& geeky stick boy
August Success Story: Biking Across the Frozen Tundra

REPRINTED FROM "," Monday, August 5, 2002

At an age where many men and women begin to slow down, Jerry Baumgartner, age 64, is training for an ultra-marathon adventure race in February 2003 – in Alaska. This race, known as the Iditarod Trail Invitational will require him to cover 350 miles across the frozen backcountry of southeastern Alaska on bike. His goal is to complete the race in six days. He will be the oldest competitor.

The event begins in the town of Knik, Alaska, one week prior to the well-known Iditarod dogsled race, and follows the historic Iditarod Trail. There are three disciplines that racers can compete in: bicycling, skiing, and a foot division that encompasses both running and snowshoeing. Every competitor must carry enough camping/sleeping/cooking gear to take care of themselves at temperatures ranging from 30 degrees above to 30 degrees below zero. In addition, they must be able to melt snow to make their own drinking water, and be able to take care of themselves in case of an emergency.

This is a very tough race, and Jerry competed in a 100-mile version of the race in 2000, 2001 and 2002. In order to be capable of doing the 350-mile event he must be trained to both bicycle and to push the bicycle in areas where the snow becomes too deep to ride through.

What’s clear is that he is not doing it to stop the ‘aging process’ in some way, nor to ‘turn back the clock’. He acknowledges both his age and his physical limitations. He is not what most people would consider an athlete. His first competitive race was in 2000 at the age of 62.

The primary reason Jerry is pushing himself is for the overall improvement of health and wellness that can result from being very active. He consistently rides 10- and 12-hour days. His hope is that his efforts will prove to be inspirational for other people his age and encourage them to stretch themselves in some way for the improvement of their health, wellness and overall lifestyle.

Finally, Jerry is interested in competing for the personal challenge and satisfaction of completing a very difficult adventure race. He refuses to let his age or his physical condition limit the challenges he may face or undertake in his life. Adventure racing is not something that many people his age start up. But Jerry believes that the most important lesson that he can teach is that participating in some form of physical activity is available to most, and that everyone at any age may face difficult challenges. With that in mind, he is doing this event to demonstrate that with determination, hard work, and proper training, a very ordinary person can successfully complete even a very difficult endeavor.

Jerry needs sponsors and underwriters to enter the race. It will cost him about $6,500 to participate so he is looking for financial support corporate or otherwise. They have to hire bush planes to drop food off for them! This race really is out in "the boonies".

Greensboro Man Defies Age for an Adventure

REPRINTED FROM "," Tuesday, August 27, 2002

By DINA ACKERMANN, Staff Writer, Greensboro News & Record

GREENSBORO -- Ask people who know him, and they'll tell you Jerry Baumgartner is crazy.

But that doesn't deter him from his plans to ride his bike in the Iditarod Trail Invitational, a 350-mile adventure race across the frozen backcountry of southeastern Alaska in which participants bike, ski, run or snowshoe on the historic Iditarod Trail. The trail is the same one on which the better-known Iditarod dogsled race takes place a week after the adventure race.

On Feb. 23 in Knik, Alaska, Baumgartner will start his bike ride on the trail, which crosses lakes frozen solid enough to drive cars over them and rivers halted in their tracks from the temperatures as cold as minus 30 degrees.

But what makes the Greensboro consultant with Farr & Associates especially remarkable is his age. At the time of the race, Baumgartner will be 65, the oldest competitor ever to compete in the race, which usually attracts competitors in their 30s and 40s. Nevertheless, Baumgartner aims to finish the race in five days, half the maximum time allowed. Moreover, he'll get only 24 hours of sleep during those five days and will often rely on only as much food and water as he can carry.

"At least everyone from North Carolina thinks it's crazy," Baumgartner says. "They joke about it. I don't think they understand what I'm doing at all. ...

"The bottom line is I'm doing it for the challenge of doing it. I'm just an average person trying to do something extraordinary."

To prepare, he gets up at 5:30 a.m. three mornings a week year-round to bike for more than an hour. In July, his formal training began. Two nights a week, he hikes. Two Saturdays a month, he plans to bike and walk continuously for increasing periods: 12 hours each day in November, 20 hours each day in December.

But extraordinary living isn't new to Baumgartner. From 1970 to 1980, he lived in a cabin in upstate New York with no running water or electricity. He hauled water, cooked on a wood stove and had an outhouse so that his four children would grow up knowing that people don't need to have "all the fancy things in life to be happy."

And he and his wife, Anne Sparks-Baumgartner, who competed along with him in the 2000 adventure race but quit after 46 miles because of fatigue, frequently go winter camping.

Despite Sparks-Baumgartner's pleas for a vacation like "normal" people take to warmer destinations, such as Hawaii, the couple will camp out this December in northern Minnesota. Baumgartner says he prefers winter camping ("no bugs, no heat, no people,") where it's just you, the snow and the quiet.

"There's a hush in the winter time that you can't describe unless you've heard it," Baumgartner says. "When it's a full moon with the moonlight on the snow, it's like being in a magic fairyland."

The person who conquers Iditarod's magic fairyland, which seems to be more of a dark, evil forest at times, and wins the race receives no money, trophy or engraved plaque.

The victor is usually a professional racer who completes the race in 3-1/2 days. Baumgartner will pay $5,000 to participate in the race. He's looking for corporate sponsors to help underwrite the cost, which covers the expenses for the training and racing, such as the entry fee, equipment and plane tickets.

Baumgartner has attempted shorter races on this same trail but has finished only one. In 2000, he complete the 100-mile race in 33 hours. In 2001, a snowstorm forced 75 percent of the 60 participants to drop out, including Baumgartner, who had cycled 50 miles of the 130-mile race before the storm hit. And in this year's 100-mile race, he contracted a virus and quit after 50 miles.

Sparks-Baumgartner doesn't worry too much about her husband's safety when he's out on the trail.

"His energy level isn't as high as it used to be," she says. "It will just take him longer to do things. He's not stupid. I know that if he gets in trouble, he's very resourceful."

Among the 20 pounds of gear Baumgartner will carry will be a sleeping pad, a stove and a pot to melt snow for drinking water, and some ibuprofen for his aches and pains.

Baumgartner has benefited from the extreme physical conditioning he undergoes for the races. His cholesterol dropped by 75 or 80 points, he lost weight and his blood pressure decreased.

His physician, Dr. Bert Fields, carefully monitors Baumgartner. Fields worries most about the possibility of a heart attack, so he periodically gives Baumgartner a stress test to determine his maximum cardiac capacity. Instead of discouraging his patient from engaging in a dangerous challenge, Fields helps Baumgartner define his physical limits -- determining how fast he can run and cycle without harming his heart, for example -- so that Baumgartner doesn't push himself too hard.

"He's in awfully good shape for a gentleman his age," says Fields, the director of the family practice residency at Moses Cone Hospital. "He is pushing himself past the normal level of endurance.

"He wouldn't be able to finish if he didn't get into extremely good condition for his age," he says. "But I tell him, 'If you're going to do this, there are limits you have to know.'"

Diet is the other component of Baumgartner's physical preparation. During the race, on a nutritionist's recommendation, Baumgartner will eat high-fat and high-carbohydrate endurance bars made of whole grains, sunflower seeds, honey, soy flour and chopped nuts. He says the sweet, nutty bar is tasty, but sort of like a chocolate fudge brownie: You can't eat a whole lot of them without getting sick.

"I heard somebody who did this race once say that there are two different kinds of fun," Baumgartner recalls. "There's Class 1 fun, which is when you're doing something and you're having fun. Class 2 fun is not fun. It's a lot of work. You're wondering what the heck you're doing it for, but when it's over, you look back and say, 'Wow, I did that.'"

This race is Class 2 fun -- fun after the fact. When Baumgartner is out on the trail, traversing the cold, snowy landscape, and he comes to another river bank, this one sloping 45 degrees and 50 feet high, his first reaction is, "Oh, my God, another hill." But then he focuses on what he needs to do to finish the race.

"I review my training," Baumgartner says. "I review the fact that I'm prepared to do this no matter how much I hurt or how tired I am."

And Baumgartner will be tired. He plans to race nonstop for 36 hours for the first 130 miles of the race. After that, he will sleep for six hours and then pedal his 27-gear mountain bike 12 hours a day until he finishes.

When Baumgartner returns home, no party or grand celebration will await him. That's OK with him. He'll give himself a month and then begin planning and training for the next winter odyssey.

"There's no big hoopla," he says. "I'll just get up the next morning and go back to work. Nobody knows you did it, and nobody cares. But I know, and that's what counts."