We headed out right on time. Larry immediately jettisoned to the front, and I chased. Not to race, mind you...I wanted to make sure he didn't go out to hard! We cruised along the first 15 miles at about 125w, taking in the scenery as the sun vaguely started showing itself along the mountains. At mile 15, the course would climb gradually for five miles, and then the 10 mile climb up Thompson Pass would begin. This would definitely be our hardest climb of the ride, 10 miles at 5-6% sustained throughout.
As we rounded the turn at mile 15, we entered a beautiful canyon filled with waterfalls. It was absolutely gorgeous as we rode by Bridal Veil falls and began the ascent up to the summit of Thompson Pass. I stopped near the falls and ate another energy bar, and continued climbing in the company of Tom Parker. Before leaving, I admired the beauty of the area with Veronica, one of the volunteers. Her response..."welcome to my backyard!" And this was just the beginning...
Tom eventually left me as I caught up to Roland. We rode together and chatted for awhile. My goal was to keep the pace conversational...we still had over 700 miles to go! The climb continued further and further up into the mist, until we eventually crested the summit to an amazing view of our first glacier!
The descent down the other side was amazing, and I approached the first control at mile 39 pretty quickly. My goal had been to ascend Thompson Pass by 9pm - I arrived 15 minutes early! I reached the first control at about 9:20...plenty of daylight still left to continue on this beautiful ride through the Chugash Mountains along the Tsaina River. I got deeper and deeper into the mountains as nightfall descended upon me. The massive mountains arising on either side of me were spectacular, until they finally disappeared as dusk ended.
Remember my advice about "energy bars"? I was now starting to feel my mistake. I spend the next couple hours on the verge of vomiting. I didn't want to throw up as that could lead to dehydration, so I basically dealt with it, scaled back the eating and drank only water. By about mile 80, my stomach had returned and I felt incredibly lucky that this incident had not derailed my ride.
So let's talk about riding on a deserted highway at night in Alaska. As night descended, I started thinking of all of the warnings I had heard...bears, bad roads, moose...and quickly put that all out of my head. I was having too much fun! I wasn't carrying any dead salmon on me, so I wasn't worried about any bears jumping out at me, and I wasn't going fast enough to be worried about hitting any moose. The roads were good, there were cyclists in front of me and behind me, and I insisted on enjoying the night!
At mile 75, I finally caught up with the group in front of me. I could see their lights in the distance, but it seemed like every time I would get close to catching up, I would have to pee. As the road started dropping away towards our second control, we were enveloped in a dense fog and it definitely got cold! We cruised down the road until we saw a car parked in a driveway that started flashing its lights...we made it to mile 83! We rode 100 yards down a dirt road, and were welcomed into our first Alaskan lodge experience, the Tonsina Lodge!
Anna had set up quite a spread for us, and it was easy to sit back, enjoy some wonderful soup, mild pasta and rice, with a cup of coffee, and get warmed back up! The owner was like my grandmother...she kept pushing us to eat, eat, eat! Given the state of my stomach, I took it real easy and didn't sample all of the eastern European delights she had spread on the table. It was hard to leave, but we finally did!