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Showing posts from February, 2016

Following the 2016 Iditarod Trail Invitational

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Cyclists gathering at the start of the Big Fat Ride in Anchorage on Saturday afternoon. I'm sorry to say I missed the event. I have full-on deer-in-the-headlights syndrome today, and the introvert in me just couldn't handle another big social gathering after the pre-race meeting. I watched it go off from the balcony of our hotel room, where I was still fiddling with my gear.

As you can see, there's no snow in Anchorage. Temperatures were in the 40s on Saturday. I've been trying to guess what the first part of the Iditarod Trail might be like — of course until you're right on top of it, it's almost impossible to say. My guess would be swampy, icy, and slushy for the first 50-75 miles, followed by new, wet snow until mile 110, and beyond there, perhaps a lot of new snow moved around by recent wind events. There have been reports of standing water and Sunday's forecast calls for rain, so I'm mentally preparing for what I think of as "Juneau misery&qu…

Another week of gloom 'n doom

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This has become my least favorite week of the year — the week before we embark on our annual "big trip" in Alaska, whatever that may be. It's the week that encompasses the largest percentage of tedious packing, useless fretting, obsessive weather-checking, last-minute gear changes, and hefty helpings of moodiness. It's the week of spooning peanut butter into plastic baggies and packaging high-calorie trail mixes until I'm sick of everything— even though I haven't eaten any of it. It's the week of hoisting heavy boxes to the post office, quietly almost hoping I never see them again. I lay in bed at night and think, "this is one of my last nights in a warm bed for a while; I should enjoy this," but instead stare blankly at the ceiling, looping through mental checklists that would drive me mad if they weren't broken by bolts of dread.

Then morning comes, with rich California sunlight saturating another 65-degree day, and I've lost all inte…

My Iditarod history

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Today marks one decade since I started the Susitna 100 — my first-ever race — on February 18, 2006. As I gear up to return to Alaska next week, I thought it would be fun to mark this tenth anniversary with a timeline of my endeavors on the Iditarod Trail. 
 2006: They say there's nothing like your first — which is why I look so shellshocked at the finish line of the Susitna 100 after 25 hours of wrestling with this mountain bike through soft trails, driving rain, and slush. My thoughts at the time were definitely along the lines of "what the hell just happened?" But, like most who deign to dabble in endurance sports, I was irrevocably hooked by the sheer intensity of the experience, and already knew I'd be back to race again. I wrote about this in my most recent book, "Becoming Frozen."

2007: I returned the the Su100 a second time with slightly better equipment — an old Raleigh hardtail with 26" Snowcat rims that I called "Snaux Bike." After o…

ITI training, week 18

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Monday: Rest

Tuesday:Trail run, 0:53, 5.6 miles, 681 feet climbing. Monta Vista loop at cruising pace. This minor but persistent strain in my left shin — which started sometime before we went to Colorado three weeks ago — finally went away for good. And back pain hasn't returned since I stopped riding the road bike. So right now, all of the niggles are gone. Yay!

Wednesday: Afternoon; fat bike, 2:07, 18 miles, 2,821 feet climbing. Evening, weight lifting at gym. I took the Eriksen out for a cruise around Fremont Older trails. I am enamored with this bike, which of course is the one Beat purchased to take to Nome himself before he decided biking isn't all that fun and switched back to the foot division. I wonder if Beat will mind if I call the bike "Erik." Erik is amazingly comfortable and responsive, and doesn't feel awkward when loaded. I think we'll get along really well.

Thursday: Fat bike, 4:34, 41.5 miles, 5,530 feet climbing. I have been trying to finish u…

The load

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On Monday, I loaded up the Eriksen with most of the gear I plan to use in the Iditarod Trail Invitational and took it out for a two-hour spin on the steep and bumpy trails of Fremont Older. Most of this system is based on decisions I made before my five-day bike tour on Alaska's west coast last March, and stuck with after the hard lessons of that trip. It's a set-up that favors frequent camping and windy/wet conditions, and makes concessions for my own absent-mindedness and tendency to pack my gear haphazardly.

The main stipulation for my bike set-up was that it be extremely non-fussy. Everything should be quickly accessible and easy to pack away. If it's blowing 40 mph, I want to grab my parka in five seconds without risking the loss of other items to the wind. If it's 35 below, I want to just throw my whole bivy bundle back on the rack without futzing with stuff sacks and straps. If I'm thirsty, I don't want to remove my entire food supply to get to my stove…

I'm following the sun that's setting in the west

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In my dream the world looks like the inside of television screen static, black and gray raging with the white noise turned up to 11. It's a night blizzard and for some reason I don't have a headlamp, but when I look down I can't see my legs because they're buried in a snow drift, and when I look up I can hear this ragged Darth Vader breathing. I pull down my face mask to gasp and have this sense that my lungs are filling with snow. There's nothing I can do.

The phone alarm chimed and I blinked in confusion for several seconds, the way you do when you've been jilted awake from one of those far-away sleeps. I had another nightmare about Alaska, my second in a week, so I suppose the pre-race panics are here. This one was even scarier than the first, which was an only slightly enhanced memory blip from my Iditarod race in 2014, looking down into the black infinity beneath thin ice on the Kuskokwim River.

As I rolled out of bed, I breathed the deep relief that comes…

ITI training, week 17

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Monday: Road bike, 2:46, 33.8 miles, 3,620 feet climbing. I was back at sea level and beginning to come around from my cold, so I decided to aim for 20 to 25 hours of saddle time as a "peak" week of endurance training, three weeks before the start of the ITI. On Monday I rode Highway 9 to Page Mill, a quick but tough route that helped me clear out what I hoped was the last of the sinus gunk.

Tuesday: Weight lifting at the gym, followed by a trail run, 55:12, 5.4 miles, 887 feet climbing. I did three sets, 12 exercises, 12 reps, managing better with the extra weights I added last week. The trail run was uneventful. I descended into Wildcat Canyon but did not see the mountain lion that has been spotted a couple of times in the past few weeks.

Wednesday: Fat bike, 3:17, 28.2 miles, 4,545 feet climbing. I pedaled up Black Mountain and did two loops of Bella Vista and Indian Creek, one of the steepest segments of dirt nearby. The 1x11 gearing on the Eriksen is perfect for a snow bi…

Heat maps

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February rolled around and it occurred to me that I only had two more weeks — just two weeks! — to finish up gear and food prep and cram in a big training block before the taper/constant low-level panic period commences ahead of the ITI. My main goal after Feb. 15 is to avoid even a whisper of respiratory illness, so I'm hoping a sharp taper, less time exposed to air pollution and rising pollen counts, and maybe all the Vitamin C will be enough to keep me healthy. Time will tell. I'm convinced if I head into Anchorage with even an allergy sniffle, I'm hosed.

That opened the first two weeks of February to spend some quality time with bikes, fortifying my endurance and testing my breathing capacity at hard efforts — at least, as hard as efforts can be in the friendly conditions of this climate in which I currently live. I really hoped to get out and find some cold temperatures during this time, but a trip wasn't feasible within driving range (even Yosemite and Donner Pa…

ITI training, week 16

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Monday: Afternoon: Road bike, 1:35, 17.4 miles, 2,298 feet climbing. Late evening: Weight lifting at the gym. Easy pace up Montebello Road. Would have liked to get in a longer ride, but I picked up a last-minute freelance assignment, and you don't turn down those! It was pretty late by the time I shuffled over to the gym — 3 sets, 12 exercises, 10-12 reps (I'm increasing weights and I don't always make it to 12 reps, especially on the third set.) I enjoy how I feel after a good gym session — buzzed and relaxed at the same time.

Tuesday: Rest. Flew out to Boulder in the morning, worked during day.

Wednesday: Hike, 1:31, 4.3 miles, 2,325 feet climbing. Beat and I hiked up Green Mountain during his lunch hour. It was a warm day (58 degrees), and much of the trail was coated in wet, hard ice. Trail conditions improved as we climbed, but even our microspikes skidded out from time to time. My sinuses were stuffed up, which I thought might be a reaction to the altitude, but as it …

A backyard for adventures

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On Friday, Beat closed on a house in a quiet mountain neighborhood located in the hills above Boulder, on the western side of the Flatirons. Home-ownership is something Beat has wanted for a few years now, but it wasn't practical or desirable in the Bay Area, where $2 million affords a 180-square-foot shack on purportedly desirable land. Beat's wish for privacy, space, and a much better man cave than our bike-crowded two-bedroom apartment was part of the impetus for leaving the Silicon Valley. We spent many relaxing evenings daydreaming while scrolling through real estate listings in Alaska and Switzerland, but practicality pushed us toward Boulder, Colorado, where Beat could continue to work for Google.
After only a weekend of house hunting before Christmas, we stumbled upon this place that was unbelievably perfect for us. Located at 7,100 feet elevation, it's 25 minutes by car to the center of town, 12 cycling miles, and 7 or 8 running miles. It was built and previously…