Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Go West Middle Aged Man - Part 3 - Tahoe Trail 100k

The Starting Line

Among a seriously strong front row were Dave Wiens, Ted King, and Pro racers Eric Bostrom, Ryan Steers, and Jesse Anthony.  Levi Leipheimer was up there as well.

Levi is called up.

"Doper!" someone bellowed.

Starting Line

The guy was one row up and off to the left, fiddling with his Garmin. He said it like he was typing a hateful response on social media in a dark corner of his Mom and Dad's basement.

It wasn't my place to be, but I was embarrassed and annoyed.

This is not a story about me defending Levi. I'm not sure why Levi was racing this day, maybe Lifetime paid him to be there, maybe another entity paid him to be there, maybe he just likes racing his bike. What does it matter.

I have to ask, at what point do we forgive and forget? Even if this is your opinion of him, is it necessary to publicly announce your opinion in such a situation? 

Is this guy still pissed at Mark McGuire? 

You wanna be a douche-bag? Practice politics on the weekends, not bike racing.

We're Off to the Races

The Race

It's crisp this July morning. We're at Northstar Lodge, just southwest of Truckee CA. The starting line elevation is around 6,000 feet above sea level, with the race course topping out at approximately 7,300 feet. A 1/4 mile of climbing is not a big deal unless it happens to be compressed into the first 4 miles of the race.

It was.

The climb quickly erased the chill that a short descent had inflicted upon me. A 15% grade is good for that.

The 50k racers are sharing the same 31 mile race course with the 100k racers. It's a little crowded on the first few climbs, but still room for maneuvers. I'd reviewed the course profile and gauged my climbing effort accordingly.

The first lap stats.

Forty plus days have passed without a drop of rain in this area. 

A wise someone watered down the early stages of the climb out of the resort, beyond that, it's REALLY dusty. Marbles in flour dusty.  

The early race rider density made a few sections more sketchy, and left me wanting for a Harry Hogge moment.

"You better go high Don, pick a line you can ride through!"

Alas, I was on my own and riding blind. I nearly put tire tracks on a less fortunate rider that fell in the midst of the dust bowl. 

The course starts descending at mile 5 as I work my way around the base of Mt. Pluto, en route to the lake shore village of Carnelian Heights. I use the descent to gel and take in water laced with electrolytes. My Garmin alarm is set on 30 minute intervals and I gel accordingly, with intent to take in +200 calories per hour.

This is beautiful country. The course is a sweet mix of fire road and jeep trails interspersed with mildly technical single track. 


Around mile 16 I see my Kuat teammate, Dathan, sidelined with a rear tire puncture. I stop and offer assistance. He ask only for my spare CO2 cartridge and sends me on my way, not wanting to jeopardize my chances for a Leadville entry. 

At mile 17 there's another climb of substance up to Robie Park. By mile 19 you top out and start a 6 mile fire road descent that has me feeling like Leo hanging off the bow of the Titanic. 

This passes all too quickly. 

The final punch before a the start/finish pass is a 900 ft. kick in the ass skirting around Lookout Mountain. The first 1-1/2 miles of the climb is solid double digit grade, the second half tapers off to extremely difficult climbing. This climb is hurts, even on the first lap.

There's some good fun to be had in the plummet back to Northstar Village. I enjoy this section immensely.

The switchbacks on the way down to Northstar Village

Dathan stashed our food and drink near the start finish line, and I quickly pit and reload. I was solidly in race mode with little signs of fatigue. My training preparation was paying off. 

Full Race Stats

The second lap was easier. Not necessarily "easier" from an effort perspective, but definitely easier from a "knowing the course" perspective. This knowledge was bolstered by considerably less traffic on the second lap. 

Around mile 53 of the race course I stop at a neutral support station. My rear derailleur has been squalling for the last hour. A victim of the extreme dust. The kind gentlemen quickly lubed it and my chain, while I downed a GU and coke. 

I was on the home stretch. The only climb of substance was that 900 ft wall I mentioned earlier.

"Hey! Way to ride strong!" a fellow racer yelled.

I responded in kind. I'm consistently impressed by the caring and inspirational people I meet racing bicycles.

Home Stretch

I was climbing at a solid pace with none of those cramping twinges rearing their ugly head. I railed down the switchbacks and hit the pavement on the back side of the lodge. Seeing the finish chute always brings me joy. 

Full aero, or near collapse. Unsure.

Dathan had repaired his puncture and whittled away at the gap produced by this delay. I knew he was charging toward the finish line, which I'm sure provided additional motivation. 

True to form, he crossed the finished line just a few minutes after I did. I was fortunate to hold him off that long. 

Did I mention it was dusty?

A few minutes later my traveling companion and friend of 40+ years, John Long crossed the finish line. I'm just thankful that I didn't look that dirty at the finish.

John Long at the Finish

We wash the bikes, head to the lodge for a quick shower, then return to the finish line area for awards. 

I still need a Leadville coin.

If you're one of the 3.5 people that read my race reports, you know how this ends. But, for that new reader, here's the details.

Each Leadville qualifier race gives the racers an opportunity to gain entry to the Leadville Trail 100 MTB. The total number of Leadville entry slots for each qualifying race is based on the number of entrants at the qualifying event. The coins (Leadville entry slots) are distributed by virtue of race finish time, per age group first, then a portion are distributed via lottery to the remaining racers (pull a number out of a hat). 

The entry slots go fairly deep into each age group. My group 50-59 year old, had 76 finishers. I finished 25th in the group. 

The coins ran out at 23. 

Disappointed, yes. Fraught with grief, no.

I still had an opportunity to gain entry in the drawing.

There were 70 slots available for the drawing. I was not worried.

I got this.

Around number 35, I internally rationalized.

"How many idiots want to race 103 miles at +10,000 feet of elevation??" I'm gonna get in.

I'm confident my number will be called soon. 

Someone to my right, they got called, they're all happy and hollering. Someone to my left, they got called, high fivin' each other.

I dislike them. A lot.

At 60, I was depressed, just wanting to bury my face in some ice cream. At 65, I was pretty sure this trip to Tahoe was a complete failure at gaining entry. 

I was called at 68. 

Ken Chlouber and Myself

This trip was a righteous adventure, giving me an opportunity to experience the Leadville Trail 100 MTB for a fourth time.

It was worth every bit of it.


Thursday, September 1, 2016

Leadville 2016 - Part 4 - Lake County High

"Who needs a push?"

"You're almost there! Who needs a push?" shouts a race volunteer stationed at the Lake County High School hill. 

The Monster didn't respond. Not sure if she didn't want a push, or maybe she was just really focused on this last climb of a long day.

"She wants a push!" I announced. The volunteer obliged.

I've had a few of those pushes in the last 4 years, and that feeling is permanently etched in a quiet corner of my brain.

This hill is significant. At the top you can see the funnel formed by a welcoming crowd of friends, family, and loved ones. You can see that red line in the middle of 6th street. You can see the arch with Old Glory waving you in. You can see the timing mat that stops the clock on your day. You have a year to come back and trip it a little earlier, but on this day in August, it means you've completed a ridiculously difficult, breathtakingly beautiful, enormously satisfying thing.

You're allowed to breathe a sigh of relief. To rejoice. To rest. To cry.   

You're part of the family. 

I'm unsure what my 20 year old self was doing August of '86, but I'm 100% certain it wasn't entering ultra endurance mountain bike races, as a college student. The Monster has some strong positive influences in her life. She has done, and will go on to do more remarkable things.

Melisa, thanks so much for sharing your finish line with me. 

Official Time for Melisa 10:12:14 - for Don 10:13:35

We should all be so happy to finish.

The Monster and I
Left to Right: Elden, Melisa, Don, and Lisa
It would be remiss of me if I failed to acknowledge the monumental role that Mr. Dathan Atchison played in my 2016 Leadville race. In April of this year he allowed me to tag along to the Austin Rattler  where Dathan, by virtue of finish time, gained a Leadville entry. I was not as fortunate. In July, Dathan was the architect of our Tour of the West trip that included the Tahoe Trail 100k. It was in Tahoe that I gained entry to Leadville. 

Dathan is in street clothes for the finish line picture below because he had 1-1/2 hrs. to kill after he finished. This guy, my Team Kuat teammate, my friend, finished his first Leadville in 8hr:44m! Big buckle this guy! 

Dathan's finish time does not surprise me. He's a fierce competitor and genuine man. Thank you!

Myself and Dathan Atchison

I head home and look forward to Leadville 2017. 

I rest for FOUR long days and Friday, August 19th, head off to Lincoln, Nebraska for Gravel Worlds. 

I should write a blog about that trip.