Breck Epic Stage #5, Wheeler Pass Loop

18 08 2011

” . . . 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 bitch 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

12,460' of hell

Loam.  As defined by Merriam-Webster:  a soil consisting of a friable mixture of varying proportions of clay, silt, and sand.  Loamy, the adjective of Loam.  Mike Mac uses this word to describe the ridiculously fun sections of the Breck Epic, particularly, of the Colorado trail.  While somewhat ambiguous and non-specific in isolation, Loamy takes on an understood meaning of fantasticness when used in the context of mountain biking singletrack.  Loamy means smooth.  Loamy means buttery.  Loamy means I can rip through a strip of dirt with reckless, joyful abandon.  The back side of Wheeler Pass . . . is not that.  But we’ll get back to the descent.

We started the day on the other side of Breck, the West side, where the ski slopes are.  The day before I had told Tim and Johs (men’s duo open category leaders) that the start was not at the same place as before.  I didn’t really know exactly where it was, but I joked that I thought it was probably in Como (21 miles due East).  As we lined up at the start, I didn’t see the mint green jerseys of the pair, and I actually panicked a little.  They didn’t think I was serious, did they?  Turns out, they were wearing vests, which covered their jerseys.  I felt better that we could all continue our journey up Wheeler with our usual routine of being crushed to little pieces by their riding superiority.

Yesterday was a hard day for me.  But after a good nights sleep, I felt the pep in my legs again.  Chris, Dan, Ken and I started the day together, but the Clydesdale leader had gotten a jump on us, so I went ahead with Ken to try to pull him back within striking distance.  The goal was to beat Huntsley (Big Boy Leader) to the singletrack hike-a-bike, since no one can walk faster than Ken.  We were able to catch him and sneak Ken in front of him just in time.  Ken made good on his plan, and was able to gain a couple minutes gap, just by walking.

Wheeler Pass Elevation Profile

The Wheeler Pass stage has been my least favorite stage in the previous years of the Breck Epic.  The giant, lava-topped, steaming mound of crap on the elevation profile is the obvious reason why.  The top of the profile is shaped like the horns of a devil.  That’s no coincidence.  Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t mind climbing to elevation.  As long as I can do it on my bike.  But the trail at about 7 miles is a narrow, rocky goat path.  It’s unridable by folks like me, and it’s even difficult to walk.  The line of riders (walkers) stretches out before you for over a mile, so you can see the agony before you, and know that it ain’t over yet.  When the 12,460 feet of elevation robs your brain of oxygen and willpower, the only thing you can think about is where the best place to sit down would be. But there’s no f*cking place to sit!  On your right is a wall.  On your left is a cliff.  So you just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you look down and see all those tiny little ants walking their bikes below you. And then you feel a little better. But not much.

Dicky leading the other tiny ants up Wheeler

Last year, the descent of Wheeler chewed me up and spit me out.  Then it chewed me up again.  With my shock blown on day two, I had a rigid fork.  My trusty 1996 singlespeed Bontrager, while a great climber, was no match for Wheeler’s back side.  Every babyhead and rut jarred me to the bones, and I felt like a beginner just trying to survive.  But this year was different.  Walt Wehner, of Waltworks, built me a luscious, steel 29er hardtail.  It doesn’t just climb, it descends.  This year, with a new weapon in hand, I was able to float over the rough terrain and pick off lots of folks on the way down to Copper.

Ken had gotten well ahead of me on the hike-a-bike, but I thought I could catch him on the descent from Wheeler and then the path to Frisco.  I dropped into my imaginary aero bars and time-trialed it.  I was on my bell pretty much the whole way since the path is littered with walkers, casual bikers, and dogs.  I looked back to make sure Huntsley wasn’t on my wheel.  He wasn’t.  So I just kept on the pedals thinking I would see Ken soon. No dice.  He was already on the Peaks trail by the time I got to Aid #3 in Frisco.  I backtracked a bit and met up with Dan and Chris on their way down from Copper.  I knew from years past that you can’t blow up on the time trial section between Copper and Frisco.  The Peaks Trail awaits, and it is deceptively testy.  The rooty trail is punctuated with steep, leg-burning kickers, which just keep on coming.  It didn’t help that I kept yelling back, “This is the last climb!” when yet another one would present itself.  So I started yelling, “Just twelve more to go!”  That didn’t go over well either.

Big Johnson: A post-race sandwich consisting of wheat bread, peanut butter, marshmallow fluff, Nutella, bananas, and potato chips.  Named after Tim Johnson (see post from stage 3).  I’m told that he asked for this creation after he and Johs finished the stage today (45 minutes before us).   The Big Johnson was every bit as killer as it’s namesake.  If Tim wasn’t hero status before then, he is now.  I considered adding a pickle and calling it the Big Wu.  But it doesn’t have the same ring, and I’m not so sure it would taste that good.

Glad to have Wheeler out of the way.  It’s been the soul-crusher for me in the past, so I feel like I exorcised some demons today.  Tomorrow is the Gold Dust Stage.  Shorter and funner.  It’s a good way to end the Epic.  I hope we can all stay together tomorrow because it would be great to finish together.

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