Every August the a cult like group of mountain bikers gather in Hope to participate in one of the most grueling races in all of Alaska, the Soggy Bottom 100. The route, actually about 109 miles, is an out-and-back on Resurrection Pass Trail. If that weren’t enough, racers also descend Devil’s Creek Trail, then climb the 10 miles and 1,700 feet back up before returning to downtown Hope. The self-supported ride boasts 95% singletrack trails and nearly 11,000 ft of climbing. While finishers under 12 hours are considered fast, perhaps the most respected times are those of the last place participants who can finish with times of 16 hours or more. They often arrive at the finish in down town Hope soaking wet and freezing cold in the middle of the night.
Local rider Chaz Dimarzio, formally known as “Chuck” or “Charlie”, has an unprecidented 10 Soggy Bottom attempts and finished in 2nd place on five occasions but has never taken home the title. In fact, no one from the Kenai Peninsula has ever won. That is, until this year. Despite his past success and experience, Dimarzio went into this year’s Soggy as a underdog. The grassroots race attracts the state’s fastest riders, as well as professional riders from the lower 48. Saturday’s start line saw 5 former winners, including Even Hyde a two time Soggy winner and course record holder.
Given his multiple runner-up finishes, Dimarzio has come to be known as the “Bridesmaid” by fellow racers. But this year the Alaska Sea Life Center employee summoned the ability, persistance, and heart necessary to chase down the elite field of riders and take the first position in the final miles before the finish line. Even more impressive is that he also beat “Team Speedway” a three man relay team comprised of former winners, literally Anchorage’s fastest cyclists. In the entire history of the race, no individual has ever beaten the Speedway team.
While the weather cooperated for most of the day, mother nature did delay Dimarzio. “Just a few miles from Hope a sow stepped on to the trail and I had to come to a full stop. She huffed at me and her cub stood up to get a look at me,” Dimarzio reported. “She just turned and slowly walked off the trail. I thought ‘This… bear is going to cost me the race!'” Bear encounter and all, Dimarzio beat second place finisher and John Lackey of Anchorage by 4 minutes and clocked the second fastest time ever of 9 hours and 1 minute. Surrounded by friends and a handful of spectators he collapsed on Hope’s dirt main street, overcome by not just exhaustion from the days effort but by relief brought on from the realization of victory in his decade long struggle with the Soggy.
But Chaz wasn’t the only Dimarzio to take first place and it didn’t take his wife, Tasha, 10 years to get there. Joined by team members Sadie Ulman, and Hannah Felts the Seward trio finished the race in 12 hours and grabbed 1st place in the women’s team division. While their division was less competitive, as in they were the only womens team, they still overcame their share of adversity in the form of a flat tire and a few crashes. Hannah recieved the worst of the injuries and required stiches for a laseracion on her elbow after she crashed speeding through the dark forested trail. “Eww, I don’t even want to look at it,” Felts said of the injury. “I think there is like a rock or something in there.” Ulman suggested.
A men’s team from Seward that included Karl Mechtenberg, Allan Heavirland, and Sean Ulman finished in 11 hours 3 minutes which was good enough to be the 3rd place mens team. Heavirland a local contractor and kayak bum rode from Cooper Landing to Devils Creek in 3 hours saying, “That was 110%. That was everything. I was flying.”