Drew convinced me to enter this race about a month ago. I wasn’t so sure about that idea after Friday’s pre-ride. The climb out of the base is 12-16% (about the grade of “the Wall” on Super Flagstaff) for 3/4 of a mile. It continues upward on mostly singletrack for another 1200′, with a few kickers and technical sections mixed in. All of it is pretty much ridable on a fresh set of legs. I geared it as easy I could. 34 x 20. But it was still too much gear. I was out of the saddle, standing on the pedals, for a large part of the climb to the summit. My plan was to stay under threshold, but there was no way to do that and still turn the cranks over. Strangely, the steepest sections were gravel road, which only served to bury me over and over again. Something about having to walk up a road was a noxious enough concept that I stayed on the pedals, even to the detriment of my aerobic ability or sanity. The descent wasn’t much better. In fact, in many ways, it was worse. Rooty, rocky, and rutted. My hands, back, and neck were roughed up after just one descent. No way I could do this course for 12 hours.
A bit discouraged, wishing I had a smaller gear, and knowing that the next day was going to hurt, I slept like baby.
The following morning was bright and crisp as Drew and I lined up around mid-pack for the start out of the base. Toni and Drew had set up our base camp the night before, and Toni had all our gear out ready for the day. Drew busted out toward the front early, and I just tried to stay out of the red on the first lap. The previous evening’s showers made for nice conditions, as the dust was packed and firm. I was feeling better than the day before, and I was glad to be racing again. Something about having a hundred racing friends around you makes for a livelier ride. Even the descent , though no less rough, was more fun than the previous day.
The first two laps went by quickly. I was under 1:10 laps, which was well ahead of my predicted pace. I had figured for an average of 1:30 laps to to get in 8 laps, which was the winning count last year. But almost predictably, around mid-race, I went through a spell of suckiness. Coming in from lap three, I sat down and grabbed a jar of pickles. I knew this feeling would come, I just didn’t expect it to come this early. I hadn’t gotten through half the race, and I was ready to pack it in. Toni gave me a Dr. Pepper. It tasted good. Whether it was the Dr. Pepper or just getting over mid-race doldrums, I’m not sure, but my legs felt springier. I tried to ride that wave as long as I could, not knowing when it would come crashing down.
I had been trying to memorize the course, so I could remember to dismount and walk the sections that were not worth riding. “After that giant, smelly bridge is a sharp right turn, and a technical rock garden. Get off your bike and push.” Each lap, the number of places I had to remember continued to grow. By the 5th lap, I had a couple bloody blisters from all the walking. My hands were blistered from the death grip I had on my handlebars from the brain rattling descents.
I had managed to keep Drew from lapping me until the 6th lap, but when we finally met up at base camp, it was good to see him. We rode out together for my 6th, and his 7th, lap. I was also down a whole lap to the SS leader, so there was no way of coming back. The rest of the race was a bit of a blur. After the 7th lap, I parked my ass in the camp chair and considered stopping. My goal was 8 laps. Last year, 8 won the damn thing. So 7 wasn’t too shabby. 10 hours of hard riding. That’s a big day. I could be okay with 7 laps. But my goal was 8. Toni filled me up with a couple Starbucks Double Shots, and got me back on to the course. Last lap. I’d walk the whole thing if I had to. And I just about did. I was balancing the pain of riding through the steep sections (to get it over with faster) versus the pain of being out there longer. The decision was made up for me, since I couldn’t turn the cranks over anymore. So I walked. But even walking, I had to stop and lean on my bike. It took the better part of a couple hours, but I rolled across the finish line with 8 laps in the books, and 30 minutes to spare. Not enough time for another lap, thank goodness.
10th overall. Second place in SS solo. Awards felt eerily like the Breck Epic from last year. Second place . . . and last place. It was a thin category, and having now ridden the course, I know why. Drew went head to head with the big boys–real pros. He knocked out 9 laps and took home 5th. He rode like a champ.
Huge thanks to Toni for the incredible support and photos. Couldn’t have survived it without her.