The short version on the Soggy Bottom 100 2014 edition: You could not have asked for better weather (and reasonably expected to get it) or better trail conditions.
Skies were clear, the sun was out, and the trail had perfect tack, with a bit of mud in the morning down on the Hope side that had dried out by the return. The heat seemed to be the dominate factor this year, and worked people over more than anything else. My Garmin, which tends to read hot, reported a temp of 83 at one point climbing out of Swan Lake.
For me, the event went almost exactly as I thought it would, despite a bit on anxiety: I finished in 10:05:24 for 8th place. I knew I could do the ~109 miles in about 10 hours in dry conditions, maybe 10:30 if the trail had been a bit greasier.
I had awesome co-support from the women’s relay team of Jessie Donahue, Katie Libby, and Kara Oney, who dropped my support bags at the Cooper and Devils check points. Plenty of thanks goes to ride partners Adam and Chuck for helping put the mileage away this summer on the trails, Chuck again for a lot of helpful race guidance, including confirming something that I was picking up on last year, the mid-week distance rides; and Ethan for helping put those mid-week distance rides in.
|Hope. You can't ask for a better post-race party town.|
The longer version:
I’ve kind of boycotted the SB100 in years past, mainly because the idea of paying $90 to do a ride I can, and usually do a few times a year, seemed goofy. The race does have volunteers who handle timing at the start/finish and two check points, sweeps, and for the past two years, has been permitted for the Forest Service. A lot of work goes into prep, and in no way am I trying to diminish those efforts, but if you’re looking for the most bang for your buck out of a race, admittedly, this is not the one. There are no feed stations along the way, no guaranteed transport for any feeds to the check points, and, no course markings. The latter is sort of unnecessary given the trails are pretty straight forward, but you get this picture. Basically, the race is one of a kind, but compared to what $90 can get you at other venues, you could very well just do the route on your own.
Additionally, riding Res Pass trail when it’s greasy is a miserable experience that cou;ld be included in one of the circles of hell. The clay trail surface turns into the consistency of peanut butter, and you can be assured your entry fee will probably cost less than the repair of your bike after the fact. I ride the Kenai a lot, and I avoid this trail like the plague when it’s wet.
That being said, this is a very unique event, and I suspect that if this event were (or could be held) held in the Lower 48, it would be immensely popular (see Leadville 100, Downieville, Transylvania Epic, etc.)
This year, I felt a bit different about the SB100. Adam was motivated early in the season to go for it, and I was committed to put in the rides with him. That was the spark I guess. He and I talk about the event enough, and as the season progressed, my legs felt really good, so I decided to give it a go.
I’m really glad I did.
New this year, the race was lead out by pacers. I had a little anxiety about the first 4 miles of dirt road up to the trail head. I heard it was road race-like, and I wasn’t looking forward that on a 29 lbs Santa Cruz Solo. I have no idea what effect the pacers actually had, but the pack basically stayed together all the way to the trail head, and no one went crazy.
I sat on the back of the lead group and got an easy tow to the trail head, which I was pretty happy about. We passed a few Petite/relay riders on the ride in, which assuredly made for a few less passes that I would have to make on trail.
Once on the trail, the leaders disappeared.
I sat in with a small group for a while that included Darin Marin, but as my legs spun up (there was no real point in warming up), I began to move up. Ryan Greeff was the last rider I effectively passed, somewhere near Caribou Creek. I was briefly passed between Fox Creek and East Creek by another rider. He seemed content to follow me, but I waved him through as I was nibbling on some shot bloks, and didn’t need the clatter of someone else’s bike distracting me from behind.
I passed him minutes later at East Creek where he was stopped at the bridge.
I was a little surprised by how quickly I passed East Creek, and a few miles later was greeted by clear skies in the alpine of the Pass. I scanned for riders on the horizon, but could only see one, Jessie, a good ways off.
A little bit past the Pass, I reeled her in. I was both glad to see her, but also a bit bummed, as I’d hoped the race between her and Danelle Winn would be tighter. Nonetheless, she let me by and then latched on, and we began the descent, passing some spectators who had camped out near the Devils Pass Junction. Jessie, on a hard tail, dropped back as the trail got rougher, and unbeknownst to me, took a wrong turn down and slight short cut down the summer route. It was a consequence-free, she didn’t pass anyone or make a significant gain on her competition, and probably only gained a minute or two out of it at best.
I caught back up to her north of Juneau Lake, and passed again.
From there to Cooper we stuck together.
Though there wasn’t that much talking, I really appreciated having the company, and someone to keep my pace “honest.”
I’m sure we both gained 10 minutes just pushing each other as opposed to be alone.
I had taken a feed near Swan Lake, and had planned to take a half a feed near Trout Lake, and despite Jessie asking me how I was doing on food near the Trout Lake Junction, I stupidly decided I could push it the rest of the way to Cooper Landing.
Though I only suffered a little bit thanks to the mostly downhill inclination of the trail, I should have gone with my initial plan.
I know this section of trail, and it can sneakily suck your reserves, especially the way we were pushing the pace.
The final descent down to Cooper sucked.
Thick alders made for terrible vis, so I was glad to have an extra set of lungs in Jessie, whooping and hollering. I was a bit perplexed why the uphill riders were generally quiet. We made a lot of noise, and mostly avoided trouble, although I took one corner too hot and shot off the trail.
Then, ironically, we came across Chuck headed up, and as I steered right into the hillside, we managed to handlebar-fist-bump.
The bump was slow enough that we both just dropped a foot. I immediately felt terrible, but he was fine, I was fine, and in retrospect, it was pretty funny that we managed to collide!
My time into Cooper was 3:39:41
Down in the parking lot, we had to dismount and run out to the highway where the timers, feeds, and relay riders were staged.
As we jogged through, a small train of equestrians was watching the spectacle.
“God I hope they don’t plan to ride!” I thought.
The transfer went well enough, but I should have drank more water from the 20 oz sport bottle I had in the feed bag that was there solely for the purpose of drinking while I refilled my bladder.
I shoved a Honey Stinger waffle in my mouth and took another big swig from the bottle, and jogged back toward the woods.
The horses were gone.
Spectators warned they had just left, and I came up behind them immediately. I was probably the first rider they came across, and they stopped and let me walk around them. They were very courteous, wished me luck, and asked that I warn downhill riders.
I have no idea what those riders did when if they encountered the horses on the side-hill traverse.
While I realize the event does not close the trail to other uses, it seems like the logical thing to do when you pull into the Cooper trail head with your horses, and see the giant CF, is to trailer 20 minutes to Juneau Bean Creek Trail, and start from there. Sure they still would have encountered cyclists, but it would have been on the much wider, straighter trail in the valley bottom, cutting out 3 miles of side-hill traverse.
Only seconds after passing the horses, I came across Ryan, bombing down.
“Horses! Horses!” I shouted.
I continued to warn riders for the next mile or so.
It became really apparent why the uphill riders I’d encountered on my descent weren’t making that much noise: oxygen debt.
What unfolded felt like hell.
My ears were tuned as I tried to keep the pressure on the pedals. I whooped when approaching blind corners, but I knew that noise-making was fairly fruitless: downhill riders were going to be moving too fast and covering too much ground, and the vegetation and their speed would drown out what little noise I made.
If I heard someone, I yelled, but otherwise, most the noise I would make would never meet any ears, and I had less oxygen to spare than someone in descent mode.
The farther up the trail I got, the more annoyed I became.
I was agitated. I’d pushed my blood sugar too low on the approach to Cooper. I was alone after being in company, and that was messing with me.
Emotionally, I was hitting what would be the lowest point of the race.
Two descending riders surprised me, and as I went to veer to the side, one clipped me and got shoved into a root.
I went down, banging both my knees on the shifters, and shins on the frame, drawing blood from a small puncture on my right knee.
The other rider fell into the embankment, and admitted he got the better end of the deal.
He apologized numerous times, asking if I was OK.
I kept saying yes, even though it was obvious I wasn’t.
I wanted them to go away, and they obliged once I stood back up.
Pushing down on the pedals, my legs felt like spaghetti – visibly shaking – my ears were roaring, I thought I was going to cry. I just wanted to turn around and go back to Cooper.
Less than 50 feet up the trail, a wide corner and a patch of sun beckoned.
I knew I had to get off for a few seconds.
I took few deep breaths. I just had the one puncture that wasn’t even really bleeding, and a few soon-to-be bruises.
I wiped my legs, inspecting for other damage, and felt them almost instantly regain strength.
When you crash in a race, two things can happen: the adrenaline surge can overwhelm you, and you never really recover; or it fuels you.
Suddenly, I went from agitated and annoyed, to downright pissed off.
While I knew these riders had not intentionally caused the crash, they had the spare oxygen to make noise and should have been yelling; and if we were even in the same race, they were well over a half an hour behind me, maybe more, but as it was, I think they were racing Petite.
I was fired up.
I got aggressive with oncoming riders I didn’t hear, hollering at them to make some noise. In one case, I kind of felt bad: a rider stopped to let me by, but decided to essentially stop in the middle of the trail at the top of a root wad, forcing me to possibly take a crap line to the side of the wad when he could roll through and yield the smooth line. In the moment, his thinking was good, but the building anger inside of me did not appreciate it, and I hollered at him to move it.
Races get complicated like that, and you have to remember to never harbor hard feelings after the fact.
Once I rounded the corner back into the valley I calmed back down. I took advantage of the smooth trail conditions and topped off the tanks with another feed. I took another feed just before the summer trail cut off to ensure I had enough fuel to make it up the long ascent ahead.
I hadn’t ridden the summer cut off in 3-4 years, and I immediately remembered why. While it’s no big deal to bomb down it, albeit, less scenic, I had to push the bulk of it on the way up. In the heat, this sucked immensely.
It was over quick enough.
The rest of the climb up the alpine was pretty horrendous in the heat, but there were some friendly spectators along the way, so the encouragement was aplenty and appreciated. The spectators gathered at the Junction gave more encouragement, and I took another feed near Devils Pass Lake. Most my feeds were half a Mojo bar and 3 (a half a pack) of Cliff shotbloks (non-caffeinated in the first leg, caffeinated for legs 2 and 3). As the race went on, they became increasingly hard to take. On this one, I almost spit the Mojo bar out, and I used a lot of water to soak it.
Less than a ½ mile later I took a pull from the camelbak and drained it
“Good thing the next 8 miles is downhill.”
Having learned from my previous descent, I made a ton of noise on the way down. Basically, I counted to 5 in my head, and then yelled, starting around mile 5, where I first came across the leading men’s relay rider.
The trail clearing on Devils this summer made visibility much better, and the descent felt far safer.
I finished the Cooper-Devils leg in 2:48:59.
When I pulled into the Devils check point, Jessie had already opened the top of the feed bag for me. I efficiently went to work. I asked Jessie if she could get the sport bottle from my other feed bag, as I knew it was about half full. I folded up another Honey Stinger waffle, guzzled, and refilled the bladder. Jessie came back with the other bottle, and I dumped what was left in it into the bladder as well.
For each leg I carried about 40-50 oz of water.
Kevin Murphy, the next rider in front of me, left the check point, heading down the trail to a lot of cheering.
I still had water left in my checkpoint bottle, and distracted, was about to leave and give chase, when Jessie encouraged me to kill it. I was glad I did.
Climbing, I tried to savor the shade in the woods at the base. Out in the open, the temperature soared again and a light tail wind offered no relief.
The climb felt far less hellish then climbing out of Cooper, where I feared getting nailed; or as oppressive as the overgrown benches above Swan Lake.
The open stream crossings were super refreshing, and I was glad I didn’t have a rear fender on, as the cold water splashed over the back of my legs.
I passed Kevin at one of the crossings, but at the time, I didn’t recognize him, and paid no attention. In truth, even if I’d known it was him, I was only halfway up Devils, and I don’t know that I would have been able to put much additional time between us.
I only realized I had passed him when I heard the whir of his freewheel and shifting of gears behind me near Devils Lake. Kevin shot by as I waved him threw while I nibbled on more shot bloks.
He steadily built his gap as we continued the climb up and over Res, and it seemed like he was propelled by rocket fuel. He told me later that he had stopped at the creek and chugged a coke, and that it kicked in hard for him.
About a mile from the Devils Pass Junction I had the most inspirational moment of the race. I had been wondering where Clint was. I think it’s been a less-than-ideal summer for getting the miles in for him, but he signed on for the full SB, on a hard tail to boot. As I neared the end of Devils on the return to Hope, I began to wonder if maybe Clint had just said to heck with it, and headed directly back to Hope from Cooper. At that point, that’s what I would have done, no question; so when I saw him, headed to the second check point, all I could think was: man, he’s way tougher than me.
I gave him a fist bump as we passed.
The descent back to Hope was one of the sections where I expected the Solo to perform, and that it did.
I opened it up and let the bike tear into the trail.
My legs didn’t have a lot of extra juice in them, but I was able to hold the bike in the big ring and keep it powering along at 18-20 MPH even on the flats, 25-35 on the descents.
I passed a couple Petite racers along the way, which felt pretty good honestly.
Around Fox Creek I killed a Clif Shot Mocha Gel. Normally these sugar and caffine-laden gels hit my system hard, but I think at this point, I was pretty stretched out, and there just wasn’t that much more to give.
I ticked off the crossings above the Mile 7 bridge over Resurrection Creek, then the three drops through the canyons, and finally, the short steep climb at mile 2.
When I hit the road, I could see a rider off in the distance. I had no idea if it was Kevin or not, and with 4 miles to go, I tried to put what little I had left into the pedals. I seemed to close the gap a bit, but really only enough to determine it was more than likely a relay or Petite racer.
I hit Hope 3:19:37 from Devils. I felt like I did the best I could, and didn’t leave anything on the table. It would have been rad to make it in under 10, but 5 minutes over was also fine by me.
I rode the Santa Cruz Solo for this event. At 29 lbs, this is not an ideal Soggy Bottom steed, but it’s the bike I do the bulk of my distance riding on, and is the best bike in my stable for the job.
Even so, I seriously contemplated riding the hard tail Scott Scale 910. Side-by-side 4-hour rides on the Scale and Solo, along with a somewhat disappointing results at a mid-week XC race held on Anchorage’s Hillside a few weeks prior, confirmed that I was going to suffer significantly more, and may very well miss the 10-hour mark, on a hard tail.
Basically, the hard tail is for sure much lighter, but where that plays out for me, is that I burn less energy climbing with it, and have the ability to open it up more on gradual inclines. Meanwhile, I must ride descents and technical sections a bit more conservatively, and burn more energy on these sections than I would on a full suspension.
Comparatively, I climb on the Solo about 0.5-1 MPH avg pace slower than I do on a hard tail, though I burn more energy forcing the extra 10lbs upward. Vice versa, when I descend I can push the solo 5-10 MPH avg faster than I can on the Scale, can actually pedal sections that I otherwise have to stand or tread through delicately on the hard tail, and burn little no energy.
Ideally, I think you either need to take a page out of Chuck’s book, and do the bulk of your hours on a hard tail, or go with a 4-inch XC full suspension rig. The Giant Anthem or Scott Spark are both bikes that come to mind as being ideal rigs, but this is Alaska, and there’s a diversity of bikes out there, and like all endurance events, the bike is just the tool, it’s the rider’s strength and skill that determines the result.
Feeds and hydration: Even on long rides, I don’t pay that much attention to feeds. Fuel up the night before and morning of, stuff a bunch of bars and gummies in a bag, double check that there’s an emergency gu and a protein bar in case all hell breaks loose, and stay fueled. Water is even more straightforward: fill up the camelback bladder, refill as needed.
In this case, I had a few extra complicating, though ultimately enabling factors. Stopping to feed was out of the question, all food needed to ride in my jersey pockets and deploy easily on the pedals. I planned to take only what I needed for each leg, and would re-stuff my pockets at the check points.
Leg 1: 2 Cliff ShotBloks, 1 Cliff Mojo, 1 Honey Stinger Waffle
Leg 2: 2 Cliff ShotBloks (1/2 shot equivalent caffeinated ea), 1 Cliff Mojo, 1 Honey Stinger Waffle
Leg 3: 1 Cliff ShotBloks (1/2 shot equivalent caffeinated), 1 Cliff Shot (full shot equivalent caffeinated), 1 Honey Stinger Waffle
Leg 1: 1 Cliff ShotBloks, 1 Cliff Mojo
Leg 2: 1 Honey Stinger Waffle (at CP); 1.5 Cliff ShotBloks (caf), 1 Cliff Mojo
Leg 3: 1 Honey Stinger Waffle (at CP); 1.5 Cliff ShotBloks (caf), 1 Cliff ShotBloks; 1 Cliff Shot (full caffeinated).
Take away: While everything worked out and I never bonked, I came close.
Mojo bars: These staples to my normal long rides are no good in this type of effort. I like that they are real, they have solids that are satiating like nuts, plenty of sodium, and sit well, but they were just too darn dry, and I used up precious water chewing them up.
Shotbloks: Normally I prefer PowerBar Gel-Blasts-Energy-Chews, but they are not as easy to deploy in the saddle on the trail as Cliff Shotbloks. Shotbloks don’t sit as well for me. They are never even near catastrophic, I welcome them on the way down, but about 15 minutes later, they remind me of jellied gasoline. They’re fast burning so any discomfort is short-lived.
Waffles: I recently started using these, and call them “Lance cookies” because the REI inventory still has pictures of Lance Armstrong on them. The waffles ended up being my check point snack. As I refilled my bladder, I would tear one open and stuff it down as I also tried to simultaneously pour water and slurp from a water bottle. They added 100 cals of sugar and semi-solid food, and sat well.
Water: Water was pretty straight forward. Each leg I had about 40-50 oz. At the two check points, I had two 20 oz nalgene-type bottles to transfer to the bladder, plus a 20 oz sport bottle to guzzle from while I was at the CP.
I made it to Cooper without running out of water, owing in large part I’m sure to both the cooler morning air, and shaded riding under a canopy for much of the climb out of Hope. Leg 2 I took my last swig of water with 8 miles of descent left on Devils. This may have put me in a defecit when I reached the trail head below, but played little role in how I actually felt as In was dropping elevation and had a gentle head wind. The climb out of Swan Lake was miserable, and like said, the Mojo bar seemed to claim a disproportionate amount of water for how much energy it actually provided. This leg could have used more water.
When I got to the second CP, I wised up, and drank all 20-ounces in the sport bottle I had there. I was also lucky in that Jessie was there, and retrieved the 10 oz of water I had in my first CP sport bottle that I had not finished, and poured that into the bladder.
I took my last drink on the last leg just after I hit the road down to Hope, with only 4 miles of mostly descent left.
Take away: A few degrees cooler with some cloud cover and I would have been fine, but if there is any chance of sun or heat, I would notch up to 60 oz for legs 2 and 3. The CP water bottle was really nice. My water was cold as well. I used Igloo wine carriers, built for holding two wine bottles. The two compartments were very convenient in separating the bladder refill bottles from the sport bottle. The latter compartment also held a spare tube. A mesh pocket on the inside of the lid held the leg’s food. I slapped fluorescent yellow duct tape on each with the name of the CP it was to go to, and I scrawled my name and phone number on the bags so I could ditch them when I was done and not worry how they would find their way back to Hope.
Backpack: Riding the Solo, with only one cage mount, forced me to wear a backpack. Along with water, I carried a pump, 1 tube, multi-tool, pocket biv (probably less for me than someone else), and arm warmers. I would have preferred to carry all these items on the bike. Even though I always ride with a pack, the heat patch from the pack was really noticeable. Also, doing bottles would have made the transfers even faster.
One additional note, throw some lube into the CP 2 bag to squirt the chain.
Fender: Even though the trail was fairly dry, I rode with a front fender. It’s more mental than anything else: knowing you can charge into a puddle without getting your face sprayed with mud. I did not ride with a rear as my SKS Blade tends to slowly angle upward or shift off center while I ride. In a normal ride, I don’t mind the 2-second re-adjust – I can often do so on the fly – but I did not want any distractions on this ride. As noted, the spray crossing the streams was really nice and my legs appreciated the soaking when they got them.
End note: Like said, if you’re really looking for an elite-level test with a high bang for your buck ratio, this may not be the right expenditure. That being said, for Alaskans, and those who can afford to make the visit here from Outside, in some ways, this event has turned into the unofficial Alaska state endurance mountain bike championship. Pretty much all the big names and strongest riders will take a stab at this event at some point and in some form. More to the point, as with most Kenai riding, while not the most technical, the length and challenge is hard to beat. I also think it’s valuable that there are a few different race options, so everyone can take on a challenge. Under different circumstances, I would be just as motivated to do the Petite, or a leg on a team.
For me, doing it this year was rewarding. Sure, it would have been nicer on a more “worthy” race bike, but on the other hand, I can’t really afford a bike that’s only good for one event all year, and doing it on a known entity meant I had a solid understanding of what I was up against, and how I would do. Indeed, this has been a really good year in terms of Kenai riding for me (they all are, but this one has been superior both in terms of quality and quantity). For any anxiety I had going into the event, it probably could not have gone more to plan…which is sort of impressive given the scale.