Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Breck Epic Stage 5, Wheeler, King of The Queen Stages

This is another post that didn't make it up on the Mountain Bike site. Some of it is territory I have tread upon in the past, but it was apropos of what was going on. I am so glad I stayed up writing these every night during the race when I could have been sleeping for a couple hours before the 8:10 AM starts. But hey, I got in for free, so whatevah dyude.

Thursday, August 26, Course #5: The Wheeler Loop

There wasn't enough coffee in the world to wake me up this morning, and there wasn't enough sealant in my tire to stop the air from gushing out when I slammed a rock fifteen minutes into today's stage. Doesn't sound like an auspicious start does it? But it was really a great day despite the cement in my brain and the further abuse I suffered from the pointy rocks. Today we ascended Wheeler Pass, which towers over the ski resort of Breckenridge, solidly above tree line. As I coasted down Main St. in the cold at 6:30 AM, the moon hung, nearly full, what seemed like inches above the peak we would be climbing in just a short time. That sight reminded me that soon the sun would occupy that very same position in the sky and that I had forgotten to apply my 50 SPF sunblock, a mistake that could have proved deadly for someone as incredibly white as me.

Back to the flat thing for a second...

People always say "Oh, you got a flat, how unlucky." No. Flats don't happen because of bad luck; they happen because of bad riding, or bad tire choice. It reminds me of a quote from That 70's Show:

Eric: Bad things keep happening to me, like I have bad luck or something.

Red Forman: Son, you don't have bad luck. The reason bad things happen to you is because you're a dumbass.

Keeping your bike together until you reach the finish line is part of this game. I flatted three times this week due to inadequate tires, and once because I blindly rode into a rock — dumbass. That said, neutral support like they happen to have at this race is pretty sweet, those guys have helped me out repeatedly throughout the week, check out The Organic Mechanic on Facebook, they rule.

So after the flatting and the freaking out and the cursing and the infantile histrionics (oh, I didn't mention all that? OK, we won't talk about that bit then) we headed up Wheeler Pass, I do not possess the words to describe how beautiful this thing is, it kind of sums up what makes this race so awesome. I race bikes because I love the combination of fun and suffering. Hike-a-biking over high mountain passes like Wheeler and descending down the other side epitomizes that philosophy for me. The ascent was so hard (the suffering) and the descent was so insane (the fun, combined with a dash of terror). And this isn't the kind of descent where you can recover, it's every bit as exhausting as the climb. It's a hang on for dear life, white-knuckle, brake-pumping nightmare.

Which leads me to my next point...

I've talked about acclimating to altitude and western-style speed, but there's also the acclimation to heights. The Shenandoah Mt. 100 race in Virginia has a descent that is just as crazy as the one off Wheeler, the only difference is the SMT100 version doesn't have the abyss factor. If you over-cook a turn on Wheeler, you are going base jumping with your bike, and a bike doesn't work anywhere near as well as parachute when it comes to arresting your deadly plummet to the hard, hard ground below. A couple times on Wheeler I came around a corner sliding, and there it was, calling to me — the abyss. It gave me vertigo and caused my sphincter to clench up so tight I pulled a butt muscle.

Wheeler is 13,000 feet high. And speaking of high, depriving your brain of oxygen makes you act really, really funny. I came over the crest of Wheeler hike-a-biking with a guy named Adam from Michigan, there was a photographer up there, "We're having a speed walking competition, if you don't have one foot on the ground at any given time, you're DQ'ed." Man, I thought that was A-material up there in the clouds. When we got back on our bikes and began trying to navigate the traverse, I felt like I'd had a few too many Ranger IPA's, I was a total mess. If I ever need to prepare for riding singletrack at high-altitude again, I think I'll take a couple Percocet and go try to ride my local trails back in Massachusetts.

Tomorrow the fun to suffering ratio is supposedly skewed in the direction of fun. Each stage of The Breck Epic has been better than the last, so I can't hardly wait.


Ryan said...

"Keeping your bike together until you reach the finish line is part of this game."

That's such a great point. I hate it when people complain about doing poorly because of mechanicals - HEY JERK, maybe your shit wouldn't break if you took care of it!

Anonymous said...

Spent a couple of my younger years living in Breckenridge and that ride and A Basin are the two things that still really stand out. Its a once in a lifetime ride and glad that I was able to do it twice.
Just think of all the benefits you're gaining now by being at altitude. You'll kill everyone when you come down to sea level for ten days or so.

Carney said...

Excellent write-ups and hell of a job out there! I ride up there most weekends and still have a hard time breathing at 12k!