Thursday, October 9, 2014

Crested Butte Ultra Enduro - Part 2 So Ultra, Brah

Photo Credit Derek Bisset
Let me get on my soap box for second (okay, maybe a minute or two) about The Crested Butte Ultra Enduro, put on by the same folks who run Big Mountain Enduro. This was a race, by every definition. It had timed segments, prizes, and ceremonious recognition. But it was also, by every definition, an adventure. And yes, I'm even going to go so far as to say, an ultra adventure. The 5-day stage race encapsulated everything I would have expected from, say, a high end mountain bike guide service, minus the swanky accommodations (No offense, RF. I love our van!) Because, actually, a guided ride in the high country of Crested Butte was what it was kind of like, except with 150 people, and luckily, all of the same ilk. I say that because, after completing it, I think it took a certain type of athlete with a certain mind-set to do this event. We had to not mind waiting, walking, hiking, carrying, sitting, hoisting, digging, sliding, wet and frozen feet, toes, ass and face, racing blind courses, sometimes without sight lines, or lines at all for that matter, or had mud and rocks and other shit that wanted to take us out (like a sage bush, for instance - more on that later). Sounds just like mountain biking, doesn't it? Which may cause a few nay-sayers out there to say, "I don't need to pay money to do that. I can go out there on my own and ride day after day, on the same tracks". To those people I say this: do it. Oh, and be sure to invite 150 people to do it with you. Make absolutely sure you link together many, many miles of delicious single track because your peeps won't want to do the regular ol' trails. Make sure there are eye-popping views at each top-out, too. That's key. And wait, don't forget to order shuttles to get the riders to and from the start and finishes (who wants to ride flat gravel on a long travel bike?) And don't forget the local coffee and grub in the morning. Oh, heeeell no. You'll have a mutiny. Probably even worse if you forget the porta potties at the start. I know, I know, that wouldn't be super hard core but, you know, your bros are gonna be sitting in their shammies for a good 6 hours and who wants to be behind poopy butt? And the neutral support, please make sure they are ready before everyone arrives from the shuttle ride, with their tents and tool stand set up and a smile on their face. That would be great. I don't care that it's 6 a.m., cold and dark, either. And can you have someone ride ahead to make sure all of the markers are in place so they don't get "really" lost? Nobody wants to call Search and Rescue when they could be downing a beer at the end of the day. Also, be sure the pro photogs are on course in prime spots for the ultra photos, too. And when your bros get down from each mega climb, be sure to have the medics on hand, the neutral support, food, water and snacks so they can continue on happily. Then, and I know this is a big ask, be sure when they all get back to town, that there is a buffet waiting for them and a trailer of beer, on tap. And can you throw in a massage tent and a bike wash? Did you get all of that? Sweet. Have fun. Oh and you only get to spend $125/day per rider to do this.

All sarcasm aside, that's pretty much was how it went down day after beautiful day in, what I consider now, the capital of mountain biking in the US. For me it was like the movie Ground Hog Day. Alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m., get dressed, make coffee, make oats, ride to staging, get on shuttle, drive to single track, walk up for hours, gaze longingly at the views, descend like a raging rinoh, walk up another mountain, take in eye-candy, go back down again, get back on shuttle, return to staging, stuff face, drink heavily, sit, wash bike, tell long tales of the day, high five, return to camp, bathe in pond (or not), eat again, tend to bike, assess weather, go over course profile, repack camel back, gather kit in one spot (front seat), take nap, make dinner, wax poetic about the day, go to bed, toss and turn, pee in the middle of the night (at least twice), gawk at the billions of stars, and then try to get back to sleep before the alarm goes off again. For FOUR days in a row that was our routine! The 5th day was in the bike park so it wasn't as stressful because we brought all of our stuff in the van. But, given the choice, back country every time.

Ryan and I have been on some spectacular trips and no doubt this one is right up there, maybe slightly below five days of riding through California's Redwood forests on our honeymoon. But I have to say, even if you're not interested in racing this event, just traveling to the Crested Butte to ride would be well worth your time. But don't take my word for it. See for yourself.

"With 5,896 feet of climbing and 6,621 feet of descending over 27.4 miles, day one of the Crested Butte Enduro was no prologue. The day began with a two- to three-hour climb up the Crystal Peak Trail, taking riders well over treeline to the Stage 1 start at the top of 12,350-foot Star Pass. From there, Stage 1 dropped Trail 400, a high-speed narrow track plummeting roughly 2,800 feet in 5.9 miles." - Mountain Flyer Magazine
RACE DAY 1 - In Our Element
The first day of this five-day epic started out as one would expect; with us fumbling around, making sure we had everything and never seeming to be ready. We finally pulled away, with about 10 minutes to get there, which seemed like plenty of time, except my dropper post was frozen in the down position. F! No time to stop and dink with it, I stood up the whole ride to the shuttle drop, worried that I'd have to climb thousands of vert folded up on a dropped post. The plunger pushed in but the seat didn't move. Maybe if Ryan peed on it and warmed it up? Nah, that'd be awkward. Just as we pulled into the gravel lot, the shuttles were pulling out. Shit! My class was the first to drop in so I had to get my ass on a shuttle. Luckily, the last ametuer shuttle was still sitting with its door open so we threw our bikes in the moving van, grabbed a cup of joe and found a seat. Ryan did his best to calm my mind about the seat. Worse case, we'd have to manually rase it and leave it up. Crap. 

About fifteen to twenty minutes later we were at the staging area. I was a wreck. I had to go number one AND number 2 AND fix my saddle situation. I stood in line for the porta waiting for the moving van full of carbon to arrive (seriously, the amount of carbon in that town during that event was probably 100 to 1). I saw the bike get taken off but I was one away from sitting on a toilet seat so I did my thing first and then bolted to my bike, said a prayer, and up came the saddle. Oh, happy happy day! Thanking the trail gods, I hopped on my trusty Trek Remedy, checked in with the chip timing chap, Martin, who was British and the perfect guy to wish us jolly good day as we pedaled off into the Great Wide Open.

The start was pretty much like any one of us would start a big day riding with friends. High fives, smiles and we rolled. No gun going off. No elbows. No attitude. It was calm and leisurely. There was a bunch of chatter, people meeting others, finding out what part of the globe we were all coming from. Great stories, laughter and being in the moment is how I'd describe it. You know, like a bike ride with friends! 

The track started out following Brush Creek. We crossed it a couple of times. Getting wet feet early wasn't something I wanted but I was too excited to stop and take my shoes off so I rode through it and kept on. I got in with another group and heard new stories. As the hours ticked by we strung out. Ryan wasn't anywhere around. I just did my thing and soon I was up on a saddle and taking in amazing views. But that wasn't the start line yet. We still had a ways to go and holy smokes it was so steep. Just walking the bike up the final hundred feet up Star Pass was a huge effort. But, oh, the pay off. High speed whoops, fast and flowing in and out of scrub, through trees and grassy hills but always, well almost always, going down, down, down. So what took us hours to ascend was washed away in a matter of a few eye watering, bugs-in-my-teeth, my-face-hurts-from-smiling minutes. And it wasn't easy. We were racing down for better or worse, and it hurt. Breathing deep, riding blind, as fast as we could, on the razors edge between trying to keep rubber side down and pushing ourselves to and sometimes beyond our limits. And what a rush! I can't accurately describe the feeling in digital ink but only to say it was equivalent to driving a roller coaster, except that I couldn't close my eyes. And then to finish and look down to see all of my appendages in place and then share the stoke with the others around me was beyond the price of admission. I could have done without starting with my fork locked out, however, but that's what happens when you've hiked for hours and are distracted by nature porn and having internal discussions with yourself, questioning your sanity or lack-there-of. But in reality, this was where I was supposed to be.

Photo credit: Eddie Clark

Pink Bike's Devon Balet captured just how steep the last grunt was up to the start line.
Start of Stage 1 (see ribbon of trail on right side of photo)

"From the bottom of Trail 400, Stage 2 opened up with another substantial 9-mile climb up Teocalli Ridge Trail. For enduro racers, minimizing energy expenditure on the untimed transfer stages is a key part of the strategy and this scenic route is deceivingly steep and demoralizing at the end of the day...
Teocalli Ridge is one of Crested Butte’s classic routes that has recently been rerouted to give it better flow, and the new route is a fantastic mix of techy, rooty track off the top finishing with a series of switchbacks and flowing trail. It drops from just over 11,000 feet to 9,200 feet in elevation in just 3 miles. " - Mountain Flyer Magazine
After stage one, I mosied on over to the neutral support tent to refill my camelback, lube my chain and eat. I wasn't there long before I made for the trail. I soon came to a fork An arrow on a trail marker pointed down the trail I was on but I could see riders up the hillside on a different trail. Their backs were to me and it was too far to yell after them. I busted out my trusty enduro map booklet and the directions clearly said to go the way I was going. Luckily race director, Brandon Ontiveros, was right behind me and he reaffirmed I was heading in the right direction. I pointed out the riders that were up on the hill. He tried yelling at them but they were too far. Not much we could do so we headed down the road. Brandon decided to make a bigger marker for those behind us. And as it turned out, that was pretty much everyone. Two guys passed me along a lonely but gorgeous double track stretch. They were motoring. Then Brandon caught back up, giving me mad props for being from NE. I gave him mad props for letting us play in his backyard (he's from the area). I took my time. I'd look back from time to time but didn't see anyone so I'd stop and just listen or take pictures. It wasn't until I was high up on a Teocalli Ridge, looking back onto the valley, when I finally saw more riders. The trail would get steep and I'd walk. When it flattened out I'd mount back up. This went on for over an hour until we finally reached the 2nd stage. It was full of tech, berms, in and out of trees with roots and rocks and everything you'd expect from big mountain trails. At the bottom, still high from the rush, we waited for all of the women to finish, getting our stoke on and finding out who had crashed or gone off the trail (like me). One woman was pretty banged up but in good spirits. I know I had a couple PTL (praise the Lord) moments towards the end and managed to not die. Win. 

Long climb up to Teocali Ridge.
Looking back from Teocali Ridge.
Nature Porn
Teocali Ridge
Marketing diva for BME, Sarah Rawley on Stg 2. Photo by Eddie Clark.
Riding back to the start, I sat next to Jennifer Crew, female member of Team RudeBoys hailing from the front range. Again, this format really allows people to chat and get to know one another. I did miss Ryan, though. I wondered what his day had been like and hoped someone was there to high five him when he got down. When we arrived at BME headquarters, beer and a pizza buffet was at the ready. I stuffed my gullet with absolute abandon and all manners of a hungry hyena. Ryan arrived maybe 40 minutes later. It was good to see him and we shared the details of the day. He was a bit parched and tired but had a good day.

After a huge day one, it was hard to believe it was only going to get better. 

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