Sunday, December 19, 2010

Tough Race

Photo from

Twelve tough winter bikers lined up for the inaugural Sheep Mountain 150 bike race last Saturday morning at 9am. There were no women singed up for the race. Two of the twelve were signed up for the 100 mile "easier" option, including Brian.

The course proved to be tougher than any of the racers imagined, non of who had ridden the course before. Conditions were good, but hills were steep and long, so there was a lot more pushing than anyone had anticipated.

When asked what made the route so tough, many racers talked about the demoralizing effect of pushing a bike up a couple of hundred feet thinking that you were arriving at Belanger Pass (the high point on the trail) only to get to the top and realize you were not even close, followed by a long torturous descent in which all of the elevation just gained was lost, only to do it all over again.

It's tough not knowing how far you are along a course and what to expect in the miles to come. People like to know what's coming, how much farther they have to go, and what effort it will take to get there. The only way to overcome the mental torture of not knowing what lies ahead is to train your brain to live in the moment.

You have to try to have fun wherever you are, really take the time to enjoy the scenery, focus on your bike handling skills or do some thinking that you never have time to do at home because you are too busy. When it's dark and you are cold, hungry and tired, that's really hard to do. Your mind keeps going back to how uncomfortable you are and when you are going to be finished. You think about all of the food you'd like to eat, but don't have, what it will feel like to finally snuggle into your warm sleeping bag or bed, or how it will feel to finally thaw your frozen toes. I have never ridden a course this tough before though, so I can't even imagine what these racers went through.

It took the fastest racers 9 hours to ride the first 50 miles. Brian arrived at the first checkpoint spent after 11 hours.

Photo from

In the end only five of the original twelve finished. Only two finished the full 150.

More race photos

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sheep Mountain 150 Bike Race

The Sheep Mountain 150 is this weekend. It's new bike only race that follows the route of the similarly named dog sled race that occurs a week later.

Brian is participating in the 100 mile version of the race. I, however, will just be a spectator at this one. We are headed up to Sheep Mountain Friday night. The race starts Saturday at 9 am and will probably extend well into Sunday for most racers. It looks like they will be riding some interesting terrain. I will probably get out and ride part of the course sometime during the race and take photos.

Good luck to everyone racing this weekend!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Coastal Flats Attempt

The photo from yesterday's post was taken when I followed a group of fatbikers down to the Coastal Mud Flats on Sunday. Tim proposed a ride, but admitted the conditions might not be right. The only way to find out was to ride down and check it out.

Tim and Tony led the way as we headed down the bluff. I immediately knew that even if the ride turned out to be short, it was going to be worth it.

We rolled out onto the frozen mud and pedaled into the 1 pm sun. The snow was only about 6 inches deep but untracked and provided a lot of resistance on our tires. Every fifteen feet or so, we would hit a pile of wind blown snow and have to dismount our bikes.

We pushed and rolled until we reached the bare ice. I watched as Tim slowly crossed over a depression in the snow and in slow motion his bike began to sink. It was a sight my brain could not process. What was happening?

The ice was slowly giving away under his bike. He was diving with his bike into a river of almost frozen ice slush. Tim quickly pulled himself out the other side and stared at his bike in confusion.

After trying a number of different avenues with no luck, we decided to pack in and come back another day. But not before we hung out and enjoyed the views from the flats. We drive and bike by the inlet all the time, and look out across the flats to the mountains on the other side. It was interesting to get out onto the inlet and view everything from a new perspective.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Flat can be beautiful too

I spend so much time playing in the mountains in Alaska, climbing the steep waterfalls, skiing the slopes, biking the rolling tundra, and scrambling to the top mountains in search of some beauty that I can't find in town. But today I discovered that flat can be really beautiful too.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Winter night riding at it's best

This picture wasn't taken on last nights ride, but it looks about the same. Tim took this photo on a similar ride last year. We headed out from the Smokejumper trailhead last night around 7pm with a group of seven. It was -10 degrees.

I wore my winter tights with ski pants over top. My face was covered with a full face mask. On my hands I wore wool liners and my mountaineering mittens. On my feet, I donned my minus forty degree dog walking boots.

We took off from the trailhead quickly, there was no time for talking. As the wind blew through all of our layers we struggled to warm up. At this temperature my muscles feel really stiff and sluggish, my breath is more labored and the cold air burns my lungs. I start to wonder why I like riding at this temperature. I knew there was a reason, but I just couldn't figure it out right away. As I chased the fast group up the first hill, struggling to breath and to warm my hands, feeling nauseous from the extreme cold, I just couldn't think of any reason why this would be a good idea.

About ten minutes into the ride, we turned onto the trail called Speedway (or the Aspen Trail or Area 51 depending on who you talk to). I could feel the warm blood from my core slowly making it's way to my extremities. My feet felt warm, my hands began to thaw with a little bit of the stinging pain that comes with returned circulation. The tingling feeling slowly crept around my body until I felt completely warm.

We pulled out into the open meadow on Speedway, a line of headlights in the dark quietly floating over the trails with the Chugach Front Range hovering over us in the background. The only sounds were tires lightly squeaking on the snow and the sound of breathing through masks. I removed my mask and felt the cold air on my face. I felt the warmth moving through my body. I was completely comfortable and content at minus ten. And then, I remembered the reason.