Posts Tagged ‘biking’

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, 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..)

Snow Biking!

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Winter is finally here, with colder temperatures and a bit of snow. I managed to get out for my second bike ride in the White Mountains of the winter, and my first ride over 5 hours since the snow has come. It was a wonderful day to be on the bike…

The trails in the Whites are a bit rough, but passable. It should be ok skiing, though a bit thin. The biking was pretty good!

I was surprised to see lots of fat bike tracks and a single set of smaller tires – looks like snow biking just keeps going up in popularity!

The first 6 miles of trail were packed hard, and the riding was fast. Just after Lee’s cabin the trail got a fair bit softer, but the riding was still pretty nice…

I seemed to have the place to myself, with only a small bird and a couple of raven’s interrupting the solitude.

I continued on to Moose Creek cabin, ducked into the cabin to check things out, then turned around and headed back to the parking lot.

A couple of miles before the parking lot Denali came out, backlit by the setting sun. A wonderful way to end a day!

On a bike geek note, I put on some cheap carbon (faux?) levers that added a surprising amount of comfort, mainly warmer (happier!) fingers. Well worth the ~$50, if they hold up.

I hope everyone is enjoying winter!

Checking out the Fairbanks Circle Trail..

Friday, September 14th, 2012

A long time ago, before the Steese Highway came along, folks would travel from Fairbanks to Circle using a trail that went from Clearly Summit to Central that was called, surprisingly enough, the Fairbanks Circle trail. I had heard various stories about the trail, and and it had been on my list of things to checkout for several years now. I had been told that two locals, possibly the legendary “hell” bikers Roman Dial and Jon Underwood, had biked it from 12 mile summit to clearly summit, which is somewhere around 50 miles, and rumor has it took them over 24 hours. So, with a day free I decided to go check it out and see what it was like. I had hopes it might have potential for some off road bike touring, but either way I was interested in checking it out and crossing it off the list of trails I had been meaning to explore.

The area I explored was a mix of ATV trail double track..

and old mining roads.

The views were pretty nice though.

In some places there were several options, all seemingly heading in the same general direction. For the most part they seemed to join up again, and occasionally I bumped into mile markers marking the “official” trail.

On some of the ridges just before I turned around there were survey stakes that looked like they were marking a trail of some sort.

Though the trail was pretty marginal in this section for biking at least. I ended up walking down one of the hills as the trail dropped off very sharply and I couldn’t see a section of it. It turned out to not be too big of a deal, but walking is not the end of the world (just my dignity).

The next climb was pretty steep though..

So I took a trail leading off to the side, and was soon back on mining roads again. I pressed on a bit further, then turned around.

It definitely seems like there is some nice bike powered exploring to be done here, and now I really want to bike the entire route. This is definitely on the short list for next year.

More photos can be found here and a map here.

The Soggy Bottom

Sunday, August 5th, 2012

Last summer I heard about a 100 mile summer race, the Soggy Bottom, and followed it online. It looked like fun, so when the spring came I signed up. On a damp slightly morning, I lined up with about two dozen other bikers, and we were off.

The Soggy Bottom’s course is on the Resurrection Pass trail system (more details here, north and south). The route, in a nutshell, goes from Hope Alaska, over Resurrection Pass to Cooper Landing, then back to Hope with a side trip down and back on Devil’s Creek trail. It can be done solo, or as part of relay, with exchanges at Cooper Landing and Devil’s Creek. Apparently most people doing the race are from Anchorage, and have some sort of support crew in one form or another. The evening before the race, I talked a bit with the organizer, Carlos, who very kindly offered to take two drop bags to the exchanges for me, and I quickly filled two stuff sacks with snacks etc and handed them off.

The race started at a fairly mellow pace on several miles of road, with the fast guys and gals zooming off, and the rest of us tagging along at the rear.

Fortunately the section on the road was pretty short, and we were soon on the Resurrection Pass trail. The riding was fantastic single track in large trees and tall leafy green plants, including the ever popular Cow Parsnip.

At this point the riders had thinned out a fair bit, and I rode most of the way to cooper landing with two riders for Anchorage. Eventually I climbed up out of the green stuff and into the higher alpine terrain.

The trail continued to be pretty wonderful – fast and smooth riding single track.

Eventually I reached the top of the pass, and started heading down.

On one of the downhill sections I pinch flatted on a rock waterbar. Not a big deal, after a couple of minutes I was going again, but alas I had now used my only spare tube. While I was changing the flat three riders passed me. I caught up with two of them before Cooper Landing, the other guy stayed well ahead of me, and was to finish a hour or so before me.

Just before the flat I past a group of very classic looking hikers, including one guy hiking bare shirted in sweat pants with a mid sized boom box on his shoulder, playing old hair band rock. It was quite a scene, and made more so by the bare shirted man’s budda like physic.

About five miles or so before Cooper Landing I started running into the leaders heading back out. It was a nice twist to see most of them as I rode in, though it did require me to stay on my toes, as the trail was narrow in a couple of sections. Upon arriving at Cooper Landing I was a bit confused and had a bit of trouble locating water, but I eventually figured stuff out and got reloaded. I asked around for a spare tube, and one of the relay riders (Brian I think) from Anchorage set me up with two tubes and some CO2 cylinders, definitely adding to my peace of mind – thanks!. After fiddling around a bit too long I headed back out, heading back to Hope. The ride up to the pass was uneventful. I was caught by a relay rider, and I tried keeping up with her for a while, but eventually she pulled away. There was a brief bit of pushing up a short steep section, but otherwise it was all rideable, and very, very fun. Eventually I reached the Devil’s Creek trail, and headed back down. On the way down I passed some of the faster folks heading back up, but the really fast folks were already done with this section and on their way to Hope by the time I reached it. This section of trail was amazingly fun, with lots of fast riding with fairly long sight-lines so I could open it up and ride fast. There were periodic rocky sections that were wonderful at keeping me on my toes, and a bit of mud but nothing too bad.

The end of Devil’s creek trail ends in large parking lot, where there was a checkpoint with water and a lot of relay riders relaxing and having fun, having finished with their sections. I restocked and headed back out. The climb back up to the pass was almost as fun as riding down. Eventually I made it back up to the top, then enjoyed the 20 miles of mostly downhill riding back to Hope. I arrived in Hope just before dark, and was very happy to get a shower, a beer, and some pizza. The race ends just outside a bar, and there was live music playing, making for an interesting scene. After the beer I headed off to go to sleep, feeling a bit wiped.

I really was not sure what to expect from this race, but I was completely blown away by how fun it was. Fantastic single track, and a bit of mud, what more could someone ask for? I was pretty happy with my time, though I could have ridden a fair bit faster if I had done the trail before and knew what to expect. Running tubeless would have saved be a flat, as I pinched flatted on my rear while slamming over a rocky waterbar. It might have also saved me a spoke, as somewhere in the last 40 miles I broke a spoke on my rear wheel.

A major thanks to Carlos the organizer for putting on this wonderful event. Hopefully more Fairbanks folks will head down for the event next year, as it is well worth the drive. For folks interested in a fun but not super epic time, the relay looks like it would be a blast – the legs are all in the 35 mile range. My photos really don’t do the course justice, as they were taken on the move with a little point and shoot, but the trail system the race is on goes though some very beautiful territory. That area has some fantastic bike touring potential.

First long road ride of spring..

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

After putting in some extra hours at work I was blessed with a day off from work. It was a beautiful day, and I decided get some outside play time in. Alas, the snow is going but not gone, so no skiing, or off road riding until the white stuff is completely gone. The roads are dry, so I put skinny tires on the cross bike and headed off for a roughly 100 mile out and back ride.

6 hours and a little over 5k feet of climbing I was back. I am missing the snow, but really, really looking forward to riding on some dirt. Heres to summer!

Scenes from my commute..

Friday, September 30th, 2011



Enbigen the map.

Its a bit round-a-bout, but I have to get the miles on the legs to prepare for upcoming winter madness of one sort or another.

One month until the snow biking season starts…

Packrafting the Clearwater

Tuesday, August 16th, 2011

Tom, Ms Marsh, and I did a repeat of Ed Plumb’s Clearwater packrafting trip. It was a fairly mellow three day trip, with lots of wonderful hiking. As usual, Ed’s writeup has everything you need to know so this is going to be a low word, high picture count post. The floating and hiking were great – this is a trip to do!

There was superb alpine hiking…

Some fast but boring ATV trails..

Over alpine streams..


And beautiful campsites.

Scenic alpine lakes..

Strange flora..

Dinners eaten and in some cases snuggled with..

There was a bit of brush..

But it was never bad, as we were always following game trails of one sort or another.

Evening campfires were had and socks were dried (or not).

There was even some biking thrown in..

All in all, a wonderful way to spend three days.

More photos here.

Biking the Haul Road – Deadhorse to Fairbanks

Sunday, July 24th, 2011

I have been thinking about biking the Dalton Highway for several years now. The road has a legendary reputation for long 13% grades, epic mud, windshield- and tire-destroying rocks, and headwinds of doom – all of which of course makes it a very attractive road to bike. Things came together this spring, and in mid July I found myself driving up the Haul Road with Tom on a grand adventure. Some friends of ours were on a long float trip that ends up on a village near the north coast of Alaska where they would then fly to Deadhorse and drive back to Fairbanks. Luckly for us, they needed someone to drive their vehicle up to Deadhorse, so early on a Tuesday morning we loaded up our bikes and headed out of town. It was a long, uneventful drive up to Deadhorse and took a little under 12 hours including a shortish stop at Coldfoot. We spend the night at Deadhorse at the aptly named Deadhorse Camp hotel. The hotel was composed of a main building made of stacked ATCO trailers, with a number of stand-alone trailers on skis pulled up around the main building.

This is standard affair for Deadhorse – nearly every building not intended for equipment storage is composed of an ATCO trailer of one sort or another. Our room was in one of the trailers alongside the main building.

This was my first visit to Deadhorse in the summer. I had been here several times in the winter while passing though on the way to Barrow and things looked quite different when it’s not -40F with 50 mph winds.. Deadhorse is a strange place and fairly hard to describe. Its consists mainly of a immense series of gravel pads connected by gravel roads with all sorts of heavy equipment, oil exploration machinery, and trailers of all type parked in various stages of disarray, along with a couple of active oil and gas wells.

I stopped by the hardware store and picked up a set of tinted safety glasses, and then we headed out to find dinner. Most of the folks here are not full time residents and are here temporarily for work, either for short stints or on some sort of 2 weeks on, 1 week off rotation. This makes for some unusual living conventions, including the all-you-can-eat meal – all the restaurants in Deadhorse serve all-you-can-eat meals cafeteria style. The food is not bad, but not particularly exciting. We ended up eating at the Prudhoe Bay Hotel, and some of the clients definitely showed signs of the “all you can eat diet”. Eventually we pried ourselves away from the trough, though not before I made a to-go bag with a handful of pastries and headed back to our hotel to get some sleep.

In the morning we hopped on our bikes and were off!

Our route was pretty simple as there is really only one road option to get back to Fairbanks. We were going to leave Deadhorse, bike on the Dalton until it ended and then take the Eliot Highway back to Fairbanks. Fairly simple.

Here is an interactive map of our route:

View Larger Map

Day 1
For the first mile or so we had to bike some local roads to get to the Dalton. There was a surprising amount of traffic, though the drivers were pretty well mannered.

Eventually we reached the start of the Dalton, and our trip began!

The first 60 miles or so of the Dalton are mind-numbingly flat, but quite scenic. It might go without saying, but this section of our trip was quite far north – in fact I think this might be the farthest north you can go by road in North America. There are no trees this far north, just small willow looking shrubs and things that look much like grasses (I am obviously not a biologist). We really lucked out weather-wise – it warmer than I expected. We had a wonderful 65F weather, which was quite a bit nicer than the 40F I was expecting. The road surface for the start of our trip was hard packed dirt with a fair bit of calcium chloride mixed in to harden the road surface and to keep the dust down.

I had been told that there was a good chance that we might see some Musk Ox, but alas we didn’t. We did see a lots of birds and were dive bombed briefly by some shockingly large terns. We also saw a fair number of fat arctic ground squirrels, of which there was a lot.

At around mile 53 or so the surface changed to chip and seal and we enjoyed a nice break from the gravel road for another 27 miles.


Eventually the road surface switched back to dirt near a collection of dreary looking buildings called “Happy Valley”.

Just past Happy Valley there was a motorcyclist stopped in the middle of the road. It was a bit of a strange place to stop so when I caught up with him I stopped and asked if he was ok.

We talked for a bit and apparently he had stopped to take pictures, and was completely unfazed that he was in the middle of a dirt road with large semi bearing down on him from behind. I talked to him for a couple of minutes, learning he had driven his motorcycle up from Georgia. We saw an amazing number of motorcycles. It appeared that there were more motorcycles than any other type of private traffic on the road… not what I expected.

We continued biking until we reached the “Ice Cut”, a smallish hill where the road cuts through the a bluff and apparently exposed a large ice-lens, thus the name, and we called it a day. We camped on a pipeline access road that leads to the Sag River. The Dalton has lots and lots of wonderful campsites – at regular intervals there are side roads leading to the pipeline. The pipeline access roads are normally blocked by gates, but the gates are easy to get around or under with a bike, and as far as I know its fine to camp there so long as you do not block access.

Day 2

In the morning we continued, though the weather was a bit less sunny. We had brief rain showers for most the day, though it never rained very hard. For the first day the road was mostly very flat, with only an occasional small hill. As we traveled south we started hitting the foothills of the north side of the Brooks Range, and things became a bit less flat

The hills continued to grow as we headed towards the Brooks Range and the high point of the trip, Atigun Pass.

We passed a number of construction and DOT camps, including one with an interesting sign.

A little before we entered the Atigun River valley, we passed Toolik Field Station, where some neighbors of ours spend part of the summer studying the Arctic ecosystem.
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After passing the side road to Toolik, we passed Galbraith lake where some sort of massive excavation appeared to be going on, and started up the Atigun River valley.

The views were starting to be pretty nice at this point, but alas we were also on the receiving end of a stiff headwind. We spotted several groups of sheep sunning themselves on the other side of the valley.

On this section of road the trucks raised a fair bit of dust – fortunately the wind kept it from hanging around very long.

We did get to see some unusual cargo as the trucks drove by, including a rocket-shaped oversized load.

The Atigun River valley is quite beautiful and very scenic.

Eventually we reached the base of Atigun Pass, the only “big” climb of the trip, just in time for it to start raining in earnest.
Fortunately the rainstorm was short-lived, and by the time we were half way up the climb it had stopped raining.

The climb up the pass was a lot less of a climb than I was expecting – it is fairly steep but it is not that long and was over fairly quickly. At the top of the pass we were rewarded by wonderful blue sky and fantastic views of the south side of the pass – hurray!

From the top of the pass it was a wonderful ride downhill to our campsite for the evening near the airstrip at Chandalar Station.

We camped near the runway, but well off the section used by planes so we didn’t get in the way. The runway appeared to used only infrequently. The campsite had wonderful views of the Chandalar Shelf and the start of the Dietrich River valley.

Day 3
Our third day was pretty short, only a little over 50 miles and 4 hours of biking. We left pretty early, climbed up over Chandalar Shelf, and enjoyed a long downhill ride to Wiseman. We were starting to leave the Arctic and the vegetation was starting to change – we now had trees!

This section of the trip zoomed along, as it was mostly downhill with very few hills. About 10 miles or so before the turnoff for Wiseman the pavement started – nice new and fast pavement.
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We arrived in Wiseman a little before 3pm, with lots of time to explore, shower, do laundry, and get other random tasks done. We stayed at the Boreal Lodge a wonderful little lodge in Wiseman proper. I explored Wiseman for a short time, seeing the museum and an old general store, and walked around town a bit. Eventually I headed back to the lodge and spent a bit of time relaxing in the sun, and enjoyed several ice cream bars.

Day 4
On the forth day we headed out of Wiseman early and zoomed off to Coldfoot in an attempt to arrive in time to make the all-you-can-eat breakfast offering. We arrived with 15 minutes to spare, and quickly grabbed our food. Just as we were sitting down to gorge ourselves, the folks we shuttled the car for arrived. They had finished their trip a bit early and were heading back to Fairbanks. We had a very large breakfast with them, and eventually hit the road again, powered up (or slowed down) by the massive quantity of food we had we had eaten. The road south of Coldfoot is paved and was fast riding. A little south of Coldfoot we ran into our first biker (while on bikes anyway – we saw several bikers on the drive up, but as we were driving it does not count) of the trip – Rucker.

Rucker is from Ohio and is apparently friends with the cousin of one of my neighbors, who asked if we had seen him. Sometimes it is an amazingly small world.. We saw a handful of bikers on the drive up to Deadhorse, and two bikers on the bike ride back to Fairbanks, and Rucker was the only one who seemed to have things in order, and appeared to be carrying a reasonable amount of stuff.
The road south of Coldfoot is very scenic..

We stopped for at the Arctic Circle for a quick photo..

and made a quick pass though the campground looking for “bucket man”. On the drive up we passed a fellow biking in full bug gear with 5 gallon buckets instead of panniers. I thought about stopping to say hi and ask how the biking is, but since we ran into him around 10 miles or so outside Deadhorse I thought I would just catch up with him the next day. Alas, bucket man was hauling butt, while we kept an eye out for him we didn’t catch up with him until the Arctic Circle campground, where he was sleeping, so we didn’t get a chance to talk. I did admire his bike from a distance however.

The only major climb of the day was Beaver Slide.

Beaver Slide is a 9% grade gravel hill that is about two miles long and very straight. As we approached it I saw huge white ghost-like shapes descending it in an ominous manner. Fortunately they turned out to be wide load trucks with huge white boxes on them.

Climbing Beaver Slide turned out to be an amusing exercise in dust and bad driving. The truckers seem to take the hill pretty slowly, going up and down the hill at a reasonable rate. Alas, some of the private traffic seems to think this is a ideal place to pass, and we witnessed several very marginal passing maneuvers while climbing the hill. It was very dry when we were on this section of road, which ment it was very dusty. Fortunately it is only two miles long and it goes by fairly quickly.


The rest of the day went by fairly quickly. We biked until Dall creek, where we took a pipeline access road and camped under the pipeline.

The pipeline was amusingly adorned by lots of notes and a few strange symbols.

Disturbingly, one of the pipeline supports we camped under was labeled “Replace S Bracket”. We did survive the night.

Day 5 – the day of Mud!
The next morning we awoke to a light rain. We packed up and headed with with plans of getting an early morning burger at Hot Spot, a burger joint several miles from the Yukon River. The road quickly turned to dirt again, but it was not a big deal as it was not raining all that hard. This was going to change however…

The section of road before the Yukon River is scenic with wonderful sections of fireweed in old burns – quite beautiful.

For most of the morning there was a light rain, and it was starting to make the road a bit muddy.

Eventually we arrived at Hot Spot and had some burgers. After the burgers we headed out. While we chowed burgers it had continued raining, and as a result the road was a bit more muddy..

We stopped briefly at Yukon River camp and I grabbed two Dr Peppers and we then headed across the bridge over the Yukon River. The Yukon River bridge is pretty funky – it is the only bridge I have crossed with a definite slope to it. Biking up hill on a muddy wood decked bridge in the rain is an interesting experience.

The mud got progressively worse…

Fortunately we were saved by a brief bit of pavement after the bridge. While we were on the pavement we passed a fellow biker from Holland via Canada who was hauling a lot of stuff – a fully loaded B.O.B. and a full set of panniers, and was carrying food for full 14 days. It looked painful. Eventually the pavement ended and the mud began again. By this time the rain had stopped and things were drying out, but while the road was getting better the semi-dry mud was very sticky and our bikes required frequent de-mudding.

Eventually we had to stop at a creek and did a complete de-mudding and ate dinner while the road dried out. This worked wonderfully, as by the time we had finished and were ready to go the road was much dryer and almost mud free.

With about 10 miles left on the Dalton we ran into a fellow walking on the side of the road. We stopped and talked for a bit, and learned he was on day one of an attempt to Dalton Highway from the junction of the Elliott to Deadhorse. He was from Worcester, MA and was figuring on taking 18 days.

We biked the rest of the evening, and made it to the Elliott highway, which marked the end of the Dalton – hurrah!

We biked for another hour or so and made it to Fred Blixt cabin, which we had rented in case we wanted to spend the night there. It had been a bit of a long day and we were pretty happy to crash at the cabin.

Day 6 – the last day!
The final day was fairly short, but has a few hills. We got an early start and stopped at Joy, a small homestead and gift shop, grabbing a bite to eat. Several hours later we made it to Hill Top, a local truck stop at mile 5 of the Elliott, and dropped in for a (large) bite to eat. I had some pancakes and Tom enjoyed a burger. I was warned the pancakes were huge, but was not expecting the massive too-big-for-the-plate pancakes that I ended up with – alas I was only able to eat half of them. The rest of the trip was pretty mellow, though it was a bit hard to bike with so much food inside me. I made it back to my house at around 4 or so, just in time to meet up with my wife Nancy and the twins returning from picking up their veggies from the local CSA.

For those interested, here are our final stats for the trip:

  • Day 1, Deadhorse – Ice Cut: 92.5 miles, 8 hours
  • Day 2, Ice Cut to south side of Atigun Pass: 85.8 miles, 8 hours
  • Day 3, Atigun to Wiseman: 54.1 miles, 4 hours
  • Day 4, Wiseman to Dall Creek: 104 miles, 8:30 hours
  • Day 5, Dall Creek to Fred Blixt: 101.5 miles, 9:30 hours
  • Day 6, Fred Blixt to Tom’s house: 75.9 miles, 6 hours. +~3 miles for Jay.
  • Total, 513.8 miles, 44 hours

Notes for other folks interested in biking the Dalton Highway.

  • Food is available at several places along the road:
    • Yukon River Camp, MP 56
    • Hot Spot and 5 mile Camp, MP 60
    • Coldfoot, MP 175
    • Wiseman, MP 186
    • Deadhorse, MP 414
    • All these places (except Wiseman) have diner style food, and a selection of very basic snacks.
  • The Boreal Lodge in Wiseman, and possibly the other lodges in Wiseman, has a small but useful selection of basic food stuffs.
  • There is a post office in Coldfoot, so it is posssible to mail stuff there to be picked up, though the office hours are a bit strange – Mon,Wed,Fri 1:30-6:00pm
  • With all these options for food it’s silly to carry all the food for the entire trip with you the whole time. Unless you love hauling extra weight up and down the hills.
  • If you book a reservation with one of the places to stay along the road, its probably possible to mail them a food drop of some sort. Ask first of course.
  • There are quite a few hills – go as light as is reasonable.
  • Basic cross tires in the 32-40mm range with a little bit of tread are fine. Bigger tires will add more comfort but slower riding, smaller tires more suffering.
  • If the road is muddy and it looks like it might stop raining, take a break and let the road dry out. The road appears to dry pretty fast and the daylight hours are long. Go take a nap!
  • Fenders are a very good idea – not only for keeping you dry, but for keeping your drive train as clean (as possible anyway) of mud. If it rains there will be mud.
  • No bike repair stuff can be found on the Dalton, though there is a very well stocked hardware store in Deadhorse that might have some things (patch kits for example)
  • You can’t bike to the Arctic Ocean. You can take a tour there and listen to a talk about how clean and happy BP is, and splash in the ocean if you want, but you cannot bike there.
  • Bring at least one water treatment system! There is lots of water in streams and lakes along the road, but pretty much all of it needs treatment unless you want giardia or some other friendly gut nasties. We used an older model of the Steripen with backup chlorine dioxide pills and two part chlorine dioxide liquid. Treating water is fast and safe these days, there is no reason not to do it. The walker we ran into at mile 10 was planning on drinking untreated water for the most part, which I hope works for him, but for most people will end up with the “Giardia Weight Loss Plan” and an potentially aborted trip.

 

A simplified map of the route:

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More Photos can be found Here.

The Summer 100 (non) race

Sunday, July 17th, 2011

For the last year or so there have been plans afoot to have a local 100-mile running or biking race. This summer one of the organizers of the White Mountains 100, Ann, got things going and set up a trial run of the non-race. “Non-race” as i, it was not an official, organized race, but more of a mass-start individual time trial. As soon as I heard about the idea I immediately knew I wanted to do it. We don’t have very many local off-road or trail-bike bike events. There is a 12 hour race on the Ester Dome single track, though that was canceled this year, and a mountain bike stage race, but that’s about all. Even more exciting was the fact the start was only four miles from my house, so I could bike to the start – wahoo! In the two months before the race, folks did informal Tuesday runs and ran most of the course in sections. I am not much of a runner these days. Biking has been my main focus, and its hard for me to get enough mental momentum to regularly bike and run in a semi-serious manner. I joined in for a handful of the runs and survived, but barely – running 8-12 miles at once is not a recipe for a happy run. It was pretty social, and it was interesting to talk to folks and meet some folks from the non-winter sports crowd. In the weeks leading up to the race I biked most of the course in a couple of sections to make sure I had an idea about what I was getting into and could prepare mentally for some of the tricky bits. Biking the course was a wonderful experience and exposed me to trails I would not know about otherwise, including some wonderful sections that are amazingly good biking. The course is a mix of dirt roads, single track, ATV trails, a brief section of the Alaska pipeline, a short bit of pavement, and several sections of tricky bits.

So, the “tricky bits”.. The course has several sections that are tricky biking for “normal” people (normal being not trials superstars like Danny MacAskill), and one section that could not be biked even by super-humans. The difficult sections consist of several shortish bits that have tight spaced roots, have lots of rocks, are very steep, or all three at once. I can, for the most part, bike these sections while fresh, but when tired it becomes a bit difficult – not the end of the world, just start pushing! There is one section that involves crossing Goldstream Creek, and is truly unbikable, though perhaps it could be done by winged monkeys. This section involves crossing Goldstream Creek, then crossing a swamp with a short deep section (deep as in more than chest, possibly over my head deep), then brush whacking though some alder for a mile or so. This is perhaps a bit different from what most folks might expect from a bike race, as the course will have fair bit of pushing, but in order to have a long course on trails, some sections of difficult or impossible biking are to be expected. Otherwise to link pieces of nice trail would require lots of sections (possibly pretty long ones) on paved or dirt roads. While these sections would zoom by on a bike, they would be miserably boring for the runners.

Hopefully this race becomes an annual event – it was a wonderful experience and a great fit for Fairbanks. Ann put a tremendous amount of work getting the trial run of the race going and deserves major credit for putting everything together – Go Ann!

Maps of the course of various sorts can be found here.

The rest of this involves my experience in the race – probably quite uninteresting to everyone but me so feel free to stop reading now, and go turn on the TV. Or go play outside!

On the day of the race I got up at 5:45, got dressed, had breakfast, drank several cups of coffee and left the house on the bike heading off to the race start. Just as I was leaving the sky opened up and started dumping epic quantities of rain. Hard rain, with big drops, and a stiff wind – a wonderful day for an epic bike ride! I had put aside two sets of rain gear the night before, and with the hard rain I grabbed the full-on waterproof jacket and pants, put them on, and headed out. The four miles to the starting point was mostly downhill and very wet. At one point the tracks worn in the road by studded tires were running with water like a small stream. I arrived about 20 minutes before the race started and ducked under an eve of one of the entrances to the UAF Patty Center, which was alas, not open, and watched the rain. It was showing no sign of letting up, and thunder could be heard in the distance – it was going to be an interesting day.



Twenty minutes early was apparently a bit too early, as no one else seemed to be around. Eventually other folks arrived and started splashing around in the rain getting ready to go.




It appeared there were going to be 18 or so people enjoying the fun. My friend Tom arrived pushing his bike up to the Patty Center – he apparently had massive chain-suck issues on the way to the start and his chain was wrapped around the bottom bracket in a difficult to extract manner. Several of the bikers attempted to extract the chain to no avail – eventually one of the runners, Rick, pulled the crank off, got the chain unstuck, and put things back to together for Tom. Just before the start two of the bikers headed back home to get more warm clothes and real rain gear. One of them was up from Anchorage and was pretty bemused by the rain, say something like “Isn’t it supposed to be sunny and dry here – this is Anchorage weather!” 7am came upon us and the non-racers lined up in the field outside the Patty, someone gave a count down, and we were off. The course starts on a similar route to the Equinox Marathon, and immediately heads up a small hill. The rain had turned the trail up the hill into a bit of a slippery mess – some of the bikers were already pushing and it was only a quarter of a mile in. The first miles of the course were on a mix of UAF trails and the Equinox, then onto the Sheep Creek bike path, and over to St Patrick’s. I was surprised to see Tom just before the Sheep Creek bike path – apparently he had a return of his chain suck issues on the muddy first hill and decided that was a sign to call it quits. That was a good call, as the mud was quite a bit worse later on. The rest of the morning was spent riding over to Ester, climbing Ester Dome, and riding down the back side of the dome to Goldstream Creek. Two guys had started several hours early in an attempt to get to mile 50 or so before one of them had to make a wedding in the afternoon, and for most of the morning I followed their footprints in the mud and rain-softened trails. Surprisingly, I was in the lead, and would stay in the lead for the rest of the race. When I reached the top of Ester Dome the place had an unearthly feel to it – it was very foggy and socked in with perhaps 50ft visibility at a couple of points, with the wind blowing though the transmission towers on top of the dome making some freaky howling noises. It was a strange experience.. On the ride down to the creek I passed a cheerful man working away on the road with a fairly large bulldozer. He seemed fairly surprised to see me but waved me by in a friendly manner. I bet he was amused and perplexed by the rest of the crew passing him thoughout the day.. The mud on the ride down was pretty intense, but my wheels and gears kept going, and I kept moving.



Crossing the creek was a bit tricky – the log across the creek was wet and slippery, but it was uneventful, though a bit nerve racking. I would later hear that one of the participants dropped his bike in the creek and had to fish it out.



(Photo is not from race day, but a pre-ride. Note the sunny weather..)

It was probably better to drop your bike than to fall in – getting out would have been a pain! After the creek crossing came the swamp, which was a bit of an adventure. There was a path marked though the swamp, and I stuck to it, but alas, I think the path was more intended for the runners as it moved in and out of the brush and though some pretty tight sections that were hard to carry a bike through. Not the end of the world, but there was a fair bit of chest-deep water, and lots of waist-deep water, and a short section separated by floating mats where I could not touch bottom. The short deep section I just left the bike on the floating mats, swam/flopped across, then grabbed the bike and yanked it across the open section. No one appeared to be near me which was good, as there was quite a bit of yelling and swearing as I floundered around. Soon after the marshes I hit the first checkpoint, and my drop bag of clean clothes. I grabbed my stuff, changed into dry clothing, and hopped back on the bike and was off. Later when I was washing my gear from this section I was really surprised to see that everything smelled like swamp – no sweat, no dirt, no mud, just swamp. The folks manning the checkpoint were very cheerful and happy, and understanding of my manic stripping and dressing while (very) partially concealed by some parked cars.



I should probably point out now that photo taking and racing don’t really fit together all that well. Stopping to get the camera out slows things down and slowing down is not how one goes fast. I am not very fast though, so I bring a camera and take pictures, figuring if I am too busy to take pictures and enjoy my self I should just go home as its not worth it. Alas, for lots of reasons I didn’t take the camera out all that much, but I did attempt to get pictures of all the checkpoints and the checkpoint staffers. The checkpoints are like little bubbles of joy in longer races like this one, filled with friendly people, food, and water. Sometimes nirvana is as simple as a can of coke and handful of potato chips.. Anyway, since checkpoints in winter races photograph poorly (because its dark, cameras coming in from the cold fog up instantly, among other reasons) and this was the first long summer bike race I have done, I made an attempt to get photos of them.

Just after leaving the checkpoint I passed the runner Mark, who was cheerfully running along.




The next section was on dirt roads of various sorts and sped by on the bike. Soon after the first checkpoint I had my first bike problem and broke a spoke on my rear wheel and soon things were a bit more wobbly and loose than I would have liked. After riding another half an hour I grabbed my cell phone, called Tom, unfortunately waking him up, and he amiably agreed to pick up a wheel I had on my porch and bring it by Ivory Jacks. I eventually passed Steve the runner, the second person to start early. He seemed to be having a wonderful time and had a huge smile on his face when I rode past. There is a brief out-and-back section where I passed a biker (Andi I think) headed the other way who seemed be having a good time and had a huge grin on his face. Soon I was riding on dirt roads which made for fairly fast but uninteresting biking. Eventually I reached the second checkpoint, an unofficial one staffed by a former co-worker of mine, Jen, and a fellow I had met once before but alas forget his name.



They were cheerfully enjoying a calm afternoon under a nice dry tent and seemed to be having a great time. I refilled my water and took off. The next section to Ivory Jack’s was very, very fun, with lots of fun biking on a mix of narrow dirt roads, ATV trails, and some single track. I really enjoyed this section, though alas someone had taken down the course markings here – bummer. This section features a wonderful downhill bit with lots of water bars that are ever so fun to hop over and a very steep, straight downhill though some birch trees – pure fun! I arrived at Ivory Jacks a bit later than I anticipated but was greeted by Nancy and the twins, and Tom with my replacement wheel – Thanks Tom!


I had a bit to eat, refilled my water, swapped out my wheel with the broken spoke, and was off.



Now with life like hand foo action!

Before I left Lizzy said to Nancy, “When is Daddy going to start biking again?” Obviously I was being a big slacker and should get my butt in gear! The next section was a mix of tricky biking (so more pushing than biking) and some wonderfully fun riding. At one point while on Cranberry Ridge I encountered a lady running who stopped to give me a lecture on how bikes damage trails. She might have had a point, but at the time I was pushing my bike though a rooty section after deciding that the constant pounding and effort required to ride the roots was making my neck and head hurt. She continued her run and I continued pushing my bike though the roots. Alas, at this point my neck was killing me, and my feet were numb and getting a bit sore. My shoes are regular mt bike clipless Shimano bike shoes. They are a bit short on grip, and the cushioning is nonexistent. After the event I had nice and tender forefeet for several days. Once I was past the roots the trail transformed into fun riding and I started to enjoy myself again. Just before reaching Hilltop the course follows the pipeline down a hill which provided some of the fastest biking of the course. At Hilltop I stopped briefly and chatted with the fellow at the checkpoint there, Andy, and snarfed down some snacks.



I had a bike bag blowout somewhere along the way and had lost my bike tools and my chain oil. Andy was super prepared and even had chain oil, ending the squeaking of my tortured chain. The riding from Hilltop to the final checkpoint was fantastic, though I had the funny encounter with someone who had a car breakdown. About halfway between Hilltop and the Skiland checkpoint someone started shouting from the bushes behind me. I stopped and waited a bit nervously for the fellow to catch up with me. It turns out he had driven his new VW Bug up to Pedro Dome Road, had hit a rock, and ruptured his oil pan, leaving him stranded. When I encountered him he was attempting to walk down to the Steese Highway – apparently his car’s GPS told him that it was close by, so he decided to just bush-whack down to it. It’s pretty close, as such things go, but a long steep drop down a brushy hillside. He apparently thought better of it, and was coming back to his car when he saw me and tried to get my attention. He borrowed my cell phone to call a friend to pick him up, and after making sure he was going to be ok, I took off.
A little while later, my phone rang. I dug it out of my backpack, and answered it – it turned out that his friend had gotten lost and needed directions. I guided him via phone to the right road and within sight of his lost friend, and I was back on my way. I made a brief stop at the Skiland checkpoint, getting a bite to eat, and said hi to the cheerful checkpoint staffers.




The final section is mostly downhill and was refreshingly nice riding, though by this time my legs were pretty hammered and I could barely bike up the hills. I rolled into the finish at 15 hours and 24 minutes, very happy to be off the bike. John Estle was at the finish line and did a quick video interview with me and I am afraid I was a bit incoherent and silly.




Soon after I arrived the two bikers who started late came in. They started about 20 minutes late and finished 10 minutes behind me and would have finished ahead of me if they had started with everyone else.

Hopefully this race will be an annual event – it was an amazing experience and a complete blast. With luck this race will be become a summer ritual! Thanks again to Ann and all the other volunteers – you guys made it possible and fun!

The finishing times for the finishers in the trial run of the race were:

  • Bikers
    • Jay Cable 15:24
    • John Shook 15:33
    • Chris Wrobel 15:33
    • Rocky Reifenstuhl 16:38
    • T. Herriott 16:38
    • Andy Sterns 19:43
  • Runners
    • Rork Peterson 21:47
    • Ann Farris 26:40
    • Rick Johnson 28:02
    • Anne VerHoef 28:08

There was also some coverage in the News Miner.

More photos from the race
Course pre-ride photos.