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September 14, 2010

Fremont Peak Hillclimb Race

Filed under: Road cycling — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

So the Fremont Peak Hillclimb Race it was, and I headed down south on Sunday morning to try my hand at something completely new, a genuine road race. Thus I would fullfill at least one New Year’s resolution (I still haven’t been able to forget these bloody things); a short (10 miles) but intense (all uphill) road race.

The first challenge of the day was to identify the proper category to sign up in. As this being my first road race, I was tempted to go for the +35 Cat 4. But there was also the +35 Cat 1/2/3. For some unknown reason, Cat 1,2 and 3 were bunched together here, unlike 4 – are 4’s that much worse compared to 3’s than 3’s are to 2 and 1’s? Who knows – and who cares?

Doing Cat 4 would feel like sandbagging I thought, so I did the honorable (or stupid) thing and signed up for the +35 1/2/3. I was getting a bit confused by all this pigeonholing and to make things more confusing, the race would be held in ‘waves’ with several categories grouped together in the different waves: my +35 Cat 1/2/3 would start together with the Cat 1 (aka ‘Pro’), 2 and the ‘Elite 3’ group; 10 minutes later the next wave with another bunch of categories and so on. And so I found myself in front of the start line with 30some other riders. I had a nagging feeling that I somewhat stood out:

  • I was the only one in the group with unshaved legs.
  • I was the only one in the group wearing a jersey with no sponsoring info on it whatsoever.
  • I was the only one in the group who didn’t own an annual USAC license.
  • My Frankenbike (cheap frame with borrowed Zipp TT-wheels and funky looking bladed tri-seatpost) didn’t quite fit in with the stable of high end Specialized’s and Pinarello’s around me.

Oh well, as Feynmann said, don’t care too much about what other people think, it should be interesting and fun, and off we went. I was a bit taken back by the slow start – I’m used to mountain bike races, where the start is usually an excuse for an all-out sprint to make it first on the dirt/singletrack. Instead, we formed a well-disciplined gruppeto and started to make our way up the gentle lower slopes of the mountain.

The Fremont Peak climb starts out with 3 fairly easy miles followed by 6 steeper miles and a flattish final mile. Not too long after the start my initial smug confidence started to slowly evaporate, as the pace went up and up and I had to work more and more to keep my position in the peloton. I briefly wondered if something was wrong with my bike, but no, these guys started to go really fast and even with the benefit of drafting I had to go all out to keep up. This of course ment that I was the first to be dropped at the first sign of steepness. A pretty painful experience: as soon as the gap was a couple bike lengths I could forget about closing it again; I tried to hang on for a while but it felt like going into cardiac arrest so I settled down; there was nothing left but to pace and brace myself for the steeper stuff.

Early on the hardest section I still had three or four guys in sight. I decided it was time to fire up the afterburners and went into ‘angry climbing man’ mode – I was determined to catch them. To my surprise and delight the gap slowly closed. I reeled three of them in and an epic battle for fifth-last place erupted with number four, which I ended up losing in the (downhill) sprint. I still managed to end up with a DFL in my category though, as the riders I caught up with were in Cat 1,2 or 3 (remember these are supposed to be harder than mine, which is the old guys’ Cat 1/2/3). Another new experience, and I guess next time I should shave my legs for improved aerodynamics! But it was a fun event and I’m glad I didn’t end up sandbagging – though I could have made money with it (I would have placed second, with $50 price money, minus the $35 sign up fee).

The summit of Fremont Peak offers you a pretty awesome view over the South Bay, Salinas Valley and the Monterey Bay by the way (it did require some additional steep climbing past the gate to the summit station, I was almost sad they didn’t include it in the race). And the descent is a rather thrilling affair – true ‘singletrack for roadies’.

P.S. At least I smoked everyone on the descent (not that ayone was racing it of course).

Fremont Peak view

September 10, 2010

To race or not to race

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

For some reason I haven’t been much into racing this year, but the upcoming weekend there seems to be a perfect storm of events gathering:

Annadel XC Challenge, Tahoe-Sierra 100, Great Tahoe Flume Race, Folsom Cyclebration, Big Kahuna, Pacific Grove Tri, Fremont Peak hillclimb

The Annadel and Tahoe Flume races are particularly interesting because it’s the first time since the Ancient Times that a mountain bike race is being held in these great venues (ok, make that a decade or so), and it’s a great thing for the parks and the community to see this happen. With the weekend approaching, my ‘embarras de choix’ gets bigger and bigger but ultimately will sort itself out since due to my procrastination I’m slipping most of the signup deadlines. Which is okay, since as I mentioned, for some reason I’m not feeling particularly motivated to race this year – I do have something else, bigger in mind, but that is staying under cloak for a while.

I was initially planning to do the Big Kahuna as a relay with my co-worker but unfortunately he suffered a stress fracture. The Fremont Peak thing looks like an interesting new format to try out, but I’m still feeling the remnants of undiluted suffering that a genuine climbing TT inflicts (OLH, yesterday), so we’ll see…

August 24, 2010

Bear Mountain

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:46 am

Bear Mountain is the ground zero of the Lick Fire. It’s also one of the steepest sufferfests of a climb in a place that is known for, well, its steep trails. It doesn’t hide its intentions and starts out with a 1 mile stretch raising you 1000 feet…

Bear Mountain

…followed by a number of steep ‘rollers’: euphemism for a series of walls where even the rotational inertia of niner wheels doesn’t get you anywhere. You need to do some work to get at the base of the climb; even in the middle of this unusually cool summer weekend day there wasn’t a soul around. Hardly any wildlife even, in contrast to the rest of the area that I’d traveled through. It was eerily calm, beautifully stark and desolate.

Bear Mountain walls

I hadn’t even planned on being here (Black Oak Springs / Rock House Ridge was the original plan), and I was questioning my sanity – light on food and water I had planned on Pacheco Camp as my resupply spot, and it was still a world away. There’d be of course plenty of water in Mississippi Lake, and I had my filter bottle with me in case. On one of the neverending staircase-steep pitches I told myself there is no reason to ever come back here – now, while typing this, I’m jonesing to get back there and beyond – funny how that works.

Orestimba wilderness

The Orestimba wilderness is recovering from the big fire – it now looks and feels a bit like I imagine the high desert does.
All that climbing did result in a fair payoff: downhill singletrack bliss, alternating between goat trail style (Heritage) and buff (Bowl/Lyman-Willson into Hunting Hollow).

More here

August 13, 2010

Dirty

Filed under: Uncategorized — mtbguru @ 8:45 am

Remember Performance, making waves about a year ago?
Like many others I quite enjoyed the hilarious roadie vs fixie hipster parody rap video, though I had a nagging suspicion this was some kind of PR stunt for the big retailer of the same name. These suspicions were quickly put to rest, as the video and music turned out to be the work of more or less a one man team, Robin Moore Productions; based in Portland, but originally from, jay, Santa Cruz. The good news is, there is a follow-up video, and the better news is, mountain bikers are now being poked fun at. Get ready to get dirty!
Below the two videos back-to-back – they get better with each viewing…

August 9, 2010

Adventures in bikepacking (I)

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:45 am

I’ve been interested for a while in bikepacking; read about the countless adventures chronicled here by Scott M. to find out what this is all about, or check out the Colorado Trail race for an extreme and rather captivating example.

I’ve done one trip before that could be described as a bona fide bikepacking trip, which was my two-day loop around Lake Tahoe, so consider me a genuine rookie; though lots of fun overall, it sometimes felt a bit as if I was riding around with a boat anchor strapped to my back; so I’ve been doing some homework since then and devised a setup for my Salsa. Now I needed to try it out. My goal was to figure out if I could carry enough stuff to comfortably camp out while still having the ride feel like real mountain biking. Multi-day mtb races typically also involve lots of solo night riding, under the motto ‘sleep is overrated’, so this would be my secondary goal: do a solo night ride in a (semi-)remote wilderness without getting all too creeped out.

a Henry Coe evening

Enter Henry Coe; the perfect place to break test your gear, get lost in the dark and be on your own to sort things out. Well, maybe not the getting lost part, as I’ve somewhat learned my way around there.

Salsa bikepacking setup

Here’s my setup (including mystery rider with backpack): frame bag with top bag (‘fuel tank’) from Epic Revelate Designs in Alaska, with a 4 lbs heavy tent strapped on the handlebar (long live velcro straps) . In the case of a race the tent would go and probably be replaced by a bivy bag weighing less than nothing but note that I said ‘comfortably camp’ above; also, this is a $30 tent that I bought years ago, I’m sure with some more investment I could get one two or three pounds lighter. Note also that I’m not using a seat cargo bag (yet), but we’re working on that as well. The fully loaded bike weighed in at ~37 lbs (of which 12 lbs consisted of non-bike parts; more details on all the crap I took along maybe in a later post), then my backpack with full water bladder added another 10 lbs or so.

I showed up at HH around 6.30pm and started making my way up Lyman-Willson. First test: would I be able to clean the Wall, fully loaded? I’m happy to report, yes indeed, and no foot was put down between Hunting Hollow and Camp Willson – probably mainly thanks to the fact that the rutted step-up near the sinking pond on Bowl has been bedded in nicely lately. Up and down Wagon then, and the bike handled fine on the descents, though the extra weight on the front required some getting used to. That should be taken care of with a lighter tent or bivy, and it wasn’t actually even too bad as it was. I was a bit more concerned about the potential of brake fading, as my Hope Mono Mini’s aren’t exactly designed for this type of hard labor.

Up the peak at Crest trail I took a break to watch the sun set and ponder my plans for the rest of the ride – these were, in good tradition, yet to be improvised. I decided not to go ahead with the actual camping, but only do pretend-camping, for two main reasons: (a) I realized I had procrastinated patching up my Big Agnes air pad (which is great, except when it has a leak), and this would wreak certain havoc on the quality of my beauty sleep out here and (b) I had beer stashed in a cooler in the car and unfortunately not on or near my bike. After I was done lingering around, staring at Coit Lake deep below me and studying the farther expanses of Coe near the horizon I put on my lights and took off in the dusk, heading to Willow Ridge road.

Top of Crest trail

Remember my two goals stated earlier? I figured the descent of Willow Ridge trail – the singletrack that drops you 1200ft down into Los Cruzeros – would kill two birds with one stone. If I’d be able to enjoy the winding descent and not feel bogged down by my gear, it would certainly qualify as ‘real mountain biking’, and at the same time it would make for a proper night ride, as the twilight was fading quickly and making place for a deep darkness. The downhill was thrilling indeed but some of the thrills came from the young poison oak sprouts all over the place and my frantic attempts to stay clear of them. I remember we worked on this trail just over a year ago and we pretty much nuked all the PO, now however it seems to be back in full force; quite a weed, this thing. Nevertheless, the bike was handling fine, and I’m not able to report any noteworthy issues regarding braking or cornering.

Willow Ridge trail - in the dark

But now I got myself into a hole and needed to get out of it; a scenic, though dark hole it was, Los Cruzeros, surrounded on all sides by steep climbs. I noticed some campers but didn’t take the time to go exchange pleasanteries, as they were about one hundred yards off the trail and I wasn’t sure whether they were that eager for interaction with some nutcase showing up out of nowhere with a huge headlamp.

Up the Mahoney Meadows Wall I dabbed for the first time – not a shame as even on a good day and with a light bike the long, 30 degrees steep pitch consisting of mostly soft and loose dirt isn’t quite my cup of tea. I was able to clean all the climbing on Lost Springs however, probably thanks again to the plentiful poison oak infestations that made me stick to my line and power through the steeps like a madman high on steroids.

The section of Mahoney Meadows to Coit road – even on a sunny day a rather unexciting affair – was in the darkness of the night even more of a pain than usual: coastal fog had been rolling in, reflecting the beam of my headlight, killing visibility and making the ride rather tricky; well I guess at least it wasn’t as boring as it could have been. At this point I also started to succumb to some night riding paranoia – weird sounds in the woods, sudden movements caught in the corner of the eye – mostly birds and rodents, but there are always the creepy thoughts of being watched by the mountain lions. Either way, this is why the iPod was invented, so I cranked up the volume to tune out any funny noises and carried on: up the short section of Coit road, and then at last the descent home, one of my favorites, down Cross Canyon to Grapevine. My most fearful trail encounter happened a bit later, right after I was having a pretty good time negotiating the Grapevine rock garden in the dark (final test for the loaded bike: it performed nicely also on the techy bits): I found myself with a skunk running in front of me on the singletrack; at some point it jumped into some shrubs on the side and started making fart noises – I swiftly switched into a higher gear and accelerated out of trouble; it had been a close call! There were no more incidents to report on the final stretch of Coit and the Hot Springs road back to the parking lot and soon I was able to look back at a successful first experiment in bikepacking with my new setup.

July 19, 2010

2010 Alta Alpina challenge

Filed under: Road cycling — mtbguru @ 8:45 am

Sierra season is on us and my first ride of the season was a road ride (already a few weeks ago). The trails are now finally getting snow-free so soon to ensue is the off-road fun. Meanwhile, here’s a repost of a report on that little road excursion…

I can’t remember exactly what my thought process was when I signed up for the Alta Alpina (it would be my first double century, while my longest road ride so far this year was a 55 mile ride and most of my training consisting of somewhat hard mountain bike rides), but a mix of exuberant irrationality and smug overconfidence sounds about right; the Alpina is supposed to sport over 20K feet of climbing, most of it at altitudes around 8000ft.

Nevertheless, as my riding buddy Jeff (who had also signed up) says, you gotta do what you gotta do. And so, the Alta Alpina 8-pass challenge was on. The event website has some interesting info, history and tidbits which I won’t repeat here, but I will say that the Alta Alpina club did a fabulous job in supporting the event, from stocking all rest stops with plenty of food, beverages, snacks and a bewildering variety of power-gels, gu’s, shots and blocks, to rounding up a multitude of friendly volunteers who didn’t mind standing around for hours and freezing on 8000ft mountain passes at 5 in the morning. You can very easily do this event without bringing any food or drinks of your own (just bring your bottles – and it helps if you like Cliff blocks, as I do).

Early start

Alta Alpina start
Morning glory on Kingsbury.

A 4am start on Saturday implies a short night of sleep or no sleep at all – so my strategy this time was to head home on Friday after work, (try to) sleep a few hours (gulping down a beer did help some), then start to drive up to Markleeville around 11pm. Sounds slightly insane, but the three and a half hour drive was actually very relaxing since there was hardly any other motorist around to annoy me or slow me down – I just had to watch out for unattentive deer on highway 88. I made it in Turtle Rock park around 2.30am so I had time for another power nap. The parking lot was the rendez-vous spot for meeting Jeff (aka TahoeBC) and Peter, a Belgian friend with a rather impressive track record of doubles and triathlons. It was hard to see anything, let alone identify riders, and there wasn’t any cell phone reception either. Jeff was able to correctly identify my Subaru and after injecting some caffeine in our systems we took off in the darkness of the night. No sign of Peter, but I’d figure we would run into him.

The first stretch led us into the Carson Valley, where we would head towards the climb up Kingsbury – a nice 15 mile warm-up stretch and it was surprisingly pleasant and warm on this side of the mountain. Jeff was so excited he took his bike offroad on one occasion – either that or he was catching up on some sleep. The Kingsbury climb then: not too hard when you’re fresh, a nice steady grade and there wasn’t much noteworthy to report, until I spotted some creature jump the road – deer or coyote? – right in front of another rider some hundred yards ahead of us. When we caught up to the rider, he said it was a mountain lion, long tail and all. In all those years mountain biking I haven’t seen any, but now on a road ride? Well, I’ll have to trust the guy, since I couldn’t see enough to identify it myself, so for all practical purposes I will, ahem, remain a cougar-virgin.

Cold

After checking in on the summit, it was time for some descending fun – it was still a bit dark so I took it easy, but Jeff didn’t want to hear of it and took off like a missile. It was a fantastic downhill I have to say, I think you didn’t even need to touch your brakes once to get down safely. The descent however revealed a serious flaw in my vestimentary strategy: I had decided to go all “Belgian-knee-warmers”:http://www.fatcyclist.com/2007/05/16/knee-warmers-are-stupid/ on this ride (i.e. without using knee warmers), but now my legs and knees had started to get really, really cold. This didn’t improve much even when we were tackling the next climb, up Woodfords canyon and Luther Pass. And at that point we were enjoying a tailwind highly unusual for that area. Woodfords/Luther isn’t too hard of a climb but unlike on the Nevada side of the mountain, here the temperatures were dropping steadily and the winds were picking up as we gained altitude – it was still only 7am. And when climbing turned into descending, tailwinds into headwinds, my knees, feet and hands felt like they were being frozen over in a refrigerator. More annoyingly, my right knee started to hurt badly when we started to take on the next climb, Carson Pass. With the temperatures and knee pain my morale barometer also dropped from ‘cautiously optimistic’ to ‘prolly not gonna make it’ and I geared back into granny, let Jeff take off and tried to pace myself up Carson while nursing the knee and wondering out loud what the hell I was doing here.

At the rest stop on the summit I tried to take Jeff’s advice to heart – ‘full recovery is only one descent away’ – and though I was still pretty cold and miserable, flying down a mountain at 40 miles an hour always constitutes a healthy amount of fun. Blue Lakes road then, which was a bit shorter than planned because it wasn’t clear of snow all the way. This is a spectacularly beautiful road, nice pavement and primo Hope Valley-scenery, but I still had to deal with that stinging knee pain on even the slightest of inclines, so I switched back into granny mode and paced myself up. One thing I learned from doing these things is that good and bad times will alternate like a bad case of bipolar disorder, without much logic or reason – so I figured I’ll stick it out until lunch at least (which was scheduled around mile 110 or so) and hope things would improve.

Halfway there

And improve, they did! To make up for the shortened Blue Lakes climb we were asked to do a little out-and-back section on Airport road, right before Turtle Rock park. This featured a short but somewhat nasty climb, and perhaps due to the increasing temperatures at the approaching noon hour my knee got finally defrosted and started to work properly again.

halfway Alta Alpina
Our heroes are still fully capable of generating forced smiles.

Just about when we finished lunch in Turtle Rock park, I spotted Peter riding in. We exchanged pleasanteries, then carried on, as I was sure he’d catch up on us later. The biggest climbs of the day were still ahead of us, and at this point it was pretty hard to resist the siren song of the car and its luring comforts. But we were on a mission, and the morale barometer had now passed ‘cautiously optimistic’ to ‘unwarranted elation’. On Ebbetts Pass I felt really strong, and so relieved that the knee pain was gone that I started to hammer it. This was probably my favorite climb of the day, great scenery (snowcapped peaks, icey lakes), with steep stretches alternated by short plateaus that allow you to recover a bit before attacking the next wall. The descent into Hermit valley was great fun and I really started to get the hang of it. I enjoyed the climb back up as well (1700ft) and was finally getting convinced I had it in the bag. Jeff and I had a surprisingly similar pace throughout the day, and he caught up with me on the descent, heading towards the frontside of Monitor.

Alta Alpina: Ebbett's
There’s still lots of the white fluffy stuff around Ebbett’s Pass.

Right after he passed me, I suddenly felt the familiar and dreadful effects of the rear tire losing pressure… a flat. After launching into a curse tirade I replaced the tube and inflated it with a CO2 canister – all very mundane actions, but they felt a lot more difficult with 150 miles under the belt. The final two climbs of the day were the morale-crunching double ascent (front and back) of Monitor Pass. The frontside has some heinous grades but the worst part of it is that it’s consistent (no plateaus), and you can see rather far ahead, deep into the horrors that await you. I caught up with Jeff again but now started to feel pretty worn out. Monitor’s frontside was a real soul-sucker, but we were still hoping that full recovery was only one downhill away. On Monitor’s summit we were finally joined by Peter, and we took on the thrilling descent into Topaz.

The end

After making the U-turn, the final climb awaited us, a gut-wrenching 9 miles at a near-constant 7% grade (in normal conditions rather pleasant, but these weren’t normal ones) and I was in a world of pain. But at least I wasn’t alone, Jeff had various issues of his own (stomach, back) and also Peter mentioned he had been suffering throughout the day. I don’t know how, but the three of us made it in a snail pace back onto the summit, and Peter even still had an acceleration in him close to the top. And at the summit rest stop, it was finally party time! It is surprising how quickly the mind can process ordeals like this – full recovery has indeed been one descent away.

Alta Alpina: Monitor
The summit of Monitor, always a welcome sight.

Another fantastic descent by the way, and I felt weightless and truly in sync with my surroundings flying down this beautiful mountain near sunset. We wrapped up the last rolling ten mile stretch in twilight and darkness, and even though there was a nasty little climb to scale right before Turtle Park it didn’t upset anyone and we finished our 200 miler together, in about 17 hours and change. The pain of the day was soon forgotten but I could hardly eat anything or recover a bit before I succumbed to overwhelming and sweet fatigue. Unfortunately of the type that doesn’t lead to a good night of sleep, but I didn’t care; we got it done. More pics and stats

May 24, 2010

Tour of California

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 8:06 am

The 2010 Tour of California was passing through my proverbial backyard again, which was a great excuse to get out on my bike(s) and go check out the race.

Stage 3 would feature climbs of Tunitas, Highway 84 from Woodside to Alice’s and later in the stage Bonny Doon. The fact that the Highway 84 climb goes unnamed indicates how relatively unpopular it is with local cyclists: it is so heavily car trafficked that most riders just choose to descend it, closing a loop after climbing say Old La Honda. Talking about OLH, it appears that this gem of a climb was initially selected by the organizers to feature in the stage, which would have been beyond awesome, but the idea was apparently canned due to protests by local residents. That, together with the ridiculous complaints by local governments on ‘road paint‘ shows how bad the NIMBY-effect can get in California. On the positive side though: both stages I checked out featured a huge amount of spectators (even in the rain), what looked like a mass convention of local cyclists and a great overall party atmosphere.

The TOC was apparently moved for three main reasons: to have better weather, to allow inclusion of the bigger climbs in the Sierra Nevada and to gather a more competitive (read: in shape) peloton that what you get in February. Well, I guess they got one out of three (mid-May is way too early for the real Sierra climbs, so I’m not sure what that argument was about). During stage 3, I rode my bicycle to the top of the 84 climb, well before the racers would show. It was raining, not drizzling like last year.

toc 2010 stage 3

2010 TOC stage 3

It was nice to see our local roads owned by cyclists for a day. The group wasn’t really racing but at this point it was pretty early on in the stage. Stage 4 the next day featured the Sierra road climb and some less-traveled but awesome roads in the Diablo range (Calaveras, Mines) – which I know mainly from motorcycling. Talking of which, I took the Duc out that day to watch the race, which turned out to be a highly efficient and entertaining approach. The photos below show the riders passing a (rolling) section of Calaveras road.

2010 TOC stage 4

2010 TOC Stage 4

As for the doping relevations: I’ve long ceased to idolize bike racers (hm, since VdB in ’99 perhaps?); the ones I do still admire nobody knows and are racing in events such as the Arizona Trail Race, Tour Divide, CTR and the likes. The clean guys in the peloton are probably heros, but many others are flawed individuals, just like everyone else and the characters in Lost ;) .

April 6, 2010

Spring riding

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 9:57 pm

All rides are good rides, but this must be my favorite time of the year to get out. All kinds of lifeforms are waking up:

Coe wildflowers

Coe turtle

The vultures are enjoying the action too…

Coe vulture

… perhaps on the lookout for cyclists who won’t survive these kind of steeps:

Phegley trail in Coe

In a few months, this place will soon resemble a sun scorched wilderness again, so enjoy it while it’s a green paradise.

March 28, 2010

Henry Coe MTB Fundraiser

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 11:05 am

This blog has a category called ‘Riding and racing’ so I figure it deserves a few more posts. Well, in fact I did my first race of the season yesterday – where the concept ‘season’ should be understood as a loose collection of events that happen roughly within the same year but otherwise have no significant correlation besides the fact that I enjoy doing them mostly for fun, and to challenge myself at some random times of my choosing.

Now we got that out of the way, let’s get to the point: I had plenty of excuses to not participate to the Henry Coe MTB Fundraiser: with being sick early in the year and the uninterrupted El Nino rains later on, I’ve really only done one serious MTB ride this year so far, last week, in Coe, of which I was still working to recover; furthermore, after a busy week with little sleep, and a late night (Jerry Seinfeld was in town) the last thing I felt like doing on this beautiful Saturday morning was to get out of bed early and scramble around in the garage trying to get my ‘race’ bike ready and tuned and collect all the necessary race crap such as assorted clothing, bottles, gu’s etc; and finally, after my unexpected but victorious passage last time around, I had nothing to gain and could only lose.

While gulping down some strong coffee I figured these excuses weren’t going to do it though; after all, it would be a gorgeous day to ride in Coe, with perfect spring weather, wildflowers out in force, and the proceeds of the event were going largely to the park itself, so I’d even be doing the good deed; this made me feel all warm inside (it could have been the coffee though), so I did try to get my act together, performed the aforementioned scrambling around in time and headed to Coe.

The course was a bit different than last time around; after the start we’d only have a short stretch of fireroad climbing (Coit) leading to a short singletrack climb followed by a descent (Anza). Anza starts with a couple of tough switchbacks that would certainly clog up the field, so I based my entire race strategy on it; this strategy could be roughly summarized as: sprint to the singletrack climb to get there before the field in my Sports class, and we’ll see how it goes after that.

I was able to execute my strategy flawlessly – I took off like a missile and started the Anza climb in second position; the leader dabbed on the toughest switchbacks and I passed him, ending up in first – my luck lasted for a few minutes, until the flaw in my strategy was revealed: after all this early redlining, I blew up; not entirely, but enough to clumsily screw around with my shifting and drop the chain, and even overcook a turn on the downhill section, inspiring a half dozen guys to pass me.

I didn’t let this early upheaval get to me and concentrated on the second part of my strategy: seeing how it would go. Well, it went… sort of. On the long climb after Anza, I noticed that not being in race shape can’t entirely be compensated by positive thinking. The course led us to the never-climbed-by-me Coit Spring, Cattle Duster and Domino Pond. I’ve descended these trails many times, but now had the opportunity to spend some more time admiring their qualities; both Cattle Duster and Domino offer a couple steep walls for your suffer-amusement, with a few early season mud bogs thrown in for good measure. My Salsa motored pretty well through the bogs, and I like to thing that the bigger wheels definitely were a benefit here.

Onto Wasno then (fireroad) and the sketchy Kelly Lake descent. I’ve done the latter last week with my Yeti and had to seriously watch my line; without the near 6 inches of rear suspension I would certainly have to watch even more, and I felt some squirmishness rise; luckily, the big wheels did inspire extra confidence, and I was able to pass a rider that earlier on blew past me on the climb but now seemed to be rather reluctant on the rutty goodness of Kelly Lake trail. More climbing on Coit, then Crest trail; I felt faster than I was, and more people passed me. The race started to wear me out now, and the thing that kept me going were thoughts of the thrills of Tule Pond and the vague promise of an approaching finish line after it. There was of course still that bit of climbing on Wagon road… right after Tule Pond, the Beginner and Sports course coincided and there was quite a bit more traffic on the course now.

At this point, my mind must have been going blank, or the increasing strength of the unforgiving Coe sun and onset of dehydration must have been messing with my synapses, as I made the stupidest mistake ever to make in an mtb race: I went off course, at camp Willson. To be honest, I hadn’t even given the course map a look at the start, I took it from mtbr and talking to people we were going down the familiar Bowl + Lyman-Willson trail. While approaching Camp Willson, instead of focusing on the course markings, I was too busy eyeing the rear wheel of a guy in my Sports class I was chasing for many miles – he was cruising down Wagon, together with a bunch of others in front of him, and zoomed by the turnoff to Bowl. By the time I realized that no, there hadn’t been a last-minute course change, and yes, I had stupidly and mistakenly followed the herd instead of taking the turnoff, I had lost more elevation than I was willing to gain back by turning around, and I kept going on Wagon. At least I would get a few more ‘refreshing’ creek crossings and bonus miles for my money.

The creek crossings at the end were actually quite a highlight; never before I had approached them in race-fashion; usually I would rather carefully try to find my way through them, avoiding excessive wetting of my drivetrain and socks. My strategy now consisted of picking up a borderline-unreasonable speed before entering the creek bed, then lean back and hope for the best. Surprisingly, this worked out pretty well, except in one instance where I stalled in the middle of the deepest part; at least I got to wash off the mud from my Sidi’s.

After clearing the final creek crossing in style in front of some photographers, the finish line was finally there! When I’d jumped off the bike, the front tire was slowly deflating – if there ever was good timing for a flat, this must have been it. Without my four bonus miles, I would have certainly broken the two hour mark (my initial goal/hope), but at least now I have an excellent excuse for not placing high. Great race on a great spring day! It feels like summer is almost here…

March 21, 2010

Coe spring equinox ride

Filed under: Riding and racing — mtbguru @ 10:43 pm

Winter is behind us and in these regions there is no better way to celebrate spring IMO than to do a ‘deep’ Coe ride. The wildflower show is on in full force, and probably in a week or two it will peak.

on Elderberry trail

I rode with a few usual Coe suspects (Jeff and Patrick) – highlights of our ride include gazillions of creek crossings (‘two’ according to a Jeff pre-ride estimate), a flower display that was quite spectacular in spots, the always awesome Dutch trail (only its name could be improved – am thinking ‘Belgian’ here) and the climb out on Kaiser Aetna / Center (non) Flats.

Coe wildflowers

Just kidding on that last one – while the Kaiser climb is a soul crushing bore (be it one of a consistent 15% grade), the steeps on Center Flats feel like someone is carving their name with a knife in your calves. Well, at least the weather was nice and pleasant, and we didn’t have to deal with temperatures of 90F (as the last time we ventured in these areas). And once the affair was done with, one can only say it wasn’t that bad.

Coe wildflower

To make it back in time, we rode down Lyman-Wilson instead of doing the final push up Serpentine after descending into Grizzly Gulch over Tule Pond – not sure we would go up even if we had plenty of time. Descending Tule Pond then Lyman-Wilson was quite a treat: unadulterated high speed adrenaline fun.

Jeff on Dutch

I felt pretty good until the end of Dutch. Then, after we crossed the North Fork of the Pacheco Creek at 800ft and I realized we would have to gain back all that lost elevation, lactic acid took over and I was in a world of pain. Luckily that ended with the wrap up of Center Flats, which makes me think it was just in my mind. 40 miles and 8k ft elevation gain, ‘t was an awesome day in Coe!

More info and shots on the trip page, and many more photos and stories on the mtbr thread.

my Coe spring ride
(photo: Jeff G.)

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