We were blessed with a gorgeous winter and early spring in Homer. And after several low-snow and really icy years, the groomed trails, clear skies and beautiful, bluebird sunny days have been an extra special treat.
This was an ideal winter weather-wise for the Homer Epic - a 50 or 100 kilometer human-powered race in the Caribou Hills; ski, bike, or run.
Epic route = gorgeous (and hilly)!!!
Ready for a little adventure to combat cabin fever and other winter anxieties, I started thinking about the possibility of participating in this event in early February. My main concern was if I would be able to run that kind of distance while carrying enough food, water and the required emergency gear on my back.
Here's the list in case you're curious
Hooded, insulated AND wind proof jacket (or equivalent)* – must fit OVER your racing layers*
Insulated AND wind proof bottoms (or Equivalent)* – must fit OVER your racing layers*
Navigation aid (GPS with course or map and compass) and know how to use it
Headlamp (with new batteries, providing 12+ hours of useful light)
Rear flashing light must be used after 7:30 pm (with new batteries)
Two-quart (64 oz) insulated water container
Food: begin with enough calories for YOU to complete within 24 hours.
Emergency rain gear if temperatures are near freezing
Emergency blanket (space blanket)
After training for a couple weeks with 100 ounces of water and a few rocks in my Camelpack, I began to feel comfortable with the weight and decided that, despite my lack of training, participating in the Homer Epic on a year like this was an opportunity I could not pass up.
With our backpacks packed, the 31 racers -18 bikers, 12 skiers, and 1 runner - met at McNeil Canyon Elementary at 7:00 am for a pre-race meeting and an 8:00 start. The temperature was 7 degrees, the sunrise was gorgeous, and the trails frozen and fast.
Mary gets ready to kill it on her first 100k ride.
We are wondering if we are totally insane.
Skier climbing with the power line early in the course.
We followed the Anchor River 17 km to the Caribou Lake Trailhead and Blue Shed Parking Lot. The breathtaking sunrise and incredible mountain vistas were the stuff dreams are made of from the very beginning.
I had our Inreach with me in case of emergency, but because I was concerned about battery life, I decided to wait to turn on the Fitbit watch I had borrowed until the first (and only) check-point.
By 6 km in, the racers were pretty well spread out. Without anyone to pace with and no real time goal in mind (I was going for finishing), I found myself taking an awful lot of snack, pee, and gear-adjustment breaks.
Elevation gains and losses from the very beginning!
About an hour in, I discovered the hose to my water bladder had frozen despite being heavily insulated and I stopped yet again to fiddle with it. Finally, though, I arrived at the Blue Shed and turned the Fitbit on. It was surprising to me how much of a difference it made mentally to have a better idea of my pace and the distance covered as I headed out to Caribou Lake. I was super grateful to my friend for loaning me the watch!
About halfway to the lake, I stopped to take this selfie, completely ignorant of my incredible ice beard until I was looking back at my photos later that evening! I heard it was something like -14 at this point in the run... It didn't feel that bad, but definitely cold!
Right about this same time, my water-bladder hose, tucked way down into my vest, began to thaw, spewing fruit punch Gartoraid down my fleece and completely soaking my skirt! Luckily, it didn't take very long for the liquid to freeze and chip off.
Caribou Lake came into view before I knew it, and I slowed to a walk to eat some lunch. A few friendly snow machiners passed me at this point, but otherwise my entire day was quiet, gorgeous, and solitary.
As I continued around the course, the trail was hard-packed and well-groomed. Towards the afternoon, there were a few places where my feet punched through and where the trail was very wind-swept.
I plodded back towards to McNeil on the Matthew's Hill Trails. Each curve in the road, each giant hill, each wide-open space brought new breathtaking vistas - rolling, snow-covered hills; white-capped purple mountains; blue skies as far as the eye could see.
At times I watched my pace decrease to about two-miles-an-hour climbing some of the grueling hills, but the day was so perfect that all I remember feeling after getting over my initial nervousness and gear issues is happy, happy, happy!
A skier heads back to McNeil after his second lap.
Mary heads back out on her second lap!
I crossed the finish line at McNeil Canyon Elementary School with a full heart - so grateful to the Cycling Club and all the incredible organizers, volunteers, and sponsors for this beautiful adventure and opportunity. What a day!