Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Camping in January

Date: Jan. 29
Mileage: 6
January mileage: 761.8
Temperature upon departure: 7

I slipped out the door at 12:31 a.m. and pedaled beneath the orange glow of suburban street lamps. Blasts of hard wind amplified the already tiny temperature, but only the crackle of rubber on ice betrayed a bewildering quiet. I rode toward the black mass of mountains that would swallow me for the night. I was consumed with the loneliness and awe of the conditions I was simulating. I had to keep reminding myself I was only a few blocks from my house.

I couldn’t remember the climb up this hill ever being so laborious. I had severely overdressed and was paying for it in a shower of sweat. I thought about returning home to change my base layer, but remembered the full set of clothing in my frame bag and decided this sweat was a good test ... a simulation of a full day’s work. I took off my balaclava to steam off some of the heat. My helmet froze to my hair.

I pushed my bike through soft snow for two miles up the steep trail. The three-mile effort took nearly one and a half hours. When I trudged into an open meadow flat enough to call home, it was 2 a.m.

The stark face of Mount Juneau burned red above a glitter of city lights, now hundreds of feet below me. I pulled on my mittens and started unpacking my gear, methodically loosening straps and rolling out the sleeping pad. It was all happening much too slowly. Overheated as I was, I opted for the quick-and-dirty, bare-fingers camp set up. There would be time for warmth when I slept.

I slithered into my down cocoon and cuddled with my Camelbak bladder. It felt like an ice baby against my stomach, and I shivered a little as I gazed at the wash of stars overhead. Finally, I slid all the way in and shut the bivy, breathing heavy as I drifted to sleep.

I curled up as much as I could to rest my whole body on the sleeping pad, but parts kept finding their way onto the frigid bed of snow. After one hour, I woke up with a cold butt. The next, cold feet. Never cold enough to be a concern, but enough to rob me of any deep rest. I cherished every square inch of that pad and vowed to get a bigger one.

When daylight finally broke, my feet were approaching a concerning level of cold. I haphazardly set my Camelbak in the snow and began to pack up. Mittens were required this time, and I couldn’t move as fast as I wanted to. I felt frustrated because I had put my cold feet in my cold boots, and I really wanted to start walking to generate some heat. I decided not to bother compressing my sack and was grateful for the leeway of my front rack. I was on my way. I had learned a lot. I felt exhausted. I had spent less than nine hours in nighttime temperatures that would be relatively mild in central Alaska. And traveled six miles.

This multiday winter endurance racing thing is completely crazy. On the surface, it looks hard. Then you peel back its rigid veneer only to find an inner layer of hard. And even as you chip away at its core, you continue to find layer upon layer upon layer of hard. Every part is hard.

And I love it.


  1. Jill, your stories have made me smile. Also, to the dismay of others, they have inspired me. I've winter camped in the BWCA in -30 weather, climbed the Grand Teton, and have had numerous other adventures. However, I've never ridden a bike in arctic conditions. Last night, the weather here in Minneapolis was chilly. -36 windchill chilly. I took my single speed mtn. bike out for a ride : )
    Only went 1.5 hours. Stayed quite warm accept for thumbs and toes. Goggles fogged up to the point of being useless, fell three times on ice with no ill effects and no broken blinky. Thanks for the inspiration. My neighbors are now talking and I'm sure wondering.
    Ride On!

    Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."

  2. Jill ... thanks again for the great read. Wow. Always inspirational, as Vito said.

    When I go for a ride in 0 degree weather, I always contemplate the Iditarod and the challenges you and the others will soon face. And even when the bitter winds begin to work their magic and begin to transform my feet into funny-shaped-pieces-of-ice-dangling-at-the-end-of-my-legs, I'm still not convinced that you and the others are crazy. It's more like; "You folks forgot to take your medication!" No, I'm just joking ... you people are not crazy. How could it be crazy to want to do something that you'll remember for the rest of your life? Think how many times you'll recount this amazing journey (hopefully in BOOK FORM... Jill) and every time you retell the story, you'll be back there... on crisply frozen tundra... seeing the brilliant northern lights ... and experiencing the deafening silence of Alaska in the middle of Winter. How great of an experience is that. Makes me want to sign up for that last spot on the roster! Almost. Now where did I put my lobotomy medication ... hmmm...

  3. Your mom and dad must go *nuts* when they read about your adventures.

    My wife and I worry about our daughter and she's only 2 hours away from us:-)

  4. you know what's hard? You're hard. You're hard like titanium.

  5. Hello Jill!
    My name is Fabio i`m from Brazil living in Germany.
    Can you send or tell me where can i find all the specification from Pugsley.
    Thanks a lot.
    Best regards

  6. For the previous comment.


    Does anyone use the chemical feet warmers? If you start the day with cold feet you are in trouble. I would suggest to massage the feet and wear socks with warmers in them overnight. I guess Ideally you re only going to stop for short periods. Avoiding a heavy sweat is also important. You probably won't be climbing as steep as incline.

  7. Don't under estimate being well rested going into the event. Cramming in miles now will not help. Not to say stop riding, but I would insure I am fully rested and recovered from any long ride prior to travelling.

  8. Duuuude.....eff that. You are 100x tougher than me....although that doesn't say much.

  9. I haven't done any wilderness snow cycling, but I've done a share of snowshoeing and snow camping in the Sierras and Rockies. I've tried a bunch of things to prevent having cold morning boots, but the most effective thing I've found is also just about the least comfortable--I sleep with my cold, icy boots, wrapped in a large plastic bag, next to me in my sleeping bag. It's not terribly inviting to cuddle up to a pair of icy boots, but it's worth it in the morning.

  10. Did you dry your feet off before you zipped up? Makes a really big difference for me. Small sleeping pads, meh. I'm gonna have to upgrade to a bag with a built in sleeve or pad so I can't roll off.

    Thanks for the input on vapor barriors. There's some really good reading on the subject here http://www.warmlite.com/vb.htm
    Seems logical to me, I'm gonna give it a go.

    It's pretty tough staying on top of regulating body temp and keeping from soaking yourself, but the time taken to do so is paid back ten fold when your not chilled and freezing.


  11. " On the surface, it looks hard. Then you peel back its rigid veneer only to find an inner layer of hard. And even as you chip away at its core, you continue to find layer upon layer upon layer of hard. Every part is hard.

    And I love it."

    Wow. You are cracking open the hard shell of my mediocre thinking and letting in a blast of that cold, fresh, frightening world that is yours. You are proof that we humans are more than we seem.

    And that life has more to offer, which most of us sadly, casually shun.

    My bum and toes became cold just reading this post. I'd love to see you biking in that deep snow, in motion. I can barely imagine it.

  12. I agree with Michael's comments. I have been educated in and have practiced winter survival and one of the keys is to put all your clothes in your bag when you sleep. It fills the gaps and insulates as well as keeps everything warm and dry for the morning. I have done this several times with great success and comfort.
    You are awesome! My friend E-Mailed you regarding our 24 Hours of Moab team name idea inspired by your writings: 'Liquid Gray Infinity'

  13. Jill, when we winter camped we always slept with our boots inside at the foot of our sleeping bags. That way they weren't frozen masses in the morning when we put them on. What type of sleeping pad are you using?
    I've found that no matter how comfortable I thought I would be there were always issues. That's one thing that makes these winter endurance events so difficult is just keeping warm and getting enough sleep in the process. Have you thought about heating water and putting them water bottles to stuff inside your bag. It's worked for me. You could always put warm water in your bladder (hydration bladder). Although that would consume more fuel, etc. I'm just rambling now.
    Ride On!

    Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."

  14. Hey Gill. Attention... Attention.

    After all this training and stuff I thought you could use a laugh.

    It's all in fun.



  15. Meet your new best friend:


    I have the Sierra Designs version of these, and they rock. You can walk around one the snow on these things, w/ no socks on underneath or anything, and your feet will stay perfectly warm. After suffering w/ cold feet my first couple of winter camping trips, I got these, and man was it the best purchase I ever made. Once you get to camp, just walk around in these babies, and leave 'em on when you get into your sleeping bag. I've worn them down into the low single digits, and they've performed great.

    And I would also echo the other comments about putting your boots in your sleeping bag when you go to sleep - makes a HUGE difference.

  16. Jill,

    Not sure what type of pad you are using but the best one that I have found is the Outdoor Research Exped Downmat 9 pad. It is more comfortable than many beds I have slept in.




  17. Sorry Jill, but... I think I haven't undestand you well... Sleeping in the snow while could sleeping in a bed? You are completely mad! On the other hand, if you are enjoying so much... I can undestand. But it is difficult for me to figure it, really difficult.

  18. Jill, Im involved with a cycling journal thats being put together. I'd love to include some of your great writing. Please can you get in touch with me at
    the-ride@hotmail.co.uk to talk about it.
    Many thanks in advance.

  19. Ooh, sleeping bags for your feet! And they're on sale, awsome, thanks Fonk.


  20. you're blog is the coolest thing i've read in a long time. very inspiring.

  21. If you ever consider publishing your stories in a print / book form please let me know.

    I have dyslexia which makes reading on the monitor a bit harder than in print, so a coffee table style book would be the bomb, fer sure!

    Tony in Michigan

  22. Jill,

    You probably addressed this somewhere on your blog, but what kind of light system do you use? Do you carry multiple batteries? Battery drops? I was thinking about this on my commute home from work the other night as my battery which I forgot to charge was starting to dim. Thank goodness for LED blinkies..

    PS: I'm always impressed at your mileage totals. I can't believe you are getting 700+ miles in on snow no less... I'm luck if I get that much during my hardest training in the fall (granted my sport is cyclocross (short & intense) and not extreme long distance wintertime cycling), Nevertheless, I am inspired.

    PSS - I also hail from Alaska (Anchorage anyway). I spent my first 18 years there before leaving for the Pacific NW.



  23. Seems like a heavy-duty bag rated to 40 below is the ticket for this experience. They save lives. jgp

  24. Jill, when we don't get a post from you for a couple of days it usually means you've been up to something especially hardcore. Which is a relative term and when applied to you, the emphasis is on hard.

  25. Wow Jill, I'm amazed. Fatty told us that the Iditerod is on the 24th so I thought I'd wish you good luck and warm feet. You're an inspiration!

  26. And I find it hard to get up and ride a trainer, which isnt' so Hard, only 1 layer of hard.

    Inspiring post! I'm going to have to catch up since this is my first visit.

    Good luck on the race!

  27. Jill, you must be as hard and tough as a frozen titanium mtb frame!

    Your adventures make my short winter bike commute in Southern ON seem like nothing. I'm gonna share your blog with the folk at work - they'll be much less impressed with my little efforts, maybe they'll also think I'm not quite as crazy as they've assumed!

    There's no winter biking advice I could offer someone with your extreme experience, so I'll pass forward something that's been offered to me. As a former aesthetician I know would say, "Moisturize, moisturize, moisturize!"

    Good luck and wishing you a successful race. You go, girl!

  28. You ride girl. Any chance of getting you to ride with some 50 year old women here in Utah--mountain bikers. We have a penchant for what we call our dirty thirty's! Thirty miles three or four times a week on our mountain bikes. If we were in Alaska, we'd be your support team! Maybe next year?

    I have had a wet ski boot problem this year--my new boots leak and I can't seem to stop it. I have been using the chemical foot warmers in my ski boots this winter. I put them on top of the toes and not the bottom. I think they are great. Also, I use the battery charged heaters--you'd have to have a source for recharging so that won't work. And, I also change socks multiple times during the day to keep my feet dry. Then I have a pair of the boot muffs and that really helps. Sweat is hard to control though have you tried deoderant on your feet?

  29. Yes i must say you are one brave soul just for going Camping in january ! Thanks for sharing look forward to the next adventure.

  30. Hey Jill. I live in Aussie-land where we think it is chilly if the thermometer get below 10 deg C (that's about 59 deg F). Your photo of the pushbike resting on the snow just blew my mind! I have handlebar mitts like that on my motorcycle to keep me warm in the rain and wind. It's winter here now, but about 66F outside in the shade.

  31. Nice articles

    It's very good for me

    landscaping idea

  32. Very Nice

    It's very good for me

    my first camping

  33. sounds like GREAT exercise. I wish i had time for that kind of exercise.
    Good on you!


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  35. Wow your blog is way cool.


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