Friday, September 9, 2011

High Five for the 2011 Dakota Five-0

Before I go on and babble about my race, I just have to give mad, mad props to all the Nebraska newbies that gave the Five-0 a try this year. All but three made it in and not only did they finish, but they finished with shit eatin' grins (which, due to the many free-range cows in the area, that could literally be true). Seriously, fifty miles is a long ass distance to ride off-road no matter where and to see these flat landers killin it just made me giddy. Freakin giddy, I say. It's these people that are the inspiration, not the podium yahoos (yours truly included), who keep this sport and this event alive and kickin'. So, to my awesome camp-mates Carley Thomsen, April Eyeberg, Cole and Rob Skiba, Martin Bixby, Mike Ferrell, all of whom weren't afraid to take on Five-0, you guys rock. And I can't not mention Brandon Mullins, Jon Downy, Glen and Buddy Houts, Todd Wixon, Elisabeth Grindcore...all these folks did amazingly well. Goes to show the quality of the trails and the support of the event's volunteers. The Dakota 5-0 should be on everyone's must do list. I can't say it enough.

This year's trip was especially fun. With newbies on board and the white whale packed to the gills, I knew some shit was gonna go down. We had Todd and April Eyberg, Carly Thomsen and Martin Bixby on board. Anytime you get Eyberg and Ryan together, there's gonna be some smack talk and they didn't disappoint. Carley Thomsen, aka Baby Gap aka Silent Bob, got her new nick-names due to her size and her loud mouth. Just kidding on that last thing. I think she said a total of 100 words, which is about 5 less than me so it worked out. Martin Bixby, aka Camp Chief, helped to make sure the van got packed up and didn't explode in the outskirts of BFE. 4 bikes on back, two up top with a THULE box and gear up the wazoo was quite the load, but the White Whale prevailed and we made it up to Spearfish Camp Ground (right next to the start finsh, btw) by later afternoon on Thursday. We broke camp and headed for chow at 7 Grill. As per usual, the help is always a question mark but it's tradition and you can get waffle fries as big as your palm at this place. Totally worth the attitude. Post chow, we headed off to the grocery store for camp grub.

Friday we were up and at'm. It was nice to be with a group that didn't want to sleep in. They wanted to get their dirt on. RF and I were like alrighty then. Let's roll. So we put everyone in the van and Mike's NEW Subi and we drove to the Tinton trail head. Screw that gravel road, we wanted to get to the fun stuff. Casually we rode up Tinton trail until it forked and started to go down where we back tracked and went backwards on the course until it again started to go down. We wanted to minimize the workout to mainly descending and that's what we did. The last 6 or so miles of the Tinton Trail back to the gravel road is the sweetest bit of heaven on earth. Mmmm-mmmmm! So fun. Except when Bessy sits her happy ass right on the trail so one has to come to a screeching halt. Other than that, bombs away. After that we grabbed some lunch and rolled out to the local bike shops to check out the goods. Rafal, MK and JC arrived and pretty much were on bike within the hour. Even Megan got on some lycra. She was lookin good!

Some of us later went on a recon drive of Spearfish Canyon. All I can say is give me a motorcycle! Swervy and curvy goodness was surrounded by canyon walls. We stopped a couple times to see the sites and play around. We came up on Spearfish Lodge. Totally rad and if I were on a motorbike tour or even a roadbike tour of the area, this looked like a must stay. 

After a couple hours we headed back and got our grill on: salmon for everyone! Camp Chief Bixby took the honors of grill master and he did a fine job with the fish. I boiled up some prefab pasta/shrimp and the only thing missing was a waiter. We were eating in fine style, albeit on paper plates, but that made it all the better. The night was capped off with campfire lip service. Nobody was spared, except for maybe Silent Bob.

Saturday was another early morning. Bixby and I took over the mess hall and worked up some mad omelets, complete with sausage, shrooms, spinach and feta cheese. (We're such camp snobs). After that fine dining experience we opted to ride the gravel road up to the hole shot to give the noobs a sense of the start. Once there some folks opted to taste a little bit of dirt. I decided to ride up the road a little further and jump on the single track up high and bomb down but for the life of me I couldn't find the trail. I went up and up and up. Once the road started down, I turned around and just bombed all the way back to town. Everyone was back and I felt bad because some of them waited for me. The rest of the day was chill. We did some lunch at the Green Bean (local all natural coffee shop and cafe). Met up with Bill Ficus and another guy from Sioux City. We exchanged war stories while we waited for Bixby and Silent Bob to get back from the shop (her bike needed some attention). Once back at the campstead, I couldn't sit still. Pre race jitters had begun so I spent the rest of the evening fussing and fiddling, stuffing and stashing, prepping and propping. I really didn't want to have nutrition issues that had plagued me all season so I had think it over: wear a camelback and use the bottle for perpetum or just the bottle. I went round and round in my mind and I finally settled on partially filling the camelback with electrolytes and using the bottle for protein. I had Lara bars and Honey Stinger waffles. I was set. Probably over kill but I wanted to be prepared.

One by one the campers crept to their tents. By 10pm I was out cold. Literally. The temps had dropped over night and I had to wear a hat to bed. I woke up about midnight to pee and again at 2pm. Damn nerves. Luckily the park ordered porta potties so I didn't have to walk so far. The sky sparkled with stars. I wished upon the one falling star: to come in under 5 hours. Last year's best time by the female winner was 4:50ish. It kinda worked.

The 5 am alarm came way too soon. I barely slept after that last pee so I didn't even hesitate. I slept with my kit inside my bag with the hoping to keep it warm enough that I wound't go into hypothermic shock getting dressed. I stayed in my bag and got everything on. I was already one step ahead. Larry and Martin were already making coffee when I made my way out of the tent. Are they so cool, or what? Priorities were in line! Next, what to eat. Most were snarfing down smoked salmon. That sounded terrible so I went with scrambled egg wraps and a banana with peanut butter. Once full, I filled up my bottles to give to our amazing and awesome support crew of MK, Scott Kintner and Heather Wolff. They had to head out earlier than us to get onto the roads before the racers. MK was a support veteran. She had us all covered.

By 6:30 I was kitted up and loaded up. I spun up the road on the back side of our campsite. It was cooooold. I kept on my long sleeve team jersey while I warmed up. By 6:45 I was in full on summer gear, shivering like a hairless poodle. We all did a few hill sprints and then got in line at the start finish. I lined up in about 4th row. I could see my competition and they looked tough.Hundreds lined up behind us. It was a sea of rainbow colored jerseys. I was at peace. This was where I wanted to be. Soon Smokey the Bear lowered his paw and we were off. Finally.

The race leaves Spearfish Park and heads north through a neighborhood. It then winds up a quick power climb to an amphitheater parking lot and then down a hill past some more houses where families were standing at their driveways cheering on the crazy people going by on bikes. A quick left and the gravel road was in site. It was race time. As the road kept climbing, I seemed to go backwards. 

My legs were ice logs (I shoulda worn knee warmers) and my heart rate was pegged. I had to calm down. I worried way too much about how I was going to feel in two hours instead of focusing on the moment. 

I swore I was dead last going into the trees. Everyone I knew passed me and then some.

I'm not graceful enough to be chewing and riding at the same time.

I finally made it to the single track and was in a traffic jam. My only silver lining was I was able to calm my heart down. As much as it sucked visioning the lead pack sprinting ahead, I was grateful for the break. But then I started to get antsy. Once the group started again, I was looking for passing lanes but no luck. I was with Wixen for a bit but he got away when I fumbled a short, rocky climb and had to run it. I HATE RUNNING MY BIKE! Back on the saddle, I booked it up Tinton Trail. Soon we were at the point where we had turned around a couple days earlier and the trail went down. Down to the creek crossings and through frost covered meadows. Damn, it was colder than I thought it would be. Everything went without issue. I flew past checkpoint 1, hearing the screams of our support crew (thanks!) and continued on. It was at that point I realized I didn't set the distance on my computer. We did however write the mileage to each check point on a piece of white tape and stuck it to our top tubes so that helped. The course itself was in primo condition. It was dry and dusty but incredibly fun. The tight climbs had been groomed since the last time I was on them. I cleared all of the early gnarly stuff (did I mention I had walking my bike). I will bleed out of my eyes or bust a blood vessel to keep from walking. I made up some places on those climbs which was quite redeeming. I did biff one steeper and ended up falling slightly backwards, catching my right calf on a chain ring. Rad. I popped back up and the guy behind me said I was a helluva climber anyways. The top of the trail was rocky and slow going but soon it pointed down. That's when I came up on Cole Skiba holding his shoulder, standing by his bike. A reply that he was OK and I was back on my way and within a few minutes I was at aid station 2 where our darlings were waiting for us, bottles in hand. Now that's some pro shit, right there. I didn't have to get tangled up in the food table. I just whizzed right on past that noise and grabbed a bottle and was off. One dude told me to hurry up as I was his pace setter. Nice. Once past aid 2 I felt pretty good. 

Turned out Cole had a bruised shoulder but nothing broken. Whew!

No major issues or situations to report, really. It was just a good time. By aid 3 I had to refill my camel back and take a must needed piss. Perry was at the aid station cheering everyone on. Now that's one helluva a promoter to go station to station. As I left aid 3, I lost a position to a woman I had passed earlier. But it was a grinder and I had it in me to get up to her as the trail flattened out. As I went by I gave her props for great climbing. I didn't see her again. This section of the course is super fun. There are a lot of different types of trail from slow technical to 30 mph wide open bombing runs. It's crazy but you run the gamut of emotions from wanting to cuss like a sailor to overwhelming joy. When you come from the flat lands like we do, a 10 minute, hell a 5 minute descent is the Holy Grail. This section had all of it. And it seems like the shortest section. Aid 4 came way fast and I didn't need to stop this time. I had all I needed on the bike. And I would need it all b/c this part of the course was a true test of will. The famous Bacon Station is located at the top of a very long technical and steep climb.

 Larry caught me just before and went by. He became my carrot and I didn't let him out of my sight. He was climbing really well and actually had to be patient as he came up on a few dudes who also were climbing clean but not very quickly. Soon I was on his wheel and as soon as he saw his chance, he did a double pass. And on top of that, there was a stick blocking part of the trail but he slithered by them both in a daring ploy to get by. And it worked. And so there I was stuck behind these dudes, mouth agape but super stoked at what I had just witnessed by Hot Pepper. It was sweet. So finally when the single track opened up to double track I got past the road blockers and tried to get back to Larry but he wasn't having any of that. I didn't stop for bacon but the station was hopping with a band and tons of fans. It gave me wings! I flew through the next section, which is the new single track that has some pretty hefty exposure and great views. I picked my way along to make sure I didn't catch a handle bar and send me downstream. I cleaned it and continued on. Once I hit the dirt road, I knew the end was near. I saw the trail marker signaling no more climbing and I put the bike in high gear. I looked down at my computer for the first time. It said 4:25. I had 34 minutes to get back and make it under my goal. Luckily, it was mostly downhill from there. Just ahead was a racer trying to do the same thing. He was just whipping through with awesome lines. You've read it before, feeling like you're in Empire Strikes Back with trees becoming blurry as you wizz by (well that's what's in my head as I write this anyway). I bridge up to him and yell that I'm wanting to make it under 5 so keep on the gas. We caught a junior that was riding really really well, but not fast enough but didn't want to pull over either. I wouldn't want to either but c'mon! So the first sign of light my lead out man got around him. After a few more twists and turns, I did the same. We were once again riding with conviction, I matching his every line, until he spun out on one of the rocky power climbs. He waved me by. I yelled for him to get up and jump on. I don't know if he did because I didn't look back. Not too much longer and I caught Larry and he was killing the corners and not skipping a beat on the power climbs. We both came up on a SS rider who, despite Larry's begging, would not move over. We weren't far from the end anyway so he just stuck it. I just hoped he wouldn't ball it up. Once we hit the gravel, Larry was off like a rocket. I threw the bike in pro pedal and the big ring. The wind was in my face so I had to really put the power down. The SS guy came beside me so I stayed in his draft until we hit the turn. Then we caught another guy. I went wide on the last turn into the neighborhood so I wouldn't have to scrub speed. I stood up on that last climb almost catching Larry. So it was me, the SS guy and one other heading into the finish. Larry pulled away at the final turn. Ryan was yelling at the corner. The home stretch was my own personal sprint. I came in just over 5 hours at like 5:01 and some change. I was stoked. Last year's top woman did it in 4:50 or so. This year's however killed it in 4:30something. After all was said and done, I remained in 3rd in my age and 4th out of 55 women. The best part, I felt great and even had some gas in the tank at the end. Something I hadn't had in my last two enduros. Victory.

While we waited for the podium celebration, we got to watch rider after rider come in with smiles from ear to ear. I missed Silent Bob as I was jawing with the always peppy Elisabeth Grindcore who was just about beside herself that she finished. She still had her helmet and kit on long after he ride was over. I missed Sara Johnson too but she was equally stoked with her performance. But I just can't do this blog post without mentioning April Eyberg's finish. All of us had come in and were burning a hole in the horizon watching for her. We kept telling Todd she was going to come back with divorce papers in hand. He jumped on his bike to ride up the road when I spotted her coming down the chute. We were all lined up on the sidewalk screaming, giving her high fives. She did it! And to Todd's relief, she still wanted to be married!

The post race event was a spectacle to behold.  Some new added touches was this homemade ice-cream bike machine. A bike that makes ice cream. There is a Heaven on earth. It's called Spearfish.

Big brands like Salsa, Quark and Sram really stepped up this year with a treasure chest of prizes that were equally distributed among men and women top finishers. To my luck, since I was on the podium, I managed to get into a prize lottery and came away with a RockShock Sid World Cup fork. That's like the biggest prize I've ever won. 

I was extremely grateful and lucky to be up there with such talented riders like Nancy Busching and Kim Eppen. Happy to say, of the ladies, the 40 year olds were some of the fastest on the day. The older the better, right? Looks that way. As we waited for folks' names to be called for prizes, RF made sure we were good and hydrated, going to the local liquor store to bring back some libations (they ran out of beer) so we could get a jump on the night's celebrations, which consisted of many a margaritas and some damn fine Mexican food. And to keep the good vibes going, we made sure to celebrate the mad love of our good friends Susan and Mike Ferrell, who honored their first year of marriage with a kiss under sombreros.

A little neck crimping was necessary which made it all the better. 

The night ended, as they all did, around a roaring fire, only this time we were exchanging war stories about the feats we had all accomplished that day. That's the beauty of this sport. No matter the level, everyone does the same course, blurring the line between racer and rider. That, my friends, is the vibe of the Dakota 5-0. Arrive happy. Leave dead dog tired.

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