Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Andrew Visits the North

It only took 4 years to convince Andrew, also known as Bernie, to make a trip to the north and see what the heck I was doing up here.
Well, OK, and like 4 years worth of airline miles too because, after all, it is a little pricey to get up here.
This post is waaaaay late, but here it goes.
Andrew flew in on July 27. It should be noted for the record, that I literally lost nights worth of sleep in advance of this trip over the weather, and a huge front that surged in over the Bering a few days prior to his arrival did not help my liver...but despite this, we lucked out BIG time.

Andrew had shipped up a mountain bike and a cross bike earlier in the week, and being a super great pal, if I don't say so myself, I assembled the former for him so we could hit the road early Saturday morning and go to Seward.
We started the trip by meeting up with Adam and Brian and riding the Lost Lake Loop, starting out at the Lost Lake TH and climbing up to the lake, riding Primrose down to the junction of the Iditarod Trail, and taking the latter back to Seward.
Unfortunately, we were socked in up high, so Andrew just had to take our word for it that the views were out of this world, + 10.
Despite this, the trail is in awesome shape, very dry, and fast.
And though there were no views of mountains, there were a fair number of runner headed from Primrose to Lost Lake in the opposite direction of our travel, more than a few of them being rather slender, athletic, and female; mostly running in pairs.
Somewhere headed down Primrose Trail, after perhaps the dozen'th of these pairs came by, Adam and I were stopped, when Adam asked "If he thought my friend might be wondering about all these girls."
Indeed, I had had the same thought now too, was wondering if Andrew would comment.
AS if on cue, Andrew came clattering down the hill (keep in mind this is a guy who could barely get over a small stick some 4 years ago on a mountain bike), and had not come to s top when he began deriding me for my complaints of there being a lack of attractive women in the state of Alaska...should have seen that coming.
Anyhow, here's a few photos from Lost Lake... no runners, sorry.
Climbing on the way up Lost Lake. (Photo A.B.)
Great views all around...I swear dude. (Photo A.B.)

The Train Wreck, in Seward. Get the pulled pork burrito, trust me. (Photo A.B.)

Post-ride Safeway carrot cake in a random parking lot. I think the conversation went something like: "Bernie, go take some pictures of those mountains...I need to destroy this cake." 
We headed from Seward to Sterling, where we base camped at fish camp for the next few days.
The next day Adam met up with us again and we drove out to the Resurrection Pass TH in Cooper Landing and dropped off Adam's car, piling into mine. We then headed to the Devils Pass TH to ride up Devils Pass Trail to its junction with Res, head north on Res to East Creek, back track back up the pass, and ride out to Cooper.
The trail was also fantastic, rock hard, and crazy fast. Though the skies were still overcast, at least we could see the mountains. Additionally, Bernie started laying it down on the climbs, leaving Adam and I to give chase. I was outmatched, and sulked in the back until I could get my revenge on the descents! Actually it was quite fun, and the trail was so fast on the way out for a while we were pace lining. Whoever thought that would be possible on Res. I was almost annoyed at how good the trail was as I felt, much like the parade of women that had gone by the other day, Andrew might be getting the wrong impression!

Andrew headed north bound through Res Pass.

Down near East Creek.

Adam and Andrew find love in their common bond of discussing European classics and dropping me on the climbs.

Swan Lake.

Juneau Lake to the right.

Near Swan Lake Cabin.

Juneau Falls.

Andrew, kick every one's tail on the way up, had time to take pictures of us. (Photo A.B.)

Andrew was impressed by the amount of huge boats Alaskans will haul around to catch fish. (Photo A.B.)
Monday we took a "rest day." By rest, I mean, get up long before the sun rises ... which is not too long after the sun sets ... and go catch sockeye with Angelo. We all caught our limits.

Launching in the dark.

Back at camp with the day's catch.

Tuesday, we packed up our stuff, and loaded up the car to start making our way back toward Los Anchorage. We were feeling pretty good, and decided to go ride the south end of Johnson Pass trail to the pass and back. We ran into bad ju-ju early though. The trail was much more grown up than it had been several week earlier when Brian and I rode it after work. Then a few miles in we crossed a stream with a half-eaten salmon sitting on the small bridge's deck.
A few miles later we passed another half-eaten salmon at yet another crossing.
I was not looking forward to riding back.
Then Bernie blew a flat.
We put in a new tube, but several miles later he blew another. This is why I always ride with two tubes and note one. We put the second one in, but worried that there might be a bur on his rim or something, we called it, about 8 miles in.
The way back was uneventful, with no more flats, though we heard a bear below one of the crossings.
Back at the car, the day still quite nice, we decided to load up, and go ride Crescent Lake. Turned out we should have just done that in the first place!

In the hemlocks on Johnson.

And headed up to Crescent Lake.

Said lake.

Andrew coming down a section of Crescent Lake Trail.
Wednesday was a pretty clow-key day, catching up on sleep, building up Andrew's cross bike, and doing the Wedneday night bangers ride with the crew just before the rain showed up, and of course, grilling up bangers and drinking beer in the Hilltop Parking lot after.
No pictures, but it was nice to show Andrew the trails that are quite literally in my back yard.

Lots of bikes in the garage.
Thursday was pouring-down rain, but Andrew's cousin Ali, who lives in Fairbanks, came through town for a visit. The rain let up in the afternoon so we did a short hike from Glen Alps up to the "Football Fields" a glacial plain below O'Malley Peak, to the overlook of Black Lake and the Williwa Lakes beyond that.

Team photo.

Los Anchorage from False Peak.

Approaching O'Malley Peak from the fields.

Deep Lake, still covered in ice.

Black Lake.

The Fields, headed back to Anchorage.
On Friday we drove up to Hatcher Pass to pre-ride part of the Hatcher Pass Road Race course. The race, held the next day on Saturday, started at the Gold Cord Mine, hosted by the Trimble family, went down about 1,000 feet, before climbing nearly 1,000 feet to Hatcher Pass, and then descended to Willow, before doubling back, for about 68 miles and 6,000 feet of climbing. The heavy rains in Anchorage the day before had materilized into flurries at the pass, and snow still clung to the ridgeline at 5,000 feet on Friday and Saturday.
Andrew and just rode about 30 miles of the course on Friday, but the skies were partially clear, so we took a few pics. Race day was pretty much rain the whole time, and temps as low as 38 in the pass. I borrowed a friend cross bike for this race, and had a total blast. Who would have thought I would ever say anything like that about corss bikes? Despite the cold and wet, I stayed warm and rode steadily, place 5th of the 13 contenders and feeling very good at the finish.

A hazy hero shot on the way back up and over the pass on Friday. (Photo A.B.)

Road construction on the Willow side of the pass made conditions even tougher. (Photo A.B.)

Headed up to the mine on Friday to meet with the Trimbles.

Race day, yep, that's snow up there.
Sometimes, when living so far away, it's easy to forget why friendships existed, and grow ever furthur apart. While Andrew was always one of my best buds through college, and it's only been a few years, I was glad to pick things right back up where we left off. I have plenty of good riding partners up here, but none can ever be replaced either, and I was reminded of this on Andrew's trip.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

This is My Favorite Part of the Ride

As printed in the Redoubt Reporter:

This is my favorite part of the ride.
It’s raining, barely 50 degrees out, 8 p.m., and I’ve been on this bike for the last 9 hours and 30 minutes. Yup. Been here a few times alright.

My co-adventurer today, Brian, and I started this morning in Hope, and rode up and over Resurrection Pass to Cooper Landing. The trip south to Cooper saw the skies break apart, the sun come out, and the mercury rise to 65. On the south-facing benches above Swan Lake, wildflowers bloomed vibrantly, and the trail was in the best shape I believe I have ever seen it in. Lots of people were out, all doing different legs of Resurrection and Devils Pass trails or various and out-and-backs. It felt social, in the most remote sense.
Sometime on the way back to Hope though, high stratus clouds moved in, and with surprising speed, a thick and angry bank of clouds rolled over Russian Mountain by the time we left the northerly shores of Juneau Lake. As we began to climb the benches above Swan Lake, the first spitting rain drops started to fall, and as they came down with more intensity, so did the temperature.

To compound the gloom, the long distances and a mechanical had caught up with Brian, who soldiered upward nonetheless. Knowing conditions were going to get worse, but not knowing exactly what that meant, I nervously told Brian I had to keep moving as we entered the alpine, or I risked getting hypothermic. Leaving a buddy behind in the backcountry is never good, but the cold was catching up with me everytime I stopped. Brian understood, as he devoured a sandwich, I think. Either way, he found a second gear and a remedy for a derailing rear derailleur, as everytime I looked over my shoulder and back into the enveloping fog, he was never far behind.
Now, we were miles from the pass, and closer to the car, beer, and pizza, then to the inhospitable environment above and behind us. A green canopy protected us from the wind and rain.

Up to this point, I’d been feeling really good; surprisingly good actually, but when Brian stopped before crossing the bridge over Resurrection Creek, I was relieved.
We have just less than 7 miles to go on a pretty mellow stretch of trail, but two good climbs and a few smaller ones still stand between, and I know my legs are ready to be done.

In a few bites, what was left of an energy bar that I started eating a few miles back is gone. This far into the ride, I’m not sure what exactly my digestive track was doing, but it’s damn efficient at getting sugars and protein to the muscles that need it. Still, the nutty, whole grain, hippy, feel-good bar isn’t going to kick in quick enough. Maybe if I’m lucky it will fuel the last mile or two, but I’m hovering right on the edge bonking.
It’s “E-GU time,” the time to dig down to the bottom of the pack and find that packet of gelatinous energy gunk I put in there, I’m not sure when, and definitely not look at the expiration date while squeezing it back.

I hate this gross-looking, synthesized, chemically fortified…sweet, delicious, cake frosting: man I love cake frosting…what was I saying?
The words "double-shot caffeine" cross my peripheral vision as I fold up the foil.

Brian turns around for the first time since we stopped, finished from downing a snack of his own for the final push.
“You won’t see me going after one of these that often,” I say sheepishly as I shove the neatly pressed and completely empty Gu back into my pack.

Brian rolls on, and a minute later I’m headed down the trail too. The impending bonk, momentarily deferred by the taste of sugars across my taste buds, is back knocking on the door and I ride along steadily.
Around a corner, the first big climb starts, and I catch sight of Brian. Some slimy rocks slow him down and in a minute I catch up with him. We climb upward steadily on this grinder, but with little fanfare the bonk, has stopped knocking. We hit the top of the climb and flatten out.


That’s the sound I hear somewhere in my head. A couple grams of sugar and caffeine just came online, and paired with a heap of endorphins, adrenaline, and who knows what else, my brain just turned into a rager of a psycho-chemical night club.
I pull up past Brian with a hoot and tear down the awaiting descent.

When the trail flattens back out, it’s go time.
Each pedal stroke slams downward.

I reach down and flip up the valving on my rear shock to tighten it up so I lose less energy into suspension compression.
Reaching forward, I do the same to the fork.

There’s nothing too technical from here on out, and with this much speed, what there is could probably be cleared with enough speed…
Snap, click-click-click, kerthunk, is the sound of my chain climbing up the third ring on my crank and dropping down a few gear levels in the back to level out.

I’m nearing cruising speed and hauling.
The world around me is a flash of green and a sky of gray, but the trail in front of me is in intense focus.

When a grouse flushes in front of me, I can see each of the feathers on its beating wings, so long as it’s in my line-of-sight.
How does this work? Shouldn’t I be done? Up at the pass this was survival riding. Now, miles later, when I should be crawling, everything is running at full speed.

A few short climbs threaten to kill my momentum, but if I just squeeze my eyes shut for a half second, the pain goes away and the power keeps rolling through the wheels.
This is my favorite part of the ride.