Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pugsley's Sunday best

So, happiness, home, taking big leaps into the unknown ... Now, let's move on to more important things, like bicycles!

This coming Sunday is the White Mountains 100. I've been so focused on life in general that this reality just slammed into me, hard. When I first started talking to friends and family about the Anchorage move, I assured them (and myself) that I was going to drop out of the White Mountains 100. It was too much to deal with, at exactly the wrong time. But as I really started to work out the logistics, I realized that I could pull off this race for fairly low expense, and because of that, I'd probably always regret it if I didn't at least try.

The White Mountains 100 is a 100-mile snow trail race in the Interior, near Fairbanks. The fact that it begins the day after the spring equinox doesn't really mean a whole lot in that part of the world. It's still stark winter and temperatures can drop to 40 below. So far, weather reports call for temperatures in the region to be fairly mild, with highs in the 20s and lows in the single digits. With my winter of "Juneau lite" training, I'm really hoping that report sticks.

Still, I plan to come prepared. Prepared with a lightweight tint, that is. Because this is a 100-mile race with sheltered checkpoints that are roughly 20 miles apart, I don't anticipate sleeping out unless there's an emergency. Because of this, I'm going to only carry emergency sleeping gear: A foam sleeping pad, a water-resistant bivy sack, and a down sleeping bag rated to 15 degrees (above zero.) This system combined with my spare clothing should allow at least a couple hours of down time if I break an ankle or do something else that prevents me from walking to the next checkpoint. The bivy system, spare clothing, and a pair of down booties are in the handlebar bag.

In the frame bag I plan to carry my nylon waders, two liters of water in an insulated water bladder, spare batteries, bike repair gear, medical gear, a few chemical warmers, goggles and food. Another liter water bottle will be in an insulated pouch on the handlebars. Those giant pogies also have a way of accumulating things as well.

The seat post bag will simply hold my big down coat, as well as any clothing that I may shed over the course of the race. As for clothing, I'll probably start out the cold morning with a base layer, softshell pants, a vapor barrier vest, a thin polyester pullover, a thick pile polyester pullover, and a softshell coat. I'll have liner gloves and shell mittens, as well as a thin balaclava, a hat, and a thick balaclava.

As for my feet — I am nervous about my feet. I had fairly serious frostbite on my right foot last March, and now, a year later, the foot is still much more sensitive to cold and pressure than my left foot. My right foot gave me a ton of trouble before the Tour Divide, but during the winter it has gradually normalized, although I have yet to really test it in extreme cold (Yeah, thanks a lot, mild Juneau winter.) I'd say the best gauge I have is the five-hour Christmas Eve ride I did in Whitehorse, when temperatures were near zero and the windchill pushed 30 below. I was fine then, so I'm hoping by using the system I'm comfortable with — my studded, waterproof expedition boots, liner socks, vapor barrier socks, thick wool socks, chemical warmers and gators — that I can ward off further damage, and maybe even avoid discomfort.

As far as feet go, the trail reports are a little ominous: "The 40-mile stretch between Cache Mtn cabin (Checkpont #2) and Borealis LeFevre cabin (Checkpoint #4) has quite a bit of overflow, glare ice, and bumps. Racers should be prepared to deal with very icy surfaces and/or patches of open water." Overflow (and bad ice) is what froze my toes last March, so I am going to place the biggest emphasis on keeping my feet dry. My mobile system is waterproof to my shins, very water resistant to my knees, and if I put on the nylon waders, it's waterproof to my hips. The studded boots also work great on wet ice — this has been tested extensively in Juneau conditions. Studded tires would be a nice bonus, but I'd really rather walk the glare ice than give up the float of the Endomorphs.

Walking will also slow me down enough to really gauge the condition of the ice. Believe me, frostbite sucks. If by some horrible mistake I do end up getting my feet wet, I'll take off everything that got wet and try the system I ignored in the 2009 ITI and have subsequently been thinking about for a year — dry wool socks, chemical warmers, plastic baggies and down booties wrapped in duct tape. That should get me through to a place where I can dry my boots.

As far as the race goes, I'm not in perfect physical condition right now, so my main objective is to have fun and enjoy the starkly beautiful environment of Interior Alaska. On the roster there seems to be more skiers than cyclists, but there will be a few women on bikes, including Julie Malingowski from Fairbanks and Janice Tower, a longtime (and extremely fast) winter cyclist.

Right now, I'm really glad I decided to do this. It's sort of like having a bachelorette party the night before a wedding. I'm ready to take this next big step and I think my life will be better for it, but it's nice to have one last day of freedom — my "last" race.

I'm looking forward to it.