Friday, August 12, 2016

Rock Star Enduro Rider on the Bog Slayer

I am a rock star.  I rode my fatbike 70 miles in the Laramie Enduro race last Saturday. Some things went wrong and some things went right but the things that mattered the most went right. There was a good amount of luck involved too (cool weather, no mechanicals).  Most importantly, it was FUN, and I learned a few key things for next year.

Holy shit, did I say “next year”?

If you are a racer looking for beta on the Enduro, you won’t find it here.  I am not a racer, I just ride…. 
Non-racer status aside, here are the stats:
Bike weight: 41 lbs including gear and two water bottles
Rider weight: 126-127 lbs, soaking wet, which I was for the last 15 miles of the race
Rider age: 47
Time: 10:27
Place: 198/200 (yes, third to last)
Foggy cool start, a lucky break.  Last minute decision to mount another water bottle cage.

There were 5 aid stations on the course, the first one at mile 17.  There is a cutoff time for each aid station and if you don’t make the time then you get a ride back to the finish line and a DNF.  This was my biggest worry.  I have the endurance to ride that far, but I’m not fast so I was worried about making the cutoff times.  My race strategy revolved around getting to the first aid station because the first part of any ride is the worst for me.  I thought that if I could do that, in decent time, I probably had a good chance of finishing the race.  
Let me just say here that the volunteers for this race were AMAZING. There were super helpful at each aid station and they were stationed at various spots along the course.  The course was extremely well marked, too.  Everything about the race was top-notch.

The breakdown by aid station:
Mile 0 to aid station 1 –The first 3-5 miles were horrible (at least on the uphills), just as I expected.  I couldn’t catch my breath and I felt like my heart was going to explode. Maybe it was adrenaline, or maybe it was because I am always slow to start and need a warm up.  I wanted to cry. I wanted to go home.  I hated it. 
To top it off, my gas tank bag blew up on a section of singletrack, spewing gu’s, chamois butter packets, etc. onto the trail.  I overloaded the bag at the hotel, then meant to transfer the extra gu’s to my jersey but forgot.  Rookie mistake - I knew I was forgetting something when I left the truck that morning.  It was a crummy place to have to retrieve my stuff but leaving the chamois butter was not an option.  Head Freak was behind me and it was a bummer because it put us behind some slower riders on the singletrack log jam. But, whenever we hit flat or downhill on the singletrack, it was way fun -- following behind the Freak and feeling like I was actually racing.  Probably one of the best parts of the race.  Once on the dirt road, though, I couldn't keep up and just settled into my own pace.
A forever image of the race will be of the next section when I was following fellow fatbiker Josh down some fast dirt road with whoop-de-dos where he was blazing alongside a herd of wigged-out cattle that had just seen 200 riders come screaming through.   It was wide open country, really pretty.  I wondered for a split second if Josh was going to shoot the gap and risk broadsiding a cow. But clearly he’s from Wyoming and has good horse sense.

Aid station 1 (mile 17):  When I hit the first aid station my stomach hurt, not bad, but I couldn’t eat anything - no gu’s, no bars, nada. So I paused just long enough to refill a water bottle and grab some food for the road.  Whenever I tried to eat something my stomach would tie up in knots.  I was plenty hydrated, making a few pit stops, so that wasn’t the problem. But the harder I pushed, the more my stomach hurt so I slowed down to see if I could recover.  Finally I leaned my bike against a tree and curled up in a ball in the woods and did some deep breathing.  It seemed to help but as soon as I was riding again it was awful.  I was just hoping to make it to the aid station 2, where I pretty much planned on calling it quits.  I didn’t even care.
To add insult to injury there was a stretch of not-fun gravel grinding road.  No part of me is a road rider.  There was a headwind and I was demoralized and lonely, wondering what the hell I was doing with some 60+ miles left to go.

Aid station 2 (mile 30): At aid station 2 they had some Tums!!! I was at the aid station for longer than I had planned but at that point I wasn’t sure what I was going to do.  I ate a couple of crackers which seemed to help.  After a trip to the most beautiful porta-potty ever, I was feeling at least mentally better so I decided to keep going.   The folks at the aid station said that the next 10 miles were fairly easy (fast and flowy downhill with no particularly hard sections.) I decided to do an easy 10 and then reevaluate. 

Aid station 3 (mile 40): From mile 30 to 40, I was super happy.  Mile by mile I started feeling better and by the time I got to aid station 3 I was able to eat something substantial (PBJ squares, boiled potatoes and yessssss – some coke and ginger ale!!!!)  Finally my legs were going to get some fuel, they were tanking.  I spent more time here too than I had planned but I knew I need to eat something, and slowly.  When I left this aid station I felt like I was finally in business! I started reeling in riders that left the aid station before me and that gave me a mental boost.

Somewhere… I came across a monster truck heading in the opposite direction.  It was a really, really cool truck – beautiful piece of machinery, gorgeous paint job. It wasn’t just a cowboy in a Chevy with a lift kit; it was a real monster truck that was as big as a house.  The driver and I paused for a second to admire each other’s rigs.  I would have loved to shoot a photo but in retrospect, I’m glad I didn’t, it literally would have cost me the race since my time was so close. 
Aid station 4
Aid station 4 (mile 52):  Going into this race I couldn’t decide which bike to ride. I trained on the fatbike, my Salsa Mukluk, all summer for two reasons: 1) because it’s super fun and 2) I can carry what I need for long self-supported training rides.  Most of the advice I got was to ride my 29” hardtail which is light and fast.  I fully planned on it until the last second and then decided I wasn’t excited about the race unless I pictured myself on my fatbike.  I decided to stay true to myself and ride the fattie.  I’m not a racer and it’s not about the time.  For me, it was about finishing and enjoying the ride.  The longest ride I’d ever done on the fattie was 6 hours and I only went 28 miles.  There was over 6600 feet of elevation gain. 

So…. if I could make it 50 miles on the fatbike, it would be a major accomplishment.  I wasn’t even dreaming of finishing once I decided on the fatbike (well, maybe a little bit!)  I hit mile 50 on a pretty stretch of two-track that was on a high open plateau with amazing hoodoo formations that looked otherworldly.  I did it!  50 miles on fat, fucking A!  Then it was just a few more miles to the aid station 4, with nasty storm clouds threatening and a pounding headache (complete with little blinking white lights in my right eye).  I was kind of out of it with the headache.

I took a long break at aid 4 and it started pouring as soon as I got off the bike.  Volunteers refilled and cleaned my water bottles and a friend of a friend gave me a beer (he might just be my new best friend).  I took Tylenol with the beer, ate some watermelon and more boiled potatoes, etc. and I was good to go.  I left the aid station in a slight drizzle that turned into hail that turned into a driving rain.  No problem, I would much rather be sopping wet than have 90 degree heat!  There was some really fun trail and I reeled in a few more riders who were pushing bikes up steep and rocky singletrack.  I heard that this part of the ride was pretty hard but luckily it wasn’t as hard as I expected - another mental boost.  I was starting to feel a little fried physically and not super confident on the technical sections so I walked more than I usually would.  It was fine, though. I was in my own groove, enjoying the scenery, basking in the fact that I cleared the aid station in time and still had a chance for a finish.  Funny, but I still wasn’t expecting a finish.
Somewhere after a boggy stream crossing (manned by a volunteer) I was headed uphill when my left inner thigh cramped up.  I had a life-flash-before-me moment of sheer panic.  I’d had a blood clot 15 years ago when I was pregnant with our first daughter in the exact place that was now cramping.  The blood clot was about a foot long from my knee to my iliac artery.  It nearly killed me, and I spent weeks and months in recovery going from wheel chair to walker to crutches.  And after that it took years before it wouldn’t swell up and hurt when I exercised….I pushed the bike slowly up the hill and tried to calm myself down.  If it didn’t subside in a few minutes I planned to ride back to the bog and ask the volunteer to call for help.  Luckily, it did clear up in a few agonizing minutes and I didn’t have any problems the rest of the day.
Aid Station 5 (mile 62):  There was a guy on a flatbed pickup giving away beers to riders at aid station 5.  He asked if I wanted a beer and I asked him if I made the time and he said yes, by two minutes.  And I said, “Hell yes! I would love a beer!”  I was talking to him and his wife when one of the race volunteers yelled that riders had 30 seconds to clear the aid station.  I grabbed more gu’s and was off.  My stomach still couldn’t handle anything like bars, honey stinger waffles, etc.  but holy cow, I made it!  I rode at a steady pace and caught a guy just before the Headquarters Trail parking lot.  At the parking lot the race volunteer told us that we had to be at the finish line by 5:00 or it was a DNF – we were cutting it really close.  He also said that we had 2 miles of uphill singletrack before the downhill to the finish.  I thought I had made it but really I hadn’t?  It was still a crapshoot? WTF?

I didn’t have it in me to ride all of the Headquarters Trail – it was rocky and I was tired.  I figured either way, even with a DNF, I rode the whole damn thing.  At the top of headquarters there was a super nice family and they said that I had it in the bag, that there was indeed no cutoff time at this point and I was not going to have a DNF.  At that point, I fully relaxed and enjoyed the rest of my ride.  I stopped at an overlook and took a few pictures, ate a snack saved just for the occasion, peed, and cruised the rest of the way to the finish.  I know I could have shaved a few minutes off my time by not dallying, but the light was so pretty – the way the sky looks after a storm clears and the sun dipping lower in the west.  I wanted to bask in the moment and enjoy the quiet stillness of the forest and the success of the ride.  And it didn’t really matter if my time was 10:20 or 10:30 when you are out that long!  At the finish I did a stand up sprint and was psyched to see people STILL out cheering racers on.  And of course, the BPR crew was at the beer tent.

Somewhere along the homestretch.

The thing that I am most happy with, besides actually finishing the race, was that I did it my way. I rode my favorite bike, on my terms, and had an awesome time doing it. The fattie was a blast; I am rechristening her the “bog-slayer.”  She climbed like a demon… she blasted through the stream crossings and plowed through the bogs – all with grace and style - or at least as much as I could muster.  The big fat tires simply hummed on the flowy downhill.   And while not particularly fast, she did make me feel like a warrior.  Besides, being fast is overrated; and time is an illusion….
The illusion of time is akin to the old world idea that the earth is flat, and we seem to be completely ruled by the concept…. Quantum studies are showing science, at the fundamental level, that our concept of time as thought of as a linear passage of events is totally wide of the mark, and in fact there is no mark.
All points of reference are arbitrary, they are conveniences, they are non-existent in fundamental reality.
What’s actually happening when we denote a point in space is we are collapsing a fluctuating field of vibration into matter.
--From The Illusion of Time by Larry McGuire

Back of the Pack Racing, Wyoming style.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Beautiful Nora

After several long days of travel, worry, sleep deprivation, and endless frustration, I broke down in tears in a restaurant in a small town in Colorado. I had been with my dad at the hospital for several days previous because he was admitted for heart trouble and then I had been up on this particular day since 3:00 am and THEN on the road all day.  But Dad, having more energy than me apparently, insisted that we go out to dinner once we got him back to his hometown.  He wanted to go out to heat with his good friends, a couple in their early 70's.

I don’t think that Dad even noticed when I excused myself to the bathroom to try and pull myself together.  When I got back to the table, Nora (Bill’s beautiful wife who has Alzheimer’s), asked if I wanted to share her chocolate cream pie with her.  I was surprised because she and I had just sat through the entire dinner not talking - she being locked in the netherworld of dementia; and me - I didn’t have an ounce of energy left to puzzle out conversation that I couldn’t hear.  (My dad's Parkinson's has made his voice soft and garbled and with my deafness, the last 48 hours put me at the end of my rope.) 

I felt like both Nora and I were invisible through the entire evening, nodding and smiling the best we could.  But then in a way that only happens when two souls really meet, she reached through both of our barriers with the chocolate pie.  One plate, two forks - and we had a real conversation.  I told her that she made my night and she nodded and smiled back in complete understanding.    She told me a few things in my ear, just for me, that saved me that night.  I so wish I’d known her back in the day, but I see her, still.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

November light through the pines

Yesterday I was biking in the canyon and the afternoon light coming through the pines seemed like a gift - an extravagant gift on such a chilly, snow-dusted November day. This time of year the sunlight doesn't reach parts of the canyon until late in the day. The single shaft of light was so subtly beautiful that it was almost heartbreaking.  But maybe it was just my mood.

I ride and hike this trail in every season and never tire of it.  The shadows are different depending on the time of day and of course, the plants and flowers change with the seasons and so there's always something new.  There is a peace and comfort in knowing a place this well.  And since I usually mountain bike it, I sometimes feel like I could ride it blind, like the Jedi force ~ bumping my way down it from sheer memory.  Groove and flow.

The trail is a steady and steep uphill climb to a meadow.  Yesterday I wanted to make it to the meadow where I knew I'd be flooded with light and rewarded with a beautiful view.  But the snow got deeper the higher I climbed and turned to a sugary consistency - I couldn't get traction.  I had to turn around just before the meadow, I was out of steam to push my bike the rest of the way.  But here is the reward - I pointed my bike downhill and let 'er go. First without any regard for the skiff of snow until I had one scary skid that made my legs shake. I stopped to put on a jacket and my chin bar and rode the rest of it a little slower.  But still on the edge of control, letting it rip on the bare dirt, careening over the rocks, popping over obstacles and feeling every molecule of my being entirely alive and in the moment.  When I got back to my truck at the trailhead the sun was low enough in the sky to hit me full on and I finally warmed up, hot tea with honey, sitting on the tailgate of my truck -- and feeling like the luckiest person in the world.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

White Rim in a Day - Canyonlands National Park

I was invited by a dear friend to join her and two other friends to ride the White Rim in a day (WRIAD).  I was plenty intimidated - the White Rim Trail is a 103-mile loop on a jeep road through Canyonlands National Park. We did 85 miles by cutting off the boring pavement section.  

The route isn't technical.  Still, I had to train for it and truth be told, I'm a tad lazy.  My most favorite thing to do is ride downhill ~ as fast as a middle-aged mom can. But it sounded fun: 1) this bunch of women would be a blast to ride with 2) it would be beautiful; and 3) you are only young once (as said to me by a very courageous and adventurous woman that I admire!) But cheese and rice, I'd never ridden more than 50 miles on my mountain bike in day (and the 50-miler was when I was 22 years old).

As for elevation gain, the bulk of the ride is pretty easy. Most of the climbing is tackled with three major climbs (Murphy's Hogback, Hardscrabble Hill, and the Mineral Bottom Switchbacks).  The average grade is only 2% and the maximum grade is 56%.  The killer is at the end with the Mineral Bottom Switchbacks netting 1400 feet in elevation gain in the last mile and a half.

The major climbs add up to 4000 vertical feet, but if you recorded every little up-and-down it's more like 6000 feet total.  Per, most riders spend 3 or 4 days riding this trail and use a support vehicle to haul their gear to the campsites...two days = Monster; one day = Lunatic.

We were going for lunatic, but w
e did have a support vehicle, which met us for lunch and resupplied us with water.  It would have been near impossible to carry enough water for 90-degree heat.  He was also our shuttle at the end.

The riding surface on the four wheel drive jeep road was packed sediment, sand pits, silt pits and slick rock.

It was an amazing and epic trip.   The country is so vast that you can't even fathom it.  The area is by permit only so we only saw about a dozen vehicles and people the entire day.  And at the end of the day, I felt pretty darn good.   I was saddle sore and my triceps ached, maybe from hanging on to the brakes on the first descent.  I would do it again -- but next time I'm riding fat.

I love this picture.  You can see the barest hint of a headlamp on the right, and two morning stars.  There was no ambient light when we started out.  Kristin's headlamp died and so I had to be her wingman on the descent.  It was a little hairy.

These are the Shaffer Switchbacks that we descended in the dark.   We knew it was a drop but I don't think we grasped how big. 

Another view of the switchback descent.

Easy miles - while it was cool out.

Suzanne, who did a fabulous job planning it all!
Kristin.  We put away a good number of miles before the sun even came up.

It wasn't technical but most of the road was varied enough to be interesting.

Emma - who never once walked her bike - not through sand or silt nor up the steepest hill.

Murphy's Hogback was the first major hill of the climb.  We hit it right before lunch at about mile 40.  It was so hot on the back side (with no breeze) that I felt like throwing up.  Except for right after lunch when I ate too much, this was the only time that I didn't feel so great. 

The bathrooms were about 10 miles apart and the only shade.  We took advantage of them.

This is later in the day when we plugged into our music and dug deep.  I was listening to a kick-ass soundtrack (from Where the Trail Ends) and watching these women fly through the vast desert.  It was magical.

It was great when we finally dropped down next to the Green River.  It felt a little bit cooler, at least psychologically.

Emma, climbing everything. 

The last 20 miles or so had a series of sand and silt pits.

Lunch included cold watermelon and ice water, woo-hoo!

Shade at lunch.

Next time I'm carrying my water like this.

There were some fun sections, too.  Punchy little uphill and downhill.

Em and K

My family wrote inspirational messages that were sealed in an envelope - to be opened at mile 40, 60, 70 and at the end.  For me, I dedicated a 10 mile section to different friends and family.  The last 15 miles were for a very special family friend, Chryssie, that encouraged me to do the trip.  I probably wouldn't have done it if it weren't for her.  


This is the end.  Climbing from the river bottom 1400 feet to the top of the rim.

When I finished I felt like I had just joined the bad-ass girls' club.  These women are amazing.

Suzanne - YESSSSS!
Friends, a beautiful sunset and beer.