Archive for the ‘Races’ Category

Alaska Cross 2017..

Monday, June 12th, 2017

Thump, thump, thump.
I turned around to see Nick and Stefan running up the road behind me, zooming along at a pretty good clip.

“Where is the rest of your group?” Nick or Stefan asked.
“They are ahead – go catch them!”
And they zoomed off even faster.

Alaska Cross is a semi organized unofficial race that was originally from Chena hot springs to Circle Hot Springs in Central. The last few years the course has bounced around a bit, trying routes in the Alaska range in a few different locations, but now it was back to the original form, and I really wanted to do it. Tom and I made plans to do it, and eventually joined up with Drew, and finally Seth at the very last minute. Before the race there was a bit of discussion of routes, all with tradeoffs of one sort or another.

The race start was a pretty low key affair – there were only nine people there, and after a short talk by the (un) organizer Mark Ross, everyone was off. The two runners, Stefan and Nick, zoomed off, while the rest of us plodded along on foot.

We took the “default” route, taking the quest route over to Birch Creek, then floating Birch Creek down to a bit before Harrison Creek and hiking the ridge over to the mining road, and walking the road out to Circle Hot Springs.

Alaska cross, chena to central

I haven’t been on this section of the Yukon Quest trail before, and I was super excited to see a section of new trail.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Rosebud summit was neat to see, and it was great to think of all the epic adventures mushers have had going up and over it from the comfort of a nice warm summer day.

Alaska cross, chena to central

It was pretty scenic and very fast walking, at least until the last few miles which were a bit tussocky. At this point in the race it was pretty clear that Tom and Drew were in much better shape than I was. They were much faster going up hill, and Tom in particular was powering through the tussocks at a pretty amazing pace.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Alaska cross, chena to central

We arrived at Birch Creek around 5pm. The creek was, alas, a bit on the low side, but that was expected. We had talked about shortening the float by taking a longer route to the river – trading 10 miles of hiking to cut off approximately 25 miles of floating, but tales of how bad those 10 miles would be made me a bit concerned.

I unpacked, inflated, and messed around a bit trying to put together a makeshift replacement for the spray skirt poles I had left behind accidently cobbled something together from willow branches (which worked ok – hurrah!). Skirt semi-assembled, I looked over and saw that Drew was totally packed and ready to go, and Tom was almost ready – doh, I was holding folks up! I got moving and was soon ready to go, but alas Seth still had a considerable yard sale spread all around him.

This was the story of the trip – Drew packs up almost instantly, and is ready to go fast, Tom is nearly as fast, leaving me in a panic that I am holding everyone up. And of course, I was!

Just as I was starting my full on panic packing, Jenna, the only solo entry popped out of the woods. She seemed to be in great spirits and it was looking like she was going to be ready to go before I was, causing my packing to get even more frenzied!

The wait on Seth’s yard sale continued until Tom and Drew’s egg timers went off, and they headed out. I took off with them, figuring that Seth would get going and catch up on the river.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Alaska cross, chena to central

The float was pretty uneventful. Paddle. Paddle. More Paddling. I think we found we could make around four miles per hour if we paddled continuously which we did except for 3 breaks to stretch our legs and warm up. Fortunately it was windy on the river, which kept the temperatures warm. Which was awesome, as the first year I did this route I had ice on my deck in the middle of the night – it was a bit cold!

We saw Jenna and Seth periodically, but they seemed to yo-yo around us, getting ahead then falling back.

In the early hours of the morning we bumped into Nick and Stefan as they were preparing to cross the creek.

Alaska cross, chena to central

They looked to be in pretty good spirits, but I was pretty happy we didn’t take the route with more walking as they had light packs and still were not very far ahead of us.

Alaska cross, chena to central

We ran both rapids on the creek after boat scouting them – they were pretty tame at this low water level.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Alaska cross, chena to central

Just as the sun hit the river it was time to take out, and Seth joined us just as we pulled up on a rocky beach to take out. Everyone was a bit discombobulated, but we got packed up climbed a hill over to the mining road we would take to walk out to the hot springs.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Alaska cross, chena to central

The climb took me from cold as I left the river to really hot as I sweated away climbing up hill. Drew and Tom zoomed up the hill like it was nothing as I slogged along in their wake.

Zoom the climb was over, and it was down, down, down to the mining road, where I took advantage of an outhouse nicely situated near on top of a little mound near the road to answer the call of nature. Just about finished with the deed I discovered the outhouse was very unstable and there was a bit of a panic as I tried to get out without having it fall over and slide off the hill..

Then it was back to the road, walking, walking, walking.. until Mark Ross showed up.

Alaska cross, chena to central

This is the first year he hadn’t done the race, and I think he was not sure what to do with all his nervous energy.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Eventually Mark drove off, leaving us to enjoy the dry, hot walk by ourselves. Tom, Drew, and then Seth all tired of my slow pace and disappeared off in the distance.

Alaska cross, chena to central

Tired and with sore feet I pulled in 20 minutes or so after Tom and Drew, and a few minutes after Seth. Nick and Stefan finished 20 minutes or so before Tom and Drew, and giving them the win. Jenna pulled about an hour after me, looking happy and chipper.

The total mileage was 72 miles, 45 of which was floating. Our average pace including stops while walking was 2.5 mph, 3.5mph floating.

I brought just enough food – I was down to three gels (GUs), two snickers, and a little bit of frito powder when I finished.

Thanks for the company Drew, Seth, and Tom! And a huge thank you for picking us up at Circle Hot springs Trusten – that pizza you brought to the finish really made my day!

A few notes:

  • Like I mentioned, I should have brought more food in case it took me longer.
  • I really felt like I was holding folks up this year, I definitely need to get into better shape.
  • I took my new HMG pack (all the cool folks are using them, got to join in! ūüôā ) on this trip, and it was the first time I have used it in any real sense. I liked it, it seemed to work very well, carries fine. One gripe – it is hard to water bottles in and out of the pockets on the side without taking the pack off, which is a bit of a downer.

P.S. After I got home I fell asleep on the couch, and was apparently out enough Molly (one of my daughters) could “paint” my toenails blue with a magic marker. Sigh.. ūüôā

Map:

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2017, part 2

Thursday, April 20th, 2017

Leaving McGrath was pretty hard last year. It was even harder this year…

Tracy and Peter Schneiderheinze host us in McGrath, and they provide a nearly endless flow of tasty food. They are amazing folks. When Dan and I reached this haven of warmth and socializing, there were a few folks there, though the leaders were long gone. Other racers rolled in throughout the rest of the evening, including John, Amy Breen, and Tom. Tom finished with minimal additional damage to his frostbitten feet, but he was going to have a long recovery process ahead of him.

I was a bit on the fence about going on to Nome. At this point, only Kevin was ahead of me, with a sizable lead, time-wise, and the nearest folks behind me had not reached Nikolai yet, so it looked like I would traveling to Ruby by myself. I guess that wasn’t entirely correct; Tim Hewitt, who is normally a walker but was riding a bike this year, arrived in McGrath a half day or so after me. However, he is the very model of slow and steady: biking slowly and not sleeping. It didn’t look like our paces were going to be similar.

Continuing was not the most exciting prospect. That section of trail is pretty lonely, and without the dog race, there would be no traffic. I was also a bit mentally fried from assisting Tom with his frostbite, and worried I was not prepared enough to manage my own disasters.

I had talked about just flying to Kaltag and continuing from that point, or perhaps flying back to Fairbanks and biking with the dogs. But at this point I think I know myself pretty well, and I knew that if I didn’t go on, I would regret it forever. So I chugged along, preparing to head out.

In order to leave McGrath, I had a few chores to do, including packing up food, sewing up my overboots, and picking up a few things at the local store (the “AC” as the locals call it). I started the race with slightly ripped up overboots, and alas, they quickly became very ripped up, so I spent several hours sewing, while chatting with folks. I finished them up, then hit the sack. In the morning I dropped by the AC to get a bit more food, some more fuel for my stove, a cheap thermos (actually Thermos brand), and my new favorite trail snack, a big bag of Fritos. Tim left early in the morning, and I am still amazed how fast he was able to get in and out. I guess after eight times to Nome you become really time efficient!

I became a big fan of Fritos on this trip. I could get them at all the village stores, they are pretty calorie dense, and they taste good. I also grabbed a Budweiser for Dave Johnston, who the tracker said was coming in soon. Dave is an amazing guy – I have seen him finish at McGrath three times now, and he is always cheerful and happy. I slowly packed up my bike, watched Dave finish, and prepared to head out.

I finally got on the trail at 2 p.m. or so — much later than I expected. The trail was in great shape, and I zoomed along to Takotna, a small community 20 or so miles out of McGrath. Just before reaching Takotna, I bumped into Billy Koitzsch, who had put on another event a week before on a similar route. He and a few other guys were returning from breaking trail for the two racers still in his event, and he told me they had broken trail to Poorman and it was “a highway!”. Or so I thought. I apparently misheard, or there was some sort of misunderstanding — as I was to find out later.

Billy K

Takatna

Outside of Takotna there are a series of hills as the trail follows a road over to Ophir. The climbs seem to take forever. My plan was to bike until I reached the first cabin, Carlson Crossing, but the trail was a bit slower than I expected.. Fortunately, on one of the hills I was passed by two guys on snowmachines, who invited me to stay with them in a cabin in Ophir. Hours later, I passed Tim sleeping on the side of the trail, and pulled into the cabin at Ophir.

It was heaven: a small 10ft by 10ft shack, with two cheerful miners named Chris and Chuck on their way to work on a cabin on their claim further down the trail. They put me up in the loft above the cabin after feeding me dinner, and I fell asleep to them discussing life. It was a great way to end the day.

In the morning I headed out — after thanking Chuck and Chris — and zoomed down the trail. I soon passed Tim, who was looking chipper but seemed to be having issues getting the right pressure in his tires.

Tim

Leaving Ophir

I arrived at Carlson Crossing in mid-afternoon, where I had lunch, loaded up my drop bag onto my bike, and headed down the trail.

Drop bags bike selfie

My plan was to ride to the North Fork cabin, 40 miles or so farther down the trail. It was a long, bumpy 40 miles, and I arrived in the middle to the night.

Bumpy..

I was pretty surprised to see a walker’s sled outside, and when I stuck my head inside, I saw someone bundled up in a sleeping bag. Alas, the cabin was not very warm, so I hunted around to find more wood, restarted the fire, and alas woke up Jorge in the process. As soon as I got the fire going I hit the sack. I had been warned the North Fork cabin’s stove doesn’t work well, and it definitely doesn’t put out that much heat. Even loaded with nice dry spruce, it still wasn’t generating that much heat.

In the morning, I had a sleepy and disjointed conversation with Jorge. Apparently he was one of the two remaining racers in Billy’s Iditasport race. He left an hour or so before me, leaving me to melt snow and prepare for the day. Eventually I left, and rode for a couple of hundred feet before the snowmachine tracks turned around and the trail ended. Alas, I guess I misheard Billy when I talked to him in Takotna, as the broken trail ended here, well short of Poorman.

Pushing..

It wasn’t too bad, just six inches or so of snow over a nice firm base, but not very rideable. I tried riding, but there wasn’t a chance, and so it was walking. I walked for the next two days, following Kevin’s tracks and the tracks of the two Iditasport walkers. I felt very guilty as I walked long in Kevin’s tracks as he had done all the hard work by breaking trail. After a few hours I passed Jorge, who very kindly offered me some bread and cheese, but I passed as I had lots of food with me at this point.

The was definitely the hardest section of the race for me. Walking the bike wasn’t bad, but the trail was lonely and isolated, with nighttime lows in the mid negative-30s. About half way there I figured I was taking a plane home as soon as I arrived in Ruby.

I was really glad I purchased a Thermos in McGrath. My original plan was to fill it with a hot drink, like chai or coffee, in the morning and drink it during the day. Alas, the Thermos kept stuff too hot to drink, so instead I tried filling it was boiling water and using that for a midday freeze-dried meal, and one for the evening. That worked so well I started skipping filling it in the morning, and started filling it in the heat of the midday sun, and using it for dinner and breakfast. That worked fantastically! I should point out this is a cheap ‚Äútraditional‚ÄĚ Thermos, which appears to work much better than the more upscale ones like Hydroflask .

The trail winds through flat swamps and fields from the North Fork cabin, eventually reaching the abandoned town of Poorman. Poorman is nothing more than a series of dirt roads winding through piles of old tailings and giant heaps of 50 gallon drums. I believe the Iron Dog has a building here, though I have not seen it. At Poorman the hills start, and the trail winds up and down little hills and ridges though old burns, across a giant old bridge at the Sulatna River, then onto an old road that leads to Ruby.

I was amazed Kevin pushed through this section by himself. When he left Mcgrath he had no idea who was going to be following him, and how far they were behind him. He was truly alone in this section, and I will be forever impressed that he pushed through it alone, breaking trail for almost 60 miles. To me, this was the stand-out performance in this year’s race.

DSC08244

After Jorge, I didn’t see anyone for another 36 hours, when I bumped into Kenton, one of the guys filming the race.

Jon and Kenton of Asymetriq were trying to make a film of the race, and had been following the race since the start, though I hadn’t seen them for a while. Kenton had snowmachined out to the end of the trail outside Ruby, then hiked a few miles to watch me push my bike. It was a bit surreal, but nice to see another person. Once I saw Kenton I knew I had good trail nearby, so I kept pushing, and soon I was on a nice firm snowmachine trail. Alas, as soon as I started riding I noticed a few issues: my free hub was behaving a bit wonky and my rack was all wobbly. A quick inspection told me I had sheared off one of the rack bolts, alas. I used bailing wire to sort of secure it, and rode on to the top of the nearest hill, pulled off the trail, and bivied. Kenton had caught up with me, and set up a camera to take a time-lapse of my bivy spot, hoping (I think) to catch some aurora. I don’t think there was any aurora, but I did have to go pee in the middle of the night. Hopefully that doesn’t feature in the film.

In the morning I packed up, and headed down the trail. Alas, when I bivy I am so comfortable I have a tendency to oversleep, and I didn’t get moving all that early. At midday, it was warm enough that I tried to actually fix my rack, and with a bit of fiddling I replaced the broken rack bolt and I was back in business. I was still having issues with the occasionally funny noise from my freehub, but it was still working, and that was all I needed at this point. The next 30 or so miles were super boring, going up and down, up and down on a wide snow covered road until I reached Ruby. I was very happy to arrive at Ruby, and wandered around town a bit, trying to find the home of Scotty, a local teacher who offered to host me. Eventually I found Scotty’s house, just as he arrived from school. He let me into his place, sat me down in front of the fire, and handed me a huge bowl of soup. It was heaven, and soon the thought of bailing and flying home was gone.

I am sorry for the lack of photos. I had a fair bit of trouble with my Sony Nex 6 in the cold, and thus I was not very motivated to take photos.

More come.

Iditarod Trail Invitational 2017, part 1

Tuesday, April 4th, 2017

The Iditarod dog race has two traditional routes – the Northern route, which passes though Ruby, and the Southern route, which passes though the abandoned town of iditarod. The Southern route has a mystique to it, and common wisdom says it is the harder. When I finished my ride to Nome last year, I really wanted to do the Southern route the following year. The Southern route is slower, as the sections from Ophir to Shageluk and from Grayling to Kaltag aren’t used outside the dog race, so the trail isn’t generally in very good shape.

Alas, a few weeks before the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) started, the Iditarod dog race announced they were moving to a Fairbanks start, because of limited snow on the south side of Rainy Pass. This put a bit of a damper on my interest in riding to Nome, as it meant the ITI was going to take the Northern route again.

Some background: in the normal course of events, the Iron Dog race occurs a week before the ITI, then the ITI starts, then a week later the Iditarod starts. The Iron Dog snowmachine race takes the Northern route, and is normally the only traffic between Ophir and Ruby, besides the Iditarod. Since the Iditarod was starting in Fairbanks, that section looked a bit iffy. In 2015 the Iditarod also started in Fairbanks, and a few of the ITI racers got stuck between Ophir in Ruby when it snowed, then dropped to really cold (reports of -50F). So, I was not super excited about the route change. On the up side, the ITI was not going to take the normal route though Rainy Pass, but instead continue around Ptarmigan Pass and down the South Fork of the Kuskokwim, through the ominously titled Hell’s Gate. This route hadn’t been taken by the ITI since 2008, so I was excited to see it!

The ITI has three “versions” these days – a race to Finger Lake, which is about 130 miles, the “short” race to McGrath, which is around 300 miles (using the standard route though Rainy Pass), and the “long” race to Nome.

It is pretty hard to describe how different the ride to Nome is compared to the race to McGrath. The race to McGrath is so “controlled” by comparison, with nice, regularly spaced checkpoints that you know will be staffed, that you know will have food, water, and warmth. After McGrath, there are 140 miles of nearly nothing from Takotna to Ruby. This section is pretty barren. In 2016 it was fast riding and warm, but it has the potential to be amazingly cold. It is very remote – we didn’t see anyone after Ophir in 2016 until we arrived at Ruby. Folks have had to push their bikes from Takotna to Ruby, and I have always worked under the assumption I would have to, too. After Ruby there are communities pretty regularly spaced, but there is none of the certainty you get in the shorter race that you will arrive to a welcoming warm place. So much unknown… The shorter race also has a frantic quality to it – so many racers. I always feel like I have to keep moving along, that if I slow down I will be “swamped” in the checkpoint by other racers and swallowed up by the pack. The Nome race has none of of this – there are so few folks riding it, and they are so spread out that when you bump into them it is a call for excitement. “Yay – someone to talk to!” – not panic you are about to be jostled out by a crowd. For me, it is a completely difference experience.

In the weeks before the race, I sent out drop boxes and otherwise got ready to head to Nome, but I definitely had mixed thoughts about going past McGrath.

A few days before the race I said good by to Nancy and the twins, then headed down to Anchorage with my friend Tom who was also doing the race. After the normal pre-race stuff, including a last minute panic when I discovered I’d left all my long underwear tops and tee shirts at home and some quality time with my siblings in Wasilla, I found myself at the start on Knik Lake, zooming down the trail.

The start of the Shell Hills

Cockpit

The first day or so of the race was a bit of a blur.

The Yentna River

Heading to Finger Lake

The start of the Shell Hills

Yentna, Skwentna, Finger Lake, and Puntilla all zoomed by pretty fast. The trail was mostly in pretty great shape, and I started to regret my last minute tire change to Buds. The weather was nice, and the trail was pretty fast. I arrived at Puntilla with Dan Lockery, a chipper fellow from Winnipeg, and Tom Moran, a friend from Fairbanks. It was a bit windy, and the little cabin they have us stay in for the race was a bit drafty. A few other racers were crashed there trying to get some sleep, including Phil, Kevin, and John. Ominously, it was pretty cold in the cabin, even with the stove burning away – the wind really seemed to be blowing though the walls, which I don’t think I had noticed when I have stayed here before – I guess it was windy! I grabbed a cot, and tucked myself in for a few hours of sleep after a few cans of chili.

After a few hours of sleep, Tom, Dan, and I headed out. John headed out to go eat breakfast – apparently the lodge serves an all you can eat breakfast, which was pretty tempting. After a false start into a horse corral, one of the folks who run the lodge pointed us in the right direction and told us the leaders still had not make it to the south fork, and had bivied in the pass. Everyone in the race now has trackers, and that has changed the race a bit – for the slower folks like me it can be very helpful to know how fast the folks ahead of us are traveling, so we know what to expect. Knowing the leaders who had a good 12 hour head start on us were not yet to Rohn let us know we had a bit of a slow slog ahead of us. It was pretty windy, so we bundled up expecting the worst. But it turned out to be not that bad. It was windy, but not epically so.

DSC08121

DSC08127

The trail was soft, and more hilly as it wound up and down to avoid brush in the bottom of the valley, so there was lots of pushing. It was very scenic though, and it passed though some pretty interesting areas.

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Eventually the trail firmed up enough it was rideable, and soon after we were joined by John, powered on by his all-you-can-eat breakfast.

DSC08134

As we neared the turn towards the south fork, we were passed by three snowmachines pulling a large sled – apparently some bison hunters heading to Rohn and Farewell. They made a noticeable improvement to the trail, and soon we were zooming along. The final climb and decent into the south fork of the Kuskokwim was amazing fun. The rest of the ride to Rohn was mostly uneventful, besides a short section of mid calf deep overflow. Dan and I broke out our Wiggies overboots, Tom just walked though in his Neos, and John just walked though fast. It was mostly uneventful, but a reminder that things could get ugly. The wind was on and off again, coming and going around each bend in the river.

After seeing several places where folks had dipped water out of open areas, I stopped and got out my pot to dip water, as I was out. John stopped to watch me after suggesting what I was about to do wasn’t a good idea – and duh, it wasn’t. I lost my pot as soon as I dipped it into the stream – it was moving much faster than I anticipated! I felt like a complete idiot. Probably because I was – that was amazingly stupid. John took pity on me, and dipped out some with an empty thermos, giving me a nice drink of really cold water.

The rest of the way to Rohn I didn’t do anything stupid, and we arrived intact, though for the last 5 miles or so we had a stiff headwind. I was pretty surprised by the headwind – normally there is a tailwind out of Rohn, which I thought meant a nice tailwind down the south fork – but this was not to be. There were a lot of open leads near the Rohn, and it took a while to find a way across. We arrived at Rohn dry, but tired, at around 5am. Kevin, Phil, and another racer, Adam I think, were there, though Phil started leaving as soon as we arrived, and was quickly followed by Kevin. Unfortunately, Tom discovered he’d slightly frostbitten his toes – yikes!

We hit the sack, and in early afternoon, Dan, Tom, and I headed out. The trail to the Farewell Lakes was in pretty good shape, with a bit more snow than the last few years.

Bison tunnels

We stopped briefly at “Pike Camp”, Phil Runkle’s camp. It was great to talk to Phil and hang out for a bit in front of his wonderfully warm fire. It wasn’t that cold, around zero, but the fire was very welcome. Alas, we had to go, and a bit ominously, Tom mentioned his toes had warmed up and were hurting. Soon the sun set and we were riding down the trail, enjoying the many small hills. Up and down. Up and down. It was starting to get a bit colder, bottoming out at around -30F, and Tom was starting to slow down. After a while it became apparent he was having trouble keeping his feet and hands warm, so Dan headed off to go warm up Bear Creek Cabin, and I helped Tom warm up his feet, putting several packs of insole warmers in his boots. Hours later, a little after 1 am, we pulled into Bear Creek Cabin, where Dan had it warm (thanks Dan!), and warmed up Tom. Alas, his feet were a bit more frostbitten now. On the upside, Bear Creek Cabin was pretty nice, and once it warmed up, a very cozy space. In the morning… or early afternoon as the case might be, we headed out, enjoying a fast ride into Nikolai, arriving around 7pm.

I always love reaching Nikolai. At Nikolai we are hosted by the wonderful Petruska family – Nick, Olene, and Stephanie. It is hard to describe how awesome it is pulling into Nikolai, knowing their place is just around the corner, with warmth, food, and welcoming faces. Alas, Nick has terminal cancer, and it was sad to see him, knowing it might be the last time. The world needs more folks like Nick and his family, and he has made it a better place.

At this point Tom’s feet were a bit messed up, and he was debating whether he should scratch or not. If he continued on, he would have to travel during the heat of the day, such as it was. The forecast was for overnight lows between -20F and -30F – a bit chilly. Dan and I decided to head out in the early AM, and in the morning headed out, making it out on the trail at around 3am.

The ride to McGrath was a mix of nice fast riding, and slow, soft slogging. I was very happy to see the sunrise.

Dan

Sunrises are an awesome time, filled with the promise of a nice warm sun to beam down and take away the -30F temperatures we were enjoying. The last 40 or so miles to McGrath are never that fun of a ride – lots of swamp and river riding, with not much to see.

Nearly to Mcgrath

It took a while this year, as sections were blown just enough to be slow riding, or in some cases, slow walking. Eventually Dan and I pulled into McGrath, arriving at around 5:30, a good two days after the leaders finished.

More coming. Meanwhile, Bikepacker has a photo essay from my ride, you can find it here.

Angel Creek 50, the ultra walk

Monday, July 18th, 2016

Late this spring, in a moment of weakness, I signed up for a local 50 mile running race, the Angel Creek 50. It was a bit of an experiment for me – I don’t have any big biking plans this summer, and wanted to try something different. I run a fair bit, but don’t enter in to running races all that frequently, mainly only shorter races with the family.

Alas, despite my best intentions, my training up to the race was a bit spotty – I got several months of running in, trying to get lots of short runs in and a few longer (so like 12 miles) run in a week. My right hamstring started giving me issues though, and I got distracted by fun trips, and so my running died off a bit. Eventually race day arrived, and I showed up a bit under trained, but since my only goal was to make the mile 42, 13 hours, 30 minutes cut off time, which is slightly under my walking pace, I figured I should make the cutoff.

The race is in the Chena River State Recreation Area, on a mix of single track and atv trails. I have been on most of the trails before, but there are a few sections that I had never been on, and I was looking forward to it!

The race starts at Twin Bear Camp and ends Chena Hotsprings, which are a little over 20 miles apart, so I took advantage of the race’s shuttle the evening before the race start, and camped at the start. I had brought a tent, but Twin Bears turned out to have quite the facility, and I ended up staying in one of their bunk houses, with Ned. There were so many bunkhouses I think each racer could have had one to themselves. The race start was a nice and early 5am, so we got up at 4am, eating and getting ready. There was a brief pre-race meeting, and before I knew it we were off!

The race sort of went by in a blur.

I ran the first 10 miles or so, then slowly started walking more and more. I didn’t run more than a few miles after mile 25, as my quads were shot, and my right knee was super unhappy after the big downhills around mile 20.

It was raining lightly at the start, then by mile 8 ish it started dumping. No big deal, the weather was not that cold, and I am almost always too hot. I tried to eat every hour or so, and drink every 10 minutes or so. That seemed to work, as I stayed hydrated for most of the race, and didn’t have energy issues. At mile 18 the climbing started, and I learned the hoka stinsons I was using had really poor grip on wet muddy rocks. No big deal, it just required a bit more care than I would have liked. The miles 18 – 20 ish were on trail I had never been on before, and I enjoyed it, though I was now mostly walking, with a few bits of running. The visibility on the ridges was pretty poor, but the trail was pretty easy to follow, in my opinion at least.

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Folks made fun of me at the race finish for saying that, but I didn’t have any trouble finding my way. I had to stop a few times and look around for the next rock cairn, but that only took a few seconds, nothing major, but that might have only been because I was going so slow.

I didn’t take very many photos, as I only had my phone, but I did get a selfie..

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Andy and Chris were at the Chena Dome trail shelter, and Andy was as cheerful as ever.
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I had been by myself for most of the race, but Andy said my friend Tom was only 10 minutes ahead, with a “big group”. Alas, I never caught up with them.

The rest of the race sort of zoomed by, and I walked the next 25 miles. I would have loved to have run more, but alas, my legs were not up for it.

I made the mile 42 cut off by an hour and a half, and finished at 14 hours, 20 minutes ish.

It was a super fun event, and I think I will try doing it again next year, though hopefully I will be able to run a lot more of it.

I used the Strava app on my phone during the race, and it worked great. It told me my pace every mile, which provided lots of motivation. The few times I was around other people I muted it, but since I was by myself for most of the race, it didn’t annoy anyone. When I finished I still had over 50% of the battery left, which was good news.

I walked/ran everything but the last 8 miles in some hoka stinsons, which was a mixed success. They are super comfortable, but they are hard to tighten down fully, and get next to no traction in mud or wet rocks. I have run a lot in them, but never in this much rain and wet. The left shoe started feeling funny after mile 25, and after the race I noticed it had “blew out” in a section.

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It is hard to tell from the photo, but there is big dent and soft spot where my thumb is.

The final 8 miles of the race I ran is some montrail road shoes, and they got much, much better grip.

A huge thank you to my family for letting me disappear for this race, and to the folks who put it on – Drew Harrington, Karen Taber, and George Berry. You guys rock, I really enjoyed it.

A few more photos can be found here:
Angel Creek 50

I learned a few things, mainly I walk at roughly a 17 minute mile pace, which is slightly slower than I would have expected.

An update: 5 days after the race, I am fully recovered, except my feet which are still a bit destroyed. I ended up with blisters on the ball of both feet, and they are taking a while to heal up completely.

ITI ‚Äď 2016 Part 2, This time to Nome!

Wednesday, April 6th, 2016

A bit of a warning ‚Äď 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 Рhe 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.. ¬†ūüôā

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

ITI – 2016 Part 1, This time to Nome!

Monday, April 4th, 2016

A bit of a warning Рthis post is on the long side.. 

As the sun set halfway between Ophir and the Carson Crossing Cabin, ¬†I — for the second time in the last couple of hours — heard voices.. ¬†I thought for sure I could hear people talking.

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Me: “Kyle, can you hear some voices talking?”

Kyle: ¬†“Ah, no, I don’t hear any voices…”
This was followed by a pretty skeptical look from Kyle.  Clearly my sanity was in question.

I stopped for a moment, and in a moment of silence, I discovered the voices were coming from my pocket.  My audio book player was on.

“Ahh, I nevermind, I think I found them..”

Nome..  After my second bike ride to McGrath on the Iditarod Trail among some of the racers who continued on from Mcgrath, I started thinking about going all the way to Nome.  

The Iditarod Trail Invitational is a race on foot, bike, or skis from Knik to Mcgrath in its shorter 300 mile version, or Nome, on the Iditarod Trail.

Iditarod Trail

Initially the full race to Nome seemed so far out of reach — too far, too hard — but I figured it would be fun to try, and if I didn’t make, no big deal. ¬†I had thought Nancy wouldn’t be excited about me being away from the family for¬†20+ days, but after sounding her out I was surprised — and excited! — to get the OK from her. ¬†So, I started planning in earnest. ¬†Thinking about going to Nome was pretty scary, with so many unknowns: lots of new trail, new areas, wind, cold, the remoteness of the Ophir to Ruby section, working out the logistics for resupplying with food, etc. ¬† Lots of things outside my control, and so many things to worry about. ¬†The race to Mcgrath is pretty simple by comparison — you just need to pack up your bike, send out two drop bags, and you’re good to go.

As usual the race started in the early afternoon at Knik Lake. ¬†My brother John lives in Wasilla, which is a 20 minute drive from the race start, so he dropped me off at the start. ¬†The start was a bit of a madhouse, with lots of people. ¬†Eventually everyone lined up, and we were off. ¬†Knik Lake was snow-free, with a tiny bit of water on it, so the the first quarter mile was icy and slippery, but soon we were off onto the trail, which was a mix of slush, water, mud, and ice. ¬†After a few minutes I looked down and noticed my drivetrain was all muddy — just thing I wanted to see on the start of a 1000 mile ride. ¬† ¬†The next few hours sped by. ¬†I ended up mostly riding with a friend from Fairbanks, Morris,¬†to Flathorn Lake, where he zoomed off, and it briefly rained on me.

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The rain had me pretty worried. ¬†It was just a few hours into a several-week-long race, and I didn’t want to start things off by getting soaked. ¬†I briefly stopped to take my pogies off, but as I took them off the rain stopped, so I put them back on and kept riding. ¬† ¬†Otherwise, the ride to the first two checkpoints was uneventful, but very fast, as there was only a little snow on the river, and lots of bare ice. ¬†After a bite to eat at Skwentna, Morris, Bob O from Anchorage, and two folks from Minnesota, Frenchie (Alan), and Ken, headed on to Shell Lake lodge to get some sleep.

We arrived sometime after midnight, and I was surprised to see the lodge was still open — hurrah! ¬†We snagged one of their cabins, and after getting a shot of Jack Daniels from the bar, I hit the sack. ¬†The cabin was a bit hot, but that dried off my pogies and the rest of my gear. ¬†The ride from Shell to Finger was fairly fast, and after a stop at the Finger Lake checkpoint, Morris and I continued on to Puntilla. ¬†A few miles down the trail we were¬†passed by some snowmachines, and the the riding got a bit slower, as they churned up the snow and it was slow to set up in the near-freezing temperatures.

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Ken, Bob, and Frenchie quickly caught up, and I ended up riding with them to Puntilla, over Rainy Pass, and to Rohn.   The ride (and walk) up to Rainy Pass was a bit slow, but nothing epic.

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The Happy River was open were the trail crossed it before heading up into Rainy, so I got to use my¬†Wiggies Waders¬†for the¬†first time in the ITI — ¬†hurrah!

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I got to use them once more heading down the pass, then they stayed packed up for the rest of the race.

This was the first time I got to travel Rainy Pass in the daylight, and I enjoyed the views of Denzel Gorge.  

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The trail after Rainy Pass was fantastic, and we zoomed down to Rohn, where Frenchie, Morris, and I continued on to Nikolai.  The trail was in great shape, and the riding was very fast.

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I had forgotten how many hills there are in the first 30ish miles outside of Rohn — lots and lots of little hills.

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I was having a very hard time keeping up with my two riding partners, and eventually they zoomed off, and I caught up to them in Nikolai. ¬†Nikolai is always a great place — Nick, Olene and Stephanie are always welcoming and are wonderful folks. ¬†I really needed more sleep at this point, ¬†and since it was quiet there and I wasn’t that concerned about my time into Mcgrath, I¬†crashed for 6 or so hours, while the the other guys took off after a few hours of sleep.

The ride to Mcgrath was uneventful and fun, with firm and fast trail conditions. ¬†I arrived in Mcgrath in late afternoon, and I was soon helping myself to the endless buffet of food and happiness that is Peter and Tracy’s house in McGrath. ¬† I was able to wash my clothing, get some sleep (almost 10 hours!), and load up my bike with stuff for the next section. ¬†I am afraid I sort of stumbled around like a mad person in a bit of a daze while I was in McGrath. ¬†Hopefully I didn’t offend anyone.

I had been dreading the ride to Mcgrath, worried I was going to end up in a pack of people, with crowded checkpoints and general hubbub and madness, but it was actually very fun and enjoyable.  I could have gotten a bit more sleep, but it was fine. I really enjoyed traveling with Ken, Frenchie, Morris, and Bob on the way to Mcrath Рthanks guys, it was great sharing the trail with you!

The next morning I headed out with Kyle Amstadter.   I had never met Kyle before, but I had emailed back and forth a bit with him before the race.  It was fantastic to meet him in person, and I was to ride rest of the way to Nome with him and Bill, who joined us later.  Kyle and Bill are fantastic guys, and wonderful companions on the trail.

I was pretty excited about the next section of trail — it was going to be all new to me, and from my point of view, where the “real” adventure started. ¬†The ride to Ophir was mostly uneventful.

As I biked into Takotna, the first community we passed through after Mcgrath, I was greeted by a huge dog, who was tall enough to stick his nose into my pogies while standing on the ground. ¬† I ¬†was a bit startled, as it was a “big dog”, but I guess they were starting to smell a bit funky at this point,¬†and¬†he was very friendly.

After Takotna we made way to the next place on the map, Ophir, which is an old mining community.  The trail between Takotna and Ophir seemed to be an old road, complete with well aged AKDOT road signs.

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In the early afternoon we reached Opher, where  Iditarod dog race folks who man the checkpoint were outside building some new outhouses.  They waved us in, and gave us hot water and coffee, and we talked for a bit.  It was an awesome unexpected bit of welcome, they were very nice, and I enjoyed talking to them and petting their cute dogs.

After leaving Ophir we were were joined by Bill F, who rode with us to Carlson Crossing cabin, where we spent the night.

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Carlson Crossing cabin is a neat cabin, but¬†while it had a fancy Honda generator and was wired for lights, it didn’t have a saw. ¬†Fortunately Bill found wood and after some use of a pulaski he¬†found lying near the cabin, it was broken up, and he had the place warmed up in no time. ¬†Just before we hit the sack Bob arrived. ¬† In the morning Kyle, Bill and I all headed out together, with Bob staying for a bit more sleep. ¬† The trail was fast, but bumpy! ¬† It reminded me of the Fairbanks area, winding through swamps and black spruce forests. ¬†

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Early in the day we found our last set of drop bags piled up on the side of the trail. ¬†¬†A this point there was only one racer ahead of us, Phil,¬†and we had been following his tracks since leaving McGrath. ¬† Phil had apparently biked right by the drop bags — apparently he was in a hurry! ¬† (Later I learned he had been ahead of the plane that dropped the bags off, and they were dropped off after he passed through. )

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After a hot lunch and restocking bikes, we headed off, with plans to bivy near Poorman. ¬†Bill zoomed off ,planning on scouting a “good spot”, and ¬†Kyle and I eventually caught up with him after Poorman around midnight, and bivied outside along the trail, in a small stand of little spruce trees.

In the morning we rode on to Ruby. ¬†The last section into Ruby is on an old mining road, and was surprisingly hilly. ¬†I have flown over this area, and was expecting hills, but was pretty amazed by how many of them were were — lots and lots of little 500ft climbs and descents.

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Eventually we arrived at Ruby, and we spent the night at the River Edge BB — fantastic folks! ¬†They had apparently just got back into town, and were a bit surprised to see us, but didn’t seem to mind too much.

In the morning, just before we departed, Bob showed up. ¬†He had apparently arrived in Ruby in the middle of the night, and after a quick spin through town and didn’t finding anyone awake, so he made a little fort of the straw bales at the Iditarod dog race checkpoint and bivied there, which sounded pretty awesome.

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Next up, Part 2!