Thursday, October 30, 2014

BT EPIC 2014

As my blog says, the difference between try and triumph, is just a little UMPH! This has nothing to do with winning but more truthfully about having the audacity to try.

The hus-boy and I have been to many events and the hospitality that gushes from the dirty south is second to none. Though the Berryman Trail Epic still has its growing pains, the promoters' hearts are 100% in the right place. Everything from a ripping track, to smoked meat, to a swelling swag table, to a 4 alarm bon fire makes this event one not to miss. Factor in phenomenal fall foliage that would make Bob Ross cry and you get my drift. Epic is indeed the proper use of the word, in this case.

The MTBWGN crew changed up a bit this trip. We had one of the Todds, (Eyberg, to be exact), Larry, the Stoll's and also a couple newbies: Mark Sullivan and Bryan Black. Eric O'Brien, who's been on one other trip, was new to this race. We were stoked. Nine friends, nine bikes and the open road, leading us to some of the best laid track in the Ozarks. I'd be hard pressed to find a better way to end a race season.

As I stated before, the people involved in this race, from the promoters to the Bass Resort staff are absolute salt of the earth folks. They'd give you the shirt off their backs, or the chain out of their Super Duty. I'm not sure where else one could get a personal greeting and escort after arriving late, which is exactly what happened to Eric. Since he couldn't miss work, he arrived well after dark Friday night. As soon as he pulled up, he was greeted by name by the security guard and night shift clerk (which kinda freaked him out a little). Then the guard gladly escorted him to the cabin which was necessary because we missed the sign for it in the daylight! (I even made a paper plate sign and stuck it into a cairn next to the road in hopes he'd see it). We were very glad to hear his extra sarcastic voice early the next morning. And he let us know just how early it was too. :)

Lucky for all, the weather was palpably perfect. It was sunny and warm when we arrived mid-morning on Friday. We checked into our cabin that was about 1.5 miles from the start line. It had a wrap-around deck and slept like 20 people. Everyone would have a bed, except Eric, who, again, would let us know all about it. After unloading, we hit the trail for a final shake down. This year's course had some changes to it, so we rode the last loop to get a sense of the terrain and the finish. Sometimes these shake down rides reveal hidden issues, like the fact that Mark didn't have any Stan's left in his tires, so when he got a flat and it didn't seal, he was stuck with a tube for the rest of the ride. Luckily for him, he's with Ryan and Adam, who carry enough of the stuff for a small team. They hooked him back up with tubeless and he was ready for any kind of terrain. 

After the pre ride, we headed over to packet pick up. This is always an interesting segment, watching the two promoters (who are clearly very good buddies) try to manage all of the details of a registration table. They even said we should know better than to be the first ones to register. As we stood in line while they worked through it, one of their dogs, a massive bull dog, took a liking to Larry's legs. He became a human salt lick and it was just hilarious. The dog went person to person and when he got to me, I jumped up onto a picnic table, which triggered the owner to call him back. I wasn't going to let this thing near me. 
Once we were all finally registered, we headed back to the cabin to relax. We fiddled with bikes, made dinner, and hung out on the deck until it was time for bed. Though the day went great, I could tell I was getting Ryan's cold and it stressed me out. I didn't sleep much (which is normal for me before races). Add on top the anxiety of being sick and I was definitely not in REM mode. I didn't hear Eric arrive but when I got up to pee he was just getting settled in. Everyone was accounted for. 

Race morning was full of energy and jokes. Though the sun was long from rising, we were all up getting our feed on. Eric's version of the personal welcoming committee put aside the stress of the day for a short while. Around 7am a few of us lit out for some warm up riding on a foggy back country road where we passed an old cemetery and meadows steaming against the morning sun. It was uncharacteristically warm. Usually we were in a few layers while we warmed up but this time I was in my summer kit and one base layer and a vest. Perfect. After a few tempo efforts and some spin ups, we headed back to the cabin for one last pee break and removing of unnecessary layers. We took our time heading to the start line, noting anything on the gravel road that would hinder our forward momentum come race time. When we got to the start line, it was pretty calm. Nobody was lined up and many were still milling about or spinning up the road. I took a last spin and a couple more bathroom breaks before taking my place near the start line. I was about 4-5 rows back from the front. I could see many other women but later I would find out I did not see them all.

There wasn't much to the mandatory pre-race meeting except that we should just follow the leaders b/c they knew where they were going. Then the gun went off, sort of. It was about 2 seconds late. The front lines stood up and charged like a wild stampede. This start is a killer. It rolls nicely down the paved road for about 1/4 mile and then onto gravel which is mostly up hill. With my heart rate pegged, I made my way through the pack. Ryan was close enough to me to give me a couple of pushes (which he was called out for). By the third one, I had to tell him to stop, for fear of seeming like I was cheating. I saw a few women by the time we started climbing and then I didn't see any. Maybe I have the hole shot for the ladies? It was hard to say. Ryan disappeared somewhere in the cloud of dust and adrenaline and it was just me and 349 of my closest friends. 

The track was as dry as it's ever been. Loose and very leaf covered, which was typical, so going into corners hot, you just had to hope there wasn't something evil ready to take you out. Riding in the Ozarks is incredibly fun. The track was a continuous roller coaster, hugging the hills and pushing us into the corners that would turn us upward or down. There was never a dull moment and rarely a flat stretch. When there was, it was usually at the bottom of a ravine. 

I hit the first aid station around mile 11 in a train of guys who pushed me a bit harder than I would have gone had I been by myself. I hadn't seen any other ladies but the ghost of them were in my ears. Every rider that came up behind me, I feared was Laureen, who handedly beat the tar out of me all spring down in Arkansas. Finding out that she placed 2nd at 24-hour Nats this summer only added to that fear. She obviously has an engine that doesn't know how to quit and a temper for pain that I have never breached. Laura Scherff was also someone I had to keep an eye on at all times. She was right there at the start. Just because I passed her on the road didn't mean anything. These ladies know how to ride single track and ride it well. They hail from these areas and rock riding is as second nature to them as walking. It was going to take more than just skill to beat them. It was going to take a lot of UMPH!

The trains I jumped on for the next hour helped me stay steady. Some I jumped on to calm me down and others I jumped on to push the pace. When I reached the Berryman Campground, aid 2, at about 25 miles in, Jenni Stoll said I was about 3 minutes back from the lead woman. And it wasn't Laureen. It was somebody she hadn't seen before. I got everything swapped out and with a big push from Jenni (so awesome) I was locked and loaded for the next 18 or so unaided miles. 

This was the most fun part of the race. The track, leaving the campground, descends more than it climbs. A guy jumped on my wheel and we weaved in and out and up and down. My newly sharpened descending skills were really coming in handy here. I was looking farther ahead and setting up for corners so I could keep up speed through them. I came upon Larry who was riding steady. A steep step up (and cramps) forced him off. I too unclipped and the guy on my wheel went around. I went ahead after him but backed off only to be joined by a guy who had been on my wheel earlier. To my surprise, within about 20 minutes, I came upon two riders who seemed to be just riding along. One of them had a ponytail and was tall. Was it two dudes or was this the female leader? I stayed back about a bike length. The one with the ponytail looked back. That's right, you've been caught. I can't say they stood up and pounded but holy crap were they riding strong. They were comfortably kicking my ass on the climbs but once the track went down, I was right back on their wheels. On one corner the lead guy washed out and told the woman to go. So it was me, her (Lisa is her name) and my shadow cruising along. Every time she put two bike lengths on me when the track pointed up, I'd gain it back when we went back down. The guy behind me even said "You can descend faster than her!" But that wasn't the problem. The problem was I was burning a ton of matches on the climbs and techy bits. My heart rate was in the high 170s. I had to back off before it exploded but it turned out I didn't have to. We came around a corner and the track went down into a washed out, rooty crevice that was probably wheel deep. As she went into it, something stopped her front wheel and slammed her to the ground. Unfortunately, I had no place to go but on top which didn't work out any better. I went over the bars too and flipped over. By the time I opened my eyes, I was on my back, on Lisa, one foot still clipped in, hearing dudes yelling back that riders were down. With adrenaline coursing through my body, I squirmed to get my foot out of the pedal. I managed to stand up. My neck was stiff but otherwise everything seemed alright. We both asked about each other's condition and when it seemed we were both fine, I spun my wheels, checked my brakes and hopped back on the bike. I soft pedaled for a short while, making sure the bike was working, I was working. I took a few sips of water, taking note of the pain coming from my right index finger. "Gonna probably lose a nail", I said out loud. I saw the wheel hugger up ahead and easily got up to him. He was great about asking me when I wanted to pass and he always made an extra effort to make it easy. This would be the last time I passed him because that was when I began a strong effort to put some distance between Lisa and I. I had no idea if she was still riding or not. But I figured if she was, after a crash like that, she'd be spooked and probably riding with some hesitation on the descents. So what did I do? I smashed them. I smashed it to the bottom of each one. And not just because of Lisa. I probably lost 3-5 minutes getting myself together after the crash and that was 3-5 minutes closer for Laureen and Laura too.

I finally sensed I was near what was the end of the single track in last year's race. I knew there was a long service road climb back up to the gravel. I knew there would be a long stretch of up and down gravel and some new portion of single track, that would pop us back down on the road we started on that morning. What I didn't know was how much climbing there would be in this new section. All of the effort in the last section after Berryman, the crash and gaining back some time was going to cost me. The question was, when was it going to be time to pay up!

As I rode the gravel, I kept looking back to see if anyone was on my tail. Ahead was one lone rider, so I focused my effort to reel him in while trying to put down some nourishment. I caught him about a half mile before turning back into the trees. The climbing was starting to hurt. My pace, though steady, had to come down. I still had close to twenty miles left in the race! This new section was messing with my head. I started getting sloppy and riding like crap. The guy on my wheel didn't want to pass. We got passed a few times, which worried me because I didn't get passed much the last 30 miles. I was obviously slowing down. Fucking burnt matches! I tried eating and drinking to catch up but my stomach wasn't playing that game. It was mocking me. "You chose to starve me, so, starve then!" Crap! I switched to water to hopefully give it a rest from the Carbo Rocket. When was this trail going to end! Now? Nope. Fuck. Now? Nope. Fuck. Seriously, we're going down again? After an hour I started to see blue sky at the tops of ridges, a sign we were close. We finally popped out in a meadow, about a football field away from the main road through the resort. I hung a left and started back towards the start line. The guy I had been riding with for that entire stretch gave me a fist bump and said thanks as he pulled off for a pit stop at his cooler. Glad to help. Coulda used some, dude.

The last aid station was just ahead on the main road that goes out of the resort would take us up to the last section of single track (which we rode the day before, so I had a good mental picture of what I was in for). But I was getting low on gas. The light was on and I was going to have to milk it the rest of the way. Jenni was there waiting for me. She had my bottle in her hand as I pulled up. I dumped everything I didn't need and left with one bottle of water. I forced down a goo and prayed. If I was going to get passed, this was where it was going to happen. Lisa was a state champ XC racer with the physique of a roadie. Laureen was a sniper, precise with her attacks late in races. I was doomed if I didn't keep on the gas. 

The road raised before me like a wall. Two rises, actually, formed one punishing climb. Riders up the road were hugging the left side, under the shade. Smart. I didn't have the energy to turn my bars to get over there. Straight up I went, in the blazing sun, my heart rate still reading in the high 160s which was surprising. Usually when I'm feeling this bad, it's common for it to be pegged in the low 160s. That's when I know I'm out of gas and headed straight for the bonk zone. I finally reached the turn off onto gravel that would lead me to the last bit of single track. On our pre-ride I took mental notes of landmarks because I knew I'd be hurting by this point and would need all of the help I could get to keep going. Past the gate. Past the muddy rut. Past the Dead End road sign, past the happy marshals that kept people from cutting the course that crossed over itself. I knew the track was about a 7 miles from the start of the single track. And it was the longest seven miles in my life. There were parts that I remembered from the pre ride, like where Mark got a flat and where I thought I was going the wrong way. But it seemed to never end. Every climb sent me back down to another ravine. The same track I reveled about yesterday was the bane of my existence. I wanted nothing more than to stop pedaling. Everything ached. 

Umph! I had to keep going. 

Suddenly I could hear the two happy road marshals cheering on riders going by on the road. So close! I was so close. I knew once I went past them, it was mostly downhill. 


When they saw me come up the trail, their cheers blew air into my lungs and lightened my feet. I sprinted across the road and down into the last section of single track. Then I could hear music and people and humanity!


I popped out of the trees and onto the grass and into the finishing shoot where I was greeted with loud cheers. I was done. Beyond done. I rolled my bike to a stop and got off the bike. A streak of dried blood ran down my right leg. I took off my glove and my right index finger was black and blue. I had bumps on both of my temples and a lump on the back of my skull, behind my right ear. I bent over, putting my hands on my knees. I continued down, stretching my back and legs that had been bent at some degree for the last 5 hours. Then I stood up straight, and with my face to the sun, I double punched the air in celebration of my triumph. It was a big win, not only on the face of it, but it was a nice exclamation point on a very long racing season.

I was immediately greeted with high fives from folks hanging out and racers at the finish line, among them were a few of the guys that I had ridden with over the course of the race. After a about 10 minutes went by, I looked over and saw Lisa surrounded by people. When I realized it's the woman I had crashed into, I walked over to see how she was doing, not knowing if she had continued on or not. Come to find out, she had hit her chin and cut her knee but otherwise was fine and had continued racing. Hailing from Texas, she was there racing together with her husband. She apologized for the crash. Please! That's racing! Not a minute later Laureen walked up, as she does, reveling in her stoke for women who race hard, regardless placement. It seemed she and Lisa had been battling it out right to the end, with Lisa taking second and Laureen third. 

Soon our crew started trickling in with dirt-crusted smiles on their faces. Despite having to overcome some obstacles along the way, everyone seemed pretty stoked. And for good reason. Shit, 50 good reasons! Mark Sullivan, normally a road racer, got closer to coming over to the dark side. Bryan decided 40 miles was enough fun for the day. Both Ryan and Adam suffered flats and cramps but still made it in. EOB, who's barely touched his bike since Dakota Five-0, willed himself to finish. And he even managed to kinda enjoy himself.

Mountain bike racing is hard. Not only do we battle with each other, the terrain, the weather, and our equipment but we mostly battle with ourselves. We are our own fiercest competitor or our loudest cheerleader. Sometimes it's easier (or we are forced) to concede to failure, but I think, regardless of the outcome, it's much more rewarding to commit to the fight. Sometimes all it takes is just a little umph.

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. 

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Crested Butte Ultra Enduro: Part 1 - Ultra Ready

It was time.

It was time to point ourselves to the western sun.

After a long season of amazing adventures with our nearest and dearest, it was time. Just me, the Mister, the sheep and our van. We were being held to our promise of returning once again to the Great Wide Open. Nine months of waiting and planning for this trip. We knew it would be one of the biggest adventures yet.

But only one thing stood in our way. Ryan and I had a dilemma back in July when it was suggested that I take a break from riding to let my bum heal after suffering a pretty hard hit while racing the BME in Keystone (see previous post). I knew I wasn't going to be in race shape come end of August when it was time for our annual pilgrimage up to Spearfish, SD, for the Dakota Five-0. It was my call to make and with a heavy heart, I decided to skip it so we could focus on the CB Ultra and healing my ass (and getting our bathroom finished!) It was a huge relief for me because I like to do well at that event and if I wasn't going to be able to give it 100%, then I may a well put all of that energy into the CB Ultra. Looking back, it was a wise choice! 

So, while our friends headed northwest, we headed straight west, stopping part way on that Friday after work, crashing at a RV campground off the highway. By Saturday noon, we were pulling into Gunnison. We stopped for a picnic lunch at a local park. Everything was green and the air was clean and warm. It wasn't long before we we pulled into Crested Butte, and its mountain valley I've come to love. We didn't even stop in town, instead continuing right up to Gothic and mountain bike country.

We parked at the end of our planned ride: 401 Trail. We have ridden it a few times and the anticipation of getting to the top to see the amazing views proved to be too much. We were wheezing like a couple of pack-a-day smokers. Walking was the only option in many cases. But we made the best of it. We weren't in any rush. And the trail didn't disappoint. We could point the camera in any direction for world class eye candy. The area had received record snow and rain and there were still wild flowers in many places. In fact, the vegetation was so thick, that sometimes it overtook the trail and our sitelines with it. In those cases, we just said a little prayer to the trail gods in hopes the single track would stay directly under our tires. We came across a group of Gravity Groms who were learning to ride and they were ripping it up, having a hoot. That was pretty fun to see in the middle of the afternoon.

After our ride, we scoped out a place to park the van for the night. We settled on a space on the edge of a public camping area that had an outhouse. We were only going to be there for the night so we had a simple meal and spent the rest of the day exploring and going over maps of the area. As the sun set, the stars came out. The night sky at Gothic is nothing short of magnificent. The valley is mind blowingly wide by monumentally long, giving us an unobstructed, front row seat to the night's galactic night show. I'm pretty sure I could see into the future.

On Sunday we headed back east, stopping in town only to fill up on water, gas and propane. Ryan received some advice from a local where to ride: 409.5 by way of a long single track climb up Ferris Creek. (A sign of things to come. Little did we know we were practicing the hike a bike techniques we'd soon come to rely on). Up, up, up, ride, walk, ride, walk. We did go through some pretty sweet terrain, crossing boulder fields and aspen groves. Every turn was a new discovery. When the pitch finally mellowed we were able to actually ride up. A couple of pros were on the track so we figured we were doing one of the stages. Just as we got to the top, weather rolled in and it began to rain. We all donned our rain gear and pointed the big wheels down. Holy deep ruts! Come to find out we were descending a moto trail - a very muddy moto trail that had so many exposed roots you'd think you were riding on the base of an old tree. Add in the wetness from the falling rain and things got interesting in a hurry. We managed not to die and by the time we got to the bottom, the sun popped out and we continued on, even adding a little extra at the end on Stran Bonus & Canal Trail. It would be our longest pre-ride day. Hard but fun. We rewarded ourselves by eating massive burritos in town at Teocali's. Ryan struck up a convo with writer/rider for Mountain Flyer mag, Zack White, who upon seeing we weren't a couple of freeloaders, and probably looking for something to do to pass the time in the warm sun, sat down and told us all about BC Bike Race and his former life as a pro DH and the recent cause and effect of Enduro racing. It was awesome. And it was only Sunday. Good times were just beginning.

That night, we camped up Cement Creek, not far from the race starts. Since it was our last night in the real wilderness, we lit up a legit fire and hung out, singing to old rock 'n roll tunes that were blaring from a neighboring camp. 

On Monday, Labor Day, we decided to head to the racer campground so we could get a primo spot. We were the first ones to arrive. We set up in the lot, next to the bathroom. We had a close-up view of Mt. Crested Butte and the rest of the valley to the east. We were actually right next to the local high school ball fields, and though not glamorous, nor wildernessy, it was convenient and free! Ryan bought a hose and bucket so we'd have a bike wash. We had a heated bathroom with running water and were only a few minutes ride to the start line, which made it nice and simple on those dark and cold race mornings. 

The campground, a.k.a Enduro Shanty Town, actually turned into a pretty busy spot as we got closer to race day. The Oscar Blues crew stayed there (since Whatever Town gave them the boot). We met a few pros, one couple in particular from Montana were very friendly and fun to hang with. A man drove in from California in his VW Bus, camping and riding along the way. His wife flew in later, towards the end of the race week. He ended up giving us a package of coffee beans from his daughter's coffee shop. Made me think that next year, or anytime traveling like that, we should bring something native from NE to give out to friendlies we meet along the way. 

Our ride was a short and easy jaunt around at the base of Mt. CB. on Upper Loop. I wanted to make sure my suspension was dialed because Tuesday was rest day. After our ride we went into town for a relaxing lunch and strolled around the town. We stopped into Big Al's Bike Heaven, of course, and spent some tourist dollars. Gotta support the LBS that was supporting us! 

Dinner was at the camp. I made camp stove pizza! Afterwards we sat around and talked bikes well into the night.

Tuesday was a rest day. We checked into race head quarters after a big awesome breakfast. We got our swag and more than a weeks' worth of sustenance from Cliff Bar. Ryan went up to the Resort to see the new gnarly run, Captain Jack. I opted to rest and get my gear in order. We went to the riders' meeting to get the lowdown on the showdown. Bedtime came early. It was going to be a long day on the bike. I wanted to have everything in order so come the break of dawn, I would be ready to get after it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Big Mountain Enduro - Keystone Edition

"After stage 1, it's pretty much DH runs."

That's what Andy, our friend and host for the weekend, posted on Facebook about the stages at Keystone, the 3rd stop on the Big Mountain Enduro tour. He lives in Dillon with his delightful girlfriend Lauren, and rides Keystone Mountain Bike Park regularly enough that he owns a downhill bike, which he prefers to ride there. But because the Enduro format involves pedal sections and untimed uphill transitions, he will be racing on his trail bike. As are we.

None of this beta is new news to Ryan and I. We raced this event last year and got a crash course in DH style riding. (Pun intended). While Ryan caught the DH bug, I am still a wanna-be. I've taken camps and clinics to help stoke my inner shredder but she is pretty shy and has yet to fully reveal herself. Despite knowing the mountain better than we did last year, we were still nervy.

To help calm our nerves we did some practice runs on Friday. Our good buddy Todd Wixon was in CO on vacation and his wonderful wife let him come play with us for a while. Todd went and got himself a trail bike and was itching to see what magical powers it possessed. We did the first stage as a warm up, to get our car legs moving and to make sure the bikes were set up and functioning properly. The run was all blue and green trails with names like Girlscouts, Suz's Cruise, and Sleepy Hollow. These were tracks that we could do on our XC bikes if we had to, which made Andy cuss and me giddy. I could just do those runs all day and have a blast but that wasn't to be. The gnar was waiting for us.

We decided to practice stage 2 which had sections with names like TNT, Punk Rock, Sanitarium. All were black diamond trails with Sanitarium being a double black due to the raised corkscrew trail that was hiding in the pines, like a monster waiting for its victims. But before we could get to it, we had to go through Cowboy Up, a messy boulder field descent and Punk Rock, a rock garden that helped define the term. When we came up a couple weeks ago we learned the left side of Cowboy Up had been "tamed". I reveled in the news, even though Andy's face soured when he told us. I felt like Smeagol after he finally got the Ring of Power. But it was still a big bitch to ride, don't get me wrong. I was glad that there was a line for us mere mortals on tiny 6" bikes.

Punk Rock was a different rocky animal. The boulders were big (think ride over instead of through) and they were tightly packed so riding around them required some trials-riding skills and although doable, not a fast option when you're racing. We got there and of course had to unclip. We walked the section to study it. Then watched a bunch of skilled riders come through and see which rocks they rode over. I walked my bike back up the trail to give it a shot, all the while visualizing the rocks I needed to push myself over. The approach isn't smooth. There are smaller rocks that are momentum killers so by the time you get to the bigger ones, it's more about brute force than speed. And I did it. I was shocked. The bike didn't buck or anything. It was all very controlled and it freakin worked. I went up to do it again and I got off-line, cussing along the way. I had to unclip. I walked back up the trail again and told myself that if I get offline to keep going so that I have a plan B. I got offline. SOB! but I didn't unclip and found my plan B route for race day. 

We eventually came to Sanitarium. (Scroll down to photo #4.I took the line on the left). The approach is an elevated bridge, going down and across the ski slope where it transitions back onto single track for a couple pedal strokes to set you up for the 3 rail-road tie steps that are straight down the mountain. The only way I could do them was to buzz my back wheel with my butt and hope that I didn't keep going down after the third one. All went as planned and entered the trees and onto the elevated trail. It rose up a smidge and then turned down mountain, snaking twice to the right and then to the left. I told myself to focus way ahead and picture my tire knobs grabbing the chicken wire that covered the wood planks. I couldn't imagine doing this if it was wet. I made it down. Wixon wasn't having any of it. He was on the side. I did the same thing the first time I saw it. Coming from NE, this is extreme riding! At the end of the wood bridge the trail drops and turns and eventually spits you out at a pretty steep but rollable drop at the edge of the trees. I was glad to get through it all. But as the trail continued, it got droppier and rockier and I had to walk a bit. Not a big enough deal. If I had to walk it in the race, so be it. 

I think it was on this run that Ryan cut his beefy front tire. While he repaired it, we went back up to go try and ride Jam Rock, a ridiculous cliff that had multiple lines ranging from chicken to freak of nature. I stared at the line I thought I could do way too long and talked myself out of it. Ryan saw us on his way up so we waited for him. He wanted to practice his line because he didn't do it last year. And when he got there, he took one peak over the edge and came down as if he'd done it a million times. He was stoked. That would be a huge time bonus for the race b/c the ride around is quite long and out of the way. Unfortunately, the afternoon rains began, so we headed down the mountain. Todd took a different trail and we lost him for a bit. He ended up top hanging out with a good friend who was also there for the race. Ryan, Andy and myself headed into Dillon for a quick but tasty burrito lunch. When we came out, it was pouring rain. Dumping rain, actually. We decided to get registered and do all that stuff and by the time we did that, the rain had passed and we were able to do one more run. We topped the night off watching the latest Rad Company video to get us stoked for the day ahead.

RACE DAY 1 - Kind of a shit show.

We got to the venue early so we could get a good parking and also get in a run before they closed it down. It was on this run that I punctured my back tire. The sealant wasn't plugging it up enough for me to feel confident so I turned down the mountain and rode the ski run straight down to the nearest gravel road. It took forever, but I nursed the bike to the bottom. We decided to just get a new tire. The first shop was out so we went to a shop that wasn't on the main street of the resort. I scored a Maxxis Minion. I was so glad. Ryan totally took care of me and we were set for the day. Luckily our start times were much later than anticipated so that kept the stress to a minimum. Soon they were off to head up the mountain. I didn't feel like waiting around for 2 hours up top so I hung out at the van for a while until I started getting antsy and hot. I went up and not surprised, the line was long. I found the other ladies and hung out until it was our turn. The day was beautiful and the views were heavenly. As we got closer to go time, I started doing mini sprints on the service road to let my legs know it was time to wake up. 

The old lady category (Masters Women) were almost the last group, just before the juniors. The first stage was pretty tame compared to the rest, lots of pedaling but with a few technical features. I felt slow as a turtle. The bike felt good. The tire felt great but I was a dead log. I got down with no issues.

The format of Enduro is hurry up and wait, especially when it's all lift access. There's lots of milling about. And since we don't know what's happening with the start line up top, you just kinda guess when it's time to go up. It gives racers the opportunity to hang out with each other, stop by the event tents, eat take in the views and stew on the sections of the trail that are the scariest, like Sanitarium or Wild Thing, a double black diamond waterfall of railroad tie drops with boulders at the bottom of each. But I wasn't alone in my thoughts. The other ladies were asking each other if we were going to ride it or not. It was about 50/50.

Photos by the lovely Lauren at

I still had to get through the other parts of the track. Most of the 2nd run was black and double black with some blue transitions so you could shake your hands out. I got through Cowboy Up that fastest I've ever been able to and had a good head going into Punk Rock (got off line, but plan B worked!) and slid down Sanitarium without too much issue. Lauren, Andy's g-friend was taking photos of the race and was sitting just below the raised track and got some excellent shots. I shouted to her and continued on. I had to walk a couple steep, blown-out spots later on but it didn't take me too long. The rest of the course was blue runs, so no issues other than burning quads and lungs. Yay, altitude. I'm pretty sure I'm going to need to do squats like every day to get ready for Crested Butte!
Exiting Sanitarium. You can't see it but I'm smiling!
The final run of the day was where the sh*t hit the fan. The run was all blues until Wild Thing, which since I knew I'd have to walk that part, meant I had to hall ass up to and after it. Well, that was the plan. About 5 minutes into the run, I suddenly had no rear breaks. None. They went from on to off. Now most sane people would have stopped. Had I not been racing, I would have definitely stopped. I figured there was just a bubble in the line so pumped it a few times. I was out in an open section, across a ski run, so if it were to happen anywhere, that was the place. By the time I got back into the trees and technical trails, I was flying on just a front break, which is a recipe for disaster. I sat way back on the bike and feathered the break. I slowed down as much as I could in order to get down or over features. I thought I was in the clear until I wasn't. I rolled over two huge table tops, and as I exited the second one, the bike went out from under me and I hit the ground on my back side and slammed my head on the ground harder than I ever have. My legs were up mountain and the bike was on top of me. Nothing felt hurt so I popped right up, adrenaline rushing through my body. "I'm okay. I'm okay," I said inside my helmet. The bike's handle bars were all twisted around and I'm trying to mount the bike that way, freaking out a little. I told myself to calm down. I looked over the bike and everything was working. I untwisted the bars and jumped back on the bike. I still hadn't made it to Wild Thing yet and when I did, I walked everything, not wanting to risk anymore big falls. Needless to say, it was a long run but I rode some stuff without breaking, which is really how you're supposed to do it. ;) When I got down, I went immediately to the Shimano tent and asked for assistance. They were already shut down for the day. (Had I been a pro, they probably would have helped me out). I rolled over to the van where the group was waiting for me. When I told them what happened Ryan pointed to my rotor. The break pads and ejected from the bike completely. There wasn't anything there. Not the pad, not the screw that holds them in and not the safety pin that holds the screw, in case of, oh say, a catastrophic failure. I got mad props for coming down with just a front break but that didn't make me feel any better. In fact, as minutes passed, my tailbone and neck started to ache. The adrenaline obviously starting to wear off.

The break pads weren't having fun so decided to bail.

We all headed back to Lauren's house to change so we could go eat. I popped some IBU and tried to not wince when I got dressed and while standing at the restaurant, waiting for a table and while we were eating. As the night went on, the pain kept increasing and it was hard to sit. I must have landed on it first before throwing my head back and hitting the ground, thus causing mild whiplash. Now I know why some guys wear neck protection! When we finally got back to Lauren's, I laid on my stomach and put ice on my tail bone. That and more IBU was helping but my neck was pretty stiff. 

Come morning, I couldn't even lift my head off the pillow without using my hand and any use of my core resulted in a zing of pain shooting through my glute. Though I was uncomfortable, it wasn't too bad. The only thing that could keep me from racing was if it hurt to sit on the bike. As Andy and Lauren prepared breakfast, we went out to get the bikes ready. Ryan, at first, thought I had heated up the pistons and didn't think they'd go back in but using a special tool for this purpose, they popped back in. He put in a fresh set of pads and tested it. I was back in business. We just needed to pop by the Shimano tent to get some pins. After looking at both our bikes, none of the breaks had the safety pins! Not any more. 

RACE DAY 2 - Not exactly redemption.

The second day of racing was to be even harder than day one. Two of the courses had sections that I'm not payed well enough to attempt. One was Wild Thing again and the other was Jam Rock, that cliff-like section, which was part of the true downhill course at Keystone!

The first run was all of my favorite tracks. Yes, because I could ride them all! On one particular section of a track called Paid in Full, is a drop made of wood instead of wood to dirt because it's on a fault line. I only just learned to clear it two weeks ago. As I raced towards it, I told myself to square up and sight the edge. As I did this, I caught my 30-second rabbit there as she was trying to walk down the side of it right at the lip of the drop. I was like, well, I'm not going to stop so I yelled "rider back!" and luckily she heard me and got out of the way. I zipped down the drop and sped back into the trees. I was able to hold her off a bit but she caught back up. She was in a different class so it really didn't matter in terms of results, but ya still are racing no matter who it is! I made it down with no issues, although my fork suspension settings sucked. I noticed after the run when I crashed that I hadn't been using all of my travel. I thought I adjusted it correctly before the dropping in but it was still too harsh. I was getting pissed off so I walked over to the Fox tent and asked for some help. They politely assisted and I thought I was good to go for the next two runs.

The second run was short but would end with Jam Rock. I had been thinking about it since Friday, thinking I could possibly get down one of the lines but by the time I got to it, I talked myself out of it and went the big chicken route and then had to walk a bit more after. It was pretty humiliating but again, I wasn't alone. Many other girls expressed the same as we rode back up the mountain for the final run. Instead of finishing at the bottom of the mountain on stage 5, we finished part way and then rode a gravel service road (neutral transition) to the final run, which aside from Wild Thing, was pretty all doable for me. I even rode past the spot where I biffed the day before. Before the run, as I waited in line, I grabbed a twig and let some psi out of both my front and rear suspension. I wanted a comfy run. I was the dead last rider of the day to leave the start line. All went well. To my surprise, as I came out of the trees towards the bottom, I could hear Ryan yelling my name and people screaming. Many of the ladies and my friends were waiting for everyone to make it down safely. (You wouldn't see that in an XC race). High fives and hugs welcomed me as I came to a stop at the Dale's beer tent. Everyone was excited to be done and all in one piece. I felt like I was returning from the front lines, exhausted both mentally and physically and happy to just be alive. 

The rest of the afternoon was spent drinking and reveling about the weekend with all of the other racers. From pros to bros, we had all ridden the same courses and had all beat down our own doubts and demons to make it to the bottom six times over. Though some of us were less successful at it than others, it didn't matter. Each of us knew what the other had gone through, sharing a level of camaraderie, an unspoken understanding, requiring no explanation nor clarification. What may have sounded like bragging was more like uncontrolled excitement at the mere fact that we had raced down the face of a mountain multiple times, at crazy speeds, on mostly capable bikes; hurling ourselves up, over and onto rocks and roots; through mazes of trees inches from our handlebars; down loose and steep trails that dared us to not crash. 

In my eyes, everyone there was a winner.

Won back the $80 tire I had to buy!

Nick, Lauren, Andy and us

Ryan did amazing, placing 26th out of over 120 in his age group.