Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Rocky Mountain Endurance - Ridgeline Rampage

The epitome of Front Range mountain biking.  The Ridgeline Open Space course in Castle Rock is a fun, flowing, up-and-down, dry, and loose course.  It's man-made, purpose-built trail system, is a well-groomed and well-designed 10 mile loop.  It lacks any real technical challenges, but makes up for it in the constantly undulating and physically demanding, never-give-you-a-rest trail design.

This was my first ever "endurance" mountain bike event.  How did I even find myself there?  I still haven't figured that one out.  The longest race I had ever done before was a 20+ mile XC race in Indiana.  My longest ride of the year was not more than 50 miles.  This was a 60 mile race.  I had thought about trying some of these endurance events after some new friends had suggested them to me.  I was still up in the air about going until 2 days beforehand.  I honestly was skeptical that my legs could handle that distance at race pace. That was a Thursday.  I went out that day for a big ride, by my standards (remember I live in Boulder, where my training routines are trumped two-fold by half of the population).  It turned out to be a ~55 mile day on the single speed, and I felt great afterwards.  It was then, Thursday afternoon, that I decided I would go for it, on Saturday morning.

Saturday, May 5 2012.  I was less nervous this morning than any of the XC races I had done in the past.  I had no idea what to expect, and no expectations, just ready for a long day on the bike.  The trails were described beforehand by the race announcer to be like "kitty litter", super loose in some corners, and super dry.  As if grip wasn't already compromised enough, a lot of the tight turns fall away from you towards the outside, which made it pretty frustrating to try and maintain any speed.  The start began with about a 1/4-mile dirt road climb leading into the tight singletrack.  I wasn't trying to kill myself, but at my own comfortable climbing pace I entered the singletrack in 4th place.  I quickly passed and got into 3rd.  At this point I hung out for about 3/4 of a lap, trying to gauge the speed of the others.  I was easily able to hold the wheel of the 2nd place rider, without expending too much energy, and always keeping an eye on the guy out front.  When I saw him start to separate, by maybe 20 meters, I decided to pass again.
Me chasing.
At this point I was in 2nd, and I would stay there until the 3rd lap.  For a lap and a half I was doing some mental assessments.  First, I was trying to figure out if this guy was just messing with me; if he was letting me hang on just to put the hurt on midway through.  But I also noticed some things about where he was gaining and losing time on me.  On any of the flat sections, of which there were only about 2 or 3 in the 10 mile loop, he would put some gap on me.  But when it came to the downhill sections, fast turns, and rollers I would quickly catch back up and be right on his wheel.  This is unusual for me, generally being a climber, and especially since I was running a rigid fork that day.  He was a good climber as well, but I was just a hair faster.  When we came through the start/finish on the 2nd or 3rd lap, me holding his wheel, the race announcer rang out "And here's your single speed leader, and wouldn't you have imagined it, Charlie Hayes!"  Apparently this guy is a perennial single speed beast, well known in these circles.  That next lap I decided to put on the heat and get out front.  I wanted, needed, to see if I could put a gap on him, and also if he would fight back.  Coming through the start/finish the next lap in the lead, the announcer again rang out "And coming through on just one gear, is, uhh, uhh, (quick look at his rider list), Richard Trent from Boulder.  Just one gear folks!"  I kind of laughed to myself.  The rest of the race I was out front.  It is largely a blur, the only aspect of note being my incredible leg cramps for the last 30 or so miles.  I had muscles cramping that I didn't even know existed.  At one point or another I think every muscle in each of my legs cramped.  But I knew from previous experiences that the only way to get through it is to ride through it.  So I came through the finish line for the 6th time that day, filled with adrenaline.  A warmth and exuberance and well-being had taken over my body.  It was an incredible feeling, taking the WIN, on my first endurance race ever, and only my second race in Colorado.

Lucky for me, the post race events included bucketloads of free beer from Rocky Mountain Endurance Series sponsor Oskar Blues Brewery (a favorite around these parts), and a post-race meal.  I was actually surprised by how well I felt afterwards. It was a very hot day, 4 hours in the saddle, and draining.  After some of my previous XC races I had felt physically ill, sick, not able to eat or drink anything.  All in all, it was a great day in Castle Rock, and a sweet introduction to endurance mountain bike racing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Rumble at 18 Road

A day of firsts.  First race of the year.  First race in Colorado.  First time riding in Fruita (another gem of mountain biking).  First podium.

Fruita is an amazing place to ride.  A mix of Moab-like slick-rock and some of the best flowing singletrack I've been on.  I was nervous when getting there.  My bike setup had changed dramatically.  I had broken my crankset earlier in the week, forcing me to use a different one, and running a higher gear than I normally would.  Also, I just put the rigid carbon fork back on, after reading reviews that described the trails as mostly buff, not technical, and fast.  I have a lot of experience with the full-rigid setup, but hadn't been on it in about 8 months.  So going into the race, I was still a bit unsure of how hard I could push it.  My biggest question mark though, by far, was the level of competition in Colorado.  I figured I would either get smoked and eaten alive by these pain-loving freaks, or just get beat by them softly. 

I learned a lot from pre-riding the course the day before.  First was that my gear ratio was actually good for this course, if not a bit on the low side.  The course was really fast, starting out with about 2 miles of a dirt road climb, at a low grade, so just enough to spread out the pack before hitting the singletrack.  Once you hit the singletrack, it was FAST!  The first half-mile or so was like a roller coaster ride.  Then it began to climb again, but again at a low enough grade to keep the speed up.  All of the first half, or ~5 miles, of the course was going out towards the end of 18 Road, which abruptly ends at the Bookcliffs.  At that point, when you are most tired, comes a wicked 200-300 foot climb at a stupid hard grade.  Then you got about 2 miles of up-and-down, slightly technical, singletrack, heading away from the Bookcliffs, before hitting dirt road again.  The last 3 or so miles were dirt road back to the start/finish.  This is where my grumblings begin.  Over half of the 10-mile circuit is comprised of dirt road.  This, in Fruita, a place known for the unlimited and unbeatable singletrack it offers.  They could have designed a 40-mile race course comprised solely of singletrack, instead we get 5.  I understand the reasons they do this; to allow good passing opportunities, spread out the pack, give good variation to the race.  I just want more singletrack!! It is what it is.

So race day.  Nervous.  Excited.  Flustered.  I was still making adjustments to my bike 15 minutes prior to the start, shoving down coffee, liquids, and food, and in general was not very relaxed.  So it was no surprise that at the start I blew up quickly.  Climbing the first section of dirt road, pushing hard, heart rate jumping from a resting rate to ~190 bpm in minutes, I felt terrible.  At the same time, I was passing riders and setting a fast pace.  There I was after 2 miles of my first race in Colorado, in the single speed open category (which means anyone from Pros to your grandpa can enter) that traditionally brings some of the strongest riders out of the woodworks, in 2nd place before hitting the singletrack.  The first place rider, Jon Brown, was setting a pace that I didn't even want to consider.  Near the epic climb near mid-lap I had a rider on my tail.  When we both had to dismount (along with every other rider I saw) and push our bikes to the top, he was a bit stronger/not as winded, and passed me.  Next came a series of slightly technical descents and climbs, fast and furious, and he was able to gap me by ~20 seconds before hitting the smooth fast section of singletrack that lead out to the dirt road.  Once on the dirt road he was gapping me even more, as I was spun out at ~22mph, and he may have been running a higher gear.  So, I decided I would push and try to chase him down on the second lap, but more than anything wanted to hold onto my 3rd place.  Coming down near the start/finish, spinning out of control, I turned my head and noticed a guy right on my wheel.  Shit!  He had been sitting there for probably a mile, just letting me do all the work, and I hadn't even noticed. 
You can see him shadowing me, ready to pass.
At the start/finish he passed me, and I realized he was another singlespeeder.  Damn.  Now its a race!  So on the dirt road climb and singletrack back out to the Bookcliffs, I pushed hard.  I passed him quickly after start/finish, and by the time I reached the epic climb again he was maybe 30 seconds back.  But I knew that he was making all of his time up on me on the dirt road descent back to the finish.  The last 4 miles or so I was a furious spinning machine.  I kept peeking back, and kept noticing a rider catching me.  Damn he's not giving up is he?  So I pushed and pushed, legs spinning faster than I thought they could, ignoring all bodily functions and responses to pain and tire.  And then the dreaded moment came.  He was right on my tail again with about 1/2-mile to go.  When he passed me I looked down at his rear wheel, sure that it was the singlespeeder, and saw a glorious site, the intricate workings of cogs and pulleys and derailleurs and all those other things that generally make biking easier and more sane, and it was a huge moment of joy.  A rush came over me, and I coasted in to the finish ecstatic to be taking a 3rd place in my first race in Colorado, only my 5th race ever, in the Open Singlespeed class. 

Monday, June 18, 2012

Getting up to speed

After my nearly month-long adventures in the Southwest, I was ready to get back to civilization, friends, and the comforts of home back in Boulder.  It was the beginning of February.  The next couple of months were spent trying to ride as much as the weather allowed, and some exploration on the front range.  This time of year any of the good high alpine riding is generally snow-covered, so your options are limited. 

I discovered some great riding in Colorado Springs in February/March.  I happened to meet a guy on the trails, somewhere off Gold Camp Rd., who informed me that he was doing a group ride the following morning and I was welcome to join.  This is why I love mountain biking.  The camaraderie is exceptional sometimes, and I never pass up a chance to ride with and learn from locals.  As it turns out,  our group of 8 riders consisted of 4 singlespeeders!  I was already stoked.  It turned out to be the biggest ride of the year for me, ascending over 6k feet, ~5 hours, at elevation.  I hung on to the locals' wheels all day, impressed with their speed, and not letting on as to the amount of pain I was in.  These guys were all racers.  One of them was Dan Durland, one of the strongest singlespeeders in the state, I later found out.

There was another trip out to Moab, for the Thaw 2012 event, the beginning of March.  Niner bikes (I am a Ninerd), Yeti, and Kona were there with FREE bike demos all weekend.  All I had to do was pay for the gas to get there,  and I could ride the best bikes on the planet, on some of the best trails on the planet, for free.  They were also doing free shuttle rides, which is unheard of!  So I had my second go-around on the Mag7 trails, this time on a full-suspension.  It still gives me goosebumps.

Other than that, the next month or so was spent riding low-elevation front range trails, trail-running, and hopping on the dreaded trainer when the weather insisted, all the while waiting patiently for some of the good stuff to open up.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Winter "Training"

I have been dreaming of doing something like this for years.  Being a snow-bird.  Running from winter.  Escaping the onslaught of unpredictable and nasty weather that invades Indiana and the rest of the midwest during the winter months.  And now that I am so heavily obsessed with mountain biking, it only made sense to chase some of the best mountain biking in the country, in the couple of places where you can during the winter.  So after a short stay in Boulder, I decided I better hit the road again.  With gobs of time and money, both of which would run out sooner or later, and probably at the same time, it was now or never.  I headed to a place that I had been looking at pictures of, from my desk at work, for over a year, dreaming of going to and wondering if I ever would; Moab, Utah, making dreams come true.
A full week of freezing nights...
...and warm sunny days.
Moab was wild, wicked, untamed, unforgiving, and unforgettable.  The moonlike landscape is breathtaking.  The mountain biking was like none I had ever done before.  The "trails" were actually just painted dash lines on the enormous sprawling beds of slickrock that Moab is known for.  My first ride was on the famous Slickrock Trail; I was joined by two German travelers, on an American ski adventure, who had escaped to Moab because of the lack of snow in the mountains.  All of us being newbs to slickrock riding, we were all blown away by the amount of grip and the challenging nature of riding of this stuff.  It doesn't "give" like soil.  It doesn't "give" at all.  On the contrary, after a few hours it feels as if it is fighting back, punching your taint with every pedal stroke.  Maybe a hardtail wasn't the best choice, but it was all I had, and I made it work.

The highlight of my week was actually on the last day of riding.  I met up with some locals and got a free shuttle up to the newly designed Mag7 trail.  They were more stoked than me, claiming that the trails at this elevation are usually snow-covered this time of year.  What ensued was all new to me.  A nearly 2-hour ride dropping thousands of feet in elevation with a mix of red dirt singletrack and slickrock, cliffs and high exposure, and spectacular views.

After getting beat up for 6 straight days in Moab, camping in single-digit temperatures, and generally just dealing with this harsh desert environment, it was time to go.  How would I offset this period of roughing it in solitude?  Hmmm.. how about go somewhere warm, stay with old friends, and get some home-cooked meals.  Okay.

Phoenix.  Urban sprawl at its finest.  Smog, traffic jams, heat, but also good food, diversity, palm trees and pools.  It was the perfect change.  On only my second day there, I walk into the Slippery Pig bike shop and what do I see...
...but a brand new Specialized Camber Pro 29 frame.  Could things fall into place any better?  I was already selling an old Santa Cruz Superlight that same day, and was in the market for a full-suspension frame (my taint still hurt from Moab) to replace my Qball hardtail.  I could search for months on Craigslist and Ebay and not find a deal like this.  $500 was all they wanted for it.  The bike retails for $3k.  I sell the Santa Cruz, make a deal with one of the shop employees who has an eye on my Qball frameset, and bada-bing bada-boom, walk out that same day with a brand new frame without spending a buck.
Out with the old... with the new.
Oh ya, and there's some fun riding in Phoenix too.  Nothing blew me away, but there was some fun desert singletrack.  South mountain will test all the skills you thought you had.  I failed.  The week was mostly spent relaxing in the comforts of home with old friends and enjoying the weather.  I was doing it.
Phoenix. Top of the city, escaping the smog!
Next it was on to another place which frequently haunted my dreams and gave me that warm fuzzy feeling in my gut; Sedona, AZ.  And what a place it turned out to be.  It was all of Moab and Phoenix, and all that they lacked.  It was warm, the people were warm, it was small town convenience, it was unbelievable landscapes, it was the smoothest most flowy red dirt singletrack imaginable, it was slickrock, it was weird and spiritual, it was sunshine, it was canyons and cliffs and rivers and bluffs, it was green, it was red, it was rough, it was cactus and spruce, it was beer and new friends.  My week in Sedona was the highlight of this adventure.

On my first day into town I met up with a friend of a friend in Indiana, Luke, who would more or less be my tour guide for the week.  He took me on a ride that had me instantly hooked.  Smooth grippy flowing red dirt singletrack through spruce trees, down washes, across slickrock, jumps, pumps, tech and more.  All from the front door of the famous Bike and Bean bike shop.  What an awesome, fun, and welcoming group of guys there at Bike and Bean!  They have a tap-wall, sporting 2-3 microbrews at a time, with a sign above that reads "Beer not for sale, unless you are on a group ride".  If ever in Sedona, MAKE SURE, you stop by, chat it up, and go on a group ride with these guys.  Not only do they show you new and uncharted, sometimes unfriendly, unrideable, yet always undeniably fun trails in the Sedona area, but they are more than happy to fill your glass once the ride is over!  This is the highest form of hospitality I've ever experienced.  What made my week in Sedona so great was the influx of others like me, who had traveled there, in the "offseason", to get some great winter riding in, and the locals that were more than ecstatic to take us around.  I did some of the most fun, most challenging, and most scary white-knuckled rides, specifically "Hangover" that week.  Can't wait to get back!
Ahh Sedona.  Red rock palace of wonders.

Group of MTB bums on our way up to Hangover.

Part of Hangover.  Dropping in off the saddle.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


Wow, where do I even start with this?  How about a quick introduction of myself, where I am at, and how I got here.

I'm a flatlander, I am told, as constantly reminded by my uncle in Colorado Springs upon moving out to Colorado.  I grew up and spent 25 years of my life in Indiana.  I received my Bachelors of Science in Mechanical Engineering Technology from Purdue University in 2010, at which point I made the move to the not-so-flat land of southern Indiana, specifically Bloomington.

June 2010:  The start of  a mountain biking "career".

Career: course or progress through life.  Or, in terms of an occupation, herein pertaining to some form of work, where work equals a force times a distance, of which I am executing on a weekly basis through the cranks of a bike, my career path is constantly being forged.

This began the saga of pure love, adoration, and addiction to mountain biking that I still find myself wrapped up and twisted in today.  Brown County State Park, just outside Bloomington, has one of the best systems of smooth, flowy, buttery singletrack in the country.  It still ranks at the top of my favorite trail systems.  A year and a half of exploitation on my behalf, at a rate of 3-4 times a week, was still not enough to undue the grip of anticipated joy that kept pulling me back. 

I showed up at my first race in May 2011, the D.I.N.O. Series event at Warsaw.  Not knowing where I stood amongst the ranks, I entered into the CAT3 field and won by a considerable margin.  I was pushing a rigid singlespeed Niner S.I.R.9, the same bike I race today.  I moved up to CAT2 for the rest of the summer, but was only able to complete a few more races due to some nagging knee injuries and personal/family setbacks.  It turns out that mountain biking isn't the most important thing in the world.  However, it does rank up near the top, somewhere in between beer, girls, peanut butter, Ron White, and cut-off shorts, but always behind family.  My worst result was 3rd in CAT2, but was always right up there with the front-runners.

This same year, 2011, was also spent "working".... hiatus; work is to be engaged in physical or mental activity in order to achieve a purpose or result, key words, purpose or result a manufacturing/fabrication shop in southern Indiana as a design engineer.  15 months of commuting ~2 hours a day, sitting at a desk on a computer 40 hours a week, and feeling little to no connection, passion, or purpose to what I was doing was all I could take.  It should be noted, I enjoy doing 3D design, and look forward to doing more in the future. I currently have a few ideas floating around that are waiting to be put into action.  So I hit the road two days before the start of the new year, 2012.  My first stopping point was Fort Collins then Boulder, Colorado, where I find myself today.  It turns out that Boulder is a decent place to live if you enjoy cycling.  I have been slowly falling in love with the place ever since.

First couple of days in Colorado.  Nederland, CO.