Why the Cape Epic you ask?
Ironically, it was this guy, Mike Hogan (behind the GoPro, screaming “I think I broke a rib! Fuck,” in this YouTube video avove) and his teammate, Thomas Dooley, both former teammates of mine on Boulder-based Justin’s Nut Butter, that got me interested in the Cape Epic. Even after Hogan had to DNF with a broken collarbone, he and Thomas promised to be back for another crack at the Cape. (They returned and finished the following year.). Hogan/Dooley: “They treat the amateurs like pros. The race is so well organized, the service so amazing, the people so nice, the food top notch. This will be the most amazing bike racing experience you will ever have. It was life changing.”
They’d both done TransAlps, BC Bike Race, Breck Epic, TransGermany and still put this tops on their list. “Bliss, before you get too much older, you need to do this,” they told me. “If you race Grand Masters Coed, you and Michele (my wife) could do really well.” (Even though Michele was a big Endurance Racer on the Singlespeed, her reaction was “Hell no, I’m not interested in racing 8 days. Are you crazy??” So much for that.)
I’ve always liked big challenges and pushing just a little bit more each time. I’d done several BreckEpics http://breckepic.com, and, on a dare, raced one 6 day solo Breck after doing the Leadville Trail 100 MTB race http://www.leadvilleraceseries.com/mtb/leadvilletrail100mtb/.
So, I figured, I’ve essentially pulled off a 7 day stage race, can be that much harder to do 8?
Yeah, it sounds epic, but can I do it?
I started researching the race and talking to more people that had done it. It’s much bigger from a volume standpoint than the BreckEpic (all stages except prologue in years past have been 50+miles, and more elevation gain) but then again, the Cape is at sea level whereas Breck is at 10,000 ft to 12,500 feet, and there is no snow!
I was encouraged by the stats of the 10th place finishing team in the Grand Masters last year: They’d spent about 37 hours on the bike, averaging about 5 hours/day. I could wrap my head around that. That seemed doable.
But the one nagging element of the Cape was I’d never (and to this day still haven’t) ridden any bike (cx, mountain or road) at race pace for eight days, nor had I ever ridden this many miles back to back at ANY pace. What would happen to me physically, emotionally, psychologically? I felt like the early seafaring explorers worried about Monsters at the edge of the Flat Earth! Can I do it? Or will I be devoured?
I reached out to a friend and former bad ass pro mtb and xTerra racer, Melissa Thomas, who had done the race. Me: “Any tips?” Melissa: “Get really fit, and get ready for a lot of wind and road tactics.” Me: “I’ll be weighing in at 129 lbs and never raced road.” Melissa: “Then enjoy the sites!” And she posted on Facebook a pic of a guy on a cruiser…Smart ass. But that’s Melissa. And she never mentioned that she finished 3rd in the 2004 Mixed at Cape Epic!
Palmares. You may be thinking that if this aging “Fred” can do it, so can I. And you’d be right. My palmares? They are virtually none. I’m at best a decent rider in Boulder.
I’ve had a few podiums in each cat in both MTB and Cross. I’ve had a few top ten finishes at Nats and one top 20 in CX Worlds. So, I’m essentially upper mid pack fodder. But hey I’m committed! I’m the “A for effort” guy, or, in baseball parlance, Johnny Hustle. And I can suffer…
Will You Be My Partner? Once I’d kind of come to the realization that yes, I could spend the time to train and could make the case to myself and others that I could probably finish it, I had to find a partner. (Cape is two person teams only, divided simply into five categories: Men, Women, Mixed, Masters and Grand Masters.) It turns out finding a partner for something like this isn’t easy. You must find someone that is in the right decade, has the money, the time, the commitment and the right culture fit. Many were initially interested but when push came to shove (i.e., registration deadline looming, and big cash deposit necessary), all backed off for one reason or another. Some reasons were legit, some sounded manufactured – “I think I’ll be experiencing problems getting away from work around then,” said several candidate’s months in advance.
I first looked for someone local that I knew and had raced with, figuring it would be easier and cheaper to arrange training rides and check off the culture fit box. They all declined. I found one guy that was willing to race up in age, but then he thought the better of it. Then it dawned on me, why not reach out to the very people that got me racing in the first place? There seemed to be a bit of poetic justice in the idea, particularly as I mulled over whether this could be my last big “bucket list” race of my racing career. You never know when work (or, worse, deteriorating health) might make it impossible.
I reached out to Joel Davis in early October 2016. Joel was one of several riders in the Blue Diamond/Las Vegas area that encouraged me over 15 years ago to race MTB’s as a Beginner in the Big Bear MTB Race Circuit. I still remember those first bike race conversations, “John, come race with us.” “Nah, I just like to ride for fun.” “John, racing IS fun”. Ultimately, while intrigued by their response, I still had to be dragged to my first Big Bear race. I can remember pre riding one lap of the course, and Joel who was racing Expert even back then, was coaching me on belly breathing. He doesn’t remember this but my belly does. As I crossed the finish line, I vividly remember thinking, “When is the next one?” Mountain bike racing was a drug, that was my first “hit” and I’ve been addicted ever since. I don’t think I’ve missed a racing season.
Joel and I sealed the deal after many Facebook Messenger chats and discussions with our wives and his boss, and when we both learned in March that our applications were accepted. We were now a Grand Masters team: Team Alchemist/Mountain Flyer! Holy fuck. It’s real.
The Cape Epic is more than a 2-man Team Race!
It sounds so cliché but it’s true. You can’t pull this off alone. If I succeed, and I may not, it will be due to a very large cast of characters in a dramatic comedy, starring, in addition to my partner, at least the following:
The Coach. When I moved to Boulder in 2005 I’d just cat’d up to a Cat 1/Expert in MTB. That was a slap in the face transition from California Sport. I reached out to Colby Pearce for a bike fit and coaching http://www.colbypearce.com. Colby is
a former Olympian on the track, hour record holder and just all around bike racing stud in any discipline. Colby’s approach is very holistic: it’s as much about what you’re doing when you’re not on the bike than when you are: nutrition, rest, strength and conditioning, stretching, proper bike fit and, of course, because I live in Boulder, meditation. It’s also very practical: no, I’m not ever going to be a pro, nor do I have time to even train like one, so let’s fit this into a real life scenario: sudden trips, aging body, changes of weather, injuries, etc. Joel quickly became a client too and it’s been great to commiserate on our training schedules and routines. Our goal with Colby has been pretty simple: get us to the point where we have a strong chance of finishing the race as a team. And call it good.
I realize that’s kind of an odd goal and may seem kind of low bar, but if you read the Cape Epic results it is indeed quite an accomplishment just to finish as a team. For example, last year in Grand Masters, 43 teams finished the Prologue, but only 25 teams completed Stage 7. There are a helluva lot of racers that either DNF or have their partners DNF and then are forced to try to complete the race as “Individual Finishers”.
Probably one of the best self assessments I’ve made in my racing career was to admit that I’d become less than durable as an athlete. So I set out with Jed Glass at Rally Sport http://www.rallysportboulder.com to change that. It’s simple physics, if you have a malleable and strong core, when you crash, you’re less likely to get seriously injured. I’m not where I want to be yet, but it’s not due to Jed’s lack of trying!
My amazing wife Michele, aka Lil Ant, is a manual physical therapist who owns her own PT business — http://www.blissworkspt.com. She is a long time road, mtn and cx racer and for the 10 years I’ve been fortunate enough to be married to her and she has calmly put me back together after all my crashes and overuse injuries. These have ranged from a thumb busted in 3 places on an icy corner in a 9 degree CX race, to a crazy artery bleed-out caused by a road crash on my hip, to a separated shoulder in the 5th stage of the 6 stage BreckEpic (I finished w/fancy duct tape around my shoulder), to a nasty gouge across a forearm that the ER doc stuck his entire finger into, to the normal run of the mill crap we all endure.
The Masseuse. Michele works with some really good massage therapists that I see typically when it’s too late. I never knew the IT band was actually NOT supposed to feel like rebar. They always say, “you really ought to schedule something more regular.” I never do.
The Wrench. Since my first BreckEpic in 2010, it was “Daimo” Shanks/Service Course, but he had the audacity recently to close shop to become a lawyer. He put up with my incredible stupidity when it comes to bike mechanic shit. I like to race bikes; I don’t know how they work and I don’t care to. Now, I’m working with an equally gracious, polite and skilled team of Jeff Wilbur and Mike Gavagan https://www.houseofspin.bike. They share space with Colby, who shares space with Panache who shares space with the Cycling Universe. And House of Spin offers a great cycling cocktail: one part wrench, one part conversation and one part espresso. Visit them and tell them I sent you.
The Team and Clothier. Alchemist. My Team. My Homies.
The ring leader, Jeff Wu incredibly as it may seem, has in his “spare time” launched a cycling clothing company when not doing multiple all nighters as an ER doc! The clothing is awesome, and we’re fortunate to be sporting it.
Thanks Jeff! We hope we’ll do you proud. Check out their cool stuff! http://teamalchemist.com
The Media. MountainFlyer. Without a doubt the coolest, best pic cycling magazine out there. It really is a coffee table-browse over your favorite beer or espresso- delight. And its Owner Brian Riepe couldn’t be cooler (or faster on the bike). Take time to savor their mag http://www.mountainflyermagazine.com. Thanks, Riepe, for allowing me to freelance for you…
They say most endurance races are eating and drinking competitions. Apparently, this is particularly true with the Cape Epic. I’m a big fan of bacon, particularly in the later stages of a race (i.e., 40-50 miles in). It’s like desert to me. When not eating bacon, I try to drink a shit load (but typically fail, and cramp my ass off). Recently, Joel and I have been very happy with Fluid as an energy drink. Thank you, Fluid http://livefluid.com, for your support! And for those who know the problem, let’s just say there is no gastric distress with their product. It’s become a great addition to the nutrition tool kit.
All of you.
But honestly, the “Team” is really so much larger: it’s all the people you run into on a ride that offer encouragement, the casual conversations over coffee, the Facebook posts. And encouragement also comes from non-riders, who utter comments like “That’s fucking ridiculous. Why would you do that?”
In answering that question, I guess I come back to where I started and why on Mar. 12 I’m headed to South Africa with Joel and Michele: “Because I’m not sure I can.”
Stay tuned. I’ll try to blog once more before we go, and if I can muster the energy, during the race as well. You can also follow me on the Twitter @boulderbliss or look for me on Facebook Live.
Thanks for reading. And thanks for your support.