Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Valdez Summit to Sea adventure race!

A couple of months ago while visiting some friends in Anchorage, they mentioned the Summit to Sound race in Valdez over Memorial Day weekend. I was able to get the weekend off of work (rare, but doable in advance), and some interested friends to do the race as well. Initially, I had them convinced to do the race as a team, but Patrik somehow convinced Kim and I that it was worth the extra $50 to do it solo, and that the three of us could all do it solo and rock it.  I never did believe the "we'd rock it" part, but did see it as a challenge!

There were two choices in the race - nordic skiing or alpine skiing. I chose alpine skiing with my newly defined hobby skinning up on AT skis (which I am still becoming efficient at), while Kim and Patrik signed up for the nordic division. I was thrilled to be skiing on May 27th! That was my latest official ski ever.
We got to Valdez Saturday afternoon, in time to try out the kayaks, attend the pre-race meeting, set-up the kayak transition, and make some new furry friends.  The weather was decent for Valdez on Saturday, so we hung around Allison Point for awhile and socialized with friends from Anchorage and Fairbanks.

 Brian skipping rocks

My friends Dean, Emily, and Celine from Anchorage with their flair and cameras at the race start.
The race start as seen from Thompson Pass
The course started out with the ski course at Thompson Pass, in heavy snow!  It was very exciting for me. I love snow no matter what time of year it is. I realize this frustrates unhappy people in Alaska, but as far as I'm concerned, snow is better than rain! We were at 2805 ft...not high up, but higher than most roadways in the state.  Right away off the start, I had a binding malfunction (user error.. I am learning how to use the fancy pain in the arse bindings that I found on clearance), but it only took me back a few seconds.  My friend Heike was in the same heat as me, so we skinned up together before she transitioned downhill faster than me at the top. The course was shortened to about a 1 mile uphill due to poor visibility and then back down.  Skiing down, I lost any depth perception and quickly lost the little speed I had at one point, and ended up having to double-pole near the bottom of the course! Oh well, you live you learn.
Here is a random Alpine skier skinning up the course.

Next, was the transition to biking... I knew I had a slight handicap biking, as I brought my not-very-aerodynamic-a-bit-heavy commuter bike, but didn't realize how much the handicap would set me back. The thing is, my very nice neighbors Jen and Harper let me borrow a road bike for the weekend, but I didn't have much time to try it out and just didn't feel comfortable riding it 28 miles in the rain.  I flew down Thompson Pass as fast as I could, until I noticed some wobble in my bike... then racing through my head came thoughts of "oh my goodness, are the wheels on tight? I didn't check them!..... what if....?" The slight wobble continued and I made a brutal decision of stopping from about 40 mph going downhill to a complete stop, which took approximately 10 seconds, if not more...the longest ever stop for me!  But, in stopping, I found out that my back wheel was in fact slightly loose. Scary thought!  The skewer was not latched on tightly, and though the tire was not about to come off, there is nothing to say that it couldn't have.  I lost a few minutes here, though in hindsight those few minutes could have saved a major crash.  As soon as the course flattened out, I was being passed by fancy road bikes. Part of me wanted to pedal hard and give it 100%, but I was uneasy about the next part of the course (the sea kayak portion), and I wanted to make sure I conserved some energy so I didn't go floating away into the big blue ocean. My feet began to get extremely soaked and cold while biking, even with neoprene socks on, and the idea of jumping into a boat for 2.6 miles, and then running 4.5 on frozen toes wasn't ideal.  On the bike course, I saw someone stopped on the side of the road - a flat!  I slowed down to ask if she needed anything, and realized it was my friend Erica from Fairbanks. She mumbled something in the thought process of, "I can't fix it. I don't have a pump!", in a near state of panic and defeat, so I stopped. At this point I wasn't winning any world records, and the defeat in her voice made me think, "No! You can do this!" even for someone I don't yet know very well.  So, I found out upon stopping that she only had CO2, and this was her SECOND flat on the course.  The first one was fine, but she could not get the CO2 cartridge to work for the second flat. I gave her my pump and we got the tire back up to pressure.  That was my second stop on the bike ride. As you're reading this you're probably thinking, "what the heck are you doing stopping during a race?" but I guess after doing much longer races and many long trips having been in situations where I'd be in serious trouble if someone else wasn't there to help me, it's a natural reaction to try to move someone else forward in their adventure. Defeat sucks, in any manner in life. I understand we should be prepared for anything, but realistically, you will prepare for what you think it will be like, but hindsight is always 20/20! About 5 minutes later, Erica passed me with shouts of thankfulness and her cheery self again. That was awesome.

After those minor setbacks in the bike course, I kept going, keeping my gearing higher than I'm used to and trying to keep the same cadence.  I had to gear down occasionally, and I was pretty darn tired a few miles out from the bike to kayak transition. But, I had my bugle horn on my bike and entertained myself on the ride by honking at volunteers. Finally made it to Allison Point and unmounted my well-loved commuter bike. Next, cold toes into a cold boat that I was not super comfortable with.

We had this brilliant idea to put the spray skirt of the kayak on the night before, so I could just slip into the kayak and not deal with the skirt which was way too tight for the kayak.  It actually worked out FANTASTICALLY for me. I felt rushed in my bike to kayak transition, but took a minute to try to warm up my toes by jumping around.  I switched out hats, and was assisted by two volunteers in taking my kayak to the water.  It was up to me to push offshore, which involved some serious hip wiggling.  But off I went, only 20 feet out to realize I forgot to pull the rutter out (this was not controllable from the inside of the rental kayaks). Partway across the sound, I was also regretting not shoving food into my face before I got in. I thought I could stop paddling temporarily and get food, but it just wasn't practical.

After being passed by a couple of kayaks, I eventually made it to shore where Brian was volunteering, excited to show him that I made it across the sound (he was worried maybe more than I was). By this point, my feet were very cold, so I was antsy to run. The transition from kayak to run took a bit of time, as I was winded from an activity I have little practice in, and I needed to strip all of my upper layers off to put a running shirt on, as well as switch out socks and shoes.  I found out Patrik was already done with his race (2nd place of his division) and Kim was behind me. This was motivation for me to go and try to run well, because I knew Kim is a faster runner than I.

 Patrik in his kayak

Erica kayaking into Valdez port

Exhausted at the end of the kayak and happy to get out and run.

Kimmie right behind me!

I started the run out slow, gaining control of legs that biked 28 miles and jumped into a restricted kayak. It actually was not as awful as I was mentally preparing for, and I found that starting out so slow really helped me.  I was able to gradually run faster (which is a very relative term), and felt good... way too good for the 4th leg of the race!  I know for sure that a big part of this was that I got to see familiar faces and other competitors on the out-and-back course. I felt better that I wasn't THAT far behind everyone else. I managed to pass another woman near the turn-around... though at that point I didn't mind going slow and chatting, but eventually broke off and starting moving faster for the last stretch.  I saw Kim and found out she was the last finisher, which I was shocked by.  There were some really fast folks out there!

The end of the run was great - I could see the finish line a half mile away, and I saw Brian coming toward me to run the last 100 feet with me, but I decided to sprint it out through the finish line.  I felt way too good at the end, a sign that I didn't try hard enough. But hey, how was I supposed to know how I'd feel after 40 miles in snow, rain, and 4 different sports, all of which I can do, but none of which I am great at?  I was proud of my 4:15:00 time.

I was the last finisher in my division (alpine solo), but I don't think by much. We haven't seen the results yet, but I know of at least one other friend who was in the same division and was maybe 10-15 mins ahead of me.  If the mechanical issues hadn't happened, and I decided to be more competitive, then I could have surpassed it, but eh, I am happy the way things worked out.
On top of that, as the red lantern for my division, I got a nifty award and gift card, not to mention a real-working kerosene powered red lantern! How neat is that?  I was happy to be with such a fun crew, and to see so many friends from Anchorage as well as Fairbanks there. Considering all the people who we knew, there was still time to make some new friends statewide, and enjoy some post-race drinks!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Maria and Bill visit Alaska!

My sister, Maria, and brother-in-law, Bill, came to visit me for a week! Neither of them had been here before, so I had a great time showing them Alaska in March (one of my favorite months!). They came this time of year so they might be able to get a glimpse of the aurora, but go figure, the 5 nights they were here, the aurora did not show its face! The night before they got here it was out, but no luck during the visit. They will just have to come back and visit again in the spring or fall! :-D

First stop - World Ice Art Championships! It was the first day Fairbanks hit 40 degrees in a long time, but we still had a blast at the ice park. In fact, the warm temperatures made the ice slides VERY fast!
We were also hosting Flat Maralee, one of our cousins in PA, for the week. She got to see some really neat things that Pennsylvania doesn't have!
The ice sculptures, as always, were spectacular! The detail on some of the sculptures had many spectators wondering, "how did they do that?"

For Maria and Bill's first full day, we went down to the Castner creek, where we were attempting to get back to the glacier, knowing it was snow covered, and knowing that we would not be able to get up on the glacier without skis/shoeshoes or proper gear. I forgot the snowshoes, so it became a slight slog. Once we found some old ski tracks from some folks who were out there for a mountaineering class last weekend, we were able to walk on top of their tracks and not have such a hard time. But we still fell in at times...
The scenery though, on a clear day, was spectacular and we all enjoyed the 40 degree temps and warm sunshine. It was just good to be out, and to have buddies to hang out with mid-week, while everyone else was at work!

Cana enjoyed getting out too, though her 120 lbs of dog was not so great at staying on top of rotting snow. Needless to say, she got her workout for the day!
The next day, we headed down the Parks Highway to Denali National Park. On the way, we stopped by the Nenana tripod for the Nenana Ice Classic.

They had just opened the Denali Park Road to mile 15, and we just so happened to have another clear day in the mountains!
To our pleasant surprise, Denali was showing her face.
A jumping photo for good old times...
Maria and Bill tried their skills at snowshoeing, near the Savage River.
Then we headed back to Fairbanks for some family fun with our cousins and ice cold beers at Silver Gulch.
The next day was pretty relaxed, and another crystal clear March day in Fairbanks. Maria tried out skiing for the first time ever in her near 30 years of life. And Bill tried it again, the first time since he was young. Here's a photo of Maria and Brian skiing along the Skarland trail in Fairbanks.
Bill got confident pretty quickly on the hills and began zooming ahead!
Our last big adventure was out to Tolovana Hot Springs for an overnight trip. This was my third trip out to Tolovana, and first time going in the spring when there was plentiful snow and daylight. The trail was pretty rough for first-timer snowmachiners, but Maria and Bill survived and really enjoyed the water and cabin experience at the hot springs!

After getting back to Fairbanks and getting some grub at Ivory Jack's, we headed home to hang out before Maria and Bill had to head back to Pittsburgh. On the way to the airport, we made one final Fairbanks-stop at the Water Wagon... one of the many true Fairbanksian locales.
It was great to have them and I look forward to my summer visitors coming in the next few months!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Aurora season

Here is an aurora shot from 1am last night. I was using Brian's Canon Rebel XTi for the first time ever, and did not focus the camera correctly, or know how to change the aperture, so this photo is sub-par for what the camera can handle! All of the rest of them came out pretty blurry..especially the nice and bright ones! Someday, I promise good aurora photos. :-)

My sister and brother in law show up in less than two weeks, and seeing the aurora is at the top of their list. I hope it can happen! We are getting spoiled here in Interior Alaska!

Monday, March 5, 2012

Blogging Again?

Thinking about starting this blog back up - I wonder if anyone would still read it? I just got new ram for my computer and it's working again!!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Take that, White Mountains 100!

Though my name still appears on the bottom third of the results list, I am super pleased with my White Mountains 100 race this year. It helps that I was asked a few weeks ago post-Susitna-100-slump whether I was doing these races because I am trying to beat someone, or beat my own performance. The answer is definitely the latter, hence the excitement.
photo of 'Big Blue' sitting at Cache Mtn. cabin courtesy B. Groseclose

This year I had Big Blue. Had conditions been the way they were this weekend last year, I would have been in serious trouble with snowcats. The fact that Kevin, Gail and Rocky were able to survive (and do well!) with their substantially skinnier tires boggles my mind. I don't think many racers could survive on snowcats after floating with their fatties. Anyway.. I digress!
Joel and I at the start
Brian and I at the start
photos courtesy J. and A. Homan

At the trailhead, my face was beaming as it was toasty warm out and not windy. Though I was nervous of the warmth (warmth meaning soft snow for bikers), the idea that I probably wouldn't have problems staying at a healthy body temperature made me very happy. Not having been dry heaving since the night before was also a reason for celebration, because my belly started out that morning feeling full and as ready as it could be for 24+ hours of an abusive sugary/salty diet.
photo courtesy T. Lopez

The race start was a shit-show, for a lack of better terms. There were way too many people trying to start at the same time which resulted in people falling from a lack of momentum, blocking each other, which dominoed big time. The only way I could see this alleviated better would be to move the start line back a bit.. but there wasn't much room to work with so I think the race organizers did fine.. just a lot of people starting at the same time onto a skinny trail. I would have waited to start like I did last year, except after my Susitna experience it was not an option in my head to let the runners get ahead of me, especially with the soft trail.

By a few miles up the trail the race panned out much like last year. I was surrounded by pretty much the same people all the way up to the first checkpoint at mile 16, except that most skiers were in front of me since conditions were absurdly good for skiing, unlike last year's slow conditions. The trail was softer this year.. so going down hills was sketchy as tires were more easily getting caught in other words I could not go as fast as I like to down hills.. but still was making decent time. I made it out to mile 39 Cache Mountain cabin, checkpoint 2 in about 6.5 hours which was a tiny bit shorter than last year.. and I felt better. I mustered up enough will to leave that cabin in a half hour, dreading the next portion, which I'd also like to call "the portion of doom" due to my one and only other experience on that part of the trail.
photo courtesy D. Young

It actually wasn't bad climbing up the Divide this year. The terrible part was the DOWNHILL portion of the Divide, which was completely torn up, very difficult to navigate, with no good path for bikers. My friend Bob passed me through this section for the second year in a row, and Tom M also did.. who was an extremely positive person I kept seeing on the trail. His good attitude came at good times for me as we were trail hoping back and forth. I saw Shonda and Paul out in the Divide trailing me only a tiny bit and kept waiting for them to pass, but they always stayed a little bit behind.

I cannot tell you how many times I crashed my bike going down the Divide, and how many more times I averted a serious crash. At one point, my ankle was stuck in the snow at an angle, and I had to launch my bike from off of me onto the "trail" and then wiggle myself out of the several feet of snow I was stuck in. Lucky for me there was a tiny little tree (twig.) that I was able to hold onto to get some stability.

After that very frustrating part of the course, the dreaded ice lakes laid ahead. I had heard that the week before the race that the ice lakes were easy, and it was true. The ice was not angled like last year. The wind was not blowing 20+ kts. In fact, I carefully rode the ENTIRE thing except for this very last section which was a bit angled.. where Dan the medic found me and took the picture below.

If you were following last year, you might remember that Dan was the medic who had a camping tent set up at the end of the ice lakes when my hand started to freeze and I began to go hypothermic. If you don't remember/weren't following, my hands were warmed up via snowmachine handwarmers, and body warmed up in a 30 below bag. THIS year, Dan was riding around on a snowmachine checking on racers.. and I could not avoid him and once he identified who I was, there were a lot of comments made about the ice lakes. So, when he caught me ON the ice lakes, he was taking photos and were laughing about it as I was clearly doing just fine and chugging along. He was giving me a hard time and I seriously considering giving him the finger, but decided not to in case we met at a later mile in the race and I was in trouble again. As my friend Bob said later, "you might have been giving him the nub if he didn't warm up your hand last year!" I was humoured by that mental image.
photo courtesy D. Young

New this year was a wall tent down at the ice lakes. Thanks guys! ;) I took advantage of this and warmed up my hands which were getting just a little bit cold. Shonda and Paul passed me while I was in the tent for a short time. When I got to Windy Gap, I found out Shonda and Paul had a few of my belongings that were dropped on the trail when I crashed. It was humorous because I had no clue that I had lost anything, but then realized my frame bag zipper was open. OOPS! Thanks guys for picking up my trail of crap. :)
Shonda and Paul, photo courtesy D. Young

Windy Gap was great. My stomach was beginning to churn and unlike last year, I couldn't even eat all of my meatballs! (last year I was dying for more!) It was fun talking with Ben and Brian while I rested my legs and mentally prepared for riding in the dark and the snow, which was quickly picking up in intensity. Chris Allard was packing up around the same time as me and so I got out of the cabin soon after he did. I caught up with him after a few miles, as the trail became SUPER DUPER FAST! I was pumped and feeling great. I was going a little slower than I would have regularly because I was noticing A LOT of fresh moose tracks through the trail ("speed bumps"), and between the darkness and moderate snow, I could not see farther than about 15 feet in front of me. When I caught up to Chris I decided to stay with him the rest of the way to Borealis since I was getting tired, and nervous about moose since we could not see far in front of us. Everytime I stopped for a snack I did a 360 degree moose check to make sure one was not laying beside me or ready to charge.

Chris and I made it to Borealis tired, but doing well. I was starting to fall asleep enroute to Borealis but once there knew that if I put my head down, I'd be completely out for at least an hour. I feel kind of bad because when we got there I said, "man, I think I need to lay down for a little bit", and he did instead. Since I wasn't being productive just sitting there, I headed out the same time as Kristy D. We hopped back and forth most of the way to the Wickersham Trail Shelter. I was beginning to fade as the night continued on, not because of the dark as much as just exhaustion. At the shelter, Kat, Ed, Kristy, and Ian were there, and I was very excited when Ian handed me a bag of cheddar cheese and Ed handed me some Bugles. I was dreading the last 10 miles and did not have the energy that I had last year during the WM100 or during the Susitna this year. It seems that my worst time of day during races is just before and during sunrise. You would think the impending sunrise would make me feel better but it doesn't appear to work that way. The last 10 miles were a huge struggle and horrendously slow. I knew there was a biker not far ahead of me, and Kristy would be right behind me. Going up the Wickersham Wall was horrendous. Last year I flew up it in 20 mins, this year it took me about 35 mins.. every one step forward was a half step back. Ed caught up to me near the top of the wall and stopped for a snack at the top. He asked me, "are you tired?", which I think was a polite way of saying, "you look exhausted! are you going to make it?", because I very much was and was feeling pretty sick. Even the flats and downhills were hard at this point, but I knew it was only 6 measly miles to the end. It was slow and arduous, and Kristy caught up to me a few miles from the finish line. I used her pace as motivation to keep moving. She was a great companion for the last stretch of the race and constantly had a smile on her face despite our exhaustion.
photo courtesy. R Beebee

I started falling asleep pushing my bike up the hills. I thought about how bad it would be to pass out on the trail a few miles out from the end and have someone come across me passed out and have to be assisted out and not finish. I thought about how I'd be kicking and screaming if that happened and could drag my bike to the finish. That was enough to keep me shaking my head to try to wake up and talk to myself. My friend Helena was biking backwards from the finish line towards Wolf Run cabin, and I met her at mile 96.. and barely processed who she was until she was about 10 feet away. I was completely beat at this point, but it was fantastic seeing her. At that point of the race I forgot she was even going to be coming up from the trailhead. When I saw her she was explaining to me that Brian G was waiting for me because my Brian couldn't make it because of work and the other Julie scratched because of bike problems (which I was SUPER bummed about.. but explained why she didn't catch up to me). I was totally confused, but what I understood is that (my) Brian wasn't going to be at the end.. and I was kind of bummed about that too but still holding out that maybe he'd be there.. but understanding if he couldn't be there since people have jobs they can't just leave (I'd be the same if I was at work). Afterall, he wasn't expecting to pick me up til AFTER work!

The "1 mile to finish!" sign was a welcoming sight, but unlike last year's fast 1 mile highway down the trail, the last mile of the race was completely torn up and I had to deflate my tires even more than they were already deflated and hold my brakes the entire way down. I refused to pedal though this last mile, and just put all of my energy into handling through the snow. But, I had made it and yelled when I saw someone looking up the trail (who I think was Kristy's dad). Once my vision cleared with who was there, I saw Carlene with her poms poms, Taryn, and my Brian!! YAY! There was some miscommunication between parties who thought my Brian's comment about "hopefully I can leave work" meant that he likely wouldn't be able to make it.. which wasn't true and it got tossed around between people who made some assumptions. I was completely spent and didn't even manage to do a victory lap around the parking lot. But that's how you're supposed to feel at the end of a race, right?! I was happy, satisfied that I wiped off 8 hours of my time from last year, and ready to go to bed. Everything is pretty blurry from the end.
Carlene and I at the end, photo courtesy T. Lopez

10:08am, 26 hours after the start, I finished 8 hours ahead of my WM100 time from last year, as well as my Susitna 100 time from 5 weeks ago. No, I didn't finish it in 11 hours.. or even 20.. but all things considered, I am happy with my time, and was still smiling at the end! Whether I'll do it again... I don't know. Talk to me in October...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ooooooklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain (and creates huge wildfires!)

I was sent down to Oklahoma for work training, as all new full-time employees are with my company. I was completely pumped to go back to Norman and see all of my friends from last summer and make some new ones! Who knew one could be excited to travel from mountain-y Alaska to flat Oklahoma?!?! It can happen!
My training class was a BLAST! We had a ton of fun together. Though you can't make out any faces in the photo above, it was only our first night, and we were already pulling pranks on our instructors. The funny part was, that me and another girl were the youngest there. That means there were a lot of fun-loving, slightly immature people in my group. :)
On our last day of training, Sean, one of the guys I worked with last summer, gave us a tour of the storm chasing vehicles. I was so excited, probe 4 was still there!! OU bought it for research, so it should be there for years to come. Apparently, we are in an imax film called "Tornado Alley" that was filmed last summer during our field season. I haven't seen it since it hasn't filmed in Alaska, but I hear my star role in the film is standing around in a parking and giving high-fives at the end. I didn't expect anything more in depth, but was amused that my friend from college picked me out.
Probe 4 still has the baseball-sized hail dent from the Dumas TX storm, May 18, 2010!

Though I forgot to take a photo of a big dinner table of V2 folks from last summer, I did remember to take one as the number of night-crawlers dwindled. Here's Kim, Kristin (one of my navigators), Ryan, and Kent.
While in Norman, I hoped to see some storms but instead got a big wildfire. The smoke zoomed by my hotel, and I watched the fire coverage on TV.. which was kind of nerve-wracking as the fire consumed homes just to my southwest. Then it was time to head to Seattle.. to explore some new lands and see some old friends!