Saturday, April 3, 2010

In search of: A good night's sleep.

Although I had planned not to write any more about the Iditatour until this fall, when (I assumed) sufficient energy and perspective would have been achieved, I'm surprised to find that I can't quite disconnect from it that fast. In no way was I sick of being out there, or tired from the effort of doing what I'd been doing. I just expected that being back in the desert at this time of year would rip me into a fast lane of chunk riding, canyon hiking, crust skiing and the attendant photogeeking that's always a part of all of the above. Plus, work.

But re-entry has been different this time around. My first glimpse of it was in Anchorage, in the rental car, while haphazardly dashing about for a few short hours before flying back to Colorado. I felt as though I was absolutely hauling on the Seward Hwy at an unthinkable 35 (thirtyfreakinfive!) miles per hour, as early-out commuters sped angrily past me at 60+, screaming incessantly into their cell phones the whole while. How could they move so recklessly fast? Weren't they afraid of crashing into each other, or hitting those potholes, or not being able to stop for that traffic light 1/2 mile ahead?

My next glimpse has been the longest lingering: insomnia. At best I've been able to unwire myself enough to get horizontal by 11, but my mind keeps racing along whether I'm in the mood to sleep or not. Since I'm awake I might as well do something productive, right? I've been sorting photos, clipping video, answering email, paying bills, etc... But LOOOONG past the time when I don't want anything to do with any of that, I am totally and completely AWAKE. And exhausted. Napping between ~5AM and ~11AM has been the only guarantee, and has kept me somewhat functional, but it's an unrewarding way to live a life and not one that I plan to continue.

The last evidence of how, um, odd my post-AK re-entry has been this year is a complete inability to wrap my brain around the least puzzle. I can't think clearly beyond what to eat, and even then only if there's food in at least one of my hands. To some extent this would be expected given my (non) sleep cycles, but I think it runs deeper: For the previous three weeks it was my stated goal not to think beyond the moment I was in, and I got *good* at being in that never-ending moment. Leaving it behind has proven difficult. Not that I'm trying very hard.

The questions generated by my last post have had me thinking a bit about the gear I used. On the one hand, it's nothing special, and most of it would be considered outdated or somehow inappropriate by just about any gear-geek worth his salt. On the other hand, something about it must be working right to have helped me to do what I just did. Gear is either working for you or against you--it can't really be in limbo when you've got to schlep the weight of it along regardless.

To specifically answer one of the questions generated by that last post, I had *one* item that I hauled the entire distance and never used: A pair of neoprene glomitts that I had planned to use while cooking inside the tent at night. As I settled into the bag and fired up the stove each night I'd remove these mitts from the kitchen bag, stash them in the tent pocket to my left, then not think about them again until the next morning when I'd stick them back into the kitchen bag. Their sole purpose became keeping my stove from rattling about inside my pot, a job that could have been done by any number of other soft goods I carried.

Thinking about that pair of mitts made me realize how set I am in my ways with respect to certain gear specifics like clipless pedals, butted spokes, wool, or the evolution of my footwear system over the last decade+. But it also made me realize that at some point I was NOT set in my ways about these things, and only trial and error (and heaps of it) has gotten me to where I understand what works, what doesn't, and why, for this eentsy esoteric niche of winter bikepacking in the sub-Arctic.

I'm not *quite* rambling or confabulating just yet, but I'm getting close! Honestly I'm doing all I can to NOT just give a 'gear list', as the simple act of writing that list (to me) tears the still-beating heart out of all that has gone into adapting one's mind and body to the intricacies of each item on it. I can type "Nemo Tenshi" in the slot next to which tent I used, but that tells nothing about how I adapted myself and my cook and sleep systems to work within it, how many nights of sleeping in it I needed before I could start carving it down to just over 3lbs, nor of the countless solo missions to the alpine over the past 4 winters to experiment with different tie down systems to allow it to pack and pitch equally fast without tangling (which means gloves-off for detangling), to be able to handle the expected blows in the mountains and on the coast, and at the same time to be vented well enough that condensation and exhalations from cooking and breathing don't end up as so much frost raining down on me when I roll over to take a leak (yes, inside the tent) in the wee (<-ha!), brittle cold hours.

The tent example is a fine way to point out that I don't seem to be capable of using an off-the-shelf product as-is. I have a compulsive need to tinker with it until I understand it, and then to make changes that improve it. In effect, what this says is that the bulk of the gear I used on this trip didn't really work for me until I'd adapted it to. That's my self-serving rationalization anyway. What it really says is that I can never leave well enough alone.

But if not for constant incremental improvement, how else do you get 3+ weeks worth of *good* food, fuel (with some extra), a 4-season tent (with spare pole), expedition stove (and spare parts), a complete rack and panniered fuel-carrying bike (and all attendant tools and spares for it, including two Surly inner tubes, chain links, spare bolts, plus a spare pair of pedals), a minus 60 sleeping bag, insulated pad (and patch kit), a 20oz camera, SPOT, and GPS, plus 50+ lithium batteries into a 147lb package?

There isn't another way. There simply isn't. It took years to get it there, with years of enjoyable tinkering along the way. It might take me years to divulge the gory details of what I took, and why, because I'm just not capable of putting it all into a list.

Thanks for understanding, and keep the questions coming! ;)




  1. Upon return from a year and a half long trip, I set my tent up in my room, set up my sleeping pad inside, and slept in that(when it was sleepy time) for the better part of a month. It helped.

  2. is the nunya still working for you?

  3. Hear hear. great post. I don't think you should give away a gear list - as you often say, you spend hundreds of hours 'thinkering' and the end result is your intellectual property.
    Anyway, although a rank beginner to bike-assisted journeys, I've already come to realize (and enjoy) that half the process is the preparation. Your journey started A LONG TIME before you set foot in Alaska. Inspirational.

    p.s. I second the tent indoors thing.

  4. Enduro brain! It appears you have plenty of ability to focus, just not on what you thought you would be able to focus *on*. Surely this can't be a new phenomena for you ;)

    Thoughts of gear aside (everything but your food is foreign to me, and even then...) what I am most curious about is what it is like to bonk 2+ weeks into that mega journey in a wild Alaskan winter wilderness. To bonk that far into a trip had to be serious as I'd expect to be in a good flow at that point...and the bonk is not that great for mental capacity.

    Getting past that point is most interesting.

  5. While I TRULY appreciate the evolution of thinkering that has led to your current inventory of gear, let me give you another POV...I have just started mountain bike touring, just bought my first portable stove, spork and a sleeping pad (yes, I got the big one...stupid but the idea of a lucious soft pad was over-whelming...yes, that anticipation truly is part of the fun, and it will be tempered by the air headed-ness I get blowing the thing up every night).

    Any general direction on what I should be looking at or pass over would be helpful to save money and energy in the long run. Consider this, dont give brand names, a list of generic items would be helpful...for example what types of batteries and why so many.

    BTW, your photography is wonderful. Thanks for the posts and pics.


  6. I'll second what James said. Don't give us your list of gear, but explain the principles behind what you chose and what sort of things are important and which ones aren't. I'm also new to the world of winter biking and would like some general tips. If we understand the principles, we can select our own gear.

    I understand about taking years to fine tune a system. I took years to get my system for triathlons down pat, but now don't really give it much thought. I know what works and what doesn't and I found that simplicity was the key. I don't drag around stuff that I don't really need.

  7. The picture of your tent and bike look to be a familiar site, is that taken just outside of Rohn? Look forward to more pictures and rambling too.

    Sleep Well,


  8. 'Gear is either working for you or against you--it can't really be in limbo...'

    Now that is a great quote.

    Mike, only you can decide whether to share your list or not. Don't let the questions feel like pressure. Some folks may want to find a shortcut to gear nirvana, others (like me) just love to hear all the gory details.

    In the end, the decision is yours and there is no right or wrong to it. Cheers. And congrats on your accomplishment.

  9. 'Gear is either working for you or against you--it can't really be in limbo...'

    Now that is a great quote.

    Mike, only you can decide whether to share your list or not. Don't let the questions feel like pressure. Some folks may want to find a shortcut to gear nirvana, others (like me) just love to hear all the gory details.

    In the end, the decision is yours and there is no right or wrong to it. Cheers. And congrats on your accomplishment.

  10. Mike,
    Welcome back. Interesting to see that you have issues of adapting back to "real life", you were not gone that long..were you. Maybe you went in too deep with the head game? If you willingly passed a village with warm drinks and stayed out you have spent an awful lot of energy on mental discipline.

    Anyway, much respect for the trip and the careful preparation. The real trip will start a little south of Argentina I suppose...

  11. Hey you guys,

    I love the stories you post. Very cool. So much adventure! Who can I talk to about links on your site.