Monday, December 10, 2007

La Ruta 2007

This was the 15 year anniversary of La Ruta de Los Conquistadores and to make it more memorable, the event organizers added a 4th day to the race. La Ruta still began in Jaco on the Pacific coast a little afte 5 am, but it started with fireworks going off about 30 feet from the starting line. I was racing on my brand new Progress Magic hard tail (20 lbs 14 oz) with Magura Marta SL brakes, Kenda Karma tires, and Ergon grips. My bike ROCKS!!!

According to the Costa Ricans we were very lucky with the weather because it had rained for 3 weeks straight, but the rain had now stopped. All the rain made the famously muddy climb even muddier this year. 2 hrs in to the race I got a stick caught in my chainrings and my rear derailleur was pulled into the wheel and got stuck. I was able to pull it out, but now my rear shifting didn't work at all. Luckily all the uphill was not ridable anyway and I could slide/ride the downhills. A supporter was able to help me pull the derailleur out a bit more and adjust my shifting so I could use 3 gears in the back. The first day was quite a bit shorter than last year. Instead of a really steep gravel and mud climb toward the end, we did a nice hour long road climb. I was just glad to be able to make it to the finish with my broken derailleur and I finished 2nd behind Sue Haywood, about 15 minutes back. This day was 59 miles and had 14,500 feet of climbing.

The 2nd day was the added day and we started in El Rodeo where we finished the previous day. The race was scheduled to take off at 6:30, but it took a long time for everyone to get to the start and pick up their bikes so we were delayed by 15 minutes. The mechanics had fixed a broken spoke on my bike and tried straightening the derailleur hanger as well as changed out the broken derailleur. I was a little nervous about how the bike was going to work, but the mechanics did a great job, and it was shifting perfectly! The second day was only 46 miles but still had 11,887 feet of climbing. The most memorable section of this day was a 27 km stretch of pavement that was some of the steepest pavement I have ever climbed. On this section I caught up with Sue and we rode together for a while. I tried to drop her on a couple of the less steep sections but she always caught me when it got really steep again, and then managed to drop me completely. On a flat muddy section I was riding by myself through some villages and got confused to where I was. I had not seen any markings for a while so I stopped and tried asking the locals for directions in my limited Spanish. This consisted of me just saying "bicycleta" and putting my hands up with a confused and panicked look on my face. Clearly the locals had no idea what I was saying and was instead trying to give me directions to San Jose. After a couple of minutes I fortunately ran in to a support vehicle and they confirmed that I was going in the right direction. The day finished with a crazy muddy uphill hike-a-bike section followed by the muddiest down-hill I have ever experienced. I was mostly sliding on my feet trying not to fall off the side of the trail. We finished at the Terramall in San Jose and again I was 2nd behind Sue with a time of 5 hrs 16 minutes.

Day 3 started at the Terramall just like last year, went up Irazu to over 10,000 feet and then down the vulcano where it ends in the town of Turialba. This day is the "easiest" with its 8,700 feet of climbing over 41 miles. It took me just over 3 hrs to reach the top of Irazu. I had brought with me a rain jacket but although it was sprinkling on the way down I never got cold. The down hill was in the worst condition I have seen it in my 5 years of La Ruta. The rain made some of the rocky sections a little easier to descend, but there were also sections of mud that I had a really hard time riding through. At the top of Irazu I had Sue within eyesight, but she managed to put a lot of time on me going down. I kept thinking about crashing and did not feel very confident for some reason. It seemed like a lot of people ended up in the hospital with stitches and broken bones and I did not want to be one of them!

The last day it was pouring rain in the morning while we were waiting for the bus to pick us up at the lodge. It was not very motivating to start in the rain and cold. I could not figure out what to wear, but I settled on bringing a vest and armwarmers over the rainjacket. Since we started with a 5 km gravel climb I was not cold at all although it was still misting a little. I caught Sue after a few minutes and we ended up riding almost the entire day together. I though she must be taking it easy since she knew she had the overall win by 42 minutes. I felt really good and it was fun riding with Sue, it was more like being out on a training ride with a friend than racing. People often think the last day will be the easiest one, since it has a 65 km flat section at the end. The fact that we race over railroad trestles, slippery bridges, and through knee deep water puddles still makes it tough. Sue and I rode with one other guy on the paved section which made the time go by faster. This guy kept insisting that we must be done with the rail road even though I told him we had at least an hour more of it. When we finally did hit the endless rail road trestles again, I think he was mentally defeated, because we completely dropped him. Sue claimed that it was all she could do to stay up with me. I guess it helped that I had done this stage 4 times before. I tried to get her to cross the finish line together with me, but she insisted that I had pulled her through the last section and that I deserved the win.

As usual I had a great time at La Ruta and it was an honor to finish 2nd behind Sue Haywood. We raced 222 miles across Costa Rica and climbed over 40,000 vertical feet!!

Alaska Ultrasport 2007

I have been thinking about the Alaska Ultrasport and wanting to try it since the first time I heard about it over 5 years ago. Even with all the information and stories I have heard from Eric I could never have imagined how brutal this race was going to be. It didn’t help that I had a cold before the race started and the morning before the start I woke up with an ear infection. Luckily I was able to start taking antibiotics right away.

Start at Knik Lake

Janice and Steve Tower drove us to the start at Knik Lake and just getting out of the car I found it hard to breathe because of the cold air. I’m not exactly sure what the temperature was at the start, but probably between -10 and -15. The race started at 2 pm outside a small bar, and the 33 participants lined up by an Alaska Ultrasport sign. At the start signal we started pedaling, skiing, or walking across the frozen lake. On my snow bike I had a rack in the rear with my negative 20 down sleeping bag, 2 Nashbar bags with extra clothes, and my down jacket in a compression sack under my saddle. On my handle bars I had a mount with a GPS and a LED flashlight and I also had 2 additional bags for food, goggles, extra gloves, toe and hand warmers, camera etc. I also carried my thermarest under my handle bars and I had a small frame bag (can’t fit much into the triangle of a 14" frame) with my stove, pot, spare tubes, and nalgene bottle.

Loaded Bike

After we crossed the lake we got onto trails in a forest. We ran into several dog sled teams tuning up for the Iditarod which starts one week after the Ultrasport. The dogs were so quite you could barely hear them. I was so excited about finally riding in the snow I was pushing fairly hard. I had to ditch my jacket and was riding comfortably in a long sleeved shirt and vest. It took Eric and I 5 hrs and 20 minutes to get to Luce’s which was the first CP, 50 miles into the race. It is a weird experience riding on a frozen river in the dark with nothing around but wilderness and all of the sudden you see a neon sign which says "Luce’s". Luce’s was a small bar/restaurant where we were able to refill camelbacks, dry some clothes out, warm up, and use the heated outhouse. I was so pumped up I was ready to leave after downing 2 bottles of juice and eating a snickers bar, and I might have been slightly impatient when Eric wanted a few more minutes to warm up before getting back on the bike. We still only took a 40 minute break before starting back on the river toward Skwentna, the 2nd CP. It was dark and cold, but the river was hard so we were making good time, although I was marveling at how slow we were. It took us 12 hrs to go the 90 miles to Skwentna lodge which is a small bed and breakfast in a town of 11 people. It was nice and warm inside and we hung our wet clothes by the woodstove and then sat down at the table for some food. The guy working the kitchen told us that it was his grandparents’ lodge which is frequented by hunters in the summer. Our cook was 18 years old and had grown up in Skwentna but was leaving for the military next summer. Nice kid, and he made awesome hamburgers and then he offered us a bed upstairs. Although I wasn’t sleepy, I knew we had to rest a little bit and we laid down for a sleepless 3 hours. When we got up at 6 am, I brought in half of a frozen PB and J sandwich from my bike and put it on the wood stove. I had it with a cup of tea as I was getting dressed and got all of my stuff ready.

Shell Lake Lodge

We left around 6:30 in the morning and our next CP was Fingerlake, approximately 45 miles away. Halfway to Fingerlake is another lodge at Shell lake where we stopped to use the outhouse. No reason to go outside unless you have to..... We arrived at Fingerlake at 2:25 in the afternoon. We took our clothes off to dry and sat down for an awesome meal of rice, beans, chicken and tortilla. This lodge is used for cooking classes and is pretty upscale by Alaskan standards. Still no indoor plumbing of course. Here we were also able to get our first drop-bags and I grabbed some ho-ho’s, trail mix, Reese.s cups, batteries, and more toe and hand warmers. Again, I was way too excited to hang out and we left within an hour. Poor Eric, he knew the race hadn’t even started yet, and I was barely sitting down because I was calculating how fast I was going to make it to the next check point..... Riding to Puntilla lake became a bit more difficult with deeper snow and a lot of getting off and on the bike. The constant getting on and off the bike is very tiring when you are wearing tons of clothes including heavy winter boots, have a hard time breathing because of your facemask, and there is a giant sleeping bag to throw your leg over. With 5 miles to go according to my GPS I decided to take Janice’s advice and "when in doubt, let air out". All of the sudden it was much easier to control my bike and I felt like I was flying down some steep hills (at a speedy pace of 7 mph). It got pretty windy toward the end, and had started to snow a bit when we finally arrived at the cabin at Puntilla Lake around midnight. A few people had passed us and we had caught some of the leaders so the cabin was full. People were spread out on bunk beds, a small couch and some cots. The checker at the lodge was great and made me a huge bowl of clam chowder which I wolfed down while laying on a cot. I tried going to sleep on the bunk bed, but after a couple of hours I woke up and my right hand was paralyzed and I felt like the my arm was on fire. It was so painful I had to get up and shake my arm around until the pain subsided and I was able to move my fingers again. This happens to me after almost every 24 hr race and I always attributed it to my camelbak pressing on my brachial plexus. It always makes it impossible to sleep for more than an hour or two.

At 4 o’clock am I climbed up to the top bunk and woke Eric up. I told him I was ready to leave because I couldn’t sleep anymore. Eric said it could be a 24 hour trip to Rohn, the next checkpoint, and that it probably wasn’t a good idea to leave since the weather was pretty bad. Also, there was no trail over Rainy pass because the snow machines had not cleared it for the Iditarod yet. Our options were to bushwhack our own trail for a few miles through the windy and cold pass or to take a 30 mile detour. I spend a few more miserable hours sitting up in bed to keep my arm from killing me. In the morning we were told that we could have breakfast at the main lodge. I was in so much pain I couldn’t think about food. All I wanted to do, was to get going. I was even thinking about going for a hike because it seemed like moving around made my pain disappear. I came to my senses and had pancakes, sausage, eggs and coffee with Eric and 2 other racers, Jim and Jacques. After breakfast we went back to the little cabin and packed up our stuff and left around 10:30 am.

Hell's Gate

The riding up Hell’s gate, the detour, was pretty good. We were riding through frozen marsh-land and since there had been little snow this season the alder bushes were sticking up and we had to ride through them. I was a bit worried about getting a flat or a stick in my derailleur. After just a short bit of riding I realized I could not carry my camelbak, because it was making my arm hurt while riding. Eric took my bladder and I just strapped my camelbak to my sleeping bag. This worked out great except now it was pretty hard to drink, especially after Eric’s hose froze up and we had to stop and open the top to drink out of it. By dark we just made it onto the river and my GPS showed 25 miles to Rohn (as the bird flies).

Eric said we might have to get off the river and bivy before Rohn, but I thought we should keep going for a while to get as close as possible. I was never looking at my watch, so I had to idea what time it was. Time didn’t really matter anyway. It got really cold and at one point I stopped to get a body warmer out and stick it to my chest. It took me a few minutes to catch back up and I kept getting colder and colder. I also realized that I hadn’t had anything to drink or eat for a long time. Eric got my down jacket out for me and I felt warmer at least. According to our GPS we now only had 1 or 2 miles left when we hit some overflow. We could see tire tracks on the other side of the water, but we definitely did not want to risk getting our feet wet, or falling through the ice. At this point I was bonking pretty bad and was just waiting for Eric to find a safe way around the water. My GPS showed 500 feet... We had to drag our bikes up a steep little climb, and then we were 300 feet away.... I was sooooooo exhausted and cold and out of it but I knew I could drag myself 300 feet. Wouldn’t there be some light coming from the cabin?? No, that’s because there was no cabin where our GPS waypoint showed it was supposed to be. Eric thought we might have missed it somehow, so while I didn’t move he went back and looked around. No checkpoint, no woodstove, no hot Tang.... I realized that if we weren’t going to find the check point I was going to have to get in my sleeping bag because I could not produce any heat. I had no fuel in me and I was completely bonking and had trouble seeing straight. Eric told me to run around to try to get some body heat up while he got my thermarest and sleeping bag out. I had no energy to run, so I walked back and forth at a snail’s pace. Hardly enough movement to produce heat. I got into the frozen sleeping bag and was not the least bit warmer. I heard Eric breaking tree branches off to build a fire to warm me up. All I was doing was trying not to panic. We had no idea how far it was to Rohn and there was definitely no one else to help me out. Eric got the fire going and I felt slightly less cold, I started shivering. Then I heard he got his little isbit stove out and heated up water from his camelbak. I was able to turn over to my side and drink almost a full small Nalgene bottle of hot water and then he made another bottle that I put on my stomach. I finally started feeling warmer, but I was still really scared. It didn’t help that we started hearing wolves howling in the dark. At this point Eric had to go and find the checkpoint to see if he could get some help. He left at 6:47 am. I thought I could keep warm in the sleeping bag while he was gone. It is a strange feeling being completely alone in the wilderness, dark, and cold with wolves howling around you. I don’t know if I was hallucinating or dreaming but I thought I could hear cars and see lights and I had all kinds of weird thoughts going through my head.

I must have been asleep when Eric came back because I didn’t hear the sound of the snow machine. He said he found the checkpoint about 1.5 miles down the trail. I really would like to have a chance to continue the race but if I took a ride on the snow machine I would be cheating. I did not want to make things dangerous of more difficult for Eric so I was willing to drop out of the race, but I was so happy when he said I could try pushing my bike. Before I got out of my sleeping bag I mixed a packet of protein powder into the warm water bottle I still had on my stomach. That gave me a little bit of energy and more heat. I was completely exhausted but I was able to get on my bike and start pedaling very very slowly. Eric stayed behind and packed up my pad and sleeping bag. The 1.5 miles seemed to take forever, but finally I saw the little airstrip and then the lodge. Someone took my bike and someone else helped me inside. (As Eric was helping me edit this, he told me he was the one to lift me of my bike and help me inside). I was totally out of it but I sat down and I was helped out of my clothes and served hot Tang out of a mug. As the 2 women of the group took my long pants of, they laughed and said they could tell I was from California from my tanned legs. They joked that they should put me outside in the snow in a bikini and I could be an advertisement on their web-site. When they checked out my hands they noticed I had frost bite in my left middle finger. I had a big blister on the back of my finger, and the fingertip was hard and had no blood flow. Lisa, who used to be an EMT bandaged the finger up and said it might be OK if I was able to keep it from freezing again. Eric also had frost bitten his thumb when he was helping me out that night.

The spot where I had to bivy, was also the section where Eric Johnson fell through the ice up to his waist a couple of days later. He was able to get out of the water and off the river. It was negative 25 when he got into his sleeping bag and blew his emergency whistle. Luckily, another racer behind him, Jose Diego, heard him and was able to take Eric.s location with his GPS and get to Rohn so send for help.

Finally in Rohn

After a little while I came around, but I had lost my voice, and I could only whisper. The Rohn cabin is used as a checkpoint for the Iditarod and the 5 people using it were all checkers waiting for the dogs to come though. There was a giant pile of food for the dogs outside and they were waiting for more supplies as well as veterinarians and doctors to fly in the next few days. There was a tent with a small woodstove for the Alaska Ultrasport racers, but they were kind enough to let me crash on one of the bunks for a couple of hours. We spent the rest of the day in Rohn, hoping I would recover so I could continue on the next day. I didn’t see how it would be possible, since I was coughing like crazy, had no voice, and had a hard time breathing. We had some soup for dinner and went to sleep on the straw in the tent set up for us.

Rohn Sleeping Quarters

At 9:30 pm I was awakened by the excruciating pain in my arm again. It felt like someone was using a blowtorch on it. All I could do was to kneel in my sleeping bag and shake my arm around until the pain subsided again. Since we were in a tent with 3 other people and it was probably negative 20 inside the tent, I couldn’t walk around to relieve the pain so I just sat in my sleeping bag for 2.5 hrs shaking my arm. It was a pretty miserable night, I got up and walked to the out-house a couple of times just to make time pass, but I was glad to be alive.

Around 7 in the morning I hoped the Iditarod checkers would be awake in the cabin, so I got up. They were still in bed, but said they were awake and told me to come inside. Jasper, the cook, made a big thermos of coffee and then started on breakfast. I sat and chatted with Lisa, Jasper, Stephanie, and David, and Terry and learned a lot about the Iditarod and about what they do during the sled dog race. After a little while Eric came inside too, and we had delicious blueberry pancakes that Jasper made. I still had no voice and felt pretty weak, especially since I hadn’t slept much, but it was nice and sunny outside, and I was ready to try to move on, so after goodbyes and picture taking we left Rohn around 10 in the morning. The temperature was 23 below zero when we took off.

Jasper In Rohn Cabin

I moved very slowly. I had no energy and there were a lot of short steep hills that I had to walk up. We had to get up one frozen waterfall and I was wondering how the dogs made it up. Alan Tilling and Jan Kopka who had arrived at Rohn several hours after us were right behind us and passed us pretty quickly due to my snail’s pace. Every so often I had to stop to cough violently, and the stuff that came out of my lungs was brownish green. It’s pretty hard to cough, spit, and blow your nose while wearing a balaclava, goggles with a piece of neoprene glued to it covering your nose, as well as a face mask. This also makes it difficult to eat and drink, especially since I was wearing glove liners, mittens with hand warmers and had pogies on my handle bars. The cold air made it hard to breathe and my lungs really hurt when I tried taking a deep breath. We had hoped to be able to go a little bit past Bison camp, the next unmanned checkpoint which was 45 miles away from Rohn, but after a while it became apparent that my slow pace was notgoing to let us get that far.

On the River

It took us 12 hours to get to Bison camp, which is a walled tent with a big woodstove, a little table, and straw on the ground for sleeping. The tent is there for bison hunters but there is a sign that says anyone traveling the trail is welcome to use it as long as you restock the firewood. Bill Merchant, the race organizer, had flown out the week before and left blocks of ice to melt for water, a cooler with food, and a couple of Coleman stoves with fuel. We were actually lucky to be a little slow, because when we got to Bison camp the fire was going and it was nice and warm and there was hot water on the stove. We shared the tent with Masuro from Japan, Dario from Italy, Jan, and Alan. The grease in Dario’s free wheel had frozen and his cassette just spinning around and he had been pushing his bike almost all the way from Rohn. Eric zip-tied the cassette to the spokes of his wheel so he would at least have a fixed gear. Masuru told us he only carries a 0.5 liter thermos for fluids but that it had frozen on the way to Rohn. He said it was no big deal since it was so cold outside and he wouldn’t dehydrate.... Uh-huh!! The conversation at Bison camp was hilarious with all of the different nationalities and misunderstandings due to language barriers.

Jan, Eric & Lou at Bison Camp

After I had two cup-o-noodles I got into my sleeping bag, as Masuru and Dario left in the dark and cold to continue on to Nikolai. At this time the temperature was 32 below zero. I was very congested but I actually managed to get a few hours of sleep that night. Unfortunately the rest of the group were probably not as lucky, since Eric said I snored louder than a 350 pound man and that I would stop breathing for a few seconds only to snort louder than ever.

In the morning I had a few packs of oatmeal and some hot cocoa before taking off. Alan left just before us and Jan left at the same time. Now we were on the Farewell Burn, which is a large area that was hit by a fire sometime in the past. The Burn is wide open and since there had been very little snow this season, grass and dirt was sticking up and it was really difficult to ride over this terrain since it was very bumpy and rough. We were able to follow tire tracks, but Peter Basinger said he fell about 100 times, because he couldn’t tell were he was going, and there was ice under the thin snow. I kept getting left behind Eric since I was so slow, but he stopped and waited for me. We ran in to Alan after a while and rode with him and Jan. As we stopped for pictures with Jan, Alan got ahead of us, but we soon caught him when he had a flat tire. Not very fun fixing a flat in negative 20. Later Alan told us that he thought the ice on his rims was slowing him down and he decided to get his knife out and scrape it off. His snow rims are drilled (have big holes to make them lighter) and the tube was poking through the whole and he slashed hisown tube!!

Eric and I got to Nikolai just as it was getting dark. We ran into a guy on a snow machine pulling a sled with 2 kids and we stopped to talk for a few minutes. Nikolai seemed so depressing to me. The town has 100 people and is really run down. The homes are mostly little shacks. We rode by "The Nikolai international airport" sign on our way to the checkpoint. Our last checkpoint was at the home of Nick and Olene. It felt good to get inside and it was extremely hot which felt good at first, but was not so good for sleeping. There was a big rack over the woodstove for us to hang our clothes on to dry. Dario’s wheel was also hanging there, without the zip ties, so apparently Eric’s trick didn’t work. Nick said Dario had pushed his bike the whole way from bison camp (43 miles) and he was now sleeping.

Nick & Eric at Nikolai

A few minutes after us, Alan showed up too. Jan got there before us, and had actually taken a shower! I couldn’t wait to eat so I could shower too. Olene heated up spaghetti and moose sauce for us. It was pretty tasty to get some real food, but I was feeling really bloated so it was hard to eat. Olene got me a towel and I got in the shower. As I was taking my clothes off I noticed my legs looked like they belonged to someone else. I had huge indentions in my calves from my socks, and my legs were so swollen they looked like tree trunks. My stomach was really jiggly and I felt like I had fluid in my lungs too. I actually found a scale in their bathroom closet and decided to weigh myself to see how much fluid I had retained. I weighed 120 pounds, which is at least 10 pounds more than I normally weigh.

Eric and I used their daughter’s bedroom. There were no covers or blankets on the bed, but the bedroom was like a sauna so it didn’t matter. We actually cracked the window to cool it off a little. I could not lay flat because my lungs made this crackling sound every time I took a breath and I was so congested, so I propped up my sleeping bag up against the wall and sat for most of the night. I probably had 3 or 4 pretty bad nose bleeds that night, from coughing or blowing my nose. I just sat there and ate cough drops, blew my nose, and marveled at how my lungs sounded. We only had 50 more flat miles to McGrath, but I was worried about all the fluid in my body and what it would do to my heart and lungs. Eric was also pretty restless and coughing.

I got up several times during the night just to walk around. At 4 am, Nick was up drinking coffee and checking his computer for other racers. I was able to use the computer and it was really nice to check the Alaska Ultrasport web-site and get messages from people thinking about us. Kathi did a great job updating the web-site.

Around 7 Alan, Jan, and Eric were all up and Nick made us breakfast of eggs, bacon, and wonder bread toast. Dario was up too. He had decided to scratch since he didn’t have a wheel. He was coughing and looked like he was in pain every time he coughed. After breakfast we got dressed. It was 80 degrees inside and horrible to put all of our winter clothes on. I had bike shorts, thick Patagonia fleece tights on, my windproof tights, sock liners, thick socks, and boots on my bottom. CLEAN tank top, expedition weight underwear, heavy vest, winter jacket, and down jacket on top. I was sweating as soon as we started riding- it was negative 27 when we left- so I stopped and took my down jacket off. It was really hard and painful to breathe because the air was so cold. I had to keep stopping several times to make adjustments of my goggles, balaclava, and add hand warmers, and also to cough. Every time I stopped I was freezing. After about a mile we got onto the river that was going to take us to McGrath and the temperature dropped. I had to stop to put my down jacket on again. Eric asked a couple of times if we needed to turn around, and it was so painful to breath that the thought entered my mind, but I also thought we were so close I did not want to give up. At one point Eric stopped to put air in his tires and when I had one of my violent coughing fits, my nose started gushing blood. I got frozen polka dot blood spots all over my boot and there was bright red blood in the white snow.

On the Way to McGrath

After a few hours of riding it started warming up to negative 15. I was pretty comfortable riding without my down jacket, but now my left knee started to really bother me. It had been hurting on and off since Puntilla, but I was always able to get it to feel better after 15-20 minutes of easy pedaling. I took more ibuprofen and tried using mostly my right leg, but with the platform pedals I was still forced to use my left leg, and my knee was really painful. I had to get off my bike on the smallest inclines because I was not able to push down with my left leg. In Nikolai I had cut up 2 super size snicker’s bars, and I kept eating the frozen pieces and I drank my protein shake. Once I finished my 400 cc Nalgene bottle that I carried inside my vest pocket to keep it from freezing, Eric refilled it with water from his camelbak. We rode for several hours in the sunshine and I was dreaming about steak, baked potato, salad, and red wine. I wanted to ride a little faster but my knee wouldn’t let me. I had turned my GPS off, because I didn’t want to be starring at the distance the whole time.

Sometime in the afternoon we saw an Alaska Ultrasport sign posted in the snow showing us to get off the river. The sign said 9.6 miles, 15 km. After that we saw several signs counting down the distance. I think I cried the last 4 miles. I was just so tired, and in so much pain, and so happy to be finished, and happy to be alive. One reason I finished the last part was so that I wouldn’t have to come back next year and do it again.Around 5 we arrived at Peter and Tracy’s house in McGrath. Jan and Alan were there. Dario had flown from Nikolai. Masuro had made it in earlier in the morning and Jose had been hanging out for a couple of days waiting to continue on to Nome. I took the best shower of my life and was able to put on clean clothes that we had sent out from Anchorage. My pants barely fit, since my legs were so swollen. After the shower I sat down at the dinner table where Peter fed us pork, homemade mashed potatoes, salad, and broccoli. I was also able to get my glass of red wine!!!!!!

Peter & Tracy's House in McGrath

I was still only able to whisper and I didn’t sleep well because of my arm and my coughing and congestion, but it was great hanging out at Peter and Tracy’s. They took such good care of us and Peter made his famous mancakes for breakfast and I drank lots of coffee. We stayed for 2 days before flying back to Anchorage. Although this was the hardest race of my life, it was also one of the most awesome experiences, and I am so happy I was able to complete the race. In the beginning of the race I thought I would be able to ride it alone, but I would not have been able to finish without Eric. It was a really great experience to be able to ride together.

Welcome to my future blogsite!

I'll post a few past stories and keep you up-to-date on all the crazy epic adventures I go in. Keep posted and enjoy!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Trans-Rockies 2007

I don't want to bore anyone with a long-winded detailed report from this year's Trans-rockies, but there were a few memorable moments I would like to share.
Eric and I flew direct from San Francisco to Calgary this year and this happened to be the one time on the way to a race we did not receive our bikes. To make a long story short we spent at least 5 hours on the phone to United Airlines call-centers in India and Manilla the day before the race. Somehow between San Fran and Calgary our bikes were lost in space and no one could tell us where they were. We got lied to, hung up on, and were really frustrated by "baggage supervisors" before finally receiving our bike boxes at 8:50 pm the evening before the race started. We were staying with Drew (announcer) and his wife Joanne in Invermere and they offered to loan us their bike so at least we had a backup in case the bikes had not shown up. Eric and I were both really happy when they did show up though, because Joanne's bike was way too big for me, and Drew's bike was more of a freeride bike and too small for Eric...

The first day was fairly short, but had a brutal 50 minute very steep hike-a-bike section which was pretty crowded. We ended up in 3rd place behind Wendy Simms and her husband Norm and a Swiss team we called "the towers". Trans-alps and Cape-Epic have banned towing for safety reasons, but it is still allowed at the Trans-rockies. In my opinion towing is lame, ridiculous, embarrassing, and should not be a part of mountain biking. The stronger team mate has either a pvc pipe with a bungee cord or a dogleash attached to his/her bike and the weaker partner has a hook on the handlebars so that they can easily "hook-up" or unhook depending on the terrain. Many of the mixed teams were using this method, which made it very satisfying to pass and beat them. Wendy and Norm and Eric and I were the only teams in the top 5 not using the towing system.

The second day from Invermere to Nipika Resort was the first day we beat "the towers". We caught them and were riding together in a group with 2 men's teams on the flat road when we hit some small hills a few kilometers before the finish. On the climbs we dropped the men's teams and the towers and ended up beating them by about a minute. Wendy and Norm won again (as they did every day).

Nipika is a really nice wilderness resort owned and operated by a couple from Invermere. The man, Loyd was cooking hamburgers and brats at the finish line which was very welcome, because the food served at breakfast and dinner was quite lacking this year (and that's all I'm going to say about that..) We actually spent 2 nights in Nipika this year because the course had to be re-routed due to forest fires in the area. One memorable event in the evening at the award ceremony was an auction to raise money for Al- the course maker- and his family. Al's 1-year-old daughter has a very rare aggressive form of cancer and the family has had to re-locate to Calgary so she can receive treatments. Al and his family had no idea what was coming. Nipika resort had donated 2 vacation packages and there was a free entry for next year's Transrockies. A helicopter ride across the rockies with dinner at a nice restaurant for 4 people was auctioned off and then Chester and Heinie were generous enough to give a free team entry to the transalps with airfare and accommodations. 20,000 dollars were raised for Al's family, pretty incredible!!

The fourth day went from Nipika to White Swan Lake and in this stage we ended up 3rd again.This time beat by (Wendy and Norm off course) the Silver-towers from Banff. They were super-efficient with the dogleash and this day had a lot of gravel roads which made towing efficient and speedy. We were still in 2nd place in the GC. That night I was so tired I almost missed the award-ceremony, but I was very glad I went. I am one of only 3 participants that have done all 6 years at the TR and this evening we were each presented with a huge Campagnolo corkscrew ingraved with our names and Transrockies 2002-2007. 4 people, including Eric, have raced 5 years and they received a belt buckle.

Day 5 went to Elkford. We beat the silver-towers by only 11 seconds. They were both very good descenders and almost caught us at the end. In Elkford we were able to go out for pizza, a nice change from the race food....

The 6th stage was the longest day. It was 116 km with 2300 meters of climbing. It had 2 long, steep technical climbs and ended with a quite annoying down-hill. The trail was overgrown with bushes that slapped your face and made it hard to see. It was also really rutted and had several waterbars across. The waterbars proved to be the most dangerous obstacle and 4 people had to be helicoptered out during the race after crashing hard. We got 38 more seconds on the silver-towers. The swiss towers had now lost about 20 minutes.

The last day which ended in Fernie was a very short one. With only 930 meters of vertical climbing in 48 kilometers we knew it was going to be a fast start. Since short races are not my forte Eric lined up early while I went for a 20 minute warm-up on the road. The race started out like a total sprint. I was hyperventilating, legs burning, anaerobic for the first hour. FINALLY, after the check point at 30 km we hit a 150 vertical meter hill and we were able to drop 2 fast teams. We were now right behind the swiss towers... We had 8 minutes on the silvertowers in the GC and I was hoping they wouldn't be able to make up that much time. Right when we hit the single-track with 6 km to go my rear-derailleur was pulled into my spokes and my wheel locked up. In a panic I yelled for Eric and he turned around to see what was wrong. I had to run up the trail lifting my bike since the wheel wouldn't turn, until we could find a spot to try to repair the damage. Eric had to take the wheel off to get the chain loose and bend the rear-derailleur out from the spokes. I rode as hard as I could to the finish, shifting only my front, hoping that we hadn't lost our place. We ended up 2nd with only about 2 minutes to spare!!

Great race with an awesome partner. Eric was superstrong after training-camp trans-alps and we had a really fun time, feeling good and strong for the most part with only a few minor spills and not one single flat tire this year.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Trans-Alps 2007

THE FIRST DAY of the race began in Mittenwald, which is on the German/a Austrian border. Eric and I got there a couple of days early and stayed at a small bed and breakfast right in town. We had a seeded start, which was very lucky since there were 600 teams in the race and it is very hard to pass people for the first hour or so. Usually the stages begin at 9 am, but the first day started at 11. I should have planned for this since I had breakfast around 8 and was already hungry when the gun went off. I felt horrible! My legs were stiff from all the plane riding and sitting around, I was bonking and felt like I had no power. We ended up in 11th place the first day, way slower than we should have been.

DAY 2 started in Reith im Alpbachtal in Austria. Eric and I were staying in the trans-alps camps because we were a bit too cheap and too busy to plan ahead and reserv hotel rooms in all of the towns before the race. The camps are usually very crowded with people packed like sardines on the floor of gyms, parking garages, or giant tents. Staying in camp is fun though, you get to meet a lot of people from all over the world. We brought our own backpacking tent and set it up on a soccerfield in Reith. The 2nd stage was 87 km and had over 3400 meters of climbing which is good for us. On the last out of the 3 climbs, the sun was beating down and it was 40 degrees C (104 F). I was really hot, but I felt much better than the day before, my legs were back to normal and we ended up in 5th place. Alison Sydor and Carsten Bresser of Rocky Mountain/Haywood won this stage for the mixed category again.

STAGE 3 began in the town of Mayrhofen. We started out with a 30 km climb and then it was mostly down hill and flat for the remainder of the 94 km. We were in 3rd place until the 2nd feed station when team Rye Mix passed us with a big group. We were by ourselves almost the entire rest of the time, it was pretty windy, so we lost 8 minutes on the last 30 km, but ended up in 4th this day.

STAGE 4 from Brixen to St Vigil was only 67 km long, but had over 3000 meters of climbing. We had 2 long steep climbs each gaining over 1200 feet of elevation. The day ended with a long descent partly on pavement. We were flying down roads with traffic at 80 km per hour. I tried not to think of what would happen if I had a flat... This was our first day to get on the podium!! I was really tired and starving after this stage so we decided to find a pizzeria. We walked around in the heat for a while before realizing that all restaurants were closed until 7pm. Ended up at a bakery instead. At the "pasta-party" there was finally some protein. We had chicken, lasagna, and tomatoes as opposed to the plain pasta with tomatoe sauce they usually serve. After the daily serving of Gelato we set our tent up outside a small school.

STAGE 5 was another short day with 50 km, (32 miles) but still had 2337 meters (7500 feet) of elevation gain. We had a good day and were able to make up 6 minutes on the 3rd place mixed team. We still had 8 more minutes to make up to get into 3rd place, but we hoped to be able to do this, since the next 3 stages were a bit longer. After the stage which took us 3 hrs and 25 minutes I went to take a shower. Unfortunately there were no facilities for the women and I had to clean up in a bathroom at the hockey arena using a spray hose meant to hose down the toilet. Nothing like power washing your hair bent over a toilet. Needless to say, I got water all over the stall... After my "shower" we rested outside the big tent set up for the campers. This is when I started getting my cold and I was blowing my nose every 30 seconds. After standing in line for an hour we finally got our pasta and then got on the podium again!! This time we received a giant box of cheese for our efforts. We decided to give it to the Magura mechanic, because he helped us out a bunch during the previous stages. We set our tent up in the hockey rink, but because of my cold I did not sleep much that night. I felt horrible at the start of

DAY 6. We started out with a steep gravel climb right out of town. I had no power and teams were passing us left and right. At one point I blew my nose really hard and all of the sudden the trail started spinning and I had to stop because I couldn't ride straight. After a little while my right ear popped really loud and I could see straight again. The steep climb got steeper and we started hiking up a ski slope. I was dying, hyperventilating, and it hurt my lungs to breathe. I saw the Norweigan team pass us as they were hiking straight up the hill whereas I had to zig-zag up. We had 2 more climbs after the first one and during the 2nd climb lots of people passed us asking what was wrong. Poor Eric, I was going so slow. At times I was holding on to Eric's camelbak to just keep moving. During the last climb which was 10 km with 1900 feet of climbing I was able to slightly increase my snail's pace and luckily we had a 4000 foot descent into Predazzo. I could care less what place we got, I just wanted to finish the day. I had such a bad attitude this day. I was having flash backs to Alaska, convincing myself I had pneumonia and was doing my body severe damage.... We got 11th place again and unfortunately lost 20 minutes to team Rye Mix. I went straight to the medical tent since I was conviced I was on my death bed. The paramedic listened to my lungs and said that there was no pneumonia, but that he thought I had an infection in my bronchioles. GREAT!!! He gave me something to losen up the phlegm and told me it might not be a great idea to race with an infection. I agreed but thought I would see how I felt the next day. Marg and Nikki from team Raven saved my life that day. They had rented a small apartment and offered their pullout for me to sleep on. Eric and I skipped the pasta and went out for dinner instead. I loaded up on ambien, cough syrup, and the medicine I got from the race doctor and had a night of weird dreams. Eric said he was sure we would not race the following day because I was delerious and talking in my sleep. I actually felt a bit better the next morning which was good since

STAGE 7 was 103 km with over 3000 meters of climbing. I was a little worried because the day started with 18 flat kms of paved cyclepath and I had a very hard time doing anything anaerobic due to my cold. Starts like these are a bit scary, since everyone wants to be in the front and there are usually crashes. As soon as we started the first 1200 meter climb we were passing teams again. When I could get into a rhythm I didn't feel that bad. There was a feed station at the top of the climb and that's when we caught the Steppenwolf team that were in 3rd for the day. They were very fast descenders so they left us behind but we were able to get into a group on the flat leading to the 2nd climb so we didn't lose much time. We passed team Steppenwolf on the second climb and were able to get another 3rd place finish. We were now still in 4th place overall and gained back 14 minutes on team Rye Mix. Rocky Mountain/Haywood took their 7th stagewin. After the stage we had lunch/dinner at a pizzeria and hung out with some of the teams from Costa Rica. We have been riding close to "team Seven Capital Management" with Dax Jaikel and Castro Daniel. Dax lost his leg in a bike accident 4 years ago and is riding with a below the knee prosthesis. What a stud!!! After the awards ceremony we spent the night in a parking garage. I couldn't make myself eat any more pasta so we just had the apfel strudel and then went out for gelato. Great race food.

The last day started in Folgaria. I knew we had to be quick in the start because after the first short climb there was a single track descemt and if you get there late, you get stuck in the bottle neck. Well, I had only one speed and that was slow, so when we got to the single track we had to walk and were unable to get past anyone. After another climb there was a second technical section that was slightly wider and I rudely passed people on the sides in the bushes or off the trail. No one wanted to step to the side which made it pretty difficult to pass. Most men were pretty annoyed being passed and one guy tried to take a swing at Eric when he went by... The last climb seemed long. It was around 15 km with over 1000 meters of climbing. It was getting very hot and the second part was really really steep. It was labeled "bike path" but I can't imagine who on earth rides those paths... We had a little bit more fun single track on the down hill and finished on flats going into Riva del Garda. We were in a group with 2 other mixed teams but didn't really feel like sprinting for 7th place, so we ended up in 9th for the day. Unfortunalely we did not catch team Rye Mix but we were pretty happy with our 4th place. There is some very strong competition in Europe. Alison and Carsten killed the competition by hours off course. Karl Platt and Stefan Sahm of Team Bulls won for the men and The Klose twins won the women's category.