Monday, September 29, 2014

Winter dreams

One of my favorite moments of 2014, Cache Mountain Divide during the White Mountains 100
Being laid up with an injury isn't so bad, especially after the persistent soreness finally goes away. This end of pain seems to coincide with the end of excess energy, leading to a constant loop of directionless inner dialogue: "I feel fine. Should I try to ride a hill today? But the doctor said to do nothing for six weeks. Beat wouldn't approve and will give no sympathy if I re-tear something. Maybe I could still hike across the Grand Canyon. Then again my knee is still too weak to walk a half mile the movie theater without stiffening up. I'm finally making good progress on my book now that I'm not so distracted. Maybe I should do nothing at all. Eh, feeling lazy today anyway. Doctor's orders."

One thing that does quiet this useless mental meandering is dreaming about winter adventures. The day after I hurt my knee, when I was feeling most bummed out about the prospect of long-term injury and scratching from TDG, my friend Danni sent me a sympathetic note that concluded with the phrase, "F*** the Alps, you're an Alaska girl." I have to say, this sentiment actually made me feel a whole lot better. Thanks Danni! It also started the wheels turning on what I should do with my favorite month of the year, March.

I've landed on two ideas for Winter 2015. The first is a solo bike tour, probably about a week in length, along Alaska's western coast on the Idiatrod Trail. Unalakleet to Nome is about 250 miles and includes some of the most difficult terrain and volatile weather of the route. The nature of the region and the amount of self-sufficiency I would need to attain makes this prospect incredibly daunting, much more so than returning to the 350-mile section from Knik to McGrath. But, ultimately, nothing could prepare me better if I do decide to attempt the full-length journey to Nome in the future. The appeal of starting in Unalakleet is to take on this section when I'm fresh, to learn more about winter travel on the coast when there isn't a thousand-mile journey at stake, and to have a greater range of flexibility in my schedule. My plan would be to start the trip with all of the supplies I need, but utilize shelters and village services when available. I'd make an effort to be as self-contained as possible, starting and hopefully staying ahead of most of the ITI racers, and staying out of the way of dog sled racers. I actually don't love winter camping so much, so my plan would be to stop for only eight or so hours per day, enough to sleep and melt snow, and stay on the move the remainder of the time. It's scary but any amount of time spent out there would be an incredible experience. After all these years, this is still the kind of stuff I dream about when I close my eyes at night. The siren call of the tundra is at once irresistible and inexplicable.

My other goal completely conflicts with this one, but in my dreams I find away to make it all work out. I'd like to return to the White Mountains 100 for a fifth year, but this time race on foot. And by race, I mean I'd like to actually race it. I'd like to see how well I can perform in a hundred-mile foot race that plays to my strengths. The White Mountains 100 has no required gear, so in reasonable weather I could potentially go fairly light. As far as foot races go, the WM100 is essentially self-supported: There are no drop bags, no crews, no pacers, and aid stations every 20 miles provide only a small meal, no supplementary calories. I'd need to prepare for temperatures down to 25 below, which means keeping myself warm even if I'm sick or injured, which requires some bulkier gear. So I'd have a larger kit than a typical hundred-mile trail race, but I'd have some big positives: No heat, a nice mix of climbs and runnable descents, and a soft running surface. And no heat. Provided I put in the work to strengthen ankles, stability, etc. — not easy to do in California — and work to build some decent running endurance, I could potentially achieve one of my better performances. And it would be so much fun to try! It could also end in meltdown at mile 40 and a slow walk to the finish or a ride on the Snowmachine of Shame. But to be honest I'd rather try for a strong White Mountains 100 than simply try to finish a race I've already finished four times. That's also really the only way I can justify not biking what is possibly the most-fun hundred-mile bicycle race, anywhere, ever.

Could I attempt both? Well, ideally I'd finish my tour ten or so days before the White Mountains 100, but between a week of slow biking/walking and a taper, I'd probably zap any speediness I managed to achieve in winter training. Not that I need much in the way of real speed — this is still snow racing after all. If I focused on running through the winter with my usual bicycle cross-training (ideally with lots of weight) I think I'd be fit enough for the tour. Both are still a bit of a long shot — I have to get through the White Mountains 100 lottery first. And put a lot of planning into the tour.

Oh, and get my knee working again. I nearly forgot about that part. But it sure was fun to dream for a few minutes.


  1. First idea? Just brilliant! Key word is flexibility. Brilliant.
    Second one..... FWIW IMHO.... not so much. Remove the word racing from your vocabulary, you'll be better off for it.
    Your game is improving.

  2. I'm in for the self support Iditarod tour paint your canvass all the colors you want experience !!!!!

  3. Rest up and keep dreaming, I'm sure you'll make them all come true. That's who you are, simply amazing!

  4. As always, excited to see your adventures unfolding. Good luck getting through the lottery!


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