Monday, April 14, 2014

So This Is Why It's Called The Dirty South - 2014 Oauchita Challenge

"The Ouachita Mountain area of Arkansas is dominated by Cambrian through Pennsylvanian clastic sediments...The Atoka Formation, formed in the Pennsylvanian Period, is a sequence of marine, mostly tan to gray silty sandstones and grayish-black shales...The Collier sequence is composed of gray to black, lustrous shale containing occasional thin beds of dense, black, and intensely fractured chert. An interval of bluish-gray, dense to spary, thin-bedded limestone may be present. Near its top, the limestone is conglomeratic and pelletoidal, in part, with pebbles and cobbles of limestone, chert, meta-arkose, and quartz."

Now I know what was imbedded in everything from my kit to my cassette after racing the Ouachita Challenge two weeks ago. But don't let this scare you from trying it. Those folks down in the Ozarks know how to throw a party! 

Our good racing buddy, Rafal "The Polish Punisher" Doloto had been pimping this race for a couple years, telling us it was the next best thing to french press. We know our good friend is a champion at suffering and loves gravel, so our hesitation each time he brought it up was warranted. But this year, we decided we would do most of the Arkansas schedule, which included this race. Rafal was pumped. He promised miles of smiles, angelic volunteers who practically throw food at you at each aid station and a marked course that even a sight-impaired person could follow. Okay, okay. We're in.

PRERACE

The MTB Wagon left a cold and wet Omaha on a Thursday night. The wagoneers were a different mix this time: Rafal, Noah "Selfie" Marcus, Skip "The Other Philospher" Chronin and Wixon, who pretty much just shows up in our driveway on the weekends and asks where we're going.

The race wasn't until Sunday but Rafal's plan was to ride ourselves silly BEFORE the race. Now, that's not part of my pre-race coaching plan, said no one ever. Yeah, we (as in Ryan and I) bitched and moaned that we wouldn't be able to enjoy post-race libations and a relaxing-by-the-fire kinda night after the race, but as it turned out, that wasn't gonna be in the cards anyway. 

We pulled into the hotel sometime before midnight. Rafal supposedly had stayed there on another occasion. So we go to check in while Ryan unloads bikes. The woman at the desk, pleasant and friendly, was on the phone. We stood around for a few minutes and few more minutes. Finally, she asked for our reservation in a confused tone because she was not expecting any more arrivals that evening. Greeaaaaat! What cluster was this going to turn into? So Rafal got out his phone and mentioned the hotel name... 

"Oh, that hotel is directly behind us". 

"Can we walk there?"

"Um, I'd suggest driving around the back."

Ryan is going to come unglued, I thought. We would have to load up all the bikes and drive a block. Well, that wasn't the case at all. The hotel was quite literally behind the one we were standing in, sharing a parking lot. The sign out front was for both properties so it was a natural (and common, come to find out) mistake. I walked in the front door, rolling my bike with me and we got checked in licketly split. Sweet. No issues.

The next morning it was a full-on hotel buffet with actual omelets with actual veggies in them, waffles and the like. We stuffed ourselves and checked out by 8am. Sometime between 11 and 12 we were at a trail head parking lot. The sun was out and the trail was dry. Oh, and it was Friday. Life was good. Well, until I stepped in some kind of shit pile and I say some kind b/c I don't know for sure what mammal contributed to my misstep. I was hoping this was not going to be an omen.



The ride was glorious. Rough in places, buttery in others and after hours of sitting, our legs were much happier. I took the climbs easy so I wouldn't tax the pistons (I stoled that name from Rafal). I was also fiddling with my suspension since I hated my set up at Spa City and hadn't had any time on the bike since, so I was jra. 



Post ride we cruised into town, with the option of Mexican food or Italian. Duh. Mexicano! It was 3 in the afternoon so the place was deserted, save for a couple diners here and there and the crazy old man in the corner who, every 5 minutes, let out a sigh like the world's problems were on his shoulders at the moment. Maybe none of his FB fans were posting on his page or something. The guy, probably my dad's age, had a loptop and an ipad open on the table and I think a briefcase. Maybe that was his office. Regardless, the food was good (yes, Wixon, it was good enough even for you) and we ate our fill while we watched a continuous loop video of commercials for area businesses. Yes, entertaining, to say the least.




Next stop was to our crash pad. Sunnybrook: "A charming little hide-way cabin with its own shady yard and bubbling stream, on a quiet paved road. Although it is a small cabin, it sleeps 6... (insert scratching record here). SLEEPS, yes. Lives, no. Well, sleep might even be questionable when you're 6' tall and have to share a mattress on the loft floor with another 6' tall dude because the only other room in the place would be the tub or the kitchen floor. Sunnybrook was a very cute glorified mobile home. It was like hanging out in a very large motorhome complete with ladders up to the loft spaces and nooks for storage. What it lacked in space, it had in character, 6 of them to be exact, and we made the best of it, managing somehow to not back up the toilet. Especially after noms full of brussel sprouts and spicy sauces. We capped off the first night in our snuggly abode watching Space Balls and listening to Noah giggle. 





 


The next day, after a scrumptious breakfast ala Noah, we headed to Womble, the Holy Trail of trails in Arkansas. We drove to the exact same place we stopped for a pee break when we drove down to Spa City and I just happened to have spotted an outhouse through the trees. We pulled into the lot. Not long after, folks we knew from Iowa and KC pulled up. It was a midwest reunion right there. And good thing b/c one of them had a serious der issue and Ryan was there with his trusty tool box and oh, 20 miles of cable and housing at the ready. Of course every dude had to asses the situation and everyone had their own opinion so it was a comical circus of men kicking tires and trying to figure out what was wrong. The ride was sweet. Once up to the top, it was flow city over rocky, rooty, off-camber trails that sliced into very steep terrain. Yeah, these wet will be interesting, I thought. I messed with my suspension and finally got it set, much to my relief. Lack of rocks at home leaves me tinkering a lot on these types of courses. After the ride, Ryan and I tackled some pre-race openers and hung out with Sweater until the others returned. It's really quite beautiful there.



We headed back into town and to packet pick up. Race headquarters were at the local elementary school, which proceeds from the race go towards. They were well set up, using the cafeteria to feed everyone in the evenings and in the mornings. Southern hospitality that we didn't take advantage of, but is a very nice perk for those who travel great distances to be there. They also had a make-shift shop set up for anyone wanting to buy everything from shorts to nutrition to tools. They were in a remote location, so they thought of everything racers would need.

That night, after a dinner of indian and Thai food, and finally getting Ryan's laptop/phone set up to stream the NCAA championships for Noah, we settled into our pre-race routines. And since we had to pack up for good at the crack of dawn, we had to get as much ready as possible so we could be up, fed and on the road by 5:45. And I'll be dammed if we weren't driving down the road at 6 a.m. 

THE RACE
Pulling into the school's parking lot, we secured rockstar parking. We watched the skies as we pulled everything out of the van. We had a beautiful sunrise greeting us but dark clouds were closing in. It was chilly but not windy. The calm before the storm. 

About 30 minutes before start, I took to the road for a warm up. Not sure how fast the start would be, I shocked my heart and lungs into shape. They knew it was go time. I lined up just as the announcer was calling for the pre-ride chit chat. I was probably 5th row or so. Loreen Coffelt was nearby and one other woman but I couldn't see any others. The narrow driveway caused the sausage fest to swallow them up and scatter them around. These type of mass start races are so unnerving. Unless you're right next to your rivals, you never know where they're at.



The gun went off. It was a neutral start. Which I prefer as opposed to going into the red immediately. We followed a truck and kid-you-not, an old guy on a recombant who was a local trail sweeper. The recumbent, like all things off-road in the dirty south, was jacked up, so he was at eye level as we passed him at the end of a long, gravel road. The rain had already started by the time we went into the single track, although it was light. I had on arm warmers, knee warmers and a vest. I've warn less on colder starts but since the rain was eminent, I was ready for the worst. Except I opted for hot weather gloves...




Aside from one crash on a paved turn, the start was very gentleman-like. There was some jockying as expected but everyone was hospitable. I even got a high five from a racer for my Trek SF100 that was just like his. As we made our way along the double track, I was feeling good. Not too hot and not too cold. The trail began to rise and the pace slowed a bit. Loreen had been around me up until the trail began to go down. The slippery roots and rocks were a plenty and I was riding pretty cautiously. I hadn't had the new bike on this type of wet terrain so I was dialing in its responses to greasy rocks and roots as I raced. Needless to say, it was pretty stable. Barely did my tail whip on a root and the tires seemed to stick more than slide. The newly slammed stem put enough weight on the front tire but I still wasn't 100% sure I wanted that much weight when it's wet. I like being able to let the tires do what they need to do and I was concerned that weight on them wouldn't allow me to steer quickly enough. 

All that worrying and suddenly Loreen was gonzo. I was on track for what I wanted to do that day (which for whatever reason wasn't to kill or be killed) so I just did my thing. I had a good pace and even got some props from some guys who were following my wheel up until the first check point. Some of Blow Out mountain was super rocky, and sometimes unrideable due to the rock falls. So I took my time on those, careful not to twist an ankle. 

But complacency doesn't win races. I was caught by a woman on a single speed. She was descending skillfully and putting some huge power down on the climbs. We yo-yod for a spell. She even had a great spin on the flats but I wasn't going to be too nice. I let her draft a bit but then I shifted up and slowly put the hurt on. The course went back out onto the main highway. By then I had to pee in a big way. There was a long gradual climb coming up and I saw a good opportunity to veer off into a small wooded area and relieve myself. I could see Sara (the SS rider) at the bottom of the climb and by the time I was back on my bike, she was right there. I hooked up with another geared rider, who happened to be the promoter of the Dirtly Little Secret (a nice race down in Manhattan, KS). We chatted a spell before heading into the half-way point where I stopped to refill bottles. Sara came around me but I caught her later in the trees. She let me pass when we got into an open section. By then we were on the Womble trail and though it was wet, it was still fun. I stayed steady on the climbs knowing it would pay off. I recalled Rafal's advice: Save some for Womble. The misty rain earlier in the day turned to drops. As I rode up and up, my body was still warm, even after riding through a couple pedal-deep water crossings. I could feel the stream of rain going into my shoes. The only way to stay warm was to keep going but as the terrain leveled off, so did my body temperature. And I didn't want to go too much harder for fear of the slippery terrain. The rain was steady. Any break into the open road was awful. Mud sprayed up in our faces. Wind blew into our bones. I was much happier on the trail. 

By the last aid station, the man yelled out 8 miles to go on open roads. The time was 5:38. My goal of 6 hours was within site. I was just wishing the finish line was too. Any chance I could I jumped on with another rider, trying to catch a break from the wind only to get a face full of spray. I know half-wheeling is not cool, but neither riding behind a rooster tail of muddy water, so I did what I had to do. A fat biker was ahead of me and I used him as my carrot. I pushed hard at the end. I was proud of myself for keeping a good pace so that I could stand up on the rollers and motor on the flats. My hands were starting to with less than a couple miles to go. I had to use my right hand to lock out my suspension because my left thumb just wasn't cooperating. It sorta helped to stoke the fire, in a way. I really wanted to be done! 

Finally, I could see the highway that we rode on at the start of the race. To make things more fun, the finish line was at the top of a 600 foot grassy hill climb. I knew this going into it but it was still freaking hard. I stood up as I heard my name over the loud speaker, "Roxzanne Feagan, 3rd place woman!" Time: 6:02 SO CLOSE! But that was on a dry course. This was nothing close to dry so to almost make my goal in these conditions was a great feeling. Especially not knowing the course at all.



As I said at the start of this blog, the folks down in Arkansas know what's up. Before I could come to stop, I was handed my winnings and someone took my picture. Then Rafal (who had flat troubles) took my bike and walked me towards hot pizza and coffee. Damn if I could see but I sure could smell it and it was the best pizza in the world. Hot and greasy and nothing like I had been eating for 6 hours. I was in Heaven. And even better was the warm shower I was able to take within just a few minutes after I finished. It's all of those little comforts that make events like these memorable for everyone and especially for the 99% that do it just to do it. That is how you grow the event and these folks have it down, lock stock and barrel. 



So, Rafal was right. This race was braaaptastic covered in awesome sauce. The support was top of the line, the swag was quality, and the food was heaven by the slice. I absolutely will go back with the mindset that if I could do it in the wet, then it should be mind blowing in the dry.

Monday, March 24, 2014

ArkanSpa: 2014 Season Opener




And it begins; another race season. Though training has been underway for months, it takes tying on that first race plate to properly mark the occasion. I was excited as this would be the first real test of the Superfly 100. It was time to see what magical powers this thing was hiding from me.


PRERACE

This season's opener was the Spa City 6hour in Hot Springs, Arkansas. I missed this race last year due to a crazy reaction to some antibiotics I took for a chest cold, so I was happy to be back in "The Natural State".
 

This trip it was just Larry Kintner in the mtb wagon. We lit out after work on Thursday, bunking up partway in Joplin where we hooked up with the Wixons who were on a family spring break trip, and the race was their first leg.
 

Weather reports on for the weekend were not looking ideal for those of us camping. I did a mental check of my gear which took about 2 seconds because I knew I didn't bring anything for wet weather. On top of that, I didn't bring my pajamas so a trip to Walmart scored me a pair of jammy pants with bikes on them and the only rain jacket I could find was what looked like a trash bag with a hood but it would beat being wet, I figured.
 

We pulled into Hot Springs around lunch time and went to a well known eatery called 1217 Cafe. The food was delicious. Five stars and a rare healthy food option in the land of BBQ and gravy covered everything.

After lunch, we headed for the venue. It's a great place to bring the family. It has a playground and a giant wooden fortress for kids to play on, with a bridge that goes over the finishing straight. Bike wash station, picnic shelters, RC car track, and lots of camping options. We pulled up in a little nook lined with large boulders, perfect to use as tables or seats. We unloaded and prepped for our recon ride. Time to see what my Trek Superfly 100 was capable of since I only rode it a couple of times back home and felt it had yet to tell me its true magical powers.
 

The trails anywhere in Arkansas consist of rock with a little bit of dirt. It should be called "Rockansas". This race would be no different. We rode the entire ten mile race loop which consisted of punchy climbs and some fun descents on what were mostly contour cut single track trails through dense pine forest. I was pretty happy with how the SF100 performed. I didn't make any adjustments afterwards aside from a bit more air in the tires because they seemed to be leaking an excessive amount of sealant around the rims.
 

After the ride we set up camp and got ready for the race. I got a chance to chat with Lorraine, a woman I have had to battle at many races in this area the last couple of years. She's super cool and just puts out a great energy and has a genuine enthusiasm for the sport, especially when it comes to other women competing. Girl power!
 

We ended the night properly, around a camp fire discussing all things bike and feeling good to finally be riding single track after the winter we continue to have. And as we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags, we said a silent prayer for a dry course.
 




THE RACE

As most race mornings go, we were up before the sun. We couldn't see any stars so clouds had moved in but no signs of rain so far. Temps were in the high 40s and no wind. We started the water for coffee. Last weekend I tried a new meal before heading out on a long training ride, inspired by local long distance racer, Rafal Deloto, a.k.a The Polish Punisher. He eats rice with a couple of fried eggs mixed in and it worked great for me so I decided to make it again in place of my usual oatmeal with fruit and nuts. I had bought some pre-made rice so all I had to do was warm it up, fry my eggs. Easypeesy. I also found these really tasty all natural energy bites at the Natural Grocers on Dodge St. They taste a lot like Lara bars and are already cut into bites and in ziplock bags. That was to be my solid food during the race. I put them into a paper cup we snagged from our hotel and put it all in jersey pocket. It worked like a champ. I think next time I'll use a plastic cup though.
 

Food down. Coffee down. We filled bottles last night so all that was left was kit up and getter bike ready but somehow that always takes longer than I plan and suddenly it's rider meeting time and I haven't even sat on my bike. But, for a six hour race all i really need to do are some high cadence openers to spike the heart rate so I did that instead of the meeting. Ryan already scoped out a spot on the bike racks to place my bike for the Lemans start, which was at the bottom of a grassy slope. As we waited for the start, we were all doing jumping jacks or running in place. Everyone but Ryan who did push ups and then danced around like he was tweekin' at a rave.
 

I totally suck at running. Add on top the lumpy ground and it was comical. But I got to my bike easily enough and found myself probably in the top 50, and right behind Lorraine. The parade loop took us onto pavement then around the start field which had a few mud bogs to deal with. I went by Lorraine before we hit the hole shot. Once into the single track the pace was good. Up the first switchback climb, not too crazy then down some twist-turny stuff and suddenly I found myself on the ground. Not a root or rock around. I jumped right up as I the train of racers yelling rider down! The guy immediately behind me helped me up and a quick assessment told me bike and body were ok and off I went.

Nothing to see here.

The pace was high as they always are at the start but manageable. I could hear people talking behind me and I was working so I knew I was probably working too hard if these people were chatting. Once they went round, Lorraine was right on my wheel. About 3/4 into the first lap she went by and said jump on! but going harder was not the plan at only :45 into a 6hr race. I let her go in hopes that her effort now would bring her back to me later. I rolled into the timing table just a few minutes over an hour. The guy at the table told me I was in 2nd. I swapped bottles and was off.
 

Lap 2 I had a visitor. A guy latched onto my wheel and chatted me up. Usually I am not much for chitchat while I'm racing, but I obliged and held up my end of the conversation. I caught glimpses of Lorraine when the trails were stacked so I knew I wasn't too far back. I learned that my visitor owned a lawn service in Springfield, came in behind Lorraine at last years BTEpic, this was the first race on the bike he was on, it was a snowy winter in Southern Missouri, and on and on. But, the good thing, I stayed on pace and came in just as fast as lap 1.
                                                        


Lap 3 I was back by myself and found myself missing my friend who took my mind off my growing back pain. A single speeder who was with us lap 2 was in front of me so I started to pace off him until he waved me on. After that, I was solo, so speak. I finished lap 3 in over three hours and some minutes. When I rolled into the pits I grabbed half a banana and switched from carbo rocket to water so my stomach wouldn't get upset. Though don't take in as many calories when I do this, it's a trade off so my stomach can get a break.




Lap 4 was uneventful. I kept the suspension in descend mode most of the lap because my back was rocked. It still performed surprisingly well on the climbs. I made a decisive choice to back off this lap so I could have something in the tank for laps 5 and 6. When I rolled in I downed half of a red bull. As I left for lap 5, it began to drizzle.

 Lap 5 took a little longer than I wanted. The greasy rocks had me riding a tad more cautiously. Finally though at one point I was fed up with slipping around and my hands hurt so I stopped to take some air out of my front tire. Not sure it really helped. I also lost my tire lever on a descent and then about a half mile later my spare tube fell to the ground. So I stopped to pick it up, figuring it would be harder to bum a tube off someone if worse came to worse. I wasn't about to waste time folding it up all nice so I smashed it into by jersey pocket and was off. By the end of lap 5 I almost caught Larry but he put on the after burners and disappeared. I rolled into the finishing area around 5:16 and I could see him just ahead. When I got to the timing table the announcer was calling out cut off times for those who planned to go back out. He looked at me and said I had 1:14 to make it back or the lap wouldn't count.

Red Bull shot #2 and it was on. The drizzle had stopped and I was seeing red. Though I knew I could make it back, it was about catching carrots. Every person ahead of me was a race within itself. I was hoping one of those was Larry or Lorraine but that was not in the cards. On the bright side though, my extra effort did put about 3 minutes into Lorraine who finished only about 2 minutes ahead of me. We chatted afterwards and she wanted to go out hard early, which she normally doesn't do, to see if she could hold the pace. She doesn't stop in the pits either, so that plus my stops on the trail, crash and pit stops, it made sense that she was faster on the day. But I was pretty pleased overall. I made up time and was as fast on the last lap as the first so I couldn't really be bummed.



POSTRACE

As I always say, my favorite thing about racing is being done. I could barely stand up when I finally hopped off the bike after 6 hours of pounding, rocky singletrack. Seriously, I looked like I was 90. It took a good 5 minutes of just walking before I could stand up straight. Everyone in the group finished and was smiling. It was a good day for all.
 

The awards presentation was comical. The rain we had all prayed for to stay away couldn't hold it any longer so the director had us all huddled under this small outdoor stage where the podiums were placed.Once all of the hardware was passed out, we hit the road. We had planned on camping the whole weekend but got a hotel in town due to the cold and rain. We each got to shower and warm up before the big chow down.





Now I don't know about you, but 6 hours of bike racing, I'm sure I burned through 5000 calories. So what does one do when they are down 5000 calories and in the land of BBQ? Stuff face, that's what. We looked up the famous BBQ joint that is a fan fave of the former President Clinton. It's a hole with standing room only in the aisles. It was our lucky day. We got a table right away and even luckier (well, it WAS St. Patty's Weekend!) we were the last people to get ribs. And not only some ribs, but like a pound each of baby back ribs, completely hidden by the mounds of fries on top. I felt like I was on Man VS Food. Which, I have to say I came in second to my plate of food, unable to eat the last rib and fries. But that only meant I'd have room for dessert! Later that night, we hit up a local place that made ice cream from scratch and then topped that off back at the hotel with a few beers we had planned to drink by the camp fire.


The ride home was misery. Long and slow, we had to make our way through every type of snow, sleet and rain as we made our way north. Add on top the pain of soar legs and back. We get to do this two more times this spring...







Saturday, January 11, 2014

Coloradical Part 2 - Salida - Keystone Recon - The Firecracker 50

The middle of our Coloradical funwich was jam-packed with downhill riding, xc riding and racing, with a little r 'n r as well. It went something like this.

SALIDA AND THE GROUND SQUIRREL INVASION
After the successful weekend in Crested Butte, we took that Monday off. The plan initially was to ride Monarch Pass but we were both pretty beat down and we still had a lot of pedaling to do in the coming days. Ryan and I do not rest easily - especially when we're outside. We made our way to Salida and decided to seek out some good camping before heading to Keystone. We had never been to Salida. It seemed like one of those places where settlers, tired of heading west, said F-it and decided to stay. It's a quaint little hippie town, bigger than I thought. Located at the Arkansas headwaters, one can literally put in from town and be canoeing or kayaking as easily as we can be on a bike path. It's historic main street is door to door art galleries and studios, hip outdoor clothing stores, gear shops and eclectic restaurants. We hit up a few and also had to make a stop at the famed bike shop, Absolute Bikes. The staff was extremely friendly and they had some really nice stuff.We spent lunch at The Laughing Ladies b/c Ryan liked their sign. The food was awesome and we were able to sit in a covered outdoor patio. It was perfect. After lunch we did a bit more walking, hit the store for the next round of provisions and headed to a camping spot up the highway from town. We drove through some high desert-like ranch land for a couple of miles, passing a rafting outfitter that was busy with folks wanting to escape the heat of the day on the Arkansas River. We finally located the small campground which was pretty far off main roads, right next to the river. (Yes, we were in a van, down by the river). It was well maintained and had a bathroom. We were greeted immediately by the ranger who was checking for permits. He was inquisitive of our plans, seeing that we had a huge van with 4 bikes hanging off of it. The nature of the job, I'm sure.





We quickly set up camp (parked) and had the idea of washing our very dirty riding gear that we had been sweating in for days. A little camp soap and a tub and we were good to go. Ryan took a "bath" first and it was pretty funny to watch. I guess whilst he was scrubbing, some rafters went by (I wasn't there) catching a glimpse at the Ginger in the wild. I'm just glad he had his board shorts on. Post wash up, I headed out for a hike to explore the area while the wild Ginger messed with his bike. I hiked up some rocky ledges to see if I could get a better view but I didn't want to venture too far and some storm clouds were starting to roll in and I didn't have any cover. I was gone for a good hour and shortly after I returned it started to rain. I had to take down all of the clothes that were hanging on the bike rack and hang them from a clothesline I rigged inside the van. As Colorado rain storms go, it didn't last too long. We made some dinner after the storm passed, watching the sky turn all kinds of colors as the sun did it's ritualistic descent. As we were sitting at the picnic table we saw an animal on the other side of the river. There was a grassy embankment that had been cleared of the trees and the grass was lush and green. The animal was a sheep! We were bummed Sweater wasn't there to see it. Quickly, another followed down the same path, then another and another. Soon there were about 5 or 6 sheep in the pasture. Then a man and a woman appeared from the treeline. The sheep seemed to be with the couple because they huddled around them as they prepared to fish. Over the next hour, the man at one end of the grassy shore and the woman on the other, the sheep would run back and forth between them, sometimes stopping to have a nice game of head butt. Ryan was enthralled, although later he admitted he was waiting to see if one of them would head-butt the woman into the water. They were there until sunset, just enjoying a Monday night in Arksansas River Valley. It was a strange site, not something we would have expected because we didn't recall seeing any farms nearby on the other side of the river. There was a very nice private home down a ways from the camp so it's possible there were domesticated animals on the property. We ended the night watching mother nature watercolor the sky. Being next to the river, we kept the van door cracked open and let the cool breeze and the rush of the water lull us to sleep.



About oh, three or so in the morning, I was awakened by a noise. We had left some of our cooking gear and bins under the van so we could have room to get in and out. It sounded like something was rummaging through the bins underneath. Then I thought I heard something up on the bike rack or the bumper. I quickly closed the back door (which was by our heads) and laid back down. I heard the animal again. Now I was awake, staring at the ceiling of the van, wishing the animal to go away! Then I heard the corn chip bag crinkle INSIDE THE VAN! I sat up immediately. There was ambient light coming from a lamp on the bathroom but I couldn't see much. I put my hand on Ryan's back as I listened. The bag crinkled again. I shook Ryan awake.

"Ryan, there's something IN the van!" 

Silence. Crinkle. 

"Yep. Sure is.It's probably a ground squirrel. Think we should open up all of the doors?"

"And let more in? No. I'll just open the back door again and hopefully it will leave"

We lay down again. Ryan is back asleep. I am wide awake! "What the hell! How can you sleep?" 

"It's not going hurt us. Do you want me to pull everything out of the van?" 

"No." I said. I was sitting up by this time, listening. I could hear it's little paws running around under the van. I couldn't take it. I opened the doors and turned on lights. I didn't see it but I did see a bunch of torn up paper towel all over the place and our paper towel roll shredded. Huh? There was a bag of food not all the way zipped closed and this thing was sitting on top of it (hence the crinkling of the chip bag) gnawing away at freaking paper towels? I put them away and sealed up the food bag and put it inside an empty cooler. Then I waited. After several minutes of silence, I believed it had exited the van. I shut the doors and turned off the lights. I laid there for a few minutes more and I finally fell asleep.

The next morning, with the sunrise shedding light on our little camp site, we could see the shredded paper all over the van floor. We got up and decided, to be sure it was gone, we'd take everything out of the van. Just as Ryan opened the van door to get out, we both saw a little ground squirrel run away from the van. We couldn't tell if it ran out of the van or if it had been sitting there waiting for a chance to get back in. Either way, and fearing a moment like in Tommy Boy when the deer awakens in the back seat, we made sure no critters would be scurrying across the dashboard doing 80 mph down the highway. So around 6:30 a.m., we hauled all of our gear out of the van and onto the ground. Everything under the seats and under the sleeping platform came out. Satisfied that it was indeed gone, we put it all back in. All of that work so early had us pretty hungry so we got the coffee going and ate a bit of food. We had a long day of travel and biking ahead of us. I'm pretty sure I had a few cups more than usual. 

KEYSTONE RECON OR RECKONING? 
We made our way up to Breck and then Frisco. It was still early so we decided to hit up our favorite cafe for breakfast, the Log Cabin Cafe. I had the special: blueberry waffles! And bacon. Double freakin bacon. It was great. 



KEYSTONE QUANDRY Our first order of the day was to find a camp site that was somewhere between Breck and Keystone. Unlucky for us, everything around Lake Dillon was reserved, which was surprising since it was only just Tuesday. We didn't want to camp somewhere only to have to move again. We drove around for about two hours and found not ONE campsite. Frustrated for already missing precious hours of practice runs, we drove to Keystone as fast as possible. We only had a few hours to find out if we were cut out for the next race in the BME Series. 

From the bottom, the mountain looked twice the size as Crested Butte. 




The lift took almost 20 minutes to get us to the top, compared to the 8-10 at CB. The same question that popped into my head in CB bubbled up again: What was up there that wanted to fling us off the mountain? 

Only one way to find out! 



We studied the map of the mountain on the way up. (The race routes were not released yet). We had heard from many sources that race was going to use as much of the mountain as possible. Hmmm, there are several black and double black diamonds on this hill. Needless to say I was a bit unnerved. 





At the top, Keystone was kinda cool. Much more scenic and developed than CB. It had a couple of look-out areas, a large building with a restaurant, bathrooms, deck, chairs. Aaah, chairs! At least we'd have more of a place to hang out between runs instead of sitting on the ground. Before hitting the green run, Ryan hit up the bathroom. As I was waiting for him, I chatted up a couple of maintenance guys. They were like the Keystone Welcoming Committee, saying how happy they were that we came to Keystone, wishing us a nice stay, etc. A lot of pride in their place of employment for sure. "You don't do it for the money" one guy said. One of them demanded that we let him take our picture, claiming he had gotten pretty good at it. Since they were so friendly, I decided to ask about any secret camping spots, telling our story of bad luck trying to find anything around the lake. They gave us some intel about a road on the backside of the resort, which I had read about on MTBR. It was National Forest so we could camp anywhere just as long as we packed out. He mentioned some possible bathrooms up the road a ways in case of emergency. We agreed to check it out after our test rides. We thanked our new friends and redirected our focus of scouting out the hill. 

We started down the green run to get our legs under us. I think it was Girl Scout. Not far into the run, we came upon an older couple out for a ride. Older, as in 50 at least, all kitted out in pads and the whole nine yards. Pops was on a big hit, double crown rig. They were from Texas and offered up some good advice about what to avoid, what might not be open, etc. I don't recall exactly the route but that first descent wasn't too bad. The terrain was better than CB. In that I mean there were less machine-built trails out in the wide open and more single track trails made of natural terrain in the trees. In other words, we felt like we were more in the back-country instead of a bike park.

The next run Ryan was eager to get to some of the tougher stuff. I was fine waiting as long as I could. We got onto a trail called Cowboy Up and it was a bitch of a rock garden. Garden, hell it was a rock cemetery, where giant boulders had gone to rest for eternity. It looked like the park had raked every rock from the mountain to that very spot and then told people to ride there. The approach was a long open double track run through a field to get the speed up. This was key. Speed was the ONLY way to get through it. I tried a couple of times but I just didn't have the speed to get very far. I kept getting hung up at a spot that had a deep step down with a tree stump on one side. Ryan bounced around it like he was in a washing machine but he made it and was zooming down the trail as I hiked my way down. Ok, I'll definitely need to come back and practice this again. The funny thing is, as I look back at that section, I don't look back with fear. I look back mad that I didn't clear it. A sign of improvement for sure! We got in a few more runs and it was two trails in particular that made us start to think twice about what we had gotten ourselves into: Wild Thing and Even Flow. Wild Thing has some pretty famous step downs in succession that are steep. Walking them is even hard but that's what I had to do. I lacked the skill and the guts to push myself that far. Then on Even Flow, the trail was straight out of North Shore, with an elevated, twisty trail. I thought I was going to vomit. I had to walk it and when it was too steep to walk, I bush-wacked, walking alongside of it. NO FUCKING WAY was I going to be able to race down this. I was starting to really question my decision to race here. Ryan felt the same after he crashed pretty bad on another run down Cowboy Up. He had to walk some of the trails after that, trying to keep the demons quiet. This was, in our minds, the real deal and there we were on our "little bikes" trying to ride them without losing our teeth in the process. We ended the day wondering if we should attempt to race at all. We had much more summer ahead of us and jeopardizing it and our health was something we had to really consider. Were we in over our heads? We decided we'd think about it over the next few days. 





We left the resort so we could find the camping spots we were told about. Following the directions the park guys gave us, we drove through a small condo development and up a dirt road that, looking at the signage on the gate, had just been opened to traffic. We saw a few turn-outs that we could have pulled into but our natural curiosities forced us to keep looking. About 20 minutes later, we came to the back side of the resort. There were a couple of lifts and a restaurant that was closed for the season (darn!). But to our joy, we found the bathrooms were unlocked, with only cold running water, flushing toilets and the heat was on! Oh, happy day! This was a five-star resort as far as we were concerned. We found a flat spot near the entrance and pulled in for the night. A few cars went by but we had the place to ourselves.



The next morning, we got up early and headed to Breckenridge to ride and to meet the elder Eybergs to pick up or beloved Sweater. We rode Peak's Trail, which is always a favorite, to shake down the race bikes. It was time to switch back into XC race mode. Not an easy thing to do after the week we'd had. Now it was time to race UP the mountain as well as down. After how many years of racing, we finally understood those factions that believed riding up is dumb. Nah, it's not really. It's just not as fun.

We arranged to meet the Eybergs at their condo, which happened to be at the finish line of the Firecracker 50 race that we were doing as a duo. It was nice to have Sweater back with his people although I think he was going to miss all the attention he got from their two granddaughters and their stuffed friends. After hanging out, we registered for the race and went for a stroll around town before heading back to "camp" to prepare for the race.


For the last several years, we have spent July 4th in Breckenridge, racing the Firecracker 50. This was the first time as a duo team. I was going first. We parked in a parking lot just north of town at the ice skating rink. I kitted up about an hour prior to the race and hit the road to warm up. By the time I made my way to the start line, it was so packed, I couldn't get to it. I had to ride on a street parallel to it but to my frustration, when I found where my group was (way in back), there were barrier fences along the sidewalk. The sidewalks were packed with fans and those waiting for us to get out of the way so the parade could start. It was a pain in the butt, but I finally got myself where I needed to be. Per usual, we had a neutral roll-out down main street. Once our lead-out team peeled off, the race was on. Which for me meant it was time to watch the rest of the fields go by me. Quite frustrating, but nothing new. This is always how it is. When the start line is at 9500 feet and the first single track isn't until 11,00 feet, you just gotta grind it out. This is when I began wishing I had big wheels. 

The race wasn't one of my better attempts but I knew I wouldn't be fresh going into it. We were really just killing time between BME races. The ride up Little French pretty much sucked. There was so much traffic and it was pretty wet from the late snow that everybody was walking. I HATE WALKING! Especially on Little French. But there wasn't anything I could do so I trudged up the hill with all of the other pack mules. At the top, a banjo player stood, belting out some jolly blue grass to cheer us up after the long hike. I love Colorado! After that, my race was pretty much just survival. I didn't anticipate some new trail that was used in place of a long, soul-crushing gravel climb. It was, on a normal day, a down-hill run. So needless to say, it was a bit taxing but it made time go by way better than if we were on the gravel for sure! Once at the top, it was downhill the rest of the way to the finish line. When I got there, I had no idea how I was going to find Ryan. There was a wall of riders lined up next to the race course. There was no official hand-off or check-in so it was pretty much on the honor system. Somehow he made his way to the front and was ready when I came across the line. I tried yelling at him to save some for the new single track but there was music and madness so I didn't know if he heard me. He'd figure it out. 

After my race, I grabbed some food and a beer that was free to racers. I hobbled back to the van where I cleaned up (I had hung up the solar shower on the rack) and got into some freshies. I made my way back to the finish line and waited for Ryan to show up. He had a great race, probably one of his best lap times at that event. I think we ended up like, 16th out of sixty. At first I thought we were dead last but not all of the results were posted when I had looked. We hung out for a bit. We found our coach, Jason, and we bumped into a few other folks that we knew. It was a good time but I was glad it was over. So much stress! 


After the race, we met up with a couple who came up from Denver to hang out for the 4th. We shared a hotel room since camping was impossible and to be honest, I really wanted to be able to lay in a bed and have a hot shower. When we got up to the room, which was just a studio-size, on the wall above the bed was a giant photo of a ground squirrel! Aaaaaah! We had told our friends about our experience with one back in Salida so when we got to the room and saw the picture, we all had a good laugh! The rest of the night was spent eating (again at Fatty's) and then off to another joint that had an awesome deck where we could watch the fireworks and drink. It was so great! We had a blast! 

The next morning we got up early so we could get a table at our favorite eatery The Blue Moose. Our friends had plans to hang out until they needed to check out from the hotel. Ryan and I said goodbye to our friends and Breckenridge. It was time to decide if we were going to race at Keystone.