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.

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

Team Geronimo did a great write up of the event.

1 comment:

  1. Congrats Rox and Ryan, looks like a blast, and looks like you kicked some ass in the process. I really enjoy reading these stories and your both great ambassador's to the sport. Jeff Bergen


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