The Kenai Peninsula had a big day Saturday at the 15th Soggy Bottom Challenge, a 109-mile mountain bike race held on the Resurrection Pass Trail and Devil’s Pass Trail between Hope and Cooper Landing.
Soldotna’s Adam Reimer headed up the effort by finishing in 8 hours, 33 minutes and 2 seconds, to defend his title and break the 2014 course record of Will Ross. Ross finished that year in 8:36:37.
Seward’s Chaz DiMarzio gave the peninsula the top two slots in the men’s race with his finish of 9:00:14. DiMarzio has now ridden in all but one of the Soggy Bottoms and finished all but three of them, both records for the event. He won the event in 2013, with multiple runner-up finishes.
Sterling’s Tyle Owens, 15, also made waves by becoming the youngest finisher in event history, cruising under his goal of 12 hours with his 11:38:37.
The central peninsula group of Mike Crawford, Nathan Kincaid and Brian Beeson also took second in the men’s relay, finishing at 9:36:46. But the winning relay team also had a peninsula connection, with DiMarzio riding the first leg before Anchorage riders Chet Fehrman and Greg Matyas brought home the title in 9:06:22.
Two stars of Saturday’s show had an interesting connection, with Reimer, 42, having coached Owens many years ago when Owens was in the youth ski program at Tsalteshi Trails.
But in a nod to Reimer’s humble and unassuming nature, Owens said he had no idea how good Reimer was on the bike until three months ago. And Owens works at Beemun’s Bike and Ski Loft, so it’s not like he’s out of the loop.
“I didn’t realize he was that fast on a bike,” Owens said. “It’s amazing to see that he was crossing the finish line about the time I was stopping on my second leg.”
DiMarzio has a similar read on Reimer.
“He’s super, super modest and he’s one of the most gifted athletes I’ve ever been around,” DiMarzio said.
DiMarzio stuck with Reimer for the first leg of the race, with both blazing the trail from Hope to Cooper Landing in about 3:13. But DiMarzio would pay for the brisk pace on the second leg — from Cooper Landing to the bottom of Devil’s Pass Trail — allowing Reimer to steadily pull away.
“The second leg was as bad as I’ve ever felt on a bike, and it was all self-induced,” DiMarzio said.
DiMarzio’s superlative suffering is notable because he’s a guy that was the top rider at the Kenai 250 earlier this summer, spending 30 hours on his bike covering a course that included Resurrection Pass Trail, Russian Lakes Trail, Lost Lake Trail and Johnson Pass. DiMarzio’s summer also included Mount Marathon and a 60-mile mountain bike race in Washington state with about 11,000 feet of climbing. He called the summer typical for him, with the exception of Mount Marathon.
Reimer was able to put that kind of hurt into DiMarzio because Reimer said he had no major problems during his race.
This is the third Soggy for Reimer. The first year, he said he didn’t have his feeds down. Last year, he won despite some leg cramps that he also thought were nutrition-related. But this year, despite the hot temperatures, everything went smoothly and Ross’ record went down.
“My hope was he would race the race,” Reimer said of Ross. “When he didn’t, I thought that at least I can race against his time.”
Reimer said he is the busy father of a young family and the race works nicely into his schedule, with Resurrection Pass being just an hour away.
“It’s a fun race, but having young kids, I don’t like to do things that occupy too much free time,” he said. “I like to ride bikes, but I’m always weighing that with spending time with my kids.”
Crawford said Reimer somehow figures out a way to work it all in. A measure of where Reimer is at comes from Crawford’s 3:52 in the first leg of the relay vs. the 3:13 Reimer put down on the first leg of the course. Keep in mind Crawford has won all six races in the 10-kilometer Soldotna Cycle Series this year.
“He’s one of those athletes that has the wherewithal to get balance in his life,” Crawford said of Reimer. “He’s got kids and a demanding job and he still does an incredible job of being a dominant athlete.”
The Soggy is a unique 100-miler in that nearly all of it takes place on singletrack. Even so, DiMarzio said Reimer’s bike is more suitable to technical terrain than to covering large swaths of ground.
“It’s unbelievable. Truly ridiculous,” he said. “It’s an OK bike he’s using for this race, but it’s not designed for what he did.
“It’s been proven time and time again. It’s all about the engine and not about the machine.”
While Reimer’s effort left fellow competitors buzzing, Owens also drew attention for his feat.
“He makes me feel old because I coached him in youth skiing,” Reimer said. “He was a lot younger and smaller than today.”
Owens is home-schooled, but will be a sophomore for the Soldotna High School ski team this season. He focuses on cycling in the summer and skiing in the winter.
He put in a ton of time on the bike this summer, commuting to Beemun’s three times a week from Sterling, plus getting in long trail rides on the weekend. A few weeks before the race, he rode from Cooper Landing to Hope and back, leaving him confident he could pull off the Soggy.
On the first leg, Owens said he felt great as he biked to Cooper Landing.
“The second leg was the worst point in the day,” he said. “I felt horrible.”
Crawford rode the third leg — from the Devil’s trailhead to Hope — with Owens as a ghost rider in case darkness were to fall. Crawford said Owens was conservative on the climb up Devil’s Pass Trail.
“But as soon as we were out of the climb it was like he had brand-new legs,” Crawford said. “He really started moving on the flowy section before the downhill.
“Once he got on the downhill, I thought, ‘I can’t stop for anything. If I do, he’s gone.’”
Crawford said the highlight of the ride came when Owens crossed the bridge off the Resurrection Pass Trail with four road miles to go until the finish. He was with two other competitors at the time.
“He just starts cranking and hammering it out,” Crawford said.
Owens quickly dropped the riders.
The speed limit on those roads is 15 mph, and Crawford remembers passing one of those digital radar guns and the speed registering over 20 mph. At that point, Crawford looked at his watch and realized Tyle was so far under his projected finish that his family — mother, Simone; father, Chris; and sister, Whitney — probably wouldn’t be at the finish line in time.
“I need to text his mom and let her know he’s coming because I want her to see him finish,” Crawford said. “I pulled my phone out of my pack, thinking, ‘How dangerous is this?’ and sent the text with Siri voice control.”
Owens said he could feel cramps coming on, but they managed to hold off until his legs completely locked up an hour after the race.
“It was a great ride and I’m super happy to come in under my goal,” Owens said of breaking 12 hours. “A huge part of that last leg was having Mike as a ghost rider.
“He mentally kept me going through it.”
Crawford, Kincaid and Beeson are three of the top riders at the Soldotna Cycle Series, which they typically finish in under 25 minutes. Doing the Soggy relay helped them get a taste for endurance racing.
“All three legs were around three hours, and each was hot, very hot,” Beeson said.
Beeson said both he and Kincaid cramped up during their legs. Crawford said he didn’t get cramps, but he said riding a bike without rear suspension left him physically beaten up, especially after the descent from Resurrection Pass to Swan Lake.
“I’d ridden it before, but not at race pace,” Crawford said. “I was surprised at the difference. It took a lot out of me, but it was a good overall experience.”
Beeson and Crawford were both amazed that Reimer was able to put up a time that was one hour faster than their combined efforts.
“It’s hard to comprehend how he’s that fast, to be honest,” Beeson said.
But Beeson and Crawford were quick to point out that while many of the peninsula’s great efforts were measured in time, another one was measured in DNF.
Central peninsula rider Kevin Lauver broke a rib in a fall just 20 minutes into the race, but continued on with a 5:03 leg to Cooper Landing and a 4:19 leg into Devil’s before finally scratching.
Crawford said the beating he took on his leg was hard enough. He can’t imagine doing that with a broken rib.
“That just shows a tremendous amount of grit,” he said.
Soggy Bottom Challenge
109 miles (Hope to Cooper Landing to Devil’s Junction to Devil’s Pass trailhead to Hope)
Solo men’s — 1. Adam Reimer, 8 hours, 33 minutes, 2 seconds (course record); 2. Chaz DiMarzio, 9:00:14; 3. Brian Bonney, 9:16:22; 4. Kevin Murphy, 9:23:34; 5. Dante Petri, 9:23:57; 6. David Fisher, 9:36:54; 7. Lee McAuliffe, 9:38:23; 8. David Berg, 9:44:57; 9. Aron Thrasher, 10:16:30; 10. Owen Ala, 10:32:05; 11. Nick Harman, 11:02:13; 12. Nathan Lane, 11:23:07; 13. Tyle Owens, 11:38:37; 14. Hank Statscewich, 11:39:25; 15. Nicholas Blades, 11:40:00; 16. Clinton Hodges III, 11:53:46; 17. James Howery, 12:02:59; 18. Rune Christopherson, 12:13:52; 19. Andy Fisher, 12:17:07; 20. Mike Filipowski, 12:17:57; 21. Scott Summers, 13:24:48; 22. Lee Hall, 13:35:36.
Solo women’s — 1. Meredith Nobel, 11:10:41; 2. Jill Simek, 11:55:56; 3. Shelley James, 11:56:18; 4. Susan Sherman, 14:15:47; 5. Melissa Diederich, Sunday morning; 6. Jennifer Diederich, Sunday morning.
Men’s team — 1. Chaz DiMarzio-Chet Fehrman-Greg Matyas, 9:06:22; 2. Mike Crawford-Nathan Kincaid-Brian Beeson, 9:36:46; 3. Paul Hosmanek-Ed Wise-David Stanfield, 9:55:44; 4. Tim Jameson-Matt McMillian-Adam Robinson, 11:29:10; 5. Jim Jager-Jacques Boutet-George Pollack, 12:08:41; 6. Craig Rohwer-Nathan Zeiger-Larry Harmon, 13:43:47.
Women’s team — 1. Ana Jager-Janus Reyes-Suzy Hosmanek, 12:19:18.
Mixed team — 1. Dustin Eroh-Amy Johnson-Christina Grande, 10:39:42; 2. Rima Cook-Debbie Wrigley-Chris Cook, 12:39:15; 3. Colin Alkinson-Matt Mankowski-Elizabeth Sinocchio, 15:02:03.