Letting some of it trickle out while trying to soak it all in

Monday, April 8, 2013

White Mountains 100 report

Hey Ben. I wanted to let you know you are 4th on the waitlist. There is a chance you could get into the race so you may want to plan on coming to the pre-race meeting.

Ed's email gave me a sweaty bowel tingle--like the feeling you get after downing some shady street food but before the full on food poisoning begins. I told Rachel in the next room.

"Are you going to do it honey if you get in? What about your wrist?"
"I think so. It's feeling a lot better." 

My name was the 117th pulled at the White Mountains 100 race lottery last October. According to the BLM permit only 65 racers are allowed to ski, bike, or run the course. 117 minus 65 placed me safely and comfortably at number 52 on the waitlist. All the glory of appearing on the roster of an elite adventure race, but no entry fee and no chance of actually having to ride (or push) my bike 100 miles on snow machine trails.  
Hey Ben. You are #2 on the waitlist now. 
The day before the race, Tyson sold me his Hüsker Dü tires (more umlauts can't help but make you go faster right?). Rachel dried bananas and I bought some salt capsules from Goldstream. I'd had problems cramping at the Chena River to Ridge race a few weeks before.

Martin gave me the bike after it got smashed on the back of my car last year. The aluminum inserts where the front axle grips the fork got ripped out but I used some JB Weld and they've held up so far. (Ann Olsson took this and the next few photos)

Hey Ben. You are now #1 on the waitlist. I will let you know if we get in drops before the meeting tomorrow. But there is a chance someone might not show at the pre race meeting.

10pm the night before the race: my bike is upside down in pieces on the kitchen floor to mount the tires and unstick the chain.

"This isn't a bike shop daddy."
"It's way past your bedtime Ingrid."

I hadn't even started packing my food or planning my clothes when I realized that I left my race packet at the church.

"I can go pick it up for you honey."
"Thanks so much Rachel."

Almost to Wickersham Dome, downing a dark chocolate Ensure in Amy and Cody's back seat, I reached for my sunglasses and remembered leaving them on the dash of the truck to defrost. Amy lent me her extra pair of shades but it was the faux-leather nose-guard taped to the glasses I was really worried about not having. It was -20F in the valleys and my sniffer is prone to frostbite. 

Frosty scramble stuffing my framebag at the startline.

"Why do you always wait till the last minute," Rachel's voice echoed in my head.

One bag of cashews and pretzels or two? Knee warmers on top of tights or underneath? Salt capsules in feedbag or framebag? How many Ensures?

Andrew handed me the liability waiver form (since I still wasn't officially in the race) and signed me in. I noticed that my hydration bladder bite valve was already freezing up and jammed it down my jersey. Now I just had to find a place to leave my final bowel movement.

"Everybody across the road!" Ann's megaphoned voice directed the racers to move from the parking area to the start line. "We'll all cross together."

Notice my bike on its side to the left of the sign. I left it there while frantically looking for a toilet. 

There was an outhouse at the trailhead but it was occupied. Ann gave the two minute warning.

"How much longer are you going to be"? I asked the stranger in the stall.
"Hopefully less than two minutes." 

I gave up and ran back to the start line.

They did the final countdown, we burst across the line, and I realized I didn't know where the trailhead actually was, beyond generally on the east side of the parking lot. I dropped in behind Joel (he always knows what's going on) who led me to the trail. The adrenaline rush scared the poop way back into me (I didn't hear from it the rest of the race) and soon enough, six of us had pulled away from the pack and we were pumping along the narrow ridge trail in a tight paceline of fatbikes.  Squinting into the rising sun, worried about my bladder nozzle and nose freezing, and grinning stupidly, I panted up the hill.

(Thanks to Mark Conde for taking race pics! For more click here).

Just before the first checkpoint, the top five riders started pulling away. I was feeling good, but not good enough to pursue so I let myself fall off the back. With 84 miles to go I didn't want to burn my legs, and figured I would still be able to finish in the top ten if I dropped back into the next group. It was 9:40am.

Can you tell which way the wind was blowing?

Going into a long ride, I always think I'm going to have so much time to really get some thinking done. But there's something hypnotic and soothing about sustained physical effort, and I end up just zoning out, or singing the chorus of "Highway to Hell" for four hours. 

Now that I wasn't in the top pack, it was fun to watch the leaders' tracks. As snow conditions changed you could see where they had stopped to air down their tires or take a pee. You keep tabs on your competitors' homeostasis by noting the darkness of their urine in the snow. You can also get a sense of how they're feeling if their tracks struggle on climbs or if they've walked soft sections. 

Despite the new snow, almost all of the course was firm enough to ride. I did go over the handlebars when my front tire broke through the crust just before Beaver Creek, but the soft snow caught me tenderly. I'd never ridden the trail before and the landscape was stunning. Craggy limestone peaks, scraggly spruce, and giant Alaskan blue sky.

Eating while riding a bike on a snow machine trail, is a bit like trying to apply eyeliner on the subway while wearing mittens. I always feel like Cookie Monster as I mash mittenfulls of nuts and gummy candies towards my face, spilling more than I get into my numb, stiff lips. I was burning through Rachel's banana chips and nut mix however, and I felt like I was keeping on top of my caloric needs.

It was noon as I pulled up to checkpoint two. To my surprise, there were three bikes outside the cabin, meaning there were only two riders ahead of us. Josh, Joel, and Kevin were inside fueling up and drying off. Kevin's bladder had leaked and Joel's knee was paining him. I cracked open another Ensure, which after four hours bouncing along the trail had deliciously solidified into softserve icecream consistency. The volunteers gave me a baked potato and I headed back onto the trail.

Now came the big climb over the Cache Mountain Divide. I aired down to six or seven PSI for more traction and took off my fluorescent jacket, which I tied around my shoulders. There was enough perspiration on it that it immediately froze into an outstretched cape shape, making it look like I was going fast even when I was barely crawling up the hill.

I'd seen pictures of the divide but didn't have any concept of how high it would be. After the checkpoint, the trail curved into a narrow valley terminated by an imposing mountain bowl. As I climbed the gradual gradient in the valley I scanned the bare cirque in front of me in unbelief, looking for some sign of a trail on its 30 degree slope. Thankfully, just above treeline the route turned left and breezed over a low pass into the next valley.

Crossing the divide, happy the trail had turned so I didn't have to climb the bowl to the left!

After a couple miles of fast powdery downhill (and another headfirst trip into a snowbank), the trail broke out onto the notorious "ice lakes." This section of wall to wall, angled overflow ice was really impressive and unnerving. Luckily there was no water on the surface so I just aimed my front end downhill and focused on not turning, pedaling, or braking. Jamie and Jason at the first aid tent gave me some encouraging hoots as my wheels touched snow again and I was on my way.

I made it to checkpoint three at 4pm. The weather was still fabulous, my mind was clear, and my legs were cramp-free. My final Ensure was frozen solid but in a moment of genius, Theresa popped it in a ziplock bag and plopped it in the hot water jug, thawing it in minutes. Josh was finishing up his meal when I got there and Heather showed up just as I was leaving, putting me between two strong riders, in fourth place. 

Wanting to catch up to Josh and put some trail between me and Heather, I hurried across the river. In my haste I hit a small section of overflow--this time with water on the surface--my front tire slipped out and I splashed into the water, slamming my injured left wrist on the ice. Miraculously, everything seemed OK and I hopped back on the bike and took off.

The next 18 miles of trail were like a winter wonderland, weaving through a narrow canyon and between giant spruce trees. For fear of another section of overflow, I didn't air up my tires, despite the firm trail conditions--a move that would come back to haunt me.

At 6pm I caught Josh again at checkpoint four. I quickly snarfed some Ramen noodles, drank some Coke and got back on the trail a minute or two before my red-vested friend. I was feeling totally fine and climbed hard out of the river valley. After twenty minutes with no sign of Josh I thought I might have put a gap on him and have a chance at third place. It had started snowing and my sunglassless eyes were getting tired of blinking back the flakes. Just as I pulled past the trail shelter at mile 90 I heard the clunk and whistle of a bike behind me.

"Can I sneak past you there"? Josh asked politely.
"Hi Josh! Of course."

Crossing some overflow just after Josh caught me.

Overflow is a delightful trail treat. You're riding along, it's 10F. Everything is dry and boring, then you get a refreshing splash of liquid water to wake your feet up and coat your drivetrain to make sure things run smooth.

A little snotcicle and some bloodshot eyes ten miles from the finish.

I still thought I was feeling fine but I was starting to suspect I wasn't feeling as fine as I figured. 18 miles on soft tires and my uphill attack on Josh took a lot out of me. I also hadn't drunk anything since checkpoint four and had only eaten a several-year-old, expired HoneyStinger waffel bar with a picture of Lance Armstrong on it.

When we got to "the wall," a 600 foot climb in less than a mile, we both dismounted and pushed out bikes up the hill. Josh is a speed walker and he quickly left me behind. I was growing more and more concerned that Heather was going to overtake me as Josh pulled farther ahead. When I looked back over the valley from the top of the wall I thought I saw Heather and Jay getting trail tips from a polar bear at the bottom of the hill. But after squinting real hard I realized it was just two spruce trees and a snow drift.

Finally a couple miles after the wall, around mile 95, I stepped off my bike and looked to the heavens. The light was almost gone and I was dizzy.

"It's too bad I got this far and will have to call for a pickup." I said to myself with my eyes closed. I took a long suck from my bladder and swallowed a couple salt capsules. "Wait, how am I going to call in?" I Cookie Monster gobbled a handful of cashews and sour-punch straws. "I guess I'll have to ride it cause I really want one of those hotdogs right now." I put my hat on took another swig of sports drink. "I wonder if they'll let me have extra mustard. That sounds really good to me." 

I stepped back on the bike and started teetering ever so slowly up the final climb. By the time I passed the "One mile to finish" sign, my strength had returned and I was feeling good again. Amazing how quick you can go from fine to hungry and hypothermic. 

As I crossed the finish line and stepped into the heated wall tent to claim my hotdog, I thought about the 60 racers still on the trail. If I was feeling that spent after 13 hours, how were they going to do it for 24 or 40? Those are the real endurance athletes in my opinion. Way more grit and commitment than I have. Kudos.

My body pulled through the trek relatively unscathed. I did discover the following ailments the day after the race: frost-nipped belly button (my jersey came untucked), rattly lungs from so much cold air, a slightly raw bottom (would have been a lot worse without the high-quality Goldstream Sports chamois), wind-burned nose (peeled a little bit two days later), and a sore wrist from my previous condition and reinjury on the ice.

Thanks to everybody who put on the race and a special thanks to Archana and Martin. Martin gave me the carcass of his bike (which I rode in the WM100) after I totalled it in a car crash. Archana is running a far longer and more grueling race than this and still is thinking of others along the way. 


  1. yeah, well I've given birth twice.

  2. Great race report. But Rachel does make a good point about birthing.

    I love the pic of you smiling on your bike. Very joyful!

  3. I concur 100% on the birth > bike race. I meant to mention that between when I left and showed back up at the same spot, my sister in law Ellie and brother Nate brought a human into the world. Considerably more productive and epic than what I did.

  4. Fantastic race writeup! Congratulations on having such a wonderful race! BTW, I never stop to talk to polar bears, it always ends badly - I just get to say "Hi!" then next think I know they are chasing me around and around my bike while I scream like a little girl.

    1. Good to know! I was a bit worried after seeing you with that shifty crowd the other night. Congrats to you too! Impressive sequence of races for you this season!