Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Old Pueblo 24Hr MTB Race

I definitely got shaken, rattled and I rolled a few times. What a complete mind bender. The Old Pueblo 24 Hour Ride was like woodstock with wheels. Snuggled up against the mountains of Tucson, AZ was a sea of white. The RV's, tents, vendor booths and the big circus style white timing tent was so massive you could see it from 10 miles away. As we drove in on the long dirt road a news helicopter buzzed overhead. In our compact rental car we showed some of our best handling skills of the weekend. The deeply rutted roads surrounding the town gave our low clearance car a rough time. Let's just say we got our money's worth. We were like kids at the fair making over to Kris and Chester's camp ground. Phrases like, "Hey look at that", "Wow, check out all those bikes", "Awesome, their camp site rocks", "Holy shit look at that rock drop off" came pouring out of our mouths. The streets were lined with mountain bikers, their gear, racks of sweet bikes and some funny decorations. We had arrived at 24 Hour Town and we were in for the ride of our lives.

Keeping it real we arrived like 3 suburban middle aged yahoos. No doubt we looked out of place in our small car that shouldn't be driving over rocks that size, dressed in nice clothes, fresh smiles and massive amounts of gear packed perfectly. We got a few strange looks making our way through the streets. Maybe they were wondering where we had our bikes? 24 hour town was already a day old and many were already getting their mountain bike on. Kris and Chester who are religious Old Pueblo riders know exactly where to set up camp. Apparently it's a mad dash for the best trail side sites close to the check point. This was serious business! Everyone had taped out their space in the desert. Kris and Chester had secured the perfect spot. We are so grateful for Kris and Chester's hospitality. We set up our tents unloaded a few things then went back to Micheal's parents home which was our campsite. 24 hour town was awesome and looked like a ton of fun but I think I am too old to spend 5 days dry camping. Micheal's parents home is in the hills of Tucson. We couldn't have gotten any closer.

Friday was the pre-ride. We headed out early to hang out with Kris and gang. Our bikes were being delivered at 1PM. The race was mostly a side note at this point. I'm pretty sure I was still in shock. Being at this venue was seriously amazing. The level of athlete was astonishing and watching them practice was fun. The three of us wanted to soak up the experience and get a

feel for the community. I was deep in observation mode.

Our bikes arrived perfectly! So far, everything was coming together. The only issue was the pending forecast. It called for clouds and rain but what does that really mean in the desert? I wasn't nervous until the pre-ride when it became clear I would forever be changed.

Once we had our bikes were immediately off to check out the course. Kris, Chester, Chris, Micheal and I headed out while Susan did her long run. Cruising down the dirt road was just fine. Then we came to "The Bitches". This is the description of a section that has 5 large hills. These are steep and the transfer from one Bitch to the next is about 3 feet so you better be prepared. The speed gained on the steep, rocky, and slightly rutted descent in more than I ever want. I was a mess. Chester says, "This is where you want to gain as much speed as possible so you can get as much momentum as you can, sit way back and push the bike out in front of you". My reply, "Which one is the rear brake"? I was absolutely serious. I wasn't sure if it was the right or left. That didn't go over well in the crowd but with a calm non- judgmental manner Chester replies, "Right=Rear". I got that loud and clear! Let's just say I wasn't gaining a lot of momentum so my climbs were grinds. After "The Bitches" we rode along a nice dirt road for about a mile before we entered the single track. I was riding super easy and was way slower than my buddies. They kept stopping to wait for me. This is where I got schooled in cacti. This part of AZ is not like Javelina 100M. These trails are lined with cactus. Serious cactus. The big round ones, the flat paddle type but the worst were the Cholla cactus. These babies send off their barbs in small golf ball sized puffs and they sting. This single track section winds in between all these types of cacti. It's a thick forest of ouchy things. If you fall you have about a 80% change on landing on one. In addition, if you aren't riding tubeless you will most likely be changing a flat. While I was getting my cactus education my mind was overloaded with trying to stay upright and navigate the twisty trail. This was not a wide trail. There will be very little passing unless you do it in just the right spot. About half way through the 16+ mile course I was speechless. I really had no emotion. I honestly didn't know what to make of what I had gotten myself into. I was just trying to stay light hearted and not think too much about what I would face on Saturday. It's hard to describe the emotional and physical space I was in. For anyone who mountain bikes this all seems ridiculous or over dramatic. However, it would be like taking someone sky diving who is afraid of heights. Despite my fear I have this deep desire to be better at this so I was ready to take it on.

Race day came leisurely with a noon start time. I kept myself busy! I didn't want to sit around and obsess about my probable crash. I had zero anxiety about the physical piece of this event. Running over twenty 100M races made the physical piece less daunting plus I had really low expectations. Everything ultra running has taught me came into play. This race has a Lemans style start. We took our bikes down to the pit and made our way up the hill to the start line. This was quite a sight with about 700 starters it was a sea of helmets. Micheal and I lined up in the back planning to be the last ones on our bikes. No way was I going to get in the way of these racers. The gun went off and I walked and jogged to my bike. Susan had both Micheal and I 's bike pulled out. Now with bike in hand I walked a bit and as the crowd thinned then I mounted and headed off. It was crazy! Bikes everywhere around me. Fortunately we were on a wide road heading to "The Bitches". I took a quick glace before I descended the first one. What I saw was a mass force of bike energy descending the steep grade at speeds I can't even imagine. I had my Garmin attached and with my eyes firmly planted on the best line of descent, ignoring everyone around me I saw 28 MPH. I had a firm grip on my right brake so those front guys had to be doing 50+ catching air over the bumps. I made it down the first one fine but on the climb someone in front of the train couldn't make it so we were all off our bikes. This was perfect! I had no issue with that. After the walk up it was time saddle up again. I rode all the way up the next one on my bike. Same held true for the rest. Heading on the straight I was clocking some speeds of 20 MPH and that was slow. The front racers were flying. When we hit the single track my world got rocked!

This is the cacti section. It's not hilly but is narrow and very curvy. If you hesitate and don't anticipate your turn you could easily slide. You were a slave to the actions of the train. I kept a serious 6 bike length rule. Stay 6 bike lengths back so you can react and get out of your clips! If you didn't it wasn't going to be pretty. About 1.5 miles into this section the line of bikes was halted. We were scooting with our bikes and the news made its way back. A crash ahead. The line of bikes I could see must have been 25 long. I was upset. This early and someone or a group is really hurt. Medics were coming. The bikes continued to scoot and I saw an image that will forever be in my brain. A girl had fallen into a Cholla cactus tree. She was covered with barbs. I am not taking about a few needles. Her entire face, head, neck, arms, legs were covered. MTBer's were off trying to help remove the barbs but they couldn't. She was bloody, screaming and in serious pain. I was welled up with tears. I was shaken to the core. I felt so horrible for her and everyone around her were doing all they could until the medics arrived. Apparently removing the barbs is not easy and super painful. I was struck with complete sadness for her and total fear for myself. It was a slippery slope for me at that point. This could easily happen to anyone because of how thick the cacti are in this section. I took cautious and death grip to a new level.

The wind was really picking up. Someone said we were having 50 MPH gusts and at times riding was hard. The wind would just push you off to the side. Without counterbalancing you were over. I got up onto the bluff section and the wind picked me and my bike up. I was just pushed over! The rider behind me stopped to be sure I was ok. Once he realized I wasn't hurt he commented about the disadvantage of being light. Now we were moving into the more technical stuff. More rocks to roll over, short poppers to climb and descend. The trail would sink into gullies so the wind was not so bad. I was slow on the downs and people wanted to pass. This was nerve racking. I have never been in this kind of situation on my bike. Most everyone was very polite but like anything you get a few that are just mean. I started off being my normal accommodating, want everyone to like me and be happy mode. Trying to give them the space, the better line so they could get by, etc… I had to give myself a serious talking to. I needed to hold my line until it was safe to move over or I was going to end up in a cactus. This was hard but the right thing to do for everyone. If I fall so will others and if I hesitate in my position it puts others at risk. I needed to man up, hold my line, pedal faster and yield when I could. And…I needed to stop saying sorry! I was getting completely annoyed with myself. I must have said sorry 400 times in 8 miles. What I needed to do is remember I am one of a handful of solo riders out here and I have every right to ride my race too. The team riders are incredibly fast and I was already being passed by rider 2 on my first loop. When I made my way to "The Climb" which comes near the end of the loop front riders were catching me. Their athletic ability along with riding skill was impressive. "The Climb" section is about 3 miles long and it's steady with a few steep sections. It has its technical aspects as well. This is where I saw my second cactus casualty. I was part of the train wreck too. A girl was making her way up and came to a rocky section and paused causing her to fall right in front of me. This caused me to fall over and another rider behind me. She landed on a big round cactus, I landed on the guys wheel and he

landed on top of me. Fortunately she got up and was ok. Her shorts and legs were full of spines but she felt she could make it back to the medics. This taught me one serious lesson. DO NOT STOP PEDALING! I don't care how hard it gets you have to pedal over the rocks! I came in from my first lap in under 2 hours. I arrived at our spot for crewing and I would describe myself as pretty rattled. My body was trembling and I was a bit out of sorts. The race is on! There's no more tootling along as my own pace. The consequences of a fall in the wrong place was firmly imprinted in my brain and I had already fallen a couple of times. I got restocked and headed to the check in center.

From here out things just got crazy. The bad winds were still coming and now the grey clouds are appearing. On my way out onto the second loop I came to a rocky downhill. I tried to navigate it but fell. I tumbled with one foot still attached to my bike down about 2 feet. Before I knew it I had 3 guys trying to help me. I was repeating, "I'm fine". They got my bike back up the hill and helped me back onto the trail. I had minor rock rash and hurt my wrist. I mounted back up. My wrist was really sore and felt jammed. I moved it around and took a look and it appeared to still be working. Weighting it was not fun. I had 2 mantras now. First, "look where you want to go" and second, "pedal, pedal, pedal". I was repeating these phrases for 24 hours. I made it through loop 2 without much drama, got re-stocked and left. It was the calm before the storm!

Well into loop 3 the rain started. I had about 4 miles before I would be back to camp when the bits of hail hit. Then came the steady sideways rain. I may have had my fastest climb on this loop. I was desperate to get to Susan. I was turning into a popsicle! My hands were frozen and the rest of me was well on its way. I arrived to a ghost town! All along trail where 24 Hr Town once stood was now abandoned. The wind had taken every tent, every hanging bike and all the people were gone! Susan was amazing. She has secured the tent with rocks and had my clothes ready in it. I came prepared for anything so I changed into all my winter gear including my battery powered socks! I went back out in 42 degrees, rain and wind. Lap 4 here I come.

Equipped for a long dark night in the freezing yuk. I was actually comfortable. About half way through lap 3 I was unthawed and I had to turn my socks on low. Life was pretty good and I was in my own crazy world. Wondering what on earth I was doing. I had lots of emotions but the two most prominent were gratefulness and fulfillment. I was grateful for all the help and support I have gotten. I was feeling really strong and content that I was doing what I set out to do no matter what. The trail was bit calmer on this loop. Lots of riders were hunkered down somewhere waiting for the storm to pass. When I finished lap 4 I was soaked to the bone but I was ready to dig deep. Susan was again in the tent with her headlamp waiting to help me in any

way she could. She was the beacon in the ghost town. Micheal was in the car trying to get warmed up. He had no more dry gloves and his hands were toast. I took a moment. I stopped and thought about my next step. Should I go back out soaked and cold or should I take the time to change once again. After my Bighorn freeze fest I felt the best thing to do was to get new dry gear. I went up into the car which was so warm. I got all my wet stuff off. Put my gloves on the heater to dry and geared back up. I was frozen and when I got all my wet gear off it was really clear how cold and wet I was. My skin was really wet under 2 layers. I pulled on another pair of bike tights and leg warmers over them, new shirt, jacket, shell, dry base layer socks and hat. Between the three of us we were scraping everything dry we could find! In hind sight this was a great team effort. The 3 of us really got creative. Post race I am just blown away. Not a word about stopping, not a bitch or complain about the situation. Instead we were laughing and just coping. I had Susan's dry shell, Micheal had my glove inserts, I had Kris's leg warmers and garbage bags were next. We hung our wet stuff inside the car in preparation for the next change. Hoping the car heater might dry them enough for future use. Out Micheal and I went for our 5th loop. He is much faster but he rode with me for about 9 miles before he pull away. The rain had almost stopped and the winds were more manageable. I was still cold but things were looking up. The crowd began to reappear in 24 Hr Town and riders were getting back on the trail. At the finish of lap 5 I spent about 15 minutes eating, Susan lubed my chain again I re-stocked and out I went. Lap 6 was going well but now I chose to walk 3 out of 5 of "The Bitches". I wasn't really too tired but it was the middle of the night and I just didn't feel like pushing myself. My back was aching and I was being a bit lazy. By this time I know the course and I am getting better and better. I am starting to mimic on some of what I saw. Riders don't gear down to get up a hill instead they stand up and mash their way up a popper. I tried it. It was hard at first. Trying not to pop a wheelie or lose traction in your rear wheel is a challenge. Body position seems to be the key. I now do this pretty well. I can pull my bike up and over obstacles and I can certainly pedal over and through stuff I would have never attempted before. However, I am not skilled enough to prevent a spectacular crash. On loop 6 the trail was wet and the sand was slick. I had 2 guys behind me wanting to pass. In an attempt to give them room I slightly moved over, slipped and over I went. This one was good. It was an endo. An ass over bars, laid out wondering how you got there type of fall. Scared the two guys to death. They stopped, pulled my bike off me and made sure I was fine. There is a real camaraderie out there. Very similar to ultra running. Fortunately I landed in a sand pit with no cactus! My right thigh has got some sweet bruises along the side. I was barely shaken this time. I am adapting. 6 loops is almost 100 miles but not quite!

Loop 7 was a thrill. I don't know why or how but I was on fire! The sun was going to be coming up, the rain and wind died down, I had strength and felt a bit skilled. There was only one minor problem. I didn't take out my contacts soon enough. The course was drying out and dust was everywhere. I had no eye protection. I should have put my barrier glasses on but with the rain I would need windshield wipers. Now with no rain the dust was bad. With about 4 miles to go my vision started to blur. Been here done this and know better. It was too late. Foggy vision and mountain biking do not mix! When I got back I immediately took out my contacts and began trying to use my eye drops to clear things up. I knew the abrasions were minor. If I was running I would have just left with my barriers knowing it would slowly clear up. Not on a mountain bike. I sat there for about 50 minutes with my eyes closed, bundled up to stay warm pouting. I felt great and knew I could get 10 laps if I left within 1 hour. Susan practiced her gentle determination and continued to keep me in the fight. She had me gear up and at least ride through lap 8 and get it recorded. Susan walked down to the timing tent. My decision would be made after the 200 yard trail descent into the tent. If I felt like I could see well enough I would go. If not I would continue to wait for it to clear. It was a no go. I felt it would be a stupid move

for myself and everyone else around me. If I took a bad fall or caused a bad fall due to foggy vision I would be so pissed. I parked my bike and took more time. We got coffee and walked around. My vision got better and better. I came to realize 10 loops was not going to happen but I might be able to squeak in on more. I got the 9th loop with good vision but the racers who were trying to get the final loop opportunity were getting a bit crazy. I actually thought this was the worst loop for that and I didn't care for the reckless riding. Of course, they are in complete control but the rest of us who are subject to their moves were not in control at all. One of them jumped over my wheel then hopped a rock bed while flying downhill. I was floored in a good and bad way. It was impressive. There was no doubt he was amazing on his bike. However, that amazement got a bit dulled when he could have cared less if he forced us down the rock bed or not. I have a great appreciation for the front riders. Especially the solo guys doing 18 loops. That is flying. Having them pass with speed and determination is just part of it. I need to get used to that and except the challenge instead of being fearful and timid. I loved this venue. I loved the culture, I loved the camaraderie among the MTBers, I loved the challenge and most of all I will be back for more. I am so happy I thrust myself into this. I learned more in one event than I can express.

There is no doubt I am a better rider now. No plaster, no slings, no stitches, no pain meds, not one band aid, zero flats, 153 miles and 7th place. I call this success! My bike was awesome but my derailer is really bent up. She is definitely broke in now. I feel better about Leadville. My next phase is pushing myself physically on the bike. I think I am ready to breath hard and see some better power generation. We will see what Matt on the schedule.

I tried to keep the screaming to a minimum during my post race shower. The scrapes along with a bit of chaffing made for stinging good time! My body is much less beat up than I expected but that may be a result of my low power generation. J I think the sorest part of my body is my hands and shoulders. I am pleased with my results and how it all played out. This gives me confidence I can last on the bike long enough to finish the Leadville 100 ride. I am much less frightened of the course too. Now I just need to get faster!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Let's Ride!

I am not the same rider I was back in November. Now I can use my clips, I no longer wear running shorts while riding, I have learned to use my gears efficiently, my pedal stroke has evolved and yesterday I learned how to change a flat. I would say I am ready for the next level. With a little over 3 months of training I can ride with some power, turn corners and my death grip on the handlebars has lessened. I am ready to enter my first MTB race. This Saturday I am riding the solo MTB race at Old Pueblo 24hr in AZ. I am completely void of nervousness which is a reflection of low expectations. It's been a really long time since I have been in this space and it's man it's cake! Just pack your stuff and see what comes. It takes me back to my first long trail race where anything can happen and you don't care whether it's good or bad. I have a few ideas of what obstacles I might face but really no idea how to prevent or handle them. It will be learning as we go. I am curious to see what's going to happen to my back, my butt and where my head might go while pedaling away in the desert darkness. The only base line desire I have it to ride 100M and see how long that takes me. If I can still move after that then great. Oh and I really don't want to launch myself onto some cactus. I am planning on laying my bike out in the back of the pack. With a half a mile sprint to the bike pit I don't want to get caught up in the crazy fast bike mount. I plan to stroll over to my bike and start cautiously. Mostly to spare the other riders of my inexperience.

This is going to be a fun trip. Susan, Micheal, Kris and Chester will all be there. The course is a 17 mile loop so easily aided. The start and exchange area is called tent city as most everyone camps from Thurs. through Sun. It's not just a race but more like a party with Mountain Bikes and a clock. The terrain is not technical but that's all relative! This is perfect for my first endurance MTB event. You can follow the race online at the Old Pueblo 24 Hr Ride Webcast. The start is noon on Saturday finishing at noon on Sunday. Wish me luck and hopefully I will come home a better mountain biker, with all my limbs in place and will live to tell a fabulous story J!