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By Jeremia Schrock
Sun Star Reporter
The Sun Star’s Jeremia Schrock reports on location as a team of UAF students competes in the Fireweed 200 bicycle race.
The team was up before their alarms rang with the screeching tones of morning. They had slept for less than 5 hours, and were about to embark on a grueling 14 to 16 hour bike race. It was, without a doubt, going to be a long day for team Killasaurus Wrecks.
The weather was cold and partly cloudy, the perfect conditions for biking. If it were too hot outside, the team would run the risk of overheating and becoming rapidly dehydrated. “It’s cool, not warm,” Kennicker said. “Because once you get going, you’re going to heat up (fast).”
The team decided to go for the early 6:30 a.m. start, and Swibold volunteered to go first. After Swibold took off down the chute, the team and I piled into Keill’s Kia and drove 7 miles down the Glenn Highway to the Heck Monument (named for a state trooper killed in the area). There we would meet up with Swibold and Keill would switch off with him. The relay had officially begun.
One mile in, I spotted a sign that read “Rough Road.” I pointed it out to Bippy and asked, “Does that sum up the race?”
“I think that ‘Rough Road’ can describe all of it, and not just the physical,” she said.
We picked up Swibold and Keill set off. Keill took the team 8.5 miles farther down the road to Valdez. We picked him up at the Eureka Lodge and Bippy took it from there. Swibold was driving now. As I rode shotgun, I asked him how he felt after his first relay. “Light-headed, but only slightly. I’m getting better,” Swibold said.
A half hour later, I asked Bippy if she was feeling any better about the relay. “I’m a little tired, but the nervous feeling I felt in my gut is gone. Now that I’ve done [my first leg of the relay] I feel much better.”
Keill secured Bippy’s bike to the back of his car and gestured down the road. “Let’s mosey,” he said. “Let’s mosey at high speeds.” Keill grinned mischievously.
The team was 40 miles in and it was now 9:35 in the morning. Everyone had gone twice, Bippy was currently biking, and Swibold was contemplating the heat. He asked Keill what he thought he could do to stay cooler.
“Jesse, it’s okay!” said Keill. “You can take your pants off (and put on shorts). No one will see!” Swibold started to change when Bippy appeared around a bend in the road. Swibold let out a shout of surprise and quickly pulled his pants back up.
By 10:26 the team had reached the quarter mark of the race. Less then an hour later Keill’s worst fears were confirmed when a boy no older then 13 peddled by. “We’re being beaten by a 12 year old,” he said, sadly.
Moments later, Bippy began to vent some frustration about the track. “God, the road is crap! It’s not smooth, and if you have any tread on your tires…” she paused, “It’s like being in a bog.”
I asked her what she meant.
“Because you’re trying to get momentum to go up a hill and if you’re sticking to the road that doesn’t happen. It’s like running in sand. You have to work a lot harder.”
We saw Swibold approach. Keill was rolling his bike up into position when Swibold called down to him, “Do you want me to keep going? I feel fine!”
“If you want to,” Keill replied. “It’s eight more miles to Glennallen!” Swibold just waved and took off.
“We’ll see you in Glennallen!” Keill and I shouted after him.
Thirty minutes later we arrived in Glennallen, the unofficial halfway point to Valdez. It’s considered “unofficial” primarily because it’s the only major town between Sheep Mountain and Valdez (if one takes the Glenn Highway), but is not the actual half-way point. The real 100-mile mark is actually close to 35 miles south of Glennallen. There was no need to tell the team that, however.
“Holy crap, we made it!” Bippy said, obviously relieved.
Ten minutes later Keill was off and, after gassing up, we set off after him.