Jurassic Classic

After the Kenai 250 I lacked substantial feeling in both my legs below my knees. I didn’t think it was super abnormal since it was impacting both legs and others had mentioned feeling similar numbness. But always a little more worried about nerve issues since I had some when I broke my right leg almost 10 years ago. It probably didn’t help that I caught a cold at the tail end of the race and spent most of the week after lying down and not doing a lot of moving. When I did start to move, it wasn’t pretty with my calf muscles feeling like they were on the verge of seizing up at any moment. Normally, I would just ride out the recovery period with swimming, foam rolling, and yoga. And I did, except for Kevin’s birthday he wanted to do a 100-mile human powered loop around anchorage. For his present, I ran the logistics (but also secretly love spreadsheets so really a present for me) and promised to do the whole thing.

Three days before the depart and the start of us staging gear, Kevin voiced concern about my inability to walk up the stairs. “Oh I’ll be fine.” But internally I wasn’t convinced realizing we would be hiking uphill and this didn’t exactly bode well. I immediately texted a friend who was a PT to help me speed up the process, they suggested calf raises which seemed counter intuitive to me, but it did help quite a bit or at least enough that I was able to convince myself it would be fine.

Commemorative Sticker

Doing the whole loop required massive gear requirements, two sleep set ups to be left in different spots, a mountain bike, road bike, hiking gear, and packrafting equipment. We also designed it so that people could join and leave the various activities at different spots. On top of our gear drops it also required the coordination of others’ gear depending on when they would be joining/exiting and a few car shuttles and coordination (spreadsheets, they are a lifesaver). Everything came together rather amazingly and so on Friday afternoon around 3pm we departed our house for Stage 1.

Stage 1 Mountain Biking- Home to Glen Alps Parking Lot~ 16 miles

Three of us left the house and headed towards the Glen Alps parking lot where we would meet more people. We started on the multi-use path for a few miles before turning onto the single track to take the hillside trails up. I felt mostly okay but didn’t really have much power in my legs but thankfully my body still seemed to know what to do when it was on the bike. I still got off at some of the steep inclines and did a little hobble up still not having full extension of my calf muscles. After we climbed the single track for a bit we started on the double track which I briefly recognized from skiing (having lived in Anchorage for 2 years I still have a hard time connecting everything).

We were also met with blustering wind coming down the hills. I put on more gear despite the fact that I was going up hill. We talked about the storm clouds ahead, they looked ominous and all of our checked weather forecasts called for no rain. As a result, Tyler didn’t have any rain gear with him and near the top it started to spit small drops of water on us. Instead of waiting near the trail sign we headed up to the parking lot. I took shelter on the side of a building and ate some pizza while we waited for the others to arrive. Tyler decided to not take any chances with the weather since we were about to go over the pass and opted for a ride down from the shuttle that brought Maddy and Brianna up.

Stage 2 Mountain Biking- Glen Alps Parking Lot to Indian ~ 14 miles

Powerline Pass is one that I’ve heard talked about many times but have never actually done– kind of like when I lived in Boulder for a whole year before I rode Flagstaff Rd. As you can imagine it gets its name from following the powerline up a two track over the pass to the other side. We left the parking lot and to start the climb that would eventually drop us down into our camp site for the night. We alternated positions and chatted catching up on recent summer activities for the first part. We encountered a stream crossing and the only two options were walk through and get our feet wet or try to navigate around. I, opted for trying to navigate around as I will always try to avoid getting my feet wet.

It required some hike-a-biking and patching what looked like would not be super marshy areas together but we made it and were able to get back on the trail. As we approached the steepest part of the trail I found myself lacking any real power in my legs and found it easier to get off and hike and push my bike– which is saying something because I’m a rather terrible hiker and more so when I have to push my bike.

With some 80+ miles left to go no sense in totally thrashing what little power I had left. As we neared the summit the wind picked up and some loose rocks tumbled down the side. Kevin reassured me (from his WFR training) that a fall like this would be very survivable with minimum damage given the slope. Not entirely reassuring and opted to continue walking my bike while leaning into the wind to counter those forces. At the top we moved quickly as the wind had picked up, so much so that my bike felt like it might get lifted and blown away.

We began the descent and would end up dropping 3,251 feet in about 4.7 miles. It took about an hour as we would drop down for a bit and stop to regroup and let our brakes cool off. I led the charge which I’m always grateful for not having to worry about navigating with someone in front of me but also the first to greet any potential bear– and made sure I was yelling at the top of my lungs as I couldn’t remove my hand from the handlebars to ding my bell.

Thankfully no bears and the side trail we hopped onto to head towards the cabin proved to be the correct one. We arrived at Christina’s and had tents set up and sleeping gear ready to go. Other than the small bit of rain on our approach to the trailhead we were only met with blustering winds which was nice.

Stage 3: Camping in Indian

Christina lives at the end of a dirt road in Indian which happened to be on the route making for a good spot to camp. We had dropped our tents and sleep gear the day before and when we arrived the tents were already set up (hostest with the mostest). More friends met us to camp with Tyler rejoining and Kelly also coming out to camp. We ate dinner and sat around the camp fire for a bit before Kelly suggested we play ‘bite the bag’. I definitely thought it was going to be a drinking game and just a different version of ‘slap the bag’. Instead it was quite literally biting the bag. You put the paper bag down and then everyone has to bite the bag without using their hands/legs on the ground and really only your mouth.

The kicker is that after each person goes you rip off about 1-2 inches from the top of the bag and go again. It was actually quite hilarious, mostly because there were various levels of flexibility. I opted out of the final round, which was barely off the ground, realizing that being so inflexible at the moment could be the straw that broke my whole system. We went to bed having informed everyone there was a curious bear in the area (but had not been seen for a week) and figured my chances of survival with all of us out there were pretty high.

Stage 4: Mountain Biking -Indian to Girdwood ~ 20 miles

When Kelly came to camp she also grabbed a tote we had left that was full of breakfast food and necessities. We heated up breakfast burritos, drank coffee, and talked about the day plan. Brianna wasn’t feeling super great having come down with the cold that we all had shared earlier and decided to drive back to town. I said the only caveat was that she couldn’t mess up my logistics. It ended up working as she would drive Tyler’s car back and he would ride with us to Girdwood and drive Julie’s truck back from there (like I said multiple logistics). We gained another person, Oscar, for this trek and soon we were on our way. The path was paved the whole way but to make it work we were still on our mountain bikes. The forecast again not calling for rain decided to open up a bit and we huddled under a tunnel to put our rain gear on. With all the gear changes it seemed less dire if we got wet so we didn’t waste too much time waiting for the storm to pass and kept moving. We were in the most exposed part of the trail during the most rain but again knowing you have dry clothes waiting is a game changer. We came around a corner to see a bull moose just to the side of the trail and we all stopped. He definitely noticed us so we backed up a little bit and discussed our options, we waited a little bit to see what he would do, he was definitely curious or at least not disinterested. We debated going back to the highway and riding around but that seemed less safe with the cars and where we would have to jump on. We thought of bushwhacking around too. Someone suggested going by to see what it would do. I’m still new enough that any animal encounter makes me nervous and I usually default to the local Alaskans. This option made me particularly uncomfortable and I voiced my concern. We talked through how it would go, Maddy would go first and if the moose engaged we would stop and reroute and then each of us would go one at a time. I decided to go last which I couldn’t decided if that was dumb or not since four people would have by before me but would also leave me to be the one he engages with. With each person going by he would watch but not move. Everyone had left and I pushed off from what felt like a very safe area, I turned my head away as to not unintentionally make eye contact and scampered by as quickly as I could turn my pedals. He again, just stared at me as I rode by and once we turned the corner and out his view I relaxed, my heart rate had peaked at 155 during that encounter and didn’t even come close to that the rest of the day. We cruised down the rest of the path with the rain stopping, half joking that Tyler ended up joining us for the worst weather section.

We turned onto the gravel road that would take us up to the next portion and on the road got passed by Rachel driving her car to meet us and deliver pastries (not part of my logistics). We got to another friend’s house where we had done a gear drop of mountain bikes, changed into dry clothes, reallocated food from the my bike to my backpack, did a double check of everything and took off (much quicker typing that than how long it actually took). We picked up Julie and left Tyler, Rachel joined us for pastries and then headed back to Girdwood and Oscar turned around to head to back to his car in Indian (running into two bear cubs on the way and opting for the road).

Stage 5: Hiking Crow Pass ~ 13 miles

Now the real test of my legs began. I warned Julie and Maddy that I still had some lingering numbness which limited my full range of flection and probably wouldn’t be going for any speed records. We started up the gravel road only having to walk a mile and stopping to filter some water before getting onto the trail. I had never done this one and feel like I always ask what to expect, mostly to manage my expectations but like most of Alaska it was a you go up for a bit and then down for a bit.

The trail slinks around the mountain connecting various mining areas to one another and other than some left over cables and a warning not to drink the water there wasn’t much sign of the mining activity that took place years before. We did go up, and up, and up. One steeper section was loitered with baby heads and I warned that I would have to go even slower. I had to watch where I was placing my feet and in the most literal sense because I wouldn’t be able to feel if I stepped wrong or not. I awkwardly made it up and we kept hiking. This summer I feel like I found a new appreciation for hiking; last summer if I was hiking it usually meant I wasn’t biking which felt like such a foreign concept that it was a rough adjustment. This summer, I feel like I was doing a better job at appreciating the different activities that Alaska lends itself too.

And I feel like I’m finally in the conscious competent category for hiking or at least I don’t cry as much. We kept going up and I kept turning around to look at the valley. Part of the valley hosts the most northern rainforest in the world so it was a stark contrast to look ahead and be met with tundra and turn around and be met with lush green expansiveness over the valley floor. We made it to the top where it flattened out a bit. There is a cabin at the top which I added to my running lists of cabins to go back to–during COVID Alaska kept their public use cabins open and each cabin has a journal where people write down whatever and it’s always interesting to look at the ones from the early days of the pandemic, how people were or weren’t referencing COVID and thinking about how it’s transpired over time in the log books compared to what was happening in the state (anyone want to help find me funding for that one lettttme know).

I was then told that we would have 7 miles of mostly downhill that would take us to our camp spot for the evening. To begin our descent we had to cross a river as there was no option to navigate around. I debated leaving my shoes on or taking them off. Taking them off I might risk getting cut or slipping on the rocks; leaving them on I risked having cold wet feet the rest of the night and tomorrow. I had a dry pair of socks but it felt like a false sense of security and so I opted to take my shoes off. I plunged on foot into the glacier fed river, no going back now, and started making my way across.

I was half way through when some feeling crept through the numbness and I immediately felt a rush of intense pain and my body not knowing how to respond. I stopped realizing that either way would be the same amount of time in the water but there was a brief moment of hesitation where going back to the side I just came from seemed like the better option. I had to override the decision and keep walking forward. I made it to the other side and put my feet into my hands to provide some warmth. It wasn’t so much how cold it was as the nerve pain that had accompanied the shock. I put my dry socks and shoes back on and my muscles felt somewhat refreshed, not that a 3 minute ice soak would do anything but figured maybe I would get some thing of a placebo value.

We talked about the nearby glacier and the ski traverses that people had done on it– glacial traversing still seems very much out of my bailliwick but my interest was piqued. We did one snow field crossing with Julie lending me her extra pole so I could have an extra touch point on the soft snow. I peered down the ravine and thought about what might await my body if I slid but decided it would probably be survivable.

The next snow crossing seemed even more perilous and the markings that were left didn’t exactly show a clear crossing so we navigated down to where it was a narrower crossing and made our way down diagonally, again crossing one at a time just in case. After crossing we traversed back up to the trail and soon we were out of the tundra and crossing a bridge over some untamed water.

We joked about whether or not Kevin was scouting to packraft this section as the river ran with such a force it felt as if it was trying to break out of the channel. We came into more shrubbery and continued to make noise to ward off any bears that might be on the trail. With about 3 miles left my legs began to ache from the downhill and the awkward immobility of not being able to push off when walking, going downhill felt more clunky than going up.

The closer we got to the river the more in the thicket we became, Julie and Maddy got some distance on us, with Kevin staying behind me, to make sure I didn’t get too far behind. At one point I rolled my ankle beyond where it should have gone by normal standards but by my standards since there isn’t much left there isn’t much to roll, I feel like Kevin was slightly horrified seeing this and also confused that I appeared fine. I think he thought I was rushing to keep up with Maddy and Julie but the truth is that my ankle just does that sometimes regardless of how fast or slow I’m moving and Kevin suggested we all stick together for bear awareness.

We made it to the campsite, pitched our tents and sat by the river to eat dinner. For most of the trip I had brought the same thing to eat, peanut butter and apple on a bagel. It required no fuel, no cook time, and worked for whatever meal time we were at. I still waited to eat with the others and used the opportunity to put my legs up on a tree and let the blood rush out.

We finished dinner, hung our food away from the camp, and crawled into our sleeping bags. It was fairly early by Alaska daylight standards but we had had a full day and being off my feet felt like a well earned reward.

Stage 6: Packrafting ~ 8 no make that 9 miles

It took me a while to warm up to the appeal of packrafting and it wasn’t until this trip that I saw the full utility of it. Some of my hesitation is that while the risk of something happening is low the consequences are high and that doesn’t exactly pair well for me being in the conscious incompetent phase of not really knowing what to do. Like my strongest skill for packrafting is swimming and with the primary goal being to stay in the boat it’s not really a harmonized skill set. The raft I had was light for hiking (3lbs) and had minimum accessories to it, I kept referring to it as the dinky but with it being smaller than a normal packraft found it more maneuverable by just sheer force but not as quick to respond to any finesse (which I didn’t have so it didn’t matter).

The river itself was mostly Class 1/Class 2 with no Class 3. Oscar shared beta the day before about the put in area saying that it’s has the most technical aspect of the whole float. We were able to see the rapids from our dinner/breakfast spot and talked about options. Being in the smaller boat with limited skills I didn’t feel super comfortable looking at the rapids– I mostly didn’t want to swim this early in the float and talked about portaging around the bend. Kevin decided to attach the scout (my raft) to his raft with his rope to pull it through the rapids since it was narrow and rocky where I would be walking around. Julie and Maddy went ahead with Kevin following, I scampered around the shore watching Julie and Maddy pick their lines and feeling secure in my decision as what we didn’t see was a little drop that was definitely more than I wanted to start the day with. Kevin approached and I was in line with him watching him go over the rapid, there was a brief moment where Kevin stalled in the pool and the scout got swept up and flipped over and I wasn’t sure if Kevin was going to end up swimming or not (I’m sure he was in total control but from my perspective and lack of knowledge of what was happening I couldn’t tell). At this point in my life I haven’t lost a close friend in the backcountry, I’ve had friends of friends die in avalanches, falls, mountain biking, drownings, but very fortunate that no one in my immediate circle but it’s an accepted unacknowledged (mostly, except when I’m around to talk about death) part of these pursuits is that at some point it’s very likely we will all lose someone close in the backcountry. Why did I just go on that little tangent, well when Kevin stalled and I wasn’t sure what was happening I envisioned him swimming and getting smashed into a rock and then his death would be a result of him tugging the scout through the rapids. I morbidly joke that if my partner is going to die in the backcountry I would rather not see it or be present. He made it through and met me at the shore to deliver the scout. They all commented about the rapid being a little more spicy than it seemed from our vantage point and agreed that I probably made the right call. I feel like learning a new sport is a master class in letting your ego go; it’s very strange to go from being very skilled and technical in one area (cycling) to knowing absolutely nothing in another and having to acknowledge limitations that don’t exist for others simply because they started sooner.

I got in the scout and we started floating down, one of the tips for new boaters is to follow a ‘mother duck’ down the river and take their lines so I would usually stick behind one of the others and they made sure that I wasn’t the last one or the first one but safely tucked into the conveyer belt. It was mostly smooth sailing though, some areas were shallower than others and my raft would awkwardly scrap the bottom as I would contort my body to shift my weight to try to keep moving. Someone made the comment about getting out of my boat to walk when it was super shallow which immediately reminds me that I’m not very competent at this activity — and sometimes that was easier to do but sometimes it also seemed more awkward and unstable in doing so. The water was tame enough that if I did get out and fall it would have (more than likely fine) and the boat would have been easily recoverable.

Until this trip I had only ever done road rafting which is shuttling on river sections to practice certain skills and get comfortable. Being on this trip I finally understood how you can look at a river and see a highway, as we were certainly faster moving faster than hiking.

Being on the river was also a different vantage point, if we had been on the trail we would have been covered in trees and unexposed to the views were were able to take in. We passed a handful of waterfalls, some of which Julie had ice climbed and she would talk about that experience. Sometimes someone mentions an activity and I think oh that would be fun to try, ice climbing has not been one of them but I do appreciate hearing about those adventures and mostly in awe of those who can.

We came around a bend and heard the thunderous escape of water and eddied out, we realized we had missed the take out by about half a mile or so. We got out of boats and pulled them in the water as we walked back up stream and then had to cross back over to the shore. We got to the take out, deflated our boats, pulled off our dry suits, packed everything back up and started the 3 mile hike back to the road.

Stage 7: Hiking ~ 3 miles

We hiked on the Eagle River Nature Trail back headed to the Eagle River Nature Center where we would meet Jay and our road bikes. The trail was mostly mellow and my legs were mostly okay but still kind of shuffling. We talked about the food we would eat, I had stashed a bag of chips in the van to have after our hike and plans for the rest of the week. While it’s a popular hiking trail there are still a few bear maulings that have happened there so continued to make some noise even if it was just in our conversation.

I jokingly tried to run towards the end but it was really more of a hurried walk with my feet barely breaking contact with the ground. We saw Jay and were ecstatic– one more stage– we had made it

Stage 8: The Parking Lot

Jay broke the news first that there were 4 bikes but only 7 wheels in the van– Oh no! My luck with the logistics had run out. Our plan was that Julie would drive the van back to Anchorage with Maddy, Jay, Kevin, and I taking our road bikes the 30ish miles back to town. Jay offered up his bike to me and I felt hesitant to accept so we hummed and hawed for a bit with Maddy also debating whether or not to ride. After a while in the parking lot and some restlessness to get going I realized that I could take Jay’s front wheel and put it on my bike. Maddy decided she would ride with us to Eagle River and then turn off for Jay’s house and Julie would drop Jay off before driving the van back to Anchorage (Yay! Logistics).

Stage 9: Road Bike ~ 30 miles

After I profusely thanked Jay for the wheel we headed out on the last stage. My body being unconscious competent knew what to do on the bike but there wasn’t much power in my legs to get up the hills. Maddy and Kevin would soar up the small inclines as I felt the gap increase meant I was surely going backwards but slowly I would catch them as they waited at the summit of each small hill. On one of the hills we were able to catch a glimpse of a full moon that had peaked out for a bit.

On the descents I would tuck and try to put a gap back on them which never amounted to much. We enjoyed the rolling hills that took us 9 miles back to town.

We split from Maddy at a stoplight with her going into Eagle River and the two of us continuing onto Anchorage. We both commented on how impressive it was that we only had 20 miles of the route that we didn’t have anyone else on. And both agreed that it was really nice of the friends who were able to show up in the various stages and in various ways.

We also talked about what it would take to do the whole loop self supported and I mostly just laughed. As we turned onto the path by Arctic Valley that would take us home I called another friend to see if she wanted to meet us to ride the last 5 miles, she was just getting into town but her house was on the bike path so we picked her up when we got to town.

We got to recap the past 48 hours of adventures telling her all the things we had done and relive most of the moments. We arrived back at our place almost 48 hours after departing. Early enough that we were able to do a final stage of dinner in Girdwood while picking up the gear from our friend’s house on Crow Pass.

Oh hey, my wheel!

At dinner we toasted to a very successful adventure, still somewhat surprised that the only thing I completely forgot was my front wheel but also somewhat bummed that the only thing I forgot was my front wheel. The place we had dinner have very similar vibes to the Chalets in Chamonix which almost transported me back for a brief time thinking about the adventures that I have been lucky to pick up along the way.

Girdwood or Chamonix?
Chamonix or Girdwood?

Last summer I really struggled with being in Alaska during COVID and this summer I couldn’t believe how grateful I was to be in Alaska and get another chance to experience a ‘real Alaskan’ summer. Thank you vaccines and lots of therapy.

While I put together the logistics it really couldn’t have gone off without the help of a lot of friends who shuttled/brought gear, gave us camp spots, let us do gear drops at their house, shuttled different vehicles, dropped pastries, and joined us in the adventures for however brief–especially those we kept joking were our ‘Platinum Sponsors’. I’m not going to name individual names because I inadvertently always leave someone off so if you are thinking you would be named, you definitely would be on the list. Let me know who wants in for the Winter Jurassic Classic.

Also a lot of people asked about the name so here it is. There is an event in Alaska called the Wilderness Classic (or The Classic) that is a backcountry adventure where you use human power to get from point A to point B all self-sufficient. Kevin had talked about doing it this year but some other things came up so when he was thinking about this he half joked that it was like ‘The Classic’ and then since it was for Kevin’s birthday I called it Kevin’s Jurassic Birthday Classic (which became Jurassic Classic). And then I kept being like well you know the Jurassic period happened where we’re doing this and then people would be like didn’t happen every where and I would say yes so this can happen anywhere. The other option was Kevin’s Abasic Birthday Classic but I didn’t want to have to explain that abasic sites are the result of DNA damage from the loss of a nucleobase by hydrolysis that then generate an abasic site but then I would anyways because I would be like well the other option was this– so hit me up for all your naming needs.

Kenai 250 — Finding Grace in the Alaska Wilderness

The feeling in my legs has almost entirely returned, my cough has subsided, my bike is finally clean, my bum has totally recovered and the Kenai 250 is starting to feel like a distant memory where the details are still fuzzy and you’re not entirely sure what was real or what wasn’t– that’s probably mostly due to the lack of sleep over 47 hours. A lot happens during an endurance race/ride/survive and long endurance event = long write up (#sorrynotsorry). Not sure what took longer riding or writing the Kenai 250. And to that point, a lot happened, some graphic information will be shared and not sure who this is entirely suitable for. But you’ve at least been warned.

When prepping for the 250 I had no idea what to do, 250 miles self-supported. I’ve never done anything like that. One year when I raced Leadville, even with a mechanical I only had 8 minutes of stop time and that seemed like a lot but that’s with bottle hand ups/food passed off, no real stopping to get things and knowing that if things really go south you can limp to the finish line (as has happened in previous races). I wasn’t sure exactly what I would need so was maybe a little over cautious in my packing but I ended up using everything I brought (except my bike repair kit–thank you Chain Reactions for the pre-race tune!). I was also unsure of food and what would be available so packed rice cakes, meatballs, sour patch kids, maple syrup, coffee and potatoes to at least get me through the first 70-100 miles.

Not pictured the 5lbs of Sour Patch Kids

Thursday night I loaded up all my gear on to my bike and caught a ride down with a friend to stay in a cabin the night before. It was nice because this way I wouldn’t have to drive home after the race but more importantly would not have to keep track of my keys for that amount of time (I couldn’t find my driver’s license for 3 weeks after so this was a legit concern). We went through final checks on our bikes, hung out with some other racers and talked about what the days to come would bring.

At the start, I did a last minute gear check, not that it really mattered at that point, was fully into the ‘rung what ya brung‘ mode. I checked in and made sure my tracker was turned on and then went to find Grande around the start, we chatted a bit about our logistics, we had loosely talked about riding together but neither of us wanted to hold the other one back so we said we’d see what the day would bring, I was hoping to at least be with her through Russian Lakes (mile 70 and a lot of bears) and then go from there.

Right before the start

The start was anti-climatic (unlike Leadville where they shoot off a shotgun, more like, okay you guys can go now) Unlike every other race I refused to sprint at the start– it’s 250 miles like we have time. Fortunately, Grande also was taking a more conservative approach and we rode side by side to the trail head chatting with others along the way. We tucked behind two guys on the start of the singletrack and kept chatting. I couldn’t tell if I was going too hard or not enough which was a reoccurring theme, sure I was going hard but it wouldn’t be hard enough for a 100 miles race but maybe too hard for a 250 mile race, only time would tell.

We stayed in the group for most of the way up Res Pass, gaining a few additions, we checked in at the top and everyone was good to keep going. We started the smooth, fast descent towards Devil’s Cabin and then down toward Cooper Landing, at one point we caught up to some of the guys I know and was so surprised that I asked what they were doing there thinking they must have had a mechanical or something, he responded same thing as you–oh.

We rode down until the trail split, I stopped and regrouped with Ana and Grande debating which way to go, most of the boys decided to go left we opted to go right knowing what that direction would bring (both ended up in the same place a few miles later). We cruised by the cabin that Alvin did his first bikepacking trip to and I remembered the trip out being pretty quick to the trailhead. And it was for us as well, we came down into the trailhead parking lot and was met by a group of people which again my first thought was, what are these people doing in this parking lot and then it was a quick realization they were there for us, we picked up a ghost rider, Gus (who is dating Ana) and headed towards Russian Lakes (very infamous for bears). We stopped by a water tap to fill up even though it required going beyond the trail, I ate some food and topped off knowing that in about 20 miles we’d be at Wildman’s and could restock.

First water stop

We headed back the way we came and turned onto the Russian Lakes trail, I’ve only ridden it the other way so only had some idea of what was to come. We talked as if our lives depended on it, which it did to thwart off bears, making conversation about nearly everything– we also sang, and I tried yodeling which mostly made me sad that I only knew the first line from Sound of Music, “High on a hill was a lonely goatherd Lay ee odl lay ee odl lay hee hoo!” The last time I had ridden this trail I ran into a Sow and two cubs, the cubs were in a tree and the mom was on the trail so we turned around and went and ate lunch and then came back and they were gone but it seems like everyone has a bear story from Russian Lake and the amount of bear scat would certainly explain why. We ended up coming up on another rider, Duncan, who we had actually met last fall when we stopped to eat lunch on a trail and he stopped to join us. Riding with a group of 5 definitely made me feel better in our bear chance category, we passed the spot where I previously had the bear encountered and I warned of a deceptively deep puddle sometime afterwards but couldn’t exactly remember where, Ana identified it pretty quickly but stopped before submerging her entire front wheel. We stopped at one point to regroup and Ana mentioned having difficulty with her front brake, pulling the lever all the way back to the handlebar with no resistance. It was also maybe the worst mosquito area I’ve ever been in and was grateful when Duncan offered up some mosquito repellent while we assessed the situation. We thought maybe the line had lost pressure but upon closure inspection realized that the brake pads were completely missing and not in a worn down kind of way in a they fell completely out kind of way. We debated potential solutions and decided to ride the 15 miles to Wildman’s and get fuel and work on it there. After some bushwhacking on the final mile of the trail we emerged onto Snug Harbor Road, an 11 mile gravel road that would take us to the highway and to Wildman’s. We were roughly at 70 miles and I felt surprisingly good at this point.

We started cruising down the road and at one point saw a minivan that looked like mine, Grande pointed it out and it was another minute before I realized it was mine and Kevin was on course to see us, I didn’t stop and instead shouted, “we’ll see you at Wildman’s.” We got briefly on the highway before turning off into the Wildman’s parking lot. I went in to grab food and drinks while Ana worked on her brake and Grande held the bike.

I grabbed a handful of things still a bit unsure of what I was going to need for the next section, I was feeling pretty good and so wanted to focus on what was working because at some point I was convinced that it would stop working. We left the store, getting back on the highway before taking a 2ish mile gravel off shoot to avoid a no-shoulder zone and dropping out on the Old Seward Highway Road, a 10 mile gravel road that would take us to the Seward Highway. We got through that section relatively unscathed, I kept eating and drinking, or trying to, and we had multiple changes of clothes at the temperature started to flutter. As we turned onto the highway we decided to ride in a pace line to conserve energy and hopefully get there faster, we traded off pulls every 1-2 minutes and noticed the darkening storm clouds getting blown in from the sea.

We picked up another rider who joined in our pace line and soon we were pulled over and putting on our rain gear. It wasn’t raining hard but enough that knowing we’d be going through the night wanted to do our best to stay dry before temperatures plummeted. We did get caught in a bit more of a rainstorm but seemed to be out of it in about 20-30 minutes and mostly dry again before turning onto the Primrose Trailhead.

We picked up Kevin who would serve as a night Ghost Rider (someone who rides behind you but is there for bear safety/overall safety) and set up the trail. When we were still on the road I noticed some tightness starting to set in on my calves and was worried about cramping so downed some extra salt. We weren’t entirely sure about what we would be encountering at the top, reports of snow drifts and having to hike-a-bike for miles had been percolating the last few weeks but no one had real-time trail conditions so in anticipation of snow I had shoved my feet into plastic bags to create a moisture barrier and had latex gloves. Trail features that are normally familiar and rideable feel foreign under the added bikepacking weight and the previous 110 miles that my legs had already pedaled. Primrose, while normally has a few hike-a-bike sections, I felt like more hiking than biking going up. I figured the on and off the bike was upsetting my stomach as I started to notice it wasn’t settling right, I kept moving and kept drinking water hoping that whatever it was, it would be gone soon. Again, didn’t think this was too normal, most 100 mile races at some point my stomach gets distressed and its hard to take in any food/liquids and have found that to just keep drinking, tweaking what goes in a bit can do the trick to at least keep things going down. And not that rare that after an event I throw up. I tried to trouble shoot all while lifting my bike up over rocks and clamoring up behind, was it the salt, did I go too hard, is the temperature weird, maybe I need more gatorade, maybe I need less.

There wasn’t really any option but to keep going and that’s what I did getting further into a hole. I kept track of the 4 mile mark in my mind because someone had said that’s when the snow starts, when we passed it and there was no snow to be found I was pleasantly surprised. Despite my best attempts at mitigating my stomach I crossed the threshold where I realized my body was only interested in one thing: throwing up. I tried to fight it for a bit, thinking of the fuel that I would lose by throwing it up and how that would mess up my fueling plans but even trying to negotiate with my stomach was no use “you know you’re just going to be hungry later– or we really need this fuel.” But it was futile and at a moment of pause in the group, I put my bike down and slowly walked off the trail, near a tree. I’ve thrown up enough times in my life to be able to do it somewhat quietly but it was still apparent what my body was doing when Grande asked if I was okay– I replied “I should be now that I threw up.” What? Are you okay? Kevin jumped in quickly, “Don’t worry she does that a lot – she’s fine.” Okay mostly fine and sometimes do it so was hard to say exactly why I was doing it, stressed, tired, wrong food, too much salt, too hard, not hard enough, who knew, I didn’t. I knew I needed to eat as I just emptied all my stomach contents but that was challenging as my stomach settled briefly but then started to feel nauseous again. We kept moving, albeit, myself more slowly but at least we weren’t trudging through snow. I had dropped far enough back that Ana and Grande’s headlights became smaller and smaller beacons. We regrouped at the top to put on more layers before the descent. I didn’t feel great physically or in feeling like I was holding them back and wasting time waiting for me. I would often remind them that I would be okay if they left or needed to go faster but they seemed okay and after a while figured they would go if they needed to.

We started the descent down Lost Lake, which is arguably the best trail of the whole race so a little bummer to do it at night in the dark. While they call Alaska the land of endless summer sun, that’s not entirely true and we do have blips of darkness bookended by dusk and dawn. We were in the darkest patch going down. I led with Kevin following– fortunately I know my body and bike well enough and wasn’t too out of if that I was still able to respond to obstacles in the trail as they came up, which a few did. I also forgot about the drop off to one side so maybe going down in the dark helped. I would periodically remember to ring my bell to ward off bears and was mostly just screaming the whole time to try and let whatever might be in the trail have a warning. There was also a sense of if there is a bear there wouldn’t be much I can do regardless of my speed so will lean into the statistics that there won’t be a bear and just go (obviously a little tired at this point). We got to the bottom of the trail and regrouped in the parking lot, realizing that the lone van in the lot was a friend (who had done this multiple times and coached multiple athletes in the race) who popped her head out to chat. I don’t remember much other than sitting on the pavement and feeling the cold seep into my body.

She asked if I was tired, “No, I’m not tired, I have a deep rooted fatigue that sleep won’t even cure at this point.” Kevin also mentioned that if I didn’t sit/lay directly on the cold pavement I might be warmer, “Okay.” But didn’t move, laying down and taking in the cold seemed like a better alternative to standing.

I’m not sure how long we were in the parking lot, it seemed like seconds passed slow but minutes moved fast and before I knew it we were back on our bikes and descending down into Seward. We dropped Kevin off at the trailhead we would be back at soon and headed into town. We circled through town, riding by the Sea Life Center before heading back out to stop at the gas station. At the gas station I was trying to figure out what to eat, half my plan was to just make it Seward and restock but with my stomach the way it was, nothing seemed appetizing and so I wandered the aisles a bit, went outside, went back inside, and decided on some lime flavored tortilla chips thinking the salt would be nice and it was something my stomach hadn’t rejected yet. I smashed the bag onto a bike bag and strapped them down. The clerk inside told Grande that there was a food truck that did breakfast and opened at 4:30am. It was about 3:40ish so we discussed options, I liked the idea of getting real food and we thought maybe we could sleep while we waited. We settled on that, sleeping and then getting real food before going back out. Now we just had to figure out where to sleep, somewhere close to the truck, we scanned the area when Grande said, “I’ll be right back” and headed to the hotel across the street, 2 minutes later she popped back out, we can sleep in the conference room. She had gone in and asked if we could sleep in their lobby for 30 minutes and the clerk said, “No, but we have a conference room with couches.” We rolled into the conference room, setting our bikes against the wall.

Super lux accommodations

I was still chilled to the bone so put on my puffy pants and jacket over my cycling clothes and took off my shoes. We all ended up sleeping on the floor since there were only two couches and we didn’t want to get them dirty. I put my legs up on the couch and hoped that with the brief sleep I would awake feeling anew.

In the 30 minutes that we allocated for sleep I was in it deep and woke up not feeling super groggy but was immediately met with waves of nauseousness again. Oh geeze and was consumed with a few dry heaves having nothing left in my stomach to discard. We packed up and left as quickly as we had arrived.

Ana had left a few minutes before us to place our order and I was surprised at the amount of people who were already milling around at that hour in the morning. We got our food and I got an ice coffee and shoved it into my feedbag. I ate some of the hashbrowns, eggs and sausage mix and then packed the rest to go hoping that having real food over the course of the morning would do the trick.

As we were waiting for our food, Ana checked the trackleaders board after one of the guys told us we were in the lead the night before. The woman in second (assuming the three of us were tied for first) showed to be on a boat in Seward when we were getting food, a bit odd but maybe she had a friend with a boat in the harbor she crashed on. We started riding out of town towards the trail head when we pulled over to readjust some tings Ana checked again showing Jenny ahead of us now. The leaderboard only pulls data every so often so not weird to see jumps. I realized my body was not up to the task of chasing anyone down so I turned to Ana and Grande, “you guys should go, you can catch her, I still don’t feel super great.” Grande also suggested Ana go ahead, she hesitated, “riding with you guys is so fun though” “Yeah but you can win, and we’re old you should go!” And with that we decided she would go and we would probably fall off her pace at some point. We rode the rest of the road to the trail, I felt off a bit and slowed to throw up what I had just ingested, oh shoot, I decided then that if I threw up a total of 5 times I would pull the plug regardless. We met up with Kevin and Gus again at the Bear Lake trailhead and ran into Jenny, in bit of a cluster as we navigated the overflowing water on the trail. Upon reaching the singletrack Ana and Gus went ahead followed by Jenny, Grande, Kevin and I. We got distance between the groups pretty quickly on the trail. I had ridden this trail once before but that was not enough to fully prepare for what awaited me.

Bear Lake trail is a bit notorious, first any trail name with ‘bear’ in it tells you a lot you need to know, the other is that it’s a lot of hike-a-biking but especially this year with multiple down trees. We started and having to get on and off multiple times in the first part navigating short inclines and sketchy side exposure. There is one steep hill in the middle where we gain about 1,000 feet in less than a mile. We started pushing our bikes up and as we climbed I fell down into a darker hole. Having not been able to keep food down for almost 8 hours at this point and lugging a fully loaded bike up this hill was my breaking point. I started crying while trying to remain engaged with Grande and Kevin so they wouldn’t know that I was in it deep. I tried to keep drinking in hopes of settling my stomach at some point and getting some calories in so I could get out of this hole. We kept pushing up and finally got some reprieve at the top to pedal which was abruptly cut short by having to lift our bikes over a tree. Even the act of lifting my bike over seemed like a gargantuan task and took everything I had to be able to do it.

Me realizing I need to do more than one push-up a year

On one of the descents my tire slid out on a water bar and I crashed, ripping my shorts in the process, I got back on my bike and cried harder. Shortly after, I crashed again on another water bar, Kevin (having recently been WFR certified) called for a coffee break, “hey let’s just take a break for a minute” but also knew he was assessing me to make sure I wasn’t going to go into volume shock or something. At this point I had taken my inhaler three times and was borderline panic breathing on this section. I took a few deep breaths, I realized I had passed the threshold for my body and was in uncharted territory, I was riding super sloppy and at this point was worried about getting hurt worse, I voiced my concerns to Grande and Kevin. But we kept moving, I was ruminating over my dark thoughts when I was startled by another voice in my head “Have some grace” it was overriding everything else in a way. It repeated, “Have some grace with yourself, you’ve never done this.” And as quickly as it appeared it left again with a vacant silence filling the space. It did make a good point, I have never done anything like this before. In that moment I knew I was going to finish no matter what. I’d like to say that I rallied and pulled it all together in that moment but it was a slow crawl out of the dark space I had been in, my stomach was still uneasy but I was able to get in some calories which helped. We finished the trail and I was so relieved my tears of despair turned to tears of joy. We stopped before the next trail and had another snack. We continued on our way, slowly getting out of the hole, my stomach still didn’t feel great but I hadn’t thrown up in a few hours and was able to keep everything down at this point, albeit it was a minimal amount of food.

The best ghost rider

Seven miles later we were back in the parking lot that we had picked Kevin up almost 12 hours prior. We said goodbye to our ghost rider and got back on the highway riding for a few miles before turning off to take a 5-mile loop going up a double-track mine road, the instructions weren’t entirely clear so we bypassed the trail we were suppose to get off on and hiked up further before questioning and going back. I stopped to pee and as I crouched down looked down and was startled to find a deep red substance starting back at me. Now for anyone else it would probably be obvious that this is blood but remember I’m like 30 hours into this race and not expecting my period for another 2 weeks. I stared at it wondering if maybe it’s not period blood, is something else happening down there, am I chafing that bad, no. Okay, must be period blood, hmm well did not prepare for this. Thank goodness I had a chamois on. I decided to just go with it and free bleed, I didn’t have a tampon and thought maybe I would try to get one at the next stop. Once we figured out where to turn off the trail it was a nice two mile descent back to the gravel road to exit back to the highway. I saw my van, thinking Kevin was around but couldn’t see him and figured we had missed him so we kept going. We talked about how fun that little trail was but with only being 5 miles we wouldn’t exactly drive down there just to ride that trail but was cool to check out.

We were back on the highway and headed towards Moose Pass which would be our last stop in all likelihood since we wouldn’t reach the last one before it closed. We pulled into Moose Lodge and saw some friends in the parking lot, they said the food wait time was about 30 minutes, too long. Being low on resources I told Grande I was going to check out the general store across the street. I went in and still wasn’t sure what my stomach wanted so wandered around for a bit, seeing they made sandwiches I asked if they had gluten free break. “What is that?” What? I didn’t even know how to respond, “oh like wheat free, I’m allergic to wheat” “No, we don’t have that”. Hmm, okay I thought, “Can you give me $10 worth of just turkey meat?” “Yeah….we can do that.” I was also being mindful because I only had $20 in cash and it was cash only. I also grabbed two rice crispy treats and skittles. I went back to the Lodge parking lot, running in to go to the bathroom, still no tampons in sight but also after sitting on a saddle for 30+ hours I’m not sure I even wanted to mess with that. I also convinced myself that since I had already torn my shorts people maybe wouldn’t think that much of it but I’m also not sure I really cared at this point. But it was nice to finally be able to use some toilet paper.

We continued on the highway and making small talk to get to the next trail head, it went by briefly and we pulled in, seeing the van and thinking Kevin was in the bathroom we stopped for a bit but I finally yelled out and didn’t hear anything so we decided to keep going. We started up the trail and Kevin popped out of the woods to take photos, each time I saw him or the minivan there was a small rush of adrenaline that helped to keep me going.

I called out something but don’t remember what but took that little boost with me into the next section of the trail. I still had to walk up small hills as the weight of my bike seemed to be beyond my pedaling capabilities and power output at this point. The overgrowth wasn’t too bad and we kept climbing towards the lakes that would mean we could reap our reward on the descent. As we were approaching the lake we saw two guys laying down in the grass, we assumed they were racers but didn’t recognize them and only one had a large load on his bike. We decided to circumnavigate the creek crossing saving our feet from being wet and instead rode on the shore around and through parts of the lake which seems counterintuitive for getting our feet wet but Grande knows all the tricks. We descended down a rocky section and getting through it made me feel more confident, that I had gotten over the dark patch and my body knew what to do when it was on the bike again. We talked about how we only had one trail left after this and thought maybe we would finish at 10-11pm. We got down to the Johnson Trail parking lot and saw some people who were waiting we found out on the rider who had been sleeping on the side of the trail. Someone gave me some water and another friend pulled into the parking lot who had done this before, back when it was more of a tour and had camped out for a few nights. She said when she got to the split on the highway where you go left to stay on course or go right to take the quick way back to Hope, she realized if she took the right she would get there in time for last call so did that and bailed on finishing the event. I also had that realization, the split is 15 miles downhill on the highway to Hope, the course is about 35 more miles of highway/trail to get back to Hope. We stayed longer than we had anticipated and right as we were about to leave, Kevin pulled in. We briefly stopped to talk to him, “Caleb took 7 hours to go from here to Hope” “What?” We were thinking maybe another 3-4 hours. I had enough food for about 40 miles but I did not have enough food for 7 hours of riding. Alright well, I guess we should get going. We calculated it out, 7 hours would put us at 3-4am, we turned back onto the path next to the highway, we cruised down it talking about how we were feeling.

We also decided to charge our lights for when we would need them on the final descent which on our timeline would coincide with the darkest patch of the night. We cruised down the path and it spit us out at the juncture for Hope or staying the course. We stopped. Grande talked about pulling the plug, she had some things she needed to get done and didn’t want her partner to have to come get her at 3am to go back to Anchorage. I said I was going to keep going but in my mind was mostly just like “oh fuck, bears” but understood where she was coming from. We stood there for a bit longer and talked about what I would need for the final push. It took me a minute to realize, before exclaiming, “We have a minivan! We can take you back to Anchorage!” volunteering Kevin to drive us back after (which was the plan anyways just now with another person). “Yeah, we can fit all the bikes and us in the van and we’ll get you back so Dusty won’t have to come down in the middle of the night!” That was enough to make it work, we planned on stopping a bit further so Grande could call Dusty. I had rapidly been firing messages off to Kevin with my satellite phone that went like this:

 “Grand is going to head to hope, I’m going to try and make a push of it”

“We can sleep in the van in Hope or whatever after”

“Going to try and catch the guy in front of me to ride with”

“Scratch that– we’re going to drive Grande home with us and keep riding together”

None of these ever got delivered because I forgot to switch my bluetooth on (good thing I didn’t actually need to relay any important information) so after handing Grande her lights back (which she gave me when I thought I would be solo) we took on on the final push.

We started riding again, this time on the highway which was a bit of a slog, Grande put a gap in on me and I didn’t have it in me to catch and sit on her wheel. The race director pulled in front of me to see how it was going and to say he probably wouldn’t be at the finish line. I switched my rear light on for cars watching the miles tick by on my watch. Kevin again pulled in front of me, I relayed the whole scenario and apologized for volunteering him to drive us back, he was good with the plan and said he was going to head to Hope to get some sleep. He was also glad that Grande would be with me for this section, I said yeah me too, I understood her stopping but also didn’t fully process what riding in the dark by myself would have actually entailed. He left me and again I was alone with my thoughts, it was still too early in the race to even envision finishing so mostly just focused on one pedal stroke at a time. We stopped at the last spot before we’d lose service again until we were done, Grande touch based with Dusty, who said he would leave Anchorage when we were at a certain point. After what seemed like and was ages on the highway we finally reached Devil’s Creek Trailhead. We again saw Wes (the racer who was sleeping earlier) and his crew. He was going to sleep for a bit and then take off. We decided to start the push of what we hoped would be the final leg. We both felt good, not energized but not too tired and decided we would wait until the descent to use our lights so they would be fully charged. We left the trailhead around 10 or 11pm and still had some daylight, we descended down the trail which was a nice reprieve before starting our last climb. Okay, 10 miles to the Res Trail and that brings us back to Hope. Mind you it was still about 25 miles from the Res Trail to Hope. We started the slow climb up and at a few of the switch backs I got off to walk even though under different circumstances they aren’t too challenging to ride. Have Grace, it’s okay to walk you aren’t doing this fresh. As we climbed we got denser into the shrubbery and it got darker, we still refused to use our lights still anticipating needing them for the descent and so we plunged further into the darkness. Even with it being close to solstice there are waning period of lights, it’s not fully pitch black but easy enough to lose yourself in the darkness. There is something so lovely about the dark and it felt extra special being submersed it for how much daylight we had. In high school and most of college (much to my roommate’s dismay) I would do late night runs when the world was asleep and it felt like the night had stay up just for me. That’s how it felt now, as if we were the only two souls out there at the moment with the vastness swallowing up anyone or anything else.

 I thought about seeing a bear, if I would even see it, and surely I was going to so slow it wouldn’t be threatened, would I be threatened, all the adrenaline had seeped out of my body over the past 38 hours, my heart rate wasn’t even getting about 125, so if anything now was the best time to see a bear because in all likelihood I wouldn’t be able to overthink the situation. I also imagined that this is what it must be like to ride drunk as my front wheel would sometimes weave back and forth on the trail and I was grateful it never fully went over the edge. At one point we both realized we had gotten sleepy but were navigating how to assess the other person’s status. I told Grande something to the extent of you know I think I’m tired and could probably take a nap but not sure I’m fully tired and could also probably keep going. We had some coffee and kept trotting along but the darkness continued to steal our energy. “You know there is a campground just up ahead we could take a little nap, being in the dark made me more sleepy.”  “Oh yeah, that works for me.” We crossed through a river and took a bend in the trail which put us right at the campsite. During day trips I always found it strange it was there, only 5 miles from the trailhead who would ever use it. Luckily for us  no one was and we put our bikes down, pulled out our puffy gear and bivys (mine was really an emergency bivy which made me feel like a chipotle burrito. I thought about how close our bikes were to us and the food on it and then my eyes shot up worrying about the blood in my shorts, I wracked my brain trying to remember if it was an urban legend that bears stalk women on their periods or not. I convinced myself it must be but surely if it was true we wouldn’t be there that long. I clutched my bear spay harder and tried not to think of what I was potentially attracting. Wes rode by us not too long after we settled in asking if we were sleeping, Grande responded and he kept going. The alarm came all too soon this time and I asked Grande if we could snooze another 10 minutes, she agreed but this was a dangerous game as we were both master snoozers. In that brief time it was enough to have a very real dream of a man standing at the camp telling me it was time to leave and waking up to realize that my bear spray had nestled in under my back. We got up with the next alarm and put away our bivys, I mostly just stuffed mine away since folding it seemed to require too much brain power. We stayed in our puffy clothes to help warm up. We commented how we timed it right because when we woke up it was light enough we didn’t need to use our lights, so much for charging them the whole time. We stopped and filtered some water and I made some coffee. I tried to take some syrup in but my stomach immediately threw it back up, no matter we were close to being done and I was on fumes anyways.

Time seemed to be arbitrary during the race but this was 5:30am

We began to cross what was maybe the most treacherous crossing of the ride, Grande went first and started riding but soon hit a rock and tipped over submerging most of her body and bike into the water. The current was working against her, she wasn’t in any real danger just having to lift her bike back up and get out of the water. I felt helpless as I just watched as there wasn’t anything I could do from shore and she quickly exited the stream. I put together enough rocks to scamper across not caring anymore if my feet got wet. We came upon Wes who was sleeping in his clothes next to his bike, he stirred awake and asked if he could ride with us, sure no problem. We took off on a flowy section and about a mile later came to a snow crossing, I went to grab my phone to snap a picture but panicked when I couldn’t feel it—“I dropped my phone” I had it when we were coming up on Wes because I went to get a picture of him sleeping but then decided against it. I’ll go back and look, you don’t have to wait, Grande didn’t mind so she could change out her wet socks, I sprinted (or what sprinting looked like at 44 hours) back and right after we had seen Wes my phone laid in the trail, relief washed over me because in all honesty was going to leave it if it wasn’t there and deal with it later.

After finding my phone

I got back to Grande and Wes and took off realizing we were close to the summit maybe a mile or two away. Still too soon to think about the finish. We regrouped at the summit, realizing it was mostly downhill I pulled out my speaker to blast some tunes—not so much for us but for any potential animals and anyone coming up the trail. We rallied down, hooping and hollering (or at least I was), my body in perfect sync with my bike as I navigated the trail, pure trail magic. There were six brief uphills on the trail which we regroup on during the first five. On the last one Grande and I waited a bit for Wes and ultimately felt bad ditching him but we were close enough to the finish and he had given us permission. We took off down the trail and crossed the familiar bridge that had led us up the trail nearly 2 days earlier, okay now just 6 miles into Hope. We cruised on the road, stopping briefly to take a photo with a sign for the Kenai 250 riders.

We chatted about what had transpired over the past two days and both agreed we’d probably do it again (this was Grande’s second time). We turned onto the mainstreet of Hope and to our surprise there were actually people waiting for us, I scanned the crowd and with my terrible eye sight only made out Grande’s dog, “Lil Snugs!” I yelled, “oh man we’re here”.

Seeing the finishing line made me realize I was actually going to finish

And we rolled into the finish but were quickly told that we actually had to ride another 20 yards to the official finish, which we did and then came back to meet up with our friends. We arrived in around 47 hours and soon were swapping stories with other finishers and friends. I love sharing the individual pursuits that we all collectively experienced. It really was a different race for everyone out there. Grande and I even joked that we won’t ride together unless it’s at least 200 miles.

Felt like I had just won Miss Mount Rose
For not being allowed an official crew, this guy sure showed up a lot during the race

Kevin took me out to breakfast which when I ordered two dishes the waiter thought I was ordering for Kevin and I but had to quickly correct him that they would both be for me. The recovery period proved a bit longer than anticipated, I quickly came down with a cold and spent most of the following week taking it easy. But fortunately was able to recover in time to participate in the Jurassic Classic.

A nice change from the sour patch kids

Riding the 250 was like finally being able to exhale. I had no idea how much my body missed riding/racing until I was back doing it. And I wasn’t exactly sure if those deep reservoirs still existed after taking time off to study for the bar and then COVID. What was I made of, who was I, could I still consider myself and endurance racer even if I had not done any race over 45 minutes in 2 years? The rhythmic turn of the pedals allowed my brain to finally stop turning and just be, to exist, not worry about COVID numbers, data, work, or what the future might look like, all I had to do was pedal and that’s what I did.

Roads that lead us home

Over the course of the race a good family friend died, I got word when were in Seward before the hellacious trail and before my moment of grace, after the race I texted one of her kid’s this, “I got notification of your mom passing when I was on course, a few blimps of service kept me updated and my mom told me when I was about 130 miles in and headed for the hardest section of the race – I often think a lot of the draw of doing endurance events is how ethereal the next world feels, like a thin veil and often finding myself thinking of the grandparents, songs will come on that I’ve associated with them for years and I feel like they’re right next to me. When I was in the thick of it during the 250 and I mean the thick of it like I had never been before while racing—I had thrown up twice, was crying, was pretty worried about how I was riding and how I was going to continue, there was an overwhelming presence that just drowned out all my thoughts and told me to “just have some grace, you’ve never done this before” I’d like to say in that moment I turned things around but truth be told it was a slow process out of the dark hold but it was the start of crawling out of it. I didn’t think much of it at the time like maybe my body had finally had enough fighting and it telling me to go with it but also not fully convinced it wasn’t one of the grands or your mom reminding me of my own strength when I was doubting myself (as is so often done).” Maybe it’s this draw of tapping into this infinite grace that exists but is so easily drowned out by the daily hustle that continues to draw me to trail. The stillness and simplicity of just having to pedal.  

Big thanks to Grande for riding with me, Ana for hanging with us the first day, Kevin for being everywhere during the race, riding with us, taking photos, and just silently encouraging me when I was near my breaking point. Rachel for being a “gold sponsor” and loaning me the bike repair kit + all the bike bag gear (one day I will get my own). Chain Reactions for getting the bike in race shape so I did not have to use my bike repair kit. Juliana Bicycles for making such a rad bike. The race organizers for putting together this amazing event– and mostly everyone reading this and who followed along while we were out there. It’s such a fun little event and I was blown away how many people reach out after to say that they had so much fun tracking us– here’s hoping to recover fully in time to do it next year- ha

No Sleep Till Valdez

When people are dying or faced with the prospect of dying they talk about home–either where they came from or where they hope to return. Which is how I learned a lot about the remote places in Alaska; someone would come in and their story would come out about their village, their way of life, their lineage. I would often nod along as if I knew the reference points they were citing. After I was in the clear I would quickly google to learn where the place was located and would soon find that no roads enter/exited the community. Which is still hard for me to fathom, at times Anchorage feels isolating. Through these conversations it painted a picture of Alaska that is often overlooked on a map. And from staring at those maps it’s also how I learned that there are only 5 highways in the state or at least primary highways, Glen Allen Highway, Seward Highway, Richardson Highway, Dalton Highway, and The Parks Highway (which you would think is after Denali National Park because it takes you there but is in fact after a guy named George Parks, first resident governor of Alaska). In my time here I’ve actually only driven on three of them, The Glen (arriving and leaving), Seward, and the Parks Highway. Dalton goes to Valdez and Richardson (fame of Ice Road Truckers- I think…) starts at Prudhoe Bay and runs down to Fairbanks.

Nothing a little super glue and duct tape couldn’t fix when this happened right before we left

Which means in my planning a trip to Valdez I only had minimum navigation. I convinced a friend, Grande to come, which really didn’t require too much convincing other than “hey want to ride to Valdez and catch the ferry back” and coordinating schedules. The trip is about 300 miles so we figured we would ride Friday/Saturday and then ferry back on Sunday. Only after selecting the one weekend that really seem to work for both of us until July or August we realized we wouldn’t be able to leave until at least 2pm on Friday. That’s fine, we’d probably only ride 100 miles on Friday anyways. We continued with our planning which wasn’t much and really only figuring out stove requirements, tent set up, and potential camp spots. Kevin has never witnessed me prep for an adventure like this and suffice to say I think he was shocked at how little effort I put into the logistics. But also felt like there wasn’t much beyond what we figured out, leave time, stop places, and when to show up to the ferry. I packed my food, which ended up being enough for a week, sleeping gear, riding gear, and a few extra layers. I didn’t checked the weather till the day before because as I told Kevin it doesn’t really matter since this is the one weekend we can do it, we’ll ride in whatever.

Make your friends ride for 200 miles and take photos like this haha

In what should surprise no one, we didn’t actually leave Anchorage until 4ish on Friday which resulted in Grande’s husband driving us up the road to start. We shaved about 50 miles off and got dropped off in Palmer which also meant less traffic on the highway. I rode with a tail light and we both had safety vests, although Grande’s mostly put mine to shame but we did what we could to be seen. I still struggle with riding on the highway and even in town, I can do everything right, lights, vest, stay on my side/area but all it takes is someone deciding to look at their phone, drive under the influence, or become distracted and that’s it. We had all positive and/or neutral interactions with cars so that was nice. Most of our ride followed the same pattern, ride, pull off to change gear, ride some more and then figure out where our next stop was. Grande’s husband had connected us with a friend who had some land we could camp on near what we anticipated being our first stopping point. We got ahold of him and got directions and after about 4 hours of riding we turned off the highway and descended down a gravel road that gave us a full vantage point of a glacier. We got a little bit turned around and ended up calling him again to get direction and he offered up his arctic oven tent for us to sleep in. We made it to his property and we were amazed at the views he had, he was working on building a cabin but for the time being had a sauna and outhouse which is really maybe all you need? We made camp in the tent he provided and ate dinner with a view point of the glacier.

We got into bed and then tried to factor what was the last possible time we could wake up without getting into Valdez super late and settled on 6am, both being master snoozers it was closer to 6:30 when we actually arose. We packed up, unable to figure out how to get water from the tank on the property and decided to ride the 4 miles to Sheep Mountain Lodge to fill our bottles.

When we got to Sheep Mountain we also ordered coffees and then we got breakfast but figured it would be to go and then we decided to just stay and eat. I got another coffee and then about an hour later we were back on the road, having only tackled 4 miles of the days journey.

We decided that when we saw a spot for water, we’d stop just to make sure we wouldn’t run out but otherwise the next juncture would be Glennallen, about 70 miles away. I was told that it was mostly downhill but having lived in Colorado my judgment of downhill vs uphill is a bit skewed, what I envisioned was all downhill with minimum pedaling, what greeted us instead was rolling hills and with an overall decline in elevation. It was also strange because the only time I had been on this road was entering and exiting Alaska, and the current landscape was a stark contrast to the last time I was out there, dark, snowy, cold, alone— now it was mostly sunny, some warmth, greenery for miles with mountains on the horizon, and also not alone. 

Mostly a lot of this

We arrived in Glennallen and opted to stop at the grocery store over the gas station, we took separate turns going in getting food and then sat on the picnic table outside to eat a bit before getting back on the bikes. It was about 2 pm at this point and we realized we still had about 115 miles to go, which was almost comical but we kept joking we just had to be in Valdez in time to catch the ferry which didn’t leave till 11am the next day so really plenty of time.

When you really have no idea what you’ll want during a ride

We turned right out of town, our only real turn of the trip and headed towards Valdez. The mile markers counted down towards our destination which was nice because I’m terrible at math but also at moments of slowly ticking by, depressing. The only thing on this route worth noting was Thompson Pass but we were unsure of where it actually showed up in the route. Grande had done this ride but as part of a 400 mile race and had never actually seen Valdez in the daylight as she got to town at midnight stopped at the gas station and then turned around and headed back out. She also warned me that when you get done with the pass there is still like 15-20 miles of riding into town.

With less traffic we rode side-by-side for most of the stretch and trading off leads when cars were approaching. We spent time talking about everything and nothing, being in the bike industry, work life balance, dog life, and getting back to racing when your fitness and speed isn’t where it used to be, among other things. Really it’s easy to find things to talk about when you have nothing else to do but pedal. We kept an eye on the impending clouds in the distance and some scattered sprinkles throughout the day led us to multiple gear changes. We kept joking that we didn’t care what the weather did when we were riding so long as it was “sunny for the cruise” on Sunday. We noticed some cars coming towards us with their wipers on and stopped to put on more rain gear getting back to riding just before getting caught in a storm, water gushed down filling my shoes with ice-cold water. Everything else remained mostly dryish or at least not terribly uncomfortable.

Once the rain stopped and we had dry roads for a bit I started to calculate how much further we’d have as my feet had become frozen from the rainwater and then the dropping temperature. Hmmm, about 5 more hours, could my feet make it in this condition, unlikely. I have my sleep wool socks I could switch out that would at least get them dry and some toe warmers I could put in so if they were warm would not be worried about any damage. I asked Grande to pull over, we also debated hitching a ride and decided that if I car stopped we would get in. I started peeling off my wet socks and replacing them with dry socks sticking a toe warmer on top before sliding them back into the damp shoe, the wool sock and toe warmer created some barrier to prevent the cold from seeping into my toes and I decided this would be fine. Left with an extra toe warmer I decided to stick it to the back of my neck as a way to get warm blood flowing through my body — only the next day when I peeled it off did I realize why they recommend not having it placed directly on ones skin as I had a nice little burn spot– in the moment the warmth took over and I didn’t even realize it was burning through- oops. In case you’re wondering no car stopped and we kept pedaling on.

When it’s 10:30 pm at night but you have no idea since it’s still so light out

We reached the Thompson Pass summit just around midnight but at this point hadn’t even pulled out our riding lights, with only dusk settling in around us. I pulled my headlight out and switched it to a red light to have a taillight for the descent (since mine died) and Grande used her headlight, between the two of us we had a complete set which is more than I’ve had in previous rides. We started the descent and the drop in elevation made it seem like the darkness grew quicker as we were also getting overshadowed by the mountains we had just climbed. Still mindful of traffic we pulled off each time a car was behind us which made me realize how little of a shoulder exists on this side, and also encountered the highest stream of cars in a one section of the road with 4 cruising by us all around 12:30am, which made me question why they were out so late but they were probably questioning why we were out so late.

We got to the bottom and I was met with resign as the mileage post still showed 20 miles into Valdez, what a buzzkill, even with Grande’s warning. We stopped and did jumping jacks to warm up because at best we had another hour of riding and at worst, well longer. The rest of the road was at least positioned on a decline so while we were pedaling, less effort was required, or we were doing less effort since it was 2am. The road into Valdez is littered with waterfalls and the thundering release of water echoed through the canyons as we approached. It was really pretty, even in the dim lighting and made me wish I could see it in the daylight. Grande pointed out which waterfalls were popular for ice climbing–while Valdez is a premium destination in the winter for skiing and ice-climbing it didn’t seem like there was a lot to do in the summer other than hike around.

We finally got to town, or where the mileage posts stop counting and came to a darkened intersection. A lighted gas station was to the right, what appeared to be a giant hotel of some monstrosity was to the left across the water (we realized the next day it was the oil pipeline terminal) and some faint lights were a little in front of us. Huh, we pulled out our phones to look up a hotel and make sure we didn’t have to do any extra pedaling, we found one 3 miles away in the area with all the other hotels. How is this where the highway ends but the town doesn’t begin for another 3 miles. We joked that we only have 3 more miles to go, what’s that on top of the 201 we’ve already done. We got to the hotel and was greeted by someone who gave us a room key and told us what time breakfast was. We made it to the room, turned up the heat, showered, and then both put on our puffy clothes and climbed into our sleeping bags in the beds– yes we had been that cold for that long.

We got up the next morning just in time to get the continental breakfast and then rode over to grab some coffee. We ended up chatting with a guy who started talking about the oil spill (okay maybe I started talking about the oil spill) but he basically works for one of the citizen non-profits that was started after it so talked about how it was a catalyst for changing the laws and regulations in the oil-industry and how there is community and citizen oversight with what is happening from an environmental standpoint. He also mentioned how everyone always said it was a matter of ‘when not if’ the big one would happen. Which took me back to closing remarks on the PIP Framework at the World Health Assembly in 2017 where the chairperson said the world is not equipped for a pandemic and it’s not a matter of if but when. So maybe post-COVID we’ll have some new laws/regulations that foster the development of public health agencies and response to disease outbreaks. But who knows, the Valdez oil spill is 30 years out and the impacts are still being felt in surrounding communities.

After about a 45 minute break and two coffees we headed to the ferry where we checked in, the documents that I had been carrying for our vaccination proof were no longer necessary as of that morning–given that most of my work is on COVID policies I asked what changed, the guy didn’t know but he did say they weren’t necessarily doing anything with them anyways in terms of contact tracing more just served as a reminder for people that COVID was a threat. We got on the boat and took a seat outside with another cyclist joining us and we discussed our approach to getting through the tunnel since we weren’t allowed to bike through.

Sunny for the cruise!

The tunnel is a single lane tunnel that connects the town of Whittier to the rest of Alaska, there is no other way around. Pretty soon a couple came up who asked if we were the cyclists but I’m pretty sure the gear we had on gave it away. We talked with them for about an hour and then we asked if they would be willing to drive us through the tunnel, which they didn’t hesitate in their response and were convinced that three bikes would fit in the back of their RV. We spent the next few hours basking in the sun, which as we had requested it was “sunny for the cruise” and taking naps after our lack of sleep the night before.

We docked in Whittier found our ride and got to the other side of the tunnel, with a 5am meeting the next morning I wasn’t sure I had 50 miles of pedaling in me but luckily Grande’s husband came and met us about 8 miles from where we got dropped of– I was especially grateful given the headwind we were battling.

I signed up for the Kenai 250 which is happening this weekend, it’s 250 miles connecting the trails on the Kenai Peninsula. It was one of those things that didn’t appeal to me until it did, or maybe Rachel and Grande finally got to me. It scares me (but in a good way, Mom!) because I don’t know what my body will be like at hour 20 and there is a very real possibility that I will not finish– and I haven’t felt some of these feelings in a long time — it’s very similar to how I felt when I first started racing 100 milers like I didn’t know what my body was capable of or where the limits existed (if they do?) and the very real possibility that my body will break down and I’ll have to pull the plug. So it’s a lot of confronting insecurities and uncertainty all while trying to figure out what I’m going to want to eat at hour 32 and wondering if I will in fact regret not carrying an extra pair of shorts when I run into a bear by myself and pee my pants. I keep reminding myself that it’s okay to stop when I stop having fun (and that’s my general approach to bike racing) and that I have more value than my best (and worst) place finishes. It’s strange because I still consider myself an endurance racer but I haven’t done a long race in almost 3 years now (bar studying and then COVID). And I think some of the uncertainty is if I don’t finish how will I define myself, can I still be an endurance racer or do I get demoted to ‘attempted endurance racer’. Only one way to find out…

It starts on Friday (tomorrow-eek!) and I really have no idea how long it will take- anywhere from 38-55 hours. There is still snow for a good portion on one of the trails so that section will be slow going. I’m not planning on sleeping much, beyond a few 20 minute naps if needed and instead trying to push through– but if I do get stuck out the second night will probably try to sleep a few hours and then continue on. I’m probably most nervous about dealing with bears but as a friend who has done this before told me, bears hate Beyoncé so just blast that (also currently accepting other song recommendations). If you are so inclined to follow along you can track me at: http://trackleaders.com/kenai21

And if you’re even more inclined to track me and come find me on the trail to ride with, well that would just be the best! I’m low-key pretending it’s my going away party because at some point I will be leaving Alaska for DC (which, yes will be of a rough transition– no saying if I’ll be able to stay away though so come celebrate at your own risk).

But it might also just be a lot of this + bears sooo

Corpse Pose

I’ve been stuck with writing this post because my drafts never seemed to get where I wanted them to. Which is funny because I’m writing them but feel like a post about death and darkness would make my mother send another care package. It took me a while to get here, just like the darkness that has seeped into Anchorage, but now that it’s here, I’m fully embracing it.

When I started my work I really had no idea what it would look like day-to-day. I didn’t really think about the fact that being based in a hospital means that a lot of the legal needs that are being provided are in anticipation of dying or after someone is dead. As a result, at times there are awkward moments as I fumble to find some form of comfort to provide. It’s like my wanting to be a mortician as a child has finally come to a head, no dead bodies but surrounded by death, careful what you wish for, I guess… and yes, I was a very odd child (but like think of the job security). It’s also odd because had I ended up the route of a mortician I feel like that schooling would have prepared me better to meet people on their worst days. Law school taught me how to read cases, cite statutes, and think on my feet, but also made everything feel so formal and starchy. Rarely were we thinking about the people in the cases, the tears that poured in law offices, the shaky voices as they told their story, and the anxiety that came with the unknown. It boiled down to spotting the issue and not the people.

I spend a lot of time during my days thinking about death and mortality and how fragile it all really is and how at any moment life can completely change. Which is annoying because in a lot of ways I feel like I’m finally understanding my mother after all those years (yes, mom, you were right). When I was a kid and even most recently I get a little miffed at having to celebrate my birthday. I would much rather disappear to the woods to ride my bike or even not acknowledge that the day was any different. But I have grown up with my mother pulling me out of my comfort zone by constantly reminding me that we need to celebrate the good when we can. And there is still a lot of good to be had.

Celebrate the good, but also plan!

I’ve had trepidation about the impending darkness, ever since I took this position, both figuratively and literally. Because that’s one thing law school did prep us for: depression, addiction, failed relationships, and despair in many forms. And it’s hard to distinguish if the zeal I feel towards life right now is because everything in Alaska is a fresh beginning that my outside life of finding new adventures provides a stark contrast to the ones that end in the hospital. But have found that embracing the darkness has made me enjoy it, giving a fresh perspective on trails, adventures, and life.

The trails have been riding well and my gusto for getting outside is unmatched for my usual November ride attitude. Instead of getting on the trainer most days, the last few weeks have been spent outside, after work, embracing the darkness. Which also meant realizing that I need to actively charge and check the status of my lights, twice relying on (responsible) friends to light the way.

One night I was actually grateful that my light had died and couldn’t see the moose standing next to the trail until I was already past it, unfortunately that meant I couldn’t see my friend had slammed on her brakes and ran into the bushes to avoid another moose on the trail. I quickly followed suit and after realizing the moose wasn’t interested in us, cautiously grabbed our bikes, heading back into the dead thicket to circumnavigate around the trail.

The novelty of the darkness hasn’t warn off on me yet, I’m sure it will at some point. Last week I was doing a trail run on a trail I hadn’t been and was submerged into darkness quicker than I anticipated because of the tree coverage but had an adequate headlight to at least stay on the trail. Half way through the run, the tree coverage gave way to a meadow that opened up to the sky. I slowed to a walk and with the glow of the stars and the sliver of the moon basked in the shadows of the mountains and the quiet stillness the dark exhales. Don’t worry if I think really hard about everything that could go wrong or happen in the dark, I still definitely get scared but also find some odd comfort that maybe I won’t see whatever might attack me coming and be at peace when I die, super morbid, yes.

All the clothing options for any adventure – Photo from Rachel Heath

The nice thing is that all these things in the dark and the chaotic quests to pack as much in aren’t individual pursuits, and I think that’s the tough part about moving here and thinking about leaving. The community that’s embraced me seems to be similar to the one I had in Colorado, where people live here to be able to get outside and it’s been really cool and really humbling (especially coming from Indiana) to get to be a part of that.

Photo from Rachel, who also wanted to try out her camera, very convenient

This past weekend the weather and timing lined up, with temps in the mid-40s, the trails beckoned to be ridden. I headed down to Seward with some friends on Saturday to ride a new trail for me.

Again, Rachel crushing the photo game

The trail was amazing and the conditions were unreal, I kept apologizing for my level of enthusiasm to be outside and riding but they both seemed to share similar sentiments.

Photo by Rachel

Sunday I stayed in Anchorage, riding the local mountain bike trails with a bigger group. Most of the trails were really good and tacky but did end up on one that was muddy (no trails got harmed) and cold enough when we ended that the frozen mud on my seat kept freezing my butt to the saddle, which made it slightly awkward trying to get out of the saddle to pedal and have my shorts stay, fortunately I don’t think anyone got a free show. It did require a stop at the car wash on the way home.

When the riding is so good you haven’t washed your hair in a few days….

Monday I was lucky to have the day off with two friends that were also able to take the day to go back down to Seward. We planned on tacking a few trails together to get 30 miles, and to get as much daylight in as possible had an early departure time. We started up the trail and one of the first steeper climbs, ran into a mechanical when a downshift broke a spoke and threw the chain off the cassette. Fortunately we were close enough to the car to go back there and deal with the mechanical. We spent a good 15 minutes wrestling to untwist the valve core from the wheel and finally realized we were getting nowhere so loaded the wheel up in search of the first welcoming looking house (and yes, we had a guy with us, check your stereotypes -haha). We must have been putting out good energy vibes because the first house we stopped at let us in and conveniently had their toolbox in their living room with the pick of pliers in it.

We got the valve core out, took the broken spoke out, put a Canadian dollar in to patch the hole, put a tube in, and started off again. Again the trail, like the on one Saturday did not disappoint, the trail weaved in and out of old growth forest and provided the added challenge of wet roots to navigate.

After being in the forest we were exposed to the ridge line where it felt like riding in the high alpine of Colorado so was slightly disappointed we were only 2,300 feet above sea level.

When it seems like you’re high up, but the air is still very easy to breath–photo from Clint

We started descending the same trail that I rode on Saturday and tucking down off the ridge to eat lunch. The other two had stuffed grocery stores burritos which dwarfed my paltry decision of an apple and peanut butter.

Photo from Clint

As we sat there, with mountains encapsulating every vantage point, my mind wandered to Yale. At the time of my rejection, I was devastated, I mean I even cried, but quickly realized how many rejections and failures put me on that mountaintop and how in that moment I was incredibly grateful for everyone of them. I told my friends that too but prefaced it with “the next thing I’m going to say is going to be really cheesy”.

Grande navigated this bridge much better than I did- photo from Clint

We put another layer on and took off on the descent, a blanket of cold had settled into my fingers and I was worried about how they would fare but seemed like the lower we went the warmer it got so was able to maintain braking power no problem. We got to the bottom, removed a few layers and rode the highway the 15 miles back to the car, cutting out a section of trail in favor of daylight. I got done and jokingly said, might just go in tomorrow and extend my contract.

Going to be basking in this sun all winter- again Rachel killing the shot

As I write this, freezing rain has settled in. I’ve decided to race cross nationals so feel okay having to potentially get on the trainer for the next few weeks. If anything grad school prepared me to deal with it was trainer life. I did splurge and buy a pair of skis so ready to embrace winter whenever it decides to arrive. Still unsure on the whole fat biking thing, but more on that later.

Also, welcome to post-yoga K8 writings. Going on 7 years of practice and I can’t touch my toes but get a pretty good zen going and can savansana with the best of them.

Moose Count: 21 (saw 7 on one ride)

Bear Count: 0 –slightly more concerned now because on average bears are hibernating 11 days later because of the changing weather patterns, which means if I see one it’s going to be so full or very hungry and well we all know what I’m like when I get hangry so imagine a bear.

Bikepacking 101 and Bears

“Oh, going on an adventure?” The REI cashier asked me as I handed him my bear spray. “Yeah, it’s called moving here.” I responded.

When I was in the process of moving I thought about bears and moose encounters but they seemed so far away (literally, more than 3,000 miles), but upon arriving here, I quickly realized that it’s real life and I’m playing the game for keeps. The first few days in Anchorage I didn’t really venture out, I mostly moved my things in and spent time in the garage painting furniture where my chance encounter with a bear was relatively low.

I also realized that I can’t stay in the garage this entire year smelling paint fumes. I saw a flier for a bikepacking course, including an overnight trip by Alaska Bike Adventure. Perfect, baptism by fire in bear country. I figured it would serve two purposes I would likely meet cool people who like to ride far on their bikes and it would introduce me to bikepacking in a way that was structured and comfortable to figure out if it’s something I’d want to further pursue (like when I sell my car and ride my bike home). I always felt like it was similar to alpine touring where it’s something I was interested in but not enough to want to spend money on it first to find out.

I’ve loosely thought about bikepacking. After I did White Rim, Sully got me some bags for Christmas, a seat bag and a top tube bag– apparently when you get off the trail at 1:30am with minimum headlights it warrants the discussion of setting up camp or to keep going. I’ve used the top tube bag for a few races but never the seatbag, because that would mean I’d have to camp. It’s not that I’m adverse to camping, I don’t really mind it but have never slept in a tent by myself, I don’t even own one. If I’m with someone else I’ll sleep in their tent or if I’m by myself I’ll sleep in my car, this is usually a safety thing and it’s definitely limiting in terms of how far you can explore without having to turn back for single day solo-trips.

Had to say goodbye to Tenzen

The bikepacking course was modeled after a NOLS course, we had 4 hours of instruction and then a 24 hour trip. I showed up for the first course and found out I was the only one who signed up– 2 guides for 1 Kate is a great ratio. We chatted for a bit at the start and they talked about the races and tours that they’ve done and I immediately recognized that I was going to be in very good hands. The first course we went over gear for the bike, looking at the design and application. From the function and weight of the gear it was apparent that the gear for the bike was racer/rider designed. We talked about what gear of my own to bring. They humored me by answering my most remedial questions from lycra vs. baggies to all things bears (like how close to the tent to pee is too close?).

The next course was me pulling out my bin full of gear and asking about this versus that option but at the end felt confident with my gear choices. The morning of I packed up my camelbak with my snacks, gloves, book, and light rain jacket and put my riding gear in the car. I met them at the trail head about an hour north of Anchorage. Being in the parking lot assuaged my fears a bit as kids were pouring out of cars–surely parents would not be sacrificing all of them to bears so figured the risk must be pretty low. We loaded up our bikes and split some more group gear and took off.

Here we go

The trail was mostly flat but I appreciated that when getting used to the gear being on my bike. I found that the front end actually felt more stable with the loaded weight. We rode about 10 miles out. We pulled off to a campsite and then rode through some trees to arrive at a gravel bar that was on the opposite end of the lake from where we started.

We scoured for a position to place our tents that would offer some shield from the wind and then they explained the bear triangle to me. Basically you position your cooking station and your food storage at the bottom end of the triangle with the tents as the third prong, all dependent on wind position. We unloaded our gear and set our tents up –I tried to played it cool, like I knew what I was actually doing when I in fact had no real idea because Sully usually set the tent up, but they even helped me with that.

We took our bikes and explored the trail a bit more until it dead ended at a public cabin that you can reserve (remembering that for later). Then we turned around and headed back to the campsite to cook dinner. First they showed me how to filter water (beyond just dumping iodine tablets in) and we got 10 liters of fresh glacial stream. Then we made tacos for dinner and chatted for a while because it had started raining and it seemed like 7pm was maybe a little too early to go to bed. Like I said they have a well of knowledge when it comes to long distance riding and racing, so we talked about everything from the race scene in Alaska to training to other races and routes to explore. They were maybe the perfect people to spend my first weekend in Alaska with.

We finally headed off to bed but tied our food up first. I stayed up and read for a bit, mostly to distract me from any thoughts about what my body would look like if I got mauled (do not google images that). The rain and wind had settled in which also provided enough of a white noise to cover any noises I might have been startled by. After the sun set, I soon realized I had to pee but I didn’t want to have to get up and go pee just in case there was a bear (plus it was raining). I spent time convincing myself I did not have to pee until I fell asleep for a bit but then woke up to the realization I still had to pee. I still wasn’t sure how close was too close to pee to the tent but didn’t want to go far so I came up with a plan; I would pee right next to the tent but then dump my extra water on top just to help neutralize the odor quicker. I moved quickly, kept my head down, and my bear spray close. I then dump all my water out but lost my pillow because I had been using my water bladder as a headrest– but worth it if I didn’t end up with a grizzly sitting on my body, right? After that I finally fell into a deep sleep.

The next morning we cooked an egg and hash brown scramble, and drank copious amounts of coffee while taking in the morning fog rolling out of the mountain valley.

We packed up our gear, I was grateful that the wind had pushed the rainstorm through in the night so I didn’t have to have most of the gear end up soggy in the stuff sacks. We headed back on the same trail but I swear it was more amazing heading back.

The mesmerism of the landscape tugged at me and on that trail I realized how easy it is for people to stay here [the tables might turn come December and no daylight].

We got to the end and unloaded our packs to divvy things up. I returned the bags but keep a new found sense of ‘hey, I just might be able to do this’. It wasn’t nearly as daunting as I had envisioned and like the idea of exploring multi-day routes. Still need to figure out the whole potentially sleeping outside by myself thing but baby steps. Through talking with the guides I’ve found that the community in Anchorage of endurance athletes runs deep, I gather it’s from the magnetism of the landscape that draws people to want to explore but with limited access (limited roads, trails) they pursue activities that give them that ability. I even left contemplating returning to Colorado next year to take on the Colorado Trail Race and see what I’m really made of beyond a single day event.

I told the guides that if any of my friends who ride come and visit I would probably just have them guide us on a trip like this (so now you’ll know what we’ll be doing when you visit and you can pack accordingly).

We also didn’t see any bears on the trip, which is good and bad. It feels like the early spring days when you start to venture outside and at some point you know you’re finally going to run into the first snake of the season. It’d be nice to just get it over with running into a bear or moose on the trail and being like see I survived, I can do this…unless I didn’t survive… which would a real bummer. I think I struggle with the wildlife because in our ever increasing controlled and manicured lives, they serve as a blunt reminder of how unpredictable and uncontrollable mother nature is. There are definitely things that I can control (like bear spray, proper food storage, bear bells) but in the end it can come down to simply bad timing. But then I remind myself that I’m much more likely to be attacked by some guy up here than any wildlife (Alaska is the #1 state for violence against women, South Dakota is #2). So maybe I’ll just carry bear spray on me at all times…

Some of it is just giving myself time to get comfortable in this space, I keep reminding myself I’ve learned to live with running into rattlesnakes, buffalo, mountain lions, getting caught in lightning storms, and reminding myself that it’s okay to be afraid and do it anyways.

Nature is pretty neat.
Plus views like this certainly help

I do start work this week so that will in all likelihood limit my penchant for merrymaking. My cyclocross bike did just arrive though so planning on racing this weekend (race my way into shape, heyo!).

If you’re interested in checking out the gear I used it was from Revelate Designs. I would definitely recommend if you’re in the market for bike gear. If you want to visit Alaska and plan your own bike adventure I can’t speak highly enough of Grande and Dusty at Alaska Bike Adventures!

Gowdy Grinder

“Everybody hurts. When I don’t have words to articulate my pain or
frustration, I get crude. But crude is probably better than repressed”

I went back and forth for a bit before deciding to write this, it doesn’t portray me in the best light–surprise sometimes I’m aggressive when I race–usually only with myself but this time it spilled over. My mom pointed out that there are people who lead us. They lead us to the realization all the amazing experiences we’ve had and also make me grateful for all my male friends and racers who have given me space and not been threaten by the fact that I’m a female and sometimes fast (and also sometimes last).

The Gowdy Grinder started like most races, debating if I should race. “Yeah, but you like racing.” Ohhhh yeah, I do like racing my bike. I was debating pulling the plug on racing to go ride with friends. To get the best of both options I moved my race time up to race the expert category instead of the pro. Which meant that the two hours I had to warm up was now reduced to 30 minutes. I quickly changed and realized that warming up wouldn’t do much so hung around the finish to see a friend finish her race and do some jumping jacks.

Won’t be replacing my warm-up with this anytime soon

At the start I chatted with the other women in my race that I knew. Sully and Katie gave me some final words of wisdom and told me that the start is a bit of a climb and to take the inside corner.

We started two minutes behind the pro men, which I didn’t think much of because they’re pro men. For not having a warm-up I started pretty hot. I followed Heidi, one of the women I knew around the corner on the inside and then pulled ahead of her at the top of the short hill. I looked up to see that the hill kept going, so I kept going. It was about 90 seconds into the race and given my track record was expecting anyone to come blowing by me at any moment. I realized that I could either settle in or just push a little hard to try to get some space for when I really blew up. I dug in and saw my heart rate soar. Within about 5 minutes of the start, we were on single track and encountering the first male. I called out ahead that the women were coming and the three guys ceded way. I kept pushing because I was convinced that soon I would explode so figured the faster I went the less I would have to limp home.

I should have just followed Heidi since she actually knew the course

I vaguely remembered the course instructions (another reason I should never lead) at the start was told we do the short loop first. I got to a fork with signs that said “long loop” and had arrows pointing. I stopped, and looked around, no arrows for the short loop. So I waited, it probably wasn’t more than 30 seconds when my cousin, Sarah crested the hill and descended to where I was, “which way do we go?” we debated for about 15 seconds and then opted for the long loop arrows and figured if we both took the wrong way we would just tell them. I got back on and with Sarah right behind me and called out to let me know when she needed to pass.

We worked our way up through a technical section and a small gap opened up between us. I rode a rocky feature and came up the trail in front of me to see a guy who must have had to walk that section attempting to get back on his bike and he turned and looked at me. I get it, I’m in a sports bra and probably look like a prepubescent teenage boy, but he didn’t just do a quick glance, it was long enough for him to give that look of “oh crap, the women are catching me”. And I’m not proud of what I did next, maybe it’s because I dealt with egos in law school or that I had spent last weekend at a women’s only mountain bike race (where everyone was so nice) or that my heart rate had been insanely high for the past 10 minutes. So he stares at me and then turns to get back on his bike to get in front of me on the trail. And I go, “Are you F-ing kidding me?” (Except I said it for real) which at least got him to give me the trail. As soon as I said it I felt bad, I’ve never done that in a race. And then I realized I couldn’t let up because I didn’t want this guy to immediately pass me again. I kid you not that I spent the next 10 minutes of that loop questioning what I had done and telling myself I would immediately apologize to him at the finish. And then I questioned that, why should I apologize, he’s the one who was getting caught, I’ve given the trail to plenty of faster guys and girls. And then I decided I would apologize for what I said but not for what I’ve done.

Sonya Looney is a World Champion and still has issues like this

I went through the finish area, realizing that we must have taken the correct route because I was at 4 miles and the longer loop was 8. I headed back out and glanced behind me, that guy was still a little too close, I wasn’t racing him but still felt bad and didn’t want to run into an issue again. About a mile after the start area, the course diverts and goes to the left, which proved to be a more technical trail than the previous one. I was going down a big rock that hooked around into a bridge, I wasn’t going to make the turn so hoped off and kind of scooted down, the guy came in hot behind me, so I called out “Oh so sorry if I messed you up” and “I’m also really sorry about what I said earlier.” And then he started yelling at me, and I think he was joking because he kept saying, “I’m f-ing kidding” but I told him to just pass me, I don’t want to deal with this, which he kept saying “I’m just f-ing kidding”, to which I told him there are plenty of guys that aren’t kidding and apologized again for how I had acted earlier. It’s one of the most striking altercations I’ve had on a trail. I looked around to see if anyone else was nearby, they weren’t and realized how vulnerable I was at that moment. I scooted away as fast as possible, and I think he was kidding because he gave me a lot of room following that; I didn’t see him again. It reminded me of earlier this fall, I was riding a trail and came upon this guy and he wouldn’t let me pass him for a good mile with me asking nicely to please pass. I finally took him over on the inside of a corner to get around him. And then immediately realized how stupid that was and sought the nearest exit from the trail.

After that interaction I was trying to get my emotions back in check just to focus on riding so that I wouldn’t make a stupid mistake. Shortly thereafter I came upon a group of young girls at a trail intersection that were there to cheer and they were so excited to see me and cheered super loud because I was a girl. Which definitely made me feel better and reminded me that if I had stayed silent with that guy, the next generation would still have to deal with this bull shit (and they probably will, but hopefully less!).

The back section was pretty rocky with more technical feature than the short loop and I was having to hop off and run up something and get back on. The few other guys I ran into on the trail were super nice, and actually got out of the way before I even needed to say anything. There was a little uphill which I was starting to fade on but towards the top was able to catch a second wind. I soon hit the first section and I at least knew what to expect but I still had to run up a few things. I took advantage of the last two miles that were mostly smooth and downhill. I saw one lady gaining ground on me but was able to hold her off long enough to finish. The first three finishers were all within 2 minutes of each other so I think any longer and they would have caught me. Sarah came in third and I asked her if she had any issues with that guy and she said she didn’t see him and then we chatted about guys and egos for a bit while waiting at the finish for our other friend, Heidi. Unfortunately, Heidi had snapped her chain on the first lap, which given the insane power spikes and some of the technical things I had to get up was glad that I didn’t run into a mechanical.

I thought about waiting at the end to talk to that guy but realized it wasn’t worth it, I apologized on the trail and there was no point in dragging it out.

After the race my friends camped in the area so I was able to meet them the next morning for a ride at Happy Jack, which was nice because I feel like sometimes my brain is over thinking so they were able to navigate the trails and I just followed them around.

How much skin can I show while also still being warm…a fine line was walked

Bar studying is going well and then it’s not and then it is and then it’s not. Just riding the waves of emotion right now. I’m taking the 4th off to race the Firecracker 50 with a friend in Breckenridge which is something nice to look forward too. But I think after that it will be mostly short rides and no racing in the last few weeks before the exam.

But to reward myself I’ve also decided to do the Maah Daah Hey again–okay not the 100 because as much as I want to because it’s amazing I think July will really see my training take a back seat to studying and to take the bar on Tuesday/Wednesday and then turn around to race 100 miles on Saturday is even a little much for me. So instead I’m going to race the 50 and this is for a few reasons, first I feel like the MDH is like the room of requirement in Harry Potter, that trail gives you exactly what you need even if you don’t know what that is, and secondly I feel like the last oh 20 miles of that race I essentially blacked out on so looking forward to seeing that section of the course again. It’s not confirmed but it seems like they let you split the course so if someone wants to race the first 50 miles, I would be down for a team.

Trust the Process

After graduation I drove back home with my mom. It seemed with each state we crossed into my spirits lifted a bit more–I think it’s directly correlated to the lack of humidity, the unfettered sunlight, and the increased elevation. I had this professor in undergrad that I think of often. She was a corporate lawyer, making a ton of money, getting in a town car at 7am and returning home at 10 pm and she talked about how from the outside people viewed her as money-driven and power hungry but internally that wasn’t what she valued at all. She quit the law and got a PhD and is now a philosophy professor. I don’t tell you this because I’m already jumping ship and wanting to quit the law. More that when I got the end of the semester I didn’t feel like my internal values had been externally represented. It created a weird crisis of conscious; who am I, how to I define myself and how are others defying me, are they even defying me, does it matter, should it matter? I don’t know.

I ended up going home for a few days to unpack/repack/see Tenzen and just decompress.

Which do you think we got first?

I did a bit of riding but also mostly took days off, like three days in a row, and nothing happened, the world kept going, it was slightly reassuring. I had hoped to get to Gunnison, CO for a race but the logistics of it all just meant that I started studying for the bar a few days early.

This is about where I turned my ride around in SD

I moved into a place in Laramie, Wyoming to study. Pretty random spot but I had a few requirements: (1) access to a law school for studying, (2) access to trails, (3) not humid, and (4) low snake count. I initially planned on Boulder or Denver but was slightly worried I would let myself get distracted by friends who want to ride or grab dinner and then 5 nights of not studying I would be freaking out. So I looked a little further north and Wyoming is pretty perfect, it checks all the boxes and I have no friends so plenty of time to study. I should say it’s not completely random, my mom has deep roots to her alma mater and my sister just graduated from here. It’s worked out so far and I actually really like Laramie, it even snowed last week and I was still happy.

After this semester I realized my approach to studying for the bar needed to radically change from my approach to law school. It’s odd because while law school is suppose to prepare you for the bar, and it certainly does, I actually find myself drawing more on my endurance training to approach it. It’s long, 2 months of mostly 8+ hours of studying every day; it’s easy to compare yourself to others, but just like training everyone is individual in their approach and what works best for them doesn’t necessarily translate to you, it’s easy to think you’re overtraining or undertraining but never hitting that sweet spot. Mentally it seems like you’re just going for a PR; not to set a course record. Plenty of people have hit the marks you want, this isn’t uncharted territory. Occasionally you’ll think you know nothing and your whole approach is going to set you up for failure–similar to when your training for 100 miles and 3 weeks before you crack on a ride, cry near the side of a trail for 20 minutes convinced yourself you are the slowest human being ever to sign up for the race, once you pull yourself out of that hole you realize you’ve done what you’re capable of and go race your bike.

Totally how I look studying for the bar…

That’s not to say I don’t hear the quirks of my professors when reading a certain rule or subject, I do, and am slightly amazed at how much I can recall being talked about. I half joked with my dad how much more I would remember if I hadn’t stuck an extra year in for my master’s.

I’m not going to get much into the specifics of actually studying or where I’m at in case someone prepping for the bar is reading this and gets overwhelmingly stressed by my approach. I will say it’s going okay, I’m finding my rhythm and find that I actually like studying (probably why I’m thinking about a PhD). I also know that at some point I’ll cry and be convinced I’ll fail–which probably just means I’ll need a snack.

5 minute pedal from my door

Two other reasons for Laramie, it has a mid-week race series that pending studying I might jump in on; and it’s close to Colorado which means that while racing is much more selective this summer it’s close enough that it’s feasible. Last summer I felt that every weekend I was jumping into the closest race I could find, whereas this summer I find that I’m having to be much more selective. Instead of chasing points and podiums, I feel like I’m targeting ones that are filled with community.

The first of maybe only two races on the docket at the moment I did today, the Beti Bike Bash. I had a friend text me about a week ago telling me he would be there and I responded that I’d be studying and no way. I got an email telling me to register this past Wednesday and previewed my study schedule for the rest of the week, I could work ahead this day and be able to get work done before and after the race. But also realized that my mental state is so much better when I’m riding and racing, so signed up.

The race was pretty hot and the course is super fast. The past times I’ve raced I’ve ended up on the podium but have also usually been racing for at least a month or two at this point, not the first race of the season. The race started and I was able to get a good position but on the first initial climb found myself getting passed by quite a few people. So climbing legs aren’t exactly there yet. The race format is four laps of four miles each with three punchy climbs each lap. I burned a few matches on the first lap trying to keep up with people and with the heat just put myself into a hole that I could not recover from, but I kept pedaling and tried to focus on the person in front of me which only made me realize that they were slowly pulling away. I finished the race 7th out of 8th, and emailed my coach after, “normally would be super bummed by that performance but was just happy to finally be racing.”

Who knew I could look so happy getting almost last!

But like I said, not after podiums or points this year, I went to the BBB because it’s an all women’s mountain bike race and because of that unlike almost any other race I’ve done. It’s filled with this electric, supportive, community that is enthusiastic that women are racing. Plus it helps that I know the Yeti Betis who put it on and am always so appreciative to see them and catch up.

I figured it would give me the mental recharge I needed to carry me for the next month or so. I feel like it definitely did. Plus they have a drag category, which my friend Parker didn’t decide till he was volunteering at the race to do, luckily he wore my shorts better than I do–not sure if that’s what’s meant by the hashtag ‘More Girls on Bikes’ but provided endless entertainment.

Any other season I would be pretty bummed about my placing, but after Nationals I realized that this year would be mostly spent as a developmental year so feel like any race that I can get under my belt is good training. That’s certainly helped my focus and has taken some pressure off of it. I was also reminded when I was riding in Boulder just how far I’ve come. I was riding Walker and I had to do some intervals so I decided to go up the trail that I usually go down. I had only gone up it once before, six years ago-that ride was also my first time up Flagstaff and wanted to get a big ride in because my first Leadville was 3 weeks away. Sully suggested it and gave me various versions of doing it. I picked the worse one. I did Flagstaff and then went right on Walker and instead of doing it as an out and back did the whole loop. I carried my bike down the portal (stairs) and got back on the trail to do the two miles uphill. I looked at my garmin– it was something like 18 miles in 3 hours. At this point I was severely calorie deficient and I cried and I cried and I cried on the side of the trail. With this performance there was no way I would finish Leadville, I wouldn’t even make it through the first checkpoint. Luckily, I had no service and no option but to eventually pull myself out of it and start walking. I’m not even sure I got back on my bike at all on the trail. I just remember hiking up that 2-mile section and the trees rustling with my failures. Its remained in my mind the darkest section of trail in Boulder. In the six years since, I’ve never attempted to go up it. I always assumed it would take at least 30-40 minutes and there is a nice bail out option after going down where you can ride the road back around to the parking lot. That day, I finished the ride and it was 35 miles, 5+ hours and over 7,000 feet of climbing (which made me feel a little better). Fortunately I had dinner that night with other cyclists who told me it was a hard ride and 3 weeks later I finished Leadville well under the cutoff.

Recently, I wanted to ride down this trail (because it’s super fun to go down) and was a little pressed for time so the only logical thing was to do intervals up it, I had six so hopefully that would get me to the top. I got to the top in two and had to keep re-descending down to go back up again. When I finished I couldn’t believe that in the six years I had never once attempted it because it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had made it up in my mind. Why am I even writing about this, especially because those not from Boulder probably have no idea of these references. It made me realize that too often, I am comparing myself to who I was yesterday, last week, last month, last season. It made me stop and think that if I had told myself when I was crying on the side of the trail the things I would accomplish in the next six years, she would still probably be on that side of the trail out of shock. So instead of comparing myself to who I was last season, I think it’s important to remember where I started, and while often it can feel like a step back, as long as I keep moving, that’s progress.

Climbing out–this time no tears!

Supernova

If my semester could be summed up in one word it would be Supernova. Which the way Molly and I use it is we burn so bright and then explode.

After the Birkie I switched back to training for biking. I was planning on doing marathon nationals in May and needed to start building my base. I won an entry into the TommyKnocker 10 in southern New Mexico and rerouted my spring break flight to Phoenix. With a week to go until the 10 hour race something in my mind clicked and I realized that racing my bike for 10 hours would amount to 80-100 miles of riding—and I had been on my bike for 12 days at that point. I still had my flight to Phoenix and switched to the Cactus Cup, which had 3 days of racing: shorttrack, cross-country, and enduro. I supernova-ed so hard. The race started and I burned so bright and then exploded. To save you the mundane details I’ll summarize: my bike got lost in shipping, I tracked down a rental for short track, showed up with what I thought was 11 minutes to spare, turns out I was 20 minutes too late so they started me in the group after; got the hole shot and immediately faded to the back (everyone went by me as if I was pedaling backwards), my time is reflected of my initial starting position so something like 56 minutes (for a 20 minute circuit); I tracked down my bike and picked it up from a fedex warehouse at 11pm; assembled it as best I could, got to the race early and Sully put on my brake rotors (because I didn’t travel with the tool);

Thank goodness for mechanics who have tools you don’t.

I started the cross country race and got into a groove after the first 10 minutes; I started to move up in position and approached maybe the one long hill on course and downshifted my chain behind my cassette, had to hop off, fish it out, got it back on the cassette, spun the pedals around, immediately threw it back behind the cassette because I forgot to shift it out of that placement, fished it out again, looked around me and realized that everyone was gone. Got back on my bike and pedaled the remaining 36 miles being mindful to not shift it down too easy. I debated doing the last day of racing with the enduro but figured I would cut my loses, and caught a ride with Sully to Sedona.

When you pull the plug on racing, this is a nice alternative

Not great for the first race of the season but also not terrible for not planning on racing till April. I planned on doing a few crits throughout April but it seemed that between the weather and my workload it never lined up that I felt like I could get to one. I still had it in my mind that I was going to do nationals, and it would have been similar to last semester where I finish finals and immediately turn around and race my bike–but I did it last semester so can do it again, right?

Skipped the Grand Canyon for CO National Monument because we thought we’d be getting there later.

My plans started to change mid-April. It’s the 100th anniversary of the Grand Canyon (still so impressed it only took 100 years to create-ha) and really wanted to make it down there at some point. Sully had been training for a 25 mile trail race and there was one weekend at the end of April that he would be in Sedona and I could leave to meet him and do a big run/hike down to Phantom Ranch with the plan to make it to Ribbon Falls because the bridge was washed out the last time we went. At that point committing to the Grand Canyon scrapped my thoughts of marathon nationals. Even if we didn’t run the whole thing, I didn’t think my legs and mental stamina would be ready to race 60 miles three weeks later. I would rather get to The Canyon anyway. Unfortunately, the weekend before our trip Sully’s grandmother passed away and there was no way he was going to make it back to go to The Canyon, rightfully so. I thought about going by myself but ultimately decided it wasn’t worth it. I had been battling some inner demons the week before Sully called me. One of the girls I used to coach in the summer league was out hiking in Arkansas and lost her footing, fell off a rock outcrop, and passed away (If you want to read about her, this is a great write-up). The most freak accident ever, she wasn’t near the edge but stepped down and rolled her ankle, lost her balance and went over. It seemed like my whole town went into mourning for this beautiful life that was cut short with no rational explanation. I think anytime something like that happens it ultimately leads people (me) to reflect on their (my) life, how many times you (I) could have misstep, or the adventures you (I) take for granted, or the fact that you (I) hit your (my) head just right to make a full recovery. I talked to Molly a lot that week about the life that we choose to pursue and the risks that come with it. I even called my best friend who is a child psychologist to get coping mechanisms for when I went to The Canyon. It was very unfortunate that Sully’s grandma passed away but it made it easier to pull the plug without thinking twice.

I then thought of meeting my friends May 4th for a ski day but didn’t think I could take the time to travel and a day out to have fun while being in the midst of final prep. So then I thought again about doing marathon nationals but at that point, it seemed that the logistics for marathon nationals was too much to orchestrate. My race bike was in Boulder, I was in Indiana, and the race was in Texas. Figuring out the logistics while about to go into finals seemed more than I could mentally handle and instead bought a ticket to Denver to go ride for a week before graduation. The last few weeks of law school were pretty rough. I joke about how I spent the first two months of law school crying and I think I ended a similar way. When I pulled the plug on nationals and the canyon it created this inner dialogue that all the sacrifices that I had made for racing were now moot. But also if I wasn’t racing how do I define myself, am I still an athlete, or am I just now a law student. One of my friends is a nutritionist and actually posed this question to me a few weeks before all this happened. I said yes but also sometimes I don’t know.

Not cycling and not being athletic while being social who knew this could be a thing

 I arrived in CO Thursday with one paper left to submit. I finished formatting it, attached a table of contents and with it submitted had turned in 194 pages of written work over seven days. Okay so maybe that’s why I was constantly in a state of feeling turned inside out. I was able to get on my cross and mountain bike over the seven days and it was amazing. Saturday I crewed for Sully at his 25 mile trail race which made me realize I never want to do one—it looked pretty miserable. Sunday he shuttled me to a trail and rode part of it with the plan that I would attach a few more trails and then ride back to town.

I carried on without him and about 20 minutes into my solo ride kicked a rock up and into my rear derailleur. It threw the shifting off and after battling it for 10 minutes realized it was a lost cause, sent Sully a text to please me meet at the next trail head to pick me up and then hiked my way to the top of the hill. Fortunately at that point the rest of the trail was mostly down hill so lowered my seat and used my feet to gain enough momentum to carry myself the two miles down to the trail head. I had twisted the derailleur and needed to get a new one. I was able to ride with a few friends but did a 6 hour solo day while the bike was getting fixed. I put my phone was on airplane mode and my garmin died after 3 hours which was amazing.

Definitely not ever finding this place again

Being disconnected from the world helped a lot. I feel like I have gotten to the end of law school and have so much left unfinished– there are a few papers that I’m still trying to push out for publishing and honestly thought I would have one out by the time I graduated, I also felt like I had sacrificed a lot of my mental health and happiness in favor of grades this semester –and when I got to the end and was only left with grades I wasn’t sure it was worth it.

The weekend of graduation brought waves of emotion that were the size of the ocean. It was a bittersweet day, I was happy to have completed and gotten though but it was punctuated with a loss of a beloved professor and compounded with leaving academia after four years and uncertainty about the future.

Mary as the last holdout in becoming a lawyer

I knew that last semester was going to set me up for this, what other possibility was there when I raced five national championships with law school. So I’ve failed when I’ve only gotten good grades and competed in zero national races. I know writing this out sounds so absurd. I think I have a lot of fear moving forward because I don’t feel like I’m done wanting to race but I feel like right now I’m having to prioritize other things. I’ve talked about it before but the personal sacrifices that go into racing have always been worth it, but when I’m not racing and it still feels like I’m sacrificing is it worth it? It all comes back to peaks and valleys. Sometimes you ride the high, sometimes you ride the low and you just hope that the peaks last longer than the valleys, just like in races. Sometimes it just requires a bit of shifting gears. The nice thing about the cycling community is that it’s small and plenty of people have felt similar to me so when I reach out they are there to remind me that racing will always be there and it’s okay to take a step back with a different approach–but still working on it.

What I actually looked like all semester #notcyclingclothes

A Different Kind of Lawyer

After the Maah Daah Hey 100, I took a week off and then started back to training. I knew I wanted a full season this fall and end in December with Cyclocross Nationals. In the past, I’ve usually taken about 3 weeks to a month off mid-August and then dabbled aimlessly for racing in the fall. Each year I’ve been in school (4 Falls) I always have the same thought of getting more in shape for shorter distances but then keep racing 100 miles. This year I’m making more of a concrete effort to get in shape and stick to shorter.

I had some issues with communication this summer on when a new bike would arrive. Part of the reason I left my old bike in Colorado, twice, only to have to figure out how to get it to Indiana. Less than ideal.

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Hand delivered! 

All of my stressors manifested themselves in this sole issue. It came flowing over when it was two weeks after the said ship date and no word on the arrival or the location it was going to ship to (yeah…). I found out the arrival date would be another month which really only put it here for nationals.  I was sitting at my kitchen table, crying over this issue when Sully reminded me that bikes should be fun, I agreed. Because my best friend, who is a therapist, was on her honeymoon, and there were no 100 mile races to be found, I signed up for a real therapy session with the counselor at the law school. I was hesitant about going, mainly because stress around bike racing is not really a common law student problem but it seemed kind of silly for how much it was impacting my life.

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When you’re just trying to be a ‘different kind of lawyer’ hahah (ND’s motto)

I went and talked through everything in 50 minutes (I’m cured!) and came to the realization that because I’m forging my own path forward (avoiding corporate law) it leaves a lot of questions up in the air of what next year will look like. Right now everything and everywhere is a possibility, which is amazing and terrifying! As a result I’m focusing so much on wanting good results this fall because in the back of my mind I’m like what if this is it, what if this is my last season. If I do terrible can I justify  racing when I have other things going on in my life that need priority too. The therapist thought maybe because bike racing is the one thing I can control, meticulously, with the racing schedule and all my training plans that I’m focusing so much on it as a result.

It’s somewhat comical that I decided to try and control the one area of my life that does not yield well to control. I haven’t had a clean race this season, either with mechanicals or crashes and have been able to roll with it.

 

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Lining up to start– photo from University of Louisville Cycling 

The first race of collegiate mountain bike started 2 weeks ago for me. The cross-country course was reduced from 4 laps to 3 the morning of. I didn’t think much of it because a 15 mile race vs. a 20 mile race is still the same in my mind compared to 100 miles. During the race, though, I was so glad we were only doing 3 laps. The race started on pavement and went up a climb of about 10-15% grade for 1/3 mile or so. Just enough to get my heart rate abnormally high. After hitting the trail I had to scramble with my bike to get over a log and then probably lost 30 seconds trying to get back on because my heart rate was just coursing adrenaline throughout my body, I scurried to the top of the hill to  find an even piece of land to get on from. The course was relentless, even the downhills offered little recovery as they were littered with rocks or technical turns that required ever vigilance. It was all I could do to drink.

Fortunately the start of the second lap took out the pavement climb and instead offered a traverse over the hill before zig-zagging up to connect to singletrack. On the traverse over I washed my front wheel out and went down, it happened so fast I didn’t even have time to react and took the brunt of the force with my knees and hip (better than my face!). I made the mistake of putting my Garmin mount from my road bike on my mountain bike (in the midst of switching parts over, I convinced myself it would be finnnnne! Jokes on me). The mount snapped off, luckily I found my Garmin lying in the trail and snatched it up and stuck it in my jersey pocket. The rest of the race was uneventful, and mostly just slogged away at the trail for an hour and 40 minutes. I got done and finished 3rd, more by default, only 4 women started and one dropped out due to a mechanical in the first lap. I thought she was behind me the whole time, which was nice to at least have that thought to push me.

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The next morning I debated doing the shorttrack race. It had rained overnight, so much so that I got a flash flood warning on my phone. Unsure of what the course conditions would be like I was hesitant to register before the first race of the day. The crew did a good job of restructuring the course at the last minute and avoided the areas that were flooded. To add a dimension to the now the mostly grass course they put in a death spiral. You ride all the way in for about 4 circles and then turn and unwind out. After the first race I saw that the bikes mostly picked up pieces of grass but not a lot of mud so decided to race (not looking to replace my drivetrain…again). They combined the A and B women so our field grew to about 9. After the pavement start we immediately hit the soft grass. It was slick and took one girl down when she slid out of a corner. I followed the train into the death spiral which was a really terrible idea because as I was circling in, others started circling out, while more were circling in and for someone who gets motion sickness, it was all I could do to orientate myself, and not throw up.

We raced for 25 minutes and after sitting on the 3rd place girl for 3 laps through the death spiral knew that I would be sufficiently dizzy if I followed her again, when we hit the pavement I went around and worked to put in some time in between the start of the death spiral, it worked but I still wasn’t completely out when she was entering but it was at least better. The race finished with pretty big gaps in between the finishers, I think I was almost 2 minutes from first place and 30 seconds behind 2nd (the girl who crashed and got up, yeah she’s fast).

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I felt good with my results (even if cross-country was by default). Since I’m trying to get my top end fitness firing for shorter distances, the weekend was more to figure out where I was and where my head goes during such short events. It’s much easier to stay in the race, I often find myself after 7+ hours of racing being like, where am I, what am I doing here, what food do I get to eat, yeah when it’s only 25 minutes those questions don’t come up…at all. 

 

Maah Daah Hey 100

The morning of the Maah Daah Hey 100 I surprised myself with how well everything came together. The chaos getting to North Dakota (shipping a bike from CO after I had left– thanks again, Chris! Driving from Indiana to North Dakota, somehow only forgetting my headlight, which Barb was able to save me with an extra one!) settled and I felt ready, excited, and nervous. One of my friends put me in touch with the 3x time winner, Kelly–thanks again, Amy! I was able to pick his brain about the trail, mechanicals, and even what time zone it started in. He was very generous with his accrued knowledge. He gave me a heads up about the third section, to mentally prepare for 30 miles and not 25. He also talked about what an amazing race it was and how I would probably surprise myself. He gave me enough confidence that I felt excited but not so much so that I still wasn’t nervous about what I was about to embark on. My plan was to go as hard as I could for first 50 miles and then go from there…I mean I had 18 hours to get there so what’s the worst that could happen?

I pulled into the campground with my parents and started going through my routine.

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The first of many sunscreen sprays for the day

I noticed that my front tire was a little squishy and figured I had a slow leak somewhere but it would hold for at least 18 hours, this logic was based on nothing other than optimism. I chatted with a few other riders which also helped to take the edge off. The staging area is self-selected depending on how fast you think you’ll be. I saw the first girl a few rows back from Kelly and slotted myself behind her. She turned around and said, “if you’ve won your age-group at Leadville you should definitely be in front of me…sorry I stalked everyone online.” I laughed and told her I had no idea how this was going to go so was going to stick to my spot.the start .jpg

The race started quickly, I moved up to get a good position for the climb as I didn’t want to have to maneuver around too many people. I missed the lead group but managed to get in a pack of 4. I knew from talking to others that the first climb was about 3 miles and 800 feet up. I stuck on the back of the group until about half way up I realized I could get around them and put more distance in between me and the others.

I got to the top and it released into–maybe the only flat section of the day. It was also the only two-track of the day and I saw that my front wheel looked a little low. Hmmm, it’s probably fine but just in case took my phone out (also probably the only place I got service) and texted my dad, “bring my pump to aid station”. I rolled through the first check point at mile 10 and shouted, “does anyone have a floor pump” and drew blank stares. One woman said she did but at her car down the hill, I passed, it wasn’t that low, and turned the corner. I shouted it once again and a lady grabbed one from the back of her car. I popped it on, 20 psi…hmmm I definitely had at least 24 in it this morning, pumping it up. Just make it to mile 25 and get more air.

At mile 14 I heard a noise I couldn’t place right away but my subconscious recognized it as it sent chills down my spine. I immediately searched for the culprit and saw it right in front of me, my front tire was shooting sealant out (bet you thought I ran into a snake). Nooooooo! I hopped off and spun my front wheel like I was on the Price is Right trying to get a dollar. Please catch, please catch, please catch as I kept spinning. It did and fell silent again. Ohhfta that was close. I hopped back on and started to catch the guys who passed me.

My brain quickly went through scenarios of what I should do. This happened to me once before at my very first 50 miler, I got a puncture, got it to seal and rode it for the next 27 miles to get 2nd. The next day when the tire was holding air Sully told me, “you did the right thing, ride it until you have to put a tube in.” Okay I told myself, ride it until you have to put a tube in it and then go from there. But here’s the thing, under no circumstances did I want to have to put a tube in. Given the terrain I figured if I did put a tube in it would puncture again and would need to be replaced at least 1 if not 2 more times. Less than ideal. 

I constantly fluctuated from trying to ride gingerly, including holding my breath at moments of peril when I thought it would go again to might as well go hard while I can. It blew again around mile 18 and I pulled off to the side and spun it again, and again, and again. And then in a genius ‘past Kate’ moment I realized that I had my hand pump with me (I didn’t want to use a CO2 in case I needed it for a tube). I pumped more air into the tire and spun it again. It was at this stopping point that a woman passed me. I mentally took note and finished as quickly as I could to keep her in sight.

I wasn’t sure my strategy now, I wanted to try to stay close enough that I could be within striking distance if something happened but also with 80 miles left in the race had no idea how it would play out. We traded positions once again and came into the first aid station together. I found my parents and a volunteer filled my camelbak while my parents restocked me with maple syrups, peanut butter, and bananas. I checked my tire again and put chain lube on.

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Almost took my finger off in one of those spins…

The tire was still sitting around 25 psi. I saw the woman lead out of the aid station and the volunteer was still fumbling trying to figure out how to close my bladder. I took a breath as this wasn’t going to make or break any position. Number one rule I have when racing: Don’t be an asshole to the volunteers, no seriously, they are amazing. I told him to screw it on and then jokingly asked, “is this your first rodeo?” He said yes, I told him he was doing great and he would have plenty more to practice with during the day. I headed out knowing I would meet my parents at the next aid station mile 50.

For the first few miles out of aid one I was able to keep the woman in my sights. I really tried to not let the mechanical get in my head. I reminded myself that it’s still a long race and that anything can happen, and that I’ve benefited from other’s misfortunes before- it’s part of racing. I prayed to anyone or anything that would listen asking them to hold the seal on the tire and get me to aid 50.

At the start of the race one woman was talking how her husband (who was racing) showed her a video of Devil’s Pass and she couldn’t even watch it because of the heights and exposure. My mom was like, do you know where that is? I responded, no, I don’t even know what that is while laughing.  I found it on this section.

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Image from: Maah Daah Hey Trail Association

There was a sign followed by a cattle gate and it pretty much turned into a narrow ridge that has dropoffs on either side. I hit the ridge line and starting singing very loudly, not even coherent words, just a automatic response to the build up of fear in my body.  Luckily, no one was around as my voice leaves much to be desired. I got to the other side and was greeted again by a cattle gate. I stopped and figured I might as well take a picture but just as I did my tire burst.

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The only photo I got from the day!

I did the same thing as before, spin, spin, spin, air, spin, spin, spin. It seemed to do the trick.

A few miles later and close to the 50 mile aid station I was greeted with the Little Missouri River crossing. I hoisted my bike and shouldered it across. The passage had smooth rock on the bottom and the water hit just below my knees offering a brief reprieve from the heat that had began to coat the land. The aid station was a short climb away and on the climb up my tire blew again. Noooo, seriously?!? I got it to catch again and rode into the aid station asking if there was a mechanic there. I put more air in and got it to catch, and then not catch, and then catch, and then not catch, and had a volunteer spinning it while another lubed the chain and I debated putting a tube in. My parents were rockstars and switched out my bottles gave me maple syrups, peanut butter, bananas, and potatoes.

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The only time I ever eat pickles…100 mile races

I left the aid station but didn’t feel super confident so asked my parents to meet me at the next check point, Mile 57. As I was about to turn onto the trail another rider said, “great riding” I didn’t hear him but saw that his wife had a Santa Cruz bike on her car, “Is that a Tallboy with non-boost wheels?!?” Homegirl was dessssssperate. They both looked at me and then I explained what was happening and thought maybe she would switch wheels with me (ha!). It was a 27.5″ wheel so no luck but then her husband who is racing goes, “do you want some more sealant”? “Oh my gosh you have some, that would be amazing”. Here’s the thing, I knew if it blew again at some point I would be out of sealant and would have no choice but to put a tube in. His wife pulls out this tool box with a valve-core remover, a syringe for the sealant, and then it dawns on me…Ohhhh this is what people have if they don’t have extra wheels or a mechanic on course, huh…I’ll have to remember this. They were quick and efficient putting a full shot of sealant into my tire and pumping it up to 30psi (I told them to just in case it blew again I would have extra air in there). I thanked them profusely and offered beers at the finish line (and #42 if you’re reading this please send me your address so I can send you all the beers!). I took off with more confidence in my tire. It did blow one or two more times but it was more when the sealant monster would fall off and pull what was cauterized with it before it could reseal. There was enough sealant in there that I didn’t have to get off my bike at all.

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All the snacks!

I checked in with my parents at Mile 57. It was still at 30 so the small blows weren’t really anything. I got another potato and said I would see them at Mile 80. Kelly’s info really helped me prepare for this section and I was grateful. There were two more checkpoints after that. The first one I stopped at and there were so many women there that I said, “this is the most women I have seen all day.” They were all part of this team that were either crewing or racing, they gave watermelon and filled up my camelbak at both checkpoints. I was feeling really good going into aid 3. I met my parents, grabbed more syrup, another potato, and a fresh bottle. I told my mom, “Uh, I think I’m going to ride back to town now” she looked at me, “you’re quitting?” “Oh, no I’m just going to ride this last segment.”  So maybe I wasn’t feeling that fresh and the heat was starting to get to me.

Soon after leaving Aid 3 my stomach started to resist anything and everything. I was able to force down another maple syrup to try to get some energy but was having none of my drink mix. I kept trying to force water down.  I went by the first check point and the workers asked if I needed water and I literally just stared at them because I couldn’t comprehend what that meant. I kept pedaling and forcing down the water.

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Just a few more pushes and I’ll be there…

The last 15 miles were the hardest miles I have ever done in my life. I was so tired, I could barely keep my eyes open and even tried to closed them twice for extended periods, “I’m just resting my eyes” really only works when you’re lying on the couch. I convinced myself that was a really good way to get another brain injury. I also debated taking a nap, I had 6 hours till the cut-off so I could take a little nap but then what if the lady in 3rd is close to me and I’m napping. Then I thought maybe I would just lie on the side of the trail that way whoever the next rider was would wake me because they would think I was injured or dead, also not a great plan. Finally, I convinced myself that getting through the last few miles would be the quickest way to take the longest nap. I settled on that reasoning and kept pedaling. I topped my bottle off with fresh ice water at the last check point.

I made it to the final 5 miles that I had pre-ridden the day before. Now I should mention the cattlegates, they are spring loaded so you lift from one side, it fans up, you go under, and it releases back down. Now I have been doing one pull-up so you can gauge my strength. There are probably 12-17 on the course. There were maybe 3 in the last 8 miles, which let me tell you were a struggle. I wondered at some point if I would just have to wait for someone to show up to open it. At the beginning of the race I would hop off, bend over, lift it up, wheel my bike under, release, and hop back on. Well, by the last few miles I would hop off, squat down, load my legs, use all my strength to thrust it over my head, hold it up, wobble underneath, while praying I didn’t release it onto the back tire, and after a moment of sheer panic thinking my bike would get smashed, get back on and ride away.

After getting through the last cattleguard I was somewhat relieved that I just had to pedal home now. I got back on and started down the first little descent when I suddenly saw the first snake of the day. At mile 103, I just stopped and went, “excuse me sir, I’d like to pass, would you be so kind to get off the trail.” Yeah, I was fully delirious at this point because I definitely did my best Mary Poppins impression. I wasn’t even scared I had no energy for any kind of emotion, it was like all my adrenaline was gone, there was no flight or fight response. But he obliged and slithered off the trail. “Thank you!” And I continued on my way.

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Okay, so maybe my parents could improve on the finish line photos hahaha

I hit the last section being the only pavement of the day and went under the finish banner. I immediately pulled off to the side, got off my bike, and laid down.  I laid there for a while, taking everything in, like when you do savasana in yoga to absorb all the good juju. I laid there as everyone talked around me swapping stories of the day with me interjecting when I could muster. I remember thinking this is what it is all about. nap at the end .jpg I finally got up and talked to the woman who beat me. She was an incredibly strong rider, having done the whole thing on flat pedals which convinced me that even without my mechanicals she would have beat me.

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When you finish just in time for the awards ceremony…haha

Am I going to do it again? Ohhhh you betcha! I’m honestly a little sad that I spent so many years doing Leadville because this race and community is so amazing. Every rider that passed me when I was dealing with my mechanicals offered to help, every volunteer was so great on course, my parents also put in a long day and even drove my car through a river to get to an aid station.

I for the life of me can’t figure out why this race isn’t sold out every year. The terrain is incredible, it reminded me of the Grand Canyon, where there is just so much life and levels of vegetation–definitely not what I was expecting spending time in the South Dakota Badlands. And it’s 99% singletrack. Next summer I’ll be studying for the bar so was thinking of doing it as a team with 50 miles each (yes, you read that as an open invitation), and hoping the next year to possibly go after the women’s course record. My time was 12:45 and I had 44 minutes of stop time, for a comparison at Leadville I usually have 8 minutes of stop time.

Here’s the thing, I’ve never had a race crack the ‘Top 5 Experiences on My Bike’ list but this one definitely did.

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Taken right before I ate a whole chicken.

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Barb won her division in the 25-mile distance

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My parents should definitely win an award for how willing they are to jump into my adventures!

“That’s what the trail means. You can go out there by yourself and cry and nobody will hear you except the spirits, and they’ll help you.” -Mr. Baker.