Sunday, December 07, 2008

Staying and going

Date: Dec. 5
Mileage: 42.2
December mileage: 126.5

It's been raining for two days now and there's been a dearth of photo opportunities, so I thought I'd take this opportunity to talk about Iditarod gear. This is probably the best picture I have of my setup from last year's race, taken by some race fans on Seven Mile Lake (seven miles from the start.) It's basically the same gear I plan to take next year, with some key differences. So here's what's staying and going:

Staying: That giant bivy bundle on the front, and all of the crap inside of it. A -40 degree sleeping bag was my lifeline when I was really struggling last year, and I don't plan to tempt fate by going any lighter with my sleeping gear.

Staying: The front rack, because there's no other way for my 16" Pugsley to support all of my sleeping crap.

Going: The Princeton Tech headlamp as a headlight. I haven't decided exactly what yet, but I plan to buy something a little stronger (and more lithium battery-efficient) this year.

Gone: My red blinkie. I lost it somewhere between the Susitna River and Luce's last year. For the one whole snowmobile I saw after dark in 2008, I think a fair amount of reflective tape is probably enough. (I would get off the trail anyway if I heard a snowmobile coming. Who knows what they've been drinking.)

Staying: My Outdoor Research insulated water bottle sleeve. I accidentally left my Nalgene bottle in Palmer last year, and had to pilfer a 32-ounce Gatorade bottle from my friend's truck at the race start. But the insulation sleeve worked pretty well. Even when temperatures were below zero, it seemed to take about 12 hours before my bottle would reach its hard-freezing point (the point where it was ringed in ice and difficult to access the water inside.) It would probably take longer if I more frequently replenished the liquid in the bottle, or used an actual Nalgene.

Going: That ridiculous Camelbak bladder. I wrapped it with bubble insulation and duct tape, and I looked like I was riding off to fight floating slime monsters with the Ghostbusters. For all the effort and ridiculousness, and for all of the times I stuffed it beneath my inner layers and diligently blew all the water out of the hose, it was always frozen. My plan this year is to take an MSR bladder that has a spout for pouring instead of a hose, and keep it in a smaller pack inside of my coat.

Going (with reluctance): The Gortex coat. I say that with reluctance because it has such amazing wind-blocking properties, demonstrated wonderfully on Mount Roberts earlier this week. But it doesn't breathe well and I think I'd be better off with a form-fitting soft shell coat and a down coat to go over that when it's frigid.

The rain pants. On the Kuskokwim River between Nikolai and McGrath last year, I pulled down my pants to pee and found a solid half inch of frost built up between my polar fleece longjohns and my outer pant layer. This year I bought some Arc'teryx soft shell pants that I think will breathe much better.

Going (probably): The $24.99 snowmobile handlebar mitts. I'd really like to leverage some of my book earnings into some real custom bike pogies this year, but only if the artist has time to make them.

Gone: The "wind-resistant" fleece gloves and mittens that I used, both lost in post-race activities. Which is a shame, because I really liked them. I'm going to have to find a way to replace them with something very similar.

Staying: The frame bag and seat post bag. All of my bags are early models from Epic Designs. They've been ravaged by a couple of completely unrelated wars (the Iditarod Trail Invitational and the Great Divide Race) and not only held up impressively, but also proved their continued usefulness.

Going: A lot of the stuff I had in those bags. This year, I'm going to really work to streamline my food and extra clothing so I'm not carrying so much stuff I either won't eat or don't need (food is actually pretty heavy, as it turns out, and it's kinda dumb to carry a dozen assorted bars and a pound of nuts 350 miles across Alaska if you're never going to eat them.) I'm going to stick with chemical warmers because I love them, but I'm going to take less and ration more effectively (now that I understand what temperatures are perfectly comfortable without warmers on the hands and feet.)

Staying: The fuel bottle and stove. I didn't use them last year, but I certainly would have at least tried to melt snow if I had a little more practice starting the stove in the wind before the race. Water is good.

Staying: The boots. I was going to get rid of them and completely change my foot setup, and go with something lighter. But after thinking it through, I've decided to keep these boots and buy some NEOS overboots that will fit over them. The reason I want to keep them is because I've done quite a bit of walking in them, and they're really comfortable. Plus, they're completely insulated, to the point of nearly being a vapor barrier. They're basically bunny boots, but comfortable. When I dropped my bike and dipped my leg in Pass Creek last year, one boot got completely soaked. I think the only reason my foot never became cold is because the insulation allowed the water inside the boot to warm up to body temperature. Even though I spent 17 hours in Rohn last year, the boot never actually dried (probably because it's so insulated.) I just tossed the insole and kept going. (Wow, I think this is the first time I admitted that I actually continued the last half of the race with a wet boot.) Anyhow, I'm pretty comfortable with these boots. I just want a system that's waterproof to about knee level. (Also, they're Euro men's size 8. I think that's like a U.S. size 9.5, when my normal shoe size is about a men's 7. So by the time I find an overboot that will fit over them, they'll be as wide as snowshoes.)

Going: Gaters. Won't need them if I have overboots.

Staying: Pugsley. Although sometimes I dream at night about titanium Fatbacks and 100 mm rims, I only have love (and funds) for Pugsley. Over the winter, he will be getting another complete overhaul, however: New tires, new hubs, new bottom bracket, probably new seat post, new chain, cables, cassette, blah, blah, blah. Also, I should probably apply touch-up paint to the rusty spots. :-)


  1. Sounds like you're almost ready for a 24 test run.

    Question about the stove, if your plastic water bottle is frozen how will you melt the water without melting the water bottle?

  2. Thanks for the equipment list. I don't know that I'll ever need to use that stuff, but in the back of my mind I like to at least pretend someday I might!

    I just talked to who I believe is the artist last night. I have a super twinkie on the way:)

  3. I agree with the Gortex. Though it's the most breathable of the waterproof fabrics, it still keeps moisture inside the clothing. Don't forget though, that once down gets wet, it's useless. I found out the hard way years ago. Also, they do make cycling jackets that have windproof material in the front and breathable material in the back to let the heat escape. Not sure this would work for the kind of miles that you need to put in though. Good luck tweaking all that gear.

  4. Instead of a camelbak, have you thought about using something like the Beer Belly?

    No idea how well it would work...

  5. You look so great and happy in that picture.

  6. Apocalypse Design up in Fairbanks makes great pogies. They also do (did?) custom work. A pair of their pogies kept my hands warm and toasty down to -58 F with just a pair of Pearl Uzimi Lobster Claws mitts on the hands. Never even needed chemical warmers in the pogies either. I'd pull my mitts off and my hands would steam at -50, nice and warm and toasty. They can be pricey, but worth it.

  7. Hey Jill,
    Thanks for your suggestion of the NEOS a month or two ago. I have used mine in a cold downpour twice now, and they are indispensible!

  8. You can find Patagonia Ready Mix women's jackets on sale for 100 bucks right now. A steal. I can't imagine you having issues with it not being windproof enough,

    You never had frost buildup inside the G-tex last year? Impressive (or at least unexpected).

  9. Gregg,

    Thanks for the suggestions. More experienced Iditabike racers have told me to think less like a cyclist and more like a mountaineer, which is good advice. Getting wet from precip can happen during the race (and did happen to me in the 2006 Susitna 100), but it's much less likely of a thing to have to deal with than extreme cold. Sweat is usually where all moisture comes from during Interior Alaska winters.

    Alaska Dave, thanks for the suggestions. I might look into it if Eric is too busy this season.


    What site has these jackets on sale? Just curious.

    I actually didn't have any problems with frost buildup inside my coat in '08 - which is why the frozen leggings surprised me so much on the last day. I did have a down jacket that I decided to wear beneath my Gortex shell that I completely sweated out. I mean, it was soaked. Basically useless. There were actually several things that happened that last day that would have been slightly catastrophic if it hadn't been the last day.

  10. Did you have any condensation issues with your bivy?

    I take it you didn't have any luck with the vapor barrior stuff?

    Somebody needs to come up with a lightweight(-4lb), knee high, waterproof, insulated boot. While I'm dreaming, give it a super insulated spd compatable footbed.


  11. Personally -- I think if you call Patagonia -- they might help you out with clothes. I met a girl in the grand canyon who was working on a grant and all dressed up by Patagonia.

    Have you looked at the paddlers pogies ... some of these look like they might work out ok for a bike.

  12. Serious gear! I just love reading about what you need to ride in those conditions. Here I am whining about a little wind chill and contemplating arm warmers. It's official. I'm a wimp.

  13. Jill,

    Sounds like Pugsley could use a fresh coat of JP Weigle on the inside too.

  14. you know all about the headlamp batteries and the cold? they make headlamps with battery packs that are worn next to the chest to that they stay warm.

    also, a very small catapult for crossing creeks would be good. my kid can make one for you. or rockets, you should use more rockets!

  15. Patagonia has them on their site. Google will point to a few others.

    I've had mine for 4 years and love it still.

  16. And if only you could pack snowshoes.....

  17. Great insights.

    Re the light: I have been experimenting with ultrabright consumer grade headlamps from Rayovac and a Target brand called River Rock (same thing they just brand differently at target) for the last year or so and really love them. Last years model was very simple. 3AA, 85 lumens, would go for 2.5 hours realisticaly on high, eight on medium (about 45 lumens) and damn near forever (15? 30?) on low.

    This year's however takes the cake.

    It's 136 lumens and six volts. They claim 4 hours on high, 6 useable light with two CR123 3-volt batteries... but I hate non-standard batteries that you can't pick up at a gas station or really anywhere when I'm on the road.

    I have a huge thing against proprietary batteries as well... where and when can you recharge them when multi-day touring? And lugging around a charger... it's a crap shoot.

    Anyway... so I converted the headlamp over to an external 4aa battery pack. It can mount to the headband... or to be more secure the light and pack can velcro to the helmet front and back.

    But most appropriate for you the light can velcro to the helmet and the cord can run inside the coat or a pocket to keep the batteries warm.

    I'm using a little mp3 case logic case with an internal platic liner. It's both, compact, light and extremely durable.

    I intend to where it around my kneck to keep it warm while winter riding and yet give me quick access.

    But here's the best part...

    with my intial tests I've found the light gets at least five or six hours at about 140 lumens, and possibly over 9 or 10 hours of useable light.

    I've done two fairly crazy rides with it so far in addition to daily commuting.

    Both were rides starting late at night in either cold rain or sleet with temperatures dropping down below freezing... and even five degrees with wind chill. Both times I used the light five or more hours.

    I finally managed to kill a set of batteries riding around with the battery pack on my helmet for five hours with a five degree wind chill.

    What's more... the setup is so simple, so durable... and since the battery pack is external I was able to seal and waterproof the light unit itself to the point where it could probably even be submersed.

    I'd prviously put the old 85 lumen unit up against the 4AA princeton and another model (black diamond I think) of equal caliper. They were both $70-$80 units. The 85 lumen was brigher... now with the 140 lumen version I'm confident this light supremely trounces anything.

    I'll try to remember to post a link or comment here when i upload pics and info to flickr at in the coming days.

    Again, great post.

    P.S. I road for some eight or nine hours today in Frog Togg Dri ducks in temps ranging from 55 degrees to 15 (5 with wind chill). About half that time it was raining and even pouring. Very windy day... 25-40mph winds...

    And yet I stayed both dry and warm using only the frog toggs dri ducks, heavy wool gloves, 1 long sleve polypro base, one extremely light weight polartec base, one standard bike shirt, one polar fleece medium weight jacket and the outer waterproof / windproof frog toggs jacket.

    It must say it's ability to breath is tremendous.

    The only moisture I recieved was around the cuffs, and that's probably where my woold gloves made contract with my fleece and polypro sleves despite the waterproof frog toggs


Feedback is always appreciated!