Sunday, July 13, 2014

North Pole Triathlon

This summer I decided to take up a challenge and complete a three part series of triathlons in Fairbanks.
The first tri was a sprint in May. The second was an Olympic Distance this past Saturday.
I was more than surprised to get the paper on Sunday morning and see my picture on the front page!

The swim course was 1500 M, going out and around a series of buoy's.  
It was a beautiful day; partly cloudy skies, water temps in the mid 60's.

 I love that triathlons start with swimming because I find the sensation of pulling myself through the water invigorating.  I have swam since I was a kid and even when I push myself to go fast there is something relaxing about the weightless rhythm of swimming long distances.

It was a mass start, but I was able to get out to the front of the pack and swimmers quickly spread out so it only briefly felt crowded.

As I rushed out of the water volunteers were there to help at a wet-suit stripping station.  It was the fastest I have ever gotten out of a wetsuit!

As I grabbed my bike Sam called out to me, "I think you're in third."  Would I be able to hold that place for the duration of the whole ride?  My goal during the bike ride was not to let any women pass me.  The 40K bike course was a large flat loop with an out and back around the roads of North Pole, AK.  I passed one women during the ride and saw another woman during the out and back.  At that point I was't sure if I was in second or third, but as I dropped my bike and headed into the run a volunteer confirmed there were two women ahead of me.   If I could run fast enough and not get passed I could finish third!

During the last few hundred meters of the ride I stood up and peddled hard, cranking to get the blood back in my toes and stretching out my hips to be ready to jump off the bike and run.  In training I generally always rode hilly courses where I was frequently up and down on the saddle, but during this flat course I stayed tucked on my aerobars the whole time and found that my toes went numb and my right hip felt tight after 26 miles.

A note from my unofficial sponsor:  My aerobars are a set that Fred, the owner of Raven Cross Country loaned me for the summer.  He mounted them on my cyclocross bike and made a few adjustments for me so that I could make the bike I already own work for this tri.

When I hit the trails for the 10K run I was smiling because the end was near and I enjoy running almost as much as swimming.  I felt strong starting out the run, standing up and getting my blood flowing before getting off the bike was just what I needed.  I didn't bother to put on a watch, so I had no idea how fast I was running, but there was a young guy ahead of me that I was determined to keep up with.  I had come out to Chena Lake and trained on the whole course, which really helped me feel mentally prepared for this race.  As I biked and ran I had sense of exactly how far I had yet to go and I felt like I had the right balance of pushing myself and pacing myself.  As I rounded the first big turn in the run Sam came running down the trail; bandana across his forehead.  He cheered me on and kept running the other direction.  A few miles later he was standing at the intersection where the course looped, again cheering me on - "there is someone just ahead, catch them, you can do it."  I finished feeling strong, enthusiastic and grateful that I get to live and recreate in such a beautiful place.

My friend Erica finished her first Olympic distance tri too!  Up next, The Sourdough 70.3M of fun!

Read the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner story.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Dip netting for Sockeye on the Copper River // Chitina, Alaska

I like salmon.  I like grilled salmon.  I like broiled salmon with a little lemon pepper.  I like salmon lox.  I like smoked salmon.  I like salmon tacos.  I like salmon burritos.  I like salmon with eggs for breakfast. I like it sashimi style right from the river.  I like salmon sandwiches.  I like salmon sauteed with veggies and rice.  I like salmon.

For the past 7+ years we've said, "This is the summer we'll head to Chitina and dip net." But, we never do.  Finally, with the help of our friend Alex, we made it to the river to fill our freezer. Chitina is about a 6.5 hour drive from Fairbanks by way of the Richardson then Edgarton Highway.  It lies 30 miles down the Edgarton on the banks of the Copper River, in the heart of the south-western central Wrangell-St. Elias mountains.  

According to the regulations: Alaska residents that have lived in the state for more than 12 months are eligible to apply for a personal use dip net permit and they make keep thirty sockeye salmon from the Chitina River subdistrict.  Throughout the season residents may be permitted a 15 fish bonus and a specified number of king salmon. But, we didn't get the bonus on this trip, and we didn't catch any kings, which we couldn't have kept either. 

After arriving at 8pm we pitched our tent in the campground, hung a tarp in case of rain, and headed for the banks of the Copper River.

Our catch around 1am. We ended up staying by the river until 2:30am, bringing in 6 fish the first night. 

The next morning we were up by 9am.  After two pots of coffee we headed back to the banks.  This time a little further down river.  We found a nice eddy to fish and spent the next 10 hours casting our nets into the silty brown water.
Gretchen really liked this spot better than the swiftly moving water the night before.  She quickly learned the feeling a fish makes when it tugs the net and ended up catching seven here.
Alex recently had back surgery and unfortunately was under doctors orders not to dip net this season, lucky for us he came along sharing his expertise.
Jack was so, so much help.

Despite recent rains throughout Alaska, the Copper River really hadn't risen much, which is good because higher water levels lead to poor fishing.  The overcast skies are also good for fishing because less sun means less glacial melt in the river.  A hot, sunny day is actually the worse condition for fishing because it means the glaciers are being nuked with UV and pouring water into the rivers. 

Jack likes dip netting because it allows for ample nap time.

One of the many sockeye--"reds"--she caught on the second day.

Hopefully Alex's surgeon doesn't see this photo, but if you are reading, just know: the waters in this eddy were very calm and little to no strain was felt on Alex's back.  Also, he only fished for about ten minutes, and, was able to catch two sockeye in those brief moments his net was in the river.

She lands another one.
Can you guess what's wrong with this sockeye's tail? No, it's not leprosy.  Our hypothesis, this one got away from a bald eagle.
I didn't ask Alex how many salmon he's filleted in his life.  But after hearing several commercial fishing stories as well as stories guiding fishing trips on his home island of Kodiak, I would guess he's filleted thousands of fish.  He makes it look so easy. 
Dip netting isn't easy.  In fact, it's exhausting.  My six hour stint Tuesday night in the swiftly moving current just beneath the bridge felt like a six hour, full body workout.  Comparable to cross country skiing, or jumping rope, or yes, maybe even six hours of cross fit.  Wednesday morning I was sore in places I've never been sore before.  But, the rewards were great.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

The disposable camera

After residency it was cheaper to waste a day in Portland than it was to fly back to Fairbanks--like 25,000 air miles or $500 cheaper. It also allowed more time to hang out with the good friends I've met through my low-residency MFA in Writing program at Pacific University. And I secretly love Portland and have this imaginary day-dream life where I actually live in Portland, not Alaska. 

Anyway, my friend gave me this 35mm disposable camera. She bought a case of them from eBay and hands them out as party favors for people that come to her apartment (actually it's a house's basement). But I wasn't inspired enough to shoot the entire roll in Oregon, so the last few shots were taken in Alaska. 

Oh, these top two photographs were obviously taken with another camera.