Posts Tagged ‘snow biking’

ITI – 2016 Part 1, This time to Nome!

Monday, April 4th, 2016

A bit of a warning – this post is on the long side.. 

As the sun set halfway between Ophir and the Carson Crossing Cabin,  I — for the second time in the last couple of hours — heard voices..  I thought for sure I could hear people talking.

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Me: “Kyle, can you hear some voices talking?”

Kyle:  “Ah, no, I don’t hear any voices…”
This was followed by a pretty skeptical look from Kyle.  Clearly my sanity was in question.

I stopped for a moment, and in a moment of silence, I discovered the voices were coming from my pocket.  My audio book player was on.

“Ahh, I nevermind, I think I found them..”

Nome..  After my second bike ride to McGrath on the Iditarod Trail among some of the racers who continued on from Mcgrath, I started thinking about going all the way to Nome.  

The Iditarod Trail Invitational is a race on foot, bike, or skis from Knik to Mcgrath in its shorter 300 mile version, or Nome, on the Iditarod Trail.

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Initially the full race to Nome seemed so far out of reach — too far, too hard — but I figured it would be fun to try, and if I didn’t make, no big deal.  I had thought Nancy wouldn’t be excited about me being away from the family for 20+ days, but after sounding her out I was surprised — and excited! — to get the OK from her.  So, I started planning in earnest.  Thinking about going to Nome was pretty scary, with so many unknowns: lots of new trail, new areas, wind, cold, the remoteness of the Ophir to Ruby section, working out the logistics for resupplying with food, etc.   Lots of things outside my control, and so many things to worry about.  The race to Mcgrath is pretty simple by comparison — you just need to pack up your bike, send out two drop bags, and you’re good to go.

As usual the race started in the early afternoon at Knik Lake.  My brother John lives in Wasilla, which is a 20 minute drive from the race start, so he dropped me off at the start.  The start was a bit of a madhouse, with lots of people.  Eventually everyone lined up, and we were off.  Knik Lake was snow-free, with a tiny bit of water on it, so the the first quarter mile was icy and slippery, but soon we were off onto the trail, which was a mix of slush, water, mud, and ice.  After a few minutes I looked down and noticed my drivetrain was all muddy — just thing I wanted to see on the start of a 1000 mile ride.    The next few hours sped by.  I ended up mostly riding with a friend from Fairbanks, Morris, to Flathorn Lake, where he zoomed off, and it briefly rained on me.

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The rain had me pretty worried.  It was just a few hours into a several-week-long race, and I didn’t want to start things off by getting soaked.  I briefly stopped to take my pogies off, but as I took them off the rain stopped, so I put them back on and kept riding.    Otherwise, the ride to the first two checkpoints was uneventful, but very fast, as there was only a little snow on the river, and lots of bare ice.  After a bite to eat at Skwentna, Morris, Bob O from Anchorage, and two folks from Minnesota, Frenchie (Alan), and Ken, headed on to Shell Lake lodge to get some sleep.

We arrived sometime after midnight, and I was surprised to see the lodge was still open — hurrah!  We snagged one of their cabins, and after getting a shot of Jack Daniels from the bar, I hit the sack.  The cabin was a bit hot, but that dried off my pogies and the rest of my gear.  The ride from Shell to Finger was fairly fast, and after a stop at the Finger Lake checkpoint, Morris and I continued on to Puntilla.  A few miles down the trail we were passed by some snowmachines, and the the riding got a bit slower, as they churned up the snow and it was slow to set up in the near-freezing temperatures.

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Ken, Bob, and Frenchie quickly caught up, and I ended up riding with them to Puntilla, over Rainy Pass, and to Rohn.   The ride (and walk) up to Rainy Pass was a bit slow, but nothing epic.

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The Happy River was open were the trail crossed it before heading up into Rainy, so I got to use my Wiggies Waders for the first time in the ITI —  hurrah!

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I got to use them once more heading down the pass, then they stayed packed up for the rest of the race.

This was the first time I got to travel Rainy Pass in the daylight, and I enjoyed the views of Denzel Gorge.  

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The trail after Rainy Pass was fantastic, and we zoomed down to Rohn, where Frenchie, Morris, and I continued on to Nikolai.  The trail was in great shape, and the riding was very fast.

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I had forgotten how many hills there are in the first 30ish miles outside of Rohn — lots and lots of little hills.

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I was having a very hard time keeping up with my two riding partners, and eventually they zoomed off, and I caught up to them in Nikolai.  Nikolai is always a great place — Nick, Olene and Stephanie are always welcoming and are wonderful folks.  I really needed more sleep at this point,  and since it was quiet there and I wasn’t that concerned about my time into Mcgrath, I crashed for 6 or so hours, while the the other guys took off after a few hours of sleep.

The ride to Mcgrath was uneventful and fun, with firm and fast trail conditions.  I arrived in Mcgrath in late afternoon, and I was soon helping myself to the endless buffet of food and happiness that is Peter and Tracy’s house in McGrath.   I was able to wash my clothing, get some sleep (almost 10 hours!), and load up my bike with stuff for the next section.  I am afraid I sort of stumbled around like a mad person in a bit of a daze while I was in McGrath.  Hopefully I didn’t offend anyone.

I had been dreading the ride to Mcgrath, worried I was going to end up in a pack of people, with crowded checkpoints and general hubbub and madness, but it was actually very fun and enjoyable.  I could have gotten a bit more sleep, but it was fine. I really enjoyed traveling with Ken, Frenchie, Morris, and Bob on the way to Mcrath – thanks guys, it was great sharing the trail with you!

The next morning I headed out with Kyle Amstadter.   I had never met Kyle before, but I had emailed back and forth a bit with him before the race.  It was fantastic to meet him in person, and I was to ride rest of the way to Nome with him and Bill, who joined us later.  Kyle and Bill are fantastic guys, and wonderful companions on the trail.

I was pretty excited about the next section of trail — it was going to be all new to me, and from my point of view, where the “real” adventure started.  The ride to Ophir was mostly uneventful.

As I biked into Takotna, the first community we passed through after Mcgrath, I was greeted by a huge dog, who was tall enough to stick his nose into my pogies while standing on the ground.   I  was a bit startled, as it was a “big dog”, but I guess they were starting to smell a bit funky at this point, and he was very friendly.

After Takotna we made way to the next place on the map, Ophir, which is an old mining community.  The trail between Takotna and Ophir seemed to be an old road, complete with well aged AKDOT road signs.

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In the early afternoon we reached Opher, where  Iditarod dog race folks who man the checkpoint were outside building some new outhouses.  They waved us in, and gave us hot water and coffee, and we talked for a bit.  It was an awesome unexpected bit of welcome, they were very nice, and I enjoyed talking to them and petting their cute dogs.

After leaving Ophir we were were joined by Bill F, who rode with us to Carlson Crossing cabin, where we spent the night.

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Carlson Crossing cabin is a neat cabin, but while it had a fancy Honda generator and was wired for lights, it didn’t have a saw.  Fortunately Bill found wood and after some use of a pulaski he found lying near the cabin, it was broken up, and he had the place warmed up in no time.  Just before we hit the sack Bob arrived.   In the morning Kyle, Bill and I all headed out together, with Bob staying for a bit more sleep.   The trail was fast, but bumpy!   It reminded me of the Fairbanks area, winding through swamps and black spruce forests.  

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Early in the day we found our last set of drop bags piled up on the side of the trail.   A this point there was only one racer ahead of us, Phil, and we had been following his tracks since leaving McGrath.   Phil had apparently biked right by the drop bags — apparently he was in a hurry!   (Later I learned he had been ahead of the plane that dropped the bags off, and they were dropped off after he passed through. )

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After a hot lunch and restocking bikes, we headed off, with plans to bivy near Poorman.  Bill zoomed off ,planning on scouting a “good spot”, and  Kyle and I eventually caught up with him after Poorman around midnight, and bivied outside along the trail, in a small stand of little spruce trees.

In the morning we rode on to Ruby.  The last section into Ruby is on an old mining road, and was surprisingly hilly.  I have flown over this area, and was expecting hills, but was pretty amazed by how many of them were were — lots and lots of little 500ft climbs and descents.

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Eventually we arrived at Ruby, and we spent the night at the River Edge BB — fantastic folks!  They had apparently just got back into town, and were a bit surprised to see us, but didn’t seem to mind too much.

In the morning, just before we departed, Bob showed up.  He had apparently arrived in Ruby in the middle of the night, and after a quick spin through town and didn’t finding anyone awake, so he made a little fort of the straw bales at the Iditarod dog race checkpoint and bivied there, which sounded pretty awesome.

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Next up, Part 2!

ITI – 2015

Sunday, March 15th, 2015

I have really enjoyed my last 3 attempts at the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a race along the Iditarod Trail from Knik, to McGrath or Nome. Even my first attempt, which ended well short of the finish, was still fun in its own way. Every year I have learned something new about myself..

An apology for this being so long.. feel free to just skim and look at the photos!

This year was a bit different, as the dog sled race was planned to start in Fairbanks rather than Anchorage due to conditions in Rainy Pass and on the Burn. This brought a lot of uncertainty to the race, as no one knew quite what to expect in regards to trail conditions, and we didn’t have the “fall back” plan of waiting for the Iditarod Trail breakers to come clear a path if it snowed a lot or some other calamity took place. The tales from the Iron dog racers of lots of overflow and open water also gave me cause to worry. I ended up packing Wiggy’s waders and full rain gear into my kit before driving down to Anchorage for the pre-race party. The party was held at Speedway Cycles, and as always, was a fun affair. I cut out early partly to go hang out with my brother John, but mostly because I was all peopled out – too many people! The next day I spent getting some final race prep done (mainly buying food) and packing my bike up. The pre-race meeting was a neat affair, and it was great to see that there was a full posse of folks from Fairbanks – Heather B, Jeff O, Andrea D, Kevin B, and Morris P. After the meeting I headed back up to my hotel room to do final packing, then made a panicked trip to Freds and REI to pick up a couple of items that I forget, where I ran into Steve W and Aaron F, who I then gave a ride over to Eric Parson’s shop . We (mostly Steve) then chatted with Eric about bikes and gear for a while, before heading back to the hotel. It was very nice to finally meet Eric! Eventually I got everything packed, then hit the stack early after stuffing myself with Bear Tooth pizza, yum, yum!

Race day morning Andrea D and I shuttled cars to the airport to wait for our return, then trundled our bikes down to the lobby to get loaded into the box vans and to hop onto a bus to the race start. The bus ride was uneventful, and I was very glad not to be driving on the slippery roads. I did meet Erik, who is married to a high school friend of my wife. Small world…

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(Erik, swapping out is non-studded front tire – very good call!)

Eventually the race start of 2pm drew near, and someone pointed out my rear derailleur hanger was bent (I seem to be cursed with derailleur hanger issues!!), causing some last minute panicking as I attempted to straighten it. I got it mostly working just before the start was called, and we were off! As usual, the leaders took off like rockets, and I followed along in their wake.

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Almost everyone seemed to take the standard route over to the road and then followed the road over to the gas line and then on to Flathorn Lake and beyond. Almost everyone that is, besides Jeff O, who was waiting conspicuously near the turn off for the “no road” option that the walkers and some of the bikers take as the slower folks like myself came by. Later I was to hear he took a “no road” option, which which is about the same length, but has hills in it, and took a fair bit longer.

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We zoomed along, and I was dropped by the leaders on the first hill, and I made no attempt to keep up with them – it is a long race, and it is no use wearing myself out in the first hours of it trying to keep up with folks much faster than myself.

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(Spectator Will Ross, who would place first in the Fat Bike Nationals two weeks later)

I made my way over to the gas line, over to Flathorn lake, and on to the Susitna River.

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The trail was very fast and super firm, and I made good time. There was a little ice, and a short section of overflow on the Dismal Swamp. The Susitna River was a strange place – it had a fairly firm crust on top of the snow, and most of the snowmachine tracks looked like they were filled with re-frozen overflow. It made for fast riding, though it was a bit confusing, as I ended going up a side channel of the Yentna, coming out on the wrong side of the main river, and had to cross over to the east side where most of the traffic was to get on the main trail.

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Soon I was at Yentna Station, much faster than I anticipated, and even before dark! I had some food, then took off with Erik a bit behind me. A bit before Skwentna Pavel R caught up with me, and we headed into Skwentna together. We arrived at about 9:40pm, amazingly fast! I had some food, talked a bit, and after some discussion, Pavel and I tried to get a room at Shell Lake Lodge, which is half way between checkpoints. Alas, the proprietor (Zoey) had already gone to bed and wasn’t answering the phone, but we got the impression that there was a double cabin with one side open, and Pavel and I took off, looking forward to a nice quiet nap at Shell Lake. The trail to Shell was super fast, and we arrived at Shell Lake in good time. One side of the cabin appeared to be free and heated, and figuring that on one else was going to use it, Pavel and I moved in and crashed for the night, leaving payment on the desk inside. I got a nice 4 hours of sleep, which was awesome, then packed up and headed out. Pavel was still snoozing when I left, enjoying a bit more sleep.

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The ride to Finger Lake was fast, and after stopping to have a burrito and to reload my bike with snacks I headed out again. Just as I was leaving, some of the staff of the lodge started talking about Rocky Reifenstuhl and his involvement in helping one of the clients in a failed White Mountains guiding trip.  It is funny the world is so small. I remember being in the whites that weekend, and in the morning looking down from Caribou Bluff cabin to see a military rescue helicopter flying low to the ground obviously searching for someone. The legend of Rocky lives on!

I have mixed feelings about the trail between Finger Lake and Puntilla Lake.

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I really enjoy the fact we are finally leaving the flat swamp land and heading into the mountains, and getting into some wonderful views, however, I don’t really like all the climbing. The trail seems to have lots of ups and downs, and it always seems to take forever. The Happy River steps, a iconic section of trail, was in good shape, though there was a really steep dirt ramp on the way down to the river at one point, and a short but nearly vertical dirt ramp up off the river. Fortunately the river was well frozen and nice and firm. Eventually I arrived at Puntilla Lake, and headed into the cabin the race rents there. I was a bit worried about the pass, and was mentally preparing myself for 2 days of pushing, but when I arrived Jeff and Heather were about to set out, and I was told that the leaders made it over the pass in 7 hours. Well, no pushing then, and alas, no chance to see in the pass in daylight. This would be my third time over the pass, and I have never been over it in daylight, alas! I grabbed two cans of soup, and lay down for a bit and got a tiny bit of sleep before more racers arrived, led by the ever cheerful Joe Stiller. Taking this as a sign I should get moving, I packed up and (slowly!) got on my way. It was still daylight when I headed out, but by the time I made it to the hills above Puntilla it was dark, and I slowly made my way up the pass. It was mostly rid-able and for Rainy Pass, quite fast. I could see faint flashes of light from someone ahead, that initially I thought was just my imagination, but eventually I could see the headlamp clearly. Pavel caught up with me just before Pass Creek, continuing the trend of him leaving the checkpoints well after me and catching up in a shockingly fast time. The trail from Puntilla to Rainy Pass is a bit deceptive – there is a long 14 mile lead up to the mouth of the pass, then a fairly short 3 mile (ish) climb up to the top of the pass. The climb up the pass was fast, and just before the pass we caught up with Tony L who was looking a bit hammered. We made our way up and over the pass, then headed down.

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The ride down the pass was fun but a bit slower than it could have been. Just before Dalzell Gorge the trail split several ways. I took the main one, and it led right to a large green cabin, with a snowmachine parked outside, and smoke drifting out of the chimney. It definitely wasn’t Rohn, so we turned around and headed back to find the correct trail. Later I was to learn that this cabin was put in for the Iditarod trail breakers and some folks who run guided summer hunting trips. The rest of the ride down the pass was uneventful. Dalzell Creek was a mess of marginal looking ice bridges and chunky refrozen ice but I didn’t fall in the creek so all is well. When we finally made it on onto the Tatina River, we enjoyed a brisk tailwind, pushing us down to Rohn at a good clip. Rohn was a welcome sight, and I was welcomed by Arron(I think?) and handed two brats, and a can of soup. Yay! Jeff and Heather were crashed out in the wall tent, so I joined them, as did Pavel. I set my alarm for 4 hours, and dozed off.. I mostly slept well, and woke up refreshed and ready to go. I had a bowl of oatmeal, a huge cup of coffee, and packed up. Tony said he would be leaving shortly, so I waited for him to pack up while chatting with OE and Bill M. Eventually Tony was ready to go, and we took off. Tony was dragging a bit, and I soon left him behind, as the riding was fantastic! The trail though the burn had received some work and was in great shape – smooth and fast. How long it is going to stay that way seems open to question – it looked like someone just scraped or ground up the tussocks, leaving fine dry dirt exposed. It looked to me like it was one rain storm away from lots of ruts, but who am I.

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The improvements also included a straight shot re-route across the Post River Glacier, a section of sloping off-ice.

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The riding was fast, and almost snow free.

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Between one of the lake sections I ran into a party of bison hunters camped near the trail, where I was offered a Miller Light. I passed on the beer, though I did stop to chat a bit.

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They said the tussocks were about to get bad, and for the next 20 miles it was a mix of fast smooth riding and tussocks.

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After I passed the Bear Creek cabin turnoff, the tussocks got a bit worse – it was never unrideable, but it wasn’t all that fast.

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The trail passes over a handful of lakes, which were all blown free of snow. The ice was so clear you could see the bottom in a few of them – some with rocky bottoms, some with silty.. The lakes were also a welcome break from the bouncy tussocks!

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The weather was fantastic – nearly no wind, and my thermometer was now saying it was in the mid 40s…it was tee shirt weather!

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The tussocks seemed to be making things hard for the folks ahead of me as well, as I started seeing things on the trail – an apple shuffle, a bag of usb cables, a headlamp, a flashlight, a Tyvek tarp among other items. I stopped and picked up most of them. I did find a can of Hormel canned corn beef, which I stopped to look at, but left – I couldn’t imagine wanting to eat that cold, right from the can, yuck! Tastes must vary though, as the indomitable Joe Stiller mentioned later he stopped and would have eaten it if he could have figured out how to open the can.

About midday I ran into Eric Parson’s group who are touring from McGrath to Anchorage. They seemed like they were having a great time.

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I chatted a bit with the first biker, Luc Mehl and the last one in the line, Eric. I was envious of their mellow pace. I tried to convince Luc to bike up Egypt Mountain, but he wasn’t biting. If I ever tour this route, I really want to hike up Egypt Mountain, I think the views from on top would be fantastic, and it is such an iconic place.. Eventually they took off and it was back to racing… though I kicked myself for not hitting Luc up about the summer wilderness classic to see if he knew of anyone looking for a race partner. The rest of the ride into Nikolai went by fast.

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I arrived at the Petruska’s, happy to take a break and have a short lie down. I am always happy to reach the Petruskas – it means I am almost done, and they are amazingly nice folks, opening up their home to all us somewhat crazed racers. I had some pasta, then crashed on a bed in their back room for a bit, before I was awoken by Joe Stiller coming in, bouncing with happiness. Soon, Pavel and Tony arrived, and I got up to have more pasta before setting out on the final stretch to Mcgrath. The final stretch to McGrath I did mostly in the dark, and I normally don’t really enjoy it, as it feels just like riding at home, except I am all sleep deprived, but this time I had a blast and really enjoyed it. I turned on my music player, and after several hours, dug out the ipod shuffle I found on the trail, excited to listen to some new to me music. Alas, the stuff on the ipod was not really my taste, and after 3 or so songs put it back away and switched back to my own (admittedly terrible) music. At about 5am I rolled into McGrath, super happy to have arrived. Peter and Tracy’s house was quiet, but Heather did get up to say hi and welcome me in. There was food out, and I was soon sitting down, gobbling down delicious food. Peter and Tracy open up their house, and provide a magic bubble of happiness with never ending supply of good food – the best way to finish a race. There was a ransacked box of racer snacks sitting on the floor, with half a bottle of fireball schnapps, which I enjoyed several large shots from, before taking a snooze on the floor. Eventually everyone got up and started moving around, and soon Tony, Joe, and Pavel rolled in, and I was up eating again and chatting with everyone. The finish in Mcgrath is a strange place, everyone is super friendly and pumped up on a post race high, while I am feeling like I am swimming through a post race flog. Before I knew it I was booked on a midday flight out to Anchorage, and was soon packing things up and heading off to the airport. This round I shipped my bike back to Fairbanks via NAC, which worked fantastic – no worrying about if my bike was going to make the same flight back as me – yay! I arrived in Anchorage, had more to eat, then crashed at a hotel, before driving back to Fairbanks the following day, and making it home in time for dinner.

A huge thank you to Nancy and the twins for allowing me the time away to prepare (train!) and to do the race. I am ever thankful for your understanding.

Best of luck to Jeff O, Phil H, Phil H, Beat J, and all the other folks headed to Nome or otherwise still out on the trail, may your trails be firm and fast!

A few random notes about the race…

  • It was amazingly warm the entire time – I very briefly saw temps in the single digits, but that was only for an hour or so, mostly the temperatures were in the mid teens to mid twenties (my gps claims the average temperature was 28f).  Near Sullivan Creek it was in the upper 40s.  I didn’t wear a hat or mittens for the entire race.   This is obviously quite unusual, and not to be counted on, as it was back to more normal temperatures by the time I was back home in Fairbanks.
  • Mukluks are awesome for snowbiking, but suck for bouncy dirt riding – my toes were killing me from getting smashed around while biking though the tussocks, and for some of the more extended hard riding they were too flexible, and made my feet numb.  It might be time to look at other options..
  • Studded tires are the way to go – I ran a D5 in back, and a D4 up front, and that rocked.
  • I really need to make a plywood hanger protector to keep my hanger from getting bent again if I take the bus.
  • Staying in the hotel with the other racers at the start was fun – lots of the other racers were there (obviously) and it was neat to talk to them.
  • I took a little collapsing bottle with me, that worked great for holding pop, ensure (I started the race with three bottles of ensure in it), coffee, etc in pocket of my jacket.   Some of the runners in the Sluicebox 100 used them.  The basic idea was awesome, however the hard bottom sucked, and it poked me in the ribs occasionally.
  • I need to keep much better track of my stuff – I left my thermos at Finger Lake, and my little collapsing bottle at Nikolai.
  • Food-wise, I ate lots of Honey Stinger gels, shortbread, chips, cookies, bacon jerky, and barbecue pork jerky, and it was all awesome.  I packed starbucks instant coffee in my drops, and it was fantastic to have good coffee at the checkpoints.
  • Brooks saddles – everyone raves about them, but I am not convinced – I am pretty sure the cheap WTB Pure V saddle I have traditionally used is more comfortable.
  • The new (to me anyway) 1×11 setups are great, and a 26 up front is the way to go for me – lots of slow spinning power plus enough gear to go fast when needed.
  • The wider bottom brackets needed for 190 bikes aren’t a problem for me.
  • The spot trackers used by the ITI were great – it gave Nancy an idea where I was and made things more fun to watch.

Strava (yes,yes – lame!) details for me ride can be found here.

A Postscript of sorts – I would also like to thank the race organizers and all the folks involved with the race. This race is truly fun on so many levels, and it wouldn’t be possible without the folks who make it happen – thanks! I would also like to thank Bill and Kathi for not switching to the course the route the dogs are using – biking from Fairbanks to Ruby on the river would be amazingly boring, and to be quite frank, not nearly as much fun!

PS#2 – I shipped my bike from McGrath to Fairbanks using Northern Air Cargo (NAC), and it arrived intact, and it was cheap – all major wins. Alas, they put a tag on my bike, with the weight, and I was shocked/stunned by how heavy it was. I need to start trimming down how much gear I am hauling with me…

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Whites tour..

Friday, January 30th, 2015

Interior Alaska has been having a fantastic winter – fairly warm, with just enough snow for skiing and snow biking. With permission from Nancy to disappear for a weekend, I made plans to bike the White Mountains 100 course, staying at Cache Mountain Cabin and Caribou Bluff. The Monday before the trip I did a long (ish – only 50 miles) out to the start of the climb up to the Cache Mt. divide, and determined the trail was in over the divide, but a bit soft – so, as it looked like we could bike the whole loop, the trip was on! Saturday morning, 5 of us heading out down the trail to Cache Mountain Cabin – Morris, Eric, Tom, David, and I, all on bikes. We were going to be joined by several skiers. The bike ride into Cache Mountain Cabin was fantastic – the trail was mostly in great shape, and everyone zoomed along. It was well above 0F for most of the ride in, which is very unusual for January, and we enjoyed it to the fullest!

David, the wheelie king, enjoying the extra wheelie power of his fully loaded Ice Cream Truck.

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David has been enjoying that bike to the fullest..

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Tom is hoping to write up the trip for a magazine, and there was much stopping for photo ops..

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Morris, who is signed up for this year’s ITI, was on brand new Fatback Corbis, fully loaded with carbon goodies and whatsits galore. I was afraid to touch it lest I get bike envy..

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Mid-January days are short here in Interior Alaska, so it wasn’t too long before the sun was setting… During this season it always seems like the sun is either setting or rising, with nothing in between, as the sun doesn’t really get all that high on the horizon.

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The evening at the cabin was uneventful, but fun and social. David showed everyone up by bringing out some homemade pita pizzas there were quite delicious, though Morris’s burrito from Alaska Coffee Rosters was a close second (he gave me half) – yummy! My dinners for this trip were selected off the sale rack at REI – I grabbed whatever freeze-dried meals they had on sale, and for this night, had AlpineAire’s Beef Nachos, which was more like vaguely Tex-Mex soup. Edible, but not enjoyable… the dangers of eating off the discount rack. I had miscalculated my food needs and packed about twice as much food as I needed.

In the morning Morris and Bob took off back to the parking lot, as they had to work Monday. I learned later Morris missed a turn a few miles from the cabin, and came out a different road, about 60 miles from where his car was parked.

The morning was overcast, and fairly warm, with a light snow falling. The trail from Cache Mt. cabin winds up over Cache Mt. divide, then descends though a treeless pass, over a narrow glaciated valley known as the “Ice Lakes” due to all the overflow, and follows Fossil Creek down past Windy Gap cabin to Caribou Bluff cabin, our destination for the day. The trail was in fairly good shape, though some of us resorted to pushing once the climbing started.

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David tried to ride the whole thing, and with his huge knobby tires, made a pretty good go of it..
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Though it didn’t always work out..
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He did ride almost all the way up the pass though, which was pretty darn amazing – the rest of us walked.

The trail was mostly in great shape, though the creek near the last steep climb was open, though only a inch or so deep. I walked across it, David rode..
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And Erica and Tom went around.
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The trail over the divide is one of the least used trails in the Whites. It looked like the last snowmachine on it had been a few days ago, and it was mostly in pretty good shape, though the side trail Erica and Tom took around the water looked suspiciously like it was from the same machine as we had been following, and it had tracks on the main trail as well. That didn’t bode too well and I started worrying they had just gone to the top and turned around.

Soon we reached the top of the pass..

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And headed down. My fears about the traffic all turning around at the top turned out to be unfounded – the trail was in over the top and well used.

The ride down was fun, but fairly soft. I crashed several times, including one complete endo. Alas, just before the ice lakes, my fears were confirmed – the tracks we were following looped around in a circle and headed back up the pass, leaving us several inches of unbroken snow on the trail. This slowed things down a lot, and it was very hard finding firm trail under the soft snow.

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We reached the ice lakes just before the sun was setting…
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I was really looking forward to the ice lakes, as they should be fairly good riding, and free of snow. The mostly free of snow part was right, the good riding part was optimistic – the ice lakes were soft, punchy and wet.

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I fell over once, but didn’t hurt myself – fortunately, wet punchy ice has pretty good traction. Eventually we made it past the ice lakes, where the trail got soft again. It was hard riding, and much pushing. David, who had the biggest, burliest tires and soft snow riding skills, was able to ride more than the rest of us, and quickly disappeared ahead. I think his feet where getting cold, and he was looking forward to being in the cabin. We pushed onward, expecting the trail to improve at the Windy Creek trail, just before Windy Gap cabin. The 8 miles of pushing took a while, but wasn’t the end of the world. I did briefly pick up Erica’s bike, and had instant bike jealousy – it was so, so light! Erica was alas, hurting – she had whacked her knee somewhere along the way, and was in pain. A few miles before the Windy Creek Trail intersection, I got the okay from Tom and Erica to zoom ahead and to the intersection. I took off, and was surprised to hear what I initially thought was a cow moose grunting, but eventually decided was David somewhere ahead. Eventually I reached David, where he was walking his bike. His hub had blown up, and the freehub was only “freewheeling”. After a bit of talk, we decided to go check out Windy Gap cabin, and see if it was free – if it was, we were going to attempt to warm up the hub, in hopes it was just ice inside, though that seemed unlikely, given it was so warm. The cabin turned out to be occupied, but the four people there were amazing – they took David and me in, and before I knew it I had a plate of delicious pulled pork in my hand, and got to warming up the hub.

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(sorry for the bad photo – my camera doesn’t have a flash, alas)

Eventually, after dousing it was hot water repeatedly, it was deemed a lost cause, as the freewheeling was only getting worse, and now it was making grinding noises too. By this point, Tom and Erica had arrived, and they were also welcomed in, and quickly had food thrust into their hands. Erica iced her knee, and we started discussing what to do about David’s broken bike. Remus and Shiloh, the dogs, had wormed themselves inside at this point and were crashed out on the cabin floor, snoozing. David was all for walking out, pushing the bike, but the cabin tenants, Mike, Maureen, Mike and Lynn, quickly insisted that he stay with them, and get a ride out in the morning. They also offered Erica a ride out, but she declined, saying that we were sure to see them the following morning, so if one of us needed to be hauled out we could hitch a ride then. They had four snowmachines and several large sleds, and insisted that they had enough room to haul several of us out without a problem. Eventually we left the Mikes, Maureen, and Lynn with David, and made our way to Caribou Bluff cabin. It was slightly under a 3 hour ride, with a fair number of stops, and I arrived at around 11pm. I was happy to see the cabin was still warm from the previous tenants, though less happy with the bag of smelly trash they also left. After dinner and snacks, we headed off to bed. My other discount dinner of chipotle chicken with noodles was tasty!

The morning arrived, misty with a trace of snow following.

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Erica’s knee was stiff and sore, but she gamely loaded up her bike and headed out.
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The riding was fast, but Erica was still having trouble with her knee.

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Halfway between Caribou Bluff and Borealis cabins the snowmachine rescue party arrived, and Erica decided to hitch a ride out.

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They loaded up Erica and disappeared off down the trail, Tom and I following after, though much, much slower.

The rest of the ride out was uneventful, but scenic.

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The trail was a bit soft, making for slowish riding..
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Though it was almost entirely ridable.

The sunset was awesome and seemed to last forever..
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Tom and I made it back to town, to texts from Erica saying all was well, though her knee was pretty messed up, and an email from Morris who had gotten lost and had a long trip back via a friend’s car to get back to his vehicle.

As a postscript – David’s hub was completely messed up. The drive ring is cracked and all of the pawls are toast, as well as the freehub body being heavily chewed up.
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(photo shameless stolen from David’s Facebook page – hope he doesn’t mind)

I really don’t understand why aluminum alloy freehub bodies are so popular – in my experience they tend to be fragile and quickly mangled by cassettes. In David’s case, it makes even less sense – his bike is heavy steel framed XXL. Give the size, one assumes it is mostly going to be ridden by large people. Large people are extra hard on freehubs, and are not (or at least shouldn’t) be concerned with the difference a steel vs an alloy freehub body would make. As I write this, David has a hub headed his way from QBP, which is nice of them. Hopefully this will not happen again for him, as it could have been a long, 40 mile walk out. Freehubs seem like such an important part of a bike – when they break you go from riding to walking. It is hard to imagine why bike designers think the small weight tradeoff is worth it.. The hub is a salsa branded hub 190mm hub, and it makes even less sense from that perspective – the only bike in their product line it fits on is the Blackborow, which is bike aimed at exploring, not racing. Hopefully this is just a one-off thing, though I doubt it, given all the trouble some of the larger local riders have had with other salsa hubs.

Anyway, I hope everyone is enjoying a fantastic winter, and getting lots of outside play time!

A huge thank you to Mike, Maureen, Mike and Lynn – you guys saved our butts. It was truly wonderful to be welcomed into Windy Gap cabin by such friendly faces. And that pulled pork – it was the best I have ever had! Nice folks like you guys make Alaska what it is. Thanks for being who you are!

ITI – 2014

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope everyone is enjoying Winter!

4 hours of sunshine..

Saturday, December 13th, 2014

Winter is here in the interior, and we are now down to around 4 hours of daylight (give or take a bit). Those four hours of daylight can be pretty wonderful though..

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On a warm and windy Sunday David P and I headed out to enjoy an overnighter at Borealis Cabin in the White Mountains NRA.

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David enjoyed his new bike, a Ice Cream Truck, rocking the largest tires currently available.

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Remus..

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And Shiloh enjoyed the trip as well..

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The evening in the cabin was uneventful, with lots of eating and lolling about, and an early bed time.   I expect I beat the twins to bed that evening.

 

The trail was fairly firm for the ride in, but it snowed overnight, leaving us with with a bit of pushing and slow riding on the way out..

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Once the sun was up, the sky was fantastic though – pinks and reds all day long..

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Thanks for joining me, David it was a great trip!

Winter is fun, and I am glad it is here!

 

Tolovana Post Thanksgiving!

Friday, December 5th, 2014

Winter this year has been treating us well in Interior Alaska well, warm and fairly mild though we have been a bit short on snow. After a good thanksgiving with the family, I headed off to go spend Sunday and Monday night at Tolovana Hot Springs with Tom and Ms Marsh. I feel a bit bad these days cutting out on the family, but since the twins were going to be at school Monday and Tuesday, I was only missing two evenings of family time. The weather forecast called for a small amount of snow, so Tom and I decided to bike, and Ms Marsh walked pulling a sled. The trail was in good shape, though there was not enough snow to cover the ruts.

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The ride in was fast and fun, and before we knew it we were at the hotsprings, warming up our cabin and enjoying the hot water. It was Tom’s first overnighter on a snowbike, and he seemed to be enjoying himself.

The dogs had a great time..

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The next morning arrived calm and clear, and I got to watch the sun rise from one of the hot tubs. Not a huge accomplishment, as the sun is officially rising at 10:30AM..

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Then it was back to eating..

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Eventually Tom and I left Ms Marsh to enjoy the quiet by herself, and we headed out to explore. The trails down from the hotsprings didn’t appear to be broken out, as there was only a few inches of snow, so we biked for a bit, then went for a walk down to the flats.

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Eventually we made our way back and returned to eating and enjoying the waters. That evening on a impulse I checked NOAA weather radio, and was surprised to hear we had a winter storm warning, for up to a foot of snow! Plans were made to check on things early in the morning as the evening’s clear skies didn’t look very threatening, and everyone hit the sack, after a few more trips to enjoy the hot waters. In the morning we were happy to see only a inch or two of snow greeting us, but it was lightly snowing. Ms Marsh started her walk out a hour or so earlier than Tom and I, as we were optimistic that the biking would be fast (ish).

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After one last soak we headed out, and while the biking wasn’t bad, it was going to be a lot slower on the way out.

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By the time we made the parking lot, there was 3″ to 4″ of new snow. Not a huge deal, but definitely things were a bit slower. It took us a little over 4 hours to get out, and we enjoyed a fair bit of pushing, which wasn’t the end of the world, as I had managed to ride everything on the way in. The new snow made hauling a sled a lot more work, and Ms Marsh looked happy to be done when she arrived at the truck. The drive back to town almost took longer than the getting out from the hotsprings, as all the new snow made the roads a bit of a mess.

I hope everyone is enjoying fall (or early winter, as some would have it)!

PS: About half the photos are compliments of Tom, who brought his mega camera on the trip. I feel a bit odd to have so many photos of me in a post!