Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 in numbers

Panorama from the top of Mount Olympus in November, by Raj Nayar
At the end of the December I like to crunch my stats from Strava, and see how far the year took me. Even before the end of 2015, I knew I wouldn't come close to eclipsing last year's numbers — 5,000 miles of riding, 1,700 miles of running, 850,000 feet of climbing, and 41 days of moving time. And it's true, I didn't come close — to any number but the moving time. In 2016, I *still* spent nearly 41 days on the move despite logging a paltry 2,747 miles of riding, 1,491 miles of running, and 638,701 feet climbing.

Wow. I knew I'd become slower, but I really had no idea.

Of course, Strava can't take into account sheer effort — moving through snow, battling gale-force winds, or high altitudes. Strava made a mockery of my *hardest day on a bike ever* by estimating a power output of 5 watts and energy burn of 217 calories — because it took me nearly 15 hours to ride 33 flat miles (into a 30-40 mph headwind atop fragile snow crust of a frozen Norton Sound.) Strava doesn't know how tough it is to pedal my studded-tire fat bike up these relentless Colorado grades. Strava doesn't care. 

But also, numbers don't lie. I was surprised to see such a high moving time when I wasn't actively training for most of the months of 2016, and only had one big race, which doesn't look all that impressive on paper — a least relative to the effort it took to cover that distance (952.4 miles in 17.2 days.) 

I spent four months off my bike between March and July, thanks to carpal tunnel syndrome. I admit to being disappointed my running total wasn't higher because of this, but I was admittedly pretty lazy during the summer (it's all relative I suppose.) This year, I took the time to break the stats down by month. I know these numbers aren't interesting to anyone but me. I mainly make this post to have it on record.

January 

118.6 miles run, 34,165 feet of climbing
238.4 miles ride, 19,632 feet of climbing


 February 

41.9 miles run, 6,270 feet of climbing
660.8 miles ride, 67,416 feet of climbing

March 

21.9 miles run 1,903 feet of climbing
923.3 miles ride, 18,254 feet of climbing

April 

180.9 miles run, 36,959 feet of climbing
0 miles ride

May 

189.7 miles run, 46,198 feet of climbing
0 miles ride

 June 

174.7 miles run, 42,122 feet of climbing
0 miles ride

July 

162.5 miles run, 43,738  feet of climbing
79.9 miles ride, 13,783 feet of climbing

August 

145.9 miles run 41,749 feet of climbing
115.9 miles ride 14,937 feet of climbing

 September 

142.5 miles run 42,983 feet of climbing
112.1 miles ride 16,142 feet of climbing

October 

149 miles run, 40,433 feet of climbing
123.3 miles ride, 21,499 feet of climbing

 November 

99.5 miles run 30,095  feet of climbing
196.4 miles ride, 30,991 feet of climbing

 December 

62.3 miles run, 14,672 feet of climbing
297.4 miles ride, 35,703 feet of climbing

Totals:

Running: 393:36, 1,491 miles, 387,920 feet climbing
Cycling: 576:09, 2,747.5 miles, 250,781 feet climbing

Cumulative distance: 4,238.5 miles
Total moving time: 969 hours and 45 minutes (40.4 days)
Cumulative climbing: 638,701 feet

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 in photos

2016 ....

Well, it's been a year, hasn't it? I'm among those who share the view that, from a political, environmental and cultural perspective, this year was a downer. I may be among those who wonders if 2017 will be The End, and whether I should stock the bomb shelter for nuclear winter (which may not be a concern for me anyway, because I might just fall through thin ice on Alaska's Tatina River and be gone by March.)

However, from a personal perspective, 2016 was a very good year — health issues notwithstanding. I realized my decade-long dream of riding a bicycle to Nome. Beat and I moved to Colorado. We gained some local mountains and learned to love them. After three months of carpal tunnel syndrome, I now have strong appreciation for pain-free existence. The adventures continued. And now it's time for my annual photo post.

In these posts I pick a favorite photo for each month. These photos have a particular theme of my favorite places in 2016.

January: New Year's Day in the Whites


Alaska's White Mountains are a harsh and mysterious place, with unique beauty that is equal parts tranquil and fierce. I love this region in a way I feel about only a few places in the world. So when the bottom bracket on Beat's bike failed just a few miles into our New Year's trip, I was terribly disappointed. It was Beat who suggested pushing the bike for 40 miles into Windy Gap, through a blizzard, gale-force wind, and open water. We were exhausted when we finally slumped into the cabin just a few minutes before midnight, and satisfied with the unexpected epic. This photo shows the following morning (or what passes for morning at 64 degrees north. It was probably after noon.) The pink light, the pipe-cleaner trees, the delicate frost ... I love this place so much.

February: Big Basin Redwoods


A couple of these photos represent "what I miss most about California." Near the top of that list — the road riding. The Bay Area has miles upon miles of narrow pavement snaking through thick forests and grassy hillsides, with light traffic, friendly grades, ocean views and blistering descents. Ahhh. Also, I miss the redwood forests. Here's something I didn't expect to miss so much. In May, I walked into my hand surgeon's office in Boulder, and saw two framed photos of redwood groves on her wall. I actually teared up. Although most of California's redwood forests are second-growth, there are a handful of ancient groves that hint of a prehistoric world.

 March: Rainy Pass


In the scheme of mountains, Rainy Pass is a rather diminutive gap in the Alaska Range. And yet, it's one of the grandest places I've had to opportunity to visit. As part of the Iditarod Trail it's relatively well-known, and yet it feels uncharted and otherworldly. If nothing else, I hope I do not fall into the Tatina River, so I can return to Rainy Pass again and again.

April: Long Ridge


Long Ridge is another favorite spot in California — an open ridge with wide-ranging views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean, and trails that lead into one of the densest redwood forests in the Bay Area. This was our last run to visit "Old Tree," a 1,200-year-old redwood in Portola State Park.

May: Mid-May in the backyard


Our first weeks in Colorado were marked by late-spring snowstorms, rain, and fog ... all so beautiful. We moved to our house in the hills above Boulder, and I often sat in one of few chairs we had at the time and stared out the window. Before, I didn't think having scenery out the back door was important to me — when I'm outside I like to be on the move. Now I understand how much I value being surrounded by beauty, even when I'm sitting still. There are aspects of Colorado that are challenging for me — the climate and the altitude (yes, I believe I am still negatively affected by altitude. No, I can't prove it.) But I love this spot.

June: Beat on James Peak


My favorite part of this photo is Beat's smile. This was one of the first outings into our local mountains, which are easy to appreciate.

July: Vestal and Arrow


While Beat was running the Hardrock 100, I ambled through wheezy walks in the San Juan Mountains. This was my last and worst hike of the weekend — I don't remember where I was heading, but I do remember sitting down on the trail several times after I became dizzy and disoriented. Shades of this oxygen-deprived sensation dogged me for most of July and August, which is the main reason I don't look back fondly on summer. But hindsight recorded some beautiful moments, and this is one of them.

 August: Col Champillon


We made our annual pilgrimage to the Alps, and for the first time in years, I didn't have a race of my own to consume emotional energy. What remained was a strange emptiness — I know, I know, I need to move on and discover the same beautiful intensity outside endurance sports. While Beat was racing PTL, I attempted to inject some of that beautiful intensity by hiking (and scaring myself) on pieces of PTL's technical course. And because I wasn't racing, I found incredible places to sit and watch the world go by.

 September: Monte Cervino


My attempts to view the Matterhorn from the Italian side were thwarted by fog and verglas, but I did find a fantastic place to climb steep slopes amid freezing rain and feel exquisitely lonely in a tourist town/ski area.

 October: High Lonesome


Back to the mountains of Colorado, where the Continental Divide was experiencing a rare calm and warm day. My friends Corrine and Eric were visiting from Alaska, and I dragged them on an 18-mile hike around the High Lonesome loop. Like many folks in Boulder, I've become enamored with the Divide for its vistas, stark landscape and fierce weather.

 November: Devil's Thumb Pass


Beat is standing in a similar spot on the Divide, during a hike with our Australian friend Roger. It's difficult to take a photo of wind, but I think this image — with its softened features and background blurred by blowing snow — comes close to capturing what it's like to stand in those near-constant gales.

December: Five degrees in paradise


One of my local trails, Walker Ranch, was still untouched in the afternoon after a snowstorm. This was a lovely ride in which I battled to cover 18 miles in four hours, and in some aspects, I wouldn't have it any other way. I muse about missing California, mainly because it wasn't that long ago that I felt fierce and strong during my outdoor outings, rather than my current state, which is probably best described as "not strong." Of course, I'm in much better shape than I was during the summer, and I no longer have breathing attacks. But I'm beginning to accept that my athletic abilities have changed, possibly permanently. In some ways, I'm okay with that — I'm still getting out, still moving through the world, still making the most of the present in the face if an increasingly uncertain future. No, I wouldn't have it any other way.

Here's to a fierce and strong 2017. Happy New Year!

Photo posts from years past:

2006
2007
2008
2009
2010 part one, part two
2011
2012
2013
2014
2015

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Actually home for Christmas

Dad, Raj and Beat at our turn-around point before "Avalanche Alley."
For the first time in six years, and only the second time in twelve years, I didn't spend the holidays in the far north. Beat didn't have the time off work for a trip to Alaska this year, and it's becoming harder to justify the time and expense for "gear testing." I was more disappointed than I expected, but it did open up an opportunity to travel back to my actual hometown — Salt Lake City — to spend Christmas with my family. 

 Of course, no trip home is complete without a few hardy hikes with my dad. On Friday we trudged four miles up to what is possibly the prettiest place in the Wasatch Mountains — Broads Fork basin.

 Temps were on the warm side — mid-30s — and the wind was fierce. We climbed more than 3,000 feet before turning around.

 Much fun was had while we ran in slow motion down the steep slope. To me this feels like pedaling a bicycle, pumping my snowshoes into knee-deep powder. These days I feel only fleeting nostalgia for snowboarding, as aging and experience make me more leery of gravity sports. I'm really quite thrilled with the controlled, rhythmic motion of "slow-shoeing."

 On Christmas Eve, temperatures climbed into the high 40s and it rained, a lot. Beat and I drove to the closest trailhead and sat in the car for a few minutes, debating whether we were really going through with this hike.

Ultimately we were glad we got out, but it wasn't an easy stroll. At lower elevations, the trail was covered in ankle-deep slush. Snow became deeper and more saturated as we climbed. We ventured up a trail that no human feet had touched since the last storm, and watched a drama play out through tracks in the snow. Large cat tracks that were almost certainly a mountain lion padded up the trail, sometimes wandering into the brush before returning to the trail. Claws appeared and slush smears indicated a leap, followed by large disruptions that told of a struggle. It looked as though something large slid down the slope, but we couldn't see what happened after that. There was no blood in the snow, and no carcass, so we could only surmise that the hunt was unsuccessful.

Late Christmas Eve brought plummeting temperatures, and rain switched to snow. By morning there was nearly a foot of "White Christmas" on my parents' driveway. Dad, Beat and I carved a few hours out of the afternoon to venture up Bells Canyon, breaking trail through two feet of powder.

 It was a winter wonderland, complete with random Christmas trees.

 This one, near Lower Bells Canyon Falls, was almost entirely buried.

 There's a waterfall under there somewhere as well.

 A ghostly veneer on the cliffs.

Hints of sun appeared toward the end, just in time to head up to Grandma's house — over the river and through the woods (or icy streets. One of those.)

It has been interesting to spend the holiday at home after more than a decade of being mostly away. I still hold these memories of childhood traditions, and it's a little jarring when I realize what's changed. I suppose I should come home more often, but I suspect that "other home" will keep drawing us north. Still, it was a fun and beautiful weekend in Utah. 

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Week 9

I intended this to be my last big week before a longer taper for the Fat Pursuit race on Jan. 6. Given the unpredictable nature of both the race and my performances, I figured being "well-rested" is my best chance. I have no doubt that I possess the endurance and experience to get through 48 hours of whatever happens in those mountains, but can I traverse 200 miles in that time? I think if conditions are as good or better than they were last year (smooth but soft, a bit of a grind at 5mph), then I can. But if they're worse, well ... I am closer to reaching acceptance about my limits.

Last week's training was all over the place in terms of weather, trail conditions, and my own strength. But it was a beautiful week, scenery wise.

Monday: Mountain bike, 3:37, 25.8 miles, 2,993 feet climbing. Weightlifting, 0:35. Temps were in the 40s and everything was either slushy, muddy, or icy, so even descending was hard work. The mountain bike was a good choice for the snowy sections, because it could punchy through the crust and slush versus trying to float on top of that mess with a fat bike. A terrifying descent into town stirred up some adrenaline, and I had a great weight-lifting session.

Tuesday: Run, 1:05, 5.1 miles, 848 feet climbing. I wore Hokas and regretted it, because there was still a lot of ice. This run was a good balance exercise, however.

Wednesday: Mountain bike, 4:17, 26.9 miles, 3,467 feet climbing. I descended the bumpy, icy trail into town to meet Beat at work, and then we rode back together. This was a tough ride despite choosing to take the "light" mountain bike. Both of my bikes are equipped with studded tires, which feels like riding on velcro over pavement.

Thursday: Fat bike, 8:17, 55 miles, 4,940 feet climbing. Cheryl invited me to join her on her long ride. The wind was fierce all day long, and we spent a disproportionate amount of time riding directly into it. Our ride also included a lot of deep slush, as temperatures rose into the high 40s near 9,000 feet — and 61 in town. We enjoyed fun "adventure riding" on the Switzerland Trail, which had been unevenly tracked by one jeep that didn't make it all the way to the top. As the jeep road veered west, we hit an incredible wall of wind. Gusts forced both of us off our bikes, and made it impossible to move forward for several seconds at a time. It was like pushing into an invisible wall. I'd estimate the gusts were 60-70mph — even our weather station at home confirmed a 57 mph gust, and this canyon was a veritable wind funnel.  It was a tough ride, and I was heartened to hear that Cheryl was sore the next day, because she's very strong.

Friday: Weight lifting, 0:40. Treadmill intervals, 3 miles, 0:27. I was curious how the treadmill intervals would go after a long ride, but surprisingly they went better than normal. I managed to maintain the 6-minute-mile pace for four minutes, which is that much closer to an actual 6-minute mile! Although my breathing is better these days, hard efforts take a lot more out of me than long efforts. The nine-hour ride was fine, but 27 minutes on a treadmill left me fairly flattened heading into the weekend.

Saturday: Snow hike, 3:05, 8.3 miles, 2,802 feet climbing. I'm using my Strava times for this log, but the outing was closer to four hours. It did not feel that slow — I was working hard. Temperatures ranged from 10 below to 0, and I had to unzip or remove the one (synthetic puffy) jacket I was wearing on all of the climbs. There's really no line between what I call a hike and what I call a run. For me, pretty much every foot-effort is a run, because there are many 30-minute miles that are harder work than an attempted 6-minute-mile (I'll get it someday! Probably not before winter training season is over.) Still, 2mph seems like a stretch for a run even though I was moving about as fast as possible. Maybe I can blame the 6 inches of new snow.

Sunday: Fat bike, 2:55, 12.7 miles, 1,756 feet climbing. Temps rose to 21 degrees, and the relentless west wind returned. I was warned about a near-constant winter wind before I moved to Boulder, but it is quite trying. I have to admit I had a minor meltdown on this ride. As we wove through the untracked powder on 68J, I refused to let air out of my tires and whined to Beat about how sick I was of grinding uphill on this anchor on wheels, and after I failed spectacularly at the Fat Pursuit, I was going to commit to racing the 350-mile Iditarod on foot so I could spend the rest of the winter hiking.

Of course, I don't feel this way now. But the pattern of good days and bad continues, and I still can't quite connect the bad days to anything in particular. I had allergy shots on Monday and Friday. Even though they leave me congested, itchy, and mildly downtrodden, they don't line up with the "bad days." It was a long week — 25 hours' worth of "moving time" — but I don't think that's it either. It's not that I feel tired, sore, or other indicators of too-hard training. Some days, I just can't reach that higher gear. On those days, pedaling an anchor on wheels up these steep Boulder hills feels almost impossible. I worry that this will be the case for my upcoming race that I *really* want to finish. But ... the best I can do is the best I can do. If I'm relegated to lower gears, I'll find a way to make it work.

Total: 24:58, 120.4 miles ride, 16.4 miles run, 16,806 feet climbing


Sunday, December 18, 2016

5 below in paradise

Most of the Rocky Mountain West experienced a cold snap on Saturday that we had a little taste of — temps between -10 and 0F, with about 6 inches of "cold smoke" snow on the ground. Temps climbed to 61 degrees in Boulder on Thursday, so I know a cold snap here is as fleeting as it is beautiful. Beat and I ventured out in the afternoon for a four-hour, surprisingly strenuous hike on a loop that normally takes me closer to two and a half hours. We didn't see anyone else out there, although we had a set of tracks to follow. I was congested from my Friday allergy shots, and wasn't having the best day physically — but it certainly was a gorgeous outing.

 Heading down to the West Ridge trail.

 Bear Canyon in the frigid shade — temps were almost certainly below -10 in this sunless canyon.

 Working my way up the ridge of Bear Peak. My pace dropped to a crawl. I took my mittens off and unzipped my jacket, and still continued to sweat profusely.

 Oh, but views.

 And hoarfrost sparkle.

 Beat waiting for me on the summit. A brisk breeze tore across the ridge, and the windchill was exhilarating ... or brutal.

 Trying to catch my breath after the climb.

 Sunset.

 Stumbling over hidden boulders through the burn.

 Twilight.

The temperature was around -5 as the light faded.

The quiet road home.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

2016 Iditarod playlist

Earlier this week, an acquaintance mentioned he was putting together a Spotify playlist with music that I cited in my book, "Into the North Wind," and wondered if I had a few more to add. It seemed like a good idea for a blog post, a kind of follow-up to my "Iditarod playlist" of 2014. As I mentioned then, I enjoy listening to music during long solo efforts, and generally the reasons are the opposite of overcoming boredom or shutting out the world. I see music as a means of connecting my often drifting mind with the present. Music also disrupts negative thought loops, and keeps me cognizant of beauty when tedium and fatigue sink in. I keep the volume low and believe I hear most of what I need to hear (such as an approaching snowmobile or dog team. Dogs are pretty quiet, but I can hear them.) However, I usually only listen to music when I'm feeling good — it tends to spark anger or annoyance when I'm not.

As usual, I downloaded a bunch of music before the race, and much of what I listened to was new to me at the time. My use was actually somewhat limited over those 17 days. The majority of the time, I either didn't bother or preferred silence. But there still seemed to be at least one song that resonated every day, and this is that list. 

 Sunday, February 28: Knik Lake to Skwentna. "The Night We Met" by Lord Huron. Trails were a morass of slush and ice, rain was falling, and I was a bundle of stress, wound so tight that the only emotion that resonated was absolute dread. I took small comfort in imagining the first time I pedaled into the Susitna Valley, when everything about it was still unknown.

"I am not the only traveler,
who has not repaid his debt.
I've been searching for a trail to follow, again.
Take me back to the night we met."

 Monday, February 29: Skwentna to Puntilla Lake: "Artangels" by Grimes. There were hills along the rolling climb to Puntilla that literally dropped me to my knees (when I fell as I tried to nudge my bike up a near-vertical slope.) For unknown reasons, I was giddy for most of the punishing nine-hour slog between Finger Lake and Puntilla. As usual when I'm in a good mood, singing pop music outloud is extremely satisfying.

"I don't need no medicine.
Gonna dance all night.
I'm high on adrenaline.
That's right, that's right, that's right."

 Tuesday, March 1: Puntilla Lake to Egypt Mountain: "Long Night" by Guster. Although I didn't even stay up late (in the sleeping bag by 10:30), this is the night that darkness seemed to close in completely. An ongoing thought pattern during the trip was amazement that, after all of my failures and struggles, I could still move freely through these forbidding places.

"How many times I've wished for change 
Gave up, gave in, and called it fate 
Repeating all of the same mistakes 
Wasn't ready for what I'd find.
Whatever it is has turned the knife,
It was a long, long night."

Wednesday, March 2: Egypt Mountain to Nikolai. "Red Shifting" by Helio Sequence.  Music with a surreal quality and the lyrics "Let it bleed, let it bleed, let it all come out" seemed perfect for the "hump day" of a long effort — the day that most of the aches and pains come to a crescendo before slipping into more muted equilibrium.

Thursday, March 3: Nikolai to McGrath. "Shine a Light" by Banners. This "day" actually happened between 1 a.m. and 10 a.m. I left Nikolai without really conceptualizing that I still had eight hours of darkness ahead. However, in many ways, Alaska is at its most beautiful at night. Frost swirled through the air at -10F, northern lights flared overhead, and my dim headlamp traced miles of wolf tracks through the Kuskokwim River Valley.

Friday, March 4: McGrath to Carlson Crossing. "Perfect Holiday," by Big Data. I was both thrilled and terrified at the thought that I was leaving the last strands of familiarity to venture into a 200-mile stretch of unknown, unpopulated wilderness. I was also becoming increasingly worried about my right hand, which had lost so much strength that it was becoming difficult to zip up my coat. This song signaled the joy I felt and the comfort I craved.

"On my perfect holiday,
I won't need my hands to say,
I'm breaking out. I don't care.
That's my holiday."

Saturday, March 5: Carlson Crossing to Innoko. "Into Chicago" by Ace Reporter. In this song there's a line that probably says, "I thought we would die, somewhere in an echo," but I heard it as "I thought we would die, somewhere in Innoko." I never stopped believing that Innoko would kill me. A year earlier, when Beat passed through this region, there was three feet of untracked snow, and temperatures neared 50 below. My passage was much friendlier, a cause of much bemusement. Eventually I made minor changes to the lyrics of this song and sang it out loud frequently:

"I'm oblivious, trust me. 
I am surrounded by squalor. 
There's no bridge across overflow, 
and it freaks me out.
I have a list of confessions.
I confess I don't read them.
I have the qualities of a lazy mind,
Someone who plays at life. 
And I'm alive, but I'm quite surprised!
I thought we would die, 
Somewhere in Innoko."


Sunday, March 6: Innoko to Poorman, "Perfect Vision" by Icky Blossom. Occasionally I would imagine myself in an alternate universe — sitting on a couch, staring blankly at a television, and daydreaming about this strange reality that I was actually in. A dreamy song about "nothing to do but get high in the afternoon" allowed me to travel between these universes freely.

"A winter reprieve 
Pushing on me
Keeping right there
Keep me aware 
Snow on the ground
All over town,
All over town,
My bicycle is spinning around."

Monday, March 7: Poorman to Ruby. "Ansel" by Modest Mouse. This was my shortest day, time-wise, of the entire trip. It was also the one in which I was the most exhausted. This fatigue brought back strong associations with the Tour Divide, and thus an album I listened to on repeat during that ride — "Strangers to Ourselves" by Modest Mouse. This song, which is a true story about Isaac Brock's brother dying in an avalanche, always resonated because it evokes the uncertainty in all things.

"On gears around an uncaring sun
It doesn't know what it gave
As the bone moon winds 'round again
Again this allows one sphere's heart to pump
Pumping waves of hearts that come and go
And then come and then ..."

Tuesday, March 8: Ruby to Koyukuk. "Good for You" by Darlingside. This is a beautiful song that describes a sense of place. I was more or less alone across the Yukon River, and evenings brought an exquisite loneliness. I would think about "home." Colorado, California, Utah, and even this very spot in Alaska that I was seeing for the first time — a white plain stretching toward a pastel horizon.

"I stood above the Rocky Mountains,
Where Colorado touches New Mexico.
And I could see a hundred miles,
But I was many thousand miles from home."


Wednesday, March 9: Koyukuk to Kaltag. "Slow Down," Icon For Hire. I moved a lot slower on this day than my first on the Yukon, and it's always difficult to tell whether a hard day is due to snow conditions, or whether it's "me." I spent far too much time fretting that I didn't have the physical ability to propel myself to Nome, and pretending otherwise was a dangerous path. Concentrating on my breathing always helped, as did a reminder that "tomorrow holds no promises, except the ones we've made."

"Slow down. Just breathe.
All we have is all we need."

Thursday, March 10: Kaltag to Unalakleet, "Fantasy" by MSMR. The ride over the Kaltag Portage was my favorite day of the trip, and quite possibly my favorite day on a bike, ever. It's still difficult to describe why that is, but it was an incredible collision of beauty, awe, and joy.

"If I could force my heart, my eyes, my mind,
and eyes to get in line.
Maybe I'd find something real.
Not a fantasy so divine."

Friday, March 11: Unalakleet to Shaktoolik. "Stay Alive" by Jose Gonzalez  This is a song from the "Walter Mitty" soundtrack — it's probably not surprising that I identify with a meek character who lives a vivid fantasy life. This was a day that reminded me how powerless I was in this place. As I walked my bike along the blue ice of the Shaktoolik peninsula, incredible wind pummeled me from the side with such force that I could scarcely stay on my feet. I skittered along while wrestling with the bike to keep it from lunging toward the sea, and could relate to the need to "do whatever just to stay alive."

"There's a rhythm in rush these days.
Where the lights don't move and the colors don't fade.
There is a truth, and it's on our side.
Dawn is coming, open your eyes."

Saturday and Sunday, March 12 and 13, Shaktoolik to Koyuk. I didn't actually listen to my iPod on these days. I was distracted by dread, wearing too many layers of clothing to mess with earbuds, and anyway it was impossible to hear anything over the roars of 40mph wind gusts. But I do remember looping through songs in my head. One of them was "High" by Young Rising Sons.

"If this is low, I'm looking for high-igh-igh-igh 
Just let it go enjoy the ri-i-i-ide 
Without the low there ain't a high-igh-igh-igh."


Monday, March 14: Koyuk to Elim. "Tomorrow" by A Silent Film.  After the sea ice section, I spent the rest of the trip mildly sick (or congested at least) and very tired. I sought the boost of positive affirmation.

"Before you fall asleep tonight
Before you close your hundred eyes
Pray for a chance to prove yourself tomorrow."

Tuesday, March 15: Elim to White Mountain. "Hopeless Opus" by Imagine Dragons. For about an hour before sunrise, the wind was almost calm, and I pedaled away from Elim over a bumpy jumble of sea ice, singing this song at the top of my lungs. It was a good theme song for the day — upbeat pop with more subdued lyrics about a broken person trying to overcome themselves.

"I've got this place that I've filled with empty space,
And I'm trying not to face what I've done. ...
I'm in this race and I'm hoping just to place
So I'm trying not to face what's become of me."

Wednesday, March 16: White Mountain to Nome. "Dressed in Black" by Sia I've made a tradition of pressing "next" on the iPod when I have just a few minutes left to go in a race — from many of the 50Ks I've run all the way to this 1,000 miles to Nome. The random choices don't always make sense, but this one was perfect. Perhaps because I've spent so much time alone on this trail, I often think of the Iditarod as a sentient being — a kind of angel or demon that rewards and punishes me in kind. In the past I've regarded it with music about the idealism of starting anew ("Chicago" by Sufjan Stevens, 2007) and an angry breakup ("Happy" by the Wrens, 2008.) I don't claim the despair described in this song, but I do relate to a benevolent force that quelled my fears and made me laugh.


"I was hopeless and broken, 
you opened the door for me 
Yeah I was hiding and you let the light in 
and now I see 
That you do for the wounded, 
what they couldn't seem to, 
you set them free."