Category Archives: Ramblings

2014 Yak Attack Stage 5

Start Line
Start Line

Both my memory of the race, and available photos from the bike start to get a bit spotty at this point. My mind was constantly absorbed by the pain in my chest. My gopro mount broke on Day 4, and I just didn’t have it in me to stop too often to take photos…

Sleep was rough. There were no positions I could find that did not hurt. I’m sure my moaning, and occasional outbursts of pure pain did not help Tyler’s sleep either. Dawn came all too quickly and now that there was no jeep access, the bags needed to be ready long before the start of the stage- this includes your sleeping bag, unless you want to carry that in your pack.

The steep sides of the valley made the morning cold and uninviting. But the grand send-off, complete with candies and the ubiquitous yellow scarf set a good tone. Once formalities were dispensed, we trucked off down the road and across a large bridge to the start. It seems customary to tie the scarf around the bridge- both for luck, and to prevent the scarf from wrapping up in the drive train, or front wheel.

Views are never-ending
Views are never-ending

The goal for the day was simple- finish. Whatever it took, cross the line. I wouldn’t have the adrenaline from the day before to help me along. It was a relatively short 20 mile day, with only 3,600′ of climbing- almost a rest day by Yak Attack standards- however, the finish line was above 11,000′ and there would be snow.

Getting steep and slippery
Getting steep and slippery

The whistle blew and the pack surged forth. I took a more steady pace along the awesome loamy forest start. The rough jeep track was no fun on the ribs, and I couldn’t help but moan and groan fairly continuously as I pedaled along, but I was able to move forward and that’s what counted.

Mud, snow, and mountains
Mud, snow, and mountains

I settled in to a rhythm, and once again started to reel some riders in along the way. I think it was shortly after the aid station at Pisang that we hit the first stretch of snow. It was brutal. There was a decent, ableit narrow, packed trail, but it was rutted deep with human and animal foot prints. Mules are heavily used on this section of the trekking path. Normally I can motor over snow track like this, but in my current state, it was pure agony. Eventually, the snow gave way to awesome rolling track and I even caught Tyler and Wendy again. I kept them in sight for a bit but then dropped off.

The view from Manang
The view from Manang

Then came the mud- deep, soul-sucking mud. I was prepared for the stifling heat down low, the cold and snow up high, but I was not prepared for the mud. It was the kind of mud that sucked you in. The kind that reeked of shit, piss, and other foul things. It required upper body English that wrenched my ribs in a most unpleasant way. And every time a bit of mud would splatter up into my mouth, or nose, I feared I too would get the dreaded belly rot that was making the rounds.

Downtown
Downtown

Pro-tip: I personally think water bottles are a bad idea on this race. There’s just no way to keep them clean from the mud and the muck- and there are nasty things in that muck. It’s hard enough keeping the nozzle of a camelbak clean enough.

Looking up-valley from Manang
Looking up-valley from Manang

Close to Manang I was convinced I had missed a turn, even though we were on the only navigable “road.” I turned around and hiked back up the muddy hill I had just managed to come down for a good 20 minutes before the med team’s jeep appeared and assured me I was now backtracking. I turned around, saddled up, and proceeded to take another slow speed crash in the mud. Not good.

Gangapurna and Peter Butt- big mountain, fast man
Gangapurna and Peter Butt- big mountain, fast man

I eventually hit the final steep climb into Manang- all around surrounded by the high peaks of the Annapurna. Then the familiar town gate with prayer wheels, and then a long, seemingly endless rough mud and rock track to the far side of “town.” I thought it was a cruel joke, but it was just this tiny Himalayan village’s example of urban sprawl.

Stats: 20 miles, 3,600′, 22nd, 3:03, 0:58 off lead

One \bike, lots of spectating
One \bike, lots of spectating

We had finally arrived into the heart of the Himalaya. We were now above 11,500′ in Manang and the following day was an acclimatization rest day. Best of all, Manang has an entire cottage industry built around real coffee (Lavazza), and “German” bakeries. There are many, and they all seem to serve many of the same creations- pies, cakes, rolls, and other pastries. Perhaps one of the best items is the yak cheese sandwich. I well sized loaf of soft bread, fresh semi-firm yak cheese, and a sort of cole slaw mixture that tastes so much better than it sounds.

Feeling insignificant
Feeling insignificant

Manang is a perfect spot towered over by 7,000+ meter peaks with stunning unimaginable views in every direction. There are even multiple cinemas, though they all tend to show the same movies- choices range from Seven Years in Tibet, to Touching the Void, to a few other mountain themed movies. It’s all a bit surreal.

I also want to give a HUGE shout-out to Raj Kumar Shresta. It was pretty obvious that I was feeling a bit out of sorts, and when I finally got up enough motivation to head out to the back field to clean my bike, Raj Kumar had already taken care of it. He probably had this bike cleaner than any other time except when I first bought it. I am humbled by the warmth, compassion, and general awesomeness of the Nepali riders. Namaste Raj Kumar!

Gangapurna
Gangapurna
Rob Burnett feeling the belly demon
Rob Burnett feeling the belly demon
Bakery central
Bakery central
2 slices of Black Forest cake
2 slices of Black Forest cake

 

 

2014 Yak Attack Stage 4

Valley Views
A long way down

Stage 4 was another combination of stages from previous years. It was to be another epic day in the saddle- 51 miles and about 9,000′ of climbing. It’s all up, with a nice spike of steepness coming in around mile 16. The down bits are few and far between, so I knew my chances of making up time were slim.

Something just wasn’t right in the morning. I was ready to go with plenty of time before the start, but then realized I wasn’t quite ready. Things got away from me quickly and suddenly I was racing to meet the whistle as the other riders started to leave the hotel grounds for the start about a mile or so down the road.

I was flustered, and foggy-headed. I strapped on my pack, and as I was heading down the steep rocky hill in front of the hotel, I suddenly found myself spread eagle, face down in the dirt, bleeding from my knees and elbow. I had wrecked trying to turn my Garmin on- caught a bad rock or dip, or who knows what. That definitely hurt and rattled me pretty good.

I limped my way to the start and when the whistle blew again, I knew I was in trouble. My legs were replaced with leaden replicas. I could not pedal worth a damn and saw the main group peel away from me quickly and I had nothing to offer in return. This was going to be a long day. As Tyler started to pass me, Garrit rode up next to me (he was playing photo-tourist today), looked over and shouted, “Don’t make it so easy on him, out of the saddle!” as he started to sprint away begging me to suck his wheel. I tried, but it was a miserable effort. I settled in to a slow rhythm again and was caught by Phil who usually runs sweep, “uh-oh.”

“I’ve got nothing Phil, this is gonna be a long day.” and he too pedaled away from me. I didn’t want to start wallowing in self-doubt so I just lowered my head and pedaled on. We were still only a few miles in, and I knew there was a long way to go.

Somewhere around the time the trail kicked sharply, I suddenly found my legs. I found that hilarious since historically, I am absolute shite climbing, but there I was starting to reel people in as the grade got steeper, more loose, and somewhat techy and chunky. I had caught and passed Phil, and was now trading back and forth with Tyler, and I think at some point even passed Wendy for a bit. I was starting to feel pretty good for the first time that day. I was still with Tyler and Wendy as we pulled in to the aid station at the half-way point. I downed a quick slug of water, and ate a few biscuits and followed Wendy out of the aid leaving Tyler behind. The trail got very steep and very loose again, and Wendy started to pull away.

Aid Station before the fall
Aid Station before the fall
Start of switchbacks
Start of switchbacks

We were switch-backing our way up the valley side and the heat was really bearing down. I was definitely red-lining but wanted to keep Wendy close and pace her as much as possible. The track I was on was getting way loose with big bowling ball rocks so I started to move over to a clearer track. At some pointe I stalled a bit and was about to un-clip when suddenly my cleat would not release. Yup, the mental notes from stage 1 and 2 came back suddenly- it was clear my cleat had rotated again. This all happened in a flash, and suddenly I was falling on to my right side- SLAM! I landed on the wrong end of my handle bars straight to the solar plexus just to the side of my sternum. My full body weight came crashing down on my bar end.

Yeeouch!
Yeeouch!

The wind was completely knocked out of me- I find this one of the scariest moments, especially after redlining up a steep hill to suddenly have no ability to breathe. I tried to remain as calm as possible reminding myself that breath would return soon. I hunched over, finally free of the bike and counted, desperately waiting for my diaphragm to start working again. From behind me I could hear Tyler asking if I was okay.

I was decidedly not okay. Finally a short gasp came, I heaved, groaned, and waited for a second breath, “Ohhhh fuck!” More short shallow breaths followed. Adrenalin started to take over. I righted myself and my bike. Things were hazy, but I started to walk, stopping to straighten my bars, Tyler still checking on me.

Then I noticed the “click.” It felt like my ear bud was bouncing off my heart rate strap, or maybe I had broken my heart rate monitor around my chest. I pulled up my jersey, and angry welt almost the perfect shape of my bar end smiled at me. My strap was fine, and my ear bud was nowhere near it. I pushed on my ribs, “snap, crackle, pop”- my fingers melted into what is normally solid bone.

“I fucking straight up broke my rib.” It was matter of fact- anxiety flooded me, was this the end of my race?

“Do you want to go back to the aid station- it’s just down the hill.” That hill had cost me too much to retrace. No way was going back down.

“Hell no!”

“Do you want me to stay with you?”

“No, go on, nothing you can do.”

There was probably a bit more yelling, a bit more cursing. I was pissed and didn’t really know what to do but keep moving my feet. Tyler took off and I continued to walk my bike up the steep grade. When it started to kick back, I got on and pedaled. This was suffering at its worst. I pulled over to readjust things. I ditched my heart rate strap as it was not helping things. I readjusted the straps on my camel bak. I pedaled some more, then I stopped to fix my cleat; I definitely didn’t want to take another tumble. I went on like this for a while. Time crawled to a standstill. I stopped again. People were now catching and passing. It was hot, dusty and endless.

I stopped for a longer stretch, poking and prodding my chest. First Paul appeared and offered help, then Phil came around the corner. I told them what happened and Phil looked at me, “Are you going to wait here for the sweep vehicle?”

“Fuck no!” the anger wasn’t at Phil, or the question, but at myself, for being in this spot. Just over halfway through the 4th day- the days only getting harder from here. I did myself in good. What the fuck was I going to do- ride in a jeep? Take a bouncing metal deathtrap all the way back to Kathmandu? Give up? No, I was pushing on.

Then the jeep appeared with the race Doctor sitting shotgun.

“I’m all fucked up.”

The doctor agreed I likely broke something, but there wasn’t much to do. He gave me some paracetamol and asked if I wanted to ride in the jeep. This wasn’t happening.

I waved everyone off, and got back on my bike. It was going to be a long day, and I needed to move if I was to see the end of it.

Trudging along and getting views
Trudging along and getting views

I don’t really remember much from here. I do remember some stunning views- we were getting deep into the mountains now. I think I pulled away from both Phil and Paul, and traded back and forth a bit with the jeep. There were waterfalls, and glacially cold water crossings. My feet were soaked and cold. Rickety bridges appeared across scary river crossings. It got steeper and steeper. Alcoves of waterfalls dropped the temps a good 20 degrees inducing some slight shivering. I pedaled on. Then a massive snow-capped jagged peak appeared and I stopped to take a photo- this may be my last chance.

Getting views
Getting views

I plodded on, turning the cranks, willing myself into Chame. I passed a couple more people before finally hitting the outskirts of Chame; I spun the prayer wheels as I went through the arch. It felt like forever to reach the finish line at the far end of town. I pulled in to the courtyard and collapsed in a heap on the stairs. It was cold. This was a forbidding place. I was mentally wasted, but I was at the finish.

My mind never really returned the rest of the day. I struggled to get my bike cleaned and shit put away. Every movement was a supreme effort. I gobbled down the ibuprofen and paracetamol. I tried for a shower but regardless of the signs, there was no hot water to be had anywhere. Then I grabbed my flask. It was full of 18 year Jameson whiskey- a celebration for a far off race finish that was now in serious doubt. Might as well kill the pain. I sat in the eating area and soothed my aches.

BOOM! View from "downtown" Chame
BOOM! View from “downtown” Chame

Tomorrow was a shorter day, but we were getting up there in altitude. It took everything I had to finish stage 4 and I really didn’t know if I could continue, but there was only one way to find out.

Stats: 51 miles, 6,900′, 7:07, 20th 2:51 off lead

Chame Shangri-La
Chame Shangri-La
Hand cutting stone
Hand cutting stone
Lots of wood, but no warming fires
Lots of wood, but no warming fires
Downtown
Downtown
Local residents
Local residents
Town water tower
Town water tower
Don't Believe the Hype
Don’t Believe the Hype
Warmth will not return anytime soon
Warmth will not return anytime soon

Beyond Rangoon

DSC_0804It was a sad, beautiful, melancholy song. A simple set of finger bells in one hand and a small wooden clicker in the other to keep time and provide the rythm line.                         
The voice was pure, though I understood not a word.
Propped up on one side by a primitive wooden crutch- a proxy for her lost leg, her other arm was tended by a small child. His job- collect the alms and place them in the small metal can hanging on the crook of her arm.
They passed on up the alley and her  voice eventually faded into the darkness, swallowed by the streets of Chinatown, Yangon.

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Stroked by Heat

A quick break from the Yak Attack posts which will resume tomorrow….

En fuego...
En fuego…

It’s best to remain calm when the heat descends in crashing waves. move slow, deliberate… I often forget this in my rush to nowhere. it is a different pace in southeast Asia- I imagine similar to that sitting porch side in Savannah or New Orleans in the thick heat of high summer.

Night1 bangkok 003I don’t handle the heat all that well. throw in humidity and my sweat factory goes into overdrive. one minute i am sauntering through the crowd quickly followed by debillitating near heat-stroke. i seek relief. water, air temp, is surprisingly effective,but the best is ice cold beer. it does less to really cool than to steel the mind against the heat.

Night1 bangkok 011 (2)
A cold cucumber salad with crab and enough chilis to stoke the fires of hell is also a great bromide. perhaps it is due to the searing joy filled pain in the mouth that the rest of the body no longer minds, grateful for the respite.

Night1 bangkok 00620140318_123919My linen shirt, long sleeved and loose fitting performs better than all the latest high-tech garments the adventure clothing companies crank out en masse. but it still helps to go slow. Savor the walk through crowded streets. The thick air is redolent with both the sublime and foul within steps, but no worry. lingering, preferably out of the direct inferno of the sun, is better than overheating.

NightMarketBangkok 00420140317_155341Night1 bangkok 005

Raw Freshly Peeld Skin

Title

 

How does one describe a truly grand, epic adventure where the details are so fuzzy, where each day melds seamlessly, sometimes jarringly into another? Vague memories punctuated by crystal clear snapshots- a perfect view of a vast Himalayan icefall, ice-choked squat toilets at 6:00 am, breathless searing pain riding rough shod over rocky terrain… This is Yak Attack!

Gearing up at the Park Village
Gearing up at the Park Village
Tan and Wendy looking fresh
Tan and Wendy looking fresh

Over the next few days, I will try to capture some thoughts I wrote down for each stage, but as I sit here, 4 stories above the ever lovable chaos of Thamel nearly two weeks after we first set out on stage 1, after two days of lounging about the sleepy strip of Pokhara, I want to try to capture the essence of the experience. I know this is futile, but worth the effort.

Me and Raj Kumar with Yuki and Rob
Me and Raj Kumar with Yuki and Rob

I’ve been fortunate to have some pretty raw adventures in my time. Was this the hardest, most difficult thing I have done? Probably not, but maybe so- how does one really measure something like this? Time and memories are so fluid- a land where days can seem like weeks, and months like the briefest moments, even simultaneously. Reflection on an experience is never the same as in-the-moment. Without a doubt, there were moments where I was stretched to my limit, a rubber-band cracking and straining, yet I never fully broke. It was, however, the hardest, most raw, committing thing I have done on a bicycle without a doubt.

Valley Views
Valley Views

The sheer scale of the Himalaya is overwhelming. Sitting on a deck, sipping real Lavazza coffee and eating Black Forest Cake at 11,500′, the soaring Annapurna range loomed high above- I could not fathom the size, even sitting at the base. My familiar frames of reference are useless- even having spent so much time in the high mountains back at home.

Heading into the mountains
Heading into the mountains

Valley views of centuries old terraces as far as the eye can see- dug by hand into the steep unforgiving sides of the foothills- pass by almost daily. Bewildered stares, with a hasty “Namaste” greet a passing rider in every town. Stark, barren, and cold rooms dominate each night as you climb higher into the mountains. There is never enough sleep, enough food, enough time recover, enough beer…

Most of us are strangers to one another. There are the various couples that come to race together- life-long friends on a quest for adventure, fellow racers from “back home” or acquaintances from some brief moment in the near-distant past. We share similar experiences, but many different colored passports. There are the truly elite, world-class racers vying for the podium, along with the average Jane chasing the experience of a lifetime.

Then there is the riding- holy shit! The riding! ancient foot paths, blasted jeep road, ephemeral steeps through deep snow. Fast, techy, dusty, grinding track through the iconic Annapurna circuit. This is perhaps the most unique location to race a mountain bike. Tropical forests down low, to hypoxic altitudes up high- this race has it all- from sweating it out and barely escaping heat exhaustion in the opening days, to suffering from hypothermia well below Thong La on “Pass Day” wearing almost every stitch of clothing available. Every day presents a new challenge, a new type of terrain, a new chance to suffer or shine.

BOOM!
BOOM!

We all share the misery and pain that comes from pushing the limits in such an environment. This race is as much about luck- of staying healthy enough to keep turning the pedals, as it is about fitness, or capabilities on a mountain bike. It is a race that will test you- a race where you will have to dig deep in order to continue- beyond reason, or logic. Not all who show succeed. If it was easy, or guaranteed, it would not have near the meaning that it does. And yet, crossing the finish line is not the end. Riders continue to succumb to the punishment. It’s frightening to watch a friend faint from illness on the final return flight to Kathmandu, days after the official race has ended.

Some, many likely, of the people I spent the last two weeks with, I will never see again. But there are others I know I will not only see, but will share other, soon-to-be-known adventures with- in some far-way, or close locale. I will, once again, share a beer, a shot, and a good story with some of these fellow adventurers. That time cannot come soon enough.

The view from Manang
The view from Manang

This is an adventure that will last- that will continue to impact my day-to-day, my future experiences- a new yard-stick by which to measure other tests. The future is always uncertain, unwritten till the moment it is lived, but I do not think this will be my last time here- my last time to experience all that this wonderful, amazing country has and is. Nepal is a kingdom that has long held adventure for those willing to only to seek it out, and I look forward to my next chance to share a smile, an adventure, and a part of myself in the heart of the Himalaya.

Finish line!
Finish line!

If you want to take the test- sign up. I did a fair amount of things right, and a fair amount of things wrong. I had some great gear, and some of the wrong gear. But I made it. If you persevere, and can recover from the lowest depths of self-doubt (you will reach them for sure), then the finish line, the medal, the celebration, and the memories are there. Realize though this is not a luxe tour. The accommodations are sparse- the toilets are some of the most disgusting things on earth. Unless you like glacial temps, showers are pretty much non-existent- my last shower was on stage 2 before getting to Pokhara 8 days later. Due to logistics, porters can depart 3-4 hours before race time and they will have your sleeping bag unless you want to carry it while riding. This leaves you the option of shivering on your bed in below freezing temps in your lycra, scoring an often impossible “blanket” or sucking it up and heading to the common area (unheated) for some tea and shivering with fellow riders. There are few creature comforts in the Yak Attack though they do appear at random points. Schedules can be fluid in Nepal, and plans are always subject to change at will. If you’re looking for a catered event with detailed directions and schedules, look somewhere else. But if you are looking for adventure, there is plenty of that in spades.

This is Yak Attack!

At the terminus
At the terminus

My sincerest thanks to all of the support staff involved in this one of a kind event- Snow Monkey, and all of the porters do an incredible job getting supplies from point to point along the route. Phil Evans realized a dream of creating a truly great event in one of the most magical places on earth. Finally, the Nepali people are some of the warmest, most sincere people I have met- and some of the most talented athletes I have ever raced with- Namaste!

Ice Cream in Pokhara with Tyler
Ice Cream in Pokhara with Tyler

The Epic Before the Epic

Chaos at Security
Chaos at Security

My last posted entry was Weeks 5-6… I think I’m now at week 17 or 18… the lack of updates is not a good sign. I’m currently sitting in the Frankfurt airport and I’ve been here for over 24 hours. Before landing, the flight attendant announcement stated simply “if you are connecting on an international flight, please remain in the transit terminal, if you are connecting domestically, your flight is likely cancelled due to a strike by security personnel.”

If you’ve ever flown through Frankfurt you know how absurd that statement is- there is no way to “stay in the transit area” and upon de-planning, I was directed to no-man’s land- the gray area between the gate I arrived, and the terminal where I wanted to be separated only by… security- a fully staffed, and completely shut-down security.

Bonus! Forget snow-pacolypse- this was bureaucracy at its finest. After 4 hours I finally made it to through security. It was beyond chaos- mobs forming, receding, polizei sending the thronging masses from one entry to the next at random. Occasional people were let through, while others were turned away without reason, and suddenly, one line started moving. It was not the line I was in. Well, I had been in that line before “zee german” polizei directed me to another line.

All was for naught as by the time I crossed into the transit area, my flight to Bangkok had been delayed by 22 hours. I saddled up to the business lounge. There I waited, while sipping on champagne resigned to my fate, but comfortable knowing I didn’t have to sleep on a row of chairs in the terminal. That is until I was informed at 9:55pm that regardless of what I was told earlier, the lounge did not stay open 24 hours.

As I was hustled out to the terminal, I was also informed that the terminal was shutting down for the night, and I needed to make my way to the exit. Which exit wasn’t clear, and border control after border control was closed. I eventually found my way out an hour later and paid an exorbitant sum to stay at the Sheraton in the terminal.

This morning was more chaos and bureaucracy as everyone from yesterday’s flight tried in vain to get new boarding cards from Thai Airways. Long story short, it was another lengthy trip through an only somewhat faster, non-striking security.

So here I am, a full 24-hours later than scheduled, chomping at the bit to get to Kathmandu, to get started on this little adventure. I am worried about my bike making it through the luggage nightmare. I am worried about my continued knee pain (more like red-hot poker of stabbing death at times). I am just ready to get the fuck out of the Frankfurt airport- continually the worst airport to fly through- even worse than Delhi, worse than Sheremetyevo, and that is saying something!

I hope the race goes smoother than the travels getting there.

I will follow up shortly with a recap of the last 10 weeks of training, pain, and packing…

Searching for Louis Friend

Packed and ready
Packed and ready

Fool: 

1. One who is deficient in judgment, sense, or understanding.
2. One who acts unwisely on a given occasion: I was a fool to have quit my job.
3. One who has been tricked or made to appear ridiculous; a dupe: They made a fool of me by pretending I had won.
4. Informal A person with a talent or enthusiasm for a certain activity: a dancing fool; a fool for skiing.
5. A member of a royal or noble household who provided entertainment, as with jokes or antics; a jester.
6. One who subverts convention or orthodoxy or varies from social conformity in order to reveal spiritual or moral truth: a holy fool.
7. A dessert made of stewed or puréed fruit mixed with cream or custard and served cold.
8. Archaic A mentally deficient person; an idiot.

Gold:

1.

a. Symbol Au A soft, yellow, corrosion-resistant element, the most malleable and ductile metal, occurring in veins and alluvial deposits and recovered by mining or by panning or sluicing. A good thermal and electrical conductor, gold is generally alloyed to increase its strength, and it is used as an international monetary standard, in jewelry, for decoration, and as a plated coating on a wide variety of electrical and mechanical components. Atomic number 79; atomic weight 196.967; melting point 1,063.0°C; boiling point 2,966.0°C; specific gravity 19.32; valence 1, 3. See Table at element.
b. Coinage made of this element.
c. A gold standard.
2. Money; riches.
3. A light olive-brown to dark yellow, or a moderate, strong to vivid yellow.
4. Something regarded as having great value or goodness: a heart of gold.
5.

a. A medal made of gold awarded to one placing first in a competition, as in the Olympics: won 9 golds in 13 events.
b. A gold record.

So many fitting definitions…

I’m going with An Idiot’s Riches, a Fool’s Gold

I was finally back on a plane. I’ve missed flying… I’ve gotten better at breaking down and packing my bike for air travel. I was packed and ready to go in time to grab some dinner out the night before. 4:00 am and I was up and on my way. I landed in ATL and grabbed my bags and made the long schlep to the rental car desk. I should have remembered the shoulder straps for my TNF bag…

Dahlonega bound…

Waiting for racer meeting
Waiting for racer meeting

Unpack and reassemble bike, wash up, head downtown for the racer meeting. Replace the CO2 cartridges TSA confiscated, realize I have a hole in my spare tube and pick up another one. Freak a bit about racing trails I’ve never been on. Get nervous that I have no go-juice for the morning just coming off the Point-to-Point. Finally, grab dinner and get to bed.

5:30 am coffee run
5:30 am coffee run

5:00 am Eastern time- 3:00 am mountain- up with the alarm. Funk my way out the door, to the car, coffee ’round the corner drive to race venue. It’s very dark- grab headlamp. Cool, Lee and Brenda are parked just a couple cars over. Nothing quite like traipsing across the country and racing with the same folks- whether in CO, UT, SD, GA… the NUE series has its regular players and it’s a blast racing with everyone even if I rarely see anyone on the trail as I sweep from the back.

I kept Lee and Brenda in my sites up the long opening climbs- in the end this was probably a mistake- they are much stronger riders than I. I hit the sabotaged course markings in front of them and made the (wrong) turn down the hill. I wasn’t too far along when I ran in to a group debating whether we should keep going. I turned around and pedaled back up to the intersection. Lee and Brenda and a few others were there debating as well. Everyone else standing around had raced Fool’s Gold before and knew the course yet we were all confused by the signage- a pox to the saboteurs.

What drives knuckleheads like this???

I double checked my Garmin (it was wonky the ENTIRE day) and decided I *should* go down the hill. I took off. Then about double the distance down as the first time, I thought better of it. No one else had followed me. I pedaled back up once again. I eventually bridged my way to the group I left and rolled in to the first aid feeling okay but a little spent from the effort.

The steep, loose road after Aid 1 was treacherous, more so because of the many blind corners and tales of cars and near misses from other racers. We finally hit some good single track and I continued to feel okay till I hit the next main climbing section. I was fading fast and let quite a few- too many- racers pass me. A couple caught me right near the top and forced me to do some epic passing on the next long stretch of downhill. Lost leaders were bridging and passing fast at this point. Some top folks took a LONG detour due to sabotaged course markings.

Drew Edsell came flying by on a long downhill and I shouted some words of encouragement. Holy hell he is fast on the down! I tried to at least keep his jersey in site but he was pulling away fast.

I rounded another tight corner and there were two cyclist hunched over in the middle of the trail- a large tree and a steep drop-off gave me no choice but to dismount, and that’s when I saw Drew a good 8-10 feet down the embankment, wrong way up, covered in forest litter and not looking or sounding good. The three of us got him upright and back on the trail. The two other riders took off and I stayed behind and tried to direct the masses piling down around us. I checked Drew’s pupils, had him track my finger, asked him a few questions to make sure he wasn’t completely out. After a few minutes he assured me he was good enough to walk the rest of the short distance to the next aid and that I should get on my way. I remounted and made quick work of the single-track and checked in at the aid to let them know there was an injured rider. The volunteers were already on top of it. It was the end of Drew’s day, but mine was just beginning.

Things start to get hazy here- pedal, pant, suffer, rolling up and down- some punchy short climbs, then the “half-way” point and cooler drop at 52 miles in (54 or so with the detour). I threw a CO2 canister to a fellow racer on his 2nd flat of the day just before the coolers where I had a spare. I was happy the 2nd lap cut out the big climb up the road and took a left near the ranger headquarters.

The trail markings got confusing again in this area- there were several lost 50 milers, and some of this track crosses back upon itself- I wasn’t 100% confident on was on course, and my Garmin wasn’t much help. I took a sharp right turn with a big arrow point up some single track. I soon passed a 50 miler going the other way- one of us was lost- me? him? I pedaled on, but cautiously. It cost me time as I hit some downhill and hadn’t seen tape for a long ways. I didn’t want to open the throttle just to have to pedal back up hill once again.

My pop was here in these same woods in 1964...
My pop was here in these same woods in 1964…

I wasn’t lost and soon hit the point where lap 1 and 2 meet up again. Then I got lost for real. I missed another sharp left and continued on up a road, some flat, some down, and a long stretch of up. At the apex I looked over and just knew this wasn’t right. I stood around for a minute or two hoping someone would appear on my heals. No dice. I turned around and retraced the road all the way back about 1.5 miles to the missed turn. I burned another good 20-25 minutes on this detour.

Back on course, I was definitely feeling it. I hit the Aid at mile 70 just hoping to hold on. My brain got fuzzy again and shortly after I was convinced I missed another turn. I doubled-back. Nope, I was on track. Back at it. I did this a few more times over the remaining 25 miles. I was definitely in the pain zone. I tried to remind myself I was having fun- the trails were awesome- the single track flowy, and I could really get some speed on the downs. There were a few loose/rutted sections, and overall I was being more cautious than usual. I didn’t want to get this close to bail hard and miss finishing just to make up a few minutes- minutes that didn’t matter one way or the next.

It wasn’t quite survival racing, but it was close. I did manage some faster downhill splits on lap 2, but the ups suffered. I eventually rolled across the line at about 96 miles- I think if you made every correct turn, mileage should have been right at 90. My official time was 10:44 and “good enough” for 20th out of 21 in the men’s open… ugh! Not at all the result I wanted.

However, it WAS my 4th NUE race of the year- and that was good enough to qualify me for final series points. Arbitrary for sure, but that was my major race goal of the year- qualify for NUE standing. Done, goal achieved. I even got a sweet grab bag of Kenda tires, a KMC chain, tons of Squirt lube, some sweet socks… I got to hang around and see the various series winners “crowned.” Top dogs get a free trip to La Ruta this year- that ain’t too shabby of a winners prize for sure!

No one needs to fear me threatening NUE podiums anytime soon. But I will continue to show up, and throw down as best I can. I’m not at all bad on the downhills, but it is clear I have about 0 climbing ability. It’s something I will need to work on. Why do I show up? These are pretty epic days, and I am often left “racing” alone on hot dusty trails, or through epic downpours, or lost in the woods. I could do all these rides on my own, at my leisure (proper Brit-pronunciation), but then it’s too easy to just bail when it gets too tough- to come back when the weather is more perfect, the trails more tacky, the stars better aligned.

Race day is race day, you show up, you finish, or you don’t. Blown tires, bad crashes, stomach revolt- push through or push on. The only real battle that matters is the one that happens in my head.

“I’m pretty sure if I take a right down that road, I can just bail and be back at the finish with a beer in about 10 minutes.”

“No way son, you have at least another 3 or 4, or 5 hours of hard effort before you’re done.”

That’s why I continue to show up for these things- to pay fees, pack the bags, replace the worn and broken bike bits… it’s not a cheap hobby. It’s not altogether a pleasant hobby… My ass still hurts- callouses on my callouses as they say. But I also get to meet and race with some awesome folks all across the US- and abroad (YAK ATTACK!), I get stellar views when I have the presence of mind to look, and I get to ride my bike on some bitchin’ trails, hear the hoops from the odd spectator that’s still around when I cross the line… and sometimes, in rare alignments, I surprise myself and surpass my goals.

Georgia Wine Country
Georgia Wine Country
Just might have to revisit in 2014
Just might have to revisit in 2014

One more enduro race for the season, then the real training begins, Yak Attack will be here before I know it. Time to start planning the rest of the 2014 calendar as well.

Point the Way

Heading towards the goods
Heading towards the goods across the High Plains

When I crossed the finish line in the 2011 Point-to-Point, I was so lame in my right knee due to IT Band Syndrome that I would have been shot on sight if I was a horse. I couldn’t walk without a limp for 6 weeks and it was over 8 weeks before I could ride my bike again. It was my first big race and I was just lucky to finish at 11:28. I knew the minute I crossed the line I’d be back.

2012 was better- or at least I felt better at the end of the race, but it was more apple than orange as heavy rain in the morning forced a postponed start and shaved the route down to only 68 or so miles. I placed better overall but not significantly. I couldn’t wait to sign up again for 2013.

Following my epic crash at the Breck 100, I was not able to do a whole lot of riding. I did manage a couple high-country days so all was hopefully not lost, but overall I had no idea where I was at when I jumped in line at the start. My “goal” was for a sub 10-hour race. Looking back at some pacing from the Breck and Tatanka, a 9-hour race was not completely out of the question. I set my Garmin for a 9-hour pace.

Trepidatious- always the same pre-race look...
Trepidatious- always the same pre-race look…
And they're off
And they’re off

This year I took a spot higher in the start order in order to reduce the usual cock-blocking on the Round Valley loop. It worked great as I had to deal with few, if any riders on the downhill sections (only a couple towards the end) and was able to easily let a few folks pass me unhindered on some of the opening climbs. I must have completely zoned out at one point because I was expecting another stiff climb in Round Valley when the end of the loop suddenly appeared- sweet! From there it was up Skidrow to Lost Prospector. I love Lost Prospector- such a fun trail. Last year it was as sloppy mess with rain and mud and chain-suck. This year was perfect tacky dirt. I was more hesitant than normal on the downhill to Solamere, but I was sticking remarkably close to my target pace.

Awesome volunteers at a road crossing- P2P volunteers are awesome!
Awesome volunteers at a road crossing- P2P volunteers are awesome!

Riding in to Aid 1 Riding in to Aid 1

Once into Deer Valley the new course changes started to appear. I really liked the 2013 edition. I hit the first Aid at Silver Lake still on target. However, once I hit Team Big Bear I started falling off pace. I’ve seen a few people lamenting the exclusion of Bow Hunter from this year’s race, though I was pretty happy. The views are stunning, but I have just never found my groove on this bumpy, hot, primitive trail.

What it is ALL about- Putting the Single in Singletrack
What it is ALL about- Putting the Single in Singletrack

The new TG to Corvair link-up was awesome. While I tried to make up some time on John’s, the shoulder was having none of it. I am not a fan of this trail. It’s a rooty, twisty, jarring trail that has me wishing for a full-suspension bike every time I ride it. I wouldn’t cry if this disappeared in the future either, but then, it probably wouldn’t feel like the p2p if it was cut. All races need some epic suffering to be worthwhile.

I swapped back and forth with a few riders I had seen throughout the day but then got dropped hard on the long climb to Shadow Lake. Once I crested the top though, I really opened up on the long descent back to Park City and finally felt comfortable at speed. I absolutely pinned it most of the way down. At the top of shadow lake I was a good 15 minutes off pace- by the time I rolled into the PCMR aid station, I was even again. I swapped out bladders and realized if I could continue pushing, sub-10 was all but guaranteed as long as I kept the rubber side down and didn’t completely blow up- 9 hours was still a remote possibility.

The new course in this area was another real improvement over past years. Climbing up Spiro was always an epic sufferest and while there was still plenty of climbing on the new route, overall I felt it was a better track. The chunky section of mid-mountain still did its best to loosen all of my fillings and fatigue was setting in hard. My pace continued to slack, but sub-10 was still looking good.

All day views
All day views

Up and over- Rob’s and Rosebud’s Heaven are so fast and flowy- the only worry is coming around a corner too hot and flattening some poor hiker or biker out for a leisurely holiday weekend stroll. All too soon I hit the soul crushing turn UP Ambush and away from the finish, the beer, the end. It was all I could do to keep turning the cranks- my legs were spent. Somewhere along Ambush my Garmin virtual partner finished and I knew 9 hours was out of the cards, but it gave me a bit of a charge to get to the top and I finally crested the last high-point. From there it was another burner run down Holly’s- my hands had gone numb and I wasn’t sure I could brake hard enough if I needed so I tried to put that thought out of my mind completely.

And just like that, I could see the finish. I polished off the last few turns into the grass, skipped the hollywood jump at the end and rolled across the finish line in 9:19:10. Goal achieved. Another p2p in the books and good enough for 26th (out of 89 starters) in 40+.

This was just about the best race I could have hoped for all things considered. I improved substantially over past years, and really had a blast out on the trails. I was cooked at the end, but not to the point of being unable to walk which is huge. The Fool’s Gold 100 is just 2 days away and after that is the Enchilada Enduro which should be an absolute blast. From there it’ll be time to start thinking about the Yak Attack- the start is a scant 6 months away. Giddy UP!

And oh yeah, seems I *just* missed seeing Gilly out on the trail- my teammate Nate got a dollar from him and was about 10 minutes in front of me most of the race. I was pretty bummed at the finish because well, I’ve ALWAYS dreamed of getting a Gilly dollar hand-up. As I sat sipping my beer… up through the crowd came the myth, the legend. I got me a dollar!

Gilly cash
Gilly cash
Homeward Bound (for now)
Homeward Bound (for now)

Stoopid Loop

Yonder Son
Yonder Son- French Pass from Georgia Pass

Time to get Epic. I love the riding over Georgia Pass. Last year I worked out a big loop from Como that included 10 miles of road along 285. There is another option that is evident from Stage 2 of the Breck Epic, and that is looping over the top of 12,049’ French Pass, but it involves going over the pass (duh)…

The pins in the pinky are no longer much of a problem, but the tear in the shoulder is another matter. With both Park City and Fool’s Gold right around the corner, it was time to put in a long(er) day to see if the body could hold up. I tried to get a few others to come and suffer with me- no dice. At 8:10 I headed out from the Kenosha trail head.

It has been a very active monsoon season here in Colorado and the roots all along this section of the CT were super slick. I spent most of the day riding very cautiously. Wet roots are likely what caused my current injuries and I have yet to overcome the hesitation that brings.

Sweet, sweet high-alpine single-track
Sweet, sweet high-alpine single-track

The long grind up to Georgia Pass came and went and soon I was zooming down the backside headed towards Breckenridge. This section was even wetter and the rocks became treacherous at several points. I opted to walk the short, very wet, uber-techy section near the bottom instead of risking a crash. I love this section and next time I have to hit this on my full-suspension rig!

At Tiger Road I had a couple of options; I could make a really big day by heading towards the West Ridge, or take a saner route up American Gulch. I’ve only ridden down the Gulch and found grinding up it rather demoralizing and involved a bit of hike-a-bike. Riding Little French Flume in the opposite direction was fun as was going down Little French Gulch. Up, down, up, down, rinse and repeat… Now it was time to head up towards French Pass.

Aspen Iridescence in a Field of Green
Aspen Iridescence in a Field of Green
There's a Storm A-Brewin'
There’s a Storm A-Brewin’
Funny What Appears When You Stop and Look
Funny What Appears When You Stop and Look

This is when the bonk hit- again. It is clear I have not been fueling right that last couple of rides- coupled with an injury induced lack of fitness. The long, slow slog up French Gulch took a lot out of me, but the new scenery was awesome. I had not been up this way before- few have really. I passed two hikers high-tailing it down due to the heavy thunder. The sucker holes right over the pass convinced me enough that I was going to be safe from lightning. It’s not like I had many choices- my truck was on the other side… one way or another I was going over the pass. It cleared up just enough as I hiked the last several hundred yards towards the top.

That Way
That Way
From
From
Storm-Born
Storm-Born
A Disappearing Sight
A Disappearing Sight

TwistedTwisted

The single-track down the other side was *awesome*; awesome enough to make the hike-a-bike to the top worth it. The skies opened up once again as I hit Michigan Creek and started climbing back to Georgia Pass. I was already 35 miles and 6,000’ of climbing into my day and knew there was still a lot more to come; I dropped my head and tried to keep a good cadence.

Monsoon Fruits
Monsoon Fruits
The Belles of the Forest
The Belles of the Forrest
Veritable Cornucopia
Veritable Cornucopia

The rain stopped as I crested Georgia for the second time and I railed my way down the ripping single-track back towards Kenosha. It had obviously rained a lot harder on this side of the pass and there were significant piles of hail, mud, and deep puddles. Soon enough it was time to drop the head once more for the final climb out. I reached my truck a muddy mess clocking 49 miles and 8,800’ of climbing.

Satisfaction
Satisfaction

It took me 7 hours- slower than I had hoped, but all-in-all it was a good, hard day. I seem to always face Park City hoping I was more prepared, but it is what it is. Whatever happens next week, I know I’m going to enjoy the sweet suffering only a big race like Park City brings.