Rob's Blog Archive

March 10, 2013

Keeping the Streak Alive










As of a couple of days ago, it looked grim.  My streak of winters with at least one run with an average temperature below zero appeared to be over.  It’s March, and about half the time we do get a couple of nights below zero.  However, the forecast was for continuing wet, mild, weather.

Only one night showed even vague promise.  The forecast for Monday night was for fog and a low of 12 F.  If the fog prediction ended up being erroneous, something not totally farfetched, it could drop a lot lower.  Even with this, the temperature wouldn’t breach zero by much, and the best odds for a subzero run would be to time it so that it ended just as the sun rose.

By 10:00 P.M. Monday evening, we were in the single digits and it was crystal clear.  The “official” sunrise was after 7:00 A.M. and the Swan Range with its north-south crest would only delay this.  The night held promise. 

At about 1:00 A.M., I wandered outside.  I shut off my headlamp, looked up, and took in the stars.  This far away from the backlight of cities, clear nights should be savored for at least a few minutes.  If we were really cold, below -20F, I would hear trees cracking.  With a temperature just above zero, the world was quiet.  Ten minutes later I popped the headlamp on, got a few more logs from my woodshed, and went back inside. Half an hour after this, I hit the sack.  By that time, the digital thermometer sported a negative sign.

4:45 A.M. and my alarm went off.  A factual responsibility will get me out of bed without hesitation.  Lacking this, my aim for my snooze button remains superb.  This morning, however, I didn’t take advantage of that skill. The chance of keeping my streak alive was a major motivator, but being on a sled as the sun rises was what really got my tush out of bed.  Sunrise runs are up there with running under a full moon.  The normal joy of running my teams gets upped by a factor of ten.

I had planned on a 6:30 A.M. start for the first run.  The listed sunrise for Seeley was 7:06 A.M. but it would be another 20 minutes before the sun crested the Swan Range.  An earlier run would have increased the odds for a subzero average temperature, but I was still getting up at 4:45 A.M. on three hours sleep.  There were limits to the motivation maintaining my subzero streak provided and 6:30 A.M. put sunrise right in the middle of my run. 

We started moving at 6:38 A.M.  The thermometer read -2.9 F.

I have three favorite sled runs:  Archibald Loop, Short Marshall Lake, and Short Fawn Peak to Fiat.  I had chosen Short Marshall Lake for the morning runs.  At 15 miles including 12 of sledding, it’s not as long as either of the other two.  Of my three favorite runs, however, it has the best views of the Seeley-Swan Valley.  With my timing, I’d be at the best viewpoints just as the sun was touching Seeley Lake itself. 

One other feature is a third of it runs about 700’ above my house.  With the clear dry night, there was no inversion and it would be a few degrees colder up there.   

By the time I actually started sledding, I was able to stow my headlamp.  I couldn’t read the GPS I have mounted on my sled, but I knew that would change shortly. 

Between dogs’ injuries and old age, I was only running 19 of my 21 sleddogs, a team of ten and a team of nine.  One of my thirteen year olds, Otter, had decided not to run.  Vixen, however, ran with the first team, the Team of the Little Bitches.  I had her paired with Fondue----these two have been buddies since I first moved to Silly Lake and acquired sleddogs.  Half sisters, Fondue and Vixen seem particularly happy running together.  At eleven and thirteen respectively, this could be the last season these two get that chance.

My snowhooks pulled, everybody lunged forward.  The dogs didn’t notice the steepness of the first climb until we were more than half way up.  The beginning of the run remained fast, but, in time, they settled into a paced trot. 

The run would end up being slow.  Some of this was me.  Probably because the early morning run conflicted with my circadian rhythm, I had the least well focused run of the season.  The running wasn’t easy---moguls from snowmobiles rocked the sled the entire way up---and that didn’t help.  One of the moguls bounced a snowhook off of its perch.   It hit the snow, lodged itself in, and jarred the team to a halt.  Keeping better control of my brake would have prevented this.  And for the first and, likely, only time this season, I missed a turn and flipped the sled.  When I took the turn for the second time, a couple of hours later, I noted that there simply wasn’t a reason to miss it.  My concentration had lapsed a lot, not a little. 

With this, sunrise on the runners lived up to my hopes. 

There are no big mountains west of me, just minor summits, so the sun first played on small slopes rather than major peaks.  In time, sunlight hit the valley and lake.  I could make out a couple of gossamer strands of fog below me, but the rest of the valley was clear.  The images were black and white rather than color, but the gradual increase in the sun’s intensity caught the spirit of morning and a new day. 

The twelve miles of sledding, switching back and forth between sled and ATV, three miles of ATVing, and time lost to carelessness during the run added up to two hours.  By that time, the thermometer in my yard read 8.8 F.  As I got the dogs back on their tethers, I wondered whether or not the run had had an average temperature below zero.  The calculation I did in my head said no.  Whatever, sunrise had made the run.

Here’s a rule:  Never let somebody adept at math but untrustworthy be in charge of a budget.  If math types choose to be deceptive, somebody else as good with numbers can find the flaws in what we present, but it’s a lot easier to hide something than it is to find it.  What keeps science and scientific presentations honest is journal referees do spend a lot of time checking things, at least for the “best” journals.  Additionally, finding errors in somebody else’s publication remains a favorite pastime for many scientists.  Without these reviews, the only real choice is to require trustworthiness. 

I suspected I could change a couple of assumptions, manipulate the calculation, and come up with a negative number.  However, I didn’t want to add some sort of asterisk and footnote to the calculation.

The second rule is not to trust first calculations on zero sleep.  As it ended up, even a “pessimistic” estimate of my run would have had the average temperature below zero.  My best estimate had the run at -2F, no asterisk necessary. 

So, my run of March 5, 2013 let me watch the world come to life and kept a streak that started in 2006 alive.  Both hemispheres of my brain are issuing a “smile” command.  And, my face is following orders.    

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