Photo Cred

Photo: Tony Jewell

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Damn, These Utah Boys Are (Still) Fast!

The Stats:

Just when I'm feeling good and getting confident, Corey reels me in and dusts me.

But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I have a somewhat interesting and sordid history with the Park City Point2Point.  For the last 3 years I've come out to give this event my all and been plagued by flat tires, course errors, and an unexpected chip-timing bite-in-the-ass (that was my own fault, in the end.)  Every year Corey Larrabee has ridden strong, avoided my blunders, and stood higher on the podium.  This year I was determined to have a clean race and give Corey some legitimate competition for the singlespeed win.

To add to the fun, the entire Larrabee family picked me up in the Salt Lake City pre-dawn and gave me a ride up to the start!  Corey had warned me that I might have to ride in one of the child-seats, but every one of those was full of a sleepy child and with Amber squeezed in amongst them I was unexpectedly granted the front passenger's chair.  These Larrabee's are amazing.  (And adorable.)

I managed to start in the correct wave this year, a few minutes behind the Open/Pro Men and Women, which had a significant effect on how the first 25 miles of the race played-out.  The opening couple of miles roll on a paved bike path, so by the time we turned onto singletrack most of our wave had shifted up (click, click, clank) and passed us by, and was riding in one long, snaking line through the sagebrush of Round Valley.

There were 5 singlespeeders riding together at this point--myself, Corey, Tom Flynn, Quinn Bingham, and Dan Nelson.  Stuck in a writhing mass of cycling humanity, we had little choice but to settle in and match the pace, seeking out those few opportunities to make a pass here and there but mostly just chugging along through an exercise in patience.

Things got a little worse once we left Round Valley and headed over towards Deer Valley--numerous tight switchbacks resulted in the slinky effect, where geared riders would shift all the way down and virtually cease forward motion while navigating around the corner in granny-gear.  On a singlespeed, we really want to carry momentum into a corner and embrace the G-forces to get sling-shotted out of it.  Instead, this was more of a track-stand, crank hard on the pedals to power through the turn and up to the next switchback, track-stand, crank hard...

With the exception of one particularly impressive switchback where Tom cyclo-crossed off of his bike, ran around the inside of the corner and past a couple of geared riders, and vaulted back into the saddle.  Sick.


Rolling into Aide 1 with Tom.  Yes, this is an awfully rocky course for that rigid fork he's riding.


Thanks, baby!

Things improved the further we worked up Deer Valley, and we rolled out of the first Aide Station with clear trail ahead.  Tom blew through the Aide without taking anything and led us up sweet, forested Deer Valley singletrack.  Probably my favorite riding of the day was around here, rollicking through the woods with Tom and Corey on lovely dirt.  Mmm, good.



Wow, this Park City riding is fun!

Somewhere in there I got out front and opened up a little gap, and spent the next couple of hours hoping to expand it.  Crank hard on the ups, and let 'er rip on the downs.  Eventually I caught up to fellow Fitzy teammates Gabe and the Flynns, who inexplicably had gears on their bikes and were sitting down and spinning up the climbs!  That stuff is just slowing you down, fellas!



The climb out of Aide 2 to the Armstrong Trail is a real puker.

Erica wasn't able to give me much information about my gap back to Corey and Tom at Aide 2, other than that Corey wasn't far behind, so I cranked hard up the bastard hill to Armstrong, unable to see Corey on the descent into the Aide but not confident that I had much of a lead.  The Armstrong climb was great, as usual (I love that stretch of trail,) but Corey has a habit of appearing out of nowhere when I least expect it, so I was pushing hard and cranking, cranking, cranking, and despite the effort all of a sudden there he was again, dammit, sneaking right up on me just when I was gaining some confidence about this race!

Crap!

We rode together for a couple of miles, through the forest across the Mid-Mountain Trail, and then Corey's finishing legs had more juice in them than mine did and he rode away.  I tried to really give 'er on the descent towards The Canyons, and cranked the final kick-in-the-nuts climb, but never saw him again.  Somehow Corey had it in him to open up 4 minutes in the last 10 miles.  Brutal.



And that's that.

On another day it could have gone another way, but on this day Corey had a little extra fire and uncorked a hell of a finish.  Taking 2nd-place definitely isn't my cup o' tea, so I'm trying to focus on the fun I had racing and the fact that I finally had a clean P2P this year--no mechanicals, stayed on-course, started with the right wave.




And there's no shame for me in being beat by the Legs of Larrabee; that dude is riding damn fast, and it's always a pleasure racing with him.  What can I do but look forward to continuing the battle in another race at another place?

Maybe one of these years I'll get to offer him a ride up to Pierre's Hole...


Park City Point2Point Gearlist on AXLPATH

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Redemption

The Stats:

Boom!  What a f@*ing unbelievable, all-time course!  As the man Dave Byers put it, "I have decided that the 2014 ‪#‎PH100‬ course should be named Beauty & The Beast.  Gorgeous.  Relentless.  And I dig that."

Yes.

TONS of singletrack, with a long climb winding through alpine wildflowers with endless views, a longer, batshit crazy fast descent down into the forest, and some sweet, rolling trail through aspen glades.  Fast, fun, hard, and demanding focus.  This was a mountain bike race, and epitomized why the Pierre's Hole 100 is my favorite race on the planet.



We toed the line just after dawn, and I had a few minutes to finally introduce myself to Mr. Gordon Wadsworth.  "Quadsworth" has been tearing up the Eastern US cycling scene, handily winning 100-milers and the X-Country National Championships alike.  We've been exchanging Facebook messages here and there and tracking our seasons as we battle back and forth in the NUE standings without ever meeting or racing against eachother.  A few days before Pierre's Hole he decided to come West for a post-wedding vacation and see how we would stack up going head-to-head.

Exciting?  Yes.  Nerves?  YES.

This dude is fast!

His quads are indeed enormous, and bely the friendly, talkative character riding atop them.  We had a brief chat in the start pack, wished eachother luck, and I had the pleasure of following the Quads up the opening snowcat-track climb.  We took the opening climb to the start of the Peaked singletrack at a moderate pace, with Gordon and me chasing Cary Smith, Josh Tostado, and Sam Sweetser in the morning twilight.

When the course took a hard left and pinched into singletrack I was ahead of Gordon and feeling relaxed--my plan to moderate the pace during the first half of the race while still trying to stay in the mix seemed to be working.  That was nice.  A few switchbacks up I took a look back and discovered that a reasonable gap had opened up behind me, and I started to wonder if Gordon's sea-level lungs were struggling to keep up with the thin air up here.  Cranking uphill at 9000' is hard!  More so if you're not acclimatized to it.

I had the lead 3 in my sights as we crested the top of the climb, and was able to stay within a hundred yards or so of them into the beginning of the epic long descent down into Mill Creek.  It even seemed like I was maintaining that gap through the opening switchbacks (maybe I'm finally learning to downhill?) but then


Pffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff....





Who flats in the first 5 miles of a 100-mile race?!  Way to dig a hole early-on.

So, with the sound of freewheels buzzing past as half of the field left me behind, I knelt in the wildflowers and found another damn puncture in my rear tire.  Sharp little bastard rocks.  Maybe I should consider a beefier tire?  At least I had plenty of miles to work my way back up.

Having found the hole, I briefly considered letting the sealant take care of it but after having the plug blow out at Marathon Nationals I decided to take the extra minute to break out the magic bacon-string hole plugger


and do a fix that would be more likely to last the rest of the race.  After hitting it with a blast of CO2 I re-mounted my steed and got back to hauling balls down the 47 switchbacks of 38-Special, hoping to at least not lose any more ground on the leaders.  Gaining on them would have been great, but let's be realistic here.

I started reeling guys back in on the climb back up to Targhee from the bottom of Lap 1, knowing that it was early in the race but still feeling pressure to re-connect with Gordon.  On the trek out to the north loop of the course I got to romp with 
a couple of friends, Gabe "Fiddie Cent" Klamer and Matt Woodruff (who would come in 5th- and 6th-Place in the Open Division) through a few miles of early-morning greasy singletrack before pushing away from them in pursuit of Gordon.

Riding with Matt in some lovely morning light.
Photo: Tom Linnell

Who finally came back to me out in the rolling singletrack of Quakie Ridge.  He seemed to be enjoying that faster, lower-elevation riding through the aspens way more than the Peaked climb, and we got to spend an hour of riding together before the start of our second trip up Peaked.  Being that I spend so much time riding solo, it's rare that I get to enjoy much conversation while on the bike, so it was a rare pleasure to pass that hour chatting it up and getting to know eachother.

"Thanks Mom!"  Having the Ultimate Support Crew (my parents, Erica, and Rue) back together to hand up fresh Camelbaks and information was awesome.
Photo: Erica Linnell

But then we started up Peaked again, and the altitude started taking its toll on Gordon and I pulled away, switching my focus to chasing Sam's orange helmet up the switchbacks.

More cowbell!
Photo: Tom Linnell

That climb and descent flew by, I closed the gap to Sam on the climb back up to Targhee, and spent the second half of Lap 2 having a ball rollicking through the alpine wildflowers on the rolling singletrack in Rick's Basin.


How's that for romping through the wildflowers?
Photo: Tom Linnell

Coming through the base area Aide for the last time I got word that Jim Meyer in 3rd overall was only a couple of minutes up, so I headed out Andy's Traverse with a new rabbit to chase.  I also knew that my focus had to shift to riding smart and holding the lead on the singlespeed division; I needed this win to put me into contention for the NUE Series singlespeed championship, and to take it I needed to stay on top of my bike and just maintain my pace.

But there's also that point where competitive urges overwhelm thoughtful logic, so when I started catching glimpses of Jim's white and red kit I couldn't help pushing the pace a little harder.  Somehow fighting the urge to chase down that rabbit is awfully hard to resist, and with Jim having beat me at the Tatanka 100 the last two years...

Chasing Cary and Josh into the final lap around Rick's Basin.
Photo: Tom Linnell

The gap closed somewhere out on the Lightning Loop, and I started the final Peaked climb alone, hoping to be able to hold Jim off and maybe close in on Josh and Cary?  I passed a 100K racer here and there as the rest of the final lap rolled past, but mostly just enjoyed some solo time romping the singletrack out in Rick's Basin.  Coming out of the Quakie Ridge descent I took a look at Mr. Garmin and saw that I had 15 minutes to finish if I wanted to go sub-8 hours--not easy, but maybe possible?  Possible enough to hit the gas, anyway, and see if I could do it.


Photo: Erica Linnell

It hurt, and my legs were feeling awfully heavy in those late miles, but I cranked through it and rallied over the fly-over, rolling through the Kenda arch with 12 seconds to spare and stoked as hell.  Finishing in under 8 hours was a pretty arbitrary goal coming into the race with all of the course changes, but it felt damn good to make it happen.


Ahh, that feels good.
Photo: Tom Linnell

Gordon came across the line in a bit later, having battled hard with the altitude challenge up here but ultimately ridden a strong race and maintained the second-place spot.  I'm looking forward to the opportunity to join him on more race courses in the future...


Photo: Tom Linnell

The Fitzgerald's Bicycles team had a hell of a showing out there at this year's Pierre's Hole 50/100, with a pretty good field of green on podiums across the three distances--so sweet to see us represent at our local endurance event!

Damn, it felt good to have a solid race after my last couple of lackluster performances.  Despite my early flat tire I was able to stay relaxed and pedal myself back into the competition.  It's difficult to express just how much I loved this race--it was hard, beautiful, fun, unrelenting.  It demanded focus and tenacity, requiring racers to keep pushing in order to find success.  Afterwards, Andy and Jake made reference to continuing with course improvements for next year's event, but I find it difficult to conceive how they could make it any better than it was this year.


Yet another awesome feature of this year's course--what better way to manage the cross in a figure-eight course than with a fly-over?
Photo: Tom Linnell


Pierre's Hole 100 Gearlist on AXLPATH

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.

Grrr.


"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?

Ouch.

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


Blamo!

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

Blamo!

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

Fwip!

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!

Ahhhh.

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