Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Berryman Trail Epic. The name says it all.

The Berryman Trail Epic was a great race to finish up my long season of mountain bike racing. We went there last year out of shape with the plan to JRA and check it out (It's an IMBA epic trail for crying out loud)! We had a great time then and vowed to return ready to do some damage.

This was the 5th year of the BTE. It's still a young event and the promoters are amped and completely engaged. They have an amazing venue host, The Bass River Resort, that totally embraces our sport and this event with open arms. Everyone there was welcoming and over the top nice. The race starts and ends at their front door. Our accommodations were again top of the line: cabins at the start line? f-get about it. Pizza delivered to our door? Okay. Honey-infused whiskey. Ryan will take two. This place knows how to party.

Our travelers were a mix of old and new. Gnarly Carly, Brad Auen (although his initials now stand for Bad Ass), The Lucas and newbies Adam (I've never raced long distance) Stoll and his wife Jennie, who, bless her heart, rode shotgun with Ryan while we were racing. She rolled with it beautifully.

The trip started off unconventionally. The company I work for, Clark Creative Group, had its 20th anniversary. It was a blast and I hated to leave. When I got home and Ryan saw how excited I was about how it all turned out, he suggested we drive by so they could all see the amazing tent and set up. We all piled out of the van and immediately our group was given a warm welcome and directed to the beer table. We talked it up with my work peeps and jumped in the photo booth for some quick photos. Everyone got into it, costumes and all. I had a feeling this was gonna be a good trip. We then drove a few hours to KC and got a hotel so that we'd be able to get to the resort at a decent time to pre ride the next day.

Photo booth shenanigans

We arrived around noon and we were allowed to check in early. It was in the high 40s, sunny and windy. Two friends from Iowa were meeting us later, Evelyn Johnson (Evie) and Trevor Rockwell. Once we got unpacked, we kitted up and Ryan drove us up to the hole shot. Well, everyone except Brad. The preride was a great idea because the trail was blanketed with leaves. High winds and storms days prior had dropped most of them right on the course and nobody is going to leaf-blow a 55 mile course days before a race. So, these were the cards we were dealt. The trail itself, without leaves, is flowy, but parts can be very rocky and/or rooty. Add on wet leaves and you just had to hope that your gear would get you through it. After about an hour of riding we took a wrong turn and found ourselves lost. We back-tracked and some locals pointed us in the right direction. A short recon ride turned into almost 1:45 ride but none of us were really going very hard so not a big deal. We got back to the cabin and then went into town for groceries.  By the time we got back, Evie and Trever were out pre-riding so we started getting dinner ready. Dinner was going to be pasta with home-made sauce and french bread.

Compared to last year, I was more relaxed. My Top Fuel was handling the terrain nicely and my Carbo Rocket fuel had come in just in time for the race. (Side note: Carbo Rocket Half Evil is the holy grail of enduro event fuel. I have been searching for years for something to work with my stomach and I have found it. No longer will I stress about what to use. I totally recommend giving it a try if you're having stomach issues on long rides and races. I didn't use anything else but this and some Honey Stinger waffles, but only b/c I can't handle it full strength). Temps were going to be chilly. Forecasts predicted a freeze over night with a starting temp in the high 30s. Start time was 8:30.

I got up at 5:30 but had been in and out of sleep for the previous hour, having stress dreams about missing the start time. I hate that! Once I was up, it wasn't long before folks started trickling out into the kitchen. I got the coffee going and mixed up my oatmeal. As the sun came up, the meadow out our back door was covered in frost. All of us warmed up in our winter layers. Luck was on our side: the wind was next to nothing and the sky was cloudless. It was gonna be an epic day! I did a few warm up sprints and dropped off my puffy coat at the cabin and rolled to the start. I decided I'd keep my knee and arm warmers on because I could drop them at the main check point with Ryan if I needed to. See, this race is kind of unique in that the course passes by a check point twice. They give you a bag to put your supplies into so you don't have to carry so much. It's pretty slick. As everyone lined up, I stood in a ray of sunlight to keep warm. I was ready to get race! The promoter yelled GO we were off in one big group. 250 racers, all at once. It was madness.

The start was on a paved road that lead us to the park's gravel service road. I marked a woman who was keeping a good pace and surging from one group to another. She was strong on the gravel and I had to work. She was on a Cannondale 29r so her big wheels were an advantage. It was was a couple miles to the hole shot and maybe a half mile out here comes Evie pushing hard for the trees. She was the first woman in the singletrack and was riding super strong, leading a train of dudes at a good clip. We hit our first climb and everyone was off their bikes. Under the leaves, the trail was a boulder field and it was steep enough that any amount of pressure was causing tires to spin. I hopped off and started running my bike. I got passed Evie and spurred her to come along. I jumped on the bike and because the trail was so bumpy, it took me off the trail and into the woods. Instead of unclipping, I just rode next to the trail for about 10 yards, praying I wouldn't run over a thorn. I got around a small batch of bodies and began my pursuit. I knew Evie was riding strong so I wasn't going to count her out. I kept the bike upright and steady and I got into the flow but it wasn't without some tension. With the sun shining through the trees, sometimes I'd lose the trail completely and I'd find myself breaking into turns to keep me from flying into the forest. It was nerve racking and noisy. The constant crunch of the leaves under tires drowned out any other sounds so I couldn't really hear anyone coming up behind me or if my bike was making any odd sounds. In fact my bottom bottle cage had come loose and I didn't even know it until I got onto gravel. Leaves got jammed in my cassette enough that I couldn't shift into some of the gears in the back. Or they'd get wedged in between my tire and the fork, buzzing like an annoying fly. By the time I made it to check point 1, I had to use Ryan's buck knife to get the leaves out of the cassette. Ryan tightened up my bottle cage, gave me my nutrients and like a crazed mad-man, pushed me almost all of the way through the check point, yelling at the top of his lungs "I love you!" even after I had disappeared into the woods (Come to find out later, he was assisting many riders the whole day). The entire stop took only a few minutes. I was the first woman through the check point. I was feeling good and confident.

Oh, but what a difference 5 minutes makes.

So I'm big ringing out of the check point down a wide open service road that went slightly downhill. I was alone. I came to a fork in the road but there were no arrows what-so-ever. Shit! Suddenly groups of guys were charging at me from both roads. SHIT! Which way? Nobody knew. None were locals. So about 7 of us started back towards the check point and were met by another handful of guys. Everybody was freaking out. As we got closer to the check point we could see some people dumping into the woods. We all had missed an arrow that pointed down some single track. At that point everyone was seeing red. I jumped into the train and we were flying. I just kept praying that a rock or root wouldn't end my day. Some dude tried to pass me but by the time he was next to me a huge log was in his path and all I heard was "Oh God!" Thankfully, no crashing noises. I heard him again later when we had to go one by one over an elevated ped bridge that was maybe 4' wide. The other side was a sand pit that only cross racers would appreciate. Mr. Oh God almost slammed into me due to the sand. I almost made it all the way across the sand (about 10 yards) but had to clip out right at the end and got stuck behind a guy who wasn't going as fast as I wanted to go. I eventually got around him and back into the train. At one point a rock kicked up my back tire and I swear I went sideways. I remember thinking, this is going to hurt, but by some miracle, the tire found traction and I stayed upright. Thank you, Baby Jesus, I thought to myself. I had no idea if I had lost any positions so I was raging. We went by a group of hikers and one yelled, "Another woman". Shit. Ok, I still don't know if I'm 2nd or 3rd but I figured if I hung with these guys, I'd eventually catch whoever was up there. The plan worked. I came up on 2nd place and she politely moved over. "I thought you were in front of me". I was now! I told her what happened and then stepped on the gas. At the 3rd check point, the promoters were handing out the zip ties that we had to tie to our bikes. I mentioned that many had missed the arrow but that I was still having a great time. Eventually the single track gave way to a paved road that then led to a highway. I had gone pretty hard in the trees so when I hit the open road I was trying to recover a bit and eat. I looked back when I hit the highway and a group was coming. I knew she was drafting as she had done at the start. But to my surprise both 2nd and 3rd place caught up to me. We were almost back to the drop zone but had to climb a long road. 3rd place, NUE bad ass Laureen Coffelt from Tennessee who had raced me in Ark earlier this year, was on a Super Fly 100, was looking strong. She was chatting us both up as we climbed. Very friendly but I wanted to throw a stick in her wheel. LOL. 2nd place, also on a 29r, but a Cannondale, and I kinda traded places while keeping Super Fly close. As we crested a hill, we rolled by a trashy mobile home. Yeah, you guessed it. Two unfriendly dogs bearing teeth came out after us, barking at our heels. I stomped on the pedals but they didn't chase (the dogs that is). Not long and all 3 of us were back at the same check point. I told Ryan that I had missed a turn. I asked for my bottles and took off. The Cannondale rider stopped for her feed and didn't seem eager so I thought she might be cooked. But Laureen didn't even stop. She went right on through. I had to pee so bad and was hoping I'd be able to at this stop but there wasn't time. I had to go since the start but just couldn't find a good place and then after I went off course, I felt I couldn't sacrifice the time. Ryan was out of his mind yelling for me to catch her. I took off and saw two arrows. Which way???? To the right! Thankfully, someone was paying attention!

The last half of the race was hard. Hard in that the trail was un-ending single track. It never crested a hill or opened up onto a road. Though I dream of single track like this, when I'm in a long race, I dream of a break in the scenery or a long descent. I know. It's strange. And the other thing was I never saw Laureen in the trees. Luckily I didn't see the Cannondale rider either so I was chasing and being chased at the same time. I WAS RACING! So this is what it's like. Instead of wondering what position I was in I knew and had to work hard to battle the psychological and physical demons. To add to the stress, I asked for the wrong bottles at the feed zone. Instead of asking for the bottles with Carbo Rocket I asked for the bottles with water. So, for the last 20 some miles, I had only water and 4 Stinger waffles to fuel me.

I was alone for most of this section. A guy did come up to me and I asked what mile we were at. 15 to go with the last 6 on gravel. That meant 9 miles of single track and at my pace that was a good hour. The trail undulated up and down and around the box valleys of the forest. It didn't change much. I was able to remember what the last of the single track looked like and thought I was on it a couple of times only to get sent around another bend that didn't end. But soon I made it to the last big climb up to the gravel road. By the time I got up there I was teetering on the edge. I had maybe 2 swigs of water and I had eaten all of my waffles and had dropped one. Curses! I was alone. As soon as I had recovered from the climb, I shifted into the big ring and pedaled as hard as I could without going too far into the red. 6 miles. Damn. I kept looking back to see if the Cannondale rider was coming, since it was on the open road earlier in the race where she had caught back up to me. Not long on the gravel a rather large, line backer sized dude came cruising up behind me. Where did he come from? As he came up next to me I asked if there was any women close? He said he hadn't seen any in a while. Good. I kept on.

Then, there she was. Or was it?

I could see her crest each rise. I saw that the line backer had caught up to her and I was mad that I hadn't tried to draft. Each rise she got closer to me. My adrenaline started to kick in but I had to keep it in check. I was running on fumes and I wasn't ever sure it was her until I was a few yards back.

Quietly I rolled up to her wheel. She never looked back the entire time I was chasing so either she was spent or thought she had it in the bag. She looked back, "There you are." I wasn't sure if she had raced there before. We were on the same roads that we raced up at the beginning and I knew the road was going to go down steeply and do a couple of S turns before it straightened out. Once we were at the bottom, the wind was in our faces. I tucked in behind her. She clicked up a couple of gears. My stomach had butterflies. As we approached the next bend, I knew the course would take us off the main road and that's where I made my move. The road was covered in thick gravel so it was kinda a dumb place to put my nose into the wind but it didn't last long and as I came around she said, "Good job. You battled hard". I red-lined it to the finish. I had to slow down a bit to safely navigate some rather deep puddles and once through those the course turned into a camp ground. Ryan and Jennie were standing there. As soon as Ryan saw me he went nuts, running down the road toward the finish line. I turned into the finishing tent and crossed the line less than 30 seconds before the Super Fly rider. I bent over, heaving, trying to get my breath back. Ryan came running after me. Then Laureen came in and she was all smiles and again congratulated me on a well deserved win. She said she just didn't have anything left. She was just as excited that us old ladies took the top steps. Yeah, 40 is the new 20 in this sport.

Needless to say, I was very pleased and excited. Probably one of the best wins I've had and for it to happen at the last race of the season was incredibly satisfying. After not much structured training since DK50, I wasn't sure what kind of shape I'd be in. But it all paid off beautifully.

Afterwards we hung out and waited for our team mates to come in. Of course Brad, Trevor and Lucas were already in and eating by the time I got there. Show-offs! I rode back to the cabin, cleaned up and went back for some fine BBQ southern Missouri style! They had all the fixens, including two large coolers full of baked potatoes. Beer flowed freely and so did Ryan's honey whiskey. Soon Evie was in and then Carly and Adam. All were spent but had a good time.

The awards ceremony didn't get started until around 6pm to accommodate as many finishers as possible. They had raffle prizes and wanted to be fair about giving everyone a chance. Since it was cold outside, they packed us all into a smallish banquet hall. Everyone was some level of drunk, including the promoters. They were standing on the tables so they could be heard by everyone. When they called our names for the podium, we too got up on the tables. It was a riot! Tilford got the funds for the hole-shot contest and Evie, who was the first woman into the trees, pleaded that there should be a prime for the ladies. They gave in and handed her a $50 greenback, with a promise that there'd be ladies' primes next year for sure. They were super stoked that so many women showed up. Their first race had 2. This day there were 20. Yeah, better start spreading the love, boys. Then the promoters, Scott and Jake, called Ryan up to the front to award him with Fan of the Year. He told me later that he had techno blasting out of his van and was pushing as many guys up the road as he could. Even our crew told him his excitement gave them energy. Brad said hell, I'm doing this for Ryan. It was pretty cool! As the ceremony went on, things got even more rowdy. Ryan started handing up the whiskey bottle to the podium finishers and each one would take a pull. Then in ran out. Ryan bought a couple more small bottles, gave one to the promoters and they both finished it off. The room went nuts. Every so often one of the volunteers would come to the head of the room to ask if anyone knew about the last riders who hadn't come in yet. Two were still unaccounted for. Scott, the head promoter, wanted to give the last person a prize. Everyone voted to give him the Garmin GPS. Finally, word got back to Scott that the last guy was in. He was like, Get him in here right now! So the guy came in with another dude. The story was one of them had a broken derailleur and the other guy wasn't going to leave him out there alone, so together, they walked to the finish line. By then it was 7:30 and very dark but they made it in and they were celebrated. The group voted to give the other dude a head lamp. I thought the house was gonna come down after that. It was an amazing party with an amazing vibe. Brad got on the podium, 2nd age group and Trevor got first in SS. Lucas missed the podium by seconds. They all did amazing. Even more so because between the three of them, they each either went of course, crashed or had a technical or a combo, yet they all were in the top of their categories. Badassery!

By the time the party was over, we all were hungry again. We ordered pizza and had it delivered to our cabin. Where else does THAT happen in the middle of nowhere? I'm telling ya, it's aaaaaaawesome! While we waited for the za, Ryan started up a huge bon fire in the back yard (there was a fire ring) and we ended the night the only way mountain bikers know how: telling their stories and taking it all in.

This video illustrates the race very well, until he crashes out. You'll see Ryan at the hole shot and then at Berryman Check Point. The guy filming went off course at the same place I did!

Here's another video. I'm in there towards the end, getting beer.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fruitas and Enchiladas - Part 1

Looking into Moab from Hazard

Tom Petty has been to the desert, I'm sure of it.
Out in the great wide open.
Under them skies of blue.
Out in the great wide open,
A rebel without a clue.

Our annual trip to the Great Wide Open was incredible. A few weeks since returning from the high desert and I'm still abuzz with the memories, sights and sounds. That's what happens when you go to the desert in early fall. The views are so brilliant this time of year. So much, in fact, that the mind cannot possibly process the beauty it's taking in. It's like looking at a person who is so striking, it hurts. Your eyes see features that your mind cannot possibly process, so it doesn't. (Plus it would take too long to stop and look at everything and your riding buddies would start throwing rocks). So you just pedal on, stealing flirtatious glances over deep precipices and across wide horizons, all the while trying hard not to miss any details. Or die. 

This, to me, is the essence of mountain biking.

This year's adventure started out with a new twist. A few of us ladies, Carly Thompsen, aka Gnarly Carly and April "I'd rather be downhillin" Eyberg and myself lit out before the boys in time for the last Trek Dirt Series Camp in Fruita. Carly and I both did a camp earlier this summer at Winter Park. It was an eye opener for me and since we were going to be out there, I decided to do another one. It didn't take much convincing for Carly and April to sign up too. Sweet. We left right after work on a Thursday and rolled into Denver by 1am. A sweet hook up from April allowed us to sack out in style. By noon we were checking into our not-sweet-hook-up motel. Hey, they were bike friendly and that equivalent to 4 stars in my book. It was fortunately sandwiched between 2 liquor stores, a greasy spoon and a coffee shop. See? 4 stars! Plus free breakfast of eggo waffles, muffins, bagels, fruit, juice, etc. A funny thing happened after I checked in: as I was walking out of the little office, a woman entered with a bouquet of flowers. She said, "These are for Roxzanne Feagan". I turned around and I said, "That's me!" Ryan had sent me flowers as thanks for nursing him after he broke his collar bone. It was a wonderful surprise and earned points with the old German woman behind the counter. I eventually gave them to her when we left later in the week. 

Once we got settled into our room, we headed straight for 18 Road in Fruita. It's a good starting point for newbies who haven't ridden the area. It's not too technical nor strenuous. I had planned to take them down Kessle Run but took a wrong turn and ended up pretty far out from our car. Although I knew the fastest way to get to the trail was via a gravel road, I opted to go down a trail that I hadn't been on before. We hit a barrier fence and decided not to chance it. We went back to the road and hooked up with Kessel for the swoopy, whoopy ride back to the car. The girls were grinnin'. Good sign, I thought.

We headed back to the motel, cleaned up and hit the local shop and then got some dinner at the local brewery. It always surprises me to go into a brewery type establishment in such a cool part of the country and find it covered wall to wall with big screen TVs showing every football game on the planet. But I guess the locals need a watering hole too.

After dinner we drove up into the Colorado National Monument in hopes of catching the sun set. It was a great way to end a long day. Just us girls and the canyon. No bike talk. No tire talk. No wheel talk. 

Gnarly and April at 18 Road

Desert divas in Co. National Monument


Trek Dirt Series Headquarters
The camp began with registration at the famous Hot Tomato Cafe. Famous for the former pro racer owners and legendary photographer, Anne Keller. The vibe there was palpable, even though it was closed. We all knew we were at Trail Ripping Central, USA. After check in and getting assigned to our groups we headed out to a local ball complex where we utilized soccer fields for our skills and drills. It was my goal to launch myself off a jump and a drop before this camp was over. The first day was pretty basic, except I did manage to rip apart my der cage after I slid off of a teeter that I couldn't get to tot. Luckily it was only a small piece and somehow the chain managed to stayed on the rest of the day. It was a hot and sunny day. Lunch was sponsored by Hot Tomato so we all had our choice of pizza and salad. Once done with lunch it was time to head out into the Great Wide Open to test our newly learned skills on the heavenly terrain that is Fruita. Our group went to Mary's Loop. Rumor had it that the instructor had been able to teach new riders how to get down Horse Thief Bench only after one day of camp. I heard that when I was in Winter Park and we were with that instructor so I was amped. I've been coming out to this area for probably the last 8 years and never in my wildest dreams did I think I could ride down that rock fall. This day, damn if I wasn't gonna try.

As a group we decided, instead of getting in miles, we'd stop and session areas that would tap our skills that we learned earlier that morning. The first was a 1' step up onto an incline. To most dudes this would seem like a no brainer but to us ladies, who lack the upper body to bulldoze such a feature, we need to do a few extra things to ensure that front tire gets up and over the edge. One of the most important skills I relearned (I already knew how to do but didn't know I knew it) was the front wheelie lift to get up and/or over obstacles. I think this move will be a revelation to every woman who rides. This move will help them become mountain bikers instead feeling like a weak girl who can't lift up her bike. Anyway, I got up and over the ledge without issue, on flat pedals and was met with cheers. Even the  instructor was impressed. I was too since I'm new to flat pedals and had to use some extra body english just to make it work. Nobody else was able to do it so I felt a little rush of pride as we rode on.

We finally made it to Horse Thief, a famous trail in the area. To get to the trail, however, there is a right of passage: getting down a cliff face that is precarious even on foot. Our instructor was amazing. She broke down the "trail" into sections and we  sessioned each section until we could do it and then we'd move on. The first section was a series of four step downs that got progressively taller. It took me a couple tries to get past the 2nd & 3rd steps. The last step was about 2 ft tall with a line that pointed my tire directly into the side of the cliff face, with no clear transition. I couldn't wrap my mind around it enough to attempt it so I didn't. But that was ok. The next section had a high line and a low line. The high line had some step downs along the way while the low line, also with step downs, had a safe crevice, that didn't have quite the consequences to the left and right. That's the line I took. I did it on the first attempt. I looked up at what I had just ridden and couldn't believe it. Not that it was so easy but part of the puzzle of that descent had been solved and it didn't seem so daunting anymore. I could ride anything if I could ride that, I thought. The last section was pretty gnar. Her line required sorta sliding down a flat boulder into a crevice and onto a rather unwelcoming pile of boulders. I was satisfied watching our instructor nail it. It was liberating in some odd way. She made me believe it was possible. That has never happened to me on the bike. Watching dudes ride has never done that for me either. Just In that short session I felt like I had just plugged into the mountain biking matrix and suddenly had technical descending skills. One caveat: I was riding my Trek Remedy that has 160m of travel and slack head angle and of course my seat was slammed to the frame. But I still had to believe I could do it and as they say, mental is half the battle. We did get to ride part of the Horse Thief but not much before we had to turn back and hike up the Bench and then ride down Mary's Loop to the truck. I knew I'd be back after camp. My hope was that this day wasn't just a fluke.

See this video footage of awesome girl power to get an idea of the descent.

After returning from the trail, we all met back at the Hot Tomato for some grub. The boys (Ryan and the Todds) had arrived earlier that day and were also at the Hot Tomato when we arrived. I couldn't wait to tell Ryan how I had ridden part of Horse Thief Bench! After a much-needed beer, us girls walked to Over the Edge bike shop, another iconic location in this little bike mecca, for bike tech sessions. There, patient mechanics answered our girly questions about suspension, drive train and breaks. They broke down each area to help us better understand the inner workings of our rigs. I took the suspension class, learning a bunch about all the adjustability my Remedy has. 

Later that night, after word that Martin was delayed, we all hung out outside the motel. Fueled by tequila, whisky and electrolytes, we were a bit loud. After some sneers from other motel guests, we moved our party to the picnic table on the other side of the lawn in front of the motel. Eventually other riders arrived and joined the party. Nobody is a stranger when ya ride out there.  

Our view from the motel. 4star!
Carly and April intently listening to yet another bike geek session.
Todd taking over bike repair duties on this trip.

Porch clowns.

Day 2 of dirt camp was my day of redemption. 

The morning started off way awesome. The owners of Hot Tomato made an appearance welcoming all of us campers and then giving away prizes. Just knowing these two ladies are at the epicenter of mountain biking in the west is inspiring. April won a prize in the raffle of discounted gear from Sugoi. Everyone got some swag: a tshirt or a hat or a notebook plus a canister of Kicking Horse coffee beans. Couldn't have been happier.

For the second day of camp, we were given the opportunity to choose which advanced skill classes we wanted to take. I chose drops and jumps. I didn't choose them at Winter Park and wish I would have. I was very nervous because I didn't know if I had my form and timing down enough to not totally biff over the edge of the ramp they had set up. But true to form, the instructor broke down the move so simply that I wanted to smack my forehead. It still took a few runs until I was smooth but I made it through the sessions without falling on my face. I was dreading the jumping part. I really sucked at it at Winter Park but I left that day feeling like, with more practice, I could get it down. Timing is key. That afternoon was spent at 18 Road riding PBR, a new trail that has some jumps and kickers. Our instructor was a hellian on the trail and was really smooth. Our sweeper was none other than Ann Keller! Woah! Nerve racking. Plus she was taking pictures so that was even worse but so fun and cool to shred with these chics! And to my surprise, the Todds and Martin went riding by when we were on a break so it was fun to give high-fives to the boys.

After a few runs, I think we were all pooped. It was the last camp for the instructors and it was party time!
Jump session
Dirt Series Instructors
After camp was over, we all met up and hung out at the motel. We got to catch up with Martin who was jet lagged to the max but had already put in a few hours on the bike despite still being on Euro time. But that's what ya do when you're in the land of single track and it's daylight. And you have some of the greatest riding buds anyone could ask for. And beer.