Photo Cred

Photo: Tony Jewell

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Coming Up Short

The Stats:
98.6 Miles
10,000' of elevation gain
8:07:17 to the finish
2nd-Place Singlespeed, 11th Overall

Two rides this week on two of my favorite trails in the Tetons, two trips over the handlebars and onto my head.  Damn.

But that's not what this story is about.

This story is about racing the High Cascades 100 a couple of weekends ago in Bend, Oregon, famous for micro-brewed beer, the Deschutes River, and miles upon miles of mind-blowing singletrack.


"Does this outfit make my penis look small?" On the line with Ernesto Marenchin and Gerry Pflug.

Fast, fun, and DUSTY--that pretty well sums up this year's race.  Race Director Mike changed up the course, adding a longer "neutral spin" to the beginning to route us onto the Duodenum Trail early-on in an attempt to avoid some dust, and cutting out the Mt. Bachelor roundabout to get rid of the hot climb/grunt out of Lava Lake.  I was intrigued by the course changes before the race, but the resulting long miles of sandy two-track made me yearn for the lava rock singletrack of years past.

The longer "neutral" was great for warming up and getting a feel for who was where in the field, but as usual it all went to hell once we hit the dirt and the world was a dust cloud.  I had a pretty good idea that Mark Shafer was ahead of me, gunning for the Aide 1 prime, but wasn't sure about anybody else.  Ben Shaklee passed me just before the Duodenum switchbacks as well, and I rode much of the first leg with him.

My plan for the race was to moderate the pace through Aide 2, when the real climbing started, as well as some super fun singletrack riding.  As usual, I got all competitive when Mark and Ben were in the vicinity and ended up riding harder than I had intended.  Still very much working on my self-control.

Ahh, Suede Ridge in the morning light.
Photo: Alan Brandt Photography

I managed to nab the lead in the sandpit hike-a-bike after the highway underpass (it was a hike for me, anyway) and opened a comfortable gap before rolling through Aide 2.  Riding Suede Ridge and Upper Whoops with Todd Meyer was the best part of the day for me--everything was flowing, and keeping up with Todd's gears and full-squish bike made for some fun riding, including bouncing myself off of three trees on some of the tighter turns.  Apparently I can't turn left.

Somewhere around Happy Valley I started feeling optimistic about the day's outcome--I hadn't seen anybody in miles, other than passing a couple of geared riders, and had felt good on the big climb out of Aide 3.  I even saw that I was closing a gap forward to Gerry, newly running gears this year.  But I knew that my energy was starting to flag and I needed to keep pushing the pace.  I also knew that I was due to eat something, even as I was running out of water.  The on- and off-the-bike through the snow patches up high was slowing me down a bunch and sapping my reserves, and then unexpectedly Jace Ives was on my tail.

I hadn't seen Jace since HC100 2012, where I finished a few minutes ahead of him, and didn't even know he was racing this year.  Now, just when I was starting to struggle he shows up looking like he's just starting his day.  We took a couple of minutes to catch up while we hiked through the day's last few snow patches and then he left me in the dust, with authority.

Just gone.

Dropping out of Happy Valley, starting to feel the hurt.
Photo: Alan Brandt Photography

When I rolled into Aide 4 Gerry was there and I got word that Jace was already 30 seconds up, and then everything came apart on the sandy doubletracks before the final Aide.  I hadn't consumed enough food or water on the big climb out of 3 and across Happy Valley, and I was paying for it now.  Hot sun, combined with frustrating loose sand (both uphill and down), wore me down--surfing and flailing on the descents, and fighting for every turn of the cranks on the ups.  By the time I hit Aide 5 at 86 miles I was back 3 minutes on Jace.  He opened up 3 minutes in 15 miles.  Shiiiiiiiiit.

Exiting Aide 5, just able to keep turning the cranks.  No, I didn't grown earlobes during the race; those are the ice sock on my neck.  Weirdo.
Photo: Tom Linnell

A fresh Camelbak and an ice sock on my neck turned everything around for me, and once I entered Tiddlywinks I decided to just enjoy one of my favorite trails on the planet and stop worrying about Jace--I would either catch him or not.  Tiddlywinks is a fantastic foray through the forest, replete with big banked turns, tabletops, double pumps, and really fast riding--I love it.

Tiddlywinks didn't disappoint, and I didn't catch Jace.  I had a ball out there, but despite what I thought was a pretty good rally down Tiddlywinks and the Storm King finish to the road, I never saw him again.  What can I say?  I had a good race, Jace had a better one.  Not the outcome I wanted, but that's racing.

Rolling the final singletrack into the finish.  I was happy that I raced flat-free and without mechanicals (it's been a while); the LES Singlespeed was the dreamy ripper that it always is, and my Lauf fork and American Classic wheels rocked.
Photo: Tom Linnell

I've spent the last couple of weeks pondering this year's race, and the difference between winning and almost-winning.  I love racing, and the drive to win is addicting.  Winning could be finishing first, but it could also be breaking your own personal best, or just finishing the biggest race you've ever tackled.  Winning is taking on a huge challenge with no guaranteed outcome, and through physical strength and mental toughness overcoming the odds and your own doubts, performing better than you thought you could.

When it comes down to it, winning is why we race--the drive to win pushes us to ride harder than we could imagine otherwise, and to achieve things on a bike that wouldn't happen if we weren't racing.  There's always the thrill of wanting to overcome the unknown: "Will I be able to get up the Lava Lake climb without walking?"  "Can I clean that section of downhill?"  "Can I break 8 hours?"  "Will I be the fastest racer out there today?"

I have a page torn out of some mountain bike magazine hanging on the wall of my mini-workshop at home, with a commentary on "7 Reasons Racing Will Always Remain Relevant."  My favorite is Number 6: Racing makes you stronger.  You think you know your limits, then the starting gun goes off and you immediately discover you can ride much harder still.  Racing recalibrates your very potential; it reminds you of just how fast and strong you can truly be.

The singlespeed podium.  Still smiles, despite having not had the race I was hoping for.  I may not have finished where I wanted, but damn this racing thing is still fun!
Photo: Tom Linnell

Which is all great for approaching competition philosophically, but I was really hoping for the first-place win at the HC100.  It's frustrating that I can't put my finger on just where I came up short; I had a good race, just not a great one.  There are a few things that I can point out where I could have done better--taking in more water and food during the Aide 3-Aide 4 stretch, for one.  It didn't take much to recover from that error, but I would guess that it cost me a few minutes.

Jace put in a hell of a performance out there, and on that day I didn't have what I needed to take the win.  Again, that's racing.  If the outcome were pre-determined, if we knew ahead of time who would finish first, there would be no point in starting.

So, what now?  Train harder, rest better, and get myself cued-up for my favorite race of the year: the Pierre's Hole 100.

Oh yeah, and procure a replacement helmet...

High Cascades 100 Gearlist on AXLPATH

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Uff Da

The Stats:

Holy moly.  Qué estupido.  What the hell?


This year's Marathon National Championships was an eye-opener for me--I wasn't really expecting such a slap in the face, but it became apparent shortly after the start that choosing to race 3 out of the last 4 weekends had been an error in judgment, and that the Tatanka 100 took way more out of me that I had thought.

Photo: Erica Linnell

The gun fired precisely at 8am and we were off, once again a small handful of singlespeeders spinning frantically down the bike path in whatever gear we had privately chosen for the day's course, finally turning up Cold Springs where the race really started.

The Cold Springs climb begins with a dirt road stretch that peters down to a ski area cat-track with a couple of brief, really steep climbs, and then turns into gorgeous, flowing singletrack for the majority of the ascent.  When we started up the dirt road Cary and Tom carried what I thought was a pretty stiff pace for that time in the morning, and I felt awful.  There was no spring in my step, no fire in my shorts; my legs felt like they were filled with sand and my torso begged for relief.

And then the grade of the climb kicked up to really steep and Cary and Tom maintained their pace and I came to the realization that I should not be racing.  It's not that my body hurt, just that I couldn't go any harder.  I was slow and heavy, and I didn't like it one bit.

I've had friends describe the experience as, "That's when I started going backwards."  I understand the sentiment, and in that moment I really understood it, but that isn't precisely how I would describe it.  I mean, I was going forwards.  We were all going forwards.  It's just that Cary and Tom were going forwards faster.

It was like my worst CrossFit nightmare.  (I'm presuming here, having never actually done a CrossFit workout.)  Like trying to race my bike uphill while dragging my fatigue behind me like a truck tire in the dirt.  Or one of those Chariot Stroller things filled with squalling triplets.  The rabbits were there, right in front of me, and I knew I was supposed to give chase, I wanted to give chase, but the tire was dragging and those triplets were shrieking and my legs were filled with sand and my arms and shoulders and back were so damn tired and it just wasn't happening.

That's when I gave myself a good talking-to.  "Listen pal, it's time for you to Harden The Fuck Up and get your head together.  You're having a rough morning?  Boo-freaking-hoo.  It's your own crappy decision-making that landed you here, and you're damn well not going to bail.  In fact, you're going to give this race the best you have to give on this day.  If those guys are holding too fast a pace, then find your own damn pace and see if you can suck it up enough to not totally suck it up."

So I backed off the pace and settled into something more manageable, keeping Cary and Tom in sight but not pushing.  And then 20 minutes later the triplets went silent and the tire disappeared.  Once I focused my energy on riding my own race, pushing the pace that felt right to me, everything got better.  I still didn't have much fire in my shorts, but I felt smoother and as long as I stayed seated and spun along I was actually able to ride faster.  There's a lesson in there somewhere.

I was 40 minutes into a 3+-hour race and glad to be spinning along, ticking off the distance and digging the flow of the forested singletrack.   I finally felt like racing, and so I revved it up.  Slowly, slowly I closed the gap to Tom and passed him about a mile before the top of the climb.  Then slowly, slowly was closing the gap to Cary and got to within 100 yards of him and was starting to feel confident, when the climb ended and he was gone.

Now, I'm well aware that downhilling is not my strength.  I've gotten better, but there's no doubt that I'm better on the up.  But Cary just disappeared!  Initially there was some dust in the air to suggest that he had been there, but it wasn't long before even that trace was gone.  Damn, that guy is fast on the down.

Dropping through the rock garden with Tom hot on my heels.  (Hidden behind the tree.)
Photo: Erica Linnell

Towards the bottom of the descent (it's long--we're talking 35+ minutes of downhill) I started to hear Tom's freewheel buzzing away a switchback above, which meant that Tom was also descending faster than I was.  We finished out the lap together and then rolled back onto the asphalt for one more wild session of spinning back to the bottom of Cold Springs.

It was clear that either one of those guys would be able to beat me on the downhill, so I knew that I had to make time on the climb if I wanted to compete.  So once I got through the steep little bastard climbs early-on, my focus shifted to spinning smoothly, but putting everything I had into propelling myself forward.  If there was ever a time to start burning matches this was it, and the more I burned the less I would have to carry uphill, right?

I had gotten out of the base area ahead of Tom, but that skinny little bearded guy stayed latched-on, hanging 20 seconds, 30 seconds back every time I turned a switchback.  Eventually Cary came into view up the trail, and I slowly started reeling him in, making up a little time on every turn until he was about a quarter-mile up when he rolled over the top and was gone.

Glancing back when I crested the top I couldn't see Tom any more, so I had a bit of confidence dropping into the final big descent.  If I could really pin it on the down I might be able to hold 2nd-place through the finish.  Things were rolling along nicely and I thought I was cooking downhill pretty good, pumping the rolls and rallying the corners when I hammered through a particularly rocky section and

Pfft!  (Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!)

Flat tire.  It's enough to make you cry.

I rolled downhill a bit, slowly, vainly searching for a patch of flattish ground where I could pull off the trail to perform the repair, but on this endless sidehill there was no emergency lane in sight so eventually I just stepped into the bushes on the downhill side and set to work.

Find the hole, spin it to the bottom so that the sealant pools and hopefully plugs the hole, hit the tire with CO2, and get back in the groove.  At least that's the theory.  

The sealant did its job and my tire stopped hemorrhaging air and I busted out a CO2 cartridge and started airing it back up when Tom went ripping past, yelled something sympathetic, and was gone.  So much second-place.  I topped off the tire, got my crap back together, and rallied off down the trail after him and was having a ball on the rollers when

Pfft!  (Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!  Pfft!)

C'mon!  I think I might have said a bad word at this point.

I had blown out the plug of sealant, which I had heard about before but never experienced.  Thankfully Dave Byers had turned me onto this cool little tool that saved me from having to take the time to install a tube.

Use the forked needle to push one of the bacon strings into the hole, and then pull the fork back out.  The sealant does the rest and voilá!  No more hole.

This was the first time I've had to use it--totally worth carrying.  Exponentially faster than installing a tube, with none of the mess.

And I was off again, a bit more tentative at first to see if the plug would hold, and then opening it up for the final trip down the forested switchbacks to the bottom.  Having not heard any signs of 4th-place sneaking up behind me, I did some mental calculus and decided that while I had nothing to gain from riding the bizarre man-made rock garden into the finish zone I had quite a lot to lose if I blew the line and broke my body or my bike 2 weeks before High Cascades, so I took the "B-line" around which is really more fun anyway even if it does take 30 seconds longer.

Not this time.
Photo: Erica Linnell

Done.  And DONE.
Photo: Erica Linnell

And then, thankfully, it was over.  3rd-place singlespeed, slower than last year, but the course is so great and with Nationals only a few hours away from home how could I say no?  Racing this weekend was undoubtedly the wrong decision in the bigger picture, but you know what they say: judgment is the product of reflecting on experience, and experience is the product of bad judgment.

Photo: Erica Linnell

That race was an experience.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mud, Blood, and Soggy Diapers

The Stats:

This one was a real adventure.  The Bailey Hundo and last year's Tatanka 100 were both fast, straightforward races for me with perfect trails and bluebird skies.  This year's Tatanka 100 couldn't have been more different.

Hamilton and I drove through an endless series of rainstorms on our way across Wyoming on Thursday, spasmodically checking the weather forecast over and over.  Sure, they were getting a ton of rain in Sturgis, but if it just cleared up overnight maybe we'd have tacky hero dirt on Saturday?  Spinning around the parking lot at Woodle Field at 4:45am, trying to "warm up" in the pouring rain, it was clear that this was going to be a wet, tough race.

There was no way I could have anticipated just how hard it ended up being.

It took about 1/4-mile for the chamois in my bibs to get saturated and turn into a primo case of soggy diapers.  And with all of the spray coming up off of everybody's wheels my glasses were quickly coated in brown water.  I found that it was better to skip drafting and just ride in the breeze, with fresh rainfall washing my glasses and teeth clean.  Thankfully at the last minute I had chosen to keep wearing a vest and armwarmers rather than stripping down.

I entered the Centennial Trail singletrack a bit behind Gerry Pflug and Daniel Rapp and ended up riding with those guys for a few miles of fun, albeit slippery, Black Hills gold.  One of the high points of the day was rollicking along through those early miles, but eventually I felt the need to ramp up the pace, as much to stay warm as anything, and passed on a short climb.

I went back and forth with Tinker Juarez a couple of times during his unfortunate mechanical issues, and then somewhere after the Dalton Lake Aide my own drama started.  Just before entering the day's rockiest two-track descent my rear tire blew, and when I went to try airing it up again the valve stem was gone!  It must have gotten tagged by a branch and sheared off?  Gerry passed me just as I was finishing putting a tube in and gave me the encouragement to hurry the hell up with my repair because Daniel was only a few minutes back.

Once I was back on the bike I was pretty motivated to rally the descent to see if I could reel Gerry back in (what was I thinking trying to catch up to a fast guy on a geared full suspension bike on a wet, rocky descent?!) so I got rolling downhill pretty good and then steered myself into a bad line and


Over the handlebars and face-first in the mud. 

I leapt to my feet in shock, did a quick check for bike or body damage, and took off in pursuit again. Once again I was rallying after Gerry and got rolling along pretty good and then steered myself into another bad line about a quarter-mile later and


Over the handlebars and face-first in the mud, again.

Again I got up, checked for damage, and took off down the hill at a slightly more reasonable clip until I got onto smoother dirt and let off the brakes and was rolling along pretty good and steered to avoid a particularly deep, mud puddle-filled rut a mile later and


My front tire washed out and I went down hard.  That one hurt.  I had to take a few deep breaths after standing up out of the puddle, with blood freshly flowing from both knees and a bruise coming on my hip.

It was wet out there! Through it all, the LES singlespeedLauf fork; and American Classic wheels were a killer combo--sick performance and total reliability. Way better than some of the geared bikes...
Photo: John Bush

That made me decide to back it off a bit and catch my breath, which was good, because soon after that I lost my rear brake and had to ride the remaining 60 miles with only the front.  Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze all the way to the handlebars and that righthand brake lever did nothing.  Nada.  Zilch.

Now, before this starts to sound like a heinous, why-didn't-you-quit, soggy-diapers-and-big-tears-rolling-down-my-muddy-cheeks story I have to say that there were some really great times, too.  Romping those early miles with Gerry and Daniel.  The singletrack descent through the forest to Silver City when the sun came out.  (Even with just the front brake--my chamois dried out!)  Spinning up the canyon-bottom singletrack in the sun to the gnarly hike-a-bike.  I even enjoyed shouldering my bike for the gnarly climb to the canyon rim.  And though the Mickelson Rail-Trail was as long as I remembered it being, it felt really good to crank some miles from the saddle, just spinning away.

Done with the Mickelson, ready for some downhill!
Photo: Ryan O'dell

Once I crested the top of the Mickelson climb and descended to the Englewood Aide, I hit the day's lowest point. The rain started coming down hard again, with a breeze that made it just that much chillier, and my body temp dropped considerably.  I hadn't seen anybody for a long while when all of a sudden Jim and Gerry were riding back down towards me from a wrong turn that we had all managed to take.

So I spun around and rode with them back to the wrong-turn junction where we re-found Matt and Drew Edsall, and then spent a few minutes figuring out where we were and where we needed to go.  (I suspect course tampering; these guys do a great job of marking the course, but we hadn't seen any Tatanka skull markings for an uncharacteristically long time before coming upon a left-turn arrow.  Turns out that it was supposed to be a right-turn arrow.)  Once we figured things out, Jim spun the arrow to face the correct direction and we took the righthand option instead.  

I was pretty stoked to be in 3rd-place overall up to that point, but had gotten so cold that my jaw was cramped shut and I was shivering uncontrollably--there was no way I would be able to maintain any kind of speed in that condition with only one brake.  (I had boldly dropped the vest and armwarmers at the sunny Silver City aide station.)  Right around here was when I felt the first doubts about whether I would be able to finish.

But as JayP likes to say, "No negative thoughts!"  So I gritted my teeth and tried to ride smart, focusing on staying upright and hoping to maintain my position in the Singlespeed division.

Salvation came at the Galena Aide Station.  Through clenched teeth I asked the volunteers there if they had a plastic trash bag and the dude pulled the one out of their trash can, dumped out a bit of refuse, and ripped a head hole and arm holes in it for me.  Then the other volunteer pulled a plastic emergency poncho out of her first-aid kit and put that on me too!


Where I had been questioning whether I would be able to finish, now I was raucously flapping in the breeze and warming back up delightfully.  I got passed by a couple more geared guys during the final dirt-road descents and then blissfully rolled into Sturgis under blue skies and full sun, ecstatic to be wearing two layers of plastic and no longer shivering.  

10 hours of muddy racing completed.  Awesome.
Photo: AJ Linnell

My goals of finishing under 8 hours to win The Ring and placing in the top 3 overall weren't even close to being realized, but there was no disappointment in my day's outcome.  Instead, I was happy to have finished at all, and really happy to have kept my hold on the Singlespeed win.  Two hours slower than last year, but dammit I felt strong throughout and was able to overcome my own share of adversity to get it done.

The Tatanka 100 Singlespeed podium, with Daniel Rapp, and Trevor Rockwell.  (Hamilton joined us up there after kindly taking this photo.)
Photo: Hamilton Smith

Will I be back?  Hell yes!  The Black Hills riding is too good to turn down, and I still want that Ring...

Tatanka 100 Gearlist on AXLPATH

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hanging At the Hundo

The Stats:

"HUNDO definition
noun. hundred. : How much? A hundo! Geeesh!"

Fast, fast, fast.  That's the only way to describe last weekend's Bailey Hundo--buff, flowing singletrack on the Colorado Trail and high-elevation dirt road through wildflowers with massive vistas.  By far the fastest I've ever raced a 100, with the biggest gearing I've run for one of these races.

It was damn cold at Saturday's pre-sunrise start.  There was a thick layer of frost on my bike seat when Trevor and I mounted up for the short spin from the camping area to the start in downtown Bailey, and my fingers throbbed with the screaming barfy's through the re-warming process once we got there.  When 
I did the mental calculations to figure out how soon the sun would crest the horizon and start to warm our world I came up with an hour of damn cold racing to come.  Shivering uncontrollably in the pack, I started to wonder how I would perform.  Brrr.

Colorado State Senator Chris Romer sends us off with a shotgun blast.
Photo: Austin Smart

As it turned out, it took about twenty miles for my body to rev up and feel like I was racing.  I hung in the pack for the opening road stretch, making a pass here and there but not really pushing it, and then started going a bit harder after a few miles when we turned onto the new two-track.  For a mile or two I fell in with two other singlespeeders but ended up passing them on a short climb and sliding in with a trio of geared riders who were holding a slightly faster pace.

Mmm, Colorado Trail fun.  The sun feels good!
Photo: Austin Smart

Romping through the opening miles of the Colorado Trail with those three was super fun, embracing the two-wheel drift on kitty litter-laden corners and powering through short, punchy climbs.  It was bittersweet to get onto a longer stretch of climbing and have to make the pass, but I had finally warmed up and my legs felt like pushing harder.

The gap opened up pretty quickly and once the trail swooped downhill again I was all alone, with no other riders in sight.  As it turned out, those guys were the last riders I saw until around the 90-mile mark when we rejoined the 50-mile course and I started catching Hundito racers.

Now, I love riding alone.  I do it alot.  In reality, most of my riding time is solo, or with The Ruester.  Erica loves to tease me about just how introverted I am.  At the best of times I'm marginal company, but when I'm breathing too hard to speak, drooling on my toptube with my heartrate pinned?  Forget about it.  (Fortunately Rue doesn't particularly care if I don't keep up my end of the conversation.)

But that was a long time to be out there alone.

The 20 or so miles on the Colorado Trail were fine--I was focused on riding smoothly and making the most of it.  But once I came through Aide 6 and was cranking up the long road climb to Stoney pass, that all changed.  Without really knowing what goal to shoot for on the horizon, or how steep the climbing was going to be, or where the rest of the field was, obnoxious questions and doubts started buzzing around my brain and I became my own worst company.

"Am I riding hard enough?"  "Is this pace too hard?"  "Whoa, is this climb getting steeper?"  "Am I chasing any singlespeeders, or am I in the lead?"  "Will the next Aide Station have Coke?"

"Why do I do this shit?"

Thankfully, the next Aide did have Coke, and a lovely volunteer handed me a blissfully cold water bottle full of that delicious, fizzy elixir.  I have to take a moment here to put in a note of thanks to the Hundo Aide Station crews--they rocked!  Being the only humans with whom I interacted for 70 miles of riding, I really appreciated their enthusiasm and support.  When I rolled in to Aide 6 looking for my drop cooler, a volunteer was already standing there holding it out for me and asking how he could help.  Unreal!

Back to the race--finally, somewhere around mile 80, a photographer fed me the info that I was about three minutes back from the fourth place Pro/Open rider and comfortably in the lead of the Singlespeed division.


With a few more miles of climbing to go before starting the descent to the finish, I stayed hard on the gas to see if I could reel in the mystery Pro I was chasing before he could shift up and crank away on the down. ('Cause why not?)  Eventually his red kit did come into sight about a quarter-mile ahead, but there just wasn't enough climbing left to bring him back and he disappeared once the course flattened out.

Woohoo!  Done.  And stoked.
Photo: Austin Smart

The descent to the finish flew by, ripping past cars at speeds over 40mph, and then I was rolling over the finish line in a lovely meadow by the Platte River.  Somebody handed me a finisher's trophy, NUE Series director Ryan O'Dell shook my hand, and I stepped off the bike after another fun, successful Damn Long Race.

The 2014 Bailey Hundo Men's Singlespeed podium.  These Colorado boys are strong!
Photo: Austin Smart

Carlos' family even broke out the champagne for the celebration.
Photo: Austin Smart

While I can't say that this race all felt good--it hurt just about like a 100-mile race should--I felt strong throughout and for the first time in recent memory I didn't have any cramping issues.  Maybe the gentler-paced start helped?  Whatever it was, it felt really good to push my body to perform and have it respond the way I wanted.

Will I be back for another Hundo?  I imagine so.  They throw a really fun, festive event with killer camping, and the riding on the Colorado Trail is definitely worth coming back.  But first things first--heading to Sturgis next weekend for another Tatanka 100.  Ride the bull!

Bailey Hundo Gearlist on AXLPATH

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Lapping It Up

The Stats:

Aah, Lemans starts.  Such a wonderfully antiquated way to ruin the beginning of a perfectly good bike race.

The potty shot.  Good access from the start line!
Photo: Erica Linnell

We stood a mere 20 yards from our jumble of bikes at last Saturday's 12 Hours of Disco, almost able to feel the rubber in our palms as we listened to the countdown and yearned to just sit on our steeds and pedal out onto the course.

"5 minutes 'til the start.  We're going to be on-time!"

"1 minute."

"15 seconds."  BLAM!!!  Promptly after the announcer gave us the 15 second warning a barrage of shotgun blasts went off, and we all spent a brief moment wondering what happened to those 15 seconds and why we were just standing around and then we were off in a cloud of dust, arms and legs a-flying and pedals turning down the straightaway, around the flagging at the turnaround and back over the start/finish tabletop.

As seems to be the trend lately I got stuck mid-pack, trying to work my way forward while avoiding getting tossed off of my bike in the scrum.  I managed to make a few passes on wide stretches early in the course, and then settled in for the first lap.

One of the wonderful features of this course is its high-quality singletrack; it's fun and flowy, and there is very little double-track or dirt road riding--maybe 1/2-mile at the end of the lap .  The flip-side is that it can be challenging to pass, especially if there are more than one or two riders ahead.  So when I rolled up to the rear end of a string of 6 riders about a mile into lap 1, I just accepted that it would be a warm-up lap and adjusted my pace to match theirs.

It was actually pretty nice to spin around the course in the morning light, taking in the verdant greens of springtime and surrounded by the smells of dew-laden sage.  I also discovered that fighting my competitive urge and leaving 20' between me and the pack kept me from sucking their dust, and improved the view.

Once we hit the stretch of dirt road heading into the base area I was able to pass my Lap-1 compadres and crank it up a bit.  Erica fed me the info that I was 2 minutes back on the solo leader, so with a fresh water bottle in hand I put in a chase.

The Flynn brothers hand off the baton, with Tom and Ryon from the Pro Leisure team chomping at their heels.
Photo: Erica Linnell

One of the other interesting features of this course is the incredibly long views you get.  The singletrack winds through sage-covered hills with no tree cover--at times it's possible to see the course a mile away.  So when Ben Parsons came into sight midway through Lap 2 it took a remarkably long time to reel him in.  Great motivation, but sometimes it felt like I was just spinning in place.

After finally catching Ben and making the pass things got lonely out there.  With 12 hours of riding to do, there were times when I wouldn't see anybody for 20 minutes, and then catch a pack of a few riders, and then see nobody again.

"Thanks, team!"  How Erica manages to take photos while handing up a fresh bottle is a mystery.
Photo: Erica Linnell

Kris Quandt chose this event as his return to racing after a few years' hiatus.  That guy is nuts!
Photo: Erica Linnell

The laps rolled by, with Erica and Rue boosting me as I rode through the base area, handing up a fresh bottle and some info about how things stood in the competition.  For many laps Ben was consistently 8 minutes back, and then somewhere around Lap 12 the gap started to open up to something more comfortable.

Oof.  Still smiling, though.
This was my first race on the futuristic contraption Lauf fork, based on leaf-spring suspension.  ("Lauf" is Icelantic for leaf.)  They claim 60mm of travel, with some interesting engineering in the progressive suspension.  Though the Angry Singlespeeder was unimpressed with his test experience on one, I really like it.  It's sub-kilo weight is immediately noticeable, and it was remarkably effective at smoothing out the choppy stutter-bumps on this course's descents, even when they became massive potholes.  Good enough to carry me to the day's win!
Photo: Erica Linnell

Somewhere around Lap 12 was also when my body started feeling like I had been riding for a really long time.  Minor cramping, the urge to take a nap...  The post-hundred mile laps definitely felt hard.  

But I only had to look down for a dose of suck-it-up-Sally; usually that's precisely what I need to stop feeling sorry for myself and just keep turning the cranks.

The one-lap-to-go headshot with my eternally-stylish wife.  (Yes, I could have used the term "selfie" there, but I think I'd rather neuter myself with Erica's rusty garden trowel.)  Yes, that is dirt all over my lips.  Erica refused to kiss me.

And then I rode through basecamp at the end of Lap 16 and somebody said, "One lap to go," and I smiled.  Somehow I had gotten the idea that a final lap would count if it began before the 12-hour cut-off (one approach to time-based racing), which would have meant riding an 18th lap.  But when I learned that the final lap had to be completed before 7pm there were no delusions of disappointment.  Sure, I had paid to race my bike for 12 hours, but 11.5 hours would do.  I was damn tired.

So Ben and I headed out for the day's final lap together, which hurt just about as much as I thought it would, and then the 2014 12 Hours of Disco was over.

Photo: Erica Linnell

Photo: Erica Linnell

When I came to a stop and finally stepped off the bike and my body realized that the day was over I felt no qualms about embracing gravity in the dirt with Rue rather than continuing to remain upright.  And I was pleased that after 20 minutes or so of loafing around I actually felt human again--even had energy to be social.

The Flynns took second in the duo-team division.  I have no idea which one is Bart and which is George, but these dudes rip!  And they're fun to hang with--none of that fast-guy cyclist douche-baggery here.
Photo: Erica Linnell

The hay bales were a touch wobbly, but no injuries were sustained on the podium.
Photo: Erica Linnell

The awards ceremony was fun, if a bit chaotic--good to catch up with friends I hadn't seen since last summer and hear about everybody's plans for the summer racing season.

Kicking back in a camp chair with the sun setting across the valley, I thoroughly enjoyed a "gourmet" hot dog with shredded carrot and basil topping for dinner, and then it was time to pack up and head back to our world-class campground for a hard night's sleep.

Next up: a few weeks at home, and then I'm trying out a new race: the Bailey Hundo down in Colorado.

12 Hours of Disco Gearlist on AXLPATH