Soggy Bottoms Roll into Hope after 100-Mile Race
By Jennifer Tarnacki
There were several very soggy bottoms that rolled into Hope Saturday evening, completing the arduous and muddy mountain bike race. The Soggy Bottom 100 started at the Seaview Inn in Hope, went to Cooper Landing via the Resurrection Pass Trail, then over to Devil’s Creek Trailhead, before returning back to Hope. The race is notorious for the length of its single track trail through wilderness.
Beloved by riders for its length and challenge, the Soggy Bottom has several things races in the lower 48 does not; miles and miles of Forest Service land with no breaks in the track. With 10,600 feet of climbing and 107 uninterrupted single track, the Soggy Bottom 100 race is an endurance bikers dream.
The race is allowed by the Chugach National Forest as a special-use permit event. The course is not manicured or brushed in any way, and there’s no course marking other than the start/finish banner. Riders are expected to have the skills to survive whatever arises on the Soggy Bottom course.
“It’s as dangerous as the riders’ challenge and intellect allows it to be,” explains owner of Alaska Endurance Association Carlos Lozano.
Lozano is responsible for creating and organizing the race for the past 18 years after a lifetime spent as a biker.
“What got me going on this was 20 years ago was a couple riders went down to the lower 48 anticipating doing a long course, and it got shortened because of rain,” he explained. “We were disappointed.”
From personal knowledge of exploring trails and with encouragement from friends, he pitched the idea of the course to the Forest Service.
“I proposed a plan for a long single track course in Alaska. The Forest Service said uhh, I don’t think so, how about this? And I said no, how about that? And they said nope!” Lozano chuckles, “But it all came together in the end into the course that it is now.”
The Soggy Bottom, which has a bit of a reputation, is like no other race in the lower 48. Other areas of the country might have similar distances in single-track trails, but much of the land and forest is more developed, so trails are interrupted by logging or forest service roads. “We don’t have to worry about that part; ours is 109 miles and 100 miles of that is single track, all on Forest Service land,” says Lozano.
The race attracts professional amateurs; those who are really highly skilled, second to none in conditioning.
“It is a very strenuous event on the mind as well as the soul and body,” says Lozano. “It takes a lot of mental discipline to do this distance at a race pace. It is a lot of arduous force and a lot of climbing. The heat wears you down and you gotta be really disciplined about your body saying ‘no’ and your mind saying ‘yes you can yes you can, get me up this hill and a little further. Take me home.’”
Safety is paramount for the race organizers; helmets and bear bells are mandatory, and all riders must give way to all two-legged and four-legged creatures out there. All sorts of riders join, from Alaska to Europe and South America.
At the Devil’s Creek Trail checkpoint, crew members wait to take care of riders by checking them in quickly. Most riders had someone helping out at a checkpoint.
“That was one of the best parts of the race,” says first time rider Caleb Helkmen, “All the crew cheering us on at each checkpoint was nice.”
Lozano’s intention behind creating the course is underpinned by an idea of endurance as a force for good in people’s lives.
“I feel that athletic events such as this challenges a riders’ capabilities from the mental point of view and from the physical point of view. If a rider can set a goal for himself to finish the Soggy Bottom and he triumphs over all the sorrow that he may come across at that event, like flat tires and broken chains, but he perseveres and he finishes the event, he can learn from that. It took everything he had, and he can apply that lesson to other issues in life, and face those challenges like they did in the Soggy. They can apply endurance to other factors of life.”
The first female solo, Kinsey Loan, came in with a mileage of ten hours and 32 minutes. Chaz DiMarzio, solo male first place, came in with 9 hours and 26 minutes. There were relay teams as well, with the first place team comprised of Tim Berntson, Chris Young, and Greg Matyas coming in at 9 hours 7 minutes.
What are some intentions of the riders that Lozano has seen over the years?
Chuck DiMarzio, who won the first place in men’s solo category, has completed the race fourteen times. “I’ve done it every year but one. It’s weird, but my wife is super into birds, so seeing some rare birds up at the Devil’s Creek Trail was a highlight this year.”
This years conditions were far from ideal. “The trail was not in the worst condition, in that it didn’t actually rain, but the trail was still far from ideal,” DiMarzio said. “The clay soil on the south side just got a lot of rain, so there were wall to wall puddles that we couldn’t ride around.”
When asked about maintaining health and taking breaks during the trail, he seemed puzzled, as though the concept confused him, “Breaks? I don’t take breaks. I try to make transitions under two minutes. I don’t stop moving.”
Curious about the rider’s strength regimen, I asked how DiMarzio maintained his health on the trail. He runs the race using what he calls functional dehydration, taking in only the hydration and nutrition he needs.
“Chewing takes energy and slows you down, so all my calories during the race are liquid. Before hand its the normal stuff, like granola and yogurt, healthy whole foods that are gonna stick with you”
Caleb Helkenn, a 25-year old first time racer based out of Anchorage, came in sixth place with a time of 10:27. “I might not be entirely lucid right now,” he joked the day after the race.
“It was a really cool experience. Pedaling such a long distance is alway a bit of a weird mind game; knowing when to push it, when it take it easy. I think in this race it’s really important to know what your strengths are on the really long downhills, really long down hills and long sustained climbs as well. Coming back up Devil’s Creek, knowing what my strengths were and being prepped for those sections of the trail,” Helkenn said.
“We don’t do things because they’re easy,” says Lozano, “We do things because they’re challenging and we learn from them. And we hopefully pass those lessons on.”
He concludes, that ultimately, there’s nothing like just going out there and experiencing it yourself.
Get out there and get your own soggy bottom.