|Worthington Glacier on the road to Valdez|
The SellI was thinking about trying to get a 1200km ride on the calendar this year, and the easiest way to make that happen is to work it around a vacation 'a la PBP.' Just before mass one morning I am cruising the RUSA website and see the logo for the Alaska Big Wild Ride (BWR). Deb and I have been wanting to visit Alaska for years, here was my chance! While Deb was warming up with the band at church (she plays the flute) before the procession, I say, "what do you think about going to Alaska for a cruise?" She says, "why is there a bike race involved?" Saved by the bells, and mass starting, I could only grin and return to my pew and pray!
We couldn't work out a cruise, but we did the next best thing. We rented a RV in Anchorage and toured the Kenai Peninsula and Valdez for the week prior to the event. We had a blast, a full photo report is here. Generally; we took glacier cruises out of Seward and Valdez, visited the Alaska Sea Life Center (Seward), Pratt Museum (Homer), Anchorage Museum, Alyeska Tram, Kenai, Whittier, and the Matanuska Glacier!
We had an awesome time, and by the time the BWR was ready to start, Deb was an expert at slinging the 31 foot RV around like it was a Mini Cooper!
Check-in and rider meetingOur RV park in Valdez had cable, so after catching the final stage of the Tour de France and attending a mass at the local Catholic parish, I was able to meet Kevin Turinsky get my bike checked and pick up copies of the final cue sheets. Then it was back to the RV to see if Chris Fromme still won the tour during the stage re-run, and to try and catch some sleep before the 11 pm rider meeting.
|Kevin Turinsky - Alaska RBA and BWR Trail Boss|
The meeting wrapped up and we milled around parking lot swatting mosquitoes and enjoying some blues/rock from a local trio that added to the festive nature of the start. Lots of photos were taken, most were overpowered by the reflective gear we were all wearing! The race photographer pointed the headlights of two vehicles at us and voila, great shots!
|In the glare of a pickup's headlights at the start line|
Start and Day 1We rolled out at midnight as a single group, and the bunch slowly picked up the pace on the 15 or so miles of the pancake flat run toward the start of the 15 mile climb to Thompson Pass. There was no significant wind and we were clipping along at 20 miles an hour at an easy pace. It was fun to see Debby swing the RV into the passing lane and overtake the bunch on her way to control at Tonsina Lodge. She would get there in 90 minutes or so, and sleep there until I would arrive between 6 and 7 am.
I thought, nice we will all get the base of the first climb at no effort at all. Then I notice, that mushy, bouncy feeling you get just before the rear wheel flats out. D'oh! Flat! I pull out of the pace line and pull off. I get the tube changed quickly, find and remove the fragment of steel cable that caused my delay, but the freight train is well down the tracks. I figured I won't see another tail light until the climbing starts and didn't.
On the climb I caught a few riders but as I crested the top, I was blasted with a cold wet wind out of the north. I stopped to put on my layers and rain jacket. It was a cold wet descent to the control at Tsaina Lodge (38 miles). I reloaded my bottles with Hammer SE and a Coke and was on my way. While there was no rain the in the forecast, I remembered the admonition the Bob Marshall Wilderness Forest Ranger gave my hiking buddy Bill Boyle; "Don't you boys be fooled by the going in weather!" My rain pants were up the road waiting at the next control!
The rain eased off on the run to the next control but the north wind continued to build. I rolled into the control at Tonsina River Lodge (82 miles) at about 0600 cold and wet. I grabbed a hot coffee in the lodge and had Deb warm up a can of beans in the RV. I was back on the road in 20 minutes. Deb packed up the RV and headed up to the Control at the Sourdough Roadhouse so she could take another long nap. There were several great views of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in this section. Its route generally paralleled highway we were following all the way to Fairbanks.
|Trans-Alaska Pipe line|
This section introduced us to the 'loose gravel' sections we would encounter often on the highway. Sections 50-300 meters long of what at first looks like chip seal, but was made up of much larger stones (large marble sized) glued to the surface with tar. In any case it really disrupted our pace and was extremely uncomfortable to ride on, I affectionately referred to it as Alaska Chip Seal!
|Mosquito incubator and 'Alaska Chip Seal' section|
|New road section before the construction, Delta Jct is the first sleep stop|
|Near Summit Lake|
A few minutes later a Cessna 172 rolls out of the garage and starts spooling up for take off just in front of the camper on a short gravel landing strip (Apparently the shoulder doubles as a landing strip!). As the pebbles began to pelt the RV before he took off, I suggested to Deb that we should move the camper back. I run to the back window to make sure its clear and Deb starts to back up, then we hear a bump -- Oh crap, my bike! It was leaning against the RV. Luckily it was not damaged, but it was only inches from the front wheel! The Cessna took off and we were both relieved the bike was OK. I must admit however, that at that point in the ride, if the bike had been ruined, I would have been happy to stop the ride right there!
Back on the bike after a light dinner and only 231 miles into the ride I was feeling the effects of 20 hours of riding, most of it unprotected into the wind. I still had 3 hours of riding to the sleep control. The course leaves the river and climbs 700 feet to a tundra area before it levels off and heads to Delta Junction.
|Roadside pullout at the pipeline|
Day 1: 270 miles; 11,000 feet of climbing; 23 hours
Day 2Deb set her iPad alarm as a backup, however it was still on AZ time, so I rolled out of bed and started to get dressed, and then noticed it was 0300 not 0400; so I crawled back into bed for another hour. It seemed like my head hit the pillow just as the 0400 alarm went off. So with a light breakfast of pasta and coffee, I was back on the road at 0455 (control closing time). Deb moved the RV up to the next control at Midway Lodge.
This next section was the low point of the ride for me. I had not recovered from Day 1 and could not generate much power on the rollers. I would get sweaty on the uphills and chilled on the downhills. Three guys from the Pennsylvania Randonnuers flashed by and I was only able to hold their wheels until the next steep uphill. Halfway to the control I was toast. Deb encouraged me on and I finally made the control at Midway Lodge (317 miles). We decided to take a long breakfast break and Deb cooked up some bacon and egg burritos. I also took a 45 minute nap, spending nearly 2 hours at the control!
When I was finally ready to go, Deb fired up the campers sound system. To the motivating sounds of Darius Rucker's 'Wagon Wheel' I loaded up the up the bike. I also plugged in my ear buds so I could have a little music to help motivate me. I have never ridden with ear buds, wanting to hear what was coming up from behind. But these allowed the road noise in so I set the volume low enough to hear the music and the road, set my iPhone on shuffle and was off.
The wind was starting to build from the south (tail wind), and since the next 50 miles to Fairbanks were flat to slightly downhill, and with my new found music motivation (did I also mention I shot my first 5-Hour Energy here) I set off. I don't normally try anything new on a long brevet, but I was ready to try anything and everything to get motivated.
It worked. I was able to hold a steady pace of 18-20 mph. Since most of the bunch passed me during my nap at Midway, I didn't see any riders until I reached the control at the Fairbanks Safeway (368 miles). I took another long break and another 45 minute nap before heading to the next control at Nenana, about 50 miles away.
|This was the only photo of Skinny Dicks suitable for a family blog!|
|On the road to Nenana!|
The wind was still coming from the south, so it was back on the nose from Fairbanks to the sleep stop in Healy. I reloaded my bottles at a campground halfway to Healy at the Tatianika Trading Post and RV park. Again the mosquitoes were thick and I received a fresh round of welts in the 5 or so minutes it took to reload and get back on the road. The wind seemed to finally abate at the sun started to set. Just then I see a sign indicating road construction for the next 15 miles! Most of those miles were on graded gravel and dirt. It was actually easier to ride than Alaskan Chip Seal, but the dirt section lasted 11 miles!
|11 miles of this before the sleep stop in Healy|
Day 2 : 205 miles; 6700 feet climbing, 20.75 hours
|Totem Motel in Healy - Some riders stayed here|
|Commercial area near the park entrance|
|Hard riding was offset by great views|
|The P Wagon and Queen of the Camp in Cantwell|
|Good road surface, company, and generally downhill!|
|Clint from Annapolis|
|Lake in Big Pass|
|Clint and I catch the Texas Crew|
|The end is near!|
Many randonneurs came through and we took lots of photos on the deck. It was nice to spend some time (about an hour) off the bike enjoying the views and the company!
|At Mary's McKinley View Lodge|
|Mt. McKinley (Denali)|
It was about 2000 (8pm) and too early for me to stop riding, so we decided to move up the road to Willow. Since it is not an official control, I could not get support there. So I loaded everything I would need for the run to Wasilla on my bike, and changed into my final kit for the last 120 miles to the finish.
|Rocking the San Tan kit for the last leg|
Day 3: 208 miles, 5800 feet climbing, 18 hours
Day 4I decided that my lack of power the last two mornings was related to eating too much breakfast, so this morning I simply grabbed a hot coffee at the Townsite Food Market and added sugar until it started to pile up on the bottom of the cup. I slammed it down and started eating Shot Blocks and Honey Waffles on the road. That seemed to work much better, and even though it started to rain shortly after leaving Willow, I was at the Wasilla Wal Mart (713 miles) control just before 0700. Just as the Wal Mart in Wasilla came into sight, Gavin and some of the Pennsylvania crew rolled by, having made their stop at the Starbucks. By the time I hobbled into Wal Mart to get a receipt, explain to a couple of McDonalds employees what I was up to, and back to the RV to pick up my burrito to go, 30 minutes went by!
Back on the road, the route had us on the Glenn Highway, a 4 lane divided highway. The suction/draft of the heavy traffic was helpful for forward progress, although somewhat disconcerting when you had to cross exits and on-ramps! Debby flew by in RV on her way to the finish. After 10 miles of 'interstate highway' style riding, the route exits the freeway and picks its way through Anchorage to the hotel finish control near the downtown train station. Luckily the organizers painted these handy directional signs on the pavement:
|Very happy to have this one in the bag!|
Day 4: 68 miles, 2900 feet climbing, 6 hours
Post-rideOne of the volunteers took my bike and hosed it off while I completed the brevet paperwork (unexpected and very much appreciated). Then Deb and I returned to the RV to get street clothes and head to the control room in the hotel for real showers. Arriving we noticed an extreme lack of beer in the room. Having about 10 Alaskan Summers left in the P Wagon, Debby and Gavin scrambled back across the street and stocked the brevet room with cold ones which we and the other riders enjoyed greatly.
We cleaned up, took a nap, returned the RV, attended the post-ride banquet and celebration after the official close time of 6 pm. All the riders that had not abandoned made the time cutoff! Then we waited in the lobby of the hotel until 10 pm, and took the shuttle to the airport for our 'red eye' flight home. My son Michael picked us up at the airport and dropped us home and we slept most of the day away.
This was my fourth 1200km brevet (PBP 2007, 2011; Shenandoah 2008); and looking back I think it was the second hardest. It clearly ranks #1 in terms of majestic natural scenery! Kevin Turinsky and the Alaska RUSA Volunteers did an awesome job organizing and supporting the ride through spectacular and every changing backdrops of incredible beauty.
This was the only time I had a support crew on a RUSA event, and Debby could not have done a better job. She knew what I needed when I needed it. Especially the kick in the ass to get moving on Day 2 when I was close to considering abandoning the ride!
That's why she's The Queen!