Sunday, January 05, 2014

The Fairbanks Journals, day 10

December 31. Sunrise 10:55 a.m. Sunset 2:53 p.m. Temperature -10. Still clear. Awesome. 

I couldn't leave Alaska without getting in at least one bike ride. Happily, Joel's roommate let me borrow his Salsa Mukluk while he was out of town. He was gone all week, so I suppose it's a shame that I only managed one ride. As it turned out, even New Year's Eve was a tight squeeze. I had been awake for most of the night before finishing layout on the Alaska newspapers that I contract for, and we were flying home late that evening (we enjoyed salmon and fondue dinner, fireworks, and a raunchy card game with Joel and Erica, but spent the stroke of midnight at the Fairbanks airport, which is as sad as it sounds.) Still, snow bike ride, yay! Finally, I was going to fly!

Except the trails were still soft, and the rolling was strenuous and slow. I did not find 5 mph to be an acceptable pace, so I laid into the pedals, working near maximum capacity just to produce that feeling of actually riding a bike. I had to pull down my mask and take big ragged gulps of 10-below air. And it's amazing how frosty you can get when you really let yourself sweat. After 45 minutes I could no longer see through my icelashes.

Only after making this Fairbanks blog post series did I realize that we spent ten full days in Alaska. It passed in such a blur, like a long weekend, and suddenly it was over. If it hasn't become obvious yet, I am very happy when I am in Alaska. I acknowledge that this is largely because, since I moved away, any time I've spent there has been focused on playing and adventure. Living in the 49th state is a much broader experience, more subdued, and more trying oftentimes. But the dream remains that someday we will return for a longer period of time than a week here, a month there. I'm satisfied where I'm at right now, but "North to the Future, Again, Someday" is the dream I still hold in my heart. If I had an Alaska permanent base and work location was no concern, I think I'd most prefer either Fairbanks, Palmer, or Homer. All have their benefits and drawbacks, and it's oh-so-tough to choose. (Homer is my favorite community, but so far away from everything. Fairbanks people are fun and winters are amazing, but seven months of it probably gets old. Palmer is a pleasant town near big mountains, centrally located, but it is culturally part of the Mat-Su Valley.) And then there's Juneau. Sometimes I think I could return. When it's beautiful in Juneau, few places in the world that I've experienced can match that beauty. But then I remember that at one time I desperately needed to escape the isolation and gray, and there's probably no going back.

The winter gear-testing went well, and Fairbanks gave us a fair range of conditions in which to try out new stuff. I know such things are boring additions to a narrative blog, but I benefit from keeping these records, so I'm posting the gear list I'm working on. There are probably some things missing, and I hope to continue to tweak it and maybe shed a few items over the next few weeks (so hard for me. I do not have unbending confidence in myself or my abilities, quite the opposite, so I feel the need to be prepared for all contingencies.)

It's funny, because one of the reasons I took up running is because I was sick of all the gear-oriented focus of cycling. Running is shoes and a water bottle, right? How I continue to find myself venturing into extremely gear-oriented activities is a mystery to me, because in a different life I would *love* to be the kind of person who owned one bike, one pair of shoes, and a water bottle. But, alas, my complicated passions have rendered me as gear-crazed as the worst of them, and this is what I think I need to run (walk) 350 miles across Alaska:


Outer layer, for stopping: PHD down pants, PHD down parka, RBH Designs VaprThrm mittens
Wind layer: Skinfit shell pants, Outdoor Research Mentor Jacket
Insulation layers: Mountain Hardwear Airshield Monkey Fleece, North Face ThermoBall jacket, North Face wind pants, Skinfit primaloft shorts
Base layers: 66 North Polartec pullover, Under Armour top, GORE windstopper tights
Head: Mountain Hardwear monkey fleece hat, Mountain Hardwear windstopper hat, fleece balaclava, windstopper buff, goggles with nose piece, Beko face mask
Hands: Mountain Hardwear monkey fleece mittens, windstopper gloves, trekking pole pogies
Underwear: Isis briefs (x3), sports bras (x3)
Feet: Montrail Mountain Masochist Gore-Tex shoes, size 10.5; Acorn fleece socks, medium (x2), extra-large (x2); Integral Designs vapor barrier socks, Drymax socks (x6), Outdoor Research gaiters


Thermarest Ridge Rest SoLite; PHD down sleeping bag; Integral Designs South Col II bivy sack; Bivy bundle; Down booties.


Multitool; Spare knife; Duct tape; Flint firestarter; Lighter; Waterproof matches; Mirror; Handwarmers x4; sled repair kit? (screws, rope, allen key.)


Garmin eTrex 20; watch; personal locator beacon; Lithium AA batteries (x12-16); Lithium AAA batteries (x4); Fenix headlamp; Spare Black Diamond headlamp; Cold-O-Meter; Camera; iPod shuffle (x4); Spare camera battery.

Foot kit: 

Leukotape; {keep warm — Benzoin Tincture; Hydrolube (2 tubes?)} Blister patches (x6), safety pin; Neosporin.

Med kit: 

Wet wipes (x10); Advil; Aleve; Sudafed; Imodium; Caffeine tabs; Toothbrush/paste; Floss; Small soap; extra hair ties; Chapstick; Tums; Dermatone SPF 23; Sunscreen stick backup?


MSR Whipserlite stove; Fuel, 11 oz; Pot; Pot holder; Spoon.


Northern Sled Works 4' Racing Pulk; Pole system; Deuter duffle; Bungees (x2-3); Stuff sacks for gear and food (x3-4) Wiggy's waders; Black Diamond Ultra-Distance Z-Pole trekking poles; Backpack/harness; Camelbak Shredbak bladder 2L; Hydro Flask 40 oz; Thermos; Northern Lights snowshoes; Paper maps.


  1. Sometimes I feel the same way about Sitka and then I remember....I think Homer would be awesome. But I also like the ease of getting to a new ecosystem that you can have in the lower 48 just by getting in a car. I stay.

  2. Actually, I am blissfully fascinated by your gear list and learned a lot from it! Thanks for everything you share, Jill.

    Carol in -30 tonight Wisconsin :-)

  3. Jill, thanks for the list. Funny thing is I was about to, ask if you had a list of cold weathet stuff somewhere on the blog. Will now be spending winters in central Oregon and need to learn how to dress for fat biking on me Mukluk.

    Thanks also for an always entertaining and often educationsl blog.

    Ride Long and and hike too!!!! :)

  4. I think you would love Mazama, WA.


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