Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Cracking the Top Ten

Last time I did the Tuckerman Inferno, I said I was done. Hanging up the sneaks, paddle, bike, boots, and skis.

But in the back of my mind, I probably thought I could do better.

Give me credit: those two other Infernos were done under adverse conditions. The first one, Left Gully was so hard, I used cramp-ons to climb up. And the second one was postponed for a day due to 20-plus inches of snow. I was just glad to finish, and thrilled to have gotten out alive. Plus, the top finishers were animals. No way I could come close to them. Right?

Somehow, despite my decision to never do it again, I found myself registering for this year's race after a one year hiatus during which I ran Boston instead of the Inferno -- much easier, by the way (except that there are more places to go to the bathroom at the Inferno). I think it was that voice in the back of my head telling me that this year was the year to improve. I had better equipment, a little more knowledge, and -- after a milder winter -- I'm in better shape.

The race was easier, to be sure. I kept up a 7:10 pace over the 8-mile run -- and it didn't feel that hard. The kayak was relaxing and comfortable (the result of a scouting mission I took 2 weeks ago). The bike was great (no kickstand or newspaper rack). The hike was quick (only the essentials on my back: skis, boots, helmet, pants, Gu, and a small water). And -- due to some half decent weather -- the hike up to the very top of Left Gully was fun... and the snow nice.

And my crew was perfect.

All in all, it was a great race on a great day. So now I can say it and mean it (for now): that's the last one.

Thursday, April 12, 2012


The Tuckerman Inferno is just one week away, and it's decision time. What equipment should I use? This will be my third Inferno, and already I have upgraded over my first two Infernos. For those two -- run in 2010 and 2009 -- I rode a 25-year-old bike that weighed 40-plus pounds and had a newspaper rack and a kickstand up the 18-mile hill climb. Besides that, I used a too-tight, mouse-chewed, 20-plus year-old wetsuit for the kayak portion. When I bought a bike last year, I said, boy, I really ought to give the Inferno another go now that I have a half-decent ride. When I received an NRS drysuit for Christmas, the decision was made. "That's it," I said. "I'm doing it!"

But what about the rest of my kit? What boat should I paddle? What skis should I carry? And how much stuff should I haul up to Tuckerman Ravine? One thing that will be different this year will be the transitions. Alot of time can be lost or gained (mostly lost) in these transitions. I should know; you're talking to the guy who took 8 minutes at the bike/run tranny at last year's Pumpkinman Triathlon! (Note: for those that don't know a triathlon tranny from a Ford tranny, most real triathletes take like 2 minutes in transition areas.) Anyway, for me, just running, kayaking, and biking in the same triathlon shorts is going to make a huge difference -- all possible because of the drysuit. As for what boat to use, I will also point out another difference-maker for this year: I actually trained (!!) for the 2012 event. I've been running all winter, I have been out several times on my bike, I ferried skis up Mount Mansfield last week to see how they felt on my pack (I usually much prefer skinning!), I've been skiing of course all winter (including yesterday), and -- biggest of all -- I boated the kayak stretch two days ago.

What an advantage that will be! For one, I won't boat the entire 6 miles stressing that I'm going to die during the race. Instead, I did that already on Tuesday! And I tried a new boat -- Ali's flatwater boat. Terrible for a whitewater stretch, this stretch of the Saco is mostly flat. And the water level is so low right now, that any whitewater areas are more like rockgardens. If I can pick my way through a handful of tricky sections, I should be fine. So if the water level stays mostly the same throughout the week, I plan to use this flatwater boat that cuts through water and goes straight.

The last big question is backpack and ski equipment. In 2009, a team of Sherpas could have divvied up all the gear I had in my backpack. I was ready for any and all weather that Mount Washington could have possibly thrown at me. And I carried my telemark gear. This year, I'm carrying skis, boots, and that's it. How bad can hypothermia be? In 2010, I carried less stuff but still tele-ed. I skied well in 2010, but I would have been way faster on alpine gear. And hiking up Left Gully is way more stable in stiff plastic Langes than in my softer telemark boots. Where I lose is in weight going up: Black Diamond tele boots: 8 pounds. Big, heavy Langes: 11.5. Black Diamond Kilawatt skis with lightweight telemark bindings: 13 pounds. Dynastar Outland Pros with alpine bindings: 17. Seventeen pounds, are you serious???

As you can see, I have some big decisions facing me. But considering that I never even thought about these things until I was actually in the race, obviously I'm way ahead this year. And one more advantage. After this year, I'll never have to worry about doing this insane event again.

[Note: The Tuckerman Inferno is an 8-mile run (hilly), a 6.2 mile paddle (that's 10K), a straight-uphill 18-mile bike to Pinkham Notch from North Conway, a hike carrying ski equipment up the Tuckerman Ravine Trail, and a ski down Left Gully at Tuck's. Not something you want to do without some prepwork!]

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

News Flash: Snow!

You wouldn't know unless you were really paying attention: it snowed in the mountains... a LOT. Oscar, Gladys, and I loaded our ski stuff (which for me includes, skis, poles, boots, goggles, and backpack and for the dogs means themselves) into the car and headed to Stowe this morning. The mountains have been completely socked in clouds for two days, and they didn't become anymore visible as we drove up Route 108. Making matters worse, it started raining as we passed the Matterhorn. By the Tollhouse, it was pouring.

But then as we gained elevation, the rain stopped, and snow began to fall. The first thing I realized putting my foot in my telemark boots was that I had removed the footbeds and put them in my biking shoes -- drat! We began climbing, and it became apparent that the storm had been major. Oscar and Gladys, having -- along with the rest of the world (ie Vermont) -- been thinking spring was here, were beside themselves with excitement. We passed 8 people (6 guys, 2 girls) on the way up -- all in touring gear (7 skiers, one snowboarder) -- and four dogs.

At the top we removed skins and turned down the steep favorite Hayride. The run was a tale of 3 elevations. The first more-than-a-third of the way down was like skiing in whipping cream. The snow was dense, but compact enough that I didn't sink. Beautiful -- some of my season's best tele-turns. Oscar plowed through behind me while Gladys bounded above the snow. The second stretch, beginning on the Waterfall section of Hayride, became heavy, but still fabulous -- about 18 inches deep. The coverage was amazing, considering Hayride had been completely grassed over a week ago. The last stretch was mashed potatoes -- still fun, but certainly tough skiing.

It was the second largest accumulation of the season -- and (like the largest, when it only snowed 3 inches in the Valley but 36 in the mountains) no one's the wiser! Even I went kayaking and bicycling yesterday. All I can say is don't ever put your skis away in Vermont in April. You just never know what may happen.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Road Report

With two big events in my future (the Tuckerman Inferno and the Vermont City Marathon) and the coinciding ending of the Vermont ski season, I have been out on the roads. The Inferno is in three weeks; I need to get in shape fast!

So I've been faithfully hitting the roads of northern Vermont on foot and on my bike. When one travels the roads using non-motorized modes of transport, one tends to notice more. And every spring I am always moved by the amount of litter on our roadways. And what does the litter tell us about our population?

So far this year, I am pleased to report that I have seen not a single McDonald's take-out bag. Nice job, Mickey! Usually, they are far and away, the litter champions. No, the champs this year -- unfortunately, since this is a demographic that I generally align myself with -- are the beer drinkers. Lots of empty bottles and cans. I now take this opportunity to ask my fellow boozers: don't you guys know you get a nickel for every bottle and can? Or are you such lightweights you don't drink enough for it to add up?

Of the empties I see on the side of the road, Bud Light seems to be the most frequently discarded; in fact, Bud Light drinkers tend to toss all their empties at once -- including the case box. In a distant second, Labatt's. Okay Bud Light and Labatt drinkers: time to clean up your act! (Note: I have yet to see a PBR can on the roadside this season; I guess the PBR drinkers have a use for their nickels.)

On the subject of road behavior, I have so far noticed a significant increase in a "share the road" attitude from motorists this year. I've had cars slow down and even stop to let me and oncoming traffic pass. It's really been nice; however, I wonder if it's just because it's early in the season and motorists are just happy about the early spring. Give it a couple of months, and they'll probably be sick of us runners and cyclists again. They'll be running us down every chance they get.

Happy Spring!