Tuesday, March 10, 2015

2015 Iditarod Recap Part 3 of 3: They shoot animals in this much pain.

Part 1 here, part 2 here.

As we left Rohn, the winds whipped violently in our favor, but after a few icy crossings the hills were now destroying my moral.  I would watch Ben climb many of them seated, while I was forced to push.  Eventually the hills became more rolling and I was able to get into a rhythm out of the saddle.  Despite my best efforts, my rear end was still extremely painful and not wanting to numb up.

So for about 25 miles we rode through into night across the much improved section of the burn (thanks Iditarod Dog Sled organizers for the hard summer trail work).  We would be one of many confused by a haphazard creek crossing that forced us to seemingly double back past huge tents occupied by buffalo or moose hunters sleeping.  Ben and I treaded quietly as they had guns and potentially high blood alcohol content as they slept in the wee morning hours.

Ben would soon complain of not being able to stay on the trail and needing to bivy.  Me, being the wonderful person I am, cracked open the Red Bull I had been carrying since the start and handed it too him.  And you want to know what he did 15 minutes after chugging it?  He bivied anyways with his tummy full of MY Red Bull.  Thanks Obama.

Well, at least he didn't tip over this time.
So on I went by myself, up and down the rollers with the knowledge that Ben's body could be found 30 miles past Rohn.  I left Ben around 4:45am and by 5:15am I was battling my own sleep demons.  Often when I would be forced to push up a climb I would take 20 seconds just to drape my now ever increasing beat down body across my handlebars and close my eyes.  Standing relentlessly had been wearing me down far quicker than if I had the ability to sit and even rest while on the bike, but I was intent to push through this low.

The sun would finally come up, and with 25 miles left to Nicolai (about 60 since leaving Rohn) my body went into a progressively quicker downward spiral.  The good news is the terrain is pretty much flat here and I got to see possibly the largest moose in existence, the bad is I now entered what has been dubbed Tussock Hell.  Tussocks are pockets of super tough grass (*corrected by Heather Best) and end up looking like a field of mini Cousin Its.  Last year before being fixed they threatened us all through the burn (the 40 miles or so after Rohn) as we flew down hills, but had been filled in with snow during this stretch making the little mounds tolerable.  Now the Tussocks were void of snow, and nasty.  Standing was how people got through much of them, pushing was how they got through the rest.  For a guy that had already been standing for the last 100 miles, I mainly pushed.

Sweet ride on a sweet part of the trail.

Welcome to Tussock Hell

Last year I reached a new physical low as I rolled into McGrath.  This year that feeling was trounced by my march of death into Nicolai.  I was beyond spent.  My calves ached from the excessive strain, my body reaching a point of exhaustion it had never even considered before.  My ride pace was never that slow because it is hard to go slow when standing in a big gear, but I needed frequent stops.  Each stop I was sure my calves would lock up for good when my feet hit the ground.  With 15 miles left I was not able to keep the bike on the trail as I was turning incoherent, so I threw on my down jacket, leaned my bike on a tree, and the used the top tube and tree as a standing bed.  I slept for maybe 5 minutes, dreaming some wild dreams in the process.  I forgot the dreams pretty much right away, but I do remember they were pretty nuts.

The rest was not enough to recharge me, but enough mentally able to keep my bike on the trail.  So with that I kept pushing onwards, stopping frequently, in a new pain I never felt before, exhausted beyond exhausted.  I would meet and speak gibberish to the Erik Parson's group that was headed South touring the trial.  Once on the river by Nicolai you know it is about a mile to the Petruska's.  I walked 3 times in that span.

This is near the time I was at my worst.  I wanted to know what I looked like.

Coming in to Nicolai

When I got to the last checkpoint at about 1pm, I plopped down at the table; quickly consuming a helping of lasagna, coke, several cookies, and Ibuprofen.  Then I went to lay down, only getting up when I realized I was in too much misery to sleep and Ben had now arrived.  He seemed a little shocked to see how destroyed I was.  In all reality I had no idea how I could complete the last 50 miles to McGrath, figuring I would at a minimum I would be there through the night recovering.  I asked Stephanie questions like "When do they fly to Anchorage from here?" and "How much is the ticket?".  I was not planning on quitting, but at that moment I didn't see light at the end of the tunnel.  More Neosporin application and rest.

Ben would leave, and I would sit on the couch.  I didn't realize it at the time, but my mood improved and I was soon joking with everyone, including my new "sister".  About 40 minutes after Ben left in came Jeff Oatley (heading to Nome), Heather Best (Jeff's wife and on pace to set another women's course record), and Phil Hofstetter (heading to Nome).  They would head to the table and I would join them in another meal.

With my mood improved, the realization of a few hours of sun left, my body feeling a bit better, and a chance to ride with others had me getting ready to go.  I followed the group about 5 minutes after they left with one less chamois (I had started with 2 on) thinking the different chamois may rub differently.  Soon I would catch them and latch on like a bad tick for the rest of the ride.

It was great having the mental distraction of ride mates, and Heather and Jeff are always fun to talk with.  Even better between the Neosporin treatments and different chamois I could sit most of the time!  What a feeling!!!!!!  My legs actually felt fresh because I was using muscles not fired for over 24 hours.  I felt like I could ride ahead, but really enjoyed the comfort of the group and was worried about another implosion.  So in we rolled together as a group, only 9 minutes behind Ben; who was surprised to see me.  I would be tied for the 7th person into McGrath, 6th person in the 350 race.  It was not the result I was looking for, but I put forth the effort I wanted.  Hell, I stood for about 1/3 of the course, so things had not gone ideally.  That is ultra racing though.  Crap is sure to happen.

Jeff Oatley and Heather Best, an Iditarod power couple. 

A picture of me finishing the race.

After changing into fresh clothes, Heather, fresh off setting the women's record...again, challenged everyone to a push up contest.

I wanted a selfie with Kevin to go with last year's.

Joe says, "Your butt hurt?  You should have had a Bar Yak!"

This is Pavol, I am pretty sure there is not a joke out there he doesn't think is funny.  He would go on towards Nome.  Peter is doing what he seems to love, cooking up tons of food for the racers.

What has 2 thumbs and set a new course record?

A pile of man cakes.  There was a never ending supply of delicious food at the finish thanks to Peter.

The obligatory finish shot.

So I finished about 10 pm Tuesday night.  I decided not to fly out quickly on Wednesday, intent on catching the the flight on Thursday.  Well, that was booked with some type of basketball tourney taking up all the seats, so we would have to wait until Friday.  I would spend more time in McGrath then in the race.  Now, that is not a bad thing, but there is not a lot in McGrath, and that may be an understatement.  However, it gave me a great opportunity to hang out with some great people and really get to know them better.  Also, we started the initial chapter of the "Ride or Die" clan (things seem funnier when you are wiped).  Ben, Joe Stiller, Toni Lund, Tracy Petervary, and I are now the founding members of "Ride or Die".  This is pretty much an exclusive club for people who have tackled the Iditarod trail.  In general on the trail, you either ride or die, sooooooooo.

As for my backside?  I woke the morning after finishing sure that the moisture on my back end was blood (been there done that), but when I went to clean it up I realized instead it was a puss like substance.  Best to my guess I had some type of reaction with the Chamois Butt's back at Winterlake Lodge and that was the source of my biggest problem on the trail.  My rear end seemed to clear up much quicker than last year, again, telling me it was more than just saddle sores.

I had some amazing times during my trip, I also reached a new absolute low, and left everything on the trail.  Such an amazing experience.  There is not one person to thank for helping make this race possible, but tons.  Kathi Merchant did a great job.  The volunteers and checkpoints all had their different flavors that created one amazing experience, and I thank them all for their effort.

A trip of a lifetime for a second time, just amazing.

Rolling with the "Ride or Die" clan.

Yes, stuff is expensive in McGrath.  It all has to be flown in.

There are lots of machinery graveyards in McGrath.

Our host Peter off running an errand.

If you need to carry Doritoes on your bike, you need a Bar Yak.

Seems Legit

Same trail at different times can yield different results:

Celebrity Ben Doom talks with MPR.  We both made it on the air.  Pretty cool stuff.

We met this guy outside the grocery store.  Ask me and I will tell you some of his stories he told us as they are amusing, but maybe not ready for the general public.  In the middle of talking about the depression in McGrath, he mentioned how he should gets some friends on knife us for our bikes.  Awwwwwkkwwwaarrrrddd.  

Kathi Merchant, race organizer extraordinaire.

Part of the Ride or Die Clan.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

2015 Iditarod Recap Part 2 of 3: I stand, Ben falls

Part 1 can be found here.

So, I left Winterlake Lodge with a bit of sleep just behind Lackey, about 45 minutes or so behind Andrew and Logar.  Kevin and Ben would leave soon after me.  Through the darkness and up and down the now quite hilly terrain I went, occasionally seeing a light behind me, but not often.  Down the Happy River steps and up the wall of a climb out of Happy River; pushing my bike up, braking, pulling myself up, repeat.  Kevin would catch me towards the top of the climb and we would speak for a bit before he would come by.

Those damn moose kept post holing the trail.  I only like to #ridegroomed cause that is what is cool now.

I am not sure, but you might be able to see Kevin way up there if you squint hard enough.

Looking to my right.

Such a cool section.
Last year Criag Medred made me famous by saying I "pussyfooted" an icy overflow.  This year it had much less ice and I rocked the heck out of it.

Puntilla Lake, approaching Rainy Pass Lodge on the other side.

I arrived into Rainy Pass Lodge not far from the rest of the clan, my rear end becoming progressively more painful.  Ever since the "sting of a thousand needles" I felt when applying chamois butt'r at the last stop my rear end had been getting worse.  Ben would roll in soon after I arrived, Jay a bit after him.  We had all hung our clothes to dry.  Well, almost all of us.  Andrew took off rather quickly to the surprise of the group.  We had heard the climb up Rainy Pass may not be in great shape, and as a rookie it seemed a little foolish to spearhead the charge through this section as it is easy to get lost of go the wrong way towards Hell's Gate.  I wanted to wait until Kevin and Lackey went out for that very reason.  

Ben is sooooooooo dreamy.  Not sure why, but he took one look at the deer and called dibs on this bed.
So I left after Andrew, Lackey, and Kevin.  I was set to leave with Jay, but a visit to the outhouse was in order.  Logar and Ben would still be at the cabin upon my departure.  This is where my race took a downward slide.  Most of the main climb up Rainy Pass is the type you need to be seated and power up.  My rear end was in a severe amount of pain, and initially I thought I could sit on it enough to numb it up like last year, but the pain was much worse and not subsiding at all.  So for most of the climb I would push while others rode; their ascension up the mountain was much faster than mine for this reason.

Heading out of Rainy Pass Lodge

This brush caught my pedal, stopped me dead cold in my tracks and I found myself swimming in a few feet of powder on the side of the trail (which is not easy to get out of).

Yeah, the view ain't too bad.

No one wanted to walk with me.

John Logar coming up to see me.  On the trail I thought he was being really nosey about my health, afterwards I found out he is an ER doctor.  Just another great guy on the trail thinking of others.

Ben Doom coming to say hi and then bye.

Lots of sketchiness on the trail this year.
The trail would soon level out a bit and the terrain a bit more rolly.  This allowed me to actually ride out of the seat, which besides pushing, was my only way to move forward at the moment.  I would catch back up to Ben, riding a good long ways with him.  Into and out of Rohn.  Well, I guess Ben wasn't always ON his bike.


What happened Ben?  Did you fall down again?

Look Ma, I am on top of the world!  Passed this sign without seeing it last year, but it was dark at the time.

Seriously Ben, this is getting old.

This icy corner was preceded by a really fast section,  sub consciously I think I was hoping to get Ben falling again.

The descent down this year wasn't nearly as fun.  The top was much slower where last year it was like a full on mountain bike enduro fest.  Once down into the gorge things got a bit more prickly as the crossings where harder to put in, leaving some bushwhacked trail and sketchy crossings.

Lots of this in Dalzell Gorge

Ben and I are coming back to do some ice climbing.

Pretty much all the ice including this river we rode on to get to Rohn after the gorge had obvious freshly frozen sections.  It was nerve racking as I was sure I would fall right through, pulling Ben in with me and then using his body to crawl on to get out of the water.
Ben and I would pull into Rohn about 6:30pm.  Jay and Lagor would be laying down trying to catch some sleep, Lackey and Kevin had already left, with Andrew having stopped for only 12 minutes and leaving with a brat in his hand.  He seemed unstoppable at that point.  Ben and I munched on the brats the volunteers brought in (which were awesome).  I would clean my back end with alcohol (OOOOOOUUUUCCCCHHHH!!!!!!) and apply Neosporin and we would soon lay down to rest.  I set my timer for 1 hour, planning on getting out of there and riding through the night.  I laid there, thinking about the fluid now in my lungs causing me to hack uncontrollably.  Also, the last 35 miles of only standing or pushing my bike had really worn on me (plus we were 200 miles in at this point).  Then my thoughts went to the fact we had close to 90 miles of terrain, much of it difficult, on the way to Nicolai and how I would probably need to stand for the entirety.  With that in mind, I said screw it, and turned off my timer.  I was dreading the effort that the next section would now require from me because when you are forced to stand, there really is no rest.  I could not sit for downhills.  I always had tension in my legs.

Ben and I would wake a bit before midnight, having tossed and turned with little actual sleep, to the sound of Jeff Oatley applying his squealing brakes.  Jay was getting ready to go, and I told Ben I was heading out which he took as he was heading out as well.  So at a bit past midnight, on our second night of little sleep and with 200 miles in our legs, Ben and I set off for the next 90 mile section into the wilderness that is "the burn", me out of the saddle once again.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

2015 Iditarod Recap Part 1 of 3: A once in a lifetime race for the second time.

The Iditarod Trail Invitational is a once in a lifetime type race, and I lined up to conquer the trail a second time (here is my recap from last year).  No words can express the gratitude to the people that have made this happen...again.  First and foremost is my wife for being home when I am not.  Not just while in Alaska, but out training, or downstairs tinkering for the race.  Thank you to my parents, both blood and "in laws" for making sure my kids are safe while I am gone as well.  I can honestly say 9:ZERO:7 makes the best damn fat bikes out there, but they are amazing people as well that have made this race possible...again.  I am lucky in my product support, and was stoked with the increased carrying capacity, decreased weight, and emotional support of Bike Bag Dude Bags.  As it looked like we may be swimming in the race, I was also glad my gear would be water tight.  Also, Nextie rims have been nothing but bomber, along with my gear from Wolftooth Components.  Rochester Cycling is THE place to go for fat bikes in SE MN, and also my flexible employer.  Cold Avenger has made it possible for me to breath in these events with my asthma.  Also, Bob Marhefke sold me a used seat post that kicks butt.  My Ritchey WCS is really light and flex, making all my dreams come true, but it is used, making me feel like a second class citizen:)  Also, thanks to Christopher Tassava for borrowing me a headlamp when I couldn't find mine.

That being said, this year was different than last.  We found the money this year to fly the wife up to Alaska as well, with her and I spending some alone time before the race.  We had an amazing amount of fun in a short amount of time, with Becky set to fly out after the start of the race.

The race would start this year at the historic Knik Bar.  Historic in the sense that this is where almost every edition of ITI has started.  The bar itself has the classic family style atmosphere....
Animals for the kids.

People eating, I had me a chicken sandwich.  Last year I had a way cooler sounding Reindeer sausage.

Racers and spectators everywhere inside and out.

The temps for our race did not look impressively cold, in reality they looked fairly warm with highs predicted in the mid 30's, lows in the teens.  There had been a warm up in the area and a subsequent cool down, so ice was to be present pretty much everywhere.
Near the start line with Bill Fleming, super cool guy, co-owner of 9:ZERO:7.  Stayed with him and his wife Sheryl, both phenomenal hosts.

Well, the race started across the slick and icy lake.  The start was fairly low key and I found myself in front rather quickly, HOLESHOT!  There is no set course for the race, only set checkpoints, so the fastest route for the first section includes some gravel and paved roads.  After the first 20 miles though, we would not see another accessible road for the the rest of the race.
HOLESHOT!  Followed by John Lackey, sworn enemy, super nice guy.

Not the Iditarod trail, but faster.

Uh yeah, still not the Iditarod trail

After awhile we finally reached Flathorn Lake, 30 miles in.  The lake was mostly a fresh inch or 2 of snow and a slight headwind as we dredged across.

The money shot.

Jay Petervary just after taking a selfie.  He was admiring my sweet bike.

The boys know who pulled across Flathorn, laying fresh tracks and providing a wind break.

There was plenty of ice out there, including the Dismal Swamp.
We then traveled through the Dismal Swamp for a few miles before turning onto the Susitna River.  Up river we went, now a lead pack of 7 riders including myself, Andrew Kulmatiski, John Lackey, Kevin Breitenbach, Jay Petervary, John Logar, and fellow MN boy Ben Doom.  The river has one main trail that is ridden in by the snow machines.  At one point the trail seemed to split.  Some of us went left (Myself, Andrew, and Logar) while the rest went right.  There was a bulge in the ice between the 2 routes, and when we were able to make visual contact with the other group it was obvious they were in full attack mode.  I was told it was instigated by Jay and continued with Kevin.  The left route would get bogged down, so when we moved over onto the same track with the other group they had a decent gap.  Andrew and I would trade hard pulls trying to get back to the group with no change in the time gap.  We were flying down the river, only 50 miles or so into a 350 mile race.
The drop in onto the river.

Into the Yentna checkpoint 59 miles in I would see Kevin and Jay making their way out (we got there roughly an hour faster than last year's record pace).  I would grab a couple of cokes as I figured it would be quicker than trying to fill my camel bak as I wanted to head out with the "lead group".  Well, Ben and I were headed down the river, Ben in full on mode still until I asked him if he planned on driving that pace through the night.  With that we dropped our pace some.  Kevin and Jay were up river, out of sight, and I think the rest of us were together at that point.
"Ben, do you plan on keeping this pace all night?", Ben- "No"

Soon, we would see a light slowly approaching in the night, too high to be a snow machine.  Kevin would meet us, showing off a finger on his left hand that was now sideways after he dislocated it falling on ice.  He was thinking his race was done, trying to figure out whether to head to Yetna and Skwentna to get pulled out.  I consider Kevin a friend and a super tough guy, so it was hard to see him so frustrated as he thought his race was over.  We convinced him to go to Skwentna, the farther of the 2 checkpoints.  I voted and the group agreed to all ride in together, effectively neutralizing the race for a bit.  As we rode along, I spoke with Kevin, reminding him who he is and what he is capable of.  Sometimes we just need a reminder of how bas ass we are.  Then I changed the subject and soon found out that French Toast Crunch cereal had been discontinued because of the French's stand on the Iraq war, but it was now back in production.  Yeah cereal!  Take that Obama!

Into our second checkpoint, Skwentna, 90 miles in and I still was feeling good.  Jay would already be laying down sleeping somewhere as he was headed to Nome (despite his really aggressive race tactics early on).  I would chow down my chicken noodle soup and bread roll then start getting my boots on as others were still eating, they were a bit in shock I was headed out already.

So onward I went, feeling good through the Shell hills and past Shell Lake Lodge.  The swamps after had been a slushy mess a week ago and it was evident that before that slush froze, the snow machines of the Irondog race had chewed it up.  So I headed through the lumpy icy swamps.  When you are out front by yourself you can't help but think of taking it to the end, but I knew darn well it is a long race and this was only the beginning.  The last 5 miles or so before the checkpoint I would slow some as no matter what I did my breathing was labored.

Over Fingerlake,and I was first into Winterlake Lodge at 2:30am, a few hours faster than the record setting pace of last year.  The owner would wake from his slumber, and I would be given instructions on where our first drop bag was and what cabin to use for rest.  After sorting out my drop bag and having a run in with the loose sled dogs that howled like a pack of wolves, Lackey would roll in closely followed by Kevin.  I was pumped Kevin was there, still in the fight.  I would eat, and then lay down in the cabin with my legs up and a timer set for 45 minutes tucked into my hat.  When I woke I felt pretty good.  The chamois butter I applied stung like a thousand needles, which would would be an indication of things to come.

As I went to check out, Ben and Kevin were still there in the lodge, Jay had just rolled up, Lackey had just left, with Andrew and Logar leaving quickly after eating.  Headed out to tackle one of the toughest parts of the course, I was still with the front group and had the advantage of a few z's.  Upward I went into the hills with my headlamp lighting the way.