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.

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