Date: Dec. 5
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.
Going: 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. :-)