We first learned about this popular Alaskan endurance bike ride from, of
all sources, the 2015 Milepost book when we were planning our
trip to the Far North several months ago.
Ditto with the 148-mile ride from Haines Junction,
Yukon to Haines, Alaska called the Kluane to Chilkat International Bike
Relay (KCIBR). Jim was interested enough to enter the solo division of
that event and we made campground reservations for two weeks in Haines, AK.
While we were planning the rest of our Alaskan adventure I found
information about the Fireweed 400 event in the section of the book
about the Glenn Highway. I suggested it to Jim and he immediately read
everything he could find on the race
Image from the home page for the 2015 event
The Fireweed 400 was several weeks after the KCIBR event, which would
allow Jim sufficient time to recover and do either the 100- or 200-mile
event in the Fireweed 400 (no interest in the 400-mile event, thankfully!).
He decided to enter the century ride mainly because crewing and the
post-race trip home would be so much easier. The 100-miler starts and
ends at Sheep Mountain, just three miles from our campground.
The logistics are much tougher for the 200-mile event, which starts
at Sheep Mountain . . . and ends 200 miles away in Valdez. That
would require a lot of miles driving the truck during and after the
race, as well as staying overnight in Valdez tonight instead of in our
own bed. Since even the 400-mile event is out-and-back, it seems like
the 200-miler could also be structured that way to make logistics easier
on crews and riders.
Crew dogs Casey and Cody look
pretty sleepy by late afternoon.
We were waiting at Tahneta Pass
for Jim to come through.
As it turned out, the drive along the Haines Hwy. from Haines
Junction, YT to Haines, AK convinced Jim that
he probably wasn't prepared to complete the paved KCIBR event solo, on a
mountain bike, in June within the time limit. He decided not to do that
ride and we shortened our stay in Haines to just one week instead of two.
Jim continued training hard for the Fireweed Century event, however,
and rode 48 miles of the course (the return leg of the out-and-back
course) on our way from Valdez to Anchorage. I wrote about that in the
June 22 entry.
Jim looked great at the end of those 48 miles on
Riding all but two miles of the course gave him the confidence that
he could complete all 100 miles solo on his mountain bike within the time
limit on race day -- and he did (sorry for the spoiler!).
His time on a paved course like this would have been appreciably
faster on a light road bike with skinny tires but he doesn't have a road
bike, just this Specialized Stump Jumper mountain bike. He has been
training with fairly "slick" tires on it so he has less resistance but
it's still heavy compared to a road bike.
Now here we are at Grand View RV Park, just three miles down the road
from the start/finish of the Great Alaska (Fireweed) Century ride at Sheep
Mountain Lodge. This entry covers pre- and post-race activities and the
Since many of the riders in this event come from metro Anchorage,
they could opt to pick up their packets two days before the race at the
BP Energy Center in town rather than wait until Friday to get them at Sheep
Jim got his packet and bright blue heavy cotton
short-sleeved t-shirt with an attractive quilt-like design on Thursday afternoon
After we got set up at Grand View RV Park on Friday we drove three
miles east on the Glenn Hwy. to Sheep Mountain Lodge so we could check
out the race start/finish area and parking situation:
The 300- and 400-mile riders began their races that day (Friday). The
200-milers started early this morning (Saturday). Jim's event for
non-competitive riders began at 9 AM, and the competitive century riders
a few minutes later. The two 50-mile events started after that. Everyone
needs to be done by 6 PM today for an official finish.
There are multiple team categories and two solo categories
(recreational, with no awards, which is Jim's category, and competitive
time trials for awards) at all the distances. There are over 600 total
participants this year in the Fireweed 400. That's a lot of riders
and categories for race officials to monitor but
they've had several years to perfect the event.
Jim talked to a few volunteers and the RD at the lodge greenhouse yesterday to ask
some last-minute questions.
Jim stands outside the little greenhouse. Note the
fireweeds -- they're everywhere.
The Fireweed race volunteer is overshadowed by a stuffed
Then we drove around
to the nearby "airport" to see where everyone must park prior
to the race. It looked like that could be bedlam unless someone monitors
how and where people park in the correct corrals but it was OK
this morning. (This grassy field is actually used by small planes taking
off and landing in this area -- but not this weekend!)
RVs were allowed to park
there free for two nights. Some campers and tents were already in place
Jim also talked to some people in the campground who have ridden the
race previously. By Friday evening, he was pumped and raring to go!
Well, except for some rain, the race went pretty well from our
perspective. Jim had a successful race and the dogs and
I had fun crewing him in the truck along this scenic stretch of the
We awoke to sunshine and clouds, with temps in the low 50s F. There was
a 40% chance of rain in the vicinity and we both ran into intermittent
showers during the afternoon while the race was in progress. That was
obviously more of a challenge for Jim than for me.
Rain in the
distance (where Jim was headed toward the finish), as seen from Tahneta
Temps got to the mid-60s F. before the gray clouds came in, and some of the
overlooks were windy. Jim had a tailwind at the beginning of the race,
heading east. After the turnaround at MP 162, he had mostly a headwind
(plus rain) going westbound on the return leg of the race -- when he was more
tired from the miles already covered and he had a net elevation gain.
But he's tough,
well-trained, and just kept going. He'll be the first to tell you that
100 miles on a bike is easier than 100 miles on foot.
Here's the relevant
portion of the course profile from the Fireweed 400
website. Numbers in
miles are at the bottom of the chart. I highlighted Jim's portion in
yellow. He had a net elevation loss outbound to 50 miles, then a net
gain on the return:
Per his GPS, total elevation gain and loss over the 100 miles was 8,835
The first 6.5 miles were mostly uphill so it's good that he had more of
a tailwind then and he was fresh out of the gate. It was also nice to
have most of the last 6.5 miles downhill, I'm sure!
We parked at the "airport" adjacent to Sheep Mountain Lodge about 8:15
AM. Parking wasn't as chaotic as we expected since the races were
staggered over two days. Jim did final preparations
for the ride and we walked over to the start:
All set! Let's ride!!
Jim talked with some other folks in the 100-mile ride, which began at 9
AM with about forty recreational cyclists, then headed for the
start when riders in his category were called..
Jim started conservatively near the
back of the pack as the riders faced the first six-plus miles uphill:
Jim was in good spirits at the start and throughout the race, although
he was obviously tiring out by 75 miles.
The competitive 100-miler began 15 minutes later with only about ten
riders. I was more amused than impressed by the formfitting outfits and
sleek equipment these more serious riders used:
Aero-Dude in the competitive 100-mile event
I had fun watching participants in the non-competitive 50-mile ride get
including kids and their parents using some interesting versions of
I went back to the truck and left the start area before all the
got on the road so I didn't have to drive past them to get to my first
crewing point eight or ten miles into the course.
Continued on the
next page -- let's go see how
"Runtrails & Company" - Sue Norwood, Jim O'Neil,
Cody the ultra Lab, and Casey-pup
© 2015 Sue Norwood and Jim O'Neil