Sunday, August 05, 2007

Slow lane

Date: Aug. 2, 3 and 4
Mileage: 21.1, 16, 43
August mileage: 103.3

Every time I take a trip away from my walled-in little seaside town, I leave thinking my weekend is going to be relaxing and centering and return with new understanding of the stressful, sprawling nature of the outside world.

At the same time, "out there" is where the adventure and exhilaration is. Exactly a year has passed since I packed up my Prism and drove away from the Kenai Peninsula. Even though I didn't even stay a full year on the Kenai, and I haven't been back in a full year, there is something about meandering along the narrow corridor of the Turnagain Arm that feels like coming home.

I was able to spend a lot of time, relatively, riding during the 16-hour period I had between arrival and the end of Geoff's race. I borrowed a bike from Pete B., a Raleigh hardtail that has the same frame as my former Snaux Bike and actually belongs to Pete's little sister - who had no idea her bike was being lent away (let alone the abuse it was about to endure.) Geoff and I set up camp at 8 p.m. Friday and I went to explore the Russian River area. The upper trail was so overgrown that I couldn't even see it beneath a sea of grass and fireweed. Most of the ride consisted of bouncing over boulders with my eyes clamped shut as blistering stalks of cow parsnip whipped my face. I rode until nearly 11 p.m. - a luxury of late daylight that is long gone in Juneau.

Geoff and I were up at the crack of 5 a.m. to gear up for his 50-mile assault of Resurrection Pass. As he tied his running shoes, he said something about lacing them so tight that he wouldn't be able to take off his shoes at the end of the race. "Oh, don't worry, I'll be able to untie them for you," I said. "I'll meet you there. " After all, I had a bike, and he was on foot. The advantage was clearly mine.

About 20 runners took off at the 6 a.m. starting line. I took down camp and ate a leisurely breakfast, then hit the trail at 7 a.m. I thought that even with a fairly meandering but determined pace, the 44-mile ride would take me five hours, tops, and no way - no way - could Geoff run that trail plus a 6-mile spur in just six hours. Predictable last words.

The morning was very Juneau-esque, with mountain-smothering clouds allowing little doubt about the wetness they were about to unleash. But the trail was as amazing as I remembered it, with rocky singletrack hugging the shorelines of lakes and working its way slowly above treeline. I began to catch up to runners about 10 miles in, always remembering to yell "You don't need to stop for me! Don't stop for me!" After all, I knew (but could scarcely comprehend) what they were trying to do. They were racing and I was a tourist. I could wait until there was space to ride around.

The rain hit hard and fast at the pass, but a tailwind propelled me along and I could not have been happier. The climb was effortless in 2.5 hours; I was feeling great and had 25 miles of downhill to look forward to. I was singing old-school Offspring lyrics at the top of my lungs for all the bears to hear, and set into the descent feeling that I could do no wrong. What could go wrong? Predictable last words.

It must have happened slowly, with little flecks of rubber flaking away as I rode along. I didn't even notice the slow breakdown in stopping power as the muddy trail ate up all of my concentration. I didn't even realize anything was wrong until I approached a tight corner of a particularly steep descent, pressed down on the brakes, and nothing happened. Nothing at all. I throttled them for all my life was worth and the wheels only continued to accelerate toward what I was certain was death by head-on collision with a tree. I shut my eyes, clenched my teeth, and pitched my body sideways.

The first thing I landed on was my camera, which was floating in the standing water inside my coat pocket (by the way, it still works. Olympus=amazing.) Raleigh and I skidded to a fairly smooth stop along in a spiny patch of raspberry bushes. After I stopped writhing from the shock of impact, I marvelled - as I usually do - about coming out of a crash relatively unscathed. I tightened the brake cables as far as they'd go, but the damage had been done. I began the ride (unknowingly) with misaligned brake pads and the muddy trail had worn them clean off - I was basically pressing metal onto slimy, wet metal.

After that, my ride was essentially a lot of downhill hike-a-bikes with occasional slow-coasting riding, using my right foot - and sometimes both feet - as a brake. About three miles from the end, the trail became more crowded with day hikers. I gave up riding completely, lest I risk killing someone besides myself. By then, the brake levers did absolutely nothing to slow the bike. It was the same as riding with both calipers undone. I spent much of those three miles walking with a woman who had already decided to drop out of the 100-mile race. She had already pounded out 88 miles and looked amazingly cool and composed. "It's only 12 more," I urged, but I had no understanding. "I'm not taking another step I don't have to," she said.

I arrived at the 38-mile checkpoint at 12:30 p.m., dripping rainwater from every pore and sporting a solid head-to-toe coat of dark mud. "What time did Geoff Roes come through here?" I asked. A man checked his board and said, "10:30." I just gaped at him as another woman, having looked me up and and down and probably remembering me from the starting line said, "Why? Did you think you were going to catch him?"

The last six miles of the ride were completely miserable - all on a gravel road that was just downhill-sloped enough to make my 7 mph scootering of the bike stressful; my shoes were being torn to shreds and my body temperature plummeted from a combination of complete saturation and a solid lack of movement. I had no choice but to get off the bike and jog, every minute knowing that not only was I not going to watch Geoff finish his race, but that he was probably already eating hot soup and enjoying dry clothing and shelter at that exact moment.

Luckily, seeing Geoff at the finish line ended my sorry excuses for self pity. He was eating hot soup, and looking really perky, and walking almost normally for someone who just shattered yet another course record, running 50 miles in about 6 hours, 10 minutes. Fifty miles. Six hours. With no bike. Just him. It made me feel like I should turn straight around and pilot that broken bike back up and over the pass, if for no other reason than to feel just a little bit of that glow, the glow that surrounds the satisfaction of having done something really hard - even if not well.

It continues to amaze me how quickly Geoff has taken charge of all of this endurance madness. I think this Resurrection Pass 50 race is the first time I've realized that he may have a shot, a real shot, at competing among the top echelon of ultra-endurance runners (even if he does do something silly like devote a lot of time to biking next year.) It's exciting to me. And scary, too.

Geoff wrote his race report here.


  1. That top photograph is absolutely magnificent.

    As is Geoff, for his extraordinary running, and as are you, for all your gifts.

  2. Damn Geoff!

    Jill is all apart of learning to be flexible with you plans =)

    Not sure i'd be barrowing a bike for a 50 mile ride =)

    Nice pictures! buy geoff a six pack for me! =)

  3. That first picture stopped me in my tracks. Is that Devil's pass? Eleven years ago I was backpacking there during October when I watched a flight of geese fly up the valley in orderly V formation only to return ten minutes later in a very un-orderly fashion, every goose for itself. being from Arizona it took a minute to sink in that the geese were trying to get away from something... something BIG. I had left my gear at the trail junction and was hiking up the valley sans any foul weather gear. I turned and began jogging back; in a few minutes I could hear the storm behind me and began to run. I got to my gear and the safety of the alpine hut just as a furious storm exploded all around me. The next morning there was a foot of snow on the trail. It was my first introduction to the fact that there are no casual stolls in Alaska.

  4. Sorry to hear your ride ended up sucking. But it looks beautiful. And Geoff is awesome!

  5. Jill, there's nothing worse than heading downhill in wet and nasty conditions and realizing you've got no brakes. At least you came out relatively unscathed. The last time I did that I came out of it with two knees the size of softballs!

    I'll go give Geoff congrats on his blog!

  6. Ah, Resurrection Pass, nice pic. I've ridden that 40 miles(?) of single track no less than a dozen times. Hasn't changed a bit. That has to be one of, if not thee, quintessential cross country mountain bike courses in Alaska. Nay - America! Curious, did you ride it north to south (Hope to Cooper Landing) or south-north?

    We just missed you on the Kenai. My wife and I rode from Anchorage to Seward a couple weeks ago. Sunny with a north tailwind all the way to Summit Lake!

    Oh yeah, and if you would, get a DNA sample from Geoff and send it to me. I'll sequence it here at the lab. Appearance notwithstanding, I'm not certain he's human. 6+ hours - Wow.

  7. Those pictures are amazing.
    And so is 50 miles in 6 hours! Congrats to Geoff.

  8. re: "running 50 miles in about 6 hours, 10 minutes"

    Amaaaaazing !

  9. Admit it. You loved that ride, didn't you?

  10. Sounds like it was a great weekend for you, despite the broken bike. Congrats to Geoff on smashing that record!

  11. Resurrection Pass with no brakes... DAMN! Glad you decided to walk lots of it.

    Congrats to Geoff, that is amazing --mere words can't be used to describe his accomplishment.

  12. P.S. There was an article about Dave in the ADN today. I was disappointed that you didn't write it.


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