Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Susitna 100 - The End


The Alexander Lake cabin was warm, almost too warm. Bikers had gear scattered about. One man was fixing a flat. Another was just sitting staring at the ground. The loneliness I had felt out in the wind dissipated as I realized over a hundred other racers were out there going through the same thing.

I wondered how my friend Julie M. was doing. She couldn't be too far behind me. She had been having trouble with her feet, so I had hoped that she worked it out.

It was now after 10 pm. We'd been hanging out in the cabin eating soup and drying out our clothes for almost 45 minutes already. The wind really threw a wrench in my plan as I had only wanted to stay here at the halfway point for a half hour tops.

"Has anyone finished?" I asked.  "Yep, Jeff Oatley and (two other racers who I can't remember their names) crossed the finish all within a few minutes of each other." Wow. Eleven hours. It was hard to believe they were finished and here I was just past halfway. They would be home in time to get a full nights rest. Weird.

I oddly didn't envy them. While I was feeling a bit dejected, my spirit was not completely broken. I was slowly beginning to warm up. I had planned to save my spare base layer for the second round at Luce's, but my skin felt a little damp, and I had a chill that I couldn't get rid of, so I tucked myself into the bottom bunk bed and completely changed my clothes. I didn't really care that there were seven strange men that I didn't know in the room and they didn't seem to notice. All modesty is left behind in an event like this.

The new layers lifted my spirits as did the endless number of dinner rolls with butter that I shoved into my mouth. "I really just want to eat the butter, but this seems more civilized." I was starrrving. Soup, dinner rolls, butter, nuts, hot tang, cookies, pringles... I couldn't get enough. I had burned through all of the calories I had eaten out on the trail and was feeling a serious deficit at this point.

After eating what felt like half of the food in the cabin, I started to gather my things, as did Erv. We chatted a bit and decided we should stick together at least until Luce's. I was excited for the tailwind and the fact that the 12 miles to Luce's was downhill. We gathered our things after an hour and a half and headed back onto the trail with a new outlook.

The moon was so bright. The wind had died down, so we didn't exactly get the tailwind we wanted, but I was so sick of wind at that point that I didn't care. The riding was easy! We were flying, before we knew it we were at the turn where the man told us we still had four miles. It really did only seem to take 30 minutes to get there. We rolled all the way back down to the Yentna river, hooting and hollering the whole way. It felt good to be on the bike again. I stood up for the last mile of real downhill and got shot out onto the river in no time.

We were back at Luce's in what seemed to be two hours, but it was already past 1:30 am. Most of the bikers that were in front of me had already continued on to Flathorn Lake. I ordered a cheeseburger and peeled off my layers. They had a sauna running outside of the lodge so I dried my gear in there. I sat there while I waited for my cheeseburger and even though it was over 110 degrees by the woodstove, I still had a chill running through me.

I wandered around Luce's like a zombie. I was really starting to feel tired and ill. My legs felt like they weighed a thousand pounds. The cheeseburger and fries sat in my belly and I feared it would not stay down. I chewed a piece of ginger gum. I laid my head down on the table and was out. I dreamed of strange things that I cannot even explain.

I felt movement by me and was shocked awake. "Sorry to wake you ma'am", the young kid that was working the night shift whispered. "No, no, I have to get up." It was now 3:15 am and I gave myself a 4 am time limit. I moved like a snail, and even spent another 15 minutes laying in the sauna room. I came back and sat by the fire. I chatted with two runners, who were warming their gear by the fire. I was stalling.

Finally I got a small burst of energy and was ready to go. I told Erv I was heading out and he said if I gave him a few minutes he would ride with me.  After changing his layers what seemed like 13 times Erv was finally ready at 4:15 am. I didn't mind, I was happy that I would have company pedaling out into the cold, dark night.

"We'll be at Flathorn Lake by sunrise! And then it's only 16 miles to the finish."

I don't remember much of the next few hours. It was pedal, pedal, pedal at a hard pace. I led mostly and Erv was always just on my tail. We turned onto the Susitna and I knew the WALL OF DEATH was just 6 short miles of smooth, slightly downhill trail away. Way off in the distance I could see the sun coming up. At this point I was on auto pilot.

It is precisely at these moments that I seem to get an annoying song in my head. This time it was a song that I heard 6 years ago when Brian and I were on our third or fourth date. He had taken me to a Murphy's Law concert in a seedy bar in West Chester, Pennsylvania. We chugged PBR pounders and danced around in the mosh pit. It was that night that we realized how truly compatible we were.

A few hours into the night they played a little song that goes like this...

Wall of death, here we come.
Wall of death, just for fun.
Wall of death, link arms and run!

At which time everyone in the mosh pit links arms and starts forming a "wall of death" and taking people out on the dance floor. For real. I think I got clothes-lined by my boyfriend of two weeks that night.

But I couldn't remember all of those words, so in my head it went something like this...

Wall of death, here we come.
Wall of death, here we come.
Wall of death, here we come.
Wall of death, here we goooo...
Wall of death, here we come..

Damn it, I can't get this song out of my head!

And that went on for the entire 45 minutes it took for us to make it to the wall of death, while I slipped in and out of consciousness. We crawled up the wall and the song disappeared along with the darkness. The sun was up, and we were pedaling the last mile over Flathorn Lake in no time.

Mount Susitna hovered over us in the morning sun. It felt comforting in a time of so much pain. We stare at that mountain every day across the inlet, and now it was so close. It looked so big. When you are out there pedaling for so many hours in a row, staring at the tracks in front of you, you start to think strange thoughts. I was convinced that Mount Sustina was put there to protect me, like it was blocking me from the harsh realities of the Alaskan wilderness, somehow sheltering me and keeping me safe, carrying me in to the finish line.

Flathorn is a blur. I was fighting to stay awake. It was 8 am. Peggy, Erin and Kim the very nice and welcoming hosts fed me Jambalaya. I ate like ten pieces of cornbread. That cornbread is so good. I fell asleep drooling with my head down on the table. Sleep is never good on the trail, you know you should be moving. You never really get to rest.

We stayed at Flathorn Lake for over an hour and headed out for the final 16 miles at 10 am. Erv and I didn't even speak about riding together, it was pretty much understood at that point. There is not much I can say about the last 16 miles except this..


Brian had warned me about this section, but it was so much worse than I imagined. Do you remember doing "perspective drawings" in art class in grade school? The ones where you pick a point on the paper that is infinity and then draw a triangle coming down from there that is the road, and then draw a bunch of buildings around it, each getting smaller and smaller until they disappear into infinity? That is what the trail looked like. It went on for infinity. 16 miles? No. Infinity.

I won't say much more about that. Except that yes, we eventually got back to Ayshire road, and those last 4 miles were some of the happiest miles of my life.

Done. Tired. Satisfied. Happy.


1234567890 said...

Hey Julie,

Kick ass! Good job finishing that race, there were a bunch of us over here in Yukon following our progress.

Now, about the man cookies. First of all, tell Brian I dispute that that they can be "man cookies" without bacon in them, but I think you should post the recipe so people can evaluate for themselves.


spruceboy said...

Congratulations on finishing the Su! I enjoyed the write-up, thanks for posting it.

Julie said...


Anthony - Bacon cookies sound really good, maybe I'll use bacon fat instead of butter next time.

decsyst said...

Congratulations! An awesome accomplishment! Ted

The Old Bag said...

Congrats on the finish!

Danni said...

Great report! (I did it on foot and dropped at FHL2).

Jill said...

Congrats on finishing the Su, Julie! It was pretty awesome this year, wouldn't you agree? I have a special place in my heart for the Susitna100 even if it is "Flat" and "Boring." It's still one of the most beautiful and soul-wrenching races I have ever participated in.

Can't wait to see you at the White Mountains. I'll be riding that one, even if the current "super soft" trail conditions hold up. (Current reports, although I doubt they'll stay that way for a month.) Figure Su was good training for bike pushing anyway. Doing the Su on foot is kind of like pushing a bike for 100 miles, but somehow harder. :)

See you soon,


Alexa said...

i want to drop some f-bombs here (about how awesome you are), but i won't...but they are in my brain! julie, you are awesome and i really really loved reading about your experience. nice work & congrats & hope to see you guys soon!

Brian said...

Wow--how inspiring. I had no idea there was such a thing. Thank you!