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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Blue Spring

Each year, right about this time I usually write a post about how winter is draaaging on well into spring.  Probably a little post-race blues? Maybe. This year is no exception.  Today, I planned on an easy 8 mile run and found myself donning a facemask, vapor barriers, hard shells and layers.... ugh. The easy 8 felt more like a hard 20...  Why? Watch and see....

Saturday, March 17, 2012

ITI 2012, Gear follow up

A few follow up points from this years ITI.  I don’t usually put out a gear list because so much of my list is simply personal preference.  That said there are a few items worth mentioning that I consider high performers and some that are so good I’ve had on every snow biking event  since 2008- 4 ITI’s and 1 Susitna race. 
High performers:
1.       The one item that I firmly believe made an unbelievable difference was medical compression socks.  I swell. A friend of mine (an occupational therapist specializing in burn victims) strongly suggested I wear 30 mmhg medical compression socks.  Wow, what a suggestion.  If I didn’t my feet would have swelled, my narrow lakes footwear would likely have cut off circulation and may have had blisters and possibly frostbite.  The compression socks, which I never took off did not cause one blister.  Each time I felt a “hot” spot on my foot while pushing it never developed further.  Additionally, in order for me to wear a RBH (thick) VB I had to pull out the soles of the lake.  So even at -50 with minimal insulation I had no frostbike—a cold foot but nothing else.   This is one item I will never ever go without. …. and it also helped with my recovery. 

2.       VB shirt/jacket (but can't find on the website anymore).  This was something that I got some strange looks and was somewhat ridiculous looking super thin cuban fiber jacket (weighs a few ounces). But I wore this since day 1, even at upper 30 degree temps.  It was uncomfortable at times since I usually sweat so much (hint at why I likely have edema).  Normally, without a VB all my layers are soaked. The VB prevented that this year.  I had one thin baselayer beneath the VB that got soaked.  I wore two very thin layers over the VB and then my softshell. When I bivied I would take the wet layer off put on a dry thin layer and then the VB.  It kept me dry, warm in my bag and the VB prevented moisture build up in the bag.  At a checkpoint the VB was basically dry and the under layer dried pretty quickly.  It was the only thing ever wet.  Not even my jacket was wet.  The downside… yup the base layer under the VB was rancid.  A few times when I was not getting enough glucose (I googled the reason post race) I smelled strong ammonia sweat. Whew. 

3.      Clipless pedals : the candy pedals themselves, hmmm I am not sure about their performance. My right foot kept getting hung up and I would fall over, which provided hours of entertainment but not exactly fun after days and days. The fact of being clipless was fantastic though.  I’ll never go back and this was a particularly hard year of on and off the bike.  It was a HUGE relief to pull up and give the bottom of my foot rest when I could pedal. 

4.       Lakes boots.  I modified mine by adding a home job waterproof overboot using shoe goo. It was crude but effective.  I didn’t have to bring overboots and they worked like a champ in overflow.  The lakes aren’t perfect but they sure are comfy.

5.       70 mm wheelset made by speedway.  I can’t believe only 5 mm up from the large marges has made 100% difference in my ability to grind in soft stuff.

6.  VB socks.  Again the VB prevented moisture from saturating my boot and as time went on the moisture accumulation in the VB was minimal.  The stuff works.  

Gear that’s lasted since 2008 and brought on all ITI races:
1.       Patagonia ghost pack, has great pockets around the waist belt, super light and carries my bladder.

2.       Wildfire bike- I’ve wrecked A LOT on this bike and while I had Speedway make a new wheelset everything but the drive train and seat are original.  Without gear it’s still a slim 30 lbs.

3.       Patagonia puffy pants. Not used much but are super warm and synthetic. 

4.       Mountain hardwear hat. Gold standard. 

5.       OR mitts (liners). 

6.       Pogies made by Paramount Cycles.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

ITI 2012 Nikolai - McGrath

Another ITI I can put out of my mind, or at least try.  No photos or silly cartoons on this one. This last section was a tough finish. Reflection is hard because some things I wish I did different but I should be satisfied that I gave it my all.
When the three of us were in Nikolai my mind was fuzzy on the best race strategy.  Should I sleep a bit or should I just roll the dice and go for it.  I think about that more now, post race.  My edema was back with a vengeance, it was something I tried not to think about.  I ate a whole bunch and then attempted to sleep.  The next thing I knew Tim Hewitt and Geoff Roes were at the checkpoint.   I needed to get out of there.  Pete was already geared up to go and left.   I was groggy and my mind was misfiring.   The laydown didn’t refresh at all.  I wanted to get out of there before Pavel woke up but it didn't happen.  I gathered all my stuff together then Pavel said he would leave when I did.  He just wanted to get to McGrath.  I didn’t know what to make of him, he was quiet, mysterious and probably a stronger rider than me.  It looked like it was going to be a long night. I love chasing better than being chased but knew I would never catch Pete unless he exploded (not likely). 
This would be my fourth time on this leg from Nikolai to McGrath, only this year the course changed to spit us out 11+ miles from town by a mine.  I didn’t know if that meant the mileage changed or not. Two times it took me 12 -14 hours for this stretch. In 2010 I did it in 6 hours.  I thought I could muster a 7-8 hour finish if I rode smart.  I left Nickolai with Pavel right behind at 9pm, an hour after Pete.  When I dropped on the river the first thing I noticed was the cold.  It had to be around -30 but a firm trail.  I aired up as much as possible and put two hand warmers in my boots above the clipless metal setup.  Unfortunately, I had to walk several times to keep my feet circulated though they were cold that whole night.  Then I prepared like I was doing a road race. I set my heart rate monitor and time on the bike. I told myself I would go as fast as possible for, at least, 5 hours straight.  And I did.  With a few breaks to warm up my feet I went as hard as possible.  After 2 hours my watch LCD screen went out from the cold that seemed rapidly approaching -40. My other watch on the wrist was working but it was hard to monitor while riding.  I just went as fast as I could.  Pavel was breathing hard but he was right on my tire for 5 hours straight.  I made ok time, it was around mile 30 or 40 hard to know with a different trail (I think since GPS said 20 miles as the crow flies). At 2 am (my witching hour) 5 hours in, I started to explode.  I couldn’t get warm, the cold in some spots on the river was bad, I suspect around -50.  I had to get out my puffy Patagonia pants (something I’ve never had to do in 4 ITIs), DAS parka and my OR liner mitts to shove in the pogies.  I kept moving but I was a train wreck.  I asked Pavel to go ahead but he stayed behind.  A couple of times he moved ahead and that did get me motivated to catch up and lead again.  The trail was not as fast but I could barely ride, my clipless right pedal wouldn’t disengage, I would just fall over.  I rode like a drunk.  I walked even worse. I could barely keep my eyes open, it was bad.  I just kept moving and moving.  Did I mention, it was cold.  

Finally I saw a bright light in the distance up on a hill.  It must be the mine that never got closer. It was brutally slow to climb those hills at the end, though, at least it was warmer up in the hills than on the river.  At some point I popped out on to the road.  It was a little after 6am, about 9.5 hrs from Nikolai. A bit of a relief but I still felt so tired and it was still 11 or 12 miles into town.  That was hard.  I kept falling asleep and almost running into the snow bank.  Both of us could only go one speed, if Pavel sped up I just kept pace I couldn’t muster anything else.  I tried talking with him to stay awake.  He is a quiet guy and I don’t remember our conversation much but I do remember asking him what he did in Czech and he said, “I work a boring office job…”  I kind of laughed to myself and thought, "isn’t that code for international secret intelligence or something?"  It would make sense since I am a total wreck and he still seems well put together.  The miles ticked by sloooooowly until I turned in to Pete and Tracy’s driveway.  Wow, that last 11-12 miles took an hour and 40 minutes, almost 2 hrs?  I was just glad to be done.  Pete arrived around 3 hrs sooner around 5 am.  It was good to be finished but no rest for the weary, I had to catch a plane out of there.  As much as I really wanted to stay to congratulate Tim, Geoff and other racers coming in, especially Pete who was zonked out, I had to be home by tomorrow.  A wonderful breakfast by the host Pete and Tracy a quick shower and I was out the door riding to the airport.  I checked in for Penn Air, sat in the cozy waiting area seat and tried to process what just happened for the past 7 days. 

Thank you Bill, Kathi for putting on such a great event and all the hosts along the trail for a wonderful journey this year.  I had an awesome time and found some excellent areas I need to work on for next year, mostly keep trying to be a stronger cyclist. My edema was better controlled this year even though I gained 14lbs of water by race end-- I DO think it is nutrition/salt related.   Thanks to my wife Sarah and family for continuing to allow me to compete in this often times ridiculous event. Until next year!   

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

ITI 2012, Fingerlake to Nikolai

This video is going backwards a bit but my friend Mike shot this at the start poking a little fun at me. And below are a few shots I borrowed from Tim Bernston that I thought were neat. 

Filling up water bottles (photo by Tim)

A common theme, us pushing and getting passed by walkers (photo by Tim)

Fingerlake to Nikolai

Be warned I'm going to talk crap on this one. A lot of crap. 

I had to get some sleep in Fingerlake and thought when I woke Pete would be long gone.  The checkpoint was really busy and someone did shake me awake at one point because I was snoring too loud.  That didn't really faze me, poor souls.  I was surprised Pete was still there after 4 hrs of solid sleep.  We ended up leaving together around 5 am.  I don't know how anyone can ride hard at 5am but Pete took off.  I lagged a bit and (seeing his track) was in awe at the steep hills he was cleaning.  I finally got a little mojo going and knew I was going to catch him, um... not by riding but I knew he was going to take a crap soon.  Yep, that's how I could keep up, the secrets out, I am a faster crapper than Pete.  Sure enough... after going potty (as it's called in our house) we rode together and were really moving. It was fantastic.  Aired up tires steep hills and we started passing walkers. Life was good.

The best part of the day, maybe even the whole race, was rounding a sharp bend and catching a walker in full spiderman mask (he shall remain nameless but he did wear a ski mask) scream  a little bit b/c we caught him with his pants down, yep you guessed it, crapping.   That was some funny s$*%t !!

It took about 9 hrs to Puntilla, there was quite a bit of pushing the last 5 miles in to the checkpoint. In Puntilla was where I started noticing Pavel. He arrived about 1-2 hrs behind us and has been doing that regularly, keeping pace.  In Puntilla I slept about an hour and Pete and I left together around 4:30pm to go over the pass. Surprisingly we could ride portions to the pass entrance, it was technical & slow with the hard packed sastrugi but it was very similar to Nome's riding.  Eventually we had to walk up the pass and right at the start of going up I bonked... hard.  I felt sleepy drunk and could barely keep moving.  It was a slugfest.  We rested at the cabin up top for 45 minutes but only got colder.  We kept moving, topped over and started the descent.  I was struggling here at 1-2 am. Images of 2009 came to mind but all of a sudden the trail turned hard packed.  It was the best trail I've seen in a while.  I was magically wide awake.  The headlamps turned on high and we rode like mountain bikers almost all the way to Rohn.  It was fast and awesome. We passed Tim Hewitt in a bivy 6 miles outside of Rohn but no sign of Geoff. Once we popped out onto the Kuskokwim the ice was blue/green and slick. This is where Pete fell asleep riding and the bike slid out.  I mentioned this in a previous post but the crash was spectacular.

It took about 12.5 hrs to get to Rohn, that's on the fast side for biking.  Usually there is much more pushing.  Geoff, the leader of the race and in the foot division was in Rohn since midnight. He also took 12hrs over the pass, that is impressive.  We arrived around 5am.  I slept about 2 hrs and got my stuff together.  Pete was already off and I left about 20 minutes later. It was cooling off, probably around -20.  The first 2 miles on the ice I slid out and slammed my hip pretty good. Once I cleared the ice the trail went back in the woods and for the next 20 miles was very fast.  I passed Geoff in a bivy a few miles out of Rohn so Pete was in the lead.  For the first time I felt like it was race on.  It wasn't till about 1pm I encountered Pete again and soon after the hard packed trail went south (not literally) right at the burn.   Riding was possible but barely, almost fully aired out. It was another grunt to get passed the Buffalo camp. No one other than Bill was through here with a snow machine.  We pushed / rode sort of to the BLM Bear Creek cabin turn off around 10 at night.  I would never think of going off trail a mile to hit up a cabin but the section to Nickolai is deceptively long especially in these conditions.  We ended up drying out in the cabin and sleeping a few hours. About an hour or so later Pavel arrived at the cabin too.  We left Pavel sleeping at 2am and continued on to Nikolai, both riding and pushing through junky snow.  Finally, at around 5pm we rolled into Nikolai plowing through soft snow the last 5 miles. Pavel arrived 20 minutes later.  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

ITI 2012, Knik - Fingerlake

 Per tradition, my friend Mike brought me to the start line as he has the past 3 times I’ve done the ITI.  He took some pictures but as I mentioned I did not bring a camera this time. My setup was as light I could get it without taking too many risks. I had two insulated liter nalgene bottles as well as a 100 oz water bladder in my ghost pack.  I brought 3 liters total on the first leg because usually the fist checkpoint has a good trail and riding. 2 liters in the nalgenes is usually plenty and the liter in the bladder as an extra.  I should have known.   The ominous “severe” winter storm warning” that was depicted prior to the race start should have been a clue.  I heard there was some snow falling around Skwentna but didn’t think…. the joke was on us.   

When we all lined up and the race director said “go!” it was weird,  no one jumped off the line.  I ended up going out ahead for the first mile.  The past 3 ITI’s  I always took the road turnoff up to Point Mac store and the trail always turns to mush so I decided to take the “traditional” trail to Flathorn.  It was in the trees most of the way so I rationalized the trail should be better protected from the wind.  This actually turned out to be true as I was able to ride all but the last 5 miles into Flathorn. However, there was only one other biker that went this way, Dario.  Once I passed him the downside was that I was breaking trail myself.  Once I hit the swamps I was wallowing in snow with no other help. That sucked.  
Pushing across flathorn

This leg I had my HR monitor going and it was amazing how hard it was to hold back.  The HR were spiking up to 170 without a hitch and I wanted to keep it closer to 140.   I can see how easy it is to explode without realizing it.  I kept it tuned back and plugged away.  When I had to push the last 5 miles to Flathorn, about a mile out two skiers passed me.  Whoa, that didn't feel good.  Once I hit Flathorn it was dark, no trail and a complete  blizzard.  Oh yeah, I was out of water.   I followed the north coast and plugged away blindly.  Once my foot went down a bottomless pit I knew I hit overflow.  When I pulled my foot out and saw water fill in the hole I gladly took my liter water bottles and top it off.  Two more liters and I was happy.  If I had chlorine tabs I would have been happier but I didn’t have much choice.  I saw the skiers make a wrong turn going left across the lake.  I kept the coast to my right and kept going till I saw the runway.   Once I hit the runway I was up to my waist in snow breaking trail.  I turned around and saw 5-6 lights following my trail.  I looped around to meet them and it was Geoff, Tim Hewitt, Anne and more.  The walkers caught up already!!  I was glad to see people but demoralized how slow I was going.   The benefit? They broke trail for me right through feet of new snow.  Once the trail converged with all the others at the end of the lake there was a biker party.  We were all in the same boat.  

The walkers out front and a train of bikers behind taking turns breaking trail.  We went like this all through dismal swamp and right before the drop down onto the Susitna  most everyone had bivied, except me Pete and Tim Bernston. None of us were tired enough to bivy and there was a thought that snow machines may have cut a trail on the river.  We stopped to make a fire and use a metal pot to make more water.  It took an hour and 40 minutes but we were all topped off and continued on to the Susitna.  We were now 15 hours into the race breaking trail only around mile 40.  We took turns breaking a deep trail until Craig Medred came through on snow machine at around noon.  Once he passed at least there was a trail to follow and we made better time but it was around then we started getting passed (again) by the walkers.  Lots and lots of them, all having bivied.  It was laughable.  We pushed on to Luces’ where we took a room had food and rested.  I slept 2 hours, Pete barely slept and was ready to go around 11pm.   I joined him while Tim stayed a little longer.   We were finally able to ride a little bit to the Yentna checkpoint.  We ate a little and then moved on hoping to ride more to Skwentna.  We rode off/on off/on & tire pressure up, tire pressure down for about 3-4 miles until it was back to: 1) pushing and 2) getting passed by walkers (again) who had rested in Yenta.  Arrrggghhh.
Here's what Hahnah drew which is an accurate depiction of my mind at this point

Tim Bernston caught up to us by now and it was something like 4 am.   We decided to do a longish bivy to get some rest since we all felt like this was counterproductive.  We slept a few hours and eventually pushed to a cabin with an open invite for racers.  They made soup, bread, coffee and even cookies.  It was a nice warm up.  Tim’s feet were blistered quite bad and he decided to stay behind.  Pete and I went on and were able to ride portions of the last 10 miles to Skwenta. There we had food and were gearing up to a supposed fast trail to fingerlake, or so we heard.   The tires were aired up and off we went.  I should say off Pete went like a bat out of hell.   Unfortunately, after a couple of miles we realized the trail was mush and it started snowing hard again.   The miles of swamp to the trees was a grunt and we ended up bivying again.  Eventually we made it to Shell Lake lodge to dry out and grab another cheeseburger.  I had spent almost $200 in food restocking my dwindling trail food and meals I would normally ride right by.  By 1pm we were on the trail, pushing.  The trail had not set up and we were passed again by walkers.  At about 10 miles out of fingerlake the trail, finally, was firm enough to ride and we motored into Fingerlake at around 10pm.  It was now 3 and ½ days into the race and only reached the 1st drop at 130 miles.  Pete won the race last year at this time.      

Saturday, March 10, 2012

ITI 2012, notes

Another ITI has passed into the recesses of my memory, and only my memory, as I did not bring a camera this year.  Pete posted a small video excerpt of us pushing on the Yetna here though.  
Similar to the 2009 race where a bunch of us pushed over Rainy in waist/chest deep snow, this year was a damn good time.  For some reason the ridiculousness of it all combined with the company (especially the company) made it tolerable if not downright humorous. 

It was insane, yet incredibly fun to hang with Pete B and, earlier, Tim B on what I term mostly a mancation. The times we were able to ride was super and reverted immediately back into race mode.  Yes, Pete is the animal we all know him to be especially riding.  I learned a ton watching how efficient he is riding … well except when he falls asleep at the wheel and crashes.  That Rohn ice was no match for Pete, he's an ox. There are a couple of laughs at that. 

As for me.  I did my share of falling with the clipless candies, my right foot did not disengage as easily. Overall, I felt good on the trail, the pushing didn’t bother me all that much but the passing of walkers did.  It helped motivate.  I used my heart rate monitor to regulate (except it went defunct out of Nickolai) and was useful but since we weren’t riding continuously it was hard to maintain consistency.   Same with nutrition, I did have edema at the latter 2/3 of the race and in McGrath had gained 14 lbs of water weight.  I used s-caps and tried to stay on top of the nutrition but it is practically impossible when you are pushing and bivying and just trying to stay awake.  I had some outstanding bonks.  One going to the top of Rainy and one massive one after I completely exploded racing out of Nickolai.  That was brutal.  

I’ll try to write something a little more thorough and without a camera I resorted to drawing stick cartoons to replace my lack of real pictures.  We’ll see how creative I am willing to be… For now back to a normal work week I have had time for reflection.

Did we really push at least 150 miles? Did we really have a race with walkers?  Do I really snore that loud?  Was I really in Maui the week before?