Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bladder reload

I punted on the big bladder.

I'm into lists so here we go:

1. The hose to bladder connection freezes to easily.
2. I want a place to put several items where they wouldn't get wet or lost if the bike goes into a river (matches, lighter, space blanket, TP, wet wipes, etc.).
3. I won't need 6 liters ever. 5 maybe, 4 probably.

So I went back to the CTR pack. It's proven anyway. It's a camleback blowfish pack with a 3 liter platypus bladder. I don't really love the platypus because of the small filler hole, but it's better than camelback bladders. I'll replace it with a 3 liter MSR Hydromedary eventually.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I lost 7 pounds

The Pug weighed 35 lbs "naked" in 2008.

The Fatback weighes 28 lbs "naked" in 2010. That's with a front shifter and derailleur that I did not have on the pug. It was manual front shift.

Frame, fork, and wheels are different. Everything else is identical.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Big hands, big feet, big pogies, big shoes

Well I think my shoes are done. Whatever. I'm tired of dealing with them, and they are better than 2008 when they worked fine, so they are done.

Here are the challenges:

1. Cold. -50 possibly.
2. Overflow / walking through water
3. Comfort on the bike
4. Comfort off the bike (hiking many hours in them)
4a. Deep snow

Cold. Solution to the cold is really just getting them big enough to put on several layers of really warm socks and still have lots of wiggle room for blood flow. Solved that problem with size 50 wide Lake winter shoes.

Overflow. Solution to water is a complete 3mm neoprene bootie glued to the outsole. I then cut all reamaining neoprene off of the tread. Totally waterproof.

Comfort on the bike. This is a bit of a problem. They are too big so my foot slops around when pedaling hard. Slight crank rub due to excessive neoprene insulation. Things to live with.

Comfort off the bike. This is pretty good. I can still get to the BOA adjustment and make them snug enough for walking without rubbing holes in my feet.

Deep snow. I got some OR Verglass gators. I was going to glue them to the outside of the boot with Barge Cement, but I didn't. They are just too hot. It it's above 10F this setup is too warm. In 2008 it was +20F at the start. These should be good at keeping snow out of my loose boot cuff when walking in deep snow. If the snow is over 16" I've got problems.

On a related note my new pogies from EPIC are bomber so my hands should be good. And that's nice, cause if I loose a bunch of toes at least I'll be able to open a beer bottle and work the remote.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

2008 write up

I wanted to save this somewhere. Here it is.

Day 1. Knik Lake to Shell lake lodge. We did this part pretty fast. The race starts out at a bar at Knik Lake. We rode for about 15 or 20 miles on roads and then got on the Susitna River, then onto the Yentna River. These are big rivers - at least 1/2 mile wide and frozen solid. These 2 rivers get a lot of snowmachine traffic so the "trail" was about 25 or 30 feet wide and hard as concrete. We averaged 11 MPH to the checkpoint #1 at 57 miles. This is about as fast as you can ride a 35 lb bike with another 15lbs of gear on any surface. We stopped at the checkpoint long enough to drink a can of Coke and sign out.

We then rode another 33 miles to checkpoint #2. Checkpoint # 2 is a B&B at Skwentna. Pretty uneventful to this point as we were on the Yentna and Skwentna rivers the whole way. We got into Checkpoint # 2 at 11 PM, ate a big plate of spaghetti, and checked out to head for Shell Lake Lodge.

We left a bunch of racers behind at Skwentna road house because we just didn't want to hang around and burn energy and waste time chatting with everyone. Most people slept for several hours at Skwentna but we decided to head up the trail into the hills for another 15 miles to a place called Shell Lake Lodge. When we left Skwentna we were in the lead of the race. Jeff thought this was awesome(not that he was in the lead, but that I was), I was laughing because I knew there were at least 5 people that would pass us and I was not really racing but just trying to get to McGrath. Anyway Shell Lake Lodge is not an official checkpoint but the owner is super nice and offered to let all racers sleep on her floor, couches, etc. and we knew that we would be the only ones there that night so it meant a nice quiet place to rest. On the way to Shell Lake Lodge the trail leaves the river system and starts to climb the foothills of the Alaska Range. The snow began to get much deeper on the sides of the trial, and the trail became about 3.5' wide. Basically the width of 1 snowmachine. This was much more like what I expected as our riding slowed down and the trail started feeling more like a trail - not a highway. At about 2 AM we were hiking up a fairly steep section of trial pushing our bikes when I heard Jeff yell "Move, or Moose, or Get the Fuck off the trail" or something like that. I looked up and a huge moose was about 30 or 40 feet in front of me galloping down the trail right at me. There was about 8' of soft snow on either side of the trail and the moose was not getting off the trail. I tried to move over but I couldn't get off the trail with my bike so I dove into the snow leaving the bike in the middle of the trail. No sooner had I gotten about 2' off the trail the moose was there, running fast, and jumped over my bike. It landed about 1/2 off the trail and crashed into the soft snow and trees and got up and kept going down the trail. I assumed the moose was going to trample my bike and I would be walking but I was just glad I was alive at that point. When I still had a bike that worked I was relieved but I was too scared to do much for about 30 minutes. We regrouped and headed into Shell lake lodge and slept from 3:30 am til 6:00 am. We also heard later that other people had moose problems leaving Skwentna. Rocky and Jay ran into a moose that was just standing on the trail refusing to get off or move. They ended up forcing the moose to charge them and hid behind some trees. Crazy.

Day 2. Shell lake to Puntilla. We left Shell Lake Lodge at 6:30 AM and rode to Finger Lake Lodge. We saw some lights on the lake as we left Shell Lake Lodge so Jeff said to turn off our lights and try to sneak out of the lodge without being seen so that we wouldn’t get chased. I thought this was pretty funny because I wasn’t really in race mode. It ended up being Jay P who was the eventual winner to McGrath and probably the fastest guy out there – he passed us an hour or so later. We had heard that a couple of girls were skijoring the trail and were somewhere on the trail between Shell lake and Finger lake. We saw their camp about ½ way to Finger lake and stopped to talk to them. They had 2 burly dogs, tents, and hot coffee. They were pretty well set up. We got to Fingerlake Lodge at 10 AM and ate a great meal of beans, rice, eggs, and tortillas. Finger lake lodge is a 5 star resort in the middle of nowhere. People fly into it in a small plane and stay there for about $900 per night. The snow here was over the roofs of the buildings. We had to walk down a hand dug set of steps to get into the building that held our drop bags.

A side bar here on the drop bags. We got food and water at all of the checkpoints but we needed to carry the rest of our food and batteries for lights with us for the entire trip. That meant we got 4 meals - Skwentna, Finger Lake, Puntilla, and Nikolai. We got the added bonus of a meal at Rohn but that was only because Jasper felt sorry for us and invited us into the Iditarod cabin and fed us and let us stay there for the night. More on Rohn later. So about 2 weeks before the race I packed up (2) 10 lb bags of food and sent 1 to Finger Lake and 1 to Rohn. That’s at mile 130 and 210 of the race. So I started with enough food to last about 2 days in case it took that long to get to Finger Lake (including a meal at Skwentna). That’s about 10,000 calories or about 5 lb of food. My starting 5 lb was bacon, smoked salmon, chocolate, and buffalo sausage. Mostly fat and not so much sugar. My drop bags contained about 7 lb food, 1 lb batteries, 1 lb chemical heat packs, and about 1 lb other stuff (TP, duct tape, advil, etc.). The drop bag food was mostly salty snacks like salted nuts and potato chips, and sugars - candy bars, pop tarts, etc. I ate about 1/3 of the food that I sent because I had to expect the worst which could have been 3 days between drop bags. I felt bad leaving all that food behind but there were other racers that were told to take whatever the earlier racers left so hopefully somebody ate all that food I sent up there.

Day 2 continued. We left Finger lake lodge at 11:30 AM. This is basically the last outpost on the iditarod trail before it heads deep into the Alaska Range. Beyond Finger lake is 35 miles of really fun super scenic trail up to Puntilla lake. By this time we were in 4th place and I was starting to feel like I might just make it. The weather had been awesome, mostly about 0F and sunny with no wind at all. I really liked this section of trail. The snow was so deep that if you got off the trail at all your bike sank about 18” into the snow and you would be stuck. In order to get back onto the trail you had to kind of swim, crawl, and wade back to the trail. Several times Jeff went off the trail and I had to help him get back to it. We got into Puntilla at 7:30 PM. This was a small cabin that had a stove and places for about 8 people to sleep. We stripped off some clothes and ate a bunch of canned food. Raviolis, canned soup, etc. There was a young man at this station and he had coffee going and hot water and food ready for us. I think if there was a place on the trail that I would like to see in the daylight it would be Puntilla because the views on the ride in were so amazing but it was dark when we got there. After eating and drinking as much as I could stand I slept from 9 PM to 1 AM. We got up at 1 AM, got dressed, ate as much as we could again, and headed out for the walk up Rainy Pass. Rocky joined us at this time for the trek over Rainy Pass because it's not real safe to do alone if the weather gets bad. Luckily we had awesome weather. I coughed most of the night at Puntilla and didn’t sleep much.

Day 3. Rainy Pass. By the time we left Puntilla Pete had past us so we were in 5th place. Jeff told me that this would be about 7 miles of riding, a 6 mile hike up the pass, and about 20 miles of riding down into Rohn. He was pretty much completely wrong. We started out riding but after about 2 miles we were walking. The packed trail we had up to this point was gone. There was still a trail, but it was much softer. I was pretty tired at this point and I could only walk about 2 MPH but I was able to keep my eyes open. I was keeping up with Jeff because he really was falling asleep and constantly walking off the trail. I could tell when he was asleep because he'd start swerving and then go off the trail and stumble in the deep snow. I was alternating between laughing because it was so funny to watch and crying because I felt so bad for him. I was pretty wrecked mentally about this point due to lack of sleep. Then I started falling asleep also but I would apparently just stop walking because I'd wake up and Jeff and Rocky would be 100 feet ahead of me. After about 4 hours of walking the sun started coming up and we finally started climbing up the pass. Nothing really changed because we just kept walking but it definitely got steeper as we climbed up to 3,700' elevation. With the sunlight I was at least able to keep my eyes open. Eventually we got to the top of the pass and headed down Pass Creek to Dalzell Gorge. It was nice to be going downhill but it was still way slow because we were walking. Suddenly we hit a great snowmachine trail at the start of the Dalzell Gorge and had about 3 miles of trail down the gorge to the Tatina river, and then about 5 miles of river to the Rohn checkpoint. I was totally thrilled to be on a rideable trial and we started hauling ass. This lasted about 1 mile and then we came to a big stream crossing with no ice. We were looking for a spot to cross when Rocky slipped and fell in the water. He got a little bit wet and I got real scared. We got him mostly dry and got his big mittens out and opened up some chemical heat packs to put in his mittens. The best thing to do was to just get moving so that he could build up some body heat. We got moving again and all of a sudden we ran into 4 racers (James, Carl, Jay, and Pete), in their sleeping bags right in the middle of the trail. This seemed odd so we woke them up and found out that they had stopped at the end of the trail. I was a bit confused because the trail kept going but they told us that the trail breakers (3 snowmachines) were at this location about 3 hours ago and that they decided to let the trail breakers go on ahead and put the trail in down to the Tatina river. Since the trail was in past their bivvy spot we decided to keep going. Beyond their bivvy the trail suddenly became the consistency of mashed potatoes. It was hard to walk and push a bike but at least it was a trail. About 1/2 mile later we ran into a snow machine and one of the trail breakers. There was a woman hanging out here and she told us that the trail breakers were just up ahead a bit. We decided to stop here and possibly sleep for a while or at least give the trailbreakers a chance to get the snow bridges in the Dalzell Gorge because the trail crosses the creek about 12 times. As soon as we stopped 6 other racers showed up. This included the 4 we had just passed sleeping on the trail and 2 others that caught them just after we did. So we were 9 total. Rocky organized a quick meeting and we decided that we could either wait for the trail to get put in or break the trail ourselves. We thought that it was about 7 trail miles to the Rohn cabin – Jeff had a GPS and it said 5 miles straight line if I remember right. I was kind of hoping that we would decide to camp here because I was scared of the creek crossings. We ended up deciding to break the trail and only stop if we got to a water crossing that we couldn’t get across. 9 of us headed out and about ½ mile later ran into the 2 trail breakers that were trying to put in the trail. They were completely exhausted and stopped at a tree that had fallen across the trail. They were probably making 1/3 mile an hour or so while we were doing about 1 mile an hour. We passed them and headed into the gorge. It was not too bad because we had 9 people and once the first person went through the deep snow it was fairly easy for the next 8 guys to follow along. We took turns so no one had to break trail for more than about 1 minute at a time. We did end up crossing the creek a lot but there was always ample ice coverage (I think – no one fell through at least). The closest call we had was when I slipped on a sloping piece of ice and started sliding toward open water in the creek but I got stopped before I got wet. I started to let go of my bike to crawl up the slope, but Rocky yelled "don't let go of your bike" and probably saved me from going into the water. They grabbed my bike and pulled it (and me) up to some flatter ice. We got down to the Rohn checkpoint at about 9 pm and dug out our food drops (2nd drop location) and headed for our tent. Unfortunately the guys that were supposed to set up the tent were the same guys that were about 7 miles behind us so we had no tent and nowhere to sleep and we had been walking since 2 am. I really needed to lay down for a while and was pretty discouraged. Even though there was no tent there is a cabin at Rohn that the Iditarod uses as a checkpoint. The checker for this cabin is named Jasper and he for some unknown reason other than pure sympathy let all 9 of us into his cabin, Add Imagefed us hot chili, hot chocolate, and tang, and let us sleep on his floor in his warm cabin (Jasper, the two later arriving trail breakers and Rocky slept in the four bunks, and the rest of us on the floor, including 2 under the table, and 2 under the beds). Not only did Jasper let us in the cabin but he had good news also. Jasper knew that John Runkle had put in the trail to Buffalo Camp 40 miles up the trail and confirmed that we would have a decent trail for at least the next 40 miles. Prior to hearing that I was trying to figure out if I could get Jeff to let me call for a plane flight out of Rohn. As soon as I heard there was a trail and we might be able to ride the next day I immediately fell asleep because I knew I was going to finish the race. Rocky, Jeff, and I agreed to get up at 5 and get rolling by 6. I slept like a rock.

Rohn to Nikolai. This part of the trail was amazing. Big mountains on both sides, big views of Denali, and great weather. Right when we started out I fell on the ice a couple times – it was the first real slick ice I had been on and I wasn’t ready for it. Unfortunately I was also in this mental state of thinking I needed to conserve energy and was riding really slow. Rocky was having a hard time staying warm so he just rode harder and ended up leaving us behind. He eventually beat us to Nikolai by about 2 hours. Jeff had to kind of prod me along after about 8 hours of me going super slow. We hadn’t made it to Buffalo Camp even though the trail was about 95% rideable and it should have taken about 6 hours to get there. Jeff finally said “hey – we have 30 miles left and at this pace it’s going to be 10 more hours and it’s going to get cold tonight” so I apparently picked up the pace. I didn’t feel like I was going much faster but Jeff didn’t have to remind me to keep moving for the rest of the day. We got to Buffalo camp and James was sleeping, Rocky was packing up to head out, Dario from Italy was there cooking some type of Panini on the wood stove and I was drooling over it. I think Phil and Jaque and Dave were there also. We ate up a bunch of food and headed out. When we left James was the only one there and he asked us about his wet socks and how cold it was going to get. It was getting to be evening and Jeff said “dry your socks ALL THE WAY before you leave here because it might get cold tonight”. We made good time from Buffalo Camp to Nikolai and we even passed Phil and Dario on this part of the trail. It took about 4 or 5 hours I think because we got there at 10:40 PM. That was still 16 hours from Rohn and I think we could have done that in about 14 hours. It also didn’t get real cold that night. I think it was about 0 or -5 when we got to Nikolai. I ate 2 big bowls of awesome moose stew and drank a Pepsi and checked out Nick’s furs. Nick does some trapping (maybe that’s his job – I don’t know) and he had 2 lynx – I’m not sure, and about 20 marten, and a couple wolf pelts. Pretty cool. I tried to sleep but I ended up coughing from 12 to 2 and sleeping from 2 to 4. I should have just kept going at Nikolai and Jeff wanted to but I sure thought some sleep sounded good. Probably didn’t help much. I got up at 4 and left at 5. Jeff didn’t sleep at all here because it was too hot.

Day 5 – Nikolai to McGrath. We left Nikolai at 5 AM and it was downright warm. My thermometer said +5. We dressed in the house and it was about 90 inside so we got dressed as fast as we could and ran for the door. We headed out and I was determined to make good time to McGrath because I was tired of riding and I also felt a little guilty for going so slow the day before. I also didn’t want anyone to pass me, it was the first time I actually felt like I was racing. Jeff thought that if we went fast we could get there in 8 hours. We started out good and about 1/2 hour later we were on a big river – the Kuskokwim – and it got cold. My thermometer said minus 25 but it doesn’t read any colder than that. We heard later it was -30. I couldn’t really ride much harder than I was, and I wasn’t really cold but Jeff was getting cold because he was staying with me. I was working my ass off to go the speed I was going and it was just a bit too slow for Jeff to keep warm. He ended up stopping and putting some chemical heat packs in his mittens and shoes. I ended up doing the same thing about an hour later because I was having a hard time keeping my toes from getting numb. It stayed cold from about 6AM to about 11AM but the sun finally started heating us up a little bit. I was still trying to go as hard as I could and we were making pretty good time and actually caught up to 2 people. The first was James – he had a flat, it was about his 6th flat I think, and he was out of tubes, and had broken his pump. I tried to give him a tube but Jeff beat me to it. I wanted to drop that ½ pound of weight. Rocky had passed him a few minutes earlier and given him a pump. We made sure he was OK and headed up the trail. He was smiling and all happy because we only had about 10 miles to go so he was in a good mood. We caught Rocky about 10 minutes later and he was kind of discouraged. The trail was pretty soft and it was way easier to go on fat tires and Rocky had regular MTB tires. He was working hard to stay in front of us and wasn’t too happy to see my slow ass catching up to him. I really wanted to beat him to the finish but the trail got better and then we hit a road for the last 3 miles and he rode away from me. He ended up beating me by 15 minutes. The finish line is at Peter and Tracy’s house in McGrath. It took us 8.5 hours from Nikolai to McGrath. I was pretty damn relieved to get my riding clothes off and take a real shower. It was the 1st time I had taken my shorts off for 4 days. The shower was a little bit overwhelming after being nowhere near a shower for 3 days. Peter cooked up some of the best food I’ve ever had and I ate as much of it as I could stand. When I got there 6 racers were there, and 5 more came in that afternoon. As we were all sitting around eating and nodding off James came in and laid down on the floor and fell asleep in the middle of the living room. About 10 minutes later his feet started turning light blue, then purple, then dark purple, then black. We were sitting on the couch looking at each other saying “that’s not good”. Peter ended up calling the health clinic to see if they could send someone over to look at his feet. They came over and did some minor surgery and bandaged his feet all up. He was smiling the whole time. We heard that after he got home he was in the hospital for a week and ended up loosing some skin. It was great to hear what people had to say about the race and tell about the moose that tried to kill me. I would have liked to stay there for day and hear more stories and eat more food but we had a flight to Anchorage set up for Friday morning.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Here's the latest version of the water bladder. It's an MSR Dromlite bladder with 6 liter capacity. I cut the straps off an old pack I had laying around and glued them directly to the bladder. I'll put about 1,000 miles in with this bladder on between now and the race, but it looks like it's pretty durable.
I'll probably only need 5 liters between Rohn and Nikolai. Maybe Nikolai to McGrath.

I had 3 liter capacity last time and never ran out but we were moving fast. I was dehydrated bad when we got to Rohn but still had about 1 liter of water. That was just stupid.

I won't have a stove, so after Rainy Pass I'll want a lot of water. I know of 2 places after Rohn to get water not counting Nikolai.

The important thing is to keep the water, umm, water. This bladder will be under all my layers except for a light polypro or wool T shirt that I wear under my RBH long sleve shirt. I keep the hose tucked away under my armpit. People have trouble keeping hoses from freezing but I have not had that issue if I keep the hose under the RBH layer.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

1st post

The reason I'm doing this is so I can keep a record of my 2nd attempt at the Alaska Ultrasport.

I finished the race in 2008 but my preparation was largely doing whatever Jeff O. told me to do. I didn't keep very good records, didn't really know the course beforehand, basically was not prepared to be self sufficient. Which was OK - because Jeff had "volunteered" to help me. Well, he talked me into doing the race and then promised my wife he'd get me to McGrath alive.

This time (2010) is different:

Jeff is racing and that is a faster pace than I can keep. I won't have a "guide" in 2010.

We had extremely good weather and trails in 2008. That was fortunate.

My pogies were $20 specials made for commuting. Need improvement there. I never got cold hands, but thats because I had some great mittens from RBH Designs.

I slept inside (Shell Lake, Puntilla, Rohn cabin, and Nikolai) last time. Fortunate timing and good planning by Jeff. I'll probably bivvy outside at least twice this time.

We had no open water or overflow last time. My foot gear will need to be better this time.