Sunday, July 23, 2006

A little soggy, A little foggy

Date: July 22
Mileage: 106
July mileage: 576.2

I am really starting to grow into mountain biking, and not because I'm a natural. Quite the opposite - every pedal stroke is a small struggle - but it's always a challenge, and I'm completely addicted.

That said, I took a decent thrashing in yesterday's Soggy Bottom 100 - trail rash, bumps, bruises, bent fender, broken spoke, seatpost askew, flat rear shock, mud in my teeth. Through it all, my workhorse of a mountain bike motored on and carried me to the finish in 13 hours 17 minutes - which isn't as fast as I had hoped for, but after a few violent spills and some hard lessons about the demoralizing power of downhill, I'm pretty glad to be one of about half in the field to just have finished 106-mile course.

The ride got off to a great start Saturday morning, launching from the cheering crowds of the Seaview Bar and Campground in Hope. The 16 or so riders split off into two packs of eight, of which I happily joined the back and coasted six miles to the trail. When we hit the dirt, I started passing people. I was feeling great - better than great. Without even putting in a hard effort, I managed to climb to the front of the "back" pack and hit Resurrection Pass - mile 25 - before 11:30, just under two and a half hours in. I believed I was on solid pace to finish in about 12 hours. Then I took my first fall.

For most of the course, the trail snakes through the loose boulders and gravel of open alpine tundra and the roots and overgrown vegetation of the forest - all very beautiful, but very much remote wilderness. Sometimes no wider than two bike tires side by side, the trail left little in the way of exit points, and my technical riding skills don't really include bunny hopping at 15 miles per hour. I was only two miles into my descent when I first bit the gravel - hard. Never one to take personal injury gracefully, I took to holding my brakes with a kung fu grip while I brooded on my sore, swollen right elbow. The next 18 miles of downhill went pretty well - except for the fact that it took me nearly two and a half hours to ride that stretch. And to be honest, I was a little relieved to hit Cooper Landing and flip a U-turn for the subsequent 18-mile climb.

I know my limitations with my set of technical skills, and I also know that in mountain biking, falls are going to happen. But it's hard for me, during the long haul, not to let them get to me. I took two more dives near the pass going back up, and by the time I hit the Devil's Pass Trailhead, my pace having slowed considerably, I was feeling a little discouraged. Ironically, my turning point came just after a fall about halfway up Devils Pass - my worst fall, actually. Locked in a steady climb, I felt an encouraging surge in strength and upped my speed through a narrow stretch of overgrown trail - at this point, thinking I still had a chance to finish in under 13 hours. Moving about 7 mph, I completely overlooked a big boulder and hit it head-on, bouncing sideways and tumbling over what turned out to be a very steep embankment. I first touched down about five feet below the trail, landing on my shoulder and flipping a half somersault as my bike sailed overhead. For what must have been several minutes I lay there on my side - my bleeding, battered legs "pinned" beneath a 30-pound mountain bike, soaked in the prickly discomfort of rain-drenched devils club and staring almost helplessly up that steep hillside. As those silent seconds passed, my situation became a whole lot clearer - and and a whole lot funnier.

I realized that for nearly 50 miles of the physically difficult course, I had become so consumed with "not" falling that I had completely lost track of my forward motion. In fact, I hardly even noticed any actual fatigue while I was dwelling on what are really just a few silly bumps and bruises (and, from what I learned after returning to the start, were actually on the low spectrum of injuries acquired by competitors during the ride.) At that point I had been alone long enough to feel no shame in talking to myself, so I launched into an audible self-lecture about not being such a baby as a clawed my way back up the hill. I returned to the trail, righted the front wheel, mounted the odometer back on and took a long look up the pass - with wispy clouds blanketing the peaks over an open sea of purple lupine. I was filled with a strange reassurance that these sort of moments are rare - moments to experience what it's like to be completely alive.

So I finished the ride. And I'm glad I did it. It was tough for me, but not in the ways I expected - which is an all-around great life lesson. I surprised myself with my physical capacity in climbing and also learned a little more about my limitations, with more understanding about how far I have come - and how far I have left to go.

Carlos, the godfather of Soggy Bottom and an all-around great guy, said it best when he quoted William Blake ... "you never know what is enough until you know what is too much."

So thanks, Carlos, for inviting me to the Soggy Bottom (And also to Carlos' sponsors, such as Banjo Brothers, who help keep this "nonrace" alive.) I had an amazing experience, and met some great people. It's a little sad that just as I'm starting to become a part the Alaska endurance mountain biking scene, I'm leaving it for the far away climes of Juneau. But I'll be back. Bumps and bruises can't keep me away.

Also, I'm sorry I don't have any good pictures. This photo I took the night before in the Hope Campground. I tried to go really light during the race so I left the bulky digital behind. In neglecting to bring nonessential items, I also neglected to really bring much in the way of food. But more on that tomorrow. Now, it's time to sleep.


  1. I knew you would make it. Great job... you eventually get used to taking falls.
    If you want to work on your MTB "skillz" I recommend reading "Mountain Bike Like A Champion" by Ned Overend. He tells you lots of secrets like how to fall correctly, bunny hop, etc and has drills to practice on your balance and stuff. I hear he has a video too, but haven't checked that out yet.

    Congrats again!

  2. I think Carlos is a sadist and the whole damned race is full of crazy people, but I admire the endurance of all the finishers. Good job.

    And congrats on the new job. Put some new tires on the road bike and you can catch the ferry up to Haines for their annual race up to Haines Junction, or thereabouts. Call Sockeye Cycles in Haines after you get settled in Juneau. they can give you the lowdown on the race.

  3. Thank you for joining us in this annual pilgrimage of the mind, body and bike.
    We all appreciate your efforts and willingness to finish what you started.

  4. YEAH!!!

    way to ride it jill!

    way to get back on it after the spills and such!

  5. Will you please take a rest. I can't keep up this pace... Congratulations.

  6. Congrats!

    I still cannot fathom that much singletrack in a race.

  7. Great job on finishing a very tough race! We've all had our share of bumps and bruises along the way. I got into mountain biking when I was in high school and had no fear and no respect for what could happen to me. Now I respect what can happen to me and I'm trying not to have any fear.

    Here's one thing I've learned over the years. If you think you're going to crash, you will. Sure you need to spend time working on your skills but a lot of it is mental. I've done well over 100 mountain bike races over the last 17 years and I still have to tell myself on tough descents to focus and not think about crashing. You need to let the front wheel move around a little when you hit stuff. If you tense up, it can't and you will get launched off the bike. Of course even if you're really experienced and you never crash, you aren't pushing it hard enough.

  8. Great job, Jill! Absolutely outstanding!

  9. Very inspiring! I am in awe. I just did my first century on the road and could not imagine doing that on a mountain bike trail. I'm very impressed how you got right back on again after the spills.

  10. well.done.

    we have an event here called Triple Bypass. but, we do the distance on road bikes.

    that's a very technical course... you did well!!

  11. awesome sunset, mountain biking takes you beyond the definition of athletic, when you choose to ride a bicycle, up hills over rocks and moon-esque terrain,giggle at your own lunacy and question your dedication and commitment to doing a logover or huge slideing downhill and go back for seconds and thirds, you transcend the definition of an athlete, you become something else, what that something else is surpasses my legitimate and readily available vocabulary skills, but one thing is for sure it's not for everyone, but you're a part of whatever that undefinable element that mountain biking is, and how it changes people.

  12. Jill. Loved your story. Dan V told me about the race and I'll be up there this year to do it. Took all of 6 hours to make the decision, get a ticket and look up any info I could find. Have not been to Alaska since 1987.
    Thanks for a great story. Looking forward to meeting you.
    Michelle G


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