Friday, May 22, 2015

Final Loadout

In less than fifteen hours we'll be pedaling on down the road to Haines. The day before any big trip like this is spent packing, re-packing, talking about gear, looking over routes, discussing what a 70 mile day will be like compared to a 100 mile day, and drinking beer--err, I mean hydrating and getting precious, much needed extra calories into the metabolic reserves.  

 All this gear must be loaded into one of four panniers, 
a handle bar bag, a saddle bag, or a trunk bag.

I drove part of the Alaska Highway in 2006 when I PCS'ed 
The stretch from Delta Junction to Tok will be all new. 
And none of it have I seen from a bicycle. 

If I average 12-14 miles per hour and ride for seven hours, I'll burn 4700 calories.
If I average 10-12 miles per hour and ride for seven hours, I'll burn 3500 calories.

Essentially riding 10-12 miles per hour for 1 hour burns 50 calories. 

This is according to a calorie calculator. 

I've learned through ski racing you can ever really replenish what you're burning. It's a lot of crazy science, I think. Especially when referring to the 40,000 calories I burn nordic skiing 100 miles. That's a deficit your body just won't replace. All you can do is bring enough fuel to feed the beast (note: Pringles not pictured, those will be purchased in the future from various gas stations and trading posts).

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Bicycling to the Residency

On Saturday I'm riding my bike to Oregon. I have grad school classes to get to and don't have enough air miles to fly so the bike is the next best option.

Here's the complete route

Why am I going to Oregon? Well, in June 2013 I began graduate studies of writing at Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. At the start of each semester I spend ten days in the pacific northwest attending the residential portion of the low-residency program. The remainder of the semester unfolds from home, following a study plan I create with an advisor. My advisor and I communicate via email, phone and regular mail (no, it's not an "online thing"). This June I'll be back on campus for my fifth and final residency, and on June 27th I will graduate with an MFA (Master of Fine Arts).

I've been wanting to do a bicycle trip of this magnitude for quite some time. Up until now my multi-day trips have maxed out at five days (approximately 170 miles). This trip will be roughly 14 days in the saddle and should add up to a little over 1000 miles. I'll also spend four days riding the ferry 1000 miles from Haines, AK to Bellingham, WA. We'll camp along the way, though I imagine sleeping a few nights in motels and on beds will be something we occasionally decide to partake in. Once in Washington I plan to couch surf and visit some friends in various towns along my route. I should be in Portland about a week before classes start.
My bike, a 2015 Trek 520 with front and rear panniers, 
a trunk bag, hippie saddle bag, and front handlebar bag.
I traded in a rickety aluminum, cross bike for this stallion.

Unfortunately, Gretchen won't be able to ride the entire way, though she plans to pedal the first three days, about as far as Tok, AK. My partner for most of the ride (Fairbanks to Bellingham) will be Sean Birch. Sean is the husband of Amelia Payne Birch, a good college friend from West Virginia University. Sean and Amelia are probably the only friends I know that love biking as much as I do. Before the advent of this trip, I invited them to come up and do a couple tours here in Alaska (Fireweed 400 and Kluane Chilkat Bike Relay), but when the dates conflicted with the time I needed to be in Oregon, I said, "what the heck, why not ride to Oregon." Thus the trip was born and I was super excited when Sean committed to riding with me.

It's been two years since Sean was here for a visit and this particular trip will be significant because Sean will be our LAST Alaskan house guest. This August Gretchen and I are moving to Minnesota because I'm going to begin more graduate studies in the twin cities. It's even MORE significant because Sean's wife, Amelia, was our FIRST houseguest in June 2006. She flew up and spent about a week with us in Anchorage. We didn't even have a house back then, nor did we know all the fun places to hike, but it was great exploring new places together, and it'll be great seeing the the Alaska Highway for the first time by bike with Sean.  

Here's the route from Fairbanks to Haines cutting across Yukon Territory, Canada.

And here's the route from Bellingham to Centralia. 

Amelia and I Toasting to Summer Solstice, June 2006, 
after summiting Flat Top Mountain, Chugach State Park, 
Anchorage, Alaska. She was our FIRST houseguest in Alaska.

Sean and Amelia, Gretchen and I (and Jack and Jody)
on the Kennicott Glacier in McCarthy, Alaska, summer 2013.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Circling the White Mountains, Clockwise

The past three winters, Gretchen has listened to me talk of "the limestone jags," "the ice lakes," and "the divide" as mythic places way beyond, lurking in the backyard of the White Mountain Rec Area. Finally, these past three days, she saw them for herself.

Over two nights and three days we completed the 102 mile loop. I've skied this loop once training for and twice competing in the White Mountain 100 ultra ski/bike/run winter race. Due to cabin availability, we skied the race route in reverse. It would be my first time completing the entire route in this direction.

Sunday morning, when we began from the Wickersham Dome trailhead at mile 28 on the Elliot Highway, the temperature was -2F according to the truck's thermometer. By the time we reached Borealis cabin at 9pm, 20 miles down the trail, the cabin thermometer read -10F. I don't know how cold it got that first night, but by the time we left the cabin at 9am the thermometer read -8F.

The 19 miles from Borealis to Windy Gap was slow, very slow. The snow was dry and crunchy. But the temperature warmed and it was in the teens (above zero) by the time we arrived at the cabin--not quite mid-way to Cache Mountain, our final destination for the second night.

Some nice folks at the cabin allowed us to come in and warm up. Approaching and entering cabins is frowned upon by the BLM unless you have a reservation or unless you have an emergency. We had neither but the folks graciously allowed us to sit and rest inside. I think skiers and snowshoers are most vulnerable in the Whites and it's nice when snowmachiners take pity and share their shelter. This was some of the slowest skiing I've done on these trails and we were happy when one of the gentlemen offered a ride up the trail; he was going to look for wood and I think he heard the dread in our voices describing the distance still ahead of us. It was 5pm by then. The wind was gusting. Our cabin was still 24 miles away. I'm not sure where he intended to get wood, but he dropped us off above the ice lakes, a little over 9 miles up. I rode in the sled, clinging to Jack, keeping him from leaping out as we bumped along the narrow trail. Gretchen rode on the snow machine behind the driver we'd only just met. I recognized most of the trail from my past experiences and secretly rejoiced every mile we climbed up the divide, knowing I wouldn't have to ski it.

We got dropped about a mile and a half below the top of the divide. Once over the crest of the climb it was at least 8-10 miles of nearly constant downhill--fast, flowy, fun skiing. In the sections it flattened slightly we could double pole and keep up our momentum. We coasted into the cabin about 9:30pm,  an hour after dusk, the trail illuminated by our headlamps. The ride up the divide had saved us at least 3-4 hours slogging. The temperature at Cache Mountain cabin was 20F. That night it snowed less than an inch.

Tuesday morning we awoke to bluebird skies and fast trail. The temperature rose to 30F and softened the snow. The kick was still great and the glide quickly continued to improve. We made better time setting the kind of pace I'm used to, skiing 4-5mph.

These photos are a smattering of the 102 miles. I didn't take many photos after the wind picked up and the ice got bad skiing into Windy Gap. I didn't take any photos of the sections we rode by snow machine (limestone jags and the ice lakes) or from the top of the divide.

 Rime and snow grows on the windward side of spruce boughs
 Sunny, but cold Sunday afternoon when we started our trip
 The trail, well packed, only a couple miles from the parking lot
 The first and last 6 miles of the trail rises and falls over as series of "domes"

 These are multi-use trails and open to snow machines, skiers, bikers, mushers, snowshoers, and hikers

 The tracks of a snow bike (aka fat bike, aka Surly)

 Though trail junctions and cabin locations are well marked with permanent signage, 
the distances often cannot be trusted 
 The Wickersham Creek Trail snakes across the forest and into the mountains

 Overflow is one of those mysteries of cold climates. It was about -5F when this photo was taken. The previous six nights it'd gotten below -30F, yet water still flows and freezes on top of the trail. But springs can still flow beneath the ice, this time of year temperatures can vary from sub zero to positive 30. The snow often acts as an insulator. Backcountry travelers must beware not only of the glare ice but because the water softens the snow and can easily be "punched" through, even on skis. 

 Looking down into Beaver Creek

Thermometer at Borealis cabin 


 Cache Mountain Cabin

 Crowberry Cabin, we stopped here for lunch

Lunch break near Moose Creek