Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Last Minute Ride

Last Friday afternoon Tracey and a friend headed up to the Equinox Snow Challenge in West Yellowstone for the start on Saturday morning. Since West Yellowstone is only 104 miles away we decide that Tracey would take the van with her teammate, gear,  and dogs allowing me to ride up after work. I would be prepared for a possible over night if need be due to a late start and/or the predicted rain/snow that is typical of our spring.

Not that it was a long ride but the truth of it is, I love a ride like this; last minute, questionable weather, into the night, and may or may not make it...

Anyway, it turned out pretty uneventful but very satisfying and went something like this:
It was a cloudy, windy, moderate temperature spring day.
Finished work at 3:30.
Went home, got dressed, loaded up the Vaya's 2 rear panniers and strapped on a sleeping system.
Went back to the bike shop, slugged a double espresso and took off bout 4:30.

Tail winds for bout 20.

Side wind through the potato fields for 40 more miles. 


Riding into the dark and then to the Ponds Lodge Bar at mile 70 for 3 PBR's and a garlic pie which I ate half of.

Rode the last 30+ miles under a star filled sky without a single car and a full belly!

Finished in West at about 1 a.m., just in time as the girls were coming home from the bar.

Had an excellent Saturday watching cheering all the racers.
T-Race and Kim 

We were happy to host Ben and Ken, fellow junkies, coming up from Colorado for there fix.

First ever, Fat Bike riding at the Rendezvous!

Even did a skate lap in shorts, it was 60* during the day!!!

Monday, March 19, 2012

Do Everything Bike

This past weekend was the first time riding the skinny wheels this year, as it was mostly among rain and snow, it had me realize the seasons are a changing and with that bikes change. We still have plenty of snow here in the Tetons and more will fall leaving us with plenty of opportunity to continue riding the fat bikes on snow or maybe even some crust cruzing but to tell you the truth I am ready to move on with the seasons, so I can ride my other bikes. I think that means I am getting over it...winter that is...

This is the beginning of the "shoulder season". In the shoulder season mother nature might be luring you in with the sunshine a shining and then all of a sudden it is snowing as you are next to the hills and then raining as you are cutting across valley. Also, in the shoulder season we are left with wet roads from melt off as well as gravel reminence from winter road maintenance. Most of us wince at riding our nice, race type, road bikes in these conditons, me included, so I have a bike that serves me right this time of year, the Salsa - Vaya.

The Vaya is my do everything bike, how versatile it is. Ride it in marginal weather, don't care, or sunshiny weather too. Attach panniers, tour with it, it will haul a load. Fit 44mm MTB tires and ride local singeltrack with the dogs with it, they love it. Put fenders on, commute with it, it will love you. Attach a drink holder, bar hop, pick- up beers with it, it can take a crash. It's the bike I keep on riding, fix it only what I have to, clean it only when I have to. Ride it anytime, all the time -  dirt, pavement, mud, snow and rain - it don't matter it's my do everything bike. With that being said it might not be my fastest bike in the stable but it is a favorite!

Ride on, no matter the season.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Decisions and Emotions

A few reminders as it is easy to forget...
The are many feelings associated with the Alaska Ultra Sport and depending on how it actually went on the trail it may have open up others. The feelings will vary depending on if you are a rookie vs. a veteran and that is probably cause the decisions you make will be different as well as how do deal with certain situations.

Before the race there is much anticipation and nervous energy being generated. What am I going to bring in my kit, will I need my stove, what are you bringing? A rookie can certainly be unsure here but if preparing properly leading up to the event they should gain confidence. I remember my first year staying in the host B&B before the race thinking I was prepared and all the other racers staying there(mostly foreigners, I was the only english speaking) still building there kits, running to gear stores the day before the race. It made me second guess my preparation and very nervous. A good place to stay but not a good place to stay.

What is the trail going to be like? This is fun to talk about but the reality is it is very different then what you will think, even as you are sitting in Anchorage the day before on a beautiful, cold, sun shiny day it can be dumping at the start. The nice thing is we are all on the same trail, so no advantage to anyone, although as the race moves in a few days the leader can have different weather and different trail then the folks in the back. It's easy to burn energy thinking about these things, the bottom line is, it is what is, accept it.

Once the start of the event hopefully the anticipation and nervousness has at least settled down, if not gone away. Now a new set of feelings might have taken over. Maybe scared, as you enter deeper into the Alaskan backcountry or as it is snowing, scared it might not stop. Now that you actually see overflow, scared to step in it. -40 below out, scared to leave the checkpoint. I think being scared is a good thing on a certain level, it will keep you on your toes.

How about relief, stoked, and happiness once moving down the trail. No more getting ready, it is now happening. I know I feel very comfortable on the trail, it brings back the basics of life and way simpler and easier then so called regular life.

You will be required to make many decisions throughout the day, some easy some not so. When and where to rest, eat, and sleep? How hard/fast to push yourself? These decisions are going to set you up for how you feel down the trail, obviously this is more of a physical feeling but will effect your mental and how clear or unclear your next decisions will be.

Then there is the post race feelings. After completing, or not, such an event you will be reflecting on what you did for a long time. At first it will be all day and then it will start to ease up as time passes. All the what if's, should of's and could of's start to come out? These are great questions to learn from but don't beat yourself up with them. The strongest post race feelings I have ever had was when I bailed out early on the way to Nome, even though I won the McGrath race, it was not my finishing goal so I never really reaped those feelings. I really got down and did beat myself up with the should of's, could of's, and what if's. When coming up short on something or quitting these feelings will haunt you and make you feel like you have unfinished business.

This was an expensive trip from the interior,  my bike is in the sled.
I know this year there are many people thinking about how they should have done something different, could have waited out the storm, or what if they kept going. The problem, beauty of this is they will have to wait another time around.

What can one do to help with the pulling the plug? Patience, patience and more patience. How about phoning a friend or family member that will push you forward or give you the correct decision to keep going, change your mind. These people need to be tough, possibly creative with words and know what you put into it and what your end goal is. Another thing I constantly preach is "no negative words in the vocabulary". No such thing as quit, turn around, this is to hard...dismiss this kind of language from your vocabulary!

Probably not the attitude to have...
This is just a small dose of a very impacting experience. It can possibly change people for life! It has changed me in a way that I just can't get enough...

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Trail

How does the Iditarod Trail get established? Is it something that can be traveled all year? Who maintains it? Is it groomed? What makes it possible for people to actually travel the Iditarod Trail, weather it be human powered or dog powered?
I think people are mislead with the word "trail", cause a lot of it, a lot of the time, does not exist. Well, OK, it exist's but under heaps of snow and not human powered friendly in any way.

Michael Schoder dragging trail near Shell Lake.
There are multiple ways the Iditarod Trail gets established enough for human travel. Snowmobile, otherwise refered to as a "snow-go" as I have learned from the Alaskan Villagers, is how the trail gets packed in.  There is recreation traffic, like on the south end of the trail. There is inter village travel, from one village to the next on mostly the interior of the trail on the way to Nome. This does not connect all the dots and there are many sections that don't see this traffic but then there is the Iron Dog Snowmobile Race which covers the whole Iditarod Trail and beyond. This race conveniently takes place one week before the Ultra Sport race. We generally learn a lot from these folks on trail conditions and with 50 teams of 2 they put in one hell of a trail. These guys for sure establish a lot of trail but they also fan out all over the place and take alternate routes creating sucker trails as well as never go over Rainy Pass. The Rainy Pass section of trail is put in by associates/volunteers of the Iditarod Dog Race as well as our very own Ultra Sport trail breakers.

A local checking out Bison Camp. This particular year this gentleman left just after we did and broke through all the drifted snow.
In the time between the snowmobile race and the Ultra Sport a lot can happen and change the trail with good ole' mother nature. The nice thing is at least you know there is some sort of base, otherwise you would sink to your waist, which is a great way to know when you are on or off the trail.

Going beyond McGrath to Nome puts you onto a big chunk of trail that only gets traveled by the Iron Dog so when leaving McGrath you are relying on trail from 2 weeks ago which may or may not still be there. This is when you start to figure out when the Iditarod Trail Breakers are coming through. This is a group of snowmobiles that go out to manicure a trail for the dog teams. They generally have about 6 machines that are working the trail safe for the dog teams. They often pull some sort of drag, cut out down fall/brush, and are marking the trail with reflective lath so the mushers know where to go. As a racer if you are waiting for these guys to come through, the trail must be pretty bad of not be there at all. On the South route of the Iditarod it is very common to wait for these guys and are often the first ones through all year, depending on timing it can be just a day or it can be 5 days. Plan accordingly, remember when one leaves McGrath it is over 2 hundred + miles in very remote terrain with nothing but your food drop sitting in the middle of the trail somewhere before hitting the Yukon River.
Burlap bags filled with racers food drops. It is nice to know who planned  on making it but unfortunately did not, more food for the folks that do. 
Over the years Tracey and I have broke into a relationship with the Trail Breakers, earning and gaining much respect, and I can say now that they are our friends. They have looked out for us and gave us some good advice as well as having a friendly beer with them (to me this is what the trail experiences are about) It might have been the year we were traveling almost as fast as them making and seeing them at multiple villages several days in a row that cracked the conversation. We feel pretty proud of this as we have heard some not so friendly experiences with other human powered racers. These guys work hard and it is amazing to see them in action!

Iditarod Trail breakers in Iditarod. We sat here for 2+ days on our way to Nome as there was zero trail ahead of us. 
Sometimes as you get closer to Villages you will feel like there is more of a trail and it can be cause the hunters are out checking there traps, which is another way the trail stays/is in.

Martin traps all over the place...

When you hit the Yukon River you will start to pass through more Villages, they vary in distance but are roughly about 50 miles from one another. You can't rely on inter village travel cause if they don't have a reason to go to another village they don't. Fuel is very expensive on the interior so they don't just cruise around. Some villages have more supplies then others or have more dependable flights which will create more traffic to that particular village.

Amazing athletes to watch come by...

With Iditarod Trail Breakers on course this means The Iditarod Sled Dog Race got off which is one week after the Ultra Sport, and if you are someone going to Nome they will catch you. This is another great time to look forward to some trail traffic. You will end up traveling amungst the dogs on the remainder of the route to Nome. This is an exciting time on the trail, villagers engaged, spectating, and that is all that is talked about. This is one of the most exciting times in these Villages all year. With 50-100 people in some villages and a couple hundred in a bigger village there is not whole lot of excitment. The sad thing is it only lasts a couple of weeks and I will say that is true with the trail. Once the dog race raps up the trail gets snowed in deeper, traffic becomes less, wind blows it over to look like the rest of the landscape and you would never of known of all the snowmobiles, humans and dogs that have been through till next year.

Pete Swenson has also become our friend on the trail. Here he is offering us Spam and Pop.  He was proud of Tracey till he found out she don't eat meat...
Amazing trail, filled with amazing experiences, glad it is only doable human powered a few weeks every year!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Rainy Pass Lodge to Rohn

The section of Rainy Pass Lodge to Rohn is the mountain section of the Ultra Sport. It is where you climb up and over the Alsaka Range cresting over Rainy Pass and descend down through a gorge winding up in the "AK. interior" and the Rohn checkpoint where you will find your food drop. This section can take 16 hours or 2 days, I been there for both. The conditions and weather can vary greatly from a crisp, cold, calm night blaring with Northern Lights able to see with no headlamp, to the mercy of mother nature; a socked in storm that will just about blow you over, wallowing around looking for trail, peeking around  for the half-way cabin that you heard about, to teaming up with others to just get'er done.
The pass to a rookie is very nerve racking. I remember my first time of reaching Rainy Lodge by myself. It was a cold, stormy night and I was exhausted from the prior section. Opening up the door of the cabin, Jeff and Rocky (veterans) were strategizing softly to themselves as they were resting on cots and said "hey if you want to join us we are leaving at midnight" and they added "you don't want to head out there in this storm by yourself not being here before and there is NO trail up the pass". I think they respected that I was actually there and took me under there wing per say a little bit, this was awesome cause these guys are experinced Alaskan's and competitive. All and all it was the start of a great relationship that we have today. Do you think as a rookie I was nervous at this point? It was negative temps, snowing and blowing in a full on storm. I took them up on there offering and we headed out pushing our bikes into the night barley able to see where we were going. As we trudged through the unconsolidated snow, overflow included, it was the first and only year we actually did not make it over Rainy Pass and took the long route of going around the range and something called Hell's Gate. It was an amazing experience and I learned tons from these guys as we traveled all the way to the finish together. The next year I did make it up and over Rainy Pass in clear blue skis, but not without any hitches. Pete and I were leading the race and we caught up with the trail breakers (snowmachines) on our decent of the pass. They were sitting in the trail trying to make way, it was very slow for them with all the downfall and loose snow, the trail was barly passable. So we bivyed out for several hours and multiple other racers caught up. As soon as there was enough of us we passed the trailbreakers and trenched out our on trail in a teamwork fashion.
To me this is what the Ultra Sport is all about. We have many experiences where we learn from each other as well as about ourselves. Working together, laughing, bitching, moving forward, and over coming obsacles is what will help you get to the finish. This is a very rewarding experience and one that can only be gained by traveling human powered on the Iditarod Trail in the dead of winter.
The stories of the Pass can go on forever but here are some of my photos of making it over the pass through the years.
Rainy Pass Lodge, the entrance to the mountains. 

These Ptarmigan's make a noise where it sounds as if they are laughing at you, not cool while your pushing...

Inside of half-way cabin, I have stopped here and rested by myself the past couple years, very relaxing...

Flat light and hollow willows makes for hard trail finding.

Leaving Rohn.

After the gorge going to Rohn.

Wonder if the burn has snow this year, this is after Rohn  going to  Bison camp.

Getting to the pass.

Going up the pass.

The top.

Rohn cabin checkpoint, this is it, in the middle of nowhere.

Trail breakers, taking a break.

Team work.

Pringles time! Cabin on top of pass.

The gorge, there are many ice bridges that direct you going back and fourth.

On the way to the pass.

Which one is it again....

Leaving Rainy Lodge.


Halfway cabin

This would be a very expensive flight if you so choose...