Saturday marked the 5th annual Soggy Bottom 100 race on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska. The course is 109 miles starting and ending at the Seaview bar in Hope, AK, with 100 miles of singletrack. The ride climbs 2000 ft out of Hope up to Resurrection Pass, then winds down the other side of the pass to Cooper Landing. The riders then climb back up to the Devil's Pass junction and down the Devil's Pass trail to the second checkpoint. Having already ridden 70 miles they then get back on their bikes and ride back up to Devil's Pass, up to Res Pass and back down the other side to Hope. It's insane. And looks like a lot of fun.
The riders took off at 9am from the Seaview. Still a little sleepy-eyed, Brian took his place at the start. I snapped some shots and headed out to do the 45 minute drive to the Cooper Landing checkpoint. I thought about Brian up there starting his ascent up to the pass. I wondered what goes through your mind when you start a race of this distance. The longest race I have competed is a 13.1 mile running race. This seems like a small feat compared to the Soggy. Do you break the race up into chunks? If I can just go the next 40 miles, 20 miles, 10, to the next tree? Or do you let your mind wander and just accept the fact that you will be sitting on this saddle, for the most part of the next 12 hours? I'm more of a mind wanderer, but to mountain bike on singletrack you need to maintain a certain amount of focus.
I had agreed to take some pictures for the event and was supporting Brian in the race, so had to stick relatively close to the trail heads. I rode in about 2-3 miles up towards the pass at Cooper Landing and set up shop. It's kinda peaceful, yet a bit creepy, sitting out in the woods by yourself. Everything is quiet, which is nice, but in the beginning every little noise you hear you think may be something that is coming around the corner to eat you.
I waited for about an hour till around 12:30 when I heard the first rider coming. I heard his bear bell, set up the shot, set my camera to rapid fire and waited. Ding, ding, ding, thump, thump, thump and he was gone. The first five or six riders came through like tornadoes. After that, I decided I better get back down to meet Brian at the checkpoint.
I love this section of the trail. I've only ridden the Devil's pass section and now I'm wishing I got out and did all of Resurrection Pass this year. Riding down to Cooper Landing is a twisting, turning, gradual grade, that is a ton of fun to just bomb down. Although my idea of bombing something is nothing like the guys (and girl) in this race.
Brian came down about 45 minutes later and looked good for having just ridden 40 miles over a mountain. We got some food in him, cleaned up his bike, lubed the chain, and sent him on his way. See you at Devil's. This being his first time in any race of this magnitude, his goal was to finish. It looked like he was well on his way to that goal. I cleaned up the aftermath and headed out to the Devil's trail head.
At Devil's I had a bit more time, so I rode in a little farther and set up my camera by a bridge and camped out. It was an only about a half hour before the first four racers came through. They must have been hauling ass, because after that no one came through for another hour. It gave me a chance to take a short nap on the side of the trail. By this time I had been spending so much time waiting by myself in the woods, that I was over the whole bear thing. In fact it would have been nice to see a bear to keep me company.
When I figured Brian was about an hour out I started back down to meet him. The lone woman in the race came through in high spirits, she was laughing and talking about how much she loved the trail. She flew up from Boulder, Colorado to do the race and ended up being the third woman to finish the course and set the record for women at 12 hours and 5 minutes. Brian came in and was still looking good. He said, "This is the hardest thing I've ever done. But I'm going to finish." I fed him, cleaned him up, got his set up with his headlamp and sent him on his way to the last stretch of 20 something miles back to Hope. Once you start this, barring no major mechanical issues or spectacular crashes you are most likely going to finish. But at the Devil's Trail head is where many people drop out of the race. They just cannot bear to get back on their bikes to ride back up Devil's Pass.'
The wait in Hope was long. After about 9:30 it was dark and one of the guys who finished earlier told me not to worry. I thought about it and I really wasn't worried. Brian knows how to take care of himself out there. He's ridden in the dark many times, he knows how to fix his bike, feed and hydrate himself, get up and keep going after crashing (a lot) and generally get himself to wherever he needs to be on his own. He showed up at 10:16, covered in mud, soggy bottom and all, a little out of it, and desperately wanting a beer and a bed. He finished in 13 hours and 16 minutes. Woohoo!
After my long day of lying around the woods and taking pictures, this was the best I could muster up with my camera at 10:16 that night. Saying it's a bit blurry would be an understatement. Sorry Brian.
Click here to see the pictures.