News: Spirit of endurance tested over 400 miles
Story by Staff Sgt. Matthew Winstead
JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska - For some the idea of hopping onto a bicycle and riding almost non-stop for a total of 400 miles over various types of terrain sounds more like a punishment or something you do only if you have to, but for Army Staff Sgt. Trevor Jones, the 59th Signal Battalion Master Resiliency Trainer, there’s no better way to kick off a weekend.
The Fireweed 400 is a bike race that begins at a point called Sheep Mountain Lodge approximately 113 miles North East of Anchorage, and the halfway point and turn around for those attempting the full 400-mile route is located at the Captain Jones Gas Station 200 miles away in Valdez, Alaska. All of which is done during one long straight sit down taking only breaks as absolutely needed by the individual biker.
“I think I mostly only stopped to pee and stuff like that,” said Jones. “I ate and drank my meals on the bike without stopping.”
The race is broken up into different segments if varying distances with the 400-mile distance being the farthest and containing more than four miles combined of steep hills with a greater than 8 percent grade in both directions. Out of 724 racers only eight officially partook in this year’s 400-mile distance, which also serves as a qualifier for the Race Across America, according to George Stransky the assistant race director for the Fireweed 400 Inc.
The Race Across America is a 3,000-mile race spanning as many as eight days typically covering the distance from Oceanside Calif., to Annapolis Md.
Something as strenuous as a 400-mile bike race requires careful planning, training and safety mitigation measures. Especially in a place like Alaska where local wildlife could potentially pose a significant threat to a lone biker on the road.
“One of the safety requirements for a competitor in the Fireweed 400 is a trail or pace vehicle,” said Stransky.
The trail vehicle serves as both a mobile supply hub for the racer as well as a first responder vehicle in the event of an emergency. For the Fireweed 400, Jones trail vehicle was manned by his wife, Sarah Jones and friend, Jacob Birkholz.
Beginning early July 13, Jones finished third overall in his division and successfully qualified for the Race Across America and even earned an unexpected award for his accomplishment. The Bobby Johnson Spirit of the Fireweed Award, named after Bobby Johnson, a resident of Unalaska who died “doing what he loved most,” according to loved ones, during a previous Fireweed 400 race following a tragic cycling accident in 2009.
“[Jones] won the award due to his determination and dedication to the race,” said Stransky. “We were aware he had participated in the race last year and didn’t finish due to a technicality. The fact that he came back this year and did so well really struck us as deserving of the award.”
“Last year when I attempted the race, I was informed that I hadn’t made the distance in time so I decided to quit about eight miles out from the finish line when I actually could have finished the race still,” explained Jones with a smile. “I was a little angry afterward, but I didn’t let it get to me.”
Jones later attended the usual award ceremony that followed the race at a popular Anchorage restaurant called Bear Tooth. There he was surprised to be presented the Bobby Johnson award for his performance by the Master of Ceremonies for the event, Bob Voris. The restaurant, which also features movie theater-style seating can accommodate around 400 people and was sold out for the ceremony, according to Mike Jipping, the special event coordinator for Bear Tooth.
“I actually wasn’t aware I was being given anything,” said Jones. “But as soon as I learned what the award was for, I was deeply honored.”
With one accomplishment complete, Jones has already set his sights on additional challenges and arguably harder ones at that. He currently has plans to both partake in the Race Across America, which he has successfully qualified for as well as making arrangements to continue pursuing rock climbing, another extreme sport he enjoys getting involved with.
“I have my sights set on climbing all of the Seven Summits some day,” said Jones.
Jones more or less started his love of extreme sports and recreational activities with rock climbing and eventually transitioned to additional activities following an injury that sidelined him temporarily from getting back on a mountain.
“I broke my ankle a few years back and had to give up climbing until I healed,” said Jones recalling his brief break in climbing. “After that I got bored and started finding other low-impact things to keep myself occupied.”
Some of those additional low-impact things included swimming, biking and eventually running marathons. All the while still making plans to eventually return to mountain climbing and continue doing what he has always loved to do.
“I can’t really say when I started climbing,” said Jones with a smile. “I’ve always loved being outdoors and climbing stuff, even as a kid. The things I was climbing just got bigger as I got older.”
Following an unsuccessful attempt to travel to climb a mountain in Russia this year, Jones has set his sights on an even bigger, and arguably colder challenge down the road.
“Currently, I’m in the very early stages of planning a trip to Antarctica to climb down there, it’s a little expensive and it’s gonna take some time to get everything to work out but I’ll make it,” said Jones.
But for now, Jones has his near term sights on continuing to push himself on closer goals and continues to get involved in challenging events and activities here in Alaska and the lower 48 as he plans and saves for that eventual goal.