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!