Posts Tagged ‘race’

80 miles in 28 hours – a wonderful way to spend a weekend

Monday, June 6th, 2011

On a warm and sunny Saturday morning I found myself lining up with Tom in the Chena Hot Springs parking lot along with 25 or so other fellow competitors at the start of the “AlaskaCross Hot Springs 100”. The Hot Springs 100 is a human powered race from Chena hot springs to Circle hot springs. The rules are pretty simple – “No pack animals(except yourself), no caches of gear, carry all gear from start to finish, no sabotage”. It is a “wilderness” race, with no set route, so folks are free to choose their own path. The options include floating sections of Birch Creek, a wild and scenic river, and several possibilities for getting to and from the river. Some people take an entirely overland route and skip out on any floating. I had sounded out Ned and he had given me a bit of route advice. Our basic plan was to head up the Yukon Quest trail until it reached the higher country and then take a ridge down to the Harrington Fork a mile or so before it hits Birch Creek. We would then float down Birch Creek for 45 miles or so, until we reached Harrison Creek, where we would take out, hike up the creek until we encountered a road that leads to Circle Hot Springs. After a brief pre-race chat by the organizer Mark Ross, we were off! The eventual winner of the race, Gerry Hovda, took off running and that was the last we saw of him. He would eventually finish in a little over 21 hours by taking an entirely overland route. The rest of the pack headed out of the parking lot at a brisk walk.

For most people the first quarter mile was spent hiking on the road. The “standard” options involve taking the Yukon Quest trail, or the Far Mountain trail to start with, and both of these routes require a bit of walking on Chena Hotsprings Road before reaching their starting points. The first 15 minutes of the race were pretty interesting – folks were peeling off to the left or right as they sought various options for getting that extra “edge”. Or just took wrong turns – several people took side trails off the main road that don’t head anywhere useful. A little more than half of the racers seemed be heading up the Far Mountain route, which was fine with me, as it meant fewer people on our route. By the time I reached the start of the Quest Trail folks had spread out and I could no longer see anyone. The next several hours the only signs of the other racers were footprints.

The Yukon Quest trail was surprisingly pleasant. I had expected a boggy wet march of doom, but was surprised by how fast the walking was.

There were a fair number of shallow stream crossings..

As well as a number of bogs that needed to be crossed..

But nothing that was very difficult and for the most part it was pretty fast walking. Eventually we passed our first fellow competitor, Larry, who was using his paddle shaft as a walking stick in a very impressive, Galdalf-like manner.

Larry would be the first of three racers we would run into on the trail. It was pretty surprising how remote the race felt – besides the first several minutes of the race we rarely encountered any of the other racers.
We hiked up the Quest trail for 8 miles or so, then headed up a nearby ridge to hit the high country and start our hike down to Birch Creek. The hiking up high was pretty fantastic on beautiful hard and flat ridges that were superb for fast walking.

Shortly after hitting the ridge we passed the race organizer, Mark Ross, who appeared to be having fun, though said he was a bit dehydrated.

After hiking six miles or so on the ridges we started our decent to the river, and alas the hiking got a bit less idyllic, with about a mile of pounding though burned black spruce tussock fields. Eventually we made it to Birch Creek, just in time to see the eventual third place finishers Drew and Bob float by.

They had kept on the main quest trail, and Drew said he was three hours ahead of last year. We inflated and put in. In hindsight we should have walked to the main river, as this section was pretty shallow and pretty marginal for floating. Eventually we reached the main river and got the first surprise of the float – the water was moving pretty slowly. If we paddled hard we could sustain 3.5 mph – it was going to be a long float!

The next 14 hours or so were spent floating. My view for those hours looked pretty much like this:

This is a pretty long time to be in a packraft – after six hours or so my legs started cramping up and it was periodically a bit painful. We ended up stopping twice to stretch our legs and durring our final stop we were passed by Mark Ross.
This was my first all night pack rafting experience and it was pretty interesting. The light on the water was fantastic.

Durring the early morning it started getting cold enough that a small amount of ice had formed on my backpack.

At this point I started holding Tom back a bit, as my hands were starting to get cold enough it was difficult to paddle hard. I should have packed an additional layer – I had all my layers on and still had to paddle fairly hard to keep warm. Fortunately it was not too long before the sun came up, and brought with it warmer temperatures.

Eventually we reached our takeout on Harrison Creek, packed up our rafts, and started hiking to the finish line.

For the first 5 miles or so we followed Harrison Creek, going from gravel bar to gravel bar and occasionally taking game trails though the woods. Eventually we found a faint ATV trail along the creek and followed it to the start of the road that leads to Circle Hot Springs. The road provided fantastically fast hiking, but was a bit hard on the feet.

In the last 6 miles or so I started getting hotspots on the bottoms of my feet, but I pressed on, which in retrospect was a bad idea – if I had stopped to change socks I could have escaped without any blisters. Live and learn I guess.

We arrived at the finish line to learn that Mark Ross has beat us by 12 minutes – which is pretty amazing since we had been going for around 28 hours. We ended up in 8th and 9th place, which is not bad. The finish line is at Circle Hot Springs, which sadly is boarded up and not open. I have fond memories of soaking in the pool went it was still in operation – it was fantastic, with wonderful hot water without the “hot springs” odor that most hot springs in the interior have. We hung out in the parking lot for a while lolling about, drying our feet, and generally relaxing while waiting for our ride. Eventually Ms Marsh showed up and we headed back to Fairbanks.

This race was a pretty interesting and rewarding experience. Surprisingly it was mostly fairly fun and free of any death slogs or doom of any sort. We didn’t have any interesting wildlife encounters, though Tom was buzzed by an eagle, and we had a wolf howl nearby. The banks of the river were lined with lots of wolf tracks. In the late evening a small helicopter spent several hours following the river and flying back and forth overhead. Initially we were a bit worried that something had gone wrong and they were searching for someone. If anyone knows the story on the helicopter it would be great to know what it was doing.

There are a number of things I would do differently next time:

  • Have a pack setup that I could run with. The last 12 miles of the race and the first 5 miles and a number of other sections could be jogged without too much effort. My pack setup was a bit too bouncy for running. A setup that allowed me to jog would be a major improvement.
  • Too much food – I brought 5 lbs of food, and that was much too much. I ate a little less than 2lbs, so next time I will take a bit less food
  • Change those socks – I could have spared myself blisters by changing my socks as soon as we hit the dirt road.
  • Trim the pack weight a bit. A slightly lighter pack would have made the hiking a bit faster. As it was my pack was 25lbs with water. I think with a bit of thinking and less food I could have gotten the weight down to 20lbs.
  • Plan other route options – we had lined out three options for getting to Birch Creek, but only one from the creek to the road system. If we had spent a bit of time figuring out different options for getting to the road system leading to Circle Hot Springs, we could have taken out earlier and improved our time considerably due to the slow floating on Birch Creek.

A few things worked particularly well durring the race. One of them was the Steripen – once we figured out we could treat water while walking it was amazing time saver – just fill your bottle, zap, and drink, all while walking! This great for staying hydrated without having to carry a lot of water.

I would (and will) do it again, in a heart beat.

Here is a map of our route – click to bring up the large version in its readable glory.

A super big thanks to Ms Marsh – thank you ever so much for picking us up at Circle Hot Springs. It was truely delightful to nap in the truck while you drove us back to town – Thank You! And an additional thank you to Mike for driving us out to Chena Hot Springs – thanks!

The 2011 Whites 100

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011


“Let’s take a ride in an electric car
To the west side in an electric car
How can you deny an electric car
Won’t you take a ride with me
Come on and take a ride with me!!”
– Electric Car, They Might Be Giants

I am not sure why folks need music players on long races. I am so busy keeping the bike on a fast line, eating, thinking about the trail ahead (checkpoints, huge hills, etc), and generally “being there” that I have never had need of music to keep my mind occupied. I have now done three “ultras”, all with a music player of some sort stuffed into that mp3 player pocket jackets seem to come with these days and have never turned it on. Perhaps someday the player will be required, as I am pretty new to long races, so I will, I expect, keep taking a player along. I am not sure it will ever be required though, as after several hours have gone by music just starts to randomly play in my head, and fortunately I always seem to like the songs. During the last hours of my Whites 100 I had several They Might Be Giants songs stuck in my head from albums I have been listening to with the Twins. Somewhere between the final checkpoint and the trail shelter the “Electric Car” started playing in my head, keeping me entertained while I pushed up the Wickersham Wall and a short while later finished the 100.

The race started on a Sunday morning, so on Saturday I packed up the bike and got everything ready to go. I took a short test ride around the local trails and bumped into the eventual fourth place finisher who was on a similar quick jaunt to make sure the wheels still spun and other bike bits all still worked. Everything seemed in order, so I loaded the bike into the truck, and spent the rest of the day with the twins and Nancy. In the evening I headed to bed early, but soon found I was much too excited to actually sleep, and so I kept Nancy up with my tossing and turning.

Eventually the morning arrived and we headed out after leaving the Twins still sleeping away in their beds with a friend. We headed out of town after picking up Tom, and in a little less than a hour we arrived at the start of the race. The trailhead was full of excitement and activity, with folks unloading their bikes, skis, and sleds. Eventually everyone lined up at the start, and after a count down everyone was off. The start of the race was a bit of a mad house – lots of skiers and bikers heading up hill on a narrow trail. I ended up pushing for the first quarter mile or so before things thinned out enough that the folks were actually moving fast enough to warrant riding. The trail was very, very fast – wonderfully hard and good riding.

My goal for this race was to push my self a bit more than I normally do – the last two 100 mile races I have done I did in a pretty mellow conservative style and didn’t push to hard in order to make sure I didn’t completely collapse before the end. The end result was I finished with quite a bit of energy left and the feeling that perhaps I should have gone a bit harder, so for this race the idea was to push a bit harder and see how things go. I hoped to reach the high point of the race, the Cache Mt divide, before the afternoon when I expected things to get pretty soft and warm. Once over the divide the trail is sheltered by mountains and trees, so I expected it would remain pretty firm even durring mid day, so the riding would still be good durring the warm part of the day. Or so I hoped anyway. I reached the first checkpoint fairly quickly and past a number of skiers on the way. The skiers were really hauling, but the firm snow definitely gave bikers the edge.

After about two hours I reached the first checkpoint, where I signed in and out right away, and headed back out. Soon after the checkpoint I dropped my camera after passing a skier and that was the end of the photos. I passed several skiers and one biker before reaching the next checkpoint around noon. Checkpoint number two, Cache Mt cabin, was staffed by several happy souls, including one fellow, Bob, who had skied the race the year prior. I did a quick check in, topped off with water, grabbed a foil wrapped baked potato, and headed back out. The next 10 miles of the course are gradually uphill and eventually lead to the highest point on the race, Cache Mt divide. This section of trail always seems to take forever on skis, but zoomed by on a bike in the race. I had pretty much assumed I would be pushing up this hill, and was very, very surprised it could be almostly completely ridden. It appears from the tracks that the leading bikers rode the entire way up – alas I was a bit to wimpy for that and pushed in a couple of spots. Amazingly at least one skier skied the whole way up, and appeared to have double poled up several steep sections where the trail was narrow. Just before I reached the divide I was passed by a skier, Cory Smith, who was slowly skating up the divide. Slowly skating, but going quite a bit faster than I was pushing.. The divide was marked by a snow sculpture this year, which I assume was put up by some of the race staff. Just before the divide there is a little tiny windswept tree with a single marten set in it – when ever I pass it I always wonder what the trapper was thinking, as all the marten are safely back down the hill a mile or so back in the trees.

The ride down the divide to the ice lakes was a exciting exercise in punchy snow riding, with several crashes and lots of flailing. Just before the ice lakes started I was passed by three skiers going full bore. It would be another two hours or so before I would catch up with them again. The trail at this point was fairly soft and marginal for riding. A biker caught up with me and suggested I air down while passing me, and taking his advice let some air out. I probably should have aired down right after heading down the divide, as it made riding much easier, and before I knew it I was back in the shade of the trees and the riding sped up again. I made a brief stop at checkpoint three, Windy Gap cabin, getting more water and a bowl of meatball soup and then headed back down the trail.

I have done the section from the ice lakes to Windy Gap cabin several times before, but only in the dark, and was very, very impressed by the wonderful views. I will have to get back this way again some time in the daylight again. The next twenty miles of trail were super fast. I caught up with the three skiers who passed me and eventually got by them and on to the final checkpoint, Borealis Cabin. I checked my GPS just before I passed the final skier and was amazed to see them going a little under 15 miles an hour, on an ever so slight downhill – amazing! I ducked into Borealis, signed in, drank some Coke, had some chips, and headed out again, just in time to see two of the skiers arrive. They were making quite good time – I think they averaged almost 10 miles an hour from Windy Gap to Borealis, which is pretty darn fast. I think I have skied this in section in around 5 hours before, and they had just did it in around 2 – mind numbingly fast!

The next section of trail was a bit harder for me, as my legs were starting to feel the effort, but it was not too bad. I stopped at the Trail Shelter, an “unofficial checkpoint”, chatted a bit with the Kat the volunteer staffing it, and then headed out. I finally passed the “let more air out” biker at this point, and soon caught up and passed another biker just before the final big climb, the Wickersham Wall. She was the last racer I was to see until I finished.. The last miles of the race were a bit of a slog – it started to snow a bit and the trail got to be pretty soft, making for slow, uncertain riding. Eventually I reached the parking lot a little after 9pm and I was done. Alas, I didn’t get to hang out that much as I was in a hurry to get home and take over Twin care, but I did say hi to the racers hanging out watching folks come in. After a couple of minutes of hanging out I packed the bike up, and drove home find to the Twins snorting away and relieved Amy of her child care duties.

I was super happy with my race – I felt good the entire time, with no energy or stomache troubles of any kind. I attribute this mainly to my race mantra of “When In Doubt Drink, Eat!” If I started feeling even a little bit low energy I chugged down more water and gobbled up some food in an attempt to stave off the monsters of dehydration and bonk. This appeared to work pretty well. I could have gone a bit harder in a couple of sections, but all in all I think I did a fairly good job of pushing myself, so I was pretty happy. I got to bed at 12pm or so, and made it up in time to take the Twins to school the next morning. In the afternoon we headed back out to the start and end of the race to wait for Nancy.

Nancy was very surprised to see the whole family waiting for her. She had a great race and I think enjoyed herself immensely – go Nancy go! You can read her account here.

This race is very fun, and highly recommended! The folks running it really understand how these sort of races should be put together, and it shows. Hopefully they keep at it, as this race is sure to be a major hit in the coming years.

The White Mountains 100

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

After a night with less sleep than I would have liked, Tom and I drove the 40 miles or so to the Mile 28 trail head for the White Mountains NRA for the start of the White Mountains 100 . The race started at 8:00am and required a check in before 7:45, so we left town at 6:20 to make sure we had arrived with plenty of time. We ended up trailing a long line of vehicles heading out of town, and much to our surprise, most of them turn into the parking lot for the race. After I did my required checkin with the organizers, I spent some time wandering around checking out the other racers gear and spent some time talking to a couple of the skiers. There were quite a few bikers on fat bikes of one type or another – some pugleys, some fatbacks, and a couple of bikes I could not identify along with some standard bikes using Snowcat rims. The skiers were a mix of skate skiers on super short skis, skate skiers on standard skate skis, and classic skiers.

Soon the officials made the 5 minute warning and everyone headed to the starting line. I gave the bikers a lot of room and let them take spots closest to the start, as they should be the fastest, and I didn’t want to block a bunch of the fast folks with my slow skiing. The officials did a count down, and we where off. The first mile or so of the course climbs a small hill, then starts a series of rolling hills that lasts the next 30 miles. All the skiers were bunched together in the beginning which made things a bit cramped for a while, but eventually things spread out as the speeder folks pulled away and the pack spread out.

I took the first 6 miles or so pretty laid back manner, letting all the fast folks by. I was to spend the 30 miles or so passing and being passed by Rorik the runner – he was amazingly zippy climbing the hills and would pass me on the climbs, but I would blast past him on the downhills. Rorik was to zoom to the Windy Gap checkpoint, then stop – he had a flare up of a recuring foot problem and would finish the race on snowmachine.

The next 12 miles went by super fast – in around three hours I made the first checkpoint, and chugged some water and ate some quick snacks.

After the first checkpoint I ran into several dog teams. The drivers of the teams seemed very happy and didn’t seem to mind all the extra people on the trail.

Between the first and second checkpoint the trail winds though some very scenic burns and tussock fields.

It was pretty windy but warm in the tussock fields, making for pleasant travel. This section is a bit mind numbing though – it seems to go on and on and the bits of exposed grass slow the skiing a bit.

Apparent I didn’t chug quite enough water at the first checkpoint – after 10 miles or so I started feeling a bit dehydrated, and by the time I made the Cache Mt cabin checkpoint, I was not feeling all that good. After forcing down a potato and quart of water and several glasses of Coke, I left the checkpoint still feeling a bit under the weather. Up to this point I had been skiing with Tom, but he was going a bit faster than me and took off about 20 minutes before me. The next section of trail had the first real overflow but it was very passable.

The 13 miles out of the Cache Mt checkpoint are a uphill, first gradually and then not so gradually. This section of trail is pretty scenic and very beautiful. I was still dehydrated and not feeling so hot, so eventually I stopped at a stream and chugged two more quarts, and started feeling better almost right away. I walked the final section to the top with two bikers, Anchorage Julie and Fairbanks Julie.
(Photo complements of Tom)
The next section of trail was fantastic fun – its all down hill to windy gap cabin, so the skiing was fast. The trail has lots of little ups and downs which are just challenging enough to me on my toes. Super fun! The ice lakes section was not all that bad and I skied about half of it. It was very windy on this section of trail – the main reason I took off my skis on the last half of the ice lakes was that I was being blown sideways by the wind. Dan the medic was hanging out in a tent just bellow the ice lakes making sure everyone got though this section intact and I stopped to chat with him a bit. The rest of the trail to the Windy Gap checkpoint flew by and soon I was there. The checkpoint was pretty packed but I found a seat and enjoyed some rice and meatball soup, two quarts of water, and another potato complements of Andy Stern. Andy had been given an extra potato at the Cache Mt checkpoint and he had taken it with him to snack on, but alas it froze, and he left it at Windy Gap, were it was eaten by me – hurray! After dinking around the checkpoint for a hour or so, Tom and I packed up and took off down the trail. The first 5 miles or so between check point #3 and #4 is super fun, with lots of small rollers and short sections of frozen overflow. It winds though big trees, and in the daylight has wonderful views of the nearby lime stone rock formations. Alas, it was quite dark, so no nice views, but it was still quite fun. It was quite windy near windy gap, but as we got farther down the trail the wind went away and soon it was very cold. I didn’t have a thermometer on me, but the fabric on my pack starts making crinkly noises at -15f or so, and it was definitely sub crinkly temperatures judging from the noises my pack was making.

It was quite scenic though, which clear skies and wonderful views of the stars. The trail was fairly fast do to all the skier traffic, and we made good time. After we passed the junction for the fossil gap trail we saw three lights behind us way in the distance. These later turned out to be three bikers traveling in a pack, as they arrived at checkpoint #4 shortly after Tom and I did. Checkpoint #4, Borealis Cabin, was packed with lots of racers taking breaks – there was quite a few bikers and several skiers. I headed up into the loft for a quick nap, but alas it was, much, much too hot for me to sleep. After 15 minutes or so I gave up, headed back down and ate some noodles and other snacks. Eventually Tom and I pried ourselves out of the checkpoint and headed back down the trail. We were quite close now – the remaining 20 miles or so normally take 5 hours or so, but alas it would take us a bit longer. After 2 hours or so we made it to the trail shelter checkpoint.

Tom retreated inside to warm up and snack while I chugged down water and snacks outside the tent.

I hung out outside talking to the saintly folks manning the checkpoint. Some friends staying at Eleazars had asked about me, and after they got my name, greeted me with “Oh, so your Jay”, which was somewhat ominous. It turned out all was well – my friends had made a positive impression and apparently they had hung out at the trail shelter for quite a while talking and enjoying some wine they had brought. After a short break Tom and I were back on the trail and we zoomed along and were soon back at the parking lot. I quickly changed into clean and dry clothing, got out my sleeping bag, and went to sleep in one of the arctic ovens setup in the parking lot by the race staff. I probably could have slept all night, but was awoken by Ti the medic, checking on Tom and I to make sure we were still alive. Tom, who was not napping and was buzzing from some caffeine pills (Tom say’s it was a “natural” buzz and no caffeine was involved) decided he was awake enough to drive us home, so we loaded up, and an hour later I was home soaking in the tub and enjoying dinner. Hurray!

The race was super fun – I would like to thank the race staff and organizers as they made it all possible and enjoyable. I have never done anything like this before but now I am definitely hooked – it was much, much more fun than I though it would be.

As this was my first attempt at anything like this, I would do a number of things differently. I am not a total novice, as I have done lots of fairly high mileage ski trips on snow machine trails, but nothing over 50 miles in a day. I have also done a number of “accidental” several day trips with no sleep, so that was not new to me. These trips have involved getting lost or having the weather chance and having to ski for 24 hours straight, or probably the least pleasant of my mega days – getting stuck on a treeless section Afognak Island for 48 hours. These trips were not something I had set out to do from the start however, which made them quite different – the race ended up being quite an enjoyable experience.

Things I would do differently:

  • I brought too much stuff – way too much stuff! I brought a 5f sleeping bag, and a pad – these were totally unnecessary, unless I was planning on doing it in “tour” mode and wanted to sleep outside.
  • Not enough water – I only brought a quart water bottle, which was not enough for the section between checkpoint #2 and #3 – two quarts would have been much better.
  • A better water carrying system – my water bottle was in my pack and I was not all that motivated to stop, get it out, and drink, so I drank less water than I should. I got pretty dehydrated at one point, which made me much slower than I should have been. On my long training trips I brought a water bladder, but I left it home as its a bit fiddly and requires some care to make sure the hoose does not freeze or leak. I should have brought it or some other system that allowed me to drink while skiing.
  • Too much time at the checkpoints – the checkpoints were like traps – you get in but don’t get out. I spent much, much too much time hang out in them. Next time I will try to get checkpoint time down to nothing – that would make a major difference in my overall time.
  • Ski harder – I took it nice and easy as I was not all that sure about how well I could do 100 miles. This was a mistake – the day after my legs were a tad bit sore and stiff, and the following day they felt completely fine. Normally (at least for me) the second day after a super long day my legs get quite stiff and this did not happen. I have felt a lot worse after 50 mile or even 30 mile day skis. I should have skied much harder – it felt really lame finishing this race and still being able to walk normally the day after.
  • Food – I brought I lot of granola style energy bars that I had chopped up into little pieces so they could be eaten while frozen. These were quite hard to push down while dehydrated – it was like trying to eat dirt. GU style gels went down quite well though – in the future I will bring a lot more GUs. The powerbar vanilla was like magic – went down well and provided a nice energy kick.
  • Skate – I did this race in classic style. Huge sections (the first 30 miles – besides the uphills that is – and the last 30 miles) were very skate-able. I should improve my skate technique enough to get some skating in.
  • Bike? – the bikers appeared to have a blast. I have a single speed “large” tired bike that use on the local trails – I will explore using that or something similar on our back-country trails and see how it goes. I should hunt down a pair of snowcats for my “regular” mountain bike and see if those give enough flowation on our trails.

Ah, so many things to think about for next year! Nancy has dibs on next years race, but if I can get child care and make it onto the race roster than I will do it again, as it was very fun and rewarding. If I can’t make it on the roster then I might take the family to one of the cabins on the course not used by the race staff and cheer the racers on. This race was so fun I might have a new addiction – think I will definitely do the Susitna 100 next year.

Sumer is now approaching – I have at least one more ski trip lined up – a kid trip out to a cabin I skied by in the race, but soon I will have to start thinking about summer adventures. Wahoo!

I would like to give a big thanks to my wife Nancy who allowed me to disappear for long periods of time to train for the race, and didn’t complain about my race obsession and even organized an after race party for everyone and Tom who did most of the race with me – it was nice to have company for the long dark sections – Thanks! Remus the dog was a fantastic training partner – a large handful of dog treats will be given to him as thanks. And finally, I would like to thank the race staff and organizers – major kudos and thanks to those guys. The race was super fun and was only possible due to all their hard work – thanks!

More Photos – White Mountains 100

Race Tomorrow

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Tomorrow is the White Mountains 100 . I have never done anything like this before – it will be a great (and hopefully fun) adventure! I believe I am ready to go, but who knows – I sure am taking a lot of stuff!

Race Stuff!

I am taking a spot tracker – folks are welcome to track me via it – don’t get too excited though, I am going to take this race mellow like, and will be happy if I am not last!