Dé Sathairn 19 Nollaig 2009

Alaska Ultrasport 2009 Days 2 & 3

Day 2 and 3

continued from my Day 1 report: http://seansalach.blogspot.com/2009/12/slow-ride-alaska-ultrasport-2009-day-1.html

gorilla at yentna

Leaving Yentna Station with my insulated water bottles full of warm water and gatorade, I pressed on up the Yentna river toward the next checkpoint. Throughout the day I was able to ride pretty steadily, which resulted in me passing back all but 2 of those in the foot division. The sky was a crystal clear blue, and I would occasionally have great views of the Alaska range as I plodded along.


Yesterdays wardrobe malfunctions were thoroughly solved by some creative rearrangement of my gear on my rack. I was really starting to relax a bit and enjoy the trip. The riding was really good just about the entire way, and I made reasonably good time, getting to the Skwentna Station bunkhousecheckpoint just after dark. It was dinner time, so I sat down to a burger and chips.

more like 3 miles

Pete Basinger, a multi-time winner of the bike division, who was skiing this year, was getting packed up to head out. I had decided while cruising along on the river that I would take this year as a tour. Take my time, learn the trail, see the sights, make all the stupid mistakes at a pace that allowed me to learn from them. He seemed to think that was a pretty smart idea, so I decided from that point on that it had been my intention from the get go. In truth, the thought had crossed my mind in my pre-start worries, but it was only a secondary option to all of my other, less ambitious ideas for screwing up my ride, like turning around at whatever point and riding back to the start, or just not showing up all together. So after my burger, I took the proprietors up on the offer to grab a bunk upstairs and get some sleep. I hung my sleeping bag up in the closet to try to dry it out as I had gotten into it sweaty the night before and shivered through most of my ’sleep’.

The rest was good, and I felt great when I awoke. I took off just before dawn and pedaled out of town. The riding was pretty good across the big swamp leading to the Shell Hills.


It started flat and wide, with a heavy ice fog obscuring the view for more than 50ft at a time, but became deep and swoopy before long. Really fun. When the swamp came to an end and I saw the big rectangular construction of angle iron on the side of the trail I got a huge grin on my face.


It meant the trail for at least a little while would be groomed and fast, and it was.


Twisty turny trail through the woods with snow firm enough to stand and climb with a little power up the hills. It was the best trail I had been on yet, and I remarked so as I passed Rick and Rob, two of the same walkers from the previous day, again. Before long at all, I was crossing Shell Lake. I stopped at the lodge there and had a burger and another short nap.

shell lake lodge

I left before noon, and honestly, all I remember of the next leg of the trip to Wintererlake Lodge was a lot of walking across meadow after meadow after meadow, with a little bit of riding in between. The riding in between was fun, but brief. The meadows were occasionally rideable, but mostly a push.



break blow break repeat

I didn’t feel so bad though, as I could clearly see that quite a few of the endomorph equipped riders somewhere in front of me were pushing as well. It wasn’t that bad of a leg though, and I still felt pretty good when I reached the Checkpoint just before dusk. I dug into my drop bag, grabbed most of the food out of it, and some out of the discard pile on the dresser in there.


From this point on, the race provided a meal and lodging of some sort at each checkpoint. I ate my meal of Mexican food, and went into the weatherport to try and get in a nap before heading into the Happy River Steps. There were two cots inside, and both were already claimed. I was on the floor in the back of the tent. I think I had actually claimed what was supposed to be the changing room. I tried, but really couldn’t sleep. The ventilation was non-existent, and the tent was filled with a combination of 2 ½ day old sweaty clothes and the fumes from the propane heater. It sucked. It should suck though, as long stays at the checkpoints really isn’t the intention of the race. My clothes were dry when I checked them, so I packed up and headed off down the trail. The next section of the course was probably the most enjoyable section of trail on the entire trip for me. It was like real mountain biking. Steep climbs, steep descents, sharp bends, bench-cut trail. It was great, I loved every minute of it.

leaving finger lake

Unfortunately, it also took A LOT longer than it should have, and by the time I reached the little oasis on Finnbear lake, It was after midnight. I stopped in to dry off and enjoy some of Mike and Ingrid’s wonderful hospitality. There were three other riders there, including the fella that picked up my bag for me earlier in the race.

trail archangels

We eventually left pretty much together right around dawn, but ended up spreading out a bit. Catherine and Alberto fell back, while I plodded along behind Marco, who was having knee problems, but still going faster than I was overall. Catherine was having new found breathing problems, which can be very scary for someone who has had no trouble breathing before in their life. Being a lifelong asthmatic, I tried to reassure her and offer advice on ways to mitigate breathing problems and avoid exacerbating them. The best thing you can really do is to try and remain as calm as possible. The worst thing you can do is let fear take over, as that will definitely make the breathing problems worse.

The trail here was enjoyable as well, but softer than the steps had been. The trail at first was somewhat of a rollercoaster through thick alder tunnels with occasional breaks of spruce. The snow was mostly firm, but I still found myself walking most of the uphill sections. I did it partly to conserve energy, and partly because I had been having problems with axle slippage, even with a chain tug from the start. With the big 26 x 3” tires crammed in the back of my Karate Monkey, there was no room for that sort of malarkey and it resulted in my tire rubbing my frame hard once per revolution. Putting any sort of hard pressure on the pedal, as we do when climbing, resulted in the wheel slipping further. It was less of a hassle to just walk. Anyway, back to the course. The downhills here were super steep and often had tight turns at the bottom, this would normally not be much of a situation to worry about, but a lot of these turns had thick, glaciated ice across them, which made things interesting and fun. My downhill tires actually performed really well here, and I would find myself opening a bit of a gap on Marco.


I managed to only go OTB once, in spectacular fashion:


That didn’t last long though when we got to the sparsely treed meadows. He quickly caught up to me and eventually passed me altogether.


I felt physically spent, and was stopping often, even though the trail was mostly rideable. Before long, as we were cruising down the trail, I spotted a mailbox in a tree! My first though was, “Sweet! We must be on the driveway to Rainy Pass Lodge, the next checkpoint! Can’t be more than a couple hundred yards now!”.


Then I saw another one.


And another one.


And another one….


“How many friggen people live out here?!?” I remember remarking to myself.


I stopped taking photos of them after 20 or so, and stopped counting after 30-something. By that time Marco had ridden off out of sight. Any excuse to take a break....... I would later find out that they were Martin traps. I've personally never met anyone named Martin that would fit inside a mailbox, but who am I to judge...

Eventually the trail dipped back into the woods again, which allowed me to shift my focus from photographing strange objects mounted to trees, and concentrate more on the strange objects on the trail...



I saw the landing strip we had been warned to keep off of, and descended down onto the lake as the snow started to fall.


I reached the checkpoint cabin at Rainy Pass Lodge, claimed a bed, ate some soup, and considered my options. I had been informed that the race leaders had been stuck up in the middle of the pass, waiting out a storm in a roofless cabin. Many that had left this checkpoint behind them had now caught up to them. Racers slowly filed in behind me. Catherine, Alberto, Frank Mcguire and Bob Ostrom on bike, walkers Eric, Rick and Rob and Todd and Marco.

Marco on bike, Marco on foot, Alberto, Frank and Bob all decided to press on into the storm.

Myself, Catherine, Eric, Todd, Rick and Rob all decided to wait out the night and go in the morning. The real drama begins in the next episode.

Day 4+ : http://seansalach.blogspot.com/2009/12/alaska-ultrasport-2009-rainy-pass.html

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