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.


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)


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


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?