Wednesday, March 30, 2022

When is a 30k Race Not a 30K Race? When You Screw Up Big!

Post by Eric

Happier times during my 2020 Sonot - virtual edition. I wore the tie
this year, but different shorts and pig ears instead of the hat. (Photo by Tom Helmers.)

“Eric Troyer has totally baffled us again!”

Bad Bob Baker uttered that line over the Birch Hill public address system partway through my 2022 Sonot Kkaazoot. And when I say “my 2022 Sonot” I really mean it. I did my own thing. Not that I had planned it that way. When I toed the line for the race, I fully intended to do the 30-kilometer version, the one I had signed up for. 

I’ve done the 50k version several times in the past, but I wasn’t up for it this year. I hadn’t gotten enough training in. I especially hadn’t done enough skate skiing. (A common complaint during this cold winter in Fairbanks.) 

And I certainly hadn’t tapered. The weekend before the race Corrine and I, along with friend Jill Homer, did a 3-night, 4-day, 100-mile trip in the White Mountains National Recreation Area. Corrine and I traveled on bike, while Jill walked. We had no other support, so we carried everything on our bikes. I didn’t weigh my bike, but when I lifted it a couple of times to turn it around, I could tell it was HEAVY! That wasn’t the smartest thing to do the week before a 30k ski race, especially since I hadn’t been training much. 

Me "tapering" before the Sonot Kkaazoot. (Photo by Corrine)

But when I lined up for the Sonot, I felt I could do the 30k without too much pain. And the conditions were great. The skate skiing was fast! I felt I could stay ahead of the rest of the SCUM. 

I consider myself a member of Susan’s Class of Untrainable Men, even though I show up for the weekly sessions only a couple of times a winter. But the gang is friendly and inviting, and if I can’t be a part of a misfit group like that, who else would take me? At 62, I’m one of the younger SCUM and am usually the first across the finish line at our local races. I felt I could keep up my streak. Only two members of the SCUM had signed up for the 50k, Byron Broda and Susan Sugai (aka Mother SCUM). Of the rest, most were doing the 30k, while a few were doing the 10k. That’s because the SCUM have gotten older while the Sonot has gotten harder. (Due to climate change, the first and last 10k of the race, which used to be on the flat Chena River, are now all up at hilly Birch Hill. Ufda!)

In 2020, the Sonot (virtual because of COVID) had to be moved
from the Chena River due to the melting ice.

Sonot Race Director Bad Bob, with the help of NSCF President (and SCUM) Chris Puchner, counted down to the start and the race was on! The course took us up the South Tower trail right away, a long climb that helped spread out the racers. 

At the top of Tower, I found myself behind fellow SCUM Greg Kahoe. When we started the Tower descent, Greg swung a little wide, so I snuck by on the inside. I heard him yell in protest, but I was pretty sure I would be faster on the downhill. I was, but I should have stayed behind Greg. Apparently, he knew where he was going. 

As I came out of Roller Coaster Bypass, there were a couple of people in front of me. They went around the corner into White Bear, so I did, too. I mean, that’s where all the races go. Naturally I would go down there! 

Of course, if I had done my homework (i.e. study the course map ahead of time) I would have seen that the course split right there. The 10k course went around the corner and down the White Bear. The 30k and 50k courses went straight across the Stadium. I’m such a screwup! 

Oblivious, I powered on, passing a few people, wondering how far Greg was behind me. I was having a grand old time. At the White Bear Beacon Cutoff the 10k racers followed their course, peeling off and heading back toward the Stadium. I headed straight on the White Bear. Signs and paint on the snow told me the 30k course went straight ahead. I knew I was on the right track. The signs were off, but I figured they were for lap two or something like that.

Earlier, I noticed that I could see no one behind me. I was a bit surprised, but I’ve been in that situation in races before. At the back of one pack and a ways ahead of another. It seemed a little odd that I couldn’t see anyone, but not unheard of. 

Toward the farthest distant point of the White Bear, where the trail flattens out for a bit and turns back toward the Stadium. I knew something was wrong. I saw only one set of skate ski tracks in the corduroy snow in front of me. The thought flashed briefly across my mind: “I’m in second place?” But briefly, as in nanoseconds. The thought was ridiculous. The saner thought quickly followed. I had missed a turn somewhere.

I kept skiing. What else could I do? I saw one other skier with a bib ahead of me, so I chased him. I stopped at the one feed station on the White Bear and asked if I was supposed to have gone down the Sonot Connector. They said no. I skied on and finally caught the other skier, who was taking a snack break. We talked and agreed we had screwed up somewhere. We decided to keep skiing the course and confer with Bad Bob when we got back to the Stadium. 

And that’s where we learned that we had missed the 2k cutoff. Bob suggested that we do the all the Black Loops to make up the distance, but I just said we’d ski the rest of the course and consider that 10-12k we did as bonus k’s. The other skier, a good sport, agreed. Bad Bob was acting as announcer and had his mic with him, so the whole conversation was sent out over the public address system. If you’re going to screw up, you might as well screw up big! Bad Bob joked that we could be in our own special division. The other skier and I skied off cheering at the idea. Then I heard Bad Bob single me out: “Eric Troyer, who has done this race many times, has somehow….” 

I couldn’t hear the rest because I was skiing down into the Black Loops. The other guy and I skied on, him mostly outpacing me. As I entered the Outhouse Loop, I saw SCUM member Joanna Fox exiting the same loop. I was pretty sure we still had to do the whole Sunnyside Loop, so I knew I was quite a ways behind. I said hi to Joanna and decided a good goal would be to catch her. She was skiing classic, so maybe it was possible. 

Things went dandy until I got to the Sunnyside/Cliffside intersection. The course flagging guided me down Cliffside, but I was pretty sure I was supposed to finish out the Sunnyside Loop. How else had Joanna gotten to where she had been? The course workers must have changed the course markings already. Should I go up Sunnyside anyway? But if the course flagging was getting changed before I got to it, where else would I get screwed up? And my screwup brother-in-arms had gone down Cliffside. What the hell. I headed down Cliffside. 

I caught up to him once again near the top of the Sonot Connector. As we were conferring, another 30k racer caught up to us. 

“Did we go the wrong way?” she asked.

We laughed and confirmed her suspicion. We figured we would just finish out the course and see where we were at. While we talked, some of the leading 50k racers passed us. We cheered them on and hoped that they weren’t overly worried about us appearing to be ahead. But they seemed to be in their own zone. 

We took off and the other two soon left me behind. Unfortunately, that left me with only myself to talk to. While finishing out the rest of the White Bear (for the second time), I decided I was feeling pretty good. That’s when I came up with the idea that I needed to pay penance for my screw up. I decided I would ski 50 kilometers as my punishment. Stupid and ridiculous, yes, but I was feeling pretty good, and I had my GPS watch. I figured I would try to recreate what I missed, so that I could do as much of the course as possible. In any case, I would get in 50k. 

As I skied toward what should have been my finish line, I buzzed on past in the lap lane yelling out, “As penance for my mistake, I’m going to do the whole 50K!” 

Donovan Granger heard me and cheered. I was stoked and skiing fast. As I left the Stadium, I saw the confused faces of several SCUM members who had already finished their 30k races. That’s when I heard Bad Bob’s voice over the public address system: “Eric Troyer has totally baffled us again!”

I grinned. What the heck! If you’re going to screw up, you might as well screw up big! I was feeling good. 

Feeling good at the end of my 2021 Sonot (also virtual because of COVID), which was all up
at Birch Hill. But back then Bad Bob had shortened the courses to make up for the
added elevation as compared to the courses that included the Chena River.

Then I hit 40k. I wasn’t feeling so good. I had gotten to the far end of Sunnyside and was making my way back up. It’s a long climb out of Sunnyside. The sun was warming the snow, making the trail soft. I stopped to eat and drink. I tried to avoid the dreaded herring-bone but had to resort to it a couple of times. I used the V-2 alternate, also known as the granny skate (and dubbed by John Estle as the “wimp skate”). I didn’t care. Anything to get me up the hills. 

Meanwhile, exhausted as I was, I had to do math in my head. My GPS watch was set for miles. I had to ski 50 kilometers. Uh, so 10k is 6.2 miles, right? So, 5 times 10k is 50k. Then 5 times 6.2 is…uh…uh…uh. OK, break it down. Hmm, 5 times 6 is 30. And 5 times 0.2 is 1.2? No, no, it’s 1.0. So, 30 plus 1 is 31. I had to ski 31 miles. My watch is set to buzz every 5 miles. It buzzed 25 miles a little while ago, so I knew I just had to wait for that last buzz then I would have only a mile left! 

As I climbed to the top of Tower I kept waiting for my darn watch to buzz. I kept waiting and waiting. I knew I must be close. At the top, I had to look. Not even 28 miles! Ugh. 

I skied down Tower, then looped in Medevac, and dove down White Bear to the Biathlon Range. I should have stayed there in the flats and done loops until I was close enough, but I wanted to do the official finish, which included the Warm Up Loop. I turned around at the Biathlon Range and headed back up, guessing that the Warm Up Loop would be enough to finish it off. 

Strava tells me I had some PRs. I don't believe it. 

As I finished the White Bear, a 50k racer passed me. She said something about digging deep. I think I grunted out a “Yeah.” I came out into the Stadium and headed for the Warm Up Loop. Some people saw me and cheered. I waved my poles, so ready to be done. 

As I skied into the 1.5k Warm Up, I looked at my watch and realized the loop wouldn’t be enough. Double ugh! Disheartened, I stopped and had a snack at the bottom of the first hill. Seriously?! I had less than 1.5k to go and I stopped for a snack? But that’s where my brain was at. 

To get more k’s I got to the very bottom of the Warm Up and turned at the Dark Alley Cutoff to ski half of the Warm Up again. Just before starting up the last climb, I thought I needed to document this debacle. I stopped and took a selfie. I realized the people at the finish must be scratching their heads wondering where I had gone, but I’d get there eventually. And I was certain that despite all my screwups, I was ahead of Mother SCUM Susan, who, despite having a few years on me, has skied every Sonot ever put on. But I always finish well ahead of her in the Distance Series races. So, I wasn’t holding anyone up. The timers would have to wait for her. 

Selfie at less than a k from the end. That's a smile. 

As I crested the last Warm Up hill, SCUM Dermot Cole stood at the top and cheered me on. Then he said “Everyone was wondering where you had gone. They were worried about you.”

I told him I figured as much. I saw the finish line and dug deep. I wanted to at least look halfway decent going across the line. People cheered. I slumped, exhausted. 

Then I looked up. Susan was standing there, smiling at me.

“You beat me?!” I asked, incredulous. 

“I just did the 30K,” she said. “I didn’t have it in me to do the 50.”

That’s when Bad Bob asked me if I had seen anyone out else on the course. I hadn’t. Just the "dig deep" skier who had passed me earlier.

“I think you’re the last skier.”

It figures. So, I kept the timers and everyone else waiting while I had snacks and took a selfie. What a bonehead! And I finished dead last. Last SCUM. Last in the 30k. Last in the whole race. Oh, and I looked at my watch: 30.83 miles. Not even a full 50K.

If you’re going to screw up, you might as well screw up big!

P.S. I skied around the Stadium until my watch said 31 miles. I just had to. 


  1. That was funny. I really enjoyed it!

  2. Haha. Great story. I know the 50K distance well … probably ran at least 30 such races back in my California days. I’ve also taken wrong turns and logged my own “55K” races. But never quite to this extent.

  3. I hope never to entertain everyone with a similar story in the future!