KTR, moonbeams, and dead rabbits

Pre-race quote:  “Mike, I want to thank you now for organizing this race ’cause I ain’t going to be thankful at the finish”

   – anonymous rider to race organizer Mike Curiak 15 minutes before the midnight start of KTR.

Well said amigo.  That was a tough race.  I’m hard pressed to think of a tougher race I’ve done.  But at the start, midnight Friday at the Slickrock trailhead ouside of Moab, Utah – it was all grins, smiles and anticipation.  What an exciting time and place!  As the minutes ticked off, Mike would announce the number of racers…45…50..52!  56!!!  No way, 56 enduro nutcases showed up under a full moon in the desert to embark on what would be a grueling day’s ride where only slightly more than a third of the field would finish.

By the numbers, I had a pretty good race.  I finished 2nd to Jon Brown (who ripped it on a singlespeed), coming in with a time 20+ minutes under the previous course record.  The numbers lie.  I got my a$$ handed to me out there, and I’m not embarrased to admit it.  As the first unsupported epic race in my experience, I had a lot to learn.  Still do for that matter…

It’s hard to convey the scene at the start.  Slickrock trailhead was crowded, there were so many people and vehicles there.  We were a bit behind, and when the trailhead first came into view it looked like a small active city with all the moving lights.  Everyone was excited, you know, that sort of excitement that finally gets release after months of anticipation…old friends were reunited as well.  It was a magical time, a magical place.

So there we are at the edge of the parking lot, MC in front of us about to turn us loose…and he does so with the most subdued “go.”  It was nearly a whisper, and I laughed outloud at the contrast of the actual start to this epic with the anticipation of the crowd.  No warm up meant I was going to take it easy for awhile.  That was my plan anyway, to start relatively easy to moderate up the initial climb, then push it a bit more on the second climb to the end of the pavement. 

I had problems immediately.  The first one was technical – the sweet lights I’ve been cooking up?  Well, I decided to add some power to my bar setup by adding 2 x 3W luxeons to the 5W already there…all run at 700 mA.  It is an absolutely amazing setup.  All together it draws only about 10 W and is much brighter than a light in motion HID according to a side-by-side comparison.  My mount, however, wasn’t sturdy enough for the extra weight (it was now 150 g) and on the very first bit of washboard on Sandflats road the light came undone, found the front wheel and broke lenses…and wiring.  5 minutes into the race and I’d lost 2/3 of my lighting.  Sweet.  Luckily, I still had my helmet mounted setup…

The next problem came quickly as well – and it was painful.  I used a Wingnut Hyper 2.5 for the event and added a 100oz camelback bladder to the main comartment.  With 200 oz fluids in the pack and clothes bungied on the back of it, it squeezed the pack so that something with the shape and texture of a football pressed firmly into my back, right at the kidney zone.  OMG that was some intense pain, I thought for sure I was bound for a DNF.  Some repositioning helped, but it would haunt me the rest of the day.

The first 1.5 hours were pretty tough, I must say.  Very unusual for me…but anyway, things got better when we hit the pavement.  After railing the descent (I’d just ridden it recently so remembered the hairpins) I found myself with the leaders, although I didn’t know it at the time.  I thought Jon was still up the road…but he was in this group.  IIRC, all but one of these riders were on singlespeeds.  I was amazed at their ability to remain out of the saddle for long extended climbs.  Jon Bailey was there and crushing it.  40 min of climbing later, Jon (Brown) and I crest the top of the climb together and pause for a bit to take in the view of Fisher (or is it Castle?) valley to our left and the LaSals glowing to our right under the full moon.  Extraordinary…”that’s pretty clean” as a racer friend once muttered under similar circumstances in the Soul Ride…This sport is simply amazing in terms of the currency used to reward hard efforts.

Jon was crushing the climbs on his singlespeed, and since it was a no-drafting event we didn’t even bother to stay near each other most of the time.  He’d fly up the steeper sections, I’d diesel back up on the mellower sections…but once at the top of the LaSals,  with SS gearing he spun out immediately and I started to move ahead.  This was about 2:50 am when we started descending, and for the next 4.5 hours I continued on by myself.  There were areas where I could see lights behind me and get an idea of the gap.  After the descent off Beaver Mesa there’s a short steep climb…where there were 4-5 hardy souls waiting for riders and cheering at 4am!  How cool is that?  Anyway, from the top of the short climb, I could see a light and estimated the gap at 12 minutes or so.  The Beaver Mesa descent was kind to me.  I was on the Dos Niner, and the big wheels were just the ticket.  Deep sand, rocky ledges, it was no trouble on the Dos.  The Dos found redemption in this race…  My helmet LEDs were working flawlessly, and being the first one through meant there was no airborne dust that is typically an eye irritant in lap courses.  I was in the flow, feeling great now and loving life.  What can be better than racing off the front in the middle of the night through epic terrain?

Soon I came to Rose Garden hill, aka Magpie hill.  Magpie hill redeemed itself as well as the Magpies were absent and replaced with happy morning chirpy bird sounds.  The short hike up the hill was great for my back and while at the top I took a little break for some solid food, an almond butter and honey tortilla.  I could see that the gap was still growing and was at least 15 minutes now.

Thank goodness for the pre-ride Lynda and I did a couple of weeks ago, becuase without it the next 2 hours would have killed me.  Instead, I knew what was coming and just took it nice and relaxed, kept hard efforts to a minimum, and tried to be smooth.  Very technical, ledgy, rocky, and quite a few bits where I got off the bike.  It felt good though, and when finally reaching top of the world where MC’s truck was, it was about 5:30 am with glimmers of sunrise in a pink sky.  Magical again!  I hit Dewey about 5:55, and there were some folks cheering there too.  Now for the Yellow Jacket section, the sandy, climby, semi-tech bit of 9 miles.  The sun came up during this section to reveal the Lasals in the distance, and a day that would become hot.  Here’s a pic from the pre-ride:

Of course, water is the big issue in this event.  How to stay on top of hydration in the desert???  My plan was to stop and filter at McGraw Draw out of the Colorado River.  I had tested this when the river was muddier, and knew it work fine.  So where the trail becomes singletrack next to the river, I sat on a ledgy rock next to the river to fill up.  This was the turning point of the day…

Pumping…nothing.  Huh?  Well, this is something I haven’t encountered before being a water filtering neophyte and all.  All the pumping in the world wasn’t getting any water through the filter.  Nada.  I wasn’t dry and had plenty of fluids to get to Westwater, but didn’t want to take the 15 minute penalty of the detour.  So I fiddled with that #$%^%^$$ filter until it worked.  30 minutes later everything was packed up, bladders full and I was ready to continue.  But my lead (which was 28-29 minutes) had been erased.  Jon came by just as I was re-packing.  Also, unknown to me during the race is that Jason Stubbe came by when I was filtering.  Also unknown to me is that I passed him when he was watering the flora.

Wind and SS gearing, these were my 2 thoughts.  I know Jon is tough as nails and I was glad he was on a SS.  The forecast had called for east winds in the am (headwinds) switching to the west (tailwinds) after it got warm.  If that wind switch happened, I figured I’d be able to fare better with the higher speeds with full gearing than Jon with SS gearing.  I didn’t know what his gearing was, but it had to be low enough to tackle the LaSals.  But alas, the wind remained a steady headwind for the entire race, keeping speeds low.  When Lynda and I pre-rode the second half, it took us 1.5 hours less than it took me race day.  We had rippin tailwinds that day.  We rode together for awhile, but he had a bit more juice on short climbs and started to pull away.  In the meantime, riding into the “blow dryer” was beginning to take a heavy toll on me.  The comfort of cool night riding was replaced with hot desert…and I made the mistake of putting drink mix in much of my filtered fluids, so plain water was limited.  The gut wouldn’t tolerate much of anything but plain water…and the not so slow drain of fluids from my body was turning this into a survival event.  My goals were changing rapidly…no longer chasing Jon, I simply wanted to finish before 2pm.

Finally…FINALLY…came the descent to Salt Creek.  I had been looking forward to this cause all I could think of was taking a dip and dumping some of this heat.  I was surprised to see Jon still only 5 min ahead of me.  He must be hurting too, and rightfully so since he started with 170 oz fluids and didn’t stop for more along the way.  Anyway, into Salt Creek I went – literally – and forgot about the camera hanging around my neck.  But I didn’t care…the creek was cool and offered a moment of relief. 

The relief was short lived.  The next 15ish miles were brutal.  Very steep tech singletrack and hikeabike, and at one point, my upper body was so weak it took a long time to get past a few boulders over which the bike had to be carried.  As blown as I was, I still passed at least 20 rec riders out on the trails to the finish…I remember those days ;)  Finally, the finish was mine in 13:55.  Mike was waiting with the coldest, sweetest water ever to pass my lips and for that I will be forever grateful.

Here is the man, Mike Curiak, taking a shot of my bike pre-race:

Post Mortem:

  • Lynda will tell her own story in time, but that desert rat had a strikingly different race.  She had bionic competition which pushed her hard and she rose to the occasion with a time that will surely stand for a LONG time.  Huge congrats to her for a beautiful effort.  She gets more confident and savvy with every endurance event and I am privelidged to be witness to her growth.
  • Both Lynda and I were sick as dogs the night of the race.  Can you say heat stroke/electrolyte loss?
  • Sadly, this will likely be the last running of the KTR.  It seems that many competitiors didn’t follow the rules clearly laid out by MC.  MC isn’t paid for this – he does this to return something to the sport that has provided so much to him – and this is a disrespect he can’t tolerate.
  • Huge kudos go out to Jon Brown, who nailed the course in 13:26.  The previous course record was 14:19 (on a geary!) set on a day when conditions were tailwinds.  This year’s race conditions were slow – headwinds from start to finish.  How he did that on 170 oz baffles me, I drank twice that!
  • Many, many thanks to Mike Curiak for having the patience to put up with all the silly pre-race questions, getting the organiztion dialed in, and being so easy going on race day.  It was a pleasure to meet him and I hope the eventually takes on a positive sheen for him.  Ah, and thanks for that water from heaven…