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The Great Alaskan Sweet Roll 200 (long)

2456 Views 10 Replies 10 Participants Last post by  Adam
The Great Alaskan Sweet Roll 200

The scene, Hope Alaska 6:00 am, a small little ex-mining town located on the waters of the Turnagin arm on the Kenai Peninsula. 8 rides gathered for the first ever Great Alaskan Sweet Roll 200, "the ride too tough to hate". The course was 200+miles starting and ending at the sea view bar, about 156 miles of singletrack & double track, a few on pavement and the rest on gravel roads. Alaskan singletrack for those that have never experienced it can best be described with adjectives as abusive, overgrown, relentless, beautiful, slow and bear infested. One minute you'll think it's the most beautiful section of trail ever, then later when plowing through head high vegetation you'll wish for someone to just shoot you in the head..

Starters: Peter Basinger, Mike Curiak up from Colorado, Adam Barlett, Tony Allen, Pat Irwin, Ben Couturier, Jose Vega, A friend of Ben's & Jose (sorry I forget your name) and myself. We all started with lots of gear & food as the race was an unsupported venture. Right from the start I knew Pete and Mike were going to be strong as hell being a few weeks out from their great divide race. Pete took off from the beginning and we never saw him again except for the 46 mile out and back section of Johnson's pass.

The route started with a nice 15 mile dirt road climb and descent before starting the Resurrection pass trail which is one of the best trails on the peninsula. Rooty, rocky and beautiful.. I got two flats and took a nice 15mph endo before getting into the groove. On to the Russian lakes trail, this trail is great early in the season but gets completely overgrown quickly. Imagine pedaling through a wall of jungle like vegetation for a few hours, that's Russian lakes. Also the trail edges along the Russian River - prime salmon spawning grounds and serious bear country. During last year's Soggy Bottom 100 we literally ran over salmon carcasses on the singletrack while yelling in fear! Glad to get that over with…

Many more miles, back up to the resurrection pass trail and down Devil's pass lead us to the crux of the race - Johnson's pass both ways… This trail is usually a great ride, hilly and technical. Combine riding for over 120 miles already, with lots of overgrowth, and the start of nightfall and you get some abusive 46 miles. I knew Peter was still within an hour ahead of me and I was trying to keep it that way, with the darkness approaching I was also fearing the onset of the nighttime dew, which would turn the relentless overgrowth into a non-stop cold shower which several riders unfortunately experienced. I met Peter a couple miles out from the turnaround and he told stories of many people with sandwiches and food awaiting… he was looking strong, I was slowly slipping into tour mode and knew he was going to smoke this race. Got to the trailhead and Pat and Tony and others were there and they all threw food at me which I tried my best to devour to get psyched for going back through Jurassic park the second time.

Darkness - when riding through the overgrowth at night all I could think of is suprising a bear. Black bears tend to camoflague well in the darker than dark forests and overgrowth. When I crossed paths with Adam, we joked that we had see about 10,000 of them already in Hanzel and Grettly's little forest. The 8oz of pepper spray just under my top tube was only a tiny piece of mind… Out to the highway and sleep hit like a brick wall, swerving down the highway at 2:30am, eventually rode off into the ditch and stayed there for a brief nap until the cool moist air started making me shiver uncontrollably, back on the bike, stiff as hell, along a flat stretch of big ring pavement - not the best to warm up!

Morning - Climbing back up Devils pass, body realizes night time is over and goes back to normal again. Watching the pink glow on the clouds and the sunlight creep down the mountain sides… the best moment in the race, knowing that the night was survived and all that remained was a few more hours of rolling doubletrack to finish it off… Curious of what's out there? Come up for next years longest mtn bike race in the last frontier.

Only Peter, Adam and myself ended up finishing. Peter won with a time a hair over 24hrs. We all rode 29ers

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Wow.... guys are stinkin nuts.

Is anyone up there riding the airborne ti fork? I seem to remember a few proto's finding there way up there?



What were the steeds? Did Curiak ride the Moots or did he go for the squishy?

Mike - Moots, wb
Peter - Fisher hardtail, mz
Adam - B29, cx-1
me - Black Sheep 29er, marathon
Pat - B29 rigid singlespeed
Tony - turner 26"
not sure what the other guys were on - 26" though
donkey said:
Is anyone up there riding the airborne ti fork? I seem to remember a few proto's finding there way up there?
Pat has the Airborne ti fork on his B-29.
Sweet Roll 200 Ride

Thanks for the great writeup and I 'm very happy with the turn out and the results.
Next year we will have June start !
Bearbait said:
Mike - Moots, wb
Peter - Fisher hardtail, mz
Adam - B29, cx-1
me - Black Sheep 29er, marathon
Pat - B29 rigid singlespeed
Tony - turner 26"
not sure what the other guys were on - 26" though

Man, great write up. Wish I had that kind of endurance!!!!!
Great summary, and great race Eric!

Eric's being a bit too modest here--he failed to mention that he finished 2nd, not too far behind Pete! And with only one nap attack, that's a heckuva effort!

I can only echo your sentiments--that one minute you'd be riding through nirvana, above timberline sweet singletrack, and the next you were unable to see the trail or even your hands because the veg was so thick. Either that or you'd get close to a creek or stream and see all the salmon, or bear ****, or an actual bear running away from you. None of which seemed to slow Pete down any...

Sounds like Carlos has already figured out how to make next year's event even better. I hope to be able to come up and find out--as long as it's a little better timing with the carnivores and the man-eating vegetation.

A few photos attached.



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you should write a book with photo's of your adventures. Great shots.
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.
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