Tracking the 200: Day 3, Part 2

Jon Keill gestures to one of his team mates ahead during the Fireweed 200 relay race on Saturday. Photo by Jeremia Schrock/Sun Star

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.

Team Killasaurus Wrecks left Glennallen at 12:30 PM. We reached the Tok-Valdez crossroads when Bippy spoke, “I hope Jon went the right way.”

“What?” Swibold asked.

“I hope he [went] the right way,” Bippy responded seriously. “Because if he didn’t, he’s going to Tok.”

Thankfully for the team, Keill had gone the right way. By the time we caught up to him, he’d gone more than six miles. As we drove passed Bippy shouted, “Jon, you’re a beast!” Keill looked up at her as we sped by and Bippy laughed, “I’ve seen that look before!”

“What look was that?” I asked.

“The ‘Oh, screw you guys’ look.”

When Keill and Bippy switched off, Keill lounged in the backseat. I asked him how he was feeling now that the team was halfway through the race. “Tired,” he responded, “My ass is feeling tired, too.”

Swibold chimed in, “My ass is sore, not tired.”

“Sore, tired. Same diff,” replied Keill testily.

A few moments later Swibold spoke up again. “I’m actually not looking forward to my next run,” he said. Keill was also starting to feel the effects of the race. As we left the official aid station at Grizzly Pizza and Gifts, Keill suffered a cramp just trying to hoist himself into the backseat of his car. By this point, they had barely reached the half-way mark.

As the hours continued to tick by, the rest time between runs began to increase dramatically. The terrain and a strong headwind were partially to blame, but by 4:00 p.m. the length of the day had begun to take its toll. As one particularly harsh gust blew past us in the car, Bippy shouted “Oh, eff you wind! Why can’t you go the other way?”

It wasn’t just the wind taking its toll on the team, but also fellow racers. Keill was racing on a mountain bike, something many racing aficionados look down upon. “I’ve gotten everything from ‘you’re hardcore’ to a sarcastic ‘good luck with that,’” Keill said. He wasn’t angry so much as annoyed. At least he was out here biking at all, he said.

5:30 rolled around and the team was forced to alter their line-up. Bippy’s left knee was swollen, which meant the team was down to just Keill and Swibold. Both remained determined, however, and were rewarded when Keill was granted a second wind. He’d biked a 5-mile stretch of hills in only 20 minutes, a feat which thoroughly impressed Bippy. Lady GaGa’s “Monster” was playing on the stereo as he arrived, and a tired Bippy directed the words at him, “That boy is a monster,” she said.

Jesse Swibold rides along the Glenn Highway during an early stretch of the Fireweed 200.

By 5:53, however, Swibold remained the teams only energetic member.

“I don’t know how much left I have in me,” Keill said. “My reserves are depleted.” At 6:00, the team spoke to a race official just outside of Thompson Pass, where the Richardson Highway ascends almost 3,000 feet in order to overcome the Chugach Mountains). The team wanted to know what the weather conditions were in the pass and if biking was still feasible.

“The pass is wet and windy,” replied the official. “Like usual.” Keill and I exchanged looks and he nodded. Team Killasaurus Wrecks was going to scratch.

Swibold wanted to keep going, but Bippy and Keill were simply exhausted. Bippy’s knee remained swollen and Keill was having a difficult time walking.

“We made it two-thirds of the way,” Keill said. “And that’s something.”

“If it hadn’t been for the weather we would have made it,” Bippy said. “It was fun until the wind got so bad that I lost control of my bike.” Swibold wanted to persevere and the team decided to let him bike the last 4 miles to Tiekel Lodge (the last checkpoint before Valdez). The team officially scratched 134.5 miles into the 193.9 mile-long race. Team Killasaurus Wrecks was now officially extinct.

For the team, the drive into Valdez was a mixture of exhausted napping and euphoric delight at being done. Even if they had failed to make it to Valdez on their bikes, they would still get there by car. Their consolation prizes: food, warmth and a long night’s rest.

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