Monday, July 30, 2018

Laramie EndurOMG 2018

The last time we raced the Laramie Enduro in 2010, I was on a revenge mission after ripping open my knee the year prior at this event. After the second act, we decided we didn't need to return again, preferring a higher single track to gravel ratio, especially on a 70 mile slog. Fast forward eight years and I have to say this newly improved Enduro Epic is my new favorite race (enduro, as in endurance– it claimed the word before enduro was even part of the American racing nomenclature). It has everything this girl loves about back-country racing, including wild animal sightings.

So the husboy and I packed up the #mtblimo and left town the Thursday night before the race. We bedded down at Lake Mac near Ogallala. It's always quiet, dark and we can park near a toilet if it's during their main season. Love vamping for that feature. We woke up Friday morning to a heavy fog over the lake. It made from some rad views!

We arrived at the race venue near Happy Jack Recreational area around mid-morning. We found a nice shady spot near the start line and went out for a quick spin for an hour on the course. 

I had just put on a new dropper post just for this race. After pre-riding the whole thing on our Great Wide Open trip last month, I felt a dropper would help me descend the many gnarly gravity-fed sections of the race course. My only hesitation was not having the time to develop enough muscle memory for quick use of the buttons for both the dropper and my rear-lock out, which had to be moved to the right side to make room for the dropper lever on the left. I only had one ride on the set up at Swanson and had a few mistakes but this race wasn't going to be an A race. It was more like an experiment. This race was to kick off my fall season training so that I'd be better prepared for three big races coming up.

(Off tangent for a second)
So one of my main problems racing is I go out too hard and burn matches early and spend the rest of the race playing catch up. My stomach is usually the first to abort the mission of racing and then it all goes downhill from there. Upon researching finish times from last year, I noticed many racers' 2nd lap was 15 to 30 minutes slower almost across the board and I had to wonder was the course that difficult, or did it rain in the middle of the race or was it really hot? So it got me thinking about how I was going to pace myself so that my splits would be closer together. One lap was 31 miles. I thought it might take me 3.5 hours and I was signed up to do the Epic which was two laps. Outside of 24-hour racing, I've never done a race for that duration, especially one with a difficulty rating of a blue-black trail. I didn't want to think about racing for over 7 hours. Instead I tought of it as two races that were around 3.5 hours each, a duration that I have definitely done many times. The goal was to try to finish the second lap in the same time as the first. The best tool for that was racing with heart rate instead of power. I've done that before but it's really difficult when you fucking leave your heart rate monitor at home hanging on your closet door handle! Crap! I tell ya, you'd think after twenty years of racing, I'd have some kind of routine for packing the essentials. Nope. We had to go into town for packet pickup and hoped that the bike shop carried one. No luck. I called a running store. Nope. Then I asked Tim O'hara, an old team mate who lived in Cheyenne who was coming up for the race if he had one. Strike three! So, Ryan came to the rescue and let me use his and it made all the difference, both physically and mentally!

After packet pickup we grabbed some much needed lunch. Jeffrey's Bistro was a place we'd been to back in 2009 and it was still as good. The chocolate peanut butter pie was a big hit with Ryan! We hit up the grocery and liquor store before heading back to camp and getting everything set for the race. It rained off and on that afternoon. We even had to wait out some hail in the van. That was loud. 

Later that evening, we went for a stroll up the race track to see what we could see. And oh boy, did we see something awesome! As we walked down the trail chatting about stuff, suddenly Ryan stops. I was looking off in the distance and as my head spun around to see why he stopped, a very large adult male moose practically floated across the trail not 20 yards away. It had huge antlers, Ryan counted at least 8 points on one side! It didn't care one iota that we were there as it made its way up the slope to graze. Ryan kept wanting to walk closer and I was like nope, and started walking backwards. As soon as the moose looked up at us, Ryan too started walking backwards. At one point, the moose walked to the opposite side of a small tree and I'll be damned if that huge beast didn't practically disappear right before our eyes. Made us wonder how many times we've ridden by something of that size without knowing it! Oh, of course neither of us had our phones but in a way it was better so that we could just be in the moment instead of being a bystander snapping shots. It was an amazing site! 

We walked back to the van under a fading light. Many new racers had since shown up in their campers but all was pretty quiet.

The alarm went off at 5am but that's like 6am at home so it wasn't a big deal. We got water boiling for coffee and oats and once all of that was down the hatch, I actually laid back down. With just over an hour til go time, we both got out of the van and warmed up for the race. The morning air was damp and cool. The sky was overcast. It was perfect racing conditions. Just before we headed over to the start, our friend Tim O'hara stopped by to say hi. That was awesome! When we got to the line, there were three waves based on what you thought your finish time of lap one would be. I was in the 2nd wave and there wasn't any way of knowing who was racing one lap or two so I guess everyone was a target. ;)

When the promoter yelled go, it was as a pretty unexciting start. Knowing 30-60 miles was ahead, nobody was in a really big rush. I only saw a couple women at the line, one was in front of me and was getting after it in a big way (hello Heidi from Cheyenne!). The opening 2 miles was a mix of gravel roads and two-track that was full of deep and wide rain puddles. I had a flashback to 2009 because I crashed and tore open my knee trying to ride through a puddle at speed back then! 

As soon as the single track started, so did the tech. The Medicine Bow area is rich with rocky outcroppings. Vedavoo is a popular climbing area and the course went through it all. Due to the rain the night before and the fog that morning, everything was wet so we were all doing a bit more sliding around. There wasn't much passing either. If you veered off to pass, good luck. Sniper rocks were everywhere among the sage brush. I kept up for the most part on the opening climbs and just had to keep my cool on the descents. I had my heart rate front and center on my Garmin. Coach told me to keep asking myself can I go this hard on lap two and if the answer was no, then back off. I had a long day ahead of talking to myself.

About 9 miles into the race, I caught Heidi who asked if I was Roxzanne and she gave this blog a shout out. :) As we were chatting up a climb, I see someone walking their bike on just the back wheel way up at the top. Then I see that it's Ryan! He's muddy and has some scrapes and said he blew up his wheel but that he was fine and for me to keep going. I started to stress a bit but not even a couple minutes later, I came up to aid 1 and knew he would get help there. I put it out of my mind and kept on past aid one and onto some gravel roads. I caught up to one of the women I saw on the single track who was a local and was ripping the descents. I was so impressed with the level of talent the women had around me. They were strong climbers and just tore up the tracks. Not sure if they were on longer travel forks or what but they would just plain disappear. 

The next 10 miles was a big test of all riding skills. From wet, rooty climbs to rocky hike a bikes to ripping descents that tested not just one's skill but nerve, those ten miles tested me. I put some time into the local but lost it when I took a much needed bathroom break at the next aid station. Knowing the toilet was off the trail at the finish line, I decided to take my break there and eat a PB and J (well I tried to eat it and ride but that didn't last so I tossed it). 

Miles 20 - 31 were probably the most difficult and yet the most fun. A lot of elevation gain and loss with some seriously yell-outloud fast rollers, that lasted like a minute or more. Nothing steep or crazy but just a long line of whoops that begged you to ride really fast. That section and some of the gnarly stuff made having the dropper totally worth the weight penalty. What a freaking blast. It was like being on a kiddie roller coaster in the woods. So. Much. Fun!

I came through lap one around 3:37 or so and went directly to the feed zone. As Ryan helped me reload, I stuffed some potato chips and water down my throat. Salt was all I wanted right then. I saw a couple women go by without stopping so I knew I was going to have some work to do. I was off within minutes, with the goal of finishing as fast as lap one. 

The start of lap two was awesome. I was alone for a lot of it so I could really go my pace. I started to catch people shortly before aid 1 and then on the gravel road after it. One woman and I went back and forth most of the race. I'd catch her on the climbs and she would pull her magic trick and would be gone on the descent. On one of the climbs I asked her if she raced enduro, as in big bikes, and she did. I complimented her on her descending skills. It was clear she knew what she was doing but she could climb also. Out of aid 2 I caught Tim and together we rode until the last 7 or so miles. I also caught the woman again who let me go by and I tried to push up all of the climbs knowing she would be able to make up a lot of time on the descents. I felt strong. My stomach was behaving and my legs responded even that late into the race. I was down to the last of my food and started to feel hungry with about 5 miles to go. I slammed my last waffle (which had some caffeine in it thankfully) hoping to stave off the hunger. I was too close to lose concentration on the gravity sections. As soon as I was down for good and heading towards the finish, I turned on the power so I could stay ahead of the next rider in case it was her. I saw Ryan yelling less than a quarter mile from the finish. I had done it - my second lap at about 3:45 was only 8 minutes slower and I was able to finish with enough in the tank to push. Those were my goals so where I finished really as important. But as it turned out, I made it onto the podium with some pretty fast women who are well known at races like these. They were sub 7 hours total! Rockstars!

Women's 40-49 Epic Podium

Tim O'Hara wearing his Psycowpath Tshirt just for us!

Of the many marathon races we do, this course is one of the more challenging and interesting. Though it's not droppy, the descents are fast and loose (old school) and the climbs are sustaining but not soul crushing. I had to work for sure but only when it really pitched up did I walk and that was a total of two times each lap. We put a large 46 tooth cog in the back and yes I used it and I'm so glad it was in my tool box, especially on lap 2 when I was starting to get tired. But the track had everything so it kept my interest and focus yet let me play. What else could you ask for?

So it looks to me like we have a new annual race to add to the schedule. The event promoters are seasoned. They have tons of volunteers and the aid stations, 10 miles apart, have all you need to go minimalist. The event has live music, great swag, they'll feed you, beer you and there's plenty of camping around. Racers can do one lap or two. Our prize was a hand-made mug that's going to be sent to us in the mail. I can't wait. It'll sit up proudly with my Five-0 mugs.

The rest of the night was spent eating everything in site (luckily I made a snap decision to buy some cold fried chicken!) I took a nap while Ryan hob-nobbed with campers next to us - a bunch of mid-life bros up from Denver having a hella weekend. They let us crash their campfire and shared stories of bikes, motos and camper filled dreams. We all had just busted our asses to ride around some rocks but as the sun went down behind the hills, it was to be just another story for when we found ourselves around the next campfire with new friends.

Wyoming, we'll be back. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Day 3 Great Wide Open Tour 2018 - Snowmass

Just up the road from Aspen is Snowmass. As in, quite literally we parked at the a ski area parking lot and road a paved trail for about 5 miles to start the off-road portion of the day's ride. It was another gorgeous morning in the high country as we meandered along meadows and horse ranches. The trail/bike path we started on paralleled the local airport. I bet there were 50 private jets parked there! 

The start of the dirt portion took us behind private properties. The signage was super pro and we always knew where we were - the benefit of being in park boundaries. The trail went through thick aspen forests where we could look down on the local's back yards and dreamed how awesome would it be to have a place such as these. 

We eventually made our way up to the slopes of Snowmass where workers were setting up for daytime summer guests and what looked like a stage for a July 4th event. Next to the stage was my dream bathroom in the outdoors - about 30 porta potties and a couple of sinks! I felt like a million bucks after that stop! 

From there we climbed up up up a gravel service road to tree line. The sun was warm out in the open. The plan was to ride the Popular Government trail back to Aspen. We climbed quite a bit in the trees but the machine-built trails were perfectly groomed for such a thing and the switch backs were a breeze. Then the trail would level out a bit and we'd get to pump and flow and then scream across a ski run to the next set of trees and repeat. 

There wasn't a huge top-out view but the trails were fun. They started to get a bit technical on the way down due to poor sight lines and narrow tracks. We popped out in a neighborhood and took paved roads back to Aspen to complete the 30-ish mile ride. There was a really cool ped bridge that went over a creek. Ryan hates heights to he opted to stay on terra ferma while I went exploring.

Finally back at the van, we pretty much repeated the same thing from the day before, making lunch on the spot. I was feeling a bit grimy from 3 days in the saddle with only wet-wipe showers or dips in streams so I looked up where to pay for a shower and we headed to the local rec center. As luck would have it, the guy working the desk recognized us as a couple of dirt baggers who may appreciate some local knowledge and gave us some beta on where to camp next. After a long, hot shower, I was ready for rest and relaxation. We took the guy's advice and drove a ways on the back-side of Aspen, through a long valley, past a ghost town, until the pavement ended. And then we saw a sign for Pearl Pass Rd, THE road where, according to mountain lore, mountain biking began. Pearl Pass is a famous route from Aspen to Crested Butte. Story goes that young men would drive their fancy vehicles from Aspen to pick up the ladies in CB. Well the dudes of CB weren't down with that, so in retaliation, they'd ride their "balloon bikes" from CB over to Aspen to pick up on the women there and thus the mountain bike was born. So to be camping on a road legendary to our sport was pretty damn awesome.

Now the guy said he used to take his parents car up this road we were about to go on so we didn't have any reason to doubt we'd have any trouble. But as we went along it got narrower and eventually more to the liking of a 4WD road. Though we were on flat ground the possibility of scraping the underside of our new van or the bike rack was the real fear. We got over the first rise in the road. Not gonna lie, I was holding my breath, listening for the sound of scraping. We continued on, maneuvering the minefield of rocks and ruts. We had one more rise to go over and Ryan captained the ship like a champ. The road then began to go up. We could see a few camp spots alongside of it that were empty. We kept going but then the road went from smooth gravel to high clearance only so we backed into one of the spots for the night. Luckily we had a flat area to park. 

After getting settled, we took turns exploring the area. Our side of the road was at the base of some smaller mountains while on the other side was a rocky river bed making for a picturesque setting. Later that evening, we decided to go see what there was to see. And there was plenty! Knowing the Crested Butte was on the other side of the large mountains were were seeing, we think it was the backside of Star Pass. We walked up the road and came upon a mountain pond that was alive with fish and other critters. On our way back down the road, we noticed the leaves on the baby aspen trees had these interesting patterns on them. Turns out this pattern is called mining, done by a type of moth. These insects form and grow within the aspen leaves. They feed on the interior tissue of the leaves. It may not be a fatal disease, but the spots caused by the moths ruin the beauty of the leaves of this tree. It isn't lost on us that when we slow down and look around we come upon discoveries such as these. It adds to the travel experience we strive to have. We like going big, getting to the top of the mountain pass, seeing the glacial valley but at the same time we like zooming in and discovering the beauty that makes up the big picture.

The next morning we were up at dawn. 14r hikers were already heading up the road to see what they could see. It was a gorgeous Colorado morning. We made it back over the road bumps without issue and headed for another new destination: Glenwood Springs.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

2018 Great Wide Open Tour - Day 2: Aspen

We arrived in Aspen before the town was barely stirring. Getting to the trailhead that early was key as it was a very popular trail, and on a holiday weekend, parking was gold. In fact, that set the tone for the whole trip and we purposefully got up and going early each morning before the hottest part of the day, giving us much more time to either find a camping spot and sight-see.

The 30-mile loop started on a very popular hiking route used by many locals hiking with their dogs. Having a dog is very hip in Aspen apparently. We climbed for a solid 20 minutes or so (luckily in the shade) before stopping at an old mine shaft called the Iowa Mine.

After exploring a bit, we bombed down a nice rowdy double-track, dumping us into the backcountry and away from anyone else. Or so we thought. The next up was a rather grinding gravel road that had some great views. We think we spied some bear tracks!

Marroon Bells!
Gotta climb to get to the good stuff!

Before dumping back into single track we took a detour up on a hill to see what we could see. At the top, fields of flowers were bowing to the sun with a view of the Maroon Bells mountains in the distance. It was worth the climb up!

And just before we went back into the trees we stopped for a photo of the next trail head sign, Hobbit, for our friend April who loves all things Hobbit. And good thing we did! As we were about to mount up, we saw a fast-moving rider coming up the trail:

Ryan: That guy’s moving. Let’s wait and let him pass.

I looked down the trail at a nondescript looking rider in a sleeveless jersey and Camelbak. Probably some dentist getting his morning ride in, I thought.

Ryan: Hi Lance. Have a great ride.

Me: 😱 !!!!!!!!!!!

Lance: Hope you’re ready. This is a stinger!

Yes, that Lance went riding by on his mountain bike and I pretty much went into shock and I don't even remember if I said anything. Ryan took off of course to try to stay with him. Classic RF but like he said it definitely was a stinger, so I hobbled up the steep terrain, finally catching up with Ryan a couple minutes later. For the rest of the ride, we were kinda on cloud 9. Had we seen Lance Armstrong in a bar or even on a road bike it wouldn’t have had the same effect. But to see him during the wee hours, in the backcountry, doing the same thing we were doing was over the top! I’ll never forget it! Yes, he looks just like he does on TV!

We continued on some fun twisty and techy trails in the trees when soon we came upon this awesome swing made with climbing rope! Ryan had to give me a boost to get up onto it. I was a bit timid at first but trusted it wasn't going to drop me like a sack of flour into the brush. It was a riot. If riding bikes in the woods didn't already make me kid-like, swinging on a tree swing certainly did! So unexpected.

We continued riding through some pretty dense old-growth aspen forests. Much of the trail was bench-cut with a very steep slope on one side. I had to really focus and stay steady as to not clip a bar or go off the trail. I'm not gonna lie, I was a bit nervous!

As we neared town the end of the trail it took us down some very steep moab-style terrain. It was pretty rowdy and loose, plus it had horrible site lines in spots from overgrown scrub brush. We had to stop for a few runners coming up, which wasn’t easy! Overall the Hunter Creek / Smuggler route was a great ride for many reasons: lots of terrain change, great views, and a swing! It was a tad warm but starting early was the key!

Once we got back to the Limo, we made lunch right there in the trailhead parking lot and thinking it would be a nice refreshing way to recover, we went for a splash in the creek that ran through town. We donned our bathing attire and rolled down to a bike path. On our way we found this really cool sanctuary that was a tribute to John Denver. It had many large boulders with his songs and poems by other famous people carved into them. So amazing!

After being denied a coffee destination to get our fix, we got the hell out of town. About 30 minutes up the very narrow and winding road towards Independence Pass we found an area that allowed camping called Lincoln Gulch. At the entrance a sign said 4WD only so we decided to scout the road first on bikes to make sure the Limo would make it down. It would be bumpy but doable. Luckily we found a pretty cool unofficial spot along a bubbling river with its own “reading tree chair". I explored the river rock beds and saw a baby elk. An evening hike up the road after dinner made for some fun discoveries of cavernous falls carved by fast moving water.

Away from humanity, alone with our books and booze, we were in our happy place. Sleep came pretty easy as the sun disappeared on another pretty amazing day on bikes.

Next up, Snow Mass.