Saturday, February 16, 2008

The Su 100

Date: Feb. 15 and 16
Mileage: 30.1 and 20
February mileage: 249.6
Hours: 2:30 and 1:45
Temperature: 38 and 34

Right now, as I sit at my office desk staring into a computer screen abyss, there are people out there, somewhere, racing in the Susitna 100.

I don’t know too much about them or the conditions they’re facing. The weather report yesterday said there was new snow. Lots of new snow. And cold. A little cold. The kind of conditions that could make for one tough bicycle race, and I think about the racers out there, somewhere, and I wonder how they’re feeling. I try to send out positive vibes, well-wishes to the sky, to tell them I understand their pain. But I don’t. I am sitting at my office desk, climate controlled, with a Diet Pepsi in one hand, and I only have my own experiences to relate to.

I still blame the Susitna 100 for putting me on the trajectory I currently follow, the one that will have been straddling the starting line next week to face the same trail, the same snow, the same cold, only longer, and snowier, and colder. I still don’t really understand how I came to this point, how I went from being a recent Alaska transplant and recreational cyclist leafing through a Su 100 pamphlet to one of the 49 participants signed up for the 2008 Iditarod Invitational. I wish I could warn the novices on the Susitna trail right now: It’s a slippery slope.

And yet, I know that I still draw from the Susitna 100 some of my most valuable life lessons. The 2006 event in particular taught me the power of perseverance, which extends beyond bicycle racing into the greater and more daunting challenges in life. Whenever I am really struggling with something, I often think about pushing my bike most the way from Flathorn Lake to the finish line, a distance of about 25 miles that took me nearly 10 hours to traverse. The wet snow that had obliterated the trail turned over to rain, and it soaked through everything ... my insulation layers, my base layers, my skin. I was literally dripping. I would stop walking for a few seconds - to grab a snack or adjust my soaked socks in an effort to stave off blisters - and a deep chill would set in. At the time, I had no idea how close I was to the cusp of a very serious situation. All it would have taken was one long stop to set loose a wave of hypothermia that would have been difficult to reverse (I know this now, after numerous 35-and-raining experiences here in Juneau.) Most of the competitors still on the course were taking refuge from the rain, and when I finally finished I would be the only person across the finish line for several hours on either side. But all I could do was continue to take one slushy step after the next, and sometimes sing to myself the Dorie mantra from “Finding Nemo:” Just Keep Swimming.

So that’s the message I’m trying to send out to the racers in the Susitna 100, especially the cyclists still out on the course as the long night fades to day, the cyclists wading through heavy snow, and the cyclists on 2.1” tires, and the cyclists who had no idea what they were getting into this morning. And that’s the message I’m trying to send to my future self, the one who will return to the Susitna River Valley to face her own inexperience and cluelessness all over again, and again and again: Just Keep Swimming.


On a different note, I wanted to thank everyone who made purchases from UltraRob’s Outdoor Gear Search last Monday and Tuesday. Rob reported record visits on Monday and record sales on Tuesday, to the tune of more than $250 in commissions! So thank you again. Rob's raising funds for a future attempt in the Race Across America, so be sure to visit Rob's site for all your future online gear needs.


  1. Thanks Jill. You have me seriously considering the Arrowhead 135 next February. I guess you and Doug share the blame. I've yet to take the dive, but I have a hard time getting it off my mind. I believe I would be pretty well set with the exception of the bike. I do have an old mtn. bike, but it's been converted to a single-speed. I'm not sure if it would prudent to use that in what for all practical purposes is a very difficult race.
    So, I continue to ponder and dream about doing it. Much thanks!

    Your blog has become the first thing I check on a daily basis.
    For the hundredth time I want to wish you the best of luck. I look forward to monitoring your progress. Both you and Geoff will be in my thoughts and prayers.

    Ride On!

    Nigity - "Always keep a smile in your heart."

  2. "Just keep swimming." You packed a lot of insight and personal wisdom into those three words, Jill. Thanks!

    Been thinking about you a LOT these days. Be well.

  3. Jill,
    Been enjoying the buildup to your journey. Would be interesting for us and possibly both therapeutic and good planning to hear your proposed step by step of what you are expecting to encounter and achieve during your trek. While you cannot preride it physically on your first race you can visualize it and maybe going thru the process with your readers will help your final preparations. And one thing I always wished I had on long outing type rides (besides a pound bag of peanut m&ms) is a roll of Tums. A nice film canister will keep them nice and dry and lint free.
    Best wishes

  4. Jill,

    Long time reader of your most excellent blog momentarily exiting from lukerdom. Just wanted pile on and wish you and Geoff the best for The Race. Looking forward to the post race reports. Stay safe!


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