Sunday, March 14, 2010

More Ultrasport..

Rob, the long-time checker in Rohn is awesome. He takes a week of his vacation time to volunteer and help out with the Alaska Ultrasport. To get to Rohn, he has to drive a snow mobile for a couple of days, over the same mountain pass we crossed. Then he gets to sleep in a tent and take care of a bunch of smelly racers who haven't showered for several days. Talk about dedication!!!! Rob has a lot of experience with winter racing, so he know exactly what we all need when we get to Rohn after a 20 hr push!!

Rob fed us more raviolis and after we got rehydrated, we put our sleeping bags on the thick layer of twigs covering the ground. It was nice to be only 3 racers in the tent, plenty of space. Just as I had fallen asleep with the assistance of an ambien, a group of 11 riders came in all at once. We were quickly reassigned new sleeping spots, outside in the snow. Luckily it was really warm!! I was so tired, I didn't really care how long I slept, and we didn't get out of our sleeping bags until 7:30 the next morning. Many other racers were getting ready to leave, but we didn't get on our bikes until 10am due to some minor mechanical issues with my bike, having to dig through our drops for more food and replacement batteries, and me just moving really slowly!

Once on the trail, I felt good. Time seemed to go by really fast. We had to cross some more open water, but in general the riding was fun, fast, and fairly easy. We were making pretty good time.

It was getting dark when we hit the Farewell burn with its infamous tussocks. Some of it was ridable, but sometimes it was faster to get off your bike and walk. All of the sudden we spotted a tail light in the dark and after about an hour we finally ran in to Brij (the super funny guy who moved from India to FAIRBANKS about 10 years ago). We chatted with him for a couple of minutes while taking a little time to eat and drink. As we were getting closer to Nikolai, I was calculating in my head that we could probably just keep riding all the way to McGrath without stopping in Nikolai at all. I can EASILY do 24 hrs, I kept thinking, I feel GREAT!!!! NOOOO problem!! Somehow the low bloodsugar crept up on me. I looked at my GPS and noticed I was going slower and slower. Better eat a few Swedish Fish to get some energy, I thought.... Unfortunately, no combination of food seemed to work. I was getting the tunnel vision, feeling weak and dizzy, wanting to lay down in the snow and pass out. My brain was working in slow motion, and so was my body. The last 3 hrs were torture (especially for Eric) as I was pedaling at a snail's pace, trying not to fall of my bike.

When we finally reached Nick and Olene's house in Nikolai at 2 am, a big group of riders, including speedy Tracey Petervary were taking off. I could barely make it in the door. I'm not quite sure how I got my clothes off, but somehow I made it to the table and had some of Olene's delicious moose-stew and bread.

After refueling, we planned on sleeping for 2 hrs and then taking off to see if we could possibly catch the group in front of us. We got to share one of the bedrooms with Dave Prahmann who was also looking a little rough. I used the little cot, and Eric laid down on the floor to try to get a little bit of rest. As exhausted as I was, sleeping wasn't easy, and after a couple of hours of tossing and turning I got out of bed to see how I felt. Hoping my stomach would cooperate, we decided it was time to get going. Chris Plesko who had been sleeping on the couch got up and was taking off with us. Dave got up too, but as we were leaving, he decided to rest a little bit longer. We were definitely not in a hurry to leave, it was too hot to put our all of our clothes on inside of the house. Chris, Eric, and I were joking around, talking about the race, and taking our time getting out the door.

Once outside, the chilly air seemed to wake me up. I felt ok for the first few hours, but then I started having problems with my blood sugar and stomach again. None of the muffins, cookies, danishes, or candy bars seemed to do the trick. I felt nauseous, and had trouble keeping food down. I tried the last of the mini sausages I had brought and that seemed to work a little bit better. Chris generously shared some peanut butter and cut-up summer sausage, and that was definitely better than all the sweet junk food.

Almost there...

It turned out to be a beautiful sunny day, warm enough I even had to take my hat and gloves off. With about 10 miles to go we spotted 2 riders coming toward us on the river! It was Peter Basinger and Jeff Oatley coming to meet us!! Peter who had been in front the entire race, ended up winning over Jeff by only 33 minutes. We rode together, talking, but with 7 miles to go, I decided I was tired of eating cookie dough and was ready for some man-cakes, so I picked it up for a little bit. After a couple of miles I couldn't see the guys anymore, so I decided to take a nap on the side of the road. They finally showed up 20 minutes later, Eric had gotten a flat tire!!

Peter and Tracy's house was as great as I remembered. Peter was serving man-cakes, coffee, and omelets. The table was covered with home made cookies, brownies, cakes, and bread. We spent a 2 nights there and had a great time. Tracey (who finished about 6 hrs ahead of me AND set a new course record for the women), Jay, Phil, and walker Tom Jarding took off the next day to continue their trip to Nome. Tim Hewitt is also on his way on foot to Nome.

One of the highlights of the trip was when Dara and Kevin, next door neighbors, took us dog-mushing, and show machining. Dara and Kevin have 2 sled-dogs. Together with 2 of Peter's dogs as well as the indoor Chocolate Lab Leo we had a 5 dogs pulling the sled. It was so much fun!! Maybe next year I will just do the Iditarod sled-dog race instead..

Dara showing me the ropes in dog-mushing.

Thanks to everyone who made this incredible trip possible.
Bill and Kathi and all the Ultrasport volunteers for putting on a great event.
Rob and Neeraj at Physical Therapy of Los Gatos, for fixing me up before the race.
Matty (Eric's mom) for modifying our pogies to keep our hands warm.
Peter and Tracy for opening their home to all the racers and feeding all of us.
Dara and Kevin for showing us such a good time while in McGrath.
Peter, Rose, and Jon for your hospitality and help before and after the race.
Eric; Thanks for being the best "team-mate" anyone could ask for!!!!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Ultrasport continued

Although it is only 35 miles between Winterlake lodge and Puntilla, it took us 15 hours. I didn't even recognize the trail from the year before, it was so torn up from the Irondog (snowmobile race) the previous week. We pretty much pushed our bikes the entire way. The happy steps were brutal going up. It was so steep and slippery, and really difficult getting the bike up without sliding back down.
We finally reached Puntilla around 6 pm. After a can of yummy ravioli, I claimed one of the two beds in the back of the little log cabin and slept for another 3 hours.

While sleeping, a whole bunch of other racers had arrived in Puntilla. When I got out of bed to wake Eric up, there were people everywhere. Someone was sleeping underneath a bed, while someone else was laying down on a make-shift bed out of chairs. I guess I was lucky to get a real bed where it was quite. Sean Grady was up at the same time as us, and took of just a little bit ahead of us. Getting ready seems like a long process. Retrieving your strewn out clothes, filling camelbaks and thermoses, getting dressed, and putting everything back on the bike while trying to eat and drink always takes longer than it should. At 1 am we were finally out the door and on our way to Rohn.

It was windy outside, and Sean's tire tracks had already been blown over by snow. We made our way across the lake, pushing our bikes, trying to follow the reflective markers along the "trail". After a while we could see 2 zig-zagging tire tracks and footprints ahead of us. After a couple of hours, we say 2 headlamps moving around. We kept hiking until we caught up with Sean and Phil Hofstetter who were searching for a hard packed trail and trail markers. It was really difficult trying to find a packed trail and we had to post-hole our way forward most of the time.

Sean Grady's picture of me and Eric pushing through some alder bushes in the dark

When we finally go to the turn-off for Rainy Pass (10 miles from Puntilla) it was already day-light. We stopped and had a little snack before continuing on.

Eric taking a little breather while eating a muffin.

Phil was having some problems with blisters and decided to stop to take care of his feet on the way up to Rainy Pass. It was a hard push, and I was working hard to follow in Eric and Sean's footsteps. At one point we got to a stream of open water. I was so glad we had brought the Neos. I was a little nervous they would leak, it would have probably been a good idea to try them out before the race...

Me carrying my heavy bike across open water on Rainy Pass.

Bike-pushing toward the summit.

I think it took us about 12 or 13 hours to reach the summit. The going down was only slightly easier than up, as we still had to push through alder bushes, do some trail finding, and cross water here and there. At one point we heard the loud sound of avalanches, luckily they weren't near us. This is when my bonking began. I started having trouble eating, and my brain seemed really slow. Eric started asking me questions, and I just starred at him with a blank look on my face. I wasn't sure I could make it all the way to Rohn without bivying in the snow. When we finally reached the river, I was really hoping it was going to be ridable. We were all getting tired of pushing our bikes. We were able to pedal the last 5 miles to Rohn, which we reached 20 hrs after leaving Puntilla.
The Rohn Cabin

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Alaska Ultrasport- 2010

Back in Alaska for the third time... Eric and I, along with everyone else involved in the Ultrasport, had been watching the weather along the Iditarod trail for weeks before the race started. We were all a bit nervous about the warm weather, causing overflow on the rivers, open water, and soft snow. Just the day before leaving for Anchorage our water-proof Neos overboots arrived in the mail.

Some of the food for our drops.

In Anchorage we stayed with Jon and Rose, friends of Peter Basinger. We spent the day before the race building up our bikes, going to the pre-race meeting, grocery store, and picking up some last minute things at REI. In the evening Jon made us the most amazing pre-race meal of grilled salmon (that they caught), mushroom (that he picked) pasta, stir-fried veggies, and a blueberry (that he also picked) crisp with ice cream. I spent hours dreaming about this meal on the trail.

Peter's mom drove us to Knik lake where we spent a couple of hours at the bar watching the US vs Canada olympic hockey game while waiting for the clock to strike 2. We missed the last part of the game, and had to wait until we got to Skwentna to find out that Canada had won in overtime.

The first leg of the race is 57 miles and ends at the Yentna roadhouse. It was slow slushy riding and it took us 10 hours to get there. We saw a big moose on the way there. Eric and I stayed only 10 minutes at Yentna, to fill up our camelbaks and check in. We arrived at Skwentna (mile 90) around 7 in the morning, after 17 hrs of riding. In Skwenta we got a 3 hr nap in a real bed while drying out our wet clothes. We had a great breakfast before taking off around 11 o'clock in the morning.

From Skwentna we had about 40 miles to get the Winterlake lodge on Fingerlake. We made good time, but I felt like I was working really hard to keep up with Eric's pace. Eric was riding his new Pugsley snowbike for the first time, while I still hadn't been ready to give up on my "skinny-tire" bike. It looked like he was riding so effortlessly in the soft snow, and I was going anaerobic just to keep moving forward. I was also getting a little self-conscious about all the comments I was getting: You are riding THAT bike???? I saw your tire-track and thought it was someone out for a little spin!!!!! You would be soo fast on a snowbike!!!! :-)

We arrived at the Winterlake lodge sometime close to midnight. After a yummy chicken/rice/black bean burrito we slept for another 3 or so hours in the walled tent. Thanks to ambien, I could sleep anywhere, anytime!! In "the morning" we replenished our food and batteries with stuff from our drop. There was no need to bring more hand or toe-warmers, as it was so warm I hadn't had to use one yet. After a little oatmeal and coffee, we took off around 3:45.

More to come......