What If You Never Did Anything But Race? (Breck Epic Race Report, Day 4)

10.29.2012 | 10:22 am

A Note from Fatty: This is part of my race report for the the 2012 Breck Epic. My writeups for all parts of this story can be found here:

I had been thinking the whole day. Wondering. Searching the trail. Looking for answers.

Finally, I could hold back no longer. I had to speak.

“I have a question,” I said to The Hammer. “We haven’t seen a single snake in five days of racing. Not a single one. Why not?”

“I don’t know,” said The Hammer. “Let’s just be glad we haven’t seen any.”

“But I like snakes,” I said. “It always makes me happy when I’m mountain biking and I see a snake.”

“Snakes are horrible. And this ain’t no time for jibber-jabber,” replied The Hammer.

But she didn’t mean it. We both knew this was exactly the time for jibber-jabber. And so I talked, endlessly, about my theories for why there were no snakes (most revolving around altitude and short summers, none of them based on any actual knowledge of snakes).

Why was I happy? Why was I talking again? Well, lots of reasons. First, our fatigue had stabilized: we weren’t any more tired at the beginning of this, our fifth day of racing, than we were at the beginning of our fourth day of racing.

This meant that we — on our fifth day of racing — were really no more exhausted than the people who had not raced Leadville. We no longer felt like we were on uneven footing with other racers; we were all in the same boat, known as “The Good Ship Breck Epic.”

More importantly than any of that, though, was the fact that the sun was out, the trail was beautiful, and my knee was getting better.

It had taken a rough few days, but I had gotten through the far end of my tunnel of misery. I was happy to be on my bike again.

Little Things Become Big Things

After racing for so many days, we had begun feeling a strange sense of permanence. Like getting up and racing the whole day was what we had always done. What we would always do. We started to feel at home.

We noticed something great about our “neighborhood” (the course): it was brilliantly marked. Every day, for six days, we raced a different singletrack course — forty miles or so of it. And every day, we had absolutely no trouble whatsoever staying on course. We never got lost. We never even got to a point where we were unsure.

For six solid days of racing, in spite of increasing exhaustion and decreasing lucidity, we knew exactly where we were supposed to go.

Think about that for a second. That is a serious accomplishment, and one that I made absolutely sure to compliment the Breck Epic organizers on, often and profusely.

The next thing that The Hammer and I came to love were the aid stations. See, the same people were working the aid stations for the whole week, which meant that if you were actually stopping at the aid stations, you had a chance to hobnob with some of the same people a few times over the course of the week.

And you started to look forward to pulling into aid stations not just for the opportunity to get an orange wedge and to rest your legs, but to say “hi” to these people who were starting to become your race friends.

The Hammer and I might have gotten to know some of the aid station volunteers a little better than other racers did, because we didn’t just grab and dash. The Hammer, in fact, would pull out the bag, dole out our sandwich, chips, and Coke — yes, really — and then sit down on the ground to eat. (I would remain standing, because I didn’t trust my knee enough to sit down; I was worried if it stiffened up while I was sitting, I’d be unable to get back up.)

One of the volunteers — the father of another racer (whose name is Montana, but that’s all I know about him) — became a particular favorite of ours. He laughed at how, unlike a lot of the racers, we would settle in and have a picnic. He’d come over and talk with us for a while, happy to see us pull up.

One time, I had an extra Coke in our drop bag, which I offered to him. He seemed astonished and delighted, accepting it with pleasure. We stood around, drinking Coke and talking about what a beautiful place Breckenridge was and how much we were enjoying the week.

This remains one of my stand-out favorite moments of the entire race.

The Climber

Another good thing about this fifth day of racing is that with my knee feeling better and my power returning, we were able to assert ourselves on the climbs. Because — and I say this with all the humility I can muster — The Hammer and I are pretty fantastic climbers.

We’d reach a steep pitch and see others rolling to it, dismounting, and start walking. I’d turn to look at The Hammer, my eyebrows raised. She knew what my question was without my even asking it.

“Are we walking this?”

And I’d know her answer by the fact that she’d shift into a small gear and keep pedaling. I’d ride behind her, mostly because I never ever get tired of the look on guys’ faces as they — off their bikes and pushing — would turn to see who was cleaning the current monster of a climb, just to realize they’d been chicked.

“That’s why she’s called The Hammer,” I’d explain.

With an extraordinary 7433 feet of climbing in 46 miles, The Hammer had plenty of opportunities to demonstrate this capability, once cleaning a brutal, never-ending 23% climb.

Existential Riding

It was on day four of the Breck Epic that we finally learned to just ride.

Up until this point, we had worried every day about the length of the day’s course. Where aid stations were located. Where the big climbs were. Where the big descents were.

And without exception, things had worked out differently than we expected. See, when you’re depending and focused on an aid station being at mile 10, then things seem seriously wrong if you don’t have an aid station ’til mile 13. If you expect the length of the course to be 40 miles, miles 41 – 46 can be pretty lousy.

If, however, you are riding with the expectation that every so often — every ten miles or so, say — there will be an aid station, you just accept the aid station when you get to it.

Likewise, if you tell yourself that the race isn’t over until you cross the finish line — nor should you expect it to be over, ever — you don’t spend anywhere near as much time staring at your GPS, wondering when will this damned stage ever end?

Hey, it ends when it ends. Until then, enjoy riding while it lasts.

It’s a philosophy that might even have some non-race application.


  1. Comment by Carl | 10.29.2012 | 10:34 am

    It’s a philosophy that might even have some non-race application… Isn’t that the truth?

  2. Comment by Clydesteve | 10.29.2012 | 10:36 am

    Maybe your unfaltering optimism scared the snakes off, Fatty. Snakes do not care for optimistic people.

  3. Comment by Clydesteve | 10.29.2012 | 10:41 am

    BTW – Should not this series of race reports be re-titled: The EPIC Breck Epic Race Report Series?

  4. Comment by Liz M. | 10.29.2012 | 11:52 am

    Congrats to The Hammer! Way to go!

    (And Fatty, too)

  5. Comment by Christina | 10.29.2012 | 1:15 pm

    This is the joy of a multi-day bike tour…first three days you wonder why you signed up for this thing in the first place and then by day four your body knows what it’s doing. On many of the tours the rest stop people are the same and you want to hug them by the end.

  6. Comment by Andy | 10.29.2012 | 1:35 pm

    Yup you got it right on !

  7. Comment by Paul | 10.29.2012 | 2:04 pm

    I like to see snakes on the trail, (certainly more say than the mice that chewed the wires under my car at the trailhead). Have you noticed that snakes usually hide before you can get a camera out of the seat bag? I have even run over a snake, in sand at least, he was gone before I could stop and go back.

    I think my optimism would fail long before a 23% grade.

  8. Comment by MattC | 10.29.2012 | 3:05 pm

    We see rattl’rs here on the mtb trails all the time…they like to lie across the trail like a stick on sunny warm days…and won’t even move if you carefully ride around them (never crushed one yet…tho I did bunny hope one in desperation on a downhill once).

    Last year I saw one when I was on the ROAD bike ofa all places…he was lying on the side of the road (JUST off the pave), all coiled up and snoozin…I think I woke him up cuz as I rode by (my gaze was looking up and to the left at the switchback ahead) I heard an evil wicked hiss…looked down just in time to see the HUGE wide open mouth and huge fangs lunging at my bare calf…and then he stopped his strike just inches from my leg and pulled back into his coil…I didn’t even have time to crap my shorts and it was over! Had he bit me, well..I was miles and at least one big climb away from any help (no cell phones, and no reception even if we had them)…it was the biggest rattler I’ve ever seen…his mid section was as big around as a baseball. He didn’t even get a chance to rattle it happened so quick.

    That one scared a few years off my life I imagine…tho I like to think I have good karma w/ the rattlers, cuz I’ve never killed one…some of the guys I mtb with say to kill them all whenever you see them…I say live and let live.

  9. Comment by AKChick55 | 10.30.2012 | 12:19 am

    Thanks for the latest Breck Epic installment!

    One of the best parts of living in Alaska is that we have no snakes, ticks, poisonous spiders, scorpions, fleas or West Nile virus carrying mosquitoes (at least not yet). Well, there are poisonous spiders out on our air force base, but they are brought up by the planes and don’t spread. However, this puts me at a serious disadvantage when traveling down south (and peeing in the bushes or behind the outhouses at the first rest stop at LIVESTRONG Davis – had to pee, couldn’t wait). I digress…

  10. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 10.30.2012 | 12:51 am

    @AK Chick. I remember that!! you did a great imitation of the ’snake bite lady’ from the movie Bananas.

    @MattC I’m sure the snake stopped his ’strike’ when he realized what a ’scrawny’ meal you’d make! Glad to see you try and give the snakes some space, after all ‘snakes are people too‘….or is that the other way around? As a kid I remember riding home on my StingRay (purple flake finish) with a 6ft Gopher snake wrapped around my arm…mother was so pleased…hah!

    I always find the rattlesnakes in the middle of the steepest sections of trail…why’s that?

  11. Comment by GJ Jackie | 10.30.2012 | 2:49 am

    When in the middle of a crappy day/week/year, it’s so hard not to worry about when it will end. “How much more?!” is always on my mind.

    Thanks for the reminder to focus on enjoying the ride.

  12. Comment by MattC | 10.30.2012 | 8:34 am

    @davidh…one of my fondest childhood memories was when my little brother and I slipped thru the fence onto airport property (we lived outside of town on a big chunk of private land in Sheridan WYO bordering the airport land) where there was a small pond drying up, and we gathered up all the water-snakes we could find (we were saving them you see) and put them all in our garage into an old unused aquarium…I recall we put a small rock on top to keep them from escaping…well, that didn’t work of course…our mom was an RN working nights…she came home the next morning and there were snakes EVERYWHERE…we had to gather them all up and put them back in the pond. Apparently not everybody likes snakes.

  13. Comment by FujiPixie13 | 10.30.2012 | 9:24 am

    Fatty, I usually ride by this philosophy on the road, however, the other weekend, I used your word “snotulum” after almost sneezing myself off my Fuji 50 times because ragweed pollen had invaded my nostrils, windpipe and lungs. I wanted that next rest stop so badly….and it seemed like it was days to get there from mile 9 where the sneezing started to the next rest stop at mile ~32. Even longer from that rest stop until mile 51. It was horrible, but one of the most beautiful autumn rides I have done. Trees changing colors and leaves falling as we spun along. Hated that I felt so blasted miserable…even with allergy meds! Made a gorgeous ride one of the most grueling of the year for me. :o(

  14. Comment by Clydesteve | 10.30.2012 | 10:38 am

    @davidh… You had a purple metalfalke stingray, TOO!? My Dad got me my first full sized bike used. It was a Schwinn with the springs in the saddle and baloon tires. 3-speed Archer-Sturmey ‘transmission’. I was seven. It was so big that Dad removed the seat and I rode around with a rag wrapped over the seat cluster. (Developed huge thighs – always rode standing up!) When Dad saw how much I rode that thing, he went back and got the single-speed 26″ wheel Raliegh road race bike I really wanted.

    This freed up the Schwinn cruiser to become a Sting-Ray. I stripped it completely down, prepped and painted the frame metal purple flake Krylon, then added ape hanger bars and a huge plush white banana saddle to make a monster Sting-Ray. It was ready by the time i grew into it.

  15. Comment by davidh-marin, ca | 10.30.2012 | 11:41 am

    @MattC Best LOL today(but’s it’s early still) about your garage. Kudos to you for your rescue effort, as abbreviated as it was!

    @Clydesteve It seems we have the makings of a great guest post….”my favorite first bike story”. There were those of us there at Davis USHoF Museum who recognized many of the ‘old time’ bikes as ones we once had(mostly me).


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