Breck Epic Stage #6, Gold Dust Loop

4 09 2011

OMG! I can't see you!

A quick blurb before the long overdue race report on the last stage of the Breck Epic.

I started my shift the other day with a patient in room 9.  Room 9 is the room generally reserved for psych patients.  It has locked cabinets, empty drawers, and the bed is situated so that the patients looks straight out of a window into the staff workstation, which means that the security guard can keep close tabs on the patient, and the patient can keep close tabs on the staff.  For me, that means I have an audience while I try to wolf down a sandwich, enter orders, and dictate, all at the same time.   This lady  in 9 was brought in by the police.  I walked in to find an older than middle aged woman, sobbing, hair done up big, face caked in make-up, sitting on the side of the bed with her hands cuffed behind her, wearing a skimpy camouflage bathing suit.  The police got her out of a tree.  And that’s how I started my shift.  But I digress.

Breck Epis Stage 6, Elevation profile

Day #6.  Gold Dust Loop.  The final stage of Breck Epic 2011.  The stage started at the ice rink and headed up Boreas Pass Rd.  The course turns off of Boreas about a mile up.  Dan led us up the fast start.  I tried to take a pull, but I couldn’t get by him.  I think we were all on the verge of blowing up when the course finally diverted onto singletrack, at which point we could catch our breaths a little.  Team Alchemist decided ahead of time to try to ride together.  We rode together all the way through the singletrack to Baker’s Tank, in the opposite direction as the Firecracker.  Once we were back on Boreas, Chris took the lead and stepped it up.  The Alchemist train started to fall apart at that point.  Chris had a hard day on Wheeler yesterday, but he had a different agenda today.  The rest of us just tried to hang on.  Aid #1 was at the top of Boreas Pass at 11,500′.  After a quick bottle exchange, we dropped into the singletrack on the backside.  It’s fast and furious.  But then all of a sudden it turns into a spongy bobsled run.  Banked high on both sides and twisty, the trail must have been an old waterway of some sort.  The flat grade and high berms allowed for a consistent cadence around the fast turns with only an occasional feather on the brakes.  The trail eventually roughens before spitting you out onto a dirt road.  From there, it’s a railroad grade dirt road for seven miles back to the top of Boreas.

Last year, Ken had pulled me from the bottom of this road to the top, then down the frontside all the way home.  The way back down is of a grade that you can big ring it hard, but I was on single speed last year, so I just had to tuck in behind the giant hole in the air that Ken made in front of me.  Between shouts of “PEDAL! PEDAL!” and “SLOW! SLOW!”, Ken was able to stay just in front of me as I was sucked along by his draft.  I was hoping to return the favor this year, but Ken had packed it in, and he decided to just enjoy the rest of he ride.  I stayed with him for a while, then I figured I could at least help Chris reel some guys in, so I went ahead to be his domestique.  It took a while, but I was finally able to catch up and give him a pull over Boreas.  He rocketed ahead on the descent and I waited for Ken and Dan so we could all finish together.

Breck Epic, as it has the previous two years, did not disappoint.  The vibe is different than the typical single day cross-country or endurance races. You just can’t maintain that kind of stress and intensity for 6 days straight.  Pros mingle with schmos, and it all is very friendly. Every year, we meet new, cool folks.  The Canadians, for example.  Tim, Ali, Kevin, and the rest of the crew in the condo across the walkway.  Canadians always seem so nice.  These guys were no exception.  We indoctrinated a couple of them into the Alchemist Team.  In return, they taught us new vocabulary like “cuzifit”.  Apparently, this is their word for “taint”.  We say, “Taint this, and taint that.”  They say, “Cuzifit weren’t there, your guts would fall out.”  Great group of folks and bike racers.

Before signing off, I have to report a monstrous victory over the Cannondale Team of Tim and Johs.  We mercilessly crushed them on stage 7.   Those guys are great riders and competitors, and super nice guys. But I’ll always cherish their look of defeat as we strolled past them, victory (BBQ chicken and corn casserole) in hand.  I don’t have a prayer of  beating them on a bike, but I sure as hell can whoop em to the buffet line.

Big thanks to Ryn, Hera, Katherine, Jake, and especially Delena and Drewbie.  Del took our drop bags to the start every morning while we were still sawing logs in bed.  That was huge. She also made us chicken fried chicken. Seriously, chicken fried chicken.  Amazing.  Drewbie, thanks for being our number 1 fan!

Best support crew

Some more pics. Ali will hopefully send some race shots too.

Team Alchemist

Rolling into the finish

Team Alchemist at the finish

Team Alchemist unwinding after 6 days of hard racing

30-39 men's solo podium

Breck Epic Men's Clydesdale podium

Breck Epic Men's duo open podium

Team Alchemist Breck Epic number plates

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.

Breck Epic Stage #4, the Keystone Loop (a.k.a. the Aqueduct)

17 08 2011

Breck epic Stage 4 elevation profile

Day 4 of the Breck Epic, the Aqueduct stage.  I remembered very little about this stage from last year.  I think I know why.  The climbs were long and hard.  I spent more time in granny gear today than any other time that I can remember, and I could still barely turn the cranks over.  Last year, I rode it singlespeed, which means that I was walking a bunch of the steep climbs today.  So it really wasn’t a memory that I chose to retain.

Once again, we all lined up at the back of the pack, which is mostly a product of getting there after everyone else.  We could go up to the front with the call up, but then we’d just get passed by a hundred folks.  After the neutral start we headed up Heinous Hill again. It wasn’t any less steep this time.  There’s something about putting that climb in the beginning that just crushes my spirit.

As predicted, Chris and Dan are getting stronger, and I’m getting . . . sleepier.   The pep I had in my legs from yesterday was nowhere to be found today.  But even worse, was the strange, overwhelming desire to take a nap right in the middle of the trail.  On the non-technical sections, I actually closed my eyes for a bit to try to catch a few seconds of rest.  I spent most of my time today wondering how I could get some caffeine, or meth, or crack, or something to wake me up.   Perhaps I should go to bed earlier instead of blogging.

But back to the course. Heinous Hill was, unfortunately, not the hardest climb today.  There were a couple harder hills that came later.  One of which was appropriately named Vomit Hill (that little pointy bastard starting at around mile 12).  Chris and Dan made a smart, conscious decision to dismount and walk up.  I thought the climb might wake me up, so I stayed in the saddle and kept on going.  At some point, I realized how stupid it was to bury my legs, but then I noticed Katie Lindquist (Kent Eriksen’s boss) still on her bike, and passing all kinds of folks.  So I kept going.  Pride is a silly thing.

The biggest climb of the day wasn’t the steepest, but it did last a long, long time.  2000′ up the side of Keystone mountain.  Before getting to this climb, the trail snakes it’s way over a large water conduit.  Hence the nickname of the stage, the Aqueduct.   There is a rickety wooden path built alongside of the Aqueduct that I considered riding, but then chickened out.  At this point, you are really close to Aid #2 at around 18 miles.  But before you get there, you have to cross over a bridge.  The bridge is even more decayed than the scaffolding next to the Aqueduct.  It’s about 18 inches wide, so plenty wide enough.  I really wanted to ride it, but once again, fear overcame ego.  As I stepped off the bridge on the other side, I noticed that there were a couple folks with cameras in hand.  They had clearly staked out this spot to capture images of riders, who actually had the balls to ride the bridge.  Their cameras were down by their sides, and the look of disappointment was unbearable.  I almost turned around to do the bridge again, but I knew two things.  One, that would be stupid.  And two, I’m still a pansy, and I’d just walk across the bridge a second time.

Though the climb up Keystone was tedious, the descent on the Colorado Trail was screamin’ fast and fun.  Like day #2 ( Colorado Trail Stage), this section of the CT was buff and twisty, but in all the right ways.  After this descent, the rest of the stage was not so enjoyable.  After Aid #3 the trail turns skyward in a cruel and unapologetic way.  The profile doesn’t really do it justice.  It feels like it’s vertical, at least after you’ve put 35 hard miles in already.  Remarkably Dan, Chris, and I managed to stay on our bikes for the climb, and we limped home, tired and beat.  We came in at around 5 hours. 52 minutes behind the leaders, Tim and Johs.  There’s no stopping us now from snatching that second place podium spot from the jaws of victory.  Ken had a decent day, but the Clydesdale leader had a better one.  But a lot can still happen.

Tomorrow is Wheeler Pass. This has been my least favorite stage in previous years.  Though the view from the top is the best in Summit County, the hike-a-bike goat trail to get there makes it hard to appreciate.  More on that tomorrow.

Breck Epic Stage #2, The Colorado Trail

16 08 2011

Stage 2 of the Epic, The Colorado Trail.  41 miles, 7300′ elevation gain. In previous years, this has been the penultimate fun stage.  This year did not disappoint.  The section of the Colorado Trail that we rode today was, as Mike Mac would say, like Ewok Planet.  Someone, who knew what they were doing and had vision, built some of the most rippin’ singletrack around.  But we’ll get back to that.

The stage started on lower Washington today instead of the Ice Rink.  Once again, I rolled out of the condo last, and in my haste, mindlessly rode up to the Ice Rink for the 8:10a start. Last year, I missed the start of this stage, and only caught a glimpse of the last rider turning the corner a few blocks up.  Had I missed that last rider, I would have missed the stage altogether since the course is unmarked at that point and it winds it’s way around the neighborhood.  Visions of a repeat this year were in my head as I hustled to the new location.  I got there with about 30 seconds to spare and lined up behind Jeff Kerkove on the outside of the starting fence.  I could see the first place duo team in front, and I had them marked.  I was determined to not lose sight of them, even if it meant burying my legs to keep up.  That plan worked great during the neutral start.  But once the police car pulled off, the dogs were unleashed.   To that point, I was well above threshold already, and was hoping that I wasn’t ruining myself or Dan, who was just behind me.

Quick side note about Dan.  He’s known among our circle of friends as “the Lung”.   Not only because he has a super-human oxygen carrying capacity, but because when he breathes during a ride, it sounds like a hurricane.  Even on moderate grades, you think he’s about to have a heart attack or an asthma attack, or some kind of attack.  But he just keeps on going, and eventually you’re left wondering how a guy that sucks wind like that can be dropping you.

We caught the last glimpse of the leaders as we hit the first big climb, Heinous Hill.  It’s aptly named.  Steep and unrelenting, it goes on and on. Did I mention it’s steep?  The duo team disappeared from view, like they teleported. Gone. Vanished.

A couple times, there were a couple mint green leaders’ jerseys pulled off to the side working out a punctured tire.  In those shameful moments of schadenfreud, it’s hard not to go “Hell yeah!”  But the afflicted teams were Jenn G. and Miles, the duo coed leaders, and Thompson/Overstreet, the 80+ leaders.  Our duo team was long gone.

Going out so hard proved to be fruitless (we still lost 40 minutes on the Cannondale guys), and detrimental.  I felt tired after burning most of my reserves early on, and I didn’t have the pep in my legs from yesterday.  Nevertheless, the course was as fun as riding your bike can get.  The brutal climbs early on culminated in fast, curvy descents.  The aforementioned section of the trail, for which the stage is named, got a little moisture yesterday, so it was sticky and fast.  The grade of the trail and the timing of the turns make for a perfect no brakes, hair on fire, throw your bike around section of trail.  The trail winds it’s way through dense forest and then shoots out onto an open meadow, from which the veiws would have been spectacular had I had a second to take my eyes off the dirt immediately in front of me.  The ride is way too fast to not pay full attention.  Being the fastest descender,  Dan led us down first.   We just tried to hang on.  He may have been having too good of a time though because we rounded a blind corner to find Dan standing next to his bike with his helmet in his hands.

Ken got to him first. “You okay? What happened?”

“I think I fell.”

“You think?”

Apparently, he got off line in a deeply cut piece of singletrack and smacked his helmet on something.  I sent Ken ahead because he had 48 minutes to make up on the Clydesdale leader.  Plus, ain’t no use in having two doctors stand around being useless.  You only need one for that.

Dan seemed shaken, but okay. At least he was conscious.  We stood there for a while waiting for him to get his bearings and straighten out his helmet.  He wanted to ride right away, so we got back on our bikes.  I led the rest of the descent at a pedestrian pace.

After the really fun descent, the rest of the course is perhaps, mm, not so fun.  Testy, rooty climbs and loose, rocky descents remained, and it was all I could do to not whine about it. But in the end, I did anyway.   We caught Ken at the top of the final climb, and he led us down to the finish.  Chris was not long behind, having finally found his legs and lungs in the altitude.  It took a few days, but he’s finally adjusting from the 300 feet elevation of Arkansas.  Chris moved up a number of places in the men’s 30-39, and Ken took back some time and stood on the top podium spot once again. Dan and I, despite riding as hard as we could, finished second, and last, again.

Tomorrow is the toughest stage of the race, The Guyot Loop.  We go above 12,000′ twice.  9400′ of climbing over 42 miles.

Breck Epic Stage #1, Pennsylvania Gulch

15 08 2011

Podium shot

Here’s a blurry pic of the podium for men’s duo open today.  We will analyze this in more detail in a bit.  But first a quick congrats to the Leadville riders who threw down yesterday.  Drew redeemed last year’s effort with an 8.30.  Stuart solidified his Leadman contention with a 9.07.  Jenn rocked a 10:40, and El Diablo went out for a 100 mile pleasure ride to save up for the run next week.  He still came in just over 11 hours.

Today was the first stage of the Breck Epic, Pennsylvania Gulch.  For those who know the Firecracker course, today’s stage covers much of that course. Ken, Chris, Dan and I joined a full field on the starting line.  Dan and I missed our call up for the men’s duo open, so we all just stayed together in the back.  The back is where I like to start.  When you start in the rear, you don’t have to worry about getting passed, as much.

As per his m.o., Ken led us out and nearly blew up the whole group going up Boreas.  I was above threshold for most of the road climb.  Instead of continuing up to Baker’s Tank, we dropped down into singletrack about mid way up.  We were able to recover some a this point, and we rode together for a while.  Once the trail started heading back up is when our group fell apart. Ken stopped to fix his screwy saddlebag, and Chris’s heart rate monitor read 206, so he eased off the throttle a bit.  Dan and I continued on, not knowing who the other open duo teams were.   We figured we just had to ride hard no matter what.

Some of the course was virtually unrecognizable compared to the last time i saw it a month ago.  Any one familiar with Little French Gulch would have thought it a different trail altogether.  A biblical storm a few weeks ago devastated the already sketchy, and notoriously difficult, trail.  All the dirt had washed away, and only large swaths of giant scree and babyheads remain.  Only a handful of folks ride Little French Gulch.  But I don’t think anyone rode it today.  It was hard enough to even hike it.

Another area that was clearly affected was the descent to Tiger Run.  I took a bad line and nearly went, as Dan would say, Ass over applebucket.  It would have been an ugly crash too.  Boulders and babyheads everywhere.  But I got lucky and got out of there shaken, but unscathed.

Overall, I felt surprisingly good today.  I didn’t know what to expect since I haven’t ridden hard since the Breck 68 a month ago. Dan’s ability to not train a lick, and still ride fast astounds me.  He also rides a 30 pound, cast iron, turn-of-the-century bike.  And he still rides fast.  We rode a pretty good race.  Each taking some turns at the front.   Ken had managed to claw his way back to us on Little French, but then a sharp rock put a 3 inch gash in his tire. A couple tire boots, tubes and a pair of pliers later he was able limp to aid #2, where the organic mechanic scored him a new tire. But he probably lost at least 45 minutes dealing with the tire.  Chris stopped with Ken and helped him get fixed up enough to get to the aid station. Needless to say, he also lost huge time dealing with the tire.   It’s a long race though, and Ken and Chris will only get stronger.

So back to the fuzzy podium spot.  The good news is that we finished second and made the podium.  The bad news is that we finished last, and made the podium.  Somehow, only two teams signed up for the open duo.  The only thing more embarrassing than standing on a podium in last place is the ridiculous outfit I’m wearing.  Who let me out of the house like that?

One of the guys on the other team is a National cyclocross champion.   The good news is that we were only 12 minutes behind them today.  The bad news is that they rode Leadville yesterday in 7.02.  So this was their recovery day.  Dan suggested that we have someone bring up Slim (the Alchemist Mannequin) to stand on the third place spot, so we wouldn’t have to stand on the podium in last place.

Check out the sweet photos from Drew:

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