Friday, December 23, 2011

Testing sleds

Before we go on our big Alaska trip, which looks like it will be taking place next week (beginning Wednesday), we wanted to conduct several test runs of the sleds. Since we returned from Nepal, Beat has been in a frenzy designing and building Sled V.2, which has been fortuitous for me because it means I can use V.1 without actually having to build my own sled (given my usual lack of success with even simple projects such as cooking or adjusting my bicycles' derailleurs, I think it's better I avoid building my own crucial pieces of gear.)

I tried out a few of my own new winter things on our first trip out: A down skirt to combat cold-butt syndrome, and the trekking pole pogies that Beat sewed for me out of a cheap synthetic sleeping bag. This all began when I was digging through my winter bike stuff, saw my Revelate Designs pogies and said to Beat, "I wish someone made a small version of these for poles." Unlike me, Beat loves to build gear and is actually pretty good at it, so he made a couple pairs in time for our Anchorage trip. The reason I prefer pogies over mittens and gloves is because pogies allow me to remain bare-handed or wearing only a thin pair of liner gloves down to fairly low temperatures. Free fingers are better for taking pictures, pulling my Camelback hose out from under many layers of clothing, and feeding myself.

We arrived here just in time for what our friends have told us was the largest snowstorm all month, and it started cranking just as we set out for our afternoon run. Beat got some good testing in with Sled V.2, which he purposely made larger, more water-resistant and more robust for the 350-mile Alaska backcountry race in two months.

The storm ended up dumping more than a foot of snow, so when we went back out this morning with Anne, we had no choice but to strap on our snowshoes. This filled me with a warm Christmas spirit because I love a good uphill slog in knee-deep powder, especially when towing all of my winter survival gear (I am not being sarcastic. I really do love this.) Beat thought four hours of this didn't sound like a difficult enough workout, so he filled his sled with a few Anchorage phone books on top of his winter camping gear.

He probably regretted this decision when the route started twisting through the trees and tipping the sled over, forcing him to test V.2's backpack mode (V.1 is more narrow and didn't have the disadvantage of the poor weight distribution of phone books, but I still had to carry it over blowdowns and around the hairpin turns.) We traveled from Anne's front door, up Hillside singletrack trails and into Prospect Heights. This is a region where I often rode my mountain bike during my very short stint as a resident of Anchorage (April to June 2010.) It was fun to relive these memories amid the ice and snow through the power of nostalgia. Janice's Jive! This trail is so fun; it's a steep rooty bruiser in the summer. Now it's just kinda ... soft ... and slow. (Slog, slog, slog.) ... (Note: To the Anchorage snow bikers who get to ride these trails once they're nicely packed down — you're welcome.)

Temperatures this morning started out in the teens and never rose above 21F. But even fresh from California, and purposely minimizing layers knowing the work we were in for, I still felt overdressed in a single layer of tights, a thin long-sleeve shirt and a soft-shell jacket. No hat or gloves until we started down. This is good, hard work, and after four hours of sled-dragging snowshoeing, my quads are feeling it.

I am seriously excited about our trip next week, which we had to organize around the weather and the schedules of Anne and her husband (our pilot for the flight back.) But the current plan is to leave from the Mat-Su Valley on popular (and hopefully nicely packed) snowmachine trails and trek toward Shell Lake over three days, give or take a long night. That's about 110 miles on the Iditarod Trail, on foot, bivying outside in the cold for at least one night and possibly two. (We are hoping to utilize a backcountry lodge during the first night, if we make good distance.) Considering the context — self-supported snow run — it's a pretty ambitious plan that's probably going to end up being more demanding than the actual race I'm training for, the Susitna 100. It's also probably going to be even more fun, of both the Type 1 and Type 2 variations, so I am quite excited.

But for now, we're going to enjoy a weekend of holiday food celebrations and winter play. Let it snow!