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Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic 2021

Wednesday, December 29th, 2021

Bob and I were packing up on the side of Caribou Creek, looking forward to the last 15 to 17 miles of hiking to the finish.   A super cub flew over us, then came back to fly circles fairly low right above us as we got ready for our final hike, packing up our boats and our floating stuff.   It kept flying circles above us, and Bob and I gave them several thumbs up to make sure they knew we were ok.  Oddly, they kept circling above us.  As we got ready to go we speculated what they were doing: 

“Maybe looking for someone’s boat?”

“Maybe someone is lost and they are looking for them?” 

“You sure your Inreach didn’t go off?” 

When we packed up, and hit the trail, we soon figured out why they were circling – we had taken out a few miles early on the wrong trail. It was marked clearly on our GPS – very obviously. Had I actually checked I would have known we were taking out at the wrong spot. There was a connector, but that turned out to be a lot longer than anticipated.  We finally reached the trail we should have taken out at, over two muddy hours later.   Sigh. 


So, this post is a bit wordy – it is hard to condense this experience down to something short and pithy, and that is of course beyond my writing skills, so to feel free to skip to the end to just look at photos.



The Alaska Wilderness Summer Classic is a point to point human powered event.  It is now in its 40th year, and the last year for the current route, which is from the Cantwell area to Sheep Mountain Lodge near Eureka. It switches every three years normally.   Last year Tom and I did a mostly overland route, and I was really looking forward to taking a boat and getting some floating in this year.  Alas, my normal partner, Tom, had back issues that were looking like they would be severe enough to require surgery, so he was out.   

Note – Tom ended up needing surgery, and finally got the operation done the week before the classic, and is recovering fine.

I am  too big of a wimp to do the whole route by myself.  Besides the extra safety factor, although  I am not a people person, that much time without any people seems like it would be a bit beyond me.  Fortunately Bobby Gillis said he was interested in doing it with me, and so it was a go!   Yay!  One problem is that  Bob walks faster than me and is considerably more hardcore, so I was pretty worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up. 


The evening before the start,  everyone met up at the start, attended a mellow pre-event chat, then camped on the side of the road.  The next morning everyone gathered up, everyone fiddled around a bit, then took a photo and we were off! 

AKSWC-2021
AKSWC-2021


The first few hours flew by.  I was pretty worried, as it didn’t take Bob too long before he was poking me about walking slowly.  After I tried to speed up he didn’t poke me again – hard to say if I actually walked faster or he just gave up on me. 

AKSWC-2021

At one point I had to stop to re-adjust my pack.  I have one of those super trendy Hyperlite Mountain Gear packs that everyone loves, and while I mostly love it, it is a bit too floppy for really long days with loads over 30lbs for me, and I always seem to be brought up short at some point with an excruciating shoulder neck pain.  I think this is my last trip with over 30lbs in that pack.  I quickly repacked my pack to move everything of any weight right up against my back and things seemed better.  I also took out the trekking poles I had been carrying, and unfolded them, only to discover the connecting part on one of them had been pushed down into the body of the pole.  I break poles fairly regularly and these were one of a set I had bought to replace another pole I had broken, and for the classic I brought the unused one as I assumed it would reduce the chance of breaking  – but now I was going to carry a broken pole for another 100 miles – arrg!  When we got walking again I was pretty irritated, but happy my shoulder muscles were not killing me.  Thirty miles later I broke my other pole, leaving me to carry two broken pole, sigh. 

It was much hotter than I expected, and I was having a hard time staying hydrated.  I had brought chlorine dioxide tablets, which treated a quart at a time but required 20 minutes of waiting.  For pretty much the whole way I was filling up whenever I had a chance, tossing a pill in, waiting anxiously for the 20 minutes to go by, then chugging.  If I had been thinking more clearly I would have brought the uv wand for faster treating and to carry less water.

It was hot enough that Bob was worried that his bacon would go bad, and he offered some, which I took “some” as most, and nearly choked myself to death cramming a huge wad of it into my mouth.  I survived, but Bob didn’t offer me any more food. 

Near the headwaters of the Jack we saw a huge group of people on the other side of the valley that looked oddly well organized – everyone was in a line, and their tents were in a pattern. We were later to find out they were a NOLS group on a several week trip.

As the hours zipped by, we gradually made our way up the Jack River, and down to Tsusena Creek, where we passed the leaders, Matt, John, and Brian,  blowing up their boats.  The water looked pretty thin, so Bob and I kept walking, waiting for another tributary to come in before putting in and floating.  The creek was a bit low on water, but the floating was non-threatening and bouncy at times.  It was much faster and more fun than walking along it like I did with Tom the year before.  I only have a few landmarks to watch for along the creek, and was in constant searching for the tree stand Tom and I had walked by.  It was hours before we passed it.  I think Bob quickly got sick of me constantly looking for it, and mistaking various bushes for it. 

A few hours into our float, well past the point where we dropped back into the treeline, Bob was slightly ahead of me, and just ahead of us on the river’s  left there was a huge brown bear, with its head in the water, big butt up and facing towards us.   After I realized Bob had not seen it yet, I started to panic, worried we would float right into it, surprise the bear, and have it bounce us around like beach toys.  After much panicking I finally got Bob’s attention, and we pulled over, only to discover it had wandered off.  Yay!  This was the first of several bear miscommunications – apparently I just suck at communicating.  We continued floating until we finally took out just after the sunset, cold and wet. As we packed, up the “leaders” – Matt, Brian, and John – floated by us.  We had been in the lead for the whole float – yay!  Apparently walking instead of floating had been a good call.


Bob and I packed up, hiked over to the Tsusena Lake, floated across the lake in the dark, arriving at the far shore where I staggered off to find a place to camp for a few hours.  Morning came too soon, and we were off again, hiking over to Deadman Creek. 

At one point my watch warned me that I should get more sleep and my recovery would be reduced. Hah, if only!  The next few miles were a slog.  We tried the direct route and that didn’t work as well as we hoped –  there was lots of not so good walking, and brush.   We did hear another group at some point, and Bob saw them briefly, and they seemed to be moving much faster.  We made it down to the Susitna, where we inflated, crossed, then hiked up out of the river valley in the boiling hot sun.   I don’t do well in the heat, and I was hammering down water.   It was quite a contrast to last year with warm nights and hot days. 

As we hiked up Fog Creek we saw two groups in the distance behind us, which we assumed were other AWMC people, but they were traveling slowly and soon dropped out of sight.  In retrospect it is possible they were another group?   In the early hours of the morning we camped just above Tsisi Creek. 


The next day we hiked over to Kosina and there our route diverged from the route I took last year, and we headed up river. 

The internet has said the Kosina was great walking – and there was some wonderful walking in there, but while there was some good walking, but a lot of trudging through wet swamp.    

Unfortunately Bob’s knee was starting to give him trouble, and by the time we made it to the second tallest pass of our route it was starting to look like things might be over. 

After several rounds of inreaching, we decided to give it some rest, and set up camp near the top of the pass looking down on the Black River, far below us.   The advice relayed via the inreach from the marvous Dr Leistikow, my wife Nancy, and Bob’s partner Lee (who is a nurse) said to tape it and rest it.   Bob taped up his knee, and then we went to bed, planning to sleep in, and hopefully all would be well in the morning.   Just as I tucked into my tent it started raining, and I invited Bob into the vestibule. 

An ode to my tent – a sidebar.  Fifteen years ago when the twins were tiny, I looked around for small, light tents that would fit all four of us, and found a Tarptent Rainshadow 2 – an under 2 lbs tent for three adults.  Our family used it until the twins got too big for it, then moving on, but I liked the designs of the Tarptents enough so I got another one, the “Moment ”, a single person tent.   This summer, I noticed Tarptent was making a tent that was just 17oz – the Aeon Li and it looked like I could fit into it – yay!   It was  expensive, but I figured in the classic I would get at least a few nights out of it, so it could be worth it so I bought one.  I figured four nights in it would cost about the same as a cheap hotel.. I am glad I did – it isn’t quite as roomy as the Moment, but it is fast to set up, roomy enough, and has a wonderfully large vestibule that fits Bob in a pinch.  A lot of other folks use plastic bags, tarps, or bivvies, or other small sack like options in the classic, but I just don’t think it is worth it – saving a few ounces and being unable to sleep due to bugs or rain seems like a poor tradeoff.  I also brought one of the twins’ sleeping bags (the lightest one we own), and a short foam pad.  Bob was using some sort of plastic sack, down pants, and a down jacket.  I think my total sleep stuff weight was a little under 3 lbs, which I think was weight well spent, as it let me enjoy the limited sleep I could get.

Bob isn’t a tall guy, so he fit fine, and when it started raining as we went to bed, I offered him the vestibule and he joined me in the tent.  He looked more comfortable than he was in his plastic sack, and I quickly drifted off to sleep.  We ended up sleeping close to 10 hours, and when I woke up I felt completely normal and totally refreshed – yay!   Bob’s knee was better too, double yay! 

Soon we were zooming down to the Black RIver, and up to another pass.  The Black River valley is beautiful, but oddly the Black River is glacial, and very white. 

White River would be more appropriate..  Unfortunately now my knees were starting to hurt and near an old crashed plane we stopped and Bob did up his feet while I attempted to fix my pole with the slipped insert in hopes that would help.  Finally with the use of Bob’s pliers I managed to pull the insert out and super glue it in place – my pole was working again!   Yay!  The headwaters of the Black expand out into a huge open bowl with a landing strip marked out by cairns.   Just as we passed the landing strip I noticed two people hiking down a far ridge, and after I pointed them out we sped up – competition! 

The next pass (the second to last big one) was an easy walk up topped by a loose screen field.

Above us, seemingly an nearly infinite distance away, a caribou walked the ridge above us, running along the ridgeline as if to taunt us about our slowness.  Topping the ridge we dropped down into a beautiful valley with a small creek that quickly dropped into a deep channel, eventually reaching Nowhere Creek. 

While researching the route I had read that Nowhere creek had lots of petrified wood, and much to my excitement Bob pointed out some huge chunks of petrified wood.  Bob works for the Alaska Division of Geological Surveys and is a geologist, so there was much discussion of rocks and geology, but petrified wood was one of the highlights for me!   


After crossing Nowhere Creek we headed over the Oshetna, following an amazing maze of caribou trails winding through the tussocks, eventually camping after dark just below the final big pass. 

In the morning it was up and over into the Caribou Creek drainage, where we hiked on the west bank until running into an uncrossable flowing mud stream, something that I had never seen before. 

The mud was actually flowing down like a stream, with large rocks floating down it, and it was nearly bottomless – I couldn’t feel the bottom with my trekking pole.  Bob was in full on geologist mode, and was super excited by the muddy stream of certain death.  It was not going to be possible to cross it..  

We tried going down to the creek, but found it to be entirely blocked off with very soft and deep mud – it was either deep water, soft mud, or both, and thus uncrossable without swimming.  We then headed back up a quarter mile before finding a place where the lake was shallow enough to cross – it was still up to my chest though, and very opaque so I had to feel my way across and hope my pack would float enough I could hang on to it if there was a drop off.

Fortunately no drop off was encountered so we climbed up the other bank and enjoyed a wonderful “sound of music” hillside walk down to the ATV trails that we took to where Caribou Creek was floatable. 

The ATV trails were fast walking, and were littered with lots of interesting relics from old mines.  

We did run into one more section where the creek was dammed up by a huge mudslide, and this time went completely around it, only to find the mud was asphalt hard.  

There was lots of speculation between Bob and I if both slides were the result of the same weather event, as we didn’t see any signs of other slides.   Feeling a bit silly, we walked over the rest of the mud slide back to the ATV trail and then on to where we put in.  I was pretty worried about the float, as I had heard it was class III and IV, but it turned out to range from mellowish to bouncy class II, and we zoomed along, enjoying the float.  Eventually we reached what we thought was the take out, packed up while a super cub flew circles above us, before finally leaving just as we discovered we had taken out at an ATV trail a few miles upstream of the actual trail we wanted to get.  Oh, well, what’s a few miles..  well, a lot, it turned out.  The “extra” bit of trail we took was muddy, rutted, and had several climbs including one that seemed to go straight up.  I have no idea how ATVs get up that climb. Those folks must be crazy! 


Finally we reached our actual take out, and hiked up May Creek trail, where I filled my remaining freeze dried meal with cold water and hiked along, hoping it would hydrate and I could enjoy a nice final snack. 

The last few hours zoomed by, as we hiked up May Creek trail, which was less muddy than I remembered, across the beaver swap of doom (which now didn’t have any swamp), and up and over the ridge near Gun Sight & Sheep Mountain, before heading down to the old abandoned highway. 

We were supposed to avoid walking on the Glenn HIghway, and last year Tom and I were forced to walk along a utility cut, but I vetoed that this year – there is no way I was going to be walking though folks property at midnight in the dark, someone would likely shoot us!  Instead we walked the highway for the last few miles, getting off as trucks came by, zooming along in their bubbles of light.  We finally pulled into the finish at Sheep Mountain Lodge a little after 1am. 

I was saddened to find that I had forgot to pack any food in the truck besides a few Muscle Milks, but Bob was nice enough to give me his remaining freeze dried meal, while he had a ramen noodle packet, topped off with a few beers – the finish trailer was well stocked with beers.   Such a fine finishing feast – thanks Bob, I will always be thankful for that meal!
In the morning we caught up with John, Brian, and Matt who finished 17 hours or so ahead of us, and enjoyed a huge breakfast, before heading back to Fairbanks. 


Thanks for the company Bob, this was the adventure of a lifetime! 
Of course, a huge thank you goes out to my family for letting me disappear for a whole week, only to be asked random medical questions about knees via inreach, and then come back all sleep deprived. Thanks Molly, Lizzy, and Nancy!

And finally, a big thank you to Matt K for organizing. Thanks Matt, it is a lot of fun!


Some thoughts 

Gear

I brought a 30 degree bag I originally got for my daughter lizzy and a short section of closed cell foam pad.  It worked great.  

I took a tent, an Tarptent Aeon Li. ( https://www.tarptent.com/product/aeon-li/ ) . It rocked. 

We took an older MSR Pocket Rocket and a quart-ish pot for heating water for freeze dried meals.  Totally worth the weight I think. 

Foot stuff – I bought ¾ of a roll of Lukotape, and still had lots left at the finish.  I brought a fairly large amount of homemade hydropel replacement, and used lots.  I used some inov-8 RocLite 300 shoes, and they worked fine but were toast by the end.  I wore a thin liner sock and a thick outer sock. Mostly I was quite happy on the foot front, and finished with just two small blisters. 

Boat stuff – I took a dry top and float pants.  That worked fine, but would have been cold if I swam.  It was lighter than any other option I had.  I had a “normal” lama boat with am white water deck, Bob had one of the newer narrower boats with thigh straps.  We both had pfds, and bike helmets. 

Clothing – In addition to what I was wearing at the start, I took an extra top, bottom, a puffy synthetic top, and one set of extra socks. 

Navigation Stuff – Bob and I used cell phones for navigation.  That worked great, when we looked at them and didn’t do dumb things like take out earlier than we where supposed to. 


My total pack weight was a little under 40lbs.  Which seems pretty heavy. 

Food

I took roughly 12 lbs of food, plus four full size freeze dried meals. Two of the freeze dried meals were the jumbo Expedition Foods (https://expeditionfoods.com/ ) 1k calorie meals – and those were great.  The last one I had with cold water on Squaw creek trail, which was surprisingly good. Otherwise I was pretty unhappy with my food selection –  I needed more variety and easier to digest food.  My notes from last year told me to bring more variety and easier to digest food, so maybe I should read my notes and not stupidly repeat my errors.  I did take some fatty meat sticks’ ‘ and they were great and went down well.  I ate almost all my food. 

Route

The route we took this year was great – it was fast walking for the most part, and floating cut out a lot of time.  The walking was mostly good,and in parts it was fantastic.  The walking in the Oshetna and Kosnina valleys had some sections where it wasn’t as good as I would have liked, but otherwise it was mostly pretty good.  The area is super scenic, much more scenic than the ATV trails I took with Tom last year.  However, I think the walking on the ATV tails is actually a lot faster, and that still might be the “fastest” route, if a boat is taken to float Tsusena Creek.   Floating Tsusena Lake was also a time saver, and it was very neat to float across it in complete darkness.  Caribou Creek was a blast, super fun! 

What I would Change

I would take another water treatment system, like a steripen for faster hydration if it was hot.

I would take different poles.  Those black diamond poles I have been using suck, with their connector pieces coming out at inopportune times.

Better food choices.

Reduce! My pack was ~40lbs, I should be able to get it much lighter. 

After Effects

Last year my feet swelled up a ton.  This year I used compression socks just after I finished, and while my feet swelled a bit, it wasn’t nearly as bad.  However, my knees were super sore after finishing, and it took weeks for them to feel normal again.  I need to figure out something so these things are easier on my knees. Otherwise I was mostly intact at the finish. 

New Bike Day!

Monday, December 7th, 2020

My daughters say the only thing I care about are bikes and dogs. I of course think they are exaggerating, but bikes (and dogs) are important to me.

My first snow bike was a Surly 1X1 I got in the 2009 time frame. It was second or third hand from an UAF grad student who built it then decided he didn’t really enjoy riding it. When I got it it was set up as a fixie, with no brakes and a really tall gear. Also the guy I got it from was at least four inches taller than me – the bike was huge!

2009

2009

The bike and I never really got along – a fixie in snow was a disaster (whack, whack went the pedals into my shins as I pushed it), and once a single speed freehub was added, I soon realized I didn’t like only having one gear. The Nokian Gazzaloddi tires were so stiff that once I rode several miles at sub -20f with the rear tire completely flat and didn’t notice. It did convince me though that a real snow bike would be a great idea.

I kicked around getting a “real snow bike”, experimented with SnowCat rims on my summer bike, and dinked around with other options, but nothing really worked that well. Eventually snowbikes became more “normal” and in 2010 I jumped in, buying a shiny new fancy bike from Fatback. It had a E13 fancy pants crank, UMA70mm rims, a three by nine drivetrain, and a 170mm spaced rear hub. So fancy! I think when I got it from Fatback the only one they had in my size was a shiny nickel plated bling bike.

2010

Soon after it arrived into my eager hands I took it on a overnight trip to Wolf Run Cabin in the White Mountains NRA .. which was a bit of a failure, as after 5 miles the trail went from really nice to completely unbroken, and I had to bike back out, switch to skis.

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Fortunately, other adventures with more riding ensued, and I was in love. In 2011 I did my first bike race – the susitna 100! It was fun, and a great learning experience.

2011

Then the white mountains in 2011, and the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) in 2012. Alas, just before the ITI I noticed the frame had cracked.. Fatback/Speedway cycles was great about it – they set me up very last minute on a new frame, which was way beyond what was necessary. Then I pushed my bike to Skwentna over the course of 3 days, riding it only for a maybe 15 miles on the road.

The next year I actually road it Skwentna, and then on to Mcgrath..

2013
2013

I had that bike for several years, and had some great adventures on it. Lots of trips around Fairbanks, two rides to McGrath on the Iditarod Trail, several White Mountains 100.

2014

Then wider tires became available, so I moved on to a 190 spaced frame, swapping the parts over to the new frame. That bike rode to Mcgrath, and had lots of other adventures. It even just showed up in an article. The wheels live on, and are on Nancy’s (my wife) bike.

2014 2013

Then, in 2015 I was lured into the 1×11 world, and it was new bike time!

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Alas, I rode to Mcgrath that year on the Iditarod trail, and it was really snow free. So many tussocks!

2015

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Tussocks! I cracked the seat tube in two places riding over the tussocks between Rohn and Nikolai, but didn’t release it until the following winter when I was trying to track down a creak and looked down the seat tube and there were a few cracks. Then more were discovered when I took the frame bag off. It turns out the only thing holding it together was the seatpost. Thank god for long seat posts – I had ridden the Whites 100 with this bike after the ITI, probably with the crack in place! It wasn’t as bad as some folks had it though – at least two other people snapped their frames in a similar location and at least one person had to lower their seat so the break was supported by their seatpost so thier bike didn’t snap in half.

Fatback was super nice about handling the broken frame and warrantied it, letting me trade up to a fancy pants carbon frame. Alas it was going to arrive until the early spring, leaving me without a bike for several months. So, on an impulse I got a Surly Ice Cream Truck. Surly had one of their ICT models on super clearance – I can’t resist a sale! Hopefully it would tide me over and provide a backup and commuting snow bike once my new super carbon frame arrived.

2017

Up to this point I had just ridden Fatback fat bikes. The Ice Cream Truck was a bit of an eye opener. It rode fine, but it wasn’t as nice riding in snow as the other snow bikes I had ridden. It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t ride as well. Unexciting to ride on snow, and more work in soft snow. It was fun ride on dirt though, fun enough I got some summer wheels built for it. I then talked to a frame builder about getting a custom steel frame in hopes of getting the perfect bike, made from steel and having the long term durability that a steel bike would bring me… But I was pretty worried I would get just what I asked for, but not what I wanted. At the time there was lots of discussion online about the “perfect” snow bike that looked awesome but were very different from either the Fatback’s that I enjoyed, or the Ice Cream Truck that I was “meh”ed about. Worried that I would spend a lot of time and money on a bike that rode more on the “meh” side of things, I gave that up.

The new carbon Corvus Fatback frame I got in 2016 rode like a dream. I took it to Nome twice.

2016

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Nearly to Mcgrath Topkok This was my first carbon bike, and I rode it like mad. I put a ton of miles on it – two rides to Nome, plus two years of training and exploring on it. Alas, the last trip to Nome was a bit rough on it, and it came back really scraped up from the shipping company. New frame time again! This bike rode even nicer than the last one – sweet! 2018

2018

2020

That bike has been on lots of adventures.. It has been to Nome via the southern route, from Fairbanks to Eagle, and Eagle to Central on the Yukon Quest trail, and many other fun places.

Eagle to Central
Wood Island brownie snowman guards on the Yukon Quest trail.

I am really attached to it now. However, after the last ride on the Yukon Quest trail, where it was banged around a bit on the flight to Eagle, and even more jostled around when it got ride in a trailer filled with with the YQ mile 101 checkpoint outhouses from Central to Fairbanks I figured it was time to start looking at something more durable than carbon.

Jeff Oatley (ITI record holder and super biker extraordinar) suggested I go talk to Greg Matyas of Fatback and see if they would be willing to make a small run of steel or titanium frames. Boom, six months later a steel frame arrived in my eager hands, designed by Fatback and made by Meriwether Cycles. Lots of parts scrounging ensued as I tracked down part from every bike shop in town, and finally it was rideable.

My first ride on it was in late evening in the dark on a five mile loop in my backyard. In the winter I try to take the dogs on it once a day, or twice if I am lucky. The bike rode fantastic!

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The following weekend I made it out to the White Mountains NRA, and got a bit of riding in.

Cache Mt Solo Trip
Shiloh approves of the new bike..

Cache Mt Solo Trip

Some (rather uninspired) shots from my garage (aka the Shep the SHop/shED)

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The rear brake mount is where it “should” be, IMHO, so the cables stay ice free -yay!

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A beautiful fork, complete with front rackmounts – double yay!

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A beautiful bolt on frame bag, from Tyson F!

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Hmm, now I am hungry..
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There are a few other nice touches in there, like much larger than normal lower rack mounts bolts, that I am way too lazy to photograph. A huge thank you to Greg M at Fatback, Meriwether, and my local bikes shops Beaver and Goldstream sports.

COVID has cramped my winter adventure plans like it has everyone elses and I don’t know where this thing is going to take me, but I am hoping it is going to be fun.


Dreaming of snowy adventures…

An Update

I should probably add a bit of a post script here.

First – In case I make it sound like all Fatback’s bike break: They don’t. I am a 220 lb person who has a really mashing pedal stroke who is clutz. I have worked to clean up / round out my pedalling style, and in addition to making my knees happy, I stopped breaking frames. Yay!

Second: I don’t really have any deep thoughts on snow bike design. I am not a subtle, introspective, or insightful person. When I put spice on my food, I put so much on it my daughters complain it makes their food taste bad when sitting across the table from me. When I clean the house I use so much soap and cleaner sometimes my wife Nancy has to leave as she says the smell gives her a headache. All I know is that the spice makes my food taste good, and lots of soap makes the floor clean. I am probably the same about bikes – I know I like something, but I have really no idea why, or what makes it “good”.
In the winter I have trails I can ride on snow right out of my house. Like, literally – right off my porch. From there I can access a huge winter trail system that extends to the BLM White Mountains (one of my favorite areas in the winter), to the Canadian Border on the Yukon Quest trail, and in some years on to Nome, Kotz, and beyond. I have only been “far” on the Yukon Quest side, but dream of heading out my door and biking to Kotz or beyond in some future trip. Hopefully that will happen..

The trails from my house generally start really good, then can get worse or sometimes if I am really lucky, get better. The same thing goes for trails in the Whites – mostly they are pretty good, with a mix of softer stuff here and there, and some walking. So, the best snow bike for me rides fast on firm trails, but still handles well in soft snow. I also need tires that work good in soft snow, but are not so slow the “fast” sections are not fun. My rides also tend to be pretty long – interesting places to explore tend to be not right my door, or the trail head, but hours away. Everything becomes a compromise at this point.

This is probably why I am so happy with the Fatback’s geometry. It seems (to me anyway) to be a good compromise for my local conditions – it rides great on firm trails, and pretty good in soft snow. Or to put it another way, I am never unhappy with how it rides. The only thing I was unhappy with is the durability of the carbon frame – and this new steel Meriweather/Fatback gives me the best of both worlds. A ride quality I enjoy, in a durable steel frame. Yay!

Your mileage may vary of course.

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.

Winter begins..

Tuesday, October 8th, 2019

It looks like it is here, hurrah!

Winter Begins

I had heard that the White Mountains NRA had a bunch of snow so with a Monday free I decided to go check it out.

Winter Begins Winter Begins

There was a surprising amount of snow, and the trail was mostly in very good shape.

Winter Begins Winter Begins Winter Begins Winter Begins

I hope it is here to stay!

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! 🙂 ) 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.. 🙂

Map:

ITI 2017 Gearlist

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

This post is strangely popular  – not sure why that is, but folks should take this list with a good deal of caution, and figure out what works for them – just because I take it doesn’t mean you will need it, and just because I didn’t take it doesn’t mean you will not need it!

 

I am planning on doing a full writeup on my ride to Nome in the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI), but meanwhile, someone asked what I took with me. This is an experiment – I don’t normally make lists like this, hopefully others will find it useful.

Here is my packing list and a few other details. I think it is complete, but I might have missed some odds and ends.

This perhaps obvious – but the Iditarod Trail Invitational has two forms – the “short” race to McGrath, and the race to Nome. Riding to Nome is more of an adventure rather than a race, riding to McGrath is more of a race and less of an adventure, so folks going to McGrath need much less stuff.


Please keep in mind this list works for me, but might not work for you. Also, I am very much not an expert, so take everything I say with a grain (or large helping) of salt. Just because I am doing it doesn’t make it a good idea! I should also point out I am not “a fast” rider – the fast guys pack differently.

Bike Stuff

  • the bike – 2016 vintage Fatback Corvus – I love this bike!
    • 100mm Nextie rims with Hadley hubs
    • “alt” style handlebar with ergon grips with extra padding
    • Bud tires, front and back
    • Old Man Mountain rear rack
    • Becker Gear frame bag, mini panniers, and top tube bag
    • Revelate harness
    • standard SRAM 1×11 setup, with xt 11-46 cassette
    • big vault flat pedals
    • Dogwood Designs plus pogies
  • bike tools etc
    • multi tool
    • leatherman wave knife / pliers
    • patch kit
    • two tubes *
    • chain tool
    • patch kit *
    • derailleur hanger *
    • a small segment of chain, and several quick links
    • baling wire, extra bolts, duct tape, and a few other extra “fix it” parts
    • separate long hex wrench for pedals *

Drop bags bike selfie

Clothing

  • On Me
    • Marmot soft shell pants Note: Fully windproof!
    • Keen boots, two sizes too big
    •  bike shorts
    • short sleeve top
    • Mammut softshell, ultimate hoody, with ruff Note: Fully windproof
    • neoprene socks, as vapor barrier.
    • thick wool socks
    • full finger bike gloves
    • watch with vibration alarm
  • On bike
    • North Face thermoball hooded jacket
    • Marmot baffled down jacket *
    •  Patagonia hooded R 1/2 top
    •  long sleeve top, thin
    •  Patagonia medium weight long underwear bottoms *
    •  Patagonia light weight long underwear bottoms
    • homemade fleece overshorts (awesome – thanks Nancy!)
    • Marmot Driclime full zip pants *
    •  two pairs extra socks, one thin, one thick
    • light shirt for schools etc
    • light shorts for schools etc
    • “no fog” face mask *
    •  goggles *
    • nose hat
    • extra hat + thin balaclava
    • homemade fleece mittens (thanks Nancy!)
    • Hestra Primaloft Extreme Mitt Liner Warm, light, and fairly cheap!
    • sunglasses
    • Wiggy’s waders
    • oven bags as extra vapor barriers and an emergency option to keep my socks dry in case my boots get wet
    • gaitors

Selfie

Human Maintenance Stuff

  • big med kit
    •  aleve & other meds
    • foot care stuff, tape, mole skin etc
    • bandages, antibiotic ointment etc
    •  duct tape
    •  tape adherent
    •  oral antibiotics
    • butt care stuff – diaper cream, etc
  •  foot lube (need a replacement for hydropell, I am almost out!)
  • chammois cream
  •  sunscreen
  • lip balm
  •  salt pills

Food

  • Cooking Stuff
    • XGK stove + extra pump
    • 2 quart pot (which I dropping in the South fork of the Kuskokwim, because I was being dumb – don’t do that!)
      • replaced with a 1 quart pot I borrowed from Tom Moran and a small ti pot from Dan L.
    • two fuel bottles (5-ish days of fuel, not always full)
    • ti spork
  •  Food
    • 3+ days of food on me at all times, a combination of freeze dried food and snacks
      • Note: Jeff Oatley told me I should have three days of food on me at all times before I went to Nome in 2016, and I think that was a great recommendation.
    •  coffee and/or chia mixes for the thermos, when not used for hot water
  • 40oz thermos
    • Note: I got this at the “AC” store in McGrath – it was a great purchase. It kept water really hot for at least 12 hours, so I could boil water mid day, have a freeze dried meal before bed, then have freeze dried when I got up. It is the Thermos brand, which seems to work (a lot!) better than the upscale brands. One downside was it kept coffee too hot to drink if the water was boiling when filled. YMMV
  • Sleep Stuff
    • Marmot -40f bag
    • ridge rest, full length pad
    • ultra lightweight bivy *

Electronics

  • phone with GCI sim for villages, loaded with topo software as a gps backup
  • Garmin etrex 30, with topo
  •  Sony NEX 6
  • three batteries for camera
  •  2 small usb charger + cables
  •  aaa powered mp3 music player
  • audio book player

Random Other Stuff

  • Hydration
    • Mountain Hardwear Fluid 6 backpack
    •  mylar bubble wrap insulation inside it, on the outside side
    • red MSR water bladder + hose, without a bite value
      • Note: Bite valves seem to be a source of a lot of leaks – I just have a on/off valve, and turn it on to use it, then off when I am done. Works fine for me. This system worked fine at the mid -30f weather I had on the way to Nome, and I have used it for training rides in colder weather. The bladder is right up against my back, and under all but my tee shirt. Even at really cold temps the water eventually becomes more or less body temperature.
  •  TP & hand sanitizer
  • Dogwood Designs overboots
    •  Note: These things are magic and very warm!
  •  printed FAA charts for the route
  •  printed maps for a few problem areas
  • printed contact list for route after McGrath
  •  mileage sheet
  • windproof matches, lighter, and fire starter (esbit tablets)
  •  sewing stuff, tyvek tape

That is a lot of stuff!
And no, I did not weigh my bike when it was loaded up – really, you either need something or you don’t. If you don’t need it, don’t take it, if you need it, who cares how much it weighs, you need it, take it.

For logistics, I mailed boxes (the USPS regional rate size B box is $7 for 0.4 cubic ft / 20lbs for Fairbanks or Anchorage to the villages along the route, which is a bargain) to schools along the route, after emailing the principals to make sure it was ok. Every box I actually tried to get was there, though YMMV. I tried to ship enough stuff that even if I missed half the boxes I still wouldn’t starve.

The fleece over shorts were awesome – they are stretchy enough to go over my boots, so I would just pull them over my pants, and I would instantly be a lot warmer. I was fine with thin long underwear, pants, and the fleece shorts over the top at the mid -30F, which was great. I got the idea from Kyle who I rode with last year, who had a set of “puffy shorts”, Dynafit branded over shorts. The basic idea is highly recommended!

I used a Nosehat and a ruff, and that is an awesome combination. I didn’t need any additional face covering. The nosehat dries off really fast (like in my pocket) – highly recommended.

In regards the the big puffy jacket – I brought a big baffled puffy jacket that I didn’t end up using until a got to Nome. In general, if I am not moving, I am getting ready to sleep or sleeping, so as soon as I stop for the night, I stomp a bivy spot, unpack my sleeping bag, and climb in, then from the bag do any extra chores I need to do (cook dinner, etc). Going this route, I was able to get by without breaking out the big jacket, even in the sub -30f weather. YMMV of course. I would still have the big jacket, just in case it got really cold, or if something went wrong, like I had to do extensive bike maintenance or got sick.

I slept with all my clothing on, besides my vapor barrier socks. My boots sayed out of the bag, as they were always dry (the vb socks keep them that way).

I had issues with my bag getting a lot of moisture in it – after three days it had a lot of moisture in it, and required drying out in a warm, dry place. I think if I was to do this race again, I would try a vapor barrier liner or jacket in an attempt to minimise this.

With regard to bike maintenance, I had three bike issues. I broke a plate in the chain, which I fixed by taking two links out, and patching it together with a quick link. I had a rack bolt break at sub -30F, for which I rigged a temporary fix with bailing wire, then a real fix later in the heat of the day using the Leatherman to remove the bolt remains, and rebolting with bolt from my spares kit. I had a periodic issue with my freehub making funny noises, but that didn’t seem to cause any engagement issues, so I ignored it, and it worked out.

Questions? Leave a comment.

Things on the list marked with an asterisks (*) I didn’t end up using. That isn’t to say I wouldn’t bring them – I didn’t have flats for example, so didn’t need the tubes.

If I was to start cutting gear, I think I would drop the Marmot Driclime over-pants, and go with a less warm sleeping bag, but that of course involves trade offs – on the last night before Ruby, I was cold in the middle of the night and had to put on more layers so I could sleep. Perhaps I should sleep less though 🙂

I am not an expert by any means, so take all my suggestions with a large helping of salt. This list (sort of 🙂 ) works for me, it might not work for you. Everyone has to figure this out for themselves, at least to some extent.