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Saturday, August 15, 2015

ITI 2015 Rubish

Life is busy and I can't believe I let another great race hanging.  It's taken me a while to post thoughts about this year's ITI.  I worry I will forget funny and important elements so here is another excerpt.
McGrath - Galena 

In McGrath I immediately began getting ready for the run to Ruby by drying out gear, prepping food and chipping ice off my bike.  Yes, the temps were so warm that the ice buildup from Nikolai was impressive and…. odd.  I think I chipped off pounds of ice from my rims, drive train and under my OMM rack.  I have never seen ice buildup that prevented me from clipping in to my pedals. 

Inside I ate generously and enjoyed the wonderful atmosphere.  I heard JP already moved on to Takotna, an excellent strategy for the Nome race.  It’s impressive to get in and out of McGrath.  My drop had arrived, thank goodness, as opposed to last year; however, Jeff’s didn’t and he had to scrounge up a drop- like I did last year.  We also found out that, because of weather, the Wolf Kill drop was not in yet. Flying apparently was less than favorable…. I thought, "this will be interesting."  

I slept till about 4 or 5 am followed by another eating binge before departing to Nome.  At the breakfast table we were chatting with Jay C who came in recently. He was celebrating a finish with an impressive coffee mug full of whiskey.  Celebrations for those at their race end certainly makes it more difficult to depart.  I was anxious to leave.  JP had a significant lead on us already. Jeff and I left McGrath and for the first time in four races to Nome I left McGrath feeling…. well, decent.  No saddle soreness. Rested. I had food.  Did I mention, no saddle sores? 

We plugged along and as Jeff had adjusted his bike I led on and was kind of zoning when I dropped down on the Takotna river.  It was fast and I was cruising but also was not paying attention and took a wrong turn and went up the river instead of going straight.  I realized my mistake after a good mile and turned around.  Eventually, I caught back up to Jeff where we had a good laugh about it.  Takotna came and went.  The weather was weird.  It was raining. 

After Takotna we began to see JP’s tracks and guessed, using rain/snow as a guide, how much of a lead he had.  The trail was soft in spots- some pushing, some grinding, some falling-  but overall not a bad run.  The ghost town of Ophir, also, came and went.  This was the first time I passed through Ophir in the day light and fascinating how different it appears.  The first Innoko River crossing was half overflow.  Every river and creek crossing had some deep water that while ok to ride was unnerving. The warm weather was disconcerting. The next 20 miles of trail deteriorated dramatically and the little base there was melted rapidly into slush and bare tundra.  The Carlson crossing cabin at mile 27 'post Ophir' was a quick stop to melt snow and make food.  It was dark  by then and the following miles were mind-numbing with falling snow and bare tundra.  Jeff zoned out to tunes and I just zoned out.  It was technical, challenging.  Riding with falling snow made it hard to focus.  The snow kept coming down harder and filled the ground quickly.  As we made our way closer to the second Innoko cabin we almost passed the drop… it was in the wrong place and the snow had a covered it up pretty good.  It should have been at Wolf Kill Slough about 10 miles after the 2nd cabin but we guessed the weather had forced the plane to land.  While it was too soon for a resupply we counted our blessings the drop was there.  The snow coverage and location made the drop hard to see and we found existing reflective lathe to mark it so other racers would be able to see it.  We rode on and bivied directly on the trail, a decent haul from McGrath despite conditions. The warm weather made things messy and wet but we were confident the snow would let up.  Neither of us were aware of the weather forecast.  

Leaving Ophir heading into the Innoko
The rest of the night snow kept coming down and there was a fair amount on our sleeping bags in the morning.  We plowed ahead. Signs of JP disappeared under the snowfall.  At the second cabin we melted snow then something happened to my stove.  Not sure what.  The fuel just stopped flowing. Luckily, it was enough to fill my water and get a couple of good meals in…. I didn’t consider my stove acting up a dilemma worthy of tending to and we moved on. 

The trail was slow going and quite the grind.  Poorman passed in the dark.  We made the beginning of the Sulatna Crossing. I  kept thinking the trail would get better but the snow just kept coming down.  Our pace was steady and we pushed to make ground on JP.  The trail was what I call, 'the law of common endurance'.  This is where the conditions force racing together only because conditions can't dictate a break away. This year, different than the last-- well every year is different- but it was slower due to weather and trail.  Later in the race Jeff's break away attempts, in my opinion, were legendary.  If I dare speak for him he got completely hammered by inhuman conditions... but I am foreshadowing.    

The beginning of the “road” to Ruby has some nice pine trees that make a good bivy spot. It was 2 or 3 am but, overall, we were still banking good sleep—running about 17 hrs a day with 4-5 hrs sleep.  The temps continued to be warm and the snow would not let up.  I made a nice nest of pine boughs (see below) and was looking forward to a meal of Mountain House stroganoff. 

"My Nest" Photo taken by Pavel R
Uh yeah, my stove wasn’t working.  Huh.  Again, I wasn’t too concerned. Jeff was nice enough to let me use hot water to trade out stove fuel.  The next morning we moved down the trail toward Ruby hoping to reach the village that day.  It was slow going but we were able to ride.  From this moment till the end of the race the trail was persistently A GRIND.  For those that don’t know what a grind is, the snow is deep or without a base.  It's barely enough to ride but the tires are basically aired down as much as possible and every pedal stroke feels like a steep uphill.  In fact downhills have to be pedaled- there is no coasting, no “on-step”, nothing ridden over 5 mph and I sure would love to have a power meter to measure watts.  It’s probably through the roof. (In 2012 Pete Basinger and I pushed almost the whole way to McGrath together, I think of him often during difficult conditions because he amazes me how he could just grind through anything).  

Snowstorm -- this was taken by Pavel in the same storm. It's an excellent depiction.  
There is a 12 mile uphill leading over a windy pass. On the downhill side I couldn’t stop wiping out. The snow machine track buried under the growing pile of snow would throw me into huge bottomless pits of powder.  We pushed it and the snow made the trail deeper.  I was surprised we were still able to ride, though it was super taxing.  The effort level increased exponentially and the speed dropped to 3 mph.  It was here (I think) I started to dig a nutrition hole that almost did me in on the Yukon.

We were focused on making Ruby and the snow was coming down in buckets. The closer to the Yukon we rode the greater the intensity of the storm.  When we hit the downhill the pavement felt freeing! By the time we reached the runway the snow was a total white-out and the deep drifts pulled my wheel for one more fantastic wipe out. I was glad to hit town at an early still 8pm.  Again we made good time considering the conditions and lengthy rests.  When we got to our contact in Ruby, Scotty. 

We were ramped up to hit the Yukon right away.  We heard JP arrived just 2-3 hrs earlier.  Jeff’s drop was at Scotty’s but mine wasn’t…. uh-oh.  Again, I say "uh-oh" now, but I actually wasn’t worried during the race, it happens to me all the time.  I can make it to Galena and stock up at a store or pick up my drop there.  I scrounged some left over drop from Jeff and felt fine with the amount.  Retrospectively…. that hole just became bigger. I was focused more on getting a jump on JP. 

Jeff and I debated going on the river but the problem was there was a big storm.  We would definitely be bivying on the river in 3-4 hrs instead of making it in one shot.  Thinking back on this part I wonder if we should have just left.  Could we have edged ahead of the storm or would the bivy itself been more taxing (ie., time-suck) experience.  As it turned out we slept wonderfully till about 4am, a little too long, and were out on the river by (a late) 5-ish.  The trail was hard to find after the first bend and we noticed a light behind us. JP was catching up.  We were out first! Yay. But the soft trail and…well… no trail.... a wrong turn... and it wasn’t long before we were all together.  The trail was hard going for me and I believe I was more focused on maintaining than eating.

Now, I am with two super fast racers and it's that much harder to keep up.  I don't have the power these guys have and any inefficiency, stop, pee break, etc... becomes an exponential exertion to catch-up.  The snow was still coming down and the headwind was steady.  Then, 10 miles from Galena I got a flat.

Me (fluorescent) and JP on the Yukon. Jeff's weaving tracks in foreground

Monday, April 13, 2015

PT- ITI 2015

It’s been a month since this year’s grueling Iditarod trail invitational experience.  Processing, 'debriefing' on the phone or email with Jeff, night sweats, 15 lb weight loss, energy fluctuations, body temperature fluctuations and staring into space make it seem more like PTSD than a post race recovery.  Physical recovery this year was actually much better than last year but it’s been hard to merge back into ‘the real world’.  I think I am finally ready to write about it and hopefully can do it in one sitting so I don’t abandon another write up. 

Last Year
It’s been a long time since I sat in front of my computer to write on this site.  I can hardly believe that I left last year’s ITI race hanging as well as the ironman write up and the Deering Trip.   

While last years ITI, a virtual speedway ice course, was my fastest time into Nome at 12 days and change I was plagued with physical ailments.  I had granulating oozing saddle sores that only let me ride standing up, my typical horrible edema, bad hand numbness and yes, I got ‘lost’ for a wee bit during the ocean ice crossing in a blizzard to Koyuk.  I would like to write that up in detail sometime because it was a good lesson.  I was complacent with the familiarity of the coast, a dangerous place to be comlacent and the experience humbled me.  I had retreated to the shelter cabin by reindeer cove 14 miles outside of Shaktoolik shattered, vision failing (thought I frost bit my eyes) and assured I would have to lay in my sleeping bag till someone found me.  Certain it was race-over. But I recovered and ended up in Koyuk- a 24+ hr ordeal that almost initiated a search party. 

That was last year. 

This Year
This year I wanted to recoup another trip to Nome. I wanted to place better than 3rd. I wanted to try the southern route. And I wanted to start in better physical shape. I ended up with 2 of the 4.  

I was healthier this year, had longer rides and felt in better shape, thanks to LW.  I also managed to get a new bike—a last minute decision based on finances BUT Greg at Speedway worked wonders and my new Corvus was ready to roll.  The bike was insane and rode like a dream.  Huge Thanks to Greg! Although in typical 'me' fashion I did not ride a mile on it before the race…. You’d think I’d learn. 

Eric the Great at Relevate Designs made me a frame bag and saddle bags from ultralight cuben fiber. They were unbelievable. Light and roomy. I was able to pack my bike to the point where I didn’t have to trim because of room but had to trim because I HAD room and wanted to reduce weight! AND I didn’t have one thing strapped to the handle bars. Thank you Eric!

The saddle bags were a dream to put food and bulk in and out easily during the course of the race.  My setup was so much better than last year, I was pleased.  The only decision I had to make was which saddle to take. I previously used the Adamo saddle with cutout but all my training rides were on a traditional road saddle.  I never made the switch because oddly I found that the road saddle caused no soreness.  When I did switch to my adamo it was uncomfortable.   So I kept the road saddle.  The best decision ever.  Along with Greg’s recommendation of bag-o-balm and the saddle I had NO problems.  I could ride all day seated if I wanted.  A first.

Good Decisions:
Other good decisions:
·      two different bike shorts.
·      a pair of light micro-puffy shorts made by LaSportiva.  I always find my light bibs give me a cold butt but I don’t want to add a base layer. The shorts have side zips too and between the bib zips and short zips I can ride in … lets say 40 degree heat of mid-winter (like outside of Rohn) down to -40 with only an additional base layer and zipped up  (like on the Yukon).  I only had to pull my puffy pants for bivies.
·      I also padded the heck out of my handlebars with pipe foam—5 layers instead of my usual 2 or 3.  BEST decision, no hand numbness at all. 

This winter in Nome was the best riding season I have seen because a couple of early storms in November dropped some snow cover, followed with cold snaps and then, basically, no snow.  The trails were hard packed, fast and allowed good rides.  Not as good as Fairbanks riding but still good for Nome.  About a month before the race the temps started rising and… uh-oh it was weeks of above freezing temps, rain, overflow galore. Iron dog was a glorified mess of open water and raw tundra and dirt. Iditarod moved their race to Fairbanks for the start and that left the ITI to assume the northern route following irondog.  The reassurance of a full battalion of dog mushers and trail breakers will not be there this year. A snow storm in the wrong spot during the ITI (pre-ruby) and one could really be snowed in.... which became a reality to a few.

Many ITI racers were talking about rain gear and wiggies up to the hip.  Luckily the temps started dropping, froze overflow and the trail.  The race lineup was heavy with fast fast fast racers.  Raceday was glorious and thank you Dave again for driving me to the start line and Mike for hosting me. 

The Race Start
Before I knew it the race started.  Per the usual, I fell on the ice before leaving knik lake, a tradition it seems for me.  I ended up riding the route of the old Iditarod trail with Jeff and Heather instead of the road and powerline trails to flathorn.  I have tried this trail a few times and always thought that on a hard packed year the shorter traditional route would be faster.  I can say with absolute certainty this is not true.  We came out on flathorn believing we were seeing leaders crossing the lake but it was actually mid pack.  Wow.  Bad move.  I was also having problems with my drive train at this point.  I didn’t know what it was but my freehub ‘froze’ in place and turned my bike into a fixie that dropped the chain if my legs didn’t keep up.  It was weird.  I arrived at Yentna at 8:10—2 hrs behind the lead group. I moved on to Skwentna in fixie mode and got there around midnight.  Just in time to see JP leave after he slept for 2 hrs.  I was concerned about the hub and thought I should call Greg and have a freehub sent to ...well I didn't really know where.  I would just have to ride fixie till then, at least it wasn't free spinning.  Fortunately, when I left Skwentna the problem resolved itself.  I shrugged my shoulders and said “cool”.  I’m no Pete Basinger mechanic btw.  (Over the course of the race it occurred intermittently and turned out it was a broken pawl in the hub that bound it up at times.  Eventually after Koyuk I ground the piece to a pulp and voila excellent operation.)  At shell hills it was late but I wasn’t tired and kept moving. I was risking a lack of rest (for Nome at least) to keep moving but it was warm enough to bivy anywhere quickly if I needed.  Moving towards Fingerlake I saw a light heading in the opposite direction directly at me.  That was interesting.  It was a bike and when he rode up he said he was Toni Lund and missed the turn on the lake following someone else’s tracks.  He made it up on the trail but headed in the wrong direction.  I kept moving toward Finger getting there around 6 or 7am.   A bad time to try to sleep but managed maybe an hour and left around 10:30.  I was not feeling particularly strong and my stomach was upset.  The happy steps went ok, Jeff and Heather caught me at Shirley lake when I had to unpack all my gear to get my bike up a super steep hill, really a cliff that has a lot more snow typically to at least push the bike up.  We helped each other up and then traveled to Rainy lodge around 3:30 in the afternoon.  
somewhere between Rohn and Nikolai.

Leaders were blazing fast leaving puntilla 6 hrs ago! I was glad, at least that I was running around 10th instead of 21st like the first checkpoint at Yentna.  Jeff, Heather and myself left Puntilla at 4:30-ish and  rolled into Rohn midnight or 1am maybe? I actually can't remember the run to Rohn, which is why I wrote a single sentence.  Huh, weird. Still a surprising fast run considering the sketchy conditions in the Dalzell.  I had 2 awesome brat dogs and slept really well for 4 hrs.  My stomach felt horrible though when I woke and was grateful Toni Lund was there to offer up some tums.  I left Rohn sometime in the early morning.  Daylight came and the weather changed to a snow and blow.  The temps were still warm (at one point we saw a mosquito) but I felt bad for anyone heading over the pass as I think the conditions up there deteriorated.  I joined up with the Heather and Jeff and we more or less rode to Nikolai together.  When we started hitting the tussoks after buffalo camp I finally started feeling better.  My stomach was improving and I was able to ride stronger.  We got into Nikolai in the early afternoon —super fast time in comparison to “normal” years and left with Charly Tri an hour later.  The group  dropped me easily and was only able to catch up at their breaks.  I had to check a couple of times how fast we were riding and they were hitting 12-13 mph the closer to McGrath we got, while I was lucky to hit 10 or 11.  Fast for me.  We all ended together but I was certainly the slowest of the bunch.  We finished McGrath at 10pm in 2 days 8 hrs…. whaaaat??  That’s my fastest time to McGrath. I was floored at the speed of the lead group at 1 day 18hrs…?!? faster than sled dogs… insane.  The temps were insane too, high 40’s.  Next up…. The race to Nome: -40/-50 temps, snow storm, grinding, edema galore and a doggy encounter…. I guess I couldn't do it in one sitting, my mind is fried. Hopefully I’ll keep writing this one…it gets good, meaning brutal.
overflow after Rohn