Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sub-arctic Survival

Highest temp we noted: +22F
Lowest temp we noted: -15F
Mileage: 75
Hours on trail: 33.5
So this past week was "spring break", but as grad students we don't necessarily get a "spring break" but kind of hope that no one notices as we escape into the abyss for a few days. That is the advantage of grad school though and I am sure many will agree. Anyway, Helena proposed a 3-day excursion into a couple of cabins on the north side of the White Mountains which was supposed to be "low key" with the lack of snow this winter and the fantastic trails in the last two months.
But, as a meteorologist, I am often doomed with bad weather in some shape or form, so we should have known better. We hit the Colorado Creek trail in the early afternoon on Thursday, as we encountered some new snow on the trail, but it was very ridable and happy for the first few miles.
Then, all of a sudden, fa-la-la-la... BOOM! Into several inches of new snow! Crap!
One can usually go with the "if the trail is good now, don't expect it to be good later", or the "if the trail sucks now, then maybe it will get better". But in our case, it just got worse as the snow began accumulating on us, our bicycles, and on the trail. We began expending energy pedaling on the DOWNHILLS. These pictures don't do much justice for conditions since I only busted out the camera when we were riding for the most part. This would have been a great trip for a Pugsley/fatbike. I wonder if the people riding fatbikes next week, which is most of the racers, will have a solid advantage over us snowcat people. It just all depends on conditions.
To pass the slog, Helena brought the thermometer out of her freezer! It was 0 degrees here.. pretty common temp for our trip.. with windchills probably near 20 below in parts.
To the east of Wolf Run cabin on the way to Windy Gap, we encountered our first overflow - I was glad to be able to see it well with our rockin' bike lights. It may have been harder to see if we had much speed though. I am wearing a helmet on these trails now knowing that this is a risk as one gets tired.

Around hour 11, Helena, being the level-headed let's-take-care-of-things-good-influence that she is, suggested that we stop to make a mountain house just 5 miles from Windy Gap because we were both bonking and surely not eating enough. To tell you the truth, I don't remember much from the second half of day 1, which might be for the better. I know we had a lot of discussions about "type 1 (fun now and fun later), type 2 (not fun now but not so bad looking back on it), and type 3 (not fun now, not fun looking back)" fun - and things were beginning to go on the verge of type 3 - but now that I am home and look back maybe it wasn't so bad??? We survived eh? I was ready to bivy at that point that we stopped but we pushed forward to the cabin.
After arriving at Windy Gap at an outrageously late hour, we took our time getting out on Friday since we only had 12 miles via the Fossil Creek trail to get to Caribou Bluff... 12 miles can't take that long can it????? This trail had incredible scenery.
Day 2 ended up even slower than day 1. I am not sure how that is humanly possible. We were breaking trail and fighting through ski tracks the entire way.
We encountered quite a bit of overflow that was wet and several inches deep in spots. My spiked boots handled everything great except for one location where I started across and my SPOT went flying off of my bike across the ice in one direction as my bike tried to go another.
Helena's rims froze up completely since we splashed through water that froze immediately on contact. We had to de-ice them (with de-icer, booyah preparedness!) hoping that there wasn't too much more water ahead.
Parts like this photo above which were few and far inbetween were AWESOME! Flat with a solid crust underneath. Unfortunately they did not last.
Even though it seems that we rode most of the second day, it was still ridiculously slow. Slow to the point that I was riding and Helena was walking behind me at the same pace. No pain no gain. Or no walking no gain?
Caribou Bluff!! What a gorgeous location! This cabin is my favorite that I have been to. It would have been nice to spend more time here. We had a crystal clear night and a very faint aurora that I could see straight out the window of the cabin from my bunk. Very cool. I still hold on to my dream of being somewhere like this and have an incredible aurora overhead that I can just bivy up and watch all night.

On our way back out to the car (31 miles) on Saturday, we were prepared for another ridiculously long day, but hopeful that a few snowmachines would have gone through the trail since the snowfall. The Fossil Gap trail was gorgeous!
But disaster hit as we went to go put air BACK in my tires since they had been completely deflated the day before to handle the soft snow. The nipple on the tire tube snapped off in the 15 below cold. And then, I had a 'stupid' moment as we realized that my rims only could fit presta valve tubes. When I went to get extra tubes for these extra wide tires, the only ones that the shop had were schraeder valve tubes.. so I got the one they had, not knowing that my rims weren't compatible. I had made the assumption since I have snowcats that were made over 10 years ago that they were schraeder valve compatible. So, in order to fix that, and not walk 27 miles back to the car, Helena ("MacGyver") took her leatherman to the rim and we made it work. The tube took us all the way home, yay!
Thank goodness the sun was out, because it took several hours for the sun to warm up the day. (I wonder if I can document scientific knowledge about my research via personal observation? Ehh probably not.)
The trail was not great the entire way home, but we rode our bikes more than either other day, and the trail is all relative. We were pretty wiped by day 3 but enjoyed the sunshine and have sunburns/tans to prove it. The last 5 miles to the car were brutally difficult even though we were able to ride it. I decided this weekend that I much prefer hilly trail than flat trail, because at least with hilly trail you can work your way up to fly downhill a mile without leg effort, just handling skills.. unlike where it is flat and you are just constantly pedaling your little tush off.
How did Helena get snow in her helmet? Your guess is as good as mine.. ha!! So sad to have missed the scene...

So, overall I really had a 'type 1' and 'type 2' fun with a little sprinkle of type 3. I think I can say for both of us that we learned a TON on this trip, not just how to handle the trails, and frozen-not-functioning hands, and not just changing bike tubes in 15 below, and being thankful for bringing de-icer and a stove.. but just more about what your body can handle and will handle. The experience felt like an arctic (or sub-arctic if we want to be exact) survival class. Thanks to Heike and Andrea (and Ellen!) for having warm cabins for us to come to.

Here's a map of the approximate route we took. I am still trying to figure out this Topo software so bear with me. :)


brittany said...

I'm not a believer in type 1 or type 2 or any other kind of fun. As far as I'm concerned, fun is fun! And it sounds like you guys had a great time.

Julie said...

haha, thanks B - it was brutal, but becoming more of a fun thing to look back on as the hours goes by...

Ben said...

You forgot a vital component to Type 3 fun. In addition to not being fun for the participant during or after the activity, it must be fun for other people to observe or hear about later.

Julie said...

Haha - Ben you are right!! I thought something was missing but could not remember it.. thanks for clarifying. :)

Jason said...

Ben has a very good point. I'm glad that I wasn't on your trip, but I enjoyed reading about it!

Michelle said...

Hey beautiful girl, your fans down under, Michelle and Alicia xxx