Tuesday, April 22, 2014

...and then what? Ophir to Nulato

When I glanced at my last post I couldn't help but over analyze the words.  So just for clarification the only reason I was bombing down the hills first was because I had a cool 700 watt kickass nite rider light. The following day Jeff dropped me like a bad date and the chivalrous guy he was he stuck with his bad date till the next evening before I said, "no you go ahead, I'll catch up to you later." Ha famous last words.   

Anywho, that next day waking up from the ophir landing strip I was amazed.  I was amazed that it was warm. Amazed at what felt like a good night sleep, though took a few hours of groggy riding to feel it. And amazed the conditions were basically perfect.  While we were going through what in past years had been a certifiable hell, Jeff turned and said "so where is this bad section you were talking about?" I was really at a loss, I just can't believe how different it felt. I swear it was bad in the past! It must have been the company for one.... and for another maybe the cabin(s) on the upcoming trail felt like added safety and the weather / trail were really awesome.  It had to be it because I started having conversations in my head analyzing those feelings-- I just can't get over how one year things could be so horrible and the same section undeniably fine.  Last time I went through here I fell in overflow over my knee at -30 and was pretty worried about frostbite.... this time was muuuuch better I fell in overflow on my back and the water came in my open side zips / pit zips but it was only 20 above so we're good.

Jeff (who made it just fine across overflow) Oatley

Innoko Cabin
As the day wore on conditions continued to be great but I started feeling, not so great.  On reflection I was eating non-stop when I left McGrath till about the first cabin at the Innoko crossing.  We ate great there, melted snow, felt good and then I decided to put butt butter on the ole tush.... and about fell over in pain.  I have never felt pain like that and just stood there cursing for about 5 minutes and knew something was deeply wrong with me.  The saddle sores would not get better over time. This was serious.  After we left I was worried and believe I stopped stuffing my face on the fly because I began riding more out of the saddle. The whole afternoon I was depleting.  I was fading on those big rollers before the second Innoko crossing and the second cabin.  If you did the northern route you know what I speak of...At that point I knew I was in a bit of trouble.  This is where Jeff and I parted, he was on fire and I wanted to sit next to one.. to dry out... at the cabin.

First Innoko Crossing
Jeff getting ready to depart Innoko cabin
I slathered neosporin on my nether regions hung my wet overflowed clothes and tried to sleep.  It didn't work and after 2 hrs most everything was dry and I just wanted to get out on the trail to catch up.  I ate a bunch and felt decent to wolf kill slough (drop point) and picked up my *only* planned drop till Unalakleet.  It felt good to have my own packed food and I just sat in the trail and ate and ate! I left, eventually, and there were a lot of sharp hills so stand-up riding did not feel awkward.   The hours flew by and around 3 am I passed Aiden sleeping in a bivy and moved on a few miles later I passed Jeff sleeping.  I called his name and shined a light but no answer, I knew I had to sleep and went to find the next patch of pine boughs about a mile up and lay down. It was around 4 or 5am.  I slept 2 hours and Jeff woke me and said I should get going.  I promptly fell asleep again.  An hour later I got up, packed and took off. It was a bit after Poorman and it was on this day that I struggled mightily with denial on my butt.  I stopped often to try to get a groove where I could sit... the pain just worsened.  I tried every possible seat position, used mole skin and all to no avail.

Poorman area (beautiful sunrise)

Poorman area

At exactly the Sulatna crossing I decided "that's it." I mentally made a decision not to sit on the seat from here on out and that's what I did.  The hills were brutal to Ruby and I stopped often but made pretty good time. I arrived in Ruby about an hour after Jeff.  I went to the school to try to get my drop but to no avail.  I didn't know what to do (heard Aiden and Jeff blew through Ruby which seemed impossible) and was led to a home, I decided to sleep for the night and make a big push along the whole Yukon.  I rested, showered and for the first time was able to take a look at my ass.  It was not an abscess (something to pop) it was something much worse.  I rested well, ate and left about 4 am a 10-11 hr stop!  My plan was a go for non-stop till Nulato or Kaltag or more!

On the Yukon
I felt good. Mostly because I simply decided not to sit and my knees stopped hurting. I made Galena by 10 or 11am went to the only store I could find (liquor store) and stocked up on food, ate and left by 1pm. No drop... again...- post office closed on Saturday. From here till Kaltag was a griiiiind.  Lots of snow machine traffic churning the trail... I lost time here, the stand up riding killed me and I was not eating and I kept stopping.  I kept going, lots of endos, punchy trail and I had no idea how far up Aiden or Jeff were.  By 1 or 2 am that night I was totally bonked and weaving badly... I would stop and glaze at the stars that looked like a planetarium-- weaving like a drunk and zoning out.... Here this is what it's like:

The weather was so mild I just wanted to sleep next to the trail.... and that's what I did.  I could see the lights of Nulato but I was toast. I crawled in my sleeping bag about 20 yards off trail---2 am on a friday night on the yukon with basketball tournaments could be dangerous with fast snow machines.  Then about 4am I heard the braaap of a super fast machine blow by me and then the unmistakable whine of fast braking.  This was followed by a the machine racing up to my sleeping bag.....

Endo on the Yukon

Saturday, April 12, 2014

McGrath to Ophir

I walked in the door at McGrath to a great welcome as usual.  Peter and Tracy are really incredible people, hosts and I think of them as a role models in the true Alaskan spirit. When it is difficult for our little family house to host Nome racers I think of the way we are treated in McGrath and try to emulate that spirit (or ask others to:) as best as possible.

McGrath was full of 10 other racers at the end of their race, which is hard to be around when you have to move on.  I have finished 3 times with McGrath as the endpoint and this was the 3rd time where it was not.  The section from McGrath to Ruby has taken almost 5 days both times I have done it previously with horrid conditions each time. The Innoko is nothing but a wasteland in my mind and I was preparing to rest a bit before getting out the door.  Aiden said he was leaving right away which I brushed off as a joke.  I started getting some of my gear together but I was not really in a rush.  I walked upstairs where the drops are stored and began looking for mine.... but it was not there.  It was the beginning of racing dropless. I searched and re searched but no drop. Before I had a chance to go the store, multiple racers offered their leftovers to me. Thank you. I was able to pull a decent drop together though it was tough for me to calculate how much it was or I needed.  The mind was fuzzy.

Nome (rural) Alaska Postage:
 Photo: Map
Mail deliveries in rural Alaska have no time frame, it could be overnight or weeks.  No rationale.  I have often ordered from Amazon in one sitting with same postage and received one item in 2 days and the other about a month.  Ahhh Nome postage... To travel to McGrath, which is directly on the way to Anchorage but it has to go to Anchorage first.  Get sorted. Wait. Wait some more. Then get shipped to McGrath. Fortunately, all my drops were returned to me in Nome... which was fun too.

Back to the race:
I went to sleep.  A couple hours later it was around 2pm, Jeff I could tell was getting anxious to leave. I asked about Aiden and he was gone! No joking there. Jeff and I got our gear together and we left around 4-5pm together. 

Ass-trastrophe (continued)
As we rode out of McGrath I forgot my rechargeable light and had to go back.  I got the light (whew) and caught up to Jeff on the river.  My butt hurt incredibly, each time I tried to sit I could see my heart rate monitor on the GPS rise 10 BPM before I sat down.  When I did sit, initially it was like the seat had sewing needles waiting for my butt to make contact.  Immediately I would jump back up.  I would repeat this multiple times before I could actually sit.  I was OK for a little while until I stopped or if I stood up.  The chamois was stuck to my butt and then peal away in some kind of oozing infection (which I treated with antibiotic ointment).  Lovely. At least it kept my mind off of the knees.

We took turns leading our way to Takotna.  A couple of decent climbs got our mind out of the gray fog of funk that accompanies leaving McGrath.  The 900 ft ascent before Takotna brought back memories. A rather fun fast 18 miles later we hit Takotna.  As soon as we pooped into town and passed a house with dogs barking, two residents came out of the house.  We stopped to talk and explained they just returned by snowmachine that day to open the Ophir cabin for Iditarod but no one was there yet.  He said we were welcome to stay there. The temps were balmy in the 20's and we both seemed to have fun climbing out of Takotna-- a steep 5 mile grunt.  The next 30 miles were a blast.  So much different than previous two times.  It was downright fun, we were climbing and bombing descents looking forward to ophir.  The trail was excellent. Jeff said he hasn't slept since Nikolai and would probably need to sleep soon.  As the night wore on I didn't feel tired but.... started hallucinating things.  First it was a moose and Jeff almost ran me over when I stopped suddenly on a fast decent.  The moose was a tree.  Then about 20 min later I stopped rapidly on another decent and just stared 20 yards ahead at about 20 glowing eyes.  I was afraid to say what I saw.

Jeff came alongside and said "what's up?".
I said, "What is that?" pointing to the 20 eyes staring back at us.
"Those reflective lathe?"
To which I let out a relieved, "Huh...."
"What did you think they were?"
"Ummm, a pack of wolves..."

I obviously needed some sleep too...  When we started passing old buildings Ophir cabin was approaching and then, there it was.  Except it wasn't empty the lights were full on, generator humming and clearly occupied.  We searched a bit and I was a little gun shy of knocking on the door.  This is a private cabin and we reluctantly moved on. The weather was perfect, no wind nice temps....  We made the small runway and saw a nice stockpile of wrapped bales of hay.  Wow, this was cool.  We arranged the bales and made a bivy on them.  Yeah this was comfy.  My feathered friends bag was warm and I was out in a heartbeat.  It was only midnight or a bit later,(?) not bad since leaving McGrath.   


Sunday, March 30, 2014

ITI 2014: Start - McGrath

Consistent with my tradition of ITI, I flew in to Anchorage and stayed with Mike and Dave.  I left Nome in a flurry of work mindedness that was hard to let go, even in Anchorage.  Sarah and the kids flew to Ariozona while I tried hard to get in a race mode. I mean I was riding to Nome! I was concerned that my preoccupation with work made me lose focus. I was not as nervous as I should be for a Nome ride.

Living in Nome I don't have access to local outdoor or bike
stores and I waited till pre race to purchase way too many new gear (without trialing) at REI and of course pre race bike tuning at speedway.  Normally, this is a huge bonus but I was determined to switch to a 1xsetup which speedway accomodated in true pro fashion.  While I like the simplicity of the setup I knew nothing on gearing and didn't train with a 1x .... thus made a poor decision with a 32 front ring on a 1x10.   This essentially removed any kind of granny gear and my knees suffered the first couple of days.  (Post race I did miss the second ring up front as it seems easier to shift on hills instead of going through so many gears on a single front chainring...and I had a number of poor shifting oopses that stalled my uphills).

With a tuned up bike, studded tires and a number equipment packing checks I was feeling pretty good about the bike.  I had nothing up front on the handlebars just the way I like it.  Most everything was on the rear rack and frame bag.  I used a combo of hydroflasks and bladder.  The hydroflasks were great for keeping things hot.  I used three of them and a thermos, a bit much. Bike weight was over 60 pounds and I believe I am one of few people who gain weight during the race in the form of edema. Nothing like adding 23 pounds of edema by race end, arrr that was frustrating.  

New equipment from previous race experience included some redundant systems: 

1. Lighting.  I always worry about being without lights and really like the a handlebar light.  I added a rechargeable one that was awesome- I didn't have to worry about batteries just a charge.  This was not an issue at villages like I thought.  A good combo with my two battery driven headlamps.  I used them all.  The spare headlamp was used a couple of times after the rechargeable and primary headlamp both died at once.  

2. Pumps. I used three different pumps- a tiny carbon, a crankbrothers and another that has a bit more volume.  (Two failed while changing a flat later in the race).

Sunday arrived rapidly and I found myself still feeling too casual. The plan to wait 5 minutes after the race start helped tremendously (see previous post)to keep pre race nerves at bay but I shouldn't be this casual.  Kathi said go and everyone was off scattering in all different directions.  I waited and chatted with some friends that came to see me off.  At the 5 min mark I took off.  It was weird.  I passed some walkers and then continued solo on the trail. My goal was to use the traditional iditarod route not the fast road powerline version. I was keeping my heart rate low as instructed by LW the first 24 hrs and felt great.  It was a nice day and the trail was good.  I caught up to some bikers who missed the powerline turn off.  I followed a while and then I think they were concerned that the rest of the pack up front was missing.  They pulled off and I continued on.  A little while later the following riders called out if this was the correct direction. I explained that it would get us to flathorn but most everyone is on the powerline.  I'm not sure which way everyone went but a rider from Anchorage, Chad, followed me and the trail eventually turned to powder, it was undridden after burma road so we back tracked to Burma road over to Ayershire road eventually taking the same route as the others, who were long gone ahead.  I believe Chad was relieved to back on the same route as the others.  

Flathorn came pretty quickly and I passed a few more riders and settled in to continue over dismal swamp and on to the river.  It was not even dark yet, the trail wasn't this good since my first race in 2008.  I cruised up to the first checkpoint a bit before 9.  An hour or more after the lead pack who were flying.   I stayed for a coke, soup and moved on to Skwentna.  This always takes me a long time, I do not like this section and it never fails I can hear Carl Hutchings words despising this part too in 2008. I pulled in to Skwentna around 1 still maintaining a low HR trying not to push hard.  I stopped ate chatted with Jeff before he took off. I warmed up and kept going to Shell. This is where I found out my gearing was not so good.  My first hill up shell I completely stalled. I was baffled at first and wondered why I couldn't clean these like I have in the past.  It was frustrating and I thought my leg strength was super low.  I had to walk up some parts and thats when I realized the gearing.  Uh-oh this will be a problem.  My knees were aching a bit. It's like 2008 all over again...  I arrived at Shell with a pack of racers strewn about snoozing.  I found a little spot next to the stove and slept a couple hours.  I don't remember when I left but it was getting light out.  At some point I met up with Heather and Jay Cable to ride with them for a bit.  Heather just took off though, she was on fire.  I hit finger lake a little before 11am, got my drop and rested for about an hour.  Who was there and who I talked to is a little fuzzy but it was quite busy. I left, the sun was shining, it was warm and the riding was grand.  I had great difficulty climbing though and it wasn't long before the knees went from an ache to pain. I then made another mistake... I lowered my seat to relieve the knee pain.  It worked but was the beginning of my ass-trastrophe. 

Around Shirley lake I bumped into Jeff and Heather.  We rode back and forth a while and after finbear lake  I struggled up the long climb before desceding into puntilla.  At one point I stopped for a rider who blew by me going uphill.  It was Aiden, he was keeping a groove and flying uphill on his single spped.  That was impressive.  I pulled into Puntilla at 6pm. I tried to sleep but could not so took off around 9. I actually cannot remember Rainy Pass much other it was almost all riding and that on the other side of the pass I found an awesome bivy spot about 7 miles from Rohn.  While clearing the trail the iditarod trail folks left a beautiful pile of pine boughs under a tree. It was too hard to pass up and I already knew I didn't want to sleep in Rohn checkpoint.  It was very cozy in my feathered friends -40 bag.  Unfortunately, I overslept from 2am till almost 7 or 8am! I checked into Rohn before 9-- I think-- ate some awesome brats and canned goods (thanks Rob!), loaded up my bike with the drop food and left. From here till the finish I was glad for studded tires.  Here's a video, with my wife in the background for music of course, of crossing the farewell lakes.

I didn't see much of anyone, Jeff and Heather had passed me in my cozy bivy before Rohn. It was like a mountain bike race with the conditions of no snow except the bike was getting hammered.  I saw Jay Cable on the trail, his derailler exploded or something and he had to turn his bike into a single speed.

It was a fast trail and pretty soon I was at the sullivan bridge getting water as I had run out completely.  I arrived in Nikolai around a little before 11pm.  I ate and then lay down for 3 hours.  I left after 3 am and I remember I stopped often as my butt was in quite a lot of pain since Rohn. Wait that was an understatement... I was in pain. How can I most accurately describe it I don't know... (this is where I wish I could write like the fat cyclist). I took ibuprofen to reduce the pain which helped but I was worried.  I arrived for my 6th McGrath finish and fastest time at 2 days 20 hrs.  But it was just a checkpoint this year....

Saturday, March 22, 2014

ITI 2014 thoughts...?

The recent finishes to Nome and story telling with Tim & Loreen Hewitt, Donald, Jill and Beat have spurred the thought that I have not touched an ITI writeup yet.  Typical post race decompression, thoughts that are prominent at the finish start to fade.  Retelling and sharing trail stories reminded me that the ITI is a race of issues and how we overcome them.  This success is what breeds victory- whether it's fast cycling, ridiculous pushing, waist deep rainy pass snow, consecutive days of -30 and colder or ITB pain, swelling, bad knees and bad trail. This year I was very very stoked about my ride and credit a lot of my success to LW coaching. I had a balance of enjoying riding alone mixed with loneliness and excellent fun riding with Jeff-- (my only regret is not being faster to ride together more). The experience was challenging and so completely different from the 2010 and 2008 Nome race. This year was all about strategy, racing and uncertainty of where people were at; these were huge factors that made the race interesting... and frustrating. Being so far ahead of iditarod also left a much much more genuine experience too... the villages and trails were real in the sense that there was uncertainty and no tourists at all.  It was cool, lonely at times (but I am great at entertaining myself with the most creative hallucinations and stupid oopses that Jeff got to witness fist hand) but mostly it was a significantly 'genuine' experience.  Like if I walked out my door in Nome and just rode the trail.

Jeff and I getting ready to depart McGrath (not sure who took photo)
While I was happy with the ride overall I just couldn't get into a groove leaving McGrath. The saddle sores lesions forced me to stand up and ride from Poorman to Nome. The non resolving pain and increase in intensity over time I simply couldn't sit down if I wanted to finish to Nome. Sound gruesome?  Yeah it was but wait there's more to come...

Leaving McGrath (not sure who took photo)

Saturday, March 15, 2014

ITI 2014 Start

I have a lot of thoughts about this years race other than just a race report but having a difficult time to actually put down on "paper".  I'll start out with thanks to many of the usual suspects who "sponsor" me in their own way every year.  This year due to my flu / pneumonia I had three physicians help me get my health together before the race that are worth great thanks: Dr. Head, Dr. Mraz and Dr. Lawrence- three awesome folks who are great at what they do.  Thank you.  The list goes on to my family, of course- Sarah, Jojo, Hahnah and my folks- my mom came up to help with the kids this year. Dave C for driving me out to the start and LW Coaching for planning a strategy that seemed to have gotten me to the finish line in a decent time even with a less than ideal amount of saddle time b/c of said illness.  That flu was nasty I have to say.   LW said I need to wait 5 minutes after everyone leaves at the start... it would prevent me from blowing up too early and give me a fighting chance to build as I go.  Not the easiest way to do the ITI but I did it.  Lastly thanks to Jeff O for getting me studded tires at the last minute when everywhere else was sold out! There are A LOT of people to thank while on the trail which I will try to do as I write this up too...

Here I am waiting around at the start and after everyone goes.... thanks for the pics Dave!

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Blue bird

 Another blue bird Saturday, pretty good crust for riding the hills.  Soon I pack up the bike to hand off to Speedway for a little tuning and sorely needed new parts before the big day.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Keeping the snow

We have had strange warm weather off and on for the past 3 weeks or so.  It was discouraging to see all the snow disappear. I woke up this morning glad to see the temps in the 20's and went out for a ride.  The first part of the trail was like above, no snow and tundra and ice.

 As the trail slowly climbed the conditions improved as it seems to have snowed more up here with less melt.  The higher I rode the less I had to stay on trail and eventually was just able to point and go.  I rode to top of newton peak or almost then bike skied down. It was a blast, definitely one of the best rides since Fairbanks.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Flu, fluid and feeling better

On Christmas eve I came down with what was most likely a nasty case of the flu type A, a bad one  that has been going around town.  The whole family got it but it hit me the worst.  It was like a freight train ran over my lungs and head.  I am pretty sure that the respiratory illness that hit me in September (and took a long time to recover) added to the effect of this last one.  In the Sept illness I thought I recovered but like a typical addict I kept working out and fooled myself into thinking that I was better.... riding was ok (even long 8 hr rides)  but every time I ran my lungs felt like someone was standing on it. Something I have never felt before.  I don't get sick often and am fairly certain it has been a culmination of work related hours and stress.  So when the flu was going around I got hit hard.  I could feel crackling fluid in my lungs when I breathed.... not a good sign. Aside from core gym training I took three weeks completely off, slept in, had reasonable hours and barely rode-- a rather difficult thing to do.  But it worked... along with nebulizer tx with antibtiotics that is....

I rode today, cautiously.  We just had a storm yesterday that dumped a bunch of snow so was surprised one of the local trails was actually rideable.  It felt great, no better than great. I was surprised how well it went.  The illness and missing a couple of key rides may change my strategy a bit for the ITI but for the first time in weeks I am feeling confident about this years ITI.  


I spent the bulk of today on amazon exploring the very dangerous "one click".  Dang that is an evil button but I managed to get a lot of updates on my gear, trail food and even bike components. I am still exploring some bike setup options which will be interesting.  I see a lot of carbon setups and ultra light setups that I will have to compete with my "older" fatback.  Amazing that the fatback I have is only a year old and already so much has changed.  We'll see what happens....   I'm just glad my health has really rebounded... whew.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


I had the fortune to travel to Fairbanks last week for Thanksgiving. There my wife is preparing for a new album and recording at 10th Planet, a super cool recording studio, cabin style and off the beaten path.

My job was to take care of the kids but being the cool person she is I managed to get in two rather excellent rides on REAL snow trails.  Yes Nome is a farse compared to Fairbanks trail system, wow! Snow and real trails that one can actually ride a bike on... that is great compared to the wind, mud, frozen dirt that I have been riding on.

I was guided by the infamous famous bike rider, we'll call him "Jeff"to keep his secret identity as he showed me some trade secrets that I can't reveal on a blog. He also had friends and a wife who loaned me a bike(s): a very gracious thank you to them even though I think I did bust a front derailler even if they don't think so... never lend things to people ..... but I am grateful.  If I actually took any pictures of the awesome loops we did one would 'see' -30 temps at the bottom of Goldstream and northern lights streaming in the sky.  I had a chance to try out some rather really really excellent new Lakes with shoe covers. Toes were toasty. Ahhh now that is reassuring. As well as a nice Niterider light.  I had way too much fun shopping at Beaver Sports; something I can never do in Nome and even bought some tubes--- (I've had a series of delfations recently), a novelty. (see below)

 Overall it felt more like a very very fun training trip that was unexpected.  Thank you Fairbanks and the secret Jeff family, we had a great time.  

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Variety in Weekend Rides

Tundra art or tundra junk
Snow art

Last weekend was spectacular; nice, cool and a little bit of snow.  My ride was a solid 42 miles, half the time yet the same amount as the 6 hour ride previously in the mud.  My wife and family followed in a vehicle out to salmon lake and she took the dish washer pic.  Funny and sad at the same time. 

Hahnah shivering in her fancy dress and boots.

The following weekend the weather switched to a decent storm that warmed up the temps to high 30's so it all went to mud again.  This would be miserable ride part II.  Three and half hours and only 20 miles.  You have to love the variations in ride distance with the same time and efforts.  Very similar to snow biking so I guess it's good.

These ocean shots were the day after the storm.
 I really enjoy watching the ocean (as long as I'm not in it) during storms.  On my return ride the wind shifted to the west and was blowing as a direct headwind the last couple of miles.  I was getting thrown around on the bike a bit with a max speed of 3 mph.  Needless to say I arrived into town as just as the lights went out.  Pretty cool storm.