A Mark-Your-Calendar Note from Fatty: Tomorrow, I’ll be doing a live interview and Q&A with Rebecca Rusch, who recently set a new women’s record for the Kokopelli trail.
I have to say, I’m stupid-excited to do this interview, for a few reasons.
- I’m a big fan of Rebecca Rusch.
- I feel like, for the first time ever, I am qualified to give an informed interview. I’ve ridden the Kokopelli myself several times, including soloing it.
I love stories about epic mountain biking adventures, and this is going to be a good one. Here are the specifics so you can be sure to join:
Also joining us will be Corey Rich, who filmed the awesome video of Rebecca’s ride, to give us some perspective of what it was like to see this unfold.
Race Report: The 2013 100 Miles of Nowhere, Bearclaw-Poppy Trail on Singlespeed Mountain Bikes Edition
I want to make one thing absolutely, perfectly, crystal clear about the route for my 2013 100 Miles of Nowhere route. To wit:
It was not my idea.
I claim no responsibility, nor do I accept any liability, for anything that happened on that day.
On that very, very (very!) long day of riding.
Specifically, I do not accept responsibility for bike-destroying, body-maiming crashes. Nor for attacks by swarms of wasps. Nor for severe gastrointestinal distress suffered by persons unnamed (me). Nor for a day of riding that went on for fifteen hours, but felt like much, much (much!) more.
And in short, none of this was my fault, and those who are considering legal action would do well to send their attorneys elsewhere.
With that point made clear, I shall now begin my telling of The 2013 100 Miles of Nowhere, Bearclaw-Poppy Edition.
Where to Place the Blame
I am not kidding when I say that the route for 100 Miles of Nowhere was not my idea. The idea was, in fact, The Hammer’s. The idea came to her while we were staying at Kenny and Heather’s place, in St. George. We were riding along on a mountain biking trail we always make sure we ride when we visit there: The Bearclaw-Poppy trail.
We love this trail, partially because it’s fast — like a big mountain biking roller coaster. We also like it because it’s short: just a ten-mile, one-hour loop that begins and ends at Kenny and Heather’s house.
Finally, we like it because it’s just a little bit nuts, with a few crazy drops that are just a little bit terrifying when you do them, but you do them anyway, because these drops have wonderful rollouts that let even non-gifted descenders (like me) feel a little bit of what it must be like to be good at that kind of thing.
“We should do this loop as the 100 Miles of Nowhere this year,” The Hammer said. “And we should all do it on our singlespeeds.”
Nobody dared argue with her. She’s like that.
And so it was settled.
The Day Started Early
Here’s the thing about Southern Utah in general, and St. George in particular: it gets hot in the summer. Really hot.
So we agreed that we would beat the heat by doing the first couple hours in the dark. Like, start at four in the morning. This was, we all agreed, a smart strategic decision.
Or at least, we all agreed it was a smart, strategic decision until the night before we’d begin the ride. As we all stuffed ourselves with pizza, someone (who may have been me, though it also may not have been me, as far as you know) said, “Four o’clock is awfully early to begin a bike ride. What if we started at 5:00am, instead?”
It was agreed by all that while this was still an awful time to start a ride, it was at least one hour less awful.
The Hammer and I set our alarm for 4:30am and wen to bed.
Then, at 2:00am, I woke up, desperately needing to poop. (I tell you this not because I like to talk about pooping, but because this is an important plot point, and I am a tough-minded author who does not flinch when confronting important issues.
I pooped. Then I went back to bed.
“What are you doing pooping at two in the morning?” asked The Hammer. It was not an unreasonable question.
“I dunno,” I assured her.
Almost instantly, 4:30am arrived. Time to get up, get dressed, and ride. But first, I needed to poop. Again.
Such regularity was highly irregular.
After that, Kenny, The Hammer, and I were ready to do our first lap (Heather was on call for the weekend and would therefore not be getting up when she didn’t have to). Here we are, with our lights on, ready to go:
I’m getting pretty good at selfless with the phone, wouldn’t you say?
We headed out into the full-moonlit (but still dark) morning at 5:00AM, our lights burning bright, because we knew they only needed to last for a single hour before it’d be light, at which point we’d be back at the house to drop off our lights and pick up our second lap.
The first half-mile of our loop is on climbing, semi-technical single track, which then levels off onto flat, non-technical singletrack, which yields to jeep road for a mile or so before hitting the big climb of the day, which brought us to the star of the show: the Bearclaw-Poppy trailhead.
As we rode along in the cool, dark air, nobody was much interested in talking. I got wrapped up in thinking about how there’s a certain feeling around starting a big, all-day ride. It’s too soon to be thinking about the finish line; you’re still so fresh that you’re not focused on any aches or pains. You’re just happy, excited to be on an adventure with people you love riding with.
Also, I made the following observations, each of which I noted to myself, using a clever mnemonic device:
- I was cold, but knew that in a few hours I would be enduring serious heat. I suspected that I’d be angry at my earlier self for sleeping that extra hour, instead of getting another lap in before the heat was bad.
- Climbing the dirt road up to the Bearclaw-Poppy trailhead was so easy. Almost like it wasn’t a climb at all. I knew that by the end of the day, my perception of the difficulty of that climb would change drastically.
- My right wrist, which got hurt pretty badly in my recent fall, didn’t feel great, even on my first lap. “I wonder if a rigid fork was perhaps not the right call,” I thought to myself.
- As we hefted our bikes over the thigh-level bar in the gate designed to keep motorcycles and ATVs out (and apparently doing a good job of it), I thought to myself, “By the end of the day, I’ll have hefted my bike over bars like this — one at either end of the trail — twenty times. I’m glad my bike is light.”
I get ready to lift my bike over the gate’s bar for the first time of the day (photo courtesy of Kenny Jones)
As, today, we’re driving back toward home — The Hammer driving, me writing, the twins zonked out after a gonzo Memorial Day hike — The Hammer and I are in agreement: the first lap was the best. There’s something kind of magical and mysterious about riding in the dark. Plus, I think something The Hammer told me once about running also applies to cycling: “Miles before sunup don’t make you tired.”
This is actually a photo from our hike the day after the 100 Miles of Nowhere, but it’s too cool to not include.
We glided along on the baked-earth desert singletrack, only holding up for the drop-offs. Under the strange light of our headlamps, those looked bigger than we remembered them.
We had the trail all to ourselves, as you might expect, then rode up the road back to Kenny and Heather’s house. Our first lap was in the bag.
But I needed to poop again.
Heather Joins the Party
By the time I finished and was ready to ride the second lap, Heather was ready to join us:
Seriously, I think I’m about ready to go pro as a selfie photographer.
I snapped a shot of how far the first lap + me needing some extra time took:
Can you see the problem here? I mean, apart from the fact that in 1:10:26, we had only covered 9.6 miles?
That’s right. The lap isn’t quite ten miles. Which means that at the end of ten laps, we were going to have a four-mile-long problem.
We decided to deal with that later.
We headed out together, having agreed that we were a lot more interested in riding this as a group than seeing who would be fastest (answer: Kenny).
This lap, it was light enough that I could film the lap, knowing I was going to wind up with an awesome video. I used the Chesty mount that I have for my GoPro, this time set up to shoot video straight ahead, instead of pointing at my knees.
Except it didn’t.
Sure, the video was an improvement over the last time I used the Chesty mount, but only barely. Could someone who’s gotten that thing to work for them please let me know how to use that thing? (Meanwhile, here’s a link to a video someone else took of the Bearclaw-Poppy trail.)
But at least the light was good enough that I could start taking some shots of what the trail looks like. Here’s the Hammer rolling down one of many drop-offs, with me taking pictures as fast as my phone would let me:
Yep, we had chosen to do a hunnerd miles of that. Hey, it seemed like it’d be fun (and it was, except my wrist was starting to complain, a bit).
Oh, and how about The Hammer? One of her little secrets has always been that while she’s a powerhouse on the flats and a remarkable climber, she’s kind of chicken on the descents. That’s obviously changing, and in a big way.
The only thing that marred the lap — now nice and light, but still very cool and pleasant — was my stomach, which was letting me know that I should probably get to a bathroom again. Soon. Real soon.
And, in fact, as we got to within a half mile of Kenny and Heather’s house, I said to the group, “I’ll see you back there; I gotta go.”
The pizza from the previously night was clearly not my friend.
Wherein We Solve a Critical Dilemma
By the time I got out and was ready to go, we had fallen even further behind our schedule. And the day was warming up:
We headed out on the third lap, with my stomach finally feeling — well, not great, but no longer like an accident that was about to happen.
On this lap, I decided I would try a different line than the one I had taken the first two laps. Specifically, I would follow Kenny down the line with the biggest, scariest drop on a section of the trail lovingly known as “The Three Fingers of Death.”
I am happy to report that I survived it, remaining upright and everything.
But then, after completing the hairy descent, it occurred to me: even at my sharpest, I’d have about a 10% chance of crashing on that descent….And I’d be doing ten laps that day.
And while I understand that a 10% chance, taken ten times, doesn’t equal a 100% chance, I still found the math, um, troubling.
I decided I would take the easy line from that point forward.
As we rode together on this lap, either Kenny or Heather said they had a solution to our “not quite ten mile lap” problem: what is known as the “Microloop.” This trail begins at the very end of the Bearclaw-Poppy trail and parallels along it, climbing back up and rejoining it in a couple miles. Check out the left side of the oblong red loop at the bottom of our Strava track of the ride belowbelow; that’s the Microloop.
By riding this loop, we’d be able to add four miles to a lap, thus comp
We finished the third lap, exulting in the fact that — for the first time this day — we wouldn’t need to be taking an extended break before our next lap.
Three laps in and we were already an hour behind our hoped-for schedule, mostly thanks to me.
There Will Be Blood
But when we arrived at Kenny and Heather’s house, there were some new guests waiting for us: The Hammer’s three children — The Swimmer, The IT Guy, Travis and his wife — ready to ride a few laps with us.
And by “ready,” what I actually mean is “in a state that would possibly eventually lead them toward ride readiness probably sometime by around dusk of the following Tuesday.”
Finally, I had an opportunity to poop without holding anyone up, and I didn’t even need to go anymore. Life is full of injustices.
The Swimmer and the Ballerina were ready to head out about the time Travis began swapping out his bottom bracket or something like that, so Kenny and I volunteered to start with them, with the idea that The Hammer would escort Travis and The IT Guy on the loop, catching us as we rode (Heather had to split off, going to take care of some people at the hospital).
As we rode on the first couple miles, Travis’ wife pointed out an odd quirk of her riding style: she pointed her toes. As she explained this, exaggeratedly demonstrating her riding style, Kenny called out a left turn. Travis’ wife, riding in the gravel at the moment, turned abruptly and washed out, landing on her left side.
Henceforth, she shall be known as “The Ballerina.”
The Ballerina dusted herself off — without complaining at all about the fact that she had been skinned up pretty good, which I thought was pretty impressive — and got back on her bike.
Then she and The Swimmer, neither of which really mountain bike much at all, proceeded to do the big climb of the day — around 600 feet of vertical — like it was nothing.
Kids. I tell you.
There Will Be More Blood
I was a little nervous about having inexperienced riders doing the Bearclaw-Poppy loop with us, but I think I was the only one who was. The Swimmer, in particular, just followed Kenny’s line, even as he kept taking the most technical descents.
And in fact, she went over the first drop I show The Hammer doing, above.
It did not go well.
As she went over the big ledge, she did the most natural — and worst — thing you can do: grab some brake. This resulted in her flipping over the front of her bike, and — reportedly, because I did not see this — rolling down the rest of the hill.
Kenny stopped, and — after finding that she was in fact not badly hurt — told her she had snot on her face. And asked her to not tell her mom that she had been following his line when this happened.
“I want to go try it again,” The Swimmer said. Which I thought was about the most awesome thing she could have said at that moment.
And then Kenny checked out the bike.
The handlebar had broken, making it somewhat difficult to ride.
So The IT Guy lowered his saddle and let The Swimmer borrow his bike, and he rode The Swimmer’s more-or-less one-handed for the rest of the lap.
The Swimmer vowed she would do another lap on a different bike and that she would clean that drop.
Which, I am happy to announce, I can verify she did. Check it out:
And then, just for fun, she went and did another lap with us, which means that The Swimmer’s first mountain bike ride since she was about twelve years old was a 30-mile one.
Yeah, she’s a little bit like her mom.
Attack of the Killer Bees. Or Wasps, Which Is Way Worse
After each ride down the Bearclaw-Poppy trail, we had to get on the road and ride through the neighborhoods of St. George, back up toward Kenny and Heather’s house, where we could load up on water, food, and so forth (after one of the laps, we had Smashburgers waiting for us, courtesy of The Ballerina, which was about the most awesome burger I’ve ever had).
I always enjoyed this part of the ride. Even though it was uphill, it felt like a recovery ride in comparison to the trail we had just been on. It was a nice chance to talk and relax, getting ready for the next lap.
On the fourth (or was it fifth? I don’t remember) trip through one of these neighborhoods, though, suddenly we found ourselves in the middle of a cloud of insects. Black dots flying all around us, their wings humming.
“Stupid flies,” I thought to myself.
And then I saw: these were not flies. They were wasps.
“Gaaaaah!” I yelled, putting my head down and pedaling in what I hoped was a perfect blend of non-threatening unobtrusiveness and lightning-quick speed.
I saw that everyone else in the group was doing the exact same thing.
Eventually, I must have gotten through, because I couldn’t hear the buzzing anymore. I sat up and took off my helmet, shaking it out…just in case.
I had not been stung.
I looked around, asking if anyone else had been as lucky as I.
Amazingly, none of us had been stung.
Which, I think is safe to say, is because I’m very effective at using The Secret.
I’m Hot-Blooded, Check It And See
The nice thing about St. George in May is that it never really gets hot.
No, I’m just kidding. It gets brutally, miserably hot. In fact, The Hammer — who has the temperature as one of the fields displaying on her Garmin — made a habit of reporting the temperature to anyone who was nearby.
“It’s 103.8,” she’d say. Or perhaps, “It’s 108.5.”
And yes, those are a couple of the real numbers. As for myself, I don’t believe it ever really got over 101 degrees the whole day.
So, you know, heat wasn’t really an issue.
The Pain Sets In
At the beginning of the day, I’d generally get to the bottom of the trail a minute or so ahead of The Hammer. It was to be expected; I’ve always been a faster downhiller than she (on MTBs anyway — road is a different story).
But as the day went on and the lap count steadily (albeit slowly) rose, The Hammer got faster and faster on the descents, rolling the drops with more confidence. Using the brakes less.
Meanwhile, I was slowing down. The Bearclaw-Poppy trail is not exactly smooth, and my bike has no suspension. And both my wrists have taken pretty good hits in the past year. And I am an insufferable whiner.
Oops, please ignore that last sentence. I’m not sure how that slipped in there.
Anyway, my legs were fine. My lungs were fine. But my wrists were hurting so bad, that the inevitable inevitably happened: The Hammer beat me to the bottom of the trail.
And then she beat me by more. And then I stopped being able to even keep her in sight.
After the sixth lap, Kenny taped up my wrists. That helped, some. But by the end of the day, every bump still meant a new jolt of pain. And even now, two days later, I can’t feel the tips of a couple of my fingers.
I’m thinking maybe it’s time for me to acquire a suspension fork. I know. Crazy thought.
The Final Mile
As we put in lap after lap after lap, it was abundantly clear: this ride was going to take more than twelve hours. I began to worry whether my trusty Garmin Edge 500 would last that long without a charge.
And so I thought that — as we took a lunch break — I’d plug the Garmin in, without stopping the clock.
That, just in case you’re thinking about trying the same thing sometime, does not work. As soon as I plugged my Garmin in, it reset the computer. So The Hammer and I decided that from that point forward, her Garmin (also an Edge 500) would be the 100 Miles of Nowhere GPS of reference.
And we’d just hope that the battery would last.
We continued riding, and riding, doing the Microloop a couple more times, figuring that this would make it so we could do nine laps of the Bearclaw-Poppy trail, instead of ten.
And it worked. Almost.
As we arrived at the house after our ninth lap, The Hammer told me, “I have bad news. We’re at exactly 99 miles right now.”
And so we started a tenth lap, riding away from Kenny’s house. But this time, we just went half a mile, and then turned around, so that we crossed the 100-mile mark right as we got back to Kenny’s back porch, where we had the most delicious Caramel Frapuccinos that have ever been made waiting for us (courtesy of The IT Guy).
And then we uploaded her GPS track — for both of us, since we rode together the whole day — to Strava. Here’s what it told us:
What? A hundred and one miles?! We rode an extra mile?
Somehow, I found this very insulting. However, I did find the elevation profile of the ride incredibly gratifying:
And with that, our 100 Miles of Nowhere was complete. As for next year, I’m thinking somewhere flat.