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Thoughts on Skiing vs Biking

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

I have been spending a lot of time on the snow bike and not much time on the skis. This is bit unusual for me – normally this time of year I spend almost all my outside play time on skis, and has got me thinking a bit about the differences between snow biking and skiing. There is a local 30 mile loop made by combining two local trails, the Eldorado Creek trail and Oconner Creek trails with a a couple of random connector trails that start at the door of my house. Its a pretty fun loop, with a bit of altitude gain and a long downhill.

If you live in the area these trails are well worth exploring – lots of good skiing and biking, with enough variation in the trails to keep things interesting.

The two main trails are connected at the top by some trails run along the power lines that run near Old Murphy Dome road at the top..

And the Goldstream Trail at the bottom.

The Goldstream Trail is often the coldest part of this loop, and can have some very funky cloud and inversion formations.

I take a couple of smaller trails to get to the start of the loop, including a trail called the “Dredge Swath” trail, which was originally a trail made to haul gold dredges from Ester to the some mines along Goldstream Creek. For a long time I thought folks were calling it the “Dread Swath”… perhaps because I am hearing comprehension impaired. I did spend some time thinking about what was dreadful about it though..

This loop has become my default bike or ski route when I am looking for a longish day trip. On skis it takes about 7 hours, on a bike it takes between three and a half to four and half hours. I do this loop once or twice a week, and it is very fun. On a bike do the loop in a counter-clockwise manner to I can ride up the less steep climb on the Oconner Creek Trail, and down the much steeper Eldorado Creek trail. When skiing I do it the other way – ski up the steeper section and down the less steep hills.

Hills feel very different on the bike vs the ski – on a bike long downhills are very cold as the only thing I have to do is ride the brakes. On skis downhills require quite a bit of lower leg effort which keeps me nice and warm even for long cold downhills. Going up on the bike is a lot more work, mainly because the more effort I put in the faster I go, while on skis there is not much more reward for expending extra effort, so I tend to just cruse. This means I can really wipe myself out on the bike, yet never really seem to get tired while skiing. I am sure if my ski form was better, or if I could skate things would be a bit different.. but with my current skiing form its hard to get wore out.

Other surprising differences include how easy it is to duck under low hanging branches while skiing and how hard it is to dodge those branches while biking.

Bikes are a lot more complicated mechanically than skis are, which means the chance of breaking something is a alot higher. I have not had any troubles so far, but perhaps I have been lucky. The worst thing that has happned to me so far is icy brakes, which look pretty troublesome, but still work fine.

Skiing is much faster when the snow is soft, but when the snow is cold and hard it much faster to bike… both ways are fun though.

Its hard to face-plant on skis, but its happens amazingly fast on a snow bike. Several times now I have been zooming along on a snow machine trail only to punch though in front and have a over the bars experience.

Overflow is fun on a bike and skis, though in different ways. On skis it is pretty easy and fast to double pole though frozen or wet overflow, so long as you can slow down enough when required. With metal edges slowing down is no problem. On a bike overflow is pretty fun, however it is a lot easier to slip on the ice on a bike when the ice is hard and smooth. Wet or textured overflow is no problem on the bike, as the texture gives lots of traction. The bike does not ice up much, unlike skis, so once you are off the overflow happiness returns and there are no “memories of overflow past” in the form of slow iced ski bottoms.

Enough randomness for now, hope everyone is having a good weekend!

Let there be snow..

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

On the Sunday night following Thanksgiving Tom and I headed out to the White Mountains NRA to go for a overnight ski trip to Crowberry Cabin. The previous week had been one of very strange weather in town – we had received a record level of rain and a good portion of our snow pack. I was not entirely sure of what to expect… When we arrived at the parking lot of the Mile 28 trail head, it was soon apparent that things were different here – there was lots and lots of snow. Possibly more snow than we had at the end of last year’s skiing season. The trees were bending over from the weight of it – lots of fresh, heavy snow. It appears that while it was raining in town it was snowing here – hurray!

After a quick start we were soon zooming down the trail enjoying the amazingly deep snow and the wonderful sunrise.

The ski into the cabin was slow but un-eventful. It was hovering around 0f for our ski into the cabin, and while the trails were well broken out the fresh cold snow crystals made for slow travel.

We passed a party heading out and I stopped and chatted for a bit. They told us that the night afterTthanksgiving it dumped over 12 inches of snow and that they had to break trail in about two feet of fresh snow into the cabin we were heading out to. I was very happy to have the trail in – breaking trail though all that snow would have been hard work. All the fresh snow and the clear skies made for wonderful views.

After seven hours or so we reached the cabin and mellowed out, enjoying dinner and several rounds of dessert. Remus had hauled in two pints of ice cream (Ben and Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and Cookie Dough, if you are wondering) which were enjoyed immensely, though there was still room for backup dseserts – “Man” flavored pocky. I skipped this delicious (?) treat and took Tom’s word for its edibility.

Eventually we hit the sacks with plans for an early start as I was expecting a bike delivery and Tom was had writing related evening engagements the following day. Fortunately we were awakened by an unexpected visitor at around 7am. I was partially aroused my slumber by the crunch, crunch of boots on the cabin’s deck then the sound of the door opening and a headlamp shining in my eyes, and a muffled exclamation and the slam of the door. I was only partially awake and my fuzzy mind didn’t processes this information very well, instead I somehow got the impression that Tom had got up to answer the call of nature. Thinking this was not a bad idea I got up, noticed Tom was still sleeping, stumbled outside to relieve myself in a snow bank, only to be illuminated by a very bright headlamp. Apparently a musher had pulled up outside the cabin, and thinking it was empty decided to come inside and warm up while his or her dogs rested, only to have these plans foiled by our presence. After being hit with the spot light I quickly retreated inside to get more clothes on and then headed back outside to say hi to the musher only to find he had taken off. Oh well – it removed any need for the alarm clock. We had our breakfasts, packed up and hit the trail. It was a bit colder in the morning – about -10f in the hills and -20f in the valleys, but very clear and beautiful.

The ski out was fairly uneventful and a bit faster due to the mushing traffic – the musher’s snow machine tread breaks smooth down the trails wonderfully, rounding off those sharp snow crystals and making for faster skiing.

We stopped at Moose Creek cabin to duck out of the wind and I was surprised to see the place was still warm. I expect the musher who dropped in on us moved on to this cabin to warm up and crashed for a while.. alas he left a bit of a mess – the place reeked of bacon fat with a fair bit spilled on the wood stove and dog food littered the floor. Such is life I guess. The rest of the trip out was uneventful, though very, very beautiful. We passed several mushers on the trail including one I knew and we chatted a bit. He was off for a several day adventure and was unfazed by the news that the trail might not be broken out where he was headed. We also pasted several mushers from Aliy Zirkle’s Kennel who were looking to be having a great time.

We made it back into town at 5pm, well in time to meet our various engagements – I picked up my bike (my much awaited Fatback) and Tom headed off to his writer’s group.
Happy Monday everyone!

The snow levels on this end of the Whites ranged from 2ft to 4ft+. The trails are not well traveled out yet – it appeared that the trail past Crowberry is not yet broken out. The trails that are broken out are in great shape – its definitely going to be a great year for enjoying the Whites!

A Beautiful Day…

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Remus and I escaped this afternoon to go hike Granite Tors..
It was a great after noon, hot and sunny – a fantastic day for a hike, and for reflecting on life the universe and everything. Time well spent.

We found berries..

And more berries..

And even more berries..

Blueberry season appears to be on us.. Get your picking in now before Remus and I eat them all!

The next adventure..

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

I am off with Ms Marsh and Tom to do a copy cat trip, ripping off Ed Plumb and Friends Melozii Trip. It should be a pretty mellow 7 day trip. We can be followed at my spot tracker page.

Hope everyone has a good week!

A Weekend with the Family

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

The family and I had a very busy weekend.  On Saturday we hiked up to Wickersham Dome.  Molly and Lizzy walked the entire way up to the dome by themselves.

There was quite a bit of stopping to check stuff out – the twins are continually amused by random things along the trail. Lizzy was quite fascinated with the flowers.

They made pretty good time even with the stops and had a blast hiking.

(Photo provided by Eli)

They even enjoyed the final climb to the top – after which of course everyone had a nice lunch and then rode in backpack carriers to the car while taking a nap.  Everyone being the twins that is.

On Sunday we headed out to Chena Lakes to spend the afternoon goofing off, playing in the water, and hopefully getting in some packrafting practice time. Nancy biked there along with Tom and her old school friend Eli who is in town for a conference. They appeared to have a good bike ride, but when we caught up with them they were having fun fixing a flat. Fortunately the twins were around to supervise the repairs.

Eventually we made it to Chena Lakes, where the twins got out their own bikes.

Eventually Nancy took the twins out for a nap time run in the Chariot, and Tom and I got out our packrafts and spent several hours splashing around in the lake. The water was fantasticly warm given it was a fairly cloudy overcast day. We spent a lot of time practising re-entering flipped packrafts – I think I flipped and got back in about 30 times. I was much, much faster by the end of the day. Spending a bit of time practising flipping is really worth while – it keeps you from panicking when you flip in moving water, and hopefully allows you get back in. Not panicking is pretty crucial if you don’t want to loose your paddle and possibly your raft – potentially leaving you with a long walk home. Chena Lakes is a great place to do this – the water is quite warm and the lake is normally not all that busy. The beach is pretty busy, but the rest of the lake is generally pretty unused.

Dumping is fun, and other lessons learned in a pack rafting safety class

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

A bunch of us from Fairbanks headed down to the Willow area last weekend to take a pack rafting safety class from Jim Gonski of the Alaska Kayak Academy. The class is highly recommended – I learned a lot.

Some of the things that I learned, in no particular order:

  • Flipping is no big deal – we spent quite a bit of time in the water, which made me quite a bit more comfortable in moving water out of the boat. I also had the experience of being the only student who flipped accidentally – hurrah for me! Amazingly it was while everyone was watching too – success! The end result was that I learned that flipping was not a big deal.
  • Getting back in after flipping is also not a  big deal – we spent a bit of time on getting back into the packrafts after flipping – it was a lot easier than I expected.
  • Throwbags and helmets are a good idea in any sort of harder water. After watching another student having a bit of trouble getting out of a flipped packraft it was pretty clear that head protection of some sort is a really good idea. On the second day as we got ready to float we had to toss a throw bag some random packrafter who had dumped just upstream of our put in. Alas, my throwbag is about 1lb dry, and lots more wet – I think a future sewing project will be to sew a slightly lighter throw bag made of less absorbent material that still allows the rope to dry. More to come on this subject..
  • Eddies are fun – I knew intellectually how eddies can be used to slow down and reposition, but this class really brought out their usefulness. I need to find a section of river with some good eddies to practice with (or perhaps play?)  the greater Fairbanks area!
  • Those extra strokes – I had learned the sculling and draw strokes, and to some extent learned when to use them. They appear to be quite a bit more useful than I initially expected..
  • Even day one should pack the minimum set of backup gear – in the class one of the students lost her valve cap, leading to sudden deflation excitement. One one had a backup cap, a inflation cap, or even a patch kit.. This drove home the point that even on short day pack raft trips I should carry the minimum set of emergency gear.
  • River ratings are very subjective – the hardest section of Willow Creek we did was according to the instructor, rated class III. It felt much more like class II stuff though, so I guess ratings must vary a lot and are perhaps subjective.
  • Rigging – I have a line all the way around my boat – a “fun-rail” as Roman Dial calls it. My boat was used for the classe’s test flips, and no one got tangled up in them or lost hold of the boat, so I guess this was a success.

    The instructor’s boat was rigged like this:

    • View of the “fun-rail”
    • The grab line on the bow

    Some of the interesting thing to note – he had the full around rail, a daisy chained line on the bow, and a “flip line” made of webbing which is supposed to help you flip the boat over after an upset. He also had a whiffle ball attached to the spray skirt’s release tab – alas I have no pictures of that.

Alas, I am afraid I was not the best student – I had a hard time paying attention with all the river noise, my packraft ADD, and the hockey helmets we had on. I also regret not taking some extra runs Saturday evening, as we had dry suits and Willow Creek was very, very fun.

I think I will take it again next year – especially if Jim G. offers a class that is the “next step” up in difficulty.  I might also take the full on swift water rescue class, though all the rigging drills sound less than useful.

In any case, this class is highly recommended – everyone who packrafts and has the free time should take it.

Bike to Work Week…

Monday, May 17th, 2010

So, as everyone probibly knows, its Bike to Work Week this week. There is a even a special bike to work event here in the town I live in, Fairbanks Alaska.. this is strange as Fairbanks is not really all that bike friendly of a place. Its not bike “unfriendly”, just not very friendly. Only really hardcore folks commute by bike year round (like my wife Nancy) or folks that have had their license revoked as the winters are fairly intense. This makes for a interesting dynamic at times. I am an indifferent bike commuter – biking on pavement with traffic is not very interesting or fun to me, so I ovoid it when possible. I commute to work via a round about way by bike on the in the summer avoiding the pavement were possible,  however once the trails set up with enough snow and become travel-able, I switch to skis, run, or bike on the trails rather than the road. My summer round-about route into work is about 12 miles one way, and takes about 45 minutes – here is a link to a Googlie Map.  Its a pretty mellow ride, with some gravel sections to liven things up a bit.  Its just long enough I can get a good dose of NPR and catch up on the news of the day.

So, this is how it went today..

The start of my ride – note the heavy traffic.   I think I saw one car in the first 20 minutes.

After 2 miles or so I turn onto Henderson Rd, and start to climb a bit.

Eventually I turn onto a dirt road called St Patrick’s Rd.  This is my favorate part of the ride – the next 4 miles or so are all unpaved and fun.

Eventually St Patrick dumps out onto Ester Dome Rd,  and the pavement returns.  After a short fast downhill  I turn onto  Sheep Creek road.  This morning I ran into my the first biker had I seen in the morning in a long time – possibly all spring actually..  She was zooming along and a pretty good clip..

Finally I turn onto a short trail that winds though the trees onto campus and to my building, the ever so lovely named building, the WRRB.

My route home is pretty much the reverse, though if I want to add some distance and have the time I change things up a bit and go back via Ester Dome road and Henderson.  This adds a biggish hill and is a bit more of a workout..

Alas, on the way home I got the first flat of the year – possibly the first since the summer of 2008… bummer.  I use stout tires with thick flat resistant inner bits, but while good they appear to be not invincible.  Perhaps these tires are just not quite up to snuff – they are Bontrager Race Light Hardcase tires and the tread does not seem to last all that long – one of these tires is lasting me about half a summer.  After fixing the flat I went home the short way.

Happy bike to work week everyone!

The Twins Ride Again

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

Nancy was out of town for a couple of days and I got to be the Twins chauffeur in her absence. The twins ride in to school in the morning and back home at around noon weekdays. On cold days they get a warm water bottle each. On really cold days they get an extra “foot” water bottle.. Fortunately (or unfortunately, as alas no skiing) those days are behind us at least until late fall.
Being the twins chafferer means I wake them up at 7:15 or so, get them bundled up, then stuff them into their chariot outside the house.

The view from the twin’s perspective – the sun is just cresting the hill and is shining our trail, but alas not reached our house yet.

The twins then are pushed down the trail out to the parking lot were my bike awaites.

They then get hooked up, and enjoy the nice 20 minute ride to school while napping and sometime eating.

I drop the twins off for school, then head back out to deal with my morning activities (mainly working). Once lunch time rolls around I pick them up again, and they enjoy their lunch while pedaling home.

On the way home we often stop at UAF’s experimental farm. Right near the road there is several fenced enclosures that house reindeer, including some with this years calves. The twins like to stop here and check on the baby reindeer..

After this stop its a quick ride home, and then the twins are marched off to the house so they can get their nap started.

Life is good when you are three and three quarters!

Spring is here…

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Spring has arrived..

And the rivers are breaking up – soon hiking and pack rafting season will be here – hurray!

I am looking forward to a long summer filled with fun trips and adventures!

The snow season is still here..

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

The family and I have a trip planned this weekend in the White Mountains NRA. It was looking a bit dubious as there is not a lot of snow left on some of the trails around town so I left work a hour early and drove out to the trail head to checkout the trails on my bike. Fortunately there was nothing to worry about- at least the first 7 miles or so of trail out of the mile 28 trail head are in great shape. There is a bit of dirt showing on the first couple of hundred yards out of the trail head – which was very ominous.

After a brief encounter with a musher who was having trouble slowing down his sled on the icy hill I zipped up the hill and soon the dirt was gone.

The encounter with the musher was pretty funny – I saw him coming crashing down the trail and grabbed Remus and jumped off the trail as he was obviously not going to be able to slow down. He zipped by me with a quick “opps sorry – can’t slow down” and continued down the trail and zoomed out of sight as he headed into the parking lot. Shortly after that there was a big bang and a lot of cursing..

The rest of the bike ride was fantastic – the trail was hard and fast, the sun was shinning, and it was beautiful clear day. I went down the trail to Lees and briefly stuck my head in the cabin but as it was colder inside than out didn’t hang around all that long.

After leaving Lees I zipped back up to the trail junction and down to the big hill a ways towards Eleazar’s, then turned around about a third of the way down as it was getting late and I didn’t want to bike back in the dark.

Remus enjoyed the bike ride, but probably would have preferred to be skiing. The trail was super fast and I spent quite a bit of time in the big ring cranking – this gave Remus a bit less time to explore as he had to run pretty hard to keep up.

I am really enjoying my Fisher Paragon. I have always been a bit dubious of the Fisher bikes – it alway seemed to me that the bikes (and Gary Fisher) had a bit too much “attitude” and not enough bike, but I am really enjoying the Paragon. Its really fun to ride and quite responsive.

I had been avoiding the Whites recently as I had spent a ton of time out there this winter training for the white mountain 100 race. It is a great place to train since the Whites has a long trail system that is in good shape and has enough variety to keep me from getting bored. Alas, I eventually got sick of it.. It was nice to be back there though – its really a nice place to escape to. I am looking forward to this weekends ski trip with the family – it should be a fun trip!

End of the Snow Season Scouting Mission