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.

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

  1. So glad to hear you did the race your way and made the right decision to protect the toes! Happy to have offered the good advice and looking forward to seeing you back in the DMV!

  2. Good to meet you, Matt. Nice write-up! You made the right decision. It definitely got colder out there and a bit windy in places. Combine that with calorie depletion and it’s really hard to keep your body warm, especially your extremities. I want to bike the White Mountains 100 next, but I have to figure out how to keep my feet warm.

  3. Well, I am glad you had a good adventure in the beautiful White Mountains, and I’m really glad you didn’t lose any toes! xoxo

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