Most rides I do don’t really stand out from each other. I enjoy what I’m doing while I’m doing it, maybe have a few highlights I’ll tell friends about later, and then let the recollection of that ride drift off into this big, warm, fuzzy collective memory I have of biking.
There are, however, certain exceptions.
Occasionally, something big enough happens that the memory of the ride — or part of the ride — remains clear in my mind forever. My crash at Gold Bar Rim, resulting in a terrific photo. My crash on a local trail, resulting in facial scarring. My crash at Brian Head, forcing me to ride without a seat. Yeah, crashes are easy to remember.
Even more occasionally, though, I’ll do something I’m really proud of, and that memory sticks with me, too.
Today, I’m going to push the crashes out of my mind, and talk about some of my favorite mountain biking accomplishments.
I give Dug lots of grief about being churlish, but the reality is he’s about the best biking ambassador I’ve ever known. I am just one of probably more than twenty people he has brought into the sport. He introduced me to a jeep trail I could get to from my house. The first time we rode it, I was hooked.
In reality, it wasn’t an especially technical trail, nor a long trail, nor a steep trail. But for a beginner, it was all of those things. The steep pitches were too much for my legs. The gravel and embedded rocks would throw me off my line. I’d be tired and out of breath before I got to the final, long climb.
It was, in short, a perfect challenge for a beginning cyclist.
I started riding that trail every day, trying to string the whole thing together without putting a foot down. If I spun out toward the beginning, I’d turn around and go back to the bottom to try again. Once I spun out at the very end, in the final pitch, and rode back down the entire 2.5 mile course to do the whole thing over.
Toward the end of the season, I finally did it. I rode the entirety of my practice run without ever taking my feet off my pedals. I had built this up into such a huge deal that actually completing it seemed really remarkable. I told all of my friends about this huge achievement, who seemed a little confused. “You mean, you sometimes do put a foot down on that road?” Bob asked. “I can’t think of anywhere you’d need to do that.”
Sure enough, a couple years later — just for nostalgia — I rode what our group now called “Elden’s Practice Run,” and found that there’s nothing noteworthy, difficult, or otherwise impressive about this little trail.
But it was still my first big triumph, and it still feels like a big deal.
Finishing the Cascade Creampuff
I had heard the Cascade Creampuff was difficult, but I’d done the Leadville 100 several times and figured that it couldn’t be much harder. They were both 100 mile mountain bike races, and the Creampuff is in Oregon at a nice low altitude, so I expected it to be about the same effort.
I was a fool.
The Creampuff has you do three laps of a 33 mile course. You climb about 6000 feet — mostly on graded dirt road — for eighteen miles or so, then descend on tight singletrack for about fifteen miles. So by the end of the day, you’ve done 18,000 feet of climbing, as opposed to the 12,000 or so you’ve done at Leadville. That’s 50% more climbing, for those keeping track.
The climb of the first lap of the Creampuff seemed easy. I was having so much fun. I was passing people, goofing off, and rolling a nice, high tempo. I expected to place very well in the race.
The descent on that first lap was incredible. I had never ridden such great singletrack, nor seen such incredible trees. This was going to be the best day ever, I could tell.
As I finished the first lap, I told my wife (crewing for me) that I was having a banner day, that I loved this course, and that I’d see her in another 3.5 hours.
Then the climb for the second lap began, and I bonked hard. I was soft-pedaling in my granny, unable to give it any more than that. I could not see any possible way I would finish this race. But even as I contemplated how I was going to quit, I kept pedaling. I’d quit at the next aid station.
It took forever, but I did get to the aid station. I decided to eat and drink for half an hour, and then I’d quit. By the time I had rested that long, though, I decided that I could make it to the next aid station, and would quit there.
I played that game the whole rest of the lap. I would quit, but I’d do it at the next checkpoint. Finally, when I met my wife, I said it out loud: “I quit.”
“No, you can’t,” she said.
“I’m done. Seriously,” I said.
“You will hate yourself forever,” she said.
I knew it was true. I would.
Sullenly, I got on the bike, and started the third lap. It was only a little bit harder than the second one.
I don’t remember my finish time for the Cascade Creampuff — something close to 14 hours, I think — but I do remember crying with relief when the finish line came into view at the end of the third lap. I quit dozens (hundreds) of times that day, but finished the race anyway.
I owe my wife big time on this one.
24 Hours of Moab, Duo Team
Racing the 24 Hours of Moab in the Duo Pro/Expert division (two guys taking turns racing a technically demanding 15.7 mile course for 24 hours) with my friend Brad was probably the most intense race I have ever done.
Brad and I agreed to do sets of two laps, giving each other more opportunity to rest between turns. That meant I wouldn’t have anything to do for at least the first couple hours of the race, except wish that I had worked harder at staying in shape.
Brad and I turned in very consistent times, though we stopped doing two-lap turns fairly quickly. As the day turned to night, we slowed down, going from 1:20 laps to 1:50 laps.
Between laps I had a pretty effective regimen going. Go back to the camp, give my bike to Jeremy (our mechanic), go back to my car, start the engine and turn on the heater, make a sandwich (Great Harvest bread, smoked turkey, lots of mayo) while the car warms up, climb into the back seat and change into the clothes for my next lap, eat the sandwich and drink about a quart of water, refill my Camelbak, rest for about 20 minutes, go to the restroom, then back to the staging area and wait for Brad.
Toward the end of his seventh lap, Brad bonked. And when Brad bonks, he really bonks. As he handed me the baton, he said that he had done the math and figured that I would finish my next lap (my seventh) by about 11:40 — twenty minutes before the race was over. He was completely fried, he said, and there was no way he was going to do another lap.
"You have to!" I yelled.
"No way," he said.
"You have to!" I reiterated, just in case I had been unclear the first time.
"No way," he said, just in case I hadn’t caught the subtle nuances of his previous statement.
For emphasis, I yelled "You have to!" one more time, climbed on my bike and took off.
For the bulk of that lap, I was preoccupied with what we would do when I finished my lap. At first I figured that Brad would see that he had a moral obligation to do that lap and would be at the staging area ready to go when I pulled in. Then I thought about it a little harder and decided that if Brad said he was cooked, he was really cooked. I didn’t want to hold back, though, and intentionally turn in a slow lap for my final effort. I had treated this event like a serious race for 23 hours; I was going to finish it like a serious race. I decided that if Brad wasn’t able to do the final lap, I’d do it.
Around 11:25 I pulled into Jeremy’s pit stop and asked if Brad had suited up for another lap. The people sitting around (Jeremy was crewing for more than ten people) said he hadn’t and that I should just sit down and chill out until noon. Instead, I handed Jeremy my bike and asked him to lube the chain while I filled up my Camelbak. I don’t know if there were really wild cheers all around, but it seemed like it at the time and drove my morale right through the roof. I took off for lap number 8.
Stuff I had been blowing through in my middle ring now required a granny gear. I walked things that I would never walk. I felt like I was out there forever, but the actual time wasn’t much different than my other times for the day: 1:49. Good enough for a fourth-place finish.
The Banjo Brothers Bike Bag Giveaway: Your Turn
What have you done on a bike — something you’ll always remember — that you’re really proud of?