Friday, July 31, 2009

Ready to Go

Last night I packed up all my gear, clothing, food and tools for the Soggy Bottom. I mapped out a plan for today and tomorrow, so that I don't forget anything and so that I eat and drink everything I need to at exactly the right times.

I put everything in separate bags labeled "Start", "Cooper Landing" and "Devil's" so that there would be no confusion at the checkpoints. I want to make it as easy as possible for myself at the transition areas for a few reasons.

The first reason is so that I don't have time to hang around and think about bailing. I'm just going to swap out my baggies full of food, fill up my Camelbak and bottle of perpetuem, put on or take off any clothes I feel need changing, lube the chain and get the F out of there. No time for chatting, no time to think about quitting, there is riding to be done.

The second reason is that I think it is going to take me a long time to ride this course and I don't have time to be lingering at the checkpoints. I want to try to make my transitions five minutes or less. One thing I found in the 12 hour race was that if I never stopped moving, I never wanted to stop moving. I guess Newton was on to something.

When I was out on the course I was happy to be there and when I was fueling up at the transition area, I wanted to be back out on the course. I tried to have happy thoughts about riding on that course so that I would want to be there. I need to do that tomorrow, when I'm out on the course convince myself that this is where I want to be (even if that's not true, like when I come down the Devil's Pass trail after having ridden over 70 miles and need to get back on the bike and ride back up to the Pass).

For these reasons, the only part of the course that I have been visualizing are the transitions. I picture myself relaxing at the start and not going out too fast. I picture myself turning around at Cooper Landing and feeling good. And finally I picture myself getting back on the bike at the Devil's trailhead and starting the climb back up to the pass with a smile on my face.

Well, I guess that's it. I have been fighting off a cold for a few days now. I spent three days in a yurt in Seward with my friend Laura who has been really sick. I have been taking Airborne, Echinacea, and eating immune boosting yogurt to fight it. This morning I woke up with the sniffles and a dry throat, but will continue to fight it away.

I work until 4pm and then will pack up the car and drive down to Hope. I am full of excitement and anxiety and I just want to start riding. The whole lead up to the race start will be the hardest part.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Channeling the Handcycler

About a month ago after I had the hardest riding day of my life and was about to quit mountain biking all together, I saw a man on a handcycle riding alone up a huge hill in the rain on the road to Hope. I wrote that night about how he snapped me back into reality. He had no use of his legs, but he kept pedaling.

What would my excuse for quitting be? It was too hard? I'm too slow? I didn't really have a good answer. And after talking with fellow cycling friends that night over a few beers, I decided that I wasn't going to quit training for the Soggy Bottom.

I continued my training over the past month and completed the 12 Hours of Matanuska solo which was a huge shock and a big confidence boost. It has been a challenge to get all of my rides in while we had visitors, but at last I have come to the end of my training for the summer and last night at the pre-ride meeting I signed my life away to the Alaska Endurance Association and signed up for the Soggy Bottom 100.

The training is over, my bike is in working condition, my nutrition plan is laid out. Now the only thing left to do is to get into the happy place that I was in for the 12 hour race and stay there until Saturday night. I was nervous about the race last week, but have dealt with that, figuring out it was only fear of failure.

I can deal with mechanicals, crashes, bears, loneliness, pain in my thighs, cow parsnip, endless creek beds, mud puddles, rain, that feeling of just not wanting to climb, darkness, bear breath, rainbows and unicorns.

What I won't be able to deal with is when my mind goes into that place that makes me want to quit. That place that rationalizes dropping out of a race and getting into a hot tub with a beer. That place that tells me that this is all for nothing and is not worth the pain. That place that I regret going to only a few hours after I get there. So my strategy is to channel the handcycler.

Last week was Sadler's Alaska Challenge, a seven day stage race that claims to be the longest wheelchair and handcycle race in the world. These men and women race throughout Alaska over eight stages, ending with a 30 mile 3,000 foot climb up to Hatcher's Pass. And they do it all by pedaling with their arms. These are some of the toughest athlete's around.

Every time I feel like quitting, I'm going to picture the guy on the handcycle pedaling up the Hope road, I'm going to be thankful that I have legs to power my bike, and I'm going to keep pedaling.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Fat Bike Movie!

Carl Battreall, who was my mountain school teacher when Brian and I first moved to Alaska, has been making a movie about Snow Biking. He's been filming all winter at all of the races all the while riding his own Fat Bike. Check out the trailer...

Fat Bike Trailer from indieAK films on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Caines Head for some R & R

After getting back from Valdez Sunday night, we immediately started packing again. Monday morning my mom, Ed, Brian, Niko and I drove down to Seward to catch a water taxo out to Caines Head where we stayed in a cabin. I wish we could have stayed for longer, but it was back to work on Wednesday.

Here are some pictures from the beach at Caines Head.

It's always cool to see Niko in his element. He loves to hike and when we were hanging out at the beach back at the cabin, he'd hunt around for squirrels for awhile, but always take his spot back on the front porch of the cabin.

Last night after work I got back on my mountain bike and did some climbing intervals up on the STA singletrack on Hillside. It felt good to get back on the dirt where I feel comfortable.

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.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Ready to roll...

...and roll, and roll, and then roll some more. Tomorrow I'll do my first Century Ride on a road bike in the Fireweed 100. My goal is to finish in 6 hours. That would require me to hold about a 16 mph pace. I figure with stops, that's not unreasonable.

The bike is all set up and ready to go. I changed the tire that had a hole in it, changed the stem so that I could reach the handlebars comfortably, and cleaned and lubed the chain.

Now I just need to pedal. I have no idea what to expect from this ride. I expect that at some point along the way I will get bored. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Pavement, pavement, pavement.

As you can see, I am so not a roadie, but have had some fun riding a road bike around town this spring. It will probably be a once and done thing. But who knows, I've been surprised before.

It's one of those things that if you cycle in Alaska, you just have to do at some point. Last year, I saw how much fun Brian's relay team had. I really wanted to do the 200 as a relay, but alas my teammate dropped out at the last minute.

I'm doing the 100 solo. I didn't even know what the difference between Road Race and Solo meant until this week. I thought solo was solo and Road Race meant you were a part of a team that can draft off of each other.

But I found out that you can ride the Road Race by yourself and just draft off of anyone out there. I don't even know how to draft and to be honest riding that close to someone and ESPECIALLY having someone ride that close behind me makes me want to puke Raspberry Gu all over the place, so that it sprays back into this jackasses face that is riding my bumper. Oops a little bit of road rage there, sorry.

I'm doing the solo.

We're headed up to Sheep Mountain today after work. Hopefully some of the smoke clears before the race tomorrow morning. After I'm finished racing I'll be driving to Valdez to meet Team Muschi Schmerzen and my mom (who is going on a boat ride) at the 200 finish line.

I'll report back after the weekend!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My "interesting" fit

I was told after the 24 hours of Matanuska that my positioning on the bike looked "interesting". Naturally, my stubborn self was like, "WTF? I look good on the bike! Why is everyone analyzing my position? My position is awesome."

But then I saw this picture of myself riding that night and thought, Hmm, interesting....

Very interesting...

...and not so awesome.

I had scheduled a fitting for my mountain bike awhile back, but I thought they would just make small changes in order to make my pedaling more efficient. Boy, was I wrong. Dead wrong.

I went to Chain Reaction yesterday and went through the whole fitting process, which took about an hour and a half.

They changed everything! I was set up ALL WRONG. I had no idea how much thought goes into fitting a bike correctly. I'm new at this.

After the changes were made and I was pedaling on the trainer in the shop, I felt so different on that bike. I was more comfortable, AND more powerful. It felt... natural. I have never felt natural on a mountain bike. I always felt like I was struggling and I guess after awhile my body just adjusted to that to allow me to ride for long periods of time.

I left the shop all smiles, and took the bike up to Hillside and rode the STA singletrack. Holy shit! (Sorry mom) but I climbed those trails like never before. It was... so... easy. Easy? Yes.

This is me talking who loves to whine about climbing.

I'm just saying, getting fitted is my new favorite thing to do.

My Mom is here!

This is my mom. Although she thinks most of the things we do here are crazy, I'd like to think I get some of my adventurous spirit from her.

The first time my mom came to Alaska to visit was four years ago. Brian and I had just moved here a few months before and then I proceeded to break my leg a month later. I was on crutches for her entire trip.

But she let me drop her off in the mountains and went hiking by herself while Brian and I went to work. She climbed Flattop and then later I heard her calling her friends saying, "You should see the mountain I just climbed!" We don't have mountains in Pennsylvania, so this was a big deal.

Later that week she caught the biggest Halibut I have ever seen. It was at least 100 pounds. It took up the entire floor of the boat we were on. We were eating it for two years after she left and she took half of it home. I think there still might be some pieces left hidden in the back of our freezer somewhere.

She came back up to visit with my sister two years later. By that time Alaska was old hat to her. She was cheering my sister up Flattop when Angie just wanted to sit down and take in the view.

And now, four years after her first visit, she is in Alaska again, which will make her our most visiting visitor of all time. I remember when I told her I was moving to Alaska she said, "What do you want to live all the way up there for?"

But judging by the number of trips she has taken here, I think it's safe to say she likes it.

Oh, and I definitely get my fashion sense from her...

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Toe Update

I went back to the doctor today because, well, the toe is still not lifting. It wouldn't really be a problem because I have figured out that I don't use it very much, but it hangs down and gets in the way.

It really hasn't caused me any problems, but I have been slightly worried. I did everything the PT told me to do. I yelled at the toe to lift. I moved my other toes back and forth and strained to flex my little toe to no avail. Eventually I stopped going to PT because there was no point.

The doctor and I determined that the tendon is no longer attached. It was not just "sleeping". He said I could either leave it how it is, or have surgery again. Leaving it this way would require me to tape it every day for the rest of my life. So I chose surgery.

But the good news is that I can pick when my surgery will be. I told the doctor about the Soggy Bottom and he said it's fine if I wait until after then. Then he proceed to drill me with questions about the race, not because he was worried about my toe, but because he has ridden the resurrection trail from Hope to Cooper and back and was intrigued. I may have just recruited a new racer!

I'm going to have the surgery about 10 days after the Soggy Bottom. Then I have to wear a big boot for 4 weeks. I won't be able to run or bike during that time, but to be honest I think I'm going to be all trained out. I had scheduled a month of recovery before starting to think about any more races, so this will work out well.

The only big inconvenience is that I won't be able to do any hard hiking. And I'll probably lose much of the fitness I gained from training. I will be fully recovered by mid-September though and be ready to go to Moab in October. Woohoo!

That's all for now.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

On the Road Again

My legs are finally feeling fresh again after a week of recovery riding, hiking, hot tubs and stretching. Since I have had visitors lately and I have been starving ever since the 24 hour race, my food intake has been pretty high.

I don't think I have ever eaten so much red meat in one week (and cookies). I have been craving burgers and steak. I even ate a burger for breakfast one day. Fish just wasn't going to cut it. My body needs the protein and iron after the 12 hour race.

Tonight I went out for an easy ride on the Powerline Trail. Funny how those hills don't even seem like hills anymore. Even the "big one" back up to the parking lot. I was nowhere near granny gear, and didn't even stop at the top of the hill. Okay so maybe I am stronger.

Saturday is another big race for me - the Fireweed 100. Originally I was going to do the 200 as a relay, but my teammate dropped out.

It's probably better that way. I will get about six hours of continuous riding in. I need time in the saddle. And it will be cool to do my first Century! Six hours is a rough estimate, actually I have no idea how long it will take.

Here is the road bike I'll be riding, but with a shorter stem. Thanks Tony!

I feel like I did some great mental training in the 12 hours of Matanuska. I was able to train my brain to stop thinking about the finish line and just enjoy what I was doing in each moment. It really worked and got rid of some of the anxiety about being able to finish. If I think, the only thing I need to do right now is pedal, the miles just fly by.

My mom arrives tomorrow afternoon, so it will be a challenge to stay on my training schedule next week. I'll be doing a bit of recovering from the Fireweed while we spend some time down in Seward early in the week, then back to Soggy training.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Role of Alaskan Tour Guide

Having visitors from the lower 48 can be both exciting and exhausting. I wear myself out planning for weeks before they arrive to make sure they have the quintessential Alaskan experience.

It's always a delicate balance between pushing them to their limits and having time to relax and take in the solitude of Alaska. You have to know how much your visitors are able to do physically and what they can take mentally. I always want them to experience Alaska the way we do every weekend, but sometimes that's not always possible because of physical limitations.

The Smiths were a fantastic couple to have here. They have very little mountain experience, so I did all of the planning and packing, but physically they are stronger hikers than me. Even carrying their first 30 pound packs, they seemed to be jogging up the trail ahead of me.

That being said, I'd like to point out that sometimes as a host you have to pick up the slack. You have to chop the wood when the guests are tired. You have to cook the meals. You have to work hard searching for wildlife on the Denali bus. You have to carry the extra gear. I love doing all of this, if it means they have a better time. But sometimes your guests slack off a little too much. I will illustrate this point with a series of photographs...

During our rafting trip on the Matanuska River last Friday I remember having to do a lot of paddling after noticing Mike, who was sitting in front of me, seemed to be holding is paddle way up in the air most of the time. Maybe he was trying not to smudge his makeup, I don't know. But it wasn't until I studied the photos that I fully understood what was going on.

Here's Mike taking a photo op...

Note that his paddle is not touching the water...

These two are along for a Sunday ride...

Again very little paddle to water contact. Mostly they were just laughing at Brian getting pounded in the face by waves.

Now look at me and Brian...obviously doing ALL of the work.

Your welcome guests. Without us you would still be floating down that river.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The 10 day Smith tour

For the past 10 days I've been showing my friends Laurie and Mike from Pennsylvania around the state of Alaska. It was their first time here, their first time backpacking, their first time seeing a grizzly bear, their first time white water rafting and their first time walking on a glacier.

To say that we have had fun over the last 10 days would be an understatement. Here are some photos from their trip.

They hiked up to Reed Lakes (my favorite hike in Alaska) with Laura while I was riding in the 24 hour race.

Tuesday and Wednesday we backpacked up to the Kesugi Ridge and along the ridge for a bit.

I thought it would be a boring straight forward ridge, but the section we hiked between Ermine Hill and Byer's Lake had many valleys to explore in between. We wandered off the trail to set up our campsite with a spectacular unobstructed view of Denali.

This lake was hidden just over a bump by our campsite. The sun was up all night

By the time we got to our campsite the mountain was out and stayed out all through the next morning when we hiked back down to the car.

We drove the rest of the way up to Denali and rode the bus, which I was not particularly thrilled about, but it worked out because we actually got some sleep on the bus in between wildlife sightings.

After making a stop at home to repack we headed out to the Matanuska River to do a rafting trip in the Lion's Head rapids.

We camped next to the Matanuska glacier that night and stayed up till 5am.

The tour finished on the 4th with a hike out on the Mat glacier, then back to Anchorage for a party.

I always get stressed when people come to visit because I want them to see everything. We didn't get to do any mountain biking with them or take them down south to the Kenai to fish at all, but it sounds like they will be back again in the years to come.

We put them on a plane to PA this morning at 7am and are crashing hard today. We have three days to clean up the house, sort the gear, get some bike training in, and relax, before my mom and her boyfriend arrive on Wednesday.

Summer in Alaska is already short, but it goes so fast because you never have time to stop and think. It's a series of packing, going on a trip, unpacking, and getting ready for the next trip.

The weather has been amazing for the last week or so. Today it feels like 80 degrees. I just called my mom to tell her that she does, in fact, need to pack shorts. Hopefully the weather holds.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Nutrition for 12 hour solo & Congrats to my friends

I've been super busy showing my friends from Pennsylvania around, but I wanted to get this down, in order to keep record of it and to share it with all of you. Last Saturday I learned that when you read that nutrition is important in an endurance race, believe it.

I think this is the single most important thing that will allow you to keep going for a long period of time. I believe paying close attention to my nutrition on Saturday was the best thing that I could have done.

I experimented a bit in this race. I knew that a 24 hour race would be a good place to figure out what worked and what didn't. At most I had to ride 10 miles at a time and if anything gave me problems I could sort them out at the checkpoint when I came through.

I planned vigorously before the race. I had to. I'm not the kind of person who can just wing it. I would never survive. Some people can eat Spaghettios, then ride 4 fast laps, then drink beer and eat ribs for 4 hours and then ride for 3 more laps, winning the "hot" lap (the fastest lap between 2 and 5 am).

Not me. I figured out exactly how many calories, fluids, and electrolytes I would need per hour. I gave myself a range so that I could adjust depending on how I felt.

My food and fluid intake over 12 hours consisted of this: two bottles of highly concentrated Accelerade, about 120 ounces of plain water, 12 Endurolyte capsules, bagels with cream cheese cut into quarters, one bite of a banana, 12 shot blocks, watermelon, and some Coke for caffeine before the last three hours.

Oh yeah, and some recycled electrolytes that I licked off of my face when I forgot to take Endurolytes on one lap. That's one advantage to having a salty face. Also, about 15 to 20 bugs. (That part was unplanned)

Using Accelerade at a higher concentration is something that I wanted to try so that I wouldn't have to refill the bottle every lap. Every time I took a small sip of the Accelerade I would wash it down with water to make it the correct concentration. It took me a few laps to get this right, because I started to get some stomach cramping and heart burn early on.

About halfway through my first lap on Saturday I felt the heat beating down on me. I was worried about this because well, I sweat a lot. I don't just sweat a lot "for a girl". I sweat a lot for a human being. I'm part Italian, give me a break.

Because I was worried about dehydration, I was drinking a lot of water early on. But then my stomach felt full, I almost threw up and I started to feel "weird". I took this as a sign that I was doing something wrong and adjusted my fluid and sport drink intake.

It's funny, if you just listen to your body it will tell you what to do.

I felt strong the entire race (until the last lap), so I figure I was doing something right. I have only a few more weeks to do a little tweaking for the Soggy Bottom, so I'll need to do some long practice rides before then.

Lastly I just want to say thank you to all of the volunteers and race directors that put this race on. The course was awesome, the people were great cheering me on every time I came through, the food was good, and I had a fantastic time!

And congratulations to my friends that participated in the race - Brian, Amber, Yrjo, Oscar, Jill, Julie, and Tony! You guys rock and inspire me to stick with it!

Oh and I met a bunch of cool people along the way too. I don't know most of your names but good job to you too and thanks for being so nice when you had to pass me!

Photo taken from