Showing posts from December, 2012

2012 in photos

Wow, the end of 2012 snuck up from behind, didn't it? The annual "year in photos" post is one of my favorite to make, but this one is a bit more thrown together than years past. Still, it is fun to view the fading year through the lens of a single favorite photo for every month. I have a lot of favorites from this year, so it was hard to pick only one — especially when it meant choosing between different amazing places that I was fortunate to visit during this full year.

 I took the above photo in early January near Shell Lake, Alaska. Beat and I were killing time while waiting for a plane to pick us up, and went for a walk across the lake. It was 25 below zero, and an ice fog had just lifted off the lake an hour before the sun set. The air was so clear that we could see individual flakes of frost sparkling in the distance.

February: Two cyclists push their bikes up the Yentna River on the second day of the Iditarod Trail Invitational. My pilot friend Dan Bailey and I fl…

Tolovana Hot Springs

While enjoying Christmas Eve pizza with friends here in Fairbanks, our friend Ed told us about one of his favorite holiday destinations, Tolovana Hot Springs. The backcountry springs are a challenge to access — 45 miles northwest of Fairbanks as a raven flies, and for humans, eleven miles of rugged trail after a two-hour drive to a remote point on the Elliot Highway. Those who make the beautiful journey up and over Tolovana Hot Springs Dome are rewarded with board game-stocked cabins and access to natural springs that run hot even when it's 30 below.

It sounded heavenly, but Ed offered a caveat — his winter trips are almost never without mishaps. Usually the mishaps involved difficulties starting cars after the long ski out when the wind was fierce and temperatures were minus a lot. Once, somebody brought a pot of moose chili that was not properly food handled, resulting in a "vomitorium" full of food-poisoned people. One guy was so sick that his friend had to tow him o…

Frost immersion

"It's like landing on an alien planet," Beat said as the plane approached Fairbanks. Below us was a swirling pattern of white swamps, black ice, and skinny spruce trees sticking out of the ground like skewers. As the island of artificial light grew closer, a yellow glow illuminated motionless wisps of water vapor. The Alaskan sitting next to us showed us his phone — current temperature, 39 below zero. "But it's a dry cold," he grinned.

Much of my time in Alaska has been spent near the coast, so most of my extreme cold experiences have been accompanied by wind. I stepped outside of the airport expecting a shocking furnace blast of air that was a hundred degrees colder than the place I left eight hours earlier. Instead, the air sat still and lifeless, like a tomb. "It doesn't feel that cold," I thought. Five seconds later, my nostrils froze shut.

We were happy to receive an invite to a cabin in the White Mountains on Sunday, but the short notic…

So long to the sun

Weather reports have been one of my obsessions this week. I've been parsing data from all the major weather sites as a blanket of frigid air sunk over the valleys of Interior Alaska, trying to make sense of whether 62 below zero is even possible (forecasted by Wunderground) or what the recorded 52 below zero would even feel like, even for a few minutes, let alone while wandering the uninhabited wildernesses outside the small enclave of Fairbanks. Beat thinks it's silly I'm so scared. "We're just training. We can do what we want!" But what if I just want to curl up in blankets and drink a jug of hot chocolate? It is Christmas, after all.

The cold snap that settled over the Lower 48 also grazed the Bay Area this week. On Wednesday San Jose reported a record low of 31 degrees. Brrr! The week of Solstice also marks the darkest time of year, with only nine hours and 35 minutes of daylight to work with here in Los Altos. While our winter sun might be lazy, in Fair…

2012 in races

December is a cathartic month, because it's the time of year most of us reflect on our experiences and accomplishments during the past twelve months. Although racing is certainly not the only satisfying thing I've done in 2012, I did do a lot of it. With my last race of 2012 behind me, it's fun to look back on all of the events in a rather full year. People have different ways of ranking their race experiences. Rather than time or performance, I value races for how much they push me out of my comfort zone, force me to dig deep into my reserves, and reward me with renewed perspective and a better understanding of myself and the world around me. So, in that light, here are my 2012 race experiences, from the toughest on down.

1. Stagecoach 400 | self-supported bikepacking | Southern California | April 27 to 30 

It was my first moment of clarity in a mind-numbingly tough day — while lingering over a cold chicken sandwich at the Subway in the town of Alpine, I finally glanced a…