02 August 2015

And the long events continue

After completing my super randonneur award it was time for me to put some racing into my legs... I decided to race the Soggy Bottom - An Alaskan 100mile off road race.

From the Alaskan Endurance Association facebook page.  The Soggy Bottom 100 was created 12 or so years ago to challenge local mountain bike riders to a 100 miles of continuous riding in some awesome terrain. Sure the route was different, but core premise of the Soggy remained the same, challenge the local riders to achieve higher levels of mental and physical endurance while riding a bike through stunning scenic and challenging terrain.
The challenge remains as it should, despite several shorter race options that are now available.

I roped a couple of friends into riding with me so at least whilst I was suffering I wouldn't be alone.  Thank you to Oscar and Chuck for riding with me and a big thanks to Chuck's wife and kids for supporting the three of us whilst doing this event.

As with any longer distance event there should be a certain amount of endurance that goes into it.  I think that everyone attending this years event found this endurance whilst trying to get to the start, sadly a vehicle collision on the highway closed the road for almost 11hours.  We set off from Anchorage around 8pm only to discover the road to Hope was still closed with no word on opening.  Oscar and I made the decision to try again in the morning.
At 05:45 Oscar picked me up and we were off to Hope which is around 1.5hours drive away from Anchorage.  Oscar had negotiated a place to stay (Thanks Tony) so that when we finished we wouldn't have to drive home and could enjoy the atmosphere at the event.

The Soggy Bottom can be thought of as three distinct legs.
The petite bottom as two Hope, Cooper Landing, Hope - note this is still an 80+ mile event and not for inexperienced cyclists.

Leg one is Hope to Cooper Landing, this is approximately 43 miles.

Leg two goes from Cooper Landing to Devil Pass trail head and is approximately 26 miles

Leg three takes riders from Devils Pass Trail head back to Hope. Segment is approximately 35 miles

As we were preparing gear in the morning before the start a bear was spotted by the river, here is a really bad shot of it climbing a tree, although bears are common in the area it is pretty rare (afaik) to see one, hopefully this would mean we wouldn't see one for the rest of the day.
really crappy bear picture
At 9am the relay racers lined up at the start and headed off for the first leg over to Cooper Landing,
Getting ready to race

And they are off

The Soggy Bottom and Petite bottom (Hope to Cooper Landing to Hope) racers set off at 09:04, as I was riding I don't have any pictures of the start but I stole a few from friends on facebook
Start - Photo Credit Laura Fox
The race starts with around 4.5miles of road to the Resurrection Pass trail head then the climbing begins. 
Aero is everything! Is this Enduro?
 As we joined the trail Oscar, Chuck and I were at the front of the third group on the trail, we were a big group as can be seen in the picture below.
Starting the Res climb

Still going up!

Still climbing
 As the trail climbed up, 24 miles from the start to the summit the group split down into smaller and smaller number of people.
Climbing with smiles

Still climbing

Group had thinned by now 

One of the steep climbs out of the creeks
 The climb is rewarding though as you get to ride some fantastic single track, as can be seen the weather is also fantastic at this point.
single track sweetness
 After you exit the trees you get to the high alpine trail, this is where if the weather is bad it can be really miserable, fortunately today was not one of those days.
Awesome scenery 
Then we came across the Chewbacca bacon station, these fantastic people took a 12mile ride in to bring all racers the goodness of bacon...
WTF - photo credit Michael Braun

From looking at this blog you will start to think this ride is all climbing and nice weather.... well that is only half the story, we did get some rain which turned the trails pretty slick and then with the warm weather made it really muggy.  We also got to ride some fantastic downhills but alas my one handed camera skills are not up to photos of that, but trust me this ride has some of the best descents Alaska has to offer.
And then the rain started
 After a quick pit stop at Cooper Landing we headed back to the trails and more climbing, at least the rain was cooling us off at this point.
Climbing out of Cooper Landing in the rain


Lake singletrack
 I think all riders will agree the summer route by swan lake is a hike your bike section, I also think most would have a few choice words with the trail planner too.
Sometimes you have to walk
 After the hike your bike section the trail becomes a lot more rideable and soon you are up to the trail intersection (Resurrection, Coopers and Devils).  These wonderful people were out making sure everyone took the right trail, for the full soggy experience it can be summarised take the trail to the right at all times.
Support/timing crew
This is the top of the best descent of the whole race IMHO, descending Devils Pass. It is fun fast and great place to recover the legs as for around 5 of the 10 ish miles you don't have to pedal :D, well perhaps the really fast guys do but I took the opportunity to relax my legs, at least for some of the trail.  The one caveat with this descent is that it is narrow in places and the uphill rider has the right of way which means your flow can be interrupted.

More sweet single track - Devils Pass
A shot of Oscar and I coming into the Devils Point checkpoint.
Tongue out to cool off 

The flipside to a sweet descent on an out and back course is the climb that inevitably follows.
Climbing again
 There is another version of this photo floating around that shows our thoughts on the last climb.
Top of the last big climb

More sweet single track

Spot the riders

We crested Resurrection pass at 2600ft and started our descent back down to Hope 20ft and 24 miles away.  At the top of the descent after a very fast section we caught back up with Tony, helping out another person on the trail.  This one had a huge split in her tyre sidewall and the Park Tyre Boots were not adhering to the sidewall (we think Stans is the problem).  Luckily Chuck had some Alaskan fix it favourite Duct Tape and we left Tony pumping things back up.
Stans doesn't work when you tear a sidewall
The descent continued for the three of us until after a stream crossing Chuck and I came across Oscar stopped.  He had nearly run into a bear (brown) and two cubs.  They had gone off into the woods but Oscar insisted he needed to pee whilst Chuck and I urged him it would be wise to back the hell away from the situation as the bear was barking at her cubs/us.  We hung around for about 5 min deciding what to do.  It was decided that Oscar would ride through first (as a decoy) and I would follow with Chuck since we both had bear spray.  Following close encounters of the bear kind we continued along the trail at a good clip with lots of  "Hey Bear" calls.

SOB hill
There are 7 large bridges across creeks and after number 6 we end up getting to a wall of torture, I am reliably informed its called son of a bitch hill and at mile 99 of the race I am inclined to agree with that.
At mile 99.1
At mile 101 we rejoin the road network and its pretty much downhill and easy pedalling to the finish.
Finally the road

Finish line in sight - Photo Credit Vastyl Mangold

At least we are smiling - Photo Credit Vastyl Mangold

So what did I think of my first Soggy Bottom.  It was hard (we finished in 13hrs 15min, most importantly before closing) and I once again couldn't have done so well without some great friends to ride with.  I see areas where I could improve if I were to complete the full version again. We were lucky with the weather, it could have been much worse like it has been in the past where the race really became a ride for survival not a joy ride that the above pictures seem to indicate.  All in all I had a blast.

A huge thankyou must go out to Carlos and his support crew without whom this event would not be the success it is. 
Until next time, ride safe all!

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