April 26, 2010

Triple Crown 2010

The weather in the Midwest has been awful for the last week. Hey, what would an almost Epic mountain bike ride be without awful weather, it makes for such great stories. So the first Triple Crown ride of 2010 went off with a bang, or maybe I should say with many banged up bodies. Rock Racing had 3 members that attended the ride.

The plan was to have an epic ride covering 3 parks in one day, we call it the Triple Crown. We ride three parks connected together by chat trails, the total distance is 46 miles with 26 miles being chat trail and 20 miles of single track. So I sent out notes and gathered up a crew and we planned to meet at Lost Valley conservation area to start this epic ride. Days before the ride the Midwest was hit with torrential downpours, high winds and tornados. In Missouri, the county parks have the right to close the trails due to weather conditions and there had been so much rain that both Mattson Hill and Klondike were closed to mountain bikes on Saturday morning. This could have ruined all the fun, but we regrouped and came up with a new plan. Since Lost Valley is a state conservation area, it does not close due to the weather, we changed our plans and set out to do a few laps of Lost Valley. LV has just under 12 miles of single track with some major hill climbs and technical areas.

We started the day by meeting at the parking lot by the big mound, which I think is radioactive waste covered by rock. We checked tire pressures, packed food in our camelbacks and debated on what to wear, it was high 50’s with drizzle, hard to decide how much to wear. We all went with less clothes rather then more since we would be in dense woods that would block the elements for most of the ride, it was a good call. As we were getting ready to ride we noticed some people blocking the road next to the parking lot, stopping cars and letting them through after checking ID’s. I rode my bike over to ask what was going on. Well, to my surprise they where wearing FBI gear and were sending people back to a firing range next to the conservation area for some FBI firearms training. They told me that we needed to make sure we did not go past the gate, which was ok with us, we were hitting the trail at the gate, but we hoped that they weren’t shooting towards the woods.

Some of the riders had never been to LV, they were going to have a nice surprise in store when they saw that first uphill. We hit the first big downhill, it was quickly followed by a long, really long uphill, we warmed up nicely after that hill. As we turned onto the trail reroute we came to the first signs of mud. We had to cross a creek going over logs to a short steep uphill that was slick as snot. No one made it up, and we even slid back down the hill trying to push our bikes up it. I think we started laughing here and never stopped for the rest of the ride. We rode through thick mud for miles until we hit one of the older trails that was a little more rode-in and not nearly as muddy, at least some of it. We came across a hunter carrying a dead turkey, it was a small male, so it had all the big feathers. I started wondering about people hunting where we were riding, maybe we should have been wearing blaze orange. This thought didn’t stop me from riding though. After a few crashes, nothing greater than a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10, we made it almost to the big creek where we were hoping to get a bit of a bike wash while riding through it. Little did we know we were really going to need that wash. The group came around a switch back and hit the deep thick mud, Patrick was in front and he yelled one foot down, as we slipped through the mud for about a 100 yards and around a couple switch backs, some of the group went down while a few of us stayed up. I was laughing so hard the entire trip through the mud bog, because I knew at any moment I was going to slide down the side of the hill. I was one of the lucky ones and made it through upright. After quite a few crashes we made it through the creek and back to the start of the loop.

I few of us took a break in the woods, hoping that we weren’t standing in poison ivy, we were also being eaten alive by mosquitoes. We pulled food from our packs and ate while we used sticks to try and clean mud out of our derailleurs. We quickly decided to get moving in hopes of leaving the mosquitoes behind. We rode the trail backwards this time into a crazy 8 pattern, which meant we had to go up a monster hill, it wasn’t terribly steep, but it was really long, it seemed like it went on forever. That’s when our expert hill climber Jeff took off and passed everyone, as he went the sprinter Patrick decided to follow and headed up the hill after him. He couldn’t hang though and Jeff was just blur in the distance, but being the nice guy Jeff is, when he got to the top he rode back down and did the last section again with the few of us struggling to get up the hill. At the top of the hill we turned back into the reroute and hit the snot covered hill again. Mark, said he was going for it and he made it up, then Chuck made it up, then I had to put a foot down at the top but was able to push myself over, Pat and Jim did the same, and only needed a couple steps to get up. Jeff and Krystal went last and had a bit more of an issue with sliding back down the hill, but they finally got over the top. As we rode some areas of the trail had dried out a bit and it was a little easier to get some speed. We still had a few crashes as some of the same places we did earlier, but I think we were all getting a little more confident and riding a bit more lose causing the crashes. We rated all the crashes but nothing significant happened. So as we flew through the trails we came around a corner and that’s when we heard it. The sound of air escaping in one big gush. Patrick had blown out his tire, as he turned over his bike two guys came around the same corner and as we all yelled look out there is something sharp, we heard it again, the dreaded sound of air escaping in one big blow. The second of the two guys hit the same sharp rock and blew his tire also. Not only had both tires blown, but they both had side wall splits. We were all offering up all our trash, Honey Stinger gels, bars and shot packages. It took all of our trash to make large enough boots to fix two tires. Both tires got fixed and we took off again. Patrick was nervous checking his tire often, but we assured him, his tire would hold until we were at the furthest possible point from the parking lot, then it would burst again. We are all good friends to assure him like that.

Soon we were back to those switchbacks in the deep mud and as we came around the first switchback everyone seems to go down, but Jeff had the best crash of the day, he flew over the handlebars and landed on his feet, it looked just like he had planned it. Jim could not stop laughing, he said it was the fast transition from bike to run, he had ever seen. We all got back on our bikes and as we made the next switch back, Chuck pulled the same stunt Jeff did. Chuck loves competition, he couldn’t let Jeff out do him with that perfect crash, so he had to do it too.

As we made it back to the finish of the second loop, once again covered in mud, we ate more and cleaned off more mud. Jeff tells everyone he has blood in hopes of getting a 10 for his last crash, but Jim says, it’s doesn’t count when the blood came from swatting the mosquito on your arm. It was starting to rain a bit harder, but not enough to stop the fun. Mark had to leave for some other obligations, but we think he just wanted to get off the trials after seeing the last two hunters riding huffy’s carrying shot guns and wearing camo, so he headed up the hill back to the parking lot. We headed back to the creek to start a loop covering half of the crazy eight trail. We couldn’t finish this ride without a second trip up the long hill, the third trip for Jeff.

When we made it to the top of the hill we were cruising through the flat area until we hit the long downhill, Patrick was in front of me and cruising, I was working hard to keep up with him. He hit the top of the a long steep downhill and started flying, I noticed his back wheel starting to slide a bit in some deep gravel, so I started slowing down. I thought how much braver he was then me, he wasn’t even slowing down at all. As we got the bottom of the hill, we had to go straight back up the steep long gravel hill that meets up with the Hamburg trail, Jeff, Jim and Krystal flew by me and then Chuck passed me, Pat was on my right and he had stopped on the hill, he was having a problem with shifting into his small ring. I felt sorry for him because I knew he would have to start on that steep uphill. In just a few seconds he was back on his bike and right on my tail. We made it to the top, but I was sucking air when we got there. We rode back to the parking lot and took some pictures of our muddy selves as we inflated all the facts of each of the crashes and the conditions of the trails. This is where I found out that Patrick wasn’t as brave as I thought, his back breaks stopped working and that’s why he was flying down that hill and not slowing down. It’s a good thing he has bike handling skills and was able to maneuver through the gravel without crashing.

We finished 30 miles of single track in 3 hours and 42 minutes with and average speed of 8 mph. We were all very happy with that. Thinking back, I think the only person that did not have a crash was Mark, if he crashed he did it so stealthily that I missed it.

The icing on the cake was still to come we pulled out all the Subway sandwiched, chips and drinks and ate like royalty, devouring everything in sight, it was fantastic. We want to Thank Trek Mountain Co-op for graciously paying for the food, it was appreciated by all. And I’m not sure what to call this ride, since it isn’t really the triple crown now.

Oh, and it took me over an hour to clean all the mud off my bike. Even with the extra help from the pouring rain and the tornado sirens going off.

April 23, 2010

LBL Adventure 2010

This was ROCK Racings second attempt at the LBL 12 hr adventure race. The 2009 race report can be found on this site and is mostly a list of mistakes and lessons learned. We were looking forward to the 2010 race as a test to see how much we learned in the past year of racing. LBL is one of my favorite races. The Land Between the Lakes has no privately owned property. It is all wilderness, with very few paved roads. The only highway (The Trace) is off-limits for racing.

We signed up for the usual two-person coed division and found out a few weeks before the race that Robin was being sent to a mountain bike expo to represent Trek, so a substitute teammate was needed. We did a group email posting and I was lucky enough to get a response from Chris Heupel. We met and had several emails to coordinate plans prior to the race day.

At the pre-race meeting Chris and I found out that this would be a pretty straight-forward race plan. 21 checkpoints to plot and a 7am mass start. Bike transition would be race headquarters at Pisgah Bay on Lake Barkley.

The race started under the inflatable Bonk Hard start/finish line with the national anthem. The first four trekking points could be done in any order; we had planned to do them as 4-3-2-1. Turned out this was a good call, we went through them pretty quickly, only losing a little time on CP1 because I had us follow a trail too long before we turned north. Hindsight says I should have shot a compass bearing off of CP2 and avoided the trail all together.

Race headquarters was CP5 and the transition to the bike; we rode out on dirt roads to some great singletrack. The trails were in primo condition with only a few muddy spots. We got CP6 and CP7 right away, and then had a small piece of paved road to ride to a boat ramp for CP8 completing the first 15 mile bike leg.

CP8 was transition to the canoe. We had decided not to bring our team paddles because they would have to be carried through the rest of the race. We lucked out…Kayak paddles were provided by Bonk Hard. We had the same type plastic canoes we used at Thunder Rolls. These are nice and fast, but somewhat unstable. We never dumped the canoe, but there were a couple close calls. They were Salomon’s and had some great flip-up back rests that I really liked.

The canoe was simple orienteering, 7 miles long and included an 80 meter portage about halfway through it. We learned a lesson while on this leg. It is better for canoe control to put the heaviest person in the back of the canoe. We would have saved some time and frustration in the cross-winds if we had loaded correctly.

We had another trekking leg after the canoe; it was more difficult than the first. About 5 miles and all bushwhacking, there was only one spot where we could take advantage of a road. The long zip-off pants while trekking paid off in gold. I wasn’t scratched up too bad at all, but Chris (in shorts) looked liked a butcher shop. We had a good trek and hit all the checkpoints, only one small detour down a reentrant adjacent to the one we should have been in.

When we came out of the woods to the boat ramp/bike drop we saw lots of bikes on the ground. This was a good sign meaning lots of racers were still out in the woods. I rearranged the maps and zipped off my pant legs while Chris treated some lake water with iodine tablets. We were pedaling again in no time with only two checkpoints to go. While climbing away from the boat ramp, Chris’s bike spit out the chain in two pieces. We lost some time putting it back together, but as luck would have it, no one passed us. We got CP20 and were on another climb to CP21 when his chain broke a second time. This time we did a more permanent repair by removing a couple of bent chain links. Still no one passed us, we must have had quite a time cushion built up.

We caught another team between CP21 and the finish when they took a wrong turn, and rode in to a 6th place finish with all the CP’s and a time of 10:15. There was a party going on at the finish line with those great Bonk Hard baked potatoes and beer provided by Kuat Racks. I spent some time with the rack guy checking out their different models. They are so nice, I want one bad.

Thanks Bonk Hard for another great race!