Breck Epic Stage 6, Goldust Video

19 08 2012

The Wheeler vid was, bumpy. Well, it was a bumpy ride. Here is Stage 6, which was a luge in comparison. Final thoughts coming when I have the energy to write them. But one thing to mention is that Mike Mac, in a sleep-deprived, semi-delirious, charitable state of mind announced that 2013 Breck Epic early-bird entrants will receive a massive discount. $649 instead of the retail price of $995. That’s a discount of, like, um, a lot of coin. It’s good until Mike catches up on his sleep, which is something like a week from now. Event dates are Aug 11-16, 2013. Register at

Breck Epic Stage 2, Colorado Trail (a.k.a. when Hell froze over)

14 08 2012

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.

Breck Epic Number Plate

Breck Epic Number Plate. The number you are given approximates the number of four letter words you are likely to fire off during any given stage.

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 SocietyFriends 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.

Breck Epic Stage 2 Elevation Profile

Breck Epic Stage 2 Elevation Profile

Dirty bike

This is AFTER I cleaned it.  I’ve never been described as meticulous.

Jeff Wu is the founder of Boulder-based, Alchemist.  When he isn’t designing sustainable custom cycling jerseys and apparel, he is a father, mountain biker, and ER doc.

Breck Epic Pre-Race

12 08 2012

Breck Epic begins tomorrow.  Pre-race registration and meeting was today.  Good to see familiar faces and friends.  Riding this one solo since Stuart decided to ride with George W.Bush instead.  Hard to believe, I know. In any case, 6 days of hard racing ahead.

Big congrats to the Alchemist Team riders and friends racing the Leadville 100 today.  Drew (8:11! I know you wanted sub-8, but that is absurdly fast), Jon(9:01 (Pulley, you couldn’t have ridden one minute faster?)), Paul (Leadman contender threw down a 10:15), Deb (sub 12 belt buckle with no base miles under her belt. Great comeback.), Jenn (9th belt buckle, one to go!), Rick (10:50 on an all-mountain bike), Bliss(9:16 and here in Breck right now for the Leadville/Epic Double down.  John, you can’t be serious.), Travis (9:50 off the couch!  He just flew in late last night ,and saddled up for 100 miles.), Doug (10:20, the big winner earned 100k for World Serve and clean water.  Boom!  But more importantly he was riding in a custom HOMEGROWN jersey).

Doug in his custom HOMEGROWN Jersey

Doug in his custom HOMEGROWN Jersey. Worth 100 G’s, baby!

Someone send me some more pics fer cryin’ out loud.

Also, big ups to Alchemist Rider, Steven, who mixed it up with some big names in Steamboat for the Stinger. He brought home 5th in the singlespeed cat.

And Chris W. throwing down for a podium spot at Winter Park.

Chris Watts on the podium

Chris representing on the podium. Sweet.

Strong work, everyone!  Ken, Bliss, Chris C. and I will be on it tomorrow.

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 #3, Mount Guyot

16 08 2011

Not last place!

42 miles and 9400′ of climbing.  Today was stage #3, Mount Guyot.  We started again on lower Washington.  Unlike yesterday, Dan and I started toward the back with the intention of saving ourselves for the big climbs ahead.  Ken got a bug in his ass and shot off the front, never to be seen again.  Chris had the same agenda as us and hung back.  After feeling worked yesterday, I wasn’t sure of what to expect today.  But my legs felt stronger, and I found a rhythm early on that felt comfortable.

After climbing Little French Flume, we descended the nastified scree field of Little French Gulch that we climbed on day #1.  The devastation caused by the floods was again evident as most of the riders in our group walked the deep rocky ravines left by the torrents of rushing water.  But Dan and I made it down safely to aid 1, where I shoved a jacket into Dan’s jersey pocket like an over-dotting (sp?) mother.  Last time I was on Guyot, you couldn’t see more than 20 feet in front of you, and the cold heavy mist penetrated right to the core.  I remember climbing and then descending Guyot with tears and snot streaming down my face.  So this time, I made sure we had jackets.  And of course, it was blazing hot.

Mount Guyot elevation profile

There are 4 big climbs in the stage. The second one (yes, the pointy one that looks like a red hot poker) is over French Pass, and goes over Mount Guyot, for which the stage is named. That climb is, for lack a of a better description, a bitch.  The trail gradually gets steeper and rockier.  It sneaks up on you.  You can’t figure out why it hurts so bad, but somehow it does.  Just at the moment you think it can’t get any worse, you look up and see a line of riders a half mile long, walking their bikes.  Really?

I pushed my bike like everyone else, and thanked my lucky stars when I finally reached the top.  The views were stunning, even with my oxygen deprived point of view.  As I reached the top, I heard someone say, “Look at his bike, and see how he did it.”   I was aware that someone was following me, trying to look at my bike.

Turns out that another rider had snapped his chain and a group of folks had gathered around to try to fix it.  Dan was a bit behind, so I laid down my bike to see if I could help.  They were trying to put the chain back on, but they had somehow routed the chain backwards through the derailleur. It was an easy fix, and when I was ready to put the chain back together, they handed me half a Powerlink.  The other half had fallen into the grass.  As the group frantically combed the area for the missing piece, Dan crested the top. He had seen the commotion and thought I was doing CPR.  The missing half was miraculously found, and we were headed back down to traverse the snow field.  Mike Mac says it’s like a “clown on rollerskates”, and that turned out to be accurate description of what I looked and felt like trying to get across the slushy slope.

As I navigated the snow, I heard a distant “Wooooooo!” Chris had clawed his way up Guyot and caught us at the top.  The three of us descended the the back side and ended up staying together for the rest of the ride.  When you are out there for 5 hours, it’s nice to have extra company.

Peter's descent of Mount Guyot

The back side of Guyot has a notoriously scary descent.  The first year of the Breck Epic, I unwittingly dropped into it, not knowing that it was supposed to be that scary.  After I got to the bottom, I decided that I would never ride that again.  I’ve made good on that promise ever since.  To read more about that nasty descent, read Peter’s (of Misfit Psycles) blog post  from last year.  Seriously, read it.  It’s way more interesting than this long-winded post.

After descending Guyot, Georgia Pass awaits. The grade isn’t awful, but it goes on forever.  The backside is rooty and rocky, East coast style riding.  Just when you think the ride is mostly over, you come to American Gulch.  It’s steep and long, and it finishes with an “Oh F*ck” moment as you look up and see a wall waiting for you.  By the time we got to American, the signage had been corrected by Colby Pierce, who graciously flipped the arrow back to the intended direction.  But a non-racer had, at some point last night or this morning, intentionally turned the sign to the opposite direction.  So the lead group of riders went about a mile down the wrong path before they realized something was wrong.  American Gulch is ugly enough without having to detour a mile in the wrong direction, but it was pretty amazing to watch how well the folks who were victimized by this course vandalism handled it.  They agreed to let the results stand, even to their own detriment.  Really good sports.

Tim Johnson winning the Boulder Cup

Dan, Chris, and I finished the stage in around 5 hours.  Chris took back a place in the standings.  Ken crushed it and won the stage and took about 2o minutes back in the overall standings.  He is now only 12 minutes back in the GC.  Dan and I gave up almost an hour to the lead team, which puts us about 100 hours back.  But we still have a firm grip on second place. I no longer feel so bad about it anymore.  We chatted with Tim and Johs (sp?) after the awards.  Tim is, as I’ve come to realize, Tim Johnson.  He was the cyclocross national champ in 2009.  After I thought about it, I remembered that I saw him win the Boulder Cup last year.  So yeah, he’s kinda good.  Of course, I was dumb enough to ask him in which category he was the National Champion.  Cat 4? No dufus. Pro.  I thought it would be cool to compare it to my Colorado State Championship in Men’s Sport 30-34 short track, during which I beat out an asthmatic and a leper for the title.

At various points, I thought that any one of us was going to crack, but we all held up in the end and finished together.  So it was a good day.  Keith and Adam came up from Boulder to cheer us on (you guys are studs), and they brought Slim with them so we could have a podium shot that didn’t involve us being in last place (see above pic).  Here’s Ken intimidating the overall Clydesdale leader on the podium.

Tomorrow is the Aqueduct stage.  We did this stage last year, but to be honest, I remember almost none of it.  Ken says it’s his favorite stage.  I’ll let you know 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.

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