TALKEETNA -- Fresh snow, warm temperatures and fat-tire bike racers from all over Alaska descended on Talkeetna for the first annual "Trio" Fat Tire Bike Race last Saturday, Feb. 9. As racers arrived in town Friday night, race organizers Greg Matyas, owner of Speedway Bicycles/Fatback Bikes in Anchorage, Tony and Julie Berberich, of Backcountry Bike and Ski in Palmer, and Ralph Hoepner, of We Cycle in Talkeetna seemed skeptical and promised a tough race in soft snow and a party with beer and a meal afterwards. The course was groomed by snow machine but hadn't set up, a prospect that had many racers questioning how far they wanted to push their bikes as they headed for the bars and there really seemed no reason to not close down The Fairview Inn.
Saturday morning was rough and warm. The Talkeetna Roadhouse windows steamed as eager racers ate copious amounts of food and drank buckets of "Good Strong Coffee" like the sign hanging in the kitchen said. The small town brimmed with fat bikes running low tire pressure for the soft snow. A little before 10, a start/finish banner hanging across Main Street in front of Denali Brewing Co., a Trio sponsor, had racers organized facing east. Talk of quit, "Bloody Mary's within the hour" and "we're screwed" permeated the pack. Greg Matyas gave a pre-race talk light on rules. Quite a few participants don't wear helmets and almost exactly at 10 a.m. nearly 90 Fat Bikes race out of town.
A 20-mile loop was set to be tough for the first half before hitting the flats of the Talkeetna River and a easier return to town. A 20-mile race and a 60-mile race, each with men's and women's divisions, were to be decided. Darin Marin of Anchorage took the lead out of town and down the Talkeetna Spur Highway before turning left onto Second Street and left again on F Street. The pack roared by the Cemetery and the Climber's Memorial and past Swiss Alaska onto The Swamp and Twister Creek. Marin held the lead for five or six miles on the Old Ridge Ski Trail and through Whiskey Slough before relinquishing it to Joshua Chelf.
The leaders ride everything, while 20 percent of competitors are able to ride a lot of the course, but most are pushing their bikes within a mile of town. A stump with "Repent" painted on it pokes from a snowy hillside and marks a difficult section of trail. The race is tough, a few drop out, but most ride when they can, push their bikes up all the hills, walk down a bunch of hills, and fall over into the bottomless snow numerous times but troop on until spilling onto the Talkeetna River, 10 miles from town. A feed station marked the halfway point and better riding conditions. Six miles of flat hard river have all the fat bikes sailing and it is beautiful and that is good, because the last four miles back into town have many soft spots.
A timing crew dutifully recorded our times. Twenty-three racers do two laps, the back of the pack is lapped by the leaders. Seven racers do three laps. Joshua Chelf takes the men's 60 Mile in 7:01:56, Heather Best wins the woman's (shortened) 40 Mile in 7:14:41, Ryan Greef fires the men's 20-mile in 2:02:02 and Talkeetna's own Tazilina Mannix blazes the women's 20-miler in 3:01:41. Eighty-four competitors do at least one lap and most feel a sense of accomplishment when they pass under the finish banner.
A starry night, fire in a barrel with cut outs of bicycles, and rows of fat bikes line the snow berm in front of the Sheldon Community Arts Hanger where Denali Brewing has a specially brewed Pale Rider beer tapped and a feast set up. Paul Anderson and Midtown Revival get the music going. The racers drink beer but quite a few sit in the comfortable seats up in the balcony even when Rebel Blues has the place rocking. The Sheldon Hanger imposes a 12 o'clock curfew but no one seems to care much because Nervous Rex is playing down the street at the Fairview Bar.
This correspondent checks out the action for a while but hits the rack just after midnight with two very tired legs.