Wednesday, October 31, 2007

My new running partner

I've never liked to run with other people. It's just not my style. First you have to find someone who has the same pace as you. Next you have to agree on where to meet. Then you have to listen to someone go on about how they hate their boss or gossip about their friends. Don't get me wrong, I'm not anti-social, but running has always been a time for me to clear my own head. When I run, I want to think about whatever I want to, to run wherever I want to, how fast I want to. But I have to admit it does sometimes get lonely.

Enter Niko. Last Tuesday I was at the Tuesday Night Race at Kincaid lining up at the start, when I felt a small nudge on my leg. Back up a minute...let me tell you that I've been bugging Brian to let me bring a dog into our house for quite some time now, but he kept saying no, with good reason. This has been a debate in our house for some time. We have two cats. One that is crazy and runs around the house, slamming into walls and jumping on the other cats back. The other who is mellow and who has been known to hate dogs and pee all over the house when she sees one. When we first moved here, I was not a cat person. I grew up with dogs. Big dogs. But we lived in a small apartment so we got cats.

Now that we have a house, I could not bear to live without a dog anymore. I am 31 and don't yet have that urge to be mother that most women my age do. What I do have is a strong urge to have a dog. Every time I would see people with their dogs in the mountains, or in town, or at the park, I would have a strong feeling that something was missing. But the cat situation made it difficult. My friend Kim knew this and would yell at me every time I would see a dog and go, "Heyooasudfbbbuuububu" or whatever comes out of my mouth when I see a dog with a soft head.

So, I was standing at the start line and I felt a nudge at my leg. I looked down and I saw a Husky type dog looking up at me with sad eyes and a sign attached to his back that said "ADOPT ME". Niko, or "Lucky" as they were calling him, was rescued from the pound in August on the day he was going to be euthanized. They were literally drawing up the serum when he was discovered by Kitty and K9 Connections. So when Brian heard this story he was touched, and needless to say, we adopted him.

And guess what? Niko doesn't gossip... or run too slow or too fast... or even argue with me about where we are going to run. He just runs. And he checks back with me every few minutes to make sure I'm okay. He fends off any mean dogs or shady looking people that come near me. And he is happy. And I am happy.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Alaskan Outdoor Guilt setting in

I have been sitting on the couch with a stomach virus for 4 days now. Thinking back, I am trying to remember the last time I did nothing for 4 days and I can't. Maybe not since I broke my leg two years ago. Only that was 4 months. There is this condition I get while living here in Alaska that I like to call Alaskan Outdoor Guilt.

Spending just one day without doing some sort of outdoor activity when living in Alaska is difficult. When I step outside of my house I see the snow capped mountains and I want to go. I think about the trails dusted in snow and the crisp winter air and I want to go for a run. I think about the frozen bike trails and I want to test out my studded tires. I think about the waterfalls freezing in the canyons and I want to put on a 40 pound pack and climb them. I think about the snow piling up on the peaks and I want to skin up them and ski down with my new dog. Then I remember that I barely have enough energy to get up and get a glass of water.

I hobble to the kitchen, pour a glass of water and crawl back to my home on the couch. My newly adopted dog looks at me with sad eyes as if to say, "I thought you said you were active?" Alaskan guilt sets in. I should be outside. Why do I feel so guilty? The mountains are still going to be there when I get better in a few days, are they not? But for some reason I have this overwhelming feeling that I need to take advantage of every nice day that I'm here. I don't have any plans to move from here anytime soon. I guess a day on the couch just feels like a waste.

Soon I'll be better and get back out there, but right now I sit and watch the muscles I have been building whittle away. Okay maybe it's not that bad, but that's what it feels like! Typing is exhausting... I need a nap...

Saturday, October 27, 2007


I haven't posted in a few days. I'm at home with the flu and haven't been far from the couch. One bit of news is that I adopted a dog. We have him at the house on a trial basis right now to see if he gets along with our kitties. He's very sweet and doesn't have a name yet. So any suggestions are welcome. He's a German Shepard/Husky mix. I've been taking him for walks around the neighborhood, but I don't get very far because I am weak. I hope to try and get him out for a hike tomorrow so I can let him run off the leash. In the meantime we sit on the couch...yuck.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

And now... we wait

It seemed like winter was coming early two weeks ago. We had a few flurries in town, and temperatures were below freezing for most of the week. But last week our hopes of an early winter in Anchorage were squashed by rain and 40 degrees.

Right now I'm getting my gear ready for winter. My first winter bike is done. Since I will be using it mostly for commuting to work, I decided on studded tires. I imagined myself in the middle of Old Seward and Dimond, going down on a patch of ice in the dark. Yeah, I need studs. I got a fatter version of tire - the Nokian Freddy Revenz Lite. I believe this is the fattest tire they make with studs, but I could be wrong. But my 2.3's are nothing compared to the tires I saw this past weekend. Friday night I met Brian and a few of his biking friends at Speedway Cycles to watch a movie and drink beer. It was also an opportunity for everyone to show off their new winter bikes. Wait, "winter bikes"? I never thought I would use the phrase "winter bikes". I love Alaska. Anyway, I have to admit, even though I've been an advocate of not spending a ton of money on gear, I do have a bit of fat tire envy. There may be an upgrade in my future.

The leaves are down. The ice is forming. The snow line is begging to come down to me. Or is that the other way around? The sun is hanging behind the Chugach until 10 am every morning. The skis and climbing equipment are sitting in a sort of purgatory of winter gear. And I am sitting and waiting for winter to arrive.

Well, not actually sitting. In the meantime, I have been getting better acquainted with my running shoes. I took these pictures on my run today. The ice is starting to form on Goose Lake. So maybe winter will come tomorrow?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Is this possible?

So all of my running this summer and fall, and all of my plans for running in the winter and spring will culminate in July when I try to run the Crow Pass Crossing. This is a race of 24 miles over a mountain pass in the backcountry of Alaska, complete with a river crossing and bears. There are no Gatorade stations, not many people along the way cheering you on, and no help if you get hurt. It's the get yourself in, get yourself out mentality.

There are a few obstacles I will need to surpass before I can run this race. Right now it almost seems impossible, but I'm going to try anyway. First of all in order to qualify for Crow Pass you need to have run a half-marathon sub 1:45 or a full marathon sub 4 hours. I've thought about doing the Mayor's Marathon in June, but training for my first marathon in the winter in Alaska would be tough. I know I could finish sub 4 hours though if I trained, but would I be able to recover in time to run Crow pass in July? Probably not. Then I looked into Team in Training for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. You raise money for the society and they coach you through it. They aren't offering any marathons in the winter, but they are offering a half marathon in Vancouver in May.

That would give me seven months to train. Sub 1:45 will be a huge challenge though. You see, I'm a slow runner. The fastest I run for any sustained distance is a 9 minute mile. But I had an epiphany this week. I haven't really been pushing myself to run fast. I like running at a comfortable pace, but that doesn't mean that I can't run faster. I just choose not too, because it's more enjoyable that way. But if I push myself to run faster in training, that faster pace will also become comfortable eventually. See how this works?

So the test will be this. I did some calculations and I figured out if I can run a 5K in 22 minutes, I should be able to train to run a half sub 1:45. Easy, right? Hmmm for me, not so much. Right now I can only hold a 7 minute mile pace for about a mile. So the test will come on Thanksgiving day when I run the Turkey Trot at Bartlett High. If I can get close to 22 minutes, there is still hope. If not, I will still run the half in May as fast as I can in hopes of qualifying for Crow Pass. So is this possible? We shall see.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Soaking Wet and Frigid Bits

Last night was the first Frigid Bits mountain bike race of the winter. Before Brian and I headed out the door to ride over to Goose Lake we noticed that it was pouring down rain. We thought about just bagging it and getting in the hot tub with some beers instead, but I was too excited for the first race.

We were already pretty wet when we arrived at Goose Lake. The race was a relay. One person heads out from Goose Lake to Westchester Lagoon and back. The second person rides from Goose Lake and up to the Hilltop Ski Chalet and back. You can go any way you want as long as you stay on the trails (no sidewalks). I decided I wanted to do the dirt portion of the race, so I found someone to do the road portion. Since it was cold (about 35) and raining, the race director decided to let us all go at the same time and we would add up our times at the end.

There were more than a few things I hadn't really thought about before I entered this race. I had done this ride many times over the past few months, because it is the direct route from our house to most of the good singletrack in Anchorage. But this time the ride was a bit different. Here's why:

1.) It got dark about 10 minutes into the race 2.) The trails had been torn up by mountain bikers this fall due to all of the rain, so they were heavily rutted 3.) Those ruts were...frozen...solid 4.) The rain that was piling up all day was now freezing in large pools in the middle of the trails, but only on the surface 5.) It was pouring so that made the frozen trails and roots extremely slippery.

These five things added up to the most technically difficult ride of my life. As soon as I got on the Tour of Anchorage Trail I knew it was gonna be tough. My light was bright but it was so dark under the trees, I could barely see the trail. The trail was so torn up and frozen in most areas that every other pedal stroke I would hit a rut and my handlebars would get turned sideways. I also never knew when one of those "frozen on the surface" pools of water would come, so I'd be pedaling along and then smash! my bike would break through the ice and come to an abrupt stop throwing me onto the handlebars (see picture above). When I got on Rover's Run, this happened about every 20 feet.

And then there was the darkness. This is something I didn't completely think about until all of the other guys had passed me going back to the start and I was alone. I had to point my bike light straight down for most of the ride in order to see the obstacles, so I couldn't look far enough ahead to know if there was a moose (or a bear) on the trail, or if I was even still on the trail. The light didn't really help in warning me when obstacles were coming, though. It was like skiing at Alyeska when the fog comes in. You have to learn to ski or ride by feel. If your handlebars get turned sideways or your back wheel skids out, you adjust, recover and get ready for it to happen again. I just attached the light yesterday and must not have tightened it enough, because it kept sagging or pointing straight up in the air, needing adjustment about every two minutes.

But I have to say, this ride really kicked ass. Somewhere along the way I thought about the human power to adapt to any situation. By the end of the ride back I was singing and was thinking I was master of frozen, rutted, soaking wet, break through ice pool, complete darkness, frozen toe, moose in the shadows, bike light in my eye technical mountain biking.

When I got back Manny and Brian had started up the trail looking for me. I guess I didn't win, because everyone else had gone home! But I finished.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

In search of ice

I know it's only October, but Kim and I are excited for the ice season to start. We went hiking around in the woods today in search of ice. We knew that we would most likely not climb anything today, but we wanted to see how far along the climbs were coming.

So we hiked up to the "Beer Climbs" in Palmer at the base of Pioneer Peak. Usually you hike up the frozen stream with crampons up about 300 feet, to finally get to the base of the climbs. Today we hiked up in the mossy stream, through downed trees and Devil's Club, and over the small amount of ice that was already clinging to the exposed rock. As I rounded the corner at the top of the gully I was amazed at how much ice had already accumulated. I have never seen the ice at this stage before. It was white and super thin. In areas where it was hanging over a cliff, huge icicles would form. Beneath the ice was moss and crumbly Chugach rock.

As I waited for Kim with an enormous smile on my face, I started to think about the upcoming season. Thanks to we have so many trips planned. I even made a list of areas I want to hit this year. We'll start out getting comfortable on the local climbs in Eklutna Canyon, Candyland, Portage and Hunter Creek. I'd like to make a trip back to Caribou Creek to climb "Kids Corner" which is an awesome 5 pitch climb that is inside of this canyon off of the creek. We have some big trips in the works in the Interior as well. In January, Kim and I are going to the Ouray Ice Climbing Festival in Colorado to take some clinics and meet some crazy ice climbers.

I have my eye on a climb I want to lead by the end of this season. It's a big jump to go from leading a grade 3 to a grade 4 climb. But I saw a picture of this climb and it has been in my mind ever since. It's called "Lost Chord" in Hunter Creek. Here is the picture:

It turns out we will have to wait a little bit longer to start climbing the ice. In the mean time, back to "the glacier".

Saturday, October 6, 2007

My home away from home

There are few places that I visit that I just need to keep going back to. I'm generally a once and done kind of person, and if I spend any more than three times at one spot I get bored. There are few places where I could take 1000 pictures and then turn around and see something totally amazing that I just have to capture it on film. There are few places that I feel as at home as I do in my own bed.

One of those places for me is the Matanuska Glacier. In the fall I spend a lot of time on what my climbing friends and I call "the glacier" (even though there are over 100,000 glaciers in Alaska, this one gets the official title). It's basically the ice equivalent of a rock gym, but so much better.

Right now we are getting comfortable on the ice again and getting in shape for the waterfall season. Today I went out to "the glacier" with a group of seven to get in some laps. We set up a variety of climbs from low angle, to vertical, to painfully overhanging. I am realizing that I have kept my technique, but have lost some of my strength. My calves were burning very early on and my forearms burnt out quicker than usual. I've also brought back an extra 5 pounds of myself from Pennsylvania. So I've got some work to do, but luckily we have a month or so before the ice freezes around Anchorage.

The glacier and me have had our ups and downs. Days like today where I never wanted to leave. Days where I never wanted to come back. Days where I didn't feel like climbing and just walked around and took photos. Days where I scared the crap out of myself so bad that I swore I would quit ice climbing. But I keep going back for more.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Ice climbing Festival!

After getting back from PA late Wednesday night, I knew I would not have much time to relax because this weekend was the MCA (Mountaineering Club of Alaska) Ice Climbing Festival. This is the festival that got me started in Ice Climbing two years ago. It was 5 months after Brian and I arrived in Alaska and just one month after I finished my summer on crutches due to a broken leg.

I had no idea what to expect, and was a little nervous, but excited about the idea of ice climbing. Up until that point I had never even seen a crampon or an ice tool, so when we rented the gear and saw all of the sharp points I was even more apprehensive, but figured I would give it a try. I remember the first day clearly. It was raining and blowing wind in the morning. After we strapped on our crampons we started to walk out on the ice. Because we were in the novice group, the morning was spent learning how to walk on crampons. This is important because walking around the glacier can be dangerous. There are many crevasses and moulins, holes in the ice that you can fall into and down a few hundred feet.

After walking around for awhile and learning the different crampon techniques, I turned to Brian and said, "I don't think I'm going to like Ice Climbing." Everywhere you looked there was slippery blue ice and it seemed like endless opportunities to hurt yourself... badly. I just didn't see the fun in it. So we had some lunch while the instructors set up the ropes on an easy practice slope. I remember tying in for the first time. It's like the start of a race. You get nervous while your waiting to start but as soon as you start moving all the nerves go away. Getting to the top of my first ice climbing felt like an amazing accomplishment.

The clouds dissipated and the sun started shining down on the glacier. We did a few laps on the easy slope and then got a 40 foot vertical section of ice. Brian and I jogged up it while the crowd cheered on the beginners. I was hooked.

I've been ice climbing ever since. At last years ice festival I signed up for the advanced group and started learning how to lead. This year I decided to help out as an instructor. It was really an awesome experience teaching beginners. You can watch their enthusiasm grow as they see themselves making progress throughout the weekend. I thought about how far I've come in just two years. It was great to be able to get some eager students started in a sport that is really kind of hard to get into on your own. Because all of the instructors and organizers are volunteers, it's an inexpensive way to start ice climbing. It gives people a chance to try a sport they otherwise would not be able to afford.

We had two great days of weather, 16 hours of awesome climbing, and I even got to give a stab at the 50 foot completely overhanging wall in the picture above. I got to talk to some of the best climbers in AK and got some tips on the good spots to hit this winter. I'm totally phsyched for the ice season. Here are some more pictures from the weekend.