Going Nome

On the first day I was working at the hospital one of the first things my coworker said to me was, “You have to get off the road system.” Me, being fairly new to Alaska didn’t actually know what he meant, like hiking off a road? I asked for clarification (as I had already done with every legal issue up to that point), “you know, the bush, fly out to a village.” Oh okay, sure, yeah I added it to my list of things to accomplish in Alaska before my fellowship ended. Most of the first fall I was still focused on racing and prepping for nationals. After I was back in January, COVID-19 began to thwart any plans of going to a village. Most villages locked down, and for good reason, the pandemic of 1918 has left scars throughout the state. They required an essential reason to travel and I did not have one. But with vaccines came some loosing of restrictions.

Early in the summer a friend mentioned trying to go to Nome to ride the three roads, not even knowing what those were I immediately said, yes, let’s do it. But this was early June and our schedule for the next two months didn’t exactly overlap for a weekend to do it and settled on next summer. I mentioned to Kevin how cool it would be to do that but put it on my ever expanding list of all the things I want to do.

For my birthday, Kevin bought me a ticket (and himself) to Nome to go ride the roads. I had a three day weekend in August and took an extra day so we would arrive on Wednesday afternoon and leave Sunday giving us time to explore the different roads. We booked tickets but then planning took a back seat as we did the Jurassic Classic followed by a long weekend in Denali, followed by a long weekend at a cabin in Seward, and my own personal turmoil figuring out if I was going to leave Alaska and lose Kevin or stay in Alaska and maybe at some point loose my job (more on that later, lolz). That decision was brought on by our landlord selling our house and us needing to be out by the end of August.

We realized that we didn’t have any spare time to not start planning though and were able to get a contact there, a friend of a friend who would let us camp in the yard. We also found a bed and breakfast off of one of the roads and another place to stay at the end of one of the other roads. We decided it would be worth staying at these places just so we would reduce the overall gear we’d have to haul. We’d do about 35 miles the first day, 100 miles the second day, and 55 miles the third day. Giving us a travel day on each end.

We packed up and a friend gave us a ride to the airport not realizing just how loaded down we were. I sat in the back with the bikes and kept thinking if we crashed all the ways my legs and hips would be messed up for life and just prayed a little extra harder especially because Anchorage drivers are bonkers. We settled into the airport, it was again strange to travel in the midst of a pandemic. For work I actually never interact with the general public and I’ve taken to ordering groceries so really have a very small bubble, which I realize how privilege and fortunate it makes me. Being at the airport I realized why we were were still in the midst of it all with noses hanging out and others having masks covering their chins, even one removing their mask to sneeze. I bought some postcards at the gift shop to send out and we situated ourselves away from anyone else. In 2017, I came down with some anxiety around flying that hit me out of the blue and has never entirely went away, I think it’s the whole trusting someone you’ve never met to get you to your destination safely. I’ve found ways to manage and usually in either doing work or writing to occupy my mind and telling myself, “I can’t die, I have to finish this.” Internally I felt so much turmoil that I was grateful that this flight did not also contribute to that. The last sentence I wrote before landing was, “about to arrive in Nome and I have no idea what the next 4 days will bring–hopefully a sense of peace, wanderlust, and healing but who knows.”

We landed and got picked up by Burr from the airport, she drove us to her house talking about the area and town, when they had moved, and giving us the lay of the land. Kevin had been there once before for the Iditarod but was there for only about 24 hours and in March. We got to her house and she offered up a spot to pitch our tent but then also offered up the dog kennel, where they put the dogs to sleep when it’s too cold.

That sounded amazing and I said yes absolutely, even better if we had the dogs with us. She said they only go in when it’s really cold and it wasn’t there yet. We unpacked, put our bikes together and then joined Burr and Tim inside for dinner. We chatted about the Alaskan experiences that we had had with some overlapping without realizing it. We asked a lot of questions about dog mushing and operating a kennel and they graciously answered all of them. We decided the next day that we’d hitch a ride into town with Tim when he headed to work so we could see them run the dogs too.

We went to bed and there was still tension between Kevin and I being in this weird space of am I leaving or going and where does that leave our relationship. I didn’t know what to say so managed a “I’m glad you brought me here, thank you” and left it at that. The next morning we saw the running of the dogs, you can feel the energy from the dogs and how much they want to run, heck it made me want to run.

They attached them all to the four wheeler (upgrade from the wooden carts that are maybe still in use some places) and took off, it was very cool to see. After some frantic packing on my part not realizing the car left in 10 minutes we made it in the car and on our way to town. I asked about the COVID situation in Nome how the response had been and what it had been like. It’s off the road system, which helped, so they reduced the number of flights in and then prior to vaccines did airport screenings upon arrival. We unloaded our gear and I loaded mine mostly on the bike but knowing we’d only be going about 35 miles and then would be stopping back by the house the following day was somewhat reassuring in case.

We spent some time in town knowing we didn’t have far to go, seeing the arch that they take to the Iditarod finish and stopping at a recommended coffee shop, from there we made our way to the beach and sat on some rocks for a bit and talked about the state of our relationship dispersed with information about the gold panning that still happens.

We finally were on our way out of Nome when Burr’s dad drove by and honked and waved at us, felt like we were already locals- ha. We headed out towards Solomon B&B, the road was pretty nice and could definitely ride a gravel bike on it, and not a lot of steep climbs so we were able to cruise for a bit. Outside of town I saw some wooden crosses on a hill and pulled off, kind of a when am I ever going to be back here to see these, and told Kevin I was going to venture up to see what they were.

The crosses offered little information about who was actually there and it seemed like they were remains that had been repatriated from various museums. I thought of myself and the connect to various lands that I’ve felt, especially in Alaska, and I wondered if the turmoil of being ripped from your land existed in the afterlife, if it did I hoped that maybe there were finally able to rest being back here.

I walked back down to the road, grabbing some blueberries on the way to snack on. We got back on our bikes and continued on. Kevin saw an opening for the beach and suggested we ride out there, I thought of my drivetrain but he was already in the sand and if I stayed on the road the shrubbery blocked him from view. I got on the beach and rode down near the water where it was mostly packed and my 2.2 tires had some traction.

There were a few houses and I couldn’t tell if they were lived in year round or just a summer cabin. I rode by one that had a large brown apparatus in front of it, it almost looked like a rusty fuel tank but was situated on the ground. I couldn’t figure out what it was and it was a little too close to the house to be snooping around. When I caught up to Kevin he asked if I had seen the dead walrus, “the head was cut off.”

“Ohhhh” I replied, “I couldn’t tell what it as and just kind of assumed it was a rock or something.” We talked about the reasons the head was cut off, maybe for the tusks after it had washed ashore and died, it didn’t seem like an animal would do something like that, and it wasn’t the only headless Walrus we would see on the trip.

We came up to the Safety Roadhouse, which we had planned to stop at for a drink. It’s the “last checkpoint” on the Iditarod Trail before Nome, about 22 miles. We went in and the walls were covered with signed dollar bills and Iditarod memorabilia. I couldn’t tell if it was a shrine or a dive bar.

We ordered some food making small talk with the caretakers. They were from Florida and had met the owners in Hawaii who offered them this job, they said they enjoyed it but wouldn’t be back because of how cold it was. At that moment it was 50 degree and they had some burly winter gear on. I, in shorts and a t-shirt decided that we both probably thought the other person didn’t have a good internal regulation of temperature. We grabbed our food and headed outside, they had a tee stand so we hit some golf balls, which immediately made me grateful I don’t do ball sports anymore as when I did finally make contact with the ball it made a pithy bounce off the tee and rolled close enough that Kevin walked a few feet to grab it so we could hit it.

When we left we only had about 15 miles or so our stop for the night and the road seemed to stretch on in this distance for miles, which it turned out it actually did. It reminded me of being in South Dakota in a strange way, there are a few areas that on one side you have the hills and the other side the prairie, except for here it was the hills and the ocean. When the road finally did curve, we got off to see the last train to nowhere, with its finally resting place being the marshy area that it had once traversed.

The locomotives were brought as part of a dream to build the most extensive rail system in the area. As with the boom and bust of a gold mine area, as the gold rush faded and only 35 miles of line put in over 5 years, the project was abandoned and the trails were left to deteriorate. 

We saw the Solomon B&B we’d be staying at and pedaled the last half a mile. There was a vehicle parked out front but we had been warned that no one would be there and it was a self check-in/check-out. We walked around to the back and the maintenance guy greeted us, telling us that he knew we were coming and we’d be in room 5. He showed us in, saying he’d be leaving in a bit and then went back out to finish his work. The place had multiple individual suits and a few common areas, including a pretty stocked kitchen, with fresh fruit (which we decided was a real treat given our location). There were enough twists in the hallways and creaks in the floorboards that I decided I would not be out of our room at night by myself. 

We learned that the place had been a former BIA boarding school and was currently ran by the Solomon Village tribe. With all the children remains being discovered this summer at various former boarding schools, I wondered if there were unmarked graves here. I decided that since it was now in the hands of the tribe they would be able to pursue that if they wanted to and I should leave it at that.

There was a large world map in the living room that reminded me of my looming decision. I saw just how far Alaska was from DC, I found it almost comical that we were considered the same country. I stared wondering if I could some how minimize the distance to make it feel physically closer, it didn’t move and I pushed the feelings of wanting to stay and feeling like I needed to leave down, that was a problem for future Kate I decided. 

We got up a bit early since we had 90 miles of pedaling in front of us, made breakfast, got packed up, and back on the road. It was a bit chiller than when we had started the day before, reminding me that winter, especially here, would be settling in soon.

We rode back to the Safety Roadhouse and stopped to change layers and stopped to eat our own food as it wasn’t open this early.

Getting back on the road we saw bear prints in the soft dirt on the shoulder, they were headed the same direction we were going and they definitely had not been there the day before. With so much vastness we found it odd that if there was a bear we were unable to see it, but we kept riding, seeing where the bear prints disappeared and reappear, thinking they must have gotten off for a car or something. We made it back to Nome, having decided to skip the cut across road so we could get some coffee and maybe some food. No luck on the food but we had plenty and I was really after the coffee, and a coffee mug from the shop.

We headed past town and on the road that would take us to the Pilgrim Hot Springs, it also happened to be the road that Tim and Burr live on so we planned on stopping to switch out gear. Right before the turn off for their road, I heard the familiar hissing of air being released from my tire, ohhh no, I got off and immediately identified the spot, it was the same spot that had released a week before but I thought I had gotten it to seal. I put some air in but it still wasn’t sealing so Kevin gave me a bacon (not actual bacon just look like it) strip to plug the hole with, it worked and with a bit more air we were back at their place and swapping stuff out. 

Tim was able to join us for part of the next leg; he told us about community, the land, the history, the hospital, how they came to Nome, it was almost intoxicating as I tried to weave it all together in my mind.

It came across how incredibly grateful he was to be here and how much him and Burr were taking advantage of everything the area offered. He point out Leonhard Seppala’s house, the musher who ran his dogs most of the way with the diphtheria serum and I thought of the barriers that still exist in accessing care and services in such a remote place like this. 

Tim turned back after about 15 miles with us, we told him we’d see him the next day and settled into a more relaxed pace, not sure who was pushing it when we were all together.

It had been drizzling but had mostly stopped when Kevin said there was a bear, me being quite terrible at any wildlife sightings did not see it and was convinced it was just going to pop out of the brushes, I dinged my bell, Kevin quickly hushed me, “don’t bring attraction to us, it doesn’t know we’re here”. Oh, I just figured it was better to let it know, sometimes I feel like I’ve made great strides in my backcountry competence and then other times feel like I’m fresh off the farm. I asked him where the bear was as my scanning still provided no glimpse of it, he said it was on the other side of the brush, which again I was like is that 5 feet or 50 feet. He told me to keep pedaling, which I did, with one hand over the bear spray. We got beyond the brush and looked over in the clearing, I squinted, what the heck is that, my mind tried to make sense or what I was seeing, is that a moose, what else would it be, I squinted more and then started laughing, it was a hiker with a large external frame backpack that stuck out against the landscape, he was also quite a ways a way, you thought that was a bear?!? Kevin explained that he only got a glance and just assumed since what else would it be, I agreed saying I thought it was a moose and my brain couldn’t figure out what else it would be since it seemed so out of context. I wondered where he had come from and where he was going and if I would ever feel that comfortable being in the backcountry by myself. We pedaled by giving a small wave. 

As has been the case over the past 18 months in the silent pedal strokes my mind wanders to COVID. This time it was focused on Nome though, thinking of their respond, did the fact that they have a spot in their cemetery dedicated to those victims of the 1918 flu impact the response, how about being internationally known for the serum run. With it being off the road system they had more control over those coming into the village, flights were reduced from 2 to 1 per day and they would test everyone at the airport as they arrived. I voiced some of these to Kevin, about how cool it would be to do a specific case study of Nome, tying in all these factors. He added that Nome was settled by gold miners and not an Alaska native village like some of the others, and that most villages had diphtheria outbreaks but Nome (being predominately white) was able to get the serum. At one point, Kevin used to be a tour guide, which is insanely useful for someone who is new to the state and looking for nuances in research questions. Ohhh interesting, yeah it would be interesting to do a comparative analysis between here and another off-the road village.

We began to see a lake emerge in the distance that told us that we were at least in the latter half of our distance for the day. The cabins that speckled the landscape were vibrant, seeming almost to belong in a Scandinavian country. Kevin said it reminded him of Newfoundland, where he lived for a year. I rode across a bridge and stopped, peering down at the water, “Kevin, look at this, it’s so clear, like I can see the bottom..” he reminded me that this is what water looks like when it’s not glacial fed and you don’t have the glacial silt. “I just want to jump in.” It might not be glacial fed but it’ll still be cold. 

We checked the elevation profile, okay two more good hills with the last one being off the highway and up and down to the hot springs. As our elevation changed so did our layers with us putting our shells on before one of the summits so we wouldn’t have to do it at the top. I got a little warm but always much less concerned with temperature regulation when we aren’t sleeping outside at night.

We bombed down the descent and if Kevin hadn’t told me to keep and eye out for the turn off I definitely would have missed it as there was little marking, I turned left and saw Kevin waiting for me. Alright 7 miles left as we began the climb up, it really was just up and then down. I stayed on the bike to ride up, Kevin got off to walk, but he’s a much faster hiker than me.

I made it to the top a little before him and took in the views, in a lot of ways it felt like Denali with these looming mountains in the foreground and they seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Kevin reached the top and was just dumping gorp into his mouth, saying that he was reaching his limit, I reminded him that we have been riding for 93 miles, which I feel like my gauge is skewed for long distance mileage, but for mostly off the couch for him, he was a champ for only bonking at this point.

We descended down, avoiding the puddles as best as we could and turned onto the trail that went by the caretakers cabin, we stopped to check in and asked about the water situation just to make sure we would have enough for the next day, they said they would bring some more by in the morning. 

We got to the cabin and were surprised by the accommodations, a stove burner, pots/pans and real silverware. We unpacked a bit and then decided to make our way to the hot springs. I’m not exactly sure what was going through my mind when I was packing but I did not include a swimsuit, and for some reason had a pair of underwear (again for being in bike shorts all weekend those were not warranted). I kept the sports bra that I had been wearing that day on, having a clean one for the next day and wore my sleep shorts to the cabin by the hot springs to change. I slipped into the hot springs and there was already a family in the other side, I told Kevin, given my white underwear situation we would be outlasting them to leave. I made sure to keep my head above water because brain eating amoebas and can’t be too careful with those.

We made small talk with the family, with them having moved to Nome recently and they talked about the decision to do so and where else they looked. After a while they left and feeling like our muscles had been sufficiently soaked we also got out to go eat some dinner. I laid out some of my gear to try and dry out before going to bed. 

In the morning I woke to the thunderous sound of raining hitting the cabin, it was so boisterous that it covered up the white noise that I had put on. I figured we only had 50 or so miles to go in it if we needed to and rolled back over hoping Kevin wouldn’t be in a rush to get going. The next time I woke up the rain had dissipated and turned again to a similar mist we had had most of the day before.

We packed our bikes back up, I shoved my still wet clothes into a separate compartment to try and preserve some of my other layers and we rode to the caretakers cabin to check out. We asked about some of the buildings on the property, specifically the church. They said we could ride over to it, it used to be an orphanage for kids’ whose parents died during the 1918 flu, opening in 1919 and was run by the Catholic Church before being returned to the tribe in recent years. He also explained the network of travel that the surrounding communities used to get to the area and the history of the landownership. 

We rode over to the church which was pretty dilapidated, I questioned out loud if history was repeating itself with COVID, a recent number was that 120,000 children had lost their primary caregiver in the US. I also thought about potential unmarked graves, the orphanage would have been removed from any village and wasn’t easily accessible in those days. The area had a former larger church, dormitory and school, and living quarters for the staff, which all remained somewhat identifiable. The site closed in 1941. We walked around a bit but didn’t go too close to any one building as they seemed near potential collapse, which surely would bury any secrets that remained in their walls. 

We left climbing the hill that had delivered us the day before. I kept glancing back to take it all in, would this really be it. 

We turned back onto the main road and on the first climb a truck coming down slowed to tell us there was a musk ox ahead. They continued but we weren’t sure how far ahead so proceeded with caution, and going uphill we weren’t exactly moving fast. We were talking when the musk ox poked its head around some shrubbery, it was almost like it was peeking out to say hello and then quickly disappeared behind the bush. Kevin yelled and waved his arms. “What are you doing?” I asked. “I’m letting it know we’re here” He replied. “What? They’re not bears, they’re more like buffalo.” I finally felt like I had knowledge to contribute. We took a wide berth around and part of me was worried that we would run into the entire herd reminding me of the times I’ve had to duck into cars when riding through parts of South Dakota to avoid the buffalo herds. Here, there would be no cars. We got to what we felt like was a safe distance and popped back on the road. I glanced back to see if the Musk Ox had made any moves but it seemed to have retreated further into the shrubs.

The weather cooperated for the most part with no torrential downpour or really hard rain, I kept my shell on for the duration of the ride and we stopped more frequently to eat food with the two previous day of activities finally catching up with us. At one point Kevin saw a bear on the side of a hill about 100 yards away, through the misty clouds I said I was pretty sure it was a brush or rock or something, ignorance is bliss.

We made it back to Tim and Burr’s without much instance and got showered and dried off. Friends of their brought over salmon for dinner, the friends live one month in Nome, one month in Missoula working for both healthcare systems. Oh, unusual work/life situations can work, especially given the remoteness of Nome.

Because of the rain we got to sleep with two dogs in the dog shed, as when it’s raining they don’t go into their kennel outside.

We went to bed and the next morning packed up our bikes and headed to the airport. We got back to Anchorage, unpacked our gear and I hit the harsh reality of what I needed to face, or rather still tried to avoid it.

I felt like it was an impossible decision and kept going back and forth with the pros and cons of staying versus going. At one point this summer, when I was packrafting, I flipped over in the water and was stuck in the boat underwater as the skirt that normally releases did not. In the time I was submerged I realized that no one was around to save me and was able to release the skirt and get above water and back into the boat. This decision felt like I was still submerged underwater and the skirt wasn’t releasing no matter how hard I tried. As any former partner of mine will tell you I get a little stressed about decisions and really they could all probably form a support group. I felt like either decision would have huge ramifications, if I stayed it could impact my job, and I love my job and the trajectory I’m on; but if I left I was giving up so much of my life. I couldn’t tell if by staying or leaving I was running from or towards my life.

It didn’t feel like Kevin and I were on the same page for any of it which was also really painful because I felt like in the backcountry and on these trips we were really the best version of ourselves as a couple but we couldn’t get that to translate to day-to-day life and logistics. Finally, Kevin released the skirt on my metaphorical packraft by telling me he wanted to break up [Or maybe we were both submerged underwater and he got out to swim to the shore]. Back in May he had made other housing arrangements when our landlord sold the house and it didn’t seem likely that I’d be able to stay. I didn’t know how to respond, I thought about staying but felt like without a job or a relationship it didn’t make such sense. At least in some sense with his decision, I was out of purgatory.

I also had to be in DC most of the month of September so decided to leave and then figure it all out. I decided to move all my stuff and ship my van, that way if I decided I didn’t want to go back I wouldn’t have to go back to deal with it. At each moment that required me to do something I tried to resist. It reminded me of when my grandmother died and the whole time leading up to the funeral I didn’t want to do any of it, I didn’t want her to be dead, and I didn’t want to have to acknowledge she was. This felt similar, I didn’t want to leave, and I didn’t want to acknowledge that I was. I spent the final two weeks mostly in a state of tears, one friend reminded me that everyone dies so we all technically end up alone anyways, another friend reminded me that everything I was going through was really challenging and these decisions weren’t easy. Other friends took me on final rides and threw Hail Mary’s my way, they would use my van, or I could store gear in their space but felt like it didn’t make sense to do that. And part of me wanted to leave in part to lick my wounds. But in a lot of ways I felt like I was losing so much more than a relationship. I dropped my van off for shipping, still not believing it was actually happened. I spent the last morning riding a trail I hadn’t done before with Rachel.

I kept reminding myself that even if I wasn’t moving I would be gone for September anyways so I just pretended that was the case. Later that evening, Kevin dropped me off at the airport, which felt surreal the whole way there, I even played Kesha thinking that something would prevent me from leaving. I got to the airport and that was it, time had run out and I hadn’t figured out any other options.

Leaving gave me some of the clarity I felt like I was missing in August, I wasn’t able to see the forest through the trees when I was in the thick of it. I also spent a lot of time this past month saying ‘be a river not a rock’. I felt like I was grasping so hard for an expected outcome that it was suffocating– one of the little girls that a friend used to babysit was so excited when she got a hamster that she squeezed it so hard that it’s guts came out. I feel like in a similar way I was squeezing so hard to how I thought things should be that all the guts came out.

Jurassic Classic

After the Kenai 250 I lacked substantial feeling in both my legs below my knees. I didn’t think it was super abnormal since it was impacting both legs and others had mentioned feeling similar numbness. But always a little more worried about nerve issues since I had some when I broke my right leg almost 10 years ago. It probably didn’t help that I caught a cold at the tail end of the race and spent most of the week after lying down and not doing a lot of moving. When I did start to move, it wasn’t pretty with my calf muscles feeling like they were on the verge of seizing up at any moment. Normally, I would just ride out the recovery period with swimming, foam rolling, and yoga. And I did, except for Kevin’s birthday he wanted to do a 100-mile human powered loop around anchorage. For his present, I ran the logistics (but also secretly love spreadsheets so really a present for me) and promised to do the whole thing.

Three days before the depart and the start of us staging gear, Kevin voiced concern about my inability to walk up the stairs. “Oh I’ll be fine.” But internally I wasn’t convinced realizing we would be hiking uphill and this didn’t exactly bode well. I immediately texted a friend who was a PT to help me speed up the process, they suggested calf raises which seemed counter intuitive to me, but it did help quite a bit or at least enough that I was able to convince myself it would be fine.

Commemorative Sticker

Doing the whole loop required massive gear requirements, two sleep set ups to be left in different spots, a mountain bike, road bike, hiking gear, and packrafting equipment. We also designed it so that people could join and leave the various activities at different spots. On top of our gear drops it also required the coordination of others’ gear depending on when they would be joining/exiting and a few car shuttles and coordination (spreadsheets, they are a lifesaver). Everything came together rather amazingly and so on Friday afternoon around 3pm we departed our house for Stage 1.

Stage 1 Mountain Biking- Home to Glen Alps Parking Lot~ 16 miles

Three of us left the house and headed towards the Glen Alps parking lot where we would meet more people. We started on the multi-use path for a few miles before turning onto the single track to take the hillside trails up. I felt mostly okay but didn’t really have much power in my legs but thankfully my body still seemed to know what to do when it was on the bike. I still got off at some of the steep inclines and did a little hobble up still not having full extension of my calf muscles. After we climbed the single track for a bit we started on the double track which I briefly recognized from skiing (having lived in Anchorage for 2 years I still have a hard time connecting everything).

We were also met with blustering wind coming down the hills. I put on more gear despite the fact that I was going up hill. We talked about the storm clouds ahead, they looked ominous and all of our checked weather forecasts called for no rain. As a result, Tyler didn’t have any rain gear with him and near the top it started to spit small drops of water on us. Instead of waiting near the trail sign we headed up to the parking lot. I took shelter on the side of a building and ate some pizza while we waited for the others to arrive. Tyler decided to not take any chances with the weather since we were about to go over the pass and opted for a ride down from the shuttle that brought Maddy and Brianna up.

Stage 2 Mountain Biking- Glen Alps Parking Lot to Indian ~ 14 miles

Powerline Pass is one that I’ve heard talked about many times but have never actually done– kind of like when I lived in Boulder for a whole year before I rode Flagstaff Rd. As you can imagine it gets its name from following the powerline up a two track over the pass to the other side. We left the parking lot and to start the climb that would eventually drop us down into our camp site for the night. We alternated positions and chatted catching up on recent summer activities for the first part. We encountered a stream crossing and the only two options were walk through and get our feet wet or try to navigate around. I, opted for trying to navigate around as I will always try to avoid getting my feet wet.

It required some hike-a-biking and patching what looked like would not be super marshy areas together but we made it and were able to get back on the trail. As we approached the steepest part of the trail I found myself lacking any real power in my legs and found it easier to get off and hike and push my bike– which is saying something because I’m a rather terrible hiker and more so when I have to push my bike.

With some 80+ miles left to go no sense in totally thrashing what little power I had left. As we neared the summit the wind picked up and some loose rocks tumbled down the side. Kevin reassured me (from his WFR training) that a fall like this would be very survivable with minimum damage given the slope. Not entirely reassuring and opted to continue walking my bike while leaning into the wind to counter those forces. At the top we moved quickly as the wind had picked up, so much so that my bike felt like it might get lifted and blown away.

We began the descent and would end up dropping 3,251 feet in about 4.7 miles. It took about an hour as we would drop down for a bit and stop to regroup and let our brakes cool off. I led the charge which I’m always grateful for not having to worry about navigating with someone in front of me but also the first to greet any potential bear– and made sure I was yelling at the top of my lungs as I couldn’t remove my hand from the handlebars to ding my bell.

Thankfully no bears and the side trail we hopped onto to head towards the cabin proved to be the correct one. We arrived at Christina’s and had tents set up and sleeping gear ready to go. Other than the small bit of rain on our approach to the trailhead we were only met with blustering winds which was nice.

Stage 3: Camping in Indian

Christina lives at the end of a dirt road in Indian which happened to be on the route making for a good spot to camp. We had dropped our tents and sleep gear the day before and when we arrived the tents were already set up (hostest with the mostest). More friends met us to camp with Tyler rejoining and Kelly also coming out to camp. We ate dinner and sat around the camp fire for a bit before Kelly suggested we play ‘bite the bag’. I definitely thought it was going to be a drinking game and just a different version of ‘slap the bag’. Instead it was quite literally biting the bag. You put the paper bag down and then everyone has to bite the bag without using their hands/legs on the ground and really only your mouth.

The kicker is that after each person goes you rip off about 1-2 inches from the top of the bag and go again. It was actually quite hilarious, mostly because there were various levels of flexibility. I opted out of the final round, which was barely off the ground, realizing that being so inflexible at the moment could be the straw that broke my whole system. We went to bed having informed everyone there was a curious bear in the area (but had not been seen for a week) and figured my chances of survival with all of us out there were pretty high.

Stage 4: Mountain Biking -Indian to Girdwood ~ 20 miles

When Kelly came to camp she also grabbed a tote we had left that was full of breakfast food and necessities. We heated up breakfast burritos, drank coffee, and talked about the day plan. Brianna wasn’t feeling super great having come down with the cold that we all had shared earlier and decided to drive back to town. I said the only caveat was that she couldn’t mess up my logistics. It ended up working as she would drive Tyler’s car back and he would ride with us to Girdwood and drive Julie’s truck back from there (like I said multiple logistics). We gained another person, Oscar, for this trek and soon we were on our way. The path was paved the whole way but to make it work we were still on our mountain bikes. The forecast again not calling for rain decided to open up a bit and we huddled under a tunnel to put our rain gear on. With all the gear changes it seemed less dire if we got wet so we didn’t waste too much time waiting for the storm to pass and kept moving. We were in the most exposed part of the trail during the most rain but again knowing you have dry clothes waiting is a game changer. We came around a corner to see a bull moose just to the side of the trail and we all stopped. He definitely noticed us so we backed up a little bit and discussed our options, we waited a little bit to see what he would do, he was definitely curious or at least not disinterested. We debated going back to the highway and riding around but that seemed less safe with the cars and where we would have to jump on. We thought of bushwhacking around too. Someone suggested going by to see what it would do. I’m still new enough that any animal encounter makes me nervous and I usually default to the local Alaskans. This option made me particularly uncomfortable and I voiced my concern. We talked through how it would go, Maddy would go first and if the moose engaged we would stop and reroute and then each of us would go one at a time. I decided to go last which I couldn’t decided if that was dumb or not since four people would have by before me but would also leave me to be the one he engages with. With each person going by he would watch but not move. Everyone had left and I pushed off from what felt like a very safe area, I turned my head away as to not unintentionally make eye contact and scampered by as quickly as I could turn my pedals. He again, just stared at me as I rode by and once we turned the corner and out his view I relaxed, my heart rate had peaked at 155 during that encounter and didn’t even come close to that the rest of the day. We cruised down the rest of the path with the rain stopping, half joking that Tyler ended up joining us for the worst weather section.

We turned onto the gravel road that would take us up to the next portion and on the road got passed by Rachel driving her car to meet us and deliver pastries (not part of my logistics). We got to another friend’s house where we had done a gear drop of mountain bikes, changed into dry clothes, reallocated food from the my bike to my backpack, did a double check of everything and took off (much quicker typing that than how long it actually took). We picked up Julie and left Tyler, Rachel joined us for pastries and then headed back to Girdwood and Oscar turned around to head to back to his car in Indian (running into two bear cubs on the way and opting for the road).

Stage 5: Hiking Crow Pass ~ 13 miles

Now the real test of my legs began. I warned Julie and Maddy that I still had some lingering numbness which limited my full range of flection and probably wouldn’t be going for any speed records. We started up the gravel road only having to walk a mile and stopping to filter some water before getting onto the trail. I had never done this one and feel like I always ask what to expect, mostly to manage my expectations but like most of Alaska it was a you go up for a bit and then down for a bit.

The trail slinks around the mountain connecting various mining areas to one another and other than some left over cables and a warning not to drink the water there wasn’t much sign of the mining activity that took place years before. We did go up, and up, and up. One steeper section was loitered with baby heads and I warned that I would have to go even slower. I had to watch where I was placing my feet and in the most literal sense because I wouldn’t be able to feel if I stepped wrong or not. I awkwardly made it up and we kept hiking. This summer I feel like I found a new appreciation for hiking; last summer if I was hiking it usually meant I wasn’t biking which felt like such a foreign concept that it was a rough adjustment. This summer, I feel like I was doing a better job at appreciating the different activities that Alaska lends itself too.

And I feel like I’m finally in the conscious competent category for hiking or at least I don’t cry as much. We kept going up and I kept turning around to look at the valley. Part of the valley hosts the most northern rainforest in the world so it was a stark contrast to look ahead and be met with tundra and turn around and be met with lush green expansiveness over the valley floor. We made it to the top where it flattened out a bit. There is a cabin at the top which I added to my running lists of cabins to go back to–during COVID Alaska kept their public use cabins open and each cabin has a journal where people write down whatever and it’s always interesting to look at the ones from the early days of the pandemic, how people were or weren’t referencing COVID and thinking about how it’s transpired over time in the log books compared to what was happening in the state (anyone want to help find me funding for that one lettttme know).

I was then told that we would have 7 miles of mostly downhill that would take us to our camp spot for the evening. To begin our descent we had to cross a river as there was no option to navigate around. I debated leaving my shoes on or taking them off. Taking them off I might risk getting cut or slipping on the rocks; leaving them on I risked having cold wet feet the rest of the night and tomorrow. I had a dry pair of socks but it felt like a false sense of security and so I opted to take my shoes off. I plunged on foot into the glacier fed river, no going back now, and started making my way across.

I was half way through when some feeling crept through the numbness and I immediately felt a rush of intense pain and my body not knowing how to respond. I stopped realizing that either way would be the same amount of time in the water but there was a brief moment of hesitation where going back to the side I just came from seemed like the better option. I had to override the decision and keep walking forward. I made it to the other side and put my feet into my hands to provide some warmth. It wasn’t so much how cold it was as the nerve pain that had accompanied the shock. I put my dry socks and shoes back on and my muscles felt somewhat refreshed, not that a 3 minute ice soak would do anything but figured maybe I would get some thing of a placebo value.

We talked about the nearby glacier and the ski traverses that people had done on it– glacial traversing still seems very much out of my bailliwick but my interest was piqued. We did one snow field crossing with Julie lending me her extra pole so I could have an extra touch point on the soft snow. I peered down the ravine and thought about what might await my body if I slid but decided it would probably be survivable.

The next snow crossing seemed even more perilous and the markings that were left didn’t exactly show a clear crossing so we navigated down to where it was a narrower crossing and made our way down diagonally, again crossing one at a time just in case. After crossing we traversed back up to the trail and soon we were out of the tundra and crossing a bridge over some untamed water.

We joked about whether or not Kevin was scouting to packraft this section as the river ran with such a force it felt as if it was trying to break out of the channel. We came into more shrubbery and continued to make noise to ward off any bears that might be on the trail. With about 3 miles left my legs began to ache from the downhill and the awkward immobility of not being able to push off when walking, going downhill felt more clunky than going up.

The closer we got to the river the more in the thicket we became, Julie and Maddy got some distance on us, with Kevin staying behind me, to make sure I didn’t get too far behind. At one point I rolled my ankle beyond where it should have gone by normal standards but by my standards since there isn’t much left there isn’t much to roll, I feel like Kevin was slightly horrified seeing this and also confused that I appeared fine. I think he thought I was rushing to keep up with Maddy and Julie but the truth is that my ankle just does that sometimes regardless of how fast or slow I’m moving and Kevin suggested we all stick together for bear awareness.

We made it to the campsite, pitched our tents and sat by the river to eat dinner. For most of the trip I had brought the same thing to eat, peanut butter and apple on a bagel. It required no fuel, no cook time, and worked for whatever meal time we were at. I still waited to eat with the others and used the opportunity to put my legs up on a tree and let the blood rush out.

We finished dinner, hung our food away from the camp, and crawled into our sleeping bags. It was fairly early by Alaska daylight standards but we had had a full day and being off my feet felt like a well earned reward.

Stage 6: Packrafting ~ 8 no make that 9 miles

It took me a while to warm up to the appeal of packrafting and it wasn’t until this trip that I saw the full utility of it. Some of my hesitation is that while the risk of something happening is low the consequences are high and that doesn’t exactly pair well for me being in the conscious incompetent phase of not really knowing what to do. Like my strongest skill for packrafting is swimming and with the primary goal being to stay in the boat it’s not really a harmonized skill set. The raft I had was light for hiking (3lbs) and had minimum accessories to it, I kept referring to it as the dinky but with it being smaller than a normal packraft found it more maneuverable by just sheer force but not as quick to respond to any finesse (which I didn’t have so it didn’t matter).

The river itself was mostly Class 1/Class 2 with no Class 3. Oscar shared beta the day before about the put in area saying that it’s has the most technical aspect of the whole float. We were able to see the rapids from our dinner/breakfast spot and talked about options. Being in the smaller boat with limited skills I didn’t feel super comfortable looking at the rapids– I mostly didn’t want to swim this early in the float and talked about portaging around the bend. Kevin decided to attach the scout (my raft) to his raft with his rope to pull it through the rapids since it was narrow and rocky where I would be walking around. Julie and Maddy went ahead with Kevin following, I scampered around the shore watching Julie and Maddy pick their lines and feeling secure in my decision as what we didn’t see was a little drop that was definitely more than I wanted to start the day with. Kevin approached and I was in line with him watching him go over the rapid, there was a brief moment where Kevin stalled in the pool and the scout got swept up and flipped over and I wasn’t sure if Kevin was going to end up swimming or not (I’m sure he was in total control but from my perspective and lack of knowledge of what was happening I couldn’t tell). At this point in my life I haven’t lost a close friend in the backcountry, I’ve had friends of friends die in avalanches, falls, mountain biking, drownings, but very fortunate that no one in my immediate circle but it’s an accepted unacknowledged (mostly, except when I’m around to talk about death) part of these pursuits is that at some point it’s very likely we will all lose someone close in the backcountry. Why did I just go on that little tangent, well when Kevin stalled and I wasn’t sure what was happening I envisioned him swimming and getting smashed into a rock and then his death would be a result of him tugging the scout through the rapids. I morbidly joke that if my partner is going to die in the backcountry I would rather not see it or be present. He made it through and met me at the shore to deliver the scout. They all commented about the rapid being a little more spicy than it seemed from our vantage point and agreed that I probably made the right call. I feel like learning a new sport is a master class in letting your ego go; it’s very strange to go from being very skilled and technical in one area (cycling) to knowing absolutely nothing in another and having to acknowledge limitations that don’t exist for others simply because they started sooner.

I got in the scout and we started floating down, one of the tips for new boaters is to follow a ‘mother duck’ down the river and take their lines so I would usually stick behind one of the others and they made sure that I wasn’t the last one or the first one but safely tucked into the conveyer belt. It was mostly smooth sailing though, some areas were shallower than others and my raft would awkwardly scrap the bottom as I would contort my body to shift my weight to try to keep moving. Someone made the comment about getting out of my boat to walk when it was super shallow which immediately reminds me that I’m not very competent at this activity — and sometimes that was easier to do but sometimes it also seemed more awkward and unstable in doing so. The water was tame enough that if I did get out and fall it would have (more than likely fine) and the boat would have been easily recoverable.

Until this trip I had only ever done road rafting which is shuttling on river sections to practice certain skills and get comfortable. Being on this trip I finally understood how you can look at a river and see a highway, as we were certainly faster moving faster than hiking.

Being on the river was also a different vantage point, if we had been on the trail we would have been covered in trees and unexposed to the views were were able to take in. We passed a handful of waterfalls, some of which Julie had ice climbed and she would talk about that experience. Sometimes someone mentions an activity and I think oh that would be fun to try, ice climbing has not been one of them but I do appreciate hearing about those adventures and mostly in awe of those who can.

We came around a bend and heard the thunderous escape of water and eddied out, we realized we had missed the take out by about half a mile or so. We got out of boats and pulled them in the water as we walked back up stream and then had to cross back over to the shore. We got to the take out, deflated our boats, pulled off our dry suits, packed everything back up and started the 3 mile hike back to the road.

Stage 7: Hiking ~ 3 miles

We hiked on the Eagle River Nature Trail back headed to the Eagle River Nature Center where we would meet Jay and our road bikes. The trail was mostly mellow and my legs were mostly okay but still kind of shuffling. We talked about the food we would eat, I had stashed a bag of chips in the van to have after our hike and plans for the rest of the week. While it’s a popular hiking trail there are still a few bear maulings that have happened there so continued to make some noise even if it was just in our conversation.

I jokingly tried to run towards the end but it was really more of a hurried walk with my feet barely breaking contact with the ground. We saw Jay and were ecstatic– one more stage– we had made it

Stage 8: The Parking Lot

Jay broke the news first that there were 4 bikes but only 7 wheels in the van– Oh no! My luck with the logistics had run out. Our plan was that Julie would drive the van back to Anchorage with Maddy, Jay, Kevin, and I taking our road bikes the 30ish miles back to town. Jay offered up his bike to me and I felt hesitant to accept so we hummed and hawed for a bit with Maddy also debating whether or not to ride. After a while in the parking lot and some restlessness to get going I realized that I could take Jay’s front wheel and put it on my bike. Maddy decided she would ride with us to Eagle River and then turn off for Jay’s house and Julie would drop Jay off before driving the van back to Anchorage (Yay! Logistics).

Stage 9: Road Bike ~ 30 miles

After I profusely thanked Jay for the wheel we headed out on the last stage. My body being unconscious competent knew what to do on the bike but there wasn’t much power in my legs to get up the hills. Maddy and Kevin would soar up the small inclines as I felt the gap increase meant I was surely going backwards but slowly I would catch them as they waited at the summit of each small hill. On one of the hills we were able to catch a glimpse of a full moon that had peaked out for a bit.

On the descents I would tuck and try to put a gap back on them which never amounted to much. We enjoyed the rolling hills that took us 9 miles back to town.

We split from Maddy at a stoplight with her going into Eagle River and the two of us continuing onto Anchorage. We both commented on how impressive it was that we only had 20 miles of the route that we didn’t have anyone else on. And both agreed that it was really nice of the friends who were able to show up in the various stages and in various ways.

We also talked about what it would take to do the whole loop self supported and I mostly just laughed. As we turned onto the path by Arctic Valley that would take us home I called another friend to see if she wanted to meet us to ride the last 5 miles, she was just getting into town but her house was on the bike path so we picked her up when we got to town.

We got to recap the past 48 hours of adventures telling her all the things we had done and relive most of the moments. We arrived back at our place almost 48 hours after departing. Early enough that we were able to do a final stage of dinner in Girdwood while picking up the gear from our friend’s house on Crow Pass.

Oh hey, my wheel!

At dinner we toasted to a very successful adventure, still somewhat surprised that the only thing I completely forgot was my front wheel but also somewhat bummed that the only thing I forgot was my front wheel. The place we had dinner have very similar vibes to the Chalets in Chamonix which almost transported me back for a brief time thinking about the adventures that I have been lucky to pick up along the way.

Girdwood or Chamonix?
Chamonix or Girdwood?

Last summer I really struggled with being in Alaska during COVID and this summer I couldn’t believe how grateful I was to be in Alaska and get another chance to experience a ‘real Alaskan’ summer. Thank you vaccines and lots of therapy.

While I put together the logistics it really couldn’t have gone off without the help of a lot of friends who shuttled/brought gear, gave us camp spots, let us do gear drops at their house, shuttled different vehicles, dropped pastries, and joined us in the adventures for however brief–especially those we kept joking were our ‘Platinum Sponsors’. I’m not going to name individual names because I inadvertently always leave someone off so if you are thinking you would be named, you definitely would be on the list. Let me know who wants in for the Winter Jurassic Classic.

Also a lot of people asked about the name so here it is. There is an event in Alaska called the Wilderness Classic (or The Classic) that is a backcountry adventure where you use human power to get from point A to point B all self-sufficient. Kevin had talked about doing it this year but some other things came up so when he was thinking about this he half joked that it was like ‘The Classic’ and then since it was for Kevin’s birthday I called it Kevin’s Jurassic Birthday Classic (which became Jurassic Classic). And then I kept being like well you know the Jurassic period happened where we’re doing this and then people would be like didn’t happen every where and I would say yes so this can happen anywhere. The other option was Kevin’s Abasic Birthday Classic but I didn’t want to have to explain that abasic sites are the result of DNA damage from the loss of a nucleobase by hydrolysis that then generate an abasic site but then I would anyways because I would be like well the other option was this– so hit me up for all your naming needs.

Kenai 250 — Finding Grace in the Alaska Wilderness

The feeling in my legs has almost entirely returned, my cough has subsided, my bike is finally clean, my bum has totally recovered and the Kenai 250 is starting to feel like a distant memory where the details are still fuzzy and you’re not entirely sure what was real or what wasn’t– that’s probably mostly due to the lack of sleep over 47 hours. A lot happens during an endurance race/ride/survive and long endurance event = long write up (#sorrynotsorry). Not sure what took longer riding or writing the Kenai 250. And to that point, a lot happened, some graphic information will be shared and not sure who this is entirely suitable for. But you’ve at least been warned.

When prepping for the 250 I had no idea what to do, 250 miles self-supported. I’ve never done anything like that. One year when I raced Leadville, even with a mechanical I only had 8 minutes of stop time and that seemed like a lot but that’s with bottle hand ups/food passed off, no real stopping to get things and knowing that if things really go south you can limp to the finish line (as has happened in previous races). I wasn’t sure exactly what I would need so was maybe a little over cautious in my packing but I ended up using everything I brought (except my bike repair kit–thank you Chain Reactions for the pre-race tune!). I was also unsure of food and what would be available so packed rice cakes, meatballs, sour patch kids, maple syrup, coffee and potatoes to at least get me through the first 70-100 miles.

Not pictured the 5lbs of Sour Patch Kids

Thursday night I loaded up all my gear on to my bike and caught a ride down with a friend to stay in a cabin the night before. It was nice because this way I wouldn’t have to drive home after the race but more importantly would not have to keep track of my keys for that amount of time (I couldn’t find my driver’s license for 3 weeks after so this was a legit concern). We went through final checks on our bikes, hung out with some other racers and talked about what the days to come would bring.

At the start, I did a last minute gear check, not that it really mattered at that point, was fully into the ‘rung what ya brung‘ mode. I checked in and made sure my tracker was turned on and then went to find Grande around the start, we chatted a bit about our logistics, we had loosely talked about riding together but neither of us wanted to hold the other one back so we said we’d see what the day would bring, I was hoping to at least be with her through Russian Lakes (mile 70 and a lot of bears) and then go from there.

Right before the start

The start was anti-climatic (unlike Leadville where they shoot off a shotgun, more like, okay you guys can go now) Unlike every other race I refused to sprint at the start– it’s 250 miles like we have time. Fortunately, Grande also was taking a more conservative approach and we rode side by side to the trail head chatting with others along the way. We tucked behind two guys on the start of the singletrack and kept chatting. I couldn’t tell if I was going too hard or not enough which was a reoccurring theme, sure I was going hard but it wouldn’t be hard enough for a 100 miles race but maybe too hard for a 250 mile race, only time would tell.

We stayed in the group for most of the way up Res Pass, gaining a few additions, we checked in at the top and everyone was good to keep going. We started the smooth, fast descent towards Devil’s Cabin and then down toward Cooper Landing, at one point we caught up to some of the guys I know and was so surprised that I asked what they were doing there thinking they must have had a mechanical or something, he responded same thing as you–oh.

We rode down until the trail split, I stopped and regrouped with Ana and Grande debating which way to go, most of the boys decided to go left we opted to go right knowing what that direction would bring (both ended up in the same place a few miles later). We cruised by the cabin that Alvin did his first bikepacking trip to and I remembered the trip out being pretty quick to the trailhead. And it was for us as well, we came down into the trailhead parking lot and was met by a group of people which again my first thought was, what are these people doing in this parking lot and then it was a quick realization they were there for us, we picked up a ghost rider, Gus (who is dating Ana) and headed towards Russian Lakes (very infamous for bears). We stopped by a water tap to fill up even though it required going beyond the trail, I ate some food and topped off knowing that in about 20 miles we’d be at Wildman’s and could restock.

First water stop

We headed back the way we came and turned onto the Russian Lakes trail, I’ve only ridden it the other way so only had some idea of what was to come. We talked as if our lives depended on it, which it did to thwart off bears, making conversation about nearly everything– we also sang, and I tried yodeling which mostly made me sad that I only knew the first line from Sound of Music, “High on a hill was a lonely goatherd Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo!” The last time I had ridden this trail I ran into a Sow and two cubs, the cubs were in a tree and the mom was on the trail so we turned around and went and ate lunch and then came back and they were gone but it seems like everyone has a bear story from Russian Lake and the amount of bear scat would certainly explain why. We ended up coming up on another rider, Duncan, who we had actually met last fall when we stopped to eat lunch on a trail and he stopped to join us. Riding with a group of 5 definitely made me feel better in our bear chance category, we passed the spot where I previously had the bear encountered and I warned of a deceptively deep puddle sometime afterwards but couldn’t exactly remember where, Ana identified it pretty quickly but stopped before submerging her entire front wheel. We stopped at one point to regroup and Ana mentioned having difficulty with her front brake, pulling the lever all the way back to the handlebar with no resistance. It was also maybe the worst mosquito area I’ve ever been in and was grateful when Duncan offered up some mosquito repellent while we assessed the situation. We thought maybe the line had lost pressure but upon closure inspection realized that the brake pads were completely missing and not in a worn down kind of way in a they fell completely out kind of way. We debated potential solutions and decided to ride the 15 miles to Wildman’s and get fuel and work on it there. After some bushwhacking on the final mile of the trail we emerged onto Snug Harbor Road, an 11 mile gravel road that would take us to the highway and to Wildman’s. We were roughly at 70 miles and I felt surprisingly good at this point.

We started cruising down the road and at one point saw a minivan that looked like mine, Grande pointed it out and it was another minute before I realized it was mine and Kevin was on course to see us, I didn’t stop and instead shouted, “we’ll see you at Wildman’s.” We got briefly on the highway before turning off into the Wildman’s parking lot. I went in to grab food and drinks while Ana worked on her brake and Grande held the bike.

I grabbed a handful of things still a bit unsure of what I was going to need for the next section, I was feeling pretty good and so wanted to focus on what was working because at some point I was convinced that it would stop working. We left the store, getting back on the highway before taking a 2ish mile gravel off shoot to avoid a no-shoulder zone and dropping out on the Old Seward Highway Road, a 10 mile gravel road that would take us to the Seward Highway. We got through that section relatively unscathed, I kept eating and drinking, or trying to, and we had multiple changes of clothes at the temperature started to flutter. As we turned onto the highway we decided to ride in a pace line to conserve energy and hopefully get there faster, we traded off pulls every 1-2 minutes and noticed the darkening storm clouds getting blown in from the sea.

We picked up another rider who joined in our pace line and soon we were pulled over and putting on our rain gear. It wasn’t raining hard but enough that knowing we’d be going through the night wanted to do our best to stay dry before temperatures plummeted. We did get caught in a bit more of a rainstorm but seemed to be out of it in about 20-30 minutes and mostly dry again before turning onto the Primrose Trailhead.

We picked up Kevin who would serve as a night Ghost Rider (someone who rides behind you but is there for bear safety/overall safety) and set up the trail. When we were still on the road I noticed some tightness starting to set in on my calves and was worried about cramping so downed some extra salt. We weren’t entirely sure about what we would be encountering at the top, reports of snow drifts and having to hike-a-bike for miles had been percolating the last few weeks but no one had real-time trail conditions so in anticipation of snow I had shoved my feet into plastic bags to create a moisture barrier and had latex gloves. Trail features that are normally familiar and rideable feel foreign under the added bikepacking weight and the previous 110 miles that my legs had already pedaled. Primrose, while normally has a few hike-a-bike sections, I felt like more hiking than biking going up. I figured the on and off the bike was upsetting my stomach as I started to notice it wasn’t settling right, I kept moving and kept drinking water hoping that whatever it was, it would be gone soon. Again, didn’t think this was too normal, most 100 mile races at some point my stomach gets distressed and its hard to take in any food/liquids and have found that to just keep drinking, tweaking what goes in a bit can do the trick to at least keep things going down. And not that rare that after an event I throw up. I tried to trouble shoot all while lifting my bike up over rocks and clamoring up behind, was it the salt, did I go too hard, is the temperature weird, maybe I need more gatorade, maybe I need less.

There wasn’t really any option but to keep going and that’s what I did getting further into a hole. I kept track of the 4 mile mark in my mind because someone had said that’s when the snow starts, when we passed it and there was no snow to be found I was pleasantly surprised. Despite my best attempts at mitigating my stomach I crossed the threshold where I realized my body was only interested in one thing: throwing up. I tried to fight it for a bit, thinking of the fuel that I would lose by throwing it up and how that would mess up my fueling plans but even trying to negotiate with my stomach was no use “you know you’re just going to be hungry later– or we really need this fuel.” But it was futile and at a moment of pause in the group, I put my bike down and slowly walked off the trail, near a tree. I’ve thrown up enough times in my life to be able to do it somewhat quietly but it was still apparent what my body was doing when Grande asked if I was okay– I replied “I should be now that I threw up.” What? Are you okay? Kevin jumped in quickly, “Don’t worry she does that a lot – she’s fine.” Okay mostly fine and sometimes do it so was hard to say exactly why I was doing it, stressed, tired, wrong food, too much salt, too hard, not hard enough, who knew, I didn’t. I knew I needed to eat as I just emptied all my stomach contents but that was challenging as my stomach settled briefly but then started to feel nauseous again. We kept moving, albeit, myself more slowly but at least we weren’t trudging through snow. I had dropped far enough back that Ana and Grande’s headlights became smaller and smaller beacons. We regrouped at the top to put on more layers before the descent. I didn’t feel great physically or in feeling like I was holding them back and wasting time waiting for me. I would often remind them that I would be okay if they left or needed to go faster but they seemed okay and after a while figured they would go if they needed to.

We started the descent down Lost Lake, which is arguably the best trail of the whole race so a little bummer to do it at night in the dark. While they call Alaska the land of endless summer sun, that’s not entirely true and we do have blips of darkness bookended by dusk and dawn. We were in the darkest patch going down. I led with Kevin following– fortunately I know my body and bike well enough and wasn’t too out of if that I was still able to respond to obstacles in the trail as they came up, which a few did. I also forgot about the drop off to one side so maybe going down in the dark helped. I would periodically remember to ring my bell to ward off bears and was mostly just screaming the whole time to try and let whatever might be in the trail have a warning. There was also a sense of if there is a bear there wouldn’t be much I can do regardless of my speed so will lean into the statistics that there won’t be a bear and just go (obviously a little tired at this point). We got to the bottom of the trail and regrouped in the parking lot, realizing that the lone van in the lot was a friend (who had done this multiple times and coached multiple athletes in the race) who popped her head out to chat. I don’t remember much other than sitting on the pavement and feeling the cold seep into my body.

She asked if I was tired, “No, I’m not tired, I have a deep rooted fatigue that sleep won’t even cure at this point.” Kevin also mentioned that if I didn’t sit/lay directly on the cold pavement I might be warmer, “Okay.” But didn’t move, laying down and taking in the cold seemed like a better alternative to standing.

I’m not sure how long we were in the parking lot, it seemed like seconds passed slow but minutes moved fast and before I knew it we were back on our bikes and descending down into Seward. We dropped Kevin off at the trailhead we would be back at soon and headed into town. We circled through town, riding by the Sea Life Center before heading back out to stop at the gas station. At the gas station I was trying to figure out what to eat, half my plan was to just make it Seward and restock but with my stomach the way it was, nothing seemed appetizing and so I wandered the aisles a bit, went outside, went back inside, and decided on some lime flavored tortilla chips thinking the salt would be nice and it was something my stomach hadn’t rejected yet. I smashed the bag onto a bike bag and strapped them down. The clerk inside told Grande that there was a food truck that did breakfast and opened at 4:30am. It was about 3:40ish so we discussed options, I liked the idea of getting real food and we thought maybe we could sleep while we waited. We settled on that, sleeping and then getting real food before going back out. Now we just had to figure out where to sleep, somewhere close to the truck, we scanned the area when Grande said, “I’ll be right back” and headed to the hotel across the street, 2 minutes later she popped back out, we can sleep in the conference room. She had gone in and asked if we could sleep in their lobby for 30 minutes and the clerk said, “No, but we have a conference room with couches.” We rolled into the conference room, setting our bikes against the wall.

Super lux accommodations

I was still chilled to the bone so put on my puffy pants and jacket over my cycling clothes and took off my shoes. We all ended up sleeping on the floor since there were only two couches and we didn’t want to get them dirty. I put my legs up on the couch and hoped that with the brief sleep I would awake feeling anew.

In the 30 minutes that we allocated for sleep I was in it deep and woke up not feeling super groggy but was immediately met with waves of nauseousness again. Oh geeze and was consumed with a few dry heaves having nothing left in my stomach to discard. We packed up and left as quickly as we had arrived.

Ana had left a few minutes before us to place our order and I was surprised at the amount of people who were already milling around at that hour in the morning. We got our food and I got an ice coffee and shoved it into my feedbag. I ate some of the hashbrowns, eggs and sausage mix and then packed the rest to go hoping that having real food over the course of the morning would do the trick.

As we were waiting for our food, Ana checked the trackleaders board after one of the guys told us we were in the lead the night before. The woman in second (assuming the three of us were tied for first) showed to be on a boat in Seward when we were getting food, a bit odd but maybe she had a friend with a boat in the harbor she crashed on. We started riding out of town towards the trail head when we pulled over to readjust some tings Ana checked again showing Jenny ahead of us now. The leaderboard only pulls data every so often so not weird to see jumps. I realized my body was not up to the task of chasing anyone down so I turned to Ana and Grande, “you guys should go, you can catch her, I still don’t feel super great.” Grande also suggested Ana go ahead, she hesitated, “riding with you guys is so fun though” “Yeah but you can win, and we’re old you should go!” And with that we decided she would go and we would probably fall off her pace at some point. We rode the rest of the road to the trail, I felt off a bit and slowed to throw up what I had just ingested, oh shoot, I decided then that if I threw up a total of 5 times I would pull the plug regardless. We met up with Kevin and Gus again at the Bear Lake trailhead and ran into Jenny, in bit of a cluster as we navigated the overflowing water on the trail. Upon reaching the singletrack Ana and Gus went ahead followed by Jenny, Grande, Kevin and I. We got distance between the groups pretty quickly on the trail. I had ridden this trail once before but that was not enough to fully prepare for what awaited me.

Bear Lake trail is a bit notorious, first any trail name with ‘bear’ in it tells you a lot you need to know, the other is that it’s a lot of hike-a-biking but especially this year with multiple down trees. We started and having to get on and off multiple times in the first part navigating short inclines and sketchy side exposure. There is one steep hill in the middle where we gain about 1,000 feet in less than a mile. We started pushing our bikes up and as we climbed I fell down into a darker hole. Having not been able to keep food down for almost 8 hours at this point and lugging a fully loaded bike up this hill was my breaking point. I started crying while trying to remain engaged with Grande and Kevin so they wouldn’t know that I was in it deep. I tried to keep drinking in hopes of settling my stomach at some point and getting some calories in so I could get out of this hole. We kept pushing up and finally got some reprieve at the top to pedal which was abruptly cut short by having to lift our bikes over a tree. Even the act of lifting my bike over seemed like a gargantuan task and took everything I had to be able to do it.

Me realizing I need to do more than one push-up a year

On one of the descents my tire slid out on a water bar and I crashed, ripping my shorts in the process, I got back on my bike and cried harder. Shortly after, I crashed again on another water bar, Kevin (having recently been WFR certified) called for a coffee break, “hey let’s just take a break for a minute” but also knew he was assessing me to make sure I wasn’t going to go into volume shock or something. At this point I had taken my inhaler three times and was borderline panic breathing on this section. I took a few deep breaths, I realized I had passed the threshold for my body and was in uncharted territory, I was riding super sloppy and at this point was worried about getting hurt worse, I voiced my concerns to Grande and Kevin. But we kept moving, I was ruminating over my dark thoughts when I was startled by another voice in my head “Have some grace” it was overriding everything else in a way. It repeated, “Have some grace with yourself, you’ve never done this.” And as quickly as it appeared it left again with a vacant silence filling the space. It did make a good point, I have never done anything like this before. In that moment I knew I was going to finish no matter what. I’d like to say that I rallied and pulled it all together in that moment but it was a slow crawl out of the dark space I had been in, my stomach was still uneasy but I was able to get in some calories which helped. We finished the trail and I was so relieved my tears of despair turned to tears of joy. We stopped before the next trail and had another snack. We continued on our way, slowly getting out of the hole, my stomach still didn’t feel great but I hadn’t thrown up in a few hours and was able to keep everything down at this point, albeit it was a minimal amount of food.

The best ghost rider

Seven miles later we were back in the parking lot that we had picked Kevin up almost 12 hours prior. We said goodbye to our ghost rider and got back on the highway riding for a few miles before turning off to take a 5-mile loop going up a double-track mine road, the instructions weren’t entirely clear so we bypassed the trail we were suppose to get off on and hiked up further before questioning and going back. I stopped to pee and as I crouched down looked down and was startled to find a deep red substance starting back at me. Now for anyone else it would probably be obvious that this is blood but remember I’m like 30 hours into this race and not expecting my period for another 2 weeks. I stared at it wondering if maybe it’s not period blood, is something else happening down there, am I chafing that bad, no. Okay, must be period blood, hmm well did not prepare for this. Thank goodness I had a chamois on. I decided to just go with it and free bleed, I didn’t have a tampon and thought maybe I would try to get one at the next stop. Once we figured out where to turn off the trail it was a nice two mile descent back to the gravel road to exit back to the highway. I saw my van, thinking Kevin was around but couldn’t see him and figured we had missed him so we kept going. We talked about how fun that little trail was but with only being 5 miles we wouldn’t exactly drive down there just to ride that trail but was cool to check out.

We were back on the highway and headed towards Moose Pass which would be our last stop in all likelihood since we wouldn’t reach the last one before it closed. We pulled into Moose Lodge and saw some friends in the parking lot, they said the food wait time was about 30 minutes, too long. Being low on resources I told Grande I was going to check out the general store across the street. I went in and still wasn’t sure what my stomach wanted so wandered around for a bit, seeing they made sandwiches I asked if they had gluten free break. “What is that?” What? I didn’t even know how to respond, “oh like wheat free, I’m allergic to wheat” “No, we don’t have that”. Hmm, okay I thought, “Can you give me $10 worth of just turkey meat?” “Yeah….we can do that.” I was also being mindful because I only had $20 in cash and it was cash only. I also grabbed two rice crispy treats and skittles. I went back to the Lodge parking lot, running in to go to the bathroom, still no tampons in sight but also after sitting on a saddle for 30+ hours I’m not sure I even wanted to mess with that. I also convinced myself that since I had already torn my shorts people maybe wouldn’t think that much of it but I’m also not sure I really cared at this point. But it was nice to finally be able to use some toilet paper.

We continued on the highway and making small talk to get to the next trail head, it went by briefly and we pulled in, seeing the van and thinking Kevin was in the bathroom we stopped for a bit but I finally yelled out and didn’t hear anything so we decided to keep going. We started up the trail and Kevin popped out of the woods to take photos, each time I saw him or the minivan there was a small rush of adrenaline that helped to keep me going.

I called out something but don’t remember what but took that little boost with me into the next section of the trail. I still had to walk up small hills as the weight of my bike seemed to be beyond my pedaling capabilities and power output at this point. The overgrowth wasn’t too bad and we kept climbing towards the lakes that would mean we could reap our reward on the descent. As we were approaching the lake we saw two guys laying down in the grass, we assumed they were racers but didn’t recognize them and only one had a large load on his bike. We decided to circumnavigate the creek crossing saving our feet from being wet and instead rode on the shore around and through parts of the lake which seems counterintuitive for getting our feet wet but Grande knows all the tricks. We descended down a rocky section and getting through it made me feel more confident, that I had gotten over the dark patch and my body knew what to do when it was on the bike again. We talked about how we only had one trail left after this and thought maybe we would finish at 10-11pm. We got down to the Johnson Trail parking lot and saw some people who were waiting we found out on the rider who had been sleeping on the side of the trail. Someone gave me some water and another friend pulled into the parking lot who had done this before, back when it was more of a tour and had camped out for a few nights. She said when she got to the split on the highway where you go left to stay on course or go right to take the quick way back to Hope, she realized if she took the right she would get there in time for last call so did that and bailed on finishing the event. I also had that realization, the split is 15 miles downhill on the highway to Hope, the course is about 35 more miles of highway/trail to get back to Hope. We stayed longer than we had anticipated and right as we were about to leave, Kevin pulled in. We briefly stopped to talk to him, “Caleb took 7 hours to go from here to Hope” “What?” We were thinking maybe another 3-4 hours. I had enough food for about 40 miles but I did not have enough food for 7 hours of riding. Alright well, I guess we should get going. We calculated it out, 7 hours would put us at 3-4am, we turned back onto the path next to the highway, we cruised down it talking about how we were feeling.

We also decided to charge our lights for when we would need them on the final descent which on our timeline would coincide with the darkest patch of the night. We cruised down the path and it spit us out at the juncture for Hope or staying the course. We stopped. Grande talked about pulling the plug, she had some things she needed to get done and didn’t want her partner to have to come get her at 3am to go back to Anchorage. I said I was going to keep going but in my mind was mostly just like “oh fuck, bears” but understood where she was coming from. We stood there for a bit longer and talked about what I would need for the final push. It took me a minute to realize, before exclaiming, “We have a minivan! We can take you back to Anchorage!” volunteering Kevin to drive us back after (which was the plan anyways just now with another person). “Yeah, we can fit all the bikes and us in the van and we’ll get you back so Dusty won’t have to come down in the middle of the night!” That was enough to make it work, we planned on stopping a bit further so Grande could call Dusty. I had rapidly been firing messages off to Kevin with my satellite phone that went like this:

 “Grand is going to head to hope, I’m going to try and make a push of it”

“We can sleep in the van in Hope or whatever after”

“Going to try and catch the guy in front of me to ride with”

“Scratch that– we’re going to drive Grande home with us and keep riding together”

None of these ever got delivered because I forgot to switch my bluetooth on (good thing I didn’t actually need to relay any important information) so after handing Grande her lights back (which she gave me when I thought I would be solo) we took on on the final push.

We started riding again, this time on the highway which was a bit of a slog, Grande put a gap in on me and I didn’t have it in me to catch and sit on her wheel. The race director pulled in front of me to see how it was going and to say he probably wouldn’t be at the finish line. I switched my rear light on for cars watching the miles tick by on my watch. Kevin again pulled in front of me, I relayed the whole scenario and apologized for volunteering him to drive us back, he was good with the plan and said he was going to head to Hope to get some sleep. He was also glad that Grande would be with me for this section, I said yeah me too, I understood her stopping but also didn’t fully process what riding in the dark by myself would have actually entailed. He left me and again I was alone with my thoughts, it was still too early in the race to even envision finishing so mostly just focused on one pedal stroke at a time. We stopped at the last spot before we’d lose service again until we were done, Grande touch based with Dusty, who said he would leave Anchorage when we were at a certain point. After what seemed like and was ages on the highway we finally reached Devil’s Creek Trailhead. We again saw Wes (the racer who was sleeping earlier) and his crew. He was going to sleep for a bit and then take off. We decided to start the push of what we hoped would be the final leg. We both felt good, not energized but not too tired and decided we would wait until the descent to use our lights so they would be fully charged. We left the trailhead around 10 or 11pm and still had some daylight, we descended down the trail which was a nice reprieve before starting our last climb. Okay, 10 miles to the Res Trail and that brings us back to Hope. Mind you it was still about 25 miles from the Res Trail to Hope. We started the slow climb up and at a few of the switch backs I got off to walk even though under different circumstances they aren’t too challenging to ride. Have Grace, it’s okay to walk you aren’t doing this fresh. As we climbed we got denser into the shrubbery and it got darker, we still refused to use our lights still anticipating needing them for the descent and so we plunged further into the darkness. Even with it being close to solstice there are waning period of lights, it’s not fully pitch black but easy enough to lose yourself in the darkness. There is something so lovely about the dark and it felt extra special being submersed it for how much daylight we had. In high school and most of college (much to my roommate’s dismay) I would do late night runs when the world was asleep and it felt like the night had stay up just for me. That’s how it felt now, as if we were the only two souls out there at the moment with the vastness swallowing up anyone or anything else.

 I thought about seeing a bear, if I would even see it, and surely I was going to so slow it wouldn’t be threatened, would I be threatened, all the adrenaline had seeped out of my body over the past 38 hours, my heart rate wasn’t even getting about 125, so if anything now was the best time to see a bear because in all likelihood I wouldn’t be able to overthink the situation. I also imagined that this is what it must be like to ride drunk as my front wheel would sometimes weave back and forth on the trail and I was grateful it never fully went over the edge. At one point we both realized we had gotten sleepy but were navigating how to assess the other person’s status. I told Grande something to the extent of you know I think I’m tired and could probably take a nap but not sure I’m fully tired and could also probably keep going. We had some coffee and kept trotting along but the darkness continued to steal our energy. “You know there is a campground just up ahead we could take a little nap, being in the dark made me more sleepy.”  “Oh yeah, that works for me.” We crossed through a river and took a bend in the trail which put us right at the campsite. During day trips I always found it strange it was there, only 5 miles from the trailhead who would ever use it. Luckily for us  no one was and we put our bikes down, pulled out our puffy gear and bivys (mine was really an emergency bivy which made me feel like a chipotle burrito. I thought about how close our bikes were to us and the food on it and then my eyes shot up worrying about the blood in my shorts, I wracked my brain trying to remember if it was an urban legend that bears stalk women on their periods or not. I convinced myself it must be but surely if it was true we wouldn’t be there that long. I clutched my bear spay harder and tried not to think of what I was potentially attracting. Wes rode by us not too long after we settled in asking if we were sleeping, Grande responded and he kept going. The alarm came all too soon this time and I asked Grande if we could snooze another 10 minutes, she agreed but this was a dangerous game as we were both master snoozers. In that brief time it was enough to have a very real dream of a man standing at the camp telling me it was time to leave and waking up to realize that my bear spray had nestled in under my back. We got up with the next alarm and put away our bivys, I mostly just stuffed mine away since folding it seemed to require too much brain power. We stayed in our puffy clothes to help warm up. We commented how we timed it right because when we woke up it was light enough we didn’t need to use our lights, so much for charging them the whole time. We stopped and filtered some water and I made some coffee. I tried to take some syrup in but my stomach immediately threw it back up, no matter we were close to being done and I was on fumes anyways.

Time seemed to be arbitrary during the race but this was 5:30am

We began to cross what was maybe the most treacherous crossing of the ride, Grande went first and started riding but soon hit a rock and tipped over submerging most of her body and bike into the water. The current was working against her, she wasn’t in any real danger just having to lift her bike back up and get out of the water. I felt helpless as I just watched as there wasn’t anything I could do from shore and she quickly exited the stream. I put together enough rocks to scamper across not caring anymore if my feet got wet. We came upon Wes who was sleeping in his clothes next to his bike, he stirred awake and asked if he could ride with us, sure no problem. We took off on a flowy section and about a mile later came to a snow crossing, I went to grab my phone to snap a picture but panicked when I couldn’t feel it—“I dropped my phone” I had it when we were coming up on Wes because I went to get a picture of him sleeping but then decided against it. I’ll go back and look, you don’t have to wait, Grande didn’t mind so she could change out her wet socks, I sprinted (or what sprinting looked like at 44 hours) back and right after we had seen Wes my phone laid in the trail, relief washed over me because in all honesty was going to leave it if it wasn’t there and deal with it later.

After finding my phone

I got back to Grande and Wes and took off realizing we were close to the summit maybe a mile or two away. Still too soon to think about the finish. We regrouped at the summit, realizing it was mostly downhill I pulled out my speaker to blast some tunes—not so much for us but for any potential animals and anyone coming up the trail. We rallied down, hooping and hollering (or at least I was), my body in perfect sync with my bike as I navigated the trail, pure trail magic. There were six brief uphills on the trail which we regroup on during the first five. On the last one Grande and I waited a bit for Wes and ultimately felt bad ditching him but we were close enough to the finish and he had given us permission. We took off down the trail and crossed the familiar bridge that had led us up the trail nearly 2 days earlier, okay now just 6 miles into Hope. We cruised on the road, stopping briefly to take a photo with a sign for the Kenai 250 riders.

We chatted about what had transpired over the past two days and both agreed we’d probably do it again (this was Grande’s second time). We turned onto the mainstreet of Hope and to our surprise there were actually people waiting for us, I scanned the crowd and with my terrible eye sight only made out Grande’s dog, “Lil Snugs!” I yelled, “oh man we’re here”.

Seeing the finishing line made me realize I was actually going to finish

And we rolled into the finish but were quickly told that we actually had to ride another 20 yards to the official finish, which we did and then came back to meet up with our friends. We arrived in around 47 hours and soon were swapping stories with other finishers and friends. I love sharing the individual pursuits that we all collectively experienced. It really was a different race for everyone out there. Grande and I even joked that we won’t ride together unless it’s at least 200 miles.

Felt like I had just won Miss Mount Rose
For not being allowed an official crew, this guy sure showed up a lot during the race

Kevin took me out to breakfast which when I ordered two dishes the waiter thought I was ordering for Kevin and I but had to quickly correct him that they would both be for me. The recovery period proved a bit longer than anticipated, I quickly came down with a cold and spent most of the following week taking it easy. But fortunately was able to recover in time to participate in the Jurassic Classic.

A nice change from the sour patch kids

Riding the 250 was like finally being able to exhale. I had no idea how much my body missed riding/racing until I was back doing it. And I wasn’t exactly sure if those deep reservoirs still existed after taking time off to study for the bar and then COVID. What was I made of, who was I, could I still consider myself and endurance racer even if I had not done any race over 45 minutes in 2 years? The rhythmic turn of the pedals allowed my brain to finally stop turning and just be, to exist, not worry about COVID numbers, data, work, or what the future might look like, all I had to do was pedal and that’s what I did.

Roads that lead us home

Over the course of the race a good family friend died, I got word when were in Seward before the hellacious trail and before my moment of grace, after the race I texted one of her kid’s this, “I got notification of your mom passing when I was on course, a few blimps of service kept me updated and my mom told me when I was about 130 miles in and headed for the hardest section of the race – I often think a lot of the draw of doing endurance events is how ethereal the next world feels, like a thin veil and often finding myself thinking of the grandparents, songs will come on that I’ve associated with them for years and I feel like they’re right next to me. When I was in the thick of it during the 250 and I mean the thick of it like I had never been before while racing—I had thrown up twice, was crying, was pretty worried about how I was riding and how I was going to continue, there was an overwhelming presence that just drowned out all my thoughts and told me to “just have some grace, you’ve never done this before” I’d like to say in that moment I turned things around but truth be told it was a slow process out of the dark hold but it was the start of crawling out of it. I didn’t think much of it at the time like maybe my body had finally had enough fighting and it telling me to go with it but also not fully convinced it wasn’t one of the grands or your mom reminding me of my own strength when I was doubting myself (as is so often done).” Maybe it’s this draw of tapping into this infinite grace that exists but is so easily drowned out by the daily hustle that continues to draw me to trail. The stillness and simplicity of just having to pedal.  

Big thanks to Grande for riding with me, Ana for hanging with us the first day, Kevin for being everywhere during the race, riding with us, taking photos, and just silently encouraging me when I was near my breaking point. Rachel for being a “gold sponsor” and loaning me the bike repair kit + all the bike bag gear (one day I will get my own). Chain Reactions for getting the bike in race shape so I did not have to use my bike repair kit. Juliana Bicycles for making such a rad bike. The race organizers for putting together this amazing event– and mostly everyone reading this and who followed along while we were out there. It’s such a fun little event and I was blown away how many people reach out after to say that they had so much fun tracking us– here’s hoping to recover fully in time to do it next year- ha

No Sleep Till Valdez

When people are dying or faced with the prospect of dying they talk about home–either where they came from or where they hope to return. Which is how I learned a lot about the remote places in Alaska; someone would come in and their story would come out about their village, their way of life, their lineage. I would often nod along as if I knew the reference points they were citing. After I was in the clear I would quickly google to learn where the place was located and would soon find that no roads enter/exited the community. Which is still hard for me to fathom, at times Anchorage feels isolating. Through these conversations it painted a picture of Alaska that is often overlooked on a map. And from staring at those maps it’s also how I learned that there are only 5 highways in the state or at least primary highways, Glen Allen Highway, Seward Highway, Richardson Highway, Dalton Highway, and The Parks Highway (which you would think is after Denali National Park because it takes you there but is in fact after a guy named George Parks, first resident governor of Alaska). In my time here I’ve actually only driven on three of them, The Glen (arriving and leaving), Seward, and the Parks Highway. Dalton goes to Valdez and Richardson (fame of Ice Road Truckers- I think…) starts at Prudhoe Bay and runs down to Fairbanks.

Nothing a little super glue and duct tape couldn’t fix when this happened right before we left

Which means in my planning a trip to Valdez I only had minimum navigation. I convinced a friend, Grande to come, which really didn’t require too much convincing other than “hey want to ride to Valdez and catch the ferry back” and coordinating schedules. The trip is about 300 miles so we figured we would ride Friday/Saturday and then ferry back on Sunday. Only after selecting the one weekend that really seem to work for both of us until July or August we realized we wouldn’t be able to leave until at least 2pm on Friday. That’s fine, we’d probably only ride 100 miles on Friday anyways. We continued with our planning which wasn’t much and really only figuring out stove requirements, tent set up, and potential camp spots. Kevin has never witnessed me prep for an adventure like this and suffice to say I think he was shocked at how little effort I put into the logistics. But also felt like there wasn’t much beyond what we figured out, leave time, stop places, and when to show up to the ferry. I packed my food, which ended up being enough for a week, sleeping gear, riding gear, and a few extra layers. I didn’t checked the weather till the day before because as I told Kevin it doesn’t really matter since this is the one weekend we can do it, we’ll ride in whatever.

Make your friends ride for 200 miles and take photos like this haha

In what should surprise no one, we didn’t actually leave Anchorage until 4ish on Friday which resulted in Grande’s husband driving us up the road to start. We shaved about 50 miles off and got dropped off in Palmer which also meant less traffic on the highway. I rode with a tail light and we both had safety vests, although Grande’s mostly put mine to shame but we did what we could to be seen. I still struggle with riding on the highway and even in town, I can do everything right, lights, vest, stay on my side/area but all it takes is someone deciding to look at their phone, drive under the influence, or become distracted and that’s it. We had all positive and/or neutral interactions with cars so that was nice. Most of our ride followed the same pattern, ride, pull off to change gear, ride some more and then figure out where our next stop was. Grande’s husband had connected us with a friend who had some land we could camp on near what we anticipated being our first stopping point. We got ahold of him and got directions and after about 4 hours of riding we turned off the highway and descended down a gravel road that gave us a full vantage point of a glacier. We got a little bit turned around and ended up calling him again to get direction and he offered up his arctic oven tent for us to sleep in. We made it to his property and we were amazed at the views he had, he was working on building a cabin but for the time being had a sauna and outhouse which is really maybe all you need? We made camp in the tent he provided and ate dinner with a view point of the glacier.

We got into bed and then tried to factor what was the last possible time we could wake up without getting into Valdez super late and settled on 6am, both being master snoozers it was closer to 6:30 when we actually arose. We packed up, unable to figure out how to get water from the tank on the property and decided to ride the 4 miles to Sheep Mountain Lodge to fill our bottles.

When we got to Sheep Mountain we also ordered coffees and then we got breakfast but figured it would be to go and then we decided to just stay and eat. I got another coffee and then about an hour later we were back on the road, having only tackled 4 miles of the days journey.

We decided that when we saw a spot for water, we’d stop just to make sure we wouldn’t run out but otherwise the next juncture would be Glennallen, about 70 miles away. I was told that it was mostly downhill but having lived in Colorado my judgment of downhill vs uphill is a bit skewed, what I envisioned was all downhill with minimum pedaling, what greeted us instead was rolling hills and with an overall decline in elevation. It was also strange because the only time I had been on this road was entering and exiting Alaska, and the current landscape was a stark contrast to the last time I was out there, dark, snowy, cold, alone— now it was mostly sunny, some warmth, greenery for miles with mountains on the horizon, and also not alone. 

Mostly a lot of this

We arrived in Glennallen and opted to stop at the grocery store over the gas station, we took separate turns going in getting food and then sat on the picnic table outside to eat a bit before getting back on the bikes. It was about 2 pm at this point and we realized we still had about 115 miles to go, which was almost comical but we kept joking we just had to be in Valdez in time to catch the ferry which didn’t leave till 11am the next day so really plenty of time.

When you really have no idea what you’ll want during a ride

We turned right out of town, our only real turn of the trip and headed towards Valdez. The mile markers counted down towards our destination which was nice because I’m terrible at math but also at moments of slowly ticking by, depressing. The only thing on this route worth noting was Thompson Pass but we were unsure of where it actually showed up in the route. Grande had done this ride but as part of a 400 mile race and had never actually seen Valdez in the daylight as she got to town at midnight stopped at the gas station and then turned around and headed back out. She also warned me that when you get done with the pass there is still like 15-20 miles of riding into town.

With less traffic we rode side-by-side for most of the stretch and trading off leads when cars were approaching. We spent time talking about everything and nothing, being in the bike industry, work life balance, dog life, and getting back to racing when your fitness and speed isn’t where it used to be, among other things. Really it’s easy to find things to talk about when you have nothing else to do but pedal. We kept an eye on the impending clouds in the distance and some scattered sprinkles throughout the day led us to multiple gear changes. We kept joking that we didn’t care what the weather did when we were riding so long as it was “sunny for the cruise” on Sunday. We noticed some cars coming towards us with their wipers on and stopped to put on more rain gear getting back to riding just before getting caught in a storm, water gushed down filling my shoes with ice-cold water. Everything else remained mostly dryish or at least not terribly uncomfortable.

Once the rain stopped and we had dry roads for a bit I started to calculate how much further we’d have as my feet had become frozen from the rainwater and then the dropping temperature. Hmmm, about 5 more hours, could my feet make it in this condition, unlikely. I have my sleep wool socks I could switch out that would at least get them dry and some toe warmers I could put in so if they were warm would not be worried about any damage. I asked Grande to pull over, we also debated hitching a ride and decided that if I car stopped we would get in. I started peeling off my wet socks and replacing them with dry socks sticking a toe warmer on top before sliding them back into the damp shoe, the wool sock and toe warmer created some barrier to prevent the cold from seeping into my toes and I decided this would be fine. Left with an extra toe warmer I decided to stick it to the back of my neck as a way to get warm blood flowing through my body — only the next day when I peeled it off did I realize why they recommend not having it placed directly on ones skin as I had a nice little burn spot– in the moment the warmth took over and I didn’t even realize it was burning through- oops. In case you’re wondering no car stopped and we kept pedaling on.

When it’s 10:30 pm at night but you have no idea since it’s still so light out

We reached the Thompson Pass summit just around midnight but at this point hadn’t even pulled out our riding lights, with only dusk settling in around us. I pulled my headlight out and switched it to a red light to have a taillight for the descent (since mine died) and Grande used her headlight, between the two of us we had a complete set which is more than I’ve had in previous rides. We started the descent and the drop in elevation made it seem like the darkness grew quicker as we were also getting overshadowed by the mountains we had just climbed. Still mindful of traffic we pulled off each time a car was behind us which made me realize how little of a shoulder exists on this side, and also encountered the highest stream of cars in a one section of the road with 4 cruising by us all around 12:30am, which made me question why they were out so late but they were probably questioning why we were out so late.

We got to the bottom and I was met with resign as the mileage post still showed 20 miles into Valdez, what a buzzkill, even with Grande’s warning. We stopped and did jumping jacks to warm up because at best we had another hour of riding and at worst, well longer. The rest of the road was at least positioned on a decline so while we were pedaling, less effort was required, or we were doing less effort since it was 2am. The road into Valdez is littered with waterfalls and the thundering release of water echoed through the canyons as we approached. It was really pretty, even in the dim lighting and made me wish I could see it in the daylight. Grande pointed out which waterfalls were popular for ice climbing–while Valdez is a premium destination in the winter for skiing and ice-climbing it didn’t seem like there was a lot to do in the summer other than hike around.

We finally got to town, or where the mileage posts stop counting and came to a darkened intersection. A lighted gas station was to the right, what appeared to be a giant hotel of some monstrosity was to the left across the water (we realized the next day it was the oil pipeline terminal) and some faint lights were a little in front of us. Huh, we pulled out our phones to look up a hotel and make sure we didn’t have to do any extra pedaling, we found one 3 miles away in the area with all the other hotels. How is this where the highway ends but the town doesn’t begin for another 3 miles. We joked that we only have 3 more miles to go, what’s that on top of the 201 we’ve already done. We got to the hotel and was greeted by someone who gave us a room key and told us what time breakfast was. We made it to the room, turned up the heat, showered, and then both put on our puffy clothes and climbed into our sleeping bags in the beds– yes we had been that cold for that long.

We got up the next morning just in time to get the continental breakfast and then rode over to grab some coffee. We ended up chatting with a guy who started talking about the oil spill (okay maybe I started talking about the oil spill) but he basically works for one of the citizen non-profits that was started after it so talked about how it was a catalyst for changing the laws and regulations in the oil-industry and how there is community and citizen oversight with what is happening from an environmental standpoint. He also mentioned how everyone always said it was a matter of ‘when not if’ the big one would happen. Which took me back to closing remarks on the PIP Framework at the World Health Assembly in 2017 where the chairperson said the world is not equipped for a pandemic and it’s not a matter of if but when. So maybe post-COVID we’ll have some new laws/regulations that foster the development of public health agencies and response to disease outbreaks. But who knows, the Valdez oil spill is 30 years out and the impacts are still being felt in surrounding communities.

After about a 45 minute break and two coffees we headed to the ferry where we checked in, the documents that I had been carrying for our vaccination proof were no longer necessary as of that morning–given that most of my work is on COVID policies I asked what changed, the guy didn’t know but he did say they weren’t necessarily doing anything with them anyways in terms of contact tracing more just served as a reminder for people that COVID was a threat. We got on the boat and took a seat outside with another cyclist joining us and we discussed our approach to getting through the tunnel since we weren’t allowed to bike through.

Sunny for the cruise!

The tunnel is a single lane tunnel that connects the town of Whittier to the rest of Alaska, there is no other way around. Pretty soon a couple came up who asked if we were the cyclists but I’m pretty sure the gear we had on gave it away. We talked with them for about an hour and then we asked if they would be willing to drive us through the tunnel, which they didn’t hesitate in their response and were convinced that three bikes would fit in the back of their RV. We spent the next few hours basking in the sun, which as we had requested it was “sunny for the cruise” and taking naps after our lack of sleep the night before.

We docked in Whittier found our ride and got to the other side of the tunnel, with a 5am meeting the next morning I wasn’t sure I had 50 miles of pedaling in me but luckily Grande’s husband came and met us about 8 miles from where we got dropped of– I was especially grateful given the headwind we were battling.

I signed up for the Kenai 250 which is happening this weekend, it’s 250 miles connecting the trails on the Kenai Peninsula. It was one of those things that didn’t appeal to me until it did, or maybe Rachel and Grande finally got to me. It scares me (but in a good way, Mom!) because I don’t know what my body will be like at hour 20 and there is a very real possibility that I will not finish– and I haven’t felt some of these feelings in a long time — it’s very similar to how I felt when I first started racing 100 milers like I didn’t know what my body was capable of or where the limits existed (if they do?) and the very real possibility that my body will break down and I’ll have to pull the plug. So it’s a lot of confronting insecurities and uncertainty all while trying to figure out what I’m going to want to eat at hour 32 and wondering if I will in fact regret not carrying an extra pair of shorts when I run into a bear by myself and pee my pants. I keep reminding myself that it’s okay to stop when I stop having fun (and that’s my general approach to bike racing) and that I have more value than my best (and worst) place finishes. It’s strange because I still consider myself an endurance racer but I haven’t done a long race in almost 3 years now (bar studying and then COVID). And I think some of the uncertainty is if I don’t finish how will I define myself, can I still be an endurance racer or do I get demoted to ‘attempted endurance racer’. Only one way to find out…

It starts on Friday (tomorrow-eek!) and I really have no idea how long it will take- anywhere from 38-55 hours. There is still snow for a good portion on one of the trails so that section will be slow going. I’m not planning on sleeping much, beyond a few 20 minute naps if needed and instead trying to push through– but if I do get stuck out the second night will probably try to sleep a few hours and then continue on. I’m probably most nervous about dealing with bears but as a friend who has done this before told me, bears hate Beyoncé so just blast that (also currently accepting other song recommendations). If you are so inclined to follow along you can track me at: http://trackleaders.com/kenai21

And if you’re even more inclined to track me and come find me on the trail to ride with, well that would just be the best! I’m low-key pretending it’s my going away party because at some point I will be leaving Alaska for DC (which, yes will be of a rough transition– no saying if I’ll be able to stay away though so come celebrate at your own risk).

But it might also just be a lot of this + bears sooo

Radical Hope

In the past months I have started and stopped writing more times than I can count, thinking I needed to find the right words for the right audience but I’ve realized that I don’t do this for you I do it for me and if I’m trying to craft the right words for the right reader well then that will never happened because who is the right audience (like besides my parents who already get mini life updates 3-4 times a week).

I still spend a lot of time working on COVID so it still occupies a lot of my mind (globally, we had our highest daily case count this week) but with the vaccines coming online here it feels like I can breathe easier knowing my parents, family, friends, and community are protected. Then I feel guilty because all of those individuals who still can’t access the vaccine while still tracking everything that is happening worldwide and knowing that our individuals actions can have large and lasting impacts beyond our immediate contacts. I’m sure it’s been a wild ride for my therapist and she’s probably learned more about pandemic preparedness and vaccine deployment than she probably ever anticipated knowing about. And it’s been exhausting to see peoples’ response and while I won’t get super deep into my thoughts I will say that I hope when this is over we invest in public health, education, and mental health resources.

Alvin did become a pretty good trail partner

To catch you up from last fall I drove through Canada while the border was closed, with Alvin- the best backseat driver. I didn’t think I could handle an Alaska winter during COVID and it was the longest I had not seen my parents in person like ever (which is very fortunate). We left here in late October (figured if there was a coup during the election resources to Alaska would be cut off first– and that was only funny to joke about until an insurrection happened).

When I drove up to Alaska I promised on my return I would not do it in that amount of time again, I’d take like 2-3 weeks really make a trip of it, well I at least kept half of that promise and did not do it in the same amount of time, but rather quicker. The border was closed (and still is) except for essential travel. My plan was to drive most of my things down before the roads got too bad in case work was like hey we need you in DC and honestly was not sure I could handle Alvin flying beneath me in cargo, let’s be real. I had to show way more documentation to get into Canada than I thought was possible (they did not even seem to care that Alvin was vaccinated). I was given strict instructions and a number to call if I developed symptoms on the drive. It wasn’t too bad just long, and having Alvin at least forced me to stop every few hours to get out and walk around.

When we got to the US border I was met with one question, “where did you stop” and well because I’m me had a list of all places that I had stopped even briefly in case they needed to contact trace, I handed them the list and he goes “oh no, we just need to know if you have any fruits or vegetables that could be carrying something” I looked at him as if I was not the potential carrier of something. I said I had no fruits or vegetables and he waived me through (again not concerned about this wild village dog). I turned my paperwork into the Canadians to avoid getting a bench warrant on me and entered the US. After another 12 hours of driving, and quarantining before hand, I finally made it to my parents and was oddly relieved to see them alive (even though weekly Facetime calls told me they were).

I planned on going back to Alaska and decided to sign up for a running race the first week of March figuring it would give Alvin and I something to do while we were home. And it did, I spent most of the time hiking, trail running, and entertaining both Tenzen and Alvin.

I found a friend to run with who knew the trails in Wind Cave, which I had never spent much time in because too many snakes in the summer but with winter only had to do a few bison detours. And she was even down to run 15 miles without thinking twice about it.

I left Alvin at home when I came back to Alaska because I wasn’t sure how long I’d be staying for. It was incredibly challenging, because we had basically spent the past 9 months together like all the time and obviously very worried about traumatizing him by leaving him with Tenzen but he seemed unfazed by it, probably had to put up with more in the village. I do get daily updates and pictures from my parents, and my sister has sworn that she will not be getting a dog (as my parents are currently watching both Frank and I’s…)

I came back to Alaska and continued running and started skiing more which was similar to a baby giraffe figuring out what to do with its legs but had kind friends who would take me out, share tips, and wait for me as I side stepped steep hills (you’re welcome mom).

I did the Homer Epic and raced (ran) 30 miles, it was a time trial start with each participant spaced out by about 30 seconds so I started alone and spent most of the day alone. I figured it was a good way to get to see Homer, albeit a bit slow but it was a blue bird day so could not complain.

I felt great until mile 12 and then the snow lost it’s firmness and it became soft and squishy with a sideways wind picking up the snow and whipping it around me, reminding me that it was in fact a winter race. I made it to the half way mark and recognized one of the aid workers from previous bike races, we briefly chatted and then I took off again. Because of COVID I didn’t make any plans to stop at aid stations and carried what I thought I would need in my backpack and then Kevin carried other things I thought I might need and met me at two points, mile 10 and around mile 21.

After the halfway point I started what seemed to be the only climb of the day, or at least memorable one, it seemed to go on for about 3 miles. It started with a short climb that made me think it was over but upon cresting the summit realize there was still more to come, I started the downhill before getting to the next uphill approach when a woman rode the opposite direction towards me, she yelled something like, “woohooo go lady!” And that was enough to make me cry, like full on sob, I think because in that moment everything felt so normal, like every other race before there there is always someone yelling “go lady” or “girl power” or cheering in some form and it felt just like that, except it wasn’t, we were (are) still in the midst of a pandemic that had claimed so many unnecessary lives, caused so much financial upheaval, and torn at the very fabric of our society. So I think it was a culmination of things, plus having ran like 17 miles before maybe didn’t help my ability to control my emotions but then I cried most of the way up the hill and just like embraced it, like let it all out and it felt real good (or maybe it was the runner’s high).

I met Kevin at mile 21 and was very much looking forward to the processed turkey meat I made him haul out for that mile. I ate the food from him, lamented on how much I wished I was running on concrete since the soft snow had been my nemesis for the past 10 miles. Kevin packed up to ski back to the finish line, but it was rather anti-climatic as he never fully disappeared from my viewpoint for a few miles. I finished in around 8 hours and got 2nd (but the field was very small, although more than 2). The finish was pretty anticlimatic too, I almost tripped going across the finish line and then walked to the car and convinced Kevin to get takeout food from Alice’s Champagne Palace and that was it.

I took a few weeks off and putz around going back to skiing and lifting and then realized it was March and should probably start thinking about biking–got a little thrown that spring was here given how much snow was still around. I loosely started training and have some things in mind for what I want to accomplish this summer/fall but feel like it’s still too premature to state concretely that I’ll be doing these things, like I’ll somehow jinx it and will spend another summer grieving for time that keeps marching on. It’s been nice to get back on my bike, last summer I struggled without much structure in place, among other things, and I feel like my risk factor assessment was skewed in being able to properly assess what was required of me and others.

My academic training taught me a lot about how to prepare for pandemics but in all of those years studying I never once stopped to think about the day-to-day life of the people living through an outbreak– again law focuses on facts and not feelings. But now I realize how detrimental it is to neglect feelings and human behavior and I’m sure all the behavioral scientists are like yeah, duh. After the Exxon/Valdez oil spill a lot of researchers moved to the area, scientists, toxic marine biologists but also sociologist and anthropologists. We had never dealt with an oil spill of that magnitude and weren’t exactly sure how to respond, like after the crash happened nothing happened for 3 days, the oil just stayed in the water while people tried to figure out the best course of action for retrieval, the 4th day a huge storm moved in and displaced the oil up and down the coast of Alaska going from an isolated area to impacting many small communities that rely on the water for fishing and other ways of life. A class action law suit happened, with something over 30,000 plaintiffs but as my dad will point out, justice is not always swift with the lawsuit dragging out for more than a decade. The lawsuit got appealed all the way to Supreme Court and they did in my opinion a terrible job of articulating what punitive damages are for– basically reducing them from an initial award of $5 billion to then $2.5 billion at the Court of Appeals and finally to the Supreme Court saying that punitive damages for maritime related cases should not exceed compensatory damages which was an award of $200 million. So Exxon went from losing one year of profits in punitive damages to 1-2 days. But in exchange we’ve recovered 8% of the oil that was lost. Why did I just tell you this rather depressing information, well because in addition to this legal information, we have sociology and anthropology research that came out it too. I’ve often found the law does an awful job of telling the true realities, which makes sense because you want facts and not feelings making legal precedent but as I’ve written about before, law school only teaches case law and not the human emotions that go into walking into someone’s life on their worst day, as I often felt when walking into a patients room to complete a Will so they could be discharged into hospice and die. My story stops at completing their will and their story stops shortly after but there is no mention of the turmoil one goes through in having weeks to get their affairs in order before leaving this earth. So what did a lot of the behavioral research show after the Valdez oil spill, well it showed that communities come together when dealing with a natural disaster (i.e., disease outbreak.acts of God) but they get torn apart based on acts of humans. Basically technological disasters (acts of humans) were more psychologically stressful than natural disasters, n=177. In addition to the trauma response to the disaster, the community became divided because the longer it went on the more people were split on how it should have been handled- if it should even be litigated vs. just moving on. But there is no playbook for things like this, there is no trauma response class in schools, some people going through the legal system is healing, for other’s it’s putting salt in a wound they don’t want to have open anymore. This is all to say that I’m not sure this leaves us post-COVID, it’s been hellacious seeing our response and I often think of the 1918 Flu because we don’t have a lot of information on that, and some of that was in part because of the sedition acts but I think a lot of it was it was probably really traumatizing for individuals. Now we have all the information but will it get suppressed because of human behaviors. I don’t know but that’s what I spend time thinking about, how do we heal, how do I heal.

I did my first big ride since before COVID this past weekend and it’s the moment I’ve been waiting a year for where this desire finally trickled up and I couldn’t put it off any longer (kind of like finally blogging). Before it wasn’t there, I would think about doing long rides and going on treks but just couldn’t get over whatever barrier was there in my mind. And they weren’t barriers put up by biking but more about how society functioned during COVID which I don’t need to get into here but they have been identified and working through it with my therapist. But I knew the moment was here when I was met with either driving 100 highway miles or riding my bike and riding my bike seemed easier and more enjoyable. Which I know you’re like what, and I would have been like what all last year too. And I was amazed at how quickly my body settled into the rhythm of riding, sure I’ve done longish rides at this point but nothing really over 2-3 hours. It became mechanical again when to eat, when to drink, like I had never stopped doing it. I got done and finished at 95 miles, Kevin suggested I go ride 5 more for a century but I thought best not to over do it right out of the gate.

Why ride 5 more miles when you can go eat hot dogs

I guess my hope is that whatever you have endured this past year, whether COVID related or something else, whatever barriers you had that made you stop, take a break, and question everything that you know, that when you pick up you don’t just think about going back to where you were but are in a place where you get to think about how to make things better than they were before for yourself, your community, wherever you feel called. I also got sent this article this morning by a friend on how the pandemic mental wounds are still wide open, it helped me so maybe it will help you.

I’m headed to Valdez this weekend, it’s been on my list to go for a while and missed the opportunity to get there this winter. I have a lot more thoughts I feel like I need to get out but seems like the best thing for me is to ride 300 miles and see how this community healed after trauma. And in a way all these things tell me that I’m healing.

“If you insist on entertaining hopes you might as well be ambitious in your desires do not bother fantasizing about a return to how things were before you might as well be ambitious in your desires hope that things will be better than they were before” -Plague Poems

Photo by Rachel Heath and I hope everyone has a friend like her in their lives

The Law of Nature

In all my studies about pandemics I would always think about what one would look like today, we have made so many scientific advances since the 1918 flu but it’s now clear one thing hasn’t changed and that’s human behavior.

My dad talks about getting taken to the gymnasium when he was a kid to get his polio vaccine, and how grateful his mom was that there was one available. Polio killed but even more so it maimed in a ferocious way that children were put in iron lungs or if they were lucky only wheel chairs for the rest of their lives. The first big outbreak happened in 1916 in New York City, before that it had circulated but did not strike in the way it did that year. Until a vaccine was created in 1955, theaters and pools would shut down every “polio season” as they were often seen as hot spots in an attempt to prevent the spread. Those who could leave crowded cities often would escape to the country side in an attempt to avoid it and children often had to carry records showing that they were not infected with it. The March of Dimes came out of polio research and really spurred early philanthropy beyond the ultra wealthy. FDR took it upon himself to call on Americans to send dimes to help fund polio research (hence the name). Even when there were no known cures people would seek out remedies, FDR would escape to a bath house down in Georgia believing that the water helped with his rehabilitation (probably an early form of water therapy).

What was once a potential death sentence or a life filled with disability has been almost completely eradicated worldwide, there are less than 200 cases globally but without a vaccine it’s estimated that 17 million people who are otherwise healthy at this moment would be paralyzed. As of 2017, there were three individuals in the US who still depended on an iron lung to survive, which is one of the most inspiring and also heartbreaking medical devices we have. This article does a great job of painting the picture of those three lives. In the peak year of 1952, 60,000 cases of Polio happened in the US with 3,000 people dying, and an additional 21,000 paralyzed as a result. Polio gets into the body through the mouth then grows in the intestines, it can then travel into the blood stream reaching the nervous system where there it will attack the spinal cord or the brain, where it can cause paralysis. The death like most viral infections is not pretty, imagine a 6 year-old gasping for breath as their lungs become paralyzed and they essentially drown in their own secretions, parents only able to offer some comfort as they cradle their head as the rest of the body is in an iron lung working to force them to breath. Devastating. Jonas Salk started trials of a vaccine in 1953 (beginning with his own children) and by 1960s the reoccurring epidemics were 97% gone.

Why am I talking about polio, well with the current pandemic feel like I can finally spew out all this random knowledge about other diseases, and I still have a book due to the Notre Dame Library about it. But because I think a lot about polio right now with the discussion of schools opening up because polio mostly impacted younger children– but also if at it’s peak it killed 3,000/year by today’s measure we would have never focused on a remedy so maybe there is a lesson to learn about how society acted towards life during that time. There aren’t a lot of articles out there about movements during polio that contested the closure of areas; but I’m sure some mothers were exasperated when getting to the pool to realize it’s closed down and all the kids want to do is go for a swim. COVID-19 fortunately does not strike kids in the same way as adults and elders, or at least that is what current studies show but we’re still responding in real time to the virus so we still don’t know everything about it (the polio vaccine did a double blind study with 1.8 million school children). The most recent data shows that kids under 10 aren’t big spreaders of the virus, but with 1/3 of the cases in Florida being children that might change. A study that just came out of South Korea (n=65,000) shows that kids ages 10-19 are just as effective at spreading COVID-19 as adults (still limitations within the study). Those kids who are impacted tend to have preexisting conditions (much like adults) and symptoms are showing up differently with inflammation and rashes, and often triggering Kawasaki Disease (1/3 of kids who were diagnosed with this in NY had preexisting conditions).

Let’s take it back for all of you at home that stopped your science education in high school (and there is nothing wrong with that, that’s where my math career ended and always so grateful I have Heidi to message about math problems– and math is technically different than stats which I have painstakingly taken twice now for two different degrees….). A virus is a collection of genetic code (either DNA or RNA) surrounded by a protein coat that needs host cells to replicate itself, since it can’t replicate on its own. Viruses are different than bacteria–which are single celled organisms that can harm or help support life — think of gut bacteria vs. those that cause an infection. Viruses can’t be treated with antibiotics and instead need anti-viral medication or vaccines to eliminate them, non-pharmaceutical interventions are a way to reduce or mitigate the spread, think of hand washing.

Why does this information matter, well based on quite a few facebook posts I’m convinced that people don’t know how viruses function and behave. Because viruses can’t survive on their own, they need a host, and that host doesn’t necessarily have to be humans but most human infectious diseases are initially transmitted from animals. This is a great video that shows how host jumps happen. One more step that the virus has to take is going from just infecting humans to transmit the virus from human to human. H5N1 causes a severe respiratory disease in birds (avian flu) and human cases do occur with a 60% mortality rate but it’s very difficult to transmit humans to humans so the virus jumps from a bird to a human and there is no additional jump to another human– but if it jumped human-to-human and retained that mortality rate we’d have a problem.

Humans are hosts for COVID-19, it is transmissible from human-to-human which means each one of us is a potential host and potential spreader. How do we stop COVID, we make it hard for it to find a host. This is where all the non-pharmaceutical interventions come in that have been talked about; washing hands, wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance because we don’t have any antivirals or vaccines developed at the moment, and even if we did, a mass vaccine campaign is no small undertaking.

Right now the United States has 142,000 deaths from COVID–in the past two weeks alone cases are up 33%, hospitalizations are up 75%, and deaths are up 101% with 20 states being in the “red zone”. That’s a line of dead bodies that stretches 66 miles, or from my parent’s house to the nearest McDonald’s, pasture upon pasture filled with a person who was somebody to someone. So it’s been extremely frustrating and quite dismaying to see people’s response to this: “It’s not a problem here” “Masks are an infringement of my freedom” and “We just have to live with it” because we’re all potential hosts and we’re all potential spreaders. Even arguably those who have been previously infected because we don’t know how long immunity is lasting for, and it might not mean much if the virus keeps mutating beyond what immunity you had.

“It’s not a problem here”– this is really interesting to me because I think of 9/11, the twin towers didn’t fall in rural South Dakota and yet my community was shell-shocked on the attack. 3,000+ Americans died and it was enough that people felt called into action from around the country. I also think of what our reaction would be now to 9/11, how many would be quick to believe it’s a conspiracy theory, an inside job, a way to control the citizens, how much misinformation would have gotten circulated on facebook. If COVID isn’t a problem at the moment for your community, be grateful, but also work to take steps to prevent it from becoming a problem. We continue to take our shoes off at the airport, even though dying in a terrorist attack is a much lower threat than COVID-19 right now. Viruses don’t respect borders, it doesn’t stop at state lines or county lines.

“Masks are an infringement of my freedom” I’m not sure how this became such a rally cry or such a partisan issue. Masks aren’t an infringement of your freedom. Individual liberty isn’t an absolute. “In every well ordered society charged with the duty of conserving the safety of its members the rights of the individual in respect of his liberty may at times, under the pressure of great dangers, be subjected to such restraint, to be enforced by reasonable regulations, as the safety of the general public may demand” and that “[r]eal liberty for all could not exist under the operation of a principle which recognizes the right of each individual person to use his own, whether in respect of his person or his property, regardless of the injury that may be done to others.” (Jacobson v. Mass, 197 U.S. 11 (1905)). Basically you’re arguing that everyone should have the freedom to unfettered rights and that rights come with no responsibility.

Cheney and I agreeing 100% on something–not the Patriot Act….

The mask argument just shows how unwilling we are at the moment to take care of one another. I get there was confusion early on with masks, I didn’t start wearing one until end of March when I went out. A lot of the mask data we have is from antecedent studies because it would be unethical to have a control group without masks exposed to COVID-19. We continue to learn new information about this disease, and we’re responding in real time. We know to be infected it’s time + exposure. Because I live in Alaska when I go to a trail I don’t wear a mask (I also don’t go to very busy trails), but will have a face covering around my neck that I can pull up like a bandana or buff. It doesn’t have to be this all or nothing, we know that inside, poor ventilated spaces are great for transmitting the virus, and that masks help if you can’t maintain distance (inside and outside). On a personal note, I would love to see the data of those who supported the Patriot Act passage and those who oppose mask mandates, my guess is that there is a large correlation but I would argue the Patriot Act was a larger infringement on your individual liberty.

“We just have to live with it” Nope, nope, nope. No other country is willing to live with it, if this is your view point, ask how many more Americans is it acceptable to die. I get frustrated because the amount of deaths we have are wholly unnecessary, and I’m quite ashamed of our response. I have spent the past three weeks in the weeds of other countries law and policies related to COVID and I can tell you almost every country is performing better on this test. Are we suppose to be okay that we’re doing better than early model projections, that we don’t have 500,000 Americans dead? What’s the threshold for you to take action? Washing hands, wearing masks, maintaining distance are what should also be part of broader testing and contact tracing. Look and see if you are able to get tested in your area without showing symptoms? It’s not happening in a lot of places and until it does we will be in this constant catch up game.

This past week I was in a pretty dark spot because I can’t believe that this our response and that people are okay with it. Do I think if I got the virus I would die, statistically no, but there are outliers, do I want to have prolonged lung damage or neurological damage, no. Do I think my parents are at a higher risk, absolutely. Do I want members of my community to die or have their lives impacted, no. This virus doesn’t just kill but wrecks havoc on one’s body in a brutal way (and in ways we won’t know for a while), and I know what you’re thinking, but Kate, asymptomatic people, you wouldn’t even know you had it, except that lung damage is shown in those who have shown no symptoms. Imagine going for a hike or a walk with 75% of your current lung capacity. Breathe through a straw if you want a full effect.

As schools talk about re-opening, we’re missing the part of the conversation that talks about what we can do in the next 6-weeks to make that more feasible. I don’t have kids so I’m not writing from a place of needing to get them out of the house so I can focus on my work, but I feel for those parents who are navigating this work space and childcare/school work at home. I think ignoring the disease is not a great approach– and think there are concrete steps we can be taking to ensure our schools are safe for when they do open up.

Viruses don’t care about our families, our work, we can’t negotiate with them. It’s the law of nature, not the law of man that we are battling with. Do you want to be part of the solution or part of the problem? Everybody is a potential host of this virus to replicate in. We don’t have to be in total lock down or completely open, it doesn’t have to be this divisive. We’re all battling the same enemy, we’re all on the same team. Until everyone realizes that the longer this is going to go on. The longer issues go on beyond COVID, immunizations are down, mental health issues, domestic violence. A lot of people had an idea of fissures happening within our society but this has exposed large ruptures in a way that we should no longer be willing to ignore. For me this is the longest I’ve gone without seeing my family. And everything just seems a little harder to deal with most days– as if I was going to graduate from therapy any time soon…

As for Alvin and I’s adventures, we have gone canoeing, hiking, backpacking–oh and he ran away from the boarder’s for two days and ended up 20 miles away, yikes. We just sent out a breed kit to find out what he is. If you haven’t placed your bet yet, you can here.

Congrats, if you made it this far, my next therapy session is about 3 weeks away and the turmoil in my mind was putting me in not a great place personally so welcome to my current therapy session. Happy to discuss anything further or provide references to anything that I have. Hope at least the pictures of Alvin helped you get through it. I’m sure if you’re reading this you’re probably on a similar page with the COVID response.

Rationalized Risks

Did you know that only 25% of people who start the Appalachian Trail finish it. That leaves 75% that show up with the intention of completing it to call it quits, I’m sure only after rationalizing their decision. There are other (unverified) stats surrounding endurance events, one that I’ve heard about Leadville MTB is that only about 60% of the men finish; whereas 90% of women finish. One of the reasons is that men tend to overestimate their ability where women tend to underestimate their ability. Again, broad generalization.

Colorado Trail from last year

After the bar I started reading a book about the Appalachian Trail course records, it went through details of those who attempted and ultimately achieved setting a new thru-hike record. At the time I tucked the book away with the tidbits of knowledge thinking I would rely on it for larger endurance mountain bike pursuits this year. Little did I know I’d be utilizing it for a completely different type of endurance pursuit, like staying at home and social distancing. I thought about it again, recently, when I stumbled onto this article. The slog we are in at the moment with the pandemic seems to resemble a really long endurance pursuit. At the start we’re all gung-ho, and then when you start to settle in you realize the daunting task in front of you and all of a sudden you’re questioning all of your life decisions (or really the federal government’s [lack of] response) that have brought you (us) to this point (usually like mile 55 of a 100 mile race). Now, with things opening up it’s like being at mile 70 of a race, where you’re cautiously optimistic that you’re going to make it to the end but realize that there is still enough time that a lot could still happen. And who knows maybe we’re at mile 70 of a 500 mile race instead of 100. Trying my best to remain optimistic but opening up offers a false sense of security because the virus hasn’t gone away, people have just rationalized the risks they are willing to take.

What will this nugget do when I actually have to go to work

Times remain weird and I deal with feelings of guilt being in Alaska (lowest COVID case count in the US) and with my access to the outdoors not being limited, mostly encouraged by officials to maintain mental health.

After car camping with Alvin, we decided he was ready for his next Pawnee Goddess Badge: Backpacking. Which meant I got to haul the 9 pound tent into the backcountry because we’re still not convinced he won’t damage the nice tent. Alvin was great on the trail and we kept him on leash for the most part because there were a lot of people and dogs. For as many people we saw on the trail we only heard a few others around our campsite.

I bring you a nice tent and this is where you want to sleep….

The next morning we decided to leave on a different trail, hiking up to the ridge line, going across the ridge, and then down. It offered better views and thought it would be better for Alvin to have him off leash more. We had him off leash initially but on the steep hike up to the ridge realized he would see a rock rolling and chase it down, and derp his way back up to us. We finally had to put him back on the leash so he would stop dawdling.

The views, were amazing, even though Kevin was like “they’re okay” which leads me to believe there are more amazing views to be sought.

The first half of the hike was great, with almost no post-holing into the snow.

The second half, made us realized why no one else was up there as some of the ridge lines weren’t completely melted out. There was only one section that I was mostly terrified on and it was about 20 yards of being unsure if I was walking on snow covering the ground, or just snow that could easily break and carry me away. We made it and Alvin proved to be a better rock scrambler than me, not surprised.

I felt like an anxious mom the whole time watching him go over rocks and praying he did not fall off the ledge. We made it down and again ordered burgers to be ready for pick-up upon our arrival back into Anchorage.

Last week I think I did the most Alaskan thing you could do which was bike and pack raft– or as Kevin said, boats on bikes, bikes on boats, boats on bikes. We rode out on double track for about 20 miles, the last 3 covered in loose sand made me realize why everyone else had a fat bike.

We got to Knik Glacier, where Kevin and I were the only ones willing to jump in (thank you 8 years of ice baths from high school and college sports).

We unpacked our boats and then gingerly put the bikes on the packrafts, which are just giant rubber rafts, and seem easily pop-able (quite terrifying when borrowing an expensive piece of equipment and then putting more gear on it).

The Knik River was quite mellow, almost so mellow that we had to paddle the whole time instead of riding the current. I drew on the three times I had been in a canoe or kayak and tried to avoid catching any crabs (I think that’s the lingo…). It was great until we hit mile 13 and a nasty headwind, I didn’t really think much of it, other than I wish my paddle had a power meter so I could see how much power I was putting out to go nowhere, and was quite content to just stay in that same place for the foreseeable future.

Before the headwind

Fortunately, Kevin was thinking a little more clearly and paddled over to the shore to get out and start putting his bike together. He was turned away when I made my approach to the shore but as I pulled up and went to get out the wind pushed me back into the water, this went on about 3 more times before I was finally able to get on to shore and out of the boat. We broke down the rafts (more so Kevin) and I put together my bike, loading the packs back onto our backs to pedal out. I felt tired at this point but the one thing I’ve realized with biking is that even when I’m tired my body knows what to do. We started biking towards the road with only some detours as we found the best dirt road back to the highway to loop around to the cars. It was fun and with racing on pause this season a new type of challenge and adventure to have.

Lifejacket on because #safetyissexy and I was cold

Sunday was mostly spent cleaning up gear. As of last Monday morning I was still planning on leaving for South Dakota. When I got into work (and by that I mean the spare bedroom) on Monday it was like the reality of closing all my cases or transferring them over and having to pack up and move this week hit me. I think in a lot of ways I felt like it was an either/or situation, like I was either leaving now, not knowing when I would be back, or staying indefinitely, not knowing when I would be leaving.

Plus not sure Alvin and I are ready to camp by ourselves

I didn’t feel like I could do an adequate job of finishing my cases and packing up enough that I wasn’t leaving completely disheveled (mostly my style but usually have my family to help me pack). I decided to focus on work this week and stay tentatively for one more month and reassess. The border might be open by then, which would certainly make travel easier, and South Dakota might not be the hot spot it is now. Selfishly, Alaska seems like the best spot for my mental health through all of this, besides being so far away from my family.

I think too starting last week I realized that I would be saying goodbye to clients, in my new position it’s more research and writing based and not direct client services. It’s what I want but certainly a change, some of the things I experienced this year are unlike anything I ever will – like when I went to serve a demand letter and interrupted a swat tactical take down– didn’t seem like we were going after the same person but I let them go first and called a colleague for reinforcement. It’s nothing I anticipated it would be but an amazing experience nonetheless. I’m sad that the timelines didn’t work out better for me to finish out this contract but I’m excited for what is ahead, even with all the underlying uncertainty…

Crossing one more thing off the bucket list–ignore my derpy “I’ve exercised for 10 hours” face haha

In what I thought would be my last weekend here, we are headed to Denali National Park. I felt like it was going to be one of those questions that after leaving Alaska I would hear all the time, “oh have you been to Denali” and I would have to say no, like saying no to seeing the northern lights, and saying no to seeing a bear.

As things open up I hope everyone realizes that everyone is operating under a different level of necessity and rationalized risks –financially they have to go work, for the sake of their sanity take their kids to camp or daycare, some people are comfortable eating in restaurants, getting their hair cuts, or not making any changes.

It’s kind of like being in the backcountry, everyone has a different comfort level and their own rationalization of the risks. I just have a problem if what you’re doing potentially threatens my or others health, well-being and safety. Personally, I’m still pretty cautious because I can be–and I’m kind of curious of what my natural hair color is at this point. I also understand that isn’t the reality for a lot of individuals. I do also believe that we can move forward into this space of thinking beyond ourselves, but understand that some don’t have the capacity right now as their very foundations and securities have become cracked and broken. Is that not just a juxtapose of a paragraph if you’ve ever read one. If you feel like you want more to explore I suggest reading about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Keep Moving

Alvin has taken to sleeping under the bed and even retreating there at moments during the day. After a quick google search it seems like dogs to do this to feel safe and to help them relax easier; after learning that I wondered if he had room for me under there.

The past two weekends I’ve been able to go camping. Which means life has simultaneously felt weird and normal. The Governor specifically addressed travel saying that you can go but cannot go into stores outside your community. The case count remains low here and with the physical distancing that took place early on gave the hospitals enough time to increase their bed capacity (and morgue capacity) so that if we do surge they are better equipped. As a result, some restrictions have been eased which I think we’ll know in about 2-3 weeks how that worked out.

The first weekend I found a friend to watch Alvin because apparently even the best trained dogs shred tents and not wanting to add a $300 tent to his running tab thought it was best to leave him home.

We headed down to Caines Head in Seward, I’m told it’s the trail that you take your out of state Alaska friends and also your girlfriend who doesn’t backpack. Perfect.

The trail beckoned us into the forest with lush tree coverage and dark, rich soil. We had an early start in order to make sure that we were able to cross a section while the tide was low and had plenty of time to spare. We topped off our water at a waterfall and headed to a fort that was used during WW2 to eat lunch but only after having to walk through the fort and hope that no bears were hibernating.

After that we headed to South Beach, which I kept calling North Beach and set up camp. Unlike winter camping it was insanely easy, no digging a hole, no shuffling around on skis, no having to eat a snack before hand; tent set up and ready to go in less than 3 minutes.

Having so much time we wandered around the beach, watched some sea kayakers, filled up our water bottles for dinner, made dinner, walked around the beach some more, found a dead otter somewhat near our tent. In my mind I was like oh great, that will attract the bears not us, which the next morning I was told that it could make the bears aggressive and they could come for us–ignorance is bliss.

In the morning I crawled out of the tent, with just about as many layers on as for winter camping but without a -20 degree sleeping bag. Again, the break down of camp proved much faster than winter camping and we were on our way.

As we hiked up we lost track of the trail covered up in snow and in a few places had to post-hole our way through. As communities begin to open up I felt a similar feeling to apprehensively moving forward on top of the snow: is it safe, will it hold me, and then occasionally finding my leg plunging through the crust and only being stopped by my hip on the surface. I had no idea that the snow remained that deep in places (deeper than a whole “Kate Leg”) and feel like with COVID cases we are in some ways only on the surface (again, call your congressional delegates about mass testing +contact tracing). We got down from the snow coverage and back onto the beach were we (I) haphazardly looked for animals in the water. We got back to the car and had just enough snacks to hold us over for the drive back but did put a to-go order in to a place in Anchorage to pick up on our arrival.

Last week I had a roller of emotions. It didn’t help that I was also about to start my period (not to add stuff to stereotypes but should be noted). I took a new job, well actually I took it a while ago but it’s in Washington DC so was waiting for more information on when I would physically need to be there. Initially thinking June 1 but then maybe end of June and finally got word that it would be mid-late fall. Which means working remote starting June 1 until we can be in the same space, but with the caveat of having to work east coast hours (for those of you at home, Alaska is in a separate time zone) meaning 5am-1pm in Alaska time. At first I was really excited about getting to stay in Alaska, I felt like I was just hitting my stride and settling in, getting friends, a community, have a boyfriend, have an Alaskan dog, starting to do more activities, have a sweet work remote gig, the dream.

But at some point the reality of me having to get to DC with the logistics of a pandemic began to cast a shadow over this ideal situation, besides having to go to bed at 8pm every night for a 4am start to the day. I initially thought of staying till the end of my lease, through July. Part of me was like yeah, do that, getting to DC is a problem for future Kate to deal with. But that would mean either moving end of July and in all likelihood flying (which I was adverse to all the germs on planes to begin with so no thank you at the moment) or staying here until I could get to DC which realistically might not happen until after fall. I have time now to drive, and it’s not ideal because even though it’s essential travel I can’t stop anywhere except for gas in Canada. Thinking of going to South Dakota and hunkering down with my parents Tenzen and Alvin (still not sure which one would end up sleeping in my bed) until I needed to head to DC (a 20 hour drive from SD vs. 70 hour from AK). I’ve consulted with all my friends in public health and my therapist about what to do. I think with things opening up in about 2-3 weeks we’ll see how it’ll play out and the last day I can make a run for home would be May 25 in order to get there and start work on June 1. Right now I’m leaning towards going home but I feel like I’m leaving this safe cocoon in Alaska for a hot zone/inferno in South Dakota. It could be a game time decision.

Me telling Alvin to not embarrass me camping

Maybe some of this coupled with it being Alvin’s first overnight camp trip was on my mind when I had Alvin hooked around my waist and hiking up Point Hope. He’s been really good (mostly for maybe having no training in his life) but does pull sometimes. I was seated on the ground digging something out of my pack when he saw a puppy approach and he lunged for it. The belt had slid up above my hips and onto my stomach and so when he lunged, he performed the heimlich maneuver on me, which felt like getting the wind knocked out of me. And then just for good measure he did it two more times. And then I started crying, and it’s never about what you’re crying about–like when I bought the wrong size bed, it wasn’t about the bed it was about having a brain injury and dealing with that. It’s like all this uncertainty hit me and I couldn’t see how I was going to move forward.

Luckily Kevin un-clipped Alvin from me and took him to give me some space. Kind of reminded me of when your mom is on the verge of an emotional breakdown (as portrayed in TV shows) and your dad is like “okay kids, let’s go get some ice cream”. We made it to the summit without any other incidents and then Alvin took a nap.

Going down he was much better, probably from getting tired going up. We would alternate between jogging and hiking down with him.

We got back to camp and met our friends who also have a rescue husky. Talking to them made me feel a bit better as the owner told me she cried multiple times the first 6 months of having hers and now they take her biking, hiking, and running. Because the other dog was off-leash eventually we decided Alvin could go off too. In the moment of unclipping him from his tether saw the rest of my evening spent looking for him on the hillside. Fortunately, that did not manifest and he stuck close to us, the other dog, and the campsite. It was actually really fun to watch him play with the other dog and at some points it’s like he realized he was a dog. The other dog started digging a hole and then Alvin realized he too could dig a hole. Then came the moment of truth. Bedtime. Was Alvin going to hear a noise in the night and shred our newly acquired $25 craigslist tent (in case he did shred the shit out of it, would only be out $25….).

He was a champ and I’m not sure he moved positions the whole night, no holes in the tent, no holes in our sleeping pads. Here’s hoping I can train him to sleep more on my feet and keep them warm.

We packed up the next morning and shuttled Kevin for a pack rafting adventure. I walked around a bit with Alvin but mostly sat on the beach reading a book that had been on my list since September only pausing once to briefly entertain what my life would look like without the pandemic– no Alvin, more bike riding, I’d probably already be on my way to DC for the June 1 start so I could stop and ride my bike and see friends along the way. And yet, sitting on that beach felt completely normal.

Even this feels normal now

We’re going backpacking again this weekend but combining the two last weekends into one: Backpacking with Alvin. Last weekend we just car camped with him, but will continue to haul that beef-cake of a tent around in the backpack just in case though.

Still trying to get that Patagonia sponsorship…

Creatures of Comfort

Did you know that without any social distancing, one infected individual with COVID-19 can infect more than 400 people over the course of 30 days. With social distancing that amount can drop to only 15 people over the same amount of days. Going forward even after the initial peaks I think as one person put it, we will be in a “hammer and dance” situation where there is an ebb and flow of restrictions put in place as the virus continues to circulate, at least until we have an effective vaccine, prophylactic, or anti-viral therapy. Not to make this start super depressing but the fastest vaccine brought to market took 4 years, which was for mumps. I don’t think we will be in this hammer and dance situation for 4 years because so much money is in the pipeline for research and development at the moment but yeah…

Fashion and function–thanks Kathi Deane!

This week proved to be a little harder as our society’s response towards social distancing measures has become more divisive, which I will just leave it at that instead of going down a rabbit hole of rights vs. responsibilities of productive members of society, not to mention court cases that support strong public health measures. Might I suggest listening to the Hysteria podcast for those who want to think more about this.

Alaska still has a low case count and the Governor has started talking about a reopening plan. He has, however, seemed to defer much of the response to our Chief Medical Officer who I have now started calling, Patron Saint Zink of the COVID Response. It seems that the response will be science and case incident driven, as I saw the other day, “I would rather have to wait a few weeks to get my hair done at a barber shop, than have the mortician do it.” And yeah, there is no way the mortician would know my dye numbers so for the record my roots are a 5R and the rest is a 6R, and not too many people who can tame this mane soo…. let’s all keep our space for the sake of our future dye jobs so they don’t become die jobs. Be glad you aren’t in my head all the time…

My family keeps shaming my hair but nowhere to go soooo

It’s been interesting to see how time has slowed down and even though the days seem to blur together I feel like I have more time because it’s more intentional. Or at least that’s the narrative I’m telling myself, as this article points out, “we can’t control the virus, we can’t control the government, we can’t even control whether our faraway family members and friends stay safe and inside. But we can control our own individual existences by making them that much less complicated than an outside world that weren’t not even allowed to live in anymore.”

Instead of spending 90 minutes in the morning getting ready and driving to work, I wake up, drink some coffee, take Alvin for a leisurely 30-40 minute walk while catching up on podcasts.

Then I walk to the bedroom next door with my desk to begin my work day. I settle into a makeshift work routine. Most of my client’s have multiple risk factors for COVID-19 so navigating that space has been challenging, both in terms of getting them access to programs they are entitled to while also having zero in person contact with anyone. In a lot of ways Alaska was primed for a situation like this, because they are so rural most court systems have operated with telephonic and remote hearings for a while, even for us in Anchorage. Some challenges have been worked through like having video conferencing for will signings, while others remain like getting notaries for power of attorneys. But time remains an illusion and simultaneously it all seems like an emergency and it doesn’t. Some days I finish what needs to be done by 2 other days its past 5 but in a world where nowhere to rush off to, it seems so arbitrary.

Quarantine has certainly brought a lot of challenges and I’m grateful every day this lockdown did not happen in January. It’s also brought more time and space to communicate with one another. Reflecting on the past year I thought a lot about death, more specifically seeing death all the time made me think about if I had a choice how I would like to go. I’d want something that would give me time with my family and friends and left my mental capacity in tact. And I don’t want to make light of the people dying right now because it seems absolutely horrific; one of the most impactful moments of my life was being there when someone died and I can’t imagine those who are having to make the transition by themselves.

In a lot of ways it seems like quarantine is creating that space for more time. I now have a standing weekly FaceTime appointment with my immediate family, the kids, my college friends, and am in almost constant communication with my Notre Dame friends and high school friends. Before with the time zones was often difficult to find a time that worked for everyone. I’ve talked more to my aunts and uncles in this time than maybe the entire year before this happened. I know not everyone is this fortunate but in a lot ways it’s like time is being created to have more meaningful contact and communication (even though I realize very limited in-person contact is happening).

And with people having more time on their hands it’s almost like we’ve all had more time to reflect and reach out. Like my first boyfriend from high school sent me this really funny message about when he tried to walk me to my door but slipped on the ice– legit thought he was messaging me about wanting legal advice haha–don’t worry got his permission before posting:

“Hey Kate, Hope you’re doing well! Congratulations on your progressing your career! This is rather random but I wanna know if you remember a story that has been told by Eamin every chance he’s gotten since it happened back in 2006. That story being the time we were “going out” and I dropped you off at your house. I said I would walk you to your door and you told me that I didn’t need to. I disregarded your request, got out of my car, and tried to hurry around to catch up to you. Mind you the shoes I was wearing were completely bald, zero tread. Also it was winter. Anyway I plant my hand on the front corner of my grandma car (pretty sure thats what I was driving at the time? might have been the Intrepid) and am completely betrayed by the snow and my traction-less shoes. I fell so fast, I’m pretty sure I was on the ground before my hand actually made contact with the car. By the time I recover, you’re already at your door. I basically said, “welp see you later.” And drove off. Possibly the most defeated/embarrassed I’ve been in my entire life lol of course I told Eamin immediately. This comes up at least twice a year and puts us into fits of giggles.” So naturally I laughed super hard at this and then went down the rabbit hole with him of assessing our awkward interaction as 16 year-olds new to the dating scene.

I’ve had other messages pop up with friends about times in college, events that happened after, or even weird dreams people are experiencing. Even a friend dropping by and talking to them from the porch while they stood on the street seemed like such a treat.

And the feeling of isolation remains but only in a physical restriction and I keep going back to Marina Keegan’s writings, “It’s not quite love and it’s not quite community; it’s just this feeling that there are people, an abundance of people, who are in this together. Who are on your team.” How we emerge from this is still unknown but I remain optimistic that we will sculpt our future in a way that is more just and equitable for everyone– we should not be satisfied with the systems returning to normal, we should demand more. “You’re probably not spending the evening hours putting the final touches on embroidered pillow-covering when you’re worried about feeding your family, and you can’t curl up by the fire with a dusty old book when you don’t have a house, let alone a fireplace. You definitely can’t do it if you’re on a ventilator.” Molly Roberts.

We are able to give up comforts only if we have those comforts to begin with. This statement isn’t meant to shame anyone for doing things that they are now doing or not doing– and how they are dealing with the pandemic. More of an observation, like if my biggest inconvenience at the moment is only going to the grocery store 1-2 times every two weeks, then after this is over I hope we all work to ensure everyone has those same levels of comfort and security moving forward. After the 2008 economic recession it seemed the people turned inwards out of a fear based response that their securities were no longer secure, understandably so. Right now there is a lot of fear and uncertainty and hopefully moving forward we will not forget that we are all on the same team.

In case you clicked on this after seeing the imagine thinking it would be more photos of Alvin, sorry to disappoint. I’m going camping this weekend so at least will have something else to talk about next time.

Weird Times

I’m not even sure how to start this post– honestly most days being in Alaska feels like I’m perched somewhere just watching the world burn. I’m grateful for the response that Anchorage’s Mayor took early on and Alaska as a state, our case increase has been a slow uptick, still under 300 and only a handful of deaths.

But we only have 880,000 people….cool, cool, cool.

Meanwhile, my parents in South Dakota still have no lockdown orders mandated state-wide. Some cities and counties are doing their part but most were slow to react and not everyone has an order. I’m proud of my parents for taking it seriously, finally got my dad to stop going to the jail (I wrote a motion on why inmate’s should be released– proud prosecutor’s daughter ha). Unfortunately, I also wrote a paper last year that focused on contrasting my community with another community which means I know there are 3,570 residents, 290 people (before COVID and people losing their jobs) without health insurance; 847 individuals have one or more disability and just over 1,000 individuals are over the age of 65. I know that our hospital has 25 beds and 2 ventilators. And I’m well over 3,000 miles away but even if I was closer, I know that if someone I love goes into the hospital I can’t go with them. And it’s terrifying because it’s like a ticking time bomb and we won’t know the extent of the damage for months to come.

Love the community that raised us– and yes after this is over I might be blonde again…

Beyond my family I think about the community that raised me, growing up in a small town (the same one as my mother) means that everyone knows everyone, so I think of my teachers, most of who are retired now, I think of my friends who work in the hospital, I think of the restaurateurs, the grocers, the ranchers, the funeral director, those in the assisted living facilities who became like second-grandmas.

Dug through some photos so needed to post more than one

I think of this virus and the response and I’m not sure I will ever forgive those in power who passively have let the virus wash over our communities. With recent cases, Sioux Falls just surged ahead of Chicago and Seattle with a higher per capita infection rate at 182.25 per 100,000 people [When I started this draft, SD had just over 600 cases, it’s now over 1,300 in the 2 days since…]. But I also know not every worse case scenario that is portrayed in the news is going to come true– but hard sometimes for my mind not to go there.

It’s just so good.

Did I need to find something to take my mind off of all of this, oh you betcha. Usually around this time I start training for the upcoming season but with COVID and most races getting pushed back haven’t felt the need to really jump into training–fortunately I planned on this year being most developmental and focusing on the Maah Daah Hey but now not wanting to suppress my immune system (check out this article my Godfather sent me about training loads during this time) and/or train for things that might not materialize means I’m actually in a pretty good mental state around bike racing right now (heyyyo, shout out to my law school therapist).

With physical activity focused less on gaining fitness and more on mental clarity, I decided to start cross-stitching again, it’s repetitive and I have to focus somewhat otherwise I tend to stab myself, perfect. I collected all my things and was engaged in a ‘this color or that color’ when my phone rang. “Hi, we have a dog that we think would be perfect for you.” As like most things in life until that moment I had forgotten that I put in an application for a foster dog. “He’s 6, we just got him in, he’s real sweet.” “Ummm, okay when do you need me to pick him up by.” “Can you get him before 3 today.” They texted me a few pictures and I confirmed with my roommates that they were okay with having a dog in the space. Alright, let’s do this.

I put an application in when I started working from home figuring it would be a good idea to take my mind off of everything– they said that they didn’t have any dogs at the moment so I mostly forgot about it until they called. I picked the dog up, he didn’t have a name, and they handed everything over to me, leash, food, poop bags, crate, and blankets. I got him home and unloaded all his things and took him for a walk. I had planned to go cross-country skiing with a friend later and one of my roommates said she would watch him so I could leave him out while I was gone. Perfect. I grabbed my gear and opened the door to leave when he squeezed by my legs–it took me a minute to realize what was happening, with Tenzen he’s allowed in the front yard because he stays there, when I realized this dog was not Tenzen I tried to grab him but he eluded my clutches and took off. I threw my ski boots down and took off sprinting behind him. I didn’t even have a name for him so couldn’t even yell anything. This dog is going to be gone and I’m going to have to tell these people, I’ve already failed. I kept sprinting with my heart rate not getting that high since cross nationals. Luckily the street he had turned down had a large fence at the end of the lane. He ran there and then kind of jogged around. I slowly approached without trying to spook him. Luckily, like most days, I had some jelly beans in my pocket so dug a few out and stuck them out to entice him to get close enough to grab his collar. Well my plan worked; in the 5 minutes I was sprinting after him I didn’t think once about the virus.

I had been mulling over a few names, I’ve had a few dog names in my mind for a while but only fostering him didn’t want to give him one of those. Upon catching him and bringing him back settled on the name Alvin. After Alvin McDonald, an early cave explorer in the Black Hills.

Since then we’ve settled into a routine of 3-4 walks during the day, which means I’ve reduced my running because I don’t want to leave him but have gained leisurely paced strolls with the occasional abrupt jerk when he pulls. It’s given me a reason to finally catch up on those podcast recommendations or call my family. After a week of feeding him several large heaps of dog food a day to get his weight up figured we were ready to try a short run. Run is a loosely applied term for what we did. It started off promising but with him being more interested in smelling things and I realizing he only has one speed (a bit too fast for walking sometimes, a bit too slow for running). We settled into some weird shuffle of 2.5 miles in 40 minutes.

Post first runish….

I’ve worked him up to accepting treats, and now we’re starting to broach commands [although my Dad has pointed out, he has me trained], although I’m not even sure he even recognizes his name at this point. The first weekend I had him I left him at home for the adventures, still unsure of his capabilities. One day I did a very mellow alpine touring ski which required some stream crossing and bush whacking, only to get within range of the summit and have it disappear.

Not wanting to loose ourselves in the abyss we turned around and followed our tracks down where the clouds dissipated and the sun seemed like it had always been there. Going down felt euphoric, as my skis seemed to float underneath me.

To avoid the stream crossing we did earlier we ended up skinning up and thought we had found a good place to cross the gully but after getting to the other side realized it wasn’t a good exit. We ended up skinning a bit up in the terrain trap, which just means that if an avalanche were to happen that’s where it would likely go. Obviously we assessed the risk, extremely low, but if something did get triggered it would be less than ideal. Basically we were kind of like sitting ducks and at mercy of others actions– and again thought about the virus because feel to some extent we’re all just sitting ducks waiting, feeling trapped at what might be headed towards us but unlike the current pandemic we were able to get out of the gully and to the other side quite quickly.

We then pitched our angle uphill a bit more so we could then gain enough speed to make it back to the car without having to put our skins on. I felt so bad about leaving Alvin at home for a few hours that I think I took him on close to a 90 minute walk that night.

I’m sure he must just stare out the window like this when I leave him.

The next day I did a shorter cross-country ski but again left Alvin at home. We ended up on the other side of the valley but the snow was a little more crusty.

What snow there was…

We had less of a finish in mind and more of a let’s see where this takes us approach. We skied for a bit, took our skis off, and hiked for a bit, and then had some lunch, deciding it was a good spot to turn around.

I’m not sure how much was the crust and how much was the champagne (I mean life is short, right) I drank for lunch that resulted in more than a few face plants. We skied down and stayed off the main trail to avoid as many people as possible.

The second week with Alvin I settled more into a routine, recognizing his favorite spots to poop and when he’s most likely to go. He started sleeping out of the crate and after the first night gave him multiple pillows off my bed to accommodate him. Was grateful when a friend offered one of her dog beds up– now those floor pillows have just become his second bed….

Maybe I should give him a bath….

He hasn’t had any real accidents in the house, other than peeing on my bike attached to the trainer. He wasn’t a fan of it to start with but then really showed his feelings during that moment. I was yelling at him to stop and he didn’t even flinch, didn’t break eye contact just kept going. He’s more tolerating of my trainer rides now but not sure I’ll ever get him close enough to a bike to be a proper trail dog.

This past weekend I took him on his first hike, but not before heading out on my own the day before. I headed up Wolverine Peak, which was 9 miles and definitely not one for the dog at the moment. It was pretty steep uphill with some icy spots that made me grateful I bought shoes with spikes in them last fall even though I thought it would be an overkill (lover of treadmills and trainers). The trail head had the most people which again for Alaska I guess is crowded but compared to most other places it was like 6-10 people and we were mostly able to avoid people and pull our masks over our faces. The trail traffic was a minimum and the view from the top was well worth taking in.

On the way down we stepped off the trail to give distance to older guys who jokingly covered their faces and said they had the virus yesterday and were better now. I responded a bit snarky to some effect saying, “you think this is a joke but people are dying.” I really wanted to follow-up with and ‘you’re more likely to die than I am’ but left it at that and instead of getting back on the main trail, bush whacked a bit to get down into a gully that would avoid more people. Everyone else seemed conscious of maintaining distance and trying to minimize any potential spread.

We’re both not exactly morning people

For Easter planned on doing an early morning hike (kind of like a sunrise service) with Alvin to see how he would do but upon waking couldn’t see the mountains so opted for a later departure date and a trail closer to the water and out of the mountains. Alvin is pretty great on the leash and just likes to stop and smell and mark most things–at least on the way out. We hiked about 2 miles out to a vantage point to take pictures of the good boy before turning around.

On the way back he was less interested in smelling things and oscillated between wanting to sprint and dilly-dallying down the trail. He did quite well, given my history with Tenzen was more than prepared to have to carry him for some of it. He also did well around other dogs, he seems to be mostly curious and not aggressive in anyway. I’m not sure he’ll ever be an off the dog leash, for one he still does not recognize his name, and two I’m not sure he would ever come back.

Look at this trail corgi

I’m now on my fifth week of work from home, which means I finally gave in and assembled my desk and office chair. At this point my contract ends mid-September and honestly not sure I will be back in the hospital before then. Mentally preparing for a marathon but hoping for a sprint….

I remain grateful that my life continues to have some semblance of normalcy (definitely recognize the privilege that comes with all of that) as my heart aches for all of those who have had massive shifts in their lives and livelihoods as a result. Again, if you are thinking we need to open up the economy and don’t understand why we aren’t, call your representatives and demand massive testing for COVID and for the anti-bodies. Testing and contact tracing is our best bet at the moment (until there is a vaccine) while continuing to socially isolate. Just because our government is incompetent doesn’t mean you need to be (looking at you, South Dakota).