Monday, February 19, 2018

What's in your sled?

 It's the last week prep before the Iditarod, traditionally our week of Gloom n' Doom. However, I'm feeling decidedly less gloomy than the past few weeks. Though pre-race trail and weather reports look good, my mood has nothing to do with this; I know far better than to trust pre-race chatter. No,  I'm perkier because my leg rash cleared up, my sleep has improved, my morning blood pressure seems to be going down, and I'm breathing more naturally — perhaps I've hit the low point of this slump and am back on the upswing. Who knows? I certainly don't, but I choose the path of naive optimism.

 Perhaps another reason I'm happy is because I finally got back on my bike for the first time in a month, following a long bloc of focused Iditarod training. My only agenda for this ride was four hours of "killing time" on the hills surrounding Sugarloaf Mountain. The weather wasn't nearly as nice as it looks in this photo — temperatures in the low 40s and incredibly windy, with gusts that forced me to throw a foot down at regular intervals. Dirt road conditions featured blinding blasts of dust and occasional but not insignificant patches of suicide ice. Despite the relatively poor riding conditions, I was stoked — moving at now-incomprehensible speeds on descents and marveling at how little effort it takes to propel a bicycle up a hill.

 Now in focused taper mode, I took a couple of days off, and by Saturday felt a little gloomy again as endorphins faded. On Sunday, the temperature rose to 60 degrees, and the wind all but died. (There were still occasional blasting gusts interspersed with a gentle breeze, which is akin to calm around here.) Beat and I threw on shorts and short-sleeved jerseys, and headed out for a mellow spin along nearby back roads. It was a gorgeous afternoon. We've had other 60-degree days this winter, but this was the first day that really felt like spring — the air had a freshness to it, and mud and ice glistened beneath high-angle sunlight.

 Then, on Monday, the temperature plummeted nearly 60 degrees. We awoke to low single digits and a dusting of snow. The forecast predicted 5 inches, but the actual storm wasn't set to arrive until after dark. We spent the morning finalizing most of our gear and loading up our sleds. Just minutes before we set out, Beat and I switched duffels — he decided his was too long, and mine was too wide. The trade was a revelation. Beat's duffel perfectly fits my sled, with no empty space to collect snow. I can loosely stuff all of my gear inside, including my snowshoes, with ease. (Abundant space to accommodate fast, sloppy packing is a priority for both of us.)

Although I may never have faith in my own fitness again, I am pleased with my gear prep this year. I feel more comfortable and competent with my gear than I ever have. And yes, it does help that this gear doesn't include a bicycle. I'm at ease with the idea of using my stove in deep subzero temperatures and moderate wind. I've finally arrived on a combination of head gear that I'm comfortable with. I'm better practiced at using gloves for finer dexterity, in case I need to set up camp in difficult conditions (typically I go bare handed, and this will still probably be my default, but at least I'm better with gloves than I used to be.)

 I feel reasonably versed in my plan for the event of an asthma attack in a storm, the steps I'll take to get my breathing under control in high winds, and the type of rest my well-tested sleeping gear can afford. I'm confident my layers will keep me comfortable at 40 below and winds up to 50 mph. Although I have very little experience with anything lower (or a combination of deep subzero temperatures and high winds), I also have a safety buffer. I know which items I tend to lose or wet out, and brought spares. I'm happy with my decision to bring a spare base layer, in case I fall into open water (not unthinkable.) I'm happy with my decision to bring lots of extra socks and lube, as well as reinforced waders to keep my shoes dry, because nothing causes misery quite like walking 18 hours a day on cold and wet feet.

No one will ever accuse me of being a weight weenie, but I also won't be accused of being blatantly unprepared (making poor choices and mistakes is another matter altogether.)

 The temperature was 7 degrees with light falling snow when we set out for an hour-long sled drag on a thin layer of white dust over dirt. As we scraped over the road, I ran through a multitude of different scenarios in my mind, and contemplated what gear I'd need to solve the issue, where it was in my recently acquired duffel, and how I'd access it quickly — yes, even in the madness of a haphazardly packed duffel, there are methods.

 My type B personality is not a list-maker. I can't even tell you the last time I made a list for anything. Part of the reason I never make race or gear lists is because on paper it just looks like so much junk, and I don't want to scrutinize it so heavily. Also, it's so long, and so boring. But I made a list this year. Occasionally people ask me about my gear list, so I'm posting it here. If you are like me and never read gear lists, you will need to do a lot of scrolling to finish this post. It really is a lot of junk. Comments are welcome, but I'm not changing anything at this point:

To start:
Drymax liner socks
Acorn fleece socks, M
UA underwear
UA bra
Mountain Hardwear light blue fleece hat
Skinfit thermal top
Mammut hiking pants
Furry fleece buff
Skinfit Caldo jacket
Columbia Mountain Masochist shoes

Bedtime bag, blue:
(3) spare underwear
(3) DryMax liner socks
(1) Acorn fleece socks, M
(1) Acorn fleece socks, XL
Rab vapor barrier socks
Nike DriFit shirt
GORE windproof tights
Down booties
Down pants

Small gray bag:
Wiggys Waders
Neoprene shoe liners
(2) plastic oven bags (as extra VB layer)

Outer layers bag, gray:
Skinfit rain pants
REI Event rain shell
Primaloft overboots
Fleece knee warmers
Skinfit primaloft jacket
Skinfit primaloft shorts

Spare gear bag, yellow
RBH Designs overmitts
Fleece balaclava
Fleece buff
OR light windproof mittens
Mountain Hardwear light shell
Medicine bag
Spare foot lube

Electronics bag, green
(3) iPod Shuffle
(12) spare AA batteries
Spare camera battery
Spare headlamp
Cell phone?
Cell phone charger?

Stove bag, yellow:
MSR XGK stove
Long spork
Stove repair kit
22 oz fuel bottle
(2) fuel pumps
(2) flint fire-starters
Waterproof matches
Wind screen

Repair kit:
Zip ties
Repair tape
Spare buckle
Spare screws
Screw driver
Duct tape
Sled attachment piece

Bivy bundle
OR Helium bivy sack
RidgeRest sleeping pad
PhD designs sleeping bag

Sled duffle bag
Mountain Hardwear wind fleece
PhD Designs down coat
Trekking poles
Trekking pole pogies

Duffle weight (34.3 pounds)

3 pounds nut and chocolate trail mix
1 Mountain House meal
6 oz beef jerky
2 (1.5 oz) meat stick
8 bars
4 Jif-to-Go Peanut Butter

5.0 pounds of food to start
Total duffle weight: 39.3 pounds

Sled harness backpack:
Windproof buff
Skinfit primaloft mittens
Black Diamond windproof liner gloves
Windproof (red) balaclava
OR windproof hat
Feed bag
Delorme InReach
Wet Wipes
(4) spare batteries
Garmin eTrex30
Fenix headlamp
Foot lube
Cash and credit cards

Revelate Designs hydration pack:
3L MSR bladder

Harness and pack weight (no water): 5.1 pounds

Oh, and the list doesn't include Bernadette, sister to Beat's long-suffering Siberian, Bernie. Bernie has been along for the ride since 2013, so it seems apt to tow my own husky up the Iditarod Trail. The number of times Bernadette made me smile while glancing back during the three-mile march today tells me this is a good choice.

I'm happy the cargo weight came in around 40 pounds, meaning ~46 with water and fuel. If I can stay reasonably comfortable and secure in most conditions that Alaska can throw at me, I am not going to complain. My type B personality will never let me retain any level of self-confidence; thankfully, I can use excess gear and stuffed animals to soothe my aching inadequacy.

Just five more days! 


  1. Best wishes to you and Beat on your trip. Can't wait to hear what adventures you will encounter.

  2. Let the adventure begin. Best wishes for every moment on trail.

  3. On to adventures! I'm sure you will do great, and even if not, you at least got out there and tried, which is way more than most people will. Looking forward to the post-race report!

  4. Wow...that's quite a list. That said, IF I were to ever undertake what you are doing mine would likely be much longer. You've got years of experience and know what you need. I'd have no idea. Good luck to both of you...I'll be watching the SPOT tracks for sure!

    1. As I mentioned, I know what I need to feel secure walking away from the starting line, which is what gives me confidence to actually tackle these types of endeavors. Whether or not I actually need all of it is another thing altogether! Many start this race with less weight — fewer layers, no redundancies, no stove, lighter camping gear. If you know your body well, feel secure that you won't make major mistakes, and trust that you can keep moving no matter what, that's one thing. I don't have such confidence.

  5. Looks good to me. That said, it seems like minimal food. Do you do food drops?

    1. There are food drops ... two, limited to 5 pounds each, at mile 130 and 200. I contemplated starting with more than 5 pounds, but decided that there will most likely be ample opportunity to scavenge from other racers' left-behind food. There are also a few meals available along the way, although beyond mile 130, I consider these provided meals more of a "treat" than a significant calorie source.

  6. Jill & Beat: Best wishes for a great outing in AK.

  7. Hooray!!! So excited for you and am looking forward to following along... Best wishes and God bless to you and Beat!!


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