Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Take that, White Mountains 100!

Though my name still appears on the bottom third of the results list, I am super pleased with my White Mountains 100 race this year. It helps that I was asked a few weeks ago post-Susitna-100-slump whether I was doing these races because I am trying to beat someone, or beat my own performance. The answer is definitely the latter, hence the excitement.
photo of 'Big Blue' sitting at Cache Mtn. cabin courtesy B. Groseclose

This year I had Big Blue. Had conditions been the way they were this weekend last year, I would have been in serious trouble with snowcats. The fact that Kevin, Gail and Rocky were able to survive (and do well!) with their substantially skinnier tires boggles my mind. I don't think many racers could survive on snowcats after floating with their fatties. Anyway.. I digress!
Joel and I at the start
Brian and I at the start
photos courtesy J. and A. Homan

At the trailhead, my face was beaming as it was toasty warm out and not windy. Though I was nervous of the warmth (warmth meaning soft snow for bikers), the idea that I probably wouldn't have problems staying at a healthy body temperature made me very happy. Not having been dry heaving since the night before was also a reason for celebration, because my belly started out that morning feeling full and as ready as it could be for 24+ hours of an abusive sugary/salty diet.
photo courtesy T. Lopez

The race start was a shit-show, for a lack of better terms. There were way too many people trying to start at the same time which resulted in people falling from a lack of momentum, blocking each other, which dominoed big time. The only way I could see this alleviated better would be to move the start line back a bit.. but there wasn't much room to work with so I think the race organizers did fine.. just a lot of people starting at the same time onto a skinny trail. I would have waited to start like I did last year, except after my Susitna experience it was not an option in my head to let the runners get ahead of me, especially with the soft trail.

By a few miles up the trail the race panned out much like last year. I was surrounded by pretty much the same people all the way up to the first checkpoint at mile 16, except that most skiers were in front of me since conditions were absurdly good for skiing, unlike last year's slow conditions. The trail was softer this year.. so going down hills was sketchy as tires were more easily getting caught in ruts..in other words I could not go as fast as I like to down hills.. but still was making decent time. I made it out to mile 39 Cache Mountain cabin, checkpoint 2 in about 6.5 hours which was a tiny bit shorter than last year.. and I felt better. I mustered up enough will to leave that cabin in a half hour, dreading the next portion, which I'd also like to call "the portion of doom" due to my one and only other experience on that part of the trail.
photo courtesy D. Young

It actually wasn't bad climbing up the Divide this year. The terrible part was the DOWNHILL portion of the Divide, which was completely torn up, very difficult to navigate, with no good path for bikers. My friend Bob passed me through this section for the second year in a row, and Tom M also did.. who was an extremely positive person I kept seeing on the trail. His good attitude came at good times for me as we were trail hoping back and forth. I saw Shonda and Paul out in the Divide trailing me only a tiny bit and kept waiting for them to pass, but they always stayed a little bit behind.

I cannot tell you how many times I crashed my bike going down the Divide, and how many more times I averted a serious crash. At one point, my ankle was stuck in the snow at an angle, and I had to launch my bike from off of me onto the "trail" and then wiggle myself out of the several feet of snow I was stuck in. Lucky for me there was a tiny little tree (twig.) that I was able to hold onto to get some stability.

After that very frustrating part of the course, the dreaded ice lakes laid ahead. I had heard that the week before the race that the ice lakes were easy, and it was true. The ice was not angled like last year. The wind was not blowing 20+ kts. In fact, I carefully rode the ENTIRE thing except for this very last section which was a bit angled.. where Dan the medic found me and took the picture below.

If you were following last year, you might remember that Dan was the medic who had a camping tent set up at the end of the ice lakes when my hand started to freeze and I began to go hypothermic. If you don't remember/weren't following, my hands were warmed up via snowmachine handwarmers, and body warmed up in a 30 below bag. THIS year, Dan was riding around on a snowmachine checking on racers.. and I could not avoid him and once he identified who I was, there were a lot of comments made about the ice lakes. So, when he caught me ON the ice lakes, he was taking photos and were laughing about it as I was clearly doing just fine and chugging along. He was giving me a hard time and I seriously considering giving him the finger, but decided not to in case we met at a later mile in the race and I was in trouble again. As my friend Bob said later, "you might have been giving him the nub if he didn't warm up your hand last year!" I was humoured by that mental image.
photo courtesy D. Young

New this year was a wall tent down at the ice lakes. Thanks guys! ;) I took advantage of this and warmed up my hands which were getting just a little bit cold. Shonda and Paul passed me while I was in the tent for a short time. When I got to Windy Gap, I found out Shonda and Paul had a few of my belongings that were dropped on the trail when I crashed. It was humorous because I had no clue that I had lost anything, but then realized my frame bag zipper was open. OOPS! Thanks guys for picking up my trail of crap. :)
Shonda and Paul, photo courtesy D. Young

Windy Gap was great. My stomach was beginning to churn and unlike last year, I couldn't even eat all of my meatballs! (last year I was dying for more!) It was fun talking with Ben and Brian while I rested my legs and mentally prepared for riding in the dark and the snow, which was quickly picking up in intensity. Chris Allard was packing up around the same time as me and so I got out of the cabin soon after he did. I caught up with him after a few miles, as the trail became SUPER DUPER FAST! I was pumped and feeling great. I was going a little slower than I would have regularly because I was noticing A LOT of fresh moose tracks through the trail ("speed bumps"), and between the darkness and moderate snow, I could not see farther than about 15 feet in front of me. When I caught up to Chris I decided to stay with him the rest of the way to Borealis since I was getting tired, and nervous about moose since we could not see far in front of us. Everytime I stopped for a snack I did a 360 degree moose check to make sure one was not laying beside me or ready to charge.

Chris and I made it to Borealis tired, but doing well. I was starting to fall asleep enroute to Borealis but once there knew that if I put my head down, I'd be completely out for at least an hour. I feel kind of bad because when we got there I said, "man, I think I need to lay down for a little bit", and he did instead. Since I wasn't being productive just sitting there, I headed out the same time as Kristy D. We hopped back and forth most of the way to the Wickersham Trail Shelter. I was beginning to fade as the night continued on, not because of the dark as much as just exhaustion. At the shelter, Kat, Ed, Kristy, and Ian were there, and I was very excited when Ian handed me a bag of cheddar cheese and Ed handed me some Bugles. I was dreading the last 10 miles and did not have the energy that I had last year during the WM100 or during the Susitna this year. It seems that my worst time of day during races is just before and during sunrise. You would think the impending sunrise would make me feel better but it doesn't appear to work that way. The last 10 miles were a huge struggle and horrendously slow. I knew there was a biker not far ahead of me, and Kristy would be right behind me. Going up the Wickersham Wall was horrendous. Last year I flew up it in 20 mins, this year it took me about 35 mins.. every one step forward was a half step back. Ed caught up to me near the top of the wall and stopped for a snack at the top. He asked me, "are you tired?", which I think was a polite way of saying, "you look exhausted! are you going to make it?", because I very much was and was feeling pretty sick. Even the flats and downhills were hard at this point, but I knew it was only 6 measly miles to the end. It was slow and arduous, and Kristy caught up to me a few miles from the finish line. I used her pace as motivation to keep moving. She was a great companion for the last stretch of the race and constantly had a smile on her face despite our exhaustion.
photo courtesy. R Beebee

I started falling asleep pushing my bike up the hills. I thought about how bad it would be to pass out on the trail a few miles out from the end and have someone come across me passed out and have to be assisted out and not finish. I thought about how I'd be kicking and screaming if that happened and could drag my bike to the finish. That was enough to keep me shaking my head to try to wake up and talk to myself. My friend Helena was biking backwards from the finish line towards Wolf Run cabin, and I met her at mile 96.. and barely processed who she was until she was about 10 feet away. I was completely beat at this point, but it was fantastic seeing her. At that point of the race I forgot she was even going to be coming up from the trailhead. When I saw her she was explaining to me that Brian G was waiting for me because my Brian couldn't make it because of work and the other Julie scratched because of bike problems (which I was SUPER bummed about.. but explained why she didn't catch up to me). I was totally confused, but what I understood is that (my) Brian wasn't going to be at the end.. and I was kind of bummed about that too but still holding out that maybe he'd be there.. but understanding if he couldn't be there since people have jobs they can't just leave (I'd be the same if I was at work). Afterall, he wasn't expecting to pick me up til AFTER work!

The "1 mile to finish!" sign was a welcoming sight, but unlike last year's fast 1 mile highway down the trail, the last mile of the race was completely torn up and I had to deflate my tires even more than they were already deflated and hold my brakes the entire way down. I refused to pedal though this last mile, and just put all of my energy into handling through the snow. But, I had made it and yelled when I saw someone looking up the trail (who I think was Kristy's dad). Once my vision cleared with who was there, I saw Carlene with her poms poms, Taryn, and my Brian!! YAY! There was some miscommunication between parties who thought my Brian's comment about "hopefully I can leave work" meant that he likely wouldn't be able to make it.. which wasn't true and it got tossed around between people who made some assumptions. I was completely spent and didn't even manage to do a victory lap around the parking lot. But that's how you're supposed to feel at the end of a race, right?! I was happy, satisfied that I wiped off 8 hours of my time from last year, and ready to go to bed. Everything is pretty blurry from the end.
Carlene and I at the end, photo courtesy T. Lopez

10:08am, 26 hours after the start, I finished 8 hours ahead of my WM100 time from last year, as well as my Susitna 100 time from 5 weeks ago. No, I didn't finish it in 11 hours.. or even 20.. but all things considered, I am happy with my time, and was still smiling at the end! Whether I'll do it again... I don't know. Talk to me in October...

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ooooooklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain (and creates huge wildfires!)

I was sent down to Oklahoma for work training, as all new full-time employees are with my company. I was completely pumped to go back to Norman and see all of my friends from last summer and make some new ones! Who knew one could be excited to travel from mountain-y Alaska to flat Oklahoma?!?! It can happen!
My training class was a BLAST! We had a ton of fun together. Though you can't make out any faces in the photo above, it was only our first night, and we were already pulling pranks on our instructors. The funny part was, that me and another girl were the youngest there. That means there were a lot of fun-loving, slightly immature people in my group. :)
On our last day of training, Sean, one of the guys I worked with last summer, gave us a tour of the storm chasing vehicles. I was so excited, probe 4 was still there!! OU bought it for research, so it should be there for years to come. Apparently, we are in an imax film called "Tornado Alley" that was filmed last summer during our field season. I haven't seen it since it hasn't filmed in Alaska, but I hear my star role in the film is standing around in a parking and giving high-fives at the end. I didn't expect anything more in depth, but was amused that my friend from college picked me out.
Probe 4 still has the baseball-sized hail dent from the Dumas TX storm, May 18, 2010!

Though I forgot to take a photo of a big dinner table of V2 folks from last summer, I did remember to take one as the number of night-crawlers dwindled. Here's Kim, Kristin (one of my navigators), Ryan, and Kent.
While in Norman, I hoped to see some storms but instead got a big wildfire. The smoke zoomed by my hotel, and I watched the fire coverage on TV.. which was kind of nerve-wracking as the fire consumed homes just to my southwest. Then it was time to head to Seattle.. to explore some new lands and see some old friends!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A biker's year for the Susitna 100

"Bikes and snow?!! The two best things in the world together?!! Yeah dawg... sign me up!"Though those weren't my initial words, they explain my feelings when I first landed across the website for the Susitna 100 by accident in 2006... long before I ever knew I would get sucked back up to live here.. or ever enter the world of endurance winter biking.

The Susitna 100, is a run/bike/ski race just north of Anchorage that has been around for quite awhile. It was previously known as the Iditabike and went on the same trail as the world-famous dogsled race, the Iditarod.

After saving coins in a jar for about 2 years for the Susitna 100, (and effectively savings about a third of the race entry fee), I dove in and finally signed up thanks to some motivation from my friend Julie from Anchorage. My exact words to her were, "I'll do it if you do it." SUCKA!!! I knew she'd say yes, I just needed an excuse.

Anyway, the worst thing several people said to me is said, "it's way easier than the White Mountains 100". Because what that meant is that I slacked preparing for it, big time. But on the same note, my goal this year was to not let winter biking consume my life like it did last year. I wanted to have a live outside of it. And I succeeded, but potentially went in under-prepared. You know what though, that's okay.. because I finished anyway with a smile on my face, fresh air in my lungs.. and that's all anyone could ask for.

6 inches of snow dumped in Anchorage the day before the race, but for whatever unbeknownst reason completely missed the trail that sits about 40 miles north of Anchorage. A couple of days before the race, I was not sure what I was going to do, as I was still battling strep throat and this threat of snow loomed.. where my words responded, "sorry, I'm not pushing my bike 100 miles". Not this time, anyway.

I was too excited though. When I thought to myself, "I'm going to do the Susitna 100! I'M GOING TO DO THE SUSITNA 100!" I suddenly felt energized and ready to take it on. And so I did.

Julie Perilla and I got to the start a little later than we should have, but that happens when you have two unmotivated-to-wake-up girls, who aren't too worried about a 5 min difference in a 100-mile race. Someone out there has a picture of me with a big giant grin on as I yelled, "Yeah! 400 feet into 100 miles!!" at the beginning. I'm sure it'll surface eventually.

The problem hit me quickly, that now that I started behind about 100 other people, I had to fight through walkers and skiers who weren't moving all that quickly in the cool temperatures. Following through big holes in the snow wasn't' easy either, but I knew once I got 3 miles in off of Ayrshire Road, things would be better... and they were. BUT before that could happen, my sleeping bag kept trying to slip off of my bike, and at mile 1.5 my right PEDAL FELL OFF. I am standing there staring at my bike saying, "what the $^%&????!" as I start to screw it back in. Tarri Fairbanks (of Anchorage) came by and asked if I needed help and I asked if she for whatever reason might have a pedal wrench.. which she DID! Thanks, Tarri! I was in awe about my pedal for the next few miles.. didn't expect that to happen. Between things wanting to fall off of my bike and the pedal, the start was pretty slow. But it went along, and I hopped back and forth between other riders and skiers until I found my groove. The only notable thing about the first 21 miles of the race that I can remember is a skier who was stopped to take his skis off as I came by yelled, "the hill is kinda steep!" and I yelled back, "awesome!" and let go of my brakes. I don't think he was expecting that... it was a fun hill. :-D

My goal of this race was to not sleep, and not linger too long in checkpoints. Get in, get warm, go on. The fact is, I'm just not that fast. But I'm okay with that. When I see the lead riders working their butts off pedaling as fast as possible, I'm out there smelling the roses, looking at tire tracks, trees, mountains in the distance. That part of me makes me think I shouldn't race at all, but whatever is it, I like doing it. I think no reason more than the fact I'm committing to seeing a certain place.

Anyway, the race got challenging a couple of miles before I got to Luce's when a headwind picked up out of nowhere. The lead guys starting flying toward me (the course was an out-and-back) about a mile before checkpoint 2. I was so excited because I assumed my friend Jeff was in front, because he normally is, and I love seeing familar faces on the trail, but it was someone else... and I was totally confused and concerned something happened. Then a couple of other guys zoomed by, with the wind to their back, and I couldn't discern who was who with the headwind blaring in my eyes.. but he was apparently one of them. I got to Luce's, craving a promised plate of spaghetti and meatballs, which was quickly thrown in front of me as I quickly removed my wet socks and went to work on warming up my suckilicious feet.

The next section to Alexander Lake was brutal. The headwind tore through all of us racers, though it was beginning to die down as it was late at night. I got there eventually, went in the cabin where many lethargic racers were, let my eyeballs de-fog for about 45 mins, had some food, then headed out with another biker, who lost me in the dusk soon-after. Going back to Luce's wasn't terrible and I saw some walker friends on the way back to Luce's. I stayed at Luce's again for breakfast and warmed my feet up, which would soon become a problem after leaving the checkpoint.

The next section of the trail from Luce's to Flathorn was extremely hard for me. My body began to crash hard. I started falling asleep on my bike, I couldn't keep my feet warm. I am using battery powered socks this year, which are fantastic, and the only thing that appears to work for me. I don't like using them because it creates a lot of battery waste, but it's the only way I can winter bike without coming out with frostnipped or frostbitten toes. I expected that I wouldn't need to use them with batteries in them for the entire race, so I only had about 18 hours of battery power with me. Wrong! It was cold enough during the race that I needed them, the entire time. This is when things went wrong. My socks were sweaty, I changed them out to dry socks.. that didn't help much. Someone gave me foot sole warmers.. those didn't work for at least an hour and by that point I was in tears (which is very very rare) pushing my bike down the Susitna River, freaked out that I'd never be able to winter bike again. I walked for several hours, thought about scratching when some snowmachiners stopped to ask me if I was okay and I explained that I couldn't feel my toes or the front part of my foot at all. They offered up their cabin to stop in, but I waited for another racer to come by to ask if it was possible to leave my bike there, get a snowmachine ride to their cabin then get dropped off where my bike was at. In my head, that wouldn't be helping me advance further if I got dropped off at the same spot.. but I didn't do it not knowing. Eventually, those foot warmers and sole warmers started to do something, and after about 10 total miles of walking I was able to hop back on my bike for a bit before getting to Flathorn Lake. When I got there, mile 85, I went in and said "I need to rest." I shoved some delicious Jambalaya in my face, and passed out for 20 mins on the couch. As more racers trickled in, I had to wake up. The other bikers who were HOURS behind me had caught up. Below is what I looked like when I got to Flathorn Lake.. completely exhausted, but thankful for a couch.
Peggy (I think my favorite Susitna volunteer) was awesome at Flathorn Lake checkpoint. We figured out that she knows my cousin in Fairbanks from pilot stuff which was cool. This state is one tiny place.
I was rejuvenated after a 20 min nap and ready to roll. Peggy got this photo of me ready to leave the checkpoint.
My competitive instincts kicked in for the last 16 miles, and I hauled out.. starting out with Brian, the only other biker left. I was energized and ready to get to the finish so I cut lose and averaged about 5.5 miles per hour in the last leg. That is a good pace for me snow biking. I pushed myself really hard those last 16 miles, and was happy with my finish. I found out the other Julie got in about 6 hours before me which was awesome. I was really bummed about my time and performance, but considering the doctor I went to the Wednesday before when I was sick told me I should "reconsider" during the race that weekend, I am happy that I gave it a shot and finished. Otherwise I'd be wondering, "what if?" I don't plan on doing this race again.. unless I for whatever reason become a better athlete in the next year and want to try to decrease my time, which really shouldn't be too hard to do. We'll see once the experience becomes cloudy and the snow falls next autumn.
At the cabin at the end of the race I had found that a couple of my toes were purple-y and the race director suggested I stop at Mat-Su Regional to get them checked out as soon as I could. I let them slowly warm up (which was painful) and slept for a few hours. The worst toes turned red and were hard, but they seem to have recovered after about 4 days of pain and some minor blistering.. so it looks like I lucked out once again. Next time, I am carrying that extra battery weight.. just in case.

Overall, I got super lucky that I did the big Su during a biker's year, even though my own performance sucked. We all have bad races.. this was one of mine. Despite the bummer, I'm still glad I tried.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


I am really trying hard to not be consumed by winter biking, and I think my efforts are succeeding, except that I was told on Monday that I was talking in my sleep, and the words went something like this:

"I… I thought… You.. webpage… I thought… fatbike… You were on a fatbike website.."

So, maybe not. But I was laughing hysterically when I was told that after a weekend at Luce's Lodge on the Iditarod Trail.I joined up with some friends (and made new ones!) north of Anchorage for the ride in on the Susitna, and Yentna Rivers. Being from Fairbanks, where maybe a total of 5 fatbikes existed just 3 years ago, I delved into fatback heaven. Along on the 25 mile ride into the lodge, there were two other separate groups of bikers going into Luce's Lodge with as many as 8 bikes passing me as I hiked along to warm my freezing cold feet (this has become a very vital issue this year, more so than last). The Yentna River was a biker haven, and I was in the midst of it. It made the boring flat river travel go by with interest for me. Who are these people? Are they racers or just out for an afternoon jaunt? An afternoon jaunt ends up what most of them were doing, which is awesome. Fatbike heaven.