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Sunday, April 25, 2010


I had every intention of hopping on my snow machine today to meet up with some friends who were out riding. After all I hardly used my machine this year and the snow was just perfect to go anywhere.  The kind of day where you could close your eyes and pick a direction. The spring melt froze and it was just too pristine to pass up my bike. I couldn't help it.   

My little Kestrel wx station is working great.  It was 16 degrees and even able to calculate wind chill while I was riding, which was -2 degrees.

Saturday, April 24, 2010


I was fortunate enough to get into Diomede this past week.  Diomede is an island in the Bering Strait about 2 miles from Russia.  And no I have no idea if Palin really went there ever.  In any case you can only fly here on a regular basis when there is an ice runway between the two islands.  Last year there was none but this year was good.  I even took a video of the landing and approach.  The juttering of the camera is turbulence jostling around from the wind currents coming off the island.  Bering air is the only commercial airline that will land there. They are awesome and the safest and the only airline I will fly around here.

Facing Russia, Big Diomede

Diomede landing, Bering Air from Philip Hofstetter on Vimeo.

While I was there I asked if anyone biked across between the islands, it’s only 2 miles but as far as a few folks knew no one has.  Might be a fun thing to do next year if I get permission, and someone tags along behind with a snow machine to scout for polar bears.  I have thought about kayaking there in the summer also but it’s a volatile stretch of ocean. Because it is the shortest distance between mainland Russia and the US a lot of expeditions and such have attempted crossing of all kinds.  "Attempted" being the key word. Most don’t realize how powerful the currents are and think it is chock full of solid ice but it’s not.  While, between the islands the ice is solid, the current from Diomede to Wales can be faster than some rivers.  The whole Bering sea gets squeezed between 50 miles of land.  Some find out the hard way.

In any case, as usual, it was a cool trip and was only stuck a short time extra. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

ITI 2010 (3): Photo Depletion

One will have to endure my words, which is processing rather slowly, as I didn't take one picture from the Carson Crossing Cabin to Ruby. Sometimes it's better stored in the ole noggin' than taking pictures that can't represent, anyway. I suppose one could argue the same with words.... hmmm. 
It was day 7 when we left the cabin early in the morning. It would be a long day. The temps were at least -30 to -40 at 4am and the trail was similar to the previous day. The night turned to a gray windy dusk. The trees were mostly burned out skeletons from a by gone forest fire and there were a lot of sections exposed and drifted. Add in a few protected sections with trees that were ride-able and this is the way the whole day went. It was definitely on the gloomy, feel-like-your-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, kind of cold day. The only thing that kept my mood up is that we could ride enough to make some ground and I recognized landmarks from 2 years ago. About 15 miles before Wolk Kill there are a series of ~5 miles of rolling hills with frequent exposed tops with drifts. Right before the last exposed drifted, rolling hill the snow was knee to waist deep until we were able to duck into a more heavily dense forest. The trail was better and we could ride again. Darkness fell and the next 8 -10 miles felt long. It started snowing quite heavily and it was back to pushing. Finally around 2 am we found the drops on the slough. It took another hour or two to get into a decent protected area for a cold bivy. It made for a long but satisfying 24 hour day. This is the same area as Iditarod’s cripple checkpoint but we didn’t see anything, no tracks no tent for the checkpoint, nothing. It was still days from the first musher but the tent must have been flown in and setup somewhere way off trail. Another cold night but a solid 5 hour bivy. It the morning it took some time to sort and repack gear with new drops and get moving again.

It was day 8 and I remember we had some hardpacked riding the next 20 miles until we hit Poorman. After Poorman there was another gloomy forest-fire black spruce section. This brought back intense memories from 2 years ago. A horrible section for me in 2008. It actually was pretty miserable this year too.  At least a few miles of knee to waist deep snow until we hit the sulatna crossing and a “bridge” that put us on the old road. Finally, the trail was great and consistent.... and uphill.  We made good time and another wash of emotion overcame me as I realized it was only 45 miles to Ruby. The last time I was here, I was in such extreme pain. A virtual survival zombie with consecutive 4-5 20+ hr days of pushing. There was a main course of severe edema, nerve damage in my hands and arse followed by a dessert of ITB inflammation and knee pain. Doesn't it sound wonderful? I don’t know how I managed to keep going then or why in the world I was doing this race again.  And yet here I was 2 years later, feeling good and riding.

If you examined the topo map of this section you would think it is pretty flat but the 1,000 – 2,000 ft rolling hills are deceptively steep. You will sweat profusely the next 45 miles with lots and lots of long uphill’s. We had another cold bivy at the top of a hill a few miles before the ghost town of Long. There must be some pull to the place because we bivied in the exact same spot I did the last time. Another 3-4 hours of sleep and it was day 9.  Freaking cold and a scramble to get warm. It was at least -40 and it took about 3-4 hours of riding / pushing to get warm. It turned into a clear, cold blue bird day with good riding and 11-12 hours later we topped that last steep incline that overlooked the Yukon and Ruby. It was such a great feeling to roll into Ruby around 6-7pm, 10 days 5 hrs. The time was actually not a great deal faster than pushing the whole section 2 years ago but I certainly was a great deal more rested and felt incredible. At this point I knew I had not squandered any of my body reserves and actually felt like I was getting stronger each day. The only question seemed, not if we would finish but who would cross the finish line first. I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t a randonneuring event.

Ruby, as in 2008, was a fabulous stay. The post master happened to be out walking when we approached town and even though it was after hours she was willing to give us our drops at the school. Principal Titus was the host at the school and came in to make sure we were settled. It really was magic. The gym was used to dry out gear and the kitchen for food and a rejuvenating 6 hour sleep in the kindergarten classroom. Excellent after 5 cold days on the trail!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Kestrel Portable Wx stations

During the ITI this year I was a little surprised just how variable thermometers were, particularly portable ones.  JP and Tracey had similar thermometers and theirs varied as much as 7-10 degrees at times and mine was always bottomed out at -20.  Some people in villages said it reached as low as -50 and I know for a fact that the temperature constantly changed on the trail, low spots, high spots, wind, whatever.... So I did a little more research when I came home on an accurate portable, durable, lightweight thermometer.  I consulted a friend of mine at the weather station locally in Nome and agreed that it is indeed difficult to find an an accurate portable thermometer that read below -20 degrees fahrenheit.   He said the model, Kestrel, makes probably the most accurate though they are expensive.  I read the specs and even though they range down to -50 they only claim accuracy of +/- 2 degrees down to -20.   I kind of think it's important because there's a huge difference when you say it was -20, -30, -40 or -50 and add in some wind we tend to exaggerate reporting and how our gear or body functions in those conditions.  Soo I went ahead an purchased the Kestrel 3000, it is super light and so far I am impressed.  It has a digital thermometer coil outside of the case, a cool wind gauge, humidity reader and can calculate windchill.  It is simple to use and supposedly pretty durable... we will see.  I will put this to the test this year and find out...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Nome Spring....psych!

I added a little weather "sticker" from wunderground on the blog above and you can see the weather is still pretty winter-ish. Last week we even had some days below zero. It's a hard time of year because it's transitional but not really. Personally, I've had enough of winter and with so much  daylight you want to get out.  This is especially hard to do with my 2 year old. It was gusting to 28 mph so we tried to be creative inside.  You can't go wrong with a small climbing rope, harness, map, headlight and compass. We caught some Hefelumps with the rope and I believe we may have summited Everst a few times.

On an aside: I haven't climb much since the ITI thing but I used to really enjoy climbing with Ian. To see this wild man check out his blog, it gives a good perspective of Nome climbing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

ITI 2010 (2); Trail Magic

For two years I wondered if this moment would arrive. The whole ITI up to this point seemed like a preparation for the section to Ophir and Ruby. The edema and recovery followed by a strong feel-good run from Rohn to McGrath. The ride to Takotna was a blur but I recall the trail was not as good as two years ago, there was some wind and some drifts. In Takotna we stopped at the store and the owner let us sit down and eat some of the food we purchased. The weather called for a high pressure system with some serious cold. Typically, a settled high pressure cold is actually good news. This means there will likely be no wind or storms swooping in to cause havoc. The cold both increased my anxiety and shed my somber mood in anticipation of finally the approach to my demon. The Iron dog race and one trapper had been the only traffic in this section all winter and there was a recent snow and wind along the trail the day previous (we heard and found out for ourselves later). When you are dealing with a race so dependant on trail conditions the tiniest change in weather can determine pushing, riding or grinding. Every year I hear someone say “if you were only here yesterday…”, clearly evidenced in the McGrath race this year.

As we left Takotna there is a long 4-5 mile ride uphill that makes one nice and sweaty (and cold) for the rolling hills to Ophir. As darkness fell and the temperature plummeted to -30 I fell deep in thought on the various bivying options, tasks and proper order that must be exercised for an efficient sleep at these temps. Earlier in the race I was riding / pushing to Puntilla when Craig Medred pulled over on snow machine and asked me some questions. Craig was reporting the ITI this year and asked, “what do you think about?” I answered, “nothing but family and food”. Well I kept going back to that question throughout the race because it’s not really true. While I do think about family and food a lot, it’s a much deeper answer that took me a while to formulate. It’s weird how the question stumped me. I couldn’t explain my thoughts away to an ipod or MP3 because I don’t listen to one. The answer was kind of like an episode of my daughter’s Winnie the Pooh, think think think. So aside from family and food I inevitably perseverate and constantly mentally check "functions"- bike function, gear function, body function, bivy function, race function, weather function, trail function, mental function... as the days and sleep deprivation accumulated the thoughts actually became more focused.

Ophir, an Iditarod checkpoint consisting of one privately owned cabin, not part of the ITI. The actual "town" is deserted with a few rundown structures. Two years ago the owner and volunteers of the Ophir checkpoint were setting up for Iditarod when I went through. I was invited inside for a few hours to warm up but it is not something one can count on. As we got closer to Ophir my perseverating thoughts were thrown from an eerie desolate, cold dark cabinless, peopleless, checkpointless 190 miles section to … a party? Yep, this was still four-five days away from the first Iditarod musher and the checkpoint cabin was not only occupied but in full party mode… Mexican Night to be exact.

The folks welcomed us in to the cabin and offered not only excellent Mexican food but a place to stay in one of the tents out back. I was prepared and expecting to bivy out in -30 temps for the next 4-5 days but I certainly was not going to pass up a tent. We woke the next morning rested and on the trail by 7am, day 6. We thanked the checkers for their kindness and went on our way. This section is a complete unknown with absolutely no trail information simply because no one travels through here. One might argue “why don’t you wait till Iditarod goes through…”? If there was no trail, as in 2008, that may prove good advice but there is always a chance the Iron Dog trail could still be good with riding.

After Ophir the trail was basically slow technical riding with drifts and about 2-3 inches of new and deeper blown in snow about 1-2days old. Underneath was a good base so it was a lot of jumping on/off the bike but enough to keep the miles up without significant trench pushing. There was a bit more overflow than I recall and it was a pain to pull out my neos, on and off. My footware this year were Lobbens, a light pressed wool shoe that worked for me in some incredibly cold conditions but overboots were needed for water. About 20 miles after Ophir approaching the Innoko crossing my neos were on and I was going through a small section of ice with a little overflow and inadvertently stepped off trail. Suddenly my left leg punched through snow and was up to my thigh in slushy overflow. Slightly off balance my right leg went through also to the knee and just like that… neos full of water. I was mad at myself, said a few expletives and immediately dumped out the water from the neos and put them back on. I decided to keep it moving and for the next 4 hours organized a plan how to deal with my feet. It wasn’t totally precarious but did require some diligence to resolve. At the best I would put on some fresh socks, sit in my bivy and dry by the campfire. At worst I would wear neos for a few days. The wool in my Lobbens and smartwools still insulated even wet and the neos provided the warmth from the cold temps.… but if I was really lucky a man would mysteriously appear on the trail and show us a new cabin that BLM built. If I was really really lucky the man would have the cabin already heated because he saw us in his ski plane landed on a river and decided to warm it up for us b/c it was supposed to drop to -40. And yes, that is what happened. The pilot happened to be a part of the ITI who just finished placing our drops at Wolf Kill Slough (Cripple Checkpoint) and saw us on the trail. Talk about trail magic.

While I was able to dry out my socks, neos and Lobbens I took the opportunity to switch to Pete’s Patagonia socks he gave me in McGrath. I don’t know what kind of magic were in those socks but I couldn’t believe how damn warm and comfortable they were. Even at -40 and more I was able to keep my feet warm with no heat packs and when I bivied kept my lobbens outside the sleeping bag. I simply put my feet in the cold boots and still was fine at the extreme temps. A couple of times later on when I stopped at villages I was surprised to see ice had formed inside the Lobbens but continued to have warm toasty feet. It seems silly to think socks make that much difference but I’ll never go back to smartwools again.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


What a concert! This video clip does not do justice but was only able to take a small segment with the camera. However check these pictures out!

One Voice concert, Nome Alaska from Philip Hofstetter on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


Processing and writing about 17 days worth of high intensity sleep deprived ITI thoughts is daunting... and fading. In many ways every ITI has many similarities that it's hard to write something fresh or attempt to explain… scenery, mood, ipod-less thoughts, snow type, animal tracks, people tracks, bike tracks, people, salivation over hamburgers, satisfaction, disappointment, happiness, anger, group racing psychopathology, cold, supreme cold, wind, go-sweat-wet-stop-cold-repeat, pain, no-pain, charlie-horse pain, the zombie push, shiver bivy, sweat bivy, not caring about northern lights, not caring about scenery, missing family, raising funds for LLS, finishing fantasies followed by the real deal. As important as it is to get some memories down it'll be a tame loose summary of, probably, a tenth of the random highlights that I can muster with words along with a total of 13 pictures I took.

In the meantime, it has been an interesting process to mesh back into a busy family life. The latest event is tonight where my wife is part of the concert, One Voice. It's a benefit concert for "Make a patient smile" program that help cancer patients. For those lucky enough to get tickets before they sold out it will an incredible musical night!