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Monday, November 17, 2014

Ripping One More Fast One

The Stats:

It goes without saying that I was disappointed by the outcome of my 2014 NUE season--I wanted that championship, and was really hoping for the opportunity to join the other NUE division champs at La Ruta De Los Conquistadores.  (That being said, Gordon's overwhelming success down there makes me feel a little better--at least I was bested by a true competitor.)  So when I was asked to join the Twins and Berningman on a 4-Man Fitzy team for the 25 Hours In Frog Hollow ("The Longest 1-Day Race"), I said Hell Yes!  I mean, it may not be Costa Rica, but flowing down gorgeous desert singletrack at 2am with a crew of buddies?  Who would say no to that?

Not me.

Damn, this course is fast.
Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

Some background: the 25 Hours In Frog Hollow takes place on the first weekend in November every year outside of Hurricane, Utah on the legendary Jem Trail.  That weekend happens to be the fall time change, hence the extra hour of racing between 10am on Saturday and 10am on Sunday.  And the Frog Hollow course is the fastest mountain bike race course I've ever ridden.  (15mph is a reasonably fast average on a singlespeed, right?)

Sunset from camp, the night before.

So that's how we ended up in southern Utah on Halloween night, surrounded by hundreds of other cycling enthusiasts and their families, doing our best to "fuel up" (stuff ourselves) before putting out a 25-hour effort.  The scene around camp was super fun--costumes, laughter, kids squealing all over on those Strider bikes.  Burn barrels and fire pans began to glow as night fell and the temps settled, with rock n' roll playing in the distance in The Pit.

Morning came overcast and "breezy", but at least it was dry.  Nervously eating while making final adjustments to bicycles and clothing organization, we got kitted up in a pretty stiff wind and headed over to the start line to cheer George through the obligatory LeMans start.  (As ever, why make everybody run from the start line to get on their bikes?)  And we were off...

Bart adds some flair to the Jem Trail.Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

Lap 1:  Damn, this hurts.  George scorched the opening lap, so there are really only a couple of guys ahead of us.  Maybe I didn't warm up enough.  How do people do this short-duration max-effort stuff?  I end up chasing Chris Holley until I pass him halfway through the climb to the top of the Jem Trail and then I'm cranking away by myself into the descent.  Briefly.  It seems like I've only been pointed downhill for 30 seconds before I hear Chris behind me and watch him rocket by in his big gear.  How did he get so fast?  I think I've seen 5 other people riding the Pivot LES--stoked to see it becoming the hot ride.  Such sweetness.

George, too.
Crawling Spider Photography

Lap 2:  Damn, this still hurts.  At least it's not hot out here.  Stiff headwind on the climb, but it's a tailwind on the down!  Chasing Brent from the Roosters team, pass him just before the top of the Jem, and then watch him rocket past in his big gear on the downhill just like Chris did.  Crap.  Maybe my superior stubbornness will outweigh my lack of gears and I can pull ahead in the middle of the night.  This lap turns out to be my fastest of the day at 48:46.

Photo: Crawling Spider Photography

Lap 3:  Now this is just plain fun.  It doesn't seem to matter whether or not I bother to warm up--the opening road sprint and climb are painful either way, and before it really takes a toll I'm onto the romping downhill.  This time Bart has landed me ahead of Brent, so I'm hauling ass to maintain our lead.  Damn, this is fun.  If you've never ripped a 36x16 on a singlespeed on desert singletrack, get out there and do it--freaking amazing.  Tall enough to keep cranking away on the Jem downhills, but still just barely rideable on the short-lived steeps of the main climb.  The Lauf fork is perfect for this course--light, fast, responsive.  This lap goes 4 seconds slower than my last one.  Held the lead.  Having a blast!

Jason, racing to stay ahead of the impending rain.
Crawling Spider Photography

Lap 4:  It's dark.  And raining.  Not hard, just enough be chilly and add some grease to the sandstone plates on the Rim Trail at the low end of the loop.  At least the wind has stopped.  Much slower pace with this grease on the course, more tentative riding to stay upright.  Let it fly on the straightaways to clear the mud off my tires, pick my way through the corners to stay on-course.  Especially on those damn plates.

Lap 5:  Still dark.  And awesome.  I love riding by headlights, especially in the desert where the views are long and I can see other riders on the course miles away as their headlights become pinpricks on the horizon.  The rain has stopped and a light breeze is drying out the dirt--course conditions are unbelievable.  Tacky, tacky, tacky and FAST!!!  Even in the dark we're still burning well under 1-hour laps, and 36x16 couldn't be more perfect.  This racing thing is dreamy.  Somebody just handed me a slice of pie as I came through The Pit.

Lap 6:  Still dark.  Still awesome.  Maybe even awesomer.  No more pie, but damn if the course isn't getting even better.  I didn't know that was even possible.  Team Rooster lost their mojo in the rainy dark, so we're a fair bit into the lead at this point.  George and I have been alternating laps to give Jason and Bart a longer rest--we're about to swap that program, so this is probably my last night lap.  I could do this forever.  Probably my intake of caffeine and sugar talking, but I'm totally awake, and totally stoked.  Not sure how that's possible at 2am, but it's real.  I'm so glad that I'm not doing this one solo--this team thing is way more fun.

4:00am:  In the tent, warm under my sleeping bag.  Just got woken up by rainfall.  I think Bart must have beat the rain--he got back pretty quick--but Jason is getting hammered.  This isn't light rain.  No Irish "soft weather".  This is biblical.  Buckets pouring out of the sky.  I'm sure Jason looked at the radar before his lap (the wonder of smartphones...) but I doubt he could have anticipated this.  I wonder if Cimarron will call the race before somebody gets hurt, or the course gets destroyed.

Bart got brutalized out there.

6:00am:  Nope.  She told Bart that if he decided to go out for his lap it would be "at his own risk", and recommended that he wait 15 minutes to see if conditions improved.  But this is racing.  Who's going to wait?  What are we going to do, sit around and watch our lead evaporate?  So he charged out into it.  Jason came in shivering uncontrollably and covered in mud, had to get George to swap in for him so that he could warm up and clean his bike enough to get the wheels to spin again.  Lap times have slowed way down.  Definitely embracing the suck.

Lap 7:  George hands off to me and grins through mud-caked lips, telling me that the riding is actually super fun out there.  He's full of shit.  Except that he isn't.  The rain stopped an hour ago, and the desert air has done its work on the course.  The opening climb flows by with minimal sucking mud and then the Jem downhill is fast enough that I don't even care.  There's mud in my teeth, in my hair, packed in my ears and working its way behind my sunglasses into my eyes, but as long as I lay off the brakes and embrace gravity none of it matters.  This is mountain biking, and I love it.

George brings it in for Team Fitzy.  What a trip.

10:16:46am:  George crosses the finish line after our 28th lap, inexplicably working to retrieve the clothespin "baton" from his jersey pocket.  Who is he planning to hand it to?  We're done.  We took the win for the 4-Man division with a comfortable margin.  2 laps short of the course record, but with the conditions we were given we're feeling pretty good about what we managed to accomplish in the last 25 hours.  Apparently stubbornness does count for something.  And really, given those conditions, that record might be within reach in 2015...

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Where The F@*k Is Gordon Wadsworth?!

The Stats:

Last Saturday brought a season-finale wondrous thrashing at the Fool's Gold 100 in the mountains of Georgia.  Fast, swooping singletrack through the forest, roots, creek crossings, threats of aggressive wasps and hornets, and extended stretches of gravel road riding.  And though they might not be tall by western standards, they are indeed mountains--there is no flat terrain anywhere; everything is up or down, and often steep.

Damn, put on some clothes, man!  It's too early for that.
Photo: Tom Linnell

After racing with Gordon Wadsworth at Pierre's Hole I was pumped to see him again and see how we would compete closer to his home.  It was also a chance to see friends like Dwayne Goscinski and Peat Henry, and Ernesto and Gerry.  Kind of like a "family" reunion to put a cap on the NUE season.

Photo: Tom Linnell

As happened last year, the race started with a somewhat horrifyingly chaotic knobby peloton on the pavement neutral ride to the big Cooper's Gap climb, where the hammerfest started.  Things thinned out pretty quickly, with Gordon pushing a super fast pace at the front and me hanging back with Dwayne and Bob Moss in the pack.  This is where I made a tactical decision that would ultimately make all the difference.

I've had success this season with tempering my pace in the first half of these extraordinarily long races, saving my matches, and then going hot and hard later on.  It works great; on most of these courses, we might be riding together but it's really a test of each rider's individual abilities--the group effort doesn't count for much on singletrack, other than motivation.  What I failed to account for is the volume of gravel road riding at Fool's Gold, where riding with a pack makes a HUGE difference.

So Gordon led the charge with what turned out to be the front pack of geared riders and I hung back with the second pack, "tempering".  Then when we crested the top of Cooper's Gap the lead group just disappeared.  Poof.  Our second pack was humming along pretty well, but with 3 of the 5 of us on singlespeeds (not really very helpful for fast road riding) we weren't able to match the pace of a half-dozen guys on gears, and one who was hammering on his single gear.

As the terrain rolled along and then dropped steeply down Winding Stair our pack spread out and eventually I was riding with Dwayne and Bob, three one-gear wonders spinning ourselves to oblivion.  At the start of Bull Mountain (the day's toughest sustained climb) my Dad fed us the information that Gordon was 2 minutes up--time to shift up and see if he could be caught.

Finishing the descent off of Bull Mountain, all by myself.  Good thing I'm my own best company.
Photo: Tom Linnell

Nope.  Somewhere on that Bull Mountain climb I got out ahead of Dwayne and Bob, and would spend the remainder of the race in no-man's land.  Peat found himself in the same situation, and reminisced afterwards about singing Iron Maiden's Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner to himself for hours.

Coming out of Bull Mountain, Dad gave the word that Gordon had expanded the gap to 5 minutes(?!)--that set the tone for the day.  It didn't matter how hard I hammered myself; Gordon just kept expanding his lead as he put himself in a world of hurt hanging on with the geared frontrunners.  I thought I was doing a pretty good job of putting myself through the ringer trying to reel him back in, but it didn't matter how hard I went.  Without a pack to work with there was no chance.

When I got to the midway point at Camp Merrill, Gordon's lead was 7 minutes and Dad explained that he was working with Jeremiah Bishop, Tinker Juarez, and the others to hold an absurdly fast pace on the roads.  Hope springs eternal (delusional?), but despite my best stubbornness and refusal to back off the pace I could feel that gap expanding as the roads through Camp Merrill rolled on and on.

And on.

That stretch was rough--apparently it was a low-humidity day, but I still felt like I was trying to breathe corn syrup, and despite temps in the 70's I was melting.  Give me dry air at 8000' any day--this low-elevation coastal stuff is brutal.

And the gap was indeed expanding--after the second trip over Bull Mountain, Gordon's lead was up to 17 minutes and it was clear that with 16 miles to go and nobody to share the labor I was going to take 2nd.

So, what else to do but see how damn hard I could ride the day's final singletrack, and how much damn fun I could have without wrapping myself around one of Georgia's plentiful hardwoods?  As it turned out, a crapload of damn fun.  The Jake Mountain and Black Branch singletrack has become 10 miles of my favorite trail anywhere.  SO fast, swoopy, winding through dense forest with subtly but wonderfully banked turns and enough roots and tight riding to keep things interesting.  Between railing the trail and cheering on the 50-milers I periodically overtook, I had a blast.

I never got a glimpse of Gordon.

Over the creek...
Photo: Tom Linnell

The course finishes with a few miles of pavement to get back to the winery, and then a quick romp over the creek and through the woods to the final grassy climb and the finish arch.

...And through the woods.  Still smiling!  I still can't get over how light the Pivot LES/Lauf Fork combo is.  Sick.
Photo: Tom Linnell

And just like that the racing was over, and the NUE season with it.  Blamo!

Oof, that hurt.  For both of us.
Photo: Tom Linnell

It stung to come so close to the championship once again, alleviated only slightly by the knowledge that the win went to Gordon's truly stronger performance at Fool's Gold, tactically and physically.  Where I failed to anticipate the volume of road riding and the tactics that would go with it, he made the right choice and then made himself hurt to carry it out.

But to have it all come down to one race.  Damn.

A bittersweet podium.  Pretty cool that 3 of us were riding the LES, though!  That bike is freaking amazing.
Photo: Tom Linnell

The Pivot LES was ridden to 3 spots on the NUE Series Singlespeed podium as well.
Photo: Tom Linnell

So the NUE season ends.  Looking back, honestly I had a great year--a handful of 1st-Place finishes, a handful of 2nd's, some amazing riding, some incredibly hard riding, an exceptional community full of new and old friends.  I was fortunate to get to ride my bike in some pretty cool races in amazing places, and I am eternally grateful for the support from Erica and my family and friends.

Watching the seasons change here in the Tetons, with rain coming down outside, I can feel a powder-ful winter approaching--skintracks and the silence of backcountry snowfall.  And I've already started dreaming about next year--how will I tweak my training, what races to focus on...

What to do until the snow flies?  The Flynn twins convinced me to join their 4-man team for the 25 Hours in Frog Hollow ("the longest 1-day race") with Jason Berning.  Maybe I'll even toe the line for a bit of autumn cyclocross; I still don't get the need to dismount my bike for these ridiculous obstacles, (if I wanted to go for a run, why would I bring my bike?) but when the forest is a muddy mess...

Fool's Gold 100 Gearlist on AXLPATH

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!


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


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."


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


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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just gone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh yeah, and procure a replacement helmet...

High Cascades 100 Gearlist on AXLPATH

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Uff Da

The Stats:

Holy moly.  Qué estupido.  What the hell?


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

Photo: Erica Linnell

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not this time.
Photo: Erica Linnell

Done.  And DONE.
Photo: Erica Linnell

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

Photo: Erica Linnell

That race was an experience.