Archive for the ‘Interior’ Category

Iditarod Invitational Goals

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

Four days until race day.  In all my posts about Alaska Ultrasport’s Iditarod Trail Invitational, I’ve referred to it as a race.  And technically it is a race.  There is a start line, a finish line, and who ever gets from the start to the finish fastest wins.  But I’m not approaching it as a race.  I’m approaching it as an adventure, an experience.  I’m hoping to see some amazing places, take lots of photos, and make it to the finish line.   For anyone who might be expecting to see me out in front, I want to point out that in all the results I’ve seen, a biker has won every time. 

With that in mind, here are my goals.

  1. Come back alive 
  2. Come back with all body parts intact
  3. Finish the race
  4. Finish the race in less than six days
  5. Have fun

Recently, I was starting to feel optimistic about the race.  After my post about the mental battle of a race like this, I got an email from a friend who is an expert on this type of adventure.  He said,  ”the hardest part of long ski trips is getting to the point where you take the first stride.  From there on it’s usually just plain fun.”  That helped a lot.  My fear was giving way to excitement and anticipation.  But then Craig Medred had to go and write this article: The loneliness of the long-distance winter race.

The hardest race to run is the one waged in your mind, and it is for this reason the Iditarod Trail Invitational is the hardest race in the world.

Sweet.  Just what I wanted to hear.  

But I am still excited and optimistic.  I believe Tim.  He’s usually right.  It has been much harder than I expected to get to this point. For months, every minute of my time that hasn’t been spent with work or family has been spent on this race.  I am ready to move on to the actual adventure.  I am looking forward to taking my first stride.

The Mental Game

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Last week’s training was decent.  I did two long skis (6 hours and 4.5 hours) pulling the sled.  I also did a night ski, then campout, then ski again in the morning at Hillside on Tuesday.  But I have to admit that I haven’t logged nearly as many hours of training as I had hoped.  This is mainly because I severely underestimated how much time it would take to get my gear together.  I have a garage full of ski gear and camping gear.  So how hard could it be to pull together the equipment for a week-long ski trip?  Pretty hard, apparently.  

My weekdays are scheduled down to the minute in order to get in a full day of work and a few hours of quality time with my son. This schedule includes one “free” hour that I typically use for exercise.  But recently, when I should have been ramping up my training, that free time was being increasingly monopolized by other race preparations: building a sled, experimenting with boots and socks, and shopping for long underwear, food, boot liners, dry bags, etc.

As I slowly cobbled my equipment together, I was amazed at how much gear I didn’t already have.  I think that’s when it dawned on me that this race is a completely different beast from anything else I’ve ever done.  It’s nothing like the Susitna 100, which was a one-day, one-shot deal.  For that race, I left home in the morning and was back in my own bed that night.  Skiing was the only skill required.  It’s nothing like the three-day adventure race I did.  That race was in the summer with a full support crew.   All I had to do was keep moving.  In the Iditarod Invitational, the ability to keep skiing/moving is only one of the many mandatory skills.

“Iditarod Trail racing is … strictly about self reliance, adaptability, sense of humor, and oh yeah, physical strength, to some degree.”

- Rocky Reifenstuhl, a veteran of many, many human-powered Iditarod races

The physical ability to ski 350 miles is only one small part of actually skiing 350 miles.   This might be the only ski race I’ve ever entered where my years of ski racing experience mean absolutely nothing.  The mental game is much more important.  And having the right gear goes a long way towards improving self reliance and adaptability, and thus improving your odds in the mental game.

Because my training has been less than ideal, it is reassuring to read a quote like Rocky’s (which I have heard many other Iditarod racers echo).  Maybe the training is not that important.  But then again, how strong are my self reliance skills?  My adaptability?  Or even my questionable-at-best sense of humor?  I don’t know the answers to these questions yet.  But I’ve tried to invest my time into both training and gear preparations, so that when the mental game starts, I’ll have the tools I need to play at my best.


2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational

Thursday, January 8th, 2009

“It’s a dream until you write it down.  Then it becomes a goal.” – source unknown


It’s a goal until you post it on the internet.  Then it becomes a commitment.  

I am going to attempt the 2009 Iditarod Trail Invitational race to McGrath.  This is a 350 mile race through remote, frozen Alaska that competitors can tackle on bike, ski or foot (I’ll ski, of course).  The race has also been known as the Iditasport, the Alaska Ultrasport, and many other names throughout its varied history.  

For those unfamiliar with this race, it follows the Iditarod Sled Dog race trail.  The entire course is in the middle of nowhere, far from any roads or towns.  There are some remote cabins and lodges along the way, but that’s about it.  Racers can go to McGrath (350 miles) or all the way to Nome (1100 miles).  I’m doing the ‘short’ option.    The race website claims that this is the “World’s Longest Winter Ultra Race.”  There are a few checkpoints along the way, but for the most part each racer must be self-sufficient as far as food, clothing, navigation, and safety.  For more on this race, go to the race website, or read this recent piece from the New York Times.

The race will take about a week, plus or minus a few days depending on conditions.  There will be a lot of darkness, sub-zero temperatures, wind, snow and many other obstacles.

Why am I doing this?  Here is the backstory.

As you probably know, I was a full-time ski racer until 2002, usually training in the neighborhood of 15-20 hours a week. When I gave up ski racing and moved to Alaska, I was happy to no longer keep a training log or go to the weight room twice a week. I kept in decent shape simply by doing what I wanted, when I wanted. Even with a pretty steep drop-off in training hours, I was still in good shape. I liked to joke that I had 90% of my fitness with 50% of the effort.

Then, in 2006 my job became more time consuming. In 2007, Linda and I had a baby.  My decline in fitness, which had been relatively slow, began to accelerate. My race results went from “slightly less than I hoped for” to “slightly embarrassing.” I was getting soft, but I wasn’t gaining weight. In fact I was losing a few pounds, which meant my muscle mass was decreasing. My fitness was on a slippery slope, in danger of going off a cliff.  I didn’t want to pass the point of no return, where getting back into shape would require a herculean effort.  I needed a goal to motivate me.  Run-of-the-mill ski races weren’t going to cut it.  The goal needed to be not only challenging, but intimidating.

So a year ago, I decided that I wanted to ski the 2008 Iditarod Invitational race to McGrath. It was a third priority, behind family and work, but I still thought I could get in decent shape for it. The race is expensive, so I had a “wait and see” approach. I would wait and see if I was able to get into shape, before I would plunk down the $800 entry fee.

Well, between work and a newborn baby, I did not get in shape and thus did not sign up for the race. But when race day came, I found myself wishing I was out there, even without the training.  I decided then that I would do the race in 2009.  No more wait and see.  I needed to get the ball rolling.

I started ski-specific training on September 1st. I’ve been getting my gear together. I’ve been planning overnight trips to practice my winter survival skills.  I’ve been experiementing with different foods in frozen environments.  And a month ago, I plunked down my $800.  I’m on the list.

Now that the race is less than two months away, my preparation has kicked into high gear.  Check back often for updates on training, gear, and other thoughts as I prepare for this challenge.


Saturday, December 13th, 2008

My work schedule this week was a bit funky. I was running a bunch of tests, some of which took many hours to run. This meant doing some work at night, but it also allowed me to have some time off during the day. I wanted to use this free time to ski some place new.

I noticed that the Sheep Mountain 150 sled dog race is this weekend. I figured that the groomers would be out in force, buffing the Sheep Mountain and Eureka trails in the week before the race. By going mid-week I could avoid the typical weekend snowmobile rush. It sounded like a great opportunity, so I packed up my gear and hit the road early in the morning.

Road conditions weren’t great, and it took almost three hours to get there. I started skiing at 10 AM. The day was clear and cold, perfect for testing some new gear (overboots, ski pole pogies and long underwear). As soon as I started skiing, I knew I had scored big. Within 5 minutes, I crossed paths with a groomer on a snowmobile and, voila, a perfect trail just for me! He remarked that the trails were in pristine shape for the race, and that I had them all to myself. “Enjoy. You and I are the only ones out here,” he said. Yeehaw!

The only problem was that the snow was so cold and dry (overnight low was about -10 F) that skating was extremely difficult on the flats and impossible on the uphills. I was wearing a huge pack and that made it even harder to skate. But the classic skiing was great, even though I didn’t have kick wax on!

My original goal was to ski a 45 mile loop. But I quickly realized that was out of the question at my shuffling classic pace. So I just cruised along doing whatever technique worked best. After the sun came up, I was able to skate occasionally.

It was a spectacular ski. The sun was shining. I saw five moose and only four people – and two of those people were trail groomers! I managed to ski a 22 mile loop. After skiing, I made a pit stop in the Eureka Lodge to fuel up for the drive home – a cheeseburger, fries, and a bottomless 25 cent cup of coffee.

It was a long drive for a day trip – I spent just as much time driving as skiing. Not a trip to do everyday, but on this day it was totally worth it. Check out the photos…


Skiing the Eureka Snowmobile Trails


Gulkana River Float (With A Dash of Kenai)

Friday, May 26th, 2006

Gulkana River Float (With A Dash of Kenai)


May 26: For Memorial Day weekend 2006, we had planned to float the Gulkana River from Paxson Lake to Sourdough in our packrafts. But a slow-to-arrive Spring meant that we had to adjust our plans.

Tangle Lakes

Monday, May 30th, 2005

Tangle Lakes


Memorial Day weekend 2005. The forecast for Anchorage, Kenai, & PWS was for cloudy w/ rain. So we loaded up the car and headed to the only place that had a sunny forecast…Tangle Lakes on the Denali Highway.

Skiing On Lake Louise

Tuesday, November 30th, 2004

Lake Louise


By Thanksgiving time, the rain in Anchorage was really starting to get me down. I started dreaming of going to a lodge in the middle of the woods where I could ski all day and relax by the fire at night. After some research, I found exactly what I was looking for at The Point Lodge on Lake Louise.

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