Tuesday, March 29, 2016

ITI #5 2016

This would be my 5th return to the Iditarod Trail Invitational.  The start could not come soon enough. The week leading up to the ITI, I had to control my excitement and conserve my energy!

Once again my sweet, amazing man, JayP helped me get Fly-Mingo, my Salsa Beargrease, setup and gear dialed in. bike/gear/food, total weight-45lbs. I was stoked I nailed my clothing choice: compression tank, l/s thin wool hooded base layer, wind vest, arm warmers, thin wool sock, vapor barrier, thick wool sock, 45NRTH Wolfgar boots, Bergraven gaiters, regular full finger cycling gloves (extra layers) l/s jersey, Montbell Alpine Light Parka, rain gear, neoprene socks, buffs, sturmfist 5 gloves.  12794339_1004541116250993_1125584056926434644_n.jpg
Photo courtesy of Kathi Merchant/Iditarod Trail Invitational

The pace was blazing fast to the first checkpoint, Yetna Station, which is at mile 55. I felt great and was having a stellar time, I was so pumped to be on the trail and to be riding in Alaska! One of the neat things about the ITI is, even though this was my 5th return, I knew it would be different from years past. 12779172_10208434875859650_1226143658126148819_o.jpgPhoto Courtesy of Angie Glover

In the past, I have stopped and resupplied at Yetna. The first year JayP and I even slept here, but there was no time for that. My plan was to make it to Skwentna, see how I felt and decide what to do from there.

When I arrived Skwentna, mile 90, I thought it would be a good idea to eat some lasagna, NOT! my stomach swelled and hurt, it felt like I swallowed a watermelon, whole. I use to be able to eat any and everything during a long distance race, but my body has changed and I have to be careful about my food choices. I don’t think I spent an hour there, as there were other racers heading out, and I wanted to keep up.

I made it to CP3, Finger Lake, mile 130 in 13 hours and 24 mins from race start! this was crazy and very unexpected. Even more unexpected was catching JayP briefly biving under the kitchen table and how good I felt!  Within minutes JayP was up, a bit disheveled and getting ready to leave. I debated leaving with him. Even though I knew it would be brief, the thought of riding with my man at this point in the race was exciting. I opted to rest and refuel for what turned into 5hrs, knowing that the next section, which included the Happy Steps, along with several other taunting hills awaited. However, if I could turn back time, I would have gone on and bivied on the trail.

The 35 mile trek over to Puntilla/Rainy Pass Lodge  was tough. I was alone, there was approximately 15 miles of bike pushing due to a soft trail. I don’t think it would have made a difference when this section was done, to me, it was an 8 hour slog. When I got there, a few other racers, were getting ready to leave. I wanted to ride with someone, have company, so I gave myself 1.5 hours to dry out, eat, hydrate and no sleep.  My intention was to catch the racers in front of me. There was only one person in the cabin at the time and no others expected for another 2 hours, I should have slept-ugh.

Quoted from the ITI website-“The next section from Puntilla over Rainy Pass to Rohn, is potentially the most dangerous. The Pass is subject to the extreme’s of Alaska’s winter storms.”

I left the cabin at 5:45pm.  This would be my second year heading over solo, this time with less sleep. I wanted it, I wanted to catch the racers in front of me. The trail was slow going. I was having trouble clipping in and out of my pedals and falling a lot, alternating between walking and riding. It was somewhere around 11pm when I ran into the Happy River crossing, open, flowing water about calf deep. I backtrack a bit to get away from the cold river, broke out my bivy and sleeping bag to put on my neoprene socks, with the intention of sleeping. Just as I settled in, another racer Kyle rolled up. I am sure he wished he had a piece of cheese to go with my whine. He offered to wait for me and cross the river together. I wrapped up my sleeping kit as quickly as possible, threw my rain pants over my bomber 45NRTH Wolfgar boots and Bergraven gaiters and went back to the river. We made a deal, if one of us fell in we would take care of each other.

Kyle went first and made it safely. I hoisted Mingo over my shoulder and went for it. Whew! We both made it to the other side DRY!! Kyle said “well everything looks good here, I’m going to carry on.” I tried so hard to keep up with him, but I was too exhausted and watched him pedal off.  I pushed on until midnight. It was near the bottom of Rainy Pass where I found a deep snowmobile track off the trail to lay down in.  The zippers on my rain pants froze and I could not get them off, so I got in my sleeping bag, boots and all. I slept nice for an hour. My transition was pretty smooth upon waking and I was back at it.

It was still dark when I reached the top of Rainy Pass, the wind was blowing, covering up the tracks of those in front of me. I could see the outline of the roofless cabin we spent the night in, in 2009, which brought back memories, I think it always will. As I headed down, I was thinking how nice it would be to sleep, and was eyeing up a few places, wholly willpower. I really enjoy this section (and have a few great memories here also) The trail twist and turns and winds through the willows eventually dropping down to the Dalzell gorge onto the Tatina River which leads over to Rohn.

I was stoked when I arrived in Rohn, I had been on the move for around 14 solo hrs. I knew I was going to see the great CP volunteers, and boyeee was I looking forward to those bratwurst! I popped my head in the tent and said “the party is here!” humoring myself. And what did I hear? “Hey Champ, you ready to leave?, I’ve been waiting for you.” OMG! It was my man JayP!! My eyes and heart lite up! I had planned on taking a nap, but it was daytime and oddly I wasn’t sleepy. I ate one bratwurst and took one to go, I was finally able to get my rain pants off, packed  my resupply and within 2 hrs we were off!

Rohn 2016.

Rohn 2009.
It was like I had a new pair of legs, my spirit was soaring! I definitely rode way faster with my great company & it was way more fun. This section to Nikolia is fun to me with big rollers and great views. Riding over the Farewell Lakes is a freaky, but a beautiful experience unlike any other. Looking down I could see thick cracks and bubbles through the ice. There were times when the trail became off camber frozen overflow, and the 45NRTH Dilly 4’s stuck like glue! I had to keep checking if I was wearing a super cape they were so RAD!

We arrived Nikolia in 11 hours.  300 miles, 55 hours into the race with only 3 hours of sleep.  I may have performed better with more sleep, but this was a reminder that I can do more than I think I can. We were warmly welcomed into the house of the Petruska family, had a hot meal and I crashed for 3 hours. It was 2 a.m. when I heard other racers enter the house, it was time to GO!

Back on the trail and headed to Mancakeville! The finish in McGrath. Riding on the swamps and Kuskokwim River the temps dropped a bit, I had to run a few times to warm up my toes. JayP and I switched off leading, which was weird, but fun to me, I am so use to riding behind Jay.  This section is beautiful and my energy was high, knowing I was going to complete the ITI for my 5th time, and this 2nd time with my man by my side. 10626621_1005993092772462_7859464627069541775_n.jpg
Photo courtesy of Kathi Merchant/Iditarod Trail Invitational

I couldn’t wait to see everyone! Kathi, Tracy & Peter, all the finishers, to hear their stories, to sleep, eat, relax, welcome other finishers. Within 2 hours of finishing, I was on a snowmobile with Kathi, and interviewing at the McGrath radio station. A listener called in and asked “why do you do this?” My reply “because I can.”  

Arrowhead 2016

It’s a monster drive for us to get to the AH135, just shy of 1200 miles from Victor, ID to International Falls, MN, a solid 19 hrs of time in the van, with anywhere from 6-8 hrs of sleep, that's around 27 hours of travel, one way.  drive.jpg
Photo courtesy of JayP

We reached our destination goal for Friday the AmericInn in Medora, ND which is in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. We arrived 11pm and had eaten a pizza and several bags of chips all day. Straight to bed.

I am not a morning person. JayP sweetly woke me Saturday morning at 6 am, with coffee and a warmed up van. We arrived in International Falls, MN around 4pm, went to the hotel, checked in and grabbed our mandatory gear for check in. Being our fourth year, we had gear check down and were out of there within 10 mins. We met up with some racers and friends for dinner at the hotel, then to bed.

Sunday, JayP shuttled the van to Fortune Bay so he could give me a ride to the airport after the race. I did a shake down ride back over to gear check and dropped off my drop bag for Melgeorge. I fiddled with my bike and gear a bit, then took a nap before the pre-race meeting.

It was such a blast attending the pre-race meeting, and briefly catching up with friends I only see once a year.  
photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles/Mike “Kid” Riemer

Race day was finally here! I brought my own wraps, cuz I knew there would be eggs and cheese at the hotel, and I love to eat a burrito for race breakfast. I rode over to the start, checked in and “warmed up” for a few minutes. The temps were warm. Everyone was feeling each other's tires, and waiting to hurry up and GO!  

The pace line began, I settled in for the 1st ½ half hour, but was antsy and I wanted to see what I had, so I pushed myself and pulled ahead of a few people. I started training in late October, which was new for me. I have been getting up early (did I mention I’m not a morning person?), morning after morning telling myself, I want it, I want it more than anyone else. begin.jpg
Photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles/Scott Haraldson

My goals going into the AH135 this year were to be efficient at the checkpoints, race the race and to stay on top of my nutrition. The 1st CP at Gateway, I went in, grabbed hot water and was out of there in a minute. GWAH16.jpg
Photo courtesy of Tina Stiller

I focused on racing the race, pushing myself at all times. It was snowing in my face and the course became rudded. I was falling down a lot, it was draining, but I still felt good and I didn’t let it get me down.  Although my tire pressure was low at this point for better traction, my rear tubeless tire was being finicky and leaking a bit, it got too low a couple times, so I had to stop to pump it up. I really wanted to avoid putting in a tube.

About 12 miles out from Melgeorge's, my freakin’ chain broke! UGH! I had a tool but no extra link. I popped the pin almost through but couldn’t get the last bit, my hands got cold, so I put on my heavier gloves and started running to warm them up. I couldn’t bare the thought of running 12 miles to the CP. I stopped again to work the pin when another racer Dave, caught me. He stopped to help, we got the pin out, put the chain back together and I was rollin’ on my way.

My goal was to be in and out of Melgeorge's in under ½ hour, but I have yet to accomplish this. I think about what I am going to do when I get there and try to stick to that plan. I was soaking wet from snow and sweat. As soon as I got there, I grabbed my drop, had 2 grilled cheese, 2 bowls of soup, put all my clothes in the dryer, sorted my drop, filled my water, put my clothes back on, food on the bike and leave. This took me 49 mins, way too long. MEL16.jpg
Photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles/Scott Haraldson

The ruts and snow got deeper after Melgeorge's on the way to Ski Pulk. I let some air out of my tires and it helped, but then all the air came out of my rear tire. I stopped, pumped it up and it was fine until after Ski Pulk. There was a lot of on and off through this section for me, I wasn’t interested in eating my food and 20 miles into this section my garmin died. Rookie move on my part for not having the usual backup odometer. So I had no idea how far out I was or what my speed was.

Once I got to Ski Pulk, my intention was to just have a couple hot chocolates and be on my way, but that didn’t happen. Somehow I got sucked in and spent 45 mins there-WAY, WAY too long. Back on the trail at 4:22am, I knew there would be some sleep walking involved, around 5am it hit, but I was prepared with my can of Red Bull slushy which I mixed with some GU drink, some big chocolate sugar and some chanting, I was good to go. I don’t drink sugary drinks so I knew it would give me that pop that I was after, but it didn’t last long enough, 2 cans next time.

The sun rose, and despite the lack of an odometer, I knew where I was. The struggle was real, and I was slowing down. The last 10 miles are filled with long straight aways, and twisty turns. You can see the tower, but still so far away. I crossed the final road to the trail that leads to the finish at Fortune Bay, I was sooo stoked. AHfinish16.jpg
Photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles/Scott Haraldson

The finish. Once there I saw my favorite person, JayP, finish line hugs are the BEST! hugs.jpg
photo courtesy of Salsa Cycles/Mike “Kid” Riemer

I was also greeted by Mike Reimer of Salsa Cycles happy face. We were chatting and I was saying how happy I was to be finished, how it it took longer than I expected and BAM there was my 45NRTH teammate, Jill Martindale, just 3 mins behind me. Whew! I had no idea she was that close and it was her 1st time racing the AH135. Great job Jill! Looks like I’m gonna have to do some more of this training stuff to keep up with the kids these days. AHfinish16Jill.jpg
Photo courtesy of Jill Martindale

I am proud and honored to be a part of the Arrowhead 135 race and for receiving the spirit award this year. I am also super stoked for the three peat and currently being the winningest bike racer of the Arrowhead 135, Female or Male.

Within 4 hours I was on a plane and back in Idaho that night at 11pm. As I was driving home I saw a few deer, a herd of Elk and 2 Moose all on the road. Ahhh, home sweet home. I got my furboys the next day and we snuggled happily ever after.

Next up, Iditarod Trail Invitational! See you out there!