Husky House

Posts Tagged ‘Fireweed 400’

2013 Fireweed Century Bicycle Ride

Last year Bill and I did the Fireweed half century (50-mile) bicycle ride.  Despite being a chilly, overcast day, with no fireweed in sight, the scenery along the Glenn Highway was beautiful, and the seed was planted in my brain to ride the century (100-mile) in 2013.   Last year we had signed up at the last minute, consequently we had to stay in Anchorage, about 2 hours away.  Accommodations along the Glenn Highway near the Sheep Mountain Lodge, where the Fireweed starts, are relatively scarce.  Sheep Mountain Lodge caters to returning race registrants, who usually book the following  year prior to leaving after the race.  Same with the Matanuska Lodge, about 11 miles from the start, where we managed to score a 2013 reservation by showing up immediately after the 2012 race and handing over our credit card.  Needless to say, we booked ahead for 2014.

My beautiful Trek rides like a dream!


I took my commitment to ride the century seriously, first by buying an awesome Trek Madone 4.6 and secondly, by hitting the road training as soon as the ice and snow were gone.  Of course, this winter hung around forever, getting my program off to a late start, thereby having to jump in at week three of the schedule, making my first long ride a 36-miler on May 24.  The Fireweed was July 13.  Although I had been riding my hybrid bike, as road conditions allowed, since April 20, I was concerned because I thought getting used to the new road bike was going to take me a while.  However, after a couple rides, I was in love with it, and every ride was a pleasure.  Bill also decided that he was going to try the century, also bought a new Trek, but did’t take training seriously.

Denali was distracting me on my ride through Broad Pass, almost causing me to run off the road.


We tried to make our long rides interesting by going different places and not riding the routes that we rode around home.  I enjoy riding along different sections of the Parks Highway, so we rode from Nenana several times and from Cantwell once.  Nenana was doable on a day trip from home, but required boarding the boys as we would be gone most of the day.  We rewarded ourselves following the long rides from Nenana with dinner at the Monderosa.  The Cantwell ride was my favorite.  Cantwell is 25 miles south of Denali Park, and the ride, that day it was 75 miles, took us through Broad Pass with incredibly clear and distracting views of Mt McKinley for about 12 miles.  The reward here was two  nights at the McKinley Village Lodge, pizza and beer at Prospector’s, ice cream at Denali Scoops and corn fritters at Alaska Fish & Chips.  Training can be really tough.

In at least some fairness to Bill, he had several equipment malfunctions (flat tires) that shortened some of his training rides.  On one ride, he had front and rear flats at the same time, and only one spare tube and CO2 cartridge.  On another he repaired a flat only to have it go flat again immediately afterward.  I can understand that, but he didn’t make up those critical long rides.

Since I had trained seriously and set goals for my ride, I was determined to ride the Fireweed solo and allow Bill to ride his own pace as well.  I told him upfront, and during all the training, that this was my plan, after all, this may be the only time I ride the century, and I wanted to see what I could do.  Despite Bill continually asking if we could ride together, this was my plan even at race start.  Although I was riding conservatively, because I had never pedaled 100 miles, Bill kept falling farther and farther behind, and despite my desire to ride my own pace, I waited for him at the checkpoints, then stopped and waited for him every 5-10 miles.  At the 50-mile checkpoint, Bill said that he might quit at the 75-mile checkpoint, as the heat was slowing him down.  At this point I realized that I had already sacrificed my race (ride), so I committed  myself to coaxing Bill to the finish line.  This was not a totally unselfish act, as I realized he deserved to finish the race, and even though I wasn’t going to ride my own race, I was going to finish 100 miles, and that wasn’t half bad.

Unlike the previous year, it was a beautiful, warm day, and the fireweed along the Glenn Hwy was bountiful and breathtaking.   All the scenery was amazing: glaciers, forests, lakes, fireweed.

A field of fireweed alongside the Sheep Mountain Lodge, where the race started and finished

Bill waiting to start the 100-mile ride.

Somewhere along the way...fireweed was everywhere!

The checkpoint volunteers were wonderful!

Bill cresting a hill along the route, this definitely wasn't a flat course.


It was a beautiful day and the scenery was stunning!!!


Fireweed 400 Bicycle Race Across Alaska

We are typically last-minute people; prior or long term planning just isn’t our thing.  With four Siberian huskies to consider, you think we would plan ahead.  Well, you would be wrong.  After a career in logistics and planning, I am now blissfully retired and planning is no longer an option.  All this is to preface that, at the last minute, we decided to enter the half-century field of the Fireweed 400 Bicycle Race Across Alaska, something that I had been craving to do for the past several years.  The race starts at the Sheep Mountain Lodge at mile 113.5 of the Glenn Highway. There isn’t much there and what few accommodations exist are booked about a year in advance, others camp on the airstrip at the Lodge.  I am not a camper.  Having made the decision to ride only 10 days before the race, the closest acceptable hotel was two hours away from the start in Anchorage, with Anchorage being six hours from Fairbanks, where we live; an inconvenience, but not a great one considering the opportunity to fulfill a dream.  As is our style, we departed Fairbanks late, arrived Anchorage late, had pizza and beer late, then got up early to make the two-hour trek to Sheep Mountain for the race, arriving just in time to get it all together to make it to the starting line.

The visual proof that we survived the Fireweed 400...and Bill is still smiling despite his crash!


It was all worth it. Despite weeks of rainy weather and overcast skies, it did not rain for the ride, and the scenery along the Glenn Highway was breathtaking.  I have felt better on bike rides, I think the all out last minute effort to make it to the start left me mentally, if not physically, fatigued.  But it was a great ride; note the use of the word “ride,” for us this was not a race.  The logistics and support were superb; I don’t think I have participated in a more finely tuned event.  Back at Sheep Mountain Lodge, at the end of the race, there was piping hot Papa Murphy’s pizza and an assortment of energy bars, real cookies and plenty of cold water for participants and supporters.


Spectacular views along the way included Sheep Mountain; the Chugach Mountains; several lakes; Eureka Summit, the highest point on the Glenn Highway and the Nelchina Glacier, just to mention a few.  The ride is a hilly one, with about 2300 feet elevation gain.  The ride went very smoothly, perhaps too smoothly, with us, the shoe always drops somewhere.  And it did.  About 100 yards before the finish, a guy was checking cyclists’ numbers so he could tell the finish line monitors who was coming.  We were told to wear our numbers on our right side, but the guy was on the left side of the road, so he couldn’t see them, and he yelled out for our numbers.  We were on a nice downhill to the finish, and had some speed.  I yelled out my number and kept going, Bill tried to turn around to see what he wanted and had a spectacular crash.  Classic Bill.  Fortunately he was able to get up and finish the ride, but was (and still is two weeks later), quite sore.  He does keep life interesting.