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

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Sluice Box 100

"We also found out on Monday that there will be a four wheeler race between checkpoints three and four, but don't worry, we talked to them and they said, 'We run into bikers all the time,'."
                                                                                                        -Ann, SB 100 race organizer

I love the pre-race meeting. Water bottles, nervous smiles, scribbled lists of things still to be set in order before the race. From hairy hippies to straitlaced sergeants, all flavors of white people show up, all very tan, to test their bodies and minds. The reward for their efforts is intangible (besides the attractive yellow tote bag) and inscrutable for many, but to the endurance athlete it's the "why do you do that to yourself" question that defies scruting. If you can, than why not?

Still, that race was something else. Between the smoke, the mosquitoes, and the clover our route traced all over Ester Dome (hereafter referred to as E.D. in honor of all the soft tissue that hill collectively bruised that day) my bitten and beaten body was happy for bed by Saturday night. Here's props to all those who battled on through the night and next day--the real endurance athletes.

A few weeks before the race Amy gave us her old iPhone which had overwintered in a snowbank in her driveway. With a light-red case, some velcro, and epoxy so I could mount it backwards in its holster it made for a right-nice GPS unit. Mounted on my bike's stem it was easily readable and after losing Kevin and Tyson at Ballaine road (five miles into the race) I eased up on my pace and realized it would make for a good video-journal camera too. Here's my first snapshot, shortly after checkpoint one at the Golden Eagle Saloon.
The second time up the hill I remember thinking about the air quality index as I pushed my bike up a 29 degree slope on the backside of the hill, looking across the smoke-filled valley, "Does this count as prolonged exertion"? Luckily just then a porcupine waddled past me up the trail and I figured if he/she was doing it faster than I was, it was probably safe. 

The descent down the backside of E.D. is like a trip back in time to the deep south. The hills rise up around you and suddenly, midst burned out trailers and abandoned pickups, you feel like you are very far from the federal government. The trail was too steep and rutted to build up much speed, which I was learning was par for the course. Brutal climbs followed by downhills too steep to take advantage of. I broke 40 mph a couple times but most of the descents were 15-25 mph. I did catch a dragonfly in my helmet, a karmic mistake that would come back to bite me quite quickly.

At the bottom of the hill I noticed that the sluggish water of Nugget Creek was still muddy from Tyson and Kevin's crossing (not too far behind!) just before my field of vision was obscured by a clumpy mist rising up from the water and descending from the trees. 
The mosquitoes bumped my pace up 2-3 mph on that final ascent of E.D. Every swat I was dragging handfulls of bugs from my backside and shoulders. Luckily, after the first few hundred bites my body stopped protesting. Plumb out of histamine it seemed. This adds a new angle on the perennial would you rather be eaten by a bear or killed by mosquitoes discussion. Little did I know the bugs were planting giant fields of mosquito pimples on the outside flanks of both buttocks and across both shoulder blades--anywhere on my lee side where my clothing touched the skin they lined up and drank deep. After the race Ingrid told my mother in law about the rash and asked her, "do you want to see daddy's rump"? The nails from old bonfires let me know I was getting close to the top of old E.D. for the last time.

Now around 40 miles into the race, my chain was starting to get a little dry. Luckily, Goldstream Swamp was coming up to silence my squeaky drivetrain. A few dunks in the slimy black and my bike sounded like new. The swamp was actually pretty reasonable and only had a few deep holes that required a dismount.

As I rolled into Checkpoint three at Ken Kunkel, I got my happiest surprise of the whole race (I'll tell about the unhappiest surprise later), Rachel, Ingrid, Henry, and even my mother in law Ellen were waiting for me. Ingrid and Rocky lubed my chain, Rachel filled my CamelBack, and Ellen held the baby. Trystan rolled into the checkpoint a few minutes after, but I was relieved to see him so I didn't have to keep guessing where he was. We left the checkpoint and rode most of the way up Murphey Dome together.

By this point my lower back was getting tired and my wrists were sore (thank you E.D.) but I'd only felt a couple light twinges and cramps in my legs. I'd been diligent in eating and had been downing around 800 calories an hour. Here's what I had in my oat bag and top-tube bag:
1. Gummy candies (Sour punch straws, watermelons, and gummy worms) = 640 cal
2. Two cups of pretzels = 300 cal
3. One cup of cashews = 760 cal
4. Four Gu's = 400 cal
5. Five Odwalla energy bars = 1100 cal
6. A handful of Saltstick electrolyte capsules

For drink I had three liters of Cytomax (450 cal) and one bike bottle full of dark Chocolate Ensure (500 delicious easily digestible old-person calories). 

My brakes squealed the whole way down Moose Mountain and I thought about how my bug spray would be gone by the time I got to the slow and swampy Rabbit Trail below. Just as I got to the bottom of the hill I saw a small bottle of bug spray nestled in a clump of grass like a little gift from heaven. After refreshing my chemical defense I headed into the forest.
After the Rabbit Trail, I seriously wondered if I was going to be able to hold my position. I was just over half done with distance but my body was telling me in no unclear terms that I was well over half done with what it would give me that day. The night before I'd only read 2/3 of the way through the course description so I only had the vaguest idea of where the trail went or how much climbing was left. I knew it ended at the Gold Camp by Chatanika Lodge, but I didn't know how many creek crossings and climbs I had left.

For variety Here's a video of Henry the next day doing some head banging.

Luckily the course was merciful and kind for the next 20 miles--almost all the way to the next checkpoint. Almost. Coming up on Pedro Dome I ran out of liquids. I'd gotten used to the aid stations every few miles and hadn't topped off. No problem though, I could see the observation tower and the gently rising road that spiralled to the summit. The trail was steep but manageable and I stayed in the saddle as I broke out of the trees onto the road. But then, after only 100 feet of gentle road an unyielding flour arrow ordered me to the left, straight up the hillside. This was the unhappiest surprise of the race, the hellish Pedro push. It wasn't that long (maybe 1/3 mile) but it was unevenly rutted and mostly unridable (at least with my spindly legs and tenderized soft tissues) and oh so steep. But it was high enough that the bugs weren't that bad and Ben and physician were at the top with grilled cheese sandwiches. So I guess it's kind of like life. It gets worse after it's hard but there's a cheese sandwich waiting for you at the top of the hill. After refilling my CamelBack (now filled with Cytorade or Gatomax) and Ensure bottles I rolled down the hill.

By this point I had given up trying to orient myself and was just looking for pin flags. Down the hill, up the hill, dodge the four wheelers, spit out the dust--I'd do whatever the flour and pin flags told me to. I was proud of my 2007 Felt Virtue two and was surprised to see a moose carcass in the road and then checkpoint 4 near Coffee Dome.
Jay and RJ waved me on and away I sped, feeling good and happy that all my climbs were behind me. Well, after the four mile out and back from Coffee Dome I saw the looming hills between me and the finish and decided it would be fine to finish the race at a modest porcupine pace. But then Trystan came around the corner! He was headed out to Coffee dome so I still had a few miles on him but he was gaining. I forgot my dream of a leisurely ridge roll and stood up to climb the hills ahead.

That ridge was one of the most beautiful sections of trail on the whole course. The smoke had cleared and the high evening sun made the torres and tundra look half Scottish half Martian. Swooping around a hard-packed corner I startled a paddle-antlered bull moose laying in a puddle on the trail. This gives you a good idea of how far behind the leaders I was if a moose had enough time to fall asleep on the trail between us--though I am proud I didn't lose time to Tyson from checkpoint three on.

So, looking over my shoulder ever few minutes for the Trystanator, I finished off the course, squealing down another screaming descent and rolling up to the F.E. Gold Camp. Kevin and Tyson were there relaxing, enjoying some soda and hot dogs. Ann and the crew were there with clappers and bells (those guys are awesome) and Rachel and the kids surprised me again by showing up. Everybody made fun of my extensive salt marks (you could have seasoned a week of dinners with my jersey crust) and one by one we headed home, not sure of what we'd just done but glad it was done. 

Looking back a few days post-race, I do believe that's the hardest race I've ever done. Harder than the White Mountains 100, Susitna 100, and maybe even a hair harder than the Lotoja (my first road race a 212 mile climb across Utah, Idaho, and Wyoming in one day). It was the combination of climbs too steep to power up (>95% of the course was rideable, but a lot of the climbs were granny gear), descents too bumpy to fly down, and then the giant gross elevation gain. The website says the SB 100 has 12,000 feet of climbing but if you add up the altitude gain of the individual segments on the website you get 15,000. That is based on the coarse digital elevation maps available for Alaska and my GPS (aka Amy's pink iPhone) logged just over 20,000. It certainly felt more like 20k than 12k.

In any case, thanks to Endurance North and all the volunteers. You put on truly awesome events that are fun, competitive, well run, and dang hard. I've done other races which didn't have the sort of planning yours do and it makes a heck of a lot of difference (pardon my language in the last two sentences).

To complete my vanity, here's different angle of me riding from the NewsMiner. Notice my oat bag (just a CiloGear wand pocket velcroed to the handlebars) and trusty Virtue 2:

Prolonged exertion.This means any outdoor activity that you’ll be doing intermittently for several hours and that makes you breathe slightly harder than normal. A good example of this is working in the yard for part of a day. When air quality is unhealthy, you can protect your health by reducing how much time you spend on this type of activity. 


  1. Very cool man. I was patting myself on the back for riding in the ULCER but that century pales in comparison.

  2. felt like i was there with you. nice writing, nice filming, nice riding!

  3. Awesome. I wish I could have been there with you.