Monday, August 31, 2009

Big Creek Road Race report

I wasn't supposed to be racing my bike on a beautiful Saturday morning in October. Oh wait, it was actually August, but I'm sure I can be forgiven for thinking it was a beautiful fall morning with the brilliant sun shining down and the long sleeve temperatures hugging us in their embrace. I was supposed to be piping the drier in our basement to it's new home snuggled against the washer that I'd moved earlier in the week. The rain out of Race like a girl on Thursday night and a thoughtful wife changed my Saturday plans so I could keep my legs sharpened up for my goal race of the summer this coming weekend- 24 hours of 7 oaks.

I was more nervous heading out to this race than I had been pretty much all summer. This would be my first chance mixing it up in a road race, the cat 4's and 5's were to be combined, and I really wanted to avoid meeting the pavement up close and personally. I swallowed my nerves, dropped the money on the table, and grabbed a race number. Only 8 were signed up when I put my name on the list. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad after all. I went about my pre-race activities and got a short warm up in. I hadn't ridden the course, so I really didn't know if there were any hills to speak of, but a few others informed me it was pretty flat overall. I wasn't sure if that would be a boon or burden to me as the call was made to line up.

Waiting for the start:

Wow, there were a ton of guys lined up. Surely there can't be this many in the 4/5 race. I was wrong. I've heard counts that there were some 50ish of us lined up to take the start of the race. 46 miles in 8 laps with a huge pack and a bunch of nervous bike handlers. Maybe I should drop out the back and ride my own race. That thought repeated several times during the race as we went round and round. We shot off on the first lap and I was sitting somewhere in the middle of a giant swarm. I could see the pack of riders stringing out towards the front and knew I wanted to be somewhere closer to them. However, the first lap wasn't going to be the place to get there.

As we wound our way back through the chip seal park road nearing the end of our first lap, it happened. I think we all knew it would, but were just wondering when and who. Just in front and a couple feet to the right of me, I heard some shouting, some locked up brakes, and the sounds of aluminum and carbon attempting to integrate themselves into new shapes and splinters. Luckily the crash was just far enough right that I flew by uncollected as the pile up gathered a number of guys. I caught a glimpse out of my peripheral vision of the bikes piling up and thought quietly that I hoped everyone was fine. The pack soldiered on and we finished out our lap.

I quickly decided that I needed to be a bit further towards the pointy end of the field and starting picking my way through as best I could. Slowly, I worked into the top 20 or so riders as we started putting on more laps. Though I don't remember seeing it, apparently there was an attack on lap 3 that melted back into the pack pretty quickly, but succeeded in raising our pace to near 26 MPH for that lap as we accelerated to counter. That succeeded in throwing off roughly half the pack and put us closer to 30 riders now in the main group.

Somewhere in the middle laps, I had a few things I noted. At one point, I looked back to see how many were left in the pack only to realized I was tail end charlie so I hightailed it up a few spots lest I be dropped for being an idiot. I also realized that the game of keeping your wheel clear of the other guy was both tiring and not all that much fun. Accelerate, brake, coast, pedal, swerve and repeat. I still was thinking of whether it would be better to drop myself off the back and ride alone or stay in the pack as long as I could.

I honestly never thought much about competing for the win. I wanted to finish the race and be road rash free. However, I'm still a competitive guy and I thought that I might be able to at least sneak a good finish in or possible help out in some small way if any of our team wanted to try to make a move. I stayed with the pack and decided to ride it out.

The last lap was the most fun for me. Having ridden a few Tuesday nights through to the point where some attacks are occurring, I was pretty ready for the biting of the bars that occurs as the pack accelerates out of the corners. On the right hander into the tailwind section, the pack had blasted up to 30+ on every lap as we rounded the corners. I'm in no way, shape, or form a sprinter, so I really have to wind it up and keep the hammer down to not be dropped in these accelerations. As we hit the corner for the last lap, I dug down and prepped for the hard push that I expected to come and to possibly shake a few guys off. The next thing I know, I'm wound up and blowing past the pack and off the front. I hesitated for a second or two wondering what I should do next.

I was pretty sure I didn't have the legs to stay away and didn't have anyone looking like they were going to bridge the gap. I was 50-100 yards out front by this point and still cranking away. I knew I'd be gone if I tried to hold on as the pack would eat me up and spit me out like a piece of gristle as they passed. I engaged my brain at this point, dialed my pace back enough to let my heart rate drop back a bit, and waited. About 10 seconds later, the pack had me, but I had recovered enough to hop right back in and go.

With roughly 1/2 mile to the finish, the pack seemed to solidly into one solid mass. As we tried to adhere to the center line rule, the pack spread from ditch to centerline with no real place to move forward. A line or two moved up on the outside and I grabbed wheels where I could to make my way up. As we came down to the final sprint, we went full road width (is that the way it should be?) and wound it up. I had more or less boxed myself in for the sprint and with my slow wind up, I was still spinning it up as we hit the line. Another 100 yards or so and I think I might have moved up a few more places as I still was accelerating pretty good when we hit the finish. Looking at the photo I stole from Chad (thanks), it appears I'm sitting in 12th across the line which is definitely fine by me. Congrats to team mate Reed on taking the win and Chad on coming in 6th.
Still winding it up (I'm the rider on the left side entering the picture):

I did get some flack for my gut reaction I posted to facebook after the race, so here are a few of my post race thoughts. I was really looking forward to trying my hand at road racing. My fitness is the best it's been, I'm getting good at riding with a pack and knowing where the jumps will be, and I thought maybe we'd get a few team mates into some type of break. The reality was that while I was working hard, I never really redlined it, the biggest excitement was trying not to hit someone or be hit, and my single foolish attack should/could have been a good move if I'd thought to put it together with a couple team mates. I also had enough sense to figure out my foolishness quickly enough that I didn't get dropped, so my tactics are completely lacking. All in all, I ended up a bit on the bored side as I was looking/hoping there would be more excitement and pegging it as we took turns beating on each other. Sure, I'd have most likely been off the back, but that experience also makes you better/stronger in the long run. I guess I had built up road racing to possibly be the end all, be all of racing on the pavement and felt a bit deflated at the end. I'll definitely try it again though and maybe my experience and expectations will help me change my perspective on it.

Friday, August 28, 2009

IMBCS #8 Seven Oaks Rec (Boone)

I'm finding myself to be a bit of a hypocrite lately in that come Monday morning I'm constantly scanning blogs waiting to hear how everyone else's races went and to see their analysis of how they fared on the trail. All the while, I keep putting off writing up my own report. Such is life I guess. Hopefully I'll be able to keep a bit more on top of that. Without further adieu and no more gilding of the lilly, I present you with my race report and my humblest of apologies for delaying my write up.

I raced the beginner's course at Boone last year. I won't lie, it kicked my ass 3 ways from Sunday on the BEGINNER loop. It was my first foray into mountain bike racing and most definitely a trial by fire. I tried to erase the pain from my mind by not even bothering to ride a full lap there last year and waiting until early July before I completed that task. All told, I had 4 full laps of the course under my belt going into the race this year. I was far from dialed in given the technical and challenging terrain, but I have had a pretty good run coming in thus far with this being my 4th race of the year.
This is how I looked last year:
I also was going into this race with a completely untested bike. After an unfortunate incident with baby blue, I had made a huge leap up by going to the Superfly which is a full carbon rig. All the parts were swapped over from my Paragon and I re-cabled the bike as well. I had put 40 pave trail miles on the day before with everything working well and did a short warm up as well, but I knew in the back of my head, something would happen before race end.
The Superfly:

I hit a short warm up on some of this years beginners loop and was rolling pretty well. I popped my tire pressure down a shade more and waited for the line up to begin. The start was to head out to the 2nd ski lift, pull a 180 around it and then jump onto the track laid out on the grass as we wound our way back to the entrance to the single track. Here, as much as anywhere, I knew the better your spot going into the track, the better you'd come out at the end. I've got a whole post dedicated to how much my start abilities need work, but I'll save that for another time. Let's just say for now that they are "lacking" a bit. I somehow weaseled my way in about 10th wheel +/- as we wound our way to the woods. Amazingly, everyone was polite and just stayed in line through the grassy areas. I'm surprised there weren't fistfights trying to get into the track first.

Sure enough, the traffic jamb started instantly inside the track. We'd hammer the flats and then pack ourselves in like sardines up the climbs and switchbacks. The biggest trick was trying to keep my own flow going while not running over the guy in front of me and being mindful that I didn't want to screw the guy behind me either if I went down. As such we walked some switchbacks and had issues in other areas that I knew to be relatively "easy". I had a big oops at the G-drop where the guy stalling out in front of me pushed me off line and into the stump that sits to the inside of the lowest line. I hopped off, let 1 guy by, and shoved my way back in line. After that, things went so-so for a bit as I worked to catch up to another train of guys. The next bad spot was a messed up switchback where I had to unclip, take a sideways hop, and partially landed my foot on the guy behind me's wheel. I felt bad about that and made sure to apologize after the race even though it wasn't anyone's fault and just part of racing.

Somewhere after the first couple of climbs, my chain started making noise. I knew nothing good was going to come of that and just hoped it would hold itself together for the race. I soon found out what the noises meant. I couldn't get into my 32 cog out back and was skipping horribly about halfway through the cassette. I would drop down to my baby ring up front to try and get the right climbing gear and then hop back and forth trying to find a gear in back that the chain would stay in. Soon enough, the problem worsened and spread to the front derailleur. It alternated between dropping my chain from the middle ring to the baby ring on rough descents to skipping halfway between the two rings on the climbs forcing me to play a careful game of guess where the chain in lined up now and jamb the shifters as quick as I could to hopefully slide back into one ring or the other.

Somewhere in the woods:

About 3/4 of the way through the lap, I finally had passed most of the traffic I was dealing with and started settling into a flow. Most of the technical climbs were behind me and with traffic, I'd walked a number of them, but had only let a couple people past and passed a few as well so I figured I was still sitting about 10th wheel. Before I knew it, the first lap was done and I was hauling the mail down the back of the pond towards the start/finish line.
Flying downhill:

As I crossed the grassy area, I spun my shift adjuster all the way out trying to get as much tension on the cable as possible. I figured it was my only chance at getting anywhere near being able to shift normally for the second lap. Luckily, my plan worked to a certain extent and I could shift somewhat better through the rear gears as I started lap two. By now I had only a couple guys in my sites as I entered the woods and wasn't in any real danger of running over them too quickly. As the lap wore on, I still felt pretty good, but my knees were starting to ache from climbing in too big of a gear since I still couldn't shift to the combo I really wanted. At one point, I came past Jim Logan walking a hill which I found to be pretty odd considering how well he'd been riding and usually kicking my butt.

I came around and kept moving on this lap. With traffic pretty much gone, I was able to clear a lot more of the trail this time through. However, my lap 1 effort was catching up and I wasn't holding the best lines and subsequently couldn't clean some of the areas. As I passed a few more riders that the course was having it's way with, I noted Jim had hopped back up to my wheel. I knew he probably wasn't going to be there for long. As I tired further, my bad line choice about snakebit me. On a fast downhill right hand sweeper, I went out too wide. I got into the loose soil next to the built up edge of the trail and saw the tire start to slide and turn out from under me. I pitched forward and knew I was headed over the bars. At the last second, something caught, the bike squirted around and I was back on my seat scarcely believing what had just happened. At this point, I think Jim knew he'd better get around me quick or risk becoming a part of the carnage.

Sure enough, he was ready to go and I pointed him by as we rounded behind the paintball field. A few more turns and he was all ready out of site. The rest of the lap was relatively uneventful, but I could feel the pounding my back was taking as I hammered the roots at speed. I kept up the pace on the downhills and really felt pretty good about them as I finished things out. One more sprint down the pond dam and I rounded the corner to home. 3rd place in the sport open class with a 7th place overall out of 42 starters. I was pretty happy with that finish and am looking forward to more laps during the 24 hour race.

I think there's a bike in there somewhere:

Special thanks to Angy for shooting pics at all of these races and giving me something worthwhile for you to look at !

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

IMBCS #2 Ingawanis Race Report

IMBCS #2 was originally supposed to happen much earlier in the season. Due to some torrential rains this spring, the course was pretty well washed out the week before the race. I'd heard good things about this course after last year's race and was looking forward to the challenge. The north side was supposed to be full of a lot of good climbing while the south end had more fast and flowy singletrack with some good climbing still in the mix. The north side was closed out due to logging this year leaving us entirely on the south side.
I picked up Kurt and his girlfriend Mindy to do a bit of ride sharing considering we were a 2.5 hour drive away from the race. We got up there in plenty of time to relax, do a recon lap, and get ready to race. After my recon lap, I knew the race would be fun, but also fast and painful. Just 1 day back from Colorado, I wasn't sure how my legs would react, but I was ready to put them to the test. Passing would be tough for at least a good chunk of this course so the holeshot was again going to probably be a deciding factor.
I knew Keith would be hitting it hard trying to get into the woods first and I should do what I could to hang on his wheel since he's been riding hard this year. We lined up and I was sitting nicely on the front row again. I'm not sure if there's a specific consideration on where you line up, but I haven't had anyone chastise me yet for lining up towards the front. We started out on the gravel road with a shallow climb and about a 1/4 mile to string things out before diving into the woods. Once the starter pistol went off, we were hammering. Sure enough, Keith got his holeshot, sliding sideways onto the camp entrance road and hammering up to the woods. I wasn't too far back sitting about 4th wheel until the last 100 or so yards before we hit the woods. I let up just a little and 3 or 4 people shot past putting me back a bit further than I wanted.

Early in lap 1:

The train got moving pretty quickly with 5 of us bunched up while the first 3 shot off the front. I knew it was going to be a hard chase to run any of those guys down and was chomping at the bit to get some passing done. My legs were all ready running me into the red, but I still felt good since it was lap 1. At the open section I couldn't really get my speed up enough to pass anyone, but knew there was another opening coming soon. We were hauling the mail up the climbs. I remember noticing the dirt seemingly shooting out from under the rear tire of the guy in front of me as he powered the climbs. Even more than that, I was actually holding his wheel up the climbs.
Powering the rock climb on lap 1 or 2:
In the 2nd open section, I put the hammer down as most of the guys sat up just a shade to grab a drink. It was getting toasty back in the woods even though the temps were relatively low. I ended up leading the train at this point and just pushed myself really deep into the red trying to open any type of gap. Most of that lap is a blur as I was pretty well cross-eyed with effort pouring everything I had out. I managed to open a gap on a few of the chasers, but still had some guys pretty hot on my wheel as we hit lap 2.
On lap 2 I knew I had to back down or blow up completely. I finally started downing some liquids and let a couple guys by so as to not hold them back. I think I passed another rider or two at this point as well. Looking at it now, it seems for the most part that after lap 1, you're pretty well set into where you're going to finish out within a spot or two unless something drastic happens. I wonder if this holds true for most people? I spent the rest of lap 2 in recovery mode trying to keep the pace high, but hopefully rest up from the pain of lap 1. By the end of the lap, I'd at least consumed enough liquid and paced it out that I could turn the screws back up on the effort for the final lap.
Flying down the g-out:

Lap 3 I was ready to hit it hard again. I didn't have anyone immediately around me, but could catch glimpses of people both in front and behind. Slowly, I started to real another rider in. I finally caught his wheel and rode it for just a bit as I recovered from the effort. I passed him only to realize it was a 60+ expert racer so no real advancement in my own class. I put the pressure back on the pedals and did my best to use the 3 total laps I had under my belt to work the lines and let loose on the downhills. My Colorado trip was at least repaying me through more aggressive downhilling as I was able to really roll through here.
I focused mostly on keeping my tempo even along with my heart rate on lap 3 since I didn't seem to be in any danger of catching or be caught. I made sure to clean all of the loose sandy corners that were threatening on every lap to catch someone unaware. For the final time I had to ride the rough new section of trail for the finish and then I was done. I finished out 7th in the sport open class. I was pretty happy with the effort and result.
Nearing the end:

Finish time:
Looking back, post race, I think I gave up a position or two by letting too many riders get by as we neared the entrance to the woods. A little more effort getting to the woods probably would have made for a little less effort in the woods. I still need to think more about it being ok to get passed rather than having to do the passing. I'm sure that will come as I can better assess my overall fitness and skill level in comparison to other riders in my class.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

My own Breck epic- day 3 and 4

On day 3 in Breck we listened to the rain come down most of the night and by morning it wasn't looking much better with a cold drizzle falling off and on. There appeared to be some fresh snow on a few peaks as well. With the day essentially shot for riding, we decided to head over to the Coors Brewery in Golden for a tour. After stalling and repeated stops and starts we finally headed out late morning for the hour drive over. Lunch was the first order of business with some pretty decent Chinese at a great price. I think it was the cheapest meal we ate all week. After lunch, it was on to the tour.

Here's the only time during the week that I really needed my ID (and wanted it as well). My sob story didn't do much to convince the seemingly sympathetic gal at the check in desk and I was denied the wrist band that allows for 3 tasty beverages upon completion of the tour. We grabbed our electronic tour guides and quickly wandered our way through the halls of the brewery before we were finally dumped out into the sampling area. I sipped my root beer as the rest of our crew took turns downing a couple brews. Luckily one kind soul didn't want all of his sampling and scored me 1 free drink, so all was not lost.

After the brewery, we decided to hike around downtown Golden for a bit and check out the various bike shops. We wandered into 3 shops and only 1 gave off a friendly vibe as we pondered the various goods they were showcasing. We headed back to Breck and found our way to Empire Burger for some seriously good grub at dinner time. Being Taylor's birthday we weren't quite done at that point and headed out to see if we could kill some time in various drinking establishments. The first bar was your basic hole in the wall and after some creepy vibes from an overly friendly drunk, I was glad we headed out. The second bar had a much better scene with a lot of younger people doing the beer pong thing as we looked on. I even managed to score a few games of pool to blow the dust off my skills. By that time, we needed to wind down the evening in hopes of hitting it hard on our last day with Andy playing tour guide.

We met Andy at the gondola parking lot at the prescribed time. It was chilly out and we weren't quite sure what the day had in store for us with regards to weather, saddle time, or routing so we were all pretty much loaded for bear at that point.

Friday morning dawned bright and chilly.
The first route we were taking would have us hitting the Colorado trail until it met up with Peaks trail where we'd downhill back into Frisco. The nice thing about Colorado is that even when its in the 40's in the morning, you can turn up hill at any given time and build a lot of heat quickly. Sure enough, Andy routed us straight up as we headed towards Peaks trail. We started out in the rolling meadows and pine needle single tracks.
Meadow riding at the start:
As per our typical mode of riding, the higher we got, the rockier it got. Pretty soon, Andy and I were mostly off the front and grunting up a few power climbs littered with rocks. I was feeling good and upped the tempo just slightly riding off the front. We regrouped a few times along the climb. I stopped at the top of this rock garden feeling pretty good about cleaning it to snap a few shots of the guys grunting their way through.
Rock garden action:
Enjoying the climb:
Once to the top of the mountain, we connected back into the downhill section of Peaks trail where the rider had attempted to kill me on day 1. Knowing the trail a bit better this time, we all gained some speed on the descent and had a blast as we flew down the trail. Even the steps were no surprise this time and led to some serious grins all around as we hit Frisco. Our choices were pretty open at this point, but we could see that some weather would soon be upon us.
We opted to hit the paved trail around Dillon Reservoir and into Keystone so Andy could show us some of his home base stomping grounds in the form of the Red Trail. The paved trail was pretty cool with going across the dam and getting some good views of the reservoir.
Going across the dam:
As we worked our way through Keystone and started up the Red Trail, we were met by the most biker's we'd seen all week (other than on paved trails). It was some type of junket for bike mags that appeared to be sponsored by Giant as they were all riding some full suspension variant of Giant. All told there were 20 some riders headed down as we were coming up. We hit some pretty sweet spots along here including some great sidehilling action that was good for a pucker factor.
Alas, the weather wasn't going to hold forever and we started to get rained on. We made a pit stop in the cover of some pines and broke out our rain gear along with some food.
Rain break #1:
From here, we continued on up the hill which was now a bit more slick with the rain having soaked the trail. At least it was still ridable and we weren't tearing things up which wouldn't have been the case here in Iowa. We continued up and the rain let up on us as we hit some spots pretty similar to our climbs on the Burro trail with sections of nothing but rock punctuated with flatter sections of dirt and rock. We finally started hitting rain again and the decision was made to head back down as it looked like it was going to be set in for a while.
Posing somewhere along the trail:
As we started our downhill, the rain picked up to a pretty steady downpour. I quickly noted that the cheaper raincoat I'd decided to bring today did not have waterproof sleeves and my arms were soon soaked and shivering. Now we had what I can only describe as one of the most unforgettable moments of the whole trip. The rain was pouring on us and we were descending like a group of madmen down the mountainside. The rain was running down the center of the trail in the exact line that we most wanted to take. We rode the rain line and hoped that there were no hidden rocks, sticks, or other nasties waiting to throw us headlong into the woods. My adrenaline level soared as we went further and further down before we were finally spit out on the trail in one piece. We did come across one guy just after the downhill that needed a bit of help as he was on his 2nd flat repair of the day.
Helping out:
By this point, we were all a bit on the muddy side and getting pretty cold so we opted off the dirt and onto the road descent the rest of the way to Highway 9. We hit some pretty fast speeds as we wound our way down the tarmac and towards the paved trail back to Breck. Once we hit the trail and knew we were closing in on home, it was time to smile again.
Muddy but happy:

We found our way back to town and started the packing process. The bikes were coated with a nice layer of grime and grit so we hosed them down before loading them up for the trip home.

Ready for a bath:

We rounded up all our gear and got it loaded up for the long drive home. Taylor, Kyle and I were headed out that afternoon while Chuck and Kurt opted to stay overnight before heading back. We all made our way over to Empire burger for some additional refueling before hitting the road. One long ass drive and we were back in the 515 about the time the sun was dawning on a new day. I had an unforgettable time and it was made all the better sharing it with some great friends. Thanks guys!

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Ahquabi pictures

All photos stolen from Angy (thanks!) Here are some great shots from this weekend.

Towards the middle of lap 1 finding my groove:

Chasing Alread down the blacktop hill on lap 1:
Focus is good:

My current favorite race shot of me. The fire was definitely there:
Laying it all out on the final hill climb. I love seeing the elevation drop down to the lake:
Happy to be done:

Keith hammering home.

Gritting through the finish line:

Monday, August 10, 2009

IMBCS #7 Mob the Quab

The 7th race of the season for the IMBCS and 2nd year at Lake Ahquabi promised to be another fun race. A few tweaks to last years course would ensure that we'd all get our fill of climbing on this fast double track course. One tweak was a mass start of all classes at noon rather than the typical staggered start. The other main change was the start/finish area being moved to the main lodge with a final lap only hill climb to the finish line guaranteed to leave you gasping for air.

With a large turnout of people and a mass start, the doubletrack start was packed with people. A few people hollered for me to make my way forward in the starting grid which was pretty cool as I had been slotted about halfway back. Now I found myself somewhere in the top 10-20 starters. We were off and dumped straight onto the first section of grass with an off comber left hander. More than a few people went down last year on the grassy off camber sections so I was pretty cautious running through here, but still started passing a few people. Only a few tenths of a mile into the race, we hit our first climb which was grassy and rough. I put a few more people behind me as I kept a steady pace up the climb trying to get my legs warmed up.

Descending the back of the hill I was on the tail of a few more people and starting passing again as the trail flattened out. Only a mile or two into the race and the pack had started to string out pretty well in front of me with the experts leaving us in the dust for the most part. My legs were feeling pretty good at this point and I kept my output pretty steady. Slowly I rolled up on a couple of single speeders in the form of Sedore and Allread who were putting out a pretty good effort on a not quite single speed friendly course. I figured the strength of these two would be good to mark and stayed on their wheels for half of the first lap.

As we hit the final hilly section before the screaming blacktop descent Sedore gapped off the back leaving Jason and I to work together. I was feeling pretty good at this point and took the lead going into lap two. Jason gapped off as well at this point and I was pretty much alone from then on. I think I may have passed another person or two on this lap, but I mostly concentrated on bringing my effort up slightly from lap 1 without putting myself into the red yet. I knew there had to be some guys chasing me down and wasn't going to give in without a fight if I had a choice.

Lap two was down and I was well hydrated and not feeling the heat to any real extent yet. I knew the climbs on lap 3 would be getting tougher for everyone so I planned on hitting them as hard as I could and turn the screws a bit tighter overall for this lap. Towards the end of lap 2 I could start seeing another rider in front of me, but didn't catch him until the first climb of lap 3. I reeled him mostly in on the climb and then completed the pass after the descent. He stayed on my wheel for a fair amount of time, but I gapped him on the next climb as I was still feeling pretty fresh at that point.

As we crossed the dam for the last time, I had one more ride in my sites. As we worked through the campsite, I caught up to Chris Maharry and tailed him through the next section or two. He let me by and then stayed on my wheel. Determined to put on a show for him I slid my front tire out going down a grassy off camber section. I guess I forgot my lesson from last year! Luckily I was able to gather it back under me and only shaved a little speed off in the process. Chris gave the proper atta boy for making the save and off we went. I began to think he might be permanently attached to my wheel as he tailed me through most of the 3rd lap. I even managed one more front tire wash out as we turned at the bottom of the railroad tie climb. I gathered it back up one final time and motored on without further incident.

I hit the blacktop climb for the final time and did the same as the previous laps where I dieseled up the climb without standing. I finally dropped my follower and never looked back. With the end of the race closing in, I couldn't see anyone in front of me and it looked relatively clear behind me from what I'd see earlier in the lap. Knowing there were still plenty of chasers, I kept my pace up on the hills and looked forward to one more flier down the blacktop before hitting the finish climb. Amazingly I stayed alone and out in front as I rolled to the base of the climb to the finish. I powered my way up to a hearty round of clapping and cheering from all the spectators and a few fellow racers.

After I caught my breath for a second I looked around to only see 2 other racers at the finish. That surely couldn't be right. I was pretty sure I was riding a top 10 or maybe even top 5 race, but not near the podium. Sure enough, I was 3rd overall across the line and with the other two being a single speeder and in the 45+ category, I snagged my first win in the sport open class. I was about beside myself happiness as it sank in. I managed to play all of my strengths just right and execute the plan I had in my head to perfection. What a great day for Rassy's as the team ended up with a large contingent of guys in black taking wins and placing during the race.

Friday, August 07, 2009

My own Breck Epic- day 2

Map and ride info

The start of day 2 looked a bit on the chilly side. I thought for sure I was going to need some extra warmth, so I donned my arm warmers and jacket. Our first stop was a small pump track up on Boreas Pass road where we all tried (and failed) to make it around the entire track without pedalling. We got pretty close, but I didn't see anyone make the one big bump without needing a little extra oomph.

Heading towards the pump track:

After playing around and warming up a bit, I knew the jacket was going to be over the top for sure. We started up the singletrack out of the pump track parking lot and headed up. We road some urban singletrack through some more populated areas and eventually wound our way out to Highway 9 and paralleled it for a bit. We finally came to the turnoff to head up Boreas Pass Road and found ourselves confronted with the choice of another section of singletrack (going straight up) or road to ride. After a bit of discussion, we hit the dirt and headed up. Pretty quickly it became evident that hike-a-bike would most likely be the best case scenario for these flatlanders as the trail turned from fun climbing to steep and less than ridable (for us). A few sprinkles starting hitting us in this section and we took a collective vote that we were here to ride whether that meant pavement or singletrack rather than push our bikes up hills. We turned and headed back to the pavement. I was treated to a pretty cool switchback climb that headed up and up until we got to the park service road at the top.

I rolled in a few minutes after Kyle and was nothing but smiles:

From the park service road we jumped back on singletrack through some sections of the Colorado trail that Andy had led the guys through earlier in the week. This was probably some of the sweetest track we ran while I was out there. It had a bit of everything from flat, to climbs, to rocks and roots. Kyle and I checked out a bit on some of these sections and had time to stop and ponder the scenery at a couple points as we waited to regroup.

Old mining ruin on the climb up:
As we crested the climb, we were treated to more downhilling. Sitting on my hardtail, I was faster than the previous day, but still no match for the full suspension bikes so we stopped once more to regroup on the way down.

Overlooking Breck on the way down:

From here we hit a nice switchbacked road and the boys really let loose. I hit a little over 30 mph, but they had to be closing in on 40 as they accelerated out of site. From here we hit some nice black diamond sections of trail. Supposedly this is the more advanced stuff, but other than being tight and twisty (think Denman's on a downhill with rocks and roots), it really wasn't that bad. Somewhere in here, the other Rick lodged his foot between a rock and a hard place- literally. It didn't stop him or pop him off the bike, but the damage was definitely done as his foot swelled and turned nasty colors during the remainder of our trip. The guys also made sure to drag me through the "north shore" section of elevated trails that had been built as a bit of a playground. I'm not much on skinnies or elevated platforms, but with enough goading, I gingerly made my way up and through the easy section.

North shore style:

As evidenced by my heart rate jumping 20 beats per minute just going through that, I wasn't too excited about doing it again. Once through was plenty for me and fun to say I'd done it once. By then, it was closing in on lunch time and looking like possible rain again. We dropped back into Breck on this wild track that seemed to resemble a luge track more than singletrack. The grade was steep, the turns were complete bowls and if you had the balls, you could absolutely fly. Let's just say I get my nuts firmly in check on that descent, but still had fun!

Lunch was beckoning us:

Lunch time brought a brief shower through the area, but nothing to keep us off the trails. We decided to check out Burro Trail after lunch since Taylor had ridden it previously and thought it was pretty fun. The start was just up from the condo and some nice lady even managed to point out the trail head we were searching for. The lower section was sweet pine track with some good rooty sections and as we gained elevation, it turned to rocks. We started hitting some nice rock gardens and then the challenge was put down. Kyle and Taylor remembered this big rock garden from a previous trip that had them both trying again and again to get through. As well as I'd been riding the rocks (thanks 29'er), they wanted to see if I could tame this section of trail.

Almost to the top:

Apparently, there used to be two large log crossings in here as well. In any case, I cleaned it the first pass and then Taylor decided since he didn't see it, I should do it again. The 2nd pass was cleaned as well. I was definitely digging on the rocks. As we kept on climbing, the route would alternate between steep and long sections of all rock uphills and then flatten out for a bit with less rocks and more dirt. I was really enjoying this section of trail as it was challenging and technical, but definitely ridable. However, along this point, lunch decided it was time to make it's 2nd calling for the day.

Good riding fuel, bad pass through timing:

I definitely wasn't feeling the love by the time we flattened out and came to a fork in the road. With a possible wild descent coming up, I decided it was time to make like a bear in the woods. I garnered a bit of flack for it, but you gotta do what you gotta do. Wow, what a load off my mind!

At this point, the rain and clouds were threatening again, and worse yet, threatening to turn the descent nasty. We decided it was time to call it a day and let the fun really begin. To someone who's never been there or done it, it's hard to describe how fun, thrilling, and wild, careening down the side of a mountain as fast as your brake fingers will let you go can be. The upper sections were a bit slow, but as we hit the pine forest below, most of us were flying and grinning from ear to ear. It was an absolute blast that left a smile plastered on my face the rest of the day.

We wound our way back to the condo to wind down the day with some pizza at Fatty's (6 of us devoured 3 large pizzas) and some brews. Another cap to an amazing day.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

My own Breck Epic- prologue and day 1

Oh sure the title may be a bit over the top, but my trip to Breckenridge for the first (and hopefully not the last) time was definitely epic and memorable to me. The prologue came in the form of a few guys putting together a week of biking and whatever mischief could be mustered in a rented condo for a week in Breck. One more slot was open and through some sort of cosmic alignment I was able to fill it. Fast forward to the week before we leave and now my grandma is in hospice care and things are looking a bit "iffy". Grandma indeed passes away and I'm to be a pall bearer in her funeral. I'm honored to do it, but it precludes me leaving on Friday night with the rest of the gang. I load my bike and gear with everyone else on Friday and bid them adieu. I secured my transfer out there via Greyhound bus leaving Monday evening after the funeral.

Now I've travelled Greyhound before. Its not the end of the world and certainly not my favorite way to travel, but in all, its good for the cost. The epic portion of my trip started less than 2 hours into the ride out when I realized my money clip with ID, credit cards, and cash were indeed missing. I searched my person, bag, and the bus thoroughly to no avail which left me believing I was pick pocketed most likely before I even left the terminal. I now was down to about 38 cents to my name and still had another 14 hours of bus travel left. I have to say I received a number of encouraging texts and even a call or two offering to help out any way they could. The guys rang and said to get my butt out there and all would be fine as there was more than enough money to buy beer! Thanks for the support!

Midway into the trip, I dubbed the bus home sweet hell:

The rest of the trip was a blur of trying to get some sleep, transferring buses in Denver and then gazing at the scenery was we wound our way towards Frisco where the guys would be waiting. As we rolled into the parking lot around 9:30, I scanned for the truck. Indeed the guys were ready and waiting to ferry me back to the condo for our adventure to begin.

Ride map and info.

By noon we were off and rolling after I had hauled my junk up 3 flights of stairs and scarfed down some real food. Our first foray for the day was to take the Peaks Trail from Breckenridge to Frisco. I'd been forewarned of the altitude issues I'd face of being short on air, energy, and general ability. As we turned up the paved hill to the trail, I found a groove, but noted it was roughly two-thirds of what I thought I should be functioning at. There's no way around altitude! The Peaks trail was a nice beginning with some rocky and rooty sections separated by rough bridges and smooth pine forest tracks. As we descended into Frisco the first and only real jerk of the trip showed his colors by attempting to rip past us on a fast downhill. I heard callouts of left, right, and a bunch of jumbles only to start to turn right to avoid a large puddle as a biker came barreling down on me. I quick dab of the foot into a deep puddle (soaking my whole foot), a few words exchanged, and we were back on our way. The rest of the downhill was a blast and punctuated at the end with some steep step downs that were fun to ride.

The rest of the day is a bit hazy, but definitely gave me a trial by fire. We road the paved trail from Frisco to Copper Mountain. We made a pit stop along the way to fuel up for what we knew was going to be a challenging climb ahead.

Lunch break

Start of Wheeler Trail:

The first sections of trail were pretty ridable and not overly steep. As we started to gain more elevation, we'd hit spots of trail that were too steep or too rock strewn to ride. Eventually, this gave way to more rocks and more steepness. Eventually, we would all hike-a-bike over 50% of the trail. at just over 2.5 miles in length, the average gradient ended up being over 16.5% with most of the last mile or so being over 20% grade. In case you're wondering, that's damn steep! Most of the time I was walking on my toes and the balls of my feet to create enough leverage to push my bike up the slopes. Finally, we made it above tree line only to discover a chilling wind and the threat of rain to be upon us.

Nearing the top, looking back at Chuck (the fluorescent blob):

Kyle and the other Rick were the first to the summit with me dragging up a good 5-10 minutes back. They had found a place to wait out the minutes for the remaining 3 chasers. It took me several minutes to snap a picture of my bike against the sign as the wind was so strong, it continually blew it down.

Final destination- 12,400':

Finally, it was time to descend. I'm not sure why, but I never snapped a picture of the singletrack descent. Either my mind was toast due to lack of oxygen and over exertion or I was too damn scared to think about taking a picture of what I was about to take on. I started the descent gingerly and made it to the fist nasty drop/switchback. At this point in time, I decided, I walk down to a slightly less intimidating portion only to realize my left foot was now stuck to my bike due to losing a screw from my cleats on the hike to the summit. Luckily I was basically stopped and could fall against the mountain side (only a foot or so away). I worked a good 10 minutes or so getting my shoe unlodged from the pedals and now was faced with the fact I couldn't clip back in without fear of being stuck on the bike when I might need to make a hasty exit. Considering the steepness of the trail and my apprehension about riding it in a fully functional mode, it made the decision to walk that chunk a no-brainer. Actually, I think almost all of us walked that portion and a good chunk of the remaining alpine sidehill we had to traverse.

Finally we came to the jeep trail/fire road section of the descent. Still unable to clip/unclip as needed, I mounted up and rode my brakes down the loose rocky section of jeep trail with my left foot resting on the pedal not clipped in and my legs taking the brunt of the force required to keep my foot from slipping off. Indeed, I was cramping up just staying on the bike on the downhill! As we finally came to a more groomed gravel portion of the road, we regrouped. Kyle suggested fixing my cleat with a bottle cage screw and it actually worked. Now I could clip in, however I had to be a bit careful of the now too long screw poking me in the bottom of the foot. I gained speed on this descent, but the rest of the guys flew away in excess of 30 mph on the downhill as we slalomed our way back to Breck.

We were grinning from ear to ear as we hit the edge of town and pedalled off in search of a bike shop to help with some woes including a broken spoke, destroyed shoes, and my cleat issue. On top of that, as we started to crank the pedals, Kurt's crank arm literally detached from the bottom bracket leaving him with quite a befuddled look as it was still clipped to his shoe. Luck must have been smiling as that would have meant almost sure disaster on the downhill we'd done literally minutes before. Luckily it was nothing more than a screw coming loose and we fixed it before heading on our way.

With sushi and a big beer in my belly for dinner, it wasn't long before I was sawing logs and dreaming of what day 2 might hold.