Friday, February 29, 2008

Report from Nikolai

Sorry to everyone for the concern.

I am doing the best that I can. It probably seems that I have slowed way down but that has mostly been my way of dealing with the cold and being out here in Interior Alaska by myself, which is causing some anxiety and has made it hard to sleep even when I am stopped.

I took a hard fall at the Post River waterfall (the trail actually goes up a waterfall) and pulled my right hip flexer muscle. This has made it really painful to push my bike uphill, and my pace over the millions of small hills before the Farewell Burn was downright glacial ... take three laboring steps and stop, repeat. Luckily, it is pretty flat from here on out. Hopefully I can get through this without further injury.

Cold weather has been a struggle. I bivied just below Rainy Pass one night as I pushed my bike through the knee-deep snow for 45 miles. My thermometer bottomed out at 20 below. I bivied again last night at Sullivan Creek when I kept literally falling asleep and falling off my bike. I woke up after three hours and set out to pack up, but it was so, so cold. Everything was frozen solid. My chemical warmers had turned to ice bricks and I couldn't make them go. I crawled back into my bag and waited another couple hours before attempting again. Again, couldn't quite handle the cold. I finally just decided to wait until daylight and stayed in my bag until 10 a.m., but didn't sleep much. I woke up to a 35 mph headwind and single digit temperatures. Ground blizzards were out of this world. Again, glacial pace.

So that's my story. I am definitely a rookie out here, but I am learning tons, and having good times along with the bad. The Farewell Burn is surreal, and I can't believe I actually rode a bike out here. I didn't even realize until I read this message board that I was challenging Kathi for a record time. Believe me, that was never my goal. I am trying to finish. And survive. I am warm and full of moose stew, with 50 miles to McGrath that I should be able to complete in one push unless I have a problem. (And I do plan to keep moving, because I have no problem staying warm on the bike.) I am hoping to be finished by Saturday evening. Thanks to everyone, love to my family. I will report again soon.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Reunited

Pugsley and I had a happy reunion at Speedway Cycles yesterday. He is in the best shape of his life ... a new freehub, fully winterized, a single speed hub and cog on the front wheel in case I have any trouble with the rear drivetrain, new crank, new cassette, new brake pads, new chain, new computer mount, all lovingly put together and adjusted by the great mechanics at Speedway. We went out for an eight-mile ride on the precariously icy bike paths of Anchorage. Everything felt amazing. I can only hope I'm in as good of shape for this ride after my long rest. I feel pretty good. I'm so nervous now that my hands shake a little when I think too much about it, but I am excited. The weather forecast looks promising to say the least. If the weather holds up even close to what they're predicting for the next week, the race to McGrath could see some of the most comfortable conditions it's had in years (a little cold along the Kuskokwim, but it nearly always is.) Trail conditions are a different story, but even the potential shape of the trail is holding a lot of measured optimism from the people who know what they're talking about. This may even be easy. Just kidding. It won't be even close to easy.

We were able to meet many of the racers at a party at Speedway Cycles last night and an official race meeting this afternoon. It was a lot of fun to put faces to names. There is one man from Japan who speaks very little English, knows nobody in Alaska, and just showed up to run the 350 miles to McGrath. A really cool guy. He smiled more than anyone else I've met this weekend. He never stopped smiling. We kept trying to tell him how brave he is, but he didn't understand brave.

I have most of my gear set up and am nearly ready. We're burning a little time at a coffee shop because the woman whose house we are staying at is throwing a Vietnamese New Year party tonight and is currently in the process of trying to make 1,000 pork dumplings. (Literally : One Thousand). She put Geoff to work building a big barbecue and chopping cabbage as I mounted my front rack and sorted my gear. The place is in chaos right now and we're just a little hesitant of the rager that awaits us when we return. Luckily, we will be able to carbo load on dumplings before heading up to the relative quiet of Palmer tonight to try to sleep before the race. Everything starts at 2 p.m. Sunday.

I'm hoping for time to type up final thoughts before the race start, but in case I don't, here are a few more race links:

Iditarod Trail Invitational message board
Wasilla weather forecast
Skwentna weather forecast
Puntilla Lake weather forecast
Nikolai weather forecast
McGrath weather forecast

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Leaving Juneau

Date: Feb. 21
Mileage: 30.1
February mileage: 297.7
Hours: 2:00
Temperature: 40

Head finally (nearly) clear, preparations finally (nearly) complete, I went for one last ride in Juneau. I began to question the wisdom of my (nearly) complete taper, with my legs pumping endless fire into the (nearly) spring air. I wondered if maybe I am too rested, too complacent, too fat and lazy for the daunting day that now is just below the horizon. But today I felt like I had a hundred million miles in my legs, and I rode that feeling effortlessly to the end of the North Douglas Highway.

I stopped on the Mendenhall Lake wetlands to take one last look across the Channel. The valley stretched toward the city, the thin strip of familiarity through a crush of wilderness. I let my eyes drift up to the ice cap and linger on the great unknown beyond. I felt like this would be the last time I would ever see this view of Juneau - not because I am really overdramatic like that, but because I feel like, no matter what, I will return from Anchorage in two weeks as a different version of myself. It seemed like I should say goodbye.

I hope I will be able to post from Anchorage before the race, but just in case I don't have a chance, I wanted to leave the Web sites where information about the race will be posted. It begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 24. The best source is here: The Iditarod Trail Invitational Latest News. Someone will post the time and date each racer comes through each checkpoint. There also are sometimes comments about racers' and trail conditions. There will also be a daily report from MTBCast about the race leaders. As I understand it, there will also be updates at Sleepmonsters.com

Thanks again to all who are following along.

Good news!

I just spoke with a truck driver in Anchorage who told me he had my bicycle and was five minutes from Speedway Cycles, the bike shop that was going to give Pugsley a "cold-weather" lube and tuneup. I don't think I'll feel completely at ease until I have the bike in my hands, but knowing it has been found and is on its way to its destination is a big weight off my head.

I want to thank everyone who made some noise and helped mobilize FedEx in my plight. My status as just another person in a crush of delayed packages didn't entitle me to any special treatment, but I really think the response to my desperate situation convinced the company to take some action, and almost definitely made the difference between my package arriving today instead of sometime next week. So thanks to Angela at NPR, my bull-dog mother who spent more than an hour on the phone with a range of different people, my dad who wrote e-mails to the higher ups, and anyone else who weighed in. Also, I wanted to thank Manny in Anchorage and others who commented and offered to help me find alternatives. Understanding I still had options was hugely pacifying when I still felt like I was facing a big unknown.

Also, I forgot the link to this when I was one-track-minding through my Pugsley dilemma, but Jared Eborn with the Deseret News wrote a great piece for my hometown paper in Utah. You can read it here.

Also, my final pre-race interview with NPR, which is mostly devoted to talking about my missing bike. It, too, has a happy ending.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Finding Pugsley

Well, the saga continues. Today I had both my mom (who is much better at wading through the murk of corporate America than I am) and NPR's Bryant Park Project lobbying FedEx on my behalf. They both received a version of the same runaround I was getting yesterday, except for today the customer service people added bad weather as a reason packages didn’t go out earlier. I wanted to tell them that I live in Juneau - if the weather was too bad this week for flying, that must be the case 348 days out of the year. When the radio host told them she was from NPR, the customer service agent reacted by saying, “We don’t respond to threats.”

I dropped back into the Juneau office again later this morning to play their own weather argument against them - if the bike’s still in Juneau, I said, I want it back. The woman at the desk made a call, chatted for a bit and then said to the person she was speaking with, “Yeah, that’s probably her. I probably have her right here.” Then she cupped her hand over the mouthpiece and said, “Are you the woman with the bicycle?” I nodded. I already had my tirade mapped out. I was ready to unleash when she got off the phone and said, “There’s really nothing we can do. We don’t know exactly where your package is. But if it went out Monday as you said, it really should be scanned into the Anchorage system by Friday.” Maybe FedEx is a good shipping company. I don’t know. Their customer service is sure terrible.

I’d like to believe Pugsley will be in Anchorage by Friday, but I have no real reason to optimistic about that. The package is literally off the radar, and probably has been since the moment I dropped it off. I am not without options, however. There is a bike shop in Anchorage that actually offers race-ready Pugsley rentals, at a special Ultrasport price that is nearly half what I spent on my own Pugsley in the first place (and these bikes may or may not be available this close to the event.) There also appears to be some benevolent souls in the core Anchorage winter cycling group that may be willing to lend me a bicycle. I don’t have a definite replacement lined up yet, but I am at least a few steps on the optimistic side of just going out and buying a pair of snowshoes and a sled. Either way, I’m showing up at this race. I am not going to let FedEx be the challenge that beats me.

I spent a lot of emotional currency on this problem yesterday, and felt a bit guilty about indulging my stress to such an extreme. After all, unexpected and even potentially catastrophic hiccups are just part of running the Iditarod. At the same time, if I have no bicycle, I have no race. So why should I conserve my emotional state? But working through all that negativity and panic and outright despondence has actually been cathartic. It has helped me clear my head of other building stresses and look more clearly into the big picture. This morning, I was trying on a new pair of socks that finally arrived yesterday, two weeks late (via UPS), which I let sit in their unopened package all day because, “If I don’t even have a race, why do I need socks?” But as I pulled on the warm wool socks this morning, I felt this rush of confidence. “Finally,” I thought, “My armor is complete.” I’m ready to go to battle. Steed or no steed. Firm trail or soft trail. Come what may.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

My bicycle is missing

Date: Feb. 18
Mileage: 18.0
February mileage: 267.6
Hours: 1:30
Temperature: 38

Last week, when I was having a bad day amid all my bicycle preparations, I jokingly mentioned that I might not mind never seeing my bike again. Today I’m despondent that I may just get my wish.

This is hopefully nothing, and I am trying to take a stubborn stance of optimism, but the fact is Pugsley is lost in a FedEx vortex right now, and no one seems willing or able to tell me where it is.

When I dropped the bike off on Wednesday, I was under the impression that it would go out that day and be delivered Friday. But in actuality, it sat at the Juneau FedEx center until Monday and was in theory picked up in the afternoon - although no one knows for sure, because no one bothered to scan it. Now I have the national customer service agents telling me that my package does not exist, and the local people telling me that it may be on its way to Anchorage, but it definitely is no longer in Juneau.

I stopped by the office today and tried to swallow my panic as I explained how much I *really* needed to know where it was.

“Juneau’s a small market,” the man told me. “We only ship out once a week and the driver came and picked up all of our ground packages yesterday. They don’t get scanned until they get to Anchorage.”

“Any idea how long it will take to get there?”

“Actually, I don’t know how long it usually takes.”

“Is there any way to contact the driver?”

“We used to call him, but he stopped answering his phone and then he changed his cell phone number because he was getting too many calls about packages.” The man smiled faintly as if this news was supposed to make me feel better. It did not. It made me feel a hundred times worse. He shrugged his shoulders as though to tell me not to blame him. It made me want to blame him a hundred times more. How can you stand your work? I wanted to ask him. If it were my job to send packages into a dark abyss with no promise or even hope that they will ever reach their destination, I think my own ineffectiveness would drive me crazy.

“If it doesn’t get there by next Monday,” he said, “give us a call and we’ll see what we can do.”

Now I am trying to accept that the only thing I can do is wait and see. I have been going over my options in my head. The nightmare of lining up for the Iditarod with my Gary Fisher is more than I can bear. I could maybe rent a fat bike in Anchorage, but what kind of bike shop would be willing to rent out for an event like this? I wonder if it is too late to build up a sled and reregister for this race as a walker.

Please, Pugsley, come back.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A reminder that anything can happen

Wow. Tough times at the Susitna this year - which may go down in Alaska mountain biking lore as the "Carnage 100." I grabbed the above picture from an online post by "Mesotony" (Sorry, Tony, I don't know your real name.) It shows skiers fighting a ground blizzard on Flathorn Lake. The race had everything: 50 mph winds, soft trails, blowing wet snow, big drifts, and more bicycle pushing than any sane person would be willing to accept. A suprising percentage of the field didn't even bother to start. Of those who did, at least half scratched. Those who chose to stay and slog it out had to earn - really, really earn - every mile. The winning cyclist (and second person across the finish line), Pete Basinger, spent more than 25 hours grinding out what he reported to be "25 miles of pushing, 50 miles of granny gear, low pressure, searching for a track firm enough to ride and then about 25 miles of good riding, but never really fast." Last year, it took Pete less than 11 hours to cover the same snowy distance.

In short, this news doesn't bode well for the start of the Iditarod Invitational, although anything can change in a week's time. But continued weather reports of snow storms, wind, and blowing drifts forecast the possibility of equally tough conditions. So I have to spend some time really considering how I will react if faced with the "Carnage 100 times 3.5." I like to think that my greatest athletic gift is the ability to slog on, but I'm not sure how far I would be willing to tread just to meet my own limits. I've worked too hard and come too far to join the ranks of the "DNS," so I guess I just need to mentally prepare for a long, long haul.

The outcome of the Susitna 100 is the perfect example of why nothing can be planned in a winter endurance cycling race. As the event approaches, I've had several people ask me what my goals are for each section. How long do I think it will take me to cover certain distances? When do I plan to sleep, take my breaks, eat my meals? What's my goal finishing time? My answer: I. Have. No. Idea. The truth is, I believe setting too many goals in a race such as this one will only set me up for frustration and failure. I need to accept things as they come, and embrace them as part of my race, and move on. Dwelling on storms and poor trail conditions can't be constructive. But that's probably what I'd do if I became too dedicated to the idea that it should take 7-9 hours to cover the first 50 miles of the race. It could take 24. I need to be ready for that.

That said, some have asked for a breakdown of each section of race, to get a better idea about the course Geoff and I are traveling as the numbers start to come in (I'm not yet sure exactly where race updates will be posted. I'll post a link as soon as I know.) So below is a short description of each section of trail between checkpoints.

I also wanted to link to my interview with the Anchorage Daily News, which was published in the newspaper's Sunday Outdoor section (centerpiece status! sweet!) I bought a copy for you, Mom. I will mail it soon. But for now, check out Melissa DeVaughn's story here.

The Iditarod trail to McGrath:

Knik to Yentna Station, 57 miles

The trail leaves Knik Lake westbound on the old Iditarod Trail, running across low, mostly wooded hills, open swamps, and a number of lakes. The trail crosses the Little Susitna River at the 18-mile point, then works over to Flathorn Lake across an area of level swamps and woods cut by a few sharp ravines (about 30 miles). After a couple more swamps and tree line, you’ll drop onto the Susitna River after 35 miles go north up the broad Susitna for a few miles and then swing up the wide Yentna River, the Susitna’s main tributary, for the last 17 miles to Yentna Station. This entire stretch of trail is very heavily used all winter and is often in very bad shape. There will be ruts, bumps, rough spots, and moguls meet lots of snowmachines, particularly on the river, some of them moving very fast and perhaps not as alert as they should be because of the numerous parties along the trail.

Yentna Station to Skwentna (mile 90), 33 miles
From Yentna Station to Skwentna is all on the Yentna River, with the last few miles up the Skwentna River to the checkpoint. The river stays between well-defined banks for about five miles upstream from Yentna Station, and also for the last 15 miles into Skwentna. In the middle 15 miles it branches out into a maze of channels and sloughs, any of which can have a trail for local traffic. This is normally a fast run with no hills, provided the trail is in good shape.

Skwentna to Finger Lake (mile 130), 40 miles
It’s uphill most of the way to Finger Lake. The trail leaves Skwentna southbound on the Skwentna River, cuts off the left bank to parallel the river in a swamp for eight miles, then swings west to cross the river at the site of the old Skwentna Roadhouse about ten miles out. It then climbs up into the heavily wooded Shell Hills for a mile and a half, down through open swamps and wooded areas to cross Shell Creek after another mile and a half, then on for another three miles across small lakes, swamps, and woods to Onestone Lake, where you’re about 25 miles from Finger Lake. After two-mile-long Onestone Lake, the trail works west along open swamps and meadows, through occasional treelines, and across a few lakes, steadily climbing to Finger Lake.

Finger Lake to Rainy Pass (mile 165), 35 miles
This is a tough run with some short stretches of extraordinarily difficult trail. After leaving Finger Lake, the trail climbs steeply over a ridge to Red Lake, runs along it for a mile or two, swings up a ravine, and then follows a series of climbing wooded shelves interspersed with open swamps. About ten miles from Finger Lake, the trail drops down a series of wooded benches toward Happy River, then onto the river itself via the dreaded Happy River steps. Then it’s down the river to its mouth, up the Skwentna River for a few hundred yards, and back up a steep ravine to the plateau on the south side of the Happy. The trail will cross Shirley Lake, then Long Lake (11 miles from Rainy Pass Lodge) and then run along the steeply sloping mountainside above the south side of the Happy River valley to the checkpoint.

Rainy Pass to Rohn (mile 210), 45 miles
The trail runs in the open on the tundra of Ptarmigan Pass from Rainy Pass Lodge to the mouth of Pass Creek, which it then follows northwest up to the summit of Rainy Pass itself. Then there are several miles of sometimes steep downhills and often tight, twisting trail through scrub willow southwest along Pass Fork to Dalzell Creek. The trail then drops into the infamous Dalzell Gorge for a few miles and finally onto the Tatina River for the last five miles to Rohn.

Rohn to Nikolai (mile 300), 90 miles
Dropping out of the Alaska Range, racers cross the Farewell Burn - the site of a large forest fire that burned more than a million acres and left a stark landscape that has inspired a variety of hallucinations. This run breaks into three natural sections: 20 miles along the south side of the South Fork of the Kuskokwim from Rohn to Farewell Lakes and up onto the Farewell Burn, 35 miles across the Burn itself to Sullivan Creek, and then 20 miles north from Sullivan Creek past Salmon River to Nikolai.

Nikolai to McGrath (mile 350), 50 miles
This is a fairly easy (but sometimes deceptive) stretch which always seems to be longer than it is, mainly because it is often so boring and there are so many seemingly identical lakes and river bends. The trail cuts cross-country southwest from Nikolai toward McGrath, running along a series of lakes and swamps interspersed with wooded stretches to Big River. It then runs west down Big River for a few miles to the Kuskokwim River, then down the Kuskokwim to McGrath, with several shortcuts across the bigger oxbow bends. If you’re running at night or early in the morning and the weather is clear and calm, dress warmly — it can get quite cold down on the Kuskokwim River for the last half of the leg. The trail from Nikolai to McGrath crosses many open lakes and swamps for the first 20 miles. When the wind is blowing, these areas can quickly drift in.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Su 100

Date: Feb. 15 and 16
Mileage: 30.1 and 20
February mileage: 249.6
Hours: 2:30 and 1:45
Temperature: 38 and 34

Right now, as I sit at my office desk staring into a computer screen abyss, there are people out there, somewhere, racing in the Susitna 100.

I don’t know too much about them or the conditions they’re facing. The weather report yesterday said there was new snow. Lots of new snow. And cold. A little cold. The kind of conditions that could make for one tough bicycle race, and I think about the racers out there, somewhere, and I wonder how they’re feeling. I try to send out positive vibes, well-wishes to the sky, to tell them I understand their pain. But I don’t. I am sitting at my office desk, climate controlled, with a Diet Pepsi in one hand, and I only have my own experiences to relate to.

I still blame the Susitna 100 for putting me on the trajectory I currently follow, the one that will have been straddling the starting line next week to face the same trail, the same snow, the same cold, only longer, and snowier, and colder. I still don’t really understand how I came to this point, how I went from being a recent Alaska transplant and recreational cyclist leafing through a Su 100 pamphlet to one of the 49 participants signed up for the 2008 Iditarod Invitational. I wish I could warn the novices on the Susitna trail right now: It’s a slippery slope.

And yet, I know that I still draw from the Susitna 100 some of my most valuable life lessons. The 2006 event in particular taught me the power of perseverance, which extends beyond bicycle racing into the greater and more daunting challenges in life. Whenever I am really struggling with something, I often think about pushing my bike most the way from Flathorn Lake to the finish line, a distance of about 25 miles that took me nearly 10 hours to traverse. The wet snow that had obliterated the trail turned over to rain, and it soaked through everything ... my insulation layers, my base layers, my skin. I was literally dripping. I would stop walking for a few seconds - to grab a snack or adjust my soaked socks in an effort to stave off blisters - and a deep chill would set in. At the time, I had no idea how close I was to the cusp of a very serious situation. All it would have taken was one long stop to set loose a wave of hypothermia that would have been difficult to reverse (I know this now, after numerous 35-and-raining experiences here in Juneau.) Most of the competitors still on the course were taking refuge from the rain, and when I finally finished I would be the only person across the finish line for several hours on either side. But all I could do was continue to take one slushy step after the next, and sometimes sing to myself the Dorie mantra from “Finding Nemo:” Just Keep Swimming.

So that’s the message I’m trying to send out to the racers in the Susitna 100, especially the cyclists still out on the course as the long night fades to day, the cyclists wading through heavy snow, and the cyclists on 2.1” tires, and the cyclists who had no idea what they were getting into this morning. And that’s the message I’m trying to send to my future self, the one who will return to the Susitna River Valley to face her own inexperience and cluelessness all over again, and again and again: Just Keep Swimming.

*****

On a different note, I wanted to thank everyone who made purchases from UltraRob’s Outdoor Gear Search last Monday and Tuesday. Rob reported record visits on Monday and record sales on Tuesday, to the tune of more than $250 in commissions! So thank you again. Rob's raising funds for a future attempt in the Race Across America, so be sure to visit Rob's site for all your future online gear needs.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Heat wave

Date: Feb. 14
Mileage: 40.2
February mileage: 199.5
Hours: 4:00
Temperature: 39

I set out today under drizzly skies and my very best slush suit. The weather forecast called for 42 degrees.

I shimmied the handlebars over what after three solid days of rain has finally returned to bare pavement. The studded tires crackled and I tried to remember the last time I rode this mountain bike; before I moved - two weeks, at least, maybe three. The last time I rode this mountain bike, the hub froze. Today it darted across the pavement, light and fast. A cool 35 pounds lighter than my fully-loaded Pugsley. I felt an invisible burden lift away.

The rain started to dry up just as the sweat started to flow. I stopped to peel off my layers - balaclava and gloves stuffed in pockets. The fleece hoodie tied around my waist. Bare skin and a 15 mph tailwind. Only the decimated snowpack betrayed an exciting sensation of summer.

I arrived at the glacier in what seemed like record time - something more akin to summertime mileage. My fitness goals behind me, I pulled the bike up to the edge of the lake and made myself a comfortable seat in the snow. I pulled a Clif Bar out of my handlebar bag, soft as a freshly baked cookie. I took tiny bites as I gazed at the skyline of the surrounding mountains, the way the glacier curved downward like a shattered S, the reflections in overflow across a plane of rotting ice. I wondered if I had ever lingered in one spot at the glacier this long. I've always been on the verge of rushing off somewhere else ... the pursuit of mileage; the urgency to stay moving and stay warm. Today even my wet feet felt toasty in their cocoon of Neoprene as I sat, still, for a while, soaking it all in.

I thought this may be a nothing ride. Junk mileage. And everything I needed.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Apprehension

This has been a rough few days for me. Even with copious hours of help from Geoff, it seems like all I have done is work on my bike. I’d wake up in the morning and do the washing, the gear prep, the tinkering, then come home from work at night for more gear prep, more tinkering, then wake up the next day and do it all again. I was relieved when I finally hoisted my boxed-up bike across the wet ice that was once the FedEx parking lot and watched an all-too-cheery delivery guy haul it away. I half hoped I’d never see it again.

That’s another thing I’ve been struggling with since, oh, about Monday - a vague (or sometimes very acute) sense of dread. The kind of dread that gurgles up from my gut, casting a gray pall over the already dreary gray days, telling me that I would rather do anything than slog across Alaska tundra on my bicycle. This isn’t wholly unexpected. I struggled a lot with a similar sense of foreboding before the 2006 Susitna 100, although I wasn’t willing to admit that to myself at the time. It is all part of this great game, and that part that makes be long to wish away these next 10-odd days. Of course there will still be flashes of excitement, but I’m worried that all I may do for the next week is slink through my routine and brood.

I finally received the panic call from my dad the other day, who has been doing way more Internet research about this race than I would prefer. He informed me that, as he spoke to me, it was 43 degrees below 0 in McGrath. “Yes, yes I know it is, Dad,” I said.

“Do you know what that means?” he asked.

“Well no,” I said. “No, I actually have no idea.”

But what little I can imagine about -43 degrees on the cold side of the Alaska Range is completely lost on my friends of co-workers, well-meaning as they are.

“So, when’s your race?” they ask. I want to tell them that it’s not a race, it’s a full-on expedition with the added pressure to go fast, and I want to tell them that anxiety about performance is nothing compared to anxiety about perseverance.

“How long is it? 350 miles?” I want to tell them to take their Juneau concept of a mile and multiply it by at least four, that’s what a mile means in Interior Alaska wilderness.

“And you’re riding your bike?” And I want to say, I am taking a bike with me. I will use the bike when I can. But I have to expect the possibility that the bike will be more of a burden than a tool. That I may spend as much time pushing my bike as I do riding it. Maybe more. I want to ask them if they can understand the eternity of 2 mph when it’s spread out over 350 miles.

“And they’ll have checkpoints for you with food and stuff, right?” Checkpoints that are as much as a day apart, yes. That if you aren’t self-sufficient out there, you might as well be a couch potato with a solid training schedule of TiVo for how likely it is you’ll succeed.

“So I bet you’re getting really excited.” And I just nod, because I don’t know what to say.

But the truth is, I am excited. The Iditarod Invitational is a guaranteed grand adventure. Even if I slip on Knik Lake ice and break my arm less than one mile into the race, I will always be able to say, “Well, I dreamed it.” The most difficult step may just be showing up at that starting line. Hopefully I will be able to use some of these next 10 days to assuage some of my anxieties and get out more on my mountain bike, because this month has had entirely too much time off the bike. The Pugsley is gone and there are only a few small things I can do to prepare. The only training hump I have left to tackle is my fear.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My ride, pimped

Date: Feb. 11
Mileage: 20.5
February mileage: 179.8
Hours: 2:00
Temperature: 34

I went for one last ride on the Pugsley yesterday, fighting rapidly rising temperatures and a proportionally deepening layer of slush. When I came home, I was thrilled to find a small package from Eric at Epic Designs. Inside: The Complete Snow Bike Racing Kit® (just kidding. That's not really trademarked.) I had a mere three hours to play with it this morning, which is what I did rather than break my bike down like I was supposed to be doing. It took me more than one of those hours just to get the front bivy bag figured out. But once I did, I still managed to get my entire, not-so-conservative winter kit - minus a few small items - stuffed in these bags. And that was without much planning or thought. With a little more time, and a fair amount more practice, the remaining items (a few more packages of food, chemical warmers, ice cleats, goggles, first aid kit) should slide right in. As it is, the frame bag still has quite a bit of space. And I am already planning my Camelbak pack for the myriad small things I want quick access to, such as knife, flint fire starter, sunglasses, chap stick, batteries, bike tool, pump, etc. I am planning to mount my fuel bottle in a water-bottle holder on the fork, with my Outdoor Research bottle holder on the other side. This kit could work! And, it seems, racks are completely optional (front and back!)

This is the gravity-defying "Super Twinkie" seat post bag. I stuffed it as obnoxiously full as possible, and then some. It only grows higher and more rigid the more full it becomes. It even has straps on the bottom, which my small frame doesn't allow any clearance for, but I figured out how to cross them in order to mount a thin, tent-pole-type bag to the side (I used a rolled-up fleece jacket to test my theory.) I think such a bag would be a good quick-access carrier for socks and liner gloves. It will probably also give me just the extra space I'd need to get my top insulation layer in the seat post bag if it happens to be 25 degrees or warmer.

The good 'ol frame bag with an add-on "gas tank" above the frame. I didn't take a picture of the top of the gas tank, but it has a double zipper that can be easily opened and closed with big mittens for quick access to food while on the bike. Just for testing purposes, I stuffed it with six "teeth-shattering" Clif Bars, one fruit-and-nut Trio bar, two Pop Tart packages, and 10 fruit leathers. Room to spare! The frame bag is mostly a depository for food, but with this new set-up, it also will need to hold my stove and pot, my spare tubes and chemical warmers. Seems like that can be easily done and still have room for the ~9,000 calories I was hoping for. I pedaled this a short distance and there's plenty of clearance for my knees. Standing up involves some minor brushing against the gas tank, but how often do you stand up on a snow bike?

This is the bivy burrito, a handlebar bag that is currently resting on a front rack, but wouldn't necessarily have to. I had quite a struggle with it this morning - most of that time just trying to figure out all the details - but it will take some practicing before I can say for sure whether it is right for me and my obnoxiously large sleeping kit. But believe it or not, inside is a -40 degree Marmot CWM sleeping bag, a full-sized Ridge Rest and a Black Diamond bivy sack. You can take your whole sleeping bag set-up as is - inside the bivy and everything - roll it up and wrap the sack around it, hence the burrito name. You use a row of compression straps to cinch it all together to a workable mass, although I have to say that down in the sleeping bag really, really wants to escape. I obviously didn't perfect it this morning - you can see some spots where the sleeping bag succeeded. But two handlebar straps and a removeable stem strap help secure it to the bike without the necessity of a rack. I need to take that rack off for shipping tonight, so hopefully I'll have time to test just how good the clearance is.

So there you have it - completely outfitted by Epic Designs. If I wasn't so new to this winter bicycle touring scene, I'd probably be even more impressed than I am. But I have to say, I'm pretty impressed. Everything's sleek and gray and matched perfectly to my Pugsley - like a real racing kit. It's especially tasty compared to the sloppy, haphazard randomness of my kit for last year's Susitna 100:

Or even worse, 2006, when I actually had a seat post rack, a loosley-packed non-compression stuff sack on the handlebars, and a Wal-mart-purchased handlebar bag stuffed in the tiny triangle of my frame between the down tube and the rear suspension of my Sugar:

You can see why Epic Designs bags are a thing of beauty.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Back to details

Date: Feb. 9
Mileage: 22.1
February mileage: 159.3
Hours: 2:30
Temperature: 7
Snowfall: 8"

I spent the month of January feeling more and more lost in the big picture of the Iditarod Invitational. Now that last-minute preparations have narrowed my focus back to the little details, I am actually feeling less anxiety. Give it another five days or so. The race starts two weeks from this afternoon.

Geoff and I finished packing up our food drops. Combined, we have 40 pounds of duct-tape-wrapped “food bombs” ready to ship. Among his more interesting additions are two packages of precooked bacon (until about two months ago, Geoff was for the past 10 years a vegetarian), Hammer Perpetuem and 2,700 calories of Reeses Peanut Butter Sticks. I kept my drops simple, knowing that in the survival state endurance cycling induces, monotony, simplicity and precedence are key. My food bomb consists of one pound dried fruit, one pound nuts, 8 oz. sunflower seeds, 5 oz. chocolate, 9 oz. turkey jerky, four Pop Tarts, eight Clif Bars, four Trio bars, 10 fruit leathers, 10 oz. packaged tuna and 9 oz. Wheat Thins (those last two are my checkpoint “treats.”) It also has batteries, chemical warmers and fuel - for a total of about 12,000 calories, 10 pounds gear, and provisions for two-three days.

I also, after too many failed trials, am leaning away from using my Camelbak as my primary hydration source. I will still carry a backpack and a bladder - either my insulated 3-liter Camelbak bladder or noninsulated 6-liter MSR bladder. But I also bought one of those Outdoor Research insulation sleeves and plan to stuff a Nalgene bottle in one of my pogies, then refill it with my bladder. I know the inconvenience of a bottle is a likely path to perpetual dehydration, but it’s still more accessible than a Camelbak with a frozen hose.

I also have a lot of little things to add to Pugsley before I break him down and ship him off to Anchorage for his final overhaul. I will need to have him boxed up and on a FedEx truck by Wednesday morning at the latest.

Beyond that, the taper has started. My training has slowed down and I haven’t even noticed. I feel busier than ever. I was hoping to go for as many rides as I could before I ship Pugsley away, but the recent winds and 8-10 inches of new snow Saturday made cycling impossible everywhere today (the plowed-in road shoulders were even more unrideable than the trails.) Rather than embark on a windblown push-a-thon along the Douglas Highway, I went for a snowshoe hike in the vicinity of the Mount Jumbo trail, breaking my own path and sinking to my knees with every step. It was a trudge. I was drenched in sweat. All around me, billowing pillows of fine powder frosted the landscape with almost confectionary softness. And all I could think about was how I was going to format my schedule so I could completely load up my bike before I completely break it down. Maybe this detail focus isn’t such a good thing after all.


P.S. Don't forget to drop by UltraRob's outdoor gear site for some great deals on fun new toys! Good for you ... good for me!

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Trying to soak it all in

Date: Feb. 8
Mileage: 36.2
February mileage: 137.2
Hours:4:15
Temperature: 5

It's been tough to go out in this wind.

Even as I tell myself how valuable it all is, to forge into the big gusts and learn how well my boots hold up, and my gloves, and my Camelbak hose, I still hesitate. This drains me, every hour of experimenting drains me, the constant fighting against the crosswind blasts, the needles of frigid air that always find their way to tender patches of skin, the cold I can still feel even as I tell myself it's fine; I'm fine; that when I have my layers on, it's the same thing as riding when its 60 degrees. It's not. I'm not. Fine, that is. My eyes are bloodshot. My legs are too tired for legs that have averaged 9 mph on a snow-packed road for four hours. I have a two-inch snotcicle hanging off my goggles. I stop to take a picture of it, but it breaks as I'm fumbling with my camera.

It's tough to get out of the shower after a ride like that. I stand under the hot water and think about the prospect of 12 unbroken hours of that, or 18. Or 24. The layers I believe would hold strong, but my mental resolve is more fragile. There's the breakdown of perseverance, and then there's the dissolution of nerve. Give wind long enough, and it will tear away at your soul. But it's easier to fight when retreat is not an option. I take comfort in the fact that I am great at doing the things I have no choice but to do.

I step over my half-packed camping gear to check the weather for tonight:

Increasing clouds. Breezy. Lows 5 below to 3 above zero...except around 9 below in wind sheltered areas. Near downtown Juneau and Douglas...north wind 35 mph increasing to 50 mph late with wind gusts up to 65 mph. Wind chill to 35 below zero.

It's perfect. Nearly perfect. How can I pass up a chance to test such extremes? I put on a fleece pullover and step out onto the porch. The wind flash-freezes my wet hair as I huddle in the raging ground blizzard. I slip back inside, crack open a Diet Pepsi and settle on the couch. Sometimes, in times like these, I think of the mantra of my fellow Iditarod racer, Brig. There will be plenty of time to suffer ... later.


Late Edit: I wanted to say thank you again to everyone who has donated to my Iditarod effort. I know I owe several people photo CDs, and I am going to try to get those all sent out this week. If you are still interested in helping out - or even if you're not, but are in the market for good outdoor gear - my Internet friend and fellow blogger Rob Lucas aka "UltraRob" has offered to hold a fundraiser for my Iditarod race this Monday and Tuesday, Feb. 11 and 12. All you have to do is go to his cycling and outdoor gear search site and look for the product you've been thinking about buying. His search engine will find you a great deal from a number of online retailers, and if you buy something, Rob will donate the commissions to my fund. It's so simple! Rob has been frequenting my blog since I was a complete noob on the endurance scene. He has an extensive background in endurance racing - one of his latest endeavours was the 2006 Race Across America - and he could probably see right through my embarrassing revelations and lack of experience. But he always offered me a lot of encouragement, and although we have never met, I can imagine him being an incredibly fun guy to ride with. This fundraiser is his latest act of generosity, even as he continues to raise money for a future RAAM attempt, he is carving out a couple of days to help me. So, thanks Rob. Be sure to check out his site. But wait for Monday to buy something! ;-)

Thursday, February 07, 2008

What does 50 mph headwind feel like at 6F?

Date: Feb. 7
Mileage: 27.5
February mileage: 101
Hours: 3:15
Temperature: 6

It's interesting ... it almost feels hot.

But not hot in the way you'd hope hot would feel.

No, it's a more acute heat. A furnace blast that needles its way into every weakness in your clothing and sears your skin. The slit between my goggles and balaclava; the tip of my nose; the open space where my coat stretches over my backpack; the fleece gloves as I pull my hands out of my pogies; everything burned red and tingling. I can understand how easy it becomes to confuse cold with hot, even as I wince against an ice-cream headache and a bombardment of wind-sharpened snow.

But even more amazing is that, in the midst of all this, I can pull my balaclava over my forehead and nose, reach back and tuck my insulation layers into my pants, pull on my mittens, and disappear into my own little climate zone, facing the 50 mph wind gust as it blasts me with super-cooled air and feeling almost ... normal. Although pedaling became impossible when the gusts really hit. As soon as the wind stopped me cold, I would just hop off to the side, dig my boot into a snowbank to keep from sliding backward, bury my chin in my collarbone, and steel my silhouette against the storm. After crouching in raging ground blizzards as the 50 mph gusts blasted by, the 25 mph sustained headwind felt positively tranquil.

I'm not sure what the windchill would be at 50 mph ... somewhere in the negative 20s? I'm pretty happy with my gear in these paticular conditions, although I am still searching for that ideal balance of comfort one must obtain between moving and not moving. I didn't sweat much today, but stops longer than five minutes left me a little chilled. However, I think it's fair to consider that a windchill-simulated temperature of -20 may be even worse than an actual air temperature of -20. Because in the wind, unless everything you are wearing is completely windproof, that -20 sensation is going straight to your skin.

I went pretty easy today - three hours - and felt pretty good. I am hoping to head out later this weekend for more gear testing - however, I am "leaking" a lot from this cold right now and reluctant to overnight in this condition, again. The congestion makes it almost impossible to sleep. Although in this kind of wind and the racket it makes, "sleeping" is not really an option anyway. More likely what I'll do is ride my bike somewhere and lay down for a couple of hours, and then I will come home, down some Nyquil, and crawl into bed. Maybe tomorrow ... something to look forward to!

It's all good learning experience. And in its own sick way ... kind of fun.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ode to Pugsley

Today I went to the gym for 90 minutes and felt pretty strong. I didn't push all that hard, but I feel like I have likely surmounted all but the residual annoyances of my cold. Since I don't want the germs to come rushing back to action, I won't particiate in all of the activities I was planning for this weekend. But I do hope to get out into the latest cold snap and its 30-below wind chills to test gear, including my Ghostbuster-worthy hydration system.

Beyond that, it seems being sick and going to the gym isn't very condusive to good posts for my photo/lifestyle/training blog, so I thought today I'd do a blog dump of sorts. I have a picture of downtown Juneau as seen from the Treadwell Ditch trail, taken Jan. 14. I also thought I'd include my latest NPR post. Like many cyclists, I have a bad habit of humanizing my bikes. A while back, I wrote an apology letter to Sugar. Recently, for my NPR blog, I wrote a love letter to Pugsley. I was running on minimal sleep and what was probably the beginning of my contribution to cold and flu season when I penned it. So it's a bit loopy, but it's sincere...

Dear Pugsley,

I'll never forget the first time I laid eyes on you, dangling from the ceiling at the Anchorage REI. An arctic blast of nitrogen-freezing proportions was ripping outside as I browsed the headlamp aisle. That's when I first caught a glimpse of your well-endowed wheels. I felt like a Valley girl in a bad '90s rap video ... "Oh, my, god. Becky, look at his butt. It is so big." You looked like one of those fixie guys' Frankenbikes. But, you know, who understands those fixie guys, anyway?

You moved on to other things. So did I. I was new on the winter bike scene, and convinced that studs were more my type. Those carbide-pierced tires were so punk rock, and I was thrilled by the way they gripped onto ice and never let go. But when the snow really started to settle in the relationship, the studs just bogged down like a pothead with a Nintendo. I came to realize that studs and I had no real future.

The next winter, I went looking for something a little more willing to commit. That's when I found SnowCats, the wide rims that fit on a regular bike. I outfitted them with semi-wide tires and together we hit the snow, finding more float and more opportunities than before. But there was still something missing in my life, a certain longing that was just out of reach.

The final blow came as I was pushing my SnowCats over a loose, narrow trail, and watched in wonder as a cyclist passed me, riding. His bike was equipped with the same wide tires I had seen at REI that fateful winter day. The tires of Pugsley. The next day, I told the SnowCats we had to talk.

I'll admit I had my doubts, Pugsley. In a sport that cherishes sleek and thin, you were excessive and obese. You wore the purple remnants of somebody's bad '90s ecstasy trip, and even when they finally painted you gray, I could still see your skewed fork and crooked frame and offset rims — purposeful deformations just to make room for all that excess fat. But once I finally took the plunge, I was amazed at your strength and grace. You plowed over boulders like they weren't even there, then floated atop sand like you weighed an ounce. When the winter finally came, with our powder-blasting downhill rides and soft trail traverses, I knew it was love.

It's true what they say, Pugsley: Once you've had fat, you can't ever go back.

I like fat bikes and I cannot lie.

So now I just wanted to tell you that I'm so glad we met. We have a long and treacherous trail ahead of us, and I wanted to let you know that I trust you completely. You are my bike. And for better or worse, for faster or slower, in bonking and in health, I know you'll carry me through. I need you, Pugsley. Like I've never needed a bike before.

With love,

Jill

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Sick day

Today I took the first full day off in ... I don't know. It's been a little while. I was terrified yesterday that I might be coming down with the flu. I experienced one of those flash fevers where it's all you can do to stumble to the bathroom before you pass out. Then I used my dinner break to take an 80-minute nap (my boss was really reluctant to let me leave work because half the staff is out sick right now, and I felt just guilty enough about it to cave in.) I spent the rest of the evening slumped over my desk, went home and slept for nearly 10 hours, and woke up feeling at least 70 percent better. Not better enough to justify plowing right back into my routine, but better enough to mill around the house looking for productive things to do.

One thing I did was tape a thick layer of some old-fashioned, Home Depot-style bubble insulation around my Camelbak hose. I have had endless problems with water freezing inside the hose, even after I bought an insulated bladder, and a brand new thermal kit, and took every single precaution recommended to me, including, but not limited to, gently blowing water out of the hose after each drink, forcibly blowing water out of the hose after each drink and burying the hose and finally the entire backpack in as many clothing layers as I can muster. So I went for broke. Geoff says I look like I'm ready to join the Ghostbusters. If my system still freezes, I'll be no worse off than all the other times I had to drink straight from the bladder. However, anything that freezes inside this hose will probably never become unfrozen.

I also have been sewing small pockets inside my first thermal layer for miscellanious items that I want to keep close to my body: Lighters, camera, snacks, etc. I'm positioning them so that they're close to my underarms, but still against the vapor barrier, so hopefully they won't get too, um, moisturized. Then I spent the morning doing some math, and I think I have the specific items for my drop bag gear list about 91.3 percent finalized. I get two drop bags over the course of the race, spaced 1-2 days apart depending on how well things go for me. I'm planning for ~12,000 calories in each one, along with fuel, batteries and heat packs. And yes, there will be Pop Tarts.

Besides the sore throat and lung-ripping cough, I think I'm nearly done being sick. I'm still crossing my fingers that it's a wimpy little bug after all.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Sick, again

Another self-portrait from yesterday's "ride." We've had a lot of new snow this week, which means more walking than riding on these excursions. Walking, I've learned, is generally less fun. I've found creative portraiture helps pass the time.

So I finally caught the office bug that has been making the rounds. This one already has taken me down much harder than the last one. It's actually pretty strange for me to be sick twice in the same season. My immune system is usually ironclad, but maybe all the recent stresses, moving, working, training, and other miscellanious tasks were more than my body could handle. Either way, I'm bummed about it. This was going to be my last week of training; regardless of what I end up doing this week, I'll have to launch into a pretty serious taper by this Saturday. And right now, my prospects are going rapidly downhill. Earlier today, I thought I could still train lightly through what seemed to be a minor cold. Then this afternoon, I had to eat a small packet of Sweet Tarts just to conjure up the energy to stand up out of my chair. I don't think those are going to sit in the stomach too well.

Maybe this is my body's unfair way of forcing me to slow down. Doesn't it realize that I still have so much to do? Even if I cut out training entirely, there's still so much to do in the realm of buying and planning and packing and studying and repairing and mailing and breathing deeply and chanting soothing mantras ... and there's another cold snap coming for testing and practicing and toughening up.

Right now, all I can think about is how disgusting Sweet Tarts are.

I hope I don't hate them forever. They're like the perfect energy food ... a cheap source of dextrose and maltodextrin with just the right hint of Red No. 40.

"Toughen up, just toughen up already."

I think I may be running a fever.

I guess that's all for today.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

The story of stuff

Date: Feb. 3
Mileage: 8.2
February mileage: 73.5
Hours: 2:00
Temperature: 27
Snowfall: 4.5"

In August 2005, I was cinching up the roof rack straps on the 1996 Geo Prism that held all of my worldly possessions when it occurred to me - I owned way too much stuff. Two bicycles on the roof. A trunk full of clothing. Electronics and a microwave and dishes in the back seat ... everything packed and ready to make the 3,000-mile trip up the AlCan Highway to Homer, Alaska. I didn’t know where I would be living; I didn’t know where all my things would go. Some of it had spent my entire Idaho Falls residency stuffed in bins and hidden in drawers. But still I held on to it ... the remnants of priorities I thought I had managed to shed.

In August 2003, I was cinching up the panniers that held what for the next four months would be all of my worldly possessions. Even then, it was an obnoxious amount of gear to be carrying on a bicycle: four full changes of clothing, eight pounds of laptop computer stuff, two days worth of food, one day of water, a tent, a pillow,. etc. Still, I was amazed that everything I needed in life, everything I needed to pedal a bicycle 3,200 miles across the United States, could be carried on my bicycle or gathered along the way. I would make it as far as Wyoming before I mailed half of my clothing and several other miscellaneous gear items home. I kept the computer. Traveling light was one thing, but writing fed my soul.

In August 2007, I was zipping up the small frame bag that held all of the food I thought I could possibly eat in three days. Everything I needed to make a 370-mile self-supported bike trip around the remote Canadian loop known as the Golden Circle was contained in that frame bag, a small handlebar bag, and two small commuter panniers. Even when you think you have reduced your necessities to a bare minimum, there’s always room to shave more. I felt lucky to be learning that simplicity. I felt free.

Now, Geoff and I have moved ourselves and our stuff, again. We used to live in a small one-bedroom basement apartment. Then we downgraded. We moved in to a two-bedroom condo already occupied by a 30-something social worker. We are the roommates. Most of my friends and co-workers are confused as to why I would choose to go “commune.” The short side of the story is that Juneau is an expensive city. I could rent three places in Idaho Falls for what we paid for an apartment the size of a single-wide trailer on Douglas Island. But the long side of the story rests in the fact that we weren’t financially unable to pay those living expenses. We are crossing over to the lowest level of adult living conditions completely by choice. We make this choice because we know that the more money we can save now, the more time we can buy in the future: time to explore, time to enjoy, time to give, time to stock up our bicycles with all of our worldly possessions ... and just ride.

And as I packed up my stuff this time around - already much more gratuitous that the load I hauled up to Alaska in 2005 - I made mental notes of the things I should cull. Space is even tighter now, and the hidden things - the things in drawers and bins and boxes - will have to go. Our timing for this move has been terrible. We couldn’t have picked a worse time to uproot our lives. Still, reaffirming a detachment to my stuff has been refreshing. The things I really value - the winter camping gear, the bicycles, the insulation layers - have been lovingly sorted and stocked. The things I value less - the car already well into its twilight years, the mounds of T-shirts, the trinkets - I’ve put more thought into how easily I could live without these things. Some attachments still run deep. But right now, if you asked me what I thought the secret to obtaining happiness is, I’d say it’s simple: Need less.

Of course I have apprehension about the move ... especially when it comes to giving up current freedoms all on the hope of abstract future freedoms. But when it comes to my former home, the truth is, I don’t even think I’ll miss it.

After all, home is where your stuff is.

P.S.
If you have a few minutes, you should check out the real "Story of Stuff."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Peak weekend and the big move

Date: Jan. 31 and Feb. 1
Mileage: 78.0 and 65.3
January mileage: 833.8
February mileage: 65.3
Hours: 8:15 and 8:00
Temperature: 8 and 20

This week, I learned an important lesson ... do not try to peak out your training and move to a new apartment in the same weekend. I don't know what's more exhausting: Hauling all the pieces to a king-sized bed a half block over glare ice; making dozens of weighted-down trips up two flights of stairs; cycling two consecutive eight-hour days; or attempting to organize a glut of stuff in an apartment already occupied by somebody else. I am going to go ahead and say the last task is the most exhausting. It's the only task not yet completed.

Still, I have been terribly busy, so I'm sorry to the people I owe e-mails and phone calls to. I don't even have much time to blog right now. But I had a encouraging, successful weekend of training in two very different conditions: Cold and clear, then warmer and snowy. I thought I'd throw in a picture dump of sorts right now, and maybe I'll have time to blather about it later. Enjoy.

I normally don't ride this close to the glacier, but I couldn't resist.

Eagle Beach wouldn't be such a bad winter camp spot.

There's Romeo, sitting in the snow. I'm really starting to get attached to this wolf. I wonder if he would let me take him home? Just kidding. My cats would hate that.

I didn't load down my bike this weekend, if only because I can't find half my gear. Hopefully it pops up from the crush of possessions in time for the race.

Lots of fresh snow made the riding extra slow today. But it still amazes me that I can even ride at all once the narrow trails have been generously powder-dusted. I've now used three different types of bikes for my winter riding. They've all had their advantages and disadvantages, but this Pugsley is truly the alpha bike.