Sunday, March 28, 2010

Random re-entry ramblings.

Home now. Oh-so-nice to be back to spring-in-the-desert weather and dry dirt.

First, thanks to Scott and Jill for their diligence and creative speculation about what was happening out there. I've received heaps of thanks from family, friends, and not-yet-met friends, all praising the collective package that you presented. I enjoyed reading back through it and I'm indebted to both of you for the time you took out of your own lives to participate.

Second, thanks to the Hofstetters for guiding me in to Nome and providing sustenance and shelter for my wracked self. You never know how bad it really is until the shutdown begins, and having a warm, dry, clean place to crash was positively priceless. Hope that I can somehow, someday repay the favor. And, as an aside, I still think the greatest story from the whole month is that of Phil winning the race to Nome *and* finishing on his own doorstep. Awesome.

Third, thanks to all of you for the kind words and congratulations. Nice to know that there were folks following along and somehow engaged by what was happening out there.

Where to start with telling the tale? HeckifIknow. I guess I should start by saying that what I just did was probably the *worst* way to see the Iditarod Trail, or bush Alaska. Not spending time with the people in the villages really limits how much you can absorb and digest.

Having limited time to talk story with the mushers, trappers, and other on-the-trail users limits you even further. I won't go so far as to say that no one should ever duplicate this trip, I'll just say that there are certainly better ways.

That said, I really, really enjoyed myself, and I got my money's worth (and more!) with respect to gear testing and mental and physical preparation. I don't *ever* need to duplicate the unsupported nature of the trip, but I *do* think I've earned the right to do a cushy-as-all-getout muktuk and moose-fueled village to village tour someday...

I shot 1500+ stills and almost 2 hours of video while 'out there'. Early on the second day, somewhere on the Yentna River, it occurred to me each time I reached for the camera that I'd already taken (in a previous year) the shot I was about to take. So although I did still snag a pile of pixels, I mentally shifted gears and spent a few minutes of each day on a video diary of sorts.

Whether that footage ever sees the light of day will depend on my mood, sometime in July, when I finally find the time to start editing it.

For now, here's some of the post-ride randomness floating about in my head:
-Overall, the weather and trail conditions were stellar. Yes, it was slow early on (I spent 3 full days between Finger Lake and Rohn!!) but not much slower than average. Warm temps and ever increasing snow were the reason--you can only move so fast through deep drifts. But the weather improved after Rohn, and it just got better and better as the days piled up. Memory is a fickle thing but I really think the climatic and trail conditions this year were *better* than the year I made it to Nome in 15 days. Yep, that good.

-I may have set some sort of record for the longest distance 135lb snowbike bunnyhop on the way down to Takotna.
-Unfortunately, I stacked so hard at the conclusion of said bunnyhop that I lost my 3-way allen wrench. That's the only thing I lost out there.
-Well, that's not exactly true. I lost 7 measly pounds in 21 days out. So much for the hoped-for freakshow science project of losing 25+. Anyone want to trade metabolisms? I'll gladly rent mine out. Other than long distance, long duration, calorically deprived expeditions I'm not sure what mine's good for. "Hungry? Heck no--I had an almond for dinner, I'm stuffed...". Sheesh.
-I can't find much evidence (in the dog or people race coverage) of the severity of the cold snap we all had between Ophir and Kaltag. Daytime *highs* were in the minus 20's, with overnight lows in the minus 40's and minus 50's. I was desperately hoping for exactly those kinds of temps to expose all of the flaws in my gear and prep. And there were a few critical flaws that came to the surface after a week out in that kind of cold. The last night of strong cold was a grim one for me--shivering incessantly (inside the bag and wearing every stitch) and sleeping not a wink. The following day dawned clear, calm, and ~warm, allowing me to sun-dry my frozen gear. I got lucky that the snap broke when it did, and I learned some priceless lessons while it lasted.

-No frostbite anywhere. I nipped the tips of a few fingers on one of the colder nights while handling tent poles barehanded. Dolt. I have some type of superficial, um, weathering on my face. It is not frostbite, although everyone that sees it jumps to that conclusion. Nor is it windburn or sunburn. I can't say exactly what it *is*, only what it isn't. Healing fast, at any rate. Feet were pretty raw from the push/swim/crawl/drag over Rainy Pass early on, but most of that had healed by the time I hit the Yukon. Toes are bruised, (c)ankles and feet are still sore a week after finishing. That's about it for the physical woes--pretty stinkin' mild all things considered.

-I finished with 33oz of fuel left in the bike, meaning that I used slightly less than 5 oz per day. I was fanatical (<-not too strong of a word) early on about being miserly, and only when I'd amassed an extra 2-day buffer did I allow myself the luxury of drying out gear over the stove after the cooking was done. And even then I kept adding to the buffer rather than 'borrowing' against it.
-I finished with 2 full days worth of food. For anyone keeping close track, that means I ate *all* of my sweets in 21 days out (instead of 24), and I ate an extra 'day' of meals spread out over the last 5 days. I *never* got remotely tired of any of the food I had with me, I merely wished (starting around Ruby) for more. Some of the recipes were so good that I'm salivating thinking about them right now (ham teriyaki!). Shortly after Unalakleet I bonked severely. At least I *think* it was severe--I hadn't bonked since '92 so it's hard to know for sure. At any rate I knew that I needed to start eating more or I was gonna come to a grinding halt. Adding just ~500 calories per day took me from borderline bonking and fixating on food to feeling like all was right with the world and being satiated all day and night long. Amazing.
-At Nome the bike weighed roughly 92lbs. It never rode or rolled any 'lighter' that I could tell, it merely got easier to portage or manhandle when needed.

That's all of the randomness I have bumping around in my head. For now.

Please ask specific questions in the comments (below) and I'll be happy to answer them in a future post.

Last bit of randomness: Just after sunset one night on the Yukon River I bumped into two guys sitting against the south bank on snowmachines. One was a guide, the other a pro photog. They were the only two people I saw on the river that whole day, and these three shots are the result. Nice.

Right now, and for the foreseeable future, it's time to embrace spring in the desert.

All the best,



  1. Lost only 7 lbs? I guess that can be good. Better than some alternatives.

    Looking forward to more words and pics.

    Wish I could read lips, have no idea what you said in the video.

  2. Glad to hear it went so well. I can't wait to see more photos. Excellent work, as usual.

    What is that stuff the man was cutting and holding out in the photos near the top?

  3. Glad to see you are successfully thawing out Mike, I look forward to more stories.

    I know you have been honing your gear for many years, but is there anything from the 92lbs of what was left that you wouldn't bring again?

  4. How did most people react when you would say you can't come in for coffee or Muktuk?

  5. sort of a silly techie question: do you use vapor barriers?

  6. Mike,

    Your blog leaves me speechless!

    Great job and enjoy the desert!

  7. Do you make your own food and dehydrate it rather than use commercially available freeze dried stuff? They didn't sell that coat in black or what??? ;>)

  8. Do you make your own food and dehydrate it rather than use commercially available freeze dried stuff? They didn't sell that coat in black or what??? ;>)

  9. How do you stay warm at those temps? More specifically, what clothing and layering do you use? Base layers, vapor barrier, items that can be taken off when the temps climb and so on. Interested to hear more on this subject.

    Mike L.

  10. Hello Mike,

    The story covering by Scott and Jill had me enraptured the entire time!

    First off, congratulations!! Second off I am guessing you didn't eat the "seal"? that was offered to you by the inuit man?

    I would imagine that the locals understand your want to be in the wild but they probably have a hard time accepting your "no-assistance" approach to the trip. Please ellaborate on this as I know some customs would consider it rude and it must be tough at times.

    Rock on and have fun thawing out.

  11. I haven't had as much voyeuristic fun since following the Tour Divide call ins last year.

    Please give a full report on your gear, food list/daily diet. What worked...what didn't

    Also looking forward to your great photos.

  12. Really excited to finally start seeing photos. Anxiously awaiting the rest!

    What was you upper body outerwear setup? I like the looks of the 'mufflers' on both the inner and outer jackets. I'm sure you've probably mentioned them elsewhere, and I could probably do a little digging and find out, but as the great Wayne Gale once said, "Repetition works, David. Repetition works, David."

  13. I love the close up photo, your face and eyes tell the whole story.

  14. Love the Lynx photo.

    Do you think your metabolism slowed down/adapted, despite the exertion, similar to the sled dog thing?

    Honestly, this whole thing is so foreign to me it is tough to ask good questions. Thanks for letting us follow along.

    PS: Why on earth are you trying to bunny hop that thing...Of course, maybe you weren't trying;)

  15. I never knew that Lynx have ghetto bootys..

  16. Mike, thanks so much for the help thru Rainy Pass and thru the Gorge! Seriously, you were an angel sent from somewhere!!!! Awesome job on making it to Nome! I think you have it right.... enjoy the experience of a lifetime rather than fight it.
    -Vanessa (the one who lost her panier) :) (are you on facebook?)

  17. Hi Mike and congrats on such a great journey. I am interested in knowing what you used for a camera and how it worked for you in the cold. did you shoot film??



  18. That blubber sure looks good! Git some.

  19. As I start to consider Sustina and Arrowhead (running), I would be curious as to the clothing you layered with.

    Thank you,

    Richard C

  20. My point of view partially coincided with yours. Thank you for trying. antidepressants Read a useful article about tramadol tramadol