Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More meta-blogging

Epic Eric pointed me to Curiak's blog where it says his big ride to Nome was, "1,100 some miles, over 21 days of riding. Knik to Nome on the Iditarod trail. Purely self-supported."

Pretty neat. 50 miles per day. Same speed as the skate skiers Kelley and Baker who may also have done their trip self-conatined (let's pretend they did). Curiak's tried it a bunch and has a decade of experience riding on that long snowmachine trail. He's a bad-ass biker in other ways, too, outside of Alaska.

It's interesting to me that he made about double the distance that Jason Geck and I made on our Arctic 1000 unsupported walk in the arctic in the same amount of time. I think we are sort of stuck with a maximum amount we can carry and that feeds us for about 3 weeks and the rest is decided by speed (given determination, skill, and endurance).

In short, mountain bikes are about twice as fast as feet in long distance AK wilderness travel. For example, in the Alaska Range traverses of 1996, the hikers averaged pretty much half the speed of the bikers....and this seems to hold true here, too.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Skulking Skurka and Curious Curiak

Ox Foster, a Kiwi I raced with on Team Hi-Tec in the 1996 Eco-Challenge, wrote me hoping I was getting in some work in between my leisure. Fact of the matter is, yes, busting my butt with four classes and two theses. The theses are super cool -- so are the classes, minus the part about grading weekly quizzes in them all -- and they are keeping me glued to my seat with my 'puter glued to my lap every night.

Anyway, what this means is I am living vicariously through others' adventure and currently following Andy Skurka as he skis along the Iditarod Trail in metal edged skis. Goof ball. I warned him. I even sent him the hot-rod of AK backcountry x-c, Tim Kelley's performance link, but to no avail. Maybe next time ole' Awesome Andy will come around from the (dumb) dark side and see the light of light on the feet. And to think he's like the uber-athlete of going light and long!! And using metal edged skis with big heavy boots, too! Jeesh......

Yep, all that weight and still averaging about 30 miles a day. Imagine if he knew how to skate ski, double pole and make do without waxing and actually followed the advice of Tim Kelley on gear....he'd be to Rohn by now and Forrest McCarthy and that amazingly artistic and young NGS photographer (Mike Brown) who's doing the big story would have to be flying up like a month early -- Tim Kelley and Bob Baker skied the whole Iditarod trail in under three weeks back in the 90s, which to put things in perspective is like twice Skurka's pace, and they of course used skate skiis and sleds rather than pins, metal, and a backpack.

About the time super-hiker's taking off, super-biker's just landed -- Mike Curiak-- in Nome, having ridden and pushed (I doubt he carried it at all) his snow bike the whole length of the Iditarod Trail, self-contained, meaning he had all his food and gear with him for the whole 1000 miles. I am really looking forward to the on-line details of that trip to distract me from grading papers and editing manuscripts.

Let's hope those get posted before the ice goes out and I can get my butt back in its proper place -- a boat.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

White Mountains 100

In many ways, Fairbanks is the epicenter of true Alaskan adventurers.

Just living in Fairbanks is an adventure, especially for people who move there from the Lower 48, like college kids going to UAF to get a science major and an unofficial minor in "cabin dwelling", an adventure in itself of wood burning, ski-communting, and water-hauling. Then there's Fairbanks' location, smack in the middle of Alaska's central wilderness, within view of the Alaska Range and within a day's drive of the Brooks Range. Alaska's first marathon, the Equinox, is a Fairbanks thing, and its 20 year recored holder a Fairbanks Resident. Fat tired snow biking was born on its musher trails and the first double width rims were produced there in the early 1990s. For a town that's like a fifth the size of Anchorage, it produces amazing skiers, bikers, climbers, and even boaters, not to mention mushers who win multiple enduro-races back to back to back to back

All the good stuff about Alaska, its cold winters that clean out the population, its beautiful springtime which is really the first few months of summer, 24 hour sunlight during the summer, vast open vistas in amazingly clear air, landscapes dominated by the natural, people with full-bodied characters living a semi-subsistance lifestyle. It's all there and with an eclectic mix of liberal college-town dwellers, moderate military, and more conservative-minded resource-extractors. Oh Fairbanks, how I miss you.

This is all lead-up to Ed Plumb's "White Mountains 100" which looks like it offers up what is best about Fairbanks and Fairbanksans in a multisport loop through what is the most beautiful yet accessible landscape in the Interior. From all accounts -- like Ned and Jill it was a great event, one that I will have to start training for and get my entry in early, too.

It sounds like what the Iditaski was like in the 1980s and the Iditbike in the 1990s but with better scenery and far better weather.

Congratulations Ed on a race well run!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wilderness Classic 2010 Announced

Fresh from my email box:

29th Annual Alaska Mountain Wilderness Classic
Gerstle River to McKinley Village
Start: 10:00 AM Sunday, June 20th, 2010

Contacts: Michael Martin (mickeymamwc at comcast dot net)

The 29th AMWC, in keeping with tradition, will return for a second year to the route established in 2009. The race will start approximately at the intersection of the Gerstle River and Highway 2 (Alaska Highway), and will finish just south of McKinley Village alongside Highway 3 (Parks Highway).

To maintain the AMWC as a “wilderness race,” roadways are off-limits. To prevent any confusion, loop-holes, etc. – this means a distance of five miles from roads. The only exception to this rule is the necessary crossing of Route 4 (Richardson Highway) at the Donnelly Creek State Recreation Site at mile marker 238 on the Richardson Hwy.

Because of several incidents involving aircraft evacuation of uninjured racers in past years, the requirement of satellite phones of every racer continues.


These can be rented from several places for as little as $100/week. Each racer must display the phone on race day to race officials. Contact John Norris at satcomak at gci dot net or 907-677-9699.

In case you forgot what it looks like.....

And in other announcements:

"Dream Result" kayaking video (the world record waterfall drop video) Tim Johnson's "New Horizon", double header at Bears Tooth Theatre, Thursday, April 8th, 2010 at 8:00p.m. Tickets will probably sell out quickly.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Packrafting with Peggy: Around the World

Last year about this time Peggy and I were in Australia on our 'round the world trip, cooking our brains in the Wet Season heat of Kakadu and the Bungle Bungles.

We also packrafted in Patagonia, NZ, and Borneo, but by the time we reached Africa, there was no place safe and wet for rafting so we just watched animals in Kruger and hiked in the Drakensberg, a place that Thai Verzone had highly recommended we visit -- and it was awesome.

Here's a video of our memories from that time, watching wildlife, walking and rafting. More fun than grading papers.....

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Class V

Moving on to others' reflections on boating: i found this essay on-line about what Class V is in whitewater by a guy -- Doug Ammons -- who's been around Class V for decades:

"I've seen people get a lot of different things from the river and from class five. It's all in what you bring to it. If you go looking for challenge or for mystery, you'll find them. Treat it like a snowboard in a halfpipe and that's what it will be. If it's for bragging rights, getting scared, looking for a rush, being cool, enjoying beauty, celebrating friendships - it can give these too. I guess I feel that it's such an incredible gift it should be used well. I think most people who stick around know how much it can be, whether or not they put it into words. It's the greatest balance of fun, seriousness, and truth I've ever found.

There are some other lessons too. Most class five from 30 years ago is class four now, or even less. We've upped the ante a lot as we kept looking for the edge. Disregarding all the grays about ratings, really, the way we use the term "class five" it just means whatever the edge of runnability is at a given time. Each time we do another harder river, nip off another portage, find a steeper run, go for a higher water level, that's water under the bridge. Pretty quickly, we look for something higher, bigger, faster, or weirder. We change, and the class five changes. We never stop exploring, both it and ourselves. So to me class five is also a word for a special kind of learning. It says, "push hard, but remember - what you do in the next few seconds may mean everything." Class five is a rapid, a physical place with a beginning, a set of moves, and an end. But it is also all the things that the physical place touches inside you, all the ripples of meaning it has for you, and those are things which go on as long as you live.

Class five is about your limits. It is about what you can control, and what you can come to with a steady, clear mind. Those limits change within you, even on a single run. They change with equipment and experience. They change from person to person, and year to year. Some of the guys in my generation may already be getting too old and stiff to keep pushing the edge of class five. They've been there, done that, and now they have families and other concerns. But even for those who continue, there's always a new set of people who will try to take it past anything we ever thought possible. And when the new guys push as far as they can, the next generation after them will already be hungry for more. After you're around for a while, you realize you've received a baton from the past, and at some point you'll end up passing it to others and stepping out of the way. I think though, over time everybody who steps up to the plate probably asks the same questions, because the river has the power to say certain things.

And take my word for it, there's always some pretty wild stuff going on. There are guys out there looking for the real shit. You just don't hear about a lot of it because it stays where it matters most - between a few close friends and the river.

Whenever you enter the game, whatever door you come through, that's what you accept as your base. If you've got the desire to find answers, the river will have the questions. So I always keep in mind that no matter how hard we push, there is no end and there are no final limits. The river will always have more.

Doug Ammons
--with thanks to the rivers I know, and my friends."

I like this -- it makes Class V a relative measure.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Tingey's Take on Thigh Straps

This from the former Alpacka Web Site Forum now moved to its own http://www.packrafting.org/forums/:

From the designer of Alpacka herself:
"Hi Everyone,

I think it is time I checked in concerning both new developments at Alpacka and aftermarket modifications. I am excited for those of you that are doing mods, many of them are good. However, there a couple modifications that I feel I need to address. More important, I need to address how they’re presented. I’m getting flooded with calls from customers, both old and new wondering what they should be adding to their boats for C-II and C-III water. This concerns me. Most of the whitewater mods I’m aware of don’t have much relevance until you get into Class IV water, or very big Class III. In more normal whitewater, they add weight to the boat, may endanger the boater, and may compromise general boating. I need to call a spade a spade: the boats have been running Class III (and some IV) since 2002 without mods. If you’re running Class II and III water, you honestly don’t need to mod your boat to get reasonable performance.

I will address each of the specific issues individually.

1. Moving your seat forward: This is more applicable with the older boats. The boats that Roman did this with are all model year 2005 or older. Since that time we’ve enlarged and lengthened the stern of the rafts twice, which improves trim and alleviates the need to move forward in the boat . Personally, I don’t see a need to move your seat forward in any of the newer models. If you do want to move your seat, I’d say Velcro is not the solution of choice. It will wear out quickly in that application. I know this because I tried it several years ago. Also, the possibility of sand getting into the velcro in the bottom of the raft where the seat is pretty substantial. With the current thread-in seats, there are much better ways to temporarily move or install a seat.

2. Moving your spraydeck forward: I don’t recommend this. When we have had decks moved forward even a little bit, when the paddler wants to stretch out their legs a large hole is formed between the paddlers waist and the spraydeck. This also tends to pull the deck waist Velcro open. In my experience, it is better to move forward against your deck to get tight in your boat than to have you spraydeck altered forward and never be able to straighten your legs without problems.

3. Thigh Straps: They’re potentially very dangerous. In a word: “entrapment.” Alpacka will not put them in for people, and does NOT recommend them. You can all do this if you choose, but please be aware that there is a very real possibility of entrapment. Reading Tim’s account of getting out of thigh straps drove this home for me. This should not be taken lightly. Packs under a deck can cause entrapment hazard too. I feel we need to caution people that they need to be aware of the risk that they are putting themselves in. Even worse, putting a pack under your knees and then putting your legs into the thigh straps is adding more of an entrapment possibility.

An Alpacka Raft is like a Volkswagon Beetle. The beetle was a magnificent little car that did what it was designed to do. An Alpacka does a terrific job at what it is supposed to do: be a wilderness water access tool. It was never designed to withstand the stresses of rolling and class 5 whitewater. You can put all the attachments on it you want, and as the designer, I’d say you still have a Beetle with forty attachments. It’s not that much closer to the Porsche than it was. A side effect is that you have a 7+ lb. boat. When you need a Porsche, start with a Porche base. Don't destroy your Beetle!
For Class IV and higher whitewater, the kind you’d really want to mod an Alpacka for, I’d say you have two reasonable options: the new boat we’re working on (working title “Witchcraft”) and the a hardshell kayak.

I’ve been mentally designing the Witchcraft for over five years. Everything about it is different and designed to do one thing better: run more difficult whitewater. It’s not a good general trip boat, and isn’t designed to carry weight. This is more of a day creek boat, or a boat for those who want hike in with the objective of hitting a particularly prize piece of water.

Getting back to the kayak point: the Witch will never be as good as a hard shell kayak for high-performance, hard whitewater boating. For that, a molded-hull kayak is the best vehicle. An inflatable improves your portability but doesn’t have the capability to do all the things that a hard shell can. There is a boat for every kind of water, we need to respect and acknowledge how each craft fits into the scheme of the total water picture.

That said, this new boat is addressing many of things that modifications address on older boats.

Design: This boat is designed to be trim with just the paddler in it. The stern has been elongated another 4 inches. The bow tubes have been shrunk down as well. Result: the boat runs really well without a pack and holds its line better than the standard boat, but does NOT carry a pack well. This is much more of a day boat.

Fabric: The entire boat is made of floor fabric to better withstand more serious creek bashing. This throws the weight up to around 8 pounds, maybe more, much more bulky than a classic Alpacka.

Spraydeck: The new spraydeck is drier than the standard one. Several factors are in play here, and be aware that this deck doesn’t work on the regular boats: it does some things that work because of the different hull design. The deck is also glued on, like the floor, and built of much heavier fabric.

Thigh support system: The thigh support system comes from above and when the deck cord is pulled the whole system releases, allowing the paddler to slide out of the boat. What I’m attempting to do with it is create a support system that addresses the dangers I see of thigh straps in the boat.

So far everyone has been very pleased with the new boat, but we are still testing it, and obviously arduous testing is very important for something like this. I’m hoping to make it available sometime in May on a limited basis. We will be taking orders and making the boats up custom for this season. These boats are quite time consuming and difficult for us to produce, so be forewarned that the costs will be higher. I have not costed them out fully because we are still getting our processes worked out but be prepared that the boats will probably be around $300 more than a regular decked Alpacka Raft. I think it will be a great addition to the Alpacka line, but not a replacement in any way for your standard Alpacka, and not a beginner’s boat. This boat is another arrow in your quiver, designed for those of are willing to sacrifice general purpose boating qualities to focus on whitewater. And it still won't do everything that a hardshell can.

Know your limits!
Cheers everyone,

My posts are personal opinions only (not an official statement or policy by Alpacka Raft, although I may allude to existing Alpacka policies).

Saturday, March 6, 2010

New Zealand West Coast Compilation

While listening to the local college radio station, I used Shazzam on my iPhone to ferret out a 2-person band called "Phantogram" while waiting for a stoplight in midtown Anchorage.

All excited about that new Alpacka "Witchcraft" boat (Alpacka might send one up for us to test-out!), but it's snowing now and can't get out in my own boats even....so the best I could do was reminisce about the West Coast of NZ and put together this:

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Vids of the Month

Yes it's time for the best packrafting vids of the month, this month being now and the best vids being these three:

Ganey's greatest hits from a Vermont Autumn mostly:

Forrest's cool Ski Raftineering trip in Wyoming with his wife Amy and the guy with really wild hair:

And this! A new raft design from Alpacka -- the WitchCraft (which craft?) -- being rolled without thighstraps:

Here's what Sheri of Alpacka Raft has to say about this new amazing boat:

"I have 3 of these in testing at the moment. After two salt trips this next week I suspect we will be ready to say "go for it". The suspension system is actually from above and is very firm. It has more grip and leverage on the thighs than the thigh straps do and there does not seem to be any entanglement issues with it. When the deck is pulled the system comes loose with the deck. I won't go into any more detail on that at the moment til the two Salt trips are completed and I am sure I am satisfied. That said, at this point it is looking really good. The stern on this boat has been elongated even further, another four inches, and the bow tubes are quite a bit smaller. The end result is the boat is trim with a person in it with no added weight. This boat is not intended to carry big loads, that is what the regular Alpacas are for. This boat is really designed to be trim and balanced in the water with just a person. This boat is being made with all floor fabric and a very beefed up deck that is actually glued on like the floor. Everything about this boat is aimed at being a more aggressive whitewater capability item. The weight looks like it will be around 8.5 lbs. So this isn't the long distance trip boat, it is meant to be the more day hike/trip front country mud truck white water oriented beast."

Can't wait to get my butt in that boat!
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