Tuesday, April 27, 2010

More spring skiing

It was a rough wake up call Sunday morning. My entire body was aching from the 6 hour race the day before, but it was warm out and I had made plans to meet friends at noon for a backcountry ski. I thought it would be good to get out for a mellow day in Arctic Valley to stretch out my legs, instead of just lying around getting stiff.

Craig, Zuzi, Dean and I headed up to Arctic Valley and up Gordon Lyon Peak. The snow was quite sun baked on this side, but made for an easy skin up.

On the way down my new skis didn't perform quite as well. The snow was very grabby and I was having trouble turning. I haven't yet mastered this jump turn and always resort back to trying to carve, which doesn't work on this stuff or in powder. What can I say, where I grew up there was no powder. I'm still learning.

The other three had no problem. Dean has been skiing since he was like 5 or something. Craig used to be a ski instructor. Zuzi was once a national champion of downhill skiing. I was in good skiing company, and it was fun to watch them glide down the mountain effortlessly as I tumbled and struggled to turn.

After the first crappy run I was hesitant to go back up, but we wanted to check out Rendevous Peak and Avalanche Gully which looked soft. Dean noted that the powder gets blown into this gully and the sun barely hits it.

We skinned all the way to the top of Rendezvous taking in the fantastic views that the Chugach provide.

Then headed down the gully. The top was pretty soft with areas of wind blown crust scattered about.

The gully was at least a foot of smooth powder for a nice 1000 foot run.

Niko was happy to run around with Jasper again, and these two were completely done at the end of our second run.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Women Rock! Adventure Race

Saturday Jill and I ventured up to Mirror Lake to participate in the Women Rock! Adventure Race. It was one of the nicest days this year, with blue skies and temps in the 50s. Downright steamy after coming out of the cold winter.

We went and hiked up Peters Creek and up to Bear Point the week before because we figured a race starting near Peter's Creek would access the mountains this way and that we would possibly be biking out the Peter's Creek trail and hiking up Eklutna Mountain.

But we were wrong. We didn't take into account that this was a race geared towards beginners. It turned out to be more of an urban adventure race. But it was fun! We navigated roads, trails and powerlines in the Mirror Lake and Peter's creek area and did a bit of bushwhacking to find points in the woods.

The bike portion was interesting as we navigated through a maze of roads whose layout make no sense whatsoever. We then did a huge 1000 foot climb up the hillside in Peters Creek towards Bear Point.

This was painful, but a good gauge of the fitness I am starting with for the summer. I'm feeling pretty good about it. I definitely have more endurance than ever and now just need to work on speed. Despite my higher level of fitness, my lungs were still burning on the climb. I guess it really never does get easier, you just go faster.

My teammate Jill is a beast who, despite not riding very often, can climb on a bike like mad woman. I chased her up the entire climb and got the feeling she was slowing down to wait for me. She really needs to enter some mountain bike races this summer, because I think she could do very well.

The finish line was back at Mirror Lake, where we got a free massage and an aromatherapy foot bath. Now that is a new one. It was awesome, but I hope these new adventure racers don't think that this was a typical race finish. The closest thing I ever got to a foot bath was having to cross a glacial stream (which also actually feels pretty good).

Perilla's Gorillas (I got to name our team since Jill wasn't at the meeting) came in fourth place! What a fun day out in the sunshine!

Monday, April 19, 2010

The "Far Away" Mountains

When you hike a lot in the Chugach front range, you get many opportunities to gaze across the Cook Inlet and wonder what is out there. Sometimes on really clear days, you get a glimpse. "Look, you can see the far away mountains!" Brian will yell out every time the blue sky reveals the mountains to the west of Anchorage in the distance.

Actually the mountains across the inlet to the west of Anchorage are called the Tordrillos. They are part of the narrow expanse of mountains called the Alaska Range that form an arc around South Central Alaska, from Lake Clark up through Denali National Park and all the way over to Canada. But in our house we call them the far away mountains, because you can't drive to them and you rarely get to see them, which makes them seem so far away.

For the past few years Brian has been talking about going heli-skiing in the Tordrillos. This year he finally saved up all of the money to be able to do that, but wasn't able to get a group together to go out there.

Two weeks ago we were at a beer tasting party and some guys sat down at our table that we didn't know. We started chatting with them. They mentioned something about having to get a sat phone, so Brian asked where they were going.

"To the Tordrillos, and we need a fourth, wanna go?" I immediately said, "Yes he does!" It turns out they were not going heli-skiing, but getting dropped on a glacier somewhere, setting up a base camp and skiing the nearby peaks. That is actually much cheaper than what Brian was planning and it was happening now, so he couldn't refuse.

That's where Brian is now. Finally after years of wondering what is over there, he is finally finding out. Sunday morning, he and three others flew out of Talkeetna. I imagine today they have their base camp set up and are skinning up some nearby peak. I'm so glad that he got this opportunity to discover a part of Alaska he has been dreaming about for a long time.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Bear Point

Hiked with Jill out of Peters Creek today in search of some sunshine. Jill shows some leg...

We found it. It was so sunny I couldn't get the face recognition setting on my camera to work. It's supposed to wait to take the picture until it sees another face in the picture. That's not my face.

That's not either.

Oh well, lets' do cartwheels on this patch of open tundra.

Hooray for sunshine!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Six months people, six months

In Alaska we have six months of winter, there is no getting around it. I didn't fully understand what that meant before I moved here, but it is part of what I love about living here. If you love winter, six months seems just long enough to get in everything you want to do without wearing on you.

But then April comes, which is still very much part of winter, if you consider that it started mid October. And we think SPRING IS HERE, because most of us have come from other states, that are not so close to the Arctic Circle, where spring comes as early as March, and we are fooled yet again. We also think back to that one or two years where spring did come early April.

It snows in Anchorage in April. Most years. Despite all of the talk about how weird this weather is. It's normal.

Wednesday I woke up... wait actually let's go back farther than that. Tuesday I woke up and said, "Wow! The snow is really melting fast! It's almost gone from our back yard." Because even a true winter lover can be seduced by the warm sun, the sight of GREEN GRASS, and the idea that maybe today I won't have to scrape ice off my windshield.

Wednesday morning comes and I take a shower, get dressed, feed the dog, get my stuff ready, and THEN I look out the window (because why would I need to check the weather, it's spring right?). And I see that it had snowed at least 8 inches over night and was still coming down heavily. It continued to snow all day and night.

But, I have learned to take the weather in Alaska in stride. Fighting the weather is the most unproductive thing you can do. So when it snows A TON mid April, I play in it. I don't complain. And I am comforted knowing I can get a least one more winter play day in.

Today I skied up to Peak 3 (behind flattop) with my friend Craig, who is a really good skier that used to be an instructor, but fairly new to backcountry skiing. I was a little worried about finding the way up there, because I hadn't been back there in the winter in about 3 years and invited Craig. I didn't want his second or third exposure to backcountry skiing to be lame. We found the gully we wanted to ski pretty easily though and made our way up.

It was a great day out despite the fact that the wind was blowing hard and causing whiteout conditions as we ate lunch at the top of the gully. Niko was happy to play with another dog all day, Jasper, Craig's giant German Shepard. But even the dogs were getting cold as we got ready to head down.

(Craig messing with Jasper)

The new skis are awesome! I can't put it any other way.

About two weeks ago, when I was struggling in chopped up heavy Chugach powder at Alyeska, I considered giving up on skiing entirely. I made a conscious choice at the beginning of this season to make it one of my goals to become a better skier before winter ended. So when I was nearing the end of the season and not getting any better, I thought, well, maybe I'm just not a skier.

But today I felt like a skier. It was so easy to turn, so easy to let go and go fast down the steep slope, but still feel in control. It was even easy to navigate through the trees and bushes at the bottom at high speeds, which I never do.

I think I'll give skiing another chance. And winter, if you care at all, know that at least one person in Anchorage still welcomes you.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Spring skiing just got a whole lot better

It never ends. Just when I have every piece of gear I possibly think I would need for climbing, biking and skiing, I outgrow something or something to be replaced.

Enter my new backcountry skis! I got them 50% off at World Cup on Saturday and picked them up today with my old bindings installed.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Little O'Malley

The long days of spring and summer in Anchorage are starting. We now have enough daylight that a decent hike after work is possible. Tonight after work I decided to get out for a run up Little O'Malley.

Niko and I both were thrilled to be out running in the mountains again. Except for a few trips to the rock gym and some easy bike rides, I have been pretty much resting for the past two weeks since the White Mountain race. I was on a huge high after that race.

But I started to feel anxious and down earlier this week. As soon as I start to feel like this I know I need to get out and exercise in the mountains. It's the only cure.

The sun at 7pm is still high in the sky.

Niko and I happy at the top. The best thing about spring hiking is that you don't have to hike down the steep parts. Time to glissade...

This hike up Little O'Malley felt unusually easy and I'm hoping to be able to keep this new level of fitness up for the entire summer. I always read that the bigger the base of fitness you have, the higher the peak will be. I am excited to see how high that peak will be.

Five Winters

When you ask Alaskans how long they have lived here, they often reply with the number of winters they have survived. "Three winters..." or "Twenty-three winters.."

So when someone asked me that very questions the other day, I replied, "Five winters..." and then gasped in disbelief.

Five winters. When Brian and I originally discussed moving to Alaska... (the first conversation was actually two weeks after we started dating) ...the plan was to try Alaska out for two years, climb Denali, and then move somewhere down south like Colorado, so that we had easier access to our family and friends.

Five years later (this weekend), we are still here and recently had a conversation about how much we still want to do in Alaska. We have discussed moving to Colorado or Vermont, usually around the holidays when we feel the pull of our family and friends from the East Coast. But that day, when we feel like we are done with Alaska and ready to move on, doesn't seem to be getting any closer.

And the Denali plan hasn't gone through yet, partly because we have found other things we didn't even know we wanted to do, but maybe we are just saving it because we don't want to have a reason to leave.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Slowing down

I have been doing some mellow hikes around town with Niko in order to stay active but not push it too much. Yesterday Jill and I got out for a six mile hike around the Moose Ridge Loop, a place where we bike a lot on winter evenings after work.

It was nice to slow down and enjoy the sights and sounds of the forest instead of whizzing by on a bike. And we got to see what we later found out is a bird that is rarely seen by people. I finally got this shot of the American Three Toed Woodpecker after trying about 15 times to catch him with his head out of the hole.

It is definitely spring here in Anchorage for now. The trash is melting out of the snow piles, the roads are clear and the trails are starting to get soggy. That doesn't mean that winter can't return before summer, but for now we are enjoying the warm weather.

It's time to do some spring organizing and summer planning. We have some fun trips coming up this summer.

Saturday, April 3, 2010


I have spent the past two weeks seriously relaxing back in Anchorage. I had planned to get back into the rock gym after a three week break, and to start some running, but I really am lacking motivation right now.

For about a week I thought well I already rode 100 miles this week, so I earned some relaxing time. But after about a week of this I started to get the itch again. I can't really workout just to be in shape, I have to have some goal in mind.

Brian and I went to ski at Alyeska last weekend and stayed in the hotel, which we never do. But we decided to treat ourselves to a luxury weekend (sort of).

I thought skiing would be okay because I could just have a mellow groomer day and slide down the mountain without really using my legs. But as we approached the top of the tram on Saturday morning, it was becoming evident that this day would not be relaxing at all.

Since the south face was windy and the visibility was zero, we ended up on the North Face for the first run. This doesn't work so well for me because I need a few warm up runs on less steep terrain. I watched as Brian elegantly swished back and forth and then followed him by turning and falling and rolling until my legs couldn't hold me up anymore.

We did about three more runs and I decided to head back to the hotel and have a bath. I hung out in the hotel room and read all of my friends Facebook comments about how spring had come early to Anchorage. It was still winter in Girdwood though. These fat flakes fell from Saturday morning until we left on Sunday and continued throughout the week.

My legs were not fully recovered from the race and they still are not today, two weeks later, so I'm giving it some more time. I've started doing short 20 minute runs, but mostly have just been walking and hiking slow with Niko as we watch the trash and gravel melt out in Anchorage.

This is an ugly time of year in Anchorage, so we spend a lot of time socializing with friends and making plans for summer. Ahh, summer. I think I'm ready now.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Winter Cycling Gear that I love

While preparing for the White Mountain Race I did a lot of research and tried a lot of different gear. Some of it worked, some of it didn't. I wanted to document that for myself and for other beginners that might be searching for information on winter cycling.

My Patagonia Das Parka. I have had this synthetic puffy jacket for almost four years now and it is my most used piece of gear. I have taken it on many an ice climb and it always keeps me warm. And to think I almost left it behind at the start of the race for a smaller and less insulated down sweater. This would have made my race experience A LOT less enjoyable and possibly caused me harm out in the cold. Yes, most people did not need a jacket of this caliber but what happens if you have to stop and it's 20 below?

My front rack. I mounted the sleeping bag, bivy and pad on the front and this also served as a shelf to stack my mittens and other stuff while I was stopped. I even strapped my food bag under one of the straps while I rode.

These mittens kept my hands warm without pogies at all times except when riding down from the pass in the wind, but in that case I just threw some hand warmers at the front of them to block the wind and I was fine. I am now convinced that I do not need pogies (although they do look like they make great feed bags). I don't plan on riding in temperature below 20 below, and who knows what the wind chill was that night.

This Epic Designs seat bag is awesome. It rolls out to expand and collapse to whatever size you need. There is nothing better than gear that is hand made by the people who use it. You can tell this was well thought out.

Hand warmers... this is kind of an obvious one, I know. But I always carry these and never really use them. These were the 7+ hour ones, and they do last longer than seven hours, because I put some in at 10pm and they were still warm at 7am.

This headlamp is the bomb diggity. Designed for extreme cold. The battery pack is kind of big, but worth it.

Neos, oh how I love my neos overboots. Overflow, what? I have Neos overboots.

Oh yeah, and never leave home without a good doggie to run next to the bike.