Sunday, February 28, 2010

6 months post-surgery

High temps: -5 to 3
Low temps: -27 to -10
Mileage: ~32This was supposed to be my official full "recovery" date from knee surgery (though I have heard it can take up to a year) and I was all excited to do something epic for it. But epic planning doesn't always result in an epic journey. I'll tell this story in two parts as I'm pretty bummed about the second part, but had a great first part.

Saturday night, friends of mine had rented Lee's cabin for one of their birthdays, but they both ended up with a really nasty cold and couldn't go, but offered the cabin to me since I was going with them anyway. I was able to round up one loose screw to go last minute, so Helena and I biked the very short, fast 7 miles to the cabin on Saturday afternoon. I had this epic thing planned out for today (Sunday) and back Monday so wanted to lay low on Saturday. The new snow made a funny moment for me on the way though as I didn't deflate my tires at all to made a wider footprint in the new snow, and decided to still bomb down the hill despite not doing that, and ended up flying off of my bike into a pile of soft snow. Really, it was time I crashed on these trails because I haven't thus far. Helena was a little ways behind me (because her bob-trailer was acting like a rudder), so she missed the entire scene and I totally tried to play it off like nothing happened (as usual) until I realized my chain had fallen off the cassette and had to tell her the story of why that happened as she rounded the corner. :) Classic moment. Anyway, we got to the cabin and bummed around for the rest of the day.. (ok, I took a quick snoozer while she rode down the wickersham wall... ambitious!) Oh, and Helena's musher friend, Megan, took us out on her dogteam! That was a hilight of the day! It was a nice relaxed cabin trip, otherwise. Here are some photos of Helena trying out mushing with Megan on the sled. Her doggies were pretty tired by the time we saw her coming out of the trail so they are looking a little sluggish in these pics/video.Megan let me try it out too after going on a sled ride! Here's a photo Helena took. I'll have to snatch the others off of her. :) Watch my video below for a live view from the sled!!
This morning we woke up at the crack of dawn to get moving early, as I had this highly ambitious plan which I decided I would turn into an ambitious, but not as ambitious as the other plan. Well, Lee's cabin did not have a thermometer on it, so we were estimating the temp - and really, it wasn't terribly cold up at the cabin. But, as soon as we split off (Helena had a hockey game to get to), and I descended down the trail, the temperature quickly plummeted, then I realized my water tube had fallen out of my shirt and exposed to very cold air and froze upon contact. I originally wrote a huge story, but I'm going to cut it down because it's not really necessary for you to read about the millions of thoughts that went through my brain in these few hours.Whoa, and here is a book of a story anyway despite cutting things out. You can skip to the end if you want, but this post is barely complete without this part...

When we headed out to Lee's, I was feeling tired before we even started. I thought maybe a low key night could shake my sluggishness away, but it didn't. I thought it might disappear after a few miles into the trail, it didn't. Ice had completely taken over my eyelids, and the sunlight peeping through the clouds was just not doing anything yet. I figured if I kept going, eventually that sun would do something. So I kept going. I had to stop in the trail shelter to switch out socks (mind you, only 6 miles from the start of my ride), but continued on. All of this stopping and fixing frozen feet and hands and noses was costing me a lot of precious daylight time and time that my stomach was needing food and wanting water. The trail was flat and easy, but cold. And despite the flatness I was having a hard time in moving my legs with much force. Was I getting sick having been around all of these sick people in the last week? Is my immune system trying to tell me something? The part that sucked about this ride was that here I am, feeling cruddy, with no easy access water, no one's cabin to crash at and warm up at that I am aware of until my destination at Wolf Run, which also meant my water couldn't be unfrozen until then. It would be one thing if I knew the trail and wasn't afraid of it, too. At one point in this ordeal, which I wasn't dwelling on in my mind too much, something made me stop. I just stopped there in the trail, and contemplated going home. Who was this girl who was so excited to see new trail but just stopped in her tracks and wanted to turn her bike around? Why wasn't she having fun anymore? Was it the increasingly hard time in eating frozen cakes and chocolate and fruit snacks and cheese? Was it the frozen water line? Was it the cold? I can't tell you, really. But my gut, for whatever it is worth, told me to turn back. I trust my gut a lot. It's helped me not regret anything big thus far. I stood there, challenging my gut, arguing that it's not that far, I did this last week, no problem. Then it came back asking me what I was trying to prove to myself.. last week I had a full unfrozen water line, and a body fresh with energy. Today that was not the case. I felt like crap, was not having fun, ended up getting all upset with myself because of these conflicting thoughts, and was struggling on sections of trail I had seen before. So, I turned back. A few miles down the trail, as I was trying to fight back tears (what the heck was THAT?! again, something else that has never happened. they would only make my situation worse by freezing over on my eyelashes), I came across my friend Amy and her husband Eric who were at Eleazar's for their anniversary as they were leaving on their snowmachines for a daytrip. They stopped to see how things were going, and I had to be honest in saying that I had turned back and having a crappy time. Which is when Amy told me it was 20 below out!! I didn't realize it was THAT cold. That's 55 degrees colder than last weekend's awesome ride. I should be able to handle that though, it's not abnormal to get those temps this time of year. It's just that this winter has been so terribly mild and dry that I haven't learned how to handle it on long rides. Anyway, the two of them encouraged me to ride up to their cabin and warm up, so I did, even though it is out of the way a bit. I made what would be lunch there too, and changed my foot system to use my down booties underneath my overboots, which kept me warm the rest of the way, but didn't provide much foot support. It was already pushing on 12:30pm.
Long story short, I struggled the entire way back to the car, until the last 2 miles, which are downhill - and it had warmed up and turned clear, go figure. In fact, I started having fun on those last couple of miles, bombing down the hill and turning the trail into a dual slalom course, purposely trying to get air on the snow bumps. With a fully loaded bike that was fun!!
So, an uphill battle it was. A positive moment at the end was that I met a really cool Iditarod musher in the parking lot. But overall, I am really disappointed in the day. Sorry to have a downer of a story. Try again next time?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My commute

I don't always go down to this spot, but when there's a nice sunset, it's a spectacular view!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cache Mountain or Bust!

High temps (FAI): 31-33F
Low temps (FAI): 6-9F
Mileage: 78.As temperatures in the Fairbanks area skyrocketed into the high 30s, 40s, and near 50F in some places in the hills this past week, I began biting my nails for this weekend, as I had a near 80-mile bike trip planned for an overnight. When it gets that warm, the snow begins to get soft and rot, creating a nearly impossible trail to float on. So on that note, I was prepared for what could have been a 15 hour per day excursion for the 39 miles out to Cache Mountain cabin and back in the Whites, a big 'training ride' for my race. BUT! I got lucky and temps cooled down just enough to make conditions favorable for solidly the third weekend in a row.The first 10 miles of the trail had been torn up by snowmachines and dog sleds the night before while the snow was soft, and then refroze to create rut-hazards for my tires. Luckily by the time I got to mile 16 at Moose Creek cabin, the trail stabilized and was in fantastic shape.
The temperatures quickly advanced into the 30s, esp up in the hills, so I ended up folding up my pants to make shorts out of them, pushing my sleeves up on a thin baselayer to create a short-sleeved shirt, and was riding with my hands out of my pogies. It was pretty uncomfortable, really. I think ideal conditions are +20 when all you need is a thin baselayer and can get by with pants. But, as I descended into the valleys, I had to cover up again as temperatures easily fluctuated 20 degrees between the hills and valleys. The trail between Moose Creek cabin (mile 16) and Crowberry (mile 26) was in awesome shape and very easy riding.
Everything was great and dandy til all of a sudden at mile 25, my front derailleur seemed to have stopped working, as I couldn't shift out of my little ring. I could not figure out what had happened, but stopped to take a look at things to find out that an impressive amount of ice had built up on my bike because of the moist snow. I wasn't able to fix the front derailleur until I got to the cabin where Bob helped me troubleshoot it. The photo above is some ice buildup after I punched a chunk of it off already.
Then, going down a big hill after Crowberry cabin (mile 26), I found out that one of my rear brake pads had completely disappeared (wonder when that happened???), so I was rolling without much stopping capability.

Then! My rear derailleur stopped working. The cabling had just been flushed and relubricated with something that was thought to be good for cold weather, but apparently that was not the case and it froze up.. I have never had my shifting completely stop working before, and by now have put hundreds of miles of winter riding in. Not so fun. I was pretty unhappy actually, because I still had about 12 miles to go just to get to the cabin and I was riding a singlespeed bike in a low gear, which meant I couldn't crank faster than 4 mph. On the bright side, at least my bike was stuck in a low gear and not a high one, because I was able to pedal everything. But still frustrating nonetheless.
Crossing Beaver Creek was exciting. With the recent warm temps I was a little sketched out by this as there was standing water in spots, but I was able to traverse across without encountering any liquid.
After that Beaver Creek crossing, I had to cross part of it again.
There were a few sections of overflow like this, too. Only one of them caught me offguard as I though I was being clever walking through the snow alongside it, to instead plunge my boot several inches into water. Good thing those overboots are waterproof!

Despite all of those mechanical issues, I still got to the cabin several hours before I ever expected to get there, feeling great. Bob was already out there as he started earlier in the morning.

Bruno showed up a couple hours later, having skiied with a pack for the first time, from the McKay Creek trailhead, and then Kate, Chris, Stephan, and Mike showed up a few hours after him. I was very thankful to see them, as I put my big meals on the sled Stefan hauled in via snowmachine. Oh yeah, and because they are awesome people, too!
Woke up to a beautiful morning.. cooler than the day before. And Stefan and Kate made us a delicious breakfast of eggs and bacon. Mmm!
Group shot outside of the cabin.
Bob the speedy skier! I have never seen anyone classic ski so efficiently before. He gave me a run for my money on my wheels.
The lack of snow this season has created some cruddy parts of the trail. Here are tussocks sticking up through the trail. There were some short sections which were worse than this. I started having rear shifting issues again.. but once I got up in the hills everything unfroze itself.
My cross back over Beaver Creek was successful, as I gained the guts to ride over it on the way back knowing there wasn't funky bubbly ice sitting in the trail. Brrrr it was cold down there. I was pretty motivated to get to the hill where the temp would warm up 20 degrees.
Another awesome weekend! Everyone did great on their traverse and were enjoyable company. I am very pleased with this ride and feeling more confident in troubleshooting mechanical issues which I am glad happened now so I know what to do. This was my favorite winter biking trip so far! Stephan also blogged his experience (in German) here.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Moose Creek Loop

High today (FAI): 16 F
Low today (FAI): -9 F
Mileage: 37
Holy crap, that one kicked my butt! Funny now that I am back at home after a meal at Hilltop, I feel pretty good actually. Out on the trail though, I was beginning to struggle. I'm almost positive it was due to a calorie deficit. Today I went out to ride a 37 mile loop with Helena and Robbie - a seismologist from Australia just visiting Alaska for a couple of weeks. This will have marked my longest winter ride yet - scary being that the 100 mile race is in five weeks. I was totally pumped to find people to ride this with, because I was going to do this today, solo or accompanied.
The three of us at the trailhead ready to rock n roll.

We had an absolutely beautiful day, but not quite as warm as we were expecting. The 16 miles to Moose Creek were an absolute breeze, getting in there in about 2 hours and 40 mins.. averaging 6mph which I don't think is too bad for the hilly terrain and stopping to take photos.
We stopped in the Moose Creek cabin for awhile since it was empty, made a small fire to warm the extremities, and eat lunch out of the wind.
Then, the fun began. We took the Moose Creek trail, a 9-mile connector trail which ends back at the Wickersham Trail shelter, and we got our butts kicked. Well, it was in better shape than the Lil' Su course last year, but really ripped up in spots from a 4-wheeler. I figured that the pushing a bike is good for me but I was concerned a little bit about the joy that came to the others from pushing a bike several miles through soft snow. But as you can see, I couldn't have asked for more excited people to be out on bikes with.
Robbie lowers the pressure on his tires to get through the soft snow.

Helena still smiling!
Above photo courtesy of Helena

Lucky for us, the scenery was incredible and the sun was shining down on us (requiring shades!) so it was more enjoyable than it would have been had it been raining or cloudy or something. We were all pretty wiped by the end of that trail though, because even the rideable parts (which was the majority of it), was very fatiguing fighting with soft snow and finding a line of least resistance. So, we ended up at the junction of the shelter, with 11 miles left, and slowing down considerably. The sun had gone down so we had only a bit of daylight left. We finally had to turn lights on at the top of the Wickersham wall, and had about 6 miles left to go. Doesn't sound like much but it was tough to get through the darkness portion. It was difficult to know where the hills were and how long and steep they were, which was tough mentally because you don't know how much energy to expend on a section of trail. Ned and Poops were waiting for us in the last mile of trail and my morale went up 500% when we saw them, amazing what a familar face will do and knowing that you are so close to the end!
Overall, it was a very good ride and a little kick in the face for what I still need to do. Did I mention that my riding buddies were AWESOME?!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Seeing the Yukon Quest in a Different Light

High today: +13 F
Low today: +1 F
Mileage: 27
Feeling great after a good ride to get back in the swing of things in Fairbanks.  I went out with Ned and Tohru to ride (they skied) the Yukon Quest trail backwards from the Pleasant Valley store to Nordale Rd.  We enjoyed a very warm day out on the trail.
Tohru pretty pumped to be out on the trail.
Fairbanks has only gotten an official 20.7" of snow this entire winter(!!), unlike the 22" that fell at my sister's house yesterday overnight.  Therefore, our trails are lacking quite a bit on snow.  Conditions are still ok for skiing though, and great for biking other than being a little bumpy.
We rode backwards so we intercepted all of the Yukon Quest mushers head on.  They are pretty quiet if they are coming from behind you, so it was easy to see everyone and bail off of the trail with the incoming traffic.  Only once out of 24 I took a real dive into the snow.  Most of the other bailouts were more graceful.
Ned skis down the last stretch of the Chena River before Nordale Rd. into the first sunshine we saw all day.
Ned and Tohru at the Nordale Rd bridge.
Gorgeous sunset and feeling great!

Left a Few Days Too Early!

Man, I missed out on THIS by 4 days!  Photos courtesy of my sister Patty (starring the little munchkins).
I am proud to say these girls totally pumped about the snow are my nieces.
Oops, Gretchen lost one of her boots in the snow and had to get rescued out of the snow.  At least no 3-year-olds went missing in the snow pile!
The girls stand where there is a sidewalk.. but uhhh, the plow truck kind of plowed all of the snow onto the sidewalk.  Good luck digging out!  I would be out there digging out an igloo.  Or a snow fort and waiting for a neighbor to walk by and start a snowball war.  It's a perfect opportunity.
 Here's a picture of my sister Maria and her car.  What car???
 Good luck.  Fairbanks wouldn't know what to do with that much snow at once, either!