In '06 we killed TR. It was the season's #1 goal. Coming back for the second time we had no such ambitions. In fact, our sole goal was to finish. Of course, we were riding SS bikes - and to my knowledge a 7 day stage race has never been done by a woman and not so many guys. Modest tho it was, it wasn't a given. The first day's route climbed 4k' out of the gate at an average 12% grade. How in the heck do you gear for that???
The views from that climb were spectacular. The Canadian Rockies are massive, one range after another that just keep coming. Trans Rockies sends you deep into the heart of it all. We started way down in that canyon below.
The descent off that high point featured loads of new singletrack on a top of the world ridge. Much of that was hike a bike. It was snowing. You could say we were out of our desert element ;) We started at the back of the field, worked our way to 3rd (in our field) by the top, finished 7th on the day. There were tough moments but overall a good day was had.
Then came day 2. The most bizarre thing I've seen in a race....2/3 of the field taking a wrong turn, hiking up an avalanche chute (2k+ vert hike a bike) and then flipping it when the mistake was discovered - this sent head size rocks flying in all directions. A few savvy teams bushwacked back to the route from the top rather than flipping it and made massive time gains on the rest of the lemmings. Of course, they did miss part of the route too.
We spent a good hour on this hike, maybe more. Head down focused on the next foot placement, nobody noticed the orange flagging off to the side of the chute 50 feet at the edge of the forest...
But when the mistake was discovered, faster folks descending merged with slower folks climbing and the field was turned upside down - the back 1/3 of the field had made the turn and entered some slow, largely unrideable new trail. All those faster folks coming down from above stood in line for an hour. Motionless. In a race.
Hestler shouting for his lost partner...Shep, where are you man?
The entire scene was hilarious. It was obvious to me this day would not count towards the GC so we took it real relaxed the rest of the day. Gottta keep our eye on the prize - the finish. We even had a couple of picnics. Some flatish downed moss covered logs beconed and we had a little snack while cheering on other riders. Thing was, the hiking plus SSing super steep terrain had done some damage...we were feeling the effects already and the finish was anything but certain at the end of this day. Can you say achilles strain?
Canadian Stick boy and Mike Garrigan were one of the finest teams in the event. Super strong, positive, these guys were a lot of fun to hang out with at the race. They pulled the win day 2. Too bad for them it didn't count on GC, but they did get the stage win. Congrats fellas.
Day 3 we entered the fantasy world of Nipika resort. Deep in the middle of nowhere but there...trails to die for, a late start team time trial format and lots of time for eating, sleeping, relaxing. They nailed it with this easier day.
Even our bikes looked happy in Nipika.
I'm pretty sure we had the longest bars of anyone there. Certainly the fewest # of gears ;)
We did not get the honors of the most difficult bike though, that went to Gina and Phil.
Phil also nipped Lynda in the puffy coat contest.
The time trial day 3 went ok for us. It was a perfect course for SS riding, but we were still coming around from the efforts of the first 2 days. Steady was the name of the game, and we completely enjoyed the individual start. Starts on a SS really suck in big fields of gearies and I doubt either of us will do that again. The individual start meant we had our little bubble for the whole day and we made the most of it.
Strategy. Um, yea. Lynda was the one with the goals of just to finish, but I knew she would be kicking some butt from day 4 forward. She always does. My secret hopes included 1 trip to the podium during the event. Her mojo was rising day 3, it was obvious (to me) what was next. It wasn't obvious to her, and when I started talking about "racing" (remember, we were just trying to finish this beast) she didn't like it at all. So, I just zipped it, said nothing and would let nature take it's course. A perfect plan ;)
Day 4. The start was not so unfriendly as the first 2 days for us. On the first climb we had a clear view of 4 mixed teams at one time and all the gals were being pushed by their guys. That was a red flag to my firebrand partner and we were off like a shot. It wasn't long before we caught the 2nd placed mixed team Luna (Steve Wallace/Katarina Nash) and we yoyoed with them a bit as they surged to keep pace and the terrain rolled. On the next climb we left them and put in a solid effort. It was a beautiful climb! River crossing, new singletrack, big climb ending in hike a bike. We were having a great day...and suddenly riding with folks we usually only see at dinner time as Dicky likes to say. On day 4 we passed all the leaders jerseys aside from the Italians.
From the top of this climb was a 45 km downhill dirt road. Ugh. Could we possibly hold off the Luna juggernaugt for that distance? We didn't know but we were gonna give it a whirl. There was no way to hold on to passing teams draft with our gearing. But, there were some sections of rougher terrain and towards the end even a slight headwind - both favorable for us. It was amazing to be passed so few times. We were in the top 20 overall and I was certain we'd be passed by 20 teams on this section. Towards the end Lynda says "I see purple!" I say "no way" (purple is the color of the mixed leaders jersey) but sure enough there was Norm and Wendy fixing a flat. They were super positive as we went by at 180 rpm, telling us we were hauling ass. Our virtual lead lasted all of 68 seconds, they came flying by in their big rings as we knew they would. We were still working it for all we could to hold 2nd...which we did with 10 min to spare. I was shocked when I saw the splits. Best of all, we rocketed up to 3rd on GC on that day's performance - and we were just getting warmed up.
Day 6 looked like a real toughy, so we decided to take it easy day 5. Easy being a relative term on a SS, we still rode right up to Luna on the first climb. I was a bit ahead of Lynda when that happened, and I didn't want to get into a dog fight with them today so I got off the bike and whipped out the camera.
Lynda on an easy day, hot on the heels of day 3's 80+ stage winner ;)
An enjoyable cruise that day, and without working very hard we landed 3rd.
Day 6 had something over 12k' vert, a paved uphill start, big climbs and some elevation - we figured it would be favorable for us so we hit this one hard. No camera in tow this day. It was funny how the initial fatigue days 1 & 2 had us wondering if the finish would be attainable, and the eve of day 5 we were deep in 2-epic thinktank strategic mode. It's definitely one of the things I love about us :) We are happiest when racing. As we were flying up the first big climb we both recognized that no matter the outcome of the day we were living large, it was a day to remember. We did give this one our all. As it turned out the route wasn't as favorable for SS as we thought - lots of spun out stuff in the middle after racehorse pass and then some stuff just a tad too steep to ride with our gearing at the end. But when I saw the splits, that we were only 13' adrift of Norm/Wendy on a 6 hour day - riding SS bikes - well I was ecstatic. Our teamwork this day was top notch and we dug deep into the well. It felt great at the end of the day.
Until the awards, that is. We were passed by a mixed team in the last few miles but since she didn't ride the first 2 (hard!) days after getting food poisoning, forcing her team into the unclassified ranks, we didn't imagine they would be reclassified after she rejoined the race. But alas, it was a Canadian team...so we ended up a dissappointing 4th on the day.
Day 7 started with some nosebleed steep climbs and hikes, featured endless rolling roads in the middle, with a touch of sweet singletrack for the finale into Fernie. We didn't ride hard at all this day, all we had to do to protect our 3rd GC spot was a consistent ride, and that's what we did. We were both a bit tired but would cheer each other up by noting that we were gonna finish this beast - on single speeds.
Last Saturday was the annual running of the Kaibab Monster Cross on the Kaibab plateau. We had tossed around several incarnations of how to do this one...how it ended up was that I raced, Lynda & the kids explored the North Rim, then the day after the race we switched roles. It was a blissful, perfect weekend. We all got home exhausted and smiling.
Carrying on with the year's theme, I raced SS. That wasn't my first choice, but a few days before the event Brendan showed up with the new Siren SS 29er, and I couldn't resist. The first ride on it was like a magic carpet...it fits like a glove, is a perfect balance between sharp handling and stable, and even though it's aluminum it's more compliant than the Explosif frame. Go figure.
A picture is worth a million words. 'nuff said :)
This years was more fun than last year - maybe it's the SS factor, maybe it's the slightly cooler weather (or maybe I'm just adapted to heat living in St George), maybe it's cause I knew what to expect. For sure last year's event was affected by the Grand Loop fatigue 2 weeks prior. In any case, I love racing SS. It's easier. There is lots of spun out time in a long route...and that means you get to take in the views, relax a bit more, burn fewer calories and not get as wiped as with a steady geared pace.
5am AZ time start. Here's the gang ready to go.
Nathan was another SSer present. He totally ripped the Sedona Big Friggen Loop, so his presence meant there was a SS race to be had. Dave, Chad, Andy, Brian, Calvin and Rob rounded out the field. How often to you know the entire field by name?
I rode with Brian and Calvin for the better part of the first 2 hours. I was most surprised to be able to keep contact on descents and fast sections - after an initial short climb, the route descends for oh, at least 10 miles. My cleats loosened up so I had to stop to tighten them up...but other than that we stayed together.
Mile 30 or so there's a long, gradual climb/false flat that was perfect for my gearing and I started to motor on. The threat of 2 weeks in CA (business trip) was a real possibility, so I decided I was gonna give this thing some punch so I wouldn't even want to ride for at least the first week ;)
Rainbow Rim trail is such a treat. Sweet, buff singletrack on the rim of the GC, doesn't get much better than that.
This pic is from Timp point about 1/4 mile from the trail. Click for big to see Thunder River.
From RR is the dreaded climb to ~9200' on exposed, dusty roads. But for whatever reason, it went by in a blur this year. Cool breezes and tailwinds...before I knew it there was Deer Lake....
Yes, Deer Lake. There is a store about 3/4 mile off-route, but I forgot cash. Dipstick. But the emergency kit always contains chem tabs and I didn't need more calories. So, in Carol Ann's honor this year I drank Deer Lake water. It's a stagnant pond full of swimming creepy things, moss, and ringed with hoofprints. Ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Shoes off, I waded out a ways to get the water away from the shore. It was cool and felt great! What was even better, the water had a not so displeasing "extra" taste factor. Nutrient dense!
AZT was next. Quite possibly my favorite part of the course, the flowing woodsy singletrack on the East Rim. This can't be AZ!
The drop to the infamous East Side Game Road was extra rubbly this year, and the game road was tough for the first few miles then became a very enjoyable cruise through dense wildflowers in a burn area. White, yellow, orange, blue, red - all represented. I was racing my ass off through here. The next climb was going to be mostly hiking so I'd use that to recover. Turns out some of the climb was rideable on the SS and it went by quicker than I expected. Cool!
Visions of a sub 11 hour ride started to pop into my head and I drilled the last 9 miles as hard as I could, but it didn't quite happen. 11:09 - 1:08 faster than last year (geared!). I'll take it.
A conundrum, no? I NEVER expected to go this fast on a SS on this route. How is this possible...
Sunday Lynda got to taste the singletrack sections of KMC while I went exploring with the kids. Wes just couldn't believe that a white patch a mile off-road was snow...had to be rocks. It's 100+ in StG, there can't be any snow in the whole wide world, right?
So let's go find out!
Yep, it was snow afterall. Power slides with candy in hand. Broken arm be damned, power slides were ON.
Don't be fooled by the barbie, that hand with the snowball means business!
All in all, a weekend the likes I've never experienced. Makes a guy want to freeze time and space.
On Sunday Lynda and I set out to put in a fast time on the Kokopelli trail on our single speed Konas. The punchline: we both finished in record time, LW @ 15:21 and DH @ 13:19. It was a day of 2 Epic love! Here's the nitty gritty.
Last weekend - when many riders had set their sights on a Kokopelli trail ride - we stayed local for some important events that had been on the calendar all year. I never imagined I'd be excited for such things...but what can I say. Life has expanded lately and I'm finding room for all of it.
May 25 was the date we had set aside for our spring KT run. When we first planned it, it was to be a SS mission for speed. Then events seemed to get the better of us. LW had to back off the training for awhile, then I got a last second request to be in LA for business all last week. A week in gridlock at sea level is rather lousy prep for KT! Honestly, we had scrapped the KT idea a month ago. Well, verbally between us, anyway. I had my secret hopes to keep the ride alive...and had actually tailored my training for the push.
I got back from CA Fri night. Sat morning we looked at the forecast for Moab/Fruita and it looked perfect. What do ya know, LW was all fired up to do it, too. Our KT rose from the ashes of burnout and city dwelling...now the question was how to put the logistics together and get on the road ASAP to get'r done? A $250 shuttle, that's how...Sun 12:30 AM we arrived in Moab with enough time for a 2 hour nap. LW blasted off at 3:10 AM, I left at 4:17 AM.
Initially it was all familiar. Heading up Sand Flats in the dark, how many times have I done that now? What was completely different though this time was the tension in the legs caused by 34.18 gearing and 225 oz fluids on board. And, Lynda was riding ahead of me. Just past the turn off of Sand Flats road she had drawn a big ol heart in the sand in a spot I couldn't miss...who knew such experiences awaited on the KT?
LW had similar gearing - 34.19 - and we both thought the La Sals were waaaay harder than with gears. Yes, we are human and both of us ended up walking on pavement - more than once too. Between the SS challenge and the extra weight I was hauling for this one (my water filter is AWOL! Anyone seen it?) I hit the top of the La Sals 15 min later than normal, 3 hours. I wasn't too concerned though as I figured since I wasn't going to filter I was actually already ahead of schedule. What an optimist ;)
The N Beaver descent was fun as always and before I knew it there was RGH. A short climb later and it was time for probably the toughest part of the ride, the rubbly Cottonwood canyon climb. This thing kicked my ass. I whimpered. I walked. Whimpered some more. Stopped and stretched my back some. I cursed no less than 6 false summits. It was less than 40 minutes but felt like a lifetime. In '06 Jon Brown set the SS KT record and won the OA as well. He said he walked most of this section, now I understood why. I descended the Shandies somewhat shellshocked by the difficulty of the La Sals with a sudden respect for anyone that has SSed this thing. Some courses seem easier to me on SS, but not this one. Not by a longshot.
At the bottom of Cottonwood canyon there was Lynda filtering water. Record attempt be damned, I couldn't just ride on by an encounter with my dream girl now could I? Of course not :)
6:16 to Dewey. Or, should I say what was Dewey. 45 min off the pace of my last two rides here. Hmmmm.....could I cover the next ~76 miles in 7 hours? I wasn't so sure. I thought about sticking my feet in the swollen Colorado river until LW got here then finishing with her. But I wasn't yet ready to throw in the towel. I ramped it up for Yellow Jacket, felt great and did it in 57 minutes. How about that. Game ON. It was going to be close, but I now recognized the sensations....a challenging goal, a ticking watch, 75 miles of trail and a deadline. I suddenly felt great. Towards the end of Yellow Jacket an ATVer asked me if I had a minute: "sorry, I don't" and kept on motoring. I was on a mission. Hey, if LW only gets 4 minutes this guy gets nothing!
The KT is a biatch to gear for. In the La Sals you want small gearing for the long, sustained steep climbs. In the rolling to flat east section a big gear would be great. What is fastest? The challenge beyond McGraw bottom was maintaining concentration to rev it up to 19 mph, coast to 14-15, repeat...for miles on end. It wasn't that hard to do being a high cadence guy, but it was easy to forget to do it. Kinda strange, eh?
I wondered where LW was and how she was fairing...
There was a surprise appearance of Chris and Marni at McGraw bottom. What a nutcase, he just did the KT SS a week prior and was back out there touring it with friends. Manic! I slowed as I came up to them but they told me not to lose my flow so no unclipping occured. Being cheered on during a self-support event was confusing and welcome all at once.
Water. I had to make a call: head to Westwater for a refill as I was getting quite low, or continue on at risk of dehydration but without the 15-20 min time penalty. I knew there wasn't much time to spare, if any...I'd been rationing water for quite awhile which was affecting ability to fuel. It was all getting rather thin, but I had a lot of cytomax gels that didn't need much water. Then I remembered the chem tabs in my first aid kit. No brainer: no WW detour, treat some Salt Creek brine if I really have to.
Last year I did the desert section of the KT many, many times. It has great flow and I was really looking forward to it. The part between Westwater and Rabbit Valley in particular is full of fun terrain, great for the SS, lots of rolling short climbs and fast descents. It did not dissappoint! OK it was Memorial weekend and the ATVer factor was pretty high. LW was even harrassed by one of them. Evidently it made him feel good to harrass a 105 lb gal on a SS.
The difficulty of doing a blog for the two of us when we didn't ride together should be obvious...but here's one piece of her ride I do know about. There's this short hike a bike and there were some ATVers there, watching her hike this thing that the ATVs have beat into dusty oblivion. One guy has the gall to tell her she needed a motor, to which she replied "Honey, I've got only one gear and I started at Moab 3am this morning!"
Spunky! But that's nothing coming from this gal. The other day she noticed a bunch of cigarette butts in her yard, obviously they came from the neighbors flicking them over. She picked them up, took a big handful over to the neighbors door, knocked, and when he answered said "here these are yours" after which he put his hand out and she filled it up...and he was clammoring on the ground picking up the ones that fell through his fingers, stammering all the while...
They don't call her Mighty Mouse for nothing!
Right, so this bike ride....forward progress continued...the Salt creek drop in was surprisingly rideable. I arrived dry. Gawd I've never done a KT in the Moab to Fruita direction when I didn't drink this nasty thing, it always makes me thirstier. I had something like 1:35 to match the current record leaving from Salt Creek. I was pretty sure nothing short of a catastrophe would get in my way. I could taste success. Then, shortly after the first hike a bike, wow my legs were just noodles. It was an unfamiliar sensation for sure. I could barely pedal and felt sort of strange. Maybe it was the chem tabs from Salt creek? LW tells me it's something called a bonk. Well anyway, gels, figs and salt creek brine chased it away...and then the snake episodes. Snakes! Not once, but twice I had to climb around snakes that wouldn't leave the trail, and I wouldn't roll over them. It was steep rocky and not much fun...more time burned. Now it was getting tight.
Troy built just is never that much fun after 138 miles. That climb was a hike. But from there it was fun ripping tech singletrack to the finish. Mary's was never ending, mostly cause I was watching my watch - 14 minutes...12...10...9...oh thank gawd there's that last climb!
13:19, a meager 7 minutes faster than Jon's '06 ride, but hey, I'll take it.
LW rolled in shortly afterwards. That girl is so gritty...doing KT in a day requires some prior planning. We both paid the price for the last minute decision to do it. My price was a lack of a water filter, hers was forgetting to swap out her saddles. I'm not going into details, other than to say her price was much higher than mine ;) OUCH!
Oh yea, we both rode our PowerTap MTB Disc wheels laced up by MC. They both worked too! My stats were:
156 W ave
207 W normalized power
VI: 1.32, just about what every SS ride turns out to be...
11.3 ave speed
12:42 rolling time
13:19 elapsed time - which means stopped time was 37 min, but actually less cause the rolling clock stops when carrying for hike a bikes. So prolly under 30 min time stopped. That's as good as I've done on the KT.
With this ride, I think I can speak for us both that this obsession has found closure. The KT is beautiful, wonderful riding. And so are many other places...the quest moves on to new pastures.
We had been planning on going to DS&G all spring...clearly we didn't make it out to TN this year. There have been enough curveballs of late to make a rigid schedule not so alluring or practical. Notwithstanding, I still had the urge to put down a race effort. It's been awhile since going to the well and I was thirsty.
The 12 Hours of Mesa Verde was a first time event last spring when I lived 45 miles down the road in Durango. The timing didn't fit with my GLR obsession at the time, but this year it looked super tasty. It was just what the crack doctor ordered.
Of course I had to go singlespeed. So what gear then? Tom P was kind enough to share his GPS file of the course from last year to help dial in the gearing. The file in TopoFusion showed short climbs generally under 6% grade - that initially led me to think a really big gear would be the call. But I've ridden on those trails and common sense told me otherwise. The trails are super twisty, rarely straight and require constant accelerations out of corners. It's a real power course in every sense. I decided to stick with my beloved 32.17, but then the last local ride before leaving the 17 cog was suddenly so worn the chain was sticking to it. Wow, you can wear out SS cogs! I didn't have another 17 but did have a 34.18 which is almost the same so went with that.
Part of the gear selection criteria was to pick a gear that I'd stick with for the race. No gear changes allowed - I drove out there alone and rode self supported and changing a gear takes forever...everything is so fussy on the back end of my bike ;) I arrived in Cortez late Fri afternoon and buzzed a lap of the course before sunset to confirm the gear choice. The gear felt fine...I still considered going 32.18 but decided not to mess with it. There are a few steep grunters that I knew were going to leave their mark by hour 6 or 7.
The best thing about that pre-ride tho, was the course!!! It was one of those rare instances where I pre-ride a lapper and am grinning ear to ear. The routes flow is impeccable, especially for SS. Every time you hit a steep hill, you can just go as hard as ya like cause they are all so short. There were fast, twisty uber buff sections; sections like "Rib Cage" and "Vertebrae" with monstor bmx style whoops that had me whooping like a kid; steady short climbs; technical rocky bits; and nice views - an overlook to Cortez and big views of the La Platas. That pre-ride set the stage. It was gonna be a hoot to ride that roller coaster dream route for a day.
It was a long night. Sleeping open in the back of the truck didn't prove to be a great idea as it sprinkled rain several times, waking me up. Gah. An hour before the start it was raining lightly...and rain was not in my plan. Not having seen it for months I forgot it actually happens ;) Dumb shit, spring in the rockies is wet! By start time it was all good to go tho.
Self-support is so easy on a SS. I had bottles and food all set up and didn't end up having to pour a single drop into anything during the race. I opted to go with 3 hours of stuff each time and only pitted every other lap and that worked great. Gatorade, water, cytomax gels, pepsi at the end, and enduralytes liberally throughout was about the extent of it. Solids weren't going down and I didn't seem to need food this day anyway.
Running sucks. More specifically, *my* running sucks. I lined up behind Matt at the start. The run was on flat gravel around a few buildings...Matt loped away from me immediately, as did all the other 150 folks lined up behind me ;) The broken heel has been ok but I was not willing to push it and just poked along. And then I learned the real challenge of racing a SS - a flat start with gearies. Let's just say it wasn't anything like any 12 hour I've done before. I was in the back half of the field and the course bottlenecked almost immediately into endless singletrack. Congo line for 45 min...settle in and chill. I rode with Lenny quite a bit. He was much more experienced with this situation than I and he never got off his bike that I saw. There were maybe 3 times tho where I was too close to a geared rider who would bobble on a hill and I'd end up walking/running for a bit. Lenny was smart enough to give the geared riders a gap before the steeps. I'm learning, thanks for showing how it's done!
Maybe 45 min into the lap, suddenly everyone dissappeared and the course opened up. It was a really strange phenomena, and looking back I still don't know what happened...but passing was not an issue at all for the rest of the day. The first time through Vertebrae the bar clamp on the stem came loose and about broke my wrists - weird. Fixed that up and came through lap 1 already 10 minutes down. I sure need to start running more...
The new PT Disc was on board. Using a power meter to pace is somewhat difficult, especially on a SS. But I was somewhat nervous about holding up at the muscular level as I've never done a 12 hour SS before. I rode the pre-ride at a pace I figured was sustainable for 12 hours and that was about 1:26 and 212 average watts not including zero powers. Why not include zero powers? I've found that in most MTB races if you exclude zero powers in the PT averaging, the displayed average comes very close to normalized power, and that is a good pacing guage for me. The zero powers of course are still in the downloaded file, they just don't factor into displayed averages during a ride.
After the first lap with the slow congo line start the average power was well below target - around 200. I picked it up in lap 2 though which turned out to be my fastest...and stopped looking at the pave. After lap 3 it was 224, then at the end of lap 4 it rose to 226 - oops time to back it down. Another factor today was elevation. I used to live at 6500', but these days I'm a lowland dweller and my hematocrit has dropped from 48/49 to 44. So keeping a lid on it was even more important...
Racing on. What can I say, it was just a super day on the bike. On lap 3 I came up to Matt - we rode together for awhile. The course was full of little gotchas, it demanded full attention at all times. Twisty, turny, and lots of cut off branches that kept going for your shoulder, arm, head. You had to look up and down. Well, Matt was paying more attention to our conversation than the trail and one of those branches nailed his shoulder and sent him down. It made me really queasy cause it looked violent. He assured me he was ok so I continued on. I was a bit rattled for a few minutes after that. Some way to take the lead, eh?
Then on lap 4 I had my turn. Ripping some fast section my bike came to an abrupt halt and OTB I went, landing on my head and recently injured shoulder. I had just passed the 2nd placed geared solo rider and as he rolled by my yard sale exclamed a big "uh oh!" Thanks Brian ;) No damage done that I could tell, I was rolling within seconds.
Lap 5 was sorta tough. I was beginning to feel some fatigue so backed it off. Then lap 6 I was back on and just kept it motoring till the end. At one point I had thought it might be fun to go for the solo overall, but I had no clue who, if anyone, was in front of me and in self-support mode nobody was giving me info. The finish line crew made big fanfare each time I came in about being the SS leader, so that was good enough. I just kept on keepin on and loving the flow of the course. The last lap was a blast. Perfect temps, the legs felt awesome and I had a lot more to give so did for a few minutes just cause...and of course thoughts drifting to my crack buddy and how I knew she'd love this course and race. Next year!
Finishing up I learned there was one solo geared rider about 3 minutes in front of me. We both mused about it after the race - neither of us knew during the race how close we were to each other. Jens is one strong rider, that's for sure!
Being passed by Travis Brown on lap 3. Wow. OK so it was his first lap and I was on hour 4 or 5...but sheeeeet was he hauling the mail.
Being passed by Andrew Ferguson on his new Trek 69er. He was part of the all-star team that pulled 10 laps, including Miles setting a course record of 1:10.
Finishing 6th overall, behind a few 4 person teams and Jens and ahead of all duo teams.
And that's a wrap. 720 TSS for the event and that has left a big mark, mostly in my shoulders and upper back! The legs are fine, SSing is exposing some other weaknesses to work on...
We've been looking forward to RimRide for a long time. The plan from day one was to ride it SS, not hard, and together. After Vision Quest, 1/2 of 2 Epic had a tendon injury that made riding SS impossible...there were a few weeks when we just didn't know what we'd do. Gears? Skip it altogether? Then the injury cleared up and we were able to do what we most wanted: SS!
We strategize for just about everything.
Lynda: Let's be chill. Go easy, ride together, just have fun.
Dave: Right. Sure. Whatever. I know you. I know me. There will come a point where crack will overtake us no matter what the plan. It's how we work.
The 2 major strategic issues for this epic are water and naviation. It's a complex route through arid terrain. Last year I got by on about 80oz water - but it was raining most of that time. This year the forecast was 70ish F with S winds gusting to 30+ mph - can you say dehydrating? 200oz fluids was our call - 200 each. That's a lotta weight to put on a little 105 lb gal, but it didn't seem to slow her down much.
On the mapping side we had some help. Fred sent Lynda a map with the route outline, and Brad K shared his GPS file from the weeks previous ride as a starting point. A few hours with Topofusion and I had a perfect GPS route in the Garmin. This was critical, even though I had done the event last year - everything looked different this year. It was sunny!! What a difference that makes. I didn't know there were so many views and rims in this ride last year.
Finally, what gear to choose for the SS? We decided to gear more for everything but Gold Bar. Gold bar is granny gear stuff on a geary, and to put on a gear that would allow riding all of it would mean going really slow everywhere else. 32.19 for me, 34.20 for Lynda. We were totally happy with the gear all day. Others were actually on bigger gears....but when it comes to going fast on a SS it's not about whether or not you can clean with a given gear but how fast you go. It's a race afterall ;)
6:20ish AM we all left as the new day began. About 40 riders took the start this year. Last year the darkness hung on forever...this year light was dawning at the start, and by the cliff option of BarM it was daytime. I was surprised by the 500 foot cliffs a few feet to our right...I didn't even see that cliff last year. Bad place to pass.
We stuck with our plan, going pretty chill early, and at the end of Rockin A stopped to take lights and jackets off. On Circle O Lynda had a bottle mount failure and some other futzing had us motionless for quite some time. It seemed like 30 riders went by, but it didn't really matter cause we were just chill today, right? Sure.... Through all of our futzing about Jeff stopped and waited for us. It was a bizarre thing actually, to be in a race setting and have a guy waiting for us, motionless, taking pictures and whatnot. Brad Mullen cruised on by us more to his surprise than ours. I think that jazzed him up some...and I rode his wheel for a little bit. He was looking smooth and calm - ok maybe a bit giddy. Others would dart ahead of us, stop and bust out a camera real fast to get some pics. There are more pics of this event floating around than any event I've been part of!
Onward. Sovereign was fun and we were still just cruising along. We were settling in to an easy pace and enjoying it all. We rode with Marko quite a bit, that was pretty cool. Heading under 191 and towards 7 mile rim suddenly we had a view of 2 riders ahead. I didn't think anything of it cause I thought there were 20 or so riders in front of us...but Aaron Potts, who was with us, was certain that the 2 in front were the *only* riders in front of us. I was in disbelief, that just couldn't be right. But sure enough, counting tracks there were only 2 sets...and they were SSers, Chris Plesko and Steve Cook running big gears.
Red flag to a bull. Lynda will swear to her grave she was keeping a lid on it but she fired off the canons on that 7 mile rim climb and we were with Chris and Steve in short order. The lead group was a mishmash of 4 SSers and 2 gearies. We cruised nice and easy through the sand to Monitor/Merrimac. I chatted with Steve a bit about GLR and was really impressed by how strong he was riding. On the slickrock bit before 313 there was a stiff headwind. LWs 7 mile rim assualt got the juices flowing, and now the race was on. It became tactical. This group of 6 needed to be thinned before the long headwind section of 313 pavement...and it could not have worked any better. Heading up the pavement I looked back - and then there were 3. Lynda, Jeff and I worked together up to the Gemini turnoff and eveyone else quickly dissappeared.
The view from Arth's Rim was fab. It was the warmest part of the day and we all used a good bit of water in the previous hour or two...
It was just a joyride from there on. What can I say? We were feeling good, loving the SS and riding this race together, Jeff was great company, the views were off the charts. We'd ride froggy in some spots, totally chill in others - it's the SS way. There were times when Jeff could have easily rode away from us when we were spun out, but he never did. Maybe the froggy parts kept him in check - or maybe it was Lynda's smile he couldn't leave behind?
Earlier in the day I lost 2 bottles - they bounced out of my cages. That put a bit of a hurt on my fluid supply, and we all stopped at Gold Bar to take stock of our collective fluids. Jeff was down to near nothing, I was down to 60ish oz, LW had 75+. Yikes. Tough call for Jeff! I think he had a coke in there too, maybe that kept him alive. A pivotal spot in the ride, we all continued onwards.
The views from the top of Gold Bar are silly. The geography is immense, complex, corrugated, rippled, canyoned, mountainous. There were mandatory camera stops. Somewhere up there I looked back and didn't see Jeff. It had been a long time since I looked back and didn't know when or where he lost contact...near the beginning of blue dot I think?
Jeff was strong as a truck all day. It was bittersweet to lose him. Must have been more sweet than bitter cause we didn't wait ;)
In any case, now there were 2. The notion of finishing together at the front of the race had never crossed my mind as being possible, especially on SSs...and I was filled with emotion. Goose bumps. We picked up the pace a bit, and hit Poison Spider pretty hard. I had my biggest power values (under 30 seconds) on this stretch. Oh yea, did I mention we both rode with power taps?
Potash road. Would a geared rider reel us in? We spun our legs off down that road maintaining about 17 mph with the tailwind assist. We looked back occasionally...and saw no riders. Finally, we relaxed and hit the finish line, elated by an enormous route, enormous effort, a day of flow, a day of riding together.
Here's Lynda racing hard.
Since we are 2 Epic, we went into town shortly after the finish to load up for the next days adventure, a SS White Rim lap as the weekend's dessert. We are both still giddy from the weekend. We both know we can do these sorts of things individually, but to do them together? It's beyond previously conceived possibilities.
I'd set my bike up to race this one. From all the locals I'd heard it was a challenging and fun event. It was challenging and ironically it was the Vision Quest part that was the challenge not the racing part.
A vision quest is a rite of passage, similar to an initiation, in some Native American cultures.
I had trouble with my vision all day. First it was getting ready in the dark without a light, then riding up a narrow rut filled racer choked road in the dark and fog with no light. This put me in a borderline panic state until it got light. When it did get light my glasses were too mucked up to wear and the fog put visibility at 30 feet sometimes. After narrowly missing a rut at 20 mph I slowed waaay down. Muck in the unprotected eyeballs added to the Vision challenge.
I'm not sure what I was supposed to be learning but lessons were all over the place. The course was not marked! This did not actually occur to me that a race I paid $128 to enter would not be marked. It was a complete surprise... Throughout the race I waited up at intersections for someone to catch me from behind who knew the way... Another vision challenge. Hmmph. My racer head was switched off and I found some joy looking at the scenery and riding along some fun trails on my bike. The course was open to the public and I met many hikers out on the trails. I dislike being uncourteous so slowed and thanked each one for letting me by. Towards the end of the "race" there was a fun single-track section with two way racer traffic, hikers, dogs and I even saw a deer! The 2-way single-track racer traffic was confusing. Having that as part of a race course was so outside the realm of what I though was probable I was sure I had missed a turn and was riding backwards on the course. I didn't know where I was - in SO California somewhere?
But I kept plodding along and reached the finish-line 3rd SSer in 6:22. Good enough for a female SS course record.
On the way home we met up with the fella driving this car. Head on.
He greeted us from the oncoming direction at 80 mph doing donuts after losing it in a corner. He tagged an F350 pick up truck in front of us turning it sideways then spinning in the air. I saw its roof-undercarriage-roof-undercarriage a few times in the space of a second.
Then BAAAM, the asshole rallying his little souped up Subaru with fake decals to make it look like a higher model than it actually was, hit us head on. It was most violent and shocking.
On this little corner of the road where it happened there were 5 memorials presumably of people who had died there. The lame yahoo who disregarded everybody's lives on this public road was on the way to see his friends finish Vision Quest of all things! In our car were my 2 kids, me, Dave and Carol Ann driving. Four in the pick-up. No serious injuries. Wes and I have some nice seatbelt burn and we all have an assortment of bruises but are ok. Poor Carol Ann now has no car.
VQ is done and I'm alive to tell the tale. The race wasn't too bad but the bozo driving near 80 mph to the race's finish, losing control, knocking a full-size pickup into mid-air for 3 rolls and then careening directly into us made it a full on epic day. But you're here for the race details...
What can I say. Racing SS is freaking hard! To those that say it is not a disadvantage, I say you haven't raced gears in a long time. At the end of the day, all I could think was WOW the effort that Dicky and Tim put down last year at BCBR to get top 10 overall riding SS was huge.
The goal for this one was knowledge - and school was in session. The on board electronics rivaled that of the space shuttle - power tap, garmin GPS, light, MP3 player. Simple doesn't play into SS for me ;)
The race started early - 5:30 am. Since we were geared for the climbs, we decided to start at the back. We'd be spun out for a bit, right? Big mistake #1. We had to wait for all riders to scoot through the initial bottleneck, then the first climb was not very wide and full of ruts, and Lynda had no light. We worked together on the first climb, using my light...and didn't really start going until about 15 minutes in when the grade steepened. Then it was one bursty pass after another.
All the while visibility was poor - yes it was dark, but shrouded in mist too. Vision Quest took on a whole new meaning. Up on the main divide, the steep rollers had my legs saying ugh a couple of times. Up to this point my gearing didn't seem too bad (32.19 on a 26er), but those rollers kicked my booty. Damn, had to pull on the boxing gloves...
At one point moving through the field on that first climb a guy looks at my gear and exclaims "wow! SS, what gear?" My response gets some sort of grunt about too much gear...then he saw Lynda also pedalling a SS and that got an excited "you dating anyone??" Evidently LW was asked that several times during the race. I so understand that question and it took me back to Trans Rockies stage 1 when I first saw LW really kicking booty :)
Somewhere along the way it stopped feeling like a race and more like a spirited ride. Lots of things slowed us both, like the dark start, starting at the back...and the descents! Rim brakes on the PT, a new bike that I'd never ridden singletrack on, and a 4 year old flimsy SID worldcup made for some sketchy handling on the downs. The course was unmarked, which to a local is no biggie but to someone not familiar with the area was cause for a lot of stopping and asking which way as there are a lot of intersections. Hikers on trails, dangerous 2 way traffic on the most fun singletrack descent towards the end...I had to stop and ask a few times if I was going the right way!
So, thoughts on the differences between racing SS and gears:
Sometimes the gear is perfect. Sometimes it forces you out of the saddle for extended periods and that is simply more fatiguing. There was a long rubbly steep section that I really needed to be out of the saddle to maintain power, but had to remain seated to maintain traction. Major disadvantage in that section. The 30 minute "hike a bike" was really quite rideable in sections - if you had gears. 2 gearies pulled away from me for good there and 2 more got close. The flat road at the end, about 4 miles of it - was comedy. Full of cars, big watery muddy holes, and my chain kept falling off. I couldn't help but laugh that if I had a derailur on the bike there'd be plenty of chain tension to keep it on track. And it felt as though I was standing still at 19mph spunnered out. Jeesh.
The advantages: well, not having to shift of course. I gave up the weight advantage when I chose to go fully instrumented, and no regrets there cause I have some great files. 4w/kg pnorm for 4+ hours leading to the hike a bike just might be a PB. More analysis to come, including a look at power and GPS data simultaneously.
Finishing stats: well not sure how I finished. I think it was 10th although they have me in 12th in prelim results. They've got me 2 sec behind Monique Sawicki although I finished a few minutes in front of her. I think my time was 6:09 but I'm not real sure. Neither are the race folks ;) 2nd SS. John Fuzzy Milne put down an incredible ride and set a new SS course record by a minute or two. Lynda set a new SS womens record, not bad for her first long SS race.
And thus the VQ obsession has come to a close.
At the end of the weekend, what stands out most in my mind is how little the VQ does...
The morning of the Grand Loop Race I was relaxing in the lobby of the GJ Super 8, enjoying some "free" raisin bran and reading the paper. I turned to the horoscope section just for fun and found this:
You will have abundant energy the next few days but it's best to pace yourself - you can't do much with a pile of ashes
Let's just say the pre-race vibes were as good as they get. I had a rare day to relax before the start. While that may drive some nutz, that's a luxury I never have, and it set a great tone and mood for the start. MC read it as overconfidence, but in truth I was oh so relaxed, content with the prep I'd done for this monster, and was downright excited to get going.
I'd ridden much of the course already. The Koko obviously has seen my tracks a few times, and 2 weeks prior I'd attempted a solo GL venture only to be turned back by snow at the beginning of the Tabeguache trail. So 2/3 of the course I'd already ridden; I'd generated routes via mapping software to be loaded to my GPS for all of it, knew the profiles and elevations well, had done my homework.
Weight and heat were big concerns. I wanted to minimize heat exposure because in late spring/early summer I'm not adapted to it yet. If there was a way to hit all the big climbs at night or early in the day...and lighter than 2 weeks ago...
Putting these concerns in my pressure cooker lead me to a plan of a fairly aggressive start with minimal food supplies, relying on the Bedrock store for resupply. Then move on to Tab creek for a short bivvy, getting some much needed rest - before making the big push to attain the Uncompaghre plateau in the darkness before the heat set it.
The other key piece of the puzzle was the Roubideau section of the Tabeguache. Difficult routefinding, difficult trail conditions - I had to be through that section before dark set in on Sunday, otherwise I knew I'd end up having a forced bivvy. Beyond that, the plan was to go until I blew. I expected routefinding and trail conditions to be much easier after Roubideau. If I could keep going to the end, great - if not, so be it. Sleepytime is good too.
As it turned out, I stuck darn close to that plan and had very few problems. The big push from Tab creek all the way to the end was a bit over enthusiastic, but I was still able to finish the loop in record time. Here's how it went.
Planning for 3 days self-supported is new to me. I've been on one very steep learning curve since doing the first overnighter back in March. I started the GLR at least 25 lbs lighter than my first overnigher (!). It turns out you don't need slippers, a coffee press, a big coffee mug and who knows what else I was hauling. My equipment was pared down to this (not shown is my sleeping kit that attached to the bars). About 14 lbs before water but including food.
We (all 7 of us) met at the Tageguache trailhead in GJ with MC to head to the official start at the Kokopelli trailhead in Loma. At 6pm, it was fairly warm and arid, but not so much that we didn't chat like schoolgirls for the entire 20 miles. We rolled along at a nice easy pace; Stephan & I compared notes on our "secret" weapons, homebrew LED light systems that threw huge lumens but burned few watts; MC and I chatted about all sorts of stuff - he's a real "idea man" and the more time I spend with him the more I want to; Chris and I chatted about bikes, tires, prep - ya know the geeky stuff.
One gent made the haul from Washington for the race, Dave Kirk.
Dave had the most unique bike setup/gear choice. Everything was on his bike, he didn't even have a pack. That had to be comfy, at least on the rideable parts of the course.
By comparison, Chris had almost nothing on his bike.
MC ambles up the course a few minutes ahead of us so he can snap some shots of us coming through. We are left to make our own start. As we head up the first hill out of the parking lot, I move forward and hear Stephan say something like "well I'm not holding that pace" and that's the last I heard of anyone. Solo time from there on out.
As I came by MC, he said he bet Scott a pint of ice cream I'd take 6 hours off the record and wished me a good ride. Considering he held the record, I found this remarkable and a real testament to his character. It was a great sendoff, and added to my already building mojo by providing a concrete goal to shoot for. I wasn't gonna be responsible for MC losing a bet if I could help it!
Riding to Salt Creek in the daylight was a treat. I'd done this section 5 times this year, each time loaded, each time in the dark. I never really liked it that much. But in the waning light it was a hoot! It only took about 1:45 to hit the top of the hikeabike, and Plesko was close behind. He was looking quite strong. I changed into clear lenses and fired up the deisel.
Everything was flowing like butter, the desert landscape crunching under my wheels at a nice clip. I don't know if there were tailwinds, but it felt like it. A nearly full moon was casting light and shadows all over, the temp was perfect, and damn was it good to be cruising steadily. At the top of the Bitter Creek climb I looked out and saw all the riders lights close together. It let me know this was a race, not a solo TT - and the sensation made it completely different. I realized that with competition present, I was riding considerably faster than 2 weeks previous.
And so the desert section went - quickly. I had a flat spot between WW and Cisco, but the McGraw section started to wake me up and by Yellowjacket I was on fire. The turbo kicked in big time here and I knocked that bit out in 1:05. When I hit Dewey bridge the moonlight was making the white stanchions glow so bright I busted out the biggest cowboy howl I could muster. I was just overwhelmed. Riding across the bridge, somebody was camped on it. A group of sight impaired teens (as I later learned) were camped on the bridge. No wonder they were so confused as I stepped over them and informed them there would be 6 others behind me - this was a race. "Whhhaaaat?" Just past the bridge, somebody comes running my way - it was Lynda, my crack buddy who was camping there. She was on a family rafting trip and wanted to get some shots of the riders coming through. We chatted a bit, I ate a lot, a quick hug and it was off to the shandies.
I had not been looking forward to the Shandies. These steep sections of Entrada Bluffs road are super loose sand with rocks, traction is tough and when loaded it can be really draining. Not tonight. I was making good time, so did all the Shandies in the dark. The sun didn't come up until after Hideout actually. That was perfect timing for a breakfast stop - time to make coffee and have a bagel with hummous - yum! I was stoked to be here so early and was way ahead of schedule. Taking 30-40 minutes for breakfast was just fine. I learned in the solo ride that going sans coffee is suicide for my GI, so I brought lots and lots of the black gold on this trip.
All caffeinated and fed now, the climb up North Beaver mesa went quickly and I began the Paradox trail by10am or so. The goal to do the climbing before the heat of the day so far was on track.
I really love this section of riding. There's a lot of climbing to it, and it hurt me some last time. This time I was mentally prepared and and just cruised along soaking up every view the east side of the La Sals could offer - and that is many. This is a hidden wonderland...
Flowers were everywhere.
It's all gravel road - the surface at least isn't very tough.
Just before dropping to the paradox valley (named so because the Dolores river carves across it, not through it as every other river in the world does in it's canyon) Buckeye res was oh so inviting. I now regret not spending some time going for a dip here. Beauty spot.
The descent down Carpenter ridge is steep! It's a real brake burner and I felt my levers getting closer to the bars.
Headwinds in the Paradox valley, and they were pretty warm. Nonetheless, I hit Bedrock store at 2:18. I was shooting for 4, so I had some time to kill. First things first: get some ice cream, a Frappaccino, and a V8 and put it all down the hatch. That done, I considered the next move. It was in the mid 90s outside and no clouds. If I kept moving I'd be at Tab creek by 5:30 or so - then what? I don't like dry camps, and the next spot beyond tab creek with water is the far side of Glencoe Bench - 4-5 hours when feeling good from tab creek. That just was way more than I wanted to do - and I don't think I could have. It was hot. Plus, I was a bit sleepy...and there was a comfy chair in the Bedrock store...and a swamp cooler...and as it was built in the 1800's it was as if time was standing still - peaceful. I sat in that chair and had a great, cooling nap. The gal in the store didn't say a peep and I thanked her when I woke. She was completely unfazed.
Next, get the supplies to finish the route. Some of that included pop-tarts, but I didn't want the entire box, only 3 of the 4. A group of Prescott college students had drove up, on a boating trip by the looks of their gear. I asked them if they wanted the extra pop tart and one guys eyes really lit up. Sweet tooth in the group, eh? We chatted about what I was doing - they were fascinated. Then, one of them offered me an orange. I'm a real fruit bat and to my dismay there was no fresh fruit at the store - my mouth burst into watering mode. "Hell yea!" As he goes to get the orange, it dawns on me that could be construed as support - strictly against the rules of this event. This was the hardest decision I made the whole race, to tell this guy no thanks I really don't want that orange. Relating that story to MC post trip it turns out it was within the rules to accept it since it wasn't planned...oh well. Next time I'll accept!
In the meantime, it had clouded over a little. Still warm, but the ride through the Dolores canyon to the confluence of the San Miguel was quite pleasant. Intermittent shade from canyon walls made it much cooler. I was in no hurry here since I was only going to Tab creek. Once at the creek at about 7:30, I soaked my legs in the creek a bit before making dinner. The leg soak trick worked well for Lynda & I at TransRockies last year, so what the heck. It sure felt good. I was snoring solidly before the sun went down...
I hate alarm clocks and never use them. I let my body decide when it's time to get up - and it usually tells me it's time darn early. Sun at 12:14 am is precisely when that happened this time. And holy moly did I feel good - no stiffness, soreness, just ready to get chomping on a big day.
Since I was pretty tired arriving at the creek the night before, the first order of business is something I did an awful lot of - filtering water. My filter choice was based on weight more than speed. I think I got those priorities wrong. Oh well. Note the coffee is already made. Seeing a theme here?
I'm embarrassed to say how long it took between waking up and getting rolling, sometimes I just don't know where the time goes. But anyway, there were still many hours of darkness left.
This section of the Paradox is a bit of a bear. It starts out well enough, but quickly turns to one hike a bike after another - both up and down. It is not well marked either, but thanks to my GPS work and previous rides here I made short work of this difficult section. It was interesting to see how many signs there actually are, they show up so much better in the dark under lights!
The rough, sandy, nasty conditions give way to grassy meadows and ponderosa forests on Glencoe Bench, still one of my favorite sections of the Grand Loop. This was the site of breakfast/coffee # 2. Often the trail was only defined by dead dandilions.
2 weeks ago it was much wetter in all the meadows. This time conditions were much, much faster. It was a blast cruising this section this time.
Big views into the upper reaches of Tabeguache creek.
Next is the magical Aspen forests of Hauser road. The road is well graded most of the way, but does get steep towards to the top. At this point I'd been riding, oh maybe 5 hours but was feeling really good. I kept having to check myself: "back it down harris, remember the horoscope - can't do much with ashes!" It started to get really cool as I approached Divide road. Finally, I hit the top at about 10am.
After a quick spin down the Divide road, I'd hit Transfer road and quickly enter the beginning of the Tabeguache trail. This is where I was turned back by deep snow last time - only 2 weeks previous. What would it be like now? There wasn't much snow left on Divide road and that was encouraging. But the real trouble spots were north facing slopes that receive little sunlight. At least I had most of the day to work it out....
As it turns out, the snow was GONE. There were a couple of drifts to go around, and plenty of swampy areas, but it was really all rideable. I was surprised, and relieved.
This was as far as I got last time - there was no exposed dirt AT ALL. Now there is no snow. That was fast.
The singletrack was actually quite tech - lots of roots, steep in spots and demanding. Even with good conditions it wasn't very fast going, and I was beginning to feel human. Just in time, I hit the Roubideau trail proper, a fast, rocky descent of about 1000 feet on two track. This is where conditions really take a turn, and the beginning of what I figure would take a lot of time - must finish before dark.
The Uncomphagre plateau is massive. Now that I've seen it from the Divide road - a dirt road that follows it's spine - and the Tabeguache trail, it's still hard to wrap my head around just how immense this landform is. The Roubideau section drops away from the spine of the plateau and crosses 15 (!) drainages before climbing back up onto the spine. The Tab trail designer is a bit twisted methinks, and I thank him/her for the demensia. It goes something like this: rocket down some steep eroded scary ash hell trail to the bottom of a drainage, cross a creek getting your feet wet, then hike out the other side with said wet feet. A few of the ups are rideable, most are not. From canyon bottoms you have no clue where on earth you are, other than inside your cloistered forest home. In between drainages are mesa tops where the world opens up to massive views and the riding is oh so easy and pleasant.
Typical trail conditions.
The last 3 of these drainages were huge with 15-30 minute hikes out of each. This is Potter canyon, filled with marshes and small lakes, it was absolutely gorgeous. It was tough going but is there a better place on earth to be? Despite my dislike for hike a bikes, there was no complaining coming forth. The pics just don't do this spot justice. It's a real "have to be there" place.
I was a bit unsure what conditions were going to be like after the last drainage crossing. My GPS routing was telling me to turn left where there was no trail or road, and I was loathe to leave the nice track I was currently on. Unsure what to do, I sat down and pulled out some food, something I almost always did when unsure of which way to go. No coffee this time though ;) Then I looked up and saw a Tab trail marker pointing right where my GPS was telling me to go. Well I'll be. The GPS routing work saved the day once a gain. I thought about Fred who didn't have a GPS and how it was going to be so confusing for him at this spot, especially since I had overshot the turn leaving tracks in both directions.
Heading off into the grass, a trail began a 100 feet later. It was faint, slow, bumpy, and prolly my least favorite part of the whole Tab. I was ready for some fast moving roads and this was a slow boat to China. Oh well. Finally, FINALLY, this slow piece of semi-trail mostly grass led to a major dirt road. Just before the intersection there were all sorts of aspen logs tossed across the trail and no trespassing signs - and a Tab trail marker sign. Access issues on the horizon here for sure.
A short while later I came to Cottonwood road. Fast, scenic riding. Oh yea! I had made it through the Roubideau with plenty of light to spare - it was about 5pm. I celebrated the day with a 2 hour nap, dinner, and coffee. A large area of stately ponderosas and the soft pine mat underneath was too inviting to pass up.
It's just amazing how much coffee & a nap can bring me back to life. Cruising the ups and downs of Cottonwood road in the waning light was truly magical. The evening light was filtering through the fresh greeness of apsen trees. John Denver's "Rocky Mountain High" was doing loops through my conciousness. I know according to most of the reports I've read of folks doing this loop I should have been deep in the pain cave right now, but honestly, euphoria was closer to my state of mind. I almost feel like I should be apologetic. Almost.
Climbing up 25 mesa the ponderosa gave way to spurce/fir as I gained ~ 1,500' towards the high point of 9,600'. It was now dark and almost spooky here - this was new terrain, the first time night riding in unfamiliar terrain this trip. A huge canyon or drop off seemed to loom off to the left and I wished I was there in time to catch that view in the daytime, but the nap was worth it.
Soon I'd be hitting the Divide road, and shortly after that stretch came the Dominguez section. It was all new to me and not knowing where the next water would be I stopped and filtered to capacity. It's a good thing I did this where I did, because there was some climbing afterwards and it was getting cold. I needed the warm up.
Divide road was fast and easy and mostly with tailwinds. It was a rush to descend at 30 mph through deep forests in the dark. Eyes were everywhere, picked up by my homebrew lights. However, it was getting cold. I stopped several times to put on more layers, and before long I was going homeless style - I was wearing everying I had.
Dropping down off the top of the Unc towards Dominguez creek, it's all downhill. And it got MUCH colder. I was beginning to have some difficulty - I couldn't see very well and was shivering. The constant descending offered no relief to the cold.
I was hoping to make it to the finish in one push through the night, but I'd been on the move for roughly 21 hours at this point and it didn't feel at all safe to continue. Time to concede and bivvy.
I was soooo cold. All chammied up, wearing everying I had with me, I crawled into my bag. As always, I put some calories down the hatch before sleeping, but not much this time. I had to get some heat going. Coyotes were howling away all around me, but that didn't keep me from drifting into deep sleep.
I didn't budge until daylight, about 5.5-6 hours later. First thing I did was check the trail for tire tracks - something I always did after bivvying. With no reports coming my way, I had no idea if anyone was close behind. I half expected to see Plesko's tracks - but there were only my own.
Damn was it cold! A water bottle had frozen, my bivvy was covered in ice. This wasn't the expected weather...and meant the extremes of this event were something like upper 20's to mid 90's. As always though, coffee and food snaps me right into action, and after sleeping for what seemed forever, I felt like a million bucks. It's time to knock this thing out. I only had 55-60 miles left to go at this point and ~ 15 hours to do it to best the record pace. Only a catastrophy was going to stop me from ensuring MCs ice cream!
Yesterday at the end of the Roubideau section I left my chain lube somewhere...luckily I had a bit of olive oil with me. It makes good chain lube, FYI!
Clipping into the pedals today was a little different than the day before. I was a bit tight and it took some time to warm up. Fortunately, Dominguez road has some great rolling climbs after crossing the creek. It is wide open sage plains, big views in all directions but the sort that a camera just doesn't catch well. Flowers were off the charts as well. It wasn't long until I was back in the groove, and since this was the last day I was raising the pace some and loving it.
Before I knew it the road was dive-bombing down to Dominguez campground. A real ripper of a descent and the scenery was turning towards red sandstone canyon country. Then it hit me - BAM! I was so choked up. This is when I knew I'd finish strong, that 3 days of hammering away was within my grasp, that I was on the final leg of the most difficult cycling journey I'd ever done. And, that I'd set a new course record in the process. But it wasn't so much these thoughts that triggered it, but the scenery, the sensory overload. Tears began to roll...just as they had done on day 7 at TransRockies last year.
Holy crap Harris, there's people at the campground, pull your shit together man! I hate it when folks interfere with a white moment...
The campground is an awesome oasis, fully equiped with vault toilets. Ah, the good life. After filtering a bunch, rolling up the road a couple hundred yards there's a pipe coming from a spring..doh! I filled another bottle just for good meaure. After a short steep climb out of the canyon, it's on to the Cactus park section.
Cactus park was a blast. There's a slightly descending road, very sandy, that you can just fly down. What a surprise that was, moving 20+ in the sand for miles. In general, the Dominguez road and Cactus park sections have a lot more descending that ascending as you go from 8900 at Divide road to ~ 5000 at Hwy 141. That isn't to say there isn't any climbing, it's still the Tab after all. But nothing too tech or demanding. Cactus park proper was very green and I was pushed by massive tailwinds coming across it. Just before the final descent to 141 is this spot:
An awesome limestone ledge with big views, much like Murphy's on the White Rim. I christen this the Murphy's of the Grand Loop :) I stopped here for 2nd breakfast which consisted of a bagel, almond butter, and cold soup. Odd combo, yes - but after the descent to 141 I was going to be hitting the 9 mile climb "no mas hill" in the heat of the day. Salty soup seemed like the thing to toss down. My options were a bit limited now anyway.
I started up 9 mile at 11:30. At under 5,000 initially, it was hot. At first it is techy singletrack, most of which I found unrideable. This was seriously bumming me out - I didn't know if it was going to be like this all the way or not - but it quickly turned into jeep track with improving conditions. As it turns out, it was mostly a middle ring affair.
This was the homestretch in my mind. Only 22 miles left! Time to drop the hammer, and that I did. I was maching up that hill. It was effortless, I felt weightless, I was grinning ear to ear. And I was sweating like a glass of icewater in the tropics. About an hour from 141 I hit the 6500' mark (the climb goes to 7200), and at the same time got the gurgling sound of an empty camelback bladder. NOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Things could get real ugly out here all of a sudden. I backed the pace waaay down to conserve that last bottle of water I'd grabbed from the Dominguez pipe.
Now I was a bit ticked at myself. I had totally underestimated how much water I'd need in the final stretch, and what was worse in the heat of hammering that climb I wasn't even paying attention to how fast I was drinking. Worst of all, I had to back it down. That was just not what I was in the mood for right then and there.
Suddenly, unexpectedly, I found water. Manna from heaven? When your mojo is strong, it can sometimes make up for stupid mistakes, but it's best not to count on that...anyway, I was oh so relieved. And hydrated.
The next few miles were quite technical, but more down than up and before I knew it there was my little red truck in the distance. I rolled into the Tabeguache trailhead parking lot at 3:02 PM, for an elapsed time of 2:19:47, completing the hardest, most demanding event to date. The satisfaction of completing this loop is as immense as the Uncompaghre plateau. There are only a few of us that have managed to finish this one out.
That is the end of my ride story, but it isn't the end of the experience. There's a lot more I'd like to say - in time - regarding MC's part in this ride and my continuing "education"; those that have helped me achieve this goal either through direct support or inspiration; a thing or tow about what I know of other rider's rides; and some about the state of ultra racing in general.
But it's high time I get something posted, the hits to this blog have been off the charts lately, so here ya go, thanks for reading, and here's to more adventures!