Team Muschi Schmerzen had a great day in this year’s Fireweed race. With all four members returning from last year’s race, we actually bothered to read the rules and give strategy some thought, so we shaved about half an hour off our previous time in the mixed four-person relay division of the 200-mile event, and placed 5th among 44 teams.
The weather was good, we had no serious mechanicals, and our driver—my wife, Jacque—always managed to get us to the next exchange on time while dodging sluggish RVs and indecisive team drivers. My cool teammates even staggered their rides to set me up for the final stretch up to Thompson Pass, and the long descent down the other side. If it hadn’t been for that damned headwind, I might have been able to cook up some real downhill speed like Huber did last year.
Spending nearly 10 hours jumping in and out of a car, shuffling a rack full of bikes, and hammering through multiple five- to 10-mile relay legs has a way of creating all sorts of laughs, confusion and general mayhem I’ll remember all year. And that’s a very good thing. So thank you H, Monkee, Huber and Jacque.
Unfortunately, when I checked my voicemail after arriving in Valdez, we learned that the 100-mile race—which had started a few hours after we left Sheep Mountain Lodge—had been marred by a bad crash. Robert Johnson was descending from Eureka Summit when he fell, went under a guardrail and struck his head on a steel post. He was pronounced dead several hours later after a medevac flight to Anchorage.
A friend who rode up on the scene said that several riders went down, so a number of things could have happened. News reports so far have been pretty thin, probably because organizers are referring all media questions to the state troopers, who don’t seem to know much. The rest of us are left to wonder what went wrong. From what I remember, that stretch of the course was among the better sections of pavement, so the troopers’ “no apparent reason” story doesn’t exactly sound like the result of a thorough investigation.
Given that it occurred on an open highway during the state’s highest-profile bike race, the cause should be determined. Hopefully, everyone involved will figure out what happened, and then openly share the information. Because maybe it’s just me, but right now, it feels like race organizers are covering their asses with silence, and troopers sound only marginally interested in why a cyclist died.
I never met Robert Johnson, but I think he deserves better.