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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Huge Fun at the High Cascades 100

The Stats:
· ~100 miles
· ~12,000’ of elevation gain
· 1st-place singlespeed
· 16th-place overall
· 8:16:12 to the finish

Coming off of the Breckenridge 100, I was definitely a bit concerned that I wouldn’t recover in time to race the High Cascades 100 in Bend (only 5 days separated the two races.)  So I focused pretty heavily on resting during the intervening days: daily naps, solid nights’ sleep, and only light riding to keep my legs lubricated.  When my Fitzgerald’sBicycles teammate Jason Berning and I pulled out of Victor on Wednesday, things were looking good—the bike was clean, I was relatively sure that I had packed everything I would need, and my legs were feeling pretty fresh.  If anything, it was my upper body that felt fatigued; my legs felt good.

After a long day in the truck, we woke up in Sunriver to perfect riding weather—clear skies and temps in the 80’s—so we threw down a quick breakfast and headed up to Mt. Bachelor to ride a portion of the course from the Swampy Sno-Park.  Holy crap—so much fun!  Fast, buff, flowy singletrack snaking through cool forest.  If all of the riding was like this, the course was sure to be fast!  (It was also interesting contemplating the amount of mental energy that would be required to rip through the endless turns—amazing.)  The 25-mile loop flew by, and definitely worked to get our bodies loosened up after the drive and our minds stoked up to race on Saturday.

Friday was mostly spent just hanging out with Ryan and Natalie, and their baby girl (Jason’s cousins), taking care of final preparations, and napping of course.  A bit of bike-tweaking and a massive pasta dinner sent me off to an early bedtime.  Regardless, the night was a bit restless with pre-race excitement.

3am was dark, cold, and early.  The starting area at 5am was still dark, cold, and early, although a bit more lively.  When the clock started at 5:30, dawn had just broken and I was questioning my decision not to wear a vest in addition to arm-warmers.  We followed race director Mike’s pace-truck for the 6-mile neutral start out of Bend and onto the dirt, and then it was ON!

I let myself get stuck too far back in the pack at the start again (I really need to work on that) so it took me a bit to break out of the dust cloud kicked up by riders ahead of me.  Once I got all straightened out I realized that I was right behind Gerry Pflug (“The Pfluginator”, endurance singlespeedlegend)—sweet!  We ended up riding about 10 miles together, on what was probably the day’s awesomest singletrack, snaking through the forest with amazing early-morning sunbeams all around.  Pacing with Gerry was ridiculously fun—he’s way strong, and really smooth.  At some point in there another singlespeeder named Jace Ives joined us to make it a trio of flying one-gear-wonders.

The early-morning forest riding with Jace was awesome!

Less fun--at some point in there I blew a remount after running over a rocky section and came down hard on a fully turned left ankle.  My immediate reaction was to vomit, but I got past that and gently settled myself back onto my bicycle.  Within a minute or two of pedaling it came back to life and I was off in pursuit of Gerry and Jace, with a bit of trepidation about how long the ankle would last.  It took about a mile, but I eventually caught the guys just before the first aid station at mile 18.  And we all pretty much blew through it onto a long stretch of jeep-road.

Within a couple of miles after Aid 1 I kicked up my pace for a steeper bit of climbing and found myself riding alone, chasing 2 geared riders ahead.  I knew Gerry and Jace wouldn’t be far behind, but I’ve tried to nurture the habit of focusing on what’s ahead, making forward progress, reeling in the riders in front of me and chasing the clock.  Somehow that feels more productive than watching out for what’s coming up behind.  Focus on what’s in front, and ride your race.

So that’s what I did.  The loop through Sector 16/Whoops/South Fork was even more fun than when Jason and I pre-rode it.  Looser and dusty, to be sure, but faster as well.  It seems that I still need to work on my downhilling technique; I got passed by a few geared riders on full-suspension bikes coming down Whoops and into the South Fork, and then passed them all back on the climb back out.

After re-fueling at Aid 2 (thanks to Ryan and Natalie for supporting!) I remained amazed at the riding down to Lava Lake.  The trail changed considerably, from buff dirt to more technical, rocky riding on the best lava rock that Mt. Bachelor belched out when it was active.  That stuff is sharp!  Just waiting to slice through an errant sidewall…  Somewhere in here I looked down and saw that my ankle was nicely swollen, and had lost most of its flexibility.  Pedaling seemed to work okay, but bouncing over lava rock wasn’t that sweet with an ankle that couldn’t absorb the shock. 

Down around Lava Lake, Tom from Cycling Dirt was waiting with a GoPro video cam on his handlebars.  He pulled in behind me and rode a mile or so along the lake (which is gorgeous, by the way—crystal mountain water in a quiet forest with wondrous singletrack along its shore.)  I did my best to answer his questions about how the race was going but it’s hard to speak while racing, not to mention think up coherent responses.

And the climb out of Lava Lake definitely lived up to Mike’s description on the course map.  (“Pain!”)  I rode as much as I could, but definitely ended up walking a couple of steep grunts.  Oofdah.

Shortly after leaving Aid 4 at Edison Sno-Park I stuffed my front wheel into a dusty turn and had a moment of weightlessness over the handlebars before a less-than-graceful landing.  It turns out that fine, powdery July dust is pretty forgiving when you fall into it—dirty, but no blood.  A fellow named John Merrill was right on my tail and got to witness my fine athleticism (fortunately his braking skills were sharp;) he quickly ascertained that I was okay and then cranked past me.  I got up and gave chase, and we swapped leads for much of the remainder of the race.

The wondrous descent back down to pavement was just that, wondrous.  Huge, banked turns, huge pumps, friendly little tabletop jumps, fast riding, and it went on for miles and miles!  If we hadn’t been 90 miles into a race I might have gone up for another lap!

I ended up opening up a bit of lead on John on the descent, but once we hit the 6-mile pavement spin back to Bend he blew past me in his big ring and I was left to spin as fast as my long legs could go.  As it turned out, what I thought was going to be a fast, cruising downhill to Bend wasn’t really downhill at all—mostly flat, with short downs.  Not totally awesome on a singlespeed, but it actually went by quickly and then I was cruising down the final singletrack to the finish.  Woohoo!

Jace and Gerry weren’t far behind me—it was good to see them finish strong, despite Gerry’s multiple bleeding wounds from crashing into a jagged log down by Lava Lake.  Fortunately an out-for-fun rider was right there with a full first-aid kit in her pack to bandage him up!

Gerry's rib wound; there's a puncture-wound in his left bicep as well.

My ankle continued to swell, and by the next day looked like a sausage.  (In fact, I’m sitting with my foot in a bucket of ice water as I type this.  Ouch.)

The offended ankle at the finish.  (Other ankle included for reference.)

I was SO STOKED to have finally won an NUE (National UltraEndurance) Series race, and to have had so much fun doing it!  


The HC 100 is really an outstanding event—I’ll definitely be back next year.  Mike puts on a top-notch event.  There is good video footage and interviews from the race at Cycling Dirt--worth a watch.

The podium with Jace and Gerry.  And my excessively long torso.

Now I’m looking forward to the WYDAHO Mountain Bike Festival this weekend right her at home in Teton Valley, followed by the Pierre’s Hole100 next weekend at Targhee.  Gerry will be at Pierre’s—I am definitely looking forward to racing with him again.  He beat me by 30 minutes or so last year, so I’m psyched to see if I can perform better on my home course this year.  And psyched to race on the course’s new singletrack!

Friday, July 20, 2012


That hurt!

The Breckenridge 100 was rough.  A weird mix of rough, rocky singletrack (at high speed) and long stretches of road/bike path.  There was some really fun riding in there as well, but this race hurt more than I had expected.

The Stats:

· 100 miles (My odometer read 100.3—unusually close for a trail race!)
· ~13,000’ of climbing
· 2nd-Place Singlespeed
· 17th-Place Overall
· 9:38:22 to the finish line.

The mass start--you can make out Amanda Carey in the second row with her red Kenda jersey.  Notice that I'm nowhere to be seen.

The course is laid out like a big cloverleaf: 3 loops leaving Breckenridge in 3 directions.  We all massed up at the starting line just before 6am and rolled out for a brief neutral start across downtown to the base of the ski area.  Due to my own dicking around prior to this, I ended up at the back of the mass and spent the “neutral” time weaving my way through the pack to get closer to the front.  Not too much effort wasted, but it did leave me with no idea about who was at the front, and how many of those riders were on singlespeeds.

Loop 1: 30 miles, 4300’
We cranked up the Breckenridge Ski Area service road for an hour or so to the top of Wheeler Pass while the sun rose.  Nice 3500’ warm-up to start the day.  Then it got hard.

The wind was kicking over the pass, and the sun had barely crested the horizon (it was still grumpily peering through the last of its cloudy blanket) so things were none too warm up there, and we were headed for a descent down the shady side.  What started as a pleasant wander through alpine wildflowers quickly deteriorated into crazy rough, steep, rocky, high-speed descending through the forest to Copper Mountain.  Hanging on for all I was worth, forearms pumped beyond acceptable bounds from gripping the brakes, I bounced down into the forest, begging for mercy.  (And with both ankles rocking like sewing-machines from the cold.)  After one particularly burly rock garden I heard a racer behind me grunt as he flipped over the bars, but didn’t dare stop to check on him out of fear that attempting to stop would result in my own flight off the bike.  Damn.

Eventually that ended and we pulled out onto 7 miles of bike path down to Frisco. What a nightmare.  I mean, it’s a beautiful bike path, but it descends just enough to fully spin out on the singlespeed but not steeply enough to pick up any kind of speed coasting.  For 7 miles?!  I didn’t get passed by any SS riders, but mucho geared riders that I had passed on the trip up to Wheeler Pass blew by in their big ring.  I just had to grit my teeth and shiver down to the sunny singletrack waiting in Frisco where I could try to reel them all back in.

At this point you may have picked up that I was a touch grumpy upon arrival in Frisco.  All of that changed once we turned up the valley back towards Breck.  The singletrack that they’ve laid into the forest for that stretch is RAD!  Super buff, winding through gorgeous timber, and pleasantly warm in the morning sunlight.  Loved it, and had it mostly to myself.  I passed a few geared riders early-on, but then didn’t see a person until after cruising through the base area.  I finally started to feel the flow of a long day of racing.

Rolling through the last of Loop 1.

Loop 2: 34.5 miles, 4650’
The Ultimate Support Team (Erica and my parents) were there cheering in the pit area, set up to hand me what I needed for the next lap.  After I threw my empty Camelbak, Erica handed me a fresh one and my mom handed me a bottle—I didn’t even have to step off the bike.  Thanks, team!

Resupplied and climbing into Loop 2.

The second loop was by far my favorite.  I’ve heard people say that they think it’s the hardest loop on the course, but I loved it.  There aren’t any really prominent climbs or descents; it’s all just climbing or descending.  None of this flat, spinning crap.  And the riding is gorgeous, mostly singletrack with a bit of dirt/rocky road thrown in.  Definitely my strongest leg.

The opening climb of Loop 2 was probably my favorite part of the course.

The climb up Little French Flume was awesome—long, steep, loose, and technical.  I was able to pass a bunch of guys who were walking and I almost cleaned it, but did end up walking eventually.  This was also where I started getting contrary messages about my standing in the SS division.  One dude sitting by the course yelled, “Yeah!  First singlespeed!”  Then 5 minutes later a photographer said, “Alright!  You’re in second!”  What the hell?

When I pulled out of a super fun stretch on the Colorado Trail and onto a brief section of pavement, the Ultimate Support Team was unexpectedly there cheering me on.  My dad, clipboard in hand, was keeping track of the standings while Erica and my mom yelled their support.  Erica yelled “You’re in first place, baby!  The next guy was about 5 minutes back at the last checkpoint!”  Then my dad added that I was 18th overall.  I punched it a bit for the last 10 miles or so of Loop 2 to open up a comfier lead on #2, and had a blast doing it.  Super fun riding!

Loop 3: 35.5 miles, 4060’
And once again the Ultimate Support Team was there at the pit, handing me the Camelbak and bottle that would fuel me through the final loop.  This time Erica yelled, “There’s a guy in 3rd place overall who might be on a singlespeed—don’t worry about him.  You were 15 minutes ahead of the next singlespeeder at the last checkpoint.  Keep it up!”  A singlespeeder in 3rd place?  On this course?  What?!

Not that it mattered; I clearly wasn’t going to pick him off.  So, I focused on forward progress, and reeling in as many geared riders as I could find.  The climb up to Boreas Pass was actually pretty fun—good climbing on a fun stretch of trail, with a mile or so of dirt road to finish it up.  There was a thunderhead making some noise over Boreas Mountain, but the pass itself was dry.

And holy crap, the Ultimate Support Team surprised me by cheering me on at the crest of the pass!  What a crew.  The descent to Como starts with ¼-mile of dirt road before turning down super fast, flowy singletrack.  Screaming down from the subalpine environment into big Colorado forest.  Eventually it turned into a rollercoaster down a weird Roman aqueduct-like trail, for miles!  (This apparently turned into something more like a muddy creek descent when it started raining later in the afternoon, but it rocked for me.)

Mom and Erica cheering me over Boreas Pass.  Take that Honey Stinger dude!  (He promptly passed me in the aqueduct.)

Eventually the aqueduct ran out and the trail turned incomprehensibly rough, with huge granite rock-gardens and cyclocross-style running.  Things slowed down quite a bit for the rest of the trip to Como.
The return trip from Como to Boreas Pass climbs up the endless dirt Boreas Pass road.  (For miles and miles and miles…)  Good for spinning late in the race, bad for the mental game.  It went on FOREVER.  Boreas Mountain was still capped in a thunderhead that rumbled periodically, but thankfully there wasn’t any lightning.  However, the light sprinkle that kept me cool for the bulk of the climb turned Biblical at the top of the pass.  Sheets of rain made the road into greasy mud for the descent, and then that was buried in a layer of hail.  Awesome.

Flying down the road, watching riders on their ascent donning jackets, I just gritted my teeth and figured that I could make it out the other side of the squall to warm up before succumbing to hypothermia.  I was cold, but it was manageable. 

Cornering into the finish, trying to see through mud-spattered sunglasses.

And shortly after popping out into the sun, the course turned off of the road and up into forest singletrack again.  I don’t know why I thought it would be downhill all the way to the finish, but it definitely wasn’t.  The course architect threw in a couple of final punchy climbs to get us away from the road, and then we dropped to the finish where the Ultimate Support Team tried to tactfully avoid hugging my now mud-splattered body.  A clean sweatshirt and ½-gallon of chocolate milk felt pretty damn good after nine-and-a-half hours in the saddle.

Damn, I'm glad that's over!

Okay, she gave me a hug.

It turned out that Cameron Chambers was indeed in 3rd-place, on a singlespeed.  He’s built a full-suspension SS out of a Trek Superfly, with a spring-loaded chain-tensioner on the back; that’s what had everybody confused about whether or not he had gears—it looks like a derailleur.  Cameron crushed the previous SS course record by over an hour!  I came in a few minutes behind the previous SS course record, disappointed that I didn’t break 9:30 but overall happy with my race.

The Singlespeed podium.  Why is my torso so damn long?

Now the big question is whether I’ve recovered enough over the few days between Breck and the High Cascades 100 to pull off the race I hope to have in Bend…

*Mucho thanks to the Ultimate Support Team for taking all of these great photos of the race!

...Rock Me LIke A Hurricane

Here I am...

I've always thought that blogging was a little like masturbation, with an audience.  But somehow, despite the fact that public masturbation is gross (and illegal), I feel compelled to try my hand at it.  So here we go...

Why call it Playing With Gravity?  It's an adequately interesting title, and largely captures much of what I like to do.  

Getting Throttled by Gravity, though often accurate, sounded too defeatest.  

Crushing Gravity? Whoa.  (No, thanks.)

Playing will do.

So what now?  Will anybody read what I have to say?  Will I publish this whole blog-experiment into the black hole of the interwebs to be lost forever?  Maybe.

But, on the other hand, maybe it will be interesting.  Perhaps there are people out there who want to hear about my efforts on a bicycle, on foot, on skis, in life...

So here I go, exploring what everybody else figured out in their early-teens.  (Masturbation is fun, and healthy...)