High today: too warm for winter biking.
Low today: ok for winter biking.
Mileage: 31.1 plus some (oops.)
This weekend was a really exciting one for me.. I have been following this race, the Susitna 100 for three years now (accidentally came across the webpage for it in '06 thru someone's blog) and hoped to someday be able to do it. Blame the mountain bikers at PSU for ever talking me into my first snow ride over 5 years ago.. which I can still vividly remember at Scotia game lands. In fact, I remember it so well because I wiped out several times on an icy lake we crossed and remember hysterically laughing trying to get up. Anyway, I will try not digress from this story.
SO. I got my first bite at this winter endurance riding thing this weekend in the Lil' Su 50k down in Southcentral AK, the little bro of the big bad 100-mile race. The race is a ski/bike/foot race, and you have to claim your mode of transportation the morning of the race. Debbie and I went down with some friends to bike the race this year after signing up for it in October! Below is our cheering crowd at the beginning of the race - Nikole, Rena, Josh and Shawn.
Holy cowabunga! I had no realistic visual of what to expect... but it was like a farm of skiers, runners, and bikers. I have never seen so many fat-tired bikes in one spot before. It made for some drooling over gear and equipment. Like I really need to do any of that.. ha! I am kind of glad that the week before the race was so busy with school and work because I had no time to freak out about the race. The beginning was really relaxed.. we were all chatting then all of a sudden people were going. I think my final words were, "see ya later!" as we rolled on into the bottleneck of fun to what would be a very long unplanned day!
As I think I could write a chapter or two about the entire race experience, I will try to spare you and get to the basic details. A mile in, we had to push our bikes, the snow was too soft. A few miles in, I began chatting with one of the other bikers who was keeping the same speed as I, and we missed a turn and led about ten people more than a mile out of the way. Oops. It was a very honest mistake since the trail was not marked well. When you see a sign that says "trail crossing ahead", last time I checked that meant "trail crossing ahead" not "trail crossing here". Oh well, life goes on. Below is a pic I took as we realized we were going the wrong way. Too bad that was not the right way, the trail was ridable there!!
After getting back on course, the trail went to crap for the bikers (aka soft snow because it was too warm) so it was "push a pugs". I had a song of Old Crow Medicine Show in my head that starts out saying "chug a long, chug a long" and also "Keep Pushin'" by REO Speedwagon. The entire time I was walking it was not actually that bad, because the sun was shining on my face and the weather was beautiful. I had delayered to one long sleeve tshirt and wore no hat and no gloves it was so warm out. I kept telling myself how it would suck if the snow was soft AND we had weather like last year's race - high winds and blowing snow. Luckily the weather was perfect other than being too warm. There was nothing to go but push on and try to be positive. None of us knew what the conditions of the trail were ahead. It would have been nice to preride the course and know at least what to expect with oncoming terrain.
My goal of 6 hours for the race was no where reached, being that I got to the half way point over 5.5 hours after the start. I hit a few walls during the whole race, but was able to keep the adrenaline pumping knowing that there were quite a few racers still behind me. For the most part I was near other racers the entire time and that kept my legs moving. This became particularly critical once the sun faded and I could see others' lights. Joking about finishing in 10 hours was all of a sudden not so far off par. I did not expect to push a 30+ lb bike with a pack on for 12 or 13 miles. But you know what, I was just happy to be out there despite the conditions. One of my friends wished me luck before I left for the weekend, but then changed her mind and said, "nevermind, what am I talking about? You don't need luck. You love riding your bike. You'll do great." I am glad she told me that because it was that comment, among other encouraging comments that made me not question my motives for signing up for a race that could be miserable with the wrong attitude.
There were two parts of the course which were particularly fun for me.. one before (i think?) going down to Flathorn Lake where the trail was doubletrack and up and down humps. The other - my favorite part being around mile 26-ish with a sweet downhill with big humps. If it wasn't for the darkness I could have let the brakes go completely, but was being a little bit cautious of moose on the trail. It was the closest to technical riding I was going to get in the snow. ;)
Below is Pugs in the darkness hanging out as I try feed the hungry stomach. During the first half of the race I was able to walk and eat but my stomach was beginning to reject food by a certain point in the race. It didn't want dry food but a big juicy burger!!
There was a water station around mile 23 or mile 24 where I stopped for some water and to talk with the people there for a little bit. I was feeling great being that the trail had become bikable with the dropping temperatures. The last few miles of the race were somewhat brutal, as I knew the end was soon but the darkness made the hardpacked trail hard to follow and I found myself pushing the pugs again. I had little energy left to think about running with the bike. But the headlamps behind me were beginning to advance closer and my adrenaline went up within the last mile to fight to the end in front of all of those people after working so hard to pass them. There was no way they were going to get ahead in the last stretch. Little did I know that the three bikers behind me would scratch by disqualifying themselves for riding on the road (on purpose..). How could you give up with so little left to go???? I could not believe it. It was actually those people riding on the road catching up with me (being on the soft trail) that pushed what could have been ten minutes longer into my bolt to the end.
At 9:27pm I rolled in, 10.5 hours later with those 3 bikers right on my tail with a grin on my face. I had no idea how many bikers came in ahead of me except for the one girl I was close to for most of the race. Not a minute later, I looked back to find Debbie and her bike brought to the finish line.. she put a HUGE effort in, getting to that last water point around mile 23 or 24, and her legs seized up to where she was unable to move them. She was not riding a Pugsley like most of the bikers, and pushed on with the perserverance she has. I was absolutely amazed. Needless to say, we spent minimal time lingering at the end and got on our way back to our temporary home in Palmer to crash. I barely remember being driven home even though I was awake. It was a great experience, I met a ton of cool people, enjoyed riding (and even pushing.. for the most part.. except for those few times I cursed at the snow) and you betcha I'd do it again.