Saturday Morning I had the privilege of joining about five hundred other mountain bikers for the Warriors Society’s 2008 POW WOW event held up and down the Santa Ana Mountain mountain range in Orange County, CA. The events lined up for the day were the Counting Coup at over 44 miles and 8,000+ feet of climbing and the Vision Quest at over 56 miles and 11,000+ feet of climbing. Sounds like fun. I was so stoked to make it to the starting line and looking back I am beginning to understand more and more why the hardest part of any race is just getting to the starting line. My memories from last years race, the support, trails and people made the decision for me much easier and got me to focus on why I was really out on the trail in the first place. With my priorities in check I was ready to take it all in.
This year I wanted to think about nothing but turning the crank around. Zone-out and forget about dynamic crypto maps over GRE tunnels (work), where my zones were for my heart rate, vacation plans or anything else but just riding… No watch, heart rate monitor or goals beyond not blowing my season of racing or vacation just a week away by a nasty crash. …Simple and obtainable.
I got up at 3am and made it out to the start to pick up my race packet, said “wha'd up” to a few people and before I knew it we were all headed off on the first of many extended climbs. Black Star - I knew the road well and it was good times in the easy gears and conversating with everyone I rode with and a unique feeling of “racing” with a relaxed state of mind. Perfect. The steady glow of lights winding this way and that up the hills could not be captured on camera or explained in my poor writing skills . . . I tried to take it all in with every switchback as I gleamed over the edge around every turn... Beautiful! This is why I am so glad I made it, I thought to myself. With no watch I would be running on RPE (rate of perceived effort) all day and wanted to be comfortable enough to have fun and stick to my “no goals” strategy.
As we climbed, I had all kinds of stuff falling off my bike. My bag under my seat dropped a few times, pump and jacket from my jersey. All perfectly aligned for when I needed a little break and to insure I would have an easy pace on the first few climbs and not get caught up into the “race”. We had clouds all morning that kept us wet and eyes wide as we poked in an out of them on the climbs. At points it was hard to see 10 feet in front of you but it added to the excitement for the day. I really don’t think it could have been a better day to enjoy the trails and we even had some mud from time to time too. SICK!
I could go on and on about my renewed found love of downhill and how it has been so long since I have been on a real single track trail… But let’s just say I was “praisin’ the Lord” on Motorway, the first extended downhill section of the race and don’t know if I will manage to ride my road bike with any zeal for a few months. Mountain biking is AWESOME! For me, bouncing around turns at a speed that is “almost” too fast for your own good is the only way to live more ;-)
Unfortunately, it was over before I knew it and after our first aid station I was back to the grinding climb up Maple springs. Last year I bonked in a strange way up to the peak but this year I really felt like I was just getting started. IPOD playing everything from The Fugees, TriTalk podcasts, Weezer, Techno and bible studies. . . I was lost in the random bliss and enjoying the day plugging away at ease. I needed this more than I thought and my mind was just as free to roam. I feel like Forest Gump in writing this but I thought about life and relationships and how much I am stoked to know the people that I do… Cheesy, but I feel stoked about it and it fueled my riding beyond the race itself. I ended up riding some of the trails at O’Neil after the race because I just loved it and I wanted to keep that mindset going...
Anyways... snapping back to the race, I have now reached the top of Santiago peak. Yeah! I didn’t bother to pump up my tires before the race(lazy, lack of care?) so I had a marshmellow feel that added excitement to the downhill’s. My arms and wrists were not ready for the single track and my balance was off a bit but by the time I got to Holy Jim I was in the zone. Bucket size drops and such a sick trail! I let it go at this point and just felt my way through the trail like a jedi knight! Then I slid out and thought I blew my rim...It looked tweaked but it was actually my rear tire. I somehow managed to peal the tubeless tire right off the rim around some rocks. I may have been sub 25lbs of pressure and should have known...It could have been a show stopper. However, it wasn't and I was SOOO stoked to be able to get it going again without a tube and using only a tiny hand pump! Anyone who has setup a tubeless tire understands how lucky I got to get this going again. I was stoked and after a little rest of the legs and quick action of the arms was back riding again.
All along I felt great and didn’t feel like the fatigue from the training this week or stress from work, lack of sleep or any other excuse I could think of had any effect on me… I started thinking about the Western States race and the endurance it demands. There is a river that the runners cross (most of them in the black of night and after hours of running) and it is so deep that you have to hold onto a rope and pull yourself across. They say this is the point where the "race starts. . .Mile 78. I think I was starting to get the pacing down and riding into Aid #2 I felt like I could make some serious gains.
At the second aid station, Heather hooked me up with some lube, H20 and Cytomax and I was off before I knew it and unfortunately without my "personal" bag drop. Oops...I started counting my calories and I had put down one gu flask, 1 power bar and a few bananas...Cytomax. Way behind. I was still motivated heading up West HorseThief, the last major climb that turns into a hike-a-bike section but somehow started losing my motor skills or something? Bonk? I felt fine but I was just falling all over the place. I would just stop and fall over into a bush. Ha HAA! I must have looked so strange because I was going like 2MPH but I just started losing balance or maybe my low calories were getting to me now that I think about it. I stopped before the hike-a-bike and stretched, ate all the food on me and headed out on foot for the hike.
Hiking last year was awesome. I was running a lot more and passed a few people. This year I was just talking to people and letting them pass when I would slow the pace. Somewhere near the top before we reached the main divide my calories kicked in and I got my second wind... Just in time for the Trabuco Trail!
I think the Trabuco trail has got to be one of the best trails I have ever ridden and got me so pumped I felt like I had a new start by the time I reached the bottom. One final flat/somewhat downhill dirt road left. The road was muddy and I felt ALIVE... Ha ha.. I wanted to ride all day but I was stoked to be done.
The Alma even made it with no hangers getting broken or major problems. I am so proud of my fragile 29er! With all the breaks that it has had recently I am stoked that it always pulls through on races.
I hung out a bit at the finish line...popped some of these pics and talked with some people and then rode over to O'Neil for some El Pollo Loco grub. I needed that. Refueled but still hungry for the trail I took off to ride some of the loops through O'Neil park. It was awesome! So green and not a person around. The rain had the dirt in prime condition and I was back in the zone.
Some of the trails were so grown in I felt like I was already on vacation somewhere else in the world...
Then I realized I better get back because it was Monique's Moms BDAY and I was running behind. I rode to Monique's sisters house but they had already left for the BDAY party so I headed down the street to the Demeis and was so stoked to see Shelley at the door. I got to hang out with them for a bit and it just made me realize how much I miss them... Dennis gave me a ride back to my truck after a bit and I was ready for some BDAY cake and family time.
Much to my surprise I finished at a faster time than last year and much faster than I thought that I was going... I guess time really does fly when you are having fun. I will need to go over my "lessons learned" in another post, but I am stoked that I could have dug deeper but more stoked that I had such a good time again on the trail when I almost sat this one out. What was I thinking! Next year I am planning to do some specific training around VQ (Climbing!) but for now it is time to get out of the country and relax.