The Caribou Hills. Not just for snowmachiners and mushers anymore.
That was the message conveyed by the second annual Fat Freddie’s Bike Race and Ramble on Saturday at Freddie’s Roadhouse at Mile 16 Oilwell Road out of Ninilchik.
“That’s one of the goals of Freddie’s ride, to show that this is not just good for snowmachines, but also bikes, skiers and snowshoers,” said Joel Todd, a 9.5-mile ramble racer who also is the assistant director at Soldotna Parks and Rec.
The race is the brainchild of Sheila Pollard, the daughter of Freddie’s Roadhouse owner Freddie Pollard. An admittedly skeptical Freddie Pollard.
“A bike race up here?” Freddie said in an awards banquet speech. “I thought, ‘Nah, that won’t work.’”
Last year’s event drew 28 riders, and Saturday saw those numbers swell to 46.
It’s not just the race that has fat bikes in the hills. Sheila Pollard said she and her family started riding fat bikes in the Caribou Hills nine years ago.
About three or four years ago, Pollard said fat bikes in the mountain-backed, coniferous-dotted, rolling hills were no longer a rare sight.
Then after last year’s race, Pollard said sightings of nontraditional users — like bikers and skijorers — surged.
“For sure,” Pollard said. “People tell me about seeing fat bikes all the time. They’re definitely using the trails a lot more now that we got the word out.”
The reasons are many.
Of course, there’s the scenery.
After grinding away for 1 hour, 39 minutes and 16 seconds to finish third overall in the 15.1-mile race despite riding a mid fat or plus bike with wheels about 1.5 inches narrower than a fat bike, Tyle Owens was thankful for the views.
“It’s a really beautiful race,” Owens said. “It’s an amazing spot up here. It helps keep your mind from looking at your tire the whole time.”
It’s the kind of scenery that gets one thinking big. Mike Crawford, who won in 1:34:01, fell victim to that urge.
“You could do some really long rides from here,” he said. “You could ride all the way to McNeil (Canyon in Homer) or Tustemena.”
Women’s winner Amber Bethe of Anchorage, who also was fourth overall in 1:39:36, is all set to ride the Susitna 100-miler next weekend.
She said the Caribou Hills strike her as the perfect place to get in training rides in the six- to eight-hour range.
“I told people about this last weekend, and nobody knows about this in Anchorage,” Bethe said. “I guess that’s because to come down here, you’d have to make a weekend of it.”
Todd points out that such expansive riding just isn’t available in the Kenai-Soldotna area because there is so much Kenai National Wildlife Refuge land.
“You can’t bike on the refuge and that pretty much means the whole area,” Todd said. “You can just bike little patches in the area, like the singletrack at Tsalteshi.”
Todd said the riding options are nearly limitless in the Caribou Hills, with Freddie’s Roadhouse being just an hour and a half away from Soldotna.
But is it a good idea to encourage such a mix of gasoline-, human- and dog-powered sports? In the Caribou Hills, the answer appears to be yes.
“Everybody was great today,” Crawford said. “The snowmachiners were all very courteous.”
Sheila Pollard has been coming to the Caribou Hills her whole life. She knew the culture of the place, and had no problem throwing a bike race in among the snowmachiners. Her faith has been rewarded by a second year of no complaints from either user group.
Todd has a Caribou Hills cabin 10 miles in from the end of Homer’s East End Road and reports no problems there, either. He said fat bikes are extremely common on those trails because of tours run by Cycle Logical.
But it’s not all seashells and balloons in the Caribou Hills, as Jane Adkins would be the first to attest. Adkins won the Red Pedal award for finishing last in the race, crossing at 4:12:28.
Adkins has finished an Iditarod. She’s familiar with the Caribou Hills due to racing the Tustumena 200. But her first extended exposure to biking those same trails left her with a whole new appreciation for sled dogs.
“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” she said after a course with elevation gain and loss of 1,509 feet.
Adkins said that bringing up the rear meant she got to the trail after a string of snowmachiners, bikers and mushers.
“There wasn’t any bottom left to it,” she said.
Sheila Pollard said the Caribou Hills got 5 to 12 inches of snow Monday. The Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers, who encourage all users to try the trails, made a special point of grooming for the bike race, but only so much can be done.
Crawford said he had three serious crashes — two when his front wheel suddenly buried to the axle in soft snow, and one when he hit soft snow going down a steep hill and lost it.
“I had just passed one of the ramblers and told them where it was good to ride,” he said. “You could tell they were like, ‘Thanks for the unsolicited advice.’”
Bethe crashed only once, but said she was riding like a chicken. With his narrow tires, Owens said he went over the handlebars three times and fell to the side over 10 times.
“I also went into a couple of trees,’” he added.
But everybody interviewed said they’d be back. And the race may have made inroads on a surprising convert. With one caveat.
“If I do it, I’ll probably have a motor on mine,” Freddie Pollard said at the awards ceremony.
Fat Freddie’s Bike Race and Ramble
Saturday in Caribou Hills
Race (15.1 miles) — 1. Mike Crawford, 1 hour, 34 minutes, 1 seconds (1st men); 2. Martin Renner, 1:38:20 (2nd men); 3. Tyle Owens, 1:39:16 (3rd men); 4. Amber Bethe, 1:39:36 (1st women); 5. Nathan Kincaid, 1:58:17; 6. Brian Merang, 1:58:21; 7. Joshua Duffus, 2:22:36; 8. Angie Brennan, 2:41:37 (2nd women); 9. Will Morrow, 2:43:32; 10. Bob Toll, 2:43:44; 11. John Messick, 3:00:09; 12. Sara Barrowcliff (3rd women); 13. Ryan Peterson, 3:05:06; 14. Morgan Aldridge, 3:19:22; 15. Heidi Isernhagen, 3:20:00; 16. Kelly Sederholm, 3:45:14; 17. Mary Simondsen, 3:48:02; 18. Cindy Miller, 4:02:31; 19. Jane Adkins, 4:12:28 (Red Pedal award).
Ramble (9.5 miles) — 1. Russ Taylor, 1:40:20; 2. Joel Todd, 1:41:32; 3. Trevor Davis, 1:43:04; 4. Amanda Taylor, 1:43:48; 5. Marc Crouse, 1:43:49; 6. Bud Crawford, 1:45:42; 7. Chris Owens, 1:48:24; 8. Simone Owens, 1:52:29; 9. Doug Armstrong, 1:58:07; 10. Julie Stephens, 1:58:14; 17. Laura Pillifant, 2:04:10; 18. Cody Czer-Ransom, 2:04:44; 19. Brad Mahood, 2:18:31; 20. Chelsea Dubbe, 2:24:25; 21. Wally Hufford, 2:25:42; 22. Bobbi Lay, 2:32:17; 23. John Tabor, 2:32:37; 24. Jay Sjogren, 2:32:38; 25. Hollis Swan, 2:37:53.
26. Allie Cunningham, 2:37:54; 27. Scott Goldsmith, 2:52:00; 28. Yvonne Goldsmith, 2:54:01; 29. Gail Moore, 2:57:22;
Unassigned — Kyle Kiddet, 2:43:33; Terry Hennessey, 2:44:22.