Sunday, June 28, 2009

Getting Ready to Crack some Fire

Big times coming up in the next five weeks, four different races, all with some hefty drive time. Firecracker is next weekend, something like 14 hours each way in the car, which was long enough to get me to change the oil in my car (something like 10,000 miles overdue according to the Jiffy Lube guy). It was a buzzkill when I found out that Bozeman’s mountain biking power couple had pulled out, resulting in the loss of any chance of a carpool. Never the less, when I called to let a college friend know I’d be racing in her neck of the woods, I learned she had moved back to Red Lodge. Good news for me, not only do I get to catch up with an old friend, but I also gained a place to sleep for a night. Not quite sure how far from Red Lodge to Breckenridge, but I hope to get there by sometime before dark on Thursday. Once in town, looking forward to getting to catch up with Dejay, Fuzzy, Jake, and Rebecca, hoping that their tales from Italy will not leave me too jealous.

Once all the catching up has been caught up on, its gonna be time to get down to racin. All I know about Firecracker is that it’s supposed to be a hell of a good time, and a tough course. Saturday will be jam packed with Marathon Nationals, 4th of July Parade, plenty of booze, some fireworks, and hopefully plenty of shenanigans. Can’t really ask for much more to celebrate Uncle Sam’s birthday. I have no idea what to expect of myself as far as the race goes, and I’m a little worried about that whole altitude thing they have going on there in Breckenridge. The low point is somewhere around 9600 feet, and I think the last time I was at that sort of altitude was back in 03 hiking to the top of Trapper. Who knows, maybe all that climbing up in the Snake where I forced myself to breathe only through my nose might pay off. That seems doubtful though, so I guess I’ll just start to pray that spending one day getting acclimated will be enough.

I think that the Kenda Tomac crew will have a good shot at both the men’s and women’s top spot. Andy has been looking wicked strong all year, and has gotten on the podium in years past. If I remember correctly, last year Amanda was leading the women’s race, until she flatted, and tragically had neglected to bring a spare tube. Looks like Bishop has been living up at altitude to prep for a big title defense, and some of the other big cross country folks are planning to show up. Not sure of all the singlespeeders who will show up, but as usual I’ll be scared of Fuzzy. He snagged himself an overall NUE title last year with a win at Tahoe, which was also held at a high elevation. Last year he couldn't race because his tummy was hurt or something like that, so I'm willing to bet he'll be out for blood. All I’m really hoping for is to finish strong, and not get worked over by the thin air, oh yeah and it would suck to have to race through a lightning storm again.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The 24 Hours of Rapelje might be the most laid back 24-hour mountain bike race that exists. For the past nine years, the community of Rapelje, Montana opens their doors and lets a group of random mountain bikers pedal around their cow pasture for a whole day. The community consists of maybe 50 people, some houses, a post office, church, a café, and some other old buildings. Over the weekend I heard someone joke that Rapelje was founded when a group of people were trying to make their way to Oregon, but they got stuck in the mud and couldn’t get out (this joke will make more sense in a bit). Anyway this venue serves as Montana’s only 24-hour race, so I decided that it would be the perfect time to make my first 24-hour solo attempt with almost no pressure.

After spending the weeks leading up to the race, trying to prepare, asking previous winners more questions than they wanted to answer, I packed up my car and headed out towards Eastern Montana on Friday afternoon. Hellgate Dave simply told me “don’t fall asleep” before I left town towards the unknown. A stop was made in Bozeman to join forces with some of the Mules, and make sure that there was enough beer to last the weekend. We rolled into what would become 24 hour town, and in due time we were pedaling along the course to get a sneak peak. We skipped the second half of the course, so we could make it back to town and grab some food at the café. With full bellies we headed back to camp, where more of the Mules had gathered. The rest of the evening was spent sharing our upcoming strategies, what food we intended to eat, and drinking beer around the fire. A big topic of conversation was the weather reports, which were calling for rain on Saturday and Sunday, however Muleterro Cory was quick to chime in that he didn’t think it would rain, and then neglected to knock on wood because he is a jackass.

By 10:30 on Saturday racers gathered in front of the café to receive our final instructions for the race. I was starting to feel really nervous, and kept telling myself to just take it easy and not kill myself while the sun was up, remembering the pearl of wisdom I had once heard at the Old Pueblo, “the real race starts at midnight.” At 11 the cannon went off, and we were all running towards our bikes. None other than Bill Schultz had offered to hold my bike for me, and I managed to be in the top 10 after the run, and had moved up to fourth by the time we hit the trail. I am using the term trail very loosely when describing the course, some portions was literally just riding through a field trying while following pink flags. I was later informed by the race organizer that in order to create the trail they drag a bunch of chains behind an ATV, but were not able to do that this year due to rain. The course included obstacles like cow and pig crap, cactus, the occasional gopher hole, and plenty of rough sections that I figured would have my taint rubbed raw by 6 a.m. Climbs were either long (less than three two minutes worth) and gradual, or short (15 seconds long) and steep. Despite all of my preconceived notions about eastern Montana mountain biking, some of the sections of trail were very enjoyable, and by the end of lap one I was the fourth person to come through, and leading the solo category.

Laps two through six went by without incident, the biggest problem I had to encounter was stopping to take a leak after the fourth lap. Bill Martin managed to pass me for the solo lead, and I was doing my best to try and keep a pace that wouldn’t blow my legs up later in the night. I felt like I was doing a good job of eating and drinking during the race, my legs felt surprisingly good, with the only big worry being the dark clouds off on the western horizon. On my fourth lap I passed my friend Meg who was busy putting the hurt on the solo womens field, and we wished each other encouragement before I headed off into the long straightaway with a terrible headwind. Triple Ring Bob was kind enough to fix me a bottle of Gatorade in between laps, which I would consume while in the pits, and would also tell me how far behind Bill I was (about fifteen minutes by the end of lap six).

Right before heading out for my seventh lap I made the decision to bring a rain jacket with me, based on the fact that I was seeing lightning get closer to the town during my sixth lap. I headed out towards the west, riding directly towards the dark clouds, and lightning. I decided to ride the first portion of the course a little faster than I would have liked, mainly because I wanted to start heading east as quickly as possible. Since the bad weather was coming from the west towards the east, I figured if I was heading east I wouldn’t be able to see the lightning, and would be able to trick myself into think that weather was fine. As I rode up one of the longer climbs, the small rain drops began to fall, and once I finished the final short steep climb, the wind had picked up, the raindrops were bigger, the thunder was louder, and the lightning was closer. I stopped to put on my jacket at the top of the final climb, and as I started the final descent the heavens opened up in a manner that required Noah and his arc.

For anyone what has ever ridden in areas of the northern plains, you probably knows that when the soil gets wet out there it will turn into a peanut butter like consistency. My bike collected so much mud that I didn’t even bother to try and carry it because it probably weighed 70 pounds. As the rain kept dumping, the soil became over saturated and the runoff started to form small rivers on the road. I spent a couple minutes removing as much mud as possible, then started to ride in the river, which kicked up enough water so that my bike wasn’t collecting as much mud, and was still rideable. By the time I made my back to the start finish area, the race director was informing everyone that the race was on hold until further notice. The primary concern was the lightning, with the secondary concern being the condition of the course. I made a trip to the showers to warm up, then headed to the café to grab some food while the powers that be tried to decide what to do. By 10 pm we were told that if the race started back up it would be no earlier than 5 a.m. The course would need some time to dry out before we could ride on it, and with the sun having already set, the outlook wasn’t good.

At this point I decided to at least take some time to get my gear set up so that if the race did get started back up I would be ready. A fire was lit, beers were consumed, there was talk of a naked crit, and all who stayed awake were treated to one of the greatest lightning shows I have ever seen. I decided to try to get some sleep, and with my tent having been soaked by the rains, Meg was kind enough to let me sleep in the bed of her truck. Meg woke me up at 4:50, and the first thing I noticed was the sound of more rain. I knew this meant the race wasn’t going to get started again, so I went back to sleep, and an hour and half later official word came down from the director. Despite the racing being called off, the fine people of Rapelje still kept their end of the bargain, and as promised kept serving up free pancakes to racers all night into the morning.

With the race officially cancelled everyone waited for a break in the rain to start to back up gear. The most common complaint that I heard was that no one got to do any sort of night riding, and that the race never got to completely unfold (especially for us solo folk). Despite all this, racers gathered down at the café for the awards ceremony. I was recognized as the winner of the solo singlespeed class, Meg won the solo womens class, and Bill won the overall solo title. Bill and I were the only two solo racers to complete seven laps, and we were only beaten by two other teams. Our pictures were taken which in due time will hang on the café walls, and congratulations were exchanged. With everyone’s vehicle being packed, the community of Rapelje once again returned to be a small uneventful town. I was pretty happy with how things went, although bummed out that I never had a chance to try and ride for the full 24 hours. I did have a blast, and do plan to return again next year, and give the solo attempt one more shot.

That rain sucked the life out of me

Posing with the award in front of the Stockman Cafe

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Quick Rapelje

A full report will follow in the next couple of days, but the 24 Hours of Rapelje became the "A little under 8 hours of Rapelje" this year due to heavy rains.  The rains made the course un-rideable, and the organizers were forced to cut the event short.  Despite all that the Missoulians cleaned house in the solo categories, with Bill Martin winning the overall title by completing seven laps, and Meg Fisher winning the womens class with 5 laps.  I took the solo singlespeed title, also competing seven laps (Bill and I were the only solo guys to get seven laps in), somewhere around 20 minutes or so behind Bill.  I've posted some of the pictures, and more will follow when I get them.  Also bumped into some folks who were interested in SSMT, which added to my overall enjoyment of the weekend.  Until I get the full post up, enjoy the picture Big Jonny down at DC sent me this past Thursday.  The back story is that for the past three years we bet a case of Olde English on one Giants Eagles game every year.  It brought a tear to my eye.  

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Weekend Recap, Rapelje Prep

            Strongman Toby made his way back to town this past weekend, and wanted to get a long ride in to prep for Creampuff.  The plan was to meet up and head out for a long day of singletrack, climbing, top-notch views, and few stops.  9 was set as the meeting time, and I was in panic mode at 8:45 when I noticed my pesky rear brake not working.  I made a B-line to Hellgate Cyclery, hoping that those good folks might have shown up early. I was lucky, and Dave went right to work on my bike.  Turns out there was a hole in the brake cable, and after the second bleed, we started to see the fluid spewing from the cable.  Dave and Kevin bird-dogged the problem, by 10 Toby and I were heading up into the snake.  We rode up towards Overlook, then dropped down the Ravine Trail, where Toby reminded me just how good of a descender he was.  I did my best to keep him in my sights, but at my first near miss of a tree, I opted to take it easy.  After getting barked out by an old couple at a switchback, we popped out on the road, and made our way up the road to Snowbowl. 


The dirt road to Snowbowl, was a nice long gradual climb, where we took it easy, and chatted about various topics.  We started the climb to the top of the lift on the Beargrass Highway.  The proper singletrack climbing was disrupted by a whole bunch of downed logs, requiring several stops to get around them.  Curses were shouted, blood pressures went up, but eventually we made it to the top of the lift.  Once at the top we took some time to soak up the views, and made arrangements to meet with Doug later.  Not wanting to have to deal with the downed logs again, we opted to head down the mountain on the cat track, then the gravel road.  In due time we were back at the Ravine Trail, although this time climbing.  After however many minutes of climbing, and constantly convincing myself that the top of the climb was just after the finish of the next steep bitch. At the top we bumped into some Bike Works folks, and appropriate time was taken at the Overlook to enjoy some beer.  After the descent we bumped into Doug, who joined for the climb to the top of Lincoln Hills.  At the top all were lacking motivation to suffer through more climbing, so we opted to make a quick descent back to the valley.  Doug was kind enough to inform us of a barbeque, and I was happy to devour all of their leftovers, which was a perfect ending to the day. 


On Sunday the rains came in the afternoon, so I decided to let my inner fat kid run wild, and went to buy food for Rapelje.  There are few things better than buying nothing but junk food at the grocery store.  I started to fill the cart with snickers bars, nut rolls, bags of chips, oatmeal crème pies, summer sausage, peanut butter, jerky, fig newtons, pop tarts, red bull, and other goodies.  Other assorted goodies were added to the stash, and so far the biggest challenge has been not eat any of the food.  I went ahead and made a playlist for the ipod that might come in handy during the wee hours of the morning.  Hopefully Hot Water Music, Pennywise, and Metallica can keep me motivated to pedal through the darkness.  Aside from that it’s been a lot of preparation, making lists of things to do and pack, and hoping that something small but important doesn’t get forgotten about.  Picked up an E-Z-up from them fine folks over at Missoula Bike Works, and my buddy Danney was kind enough to lend me his fire pit for the weekend.  Now its just a matter of cramming everything into the back of the car, hoping that the legs decide to work, and maybe a little prayer here and there for some good luck.  However, the only thing I know is that Saturday at 11, the fun will begin.  

Friday, June 12, 2009

F'ing Lame

That title sums things up for me right about now.    Backed out of my plan to go exploring for new singletrack in the Saphires last weekend because it was cold, windy, and looked like it could have rained.  I am lame, nuff said.  Not much new on the race front, still doing what I can to drum up some sponsors (mainly looking for booze and treats).  Jed the Zilla was kind enough to send some phone numbers and email addresses in my general direction, so that's been giving me something to do.  Mr. MTCX told me earlier this week he had some socks he'd be willing to donate to the cause, which is rather kind on his behalf.  Got some other folks in mind that I plan to beg and plead with to try and get some prizes, so we'll see how that goes.  

Other bike stuff in the Big Sky includes road racing state champs this weekend.  I have no idea what the course is like, or who is gonna be there, but I'm sure someone is gonna throw down like it's there job.  Personally I'm focusing the energy towards Rapelje, where I will be making my first 24 hr solo attempt.  The main goal is to not wind up asleep in a cow pasture mid-way through a lap at 3 in the morning.  I'd like to think that I'd spend some energy over the next week coming up with some game plan, but as the GDR taught me last year, once you start pedaling your bike, the game plan gets thrown out, and you just need to deal with things as they come up.  

Also managed to note some drama over at the Triple Ring Production forum, where people have been wheeling and dealing about the upcoming race.  If you'll excuse me I will not hop up on my high horse and give you my two cents.  The Butte 100 is not the best race I have done, but the folks over at Triple Ring have been able to make great improvements in the short history of the race.  I've never met promoters who were better at absorbing racers opinions, and using that to make their event better.  In 2007 the course was esentially an out and back on a gravel road, and I hated the course.  Racers said they wanted more singletrack, so in 2008 they threw in about 40 miles worth of the Continental Divide Trail which was great.  Word on the web is that this year will have something like 70 miles of singletrack, and were talking top notch high alpine singletrack here.  I never experienced any issues about private land or other nonsense like that, the biggest problem I've had at that race is breaking a wheel.   

The course was pretty well marked, with one exception, and some of us took a wrong turn.  If you talk to the folks who spent the most time riding in the wrong direction, they will tell you that they were aware they hadn't seen any marking, but they chose to keep riding in that direction.  So the turn could have been marked better, but at the same time the racers could have been smarter.  There were plenty of aid stations stocked with food, beverages, and words of encouragement (although all the volunteers seemed to say there was no more climbing for the rest of the race).  After tapping out with a thrashed wheel, I got hooked up with a ride back tot he start, and chowed on some pizza, which raised my spirits.  In short, the Butte 100 is a solid event, and from the looks of things the 2009 version should be better than the 2008 version.  The organizers don't make stupid mistakes, and really want to make the event world class (best two qualities and organizer can have in my opinion).  If you have the date free, look into it, you might just like what you see.