Ten toes, all attached (or, I get by with a little bit (LOT) of help from my friends)

Last Sunday, I got the message that I was off the waitlist and into the White Mountains 100 race. This is one of my favorite events in one of my favorite places. I took a look at the weather and found a mileage plane ticket up for less than $20. I check with Carrie who said go for it (awesome!!) and how could I refuse. Don/Anne offered up a place to stay and car to borrow, Bob offered the use of his bike (same one I used for the last two WM100 rides). It was all coming together. I was most worried about my lack of cold weather acclimation. (Adam gave the good advice – come back with 10 toes, all attached and working.) I got everything together, enjoyed the flight up, got a pick up from the airport from Curt and then gathered fuel and chemical warming packs (along with special heat foot liners, etc). I was as ready as I was going to get (without shelling out significant $$ for fancy footwear, etc.). Here I am lined up for the start (it was around 5F, I think):

The start was festival, everyone staying warm and rarin’ to go. Just to prove that I am not the only crazy psyched-up person at the race (I’m in the background right of this photo):

You can see that I was proudly representing the Tarik Saleh bike club (zoom in on the handlebars if you can’t see it):

The trail was great, the sunrise and then blue skies were fantastic, and I love seeing everyone out there ready to enjoy the White Mountains. I felt great, adjusting (removing) layers — except my feet were getting chilly. I stopped, put in some chemical warmers, threw on gators/layers, which helped, but not for long. I enjoyed the ride but was beginning to worry. The challenge is that the true requirement to finish the race is mental, so I couldn’t let myself start worrying too much. But I also did not want to loose any toes. The scenery was beautiful but as I got closer to the first check point (~17 miles in) my feet were too cold for so early in the race – I was already reaching into my bag of warm tricks. And with my pace, I was looking at the lowest elevation overnight – potentially -30F. If I were out on my own, I would have turned back. I was happy to see Bob, Jill, Patrik, Larry, and Michael at checkpoint 1 – I put on my heavy over-boots and warmed up my feet for almost an hour. My feet were warm to the touch, but I could not feel a few of my right toes. The temperature was still rising (it was about noon now, and my mental plan was to charge on through checkpoint 1 at about 10am..) I went back about half a mile to the cabin, put a new log in the fire, and decided to give it more time. After almost another hour, I decided that I would try riding out on my own, so as the checkpoint crew came to eat lunch and pack up the cabin, I went out.

Here is where the story takes a (very minor) “bad decision tree” (ala the Mountaineers disaster stories). A large group of snow machiners had come by after the race was all through and tore up the trail – I cruised along, let out more and more air of the tires, and was eventually pushing the bike back up the hill towards the start line/exit. Was I in that bad of shape and didn’t realize it? I didn’t think so.. Then along came Jeff, Greg, and Josh – they said the trail was torn up for a long while, and I should turn and follow them on the short cut across to the trail shelter cabin – much better riding and just a bit longer back to the start. Who am I to think for myself and ignore Jeff?? (not just any Jeff.. this Jeff). And the checkpoint 1 crew would be coming over to the trail shelter cabin to setup the final (optional) checkpoint for the racers. It made total sense. Anyway, after a mile or two down the Trail Shelter cutoff, I started realizing the bad decision – the race support didn’t know my plans.. They did have my GPS spot tracking at least, but what would they make of it? And perhaps the checkpoint 1 crew would go the “long way” over to the the trail shelter – my original path, to keep an eye on me. Well, I was quite relieved when Patrik (from checkpoint 1) caught up with me!! We loaded up my bike, I hopped on the snow machine, and I thanked him for getting me out of a potentially bad spot/situation. It was all fine, but one or two minor/”reasonable at the time” decisions could have been worse. We cruised along over to the trail shelter cabin and I tried to be helpful in setting up the final check point / support station. We cheered the race front runners coming through. Bob and Larry came over – they had gone the other way, but they were getting low on gas and wanted to meet up with the race sweep/snow machine to refill (and I suspect also keep an eye on me). A little unnecessary drama that all turned out fine (phew). After help Susan and Amanda get all set with the Trail Shelter, Bob, Larry, Patrik and I went on to the start. A few minor trail adventures, including digging snow machines out of the deep off-trail snow, and we were back. I enjoyed a finisher burger and some HooDoo IPA and was happy to see several folks cross the finish line. It was not the day I expected or planned, but it was still a fantastic day in the White Mountains.

I am very appreciated of all the support – Carrie, Fairbanks friends, WM100 staff and volunteers, all the racers, and Adam (for good advice).

I went out to Chena Hot Springs for the healing waters. Ahhhh

And in case you wonder – my feet have no black (or even white) spots. (Three years ago, I had black on the tips of my toes and lost ~3mm off my big toe – likely part of the reason I was more susceptible this year..). It still feels like I have a small rock embedded in two of my toes – I don’t really have feeling back yet in them, but I’ll take good care of them (more hot springs!). I’ve enjoyed catching up with many Fairbanks folks (but I’m sorry I missed so many more!!).

And a final thought from lots of time on the bike seat to think it over – it is often hard to know if you made the right decision but it can be immediately obvious if you made the wrong decision. I didn’t lose any toes and I think that I made mostly all the right decisions.