Saturday, January 31, 2009

Dumb stupid dumb head. Then, Arrowhead!

So there I was, sitting in bed last Saturday night. A long week and a long day meant that I was cooked and should have been asleep already. L slept next to me and Fang snored while draped across our feet. It was past midnight but my mind was atwitter with a handful of ideas, most of them AK-related. I'd been doing 'research' on these ideas (via the laptop) and had just closed down the last browser window in preparation for sleep.

For several months this little event in MN had been bouncing around in the back of my head. It has existed for a few years and has already created it's own niche in the creative subconscious of most long-distance racer nerds as an unpredictable and very likely brutally cold event. That last is what has kept it in the back of my mind.

So, trusty mouse at the ready, instead of closing the laptop I opened a new browser and started searching flights.,,, Travelocity, Expedia, Priceline, etc... In all I think I had ten browsers going, flitting back and forth between them while changing dates and arrival/departure times, all in what I knew to be an ultimately futile effort because I didn't have time to go to MN for a week. Part of the reason that I've not yet been up to MN for the Arrowhead is that it falls so close to the start of the AK Idita events. No need nor sense in packing too many on-snow events into a winter, much less a couple of weeks.

More clicking, typing, cutting-and-pasting, I was a model of efficiency. Kind of like playing with E-Trade or somesuch, keeping in mind that it was all a simulation and I was just checking for grins and giggles.

Note to self: A mouse is a dangerous thing. So is an ignorant nincompoop.

The prices were roughly similar whether I flew straight outta GJT (~3 miles away) or drove to Denver Int'l (~5 hours away this time of year). More clicking, tweaking of dates, tweaking of times, switch browsers, click some more, yawn, yawn again, eyes droop, snap awake. "Finish what you're doing and go to bed, ya dolt!"

So with a few clicks I'd closed the bulk of the browsers but one of them was asking for more info "To give you the BEST fares!!!" Not remotely cognizant that what I was NOW doing was no longer a simulation but the real thing, I entered the required digits and then clicked submit. I waited a few moments expecting the now-familiar sample itineraries and prices to pop up, but the next screen to load was different.

What's that it says? "Congratulations!"???

Wait, what's this? ""Your tickets are confirmed, here is your itinerary..."

Uhhhhh... Wait, what?

I read most of the way through it, then started over because (duh) I wasn't clearly processing everything I was reading. I'd just *bought* these tickets? Looking closely the info all seemed somehow familiar but...

...did I really *buy* them?

Had I read the fine print on I would have had no doubt about what I'd just done. I'd bought non-refundable and non-changeable tickets to Minnesota.


Suddenly, brutally awake, I read through more of the blasted fine print to verify that indeed I owned these tickets and there was no changing them now.


And then, like a runaway truck on an ever-increasing grade, all that needed to happen came rushing into my pea-sized brain: Rent a car in MN, finish sewing all of the snow-riding gear that's laid dormant since March, get hotel rooms, waterproof the sleeping bag, remember where the windproof undies are, mix up some freeze dried meals, build and ship 30+ wheels, dozens of tires, a few bikes, place a month worth of hub, rim, and shipping supply orders, etc...

And, oh yeah--the bike. In order to get it there in time it would need to be boxed up and in the UPS man's hands by Monday morning. Gah--that's 30-odd hours away.


Sleep didn't much happen that night, as I was out in the shop and down in the office throwing stuff into piles to help expedite getting it out the door. The bike did make it to UPS in time and was delivered after close of business on Friday night in Minneapolis. And now I sit typing and still shaking my head about my dimwittedness while waiting for a plane in Denver.


Long exhale... breathe innnnnnnn... outttt.





I'm still a thousand miles from the MSP airport and then I've got a 6+ hour drive on icy roads to get to the race start. Somewhere in that distance I'll make the necessary mental transformation and be ready to go. That's what I keep telling myself.

If you're so inclined you can follow along starting Monday at 7AM CST. Be warned that merely associating with someone so incompetent can lead to immediate and irreversible loss of IQ. The race website will be posting some sort of updates (link at top of page, or *maybe* HERE) as things progress, but since I'll not be remotely near the leaders you'll likely have better luck keeping track HERE.

Although I've been to MN many, many times and even lived in The Cities for a year, I've never been north of the Iron Range (dontchaknow) nor to the Boundary Waters. This event will essentially traverse between the two, providing a great opportunity to see a little of both. Yes, I'm starting to look forward to it...



Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Salmon River Swamps to Guitar Lake.

I had the presence of mind to be repeatedly thankful as I packed my gear in the anxious darkness of the wee hours. A place for everything and everything in its place rings hollow in our chaotic world (or merely as the mark of an OCD mind run rampant) but with 60+ mph winds and way-below-zero temps this was no dress rehearsal. Having refined my gear and carrying 'systems' umpteen times over the past several years paid untold dividends all in the few minutes between departing the bag and pushing the loaded bike away from camp. At those temps and with those winds one mistake can cost minutes but only seconds are needed to freeze digits. Gear was stowed, fingers didn't freeze, and I was moving toward Nikolai before a single shiver worked itself 'neath my layers. Small victories = priceless.

No surprise that continued movement still meant pushing the bike--the wind still raged out of the east while the trail arrowed NE. Every loose granule of snow from Talkeetna to Nenana was headed this way, and as those granules crossed The Trail some of them decided to stop and hang out for awhile.

After ~12 hours of big winds it was still easy to see where the trail had been, but because it sat under 8+ inches of unconsolidated (and unwilling-to-be-consolidated) drift, riding the bike was impossible. No choice but to push, so push is what I did.

Honestly, pushing was fine. I was happy to have a simple, concrete purpose to work toward instead of fruitless mental meandering inside the tent.

That sense of purpose lasted almost to sunrise. The return of el sol didn't bring much in the way of warmth, but it *did* allow me to think past the immediate situation and realize that this kind of wind would make tent and stove repair simply impossible. The conundrum worked out like this: I couldn't fix my shelter without shelter, and until the former existed I couldn't properly address fixing the stove.


Dwelling on the seeming hopelessness of the situation only served to depress me, but without a clear cut solution I couldn't put my limited mental capacities to work on anything else. A mountain or a cloud to stare at might have been enough to allow my mind a degree of two of lateral drift. Sort of like using peripheral vision to navigate on a dark and cloudy night--you need to be able to focus on something else for a spell in order for what's front-and-center to become apparent.

But there were neither mountains nor clouds visible--nothing to remove my focus from the downward spiral I'd allowed it to begin.

But then there was something else: A sled and sleeping bag stretched onto the trail. My first reaction was an agitated verbal "WTF?". Besides being a good way to get run over, spreading your camp onto the trail is just inconsiderate. Before my agitation ran away with itself the thought occurred that maybe all was not well ahead. With each step closer it became obvious that all was not well. The gear in the trail wasn't incidental or accidental, it had been placed there to make this spot unmistakable. Something was wrong.

It was Anne. Sometime in the night her eyes had gotten funny on her. Whether she couldn't see at all or merely couldn't focus was unclear. She'd slowed to a stumble and at some point Alessandro had caught up to her. She explained that she'd communicated her problem well enough that he had at first tried to lead her along (him walking his bike, her holding the back of it) but that hadn't worked so he'd helped her bivy and then took off to get help.

Hearing her tell it and seeing her lying there comfy in her bag made me wonder how bad it could be? She sounded fine. She looked fine. She'd been napping when I rolled up, and seemed annoyed that I'd interrupted. Impatient seems a more apropos description but they both fit--she didn't want to talk, at least not to me. I can't put words to the exact thought process that followed, but her actions, words, and body language led me to wonder if she'd just gotten demoralized last night and given up?

If she had merely thrown in the towel I wasn't here to pass judgment. IMO Rohn to Nikolai is the crux of this course and the traveling conditions hadn't been easy. I offered eye drops but she didn't want to try them--seemed to not want me there at all. Huh. So I verified that she had all she needed, dropped a waypoint on the GPS, then walked on up the trail.

A mile or so later it occurred to me that Alessandro's limited English might prove a hindrance in motivating anyone in Nikolai to come to Anne's rescue. So I doubletimed my marching pace, unsure if she really needed help but unwilling to let my doubt have an impact on the outcome.

A few hours later I walked up the bank into Nikolai, then tottered awkwardly onto the bike and out the plowed road toward Petruska's. As I approached the house two men left it on a snowmachine with a basket sled. They stopped and asked if I'd seen her, I nodded yes then glanced at the GPS and gave them the exact mileage. Their body language made it plain they didn't want to be out here for any reason, but they dutifully headed out of town in Anne's direction.

That done, I turned the bike around and headed for McGrath. Remember the wind? That which had kept me awake all night, collapsed my tent, and impeded my progress for much of the last day? It was suddenly, giddily at my back as the trail turned due west.

Translation? Absolutely flying. The outbound river trail had been scoured clean so rolling resistance was nil--I even took the time after a pee break to air back up to 15+, and then went even faster.

Motoring along (mostly on the Kuskokwim) for the next two hours was effortless--so much so that I was shocked to realize I'd be into McGrath (assuming current pace) in about 3 hours. Mid-afternoon, at any rate. Thinking about *that* made me realize I'd been subconsciously considering what I'd do when I got there. I knew only that I needed the tent and stove functional and dependable to continue beyond McGrath, and fixing them before I arrived would eliminate the need to ask for help.

It was just that simple--I had to act as if there was no help available, and solve the problems myself.

Easier said than done, always...

Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Sixth Night.

Throughout the day I'd been unsuccessful at every attempt to light the stove, and once inside the relative shelter of the tent my luck was no better. It caught and flared precisely once before abruptly flaming out, and no amount of pumping, priming, cursing or praying made a dent in its resolve to remain unlit. 15 minutes of futzing and fiddling brought me no closer to a solution, that time merely served to underscore the importance of this now useless item. I set it aside, turned off my headlamp, and zipped up the bag.

Dropping off to fractured sleep wasn't difficult but the incessant gusting wind ensured that deep, restful z's never came. I tossed and turned and held my breath as the gusts came stronger and stronger, exhaling in the lulls as long as the tent remained erect.

The wind buffeted, the tent held, I'd fade into blissful non-sleep, then the next gust would hit and I'd stare tensely, wide-eyed into the dark, at the nothingness above my head. I relaxed myself with the knowledge that at least the tent was upright and I was warm inside the bag. In reality, nothing was *wrong* per se--things just weren't completely *right*.

Lying inert will never be confused with sleeping, but at least I wasn't schlepping the bike over and through drifts, and my body was thankful for the downtime. Lying still, thinking, trying to sleep--all of it was fruitless against the gnawing hunger in my gut. The moment my stove had sputtered out the night before was the moment that I became acutely aware of how little food I'd been consuming daily.

My self-imposed (read through the two "Calories and Compromise" posts to understand why) limit of 3300 calories per day had seemed, thus far, to be more than adequate. After dinner each night I'd been stuffed so full that breathing was labored, and throughout each day I'd had energy and chutzpah to spare.

Now, however, with ~two days passed and many more miles covered, but WITHOUT any calories getting put back in, my body let me know that it wasn't happy. Shivering even though I was warm in the bag, aching legs and knees (both muscle and joint pain) begging for fuel to repair the daily damage, and above all else that gaping emptiness in my belly screaming out to be filled. Between gusts I'd run the numbers in my head: Two days travel equals ~16,000 calories burned, two chocolate bars consumed equals ~1000 calories replaced. Even in my semi-sleep stupor I was able to calculate the difference and there's no way to spin a two-day/15,000 calorie deficit to make it appealing. Not here and not now anyway... More gusts, more staring, hold breath, wait for lull...

The terrific noise of tent fabric flapping obscured the sound of footsteps approaching. I didn't know Alessandro was standing over the tent until his voice startled me alert. "'ello!? Mike?!!?" Though the wind carried much of it away, what was left was unmistakably laden with anxiety. "Yes, Alessandro! Y'alright?" His response couldn't even be classified as 'verbal', for no known word was uttered. But the hesitance, uncertainty, anxiety, and fear all shown through as he exhaled a simple, "Ehhhhhehehummm??" His limited english and my non-italian made for an awkward few moments where I attempted to explain that this semi-sheltered spot was the best he could expect for the next several hours. Somehow he 'got it' and started unpacking bivy gear in the relative 'shelter' downwind of my tent.

Perhaps it was my full-awake status but the gusts seemed to come harder and stay longer, rendering further communication impossible. I zipped the tent door closed to help stabilize the structure, then just lay there and listened.

Moments (or hours? who can tell?) later I snapped to attention at the sound of a female voice. Most of it was torn away by the wind so that all I caught was an emphatic and frightened "...out!"

I yelled out "Hello?!" then waited. Nothing. Then Anne's voice came through... "...getting... ...scary... ...out...".

Although she stood directly over the tent she sounded tiny and distant against the force of the wind.

Hard gust, tent shaking, blowing harder still. Sensing no approaching lull I yelled out, "Anne! This is the last sheltered spot for many more hours! Bivy here until morning, or know that you're committed to getting to Nikolai in one push, starting NOW!"

A long pause, then she started out shouting and trailed off at the end, "...REALLY... ...SCARY... ...out..."

Looking back it's easy to see it, but at that time I didn't 'get it'. Both Alessandro and Anne had staggered and fought for hours through that blustery night, nothing really wrong except an increasing anxiety brought about by the cold, the wind, the dark, the crushing awareness of how remote this spot really is and how insignificant we are against its brutal indifference. Once inside my tent I'd become one level removed from their reality--at least somewhat relaxed if not comfortable or asleep. As both of them stumbled through the dark and onto my tent I can only imagine that they'd probably thought the same thing: Inside that tent is shelter, and if I can just get in there things'll be alright.

But like I said--I didn't get it. I didn't think of myself as any better off inside the tent. In my mind the tent was gonna come crashing down any second and then I'd have to deal with packing it away before I could even reset my bivy outside. At least outside I would have been able to forget about the soon-to-implode tent and it's ceaseless racket. Not that there was room for either of them anyway, but it never occurred to me to invite them in. Alessandro had done the sensible thing and bivied. Only Anne can say why, but she chose to keep walking. Hearing no further response from outside, I fell back into my exhausted stupor.

The next thing I knew the tent was pressing against my face and my heart was racing, as though I'd somehow laid there and gasped for breath for a few moments before regaining consciousness. The sound of the wind ripping through the scrub of the swamp, and the flapping of the tent fabric left no doubt that fixing the tent now was out of the question. No choice but to get up, pack up, and move.

No time to do it but now.

Monday, January 19, 2009


Several weeks of snow and cold followed by a g-narly inversion finally faded into high pressure just yesterday. Dreamboat suggested a snow ride atop the Mesa and his timing was serendipitous: We arrived to find clear skies, warm temps, and hardpacked trails devoid of those whose footsteps had condensed them.

Fine by us.

Although we'd discussed riding a different set of trails on the drive up, it hit me like a ton of bricks that the past ~week worth of weather would have left West Bench in perfect-for-pedaling condition.

Fang thought it was a peachy way to spend a day.

We both had plenty of work calling to us back in the valley so it was a quick yet somehow leisurely ride. Seemed somehow ideal that as we hit the end of our allotted time the trail was getting pretty punchy anyway...

We hightailed it back out as the holiday crowds came streaming in.

Regardless of bike, skis, snowshoes, or just plain feet, if you get the chance to get up there sometime this week DO IT. It isn't gonna get much more friendly than it is right now.



Friday, January 16, 2009


Check this out.

Padre and I surfed this AM in *much* worse conditions...

Only not.

If those guys were *really* hard-core they'd be riding to the breaks, surfing, then riding home...


Monday, January 12, 2009

Oh, oh my.

I haven't quite found the words to put with this one.

I guess this'll suffice: Is it any wonder that Southern Californicators are so far removed from reality when this *IS* their mid-January "reality"?

80 degrees and light breezes down here today. Good thing I can't stay...


Sunday, January 11, 2009

St. George, Utah, Today.

Not much to say that isn't said in the vid.

New camera this AM means that I botched many shots in many ways, and constantly messed up focal lengths on the vids. I'll get better...



Friday, January 9, 2009

AZ day 4: Goat Camp.

A fine time was had by all...

...all that bothered to show up, that is.

ChadBo and Scott--y'all get 25 demerits plus 3 days of the sniffles for laming out on such a great ride.

The weather was decidedly non-Phoenician: gloomy, gray and intermittently spitting on us. Didn't dampen (<-ha!) anyone's enthusiasm for the ride, tho'...

I admit that I was a bit confused by the layering thing many of those present had going on. It was 50-something out there. Kept wondering if they were planning ahead for an overnight ride and maybe just forgot to invite me?!!?

I was pleasantly surprised by the amount of bench-cut trail on the climb:

Seemed like the vast bulk was IMBA-spec and downright sanitized.

The above 'sanitized' comment is neither a complaint nor a judgment--more of a confused observation after having seen the chunktastic descent.

The mellow middle-ring grade of the climb was very welcome, actually, after torching my legs the past few days following Scott.

The mellow grade was also welcome in that it made it easy to look around and stop for pics. That had emphatically NOT been the case the three previous days with Scott.

Leafing ocotillo? In December? Must not be in Kansas anymore...

Snack stop:

The climb went on and on--in a most enjoyable way:

And then (snap!) the climbing was done and folks were in various states of armoring up, swapping clippy pedals for flats, adding more layers (?!!?) and eating. Oh yeah--and doling out warnings intended to scare the bejeezus outta the noobs (raises hand). Note to scarers: It worked.

The initial section of the descent was over-the-top steep with big holes and no room for error. I kept my hands on the bars (even/especially when walking) and the camera stayed in the pack.

Once we made it down to ~level ground (<-Ha! As if!) the camera came out a few times to record some skilled, patient, and humble riders making this trail look easy.

And after all was said and done, it sure seemed like someone was trying to talk herself into a new bike...

Not that there's anything wrong with that!

Thanks again for the day y'all--I enjoyed it thoroughly.



Monday, January 5, 2009

Fang redux.

Regular readers of this space will remember the post about "Fang" from a few months back. Fang is our dog/wolf shape-shifter pet: At home he's mild mannered and sweet, but take him into the woods or the mountains and he's a hunter through and through.

At least in his own mind.

Take Fang out this time of year and he becomes someone 'else' entirely. Haven't quite managed to come up with a name for him in this 'mode' just yet, but we're taking suggestions.

Months ago I pointed out that Fang loves to fish, and that's as true now as ever. About the only thing he really likes to do more than fish is to ski. Yeah, I know, dogs can't ski. Call it what you want but he sure ain't running.

The last two clips in the vid make it pretty clear that, unlike me, he *really* enjoys himself even when the snow isn't bottomless.



AZ: The third day.

For our third day of riding Scott suggested climbing pave' up Mount Lemmon, then descending from either Green Mountain trailhead or Bugs Springs, with snow being the deciding factor between the two. 3k of ascent on pavement isn't easy, but the mellow grade and friendly temps made it pass fast and we found ourselves at Bugs trailhead fixing my ailing crankset. Once the wrenches were put away we noticed small bits of snow all around the parking lot and took the decision to leave Green for another day.

Climbing the scar on Bugs was a painful few minutes. Maxed out immediately and then it only got steeper and stayed there. After my second dab I walked a short stretch, cursing myself for the fit of laziness that had conspired to keep me from installing a 36t cog on this bike pre-trip. The laziness was actually rooted in the 5*f temps in my shop all week leading up to the trip. At that temp non-essential projects can be delayed almost indefinitely, especially if they involve bare hands and metal tools/parts. Could I have cleaned The Scar on Bugs with that 36t? Of course... (!)

Once topped out we caught our breath, fiddled a bit with bikes, and savored the view. Then I pressed 'record' on the helmut cam and down, down, down we went. As a result, no stills worth sharing (though Scott got a few). And the footage below? All from my on-the-bike perspective following Scott. The editing, "music", and captions were his doing, and he may still be cursing because that takes a lotta time to do. Clearly he spent so much time on the editing that no time was left for the music selection, and he let the computer choose it randomly. At least that's what I tell myself...

Another fantastic day on the bike. One day left in this trip: Goat Camp.