Month: May 2012

Things I like

This weekend was filled with things I like. I like bike racing for a start, but sometimes I end up sacrificing fun in order to travel and sate my competitive edge. This weekend, no compromises were made in the pursuit of a fulfilling experience.

Salida is a town I’ve driven past more times than I know. Thankfully, though, its one of the few towns which exist in Colorado without a highway right through the centre to feed it. This is a very good thing. As the destination for the Mountain States cup I was happy to finally have a reason to experience the hype. I remember two years ago Eszter telling me it was the full package, and reading Scott’s blog from last summer; friendly town, nice people, good bike shop and amazing trails right from town. I now agree completely.

The Mountain States Cup is a series I’ve been trepidatious to enter in recent years due to spiralling entry fees, small fields, poor or no results and podiums 6 hours after the end of the race. This winter they put out a survey on the interwebs to get feedback on how they can make things better. This, to me, signalled that they realised what was happening; people were pulling away, negativity was spreading. It might have been a season too late, but finally they were addressing the issues. So this year, the series announced cheaper entry fees, fewer races and live timing. I was convinced that this was worth giving a shot. The races have always had the best courses and attracted strong riders. Now that other races are the same price, I couldn’t find a reason not to attend. Also, rumours were spreading of perhaps the strongest field to assemble in Colorado so far this year. That sounded like a challenge.

A two day “stage” race might seem a little pointless, but three races over two days was actually a lot of fun – an added element to the normal XC, short track, go home.

The preride of the cross country course completely destroyed me – three punctures in an hour, a hard crash and an aching body. The course was what could be described as ‘old school’ in that each lap was long at 10 miles, and comprised a big old climb then a big old descent. After a three mile tarmac climb, the course shoots into the trees on twisted, off camber rocky trails that take concentration, skill and power in equal measures. A grunting climb half way through, followed by a rocky chute of destruction weeded out the pretenders from the riders. Unfortunately, I felt a little like a pretender all weekend. Riding with Bryan and Blake reinforced the feeling, too.

Rolling out of our Polish-owned hotel after a disappointing breakfast, we pedalled through old town Salida on the way to the hill climb. Small, low built Victorian houses in neat squares dotted every block. most looked a little unloved, with a few elegantly restored properties in between. At 8am on a Saturday, the town was empty. As we crossed the river towards the trails, a few cafes had full patios and coffee brewing. Everything seemed calm in the world. Unfortunately, across the river, everything was not calm. We were faced with 7 minutes of anaerobic hill climbing to begin the festivities. My lack lustre warm up showed heavily as my heart rate refused to rise, and I pedalled halfway up before any kind of adrenaline kicked up. When I was caught by my 30 second chaser, I pedalled just that little bit harder and avoided coming in last

With 7 minutes of suffering done, I was in 12th place and ready to do nothing.  Which is exactly what we did. I emptied my wallet at the bike shop to procure perhaps the last 26” tyres in the town, and fixed up my bicycle ready for the afternoon.
We spent the few hours in-between sitting outside in the sunshine watching the huge thunderheads rolling across the Sawatch range to our North West – massive bands of grey dropping heavy storms on the mountains. We’d received word that the Front Range was  total washout – all day rain and dreary grey clouds. Sitting under the shade of the cherry trees, I knew I was happy with my choice of weekend activities.

The circuit race was an interesting one. Not really a short track, but still on a short track, each lap was about 6 minutes long with a steady dirt road climb and a loose off camber downhill. Lining up with 25 other people meant it couldn’t help but be a good race. Starting strong, I stuck with the front group even though I wasn’t sure I had the beans to make it stick for the full half hour. I didn’t have anything to loose, and blowing up half way through would have been just as useful a result as succeeding. But I did stick, and made a surreptitiously good move into the singletrack ahead of some poor descenders. From there I was clear and stayed strong on the last lap to remain in 4th.

With lactic coursing through my veins, I took a longer ride home through the outskirts of the town and embraced the wind and the scenery. Nice to get a little bit away from everything, even if it only lasted 20 minutes.

The evening was spent entertaining ourselves in and around Salida. All you can eat Pasta in a restaurant with great food and terrible service; considering the staff would only be making $3 from us as tips, I felt a complaint was un-neccessary, but it seems strange that a place would go to the effort of rolling their own pasta but not backing it up with smiles and courteous service. We somehow managed to round up Mitch and Collin in the process of our evening, and thus ensued jovial conversation in between rounds of warm bread (the XC racers substitute for good wine).

The logistical and sociological challenges of fitting five people into one hotel room was explored in the 16 hours between end of dinner and waking the next morning. An 11am start gave us ample opportunities to relax, watch the MTB world cup on redbull TV, and eat a hearty breakfast before the race started.

When all was said and done, I felt really good on the start line, and really good when the pace ramped to ‘insane’ on the first road section. My first mistake was not repeating my smart move from the circuit race, and thus stuck behind some poorly skilled riders on the single-track, I could only watch as the lead trio pedalled away. As it turned out, this would be the least of my problems. As I gave it everything to free myself from the group I was riding in, I realised that something was wrong, and I still can’t pinpoint what. My skills didn’t show up, and I pinballed down the hillside with Bryan passing me easily. I tried to regain focus to no avail, and had to watch on the next lap as he pedalled away from me on the climbs, too. I was outclassed – nothing I could have done about it but hold onto 6th place. In the end, I can’t complain though; my riding was deserved of a much lower position, and I finished on suffering and persistence only. I could perhaps blame the new tyres that I hadn’t ridden before, but that seems like too easy of an excuse to find. I will have to take some time to work out what came unstuck.

6th in the XC was also good enough for 6th in the overall. I’ll take it. A weird weekend of mismatched performance, tiredness and hurting bodies, but a reasonably strong result at the end of the day.

I think I’ll be back to Salida – a lovely town with no reason to go there but the town itself – that’s how it should be.

Afternooning

The coffee machine gets turned on. Not in itself a rare or noteworthy occasion.

Time is what is different. The sun is coming through the windows from the other direction, and its intensity ensures there is no confusion of the hour. Afternoon espresso’s lead to awesome evenings.

The smell of freshly ground beans mixes with the chain lube on my hands. My bike is ready to race, and as I slowly sip the bronze crema from atop my cup, I get into the mood too.

The drive is only an hour, but we’re heading into the unknown. Or maybe we’re the unknown.

The bubble’s cycling community is close and cliquey; stepping out of that to attend another local race makes us rare species. People travel for races all the time, but weekday evenings are different. People ride from home and talk to all their friends before the start. Everyone knows the announcer and promoter by first name, not through a single introduction but through the seasons of competing and racing.

Our new, white, kits shout ‘outsider’ louder than any brand emblazoned upon them. and we line up with suspicious faces watching us. The Lemans start is a joke, and luckily everyone is laughing.

The crowd is surprisingly large. And quiet. My lead grows on each lap, as does the silence of the crowd. I feel no animosity directed at me – just silence. They don’t know me. My lead isn’t exhilarating, it provides no spectacle other than someone riding faster around the course than the others. The local hero who occupies second gets cheered and encouraged. His performance isn’t better or more noteworthy; he is just more familiar. Known.

I cross the line to a small round of applause from those whose attention has somehow been temporarily diverted from the beer tent.

I wasn’t racing for cheering or secondary enthusiasm – all that was inside me.

Clarity

Escapism. Denial. Call it what you want.

Therapy. Masochism. We all do it.

Each turn of the pedals removes logical thought; with each stroke to be replaced by the freedom of an empty mind and burning lungs.

Tunnel vision ensues, and tunnel-thoughts follow. No need to think further than the top of the climb, no need to reason, other than the reason of getting to the top. The destination isn’t a place, but a feeling that can only be achieved by the journey. Mental and Physical.

It isn’t rapture, or solitude, that you’re seeking. You’re seeking the joyful hurt that can only be enjoyed in retrospect.

The top doesn’t even matter today – thoughts of an Esher-esque eternal climb; your introspection doesn’t wish to cease.

But the top does arrive. It always does. As it approaches you can only hope the clarity you’re seeking arrives with it. Revolutions of clarity.

But like the arrival, the destination is temporary. The clarity is short lived. You embrace it, watch it slip away, and know it will take less burn in your lungs and fewer circles of legs to get to the same place again.

But you wont pedal slower, or breathe softer.

You’ll pedal faster, lungs will burn deeper and the top will be further away.

But you’ll get there, and the clarity will be worth it.

Trail work

I had to stop, I couldn’t just flow on by. It was hard though; I’d only just got back in the groove and I didn’t know how long it was going to last. It had been stop and go all day – not more than 2 minutes of riding between trail work. We knew we were pushing it, and it was certainly the price we had to pay to get early tracks on the high trails.

Trees. Everywhere.

I love trees. Trees that stand up tall and sway gently in the breeze. Or trees that shelter you from the pounding mid afternoon sun. Trees’ canopies which harbour all kinds of tweeting and screeching wildlife.

These trees, though, were different. Horizontal was the main problem. Trees rarely cause problems in the vertical plane, but these had met their match with a Front Range winter of snow and wind. Well, lets be honest – probably a fair chunk more wind than snow this year.

So we’d hiked our bikes up the little access trail – the trail that not many people ride up because quite simply it isn’t any fun – but once up there we had our elevation in hand and planned to use it wisely. Unfortunately the trees had other ideas, and the prime condition pine laden single-track was criss-crossed with downed trees – Aspens and pines felled easily by the elements, but unmovable by the combined might of our Four.

This stop was by choice. After so many breaks to move the timber I nearly sailed right on by. But as I looked back and saw James Peak looming above me, I had to pull on the brakes and slow down. The only white left on the circle of peaks above, the mountains’ 13,400 feet height towers over the Rollins pass road, with just small wisps of clouds hugging its torso, indicating the thunderstorms to roll in later that day.

I wait for the other rides to catch me – they, sensibly, choose to keep rolling on and embracing the flow of this uninterrupted stretch of trail. I’m glad they didn’t stop. I snap a couple photos as they zoom by, then turn back to my mountain and take a few more seconds. I know it will still be there the next time I head up and explore, but I save just a little bit to take back down to the Front Range with me.

I turn the pedals a few times and let the freewheel buzz in excitement at the flow left to go.

The Top Step

I’d been struggling to recover all week, and the combination of a sudden upturn in work hours, and a large quantity of beer with good friends had meant that Friday evening came around sooner than I thought.

As I sat drinking one of above mentioned beers with good friends, I deliberated whether I should be racing my bike tomorrow. The Nedventure was still in my legs, and Bryan had done the same thing. All it took in the end though, was Bryan to ask what time we should leave. I internalised my conundrum and hastily agreed to a 10 am departure time.

The race was the ‘’Ridgeline Rampage’’ in Castle Rock, a mere 90 minutes drive from Boulder. Part of the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series, a reasonably new race series that has made ground on the normal poor organisation standards of Colorado races. Advertised prize money for the Pros and watermelons in the feedzones are just two measures of a good race.

As we lined up to do three laps of the 10 mile circuit, a surprisingly large field materialised on the start line, and suddenly we were off. Bryan and I had neglected to warm up due to it being over 30 degrees outside. As such, the motorbike like pace of the first single-track section was painful, but I stuck with it.

Soon into the race I realised this wasn’t going to be a test of fitness. A small part of me was relieved, but another part questioned whether I wanted to use my brain and outsmart rather than out race Bryan. He has a lot more experience than me, and I wasn’t looking forward to working out how I would fox my way onto the podium.

The difficultly we were facing was the insane amount of traffic on course. Perhaps an oversight by the organiser, or maybe they didn’t care, but the beginners race started just 15 minutes before we came around for our second lap, hence the streams of people lining the narrow trail. Having the podium decided when Kelly Magelky, Bryan and I pulled away from everyone else meant that we weren’t in too much of a hurry to pedal any faster, and we progressed past the masses shouting ‘on your left’ every 3 or 4 seconds (seriously!).

Come the last lap, still passing people 10 a penny, I got lucky when Kelly bobbled on a climb. Down to two of us I had no choice but to give it everything. Less polite now, still passing people, I put a little bit of time into Bryan and scared myself into pedalling hard enough to stay away until the finish.

I’m enjoying a really good early season at the moment, and its great to finally step onto the top of the podium. Its my first one and its great to feel like the hours have paid off. A lot of people have uttered surprise at my hasty rise in form, but I’ve trained really hard for it and feel like I am where I want to be in regards to speed. Either way, I hope the momentum continues for the rest of the year!

Accidental Ned Ride

Its a Thursday. Work just happened. Due to the wonders of modern technology, we have now convened on 9th and Baseline. To some, this might not be a significant meeting place, but to those who know bikes and boulder, you know it leaves only one option – Flagstaff.

What can you achieve leaving town at 3pm and riding up a 10 mile paved road, what trails can you possibly hope to find, explore and return before dark? Our aim was to find out, and hopefully not get caught in the dark.

We went up. 2000 feet in the first 10 miles. Another 1000 feet in the 5 miles following. Blake was struggling – like me he’d struggled to recover from the Whiskey. Unlike me, Whiskey was the end of a big block of racing and he was functioning purely on fumes.

Bryan was smiling. This generally happens more when smiles disappear from others faces to be replaced by grimaces. It wasn’t that the pace was high, or the trails really technical, but rather it was now 4:30 in the afternoon, and the sun was making its hasty way towards the continental divide above us, and we hadn’t even worked out where our destination was, let alone found it.

Our goal was a piece of trail that has been filed in the back of the Boulder county guide of sinuous off-road routes – we were all vaguely aware of its existence, but never had the inclination to go find it, or really aware of what we were missing by not finding it. As we hopped over the ‘No motor vehicles’ fence, Blake looked up and sighed, his head dropped and you could see the remnants of enthusiasm falling from his face. He soldiered on though, and after a couple stem-chewingly steep grades, we found a ridgeline and followed it. We flowed along it. The ups were just as flowy as the downs, and by the time we’d crested the top, it was set that we would be returning the same way.

We poked our heads out of the obscure trail entrance near magnolia and made our way west, more trails and more dirt road. We had somehow convinced Blake that the only way to solve his energy problems were to keep riding to Ned and refuel. Not sure he realised this was another 10 miles down the road, but he didn’t complain. Well, not too much.

Sometimes, when outside of the bubble, you must remember that not everyone is accustomed to seeing matching-lycra’d, sunglassed and helmeted humans. I’m sure to the checkout clerk in the supermarket in Nederland, I looked a little foreign. Nevertheless, I purchased a gallon of water, two bottles of Pepsi, two packets of skittles and a snickers. We sat outside and levelled the gazes we were getting from everyone else who didn’t understand why three underweight and dirty cyclists were sitting on the pavement eating sweets.

The way home was better. With a handy 3000 feet of down to play with, the pedalling was much easier, and minus Blake’s bloody nose, we made good time back into view of the flat lands.

As the air cooled and lights started to turn on across Boulder, we cruised back down flagstaff, having achieved my first ever accidental Ned ride.

Normally, getting yourself to the weed-fragranced hippyfest of Ned takes planning, but this evening all it took was the desire to keep riding.

Prescott diaries

We look across at each other – its now official, I’ve set the record. Never before have I pushed my endurance this far, and I’m sure this is a new experience for Jason, too. It started just after Noon, and now the sun is arching its way towards the pine clad hills in the distance. I take another sip of coffee, I can’t believe I’ve been sitting in the same cafe for five whole hours.

The Whiskey 50 provided me with some unique challenges; what do you do in a riding mecca when you’ve already done all the riding that you can do before race day? How can you take in the beauty of the town that is Prescott without being on your feet and wasting energy?

We chose a combination of caffeinating, chocolate cake consumption and people watching. Along with exhausting the outer limits of the interwebs to stay occupied. It was certainly a challenge of endurance.

The Whiskey 50 is an event, not a race. To view it as the time between the start and the finish of competition would be to miss 90% of proceedings.

For me, the event started with leaving Boulder on Thursday morning. Although the Interstate highways of the western US pass through some amazing countryside, they really do not do it justice, and 80 mph fatigue can set in really quickly. Instead of wander what is on the other side of the cliffs, canyons and hillsides, the passing scenery becomes a blur of desolations and beige colours. The weather on the drive did not help – waves of red sand being blown at force across the road and dancing in patterns I normally only see during ski season. It was a bleak and windy journey, but I had to remember the beauty of those places when viewed outside of the car.

Things improved greatly when Blake suggested a diversion; potentially quicker but potentially getting us lost in a sparse square of Arizona. We turned off I-40 and into the ‘town’ of Winslow, past the people walking slowly down the derelict streets, and out the other side. The question of ‘”what do people do for employment in Winslow?” was answered when we drove right by the Winslow correctional facility; a sprawl of barbed wire and low slung, flat roofed buildings. We drove out into the desert, and slowly it transformed into trees, and from small trees into big trees that eventually turned into a beautiful pine forest. As we climbed and gained the ridgeline, we drove 2 hours through the green and lush Sitgreaves national forest.

I was surprised. My only previous experiences in Arizona have been the Cholla of Tucson and the dry Grandeur of the Grand Canyon. This was different and new, and more like the descriptions I had been given of the Prescott area. We dropped into Camp Verde and made the short haul to Prescott on some busier roads. As we drove up through the valley with the sun setting, the shape of the rolling hills belying the trails that must snake through them.

Riding bikes on a budget of approximately zero dollars also provides some challenges, including the dirtbag scrounging involved when you drive 900 miles across the country with only a vague idea of where you’ll be spending the night. The Jamis factory team gave up some floor space for our tired bodies on day one, and some hospitality of the highest order from Ben Jones, a friend of a friend, allowed us a bed on days two and three.

With the drive out of the way, and an eight hour sleep to refresh, we awoke on Friday to take in the view across Prescott Valley, and a date with a course pre-ride. After much breakfasting, we finally pull ourselves out of the house and into town. We’re soon pedalling our way through spread out neighbourhoods of large houses interspersed with pine trees that would dwarf anything in Colorado. The trail starts and I realise the Whiskey is a real mountain bike race.

The beginning trail is fun, and I soon turn off my ‘pre-ride’ brain and firmly engage in ‘riding’ and eventually ‘trail-riding’. The trio of Jami (not sure the collective noun for Jamis riders) bring me back to the task at hand and soon we find ourselves sprinting the last 5 miles into town for the mandatory riders meeting.

This is where it begins to hit me. This race is big. The town theatre has been converted to briefing station, and the 200 or so gathered pro’s sit in awed silence as we’re told about the accommodations the town has gone to for our racing. I’m amazed by every little detail that’s been thought out. I’m amazed that the whole town is willing to shut down for three days to allow bike racing. I suddenly realise that maybe I’ve been in Boulder too long, when I assume that anyone who doesn’t ride bikes hates bikes. It turns out that down here in Prescott, there are people who don’t pedal, but LIKE CYCLISTS. Is that such a crazy notion after all?

Somehow it gets to 3pm before I know about it, and its time to think about the Crit. Its being touted as a ‘Fat Tire Crit’ which is seeming more and more perverse as I see everyone else around me fitting the skinniest tyres they can to their Mountain Bikes. As I pedal around the town pretending to warm up (My legs were tired and I’d just eaten a pound of pasta…) the crowds grow – The last half of the women’s race sees deep crowds around the entire three-quarter mile circuit, and by the time Bruce Dickinson on the microphone has wound up the crowd for our race, the atmosphere is charged. Jason and I had managed to slip on the front row and get a few good photos out of the deal, but as soon as the gun (Shotgun, obviously, this is the wild west) went off, the idea of being in the lead pack died rapidly.

A narrowing of the course and a 22% hill brought me to my senses, and I sat up as people flew by me. With each lap lasting just over a minute, I knew I would have plenty of time for the lactic to accumulate without encouraging it. As the laps drew on, and the crowd went from polite cheering to heckling, and finally beer feeding, I worked my way through the field until I could see the leaders again. Progress. Short lived progress. With three laps to go and no chance of being pulled, I eased back and spun around the course, narrowly avoiding being lapped as the leaders screamed through to the finish.

A wilfully inadequate warm down was followed by a hastily consumed burrito and then quickly to bed. As I lay there with calves twitching, I was dreading waking up to sore legs and lots more energy expenditure on the Saturday ‘off day’.

It wasn’t as expected. Jason and I were on the same page with pace of movement, and we slowly made our way to a coffee shop for some breakfast. Reading the newspaper and watching the stream of lycra’d and leg shaved people coming in and out, I wondered to myself what it must be like for the people who live here. Their little corner cafe swarming with high energy and strangely dressed people. A town with almost no through traffic seeing thousands of bicycle-adorned cars lining the streets.

We finally dragged ourselves away from caffeine and newsprint and went for a ride. We found a trail map and solicited some advice on where to stretch our legs – a strict criteria of an hour and a half ride time and not too much climbing.

With advice in hand, we blindly ignored it and headed for the longest blue squiggle on the map.

Prescott sits in a bowl, and the ridge is riddled with trails. The one we found, known to us only as 9415, looked freshly cut and unused since the last rain. It was a blast. A 5 mile, 2000 feet descent of a blast.

A check in the box for bike ride, next was calorie hunting.

So now here we are after sitting in the Wild Iris cafe for 5 hours. It turned out to be the local cool kids hang out, probably attracted by the same combination of free internet and comfy chairs as we were. The day was a success, and although it was hard to stop pedalling and relax, I was feeling rested and calm – where did those race nerves go?!

Dinner was an experience. As with any mountain bike race anywhere in the US, most of the Boulder crew can be found in town. We met up with Brandon, Ben, Amy and Brett for an Italian experience at ‘Rosie’s’, most likely served by Rosie herself. After eating a massive slice of chocolate cake at 3pm, I wasn’t overly hungry and chose lasagne to fill the small gap. Good choice, as I went to bed feeling great – sleepy but not aching and nothing to distract myself from racing.

After reading this far, I’m sure no one is interested about the details of my race. There are more important things to pick out anyway. Like why a thousand people had also woken up at 8am to watch us start… or why the geriatric police crew lining the roads, however well intentioned, were so terrible at separating competitors from traffic.

Once we were out of town, the race was on. The road gave way to single-track, and the single-track gave way to steeper single-track. I had one thought running through my mind the entire time: DONT TURN YOUR BRAIN OFF. It worked. I didn’t make any silly passes or expend any energy chasing back onto the fractions of groups. Panic struck as I realised the spray coming off my front tyre wasn’t from the trail but from the Stan’s sealant spewing everywhere. I just kept riding – It sealed, I breathed deep and pedalled some more.

The famous 16 mile climb from skull valley was about as horrendous as everyone had warned me, but I made progress – perhaps not on the leaders who put a good 3 minutes into me on that section – but the people that mattered were going backwards as I was going forwards.

The race finished better than I could have imagined – after passing a lot of people in the final stages of the climb, I held on and pedalled through some cramp to finish 13th. I had set a rough goal of Top 20 and 3:10 for the time. 7 places and 7 minutes up was a great way to finish the weekend.

Although, the weekend wasn’t really over… we regrouped, piled into the gas-mobile and headed off for a shower. It was difficult to get the motivation to get on the road, especially with the temperatures approaching 80 degrees and a constant sweat appearing after every movement. As we settled into the drive, though, it went ok. We took shifts, I tried to sleep, tried to take in the buzzing scenery that I hadn’t seen on the way out, all that land that was now bathed in a golden evening sun.

We stopped at McDonalds. I didn’t enjoy it, but at 11pm on a Sunday, in Santa Fe New Mexico, there really wasn’t much choice. I spilled Mcflurry all over myself in the process of eating and driving.

We got back to Boulder at 4:30am on Monday morning, a solid 4.5 hours before work. I slept really well.

© 2014 Chris Baddick

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑