Posts Tagged ‘arduous’

ITI – 2016 Part 1, This time to Nome!

Monday, April 4th, 2016

A bit of a warning – this 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.

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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 – thanks 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!

ITI – 2014

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

I had been looking forward to the Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) ever since I finished last year. The ITI is a human powered (so skiing, biking, or running) race on the Iditarod Trail, from Knik Alaska to either McGrath (~300 miles) or Nome. Last year’s ITI was a wonderful learning experience, and whetted my taste for more. The trail last year was in fantastic shape, and very fast, but given that my first attempt in 2012 was a bit of a push fest, I wasn’t counting on such nice trails again.

The few days before the race were pretty hectic for me – saying goodbye to the family, driving down to Anchorage to go to the pre-race party and meeting, and finishing up those final “bits” before the race started. I always am a bit of a pre-race spaz, particularly at pre-race meetings – all the focus on what’s going to be happening in the next week (or 8 hours, or 12 hours) gets my mind going, and gets me all twitter-pated.

This year the lead-up to the race was a bit different, as there was not a lot of snow on parts of the course. The news coverage for the Iditarod dog race was mainly focused on if the route would be changed – years ago re-start was held in Fairbanks rather than Wasilla due to lack of snow. It was starting to sound like the start was going to be in Fairbanks, but in the week before the race (the ITI, not the dog race) the Iditarod Dog race made the official decision to go with the standard route. Eventually, race day arrived and my brother John gave me a ride to the start of the race, on Knik Lake. The start was a bit different this year, as Knik Bar was closed, and the race started at the Iditarod Museum.

Race day arrived, sunny and warm, and after my brother John dropped me off at the start I got my bike setup, then ran around nervously saying hi to everyone. The ITI starts at the somewhat unusual time of 2pm in the afternoon. Eventually, they lined us up at the edge of the lake, someone said go, and we were off. The first couple of miles flew by, as I tagged along with the fast people, until they slowly pulled away and I was dropped. I took the same route as I did last year – a short bit of trail, then 10 miles (very approximate) of road until reaching the gas line leading to Flathorn Lake. The road zoomed by, and with it all my pre-race stress – it had begun!

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The gas line was mostly pretty firm, as was the side trail leading to Flathorn.

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Flathorn Lake had a thin, spotty coverage of punchy snow, but was almost entirely rideable.

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In the days before the race, on tales of lots of glare ice on the Susitna 100 course held in the same area, I had purchased a studded dillinger tire for the front. These tires are pretty pricey (more than the tires for my truck!!), so at the time I really questioned it, but while biking across Flathorn I was starting to wonder if maybe one for the rear would have been a good idea as well. There were a number of planes flying around, including several that appeared to be doing laps over the racers, possibly spectating. On Flathorn there was a Beaver parked near the middle of the lake, with two guys taking pictures of the racers as we went by. By this time things had thinned out a bit, and besides a few sightings of other racers, I was mostly by myself.

Dismal Swamp zoomed by, then down the Wall of Death to the Susitna River, then on to Scary Tree and up the Yentna River to Yentna Station.

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So far the trail had been bomber – in particular, the trail on the Yentna was rock hard, packed to an asphalt-like hardness. A few miles before Yentna Station someone hauling two huge sleds of fuel behind a snowmachine yelled at me and Eric from MN for not getting off the trail, which was sort of surreal, as we were pulled off to the edge of a 15ft wide completely flat, smooth trail with tons of room to get by. I pulled into Yentna Station and had something to eat. Two Fairbanks folks, Jeff and Heather, were there, as well as several other bikers. After some soup, a grilled cheese, and two Cokes, I took off with the rest of the crew. Heather, Jeff, and Eric zoomed off, and quickly disappeared, as I slowly made my way up river to Skwentna. The trail continued to be amazingly fast – really firm and super hard. I think I bounced back and forth a bit with Tim R, before arriving just outside Skwentna at the intersection of confusion. Several signs for Skwentna pointed different directions, and tire tracks headed down each option. It didn’t look like anyone turned around, so I just picked the turn with the most tires, which turned out to be the “wrong” one – it took to me there, just in a roundabout way, and added maybe a half mile or so. Not a big deal. When I finally arrived in Skwentna I was told by the folks at the roadhouse that I had taken the wrong way, as a lot of other people. I was surprised to see another Fairbanks local, Kevin B. still there but getting ready to go. He looked to be happy but focused, and took off soon after I arrived. He would eventually win the race and set a new record.

The roadhouse was filled with racers, sitting around, eating, drying off, and watching a motorcross race on a TV. It was somewhat surreal. I got dinner, mellowed out for a bit, then took off with a big pulse of racers. I was planning on going to Shell Lake and sleeping on the floor of Shell Lake Lodge, though it turned out other folks had this same idea. Last year I hit the trail to Shell Lake in the morning, and just as I got off the flats a huge party of snowmachines passed me. They turning the trail into a bit of a mess, forcing me to walk most of the way to Shell. I was hoping to avoid this if at all possible, so riding this section in the middle of the night seemed like a great plan. The trail to Shell was fast, and I arrived at 3 or 4am to find a handful of other folks on the couches and floor of the lodge, getting some sleep. Shell Lake Lodge is a little log cabin on the edge of Shell lake run by a spry elderly lady who generally doesn’t mind if folks crash on her floor. I got several hours of sleep last year on a couch here, and have a marvelous grilled cheese sandwich. I got out my big coat and laid down next to the stove, and got intermittent sleep, though not much of it – the floor was cold, and several of the other racers were epic snorers. At one point I woke up to the smell of plastic melting in a panic, worrying that I was lying against to the stove, only to find someone had moved a chair up against the fireplace with a jacket on it. The jacket was melting, and the varnish on the chair was smoking – I pushed it away from the fire, and that was the end of trying to sleep. An hour or so later the owner got up and stoked the stove, and everyone got going.

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The next bit of trail to Winter Lake Lodge (confusingly it is on Finger Lake), winds through miles of flat swamp and short bits of trees. The trail was mostly in great shape and fairly fast riding, though it seemed to take a long time, as I was starting to get a bit sleep deprived.

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I arrived at Winter Lake Lodge, found my first drop bag, and enjoyed my beans and chicken burrito. It was the middle of the day, so while I really wanted to go to take a nap, I hit the trail again and headed off to Puntilla Lake and Rainy Pass lodge.

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The trail to Rainy Pass Lodge is beautiful, and it is the first section of trail where you start to see mountains up close.

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The trail continued to be in great shape, and I made good time to Rainy Pass Lodge. The Happy River steps were mellow this year, and it looked like someone had put a lot of time into making a nice, banked descent to the Happy River.

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There was a bit of open water on the Skwentna River, but otherwise it was uneventful. There was a group of snow machiners parked on the river waiting for someone, and they said hi as I biked by.

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It was dark again when I arrived at Rainy Pass Lodge, and the little cabin they have us in was filled with racers. I was able to score a bed to sleep in, and after two cans of soup, laid down to enjoy a nice nap. I got a few hours of sleep, before being woken by someone leaving, and then had trouble getting back to sleep with all the racers’ noises.

Eventually, I gave up, had another can of soup, then took off at 2am or thereabout. The next section of trail heads over Rainy Pass to Rohn, and has an epic reputation. I was expecting it could take 30+ hours, so watered up, and left at a fairly mellow pace. I rode all the way up to the base of the pass, following the tracks of the folks ahead of me. Just before Rainy Pass there is a broad open area, Ptarmigan Pass I think it is called, before the trail turns off and heads up a narrow valley to Rainy Pass. After the turnoff for Rainy Pass it got a bit harder to follow the “fast” line – the tire tracks spread out a lot, and the one I was following often ended it post-holing. I think my sleep deprived brain was just bad at finding the good line. Eventually I was up over the pass, and heading down. I was really looking forward to the ride down – last year it was a super fun decent! As soon as I started heading down I noticed something odd – lots of chunks of black stuff in the trail. My sleep addled brain wrote them off as chunks of plastic from snowmachines, but eventually as the snow started to disappear I realized they were slabs and chunks of rock. Eventually the snow was almost entirely gone, and I was riding on dirt, ice, and lots of brush. This section flew by in a blur – I was going pretty slow, as with only one studded tire if I flew onto an icy patch at speed I was probably going down, and I didn’t want to get hurt. I didn’t crash, and my other fear – open water, didn’t come to pass, and before I knew it I was out on the Tatina River.

The Tatina is a large river, and the short bit the trail it’s on is completely flat. This year it was blown free of snow with lots of exposed glare ice. I made it to Rohn without any crashes, though I went slow and was very careful. Dawn was just about to arrive as I turned off off the river. When I arrived at Rohn, I was greeted by OE, Rob Keher, and a Canadian racer, who was just waking up from a nap. Alas, Rob passed away this year. I didn’t know him well, but I will always remember him for his cheerful personality and how fantastically nice he was to the racers as they passed though Rohn. Everyone is going to miss him, he was a wonderful person! The racer was packing up, and since I had the place to myself, I grabbed a bowl of soup, and and hit the sack.

About an hour later I was woken up by an influx of racers, as a big group of racers who left the last checkpoint after I did arrived. I packed up my stuff as everyone was bustling around, and slowly tried to get going. I am afraid in my sleep deprived state I mouthed off a bit, and might have made a bit of an ass of my self – sometimes I just don’t handle sleep deprivation all that well. Anyway, I headed out with the rest of the pack, and everyone quickly disappeared into the distance, as I carefully made my way across the icy Kuskoquim River. The Kuskoquim was entirely free of snow – endless glare ice.

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Eventually I made it back onto land, and started the up and down rollers that make up the “New” part of the Farewell Burn. I don’t think this is actually part of the Farewell Burn, as it is quite a distance away from the Farewell Lakes.

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The area north of Rohn was almost completely free of snow. The trail wasn’t in too bad of shape, just lots and lots of tussocks and sticks.

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I was pretty worried I was either going to jam a stick in my spokes, rip my derailleur off, or damage something, so I was going fairly slow, attempting not to break anything. Just before the Post River glacier, a short stretch of angled overflow, I was passed by Tim R as he zoomed up the ice using some sort of traction magic.

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My traction magic, some minimal studded cleat bar things that were supposed to go across the bottom of my boots, didn’t work well, and I was forced to stomp my way up the edge of the ice using some willows as traction. I got to the top of the ice, had a quick snack, then tried to start biking – and quickly stopped after noticing a “thunk, thunk, thunk” from my rear wheel.

Worried I had a stick in the spokes, I hopped off the bike to check things out, and after a bit of fiddling, I noticed the derailleur was hitting the spokes. I pulled it out, spun the wheel, and since everything seemed fine, hopped on the bike and starting going again. After about fifty feet it was back to “thunk, thunk, thunk”. I checked things out again, and noticed my rear derailleur was back in the spokes. Thinking I just didn’t bend it back far enough, I gave it another tug, and it came off in my hand.

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I spent a few seconds trying to process the complete mess I had just made of things. Then it all it all hit me – my quick ride from Rohn to Nikolai just became a long, long, push. Some quick math in my head said it was going to take 36+ hours to make it to Nikolai. this was followed by lots of loud cursing. I pushed for a bit, then stopped when I was out of the wind, and tried to set everything up as a single speed. After several tries I got things going with a very low gear – a 22 in front, and a 26 in back, and I was back moving.

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It felt great to be biking again, and the super low gear worked ok on rolling hills I had for the next couple of hours.

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Eventually the hills went away, and I found myself spinning across glare ice lakes, and the realization that if I spun really hard I could get up to around 6 mph, and it was still going to take forever to get anywhere – this wasn’t going to work.

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After several tries I got a much bigger gear going, a 34 by 26, which let me actually move at an reasonable pace.

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I was in a panic at this point – four people had passed me while I was either walking, or madly spinning in my slow gear. The next 40-ish miles went by in a blur – lots of windy lakes, a thin snow-covered trail, and stand up mashing.

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Twice while crossing windy, icy lakes I was nearly blown over, the wind pushing the rear of my bike around, spinning on my studded front tire like a weather vane.

Eventually I pulled into Nikolai, where I was pretty thrashed. The checkpoint in Nikolai is in the Petruska Family’s house, and they are truly wonderful folks, opening up their house to the racers. I was amazingly happy to have made it there. I could barely walk, and was limping around the Petruska’s living room in a daze, eating food, and eventually crashing onto a couch in an attempt to get some sleep. Eventually I gave up trying to sleep, had more food and several Cokes, and headed back out, well before sunrise. The trail from Nikolai to finish in McGrath was fast and firm, though a bit surreal at times. While I was making good time, I had to re-do my single speed setup twice, once because the chain broke, and once because the chain stretched and it started randomly shifting. I was very, very glad it was warm, well above zero Fahrenheit, as each time I had to screw with the chain it took what felt like an eternity to get it working again, long enough for my hands to get very cold.

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Eventually the trail dumped me onto the Kuskokwim again, where the trail got a bit softer, but still mostly rideable. The last twenty miles seemed to take forever. I kept forgetting I didn’t have gears anymore, and would move my shifters to gear up or down, then get a reality check when nothing happened. The light was very flat as well, making it hard to see where the “good” lines were. I finally found myself on the road just outside of McGrath, slowly spinning to the finish. Reaching the finish was awesome – I could finally get off my bike, lay down, and hopefully get some real sleep and food – hurrah! The finish is the Schneiderheinze’s house, and is a glorious never ending buffet of happiness – nearly endless food, powered by the ever cheerful and happy Tracy and Peter. They are wonderful folks, and their house is like heaven! The finish was sort of a blur, lots of random faces, me stumbling around babbling in a sleep deprived haze. I think I came across as a bit of an idiot as I really couldn’t think or talk very clearly. I was very, very hammered by not having any gears – single speeders are nuts, only having one gear destroyed my legs! The following day I hitched a ride out on Pen Air, but alas, once again my bike didn’t make it out with me. Fortunately Heather (who set a new course record!!) was staying a couple of extra days in Anchorage, and picked it up when it finally arrived and hauled it back to Fairbanks for me. On the way back I stayed with my brother John for a night to catch up on more sleep, and to pick up a pillow for the drive back – my bottom was destroyed, and sitting in the car was unpleasant!

I would like to give a huge thank you to Nancy and the Twins for letting me do this race – it involves a ton of time away from the Family, and I really appreciate their understanding – thanks!

I would also like to thank everyone involved with the race – the organizers Kathi and Bill,  OE and Rob in Rohn, the Petruska family in Nikolai, the Schneiderheinzes in McGrath, and all the other folks staffing the checkpoints.

I will have a follow up post (soonish I hope) with some notes about what worked gear and bike wise, and what didn’t.

I hope everyone is enjoying Winter!

The Kenai 250

Friday, July 5th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


(Photo compliments of Tom)

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

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


(Me, looking tired on Russian Lakes)

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My total time was 42.5 hours.

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

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

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

ITI – 2013,Puntila to McGrath

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

This is part II of my writeup of my 2013 ” Iditarod Trail Invitational race”:http://www.alaskaultrasport.com/alaska_ultra_home_page.html or the ITI as folks call it – part one can be found “here”:http://yak.spruceboy.net/2013/03/iti-2013-knik-to-puntila.html .

We left off last time at Checkpoint number four at Puntila Lake and “Rainy Pass Lodge”http://www.theperrinsrainypasslodge.com/ . Eric and I left Rainy Pass at about 6pm after getting a hour or two of sleep.

The cabin at Puntila we stayed at had a lot of character. I was particularly amused by the heads mounted on the walls just over the beds.

I was a bit worried about going over the pass at night, what with the long pre-race lecture we were given, telling us to leave at 1am so we would arrive at the pass in daylight, but Eric was unconcerned. It turned out to be not a big deal. Amazingly, the ride up to the pass was fantastic, and it was ridable almost the entire way.

Perfect weather, mostly calm, clear, and a full moon – it couldn’t get better than that.

Before I knew it we were at the pass and topped out. Rainy Pass has a semi-legendary reputation, at least in my mind. I have heard various stories of deep snow, winds, and bitter cold, so I was floored by how fast we arrived at the top of the pass. I stopped for a some photos, and had to get one of the marker on the pass, the iconic Rainy Pass sign.

The ride down the Denzel Gorge to the Kuskokwim River was fantastic – zooming downhill though the moonlight night.

I let Eric take the lead, and let him rip down the hills, assuming he knew what he was doing, and that he would slow down if there were any cliffs to fly off of or other hazards. Flying down the pass in the dark was one of the highlights of the race – zooming downhill in the dark, flying along a narrow trail crossing back and forth over a little creek. In a surprisingly short time we were on the Kuskokwim River and riding down river on hard frozen ice. I was very surprised to suddenly see some Endomorph tire prints – a type of fat bike tire I had not seen since the start of the race. When I am racing on a snow bike, I spend most of my time looking at the ground feeling for the fastest “line” or path, so the riding is as effortless as possible. One side effect of this is that I spend a lot of time looking at folks’ tire tracks, and when a random new tread print shows up it makes a bit of an impression, making me worried someone had passed us while we were sleeping at Puntila. When we arrived at Rohn, all became clear when I noticed that one of the checkers – “O.E.” – had a snow bike parked outside the wall tent. Rohn was a pretty neat place – there were two small planes parked on a packed strip, with a small hewn log cabin the Iditarod Trail crew stays in, with the ITI folks staying in a large wall tent. We ducked inside and were soon sitting down to enjoy cans of soup with pilot bread. After hammering down several pilot bread crackers, I started to feel a bit guilty, and when the other checker, Rob, told me to have at it, gleefully had several more. Unlimited Pilot bread – sometimes happiness is so simple!

We crashed for several hours, then refilled our water, reloaded from our drop bags, and headed out. As I was searching around for my drop bag I nearly stepped on Craig, who was sleeping outside next to the wall tent. We left a little before dawn, following the Kuskokwim river downstream.

The trail moved on and off the river, which was blown free of snow for the most part. It was a bit nerve-racking to zoom along on glare ice, but I managed not to crash.

The next section from Rohn to Bison Camp, an abandoned tent camp, was pretty scenic, with wonderful views as I biked away from the mountains and toward the flats.

Once off the ice of the Kuskokwim the trail passed though several burns, going up and down countless small, short hills as I moved slowly towards Egypt Mountain and onto the flats beyond the Alaska range.

Before the race there was lots of talk of overflow, so I was fairly worried about large tracks of wet mushy ice, however everything was frozen rock hard.

The post river glacer, a large bulge of ice where the Post River comes out onto the Kuskokwim, also seems to have lots of stories surrounding it, with tales of having to climb a huge slippery ice face. This year it was all mellow though, barely larger than the overflow bulges we get on the trails in White Mountains near Fairbanks, and nothing to be worked up about.

The trail was beautiful in this section, winding though burns and grassy fields covered by only a little snow. The snow cover was amazingly shallow, only a couple of inches deep.

There were also tons of bison footprints and droppings. I spent lots of time scanning the hills in hopes of seeing a bison, but alas, no such luck. Eventually we made it past Egypt Mountain and onto Fairwell Lakes.

The lakes had a tiny bit of snow on them, and it was a bit mind-warping to bike across them. The long, flat lakes sort of warped my perspective a bit, making it seem like I was not actually moving.

It was very, very beautiful though. At this point I was a bit sleep deprived, and Eric and I were swapping who was leading.

I am afraid at one point I think Eric found me talking to myself all crazy-like, which was quite embarrassing. However, a bit more fat and sugar and I was back in sane-person land. As we pulled farther away from the Alaska Range, the more the trail started feeling Fairbanks-like.

Eventually we passed Bison Camp, a sad looking collection of wall tents, and soon after that, the turnoff for Bear Creek cabin. The cabin had been visible occasionally as a gray dot on a hill, but is way off the trail, and we zoomed by. It looked from the tracks as if several racers had pulled into the cabin for some rest. Alas, we zoomed by, and continued towards Nikolai. For the most part, the trail once out of Rohn had been in great shape, but now as the trail headed through open areas it started to have large drifts in it, which were a bit too soft to ride.

I messed a bit with my tire pressure, and got things ridable for the most part. The drifts continued for a fair distance, but were not too big of a deal – there was some pushing but only in very short sections. Eventually evening came, and with it some huge wind-blown swamps. The swamps were mostly fast riding, as the trail was fairly hard and scoured free of soft snow by the wind.

The swamps were a bit creepy, as they were huge and it was often not possible to see the far side of the swamp. I was happy to be riding though, as Eric mentioned that he had pushed all the way from Rohn to Nikolai at least once. In the early a.m. we reached Nikolai, and I followed Eric to the checkpoint, the home of Nick and Olene Petruska. It was a bit hard to find, and without Eric I think I might have wandered around for some time. They were excited to see us, getting up to welcome us even though it was around 1am. They gave us some wonderful lasagna that was nothing short of heavenly. I talked a bit to a young man who was helping them out, though alas I have forgotten his name (Steve perhaps?), then headed into a back room for two hours or so of sleeping. The two hours went by fast, and before I knew it Eric and I were setting off. I had carried two 5-hour energy bottles with me since the start, and with 50 miles to go, I decided it was time to use them. Before leaving the Petruska’s I gulped down one of them, grimaced at the intensely awful aftertaste, then stuffed the other one into my pocket for later. I had quizzed Steve about the trail conditions and potential traffic on the river, and it sounded like we might have it to ourselves, which would be fantastic, as it would mean potentially fast riding. The trail was wonderfully firm as we left Nikolai, and stayed pretty nice all the way to McGrath. I had a bit of a tough time in the early morning hours, as my metabolism was not really churning out the power or the heat, and had to put my light jacket on, slowing things down a bit. Eric was patient though, and didn’t smack me for wasting time. The ride to McGrath was a bit of a blur, traveling on and off several large rivers, including one called “Big River” that was pretty wide, a handful of wide open swamps, and more of the Kuskokwim. Eventually it warmed up a bit or I just woke up and I was able to take my jacket off and get moving. It never was really all that cold, perhaps minus 10f at the coldest, so not too big of a deal. At one point we passed three bikers, Scott M, Brian B, and Mike C, all snuggled up in a trail side bivy. They were touring the trail and I had been seeing their tracks on and off for most of the race. I was very tempted to leave candy on their seats as good morning wakeup snacks but couldn’t muster the energy.. alas. Eventually we reached the outskirts of McGrath, and zoomed through the town, arriving at the finish line happy to be done. Bill Merchant was outside and getting ready to head back up the trail, and was pretty excited to see us, congratulated us and sent us inside to the warmth and food of Peter and Tracy Schneiderheinze’s. I stumbled inside, zombie-like, and spent the next four hours or so eating and lolling, wanting to sleep but also wanting to see the next racers coming in, and not wanting to miss any of the excitement. I must have looked out of it, as Jeff O told me to go sleep several times. The Schneiderheinze’s was heaven – a hot shower, clean clothes, and endless food. Eventually, after tons of eating, I stumbled upstairs, found a quiet corner in a room, and crashed. In the morning, arrangements were made to fly back to Anchorage, and before I knew it I was off heading back to Anchorage. Alas, my bike didn’t make it and ended up in McGrath for two more days. It was looking like I was going to have to either tell Nancy I had to hang out in Anchorage for several more days or do some more flying back and forth, but the Speedway Cycles owner Greg offered to pick my bike up at the airport for me when it arrived, then ship it to me via a local transport company. This was fantastic, as it allowed me to drive home and see my family – hurray! It was very nice to be back at home and see Nancy and the twins.

I should point out at this point that I finished almost 24 hours after the leaders, who were absolutely flying. The top packs performance with nothing short of amazing – doing the whole race on essentially no sleep. It was very fun to watch the leader’s race by looking at their in and out times as I arrived at checkpoints, and it was great to see two of the local guys, Kevin and Jeff, have such a wonderful race. Congratulations to everyone who finished!

h3. A couple of thanks –

* I would like to thank Eric for riding with me, and sharing his knowledge of the trail and generally providing a cool and calming influence for most of the race – it was fantastic riding with him, and one of the highlights of the race.
* A huge thanks to Greg at Speedway and Jeff Gilmore at Beaver Sports for setting me up with a hub and a rebuilt wheel after I destroyed a freehub a few weeks before the race, and for helping get my bike back to me post race – you guys are fantastic! I am getting a reputation for breaking things just before the ITI, hopefully this will not continue.. My bike was a bit delayed going out of Mcgrath, and Greg at Speedway was nice enough to offer to pick it when it arrived and ship it up to me, making my life so much simpler – thanks!
* A big thank you to my ever-understanding wife Nancy and the twins – thanks ever so much for putting up with my biking obsession and letting me put in all those long training rides. I am very lucky to have such a supportive family – thanks!
* A huge thanks to everyone who offered me advice both this year and last, in particular Ned Rozell and Jeff Oatley were super helpful about what to expect. “Sean Grady’s blog”:http://seansalach.blogspot.com/ posts on his ITI experiences were also very helpful. Sean – your blog misses you!

h3. Gear Notes

I carried a lot less stuff with me this year, making for a lighter bike. Some the major changes were taking fewer clothes, a -20f sleeping bag rather than a -40f bag, less food, and I didn’t bring a stove. This mostly worked quite well, though I didn’t sleep outside at all, and it was pretty warm for the entire race. I think the coldest I saw was around -10f, which is not really all that cold. I might have missed some of the clothing if it had been sub -30f.

I brought my vapor barrier shirt, which I didn’t use. I think if the forecast is good I would leave this at home, as it is really only useful (for me anyway) in sub -15f weather.

For footwear this year I used “Lobbens”:http://www.piasweaters.com/product-p/lb-trd-a.htm inside the basic, uninsulated Neos. This seemed to work great, providing good walking, heavy duty waterproofing, and was fairly light. It was more than warm enough for this years race, though I probably could have run my lake winter boots given the nice weather we had. I wore thin neoprene liner socks as vapor barriers with wool socks over them, and this seemed to work great. The neos didn’t accumulate moisture, and my feet didn’t mind the neoprene socks. My feet were a bit sore the last day, only because I didn’t take the time to dry out the vapor barrior socks at Nicolai.

For food I took a fairly random selection of candy bars, a lot of reese’s peanut butter cups, with a handful of GUs, lots of gummies of various types, chocolate, and a lot of pepperoni. This seemed to work fine, though I think a bit more pure sugar might have been preferable. I put several of those bear claws that you find in vending machine in each drop bag for breakfast, and they are definitely a bit short on flavor. Eric packed oatmeal, and gave me some at Finger Lake, which was pretty fantastic. That was definitely the trick, and in the future I will put oatmeal in the drop bags for breakfast at the checkpoints. Eric also had a thermos that he left the checkpoints with filled with oatmeal which he would snack on several hours after leaving the checkpoints, which looked really pretty delicious. I am definitely going to bring a large mouth thermos if I do the ITI again.

Bike wise, I am still using a Fatback with a fairly standard setup as sold to me by Speedway Cycles. I replaced the handle bar with a “Carver Pry bar”:http://www.carverbikes.com/comp/prybar , a nice wide flat bar with a bit of a sweep and replaced the seat post with a cheap “Niner carbon post”:http://www.ninerbikes.com/carbonseatpost (much more comfortable!). I am now running 90mm UMAs, with BFL tires. The fit on the back is really tight, and I had to trim the side knobs a fair bit so there is no rubbing. The trail conditions were pretty nice, but I was still very happy I had the big tires – the added weight and rolling resistance is worth the extra float those tires give me. More float means more riding.. one hopes anyway. If I could fit it I would like to run the wider knobbier Lou and Buds, but alas they are way too big. That is the one thing I would change if I had the choice, otherwise I was super happy with this setup. I have been super happy with my snowbike, from a “Fatback”:http://www.fatbackbikes.com/ from “Speedway Cycles”:http://speedwaycyclesak.com/ . I have had such wonderful adventures on that bike…

It might be bad form but the details of my ITI race as recorded by my GPS can be seen on “strava”:http://app.strava.com/activities/48381783 and “garmin connect”:http://connect.garmin.com/activity/296656263 if folks want to see exactly how slow this sort of race is. I think my moving average was something like 5.2 mph!

ITI – 2013, Knik to Puntila

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Ever since last year’s aborted push-fest I have been thinking about the next “Iditarod Trail Invitational”:http://www.alaskaultrasport.com/alaska_ultra_home_page.html, ITI for short. Pushing for ~70 ish miles last year got me enough of a taste of the ITI to bring me back again, hopefully to actually finish.

Things started a bit rough – my 8am flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage was canceled, and I barely made the pre-race meeting, with my new flight touching down in Anchorage at 1:30pm, followed by a half hour of hurrying to reach the meeting a few minutes before it was supposed to start. Fortunately it turned out the meetings start time was rather etherial, and it was a good 20 minutes before anything happened. I was all pumped up from all the rushing around, then slowly calmed down as folks arrived, and talked a bit to some of the racers. I was pretty wound up with pre-race jitters – pre-race meetings are a high stress time for me – too many people and too much thinking about all the unknowns about the next week or so I will be out racing. The meeting was fairly short, and soon I was with my brother John, riding to Wasilla for some pre-race pigging out — and to get a good night of sleep. I managed to get a wonderful night’s sleep, and in the morning ate a lot more, having lunch out with my sister Theresa and her fiance. Then John drove me out to the race start, a small bar on Knik Lake. I arrived fairly early, and spent some time messing with my bike, making sure everything still worked, then wandered around gawking at the racers and their getups, and drooling over all the fancy, shinny bikes.



The start was a bit anticlimactic – someone said go, everyone sort of slowly moved forward, unsure it was actually officially a go. Eventually someone zoomed off, and a stretched out pace line quickly formed. I latched to the pack, and followed along, quickly ending up biking along a paved road that eventually led to a wide snow-machine trail leading to Flathorn Lake, and eventually the Susitna River.




I was a bit surprised that the leaders were just ahead of me for most of the brief ride on the asphalt. I ended up talking a bit to whomever was riding beside me. Eventually the pavement ended, and I immediately crashed into the rider I had been chatting with, Dan from Minnesota. Dan was unharmed, dusted himself off and zoomed off along with most of the other folks I was biking with, leaving me to slowly mash my way though the soft snow. It was fantastic to actually ride this section, though, after last year’s push-fest. Eventually I had to stop to de-layer, and several more people zoomed by while I was sitting on the side of the trail with my pants down, as I struggled to take my long johns off. Once that got sorted out, I was back on the bike and riding toward Flathorn Lake. Things were a bit soft in sections, but for the most part ridable.



I could see two bikers ahead of me way in the distance, and I tried to keep pace with them, but alas, they gradually pulled away. I reached Flathorn, where things got a bit too soft to ride, and made my way across the lake. The trail was a bit confusing at this point, with tracks heading across the middle of the lake, and along the edge of the lake. It appeared that more people went around the end of the lake, so I pushed my bike along, occasionally riding for short sections, heading around the lake to Dismal Swamp.



It was starting to get dark, so out came the headlamp. Dismal Swamp was mostly rideable, so I zoomed along, heading over to the Susitna River.

Shortly before the river a snowmachine zoomed by and stopped, and I chatted a bit with the rider, Craig Medrid from the Alaska Dispatch. He, like last year, was out covering the race on snowmachine. He seemed like he was enjoying himself. I pressed on to the Su, and started upriver.



Eventually I saw a snowmachiner coming downriver, and eventually Craig zoomed up to tell me the trail turned and headed the wrong direction, and all the bikers had turned around. Craig convinced me that there was another trail that I had missed,so I turned around and started pushing down river, ignoring the blatant fact that all the foot prints (this section was fairly soft, with lots of pushing) were heading up river. After 10 minutes or so of going the wrong way, I realized I was being stupid, and headed back up river. Craig zoomed back and forth several times, each time stopping to tell me the trail was dead ending, and he couldn’t find a trail heading up river. Eventually he found a trail and zoomed off into the darkness. I continued up river and eventually encountered two snowmachines hauling freight downriver, and I turned off onto a side trail heading across the Su that they had come from. This turned out to be a bit of a waste of time, as their trail took a huge loop, circling around, and eventually coming back to close were I turned off onto, but it did lead to the main trail heading up river, and to the confluence with the Yentna. Soon I was biking up the Yentna, happy that I was biking this time around, and not pushing slowly for the second day. Biking by the old site of Luce’s Lodge was sad, as it was now a private residence – no more warm rooms and cheese burgers. Riding on the Yentna an hour or so after from Luces to Yentna Station was surprisingly beautiful, with a wonderfully bright nearly full moon and the occasional patch of mist from sections of open water.




I had to stop a couple of times to futz with the camera.


Yentna Station was quiet, with only Rich Crain, Craig Medrid, the owner of the lodge, and a biker, Eric W. from California. I sat down, had three cokes and a grilled cheese sandwich, and eventually headed out with Eric.



We biked upriver in the dark, and stopped at Slims, a small residence by the river that welcomes racers in. Cindy and Andy were there, and we chatted for a bit, and had some wonderful soup. They had a bit of a rough year, as Andy had fallen off a roof (twice apparently!) and had broken his hip. He appeared to be in good spirits, and on the mend, but was still having trouble getting around. We the first racers they had seen yet this year. I had really fond memories of them last year, coming into their place in the middle of the night, wore out by pushing my bike for two days straight. After eating for a bit, Eric and I crashed in one of their back cabins. I was out immediately, but in a hour or so I woke up freezing, as the heater had gone out. After rolling around for a bit, I got up, triggering Eric to get up as well, and we headed out. Stopping was probably a bit of a mistake, as it turned out that if you can actually ride, Skwentna is a little under two hours up river.



We arrived at Skwentna, wehre I sat down for lunch and Eric took off, zooming away. Seeing Eric bike off reminded me it was actually a race, so I snarfed down my food, had two cans of coke, and a cup of coffee and headed out. Just as I was leaving, Charlie Farrow from MN and Lindsay Gauld arrived, looking happy. Charlie in particular had a huge smile on his face, and appeared to be really enjoying life. I talked to them for a moment, then set off for the Shell Hills. It was fantastic to be in a area totally new to me, on a trail I have never been on before – the adventure had now started!

Alas, I was soon passed by a snow-machine dragging a groomer, then someone hauling freight, turning the trail from fast riding to something a bit less so. The views were fantastic though, and it was nice and sunny.



After passing though several huge, wide open swamps I reached the Shell Hills and started riding up and down a series of small wooded hills.





Soon after hitting the hills I heard the droning of snow-machines in the distance, and was passed several moments later by a huge party of snow-machines, apparently a club of some sort, judging by the small flags flying on the back of their machines. There were maybe 12 to 16 machines, half of which had large paddle tracks. I rode for a bit after taking out almost all the air in my tires, eventually deciding it was not worth it, and started pushing while waiting for the trail to set back up. I eventually dug out my music player and started listing to a “Quicksilver, a novel by Neal Stephenson”:http://goo.gl/RU15j enjoying the hijinks of 17th century England semi-scientists while I pushed my bike in the hot sun. Just about the time I reached Shell Lake things became a bit more ridable, and I pulled up to Shell Lake lodge for a bit to eat.



Eric was inside snoozing, stretched out on a bench waiting for the trail to set up. I talked a bit with Zoe the owner of the lodge, and drank 3 cokes, then stretched out for a brief nap. Cokes drunk, nap taken, Eric and I headed out in hope that the trail would be more rideable.

The trail between Shell and Finger Lake wound up and down many small hills separated by small snow-covered lakes and swamps. The riding was pretty good for the most part, though in a few places it was unclear which trail we were supposed to be on. Fortunately the fast pack ahead of us had packed a nice little bike path, making the riding pretty easy. On this section I kept thinking back to last year, and how blown in these open sections must have been with all that snow. It would have been a long, slow slog. Fortunately I was biking, zooming along – and enjoying it! Eventually we arrived at Winter Lake Lodge, on Finger Lake.



Eric was an old pro at this, and quickly lead me to the kitchen, where we checked in and had dinner, checked the times of the leaders, chatted with the cook, then headed to a small cabin to get some sleep. The cabin was a bit hot, but I was able to get some nice sleep regardless. Kevin from Anchorage and Dan from MN were just heading out as we hit the sack. After 4 hours or so of sleep Eric and I got up and headed out after having a bite to eat and raiding our first set of drop bags. Eric was kind enough to share his oatmeal with me. Eric is, in a word awesome, and it was one of the highlights of my race to travel with him. He has done the race many times (I think 9 times?). He knew a wealth of details about trail and about how to race the ITI, and is just an all-around nice guy.

Just as we left, a runner, Dave Johnston, arrived. I was amazed to see him, and he appeared to be having a fantastic race. The next section, from Finger Lake to Puntila Lake, was fantastic biking, with lots of little hills and great views, and it was almost entirely rideable. I had a blast. The Happy River steps were a piece of cake, and the trail was in great shape.


It was wonderful biking along while watching the mountains getting closer and closer. In a surprisingly short time, about eight hours, we arrived at Puntila Lake, where I enjoyed several cans of soup and three hours of sleep.



Next up Rohn! (To be continued..)

Arrowhead..

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

The last couple of years I have been hearing about the Arrowhead 135, a winter race in northern Minnesota, and following the race online. Eventually I had enough watching other folks having all the fun, and after getting Nancy’s approval, signed up. Two flights and a five hour drive later, I found myself at International Falls, MN, two days before race day. I stayed at the TeePee lodge, and while checking in for my room the owner chatted away with lots of race gossip, wondering if the some of the bikers from Minnesota would beat my fellow Fairbanksan fast guys Kevin and Jeff. After finding a place to stay I headed off to get my required gear checked off. Pre-race stuff always makes me a bit nervous – gear checks etc. always work on my mind, but the checks went ok, and I was soon done. I got some riding in Saturday and Sunday checking out the trail. Everyone I talked to kept talking about how slow and soft the trails were, but they seemed fine to me – fast actually. I spent a bit of time exploring International Falls, but there was not much to see. I was very surprised to see a banner across main street welcoming all the Arrowhead racers – it was really cool to see a town embrace a race.

Unexpectedly, International Falls reminded me a lot of Wisconsin where my mother’s extended family lives. The night before the race there was a pre-race meeting, and I was pretty shocked by all the people. At one point there were four video cameras set up, and one of the foot racers seemed to have his own video crew. I ducked out a bit early, driven a bit twitter-pated by pre-race jitters and all the people.

The race started at 7am.

It was a bit of a madhouse, with with lots of bikers bunched up along the starting line, but fortunately the trail was very wide for the first half mile so I didn’t run into pileups. The first 15 miles or so the course flew by, with a fairly firm trail and fast riding.

Alas, it was fairly flat and straight though, and a bit boring, but the course soon changed character and got a bit more interesting, winding between forest and swamp. I made good time to the first check point, where I stopped for 10 minutes or so, downing two bowls of chili and refilled my water bladder, then headed back out. The next section of the course had a lot less swamp, and more forested rolling hills, and was super fun riding. There were a couple of sections of slightly softer riding, and I let a bit of air out at one point to make the riding a bit easier. I ended up putting more air in again shortly after that, as the trail was switching from hard and fast, and slightly softer conditions where I would almost break though the crust, and the float was only needed in short sections. At this point things had thinned out a lot, and I was bouncing between Brian from CA, Kevin from Anchorage, Andrew from Minneapolis, and a fellow from Manitoba, Hal I think. The course was occasionally firm enough for us to ride side by side and I got chatting with Brian a bit, mostly talking about his trip to Port Molar (read more here, here, etc – a fantastic read).

Eventually I reached Elephent Lake, and soon reached checkpoint two, MelGeorges.

I sat down for a bit here, eating some soup and a grilled cheese sandwich, and chatted a bit with some of the other folks at the checkpoint, including Terry, a past winner of the race. Eventually I pried myself out of the chair and got moving again, heading back out. I had been told the next section was the most hilly part fo the course, and was looking forward to some steep hills. It turns out the next section had lots of small rolling hills, a few of which were too steep to ride up. I ended up pushing up a fair number of them as my legs were hammered at this point.

At some point while riding in the hills it started snowing, and continued on and off for the rest of the race. Initially it was just annoying, as the snow kept getting into my eyes as I was blasting down the hills, but it gradually accumilated, slowing things down. By the time I made it to SkiPulk, the last checkpoint before the finish, the snow was starting to slow things down a fair bit.

I stopped for a few minutes at the SkiPulk check point, having three cups of hot chocolate. I might have downed them a bit too fast, as when I started biking again I had to stop to let my stomach settle, and it was a bit off for the rest of the race. At this point there was maybe three to four inches of wet snow that had to be pushed though, making for slower biking than I would have liked.

Fortunately Andrew from Minneapolis charged ahead and squished down a nice trail though all the white stuff. The last 25 miles to the finish went by very slowly, but eventually the lights of Fortune Bay, could be seen, and finally I arrived at the finish, behind Andrew and Brian. I was wiped enough that I couldn’t really ride up the last hill and had to push to the finish line.

Lame, but I made it! I made my way inside, where I parked my bike inside to dry out, and sat down for some snacks, and eventually grabbed a shower and changed into normal (and dry) clothes. I got a bit of sleep before riding the race shuttle back to the race start and my hotel room where I crashed and napped the rest of the afternoon. Apparently the folks who finished after me had a really hard time – it kept snowing, building up to a good 8 inches of wet snow making biking really hard. I am very impressed by anyone who pressed on though the snow and completed the race – major kudos to anyone who finished; it was an amazingly hard race once the snow arrived. I ended up with a time around 20 hours, 30 minutes, well short of the 24 hour time I was shooting for – hurrah!

The Arrowhead is a wonderfully well organized race, and super fun. Alas, it is a bit of a haul to get to from Fairbanks, but well worth the travel. Lots of fun competitors, nice trails, and a well run race – in a word, fantastic. Not as scenic as the Whites 100, but such is life. I was baffled by how few skiers show up for the event before the race, and and am even more baffled after the race – the skiing looked to be fantastic, with wonderfully fast snow, but only five folks signed up to ski. Coming from Fairbanks I was amazed by how much more light and sun there was in International Falls – it felt like mid or late March, which was just fantastic! A highly wonderful event! A bit thanks to the Arrowhead’s organizers, they put on a great event, and a thanks to Kevin, Brian, and the others who I rode with durring the race. And of course, a huge thanks to Nancy and the twins for letting me disappear for almost a week to do this race – they are truly wonderful!

PS – stat geek details (elevation profile, how glacially slow I was, etc) can be found on strava here.

PS #2 – For the second half of the race my brakes, avid bb-7s, kept icing up. In the several weeks before the race the little noodle that protects the brake cable housing were the brake cable enters the cable housing as it heads away from the calipers had started falling apart, and sometime durring the race completely gave up the ghost, falling apart completely. Without the noodle to protect the cable housing, water from snow melting off the brake and rotar would seep into the brake line, freezing up and making it really hard to engage and disengage the brake. Eventually I had to stop each time I used the rear brakes to pry them open so I could pedal again. Not the end of the world, but a bit of a pain. I think my bike was just giving me a gentle reminder that I should always deal with these issues proactively before they become an actual problem. Times like these make me think about using hydros instead.. but then I remember the “bleed once a week all winter” avid juicys I have on my 29er, and maybe this isn’t such a bit deal. At <-20f those juicys are good for about one long hill before starting to get spongy, and several more hills later completely gone.

Hiking Kesugi..

Monday, July 16th, 2012

On the way back from the Fireweed, Tom and I decided to hike Kesugi Ridge, a wonderful ridge hike in Denali state park. It took us about 12 hours, and was a wonderful way to stretch the legs after all that time on the bike. The last bit of the trail is currently closed as a section of the trail has been washed out, so we only did the Little Coal Creek to Byers Lake section.

Things started with a climb..

But quickly transitioned to nice alpine hiking.


I had the camera out a lot, and I think it slowed us down a fair bit. The nice weather made it hard not to keep snapping photos..

It was a bit brushy at times.. but always manageable.

Near the middle of hike the trail climbed over some eroding granite outcrops – super scenic and very pretty.

Near the middle of the trail there was a mile or so with lots of downed trees. It looked like at least some of the trees had fallon this summer, and they were laying in the same direction. Perhaps a unusually hard windstorm? A mystery!

After the countless downed trees it was back to alpine hiking.

We ended the day with a short-ish (17mile) bike shuttle, and made it back to Fairbanks a little after 1am. This trail is fantastically beautiful, and well worth the drive.

There were several sets of tire tracks on the trail, making me wonder if it is a common bike route, and how fun it would be. It seemed like there would be a bit of pushing, and a fair bit of wonderful riding. Something for a future adventure I think…

90 out of 350..

Monday, April 9th, 2012

As folks who know me are already well aware I ended up scratching out of the ITI fairly early in the event, at about mile 90. It was pretty sad, as I had spent most of the winter thinking, planning, and training for this race, but it was a good call. Hopefully I will get another chance at the race next year, as I really want to finish this one!

I am afraid this write-up is a bit wordy, so here is a short summary: I scratched, pushing a bike in Neos sucks, and my feet hurt. Next year’s to-dos – don’t scratch, practice pushing, try some less crappy footwear, and bring less stuff.

Moving on…

The race starts on the edge of a small lake near the old town of Knik, at a small bar known as Knik Bar. I arrived early enough to get all my stuff arranged and ready to go on the bike, then spent a bit of time checking out other folks’ setups and buzzing on last minute pre-race stress.

Eventually everyone lined up, and we were off. I grabbed the wheel of someone who looked like he knew what he was doing, Sean Grady and tagged along though a series of trails that eventually lead to Point Mackenzie Road.

Sean knew where to go, and soon were zooming down the road in little posse of obese bikes with too much stuff in tow.

After 10 minutes or so on the road the “fast” guys passed us in a tight pack.

I expected I would never see them again until after the race..
Eventually the road riding ended and there was an abrupt transition from biking to walking.

The snow kept coming down and as the traffic died off as evening arrived the snow piled up deeper and deeper.

We passed several groups of snowmachines either on their way home or stopped on the side of the trail to mess with their machines. One group asked us where we were going, and upon hearing “McGrath”, stared at us blankly. One of them, as if addressing someone simpleminded, started telling us that McGrath was a long way away… as if it was not abundantly clear to someone 20 miles into a 350 mile event, pushing a bike at a little more than 2 miles an hour, that this was going to take a very long time. We trudged along on the long straight trail leading to Flathorn Lake. At this point the crowd had thinned out and I was now in the company of Sven, a teacher from Anchorage, and Sean, though we could occasionally see flashes from the headlights of racers behind us. At about 8pm we passed Jeff Oatley leaning on his bike as he waited for a couple of folks right behind us to catch up, and he let us know that the leaders were about 15 minutes ahead of us. At this point it was pretty clear that this was not going to be a “normal” event, as the fast people are normally much, much faster than I am, and my only sign of them is their in and out times in the log books at the checkpoints. We arrived at the edge of Flathorn Lake and were greeted by Craig Medrid of the Alaska Dispatch sitting on a snowmachine texting (tweeting I believe he said) on a sat phone.

He had apparently gone across the lake, was not able to find where the trail exited the lake, was soon stuck, and had a hard time extracting himself. He was strongly discouraging folks from heading out across the lake due to poor visibility from the blowing snow, though the two lead bikers had headed across. I took a peek out onto the lake, and all signs of any trail besides Craig’s snowmachine tracks were completely wiped clean by the wind and fresh snow. Sean and Sven decided to bivy and wait for morning. I decided to hang out for a couple of minutes, waiting for more folks to arrive, as it was only a little after 8pm, and I was way too excited to sleep anytime soon. In ten minutes or so Jeff, Heather Best, and Tim Stern arrived, and undetered by Craig’s statements of doom, headed out with me tagging along.

We soon caught up with the lead bikers, Pete Basinger and Tim Berntson, and begin a long, slow slog across the rest of Flathorn and Dismal Swamp. Soon more bikers and eventually walkers started catching up with us sharing in the trail breaking. This section of trail is very wide and it was fairly hard to locate the firm trail under two feet of fresh snow. When we got off the main trail we would start postholing up to our waists, making for really fun bike pushing. At this point I was starting to get pretty whooped, and was having a hard time lifting the front of my bike to push it though the fresh snow. Fortunately the “fast” guys were happy to charge away though the snow, and I just pushed along in their wake. The walkers were having a bit easier time and soon were a ways ahead of us, but their headlights were still visible flashing back and forth as they searched for the trail under the snow. Gradually the pack was thinning out, with bikers dropping off here and there to bivy under welcoming trees. Eventually we reached the bank of the Susitna River, which locals call the “Wall of Death” named for the 10 foot or so drop from the top of the bank to the river. All the walkers apparently responding to some sort of hidden signal peeled off to bivy under trees.

The lead bikers started building a fire to melt water, and since it looked like no one was going to be leaving anytime soon, I set up my bivy and went to sleep. I woke up a little before dawn as a walker, Tim Hewit, passed by. The leaders had left while I was sleeping, and were now long gone, probably off enjoying a long hard slog through the deep snow. I packed up and started pushing my bike down the trail, and after several minutes was surprised to see him again heading back towards me. Apparently this trail led to the cabin near the river, and not to the main trail. The lead bikers had apparently headed out this way, wandered around for a while, and gave up, headed back and found the right trail about 10 feet from where I bivied. Tim was very cheerful, and surprisingly bubbly as we chatted for a moment as I got off the trail to let him by, and then I followed him back up the trail to the turnoff for the main trail onto the river.

The Susitna river was covered in fresh snow, with a single “push” track the bikers and walkers had broken winding up the river.

This was quite a contrast to the last time I was on this section of river, when the trail was rock hard and about 100 feet wide.

I continued pushing my bike up river, mostly by myself at this point, occasionally getting passed by a walker or passing a biker. At about noon Craig zipped by on his snowmachine. I was hoping that the motorized traffic would pick up a bit when I reached the confluence with the Yenta River, which is the main route for most of the traffic. Alas, Craig was to be the only motorized traffic I was to encounter until late in the afternoon.

Eventually I was passed by several walkers and two skiers as I slowly made my way to Luce’s, a lodge on the Yentna River.

Just before Luce’s several snow machines passed by hauling sleds and waved as they zoomed by. I reached the lodge, where two walkers and the lead bikers were enjoying burgers, fries, and snacks. I ordered food, several pops, and booked a room, as I was pretty wiped. As I was enjoying my burger Jeff, Heather, Tim, and several more bikers arrived. It is hard to describe how surreal it was to be with the lead bikers at this point. I am not a fast biker, and normally I never see the fast guys more more than a minute or two once the race starts. Seeing the lead guys snarfing burgers while talking about how wiped they were really drove home this race was going to be a long slow slog. Two of the bikers left after eating and headed out for the official checkpoint, Yenta Station, which is 6 miles or so up river. Most of the rest of the bikers decided to get some sleep and head out in the morning at various versions of ungodly early.

In the not tremendously early a.m. I headed out with Jeff, Heather, and Tim. The trail firmed up a bit overnight, but not enough to be consistently rideable. It was rideable in short stretches, but not for any significant distance. It did appear the Tim, Phil, and Pete who left earlier than us road a fair bit more than we did. We arrived at Yenta Station, had some breakfast, and headed out again.

The trail upstream of Yenta Station was quite a bit softer, and it was back to pushing. Not show-stopping by any means, but I was starting to get worried about how much pushing I could actually pull off.

The temperatures remained much too warm for the trail to harden up, so the pushing continued for the rest of the day.

By this time my feet were starting to take a bit of a beating as the footwear I was using, Neos overboots with sorel liners and superfeet insoles, did not provide the sort of support and protection that my feet apparently need for this amount of pushing.

I was starting to get blisters on the ends of most of my toes, and was getting periodic sharp pains in the arch of my left foot, probably due to the soft soles of the Neos.

We ended up pushing all the way to Cindy Abbot’s place, also known as Slims. Cindy apparently enjoys the company of the racers enough to open her house to them, and lets folks crash on the floor of her guest cabins. By the time we reached it was a very welcome sight. After having some wonderful soup I spent a couple of hours sleeping on the floor of one of her guest cabins, then took off in the late evening for Skwentna. I will be forever grateful to Cindy and her husband-to-be Andy’s hospitality.

The trail had hardened up a bit and was semi rideable now. Jeff zoomed off, floating away, and was soon followed by Tim and Heather. They had a much easier time due to either their elite snow riding skills, or some other magic I have yet to posses. I ended up riding a bit, but there was still a lot of pushing. I arrived at Skwentna a bit beat, and a half hour behind them.

Upon arriving I learned that the lead bikers had left for Shell Lake 5 hours before. There was some talk that the trail might firm up, so I grabbed a bunk and snoozed until the morning.

In the morning the owner of Skwentna Roadhouse called the next place up the trail that folks would stop at, Shell Lake to how long it had taken Pete and Phil, and learned that they had yet to arrive. This was bad news, as it means they had taken about 12 hours to travel the 15 miles, meaning lots of slow pushing. At this point my feet where starting to show the mileage, and I was not sure that I could handle another 100 miles of pushing. I was to later learn the winner of the race, Pete Basinger, figured he rode about 40% of the 300-350 miles to McGrath.

After some talking with the other racers, and being told that from that point onward getting flown out was going to be increasing difficult, getting more expensive and possibly involving a fairly long wait, I decided to scratch and hopped on a plane to Anchorage. It was pretty sad, as it was clear I could have gone onward, and my feet might have held up for the rest of the pushing, but probably a good call. It definitely would have been a long, long slog, and I was not tremendously excited by the prospect of pushing my bike for another 5 or 6 days (or longer!). I ended up taking a flight out with Lue and Eric.

And so ended my attempt at the ITI. I learned a fair bit, and really want to come back next year and make another go at it, hopefully this time making it the full way.

Lessons Learned:

  • My footwear needs to be up for extended pushing. I had tested my setup by going for 6 mile walks and it worked great for that length of time, and had done overnight bike-packing trips with a fair bit of intermittent pushing, but it just was not up to extended bike pushing. The soles were a little too soft and all the pushing in the soft snow put some unusual stress on my feet causing some of the connective tissue on the bottom of my feet to start to hurt (perhaps hurt is an understatement – sharp stabbing pains would be a more apt description – yeah, yeah, HTFU). The other problem was the fit was too loose allowing my feet to move about a bit too much, giving me blisters. When I got back home I ended up spending a fair bit of time treating my blisters, leading my daughters to start playing blister treatment games. They even made a song in honor of one of the less happy toes, called “Pus-y Toe” – the meaning of which should be fairly obvious. I need to work on a footwear system that is good to -40f, and that I can push the bike in for extended periods.. It took about a two weeks before my feet were back to normal, without random pains when putting pressure on the arches of my feet. Next year I think will go on some overnight bike trips were I take the chain off my bike and just push it the whole way..
  • I need to pack a lot less stuff. A lighter bike would have been much easier to push through the soft snow. At several points my upper body was completely trashed from lifting my bike through deep snow and drifts. I never opened my stuff sack of extra clothing, so I think I could have pared it down a fair bit, though it was fairly warm. My bike looked obese when compared to some of the other setups at the race start.
  • I packed way too much food. I figured that I would need 4 days of food with me between drop bags worst case, and packed accordingly with 4k calories per day, plus some extra food. This turns out to be way too much even at my glacial pace, as there were ample places to resupply. When I scratched at Skwentna I still had two days or more of food. Eventually folks started to make fun of me for still having so much food..
  • I suck at soft snow riding. I just don’t get enough time practicing riding in soft snow with the hard trails we have here in Fairbanks, apparently.

A big thanks to Sean for leading me through the maze of trails in first 10 miles, and for Jeff, Heather, and Tim for letting me tag along in their wake, and the wonderful people at the checkpoints. A huge thank you to the folks who organize the race – Bill and Kathi Merchant. While I didn’t make it all that far, this event is nothing like anything I have ever done before, and is truly unique. I can see why folks seem to get addicted to it – a big thank you to Bill and Kathi for putting it on. And of course a big thanks to the twins and Nancy for being so supportive.

One final thank you to the wonderful folks at Speedway Cycles – they replaced my bike frame due to a cracked seat tube two days before the race, and were very tolerant of my last minute panicking. Amazing folks.. I can’t say how nice it was of them to make time for me durring all the pre-ITI hubbub.

Hopefully next year the weather will be more cooperative. Hmmm, next year..

A few more photos can be found here.

Chena Dome in a Day – the 2011 edition

Monday, August 29th, 2011

One of my favorite hikes in the greater Fairbanks area is Chena Dome. It is a wonderful 30 mile long ridge hike, with wonderful views and fantastic walking, and lots of climbing. I have made it a goal to hike it at least once a year. Lately I have been doing it as a long day hike, taking a little less than 12 hours to finish the loop. Doing it as a day hike means you don’t have to carry a heavy pack up and down all those hills. You can read about some of the other times I have hiked this trail with the family and as a day hike. It took us about 11.5 hours to hike the 30 miles and 8k to 14k feet of climbing (how much actual climbing there is is open to debate apparently) , which is about what it has taken me the other two times I have done it. Not nearly as fast as the rumored sub 7 hour times some of the local hot shot runners have done it in, but fast enough we got home at a reasonable hour.

My friend Tom, who joined me for this adventure, maintains that fall has yet to arrive, though I think the tree’s colorful display’s disagree with him.



The fireweed was in full color too.





The views from the ridges were, as always, fantastic.



Tom and I had fantastic weather for the hike for most of the day, though we had a brief and heavy rain storm while we were at the trail shelter at mile 17.



After the rain storm it appeared that a section of the ridge we had been on a hour or so before now a dusting of snow. It was nice to have missed that.



Near mile 8 there is a old plane crash.



The rubble and twisted plane parts has always been a pretty sad sight for me and a reminder of how dangerous air travel in Alaska was back in the day, and to some extent still is today. When I got back into town I decided to spend a bit of time looking for details on the crash. It appears the crash was a Curtiss C-46 operated by Transocean Airline on a flight from Umiat to Fairbanks. The plane crashed late in the evening on December 30, 1951. The details can be found here.

A photo of the plane, prior to the crash, complements of www.taloa.org .




I would love to know the full details of the crash if anyone has them. I found reference to a rescue attempt in -70f temperatures but was unable to find the CAB report on the accident – if anyone has it I would love to read it.

More photos can be found here.

Doing Far Mountain Trail in a Day

Monday, August 1st, 2011

Last year Tom, Ms Marsh, and I did a hike and float that included Far Mountain, and ever since then I have been very interested in doing the full loop as a day hike. Eventually I ended up with a free Monday and along with Tom found myself heading up the Far Mt. Trail. The trail starts near Chena Hotsprings parking lot (the actual start of the trail is a bit hard to find with a few side trails and roads that make things a bit confusing – check with the folks at the Chena Hotsprings activity center for a map if you have problems) and after crossing the bridge over Monument Creek the trail heads up a ridge and the climbing begins.

The Far Mountain trail loops around Monument Creek valley on a series of ridges. There are lots of ups and down, with between 8k and 14k feet of climbing, depending on who you ask (I measured around 8,000 feet of climbing – that is 8,000 feet of going up). The trail is a little less than 27 miles. The views from the high points on the ridges are fantastic.




There are also several interesting granite tor formations.



Far Mountain itself is a little underwhelming, as it has a large communication facility on top, complete with generators and a couple of large towers.



The majority of the trail is well above the tree and brush line making for wonderful alpine hiking, though there is a section of spruce forest near the end.



The day we hiked it it was was partly cloudy, but it can get quite socked in.
On a clear day:



On a foggy day:



The last mile or so is very muddy.



It appeared that the muddy section was in the middle of some trail work of some sort, however as it appeared the equipment had stirred the mud up into a froth and re-routed a small stream to run down the trail perhaps these repairs might do more harm than good…

This is a highly recommended long day hike. It took us a little less than 12 hours of walking at a brisk but not rushed pace. As an overnighter it is more challenging due to the limited water sources. There are tundra pools in several places around mile 7 or so, but after that there was not much water to be found.




My dog Remus was a bit dehydrated near the end, and I had to give him a some water from one of my bottles near the end of the day. Getting water would mean a long drop down to the one of the creeks at the bottom of the valleys.

The hike has a fairly remote feel, besides the stuff on top of Far Mountain. On the day we hiked it some military planes were out training and made a bit of noise, but otherwise it we didn’t see anyone on the trail.



One day or several, its a beautiful hike and well worth doing.

If you do this hike during berry season, the blueberries can be fantastic.



A map – like all the photos in this blog click it to see the image in greater detail. A better map can be found here. Kyle Jolly’s book Outside In the Interior has a chapter on this hike.



More photos can be found here. Sorry for the low word and high picture count – I have been a bit slow on the blog front lately, but more coming soon!