by Peter Thorsness
This was the first annual running of the Laramie Range Enduro â€“ a 100 kilometer mountain bike race in Laramie, Wyoming on Sunday, 12 July, 1998. The course was composed of roughly 7 miles of pavement, 5 miles of improved gravel roads, 32 miles of two-track/jeep trails and 18 miles of single-track. The starting elevation was 7200 feet (downtown Laramie) and the high point was around 8600 feet.
Sixty-nine cyclists toed the line for the police escort up Grand Avenue to the city limits, at which point the race would begin. The police car, of course, provided comic relief as it raced through the green stop lights while the cyclists got trapped behind at the red lights. I spent some of this time talking with an out of town rider. He was from Minnesota and was camping in the area, heard about the race and decided it sounded like fun.
At the last light the race began and some fools immediately strung it out. The race seemed to fragment into three groups right away: about a dozen who were hard core and really going to race it, another dozen or so who werenâ€™t sure how hard core they were and thought they might as well try and race it, and the rest who were there for the ride and the challenge. I was in the middle group â€“ figured I might as well push my own envelope and see if I could make the finish without exploding and becoming buzzard food.
Just two miles of pavement after the “real” start brought us to dirt â€“ a washed out, rocky, loose, sandy two-track that meandered for a few miles through the prairie before heading east up the Laramie Range. There was a pretty sustained climb for about 4 miles before topping out on the summit of this range of hills. On top of the Laramie Range are areas of high prairie, pine forest, aspen groves, lush meadows, babbling brooks, and granite rock piles that tower hundreds of feet into the air. Frankly put, itâ€™s pretty damn nice.
I was riding with three other guys at the start of this first climb. I knew two of them, both very good local riders and the third was presumably from out of town. We were bouncing down a short downhill section when the out-of-towner blows his rear tire. He started yelling “Anyone got a pump!? PUMP!?”. All I could thing of was that this guy was nuts â€“ what the hell was he doing out here with out a pump? Anyway, Scott took pity and stopped. I figured he was close enough to town to walk back â€“ anyone that stupid shouldnâ€™t be headed out into the backcountry. Scott quickly caught back up and said he gave him his pump and also chewed his ass but good.
Anyway, the first of three refueling stops were at the top of the climb, about 14 miles into the race. It wasnâ€™t a steep climb, middle chain ring stuff, but the rough and loose ride made it a tough one none-the-less. I rode through the first stop and blasted on down the paved road for about two miles until turning on to a nice gravel road for about another two miles â€“ all of it downhill. This section took about 8 minutes. I hit the max speed of my ride on the gravel road, 41 MPH. We turned off into the Blair Picnic ground, hopped a pole fence, and pedaled off down the first single-track of the day. This trail is known as the “cow path” locally â€“ itâ€™s because the US Forest Service allows someone to run an obscene number of cows along this creek bottom. Consequently, a beautiful alpine valley with a meandering trout stream is full of bellowing bovines and cow pies instead of elk, deer and antelope (and their not so obnoxious scat). But there is a killer single-track as well, discounting the chewed-up stream crossings every mile or so (from the cows, not the hikers or mountain bikers). We all hoped that the dark material covering our bikes and lower extremities was mud and notâ€¦
This trail ends at the base of a towering jumble of granite boulders (about mile 22), that was one shoulder of Reynolds Hill (shown in the background of the picture). It turned out that I was riding in about 9th place at this time. Even at this point, I knew that I was over committed and it was going to take some sort of epiphany for me to suck it up and make it back. Egads! Anyway, the route for the race had us scrambling over large granite boulders in cleated shoes with bike in hand for about 100 yards. Then back to a little more single track before popping out on to some Forest Service designated jeep trails. We motored around on these for a considerable length of time. Initially, these two-tracks look like something that can lead to high speeds and some easy miles. In fact, theyâ€™re often like riding on concrete covered with pea sized ball bearings. The crushed pink granite that makes up the bulk of the surface is very slippery and treacherous for the unwary.
Somewhere in this ten-mile stretch a guy up from Boulder on a nice-looking Dean came rolling-up. The guy was as strong as an ox and Iâ€™m not ashamed to admit I sucked his wheel along some of the wind-exposed stretches. He eventually dropped me for good on a nasty little uphill. Shortly after he rode away, I popped out on an improved gravel road and rode a fast downhill mile to the second refueling stop.
I think it was here that I made my big mistake. I slurped down some orange quarters (which were good), refilled my empty camel back (which was good), but I also decided that one of those Cliff Bars looked good so I started off up the trail, which had now become a rather steep single-track climb: the Headquarters Trail. That sickly sweet energy bar aggravated my already screwed up blood sugar (okay, itâ€™s just a hypothesis) and sent me instantly into a massive bonk.
This rocky section of single track, which gave way to wooded and rocky single track, which gave way to wooded single track was my nightmare â€“ I was like a pinball, bouncing off the rocks instead of slipping smoothly between them. I ride these trails all the time and they are so fun and so fast â€“ not today, not after about 35 miles. Somewhere in the middle of this chaos I ended up with a flat rear tire. I stood around for a few minutes being swarmed by mosquitoes and staring dejectedly at my bike. I was galvanized into action (albeit at a snails pace) when the first racer came zipping by. It was kind of nice, over the next 15 minutes as I fixed the tire (I told you I was moving slow), the 8 or so riders who came by each asked if I was okay. I finally got started again and rolled off on down the trail.
The route took us out onto more of that rutted, slippery double track at about mile 40. This was the section of the Pole Mountain region of the Medicine Bow National Forest that is just east of Pilot Hill (a Laramie landmark). As we were warned in the pre-race instructions, and I knew about from personal experience, these tracks were laced with steep downhills and steep climbs — of the 18% variety. I almost wrecked my graduate student, Kelly, as she came flying down one of these steep downhills when I started to wig out. I instantly decided I should just latch on to her and hang on. Just as instantly a big old stick rolled up my front tire and lodged between the tire and the fork. I practically went over the bars and only narrowly avoided a visit to a urologist. I wrestled the log out of my bikeâ€™s front end and jumped back on to try and keep her in sight as we were just beginning to climb the up side of the 18% grade. Of course my chain had come off the front chain ring in the battle with the log and I went down again. I thought about staying there.
Needless to say, I did get up and lugged up the hill and shortly in to the third and final refueling stop at mile 45. Kelly was just on her way out when I got there and informed me that she was feeling fresh as she wasnâ€™t pushing it. Kelly is an elite athlete (national level X/C skier) as well as a molecular biologist, so she can be excused for that remark in the face of my current state of “bonkdom”, she was just speaking the truth. I started out again about a minute after her and largely kept her in sight as we rode up and down those steep hills for what seemed like forever. The scary thing was that I knew where we were heading and it was going to require a hike-a-bike section that was not going to be pretty considering the state I was in. But a funny thing happened on the way to that hill â€“ I began to feel better. I started to close on Kelly and caught her just at the base of the hike-a-bike. We trundled up the hill together pushing our bikes and entered a nice, but short, single-track trail. It was becoming evident that Kelly was looking like she was starting to bonk, and indeed she was. I tried not to gloat, and didnâ€™t as I remembered that she had raced and won a 10K foot race the day before and this wasnâ€™t really her sport like it was mine. Oh well, I still look on it as a moral victory that I was able to drop her on the last tough climb of the day, up Pilot Hill.
Just when we thought it was over, time to swoop down the wonderful single track of Cactus Canyon into town, the route wandered over to the north side of Pilot Hill and down a nasty little two track that I had never been on before despite riding the area extensively over the past 7 years. One more short climb and I was zipping down the last rocky section of double track to the top of the Cactus Canyon single track. I saw someone on a white jersey a little ways in front of me and I though I might be able to catch them by the finish, about 5 miles on down the hill. Shockingly, I almost rode up his tail as we entered the single track â€“ he was clearly completely trashed and just trying to keep himself off the ground and out of the cactus. I zipped down Cactus dreaming of potato chips (?!) and watermelon, and arrived at the finish 6 hours and 13 minutes after starting out.
My actual riding time was 5 hours and 50 minutes â€“ I figure I spent the bulk of that unaccounted time fixing my flat, with a few minutes thrown in at two rest stops, and the short bit of carrying through the rocks. Well yee haw, I was done. I ended up 19th overall, 15th male, 4th in the over 35 category. I have to be pleased with the result. It would have been interesting to see how I would have placed without the flat, but I was definitely going slow at that point anyway and may have not done much better. I still would have finished 4th in the Vet Division. Note that a Vet, Charlie Hayes from Boulder, was the overall winner by 22 minutes. It should also be noted that Charlie Hayes was 6th overall in the Leadville 100 last year, finishing in 7 hours and 53 minutes. He was second in Leadville in ‘97 and third in ‘96.
I canâ€™t stress enough how much fun this race was. The organization was excellent, the course was exceedingly well marked and monitored, the rest stops well stocked, and the attendants extremely helpful. One competitor up from Boulder who has done the Leadville 100 said this is a much better race — a lot more fun and interesting. I would like to do the Leadville 100 some day, but the $140 (!) entry fee is scary and reports of massive traffic jams on the single track sections don’t sound that much fun either. The course layout for the Laramie Range Enduro precludes crowded roads and singletrack, even if the number of riders were to triple, as it starts with a long doubletrack climb to get things spread out. And for $30 (race day registration) you get great eats at the rest stops and finish, and a cool t-shirt. This race was organized and run by true mountain bikers — that should say it all. I hope with all my heart that this race becomes an annual occurrence. If so, I will always attend and hopefully ride it with as much intensity as I did this time, but with perhaps a bit more intelligence and patience.