Friday, March 29, 2019

No place like Nome

My month in Nome divided neatly into two distinct segments: The first two weeks when the town was dark and quiet and I accomplished a fair amount of writing and run-training. Then the last two weeks, which were loud and sleepless and All Iditarod All Of The Time. I became swept up in the excitement of the sled dog race, and was outside cheering for every musher I could catch. I wandered the town attending talks by race pioneers, museum exhibits, concerts, and anything else that looked interesting on the calendar. Iditarod fever had consumed this sleepy town, and I was not immune.

The 2019 co-winners, Petr Ineman and John Logar
Just as Iditarod fever took over, cyclists began to arrive. When this idea first sparked to spend the month in Nome, I genuinely didn't consider that I'd probably become the de facto finish-line host. An official Nome greeter is something the ITI has never offered. After their thousand-mile journey, racers often arrive to quiet streets, no fanfare, and sometimes don't even have a place to warm up (one of my favorite stories comes from Marco Berni, who arrived in the middle of the night in 2006. With no businesses open, he curled up in the only warm spot he could find — the ATM at the bank — until the police showed up and took him to the homeless shelter.) Personally I appreciate the low-key nature of the ITI, and was a little overwhelmed in 2016 when I arrived in Nome 15 minutes before a popular musher and had to chat with dozens of people while my head was still offline and drifting back toward the trail. Still, it was fun to track the cyclists' movements and greet them at the burled arch — even Troy whose dot kept me up most of the night before he arrived around 7 a.m.

And thankfully, Carole and Jen flew in from Anchorage and Fairbanks to help out. They were there to greet the two women pedaling toward the finish — Kim and Missy — and brought a bounty of exotic foods from Costco to share. My little apartment on Front Street became a scene reminiscent of the much-more established finish line in McGrath, with racers crashed out on the floor, wet gear strewn around, food appearing on tables and disappearing as fast as it could be produced, and an entertaining exchange of adventure stories from the trail. I loved how this all worked out, but I have to say, this introvert was exhausted.

The flurry of activity necessitated a sharp taper in my workouts, which was probably a good thing, although I still needed the outdoor excursions just to wind down and relax. After my final long run two weeks before the White Mountains 100, my mildly sprained right ankle was still bothering me enough that I decided I would do no more running before the race. Instead I went out for rides along the coast, catching glimpses of ringed seals poking their heads out of openings in the re-forming ice.

I also enjoyed one more ride with the Saturday morning fat bike club, again grinding into the hard wind toward Cape Nome. The wind-driven surface snow was like Velcro, pulling against the tires with each hard-earned rotation. Still, at least the trail was packed. We were able to cover more than twice the distance in the same amount of time this week — 18 miles instead of 8. After three weeks in Nome, 18 miles in three hours felt like a blistering fast speed on a bike.

On Sunday, Carole's friend Tom invited us out to his kennel to try our hands at mushing. Tom lives 13 miles outside of town in the beautiful Nome River Valley, and this time of year his house is only accessible by trail. He towed the three of us out there in his snowmachine. What a treat!

I was having so much fun hanging out with Carole and Jen. Carole and I bonded in the ITI 350 last year. Although we didn't travel together in the race until the final two miles, we were in close enough proximity to share similar struggles. We battled the same deep snow, plunged through the same overflow. We shared a bunk with the loud-partying Iditarod trailbreakers at the Bear Creek shelter cabin, and also shared the horrors of wet feet. Her footprints were the only signs of life after the storm, and I followed them gratefully for dozens of miles. Two miles before McGrath, I caught up to her as she hobbled along with trench foot so advanced that her feet would take months to recover. It seemed downright silly to race at that point, so I hobbled along with her, chatting to take her mind off the pain until I was wracked with shivering from moving so slowly. We limped into the finish to tie for second place or something after eight and a half days. I feel like Carole is my sister on the trail, and it was wonderful to spend more time with her in Nome this year.

Tom's kennel is home to 18 huskies, cute and friendly dogs mostly named after cuts of beef. I'd forgotten to mention to my friends that I have mild dog fears, and my phobia crept to the surface with 18 energetic canines and their sharp teeth bouncing all around me. Still, I did my best to coral a few bundles of pure muscle to help harness the team.

Tom ran the Iditarod once, in 2016 — the same year that I rode a bike to Nome. It was fun to share our stories from the trail as though we'd run the same race, which in many ways, it felt like we had. However, as we rushed through a multitude of tasks to prepare the team for the run, I decided that dog mushing is a decidedly different sport from fat biking. It's much more strenuous. Nothing but respect for mushers and sled dogs here.

Tom let us each drive the team along a 1.5-mile loop. Driving 10 dogs is terrifying; even in the soft snow, they can fly. At first I death-gripped the sled and rode the brake constantly, but as I started to feel more secure on the runners, I let them go. This was an exhilarating sensation — quiet, yet swift, with only the flow of wind and agile husky legs to betray a sense of stillness.

That night, amid a lovely 9 p.m. sunset, we watched Kristin Bacon's team come in.

Red Lantern Victoria Hardwick arrived the following afternoon.

At the time we were waiting at the arch for Kim and Missy, who arrived less than ten minutes later, at 2 p.m. Monday. The ITI race organizers touted them as only the eighth and ninth women to complete the race to Nome since 2002. Guess who was the seventh? This was a powerful moment to experience with them — it felt like passing on the mantle. Happy tears flowed from all five of us.

Then, as we were coaxing the women to approach the arch for photos, who rolls up but the "Gypsy by Trade," Nicholas Carmen himself. Before then we weren't aware of Nick's whereabouts; we only knew he'd been independently touring the Iditarod Trail from Anchorage to Nome this year. With a depth of touring and Alaska experience, what appears to be boundless strength, and extra-wide tires, Nick made a three-week solo ride on the Southern Route of the Iditarod Trail look all too easy. Missy and Kim want to assure you that it's not easy. I concur. But it was a happy reunion for all.

On Tuesday evening I stole a little more solo time to ride into the Nome River Valley. This felt like the first truly clear day in the three weeks since I arrived — no clouds, barely a breeze, almost cold enough to create a frosty face (it was about 10 degrees.) I talked up the amazing weather window that most of the Nome cyclists were able to enjoy here. "It's been snowing and/or blowing for three weeks straight," I insisted. I'm not sure anyone believed me.

We had one more ladies slumber party, and after much celebration and libations, I really tried to get some sleep. But I couldn't help but stay awake clicking on Beat's dot as he rested briefly at White Mountain and set out on the "final" (70-mile) leg toward Nome. Based on his pacing and planned rest, I predicted an o-dark-thirty finish on Thursday morning.

Iditarod was officially over and town businesses were slowly shuttering their doors as we enjoyed one last leisurely breakfast at Bering Tea on Wednesday morning. As the ladies piled into their taxi to head to the airport, I pointed at the clear view of Anvil Mountain and "White Alice," the imposing tropospheric antennas installed at the peak during the Cold War. "I've been waiting more than three weeks for a window to climb that mountain," I announced. "Today I'm finally going to do it."

Of course there was laundry to do and ice cream to buy before Beat's arrival, so I didn't set out until 2 p.m. I loaded my snowshoes and poles onto my bike and put a few warm layers in a backpack. The weather was 15 degrees with relatively light winds. I pedaled north toward Anvil Mountain, basking in sunshine. But less than two miles into my ride, the North Wind turned on, like flipping a switch. It was absolutely incredible — a phenomenon I've only experienced on the Bering Sea Coast. A pleasant breeze became a 30mph gale within minutes. Suddenly I could barely pedal into the wind, and a ground blizzard all but obscured the pavement. I began to shiver, so I stopped to pull on my rain pants and buff, which were my only extra layers besides an emergency puffy. Should I bail? But this was my last chance to climb Anvil! It would be crime to spend a month in Nome and not ascend this mountain at least once.

I reached the end of the road and strapped on my snowshoes. My thermometer now read 8 degrees, and it was sure to keep dropping. My core was already cold, but figured the climb would warm me some. And the hike should only be another 1.5 miles with 700 or so feet of climbing. Of course it was a trudge in breaking crust over deep sugar snow, and the wind was howling in a way I had yet to experience this year. I managed to spend nearly a month in Nome without facing the sharpest teeth of the North Wind, even as I expected it all along. This long wait made the gale all the more unsettling.

Amid a battle with both my core temperature and primal sense of fear, I reached the edge of "Nomehenge" — a thrilling apocalyptic scene. The sixty-foot towers were coated in thick rime, looming as industrial ghosts over the barren snowscape. The towers are normally surrounded by a chain-link fence, but the snow is so deep this year that I could snowshoe freely between them, gazing upward and taking a few photos at a time as my fingers flash-froze to disconcerting rigidity. After one too many photos, I finally reached into my pack to grab my mittens, only to remember I'd left them on my bike. All I had to protect my hands were the pogies on my poles, which let in the wind and suddenly felt like nothing at all.

My hands would freeze if I didn't hurry. A panicked urgency took over and I rushed down the mountain as fast as I could "run," holding my arms crossed over my chest with hands, pogies, and trekking poles wedged under my arms. The snowshoes flailed about and I tripped twice, taking a face full of snow because my arms were too sluggish to catch my body. Things get real, fast — and I mean real fast — when the North Wind blows. At my bike I put the mittens on and blasted toward town with the violent wind shoving me faster than I could pedal. The ground blizzard was astonishing; I couldn't see the bumpers of trucks driving toward me. Not weather to be out in, by any stretch.

Of course, I already had plans for an evening ride with Nick and Chris, a Nome dentist I'd met the previous week. The North Wind was not quite as brutal in town, but it was still pretty bad. Chris and I flailed about with the drifts while Nick pedaled steadily forward, because it seems nothing is hard for him. Still, when we all stopped for a break after about 1.5 miles, Nick commented, "If I lived in Nome, I don't think I'd motivate often to ride."

Just after we started north again, I received a call from Beat. I could barely hear him over the wind, which roared in both my ear and the ear-piece of the phone. I knew since the North Wind was blowing 30 in Nome, it had to be bad — real bad — where Beat was. I knew he left Topkok shelter cabin, but I suppose a part of me hoped he turned around. Another part just tried to put it out of my mind. But his voice on the phone left no doubt. He was shaken. He was scared. "Blowhole," he said.

The Solomon Blowhole is an infamous segment of the Iditarod Trail. The blowhole forms when the relatively warm air of the Bering Sea draws cold Arctic air from the North through narrow canyons of the Kigluaik Mountains. The funneling creates convective winds that can reach hurricane force before hitting the water. A weather station near a place called Johnson Camp often records gusts of 60 to 70 mph, reaching 100 mph at times. A trail description for the sled dog race carries this warning: "This can be one of the most dangerous stretches on the race when the wind blows or a storm hits. It can make or break champions, not to mention back-of-the-packers. Mushers have nearly died within what would normally be a few hours’ easy running to Nome. In reasonable weather, this is a pleasant five- to eight-hour run; in the worst conditions, it can be impassable."

Beat was in the blowhole. He'd managed to reach a newer shelter cabin supposedly built at the edge of the worst of it, but he was still surrounded by violent gusts. His pogies and pockets had filled with snow. Gusts flipped his enormous sled onto its side. He kept moving because he had no other choice. Visibility was already zero, and darkness was approaching. He was 30 miles from Nome, utterly pinned down.

Beat told me he didn't plan to leave until morning — at 14 to 15 hours, this would be his longest stop of the entire journey. I commiserated with Chris, who has ridden his snowmachine through many a Nome storm, and pried him for information about when and where Beat might be safe. I started receiving texts from people in the know — a local musher who runs the Nome Nugget newspaper. A teacher who used to help with search and rescue. Phil Hofstetter, a former Nome resident who has finished the thousand-mile ride a number of times. They asked me how Beat was doing, whether I'd heard from him. People who understood were worried. I was scared.

I didn't sleep at all on Wednesday night. Not a wink. I clicked refresh on Trackleaders about a thousand times, even though I'd been trying so hard not to run out the limited bandwith from my gracious Nome landlord. In the morning I started seeing notes from well-meaning friends. It's been 14 hours? Why is Beat still sitting? Did his tracker die? I was grateful he was still safe in the shelter cabin. But I was worried he might be pinned down for days. We had tickets to fly to Fairbanks on Friday afternoon. If I didn't make that flight, I wouldn't be able to race the White Mountains 100. Of course, I wasn't going anywhere until Beat was safely in Nome.

Beat called again. The wind was still raging all around him, but he'd fortified his layers and sled, and he was going to make a run for it. He might turn around, he told me. I was locked to the computer, refresh, refresh. The wind howled through town, and the roads had blown in again. I couldn't have ridden out to see him even if I was capable of battling Nome's relatively mild 30mph North Wind. I didn't feel nearly that strong. I went over to Chris's house for a nice dinner that was literally leftover dog food (prime rib for the huskies on Victoria's team.) I tried not to pace as Beat's dot continued the steady approach — seven miles, then five. Chris and I drove a mile out of town, punching through deep drifts and nearly stalling out the truck, when finally I caught sight of Beat. He looked more than a little bedraggled, like a homeless person who put on all of his warm clothing only to have the wind rip half of it off of his body. His voice was raspy as he turned his head away from the wind to speak to us. "This shit just never ends, does it?"

I felt suddenly shy, like I had honed in on needed moments of introspection. Chris and I stalked him more quietly as he made his way down Front Street to the arch, which had been moved off to the side of the street the previous day.

And with that, Beat completed his fifth journey to Nome, in 25 days and 5 hours. He was the first runner to arrive this year, making him the winner of a fancy headlamp reserved for "first foot." He was in great shape, all things considered. He had no blisters after days of rain across the wet swamp that covered the Yukon River. He had no windburn after the blowhole. He had a strange arm injury from an early fall. His arm looked misshapen to me, but he insisted it wasn't broken. He was tired. He was real tired. We found our way to Milano's pizza place for a well-earned burger and sushi roll. 
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.