Sunday, September 30

Monthly Mileage: September Strong

This month I rode 559 miles. My monthly average for the year is 486 (4,380 so far). That projects out to 5,840 miles for the year. I'd only need to average 540 a month for the rest of the year to hit 6,000.

The reality is I probably won't hit such a large number. I'll crack 5,000 for certain barring some catastrophic injury. October, November and December are historically low mileage months for me. November is particularly sparse because I typically take the entire week off at Thanksgiving, plus I get two other holidays during the month.

That's okay. I'm good with this. I need to lay off a bit, and get as much rest as I can during the next four months, because after January I plan on training like a madman. I want to be fast. I want to ride Leadville next August in less than 9 hours. Fast. Like lightning.

I'm in the best shape of my life but I could be better. I need to increase my cardio, strengthen my core, drop about 15 pounds and really just step it up. It's time.

Saturday, September 29

Oh Cougar Where Art Thou?

Good freakin' grief!

Something was slain...something.

We met Sam at Eben G Fine park this AM to carpool up to the start of the Cougar Slayer in Eldora. It was cold at the high school where Mandy dropped us off. A stout wind blew off the snowy peaks pushing us back as we rode toward the hamlet of Eldora.

We were both hoping the rising sun would warm us. Sooner than we thought we were both sweating as we climbed up out of town. Right in our faces the initial climb had us huffing and grunting over baseball sized rocks as we climbed above the valley. I guess I assumed after the steepness the ride would ease up. I guess I assumed he Cougar Slayer was like most every other MTB ride I've done...short hard sections with long sections of easy to make up for it. I was wrong.

I was somewhat familiar with the terrain we'd be traversing. I'd actually mapped a somewhat similar route not too long ago. But after the unofficial official running of the Cougar Slayer on September 22 there were some questions that Sam and I both had.

Why were there 13 that began and only 6 that finished? And why did those 6 all have sub-seven hour times if the challenge was to finish in less than eight?

Sam and my wife both speculated that people quit because there was no real pressure to finish. I agreed. But something kept nagging me from the back of my mind.

I'd been fretting over how I would track my ride. After a few real world tests my iPhone just didn't seem like it would perform for a full 8 hours. I even have a solar charger I can use to extend the battery life, but even with that it seemed like I was going to fall a couple hours short unless I could surprise myself with a 6 hour finish. Considering the predominately negative elevation profile that may not have been out of the question.

I emailed the organizer Jon to ask what I could do. He offered the use of a Garmin GPS for the day. I gratefully accepted. The day we met for the handoff I asked why only 6 finished. His answer was that the course is HARD. Then he elaborated that there are lots of technical descents. That didn't satisfy the nag in the back of my mind.

Thinking back to the course (I have an eidetic memory for maps and space) I couldn't see anything crazy. In fact, the only technical terrain I could think of was the section I scouted last week. While admittedly tricky, it was nothing compared to a lot of my rides of late.

Was I unimpressed because of the magnitude of my recent mountain biking experience?

Was this thing actually going to be harder than Leadville or the Alpine Odyssey? No way!

I tried to rationalize. Maybe this Cougar Slayer thing was the pinnacle of achievement for those who bailed. Maybe they had not trained for Leadville. Maybe they attempted this thing on a whim, or a lost bet, or out of blatant ignorance. Perhaps...perhaps Sam and I had an edge over this thing.

Could we crush the cougar?

We agreed on a 6:30am meeting time at the finish. That was unnecessarily cruel.

It ended up being 7:30 when we rolled toward Eldora. Soon our questions would be answered. To make a long story short (TOO LATE!) the course is HARD.

From Eldora we climbed for 7 miles up a road that felt more like a creekbed. If water had been flowing down it I'd have called it Class III. 

On the shoulder of Caribou Hill we were rewarded with an amazing panorama of the snow clad North and South Arapahoes and the knowledge that we'd get a nice descent to Caribou and then on down past Rainbow Lakes. Mandy was supposed to meet us just past Rainbow Lakes so we could resupply.

The descent to Caribou was not bad. It got better further down. But then when we turned north from Caribou heading toward Rainbow Lakes Road we found ourselves on a cyclocross course. Or, that's what it seemed like anyway. As Sam described it, just as we'd get up to speed we'd come to another water hole, have to dismount, skirt the water, and then get back on the bikes. Over and over and over and over.

By the time we reached the intersection where I thought we were meeting Mandy we were muddy and wet. We could have blended in with a cyclocross field no problem.

And then I made my logistical blunder. Remember I said I have an eidetic memory for maps and space? Well, I got slightly confused. Without going into great detail, suffice it to say we missed Mandy at the first aid stop--totally my fault--and lacking adequate cell service we had to push on to Brainerd Lake.

The section between Rainbow Lakes Road and Brainerd Lake Road follows the Sourdough Trail. I assumed "trail" would mean nice singletrack, a welcome relief from the creekbed crawling we'd been doing for 14 miles. Not so much.

Sourdough was somewhat harder and more technical because it was singletrack. The initial section up from Eldora was hard, but it was a two track road; that means more room to maneuver. Sourdough kept us confined and struggling to stay on our bikes.

On the second half of Sourdough before Brainerd Lake Road something happened. Where earlier in the ride I had been consciously focused on picking my lines, powering over basketball-sized rocks, and NOT falling over, during the latter miles I found myself in a state of FLOW.

My mind zoned out. I stopped looking at every rock and root, I stopped thinking about powering over obstacles, and I began operating on autopilot. Even my internal dialogue seemed to quiet, and for a few miles I was just riding. I didn't feel tired. I didn't fear falling. I was engaged in the moment.

Then the miles started to catch up, the low fuel tank began affecting me, and I started to feel the pull of gravity and the bite of fatigue in my legs. The state of flow ebbed.

Still the trail stretched ahead of us and on we pedaled. By then it was painfully obvious we were too far down on our pace to finish in less than 8 hours.

After the eternal Sourdough Trail we reached Brainerd Lake Road. No Mandy. I checked my phone. I had no service but I did have a text from Mandy. She had second guessed herself, thinking she had missed us because we were so far behind our pace, and had gone on to Gold Hill.

Brainerd Lake Road was at mile 20. Gold Hill was at mile 44 after a climb up Lefthand Canyon followed by the heinousness of Lickskillet Road. At Brainerd Lake Road we were both out of food and I was also out of water.

It didn't take long for Sam and I to agree there was no way we could finish in less than 8 hours and without food there was no way we could keep going on the course.

We decided to ride down to the Peak to Peak and then straight out the ridge to Gold Hill. So we turned toward the Peak to Peak. Brainerd Lake Road loses elevation fast.

We bombed down the paved road like meteors. I knew it was coming, and saw the tight right hand curve, but I underestimated the radius. As I leaned hard into it I found myself unable to stay to the right.


But them I had completely crossed the oncoming lane and was in the gravel of the shoulder. As I skidded toward the dropoff on the outside of the curve I was feeling much like I did at Emerald Lake two weeks ago. Well, I didn't think I was going to die today, but I was pretty sure I was going to get hurt. As I skidded in the gravel I tried to get free of my pedals. No luck.

I came to a rest laying on my side mere inches from the short bank on the edge of the road still clipped into my pedals. As I was grinding to a halt I heard a commotion. When I twisted around I saw Sam laying in the gravel a few feet behind me still clipped into his bike. I imagine the look on my face was as comical as the look on his.

We got going again and plodded the remainder of our ride out to Gold Hill. We needed food. We were tired. First we had to ride south on the Peak to Peak a few miles being wary of the aspen gawkers. The last few miles of riding were on the dirt Gold Hill Road. Finally we rolled into the cool old town and saw a white Suburbaru Forester parked along Main Street.

We ate. Mandy passed around cold cans of Coca-Cola. Then Boone said:

"So why didn't you finish this one?"

It was hard Boone. It was hard.

In fact, that might have been the hardest 35 miles I've ever ridden. Tonight I feel like I rode a full 70. 

While waiting for us at Rainbow Lakes Road Mandy and the kids saw two moose:


Despite my meticulous planning, detailed cue sheets, stellar weather and our determination to finish we fell short due to unforeseen sustained technical terrain, a logistical nightmare (no cell service and a lack of familiarity of the area by all) and a missed turn.

Friday, September 28

Techno-Trousers: OpenCycleMap

I've got to share this. Today I discovered OpenCycleMap. It's a free online open source map wiki. Huh? Just go check it out.

It appears to be user editable. No, not edible...editable.

Thursday, September 27

The Long Dark of Moria...

Monday my shift changes. I'll need to be at work at 7:30am. And so begins the long journey to spring. I'll descend deeper and deeper into darkness as the days shorten. In the midst of winter I will be riding to and from work in darkness.

I can't fully express my mild despair at this prospect. Commuting in full daylight is a freedom hard to describe. No dealing with lights, no cold weather clothing, no ice, no hidden obstacles. Darkness adds to the stress and changes the game.

I welcome cooler weather. I thrive in lower temperatures. I'd imagined Colorado would have been colder than I discovered it to be. Oh well...

Finally we've gotten enough "rain" to settle the dust of summer. The trails on North Table Mountain are not so loose anymore. This is a good time to ride trails for fun; not to build endurance or speed or to train for climbing.

Fall is bittersweet. The weather is perfectly desirable, but the optimal conditions don't last long. School is back in and work stays shackled to the cubicle dweller's ankle. Ah, to just be free of a schedule from September through November...

The light of spring is a long way off. I'll trudge on, alert to the ambushes of winter's orcs. I'll continue east toward Lothlorien, pining for the daylight and the green of the trees of summer.

Maybe I'll find some answers in the dark this go 'round. Maybe winter will bring about some of the changes I'd so desperately like to see in my life. A new job? A single speed commuter? Mountain biking nirvana? The post-carbon apocalypse?

We'll see.

Tuesday, September 25

Nanny State

Recently in Rick Smith's Yehuda Moon comic strip Yehuda and the gang have been faced with the prospect of a new mandatory helmet law in their town. Some "concerned" citizen sees Thistle Gin riding unarmored with her young daughter and is appalled that Thistle would endanger her child in such a manner. 

The Kickstand boys introduce a new character, Nanny State, who takes the reins of a local mandatory helmet legislation. Ms State takes it upon herself to assess the danger of Thistle's actions and to eradicate what she sees as an unreasonable risk. She makes assumptions about things she doesn't understand and believes she is somehow acting for the greater good. 

As usual, the do-gooder contingent looks to the already marginalized to change their behavior in order to make the do-gooders feel better about the state of the world. Instead of addressing the real sources of risk and danger (speeding and texting drivers, poor bike/ped infrastructure, better education of motorists and cyclists) the do-gooders go after the highly visible (but superficial) issue: helmets. The ladies in the coffee shop are blindly appalled by the idea that someone might ride a bike and choose not to wear a helmet. But they obviously have no experience riding a bike in traffic and aren't experienced or qualified to make decisions in such matters. 

Something that I think is often overlooked, but which is hinted at by Nanny State in her conversation with the city councilman, is when she makes the comment that cyclists are juveniles playing in the streets on toys.

Rick has touched on this idea in other comics. There was one strip where a moto-fascist yelled at Yehuda that "some people are trying to get to work." To which Yehuda responds that he's on his way to work too. There is an attitude that bikes have no place on the roads because they're toys, conversely the assumption is that cars are always legitimized upon the roads, and are somehow holy and sanctified in their most frivolous uses just because they're cars.

Answer this question: who has more legitimacy upon public roads, the person traveling from home to work or the person out for a pleasure cruise? Another question: does the person going to the grocery store have more rights to the road, or the person going to the doctor?

Does it matter what mode of transportation a person uses to gain their destinations? Do their rights to use the roads change?

If there is any credence to the attitude that bikes shouldn't be allowed on the roads because they are toys, then it there could be a strong argument that motor vehicles should only be used for "legitimate" uses such as commuting, important errands and the like. No recreational use should be allowed on public roads. Therefore, no Sunday drives, no taking the boat to the lake, no transporting the kids to soccer practice, no drives to the park...only "important" trips. 

Recently I had a near physical altercation with an insane motorist. He almost clipped me with his truck, and then when I yelled at him he stopped and started to get out. Of course he made alpha male posturing calling out: "C'mon, let's go!" I just looked at him and said: "You wanna go to jail?" To which he replied: "Let's go!" I just shook my head and said: "You'd be going all by yourself." Finally he realized I wasn't going to indulge his bravado. His limp-wristed Parthian shot was: "Take your bike back to school."

The funny thing is that we were both on our way to work I'm sure. Despite his backward ballcap he was pulling a trailer loaded with tools. I was on my way to work too. The major difference between the two of us (besides our chosen modes of transportation) was that I probably have 10-15 years on him.

The real danger on the roads isn't that cyclist aren't wearing styrofoam cups on their heads in greater numbers, but that hostility toward other road users is becoming more and more commonplace and socially acceptable; combined with an epidemic of inattentiveness on both sides of the windshield.

Helmets come into play because helmet companies want to make money. Many pro-helmet advocates stand to gain financially if they can keep ALL cyclists under their flimsy shells. Insurance sharks capitalize on the helmet issue too, claiming cyclist that are injured by their clients that fail to wear helmets aren't entitled to compensation even though there is nothing magical about the polystyrene shell that prevent motorists from striking cyclists. At best they minimize the damage if the crash isn't severe and affects only the head of the cyclist.

Joe makes the business case: 

Listen, I wear a helmet most of the time. I wear one 100% of the time on the mountain bike because rocks and trees hurt a lot. I wear it 99% of the time on the road bike because I like to go fast and skinny tires can flit out from under you in a microsecond. On the cargo bike? Depends. It's maybe like 45%.

My philosophy is that your best head protection is inside your skull, not to be bestowed on some overgrown packing peanut. In a perfect world I wouldn't wear a helmet at all unless I was on trails. I've also come to the conclusion that my next helmet should be of more sturdy materials.

I don't care if you're pro-helmet or anti-helmet. I would appreciate some respect when I exercise my freedom and judgement concerning my own helmet use. I don't appreciate lectures or chastisement. Please refrain from presuming to know anything about my choices or my situation.

I'm interested to see where things go with Yehuda. He is obviously going to defy the mandate.

Monday, September 24

The Grassroots is Greener: Cougar Slayer

Just for the record: I do understand the innuendo. Do you?

I love this idea: map a route on a known mapping/training website, create a website through Wordpress or similar portal to promote your route, establish a date or range of dates for the competitive event, have participants upload their personal results to your website via Strava or similar results interface...and you've got yourself a bike event.

Crowd-sourcing beauty at its finest!

Compare the impact of an event like I've described with that of an event on the scale of the Alpine Odyssey. Assume an equal number of participants. Which has the greater environmental impact? Obviously, the fee driven, widely promoted, sponsor heavy event generates more waste, more STUFF, and more direct environmental impact.

I'm not suggesting the Alpine Odyssey, or other such events/races, are evil. What I am saying is that we can follow a different model and have an equally valuable experience while having a much smaller carbon footprint.

An event on the scale of the Leadville MTB Trail 100 would be difficult to operate in the same manner as the Cougar Slayer. It's interesting though that the Leadville 100 started out as basically an underground grassroots event and has evolved to what it is now.

And what is it? It's a corporately owned, sponsor-heavy, industry show-piece race series. I'm not knocking it; I just wish I had known about it, and had the desire and means to do it, way back when it was that small event.

"Back when it meant something..." I could say. It means something now. As I've said, the Leadville Race Series came about as an economic stimulus package for the town of Leadville by the town of Leadville. It's bootstrap economics at its best, and you can't fault them for wanting the race to grow to the size it has. I hope they keep capping the race and using the lottery as they do. That system adds to the experience in my humble opinion.

My training plan for LV 2013 is going to incorporate some grassroots rides from the Colorado Endurance Series. It's a great way to motivate and challenge myself beyond my solo training without investing a lot in entry fees.

Enter: Strava. I'm hooked. I've put a Garmin Edge gps device on my Christmas wish list. Deep down I really am competitive, and I'm shocked how much I like seeing those segment leaderboards which in turn inspired me to try and improve my standings.

I can do this on my normal commutes. It adds a whole new dimension to be Roadie-O. I don't have to see the roadie rabbits to chase them down.

Anyway, looking forward to slaying the cougar on Saturday. The mighty hunter prepares!

Friday, September 21

The Alpine Odyssey: Alpine Gothic

As the one week anniversary of my gloriously victorious finish at the Alpine Odyssey rapidly approaches I reflect, with nostalgia, on the experience.

My memories of the day are bathed in aspen gold. I've almost hacked all the alpine dust out of my lungs. Now I'm looking ahead to my next torture session on the bike.

Wait, this started out positive, right?

Anyway, mundane reality hardly tarnishes my new-found status as Mountain Bike Racer. While the phone hasn't been exactly ringing off the hook with sponsorship offers I know it will start any minute.

I'd like to go back (and dwell forever) to that day and share a few more details of the event and the course for your reading pleasure. Maybe someday I'll get back to blogging about serious cycling issues (like derailer adjustment), but for now I'll just keep bombarding you with my thoughts on endurance MTB racing.

I signed up for the Alpine Odyssey in a frantic panic to temporarily redeem myself after giving it 87% at Leadville.

When I signed up I knew four things: 1) the race was in September, 2) Lance Armstrong had won it to previously qualify for Leadville, 3) the race was 100k long whatever that meant, and 4) it takes place in Crested Butte.

All metric system-hating aside, I had no clue how hard this race was going to be. I'd never been to Crested Butte, much less was I familiar with the course.

I had a month to scrounge together the pieces of my shattered ego and pull together a coherent plan to ride and finish the Alpine Odyssey. My only goal was getting back into Leadville next summer. There was no underlying desire to do the Odyssey.

Let's face it, the race could have involved me riding a unicycle dressed up as a bear in a tutu at a honey festival while Lance Armstrong threw angry bee swarms at me and I would have signed up just for a chance at slot in Leadville. I'm a whore that way.

Thankfully no bear suits were involved. That made the 62 mile (googled "kilometers to miles") bike race a lot more enjoyable.

Two weeks out I hadn't received anything from race staff concerning the route. All I could find was a blurry old map from a previous year. I was a bit worried about the course and how it would try to destroy me. I sent Shannon an email and she assured me that 7-10 days before the race I'd receive something. The email came much later (I completely understand Shannon!), but finally I could map the course and see what I was in for. While the profile seemed rugged the overall course just didn't seem so bad. What was I missing?

Anyway, I set about making my final plans. Changing my tactics from Leadville I'd decided to completely forego the hydration pack and run with two bottles and jersey pockets full of food. I'd take full advantage of the aid stations and go fast and light. Minimalism is so sexy to me these days.

It was a good plan, but completely contingent on good weather. If there had been rain or it had been overcast or colder my whole plan would have changed.

In one sense I went into the race blind. I didn't know what to expect, and I approached it as if it were just some 62 mile ride in the foothills near home. That strategery could have blown up in my face. But on to the ride...

As I mentioned in my initial writeup, the hardships involved in traversing the stout course were offset by the majesty of the continuous alpine vistas. It's hard to bemoan your wretchedness when it's surrounded by unobstructed views of pristine Rocky Mountains.

The small sections of the course that prohibited landscape oriented views were typically situated in Tolkien-esque settings. The Emerald Lake gorge was one of them. The aspen-cloaked shoulder of Mt Crested Butte was another. The posh resort area, despite triggering my gag reflex toward overdeveloped wastefulness, had a European feel and added to the novel ambiance of the event.

The first lap left the resort and turned northwest up the Slate River valley. The road was dirt with a few public access roads off to the sides. The further up the valley we rode the less development there was. Above the community of Pittsburg (just a couple cabins) the valley had a distinctly alpine feel and the elevation was only about 9,400'. At Pittsburg we felt the first significant grade under us. There were lots of groans of complaint, but no one walked that I saw.

After that things eased up before THE switchbacks, and the scenery continued to inspire.

There was enough of a reprieve after Pittsburg so the vicious angle of the first switchback didn't seem quite so torturous. But the last three miles to the Paradise Divide aid station were sore cruel, gaining about 1,600'. Still, for the most part it was a good road. There was one steep and loose section just before mile 13 that I walked. I needed a break so my feet would stop tingling from all the climbing and I wasn't in mind to take a tumble all bunched up with the group is been riding with.

The road from Washington Gulch came in just above mile 13 and the road above kept climbing all the way to the pass/divide between Cinnamon Mountain and Mt Baldy and the Paradise Basin and the Slate River Valley.

The views from the uppermost section of the road were incredible, with steep dropoffs to the west and mountains all around.

The aid station was situated by a picturesque little alpine lake with Cinnamon Mountain as a backdrop. I imagine it got its name from its color.

The road into the basin was rough and steep. All the way down to Rock Creek I had to stay sharp and watch the road (No whammies! No whammies! Big money!) until I reached Schofield Pass between the Rock Creek and East River drainages. The surface was much improved there and the view would soon far exceed anything we'd seen to that point. The road down from the pass hugs the steep western-most flanks of Mt Bellview above the stunning Emerald Lake. I won't recount my experiences there save to say its one of the most dramatic landscapes on the whole route.

Initially the road passes between the geologic hulks of Bellview and Baldy, but not far below Emerald Lake the valley starts to open up rewarding diligent mountain bike racers with stunning views of the greater East River valley.

As the valley opens up the road continues to improve and to lose elevation facilitating a six mile luge run back to the resort area.

I screamed through the community of Gothic, and saw very little of it, but I did manage to absorb the grandiose vista that included Gothic Mountain's awesome east face and Avery Peak's bloody red upper western flanks. Oh, and about 14 gazillion aspens in full fall color.

After Gothic there are some moderate rollers, but nothing like the Pipeline-Twin Lakes section of Leadville. Dirt changes to asphalt and then the course took us through the eastern-most neighborhood of resort homes on the shoulder between Mt Crested Butte and Snodgrass Mtn.

It's a moderate climb, but for whatever reason it felt like a rest on the first lap, and even on the second lap I felt like the long ride up the street left me feeling a bit more spry.

Directly off the paved road we picked up "Meander," a long switchbacking singletrack. Low on the section the slopes are steep and it takes a bit of concentration to keep moving. The grade isn't steep, in fact the sweeping turns on the switchbacks are kind of nice, but it's a long, long climb up the shoulder.

I couldn't tell if the trails are new, or just poorly built causing some really bumpy spots. It seems like a new trail, and I can't find it on Google Maps/Earth, so I think it's just new.

The descent through the aspens is similarly rough, and has lots of tight (i.e. narrow passages between trees) turns. I could attribute the rough and tumble nature of the singletrack section to the extremely dry summer we've had. Some areas didn't seem well packed and some areas seems to be sloughing away in the arid climate.

Finally there was the downhill course ending both laps. It's not as extreme in surface profile as some of the stuff I'd ridden at Valmont, but it was dry and rough and completely unexpected on the first lap. I really didn't want to blow my race on a jump. I've typically been a keep-both-wheels-on-the-ground kind of rider. I've just of late discovered the joys of leaving terra firma while clipped into my pedals. I tried to ride it cautious.

The second lap began at the start/finish line. The aid station was just down a bit from the line. From the aid station the course took the back way out to the street, at one point actually following a concrete gutterpan through the grass, and finally out to the main drag through the resort. Another fast descent toward town truncated with a hard right turn onto Washington Gulch Road. The first two miles up the valley were resort residential with expensive vacation homes and condos on the flanks of the lower ridges.

Washington Gulch Road turned to dirt soon enough. Gothic Mountain dominated the view ahead. It's striking facade bade me get off the bike and climb to its summit. Oh, the latent mountaineer in me was frothing at the mouth!

By the second lap it was late enough in the day that vehicle traffic was up. There had been a bit around Gothic and a busy trailhead on the first pass down he East River valley, but otherwise traffic had been sparse.

It was obvious who had come from out of state to see the aspens. But really traffic was almost a non-issue for the entire race.

The upper third of Washington Gulch Road becomes heartbreakingly steep. Finally I found myself walking repeatedly. I rode more than I would have with my virgin Leadville mentality, but I still hoofed it more than I wanted.

Near the top of the climb there is a small ghost town, Elkton I think the sign read, and then some mining remnants before the top of the Washington Gulch climb. There was a very psychologically helpful volunteer that said as I approached the top: "Looking good number 79! You've got a nice downhill before the climb to the aid station."

Glory. Hal-le. Lujah.

I was all alone on the descent back to the top of the Slate River switchbacks. It was nice to have my own space. The road weaves in and out of the trees alternating sweeping views and cool shaded glades.

The second pass up the last mile to the Paradise Divide aid station is hard. It comes at mile 47 with the majority of the 6,000' of overall gain behind you. The only climbing of any significance after Paradise is the singletrack at the end. It's hard to put that last bit of climbing out of your head when you haven't found your second wind yet.

 Boone and I are pretty sure that's a bald eagle

The three miles from the aid station to Schofield Pass can beat you up the second go round. But they go quick. Then there are about seven miles of screaming descent. Down Gothic the second time the sun had moved into the western sky and Avery Peak almost glowed red above the aspens in the valley.

It was during that seven miles I did find my second wind. The field was stretching thin as the last miles fell away. Riders were tiring. The day wore on.

The last miles went much faster than I'd anticipated, but I had to keep moving.

The finish was maddening as I'd said earlier. Back and forth over and over when all you really wanted was straight down the hill to the finish.

As I rolled toward the red carpet and across the line I considered raising my hands over my head. For me, just crossing the finish was enough.

Oh, it would have been cool to roll across on a unicycle while dressed as a bear wearing a tutu while Lance Armstrong threw angry swarms of bees at me. Of course I left the bear costume...well, it doesn't really matter where. And Lance had cut and run. Big baby. They're just bees man!

Anyway, the course was incredible. The loop format versus the out and back of Leadville was interesting. My altered strategy worked very well. I'd race the Alpine Odyssey again. And again.

Thursday, September 20

The Leadville Saga: Won't Come Back From Deadman's Curve

I want to revisit my near disastrous descent along Emerald Lake during the Alpine Odyssey. I know I relayed the event in a previous post, but I want to unpack and analyze the experience in a little more depth.

It's easy to ignore the inherent risks of riding a bicycle. After many miles and many days of successfully commuting in suburban traffic it's easy to drop your guard.

The same thing is true of fast descents on trails and dirt roads. And there's something intoxicating about bombing down some Tolkien-esque gorge at 30 mph while carving through Lance Armstrong's very recent tire tracks. It's easy to forget the inherent dangers (I.e. physics, not just perceived dangers) and throw caution to the wind.

Just below Paradise Divide on the second lap I backed off my speed. I was all alone on the course, and I realized if I skidded off one of those steep drop offs into a remote alpine gully I might not be found quickly. I recognized the reality combined with the pure physics of my predicament.

My desensitization to the risk put me in greater danger of suffering dire consequences than my normal adventures would. There was the brief perception that I wasn't all alone in a inherently risky situation.

I'm used to being in exactly the same sort of situations EXCEPT for being more self-reliant. But being part of an organized event temporarily gave me a false sense of security.

When I realized that I backed off.

But then as I followed another rider down past Emerald Lake I again let my guard down, and in the heat of the chase I cast caution to the ditch.

It almost cost me too much.

Toward the bottom of the section of road along Emerald Lake the road begins a series of short curves around buttresses on the steep mountain side.

The right edge of the road was a high and steep dropoff. The left edge of the road rose steeply above and blocked the downhill view for any distance.

The road surface itself was irregular but compacted enough to allow someone with fat tires to really open it up. And as I previously mentioned, I was able to reach much higher speeds on my bike than I would have in a car in that section.

Second lap. Some familiarity with the course. Too much confidence.

Before I realized it I was screaming toward Deadman's Curve with an abundance of inertia and little in my physics tool box to shore up the dire situation.

The race disappeared. My urgency to go fast faded. I forgot about the miles between me and the finish line. My singletrack performance anxiety evaporated in an instant. I had laser focus on one thing; I had only one finish line in mind for a few eternal nanoseconds: the edge of the road before the fatal chasm.

I knew not to lock up the brakes. As time slowed down I had that thought and moved on to: how bad is this going to hurt? Then my tires were grinding in the gravel. My panicked battle cry echoed off the valley walls. My mind was fighting the acceptance of my imminent doom with a will to live stronger than I've ever felt.

In retrospect I probably could have just laid the bike down to maximize my friction and stopping power. Instinct tells you to keep the bike upright. Reality is that road rash is an acceptable trade off to dying.

When I found control and was out of danger my tires were within six inches of where the road's edge became degraded and inconsistent. One bump, one rock, one infinitesimal mistake and I would have gone over.

With enough speed there would have been no painful tumble, just one horrendous impact at the bottom. As I was grinding toward the edge I realized I might still tumble down the sick-steep embankment. Too late I realized I could use my body as a huge brake. Then I was too frozen to dive backward and dig in with my fingernails. I made the subconscious decision to ride it out.

Maybe that saved me: sticking with it, fighting to maintain control right up to the event horizon, going down with the ship, fighting the stick instead of pulling the eject lever...maybe that's what saved the day.

[I know this sounds a bit melodramatic, but I assure you, I'm not embellishing this tale to pull in a bigger readership. I'd appreciate it though, if you would take a second to share this post by clicking on the icon of your favorite social media site below]

Full system restart. Laser focus flash burnt all of my previous anxieties. Once I banked out of the near-fatal curve I had fresh oxygen in my brain, had all the extraneous worries purged, and I had fresh adrenaline coursing through my body.

With care I pushed The One back up to ramming speed.

So what's the big deal? Right? I didn't plummet to my doom. I should just forget it and move on? Maybe. Or maybe I should always carry that little coin of experience right in my hip pocket.

Pushing it, giving it your all, going for the gold, doping to win...all those things will bring you glory, but not making it safe and whole to the finish line gains you absolutely zilch.

I want to add the caveat: I do not agree with magnifying the inherent risks of being alive to the level that you give up living a rich and full life.

Fear will prevent you from doing things that have manageable levels of risk. Driving to the grocery store has as much inherent risk (or more) than doing a mountain bike race. Don't be fooled by a false perception of physics.

Life is good. Life is too good to throw it away on shaving off a few measly minutes from an unremarkable performance in the grand scheme of things. I'm happy and content with my time. I'm glad I didn't trade it for ruin.

Wednesday, September 19

Tripping the Unfamiliar

Took a mental health day today. Then I grabbed hold of opportunity and wrestled 'im to the ground.

I rode The One up to school in Westminster, hijacked Gump, and drove up to Betasso Preserve in the foothills west of Boulder.

I didn't ride in Betasso (bikes are not allowed on Wednesdays and Saturdays) but only used the TH as a parking spot for my scouting ride.

I dropped back down to Sugarloaf Road and turned west up the moderate slog to Labelle Road. I've been in the area a couple of times, first an attempted ride on the Switzerland Trail with the kids--got rained out--and then back hiking with Boone to the top of Sugarloaf proper. So I know the main roads. It's a "mountain" suburban area, and therefore, not straightforward to navigate.

The ultimate reason, Dear Readers, for my trip today was to familiarize myself with the final leg of the Cougar Slayer. Now I have complete confidence that I won't get stymied by route finding challenges. And believe me, that section was a doozy.

The first half of the four mile section went smoothly. Now, I never get lost. Let me iterate that up front. There is a knot of roads and driveways at Arkansas Mountain Road. I remembered the area well from the Strava map, and I was pretty sure I was in the right spot, but a "private road, neighborhood access only" sign made me doubt. I had no 3G service so I couldn't consult any aerial imagery to confirm my location.

Finally I pushed on into what seemed to be someone's driveway. I was going to play the "lost" card should I be confronted. Thankfully I quickly discovered I was on the right trail. Hurrah!

From that point on I was 100% confident I was on the course. The second sign read with a more fascist tone than the first, upholding the supreme sanctity of private property, but then the last sign at the top of the descent addressed mountain bikers and urged caution because of high pedestrian and equestrian traffic. Finally! Real confirmation I was on route!

However...the descent from Arkansas Mountain to Weaver Road was a bit hairy. Steep is an apt description. Piled high with decomposed granite baseballs accurately describes the "trail" surface. "Seemingly abandoned" rings true. A great wave of relief washed over me though as I cruised down to Weaver Road and returned to the trailhead. I'd ridden 11 miles total and had shored up the logistics for a particularly confusing route segment.

On one hand it seems a bit cheap to preview the route. The rock climbing parallel would be "blowing the onsight." But the confidence of knowing that tricky section far outweighs any cheapening of the sense of adventure come September 29. There'll be plenty of new trail to ride despite my preview today. And, I've ridden all of the Switzerland Trail of which the Cougar route utilizes a good portion.

This is going to be awesome!

Sugarloaf Mtn from Labelle Rd

See, The Things About Endurance Mountain Bike Races Is...

I'm a bit of an obsessive personality. Well, maybe that's not entirely true. I'm obsessive when it comes to my recreational pursuits. That part is true. Is it part of my personality or some other component of my physiology? That is the real question.

Some of you may be scratching your heads after reading that paragraph. Please continue scratching if it feels nice. Please DO NOT continue scratching until you draw blood even if you're really confused.

See, there's something wonky with my wiring. My lovely wife (with a special-ed background) and I speculate that I may have some sensory integration issues. I'm what some call a "sensory seeker." I crave sensory and proprioceptive input. Proprio-whut? STOP! Stop scratching before you hit grey matter!

Proprioception is really one of our senses. So the sum total should be at least six making that M. Night Shamalamadingdong movie awkwardly named because it wasn't about proprioception at all!

Mosby's Medical, Nursing and Allied Health Dictionary defines proprioception as: the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement. Truth be told, after a bit more reading I think what is truly going on is that I have wonky exteroception. Without getting into too much depth, what that means is that I am sensitive to temperature, pressure, texture, movement, the passage of time, and also the traditional five senses. "Why" is a question I have no tangible answer for.

I was a breach baby. Some speculate traumatic births can cause neurological disorders. Of course there are so many toxic materials flowing through our environment today I could just be the product of packaging.

I said all that to say this: (above an beyond what would be considered normal) I crave constant movement and sensory input, including changes in temperature, pressure, gravity, direction and the like. A long mountain bike race gives me such a sustained barrage of stimuli that for a day or so afterward I can feel pretty darn good. And then, when the stimulus wears off I crash hard, going back to seeking that stimulus with a vengeance. (When I was much younger I would spend day after day hiking for hours on end, maintaining my "high" for long periods of time. I did this subconsciously, with no understanding of what compelled me to seek those experiences. I was never one to go into the woods and just sit and enjoy the peace and quiet. I had to always be on the move.)

To explain my new found love of endurance mountain bike racing as such seems somewhat antiseptic. Since I've understood the source of my quirky behaviors in life it's always troubled me: is it my personality, or my unthinking wiring causing this or that behavior? Thoughts are thoughts, but reactions and behaviors can be unconnected to conscious thought.

What got me thinking along these lines was reading A Year of Living...humm...Dangerous? and Fat Cyclist's blogs this morning and the accounts of their respective recent mountain bike races. Of course I compare them to mine, dream of being able to do more rides, crave those experiences for my own, but then I couldn't help but see the Duality of my cycling obsession.

Internally, and in my private journal, I talk about Dualities a lot. My reality is that I am often two beings at once within the same physical space. The best example, and easiest to explain, is that I both hate being around people and crave human contact AT THE SAME TIME. And it's has nothing to do with the individual people around me. It's not that I don't like the people I'm around. It could be that I am enjoying a great dialogue with someone but also feeling terribly uncomfortable being in their presence. So there is this odd social component to my wonkedness.

I enjoy being a self-reliant solo adventurer. I enjoy solitude because it simplifies my existence. I don't have to wrestle with my Duality demon. I can But when I'm out alone enjoying myself I'm typically fantasizing about bringing those that are close to me back to share the experiences at a later date. I want both realities, and often at the same time.

It's horribly frustrating to say the least.

Of course, being the person I am, I do try to find the silver lining in every situation. I'm neither an optimist or a pessimist, but a dogged realist. Life is hard, but there are so many good things to experience along the way; why not enjoy them?

These obsessive compulsions have drawn me to an incredibly rewarding activity. While reading Fatty's Draper Fall Classic accountand then Dangerous guy's Race the Wind accountI couldn't help but think: these are races—races mind you—in which you can ride along with someone and get to know them. That's just incredible. I experienced that myself at both Leadville and during the Alpine Odyssey. I never experienced that when I ran cross country or in running other 5ks since then. It's possible, just not as likely as during a long bike race. Endurance mountain bike races are social, and yet personal. That suits me.

I think that's why I'm trying to hold onto this my inaugural mountain bike racing season by doing the Cougar Slayer. It's my best last chance for awhile to punish my body in an enjoyable way. It's been an enjoyable summer to boot.

I used to be an obsessive rock climber. For a long while it filled this same niche for me. But climbing never quite provided the right kind of stimulation. There was a lot of (for me) uncomfortable down time. I hate belaying. I hate waiting while others climb. I need to be on the move all the time to satisfy my oddly wired body and brain.

And let's not even think about the fact that I spend most days in sedentary hell occupying a cubicle. By the end of many days my nervous system is buzzing in anticipation of being freed from confinement. I'm serious, it's a physical feeling, like my nerves are electrified.

So I apologize if this post got you down. That wasn't really my intention. I was brainstorming after reading those two blogs and it all just sprung fully formed from my head. I really didn't intend to fling such a heavy read at you in the middle of the week. I typically save those for Friday or Saturday nights to totally ruin your weekend. I'm home today, feeling drained and brain-tired. It sort of all clicked when Mandy said: Your weekend is finally catching up with you. 

I desperately want to go back to bed and sleep for a few hours.

I desperately want to go out and ride my bike for a few hours.

Tuesday, September 18

Murdering Mascots

September 22nd is the first day of autumn and the "official" running of the Cougar Slayer with aid stations and course markings. Due to prior commitments I won't be able to be there to ride on Saturday, but my amazing wife has offered to run SAG on Saturday the 29th.

There's really no long term benefit to doing this one last endurance race of the year. I can't imagine it will positively contribute to my fitness levels next August because I do fully intend to lay off hard mountain biking til the end of the year. Of course, you know what they say about good intentions...

But one last hurrah, one last rip-roaring good time...while my fitness levels are up and my mind is still in race mode...that's what the Cougar Slayer is all about for me.

While the Leadville Race Series still holds me in thrall to its amazing culture, I'm becoming more and more drawn to the grassroots, underground, laid back atmosphere of races like the Cougar Slayer. There's just something cool about being a part of something really unique and mostly unknown.

I'm a sucker for a good hush, hush kind of event. And here I go blabbing about it by scribbling reams on this here back alley wall of the Internet.

I invited Sam (from the Alpine Odyssey) to come along and benefit from our SAG setup and he agreed to throw in his lot with is. It'll be good to have some mutual moral support.

I'm not fearful of the course, but there's something ominous about heading out alone to subdue an unfamiliar 70 mile route in the mountains. Despite my propensity for self-reliant solo adventuring sometimes I find challenges that seem...well, challenging. Maybe I'm getting to be spoiled by well-stocked aid stations.

On the 29th Sam and I will attempt to slay the cougar and claim a belt buckle for doing so. There will be a write up. Oh yes! Shameless self-promotion, glorious exploitation of the grassroots ambiance, cheapening of the experience by ruthlessly blogging about it with little literary skill...that's what I'm talkin' about! All the while claiming to appreciate the obscurity and novelty of such events...

I'm a scoundrel, I know.

Heck! I'm not even going to train for this one!

Well, maybe that's not true. I'm compelled to ride and play in the dirt before the snow flies. This is just another excuse to delay my well deserved rest.

Rest...HA! I'll still be a full time bike commuter and Mandy and I are planning to run some 5ks. I'll get no rest til I'm dead.

So let's go slay us a cougar!

Monday, September 17

The Alpine Odyssey: Alpenglow

This post is Part II in my write up of the Alpine Odyssey. For Part I see yesterday's post: Odysseus Returns.

I wanted to be at the finish as the other riders I had toiled with came across. I especially wanted to be there as Sam finished. I hoped he had been doing well and that he was going to finish. He'd told me before the start that he'd only decided a month before to do the ride so he could get into Leadville in 2013. His MTB specific training was almost non-existent and he was riding a brand new bike. The Alpine Odyssey was also his first such event.

The only time I'd seen him after the start was at the first aid station. He was close behind me, coming in just as I was leaving. After my finish I decided to take a chance and go get changed out of my bike clothes hoping I'd make it back before he came in. But before I could get away from the finish line...

Right after me a rider came in. Her name was Megan, and we had passed each other a few times throughout the second lap. I'm fairly certain she was the person that told me at the beginning of the second lap that she was done. It was good to see her come across the line looking strong and happy—and not just to be finished. She passed me on the final push up to Paradise Divide looking solid, but nose down on her handlebars.

Top of Slate River looking back down switchbacks on the second lap

Just before I walked away from the finish I recognized the rider coming in. He was a tall guy and as he came over the finish he was calling out his weight.


He looked in my direction and said: "You're a Clydesdale too! How much you weigh?"

"Uh, like...190."

We laughed as we shook hands and congratulated each other. Green Jersey guy and the older descender came in about that time too. I asked Green Jersey if he saw me almost die in the curve at Emerald Lake.

"I thought you looked like you were in complete control," he said. More laughs, more congrats and more feelings of being part of a greater Leadville family.

I rode my bike the quarter mile or so to the car as Mandy stayed at the finish to clip chips. My fresh clothes were a sight for sore eyes, and I was soooo happy to put on real shoes. Changed, a new person, no longer a masochistic cyclist, I threw a leg over the top tube of The One and pushed on the pedal. Something didn't feel right. I stepped off the bike and gave it a once over. The rear tire was soft. I had a flat!

The racers in the SUV next to me shared a laugh over the well-timed flat. Then I overheard one telling the other: "Sorry I'm salting your truck dude."

I laughed: "I feel like a big french fry."

"Crusty and greasy!" he agreed.

It was a short enough walk back to the finish area, so I cabled the bike to Gump and headed back.

The riders were coming in a trickle by then. Still Sam hadn't come in and I had started to fear that he'd not be finishing. It was almost 4:30. Seven and a half hours. The cutoff was eight. Marvin (race staff) told Mandy he had things under control and said she could leave with me, but I wanted to wait til Sam came in.

Just a few minutes later we saw a lone rider coming down the last switchbacks.

"Is that Sam?" I asked.

"It is," she replied.

Sam had a good finish. He looked as rough as I felt. I emailed G.E. to let her know he had finished and was doing well and then we told Sam we'd meet up with him at the awards ceremony. 


The account of my ride is really only a part of this story. To convey the entire experience I have to tell you about Mandy's day as well. Because of her day, her involvement in the whole sordid affair, I felt like I was more immersed in the culture and atmosphere of the event. My experience was much richer in sharing her experience.

We drove in from our hotel in Gunnison. Like I'd previously mentioned, when we reached the start area there were few riders about. She chatted with Sam and I until the chute started to fill up, then she left us to go find a spot to spectate the start.

Two minutes before the start she watched Lance ride up and take his place. Then when the gun went off she got pics of the whole field riding out. I was on the opposite side so she didn't get me, but she did get a couple of good clear shots of Sam.

After the start Mandy meandered around the resort area, ate her breakfast, and called her dad to give him updates. She's a good daughter!

About 10:30 she headed back up toward the start area and ran into Marvin and Josh (the race director) and asked if they needed her to do anything. They put her at a crucial turn just before the aid station where a tricksy curb could wreak havoc.

In her spot she got to hear George announce the lead riders coming down the hill and then see them as they screamed through the narrow streets of the resort area. She got a really good photo of Lance coming through all by himself.

Clad in her cool crew t-shirt she spent the day in the midst of race central. She got to know all the staff and a lot of volunteers. She even had another volunteer come up and say: "You need a cowbell!" and so she had a cowbell the rest of the day. On top of all the perks she got to hear most of the radio conversations, so she got the blow by blow of the race from the staff's point of view.

Just after noon she headed up toward the awards table at the finish line. Shannon had told her she could help with the medals. She found George, Shannon's husband, and he directed her to where Shannon was. At that time she heard the leaders were about 20 minutes out.

Cameron Chambers finishing

By the time Cameron Chambers, the overall winner, came across the line at 3:58 Mandy was in place with the other race staff. She got to see just about all the racers finish.

When Lance came across she said it was obvious by his body language he wasn't happy with a fifth place finish. George came up to interview him and Mandy got to see/hear the whole thing from an insider's point of view. 

George interviewing Lance

George asked how he felt and he said he'd spent a lot of time recently in Austin getting his kids ready for school so he wasn't acclimated. He also said he'd not been training much for it, doing more running than biking, and that he'd done his best.

Lance placed in his age category—he didn't race as a pro—so he earned a qualifying spot for Leadville next summer. When George asked if he was going to be there he responded (paraphrased): I'm 41. I'm too old for that kind of endurance race. It's a wonderful race and one of the hardest I've ever done.

She said he then hung out with the other top finishers for a few minutes before getting on his bike and just riding away. He was gone for the day. At the awards ceremony he had left an empty spot on the podium. While it was very cool to do a race with Lance Armstrong, it was somewhat disappointing that he didn't stay and mingle. That would have meant a lot.

Lance leaves a unique legacy, as he approaches the twilight of a bright career. His presence in Leadville and in the other obscure mountain bike races around the country has brought interest to them and has drawn the attention of strong young (and older) riders. His interest has been the shot in the arm that many of these events need. And those young and old strong riders...that he's now having trouble keeping up with...are taking up a brightening torch. Lance doesn't leave the podium in disgrace. Maybe he feels that way. Maybe he doesn't. Like I said before: he is the face of American cycling.

Those of us that enjoy competive cycling, as participants or as spectators, owe a lot to Lance. He had a large role in getting the USA Pro Cycling Challenge up and running, and he shoved the Tour de France into the faces of the American public.

I mean, honestly, I've had quite a few people scream at me from their car windows: "Get off the road Lance!"

After the excitement of the leaders' finishes Mandy settled into a routine. She truly did enjoy the scene, hanging with the race staff, getting to meet all the riders as they came across, and getting to hear all the radio chatter. She said she enjoyed checking out all the different bikes, and as her job was to clip the timing chips off of everyone's bikes she got to see all of the interesting places people put them. It was like a timing chip easter egg hunt.

But by the time I came through she was deft with her snips. I never knew she took my chip, and she said there were a lot of people coming back to have her take their chip, and then she would say: "I already got yours." Puzzled look. "When did you do that?"

One guy named her the "chip ninja."

From 4 and a half to 5 and a half hours out it was busy, but never too busy. Riders came in mostly singly or in groups of three or four. The nature of the last descent was such that until the last hundred feet you couldn't really pass at all. Though she said some did try to pass and came screaming down the red carpet and right on past as she and Marvin called for them to stop. They had to chase a few down. While I was standing there one guy did a full 180ยบskid.

Of course there were those that pushed hard to the end. Some were cramping, and they had to hold the cyclists up as they clipped their chips and gave them medals because they couldn't get unclipped from their pedals. A few collapsed. No one puked. Shannon told her she always wears old shoes...just in case.

Quite a few bunny hopped over the line and she said at least one guy rode a wheelie. I simply rode across like a stiffened concrete mannequin. I debated giving the V for victory salute, but I feared crashing on the carpet on top of gravel.

We both watched as one guy stopped at the last turn, took out his video camera and rode across while filming.

Mandy was very impressed with the staff, and got to know a few of them fairly well as the day progressed. Shannon is the volunteer coordinator, amongst other things, and her husband George was the commentator and announcer. George commentated all day with little feedback from crowd and announced each rider as they came down the hill. Mandy says Shannon has volunteer organization down to a science.

There is the "Leadville family" and then there are Leadville families. Obviously Shannon and George are involved and husband and wife. Their 16 year old son raced and did very well.

Josh, the race director, signed his wife up the week before to do the race. She did the first lap, got a mile into second lap and came back and said she was done.

Paraphrasing again: "There's no downhill on the course except the last part. It might look downhill but its not."

And there is me and Mandy.

For me it was just the best part of the experience, to get to come across the finish line and have Mandy put the medal over my head. She's done as much to earn that medal in the past year as I have. She's been the support I needed even when I didn't know I needed it. She was supportive when I gave up at Leadville. She was adamant I do the Alpine Odyssey and that I go back and finish in Leadville. She's got as much or more invested in this quest as I do. I owe it all to her. And I am so thankful I can share it all with her.

I have to thank Shannon for being so cool and letting Mandy do that. We are both so thankful and so ingratiated to the staff for doing such a fantastic job, working so hard, and making the experience truly unforgettable.

Again, as at Leadville, I tried my best to verbally thank every volunteer I saw. I've been there, and I know what it means to give up your day so others can play. My wife knows even better than I do, and her experience has inspired me to want to volunteer when I don't ride.


After my finish I was ecstatic to discover that we didn't have to wait to eat. There was food by the stage. I piled up about five pounds of pasta and tucked in some salad. I planted myself by the retail tent in case I decided I needed to buy a t-shirt. Sam came along shortly. He collapsed in the grass and we both set about stuffing away our pasta. 

Mandy showed up and we listened to the band and talked about our respective days. It was nice to relax in the cool grass, watch the kids roll down the hill below the course and listen to the band.

Finally the awards ceremony began. For those that placed in their category there were holders for their finishing medals. For qualifying spots coins were given out to those who did qualify for Leadville. Very few that qualified turned down their coin. The male 30-39 category was allotted 10 coins. Those were burned through really quickly. Neither myself or Sam got one of those coveted pieces of currency.

I wanted to leave. I didn't really think I'd get a lottery coin. I mean, with only 221 riders, and 35 performance qualifiers, that left 35 lottery slots for 186 people. Presumably not all of those 186 would want to go to Leadville either. I'm bad at math, and so now my brain really hurts, but I had about a 1 in 5 chance of getting a coin before factoring in those who would pass on the coin.

And then Josh called my name. 

I walked down to the stage and claimed my heavy little trophy. It was kind of anticlimactic. I'd finished, and in a good time for me. And...and, the golden cherry on top was a slot in next year's Leadville Trail 100 MTB race. Based on my finish time I will be in the purple corral on 6th next August.

Sam didn't get a coin. I was hesitant to do a happy dance on the way back. I wanted to hold off until I knew if he would get one. Toward the end of the names being called there was a bona-fide slew of people that didn't claim the last few coins. Fingers crossed. C'mon, c'mon, c'mon! In the end I bet he was down to like 1 in 2 odds or better.

I knew the remaining options well. I'd listed them in my own head many times over the past few weeks. 1) Qualify. 2) Regular lottery. 3) Qualify next summer. 4) Volunteer next year and ride in 2014.

I have a good feeling about Sam getting into the lottery. I think he's got a really good chance. Based on his performance on such little training I think he'll be a force to be reckoned with come August with a year of training under his belt.

We said our goodbyes and began our long journeys home. From Crested Butte to our house is about four hours. We got on the road about 7:00. It was almost midnight before we rolled into the Bikeport. Blessed sleep came quickly after a shower. It was such an amazing day, so memorable, packed with so many incredible experiences, encounters with great people, in such a phenomenal place. We are truly blessed to have had (and shared) that experience.

Again, I have to thank all the race staff, especially Shannon Gipson, and ALL of the volunteers. If I saw you anywhere wearing your blue t-shirts I tried to verbally thank you, if I didn't it wasn't because I didn't appreciate your presence. I want to thank the other riders for being supportive and positive. I'm so impressed that the overwhelming majority of finishing riders made the cutoff. The last rider came in at 8:02!

And I very much want to thank all of my family, friends and acquaintances that offered supportive words, well wishes, prayers and just positive vibes over the past year, and especially the past month.

Thanks Sam and G.E.! Glad we could share the experience with you guys! Hope we get to do the same in Leadville!

And to my family: Mandy and Boone and Lily...

Thank you so much! You are the best, the greatest, the most awesome SAG crew a guy could have!

Sunday, September 16

Odysseus Returns

"Alpine Odyssey" is an apt name for the race. For one thing, like myself, I have a feeling it was a redemption ride for some that did not finish the 2012 Leadville 100 mountain bike race. In that sense, it was part of a greater odyssey, a greater journey, to the far shore of Ithaca; that red carpet our Penelope, waiting, waiting, waiting...

It was an alpine environment. After leaving the resort town of Mount Crested Butte, the race route climbs up Slate River Valley, an amazing, stunning, breathtaking alpine valley. This past weekend the aspens were in their full glory, splashing the landscape with golden brilliance, making it near impossible to ride. I just wanted to stop and soak it all in. I wanted to capture in the images I was seeing with my feeble vision, to take back and share digitally with the world. If only I could take you all there to see with your own eyes the surreal landscape of the Elk Mountains.

Race day dawned with bright clear skies. The 9am start was a benefit, as the sun was up and warming us before we had to take off, allowing those of us that run a little hot to shed the warm clothing (and weight) before the gun.

All sunburning aside, it was incredible weather, an incredible time to be in the out-of-doors in that part of the world, and just a stellar experience regardless of whether you were riding, volunteering or spectating.

Unlike Leadville, I went into the race with little expectations. I had no idea what the course was going to be like, what the pace was going to be like, and what to expect from myself. The course is very straightforward and enjoyable. Like I said, the scenery is downright distracting. My pace might have been faster if I hadn't been looking for excuses to walk so I could take photos. 29% grade? I'll walk it. Snap. Snap. Snap. As for myself...

I diligently carb-loaded Wednesday and Thursday. I had no choice but to ride in to work on Friday, but I took it easy so as not to deplete my carb stores, and I ate a big plate of pasta at lunch. I stayed away from junk food all week, and only put good fuel into my body. I've discovered a new love for orange juice as my electrolyte drink of choice.

My stress levels were so much less going into this race compared to Leadville. The night before we settled into the hotel room and watched a bit of TV before going to bed. I only tossed and turned for a few minutes before I fell into a deep sleep. When the alarm went off at 6am we took our time waking up and getting ready. There was no rush to get from Gunnison to Crested Butte. I calmly ate an egg and cheese bagel and drank a nice cup of coffee.

Sunlight bathed the mountains, the aspens and the town. As we drove up into the resort we could see much paint on the steep roadway: remnants from the USA Pro Cycling Challenge. I still remember last year's memorable finish up that road, attack after attack after attack, strong riders surging to the lead and then falling off until only Levi Leipheimer remained. It was incredible. We were driving up hallowed cycling ground. In a short time I'd be bombing down that same street with the Alpine Odyssey field.

The start area was oddly devoid of racers at 8:15am. By the time Mandy left to go find a good spot to watch the start, Sam—Sam's wife G.E. blogs over at Endless VeloLove—and I were wondering where all the riders were. He informed me he'd heard there were only 275 people signed up. Whoa...

The small field definitely increased my chances of getting a slot in Leadville in 2013. Heck! I might even be able to place! Well...probably not, considering my age group (30-39) was the second largest category after the 40-49. But, that's a whole different ball of wax than the gazillions that raced Leadville.

With little fanfare the minutes had ticked away to 8:59.30. They announced Lance would be taking his place at the start. Despite being only a few yards away I never did get a good view of him. And then the 10 second countdown began. The gun boomed. And we were off. As my official chip time would reflect, I rolled across the start line less than 10 seconds behind the leaders. The neutral start weaved through the resort town and then down that paint splattered road I mentioned before. When we picked up speed I realized I was less than a couple hundred feet from the lead car and the lead cyclists just behind it. As I approached the hard right turn onto the road up the Slate River valley I could see the leaders, hardly more than arm's reach away, but I couldn't pick Lance Armstrong out of the pack.

Initially the field stayed together. But as we traveled up along Slate River we started to stretch out. When the pack finally thinned slightly a cyclist pulled up beside me. We'd just come down a short hill and it sounded like he said: "I like your block."

I grinned, thinking back to the guy that had thanked me for letting him draft around Turquoise Lake at Leadville. I might actually get a reputation in these races as a wind block. I had to chuckle to myself. But something made me second guess what my fellow racer had said.

"What was that?" I asked.

He replied, with an accent I hadn't detected the first time: "I like your blog."

Ah! My jersey! I was wearing the custom jersey I had Alchemist Threadworks make for me before Leadville. It has my URL on the back. He'd read my blog!

I chatted with Dave, number 55, for a few minutes as we rode along. I was both humbled and happy to hear that he had been reading the blog after finding it through a search for the Alpine Odyssey. So I've got to give a shout out to Dave from Broomfield. Great ride! Thanks again for letting me know you're reading! I hope you had a great day. It looks like you had a good finish time.

The ride up Slate River seemed to go on and on. I'm not complaining. That valley is beautiful. And once we turned into the switchbacks and began climbing up out of the valley the view became even more beautiful and inspiring. While we gained 1,600' in about 3 miles we also gained better perspective over the landscape and the Elk Mountains surrounding us. The scenery definitely helped to take my mind off the long grind up to the first aid station at the Paradise Divide.

 High up Slate River Valley near Paradise Divide

Paradise Divide aid station

After the aid station there is a fast and rough descent through the Paradise Basin around the north slopes of Mt Baldy to Schofield Pass. At Schofield the true descent begins. Within seconds you drop out of the trees and are rewarded with an alpine vista, of which Emerald Lake is the centerpiece, and on a mountain bike you can go much faster than you could in a car. The road skirts the lake high on the steep slopes to the east. Just below the lake the road begins twisting around buttresses on the ridge. One turn is loose and tight with a steep 100 or so foot dropoff on the outside. On the first lap I saw it coming and slowed considerably and repeated that tactic on a few other such curves further down the valley.

The long ride out the Gothic valley is fun and fast. When I crested the steep descent into the town of Gothic I saw the speed limit sign: 25. I was doing 30 and picking up speed as I bombed through the little community on the straight gravel road.

All the while Mt Crested Butte was in view giving me a point of reference. But once the resort came into view I knew the first lap was almost over. But first there was the singletrack section. To get up onto the lower shoulder of the northern slopes of Mt Crested Butte there is a series of singletrack switchbacks. A long, but relatively easy section...

Once up on the shoulder of the mountain the race takes a long winding path through aspens and finally out onto the open ski slopes above the resort. The last leg to the start/lap/finish line is a downhill course with banked turns. As you descend you can hear the announcer and see the line long before you get there.

On the first lap the route winds through the tight streets between the resort buildings to the aid station. I saw Mandy directing the course just before.

"I love you!" she called as I carved past. I stopped at the aid station a few dozen yards later, and I considered walking back up to see her, but I decided I needed to fuel up and get going. I had beat the four hour cutoff by AN HOUR!

There were two aid station jockeys, future mountain bike shredders I'm sure, that ran up and asked if I needed water or sports drink. They ran off with my bottles while I sucked down some watermelon. They two kids replaced my bottles and asked if I needed anything else. I thanked them, told them they were doing a great job, and that I was all set.

I looked back up the route and caught Mandy's eye. She waved, I waved back and we exchanged our secret "I love you" hand signal. Then I was off for the second lap.

The long slog up Washington Gulch came after 31 miles. I'd managed a pretty solid pace the first circuit. The Washington Gulch (2nd) lap is inside the first lap. Basically, Slate River is the westernmost north/south valley, Gothic is the easternmost and Washington Gulch is in between. All three converge (sort of) at the Paradise Divide. The first lap is Slate River and Gothic and the second lap is Washington Gulch and Gothic.

Gothic Mountain from Washington Gulch

By the time I started the second lap the meager field had spread out considerably. For the second half of the race there were many times when I had gone long periods of time without seeing other riders.

In fact, for the bulk of the last climb up to Paradise Divide I was all alone. I walked some steep sections and rode sections that seemed too steep. Time dragged on. Scylla and Charybdis guard Paradise Divide. Above the junction of the two climbs is a mile long grind up to the highpoint of the route. It's not terribly steep, but it seems longer than the advertised mile. And then there is a sign that states: "Aid Station 1km." I don't think that was right either. By the time I rolled into the aid station for the second time I was tired. I wondered when I'd get my second wind. I wondered if I'd have the energy to repeat the singletrack switchbacks. I wondered if I'd slow considerably and be cutting it close to the 8 hour cutoff.

 Looking down the long Washington Gulch valley toward Mt Crested Butte

I lingered at the aid station. It was nice to be off the bike, enjoying the cool breeze, drinking and eating at will, proximate to the port-a-johns. I was dreading the street-fight descent through Paradise Basin. The road drops away from the divide like dive bombers. The travel surface has the texture of carpet-bombed steppes. On the second lap, despite my fatigue, I just let The One go, dragged toward sea level by gravity. At least, that was the plan. But halfway down the descent through the alpine basin I started squeezing harder on the brakes, bleeding off speed in the loose scree surface of the road.

At the short climb up to Schofield Pass two riders caught up with me. I am embarrassed to say that even though I rode with both of them for many miles after that, and saw them both come over the finish line, I can't remember their numbers or names.

The older rider rocketed away from the pass, and I followed suit, gearing all the way down and slamming down on the pedals. The other rider, wearing a USA Pro Cycling "Most Aggressive Rider" green jersey kept pace, but hung back a few yards for the most part.

I was dazzled a second time by the mind-boggling beauty of Emerald Lake. After a few seconds of marveling at God's beauty I kicked up the speed and tried to catch the first of our trio.

He flew and I flew. We both flew past Emerald Lake, and then...I almost flew off of the tight, loose curve with the 100+ foot bank on the outside. I realized I was coming into the curve far too fast and when I really, really realized I was going to overshoot the bend I started a growling scream.

"AHHHHGGGGG!!!" I bellowed as my tires dug deep into the gravel and I skidded toward the outer edge of the road. It was going to be ugly. I was going to experience free fall.

I skirted the edge of earth and space, maintaining most of my speed. After that close call I backed off the speed just a tad, and the older rider pulled away. I was okay with that. Better to have a good ride than a DNF due to catastrophic organ failure upon impact.

The road opened up not much further down the valley, and I found my speed again. For many miles I managed to stay above 25 mph. My second pass through Gothic I hit 35. Knowing my slog up Washington Gulch had put a serious dent in my overall average speed I desperately tried to make up some time. I hardly touched the brakes as I kept the pedals turning and the golden aspens blurring.

 Looking over my shoulder back up Gothic valley

At mile 57 the road starts to roll and there are some moderate uphills where you have to gear down. I took the opportunity to drain my energy drink, suck down a gel, and text Mandy to let her know I was five miles out. But those were five miles of steady climbing, tight singletrack, and a bomb run descent back into town. It wasn't over.

When I reached the start of the trail I was all alone. No one in front, no one behind. That took off a lot of the pressure I felt on the first lap, with a slower rider in front and a group of riders on my wheel behind. On the first lap I felt strong, and cruised the singletrack section, but I knew I didn't have a lot of gas left, and that the more technical section was going to take a lot of concentration, determination and luck. Having extra personal space was going to be a bonus.

I rode it all, feeling better than I expected I would, with the exception of two steep and tight switchbacks. Finally, I reached the dirt road near the top of the shoulder. The hardest stuff...all of it...was behind me. Well, at least the physical stuff.

I enjoyed the meandering trail down the ridge through the aspens. I tried to focus on the beauty of the ride and ignore the pain of my body and the weight of the miles. Gravity did most of the work, but I had to stay sharp on the narrow trail, especially on the last goatpath section when the resort came into view. The trail traversed a slope so steep, and was so narrow, I feared if I pedaled I'd risk my uphill pedal clipping a rock or root and catapulting me hundreds of feet down the slope.

My Leadville mantra entered my head: "No whammies! No whammies! Big money!"

Before I knew it the goatpath ended and I was on the last, last, last section: the downhill course.

I made myself take the banked turns slow, to cruise over the jumps instead of taking flight. I rode the end cautious and controlled. I don't know how many there were, but the sum total of switchbacks down that last open slope was maddening. At the top you could see the finish line, but you couldn't take the straight line between point A and point B. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, down and down and down.

Just before the very last turn I grinned a huge grin to myself...which was immediately contorted by a sob. Would I laugh...or the finish.

I could hear the announcer telling the rag-tag crowd of spectators another rider was coming in. I knew it was me. I'd not seen another rider in half an hour. I was off the trail and making the final broad loop to the finish. I was smiling. I heard my name over the PA. I was down, back, done, finished, victorious, redeemed, saved from a year of regret at having not finished in August.

Then I saw Mandy over the finish with the camera. I cruised across the red carpet, the finish line and into her arms. She draped my medal around my neck and kissed me. I hope my smile was as big as hers.

The final math: I finished in 6 hours and 44 minutes. I was 169th overall, in (what I discovered later) was a field of 221. I was 47th out of 55 in my age category. Overall 202 riders finished. My final average was 9.2 mph. Mandy had asked Shannon (Gipson, the volunteer coordinator) if she could put my medal on. She'd been working at the finish after the first lap. Shannon told her "of course" and so there she was when I came in. That was amazing—having the love of my life, my best friend—putting my medal around my neck.

Mandy's day is another story all together. Considering the shadows are getting long, I'll reserve that tale for my next post. And for now I'll leave off the chronicle of the events immediately after my finish. Let's let the ambiance of a victorious finish linger. I won. I wasn't first, but I won the day. I couldn't have dreamed up a better day of mountain biking for myself. My Alpine Odyssey was a marvellous journey, one I will never forget.