Finished in 12:03:55
7th Place Men’s 40-44
1 hour, 25 minutes faster than last year
First descent on the Tire Mountain Trail
Any long trip to a race with friends and teammates produces memorable moments and this year’s Puff was no exception. In fact, I think the “road trip” portion of this adventure deserves its own post so I am going to simply write about my race for now.
The Lead Up
I have thought about the 2008 Cream Puff for the last year and was very motivated to improve on last year’s performance. I had a solid race last year but there were many areas I knew could be improved upon and I know that I finished with a little too much left in the tank. Simply keeping the rubber side down while descending this year would help a ton! With a start date two weeks later for 2009, I had some extra time to work on my singletrack skillz at race speed before the 2009 Puff and I think this paid off.
Dave Saurman and I had a perfect pre-ride along the N Fork River Trail on Saturday after a leisurely morning in Oakridge, OR that included an awesome breakfast and lots of coffee at the Trailhead Café. We got a little taste of local singletrack and opened the legs up a bit for race day. Riding for about an hour and ten minutes was just enough and left us plenty of time to casually prep the bikes and organize our gear for the next day. The pre-ride also convinced me to run a knobbier tire, a Maxxis Ignitor instead of a Stans Raven 2.2, on the rear for a little more braking control.
5:05 AM Start
Not that I was sleeping that soundly anyway, but the 3:30am wake-up was rude. Coffee, my usual plain bagel with peanut butter, more coffee, load the bikes, and we were off to the Westfir School where the neutral rollout would begin the race. As we unloaded the bikes and settled into out pre-race routines a mist began to fall and it was not exactly warm out so I added a vest and arm warmers to my kit. At the last minute, I handed Will my rain shell since he would be hanging out at Aid #2 most of the day and I am glad I did. Lastly, a nice layer of Mad Alchemy Cold Weather Embrocation (med heat) was applied to the legs and I was race-ready.
The First Climb
The race stayed at a reasonable pace when we hit the famous red covered bridge in Westfir and the neutral rollout turned into “Go”. The pavement at the beginning of this race helps to calm everything down and sort things out a bit before the initial gravel climb which has tons of room for passing as well. As I settled into my pre-determined pace I was passed by a few folks who had a higher sense of urgency than I did on the opening climb and at one point I questioned whether I was being too conservative. When my teammates Dave and Hamilton each passed me only halfway into the climb I wanted to go with them but I stuck to my plan and happily turned over my middle ring at a comfortable cadence and watched them ride off.
After cresting the initial climb in an hour and ten minutes, the real riding began and I have to admit I was a bit anxious. Last year I crashed at least four times on the initial long descent to Aid #3 and I was focused on riding this section well this time instead of losing my nerve and riding like a sissy-boy. To add to the anxiety, the drizzle that had been falling since early morning had left the trail greasy in places and some downhill switchbacks were very sketchy. My mantra was “look through the corner and stay off the front brake”…repeat a hundred times. When I could, I was taking mental snapshots of the incredible scenery around me…giant Douglas Firs, ferns, and a dark, loamy ribbon in the mist lined by every shade of green imaginable. Greatness.
The Jedi Section of the Alpine Trail
I love the middle section of the Cream Puff with its back to back 18 mile climbs. I brought my iPod Shuffle specifically for these two often-lonely climbs and rocked out when I was alone. I rev’d up my genetically-challenged engine to its upper cruising limit and held it there for a long, long time during these climbs and tried to pick off riders in the distance for internal motivation. Oh yeah, I sang out loud a bit too.
The Low Moment
As far as low moments go, my low moment at the top of the second 18-mile climb ranked about 5 out of 10. I have had much worse. No thoughts of quitting, or stopping, or standing next to the inviting campfire that was burning at Aid #2 entered my head. I simply needed to do a little damage control. The drizzle had soaked through everything I had on, my hands weren’t working, and basic tasks were a little challenging. I found Will, who generously volunteered to support four of us, and grabbed my Mont Bell rain shell which would stay on for the remainder of the day. Once the climate inside the shell warmed up I was good to go and the dexterity returned to my hands. A little caffeine didn’t hurt either. Ha!
The final descent of the Alpine Trail
When I rolled into Aid #3 for the second time and saw Dave standing there mowing down some calories I knew it was “on”. From that moment on, Dave Saurman and I were locked in an unspoken battle for the remainder of the day. We have raced together a bunch and I have only beaten him one other time and I really wanted to beat him on this day. I have tons of respect for Dave so beating him would simply mean that I had a solid race and that was my motivation. I also know that Dave is like Arnold in the Terminator…he just keeps coming at you. So even when I would put a small gap on him on the climbs, I knew that he was back there clawing his way back on the descents. Let’s just say that Dave inspired my final climb and I emptied the tank until the red dashboard light was flashing. The thing about the Cream Puff course is that even the downhills have some “ups” and the handful of rude, short climbs on the Alpine Trail really hurt the last time through. I was grunting, spitting, and snorting my way up these short climbs while passing riders who had decided to get off and push to prevent a total blow up…but I couldn’t afford to worry about a blow up because I knew the Terminator was still coming.
Descent to Glory
The final descent seemed to never end. My hands were locking up from hard braking and my forearms were beyond pumped. I was trying to ride that fine line between “balls out” and “just don’t die”. A local single-speeder passed me on the final descent going faster than I thought humanly possible and I foolishly tried to stay with him for a bit before having a little talk with myself and reigning it in a bit. There is another level of descending speed out there that I simply don’t have yet. When I hit the final short section of gravel before the finish I looked behind me one more time to make sure Dave wasn’t on my wheel and could finally relax for the first time in over twelve hours. Scott Taylor, the Race Director, greeted me at the finish and presented me with a cool finisher’s cap and I thanked him for another incredible Cream Puff memory. It is a good thing I stayed on the gas because the Terminator rolled in about four minutes after I did.