The Summer 100 (non) race

For the last year or so there have been plans afoot to have a local 100-mile running or biking race. This summer one of the organizers of the White Mountains 100, Ann, got things going and set up a trial run of the non-race. “Non-race” as i, it was not an official, organized race, but more of a mass-start individual time trial. As soon as I heard about the idea I immediately knew I wanted to do it. We don’t have very many local off-road or trail-bike bike events. There is a 12 hour race on the Ester Dome single track, though that was canceled this year, and a mountain bike stage race, but that’s about all. Even more exciting was the fact the start was only four miles from my house, so I could bike to the start – wahoo! In the two months before the race, folks did informal Tuesday runs and ran most of the course in sections. I am not much of a runner these days. Biking has been my main focus, and its hard for me to get enough mental momentum to regularly bike and run in a semi-serious manner. I joined in for a handful of the runs and survived, but barely – running 8-12 miles at once is not a recipe for a happy run. It was pretty social, and it was interesting to talk to folks and meet some folks from the non-winter sports crowd. In the weeks leading up to the race I biked most of the course in a couple of sections to make sure I had an idea about what I was getting into and could prepare mentally for some of the tricky bits. Biking the course was a wonderful experience and exposed me to trails I would not know about otherwise, including some wonderful sections that are amazingly good biking. The course is a mix of dirt roads, single track, ATV trails, a brief section of the Alaska pipeline, a short bit of pavement, and several sections of tricky bits.

So, the “tricky bits”.. The course has several sections that are tricky biking for “normal” people (normal being not trials superstars like Danny MacAskill), and one section that could not be biked even by super-humans. The difficult sections consist of several shortish bits that have tight spaced roots, have lots of rocks, are very steep, or all three at once. I can, for the most part, bike these sections while fresh, but when tired it becomes a bit difficult – not the end of the world, just start pushing! There is one section that involves crossing Goldstream Creek, and is truly unbikable, though perhaps it could be done by winged monkeys. This section involves crossing Goldstream Creek, then crossing a swamp with a short deep section (deep as in more than chest, possibly over my head deep), then brush whacking though some alder for a mile or so. This is perhaps a bit different from what most folks might expect from a bike race, as the course will have fair bit of pushing, but in order to have a long course on trails, some sections of difficult or impossible biking are to be expected. Otherwise to link pieces of nice trail would require lots of sections (possibly pretty long ones) on paved or dirt roads. While these sections would zoom by on a bike, they would be miserably boring for the runners.

Hopefully this race becomes an annual event – it was a wonderful experience and a great fit for Fairbanks. Ann put a tremendous amount of work getting the trial run of the race going and deserves major credit for putting everything together – Go Ann!

Maps of the course of various sorts can be found here.

The rest of this involves my experience in the race – probably quite uninteresting to everyone but me so feel free to stop reading now, and go turn on the TV. Or go play outside!

On the day of the race I got up at 5:45, got dressed, had breakfast, drank several cups of coffee and left the house on the bike heading off to the race start. Just as I was leaving the sky opened up and started dumping epic quantities of rain. Hard rain, with big drops, and a stiff wind – a wonderful day for an epic bike ride! I had put aside two sets of rain gear the night before, and with the hard rain I grabbed the full-on waterproof jacket and pants, put them on, and headed out. The four miles to the starting point was mostly downhill and very wet. At one point the tracks worn in the road by studded tires were running with water like a small stream. I arrived about 20 minutes before the race started and ducked under an eve of one of the entrances to the UAF Patty Center, which was alas, not open, and watched the rain. It was showing no sign of letting up, and thunder could be heard in the distance – it was going to be an interesting day.

Twenty minutes early was apparently a bit too early, as no one else seemed to be around. Eventually other folks arrived and started splashing around in the rain getting ready to go.

It appeared there were going to be 18 or so people enjoying the fun. My friend Tom arrived pushing his bike up to the Patty Center – he apparently had massive chain-suck issues on the way to the start and his chain was wrapped around the bottom bracket in a difficult to extract manner. Several of the bikers attempted to extract the chain to no avail – eventually one of the runners, Rick, pulled the crank off, got the chain unstuck, and put things back to together for Tom. Just before the start two of the bikers headed back home to get more warm clothes and real rain gear. One of them was up from Anchorage and was pretty bemused by the rain, say something like “Isn’t it supposed to be sunny and dry here – this is Anchorage weather!” 7am came upon us and the non-racers lined up in the field outside the Patty, someone gave a count down, and we were off. The course starts on a similar route to the Equinox Marathon, and immediately heads up a small hill. The rain had turned the trail up the hill into a bit of a slippery mess – some of the bikers were already pushing and it was only a quarter of a mile in. The first miles of the course were on a mix of UAF trails and the Equinox, then onto the Sheep Creek bike path, and over to St Patrick’s. I was surprised to see Tom just before the Sheep Creek bike path – apparently he had a return of his chain suck issues on the muddy first hill and decided that was a sign to call it quits. That was a good call, as the mud was quite a bit worse later on. The rest of the morning was spent riding over to Ester, climbing Ester Dome, and riding down the back side of the dome to Goldstream Creek. Two guys had started several hours early in an attempt to get to mile 50 or so before one of them had to make a wedding in the afternoon, and for most of the morning I followed their footprints in the mud and rain-softened trails. Surprisingly, I was in the lead, and would stay in the lead for the rest of the race. When I reached the top of Ester Dome the place had an unearthly feel to it – it was very foggy and socked in with perhaps 50ft visibility at a couple of points, with the wind blowing though the transmission towers on top of the dome making some freaky howling noises. It was a strange experience.. On the ride down to the creek I passed a cheerful man working away on the road with a fairly large bulldozer. He seemed fairly surprised to see me but waved me by in a friendly manner. I bet he was amused and perplexed by the rest of the crew passing him thoughout the day.. The mud on the ride down was pretty intense, but my wheels and gears kept going, and I kept moving.

Crossing the creek was a bit tricky – the log across the creek was wet and slippery, but it was uneventful, though a bit nerve racking. I would later hear that one of the participants dropped his bike in the creek and had to fish it out.

(Photo is not from race day, but a pre-ride. Note the sunny weather..)

It was probably better to drop your bike than to fall in – getting out would have been a pain! After the creek crossing came the swamp, which was a bit of an adventure. There was a path marked though the swamp, and I stuck to it, but alas, I think the path was more intended for the runners as it moved in and out of the brush and though some pretty tight sections that were hard to carry a bike through. Not the end of the world, but there was a fair bit of chest-deep water, and lots of waist-deep water, and a short section separated by floating mats where I could not touch bottom. The short deep section I just left the bike on the floating mats, swam/flopped across, then grabbed the bike and yanked it across the open section. No one appeared to be near me which was good, as there was quite a bit of yelling and swearing as I floundered around. Soon after the marshes I hit the first checkpoint, and my drop bag of clean clothes. I grabbed my stuff, changed into dry clothing, and hopped back on the bike and was off. Later when I was washing my gear from this section I was really surprised to see that everything smelled like swamp – no sweat, no dirt, no mud, just swamp. The folks manning the checkpoint were very cheerful and happy, and understanding of my manic stripping and dressing while (very) partially concealed by some parked cars.

I should probably point out now that photo taking and racing don’t really fit together all that well. Stopping to get the camera out slows things down and slowing down is not how one goes fast. I am not very fast though, so I bring a camera and take pictures, figuring if I am too busy to take pictures and enjoy my self I should just go home as its not worth it. Alas, for lots of reasons I didn’t take the camera out all that much, but I did attempt to get pictures of all the checkpoints and the checkpoint staffers. The checkpoints are like little bubbles of joy in longer races like this one, filled with friendly people, food, and water. Sometimes nirvana is as simple as a can of coke and handful of potato chips.. Anyway, since checkpoints in winter races photograph poorly (because its dark, cameras coming in from the cold fog up instantly, among other reasons) and this was the first long summer bike race I have done, I made an attempt to get photos of them.

Just after leaving the checkpoint I passed the runner Mark, who was cheerfully running along.

The next section was on dirt roads of various sorts and sped by on the bike. Soon after the first checkpoint I had my first bike problem and broke a spoke on my rear wheel and soon things were a bit more wobbly and loose than I would have liked. After riding another half an hour I grabbed my cell phone, called Tom, unfortunately waking him up, and he amiably agreed to pick up a wheel I had on my porch and bring it by Ivory Jacks. I eventually passed Steve the runner, the second person to start early. He seemed to be having a wonderful time and had a huge smile on his face when I rode past. There is a brief out-and-back section where I passed a biker (Andi I think) headed the other way who seemed be having a good time and had a huge grin on his face. Soon I was riding on dirt roads which made for fairly fast but uninteresting biking. Eventually I reached the second checkpoint, an unofficial one staffed by a former co-worker of mine, Jen, and a fellow I had met once before but alas forget his name.

They were cheerfully enjoying a calm afternoon under a nice dry tent and seemed to be having a great time. I refilled my water and took off. The next section to Ivory Jack’s was very, very fun, with lots of fun biking on a mix of narrow dirt roads, ATV trails, and some single track. I really enjoyed this section, though alas someone had taken down the course markings here – bummer. This section features a wonderful downhill bit with lots of water bars that are ever so fun to hop over and a very steep, straight downhill though some birch trees – pure fun! I arrived at Ivory Jacks a bit later than I anticipated but was greeted by Nancy and the twins, and Tom with my replacement wheel – Thanks Tom!

I had a bit to eat, refilled my water, swapped out my wheel with the broken spoke, and was off.

Now with life like hand foo action!

Before I left Lizzy said to Nancy, “When is Daddy going to start biking again?” Obviously I was being a big slacker and should get my butt in gear! The next section was a mix of tricky biking (so more pushing than biking) and some wonderfully fun riding. At one point while on Cranberry Ridge I encountered a lady running who stopped to give me a lecture on how bikes damage trails. She might have had a point, but at the time I was pushing my bike though a rooty section after deciding that the constant pounding and effort required to ride the roots was making my neck and head hurt. She continued her run and I continued pushing my bike though the roots. Alas, at this point my neck was killing me, and my feet were numb and getting a bit sore. My shoes are regular mt bike clipless Shimano bike shoes. They are a bit short on grip, and the cushioning is nonexistent. After the event I had nice and tender forefeet for several days. Once I was past the roots the trail transformed into fun riding and I started to enjoy myself again. Just before reaching Hilltop the course follows the pipeline down a hill which provided some of the fastest biking of the course. At Hilltop I stopped briefly and chatted with the fellow at the checkpoint there, Andy, and snarfed down some snacks.

I had a bike bag blowout somewhere along the way and had lost my bike tools and my chain oil. Andy was super prepared and even had chain oil, ending the squeaking of my tortured chain. The riding from Hilltop to the final checkpoint was fantastic, though I had the funny encounter with someone who had a car breakdown. About halfway between Hilltop and the Skiland checkpoint someone started shouting from the bushes behind me. I stopped and waited a bit nervously for the fellow to catch up with me. It turns out he had driven his new VW Bug up to Pedro Dome Road, had hit a rock, and ruptured his oil pan, leaving him stranded. When I encountered him he was attempting to walk down to the Steese Highway – apparently his car’s GPS told him that it was close by, so he decided to just bush-whack down to it. It’s pretty close, as such things go, but a long steep drop down a brushy hillside. He apparently thought better of it, and was coming back to his car when he saw me and tried to get my attention. He borrowed my cell phone to call a friend to pick him up, and after making sure he was going to be ok, I took off.
A little while later, my phone rang. I dug it out of my backpack, and answered it – it turned out that his friend had gotten lost and needed directions. I guided him via phone to the right road and within sight of his lost friend, and I was back on my way. I made a brief stop at the Skiland checkpoint, getting a bite to eat, and said hi to the cheerful checkpoint staffers.

The final section is mostly downhill and was refreshingly nice riding, though by this time my legs were pretty hammered and I could barely bike up the hills. I rolled into the finish at 15 hours and 24 minutes, very happy to be off the bike. John Estle was at the finish line and did a quick video interview with me and I am afraid I was a bit incoherent and silly.

Soon after I arrived the two bikers who started late came in. They started about 20 minutes late and finished 10 minutes behind me and would have finished ahead of me if they had started with everyone else.

Hopefully this race will be an annual event – it was an amazing experience and a complete blast. With luck this race will be become a summer ritual! Thanks again to Ann and all the other volunteers – you guys made it possible and fun!

The finishing times for the finishers in the trial run of the race were:

  • Bikers
    • Jay Cable 15:24
    • John Shook 15:33
    • Chris Wrobel 15:33
    • Rocky Reifenstuhl 16:38
    • T. Herriott 16:38
    • Andy Sterns 19:43
  • Runners
    • Rork Peterson 21:47
    • Ann Farris 26:40
    • Rick Johnson 28:02
    • Anne VerHoef 28:08

There was also some coverage in the News Miner.

More photos from the race
Course pre-ride photos.

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