the creek until it looked (safely!) floatable.
Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
my styling head net replacement..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

The north fork quickly turned floatable, and we put in, deciding to take the scenic route to Delay Pass and out the Nolan road to Wiseman.

The floating was fast and fun, eventually turning very fun, with lots of nice fun boulders and water features. Alas, Tom was having spray deck issues, and we ended up walking a few miles around Bombardment Creek, but soon we were back in the boats enjoying gliding along with minimal effort..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

After a nap on a sandbar near mid night with a small fire, we pushed on to Delay Pass, where we took out, and grabbed another hour or so of sleep, then packed up and began the hike out.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
Me, catching some sleep, and breaking the no-sleep-til-wiseman rule

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
signs of racers in the past..

Everyone says Delay Pass is miserable hiking, but I didn’t find much of it to be actually miserable, and while it was a bit of a slog, we made pretty good progress.

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

We cut off a fair bit of the winter trail by taking a ridge around the worst part. Climbing up the ridge kicked my butt, and my feet were starting to get a bit sore and waterlogged, and my achilles were starting to hurt, but otherwise everything was mostly fine. Once I loosened my shoes a bit my achilles were much happier.

Soon we were on the road out of Nolan, slowly shuffling down the road to Wiseman. These 6 miles took forever and were a bit hard on the feet..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic
two miles from Wiseman..

Alaska Summer Wilderness Classic

We finished Wednesday at 4:30am, 65 ish hours since the start.

It was a great experience, thanks for the company Tom, and thanks to the Hickers of the Arctic Getaway Cabins for hosting us!

I am already thinking about next year..

As a post scripts of sorts – folks often accuse me of saying things were “mellow” when they are not. This trip wasn’t mellow – but the walking was mostly good, and the floating really split things up so my body got a nice break, making for a relatively trauma free adventure. And of course, we got 4 ish hours of sleep, making things even nicer. The “harder” parts, and things I need to improve on would be to walk a bit faster, concentrate more on micro scale route finding (sticking to the bands of nice walking though the areas of not nice walking), and “staying the course” when the planned route appears to go bad, and finding a way to make it work. On the last point, I feel pretty disappointed with myself that we turned back at the first pass, assuming there was no way over, even though we knew at least one other party had gone over – Harlow’s footprints were pretty distinctive, and I saw the prints on the first climb up the pass, so I so I knew folks had made it over.

A second post script – here are some brief notes (to myself mainly) on things that worked or didn’t work:

  •  i used Gaia GPS for a bit of the navigation on this trip, and was amazed by how much easier to navigate with vs the garmin unit I normally use.  I should pre-cache satellite imagery for tricky bits, i expect that would help with navigation.
  • I brought a ultra lightweight bivy, and it was great for a little extra warmth and to keep the bugs off.
  • I pre-taped my forefoot and heels, and the tape lasted most of the trip, and I survived with only a few small blisters – success!
  • I had treated my shirt with Permethrin, and it worked great for keeping the bugs away.
  • The hmg backpack was awesome – worked great, comfortable, and light.  I wish it was made of something besides cuben fiber, as it already appears to be showing signs of wear, but I guess that is life.

A few things that worked less well:

  • My food choices could have used a bit more thought – i bought about 5 of the ominously named “Meal Pack Bars” – they are very calorie dense and pack well, but taste bad and are like eating dirt – dry and unrewarding.  Otherwise my food selection was fine, though perhaps more Snickers next time.
  • I brought a freeze dried meal, which I made before hiking delay pass – I should have brought two more, it went down great.
  • I was a bit unhappy with my footwear – montrail mountain masochist trail runners.  They are light and grippy, but need a stiffer rock plate for some of the walking – i bruised my feet a bit.  Otherwise they worked great – I just wish the forefront of these shoes were stiffer.  Otherwise they worked fine.   If anyone has recommendations I would love to hear them.  I would love to just use low top hiking shoes for these sort of trips, but alas I can’t find any that are not goretex.
  • I didn’t bring enough foot lube – I could have used a lot more after my feet dried out after the nap before delay pass.  Live and learn..
  • trekking poles would have made some of the hiking faster, and some of the stream crossings easier – next time I will bring them!
  • I really wish I had brought some sort of lightweight bug proof long sleeve top with a hood – it would have made the bug pressure a bit easier to deal with at times.
  • I suck at micro scale navigation – I need to work on finding those sections of nicer walking in sections of bad walking.  Mostly I think it just requires me to be more aware of where I am going – something to work on.

The route:

Summer of 2018 update
The 2018 version of this is just around the corner, and I was digging around for info on the water levels when we did it in 2017. Alas, I didn’t save the info (curses!), but
The Slate Creek Gauge looked like this:

The current state of the gauge is: Slate Creek
For some reason I cannot find historical data on the river gauge at Bettles, but the current info can be found here: Koyukuk at Bettles