Friday, February 28, 2020

Winter Trails Challenge in a Day 2020

Here’s a challenge. How do you make the Winter Trails Challenge really challenging? Find all 13 signs in one day!

My wife, Corrine Leistikow, and I love the Trails Challenge, but we needed to incorporate it into our endurance training. We are both signed up for several upcoming winter endurance races. Doing the Trails Challenge in one day, we realized, would make for good training.

Hosted by the Fairbanks North Star Borough Parks and Recreation Department, the Trails Challenge encourages people to get out on local trails. Signs are posted on a variety of borough-area trails and directions are published that show generally where they are. To participate, people take a selfie with each one they find. Anyone who finds at least 10 of the signs by the deadline gets a Trailblazer Award.

Last summer we did the Summer Trails Challenge in one day and that was definitely challenging! It took us just over 11 hours from the first sign to the last. We drove just over 300 miles and spent about 30 miles on the trails, most of it biking.

But finding all the signs in one winter day? Less daylight. Colder temperatures. That seemed more, well, challenging. But Corrine said let’s do it, and I’m usually game for silly stuff.
We walked to the sign on the Chena River Walk (in the background), but there was enough snow to ski.

Part of this challenge is the preparation. We downloaded a list of the sign directions ( and Corrine mapped out an efficient itinerary that started with the signs in Goldstream Valley, where we live. We considered biking to some signs, but several trails are ski only. After some quick mental calculations, we decided against biking. We would ski to most of the signs and walk to the rest.

During the preparation phase, Corrine learned that one sign is on the Big Dipper Ice Arena walking track and that walking is allowed on Sundays but not Saturdays. We set the date for Sunday, February 23.

We watched the Trails Challenge Facebook page, looking for clues on where to find the signs from other people’s posts, and communicated with friends also doing the challenge. We learned that some people were having trouble finding the Eldorado Creek Trail sign. Corrine looked for it on a couple of her bike commutes but didn’t see it. We began to worry. The forecast also called for the temperature to start dropping Saturday night. We worried more. We were facing failure and freezing! So, we took action.

We had never been on the Retriever Pond Loop in the Tanana Lakes Recreation Area. (Ester Dome in the background.)
On the Friday before, Corrine found that while the Big Dipper is closed to walking on Saturdays, the building would be open, and we could access the sign. Hurray! We rescheduled our challenge day for Saturday, which would be warmer.

Also on Friday, I went skiing with my buddy Mike Mathers and we searched for the Eldorado Creek Trail sign. We found the Tanana Valley Railroad Trail sign, but not the other. I thought I knew where it was based on information I got from another sign nabber, but no luck. Mike and I searched several possible trails for 2 hours, but no luck. We finally gave up and headed back to the cars. And then there it was! We had skied right by it earlier! (Hint: It’s definitely on the official Eldorado Creek Trail south of Goldstream Road [] and it’s a lot easier to see heading south than north.)

Mike Mathers helped Eric find the Lower Eldorado Creek Trail sign.
Friday night Corrine and I packed everything we might need and estimated the time our endeavor would take. If we left our house by 8 a.m. we figured we could be done by 6 or 7 that evening. We packed our gear and set the alarm for Saturday morning.

We got out the door right at 8 a.m. and snagged the Tanana Valley Railroad and El Dorado signs with no problem. (Well, as the designated photographer, my hands got cold right away, but I had brought hand warmers just in case and I used them. Be prepared!)

Then we ticked off the signs according to Corrine’s itinerary. We walked to three – Chena River Walk, Big Dipper Ice Arena, and Moose Creek Dam – but were able to ski to the rest.  (The walking ones were fairly challenging, because ski boots are definitely NOT made for walking.) We ended up skiing about 18 miles and driving about 170 miles. (We walked a mile or less.) The temperature stayed a consistent 10-13 degrees all day, no matter the elevation. (And it started dropping right after we finished.)

The challenge was a good reason to get out and ski on the River Trails at Chena Lake Recreation Area.
We grabbed the last sign (East Ramp, Birch Hill Recreation Area) at about 4:30 p.m., well ahead of our estimated finish time. (Thanks in large part to wonderfully groomed trails!) We changed clothes at the Birch Hill Warming Hut and headed out for a nice Thai dinner to celebrate.

We had a great time skiing all these trails. In fact, we often wished we could spend more time on some of the trails, but we stayed focused! Doing the challenge on skis made us realize how lucky we are in Fairbanks to have so many wonderful trails and trail systems that are groomed for winter use. Thank you to all the different groups and agencies that take care of trails in the borough!
We met another Trails Challenge couple at the Colorado Creek Trail sign.

Corrine rockin' a jump after snagging the Birch Hill sign (in the background).
While driving between trails we thought of other ways people can make the Trails Challenge more challenging without necessarily doing them all in one day:
--Do all the signs in a month
--Do all the signs in 9 days (a week and two weekends)
--Do all the signs in a week
--Come up with different silly faces for each selfie (we tried!)
--Snag one sign and then explore more of that trail or trail system
--Do as many signs as you can in order of their numbering

Or, of course, just grab whatever signs you can when you can. The Trails Challenge is a great way to get outside and share the fun with others through selfies, out on the trails, and at the awards party at the end of the challenge.
Gotta be silly when doing a selfie! 
The challenge took us all over the place!