Place: 17th out of 116 finishers in the Men’s 40 -49
Elevation Gain: 9,949’ (My garmin)
What is the single most important item of business prior to the early-morning start of an endurance mountain bike race? Eat breakfast? Drink coffee? Apply sunscreen? Listen to Hip Hop? While all of these are very solid options, I would argue that THE single most important item of business is POOPING! I cannot overstate the importance here. I often get up extra early to ensure that I have enough time to get things moving properly before I leave the hotel.
Seven minutes before the scheduled 5:30 AM start of the High Cascades 100 my stomach gurgled…in a bad way. I had already “taken care of business” (twice) back at the hotel, but my system decided it needed to go again. I guess the combination of strong coffee, beet juice, and pre-race nerves were the perfect storm. Houston, we have a problem! One of my biggest fears is hearing the start gun go off from inside a porta-john. At 5:25 AM, the waiting line for the porta-johns was pretty long and I was sure I was going to miss the start…but “holding it” was simply not an option. Luckily Mike Ripley delayed the start by five minutes to give racers more daylight so I was able to take care of business, get re-dressed, and squeeze into the start grid for a decent start position. Phew! That was WAY more drama than I wanted before the race even got started.
|Just before take-off|
The High Cascades 100 starts with a chunk of pavement and this year the pack rolled up the highway at comfortable pace in a big pack. There were a few nervous moments and a few tire skids but overall the pack was well-mannered. It was the calm before the storm.
Early Miles in the dust
In a new twist for 2014, Mike Ripley sent us up dirt road 300 and then up the Duodenum Trail in the first 9–14 miles. This was a HUGE improvement over last year because it meant we were climbing dusty road/trail instead of descending and therefore the visibility in the dust was manageable. However, once the trail pointed down at around mile 12, the dust was insane and you simply had to use the force. I was not comfortable “sending it” and got passed by a few fearless riders. I am not exaggerating when I say that I could not see the ground in front of my bike. The dust is simply a unique aspect of riding in Bend, OR in the summertime.
The first 25 miles went by very quickly and I was at Aid #1 under my projected 2-hour split-time. However, I was already having concerns about my physical state. My legs just felt heavy from the start and my nemesis, low back pain, started to fire up just one hour into the race. WTF?
Let’s assume that you tapered properly for an important race. Is it unreasonable to expect to have fresh, snappy legs for at least the first couple of hours of an endurance mountain bike race? Or is it perfectly normal for your legs to feel crummy early on? Is this just part of racing and pushing yourself? I absolutely expect to have all sorts of body parts hurt as the race goes on but I would LOVE to feel good for the first couple of hours of a big race.
Despite early physical concerns, I stuck to my plan and arrived at the first two aid stations ahead of my estimated splits. Michelle & Kenai were at Aid #2 and met me with a fresh hydration pack and reloaded my race fuel. Our friend Beth jumped in and lubed my chain and I left Swampy with new energy and a smile on my face. Stoke!
After leaving Aid #2, I fell in with a good group of four riders including fellow Boise racer Joe Feider. It was nice to have a solid group to ride with to help stay focused and on the gas. I remember descending some fun singletrack, and then coming out into a large intersection where I passed Joe. Evidently, there was supposed to be a large log with two arrows marking the turn onto the Skyliners singletrack. However, the log was gone and I blew by entrance to Skyliners and proceeded to haul ass downhill on a dirt road for five minutes. Sadly, Joe followed me as well. We caught two other racers who also missed the turn and we stopped to get our bearings. At the time, I had no idea where I had missed a turn but the others were sure that we needed to climb back up the hill we just descended. Fuck! I shouldn’t let things like this bother me so much but I really wanted to execute a perfect race and going off-course for 20’ was not in my plan. This was serious blow to my mojo. After climbing back up that fucking hill, I did see one orange & white ribbon in the tree above the Skyliner trail…but it was tough to see if you weren’t really looking for it. Mike Ripley later confirmed that this was a tricky intersection and that is why he uses a big log with two arrows on it to “funnel” racers into the singletrack. I would recommend a couple of wrong way "Xs" beyond the Skyliners turn if this intersection is used again in the future.
|Off Course Adventure at Mile 48|
During the 2013 HC100, Happy Valley was my happy place. I felt good, and the area was simply gorgeous. Last year I wrote the following about Happy Valley:
We rode through giant Douglas Fir trees, huge green meadows, snow drifts just off the trail, high mountain river crossings, and loamy dirt. When I visualize riding my mountain bike in Oregon that trail is exactly what I will think of from now on.
For 2014, Mother Nature decided to throw us a curve ball. A heavy winter combined with less than normal spring rains meant that snow was still hanging around up high. The trail was intermittently covered with snow drifts and mud and was much, much slower than last year. Some snow patches were rideable but many required a cyclocross dismount, running/slogging, and a remount on the other side. This sport is called “mountain biking”…and it does snow in the mountains right? Ha!
The Home Stretch
The stretch from Aid #3 to Aid #4 took me 2:22:37…which is longer than it should have taken me but I was still in a funk from my missed turn for some of it. Arriving at Aid #4 was like hitting the reboot button. Our friend Sara Schafer was at Aid #4 volunteering and supporting her husband, Markzilla. Sarah was awesome and quickly helped me find my drop cooler and swap out pack and reload my calories. Most of all, Sarah was a bundle of positive energy. Thanks Sarah! Knowing that the majority of the climbing was behind me didn't hurt the mojo either.
I was surprised to roll into Aid #5 just 45 minutes later. Nice! I stopped just long enough to slam two Dixie cups full of cold Coke, aka liquid crack, and I was off to finish this thing.
The only section of the course that I was somewhat familiar was the last 17 miles. The last section was similar to last year and used the Tiddlywinks + Storm King trails before sending us onto the pavement for 5.5 miles of road riding before the finish line. Tiddlywinks and Storm King are awesome trails…but at mile 80 of a 100 mile race, they can swat you down in an instant. Big berms, tabletops, and double jumps taunt you all the way down Tiddlywinks. I would love to say that I “shredded” that final stretch of singletrack but it would be more accurate to say that I “negotiated it safely & efficiently”.
I knew that the race finished by veering off the pavement onto a short section of mostly downhill singletrack before the finish line. I also knew that if I was “racing” anyone, the first one into the singletrack would probably win.
As I entered the pavement, a group of three other racers were just ahead and I made an effort to latch onto their wheels. Our group of four quickly absorbed another rider, my friend Chris Gardner from Hailey, ID, and we rolled down the pavement in a little 5-person peloton. Joe Feider was also in the group and was drilling it at the front like Jens Voit at the Tour of California. I was third wheel and I kept waiting for the group to start rotating…but Joe just kept drilling it at the front.
When riding in a small group, is it A) your responsibility to accelerate to the front to take a pull? or B) wait until the guy in front decides to pull off to take your turn? Lastly, if the guy in front never pulls off to rotate, are you a jerk for not taking a pull?
With about a mile to go, a guy from the back rode to the front to take a big pull and relieve Joe. But the group still wasn’t rotating. There was no flick of the elbow or look behind to see if anyone was coming through. I will admit that I never spoke up and suggested out loud that we rotate. In hindsight, I guess I should have insisted we rotate. Basically, two guys pulled our group for five miles down the pavement. I was willing to do my share but I was still racing and trying to save energy where I could. When we got within 50 yards of the singletrack, I jumped the group, was first into the singletrack and rode across the line ahead of the group. It was a weird ending to less than perfect day on the bike for me.
Random Post-Race Thoughts
I will be back at the High Cascades 100 in 2015. It is a well-run event with great support and wonderful volunteers. And, I have unfinished business to attend to. Having said that, I do think the 2014 course was a letdown compared to the course we raced in 2013 and I hope to see a better course in 2015. I realize that Mike can’t control Mother Nature and I am certainly not blaming him for the snow & mud above 6,000'. However, the long sections of sandy Forest Service road absolutely sucked…and we got to ride them twice in 2014 since we used the same route in and out of Aids 2/5 @ Wanoga. I also feel like the course was too easy this year. I think the 94% finisher rate supports my feeling. I would like to see more climbing, more singletrack, AND the soul-crushing climb out of Lava Lake in the 2015 HC100.