Photo Cred

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas and the Apocalypse

Once again this year, with Erica being Jewish and me being indifferent, I chose Christmas as a day for adventuring in the mountains.  I mean no crowds, bluebird skies, fresh powder, and a similarly motivated friend--perfect.

I've skied the Apocalypse Couloir on Prospector's Mountain a few times, and it seemed like the right objective for this day--mid-elevation, sheltered from the wind, protected from solar heating, and it sluffs regularly enough to flush out many of the weak layers that we have in our snowpack.  It would take significant assessment and management to get it done safely, but we agreed that it was a good terrain choice for the day's hazard.

I picked up Scotty Palmer in the dark cold of Jackson on Christmas morning, and what followed was a fantastic day of adventuring in fun terrain, with wonderfully stable snow.

Putting in a fresh skintrack through low-elevation facets was slow work.  Good thing Scotty was there to keep me entertained.

39 degrees seemed like a good slope angle for digging.  Scotty found sluggish storm snow instability.  Nice scenery, too.

Prepping the first rappel.  What a lovely day!

Starting the descent into the deep, dark of the Apocalypse Couloir.
Photo: Scott Palmer

Like a fish...  Hoping that this is the final pitch before we get to skiable snow.  (Big, overhanging ice bulge just where the ropes go out of view.)

Let's put these ropes away and ski!
Photo: Scott Palmer

After stomping a ski cut with no results, Scotty commits to the line.

Mmm, good.  We found wonderful, chalky snow--great edging.
Photo: Scott Palmer

Boing, boing.

Things got narrow for a good long ways in the upper couloir.
Photo: Scott Palmer

And then widened up at the dogleg.
Photo: Scott Palmer

The ice bulge in the narrows of the lower couloir definitely wasn't going to go unroped...

...So Scotty got all newschool-freestyle-jib-jabby with his twin-tip skis on rappel.

And then skied the skinny below the rappel.  Burly.  Look at all of that ice!

For a wider ski, these Voilé Charger BC's edge rather well when the snow turns to ice.
Photo: Scott Palmer

And we're out!  Nice, soft turns to finish it up.

Another amazing day in the Tetons.  I'm thankful to be surrounded by this community of skilled and motivated ski partners to get me fired up, and then help me make good decisions.

Looking forward to the next adventure...

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Alive By Luck, Part 2

Getting off of the Deville was way more of a challenge than any of us could have expected, and brought us closer to utter disaster than we had ever been.  The guidebook describes it as being two pitches of rappelling to a snow gully that can be walked down.  The first rappel is pretty easy, and the second is steeper and a bit tricky.  It also says to bear right.  We found the top easily enough, and beginning the rappel below west-facing slopes at noon seemed like an easy decision.  The rappel would take two hours, maybe three tops, and the slopes above wouldn’t receive sun until late in the afternoon.  That was when it all went to hell.

Almost off of the rappel, feeling relieved.

After six hours and multiple pitches of rappelling, waiting, trying to find anchors, and communicating across 60 meters of windy space, touching down at the bottom of the rappel brought intense feelings of relief and release from the stress of working through a situation that felt mildly out of control.  I hit snow with 3 meters of rope left and ecstatically yelled, “It goes!” as I ran down to a shark’s-fin ridge sticking out of the 40-degree slope.  Watching the rest of the crew rappel down and gather on the fin, I completely forgot about the slopes above the rappel, reveling in the release.  The sun had traveled into the northwest sky, igniting the blue of the icefall next to us and turning the snow the same rosy gold color in which we had started the day.

With all of us off the rappel, we relaxed in the euphoria of having done it without injury, of being safe.  We forgot, or ignored, the hazard that still hung above us.  As I finished packing the rope into my pack, Jud traversed across the slope to look up the gully next door and see if that was where the rappel was supposed to end.  The rumbling was far off when he arced his turn back, like thunder in the distance on a clear day, but when he screamed we knew instantly what was wrong.  I looked up at a Niagara Falls of snow thundering over the lip of the cliff we had just rappelled down.  It eclipsed the light of the sky, and we just fled.  I ran, stumbled, and then crouched, curled up in a ball, and waited for it to hit.


It took a remarkably long time for the avalanche to touch down.  I was pretty sure that it would stay on the far side of the fin, that most of us would be out of it’s path.  The slope shook under the roar of the cascade thundering down, and then it was over.  When I stood up and looked around, pockets packed with snow from the air blast, I was amazed to see four of us on the surface.  We raced downslope with transceivers out, searching for Jud in the debris flow a few hundred feet below.  After a couple of minutes that felt like much longer we heard him screaming from down slope, out of view, demanding if we were all okay--was everybody there? 

And that made five—we were all alive.  Looking back up, the rest of the slope was empty; our gear had been carried or blown away, strewn far and wide.   We were ultimately able to retrieve almost everything—most stuff was on the surface.  I happened to step on Jud’s ski, buried 10cm down.  No longer thrilled with the release of coming off the rappel, we silently gathered ourselves together and skied down to safety and the end of the scariest day we’d ever had.

Looking back, the slide seemed enormous--maybe size D3.5. With the 500’ freefall it took over the cliff, being buried seemed like a mild consequence; had we been standing under it, we would have simply been crushed.  As it was, Jud was carried maybe 400 vertical feet, losing both skis and poles, doing his best to stay on top of the debris after ditching his pack.  When it stopped, he was buried face down, but just under the surface.   With a mere push-up, he popped himself out of the snow and grabbed his shovel and probe, ready to search for the rest of us.  It wasn’t until we had all regrouped that he realized he had bruised a rib, and would be moving gingerly for the rest of the trip.  We had come closer to losing our lives than any of us ever had before, or want to again, and for the most part we were just fine.

View from the Illeciliwat Nevé the following day.  The avalanche came from the slope above and to the left of the rappels, debris is visible below.

We were lucky—that was immediately apparent, but also a superficial assessment of what had happened.  It took weeks for me to realize the enormity of our luck.  I pride myself on my competence and ability to use good judgment in the mountains.  Our survival, however, had nothing to do with either competence or good judgment, beyond my choice to regroup on the fin.  (The debris was funneled away from us by this minute feature on the slope.)  We knew that slope above us would avalanche sometime between 6 and 6:30pm--west aspects had been going every evening.  We knew.

But we lost the bigger perspective.  Our survival was incidental.  We had given up our control; this is what scares me most.  To have my safety and that of my comrades dependent on fate, karma, luck, whatever, is to me unacceptable.  That I allowed myself to become so exposed to a hazard that I could no longer manage is terrifying to me.  That we all survived the avalanche with merely a bruised rib was LUCK, pure and simple, and I'm not proud of that.


I had to head back home pretty shortly after we got out of the mountains.  We discussed the avalanche on and off during our last day’s travel, but didn’t say much about it once the trip ended.  I haven’t spoken with any of the guys since I left, other than a couple of emails about sharing pictures.  Thoughts of the avalanche consumed me in the weeks after it happened, but I didn’t have the energy or courage to discuss it with anybody besides my wife.

As months go by and it moves further into my past, the emotion is becoming separated from the event and I am able to focus on what I can learn from the experience.  Stay focused and be attentive to what is happening to the snow around you.  Maintain situational awareness.  Be aware of human fallibility in managing avalanche hazard.  More than concrete lessons, however, what I am taking away is an ability to recognize similar situations and respond appropriately.  I know that I won’t avoid avalanche terrain in the future, but I also hope that I will never again allow myself to become so removed from control over my own safety.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Alive By Luck, Part 1

It's been a while since I posted anything here, and I happened across this account that I wrote up after a 2-week ski trip in Canada back in 2004.  It was an amazing journey--beautiful country, great skiing, and some heavy learning.  I haven't edited it much, wanting to preserve the emotion and perspective from right after the trip ended.  


When the snow settled and the wind died, I stood up slowly and looked around with trepidation.  Was that it?  Where was everybody?  What the fuck just happened?  Looking across the slope, I saw Christian getting up and Jeff already moving down towards Jay, who was gathering himself at the edge of some debris.  What about Jud?  The last I had seen him, he was screaming something as he tried to turn out of the path of the avalanche that poured off the cliffs above us.  Then I ran, and he disappeared.

It was completely unexpected, though it should not have been.  We were all so elated to get off the rappel that we forgot about everything else.   We forgot about the solar warming occurring on the snow-filled west faces above us.  We forgot about the avalanche cycle from the past few days that followed the sun’s path.   We forgot that we needed to keep moving, quickly, to get out of steep terrain.   Until that moment we had been so tuned-in to the snowpack, so cognizant of the hazard that surrounded us.  But in our relief at being off of a frustrating and mildly scary rappel we became complacent about the known hazard that had occupied our attention.  And now Jud was missing.


The Bugaboos-to-Roger’s Pass ski traverse begins at the Conrad Kane hut below the hulking granite of Bugaboo Spire and heads north across the Purcells to the Selkirks, finishing with a traverse of two huge pancake-flat glaciers, the Deville and Illecillewat Nevés, and a long descent to Roger’s.  Covering over 100 km with more than 10,000 meters of climbing it is a total “skier’s traverse” flush with multiple long, north-facing, steep powder descents and challenging skinning.  The entire traverse occurs in or under avalanche terrain, and requires constant assessment and management. I f conditions turn unstable midway through the trip the only option is to bail down a 40 km overgrown logging road in one of the river valleys that pour down from the abundant snow in the high country.

Skinning through the Bugaboos.

And making our exit.

I was a late addition to a trip put together by my buddy Jeff and some friends of his from Nelson, BC.  They had spent the last couple of months pouring over maps and arranging our mid-route food cache so that by the time I arrived in Nelson all that was left was to become acquainted with eachother before starting out.  Jud and Jay lived together outside of Nelson in a house that Jay had just bought, with parking in the front lawn and a grease pit in the backyard.  Together with Christian, a recent immigrant from Denmark, they spent the winter living on “E.I.” (employment insurance), towing each other into the backcountry around Nelson with sometimes-functional sleds, poaching the cat-skiing operations’ powder, and staying in as many of the area’s prolific backcountry huts as possible.  As a whole, they turned out to be strong, fast skiers who knew the area intimately, and had spent the winter with their heads in the snow assessing stability while skiing the ample steeps offered by the Kootenays.


Our trip began at the CMH Bugaboos Lodge, where the lovely waitresses took pity on us as we gawked at the spread enjoyed by paying clients.  After eating our fill of gourmet sandwiches and cookies, we boarded a helicopter for a brief ride to the Kane Hut.  With the departure of the helicopter came utter stillness, and deliciously quiet cold as we gazed up at the spires towering overhead.  Skiing into the Bugaboos is absolutely spectacular.  We skinned through creamy powder, surrounded by world-class alpine climbing, but for us the rock was merely the backdrop behind our reason for being there.  We wanted soft snow, cold weather, and to ski past the next horizon.  We dreamed of sweet turns and, given the remoteness of the route, we hoped to see nobody else during our two weeks out.

Fast powder, somewhere in the Purcells.

As the trip progressed, we fell into a rhythm that worked pretty well for us: up at 6am, moving later than we wanted but not too late, travel until 6 or 7 in the evening, eat dinner, go to sleep.  Repeat.  We found fantastic powder on the north aspects, and excellent firm-snow skinning on the south.  It felt good, comfortable to be out together.  Through all extremes of weather, from blistering sun to high winds and heavy snowfall, we worked efficiently together, helping each other out when it was needed, rotating through the lead and traveling at a steady pace, making avalanche hazard and route-finding decisions as a team.  We also discussed our past decisions; were they good decisions?  Did we miss anything?  Would we make the same choices again, given the information present at the time?  Most often, we were happy with the choices we had made, and comfortable with how we managed hazards.  When we weren’t, we tried to glean learning from the experience, and apply it to future situations.


Weathering the trip's first storm.

Springtime conditions along the Duncan River.

After weathering a storm at the International Hut, we crossed over to the Duncan River watershed and dropped 4500’ from cold alpine powder to wet, isothermal spring snow in the valley.  Crossing the Duncan would mark our passage from the Purcells to the Selkirks, and the finish of our traverse.  In order to get up to the route across the Selkirks, however, we put in a day of skinning that began with wet bushwhacking and ended with a bootpack to Beaver Pass through thigh-deep powder.  After a cold, windy night on the pass, we skied down to the Duncan Nevé using windows of visibility in a whiteout.  “Is the bergschrund filled-in there?”  “Can you see if it goes?”  Jay volunteered to be the guinea pig, and we breathed a huge sigh of relief as he ripped turns past the bergschrund and skied far out into the basin beyond.  Once we all cleared the slope, we built a quinzhee that became our home for 3 days as 70 mph gusts screamed past outside and 50cm of was blown past.  At one point, the wind threw Jud to the ground while he was trying to reinforce the walls sheltering our kitchen.

Recovering from the storm.  (Avalanches on Sugarloaf Mountain in the background.)

Looking back at our camp on the glacier.  (Below the peak, and just to the left.)

All of the new loading from the storm brought dramatically different avalanche conditions, as we witnessed when a size D4 slab ripped off the west face of Sugarloaf Mountain and traveled a half-kilometer across the glacier.  We tried to make a route work past the northeast shoulder of Sugarloaf but it felt bad, so we made the tough call to drop 5500’ back down to the valley and ski around to the Grand Glacier, and a different access to the Deville Nevé.  This was the only part of the route that we had to circumvent, and it added 10km and 5000’ of climbing to the route total.  Not crushing, but certainly a bummer.  During this descent and the trip around to the Grand, we watched as the sun worked the new snow and started a predictable daily avalanche cycle, with avalanches ripping a couple of hours after a given aspect received sun.  Back to traveling on frozen snow, either early or well after it had refrozen late in the day.

Waking up to a lovely morning before the climb to the Devile Nevé.

The five of us on the Deville--me, Jeff, Jud, Christian, and Jay.

The night before our climb to the Deville was probably the most spectacular of the trip.  Alpenglow lit up the Grand Glacier basin around us until late in the evening, and we all slept out under a starry sky.  We woke early, with the stars still shining above, and climbed the south-facing slopes to the Deville as the sun rose and turned the snow around us to a rosy gold color.  It was by far the best bootpacking of the trip—firm, frozen snow averaging about 40 degrees. Great climbing.  At the crest of the Deville Neve, a pancake of a glacier 5km in length, we took a group picture under bluebird skies with the peaks around Roger’s Pass in the background.  The end of the trip was in sight, and we were giddy with its closeness.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

¡Muchas Graçias!

Thanksgiving is still a ways off, but I feel the need to express my gratitude to the people and companies that supported me through a pretty amazing season of racing.  Without them this whole thing wouldn't have happened.

So without further ado many, many thanks:

To Erica, for being my supreme supporter and manager, for the Camelbak hand-ups, for yelling at me to drink more, and for inspiring me to ride faster.  For accommodating the training hours; the weekends devoted to racing; the late dinnertimes; my inability to stay awake past 9pm; the weight-loss (I'm no longer a 195-pound beefcake); my finicky diet preferences; the financial burden of entry fees, travel costs, and gear purchases; and my (excessive?) focus on bikes and biking for most of the year.

To Rue, for not chewing the crap out of the house when I'm out for long rides that she can't participate in.  And for coming with me when she can.

To my parents, for their endless support, encouragement, and instigation of my drive to compete in these ridiculous athletic pursuits.

To Missy White, who donated the airline miles that allowed me to compete at the Fool's Gold 100.  And to Gary Faris, whose contribution helped Erica join me there.

This is an outdated photo of the crew, but it's the best I could find.  Pretty stunning shot!
Photo: Mark Fisher
To my cohorts at Creative Energies, for finding space in the truck to bring my bike with us when we're working on the road, and for shaping a creative work schedule to allow me the time off for traveling and racing.

To SuperDan, whose coaching helped me find success this season, and whose therapy has helped me find relief from less successful experiences.

To Pivot Cycles, for the LESter--the ultimate singlespeed ripper--and for their constant encouragement.  This is far and away the most fun bicycle I've ever ridden.

To American Classic, for this sweet Singlespeed Wheelset.  I've beat the hell out of these things, but they're still running smooth and true.  And they're light!

To Endless Bikes, for their sick singlespeed cogs.  They're LIGHT, attractive, and remarkably durable!  I rode and raced this one hard for 5 months before deciding that it was time to swap out for a fresh one.  That's far more riding than I've gotten out of any heavy steel cogs.

To Loaded Precision Products, for a variety of lightweight, strong, and attractive bits and pieces.  They complete my bike.

To Mountain Khakis, for helping keep me dressed.  It's important to have pants.

To the awesome people at Fitzgerald's Bicycles (it's worth clicking on the link!), my favorite bike shop on the planet, and to our amazing team--what passionate, motivated, supportive riders!  Thank you for believing in me.

And finally, to the cycling community!  I have gotten to connect with so many phenomenal people in the last couple of years, and my life is richer for it.  Thank you for the good energy, and for inspiring me to ride faster and race harder.  I can't wait to get out there again with you all next year.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Never Say Die

The Stats:
  • 44.5 Miles
  • 6667' of Elevation Gain
  • 1st-Place Singlespeed, 9th Overall
  • 3:51:45 to the finish.

I had to dig deep to pull off the win yesterday, possibly deeper than I've ever gone, and had a Brand-New Experience to boot.

The event was the Draper Fall Classic 50-miler, the final race in the Utah State Championship Series, and once again I just happened to be in Salt Lake City so why not give it a go?  (The Alpine XCO from earlier in the season is part of the same series, and I happened to be in SLC for that one as well.)  Erica's whole family congregated in Salt Lake this weekend for her grandmother's 95th birthday celebration (happy birthday Bubbi!) and they were kind enough to give me a hall-pass for the race.

It was good to see friendly faces in the parking lot before the race, including Corey Larrabee who would be racing on his backyard trails.  After a couple of years of racing against eachother we've developed a great competitive camaraderie.  He's wicked strong and has a good head for racing, so I knew this was going to be a fun 50 miles of chasing him around the course.

The race started in waves with the Pro Men first, followed by the Pro Women, and then two Expert Men's waves before the singlespeeders finally got onto the course.  As expected, Corey led into the singletrack and kept the pace hot for the first couple of miles until we started catching racers from previous waves.

That broke up the flow until the course turned up a dirt road climb and there was ample room to pass.  It was a little horrifying seeing the mass of racers who would end up ahead of us on the next stretch of singletrack if we didn't start cranking, so I made my day's first foray into the red zone and sent my heartrate through the roof in a passing frenzy.  I expected Corey to come with me, but when I turned into the singletrack I was all alone with a mostly clear course ahead.

That gave me some confidence; if I was able to keep my lead on the climbs I might be able to hold Corey off on the descents to stay in the lead.  (Corey came blazing by me on the long descent into Park City at the Point2Point; he's clearly faster on the downhills.)  So I stayed hard on the throttle as the course climbed up and up, accepting that I was going to pay for it later on.

But then Corey blazed by me again on a long, exposed, kitty-litter descent.  Dammit!  He led the rest of the lap and was out of sight when I rolled out for lap two.

I began to have serious doubts about getting the win when we got further and further into the second lap's climbs and he was still out of sight.  I knew that I would need to open a lead before we started descending again if I had any hope of staying out front, but I just wasn't catching him!

I started contemplating that I might have to accept not winning my final race of the season, until I looked down at my toptube...

...and remembered the words of my friend JayP, "No negative thoughts."  Don't let yourself get dragged down and lose motivation with self-destructive thinking.  Just know that you're strong enough, and getting stronger by challenging yourself, and get it done.

So with that wave of inspiration I cranked up another surge and found Corey just after starting some fun, twisty-turny singletrack in the forest.  He let me pass and I just pinned it, heartrate soaring, legs throbbing, and willed myself up to the top of the course.

Starting out the rolling singletrack to the big descent I risked a glance back and saw empty trail behind me, and knew that I at least had a chance.  So I kept a light touch on the brakes, accepted a modicum of beyond-control, and chanted my own mantra, "Focus forward."  Don't worry about who is behind you; all you can do is race your best race and let everybody else race theirs.  Stay focused on propelling yourself to the finish, as fast as you can.

The downhill flew by, miraculously I stayed all alone, and then I had the Brand-New Experience on the Clark Trail climb.

Cyclists dread the mythical (inevitable?) event of "cracking".  We refer to it as "the wheels came off" and "the bottom dropped out" but before that Clark Trail climb it had never happened to me.  I had caught one of the Pro-division geared riders and went to make a pass on a wide stretch of trail, and much to my surprise discovered that         I                         just                                couldn't                                   do     it.

For the first time in my racing career I couldn't make the surge.

EVERYTHING was cramping, and gravity inexplicably doubled.  Each turn of the cranks was a willed event.  Just staying on my bike was a matter of will.  Lying down and crying seemed like a reasonable option.  I was doubled over, only able to focus on one pedal-stroke at a time while my vision alternated between being excessively bright and dimming out.  We were 39 miles into a 45-ish mile race and I had just cracked.

It felt like eternity before I reached the top of the climb (in reality only about 10 minutes,) and when I finally turned down the pump-and-jump descent to finish the race I was fatigued beyond the point of relief.

I did my best to stay off the brakes and on the trail, and thankfully after a few minutes my brain and body kicked in again and I remembered how to have fun on a bike.  Soaring down that few miles of trail was ridiculous fun, mixed with some niggling anxiety about being caught by Corey, and then there was the pitch-black tunnel to the finish loop and I was still in the lead and I felt elated and awful all at the same time.

Riding up the final pavement climb, trying to put in a strong finish, was agony.  Quads in full-cramp, body empty of energy, stoked on a winning end to the season but really just wanting to collapse off my bike.  And then Erica and Rue and Aunt Martha were there cheering me across the line, and I was done.  Spent.

Corey finished strong a couple of minutes later, continuing our trend of pushing eachother to give it all and win by a slim margin.  Over bottles of chocolate milk (brilliance on the part of race director Bob Saffell) we told stories of the race until Erica warned me that I had better get moving to re-join the weekend's family celebration.

Hall-pass rescinded, I said good-bye to Corey and the rest of the crew, thanked Bob for a rad event, and called it a solid finish to my 2013 racing season.  I love this sport.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Fools On Wheels

The Stats:
  • 96 Miles or 102 Miles (depending on whether you believe Garmin Connect or Strava.)
  • 12,500' of climbing
  • 1st-Place Singlespeed, 3rd Overall
  • 8:19:08 to the finish

The 2013 NUE Series came to a bittersweet ending at the Fool’s Gold 100 in Dahlonega, GA.  I was amazed by the riding in north Georgia, and astounded at the lengths people will go to in sabotaging a mountain bike race.  What the hell?  It's hard enough to stay upright on a bike in these races, let alone deal with goons taking us miles off-course.  Aargh.

In the mix at the start line.
Photo: Erica Linnell

My body was slow getting started on the neutral spin away from the Montaluce Winery and the early stages of forest service road, which allowed Gerry Pflug to get a pretty good gap on me by the time we started the Cooper Gap climb.  Thankfully that was when things started flowing and my legs woke up, so I was able to reel in Gerry and Drew Edsall just before the top of the climb and ride with them over to a key turn in the course where the course markings had been sabotaged.  When we saw the arrows pointing right we all said, "Aren't we supposed to go left here?" but then we saw pink course-marking ribbons continuing down the righthand fork and that was that.

Those guys opened up another gap on me descending the forest service road there; not sure what was going on, but somehow gravity provided them with more downhill momentum than me.  Maybe they’re riding faster-rolling tires?  Maybe my bigger body catches more wind?  Maybe I’m just a big sissy?  (Golf-ball gravel is scary!)  Either way, by the time my Garmin had beeped at me enough to make me seriously question our course direction, they were too far ahead for me to communicate with them.

Trusting a Garmin while riding in the forest is always a little weird; with the tree-cover the satellite signal comes and goes enough that the GPS beeps “Off-Course!” with some frequency.  So it took me a long while to believe that I was actually miles away from the course, and turn back.

A couple of geared riders joined me there and we dicked around trying to decide what to do, ultimately continuing even further down until we reached a fish farm and finally accepted that we were hosed.  (The GPX file shows that we descended about 5 miles and 800’--brutal.)  We picked up a few riders, then more riders, and more riders as we climbed back out of there (including the entire singlespeed field) ultimately accumulating a pack of 30 or 40 lycra-clad, cursing cyclists.

I gapped off the front with a geared rider named Josh Fix (who would take 2nd in the Men's Open), pulling eachother back up to the course and back into the race.  After that, the rest of the race was awesome, other than running short on water before reaching Erica and my first re-supply at the Bottom-of-Bull.  I rode with a couple of 50-mile singlespeeders for 15 miles or so before pulling away on the first Bull Mountain climb, and they were the last singlespeeders I saw.

The rest of the day was a bit of a blur--I kept spinning and spinning and working and working, and the miles went by and it got hot and humid and my body hurt and I loved it.  Michael Danish passed me at the mid-course aide station after leading the race down the wrong turn (riding a couple of miles beyond where I turned back) and raced to the overall win, finishing 13 minutes ahead of me.  Pretty impressive.

When I came through the Bull Mountain aide for the last time Erica told me that Gerry had dropped out of the race once he realized how much time he had lost in the wrong turn with the lead group--that was a bummer.  I felt badly for Gerry and was super disappointed that our opportunity to finish the season head-to-head was gone.  Aargh.

Rolling into the Bull Mountain aide.
Photo: Erica Linnell

But Erica also told me that Ernesto Marenchin was only 5 or 6 minutes back!  Rallying the last 15 miles to maintain my lead was some of the biggest, and most painful, fun I've had on a mountain bike in a long time.  I'm discovering that I really like riding the margin of control--bobbing, weaving, pumping, pushing, cranking, sweeping, one-wheel drifting, two-wheel drifting, pedal-pedal-pedal, stay off the brakes, push through the corner, float those roots, momentum is your friend, whoa that was close!

Mountain biking is fun!  Enough to forget about the heat and cramping.

The cruelty of an uphill grass finish.
Photo: Erica Linnell

And then it was a cruel uphill finish on grass to the end of a solid NUE season.  Bittersweet, but good.  I managed to hold my lead over Ernesto and Dwayne Goscinski to take the singlespeed win, but when it comes down to it I had a great race in Georgia and was one chip-timed minute away from competing for the overall series singlespeed win. 

Photo: Erica Linnell 

That stings a little bit.

It was also frustrating how much the sabotaged course markings altered the outcome of the race--I really wanted to see how Gerry and I would end up competing with eachother.  Next year...

Sharing stories with Ernesto Marenchin and Dwayne Goscinski--they finished 2nd- and 3rd-place singlespeeders respectively, only 5 seconds apart!  We three ended up finishing in the top 5 overall, on singlespeeds!  First time in an NUE race that SS'ers took 3 of the top 5 spots?
Photo: Erica Linnell

I gained some good experience and learning out of this race, and some confidence:

I learned that I am indeed capable of racing well after flying to the East Coast.  (After last year's Hampshire 100 debacle, I wasn't so sure.)

Proud to share the podium with these guys after a tough race.
Photo: Erica Linnell

I also learned, or was reminded, that I can produce strong performances on back-to-back weekends.  After going hard at the Point2Point I was happy that I felt good racing the Fool's Gold.

And I learned that I actually am able to race on twisty, turny, root-strewn trails unlike anything we have in the West.

This podium too--for the series.  Gerry took home a sweet poster of himself at the True Grit 100, and a free entry into La Ruta!  Looking forward to getting back out there with these guys next year.
Photo: Erica Linnell

So that feels good.

But the real hero story of the weekend isn't even mine; after losing her driver's license and missing her flight Erica arrived in Dahlonega at 1:30am on Saturday, slept 3 hours, and rallied to support me all day at the race!  How did I get so lucky?!  (How did she pull that off?!)

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Curse of the Park City Point 2 Point

The Stats:
  • ~75 Miles
  • ~14,000' of climbing
  • 2nd-Place Singlespeed, 13th Overall
  • 7:04:49 to the finish.

I'm not really sure what to think about this year's Park City Point2Point--still shocked by the outcome.  But let's get to that later...

I loved the racing at this year's P2P--I felt strong throughout and REALLY enjoyed the riding; Jay and Shannon have built a truly amazing course--they nailed it this year!

When the potato gun went off and we charged onto the bike path, I stayed focused on just riding with the pack and staying upright; the 2 miles of pavement was the most chaotic "peloton" that I've ever been in.  Riders weaving in and out, cutting eachother off, slamming on the brakes and skidding to avoid hitting somebody ahead--it was nuts.  Big relief to get on dirt and focus on riding my race rather than avoiding everybody else's race.

After the Round Valley warm-up, the P2P is defined by long climbs and LONG descents, and lots and lots of singletrack.  Rare opportunities to relax the brain or body as you're either hammering uphill or hammering downhill, focused on staying on the trail and working the terrain.

Rolling into the Deer Valley aide station.

Without a doubt the highlight of the day was soaring down Corvair after exiting the Flagstaff Loop.   That trail should be named Carve-Air; it's a romping downhill full of fast, banked turns and air-inducing rollers through dense forest.  Some of the biggest fun I've had on a bike.

The Camelbak hand-off.  Erica has this maneuver dialed.
Photo: Sarah Hamilton

I had left Round Valley in the lead for the singlespeeders, with no other SS riders in sight, so I decided to temper my pace through the Deer Valley aide station and over to Park City, wanting to save some legs for racing at the Fool's Gold next weekend--that was my tactical error.  Every race is a race, and if I want to win I have to compete like I want to win.  Should have stayed on the throttle throughout.  I mean, I was certainly racing out there--it's just that now I'm kicking myself for not pushing harder early-on.

Leaving the Park City aide with a fresh Camelbak and a nylon stocking of ice on my neck.
Photo: Sarah Hamilton

In any case, when Corey Larrabee caught me on the descent into Park City I was caught completely off-guard; where the hell did he come from?!  So when we left the PC aide and started up the bastard climb to the Armstrong Trail I knew I was going to have to pin it up Armstrong and try to open a gap before the final descent.  Corey was spinning well but I managed to pull ahead just a bit and maintain a tiny gap.  I dug SUPER deep to stay out ahead--one of the harder racing efforts I've put out in one of these events--and at every switchback Corey would still be there, 30 seconds back, 45 seconds back.

It was infuriating.

When the trail turned down I opened the throttle as wide as I could, staying off the brakes and riding the margin of control to stay out front.  The final climb up Ambush was the kick-in-the-nuts that it always is, and then back on the edge of control down to the finish.  Corey rolled in about a minute later with a bloody knee and mangled front wheel.  (He rode beyond the edge of control.)  Damn close finish!

Almost done! Nearing the end of the final descent, with Corey in the background.


I guess she takes after me...

I was way stoked to have held my lead and stayed in contention for the NUE Series SS championship, so it was crushing to check the results board an hour later and discover that because Corey started in a wave 2 minutes behind me he had completed the course a minute faster and thus was the actual winner.  Brutal.  Seemed like everybody was a little surprised by that outcome--an unexpected side-effect of chip-timing, and a hard one to accommodate for.  How do you race head-to-head if you're not sure when you started relative to eachother?

As it turns out, Corey technically started in the correct wave; the way it's broken down, the Pro/Open Men start first, followed by the Pro/Open Women, then a self-estimated 7-hour finish time wave (where Corey started), 8-hour wave, 9-hour wave...  I'm accustomed to the singlespeeds being grouped with the Pro/Open division, so when I saw a handful of other singlespeeders in with the Pro/Open field I made an assumption...  Turns out that Jay wanted us mixed in with the finish-time groups. 

Disappointed, but stoked to watch for friends finishing up a hard race.

So there it is--the Point2Point gets me again.  Disappointed?  Yes.  It's hard to see a season's effort at competing for the NUE Series go south by one minute in the weirdness of chip-timing.

But fuck it.  I'm going to the
Fools' Gold anyway to see how I can compete against the singlespeed field at the championship event.

Here's to riding fast and racing hard...