August 16, 2011

Miguel’s Race Report: Soggy Bottom 100

Why do we have a tendency to script events of our lives? We imagine how an event will occur and then play it out in our minds. Often we forget the details of what would actually take place and just focus on the end result of our script.

Today was a good example of a script that I had written for myself. The goal: win the Soggy Bottom Bike Race. It sounds simple to put these words on paper but in reality the task is much, much, much more difficult. The Soggy Bottom is a 101 mile bike race in Alaska. In actuality it is 108 miles because a section of the race on road is not tallied as part of the actual course distance. In addition I had never ridden the course, had no support crew, which is a huge disadvantage, and the weather could always be unpredictable, which would also favor the local racers.

Going into the first checkpoint (at the top of the first climb up Resurrection Pass) I was in first place but this part of the race does not require much more description than this. Long ago when I was a distance runner a wise man told me that the half marathon was the boy and the full marathon was the man. Needless to say I hadn’t even reached the boy stage of the race; essentially the entire race was ahead of me.

On the first of three major downhills I literally took a turn for the worse. This wrong turn resulted in riding an additional three miles and losing about ten places. I basically watched them pass me as I rode in the opposite direction. One of the riders that I passed going the wrong way actually told me that I was going the right way, and this helped continue my misdirection. I was stopped by another first time Soggy Bottom racer from the Yukon who told me that I was going the wrong way. I was defeated. A hundred mile race is difficult enough to race well, let alone win, and here I was riding extra needless mileage when I was supposed to be saving all of my energy to race the actual course. I half heartedly started going the right way, the Yukon rider racing past me and I hobbled with my broken pride to the next checkpoint.

The checkpoint at mile 42 was where the race actually began. The first thing that I asked when rolling into the checkpoint was where the water was. All of the other riders in the race had support so I assume that this was the first time that the race staff had gotten this question. Slowly rolling over to the back of the pickup that served as an aid station I unscrewed my water bottles slowly so that the mud would not spill in and I began to fill up with water while shoving food down my throat. While doing this I heard someone say “where’s the water?”

I knew that there was one other person out on course that did not have support – my reason for racing the Soggy Bottom had just rolled into the aid station. Chris and I used to call each other frequently but since he moved to Anchorage a year or so ago the phone calls became less frequent and the possibility to ring his doorbell was no longer available. As with all good friendships that are far apart the things that once held us close; the roadtrips, the epic mountain biking, and the summiting of peaks were now distant memories. But when I heard “where’s the water” I smiled knowing that we were now in this together.

We topped off our water bottles and we agreed to work together. Just knowing that we were together I knew that the remaining two climbs and the remaining three descents would be much easier with my compadre. Almost immediately we began catching riders on the ascent back to Resurrection Pass. I could feel that our collective spirits had been raised and we had the possibility of working ourselves back into a podium position.

As I paced Chris up to the top of Resurrection the steady rain began to come down. The only thing keeping me warm at this point was the effort of going uphill. Near the top of the pass Chris took over being the lead rider on trail and I followed him to the next aid station. On this descent the mud on the trail was becoming a factor; our gears began to shift erratically, the braking became more difficult and the traction was becoming more and more slippery. We reached the aid station at mile 72 and as we were shoving food in our mouths people stopped to help us since they realized these mud covered racers before them had no outside support. While we were at the check point the fifth place racer sped off. He had a slight lead on us when we checked out a couple of minutes later.

Again I set the pace up the climb with the intention of getting our podium spots, but unfortunately we did not catch anyone during the climb up to Resurrection for the third and last time. We were at approximately mile 80 in the race and my body was cold, muddy and tired, fighting nausea, basically all around miserable. Even faced with this we knew that the last descent was the only obstacle left in our race.

We put on all the clothes that we had left in our pockets on our bodies and Chris took the lead down the last descent. We knew that this was it, our last chance to fly to that finish line and get a podium spot.

Around the first corner there was a rider with a flat tire – it was the rider who steered me in the wrong direction – the only racer deserving to have a flat tire at the side of the trail out of the entire field that was racing. Moving up to 4th and 5th position gave us new wings down this last descent; well maybe it was this and the red bull/coke that we had just slammed were giving us the winged effect.

We began to take huge risks on the downhill and in reality our frozen fingers could not have effectively stopped us anyway. The trail at this point was flowing like a creek and the mud was quickly sealing up my glasses, jumping into my mouth and flowing freely in the air around me. Chris still had his foot on the gas; we were flying down this descent. Being from Colorado I never ride in the mud, and the two wheel slides into corners were outside of my comfort zone, but seeing Chris do it gave me the belief that I could also do it too. Through the high velocity of our descent Chris told me that he was getting tunnel vision, and I realized that my vision was also starting to tunnel, so naturally I told him to keep pressing the pace.

We caught the 3rd place rider on the final uphill with a great individual effort from the both of us. The final miles of open road were now before us and we could draft off of each other – we knew that no one else would catch us from behind.

We crossed the finish line together, tied for third place. I hurried to the bathroom and I began to think about it while waiting in line: “why do we script the events of our lives before they happen?”

I know that I will always script things before they happen, it’s because it’s in my nature and this will likely never change. This race, however, was the rare occasion when reality was better than the script that I had imagined. Although this race was just a day in my life the beginning of the script was written long ago. It evoked the decade of memories that we had shared when we lived in the same city. During this time was when our friendship was forged, the desert single tracks of Utah, the aspen and pine forest trails of Colorado and the rain soaked roads when we crossed the eastern United States together. It was based on two friends riding together, feeding off of each other and racing together – the perfect script.