A Note from Fatty: Last weekend, Kenny and Chucky did the Cascade Cream Puff, one of my very favorite races — its incredibly climby uphill (around 18,000 feet of climbing) is matched only by its awesome singletrack downhill. I didn’t get to go this year, so was anxious to live the race through Kenny. As usual, Kenny does not disappoint.
I’ve wanted to do the Cascade Cream Puff ever since Fatty told me about
doing it about 4 or 5 years ago. Don’t let the name fool you, this race has
it all. Eighteen thousand feet of climbing and singletrack descents that
last over an hour. This course is by far my favorite endurance course I’ve
The race fills up fast because they only allow 130 riders. The race directors feel that anymore than this would be too damaging to the trail. It’s refreshing to see someone put on a race whose sole objective is not to make money. For our entry fee we got three meals, free camping, a raffle with lots of cool swag, great aid stations with lots of helpful volunteers and a finisher’s hat. Not bad at all.
A Little History
Last year, I signed up for this race with my friends Chucky and Brad. Two weeks before the race, I was following one of the kids I was coaching off a small kicker, came up short, turfed it and suffered a compression fracture in my spine. Besides being really embarrassed and hurt, I was bummed that I missed the race, so I made sure that it was top priority on this year’s race schedule.
And so, naturally, this year it was Brad’s turn to suffer an injury, with a hurt
knee, so it ended up being just Chuck and me driving up to Oregon for the big race.
Side note: If you ever want to become faster or more skilled on a bike, find the fastest cyclist you know, become his friend and ride with him as much a possible. For me this person is Chucky. He’s taught me more about bike racing, off season training, and all around biker lifestyle than anyone. Even though he’s more than a decade younger, I look up to him as my biking mentor.
Fancy Pro Guys
We pulled up to the school – where everyone was camping – in the Gary Fisher/Subaru team car. It was pretty cool because everyone was looking at us like we were factory pros showing up to kick some butt. After pre-riding some of the climb we went to the mandatory race meeting/dinner/raffle.
We filled our bellies with as many calories as humanly possible and I scored the coveted prize with my raffle ticket; a red pair of Chris King disc hubs. I’m still torn on whether I should build up some wheels with them or sell them on ebay. I think they’re worth about 600 bucks. [Note from Fatty: If you sell them on eBay, you suck.]
The race started at five in the morning, in order to give everyone as much daylight as possible to do the race in. Once it’s dark they don’t allow anyone on the course.
The pace started out fairly slow…which is great when you’re riding a single speed on a flat road. The pace gradually quickened as the road got steeper. I found I was able to stay with the lead group of about 5 or 6 for the first hour.
I felt good.
No, scratch that. I felt fantastic.
I was hammering the pedals and my legs felt strong. I wasn’t going anaerobic and I was keeping pace with the race leaders. I started checking out the competition. There was one single speed rider just behind me and I was pretty sure there was one up front, by the slower cadence he was turning. I looked around and Chucky was nowhere to be found.
That was strange.
I knew he was well-rested and ready for this race. I supposed he was just being smart and saving himself for the next two laps. This was a ten hour race, after all. Nobody wins in the first lap. It’s all about the last lap.
About a half hour later, Chucky and one other rider came up on my left and passed me. He seemed great, chit-chatting with me and the other rider as he went by. I had slowed my pace a bit, but still had the lead group in my sites. I thought about holding Chuck’s wheel, but decided that I had to race my race. My pace felt right, and Chucky belonged in front of me anyway.
At the top of the long dirt road, the singletrack climb started. I was loving it. The trail weaved in and out of some of the biggest pine trees I’ve ever seen. The dirt was soft, but not too dry or powdery. It was cooler in the shaded forest with huge patches of moss covering downed logs. I kept expecting to see those Sesame Street teddy bear aliens from Return of the Jedi [Note from Fatty: Uh, those are called "Ewoks," Kenny], with their stupid leather hats and their squeaky voices.
What I did see were 5 or 6 riders whip past me as I tentatively descended the slightly technical down hill. I consider myself to be pretty good at descending, so this was a surprise to me. Maybe I was being overly cautious. Or maybe I was just getting schooled by the local boys.
Lap 2: I Am Invincible
I finished my lap, rode into aid station 1, chugged a protein shake, grabbed
three more packs of shot blocks two new water bottles and headed out for my second lap.
I started climbing and realized, as I passed everyone back who had just showed me up on the DH, that I felt great.
In fact, I felt like Superman.
Towards the top of the second lap, I passed the single speeder, who was riding first in my category. I must have been about 6th place overall, and still Chucky was where he was supposed to be, somewhere ahead of me.
It wasn’t until about hour 6, somewhere on the single track before a big grassy field that I saw a tall rider wearing red. I hoped it wasn’t Chuck, but as I got closer I could make out the Felt logo on his jersey and shorts. I said, “Are you hurting?”
“Yeah, you go Jones,” he said, encouraging me as I passed. I knew his back had been bugging him from lifting something at work. I figured it must have really started hurting him on that last climb. I was bummed for Chuck, but I was having the best race of my life. I was in first place in my category and I still felt great.
I descended much better my second time down and only got passed by one rider — the other single speed guy. I wasn’t worried. I was confident that I was climbing better and would be able to pass him with enough time to put a lot of distance between us before the last descent to the finish.
One More Time
I rode into aid station 1 and did my routine; Shot Bloks, protein shake, new water bottles. Everything seemed the same as lap two, but it was slightly hotter. I was climbing at a strong pace, but not too fast.
I was on the hunt for one guy, but it seemed like I was in a race by myself. There was no one in sight. I started darting from one side of the road to the other–whereever there was shade. I realized my top tube on my bike was covered in the sweat, dripping off the top of my helmet. At last I spotted the rider I was stalking. With each turn I was a little closer.
As I passed he said, “Dude you’re a motor.” This in mountain bike lingo means “You are climbing very well.” I think he expected me to catch him.
I was feeling confident. I was where I wanted to be. I had completed about a third of the climb on the final lap and had a lot more climbing that I could put distance between us before the downhill.
It was a rush. I was going to win. I knew it.
I continued to climb at about the same pace that I had been. My plan was working. I got ahead a little bit. If I could just get out of sight, it would be harder for him to keep going. I needed to make him crack while trying to keep up.
I increased my effort.
As I went around a couple turns I looked back, expecting to be alone.
I wasn’t. He was keeping pace. I tried to go a little harder, but he was actually gaining ground. All of a sudden, he was on my wheel and then I was on his wheel.
Wow, he was turning the tables on me.
He started to pull away, and I realized I was cooked. I had nothing in the tank.
I tried to push the pedals and the power was gone. This transition was amazing. I went from “I’m going to win this race!” to “Am I going to be able to finish this race?” all in a matter of minutes.
To make things worse as we rode by the water tent, the volunteer gave a full water bottle to the current leader and when I came by right after he said, “wait, I only had one, I’ll fill one up for you.”
Foolishly, I didn’t wait; I was too worried about getting dropped. Well, I got dropped anyway and I ran out of water for about a half hour before the next aid station.
At this point my goals changed.
I just needed to keep rolling and try to get a respectable finish. I suffered through the next hour of climbing, then started the huge descent.
Descending while you’re totally bonked feels like someone is hitting you in the back of the neck with a big stick on every little drop or bump. My vision was foggy. I stopped briefly for some peanut M&M’s and a glass of cold chocolate milk, which I pretty sure got me to the finish line. While I was stopped however, I got passed by some more riders, one of which was in my class.
It seemed like the downhill section of the course was twice as long as the last two times I came down it. As I finished, the race promoter, Scott, gave me my finisher hat and a wall clock with “3rd Place Single Speed” printed on it.
I rode back to camp, thinking I’d find Chuck there asleep in the shade, but he was nowhere to be found.
I showered, packed up the car and went back to the finish line. I waited for awhile. When Chuck still hadn’t finished, I decided to talk to the time keeper in the finish tent. I asked him if Chucky Gibson had DNF’d. He said that he had pulled himself out of the race after two laps.
Scott, having over heard the conversation, laughed and said, “No he didn’t.” he explained how Chucky had quit, went back to camp, showered, took a nap and had come back two hours later and gone out for his final lap.
We all chuckled about that and I settled in and waited for Chucky to finish.
He came in shortly after in really good spirits. He said he woke up from his nap and just had an epiphany. He thought, “This is stupid, how can I quit after all this preparation and travel? I’m not so good that I can’t finish 50th place.” So he put on his biking clothes and finished the race.
I’m not sure, but I bet he was about 50th place — about midpack — after a
shower and a two hour nap. I was super impressed that he would make that decision after going through the emotional roller coaster of quitting.
On the way home, he kept saying over and over what a great race it was and we have to come back next year. I asked him, “Why do we do this?” He said that for him it was a cure for boredom. What else can you do that in the course of 12 hours you can feel so many highs and lows?
That’s as good an answer as any, I guess.
I teased him by saying, “Now that I’m faster than you, is there anything I can do to help you be better?” I told him I would be posting the results at the bike shop and then I repeated what he always says: “You’re only as good as your last race.”