Sunday, January 3, 2021

First Cabin Trip of 2021


It has become an annual tradition to do a cabin trip in the White Mountains over New Year’s.  Usually, we meet up with Jill and Beat who come up to Fairbanks to train for the Iditarod Trail Invitational. And sometimes our son, Riley, will join us if he is in town. This year, due to COVID, nobody came to visit, so it was just Eric and me.  I had managed to snag Cache Mountain Cabin for January 1 and 2nd.  It is difficult to get cabin reservations during peak times like Christmas and spring break.  Thirty days in advance you have to be on your computer with everything filled out and just as it turns 6 AM, hit the reserve button.  By 6:02 the majority of the cabins are gone.  That’s how popular the White Mountain cabins are.  So, I felt fortunate to get Cache for 2 nights.  

In the days before our trip, the forecast became grimmer.  Temperatures would be colder than they had been for Christmas and for our second night, they were predicting lows down to -30F with 15 mph winds so wind chills down to -50F.  That did not sound like something I wanted to do.  We have friends (i.e., Jill and Beat) who relish seeing how they do in these conditions, but we aren’t training for anything epic and -30F is too cold for me to enjoy.  After a short discussion with Eric, we decided to just head out for one night instead.

Eric looking pretty frosty in the cold temperatures- probably -20F on Beaver Creek

We planned to head in from the McKay Creek Trailhead, about 42 miles out the Steese Highway.  It is 19.5 miles from there to the cabin with lots of ups and downs.  We drove out early New Year’s Day as we wanted to get to the cabin before dark. The trail starts by going straight up from the parking area at a 13% grade.  Within 30 seconds I was sweating and breathing hard and it didn’t get much easier for the next 5 miles. Climb, climb, and climb some more.  It was all bikeable as the trail was hard-packed, but I had to stop and catch my breath several times.  I tend to be a slightly faster climber than Eric, so I used that as my excuse to stop frequently.  I had to stop and wait for him to make sure he was doing okay.  

Looking back down the McKay Creek Trail

Sun low in the sky makes for long shadows

We passed only one other person, a hiker who was walking up to get the Trails Challenge sign at 5.5 miles.  He was moving only slightly slower than we were on our bikes.  At the trail sign we stopped for a photo op although we knew we would be back when do the Winter Trails Challenge (all in a day again).  Just after the sign, the trail drops into a valley. We put on an extra layer before bombing downhill.  

A few years ago I skied into Cache Mountain Cabin with Jill and remembered that there were some hills after that first big climb, but I did not remember how much up and down there was. The good thing is that just as you are getting cold from descending, you have another hill to climb and you can warm up again.  So I never got too cold.  We ended up climbing almost 3500 feet in 19.5 miles.  And it was all bikeable although I did choose to walk a few of the steeper uphills. 

The views were opening up more as we headed further into the recreation area.  The light was astounding.  Pink in the sky, pink on the mountains.  It was absolutely beautiful.  We kept having to stop and take photos trying to catch the light just right. Photos never do it justice.

At the intersection of the McKay Creek and the Cache Mountain Loop trails, there is a sign saying the cabin is 4 miles away.  I remembered from the White Mountains 100 race that the cabin is actually much closer (2.5 miles), so I kept riding while Eric stopped to take more photos.  I wanted to get to the cabin to take some photos of it before it got dark.  The cabin sits in a valley and you have views up toward the divide.  It’s in a really pretty spot. 

At the cabin, the previous occupants had left plenty of firewood, so I started making a fire while Eric went looking for more wood to replenish the supply.  By the time he got back the cabin was starting to get warm and I had our sleeping bags and supplies unpacked.  It’s so nice to have a warm cabin after a day out biking.  We relaxed for the rest of the evening, eating, doing crossword puzzles and reading.  And continually stoking the fire.

The cabin didn’t seem to be as tight as some of the other cabins, or maybe it was just colder outside but it was harder than usual to keep the cabin warm at night.  I didn’t trust the cabin thermometer, it said -20F but it didn’t feel quite that cold.  We had to restart the fire a couple of times during the night and add layers to wear in our sleeping bags.  

As the forecast predicted, it was colder the next morning but there was only a very light breeze.  We packed up and headed out at 9:15 AM just as it was light enough to not need headlamps. The moon was so bright.  We got to watch the sky lighten on one side and the moon set on the other.  

Favorite tree of small animals?

It made for beautiful riding.  There was still a lot of climbing on the way out, but it didn’t seem too bad.  My legs were a little tired, so I walked up a few pitches that I knew I could probably ride.  Plus, I didn’t want to get too sweaty.  I knew that we had those 5 miles of downhill at the end of the ride.  I was ahead of Eric for most of the ride and didn’t wait for him to catch up as I didn’t want to get cold.  He is much faster descending and he caught up to me just I got back to our truck.  

2 mushers were the only people we saw on our way out

We went to start the truck to get it warmed up while we unloaded our gear, but the truck was dead.  Fortunately, Eric always brings a battery pack charger for the vehicle just in case.  Unfortunately, that battery pack was also dead.  Hmmm.  I guess it was cold out there.  We aren’t sure how cold it was but probably around -20F. There wasn’t much traffic that far out the Steese, but Eric was able to flag down a car, who gave us a jump.  Whew!  Disaster averted. 

We will need to figure out a better battery charger system for next time.  Or just not go, if it’s going to be that cold.  This trip was about at the temperature limit of what I’m willing to endure. I just don’t enjoy being out all day at below -20F.  Maybe it’s because I’m getting older?  Maybe I’m just a wimp.  I know my friends think I like to suffer, but really, I don’t!  But I’m glad we did decide to go for one night.  I hope we can get out for a couple more trips this spring, hopefully with warmer temperatures.  But I doubt the trails could be much better than they were this past weekend.  All in all, it was another great cabin trip in the White Mountains.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

I Skied My Age in Kilometers and am Too Tired to Write About It!

OK, maybe I can write one or two things. 

At about halfway -- still smiling! 

I did my SYA the day after Corrine. I skate skied it. The first time I ever did the whole thing on skate skis. If I ever do that again, I should train for it. 

A little over 10k to go. Not excited about climbing Heartrate Hill on the White Bear Trail.

I was lazy. I didn't start skiing until 6 a.m. or so. But then I got it into my head to ski every trail groomed for skate skiing at Birch Hill, including all the cut offs. That helped motivate me, but I ended up having to ski more than I had planned (64 kilometers, and I'm only 60). Plus I had to finish my ski by going down the Sonot Connector and up Cliffside. Dumb! Big temperature inversion. The trails down low had almost no glide. I walked and herring-boned Cliffside more than I skated. 

Happy to be done, but damn tired! 

  • Got the trails to myself for the first few hours! 
  • Got to work on my V2 a lot. 
  • Saw the SCUM skiing group -- twice. When I told them what Corrine had done, they said I should have gotten up earlier. 
  • At first I started doing the cut-offs in a purist fashion (i.e. completing a loop on the trails. Toward the end I started cheating sometimes, just doing an out-and-back on some cut-offs. I was tired! 
  • Some stumbles, but no falls! 
I did it today. Now I'm too tired to write anymore. At some point we need to stop doing this foolishness!
Be sure and read Corrine's post about her Ski Your Age, too.  It's the previous post to this one.

I Skied My Age in Kilometers

 The Ski Your Age in Kilometers is an annual event held at Birch Hill in Fairbanks, Alaska the day after Christmas. It is a fundraiser for the racing arm of the Nordic Ski Club of Fairbanks.  I’ve done it for at least the past 10 years but wasn’t sure I would do it this year.  I wasn’t even sure the event was going to happen because of COVID, but December 25 it was posted that it would be a virtual event this year and you could complete it any time before January 2nd.  I decided to do it on the “official” day for several reasons.  Mostly because I have to work all week and next weekend Eric and I are planning a 2-day cabin trip in the White Mountains. So, December 26 it would have to be.

Trails were bomber (all photos from other skis I have done at Birch Hill not from the day of the event)

The weather was good.  Last year I skied my age at an average temperature of -15 F. That was slow and brutal. This year it was anywhere from -5F to +15F.  Perfect for skiing.  The only complication was that I was on call. That meant that I had to be available for any phone calls from patients. I figured that most people would be sleeping in after Christmas so maybe if I got a really, really early start I could get most of it done before having to answer phone calls on the trail.  Spoiler alert – I made it the whole way with no phone calls.

I got my snacks and clothes ready and went to bed early, setting my alarm for 3 AM!!!  I had wanted to start skiing by 4 AM but by the time I got up, ate breakfast, got my hot drinks ready, kick waxed my skis (I was going to classic ski) and drove to Birch Hill it was 4:15 AM.  Not too much later than I hoped.  I put on my skis and then had to ski 1 mile to get to the warm up hut (the gate was still locked) where I could drop off my backpack. I know, a heated warm up hut with flush toilets where I could store my extra gear and food . . . what kind of outdoor adventure is this?  Pretty cush. But whatever. I still had to ski 62 km (I’m 61 but I always tack on an extra km for good measure.

I could tell it was going to be a really long day as I headed up the first hill.  (Birch Hill Ski Area is very hilly.  There is almost nothing that is flat.  You are either going uphill or going downhill.)  Although my legs and arms felt good, my heart and lungs were tired.  I had no oomph.  It probably didn’t help that I biked to work and back on Christmas Eve (28 miles) and then Eric and I went out for a bike ride on Christmas Day because the weather was so nice plus I had to try out the new frame bag for my bike.  Oh well.  I’m good at slow and steady.  I can usually classic ski on groomed trails at an average of 10 km per hour but I could tell that I wouldn’t be able to keep that up today.  And I didn’t.  I averaged more like 8 kph (5 mph).  Such is life.  

For a while, I wasn’t sure I would finish.  At 4 miles (6.4 km), I told myself I was already about a ninth of the way done.  It seemed like I still had so far to go.  At 9 miles (15 km), I told myself I was almost a quarter of the way done.  But that didn’t really help. Three quarters of the way, another 29.5 miles (47 km) still left to ski.  That seemed daunting.   Better to just not think about it.   So, I kept moving.  At the halfway mark, it seemed like I would never finish . For a while, I thought maybe I should just call it good and say I wasn’t feeling it today. Most older skiers don’t ski their actual age at this event.  I didn’t have to keep going. But I didn’t really have a good reason to stop.  I wasn’t feeling bad, I wasn’t cold.  I wasn’t even all that bored. I was just a little tired.  So I just kept moving, slow and sure, and the miles (kms) added up. Before I knew it, I was at 32 miles (52 km) and back at the warm up hut.  I made a quick pit stop to pee and drink some hot tea and headed back out for the final 10K.  Those last 10K went by pretty quickly. More people were out on the trails.  It was light and I was almost done!  Before I knew it, I was finished! Yes, it took me 7 hours and 43 minutes to go 62 km (38.5 miles) but I got it done!

I didn’t take any pictures while I skied.  The moon was out and was gorgeous.  The long slow sunrise that happened between 10 and 11 AM was also beautiful.  But I wanted to keep moving and stopping to take a photo with my phone is always an ordeal.  I have to stop, take off my gloves, unzip my layers, get my iPhone out of the Ziplock bag in my bra where I keep it so the battery doesn’t die, take the picture, and then put everything back.  By the time I do all that, I often get cold. And all the good photo ops seemed to be on long downhills.  So, no photos.  Most of the time it was dark anyway.  

There are often moose on the trails but not when I skied my age

Birch Hill has about 34 km of trails groomed for both classic and skate skiing.  I did do all of these at least once (even the black loops that are steep – fun to go down but slow to come back up.) In Fairbanks we have huge temperature inversions.  The cold settles in low spots and there can be a 30 degree difference in temperatures with just 1000 feet of elevation change. So, I hit all the low spots only once and then tried to stay up higher as much as possible.  I’d rather ski at temps above zero instead of below zero Fahrenheit.  I definitely could feel the difference when hitting the low spots, but I never got so cold, I had to put on different layers, I would just zoom down and then head back up.  Both gaining elevation and working harder would warm me right up.

Sunset at Birch Hill near the timing hut

I didn’t see any people until I only had 12 km left to go. Then skiers, including several friends, passed by and gave me encouragement when they found out that once again, I was skiing my age. I tried to encourage them to do the same but, alas, nobody wanted to do that! Eric is planning on his skiing his age the day after me.

And at the end, I convinced a skier going by to take my picture so at least I had a record of finishing my goal!  I think I’ll put my feet up the rest of today and tomorrow, but I still have one other goal to complete by the end of the year.  I’m almost at 5000 miles of biking this year, so if I get out for a couple of fat bike rides before Thursday, I should be able to make that goal, too. It’s good to have goals to help us get outdoors and stay motivated.  I hope all of you reach your goals, too.  And don’t let the fact that you (and all of us) are getting older get in the way of continuing to make new goals.  Look at me, I’m 61 and I’m still striving to reach new goals. If I can do it, so can you.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

28 Things We Still Like to Do Together: A Wedding Anniversary Celebration

We got married 28 years ago today. Our wedding was a low-key affair at the courthouse with two friends, Lin and Andy, and their one-year-old son, Nathan, as witnesses. We had met a little over a year earlier at a baby shower for Lin and Andy. Eric, a co-worker of Lin's at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, had helped organize the shower. Corrine was Lin and Andy's doctor. Friends, including Lin and Andy, had been scheming to get us together. It took a pregnancy to make it happen! 

At the shower, we scheduled a date for the next Sunday. Eric would teach Corrine how to telemark ski. But on Sunday morning, Corrine had to cancel. Lin's water had broken. 

That night Nathan was born. Eric decided he had to come to the hospital to "see the baby." After seeing the baby and congratulating the happy parents, we went out for a cup of hot chocolate at the only place we could think of that was open: the Northernmost Denny's in the World! We talked for hours and were both exhausted the next day at work. 

Many successful dates followed (though Eric never did teach Corrine how to telemark). Exactly one year after that first date, we got married. Since that time we've had some ups and downs, but mostly ups. We continue to enjoy each other's company while doing many things together. A lot of them are focused on the outdoors and exercise but not all. In honor of our 28 years of wedded bliss, here are "28 Things We Still Like to Do Together." But first, a few pics from 28 years ago!

Tying the knot in a low-key way. 

Our "reception": Celebrating at Denny's, 
the site of our very first date. 

At our big public wedding celebration one month later 
held at Musher's Hall, where the temperature was -50 that night!  It was a flannel shirt affair.

28 Things We We Still Like to Do Together

  1. Bike
  2. Ski 
  3. Hike 
  4. Backpack
  5. Do ski and bike races
  6. Watch movies 
  7. Get take-out Thai food
  8. Eat home-cooked meals
  9. Spend time with our kids, Riley and Montana
  10. Do crossword puzzles
  11. Tease each other (in a good way)
  12. Eat (and drink) chocolate
  13. Write stories for our blog and other places
  14. Go car camping (usually with #1 and #3) 
  15. Go on cabin trips 
  16. Snuggle
  17. Share YouTube videos we find
  18. Sing 
  19. Share a bed
  20. Discuss and debate current events
  21. Travel
  22. Be silly, laugh and giggle
  23. Kiss and hug
  24. Read the same books
  25. Listen to NPR 
  26. Celebrate our successes and sympathize with failures
  27. Encourage each other’s passions
  28. Say I love you

Photos of Some of Those 28 Things

Biking to Eleazar's Cabin in the White Mountains 
National Recreation Area earlier this winter

Hiking in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park in September 2019.

Taking a break at the last rest stop of the 
60-mile Fat Pursuit multi-sport race in Idaho in early 2020.

Sharing the awe of Denali on a hike 
in the Peters Hills off the Petersville Road this fall.

Our tent spot at Hutlinana Hot Springs 
on a bike camping trip in 2019. 

Corrine showing off her vocal skills during a backpacking trip 
along the Skyline Ridge Trail in Canada in 2019.

Eric working on a crossword puzzle during a cabin trip in the 
White Mountains National Recreation Area earlier this winter. 

Never afraid to make fools of ourselves

Enjoying a winter break in Hawaii in 2019. 

Spending time with our amazing kids, Riley, 26 and Montana, 24

Sharing a kiss after our 1st WM100 race. 

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Sleigh Ride - White Mountains Edition

The holidays are a great time to get away to the White Mountains.  I am thankful that we have this amazing playground right in our backyard.  So, I decided to make a holiday music video combining the two.  If you don’t want to hear more about how and why I made this video, you can just watch it now.  Enjoy!

I have made a few music videos in the past several years.  I take a popular song but use my own words to fit the situation. 

It’s quite the process, at least for me.

First, I have to come up with an idea and then write the new lyrics. That’s the easy part.  For "Sleigh Ride," Eric and I were skiing out from Crowberry Cabin.  It’s 27 miles and we had a few inches of new snow overnight, so it was beautiful but also was slow going.  Christmas songs like "Winter Wonderland" and "Sleigh Ride" kept popping into my head so I spent the time thinking up different lyrics about a trip in the White Mountains.  And by the time we got back to the car, the song was done.  I just had to fine tune some of the lines.  But by the time I did that it was almost Christmas, so I knew I wouldn't complete the video last season.

Skiing out from Crowberry Cabin last year

But then I remembered the song this fall and decided to make the video for the 2020 holidays.  The next step was to record the song.  This is the hardest part for me.  I can mostly sing in tune but barely, and I have a very mediocre voice.  And we don’t really have recording equipment at home, either.  I use Garage Band and a mic that we happen to own. First I download a Karaoke version of the song that I like. Then I have to practice ad nauseam so at least it’s good enough for others to hear.  I end up getting the song stuck in my head, it’s constantly going through my brain.  I’ll even dream with the song playing in the background.  Aargh!!  At some point, I usually say enough and save the recording complete with missed notes and bobbled words.  Good enough. Perfection is overrated, right?

Usually during the same couple of weeks that I'm practicing the song, I’m also looking through my photos and making a file of anything that might be useful for the video. Sometimes I’ll have to take a new photo to work with the song.  Last weekend on our cabin trip, I took  photos that I needed for the song that I didn’t have.  

Needed a wood stove photo for the video

Finally, I load everything into iMovie and then start putting photos with the music.  I will get everything in a general order and then spend hours making sure that photos are synced with the music.  Once again, I finally decide it’s good enough although by no means perfect.  By the time I get done, I am usually so sick of the song, I never want to hear it again!!  Then I just have to upload it to YouTube which is a pain with our slow internet speed.

The first music video I made was for Eric.  You might remember the song, "Feel it Still," by the band Portugal. The Man.  At the time the song was popular, Eric had decided to take up kicksledding.  Every time I heard the lyrics, “I’m a rebel just for kicks, yeah”, I kept thinking  “I’m a rebel with a kicksled”. 

Thus, the creative process started, and I ended up writing a song for Eric for his birthday and then went on to make the music video. You can watch it here.

Next, I took the song, "Ride Like the Wind," by Christopher Cross but came up with words to fit racing the Tour Divide.  I made this video the spring before I raced so didn't have photos from the trail, just other outdoor bike packing photos. I’m planning to redo it with photos from my actual race – I just haven’t gotten around to doing that yet.  So, you will have to wait to see that one. (Although you can just go to my YouTube channel if you really want to see the original.)

Then Jean Tsigonis, a family physician, decided to retire. We worked closely together for 30 years. She was my work BFF.  We shared so much, good and bad, over the years while taking care of patients.  Jean is an amazing woman.  Besides working full time for over 37 years, she raised 5 kids, homeschooled them, volunteered for countless other organizations, while also having a garden, quilting and making her own bread!  She goes nonstop and makes me look like a slug.  So, I thought about the Beatles song, "8 Days a Week," and made a music video for her retirement based on that.  You can watch it here:

Eric got in the spirit of it and also made a music video for me called "Striding Queen," based on the ABBA song "Dancing Queen."

Making music videos is a fun, creative outlet and I enjoy the process.  Hope you enjoy the final product!  Happy holidays to everybody and hope these videos will at least bring a smile to your face.