Posts tagged ‘mtb’
Day 1 – Birmingham, AL to Wichita Falls, TX (800 miles)
Day 2 – Wichita Falls, TX to Salida, CO (600 miles)
Day 3 – Salida, CO to Leadville, CO (60 miles)
The highlight of the first day was driving I-20 through East Texas where Kristine and I first met 11 years ago. 9 years of marriage and 2 kids later, we stopped at the same Dairy Queen where we used to hang out together. We ended up at 1:30AM in Wichita Falls at a Holiday Inn called “Holiday Inn – Wichita Falls (At The Falls!)” including the exclamation point.
The second day had lots of highlights, including a rural rest area at the foot of a volcano outside of Raton, New Mexico. But the main highlight of the day for me was when Kristine dropped me off in Raton, and I rode the Old Raton Pass into Colorado on a 30 mile ride to Trinidad, Colorado.
I had used topocreator and initially was going to try to ride alongside the railroad up and over the pass, but then I found a dirt road leaving Raton called Old Raton Pass. This road climbs from within Raton up past a start on top of a hill overlooking a city all the way up to the old “Port of Welcome” for New Mexico. Along the way, there is this sign:
I was really curious, so I went around the corner and found a burnt (maybe from a forest fire) informational sign talking about the KT boundary, which relates to the layers of the earth before and after an asteroid impact millions of years ago. I continued climbing until I came to the abandoned New Mexico welcome center – and the mother of all barricades (for motorcycles, atvs, etc…) complete with a trashed ATV perhaps as a warning and also a full-blown moat. I knew that it probably was supposed to keep out bikes too, but I needed to get across the border to Kristine in Colorado.
After the moat and a long gradual descent, there was a long gradual climb up to the pass with old stonework from the original road. Shortly after the top on some rolling double track, there was a barbed wire gate with the barbed wire attached to a thick stick held in place by two metal rings. The ring at the top was held top by a latch mechanism. I figured out how to open (and close) the gate continued on about a quarter mile to a fork in the trail with two gates – both the same type of barbed wired gate. Once through this gate, the trail really started to descend.
The double track was perfectly smooth, and I had just started to pick up the pace when I came across a few cows grazing next to the road. They didn’t seem to think twice about me so I kept on going and that’s when I entered into the middle of an elk herd. That is quite an experience. Elk were diving for cover around every corner. At one point there was elk running alongside and in front of me. There was elk of all sizes, too. I would guesstimate that there were maybe 50 elk in the herd. I only saw one bull with a full rack of antlers. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time to be so close to these large animals scattering every which way.
After the elk, it was pretty much a straight shot down and out of the area, a thick metal gate to climb up and over, a railroad tunnel, another gate to crawl under and finally out onto the interstate. Yes, I ended up riding on I-25 north for a few miles, but per the picture below, I was allowed to be there. Plus, the interstate was really deserted – maybe 20 cars and 5 tractor trailers passed me during the few miles I was on the interstate.
The final stretch into Trinidad was amazing with the sunset sky and layers upon layers of HUGE mountains glowing orange … my camera phone picture doesn’t even pick up all the high mountains in the distance.
I met up with Kristine where we ate at a fancy Italian restaurant complete with some really amazing singing waiters and waitresses. I got a video I’ll try to remember to upload when we get back to Birmingham.
Day 3 (today) was check-in day at Leadville. They have a really well run organization and we breezed through the long lines thanks to all the great volunteers. After picking up everything we went to the gym for the motivational and informational meeting. It was inspiring – highlighted by the Wounded Warriors and the Ride 2 Recovery – veterans and active military wounded in action who will be racing Leadville tomorrow. Also, Lance Armstrong made a surprise visit to encourage and motivate us (plus, I think he may be racing tomorrow?)
It was a great meeting, but towards the end it did get a little long. After the meeting was the highlight of my day – Kristine went for a run and I went for a ride on the opening 20 miles of the course including the powerline descent. Powerline wasn’t bad at all if you take it slow – but I can see how people could get hurt because the trail itself keeps begging you to let off the brakes and fly. I went down it slow and nearly fell once so I’m going to have to be careful tomorrow if I’m with people who are trying to bomb the descent.
Well, today’s mountain bike ride definitely fit the bill for a “cycling adventure”. Highlights included riding in and behind a thunderstorm, riding through a pilgrimage of devout Catholics, stumbling upon a small forest fire, discovering another Strava Cat 2 climb for Alabama, lots of mud, lots of flying ants, and lots of yellow jackets. Here are annotated topocreator maps of my route.
We had some thunderstorms roll through Birmingham this morning, so it was lots of rain on the long ride out to Double Oak and eventually over to Signal Mountain. Most of the thunder/lightning activity stayed just to the east of my location, but it was still disconcerting to be on the edge of a thunderstorm while climbing over the highest ridges in the area. Apparently, lightning from the storm had struck the top of Signal Mountain as I would later discover a small forest fire near the top.
Before climbing Signal Mountain, I had to first climb up and over the Double Oak ridges taking me down into Bear Creek Valley. As I rode north on Co Rd 43 through Bear Creek, I noticed hundreds of cars parked alongside the road. This was really unusual, but it got even stranger as I started reading the license plates which were from all over the country. I eventually made it through the cars to this field and found out by asking someone walking back that some devout catholics believe Mary appears in this field every year near the Fourth of July.
Continuing on Co Rd 43, I eventually made it to this barn which used to have a cool concrete statue of cyclists resting on the ground with their bikes propped up behind them, and turned onto the street/driveway (Moss Rock Trail) that leads straight down to Bear Creek itself and the low point for the start of the Cat 2 climb up Signal Mountain. I turned around at the bridge and began the climb by heading back out to Co Rd 43 and turning left to go back all the way through the pilgrimage area until I reached Season Rd, which is the start of the steep part of the climb.
I’m pretty sure this will be the only time I ever do the climb. It is a good climb through a beautiful area, but the majority of it is on private hunting grounds (hence the name “Season Rd”). I reckoned that on a rainy Monday morning in the middle of summer everything should be deserted, which it was. But this is property that should generally be avoided. At the top of the climb is a single radio tower, which is ironic given that the name of the mountain is Signal Mountain.
The climb starts out steady and steep for the first mile before leveling out when you cross over from the back side of the ridge to the front side of the ridge. The view along the front side of the ridge is absolutely amazing – overlooking the valley over 1000 ft below and the adjacent ridge of Double Oak at nearly 1000 ft above the valley floor as well. After about a half mile, the climb bends around the side of the mountain again and really kicks up in elevation. It was just past this bend where I saw the forest fire. Also, I had to run the last bit because I got off-balance in the wrong gear, and it was too steep to remount – but theoretically the entire climb is rideable without stopping.
After I made it down the mountain, I rode back to the pilgrimage area and reported the fire to a Shelby County police officer who was helping with crowd control. He thanked me and called it in on his radio. Then it was time for me to head back up and over Double Oak ridge … the mountain was swarming with yellow jackets and flying ants. Because of the earlier rain, I had to run several sections and with every footfall there would be a yellow jacket rooting around in the rocks and mud. I was super careful, but it wasn’t until I was actually riding on a slight downhill at about 15mph when a yellow jacket, bee, or wasp came from in front of me and collided directly with my head. The sting was immediate – I couldn’t tell a difference between the “thud” of the bee hitting me and its sting. One day later as I finish off this post, the entire righthand side of my face is swollen along with both sides of my neck.
To view the ride interactively on Strava, click this link: http://app.strava.com/rides/12387038
Finally, here are all the pics that I took during the ride:
Great race today at the Barn Burner just outside of Flagstaff, AZ. This was by far the hardest race I have ever done – 104 miles of double track forest roads – some very bumpy, some very sandy, some very crazy, all of it a whole lot of fun! I was happy to finish 4th overall, but sad to lose my Garmin Edge 800 with approx. 25,000 miles on it.
Race Details – the dust bowl
It was a Le Mans start, which means you ran to your bikes mounted on bikestands or being held by your support crew. I opted to have Kristine hold my bike so I wouldn’t have to try and extract it from all the bikes jammed together on the bike racks. I ran kinda slowly because I don’t run well and because the terrain had some lava rocks and there were tons of people jostling together. I met Kristine behind the bikestand area, mounted my Garmin and took off running through the grass to get back to the dirt road. By this point dust was everywhere, and I was easily 100-200 riders back.
The first mile of the race was on some dusty, sandy rutted roads so it was really hard to see a good line and you didn’t want to get caught in the deep sand so I could only pass a few people here and there – but as soon as we turned onto the main forest road, the terrain tilted upwards on a long false flat. I passed probably 100 riders through here. At the beginning it was streams of riders that I was passing, but then it has started to break up into small groups – so I started to catch and pass these groups.
Lost water bottle
Right before the lefthand turn onto the next rutted sandy section, I latched onto the back of a fairly large group of maybe 10 riders. It was here that I realized that mountain bike racing requires a lot of trust/faith in the rider immediately in front of you. You are trusting that they are going to take a good line and not crash. This section of the course really emphasized that trust because there was so much dust you couldn’t see the ground in front of you – you could only barely see the wheel of the rider in front of you. It was at this point that I lost a bottle when the road unexpectedly dropped a good 2-3 feet into a rounded rut/hole. I wasn’t expecting it so my weight was forward and I ended up coming out of the hole doing a front wheelie. Luckily the ground was smooth long enough that I could get the rear wheel back down without flipping over the handlebars. Hitting the hole popped out my water bottle so I did the entire first lap on one bottle.
Not too long after the front wheelie, the group I was in came out onto another stretch of road which was much harder packed. I went to the front and tried to rally the troops, but I ended up dropping that group and catching one or two more groups until I finally latched onto the back of the lead group. I knew I had reached the front group because there was no more dust in front of this group. This was towards the top of the long gradual descent before the first climb. This part of the course was super fast, and we were absolutely flying single file trusting the rider in front of you to take a good line. For about five minutes, this was my favorite part of the race, but then I felt something hit my knee. I thought it was my only water bottle popping out of the cage so as we are motoring along I’m looking down and doing a double-take to see if it’s my water bottle. It wasn’t, so I continued staring hard at the wheel in front of me following his line. Then I glanced at my handlebars and noticed my Garmin was gone!!! I debated for another 10-15 seconds about turning around or keeping on going. I realized the Garmin was worth too much to just abandon – so I turned around and rode backwards on the course. It had been a couple minutes of fast riding since I had felt something hit my knee (which I assume now must have been my Garmin), so I had to ride back a long ways but I never did see it. It is quite an understatement to say that my motivation was completely gone by this point in the race. I was about to attack the Strava KOM challenge segment hard, and now I not only wasn’t going to be able to do that – I had lost my great position at the front of the race and given the leaders a good 5 minute head start.
The Strava climb (1st climb)
Frustrated at not finding my Garmin, I went flying up the climb that started shortly after the stretch of trail where I couldn’t find my Garmin. It was the more technical of the two climbs on the course, but I didn’t care – I just flew past everyone no matter what line I had to take. By the top of the climb, the race was all blown apart and people were by themselves and no longer in groups.
The rocky technical descent
After the top of the climb, there was a short rolling section followed by the longer, rockier, and more technical of the two major descents. It started out super fast on a mostly clean but a few high speed rocky sections that you could roll over, but then there was a hard left turn on loose dirt that required clipping out for balance that immediately led into some nasty rocky sections that you just had to blow threw as there wasn’t much of a clean line. I went really slow through here on the first lap – getting passed by two riders, the second of which came by probably 10 mph faster just riding over all the big rocks I was trying to avoid. So that is when I learned that you can do that – just bomb over rocks at 30mph – the bike and wheels can handle it these days!
Once I reached the bottom, I continued passing riders all the way to the start of the second climb – the longer, steeper, and less technical stair stepper. In fact, I almost ran right into the back of a small group of three because I had been so intent on catching them that I wasn’t looking for turn signs. I caught them right at the turn and had to slam on the brakes skidding for some distance before stopping just shy of ramming into the last rider. I immediately passed them and continued passing riders all the way up the long climb.
The fast descent that gradually became slower
At the top of the long climb was a super fast steep descent. I didn’t have my Garmin, but it felt like I hit 50mph on this descent on the first lap. There was one clear, clean line between loose gravel/dirt and larger rocks on either side of the foot-wide line, but the line was clear, non-washboardy, and had no rocks in it — on the first lap! I almost wrecked here on the second lap because I tried to take it at the same speed as the first lap, but 1100 riders doing that descent on the first lap had loosened up soil on the clean line and created a bit of washboarding so that it no longer felt safe to go really fast. So each lap of the race, this descent got a bit sketchier and slower for me.
After the steep, sketchy part was a harder packed fast double track that went next to some sort of campground before turning onto the original national forest service road leading back up to the two-way Barn Burner entrance road. I flew through this part catching one or two more riders, and I heard someone yell out “ninth” as I made the turn in towards the barn.
The pit crew
At the end of each lap, you have to dismount your bike and run through the barn. Below is a video of me coming through the barn at the end of my second lap. You can see Analise waving the chain lube that I desperately needed because of all the dust/dirt on the course. My pit crew was just like a Nascar pit crew! Josiah would hold my bike, while Analise would hand me bars/gels/chain lub and Kristine would refill my bottles with gatorade. I would stand there eating and drinking whatever I could get down before Kristine finished with the gatorade. It was so awesome – less than 30 seconds to have two new bottles, a lubed chain, more gels/powerbars, and then off again.
The second, third and fourth laps
On the second lap, I was caught by a rider wearing a green Trek kit and the two of us worked together catching another rider to form a group of three. We worked well together all the way until the second climb where I rode away catching and passing a few more people on the climb finishing the lap in 5th place.
I rode the first half of the third lap alone eventually catching Derek Wilkerson who was in 4th place at the time. We worked well together catching and dropping the third place rider. Derek was a far better descender than me and had to wait for me after the descents. At the end of the third lap, I stopped with my pit crew to refill bottles and gels while Derek had enough to keep going.
I was so tired I figured I would never see him again, but a relay rider came flying by on the long gradual false flat leaving the barn. I hopped on his wheel and dug deep to stay there and soon we had caught up to Derek who tagged onto us making a small group of three. I was digging way too deep, so when we turned onto the dusty long descent I decided to back off and do my best to pace myself to hold onto a top 5 finish. I cramped on the Strava climb, stopped, went easier until I got caught by another relay rider towards the top. I was able to stick with him until the descent, but then he dropped me hard on the descent. I was caught by one more team rider on the section leading into the second climb, and he really lifted my pace again – but he flatted shortly before the start of the climb.
I went up the final climb knowing that I would need to go slow to keep from cramping again, but I continued to pass lapped riders many of whom were walking there bikes up the steep sections of the climb. I was able to solider on in a very easy gear to make it up the climb – but there were definitely sections I was wondering if I was going to have to get off and walk. I kept thinking that at any moment whoever was in 5th place would come cruising by. It didn’t happen though, and I made it up to the top, down the sketchy descent, and then turned on the gas one final time to make it to the finish line. It turns out that I was over 12 minutes ahead of 5th place so I could have taken the finish a little bit easier.
At the finish (as you may be able to tell from the picture at the top), I was exhausted. It took a while to be able to get out more than one or two coherent sentences in a row. I sat on the gatorade jug for quite a while drinking chocolate milk and cokes.
Two final videos before all the pictures – the first is of my finish. Look at Josiah cheering me at the top of the video near the far track, Analise near the turn, and then Kristine filming the video. It was awesome to come through there and see my family cheering me on. Also, there was a cool dirt bike track next to the barn so that the kids could spend the hour and a half between laps riding up and down the jumps and around the berms. Analise is tackling one of the jumps in the second video.
Quick summary – 2nd place behind Adam Gaubert from Texas although I did snag the $100 bill for the KOM at the top of one of only eleven Cat 2 climbs (currently) in Alabama. Sometimes the stats don’t do a race justice, but here they are: 60ish miles in just under 4 hours, 8 minutes. I didn’t have a wheel speed sensor so I’m guessing I must have lost satellite a few times to come up under 60 miles. It felt like 100+ miles, though.
Heartrate summary for the skyway epic
The details – what an amazing job Brent did start to finish with this race. The mass start was creative with all 60+ riders lined up at the end of the boat dock area giving us plenty of room to charge all the way up the entrance area to a grassy cordoned off chute which led into the single track. Adam Gaubert, Jeff Clayton, and Lennie Moon (Team Momentum) entered in the single track in that order. Behind them I believe it was David Darden (BiciCoop), maybe one or two other riders, Ed Merritt (BiciCoop), and then me (Tria Cycling p/b DonohooAuto.com and Infinty Med-i-spa). I was able to keep up no problem through the single track, but Adam and Jeff were destroying the singletrack and had quite a lead by the end.
As soon as we made it out of the singletrack onto the dam, I attacked hard to start to close the gap to the leaders. I passed Lennie and David on the climb after the dam and continued to drive it hard onto Wiregrass Rd (dirt/gravel forest road). After a mile or two, I could see the leaders up ahead and I was closing pretty fast. Once I caught onto the back of them, we entered into a pretty good 3-way rotation going into the bottom of the climb. I took a hard pull and got a gap about 1/3rd of the way up the climb so I drilled it. The climb was long, though, and once we hit the skyway portion of the climb, the road was much rougher and I had problems finding a good line so Adam was closing in on me. Thankfully, the climb leveled out a bit and got smoother shortly before the top so I was able to lock out the front suspension, stand up and give it one more burst to reach the KOM first and grab the $100 bill.
The effort for the KOM really cost me, though, as I was cooked. I stopped to stuff the $100 deep down in my jersey pocket, and Adam flew by me while I was stopped. I got started again and went through the most challenging part of the course at maybe twice the speed that I had gone when I pre-rode the course in February. But Adam continued to put time on me all the way to the turnaround. It looked like he was 30 seconds or so ahead of me by the turnaround. I still had a bottle and a half of gatorade so I just stopped briefly to grab the proof necklace before setting off in pursuit of Adam. I was hoping that I could catch him on the climb so I could follow his line through all the rough sections – but it wasn’t to be. It was awesome as all the outbound racers were shouting encouragement and giving me time splits to Adam. It started out as 30 second time splits, but eventually it went up into the minute or 2 minute range. I believe he had 3 minutes by the bottom of the
descent back down the KOM climb.
I think I kept the gap there until close to the end where he still had 3 minutes at the last aid station. I stopped there to get some cold coke, banana, and water. This was a very important stop because I really couldn’t figure out how to eat or drink during the singletrack sections so I did that last 10 miles with only one or two sips of water. It was in this last singletrack section that Jeff Clayton (Georgia Neurological Institute) came flying up to me out of nowhere. I immediately let him by thinking that I could hop on his wheel and follow his lines. This lasted for LESS THAN 5 SECONDS as I lost it on the very first turn crashing hard. My bars were stuck on the wrong side of the top tube and it took a few seconds to yank them back across the top tube (I’m glad I went with aluminum instead of carbon fiber).
I had already resigned myself to riding as hard as possible to try to finish on the last step of the podium when on the next hill I started to come up on Jeff pretty fast … my first thought was that he must have popped himself trying to distance me, but then I realized that he had a completely flat rear tire. I came around him thinking that he would have no problem stopping to change the tire and then catching back up to me again. So I could never really let up off the pace … but as it turns out, Jeff couldn’t get the tire to hold air so he had to ride in the last several miles on the flat – and yet he still held on for third!
Kristine snagged a few videos … one of me coming out of the final singletrack and another of me finishing a minute or two later and one of Josiah asking if I was in this race … good stuff!
I don’t know why I never thought of making one of these before for the Southern Cross race course, but the topography is really cool and it certainly shows in the maps below … enjoy! Also, I noticed while doing the maps that the course enters 4 different counties. With a slight route change, it could be a five county race!