Tuesday, February 24, 2015

The week of gloom 'n doom

 Beat and I leave for Alaska on Friday amid grim trail and weather reports. I can't believe it's been nine years since I first fretted about "Iditaswim." (I also appreciate how this blog documents all of my famous last words, including this gem from 2006: "I'm fairly certain I could walk 100 miles given 48 hours to do so. Not that I'm about to enter this race in the foot division.")

Still, spending a healthy portion of the month of February obsessing about conditions along the Iditarod Trail has become a time-honored tradition that I can't seem to get away from, no matter how much else in my life changes. The outlook of 2015 is particularly gloomy, as illustrated by this collage of photos I compiled from Iron Dog snowmachiners and others who have been out on the trail in the past few days:

I'm currently anxiously awaiting Iron Dog Snowmachine Race reports from the coast, where I hope to embark on my 250-mile tour starting March 15. But even before then, I was planning to ride out to Flathorn Lake to cheer for the foot racers on Sunday (upper left) and venture out toward Skwentna for a shakedown ride later in the week (middle photos), and I really don't want to think about Beat attempting to cross open leads and fast-flowing overflow on big rivers like the South Fork of the Kuskokwim (lower left.) Since he took time off in March anyway, I told him we should trade in our tickets and go somewhere else, maybe New Zealand. He didn't seem to think I was serious. Why wouldn't I be serious? Really, what is wrong with us?

At least my endurance running/heat training here in California is going well. If only I had a goal to attach to this. Saturday brought my third 50-kilometer run in three weeks, the Montara Mountain 50K in Pacifica. The course is quite the quad-buster, requiring an ascent to the 1,800-foot summit of Montara Mountain, twice, and another loop with two big climbs, three times, so you compile this 7,000-foot monster with twisty descending. The event organizer, Coastal Trail Runs, calls it their second toughest course; I don't know which is the first, although I'm guessing it involves Mount Diablo. Anyway, it's a hard race, and my legs were good and tired from loading them with long runs and fat bike rides for several weeks (in past experiences, this "binge training" is what works best for me when preparing for multi-day efforts. Load them up, and soon that hazy after-50K sensation becomes the new normal and I'm okay with keeping it up for days or weeks.)

It was another warm weekend, and these brushy coastal hills are frequently exposed to the hot sun. Steep terrain also often shelters canyons from the sea breeze, so they heat up like an oven. I resorted to what is usually a mid-summer strategy of freezing a two-liter bladder of water and carrying a block of ice on my back, and still suffered in the heat. My stomach went sour and I slowed down on the second climb of Montara, fearing I might have to "walk it in." Near the top I pulled out my trekking poles for the upcoming rocky descent, and also for proper "White Mountains training," and began to perk up. Something about those trekking poles really seems to boost my spirits ... maybe because they remind me of the long slogs that I love so much.

I ended up with a 6:30 finish, which was good enough for third woman in this small local race. The White Mountains 100 is in just over a month, and I'm still on the fence about flying out to Fairbanks for the pre-race meeting. That decision will depend on what happens with Beat's journey on the mushy Iditarod Trail, as well as my own adventures in March. But right now I feel well-conditioned and excited about the prospect of a hundred-mile run in the Whites, and I hope I have a shot.

I got in one last long ride with Snoots the following day when my friend Jan invited me to join him for trail explorations in the East Bay. I expected more of a Sunday amble, but a combination of map navigation, plenty of short but brutal climbs, and tired legs stretched this ride into the "almost epic" range. We started at Lake Chabot and spent nearly six hours contouring grassy hills, rolling through eucalyptus groves, crossing cattle pastures and descending into shaded redwood forests. We enjoyed sweeping views of the canyons and only crossed a couple of small roads. It's hard to believe this whole region is a sliver of open space in the middle of the greater Oakland metro area.

Beat was in a bad mood when I returned home, as the slushy barrage of gloom and doom really began to flow through various social media outlets. We can only wait and see what next week holds, as is the case every year. Of course I just want him to stay safe, and hopefully have the great adventure he spends eleven months dreaming about, every year. What is wrong with us? I don't know, but the years keep passing by, and I still wouldn't trade it for anything else.


  1. You and Beat have different ideas of fun than a lot of people, but nothing is wrong with that. Although. New Zealand is pretty great this time of year. I hope you guys know the fine line of when to throw in the towel if need be. Hoping everything works out.

  2. If it's cold and snow you want, just change your plane tickets to anywhere in the Northeast!

  3. Those photos of Alaska are shocking. I hope that the weather changes there, right away. At least you're getting in some good training, which will help no matter what the weather is like!

  4. I always go searching for snow in the winter too and am glad I passed on the Little Su this year. It just so happens I found my fix in southern Michigan, of all places. I second the New Zealand idea. I see Ed's photos every once in awhile and promise myself that one day I will make it there.

  5. Jill, We're supposed to get another 15 inches of snow in Nome before Friday, though with 40 mph winds it will leave behind the usual coastal conditions of drifts, packed trail, glare ice, and bare ground. I was riding some of our local trails yesterday, and conditions were actually pretty good for biking with studs. The wet snow and rain had set up into nice rideable crust in many areas. If you can deal with the wind, you'll be able to handle the coast. It won't be easy by any means, but you shouldn't have to deal with Iditaswim conditions between here and UNK. I'd bet against another pineapple express storm for the Nome area, but in an unpredictable weather year like this one I wouldn't bet much.

    1. This is good information, thank you! The wind is the part of the coast I am both most dreading and most looking forward to experiencing. Thanks again.


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