Showing posts from March, 2011

Into the great white open

Why does this make me so happy? Why do fire-singed spruce trees and wind-swept fields of snow rend my heart the way they do? What makes these northern latitudes so unique to me that I can pedal a bicycle to the base of a nondescript mountain and let myself believe I have found the edge of the world? Why do I follow a misfit community of athletes deep into these places I don't belong, and why do these difficult efforts make me feel so awake and alive? Why does this make me so happy?

"Fairbanks is a strange place," I told Beat. "I think you'll either love it or think it's super weird." Even though I've never spent much time there, and certainly not in the 40 below months, I love it. My long-term goal when I moved to Anchorage last year was to someday afford to buy a cabin on the domes above Fairbanks and spend my winters writing and cycling and my summers adventuring in Denali and the Brooks Range. Perhaps that's still my goal. "So hopefully,&…

The White Mountains 100

At the pre-race meeting, Beat joked that our race numbers were actually the times we were expected to finish within. His race number was 47. Mine was 18. "The only way I'm finishing in under 18 hours is if something amazing happens," I replied. The White Mountains 100 took me 22:38 to finish last year. Last year contained "near-perfect" trail conditions. This year, I was told to expect more "mashed potatoes" and soft trails. Last year followed at least some specific snow bike training; this year contained single-minded running focus followed by a month of recreational mountain biking. And I was by no means in "serious" mode for this race (and my most serious race mode is honestly not even all that serious.) I was going to hang back with Beat for a bit. I was going to take photos, and enjoy my checkpoint meals, and generally just relish in my spring tour of Interior Alaska. What's the rush?

I don't have time for a full race report ri…

Yeah, we're going down

The trip to the starting line was mostly a quiet one. Ed, who was both the race co-director and a participating skier, was at the wheel of his old truck; I was the wide-eyed passenger fixated on the thick ice covering the road. The last structures of the greater Fairbanks area faded in the side-view mirror, causing me to breathe a nervous sigh. I always get this feeling when I know I'm close to the northernmost reaches of civilization, whether I'm in central Ontario or standing on the shoreline of the Arctic Ocean in Prudhoe Bay — just realizing I could draw a straight line north and likely hit nothing but trees or ice all the way to the North Pole fills me with a primal sort of wonder, and fear.

Dawn was slow to approach. The whole sky was cast in a pale violet light that seemed fixed in time, as though sunrise wasn't coming. I felt anxious, but not in the ways I expected to — not really at all about the race. I hadn't really trained and wasn't emotionally invested…


My friend Keith has been a lot of things in my life. He and his wife, Leslie, were my first "trail angels" in the 2009 Tour Divide, providing me with shelter and much-needed perspective in the days leading up to the race. He's been my tour guide, my ski mentor, my bicycle dealer, my attached-at-the-wheels partner for a week of mud and suffering in TransRockies, my Thanksgiving dinner host and part of my "second home" in the unlikely but beautiful region of Banff, Alberta. The connection runs deeper as several of Keith's friends have become my friends. I have a what feels like a second (Canadian) family these days. And Keith introduced me to Danni in Montana, who inadvertently introduced me to Beat. It's intriguing the way these simple connections, born of a casual message from a stranger (Leslie wrote me an e-mail one fateful day in June 2009 that began, "I've read your blog ..."), can touch the deepest parts of our lives.

Keith had a four-…

An overloaded fat bike in California

We acquired a bike rack for transport to the airport and picked up a hard-case bike box from Steve. Beat was standing next to the Fatback with an Allen wrench in hand, anxious to dismantle the bike and make sure we could in fact fit it in the box. I knew I could no longer procrastinate this one last chore — taking the fully loaded bike out for a test ride to make sure everything was comfortable and secure. I was not looking forward to riding this behemoth of a bike on the streets of Los Altos. There were just too many details that made me feel grotesquely conspicuous: the bloated wheels, the bulging handlebar bag, the pogies — pogies for crying out loud! I feared they were all going to laugh at me, all the Californians with their BMWs and bullet bikes and 15-pound Cervelos zipping up the pavement. But it had to be done, and unfortunately I waited for Saturday

Saturday — the day with fierce wind and sideways rain and temperatures in the mid-40s. The wind was forecast to gust up to 60 mp…

Safety nets

It started with a quiet whisper into the thunderous void, which is usually what I feel like I'm doing when I randomly post a comment on Twitter: "To take a sleeping bag or not to take a sleeping bag in the White Mountains 100? That is the question."

I still find it hard to believe that anyone actually reads or responds to the incomprehensible babble feed that is Twitter, so I was surprised when my friend Bill fired back with a counter-question: "Well, what have you done in the past?"

The Susitna 100 forced me to carry a sleeping bag — it was part of the 15-pound gear requirement that included an emergency survival system and 3,000 extra calories of food. Unlike its sister race to the south, the White Mountains 100 has no required gear. I could show up to the frigid starting line in a jersey and shorts with a single water bottle and a couple of Gu packets, and no one is going to stop me from embarking on this remote 100-mile ride around an uninhabited, frozen swat…

Finding a balance

Well, the honeymoon with California is beginning to wind down; I now have to deal with the both daunting and exciting reality of actually making a life here. I was both lucky and cursed this week when, in addition to Adventure Cycling assignments I had to wrap up, a couple editors of small publications that I've worked with in the past came out of the woodwork (one of the advantages of living a semi-public life) and said, "Want to write something for us?" Yeah, sure, why not? It has kept me reasonably busy, and helped set the base for the routine I'd really like to develop while living down here.

At the same time, if I'm not careful, I can too easily become driven by my own distraction. On Monday, I was curled up on the couch with my cat, Cady, happily typing away an article about self-supported mountain bike touring on the Kokopelli Trail in Utah, when, out of the corner of my eye, I began to steal glimpses of my Element. For inspiration, of course. Patches of pe…

Grant Park Growler

For most of the week, Beat's friends had been urging us to join them for their 20-mile run on Sunday. After our 18-mile Saturday run, we were both harboring a bit of late-week fatigue, and agreed it would be better to do something "mellow," like a bike ride, and then meet up with the group later in the afternoon. Beat and I decided to head up to Joseph Grant County Park, which is located on the edge of what is actually a large swath of open space on the east side of the SF Bay.

We meandered along a reservoir for about a mile, and then the doubletrack trail suddenly and discouragingly shot straight for the sky. Super-steep-granny-gear-if-you're-lucky climbs were followed by awful-steep-locked-up-wheels-if-you're-lucky descents, and it never let up. Signs even warned us of the possibility of a wet chamois on some of the scarier downhills.

There was some flat ground, but it was generally covered in mud and/or water.

We often stopped to catch our breaths and consult the…