Friday 27 February 2009

And so he is off...

Thanks again to everyone who has wished John well, he really appreciates all of the support and good luck wishes he has received.

He left yesterday morning bright and early. His kit looks really ace. I've been quietly(ish) and jealously observing as packages have turned up over the past few weeks containing all manner of treats that even the most restrained geek would get excited by.
The amount of precision which went into the food for the drops was also an astonising thing to observe. Working out exactly numbers of calories per bag, and looking at the calorie to mass ratio...I now know that wasabi beans have a significant calorie to mass ratio...interesting stuff.

I received a text message last night to say that he had arrived in Houston with no problems but due to incompetence at the airport, had almost missed his connecting flight to Anchorage. He should now be there.

Bill Merchant send an email earlier today saying...

Every year the trail throws something unexpected our way. Part of the "fun" is trying to guess what unexpected suprise we will find each year and be prepared. I was watching the news tonight and Mt Redoubt which has been quiet for several days is blowing off steam again. Never had a volcano blow up during the race before but a dust mask might be a good addition to everyone's kit. On the bright side ash in the air makes beautiful sunsets.

Sounds super exciting, I hope someone gets some good photos if it does erupt.

Posted by Mel

Thursday 26 February 2009

Final post before the start?

The last week has been really manic and today was horrible. I phoned my credit card company to tell them I was travelling and they told me the card had been canceled because of suspected fraud (probably a surge of payments to hotels and bike shops in Alaska...). I don't have another card that works in the US. It took a long time but it seems to be sorted now! After that stress and too much to finalise at work I got car-doored on the way home. Thankfully the Merc came of worse than me. Phew. Anyway, I'm now packed and I hope everything is done! It's typical that after months of planning I'm still up a couple of hours before I have to leave. Such is life...

On a brighter note, some highlights of the week:

My new, improved Alpkit frame bag and EPIC bivy bag are here.
My pedals no longer freeze up and they have some Power Grips added.
Gore cables have been fitted.
Some lovely Giro glasses have been added to the kit list.

I have a few bits to pick up in Alaska- new tyres, pogies and some food but then I think I’m good to go. The kit list isn’t 100% finalised but it’s just a matter of deciding what I don’t want to carry, rather than finding new things.

I’m a bit nervous now, but I think it’s healthy manner. I just want to get out there!

Speedway Cycles are having a party on Friday so I’m looking forward to meeting all the other racers just in time to join me for a birthday drink.

Quite a few people have asked me about updates. The Iditarod Invitational news page is going to be updated twice daily and (click, click, click) MTBcast (is on the air) is hosting podcasts again.
The MTBR Alaska and Endurance racing forums might be worth checking as well. Mel has the keys to this account so when she hears from me she’ll let you all know.

Finally, a big thanks to everyone who called, emailed or texted me best wishes. It is much appreciated. Also Phil the Horse, Anya, Jon, James and Gareth deserve a big thanks for surprising me with a bottle of Whisky older than me. I look forward to a dram when I get back, hopefully it wont all be gone before I see you all.

Take care, I will :-)

Saturday 21 February 2009


This weekend we were talking today about music. Specifically The Desert Sessions. While I'd love the original vinyl versions, copies of the CD are perfectly good enough to listen to, and much easier to upload to my iPod. A real geek wouldn't stoop that low though. I think most people like getting rare stuff. It got me thinking about some of the cool kit I've got for this trip.

I've got a load of prototype stuff from Alpkit's Devkit division. This includes a new down jacket, a -40 degree sleeping bag system and the frame bag. All top stuff.

The latest bit of kit is this prototype head torch from Exposure. It weights a bit more than the Petzil I was going to take as my primary light but it is a lot brighter. The other two prototypes are already seeing some abuse- and going strong!

Sorry - poor photos. Rushing!

Drop bags

It was a bit of a panic but my food got there. The only disappointments were that I could no longer find chocolate covered coffee beans (Whittards where I previously got them has shut) or Reese’ Peanut Butter cups (pretty hard to get in the UK). At least the Peanut butter cups I can get in the US.

Each bag is 16,000 kCal- 2 days worth of food, they weighed in at about 9lb each. Obviously I’ll be carrying more from the start and there are a few places where food should be available on the course.

Here’s what I packed in each bag:
Mule Bars
Trail mix- nuts, raisins, chocolate raisins, M&Ms, jelly beans, dried fruit and berries, coconut flakes…
Spare batteries, Lithium of course.
Gels, some caffeinated.
Chamois cream
Pop tarts (an old Iditabike favourite- they hardly freeze and are dense with calories!)
Assorted chocolate bars
Wasabi bean mix
Pork scratchings
Beef jerky
Nuun tablets
Cough sweets
Hot chocolate
Instant soup
One Reiter dehydrated meal
Clif Shot Blocks
Hand warmers
Vitamin tablets

I also included some spare batteries and chamois cream.

Tuesday 17 February 2009

Getting there...

Apologies for the lack of posts. I’ve been super busy. Here’s some of what’s been going on:

Packed drop bags (more on that later).
Mr Whirly Cranks and lower gears have been added to the Pug.
The hubs and bb have been degreased and re-greased with low temperature grease.
I’ve replaced the old AC headset with a Chris King. It’s probably just as old but lasting much better. It also got the winterisation treatment.
Dismantled the pedals but couldn’t get the bearings apart. Hopefully they’ll be OK with normal grease.
Got some new clothing from Endura.

Still lots to sot out but getting there!

Monday 9 February 2009

His name is Gary Paulsen

A while ago Steve lent* me a copy of Winterdance by Gary Paulsen. It’s a story about how he got in to racing dog sleds and about the Iditarod. Although I know nothing about racing sleds I really enjoyed the book- funny and honest. What was odd though was, unlike the vast majority of the stories I’ve have read, I’m actually heading out to many of the places he talks about. While I have no intention of ever attempting the Hinterstoisser Traverse, or Silula Grande, Rainy Pass and Farewell Burn will soon be places I’ll be visiting. I took some mental notes. “Steep”, “windy” and “scary” probably sums it up. It still feels a bit surreal that in la few weeks I’ll be out in Alaska.

Any suggestions of inspiring/adventure true stories to fire me up? I get the feeling the film adaptation isn't going to be up to much.

*I will give it back Steve. Just got to read it again!

Thursday 5 February 2009


The two elements of kit that have been bothering me the most are those that protect my hands and my feet.

Strathpuffer destroyed my hands. The cold, wet and constant pounding got to them. Even after a couple of weeks they still don’t feel quite right. I’ve talked to a few people about this and the general consensus seems to be “Pogies rock! Don’t worry so much”. I’ve got a set of Epic Pogies on order.

Last week Jim had a big bag of Mountain Equipment Gloves for me to try as one of the Alpkit guys (Nick?) designed them all. The current plan is to take three sets of Windstopper gloves use underneath the Pogies and to rotate them so they are always dry. I’ll also take a set of warm pile lined/Goretex mountain gloves. I have a set of down mitts as well, but now I'm thinking they’ll be overkill.For my feet I’m planning on using:
Smartwool Liner socks
Smartwool Mountaineering Sock
Scarpa Mirage GTX boots
Superfeet insoles. (All from Snow + Rock)
Neos Navigator 5

I played around with a few set-ups at Snow + Rock but these boots fit really well. I’ve never seen Neos over here, but they are seriously good. The set-up was super warm even after trudging around in the snow for hours. The only thing I might change is the socks. I may change to sythetic/blended socks so they dry quicker.

"The worst snow in 20 years"

Worst? Really? Seems a bit lame!

Managed a 2 hr ride in to work and a different 2hr ride home. Fun!

Wednesday 4 February 2009

Less than a month until the start now...

I’m glad I feel like I’m almost ready. There is still a lot to sort out though. Drop bags is the next big one. Biffa dropped a load of Mule Bars round the other day which will make up fair part of it. I’ve been doing lots of sums, for example:
10,000 kCal per day? 8 days? 221 kCal per Mule Bar. That’s 362 bars, or 23.5 kg…


Don’t worry, I’m not just taking bars. My trailmix “recipe” has also come on a long way and I’ve got another few things to add. I've still got to work out what food to take that I can cook. Decisions, decisions.

Tuesday 3 February 2009

I wonder who that was?

I visited my friend Miles earlier. He works in one of the outdoor shops in town. Seems a girl had been in who said she is running the 350 mile route. No brit girls on the list at the moment. I wonder if I know her!

Testing times

It’s snowed here for the last couple of days. That’s pretty unusual. I’ve commuted on the Pug, gone the long ways, and played in the parks. Great fun. Anyway, that’s why I haven’t written anything about the weekend yet!

Sometimes the weekend flies by. Straight after work on Thursday I was off to the airport. A couple of hours later I landed in Edinburgh and met Jim and Angus. Jim drove us up to Aviemore where we found the Old Bridge Inn was shut so, after playing with a big bag of Mountain Equipment gloves, we headed to bed.

Friday morning I rebuilt the bike and loaded it up as close to the set-up I’m intending to use in Alaska as possible. The plan for the weekend was for me to get some decent practice using the fully loaded bike and fine-tune a few items of kit. Angus was along to film me for the Trad Film competition.

We headed up to Cairngorm Ski Centre- the highest area around. Heather, the Ranger on duty gave us some suggestions of where to find the best snow, without annoying too many skiers and Snowboarders. The winds were pretty strong (80mph?) and the push up the hill was pretty strenuous, but just as I’d anticipated. It was pretty much a white-out so the filming will hopefully make me look tough. Although it’s more likely it was just un-usable… After several hours of pushing, only broken up by small sections I could ride, we ran out of time. The descent was great though! I even overtook a couple of snowboarders!

We then shot down the hill to meet Carl, the mountain bike guide at Glenmore Lodge. He had a play on the Pug and gave us some good tips on places to ride, as well as planting the seed for a new adventure… We also tried to get in touch with the local dog sled centre as one of them is heading out to run the Iditarod (dog race) next year, so would have been interesting to talk to. Unfortunately they weren’t answering their phone.

Saturday we drove to the Lecht ski area and headed up to the plateau at the top of the hill. Compared to the previous day it was quite a bit brighter but the snow was deeper. I did a load of loops and played about in the drifts and trying to wall ride the frozen banks. Loads of fun. After a late lunch Angus interviewed me a bit then we sorted ourselves out and headed out. We parked in a forestry car park, ignoring the “no over night parking” sign and all the mobile homes, grabbed our bikes and headed out in to the dark. After a couple of miles ride in to the forest we headed off in to the brush in the vague direction of a secret bothy spot. It took us a while to find but when we finally spotted it we were pleasantly surprised. Once inside we did a little more filming, enjoyed a couple of beers and played some Pass the Pigs (an Alpkit favourite). Jim and Angus slept inside but I slept outside in my new hot pink prototype bivy bag and –40 rated Devkit sleeping bag. Both preformed exactly as predicted: The sleeping bag was far too warm and the bivy bag was not breathable enough! The sleeping bag system is awesome. Basically, there is an inner down bag and an outer synthetic layer which means the bag will be a lot warmer when it’s damp and the dew-point will be outside the down so it should stay dryer anyway. The next bivy bag is going to be made out of Event fabric so the breathability will be sorted. It’s good and light and the ideal size to fit around the sleeping bag allowing the down to fully loft but not to big in order to minimise weight.

In the morning we woke up and immediately realised just how obvious the bothy was… Oh well. We rode back to the van and headed up to Cairngorm again. We did a different loop this time, the ground was really icy and it was really windy again but it was a fun ride. After that there was just time pack up and head of to our respective homes. I got back at about 11:30.

From my point of view the weekend was a great success: everything worked as expected, I felt fine carting the bike around, and, well, it was fun! Hopefully the film turns out well!

As an aside: Since I’ve had it the Pug as been a big conversation piece. It gets weird looks and everyone is fascinated by it. The funny thing this weekend was that a lot of people “got it”, I guess, the weather up in Aviemore is sufficient for it to make a practical bike, while down here it only comes in to it’s own a couple of days a year (including today…). On that note I’m going to get it built up again and go and play in the snow!