Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hatcher Pass XC Skiing

High today (ANC): +21F
Low today (ANC): +10F

So the whole idea of me leaving the cabin near Broad Pass in such a hurry this morning was to get to Palmer to pick up Nikole and Shawn, and to get to Hatcher Pass to meet with the Mat-su Valley Bikers and Hikers group for a xc ski. Absolutely incredible conditions down here.
Poops likes the view.
I could not believe how fast the skiing was. I love skiing all winter in cold Fairbanks just to realize how fast my body can glide when it is 20 above zero.
So two skis in one day, three hours apart. Pretty productive day to say goodbye to 2009.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Moonlit Skiing in the Susitna Valley

High today (FAI): -10F
Low today (FAI): -21F
Blue-moon and starlit skies hung over me as Davya, Bad-Bob, Poops, Mocha, and I hit the trail to their cabin. I was en-route to Palmer for New Years but made a pit stop just south of Cantwell in easily the most beautiful section of the Parks Highway, just down the hill from Broad Pass. I can't say that I was able to take it all in since that 12 hour stint seems to be a distant dream, as I didn't get down there til just after 9pm and needed to get back on the road by 9am the next day. But what I do know, is that their family has a prime spot for a cabin.. a place that I gawked at while driving through nearly 4 years ago for the first time, not believing that those big towering things people call mountains existed as such. The trail followed the highway for a little ways until we shot into the woods, skiing through brush that could take your eye out easily. Ok, the brush wasn't that bad but the stuff that was sticking out caught me in a few ungraceful moments on my skis.. not to mention the open leed on the river. Davya knows what ungracefulness I'm talking about and we'll keep it at that... ha!! We took our skis off for a steep uphill.. and I do mean steep uphill, up a bluff, which Davya called the "stairway to heaven". I was struggling trying to walk up it let alone herringbone up it. At the top, you could see a wide view of the Alaska Range, completely moonlit. Unfortunately, not many photos came out because of the lighting. Below though is Davya and Poops on the way out, sliding down the stairway to heaven.Back at the car. Thanks Davya for the chauffer out so I didn't get lost on the way out and for sharing a little piece of heaven in the Susitna Valley.

Here Fishy Fishy.

High today: -10F
Low today (so far): -19F

This morning I went down to the Tanana River with Chris to check his set line. No bites! Bummer. We took turns trying to break through the ice.

He says the run starts back up at the end of February. Try again, then!
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Monday, December 28, 2009

Another Day in the Permafrost Tunnel

High today: -5F
Low today: -17F

Went out to the Permafrost Tunnel again today with Mark-e this time to help Matt out with his photography project.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

My First Christmas in the Far North

High today: 20 F
Low today: -10 F

Phew, I am glad that Amanda organized a mush/skijor/bike ride this morning because I may have gushed in my morning-Christmas Eve-homesickness and stayed in my bed all day. Now that would have been a silly way to spend the holiday, huh?

So Amanda is special, because she is the only musher I know at this point in time. Amazing to have spent all this time in Alaska to only know one musher. :) You should check out her website linked on the right under "friends blogs".
Amanda, Karl, and John getting Amanda's dogs ready.

So I don't know what I was thinking attempting to ride along with these guys.. all attached to excited-to-run dogs.
John and his three canines, HAULING with excessive speed.
And Karl taking off with one of Amanda's dogs. Collegiate skier + dog = no match for winter bike on soft trails.
So needless to say, I did not see any of them after I got on the trail until we were all back at the parking lot. But it was a good morning to be out.... a bit chilly.. or maybe I just forgot how to dress in -5 with all this warm weather. Better to be out than curling up in blankets and being sad though, that's for sure. The trails were fairly soft because of new snow so I was punching through in spots farther in on the trail.

Later that afternoon I went over to my cousins' house for an early dinner. They had invited me over along with Jana's friends who are in AK for the holiday. I am lucky to have relatives in town.
Here we are playing catch phrase.. game of choice recently! I like it because of its small size and ability to take it on trips.
Josh and Jana entertained by whatever explanation Josh is giving.

Then after that first dinner, I went to another one, and somehow managed to eat an entire second meal.. all within two or three hours. I would blame it on the bike ride, but I really didn't go more than 9 miles this morning!!! 'Tis the season!
The boys are all dancing. They were quite entertaining to watch and were very cute opening gifts.
And this was officially my first Christmas Eve with fireworks. We just couldn't wait til New Year's Eve!! haha. Lighting up the skies in Goldstream Valley.
This is one of my groups of friends here. It is funny how we all met because it was through a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend kind of deal. They are all really good people and I'm thankful that they stuck around for the holiday.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Skiing in Powdery Paradise

High temps (at FAI): -22 to -13F
Low temps (at FAI): -36 to -24F
Mileage: 17
Well this weekend things didn't go quite as planned. Ah, the joys of picking a weekend ahead of time when you're not working and then letting nature do its thing. I reserved the Colorado Creek cabin a couple weeks ago which DNR owns off of Chena Hot Springs Road (not to be confused with the awesomer one in the White Mountains) for this weekend with intentions of riding into the cabin, riding a 24 mile loop on the Compeau trail the next day, and riding back out on Sunday, to put a 36 mile training weekend in. But then, the snow gods snowed down upon Central Alaska for several days and made all the people happy and they became satisfied with their early Christmas gift. True this statement is, but I couldn't help but be a little disappointed that my biking weekend would not be so logical. That was the only reason I picked this particular cabin. Up until about two hours before we left for this trip, I was still debating whether to "practice" pushing my bike, or to put my pride in a corner for the weekend and enjoy a logical ski in fresh powder, breaking trail. So last minute I decided on skis.. the decision was made more easily since I do not own the correct bags for packing my bike at this point. Another cost, another piece of gear I don't have. Have I mentioned lately how I'd like a real paying job? No? Why did I decide to go to grad school again? Oh yeah... to get back up to Alaska easily. I still think back to one of my coworkers at the end of my first summer in AK saying, "oh, you'll be back" when I said I was going to go somewhere else the next year, with this almost defiant tone in her voice. I wish someone would tell me what I'm going to do next even if I don't agree. :-)
Anyway, Celine, Patrick and I played hooky on Friday and started out to the cabin on Friday afternoon during the light to take in the view. The trail was glorious breaking through. I am a big fan of breaking trail even though it's slow. It's just fun to make the first tracks, pretending that you were the first ones here.. even though many have gone before you!
The slog in took awhile.. longer than I'm willing to tell you. I have only gone on one "leisurely" ski this winter so far until now. Every other ski has been to work and back with a purpose. Nothing more than 3 miles R/T, since skiing has been making my knee swell up a little bit. Add that onto a breaking trail on fresh 4 to 5 inches of snow, and cold temperatures, and I promise that you could run it faster. What I realized this weekend is that this winter is beginning to blend into my memories of last winter. I've just been feeling ready to overcome any obstacle or take on any length of adventure, as if it's a continuation of last year. Maybe that's why people gain endurance into their thirties and get to their peak typically then. Not that I'm anywhere near 30 at this point, but it's nice to know that in 5-10 years maybe I could be one of those people who I look up to now. It's fascinating how sucked in you can get.. adding just a few extra miles every time.
So after wiping out hard on some overflow hiding just before the cabin (which I'll note was NOT there last year), the cabin though 20 below inside, was a welcoming sight. By the time we got there it was dark, so I took this photo the next day. I was shocked how long it took to get the whole cabin to warm up to a comfortable temperature but remembered a radiation problem I had in college about a cabin at 20 below in the White Mountains... that one will always stick in my mind.
Heike and Ben came later on Friday since they had to work on Friday. Saturday, Heike and I took a ski up the Compeau trail to try to get a better view. I should add that she dragged me out.. Without my bike it's easy to become slightly unmotivated to move. :-)
Poops is my neighbors' dog who I'm watching for a month. It's awesome having a companion and is making the winter a little better so far having a buddy. I understand why everyone has pets here now. This summer Poops came by to visit a lot when I was not able to get out very much. She is a very happy trail dog and loyal except for an escape at the beginning.. but it's not that she escaped away as much as escaped up the trail to start the trip without us.
Catch phrase, one of my favorite games as it changes with different people.Poops was pooped out.. I was amazed how her body just floated to the warmest spot in the room and didn't move unless there was food open around the room. Smart dog.
Sunday morning we started out in the starlight to get back to the car so Celine could get to ski patrol. No aurora.. again, but skiing under the stars outside of town was quite the experience. The problem for me in traveling under amazing skies is that I tend to stop and turn off my headlamp to take it in. Not the best tactic for making good time, but it makes for a happy person!

We made it! And my car started without assistance - yeah Saruba!! And saw a group of friends at the trailhead who were skiing the 24 mile loop! So much accomplished by 10am.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Playing in the Permafrost Tunnel

High today: -4 F
Low today: -13 F
I headed up to the Permafrost tunnel today to "assist" someone doing a photography project. In other words, you have to have someone in the tunnel with you for safety protocol, so I accompanied the photographer to make sure if the place caved in, I could use my superpowers to save him. :-) Riiight. In other words, free access to a cool place!!! You can't just walk up to it and get in, so it was pretty cool.
Yum frozen dirt. It smells like..... well, dirt inside!
This tree stump is lodged into the dirt and is tens of thousands of years old.
It was like being underneath a dirty glacier in parts, with pieces of shrubbery all over the place.
Protect your noggin'!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

I Fought the Daylight.. and the Daylight Lost.

High today: -3 F (and rising)
Low today: -15 F
Mileage: 22
Time from car to cabin and back: 5 hours

Waking up on a Saturday morning to an alarm alerting me now is the time to get up if I want to use all 3 hrs and 53 mins of sunlight (or 6 hrs and 40 min of twillight), my body ached and yelled and said it wanted to stay curled up underneath the warm blankets and rest some more. But luckily I know that that feeling is just a sign of winter hibernation in Fairbanks, and by telling myself I'm going to go and ride my bike in a cool place made my whining body get out anyway. I'm really glad that I did.
What a beautiful morning!

I headed up the Elliott Hwy to the Wickersham Dome trailhead to bike out to the Wickersham Creek Trail Shelter and back. Though I have been making sure to get on a longer ride at least once a week, this was the first ride I can truly say I worked on hills. The trails in town are pretty flat. Today I realized how much I miss riding hills.. no I'm not a fast uphill rider, but the thrill of working to get up and bombing down hills is what makes the sport fun!Upon showing up at the trailhead (an hour later than originally planned), I saw two friends from the univ. who I haven't seen in awhile, who were going on a hike up the other trail. That was pretty cool. You can drive an hour north but still catch people you know. Then a woman who showed up just after me and saw my bike invited me to stay out at Eleazar's cabin for the weekend. As tempting as it was to crash a cabin with a total stranger (who now I will know around town.. and we figured out that have some mutual acquaintances/friends), there were a few variables that made me definitely say no, like the fact that I had barely enough food for the ride alone (strike one, I know. That's one thing that was very irresponsible.), and I had a search party back in town waiting for news that I came out alive.. so no overnight this time. Plus, this was a ride for some energy burn-age and pushing myself a little farther all at one time. Plus, I need to finish writing Christmas cards that are sprawled all over my table. It's easy to abandon personal business though for adventures.. something I struggle with on a regular basis, esp since ever landing in AK for the first time.
Hey I have been here before! But onto new trail...
I took a photo here because when I think White Mountains, I think of this image. Snow-covered spruce trees and small mountains in the distance.

The ride in took me 2 hours and 6 mins if we want to be exact. It was ridiculously fast for winter biking because we have not had any new snow in weeks. :( There was a killer fun downhill also known as the "Wickersham wall" coming from the other way.. which of course I was slightly dreading to go UP on the way back (tho it could have been way worse). Anyway, I showed up at the shelter with a loud "YEAH!", excited that I made it there in such a short time even after stopping to talk with a skier on the trail for awhile. My rule was that I would turn back at 1:30 and I got there at 1:07. Perfect! Someone had left donut holes in the cabin - thank you thank you thank you! I took a couple which were so happily received by my body. Something to put on the list of foods for endurance cycling. I am still trying to iron out calorie intake on longer rides. The last thing my stomach wants personally, is wheat thins.. or any really dry food like Clif bars. As much as I love wheat thins, they are too much work to eat when on the move and are just not enough calories.Frozen eyelashes!! The temperatures plummeted whenever I went down the hill because of the steep temperature inversion. I didn't think about putting goggles on until it was too late.

I forgot to mention how I tried to ride over some overflow on the way in and wiped out. Oops. It was fine until the overflow terrain changed. That was one of those moments where I knew better, but did it anyway. How the experiences remind us of common sense. :-)On the way back, the moving was slower as the elevation profile was sided on an overall ascent. Then I hit the "wall", which was about a 30 min push up the hill. I'm sure others could push faster but I had no problem taking my time. Then the rest of the trail was ridable except one small section where I got off of the bike briefly. When I got to the junction at Lee's cabin it felt great after having ascended that big hill, and knew that the going would be relatively easy from there. There were several more uphills but they were all rideable.. at least without carrying a crapload of gear. I used my lights for the last few miles of the ride, which made me realize I need to start asking around to see if anyone has a good lighting set I can borrow because the ones I have are not that great.

Here's an elevation profile I stole from Ed's WM100 maps. I started from the right side of this plot at the "finish", and advanced left to the trail shelter, and then back to the "finish".. and labeled the fun downhill/walk-uphill part.
Looking back down at the trail after ascending most of the big uphill

The last downhill pitch was a blast and all of a sudden I was back at the parking lot. The sun was still giving some color in the sky.. barely! Then it was off back to town for a very large, well deserved dinner.
Do you see the mirage?

It's the beauty that fills me with wonder, It's the stillness that fills me with peace - Robert Service

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

8 to 12% to go

Had my 3rd and final knee strength test today and the doc is very happy with my strength numbers. My "bad knee" is only 8-12% behind the "good knee", which he said we couldn't ask for better numbers 3 months out. Hooray for a promising recovery and being ahead of schedule! :-)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

White Mountains 100

Well maybe I'm taking a dive off of the deep end, but I've signed up for my first 100 mile winter bike race, the inaugural year of White Mountains 100! I was going to do the Susitna 100 this year, but this one came up, and not only is it local trails and not-so-swingy weather conditions, but it's much cheaper (and that is an issue right now in life), and the timing is better since my thesis is due in February. I don't by any means claim to know completely what I'm in for, but I have been following these races for over 3 years now and have had the Su in mind since then. I am really excited and absolutely scared out of my mind but it came down to a "now or maybe never" deal after this summer. I don't plan on placing at all with the experienced competitors I'm up against, and I will only be "fully recovered" from surgery according to the doc just a month before the race, but I plan on giving a full-fledged fight to the end. Any advice that can be given is highly appreciated, too. Thanks to my friends who were all for it, and those who remained neutral with subtle encouraging comments letting me make the decision, knowing that if I didn't sign up I'd regret it. There's no turning back, now! Let the fun begin. :-)