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Showing posts from February, 2013

Solidarity (sorta)

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After three hours and two moose, but not a single other person on the trail, I heard a chorus of low, guttural barks. "Ooo, sled dogs," I thought, and veered to the side of the faint track in anticipation of them running past. I was standing at the far end of a narrow valley surrounded by steep peaks, so there wasn't really anywhere else for them to go. But I waited a minute, and all I heard was the high-pitched moan of the wind. I looked around and thought I detected quiet yips, but saw no dog teams — no one was there. After a brief pause the thought occurred to me, "You're not in California right now." I've become accustomed to running trail systems where the deer are so habituated that they'd let me pet them if I wanted to. Out here, strange sounds can be a number of things — but they're most certainly not docile deer. A shiver trickled down my spine, but there was nothing in sight to fear. "Maybe it was my imagination," I thought.…

A glimpse of the Great Land

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On Monday afternoon, a weather window opened wide enough to allow my bush pilot friend Dan Bailey and I to fly over the Iditarod Trail toward Skwentna. We made the exact same flight during the race last year, notably a full day later as everyone was moving considerably slower due to a storm at the start. This year the lead cyclists were already pedaling into the Alaska Range, but Dan and I were able to catch the action in the foot race. I posted more photos on my Half Past Done blog, but here are a few of my favorites:

Dan flying his little yellow Cessna beside Mount Susitna. It's funny, but I used to have a visceral fear of flying. This fear increased over the years until I had to psyche myself up to deal with the most benign of commercial flights. Small planes terrified me. But racing in the 2008 Iditarod Trail Invitational had a deep effect on my sense of what qualifies as scary. I remember sitting on that PennAir flight out of McGrath and thinking, "Wow, this is nothing …

Iditarod, again

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I was going to write a personal blog post about arriving in Alaska, the lead-up to the Iditarod Trail Invitational and the race start at 2 p.m. Sunday, but I have to admit I'm a bit emotionally drained right now. More than an hour after the race started, I loaded up my fat bike and pedaled out the Iditarod Trail. It took me longer than I hoped to put my bike together, but I wanted to catch up to Beat and other foot racers as they marched over the rolling hills and frozen swamps of the Susitna River Valley. Temperatures were on the warm side — near freezing — and the trail and melted and churned up to a mashed potato consistency. It took me ten strenuous and maxed-out miles to finally catch Beat, who appeared shaken. He told me, "It's all starting to set in now, what I'm doing here."

I pedaled a bit farther and thought about all of the memories and emotions I have wrapped up in this trail, how it's still so intimidating and unpredictable, and yet familiar and…

Let's pretend we're in Antarctica

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Here I was yet again, T-minus a few days to another winter visit to Alaska, fending off hypothermia in coastal California. When I left the trailhead for a ninety-minute run, it was 42 degrees and raining. I didn't bring a coat because I didn't realize it going to be that cold, but I reasoned I could just run harder. Then I broke out of the emerald protection of the forest and ran straight into a wall of wind as it drove daggers of rain through my soaked shirt. At that elevation, raindrops had the kind of sharp definition they take on just before rain turns to sleet, and the windchill was brutal — I'd place it in the 20s, easily. And I was wet and had no wind protection or gloves.

Ah, California, you always manage to catch me with my guard down just when I need to re-learn a valuable lesson about underestimating the effects of cold — like how frustrating it is when fingers go numb or when my quads are so cold that every pounding downhill step feels like an electric shock. …

The best kind of bonk ride

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I sought out Sunny Jim Trail primarily because I despise it so. There were a few seconds of weakness as I wavered at the crossing of Skyline Drive with its smooth and flat pavement, less than a mile to my next connector trail on Russian Ridge. And then there was Sunny Jim with its 600 feet of elevation gain in a half mile followed by a teeth-chattering descent. It's a mean, mean fire road, and to top it off, my blood sugar had plummeted off the edge of pleasantness. I had the h'anger. And even though there wasn't a single viable reason why I should take Sunny Jim over Skyline, I promised myself a fruit snack if I could pedal all the way to the crest without keeling over.

Sunny Jim's grades top 20 percent. It's a leg-buster on a good day, but riding it bonked after several thousand feet of climbing in the midst of a five-hour ride is another experience altogether. My legs filled with hot lead and my lungs seared in the sixty-degree air. My head spun but I couldn…

Typical week

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Beat and I are getting down to the wire with our Alaska preparations. We both have our gear strewn all over the house. Even though Beat is gearing up for a 1,000-mile expedition, I definitely have more stuff than him since I need gear for winter bike touring and bike commuting and overnight sled trips and racing. I'm fretting over how I can cull it down without leaving something crucial behind, and even then doubt I'll have room for anything else. Guess I'll have to wear the same jeans and T-shirt for a month.

All of this flurry makes me feel like I won't have much else to write about until we get there. But if you haven't read this yet, I urge you to check out a profile I wrote about Tim Hewitt (link here), who's preparing to make his seventh trek to Nome, this time completely unsupported. In his own matter-of-fact way, Tim once talked me out of making a very bad decision. But then he effectively talked Beat into signing up for Nome, which could be considered…

My fat bike history

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I'm embarrassed to admit that I haven't ridden the Fatback in several months. Since I'm planning to take this bike to Alaska and ride it many miles to far-away places, I figured I should go for at least a couple of shakedown rides to see what might need replacing or adjusting. The verdict: Definitely must replace the rear Endomorph tire (I feel bad removing a relic when Surly is discontinuing production, but it's as bald as a bowling ball.) Also, new brake pads. The shifter cables could use some adjustment, too.

As I pedaled up Montebello Road toward the ridge, a friendly vineyard farmer (viticulturist?) pulled up beside me in his truck. "What kind of tires are those?" he asked. "Is that one of those fat-tired bikes?"

"It is," I replied. "They're made in Alaska for riding on snow."

"I've heard about them," he said enthusiastically. "But I never thought I'd see one up here. Those bikes must be all over …

High above the highway aisle

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Beat made some more adjustments to his sled and wanted to get in one more round of testing before we head to Alaska on Feb. 22. His available time was limited this weekend, so we opted for the most convenient route — another overnight trek to Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park. Our trip away from our warm beds was less than 36 hours, including driving time. But even the utilitarian nature of the trip resulted in some remarkable scenery. I'm not sure Yosemite National Park has the ability to disappoint.

Although I have to be honest — I'm just about over the activity of hiking on the Glacier Point ski trail. The next morning we figured out that off-trail snow conditions were ideal — about four inches of new powder on top of hardened sun crust — so we spent more time trekking through the woods. Wending through pine trees atop soft powder, although slower, was considerably more fun than the groomed road. I'll have to keep that in mind should I find another chance to go s…