Saturday, February 28, 2009

A World of White Bliss With a Blue Tint


Today I went back down to the Castner Glacier with Jeff and Celine for a snowshoe hike into the glacier. This spot is hands down one of my favorites that I've been to in AK and even though this is my 3rd time here in the last year, it is different everytime in a different season with different people and in taking a different route. There is just something about this spot that makes me all happy inside.. can't explain it and I'm sure there's more brilliant things out there, but this one is pretty awesome and for whatever reason, makes me content and free of all stress. But before we go into the day, check out our encounter on the highway down in the video below!
video
Below Celine smiles for her (and I's!) first snowshoeing ever. We were glad to have the snowshoes later in the hike where the snow got deeper. It snowed the ENTIRE day but it was for this trip, the best weather we could have asked for. There is nothing more peaceful than just hearing the flakes of snow patter on your clothes. If there's not clear skies, give me snow anyday.
Below is Jeff - who is visiting from Iraq just for a week on his R&R trip before hitting the slopes in Utah and heading back to Iraq until September. It's been great having him back home in Fairbanks.
Below Jeff and Celine take a break under the first ice cave which is barely a mile off of the road if that! It is so peaceful out here though despite being so close to the road. I am itching to explore some of the other creeks in this area that lead up to glaciers.

We were fascinated by the gold colored silt in the glacier as you can see...
Beautiful.. we hung in and around this cave for awhile. It is pretty unreal that this exists in all natural form with all of this global warming chatter.. I feel so lucky to be able to play on glaciers and maybe that's why I can't get enough of it. Someday I can tell my grandkids, "hey little ones, when I was in my 20s, I wandered around in Alaska and played on big sheets of ice". Pretty cool eh?
Below Jeff attempts to jump on top of a snow pile but as you can see, it looks more like he is doing snow yoga.
We made some friends, Peter and Kyle who were out for a daytrip as well. It didn't take much convincing to have them do a jumping picture with us. ;) They and Jeff, newbie jumping picture-ites, rocked it.After the ice cave we went on aways, exploring into the vast aura of white rolling hills. The depth perception made traveling on some parts tricky.
Below is a pretty sweet shot that Celine took of Jeff and I taking a breather.
OOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!! MORE ICE CAVES! Yes!!! New territory for me.. we found 4 or 5 more ice caves but they were too sketchy to get too close to. Too much snow. Next time, we bring ropes, harnesses and ice axes!
And here I leave you with another perfect day in white bliss and great company...

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

For the Love of Research

High today: 16 F
Low today: -8 F

Today was one of those days that I like to tell everyone how much I love my job. And that is because I got to launch wx balloons for nearly a full day for my research. Sure beats a cubicle anyday!!
Even got some aurora around midnight.. wahoo! Loving February as much as last year!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

All Trails Lead to Home

High today: 19 F
Low today (so far): -11 F

Checked out two sets of unfamiliar classic ski trails this weekend. It was good to take a short break from work both days to explore a bit. The one trail meets up to my cabin if we wanted to go on a long ski. The trail network is amazing!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Sunshine.

High today: 35 F
Low today: 16 F
First evening that I skied home in broad daylight. No more headlamp for normal work hours. Winter is breaking.....

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Playing in the Mountains at Hatcher Pass

High today (ANC): 37 F
Low today (ANC): 30 F

Finally made it to Hatcher Pass for some skiing and sledding! Beautiful and fairly quiet place up in the mountains. There are no lifts but you can get dropped off at the top of a run, skin up, or walk up it. It was cloudy and the poor depth perception made it difficult to see bumps on the trails. Needless to say, I got some unexpected air on my skis, haha.
Nikole and Rena plow down the sledding hill..
Below Celine and I enjoy the mountain air.
...we were all pretty wiped out that day but still had fun until dark!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lil' Su 50k 2009 - Hike a Bike!

High today: too warm for winter biking.
Low today: ok for winter biking.
Mileage: 31.1 plus some (oops.)
This weekend was a really exciting one for me.. I have been following this race, the Susitna 100 for three years now (accidentally came across the webpage for it in '06 thru someone's blog) and hoped to someday be able to do it. Blame the mountain bikers at PSU for ever talking me into my first snow ride over 5 years ago.. which I can still vividly remember at Scotia game lands. In fact, I remember it so well because I wiped out several times on an icy lake we crossed and remember hysterically laughing trying to get up. Anyway, I will try not digress from this story.

SO. I got my first bite at this winter endurance riding thing this weekend in the Lil' Su 50k down in Southcentral AK, the little bro of the big bad 100-mile race. The race is a ski/bike/foot race, and you have to claim your mode of transportation the morning of the race. Debbie and I went down with some friends to bike the race this year after signing up for it in October! Below is our cheering crowd at the beginning of the race - Nikole, Rena, Josh and Shawn.
Holy cowabunga! I had no realistic visual of what to expect... but it was like a farm of skiers, runners, and bikers. I have never seen so many fat-tired bikes in one spot before. It made for some drooling over gear and equipment. Like I really need to do any of that.. ha! I am kind of glad that the week before the race was so busy with school and work because I had no time to freak out about the race. The beginning was really relaxed.. we were all chatting then all of a sudden people were going. I think my final words were, "see ya later!" as we rolled on into the bottleneck of fun to what would be a very long unplanned day!
As I think I could write a chapter or two about the entire race experience, I will try to spare you and get to the basic details. A mile in, we had to push our bikes, the snow was too soft. A few miles in, I began chatting with one of the other bikers who was keeping the same speed as I, and we missed a turn and led about ten people more than a mile out of the way. Oops. It was a very honest mistake since the trail was not marked well. When you see a sign that says "trail crossing ahead", last time I checked that meant "trail crossing ahead" not "trail crossing here". Oh well, life goes on. Below is a pic I took as we realized we were going the wrong way. Too bad that was not the right way, the trail was ridable there!!
After getting back on course, the trail went to crap for the bikers (aka soft snow because it was too warm) so it was "push a pugs". I had a song of Old Crow Medicine Show in my head that starts out saying "chug a long, chug a long" and also "Keep Pushin'" by REO Speedwagon. The entire time I was walking it was not actually that bad, because the sun was shining on my face and the weather was beautiful. I had delayered to one long sleeve tshirt and wore no hat and no gloves it was so warm out. I kept telling myself how it would suck if the snow was soft AND we had weather like last year's race - high winds and blowing snow. Luckily the weather was perfect other than being too warm. There was nothing to go but push on and try to be positive. None of us knew what the conditions of the trail were ahead. It would have been nice to preride the course and know at least what to expect with oncoming terrain.

My goal of 6 hours for the race was no where reached, being that I got to the half way point over 5.5 hours after the start. I hit a few walls during the whole race, but was able to keep the adrenaline pumping knowing that there were quite a few racers still behind me. For the most part I was near other racers the entire time and that kept my legs moving. This became particularly critical once the sun faded and I could see others' lights. Joking about finishing in 10 hours was all of a sudden not so far off par. I did not expect to push a 30+ lb bike with a pack on for 12 or 13 miles. But you know what, I was just happy to be out there despite the conditions. One of my friends wished me luck before I left for the weekend, but then changed her mind and said, "nevermind, what am I talking about? You don't need luck. You love riding your bike. You'll do great." I am glad she told me that because it was that comment, among other encouraging comments that made me not question my motives for signing up for a race that could be miserable with the wrong attitude.

There were two parts of the course which were particularly fun for me.. one before (i think?) going down to Flathorn Lake where the trail was doubletrack and up and down humps. The other - my favorite part being around mile 26-ish with a sweet downhill with big humps. If it wasn't for the darkness I could have let the brakes go completely, but was being a little bit cautious of moose on the trail. It was the closest to technical riding I was going to get in the snow. ;)

Below is Pugs in the darkness hanging out as I try feed the hungry stomach. During the first half of the race I was able to walk and eat but my stomach was beginning to reject food by a certain point in the race. It didn't want dry food but a big juicy burger!!
There was a water station around mile 23 or mile 24 where I stopped for some water and to talk with the people there for a little bit. I was feeling great being that the trail had become bikable with the dropping temperatures. The last few miles of the race were somewhat brutal, as I knew the end was soon but the darkness made the hardpacked trail hard to follow and I found myself pushing the pugs again. I had little energy left to think about running with the bike. But the headlamps behind me were beginning to advance closer and my adrenaline went up within the last mile to fight to the end in front of all of those people after working so hard to pass them. There was no way they were going to get ahead in the last stretch. Little did I know that the three bikers behind me would scratch by disqualifying themselves for riding on the road (on purpose..). How could you give up with so little left to go???? I could not believe it. It was actually those people riding on the road catching up with me (being on the soft trail) that pushed what could have been ten minutes longer into my bolt to the end.

At 9:27pm I rolled in, 10.5 hours later with those 3 bikers right on my tail with a grin on my face. I had no idea how many bikers came in ahead of me except for the one girl I was close to for most of the race. Not a minute later, I looked back to find Debbie and her bike brought to the finish line.. she put a HUGE effort in, getting to that last water point around mile 23 or 24, and her legs seized up to where she was unable to move them. She was not riding a Pugsley like most of the bikers, and pushed on with the perserverance she has. I was absolutely amazed. Needless to say, we spent minimal time lingering at the end and got on our way back to our temporary home in Palmer to crash. I barely remember being driven home even though I was awake. It was a great experience, I met a ton of cool people, enjoyed riding (and even pushing.. for the most part.. except for those few times I cursed at the snow) and you betcha I'd do it again.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Happy Birthday Val Mal!

What do you think, are we related?? Happy 36 to my sis down in FL!

The Great Goldstream Trails

High today: 0 F
Low today (so far): -14 F
Mileage: 20-ish

Met up with Steffen, Debbie and Steffen's friend Brittany for a nice longer ride today in the Goldstream Valley again. We got a little bit of new snow but conditions were still fantastic.
Above Steffen contends with some softer snow on Sheep Creek. Below is Debbie on one of the musher trails.
We saw quite a few people out but I can't even tell you how beautiful and serene it is back in those trails. It's easy to forget that you are anywhere near town when out there. It is getting to be my favorite time of year up here.. warmer, lighter, and the weather is typically fairly clear... AND we have plenty of good snow on the ground. Hooray for AK!

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Perfect Day For Riding

High today: -1
Low today: -17

Couldn't ask for better conditions today! Beautiful weather, trails were extremely packed down and fast.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Tied a Temperature Record

High today: -10
Low today: -41
The days are beginning to warm and my chance for 40 below biking is becoming more unlikely for this winter. I thought I had it, but I'm currently staying up in the hills and it was only about 25 below up here when I went out today. The great news though, is that I think I have finally figured out how to keep my feet toasty when winter biking. It had become a serious problem for me and the last thing I want is to lose my toes and never be able to bike or run or ski again. I got some extremely awesome advice from a man who is a pro in endurance winter biking, so I am finally comfortable and can focus on just putting the miles in. Crappy that it was a setback and recurring issue but I am hoping that this will be it and I'll be set for as long as I continue to enjoy the sport!
Here is a picture this morning looking down on Fairbanks... smoke stacks are a daily sight in the valley. Steep inversion of >20 degrees from the valley to the hills.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Winter camping.. in the backyard!

High today: -12 F (31st)
Low today: -26 F (31st)

Celine and I went winter camping in my backyard. She wanted to try it out near a shelter before committing to a 10 mile ski and being stuck in 20 below to find out we forgot something vital. ;) To simulate a real experience, we went skiing a few miles on the trails with our packs then came back to cook and camp! The night was absolutely spectacular, nearly clear.. but no aurora.
Luckily for us, my yard is huge and woodsy and it really felt like we were out there.. no traffic noise, no houses to see, no nothing! Just a bird or two tweeting in the early morn. (Did I ever mention how much I love where I live???? If not, here's my plug.) I was thinking how cruel my roommate could have been by following our tracks and scaring the bejeebees out of us in the silence. Luckily that did not happen! :)

We made a few mistakes which I won't repeat aloud, but it's a good thing that winter camping has such a steep learning curve. The only time I went winter camping was at the hot springs, which was a total advantage since we could heat frozen things up.. like lighters.. oops!
22 below by morn and we lasted til 9am! Woo! Our friends were putting bets on how long we would make it.. ha!
Fun experience and I'd do it again, but I think I'd take a cabin any day rather than frozen exposure! :)