Posts Tagged ‘snow biking’

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!

First ride of the season in the Whites..

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

Winter has (sort of) arrived here in Interior Alaska. Alas, we are a little short on snow, so all my exploring has just been out of my house, and my go too loop is getting a bit boring, as I have been hitting it about twice a week. After hearing that the trails in the White Mountains NRA might be in good shape, I decided to go check things out.  The plan was bike out as far as I could towards Borealis Cabin, then head back.

The trails started off good..
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Got better..

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Then started getting a bit bumpy as I reached the valley and started towards Borealis Cabin.

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There wasn’t quite enough snow to fill in the holes between tussocks, but it was ok biking, though a bit rough.   Shiloh, a new (ish – we have had him since mid March) member of the family seemed to enjoy his first long bike ride.  I have done day trips with him on skis in the 40 mile range, but those are slower than biking.  He did well, and seemed to be picking up the flow.  I am looking forward to many more adventures with him!  We got him from the pound, who picked him up as a stray, so we don’t know much about his life before us.  He has definitely had some time in harness, and he had his dew claws removed, so there was some mushing in his past, but the rest is a mystery.

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Remus is a old hand at this, and had a blast.   Not bad for a 12 year old dog!

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A bit past the turn of for Eleazar’s Cabin the snow thinned out a bit more, bring on more bumps..

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Just past Borealis the traffic dropped off on the trail a lot, and the main trail less than a quarter mile later.   There was some traffic on a slough, so I explored that for a bit, though eventually the snowmachine tracks turned around, and I headed back.   The ice on Beaver Creek was thin but passable.

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The ride back to the truck was uneventful.  The off-ice is growing fast, but was all fairly bikeable.

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As a side note, BLM put up a new sign at Borealis, and I was amused that the mileages are off by more than a normal amount.
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Lee’s Cabin is roughly 14 miles from Borealis, so the sign is about 5 miles off. Most of the signs in the whites are off by a bit, but this is more than the normal amount. I forgot to check, but sign this one replaced had the distance to the next cabin down the trail, Caribou Bluff wrong – folks traveling east would see a sign saying 10 miles before crossing Beaver Creek, then in a mile or so, see this signs predecessor saying it was 11 miles away, even though it is a mile closer to the cabin.  For tired travelers this was a bit demoralizing – going from only 10 miles to go, to finding out a mile later you still had 11 miles left!

It is pretty funny they would go to the trouble of making the sign, but not checking the distances against their own publications:
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I hope everyone is enjoying winter!

The whites in reverse..

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

It took a week or so after I was done with the ITI, I was starting to get ancy to get back on the bike. Tom M. suggested that we get do a trip in the whites, and after booking Cache Mountain cabin plans were made for an overnight cabin hopping trip. We ended up being joined by Josh S and Laura G, and of course Remus the Wonder dog. We left town early, and were on the trail in time to appreciate the wonderful early morning sunshine. Josh and I zoomed off, leaving the skiers to enjoy their trip in, and after checking the trail at the junction with the trail creek trail, decided to head in the “long way”, over Cache Mt divide, in the opposite direction from how the Whites 100 race course is run.

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The weather was fantastic – warm and nearly calm. The trail was in great shape, and the riding was fast.

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It was great to see the trail in a direction I don’t normally travel it. It was nice to be on the bike, though parts of my body (mainly my butt) hadn’t really recovered from the ITI, and were not happy to be going for a long ride. Fortunately we were not riding fast because as Remus’s speed was limited by the warmer weather, so I got lots of photo breaks.

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Once we got past Windy Gap cabin there was 20 miles of trail I had never been on heading this direction, and it was fantastic to see the trail from a different perspective.

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The weather was pretty hot, and Remus was overheating, so we biked at a very mellow pace. I felt a bit guilty slowing Josh down, but he seemed to be enjoying all the extra time to snap photos. The ice on the river near Windy Gap cabin a bit gnarly, but there was a nice (but soft) trail around it. The icelakes were wet and in a couple of sections very smooth and slippery. The ice had some fantastic colors, and in one place there were some little icebergs, something I had never seen before.

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A short (and bad) video clip from the icelakes from JayC on Vimeo.

Remus enjoyed the nice long ride up the divide, and got his bounce back for the 10 mile descent to Cache Mt cabin.

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Josh and I arrived at the cabin hours after Laura and Tom, and Tom was super excited, as I had half of his dinner. After a couple of hours of socializing, we hit the sack. In the morning, Laura and Tom headed out a bit before us, while we mellowed out for a bit, then headed out. Overnight it snowed a bit, and the trails had a light dusting of snow for the first 20 miles, but it was still quite fast.

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By the time I reached the parking lot the skies had cleared up, and I was enjoying the sun again.

Thanks to everyone for making the trip happen, it is always fun to escape to the Whites!

PS: Alas, Google seems to be slowly killing off Picasa, and I have now switched to Flickr to host my photos. Hopefully that works out – I would love to hear suggestions as to good replacements for Picasa Web Albums.

PSS: I now have ~200 miles on a 1×10 setup with a Wolf Tooth components 42t cog. I am really loving it so far – if it continues to work as well as it does now this is a great setup for snowbiking.
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It is supposed to be cold..

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

I am blessed with a fairly flexible schedule, and a very understanding wife, so when I found myself with a Monday and Sunday free of major commitments I started planning an overnight cabin trip in the White Mountains NRA. The Whites has some of the best hut to hut skiing and snow biking (and walking it turns out) around – a nice trail system, wonderful views, and relatively few people. The plan was to head to Cache Mountain Cabin, with one group coming in the “long” way on bikes, and the other coming in the short way, ~20ish miles, on bikes and skis. The morning of the trip we were down to three bikers and one skier, Tom. As Tom, Remus the dog, and I headed out of town we got a call from the other bikers, who were planning on coming in from a different trailhead and going in the long way, saying they were turning around, as it was raining. Rain in December is pretty uncommon in Fairbanks. Tom and I decided to try our luck, so we headed out, planning on checking out the trail, and turning around if things were too miserable. We arrived at the trailhead, and the weather, while warm, looked pretty nice, and the trail was firm, so we headed off. Tom started off walking as the trail starts off steep..

I started off pushing, but eventually things flattened off and I started riding. The trail was nice and firm and the biking was great, though a bit misty.

And warm..

After 7 miles or so, the trail splits, and unfortuteatly most of the traffic appeared to be going the other direction, and the trail got soft. Not too soft though – it was still ridable and fun, though not fast. There was also a huge downhill, which is always fun.

After a couple more miles of biking I found myself pushing up a big hill, wondering how Tom was doing. The skiing looked to be pretty fast, and I was thinking he would be catching up soon. The answer soon came in the form of loud and distant cursing. It was dead calm, and as there are almost no trees so sound can carry a long way. After one more bout of cursing I decide to wait for Tom and see how he was doing. Eventually I gave up waiting and started walking back.. eventually Tom arrived. Apparently the around freezing conditions made skiing very difficult – it impossible to get any grip on the icy surface of the snow for forward motion on the flats and uphill, and stopping was next to impossible on the downhills. The cursing I heard was Tom’s last two attempts and skiing downhill, before he gave up on skiing and started walking. I asked him if he wanted to turn around, as we where about half way, but he wanted to keep going – even though the skiing was aweful, it is so very rare to be out in the Whites in December, in bairly freezing, calm conditions. Bad skiing, but still a fantastic day! He walked most of the rest of the way in, skiing maybe 4 miles of the 19 (ish) miles into the cabin.

I walked up the hill with him, then continued on. The biking was fun, though slow, and there was a fair bit of pushing. By the end of the day the slightly over freezing temperatures made things a bit soft and squishy. I got to putter around Cache Mt cabin drying off the bike and de-icing everything before Tom arrived, and then enjoyed a evening of talking and goofing off.

The next day it was +20f, the trails were setup bomber for biking – fantastic biking.

Biking past some of my footprints from pushing on the way in made my day.

The skiing apparently sucked still, and Tom enjoyed a nice long walk out.

Thanks Tom for a fantastic trip! Hope everyone is enjoying winter!

PS – For those of you who say I don’t post enough pictures of myself, here you go:

(Yes, I felt like a complete idiot taking this photo!)

Neverending spring..

Monday, May 6th, 2013

We have been having an very late spring. Its early May now, and the trails are still rideable and skiable around my house, though they are getting a bit soft in the late afternoon. With a Monday free, Remus and I set off to see if the trails in the White Mountains are still in good biking shape.

The biking was in a word – fantastic!

Our long days have been balanced by moderately cold nights, keeping the snowpack intact, and the trails firm. A wonderful combination..

Remus and I headed out to Colorado Creek cabin at a mellow pace, stopping to take pictures, enjoying the sunlight, the views, and in Remus’s case, roll around in the snow to cool off. Life is tough..

The trails had a dusting of fresh snow on them, but still fast going and almost no pushing.

Other trail users were out as well..

We turned around after reaching the cabin, and headed a short ways towards Beaver Creek, but turned around, hoping to make it back before the twins bed time.

This spring has been fantastic and while I have been enjoying it, I know that breakup is just around the corner, with summer fun following soon after. Every season has its own fun, and while I am looking foreword to summer.. meanwhile I am really digging what I have now – yay!

ITI – 2013,Puntila to McGrath

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

h3. A couple of thanks –

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

h3. Gear Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

ITI – 2013, Knik to Puntila

Sunday, March 17th, 2013

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

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



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




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



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



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

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



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




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


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



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



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

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



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





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



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

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



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

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


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



Next up Rohn! (To be continued..)

Arrowhead..

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

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

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

The race started at 7am.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tolovana by bike!

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

This Thanksgiving Nancy and the twins where off to visit Nancy’s folks on the east coast, and I was left with a week by myself with no commitments. Ms Marsh was kind enough to help me out, and invited me out to Tolovana, and on Thanksgiving day I found myself biking down the trail to to Tolovana. We don’t have much snow here in the Interior, making for not the best skiing, but pretty darn wonderful biking. I really enjoyed the ride out, enjoying the well packed trail and the fast biking.

The views were spectacular.

Near the high point of the trail I stopped at the “Tolovana Hilton”, an abandoned water tank, to get out of the wind for a moment. It is pretty amazing how warm it is once you are out of the wind..

I had the trail to my self for the most part, passing one party on ski and a family on snow machine.

I was amused to find out that I almost beat the snowmachiners out to the hotsprings. They had arrived at the parking lot the same time as we did, and passed me for the last time about a mile from the hotsprings.

One of the skiers knows my wife Nancy, and apparently recognizing Remus, asked if she was coming. Alas, Nancy was on the east coast, enjoying sun and fair weather.

The last downhill was steep enough that I briefly stopped to see what was making a hissing noise and realized it was water vaporizing on the brake rotors. A funny sight at -5f.

After about two hours of riding and taking lots of photos I arrived at the little cabin that we were going to spend the next two nights in. I was surprised to see smoking coming out of the chimney, and a snowmachine parked outside. I stuck my head in to see one of the younger members of the snowmachine posy hurriedly packing up – apparently he was told by his dad they were staying in the “first” cabin, and only when I arrived did he relize his mistake. No harm done, and I didn’t have to start the fire! Remus and I mellowed out enjoying the time to ourselves, and were eventually joined by Ms Marsh, who had walked in.

The evening was spent eating, soaking, and talking. It was a fantastic way to spend Thanksgiving, though I missed Nancy and the twins.
Black friday was spent eating, soaking, and exploring, with maybe a bit more talking.

The wind had picked up a bit overnight, and was really blowing on the day after Thanksgiving. At one point while biking up the Tolovana airfield I though I was going to have to get off the bike to push the wind was blowing so hard. On our last day the wind died down a bit, and the bike ride out was fast and pleasant. The biking was so fast it almost felt like cheating, as the trail was so firm I think you could have ridden a road bike on it. In these conditions the bike is almost magic, zooming along when skiing would have been a slow slog on the flats, and nail biting terrifying on the downhills.

A big thanks to Ms Marsh for inviting me out, it was a wonder trip, and a great way to spend a quiet mellow Thanksgiving, and it’s mad shopping aftermath.