Friday, July 18, 2014

Big Mountain Enduro - Keystone Edition

"After stage 1, it's pretty much DH runs."

That's what Andy, our friend and host for the weekend, posted on Facebook about the stages at Keystone, the 3rd stop on the Big Mountain Enduro tour. He lives in Dillon with his delightful girlfriend Lauren, and rides Keystone Mountain Bike Park regularly enough that he owns a downhill bike, which he prefers to ride there. But because the Enduro format involves pedal sections and untimed uphill transitions, he will be racing on his trail bike. As are we.

None of this beta is new news to Ryan and I. We raced this event last year and got a crash course in DH style riding. (Pun intended). While Ryan caught the DH bug, I am still a wanna-be. I've taken camps and clinics to help stoke my inner shredder but she is pretty shy and has yet to fully reveal herself. Despite knowing the mountain better than we did last year, we were still nervy.

To help calm our nerves we did some practice runs on Friday. Our good buddy Todd Wixon was in CO on vacation and his wonderful wife let him come play with us for a while. Todd went and got himself a trail bike and was itching to see what magical powers it possessed. We did the first stage as a warm up, to get our car legs moving and to make sure the bikes were set up and functioning properly. The run was all blue and green trails with names like Girlscouts, Suz's Cruise, and Sleepy Hollow. These were tracks that we could do on our XC bikes if we had to, which made Andy cuss and me giddy. I could just do those runs all day and have a blast but that wasn't to be. The gnar was waiting for us.

We decided to practice stage 2 which had sections with names like TNT, Punk Rock, Sanitarium. All were black diamond trails with Sanitarium being a double black due to the raised corkscrew trail that was hiding in the pines, like a monster waiting for its victims. But before we could get to it, we had to go through Cowboy Up, a messy boulder field descent and Punk Rock, a rock garden that helped define the term. When we came up a couple weeks ago we learned the left side of Cowboy Up had been "tamed". I reveled in the news, even though Andy's face soured when he told us. I felt like Smeagol after he finally got the Ring of Power. But it was still a big bitch to ride, don't get me wrong. I was glad that there was a line for us mere mortals on tiny 6" bikes.

Punk Rock was a different rocky animal. The boulders were big (think ride over instead of through) and they were tightly packed so riding around them required some trials-riding skills and although doable, not a fast option when you're racing. We got there and of course had to unclip. We walked the section to study it. Then watched a bunch of skilled riders come through and see which rocks they rode over. I walked my bike back up the trail to give it a shot, all the while visualizing the rocks I needed to push myself over. The approach isn't smooth. There are smaller rocks that are momentum killers so by the time you get to the bigger ones, it's more about brute force than speed. And I did it. I was shocked. The bike didn't buck or anything. It was all very controlled and it freakin worked. I went up to do it again and I got off-line, cussing along the way. I had to unclip. I walked back up the trail again and told myself that if I get offline to keep going so that I have a plan B. I got offline. SOB! but I didn't unclip and found my plan B route for race day. 

We eventually came to Sanitarium. (Scroll down to photo #4.I took the line on the left). The approach is an elevated bridge, going down and across the ski slope where it transitions back onto single track for a couple pedal strokes to set you up for the 3 rail-road tie steps that are straight down the mountain. The only way I could do them was to buzz my back wheel with my butt and hope that I didn't keep going down after the third one. All went as planned and entered the trees and onto the elevated trail. It rose up a smidge and then turned down mountain, snaking twice to the right and then to the left. I told myself to focus way ahead and picture my tire knobs grabbing the chicken wire that covered the wood planks. I couldn't imagine doing this if it was wet. I made it down. Wixon wasn't having any of it. He was on the side. I did the same thing the first time I saw it. Coming from NE, this is extreme riding! At the end of the wood bridge the trail drops and turns and eventually spits you out at a pretty steep but rollable drop at the edge of the trees. I was glad to get through it all. But as the trail continued, it got droppier and rockier and I had to walk a bit. Not a big enough deal. If I had to walk it in the race, so be it. 

I think it was on this run that Ryan cut his beefy front tire. While he repaired it, we went back up to go try and ride Jam Rock, a ridiculous cliff that had multiple lines ranging from chicken to freak of nature. I stared at the line I thought I could do way too long and talked myself out of it. Ryan saw us on his way up so we waited for him. He wanted to practice his line because he didn't do it last year. And when he got there, he took one peak over the edge and came down as if he'd done it a million times. He was stoked. That would be a huge time bonus for the race b/c the ride around is quite long and out of the way. Unfortunately, the afternoon rains began, so we headed down the mountain. Todd took a different trail and we lost him for a bit. He ended up top hanging out with a good friend who was also there for the race. Ryan, Andy and myself headed into Dillon for a quick but tasty burrito lunch. When we came out, it was pouring rain. Dumping rain, actually. We decided to get registered and do all that stuff and by the time we did that, the rain had passed and we were able to do one more run. We topped the night off watching the latest Rad Company video to get us stoked for the day ahead.

RACE DAY 1 - Kind of a shit show.

We got to the venue early so we could get a good parking and also get in a run before they closed it down. It was on this run that I punctured my back tire. The sealant wasn't plugging it up enough for me to feel confident so I turned down the mountain and rode the ski run straight down to the nearest gravel road. It took forever, but I nursed the bike to the bottom. We decided to just get a new tire. The first shop was out so we went to a shop that wasn't on the main street of the resort. I scored a Maxxis Minion. I was so glad. Ryan totally took care of me and we were set for the day. Luckily our start times were much later than anticipated so that kept the stress to a minimum. Soon they were off to head up the mountain. I didn't feel like waiting around for 2 hours up top so I hung out at the van for a while until I started getting antsy and hot. I went up and not surprised, the line was long. I found the other ladies and hung out until it was our turn. The day was beautiful and the views were heavenly. As we got closer to go time, I started doing mini sprints on the service road to let my legs know it was time to wake up. 

The old lady category (Masters Women) were almost the last group, just before the juniors. The first stage was pretty tame compared to the rest, lots of pedaling but with a few technical features. I felt slow as a turtle. The bike felt good. The tire felt great but I was a dead log. I got down with no issues.

The format of Enduro is hurry up and wait, especially when it's all lift access. There's lots of milling about. And since we don't know what's happening with the start line up top, you just kinda guess when it's time to go up. It gives racers the opportunity to hang out with each other, stop by the event tents, eat take in the views and stew on the sections of the trail that are the scariest, like Sanitarium or Wild Thing, a double black diamond waterfall of railroad tie drops with boulders at the bottom of each. But I wasn't alone in my thoughts. The other ladies were asking each other if we were going to ride it or not. It was about 50/50.

Photos by the lovely Lauren at

I still had to get through the other parts of the track. Most of the 2nd run was black and double black with some blue transitions so you could shake your hands out. I got through Cowboy Up that fastest I've ever been able to and had a good head going into Punk Rock (got off line, but plan B worked!) and slid down Sanitarium without too much issue. Lauren, Andy's g-friend was taking photos of the race and was sitting just below the raised track and got some excellent shots. I shouted to her and continued on. I had to walk a couple steep, blown-out spots later on but it didn't take me too long. The rest of the course was blue runs, so no issues other than burning quads and lungs. Yay, altitude. I'm pretty sure I'm going to need to do squats like every day to get ready for Crested Butte!
Exiting Sanitarium. You can't see it but I'm smiling!
The final run of the day was where the sh*t hit the fan. The run was all blues until Wild Thing, which since I knew I'd have to walk that part, meant I had to hall ass up to and after it. Well, that was the plan. About 5 minutes into the run, I suddenly had no rear breaks. None. They went from on to off. Now most sane people would have stopped. Had I not been racing, I would have definitely stopped. I figured there was just a bubble in the line so pumped it a few times. I was out in an open section, across a ski run, so if it were to happen anywhere, that was the place. By the time I got back into the trees and technical trails, I was flying on just a front break, which is a recipe for disaster. I sat way back on the bike and feathered the break. I slowed down as much as I could in order to get down or over features. I thought I was in the clear until I wasn't. I rolled over two huge table tops, and as I exited the second one, the bike went out from under me and I hit the ground on my back side and slammed my head on the ground harder than I ever have. My legs were up mountain and the bike was on top of me. Nothing felt hurt so I popped right up, adrenaline rushing through my body. "I'm okay. I'm okay," I said inside my helmet. The bike's handle bars were all twisted around and I'm trying to mount the bike that way, freaking out a little. I told myself to calm down. I looked over the bike and everything was working. I untwisted the bars and jumped back on the bike. I still hadn't made it to Wild Thing yet and when I did, I walked everything, not wanting to risk anymore big falls. Needless to say, it was a long run but I rode some stuff without breaking, which is really how you're supposed to do it. ;) When I got down, I went immediately to the Shimano tent and asked for assistance. They were already shut down for the day. (Had I been a pro, they probably would have helped me out). I rolled over to the van where the group was waiting for me. When I told them what happened Ryan pointed to my rotor. The break pads and ejected from the bike completely. There wasn't anything there. Not the pad, not the screw that holds them in and not the safety pin that holds the screw, in case of, oh say, a catastrophic failure. I got mad props for coming down with just a front break but that didn't make me feel any better. In fact, as minutes passed, my tailbone and neck started to ache. The adrenaline obviously starting to wear off.

The break pads weren't having fun so decided to bail.

We all headed back to Lauren's house to change so we could go eat. I popped some IBU and tried to not wince when I got dressed and while standing at the restaurant, waiting for a table and while we were eating. As the night went on, the pain kept increasing and it was hard to sit. I must have landed on it first before throwing my head back and hitting the ground, thus causing mild whiplash. Now I know why some guys wear neck protection! When we finally got back to Lauren's, I laid on my stomach and put ice on my tail bone. That and more IBU was helping but my neck was pretty stiff. 

Come morning, I couldn't even lift my head off the pillow without using my hand and any use of my core resulted in a zing of pain shooting through my glute. Though I was uncomfortable, it wasn't too bad. The only thing that could keep me from racing was if it hurt to sit on the bike. As Andy and Lauren prepared breakfast, we went out to get the bikes ready. Ryan, at first, thought I had heated up the pistons and didn't think they'd go back in but using a special tool for this purpose, they popped back in. He put in a fresh set of pads and tested it. I was back in business. We just needed to pop by the Shimano tent to get some pins. After looking at both our bikes, none of the breaks had the safety pins! Not any more. 

RACE DAY 2 - Not exactly redemption.

The second day of racing was to be even harder than day one. Two of the courses had sections that I'm not payed well enough to attempt. One was Wild Thing again and the other was Jam Rock, that cliff-like section, which was part of the true downhill course at Keystone!

The first run was all of my favorite tracks. Yes, because I could ride them all! On one particular section of a track called Paid in Full, is a drop made of wood instead of wood to dirt because it's on a fault line. I only just learned to clear it two weeks ago. As I raced towards it, I told myself to square up and sight the edge. As I did this, I caught my 30-second rabbit there as she was trying to walk down the side of it right at the lip of the drop. I was like, well, I'm not going to stop so I yelled "rider back!" and luckily she heard me and got out of the way. I zipped down the drop and sped back into the trees. I was able to hold her off a bit but she caught back up. She was in a different class so it really didn't matter in terms of results, but ya still are racing no matter who it is! I made it down with no issues, although my fork suspension settings sucked. I noticed after the run when I crashed that I hadn't been using all of my travel. I thought I adjusted it correctly before the dropping in but it was still too harsh. I was getting pissed off so I walked over to the Fox tent and asked for some help. They politely assisted and I thought I was good to go for the next two runs.

The second run was short but would end with Jam Rock. I had been thinking about it since Friday, thinking I could possibly get down one of the lines but by the time I got to it, I talked myself out of it and went the big chicken route and then had to walk a bit more after. It was pretty humiliating but again, I wasn't alone. Many other girls expressed the same as we rode back up the mountain for the final run. Instead of finishing at the bottom of the mountain on stage 5, we finished part way and then rode a gravel service road (neutral transition) to the final run, which aside from Wild Thing, was pretty all doable for me. I even rode past the spot where I biffed the day before. Before the run, as I waited in line, I grabbed a twig and let some psi out of both my front and rear suspension. I wanted a comfy run. I was the dead last rider of the day to leave the start line. All went well. To my surprise, as I came out of the trees towards the bottom, I could hear Ryan yelling my name and people screaming. Many of the ladies and my friends were waiting for everyone to make it down safely. (You wouldn't see that in an XC race). High fives and hugs welcomed me as I came to a stop at the Dale's beer tent. Everyone was excited to be done and all in one piece. I felt like I was returning from the front lines, exhausted both mentally and physically and happy to just be alive. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking and reveling about the weekend with all of the other racers. From pros to bros, we had all ridden the same courses and had all beat down our own doubts and demons to make it to the bottom six times over. Though some of us were less successful at it than others, it didn't matter. Each of us knew what the other had gone through, sharing a level of camaraderie, an unspoken understanding, requiring no explanation nor clarification. What may have sounded like bragging was more like uncontrolled excitement at the mere fact that we had raced down the face of a mountain multiple times, at crazy speeds, on mostly capable bikes; hurling ourselves up, over and onto rocks and roots; through mazes of trees inches from our handlebars; down loose and steep trails that dared us to not crash. 

In my eyes, everyone there was a winner.

Won back the $80 tire I had to buy!

Nick, Lauren, Andy and us

Ryan did amazing, placing 26th out of over 120 in his age group. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July 4th and the Keystone Warm Up

With our enduro racing season beginning next weekend in Keystone, Ryan and I took advantage of a long holiday weekend to get a look at the tracks at Keystone Resort. It just so happened that many local friends were racing in the Firecracker 50 in Breckinridge the next day, just up the road from Frisco, where were camping with Larry Kintner and his family. After a much delayed drive up the mountain due to holiday travelers, we spent the first evening just enjoying the lake's beauty in all directions.

We decided to make the next day epic. Everything on bikes. Van was parked for the day so we packed up our c-backs and headed for the hills. Larry, Rafal and soon to find out, friends from Missouri and Omaha were racing the Firecracker 50, a race Ryan and I usually take part in. But this year with the Enduro coming up, we decided to be cheerleaders instead. 

We left Frisco around 8:15, taking the popular Peaks Trail. Not far into the ride, I spotted a very large and hungry moose. My first reaction was to make sure there weren't any baby moose nearby. Well actually that was my second reaction. The first one involved soiling my shorts, cuz that thing was big and two bounds from us. It could have taken us out in seconds if it wanted to. As soon as some more bikers came along, it moved on up the trail and eventually out of site.

That was such an awesome thing to see! And to think, had we raced, we woulda missed it.

We got to Breck just as the parade was ending and people were everywhere. We walked our bikes across Main St and up to a little vegan cafe that was local stash awesome. We got some cold coffee to go and headed over to the race venue where we thought we'd arrive in time to see everyone come through. We found our friends and also that's when we saw our racing friends from Missouri. It was great to see so many local faces at such a far away race.

The Polish Punisher coming through!

Larry looking strong after lap 1

After seeing Rafal and Larry come through, Ryan wanted to see if we could catch them again on the course so he nerded out on some maps and we took off up the paved roads of the Wellington Neighborhood, high above the town. We found some really screaming singletrack that we had not been on before (Barney Ford) and actually got to the last climb before the racers would descend to the finish. We were kinda bummed not racing until we started seeing some of the suffering faces of the racers coming up the climb. We had a blast cheering them on. "Beer is Near" was my mantra and that seemed to brighten up some of the racers. Ryan was yelling all sorts of encouragement. We saw our coach looking strong, not far off the lead pro woman. His face was hilarious because he did not expect to see us at that point on the course. We were up there for about 30 minutes or so when Ryan saw Rafal and started yelling at people behind him that they were getting beat by a guy from Nebraska! Ryan pushed him up a few pedal strokes, but he was looking strong and finished under five hours, which is a great time at altitude. Maybe 25-30 minutes later, here comes Larry and again Ryan tried to give him a push but he was in a train so it didn't really work but he looked good at that point. Not long after Larry went by, we waited for a break in the action and took off down the course, always looking back to make sure we weren't in the way of any racers. The top of the course before you hit the switchbacks at Carter Park have been bermed and it's like a skills park up there. They must have put them in last summer and it was a riot. Ryan hooted and hollered the whole way down. 

Once we got down to the finish, we hooked up with everyone again to get the lowdown on their race. Dirty and tired but smiling, everyone made it back. 

We went for dinner with Lauren and Andy before deciding to ride back to Frisco. NO BIKE FRIDAY! We were bound to our promise that we would be on two wheels the whole day. It was going to be a hard ride back with full bellies and a margarita buzz but what the hell, we were on vacation. It was a nice ride, with very few people (and no moose) on the trail. It's faster from Breck to Frisco, so we cruised into town to pick up some margarita mix to have for the Fireworks later that night.

I didn't get any photos but imagine a very large lake with mountains in the background and fireworks going off in front of them. Amazeballs! Lauren and Andy came over to hang out with us at the campsite. It had just finished downpouring when they pulled up. The temps dropped a bit so we built a fire and stood to watch the fireworks show.

photo courtesy of Daily Summit News

The next day was practice day at Keystone. We were up early and at the Resort when the lifts opened around 10a.m. Andy was running late so Ryan and I went up for a practice run to get our legs under us DH style. Talk about a wake up call. But the hero dirt was not to be missed. The rain storm the night before had turned the tracks to glue for the first few runs. The berms were velcro. Elbows out! 

I think we got in about 7 runs on the day and I really was able to let the Trek Remedy do its thing. Though it has way more magical powers than I'll be privy to, it gave me a lot of confidence going into the gnarly stuff. (It didn't hurt that I had on some big beefy tires too!)  

As luck would have it, we were able to do a few runs with my training coach. He started doing the enduro races this year and was out getting familiar with the course. Though he's a pro XC racer, he's got some chops and could hit all of the gnar with style. I was impressed! He helped cheer Ryan down a particular hairy section, the famous steps on the Milky Way trail, which are super steep. I walked. Though I did have some good moments too. I did clean some stuff I hadn't in the past and also road down a wooden feature that was basically a drop but instead of dirt, it was a wood path (b/c it was fault line). The only way to do it was by following Ryan and he took it slow so I knew I could roll it and be fine. The approach wasn't easy. It was twisty and rooty so you had to pay attention to get lined up properly. I could see the edge of the trees where the drop was located. I told myself to relax, that I was capable and my bike was capable. Ryan disappeared and the edge came to me. The earth fell away and I pointed myself down. As I went over the edge I felt an immediate rush of air like being in the front car on a roller coaster. I knew there was plenty of run out so no matter where my wheel went, I wouldn't be going off a cliff or anything. But damn, did I pick up speed. Holy crap. I can't say it was fun. It was scary as hell and will probably remain scary to me but at least I did it. We hit it again later and yep, still scary! 

We spent the day riding and slamming and bouncing and jumping all over the mountain. I got a few shots of Ryan and Andy on some of the more rowdy sections that I walked or went around. 

Photos flatten this out. This is actually super dooper steep.

Here's Ryan getting air. 

We ended the day in the parking lot, nursing beers. Well, Andy was nursing his hand after washing out in a corner but all is well. He didn't break anything. Ryan and I were able to work out some of the butterflies before the race coming up next weekend. Though I can't expect to be too competitive here, my goal is to get down each run cleanly and have fun. I'm looking forward to seeing some of the friends we made last year and celebrate racing our bikes down to the bottom!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Memorable Memorial Weekend - Part 2 Salida Satisfaction

Downtown Salida
Sometimes the road to self discovery can be the hardest. 
Day two of our weekend adventures, was to be rated, on a scale of 1 to10, as epic. This would be our first tracks in the highlands above Salida, so there was a level of unknown which, to me and Ryan, only adds to the epicness. What we did know, however, was that our friends would be challenged. We also knew we would be gone all day; that there would be indescribable views and we absolutely knew that there would be local hops and noms consumed post ride. All the more reason to get going. But for a long day like that I needed to make sure everyone was well fed so I whipped up some cinnamon-banana pancakes and scrambled eggs. Larry, who is always the first to get up, was nowhere to be found.

"Where is Larry? "

"He went to find bacon."

It was spitting rain yet Larry was in search of salty goodness. God bless mountain bikers.

By the time he came back, everyone was up and instantly moods lightened despite the wetness outside. Bacon has magical powers like that. And so does Larry, actually.

For a couple weeks prior to our arrival Ryan cyber stalked anyone he knew who lived above sea level in Colorado, asking about trail conditions in Crested Butte. The original plan was to return EOB to his spiritual birth place and ride the classic routes in the area but since record late snowfall was still burying most of the high mountains, that simply wasn't an option. So like any good Eagle Scout, Ryan bought a map of the area days before departure, and through his networking skills with friends in high places and Facebook, he was able to piece together a route that would surely have a little bit of everything.

We were on the road by 8:20. I was very pleased with the new wagoneers. Everyone was very prompt. The skies were grey. On his bacon run Larry went by the start line for the start of the Full Growler race (two laps of the same course). The vibe was much different than the day before. Instead of riders warming up and tunes blaring, everyone was in their cars, trying to stay warm and dry for as long as possible. So long, suckers!

The drive would be at least an hour. We drove up and over Monarch Pass and the higher we drove the snowier it became. There is a gift shop at the pass and there were snow drifts still up to the rooftops. (Yes, there were snowball fights). But we didn't come here to enjoy the snow. We wanted to get on dirt and now.

Salida is a cool hippie town. There many little art shops restaurants bars and of course bike shops. The most famous being Absolute Bikes. We stopped in there and Ryan went over his ride plans with one of the shop rats. It seems his plan was perfect for the time we had that day. The trails would be dry for the most part but we needed to be prepared. The skies were ominous towards the direction we came from. It seemed that it wasn't a matter of if we would get wet but more like when. As we unloaded the van we were engaged in conversation by a local homeless man. With a very loud and slightly drunk voice, he told us of caves up high and how effing awesome the trails were. He complimented our bikes and then of course, right on que, asked us for money. We denied his request and as we rode away I worried that he might try to help himself to the contents of the van.

S Hill
The ride started out going up S Hill. It was the local green trail but there were definitely technical aspects to it. Tight, off-camber and rocky singletrack was cut into very steep hillsides with a lot of exposure. The trail sometimes disappeared around the corner and you didn't know what was on the other side until you were there. About a month ago Ryan and I took an IMBA mtb instruction course. In that course we learned basic guide techniques. We practiced those techniques with Ryan in the front and me bringing up the rear. No matter what I was to stay behind the group to make sure that nobody got lost or left behind. The views were beautiful. The sky was breaking up and the sun was starting to send raise down on the little town of Salida. The hill was completely bare of any trees so we had perfect sightlines down to the valley. 

The town of Salida from S Hill

The Wagoneers heading up.

EOB being EOB
Because it had rained recently the trail was a little bit tacky and some of us were having problems with mud collecting our pedals. There was a little bit of stop and go but I was perfectly content. I was tired from the race the day before and the slower pace let me take in my surroundings. One of the Wagoneers, Jenni, was having a particularly tough go at the trail. As new rider on rocks, the terrain was very foreign but she rode like a trooper and was determined to get to the end of the trail, which she did, but not without giving me a heart attack. After losing her balance, she took a small plunge down the hill at an elbow bend of the trail. Luckily she went into a sort of water drainage. I jumped off my bike to help her. Ever see an Asian with perfectly round eyes? Her husband, the proper Asian, Adam, was fearing the worst but his wife was fine. Not a scratch. We hooked back up with the group and motored on.

Soon the trail started to get more and more technical with lots of slow maneuvering. It wasn't an ideal place for beginners but Jenni talked her way through it, riding whenever she could. Not once did she just give up. She tried (and screamed) her way around the rocky playground. It was fun to celebrate each little victory. If anything, I hoped it inspired her. She could now not only understand what her husband gets all jacked up about when talking about the gnarly shit he rode but also contribute to the conversation, which is a very good thing.

At one point when we caught back up with the group, Carly was licking wounds from what we heard was a nasty endo with a backward somersault. She didn’t stick the landing, I guess. At that point I had to pee something fierce. Unfortunately, after I did my deed, and after peeing on my shoe, I could not, for the life of me, zip up my shorts. I must have tried 50 times and fifty times more at each stop. Great. But I just untucked my jersey and hoped for the best. My comrades had a good time with it, naming it the Cooter Cooler.

First time we've ever had as many ladies as men!
We finally made it to an end-point. At a gravel road we had to make a decision on where to go next. Jenni and Amy decided to take the low road and head back to town, in search of the illusive pump track. The rest of us headed up the gravel, each at our own pace, until we found the single track connector that lead us to Cotton Wood, a trail that would take us back down to the parking lot. (The emphasis being DOWN). It started out following a dried up spring bed, which had some nice kickers on each side. We came to an intersection and discovered some newly-cut single track that still had flags in place. We jumped on it, ready to hoot and holler but the soft dirt was soul sucking. Not knowing where it would lead us, we back tracked to the spring bed. After a short, rolling descent, Ryan’s tracks said we had to go back up the spring bed, which inevitably hooked us up to the new single track that we bailed on earlier. Doh! And then we had to climb a bit. I didn’t have any doubt in Ryan’s route finding abilities. The man has a talent for it but new riders on the trip were getting antsy. The sky was darkening and nerves were elevating. Nobody wants to be out in the middle of BFE, in the rain, trying to get down a rocky mountainside. Luckily, Ryan had downloaded the trail to his phone. After, cross-referencing it with the vague but reliable local knowledge of “look for the string of old logs on your left” we had a plan. We followed a 4wd road, scouring the edge for the dead logs. I did recall seeing them, but unfortunately, I wasn’t privy to this piece of information at the time I saw them. Plus, they looked more like a barrier than a trail marker. (Smart thinking, rogue trail builders!) So, after bombing down, down, down the road and not finding the dead logs at the edge of a forest, (really, how hard could it be?) we turned around and rode back up, up, up. I mentioned the logs that I saw and sure enough we quickly found them. We took off down the trail hoping this would be the last of the route finding. Tight single track through the trees was just the beginning. We could hear Ryan whooping it up down trail which meant one of two things: don’t follow me because it’s gnarly or follow me because it’s gnarly! We only would know once we got to it. Hands down, this trail had it all. It was primarily descending down the dry creek bed and what’s at the bottom of creeks? Rocks, and lots of them. The line was easy to follow. Sometimes we’d get kicked straight up the bank and if we were in a big gear, that was tricky. Just ask Kaitlin, who learned the hard way. But what goes up must come down and each time we were kicked up the bank, we were rewarded handsomely with a roller coaster descent back down into the spring bed. A couple times we had to dismount to get around some fallen tree debris, but for the most part, it was a clear shot to the bottom. We stopped every so often to catch our breath and to make sure everyone was still on their bikes. The whole crew was riding great, even those on hard tails. Run what ya brung!
This one's for his girls back home.


You didn't need to ask us to say cheese, Todd.

R&R Outside. Our favorite place.
Eventually, the spring bed led us to single track that wound us back through the forest. It ended with some nice switch-backs on the side of the hill and a great view! Towards the bottom were remnants of unused berms, ramps and gap jumps. Of course RF had to try one. They were pretty sketchy looking to be quite honest.

It was late in the afternoon by the time we rolled back into the parking lot. Amy and Jenni met us just as we arrived at the van. Their quest to find the pump track didn’t pan out so they hit up the brews and the blue grass festival that was taking place in the middle of town. Amy, always the thinker, started handing out beers. We had a lot to celebrate! Everyone made it down, the rain never came and the riding was perfect. Just enough technical to make you feel good about yourself, mixed in with some high-speed, clams out descending. We toasted ourselves.

As we were getting cleaned up and figuring out where to go eat, I noticed a black Subaru entering the parking lot with a rack that was like the one on the van. Intrigued, I watched the car go by, looking at the rack and the bikes that were on it (just two). Then I cocked my head. One of the bikes was the same color as the Trek Remedy I just sold. Hmph, it also had a white saddle, just like mine. The grips had red highlights, just like mine did. Wait a minute, that’s my old bike.

“Hey Ryan. I think that’s my Remedy”. I pointed to the Subaru. Ryan being Ryan, did what Ryan does and walked over to the group near the car.

“Where did you get that Remedy”, he asked the group.

A guy piped up, “I bought if off Craig’s List from some guy in Nebraska.”

Ryan stuck out his hand, “Ryan Feagan. Nice to meet you.”

And there it was, the bike I had sold not a month earlier to a couple in Golden, Co., hanging on the back of a rack in Salida, Co. I went over to the group and met the new owner.

She was as surprised as we were. She told me she was a new rider and that she had had a great ride earlier that day. I miss that bike (sentimental, I am) but knowing it’s bringing joy to someone new to the sport gives me great joy. Like it was meant to be.

Meet Sadia. A proud new owner.
This was an amazing highlight to the day and all the more reason to celebrate. We spit bathed in the parking lot and put on some fresher smelling clothes before heading out for massive amounts of food. We went to one place but they only had sandwiches. We were beyond sammies. Taking the advice of the bike shop (duh) we headed to a pizza place that had outside seating, amazing beverages and a view of the big mountains in the distant horizon. At that moment, we couldn’t ask for anything more. Well, except for maybe another cold one. We capped off the night with a beautiful drive back over a snow-capped pass and down into the Gunnison Valley. Mother Nature gifted us with a sun-set to burn into our memories. There is something about mountain valleys. Outside of Gunnison, the valley is a quilted landscape of horse and cattle ranches. Recent rain, in addition to Spring’s snow melt, had the creeks rising out of their banks and flooding the plains’ low lands. Cows were grazing up on hillsides. Small ponds became nature’s mirrors, reflecting the amber light of the early evening sky. 

Post ride nom central.
Seriously, adirondack chairs? Yes please.
Two of our she-redders!

We pulled into town and unloaded the day in the garage. I had reset the water heater that morning to make sure we had hot water upon our arrival back at the condo. With an early departure the next day, everyone would be needing to shower that night. Since EOB went last the day before, he was first, but not without a fight. Someone had the fabulous idea of throwing cold water on him while he was in the shower; the equivalent to a Gatorade bath after a victorious day on the field or revenge for something he did at some point. It was well deserved, in either case.

As most of these trips do, they end with the group sitting together telling tales of the tried and true. Sometimes they get off tangent and become two-way conversations until someone, like me, bursts out laughing because nobody knows what the hell is being talked about and can’t hold back any longer. (Sorry, guys). We broke out the special blue tequila that the Eybergs so thoughtfully brought back from their trip to Mexico earlier this spring. No, there was no worm at the bottom but it was a pretty tropical blue color with a very floral flavor. It didn’t last long. And neither did the Reposado tequila nor the whiskey. Yep, it was definitely going to be a long ride home.

The next morning, Monday, just as they had done all weekend, the Wagoneers were up and at ‘em bright and early. We said our g’byes to the Stolls. They were on their way to Fruita so Jenni could check out the place where she would be taking a Dirt Series camp in September. 
Before we left town, we stopped at a gas station to fill up. Larry recalled a coffee shop near by but we couldn’t see one. That didn’t stop Larry. He walked off to find the place for a proper caffeine fix. After some moments, he reappeared, with a mustached grin from ear to ear, proudly displaying a hot cup of joe high in the air, as if it were a trophy. Yes, Larry, you won the coffee race. Again. And like the truly awesome person Larry is, he sprung for coffee for the rest of us so we too could have the perfect ending to an already perfect weekend. 

Thursday, May 29, 2014

A Memorable Memorial Weekend - Part 1: Growling in Gunnison

The beauty of high-desert terrain against a stunning mountain backdrop.
With snow capped peaks in the rear view mirror, we celebrated another Memorial Day remembering the previous two days of epic adventures with friends in the mountains. 

Our destination was Gunnison, Co., host to the Gunnison Growler mountain bike race. The MTBWagn crew was Larry "bacon quest" Kintner, Todd "Green Machine" Eyberg, Gnarly Carly, and new to the crew, Kaitlin "You Tube" Neary. This year the wagon became the wagon train as we had more riders than seats in the van so new crew member Amy Collison also drove which meant Ryan and I could bring our big bikes too. Eric O’Brien was her copilot, also a new crew member. The Stohls followed the train in their own car, because Gunnison was to be just the first stop on a multi-day trip to the Great Wide Open.

We left on Thursday night, making our way to a Super 8 in Ogallala. Normally this wouldn't warrant a mention but this particular hotel had a special host who took care of us at breakfast, making our waffles and attending to us like the tender hearted granny she appeared to be. “Grandma Jeannie” recommended going into town to get good coffee for the road. I think we made the baristas day, probably doubling their day's take in a matter of minutes. (Mental note: next year, skip the continental breakfast and get breakfast burritos at the coffee shop).

It was a long haul but we made great time. We stopped at the famed walk-up Tai restaurant off the highway. It's such an oddity but the food is legit and it's fun to bring new people there to experience sitting outside eating pad tai at a picnic table on the side of the road. Anything goes in Colorado.

Porch perfection.
Bike conga line?
Within an hour we were at our home away from home, a condo in town that as it turned out was right on the race course. We didn't waste time getting unloaded and kitting up for a recon of the start of the race. We took the crew up Kill Hill to give the new racers a sample of climbing at altitude and to shock our systems into race mode. We climbed a bit more and continued on a gravel road to the start of the single track. We descended for a short bit until the trail pointed upward where we dumped back onto the service road. Dark clouds were approaching and we didn't want to get stranded so we headed back to the house. The eminent rain finally hit as we walked to registration. And it was a good soaking, leaving us wondering what fate would have in store for us come race morning. Next was a trip to the grocery store and then dinner: naked burrito bowls courtesy of Larry. Par for the course we ended the day getting gear and bikes ready for our 9 am start, falling asleep to the pitter patter of rain on the roof.

The Race
Ten people getting ready for a race went pretty smooth. We had been having issues with the water heater not working and that morning was no different. I texted the owner about it asking if someone could fix it while we were racing. Instead she called and tried to walk us through a quick fix but no luck. Eyberg and I had to start getting ready so she sent someone right then. After a long day on the bike, a hot shower would be a necessity. By 8:15 we were all warming up on the street outside our front door. The streets were wet but it wasn't raining. The forecast was iffy which in the mountains, could mean anything. I dressed in my summer kit and stuffed a rain layer in my pocket just in case. There was no shelter whatsoever on course so I wanted to have something, even if it was for piece of mind. By the time we got to the start line, the sun popped out and everyone was stoked. One last bathroom break and I lined up a few rows back from the front. I scanned the crowd. Lots of pros. Time to bring my A game. It's always fun to see how us flat landers stack up to the locals. I was ready.

Photo courtesy of Matte Burt
Amazing race course views!

We got a 2 minute warning then a rifle shot into the air signaled the start. It came without any countdown so I took off and forgot to start the Garmin until a couple minutes later. The start was neutral with a police car pacing us through town towards the famed Hartman Rocks and Kill Hill. The pace was steady. 350 mountain bikers charging like a swarm of angry bees. Nobody was talking. It was a controlled chaos. Adam was just ahead of me so I paced off of him until the swarm swallowed him up. I picked others to pace off of, trying to avoid single-speeders spinning desperately. As we hit the last straight-away, the pace quickened. I had a 28 on the front and I was in my smallest gear in the back. I sat in for the most part but that didn't last long once we hit Kill Hill. Larry went around me. Locals charged while others went backwards. My goal was to hold my line and not burn too many matches. I was in the red but there would be some recovery until the next hill. My intervals were spot on for this exact start however, racing at altitude doesn't allow my heart rate to come down as fast as it does at sea level. Kaitlin was with me up the first climb but she was breathing pretty hard and was hoping she would have the ability to recover by the second climb. I got up the next big climb and then took a couple of moments to catch my breath before clicking up the cassette. Within a minute on the gravel road, I was on single track. I knew there was another big climb coming so I settled in. I didn't see anyone I knew. I put my head down and motored.

The course was reversed from last year. Also, instead of finishing at the parking lot of Hartman Rocks, we would be racing all the way back to town. The first big technical section was Top Of The World trail. I remembered doing it last year. It's a stacked trail that takes riders up via a series of switch back trails that also included some rock climbing. I dabbled only a couple of times and one of those times a local woman went by. We yo-yo'd back and forth over the next several miles. She let me by one last time and I didn't see her again but knew she couldn't be far.

The climb up Top of the World

I made it!

The course was hero dirt. The rain from the day before had tamped down the dust and the corners were Velcro. So much of the course zig-zagged through hillsides of sage brush. The air was thick with its fresh scent. It was during these segments, with elbows out, that I was having the most fun, like skiing in the sand. It was also where I would try to recover from the punishing technical sections that really tested me. I was passed by a couple different ladies in these tetchy sections when I clipped out. I cursed in my mind. After the second woman went by I was mad and stayed with her. This was around mile 12ish. She was really strong and had a great pace and could pass the guys with ease, which sometimes left me behind them and having to flight my way back up to her.

At mile 15 I stopped at the first aid station. Adam was there recovering from cramps. I realized I could've stopped later because riders were going by it on another trail. The man helping me fill my bottle was struggling to get water out of the spout. Riders were flying by, including the woman I had been battling Damn! And like that she was gone. It was a two mile, extremely technical loop back to the same aid station. I had to pass many riders who got in ahead while I was at the aid station. Then it was a long climb back up to it, again passing riders to gain back my position. 

Racing with friends.
Not too long after, I saw Larry! I’m always happy to see him. He’s a great rider and always positive. We dumped out of the singletrack onto a dirt road where I rolled up on him and pointed at the woman up ahead and said, “We need to catch her.” And we did. The next section was a shitty, loose service road, that had ruts, rocks and more rocks. Everyone was walking, including me but as soon as it leveled off a smidge, I remounted. I hate walking my bike. It puts me in a bad mood. I’d rather turn myself inside out than walk one step. It was a tough battle but I put some distance on everyone. It would come at a price, however, because I started to lose some steam. Larry and the woman caught me and then the trail started to get really technical. She ended up walking down a large boulder where I was hung up and I couldn’t catch her again. She seemed to have just vanished. Larry and I were putting down some power but she was a ghost. We rode quickly and with determination the last 5 miles before we got back to pavement. Hoping we could reel her in, I got in behind Larry and it was TT all the way back to town. We thought we saw her up ahead, but it was a different rider in the same color jersey. I was deflated, so I looked down at the clock. I wanted to get in between 4-4:15 but it was looking like I’d be under 4 hours. Mush, mush! Pavement turned to gravel and sand for a short bit and Larry pulled away. My gearing was leaving me in the dust. I had it in my hardest gear and I couldn’t stay with him. We made our way through the edge of town, eventually going past the rental condo, then a right and then a left. I could hear the announcer call out my number as I approached the line. I was done. Larry was done. My favorite part of racing. ;) We had just made it under the four hour mark. I was super excited! We immediately say Ryan and Todd standing in line for pizza and beer. 

Mobile wood-fired pizza (aka water heater repair guy)
Only the good stuff @ the Growler 
Finishers' prizes
It turned out Ryan and been pulled up to Todd on the pavement and was just sitting in until Todd turned around to see that it was RF on his wheel. This was just before the final left turn. The story went that Ryan took the inside line and they both were dragging knuckles trying to get the advantage. They both stood up for the final sprint, with Todd taking the win by a few seconds. A perfect way to end a race! Not too long after, Kaitlin came in, then Carly and finally Adam. Everyone was beyond beat. Hollowed out by hard efforts at altitude. We all cashed in on the noms before making our way back to the condo to wash up. We kept an eye on the road for Amy or EOB. We saw Amy and ran outside to yell for her. As soon as she heard us, she sped up, shaking a rider off her wheel. It was much later that EOB made it in. He came down the street, all tucked, his big engine was bringing him home. We ran out in the street, ala TDF style, yelling his name. He gave us a mere turn of the head and motored on. We knew he couldn’t stop until the finish line or it would’ve been over right there. Later we found out it almost was over after an epic meltdown and some conversations with the Almighty. Sometimes races like these can show you what you’re made of and apparently EOB’s made of stubborness and tenacity.

The famous Dave Wiens
With EOB in, we all felt relief and joy. We headed over to the awards ceremony. None of us were on the podium but we wanted to find out if Omaha was in the top 15 cities. Nope, not this year. But Kaitlin won a year’s worth of Honey Stinger product in the raffle so that was the highlight.

After the ceremony, it was time to fill our bellies with proper Mexican food. We hit up a local place that had no wait and a table by the window. On tap were endless chips n salsa, strong margies and stories of a day on the trail. It couldn’t have been a better ending to a great day. The rest of the night was spent digesting and then eating again while we prepared for Day 2 of our memorable Memorial Weekend.