Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Path that led to The Plan.

The words below were written more for myself than anyone else. I wanted to trace where I'd been (on paper) to give myself a clearer view of where I'm heading. Seeing it all there in print made it clearer than ever. Rather than just deleting it, I thought a few folks might enjoy and even relate. So here it is. Be warned--it ain't short.

In 1997 I attempted but did not complete the 100-mile Iditasport--I shredded my knee when I accidentally stepped into a hole punched in the trail by a moose. In 1998 I went back to AK armed with experience and humility, and was able to finish the Iditasport 350. Far from scratching the itch, finishing only made the desire to attempt and execute a 'race' like this much stronger.

All through the summer of '99 I was fixated on heading north again to attempt to ride to McGrath. February came and I started the race, but despite all of my planning, training, and preparation, I met face to face with an unexpected adversary: extreme avalanche hazard. Having spent the previous six years backcountry skiing and diligently studying snowpack (independently and with the local professional ski patrol), I assessed the conditions and knew better than to take the risk. I dropped out of the race and flew back to Anchorage, then home to CO.

Voluntarily quitting something that is so dear to you leaves a hole that is unfillable by anything other than that which you have quit. There can be no substitution--you simply have to go back and do it. Starting in late March of '99 I began plotting and planning to return to AK to complete the ride to McGrath. Despite the fact that I had only made it ~180 miles into the '99 race, I still learned heaps and bunches about how to be better prepared for the conditions and scenarios encountered on The Trail. As I was making gear and diet and training changes, a funny thing happened. Then-Iditasport organizer Dan Bull announced that, in honor of the millenium (or something like that), there would be a one-time only race covering the full 1100-miles of the Iditarod. Knik to Nome, on snow, in February.

I can't speak for anyone else that heard that news at the time, but my blood ran cold. Knowing how hard it is simply to ride to McGrath, much less be in a hurry about it, I simply had no means for conceiving of how to train, plan, prepare, or more importantly grasp what the new race meant.

I simply knew that I needed to do it. That was enough.

No set or subset of words can sound anything but cliched when describing the experiences and impact that racing the '00 Iditasport Impossible had on me. It changed my life and my perspective on life on every level. More addicting than anything I'd ever known was the plan/prepare/execute opportunity that such an endeavor provided. No surprise that when Dan Bull announced the race would happen again in '01 I was thrilled and began preparations--in July.

The '01 race saw a ginormous field and atrocious conditions (captured brilliantly here) that, again, changed all the rules of what we (the regular addicts) 'thought' we knew. A single misstep ended my race and sent me home early yet again.

Guess what? Yep--I rehabbed my ankle and spent the summer thinking about snow while riding on dirt. Then in February of '02 I made the pilgrimage to Nome yet again. The trip was wild and chaotic and unpredictable and surreal and very satisfying. When I finished in Nome I felt certain that a chapter in my life was closing. I was not nearly as clear on what the next chapter held.

In 2003 I completed a brutal and brilliant winter tour with Pat Irwin, effectively sealing the I'm-done-with-racing deal. The hardships we encountered were as nothing compared to the amount that our eyes were opened. There was a whole world out there waiting to be explored--we just needed to slow down in order to be able to see it. Unless I'm mistaken, Pat hasn't raced since.

I had a few summer races in the hopper at the time and I needed to follow through on those before pulling the plug completely, but I was sure that winter racing was past tense.

I took the winter of 2004 off from racing. I skied backcountry and track, took road trips to fun winter riding spots, and just generally enjoyed the lack of training and constant need for preparation. Words can't describe the relief I felt at just being able to go with the flow for the first time in over 15 years. I was hooked.

In 2005 I was invited on a three-month tour/traverse of the Greenland Ice Cap, and spent the winter on cloud nine as the departure date approached. Last minute politics saw my spot get taken by an inexperienced yet close acquaintance of the trip organizer (I'm not bitter...) just one week before I was supposed to leave. Filled with emotions at this turn of events, I stomped around the house for a few days before L suggested I could still go to AK and tour to McGrath. Seemed like a great idea at the time, so I spent a day confirming a spot on the start line, buying a ticket to AK, and digging all of my dusty gear outta the rafters. Two weeks later the best result I'll ever have in that race only reconfirmed what I already knew: I didn't want to go fast anymore--I wanted to go slow and enjoy the journey.

I attempted two self-supported winter tours in AK in the winters of '06 and '07. I got slapped down hard by inexperience and ignorance on both, and have savored the learning process as much as ever before.

I have even bigger plans for future explorations--several years worth, actually. But for now I *know* that I don't know enough to embark on those trips with so much as a prayer of completing them. I have to continue experimenting, failing, and learning much, much more first.

Which means that this winter I'll be back in Alaska, out on the Iditarod Trail. I *think* that I'm prepared to be on the trail for as much as a month if need be, although that amount of time will be stretching my food, fuel, and luck pretty thin. I'll be trying to traverse the North Route completely self-supported--no outside assistance of any kind. I won't accept anything that I'm not carrying myself, I won't use trailside shelters nor stop into villages, and I don't plan to step inside of any structure other than my tent for the duration. My bike and gear (all 130# of it!) are 97% ready to go with a few weeks left until departure. As always, I'll continue to learn, tweak, and experiment with things right up until the day I leave, in hopes of enjoying the trip more when out there. Hoping to hit the trail on February 25th.

It has been pointed out to me that by using the packed trail left by other recreational users that I *will* indeed be accepting outside assistance. That's a pretty tough standard, and not one that I subscribe to. But it brings up a very good point: This is a contrived adventure, intended on the most basic level to simply give me a reason to get out of bed every morning. I'm enjoying the whole process--from planning and strategizing to having a compelling reason to get out the door when it'd be easier to stay inside and veg. Executing the trip is, in a way, merely a means of testing myself and the decisions I've made to get there. The trip is a success already in that it has kept me occupied, entranced, and passionate (not just about it, but about everything else in my life too) when it would be easier to do just about anything else. As a result, I don't care much about what others think of it.

When I explained what I had in mind for this winter, Bill Merchant jokingly referred to it as 'postgraduate work'. I like the sound of that--makes it sound like so much more than frittering about at the computer, in the shop, and on the trail.

Enjoy the winter--whatever you're doing with it.

MC

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Ironical.

Motoring along in my 1986 Nissan 2wd manual-everything pickup (having just ticked over 243,000 miles on the odo) yesterday, I stopped in Craig, Colorado for petrol. I was returning from Steamboat Springs, where I'd just picked up the most detailed and purpose-built snow-touring cycle I can imagine. The attention to detail and painstaking amount of labor have to be seen to be imagined, but (IMO) can still never be comprehended. Dispensing gas into the tank I chuckled a little thinking about the virtual pricelessness of the truck's cargo relative to the optimistic six hundred bucks the truck could fetch on it's own.

After topping off the tank I went inside to refill my external water jug and empty the internal container. As I exited the lavatory and strode up the junk-food aisle I had to step aside to let a large woman waddle past. In so doing I bumped into a rack and a pair of gloves fell to the floor. Bending down to pick them up, it occurred to me that for 2+ years I've been looking for just the right pair of gloves to use inside pogies when riding in strong cold. My current gloves are ok but they lack a certain je ne sais quoi and I've been on the lookout for a replacement set. I snatched them and stood back up, examining what had literally thrown itself at my feet. The tag read simply "Microfleece glove - $8.99".
I live 4 blocks from an REI, 10 blocks from a gucci mountaineering store, and less than 2 miles from a veritable plethora of high-end ski, board, hunt/fish/camp, and hiking retailers. Every few weeks I haunt each of these establishments looking for the necessities and niceties I need not just for touring, but for everyday recreational riding and commuting. In two+ years of looking, the closest I've come to glove nirvana has been at REI, where their $40 asking price for one pair seemed worthwhile only because no other glove has come close in performance.

A wry smile spread slowly across my face as I wiggled my hands inside at the Craig Loaf 'n Jug. Soft, fuzzy microfleece enveloped my fingers in warmth. In seeming defiance of the big brands they'd somehow managed to make them truly seamless on the inside. Roughly 1/8" of critical wiggle room was apparent at the end of each digit, the length of the gauntlet seemed custom-tailored to match the cuff on my riding jacket, and the price--well... who could argue?

The wry smile morphed into a shit-eating grin as I strode back out into the cold, towards the ancient pickup cradling the ti wonderbike, four-fiddy worth of priceless comfort on each hand.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Focus narrows.

Signing checks this AM forced me to write, ponder, then accept that it really is the 24th of January. Less than a month til shoving off for points north. Started to get a bit anxious about the nearness of the date and the amount of stuff still to be done (including a leg and lung transplant if last weekend was any indication of current fitness...). But then I checked myself and thought it through a bit more, with the conclusion that, fitness notwithstanding, the pieces and parts are all coming together with time to spare.Picked up my new frame pack a few days ago, expecting some uber-pogies from Eric tomorrow or Monday, have already dialed in the fit and position on the bike, not to mention all of the food is packed, the tent mods are done, and the Batsuit is 98% operational. A few more tweaks to some of the finer things and all of that stuff will be put to bed.Then I got an email from Brad with the pictures sprinkled throughout this post. In the pics the racks are not yet completed, but you certainly get the idea of how they're gonna look when done. He sent another email hours later letting me know that all was finished, so I'm trying to wrap up a productive week of wheel work early tomorrow PM in order to shove off and go pick it all up.If all goes to plan I hope to be riding the complete setup, fully loaded and operational, as early as Monday. Had I my druthers I'd have been riding and fine tuning it since November (of '05!), but life doesn't seem to work that way. Smiling as I type this, thinking back to the ride that has gotten all of it to this point, and grinning thinking about adventures yet to come with this rig and kit.Life is good. Hope you're enjoyin' it too...

G'night.

MC

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Relief.

Not too many people need the idea of a mid-winter break explained to them. I like snow (even shoveling it) and am glad to live in a place with 4 real honest seasons. I appreciate the winter even more when I can ditch it for a long weekend, recharge the batts, then come home ready to embrace the next two months of it.Drove down to SW UT and spent 4 days riding, eating, and sleeping. A smidge of bad TV was thrown in to remind us that we weren't at home.

Not a whole lot of need to attach superfluous words to this post when pics tell the story much better. I had the good fortune to ride with a coupla real strong guys that pushed me on the climbs, descents, and tech stuff. No one got hurt. Weather was mostly good. Everyone laughed lots. I couldn't have asked for more.






Thanks gang. Gotta do it again soon.

MC

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Hot diggity damn!

Not many words needed for this post, but I'm afraid I'll get carried away and use plenty anyway... While they were designed for lift-served schralping, Devin Lenz' skibikes are just a hoot no matter how you get to the top of the hill.I spent the morning pushing mine to the top (while being chased by and occasionally tackled by The Dog) so that I could carve, skid, and swoop my way down. Not sure there is a more fun way to 'train' for snowbike riding...

But I'm willing to learn...

Devin's been evolving these things for over 4 years (by my count anyway--potentially much longer by his). The first few times he mentioned them to me I only halfheartedly listened as I thought he was trying to convince me to use skis (instead of wheels) on my AK trips. Once I listened more closely I was interested, so I joined him for an on-mountain demo day and was just blown away.I've ridden various skibikes and ski bobs since I started skiing 25 years ago, and they were all sort of kind of neat in a novelty sort of way. But you couldn't really rip on them--you just kinda rode delicately and survived.

Devin's new bikes have nothing in common with the old-style bikes and bobs. See the vid below to understand what I mean. He's built several iterations of the frame, countless tweaks to the ski mounting and tensioning systems, and several different skis with different sidecuts to get them just right. It just blows me away that he makes the frames, fixtures, skis, saddles, etc... in house. I think the only things he doesn't manufacture personally on these bikes are the fork, shock, headset, stem, and bars.

For now, anyway...

The learning curve on these things is just unbelievably easy. Not to say that you can't stack and hurt yourself--hell you can do that with just two feet, no need for a contraption to facilitate it! I just mean that it takes all of about one run down a hill to grasp the basics of turning and stopping.Having only spent ~7 hours total on one (and spread out over 3 years...) I'm a pretty rank beginner. But still--I had no trouble carving and skidding turns on my first run down today, and by the end of the day I'd spent some time out in the chunk and freshies as well. The firmer the snow is (short of ice), the easier it is to learn the skills, but the more you learn the more you want to spend time out in the soft stuff. So the game becomes balancing the skills you have with the ones you want to have. Great fun.Here's some video that Devin shot of some of his buds riding last winter. It also answers a lot of the questions that people have--like how easy it is to get on and off of a lift.
I know that Vail, Copper, Winter Park, A-Basin, Telluride, and Durango/Purgatory all allow these on their lifts. Probably many others do too--call 'em to find out.

One of the best 'features' of Devin's creation is that you don't need to buy the whole bike to experience it--you can simply adapt his skis and peg system to your existing frame and fork. I was skeptical (for about 30 seconds) of the need for suspension, but I learned quickly that the more suspension you have the harder you can carve and still keep the skis sticking. Not to mention the obvious benefits of some squish when riding moguls or chunk, or hucking yourself off of cliffs...
Having ridden one of his team DH bikes with the adapter kit, and then experimenting with this dedicated skibike, there's no doubt that the dedicated one does a lot of things better--like short radius turns, bumps, and getting onto/off of the lift.

Probably sounds a lot like a sales pitch right about now, eh? Well, I'm not selling them, just really psyched to have one.

Heading to the desert this weekend to ride dry dirt in shorts, but really looking forward to getting back and doing more cross-training in the snow.

Cheers,

MC

Monday, January 14, 2008

And the beat goes on...

Made a marathon drive on Friday to Steamboat and back, so that I could get the Snoots back into the hands of its creator. Funny how I have this emotional attachment to my bikes, such that if they can't be safe at home, it's somehow acceptable for them to be back where they were born...?Although the mid-blizzard drive was too eventful for my liking, the end result is that Brad now has the bike and a clear idea of how I want the racks to perform. And he's not one to waste time--I got these pics this AM showing that he's well on his way.It's actually a very *good* thing that the bike is back up with Brad, as I have countless tasks to attend to here and the bike is only a distraction once the days ride is done. Lots of sewing lately--adding gussets to packs, length to stuff sacks, features to inner layers, insulation to outer layers, and padding to bars, grips, and gloves. As L puts it best, "You like to tinker". So true. If I think I can make a worthwhile improvement, I can't NOT attempt to. How could I sleep if I didn't find the answer for myself?!!!I got an email from a disgruntled gear fabricator today, essentially venting that his ideas were being stolen. While I wasn't the target of his venting, it occurred to me that there's one sure way to avoid having your ideas stolen--don't share them publicly! In that vein, there will be more photos of my winter expedition setup here as it comes together, but anything that I don't want seen or copied (or even pondered) simply gets cropped out and that's that.Hoping to get back up high with The Dog and a new toy in the next day or two. Most fun winter bike riding/cross training I can imagine--wait'll you see this!

Cheers,

MC

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Calories and compromise, part deux

When I spilled all of part one out of my head and onto the screen, I did it knowing that it was an incomplete work and still needed much explanation and qualification. Ya gotta understand the big picture before you can start amending it's components.

For starters, although the number of calories ingested *is* important, quantity is a long ways from being the only consideration. Many have helpfully suggested that I try their favorite goop (or powder) du jour as a magic bullet to get more calories in. And I know from experience that, if chosen properly, some of these concoctions work OK, but always at a price. However, the last time I was able to ingest anything goo-shaped was at a 24-hour race in '96, where I completed the race on 65 gu's (and nothing else) and then proceeded to nurse a 4-day 'gu-hangover'. And now I get a gag reflex anytime I see or smell anything remotely similar.

Powders, on the other hand, aren't necessarily offensive, but they are heavy, messy if improperly packed, and they still need to be rehydrated. But the biggest strike against them comes from the fact that they are what they are, and when calorically deprived and cold there's nothing satisfying about drinking, even if it is a calorically dense beverage. YMMV, but when I'm winter camping after working this hard, my body needs, nay, demands something solid to wrap itself around and gnaw on all through the night. So powders are out.

In short, I'll be eating real food--stuff that needs to be cooked, tasted, chewed, swallowed, and then belched as it begins to settle and stoke up my internal fire. But still the question remains: How much?

A big component of my eating strategy for this event comes from my unorthodox approach to eating when racing the last 15+ years: I don't need much. When I moved to the mountains in '92 I learned to ride long and with that I also learned to ride efficiently. Whether my HR is at 140 or 200 I'm still going slow, so I've learned to even out the high and low spikes and with that I eliminated the word bonk from my own personal vocabulary. I've finished the LT100, Soul Ride 100, VT 125, KTR, etc... etc... all on 300 or less calories, total. Out of curiosity I've done a few of these on zero calories--just to see if I could. At the end of each race my legs were tired and I was ready to be off the bike, but I hadn't lost so much as a pound, and was ready to ride again the next day. These examples are just to set the stage--I know darn well that a single day epic ride has little in common with sustaining that same pace for three+ weeks.

Critical to understand is that my AK expedition this year is a tour. I am not racing anyone or anything. The only reason I'll be paying attention to time at all is to check in with L on occasion, and to make sure that I'm out at least three weeks. Keeping to a slow burn (burning fat instead of muscle) when moving will mostly be a non-issue. There'll undoubtedly be a few moments of each day when I have no choice but to spike the heart rate to get up an icy, blown-out-by-slednecks hill or through some overflow, but that'll be easily offset by the amount of carbs I'm putting back in. I'm certain I'll be burning huge quantities of fat, and I think it's possible that between the kind and quantity of calories I'm taking in, the touring pace, and the amount of rest I'll get each night, that I may actually be recovering enough to be adding muscle mass for the first two weeks. At any rate, I don't think I'll lose much muscle out there when it's all over.

And I still haven't answered the question: How much?

I'll be consuming ~3300 calories per day for the first ten days, then about 3800 for the remainder. As far as packing on fat to 'consume' as I go, that's a trickier answer.

For starters, while I know I could easily put on the weight in a short time, I'm not going to do it. Partly because I wouldn't be able to fit into the clothes that I've evolved for this purpose over the years, and partly because the added weight would increase the pressure on my saddle and grips, resulting in more saddle sores and numbness/bruising in my hands. Another factor is that I'm necessarily hedging my bets: If I get stymied on this trip (as I did last year after deliberately gaining about 9lbs in advance) I don't want to come home frustrated *and* with moobs. Putting on weight is easy. Taking it off in a workday environment is not.

Lastly (at least of the reasons that I'm going to put 'out there'), I'm more than a little curious about the science project nature of all of this. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can go farther on a bicycle on a given amount of calories than 99.999% of the people on this planet. But I really want to know where my breaking point is. I don't think I'll lose that much weight. Assuming that I finish the tour (a bogglingly huge assumption) my best guess has me arriving in Nome 15-16lbs lighter than I started, and gaining back half of that from repeated sushi gorgings in Los Anchorage before flying home.

While weight loss will be on my mind throughout, I'm 100% certain that it will not be the crux of the trip.

MC

Buried.

I've lived in this valley for ten years and visited here for about 5 years before that. And I've never seen precip here like we've had since early December.Not to suggest that it's of biblical proportions--nothing of the sort. It's just significantly more than normal, and I've really been enjoying getting out into it.

Our local ski area is only about 30 minutes away by car, but it's also ~4000-6000' higher than the valley floor, and they've also received huge snow so far this winter. The Dog and I headed up early this AM and enjoyed a peaceful skin to the top with only a hawk and a raven for company. The deep snow slowed our uphill progress so that as we began the descent the unwashed masses were already being ferried up the lift. I typically try to be done before the lifts open, so as not to have to worry about Doogan getting in anyone's way. Anyhoo, it was great fun to be arcing turns through over-the-hood snow with Doogs bounding in my vapor trail, all while people hooted and hollered from above.

The snow wasn't completely untracked on the main runs and glades, so I snuck into a few of my favorite stashes to get some really deep turns. I'd dropped in and linked 8 or 10 of the best turns I'll get all year (chest deep on bent knee, with over-the-head shots in the pockets) and was already gasping for air when it occurred to me that Doogs wasn't going to do very well with this kinda snow depth. I pulled up short and starting calling for him. After an anxious 60 seconds he appeared as a silhouette on the ridgeline, tunneling, bounding, and plowing his way toward me, and unmistakably smiling the whole time.I stomped out a bit of a platform for him so that he could get up out of it, shake the accumulated stuff out of his eyes and nose, and just catch his breath. Then we dropped in again, and again, and again.

Not a bad way to start a day.

Calories and compromise Part 2, coming up next...

MC

Monday, January 7, 2008

Calories and compromise.

Say you wanted to take a long bike tour somewhere. Suppose it was a winter-ish trip. Let's assume that the place you're going is devoid of humans or structures. You'd not only be alone, but everything you needed on the trip would have to come with you right from the start.

With me so far?

You'd need to figure out all sorts of logistical challenges in the months and years leading up to the start. Getting there is one part, getting all of your stuff there is another. But before any of that can happen, you'd need to figure out what to take, what to leave, and how to carry all of it.At some point you have to sit down and make some educated guesses: How many calories will you need every day to maintain a pace that'll get you to the finish of your route? What kind of calories do you need--what ratio of carbs, protein, and fat? Will you need supplements to keep your body working after a week's worth of labor along the trail? When (during each day) will you eat? How will you prepare the food?

Lots of questions, with many 'right' answers to each of them. The only way to truly know any of these answers is to go out and complete the tour, taking some notes along the way. That's not an option here so you're back to making educated guesses.This is where it gets fun, or funny, depending on perspective. Based on past trips of a similar length and duration (but completed in a different style) I estimate that I'll need to consume about 8,000 calories per day to keep moving, keep warm and recover when sleeping, and to maintain a reasonable body mass throughout. On past trips I've eaten significantly more calories each day and not lost any weight, but there are differences: most of those calories were easily processed simple sugars, which kept the motor running but not running well.

An even bigger concern is that to carry enough calories in simple sugars would mean carrying hundreds of pounds of food. If you know anything about keeping a snow bike afloat on a gossamer thin crust, you know that this is simply not an option. Not to mention that you'd need to add even more food to account for the extra work you'd be doing to haul the hundreds of pounds of food to start with. Gah.Armed with this knowledge, the last two winters I've done several weekend overnights eating custom assembled (my own recipes) freeze-dried meals that I thought would be 'optimal' for such a trip. I learned quickly that I simply can't process 8,000 calories worth of this kind of food in a day while working this hard. So I adjusted each recipe and tried again. Couldn't even get 5,000 calories in. Went back and tweaked each recipe to get more carbs and fewer proteins and fats (carbs are much easier to digest when working), but it made little difference: I was still too physically full to take another bite. Not to mention significant GI distress.

Uh oh.

So now what? If you're gonna ride/push/drag a bike for 4 solid winter weeks, you gotta fuel the motor or you're not gonna make it very far. Carrying hundreds of pounds of food is not an option. Eating more is not an option.Some folks have addressed this issue by having food drops placed for them along their route. For this winter's trip I *could* feasibly do this, but for next winter's it is not possible. Besides, it seems more than a bit wasteful to employ multiple airplanes to support a recreational bike tour.

I can only think of one alternative: Hyper-loading.We're all familiar with the concept of carbo loading to theoretically store more glycogen for a ride, run, race, etc... Same theory here, but a slightly different execution. A pound of fat on one's person is worth approximately 3500 calories. In other words, if you burn 3500 calories you'll lose ~one pound. Most athletes don't have too much available in terms of extra calories to burn, but what if you could somehow gain a chunk of excess weight before your event, while still maintaining adequate fitness to complete the event?In this case, I don't see any other alternatives.

Knowing that:
-I need to be eating 8,000 calories per day for 25 days = 200,000 calories.
-I can only eat about 4,000 calories per day = 100,000 calories.

Means that I need to pre-store roughly 100,000 calories.Do the math there, and brace yourself for a grin: I need to purposely gain 28.5lbs!

Digest that (ha!) for now. More later.

MC

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The desert's always greener...

...or so it would seem. We're having a heckuva winter so far, with piles more snow and wind relative to the past ~10 years. Not a complaint, merely an observation. Lots of winter left to go, but I'm thinking we're gonna have a soopah spring wildflower season if the precip continues at anywhere close to this rate.

Enjoyed a fun ride from sunset into dark last night, then took the dog up to earn some turns on the Mesa this AM. As we labored up the hill, muscles trying to remember an activity that they don't get asked to do often enough, my mind was elsewhere: Summer. I guess I just have difficulty staying rooted in the present--in July I think of January, and vice versa. Couldn't begin to guess why, but it's pretty much always been that way: Growing up in MI I'd be swimming while thinking of hockey or skiing, then sledding while dreaming of football. Huh.

So please indulge me if I tend to post summer-related pics on the masthead above. Maybe you're thinking summer too?

Need to crunch some numbers the next few days, with respect to food, fuel, and calories for the upcoming AK spedizione. I'll share when it gets to that point--some fun stuff to think about.

A very, very happy dog in the snow this AM.
Master (at least in his pea-sized brain) of all he surveys.

Dogs don't have fat skis. He wallowed where I floated, giving me a chance to catch my wind and snap some pics, as well as merely soak up a few precious hours in the alpine.
Cheers,

MC

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Multisport vacation.

Much of the year I choose to travel and recreate in some pretty stunning places. Utah, New Mexico, and Alaska, for the most part. Occasionally other destinations find their way in to the mix--California, Nevada, British Columbia, Montana, Wyoming, Arizona, etc... It's no secret that I've been smitten by the Mountain West for almost 20 years, and I can see little reason to change that. It suits me.

But then when the holidays show their face each year I often get guilted or brow-beaten into heading back to the midwest to visit family. It is not a trip I would make voluntarily: having lived and explored there for the first 21 years of my life, I no longer derive joy from being there. Too many people, too much traffic, too little diversity both culturally and recreationally. A cultural discussion in MI, MN, or WI often revolves around debating the merits of Ford vs. Chevy, or (this time of year) Polaris vs Yamaha.

Heady stuff.

To be clear--I love seeing my family and catching up with old friends, I just want a change of venue. Two years ago we all met in Steamboat and skied, tubed, and ice skated during waking hours, then casually lounged around a condo and shot each other with rubber bands while intermittently grazing and napping. All agreed it was a great trip. Needs to happen again.

Random Midwestern Musing: People still smoke? Unreal. Speechless, actually... Reminds me (stop me if you've heard this one...) of a phrase uttered by a good friend a few years ago: "The tragedy is not that smoking kills, but that it doesn't kill quickly enough...".

Harsh words to some, I'd guess.

In order to maintain some semblance of sanity while visiting there, I have no choice but to diversify my routine a bit. Of the 14 days we were gone, I ran on 12 of them (gasp!), rode on 5, and skied once. I also think that Midwesterners were given a memo informing them that eating is soon to be an Olympic sport--we ate like there were scouts watching.

The quintessential midwestern winter driving experience: wind-polished black ice, white knuckles, and a 40mph top speed:
Classic Michigan winter weather: a foot of snow falls, followed by an inch of rain that knocks down 97% of the snow and turns everything into a brown-ish skating rink, followed by another ~8" of snow atop that skating rink. Rinse and repeat through March.
One of the highlights of this year's trip: skating virgin groomies in WI (at the tail end of an 8" snowfall) with two buds that were kind enough to supply gear and wait for me while using it. Beautiful evening cut short by a lack of glycogen--I'd squandered a pile of it running around Millennium Park in Chicago that afternoon.
Ahhh--Minnesota. Gray skies, 80% humidity, and 1 degree with a sharp north wind, accentuated by a tree stand, some white pines, and a freshly groomed sledneck trail. Only way to improve this scene is to add a lake, a fish house, some Swisher Sweets and a buncha PBR's. That's livin'.
The last day's ride featured 3 degree temps, 40mph winds, and lotsa black ice. The sledneck trails had been drifted in, so I had no choice but to ride road. As awful as those conditions sound, the 'epicness' of the ride was it's saving grace: The only reason I managed to stay out for two hours was because the wind and cold kept it interesting.
After the ride we ate, packed up, ate again, said our goodbyes, had a snack, then drove for the better part of two days through similar conditions to get back home.

Did I mention above that the mountain west suits me a bit better? To all of those still living in the upper midwest, hats off to you for sticking it out. I simply couldn't do it anymore.

MC