Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tough Race

Photo from

Twelve tough winter bikers lined up for the inaugural Sheep Mountain 150 bike race last Saturday morning at 9am. There were no women singed up for the race. Two of the twelve were signed up for the 100 mile "easier" option, including Brian.

The course proved to be tougher than any of the racers imagined, non of who had ridden the course before. Conditions were good, but hills were steep and long, so there was a lot more pushing than anyone had anticipated.

When asked what made the route so tough, many racers talked about the demoralizing effect of pushing a bike up a couple of hundred feet thinking that you were arriving at Belanger Pass (the high point on the trail) only to get to the top and realize you were not even close, followed by a long torturous descent in which all of the elevation just gained was lost, only to do it all over again.

It's tough not knowing how far you are along a course and what to expect in the miles to come. People like to know what's coming, how much farther they have to go, and what effort it will take to get there. The only way to overcome the mental torture of not knowing what lies ahead is to train your brain to live in the moment.

You have to try to have fun wherever you are, really take the time to enjoy the scenery, focus on your bike handling skills or do some thinking that you never have time to do at home because you are too busy. When it's dark and you are cold, hungry and tired, that's really hard to do. Your mind keeps going back to how uncomfortable you are and when you are going to be finished. You think about all of the food you'd like to eat, but don't have, what it will feel like to finally snuggle into your warm sleeping bag or bed, or how it will feel to finally thaw your frozen toes. I have never ridden a course this tough before though, so I can't even imagine what these racers went through.

It took the fastest racers 9 hours to ride the first 50 miles. Brian arrived at the first checkpoint spent after 11 hours.

Photo from

In the end only five of the original twelve finished. Only two finished the full 150.

More race photos

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sheep Mountain 150 Bike Race

The Sheep Mountain 150 is this weekend. It's new bike only race that follows the route of the similarly named dog sled race that occurs a week later.

Brian is participating in the 100 mile version of the race. I, however, will just be a spectator at this one. We are headed up to Sheep Mountain Friday night. The race starts Saturday at 9 am and will probably extend well into Sunday for most racers. It looks like they will be riding some interesting terrain. I will probably get out and ride part of the course sometime during the race and take photos.

Good luck to everyone racing this weekend!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coastal Flats Attempt

The photo from yesterday's post was taken when I followed a group of fatbikers down to the Coastal Mud Flats on Sunday. Tim proposed a ride, but admitted the conditions might not be right. The only way to find out was to ride down and check it out.

Tim and Tony led the way as we headed down the bluff. I immediately knew that even if the ride turned out to be short, it was going to be worth it.

We rolled out onto the frozen mud and pedaled into the 1 pm sun. The snow was only about 6 inches deep but untracked and provided a lot of resistance on our tires. Every fifteen feet or so, we would hit a pile of wind blown snow and have to dismount our bikes.

We pushed and rolled until we reached the bare ice. I watched as Tim slowly crossed over a depression in the snow and in slow motion his bike began to sink. It was a sight my brain could not process. What was happening?

The ice was slowly giving away under his bike. He was diving with his bike into a river of almost frozen ice slush. Tim quickly pulled himself out the other side and stared at his bike in confusion.

After trying a number of different avenues with no luck, we decided to pack in and come back another day. But not before we hung out and enjoyed the views from the flats. We drive and bike by the inlet all the time, and look out across the flats to the mountains on the other side. It was interesting to get out onto the inlet and view everything from a new perspective.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Flat can be beautiful too

I spend so much time playing in the mountains in Alaska, climbing the steep waterfalls, skiing the slopes, biking the rolling tundra, and scrambling to the top mountains in search of some beauty that I can't find in town. But today I discovered that flat can be really beautiful too.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter night riding at it's best

This picture wasn't taken on last nights ride, but it looks about the same. Tim took this photo on a similar ride last year. We headed out from the Smokejumper trailhead last night around 7pm with a group of seven. It was -10 degrees.

I wore my winter tights with ski pants over top. My face was covered with a full face mask. On my hands I wore wool liners and my mountaineering mittens. On my feet, I donned my minus forty degree dog walking boots.

We took off from the trailhead quickly, there was no time for talking. As the wind blew through all of our layers we struggled to warm up. At this temperature my muscles feel really stiff and sluggish, my breath is more labored and the cold air burns my lungs. I start to wonder why I like riding at this temperature. I knew there was a reason, but I just couldn't figure it out right away. As I chased the fast group up the first hill, struggling to breath and to warm my hands, feeling nauseous from the extreme cold, I just couldn't think of any reason why this would be a good idea.

About ten minutes into the ride, we turned onto the trail called Speedway (or the Aspen Trail or Area 51 depending on who you talk to). I could feel the warm blood from my core slowly making it's way to my extremities. My feet felt warm, my hands began to thaw with a little bit of the stinging pain that comes with returned circulation. The tingling feeling slowly crept around my body until I felt completely warm.

We pulled out into the open meadow on Speedway, a line of headlights in the dark quietly floating over the trails with the Chugach Front Range hovering over us in the background. The only sounds were tires lightly squeaking on the snow and the sound of breathing through masks. I removed my mask and felt the cold air on my face. I felt the warmth moving through my body. I was completely comfortable and content at minus ten. And then, I remembered the reason.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rock and Ice... Skiing

Brian, Dwight and I headed up the Ram Valley access trail in search of some skiing. We wanted to stay close to town because we had a thing that night, but we also wanted to explore something new that was away from the crowds of Turnagain. We took a chance and lost in the snow area, but made up for that in scenery. 

Niko has learned how to take short naps along the way when he suspects we will be out all day... dogs are so good at conserving energy. This nap was around 15 seconds.

Heading up to Falling Water Valley. Brian has been up here three times since we first discovered it on our way out to Ram Valley last June. Once to hike it, once to bike it, and now to ski.

There was this flat light over the entire Eagle River Valley, but it made for this beautiful eerie gray and white setting.

We decided to follow a skin track up to the ridge. It was already looking a little thin and we suspected we'd have a nice hike with a not-so-nice survival ski back down.
We took our skins off at the top of some point 4600 something or other and started the quick but slightly terrifying descent. Brian took off and said, "Follow me! I'll warn you of any rocks as they come." He turned down the slope, took two turns and immediately skied over a band of rocks a crashed. Dwight avoided the rocks and gracefully swished all the way down the mountain. After Brian collected himself he too had no problem. I however was very cautious for fear of hitting rocks and ruining my new skis. It was a two turn at a time kind of thing that made my progress down very slow.

The bottom was a bit of a ski-whack back through the trees, so we put our skins back on and slowly made our way down. It was a challenging but satisfying day out! This area will be fun to ski once more powder falls. A lot more powder. We got back to the road five or six hours later, tired and happy.

Niko disliked the descent

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Day Ride

After three days of ice storms, rain, and general melting of everything that is fun about winter we finally woke up to more snow on Thanksgiving Day. It came down all day covering the icy slushy trails with a blanket of white creamy goodness. We decided it was time to ride for a preemptive burn off  of some of those Turkey Day calories. Hope you all had a great Thanksgiving!

Back on the Ice in Nabesna!

Friday morning Brian and I headed out to Nabesna for the weekend to ice climb. It's very rare that I get him to agree to ice climbing. While he loves exploring mountains he dislikes all of the gear setup and standing around that ice climbing involves.

But he agreed because I told him about this climb called the Corridor where we could free solo a bunch of ice steps while making our way up a narrow canyon only roping up on the longer pitches. The ice is moderate and I thought it would be a perfect lead for me since I haven't led ice in over a year.

We arrived Friday evening to the sun already set at 5pm. We stayed in a cozy cabin at the Sportmens Paradise Lodge, drank wine, ate macaroni and cheese and sorted our gear for the climb in the morning.

We headed out around 10 am. We are not into the alpine start, although we recognize that we might accomplish much more if we could wake up early. We parked at the Jack Creek pullout and headed over the tundra up towards the gully.

It was unseasonably warm, especially for Nabesna. At this time of year I expected it to be between 0 and 10 degrees. And after reading that earlier in the week it got down to 40 below with the windchill I was a bit nervous. But Brian's thermometer read 24 degrees. Perfect ice climbing temperature.

Eventually we were in the gully proper and started to free climb a few small steps.

We passed Wing and a Prayer, a grade V climb which Jayme, Carlene and I attempted and failed to climb a few years ago. It was March and the snow was deep. It had taken us three hours to just get to the gully after breaking trail with our snowshoes. We climbed the two smaller steps below the main pillar. I had no intention of leading it, but Jayme was game to try. She started up, got about a quarter of the way, and said nope. We had already been out five hours and it was getting dark so we retreated.

Wing and a Prayer

But I noted the alternate route "The Corridor", which Jayme said was more moderate, and knew I would be back to climb it.

Finally two years later I was back to climb it. I have to admit I was nervous to lead, considering I hadn't even swung an ice tool yet this season and only climbed three times last year. I pictured my first swing bouncing wildly and that I wouldn't have the strength in the my forearms to hold on, almost like the feeling you have the first time you swing a tool with your left hand.

The view back down the canyon

Roping up for the Corridor

But it turns out it's just like riding a bike. While I did feel a little out of shape, I felt like I got back into the groove of placing screws and building anchors pretty quickly. This climb is similar to Kid's Corner in Caribou Creek, where you keep discovering another fun pitch just around the corner.

I even had someone ask why we were going all the way to Nabesna to climb something similar to what we could climb closer to town, and I thought well if you have to ask that question then you don't really understand why people ice climb. I'm not out there to get laps in on really hard climbs. While it's nice to climb really difficult routes sometimes to see how far you can take it, for the most part I love to climb because I want to explore new areas that I'd never be able to get to without crampons and ice tools. And getting far away from town is not a bad thing.

The fact that I got to do this all with Brian made it that much more fun. I was worried about him having a good time. I'd like him to go with me on future trips, so it was important that everything went well. We have such different levels of comfort in the mountains. He is completely comfortable scrambling unroped on exposed ridges, but admitted that he is not as comfortable on a rope. I've been known to cry unroped while clinging on a moderately exposed slope and have even had a panic attack or two. On the rope I feel much more comfortable.

We picked a turn around time of 3 pm and it came up so quickly that we didn't get to go all the way to the to. But we put in a good solid day out. By the time we got our act together with all the rappelling it was dark and we only had one headlamp. We ended up hiking out in the dark.

 Brian won an entire turkey dinner at work, so we brought it up to the cabin and cooked up a big feast that night.
Back at the cabin, tired and happy.

Monday, November 15, 2010


It's amazing what a difference three days can make. Thursday we were swimming in fresh soft powder and Sunday we were breaking through crust and falling on our faces. Okay maybe just I was falling on my face.

A group of us headed down to Turnagain Pass again Sunday. We bypassed Tin Can and Sunburst and decided to head up Corn Biscuit to find some untracked snow. The conditions were variable and so was my skiing.

I was still having a great time, but mostly because I was laughing at myself falling on every other turn. I would make a few beautiful turns in soft powder only to hit a hard crust and launch myself face first down the mountain. I got my ski caught under an alder and did a face plant into crusty icy snow, then took 15 minutes to figure out how to get up while laughing hysterically. These are only few scenes in the comedy of errors that was my day yesterday.

Last night our friend Ken asked, "Do you have to be a good skier to ski in the back country?" And the answer to that is no. It's probably a lot less work if you are though.

Even though I sucked pretty bad today, how could I have a bad time with a view like this.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Afternoon Ride

It seems that everyone is headed down to Turnagain Pass this weekend, after hearing about all of the snow they have been getting. Since I have plans to ski Sunday, and had some things to get done around town today, I decided to stay in town.

I wanted to get out for a little though, so I met up with Tim at noon for a Fatbike Ride. We rode all the good winter singletrack - Moose Ridge, Salmon Run, Blue Dot, Birch Meadow, Black Forest, Baseball Boogie, Speedway (or Area 51), to Moose Meadow, up Rover's and back to the car.

We rode for three hours and on the ride home I thought about how a three hour ride has become a short afternoon out for me. I felt like I could ride for so many more hours. Having endurance is a good feeling. I remember back to a time when an hour long workout kicked my ass.

It makes me wonder, if I take the time and put in the energy, what else can I do? I guess that's how people get hooked on endurance racing

I guess this month begins my White Mountain training. I'm also throwing around the idea of doing the Susitna 100. Training right now consists of only a few days a week of riding with lots of climbing and skiing in between.

Last year I got burnt out on winter biking by the end of February. This year I'm taking a more leisurely approach to training by doing a lot of cross training, and hopefully I can avoid the burnout that comes with riding too much. I think I will enjoy my winter much more this way!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November Powder

The office I've been consulting at was closed for veteran's day today, so instead of sitting around on my ass all day, I decided to take advantage of all of the powder I have been hearing about in Turnagain Pass.

We headed down to Tin Can with a group of seven and were a little discouraged by the rain we drove through in the Portage area. It was a mix of rain and slush at the trailhead but we knew that meant fresh powder up higher....

And now to just get up higher...

Yep it was dumping...

Visibility was pretty bad at the top, so we stopped short of the summit and did a long run down through the trees. The snow was deep, up to our knees in places and light and fluffy at the top.

Down below the snow got heavy and it was hard to turn, so we had to just point it and go and keep up our speed or we would get buried in snow with cement like consistency.

After another run, we were exhausted from thrashing through all the deep snow, and ended the day with beers and burgers at the Brown Bear. I had a really fun day out and considering it was the first ski of the season, I feel like I did really well. My new skis and skins make such a big difference.

More storms on the way, more powder to be skied this weekend!

Thursday, October 28, 2010


The overnight ferry to Sitka was interesting. We got a cabin and thought we'd sleep the whole way. We were tired from the hike up McGinnis that day, and didn't have trouble falling asleep. But not before we caught the sunset and snapped this shot off the back of the boat.

After sleeping for about three hours we woke up to the boat turning a lot. We were sliding back and forth on the bunk beds, and listening to the engine rattle the doors to our cabin. Every time I fell asleep, I awoke again to doors banging and my feet hitting the bottom of the bed.

We arrived in Sitka early. We still didn't understand how the ferry worked, so we took our time getting dressed, because we figured we had a lot of time. We were wrong, just as I was changing out of my pajamas a women came barging into the cabin yelling that they needed to clean it for the next people getting on. Sooo, you pretty much have fifteen minutes after you dock to get the @#$% off the boat!

We sleepily checked into a hotel and slept in that day. After dragging ourselves out of bed we got coffee and walked down to the bike rental shop. We needed away to get around. We talked to the bike shop owner and he gave us a tip on a hike that wasn't on the map.

We rode to the end of the road in Sitka and found the hatchery that he told us about.

We locked our bikes to a bridge and headed out to find the trail.

This giant log bridge got us over the creek.

Wandered up through the trees wondering what we were going to find. The shop owner told us there was a lake there with a canoe that we could use. There were actually two boats there. We came out of the trees and suddenly found ourselves at this beautiful alpine lake. It felt like we were the only people who had ever been there. (Despite the boats).

We hopped in one of the boats and floated out onto the lake. This was probably my most favorite place we visited on the whole trip. It was so quiet and peaceful here. There were huge waterfalls coming

There were huge waterfalls coming down the sides of this canyon. I wondered if anyone had climbed them.

After the hike we spent the rest of the day riding back to town and then relaxing in Sitka. We looked over maps and realized we had already covered half of the trails in town. Sitka was beautiful and we were sad to have to leave the next day. Back to Juneau!