What the hell happened to me this weekend? It was all a big blur of nausea, pain, adrenaline and beer. I’m still trying to process the pain in every appendage, joint, and muscle group in my body and an awesome weekend of high-altitude riding. I want to go ride again, but can’t; forced recovery.
I headed to the Keystone ski resort Friday afternoon for the Rocky Mountain Endurance Series’ Snake River Mountain Challenge. I had overheard (or read) that this race was going to be brutal in terms of climbing. Having never ridden at Keystone before I didn’t really know what to expect, but judging from the elevation profile it was going to be pretty straight forward. Start at the base (9300ft), climb ¾-of-the-way up the mountain, descend for a couple miles, then climb the rest of the way to the 11,800ft summit before descending back to the base. Rinse and repeat 2 more times. That works out to about 10,200ft of climbing in 56 miles. Ouch! Checking out the numbers (nerd check) that’s 182ft/mile ascent, compared to the Breckenridge 100 (next race) at ONLY 130ft/mile. Double ouch!!
I woke up at 5:15am on Saturday morning in my campsite next to the Snake River. First order of business: coffee, then eggs, toast, oatmeal w/ granola & peanut butter, and homemade beet juice to top it off. I was flying high and feeling good early in the morn. The race didn’t start until 9am so I had plenty of time to relax and get ready. The weather felt perfect as the start neared; a mild 65° and sunny.
At the start line I eyed the singlespeed Series Champion Charlie Hayes. He and I went back and forth a bit last year and I have not gotten a chance to race against him yet this year. The start rolled out under a neutral lead until we got dumped off onto the first climb of the day. It was a steep and loose service road about ¼-mile long that pretty much sent everybody’s heart rate through the roof. I had seen Charlie off to my left loose traction on some rocks and have to come unclipped. This was the last time I’d see him all day. As we neared the singletrack entrance I was up in the front inside the top-10. Let the climbing begin! We traversed the mountainside via switchback after switchback; an unrelenting and never-ending climb. By the time we got to the first downhill section I had just passed a couple riders and was approaching another, sitting in 5th or 6th overall. After a sweet fast and flowing ripper of a downhill we were spit out onto service road where we would face another daunting climb to the top of the mountain. I rode with another guy for the first couple of miles, and then put in a couple of good efforts to get away and catch up to the next. Nearing the top I was probably 20 seconds back of the next rider. Then I passed an aid station at the top and continued riding straight up the road when I was supposed to turn onto singletrack. There were no course markings and the course marshal just watched me ride right on by without saying a thing. I turned around to see the rider behind me entering the singletrack. Needless to say, I had a few words for the course marshal. By the time I came back through they had set up tape and arrows to direct riders. I was super happy to get to the top and ready to descend 2500ft back to the base. What I hadn’t considered was how grueling and physically demanding the descent would be. Damn those trails are rough! Head bouncing, teeth chattering, eyes popping and jumping out of my skull, seat striking nether regions, triceps cramping, forearms on fire and feet numbed, I finally made it to the bottom. Not to say it wasn’t fun. In fact it was a blast.
Lap 2 was more of the same. I began to tire just a bit, but was feeling really confident with no signs of cramping and only minimal fatigue. At this point I had the notion that I had built about a 10-minute lead on Charlie Hayes in 2nd. The one thing that I did begin to notice was a good dose of nausea and dizziness towards the top of the mountain. Another brutally fun descent and I was almost down the mountain to start the final lap. It was then, about ¼-mile from the base, that I took a pretty good digger head first into the gravel road. It took me about 20 seconds to compose myself and stand up, feeling an immense pain in my right quad and calf. It felt like Chuck Norris had just round-house kicked my leg. Upon gathering myself I realized that my bar-end had broken off leaving my grip useless. Luckily, because I’m running the Ergon GS2 grips (best grips in the world) I was able to put it back together. In the process, about 3 or 4 minutes, I lost two critical positions. Okay, time to clear my head and just roll on! I headed out for the final lap and was almost immediately hit with the nausea bug again, only much sooner this time around. As the lap wore on it got worse and worse, until even the smallest effort left me on the verge of puking and having to take 30-seconds to regain composure. The altitude was kicking my ass! I’ve never had an issue with altitude sickness before, but this was clearly what was slowing me down. I struggled all the way to the top, barely able to take a sip of water, riding at barely a leisurely pace. Luckily I maintained a gap on Charlie, and felt confident upon hitting the downhill that I could descend fast enough to keep it. I rolled into the finish line at 5 hours 49 minutes, 1st Place Singlespeed, about 4 minutes ahead of Charlie Hayes. I must have lost a TON of time to him that last lap.
|Photo Credit: Mountain Moon Photography|
Done and done! This was one of the hardest races I’ve ever done. I (almost literally) turned myself inside out to keep going while dealing with extreme nausea. I was happy to get my first win of the year, but still not overly satisfied. I really wanted to be in the top-5 overall and felt that I had the speed, but that 3rd lap killed me. On a positive note, I was finally descending as fast if not faster than my competitors. I have always had trouble keeping it together on the descents, and usually lose time on the downhill sections. During this race I was actually catching my competitors on the downhills! One of my focuses coming into this year was to get better and faster at descending, and I have. Another positive was the fun I was having. I remember during the first lap, while being followed on a downhill by a guy I had just passed, taking an off-line to hit a jump. Probably lost a second or two, but damn it felt good! I did my best to hit all of the features: jumps, berms, tabletops, etc. That’s what they’re there for, right?
Sunday morning I woke up in my tent feeling like a train wreck. Still nauseas, head ringing, body sore, etc. What better way to start a day of lift-assisted downhill runs? I had to take advantage of being at an awesome bike park on a ski hill, so bought a lift ticket and let the games begin! I had my Norco Shinobi trail bike (29er, 140mm travel, slack geometry) just for this cause! It certainly wasn’t as adept as the full-on downhill machines that dominate the mountain, but was fine for me. The first run was rough, literally. I wasn’t sure how many I had in me. The second and third each got better, and I was feeling more comfortable on the bike and having more fun. Then a rainstorm hit, I ducked into the bar at the base of the mountain, had two beers, and was ready to roll again!
It’s amazing what a little liquid courage can do for ya. The next couple of runs I was instantly faster and looser on the bike, just floating over rock gardens, down steep sections, tossing the bike this way and that, hitting jumps at speed, and finally getting a huge rush doing all of it! I can honestly say I’m now fully addicted to this new-to-me discipline! Damn that was a good day. And because of it, I am now sore head to toe. So it goes.
Next up: Breckenridge 100