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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Popular Demand

I promised my family I would post some current pictures of Hahnah and Sarah so that is what I am doing. These are from the past two weeks. The one on stage is the closing of the folk fest with Hahnah on stage & Sarah singing a verse of the closing song.

Well for those not already tuned in, I am totally addicted to the Great Divide Race(GDR) going on right now. Some competitors from the Ultrasport are in this race (Go Carl and Geoff!) and it is great to keep up on the postings. It is a mountain bike border to border race along the continental divide, over 2,000 miles. Sounds grueling and very cool.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Koyuk and Folk Fest

I am in Koyuk finishing the last of the days reports. The clinic here is really wonderful with a view you can't beat. The dramatic changes from winter to summer never fail to amaze me. It is a balmy 60 degrees and lush green tundra. It's hard to believe I have snow machined through here across the sound at -30 with a dangerous wind. This winter I would have crossed the sound by bike if I were able to finish the ultrasport. Actually, I look out on the ocean and can visualize about half way to Cape Denbigh where Bill and Kathi Merchant bivied out on the ice in a terrible windstorm at -20. And now the birds are chirping, it's bright out and getting close to 11 pm.

This past weekend was a busy one. The folk fest took center stage with Sarah and I playing two sets and she working a table while I helped Jim occasionally with sound. It ended up being a lot more stressful than I thought but it sure was a blast watching the main act, The Stairwell Sisters. We feel real fortunate to have such good music in Nome.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bearing Song Open House

Sarah recently had to move her store and business, Bearing Song, from one lot to another in town. The original lot is being made into another business from the owner so she moved to a better spot on Front St. It has a view of the ocean and it is right where the iditarod comes in for the finish line (or the ultrasport!). She had an open house last night with a great turnout and some nice live music. Of course I didn't bring the camera but it was great. It also marks the beginning of a fun event in Nome, the Midnight Sun Festival and Folk Festival. The Stairwell Sisters from San Francisco will be here as the guest artist band and we are looking forward to it! It has been a horrible weather week with lots of fog, I was lucky to make it in to Nome from Unalakleet on Wed. Alaska Air had to cnxl over 9 flights this week but the guest band did make it in last night.

I was able to go for my first long bike ride since the race last Sunday. I covered about 20 miles of singletrack, lots of mud and bear tracks but fairly uneventful. My bike is hilarious, it is my old training bike that is so beat up the gears can't shift and its essentially a single speed. My knees made it out ok, a little sore. I hope to have some 29'er rims made up by MC for my wildfire, maybe then I can do some longer rides. In the meantime I continue to swim as a primary workout, good rehab for the joints. It's encouraging that I see 70 yr olds and up still swimming- at least I can do that as the body fails. I need to bring the camera around more to better match what I write but I just added a pic from kayaking at topkok and when we played at Sarah's cd release concert.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I'm in Unalakleet packing up my stuff before heading to the runway and wait for Bering Air. It is always difficult to leave the family when I go on a village trip for work but it amazes me how at home Unalakleet feels (and it's warmer more summer like than Nome right now). I suppose after living here for 2 years a few years back it was a special time. I lived up on the hill 4 miles out of town and ran or biked a lot of the time to work. Not many folks lived up there so it was always exciting; would I see bears or the weather would turn? Four miles may not sound like a lot but the east wind would blow up 50-60 mph sometimes in the winter. It made running or biking interesting. I sure wish I had pictures during the storms b/c running was so funny- I called it the sideways run, leaning into the wind. During that time was also when I started playing around with music and that's a big part of my life now (obviously with Sarah's music).
In Unk I lived in a nice place with a woodstove and no phone, lots of me time. After five years of turmoil in Nome prior to the move it was the perfect place. I ate at Paul and Anne's almost every night and watched the kids grow. I still do the same when I am in town, last night I went up and had caribou steaks and couldn't believe how big the kids were getting. Here are some pictures from that era...

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Alaska Ultrasport entry 5: McGrath - Ruby

I’m getting tired of thinking about this race all over again. I can’t quite get it out of my head for three reasons: 1) I didn’t finish to Nome. 2) I have to see the finish line everyday, and 3) it’s such an insane race with so many variables at stake that it just kind of oozes under my skin. My recent post-race biking addiction snuck up on me and I do dream about doing endurance races. It’s too early to tell if my knees will be strong enough to endure another race. I have to be sure b/c to quit again would be intolerable. In any case, this next write up is my last for the ultrasport 08.

PART II (McGrath – Ruby)

DAY 5 – 10 (260 miles)

After a nights rest Jay, Pete, Carl, Rocky and myself would continue on to Nome. Hindsight always gives a clearer view but I cannot believe I continued. I reviewed pictures of myself while in McGrath and saw my face was swollen and remember the legs/knees were quite swollen as well. My body had already retained fluid in McGrath. I took greater risk because this was a race on the Iditarod Trail. An established trail did not pose a threat nor seem as dangerous to me, as a result I was not as careful to stay within my limits. I likely did not have the saddle time to excel in the length of this race. I tried to shove years of biking muscle memory into 1 year worth of training. I over-trained and the injuries began in its infancy well ahead of the race. My ITB, calf and achilles were as stretched as they ever would and tighter than a “well-diggers ass in the Klondike” as my friend Rollie would say. On the ocean in a kayak or ventures out in the country alone I am always in tune and know when to rest, when to stop before injury, when to eat. I have always fought the mental battles well before the physical, it was the opposite here.

We left the comfort of the McGrath house at 9am hoping there was an established trail out there. It was windy but fast the 18 miles to Takotna. It seemed like the pain in my leg and knee would basically go away once I rode for an hour but as soon as I stopped or got off the bike the transition killed me. From this point on I constantly had to lay the bike down in order to get off and on. Walking was only getting worse too, unable to bend the knee made me wobbly. It was strange to stand and literally my knee would not bend, it was as if someone took a winch and tightened my leg straight.

Most of the rivers after Rohn had stands of trees we went through, probably islands that had nice sized moguls and steep banks up and down onto the river ice. It was on one of these sections just a few miles past McGrath that my rear rack broke. I managed to suck my sleeping sack and gear up to the seat post and took off any loose metal. It would have to do. The others were ahead of me by about a 1/2 hr according to Carl who was still at the community center in Takotna. We called in our checkpoint and Carl left. I made a quick hamburger at the grill inside and also left. It was a steep 5 miles uphill heading toward Ophir 30 miles away but as long as I was riding my knees seemed ok. My mood brightened as the pain subsided. The snow covered mining road went fast for 10 miles than turned into a trail the following 20 miles. The wind drifted in some sections but mostly still ride-able. I noticed the wind had steadily picked up and the temperature dropped below zero towards evening. Around a bend there was a small cabin hidden in the trees with a light on, it must be the Ophir checkpoint. This was not an official ultrasport checkpoint, rather a privately owned cabin for Iditarod only. There was no electricity or phone service after Takotna. I knew this would be the last cabin I saw in a while so I stopped and knocked on the door. I asked if I could come inside and warm up before I delved into the most remote section on this trail. There were three men and the stove was very warm. They offered me some soup. I felt a little distant and did not want to be a burden to them. They said that the first two bikers stopped in about two hours before and the second two an hour ago. The owner of the cabin was a retired pilot and we actually knew a similar person indirectly (Alaska- the biggest small town). I dried some clothes, felt warm again and stuck around for 2 hours- they even gave me some candy bars which was like gold. I made the mistake of trying to be completely nutritious conscious this trip and left out foods with simple sugars. That meant eating only cliff bars, certain hammer gels, freeze-dried food, seal oil, etc… I’ve done it before and knew it would be disgusting but thought my diet is too important. Yuck, never again.

I thought about the upcoming roughly 190 mile section to Ruby. There wasn’t much trail information or anyone that has been through the area lately. Iron Dog came through about a month ago but it has been a heavy snow year with a number of inches covering that trail since. It was hard to leave the warmth of the cabin when I knew the next cabin may be days away. I was calculating time and miles in terms of riding not pushing and had no idea the pain that await me 12 hours from then, it was 7pm. My knees had locked up a little and the thermometer outside said -20. I said my goodbyes and left into the darkness.

I went a little over four-five hours of riding before I bivied. The wind was gusting and there was little protection even in the trees. I stomped the snow and put pine boughs on the ground then laid out my foam matt, sleeping bag and bivy sac. It was a tight fit with my 3/4 full 10 liter water bladder and wasn’t able to zip all the up or crawl down in the bag far enough to be snug. Luckily I had my seal skin hat and OR gloves as well as my puffy coat. I took a swig of seal oil before settling down. I fell asleep quickly but the wind blew snow on my face and I kept waking up. At 5 am it was time to get going but it was too hard to get out of the warm synthetic bag and if I moved a little the air space would fill with cold. I overslept and managed to get motivated at 7am. My knees were locked in one position all night and seemed to have a dull throbbing pain. Nothing different from previous nights except they were cold. I put my contacts on in the bag and then tried getting up only to fall over in the snow. My knees were locked and hurt incredibly. The pain was scream-able and I sort of rolled around in the snow frantically trying to get up. I kept falling over. Strangely, I thought if I were watching this scene in a movie it would be comical.

Once out of the sleeping bag I needed to get moving and grabbed my overboots to put on. Staying on my knees, foam pad underneath, I packed everything onto the bike. It took over two hours. The dexterity of my fingers were poor and I took the OR mittens off and on while packing. Each time I fumbled to cinch my straps the cold ate at my hands and then I put the OR mittens on to warm up. My hands were numb but not from the cold. The compressed nerves were taking its toll and I could barely tie my shoes. Eventually I got everything together and used the bike as a crutch to get up. I blocked the pain from my mind because I knew I needed to move and started gimping along. I couldn't think about riding the bike, the pain just took my breath away.

I walked a few miles able to get a little blood flowing. Even as I warmed the locked legs and pain did not let up this time. I tried to assess my situation. It was grim. The 50 mile ride I enjoyed yesterday took the damage in my legs a notch up. The trail was becoming a push with only four bike tracks leading the way. I had no reason to believe it would get better and I knew there may be nothing but a push the next 170 miles. Iditarod trail breakers were likely a week away. I was becoming emotional as my mental block broke through the shield of denial. I thought about my new baby girl Hahnah, my wife Sarah and started getting weepy. I broke down two or three times as it dawned on me that I may have to turn around. It was an absolutely awful decision. I made it, turned the bike around and started back to Ophir. I hobbled back, passed the north/south turnoff and eventually was back in Ophir 9 hrs later, it was late afternoon. The Ophir cabin turned into a checkpoint. It was buzzing with activity as the three men were getting ready for the Iditarod. They were a little surprised to see me back but I told them my knees were totally shot. I sat down inside and one of the men said he went to McGrath and back that morning by snow machine and saw another biker coming this way from Takotna. Not good, I didn't really want to see anyone. I sat brooding in the warm cabin and realized the last few miles into Ophir my knees didn't hurt as bad.

Dario, the Italian biker who picked up my stuff sack- what seemed a year ago- came in and seemed genuinely happy to see me. He hardly spoke English and said "We go Ruby?" I shook my head, "No, McGrath... my knees" pointed to my knees. He seemed not to understand and said again "We go Ruby", as a statement. I repeated myself and he looked worried. I could tell he really wanted company to Ruby. It was a long way to the next checkpoint, even our food drop was about 90 miles away. We sat down for a while and the men at Ophir ate a pig-rib dinner that smelled so good. It was agonizing. They offered for me to sleep in one the tents outside and then I could make the hard journey back to McGrath tomorrow. Dario was insisting I go to Ruby. I think he said he would go back to McGrath if I went back. I sat there and really wanted to go on, could I do it? Another thing that gnawed in my mind was my Jetboil stove. Could I trust it to boil water when I needed it? I asked Dario if he had a good stove. After some miming to get my point across he said “Yes, no problem.” I told him if we went together I might be slow and I may need to use his stove. He was enthusiastic, “no problem”. He said just tell him to slow down and the stove was no problem. We shook on it. It looked like I was going.

My knees were stiff but warm and the guys offered us the glorious leftovers which we scarfed down. I was stuffed and it felt great. Our plan was to go all night so I wouldn't have to bivy in the cold. We left at 8pm. We rode for 4 hours, passed where I slept the night before and then where I turned around. Another 5 miles the trees thinned out, it was a huge tract of land larger than The Burn wiped out by one of the great interior forest fires, I remember reading. It was a bare landscape and the wind blew hard. It was -30 according to Dario’s thermometer. Cold but I felt warm. At around 1 am Dario said he needed to sleep. I looked at him disbelieving. I told him I couldn't. He insisted. I conceded but I said we needed to find a sheltered place from the wind. We rode on and on until we found a small section of trees still standing and it looked like another racer had bivied here the night before. I made a fire from the dry timbers quickly and soon was able to make a bivy without being too cold. I slept soundly and woke at 6 am, late again. He got up quickly and looked scared and cold. He packed up hurriedly while I took longer b/c, as expected my knees were locked and I couldn’t maintain my balance in the snow. I had resigned myself to the pain and get to Ruby. Dario was cold and said he would go on ahead. I put on overboots and packed up. I started gimping and then rode, it was cold windy and overcast. Depressing. I caught up to him and when he saw me said "We turn around go back to Ophir.". I looked at him blankly and said “No way. I'm not.” It was already 30 miles past Ophir another 60 to our drop at cripple. To go back to Ophir, Takotna then McGrath would be a lot longer. At this point I simply couldn’t stop I had to keep going. We kept moving and he didn’t mention it again. We warmed up a little and just plodded along mostly pushing. I tried hard to ride as walking was more painful and so slow. The day dragged on and Dario stopped frequently to check his GPS and show me cripple was only 10 miles away. I told him the trail is not a straight line so the GPS is not accurate and that he had the wrong waypoint. He had the old cripple waypoint not the newer one which was another 25 miles further. After 12 hrs the trail was a slog, all pushing. We were close to the old cripple checkpoint wondering if there was a cabin around. I didn’t think so according to the Ophir guys and in fact I believe we passed that old checkpoint a long time ago. We kept moving till about 10pm and found other racers bivy. The leaders must have banded together since there were four stomped off areas. I made a fire and noticed I was out of water. I asked Dario if I could use his MSR stove but he didn't seem to understand and then he said tomorrow morning. I was not able to use my cup attachment to melt snow next to the fire because of the neoprene and fabric handle on it. I would just have to suffer through holding my canister stove. It was slow but worked. I had a freeze-dried package and ate it. It was good. I drank hot Gatorade and the fire felt good. I tried cutting more timber but my Leatherman was clumsy in my hands and fell in the snow. Sh&*#!. I couldn’t dig it out the snow was so deep and the branches from the tree made it impossible to dig down to find it. Sarah will kill me since it was her fancy Leatherman. I couldn’t think about it though. We slept and woke at 4am. Dario packed up real fast and left, I asked about water but he said he would meet me at cripple and make me hot chocolate and coffee... I was puzzled and then he was off. I don't know if it was miscommunication or that he was just too cold. Either way I was out of water. Each morning I packed up with greater and greater difficulty. Dario was gone. I struggled to plod on and for the next 2 hrs I was sort of hoping he may be waiting for me around each corner to melt water because I knew he was low too. No such luck. I warmed up pushing the bike, the sun rose and as I topped a knoll a clump of trees shielded the wind. I stopped and slowly made a ½ liter of water. I kept the isobutene cartridges in my pocket to keep them warm but within a minute the flame would get low. My hands were so cold after using the stove. I put the cartridge back in my bib pocket, quickly took my coat off and filled up the 10 L MSR dromedary bag with a ½ liter of water. This was a cold procedure and didn’t dawdle, it was a warmer day but still below zero.

I didn't see Dario that day, only tracks. I tried to ride a number of times only to crash hard off-trail in a poof of snow. At times I just wanted to lay there it was so comfortable and the effort to “swim” back to the trail was draining. It was a cruel slow pace. I couldn’t bear to see that the GPS read 2 mph walking. Slower than kayaking. I plodded along all day and eventually reached wolf kill slough, the cripple checkpoint around 7pm. As predicted there was nothing, just our drops on the trail. I walked across the slough and it started snowing hard. I made a fire, sorted my food and ate what I could. It certainly wasn’t a treasure of goodies except for the mash potatoes which I boiled water to eat. I gorged on some goo and packed the rest of my food. I felt rejuvenated and noticed the temperature had warmed up considerably as it snowed. I kept going and it was amazing how fast the snow piled up. At around 10pm I saw Dario sleeping in a bivy on the side of the trail. He didn't wake as I shined my light and I didn’t want to disturb him. It snowed non-stop but at least it was balmy at about 10 above, I stopped and made a bivy at 2 am. I didn’t even need pine boughs it was so warm. 22hrs. today.

At 4:40am Dario woke me up. He seemed shocked I was ahead and maybe even a little upset why I didn't stop where he was. I told him it was too early and I didn't want to wake him. I was able pack up quicker with the temps warmer and we left down the trail together. It wasn’t long before I fell behind and couldn't keep up with my knees and soon was pushing alone. Another long day with intermittent melting snow for water and the working the stove wasn’t as dramatic with the warmer weather. The day wore on and I was expecting to see the town of Poorman as a small ghost town or road but it turned into another burned out area of depressing black spruce. It continued to snow heavily and the remaining bike tracks were covered in no time. Slogging through the snow my ipod was out of battery life and I thought about my wife and baby and fantasized about eating hamburgers. Gradually I saw signs of manmade structures and found the start of an old road. It was exciting but still not able to ride well though I tried numerous times. Pushing and riding. Up and down hills till one hill kept going up. At the top the wind was howling and the snow was drifting knee deep in some places. Around midnight I saw Dario camp about 30 yards off the side of the trail in front of a decrepit cabin. I barely managed to navigate through the deep snow. He appeared happy to see me. He had some wood for a fire but wasn't able to get it started. I got it going for him and got more wood. He was shivering and grateful. He had a down bag that was getting more and more wet over the days. I don’t think he was expecting such remoteness and length of time sleeping outside. He asked me if I was continuing on to Nome when I got to Ruby. “Definitely.” I couldn’t imagine going through all this and not finishing, especially once I hit the Yukon River it would be a highway to my backyard. He said “I go home at Ruby”.

It was hard for me to recall exactly when my legs felt like blocks of wood, the pain was there but dull. It’s not clear if it was so chronic that my body adjusted or what. When I changed my smart wool socks I had to cut slits in my long underwear as my ankles and calves were swollen. It was getting easier for me to bivy and since I was constantly low on water the bag was roomier. We woke at 4:45am and packed up, the temps were still warm but the wind was strong. Dario was off and I hobbled down the trail. It turned a little better for riding but still mostly a push. The wind was howling through the trees and the drifts deep. After the ghost town of Long the road had snow machine tracks and I could ride. It went uphill for 10 miles, I couldn’t believe I was 30 miles from Ruby. I met Alan Titus on snow machine and he said the Italian up ahead didn't look so good and had begged him for water. Alan gave him a bottle of water which he had downed really fast. I never saw Dario use his stove so I wonder if he knew how or just thought he could go without. It seemed strange and wish I knew a little Italian to ask him. It was a struggle the rest of the way. The hills were immense and the snow started again, it was coming down so hard I could not see well. My mind was dizzy and I was barely able to focus. I actually thought about bivying but I was so close. The trail was gone replaced by 6 inches of snow and only by not falling in chest deep snow was I able to tell I was on a trail. My head was so tired. It was 11pm and I finally made the last push up to Ruby, a long 3 mile steep hill. I saw the airport lights and was ecstatic to ride down the other side into town through the runway and down to the school. There was a sign for me to knock. It was the most welcome thing I saw in a long time. I knocked and was let into the school by an attendant. She made me food and I called Sarah after five long days. I couldn't believe I was there. My legs were so numb and stiff. Half my hand from the index finger on was also without much feeling. Once I warmed up I realized I couldn’t get around easily at all. After an hour or so I checked in with Dan at HQ. It was over an 18 hr day. I was barely able to take my clothes off and take a shower…. and then realized my feet. Oh wow. It grew and grew. I sat down in the shower not able to move while I saw my calf, knee, ankle and foot were one piece of swollen flesh. I know I didn’t have frostbite as my toes were not cold and easily able to move. What the heck?!? I was so excited to be done with that section and was looking forward to 12 hr rest before hitting the Yukon. I thought it was all good from here on out and desperately wanted to continue to Galena but I wonder about how much I injured myself. It was 2 am but I made a collect call to Mike by friend who is a physician. I told him my symptoms of swelling and that I couldn’t even fit my oversized boots back on and that I had to cut my long johns off. Should I go to the clinic? Can I go on? He said “you’re done.” It was what I knew all along and probably what I should have done in McGrath and when I turned back to Ophir the first time. It was a big loss to stop but it was insane to have kept going injured as I was.

I assumed it was the hundreds of miles of constant pounding of injured knees, torn calf muscle and tight achilles that caused the swelling but I actually had retained water all over my body… about 10-15lbs worth. Pulmonary edema? Heart? Acute kidney failure? Or just pounding the hell out of my body for 10 days with very little sleep? I never did find out, it was assumed by my doctor that it was the kidney failure brought on by taking too much Ibuprofen. The kidneys can swell with IB and stop filtering fluid out of the body. I didn’t think it was this during the race b/c I was never peeing brown or dark protein but I was told that it is not always the case. In either case I flew back to Nome and started a terrible long rode to recovery. Dario had frostbite on his feet and also left for home.

I sweated out my retained water over a week, couldn’t help around the house, hold my baby or be productive. Sarah had to take care of two babies. I watched and cheered on in crutches as Pete B and Carl H made it into Nome 9 days later. I heard their tales of hardship, Pete won but almost scratched on the Yukon. Rocky and Jay scratched in Galena. They all had their own epics. After three months now my hands are almost back to normal and my knees are only slightly stiff. The orthopedic surgeon said my ITBs were severely inflamed but otherwise no structural damage. I am back to biking but now I put some extreme padding on the handlebars and use a seriously cushy seat.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Back on the ocean

I'm going to take a little break from posting my ultrasport race. I am not the most natural writer and I continue to edit and find mistakes which eats up my time. I'll post the last part tomorrow. In the meantime I am gladly back rowing my kayak on the Bering Sea. I had to get out of town and drove to the Last Train 30 miles south of Nome and put the boat in to go to my favorite spot 10 miles down the coast. It's a wild place where not too many folks venture in the summer time. In the winter its the notorious blow hole of the iditarod trail, topkok. It was nice to creak out some the old rowing muscles and not have to worry about bike pains.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Alaska Ultrasport entry 4: Bison Camp - McGrath

Day 4 (72 – 96 hours)

I left Bison Camp after a half hour. The next 45 mile section someone said was flat and easy. I was skeptical. My butt hurt, my knees hurt and I had to pound through snow. The trail was full of drifts. I thought there would be a packed trail since we are heading to a village but since gas prices are so steep unnecessary snow machine traffic has decreased. The trail just seemed to go on and on. Jeff and his riding buddy caught up to me and I rode with them for a little bit though I was out of sorts. The pain was really kicking in and I was getting tired. Fifteen miles from Nickolai it was cold, dark and a strong dose of vertigo with dejavu struck again. The feeling was strangely existential and just plain weird. Each hill I went up I thought I remembered being here before and knew what was around the corner. It fascinated me and actually kept me awake. Sleep deprivation affects folks in different ways and the combination of dark and cold created a drug like experience. The cold seemed to intensify while walking. My headlamp died and as I dug out the spare I noticed the northern lights flowing green through the sky. I kind of zoned out on the sky and if I had ever taken mind altering drugs this is what I imagine a ‘good trip’ would be like. I clicked on the spare light and followed the trail until I came out of yet another treeline back onto the river ice and the town lit up in front of me. Nickolai, the small village seemed huge and welcoming after such a long section. I followed the winding stake markers to the correct house. I felt very slow and my lungs burned from the cold. It was 1 am, 21 hours on the trail since leaving Rohn.

Inside the house, strewn about racers were sleeping everywhere. It felt much too warm and my lungs were full of nasty phlegm, I couldn't stop coughing. I was nervous coming down with a respiratory infection and started a five day course of zithromax. After eating moose stew provided by our gracious host I slept until 5am waking sporadically to the sweats and intense coughing fits. I left a tip in the tip jar and was out the door by 6am.

Of the lead pack of riders there were only two others left in the house, the rest were all on the trail racing to McGrath. I felt rushed but by this time my knees were so stiff I could barely move them. I knew I had a tough day ahead of me. It must have been close to -20 and I put overboots on. I rode for a while very slowly warming up my knees and legs then Pete B caught up with me. He was concerned that I was ok since I was fully layered. I must have looked cold but said I was fine and needed to take my time. He zoomed away and lost sight of him quickly. The first 25 miles I managed to ride the hard packed river trail on the Kuskokwim but the snow gradually became granular and soft. The temperature rose along with the sun and was warm enough to remove all my outer layers. I periodically pumped up my tires and deflated them trying for a good medium.

The last 25 miles to McGrath were long and I had to stop many times for my knees. This issue was taking such a precedent in my mind I hardly noticed the gradual increased tightness in my calf and achilles. About 12 miles from McGrath I took a wrong turn followed someone else’s trail for about 3 miles before turning around. That cost me about 2 hours but I did finish the McGrath (350 mile race) leg by 7pm, 4days and 5 hours. The last 100 miles I could only manage 3-5 mph, brutally slow. Pete B came out and was wondering where I had been, he thought about sending someone out to check on me. I tried to conceal the wounded knee look and just shrugged my shoulders a little embarrassed.

The welcome by McGrath Peter was amazing with lots of unbelievable food! I think I had four helpings of lasagna and even took a shower. Most of the folks were done, this was their finish line. Some actually suffered frost bite and one fellow had a huge bandage around his foot. He wrote an email later saying that he lost part of his big toe.

The next question-- when to leave for Nome. I was quite concerned about my condition but tried to suck it up around a healthy dose of denial. Of all the races, climbs, kayaks, events, ventures and epics of my life this is the most I have ever felt injured.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Alaska UltraSport Entry 3: Rainy Pass - Bison Camp

Day 3 (48 – 72 hours)
On top of the pass I look around at the view and it was breathtaking.  The sharp peaks and the range of mountains where I was heading down Rainy was something out of a photograph.  I took some pictures felt great and tried hard to shove the pain of my knees out of my mind.  I didn’t want to admit that this may be a problem and a strange tightness started creeping into my calf and achilles.  I looked behind me throughout the day to make sure no one was gaining on me.  I didn’t see a soul and wanted to keep it that way.  I started following the bike tracks down the pass, it looked like some were walking.  The snow was too soft to even bike downhill, though I tried unsuccessfully.  I took a few nice falls.  The parts I was able to ride I had to pedal downhill.  The descent into the Dalzell gorge was fine and the afternoon sun warmed things up enough to take a couple of layers off. I felt too hot. The lower I descended the firmer the trail became until I was actually able to ride! The river was well packed and I was heading toward Rohn. The GPS said 10 miles. As the afternoon turned into evening the sun dissappeared it was noticeably colder. The side of the pass starts the interior which is usually much drier and colder. Eventually, my freeing 10 mph riding ended when the trail stopped and became soft recently churned up knee deep snow machine trail.  It was a slog. I noticed a smoldering fire and stomped area off the trail where someone must have bivied.

My knees were hurting especially on the up slopes and after each side step going up I had to rest the knee before swinging my other leg up. I was afraid my anchored leg would give out.  As I rested a few times to give them a break suddenly Brij was behind me. Darn it. I wanted to be ahead but felt so slow.  We walked together throughout the Dalzell. It was creepy in the darkness in the narrow gorge and steep cliffs that I couldn't quite see and slim ice bridges that cracked under the strain of my bike as I crossed them. We tacked back and forth across the river and I almost slipped down the side of one if Brij didn’t warn me to watch it. 

Pretty soon we came upon some trailbreakers having a hell of a time with three snow machines, two guys and a lady. One was yelling a lot and did not seem particularly happy. We passed them but then they passed me and the lady got stuck on a ridge.  Brij was ahead while I got caught behind the machines. As the folks were trying to free the machines I waited a while and became overwhelmingly tired and cold and just wanted to get going. I started zoning out and pretty soon Dario, an Italian rider, caught up to me.  Bummer again. We waited again and I should have offered to help but was too tired to say anything.  Instead the overly animated trailbreaker yelled obscenities at us. I felt a little hostile towards him but knew I should have offered help beforehand so we conceded and got the machine un-stuck. The next 4 miles to the Tatanina river were excruciatingly long but I could ride again! I pulled into Rohn, the temps felt around -15 to -20 and the waiting had chilled me a bit.  The small checkpoint was cramped full of eight racers sleeping.  Jasper the checker was outstanding offering me coffee, hot chocolate and noodles.  The warmth felt so good inside. The log book showed the leaders arrived at 8pm and it was now 11:30pm.  I slept well after inhaling some food and my clothes hung up to dry.  I woke up at 3am and left by 4am. The wind picked up leaving Rohn as I rode onto the river ice. It was free of snow so the trail markers were a little hard to find but I followed some tracks to the river edge where it went into the trees after a couple of miles. The trail was hard and fast through some thick trees, I was cruising! I caught up with Jacques and his partner then led for a while. I was finally riding and my knee good enough. I cruised for a few miles when I noticed my rear stuff sack was missing. I had to back track. Eventually I ran into Dario who had picked it up. I thanked him and then raced ahead and the temps were cold and the snow thinned out to where the ground was visible.  This went for a fast 20 miles to the farewell lakes and on to the burn.  The burn was really a burn.  I turned around in time to see Rocky pass me. His skinny tire bike must have ate up the country on this section.  The hills were a killer and I was feeling my knees hard but I just ignored it (stupid). 

I had to stop to rest my knees and tried to boil coffee.  It felt better but I lost time and Jeff Oatley with his riding partner caught up to me.  Arround 1 pm, the half way mark to Nickolai was a little wall tent called Bison camp.  There were a bunch of racers in there drying out.  It felt good and very warm.  I dried out, boiled some water and ate some food.  This marked the end of the third day.

Alaska UltraSport Entry 2: Fingerlake - Rainy Pass

Day 2 (hours 24 – 48)FINGERLAKE – RAINY PASS: 55 miles

It was nice to sit in the warmth of the lodge. Three riders were there, Jacques B and his riding partner and Rocky. He was getting ready to head out but not before saying the next 30 mile section to Puntilla will be one of the hardest going with lots of hills. He wasn't kidding but it was far from the hardest on this trip. After warming up with checkpoint food of beans and rice, a soda drink I left the back way. The majority of my food drop I simply gave to two women who were there skiing to McGrath (but not part of the race). In most places on the McGrath leg I was pleasantly surprised to eat at the checkpoints and didn’t have to carry the weight. This section to Puntilla was particularly difficult for me. There was a lot of loose powder snow drifts and it was not the same trail as Iron Dog so it was not packed down. Not only that, but my knees were actually in intense pain because most of this I had to walk. The steep hills and descents were brutal. I had to turn my leg sideways to be able to go up or down. I was alone and the walking was battering my knees, it was hard to go fast. I tried riding and got stuck or spilled many times. The previous bike rider’s tracks created “ruts” that my wheels fell into and spilled me a bunch of times. Around 10 miles after Fingerlake and many steep hills of bike pushing I ran into trail breakers for iditarod. They actually made the trail worse because they were turning over fresh snow and it hadn't set up. The next hill I climbed after Shirley Lake was tremendously steep and I was amazed mushers are able to go up it.

The scenery was nice and the trail easy to follow so other than the knee pain I was enjoying myself. Mentally and fitness-wise I felt great and was not overly exerted or tired ….just limited because of those darn things below the thigh. The wind picked up once I crossed Finbear lake and saw a sign that welcomed Ultrasport riders for a warm meal and coffee. I stopped in to rest, it was around 7pm 5 ½ hours since leaving Fingerlake and couldn’t believe it was only15 miles! That seemed terrible. The man greeted me warmly and I ate salmon and hot chocolate with coffee (I suppose that’s a mocha). I didn't stay long though with still another 12-15 slow miles to Puntilla. It was frustrating, the deep snow and steep trail. I kept crashing now and was tired. I noticed a head lamp on behind me and watched to see who it was that could travel so easily through this fluff of hills. Pete B! He caught up in amazing time. I lowered the air pressure on my tires again and we chatted about the trail and if there was an established trail over Rainy Pass. I followed him for a little while but kept crashing on the descents down the hills to Puntilla. It was tricky and I was getting really worn out with the cold creeping through my damp clothes. I had to add my puffy coat for a little more warmth. I was -10 to -20 and the wind started kicking up.
The time was getting on to about 9-10pm. I was wiped out, slow and the darkness was dizzying seen through a headlamp. The wind whipped up some blowing snow and my head felt funny, I began having strong feelings of dejavu.

Finally, I dropped down a knoll and saw the checkpoint in the distance! Yeah! I rode up to a small lodge and a sharp pain nailed me in the knee while dismounting the bike. I was pissed off at my body and just went inside to warm up and sleep. Seven racers were sleeping already and no one left yet for the pass. The checkpoint person had a nice hot stove and gave me a ravioli meal and hot chocolate. It was delicious. I took my outer layers off to dry and realized there was a frozen cheeseburger in my pocket. I stared at it, the start of the race felt so long ago. Needless to say it looked disgusting and I threw it away. The checker said the trailbreakers left that morning for Rainy Pass and the next part to Rohn over the pass should be a nice hard trail. I slept poorly for 3 hrs and left at 4:30am. All seven riders left already while a few bikers had filled in their spots while I had slept. It was windy and cold. Right away I could see the trail was soft and punchy, not hard at all. I was tired and sleepy and it was hard to maintain focus in the early morning darkness.

I decided to make some coffee with my Jetboil stove—its first race use and a little different from my tried and true MSR stove. It sold me on the ease of using a screw-on canister directly to the heating cup. The heating cup had neoprene so I could literally hold the cup and stove in my hand while it boiled. The down side was major though, it works poorly in the cold. The isobutene turns liquid in the cold so I had to put my hands on the canister to get a good boil. This sucks at 10 degrees or colder. My grand idea of an insulator for the canister with heating pad was a joke and didn’t work. I had to put gloveless hands on the canister to warm the isobutene and it worked but barely. The wind was blowing stiffly on the flats toward the mountains. I boiled some snow and threw a coffee packet in. It felt great and I woke up more while the sun rose in the valley. I immediately felt at home. The valley is above the treeline and the Alaska range from this elevation looked exactly like the smaller Kigluiak mnts at home in Nome. It was a beautiful day and the sleepy mind started to wake. Unfortunately, it was still mostly a push to rainy pass but at least I had tracks to follow and wasn’t post holing. I rode, walked and pushed 20 miles into the pass and then a five mile climb to the top. It was quite impressive and I stood on top after a steep final 100 yard push at around 1 pm and marked the end of my second day.

Alaska UltraSport Entry 1: Knik Lake - Fingerlake

It has taken me a few weeks to get up the energy to actually write a post. I was recently on a village trip in Unalakleet so I had a little time to kill in the evening. I get a lot of questions on my latest (mis)adventure, the Alaska Ultrasport 1000 mile bike race, this past winter. When I returned in such sad shape I could hardly move and the ulnar nerves in my hands were compressed so badly I wasn’t even able to pick up my newborn baby. A depressing time, particularly since I had to bail at Ruby after my knees couldn’t bend and supposed kidney failure gave me enough swelling that I couldn’t get my boots back on. I was horizontal for 2 weeks and not able to do much so I wrote up a little version of events at the time. I broke it up into two parts, the first is the race to McGrath 350 miles and the second from McGrath to Ruby.

PART I Day 1 (0 – 24 hours)KNIK – FINGERLAKE, 130 miles

The day of the race. I'll have to think back it feels so long ago. I had a cheeseburger in my pocket from McDonalds where Mike, Eric and I went for lunch. I was not able to eat the meal-deal, my nerves were winding up and thought I would save the burger for later as it may be golden calories in the middle of the night. My friends Mike and Eric drove me to Knik Lake and see me off on “another one of my trips”. They were both there when I departed on my kayak trip from Nome a few years ago too. I’m fairly certain they think I have a few nuts loose.

I had no idea what to expect. I had been training, researching and planning over a year for this event. My platform is the same as the previous two times; raise awareness and funds for the LLS in lieu of my friend- Nora Nagaruk- who was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2004 and a survivor. Her story is remarkable as well as her strength- she is currently leukemia free and a physician at the regional Nome hospital. It was our hope to finish the last mile into Nome together. I'll have to add my kayak story at some point for anyone reading this to have a clearer image of our parallel journeys.

The racers where from all over, Wyoming , UK , Italy , Norway , Alaska . I had the jitters and my nerves were tripping out on the realization I would be starting in Anchorage (Knik Lake) and riding a bike home instead of flying. The intent of this race was actually a compromise- satisfy my extreme urge for physically enduring challenges yet tame it down from my previous ventures. I told my wife, Sarah, that an organized event on an established trail with actual checkpoints is a good tradeoff from my last 60 day 1000 mile kayak epic on arctic oceans. I talked myself into believing that nothing could be worse than the daily mental and physical battle against the brutal exposed headwinds and the cold open ocean of that trip. While for the most part this is true I was unprepared for one thing- competition. The atmosphere had an electrifying “competitive race” feel and the same excitement I felt in a former life as a swimmer crept under my skin. Except it wasn’t the 200 meter, 500 meter or 1500 meter swim it was a freaking 1000 mile race on a bike to Nome.

It was not just my first snow bike race but actually my first race on a bike ever, that didn't involve a triathlon. Adding to that burden of negation was a minimal amount of training time on the fat tire bike. Custom building, whether kayak or bike, one always runs the risk of delay. I placed the order a year in advance and it was barely enough time for its finish a month before the race. The seat, stem length, platform pedals, bar extensions and overall fit were an unknown. I could not use parts from the training bike as they were of poor quality and quite literally fell apart over the past year. I certainly did not have enough years of endurance saddle time or experience required to be able to dial in a fresh bike.

I did manage a training ride a few weeks ago while in Anchorage. I went with Pete Basinger and Greg Matias on the brand new fat bike. It was like driving a corvette after training on a flatbed 1 ton pickup. However, I noticed achy knees after the 60 mile ride out to Flathorn and back. My gear was solid, thanks to and Pete's advice, though I felt it was about 10 lbs too heavy, busting the scales at around 60 pounds without water but including the bike. It was hard to trim since I was new to this particular race and as with anything in Alaska the conditions can change rapidly.

The start of the race came too fast and the bikers were lined up first then we were off. I saw Pete B take off across the lake to the left and most others followed. The first thirty miles felt long but I finally made it to Flathorn Lake and went across to drop down onto the Susitna river. The temps seemed to drop close to zero but it felt good and weather / trail was excellent. The sun was setting and I could see Denali in the distance. I cruised to Yenta checkpoint, 60+ miles by 8:30pm. I was surprised to see folks just hanging out eating so I also ate some checkpoint food with a soda then took off into the night for Skwentna. The stars and northern lights were incredibly bright. I have seen the northern lights a million times but the clarity of these stars and these lights were so intense and mesmerizing. After an hour or so I caught up with Carl Hutchings from the UK who was struggling a little bit with this section. He introduced himself and I liked him immediately, he was very funny and I actually had no idea he held the Southern Route record for this race to Nome. We chatted a few minutes than took off. I led for a while then he passed me and led into Skwentna around midnight. It felt fast and I was not really tired.

The checkpoint was so hospitable and welcoming with an offering to stay in a room and provide food. I saw Pete who had busted a pedal and unfortunately had to wait till tomorrow to get one shipped. Since the rooms were available I tried to sleep but it was slow to come and only snoozed for 2 hours, gathered my stuff and left at 3:30 am. The trail was a little confusing as it led away from the river. Temperature was comfortably around zero, maybe colder. About 20 minutes down the trail I ran into Jay Petervary who was frustratingly trying to get a moose off the trail. We yelled whistled etc to get him off the trail but the moose would not budge, the snow was very deep everywhere and the only way to travel was on the trail. Rocky Riefenstuhl came next and he had all of us yell and push the moose, it turned and charged. I didn't see it only heard the grunt and pounding hoofs. We all jumped in the bushes in deep snow. Glad the moose was out of the way we hopped on our bikes and were off. It was a nice ride and the fresh moose tracks leading into the shell hills kept me awake and alert till daybreak. Rocky and Jay were up ahead and I’m not sure how many others. It was a pretty good run and I arrived at Shell Lake lodge around 7am. The place was cozy and I dried out a little and had hot chocolate to warm up a bit.

The next checkpoint Fingerlake, still another 25 miles. I wasn’t sure how many of the racers were planning on going to Nome but it seemed everyone was in racing mode. It was easy to get caught up in the competition when I kept bumping into the leaders. I knew my biking experience was limited compared to the racers around me and there was the constant hovering knee issue. I should have backed off and allowed more rest for my body but it was impossible. I left shortly out of Shell Lake and rode hard up hill (stupid) and there it was, the thing I feared most. My knees started getting a little sore. Uh-oh and 10 miles later I was overtaken by Rocky and Jacques Boutet. It really irritated me to be passed but I was hurting towards the end of the Fingerlake run and couldn't wait to see the place. Finally! After 50 miles the checkpoint was in the distance, wind was beginning to blow and drifted the trail in at some places so I had to walk the bike a little for the first time. That’s when I noticed my knee pain grew exponentially when walking. I couldn't even lift my leg up over the seat without wincing in pain. It was a disappointing and tired feeling when I limped into the checkpoint lodge around noon-ish.