Friday, August 14, 2015

Day 3 of Larry's Big Bike Birthday Trip - Wheeler or Bust

One thing we promised Larry - his birthday trip would be epic with a side of epic. I don't know if it's the altitude or the promise of new eye-candy but the idea of riding up and over Wheeler Pass after a race day was either going to be the ultimate test or the ultimate disaster. Almost as much climbing as descending, we'd have to pay to play but that's Colorado riding. You go up to come down. 

The beginning of the route was a new one for RnR. We've been up there via different routes but Ryan was wanting to explore it from the south and fair warning, there was going to be some steep hike a bikes. We invited my coach, Fastcat Racing's Jason Hilimier, who lives in Boulder, and is always up for long days on the bike when time allows. Sometime between 7-8am the van was locked and loaded and we were off. April and Jenny were riding Peaks Trail with Andy and Lauren. It's a trail between Breckenridge and Frisco and the plan was we would descend Peaks into Frisco and then someone would take Ryan to go fetch the van. Another thing about adventuring in Colorado: you have to be flexible because plans can change. Quickly.

Packed for a full day in the saddle, we started our way up. We had to cross a low creek only a few yards away from the van. Crap! Wet feet. Boo! The trail was a dirt 4wd road that went on and up. Nothing too crazy technical. Just demanding at sub 10,000 ft. This was the climb before the climb, by the way.

After maybe less than an hour, we found the Wheeler trail head and up the only option. For the next couple of hours we mainly walked our bikes. There were a few fun descents for sure or flowy sections but if you asked me what I remember most about that day I'd have to say the shear altitude gain and that most of it was on foot. It wasn't so bad until we got up into the clouds. The trail was wet, very steep and the temperature was dropping with every 1000 feet gained. By the time I made it to the next intersection (I was last in the group) it was decided that we would have to turn around. The rain clouds weren't simply passing by and we still had several miles of climbing to do. Jason was shivering b/c he only had a windbreaker and everyone's fingers were getting cold from the rain and wind. It was a no brainer. We put on more layers and went back the way we came. 

The descent was kinda scary. Some of us had to take it easy as it was not something we were used to riding. We got to an intersection and waited for Larry. And waited. And waited. Finally he appeared, declaring he had crashed and had gone off the mountain! He was OK but knew it could have been way worse. We took it pretty easy until we got to more level ground. Instead of heading all the way back to the van on the steep trail, we rode a wide 4wd trail, Boreas Trail. It was one whoot'nhoot'n good time. Fast and wide open with lots of rocks and roots and just a freaking riot! I'd gladly pay to get shuttled up that for a day. Seriously good times. As we got closer to town, Eyberg got a flat. More standing around made for colder bones. Jason was down at the bottom of a hill with his knees tucked under his jacket, rocking back and forth. We needed to get him inside pronto. We finally popped back into civilization on the south end of Breck and went straight for Clint's Bakery for some hot coffee and food. With everyone inside, Ryan and I, guarding the bikes, made plans to get the van but then something awesome happened. Once everyone had a chance to warm up and caffeinate, they were ready to go out for more. We stuck to the original plan of riding Peak's Trail back to Frisco. That trail never gets old. So much awesome. And as we pulled into town, April and Jenni just happened to be walking by. We continued on to the condo. The sun had come out finally so we all sat in the driveway warming up. I brought out the chips and salsa and everyone enjoyed some beverages, glad to be back, safe and sound.

Despite the setbacks with the weather and not being able to ride the planned route, we still made the best of it and everyone had fun. When Ryan went to get the van, he brought back pizza from a place in Dillon. I think we ate our weight in dough, only to top it off with ice cream sandwiches using chocolate chip cookies Jenny brought (one of the many surprises for Larry - it's one of his favorite treats). With a gut full of beer, pizza and ice cream, going to sleep wasn't an issue. 

The next day we packed up and headed down to Crested Butte for the second leg of the trip. We added Wixon and EOB would be joining us as well. Nine friends in the Colorado backcountry - a formula for shenanigans of epic proportions!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Day 1 & 2 - Larry's 50th Birthday Trip

Crested Butte 
Riding bikes in the woods with friends is nothing short of divine. Add in a few thousand feet of elevation, eye-candy for miles, descents that leave perma-grins and you pretty much have heaven on earth.

The Facebook event that I set up for this year's trip to the Great Wide Open went something like this: 9 friends, 10 days, thousands of feet in elevation, hundreds of trail miles; one fucking good time. And that's pretty much how it went down. And up. When you're in the likes of Breckenridge and Crested Butte, Colorado, those are the only two options. But this is what our buddy Larry Kintner wanted to do for his mid-century birthday. Last fall he asked me and the hus-boy to set it up. We didn't blink an eye. 

Mt. Crested Butte     
It just so happened that CB was the perfect place for such a gathering. After finishing the Crested Butte Ultra Enduro last year, we had the gps tracks and bread crumbs to create killer, all day loops or point to point rides that included hours of saddle time (and hiking time), ridiculous top outs with face-melting descents.(And sometimes there were more than one in a single ride).This is what we live for. Back country exploration like some version of Calvin and Hobbes. And showing our friends the way, well, let's just say our faces weren't big enough to hold our smiles.

But first stop was going to be Summit County and the Brek 32 Race. Part of Larry's thing when traveling is he's never traveled to CO without racing. So, since this was on the way, we tacked it onto the itinerary. We all had been on most of the loop at some point, in some other race, so this was familiar territory. Plus the races are run well and Breck is a great town in the summer.

So the plan was final. Race at the beginning of the trip, party and just ride the rest of it.

Day 1 - RandR, Larry and Adam and Jenni Stoll traveled to Ogallala, NE. We stayed in the usual Motel 8. Cheap but comfy.


Hit up the Lamp Stand in downtown Ogallala for coffee and Jesus Burritos. (You'll just have to go to find out). After like 2 more coffee stops (Larry has the Starbucks app on his phone) we rolled into Breckenridge, CO around noon. We couldn't get into the condo for a few hours so we met up with Ted Lechnowski who was vacationing in the area and we rode part of the race course. (Meeting up with friends from home while out there is so awesome. Kevin Gilinsky, also on vaca, stopped by the van as we were finishing). After post ride noms at Fatty's (best za in town) we drove back to Frisco and checked into our digs; a cool little condo just off Main St. in a quiet little 'hood. It was a hip looking place with two levels and a hot tub. A mother robin built a nest on the porch light so every time we went in or out, it took flight and scared the crap out of us each time! All weekend!. We spent each night there instead of going out, it was that cool. Larry and I walked to the store for groceries and once we realized how far it was, we called for someone to come get us. By the time we got home, our legs were toast. We spent the rest of the night getting ready for the race. The Stolls chilled out as they were planning on hitting up the bike park at Keystone Resort with a couple new local friends we met while racing enduros and the Eybergs who were arriving that afternoon. (We may have been a little jealous). 

Jenni descending into Breck


DAY 3 

Larry, Ryan and I are up early. Our race start wasn't until 9 so we had a relaxing morning. We got to the venue by 7:30 since we weren't sure if it'd be hard to find a parking spot. The lot was nearly empty when we arrived. Probably b/c there weren't any bathrooms there so most people ride to this lot b/c this is where the race started for our group and the 68 mile group. I spent the good part of an hour riding some single track nearby to warm up and dial in the suspension. Eigth o'clock came pretty fast though and soon we were off.

The course went up to some familiar roads. It started up Boreas Pass (paved) and then onto Sally Barber (dirt/gravel). I was suffering like a dog. I was breathing way too hard and just kept getting past by what seemed everyone! I even said outloud, I am the last person. I didn't see anyone for several miles but as the trail descended I started seeing people off the side fixing flat. One woman passed me and quickly disappeared. I knew where I was headed and didn't feel the need to chase. For looming ahead was the famous Little French trail. An oxymoron certainly, it's not a little climb by any stretch. I've raced on it many times, only actually riding it without stopping only once. This time, though it was the driest it's ever been, I only had to dab a couple times and walk about 10 steps. I finished it on the bike and then I was off. I had passed the woman who went by me earlier and I didn't see her again. This race has about 4 extended climbs. Little French was the highest but the Continental Trail was by far the longest. I caught Ryan there, around mile15. He was just turning pedals over, waiting for the next descent (new bike fever). And the descent came. 15 minutes of rip-roaring ridiculousness on a bike. (They should have an enduro segment on that part). So fun. Despite the fun parts, I was suffering. I had no get up n go in the legs. Too much riding and walking the day before and not enough rest was my guess. They weren't soar or tired just kinda flat. Oh well. Got great photos out of it!

I ended up coming in around 3:50. Larry was about 10 minutes earlier. Ryan came in about 15 minutes later, but not before Gilinsky rolled in smiling so big he couldn't contain it. "I just beat Ryan. I've never beaten Ryan." It was pretty cool to see his excitement. Ryan agreed. Food wasn't ready yet so we went back to the van and got into dry clothes only to be greeted by a typical Colorado afternoon thunder shower. Any other time we would've been bummed but seeing the long haulers heading out in the shit while we stuffed our gullets with shredded pork sammies and all the fixins...let's just say we were not the least bit disturbed.

When we got back to Frisco, the condo was empty. The Stolls were still shredding the mountain with the Eybergs and Todd Wixon. Eventually they all showed up at the house (except Wixon who was still on vaca time with the fam but would be joining us the next day). We grilled brats and enjoyed dinner with everyone. Our friends from Dillon stopped over and we swapped stories of our days' events over beers. 
Going up
Safely descending Wild Thing at Keystone Resort
The picture says it all!
It was the perfect start to the trip! 

Next up: Wheeler Pass summit

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Sunday Bloody Sunday - Part 2 of Growling in Gunnison

Because racers are dumb sometimes, we convinced ourselves that a full day of riding the day after 4-6 hours of racing in cement-glue mud, micro hail and strong wind just wasn't enough torture. But, when in Rome...

Day two of our trip, as in the past (yes, we're still dumb), was to be a leisurely ride somewhere in the area where there wasn't A) Snow B) Rain C) Mud. Hmmmm, that left us the driveway of our condo and some parking lots around town. High alpine riding was out of the question so after a confirmation of a 50/50 chance of rideable trail from the local bike shop, we arrived in Salida around 10:30. We rode there last year again due to late spring snow in the high country and had a great time and since we weren't sure about the mud situation at other trails nearby, we opted to go back to the same system on S Hill, knowing it was probably our safest bet.

They sky was filled with large, dark clouds. They floated by all morning so everyone packed their rain layers just to be safe. All 9 of us took to the trail in some sort of achy tiredness but there was single track to shred and daylight to kill.

Up, up, up. Who put this hill here? And that rock? And that one? It took me a bit to warm up. I slow pedaled in my smallest gear. It didn't take long and we were high enough to start looking down onto the town of Salida. There was a folk music festival happening and many folks were kayaking right through town on the Arkansas River that runs at the edge of the town. Within the first 15 min, the sun started playing hide and seek. Riders were starting to disrobe, both from the heat of the sun and the heat of their bodies from having to climb. In Colorado, you have to earn your fun.

We came across a nice couple at a parking lot stop. They had NE plates so of course we had to be all "Nebraska Nice". They were visiting their son who owned the local guesthouse. 

We rode North Backbone as an out n back. It started to get pretty gnarly and there was a lot of walking due to tired everything, so we turned around before the end-point and took a different trail that was much more flowy, but still with some good challenges. After getting to a trickling spring bed that we rode down last year, we had to decide where to go next. People were starting to get grumpy and more tired and instead of risking having to ride higher we turned around and went back to the last trail intersection to see where to go next. A native gave us some local info, which was to go back to the creek and take it to the bottom. It was a blast and we had some great flow and speed and views.

We returned to the car pretty stoked but it was still pretty early so a few of us went back out. Same route only skipping the Backbone, instead opting to go higher up the trail so we could bomb back down Uncle Nazty via Cottonwood. The climb s.u.c.k.e.d. It was a slow grind of the worst kind, but knowing we would be rewarded with fun descents helped us keep a positive mind set.

Fun is a relative term. It was fun if you had a dropper and/or long travel. I was a frightened mouse. Big waterfall drops in rocky crags. I walked a lot but Powderpuff doesn't do drops. She's delicate that way. (LOL)

We found some pretty fun stuff. Flowy single track in between rocky, technical bits. In one techy climbing bit, my pedal caught a rock and in the process of trying to maneuver out of it, I once again tipped over, this time right on my left knee and soft part of my palm. If was 40 years younger I would have cried. And not a small cry, but a gasping for air cry where... you... can't... Yes, it freaking hurt! Oh and to really drive the point home, a bar-end dug into the top of my quad. I had to walk it off with controlled breaths to keep from screaming in pain. Why ALWAYS ALWAYS in the slow dumb places!? I slapped on a bandage and off we went, continuing our quest for killing daylight in the unknown. 

There was one part that was offering up some good flow. Adam backed up his rig to get a head start on what was a very xc-like descent. He was flying, as Adams does. Ryan tucked in behind and then suddenly we hear Ryan yelling, "Rider down! Rider down!" I was picturing the worst with Adam lying at the bottom of some cliff. Dr. Larry was down in a flash and once we got sight of them, Adam was sitting up blinking and his face was bloody. Seems his tire washed out in the corner and sent him into the ground face first and then into a tree. His specs caused the gash between his eyes that was bleeding pretty good. The rest of him seemed fine. We could see where the edge of the trail got pretty soft thus grabbing his tire as he leaned into the turn taking the bike out from under him. So glad it wasn't any worse. As we all started to get back on our bikes, the carnage continued. I was standing on the edge of the trail, sort of up mountain, and as soon as I took one step, both feet came loose and I landed all my weight on my left posterior and yes, a very pointy rock. Are you kidding me?! There was soft dirt all around except for where I landed, as Mr. Obvious, Mark, pointed out. If I wasn't pissed before, I sure was now and I just wanted to be done. (Update: It's been a couple weeks and the bruises are probably 4" across and all kinds of purple).

The return ride back to the car was a hoot'n-toot'n good time. Flowy, techy to sketchy, ridgy back to flowy. I said it then and I'll say it again-that was one way to kill a Sunday, even if it was kinda hard on a couple of us.

Celebrations were on tap but first Adam had to face Jenni. I watched her from inside the van as I was changing out of my gear. I didn't need to hear her to know her reaction to her husband's wounds. Her face said everything - wide eyes and dropping jaw. Adam looked like he had been in a fight and totally lost! His cheek had started to swell and the cut was still kinda bleeding. Though we were super glad it wasn't worse, it looked kinda bad ass. 

We clinked glasses and stuffed our face in a local bar n grill right on the river. It had large windows that opened up garage-door style so we could continue to smell and hear the mountain air. With time almost up, we didn't want to miss a second of it. It had been a long few days but when you don't have much time, you have to make sure to pack it all in. After a couple rounds, I took stock of our MTB Crew. Tired, dirty and bloody, but smiling - which in my book, is the only way to end a mountain bike trip.

Friday, May 29, 2015

Growling and Grinding in Gunnison - Part 1

Powderpuff Power! 

The Gunnison Half Growler (1 mi = 1 oz) give or take an ounce was my first true A race this season. All of my efforts during winter trainer rides, gym work outs and airport intervals were powered by the hope of getting higher up on the podium at this race in Gunnison, Colorado. I’ve bagged 6th place and 4th place in my age-group respectively, the only two times I’ve raced this event and I knew I could do better. The race swaps directions every year and I knew I’d do better than 6th and had a pretty good feeling I could podium. I was mentally ready (in other words, so done riding my road bike) and feeling strong. I’d recorded a personal best in 20 second power the week leading up to the race. Yeah, I was ready to smash and mash the Hartman Rocks course into oblivion.

The MTB Wagon and one other car was at capacity; eight racers, each with their own reason for being there. From first timer, to just wanting to finish respectfully, to improving last year’s time, to world domination, we all had our own definitions of victory. But the trip was missing something. Two things, actually. Our good friends, Todd and April Eyberg had to sit this trip out. After an on-the-job accident with a power saw, Todd lost part of one of his fingers and they were waiting to see if the attempt to reattach it was going to take. That meant no riding period. We wanted to make sure he was feeling the love so we told him to come by and see us off. We knew seeing photos of us ripping it up in the mountains would bum him out so we gave him a few toys to play with that he could do one-handed: a paddle ball, a yo-yo, a set of zombie finger puppets and of course a tall can of Guinness. But there would be more… 

Can you guess which finger was cut off?

The drive was entertaining. When KGill wasn’t slinging sarcastic sentiments, EOB was sighing and using creative reasoning to defend his cycling fitness in an effort to keep him from thumbing for a ride back to Omaha from every truck stop. Poor Amy was coughing up a lung between LJK (Larry) and Mark Sullivan. I think you could’ve handed Mark a rabid badger and he still wouldn’t have stopped smiling. He’s been stoked on this trip since he signed up last December. A roadie at heart, he’d say, but with a dirt-eating grin. Adam and Jenni Stoll were in their car behind us, surely contemplating the topics of the MTB Wagon.

That night, we made good time to the Super 8 in Ogallala. The next morning, we revisited a little coffee shop in the tiny downtown that we discovered last year; advice of the little old lady who ran the motel cafeteria. It was also a Christian bookstore and bakery. And being in a small Western Nebraska town, they served breakfast burritos. Because everyone knows, Jesus loves breakfast burritos. 

By mid morning, we reached the edge of Denver and were greeted with grey skies and no mountain views. We skirted south on 285, past Red Rocks and through Baily. Glimpses of the mountains in the far distance showed signs of recent snow fall and we knew there’d be no riding in Crested Butte the day after the Growler. Coming down Kenosha Pass, the wide valley told the story that winter had not let go of this part of the country. Though the valley floors only had a dusting, the high peaks had fresh dollops of snow. We all hoped we brought enough layers.

By 1 p.m. we made it to our favorite road-side Thai place, Mimi’s Cafe, where we stopped for lunch. Usually we eat outside, but not that day. The pissing rain forced us indoors. It’s such an oddity but so good. Bringing newbies there is always fun because the food is really good and is so unexpected.

Eric making sure Todd was represented.

Finally we made it to Gunnison. The roads were dry but the sky was warning us of things to come. We dumped our gear at the condo and rode our bikes up to the course to show the new racers Kill Hill. After a moment to get our breath under control and take a memorial photo for Todd’s finger, we continued on for a couple more miles to the hole-shot. The track was super dusty and loose in the corners. But at least it was dry. We turned around after just a few pedal strokes into the single track and exited via Collar Bone, a roller-coaster section with high sides and deep g-outs that would be the end of the race course. We wanted everyone to ride it so that when they got there after many hours of racing, they would have a sense of familiarity and confidence. At the end of the trail was the timing trailer so this year, it would end at the parking lot at Hartman instead of back in town. Yay. We saw our friends Terry and Julie Higgins from Kansas City making their way up Kill Hill - more midwesterners taking on the Growler!

That night, we did what we always do, eat and prepare for a day on the bike. I had decided, in my quest to be on the podium, to wear a hydration pack and carry two bottles, so I wouldn’t have to stop. I laid out everything I was going to need on the bedroom floor so I wouldn’t forget it. See, I had left my heart rate strap at home and figured I’d just buy a new one for the race. When we arrived at the condo, the owner was there cleaning out the garage so we could fit our bikes inside (so nice!) and she handed me a new Garmin heart rate strap asking me if I wanted it. Helz, yeah! How’d you know? An angel was watching over me, I guessed.

Race morning was nervy. Everyone was talking about the window-shuttering thunderstorm that blew through. Huh? I’m like the lightest sleeper I know and I didn’t hear squat. My ear plugs worked quite well, obviously. Ryan didn’t hear it either but I guess it was the mother of all thunderstorms with lightning and rumbling thunder. I’m glad I didn’t hear it else I would’ve stressed it all night long and probably never gotten any sleep. Then our oats wouldn’t cook on the stove and everyone was needing to eat. Kinda stressful but we managed things and were all riding up and down the street by 8 am to get warmed up. I did a few high-cadence drills to spike the heart rate. It was chilly and cloudy with some breaks in the clouds. By race-time it was in the fifties so I decided full summer kit but with a wool base layer. I brought my wind jacket just as a precaution.

We all rode up to the start line a few blocks away. Music was blaring and everyone was milling about. Larry and I got up about 10 rows back to stake our spot. One last potty break and a chance meeting with Deb Prellar, the woman I met doing the BME series, who had moved to Colorado from Washington State. It was great to see her on the line!

I'm directly under the left stop light.

Soon the gun went off and the buzz of 600 knobby tires filled the air. Fans lined the streets as we were escorted by police through the town, across the highway and onto the paved road up to Hartman Rocks. Maybe 5 minutes in, some jack hole braked so hard he went sideways and almost took out everyone around him. It was pretty calm after that until we hit the strait away to the course entrance. The pre-race pep talk warned us of muddy, rutty roads due to the thunderstorm. Little did we “outsiders” know how muddy. Let me try to explain: how about sticky cookie-dough made with cement glue. The ruts were deep and the mud was thick. I took a very wide line, in the grass to avoid some of the deepest muck. That saved me. People were already pulling over to clean their drive trains. Come on Powderpuff! We’ve been through worse! Kill Hill was next. It was very wet, sandy mud. I had to sit back on my saddle to apply pressure enough to keep the tire from spinning out, much like putting sand bags in the back of a rear-wheel drive truck. At first I though my freewheel was going but it was the slippery slope. I stayed to the left, as it was smoother. I didn’t want to get on the edge in case the mud would force me into the guard rail or into someone else. I wanted to make sure I had room on both sides to maneuver as necessary. Mark and Larry were up with me. I could see a few women too but not many. We managed to make it to the top without unclipping or sliding out. I took a few breaths, a few gulps and it was me a Powderpuff against the world! 

But as much as I wanted to blast off, the road had turned into a wet beach, making it feel like I was riding on a flat tire. It took extra power to keep a good pace. Wide, deep puddles forced us off the road at times. The air was thick with the scent of sage. I finally reached the hole-shot. The single track was gloriously tacky. I flew over the whoops and down to the first climb. I got stuck behind a tall rider who didn’t want to descend as fast as I wanted him to. At my first possible chance, I passed him up. The next section of single track was tacky and slimy. I slid around some parts and mashed through others. Everyone was just trying to stay up-right and then make up time on the open roads. It was a power show-down. I eventually found myself around Larry who was riding smooth. Suddenly I started seeing white pellets hit the ground and before we knew it we were racing in a stinging hail storm. It was then that I had wished I kept my arm warmers on! Ouchy! 

About 1.5 hours into the race, we came up onto a road they call Powerline and Dave Wiens, Mr. Leadville himself, was up there asking riders to walk. The ground was made of the stuff of mountain biker nightmares; derailleur sucking muck that stuck to everything. I first tried riding. Then when my back wheel quit spinning due to all of the mud packing up into the frame. I jumped off and tried running. The bike was 50 pounds. I slung off some of the mud and then sat on the top tube and surfed the next few feet to the bottom of the hill. Just as I was getting off the road I hear Ryan yelling like a wild man and flying down the hill like it was loamy singletrack. He recently had sold his race bike and was doing this event on his long-travel aluminum Remedy and was killing it. I was so proud. He hit the bottom of the hill and flew up the other side. Eventually I caught him as he ushered everyone by, looking stoked. My drive train sounded HORRIBLE! The sandy mud, mixed with the water crossings, had stripped the chain clean of any lube. It creaked and moaned with every pedal stroke. Shifting was iffy and my shoes wouldn’t clip in right away. Man, it was going to be a long, long day! 

Once I got going, I caught up to Adam, who was also on his long-travel bike and having a good run so far. His technical riding prowess kept him pretty far up in standings at that point and I was happy to ride his wheel on a couple of the descents. Once the trail went up, he pulled over so that I could catch a woman who was just ahead of him. We went back and forth for a bit but was able to shake her after the next technical section. That was around mile 17 or so. Half way!

Photo by Dave Kozlowski - Top of the World
The rest of the race was a mix of super fun and super painful. Hartman Rocks put it to us. I do think I prefer this direction, however, every time I thought I was done with the climbing, I'd turn a corner and saw many a racer above me. I recall riding The Ridge climb last year but this year, not so much. First I caught my pedal on a rock and it tipped me over the edge of the trail, sending me toppling. I was saved by a large sage bush but it gave me a good slice around my ankle. Larry was right there. I tried to let him and another go ahead but he was good where he was. I soldiered on. Up and up and over and up and off the bike and walking walking and pedal striking my leg and riding and up and over, WHERE IS THE TOP OF THIS THING! Last year I arrived at the Top of the World trail ON my bike. This year, I arrived on foot. A few ladies had passed just before this section and then a couple more after. I was making dumb line decisions and getting hung up and then started doubting my skills and well, I kinda started falling apart. But I held it together long enough to cross the line in 4th place in 40-49 and 11th overall. So close. I was kinda bummed but considering the conditions and all, it wasn't really so bad. 

Within minutes, Larry came flying down the finishing shoot and then Adam and then Mark. Yeah, Mr. Roadie. So stoked. Ryan wasn't much farther back after that. The mood was light. Lots of crazy battle stories and high fives and stoking each other. My favorite part was when Dave Wiens came over to our group. Mark was star struck and I told him to ask Dave for a photo. Because Dave is that kind of guy, he graciously posed for the photo and asked Mark about his race and was genuinely excited for him. He thanked us for bringing so many friends so far and apologized for the weather. Yeah, Dave, can ya do something about that next time? Sheesh.

We hung out for a little while and then headed back as it was starting to get very windy and we were cooling off. We cruised into town for our complimentary post-race party. I got another coffee mug instead of the growler. We chowed down on some curry chicken and free beer. The wind was really whipping so we headed back to the house to get some more layers on. We didn't stay long though, feeling we needed to get back to the house to get warm and start dinner prep. Pastor tacos all the way from South Omaha! We spent the rest of the night hashing over the race, each of us with our own battles. Despite the conditions, everyone came in and all bikes and body parts (minus some skin) were accounted for. EOB killed his time from last year by 30 minutes. Amy, sick with upper respiratory issues, beat her old time by 20 minutes. Mark was blown away at the sheer epicness of it all and surprised himself at a decent finish. Kevin donated some skin to the course, nearly missing a collarbone break (you should see the shiner on his shoulder) yet despite those things, he battled those demons and crossed the line. Those are the stories I look forward to hearing about. Those are the memories I hope our friends take home with them. That they came, the saw and yeah, they kicked ass.

Up next: Part 2 - Salida Shredding; aka Sunday Bloody Sunday

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Arkansas: The Natural State (of awesome mountain biking)


The Feagans love the Great Wide Open. Heading West is the ultimate adventure for us. But when the Rockies are snow packed, our gaze faces to the dirty south of Arkansas. Though we thought we'd not go there as much this spring, we just couldn't help ourselves. And when you think of Arkansas, I doubt you think of Oden, but well, you should.

The Oachita Challenge was on the schedule from the get-go. Our first long event of the season was going to be an ass kicker and our good buddy Larry was up for the challenge. Ryan and I did this event last year on the advice that it was a well-supported and organized event and we weren't disappointed.

This time around it was just me and the hus-boy with Larry. He entered the next age cat of 50+ this year and he's on a terror to rip some legs off wherever he goes. We figured this could be a great event for him now that he has his full suspension rig to get through the gnarly parts.

Our home away from home was a very cute cabin on the bank of a river at a remote campground named High Shoals Cabins. Last year we stuffed 6 people into a mobile home in a different town. This time, due to some folks bailing on the race, we had room to spare. We did have to share the outside with a friendly-ish swarm of wasps however! Aside from the care-taker and one other family, (and the wasps) we had the run of the place. I'd recommend it. They have a shower house for campers and even a laundry facility. You can even borrow canoes to take down the river!

We arrived on Saturday. It was sunny and perfect. Our recon involved riding up the gnarliest part of the course, Blow Out Mountain. It was the exact part of the course Larry needed to see so he could mentally prepare himself. It was a bitch, to be honest and I had a heck of a time trying to dial in the suspension but I got there. We spent a good 1.5 hours total on the trail. We came across some of the Iowa and KC regulars we see at races, which is always great! Afterwards, we checked into the race at the school that receives some of the proceeds. It was chow time and the event includes a spaghetti dinner the night before and pancake feed on race morning. You can't beat that! I did get a chance to chat with Loreen, my frenemy from Tennessee who always is on point early in the season. Seems the talent was stacked with a transplant from Colorado coming back with gears (she got 4th on SS last year) as well as Laura Scherff from Missouri and a few others I didn't recognize. It was going to be a tough fight. I was 3rd last year in a very wet race. My plan was go finish under 6 hours.

We spent the evening chilling at the cabin and getting everything dialed.

Race morning was a cool one! With a temperature difference by race end of thirty degrees, it was tough deciding what to wear. As I've done in the past, I decided to just deal with the cold and dress for the end. That meant summer kit but with wool socks to help keep my feet warmer from the very wet and deep water crossings. I used a camel back this time plus two water bottles to minimize my stops. I warmed up in my winter clothes, sprinting up the hills and doing high cadence drills to get the legs moving. I lined up probably 10 rows back from the front. I could see all the ladies who were in the open category and well, that was the last time!

The gun went off. The first 3 miles are on a dirt road. It's a neutral lead out but it's fast. Here's a link to the start. I can be seen 5:47.

It's a great warm up on the flats and then the hills come, not too long or steep but enough to start stringing people out. That's when I felt like I was going backwards. I saw the ladies roll away as my HR was reading in the high 170s. I didn't have much more to put out without going too deep in the red, so I just powered on and hoped I'd catch up in the trees. My hope came true when I caught Laura in the first bit of single track. She pulled over for me and I passed without issue. Once I popped out onto the familiar double track where we warmed up the day before, I fueled up to get ready for blow out mountain. Blow Out Mountain is a great name for this trail. It's a long, rocky climb to an even rockier top out, followed by rocky descents. It's one of those trails that you want to stay on your bike because getting started again is almost impossible due to the steepness and the loose terrain. I eased into a rhythm and spun my way up. I got hung up at the top and decided since i was off the bike, I'd take a pee break. I was so preoccupied with getting that done and getting back on the trail that I forgot to grab some food and it was a bitch to take a hand off the bars in those conditions so I stopped quickly to grab some fuel. By then Laura had caught back up and she was in a train with a couple other guys. I jumped on and the pace was pretty easy. I was getting antsy but I was where I was. Finally, the guy in front of me pulled over (he was on a SS) and then I was behind Laura. I stayed there through the chunder because it was already hard enough to ride let alone try to pass someone safely. We were together through the rest of the descent (which was a blast) and once it opened up onto a road, I kicked it into high gear to try and make up some time. Laura is very strong in the open so I knew I had to really attack hard here to get some distance. It stuck.

I got in with a couple groups here and there. Right before the middle of the race is a long, usually windy, stretch of gravel and pavement. Last year I did it alone and it sucked! This time I grabbed onto a wheel of a SS rider and we worked together, catching people and grouping up to share the work. By the time we got to the next aid station, we had 5 racers rotating through the wind. It was awesome! I had to have made up some serious time.

At the next aid station, my train pulled over to refuel, but I didn't need to so I kept on. I caught Ryan going into the next single track section on Womble. He looked good but pulled over to let me go by with my new pack of riders that seemed to like my pace. We caught many riders here. A Kuat guy immediately behind me was calling out requests to pass long before we got to them because the trail is bench cut into steep terrain and there's no room to pass so the earlier you call it out, then the next open spot, hopefully they'll pull over. It worked sometimes and  others it didn't and there was some grumblings about good luck with 60th place, but it worked out for the most part. Finally, I had to let the Kuat rider go. He was pushing me, which was great, but I still had a couple hours of racing and didn't want to blow up. I let him go at the next road crossing and he disappeared. The guy who was behind him, told me to go and together we were a good pair but soon I messed up a step up and he went around.

And then, I was on my own. Alone with my thoughts of wanting to be the F-done! Every descent, though fun, meant I had to probably work to get back out of whatever fucking ravine I was in. There was a section that, after I popped out onto a road, and thinking I was at the end of the single track, I hammered hard. I asked the next road marshal how much longer, and he yelled 10 miles as I entered back into the trees. TEN MILES! Shit! I was down to my last water bottle. It was maybe 3/4 full. I still had food but nothing was going down except goos. Survival mode had kicked in.

I spun it out. Not too hard, not to slow. I had to save some for the last miles of open road. I finally went by a marshal that granted me my wish to have the single track part over with (yeah, odd, I know). But that also meant I had to climb some pretty steep gravel, and then get pay back on some pretty fast descents. I recalled last year at this time when my hands were so numb, I couldn't shift with my thumbs and had to use my other hand. This year, though windy, was dry. I put my nose down and just dieseled my way home. I had enough in the tank to stand up to get up the damn power climb to get to the finish line. Such a gut punch after 6 hours in the saddle.

And so, I came in just a hair over 6 hours. I thought I was close. My Garmin didn't turn on for the first 10 minutes of the race, so I was never sure of my time. That got me a 4th place on the podium, some cash and a nice trophy. They do it right down there. A buffet of pizza, cookies, fruit, pop, water, was paradise! Ryan came in about 10-15 minutes after me, pretty happy.

And Larry...yeah. He stomped! He got 2nd in his age group and wasn't far off the top step.

After I pulled in, a herd of children grabbed my bike and washed it off with a hose. What?? I came back later with some cash for the tip jar. So cool! We ate our share of the fixins and eventually made our way back to the cabin. We tried stopping at the jiffy mart that claims the Best Burgers This Side of Heaven but was too late. They had just closed. So my dreams of a fat juicy hamburger were dashed. Instead we stopped at the grocery store and picked up some meat for the grill. We spent the rest of the evening by the river, sipping beer and hashing out the play by play of the race.

Races like these are a huge mental and physical challenge. Overcoming our doubtful minds while trying to overcome obstacles isn't easy but once you do, and you take a minute to think about what you just did, gives you the desire to do it again. So, the MTB Wagon may just be back here next year.