Day 18 and 19- Winter Park Super Downhill

I was totally planning to ride Loop 2 on Saturday morning, but managed to oversleep and miss the group that was leaving at 7:00am from Carter Park. My fault- I’d stayed up too late the night before at a place simply called the Irish Pub. While I’d been eating dinner, I’d seen a lot of younger people heading in, so I figured I’d go have a beer and check it out. The locals in Breck are very friendly… I ended up hanging out on the porch next to a fire pit for a couple more hours just talking to random people.

I digress…

So, Saturday, I woke up and went to breakfast at the Columbine (other favorite spot besides the Blue Moose), packed the car, stopped by the Laundromat, then headed out to Winter Park.

Winter Park is a ski resort that’s opened its lifts and runs up to downhill riders in the summer. I’d never been to a downhill course before, and had almost no idea what to expect. I eventually found my way to the race headquarters. They suggested pre-riding the course, but I’d need to buy a lift ticket to get to the top.

Lift tickets are $24 for a half day.

Um, no thanks… Isn’t there a way to ride up there?!? Sure. Take the access road.

So, I went back to the car and changed. After waiting for an afternoon rain shower to pass, I made my way up the “hill” (and by “hill,” I mean 1700 foot climb). I waved at the groups of DH guys along the way. I realized that climbing is seeming easy on a geared bike. Once at the top, I found the course markings and started making my way down. I took it pretty easy- the course was generally pretty mild singletrack with bermed turns, random small jumps, and occasional roots and rocks. There was only one uphill pitch, and it was positioned where you could carry a lot of speed into it. Pretty straightforward.

I figured since I’d get a lift ticket with my race entry, and the lifts would open to racers at 8:30 the next day that I’d just save my legs and preride once more in the morning. I changed and headed to the Rocky Mountain Inn and Hostel in nearby Fraser (which, other than the absence of The Tour on TV, was probably the nicest hostel I’ve been to).

Sunday morning, I got up and continued what has become a fun side project of my trip- breakfast at local spots. This time, it was a cheese omelet at Sharky’s in Fraser. Delicious.

I got to the race check-in, picked up my number and lift ticket, and got ready to go. Once I was back at the lift, I realized I’d never used a lift before and had no idea what I was doing. Luckily, the guys in line with me were nice enough to explain how to get my bike on to a moving bike rack before it turned and headed back up the hill. My second run was good- I noticed a few more subtle things about the course and smoothed out my turns a bit more (having never been on a DH course, I’d never really taken bermed turns at high speeds, so it was a learning experience).

I rode back up, hoping for one more practice run, but by that time, the Pro categories were close to starting, so I hung around, warmed up, and chatted with the other women who were lining up with me. Turns out, 11 expert women had signed up (2 others in my age group). The start was going to be crucial, because once you’re on the trail, passing is hard to do. They were mostly local, and very familiar with the course. I told them I was from Memphis, and I liked going fast.

We placed our bikes for the LeMans start. Some of the girls were complaining about it, but thanks to last year’s Cyclocrunk races, I’ve got them pretty nailed down. When we started, I managed to be the 3rd of the group to enter the trail (the initial gravel lead-in was about 250 yards up about a 10% grade). The woman on the front immediately took off down the hill. To my dismay, the two in front of me did not follow. 2nd place was all over her brakes and 3rd was afraid to make an agressive pass. 1st was still bombing down the hill and putting massive amounts of time on us. Eventually 3rd and I took a low line around a turn and got around the “all over the brakes” girl. I was millimeters from rubbing her rear tire on several occasions, but she wasn’t going to let me pass easily. I finally edged by her on a wider part of the trail. In the process, I gave her a pretty good bump.

She yelled at me. I wasn’t there to make friends.

By this time, we were deep into the course, and the leader was well out of sight. I let go of the brakes and let it fly. I soon caught sight of her. Every turn, she was a little closer. Unfortunately, though, her initial lead was too great for me to cover, and I rolled across the finish 12 seconds behind her. She was just turning to look back up at the hill when I rolled up and was startled that I was as close as I was (I would be really interested to know how large her lead was before I got around the other riders).

race

I was a little disappointed, but pretty excited nonetheless. The awesomeness of the day was just beginning, though. I wanted to get in a few more runs before my lift ticket expired, so I got back in line. Lucky for me, I was one chair behind Dejay Birtch and a couple of his friends (Rob and Andy). They paused for a few minutes to look at the map on top of the hill. I took the chance to go say hi. I ended up tagging along with them for a couple more runs before we went back to the base area for the podium presentations…

lift

podium

Dejay

By then, the lift ticket was expired, and I was ready to get back to the hostel, clean up, and head to Leadville. Days like that are what I’m here for.

Day 17- Breck 100 Preride Loop 3 (sort-of)

I was almost ready to head out the door yesterday when I realized that I didn’t have my Garmin (705). I went back to my room and looked in the usual spots- computer bag, race bag, etc.

No dice.

I spent an hour tearing apart and re-packing everything I had in the room and still couldn’t find it. I had a sinking feeling that one of the hikers that had been staying at the hostel might have “accidentally” picked it up. After exhausting all searches, I figured I was going to have to buy another one, and ended up driving an hour and a half to the REI in a western suburb of Denver to get a Garmin 500.

By the time I got back, it was after 3:00, and I didn’t want to chance doing the entire loop (the directions/map aren’t always clear, so it can take a good chunk of time to navigate), so I decided to ride the closer part of the loop and up to the Continental Divide.

Then I went to put my shoes on and found that my 705 had not been stolen, but had been safe and sound in my left Mavic since the day before. Crap.

I headed out on my ride. The initial part was hard, but not impossible. I didn’t start walking until the Indiana Creek jeep trail. It was steep and gnarly. Most of the time, the grade on my Garmin didn’t drop below 25%, and I saw as high as 39% more than once. The elevation was 10K and increasing as well. I felt as if I was going to black out a few times. That section is going to be a death march next week.

After that part, the remainder of the climb up Boreas Pass was gentle and scenic. Unlike the day before, there was no snow storm…

divide-3

I turned around and descended back down the course in to Breck. That part is going to be fuuuuun.

Day 16- Breck 100 Preride: Loop 1

Today, I battled Heaven.

Loop #1 of the Breck 100 starts by climbing the ski hill on the outskirts of town. As I approached the mountain, the sky over my head was blue and sunny, but a black cloud hung over the top of Peak 9. Once I found the Ski Hill Access road, the rain had started. As I climbed, it sprinkled on and off, but then started to hail and thunder once I was a mile or so up. I put my jacket on and kept going…

hail

A few minutes later, the hail stopped, but as I rounded 10.5K feet or so, it started to sleet. Eventually, after a lot slow uphill grinds, dizzy spells, and walking, I was above the treeline. The road became nearly unridable… the grade on my Garmin read 25 -35%, and the gravel road turned in to a rock-covered jeep trail. The skies had momentarily cleared, so I alternated wallking and riding as I navigated the switchbacks.

I finally reached the Wheeler Trail- the singletrack that would eventually cross the mountain and lead down to the base on the other side. However, as soon as I turned off, something crazy happened. The wind started to gust, and suddenly, I could barely see the narrow strip of singletrack in front of me. Fog? No… something was hitting my face…

It was a blizzard.

The snow was blinding, and the wind was gusting so hard that I could barely stay on the trail. I didn’t want to stop and freeze, so all I could do was keep steadily rolling forward. Then, almost as suddenly as it started, the blizzard was gone.

snow

tundra

Soon after the snow stopped, I reached the final grunt over Wheeler Pass.

summit

In my hypoxic brain, I’d conquered both heaven and earth. The ride back down was insane- until I was well below the treeline, I didn’t feel “right,” so I decended slowly.

downhill

At least the view was nice.

The remainder of the trail was not nearly as hard (other than the initial climb up the Peaks Trail). As I rode back in to town, the thunder clouds rolled back in. Luckily, the only thing between me and a the sweet nectar of a hot omelet at the bakery down the street was a hot shower and a little walking…

eggs

Day 15- Rest Day

Still feeling the burn from Sunday, I figured that I’d relax and take it easy today. Ryan and I stayed in Frisco, so after a leisurely breakfast and Tour-watching, we headed to Denver so that he could catch his flight out. After dropping him off, I took the scenic route back to the Breck/Frisco area where I’m planning on staying for a few more days of Breck 100 course recon.

I decided to take the scenic route this time, and, along the way, went over Loveland Pass. There was snow.

IMG_0837

IMG_0840

IMG_0841

IMG_0842

Day 14- Fruita second day

Looking at some of the comments, I guess I’m not totally clear about the lag in time between my days and when I post about them- in the interest of my own personal safety, I make it a habit to not post about being somewhere while I’m still there… so right now, I’m NOT actually in Fruita. Ryan and I left yesterday afternoon to head back to Breck so we’d be closer to the airport (he flew out today). I’m in a different location now that’s convenient to most parts of the Breck 100 course. So… that being said…

The Edge Loop
One thing I’ve learned to appreciate since I’ve been on this trip is birds (except for the Magpie, of course, which is the Vuvuzela of the bird world). Birds wake up every morning about the same time I do, and, since everywhere I’ve stayed on this trip has been either a tent or a building with no air conditioning, I have woken up every single morning to the sound of birds singing. I’m going to miss that when I get home…

Ryan and I were up with the birds Tuesday morning to get an early start on the Edge Loop at Bookcliffs. It was listed as 5/5 on the “coolness” factor and is apparently one of the first IMBA “Epic” rides. So, of course, we had to do it.

We headed out of camp onto the Frontside loop, which eventually led us to a long haul on a gravel road. It wound through an awesome canyon then started to climb up the ridge. It climbs a pretty long way- from around 5300ft up to more than 7300 feet. Along the top, there were a few more miles of rolling (steep) hills followed by a descent.

Remember in my last post how I said that when in Fruita, going over the top of a hill or around an unfamiliar corner can be precarious because the trail is likely to do something unexpected? Well, the jeep roads on the Edge Loop are no exception… in three different spots, the road was not much more than a bench-cut strip of rocks that plunged downward at an insane grade. I’m not ashamed to admit, I walked down the first two. I decided to take a chance on the last one, and, with my ass nearly on my rear wheel and my saddle in my stomach, I inched my way down, mentally screaming at myself to keep looking ahead and NOT over the edge of the cliff that was to my right.

It was terrifying.

We finally made it to some singletrack which soon gave way to something that was more like what you’d see in an adventure race than a mountain bike trail… a ~30ft rock race that’s occasionally a waterfall. There were several ropes to help you get you and your bike to the bottom (see gallery photos and photos on Ryan’s Blog)

Once we were down that, we picked though occasional rock gardens our way through a dry creek bed. That eventually led us back to the “normal” Bookcliff trail system, where Ryan managed to endo, twist an ankle, and start to bonk. With a little encouraging and some fig newtons, we eventually made it back to the 18 road trailhead and up to camp.

I really wanted to ride more trails in the area, but my legs were still destroyed from Sunday’s race. So, we packed up and headed back to Breck so we’d be a bit more rested/closer to Denver for Ryan’s flight out the following day. That was some nice singletrack (though I still like Arkansas better)…

Day 13- Fruita First Day

Despite plenty of beer-drinking and fireworks-watching after the Natz race, Ryan and I were up early again on the 5th to strike camp and head to Fruita in order to escape cold nights and high altitude of Breck.

Our first stop was Over the Edge Sports in Downtown Fruita. When I was searching for info about the area, I found that they are responsible for a lot of what is there trail-wise, and they’re good for advice on where to ride and camp. I also needed to get my singlespeed wheels trued since I’d abused them a little during the race.

They were helpful, though I’ll be nice and just say that the mechanic was kinda grouchy. I guess I’m just used to the nice mechanics in Memphis that don’t act like they’re doing me a favor by getting paid to work on my bike.

We decided to go out to the Bookcliffs area where you can camp for free smack in the middle of a great trail system. Using the trail guide, Ryan planned out a solid 15 mile route that would take us through all but a couple of the trails. The trails were interesting- a lot of flowy, banked stuff, but also a lot of short, steep (~30%) ascents and descents. Thanks to the “Zippety-do-dah” trail, I quickly learned to NOT go around every corner with a full head of steam, lest the trail drop away from me in an unexpected direction on the other side… lots of swings between grinning and puckering…

Marathon Nationals Race Report

Leave it to me to pick the National Championships race as my first singlespeed race. (I guess it makes about as much sense as aiming to do the Breck 100 as my 2nd one)

Breckenridge is a cold place at night. After a couple of nights of tossing around in the combination of cold and altitude, a hot mug of coffee and a cheese omelet at the Blue Moose on race morning were my savior.

leg

We were early enough that I had plenty of time to get prepped and warm up a little before getting into the starting area. I’m not gonna lie- I was nervous. The other women looked fit. A lot of them were locals that were familiar with the trail (and the altitude). I still felt like I could do well, so my heart was racing before we ever had the signal to go.

field

Once we were off on our first of two 25 mile laps, one woman took off on the first climb. I knew better than to try and follow her- if I blew up in the first 5 miles, the remainder of the race would be Hell (in a bad way). So, I paced the other women. Once we were on singletrack, things seemed to spread out a bit. We hit the next climb thats steepness forced us into a combo of walk/ride. A woman from Colorado Cyclist disappeared, and I was left leapfrogging with a Bach Builders rider.

This is where gear choice and playing up my strengths paid off…

After the Hell that was the French Gulch climb, I noticed that she was spinning a slightly higher cadence than me- she could stay on her bike a little longer on the worst climbs, and I was overtaking her on the flats and descents (I was on an 32×20 and she a 32×21). The last part of the course after French Gulch had few steep grades (both up and down), a long upwards grade (the two-way section), and a long descent back in to the start/finish area. At the end of the first lap, I had a good lead over her. I knew that if I could be ahead after French Gulch that it would take a heroic effort on her part to stay with me.

So, that’s exactly what I did. I made sure to pace myself going into the 2nd lap. She caught back up to me on French Gulch… which, by the way, was one of the most painful experiences of my cycling career. Apparently, it topped out over 11,500 feet (according to the “locals”), was covered in baseball-sized rocks, and was unbelievably steep. Every muscle in my body was anaerobic and screaming for mercy, but I knew that I could not let her get ahead of me. I’ve never felt anything like it in my entire life. All I could think about was how much the pain would be worth it in order to stand somewhere on the podium.

We reached the top at the same time, and I hopped (crawled?) on to my bike and jumped in front of her onto the singletrack. All I could think of after that was to just keep spinning as fast as I could, stay off the brakes, and let the gear and the descents take their course. Once I got up the final “two-way” climb and started the last descent, I knew that I just needed to ride smart in order to hold my place. (OK, so I put my race wheels through some things that race wheels should probably only be subjected to in “race” situations.)

Who am I kidding… I rode with little regard to my own safety. It’s Nationals for Devil’s sake…

I ended up finishing in 5 hours, 28 minutes- good enough for 3rd place. I am totally stoked. Not that I don’t want to win, but I know there’s no physical way I could have gone faster than I did.

(me, wondering wtf did I just do?!?)

wtf

I love singlespeed.

IMG_0757

…and National Championship podiums.

podium

Day 12- Marathon Nationals

I’ll post a more in-depth race report soon, but for now, I’d just like to say wow… that was hard. Even with a reported 10,000 feet of climbing for the 50 mile course, I still love riding a singlespeed.

I finished 3rd in the Open Women’s Singlespeed category. My time was pretty competitive with the women overall as well. Am I allowed to wear my medal to bed?

(photos to follow)

Days 10 & 11- Breck and Frisco

I’m gonna keep this one short, because I’m about ready to turn in for the night (yes, it’s only 9:30, but I’m camping, which means I’m sleepy as soon as the sun goes down).

Yesterday, Ryan and I were going to preride the entire 25 mile course loop, but ended up in a time vacuum, so we only rode half of it. From what I hear, the other half has some steeper sections. I’m not too worried- I’ll be walking some stuff already since I’m singlespeeding it.

Today, we spent what seemed like half the day on our bikes. We rode a local loop that took us out on Gold Run Road and back down to Breckenridge, where we made a side trip to the Breck pump track before heading back up the MUT to Frisco for some lunch. After filling up on Himalayan food, we made our way back to camp.

I have to say- I’m officially in love with my singlespeed. I guess if I can do the climbs around here at altitude and still love it that I must be a singlespeeder at heart. Time to go out and buy a tutu… or at least some more knee socks. Maybe some day I can get a cool new tattoo.

When we were almost back to the campground, I took a side trip on some random singletrack. Once I figured out that it was going up and away more than I’d hoped, we turned around. We passed a really cool rock outcropping, so I stopped to take in the view. Much to my surprise, there were some random guys down below doing a bit of bouldering. I had to give it a shot, so I took a side trail down to where they were, took off my shoes, and gave it a go…

Ryan told me I was nuts, but it wasn’t really that far off the ground. I wore my helmet, too, as you can see. I never realized that I had such nice calves…

Ryan took a lot of photos with his iPhone the last two days. In lieu of posting them all here, I’m going to just refer you to his blog: roadcx.net where you can see all of them (including shots from the trail, some food, the pump track, and more rocks)Â in gallery form.

Guess it’s time for bed. Gotta kick some butt tomorrow. Firm singlespeeder butt. Mmmmmm…

Day 9- Transport

After my last post, I packed up, ate some breakfast, and left Dolores to head to Denver. Ryan flew in today to come out & visit for a few days & watch the Marathon Natz race.

Between Dolores and Durango, I perfected what should be the new offcial summertime sport of Colorado- RV Slalom. It’s where a series of RVs are blocking the road going up and/or down a mountain, and you use skilled driving maneuvers in order to get around the blockage. It was exhilarating.

Most of the remainder of the drive was spend wanting to melt the faces of the other drivers on the highway. Hardly anyone out here drives anywhere close to the speed limit, and no one will attempt to pass. What ends up happening is an engine-straining hail-mary pass around an entire glob of cars (and the occasional RV) putzing along at 50 in a 65mph area.

Between getting a late start and having to deal with traffic, I ended up two hours late to pick Ryan up from the airport. We decided that in lieu of setting up camp in the dark, that we’d get a room in Frisco for the night and go set up in the morning before heading out for some pre-ride action.

So that’s my boring day. It’s actually the first time that I’ve not enjoyed the drive someplace. It’s nice to have Ryan here, though…