This year's classic moved up to the Brooks Range. I'd never been, so I went in psyched to explore some new terrain, but a bit anxious about the cold. By the last day, I was skiing in my sports bra, so I guess I'd say those fears were unfounded (at least this year -- we lucked out and had a whole string of bluebird days). 

I feel like the community gets stronger each year for me. This year was no exception. Things started off by having three out-of-town friends take up residence in my living room. We continued the slumber party by adding a few more bodies and then crashing at Andrew's place in Fairbanks on our way north, getting in the way of his last minute preparations. Photo by K. Strong. 

After a night in Wiseman, we all piled in and drove north to Galbrath Lake. Here, gear's laid out after being emptied from the Summit Consulting trailer. In case there was any confusion about the ski set-up that people like best for this sort of thing... Photo by K. Strong.

This year, the field was huge. There was even a waiting list. Wowzers! Loads of good people. In no particular order:

Eric and Erica. Eric owns Relevate Designs and his blog is a regular source of inspiration for me. And Erica is amazing. Someday I'd like to be half as strong and fun and lovely as she is. Anyway, when I heard they were joining, I was stoked. They rocked the northern route.  Photo by K. Strong.

John and Scott. Two of my previous (2013 and 2015) partners. Both live in Seattle these days. It was super hard for me not to ski with these guys, made worse by not even going in the same direction and even worse by knowing -- after a day of observing the snowpack -- that their intended route was going to have super touchy avalanche conditions. I was so happy when I heard they took the northern route with Eric and Erica and that they weren't that far behind. Even though I didn't get to ski with them, they crashed at my place before and after, so I still got some of their time. Photo by K. Strong.

Brian and Zach (sorry for the blur!). The Girdwood Boys. Two ski patrollers taking the week to go horizontal. All smiles. Photo by K. Strong.

David. David went solo, but -- like many solos -- found loads of company along the way. I got lucky enough to ski with him for a couple days, which was so great. Photo by K. Strong.

Keith from New York went solo. He was telling me during a melt-break  how different the Brooks Range was from skiing in New York. Indeed. Mike (?) didn't participate officially, but skied behind us enjoying the trail and, reportedly, lots of bacon. Photo by K. Strong.

Steph and Chuck. Shining bright and happy as always. Photo by K. Strong.

Dan and John. Dan trained on roller skis somewhere like Virginia all winter. Yikes. They were super fun to ski with! Photo by K. Strong.

John and Lisa. Skiing with these two a bit on the last day was such a treat. Photo by K. Strong. 

Sarah and Dave, the organizer we owe everything to. Photo by K. Strong.

Malcolm. I think Malcom is on to a good source of motivation to ski fast: getting a puppy right before leaving town (she's adorable).  Photo by K. Strong.

Lindsay and Matt. Siblings getting out for their first classic. These two just beamed excitement, and were so friendly out on the trail. Photo by K. Strong.

Chris Z. One thing I loved about this year's route that I thought I'd hate was the 25 mile out-and-back at around about 1/2 way. But then I realized I got to say hi to so many people because of it. Seeing Chris out there looking happy and ready to belt out old soul tunes with me was a highlight. Photo by K. Strong.

Jan. Jan's the first solo woman I'm aware of even trying the Classic, and she seemed totally unfazed out there. So inspiring! Photo by K. Strong.

Toby, Josh, and Brad. The A-Team. Thanks for breaking all that trail, guys! Photo by K. Strong.

Ben and Diana. Before the 2014 Classic, Diana told me how she never thought she could do something like the classic. Well, she can. In fact, she crushed it. Seeing her out there skiing so strong and giggling the whole way was one of the highlights for me this year. Photo by K. Strong.

Andrew and Jeremy. Jeremy was a rookie this year, but you wouldn't have known it, except for the huge pack somehow Andrew let him bring. Photo by K. Strong.

Hilary, me, Sarah, Kate, and Elizabeth. What can I say? These ladies are wonderful. Photo by J. Wros. 

The line-up. And this is missing a few! Photo by K. Strong.

We followed a dog mushing trail for the first couple hours out onto the plain. Photo by K. Strong.

Brent Sass and his dogs. Photo by K. Strong.

Waxing up. Photo by K. Strong.

I've been plagued with a serious bout of nausea for about three weeks now, starting a week before the Classic and extending throughout the race (and, lucky me, continuing on). It was hitting particularly hard the first day and a half, and I had some serious moments of self-doubt. The miles never before felt so daunting. Good partners got me through. Photo by H. Eisen.

Skiing into Anaktuvuk Pass. Photo by H. Eisen.

Photo by H. Eisen.

Photo by H. Eisen.

Photographing the photographer. Photo by H. Eisen.

The glorious sit-down break. Photo by H. Eisen.

Photo by H. Eisen.

Photo by H. Eisen.

I don't remember where or when this was, but I like how happy I look. Must be all that sunshine. Photo by H. Eisen.

I find that I don't feel at ease in stark, treeless landscapes. Dropping into the North Fork of the Koyukuk and into the spruce forest was super comforting to me. Photo by K. Strong.

The Gates of the Arctic are amazing. Skiing between them is even better. Photo by K. Strong.

Foot care. Hilary managed to stay blister-free! Photo by K. Strong.

One of our last snack breaks. We ended up covering more ground than expected, and felt like our trip ended too soon. We were stalling, hoping for an excuse to spend another night out, but we reached Wiseman before nightfall and joined a bunch of other folks for dinner. Photo by K. Strong.

Letting the feet breath. Photo by K. Strong. 

The post-trip glow. Photo by K. Strong.

Photo by K. Strong.

Many thanks to Arctic Getaway B&B! What wonderful people and amazing spot they have! Photo by K. Strong.

Photo by K. Strong. 

Many thanks to Dave Cramer and all the folks at Summit Consulting for putting together another wonderful Classic! It really is something special.