Thursday, July 25, 2013

Fireweed Videos

Here are 2 links to professionally developed videos of Fireweed 2013.

Fireweed Part 2

There are two cameo appearances of me in Part 1, and one of Michelle. 

You'll see a couple of shots of Alex, a 9 years old wearing an Alaska State Flag jersey, who rode a total of 72 miles over two days to Valdez.

You'll also see several shots of Lew Meyer wearing a Grand PAC Master jersey. He's 79 this year and has raced RAAM most recently on the Grand PAC Master 4-Man Team in 2008, 2009, and 2012.

I bumped into Lew riding around in Anchorage after Fireweed. Unfortunately he had to DNF his 400 Fireweed race because of a mechanical.

Lew's a legend.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Yes, Pay It Forward; It's The Only Way

Michelle's and my Alaskan Adventure would have had a whole different character to it if it had not been for Barry and Joyce Weiss who live in Tucson in the winter and Anchorage in the summer. My chance encounter meeting them at our Bike Club's (GABA)November, 2012 was only because Barry was wearing his Fireweed Tee-shirt. The rest is history.

Their knowledge and experience of all things "how-to" made our planning this trip so smooooth. Their gracious, unending hospitality of chauffeuring us to and from airports, train stations, REI; letting us lodge in their spare bedroom for about half the nights we were in Alaska when not "on tour" to Seward, Denali, Fireweed, Valdez, and Whittier; keeping an eagle eye on the weather reports; and filling us full of AK stories. Their eagerness to show us their favorite routes by bike and by hike was nothing short of inspiring.

Thank you, Barry and Joyce!
Joyce atop Flatop Mountain with Michelle

Barry and Joyce
Barry and Joyce live even closer to Anchorage's Multi-use Path than I do to mine in Tucson. I see lots of lizards, ground squirrels, occasional Rattle and Gopher Snakes, Cooper's Hawks, Mourning Doves, and an occasional Javelina. But on their path you can almost expect to see Moose. I had to learn to not get into my focused Hammer-at-all-costs speeds because around the next bend you were likely to encounter a big one right smack dab in the middle of your path. You shall always yield to the Moose. Just a couple weeks before we arrived someone was stomped on my a Moose for failing to to yield.

Getting ready to say farewell to Alaska

Packed and ready to fly home
I will be keeping my eyes open for ways to pay my gratitude to Barry and Joyce forward.

Fireweed 5 Minute Video

Great professionally made 5 minute video of a 4-man team of 19 year olds who came in 3rd overall in the 200 mile Team Division. Definitely worth the watch HERE.

Fireweed: It Is What It Is

Word has had it that Fireweed is a TOUGH ride; after all, the 400 mile version is a RAAM qualifier. The words, "Thompson Pass" had put the fear of Alpe d' Huez in me, and maybe in others, too. 

The phrase: "It is what it is" is quite calming for me. 

It is what it is, just keep peddling and discover what's there. Quite often what's there is way less than what I had imagined. And so I left Sheep Mountain Lodge to discover some of the most spectacular scenery imaginable on a bike ride: verdant mountains whose tops poked through the clouds; waterfalls whose voice and lacy, ethereal beauty could bring tears to your eyes; warbling, roaring mountain streams that reminded me I was no longer in the desert; and cloud/fog so dense a car length ahead was the best visibility would get for several miles. Oh, and lest I forget, the glacial chill that penetrated every layer I had on when perched on top of Thompson Pass. 

This was not a hard ride, nor was it an easy ride, but it will always be remembered as a joy to ride.

Let the pictures tell the Fireweed story. 
Our Sheep Mountain Cottage
A rest stop at Mile 35 or so
Grizzly's even had a Red Bull at a decent price.

Worthington Glacier about 3 miles from the top of Thompson Pass
Top of the Pass: 2,678' elevation
Michelle can't pass one of these signs without saying: "Trucks on Cheese"
Bridal Veil Falls at the bottom of Thompson Pass, 22 miles to Valdez.
Almost there!!
Valdez finish

Monday, July 22, 2013

Fireweed Logistics

I was talking to a non-cycling friend and told her we had ridden Fireweed. She asked why we called it fireweed. Guess that's a really good question if you're not familiar with the ubiquitous plant that blankets Alaska in summer or are not listening to the regular chatter of cyclists about rides on their Life List.

Well, above is the plant, and below is a link to the Ride (click on the picture), which can also be ridden as a Race.

Sometimes I've been asked "How did you first know about Fireweed?" I have no idea. Seems I've always been knowing about Fireweed and hoping that one day I'd be fortunate enough to ride it. 

2013 would be the year.

Fireweed is rich with logistics, especially if you are coming from "the outside" (outside of Alaska) Actually, there were 6 from Europe, 1 from Canada, and 70 from the lower 48.
  1. The start is at Sheep Mountain Lodge 107 miles mostly east of Anchorage. 
  2. How do we, outsiders, get to Sheep Mountain Lodge? 
  3. How do we transport or bikes (recumbents with a longer wheelbase than standard uprights) from Anchorage to Sheep Mountain Lodge?
  4. The Fireweed Course is 200 miles one-way from Sheep Mountain Lodge to Valdez. So, even if we were to rent a car, we would not be coming back to Sheep Mountain Lodge, so....
  5. I should add we could have opted to return to Sheep Mountain Lodge from Valdez by turning the 200 mile ride/race into a 400 mile ride/race, but that would require a SAG/support/crew vehicle and we didn't have one of those.
  6. Fireweed is an unsupported ride, meaning you're on your own for repairs, food, clothing, etc. Of the 779 riders/racers of the 2013 Fireweed all but about 6 had a support vehicle with crew. Michelle and I and the other 4 or so, carried our provisions on our bikes for the duration of the ride, the day before the ride, and what we would need to get us home by Ferry from Valdez to Whittier, and by train from Whittier to Anchorage.
Barry and Joyce continued their consummate hosting of us by offering to drive us from Anchorage to Sheep Mountain Lodge. They would overnight in the area and then do a day-hike to Gun Sight Mountain. I had bought two Thule trays to affix on to the roof-top rails on their Subaru to rack our bents. We would then then overnight in Valdez, take the 7:00 a.m. Ferry from Valdez to Whittier, and the 6:40 p.m. Train from Whittier back to Anchorage. 

Now the ball would be in our court to ride the 200 miles from Sheep Mountain Lodge to Valdez in two days, overnighting 8.5 miles south of Glennallen, near Copper Center, in a delightful Bed and Breakfast, Sawing Logzz.

Sawing Logzz


Michelle took this pix. No idea who, how, or what it is, but it seems fitting for assailants on a bike path.

The fear and intense feeling behind the voice issuing this warning reminded me of my Grandfather's shouted declaration in the mid-1950's, "Put Down That Pitchfork!" But, my Grandfather was deep in sleep, dreaming about an encounter with a sizable farm animal.

But tonight the heralderer of this warning was a Native American, 30-something woman who was breathless, verging on panic, and desperately in need of a light for her cigarette. 

Michelle and I are not in the habit of carrying cigarette lighters, not exactly first on our list of on-the-bike-emergency tools, unless you're camping and hoping to build a fire, but not from tinder. While Michelle tended to the distraught woman, I started re-routing us away from the DON'T GO DOWN THERE 1.75 mile remote multi-use path that would connect us to the 3.5 mi multi-use path back to Barry and Joyce's house. 

The woman reported several males had attempted to assault her in the woods. Now it shouldn't be so hard to re-route to the Weisses via surface streets except that a) it was 10:45 p.m. and we had just returned from Seward by train (but it was still very light out), b) we were tired, c) we had never ridden in Anchorage and didn't have a clue where we were, where we were going, and how the city streets all fit together. We did have our GPS enabled iPhones, but for whatever reason I navigated us through several miles of wrong directions and turns resulting in it taking us twice as long and twice as many miles to get home.

Home at last

Glad the woman escaped her assailants and hoping she's on the emotional mend. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Anchorage to Denali National Park is 239 miles, about 4-1/2 hours going through Sara Palin's hometown of Wasilla, and Talkeetna, sort of an Alaskan version of Arizona's Tombstone, except Talkeetna has better Espresso shops.

We stayed in a "Dwarf House" whose other name is The Perch, so named because it was on the perch of a mountain. But I kept thinking we were talking about the fish called Perch and that was very confusing since we were in Cod, Halibut, and Salmon country. That said, these friendly Moose directed us to our Dwarf House.

This is our Dwarf House; notice how light it is outside and it was 11:00 p.m.

But the inside was extra special:

Michelle's bed is up top, mine on the bottom

Signature Denali! Oh and we saw bear (in the binocs) Dall Sheep, Eagles.

Moose abound

A 0.8mi hike up 1,000'
Denali National Park is 6 million acres ( the size of New Hampshire) and as such is only the 3rd largest National Park in Alaska! Denali is a place where you need to go with your backpack and plan to immerse yourself in her wondrous beauty for many days.

We did the best we could given our time constraints. We took a Shuttle Bus 64 miles (8 hours) into the Park. Our bus driver has been a Park employee for 22 years so had great stories and info, like:
  • Park sled dogs cover 3,000 miles per winter
  • Bull Moose antlers are 5' wide
  • Only 20% of baby moose survice--good feast for the Grizzlies
  • Rainfall 15"; snow fall 80"
  • Forest fires are left to burn unless they are threatening an important physical structure. So far this year 1 million acres have burned
  • 15% of Denali National Park (DNP) is covered by glaciers
  • Anywhere from 50-2,500 Snow Shoe Hare / sq mile
  • Only 49 wolves in DNP and 300 Grizzlies
  • 1,152 hikers have attempted to summit Denali (20, 322') so far in 2013. 700+ summited. Averages 17-27 days to summit, winds can be 127 mph, temps can be -43
  • Denali is only visible 25% of the time
We were lucky enough to see it back lit from Anchorage as the sun was setting. It's a treasure.

Denali on the right


The Train Depot: Fairbanks 356 miles; Whittier 62.5 miles, and Seward 114 miles. Elevation 38 feet
The original plan was to leave very early on July 5th from a grocery store parking lot in Anchorage and ride a 200k Perm to Seward. Completion of this ride would tick off another item on Michelle's Life List getting her ever closer to earning her RUSA Explorer Award. But, July 5th woke up rainy, cold, with no thought of improving. Plus, there was tell of road construction, etc., etc. en route. So, Barry loaded our bikes on his car and took us to the Anchorage Train Depot in hope that we could get on with no prior reservation. It was our lucky day. 

A portion of the Alaska Railroad Route: the portion we traveled twice, once from Seward, and once from Whittier
Opting out of the 200k was one of those "Plan-but-don't-plan-the-outcome" kind of things. Had we ridden we would have been wet, cold, and tired with no interest in exploring the quaintness of Seward: discovering Ray's Seafood, Nature's Nectars (an amazing Espresso shop on the main drag), riding around town on a folk-art mural treasure hunt, taking a boat ride to Fox Island and seeing Puffins, Humpback and Orca Whales, Eagles, Sea Otters and more; touring the Sea Life Museum because it was too wet and cold to outdoors thing, and riding to Exit Glasier in the rain.

We learned the operational definition of "socked in" when the clouds were so enveloping we could see mountain tops and house above the clouds! We learned that Alaskans are truly made of a different metabolism, certainly different from me. I'm fully bundled and covered while the locals are walking around in tank tops, cutoffs, and eating ice cream while the thermometer read 42.
Mountain above the cloud

Our train en route to Seward

Two of the 20 or so murals

Socked in. There are actually mountains behind those boats


Yes, it's 42

Exit Glacier to the right behind the trees. Yes, it's cold and rainy

10 years ago the glacier covered everything you see in the foreground

One of many Tufted Puffins

Latitude 61

Michelle, Joyce, and Barry readying to leave on a dinner ride beginning at 6:00 p.m.

Car loaded with 2 bents and a tandem to the beginning of our dinner bike ride

Michelle after our dinner ride at 10:00 p.m. Notice how light it is!!

Little did we know but Michelle and I both live at Latitude 32, only 7 minutes apart, she in Jackson, MS, I in Tucson, AZ. And now we find ourselves at Latitude 61 in Anchorage, 63 when we were in Denali.

The most striking difference between 32 and 61 in July is, you guessed it, the sun that seems not to sleep: 18-1/2 hrs of daylight down from 19 hours earlier in the month. 

Barry and Joyce live in a condo development; it's hard to be quiet when you come home from an exciting bike ride at 11:00 p.m. and it's as bright as 11:00 a.m. I had to be reminded more than once to tone it down.

The second most striking difference between 32 and 61 is the average daily high temperature: 100 Tucson; 91 Jackson; and 67 Anchorage. Rain is prevalent in Alaska in July, too; so much so that I sent such a large box of foul weather gear ahead of me to Barry and Joyce's that it cost me $35 by USPS. I think I used everything from my box save the chemical hand and foot warmers.

The Plan

Alcoholics Anonymous has a saying (they have many): "Plan, but don't plan the outcome." 

Kirk and I are planners. Goodness, we're already working on our 2015 travel plans! Despite being a consummate planner, I do try to practice the second half of AA's saying: "Don't plan the outcome". Living accordingly gives me the joy and pleasure of spontaneity and being able to make the needed adjustments when storms come in whatever form they may manifest. 

Every now and then, though, The Plan just all comes together wrinkle free. Our Alaskan Adventure was such A Plan.

July 3: Fly in to Anchorage--surprisingly Michelle and I were on the same plane from Seattle to Anchorage. Made pick-up a bit easier for Barry.

July 4: Extricate our respective Bacchettas from their SnowBoard Tube and rebuild them.
Shake down ride to Sagaway Market in Anchorage. Bikes ran flawlessly.

July 5: Train it down to Seward

July 6: Return by train to Anchorage

July 7: Rent a car and drive to Denali; wave to Sara Palin's home town of Wasilla, and a bit of sightseeing in Talkeetna

July 8: Denali

July 9: Denali and return to Anchorage

July 10: Anchorage and Girdwood by bike

July 11: Drive to Sheep Mountain Lodge in ready for the Fireweed

July 12: Fireweed Day 1-->Copper Center

July 13: Fireweed Day 2-->Valdez

July 14: 6-hr Ferry to Whittier, 6-hr lay-over, 2-1/2 hr Train ride back to Anchorage

July 15: Anchorage day ride

July 16: Disassemble the bikes and stuff them back in the snowboard tubes

July 17: Fly away, fly away home

Friday, July 19, 2013

It's Hard To Imagine...

How we functioned without technology.

I remember in high school and college (the '60s) we were told the next "age" would be the information age. I couldn't imagine what that meant. 

We were told that there would, one day, we would actually be able to see the person we were talking to on the phone, visual phone calls I think we called them. Growing up without even a TV in the house  imagining answering the phone and have someone see me in my underwear was disconcerting to say the least.

We were told that phones would soon have a # and * key and that all kinds of functions could be accessed using those little smart keys. 

But it seemed that decades went by and we still used card catalogs at the library, my phone was still black with no smart keys and a long cord attached to it, and my parents didn't get a TV until 1968 to watch Nixon win the election. 

But somewhere along the way technology happened and Michelle and I planned our Alaskan Adventure using Google Drive, email, Skype, PayPal, Text, and occasionally an old fashioned telephone call, on our respective iPhones. 

The Result: our itinerary was complete by mid-January replete with hotel, plane, rail, ferry, rental car and Fireweed reservations. 

Barry and Joyce were firm that all such needed to be locked in solid as early as January because Alaska, they said, is not like the lower 48 where planes, trains, automobiles, and hotels are suffocatingly abundant. 

Seven States To Go

On my Life List is riding in all 50 states; I have 7 to go: Alaska, North and South Dakota, Montana, Nebraska, Delaware, and South Carolina. I would have only 5 to go but when I broke my foot in July, 2011 I missed out on the opportunity to ride in Delaware and South Carolina when we were on our 99 Day Trek moving from Chicago to Tucson by way of Maine, Georgia, and most every state in between. 

Michelle has a similar Life List Goal. PAC Tour has taken cyclists to Alaska on two previous occasions; our fingers were crossed that they'd return to Alaska again in 2013. When the 2013 PAC Tour schedule came out in late Fall 2012, Alaska was not to be.

No worries, we'd plan our own trip. But how does one begin to plan a bike tour of a state that is twice the size of Texas and 1/5 the size of the contiguous 48? 

We had only one anchor: we would schedule our trip to overlap Fireweed, a 200 mile ride between Sheep Mountain Lodge (107 miles east of Anchorage) and Valdez. Lots of ways to ride Fireweed: one-day 200 miles; 2-day 200 miles; 400 miles (out and back) can even be done as a RAAM qualifier. We chose to ride it as a 2-day ride. 

So many logistics, how to begin???

It was a small miracle that at the November, 2012 General Meeting of GABA, my bike club here in Tucson, the man in front of me had on a Fireweed T-shirt. Turns out Barry and Joyce Weiss live in Tucson in the Winter and Anchorage in the Summer.

Barry and Joyce joined us for dinner at our house in mid-December; we Skyped Michelle in from Jackson, Mississippi and the planning began. 

Looks like my State list will be reduced to 6!!

In The Beginning There Was Rob

Rob on the Right

I love how networking works. 

I met Rob Welsh, Rob met Michelle Williams, Rob introduced me to Michelle, and all of this meeting was “fathered” by PAC Tour

Since 2010 Michelle and I have been chasing each other all around the country. Living in Chicago at the time, I rode down to Peoria, IL and hooked up with her as she rode with PAC Tour on their Northern Transcon.

Michelle on Right
Then I chased her down in New Orleans in 2011 to ride a RUSA 300k.
Michelle guarding the bents while we take a break on the 300k
She chased me down in Chicago later that same year and a bunch of us would complete a 4-State Circle Tour of Lake Michigan (Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin). There was a little hitch, though. I broke my foot 3 weeks before the Circle Tour began so would have to be content with riding in the SAG vehicle driven by my husband, Kirk. 
Lunch in Door County, WI while on the Circle Tour
And finally she chased me down again in Tucson, where I now live, in March 2013 which gave us a great opportunity to put the finishing touches on our planning for our Alaskan Adventure which I’ll dub as AA. Let it stand for whatever you want it to: Alcoholics Anonymous, American Airlines, Alaskan Airlines or our Alaskan Adventure. At least three of those translations of the acronym fit for us. 
At the Rincon Country Market near Tucson