Saturday, November 2, 2013

2013 Berryman Trail Epic: Race Report

It's been a while since I've banged out a race report. Odd, since it seems that's all I've been doing since March. Let's just say, it's been a busy summer. I do plan to catch up on the blog now that the season is over. Finally. But it wasn't over until I crossed the finish line at the BT Epic.

Leading up to the Epic, post Five-0 and post our annual trip to the Great Wide Open (more on that in another blog) I didn't know how motivated I'd be to try and contest the BTE. It's really, really hard to go out and do interval training on cold, windy days, especially when you have to drag your bike and gear to work every day just so you can get in a soul-crushing road ride before dark. But I did it and well, I'm glad I did.

The usual rag-tags came along with the Ginger and I; Carly, Adam and Jenni Stoll, Wixon and Larry. We let out early on Thursday after work and got down to KC where we got a couple of rooms for the night. By 7am the next morning we were eastbound and down, heading to Steelville, Missouri, float capital of the US. Home base would again be the Bass River Resort. We rented the same 4bed cabin as we always do, right near the start line. In fact, the race goes right by its front door.

We stopped in town for some provisions first so that we wouldn't need to drive the van again until it was time to go home. To our shock, the little grocery store in the dirty south did not sell liquor. What? Is it a dry town? An employee at the store gave us the lowdown on where to buy us some package. It was a dumpy ol place on the outside of town. Dust on the bottles and unlimited Bud Light. Hmmm, but to our fortune honey whiskey and Captain were plentiful. Whew! We all bought something to bring to the after party. Soon we were checked in to our place and getting ready to head out to ride. But before we did, one of the bedroom's smoke alarm's started chirping. I tried removing the battery but it was wired to the ceiling and kept chirping. I called the main office and they sent someone out pronto. He tested it and reset it before we left to go ride. Now that's service!

Soon we were off to preride. We took the van so we didn't have to slog up the gravel road to the hole shot and Jenni drove it back. This was our 3rd time at this race and it was the first time we could actually see the trail. Usually the leaves are so thick it's impossible to separate the trail from the rest of the forest floor. Not this time. The entire trail is crushed rock, not too dissimilar from the trails down in Arkansas. Throw in some thick roots, rocks, water crossings, sand pits, gravel roads and pavement, and that my friends describes the 55 mile course that is the BT Epic. For the most part it flows nicely. Not much sustained climbing and lots and lots of rock. We rode for about 35 minutes before we turned around. The first miles of the track are some of the rockiest so it was good to get on them and test out our suspension set up, etc. I was still feeling my big miles from the previous weekend so I rode pretty lame. I bombed descents but spun on the uphill because it was too easy to gas it due to all of the rock. I played around with my suspension a bit and called it good. After the pre-ride we registered for the race and to my amazement, my name was listed on the back of this year's T-shirt, along with the other 2 top women finishers and all the top men from 2012. Ha! First time for everything. That, I have to say, was pretty cool.

The promoters of this event are a couple of real good ol' boys. With big trucks, big dogs and big accents, these guys are all about good times. They're good natured, friendly and generally excited to have us at their event. They saw us in the parking lot of the grocery store earlier that day. One of them remembered Ryan from last year. We reminded them we were bringing the mother load of honey whiskey and that brought a cringe to one of their faces, saying he was not going to get drunk this year. (Last year the two of them split an entire bottle of honey whiskey that Ryan handed up to them during the awards ceremony).

The rest of the day was filled with the usual pre-race stuff. Eating, bike tinkering, eating, bike tinkering. Anything to pass the time. I found my Garmin file from 2012 (thought I should at least look at my time from last year) and plotted some strategies to improve my time and hopefully pull off another win. The cabin seemed pretty relaxed and orderly. Just how I like it. I went to bed feeling as ready as I could be.

The alarm went off around 5:30 a.m. The race meeting was at 8:15. I finally got out of bed around 6. Larry was already up, making french pressed coffee on the patio. Carly was on the couch trying to grab as much horizontal as possible. Seemed our good friend, the chirping smoke alarm that was in her bedroom, decided to wake her up at 4am. You could still hear it out in the living room. I felt really bad! Soon everyone was up and shuffling around the kitchen, nuking their prerace meal or drinking coffee. After I ate, I went back into our bedroom to lie on the floor next to the heat vents and enjoy a few more warm minutes of rest. By 7:30 I was kitted up and out the door. I headed up the gravel road, not only to warm up my lungs and my legs but also to get a sense of the distance to the trees. By the time I turned around, I had my puffy coat wrapped around my waste and I was down to my summer kit and arm warmers and I was hot. Perfect. I stopped back at the cabin for one last tinkle, loaded up my bottles in the van (Jenni was our pit crew) and then headed to the start line to find a sliver of sun. It was chilly!

I lined up about 6 or seven rows from the front. I could see a couple of ladies here and there (only 16 signed up). I saw Laureen, who I barely scraped by last year. I had to keep my eye on her. I saw another woman in a bright pink Hammer kit (roady, I thought). Carly was next to me and that's all of the women I could see. But it's hard to say when it's a mass start. The promoters gave a few words and sent us off with a gunshot. I clipped in, grabbed some gears and surged, trying not to get caught up in the cock fight. Once safely amongst the herd, I spotted my competition and kept them close. I followed a short trail of guys up the far right side of the road as the middle began to stack up. I broke free of them and gave a surge as I approached the long gravel climb to the single track. I took an inside line next to Laureen through some deep gravel, making sure not to lose traction. As we began the climb, I kinda got boxed in behind a spinner and a large SS rider. I saw Laureen take the outside lane. Once around the corner, I sprinted for better position and started to gain some ground. The woman up front (Laura) was a bit closer now and she was riding like a woman possessed. I took a pull and went by as the road climbed but on the descents she would blast by me. After she did that a second time, I stayed with her up the next climb, riding her wheel so I could recover a bit. Then I realized I might have a chance at the hole-shot prime. From my recon ride that morning, I knew we were close to the seeing the hole-shot. I decided that as soon as I saw it, I'd go for it and the plan worked. I swung wide and dove into the trees, making sure I made eye contact with the promoter who was standing there cheering us on. I just hoped that was worth the effort cuz I had 50 more miles to go.

Not long after entering the trees, Laura snuck around me when I moved over for a buy behind me. I was surprised and knew I had an aggressive rider to compete with. She was riding well and really putting down the power. So much so, that I eventually had to let her go. With any luck, she'd burn out at some point.

The pace was good. I was around dudes that were keeping it steady. After Aid 1, about 11 miles in, I was in a train of guys and I saw Laureen was amongst them. Our train came up on Laura. She was riding really well. I was two bikes back from her when, on a tight switchback, she couldn't get her big wheels around and I dove into the inside and suddenly had the lead. Yay 26ers! (more on that later). I was up around Adam, which always helps me mentally. He's a strong rider so if I'm around him, I'm probably up the field a ways. But so was Laureen. She's a NUE rider and carries everything she needs to get through a race without stopping. I knew this so when I came into check 2, I zeroed in on Jenni. She was ready for me. I was there for less than 15 seconds. But Laureen came right past me as we headed back into the trees. I was right on her wheel. We both then caught a couple of others, including Adam and group he was in that being lead by a guy on a fat bike. Also mixed in were a couple of SS riders. They weren't going that hard. At one point someone bobbled a rooty switch-back and they were all off their bikes. Laureen & I stayed steady and motored on by. At another choke point, both of us had to run by a troop of riders who were off the bike. After stopping at check 3, Laureen took a bit of a lead. It was open gravel and her big wheels had a slight advantage. The road had deep puddles that sometimes were edge to edge. Adam and another dude came up on me and Adam said, let's go get her! It was a nice gesture but he soon faded. The other guy stayed steady, in fact he was down-right chatty.

Dude: "Are those 26-inch?"
Me: "Yep"
Dude: "I don't like 26. Twenty-nine has more speed advantage, I think."
Me: "You're probably right."
Dude: "Did you get the hole-shot?"
Me: "Yes. On my 26"

I think I earned a couple kernels of respect because he told me to jump on as we clicked up a couple of gears. Laureen was slightly ahead but not for too long. Once past her, the dude wanted to catch the next gaggle of riders and trade pulls into the wind. We weren't far from aid 4. I tried to stay with him for maybe 30 seconds when I was like, wait, I need to race my own damn race. So I sat up and let him race his race. Soon, though, Laureen was right on my wheel. About this time, I felt something hit my helmet with enough knock that I thought it was an acorn. But it wasn't. A bug had kami-kazeed into a slot of my helmet, successfully lodging itself under it and in my hair. I could feel it crawling around. I tried digging at it and moving my helmet from side to side. I thought it was gone. We came up to a part of the course that was along a highway. The bug began to sting my head. Shit! Well, I knew there was a very long road climb coming up where we'd be going slower and I could deal with this bug situation. Still hoping it would fly away, I moved my helmet around some more. Laureen was chugging away at the hill, nice and steady. I could see SS riders scaling the hill, riding back and forth instead of straight up to maintain momentum. Yeah, kinda steep. The bug was still lodged under my helmet so I had to deal with it right then. I shifted down in my small ring in front, which caused it to get caught between the frame and the chain ring. I tried shifting it back to the big, but no dice. Crap! Ok, one thing at a time. I could still pedal, so I took off my glasses and unclipped my helmet and held it in my teeth by it's straps. I felt the bug on my head. It had to have been a beetle b/c it was big. As I was swatting at my head and shrieking, the promoter drives down the road. Now, had this been a USAC event, I could've been dq'd for having my helmet off. I finally got the bug out. I tried getting my chain to unkink itself but it wasn't having it. I had to stop and deal with it. Quickly though I was back on the bike and putting in a bigger effort to make up some time. I came into the check point, frazzled. I threw some food in my mouth and some Sport Leg pills. Bad idea! You can't chew and swallow pills at the same time! I swapped bottles and threw it in the big ring. Laureen was nowhere in site. Dammit! I kept trying to chew/swallow my pill/bar combo on the open stretch before I got into the trees. I'm such a dumb ass. Once into the trees, I was on a mission to catch her. I got caught behind a dude who really wasn't going that slow, it's just that I wanted to go fast. I'd have to go even faster to stay in front of him and I didn't know if that was a good idea, being that it was only mile 40ish and there was still another 15 to go. Eventually, he let me by and I was back on my pace. The course at this point was mojoflow. Nothing sustaining. Some switchbacks and some dry spring beds but for the most part, it's just capital F Fun! I was in my zone and bombing descents like I was on my Remedy. I had to keep my eye on my heart rate though. Fun can sometimes disguise fatigue until it's too late.

I'm not sure how soon it was that I saw Larry ahead of me. Sweet! Except he was looking like he was kinda chillin'. As I came up to him, I could see Laureen just ahead. Larry, like the gentleman he is, let me go by and I eeked by Laureen too. I backed off my chase pace so I could recover a bit. The flow of the trail kept me focused. I could hear both riders behind me on the gravel trail. We chewed it up! Once feeling recovered and after switching bottles from my bottom cage to the one on my down tube while still on the bike (a feat of skill I had to master a few times), I began to push the pace. Not crazy, stand up attack, but a slow, python squeeze, if you will. Soon Larry was behind me, not Laureen, telling me it was go time. He advised that we should pace off the guy that was a few bike lengths up the trail and to keep on the gas. That was a direct order I was willing to follow. And it seemed to be working. Our rabbit up front was in his local flow, slowing for nothing. He had a rabbit ahead of him as well. This went on for about 4-5 miles. Then we entered a section of trail that I recognized as the end of the single track. We rode through a small clearing that signaled the start of a the slow, ATV road back to the gravel road up top. It was on this road that I caught my rabbit and his rabbit. "Great pace out there" I said. Up! Up! Up! As I climbed I saw the promoter, Scott, driving down the road (seems some signage had been moved). I knew the gravel road was close. Once up there, the wind greeted me. I looked back hoping that Larry would be there so we could battle the wind together. But he must have fallen off because I was all by myself.  I put it in the biggest ring I had and took off. This was where I eventually caught Laureen last year so I was sort of in a panic that she might try the same. She had big wheels and if she was going to gain ground, this was it. But I felt like I was going backwards. The wind was that strong. And the road was that long. Turn after turn. Small rise after small rise. I was hoping I'd see someone ahead to latch onto. I looked back a couple of times to see if anyone was coming but nobody. No Larry. No rabbits. No Laureen. As the miles clicked off, I started looking for land markers. There was the hole-shot. There was the turn-about where we unloaded the day before. Closer. Then I started seeing the large purple circles on some of the trees on the side of the road. Closer. Then a big descent where I tucked and rocked that bike like my life depended on it. One more climb and then the last descent that lead back to flat road and the resort. Just need to stay upright this last hundred yards and not ditch it in the sand pit. I cleanly got to the other side and popped out at the resort's campground and the final straightaway to the finish. As I predicted, Ryan and Jenni were standing there, screaming their lungs out. I smiled and pulled into the finish tent to take first place, 31 overall. I was very happy at the outcome and even more so to be done (my favorite part of bike racing). I rode directly to the bathroom and then over to Ryan and Jen who were chatting it up with Larry. He came in only a few minutes after me. He said he cramped on the climb and was bummed he couldn't help pull me in. We stayed there until our whole crew crossed the line: Adam, Carly (6th place, scrubbing an hour off her time) and then Wixon, who cramped right at the start of the finishing straightaway and had us scratching our heads for a minute as he got off his bike to try and stretch his leg. We were like, what the hell is he doing?

Everyone was in and healthy and with bikes intact. It was a great day on the bike for all of us. Ryan secured 16th place overall, and only 2:30 from top 10 overall. For someone who was "chill riding" it was very respectable.

We all hung around for a bit to bathe in the euphoria of being done and exchanging war stories. I told of my bug situation and having to actually race someone the whole time. (So many times on these long races, you end up riding alone and racing the clock more than each other). Food was next on the agenda so we made our way back to the cabin to get cleaned up, fetch our meal tickets and head back to ground zero for post race festivities which included a meat buffet, unlimited beer on tap, a good ol' boy, back country bon fire and lastly the awards ceremony, which was held under a big top tent that the resort had set up. Carly won a commuter bike in the raffle! She was the only one to win of our group and she was so excited. I took the top step for open women. Laureen had to leave early, so it was just me and Laura, who I chatted with after the race. I love meeting these incredible women who can shred at middle age (or just under). So inspiring!

We capped off the night with some more time around the bon fire, sharing pulls of honey whiskey with anyone and having the pleasure or not, of seeing the two promoters dressed up as Hooter's girls as part of the costume challenge. I think they won! It was about this time that Wixon's order of 5 large pizzas from the resort's lodge were ready for pick up (They will also deliver to the cabins. Sheah!) Needless to say, those pizzas didn't have a chance. We brought them back to the cabin and ate them as we sat around our own little fire pit in the back of the cabin. We were joined by some neighbors and later by some other riders. Swapping stories and getting lit was pretty much the only thing on all of our agendas. Well that and trying to keep a drunk woman from burning the derma off her hands. Once our fire died down, she was hell-bent on bringing one of the larger, STILL-ON-FIRE, logs over to the fire next door. She drug it across the lawn, probably 20 yards, before depositing it in the fire pit. We were pretty sure she was going to have a painful morning, wondering why her hands were covered with blisters.

I sacked out, along with Carly and Jen while the boys talked bikes. I don't even remember Ryan coming to bed. Carly was behind on her Zs and Jen, who worked her ass off to feed us, deserved her sleep too. It was the end of the night, and for many of us, the end of the race season. As I've said many times before, being done is my favorite part of racing. And boy, I was done.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

COLORADICAL - Part 1: Big Mountain Enduro Crested Butte

Colorado is where people sometimes go to lose themselves. In our case, it was to discover who we are. 

Usually Ryan and I bring friends when traveling to the Great Wide Open, but this particular trip was based more around racing than recreating. Plus, we wanted to dirt bag it in the van to keep it cheap since we were going to be gone for so long. Our journey took us from south-central Colorado to Summit County, racing in three different towns, up and down multiple peaks, covering many mountain miles. After it was all over, we both agreed we stumbled upon something: our Enduroness.

What is Enduroness, you ask? Stemming from the word "endure" which means to "suffer patiently" or "to remain in existence; to last" pretty much sums up our experience racing two Big Mountain Enduro events in Crested Butte and Keystone, with the Fire Cracker 50 thrown in between to keep it epic. The goal was definitely to last. Sometimes we had to suffer patiently to do it. Sometimes we just had to let go of the brakes.


This trip loomed on our schedules since BME announced the series. Without so much as a scrap of information, other than locations and the desire for an epic trifecta of racing, we signed up sometime early in the year for all three events. Not one for bike park expeditions, I was a nervous Chihuahua ever since, worried that I had signed up for something I wasn't remotely qualified for. Um, they run national DH events at these places, right? Gulp.

We left the Big O for the Big Open on a Wed night with the goal of getting down to Crested Butte ASAP on Thursday so we could practice the runs as much as possible. Excited to finally be on our way, the trip quickly went south. I noticed somewhere passed Lincoln that our dashboard looked a little barren. 



"We forgot Sweater!"

For the next few minutes we drove in silence, looking back and forth at each other, considering driving back home for our beloved travel buddy. That stuffed lamb has been a fun part of our travels and we actually felt sad for forgetting him. Really. Of course we weren't going to drive all the way back for a stuff toy but lady luck was on our side. Eyberg's parents were coming out to Breck that weekend for the 4th. With Jeremy staying at our house, it would be an easy pick up. I sent out a 911 message to Todd and Jeremy. Though I'm sure they were snickering, they totally made it happen. A few days later we got a message that the sheep was in route. It was funny thinking about the conversation Todd had to have with his parents.

Eyberg: "I need you to bring something with you to Colorado."

Mamma Eyberg: "How big is it?"

Eyberg: "About eight inches. It's a stuffed lamb."

Mamma Eyberg: Silence…"A what?"

Yeah, that was totally worth it.

Once the lamb situation was handled, we sped across the corn desert, to the sandhill desert, finally settling at an RV park just off I-80 in Sterling, Co. We pulled in late, found the restroom and crashed. We only slept maybe 5 hours, totally not using $20 worth of water or toilet so we put a few bucks in the self-pay envelope for good karma and shoved off before the park attendant was even aware we were there. Someone's gonna have beer money, we agreed.

Back on the road, we hit dead end traffic on the outskirts of Denver. We thought we would beat the rush hour but a thousand other people had the same plan. Seriously, it was a dead stop and crawl for an hour. Ryan, of course, had to pee so we finally got off at an exit, which, yep, was also under construction with traffic piled up. Ryan about blew a vein. He couldn't hold it one more second and pulled off on the side of the road and watered a tree. Luckily it was a construction area so not much family traffic! Before hopping back into the madness, Google told him there was an accident or something on the interstate, so we found side roads around it and huzzah, plenty of places to stop and go to the bathroom, indoors! We pulled into a grocery store, which also had a Star Bucks inside. Double score! We resolved to the fact that we wouldn't make it by the time the lifts opened at the bike park but it was still only Thursday and assumed most people wouldn't be lining up to practice until Friday anyway.

We finally made it to Crested Butte. The flowers were exploding on every hillside. I couldn't take my eyes off of the views. It was great to be back. As we pulled into town, we saw a tent city set up on the high school grounds. Seems some kind of road tour was going on. It was bike week after all and this was ground zero! We pulled through the town, which was setting up for another outdoor concert and drove straight to the resort. Ryan had read that folks were camping in a dirt parking lot nearest to the mountain so we did the same. A few campers and cars were there. It was early afternoon on a Thursday and pretty warm. We pulled up next to a family with a large camping trailer. As Ryan does, he struck up a convo with the dude who was racing to get all the details. 

First on the docket was to get geared up and on the lift. We got our lift passes and maps and with our shiny new Kali full face helmets hanging off our handle bars, we rolled up to the lift dock like we had done it a thousand times. I was beyond nervous. What was up there? What was waiting to fling us off the mountain to our doom? 

The lift ride was nice. It was quiet and calming. I could look back and see the whole resort. The higher we went the gnarlier the terrain became. We could see a section called PsycoRocks that had wood bridges linking large boulders together. Surely they wouldn't be sending us down that, I pleaded. We didn't see any course tape around it or after it so we assumed it would not be part of the course. It was, however, part of the home of a family of marmots. For the next few days, every time I rode the lift, they were out and about. Sometimes one would make a loud noise as it called out to its family. It was something we would look forward to each time we rode up. As we got closer to the top, we started seeing course tape zig zagging across the mountain. Since it was minimal I assumed the courses were more across rather than down. That was partially true.

Finally at the top, we hopped off the chair and rolled our bikes to the dirt. Some of the starting gates were up and marked. Wanting to get our legs under us and bikes dialed after not being on them much this spring (Ryan had ridden his new 29r Remedy only in our drive way) we opted for a green run that was not part of the course. I think it was aptly named Boy Scout. I had no qualms. And it turned out to be a rather nice track. Pedally in spots, we were reminded of the altitude. It wove in and out of tree line. The line of site got kinda minimized, due to the overgrowth around it. It opened up the lower we dropped. Wider meant faster! The track was super dry and already the corners were starting to go. We got onto a flowy section that dumped us out onto a gravel road that then led to a couple of small table tops. I rolled them of course. On the other side of the second table was a deep set of berms in an S shape. From there the track straightened out and then dumped down a super sandy fault-line track onto some more man-made jumps and berms and finally onto some really big table tops that I again rolled safely over. The end of this run was going to be the end of a few of the race courses so it was important that I get a comfortable with my lines so I didn't have to break so much. I hated breaking. It made me feel like I was not worthy of the padding I was wearing. Kinda dumb, I know.

Each run we dared ourselves to try the more technical tracks, heading down the blues first which usually involved some small kickers, and berms that dropped steeply; then a blue black, that had all the above but steeper and more of them in progression and then the double black, Avery, which would be the last run of the race. We had seen some guys sessioning a rock garden on that track on our way up the lift. Ryan heard someone yell Wolfsky and he knew it had to be one of the famed guys from Pink Bike who hale from New Zealand and Whistler. 

It was time to ride Avery. It started out tame enough, with a quick power climb to get some elevation so we could power through the first section of rocks. I skipped a large log over, as it was a chain eater. It was immediately followed by an 8 ft bridge and then a right berm that turned us into a rather intimidating rock garden with a drop right after. I'm pretty sure I walked it the first time but was able to find the line I liked and stuck with it each time down. The track screamed in and out of technical tree groves and then spit us back out into an open field where we could get our speed back up. We came up on another succession of logs that were placed almost like steps. Too big for me, I did the ride-around but Ryan eventually found the line. After a couple of S turns and breaking bumps the trail turned left and dropped over a rock (I went around it) and then into a nasty rock garden that had a ripped up stump at the entrance. I tiptoed through it and walked the bridge that proceeded it so I could get a look at the drop at the end. Not bad at all but the rock garden was going to take some practice. I continued on over rooty drop after rooty drop. My bike was feeling OK but not great. Kinda harsh and feeling like I was getting kicked around some. The next part of the course I remember after a couple of wide open S turns was a drop that had 3 lines; over rocks onto a wood transition and into a bermed turn, a less droppy but rockier line and the "ride around" which sent riders into a field where we had to pedal hard to get back onto the track. I opted for the ride around but around is not exactly accurate: it was more like straight down. I walked it, sliding down to safety. Great, how in the world was I going to do this during the race, I worried aloud. The trail kinda mellowed after that. For the race we had to connect to the end of another track. After entering a rather smooth section of trees, we immediately had to navigate our way around an off-camber and tight right hander littered with baby-heads and small tree stumps that could catch a pedal easily and send you flying. I picked my way through it and ended up at a rock drop that I had to stop and look at. Ryan was standing on the road on the other side, with some ladies who were kind enough to tell me where to ride. I wasn't able to muster the guts with an audience but knew I had to figure it out before race day since this would be the ending of at least 3 of the runs. After crossing the road, the track again picked up where it left off, in a graveyard or rocks and boulders just begging riders to crash. At the end of that nonsense was a drop that had a root as thick as my thigh at the edge of it. It was gnar enough that a photographer was standing there awaiting the carnage. Speed was the only thing that would keep riders from the jaws of that hell. I made it down and then stood up to get some speed going as the trail opened up. It bermed again and dumped into the last of the rock gardens. A women was there, wheels up when we approached. Great! Not what I wanted to see. We stopped to make sure she was OK. We continued onto a gravel road that lead to some jumps and berms before we finally came to the end. It wasn't as bad as I had pictured it in my mind. But there were a couple of spots that had me very concerned, if not down-right scared out of my baggies.

Click here for a video of the track. This is NOT me and we did NOT do the wooden jump at the end in the race. Thank God.

Image by VeloNews. Our van is not in the shot.
The lifts closed around five so we moseyed on into town and hit the grocery store for some weekend provisions. Not really ready to hang out in the parking lot, we walked over to the city park where festivities were taking place for the bike tour people and whomever else wandered by. Tents started coming down with the onset of some serious wind. One lap around the park and and we decided to head back up the mountain to our little sand lot. More campers and people had arrived. One of them was a young dude from the front range. A new pro, he was racing a custom Erikson hard tale, which was interesting since he himself was a builder for Boo Bicycles. He was nice enough, kinda odd in a air-head kinda way. Played the "uke" as he called it. Actually, that was pretty sweet. He couldn't light his gas stove worth damn but he sure could belt out some Jack Johnson. At one point Ryan got so fed up with junior trying to hook the gas up to his stove that he went all parental on the guy and pulled out the Dad voice, sending a clear message that we were not in the mood to be blown up in a parking lot by the likes of his hippy ass. We had trail to shred, for Fuck sake.

The next day we were up early with the sun. Scrambled eggs and coffee and banana bread were on the menu. I did spy a coffee shop at the resort when I went to the public bathroom and scored a couple of real coffees to get even more amped. Soon we were on the lifts and up the mountain. We probably did 6 or 7 runs that day, mostly practicing the techy bits. I finally got the rock garden at the bottom of Lower Avery and made myself ride my ass down the steep drop that I had walked/slid the day before. I rocked the drop at the end of the bridge on Avery as well. The whole day and really the rest of the weekend, my mantra was "My bike is capable. I'm capable." I seriously repeated those words over and over, out loud, in the cocoon of my helmet whenever I came up on the nasty stuff. I never really got the nerve to jump the table tops. It's my achilles heel. But I did get my bike feeling like a couch so I was enjoying myself for the most part. At the end of the day, we were both amazed how much we had improved in such a short time. Obviously repeated runs helped us remember the right lines but more importantly, that we had the guts! 

Before the last ride of the day, we got ourselves registered. Part of the process included having our picture taken with our bikes and documenting our bike and drive train components. Part of the rules requires riders to use the same bike the whole weekend so this was their way of preventing cheating. They didn't ask about wheels or tires, which we thought was kinda strange since those things could provide an advantage depending on the track. 

I felt pretty good about doing the race. The mandatory race meeting wasn't revealing, other than we weren't racing down from a higher peak that was on our maps. I had no expectations other than to not wrap myself around a tree. The goal was to just get down the mountain and have a good time doing it. 

Enduro racing is being defined in real time. The format is loose. Timed descents with some pedally bits to keep it from being a downhill specialty. Gotta have some fitness too! How the day was going to unfold was a mystery. There was no traditional staging area. The only thing we knew was the approximate time each race was going to start on each track. We had three runs to do each day. The first one began at 9 am. Pros would go first, then amateurs by age group. And guess who's age group was dead last? The old ladies! But I didn't mind, really. I was glad that the men wouldn't be breathing down our backs. With only a 30 second lapse between riders, one of my biggest fears was that some DHr would come barreling down behind me and bulldoze me right off the hill. I couldn't have been more wrong!

Image by VeloNews. I was sitting next to the photographer.
We arrived at ground zero. Event tents lined the walk-ways. A DJ was on the mic and spinning the tunes. Riders were everywhere, of every ability. We weren't sure what to do once we got there so we got on the lift and headed up shortly after 9 am with all our gear and food in tow. That was dumb. There were some 280 riders that had to get down. That's two riders every minute, so 140 minutes. That's over 2 hours, which is how long I had to wait until it was my turn. But it wasn't all sucky. I was in the freaking mountains, on a gorgeous morning, participating in an amazing race with others of the same ilk. Ryan and I kinda stayed close to each other at first. I felt like a stranger in my own skin. Here I was with all of this gear, on a bike that was faster and more capable than I. Did I look like an obvious newb? Was I going to make a fool of myself? So many riders weren't wearing full faces for the first run, a combo of green and blue. I felt like I was over dressed. 

Soon Ryan was in line, chatting it up, making new friends. The ladies were sparse. A few here and there but as the time passed, we slowly gathered together to meet and do what women do: bond. Most were primarily from Colorado or the West but there were other states represented as well as a woman from Ireland, Shona, who was there on vacation with her boyfriend and decided to sign up. We ranged in age from twenties to mid-forties and everyone was super nice and supportive. We were brightly dressed in striped socks or flowered shorts but that was where our girliness stopped. Once atop our bikes, bad ass was pretty much what we were.

Finally it was time for the ladies. You could always tell when the ladies were on the course. Hoots and hollers went out for each ride. Racing for fun, for sure. Soon it was our group's turn. I had taken a few pedal strokes up a gravel road that was near by to wake the legs up. With all of the sitting around, I wasn't sure if they were going to respond. My quads were still soar from the previous day's practice too. 

I rolled my bike up to the start line. I tried to relax as I stared at the track in front of me. I knew what coming once I hit the trees. Some flowy single track, followed by a low jump line that ended with a larger table top that would drop us into some bermed turns. That was all I could remember so I just told myself to ride hard and enjoy the ride. 5-4-3-2-GO! I hit my garmin and it didn't start so I hit the button again and it stopped the timer. I hit it one more time to get it going. I was kinda flustered. Focus, focus. I could hear my breathing in my helmet. I was standing up crushing the pedals. My quads were already on fire. I kept telling myself to relax and let the bike do what it's meant to do. Go into the turns with confidence. Stack the arms and look ahead and take it all in cuz you're racing downhill! After it was over, I was elated. I was upright and felt like I handled myself just fine. Out of 9 women, I was somewhere in the middle so that was pretty cool. 

And that's how the day went. We raced for a few minutes and then had a couple of hours to either do other runs or eat or rest. WAY different than any XC race for sure! Ryan had earlier start times than I so I was by myself most of the time. That was kinda a bummer until I got to know a few of the other 40+ chics. Deb from Seattle was killing it. She was super fast. Sylvia was from Denver and was an obvious natural at the techy stuff since that was her passion. Jackie from Breckenridge was always ahead of me on each run and I could never catch her, though I got close a couple of times. Cheri, from Boulder, was there to document the race for and though wasn't being totally competitive, was holding her own just fine. I hung out with her the most. She was there by herself, her family back home. I just thought, how cool is that. Mom is racing enduros while the hubs and kids are chillin at home. These were women I could relate to for sure! 

After the day was over, I found myself in like 4th place, only seconds above 5th. Ryan was 7th. We both were so surprised at how that happened but it helped our confidence going into day 2. 

The next day was more of the same. Somehow our group had widdled itself down to only five riders, so all we had to do was complete each run to get onto the podium. The first stage was way more pedally, so we opted for our XC helmets. I used my smaller c-back so I could at least have water while I waited. The track went out onto some stellar trails that were flanked by flowers. I blew a corner early in the race and had to compose myself. I was hoping I'd catch Jackie on that run but she rode really well. The trail dove up and down and in and out. Sometimes I didn't see a corner until I was on it, due to the over growth. I used my breaks a lot that run but I managed to pull out the win! I was in shock! After that run, all of the riders had to pedal back up to the top. Luckily, I had left my full face up top so I didn't have to ride with it on. It was HOT! I did the 5th stage wearing my full face with my XC helmet strapped to it. It worked out just fine. Stage 5 was my least favorite track, with some steep descents and tall berms that begged riders to rail. Roxy doesn't rail so it was a pretty slow race. I think I got 4th or something. Finally it was the final run on Avery. As I rode up the lift for the final time that day, I mentally thought through the course. I knew I could ride everything but also, any bad judgement could end it for anyone. It was a thrill to race that course. And it was fun! At each gnarly section, I'd just focus on the task at hand. After getting through each one I'd think ahead to the next section and so on until I was down. I almost slid out in one of the final corners, taking a line I hadn't all weekend. Dumb! But the clean run and solid effort landed me a second place finish on that stage and quite amazingly, on the 2nd step of the podium, something I never would have thought was possible and quite frankly, something I'll probably never forget. 

The podium presentations were a blast. All of the amateur winners were given a bunch of swag and medals. I was very proud to be up there among the talented riders I met that weekend. We hung out with everyone, drinking free beer and telling our war stories with our new friends, which went well into the evening. We drove into town for the much desired burritos and margies that we rightly earned. Seemed it was the place to be; many others racers were there as well. We shared a table with Cheri and shared our many stories of bike lore. The restaurants owner even pulled up a chair after Ryan complimented him on his plaid pants. We all got an earful of his dating successes and failures and about life in a mountain town, which is really just like living in a rural small town, where everyone knows everyone else's business. After we said good bye to our new friends, Ryan and I strolled the main street. We saw a couple eating ice cream and we practically threatened them less they tell us where they got theirs. (Sylvia was in the hippy ice cream parlor too. Bikers are the same everywhere!) 

Third Bowl 

Big Al's Bicycle Haven chainless downhill bike
We ended the day walking about, taking in the last two days, amazed at all that we accomplished. We came into it not knowing what to expect, not knowing what we were capable of and we came away with so much more than we imagined: new friends, new skills and a new belief in ourselves.

Add caption

Tons of professional photos of the event. See galleries at under pess tab. 

Team Geronimo did a great write up of the event.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

I Got Down & Dirty in Warsaw, Missouri

In my last post, I posed the question;  What makes a mountain bike race great? A little race down in Warsaw, Missouri, The Down n Dirty, part of the United in Dirt series, did everything it could to make it great. And though Mother Nature tried to kill the dirty south vibe, the promoters and racers just weren't gonna let her get her way.

Another rainy weekend was on tap for the midwest but the Down N Dirty was on our schedule for the weekend. Rain chances were likely, but not 100%, unlike here, where, well, most of you know, was downright misery. We packed the van in the pouring rain. The plan was to hit Swope Park on the way down to test out some changes to the Remedy and then head down to Warsaw. Swope was velcro and we didn't want to leave. After driving through rural Missouri on swervy 2-lane highways, through numerous small towns, eating dinner in the van, we made it down to Truman Lake Mountain Bike Park around 9pm, in hopes of camping in the parking lot. 

Perfect name for a bank, eh? Tightwad, MO. Look it up.
We weren't the only ones with the same idea. There were a handful of racers who were sharing a camp fire and talking shop. One was a man from Kansas who knew me from other races. Said we were FB friends. Ah, the world is small. He chatted us up for a bit and we were invited to hang out around the fire. Once we got our van/sleeping arrangements situated we accepted the invite. We met a group of friends from the greater KC area, many who have ridden and raced many of the places we've been, so the talk wasn't just about whatever ring this and whatever tire that. We actually had a two-way conversation about stuff that I knew about. Huzzah! It was a gorgeous evening and we went to bed under a starry sky in the parking lot, even though camping wasn't allowed. The ranger was racing the next day, so he was fine with the whole situation. Score one for bike community. 

Sleep wasn't too bad, once we rolled down the windows to get some air flow going. But as the day began to break, so did the rain. Our race didn't start until 11 so we didn't feel the need to get up. We heard the promoter arrive but he didn't get out of his truck, so we followed suite. But by around 8:00 am, he was out of his truck and pulling out the tents and tables. The race was on! But I wasn't sure I wanted to do it. It was still raining and had been since about 6a.m. 

Soon our new friends were up and about, gathering under the picnic shelter, making breakfast and chatting. Ryan finally got up to check out the scene. Race was on and everyone said the trail could handle the rain just fine. The trails in the Ozarks are for sure rocky but that didn't help my mind. Wet rocks sounded worse than mud. What to do, what to do.

Slowly, people started trickling in. I finally got out of the van and though it had been raining, it wasn't really cold and we were somewhat protected by the gale force wind that sucked our gas mileage to a crawl on the way down. I couldn't decide. The only thing I could decide on was that I needed some coffee so I could think. I boiled up some water and made a couple of instant cups of Tasters Choice or some crap that we got at Walgreens in Clinton, MO (they were out of Starbucks Via). People kept coming, even though it was probably raining where they came from. 

Finally, at 9:30 am, the rain stopped. Slices of blue sky could be seen to the west. My mood changed from this is BS to OK, let's give it a try. Ryan was wanting to tear some legs off and we came all this way, so what the hell. We paid our $35, got the Tshirt. (Tech shirts seem to be very popular this year. This was my 3rd one this season). 

Only an hour to prepare switched me into focus mode. When camping, everything is everywhere and not where it should be. On top of that, we hadn't eaten much so I boiled up some water for oatmeal. Ryan ate a pre-boiled sweet potato and boiled eggs. There wasn't a water source at the site. Luckily we brought some with but he still had to beg some off people. Finally, we were all ready to go. We hit the paved road for some warm ups and lined up. It was sunny and actually kinda hot and humid. My lenses wouldn't stay clean. We signed up for marathon just to get in the extra ride time. I was the only female but I didn't care. I just wanted to get in a good work out and stay outta harm's way.

Before any of us took to the start line, the playing of the national anthem was in order. But this wasn't going to be any BS pre-recording. We were in the Dirty South. It was played by a guy on his electric guitar, who channeled Jimi Hendrix like his life depended on it. It was pretty f-ing spectacular. (Ryan said he played off and on during the races too). 

We lined up after the first timers and juniors were off the course. It was me and about a dozen or so dudes and one junior. I was quickly shot off the back as we paraded around the starting field. It was bumpy and wet and full of rocks and sometimes broken glass. Within seconds, we were on the service road that lead to the single track.
In all of my years racing, I've never had to do a turtle call-out. As I was charging up the gravel track, I noticed one of the "rocks" was moving. I swerved to the left and pointed down. As we entered the single track, the guy behind me thanked me. He would have run it over. The single track was at first gravel and under water. The corners were greasy. The roots were small but still kept me weary. The rocks were slick but somehow, not exactly throwing me off the bike. Unlike Syllamo or Clinton Lake, the track wasn't really up down. It was more turny so sliding around a relatively flat rocky track wasn't as disconcerting. I let a few guys go by b/c I was riding like a scared child. The race didn't mean anything other than my pursuit of staying fit for bigger races, so I wasn't going to risk injury. The track actually wasn't too bad as we got higher in elevation. It was actually hooking up and not packing up due to the graveling consistency of the dirt. But the conditions still didn't allow anyone to take the course for granted. Just when I found a flow and thought I was in the clear, I was met with a rut, a root, or a rock. Sometimes, all three! There were probably a dozen water crossings along the 7.5 mile course and each one made the bike talk back to me, reminding me this wasn't a good idea.

One lap in I was covered in mud. I couldn't see very well but still managed a 45 min lap. Bike was intact and when I popped out of the trees I got a large round of applause and someone even called out my name. It gave me wings. I swapped bottles, grabbed a stinger waffle and headed back in. I was 15 min ahead of the Cat1/2 race start so my goal was to hold off the leaders as long as possible. 

The track was improving in sections. The sun was out consistently so that helped but it also hurt. The shadows being cast across the trail hid the details so scanning ahead was very difficult. Add on top the fogged up and muddy lenses. Good times. Towards the middle of the lap I looked up and saw Ryan walking. What? I get up to him and then I see another marathon racer walking. Uh-oh. Seems they both flatted on a g-out water crossing and neither could get the tire to reseal. Ryan didn't want to race on a tube with high pressure on this sketchy course, so he ended up with a DNF. Same with the other guy. So Ryan became my pit man and made sure I had what I needed each time I came through. 

The rest of the race was pretty uneventful. I got caught by the Cat 1 leaders within 45 minutes of their starts and then by the Cat 2 leader on my 3rd lap. My back was tightening up some because I couldn't really stand and pedal as there wasn't much trail where one could coast. It was like our trails, twisty and tight but with enough rock to keep ya on your toes. I took an extra second or two to stretch before I went back out for my final lap. Some of the trail got better and some of it got worse. It all depended on where the sun was hitting and where water was draining. Some sections that had no sun were like pinball allies, but I made it out. 

The promoter was right. We definitely got dirty.

Dirt socks.
Post race was all about getting the mud off me and food in me and the folks running the event made sure that all happened quickly. This little race really has a great community around it. The parking lot is at the end of a dead-end road through a rural neighborhood. One of those neighbors supported the event by pulling their hose as close to the lot as possible to wash bikes. Another hauled a charcoal grill down to the shelter. Owners from the local watering hole, The Dam Bar, made sure there were big, greasy hamburgers and cold beverages for sale for the racers and fans, (which went down with a smile from me and the drunk grill master).

Yep, them Warsaw folks had all the basic details totally dialed plus a few dirty details to make is special for those who came a long way to be there. But I have to take my hat off to the promoter. He was excited and happy to be there the entire day, despite the dreary start and low turn out. The sun was out and his friends were on bikes, in the woods, having a helluva dirty good time.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013


What makes a mountain bike event good? There are some basic expectations from those of us who travel to do what we do: marked trails, clear information, some kind of celebration / awards post race that includes food and hopefully a hoppy beverage. Not a lot to ask.

The real question is: what makes a mountain bike event great? What makes us want to travel twelve freaking hours, eight of which are across the western -yawn- plaines of Nebraska, just to compete in an event where we're more than likely just going to be pack fodder? The Gunnison Growler in Gunnison, Colorado, has the answer. Dialed. 

This trip's MTB WAGN crew included Adam "The Proper Asian" Stoll, Gnarly Carly, world traveler, Todd Eyberg and Larry "The Elder" Kintner. 

We got on the road after work on a Thursday and drove to Ogalala where we shacked up at The Stage Coach Inn right off the interstate. Ya never know about places with a name like that but it wasn't too bad. A museum of cowboy culture, the lobby was a good sign that the rooms weren't just going to be a made-over trucker's bunk house. Hot breakfast (aka Belgiun waffle maker) and powdered eggs on the house got our attention. Bikers love free b-fasts. Makes the young'ns get out of bed on time (good job Adam). 

That Friday morning started out grey and drizzly, just like it has for most of this spring season. Hearing the call of the mountains and imagining the warmth of the sun on our pasty-pacific-northwest-wrinkly skin, we pointed the MTB WAGN west and drove as fast as possible. Once we hit Denver, and after a mad scramble to get to both a bathroom and coffee, we headed south. Soon we were out of good 4G range, which meant we were getting farther and farther away from civilization. That was fine by us.

This area of Colorado is spectacular. Yeah, I get it. 14ers, rad, brah. But to see and be in a mountain valley miles wide and twice as long is really breathtaking. To me they make the mountains they precede that much more grand. And they look like they haven't changed in a millennium. Great expanses, bound only by the highway we were on. This is where the real cowboys live. 

Well, cowboys and Asians. 

At a T intersection between Salida and Crested Butte, there were not one but two cafe that offered Tai food. Oh and ice cream. The one we picked had a walk-up window and outdoor seating. As we all know the best Tai joints are off the beaten path. This one was definitely off. We placed our orders for pad tai. I had chicken and pineapple and immediately had tai envy. The proper Asian, Adam, declared it to be Chinese Tai. Regardless of its authenticity, it was pretty good and the atmosphere could only be rivaled to the likes of a rodeo. As we were sitting there, at the intersection of two high ways, in the blinding sun, 3 semis hauling cattle cars parked on the shoulder. Soon after the drivers got out of the cabs, the cows began to moo. It was as if we were being serenaded by a cow chorus. Of course some of us mooed back. It was just one of those moments that seemed more dream-like than real. A bunch of folks from Nebraska, sitting at a picnic table, eating Tai in the middle of nowhere, with cows mooing in the back ground. Yeah, I thought it odd too. Maybe they read the sign and were protesting.

By late afternoon, we pulled into Gunnison. Our little home away from home was awesome. A newly built 3 bedroom home, complete with a large living area and a small deck that overlooked a pond. And it was 4 blocks from the start line. Score! 

We immediately unloaded the WAGN and kitted up so we could get in a short ride on the course. Well, what we thought was the course. Right out of the parking lot, we followed pink flags up into the craggy Hartman Rocks. Not exactly slick rock, not exactly rock, but it was definitely a sandy love child between the two. The trail went almost straight up immediately, and we all thought, ah, shit. We are gonna be in for it tomorrow. The altitude was clearly affecting us. That and the fact that we had been sitting for four hours just before arriving. But you know how it is. Mountain air. Mountain trails. Let's ride! It didn't take long for me to be off the bike and bent over trying gasp for air. One spot in particular, the line was up onto a ledge. I walked next to it, in a crag and had to lean my bike at an angle to be able to walk. Jason, my coach, warned me that it was a hairy place to ride. The event website says the same thing and you have sign the event waiver that says you have the experience to ride this kind of terrain. I finally got the message. This was going to be tough. 

This was part of the long course!
We just kinda rode around, following pink flags. Not sure where we were going, we ended up following some locals for a bit and then lost them. We got onto a gravel road and then took some advice from some hikers where to go to get back. They sent us down the new stuff, most unfortunately named Collar Bone. It was a curvy, wall ride of a trail that snaked down a steep hillside. Keep the speed up or you'll never make it, I kept saying. Once down, we headed back to the condo for the night. Pasta primavera with chicken was whipped up and we all hit the hay after hanging out on the deck for a bit. With a respectable 9am start time, the morning wouldn't have to come too early. Which was great, cuz sacking out in a king size bed is the bomb! It is until you can't sleep because of the altitude and nerves, that is. 

RACE REPORT - Half Growler (32+ miles)
The morning went smoothly. Everyone was up, coffee was drank and race fuel consumed. I brought pancake mix. I've had many altitude issues in the past relating to my stomach so my thinking was to eat something my body could easily digest. I topped em off with a couple of eggs and called it good. Since we were so close to the venue, we warmed up around the neighborhood before heading over to the starting line in the heart of their downtown.

I'm standing at about 10 o'clock.
Upon arrival the scene was casual. Folks were warming up. One city block was barricaded off to traffic so we had a comfortable area to stage and hang out. I did a few quick sprints, hit the bathroom about 3x and then got in line about 1/3 of the way from the front. I looked around. Many folks were in C-backs. My coach suggested I wear one. At the last minute I decided to carry a third bottle instead.

Matt Burt: 2013 Growler - Half &emdash; IMGP1648

At the stroke of 9am, someone shot off a very loud shot gun and we were off, following a police escort through town. The pace wasn't too crazy but soon a large group broke off. I was boxed in behind a large guy and a single speeder spinning his little heart out. When I finally saw some daylight I went into action and bridged up to the back of the group. There was probably 75 riders snaking along. As we approached the parking lot I was dreading the technical section we rode the day before. But to my (and our group's) delight, we rode past the single track and instead went up a very steep service road, known locally as Kill Hill, which it kinda did. I overhead someone say stay to the left, as it was smoother so that's what I did, until a wobbly rider forced me to abandon my line. 

Image courtesy of Sonya Looney
My plan was to stay steady and not cook myself on this hill. Once at the top, we continued on gravel for a while. My bike was not the most efficient on this but I knew she'd pay off in the single track. In fact, my bike hadn't felt great since Syllamo. Something was up with the fork but tuning it before a big race was not a good idea. It was not going through all of its travel despite setting it well below industry standard for my weight. It was rebounding fine but it felt like I was riding an 80 mil fork so some of the technical stuff was a little unnerving. So back to the race, there was enough gravel road to get the heart rate steady before heading into single track, which was a mix of hard, punchy, climby stuff and super flowy, big-ring-swoopy stuff. As much fun as I was having, I kept asking myself when are we going to get that technical lung buster we road yesterday? That thought held me at bay. Not that I would've gone that much faster, but thinking we'd get to that at trail at some point, I kept extra care to keep my HR in check. 

Not sure how soon into the race it was, but Larry came around and was giddy as a kid on a bike. "My kind of trail", he yelled. He was having a blast, which was awesome because he deserved it after a fall/winter healing from a broken collar bone and ribs succumbed from a dumb crash recon riding the Dakota Five-0. I thought if I was up with Larry, then I must be in decent position. 

Adam went by at one point too but I eventually reeled him back in. He was cramping pretty bad and was just trying to hold on. At some point I caught him again. I tried to ride up a technical section a guy was walking. Thinking I had enough momentum to get up the 2 ft ledge, I made a run at it. I stopped mid point, clipped out but the sandy stone had nothing of it. I went down on my left elbow and hip. As I got back up and moving again, I could feel the blood running down my arm. "I ain't got time to bleed". I rubbed it with my glove and after a few times doing that, it pretty much stopped but not before I created a mess on the underside of my arm. Hopefully, it made me look bad ass.

At one point the race went down a two-way road and onto a signature Hartman Rocks loop. I was going back and forth with a guy that was easily 200lbs. He'd fly by on descents and I'd move past him on the climbs. Once we got back to the gravel road, though, I was able to put him behind me for good. However, a woman on an SS took his place. I was in awe. She was moving. We rode together for a few miles. I stopped at one of the few minnie aid stations to fill up again and eat. I asked what was left (still worrying about the craggy climb). "A couple big climbs, Top of the World and The Ridge". I kept on. The SS rider was there. I had to let her by on one technical step up but then went by her when she bobbled next. It was late in the race. My mileage was in the high twenties. I went up and back down what I thought was Top of the World and the Ridge. To my disappointment, I still had to do the ridge. 

Matt Burt: 2013 Growler - Half &emdash; IMGP2992
Images courtesy of Matt Burte

Matt Burt: 2013 Growler - Half &emdash; IMGP2990

The ridge was a progressively technical, progressively steep sliver of single track that required skill, focus and a deep desire to get up as fast as possible and get it over with. Upon entering, I got confused with direction and put a foot down to get my barring. Once on the right path, I charged up and over, up and over and up, up, up. Cliff edge on one side and craggy rocks on the other, focus was key. After a long race to this point, that could be hard for many. A photographer was up there and yelled out "just a couple of rollers and you're done". Well, they weren't exactly rollers but nothing like what I had just ridden. The last bit of the course was the Collar Bone trail we rode the day before. It wasn't as loose as it was yesterday, do to the heavy traffic of the race so I was able to take the wall-high berms faster. On my way down, I saw riders on the main road that we went up at the start and I was worried I had gone the wrong way but as soon as I popped out of the Collar Bone, I could see the finish line area. I let out a whoop and cruised in. Ryan was there with Larry and to my surprise, Morgan and Steve Lomell, former IMBA Trail Care Crew members who stayed with us a couple years ago when they were in town to teach us trail building at Adam's Park. Steve had completed the race so we all were chatting and catching up. Soon Adam rolled in, then Todd (on a big bike no less) and then to all of our surprises, Carly comes across the line only 10 minutes or so after. We were all so excited for her. After a couple of years of JRA on big events, she shows up out of nowhere, totally beating out Colorado riders from every altitude. This is exactly why we bring people with us on our trips. To expose them to places and events they otherwise may not try. Then this happens. A break through ride. A defined moment that tells everyone, including her, that she can actually do this sport and do it well. Helmet off to you, Carly. No looking back now.

Lowlanders unite!
Once the glow of finishing wore off, I got my boo-boo fixed up and we rolled back to the official starting line in town. This is where the ante gets upped. So we turn onto the same street we left earlier that day. We get to the barricades and are forced to dismount our bikes. 

"Are you just finishing?" a woman asks.


"Great. Here is $10 for lunch and do you want a growler or a mug to fill up and here is a can of beer and help yourself to the table of cookies"

Let me get this straight. You are giving us money to buy lunch, a container to go AND a cookie? 


And so that's why I say the Growler has this event dialed. And this was just the FIRST day. They were going to be doing this all over again the next day for the long event! 

Race Swag
So we amble into the food area, in complete shock, trying to figure out how we're going to walk our bikes, carry a full growler of Fat Tire (free of charge) and eat. What to do first? Well, most of the group wanted to get out of their diaper. Larry and I just wanted to take it all in so we filled up our growlers, split a brick oven fired pizza (yeah, made right there in a parking stall) and sat in the sun in complete and utter bliss, amazement, whatever ya want to call it. I felt like a pro getting the royal treatment. They had options for pizza, burritos, deluxe hot dogs, and of course Fat Tire on tap and a massage tent. In the park was a live band. Life could not have gotten any better at that moment. We savored our 'za and had a nice chat with someone who wanted to sit at our table. Then, with half growlers, we rode back to the house to clean up. Everyone was still unclean and hanging out. Good thing we stayed at the venue. 

Matt Burt: 2013 Growler - Half &emdash; IMGP2144
THE Dave Wiens did all of the handing out of prizes.

 Dave Wiens with low landers
We finished up the day at the awards ceremony. Dave Wiens, muti-winner of the Leadville 100 and all around total stud, lead the awards ceremony. Here was this guy who is pretty famous in the mtb world, sitting on the edge of a stage, handing out swag and hand-made awards hand over fist. It took over an hour to get through all of the swag Ergon, Stinger and ProLube could throw at people. And to think he was going to do it all over again the next day! Amazing. Eyberg and Carly both got called up in the raffle so that was good. I caught two hats that were thrown out, which was perfect b/c Eyberg and Ryan were getting awfully pink sitting there. 

One fun noteworthy thing: while we were sitting around hoping to have our name called, Dave mentioned that they do a contest, comparing fastest cities represented at the Growler. He started reading off the top 10: Grand Junction, Golden, and then he paused. "You're not going to believe this: Omaha, Nebraska" When we heard that we all let out a loud whoop. That was awesome. By comparing the two fastest men and top fastest woman from each city, it was the combined times of me, Ryan and Adam that put us in the top 10. Take that, altidudes!

Post ceremony, we walked over to the little Mexican place we were told to go to the last time, we were here and Las Palmas didn't disappoint. Chips, guac, margies all around. It was a meal fit for a small village but we managed to scarf it down easily. Eventually we carried our tired, full bodies back to the house where we chilled out and shared war stories. As the sun started to set, we took a walk over to a small public park next to a raging, narrow river. It was nice to stretch the legs and be out in nature. We skipped rocks and just enjoyed the moment. Talk on the way back was of how could we get a time share here and who's driving to get ice cream. The last of the evening was spent out on the deck devouring our iced desserts. A perfect way to end an already perfect day.

The next day was a planned ride in Crested Butte. Ryan did extensive social media research to make sure trails were rideable. It's amazing that a mere 30 minute drive would take us from high desert type riding to classic Colorado alpine riding.

After a big omelette breakfast at the house, we packed up for a long day on the bike. We pulled into CB's visitor's center parking sometime around 11 am. While we got ready, Ryan confirmed our plans with the visitor's center person. The first ride was up to Snodgrass. That meant a long slog on pavement up to the ski hill, through the resort and out to the hillsides. There were a couple of pretty good wake up and smell the coffee hills that ripped any last remaining power from our already tired legs but the ripen single track that waited for us on the other side would quickly dissolve those feelings into a classic rocky mountain high. We only had to wake across one small snow field. The rest of the trails were ribbons of dirty joy.

We rode back into town after we heard that the lower trails in the area were still muddy from spring run-off. We had to ride on pavement back into town but that was ok. We went back to the van, ate and headed back out in the opposite direction, through neighborhoods and soon up to some pretty popular switchbacks that would lead us to the Upper Loop trail. As we started up, we ran into our friends Steve and Morgan again. They assured us the trails were in great shape. We were excited! As we rode along, we came upon more riders coming at us. Soon the trail went into the trees and was pretty technical. Lots of rock gardens and rooty power climbs. Each switchback was harder than the next. I loves me a challenging climb but today, I didn't quite have the umph I needed. I was still having fun, but the efforts up to this point were catching up with me. Again, riders came at us. I was wondering if we were going the less fun way on this trail. We finally made it the top and were rewarded with some short, tight and loose switchbacks. Yep, we went the less fun way. The trail popped us out onto a gravel road. Off in the distance (a couple miles) we could see a double-track climb. Beleaguered, we wandered on. We only had one day and it was sunny and awesome so what the hell? OMG, that hill was a beast. It went on and on. We finally hit the single track knows as Strand. At a popular resting spot we took pics and stared jealously at the couple who were sitting on a log drinking a beer. Yeah, it was time to get down off this hill. 

At the top of Strand. Thirsty.

The descent was pretty spectacular, gnarly and fun. Probably more so if I wasn't dead ass tired. Requests from Ryan to ride the Upper Upper trail backwards went unanswered. Yep, we were officially cooked. So we took roads and bike path back to town. An unwelcome headwind accompanied us on our ride back, only making us hungrier and more determined to get back. Once back in the parking lot of the visitor's center, we opened the beer cooler and celebrated the double epicness of the day. 35 miles ON TOP of the 35 miles we raced the day before. And not so much as a peep out of them. Todd was climbing on his big bike like he had spent a week at an Italian training camp instead of site seeing. Larry was right there with him or leading him. Adam was like little bunny rabbit cruising around the trails and descending like his life depended on it. You wouldn't know Carly was on a hard tale and hadn't ridden alpine trail before. Ryan and I were very pleased with our fellow travelers. They like to go hard and go long and not complain. Complaining takes energy and we didn't have any to spare.

Once all spit shined, the only thing on our minds was FOOD. And large quantities of it. Since it was late in the afternoon, we weren't sure if the local bike shop, Big Al's Bicyle Heaven, would be open so we swung in there first to pick up some souvenirs. Small world, my office manager knows the owner's parents so I mentioned that to her. She was happy to meet some Omaha locals. 

By this time we were seeing double and on fumes. We walked briskly to the local burrito joint and selfishly, piggishly and with no regard to our dignity, swallowed our 4 lb burritos like a python swallowing a mouse. Afterwards, on their sunny patio we basked in our post burrito, $1 margarita happy hour haze. We finished our tour of CB main street at a local coffee house, finding ourselves again, sitting in the afternoon sun like a bunch of high desert lizards. 

Once back in Gunnison, after taking turns cleaning up, we gobbled up the last of the day's sun on the deck of the cabin. It was an epic day. It was an epic weekend. High desert racing backed with high alpine riding. Carly had a break-through race. Eyberg realized he's not as out of shape as he may have thought. Adam proved he knows how to descend and Larry, literally, is back in the saddle. It brings us an enormous amount of joy to bring our friends to new places; even more, when we can witness their triumphs. These are the days we will look back on with fondness, minus the 16 hours driving across Nebraska.