Wednesday, January 11, 2012

2012 goals

Recently, Beat posted his adventure goals for 2012. It got me thinking about what I want to do in 2012. Below is a list of the events I'm thinking about for the coming year. Most of these are tentative, and I'm sure others that I haven't even thought of yet will become reality. But for now, these are the dreams that get me out the door most every day. My adventure dreams. This post is merely "part one." I'll post about other goals for 2012 soon.

Susitna 100
Foot race, February 18-20
This year will be my fourth showing at the illustrious Susitna 100. I finished the 100-mile "Race Across Frozen Alaska" twice on bikes (a full-suspension Gary Fisher Sugar in 2006 and an old Raleigh with Snowcat rims in 2007. It is possible to ride snow trails without a fat bike. Not well.) Even though I had much better bikes by 2011, I still decided to leave them at home and try my chances on foot. I surprised everybody and myself by finishing, and now I want to go back and try it again. Why do I want to drag a heavy sled 100 miles across the Susitna Valley, yet again? For me, these long winter slogs are very much a mental landscape sort of challenge; one might even call it intense meditation for lack of a better term. Almost regardless of the outcome, I always emerge from my Alaska sabbaticals with a renewed sense of clarity. But I do want to improve on my 2011 finish of 41 hours and 16 minutes, and my main strategy is to avoid the two-hour breaks at Luce's and Flathorn lodges.

White Mountains 100
Snow bike race, March 25
The White Mountains 100 is easily my favorite race, ever. This 100-mile race in the mountains north of Fairbanks, Alaska, takes all of my favorite things about snowbiking: Rolling terrain, winter "singletrack," sweeping vistas, a huge climb up a mountain pass, a white-knuckle descent, cozy checkpoints, tasty hot food, awesome volunteers, potential aurora gazing ... and just enough extreme cold, terrifying overflow, and of course the 800-foot-climb-in-less-than-a-mile-Wickersham-%*$!-Wall to keep it real. I finished in 22:23 in 2010 and 17:55 in 2011. Since I won't be particularly well-trained for snow biking, and since snow conditions always dictate how these things go down anyway, my main strategy for 2012 is to minimize the weight I'm carrying in extra gear, and probably also try to cut down my checkpoint times. However, the overwhelming goal in this race is to have fun.

Stagecoach 400
Self-supported bikepacking race, April 27
I haven't taken on a multi-day mountain biking challenge since I finished the Tour Divide in 2009. Although I've enjoyed my foray into ultrarunning, I admit I miss the independence, freedom and flow that I feel on my bike. So I was excited to learn that Mary Collier, who also previously finished the Tour Divide (in 2008; she is one of the stars of the movie "Ride the Divide") and her husband, Brendan, put together a 400-mile dirt route across Southern California. The loop incorporates historic routes such as the Juan Bautista DeAnza trail and the Great Southern Overland Stage Route of 1849. Since I am now a resident of California, and since the Stagecoach 400 Web site features stunning photographs, I felt compelled to enter. My main concern for participating in this event is the likelihood of extreme heat, given that it swings around the Salton Sea, which is often hotter than Phoenix. But I figure after returning from Fairbanks, some dedicated sauna training will hopefully get me in shape for what will likely be a grand and difficult tour of the state I now call home.

The Zion 50
Foot race, May 11
This race fits in the "maybe" category, and hinges on actually feeling ready for such a thing so soon after the Stagecoach 400, and also on whether Beat decides he wants to run the Zion 100. But the course looks fantastic, through one of my favorite regions, just outside Zion National Park. This would be my first attempt at the 50-mile distance, and I'm guessing a pretty tough one for me. The elevation gain in the 50-mile course is only 3,500 feet, which puts it solidly into the "runnable" category, and the cutoff times reflect that. But it would be a beautiful challenge, and it would give me an excuse to visit my family in Utah.

The Colorado Trail
Bikepacking, July
This one also falls squarely into the "maybe" pile, and actually just popped into my head as a possibility the other day. Beat is planning to spend some time in Colorado in mid-July to acclimate for the Hardrock 100, which begins on July 13. I thought if I went to Colorado with him, and acclimated, I could potentially give the Colorado Trail a shot starting the following week (mid-July.) My plan would be a self-supported fast-tour of the bike route set in place by the Colorado Trail Race, which covers 470 miles and 65,000 feet of climbing. This wouldn't necessarily be an ITT, as I don't really believe I have a shot at Eszter Horanyi's incredible time. But my plan would be to abide by all the self-support rules, carry a Spot, and basically just give myself good excuses to keep the pace cranking when things are going well, and take a breather when they're not. I like the challenge of a determined pace, even if I'm ultimately just out for a scenic bike tour. I've long promised myself I wouldn't try to ride the Colorado Trail, which is known as much for its rugged singletrack as I am known for being a poor technical rider. But I figure if I ever want to see the Colorado Trail, I'll either have to walk all of it or some of it. I might as well ride my bike where I can, and try to enjoy the hike-a-biking as though I were simply hiking. I do enjoy occasionally taking my bikes for long walks. Since this ride would be in conjunction with Hardrock, I imagine I'd start in Durango, which is opposite of the race this year. The Colorado Trail Race begins in Denver on July 30.

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc
Foot race, August 31
This is a HUGE maybe, given — among the many reasons why I should not attempt this even if I do get in — that there's a lottery with a little worse than two-to-one odds (to be held later this month.) But the truth is, I threw my name in the hat for what is widely considered one of the most competitive and most difficult ~100-mile foot races in the world. The 166-kilometer run around Mont Blanc crosses into three countries (France, Italy and Switzerland) on steep Alps trails with nearly 31,000 feet of climbing. Entering this thing when I have never even successfully completed a much easier trail 100-miler probably comes across as an extreme case of hubris, and it is. I blame curiosity. I was only even on the Web site to check out the much crazier race that Beat signed up for, the La Petite Trotte à Léon (290 kilometers with 22,000 meters of "positive height gain.") The adjacent site for the UTMB offered registration for qualified participants, and I thought, "there's no way I qualify." To qualify, a participant needs five points in two races. I discovered that my finishes in the Susitna 100 (4 points), Racing the Planet Nepal (3 points) and Ohlone Wilderness 50K (1 point) were more than enough to get me through the first cut. Out of sheer bemusement about the idea that a snow slog, a stage race with a heavy pack, and a 50K could qualify me for one of the toughest mountain races in the world, I signed up.

Let me just continue that I do think, with a little luck, I could finish. I would approach it from a speed-hiking standpoint and would aim to move consistently at a conservative but determined pace to stay ahead of the 46-hour cutoff. And believe me, I've done enough hiking in the Alps to understand how incredibly hard this will be. Hopefully all the hike-a-biking I do in Colorado will whip me into shape for the task, but if not, no biggie. Honestly, if I don't get into UTMB, I won't cry about it. I'll just hike the Mont Blanc loop over a much more luxurious four or five days while Beat is racing the PTL.

The Bear 100
Foot race, September 28-29
If I don't get into the UTMB, I'd still like to aim for a 100-mile trail race in 2012. The Bear 100 is ideal for me. It's tough and "climby" enough to be a good fit for a hiker like me, covers a scenic point-to-point route in my home state of Utah, and has the awesome nostalgia factor of being the race where Beat and I had our first "date." I've already run the last fifty miles of the course, so I think the hundred-miler is doable for me, although I would have to practice my running plenty over the summer in order to finish under the cut-off. Plus, my friend Danni is planning on running this race. It should be a lot of fun.

25 Hours of Frog Hollow
Mountain bike race, November 3-4
This is just a fun mountain bike party in the desert near Hurricane, Utah. It's too far in the future to really know whether I could fit it into my schedule, but I like to tentatively plan on being there all the same. I'd love to return as a solo racer and avenge my early-morning meltdown of 2011. However, I'd be thrilled if I could place as high as second, because this race becomes more popular every year. I wouldn't be surprised if a pro or two showed up in 2012. It's still a fantastic way to spend a day with some great people.