Showing posts from February, 2007

Feeling stronger, but more uncertain

Today is Day 10 off the bike, and I have to admit, it’s killing me ... slowly. Every day, I develop a little more range of motion in my knee. And every day, I take that range a little too far. In the morning, I’m on top of the world and bounding up hills. And in the evening, I’m sore, stiff and frustrated, and rifling through the yellow pages to find sports medicine doctors. But I never call them when the morning comes. This evening, however, I’m announcing my intentions on my blog. Hopefully, it will hold me accountable for at least giving a doctor a call.

Today, I stretched my knee and coaxed it just beyond a 90-degree angle. I started out 10 days ago with a rigid 180-degree leg. After a day, I could bend it to 170 degrees, 160 degrees, and so on. It’s a strange way to heal, and it always makes me feel a day away from invincible when I get up in the morning. Now that I’m about a day away from being physically able to turn pedals again, I figure I should at least seek out some profess…

350 saga

It's cliche to say, but this really is the kind of thing you can't make up.

Nearly everyone, even the race officials, expected Pete to be into the last checkpoint of the race by midnight last night, and across the finish line before 2 p.m. today - probably well ahead of the three-day mark. When this morning came and went with no sign of the lead cyclist, speculation started to fly. Did he oversleep? Did he burn out? Did the chasers catch him?

When Pete finally rolled into Nikolai at 10 a.m., the truth started to emerge. The trail across the Farewell Burn was not hard and fast ground. It was a minefield of invisible tussocks and ice chunks buried in new snow. Pete fell over "at least 100 times." But he kept riding. And as he trudged over those 90 miles, temperatures dipped beneath 30 below. He wore every piece of clothing he had, and he still felt cold. Sometime in the early morning, he finally reached Buffalo Camp - a wall tent with a wood stove inside, stocked with fi…

Geoff's Susitna story

(Photo taken during Susitna 100 by Frank McGuire) By Geoff Roes
Well, the Susitna has come and gone, and the last thing you all probably want to read about are more race details, but I thought this would be as good a time as any to make my posting debut on Jill's blog.

First of all, I'd like to say thanks to everyone for the advice and words of encouragement leading up to the race, as well as the congratulatory comments after. It somehow made it easier knowing that I had dozens of people scattered throughout the world tracking my progress on their computer.

Anyway, here is the experience of my first 100 mile race:

The start was just how I like my races to start - hectic and sudden. (after not sleeping much at all the night before the last thing I want to do is stand around in the cold any longer than I have to) We were required to declare our mode of travel by 8:45 and we rolled into the parking lot at about 8:42. By the time I jumped out of the car and told the race director that…


(Photo by Mike Curiak, 2005)

I’ve been glued to Iditarod Invitational race reports. Web update voyeurism has pretty much defined my day. That and my job ... in there, somewhere.

Despite an alder-choked trail setback, Pete Basinger is still tearing up the race. After he left the Puntilla Lake checkpoint at mile 165 yesterday evening, he opted to take the long way around, adding 33 miles onto what is already a 350-mile race. After nearly 18 hours of no new information, the race officials finally had him into the Rohn checkpoint, mile 210, at 11:15 a.m. and out two hours later. Word is he slept a little out on the trail last night. He had 140 more miles of what is reported to be hard, fast trail ... some of it with little to no snow, which is good if you’re a biker. And at 1:15 he still had nearly 30 hours to finish in record time. Can Pete bike 140 reportedly hardpacked miles in 30 hours, even on little to no sleep? I don’t personally know Pete, but I’m guessing it would take a grizzly be…

Glad I'm here, wish I was there

I did sit on the couch with an ice pack on my knee for a decent part of the morning, squinting out the window at a brutally unfair blaze of sun until I could take it no longer. Even if my knee still can’t bend far enough to pedal a bicycle, at could at least drag it somewhere. Anywhere. Anywhere but here.

I decided to drive out the the glacier visitors center and go for a walk. A simple walk. I’d take it slow and loosen up my knee. I started at the edge of the lake, making my way across the ice. I veered of the trail when the footing became too uneven and shuffled through several inches of soft, unbroken powder. Even during the popular hours of a beautiful early Sunday afternoon, the wide-open lake ice serves as the perfect crowd sifter. Skiers, walkers and runners fan out in all directions, across all points, so a gimp like me can waddle along in peace.

I walked for a while, watching every step, focused only on my gait and how far each knee came up. Several minutes passed this way. And…


Today was a beautiful day: sunny sky, dry air, new snow and temperatures that haven’t been above freezing in more than a week ... leaving nothing but powder dusting as far as the roads and trails stretch. In short, perfect conditions.

I, however, can’t say the same about myself. Still have that mysterious knee pain. I’m unable to bend my right knee at more than a 30 degree angle without pushing through a lot of pain. It has good periods and bad, but what doesn’t change is how weak and sore it feels, regardless of what angle I have it at.

Since it’s been a week, I’m beginning to have a lot of empathy for what Geoff when through earlier this month, struggling with mysterious foot pains. It’s really frustrating, especially since I don’t know the diagnosis or even the cause. I had that theory about overextending it in a posthole, but who knows?

The worst part, beyond everyone asking me ‘Why are you limping?’ is that all of this pent-up energy is just pooling and fermenting inside of me. I’ve…


(This photo was contributed to the Susitna 100 Web site by Michael Schoder. There are other cool photos of the race at

The sore knee I sustained during the Susitna 100 turned out to be more of a full-fledged injury. My best guess is I either twisted or mildly sprained it after another cyclist brushed me over and I punched my right leg into a hip-deep snowdrift, probably overextending my knee in the process. I remember feeling sharp tinges of pain that wore off pretty fast. But since that happened three miles into the race, I'm guessing that riding 100 more miles didn't exactly do wonders for the healing process.

Whatever the cause, I'm still gimpy and unable to use it much. Today was the first time since early Sunday morning that I have been able to bend it at all without shooting pain - it's been reduced to dull pain. After couple of days of stagnant pain levels, I became more and more stressed about its state and the prospec…

Susitna 2, Chapter 4

(The Susitna River, Mile 33. One thing I always neglect but wish I did was take more pictures. There's a stark beauty out there that I was never quite able to capture. Mostly, what I got were long stretches of snowmobile tracks and sky.)

Any long-term comfort that may have been provided by a warm meal and a half hour in front of a fire wore off the minute I let the subzero chill off Flathorn Lake hit my skin. I thought it important to change into something dry for the duration of what was certain to be five more hours of riding through the ungodliest cold hours of the early morning. But even as I thrashed and struggled with my clothing, I could feel the wind biting the pink skin on my torso. It sucked heat like a vacuum from my exposed legs and shoeless feet as I stood toes-curled on top of a thin drybag. Changing clothes out there was one of the worst ideas I had since deciding to ride a full-day winter ultramarathon with a leaking camelbak (I haven't talked about that proble…

Susitna 2, Chapter 3

(When we left Palmer this morning, it was -9 outside. I almost forgot how beautiful the woods are when hoarfrost begins to coat everything - and the dead landscape transforms into a twisting crystal sculpture, the kind of trinket your great-grandmother stockpiled that always appeared to be on the verge of shattering. I felt sad to be leaving this cold place, and it made me realize how quickly pain is forgotten. )

For having just run 52 miles, Geoff looked much too perky. I didn't even know how to greet him in that kind of situation so all I said was, "You're fast."

"No, you're fast," he said. I tried to laugh. He had to slow down to my duck-footed hobble just to talk with me.

"You should just go," I said. "I've probably got miles more of this."

I will. But I'll stick with you for a bit," he said with the urgency of someone who knows he's in the lead but has no idea how far.

"Running a good race?" I asked.

He grin…

Susitna 2, Chapter 2

(Our good friends in Palmer followed us to the race start to cheer us on and take pre -race pictures. You know they're good friends when they're willing to get up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning and stand for 45 minutes in subfreezing cold.)

Trying to pilot a bicycle on top of snow and ice is unpredictable at best, and impossible at worst. I think this single aspect, more so than even the cold, is what makes winter cycling exciting to me. Trail conditions range from glare ice to packed powder to sugary powder to slurpee mess. And the best part - they can change from one hour to the next. The trail I see is not the same trail the race leaders or the bring-up-the-rear riders see. It is in constant flux, a fluid surface bending to the whims of motion - the wind's motion, the weather's motion, my motion.

Winter cyclists always talk about finding the perfect line - the place where the trail's the hardest packed. Often, it's no wider than the ski of a snowmobile or ano…

Susitna 2, Chapter 1

(Thanks to Ben for providing the picture. This isn't me at the finish. It was very, very dark when I finished the race. This picture was taken while I was still perky and warm at Eaglesong Lodge, Mile 47.)

Like most people who relish in getting themselves in over their heads, I tend to be a bit superstitious. I treat weather reports like religious text - true to the sense that you believe them - and never speak of them lest they come back to bite me. The night before the race is an important ritual of stress and acceptance. Then, the morning of the race is a reality check of clutter and chaos.

I believed it an interesting omen when Geoff momentarily lost control of the truck we were driving, with my bike thrown haphazardly in the back, on a patch of ice near Big Lake. I believed a more ominous omen when I pulled my overturned camelbak out of the truck to find it soaked and empty of water (I actually knew that camelbak bladder leaked out of the top and still took it, thereby making o…

Cold ride

Date: Feb. 17
Mileage: 102.9
February mileage: 361.1
Temperature upon departure: 11

I have some more cognizant thoughts about the Susitna 100 that I'd like to write about when I'm a little less sleep-deprived. But today, between my Sunday duties of eating food that all tastes overwhelmingly like salt (why does dehydration do that?) and physically hauling a crippled Geoff from the car to the couch to bath to bed, I wanted to post a quick race report.

First of all, Geoff not only persevered through his injury, but he came back full force to shatter the old Susinta 100 foot course record (according to some people we talked to this morning. I'm not sure yet if it's official.) He finished in about 21 hours 40 minutes. Just behind me :-). In fact, we hopscotched during a fair portion of the race. It was a little demoralizing at first, but the fact is ... Geoff's a strong runner, and I'm not all that fast on a bike. For me, snowbiking - even in good conditions - is like co…

Let's get it started

If you're checking in after 9 a.m. AST Saturday morning, check on my progress here.

About 12 more hours to wait. I feel a little nauseated with anxiety. I wouldn't want it any other way.

However, I can't really pinpoint why I feel this way. It's not that I have performance anxiety because I'm trying to win this thing. This is a popular race, packed with some extremely skilled and strong winter endurance cyclists, and I'm one of those weekend warriors who will be thrilled to simply finish ... even if it takes me 48 hours because I spent the last 25 miles trudging through eight inches of snow with my bike on my back (actually, it would be really cool if I still finished after all that.) And it's not that I'm convinced that I'm riding into my death ... I did believe that last year, and this feeling is different. It doesn't have the same immediacy. It doesn't have the same bite. It's a dull kind of stress, worn smooth by time and contemplation…

It's my bike in a box

These are the last-minute details.
Since I may not get another chance to post before Saturday (but probably will), I wanted to post a link to the Susitna 100 Web site. Last year, they posted checkpoint check-in times during the race. It was surprisingly up-to-date all the way until I wandered across the finish line at 10 a.m., about five hours after I left the last checkpoint with only 13 miles to go. If that wasn't enough of a delayed finish, they didn't actually post that I had finished until after 1 p.m. The time delay caused my parents, friends and even a few people out in bloggerland some understandable anxiety. So I post this link with the disclaimer that I may be where they say I am ... hoofing deliriously down the trail at a rate of about 1 mph. Or, I may not. But please check it out. When it gets really lonely out there, it's a comforting thought to believe that some people are - in a distant way - watching you.
Actually packing all of my gear into two bags was an…

Fun at its peak

A few people have asked me how Geoff is dealing with his foot injury. Today, he had a really good day. Not only did he get a job offer to be a cook at a natural food grocery store and deli, but he also ran four miles without any pain in his feet. A pain-free four-mile run does not a successful 100-mile race make, but he's feeling less certain that he has a stress fracture, and more certain that he his going to run the race. Certain enough that he's at least going to stand at the starting line Saturday morning.

I spent the morning fixing up my bike so I can take it apart tomorrow. I've spent a better part of the evening creating an iPodplaylist for the race. Intertwined with my old staples like Modest Mouse and Built to Spill are a few random selections that carry vivid memories of last year's Susitna 100: "D.A.R.E." by the Gorillaz and "Scrub" by TLC. It's always interesting to me when certain songs tie themselves irrevocably to particular moment…

Hold the butter

Date: Feb. 12
Mileage: 20.1
February mileage: 258.3
Temperature upon departure: 28

I set out today for one last ride on my fully loaded bike. For some reason, it was really tough. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve reduced my mileage, or because I haven’t reduced it enough, but I just couldn’t get warmed up. My legs were pumping lactic acid, and I could feel the metallic pangs of an old repetitive motion injury in my knees. Probably just a bad day. But I’ve decided to settle into some real rest. Tomorrow, I’m planning a short session at the gym, but I'll probably cut back on all other physical activity for the rest of the week.

I have just about all of my gear gathered for the race, with the exception of one thing - food. Since I’m one of those people that hates eating on the trail (I consider it a necessary chore akin to changing a flat tire), I’ve predictably put off deciding what I’m going to bring. The race rules require carrying 3,000 calories for the duration of the race. Lots of …

So long to the holidays

Date: Feb. 11
Mileage: 14.3
February mileage: 238.2
Temperature upon departure: 23

Geoff and I skim across the surface of Mendenhall Lake, he on skate skis, me on “studs” and a mountain bike. Side by side, we glide steady at 10 mph. He slashes up the groomed track; I draw a straight line through several inches of dry powder. The flat surface radiates a blaze of unfiltered sunlight, blinding to the point of hypnotizing. Through a heavy squint, all I can make out is a white slate stretching uninterrupted for more than a mile in all directions. The tracks of others veer off in shadowed tangents that remind me of curves on a line graph; their creators stand at variable points in the distance. Geoff and I move parallel along the axis, where I can’t help but weave through a barrage of vague images from 11th-grade calculus.

After standing in the shadow of the glacier terminus, much too close for comfort, we veer off the lake and hit the moraine trails. Inches of new snow slow us both down, but we…

Bicycle obesity

Date: Feb. 10
Mileage: 24.9
February mileage: 223.9
Temperature upon departure: 22

By the time I reached the top of the second flight of stairs, my heart was racing. I hoisted my bike over the final step and dropped it with a thud on the ice, then leaned against the house until my head stopped spinning. Usually, my pre-ride weight training doesn’t leave me more exhausted than the ride itself. But, then again, I’m not used to packing a bike weighted down with most of the gear you’d need to survive a winter night in Denali.

After I caught my breath, I purposely went out and rode the hilliest route I could find. Motoring up hills seemed vaguely harder, but downhills are what really brought weight gain into the forefront of my thoughts. At one point, I hit 32 mph while coasting down a snow-covered slope (the kind of surface in which brakes are generally a bad idea.) Scary.

After I came to the end of the road and turned away from the sun, I caught my first glimpse of my shadow pedaling that bicy…