Friday, May 9, 2014

Whiskey Off Road 2014 part 2

Yes indeed, that steady rain was turning white, and as I made the right turn after the start line, it was snowing. 

The route has a lot of everything ... paved road, single track, dirt road, woods, desert.  To help with pacing and all I had the race ahead split into 6 parts.
  1. Road climb out from the start. This is a 4.2 mile pavement climb.  It's pretty steep in spots. Key here is to go fast so you are not bottle necked on...
  2. Forest single track. About 7 miles, mostly up. Top out around 6800'
  3. Descent on trail 220 and forest road connector to copper basin road. Wicked downhill followed by a moderate climb before taking a left onto...
  4. 9 mile descent to skull valley. It's great because you know you get to turn around and...
  5. 11 mile HC climb to Sierra Pieretta overlook. Pain. 
  6. Last 14 miles. Mostly descent from Sierra Pieretta, plus "cramp hill", water crossings and the road home.
I entered this race intending to go fast.  My previous 2 attempts were DNF.  Well, one "full" DNF with a busted derailleur hangar, and one "soft" DNF where I took a lot of aid on course from a marshall and a draft off of a 4-wheeler (I might have grabbed on a few times) to make it up the climb from Skull Valley.  That was 30 lbs ago...

I came in wanting to not only finish by perform.  Sub 5-hours, and hopefully sub 4:30.  The plan was to hammer the first climb full out, and pass as many people as I could.  The single track is always slow, with back ups from the technical sections, so there would be time to recover.  Keep pace through the single track climbs and downhill, then turn the gas on again from the bottom of trail 220 to the Copper Basin Road.  Assess the water situation, stop if needed, and drop the hammer for the descent.  

This plan would put me at the 25-mile turn around in 1:45-2:00.  I'd stop for water, then push hard for the 1:45-2:00 climb up to Sierra Pieretta.  From there, it's 14 fast miles to the finish, with only one 265' climb affectionately called "cramp hill" as an obstacle.  This section should take no more than 45 minutes.  Add it all up, and having a good day I'm home in 4:15.

While I figured I was not going to make my times in the weather, I still planned on a pretty good race.  It had been a tough couple weeks at work, and I had not been sleeping as much as I needed, but I still felt like I should do well.

With that in mind, I made the first turn about 100m from the start, and started passing people.  Despite the driving rain/snow the legs were responding, and I was indeed passing lots of people as we wound through a few neighborhood streets before the longish climb up the road before the real mountain biking began.  The road was quite slick, so I went into the corner very slowly, stayed upright and started climbing again.  Still feeling pretty good, I went for a bigger gear, and decided to stand up or really turn on the power for a minute or so at a time.  I flicked the lever adding a few gears looked down at the watch to check the HR, and....nothing.  Watch was dead.  Evidently it's water proof, but not very cold proof.  The temperature was dropping, I could see my breath and lots of steam coming off riders as the ground up the hill.  My watch was done.  No time, no HR, no speed for me.  Oh well, old school it was...

As I climbed, the rain turned to more snow and sleet with occasional hail. So that was cool.  I made it about 3/4 of the way up the climb really going for it, then had to back off.  The cold was taking it's toll, and I was starting to feel all over tired.  Shivering despite the goretex and the effort I was putting out, I sat up a bit as I hit the dirt road just before the start of the single track, knowing I would only pass one or two more folks before passing became impossible.

So part 1 went kind if as planned, but being really wet and shivering drained the energy. 

Part 2 was all about not dying.  Not running of the trail and down a cliff, not missing a turn and clobbering a rock face, not stopping and letting creeping hypothermia take over...and most important, not letting all the people I saw dropping out, huddling under space blankets, turning down road crossings to get home get to me.  

The snow was coming down hard, and ice was built up on the bars, down tube and rear triangle. I thought about taking a picture or two, but couldn't bring myself to drag the camera out...lots of steep ups with water bars to clear that are hard enough on a dry day...simply not possible for me in the ice and snow. 

There was an awesome moment where some folks had set up at some steep switchbacks. One of the people at the bottom would ask your name, then call up to their friends further up the slope. I got personalized cheers "go ro!" as I worked up the hill. 

Part 2 took a while. No idea how long because the watch was dead. 

Part 3 started when I crested the pass (which by the way is where I broke my hangar last year) and put my face right into a 30-40 mph wind with driving snow. 

Fortunately I was going down. 

Unfortunately it was narrow single track, my hands were frozen so it was tough to brake, and the wind kept trying to blow me off the trail.  

The descent wa a bit slow both from the weather and some significant traffic from other riders also trying Not To Die. 

As we descended, the snow turned to rain, and all the ice and snow on me melted...and I was just wet. 

The decent bottomed out where a forest road intersected the trail.  Some volunteers had started a large bonfire there, and lots of people were pulling over to warm up. I felt ok, so slugged down some food and drink, and kept the pedals turning towards Copper Basin Road. 

This is the only part of the race where I began to dispair. I did not have any pop in the legs to push up the moderate climb, my hands hurt, and my watch had come back  on. The watch said 2:10. I was behind my turn around time already, and I was 11 miles from the turn around!  Ugh. I felt like a turtle. I was passing people again, which gave me a little boost, but I started to hope that after the 1/2 mile steep climb to the road, I would find the coconino county sherif telling us the race was shortened...and I could just turn the pedals and be done in 90 more minutes. I was pretty done. As I climbed up to the road, the snow started again, and the wind kicked up. Pretty much the definition of suffering. 

Much to my simultaneous elation and disappointment the course was open, I had plenty of water, and I turned left towards Skull Valley for part 4...

9 miles down. Average 6% grade, sometimes as much as 15%. Talk about a speed fest!  Unless there's a 40mph headwind. And hail. And the wind is picking up the dirt from the road and throwing it in your face. 

Yes, it was hailing dirt. 

As I rolled downhill picking up speed wherever I could, I was literally being blown around the road. About 1/2 way down the leaders appeared on the left side of the road making their way up the climb from the turn around. My spirits were lifted a bit, as 2 years ago I had seen the leaders much earlier in the ride...even though I felt slow, I was still doing ok I figured 

About a mile from the turn around, the sun came out. Now it was bright and sunny...Arizona sun heating up my cold, wet self. 

At the turn around, an awesome volunteer filled my camelbak as my hands were too numb to open the thing. I asked her what time it was. 1030. Damn. 3 hours. I wanted to be here in 1:45-2:00. So the finish time goal was out of the question...but I decided to finish strong. The legs were coming back, and I could feel my hands again. It had to get better...besides being able to feel my hands and legs, what else did I want?  Only 25 miles to go!  

I downed a couple gels and some water, and started up part 5. 

11 mile 6% average 15% In places 3700' Hors Categorie climb. 

Believe it or not, this is where everything got much, much better. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

Whiskey Off Road 2014

Fair warning. I'm feeling like I've lost my Mojo. 3 races gone by and no real report. I love riding, racing, and writing about it. And yet, 3 races and no report. I'm even slipping on the training rides. 

(Actually, I know where my Mojo is. It is in the garage, hanging upside down waiting to be turned into a singlespeed or a gravel grinder once I decide to drop some more cash at the Flat Tire. But that's a totally different post indnt it?). 

So where was I...lost my mojo. I'm getting it back. I'm getting it back by imposing a Whiskey Off Road race report on you that tells you just how awesome it was.

Some background.

 The Whiskey is simply an amazing event. 3 days for those who can swing it of partying, pro goggling and racing.  Bands, bikes, beer, a race course with an HC climb and white knuckle descents. Blazing fast forest single track to desert rocks to rock gardens nasty enough the top pros can't navigate them.  Bacon, whiskey, and donut hand-ups from screaming supporters even for us scmhos... A laid back vibe that somehow manages to generate intense competition all at the same time.  The Whiskey is as close to the perfect bike race as is put on. Full Stoke. Plus, it's in Prescott, AZ in April, so it's always 70 degrees and sunny...

Racing Day
With the Backyardigans as my soundtrack I got my coffee and toast, checked the somewhat unnerving weather reports again, and threw all the clothes I wore for iceman on for the 90 minute drive to Prescott.

As I gained elevation and lattitude, the temperature came down steadily. 79 when I left Scottsdale, 34 by the time I rolled down Montezuma street. And it was raining. Hard.  Like fast wipers hard. It was weather even racers at Iceman don't look forward to...

Being my 3rd year, I had my Whiskey routine down to a science. Wake up at 4:15am, leave by 4:45 or 5:00, get there by 6:15am, park in the structure behind Gurley street. get the race number, set up the bike, pee, get in line by 7:00 for the 7:30 start. Now, the folks at Epic Rides make it pretty explicit you're supposed to pick up your packet on Friday night, but that's a bit of a drive (90 min each way), seems wasteful on the gas, and would mean another missed dinner and bedtime for the kiddos.  The past 2 years it had been no issue whatsoever to get the number on Saturday morning... Not so this year pardner!  

Perhaps the weather, perhaps a rocking party on Friday night, but there was no one handing out race numbers around 630.  Quite a few of us waiting, but no numbers. So, I ran back to the car, got the bike out, peed, and went back to check about my race packet. 

Still raining. 

Luckily, the Epic Rides staffer came by, gave me a good and well deserved scolding for not picking up on Friday, handed me a number and wished me luck. She also made it clear that next year, it's Friday. Got it...but now it's time to race. 

Number now tied on, dressed for November in Michigan up I got myself into a gap in the fence and jumped in line about 1/2 way up the field. I took stock of my fellow insane racers under the sign marked "faster than most of my friends". Must say we looked a sorry lot. I was pretty well
prepped...proper gore jacket (though I could have done with my rain jacket), thermal bibs, gloves. I was just a little cold in the stiff wind and steady rain...which is exactly how I like to feel temperature wise before a long race. After all soon, I would be charging up a cat 2 climb, passing as many as possible to avoid bottlenecks in the singletrack. 

Around me was quite the cast of characters. A few in full Rapha cold and wet race kit -- ready for Paris-Roubaix or Milan-San Romeo by their look -- more than a few in garbage bags, shower caps, nitrile gloves...and a few other in summer race kit and rain cape. seriously?  Had theae people never rudder a bike in weather?  Did they not read a weather report?  Did they think they were tour riders needing to show off their sponsor logos?  I guffawed. I sniffed at their silliness!  Actually, I coughed and sniffled the stuff coming out of my nose. 

There was a bit of a fire-up from the PA before the shotgun blast (a real one!) set us off and racing.

Just as the snow started. 

We'll pick up there next time.