White Mountains 2011

The White Mountains are a BLM managed area about 50 miles north northeast of Fairbanks. Last year, Ann and Ed organized the first 100 mile event there. Hilary, Bob and other Fairbanks friends volunteered and I read about it more in Jill Homer’s blog. I was psyched to do it in 2011, but by the time I signed up (6am AK time the day that sjgnup opened) I was way down on the waitlist. I did eventually get in, it lined up with Torsten’s spring break, so we got the whole family set to head up. we changed the tickets to add a few days in Juneau on the way.

despite Alaska air’s effort to thwart the flight, I made it to the pre-race meeting. it was so great to see everyone (I finally met Jill face to face for the first time!). Ullr (Norse god of snow) dropped me a big hint when I won ski wax/scrapper as a door prize, but did I listen?)

I woke up early Sun to do the final gear pack, have some coffee and breakfast, and do a little more gear worry.. for this event, there was no required gear. it was just 100 miles, and at the start of the race you had to declare bike, ski, or run. and you have to finish with what you started. I wanted to be ready for “worst case” — I slip, break a leg, and need to stay warm until rescued. I borrowed Bob’s GPS spot unit (that has both a “help” button that sent Bob a message which he could use to alert race support snow machines, and a 911 button which would bring helicopters (and bills..). I had a stove and fuel (thanks Don/Anne), spare clothes, gloves, socks, and much more. I was mentally planning for 30 hours and temps between -20F and +10F. I met Jeff (from Anchorage) at the top of Ballaine hill for the ride out to the trailhead.

in Fairbanks, things were warm (+30s..). I had planned to ride in my big Sorels — I started out in them, but switched in the first mile to my running shoes (with plastic grocery bags for vapor barriers). (So more heavy gear to carry…) The start was exciting, and a little daunting (lotsa fat tires!)

The first bit of the race was a bit congested, but lots of fun. The riding was great. A bit of up and down and some whoop-de-dos (I did two kodak-moment endos over the front of the bike when I hit soft patches). The trail started softening up, and I had to start walking. I made it into checkpoint 1 and grabbed some chow from the awesome volunteers there. The weather was fantastic (I kept working the layers to avoid sweating too much and cooling down on the downhills — layers are the trick!). The views reminded me of Tolovana Hot Springs (right in the area) and I remember all the trips in with friends over the years. I only snapped one picture as I thought I’d head to the second checkpoint, and start getting more picture there.. But here’s some great black spruce:

I was averaging around 5 mph, and had set a personal “cutoff time” of about 30 hours, but the trail was softening up quick. The temp at checkpoint one was already 40F – yoikes!!! I made it to about 25 miles in, and was walking more and more and more. I turned on the GPS to track my speed, and for 3 miles I averaged 2.5 mph. I pushed the bike 95+% of those three miles. I was having a blast, enjoying the scenery, weather, and effort. Ann and Bill came up on a snowmachine (as the sweepers) and asked how things were doing. 2.5mph mean at 40 hour ride — no hangin’ with friends in Fairbanks, finishing with exhaustion for the flight home.. It was a tough choice. The weather forecast was for snow overnight (1-2 inches) and then warm temps the next day, so it didn’t sound like things would speed up. I was planning originally to not sleep on the 30 hours, but 40 hours, plus no sleep?! Finally, it was around 3:30pm, and if I bailed, I had a ride. If I waited until 8pm, it might be 9am before I could get a ride (they would obviously do a “quick-out” for injury or other emergency, but just for a “slow rider”, I would try to find a convenient ride out.. ) With great disappointment, I decided it was time to head back. I was still having a blast, and no issue with energy, temperature, or anything else (other than time)..

Bill and I got the bike tied onto the snow machine, Ann took off on skis to keep “sweeping”, and we did the two hour snow machine back to the race start. Peter picked me up, and I made it home for a nice beer and pork chop dinner. I would have rather been on the trail, but when the snow seriously started falling in Fairbanks, I knew it had been the right choice. It was a fantastic event, I had tons of fun. Thanks to the race organizers, volunteers, and participants. I’ll be back with wider tires or skis (and hopefully cooler temperatures!).