Weeks had past since that Cheq trip and we were making our plans for Dakota as well as our future. It was no secret, I've been evolving and needed change. Both career and environment needed some work. Not that Minneapolis isn't home, nor a bad place to be, we as a family needed growth in the mountains. It was also time to make more time for my family and get myself out of a slump. My work schedule wasn't fair to my family and my lack of availability wasn't fair to where I was working. Also I wanted to make plans to attend school and change careers completely. Long story short, we quickly planned our move to Colorado. This made very little time for training, but I could already pull 60 miles of local single track with road mixed in, in under 4 hours on one gear. A little cross fit and a whole lot of box loading was my only training in the remaining few weeks prior. I actually felt confident with what I could do.
The Weekend came and not after a lot of trouble getting a hitch installed on our car and getting out trailer late. We loaded what we could the night before with a few friends and our plans to leave the next morning at 5am was banished. The trailer was loaded by 1:30pm and we had to make one last stop at Angry Catfish for coffee and goodbyes. With only a few stops along the way for gas, food and rest for two in diapers we arrived Sunday morning at 2 am. I knew it would be nearly a 12 hour drive from Minneapolis and I didn't know if I could do it at all at this point. If I didn't get up at 5:45am MDT and get my gear on, my road partner would've left me for dead in the Black Hills.
So, I put my big kid bibs on, grabbed some food from our bags and went to the continental breakfast area and prepared my oatmeal, blueberries, gluten-free toast, hard boiled egg, green tea and big glass of scratch labs with some cranberry juice. The cooler holding all of my race day foods was trashed. Nothing was good. I had a few hard boiled eggs, cherry/chia kombucha, homemade sweet and savory rice cakes and some other stuff that would've made my morning that much better go to the worms. I did with what I had and just enough time to hop on my bike before I prepare my gear and get my packet. Spinning around in the nice cool weather was enough to wake me up. I had only a few minutes to be sure I had my food, water, tools, emergency tube kit and extra chain. With a quick check of the air pressure I had only a couple of minutes to get to the line for wave 2. That started at 7:10 and was intended for folks to finish in about 5 hours. Failing to find my glasses, I was running out of steam and about to break down and give up. Melinda found my sunglasses, not my sport glasses, but what the hell, they protect me from sticks, rocks and sun. Grabbed my bike and bolted the 1 mile from our hotel to the race start, only to see the second wave begin the climb up the hill. I hammered the opposite direction to be sure that was my start. Confirmed, I turned and high tailed it to the back of the group. I felt like a total fool missing my start like that.
From here it was a long steady climb to the single track up Titan road. Slow and steady I made my way to the middle of the group and stalled out there when I found friend and riding partner, Rob Williams. Perfect! I had someone to share my grief with and suffer up the long climb. My legs wanted to keep climbing as we turned into the single track. I felt nervous taking the lead over him. I wanted to let him pass me, because I knew I would get too tired to make it work. Not to mention, my rear tire just wasn't what I needed for this dusty path on 33x19t ratio. I was off the saddle and going a snail's pace behind many people getting stuck in their climb or just going too slow for what my bike (not I) wanted to do. The single speed El Mariachi is a mountain goat and wants to climb all day. It takes a special rider and group to keep up with it. It just wasn't going my way, the the way my bike wanted it to be.
Finally breaking up on a descent down a hard, choppy, gnarly fire road I fell back from most of the geared riders with cushion. Rigid and single I could only do so much. My fat Nobby Nic on 25 PSI plus carbon bar was all there was to keep my arms from turning into the oatmeal I had for breakfast. I hammered through and on to the next single track section, up another climb and passing many that passed me in the downs. Typical story of a single speed racer. The thing to remember, you're in your own category when taking on one speed. It's a whole different game. The next few climbs is where I finally cried mercy and bounced off my saddle. I wasn't the only one, however. Many were finding the first dozen miles a bit challenging.
The most challenging part, several times in the single track, I knew I could make my climb only to have someone fail on theirs and leave me to hike up with them. For the first miles before the first aid station this was exhausting me. A couple of times I seriously questioned whether or not I was going to make it to the aid station at all. Finally arrived, I found my wind and met up with another single speeder, Mike from the Angry Catfish team, who was having back issues. I scarfed down some fruit and prepared a new skratch labs mix, showed him some stretches to get the pain out. Feeling better I jumped back into the saddle and found myself fast and feeling great, until one or two more climbs. My tire choice for this course was so off, it would only spin and nearly throw me off my bike. This was a let down.
Another fun, technical descent prior to the second aid station put me in a bad place. What started off as fun and flowing turned into a deep rut disaster. Going all too fast I snagged my front tire against a high wall of a rut and threw myself over my bars. This was a beat down. I pick up my bike and cleared the way as I took a moment to sit and think this lack of sleep and mid move race over. I planned to finish in less than five hours. Maybe a little over. I heard the course backwards was challenging and longer, but trained for it. No matter what you plan for, there's always changes and let downs. At this point, I wasn't going to drop and needed to put my head back in. Cramps, crashed, washouts, bonking, tired, no sleep--- no excuses. I was not giving in.
The cheer of the crowd at the second aid station was such a refreshing sound. The good jobs and positive comments on racing single speed was the best fuel. That positive energy will always keep you going. I snagged whatever was gluten-free, refilled my bottle and lubed my chain and hammered on. There were some climbs to come. The double track climbs weren't the worst of my day. The grades were just a little on the higher percentage for what I was used to at this distance. The dust in my lungs and the tired in my brain forced me to break. I yo-yoed with others that would pass me when I'd break. Staying strong through most of the longer climbs I managed to make lots of passes. The fire road descents and a couple techy drops, not so much. When it came to the super technical descents, complete with drops and other root varieties, I found that I was more enduro minded than some others. I managed to pull off some of the more technical feats. Hammering up more switchbacks in another round before finding my way to break for some amazing views of the canyon before the water station, I felt fortunate to just be here, breathing the fresh air and knowing I was forever changed after this day. I moved on. Hit the water station and emptied the accidental gross heed from my bottle and refilled it with fresh water. Popped a few enduralytes and moved on to another long climb, hoppi g to keep the constant cramps away. Beer and bacon was in my near future, then it was all downhill.
I made it through the last of the longest climbs cramp-free and feeling positive. Got to the party that is a beer and slice of bacon. I was offered seconds, but grabbed an orange instead and hammered on.
Totally beat down I got through the last gnarly miles and found pavement. A woman behind me shrieked with joy. We both agreed that it was a blast and wanted to go another round. Secretly, however, I've never been so happy to see pavement. Down the Titan road I went. Hammering my way only to be passed by several geared riders. A little bummed, but didn't care about anything but being wave to the finish. What's this!? Another steep climb through the neighborhood!? Yes please! Pounded past all of those that past me in the long descent out and made it to hit the downhill into town. Without realizing, another Minneapolis acquaintance, Paul Coe was seconds ahead of me. I was more focused on the hugs and kisses that awaited me.
Tacos, beer and watching my son tear around on his strider made the 50 miles of torture that much better. After having a few minutes with friends I was leaving for Colorado and meeting new ones from my neighborhood, I was content. The lack of sleep didn't matter. The cramps piercing my muscle tissues were forgotten. All that mattered was the adventure all g the way, the stories after, handshakes and hugs. Human contact. That's what it's really about. In a world that had gone so disconnected and digital, it's nice to have a moment with people that experienced something so real with you.
We may want to chase a clock or make it to the finish first sometimes, but in places like Spearfish, South Dakota, that stuff is out the window. So many people in front of me and so many people behind me all had something in common that day. We all had amazing stories to share. That's what the race is really about, no matter where you put yourself in the standings.
I'll be back next year. We'll see if the sleep makes a difference. And yes, I'm doing it on a single speed El Mariachi.
Now we're home in Colorado:
Next- trails, discoveries, climbing and the challenge of the new commute.