12/21/09

Adventures in the Dark

It's solstice today, and since it's cloudy in Fairbanks, that means it won't get very bright for very long today. That reminded me of some of the recent adventures I've been having in the dark. Since I'm home for the holidays, and it's cold out, I suppose I have some time to type up a few updates.

Whilst driving north for turkey day, Paul, Clay and I stopped in at Dragonfly Creek for a bit of ice climbing. It's perhaps the most convenient climbing anywhere. A two minute walk from the car leads to the top of the ice pillar that drops down towards the Nenana River. Tie in to the anchor-tree, rap down and start playing. We each did a few laps, and throughouly enjoyed ourselves. We started climbing at about six o'clock, so it was headlamps climbing. Fun, but more intense. We were thankful for the toprope.

On our way South back to Anchorage, we stayed in at the cabin for a couple nights. What a great place to unwind. I almost forgot how much schoolwork I was neglecting. We spent our day there investigating the bowels of the Castner glacier, and were not disappointed with our findings. We came prepared with both ice climbing gear and river gear to be ready for any sub-glacier terrain features. Neat cave. Waded in thigh-deep ice water. Belly-crawled on mud and rocks. Hiked in huge open tunnels. Wahoo.

After school was finished, I picked up a few hours at AMH, Anchorage's premier ski-racing and mountian-climbing headquarters. I've worked there on and off for a few years, and it always feels like coming home when I start there again. One of the perks of working there is that  your co-workers are always planning excellent hair-brained adventures. And so I found myself preparing for a late-night backcountry ski trip with Paul and two of the rowdy AMH crew, Jason and Galen. It had been snowing all day, and we got first tracks  after getting off of work that night. We dropped into the bowl at about 9:30pm, headlamps struggling to cut through the warp of falling snow. What fun!

And now it is full time ski-racing season. So far it looks like my training is paying off, but I still have a ways to go before I'm skiing as fast as I can this season. Last weekend was the first two Besh Cup series races. about 500 skiers from around the state show up to race. It's a big event for the juniors trying to qualify for the Junior Nationals team, but it's a great event for everyone to get some race practice in. Sunday was a 15k classic race. I placed ok, but I didn't feel very strong. Saturday though, I placed 12th in the skate sprint. I qualified 13th in the morning, then placed 3rd in my quarterfinal heat behind powerhouses Reese Hanneman and David Norris. It turned out that we had the fastest heat, so I still got to advance as the "Lucky Loser" despite my #13 race bib. I got my butt kicked in the subsequent heats, but I had secured myself as 12th for the day. The race started with a prelim at 11 o'clock. My last heat started at 4:15. That made for a long day, and it was dark in the stadium well before we were finished.

 
Dragonfly in the Dark


Gearing up: kayaking drysuit, mountain boots, crampons.


Ice Tunnel


Explorer Paul


Ice-bank hopping.


Scharlping some Gnar the day before the dark skiing adventure. Pictures turn out better in daylight.


This is Ski Racing.

(Photos by Clay Roberts, Steffi Hiemer, John Schauer and UAA Seawolves Skiing)

11/23/09

Ice Climbing Science

It's almost that time again... As the mercury drops, ice climbers dream of water trickling over rock walls, gradually growing from smears to bulges to big fat walls of ice. Paul forwarded me this excellent scientific report testing the strengths of various types of ice protection. It will always be a judgment call whether an anchor is solid, but empirical evidence is surely a painless way to gather knowledge. So if you're planning on swinging tools this winter, I'd give it a thorough perusal.

On that note, Paul, Clay and I will be braving the parks highway on Wednesday so that we can join our family in sacrificing a turkey. Friday will see Father and Sons racing together as the "Schauer Power" relay team at the annual Turkey Day Relays. Upon finishing, we will make our exodus to Ohana Cobana, our cabin near the Deltas. Early season ice climbing or late-season ice caving shall ensue. Expect updates next week.

11/18/09

Gotta love it...

I just handed in my genetics lab report, a real-world style primary source document detailing the semester in which we isolated, cloned, anaylzed and sequenced DNA from spinach. This morning I hammered all four heats of a classic sprint time trial with the ski team, and actually stacked myself in with the big guys. Yesterday I turned in my term paper for physiology, a well-researched and thoroughly fascinating treatise about thermoregulation and hypothermia. Tomorrow morning I'll be completing an essay exam for that same class, covering material about the nuts and bolts of respiration, circulation, ion balance, nitrogen management digestion and nutrition. Friday I'll be heading to Hatchers Pass with the team for a weekend training camp up on the good snow, though I do have to swing back into town Friday afternoon for a lab session. Between two-a-day workouts this weekend at Hatchers, I'll be studying for my organic chemistry exam on Monday. Then it'll be thanksgiving, thank goodness.

I'm finding out that the only possible way for me to cope with this schedule is to fully embrace it as the insanity that it sometimes is. I watched a TED talk by a brit named Ben about skiing solo to the geographic North Pole. Dude has some willpower. Because the sea-ice that covers the Arctic Ocean is always drifting, he often floated backwards while he slept, only to ski for many hours the next day to creep a couple miles north of his previous position. On his worst day he skied due north, pulling two gigantic sleds with all of his necessary gear, into a headwind for 7 or so hours, only to end up two and a half miles further south of where he started due to the drifting ice. And he was laughing about it. What a guy...

I'm pretty sure that's probably what it takes to surmount an insurmountable obstacle. Realize just how outrageously impossible it really is, laugh about it, then do it...with a smile.

...gotta love it    :-D

10/23/09

Feel the Burn

As I wake, my body already knows what is coming. It is hardening itself, preparing. I feel a little bit sick, but this is normal, and it means I'll feel good when I get moving. I choke down some breakfast, though I don't have much appetite. Out the door, ready for the day.

As I start my warm-up, my body feels tense and heavy, but I soon relax into a springy jog, poles in hand, on my way out to the hill. I begin to focus on what I need to do. Three minutes as hard as I can, five times up the hill. Just a mere fifteen minutes of effort sounds small, easy, do-able, but I know it will hurt.

I do a warmup interval. Not all-out, but fast. I feel strong. I can spin my legs quickly. I breathe fast and deep, keeping up with my body's output. I bring myself near the brink of anaerobic pain, and ease off before I get there, revving the engine before the drag.

The tinny beep of the watch springs me to life. My heart rate and breathing quickly accelerate to match pace with my legs as I sprint through the trees over dead leaves and mud. As soon as I settle into a comfortable pace, I up the ante and try to spin faster. I swing my hands quicker to make my legs pump harder. I'm just on the flats now. I have to go fast to make it hard.

This is where the pain begins. Before I reach the hill, I'm already breathing raggedly, but I can't get enough air. I'm at the bottom of the pool struggling for a breath, but I force my legs to move faster. The familiar burn of lactate begins to pollute my thighs. This is gonna be good...

I turn the corner to face the incline. I accelerate; a launching linebacker at the hike. I stab my poles down hard and begin to bound. Huge strides propelled with both arms and legs. I imagine my limbs are the pistons of an oversized engine, and I cram on the gas pedal.

This is where the pain deepens. My face numbs, my bowels cramp, my ears ring, my heart pounds through my body. My legs begin to fill with red-hot lead. My breathing is so fast and hard that it would worry me if I'd never done this before. This is where an athlete is born, in this moment. To ignore the pain and push harder than I know I can is the lesson I'm learning here.

I lift my eyes to the horizon of the gradually steepening slope. I force my body to push harder, and to quicken the tempo. A guttural grunt involuntarily escapes from my chest. A flood of adrenaline. A bucket of gasoline is thrown over the fire in my legs, and I accelerate with the eruption of flames.

As if forcing my way through a stone wall, with determination, focus and aggression, I break through the pain in my body. On this higher plateau, I reach a new level of power. Bestowed with the fear and aggression earned by eons of nature's ancestors fighting for survival, I fly wildly up to the crest of the hill sprinting powerfully over the top.

I come to a screeching halt. I stop my watch. I collapse, doubled over on my poles, gasping desperately for breath. I descend back down through the layers of pain as my body recovers. Seconds later, as soon as I can move, I begin to jog gingerly down the shortcut to the start of the loop. My legs momentarily wobble as if I haven't walked in a very long time. I breathe deeply and flush fresh blood through my body on my way back to the start.

One down, four to go.

10/12/09

Fall Training

With 15 mostly upper division biology credits including 3 labs, a new part-time on-campus job, and being team captain during my last season as a college skier, This fall has been decidedly busy.

My favorite part of the day? Getting to go train with the best college team in the nation. Quite literally, the UAA nordic ski team (both men and women) was the fastest in the country last year at NCAA championships. Officially UAA placed 4th. The NCAA scores Nordic and Alpine skiing together, and though our Alpine team was strong last year, together we placed 4th overall. We're all excited to build on that from last year, and bring it all together for some excellent racing this winter.

Not only is it a fast team, it's just awesome to train with these guys. We put in the effort together every day, and that environment is really exciting to be around.

Until this week, it was really starting to feel like winter here in Anchorage. We had some snow in the mountains near town, just a couple thousand feet above sea-level. Today it's sunny and 50 degrees again. This is the time of year that skiers get antsy for snow.

It makes for some interesting training in the transition period. Running in the muddy snow up in the mountains, rollerskiing on wet leaves and frost. Gritting our teeth through wet sleet on the long workouts. Suffice to say it'll be nice when everything is packed under a few feet of snow, and we just have to deal with the wind and cold at Kincaid.

Here's a few pictures of the team putting in the effort. You can check out the ski team at the university athletics webpage, or read about our adventures on the ski team blog.



Here I am racing in the Kincaid Stampede rollerski race, gettin' after it.



Max Treinen putting the hours in on Potter's hill.



The start of the Kincaid Stampede race with Michael Shallinger and I in green up against the big bad APU boys led by Mark Iverson.




At the top of Hatcher's pass, a standard feeding session after a long, hard workout.

(Photos by Mandy Kaempf)

10/6/09

Wildwater Win!

Every year at Denali park, Alaskan paddlers congregate for a weekend of joviality and competition on the rapids of the Nenana river at the Wildwater Festival. There's always a down-river race: a 3-4 mile sprint downstream through class 3 rapids. After the race and re-running shuttle, everyone trades their longest, skinniest racing boat with their shortest, fattest play boat for the rodeo. We find a feature or two that are near a bridge, and have a show-off contest for best tricks. By then we're all whipped and ready for a barbecue where twice-told tales from the good old days get better each year, and new accounts of heroism and drama join the collective history of Alaskan paddling epics.

The Schauer family has a long history competing in the annual Nenana wildwater races. My Dad's been placing with the top guys for several decades now. One year he tried taking his sea-kayak on the gnarly Whitewater race, and almost won it. Paul has been winning for a few years now. He even holds the course record from the year we did the race at floodstage. Paul is an incredibly skilled kayaker, and as a full time skier athlete he was totally unstoppable. I've usually done pretty well for myself. One year I even won the slalom/obstacle course.

This year though, Paul decided to let me have the advantage in the main event down-river race. Our mom used to kayak way back when a standard-sized boat was 12-13 feet long (i.e. fast). Now she rows the raft, or her new inflatable kayak because she cleverly prefers the relaxation of a more stable craft. Luckily though, we never sold her ancient fiberglass kayak. It comes out to play just once a year now, and it's been the winning boat for at least 4 years running.

I used to have Paul take it because he is the more skilled, fitter paddler, and therefore more likely to win. I'd take something a little more durable, but maybe not quite as streamlined, and place in the top five. This year though, since Paul has ratcheted back on the ski racing, he let me give it a try. I was a bit nervous about it being so fragile and hard to control, but super excited to go fast!

The race was excellent. I fit in the kayak just fine, it controlled pretty well, and it totally zipped through the waves. My competition though, was definitely not going to let me have it so easily. Jeff Shelton, a Healy local, works as a raft guide on this very stretch of water, rowing piles of tourists down it 3 times a day. Suffice to say he's fit and knows where the current is. He had his own fast boat, and the two of us dueled the whole way down arms and lungs burning. Near the end it looked like he'd gotten me. He had picked a better line in the last rapid, and I was struggling to catch him on the flats into the finish. I was sure he had me, but then with just a hundred meters to the end, his boat bogged down in a slower patch of water, and I just passed him at the finish line! Paul and my Dad came in soon after, 4th and 6th I believe.

Now that Paul and I have each had our victories in Mom's yellow boat, we'll have a rock-paper-scissors (or my new favorite: ninja-yeti-cowboy) to decide who gets it each year.

Here's a video of the Rodeo finals at Rockslide. I'm in the yellow boat with the blue helmet. Paul is orange boat with orange helmet. Thanks to my dad for putting this together. If it doesn't show up below, here's the Youtube link



Here's the Newsminer Article

10/2/09

Bear Hunting


So there's a few opinions on this subject, and mine are somewhere in the middle. Basically there's the REI people and there's the Cabella's people. REI folks are usually sierra club members, they like to wear flashy bright colors, brag about how lightweight their gear is, and live by the motto, "leave only footprints and take only photographs". They definitely enjoy the outdoors, adventure, exercise, nature, and the serenity of being outside. The other extreme are the hardcore Cabella's guys. They're usually NRA memebers, they wear nothing but camo and blaze orange, brag about how big and heavy their animals are, and their motto might be, "Shoot first, eat later". They too love the great outdoors, the adventure, stalking prey, the thrill of the hunt and the satisfaction of achieving their goal. Obviously there is a spectrum here ranging from the greenie, bunny-hugging, vegan, barefoot walkers all the way over to the Rambo, macho, gun-toting, 4-wheeler rallying animal assassins. As with politics, I think both extremes are off the deep end.

I grew up to the REI side of the middle. I used to hate it when we had to control the squirrel population at the house, to keep them from destroying our insulation. Those furry buggers are pretty cute until you have to clean up a mess they've made, then it becomes a little easier to dispatch them. I even used to be some sort of a vegetarian. From about ages 8 to 12 I didn't eat cows or pigs. I had to compromise a fair amount, otherwise I would've had to cook for myself, which come to think of it I still have trouble with... I'm still not entirely sure what my reasons were for quitting meat. I think I mostly just didn't like it, but there was some sensitivity towards animals involved. Since going back, I'm definitely a full-on carnivore now, making up for lost time. I still love animals, but it makes sense to eat them too, that's just part of nature. If a baby caribou gets killed by a wolf, a wolf pup gets to eat...

Growing up as an REI person, I've never even tried hunting anything, except for the occasional pest control of those fuzzy-tailed rats (i.e. squirrels) It's not that hunting is inherently ill-natured, or bad, we just preferred hiking for hiking, camping for camping, and being experience rather than goal oriented. Besides, once you pull the trigger, the fun is over and you find yourself on a work trip instead of a fun trip.

And that brings me to this fall. My roommate, Clay, is from the UP of Michigan. He grew up on freshly killed deer meat. His dad is an accomplished professional taxidermist. Clay used to work in a butcher shop, turning dead deer into cuts of steak, roasts and sausage. When he moved up here, he started working for Ray Atkins as a load hauler carrying dall sheep for hunting guides, and is now himself a guide. He gets paid to take people up mountains after big full-curl sheep. Clay offered to take me hunting and teach me his skills just like I've brought him into the climbing and skiing worlds. After listening to Clay's hunting stories, I was totally up for it.

I also feel good about gathering food from the land. Alaska is becoming rare as a place where there are still enough wilderness resources that are managed well enough to support the needs of alaskans. Subsistence hunting is still a way of life here for many people, and that is something that I wanted to experience. I think it makes a lot more sense to harvest wild, natural, local meat than to pay someone to grow a cow in a box in oklahoma, pumping it full of hormones to be unnaturally heavy, butchering it in a factory, freezing it and shipping it to me 3000 miles away.

So on labor day weekend I went on my very first ever hunting trip. We practiced with Clay's rifle a bit, and I was able to shoot well enough, so off we hiked into the wilderness, gun in hand. Clay had suggested we hunt for black bear. This time of year their coats are beautifully full, and they're packing themselves with blueberries to get fat before the winter. It's also a manageably sized animal that isn't too much work for 2 guys to butcher and carry out.

We had about as easy of a hunting trip as might be possible. I think I'm in for some long, cold, wet, uneventful hunting trips if I go again, because I cashed in all of my beginner's luck in one go. Our first night out, a beautiful warm sunny evening, we hiked a few hours up a trail and over a ridge to get away from the road and people, where we might start looking for bears the next morning. We found an excellent place to camp, and set our packs down on the tundra. With our packs off, we decided to look up over the next knoll to scope out routes for the morning. As we crested the steep little hill, Clay dropped to the ground and dragged me down after him yelling in a whisper, "There's a bear right down there, 30 yards! Rack a shot!"

I put a round in the chamber, and we belly crawled up to the very crest of the hill. The black bear was eating blueberries and hadn't seen us until we poked the gun barrel and our heads up over the top of the hill, trying to line up the shot. It looked right at us for a bit, wondering what on earth we were, and what we were doing. I still couldn't see through the scope, and the gun barrel was still obstructed by the top of the hill, so we had to sit still. A few tense seconds later, the bear decided to romp off, it probably got wind of our smell. I don't blame it, I'd run if I smelled us too.

As I found the rapidly retreating bear in the scope, now at about 40 yards, Clay had the presence to yell, "Hey!" to get the bear to stop and look again. I lined up the shot and pulled the trigger. After that I had no idea what had happened. Ears ringing from the blast, staring up at the sun on the horizon, I didn't even know if I'd hit the thing. Clay was already celebrating though, because he'd seen it drop instantly and roll twice to the bottom of the hill. I missed the vitals that I was aiming for, but I accidentally got it right through the neck, killing it instantly. It didn't feel much.

I spent that night learning from Clay how to skin and quarter an animal, a valuable skill. We had a nearly full moon and decided to camp, and carry everything back in the morning.

We now have a freezer full of wonderfully tender, all-natural, organic, blueberry-fed black bear meat, not to mention a hide with thick, luscious soft fur, all for the price of a tank of gas and a bullet. With that kind of an introduction to hunting, I'm sure I'll go back.

So now, I wonder what that 8-year-old bunny-hugger me would have to say if he knew he would grow up to become a carnivorous bear hunter?



9/15/09

Europe in July!

Now that I've moved back down to Anchorage, and gotten into the swing of the busy school and skiing schedules, I finally have some time to tell stories about my fun trips and adventures this Summer and so far this Fall.

The big news and best stories have got to be from my awesome trip to Europe this Summer! I took an over-the-pole flight from Fairbanks to Frankfurt, Germany to visit Steffi for three wonderful weeks in July. Steffi grew up and lives in Krün in Bavaria near Garmisch about a 10 minute bike-ride from the Austrian border; i.e. right smack in the Alps! She was home for the Summer with her parents who generously let me stay with them in their beautiful home in small-town rural Germany.

Steffi and I spent about half of our time in or near her town meeting her family and adventuring in the local mountains. We went biking through expansive alpine valleys, hiking up dramatic winding trails, sport climbing awesome limestone crags, and we even went canyoning down a steep narrow creek.

We spent the remainder of our time road-tripping in Steffi's parents' VW Eurovan. To anyone who has yet to road trip in a camper van, it is one of the best ways to travel! The van was an early 80's vintage pop-top tricked out with a loft, stove, bed, fold out table and plenty of room for bikes and gear. Compared to all of the little sports cars on the Autobahn and steep winding mountain switchbacks, it was a little slow, but it chugged along like a real trooper. About halfway through the trip we dubbed the van "Howard" or Howie for short because it had enough character that the anthropomorphism stuck. Man I love that van... We drove to Lago di Garda in northern Italy, over to Pontresina in the Swiss Alps, and later to the Dolomites for a bit, climbing, hiking and playing the whole way.

The first day I was there was one of the coolest hikes I've done. I slept as late as I could, about 4am, and we took off to hike the Zugspitze (the highest peak in Germany) once the sun came out. Eventhough it is the highest peak, and there is a little glacier in the upper valley, the Zugspitze gets so much traffic that it was really quite tame. Tame but beautiful. The first part was wide winding gravel trail with steps built in, then it narrowed into a deep canyon where we hiked through man-made tunnels in the rock, then it opened into the upper valley, crossed a small moraine and a snow field before we got the the really fun part. The last hour of the climb goes up pretty steep rock walls, but there are ladders built into the rock and an inch-thick cable handrail the whole way. What Fun! Kinda scary, but as long as you hold on, it's really no big deal. My mom probably wouldn't want to go, but Steffi and I had a blast.

We were hiking with small daypacks in running shoes, and felt totally prepared for the climb which took a total of about 5 hours from the car to the top. The craziest part is that the people we were passing on the way had HUGE packs, heavy mountaineering boots, harnesses, slings, tons of brand-new climbing gear, and spent several DAYS on route, staying at hotel-like lodges along the way! Lots of inexperienced mountain people everywhere. I guess all of the german city people make pilgrimages to the "top of Germany" and pay guides to take them on the expedition up the wide trail to the hotel at the top. Yep, there's a gigantic ski resort with $1000-a-night hotel rooms at the top and 2 trams to take you up and down. Definitely a different scene than I'm used to, but I gotta say, it's not too bad to have a fresh espresso at the summit of a long climb! We actually ended up having to take the tram back down to avoid thunderstorms. It would have been sketchy to be on the rock wall hanging on a huge cable with lighting coming down...

Anyway, that's just one of the many awesome stories from that trip. I'm sure I'll go back next time I can buy a plane ticket.

We did a sweet training run through these rocky spires in the Dolomites.

Driving Howie down the scary Italian switchbacks wearing my bavarian farmer's hat.

Trying to fit in with the locals in the tourist town on Lago Di Garda.

They drive crazy in Europe. It took me a long time to get used to the speed, and the narrow narrow roads.

Alpine valleys filled with cows are everywhere. Definitely adds to the charm.

We hitch-hiked down a pass in the Dolomites with our roller skiing gear so we could get a good training session climbing a couple thousand feet of switchbacks.



Steffi on lead on a fun multi-pitch route across the valley from her house.

Taking a facebook-fodder glory shot. The valley behind me is where Steffi grew up. Little towns of 2000-3000 people every few kilometers.

The upper valley of the Zugspitze. This is my favorite mountain photo from the trip.

Steffi on the "via ferrata" climbing near the top of the Zugspitze.
"This is easy with a ladder!"





7/2/09

Eklutna photos

After Clay got back from his fun hitch-hiking adventure from Anchorage to California and back, I finally got the photos from the Eklutna Traverse trip last spring. I put them together with commentary as a slide show over at Voicethread.com. Hope you enjoy!

Eklutna Traverse Slideshow

6/11/09

The Summer of Bicycles

Wow! We're already well into June, hot summer Fairbanks sun, and I've yet to write any updates. Well here goes.

In the last month I've learned more about bicycles than I knew one could know. And I feel as though I know so little. On my way to Fairbanks this summer, to live at home with Mom and Dad, I fired an old coach of mine an email to see if he could use a hand at his bike shop, Goldstream Sports. He had just been considering calling me up and offering me work, so it worked out well for me to start as soon as I got home. I've been fixing and building and selling and talking about and oogling over bikes ever since.

Being a rookie mechanic, and eager to learn all there is about fixing bikes, I decided to tear down and completely rebuild my own bike. About 5 years ago, I spent my first summer job's earnings on a Lemond Poprad cyclocross bike. I have many happy miles on it, and it desperately needed some love. The bike only came in boring black, and I had always dreamed of giving it a new wonderful paint job. Since I had all of the parts off of it anyway, I decided to spruce up the frame with a fresh coat of paint. I spent hours researching the proper way to prepare the frame, what type of paint to use and how to do it right. I found out that doing it right would cost me as much as the rest of the bike, so I opted for the rattle can method and only spent twelve bucks on paint.

The hard part, I later discovered, was removing the tenacious baked-on enamel factory paint. Sandpaper was way too slow, the power sander took off metal, and I so I was left with nasty chemical paint stripper. I went through an entire can of the stuff, and a package of steel wool stripping all of the old boring black paint off of that thing. Would never do it again, but once I started, I was obligated to finish.

I got the layers of new bright blue paint on, with some fancy masking work, and had it dry by the time the new parts came in. I decided to give the old boring black machine a sweet new look with gold highlights in the paint, gold cable housing, a gold chain, and brown handlebars and saddle. A sweet new wheelset, and this bike is better than it was when it was new. It's been a fun project, a labor of love, but now I have a bike I can really take pride in.

Ugh! buggy nights, nasty chemicals, and slow going taking the paint off the frame.


My constant companion throughout the de-painting. I spent probably 10-12 hours working with this stuff.

Don't get it on ya.


But it was all worth it! A bike that I can take pride in.

Here's what it used to look like.

5/6/09

Eklutna Traverse!

After demonstrating for the last time how to calculate the speed of a falling projectile, I handed in my final final exam. Wahoo! Lets go to the mountains!

The Eklutna Traverse starts out behind Girdwood, near the start of the crow pass race, travels over and through the mountains, crossing three glaciers, and ends up at Eklutna Lake 30 miles later. It's then a simple 10 mile walk on the four wheeler road to get around the lake. The sun was hot, the snow was decent, and Clay and I were as antsy as teenagers moving away for college.

After packing the gear and a grocery run, we shuttled a truck out Eklutna lake. We then drove all the way around the Chugach front range to get to Girdwood. Because we wanted to get good hard snow, and it is hot out during the day, we left town at midnight and started hiking at 2am. This would get us on skis early in the morning, and hopefully save us from wet snow slogging in the late afternoon sun.

6 hours and 6000 feet of very difficult hiking got us to the top of Goat Mountain, perched just above the Eagle Glacier. The snow on the way up was atrocious. Crotch-deep mashed potatoes in lots of places. The rocky talus and scree ridges weren't much more accommodating. Neither were the skis and mountaineering gear we had on the packs. This was not looking good for the remainder of the trip, but we pressed on with hopes that the glacier was not as bad. Angled snow, like that on goat mountain, receives sunlight more directly. We were hoping that the flat glacier was a little more firm.

When we finally crested the ridge we could see our route across the Eagle glacier. Not to mention the many thousands of peaks in every direction. We could see South over the Kenai Peninsula, Southeast to whittier, East to the great big peaks deeper in the Chugach, and North to the Whiteout Glacier. Not a cloud in the sky. No wind. Wow.

We had some oatmeal and a 30 minute nap after the long grueling night. Even just that half hour of sleep on talus really helped to recharge our batteries. Then we strapped on skis, took off our shirts and whizzed down the Eagle glacier. Giggling like schoolgirls, we did the 5 miles across the first ice field in about 20 minutes. The snow was perfect corn snow. Not too icy, not too soft. Sweet!

The next stage was a long day of slogging up the icefall to the Whiteout Glacier, and up the Whiteout to Hans' Hut. We spent the rest of the day roped up, skinning up and sidehilling at a steady marching pace. At 5:30, when we finally reached the salvation of the hut, we were completely exhausted, sunburned, dehydrated and hungry. Food, water, sleep. We conked out for 15 hours. That is how much sleep our bodies needed after that day. One of the longest days I've ever done.

When we finally rolled out of bed around 10am the next day, it looked like we were going to get some clouds rolling in, so we wolfed oatmeal and packed up to get off of the glacier while we could still see. Once we were skiing though, the skies cleared, and gave us one more day of perfect sunshine. We glided down the whiteout icefield to the top of the Eklutna Glacier, and had another cathartic release as we bombed down the gradual snow slopes of the icefield.

Getting off of the icefall ended up taking most of the afternoon. Guessing there would probably be enough snow, we decided not to carry the 3 pounds of steel crampons up and over the mountains. Turns out we could have used them. We were able to work our way down the ice ok, but it took a few sections of downhill step-cutting to do it. Kinda hairy, and lots of work.

At about 5 pm, we were at the base of the ice, and getting ready for the long hike out to the truck. It's all flat ground, and most of it is on a solid dirt road, but 13 miles is 13 miles. We thought about spending the night at Serenity cabin, but decided that we would rather say we did it in 2 days, and sleep in comfortable beds instead of putting off the long walk out. Plus Steffi was leaving for Deutschland the next morning, and Clay knew that I really wanted to see her off.

We felt pretty cool hiking in shorts by the lake carrying full mountain packs complete with skis, ropes, iceaxes pickets and the like strapped on. 13 miles later, we dumped our packs into the truck and heaved our tired selves into cushy seats. We drove into the sunset, and chuckled about how sunburned we were.

Hard work, sun, fun and adventure! Hooray!

photos to come when Clay posts them...


Now it is off to Fairbanks for the summer. Living with the folks to train for one more year of college skiing.

4/28/09

The Scary Climbing Story

I've debated about posting this story for a while. It shows a naïveness and lack of foresight in my decision-making process, and given the dramatic nature of the event, the story could have caused unnecessary attention for those involved. In retrospect though, I think it's a good idea that people read about it, and adjust their adventures accordingly. That way maybe someone else can avoid the situation that I was in.

I wrote this several days after it happened. That was a few weeks ago. It is a bit of a lengthy post, but I think the details are important.

Steffi and I went up Hunter creek for an Easter Ice climb on Saturday. We had been up Eklutna Canyon on Friday, and took I took the time to teach her about anchor building, screw placements, prussiks, rescue systems, different types of belays, lead climbing in general, and let her do a mock-lead on some easy stuff (top roped placing screws). She's a natural climber. We've been climbing a few times, but usually I essentially guide for the sake of expediency.

On Saturday in continuation of teaching, we spent the whole drive out to the Knik talking about saftey, decision-making, basic first aid, and the like. At the parking lot I showed her my "oh-s*** kit" with first aid and repair stuff. Obviously this is no replacement for experience, training, practice, and the like but I figured it couldn't hurt, and she was happy to learn.

After a 2 mile hike in to Hollowhead, I did a nice fun lead up the first pitch. This time we were working more as a team than as a guide and a client, so it was really great. Hollowhead consists of two pitches of WI 3-4. We were making really good time, and being super safe. The conditions were excellent and the ice was solid; hero-ice. The first pitch is a 20-30 meter wall of pretty much vertical that leads to a hockey-rink belay station. The second pitch was 30 meters of 20 degree stair walking that led to a nice easy WI3 section to the top.

Off to our left on the second pitch was a rock gully. By the time I was finishing the last pitch some small rocks started melting out in the afternoon warmth. We started to get maybe one little shower every 15-20 minutes. It was mostly pebbles with a few ping-pong ball to tennis ball sized ones. We were well out of their way; Steffi was belaying from behind a steep wall of ice, and I was to their side on the last steep wall. On rappel, I made sure to make the second rap station as far right as we could get in order to avoid what few rocks there were. They had been bouncing from their gully straight down on the left side. I got to the bottom of the second rap, behind the ice wall, and clipped to the anchor that Steffi had belayed me from. Almost as soon as I was off, I heard Steffi scream.

A Really Scary Scream.

My first intuition was that she must have clipped to the rappel incorrectly, and that she was falling, sliding down the 20 degree slope towards me. I couldn't see her from where I was. I got ready to try to catch her as she would soon come sliding over top of me. Then I heard more screaming, from the same place. At the same time, a soccer-ball sized boulder came whizzing over the top of my little wall. YIKES. I knew then that Steffi had been hit by the rock. I put myself back on rappel, and ran back up the shallow stuff while reverse rappelling. I was doing everything I could to stay calm, to communicate with her, calm her down and figure out what happened as I got back up to her. She was just crying, and screaming from the pain. With the size of the rock, and the pain she was in, I was bracing myself for a grizzly scene. The time it took me to get to her was probably the scariest 2 minutes of my life.

When I got to her, she said it was her knee. No blood, whew. No shock. whew. No scary compound fractures. whew.
K: Can you bend it?
S: Yes, but it hurts a little.
K: Have you tried to stand on it?
S: no
(while we're both on rappel together, tied off to a prussik.)
K: Hold on to me and try to put a little bit of weight on it in this flat part.
S: Ok, I can stand on it
K: Any bleeding, wetness?
S: No, just pain.
K: But you can bend it and stand on it?
S: yeah
K: Can you rappel?
S: yeah
K: Ok. Let's get the *** out of here. I'll go first, if you scream or yell or anything, I'll yank on the ropes to stop you.
S: Ok, I'm fine, it just hurts.

I made sure she didn't have any bleeding, or shock symptoms, and made sure that nothing else hurt after the initial adrenaline wore off before I let her rappell . She rapped just fine, hopping or sliding on her one good leg. My oh-s***-kit was in the pack at the bottom of the next rappel with kickass pain killers; left-overs from wisdom-teeth extraction.

As we got to the bottom, three guys that had been climbing further up the creek came walking by and offered to help. We still had a 2 mile hike out. At the bottom, before heading out, I did a more thorough check. No hematoma, very little swelling, she could bend the knee almost the entire range without too much additional pain. It really hurt when I touched it in a very specific location. She could stand on it without too much pain. It was just super tender to the touch. My best guess was a bone bruise. I gave her two vicodin because she still had tears from the pain, despite her standard stoicism. One of the other guys gave her a pair of ski poles, we divied up her pack and we all started marching out.

With the ski poles as crutches, she was moving at an ok, but somewhat slow walking pace. Carrying her would have been much slower, more painful for her, and she wouldn't let us anyway. When the pain killers kicked in she definitely slowed down a bit. She was grateful to have the pain taken away, "wow! these drugs are GREAT!" but she was a bit tipsy from it too, and wasn't concentrating as well on moving.

For the sake of making a speedy exit to the truck, I decided to ditch my pack and run out to the car to get some skis. The plan was to make a sled to pull her out. After running the Koflach 3k (which I think would make for an interesting race), I got to the truck, and realized I still had my Ramer skis in the back that she could clip into her climbing boots. I ran back out with those, she clipped in and was able to double pole the last mile faster than the rest of us could walk.

Her leg never swelled very badly, never bruised, she could walk on it just fine the next day and bend the knee just fine. When I touched the one spot on her knee though, she would wince pretty hard, so I made her go to the student health center to get it checked out. They did an x-ray to find out if there was a bone chip. The results were inconclusive, and she dicided to opt-out of getting an MRI. Now a few weeks later, she's all healed up with no pain or tenderness. Could have been a lot worse...

Even though we did what we could have to avoid it, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time is all it really took. We were all the way to the other side of the gully, but that big rock took a weird bounce, and that was it. That was the only big rock at the base of the climb, so there wasn't a lot of warning before we got on the ice either. In 20-20 retrospect, we should have bailed as soon as the first pebbles trickled down the gully. After spending an entire winter climbing in below freezing conditions, I wasn't thinking about the risks involved with melting-out Chugach rocks that are only held together with a thin layer of frost. I'll definitely be more paranoid next time, and so should you.

Steffi told me after the fact that she was really impressed at how well I handled it, and that she would always be happy to climb with me because now she nows I can take care of things just in case it all goes bad. I guess I hid my terror pretty well.

climb safe.

4/27/09

Stealth Racer

Though regionals in Truckee were my last college races, the spring race season wasn't over for me until a month later at the end of March. Distance Nationals were in my hometown this year, and I was stoked to race the best skiers around on my own trails. The weather at birch hill was perfect, and we dodged some ash fall from Redoubt volcano by being out of Anchorage.

Unfortunately, since the Tour of Anchorage, my focus on ski racing had waned. We train full-time starting May 1st, and race from mid November through March. By the time spring rolls around, I'm ready to be doing something else for fun. I did a lot of climbing and a little back country skiing this year to get my kicks, so I'll admit that I wasn't in perfect racing shape when I showed up in Fairbanks.

Though I didn't have spectacular races, I did have a lot of fun. It's cool for me to return to my home trails a couple times each year. I feel like a different skier than I was when I skied them in high school. I had fun racing hard in good weather with all of my Alaskan racing friends. We've all been racing each other since I was cruising around at Weller Elementary ski club.

Because it is out of season according to NCAA, we weren't allowed to wear our UAA ski team suits. So I wore the Stealth Suit. I acquired this legendary garment from Brett Broda when I was racing at Lathrop High School. I've been told that it is a 1990 Swiss team suit. I have no idea if that is the case. All I know is that it's rad.

The idea behind the Stealth Suit is pretty simple. When you show up at a race start wearing this ridiculous outfit, people that don't know you immediately dismiss you as a loser. Because you look like one. You then blow past them after cruising in their draft for a few k, and fly into the finish in first place to the awe and amazement of all. Thus you are stealthy. Thus it is the Stealth Suit.

I found a new application for the stealth suit at nationals. I was a little worried about racing all of the fastest guys in the nation (and very few of the mediocre or second-tier types like myself), and getting my butt kicked in my home town. Though I initially wore the stealth suit because I think its style is awesome, I ended up being grateful that few of the Fairbanks spectators that knew me, recognized me. I did get my butt kicked after a several week hiatus from race training.

In the 30k pursuit race, we did 4 laps of one course and 4 of another. It took 6 laps before all of my highschool buddies standing at the top of the hill recognized who this goofy-looking straggler was. Stealthy indeed...


Nothing like checkered spandex!

Update: Here is a shot of the legendary Gunde Svan being very stealthy. I guess it was Swedish...

Swing Kick Pull.

Whaaapshhh, whaapish, whaaaTHACK. If you've ever climbed ice, you'll know that there are few sensations more satisfying than the solid thud of a well-placed ice tool. I got my fair share of climbing this spring. That's why I've been away from the computer. Now that the ice is melting, I should probably fill in the internet world with my escapades.

Wedding Cake, Mad Dog, Annie Greensprings, Starbright, Hollowhead, Boones Farm, O'Malley Falls, Ripple, and Jack River Falls filled my spring. We esentially get one month off between ski seasons, and I spent mine calttering up frozen water. In the spring sunshine, it's been super easy to get out and swing tools on the weekends or after school.

There's something about leading a nice solid WI3-4 climb. It's something very intense and gripping, but it's sublime and fulfilling too. I never feel threatened, but my subconscious understands the severity of the situation and diverts all energy and attention into the action at hand. I realize how focused I've been throughout the climb when I top out and clip into the anchor. I suddenly notice how wet I am from the dripping ice, that my hands are severely cold, that I'm thirsty, that my calves are burning, and my knuckles are throbbing from punching ice bulges. Somehow on lead I never notice any of those things. I only ever feel the absolute satisfaction of sinking a tool into a solid placement and pulling down.

Ice climbing is one of those things that really gives me a powerful feeling of accomplishment. There are definitely huge risks involved with taking the sharp end of the rope, especially on ice. Protection is sometimes questionable, ice can be unpredictable, and with all of the sharp pointies, falls are rarely clean. In reality leading ice is a lot like soloing with a rope. The only reliable and safe belay is from making good placements.

But this suits me fine. Making good placements, calculating the risks, setting bomber protection, and picking the route are all decisions that I make. These are things that I can control. The risk involved is directly based on my ability and my decision-making process. There are some outside, uncontrollable factors. Ice and rock fall or avalanches from an unseen gully above can be difficult to predict. Realistically though, if I get hurt it would almost always be caused by my own screw-up.

Compare this to driving home from work. Obviously there is a lot of risk. Doing 75 on the highway feels pretty safe from the cockpit of a climate-controlled, suspension dampened car with anti-lock brakes, seatbelts and airbags. You have control of your vehicle, you're doing the speed limit, paying attention, not talking on the phone or with your passengers or even picking songs on the ipod. You suddenly get broadsided by a drunk in an F-350. Toast. That's it. That's all you get. Someone dies in a car-wreck every 13 minutes in the US.

The difference is that when you drive, the risk isn't really in your hands. Even if you're doing everything right, you have little control over your safety. You're depending on the abilities of everyone on the road with you. And lots of those people are clearly less than trustworthy.

When I go climbing, the risk is mostly in my hands. Deciding whether to go, where to go, when to go, where and how to place protection, whether to swing again and get a really solid stick, are all up to me. So when I successfully lead a ropelength of vertical ice, I feel self-reliant, fulfilled, confident, cautious and safe. More so than on the drive home...

Here's to being safe and having outrageous fun!




3/27/09

Ice Cave Exploration

*click* the headlights go off. A looming mass of thousands of years of ice, complete darkness, moist cool air, and tomb-like silence all press heavily on the psyche. This is not a game for claustrophobes.

The Canwell and Castner glaciers are a short 20 minute drive from the cabin trailhead, so with some of our spring break adventure time, we decided to go poke around and look for some caves. Excellent adventure is what we found.

Glaciers spend the summer melting. Small trickles of water seep under the snowpack and gather into rivulets, runnels, streams and puddles. These collections of water drip and flow their ways down moulins (french for "a hole in ze ice zat goz douwn into a glazier") and gather into a river that flows out of the end or "terminus" of the glacier. This river makes a great big 3-D tunnel in the ice, melting as it goes. In the winter, when there is no water in the tunnel, they are very cool to explore. By spring, as the ice has been moving downhill slowly all winter, the caves are as small as they will get all year. Sometimes we find pinched-off tubes or very low ceilings, but sometimes, the tunnels travel for miles deep into the belly of the beast.

Ice caving is pretty risky. It might even be as dangerous as driving in a car on a road. The formations of ice are very big, very heavy and very delicate. If you are in a cave, these formations are above you. This glacier that you are under lies directly on the Denali fault, one of the more sesmically active places in the state. There is often water in an ice cave. This water can be deep, and sometimes it looks just like the icerink floor. The idea is to sneak into the tunnel, whisper, don't bump anything, always look above you, test the ground you're walking on, carry 3 or 4 light sources, and leave soon after arriving.

The Castner was more or less a bust. The grand opening tunnel tapered pretty quickly into matching hockey rinks about 10 inches apart. Clay slid out in front of me, and had a bit of a scare. With a hollow-sounding "tong" he realized that the solid and crystal clear ice we were sliding on was really just a thin layer of ice supporting him above a deep pool of water. A speedy retreat was enacted, and we all got out safely, but wet from the overflow water.

Another tiny Castner tunnel had a thin section of small sharp rocks all frozen together. They wreaked havoc on some expensive formerly waterproof gore-tex shells. whoops.

The really cool tunnel was under the Canwell. We crawled, wiggled, slid, walked and otherwise travelled about 300 meters into the cave before encountering a tunnel too small to continue. The end was lit from the outside, and we could feel the colder air coming in. I decided to try to wiggle through the narrow spot to get into the standing room we could see behind it. Much careful, claustropohic wiggling finally got me through to the other side. To get through, I had to put both arms above my head to make my shoulders narrow enough to slide through. I then kicked with my legs and rotated my body 90 degrees to orient myself with the widest angle of the constriction. I'm not a claustrophobic person myself, but getting wedged into a cold ice tunnel isn't my idea of a good time, so I was reasonably releived when I got through. The standing room was neat, but it was the end of the tunnel. The tunnel continued, and opened into deeper passage, but only after an even narrower constriction.

Very exciting and very fun!


Steffi chilling out under the cool frost formations at the mouth of the Castner.


A headlamp emerges from the depths.


A tight fit.


It's wet in there!

3/25/09

Breaking into Spring!

After recovering in the ski-chalet for about an hour, and getting blood flowing back into the extremities, Steffi and I hopped in the pickup and headed north. The night before the Tour, I had packed the truck with all of the winter fun toys that I own. My closet at home was empty. Tele skis, mountaineering skis, nordic touring skis, ice climbing gear, winter camping gear, sleds, warm clothes, shovels, ice axes, pickets, snow-saws and I even tossed in the kite for good measure. The truck was happily full and heading towards adventure.

That night, after a 7 hour road trip and 50k race, we skied on stiff legs into the Ohana Cobana, our little cabin south of Donnely that looks across the Delta River valley into the Alaska Range. We met my Dad with the Willow, Tsaina and Riley dogs out there, and settled into the cozy, comfortable, simple rhythm of the cabin.

The next morning lead us out into the wilderness. We packed up sleds and packs, clipped on skis and tied into dogs to go spend a couple days exploring a new creek valley across the river and into the edge of the Alaska Range. Augustana creek is the next main drainage south of the Black Rapids glacier. We spent the first day slogging up the valley along the creek and set up camp just before it opened up into the broad glacial terminus.

Our objective for our full day in the mountains: goofing off. We spent the day exploring the base of the glacier, skiing up the medial moraine, and trying to stay on our skis making turns on the uneven sastrugi snow on the way back down. Beautiful sunshine and big mountain vistas filled the day.



Blue skies, big mountains, beautiful german girl.

Cozy base camp setup.

Checking out the ice tunnel.

Chilling out on the moraine. Not too literally.

Terrific Tour

The first real 50k. When a boy becomes a man. This is what separates the wheat from the chaff. It’ll put hair on your chest and grit in your gut. Or something like that. I’d seen people bonk, and I knew what it felt like to hit that brick wall of glycogen depletion, so I was a definitely nervous when I signed up for the Tour of Anchorage.

After eating an unhealthy amount of pasta the night before, and loading up on the oatmeal that morning, we rolled down to the start. The elite men were set to go off at 8:30 am and ski into the sunrise. Cold, fast snow. Fast skis. Jitters. All of anchorage to ski across.

I felt surprisingly fast and relaxed. The top guns took off harder than I usually do in a 10k, so I pretty quickly decided not to kill myself by trying to hang with them. I led the chase pack up the steep hills of the first 10k, and on the downhill, Rob Whitney and I pulled away from them. We worked together, swapping leads every minute or so for about 15k through the winding flats of Campbell tract. I felt in fine form, and I couldn’t think of a better partner to be racing with. Sure enough, at about half way, we caught a glimpse of some of the leading stragglers. Rob picked it up to catch them, and I tried to hang, but with 25 k to go, it just wasn’t worth it to risk exploding.

The next 25k rolled by at a comfortable hard pace. Skiing in no-mans-land was a bit lonely, but I got a chance to really focus on my own skiing without having to coordinate with anyone else. I felt really strong, relaxed and fast the whole way in. On the last hill into the stadium I passed a couple of the leaders who had fought hard and lost. They were really on their last legs. It was all they could do to finish. I felt for them, but I was mostly grateful to have dodged that fate myself.

After being so nervous about racing a marathon, I felt full of self-confidence after finishing 10th overall. I felt strong the whole way. The tour may be flat and somewhat downhill, but I raced hard for 50k nonetheless. Its good to feel all of that training and racing pay off.

Photos by Anchorage Daily News

Hatcher Pass Pow-Pow

Whiiiiishhhh......whooooosshhh......shhhheeeeeeeesssss. Slicing through clouds. Milk. Silk. Icing on a cake. Dancing porpoises on my feet. Brilliant hot shining sun. This is where life really begins.

Hatcher's pass got dumped on, and the AMH crew that wasn't working on Sunday jetted out to rip some freshies. Galen, Jason, Paul, Katie, Mason-dog and myself skinned up in T-shirts. The avy conditions weren't bad where we were, super uniform down to the ground. We skied a couple sweet laps of deep deep powder on the low-angle. Nothing feels better than that 3-D skiing. Hero-snow. It really is intoxicating. I could see quitting school, and just skiing every day.... Nah, I guess I'll have my cake and eat it too. Back to school on Monday.


Katie struggling with thin skins, Mason keeping her company.
Galen digging a pit to check the snow pack.
Paul is almost as stoked as I am!
Jason steezin' his way up the skin track.


3/22/09

Springtime Silliness

Wow, an entire month has slipped by since I've posted anything. Not because nothing has happened, in fact quite the contrary. After plowing through midterms, I've been busy having a super awesome spring. By now the sun is staying out later, the temps are coming up a bit, and the racing season is winding down. Expect posts on:

1. My first 50k race.
2. An epic Spring Break
3. After-school backcountry skiing
4. Ice-climibing romps
5. General Merriment.

I'll be in Fairbanks next week for the US Nationals. These are my last ski races of the season, and I'm looking forward to being on my home turf. I should have time in between races to fill in some of the rowdier adventures of the last few weeks. By now the stories have fermented well, and are ready to be uncorked.

Cheers!

2/21/09

Post Regionals

Today's race wasn't good by any standards. I was excited, and pumped before the race, but unfortunately I forgot to check the little number on the back of my inhaler. I found out after struggling through 15k of asthma (at 5000 feet of altitude) that my inhaler was empty, and when I took it before my race I got nothing but propellant. The devil truly is in the details. I feel like I would have had a great race today if not for my medication malfunction. I had a really tough time of it. Racing at altitude is difficult enough, with the asthma limiting my breathing, it really was arduous. I feel like I cheated myself out of a good race; like today's effort, however painful, didn't really count.

This afternoon we rolled down to Lake Tahoe for a swim. It was super sunny all morning, so we were expecting a sunny, sandy blue lake shore. By the time we got there it was cool, cloudy and windy, and the water was more gray than blue. We couldn't find any sandy beaches either, so we settled for the end of the boat launch dock. Everyone but Raphael jumped in. Hooting and hollering all around. Very refreshing.

2/20/09

Results don't mean s***

I had a great race today. I skied well, I felt strong, I pushed hard. I made it hurt, I went out strong, I stayed relaxed and I kept picking up the pace. I had fast skis and good kick. After catching my breath, I was grinning all day. This is why ski racing is fun.

It was a 10k classic race as the first day of the RMISA western regionals here in Truckee, CA. Sunshine and 45 degrees with nice fast snow. Really I couldn't have asked for a better day. Then I had to go ruin it by looking at the results. After feeling so good about my race, my high was markedly deflated when I found out I had only placed 29th: barely better than the rest of the season, and by no means a best result.

After being bummed for a few minutes, and sharing in the bummer session of driving home (our other UAA guys didn't place as well as usual, nor did they feel good during their races), I got over it.

I don't race to beat people. If I did, I would be the saddest kid at the end of every race, consistently placing in the 30's. For me this sport is about personal goals, personal successes, and personal improvement. Success for me has almost nothing to do with how well I place. I had to remind myself of that today.

I had to remember back to a speech I made to my graduating class. It was all about how ski racing is a metaphor for life. In that speech I made the very important point that ski racing isn't about beating other people. For all I know, the person starting next to me could be a norwegian olympian with a team of doctors, coaches, wax technicians and sponsors backing his performance. How could I compare myself to that? If I had the best race of my life, would it be a "failure" if he beat me? I say absolutely not.

So what is the goal in ski racing, if it's not to beat everyone else? My goal every time I put on a bib is to finish the race knowing that I skied as fast and as hard as I possibly could have; knowing that I made every stride count. My reward isn't a medal or a trophy, it's the satisfaction of knowing that I did everything I could have in that race. And that satisfaction is intoxicating. It is what propels me out of bed for morning strength workouts, pushes me out the door to rollerski in the rain after work, and makes me love the hard intervals that leave me in a panting heap.

I tasted that satisfaction today, and I won't let any numbers on scoreboards get me down. Granted, it would have been nice to see that I'd really moved up in the ranks for a little external validation, but now I know it's not that important how well everyone else does.

Tomorrow I'm looking forward to a 15k skate mass start, and I'm considering not even looking at the results.

There is a shot of me coming up the top of the last hill posted at Macbeth Graphics, but my favorite shot of the day was of Nils and his awesome race face.

Hickok Success!

This Sunday was the Hickok pursuit, one of the Anchorage cup races. 5k classic and 5k skate. With no college races this weekend, it was a great opportunity to get some extra racing in between the big important races. All of the local all-stars were in attendance. Former olympians, college racers, pros, semi-pros, coaches and everyone in between came out for a super fun low-key event. I felt really excited and relaxed before the race. I was out for a day of tough competition with all of my local badass racing compatriots.

I had it all: good skis, good snow, and the ever elusive "good feeling" that nordic racers are always hoping for. Everything came together for me, and I had a really excellent race. I beat a number of people that I've never beaten before, but more importantly I felt stronger and just plain better than I ever have before. It's super nice to have races like these for a little validation of all the tough training I've put in. I'm definitely going to try to ride this feeling into the collegiate western regionals next week.

This is the feeling that I live for, and it makes all of the sacrifice absolutely worth it.

A Lucky Friday the 13th

This Friday the thirteenth was one for the books. It was likely my best Friday the thirteenth on record. I started out the day with possibly the best and hardest interval workout I've done. Mandy Kaempf, our German assistant coach had us do one of her old standard workouts. 12 times up the hill skating without poles. About 1:15 up it, 1:00 down. Then 12 times V2 with poles. My legs felt miraculous. I was totally kicking butt. It definitely feels good to go hard and ski fast and well, even if it is just in a workout.

Straight from that workout, Steffi and I met up with Clay and zipped down to the first pullout past the weigh station on the highway for a day on the ice. I put up a fun lead on some super nice WI3, and set up a yoyo for us to play on. We each did a few laps, tried not to get hit by the cars whizzing past, and tried not to drop any ice on the road. No sunshine, but it sure was good ice, and convenient too!

We got home just in time to meet up some friends for an 80's themed dance party birthday get-together. Danced under the strobe light to some rowdy techno all night. Definitely a good day.

Steffi climbing in fine form with Clay on belay.

1/25/09

Ptarmigan Feathers

It's been another fun and busy weekend. After a couple days of easy recovering from CO we jumped back on the training wagon. I really want to do better at the college races in Winter Park, so I've been putting the hammer down.

After practice on Friday, my new roomate Clay and I went for some extra-curricular training up the Ptarmigan couloir. We skied about 5k into a stiff headwind with some flurries of snow coming down. The couloir is a sweet S turn that climbs a couple thousand feet at probably 45 degrees to the ridge of Ptarmigan peak. The snow conidtions were great, and we made good time, but we had to turn around before the top, before it got too dark. Just for practice, we played with the rope, and set up a running belay with snow picket anchors. Lots of fun had by all.


Clay goin' up around the bend