Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Fireweed is not for me

I started this post ten times and erased what I wrote. I really don't know what to say. I don't feel like reflecting on what happened in the Fireweed on Saturday and I don't even really care that I scratched in the 100. Never before have I cared less about a race.

So I'll just tell what happened.

I was already stressed at the starting line because I had sent my mom and her boyfriend of to Valdez to go on a day cruise. They had Niko, my dog, with them and were going to drop him off at a kennel for the day, but 30 minutes before the race I realized that I had forgot to give them Niko's shot records. I was stressed out that I ruined their day and that they were going to be stuck with Niko and not be able to get on the boat. I couldn't get a hold of my mom on her cell phone.

I was really nervous about riding on the road. Yes, maybe I should have done some rides on the highways of Alaska before actually signing up for a 100, but that's not how I do things. I've been riding around the streets of Anchorage and on paved trails and I guess I didn't think about how much different it would be.

I started out in the middle of the pack and was amazed at the ease that I flew up the first hill. I was spinning easily and passing a number of people. The first big downhill was exhilarating and eased my mind about riding on the road. The shoulder was wide and smooth and a treat to ride on. The cars didn't even register as I stared at the mountains masked by a haze of smoke and really believed that I was going to love this 100 miles.

The miles flew by and soon I was at mile 20. That's when the road began to change. All in a period of 5 miles I road over a long stretch of gravel, the wind picked up and was blowing me sideways causing my front wheel to wobble, I road a stretch of downhill in the road because there was no shoulder and about 10 cars, trucks, RVs and semis came blowing by me at high speeds, and I almost lost control crossing a rumble strip and came inches from riding down a steep gravel embankment on the side of the road.

I started to wonder if it was going to be like that the whole way. I cursed out loud at the nature of the race and longed to be in the mountains far, far away from the highway. Why did I think riding on a busy highway amongst all the people, noise and exhaust would be something I like? I guess I just thought, there are so many people that love it so much, there has to be something to it. I also didn't know there would be so much traffic out on the Glenn Highway.

I had convinced myself that it was going to be scary, but I would continue and suffer through it. Though in the back of my mind I was thinking, this is really stupid for people to be riding on the highway like this. For me, it is not worth it.

A few minutes later after a fast descent, I came around a corner to a big commotion. People were waving for me to ride out onto the center line. "There was a bad bicycle accident! Get on the center line!", they yelled. As I passed the scene a number of people were attending to a cyclist on the side of the road. I rode past and continued on up the hill.

A rush of emotion came through me and I knew now that I could not continue on. I road a few more miles to what I thought was a checkpoint and stopped. I helped a man on the side of the road fix a flat. He didn't have any tubes and was stranded.

"I have two tubes. You can have them. I'm done." I said.

"Are you sure you don't want to ride with me for a few more miles and see how you feel?" he asked.

"No, I'm shaken up now and this race doesn't really seem that important anymore."

While we were fixing his bike a race official stopped to ask us if we needed help. I asked her for a ride, and she said she had to go back to the accident scene but I could hop in. I told her I would come with her to see if there was anything we could do.

"Rider 358 is scratching. I'm taking her back with me." she shouted into her radio.

I found out the next day that the man who had crashed had passed away shortly after he got to the hospital that night. Here is the article about the accident. He was 64 years old and from Unalaska. My thoughts go out to his family and friends.

I myself have resigned to driving support in any future Fireweed Races. I guess I figure the risk far outweighs anything I could gain from it. I understand that there are people that love the sport of road cycling, and if you really love doing it, the risk is definitely worth it. But for me it is not.


Widby said...

It's very interesting how much individual people's risk perception varies. I grew up cycling on roads and around cars and trucks, so road cycling does not appear especially risky to me. What I did not grow up with is bears. They scare me. So for the same general reason as you (the risks outweigh the benefits) I have given up mountain biking in Anchorage.

Julie said...


It is interesting. I guess it's just a matter of where you feel comfortable. I feel much more comfortable and at home in the mountains than on the road.

I grew up on the East Coast and lived in Philadelphia so you would think that it would be the other way around. But I never really felt like I belonged in the city.

Thanks for your comment!

ginnylynnpeterson said...

Hey there! I'm friends with Sherrie, but check your blog from time to time...I have to say what a crazy Fireweed experience...I have done the Fireweed twice, the first time I did not finish...the second...Truly amazing...Cycling in AK...truly not the greatest......I drove out of Anchorage the week before the race and noticed the road wasn't so great this year, and I thought to myself I hope no bikes go down.....ugh!! To bad we couldn't have done it together.....!