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Doug Lewis completes Inferno, wins ski leg

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04/23/2009

Fayston resident, competitive athlete and former Olympian Doug Lewis participated in the grueling Inferno race at Mount Washington over the weekend and was the fastest racer in the GS portion of the five-event competition.

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"At noon on Saturday, I stood in the starting gate of a Giant Slalom race. The course dropped about 600 vertical feet and consisted of 20 gates. The snow was a mixture of ice and crud with the first few gates set on a slope of over 60 percent. It was snowing lightly, blowing 25 mph and the visibility was 50 feet. Normally this would not faze me, but on this day, at this time, I was seriously wondering if I could make it to the finish safely. It all started five hours before at 7 a.m. when 30 teams and 20 solo racers ("Tuckermen") started the 2009 Inferno at Mt. Washington," Lewis recalled.

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The race got underway at 7 a.m. with contestants running 8.3 miles.  Lewis fought the urge to take the uphill start of the course too fast and settled in on an eight-minute mile, crossing the finish line at 64 minutes. He ran through the transition area and got ready for a six-mile paddle on the Saco River. 

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"I finally get into my boat safely and started off down the Saco River, which was low for this time of year. Umiak Outfitters gave me a 17-foot kayak that is less stable in rapids but super fast if I kept it upright. My legs were slightly cramped stuffed into the boat and forced in a static position, but at least they could rest for the 45 minutes it took to hammer this out. Although this portion is the least physical, I was the most nervous as I did not want to capsize into the freezing water and be done for the day," Lewis said. 

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"Within one minute, the boat ahead of me swung sideways and got pinned between two boulders and was clearly stuck. I instantly thought of helping this guy out but knew that my inexperience would probably result in both of us ending up in as DNFs. I helplessly floated by shouting words of encouragement. Luckily, the race officials have rescue kayakers on hand for just this purpose and they were on the scene quickly," he continued.

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Two hours into the race, Lewis completed the kayak portion and jumped on his bike for the 18-mile ride that rises over 2,000 feet and ends at Pinkham Notch, where he'd change footwear and hike the trail up to Tuckerman's Ravine.  

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"My first half mile on the bike did not go well. I could hardly move my legs and could only hope that they were cramping from being stuck in the boat motionless for the last 45 minutes, rather than already being spent for the day. They started to loosen up just before the first major climb over Glen Ledge which is eerily like the last 1.5 miles of the App Gap. I feared that I would have to get off my bike and walk at the steepest part. Luckily, Linkin Park's 'In the End' came on my iPod and I settled into my granny gear and hammered. Sixteen minutes later I reached the top then down the other side and then onto Route 16 for about 12 miles of slow death up to Pinkham Notch," Lewis said.

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At 10:20 a.m. he switched from biking to hiking gear as the weather worsened. Rain turned to snow as he hiked carrying a pack with his boots, skis and helmet. The three-mile climb rose 2,500 feet and the trail was slippery with snow. 

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"On a typical spring weekend, Tuck's will be crowded, but on Inferno day, anybody who has ever heard of the Ravine seems to come out. As I hiked up as fast as I could, I yelled, 'Racer,' and the multitudes parted for me to pass by. I chuckled at the few hikers that chose to change into their ski boots in the parking lot and hike with them on. Ouch," Lewis reported. 

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At 11:15 he met up with his wife (and support crew) Kelley who gave him a shout and the encouragement he needed to continue. She hiked the rest of the way to Tuckerman's Bowl with him. The weather continued to devolve and by now visibility had worsened considerably. Lewis switched to skiing gear at 11:40 a.m. and began the final hike to the lip of the GS course, which was icy and treacherous.

At noon he gave his number to the start and got ready to ski.

I thought it was beneficial to me that the visibility was 50 feet as I could only see two gates ahead of me. If I had seen the 600-foot vertical drop down to the finish I probably would have been even more nervous about falling. The first few turns felt good. Then I started to feel my legs burn just trying to control my speed. I tried to keep my speed somewhat slow because if I didn't, I would collapse. I finally saw the finish and went through yelling my number to the officials. I slowed down as much as possible before crumbling into a heap completely spent. It was a great feeling knowing that I had put everything into the course and finished. Kelley came to my rescue and gave me a kiss and a prize -- a Kit Kat bar. Chocolate never tasted so good. We then packed up and started the three-mile trek back down," Lewis said.

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He was the fastest competitor in the GS portion of the event and noted that, "Although I was more that 45 minutes behind the Tuckerman winner, I did make up almost 40 seconds on him in the last two minutes. Now I just need to work on the run, kayak, bike and hike."

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