I knew the first section of trail well from the MSC hill climb. We climbed up the switchbacks out of Carter Park, briefly crossing the incoming racers. I stayed in an easy gear - eyes focused on the switchbacks and ears peeled for the next woman Larry announced. I didn't have a big gap between fourth and fifth - only a few minutes. But the focus had to stay on the trail and riding to finish. I turned over a steady, smooth cadence as we climbed higher away from the park. I had a train of guys on my wheel as we vanished into the trees. None of them seemed inclined to pass - at least none of them asked to get around. So I kept pedaling up, up and up. A few sections of double track provided passing room, but no one was interested. I guess my pace was good. The Barney Ford single track was fun, but I knew it wouldn't last long. Sure enough, the dirt road leading up to Sallie Barber mine appeared. I took advantage of the brief flat section on the road to finish eating my potato, trying to keep my tank topped off for as long as i could. The short flat section was soon just a memory as the trail turned skyward and we were climbing again. It was a short but steep climb up to Sallie Barber. And while the descent down the road was fun, the next section was anything but. Little French creek.
Ahh, Little French Creek. It starts easy enough - a nice gradual climb.on a wide, smooth road. Past s few houses and the road starts narrowing. Another few homes and cabins ad the road gets a little rockier. Then a sharp left, straight up. The road quickly disintegrates into rocky, rough double track, filled with baby heads. As i climbed higher and rode deeper into the woods the trail continued to get steeper, rougher and harder. We were riding up a creek bed, with imposing mountain walls looming on either side. One time across the creek and my tires slipped on the wet rocks. I was bale to keep it upright and kept pedaling. The track continued to get rockier and looser. Another creek crossing - this one dry - but i wasn't able to keep my forward momentum on the loose rocks. Like everyone around me, i was off and walking. I was really impressed by the amount of communication between riders. I've never been in a race situation where people talked so much. Someone would know they weren't riding a section and before dismounting, would say to the riders behind "I'm off here" and try to get out if the way of people still on their bikes. There was so little of the "if i can't ride it..." mentality I've seen at of her races. It was awesome. I did hike up to the top with another rider. He asked how many 100 miles races I'd done and where i was in the women's field. Answered as best i could (none, third i think) but had to smile when he said "saw the P on your leg and figured you know what you were doing." Not so sure about that, but thanks for the compliment!
Another flume trail descent - a fun trail perched along the mountain side, just a thin ribbon of single track curling thru the trees back to the north.We traversed the steep mountain for several miles. I knew a sketchy road descent was coming up, but also a good opertunity for some passing. I did get right on a few guys near the end of the flume trail, putting me in a good position to pass as soon as we hit the road. And I took full advantage of the time to rest as well. A nice change from the climbing and enough to bring a grin to my face. It was a fun little road section, with some berms, some whoops and plenty of loose gravel. I actually passed about 5 guys on that section of road, but I knew they would catch me back as soon as the trail tipped up again.
|Drop bags in the morning - waiting to be delivered.|
Photo - Nick Thelen
The aid station at Swan River was the first aid station where I had a drop bag. I cruised to a stop, easily finding my bag. I had been a little worried about that - I'd completely blanked on having easily identifiable bags that seals securely. Instead, I had two grocery bags and two zip-lock bags with my number written in permanent marker! But no issues at any of the aid stations. I also have to give kudos to the RMES crew and volunteers. I never once stopped at an aid station and had to fumble with my bag. Sometimes before I'd even picked it up, I had someone standing at my side asking if I needed help. Never pushy, never in the way, but there if I needed. They always asked what they could do or if I needed something besides what I had in my bag. And it was most appreciated at a few of the aid stations, given that the knots I'd tied in the grocery bags were a little hard to get undone in gloves and with tired hands!
Fresh bottle on my bike, eating a Snickers and with a mounds bar stashed in my pack, it was time to start thinking about the Colorado Trail. At least 30 minutes of solid, single track climbing. On the road to the CT, a rider asked me if I knew what was coming up - he hadn't had a chance to pre-ride anything. I just replied "UP." He laughed and responded saying anything "Can't be worse then Little French - anything with gulch in the name just sucks." Yeah, wait until you hit Creek... When we got the CT, I was in a que with several guys and quite happy with the pace. I knew the climb was going to be long, so I just wanted to keep a nice steady rhythm. I'd struggled on the CT climb during our pre-ride due to fueling issues, but didn't seem to be having that problem. The smooth single track of the lower slopes gave way to rooty switchbacks as we climbed higher and higher. I slipped off the pace a little, loosing my place in the que. Oh well - just ride steady and smooth. My legs were getting achy, feeling heavy and tired already. About three quarters of the way to the top, I decided it was time to walk. I hadn't wanted to walk any of this section - was planning on riding all of it. But it was getting to be too much - my legs needed a short break from pedaling. I stepped off the trail, hoping that the fatigue I was feeling already wasn't a sign of things to come. Thankfully, I wasn't walking that much slower then the men still riding ahead of me. It was just a short little walk, but enough to give me a boost when I got back on the bike.
Finally, a break in the trees indicating the top of the climb. A rolling section of single track overlooking the backside of Keystone provided a chance for me to gather myself and recovery for the screaming downhill coming up. I love that descent. It's my third time riding that section of the CT and I have more fun each time. It's just a blast - twisting down the mountain side with long straights and tight switchbacks. The rain the day before tightened the trail to the point of butter - awesome conditions to just fly. So fly I did - talking to myself as usual the whole way down. I took advantage of our pre-ride to put some huge chunks of time into the men I'd climbed up with. Tried to ride smart and not take any chances, but let the bike run. Catching some air and throwing up dust around the corner with a grin on my face, but I was staying in control. Nearly at the bottom of the long descent, the first rider in the 68 caught me. He was so cool - rider back - when safe - take your time. As soon as the trail opened up, he was around and gone. Just one more rolling up, then the last switchbacks of the CT. I have to admit, I was pretty pleased with my ride down the CT. I've never managed to drop other riders on that kind of descent that easily and still have fun doing it.
|Me racing on the CT just before Drege|
Photo - Mountain Moon Photography
At the next aid station, a short stop to get a new bottle and some food. Almost done with this lap - just one more tedious double track climb to go before the short descent back into town. I was starting to get passed by more and more 68ers - like I said before, all of them were really nice - so friendly and supportive. It was awesome. Coach Adam caught me in the middle of Discovery Ridge trail. We talked for a bit - he asked how I was feeling and if I was eating. I said I was doing okay, but getting tired. He said to just ride smart and in control. Yep - that was the plan. I was starting to get more tired then I wanted though. Not good. I still had over 30 miles to ride and was feeling sluggish at the start of the road climb. Felt like the pace was okay, but slower then I wanted and I was loosing some of my spunk.When Kathy Eckhart passed me near the top of the climb, I rode with her for a little - but not long. She was climbing just a little faster then I felt comfortable going at that point. Hoping I'd catch her later, I dropped back to my own pace for the rest of the climb and the descent past Minnie Mine.
|Nick racing on the CT in the Breck 32|
Photo - Mountain Moon Photography
By now, the forcasted rain clouds were looming heavily over the ten mile range. Thunder echoed in the mountains to the west and rain was sheeting down to the north. About 10 minutes before I finished the lap it started raining - a cold but light rain. The rain quickly turned into a downpour. I thought about putting on my raincoat, but it was so close to the end of the lap and to the pit area. Besides, after the first seven hours of racing, the cold rain felt good. It was mostly road back to Carter Park, manned by volunteers. One last swoopy single track section, then I was finished with the second lap.With Nick out racing, I quickly cleaned my bike in prep for the next lap. Swapped bladders in my backpack, got a new waterbottle and some food and put on arm warmers. Clean sunglasses and off I went. Larry said I was in fourth as I rolled through to start my final lap. Realistic, but still full of hope, I headed south...