Perhaps we should consider ourselves blessed that this race has had perfect conditions the last 3 years. Or perhaps we’ve been working on credit all this time. But when you do business with a loan shark, payback’s a’comin’, one way or another. And we got all paid up today, and then some.
Conceived nearly a decade ago, and delivered in 2008, the Breck Epic is the premier ultra-endurance mountain bike stage race in the U.S., and arguably, North America. 90% of the race takes place over 10,000′, with a sizable chunk above 12,000′. But the thin air isn’t the only feature that makes this race special. It boasts more singletrack riding than the Trans Alps, Cape Epic, and Trans Rockies — combined. Another unique feature is that the trails around Breckenridge are so abundant and scenic, that each stage not only has it’s own distinctive flavor, but they also all begin, and end, in town. So if you aren’t the camping, migratory, gypsy type (read, author is not that type), you can set up your race headquarters in any nearby condo, sleep in a real bed, and avoid any prison-style shower encounters,
But lest you get the impression that this race is for sissies (okay, perhaps for the pampered (read, the author is that type)), the shear breath of terrain and vertical gain will remind you that this race is not for the faint of heart, or legs, or lungs. 6 days, 240 miles, 37,000′ of climbing. By roadie standards, that doesn’t sound like a challenge. But roadies don’t climb 20% grades over roots and babyheads. Nor do they descend through dense forests and boulder fields with their hair on fire. They certainly don’t throw their bikes back and forth along loamy, perfectly cut, buffed-out trail on super fine singletrack, feeling, as Mike Mac describes it, like a Mother-Grabbing Jedi. Speaking of Mike, this passage from his description of Stage 5 pretty much sums of the feisty nature of this race.
” . . . if you’re reading this, you faced the rabid Aqueduct stage down, met its stare and made it look away. You stood your ground. Well this old b*tch has one more card up her sleeve, one more knife in her boot and one more cruel sucker punch to throw before she’ll kneel before you. And its name is Wheeler.” --Mike Mac, Breck Epic 2011
The Breck Epic is not only a mountain bike race, it is a collective effort to raise funds to support a number of worthy non-profits. The local IMBA chapter (which actually predates IMBA), The Summit Fat Tire Society, Friends of the Dillon Ranger District, and Willa’s Wheels, which supports the Raymond Wentz Foundation for cancer patient financial assistance.
On a less profound note, the Breck Epic is also serving as the Single Speed Stage Race World Championships (SSSRWC). Why not so profound? Have you ever met a singlespeeder? (n.b., author rides a singlespeed, but wimped out this time and opted for gears)
So, about Stage 2 . . .
The start on Washington St. was a gloomy, drizzly affair, no doubt ready to burn off and become more seasonable by mid-morning. As we made the turn off onto the first climb, Mike was there to greet us. ”Bright blue sky just beyond!”.
His words of encouragement were somehow mitigated by the volunteer standing next to him. ”It’s going to f**king pour.”
Somewhere in between was certain to lie the truth. The drizzle became a steady rain, which at times, became a downpour. It was only made tolerable by the fact that the first couple climbs were so intense that you may as well have been wet from sweat. But as we crested Vomit Hill (yes, there is a Vomit Hill, and I imagine you can guess why it is so named), I realized that the impending gravity-hungry descent was going to be, chilly. It only got colder from there.
I’ve been that cold one other time in my life. Caught in a freak snowstorm on a stout little climb called Logan Mill in Boulder, we descended in our summer attire through blinding, wet snow. By the time I made it home, I was hypothermic and had lost all feeling and function of my hands. Failing multiple times to use my knuckles to punch in the correct code to my garage, I had a panic moment and thought, “I’m going to freeze to death in front of my f**cking garage!” That moment was reenacted many times over today, except it lasted for hours. By mile 15, a non-stop shiver had set in. Teeth chattering and dizzy, I couldn’t hold a line going up, and worse, I looked like a clown on acid trying to descend, with shiver-induced speed wobbles nearly taking me out in what history books might describe as, a glorious, fiery exit.
Stage 2 features mind-blowingly fun trail. The piece of singletrack on the Colorado Trail is fast, flowy and swoopy. It is graded and formed so that you only need to occasionally feather your brakes as you lean and work your bike to and fro. It is pretty close to a perfect trail. So when we finally arrived at the descent, I was a little more than disappointed that I was too cold and numb to enjoy it. I mainly tried to stave off the relentless daydreams about hot showers and gooey bacon cheeseburgers. I had held out hope that the sun would pop out at any minute, or that it would at least stop raining, but by aid 2, I was ready to pull the plug. The aid volunteers sheparded me under the tent, and I gorged on orange slices and bananas. By the time I had worked my way through three-quarters of the cut oranges, they were ready to kick me out. My friend, Chris, saw me shivering and pulled out a pink shower cap. ”Here, put this on your head, it’ll keep you warm.”
I noticed he was wearing one too, and I had no reason to dispute it, so I donned the cap like a cheery lunch lady. Only later did I wonder why he was carrying two shower caps, and if so, what the hell else was he carrying with him? Assessing the sad state I was in, one of the volunteers hinted that there was an easy, direct route home. In fact, our condo was no more than half a mile away, and I had 10 more miles to the finish, which included a particularly steep, slippery, rooty climb. But I’d just as soon freeze off a toe than quit a race, so I saddled back up and limped home. An impromptu shuttle service was set up by the volunteers at the finish, and they spotted me wimpering next to the pretzels. ”We’d better take that guy first.”
I’m not used to being that guy. Embarrassing Strava data here. I’m pretty sure I heard my Garmin laughing when I crossed the finish.