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Showing posts from December, 2015

2015 in photos

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This is my favorite blog tradition — the "Year in Photos" review. The idea with these posts is to choose one favorite photo from every month. For me, this means images that best represent momentous events or perspective-shifting experiences.

The above photo is my overall favorite, from a solo tour I attempted on the Iditarod Trail in March. My intent was to ride from Unalakleet to Nome, about 250 miles, over the course of a week. From the moment I rolled away from the Unalakleet Airport, the North Wind shut down every preconceived notion I had about this trip, and every shred of confidence I had in myself. The trails became so drifted in that I could scarcely locate them, and even if I could, I was scarcely strong enough to hoist the bike through knee-deep drifts that had the consistency of sand dunes as 30-50 mph winds continued to blast me in the face. It took me four long, extremely difficult days to cover 60 miles. When I turned around at Little Mountain Cabin, it was b…

Return to the magical land of Tolovana

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Like most people do around the holidays, Beat and I have adopted a number of annual traditions. And like most traditions, ours started as a matter of chance and solidified into the enjoyable activities that tug at sentimental heartstrings and reverberate with desire to return again and again. Some people drive around and look at Christmas lights or catch a production of "The Nutcracker." We hike to Tolovana Hot Springs.

Before last March, when the Alaska coastal village of Shaktoolik took over the distinction for me, Tolovana was the worst place I'd ever been. Thanks to a collision of geographic anomalies and resulting micro-climates, Tolovana is generally colder and significantly windier than the city of Fairbanks, which is only about 40 miles south. Weather forecasts are useless. On relatively pleasant days in Fairbanks, it's not uncommon to find temperatures of -25 and winds gusting to 40 or even 50 mph on top of the ridges. I've seen this weather before, enc…

ITI training, week eleven

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Monday: Trail run, 3:37, 18.1 miles, 3,424 feet climbing. I'd planned to put in a long ride during the single full day I had in California between our Boulder and Fairbanks trips, but Monday brought an atmospheric river that dumped well over an inch of rain in just a few hours. I think back to my years in Juneau and how utterly miserable it was to ride through cold rain, and I admit I just can't make myself do it these days. Trail running in the rain is considerably more fun. On this day I set out from home to run to Black Mountain and back. I reached the bald peak during the crux of the storm, when the wind-blown rain picked up both volume and velocity to the point where I felt like I was being water-boarded while climbing into the deluge. Yes, it is still more fun than biking in the rain. I only had this paper-thin rain jacket and I became deeply chilled, swinging my arms wildly as I descended the steep and rocky Black Mountain trail with a horizontal waterfall slapping me f…

This is my perfect holiday

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Beat and I didn't think we'd be able to make our annual winter training trip in Alaska happen this year, but at the last minute he maneuvered some work obligations and purchased tickets to Fairbanks. Three hours and 43 minutes of low-angle daylight, frost-coated branches, perfect stillness amid negative-double-digit-temperatures, full moonlight on snow, and the possibility of aurora sightings make for a magical time of year in this part of the world. I don't begrudge Alaskans their need to travel to warmer, brighter climes over the holidays. For me, though, there isn't a better time of year to be a tourist in the Far North.

Our friends Corrine and Eric graciously took us in over the holidays, and even let us borrow their fat bikes for training rides. During our first day in town, Wednesday, temperatures hovered near zero degrees. We had to re-introduce our non-acclimated selves to the erratic rhythms of pedaling a bike over packed snow. Every time I return to this ac…

ITI training, week ten

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Monday: Weight lifting at gym. I was surprisingly not sore after the 50-kilometer run on Sunday, and did three sets without any struggles, although I didn't add weights this week. A few people have asked me whether Beat and I saw Lance Armstrong at the race — we did. I had no idea the man leading the 35K was the world's most famous ex-pro cyclist, but I do remember the runner in the yellow shirt who smiled and said "Good job" as he passed on the return along the Skyline Trail in a torrential downpour. Lance's win at the Woodside Ramble caused a big stir in the trail running community. I'll just say that I don't have a strong opinion about it, but I think that trail running is for everyone, trail racing is about a community where people from all walks of life can strive together, and small race organizers shouldn't be strong-armed into banning participants just because they admitted to doping years ago in a different sport. It's such a small proble…

A whole new town with a whole new way

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On Thursday, Beat and I returned to Boulder for three and a half days — whirlwind days, just enough time to take a few more steps in the next direction. A half foot of fresh snow blanketed the plains surrounding the Denver airport and the temperature was bitter cold, 10 degrees. I dropped Beat off at the Google office in Boulder and pointed the rental car up Flagstaff Road. Winding up the cliffy hillside, I thought of all the ways Flagstaff reminds me of my hometown mountain road, Montebello. Nearly everywhere reminds me of somewhere else. This is how I am — a vast ship full of past experiences, with only a small rudder plunged in the present. I like it this way — living as though my life can only grow larger and richer as time passes.

The car crawled up the icy road as I reminisced about recent bike rides up my favorite oak-shaded street in California, then slapped myself back into the present and the precarious road conditions. I pulled into a snow-covered parking lot and strapped …

ITI training, week nine

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Monday: mountain bike, 2:38, 25.1 miles, 2,987 feet climbing. I am considering using Beat's MootoX YBB fat bike in the Iditarod. This is the bike I rode in the 2014 White Mountains 100. Its set-up resembles my mountain bike, which I rode long distances in the Freedom Challenge and Tour Divide, so there's already a comfortable familiarity. The other bike is Snoots, the expedition fat bike. We've had some good, difficult times together. But she's a beefy bike, and I am concerned about the heavier front end given all of my struggles with pushing through deeper snow drifts. It feels like sacrilege not to use Snoots for the reason we acquired her, but as I've said before, I just want to take my best chance of making it to Nome. Even if I anticipate hundred of miles of pushing (I always do), I believe a bike is the best mode, but I'll take a sled if trail conditions or weather reports look especially discouraging (i.e. an ongoing El Nino warm snowpocalypse.) Snoots …

On gears around an uncaring sun

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Even though it was only six months ago, I don't spend much time thinking about the Tour Divide. This is uncharacteristic for me, as memories of adventures are the background of my mental landscape — the colorful screen savers that pop into view during idle moments. Sometimes, while wheeling a cart around a grocery store, I still hear the crunch of footsteps on ice-crusted snow atop some Susitna 100 course that melted away a lifetime ago. But the Tour Divide ... that faded too soon.

When I try to think about the Tour Divide, what often pops into my mind is a flickering series of moments along the highway to Togwotee Pass, in Wyoming, one of those evenings that now sprawl like wispy clouds across an evanescing sky. I was pedaling my bike; it's funny because that's not what I remember. I remember stopping at intervals to put a foot down, slumping forward as my hands dangled over my red handlebar bag, and gasping until I caught my breath. As I looked around at pink-tinted pin…

ITI training, week eight

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Monday: Snow bike, 4:37, 25.3 miles, 3,522 feet climbing: This was a tough ride given I was mostly goofing off with Beat's new bike in Corner Canyon. Mashing pedals uphill through several inches of snow is hard work even if I am moving at walking pace. The worst part of the ride happened after I decided to veer downhill toward the town of Alpine, and found myself on this ridiculously steep jeep road covered in ball-bearing rocks that were masked by an inch of snow, and deep tire ruts. Walking downhill just made it worse — my shoes had poor traction on those icy rocks, and I fell on my butt while wrestling a bike that wanted to launch downhill without me. I really thought I was going to crash badly. Happily, the bike's brakes, stability, and tire traction were just amazing, and I was able to creep downhill, also at walking speeds, but upright. Then it was time to push the bike uphill on another similarly steep road, back to Draper. I was worked at the end, sweaty with minimal l…