Friday, October 6, 2017

The Great Wide Open Part 1 - The Whole Enchilada Enduro 2017

Into the great wide open
Under the skies of blue
Into the great wide open
A rebel without a clue...

I've written these words before on a previous blog entry about a trip West but thought it was fitting more than ever to repeat it with the passing of the author & singer, Tom Petty, on October 2. 

RIP, Mr. Rebel.

Aah, Moab, my darling desert. The true Great Wide Open destination. My first taste of "real" mountain biking. It was so good to be back in the dry...

Well...not exactly dry.

The trip back to Moab was just the Hubsboy and I in the #mtbwagon. After a busy summer of group travel, we looked forward to the trip west and camping under the stars. The Whole Enchilada Enduro was back and we weren't going to miss it. The last two attempts were either snow-duro sketch fests or in the case for Ryan, he was injured the first time and couldn't race it, then it snowed the next year up top and it was cray-cray and then the third attempt was postponed a day due to snow up top again and he had to skip it to return home! 

My coach, Jason Hilimire, was also racing. He had been kicking ass in the whole series and was going to race in the desert for the first time. (Yeah, I know). 

So the drive out was pretty much the usual. We stopped at our new favorite overnight spot at Lake Mcconaughy near Ogallala. It's dark and quiet and easy to pull in and get out. We had hoped to get farther than that but dumb ass me forgot my racing shoes so during rush hour, before we actually got of town, we had to go back home. Then we decided we may as well grab some dinner too.

We arrived in Fruita mid afternoon the next day so Ryan could jump on a conference call. While he hung out at the coffee shop I filled up the gas tank, put ice in the cooler and of course swung into Over the Edge! Such a great bike shop. 

On our way out of town, not too far up the highway, we could see the edge of a storm front and it was very dark. As we crested the hill, we drove right into it and the wind about took us off the road. The rain was heavy too. We had to drive pretty slow for a bit but it was over in about 30 minutes or so and we had a bit of blue sky when we finally pulled into Moab. The radar didn't look good though and by the time we were actually in town, it was a monsoon! There wasn't any reason to go to our campsite so we hunkered down in a Mexican restaurant until the rain stopped.

We camped up at Slick Rock (thanks to some local advice). So many of the tent spots were flooded. We saw waterfalls down the rock faces. That was crazy. Now I can see how flash floods start! By the time we found a spot, the rain had died off and we set up our pop up tent so we could keep the table dry and other stuff we didn't want in the van. There wasn't going to be any riding as we could see another band of clouds off to the north so instead we scrambled up the slick rock to see what we could see and I'll be damned if the top of the La Sals where we would begin racing on Sunday were covered in a fresh layer of snow!!! Ryan's jaw dropped. Not again! We hoped, because it was only Thursday, that by Sunday, we be GTG.

The next morning we planned to meet up with Jason who was going to pull in town with enough time to grab the shuttle up to the top. Before we left the campground earlier, I went up on the slickrock again to see the sun rise and to check out the mountains. Yep, more snow! But the rains had washed away the dust of the desert and everything was in it's true hue. The scent from the spruce and sage bushes was intoxicating and it was cool enough to see my breath. I ran around atop the slick rock taking in the sunrise, watching the desert change color from lavender to bright orange. It was a magical start to the day.

But as I was goofing off and discovering the land, Ryan was scurrying around in a slight panic. He noticed one of his rear suspension bolts had fallen out and he was digging through his emergency stash of parts to see if had a replacement. He only had the nut so he thought he could rig something up with a bolt from the hardware store just to get him through the day. I was like, go to the shop. We're in Moab. They'll have extra bolts. We hit up the hardware store first and then when the bike shop opened he went over to ask and sure enough, they had what he needed! The day was saved, but silently I was feeling like the trip was kinda jinxed with first forgetting my shoes, then it being stormy and then his bolt. Oh and he also forgot to bring cold-weather clothes and shoes (forecast had Moab in the 80-90s so...) and I didn't bring any cold-weather socks. 

Because of the snow, the shuttles were only letting us off at the top of UPS. Burro was no go that day. So we spent the day riding the slow tech rocks of UPS and LPS and Jason was stoked to finally be standing at the famous spot where he could look out across the desert valley and see the famed spires and mesas he's only seen in photos. I know the feeling! 

Once down on Porcupine Rim, and almost to the end of the race run, I took a line down a techy area and my front tire washed out and I went over the bars and spraining my right thumb! It hurt so much I had to wait a few minutes to let the adrenaline rush pass. Well, shifting was going to be an issue for sure. I walked down to where they guys were and said I'd need to take it easy. I could barely hold onto the bars and we were a solid 5 miles to town and not just 5 chill miles. More like 5 gnarly miles! But I made it down and we rode back to our cars. 

It was our birthdays that weekend so we decided to eat out to celebrate. I sat at the table with a bag of ice on my thumb. When we got back to camp, Jason had some KT Tape and he looked up how to tape a sprained thumb and had me all taped up in no time. It immediately felt better but I still couldn't bend it much. We spent the rest of the evening around our camp fire, under partly starry skies.

The next morning we decided to self shuttle up to the top. That meant a two-hour round trip retrieval of the vehicle later that day so we had to stay on time in order to make it back for the pre-race meeting.

The overnight was kinda chilly and our bikes had been outside. When I went to push on my dropper, the seat wouldn't go down. Crap! We knew before we left that it probably needed a bleed but we didn't have time so I was going to deal with it. Didn't have any issues the first day so thought it was GTG. So Ryan forced it all the way down and that's where I left it. Yeah, try climbing up steep switchbacks with a slammed seat totally sucked ass but at the same time, my thumb was throbbing so walking was probably a better plan. By the time we reached the top there were a bunch of others also up there so we took some photos and booked it down. I'd like to say I booked it down but the switchbacks at the top were so steep and rutty that I had to hoof it instead. But the track was hero dirt!!! Even the climb up. I couldn't believe it, after all the snow and rain! I was excited for the race! After Burro we rode up to Hazard. SO. MUCH. FUN! The remedy was dialed and I was having a blast despite my thumb. After Hazard we had to decide if it was time to head back down the road or continue on. We decided to do UPS and then cut out to Sand Flats road at the lunch spot. Even doing that I was cooked but it was a wonderful ride down the road and the views were spectacular! I hadn't been that way on bike before and I'm glad we did it. I could just sit and look around for the most part. 

We took the road right down to our campsite. We cleaned up and drove to town to register and also so I could see about my dropper while the boys retrieved Jason's truck. The guys at Chile Pepper totally took care of me. Though they couldn't do a complete bleed, turned out just the lever needed a top off. Black Betty was GTG.

It took a couple hours for the guys to get back to town. In that time I hung out at a local bar sucking down water and getting off my feet. After being inside too long, I rode the main drag and landed at a coffee shop where I could sit outside. Not too long there before I got a call that Jason was on his way. We barely had enough time to return to camp to eat and then back to the pre-race meeting, which we probably could have skipped, but you never know with the weather, etc if anything had changed.

We prepped for the race in the dark. I think Jason overhauled his fork like twice while RF and I got our packs ready. Per usual, I didn't sleep much.

The shuttle to the top was leaving by 6:30a.m. In mountain town time, that could vary 15-30 min. We got there before most of the racers so we could get a good parking spot and do any final prep in the lot. We loaded up on a nice, new and warm shuttle. It lulled us all to sleep until we hit the washboard gravel around 11,000 feet that shook our coffee-stricken bladders even more than necessary. We were the 1st shuttle to arrive in our group but not the first at the top. Luckily there wasn't much of a line for the ONE bathroom and I jumped right into it, dancing in place to try to stay warm. The sun was shining and it was going to be a killer of a day! 

And so we began our trek to the top. I had to keep my hand on top of the handle bars to keep from banging against my thumb. The air was cool but not much wind. By the time we reached the top most of the pros were there and most of the former pros and bros. There were only a few of us women. 

The line was not moving very fast to drop in. After the pros went, folks were just kinda standing around so I jumped in line. I just wanted to get it over with. I told the timer I needed a lot of time before the next guy b/c I had to run the switchbacks and luckily they gave me that. I didn't see the first guy until the bridge crossing and then they came in droves every few minutes. I prayed for everyone's sake they would yell out well in advance and they did for the most part. Later there was some grumbling about me not getting out of the way in time of the first guy but I was crossing a wet wood bridge so fuck him. I told him so, leaving out the Fbomb. For the most part the track was tacky but once we started criss crossing the creek it was super muddy and many of the rooty spider web drops were just too much for me and I walked a few places. Rocks I can handle. Wet roots...not as much. But I made it down to the the bottom in one muddy piece and was on my way to stage 2. It was a pretty ride, the aspens starting to turn. I was able to get a few pedal strokes through the "golden canape of happiness" as I've been known to call it. 

Before heading up the climb to stage 2 I stopped and hit the porta potty and overheard a guy talking to a medical personnel about his crash. I felt bad for him as he seemed really stoked to be racing.

At the start of Hazard, it's wide open. The wind whips but the views are stunning. You have the La Sals on one side and the Moab Valley on the other. Ridiculous! When it came my turn, I was humming along a good clip. The start is rather fast with some little rock gardens and kickers and then it gets rocky pretty much the rest of the way with fast, blind corners that have sniper rocks that kill the momentum but since it's primarily downhill, you get it right back. At one particular rock garden where the rocks are very big, I chose to go around them rather than through, which was close to the edge of the thick brush that hugged the trail. Well, I got too close and caught my handlebar and down I went. Ended up twisting my bars enough that I had to straddle the wheel and give it a good yank. Once I was back on the bike, the pinky on my left hand was starting to talk to me (oh and btw, my right thumb wasn't hurting as much as it was the day before so was super stoked on that). After a couple close calls I finally made it out of Hazzard and got into XC mode and stomped up the Kokopelli trail to LPS. I got caught on that section and almost caught back but it wasn't meant to be. I told myself to race my race. The course was technical enough! I did have a few victories, making it up one techy feature I hadn't been able to and even getting some props from the girl in front of me who had to walk it.

But overall, I felt slow. Actually, I felt like it was day 3 of a multi-day enduro. My quads burned from too much riding prior to the race and I had to sit a lot. But there wasn't any time to doddle on the situation so I just put it out of my mind. 

After getting down some of the trickier parts (the Snotch is not for the faint of heart, riding nor walking) without hurting myself, I just tried to keep it all together. I wouldn't say I was falling apart but I was definitely not really riding super hard. 

The end of Stage 2 was a the famed lunch spot. There were snacks and energy food to eat and so I took a short break to fuel up, pee and get my focus back. There was a long transfer to Stage 3 so I took my time, even stopping once to take in the view and contemplate how lucky I was to see what I get to see and do what I get to do. There was no wind at that moment and I didn't hear so much as a bird chirp. I was in my own world feeling blessed and energized. 

Onto Stg 3 and home.

Nobody passed me on the transfer and I arrived with only one person in line. Soon I was off, racing down the Porcupine Rim, scanning for lines, seeing where other racers had been and trying to stay out of harm's way. I couldn't believe how well my thumb was handling this bumpy-ass jeep road! I was able to ride most of the track and took a different line where I crashed two days before. I rolled across the line but it was rather somber. There wasn't anyone around but the timekeeper and a couple other riders. They took off down the single track and I was again alone. Though I know my way by now to the bottom, it's still very dangerous and is better done with others in case of a fall. But I didn't have that luxury this time and didn't take any risks. Instead, I took pictures and marveled at the sight of history on display. I could only imagine the energy it took to break the earth in such violent ways. From chaos come beauty and I tried to see all of it on the ride down.

Finally at the bottom, again, there wasn't anyone around, so I motored on towards town on the paved trail. I stopped at the chip timer station to get scanned so they knew I was off the dirt and safely heading back to town. By the time I made it, Jason and Ryan were already out of their gear and hanging out.  I quickly got out of my diaper and into some less smelly and dirty clothes so we could go feed our face at the Moab Brewery. Those french fries tasted awesome.

Soon after were awards right there in the Chili Pepper parking lot. There was only one other in my age group and b/c of my crash, I lost by 30 seconds. No big deal. I won that stage but it killed my overall time. I walked away with some swag and some great memories (and two sore hands - by then my left hand was really hurting and starting to bruise. I figured I must have caught my pinky on the same branch that took me out). Both Ryan and Jason got on the podium too. A little redemption for Ryan for sure! With a long drive for all of us, we said our good byes and we were on the road - Jason to home and us to Vail where we'd stop for a bite at a local bar/grill and then to a campground we found a few years ago off the highway.

The night was much cooler than in Moab. We bought some firewood from the hosts who were huddled in their truck, powering their phones. We got a good fire going and kept hearing sticks crunching in the woods, kinda freaking us out. 

The next morning, as we stood at the back of the van drinking coffee, I thought I saw a dog come running into our campsite. It was still dark and we had on our head lamps but after focusing the light, it turned out to be a medium sized fox. It just sat there waiting to be fed, like a dog would sit. It was amazing! It stayed for at least 5 min or more, just far enough away to escape yet close enough in case we gave it some food, which we didn't. 

Nature is such a gift but it can also be our worst enemy. Like anything these days, it's temporary. Maybe more so than ever. That's why it's important for us to do what we do and not take it for granted. And when nature or ourselves aren't perfect, understand that things will get better but sometimes we just have to deal with what's in front of us and not think about anything beyond the moment we're in. That's why we love going into the Great Wide Open. It teaches us about ourselves every time we go. And that truly, if it's the mountain we're conquering outside of us or inside, the sky is the limit.

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