I love driving. It astonishes me the nonchalant attitude of city kids with abundant public transportation. 16 and driving was not just a right of passage but a necessity in the rural world I lived in. Everything was 20 miles away, but it still only took 20 minutes to get there, whereas it takes 20+ minutes to get 5 miles in this city of brotherly love.
Digressing is a forte' and where I mean to be going with this is the fact that driving out to Colorado might seem like a chore to some, but it's just a natural habitat for me.
This is a big country and like the space between your ears, there is a lot going on between the coasts. I guess if you are a mountain biker you've chosen a pretty exciting time to race your bike. I think the general consensus is that the state of mountain biking in the US is on the low arch. We're waning, not waxing, I think. Or maybe we're at that phase where if you weren't paying attention you don't know if it's disappearing or about to get real full.
I think it's been a historical re occurrence that during the times when a culture, revolution or party starts to hit a lull, and people are standing around wondering what to do next, either the party dies or someone comes up with another plan that outdoes the previous party.
The post 90's MTB hangover has left the mountain world scrambling for a new spark to light the fuse of cycling joy and in the course of the search people are experimenting with race formats. Therefore we have new epic stage races...
Like the Breck Epic or the soon to be coming Pisgah Mountain Bike Challenge. I've got the Pisgah race firmly on my schedule but, I'm not sure why I went to CO for the Breck Epic. Sometimes you do things just cause. Usually they don't cost you a grand to do, but no regrets here since the the trip was a beautiful time.
The Epic was 6 days of racing at 9,600ft+ with almost every day crossing the 12,000ft mark. The first day was an uphill prologue that was supposed to be 9 miles long and basically one harder grunt after another. At registration we were given a start time and a goody bag that included dog tags with our name and the phone number of whoever we deemed would be responsible for our broken bodies if circumstances came to that. Usually I don't get all excited about the swag put in our bags, probably because it's usually just a t-shirt and some caloric injecting substance. These bags were an exception. First off the bags themselves were the reusable grocery bag types. (I use my whole foods bags for about everything except grocery getting). Inside was a cool breckepic jersey that fits and is stylish. Then there was the monogrammed Breck Epic Crank Brothers mini pump. And finally there was some lube. All very useful things. Proof that the promoter has something between his ears. More proof? The bag had an identical bag inside and both had our numbers on them because they would be our drops each day. Mike Mack is a smart man.
It's a fact that I only saw the bags and their contents because I was to proud to to tuck my tail between my legs and drive back to PA, even though that's all I wanted to do when I woke up in the morning. I had been up all night coughing, being too hot, then too cold, then having to use the bath room about 6 times. Basically when I woke up in the morning I felt like a stolen handbag left in the ditch after being emptied by rough criminal hands. The idea of turning my guts inside out to go uphill for an hour didn't seem too appealing. But as I walked up to the registration area to talk to Promoter Mike, I chickened out of backing out and asking for a refund or 2010 comp.
Whatever, it was only 6 days of racing and I'd either get better or worse. I forgot that you can languish between the two indeterminately. I had a 4:19 start time since the open mens class went last in alphabetical order. Fortunately the rain that had started about two stopped at about 3:30. Still the skies were grey and the moisture was thick, not as thick as the snot rockets I was blowing.
My plan was simply to get to the top without dieing. I managed that with my 30 second man Aaron Potts dragging me along up the trail. A lot of time when you go west the hills are long but built with a friendly gradient, to get you to the top in a leisurely manner. Breckenridge is not that way. It can lull you into the feeling that you'll be cruising contour trails, but before you know it the 'breck slap' hits and your wondering why the granny gear feels like it's cowering in the corner. Just about the time that I had started to feel like a living creature I came through a friendlier section and there was the finish. Three miles early.
I hate that. Thinking one thing then finding out the other. I don't think any one knew it was a shortened course. Well at least day one was over and I could go home and try to recover. Then come back later for the 6pm racer meeting. I had a cold can of coconut juice in the fridge that I couldn't wait to slide down my blistered throat. After some typical racer meeting stuff, I went back to Erika and Marks to have them pour more healing meds down my throat and send me to bed. Oh and I was a disappointing 13th on the day. It's stupid but I was still hoping for more.
Day 2 was the eye opener. Because it was so beautiful, and we realized that it was going to be a serious race. Our course took us through sections of the Colorado trail, that I have been a fan of since riding the Breck 100 in 2006. Super climbs to sweeping vistas and then long downhills through the woods. It was still a day of survival, but I was feeling better and managed an 8th place, while racing with James Williams and Yuki Saito for a bit. It's great racing in new places and finding new competition, because it keeps you humble.
Day 3 was a little better, same scenario of tussling with James and Yuki, even though I really felt like crap on the 2nd climb of the day and I thought I would be throwing in the towel if I ever made it back. My competative troll kept me in the game when I was passed by a certain individual who unknowingly creates a burning desire for me to not finish behind. My fires a little turned up, I managed to take 7th on the day and was beginning to see a light where before there was only darkness. I'll say that downhills saved me a lot in the race for rolling back up on people. It gave me time to get my legs each day if I could feel confident that I could catch riders later after they left me on the first climb.
Day four was the best day of the race for me. I felt like the cold was being managed and wasn't getting worse. I still was hacking up lots of strange stuff and having a hard time sleeping, but there were no more feverish nights. I managed to stay in control of my breathing and for the first time felt like opening up the legs a little. At the finish I had 5th place and a new found optimism. We went over the 12,500 French Pass, which reguired a little hike-a-bike and a snow drift ride. I was feeling like a king.
Day five stole it all back as I fell to my knees and cursed the air with it's thin oxygen. Above me was a criss-crossing switch back with the tiniest of people at the top carrying their bikes. Hiking for 45 minutes had out of body and I couldn't hold onto my bike at one point. It reminded me of the 3am experience I had in the one and only 24hr race I'll ever do. There was no where to go but up, so I stared at my feet and willed each step as if I had ESP and was using it to move inanimate objects. Eventually it hurt so bad to walk that I had no choice but to ride the 6in piece of trail. Later people came up to me and said they were amazed that I was riding it. I guess it's like the person who lifts a car to save someone. I had no choice but to ride because walking was failing me. Seriously it was a serious moment for me. I ended up somewhere back around 13th again and my hope for a top 5 overall were slipping away.
The last day was me hoping for a Landis day, where I would somehow make up 20 minutes on everyone and redeem myself. It was noce to wish for but on the first climb I felt like the previous day had never ended. Hoping I would warm up I took it easy to the top and when we turned right onto the trail head I could feel the single track i-v trickle life back into me. Alright, this is what I wanted. I managed to get around four or five people in the luge like trail. As we exited the road and turned our sights up hill for the climb back up, James and I worked like a team to start pulling more people back in. Eventually I dropped James and had Mark Legg-Compton dangling in front. Eventually I caught him and we worked together in the headwinds to get over Boreas Pass. I managed to duck into the super fun single track finishing trails and caught three more people in the Jedi Knight trails. I finished 8th for the day but some solid finishes from others put me back in 9th overall for the Epic.
In the end I had a bad race but a good time traveling there and back, staying with my wonderful friends Mark and Erika and racing through some crummy situations. For a week I was a little burned after the race but I started to bounce back pretty good despite putting a stitch worthy hole in my knee on Wendesday at Wakefied (Go PotomacVelo). Thanks Mr. Childers for patching me up! That's a whole other story.
Now I'm suffering a Fractured Capitate bone in my wrist, and trying to get ready for the World Freaking Championships!
Didn't I tell ya?