ITI – 2014

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..

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!

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..

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!

Savage-Sanctuary..

July 18th, 2014

Last year Tom, Joel, and I floated the classic Savage-Sanctuary loop in Denali NP, and had a great time, though it was super wet. I had been hoping to do that loop again, and finding myself with a Sunday free of commitments, headed to Denali to do it again, with Erica, Heike, Joel, and Tom. In a nutshell, the plan was to do the loop as a ~12 hour day trip, camping at the Denali NP entrance so we could get an early start, driving in to mile 10 or so and parking at the Mountain View trailhead, hiking up Savage River, crossing over to the Sanctuary River, floating to the park road, and hopefully hit the 7pm bus back. The day started out looking a bit wet, but as we drove down the park road to start our trip the rain held off, and we managed to avoid the rain. The hike up Savage River and over to Sanctuary was fantastic – great walking..

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.. Lots of flowers…

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We didn’t see much wildlife, just some birds, including an very irritated raptor/hawk, a few ground squirrels, and a couple of moose seen from the bus and the road. I caught a brief glimps of a caribou as it crossed the stream behind us, but everyone else was a bit too slow to turn around and missed it – and thus was accused of imagining it. We did see lots of remains, though, and the first sheep horn set I have seen in the wild.

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Eventually we reached the Sanctuary River, inflated, and headed back to the park road. The water was fairly high, and we had a huge tail wind blowing us downriver. This section of the Sanctuary River is pretty mellow, with a few rocks, and as we got closer to the road, a tiny bit of wood – pretty mellow for the most part, but nice and scenic.

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I think the total distance was 16 miles of hiking, and 14 miles of floating. We made it out for the 6:30 bus back to the Mountain View trailhead, with ample time to enjoy burgers at the 49th state brewery.

The is a fantastic trip, and highly recommended. We did it as a ~11hour day trip, with a fairly mellow hiking pace, and high and fast water on Sanctuary River. It could take more or less time, depending on water conditions and how fast one walks. It is also possible to do it as an overnight, but it requires a backcountry permit, which is hit and miss. That would be a great option if you don’t mind all the extra work overnighting in Denali entails, and don’t mind doing something else if the units are full up.

A huge thanks to Heike, Tom, Joel, and Erica for making this trip happen, it was fantastic fun!

On a gear note, I snagged a slightly beat up Olympus XZ-1 off ebay, and have been really happy with the images coming off it. It takes the same batteries as my waterproof Olympus point and shoot, is small, lightweight, has a relatively fast lens, and it takes wonderful pictures – yay!

I hope everyone is enjoying a great summer!

Here is map from when I did it in 2013. The hiking is better going up Sanctuary on the west side of the river (river left) – cross over if you can just as you enter the valley, there are great game trails on the west side.

A few more photos can be found

The whites in reverse..

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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Winter..

February 6th, 2014

We have been having a strange winter this year, complete with rain and ice storms, and many January days near freezing. It hasn’t been good for skiers, but the warm snaps have made for fantastic trails.

I have been attempting to put as many miles on the snow bike as I can in preparation for the ITI, but I have probibly not been getting as much time in as I need. Such is life.. but it is hard to complain with the fantastic weather we have been having, and the wonderful trails.

I managed to escape for day to put in a 75 mile day ride in the Whites, which was fantastic.

Near freezing on the hills, and near zero in the valleys – not much to complain about.

One of the better rides I have enjoyed this winter, and I wished it never ended. If I would had a way to let folks know I would be out longer I would have probably extended the ride to the whole loop. Alas.. but it was still a fantastic day!

I hope everything is enjoying their winter!

It is supposed to be cold..

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!)

First snowbike ride of the season in the Whites..

December 2nd, 2013

I love the White Mountains in winter. The area sees lots of use, and has a fantastic winter trail system, with great scenery and views. With a Monday free Remus the Dog and I headed for a bike ride in the Whites.

There was a 4 to 5 inches of fresh snow over a nice packed trail. It was mostly rideable..

Though occasionally not..

There was a strong temperature inversion, and the valleys were really cold…

so I stuck to the trail that stays high, and powered on through the soft snow.

Remus had a blast, and enjoyed my slow biking. Snow biking is a bit hard on him, with his short little legs. He prefers I go slowly, and the fresh snow gave him his wish.

On the bike tech note, I am trying a Fatback Sterling tire in the back, setup tubeless. So far I am pretty happy with it, though it is a bit smaller than I would have liked, and it packs up quite a bit in new snow.

I am also running a Bud in the front, and that thing really makes a huge difference is soft snow.

It is going to be a fun winter!

Sorry for the low words to picture count, more coming soon.

Winter..

November 9th, 2013

After a fantastically long fall, winter has finally arrived here in Interior Alaska. Ms Marsh and I left Fairbanks for a quick overnighter at Eleazar’s cabin in the BLM White Mountains NRA.

We left a bit late, and got on the trail sometime after 2pm, and it was soon dark. I was surprised by all the snow, perhaps skis would have been a better choice..

Regardless, it was a fun hike, and Marsh and I enjoyed an evening mellowing out in Eleazar’s. The next morning we awoke to a bit of wind, and a bit more snow. The hike out was as fun as the hike in, but with a bit more daylight.

It was simple and easy overnighter, and got me thinking about winter adventures of all sorts. Thanks for the motivation for this trip Marsh! This winter is going to be fantastic!