Long ride, long story
Hey M.C. how about posting some more of your AK pics I would love to see them.
Here are my rambling thoughts on the Sweet Roll:
Any race where the start, finish and pre-race meeting are at a bar is likely to be a good race. After the meeting we all went to our respective camping spots. It was there that I discovered M.C.'s "major weakness" and formulated a "brilliant" race plan. M.C. has an easy laugh and will laugh readily at bad jokes. I figured, that using my natural gifts for bad jokes, I would try to cripple him with laughter on the climbs. The glaring flaw in my plan is that you can't really fire off bad jokes at someone if they are hours ahead of you. But this sort of "planning" was in keeping with the rest of my race preparation. For me a lot of the Sweet Roll was about getting beat up by my own bad ideas. In Alaska believing that you know anything for certain about nature, the outdoors, weather or animals can be a dangerous thing. And by that standard I am a very dangerous man.
Right from the start Mike (Mikesee), Eric (Bearbait) and Peter took off. We hadn't even left the pavement, which was probably only a mile or so, and they were out of my sight, I drifted off to the back of the pack and settled into a pace I felt I could sustain for the next 200 miles.
There were nine of us and I was riding second to last. The first hundred miles or so were okay, but not great, for me. My hamstrings were cramping right from the start as they had been for the last two weeks or so. I think this was a result of fiddling around with my seat/bar position and seat height. Although it was uncomfortable it wasn't really slowing me down, my average speed was right where I wanted it to be and I could go even faster if I had too.
By the time we hit the southern end of Resurrection Pass (mile 54ish), I had passed a few riders. Pat (PatIrwin) was at the trailhead chatting away with some of the folks there. I stopped briefly then Pat and I rode on over a brief section of pavement to the next section of trail. As soon as the trail started climbing Pat rode away and I settled into my own pace.
The next section of trail started as a wide section of handicapped accessible trail, after a few miles we came upon race volunteer Chirs (Robotron formerly Snowmonkey) pointing us around a corner. The trail then closed in around us. Close, dense overgrowth so thick that at times you couldn't even see your handle bars, let alone your front wheel or the trail. Also this section of trail was grizzly country, and ran along a salmon choked stream. Riding trails like this is a good way to ruin a pair of bike shorts. I guess I should also mention that the trails were choked with cow parsnip which is a plant like poison ivy, if it gets on your skin it causes your skin to react to sunlight, causing blistering boils like a second degree burn. Charming stuff. This section went on for miles.
To keep the bears away I had a little bell ring ding dinging away on my handle bars. Also I would yell out whatever I could think of, usually something about how I am all gristle and taste really bad...."Nothing to eat here". I would also repeatedly reassure any bears in the area that I DID NOT intend to steal any of their "delicious" rotting salmon. Overgrowth, aggressive poisonous plants and large predators in a feeding frenzy do not make for a fun ride, even by Alaskan standards.
The next section of trail was, for obvious reasons, a relief. Nine miles of clear singletrack and seven miles of gravel road were just what the doctor ordered. On the gravel road section I stopped to stretch my aching hamstrings and eat a little food.
Eating and carrying enough calories for a self supported race like this is a big issue. I had just switched to a new energy drink for the race. It provided everything my body needed, fat, protein and carbs without upsetting my stomach. On a ride like this I need more than just fluid replacement and carbs from my drink, I needed a constant source of protein and fat as well. I've always thought that, if you go strictly by nutritional value, whole milk would be the ultimate race drink. Unfortunately I can't imagine anything worse for my stomach or palette than a camelback full of warm whole milk. My sports drink worked great, it made my body feel strong, supported a continuous effort and did not upset my stomach. BUT, it tasted like a mixture of public bathroom smell, dirty socks and chalk. I guess everything has its price. I should probably also mention that at one point while refilling my camelback from a stream and mixing up a new batch of drink I managed to spill the stuff all over me. So I was riding through bear country covered with a sticky, smelly sports drink.
The next section of trial had us climbing back up a pass and into Alpine terrain. Great views and a good reward for suffering through the overgrowth. The climb was followed by a steep and fast decent down Devils Pass. This section of the race always gave me a chuckle. I like to let my mind wander during these events and it occurred to me that the race started in the town of Hope followed an uphill and difficult path to Resurrection pass then went down a steep and fast decent via Devils pass. I repeatedly thought to myself it is a difficult uphill struggle from Hope to Resurrection, but if you stray from the path it is a fast and dangerous decent down Devils pass. Such were the epic implications of this race (and the epic implications of my own capacity for B.S.).
At the base of Devils pass I had a gear drop. I went through my drop and selected what I would need for the next section of trail. I was about to make two decisions that would have a profound impact on the rest of my ride. After going through my gear drop and restocking on food, I decided to leave behind my waterproof rain gear and my eye protection. These were two very bad decision.
Johnson's pass was really the turning point of the whole race. This is where things either came together or fell apart for all of us racers, in my opinion. The trail was a deceptively gentle climb. The terrain was technical when compared with the rest of the course and it was densely overgrown. However, it was an out and back approximately in the middle of the race. It gave you a chance to see the riders ahead of you after they turned around. After the out and back there was only about thirty miles left in the race and you would know exactly how far behind you were. It was a crucial portion of the route. Going into Johnson's I felt great, my leg cramps were gone. In general I reach a balance point after 12+ hours of riding, I always feel stronger and more settled after I reach this point. Sort of like a "second wind" but better. My body and mind, aside from the obvious fatigue, felt great.
I entered Johnson's Pass. It was getting dark and the dense forest in the first part of the trial made me turn on my lights. Eventually it was pitch dark. I found myself riding through a thick pine forest with my lights bouncing off of piles of bear droppings. I met Peter and Eric coming the other way. I talked with each of them for a bit and they both told me that there were two riders just up ahead of me. I resisted the temptation to try and catch them and just held my pace figuring that if I caught them that would be fine and if not then they are just faster and that's fine too. It's funny when you meet another racer coming the other way. Even though its a race we each stopped an talked for a bit. After so much riding alone it was just nice to stop and see someone else doing the same thing. Eric and I agreed that the dark forest was scary in a basic Grimm fairy tale sort of way. In fact, by wandering sleep deprived through a dark predator infested forest we were defeating countless generations of evolution. There is just something basic about the human experience that we all know (or should know ) to stay out of dark places where the things that eat you live.
After a bit I caught and passed two riders. They were pushing their bikes, cold, wet and shivering. The trail was overgrown and the overgrowth was covered with dew. In addition the nighttime temperature had dropped to about 40 degrees. I was wet and cold but not too cold just yet. After passing the riders I broke my little rule about riding my own pace. They were pushing, and I was riding. I felt good. So I picked up the pace a bit. Unfortunately the overgrowth was so thick I could not see the trail. It was still dark. Coming up to a bridge over a creek crossing I did not see that the bridge was about a foot higher than the trail. Instead of lifting my front wheel onto the bridge deck, I slammed into the bridge at full speed. I was thrown from my bike, and knocked the ringer out of my bear bell. So now I was riding through bear country with a mute bell.
I was now riding in fourth. As I neared the turnaround of the out and back I was surprised that I had not yet seen the third place rider coming back. When I got to the turn around, he was asleep. I stopped for a minute and realized that if I turned around right now I would be in third place. I knew that sleeping beauty was a much stronger rider than I, but I also knew that if he slept long enough (several hours at least) I could open up enough of a gap that he would run out of trail before he caught me, especially since once out of Johnson's Pass there was only 30 miles of race left. As I thought about this I started to shiver. I was soaking wet and cold. My teeth started chattering and I could not stop shivering. I should have brought my rain gear for riding through the dew. My legs still felt strong, but my core temperature was dropping. I made a decision to stop for the night and wait until it warmed up a bit to continue through the trail.
The two riders behind me arrived at the turnaround in bad shape. I suggested that we all wait out the night and ride the trail together tomorrow. They went to sleep. The next morning one rider dropped out and two riders were sleeping, so I left and went back into Johnson's Pass. This was the lowest point of the race for me. I lost a contact lens about midway through the trial (remember when I decided I didn't need eye protection). This led to some blurry vision and mild vertigo. Bad stuff.
It took me almost an hour to ride the 6 mile road section from the Southern Johnson's pass trailhead to the Devils Pass trail head. During this section I decided that if Carlos (rio), the event sponsor, was there I was dropping out of the race. As I neared the Devil's Pass trail head I hoped that Carlos would not be there, but he was. I rode up and told him that I would be dropping out. Carlos offered some words of encouragement but no real pressure either way. He did make me think about the issue. I went to my gear drop and repacked with food. Carlos told me that everyone else had abandoned the course. I only had thirty miles left. But I was dropping out. I kept repacking my gear like I was going to keep riding but kept telling myself I was dropping out. I got on my bike and rode around the trailhead parking lot, but kept telling myself it was okay because I was dropping out. I started riding down the trail, still telling myself that I was only going to ride a little bit then I was dropping out. I kept going.
The last thirty miles were the best and strongest I have ever ridden. I felt great. I picked an average speed and stuck to it like glue. There's not much point in telling you how great this part of the ride was because I don't know how to tell it... but it was the best.
I finished a very distant third at 40 hrs. It was a good race.