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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mt. Redoubt has been causing havoc on flights and Tim was finally able to leave Nome on Sunday. It certainly was fun having him around, it's not everyday you get to talk with someone who has the perseverance and determination of Tim. Here's a man who completed the last 400 miles of his first year (2001) to Nome on a stress fracture of his tibia. We still put him to work though, dragging Hahnah on a sled and enduring our parties. He certainly was becoming a regular celebrity in Nome where people were addressing him around town. There was a nice segment on the radio yesterday (KNOM) when he was interviewed by them for a show called profiles. This week there should be an article in the Nome Nugget too.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tim finishes in Nome!

It was great to follow Tim as he came into Nome and actually became the winner of the 2009 ITI 1,100 mile race! I snow machined 16 miles out after work and saw him a little past Safety, and simply couldn't believe he actually went through Topkok. It was blowing pretty hard all day but in the distance I could see a wall of snow. The Johnson wx station said 50 mph all day long!! I would say at least seeing the curtain of snow. Tim said he couldn't even keep his sled on the ground, it kept twisting and at times flew in the air. I am in awe. I tried to rally some folks at the finish line and was glad a few showed up even at 12:30 am finish!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

ITI 2009 Rohn - McGrath (Days 4 - 6)

This is it, finally can put the ITI out of my mind till next year. It was a grand experience but it sure is dwarfed in comparison to Tim and Marco who are still grunting their way to Nome. I have been doing my best to advertise to all the folks I know down the coast to cheer them on. The wind has been brutal. Check this website to see the infamous Topkok weather station (click on Johnson's Camp) and it will give you an idea of the wind in all the blowholes up the coast. 40 - 50 mph are the current gusts which is only amplified by the density of cold air..... strong enough to pick ice chunks, debris and pelt you with sandblasting snow. Earlier today it was calm, shows how rapid and for no reason can change. In any case if I can catch them I will post pics. I had a welcome wagon in Unalakleet that they completely by-passed since Tim came in early in the a.m. and already left!


Generally I forget to take pictures and have to force myself to pull the camera out. This is unfortunate because I always regret it later and wish I took more photos. The best shots are when things are the most difficult but it is definitely not first on my mind. Even while in Rohn for 7 hours nary a picture except for Master Pete leaving Rohn.

Pete, in my opinion, is the icon of this race; race record aside, he is generous and always helps people out even in the most precarious of situations. His track record speaks for itself. I remember I happened to be watching the Today Show last year and saw Pete being interviewed when he helped save the biker who was mauled by a grizzly last summer. However, my favorite was hearing about the epic race in 2006 where he helped fellow racer Rocky into McGrath. Pete, I believe, is the only person who has done every single McGrath 350 ITI since its inaugural year in 1997 and he’s not even 30 yet!! I digress (yet again) but simply amazing and comforting to see him on the trail.

The swelling in my legs had ebbed and with relief I knew I could continue on soon. The lead group already gone I actually felt calmer and more relaxed. This next section was virtually snow free last year and very fast. I was hopeful the buffalo tunnels would be a breeze. No such luck. It was a soft trail with new snow and mostly a bike push. Not much excitement on this section just plodding along until the Post River glacier about 11 miles after Rohn. The glacier is a section of trail that goes uphill and is probably a small trickle in the summer but becomes a hilly ice rink that takes up the width of the trail for about a hundred or more yards. If you fall I can see not stopping till the bottom, which may be fun (though there may be some breaking potential) if you’re into redoing a hill climb but this part is why crampons or screws are needed. I actually had a brainstorm this year since I didn’t want to bring anything extra. I did bring an extra pair of wellgo pedals (after seeing Pete bust his last year) then used them as crampons. It worked pretty well though I wouldn’t recommend ice climbing with them.

The trail changed to an ice crust and it soon became obvious I wouldn’t be able to make the Buffalo Camp pushing the bike in one shot.

The wind picked up as I edged closer to the burn and it was already 3 or 4 am when I passed the Petervary’s bivied & sleeping soundly. It looked so comfortable that instead of a motivation boost to make up time, it made me sleepy. I also thought it might be good to sleep a couple of hours before the burn (there’s not a great deal of tree coverage in the burn). Only a mile or so later I bivied in the trees. My swelling returned and I built a wooden foot rest where my legs were raised while I slept two hours. I woke, put a dry pair of socks on and was back on the trail by 8am and noticed that JayP and Tracey were already on the move via their tracks. I felt a little rushed and wanted to get a move on. About 1/2 mile after the bivy I crossed a creek and found a snowmachine trail that was hard packed and I could ride. The wind was really picking up the closer I got to the farewell lakes and at the edge of the first lake is a small downhill that I completely wiped out on. It was a fantastic spill. This is where I kick myself for not spending time to get photos or a video with my camera. It was a Kodak hour crossing the series of ice lakes; there was a small patch of snow on the trail you could walk with traction but everywhere else was glare ice. The wind blasted it away and was so strong it was picking my bike up and a few gusts I was a little concerned would push me over on the ice for a wild ride. It was ironic (i.e. frustrating) because the trail was hard packed but I wasn’t able to ride in the wind. If I were a little more lackadaisical about the race I would loved to see how fast the wind could have pushed me across the ice. Once I was passed the lakes the burn was a nice riding trail. Finally after days of walking I could ride without getting off the bike. The burn wreaked havoc on my knees last year because of the steep uphills but I was feeling great this time. I stopped in the Buffalo camp (~ mile 35-40) by 1 pm and saw Dan, one of the caretakers there. He mentioned that Tracey and Jay P left a little while ago but he didn’t see anyone else. That was a little odd since Jeff, James, Chris, Cory, Ed and Pete were all supposed to be in front of me. Did they all really bivy and move on or just go straight through. There was already a fire on and I took my time to eat and rest my legs. I melted some snow ate a bunch and sat there for 2 hrs. Just as I was about to leave John Ross and Alec Petro stopped in. They said the trail was good for them and they left late last night and went all the way through after a good sleep in Rohn. I was glad to see Alec with John and in good spirits after looking so low in Rohn.

This next section (~40 miles) to Nickolai was epic for me last year and seemed ungodly long with intense hallucinations and dejavu. Fortunately, I did not hallucinate and with the exception of the last few miles, most of it I could ride. I entered Nickolai by 11pm-ish though I rode around town for about 45 minutes trying to find the place.

In Nickolai I saw everyone who left in front of me except for James and Chris’s signed in and Jeff was already out. I figured I would sleep till 3 am and leave by 4. The snow had been granular and I was hoping the cold (which settled back in to below zero) would set up the trail. I scarfed down some sodas and food, hung up clothes / boots to dry and lay down for a snooze with my swollen legs raised. My 4 am leave time turned into a 6am wake up. Aside from Jeff no one left Nickolai yet but Jay P and Tracey were out the door by 6:30 am and I left by 7. I was anxious to get going but my boots were completely soaked. I wore them anyway and as soon as I stepped outside the outer part froze solid. As I left town onto the trail I noticed some spots where someone stepped through the ice into overflow and even though I was careful my boot came out wet twice. I quickly put my overboots on and started riding. I cruised at a good clip the first 12 miles, till the third snow machine passed to churn up the trail at 11 am. I simply couldn’t grind it out and was frustrated. Pete skied past me around noon-ish and then Cory passed me a few hours later. This was another low point for me and the only word I can think of was clamboring on the trail. Nick Petruska stopped on snow machine on the way back to Nickolai from McGrath. I should know better but I asked "How far to McGrath?" He didn't seem to want to answer and said "Almost half way." Then wished me luck and drove off. I was crushed, well into the afternoon and was not even half way. How could that be? I must be going 2-3 mph?? The only time I took my GPS out this whole race was a few hours earlier when I was able to ride just to see my speed which read 4 mph before the screen went blank.

I was trying various air pressures to get riding until I saw John Ross catch me. He was going incredibly fast for the conditions and a single speed no less. He stopped to chat a little bit and I kept laughing (to myself) when I stared at his beard. In Rohn, James asked if anyone knew where John Ross was and he described him as British with the “ginger” beard. Everyone kind of looked at him and said “ginger?” What the hell is a ginger beard? It’s one of those things that was hilarious at the time and stuck in my head the rest of the trip. And here he was staring at me, kicking my ass riding but that ginger beard got me laughing. Watching him ride really shocked me out of my low. I hopped on my bike and after an hour of riding/falling/grinding I finally found my legs. I ended up riding the rest of the ~ 25 miles to McGrath as hard as I could by choosing distant points on the trail and racing like hell to get there, stopped for a few second rest and repeat again and again. My legs finally felt strong. John must have had the fastest time from Nickolai to McGrath (a little under 10 hrs) and it was much too late in the trail to catch anyone but I’m glad I ponied up and somehow got my legs, thanks to him. This is where the difference between a cyclist and non-cyclist was readily apparent (me being the non-cyclist). However, I know I made up some time and I was really feeling no pain as I inched closer McGrath. Suddenly I was on a road and tried not to think that it was another couple of miles. When I turned into the driveway of Peter and Tracy’s house at 9:45 pm, the feeling was intense to have finished in 6 days 7 hrs; 2 days longer than last year. Even though I ended up 7th, drudged over 14 hrs from Nickolai, and felt deflated on being passed throughout the day, I felt good about the finish especially in light that my knees had no issues the last 250 miles. If I can figure out the swelling I may actually think about going to Nome next year.

As I opened the door to Peter and Tracey’s house the first people I saw were James and Chris and I simply thought my brain was misfiring but then they said to sit down and relax, did they have a story for me…. I simply cannot retell their grand adventure of wolves, river-running or bikes strapped to plane wings; but let's just say things didn’t quite turn out the way they planned.

McGrath at Peters and Tracy’s was great fun hearing all the stories and seeing racers coming in to finish. I must have been really loopy because I can’t remember when I laughed as much as I did those two days. Most of us spent extra time in McGrath since no planes flew to Anchorage on Sunday.

Friday, March 20, 2009

ITI 2009 Rainy - Rohn (Days 3-4)

Here's the Rainy Pass extravaganza. Obviously, this is my point of view, others may have perceived things differently. Since I was with a group I apologize ahead of time if I misrepresent your thoughts.... for example, I thought we were all having a good time.

The morning on top of Rainy was stormy one minute and clear skies the next. It seemed like the eye because eventually a blizzard of sorts blew in that reminded me closely of a Nome storm. I was milling about outside the newly made cabin with the blown-off-roof, drinking some of Bill M coffee (thank you Bill!) and chatting with Jeff a little bit. I think he said he was holed up there for at least 12 hours or so maybe more like 20 given the lead he had. Breaking trail solo would have been virtually impossible in the heavy snow so we sort of agreed to break trail as a group. Initially, Jay, Tracey, Jeff and myself left the cabin to make our way to the top of the pass. That memory is kind of blurred but James Leavesley, Chris Wrobel and Alec Petro joined us not long after we descended down the pass. It actually wasn’t too bad if we stayed up high to the right and made ok time for about a mile. Then we hit the snow, the real snow. At first knee deep it rapidly became waist deep. We made our own trail by guessing where the least snow piled up, sometimes we guessed well and sometimes not so well. But the further we descended it didn’t really matter, it was all waist deep and even deeper. We came together in line formation and took turns leading through the quagmire of snow until exhaustion or too slow a pace made us step aside and return to the end of the line for a rest. Exhaustion wouldn’t take long in the lead since the bike was lifted up over the snow or pushed a yard at a time followed by wading through the snow or plowing through thick willows.

On we went, occasionally one of us would laugh and shake our head in disbelief at the ridiculous almost comedic situation. I dare say it now but it was actually fun. Personally, I have never been around such an extreme, great attitude and fun bunch of enduro freaks (I mean that in the best sense). Let's take a look who I was surrounded by: Jeff Oatley- need I say more, not only is he insanely powerful but he's one of those people you know everything will be ok if he's around; Jay P and Tracey- wow incredible pair! When Jay was breaking trail I couldn't believe he tore his ACL a month before. And Tracey, what a force- now we really know where that Petervary strength comes from! Chris Wrobel- everyone knows who Jeff and JayP are so I was wondering who this mellow and knowledgeable person was that seemed pretty comfortable traveling this way. It was later I found out he is a frequent racer & winner of the winter Alaska Wilderness Classics which certainly shined through with his (and James) gutsy (and already legendary) move after Rohn. And of course James Leavesley, the endurance cycle racer from the Uk, who for some reason constantly makes me laugh.

Enough of the bios but it's hard to otherwise describe in words the feeling of positive determined energy around you. It also made me more concerned about slowing down the pack when it was my turn to lead than I was about anything else, so the time flew by. Single file down the mountain into the worst pile of snow imaginable. Two skiers, Ed Plumb and Cory passed us during that day. They practically laughed at how ridiculous we looked (that's probably not really true, I am transferring how I would be laughing at us in their position). They seemed 10 feet tall as they skied (relatively) on top of the snow while we were 4 feet beneath it. The snow fell so much our tracks were actually disappearing behind us.

Day turned to night with hours and hours of post holing, snow swimming and mentally willing the trail to firm up. The worst was stepping on top of the snow and sometimes it just almost holds your weight and you think "maybe if I step gently it'll hold" then you slowly sink to your waist. Repeat. It was cartoonish. After 16 or so hours (6 miles?) the group started to split up to bivy, still an unsure amount of mileage to the Dalzell or any sort of snowmachine trail. The Petervarys, Jeff and I went a little further but without the full group effort the lush evergreen trees looked so welcoming and enticing for a bivy (at least to me). We stomped off our spots and made a raging fire to dry out.

I believe Jeff and I had the most wet feet and only managed to thaw our boots to make them wetter. I literally wrung my socks out before I crawled in my sleeping bag. We slept 4 hours and got up around 6:30 am to do it all over again.

I followed closely behind Jeff and we found ourselves passing the skiers who passed us yesterday, they had bivied since the trail was narrow and difficult to break trail. It turned out the another 30 yards up hill we saw where a snow machine turned around! Jeff suddenly took off at a fast walk. It was amazing to feel such ease at walking a bike even in ankle deep snow with a firm base. I tried my best to stay with Jeff and we made our way through the Dalzell and popped out on to the Tatina river in a raging pseudo blizzard. Jeff went out ahead as I put my pedals back on. It felt great though because part of it we could ride. Another 5 miles of easy fast walking (comparatively) and some riding brought us into Rohn at 10:30 or 11 am.

I really pushed this leg over Rainy and wasn’t even paying attention to my completely soaked feet and throbbing legs. When I took my gear off in Rohn, uh-oh. My feet and legs swelled. Bummer. I wanted to leave soon but knew I should not get caught up in someone elses race. As much as I say I'm not racing that's really the illusion because consciously or subconsciously it can't be helped. Experience and a reality check insured that I had to feel this situation out and it was with dismay I watched Jeff leave alone around 2 pm. I could tell he was a motor on fire and there was no way I was going to keep up with superman anyway. It was race-on and I know he was extremely motivated to put some distance in front of the skiers. I put my feet up and walked on the snow to keep the swelling down. I watched as Jay, Tracey, James, Chris, Cory, Ed and Pete leave Rohn throughout the day. I hung out with Jasper the checker and we shared some common ground knowing similar people in Nome. One of the checkers was an EMT and looked at my legs. So far I’ve heard everything from trench foot, to heart, to kidney, to electrolyte imbalance to just simply pounding my legs. This is exactly what happened last year but last year I kept going and going with swelling, knee problems, sleep deprivation, cold bivies, numb hands and ass until Ruby. Hmmmm, it couldn't really be that I pushed a bike through miles of snow? Nah. In any case I couldn't sleep, drank coffee (diuretic) and didn’t leave until 7pm when the swelling was reduced and my boots and gear dried out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Iditarod 2009

I have to post a few pictures from this morning when Lance Mackey came into Nome to win his 3rd straight Iditarod. Sarah, Hahnah and I watched in front of Sarah's store as Lance came off the sea ice onto Front St. to the finish line. Pretty cool to see, regardless of what kind of racing you do, ITI, Irondog or the more famous Iditarod it's still neat to see.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

ITI 2009 - Knik Lake to Rainy Pass (Days 1 - 3)

The write up is a little rough and the memories are fading fast in my old head but at least if I get something down I can forget about it till next year. I'll work on the second part this week sometime. Amazingly, while I am trying to forget the ITI Tim, Tom and Marco are still making there way up to Nome. Some hardcore dudes, check them out at the ITI Website

Once again, Mike drove me to the start line of the Ultrasport Iditarod Trail Invitational (ITI) at Knik Lake, but this time my wife Sarah and daughter Hahnah are along to see me off. Another bright blue race day beginning with mild teen temperatures and lots of racers milling around. After a few photo ops the jitters began. I see a few folks from last year and say hello. Jay P wishes me luck as does Jeff O and my bike maker Mark Gronwald and bag maker Eric Parsons are there too. Eric actually made some last minute seat bag adjustments that helped keep the bag away from the rear tire. It’s hard to say which racers I will run into across the trail or will this be more of a lone venture. Traditionally, I feel more comfortable in the later case. This is an individual event without teams and reliance on anyone. I know all too well from last year if I get caught up in someone else’s race I will push myself too hard. The focus of this race is to assess my knees & swelling, get my bike fit correct and do my own race without going over the top. Above all else no injuries so I’m not laid up for three months like last year.

We lined up, I gave Sarah and Hahnah one last hug and kiss then we were off. Half the field went straight and a few of us went off to the left. The left is all I know so that’s what I did. It appeared Jeff, Billy K, Jay P and his wife Tracey did the same. We all rode together for a while and then by the time we hit the road I was undecided to take the Point Mac way to Flathorn or go the traditional way, I opted for the so called short cut (which is actually longer by 4 miles but usually firmer with less hills). Jay P and Tracey stopped so not sure which way they went and Jeff was already ahead a ways. Things were rolling smoothly till a ground storm with headwind blew in about 5 miles from Flathorn. I actually had a tough time in this section grinding through the drifts. I didn’t want to over do it so ended up running the bike through the sections. I felt like Flathorn was taking forever and wondering if the traditional way would have been better since the trail in the trees would not have wind or drifts. The sun was dipping and I knew this was already taking longer than last year. On Flathorn Lake it wasn’t much better and had to push the bike to the other side. Rode a little pushed a little. Dismal swamp was, well dismal then I dropped on the Susitna river, it was ride-able but slow going with a solid headwind, that changed to a tailwind and then a headwind depending on the river turn but still -20 and soft conditions. About 12 of us rolled into Yentna within 45 minutes of each other from 1:15 to 2 am except for Jeff who blasted in at 11pm. I was about 6 hrs behind last year’s time, a rough start. I decided to eat and rest a few hours as most were doing. I saw familiar faces as a few more folks entered the checkpoint and even Pete who was skiing this year. Right before I lay down for a little sleep I saw another racer, Jill Homer, walk in and said hello. It wasn’t until almost a week later I heard she had severe frostbite on her foot from overflow or punching through weak ice on Flathorn and eventually she had to scratch. I had no idea when I saw her that she was going through that battle.

I woke and left by 6 am, the morning light already peeking through. A beautiful cold morning probably around -15 to -20. It was a slow trip upriver for me and I had a tough time on this leg. My knee was giving me intermittent pain and I wasn’t sure how hard to push the riding. The river was granular and I couldn’t stand the monotony, the “slowness” and I kept reflecting back to last year when Carl H stopped on this section and said he hated this part. I can see why, I’d rather do this section at night. Jay P and Tracey passed me and overall I was not doing well with my knees. By the time I hit Skwentna my knee was in quite a bit of pain and soreness- I wasn’t sure about the race in general. This was definitely the low point of the whole race for me and I even inquired with the Skwentna owner about how much it would cost if I had to bail out there. I was talking with Jay P and Tracey and another racer too about the knees but eventually the warmth and atmosphere relaxed me. I decided to have a cheeseburger go upstairs and just rest for an hour. I ended up relaxing well and decided to motor on.

I wanted to be alone on the trail and do my own race so I waited till most of the lead bikers left. While I was loading up my bike I was adjusting the straps on my seat bag and inadvertently cinched it quite hard so the seat slid back on its rails as far back as it would go. When I checked out and started riding I noticed a difference in my comfort. All of a sudden my knee pain was reduced and riding was actually comfortable- a new feeling for me with the fatbike. I discovered the seat change, and tightened the clamps. Well that was a good discovery and amazing how a good fitting bike can change things. Now I’ve read probably every article on bike fit and had different racers help but the bottom line is every body and bike is different. I don’t have a large base for riding as other racers especially with platform pedals and a wide bottom bracket of the fatbike. In fact I doubt I did more than 50 miles on the fatbike since last years epic or more than 300 miles on a regular bike. Shhh don’t tell anyone. I actually added up my swim distance since June and the 400 km beats my riding amount since my injury last year prevented me from riding much; however, I would not recommend this as a training regiment. I didn’t find my riding legs till the last 25 miles into McGrath after being passed by single speeder John Ross with the ‘ginger’ beard—but I digress and am getting ahead of myself.

The trail out of Skwentna was great and I was at Shell Lake Lodge by 8 pm and stopped for 2 hrs to eat another cheeseburger. I loved this section it was a clear cold night and I was mostly alone.

I cruised into Fingerlake by 2 am. It was an 8 hr ride total plus 2 hrs at Shell Lake. I felt good and ate some beans and rice then crashed in the tent for about 4 hrs. Initially I slept on the floor which was soaking wet but James L told me to take his cot as he was leaving. I got a solid 2 hrs of rest and then took my time getting ready in the morning. I was on the trail by 9 am and had another awesome run to Puntilla and checked in by 4pm. At this point I felt I passed the “hump” in the race because I clearly remember feeling terrible during the last two sections last year. But now comes the crux of the race. Do I rest and sleep or do I go right through over Rainy Pass. Hells Gate was out of the question as news at Shell Lake said there was open water and one of the trail breakers fell through the ice. I decided to try and sleep but never did and ended up eating a lot and laying down till 6pm. I left by 6:30pm for the long haul over Rainy, hopeful the trail breakers would have a trail put in by the time I ascend the pass. The night was clear but gusting headwinds, the trail showed mostly walking with few riding spots.

I suddenly saw a fox in front of me and he/she followed me for a while before scampering away. Time seemed to drift away and before I knew it I was heading into the pass, with the snow deeper and deeper. I came across Bill Merchant’s stuck trail-breaking snow machine and thought that was not a good sign.

The steadier I climbed the deeper the snow and more stormy it became. At the top I followed a disappearing trail and suddenly it stopped altogether. A few sweeps with the headlamp barely able to cut through the swirling snow I saw what looked like a trail in another direction away from the pass. I followed it for a while until my headlamp came upon a mass of reflection. I couldn’t believe it, about 6 bikes leaning against this so-called cabin (with no roof). It was about 3 or 4 am. I couldn’t ask anyone since they were sleeping but assumed this was the stop spot and unloaded my sleeping bag and foam pad. Upstairs in the loft there was some room but there was also a pile of snow. I crawled in my bag and shivered for about 3 hrs straight. I forgot to eat so I think my body wasn’t producing heat. I was cold and got up around 7am. A little while later I think Louise and Eric made it up there and took my spot upstairs. I put on my puffy coat and pants and started pacing out front. I shoved some cliff bloks in and some other pieces of candy too. The calories began to work and I felt better. By this time Jeff, Jay P and Bill M all got up and I got the story. No trail over Rainy and Bill had a heck of a time with the snow machine eventually abandoning it to hike up to the cabin. It was already day 3 and this time last year I was almost in Nickolai. The ITI was just getting interesting.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

ITI 2009

Another great experience and plan to write it up at some point... as soon as I can gather some thoughts. Mainly I just wanted to thank my wife Sarah and daughter Hahnah for their love and support!!