Monday, September 29, 2008

Feeling refreshed

The last time I was out climbing on the Matanuska Glacier was not a good day. It was rainy, cold and windy. My gloves were soaking wet and my fingers were freezing. I remember feeling burnt out on it. It was hard for me to muster up the motivation to get up even the easiest climb. I thought maybe I didn't want to climb anymore.

I climbed waterfall ice a lot last winter so in the spring I decided to take some time off to focus on trail running and biking. I kept turning down invitations to climb rock in the spring because I couldn't fit it into my schedule. I made a conscious decision to not climb at all until September and let people know that so that I would not have keep telling them, "Well, maybe next week."

Friday was my first day back to climbing since April. I helped teach a beginner course in the MCA Ice Climbing Festival making this my 4th festival. The first year I was a novice student. Then after climbing all winter and summer I moved up to advanced student. Last year I was an assistant instructor and this year I was a co-instructor for beginners.

The festival is always a good time, but after not climbing all summer I was anxious about how it would turn out. Would I go to teach the students how to swing a tool and completely forget all technique? Would we be able to find good ice, and if so would we be able to lead it in order to set up a good top rope? Would I be able to keep all of my students safe on the glacier?

As we pulled up early Friday afternoon I knew immediately that my burnout had passed. I went out with Carlene and Pat to scope out the scene and get some laps in. The permanent smile I always used to have when hiking out onto the Matanuska Glacier had returned. The first thunk of my tools into the ice and I was hooked again.

The students were tentative first thing Saturday morning. I really love to teach. I always get a bit nervous before attempting to teach something that I have only been doing for three years, but when I start talking I remember that I do have a lot of knowledge to pass on to them and that it's okay that I don't know everything. I'm still learning too.

Each student made some sort of impression on me by the end of the weekend. From the gifted athlete who already has amazing strength and picks up on technique really quickly to the guy who just moved here from Texas and is in total amazement by the beauty of the glacier and that we actually get to climb on it to the tenacious novice who struggles all weekend finally getting to the top of a difficult climb just minutes before we were to pull the ropes and pack up for the weekend.

We learned the basics the first day, and then we put them on some hard overhangs the second day. We kinda skipped the intermediate stuff. They were up for the challenge. It's really cool to see the students get better as the weekend progresses. It's fantastic to see them meet the goals they set out to achieve. I hope that I could provide them some guidance in doing that.

Sunday afternoon we pulled the ropes at 3:30pm, packed up our stuff and started to head out. I felt a twinge of sadness to end such a fantastic weekend and to have to leave the glacier behind. I felt that excitement in my stomach that I felt after my first Ice Festival. I think it was a good decision to take a break from climbing this summer. I feel so refreshed and ready to go that I can hardly think about anything else right now.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Getting ready for Ice Fest

This weekend is the MCA Ice Festival so I've been running around all week trying to get ready for it. I'm teaching beginners with Carlene. I'm excited but trying to figure out what the curriculum will be. My students may or may not have been climbing on ice before.

Last year I taught students who had climbed before so we could just throw them on a rope and help them in areas they lacked. This year we will have to start from scratch. So it should be a challenge.

I feel like I've spent my entire week in a meeting so it will be nice to get away from town for a solid three days. Friday the instructors are going out to climb a bit and scope out the good spots to set up ropes. Then we have all day Saturday and all day Sunday with the students.

I'm feeling a little tentative about teaching this year. I gave up all climbing this summer to run and bike and I'm feeling pretty weak when it comes to climbing strength. Should be interesting to see if the technique has stuck with me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Dead Legs

I ran the entire Powerline Pass Trail Race on Saturday with dead legs. The race was 13 miles starting in Indian, up over Powerline Pass and down the Powerline trail to Upper Huffman trailhead.

I arrived at the start just as they were getting ready to say go. I grabbed a number, signed a waiver, and pinned it on as I was running off from the starting line. The first half mile was nice, flat and a good warm up. But after that it was an unrelenting uphill that would last for 5 miles and 3500 feet of elevation gain, and then 8 miles of downhill.

I had thoughts of turning back within the first two miles. I recognized how different race day of the Lost Lake run was. My energy during that race was at it's peak. My attitude was positive and was just generally glad to be there. Saturday was different. I wondered why I had ever gotten out of bed that morning.

As we started to make our way uphill the crowd spread out. My legs felt heavy and every step was a struggle. I thought about how far I had to go and did not think I was going to make it. If I hit the wall at mile 2, how was I going to go another 11 miles over rough terrain?

I tried to make myself happy. The sun was out, the views were great, I could see out over the newly snow capped Chugach mountains for miles. Briefly I forgot I was racing. As the hill got steeper, my pace slowed to a crawl. My arms hung at my side as I waddled up the mountain. I thought for sure I was in last place.

Once I determined that it was not feasible to turn back (I had no car at the start line in Indian, my ride was long gone, and the organizers were probably on there way back to Anchorage to set up the finish line), and that I was not going to do well in the race, I decided to come up with a purpose for this race that would give me motivation to keep moving forward. I pretended like I was nearing the end of a 100 mile race. I was in the last 10 miles and I was tired, my legs felt like they were going to fall off, my body felt like it was being pushed to the ground, I had an overwhelming urge to lay down on the tundra and go to sleep. Pretending like I had already run 90 miles and that I was relatively close to the finish line helped. I imagined this is what it would feel like, so I tried to overcome that feeling and force myself to run as much as possible.

It worked, but it was torture. I came up over Powerline Pass and could see the valley down below all the way to the Glen Alps trailhead (2 miles from the finish). I knew it was mostly downhill from there, but I quickly found out that even downhill was going to be difficult that day.

After much struggle, and a preemptive sprint to a finish line that was not there, I finished in 3:20. I found out today that I was not in last place. I came in 21st out of 31 amongst the women. And I'm happy with what I accomplished. My legs did not want to run 10 feet that day. But I ran 13 miles feeling the pain in every step.

In retrospect, I'm glad that it happened this way. I got to see what it was like to run on tired legs. I got to find out just how far I could push myself even after I felt like I was done. I had a conversation with another runner recently and she said your mind is your biggest limitation in endurance events. You quickly find out that your body can go much farther than your mind tells you it can.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wandering Laura Settles in Alaska!

Back before I started this blog my childhood friend, Laura, came to visit Alaska. At the time she was living and going to school in New York City and was thinking about making a change. As much as she loves the city and all of the culture, good food, music and people, she wanted more outdoor adventure in her life.

To go on a just a simple hike outside of NYC took planning, a bus ride, and a lot of convincing to get someone to go with her. So when she visited Alaska in the fall of 2006 and saw how accessible the wilderness was, how beautiful the landscapes were and how many adventurous people resided here, she started to think maybe some day she would like to live here. I was thrilled to know that some day I might have one my best friends from home living in Anchorage.

Well, she is finally here! In 2007 Laura left her comfy apartment in New York to travel for a year. She road tripped around the United States visiting friends and family for six months and then spent three months exploring Australia and New Zealand. It was in New Zealand that she had an epiphany. The beauty of New Zealand and the adventurous spirit of the people reminded her so much of Alaska that she decided then and there that the move to Alaska was official (and she emailed me that week).

So that's why I've been a bit quiet on the blog. We've spent the last week getting Laura settled in, walking the dogs and getting reacquainted, and taking her on some mellow hikes and bike rides (she sprained her ankle on the road trip up here, so she can't do anything hard yet) just to get her out before the snow flies.

It's exciting to watch someone so new to Alaska get settled in. It takes me back to when I first moved here and everything was new. It's funny to watch her reaction to all of the weird Alaskan culture that is so different from the lower 48. I'm sure this is not the last time you will be seeing Laura on my blog.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Taking trail running to a new level

Tuesday night races are getting more hardcore every week. It's like the course setters are competing to see who can set up the most sadistic course. This week the guy who set the course announced before the race that it was "only a 5K, but what it lacked in distance, it made up in.... other things".

I love that I get to run with a few hundred friends around the trails of Anchorage every Tuesday. In reality, I only know about 7 of these people, but many of the faces are familiar. In September and October, every Tuesday night about 400 adults, 200 children, 50 dogs and 25 strollers line up at various locations through out Anchorage and wait for a woman on a bullhorn to tell us where and how far we are going to run.

Then she blows a whistle and we take off fighting through the crowd to get to the trail head early so that we don't get crammed into the bottleneck. After a few minutes we usually spread out as we find our individual pace and we just follow the masses in front of us and the pink and yellow ribbon through the trees, jumping over roots, rocks, streams, babies, puppies and whatever else the trail throws in front of us.

It's trail running at it's finest. I have done many road races in my life, mostly 5Ks and 10Ks, and I have had fun, but the monotony of keeping the same pace, same form, same breathing pattern over those miles has become boring to me. It's refreshing to see adults and children alike shouting, flailing, jumping up, jumping to the side, powering up steep hills, sliding on roots, falling on their asses in the mud, splashing through puddles and crossing the finish line in exhaustion because they pushed themselves as hard as they could for those 4 or 5 miles of rough terrain.

I usually run with Niko. The biggest challenge this week was a thigh deep stream crossing. Niko is not a water dog, so he pulled back and resisted me as I stood in the water trying to pull him across the rushing stream. After about 5 minutes of coercing, I finally realized I would either have to go back the way I came or carry him across the creek.

I picked him up and started across, he squirmed and I dropped him in the water. Then he realized he was already facing that way so he finished across. Then he pranced around as I praised him on the other side. Dogs love the challenge of Tuesday Night Races too.

Even with all the calf deep mud, the Niko bathroom break, the time I spent standing in the stream and the section where I had to walk because the people got backed up I still finished the 5K in 31 minutes. I think I'm getting faster.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Winner Creek Trail

Brian and I headed down to Girdwood today to check out some of the bike trails. We decided to ride the Winner Creek Trail and since Tim was going to be down there too we met up with him in the morning.

I'm not really feeling inspired to write now, but here are some of the pictures I took.

One of the highlights of the day was taking the Hand Tram on the way back...

I will say this. I am not really into riding on wet boardwalks. We warmed up on the Blueberry Pancake Trail, which is some sort of downhill trail that was built into the side of the mountain where the ski trails are at Alyeska. My first attempt at a sloping boardwalk and my tire slipped out from under me and I slid off the side. Then I tried to walk it, bad idea, and slid off again. I understand that it's probably fun if you are willing to ride it faster, but I guess I'd just rather ride on a more natural trail.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Thinking ahead to winter

I have been thinking a lot about what I'm going to do this winter. The past few years I have gone into winter without really putting much thought into what I wanted to do for recreation. I would just do everything that came up. I'd get really stressed trying to fit everything in and end up feeling like I did nothing.

This year I'd like to plan a bit. What do I really want to do? Of course, the first thing I think of is ice climbing. It is my one winter passion that I will not be giving up anytime soon. But I want to do more exploring this winter. I want to get away from the climbs around Anchorage and get further out into Alaska. I want to get away from the climbing community and the talk of grades and climbing gear. I feel like somewhere in my quest to become a better ice climber I have lost the adventurous spirit of the sport.

But I feel something else creeping into my interest. Biking. That would be the winter variety. I have had so much fun mountain biking this summer, and in the few winter races I did last year, that I'm not ready to stash away my bicycle just yet.

But it's hard to fit everything in when working a full time job. Maybe I combine the two? So I got to thinking about the number of frozen creeks and snowmachine trails that lead to remote ice climbing spots. Most people get rides on a snowmachine or ski in the long snowy approaches. Why couldn't I strap my ice climbing gear onto my bike and head back into these canyons. Hmm... but I'll need a better winter vehicle.

So now I'm on a quest to buy the last big piece of Alaska outdoor gear that I will need. That is of course, until I take up packrafting.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

So Long Old Friend

Today Brian and I sold my Jeep. This brings a tear to my eye. When I arrived in Alaska three years ago I thought it would be great to have a Jeep to drive around town. So we bought one. And it's been fun, but it's time to move on. There have been so many good times with you jeep I cannot even count. But I'll try.

Remember all those times you bounced me on the ice and into next lane while driving on the highway?

Or the time when your brakes went out and the pedal went to the floor while I was driving down Abbot Road?

Ooo! Or remember when we were driving along the Seward Highway to go ice climbing and your wipers kept icing up and I couldn't see the road at all? That was awesome.

Oh and remember when you failed the emissions test and we found out you had been spewing exhaust into the car for who knows how long? For that I want to say...thank you.

Oh yeah, remember when we were zooming down Arctic Valley Road and we hit a bump that caused me to loose control of you and we ended up in that ditch? We had a good laugh in that ditch, didn't we?

But alas, it's time to say goodbye. It's time to move on to more practical vehicles. Yeah I used the word practical. I have reluctantly added that word to my vocabulary this month. I have jumped on the "used Subaru" Alaskan bandwagon. And I'm liking it. It's nice to know that my car will not spontaneously try to push me off the road, and that I actually get to be in control of the steering.

So the jeep will be gone on Friday and I can have peace of mind now knowing that I am safer on the road. I guess this being practical stuff does have some value.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Time to slow down a bit

It's September 2nd and tonight marked the start of fall with the first of the Tuesday Night Trail Races in Anchorage. This one was at Kincaid Park. Home of the hills.

I decided to go jog it with Niko and take it easy, since I'm still feeling a little tired from the race Saturday. My body did fine for the first few miles, I even kept an even pace up the hills. Then it just shut down. I have been feeling a little under the weather today, a mix of chills, sweating, nausea, and fatigue. I slept 12 hours Sunday night and 10 last night.

I'm taking this as a sign that I need to take it easy for awhile.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Pedal, pedal, pedal

Team Sloppy Top Tubes finished the Soggy Bottom 100 in 15 hours and 17 minutes!

Despite being the subject of a mass bird flipping at the start, Tim put in a hard effort in the climb out of Hope. He battled a disintegrating trail, slick mud and rocks, and pools of water 30 feet long in the hottest part of the day.

Ken picked up the baton in Cooper Landing and put in a fast time from Cooper to Devil's Pass, gaining some ground for the Tubes.

I started my ride around 7pm, fully aware of the darkness that was to come for the second half. The adrenaline was gushing as I left the parking lot at the Devil's trail head. It was a combination of the people cheering me on and the nerves I felt about riding in the dark down to Hope. The 10 or so miles above tree line were some of the best I have put in on a mountain bike. I got to watch the sun set over the lake at Devil's Pass as I rode. For those miles it was perfect.

Then it was a race (that I couldn't win) to beat the last bit of daylight to the finish line. To sum up this portion of my ride, here are a list of hallucinations and daydreams I had while pedaling furiously through the pitch black night on the 18 miles of descent down to Hope:

1. Every stump, shadow and hole looked like a bear.
2. Bats! Does Alaska have bats? I saw three of them fly low across the trail at different times.
3. Someone saying my name from behind me at least three times that made me stop and turn around only to realize, Oh yeah, that's right, I'm out here by myself. And it's @#%%-ing dark out!
4. I kept thinking about what everyone was doing at the finish line. I pictured cheering, dancing, a big celebration, and tried to pretend like I was there.
5. Heather jumping out from the trees with a big smile on her face shouting, "Pedal, pedal, pedal!"
6. Bear breath. I noticed that when I would breathe out a big cloud of vapor would form and hang in the air. Then when I was riding down near the creek where it smelled like bear and dead fish, a few times I rode through giant clouds of vapor, like mine, only bigger. Bear breath.
7. At one point I pictured all of my dead ancestors out there riding with me. I know, creepy, but somehow... comforting.
8. I thought that I heard Jill shouting from behind me once, but was convinced that her and Jenny were not actually there. (This one may have been real, because they were only about 10 minutes behind me) I thought about stopping to wait, but standing there in the darkness next to the loud creek was more than I could handle. I had to keep moving.
9. Last but not least, I pictured Tim and I trading in our bikes for a nice boat.

The finish line was fun. Even though I couldn't really see the people and had no idea who most of them were, because they were blinding me with there camera flashes, I was happy that they were there. I said at the finish line that I probably would never ride the whole Soggy Bottom, but today I'm feeling differently. Physically the 37 miles that I did felt great. So I may be changing my mind. How quickly we forget.

I'm proud of my team for doing such an awesome job!