Posts Tagged ‘snow biking’

A Family Tour of the White Mountains

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2022

Leaving my office, I headed out into a dark -36f late afternoon to start my car and drive home. I started it up, then got out to unplug it*. Just after I unplugged it, I heard a “beep,beep” as it locked itself..
Crap.

After trying all the doors, I headed back inside. We have two keys to this car, and the other one is at my house, three miles away. After calling my wife Nancy who didn’t pick up, I started panicking and I called my daughter Lizzy, asking her (very optimistically!) if she could bring me the other keys.

Much to my surprise she said “Sure!”

30 minutes later Lizzy showed up on her fat bike, with the keys, and quickly unlocked it and headed out. We had to stop for gas, as it turned it was almost out. Wow.

Covid has been a bit rough on the twins. One year of online schooling, then it was back to school, with masks. First home made cloth masks, then N95s.. Limited social interactions, and so much fear. To top it off, the school bus was only running ever other week due to driver shortages. The twins decided this school year that they were just going to bike to school, as it is only three (ish) miles one way, mostly downhill in the morning on the way in. After finding out they could beat the school bus (the biking route is more direct) they were even more excited about biking. As the fall transitioned to winter they switched to snow bikes, with bright head tail lights lights, reflective vests, and warm clothing. A bit to my surprise they kept doing it even as it became honestly cold, close to the -40s. As far as I know, they have never been late. I tried to bike a few times a week with them for the ride in, but school starts early (7:30am!), and I am not as a consistent of a bike commuter as they are.

Cold biking Cold biking

Photos from a different, slightly warmer day where I biked in to school with the twins.

Fast forward half a year, and we were heading out on a family trip, heading around the White Mountains NRA “main loop”, stopping at Borealis, Windy Gap, Cache Mountain, and Moose Creek cabins. The twins had been to Moose Creek in the winter before, were I had to make the “no complaining while going up hill” rule as the twins (Lizzy in particular) would complain how miserable the biking was going up each of the hills, then would be perk up and continue on happily when it flattened out. They had also been to Borealis before too, but in the summer only. It would be their longest winter bike trip, and I was a bit worried they would be unhappy, warning them in the days leading up that they might have to walk up a lot if the conditions were really bad.

Yeah yeah, Dad.

The first day of the trip, three miles from the parking lot, after several crashes and one mini soft snow melt down, everyone had a break to snack and recover.

My bike is so heavy!” – Lizzy.

I was a bit worried that this was going to be a long, long trip.

Five days later, 90+ miles later we were back in the same spot, heading the other direction, everyone, tired, but happy and joyful.


First day went by quickly, with great trails besides a bit of soft snow.

Whites Loop with the Family

The ride was mostly uneventful, though at the top of the first decent Molly and I stopped a bit for her to take some photographs from the first scenic view stop.

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

Eventually Molly finished taking photographs and we rode down the final hill, only to see a group of people with several dogs teams making camp. I stopped and chatted then looked for Molly and Shiloh the dog. No Shiloh or Molly. A bit more chatting, and still no Molly or Shiloh the dog. It was starting to get awkward, as they were waiting for me to go by… so I turned around and headed back up the hill. Part way up Shiloh the dog and Molly showed up. Apparently she had dropped her sunglasses at the top of the hill, and had to go back. I grabbed Shiloh, and we passed the dog teams with lots of barking – apparently this is the most exciting thing that had happened to the dogs in the team all day.

We arrived at a pre-warmed Borealis cabin, with embers in the stove that were soon rekindled into a nice blazing fire. The evening was spent hanging out, cutting wood, and enjoying a mellow evening.

The morning it was -30f ish at the cabin, probably much colder on the river, so we waiting until 10am or so when the sun was hitting us before heading out. It was in the single digits but felt warmer in the wonderful sun.

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

The twins enjoyed the firm trails, and the great views. And hot lunch – since this was a “mellow” trip, I brought various dried or freeze dried meals that could be made with hot water from a thermos for lunch. It was a hit.

Whites Loop with the Family

Enjoying Heather Choice African Peanut Stew from the discount bin at REI. So fancy!

The twins had a blast and were handled the single digits in an occasionally brisk breeze. Nancy was also excited to be riding this outside the White Mountains 100 race, at a slower pace, and enjoying the trail.

Whites Loop with the Family

Shiloh and Eddy the dogs also had fun, though Shiloh likes to pretend he wasn’t..

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family
Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

Molly needed to take some panoramic photos (panoramas?) for school, and I told her about the new climb a few miles before Windy Gap cabin, where she stopped to get a bunch of photos. They turned out pretty well.
The twins handled all the biking and the hills pretty well – all those days riding to and from school had given them lots of biking base!

limestone jags panorama

Then it was a long downhill and a few flat miles to the cabin. Alas, the cabin hadn’t had any recent visitors and was much colder inside than out. Walking into it was like entering a freezer. Once the fire was going it started warming up, but Lizzy was quick to find the warmest spot, in the loft directly above the stove.

Whites Loop with the Family

It was still mid afternoon once the cabin warmed up, so I headed out with Eddy to go checkout Windy Arch, a few miles from the cabin. Eddy wasn’t having it though. He kept looking at me like, “What are you doing?” and once he figured out I was going for a ride he abandoned me and ran back to the cabin. I had a great ride though, even though not even the dogs wanted to join me.

Whites Loop with the Family

This was the first cabin that was totally new to the Twins, and they enjoyed hanging out in it, with lots of reading, snacking, and dog snuggling. And doing puzzles – someone had left a small puzzle that gave into a relentless attack by Nancy and Lizzy.

Whites Loop with the Family

The next day we headed up and over the divide to Cache Mt cabin.

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

We stopped briefly in at the “Ice Lakes”, a mile (ish) long section of ice for Molly to take another panorama and to have lunch.

ice lakes panorama-2

Photo taken by Molly

The trail was remarkably good, and we rode almost all the way up and over the divide, following some recent wolf tracks.

Whites Loop with the Family

Once over the divide it was a quick ride down to our next stop, Cache Mountain cabin. I had one over the bars crash right in front of Lizzy which she found endlessly funny.


The next morning we headed to our final cabin for the trip, Moose Creek cabin. I was a bit worried the trail would go downhill, but it stayed nice. The twins were troopers, riding up all the hills, including pushing up one really steep and rock hard hill that I almost couldn’t get my bike up.

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

Molly’s rear break did explode all over the trail at one point, but we were able to get it back into some assemblance of working. Apparently her pannier hand been banging on it all year, and eventually the outer park of her disk brake broke and shot off powered by the return spring.

Moose Creek cabin had a deck of Uno cards, and many, many games of Uno were played.

sleeping shiloh

Photo taken by Molly

The final day went by fast. It was much warmer, in the mid 20s which felt so balmy! Everyone in the family had done this last 17 miles of trail several times at least, and were well aware of the climbs and zooming fast downhills.

Whites Loop with the Family Whites Loop with the Family

Eddy caught doing a 180 to checkout a sniff. He did it so fast it looked like his nose had been glued to the ground yanking his body around..

Whites Loop with the Family

A happy family, almost out..

When we finally made it out I was happy the trip went so well, but sad it was done. I had been very worried the trail would be a mess with lots of walking, but everyone had a blast. The twins had enough biking base they were not super tired at the end of the days, but tired enough they didn’t get bored – perfect! 🙂 Nancy enjoyed doing the loop outside a race context, and I had fun spending time with the family. Eddy the dog just enjoyed being out, though he has all the cabins memorized at this point, as he had been around the loop three times this year, but I think enjoyed the slower pace, with more time to sniff things. Shiloh the dog I think thought the days should have been shorter, maybe eight to ten miles, with lots more stops to pee on things, and more snacks.

Sinbad the cat was very happy to see us on our return, even giving the dogs a few sniffs to say high, but probably thought our trip was way too long and had way too much time away from the cat who was surely going to expire from lack of attention! (Sinbad did have several caretakers who spend several hours with her, so she was not completely deprived.)

I do feel so lucky to have the White Mountain NRA – the trail and cabin system is top notch, and is one of the highlights of life in Fairbanks.

Yay for winter!

Editors Note: This post was edited and all the wrong details were corrected by the super amazing and very superb Molly!

Good think you have me to fix all your mistakes!” – Molly

2022 WM100

Tuesday, March 29th, 2022

As sort of a last minute thing I signed up for the White Mountains 100 last fall, in a last minute panic that another winter would go by and I wouldn’t do anything “fun”. I ended up being on the waitlist, and promptly forgot about it. Fast forward several months, and a few weeks out Stacy the organizer told me I was in, just as I got back from the Iditarod Trail Invitational. My motivation was a bit lacking, but I said yes, and thus found myself at the starting line at a wonderful 8am morning. I went out as hard as I could, and stayed riding as hard as I could. It was much hotter than I expected, and I was overheating right out of the start, and missed my tire pressure by a lot. When I finally stopped to put more air in just after the first checkpoint I put in 30 pumps, and it was noticeably faster. Duh! 45 ish miles in I tapered it back as my legs and body started objecting loudly. By Borealis I was pretty toast, and was having a hard time eating, and went pretty darn slow for the last 20 miles. Such is life. It was fun though, the second most fun I have ever had in this race (the first being 2019 when I rode it with my wife Nancy). I didn’t do as well as I would have liked, though better than I deserve for not getting in much high intensity riding this winter.

The weather was fantastic!

2022 WM100
2022 WM100

I didn’t plan my food very well, and ended up having trouble eating after the first 50 miles, but such is life. I had a blast though.

A few miles out from the finish I saw Tyson F riding towards me, and I stopped and congratulated him on his win. He said something about riding around the loop again, and I thought he was joking. It turned out he was serous, and he did another lap, finishing before the cut off. Wow!

When I finished I checked in with the headquarters to see how everything is working, as I provided the laptop, and a few other computer items for them, but alas, apparently I suck at it as I gave them the wrong charger cord and they had to round up another computer. Duh! Next year I will have to be a bit more organized about it I guess, I felt pretty bad to have messed that up. Fortunately they found something that worked out so it wasn’t the end of the world, but I should have screwed that up!

A huge thank you to everyone who makes this race happen, as always it is the most fun 100 mile snow race out there!

Photos:

Strava:

White Mountains Loop..

Wednesday, January 26th, 2022

Social media media reminded me that I normally ride around the White Mountains NRA’s main “loop”, which is a great 100 mile loop though most of the interesting parts in early January, and inspired, I booked a cabin trip. Then snow came (and lots of it!) and slowly the trails improved.. then more snow. So I moved the trip, and finally, with news that the far part of the loop was in, and with a forecast warm weather into the teens it was on.


The Whites are a special place for me..

The first day Eddy the dog and I (Shiloh the dog stayed home, as he isn’t into long days, the Twins had school, and Nancy had work and nicely took over parenting duties) rode to Cache Mountain Cabin.

It was beautiful, but cold – near zero Fahrenheit up high..

Looking back towards Moose Creek White Loop 2022 Sunset White Loop 2022

It was much colder down low, and when Eddy and I crossed Beaver Creek it was surprisingly cold. Cold enough my face felt numb in the still air. When we arrived at the cabin it felt a fair bit warmer, and it was -20f. The evening in Cache Mt cabin was spent relaxing and enjoying the evening, warmed by the huge stockpile of wood the “wood fairies” (aka previous visitors) had left us.
I was a bit saddened to see a big dent burned into the wall of the cabin – it looked like someone had hung a lantern on the wall of the cabin, and it at set fire the wall, burning a sizable dent in it. Sad..

Untitled

The next day Eddy and I rode over the divide to Windy Gap Cabin. I was hoping for a good trail, but was prepared to walk the whole way. Fortunately the trail was great! Alas, it was overcast with lightly falling snow so not very scenic, and I didn’t take a lot of photos.. The ride up to the pass was warm, and soon after leaving the cabin it warmed up to well into the teens, which was great. I was so warm I took off a bunch of layers as a rode up to the top, following the tracks of a large wolverine (no photos alas) most of the way to the top.

PXL_20220121_214134028

The ice lakes were mellow, with very little water..

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I did find a dog bootie on the ice lakes with “fulda” written all over it. Later I put it on Eddy, joking it was his “Euro clubbing wear” with some folks we passed. It turns out it is a classic, from the 1997 Yukon Quest dog race! Amazing it is still around..

I have been bringing a small large mouth vacuum insulated container for lunches, and that has been rocking – it is so nice to have a hot lunch quickly while riding..

Lunch

It was much colder on other side of pass (or divide as folks like to call it), and I nearly froze my butt off until I stopped and added layers.

Shortly after the ice lakes the trail got a lot softer with no traffic since the last snowfall, and while it was still ridable, it was slow and high resistance.

PXL_20220121_235257357._2



Some bike selfies..

White Loop 2022 White Loop 2022

The wood fairies were out in force again, and I was happy to see a huge amount of wood at Windy Gap cabin. Yay!!

The evening was spend warm and mellow, listening to the wind howl outside.

Late in the evening a big dog team arrived with a snowmachine and a huge sled that made a wonderful looking trail. They were heading to wolf run cabin and were a bit lost, we chatted for a bit, then they were off. The next day we headed out to complete the loop, excited by a much warmer and calmer day.
The trails were busy on the way out, and I saw lots of people I knew..



Yay for a nice three day trip in the Whites! I returned to town a bit beat, but very enlivened by the trip that was ordinary enough I feel a little silly writing about it. Double yay for fun ordinary adventures!

Cache Mountain

Sunday, December 12th, 2021

I have been slacking a bit, both on writing and having adventures worth writing about. I am theoretically signed up for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, but given the covid crisis it isn’t clear to me it isn’t going to be an out and back again… not super exciting. Otherwise, I don’t really have much planned this winter, and that is making getting into shape and staying motivated hard… Fortunately winter is fun and the dogs and I found myself heading out to Cache Mountain Cabin in the Whites Mountains NRA with a winter weather advisory and a forecast of 2 to 5 inches of snow. I packed enough food to push my bike out (and back!) to the cabin, but fortunately the trail was mostly in great shape. Eddy and Shiloh had a blast, though Eddy had to be on harness for about half the ride in and all of the ride out due to all the caribou and his driving need to chase them.

Cache Mt trip, winter 2021

Cache Mt trip, winter 2021

Eddy, with his head in the snow as always..





I had left my good lens at home as I didn’t expect to see anything worth taking photos – go figure, as it turned out there were caribou everywhere. They were all over the trail, and just before the cabin I almost ran over two sleeping in the trail.

Cache Mt trip, winter 2021

Cache Mt trip, winter 2021

The trail was in pretty good shape given the low snow conditions. The first 8 miles to the junction were in fantastic shape, after that the the trail had just enough traffic to Beaver creek to be ridable with lowish pressure, where most of the traffic apparently turned around and the trail had several inches of light fluffy snow on it. Beaver creek had a bit of overflow, but I escaped without wet feet and only a slightly icy bike.

Cache Mt trip, winter 2021
Cache Mt trip, winter 2021

After a bit more overflow in the trees past the creek, I climbed up into a big open tussock field, where I lost the trail, eventually just giving up and pushed until the trail entered the trees and was easier to locate.

Cache Mt trip, winter 2021 Cache Mt trip, winter 2021

After the tussock field of doom, I followed a wonderful section of caribou groomed singled track to the cabin – several miles of nice packed narrow trail – yay!

Cache Mt trip, winter 2021

(Sorry for the bad photo, the light was going..)

The evening in the cabin was relaxing, and in the morning two snow machines passed by taking away the nice caribou single track, but making the rest of the trail a lot nicer. The ride out was great, though fewer bou and more bou hunters. A few miles before we reached the trail head we ran into Ed(dy)’s old owner, Jodi of Dew Claw kennel, who was out on a training run, and stopped briefly for quick chat.

Cache Mt trip, winter 2021

The drive back I enjoyed a nice post adventure glow, much happier with winter while the dogs snuggled. Yay for winter!

Cache Mt trip, winter 2021

Whites Loop

Tuesday, January 19th, 2021

Photos from biking the White Mountains 100 course as a two night overnight trip. The trail was great, with warm weather and mostly great trails.

One item of note – few miles below Windy Gap there is a new reroute, with a good 400ft+ climb instead of a gentle downhill grade, but on the upside, no ice or overflow.

Whites Loop

Eagle to Central on the Yukon Quest trail

Wednesday, February 19th, 2020

In 2018 a friend and I biked from the Fairbanks area (Chena Hotsprings) to Eagle.  It was a great trip, with mostly really nice trails but cold weather. I had plans in 2019 to bike most of the full route, but alas family stuff intervened – my wife Nancy snapped her achilles while at a trampoline park.  Ouch! Note to everyone – trampoline parks are not for the 40+ crowd! This year I had hopes of biking some part of the route, but I was having trouble finding anyone interested. Fortunately JosĂ© Bermudez got in touch and was ok with me joining him for the first part of his Eagle to Kivalina (a small village north of Kotzebue) Trans-Alaska trip.  

Our trip got a bit of a rough start.  We were scheduled for a 9:00 am flight, and after some weather delays we arrived at 4pm in Eagle to 4”- ish of fresh snow with more still coming down.. And it was -20F.   To folks not from interior Alaska, it is hard for the air to contain enough moisture to make snow at sub zero temps, so it is somewhat rare to see that much snow at these temps.  So rare that another passagager assured us the forecast was wrong, as it couldn’t snow at -20F. Sigh.

The next day we set out.  We were staying at the Eagle store and hotel, and I had bought several pounds of additional food after an old timer who runs the Clinton Creek checkpoint on the quest told us we were too early and were not going to make it.   Making my 80lb bike a 82lb bike. So heavy! 

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central /center>

 The riding was slow for the first few hours until we were passed by two National Park Service rangers heading to Slaven’s roadhouse, a historic roadhouse 100 miles from Eagle. 

Eagle to Central

Eagle to Central

Eagle to Central

The ranger’s packed trail was much faster, but alas our plans of making it 50 miles in to stay with some friends were not going to happen without a long day, so we ended up at another family’s place just off the river.  They are famous with the Yukon Quest mushers as the “Brownie Stop” as they leave homemade brownies out for the mushers. 

Eagle to Central

They put us up for the night, providing us with a fantastic dinner, and I drifted off to sleep the sound of their sled dogs howling.   In the morning we headed out, finding the trail much faster, and made it to our original destination in the early afternoon.

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central


We spent the afternoon chatting with Tim and Tova, and ended up spending the night, having talked most of the afternoon and early evening away in spite of our plans to just “stop in to say hi”.  In the morning we pressed on to Kandik cabin.

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central


So far the temperatures hadn’t been truly “cold” but had been between -20F and the mid -30Fs – cold but not epic cold.  JosĂ© hadn’t had a lot of experience riding at these temps and was getting a crash course. Fortunately he adapted, dealing with the layering, hydration hose, and tire pressures issues fairly well.  Kandik cabin is a very cool spot and a neat cabin, but alas, not very windproof, so at these temperatures with a breeze it was hard to keep it warm. In the morning we hit the trail to the coldest weather of the trip, near -40F, enjoying fairly firm trail to Slaven’s.  

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central

Slaven’s was filled with NPS volunteers setting up for the dog race so we quickly moved to the much quieter public use cabin nearby.  We had arrived pretty early, so we planned to leave in the early am hours as the trail breakers were supposed to be in that evening late.  Fortunately they showed up in the early evening. Unfortunately we got to talking and our early am departure turned into a late morning one.  Socialization – it will be the end of us all! 

The trail breakers told us that from the Smith’s (aka the 40 mile cabin since it is 40 miles from Circle) to Slaven’s there was a ground blizzard with near zero visibility.   Leaving Slaven’s the trail was ridable but soft… but soon we were in the ground blizzard and big sastrugi (wind-driven snow ridges) meant we were walking our bikes.

Eagle to Central Eagle to Central Eagle to Central

Fortunately it wasn’t that bad, but we did end up walking most of the way to Smith’s cabin.  After warming up the cabin we watched from comfort as the leaders passed by, then hit the sack with plans to leave around 3am. For once we were not distracted, and made it on the trail at 3am. The trail was firm and fast from all those little dog feet pounding it down and we zoomed towards Circle.  It was clear the trail had been quite windblown, and in one section there was a bit of a yard sale and I picked up a gopro camera as well as several mittens. On the way to Circle we passed five teams. 

 Alas, the lead dog of the the first musher we encountered, “Ranger”, freaked out and caused a big tangle.  I had been really worried about this. Everyone with the Quest kept assuring me that it would be fine to have us out there, but I was really worried about annoying the mushers and causing an issue.  I had insisted we be off the trail when the leaders passed by so we didn’t damage anyone’s chances on the pointy end of the race. The rest of the mushers went by without issues, though later I was to learn that most of them didn’t really know what we were.  Apparently at the next checkpoint they had a laugh as they discussed who they thought we were. One thought we were another team they passed, another a moose.. Because of course moose have headlamps. 

We chatted a bit with the last musher, Dave Dalton. He was a bit sleep-deprived, and was just standing on his runners  as his dogs rested.

Our conversation went somewhat like this: 

Dave: “I think they are breaking trail.”

Me, after looking down at the rock hard trail, “I am not sure, it looks great to me.” 

Dave: “They are breaking trail.  It sure doesn’t look like 12 teams are ahead of me.  I think I am going to let them keep breaking trail and give them a bit more time. ”

Me:  “ Looks good to me – you should get going.”  While thinking of course it doesn’t look like 12 teams are ahead of you, the next one is a half hour ahead of you, and half of them are almost 12 hours ahead of you! 


The remainder of the ride into Circle was a bit boring, but fast.   The trail was routed more on the river this year, so I got to see a few big cliffs and bluffs rather than swamp, which was nice.   We arrived in Circle just as they were closing up the Circle checkpoint in the firehall. Circle is a very small community, and their firehall is appropriately small –  it fits one very tiny fire truck with enough room for another pickup. JosĂ© I think was hoping we would hang out here longer but I was in a hurry to get to Central, take a shower, and have a burger.   The 34 miles from Circle to Central were on a dirt road, and were uneventful but hilly. At Central my burger need was fulfilled, but my dreams of a shower were dashed. Also, our path forward looked unclear, as the highway was closed due to high winds and drifting snow.  In the morning I after asking around about trail conditions and being told it was unlikely the trail was still in I called it quits. I hitched a ride back to town with the Quest cleanup crew heading back with a load of port-a-potties. “Classy.” as one musher put it. JosĂ© rode on to Fairbanks on the highway and eventually the local trails and arrived three days later.  After a bit of recovery and recouping he headed out again. Unfortunately his trip ended two days after leaving Fairbanks. Hopefully he will be back next year to complete his route.

This trip was very fun, but a bit slower than I expected.  The trail was mostly ok; it looks like we averaged about 5mph for most of the trip, which isn’t bad, all things considered.  It wasn’t as cold as last time, but it was definitely not warm. We saw lows near between -30F and -40F, with highs of -20F most days.  Watching JosĂ© adjust to riding in the cold was a reminder about how steep the learning curve is, and how much I take for granted the skills I have picked up over the years that let me be comfortable at those temperatures.  Not that I am perfectly comfortable at those temps – I have yet to figure out how to not get the neck of my jacket wet and frozen after 8 hours sub -20F temperatures for example. However, I am mostly pretty comfortable. JosĂ© seemed to pick up the skills and adjusted pretty quickly, and after the first two days seemed to be doing fine.  

This is a hard trip – it is remote, it is cold, the logistics are somewhat challenging, and there isn’t a good way to bail out between Eagle and Circle. 

A big thanks to JosĂ© for the company!