Thursday, March 30, 2017

Pecha Kucha 2017

Photo by Jenn Roberts
This trip feels like it was a long time ago, but I like to put these things on record. "Pecha Kucha" is an annual tradition that in actuality has only happened twice — in 2012 and 2013 — wherein Canadian friends Sierra and Jenn, along with Americans "the real Alaska Jill" and I gather for a winter bike tour. As these things go, the reason it's called Pecha Kucha is an inside joke that no one really remembers, and we all have nicknames that we never use at any other time (The other Jill only this year figured out that I'm "Jilly-Ho" because my name is Jill Homer.)

After my Nome plans unraveled, we decided to make it happen again, despite the lot of us being somewhat to far more decrepit than we were four years ago.

We planned for a two-night bike tour from Whitehorse, Yukon, to Carcross and back. Although the total distance was about 80 miles spread across three days on well-used trail, I was admittedly nervous about the physical demands of the tour after my poor performance in the White Mountains one week earlier. Jill also was a bit apprehensive, having recently had neck surgery and cancer treatments in short order. She invited her friend Morgan from Colorado Springs, who is a partially disabled veteran. Sierra is a high-level Yukon government official with a toddler at home. Jenn was probably in the best shape of anyone, but didn't seem to mind when a relative snowpocalypse slammed the region and buried any hints of trails. With nowhere to ride bikes, we shifted to a "hiking and skiing Pecha Kucha" from Sierra's cabin in Carcross.

Obviously I was in the hiker camp. While the other three went cross-country skiing on Bennet Lake, I conned Jenn into joining me on an unbearably slow snowshoe slog. It was a late afternoon start in temps around 0F with a fierce wind (from which we were mostly sheltered, thankfully.) We climbed toward Montana Mountain, skirting the relics of an old tramway from the Mountain Hero mine. Jenn described mountain biking this trail in the summer, descending tight switchbacks at breakneck speeds. She said she'd never really noticed the features — thick iron cables strung across the trail, rusted mining carts, and two-story tall wooden towers that were in incredible condition for being more than a hundred years old. It was a lovely afternoon, with hints of turquoise light escaping through sucker holes in the clouds. We watched snow swirl through sunbeams as the forest thinned and views opened to the wind-swept lakes below. I am an advocate of sub-2mph travel.

Photo by Jenn Roberts
Eventually I was breaking trail through knee- to thigh-deep heavy powder. It was real thirsty work, but I love this type of physical activity because it's satisfyingly strenuous without too much strain on my heart or lungs. Jenn didn't seem to mind too much, but I don't think she realized that we'd slowed to something closer to one mile per hour. She'd describe a place that she was certain was a few minutes away, and we'd slog and slog while it never arrived. We'd long since lost the "trail." Finally she casually mentioned that it was 6:30 p.m. I was stunned — we'd been at this for three hours, going almost nowhere. I suggested we turn around so as to not get stuck out after dark, seeing that we'd already secured being late for dinner and possibly worrying our friends. The irresistible draw of the slog strikes again.

The following day, Sierra joined us for a less deep but incredibly steep hike up a wind-swept ridge on Caribou Mountain.

Views of the Klondike Highway.

Beautiful scenery sucked me up ridge. I ended up a few pitches higher than my friends, who decided they wanted to stop at 3 p.m. (again, I wasn't watching the time.) So I had to rush downhill to meet them.

Views of Bennett Lake. Carcross was a fun spot to spend a weekend, even if we weren't riding. Sierra cooked a big salmon dinner at the cabin, and we stayed up late making more inside jokes that no one will remember.

 On Sunday we finally pulled out the bikes for a slow but enjoyable ride on Fish Lake.

The wind was wicked out on the lake ice, but this was the warmest day of the week — nearly freezing. After spending two weeks in the frigid interior, this felt downright tropical.

 The trail kept going but again it was time to turn around. Without a wilderness trip to keep us anchored, everyone made different plans for the time surrounding our short outings, so PK2017 ended up feeling rushed and disjointed. I decided I need to return to Whitehorse as soon as possible.

 On Tuesday, Jill and Morgan left for Anchorage without me. This was a result of poor communication and planning on my part, but there was no way I could spend 14 hours in a vehicle away from the Internet on a Tuesday. Our friend Ben helped me work out the Skagway-Juneau-Anchorage flights for not a lot more than the cost of gas, but the miscommunication continued regarding the transport of my bike. I was disproportionally stressed about the whole thing. Eventually I worked out bike transport with a woman from Whitehorse who was racing the White Mountains 100, and could drop it off in Fairbanks. So all was fine. But I was not.

I couldn't even figure out why I was so stressed out; I was just so upset. My whole body was reacting negatively with a racing heart, tremors, and blurred vision. I tried to work through it with a short ride on the local Whitehorse trails. They were barely broken out — often only a tire-wide ribbon with soft and deep edges. I crashed a couple of times, which only made things worse.

I feel there's nothing to blame but my weird hormones, but this was the beginning of a physical unraveling that hasn't gotten better, despite a long string of "good days" prior to March 22. I took this photo of White Pass during the drive to Skagway that morning. It's one of those photos that isn't good, but it's meaningful to me as a harbinger of the murkiness that followed.

Still, it was fun while it lasted. 


  1. White Horse is on my "list" to go back too, never enough time to really see a area that your traveling thru unless you live there but even then..... Much thanks for the photo's and story! I can see where the last photo has meaning...I did a couple of cortisol home test kit's back in my beginning and sent them in for analysis, one I did on a good day the other on a bad day. For me it helped knowing the data of what was going on and what I could do about it along with being patient for the "weather" to clear away, like your last photo.

  2. Pecha Kucha is a thing. It's a meeting or presentation format where each presenter shows 20 slides for 20 seconds each. A friend of mine does them, but I've never attended one, so I don't quite get it.

    It also sounds cool.


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