Monday, August 8, 2011

Soggy Report


5:53 sunrise
22:19 sunset

Well, I'm back.

The Soggy Bottom 100 is one crazy race. And I only rode a third of it: 56km from the Devil's Pass trailhead back to the town of Hope. It took me considerably longer than I ever would have guessed and, even though I expected rain and mud and cold, it was rainier and colder than I imagined it would be. One of these years I am going to be learn how to be comfortable in cold and wet conditions when on a bike.

Many riders DNF'd and a few smart folks didn't start. While the day started out with decent looking weather, the passes were windy and, after about 4pm, the rain began and the temperatures dropped down to 5C. I'll say that the mud wasn't as soul-sucking as the mud in last summer's TransRockies, but it splashed everywhere and this event is clearly appropriately named.

At 9am Carlos, the event organizer, counted down the start and they were off! Thirty-eight solo riders (I think) and 6 relay teams headed out towards Resurrection Pass.


Ben, Monika, Dan, and I headed over to Cooper Landing - the first checkpoint.
We had high expectations for Jonah. He's a strong rider and we figured he would be among the first few in to Cooper Landing. Indeed, he arrived in about 4 hours. He wasn't feeling great and he debated dropping out but, after a sandwich and a 10 minute rest, he turned around and went back on course.

Tristan came in to the checkpoint 10 or so minutes after Jonah. Having skipped his morning coffee, he downed the one we brought for him pretty quickly.
With our two solo riders in and out of the checkpoint we had more than an hour to wait for our teammates to come in. Paula and April had a great ride, but they said the pass was really windy and they just barely missed hitting a bear cub on the last kilometer of the trail!

Once Dan and Monika headed out for leg 2, it was on to the next checkpoint at Devil's Creek.

Jonah and Tristan both contemplated abandoning the race when they came in but, after a rest, some food and warmer clothing, they also both decided to plug on.

The sweeps were scheduled to head out at 6:30pm and so as 6pm approached, Ben and I got dressed and prepared to head out. It looked like the organizers were going to allow us to start before our teammates came in. At around ten to 6pm, Dan arrived and Ben got on his bike. I waited until about 6:10pm and then decided to get going. It was raining and I was already chilly just sitting around the checkpoint.

I met Monika about 5 minutes out and while she nearly didn't see me coming up the trail, she actually seemed chipper (although tired). I was in a good mood.

The first hour of riding went well. In places, I was cruising through wildflowers that grew above my head. It was wet, but beautiful. I couldn't wait to get into the pass and see what it looked like there. I warmed up considerably and, while I knew I was climbing, I was actually waiting for it to get worse. The good news is that it never did. I found the climb quite gentle and (thank gawd) I didn't have to get off and push at any point. I had to re-arrange my clothing choices early on and I snapped this photo before coming out into the alpine.
As I left the trees, however, the wind and the rain picked up. I was incredibly grateful for the pvc jacket that I bought specifically for this race. Once again I stopped to add more clothing and grab a snack. Oh - and to take a selfie as well, of course. It immediately became clear to me that stopping was not a good idea. This would not be the photo-filled ride I had hoped for. I was not climbing enough to keep warm and even adding clothes and eating food did not compensate for my lack of movement. I tossed a peanut butter cup into my jersey, chugged the accelerade I brought and hoped that I could get through the pass and back down the other side before I would need to eat again.

Although the rain was bad and I was cold, I was feeling pretty good when I got to Devil's Pass cabin. I changed into dry gloves, took this photo of the volunteers, and got ready to climb the last few switchbacks to the top.
Then, as I began to descend, things started to go badly. The wind was whipping around and the extra breeze from going downhill did not help. It took less than 20 minutes for me to have feet that felt like blocks of ice and fingers that couldn't pull on my brake levers. I was using my wrists to pull the levers back. This was not good. My teeth were chattering and I didn't know how to get warmer. The cold saps one's energy in the most horrid of ways. I just kept going.... but slowly. I remembered Paula saying to me "Jenn, you are going to love the descent" because the first part of her leg was the last part of mine.

There was no love for the descent. There was a lot of really, really cold and unhappy and distressed Jenn. But of course you keep moving because what else is there to do?

Then I was passed by a solo rider: Kevin. We chatted briefly and I let him by. Perhaps 15 minutes later I saw his bike on the side of the trail and, partly worried, partly curious, I stopped. Immediately I saw why he had dismounted. Two hikers were setting up camp for the night and they had started a fire. Kevin was warming his hands. I joined him.

We both stayed there in the rain and chatted with (Jeff?) an elementary school teacher from Moose Pass. Jeff was *awesome* and if anyone in the magic interweb universe has any idea who he is, please please pass on my eternal thanks to him for saving me from hypothermia. Kevin and I stayed for perhaps 40 minutes - until our fingers could bend again.

Soon after, I descended into the trees and, while it was still cold, it became a tolerable, deep-set cold. There were occasional short climbs, which helped increase my core temperature. I must say, I have never been so thrilled to see uphills as I was during this race.

However, I was not able to push myself to ride quickly. I was just too damn cold and the wind generated by my own movement seemed worse than the slow pace at which I chose to labour. That was probably a mistake and in retrospect I should have tried harder to hurry up and finish because I ended up having to ride the last 10+ miles in the dark. Ben completed the same leg in 2 hours less than I did. I'm slower than he is, yes, but not that much slower. I knew I had to keep moving to stay warm but I wish I had pressed on with more focus.

The last 10 or so miles seemed interminably long. The narrow, overgrown trail was a challenge to navigate. Riding in the dark, in bear territory, through muck and bushes, sucks. It was slow, I was scared and, despite the awesome lights borrowed from Sierra and Tony, visibility was a challenge. I thought every stump was an animal. My heart was pounding.
Finally, I decided to wait for a rider to catch up to me so that I wouldn't be alone. His brakes were toast and he wasn't able to ride downhill but I didn't care. I was happy to have someone with me. We alternately rode and walked our bikes out to the road, yelling "woah bear," "youpie," or "hey hey" at the regular intervals.

Just before we came to the road we were caught by the sweeps, Tim and Oscar. I was so happy to see them. Tim asked if we had seen the bear as they were following fresh tracks in front of them (which meant the bear was between us...). No, we had not seen any bears but I had seen lots of scat. *Shudder* - that freaked me out even more. But at least there were four of us together now and once we got to the road I knew we were home.

Dan actually came out to see if I wanted a ride back to town. It was very sweet of him but a ride?! At that point?! No way in hell was I getting into a car. A gravel road with no bushes or mud to contend with was like sleeping in your own bed after weeks away. I was just so happy to be there.

So Bo (the last solo rider - did I get his name right?), Tim, Oscar and I rolled into Hope around 1am. There were people there cheering for us which was super awesome. My teammates were there too - yay - and Carlos made sure that we went inside the social hall where the fire was on in the wood stove. Monika stripped my wet clothes off of me and I stood for some time warming up by the stove. I had some water. I had some beer. Bo and I shared the halibut burger that I asked my team to buy for me if I didn't get in before midnight. I thought about the whole experience.

It's a crazy thing, this wilderness mountain bike endurance racing routine. And I didn't even ride the full course! Those 100 mile guys and gals are truly amazing. Jonah finished 6th, Tristan ended his race by running out (he was cold) and all of our relay racers completed their legs. It was a successful trip for the Yukon contingent.

Would I try it again? Strangely, yes. In order to solo successfully I would not only need to be dedicated about training (I know I can do that) but I would also need the weather to cooperate. I honestly don't know how the racers who came in to the second checkpoint managed to HTFU and go back out. But I'd like to try it again. I'd like to get into that head space where you are alone with just your personal experiences and wherewithal. I found myself using Jill Homer's surefire way of figuring out how things are going. Ask yourself: "Am I about to die? No? Then press on." It's remarkably effective. So Soggy Bottom 100, I might be back to see you again next year.

2 comments:

Julie said...

Would love to see you next year. I still have a score to settle with that race. I have never been able to make it passed the second checkpoint. I never imagined riding 100 miles could be that tough. In a way it's harder than the winter 100 milers. It will take some serious focus and good luck in the weather area, for sure.

Glad you got to experience it, you are one badass Canadian chick!

Notorious T said...

The Soggy Bottom is a strange animal involving a lot of strange beasts. Both the two- and four-legged kind! See you next year!