Friday, March 15, 2019

Nomeward bound

I'm sitting at the Iditarod headquarters awaiting the first cyclists of the Iditarod Trail Invitational, and going through piles of pictures from the week so far. This is quick photo post before future catch-up posts become too unwieldy.

 My White Mountains 100 "taper" officially began on Monday. Taper pretty much means that I'm going to refrain from exercise unless it involves an interesting adventure in good weather. I fully expect to go overboard, so I can't say this is a great plan. Monday brought hints of sunshine and temperatures below freezing, so I hoped some of the local trails might have set up. I headed out for a little bikesploration, and actually made it about 11 miles out the Nome-Teller "Highway" before my front wheel started punching through the fragile wind crust.

 I also had a standoff with a cow moose and her calf, shown in this photo as tiny dots on that mound to the left. As I decided whether to pass, she and junior walked right onto the trail and started sauntering away from me, punching postholes all over packed surface, of course. Clearly she was taking ownership of the trail. Conditions were becoming too punchy to be rideable, anyway, so I turned around.

There were still plenty of other trails to explore. I don't know where they go. I only know that the Big Lonely surrounds everything here, and I love it.

 On Tuesday morning I set out for a quick ride with Andrew, one of the local bikers. He's a lifelong Nomer. It's difficult to conceptualize spending one's entire life in such a place, but I suppose if this is what you're born into, it's home. Several more inches of snow and wind hit overnight, so any trail that was marginally rideable was already blown in again. We cheerfully took our bikes for a hour of swerve-and-walk in the blowing snow, and it was nice. I guess I could see myself getting used to this.

 On Wednesday I spent the day attending a few events, including a talk by an 87-year-old man who raced the first Iditarod. He was the epitome of an old-guy storyteller, swerving in and out of random subjects, most of which had nothing to do with the first Iditarod. But it was enjoyable all the same. He said in his 52 years in Nome, he'd never seen so much snow. Most of the icicles in town are working their way to hanging horizontally.

 Toward evening, I was able to see some of my favorite mushers come in. I've taken to following the ladies, which is only natural I suppose. Aliy is a fan favorite; she talks to her dogs in a sing-song voice and interacts warmly with everyone she encounters. Like many, I was pulling for her to win this year's Iditarod, but excited to see her come in fourth.

 It was such a beautiful evening that I headed out for a run. The trail was extra soft; at times I punched through to my knees. The unplowed road was even worse, with uneven and crusty drifts. It was one of those efforts that I've come to call a "slog-jog," because I will continue to battle the conditions with running efforts, look at my watch and realize I'm logging 22-minute miles, slow to a walk, and actually improve my pace. Reminding myself that I'm a better walker than runner is good self-knowledge to hold onto ahead of the White Mountains 100. Current forecasts make it look like we may be in for similarly warm trails, and I now know I have nothing to gain from trying to be speedy.

 In looking at the forecast for Fairbanks, I clicked through Nome first and saw something I haven't seen in my nearly three weeks here: A sunshine graphic. It was hidden behind "mostly cloudy" but it was there. Since cloudy days have shown to have a bit of sun, mostly cloudy probably meant a bright blue day. I was excited. My sleep has been terrible this week, so I was up at 5 a.m., just waiting for the sun to come up. Waiting, waiting. Then, by about 10 a.m., I finally ventured out.

 I didn't have a plan for the day when I set out, except to ride the Iditarod Trail east. For each solo adventure I'm prepared to spend all day and possibly a night in much worse weather than I expect to see, so there was an inclination that if trail conditions were good, maybe I'd ride all the way to Safety. Having punched a bunch of knee-deep holes in this trail the previous evening, I wasn't optimistic. Of course, I forget that fat tires have more float than heavy human feet, and I was able to roll along fairly well on the soft and chunky snow.

 Jeff Dieter passed about an hour from Nome. It was shaping up to be the loveliest day. There was no wind — which is to say there was still an 8 mph breeze out of the east, and I had to pull a buff over my face even as I stripped off my hat and jacket amid the sweaty grind.

 Views from the top of Cape Nome. Just more Big Lonely, as far as you can see.

 Waving to twin sisters Kristy and Anna Berington as they passed. I think I've cheered for every woman finishing the Iditarod so far.

 A musher poling toward Cape Nome. The trail was so soft, and the dogs weren't moving much faster than me — which is to say about five miles per hour. This was a tough 5mph too, just consistent hard work. My quads were burning, and my knees were sore from grinding in too high of a gear. Some regret crept in. I hadn't even reached Safety yet, and still had to ride all the way back. But I'd made it this far.

 I think this is possibly Matthew Failer. I'm not entirely sure, as I didn't catch his number. He asked me whether I'd seen another musher. I had, but he was about two miles back, and of course we'd both traveled that distance since I saw him. "He's only about a mile ahead," I replied. I didn't mean to be misleading, I just had fatigue-fog and didn't conceptualize the distance until later. "Maybe I can catch him!" the musher yelled. "Yeah! Go for it!" I garbled the words in reply. If this is Matthew, he did end up finishing 10 minutes in front of the next competitor, having made up more than an hour in the final 22-mile stretch.

 At the 20-miles-to-Nome sign, I stopped and chatted with a Swedish man on a snowmachine. He was baffled that I rode a bike out there, and asked how I'd ever get back. "I'll ride back," I replied, and he looked at me like he was already sad for my imminent demise. He puttered into Safety with me just a few hundred yards behind him, and continued to regard me with these sad eyes as I chatted with the other folks outside. He only had a small snowmachine with no cargo sled, so he couldn't have possibly given me a ride, but I suspect he wanted to help me and was watching for others to offer.

 Of course the folks here know fat bikes now, and no one else was convinced I was going to die ... just a little weird, that's all. It was fun to return to this spot on such a beautiful day ... the weather was so much like the day I rode into Nome in 2016. The bar is only open for a week out of the year, during Iditarod. They only serve sausage on buns (reindeer dogs) for food. Usually I know better than to consume such a thing during a hard effort, but I was hungry. Sure enough, more than riding all the way to Safety, this is the decision of the day that I would come to regret.

 Perhaps it was my unsettled stomach, the breeze that had become a tailwind (with no cooling effects) or the progressively softer trail, but about five miles from Safety, I felt like I was burning up. I stripped off nearly everything I was wearing, even my gaiters — I was down to tights and a shirt with rolled-up sleeves, no hat or buff, no gloves as I placed my hands on top of my pogies. Still I continued to sweat buckets. My thermometer read 23 degrees, which is not hot even for me, so I don't know what was up ... it was uncomfortable though. I would stop just to feel the cooling relief of the breeze, only to become uncontrollably chilled within seconds. Then, with flash-frozen limbs, I commenced pedaling, only to return to sweat fest. These flashes of hot and cold in below-freezing temperatures were a new thing for me. I can only blame the reindeer dog. I expected the more gruesome effects of food poisoning to hit my body soon, but it never happened. I feel fine today.

My legs feel wrecked though. 42 miles in eight hours of moving time, at such a high level of effort that I feel worse today than I did after both the Golden Gate 50K and The Bear fat bike race, which were supposed to be my hard efforts well prior to WM100. So ... rest day today, I guess. It's been a fun day to hang around town, talk to folks, and watch more mushers come in. I was able to catch Lance Mackey finish his self-described "Snooze and Booze Cruise." I'm a big fan of Lance — for all of his comebacks amid setbacks and struggles, and his quirky laid-back personality. If this is to be his last Iditarod, it looks like it was a great one.

I expect the first fat bikers within a couple of hours. It's fun to be a spectator for these events ... but it's definitely nothing like being out there myself. 
Monday, March 11, 2019

Nome grown

There was a time when I was sure I'd be bored and miserable here ... I really should know myself better by now. The month is now flying by and I don't want it to end. Has the weather gotten better? No, not really. Did I embark on any great adventures? Well no, not that either. But each day is a new discovery. Inspiration has been high and I've finished a fair amount of writing between the WM100 training and my little explorations. I enjoy just walking around town, imagining life in each snow-smothered building, and playing frogger with the trucks and snowmachines on these excessively narrow streets (narrow because Nome is still far behind in its snow removal efforts.) Each evening I look at the events calendar and find something local to check out, like the Alappaa Film festival, art openings, chili fundraisers. This is the good life.

On Wednesday I thought it would be fun to ride 10 miles up Beam Road with my snowshoes and poles in a backpack, then explore the mountains above Dexter Creek. I only had five hours to spare if I wanted to make the film festival, and the 10-mile access ride took longer than expected. East winds had buried the road in intermittent snow drifts, reducing pedaling to a sandy grind. As I churned through the drifts, I was pelted by sideways freezing drizzle. After an hour and twenty minutes of squinting because my goggles iced over first, everything was encased in clear ice. I had to force open the zipper on my backpack.

Unsurprisingly, the mountains were shrouded in fog. Climbing into this one-dimensional white world was disorienting. At one point I came across a set of snowshoe tracks and wondered "who else could have possibly been up here?" Of course they were my own tracks. I now understand why Antarctic skiers have to stare at their compasses all day long. There's little sense of up or down, let alone north or south, and it's incredibly easy to walk in circles. I started to fret about finding my way back. Even my own snowshoe tracks were difficult to make out in the flat light. I spent the rest of the hike frequently consulting my GPS breadcrumb track (I carried spare batteries because I knew I might have to rely on this thing.) I thought I climbed to the top of Newton Peak, but looking at a map later, it was just a false summit.

On Thursday I logged a 16-mile run. It was another gray monotone day, and I discovered the Nome-Council route that was clear and runnable last week was now drifted in as well. I slogged through sandy drifts and rolled my right ankle badly about three miles from home. As is my tendency, I overreacted to the initial shot of pain, dropping onto my butt in the snowdrift while clutching my GCI flip phone and thinking, "Who can I even call?" (I communicate with people here via Facebook and e-mail, but on runs carry an temporary old-school flip phone that actually works in rural Alaska.)

Luckily the pain diminished some, and I was able to stand up and walk it off. But I did wake up to a slightly swollen and tender ankle, so no running on Friday. Stubbornly I stuck to my goal of putting in active time to log 20 hours for the week, but was grumpy about riding my bike through sandy snow drifts yet again. Still, this ride into the monotone gray Nome River valley was more enjoyable than I'd anticipated — it was so peaceful and quiet out there. I didn't see a soul past the landfill at mile marker three. But every pedal stroke was a battle. My quads ached by the time I finished up this 26-mile ride, as though I'd spent the whole time climbing thousands of feet.

On Saturday my ankle was still a little swollen, but felt markedly better. I had plans to join the local fat bike club on their weekly ride. Four men showed up for the ride — spending most of the time wearing face masks, so I doubt I'd recognize them if I saw them on the street. While chatting at the coffee shop, we learned the Nome-Golovin Snowmachine Race had been postponed due to an incoming storm. The guys agreed that the race route was likely to be the most rideable trail in town, so we went for it.

The trail was fun in its own way — a rodeo effort to wrangle the bike into submission over soft, punchy, unpredictable snow conditions. We were on and off the bike constantly, telling long stories between each 400-500 feet of riding. We took more than an hour to travel the first three miles, then bailed onto the road, which was a different kind of rodeo event — less bike wrangling, and more bucking bronco amid the deep drifts and 35-45 mph east wind.

Just four miles out of town, this felt like the edge of the world — a fierce and trackless place scrubbed of its last vestiges of life.

Even the seasonal fishing shacks looked like ruins of a lost civilization.

We fanned out across the crust in search of rideable base, and came up empty. Each story-telling break brought up the debate of whether to give up. Our efforts were clearly pointless. We weren't riding anymore, and the knee-deep punchy snow was not even conducive to pushing. Jeff, the guy who organized the ride, said "I have everything in here. Bivy, food, I could go all day!" Luckily, some sense ... and a desire for lunch ... prevailed, and we turned around.

I found it gratifying that in the tiny town of Nome, there are at least four other adults willing to give up their Saturday morning to flail around with bikes on poor excuses trails into objectively awful wind. I think maybe if you live here long enough, you learn to just ignore the wind. If something is always there, eventually it becomes a part of you.

Even with our backs to the wind, we flailed around an equal amount. Now we were racing the storm, which loomed ominously to the south.

Two miles outside of town. I think all of the roads must be drifted in by now.

In the afternoon I needed to walk to the store for my weekly allotment of produce, pasta, and stuff to make peanut butter sandwiches (I've taken to eating like a college student here, mostly because I just can't stomach spending so much on groceries. But I won't give up big salads, even if that means $4 for withered bell peppers.) I was glad I'd waited until the storm hit to run my errands, because the blizzard made them so much less boring.

Earlier in the day I watched a few dozen folks begin a snow-sculpting competition. They started with these blocks of snow.

And three hours later, snow musk ox! There were other fun creations as well.

Sunday morning brought beautiful dawn light at 9:45 a.m. ... I love Daylight Savings Time. Really, I do. Morning light is useless to me. Tonight the Nome sunset would be at 8:47 p.m. Score! Over extended morning coffee, I perused the calendar and saw a listing for the Mukluk Mini Marathon. Really, marathon? No, it was only a 5K. But it was only $15, and included a T-shirt. I could actually use another T-shirt right now. And I've never run an official 5K before! Of course I couldn't race it, as I have no training in that regard, and couldn't risk injuring my still-tender ankle. But walking around on it had given me enough confidence that I could probably handle a normally paced run of that length.

First I hiked over to the ice to watch the start of the Nome-Golovin snowmachine race, a 200-mile sprint out to the village of Golovin and back.

When I rode a bike here in 2016, the 100 miles from Golovin to Nome took me about 30 hours — of course with an extended stop in White Mountain to eat cheesecake, take a bath, and snooze soundly at trail angel Joanna's house. The winner of this race finished the out-and-back in 2:05. Two hundred miles in two hours. Over some really rough terrain. It's difficult for me to conceptualize.

 The Mukluk Mini Marathon brought an impressive crowd of at least two dozen runners. When the race marshal described the course to me, my first thought was, "that's not going to be 3.1 miles." One of the guys in the fat bike club was here with his girlfriend, and I decided to follow them, as my concept of the course probably wasn't correct. They kept a perfect pace — comfortable for my breathing and ankle, and for them probably less treacherous on this slush and wet ice (I have studded shoes. I noticed many folks here do not.) Sure enough, they took every turn that I'd envisioned. When we strode into the finish, the race marshall announced all three were in at 19 minutes even. The woman was excited, but I had to rain on the parade and say, "Ah, it was only 4K." My watch read 2.4 miles. Only in my dreams could I run a 19-minute 5K. But it was a fun little event. We watched some of the basketball tournament afterward. I like the shirt.

 Twenty minutes of running was not going to cut it for my weekly goal, so I went back out to enjoy the long evening with 13 more miles through the slush and punchy snow. My hip flexors are certainly getting a workout this month. This would all be great conditioning for the White Mountains 100 if I'd been doing this all winter. Right now I probably just stand to hurt myself, yet I can't help it. Even the sloggiest, most mundane outings are so fun here. Novelty is a potent drug.

I've been posting Facebook updates about Beat, but he's still doing well. He's making great time up the Yukon River right now, despite wet and warm weather. He's hardly seen temperatures below 30 degrees since he left McGrath. Today he was rained on heavily coming into Eagle Island, where the dog sled race volunteers generously let him take up some tent space to dry out his gear. The rest of the river is reported to have rougher trails and more overflow. The final stretch along the coast is still a huge wildcard. The sea ice moved out early this year, meaning most of the trail will be routed overland. Once the dog sled race moves on, that might mean no trails at all. I saw this happening in real time on the sea ice along Front Street today. I took the above photo while walking back from the snowmachine race at 12:30 p.m. Today was the first I'd seen open water since I arrived.

This photo was taken close to that same spot, also today, at 5:30 p.m. Within five hours the shore ice had almost completely broken apart. The whole staging area for the snowmachine was was gone. I'm not even sure where they're going to route the finishers of the dog sled race, as they usually mush along the ice right up until the arch. It's a dynamic, abnormal season — the new norm in this climate change era. I just want Beat to stay safe, but I trust him to make the best decisions in that regard. 
Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Nome alone

March 2016 was a particularly magical time in my life. I rode a bike across Alaska with a little tenacity and a huge helping of grace, to arrive in this wonderland at the edge of the world. For a week I basked in the afterglow and "recovered" — riding my bicycle under sunny skies along ice-coated roads and slickrock-like snow drifts. I watched mushers arrive under the burled arch, danced at bars, enjoyed dinners with locals and fellow Iditarod tourists, attended the Iditarod banquet, chased the Northern Lights, greeted other finishing cyclists and Tim Hewitt on his record-setting run, and later, after much of this had quieted down, watched Beat finish his third run to Nome. Pure magic. I knew this experience couldn't be relived for any cost. You know, "You Can't Go Nome Again." Still ... I think about this place often. I dreamed of a return.

Nome is a town of 3,700 residents along the Bering Sea coast. It's home to the turn-of-the-century gold rush that at one time made this the largest city in Alaska, but today Nome is best known as the finish line for the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. It serves as a hub for a vast region of Inupiat villages, with a large hospital, a library, and other amenities, but it still has the look and feel of a rural Alaska town. Life is quite different here than it is on "the road system" and the Lower 48. People drive the streets on snowmachines with rifles strapped to their backs, dragging cargo sleds full of chopped-up caribou. Children still forget their mittens when they walk to school at 20 below. Many of the houses appear weathered and worn, not necessarily due to age, but because life here is hard for humans and structures alike. Storm surges batter the beach. Snow piles against the leeward side of anything standing. The wind blows. Constantly.

It was about six months ago that I first came up with the admittedly strange idea to spend a month in Nome. I'd find an AirBnB, enjoy a "writing retreat" of sorts, and embark on small local adventures to finish training for the White Mountains 100. I suppose I didn't really believe an affordable opportunity would open up in what is by far the busiest month for tourism in Nome. Then one did. I took it, and though I wouldn't admit it to myself, felt instant regret. Was I really just going to go spend a month by myself in this inhospitable place? As March approached, I learned that Nome was experiencing one of its warmest and snowiest winters yet, with storm after storm churning up the sea ice and dumping feet of snow (much of it blows away, or else this place would probably look like an Alps mountain village under 500 inches of powder.)

I'm a pessimist by nature, but even my worst outlook underestimated the possibilities. My first run on Wednesday was a cold punch of reality, right to the gut. For my first two weeks here I hoped to engage in "peak" training for the White Mountains 100, with at least 20 hours of moving time, mostly on my feet. I figured that would be easy to do — even with regular work deadlines and writing goals, I'm still a lot less scheduled here than I am at home. It was snowing and blowing, so I put on my goggles and windproof fleece and set out, plodding east on the road. The wind was blowing at least 40 mph — I'm not trying to exaggerate this number; I saw 43 mph average on a nearby weather station later. I can barely breathe facing a headwind this strong, let alone run, and the road was hidden under shin-deep drifts. It was a full whiteout, with so little visibility that I felt dizzy, not knowing which way was up or down. I wandered off the road repeatedly, occasionally slamming into a snowplow berm that was taller than me. I genuinely couldn't see anything inside this visual ping-pong ball.

I took this selfie only a half mile into my "run." You can see I'm already coated in ice. The temperature was just a notch below freezing — warm enough that snow was wet and heavy, but cold enough that it froze to anything it landed on. Within four miles the ice layer was so thick that my arms had become stiff and motionless, my everything else I was wearing was soaked through. I'd taken two falls on powder-covered ice despite wearing microspikes, and felt dazed and shattered. I didn't even have the wherewithal to take another selfie, although I imagine I must have looked a lot like Jack Nicholson at the end of "The Shining." When I took off that jacket, it felt 20 pounds heavier.

Four miles. That was all I could muster. I was exhausted.

I went to bed that night genuinely believing I was going to drop out of the White Mountains 100 and purchase the first plane ticket back to Denver the following day. I'm not too proud to admit I've made a huge mistake. But then Thursday dawned with patchy sunshine through the lenticular clouds, and I walked into the kitchen and realized that I could see the Bering Sea — the wide, white, expansive ocean — from my window. The view is amazing. And although there was a ton of new snow on the ground and most trails were buried, there were still a few places I could venture out at a relative running pace.

I managed 20 miles on Thursday. I was pretty proud of this effort. The available surfaces were still tricky — icy wheel tracks, drifted side roads, ice-chunk-coated shoulders of main roads. On this day there was a north wind — which I'd embraced as the predominant wind direction of this region, but have since realized that the East Wind rules Nome. Anyway, I was genuinely glad to greet the North Wind, my old friend, who continuously threatened to push me out to sea even when I was miles inland, knocked me off my feet once as a surprise crosswind gust, and generally kicked the crap out of my legs and lungs. Just like old times.

On Friday I logged 11 more miles between "running" (battling the east wind and a misty freezing rain at a frustratingly strenuous jogging pace) and then walking in the freezing rain to the grocery store to buy $4 apples, oranges, green bell peppers, and other assorted mediocre produce that left me feeling grumpy. (I know, I was aware of the high cost of living before I arrived.) I made the mistake of buying too many heavy items, and it was quite the grunt to haul it 1.5 miles back to the apartment atop the rain-slicked ice roads. It's funny how reliant I've become on vehicle transportation. Living a month without a car will be good for me too, I can already tell.

By Saturday enough days had passed since the last big snow dump to attempt a ride. Yes, I have a bike with me, and no, I'm not optimistic it will be the most useful machine here if these weather patterns hold. This day was forecast to be partly sunny, but instead it was foggy and warm and gray. I churned through inches of slush on the paved roads and battled soft mush on the the snowmachine routes. I rode to the ends of several routes out of town — the "end" being the spot where it was clear I'd be pushing the rest of the way if I continued any farther. Three mean dogs chased me along Dexter Bypass Road, and one chomped down hard on my leg — which was luckily protected by my boot and gaiter, so no harm done, but I was rattled about being bitten by a dog. Also, Dexter Bypass Road is the route to Anvil Mountain, where I'd looked forward to snowshoeing, but I'm not sure I'll muster the courage to go back. I despise mean dogs.

Tough miles, those 40 miles, and I was back to being a bit grumpy. It struck me how similar this weather is to a typical Juneau winter, and how disconcertingly familiar that feels even after all of these years away. Meanwhile, Beat was raving about the Northern Lights on the Iditarod Trail, Anchorage was enjoying day after day of clear weather, and even Juneau is in the midst of a long sunny stretch with temperatures in the teens. I was trying to readjust my attitude, but I couldn't hold back the jealousy. "If I knew this was going to be Juneau without trees, I would have gone to Juneau."

By Sunday I had 17 hours for the week, and dreaded going out for three more. I think my breathing has been better, although it's honestly difficult to tell amid all the wind. My legs felt fairly fresh, but my feet were beginning to feel the strain of all this running on tricky surfaces. At night the muscles on the bottom of my right foot would cramp so badly that I'd wake up howling. But when everything settled down all limbs felt fine, so I had no reason not to run. I headed east, because I'd rather face the wind first, but things weren't nearly so bad as I anticipated. There was even a bit of sunlight through the clouds, and I could see more of the sweeping open space that led me to fall in love with Nome in the first place.

Temperatures were still warm, and eventually the trail became too soft to hold my weight. Without snowshoes, I was punching to my knees. Weirdly, the crust to the side of the trail was much firmer — still punchy at times, but good enough for walking. I wandered along the dunes, happy as could be. I was about seven miles outside of town at this point — not terribly far from a runner perspective, but to a couple driving their snowmachine along the coast, this solitary human figure in the middle of nowhere must have seemed alarming. They turned their machine and raced up the slope toward me, a deviation that took several minutes because I was more than a mile off the coast. On the snowmachine was a Native couple in their mid-40s. The woman was wearing a kuspuk and the man of course had a huge rifle slung over his shoulder. "Are you okay?" the man shouted.

"Great," I said with a big smile. "I'm just, you know, out hiking."

They both regarded me with a confused and incredulous smirk, and without another word whipped back around. "Thanks for checking on me!" I shouted as they drove off.

Yeah, just out wandering through the frozen tundra seven miles outside of town for no real reason. White people, am I right?

Nome is a unique place, and one I'm lucky to be able to experience. I reminded myself of this as I returned to the trail, enjoying the vast white expanses. My legs felt so peppy that I threw in a five-mile diversion to boost the day's total to 18.5 miles. I'd left the house with minimal gear and no food, so the final three miles were a struggle through a bonky haze. Still, this run was a turning point for both my White Mountains 100 confidence, and my desire to stay put for the duration in Nome. It was a good way to end the week.

On Monday, another winter storm arrived. This one is expected to bring 12-18 inches and another likely school closure — my friend told me they closed schools three times in February alone. A rarity for Nome, which even for a small town is well equipped to deal with snow — but not this much snow. Anyway, roads again seemed dangerous for running, so I strapped on a pair of snowshoes and went for a meandering hike along the shoreline. I finally visited the Nome National Forest, which is a spot on the sea ice where locals leave the Christmas trees they had shipped in from elsewhere — this is the only "forest" near town to speak of. And there's not much left of this one, as it too has been all but buried by snow. The tips of the trees barely rose to my knees, but I enjoyed a brief diversion through the "woods" all the same. 

I hiked a little too far from town, and became sufficiently disoriented by the whiteout that I had to lock onto smatters of landmarks — like this broken-down beach house — until I found my way to the airport. Yikes. There will be no more storm hiking without a GPS in hand.

I'm glad to be in Nome. I'm excited for the Iditarod festivities to begin. There are several interesting cultural events on the schedule. I discovered a local fat bike club, and hoping I can join them on Saturday (if trails are rideable on Saturday ... I'm not super optimistic.) Beat is doing well on the Iditarod Trail. He calls often, making his usual complaints of fatigue and some boredom, but he also speaks of the beauty and joy, and he's making great time. It will never be 2016 again, but the magic is still here. I'm looking forward to more explorations.