Thursday, July 24, 2014

High Cascades 100

I traveled out to one of my favorite places to ride a mtb, Bend, Oregon, this past weekend for the seventh race of the National Ultra Endurance Series, The High Cascades 100.  I've done this race three other times, but was not able to do this race last year.  I was very excited about traveling to Bend this year not only to do the race, but also to ride a bunch of the sweet Bend single track.  I'm just amazed every time I go to Bend at how much mtb riding there is to do there and how well groomed the trails are.  I've always made this race trip a few days longer than other trips, so I can spend more time enjoying this incredible network of trails.

I was so psyched about riding the trails in Bend that I almost forgot about the 100 mile race I was there to do, but I didn't let the race keep me from also doing some good rides before and after the race.  I was able to ride the Bend goodness for three days before the race, the day after the race, and of course, on the very well laid out High Cascades 100 course on race day.  All the rides were pretty awesome and made my trip a great vacation break from work.

My race, however, could have gone a lot better.  It wasn't awful, but I was certainly expecting to finish better than I did.  I'm sure there are things I could have done to have a better race than I did, but I've got to say the competition was pretty quick and would have made this race difficult even if I did have better luck.  If I could change one thing about the mid-summer riding in Bend, it would be the elimination of all the dust.  It effects my vision, my breathing and makes riding a little tricky.  

To avoid as much dust at the beginning of the race as possible, I took an early flyer on the paved road section before the beginning of the dusty trails.  My attack to get away from the group occurred a little earlier than I had planned, but I don't think this effected my race much.  Once I got away from the pack a couple of miles after the start, I rode for about seven miles alone before being caught by the fast leading group of six riders in the woods.  I then rode with this group for a couple of miles, but found the dust being kicked up from the trail to be not very agreeable. Not only was it hard to see the trail in front of me, but it was also difficult for me to breath in the dusty air.  

Aid #4, only 28 miles to go!
I decided it would be best to not ride in the dust of this group for much longer in order for me to have my best race, so I slowed my pace a bit and watched the lead group ride away from me.  This is always hard to do and does mess with my mind a little, but I couldn't deal with the dust anymore.  From this point in the race, I went back and forth with a couple of other riders, but basically rode by myself for the remainder of the race.  Riding alone is something I like doing.  It allows me to just enjoy the ride and not worry about what others are doing.  Being alone in race allows me to just focus on the trails, my riding and enjoying my time on the bike.

By checkpoint #5, at around 80 miles into the race, I had moved into sixth place overall.  I was feeling good and didn't even stop at the checkpoint, so that I could hopefully maintain my position into the finish.  Unfortunately, I crashed hard a short distance after the checkpoint on a loose sandy section of a downhill and fell back to ninth place.  I lost a few minutes because of the crash, but also lost more time after getting back on my bike after the crash.  My body was sore and I was having a difficult time trusting the soft, dusty trails I was riding, since putting too much trust and speed in them earlier is what had caused my crash.

Finishing a little battered, but not broken!
I was able to muster enough strength, however, to hold my ninth place position into the finish.  It wasn't the position where I expected to finish the race, but I still had a smile on my face when I crossed the finishing line.  How could I not be happy after getting to ride some incredible trails on such a beautiful day?  Sure, my crash hurt and made the last 19 miles a little uncomfortable, but I've learned to accept, over my many years of racing, that crashing is an inevitable part of bike racing.  Like I've said before, if you don't crash, then you're not going fast enough!

Before I end this post, I've got to say thanks to Mike Ripley and all the people that helped him put on such an incredible race.  The aid station help was great and the whole racer experience was a good one.  Next up for me is another one of my favorite NUE Races the Wilderness 101 coming up this weekend.  I hope to see you there, my friends...

Happy Trails...  Gerry

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Riding the Bull at the Tatanka 100

Ride the bull is the motto for the sixth stop of the National Ultra Endurance Series, the Tatanka 100, which was held in Sturgis, SD this past weekend. This race motto fit the course conditions perfectly this year because there was nothing easy about doing Tatanka.  The Tatanka 100 course was made even more difficult than usual with heavy rain falling the night before and during the race, which made the trails muddy and slick.

After doing this difficult course last year on a single speed, I was very excited about riding it with a full-suspension geared bike this year.  I was certain my ride time would be faster than last year because I figured the long steep hills on the first part of the course and the 22 miles of flat bike trail on the second part of the course could be ridden much faster with the use of a geared bike.  I thought there was a chance of possibly beating the eight hour mark and winning the gold ring for being the first person to do so.  But, while standing at the starting line in poring down rain and with the temperature only being 55 degrees, I knew that eight hour winning time would go unbeaten for another year. 

The cold, wet start of the race did not initially take away from the speed of the race.  A group six riders, including me, was able to breakaway from the other brave riders starting this race in miserable conditions.  I stayed with this group until we entered the single track and then I backed my speed off a bit.  I decided going at my own pace would be a better way to conserve energy for later in the race and my legs were still feeling a bit tired from doing the Lumberjack 100 the weekend before this race.  It's always hard to let other racers out of my sight, but I knew the race was going to be a long one and I didn't want to burn through all my matches this early in the day.

Riding along with AJ and D-Rapp early in the race.
Once I started riding the trails, I was shocked to see how much worse the conditions were from when I rode on them Friday morning.  Many of the steep hills I was excited about riding on my geared bike were so muddy that I could not even ride them with gears.  As the course continued through the mud, muck and deep fast flowing streams we had to cross, I was beginning to think my single speed bike would have been a better machine to use for the race this year.  In addition to my drivetrain being covered in mud, I could tell my brake pads were wearing quickly from the extra grit and I wondered if they would last until the finish. 

When I got to checkpoint #2, I saw Tinker Jaurez standing there because he had worn through his brake pads and could not continue.  I was also given the time splits for the other riders in front of me, which motivated me to ride harder.  For some reason, however, it just didn't seem like my pedaling stroke was right, or that I was able generate any power.  I figured out a bit later that my seat post had slipped almost an inch from where it is normally placed, so I stopped and adjusted it and immediately felt better. I don't know how long I was riding with my seat in a lower position, but I did know that my pedaling felt way better and was now riding faster.

Around mile 45 or so, I went off course when I missed a turn.  Luckily, after riding about a mile, I realized there were no tire tracks on the ground and I quickly turned around to make my way back on course.  During this time, the sun had finally come out and I was starting to feel warm.  The heat felt good on my cold wet body and I am sure this is another reason I felt like riding faster.  A few miles after getting back on course, I moved into third place overall when I caught Drew Edsall.  

When I got to the 50 mile checkpoint, I removed my rain jacket, had my chain lubed and was told that second place was only a few minutes a head of me.  Hearing this news and knowing that the toughest part of the course was over only encouraged me to ride harder.  I finally moved into second place at the beginning of the Michelson Trail when I caught Matt Woodruff.  

The Michelson trail is a recreational gravel bike trail that climbs gradually to the highest point on the course.  It makes up just over 20 miles of the course and was very brutal to ride this year because of the driving head wind.  I had to go into full-on time trail mode to keep on pushing myself to go fast.  I was very happy to make it to the 75 mile checkpoint and to put this section of the course behind me.
A shot taken shortly after the 75 mile checkpoint.

Shortly after leaving the checkpoint and entering the trails again, it started to rain hard.  I left my rain jacket at the checkpoint where I removed it because I thought the rain was over for the day. I was beginning to regret that decision.  The cold heavy rain was making me shiver and I couldn't wait to start descending the mountain to warmer temperatures and finally end this hard day of riding. 

At around mile 83, I climbed up a long hill and when I got to the top, there was a split in the trail. Neither direction was marked and I started to panic, thinking I had missed another turn. I stopped and looked around and then saw the race leader, James Meyer, coming towards me.  He stopped and said we were off course and needed to descend the long hill I had just climbed.  As we headed down the hill we first ran into single speed racer AJ Linnel, then Drew Edsall and then Matt Woodruff.  We told them the course was mismarked and they all turned around.  The five of us made it back to the last course marking we saw and discussed things. James Meyer had the course GPS file loaded on his Garmin and it was telling us to go down a trail marked with a "W", meaning the wrong the way.

The group then decided to follow the directions being given on Meyer's Garmin, but also decided that we should change the mixed-up course markings, so other riders would not make the same mistake.  A short while after getting back on course, Drew Edsall recommended to the group that we should all ride to the finish together and maintain our placing prior to going off course.  Everyone agreed with him and a gentlemen's agreement was made to keep the pace up, but to finish together.

It felt strange to not be racing into the finish, but I do think it was the best choice.  From the point where the course mistake occurred, I doubt if there would have been any change in the finish anyway. The course is very fast from that point and mostly downhill, which would have made it very difficult for any time to be made-up on riders ahead.  It was actually kind of nice having some company during that part of the race too.  It was such a long and hard day, of mostly riding alone for me, that I enjoyed being part of such a good group of people.

You've just got to love the irony of the podium shot having blue skies!
Even though the conditions for the Tatanka 100 were super tough this year, I still say this race was awesome to do.  The trails are challenging and fun to ride and the race promoter, Kevin Forrester, and all his staff/volunteers do a great job at putting together a great race.  I must say a big thank you to everyone that helped all the riders make it through this difficult day of racing!  Tatanka!!!

Happy Trails...  Gerry