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  1. #1
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    Up north, heading south: Iditatour '13.







    My life as a 9-year-old, at least the big picture, wasn't much different than it is now.  I lived to play with my dog, ride my bike, and spend the rest of my waking hours out noodling in the woods.  In the past 35 years the fine details may have changed, but those 'big 3' remain inviolate.





    In those days there were no TV remote controls--you had to get up and change channels manually.  Whenever my Dad wanted to see what else was on, he'd yell my name and I'd drop what I was doing and come running.  We had an agreement of sorts where under most circumstances I wasn't allowed to run in the house, but if the channel needed changing he and Mom would look (er, listen) the other way as I thundered down the hallway and jumped down both flights of stairs.





    On one such mission I stood panting by the TV set, deliberately clunking the dial around, when a fuzzy black-and-white image resolved to be a frosty-bearded dog musher working his team up a mountain pass.





    I plopped down next to the TV and watched, enthralled, through that entire episode of ABC's Wide World of Sports.  Though our grumpy labradoodle never saw things in the same light, objecting violently whenever I made motions to harness her to my bike or skateboard, I knew, canine companion or not, that someday I was going to see the Iditarod.













    'Someday' started in 1997, when I made my first attempt at riding a 100-mile section of the iconic trail.  The mushers no longer cracked whips by then, and bicycles were still seen as a curious and harmless novelty.





    In the ensuing 17 years I've ridden parts of the Iditarod trail on many different bikes, with greatly varying objectives, to vastly differing results.  My rough calculations say that I've rolled over 6,000 miles just on this trail--on 26" singlespeeds with 2.3" tires, 29" fullies with 2.2"ers, and a whole host of 26" fatbikes with tires ranging from 3" to 5".  I've used rim brakes, drum brakes, and disc brakes out there, seen warm, snowy, low-pressure years, endured -60* temperatures, been flattened by 100+ mph winds.  I've raced in a sleep-and-calorie deprived blur and toured at a leisurely pace while ingesting local game at every opportunity.  Not to mention that whole self-supported thing.





    Despite all of those years on the trail, as of February 2013 I had, somehow, never seen the South Route: the ~300 mile section of the Iditarod that goes overland between Ophir and Shageluk, through its namesake (ghost) town, then up the Yukon River through Anvik, Grayling, and Eagle Island.  I'd tried, and failed, to ride this route in 2001, 2007, 2009, and 2011, alternately stopped by an injury, equipment failure, sickness, and once due to the unamused whims of Ma Nature.





    5th time the charm?





    Along with Scott and Brian, I was surely hoping so.













    Our adventure started at Revelate World HQ, where we assembled, tuned, and packed our bikes for departure.  
















    We continued our gear-sturbation that night out at Big Lake.  Here Scott debates whether it's actually possible to carry too much chocolate.
















    The next morning my friends helped celebrate the start of my 43rd year on this planet, with potentially my all-time-favorite birthday cake.
















    And then we saddled up and rode.  Val Vanderbacon joined us for a few miles before turning back and leaving us to plow through freshies on our own.
















    Soft snow and flat light were the conditions du jour.  You know you're going to get them at some point--getting them early on makes you wonder how much they'll worsen before improving.



























    The Sleeping Lady makes her first appearance.






































    "Glad I don't have to ride that thing…"





    -thought by all four pictured, simultaneously.
















    Near the confluence of the Big Susitna and Yentna rivers we spotted a wolf loping into the woods.  Seemed odd for it to be so close to 'town' and heading even closer.
















    I expected trail conditions to worsen once we hit the river systems, because they always have in the past.  Somehow that wasn't the case this night, and we rode easily and quickly up the Yentna as the sun fell and darkness rose.



























    "Scott, meet overflow.  Overflow?  This is Scott."





    Dinner and entertaining stories at Yentna bled into an evening spin up the river before throwing out our bags for the night.  
















    Temps were in the +20's when we woke--downright balmy--and would stay that way for a few more days.








    Breaking camp and making breakfast simultaneously.  My stove wouldn't burn long enough to melt snow, so Brian and I improvised a cold meal and I spent the morning working through solutions in my head.
















    A not-uncommon sight: Open water on the Yentna.  At least it was visible this time.
















    Climbing into the Shell Hills.













    Arriving at Shell Lake Lodge in heavy snow.  We stayed long enough for Zoe to feed the boys while I got some quality time with (her golden 'triever) Tanner.













    Then back into the night for a few hours of riding before stomping out a trench to sleep in.
















    The next morning dawned grey and murky, with continued soft riding.  Less than a foot of snow had fallen since we'd started, but very little traffic had been out to help pack it in.
















    Whenever the trail is forced into a natural constriction--like here, passing through a stand of trees--all traffic is forced to use the same path, so it gets packed well and is easy for us to ride.
















    But when the trail is unconstrained--like when crossing lakes, swamps, or meadows, sledneck riders like to fan out and break their own trail.  As such all options remain soft and we alternate between riding and walking.
















    The rocky ridge that I've come to know as "3-miles-out" from Finger Lake.
















    Sustenance for the long haul: heavy-on-the-M&M's gorp, plus a man-sized bottle of Mike & Ike's.
















    As bright as it got all day.
















    Information overload.
















    Heading for the barn, at least for a bit.
















    Although he's been coddling us human-powered-types for almost two decades, this was Carl's first ride on a fatbike.  I think he's got a Nome trip in him.  If he could convince his wife to supply a few weeks' worth of her homemade nutterbutter's, it'd be a walk in the park.
















    We rolled out the backdoor,













    down the big hill,



















    then out across Red Lake.



















    Up ever-steepening hills and into the dark and deepening snow we rode and pushed, stopping to camp only when Brian and I managed to drag Scott off of his bike late into the night.





    And our trip was really just beginning.





    Over the next several days I'll share words and images from our collective trip to McGrath and then my solo continuation on toward Nome.





    Stay tuned...
    Last edited by mikesee; 02-10-2014 at 08:46 PM.

  2. #2
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    Seriously dude, you better be saving all these posts to put them together into a book.
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  3. #3
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    Way to stoke the excitement as this year's race draws near. I'll be participating from my couch as usual. "Heading south"? Hmmmm. Must be a surprise in store.

    Your words and images are a treat, as always. I will definitely stay tuned.
    The older I get the better I was...

  4. #4
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    yay - thanks for the pre-iti stoke! Looking forward to the rest of the story..

  5. #5
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    Love your Alaska words and pics. Yesterday, with the wind at my back, I crossed the dismal swamp at a sustained 20mph. It was unreal. The tires buzzed on the frozen snow like a happy baby chainsaw. So fast, Sunshine, hard trail. Zoom!!
    I wanna say I'm sorry for stuff I haven't done yet, things will shortly get completely out of hand --T.M.G.

  6. #6
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    Good stuff.
    As little bike as possible, as silent as possible.
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  7. #7
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    Further proof that I am somehow, just not doing it right yet......

    Thanks, awesome stuff as always.
    This is a Pugs not some carbon wannabee pretzel wagon!!

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  8. #8
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    Mm, mm, birthday cake!

    Nice photos and write up.
    Riding Fat and still just as fast as I never was.

  9. #9
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    Idita '13: Into the range.










    Moist fat flakes fell intermittently through the night.  We woke to a humid, monochromatic world.  The only upshot is that wet snow packs easily: trail conditions were surprisingly good as we ascended into the Alaska Range.
















    We rolled up to Puntilla Lake ~midday and set about drying gear and feeding our faces.















    We took a brief intermission to entertain Stevie's dog (aka He Whom Must Be Obeyed) before we rolled down the hill and across the lake, bound for Rainy Pass proper.





























    Although the trail is rarely steep between Puntilla and the pass, it's never packed hard and mostly uphill, so at best your progress is slow.  I was resigned to a slog but cheered because the clouds seemed to be lifting.  For the first time in days we might get some views to go with our touring pace.















    We voiced our exultation, emulating our most recent Youtube hero, as each rise afforded bigger, more inspiring scenery.  We also shared our best treats (cheese doodles!) in his honor.




























    Brian might seem to have a game-face on here, and to some extent that was needed.  The flat and failing light combined with last night's snow meant that there was no visible trail to follow.  We found it with our feet, with the help of the resident fauna (hares and those that eat them don't want to posthole any more than we do…), and often by simply staring beneath our shoes (where the shadows of our bikes fell, creating a rare spot of contrast) to suss out hints.  Once on it we lasered our focus to stay there.
















    Tripods were mere hints, more often than not having little to do with the actual trail alignment.














    Note how much easier it is to see the track within Scott's shadow.












































    Dark enough for lighting made it easier, but still not easy, to spot hints of where the trail might lie.




























    Eventually, just inside the mouth of Pass Creek, we called it good for the night.  Trenches were stomped out, snow was melted, meals rehydrated, highlights of the day recounted.  Although we hadn't covered many miles we HAD spent a lot of time searching, anxious, focused.  That kind of day can be as exhausting as double the miles on a marked/packed trail.  
















    Sleep was great until it wasn't.  Which is one way of saying that I woke in the wee hours to Jeff Oatley standing over my bag, facetiously suggesting that if we wanted to 'punch up' more of the trail ahead, we oughta hurry.



    He and the rest of the lead pack were in great spirits, although only Jeff seemed inclined to wake us merely to mess with our heads.  With a laugh and a 'stay on the gas!' we bade them all adieu.



    As the sound of their bikes receded up the valley we rousted ourselves for the day.  On a touring pace there was no need to rush into the darkness, but we had the sense to realize that we were awake for good.  Might as well make some miles.















    Working our way up to Rainy Pass lake.














    Scott firing up the engine with a mouthful of something good.
















    Brian on the final push to the pass.















    Scott couldn't be Scott without pedaling every last rideable inch.














    The trail down the backside of the pass was soft, unconsolidated at best.  Watching Brian stumble, flail, and fall (while trying to pedal) encouraged me to walk lightly and keep my eyes open for photos.
















    Dropping lower the trail got firmer.  Hard to believe we were riding at all in such a place.














    Pics like these next few go a long way to illustrate the draw of this route.






























    All of this and the sun hadn't yet crested the ridge.















    We crossed a handful of slide paths, avy debris thick and hard as you'd expect.  Despite the natural terrain trap, I know of only one avy fatality here and I've always been amazed at that.














    Then as now, I'm at a loss for words on how to describe much less process this scene.  Huge, wild, indifferent, stunning.



    There--I tried.
















    We often stood and stared, slackjawed, at the unfolding landscape.















    (you put your left leg in, you put your left leg out…)




























    No matter how many times I pass this way I always feel the same powerful sense of 'this is where I was meant to be'.
















    Mashed willows = slednecks passed this way.  Where a snowmachine leaves a trail in the snow, whether by accident or on purpose, we can ride.







































    By this point I was borderline delirious.  The trail surface had been so often solid, so easily ridden, the temps so warm, the scenery and company so good.  I encouraged my compadres to stop and take as many pics as they cared to--to savor this as deeply as they could, for they were never likely to experience it in quite this way again.
















    They were enjoying it plenty without my help, but I don't think either of them 'got' how truly special this day, and year, were shaping up to be.  What rookie could?

























    Meeting the Mayor and Sheriff of Rohn, and having the time of our lives getting there.
















    Stay tuned...







  10. #10
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    Mike I want to reiterate tedsti - have you ever thought about compiling your documentation into a book? It's fascinating.

    It may be 2014, but the great image purge of last year is a reminder that MTBR, like any other dotcom, is susceptible to permanent information loss. And the notion that there's something about the tactile nature of a book that makes things more cerebral.
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  11. #11
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    Out of the range.










    Leaving Rohn spirits were high.  To this point in the day we'd been immersed in incredible scenery, ridden hardpacked, challenging, type-one-fun trail, re-upped on vittles, high fived the reigning politicos in 'town', and were now headed into the meat of the route with good weather (warm days, cool nights, clear skies) in the forecast.
















    I have this habit, maybe almost a mantra, that I try to bring to mind whenever the scenery is big and mind-blowing.  To wit: Look down!





    Put another way, an amazing scene is the way it is because of the constituent parts.  Looking past them at the overall grandeur is easy to do, but means that you miss the details.
















    We shared trail with Billy Koitzsch on his way to Fairbanks via Nome.
























    Trailside tourists were thick on the ground on this day...
















    …which is another way of saying that OE here snapped a few shots of us on the South Fork of the Kusko before skedaddling back into Rohn and leaving us completely alone.
















    When in doubt, let air out.  Except when there's no doubt that the trail is firm.


























    BLM, local hunters and trappers, and the collective Idita crews have blazed a veritable highway through the New Burn.  















    Tourists thick in the air on this day too.





    (Actually, it's OE again.  Hey OE!)
















    I got confused more than once out there, hearing racers and tourists alike referring to this area as the Farewell Burn.  The regrowth of that scar has been happening for 30+ years, and has gotten so tall and unruly that it's hard to see it as a burn so much as a juvenile forest.  





    In other words, they aren't the same burn, are in fact many miles apart.  The elder burn devastated rolling hills, muskegs, and scrub and just generally made a mess.  The newer one flashed through mountainside and river bottoms and, from my selfish perspective, opened up huge vistas of amazing country that we'd been passing through for decades without being able to truly see.























    Like this...












    And this…











    …and this...




















    …and this.




















    A wind-polished Post River.












    "Jesus Christ!  Look at this joint!"












    Billy enjoying his studded tires on some of the ~3 total miles of the route where they made any sense.













    Post River Glacier.  Normally a bit of a mental and physical challenge to find a safe way up while remaining upright, this year we might have dismounted for a quick ~30 seconds of easy walking and then it was back to zipping along.














    While the entirety of the day was exceptional, while framing the shot below I couldn't help but to think that this right here was what we'd come for.













    Even if defining 'this' would have been as impossible then as it is right now.






  12. #12
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    I've been coming by this thread a few times per day, searching for words that would add something beyond what Mike has already said/shown. So far, I've come up empty handed.

    I'll give it another shot.....

    For as long as I've been interested in long distance mountain races and bike touring......I've followed the Iditarod. Back when 100 miles on buff dirt trails seemed like a long way to go......I was dreaming about the route to McGrath. Year after year I said "this winter". A few times I even said it out loud to others.....only to realize that I was only fooling myself thinking I had what it takes. What it takes, in this case, is lots of time...time to study, time to tinker, time to correct mistakes and time to try again. Patience. Diligence. Attention.

    I spent some of that time on the Susitna 100 course. I did it twice before I felt like I had some idea of what it would be like to keep going for another 250 miles......and leave the comfort of the Susitna/Yentna rivers. That year I signed up for the ITI.

    We got schooled by weather. We walked most of the way from Knik to Yentna where I scratched and flew back to Anchorage. All was not lost.....I had made some great friends and met some amazing people. I saw some terrain I hadn't seen before. I developed some new skills. I learned more about myself. But ultimately, I was left wanting. Severely wanting.

    The following fall I mentioned to Mike that I felt like I needed to get back up there. The idea of a tour was mentioned. Perfect. I've never been much of a racer......I "race" to see new places, have memorable experiences and meet great people. I usually succeed.

    Long story short, it was a phenomenal tour. From the moment we left Big Lake it felt like we were given a gift. The temps were favorable, the trail was pretty good and the scenery never let up. By the time we got to Shell Lake lodge I was content. If the rest of the trip was a failure I would've been happy with what I had seen.

    But, that was far from the end of all that we'd be given.

    When we we're riding down the Happy River steps I think Scott and I both couldn't help but remark that "this is like mountain biking!". And it was. I think I even leaned into a few turns through there. I'm certain I did.

    Fast forward a day or soo and we're pedaling up to the pass. Pedaling. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop.....hearing story after story about years past replaying in my head. Legends of years prior that I had read a hundred times. Pete travelling over Ptarmigan alone. Mike turning around when the slide danger was just too much to consider. Jeff and others taking turns stomping out a trail in waist deep snow. While all those stories swirled in my head....we pedaled. We stood atop the pass and I couldn't help but feel like we should be quiet....lest we awaken the potential that the landscape could bring.

    The Dalzell Gorge. On that day, it was one of the most amazing places I have ever seen. I'd be lying if I said the descent from the pass to the Tatina wasn't the best descent of my life. Riding into Rohn on the Tatina I again felt like I'd be happy if it ended there. I had seen soo much.......I'd feel rude to ask or expect more.

    Rohn was exactly as I expected. The type of place that words do no justice. Look at the photos. Believe it when I tell you they do the place no justice.

    We left Rohn and I immediately set my sights on the Bear Creek cabin. Not sure what my motivation was or why I was soo set on making it there.....but I was. What that meant was that by the time we got there we had been on the move for 18 or 20 hours. It was a big day but it felt good to put in a hard effort. I felt a little bad for being soo insistent and pushing everyone to get there. I realized the next morning why it was soo important.

    Bacon. Sausage. Stories from the trail that are hard to do justice.

    Oh....and we got to know Harold Ze German a little better.

    I'll leave it there for now as I'm getting a little ahead of the photo show.
    Last edited by donkey; 02-14-2014 at 08:55 AM.
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  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by donkey View Post
    I'll give it another shot.....
    Great words, B. Would love to see summa your pics, too.

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    Coming down.


    Trail conditions were good--hard and fast.  We three tourists found ourselves in the midst of the top 10 or so ITI racers, and, having been racers once or twice, discovered we were motivated to ride fast, hard, and long.












    Without intending to we put in better than 18 hours, finishing only when Brian clomped his boots onto the porch of the Bear Creek Cabin.



    Sleep indoors was poor, at best, largely because the Runkel boys beat us to the cabin, claimed the lower shelf of bunk beds, and stoked the woodburner to just a titch under 'nuclear'.













    When I awoke gasping for fresh air the second time, I dragged my bag outside and slept the rest of the night on the ground.  Once I stopped sweating I slept fine.



    Inadequate rest was a small price to pay for the few hours we spent in the company of PJ and Andrew at the cabin.  Hearing their take on all things bush, Iditarod, and Herman ze German (I could never do this one justice) was priceless.  The bacon and sausage they shared were nectar-esque, and took the edge off of yesterday's damage to the legs.












    The miles after Bison Camp passed slowly.  I believe this is largely relative, since your mind is still on a high from the visual wonderland of the previous few hundred miles.  It simply takes time to come back down to the reality that is the lowlands between here and the finish.





















    Lots to see and enjoy about these miles, you just have to cultivate the right mindframe.  I enjoy checking the many handmade traps that line the trail--for both handiwork and game.












    There are still grandiose views to be had--you typically have to look back to get 'em.

























































    A never-ending sunset with *hours* of god-light delivered us within striking distance of McGrath, even with significant photogeeking and a few stops to fix flats.






























    One of my favorite quotes from the trip was uttered here by Brian, from his sleeping bag, in response to a question concerning his current state of overall hygiene:



    "Dire."



    Although we spend little time on or in dirt, and the snow couldn't be cleaner, the accumulated sweat and grunge from a ~week of showerless riding and camping is not insubstantial.












    Morning delivered broken clouds and much colder temps.  Finally.  The last ~20 miles into McGrath were unceremonious in every way--merely an epilogue of hours that allowed a bit more processing of all that had happened thus far, in preparation for the long solo miles to come.


















    Volumes have been written about the smorgasbord of overwhelmingness that awaits at casa Schneiderheinze in McGrath.  To those volumes I can only add that it feels like a party held in your honor, and most of your friends are there to help celebrate.











  15. #15
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    Thanks for the stunning, vicarious trip up the trail, Mike. I'm eagerly awaiting each installment. Surprised to hear the mention of flats. I have a comparatively paltry number of winter trail miles under my wheels, and never had a flat on snow. Was there a pattern to those your group experienced? Don't recall you mentioning whether you run tube or tubeless in the winter.
    The older I get the better I was...

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by veloborealis View Post
    Thanks for the stunning, vicarious trip up the trail, Mike. I'm eagerly awaiting each installment. Surprised to hear the mention of flats. I have a comparatively paltry number of winter trail miles under my wheels, and never had a flat on snow. Was there a pattern to those your group experienced? Don't recall you mentioning whether you run tube or tubeless in the winter.
    I ran tubeless front and rear until the rear flat mentioned here. Front held the rest of the way to Nome, and on through the summer. As far as I know, it's still holding.

    Brian ran tubes on both ends and I think this was his only flat of the trip. Potentially only fat flat ever.

    Scott ran tubes on this trip, no flats.

    No pattern that we could find--definitely not pinched, we were emphatically not running low psi's when these flats happened. Mine seemed to be accumulated burpage along the beads, such that the beads were no longer fully seated. Constant weepage. Whatever caused it, no amount of pumping up and wiggling the wheel was going to re-seal it. I know because I tried that routine 3 or 4 times before the frequency of needing to pump got too close together. Tubed it there, lasted another ~500 miles (til Tripod Flats, past Kaltag) before that tube died. Replaced that tube and it lasted the rest of the way.

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    Going deep.


    The Interior.  While coastal Alaska is big and bold and virile--all pumped up and ready to kill you with beauty and violence--the Interior is kind of the opposite.  It's also big and bold but in much more subtle ways, more amped to kill you softly, slowly: with distance, solitude, time, climatic harshness.
















    It starts slowly--leaving McGrath you have a marked and maintained trail for a few hours over to Takotna.  And while this ~20 miles seems unremarkable when mapgeeking, the fact is that it offers some of the best views and best riding within a few hundred miles.  A big, rideable climb up Porcupine  Ridge gifts the views, then the descent to the Takotna River provides the speed, air, and overall riding thrills.  



























    Leaving Takotna you sense that you're starting to get out there a bit.  No tracks on the trail since a snowfall ~3 days previous.  Gulp.






























    Once you've passed through the ghost town of Ophir you're well and truly 'out there', at least by Alaskan standards, with stunning views of what's to come.
















    I can remember many years ago hearing complaints from some of the old time trail 'purists' when the BLM proposed building shelter cabins along this stretch of trail.  I can remember being one of those complaining--with the rationale that this was the most 'out there' stretch of trail left, and to make it feel any less remote would be to somehow diminish what was special about it.
















    And now, years later, I shoveled a drift away from the door of one of these cabins, walked in, started a fire, cooked a meal, then settled in for a comfortable night of sleep.  The wind raged outside, the temps fell to -38º, while inside I shuffled around in stocking feet and shirtsleeves while preparing both dinner and breakfast.





    Not sure how to feel about that now, other than sheepish and thankful.
















    Countless times over the past decade I'd read tales of the South Route, how it was devoid of scenery, featureless and windswept, 'miles and miles of nothing but miles and miles'.  Largely because of these reports I had come to see it as a necessary evil, a ~200+ mile section of trail to be merely endured.





    I was flat floored to get stunning alpine views the further I progressed.  Perhaps the reports I had read were written on years when the storms raged hard enough as to prevent all views?  Dunno.






























    What I *do* know is that the scenery on the South Route was a delight.  Far better, more engaging than anything I've seen on my 4 trips up the North Route.



























    A BLM trail crew was somewhere out ahead of me, installing new tripods to mark the route, as well as signs pointing the way to the obvious.  Progress comes in many ways.
















    Crisp, clear, cold.






























    No longer used relic of the past, slowly being reclaimed by the earth even as the storms hasten it's demise.
















    Firm trail courtesy of the BLM trail crew.



























    The friendly trail surface can be traced directly to the simple design of a Siglin sled.  While enjoying the smooth, fast trail and easy riding it afforded, I vowed to hug the man responsible for it if I ever caught up to him.






























    Hours later I got that chance, but upon meeting him (a fur-clad Danish trapper whose powerful stink somehow overwhelmed my own) decided that a firm handshake would do just fine.












































    Crossing this creek the low-angle light caught the surface hoar in just such a way that I was compelled to stop, drop, and get some macros from a belly-on-ice position.  Otherwise this one creek crossing of many would never have stuck in my head.  Days later I was able to recall it clearly as the temps skyrocketed, prompting reports that those traveling the trail behind were forced to wade balls-deep or even swim across it.






































    Name that critter.
















    Swoopy, if soft.



























    Fluffed up trail.  Although it looks rideable it was emphatically not--the surface having been churned and fluffed like so much merengue.  Even at 2psi my 5" tires sunk deep and dug themselves deeper, forcing me to walk for hours and hours.  Such is life on this trail.



























    I filled those hours with motion, with appreciation for the chance to be out here, away from the world at large, immersed in something bigger and more meaningful than my everyday.
















    And then the light got warm, and warmer.  Idle, grateful thoughts were replaced with motion--of hands to camera bag, camera to eye, finger to shutter.



























    Mere moments after the last golden light slid from the sky I rounded a bend, crested a short rise, and looked down a slough at a single lightbulb illuminating a dilapidated cabin, with two hunched figures shuffling around inside...












  18. #18
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    Mike,
    Terrific as usual - I'm lucky in that I missed this post for the past 6 days and got to read one continuous story for the past 30 minutes. Eagerly await the next installment.

  19. #19
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    Guess that critter: porcupine, based on the waddling trough. Hard to get a sense of scale with that photo though.

  20. #20
    This place needs an enema
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    Pause.





    Iditarod, Alaska.  Population: 0.





    It wasn't always this way.
















    A hub of gold mining activity and speculation at the turn of the last century, the town of Iditarod was home to 700 people while the mining district somehow swelled to include a rumored 10,000 souls at the height of the rush.  Iditarod proper boasted a tramway, school, firehall, three lumber companies, four hotels, nine saloons and one very, very busy brothel.





    As I drop down onto the slough I'm not that interested in the history of the place.  I want to now what's happening here NOW--specifically, where can a guy lay his head for the night?
















    I'm met by Bob and Jim, two longtime volunteers for the sled dog race.  They take me in to their home away from home--a two room cabin that they've rigged with electricity, lights, coffee maker, and FM radio, all courtesy of a teeny Honda generator. They feed me a hot meal, offer a bed indoors, and explain that while the trail into town may have been good, there is not yet a trail out of town.  Though plans were made for a team of snowmachines to break trail over from Shageluk, wires were crossed or plans simply feel through, and the trail, for at least the next few days, ends here.










      





    This turn of events is a blessing in disguise, allowing me to spend time in one place--this place--without worrying about burning daylight or making miles.  The only direction I can ride, for now, is back the way I came.
















    I earn my feed and shelter by helping with various construction projects, by schlepping dog food from the airstrip to the makeshift checkpoint, by completing any menial task that Jim or Bob need done.  Along the way I learn a bit about the history of the place, and a LOT about what it takes to turn it into an ephemeral, functional, comfortable dog race checkpoint every two years.
















    On the second day of vacation the 'comms guys' show up, somehow creating not just a local phone line direct (via satellite uplink) to Anchorage, but a wi-fi hotspot.  I look on in wonder as all present whip out smartphones to text loved ones elsewhere.
















    On the third day the real zoo happens--vets and race officials arrive and heaps of busywork appears with them.  We all pitch in to get it done.  Although I've breezed into and out of dog race checkpoints a handful of times through the years, those were always in villages where infrastructure existed--buildings, tools, people, power, supplies.  Everything is flown in here via single engine planes, schlepped from the snowy airstrip on a sled or your back, assembled inside of or next to a single remnant cabin, then flown back out days later.  This 'town' won't likely see another visitor until the race comes back two years later.





    Of note this afternoon: a minor 'dinging' of one airplane, with zero injuries and, apparently, no real cause for alarm.


















































































    Moments after the crash it's back to business as usual: Getting this place ready for dozens of dog teams and drivers to breeze in and out, or to stay for a day and rest.
















    "See that pile over there?  Bring it over here."
















    The law happened to be flying over, saw an upside-down aircraft in the snow, then dropped in to see what was what.






































    At sundown on the third day a team of snowmachines roared into town: The Trailbreakers.  They planned to eat, drink, and sleep the night, then head toward the Yukon in the morning.  A trail to follow west meant that my vacation here was at an end.















  21. #21
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    awesome. Thanks so much for this great story telling.

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    Thanks for the great imagery and storyline!!!

  23. #23
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    Bah, now you have gone and made me want to go all the way to Nome

    Thanks for taking the time to post the photos and story!
    Last edited by spruceboy; 02-19-2014 at 08:05 PM.

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    Great job with this Mike. More than once you've captured the *feel* of the Iditarod Trail better than anybody else can. I think a big part of that is the amount of time you've spent out there moving slowly over it. Or not moving at all. The other part being, obviously, a good eye for both the big and small picture. When I see some of your pics it gives me chills. I actually experience the emotion that went with being in that spot. There. Where you took the picture. And seeing what you saw. But maybe not exactly the way you saw it. Pretty incredible.

    That said, this is my public apology to Scott and Brian for waking them from what I'm guessing was a beautiful nights sleep near Rainy. I'm really sorry about that. You guys have got to understand that if there was any to have only harrassed the hell out of Mike at whatever-in-the-morning I would have gladly done that and let you both sleep. I've come to *know* that Mike needs my harrassment lest he slip into full-on retro-grouch bike demi-goddery. I can't let that happen...(Plus, he dishes a fair bit of it my way too.)

    I probably should have just stolen his chain like I had originally planned...

    But seriously Mike, thank you.

  25. #25
    This place needs an enema
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    Quote Originally Posted by joatley View Post
    I probably should have just stolen his chain like I had originally planned...
    omfg. woulda been brilliant. missed opportunity...

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