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Somewhere Between Obscurity and Oblivion

Thurs May 1
One of the best things about this race is that it is a great excuse for me to buy gear. I needed quite a few things: lightweight rain gear, an Adventure Racing backpack, a climbing harness, bike lights, new running shoes, a dry bag, and a few other miscellaneous items. I ordered them all over the internet and today my box of goodies arrived. Since I was going to be carrying some of this stuff, and a lot of other gear, with me at all times, I started wearing the pack in training as soon as I got it. Today I went for a bike ride up the road to Alpenglow ski area. Another good climb - more than I expected. I rode for two hours and cranked it up on the flat bike path near the end, just for fun.

Fri May 2
Alright, time to test the running. I can't wait any longer. I have only two weeks until the race. I need to start running or I will never be ready for the race. If my leg responds well, then great! If it doesn't, such is life and I will have to reconsider whether I can do the race. I don't want to leave my three teammates hanging, but if I am injured I have no choice.

Linda joined me for an hour long run on fairly flat terrain near Campbell airstrip. Leg felt fine. This is a good sign, but the real test will come tomorrow.

Sat May 3
NOTE:The Old Man of The Mountain in New Hampshire, collapsed today. For my 'eulogy" go here.

After a few initial hitches (sore knees, calves, etc.) training seems to be getting better. But it is coming along slower than I would like. After all, I realized yesterday, that no matter how much training I do between now and the race (within reason), the race itself will still be longer than all my training combined! That was a sobering thought. Was it too much? Am I setting myself up for disaster? Sure, my two hour workouts are going well, but what is going to happen when I put about 30 two hour workouts back to back?

I knew it was time to do a really long one. I got out some maps and came up with a plan. I would bike from home to the McHugh Creek trailhead, going up through the Rabbit Creek area just to add vertical. Once at the trail head, I would hike up McHugh Creek trail - 6 miles to the top. Then turn around and come home the same way I got there. I estimated that it would take about six hours. 1.5 to bike to the trailhead, 3 hour hike, 1.5 hour ride home.

It was a great workout. Near the top of the hike I started to run into lots of snow, which made the going very slow. It was frustrating because I would be walking swiftly across the hard crusty snow, and then all of a sudden, I would punch through and fall flat on my face. I just kept reminding myself that we could also encounter snow in the race and this was good training.

I was beginning to uncover hints that the mental aspect of adventure racing is just as important as the physical. Sure, you need to be in tip-top shape to race non-stop for 4 days without sleep, but you also need the mental toughness to overcome the challenges along the way and to convince yourself to keep going even when your body screams "Stop!" Even though it was tough going through the snow, I promised myself that I would make it to the top of the trail. This challenge was nothing compared to what I might find during the race.

I was very encouraged by the hike. My legs felt great and I was able to run the whole way down at a good clip. I was pretty tired when I got on the bike to head home. I was so tired that I managed to make a wrong turn, which I did not notice until I was at a dead-end, 3 miles and 1000 vertical feet later. I had no choice but to go back down to the bottom and go up the other road, the right road. I thought about calling Linda to come get me. I was tired and hungry and I still had an hour and 15 minutes to ride. But I hardened my resolve. This was also good training I thought. Navigation is a big part of adventure racing and you have to be prepared to take wrong turns and endure the consequences. It was a good lesson in what can happen when you get tired and do not pay attention to where you are going. It was my own fault I made the ride harder, and I had to pay the price.

By the time I made it home, I was feeling very tired and light-headed, but also very happy. My first real "test" workout and I had passed. I made it. The whole workout was seven hours.

Sun May 4
Sunday was an off day. Linda and I are leaving on a four day backpacking trip tomorrow and I needed a day to rest up and pack up.

Mon May 5
A couple months ago, some friends of ours, Mike and Tanja mentioned that they would really like to hike the Resurrection Pass trail. The Resurrection Pass trail is a 38 mile trail on the Kenai Peninsula that is known for being one of the most popular backpacking routes in Alaska. Aft era dismal winter, Linda and I were also anxious to get out and start seeing this great state and this seemed like a great way to start. After some discussion and looking for dates we could all do it, we decided to attempt the hike in early May. Normally the higher reaches of the route (only about 2500 feet) would still be buried in snow at this time of year, but we were hopeful that the low snowfall would make it passable. We debated bringing snowshoes right up until the last minute - even having a pair of them on Linda's pack at the trailhead, before decided to go without them.

This trip was a great chance for me to get in some good trekking hours before my race. I knew the training would not be very hard. After all we would only be covering between 7 and 13 miles each day, and we would be staying in cozy cabins on all three nights. But I was pretty sure that just being outside moving around with a heavy pack on would be of great help to my preparations.

See pictures from this trip in the Gallery.

The first day was an easy 7 mile hike from Hope, Alaska into the Caribou Creek Cabin was fairly flat and easy. We were there in about three hours, which was fine with us because it was raining slightly and we welcomed the chance to dry out before we were completely soaked. We relaxed in the cabin and watched as the rain started to let up.

Tues May 6
The next morning we slept in late and had a leisurely breakfast of pancakes. After all, we only had another 7 miles to go today, there was no rush to get going. It had been cold last night - there was a dusting of fresh snow on the hills around us. But this morning the clouds were clearing off and by the time we got hiking at noon, we had blue sky. Along the trail we saw lots of bear tracks, most of them were very big. We kept talking and kept Teddy, Mike & Tanja's dog, fairly close by. The tracks looked fresh, but we did not see any bears today. We stopped at Fox Creek Cabin for lunch, then made it to East Creek Cabin, our new home, by about 4:30 or so.

Wed May 7
We expected this to be our hardest day. It was an eleven mile trek up and over Resurrection Pass and back down to our next stop at Swam Lake Cabin. We knew that we would be on the trail a long time today, so we rose early and were on the trail by 9:00. We climbed steadily for the first two hours before hitting snow at about 2000 feet. The pass was indeed covered in snow, but we had hit it early enough in the day that it was still crusty and solid enough to walk on. Every once in a while, one of us would punch through, but for the most part, the travel over the snow was smooth to the pass. As we started descending the south side of the pass, it was now after 1:00 pm and the sun had been hitting this snow for longer. Our post-holing became more frequent and more frustrating. We were extremely happy when we finally put the snow behind us about a mile after Devils Pass cabin and started our steep descent to Swam Lake.

Swan Lake Cabin is a beautiful cabin. Nestled right at the base of Resurrection Pass's south side, on the shores of Swan Lake, which is a narrow lake that snaked between two steep hillsides. After getting a fire going in the cabin and eating some dinner, Linda and I decided to take the rowboat (which comes with the cabin) out for a paddle. On our paddle we saw plenty of birds and ducks, a caribou, and even a black bear that headed up the shore line ahead of us for quite a distance before eventually jumping in and swimming to the other side. Swan Lake was everything I dreamed the Alaskan wilderness would be.

Our solitude was broken briefly when we saw the first other human since the start of our trip, but he continued up the trail and once again we had the place to ourselves.

Thurs May 8
This morning a pair of Loons came to greet us on the lake. We ate breakfast as we watched the Loons and prepared for our 13 mile trek to the trailhead and the end of our hike. Just after starting our hike, we saw the bear again - this time at much closer distance. He was only about 50 feet off the trail. He watched us walk by and we kept moving, not wanting to get him upset.

During the day we passed by Juneau Lake, which was also very beautiful, and Juneau Falls, which was a very big waterfall - much bigger than I had expected. The trail dumped us out by the Kenai River and we piled into the car we had shuttled down here on Monday and headed back towards home.

It was a leisurely trip, but also a great beginning to a summer of exploring the wilds of Alaska. For training purposes, I wish it had been a little longer or harder, but it was still very good preparation and the fact that my legs did not hurt at all was a very good sign.

Sat May 10
I had hoped to do one more long workout like my bike/hike last weekend before leaving Alaska. However, because I was also scrambling to catch up on work in between "vacation" trips, I just didn't have the time. I did manage to get out for a 3 hour bike ride today. I had planned to go for 4-5 hours, but about two hours in it started to rain. It was also fairly cold. I decided that an extra hour or so of riding would not help my race if I got sick, so I cut it short and headed home.

Sun May 11
Today I flew from Alaska to New Hampshire. At this point my training was essentially done. I would do a couple short workouts on Monday and Tuesday, then start resting up for the race. Had I done enough? It didn't feel like it.

Going into important ski races, I know when my body is ready. It just feels lean, mean , and fast. I feel like a caged animal who will be unleashed onto the race course to devastate everything in its path. I do not have that feeling now. I feel like I am in the best shape I have ever been in for early May, but I also know that this is usually the time of year where I am 'out-of-shape' and just starting to train again after a few weeks off. I know that if I am able to survive this race it will be a testament to my years and years of ski training, which have built up an impressive base, and not to my three weeks of preparation. I think I have built my body up enough to endure the pounding of the trekking, running, and mountain biking, and that is the most important result of my recent training.

I have mentioned a few times on this website the mantra, "I am a cross country ski racer - I can do anything." As athletes, we nordic racers truly believe that we are the cream of the endurance crop. We take pride in our impressive displays of fitness, not only in our own sport - but in others as well. Like the time in college I decided to to a 54 mile run on the Appalachian Trail - the day after a running time trial. Or the time I decided to bike the length of Vermont (190 miles) after having ridden a total of about 100 miles all year. Or the time we ran from one side of the Grand Canyon to the other - and then were disappointed it wasn't harder. One of the best things about being a ski racer is that you know that you can try any insane endurance-fest at any time and usually pull it off.

Still, I am nervous. Had I finally bit off more than I could chew? Will my body hold together? Will my fitness level be enough to keep up with three very strong teammates? I can hardly function on less than 9 hours of sleep a night, how will I survive on none? Will I be mentally tough enough to keep pushing, but also smart enough to call it quits if I am in serious trouble? I didn't have the answers to these questions.

And even if I did make it, my own teammates, who are just as crazy as me for enjoying this type of thing, thought I was completely insane for my plan to attempt a 103 mile mountain bike ride in Moab only four days after the race. They said I should expect to sleep for two days straight after the race, and then not do anything strenuous for a week or so. Surely, I would finally overstep the limits of my body at some point on this trip. The only question was when.

It was time to find out.

Fri May 15
Today was registration and certification for the Appalachian Extreme adventure race. I met my team at Sunday River Ski Resort in Bethel Maine. This whole day was a learning experience for me. I knew very little about the sport of adventure racing before signing on to this race and I was constantly picking up information as race time neared.

Here is a brief description for those who are as clueless as I was. Adventure racing is a team sport. Each team has four people. It is not a relay. The entire team must stay together (within 100 feet) at all times and complete the entire course. Each team must have at least one female. Adventure racing is basically an "extreme" orienteering race. Navigation plays just a big a role as physical fitness. The location of the race course is kept a secret until the evening before the start. At this pre-race meeting, they hand out race bibs, course maps and a the team passport. The passport lists the coordinates of all the checkpoints that you must reach along the course (our course had 32). The team navigators then plot these points on the maps and determine a route to get to them all, in order. Sometimes this route involves trails, sometimes, it doesn't. Each section of the course has a specified mode of travel. In our race we would encounter sections of trekking (hiking & running), mountain biking, canoeing (with a kayak paddle - it is faster), and rappelling. The first team to make it through all the checkpoints to the finish wins. A team can receive time penalties along the way for rules infractions such as not having mandatory gear (two hours), not sticking together (4 hours), or losing a race bib (one hour). If you receive a penalty, you must sit at the next transition area (TA) for the required amount of time.

More info on the race at the Official Website

Our team captain is Tracey Cote. Tracey is also a cross country skier and coach of the ski team at Colby College. She has been adventure racing for a couple years now and was recently picked by Adventure Sports magazine as one of "Eight Women To Watch." Since all 4 person teams must have a female and the team must stay together at all times, a lot of the race depends on how strong your female is. Tracey's biggest complaint about some of her former teammates is that they couldn't keep up. I had a feeling our female was pretty strong.

Tracey's husband Pat is also on the team. Pat this is Pat's second Appalachian Extreme. He and Tracey will be adventure racing all summer as a team. Pat is a former Dartmouth Ski Team member and is currently the program director for NENSA.

Our navigator is Vytenis Benetis. He is a world-class orienteerer (is that a word?) from Lithuania. He came to the United States in 1997 to attended the Naval Academy and is now pursuing a graduate degree in engineering at the University of Maryland. From what I had heard of Vytenis (we called him 'V') prior to the race, he is one of the up-and-comers in adventure racing. In addition to being a great navigator and a strong athlete, he is also a very outgoing and entertaining person. I could tell when I first met him that I would enjoy having him as a teammate.

The fourth member of the team was supposed to be Derek Mitchum, who is an excellent mountain bike racer. But about 6 weeks before the race, he broke his wrist and could not compete. That was when Pat & Tracey contacted me. Pat later told me that the main reason he chose me was because of an episode a few years ago in Park City, where he and I both raced the US Nationals 50K race at SOldier Hollow, then partied all night to celebrate the end of Nationals, then got up after a couple hours of sleep to race the Wasatch Overland - a fun, but hard, backcountry ski race. I won the Overland , Pat was second. Pat said that 24 hour period showed him I could handle an adventure race. I was the only rookie on my team (and the only rookie I would encounter during the whole race).

Team #17 - Masters Poles (L-r): Pat Cote, Tracey Cote, Vytenis Benetis, Cory Smith

During registration, V kept saying that other teams were nervous about us. We were the dark horse. V was telling people he was racing with three cross country skiers and they would immediately get concerned. Perhaps they had seen what the team of Nina Kemppel, Justin Wadsworth, and Nathan Schultz had done at the Gorge Games last year, coming out of no where to place third? Or maybe they just knew about skiers in general. We are tough and we like to suffer.

I had no idea what to expect from our team. All three of my teammates had mentioned that they were used to being stronger than the rest of their team. In fact Tracey and V first met in a race, while they were both waiting for their teams to catch up. They all felt this was potentially a very strong team with no weak link.

Tracey explained that the primary team goal was to finish the whole course. Apparently, the race organizers take pride in creating a very tough course that only 8 or so teams (out of 30 teams total) can complete in the allotted time. If teams do not pass through certain checkpoints before a certain time, they are then re-routed to a shorter course so that they will finish in time for the awards banquet. Only teams that finish the whole course get prizes. Last year, Tracey & Pat's team got lost in the woods for four hours and missed a cut-off and had to take a shorter course. This year they wanted to finish the whole thing. They also felt that if we were able to do that, we might be able to challenge some of the top teams as well. My personal goal was just to survive and not hold the team back.

Sat May 16 - Race Day
When the course was revealed last night we found out that the start was in North Stratford, New Hampshire. The first leg was a 45 mile paddle down the Connecticut River. This meant that we would transition from paddle to mountain bike (the second leg) only 10 miles up the road from my parents' house in Littleton. I had not realized that this race would be so close to home.

To see pictures of our team, go to V's website.

The race started at 8 am sharp on Saturday. It was a surreal feeling to know that a race was about to start, but that we wouldn't be finishing it for at least three days. I tried to put it into some sort of perspective that I was familiar with, but my brain kept spitting the information out - Does Not Compute. I tried not to think about the race as a whole and just focus on the task immediately ahead of us.

The paddling was tough at first. We had two canoes. Pat and Tracey were in one and V and I were in the other. V was in the front and I was in the back. V is a very big guy, at least 6'3" and probably 200 pounds of muscle. In the current of the river, with so much weight in the front of my boat, I could not keep it going straight. I was zigzagging as I fought futilely to keep a straight line. V and I were faster than Pat & Tracey, so even though we weren't going straight we were still slightly ahead of them. At the portage, 24 miles into the race, we found a more successful combination by putting Pat, who is much lighter, in the front of my boat, and putting V in the stern of Tracey's boat. We picked up our pace a bit after the switch, but we still finished the paddle somewhere near the back of the pack.

When we transitioned to bikes, our race really started. The first bike leg was the easiest leg of the race, only three hours on a combination of pavement, dirt roads and a bit of singletrack. V really impressed me here. While other teams had to stop at intersections to look at their maps, V had one eye on the road and one on the map at all times and we never had to stop. In addition, he led the whole way and we drafted off of him. It was like being a railroad car hooked up to a huge locomotive. He powered us the whole way and we just had to hang on. We passed quite a few teams during this bike section to get us right back into the race.

Our support team awaits our arrival

At 6 pm on Saturday we made the transition from biking to trekking. We came into the TA, where our support team (Paul Cote & Anna Carvill) had laid out all of our gear and made us a warm dinner of mac & cheese with tuna. We changes clothes, refilled water, grabbed our food and left. One of Tracey's strategies as captain was for us to make the transitions as fast as possible. She said that if you stop for too long, it is easy to get sucked in and that makes leaving much tougher. All our eating would be done on the trail. This was tough on me - as a rookie I was paranoid about forgetting some important gear and being rushed in the transition did not help ease my mind. But I saw her point and tried to transition as fast as I could, while still double-checking my gear. At almost every transition station, as we exited the race officials would say, "Wow, that was fast." We definitely spent less time in the TA's than anyone else.

Heading out for a trek.

We knew that from a physical standpoint, trekking would be our strongest event. V is an orienteerer, and the other three of us are used to long OD runs through mountainous terrain. We started the trek at a very fast walk and as soon as we could not see any other teams around us, we picked it up to a run/jog. This surprised me a bit. Were we going to run for three days? Could we really keep this pace up? Vytenis even voiced his concern, saying that we were "Crazy skiers" for trying to run in this race. But as he was saying this he was also ahead of the three of us and setting a very fast jogging pace. He was game for whatever we wanted to do. We reached our first trekking checkpoint (CP), on top of a mountain, just at sunset. We stopped for about 1/2 a second to admire the view before charging off in search of the next CP. At this point we had made up a lot of time and were among the leaders. Our running and V's navigation heading up the mountain had paid early dividends.

That night was tough for me. All day long I felt good, but as night fell, my body instinctively craved sleep. I started feeling very tired, though I could not tell the difference between mental tiredness and physical exhaustion at that point. Which one was it? I was not sure. Our team kept pushing the pace, and I became increasingly concerned that I could not keep it up. I tried to put one foot in front of the other and not think about the fact that I was less than a quarter of the way through this race. But it was extremely tough. The way my body was declining, I wouldn't make it until dawn, never mind Tuesday. During the night trek, we stopped for a 10 minute nap. I was so nervous about making use of the full 10 minutes that I never fell asleep. I laid there, on the cold ground with just tights and a long sleeve shirt on, thinking, 'I have to fall asleep. I have to fall asleep.' The ten minutes were over before I ever nodded off. We got up and pushed ahead. At this point I was trying to figure out how to break it to my teammates that I couldn't go on. I just couldn't hack it. They had taken a risk by teaming with a rookie, and risk backfired. I wondered exactly how far I had to push myself before I could quit. Could I stop just because I was feeling nauseous and tired? Or would I have to push my body to the point of collapse before they would accept that I tried my hardest. As these thoughts raced through my weary mind, I just tried to keep my feet moving in pace with theirs.

At one point as we were trying to navigate up and over a pass, we were following a very primitive trail. It was a challenge just to follow the trail and this challenge helped to wake me up. I had plenty of practice trying to find trails in the dark as a child who spent all his summers at a camp in the woods. I was back in my element and I was beginning to feel better. I was gaining confidence that I could finish the trek. But the rest of the race was still very daunting.

At one point we were descending from the ridge, and I had an uneasy feeling that we were heading down the wrong side of the mountain. I thought about saying something, but I also knew that I was very tired and I was the rookie. V had the map and he knew where we were. I would just follow. About 30 minutes later, V stopped and after studying the map for a few minutes, confirmed my fears. We were on the wrong descent. We would have to climb back up and head down the other side - bushwhacking most of the way. At that point I realized how important it is for all team members to know where we should be going - and for me to voice my concerns if I didn't think we were heading the right way. From then on I made a concerted effort to ask V where we were and where we were headed.

Sun May 17 - Day Two
As the sun was beginning to come up, we stopped for another 10 minute nap. This one, I fell right asleep and didn't wake up until Tracey's alarm went off. We got up and pushed through the last few hours of the trek, arriving at the next TA, at the Balsams Resort, at 8 am. By the time we reached the TA, the thought of quitting was no longer in the forefront of my mind. My body had overcome the initial shock of no sleep and was beginning to realize that the end was not coming anytime soon. It had settled into a sustainable state that I could deal with - tired, but not exhausted, weary but not completely spent. It was the kind of state that, while mildly uncomfortable, I felt I could tolerate for an indefinite amount of time. At the TA we transitioned back to mountain biking.

At first it was a welcome change of pace. But then my teammates, who had looked this section of the maps over closer than I had, began saying how this section would be incredibly tough. Quite possibly the toughest thing they have ever done. Insane climbs, plenty of bushwhacking, and hard to find CPs. It was going to be a long day.

Indeed it was tough. It seemed that each CP was at the top of a mountain, and each one had to be descended before ascending the next. Some had trails, some did not. We spend a good hour bushwhacking early on, which was tough because we found out later that there was a much more direct trail leading to where we wanted to go. Many times we got off our bikes and walked up hills. In a three day race, you can't waste energy by trying to ride up insane grades. Better to swallow your pride and walk. It was also a hot 85 degrees and sunny which made for even more suffering. After a long day of up and down, up and down, we finally reached the top of our last big climb and we knew we only had one more CP before the next Transition Area, and it was all downhill from where we stood. We should have known it would not be that easy.

A general rule of adventure racing, if something seems too straight-forward, it probably is. Race organizers love to use trails that aren't on the maps, or trails that don't go where the maps says they do. It is all part of the plotting and guesswork that goes into navigation. You have to read the maps and the terrain for clues. Without going into too many painful details, suffice it to say that the last bike CP was not where we thought it would be. We thought it would be next to the creek, which it was. Only we didn't know that there were three creeks in the general area. We spent almost three hours lost in the woods looking for the CP. Times like that are the most frustrating. You work so hard to move up in position, and then you can lose it all just because you are a few hundred yards off target. As we wandered through the woods looking for the flag that marked the CP, we had no idea if we would be looking for a few more minutes, or for many more hours. Earlier in the afternoon we had been in third place. How far would we drop because of this blunder? We finally found the CP and raced to the next transition area, a bit frustrated, but happy to be moving forward again. We reached the TA at 8 pm. We had been biking for 12 hours. We lost a couple places due to our meandering in the woods, but we passed them back in the transition and maintained our fourth place.

Exchanging gear in the TA

Talking briefly with my Dad in the TA. My parents found out the hard way that this is not a sport for spectators.

At the TA we swapped our biking gear for our trekking gear again. This time we would also have a rappel somewhere along the trek, so we had to carry our climbing gear with us for the whole trek. We grabbed delicious helpings of mac & cheese and mashed potatoes, refilled water, grabbed extra food and hit the trail. Initial reports in the AT were saying that this trek should be shorter in mileage and time than the last was. We expected to finish it around 8 am or so.

At 10 PM we reached the rappel site. This was the part of the race I was most nervous about. I had never done a rappel bigger than the 20 footer I did with Nick, and now I had to do a 150' rappel in the dark. I knew I was tired, so I set up my gear slowly, and I triple checked everything. I was so focused that I did not even notice the official race videographer in my face then entire time with her super-powered spotlight and camera. I did not even believe she was there until she showed me the footage of my entire rappel at the race banquet two days later. Once I was locked in, I eased myself over the edge and slowly worked my way to the bottom of the rock. No big deal, but I was glad that was over.

Our trek that night was pretty slow. We were in fourth place at the rappel, but we knew that there were at least a couple teams not far behind. I was feeling pretty good at this point and would have liked to move faster, but no good can come from pushing your teammates too hard when there is a lot of racing yet to do. They did not push me too hard when I struggled the first night and I would not push the pace here. Early on during the night, we laid down for a twenty minute nap, but we were all so tired that we slept through the alarm and we only woke up 40 minutes later when we began to shiver from the cold.

Fortunately, the entire night's hike was on a trail, so navigation was not a problem in most areas. We did have one mistake where we completely missed a sign pointing out our trail, and once again we started down the wrong side of a ridge. Right away this descent seemed wrong to me (I had been paying closer attention to the maps as time wore on), and I asked Vytenis, "V, is this trail doing what you want it to?"

"Yes, this is fine" he said. So we kept walking.

15 minutes later, I still had a bad feeling about the trail. "Are you still comfortable with what this trail is doing?" I asked. "Because I am not."

V looked at the map again, and sure enough we had missed a turn. We climbed back up and got the right trail. Fortunately, we only lost about 30 minutes on that one.

We kept our position through the night as we summitted Mt Cabot, the Bulge and a few other peaks. As the sun came up, we could tell that V was getting very tired and his mind was not as sharp as it usually was. The last thing you want is a navigator who can't think straight. We sat down for a fifteen minute break. V laid down in the middle of the trail and fell right asleep. I was feeling good and awake, so I used the time to change out of my warm clothes into shorts and also to eat some food. As we sat there, a team came by us. We exchanged pleasantries with them, but we were disappointed to have lost a position. Now in 5th place.

Mon May 18 - Day Three
When we woke V up, we told him about the other team and we set off in pursuit. We were moving faster than we did at night, but it wasn't until we saw yet another team coming up behind us that we really got moving. We picked up the pace so that we were jogging all the flats and downhills. Yes, we were 48 hours into the race and we were still doing some running. Crazy skiers. When we reached our next climb, Mt Weeks, we had regained 4th place and we were flying. We went up that mountain faster than I would normally climb a mountain during a three hour hike. The faster we went, the better we felt. I had heard that the race doesn't really start until the last day. It felt like the race was really starting, and we were looking strong. We hit the checkpoint on the far side of Mt Weeks and then headed down. From this CP, we needed to bushwhack down 1500 feet of elevation to a road below. We had two choices, go straight down and hit the road, or veer to the right and possibly hit another road, which was on the map, much sooner, which would be easier going and get us there faster, even though it was longer. We decided to try for the road to the right. Unfortunately for us, the road on the map either did not exist or was extremely overgrown with bushes and fallen trees. We lost a lot of time before we eventually found the road. And when we did find the road, we also found the two teams we had left behind earlier. Our bushwhacking gamble had nullified the gains we had made on the trail. Aaarrrgghh. The frustrations of adventure racing.

Even worse, I had expended a lot of extra energy going back and forth across the hill looking for the elusive road. I was so focused on finding it that I had forgotten to eat or drink. When we finally reached the road, I was very tired, dehydrated, and hungry. At this point I also thought we had about 17 more miles to go to the end of the trek. It was another hot day and I wasn't sure I would make it. On the road, the others wanted to run again. I knew they were all tired, so I couldn't figure out why they would be running if we had 17 more miles to go. We'd never make it if we kept pushing the pace. But I just put my head down and shuffled along with them. We passed one team to move into 5th or 6th - we weren't sure how many teams passed us on the bushwhack.

We soon left the road and started another bushwhack up and over another pass. This was the low point of the second trek for me. I was still suffering from lack of food and water -even though I had begun to replenish. I also felt like we were wandering and didn't really know where we were. Of course V and Pat were a little ways ahead of me and Tracey - who was also suffering - so I had no evidence to support my perception of being lost. Besides that, I thought we still had to go over this pass, down the other side, run 9 miles on the road, and then climb up and over another pass, around an area called Icy Gulch before a final 3 mile run to the end of the trek. When we started this trek, we thought we would finish by 8 am. It was now 12 pm and I was hoping to finish by dark.

I kept moving, trying to hide my weakness, wondering how I would make it the rest of the way.

It was after an hour or so of this that I thought I heard V say, "Here's Icy Gulch!" I had been seeing things and hearing things for quite a few hours now, so I knew better than to trust what my brain wanted to hear. I was sure it was just a hallucination, like all the roads and buildings I thought I saw in the woods a few hours ago during our bushwhack. We still had about 12 miles to go before Icy Gulch. It wasn't until a minute later when the sign that read "Icy Gulch" was staring me in the face that I realized that we were indeed, there! I had misinterpreted what V had showed me on the map earlier. We didn't have 17 miles to go, we had about 5! We were almost there! V had lead us perfectly through the previous area, while the other teams around us all struggled. V's navigation had saved us again. This did wonders for my energy level. I perked right back up and began to get excited for the finish of the trek. After the trek, all we had was a 24 mile paddle down a swift moving river and then a 6 mile bike on pavement to the finish. If all went well, I could sleep tonight!

The original race course was designed to go through Icy Gulch. Icy Gulch is a canyon lined on either side by steep granite walls at least 300 feet tall, with a river at the bottom. It gets its name because the canyon walls block out a lot of sun, and therefore the snow and ice from the winter stays in Icy Gulch much longer than it does in other places. The first two teams in the race both tried to go through Icy Gulch, but quickly turned around because it was unsafe. The snow was becoming soft and unstable. They were in danger of breaking through and plummeting into the icy water below. The race organizers then decided that the rest of us would have to go around the Gulch. So we had to bushwhack, yet again, along the ridge of the Gulch to reach the next checkpoint at the bottom. At the checkpoint, we were back in 4th place.

The rest of the trek was not easy, we were all fighting extreme fatigue and blisters. But no one more than Tracey. She was having extreme stomach problems and blister problems, yet she kept on moving and we made it to the TA about an hour after the previous checkpoint. At the TA, we found out that no one had come through the previous CP since we did - so we had at least an hour on whoever was behind us. This was comforting. We knew we didn't have to hammer on the paddling. As long as we paddled steadily, the current would get us there eventually.

We left the trekking to paddling TA at about 4 pm on Monday, hoping we could finish before bedtime.

The first part of the paddle leg was awful because after that long trek we just finished, we still had to walk/run two miles with our paddles and PFDs, etc just to get to the water. Tracey's blisters were so bad that V ended up carrying her part of the way. We were so happy just to reach the canoes that I think we relaxed a bit too much on the paddle. We knew we had a team only about 30 minutes ahead of us, but we were too tired to summons a final push to catch them. Instead we paddled leisurely down the river, taking our time, enjoying the last hours of our race.

We all kept a nervous eye on the water behind us, just inc case some one was mounting a late charge, but we never saw anyone. Eventually, Tracey had us do some paddling intervals, just so we would pick up some speed.

As we neared the last TA, we expected a nice leisurely transition to the bike and an easy cruise up the road to the finish at Sunday River. But as soon as we landed the canoes, our support crew gave us big news: the team ahead of us was serving a 1 hour penalty in that TA for a lost bib. If we could get through the TA in less than 15 min tues (the time left on their penalty) we could take third! This was doubly amazing because the team we were passing was comprised of many famous adventure racers. Their team bios read like a Who's Who of Adventure Racing. Could a team comprised of relative newcomers, cross country skiers, and one rookie really pull off a podium finish?

We flew through the transition and jumped on our bikes. We had about a 10 minute lead on them when we left. We knew that it was only a 20 minute ride, so, barring a mechanical failure, we had third place. We were so excited that we hammered the bike section even though we didn't have to. Third place! Third place! We kept repeating it. None of us could believe it. My teammates, who had done this type of thing before kept saying this was strongest team they had ever raced with. This was their best finish ever. Tracey said something about this being comparable to a top 5 finish at US Skiing Nationals. I was just really happy I made it and I was able to contribute to a successful team effort. We crossed the line just before 10 PM.

We were so wired from our exciting finish that it took two hours for us to calm down. We waited at the finish for the next team and congratulated them. They were in good spirits despite getting nipped at the last minute. They had all done too many of these races to get upset about a 1 hour penalty. By about midnight, we were all showered and relaxing in our hotel room. We crammed all six of us (four racers and two support people) into one hotel room at the Grand Summit Hotel (race headquarters), which meant that I was on the floor in a sleeping bag, with no sleeping pad or anything. No matter. I fell asleep before my head hit the pillow and slept straight through until 7:00 AM. At one point our air conditioner started screaching, but I never heard it. I was out cold.

Tues May 19
I was surprised when we all woke up at 7 am, and were relatively awake. I had expected to be a zombie for the entire day. Since we were all awake, we went out for a big breakfast. Then it was back to the hotel to sort and organize gear, then relax and nap until the awards banquet at 3:00 pm.

Full Appalachian Extreme Results

So now the ordeal was over. It was a very rewarding experience and I am very glad to have done it. It was definitely the hardest thing I have ever done, which says something.

Would I do it again? Too soon to answer that question. I think I would, except that I worry about the abuse the body takes. For the last part of the second trek I had to take a few Advil because my knees were very sore. I would like to do more of these because of the challenges they present and the sense of accomplishment you get from finishing, but I also want to be able to walk ( and run and ski) in 20-30 years. So I am not sure if I will try another. We'll see.

In the meantime, I have more pressing issues. While everyone else gets ready to head home and relax for a few days, I need to get ready to head to Utah for the third segment of my Spring Triple Crown: the 103 mile mountain bike ride on the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. It is only four days away. Ouch.

Friday May 22
After a few days at home in New Hampshire, it was on to the next adventure.

Today I boarded a plane for Utah and the White Rim trail in Moab.

For the six years that I lived in Park City, my training partners (Erik Stange and Scott Loomis) and I always talked about riding the White Rim mountain bike trail in Canyonlands National Park near Moab. It is 103 miles, and though most people ride it over the course of a long weekend, we wanted to do it in a day. This was not unheard of - there are plenty of very fit mountain bikers who do this.

But we never got around to it during my years in Park City. This were for a number of reasons, mainly timing. The best time to do this ride is early spring, like March or April - early enough that the oppressive summer heat hasn't set in yet. But for us as ski racers, this was our only time of the year to relax. Sure we always made a few spring bike trips to Moab, but we were there for fun - not to grind out 100 mile rides. By summer we were back in training mode, and could have done the ride, except that the temperature in Moab usually hovers around 100 degrees that time of year. No thanks. Then when the temperatures begin to cool off in the fall, usually in October, we were always packing our bags to head to Fairbanks for the first skiing of the season. So it never worked out.

This spring, as I sat here in Anchorage lamenting our horrible winter, I began longing for a trip to the sun and warmth of Utah's red rock desert. Those trips had become one of the highlights of living in Utah, and now that I was so far away, that was what I missed most. So when I got an email last month from Scott, saying that they were finally going to ride the White RIm this year, I knew I had to be there. After talking about it for years, there was no way I was going to let them do it without me.

The only problem was that they were going to do it on Memorial Day weekend - oppressive heat or not. This was a mere four days after my adventure race in New Hampshire ended. Could I possibly do both? My adventure racing teammates didn't think so. They thought I was crazy for even attempting it. (Note to self: when adventure racers think you are crazy, you might as well head straight to the nearest loony bin. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Adventure racers are the definition of insane, as I recently found out.) But I had to try. Riding the White Rim was the one epic Utah adventure I had not conquered before leaving. I couldn't bear the thought of the guys doing it without me. So here I was on a flight to Salt Lake City, with my legs still sore and my feet still numb from the 60 hour adventure race.

Erik Stange picked me up at the airport and we headed south. I was not traveling with a bike, I had reserved a rental in Moab. Renting a bike for a 103 mile ride in Moab is an adventure in itself. 99.9% of the bikes they rent are of the downhill, super-moto, plush full suspension variety. I've seen motorcycles that weigh less than some of those behemoths. No of the bike shops had a performance front -suspension model, which is what I wanted. The White Rim trail is not very technical, so I wanted to save weight. But I had few options, so I ended up going with a Cannondale Gemini, which weighed slightly less than I do.

That night our group convened at Eddie McStiffs Restaurant for dinner, then drove out to Canyonlands to camp near the start of the ride. Our group consisted of Scott Loomis, Erik Stange, Nathan Schultz, Andrew Johnson, Lara Kendall, and me. Driving our support car would be Nathan's wife Terry, and Alex Shaffer of the US Alpine Ski Team.

Sat May 23
Note: parts of this journal entry were written by Erik Stange
By 7:00, we had packed up, eaten, dressed and driven the 12 miles of dirt road to get to the portion of the trail we chose to start on. The entire loop features three major climbs, and we thought it best to get the biggest out of the way early. That meant we started out ride, and our watches, at the lowest point of the loop: Mineral bottom. The air was already warm as we rode up the Horsethief Trail and back towards Hwy 313 that would take us into the Park. We would be doing about 2000 feet of climbing right off the bat, so we wanted to get that over with before the sun got too high in the sky. It was supposed to be 95 degrees today.

Looking back down the first climb

As soon as we started, I knew it would be a long day. The first 25 miles would all be on dirt roads, which meant that it was easy for the pace to creep faster and faster. My bike felt like a tank. We were climbing straight up a series of steep switchbacks to get from the Green River to the Canyonlands plateau. It was clear that the guys were riding comfortably, but I was working pretty hard to keep up. Not only was my bike heavy, but I was still feeling the after-effects of the adventure race. Could I make it the whole way? Maybe, but certainly not at the pace these guys were setting. They were all feeling fresh enough to get an echelon going along the highway, establishing a trend of riding just a little faster than we had expected to. Lara and I were off the back, wondering what the rush was. We had hoped to finish the ride in about 10 hours, yet here we were averaging 14 mph on our longest uphill.

By the time we had ridden over three and a half hours, we had yet to meet up with out support car. There was a little confusion about how closely the car should follow the group of riders, and this problem was compounded by the fact that we were riding at close to a car’s top speed over this kind of terrain. We were basically out-running our support. The key to insanely long workouts, especially in heat, is to drink early and often. We needed to take in fluids and food before we felt we needed them, just like you would in a ski marathon. We knew this but we didn’t really want to stop riding and wait, and there was even less interest in turning around to ride back to the car, so we just kept going.

The car did catch up to us at about four hours, and we loaded up on water, energy drink, pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, bagels, fun-size candy bars and yogurt. We lingered a little, but looking back it seemed like more of a grab and go. As we pedaled on Erik discovered that a plain bagel, held for a few minutes in a sweat-caked glove, tastes a lot like a soft pretzel. Mmmm...tasty.

The White Rim trail rolls a little, but for the most part it remains fairly flat as it meanders along the rim of white sandstone that sits above the river bottoms hundred of feet below. From time to time, we would stop briefly to check out a natural arch, or marvel at the precipitous drops straight down to the river. But for the most part, we just rode. There were a perhaps six to ten other groups out there that same day, and we might say 'hi' as we rode past.

About halfway through the ride, I knew that if I was going to make it the whole way, I had to let the other guys go. I had done a pretty good job of keeping up to that point, but I was getting tired. I began riding my own pace which was slightly slower than the other guys. I found that if I just backed off a little, I could keep them in sight most of the time, but not kill myself doing it. Lara, who was still going strong, was also riding her own pace a little further back.

After about seven hours of riding, we stopped to let the support vehicle catch up to us again. We were still managing to out-pace the top speeds of a 4WD car on the same terrain, and I began to feel the effects of the energy drain. We were still making great time and we figured we had only about 20 miles to go.

Once the car got to the point where we were waiting, at the top of Hogback hill, we learned that Alex and Terry had been wrestling with their own problems. Gallon jugs of water had exploded from all of the jostling and filled the ski box on top of the car. There had also been a couple of close calls over some sections of the trail which clearly put Subaru’s claim of building all-terrain vehicles to the test. Alex later said that years of studying race courses and having to make split second decisions about traction on snow had served her pretty well when it came to four-wheeling. I doubt any of us would have had the same success.

We rummaged about in the car’s stash of food, but without the same enthusiasm as before. We were all getting tired and we were motivated only because we thought we were almost home. We quickly applied some chain lube and dropped down the backside of Hogback Hill. Only one major climb remained. Nathan, Scott, Andrew and Erik rode in a fast-paced group along the flatter sections, while I hung a little further back. Lara had called it a day at Hogback Hill - still an impressive 70 mile ride for her.

As we neared the end, the long day, the heat, the lack of food and water from our lagging support vehicle began to get to all of us. I was running on fumes. I thought the finish should be around every corner, but it turns out I still had 10 more miles. Ouch. The last climb was steep and technical and I am not afraid to admit that after a long day I had to walk a lot of it. That last climb – Hardscrabble Hill – proved to be the undoing for all of us. Shortly before we hit the ascent the sun popped out from behind the clouds and really beat down on us. I fell off the pace, and we all ended up climbing Hardscrabble on our own. What energy reserves we had left were milked out as that damn climb went up and up. The descent and the last five to seven miles could best be described as a death march.

At one point I came around a corner and saw Erik sitting on the side of the trail. He was exhausted and without water. I gave him some of mine and we continued on. When I made it to the end, Nathan Andrew and Scott were just finishing up a quick dip in the river. I did the same, and even though the water was red with mud, it was very refreshing. Erik arrived a short time later, followed shortly by the support car. We had done the White Rim!

We finished the loop in somewhere between nine and nine and a half hours. We drove into town, returned the rental bike, and went over to the soft green grass in Moab’s City Park to fall asleep. Nathan, despite leading the charge for most of the ride, was 'shattered' (as he put it) enough to go to the hospital for an IV. The rest of us were also exhausted, but a nice cold smoothie did the trick to get us feeling better.

On the drive back into town, I did some quick calculations and determined that I had trained over 70 hours in the course of one week. Indeed, I had earned some time off. I was looking forward to returning to Alaska and not training for a few days, or weeks. But the important thing is that my spring Triple Crown was complete! I had attempted a sequence of adventures that quite possibly could have been impossible for me and lived to tell the story. It is quite amazing what the human body can do, when you throw reason out the window.

© 2003 Cory Smith. All Rights Reserved.