Our annual trip west was in jeopardy. Nobody could make the usual week long trip. But after much wearing down, we finally got Larry Kintner (aka Hard Core Harlan, aka HC) and Jeremy Cooke (aka JC) to come along. The hook: we promised they could race. Seriously. That's what it took to get both these dirt heads to the Mother Land. Who woulda thunk? But that was just fine for the hubs and I as we like to rise early only to come home hungry, tired and dirty. JC and HC didn't disappoint.
With five bikes (yeah, RF had to bring two, but it turned out to be a life saver) and gear for a small army, we headed out in the Suby (aka Pearl) to the high desert. We left on a Wed. afternoon. RF cashed in some points for a swanky hotel in Denver, near the airport, to grab Jeremy. He changed his work flight leg to land in the Mile High city instead of Omaha. Nice. We really suffered with 1/2 price drink coupons at the bar, feather top beds, and a breakfast buffet that rivaled any Denny's. Aah, the life of a dirt bag.
We were up early and on the road Thursday morning. Little did we know what waited for us. Spring in the mountains always makes for an interesting drive. We were already inching along in our loaded down fun mobile. Snow and slush didn't help. After passing through the Eisenhower tunnel, ice and slush blanketed the road. Ryan did a great job keeping us ON the road. Can't say that for the many folks we saw turned around on the shoulders or worse, getting winched up by a tow truck. Seems a storm hit the morning commute just before we arrived. (Good thing we kept hitting the snooze).
Once we got down, it was time for a coffee stop and to give us a chance to unhinge our fingers from the door handles. It was a bit chilly and the trees were blanketed with fresh snow fall. HC and JC's bikes were covered with slush and sand that had kicked up from the road. But we assured them by the next stop, they'd be dry. And sure 'nuff, by the time we hit the wide open ranges of western CO, you'd never would have known we went through the remnants of a snow storm.
By early afternoon on Thursday, we pulled into Fruita. Yep, looked the same. We dumped everything that wasn't bike related, stopped at the local bike shop to get maps and were off to "spank some shred with the raddest savages in the settlement." (Wish that was my quote. Got it from the May issue of Mountain Bike that I read on the drive out). It took all of 5 minutes to unload bikes and gear and get on trail. Our plan was to hammer the trails at the Loma Exit: Mary's Loop, Horse Thief then onto Mac Ridge. Thirty miles and thirty smiles. It was a grand way to end a day. But all was not perfect. My rear hub starting talking to me at the end of our ride. When I would coast, it sounded like a stick was rubbing against my tire tread. Just great! Shop was closed when we went into town. Ryan, you brought two bikes, right? :)
That night eats were at the locally famous pizza shop, The Hot Tomato. HC is the pizza king of the midwest, so it was a no brainer stop. But we had a surprise waiting for us, too. The guide from our honeymoon mtb trip was working there in between tours, and as luck would have it, she was there and she hooked us up in a big way. Not just drinks. Oh, no. Her tour guide hat was on when she heard about our wheel troubles. "I'll just take it to the shop for you in the morning. I'll make sure it gets done." Hello! Then we told her about our idea to hit The Ribbon Trail and then drive to Moab to hike to Arches.
Lieb: "Hmmm, big commitment. You'll need to be on trail early".
Rox: "Do you know a shuttle service in GJ?"
Lieb: "No, but you can use MY TRUCK!"
Rox: "Shut up. Really"?
Lieb: "I don't need it. Bring back your wheel and take my truck. Then you don't have to bother with either in the morning and you can get going."
Angels were singing, I was pretty sure of it.
Done deal. And all it cost us was a bottle of pinot. Mountain bikers rule.
Friday morning we were up early making oatmeal and coffee on the Jet Boil. A little chill in the air to make it seem like we were roughing it, although our sleeping cabins in the local RV Park were pretty posh. Oh, yeah and having a local coffee shop in town to refuel for the drive really was the cat's meow. We drove a few miles to Grand Junction to drop off the truck at the parking lot where we'd end our ride. Known locally as the Lunch Loops, it's the local playground for lunch time rides. No fair.
Our ride started at about 5000 feet on the trail known as The Ribbon
. It's like a really large slick rock parking lot, tipped on edge so you don't need to pedal. It's a couple blocks wide so you can do wide, sweeping turns, like skiing. It's pretty crazy. And the view of the Book Cliffs is ridiculous. From the angles of the cliffs in the distance, you can just imagine the violent uprising that created these rocky crags. Breathtaking. As HC said, it was like being IN a postcard. We played in the parking lot for a bit but then made our way down. Literally. Since none of us were sporting the necessary 8" travel bike, we had to portage off the the lot and down to the next "level", which again is much like the parking lot only it's in a narrower canyon, and that's where the name Ribbon came from because you can see the ribbon of single track that's been layed down by oodles of tires over the years.
Once at the bottom, we traversed a spring bed and then had to hike a bike up a short cliff face to the road. From there we jumped on a new trail called Eagle's Wing (one of Ryan's favorite). It's doable but there are some hike-a-bike sections for those who like their skin intact. Once past those pucker huckers, the trail was flowy and swoopy as it gently took us back to our starting point. But the day had just begun. We refueled, hit the head and was out again. This time to RF's beloved trail Holy Cross. For those of us that are technically challenged, I like to call it Holy Crap. There's no exposure like up on Eagle but it's pretty technical "bouldering" type riding. Good times. Lots of woo-hoos were heard. We all made it back relatively unscathed. While RF and HC went to fetch Pearl at the top of the Ribbon, JC and I were delightfully entertained by a British dude on vacay, living out of his rented Dodge Caravan, telling us about his travels in the US. And just like in the movies, he excused himself for tea and sandwiches. Fine gentlemen, indeed.
Alright, so back to the action plan. So we zipped back to "camp" and cleaned up for our drive to Moab. We had to make it before sundown so that we could watch Delicate Arch change colors. Unfortunately, it was over cast. We took the long way into Moab, through Monument Valley so the newbies' jaws could drop at the site of the marvels of the area. No time to stop for photos, our hope was that we gave them a taste enough to want to come back for a longer stint. That week just so happened to be National Parks week, so entry was FREE into Arches National Park. Saaaweet! So Ryan and I played tour guide as we drove into the park, pointing out formations and factoids. Yeah, nerds, right?! We finally made it to Delicate Arch's parking lot where we started the pilgrimage to what I consider the holy grail of the arches (but I haven't seen them all). Ryan took me here the first time I visited Moab, so it's kinda special for us to bring folks knowing that their faces are going to melt off when they see this thing and get right up to it. Like I said, it was overcast, but that was a good thing in a way. The bastions of people that are normally hogging the rim of the bowl that surrounds the arch was virtually empty. Barely a shutterbug in sight, so we could move about as we wanted. By the time we were ready to go, there were maybe a dozen people there besides us, so it was nice and calm. Not the most scenic or spectacular, but definitely more zen. It was good.
To top off the quick Moab experience, we kinda did the touristy thing and went to the Moab Brewery. Their food is good, you get a lot of it, but it's a busy place. There was an antique car show in town, and unbeknown to us, as we drove down Main St, we ended up smack in the middle of a parade. Well, probably more like cruising, but with people lining the streets. Nutso! Luckily our wait wasn't long to get in the restaurant and before we knew it, we were stuffed little piggies. I think I was the only one who didn't nap on the ride back (b/c I was driving). :)
Saturday was spent local. We took our time that morning. We went in town for coffee before registering for the race and I picked up my wheel. All good. Just needed to be cleaned out. Nice. Their mechanics are studs. (More on this later). First stop for the flatlander crew was Rabbit Valley and to scope out the race course for HC and JC. But my favorite trail, the White Rim, is where we were actually headed. Just so happened, we were racing on it too. But, we didn't know that until we got out there and saw how the course was flagged. We rode it how we always do, which is flowy and fun and not much pedaling, allthewhile trying to think about having to ride up it for the race. We ended up riding the entire Cat 2 loop backwards before heading back into town. Our plan was to do that and then hit Road 18 but Ryan's rear wheel started doing the exact same thing mine did the day before, so we hurried back to the shop to see if it was a repair that Ryan could do with some advice. Seemed luck was on our side. The shop was empty of customers (well, duh, they were out riding) so the repair stands were open too. The mechanic studs I mentioned earlier showed Ryan how to fix the problem. They still did it but Ryan was able to watch and ask his million questions. By the time it was fixed, we were growing weary and were ready to call it a day. RF was disappointed not to ride til the sun went down, but the next day was race day and we needed to get ready. And good thing we did, too. Suddenly everyone had problems with drive trains, and breaks. Even Ryan's wheel, the one that had been repaired, has a loose spoke that went undetected. It was completely out of the hub and it being a Mavic, he needed a special tool to fix it. It was 15 minutes to close. Larry and I jumped in Pearl and drove to the shop. I thought they are not going to be happy with me, coming in at 15 min. before close with a wheel in hand. But to my surprise, one of the mechanics jumped from his perch and asked how he could help. No prob. We were out the door in ten minutes. Sweet. Just enough time to run to the liquor store around the corner and snag a sixer for the gent. I shook his hand and said thanks. Total rockstars! The rest of the night we prepped for the race, glad we didn't try to ride. Race fuel was pizza at Pablo's, outdoors, with a desert sunset on top. Dude.
Sunday, race day. JC was up at the crack of dawn. No snooze button for this cat. His race started at 10 so he wanted to be on site at 8:30. While they all went for good coffee in town, I stayed back and played camp host, making fuel-ladened oatmeal, complete with berries and nuts. It was heavenly.
We had packed the car and bikes the night before so we just had to get dressed and role. We made it with time to spare. The parking lots were jammed with every 4WD vehicle and every type of carbon, aluminum, full squish, rigid, SS...you name it, people were on it. But if you ask me, nothing was below a few grand. It was kinda sickning. We set up base camp and JC got himself ready.
Soon he was off. About 30 some in his age bracket blew off the start line. He looked strong. Once he was off, the rest of us just chilled out. Our race didn't start until noon, so we had a couple hours to blow off. We just watched the people come and go and looked at all the bikes. After an hour we slowly got geard up and began the pre-race rituals. Fuel. Food. Hydration..."Hmmm, it's hot. I'm not going to carry a camelback," I thought. "I'll just put some electrolyte pills in my Heed. That should do the trick". Wow, I'm going to the bathroom a lot. Sweet. I'll be all flushed out by race time. 32 miles and I won't have to go at all. I'm thinking this as I'm standing in line for the toilet. Then here comes Jeremy.
Roxy: Hey, how'd it go?
JC: Good. Well, except for the crash. And, well, racking myself. That wasn't so fun. But at least I didn't get DFL!
I continued my warm up. Getting butterflies. Ohp, gotta hit the head again. Geez, what's the deal? About 45 minutes before our start, I'm throwing away a gel pack and a race official tells me the Cat 1 race is delayed from noon to 12:45. Great! There goes my whole pre-race nutrition/hydration plan. So I headed back to the car. The boys already knew about the delay, so they were chillin in chairs. Jeremy was recovering, eating everything that wasn't glued down. So I sat my ass down and waited. Doh, gotta go to the bathroom. Hmmmmm.
Finally, it was time to line up. My class, Cat 1 40+ ladies, were DFL. Yep, the trail sweepers. Save the best for last, right? Heat after heat left the start line. Soon it was just us and the thought of 32 miles. Ready, set, go! We stampeded off the line. At the first bend in the road, about 50 feet away was a giant mud puddle. I was set up on the right on purpose. After watching earlier racers shower themselves with mud, I made sure to set up on the opposite side. The first hour was all wide BLM roads. Wide open. We were racing into the wind, so it was key to jump on a train to limit energy use. I was in about 8th (of 14) going into the first climb. After, I was about 5th. When the next one came, I found myself in 3rd, trying to bridge the gap up to a team of two riders. Nobody came with me so, as usual, I was in no man's land. I never did catch them because soon enough, the trail went downhill and Colorado girls know how to go downhill! Gone! But it wasn't long before the first big, rocky climb brought them back in sight. Up, up, up... Lots of wind. Some random rider chick was out there and we went back and forth. Didn't know if she was testing herself or what the deal was. Getting around a non-racer was kinda annoying but then she'd pass me too. It was just odd.
About 40 minutes into the race my stomach started talking to me. "Hmm, that's not right," I've had the feeling before at the Fire Cracker 50 and it's not a good sign. But I'm riding hard and my legs feel good. Nobody had passed me but the "unknown rider". Around the same time I started feeling crappy, I started picking off younger Cat. 1. HA, take that 35 year old cute, colorado girly. Eat my dust. My goal was to eat up as many riders as I could before the long climb up to the West Water Mesa. It was a granny gear climb, with loose rocks and crags that could steer your bike wether you wanted it to go that way or not. I passed a few walkers and finally caught one of the two ladies I had tried to bridge up to at the start. She was walking. Ha. Pedal. Breath in. Pedal, breath out. I did this over and over and over, not looking at the top. A few pedal strokes after I past the girl, I spun out on a rock. I dismounted feet from the top. One other rider went by (the winner from last year). So I ran up the remaining part of the climb and grabbed a water hand up. I knew the extra electrolytes I put in my Heed were causing problems so I was hoping straight water would help. I tossed out the bottle I was using and tried to put in the one I was given, which was much bigger. With my small frame, not all bottles will fit. So I had to stop and make sure it would fit before I took off and left my smaller bottle. In that time, the woman who passed me was gone and then the one I passed on the climb went by me as well. That's enough of that, I thought. I jumped on the bike and was on the chase. I stayed with her for most of the way but then when things started going downhill, she was nowhere to be found. Damn mountain goat! So up on the Mesa, the trail is part of a motor cross area. Rutty, rocky and energy sucking single track in between small whoopties was the battle zone. Oh, yeah and the head wind had kicked up a notch at that elevation. I did manage to catch a younger Cat 1 rider so we rode together a bit. At one point I saw the two women that passed me at the water station, which gave me some extra mental energy but it was short-lived. A no-choice hike a bike loomed before me. I had lots of practice from the days prior so this was nothing. I shouldered the bike as long as I could to avoid lifting and pushing over rocks. When I started to ware down, I set it down and quickly scrambled up the remaining trail. My heartrate was at red line and the knot in my gut was burning and I still had another 10-12 miles of intense, fast descents and power climbs, followed by the single track on the White Rim trail. My mental armor was cracking.
After finally coming down from the Mesa, I made it to the start of the White Rim portion. Mind you, this trail is normally ridden the other way so all the fun, short descents become very tough climbs. I made some of them but others had step ups that I couldn't manage. On this part of the trail, I was caught by three racers in my Cat. One got away. I stayed with two. The fireball in my gut wouldn't let me get my heart rate up any higher than 165 so chasing down anyone was suicidal at twenty miles out. So I hung onto the wheel of the two ladies until we got to the less steep single track of the rim. One of the ladies would continually slow down and sometimes stop if there was even a low step up. I thought it was some kind of strategy. They weren't on the same team, but they were from the same state. Finally, on an open section I got by her. She gave me a shout out but I think it was more of a warning to the racer in front of her. I hung on the next woman's wheel. She was breathing pretty hard. I was stable at around 162bpm. And after having ridden the trail the day before, I knew an open section was coming up and planned my next attack. In one of the apexes of the canyon, the trail opened up wide on slick rock. I stood up and hammered out enough strokes to get me to the hole shot on the other side first. My stomach had much to say about that effort so I backed it down. Way down. Just ride, I thought. Some recreational riders were on course, cheering us on. That was cool. I never did look out at the view.
My goal was to get in under 3 hours. At 2:45 or so, I was back to the out and back section of the course. There was one particular power climb we played on the day before, trying to figure out how to get up. I failed any attempts that day but this day was a new day. It was a power climb up a rocky, sandy road with no defined line. At the top was a step up you had no choice but to huck up to the top. I took a wide line, essentially riding it like a switchback, leaving me parallel to the top step until I had a straight-on line to a step up. I jammed my pedal down, pulled up on the handlebars, kicked up the back as hard as I could. Holy shit, I landed on my saddle and pedaled away. Hot Damn! And I caught a rider who had to hike up the last step. Mental fuel injection. Check. Okay, time to turn on the after burners. I had 15 minutes left of sandy, wide open service roads and sandy, ATV trail with two long climbs and big ring descents. After the first hill I thought for sure I was going toss my cookies. I was chilly and knew I was in trouble. So I calmed my heart rate down and felt instantly better. A couple descents and the next climb. This one was a switch back with rocks all over the place. I slowly picked my way up, staying in granny, so that my heart rate wouldn't spike. I got up it without issue. At the top I could see the parking lot but I still had one more steep but short climb. Thankfully, it was downhill to the bottom of it. I ratcheted up the speed and went as far as I could until I had to gear down. Then I hear, "GO, ROXY". It was JC, taking pictures of the living dead as we powered up the last climb. Once past him it was all down hill ATV. I put in the big ring and powered it home. 2:55 and some change. I did it. I made my goal and I kept my cookies down. But I didn't feel good at all. Once across the line, I stopped pedaling and unclipped. I stood over the bike, my head hanging over the handle bars, just in case. I couldn't breath. It was like I had a bad cramp and I couldn't take a deep breath. Ryan and Larry were right there cheering at the finish line but upon seeing my face, knew I needed some instant me time. Eventually, I remounted and clicked down the gearing to spin back to the car. I was so glad it was over. My stomach was more glad.
Out of 14, I managed 5th. That was alright with me, considering. About the same as last year, even though the course was 4 miles longer. Out of all the Cat 1 women, I was 7th. Woohoo. Let's eat.
So, team Flatlanders finished well. Nobody hurt themselves too bad and no bikes were injured in the making of an epic race (considering the repairs that were done the night before). Luck was on our side. We rolled back into town and cleaned up. There was only one choice for chow: Fiesta Guadalajara. Ryan and I go there every year and we always seem to get the same waiter. No different this time. The guy knew how to serve bikers: he kept the chip bowl full, the margies cold and brought the food out pronto. We sat outside and talked about the race. Nobody else was on the patio even though the restaurant was packed. What's the deal with that? We enjoyed our own private party. Just us, the desert sky and memories of earned smiles.
Some photos were taken by me
and some by Jeremy