Sunday, January 13, 2013

The Chariot

I'm breaking my rule and doing a gear review!

A multi-sport kid carrier is the quintessential must-have for active young families. Julie and I got one before Finn was born as a joint baby shower gift. They are expensive with all the add-ons but they become a way of life and open up a multitude of early life adventures that would be difficult otherwise. I use this thing almost everyday of the year, it's been through the wringer.

The one we have is the Cougar 1, it's the 2010 model, some of the things I'm critical about might have changed with the current version. It's worth having a look if there have been improvements before judgements are passed on the new ones. We use ours in Bike / ski / run configurations (in order of use as well) I'll go through each one.

Bike:

This is where the Chariot shines. The suspension works and your kid is well protected, the bike attachment is solid. Try as I might I have not been able to break the rubber ball joint that attaches to the bike hitch, it's an amazing piece of simple engineering and material selection. The safety backups need serious re-thinking however as the clips and webbing run dangerously close to disk brake rotors. I skip using the backup all together due to the poor design and high frequency at which I attach and detach the hitch. The bike mounted socket works best with flat drop outs on steel frames. You'll have issues with "inset" dropouts and have to run the wheel slightly to the back with Surly horizontal dropouts. If you have an alloy frame you need to make sure the QR is very tight to prevent motion of the socket piece and eventual grinding of your (softer) aluminum frame.

The cover does a decent job, but could be improved upon for use in heavy rain. The clear window material starts to yellow after about a year due to UV. At 2 years (stored 50% of the time outside) it's pretty yellow and could use replacement.

Bike use with an infant - I got my hands on a used "infant sling" that basically clips to interior D rings and cradles the little people above the main seat. Its seriously overpriced if you need to buy it new.  It works well, but it raises the center of gravity of the load making the trailer more tipsy. I flipped the trailer once while biking with Finn in the sling and it's a show stopper. After that I had a full dromedary bag as ballast in the bottom of the carrier. Makes things heavier but its more stable when dealing with curb ramps and tight turns.

Another great aspect of the bike mode is that the skis for ski mode can be used with snow bikes for a smooth sailing winter bike trailer.

My only other comment is that the plastic hub covers fell off within a few weeks of use never to be seen again...

SKI:


 The ski mode is awesome, however prime use of it is fairly short lived. It's best use is with infants to 18mo olds, and skate skiing. It's a sleep machine, so is a good way to get exercise during nap time. If you are strong you will be able to skate ski anything you normally could pulling around your infant. I got 6 pack abs and gigantic shoulders after skiing with Finn his first winter.  Classic skiing is not good, slow and not my idea of fun. I'd rather bike with the ski's mounted instead. If you just want to cruise around on classic waxless scaled skis then it does the job just fine however. So the first winter when your kid is little is awesome, it gets quite a bit harder on the climbs the second season. This is Finn's third winter and I have not even tried it. Skate skiing is all about technique and towing 50 lbs just does not sound like fun.

The ski package has a few minor issues. The stock hip belt needed a different combo of webbing and buckle to stay tight.  I had to cut out the webbing and sew on regular backpack web that would not slip. Major overlook on their part.

Secondly - the poles, they work, but the plastic inserts get loose and slip out, this leaves a lot of slop in the system and I've had to stop countless times to shove them back in. Super glue or epoxy them in place from the get go!  Also, pad the chariot poles with pluming insulation or some other foam, your $150 carbon skate poles will thank you...

The waxless skis work as expected, ours need a major stone grind / belt sand at this point but are still fine for pulling with the bike.

Lastly, some better quick release for the poles to the Chariot would be nice. it can be a pain fumbling with pins in tight places in the cold. But they are simple so that's not a bad thing.

Run:
The Cougar Chariot in run mode is really a "walker", and works fantastic walking on dirt paths and wide trails. True running strollers are much lighter, have front wheel tracking adjustments (and larger wheels) and handle with minimal input from your hand. The Chariot's suspension makes it handle like a tank if you're trying to run with it. It also lacks a height adjustable push bar but they are available as expensive aftermarket items. It get's the job done, but is kinda a last resort

A few more detractors... the parking brake is awkwardly located under the flip up pocket. Julie did not even know it had a brake for 2 years since it's so well hidden. The parking brake foot actuator also tears through the pocket fabric exposing the inner plastic sheet in time.  To avoid hitting your feet on the pocket when running it needs to be locked in the up position, unfortunately the quick releases don't lock well at all and it slips down easily.

Bottom line - the run mode is really makes it an all terrain stroller, if you plan on running more than biking or skiing with it then get something else, or look at the higher end  CX models.

Sum it up - If you are expecting a kid and lead an adventurous life, you can't go wrong getting one. They become intertwined with your lifestyle and I cant imagine the last 2+ years without one.



Saturday, June 23, 2012

I finally brought my camera

I've gotten really into mountain running the last few years. Linking up trails, ridges, tundra, goat paths anything goes. Run when you can, and basically tear it up. Somehow my body is tolerating it. Usually I don't bring a camera since I generally go to the usual suspects of front range peaks.

Friday was different. Perfect weather.  I played hookey and got Dave (fellow member of team Icepop) to sign up for linking a ridge together neither of us had done before. I brought my camera to try to give a taste for it. So here is almost 8 hrs of continuous movement with 2 summits compressed into 2 minutes. The route delivered!



and if you are reading this in Anchorage - forget about the lower Williawaw lake trail that goes under the ball field for the rest of the summer. trust me.

Monday, May 07, 2012

10 Years and bailing on Bellicose

In May 2002 I found myself driving my truck with all my belongings up to Alaska. I landed feet on the ground and had no idea really what the hell I was doing or why I just drove 3500 miles. Only that I was here now and I'd better start trying to figure it out.

Ten years later I've figured a few things out, but that's just a tip of it. I'm not much for all this introspective writing stuff so lets just say it's been a great 10 years living here. Thank you Alaska.
on with it.
 Bellicose. The Drool inducer. A haul from any trail access, big and bad. We've all had the itch for "someday" and can't remember the times in April's past where talk of a Peter's Creek mission has come up. JT as usual instigated pushing further so in light of a fickle forecast Tony, Becky, Toby, JT and I of us started skiing up Ram Valley Friday night for a glorified bivy camp over Bombardment pass, followed by a big day on Saturday.

The weather kept deteriorating. Our group of 5 turned into 3, we got high on the Schrod glacier in knee deep snow. Avalanche's resonating off the upper faces. White out. Reached a prominent notch where the "safe" options ran dry and the only way was to head right and onto the much larger loaded face which we could not even see, just not happening. away we went. down up down uppppp, down.

Stumbled down the Ram Valley road over 10,000 vert for the day later. she's a doozie. Making this a 2 night trip is a good idea.


Photo by JT, spindrift avalanches near Bombardment pass
Thanks for the great weekend guys.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Crust

Crust ski season is here, it may be gone tomorrow, but it was in this past week.
Things have been busy, home remodeling and very busy with work, taxes, Finn's been sick, Julie blew her ACL. Not much time to get away. Been looking closer to home than the usual drive down to the Portage / 20 mile area which is the epicenter for crust skiing in south central.

Anyway, been finding good crust skiing just in Anchorage all week, but have been gazing at the front range thinking there would be good crust in the Long Lake and Williwaw valley's. Needed to find out for sure yesterday knowing it could be just a big boondoggle and end up being just a hike with my skis.

Up the North side of near point. No trail yet. waist deep trench body holing in breakable crust / sugar up to the Alders, then just breakable crust knee deep+ post holing until I wrapped around to the more eastern aspect, almost bailed demoralized. It was short lived and it started to feel like near point again.


is there crust down there?


North side - powder over windhammer. Put boots & skis on and found the crusty goods in the valley floor just as expected!


on Long lake, back near Koktoya. Lucy was thrilled as she has not been back here since we did the Elliot loop, and this other run.


punchy, turnaround, need to be back so Julie can swim with the bum knee.




Nano skins on for the climb back to the Near point ridge.

awesome find, glad I looked hard.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

White Mountains 100

When Ed and Ann first created the White Mountains 100 race 3 years ago I was immediately drawn to it. As opposed to the (in my mind) boring slog of the Susitna 100 course, the WM 100 is in the rolling mountains north of Fairbanks in a far flung wilderness area that I doubt I would visit if it were not for an event like this. Good excuse to sign up for a 100.

The question lingered.. Bike or Ski? I knew I did not want to have repeats of knee inflammation and the doubts of failure that come with "knowing" an old injury will flare up. So I put the idea of biking out the door all together and started training in December for the longest skate ski of my nordic existence. It took some getting used to. I know what it feels like to bike for 12+ hours, but I'm usually pretty well thrashed after 2 or 3hrs nordic skiing, so knew I needed a way more solid base for the skate specific muscles. Then came all the other stuff that not comes with it, basically figuring out backcountry enduro skate skiing. I did a bunch of (cold) 4+ hr skis in December leading to the 50 mile sufferfest Frosty Bottom in January. Did not get many other long skis other than the usual daily exercise under my belt until a few weeks before the race where I did some 5 hr jaunts with a pack to beat my self up. Raced the 50k classic in the Oosik to get super sore the weekend before the Whites (not the best idea but great fun) and my training was complete.

Along the way I confirmed that traveling light was key and that I really needed to stay on top of the calories for these long skis. Unlike biking where if my blood sugar dives I can still plug along spaced out but moving... skate skiing does not offer that luxury (for me at least), things get ugly really quick when you don't take care of yourself due to the coordination involved.

Anyway, off we go. 6 hr drive north to Fairbanks, jolly group of skiers Abby, Chris Wood and Drew Harrington. Pre-race meeting, crashed at Jeff Oatley's place. Awake at 5:00 brewing coffee and eating manfest with Brain Hartman and Tim B who ended up going on to win it. Temps around 7 degrees on the rolling drive north to the start. Off we go.


The setup, .5L nalgene on the shoulder strap (carried 1L more in pack) and 2 modified mtn feedbags on the waist belt, all worked fantastic.

The fast skiers, Rob on the right was gunning it with the lead bikers till mile 60-70 until the trail got bomber for riding.


Surprisingly enough I had zero jitters at the start, I was really relaxed. When someone yelled "GO" I looked over and saw Drew in a last minute panic with a binding problem, so I helped him for a minute while mostly everyone save the walkers cleared out, then started almost dead last in a nice and relaxed pace trying trying to get around people on the initial climb. The sunlight increased dramatically showing through diffuse snow laden clouds. It would snow on and off through the whole race, moments of bluebird, moments of blizzard.


At some point I caught up to Chris Wood, which was fun since we used to work together and we were both equally psyched about the race. Chris is a strong dude and has been skiing way longer than me, so I was happy to pace and swap leads with him for this whole first leg. Right away though the trail was FUN, really fun, lots of climbing and really fast micro-air-catching downhills which on nordic gear is pretty exciting.

Climbing and more climbing. Tips catching, bikers everywhere, such was the story all the way to CP1 which ended with a mile long climb just barely wide enough to hack away skating up. The bikers were all walking so I passed quite a few. CP1 was a few wall tents and some trail side snacks. Chris pulled in right behind me. I pounded some warm water, fritos and cookies and took off. I'm not one for checkpoints really and I did not want to cool down much from the big up hill. The trail from there followed a broad ridge line that continued to climb and descend through an old burn. This was my least favorite part of the race. The trail was the worst, soft and narrow on the climbs with bits of veg that liked catching ski tips causing face plants. I started leap frogging with a crew of bikers including Michael Braun, which was great, some of the other guys were a bit too serious for my tastes never saying much of anything. Misery loves company so might as well laugh about it, ok fine I'll just laugh to myself.

photo by M. Braun. notice the impeccable technique.

The burn did provide a sense of getting deeper and deeper out there, which I love. Big views off into big wilderness. A place you could just disappear into were it not for a ribbon of trail snaking around a 100 mile loop...

Finally the big descent down to Beaver creek. It was basically a 2 step descent, the first being a long straight shot screamer laden with craters and trenches left by bikers, then a flat, then a really steep drop down to the creek itself with a 90 deg right at the bottom. Ho LE SHIT, this descent was nuts. I started going really fast on the first part sketching out and floating over bike craters before I said BRAKES! and sat down for a half controlled half crash butt slide. ok that worked, nothing broken.. Thinking I was good I put my mitts back into the ski straps (bad idea) and skied the flats and started bombing drop #2, snow plow, oh fuck, too fast, I'm gonna eat it, edge edge turn runn it out yyyeaaaaahhh made it to the creek unscathed and all fired up and proceeded to stomp out the rolling 6 miles to Cache mtn cabin under blue skies. Doing it, feeling good 40 miles in.




I pulled into Cache mtn and found Bill Pearson and his sister Kate getting ready to head out. I was psyched to see them since it meant I was actually keeping a decent pace going. They good skiers and have both done the race in the past. But for now it was time to chow. Cache mtn was to be a fuel up spot for me. Gloves over the stove, sit down, lean against the wall and shovel in baked potato covered with moose chili & cheese, chased down with coke, cookies and pringles. Does not get any better for checkpoint fuel. Chris pulled in pretty soon after me and started the same routine. His back was bugging him so he stayed a while and unfortunately this was the last I'd see him for the race. Right after Cris was Russ Devries who was skiing on Classic gear. I could not freaking believe it and was really impressed he was going so fast. Russ ended up finishing about an hour after me. Maybe I need to come back and Classic ski it next time and see what I'm missing...

Hard to leave CP2 with the sun shining and abundant food but there's a pass to climb out there. The trail basically is flat then starts to gradually climb and climb and climb to Cache mountain Divide, the high point on the course. It was hot. mid-20's with sun. I was roasting in the effort and finally threw in the towl and took off the thin tights I had under my pants. This was a bit of a trail side chore that took a few minutes and I second guessed myself several times knowing that I was heading up high into snow and wind. oh well. I was hot. At the start of the climb the trail was infuriatingly narrow. I walked a few of the short steep ones and started to get down... then.... the bulb went off and I dug out the secret weapons. nano-skins armed I started stomping away, climbs be dammed I was moving. Not much glide but I was basically running and putting out far less energy than trying to marathon skate or walk it. Head down, stomp, stomp. If I keep it up and don't stop it's going to work. Higher. Passing bikers, more bikers, ski boot foot prints.. 2 sets of ski boots prints! - Bill and Kate. I'm gonna get them damn it. stomp stomp. post hole tracks, another biker. stomp stomp. fewer trees...getting colder, snowing more.. why did I take off my tights?... these gloves suck.. wait.. is that Bill?? with a defeated look he yells,"DO YOU HAVE A SKIN?" "I have TWO!" I catch Bill really close to the pass, I feel bad for him, but not enough to linger, he's going to out ski me anyway so I might as well get some ground. Almost white out conditions at the pass but basically a party going on of snowmachiners. This was the one dichotomy of this event - it's in a remote wilderness area, but you're never more than 12 miles from a cabin and there is a small army of safety and support staff out there. But this was fun as I feeling great having made such good time up the climb. Skin's ripped, hoodini armed, puff mitts on - Down.

Photo by Josh Spice

Totally flat light, can't see shit. just 4" wide tire trenches and craters from crashing bikers, passed 2 guys hip-deep wallowing off the trail. a bit of skating and I hit the famed Ice lakes meeting up with Michael Braun and Bill again. The ice lakes are a section of massive overflow ice sloping downhill with usually anywhere from toe to knee deep water on the surface. We had reports of moderate overflow still so I stopped to put garbage bags over my boots/overboots and cliped in, better than nothing. Gingerly double poling onto the ice I almost right away eat it and both my feet go shin deep in ice water. crap. keep moving.



Getting through the lakes went pretty quick and was not too bad. Bill and I skiied out together swooping and gliding down tight trail with some great views of the limestone craigs through the blowing snow. Really a sweet section of the course to travel in any mode. A few short up's and I started roasting and had to drop the wind jacket and swap to my wet thinner lobster gloves. A bit more overflow right before Windy Gap Cabin for the third checkpoint.

Bill near the cool craig's.


On the menu was meatballs and soupy rice, even though I was feeling strong overall, the was starting to catching up to me. My lower back was pretty thrashed and my right elbow tendonitis was cooking a medium burn, this was making me compensate more poling with my left side which and I was slowly getting pretty jacked up from the modified technique. The bummer about Windy Gap was Kate was there feeling like crap and ended up scratching. I was pretty stoked about everything and it was probably not the energy she wanted to hear. So I cleared out of there fairly quick assuming that Bill was going to catch me at some point.

This next leg was wild, from here on out I felt more or less by myself till the finish. The trail was fun, rolling, generally downhill for a bit across ice and swooping through big evergreen forests, a little erie and wild for sure. Michael on his bike started leap frogging until he disappeared ahead of me on a gradual climb.

After about 10 miles the trail hung a left and had a steep climb that I walked up to gain a side valley that the course traversed to get to the Borealis cabin. Light was fading and with the light out went my distractions. I was either totally zoned out completely forgetting miles, or totally focused on some ache, pain or slowly failing muscle group. Of all the checkpoints so far this one I was REALLY ready to get to. Everything was starting to hurt and I did not want to stop to get my light out, temps were dropping and my legs were just barely comfortable without any under layers. But soon enough pulled into the Borealis cabin and wallked up the hill complete with battery run christmas lights. nice touch.

"We love Skiers!" was the reception I got. awesome. I had the place to myself with 2 happy volunteers who immediately offered me everything in their stock, including ramen and homemade bread. yum. I took the opportunity to strip down and dry out my super fleece over the stove and hoped my crappy gloves would dry just a touch. Sufficiently fed and layered up I cleared out when the place started filling up with bikers.

Alright 20 miles with tons more climbing, headlamp on here we go. Almost right off the trail climbs forever. I bailed pretty quick and re-activated my secret weapons. Slow but low energy output, passed the 2 pushing bikers with ease even though they flew by me on the flats shortly after. Off camber ice, more overflow, rolling terrain. Headlamps dancing in space ahead of me, flashing red lights taunting me. Were they 2 miles ahead or 200 feet? I could not tell. Reached the 90 mile trail shelter feeling pretty thrashed but stopped in to say hi to Robin and Dean. Robin snapped me out of my funk by putting boiling water in my bottle which I proceeded to chug and we all know how that goes. tasted nothing for about a day. whatever, I have the wall to climb so let's get it over with.

When the hell am I going to get to this thing? The famed Wickersham wall climbs about 1,000' to gain the ridge were were to get back to the start. But just getting to it felt like forever. I had the thought that 80 or even 90 mile ski races might be better idea than 100's. At some point the skies cleared and the temps started to drop. I could not really tell though if I it was an actual temp drop of if my body was just not putting out any extra heat, either way it was getting chilly, gone were the pangs of heat and sweat when battling up short climbs. There was one bad overflow section right at the base of the wall, I went ankle deep in water and immediately had to hike up the bank on the other side. Instant binding ice down. I spent about 15 or more minutes here trying to get clipped back into my bindings and had to resort to digging out the little can of lock de-icer I bought just for the occasion. To the wall - skins back on and stomped away. Kept a steady pace and got to the top without much trouble, switching to striding was a nice change as my skate muscles were toast.

I stole this photo from Josh Spice's blog. This is the view from the top of the wall, except imagine it in total darkness with a 50' headlamp beam. I need to come back here and go faster to see it the daylight.

Backtracking for 6 miles the way we came out from the start to finish. I was wasted and could barely skate at this point. The colder temps, fresh snow and wax job with 95 miles in it made it all feel really, really slow. Working hard for the glide. More climbing, walking the steep ones. Snowmachine moguls, are you kidding me? am I bonking so close to the finish? can't be... did we really descend so f-ing much in the beginning of the race? endless climbing. one mile to finish sign and a fun fast rolling downhill to end it.


Somehow it was almost 3:00am when I finished, but in the darkness I had lost all sense of time. It was so good to be done, so much had happened. The White's had delivered. Walking away from it the race was everything that was expected and more. Beautiful, hard and above all, really fun with the best organization you could imagine. Thank you Ed and Ann for the hard work and to all the many volunteers that make this event so awesome.

The aftermath.. Abby finished about an hour after me totally rocking it being the first woman skier, we tried driving back to Fairbanks and had a nap car bivy en-route. Slept about 5 hrs in Fairbanks then drove 6 back to Anchorage. Happily I felt pretty much recovered with no injuries within a few days but have generally been lazy since. Breakup is upon us and I'm looking foreword to biking again after such a ski focused winter.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Grandaddy ++

Finally got out snowboarding again in the ridiculous snow year we are having.
This tree tells the story pretty well:

Turns out Blogger updated their photo system, so click the images below for a better view, it's worth it :)

So Jeff, Najeeby and I headed back to Grandaddy. Apt name for it, long haul up the valley between Corn Biscuit and Lips.

These next photos are climbing the skyline in the photo above.



not bad not bad, if you're into winter and mountains that is. Yeah!

Tommy moe run on the W face of Grandaddy. BIG! Did Tommy ski it? I have no idea, but it's a proud line so I'm guessing he did. Jeff coming into where we could spot from... conditions were perfect, pretty slow snow made the angle feel a bit easier than it really is.

Back up and over. Not too cold this day, probably never got above zero but the sun actually felt warm at times, actually only right here I think.



yes the swallowtail was happy.
Nice chute to get back to the valley we came up. After this Jeff and I skinned over and booted up the thing in the background for a run on the Mistress, oh the Mistress.


climbing one of her thighs.. light fading.

Jeff ready to go down on the Mistress at sunset.

sick day, 3 new runs for me, 2 of which have long been of lore and intimidation. Good (and stable!) conditions make it happen. Will have no problem sewing little bags all day tomorrow.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Happy 2012

So it's been what, 5 months since I've updated this thing? Guess I'm not too into blogging lately. Maybe in 2012 I'll make more of an effort. doubt it!

Jeff, Najeeby Andy and I started the New Year off right. Temps never got above zero and the wind was brisk on the ridges but conditions could not be any better. Skied Todd's run on Tincan in perfect top to bottom powder. Then climbed up the left side back to the top and did one of the south face lines between Proper and the hippie bowl, superb conditions that felt like those sweet pow lines you seen in ski films shot in Japan, skinny trees, steep, tons of snow, you get the idea. Up again for the wicked gnar line (thanks Andy) to the road. Wore the big gloves all day and the puffy pants emerged from the pack quite a bit.

Mostly skinning photos, the temps & wind were not conducive for exposing flesh for photography sake on the descents.


Looking over to Eddies and Wolverine, Joe and Cathy are somewhere along that ridge.


Had some of the deepest, almost underwater blue tones today - yelling at you "it's faaacking cold here", especially later over the 20 mile valley.

Heading down the South side




Happy New Year!