A Cooker from Oregon

Last February, I received a stove in the mail. It was from Tom Bennett, a Portland-based engineer. He collaborated with Zdenek Zumr and others in the Portland State University's School of Engineering Machine Shop to produce a fast-burning, lightweight cooker for me for Iditarod.  Upon arrival, I took it outside to run a comparison test with my old cooker. Needless to say, its clever engineering and smart design outperformed the old cooker in nearly every way. I had hot water in 15 minutes; it took another 10-15 for the old stove to reach the same water temperature.  I think it was about 15F out. 

It fits perfectly in my sled bag and worked great on the race. I received several compliments on its sleek design & efficient performance. After 1000 miles and ~30 times firing, it is trail tested and approved! 

Tom organized a Mazamas (Portland-based Mountaineering Club) excursion to Talkeetna at the end of March. I was happy to have the opportunity to thank Tom & Zdenek in person. They educated me on the dynamics of the stove and already had some improvements in mind for next year. 

 I want to extend a huge thank you to Tom, Zdenek & Co. for building such an innovative, impressive stove! Excited to see what Version 2.0 has in store! 

Stove Comparision Test. Same amount of snow, 2 bottles of Heet. 
Stoves at work.
Sleek design.
After 15 minutes...
Also at 15 minutes.

Stove (at left) at work in Nikolai. Photo by Kenneth Dåbakk
The stove cooked many meals on my 24 in McGrath.
Photo by Anja Radano.

Meeting with excursion members: Lizzy (holding Major & Fezzik), Anna, Debbie, Ally, Tom (holding Goofy), Zdenek, & Jon. (fyi, not everyone is pictured ;) )
Tom, Zdenek & Lisbet examining the stove, post-Iditarod.
Goofy, Tom, Lisbet & Ruby. and cooker! 
Lizzy supervises snack time on a beautiful day in Talkeetna, AK. Tom & Lisbet mug for the camera. 


II. The Easy Part

Vader & Pete resting at Finger Lake.

From the start line on Willow Lake, the dogs churned though the torn-up trail left behind by the thirty-nine mushers that preceded me. The miles flew by, familiar trail punctuated by groups of cheering fans. We dropped onto the river in no time at all and spent the next couple hours enjoying the blue skies and warm sunshine of early spring. The sun had set by the time I reached Yentna. We blew through, pausing only to sign a handful of posters. Although I would have loved to stop for one of my beloved Yentna Station cheeseburgers, I wanted to keep going for another ten miles before camping with the dogs. After an hour, we found a relatively private pull-off behind a wooded sand bar. I fed the dogs and discovered, after all my preparation, I had neglected to pack food for myself for the first seventy miles of the race. Oops. Rookie mistake #2. I had plenty of snacks, but I would need to stop and feed myself in Skwentna, something I hadn't planned on. No big deal. I wasn’t racing. In fact, I didn’t even have a schedule. 

I went into the race with a hazy idea of a twelve day race, a copy of the race rules, and a copy of Mikhail Telpin’s schedule from last year’s southern route. This still makes me laugh just thinking about it. However, I knew if the Chukchi dogs could do the race in twelve days, so could I. In retrospect, this was one of the best decisions I could have made for my rookie race, especially during a year in which the conditions were so unpredictably varied. I was able to adjust fluidly, with no consultation with a piece of paper, just an eye on the dogs and the weather. This resulted in very little stress on my part in regards to a “schedule.” I’m so glad I did it that way. What happened was that I fell into a group of people with comparable traveling speeds. Monica Zappa (who I traveled with from Rohn all the way to Nome) and Alex Beutow (who was with us until Kaltag, where he started cutting rest and roared away with his nice-looking Berkowitz puppy team) were both a bit faster than me, so I just took as much rest as I could get away with and still keep up with them. 

However, sitting on the sand bar outside of Yentna, I hadn’t yet fallen into the run/rest groove that was to set in a couple hundred miles further down the trail. I was beset with uncertainty about how long to rest the dogs, where to rest them, how much to feed, and just generally feeling like I had no idea what I was doing. But I was also excited, thinking about how I was actually running Iditarod (!). I leaned back against my sled and looked downriver, watching the stream of headlights cruise steadily past my secret spot. The only team that followed my tracks was Alex, who of course managed to time it so that I barely had time to pull up my pants from taking a pee before his floodlight of a headlight lit up my camping spot. Typical. Once Alex had passed through, the teams started to peter out; either camped in Yentna or on their way to Skwentna. The night was clear; the starts twinkled and the northern lights came out. I tried to take a nap but was too excited to sleep. The thought that I was running Iditarod was thrilling, but had not quite clicked; the trail was still too familiar. I was looking forward to the trail beyond Finger Lake; for me, untracked territory.

In Skwentna, I bedded down the dogs and fed them a quick meal while the main reason I didn’t mind stopping in Skwentna, my friend Kristin Bacon, watched on. Kristin is planning on running the 2016 Iditarod and will be completing her qualifiers this season. Kristin has volunteered with the famed “Skwentna Sweeties” for the past several years, helping run the checkpoint and feed the mushers. After a quick bite to eat, I geared up, pulled the hook and let the team cruise into the big Skwentna Swamp in the early dawn light. I love the Skwentna swamp; the last time we traveled through was on the 2013 Northern Lights 300. At that time, there was an almost full moon and it was dead quiet. Frost sparkled everywhere. It was -40 F and we ran by the light of the moon. This time around, it was at least 50 degrees warmer, but still clear and beautiful in the early blue light of morning. The sun rose, and it got warm, but it didn’t slow the dogs down any. Everything glittered in the sun. The trail was very hard, and due to the recent thaw-freeze cycle right before the race, the surrounding snow had a thick crust capable of supporting a full grown man. You could travel anywhere, as evident by Alex’s Beutow’s (a full grown man) beautiful camp outside of Finger Lake, a hundred yards off the trail behind a pretty little spruce grove. 

Late morning, we pulled into Finger Lake and settled down for a seven and a half hour rest. I commiserated with some of the other Rookies camped down on in front of Winter Lake Lodge. The next run to Rainy Pass contained the Happy River Steps and is known to be quite technical and difficult. There was nothing the veterans still camped at Finger Lake could say to reassure us, except maybe “put your helmet on.” We’d either make it down fine or not. 

The Susitna River.
Skwentna Swamp at daybreak.
Early morning twilight.
Hard crusty trail on the way to Finger Lake.

Ruby, Vader, Nils, Pete, Fezzik, Vinnie, Robber, Major, Jackie, Victor, Frigg, Doc, Sneezy & Goofy.
Alex's camp.
Finger Lake Checkpoint. They chipped holes in the ice for snowhooks so we could safely anchor our teams.
Eating well at Finger Lake.
Ruby & Nils resting at Finger Lake.

seward 1

First, a drive through the sublime.
Then, hop into a friend's helicopter. 
Observe the pinpricks fishing the Resurrection River.
The steep, verdant hillsides.
Seward Helicopter Tours' dog camp up on Godwin glacier. 
Possibly the most scenic prison in Alaska?
Seward from the air.
Seward on the ground: full of colorful doors.

A restaurant by the sea with a delicious cocktail menu.
For example: a Ginger Lemon Cocktail.
A view of the harbor.

Gold dust on the water (spruce pollen).
The toe of Exit Glacier.
The harbor again.  

Lisbet & Exit Glacier.
Some fascinating rocks. 


seward 2

No work for me this week (I've been flagging), so after catching up on a lot of post-Iditarod work, visiting friends in Talkeetna, and running errands in Wasilla & Anchorage, I headed down to Seward to hear my friend Dan play at the Yukon Bar & go for a hike with my friend Sarah. Seward is a really lovely little town by the mountains and the sea, with a surprisingly impressive array of good restaurants and Made-in-Alaska focused tourist shops, only 2 hours from Anchorage. Sarah runs Seward Helicopter and Dog Sled Tours. Last time I was in Seward I got to hop on the helicopter for a flight tour of Seward and visit their dog camp on the glacier. That was fun! Need to post those pictures. Tekla Seavey (who I last saw in Nome), joined us for cocktails before Dan's show (which we ended up mostly missing due to the aforementioned cocktails. oops) and hiking the day after. I loaded up Mygga's dog pack with some small water bottles for her to practice lugging around. Eventually, I'd like to be able to take some of the dogs on longer trips into the mountains and have them carry their own food and water. I attached a jingle bell on the pack, ostensibly to alert bears of our presence (I always think of the Tundra cartoon in which bears lounging behind a bush are excited to hear the "dinner bell") and tried walking the beach (no-go, high tide), the Iditarod Trail (nope, trail has been replaced by a river), and finally to the trail along Bear Lake, where we jingled merrily along to a small cove with a beach, our turnaround point.

Mygga, playing at being a pack dog.
Mygga on the beach.

Looking towards Seward.
The Iditarod Trail, washed out by spring flooding.
Lisbet & Mygga on the remains of the original Iditarod Trail. 
Mygga on the trail we shared with a creek.
Little water dog.

Tekla & Sarah on the way to Bear Lake.

Mossy trees.

Emerald ferns & a many tiered waterfall.
The trail is carved into a steep hillside running the length of the lake.

Overlooking Bear Lake.
Mygga and her buddy Arthur.

Tekla & Sarah take a break on a Bear Lake beach.

Mygga in the grass.
Lush mosses everywhere.