Sunday, August 21, 2011

Peak Adventures - VT 30 mile MTB Endurance Challenge(aka 666)

OK, so that title is a little confusing. At first glance I thought it was part of the Rt. 66 series. Then I assumed it was a 30 mile race, kinda long but not too bad. Then I clicked on it, on bikreg, and saw that it was also called a 6 hour race. Hmmmm? This was gonna take some checking out. There was no "confirmed rider" list, so I couldn't ask anyone what was up, so I emailed the promoter. It turns out this used to be a 6 mile loop and riding 5 loops was quite a feat. So they thought maybe people could do 6 in 6 hours and go beyond the 30 mile mark. I guess they added another 6 because they knew it'd be hell.

There's more to the story. This place is privately owned land and the owner is an endurance junkie with plenty of money to burn, so he set out to create the coolest Mt. bike trails around. Well I have to say he succeeded wildly! I got a little background by asking the race director, Jason, all of my curious questions. It turns out they used a small excavator to cut benches into the side of the mountain for miles and miles. It's been ongoing for years now and the result is phenominal.

The main feature is bermed 180 degree turns. I'm not lying, there must be 400 - 500 of these babies. The material that makes up the soil up there is largely clay with tons of small busted up shale. In other words the most perfect material for building berms ever. There are also numerous wooden bridges and other man made features that seemlessly blend into the landscape.
This one had a wooden ramp run in. The fun factor on this 20 minute descent is a 10! Some of the berms are as tall as 10' on the back sides. If your brakes ever failed, you'd probably launch into orbit. The best part about this place is that it's free to ride whenever you want to, and they'd love to see you there. You can see some of the turns on that map, but trust me, it doesn't do it justice compared to what you'll see if you go.

The reason I found this race was that I wasn't thrilled with the $135 entry fee for the other mountain bike race in town. I blame Battenkill's promoter for this recent phenominon of races being ridiculously expensive just to enter, never mind the rest of the costs associated with this hobby. It's turning into triathlon, which is a sad, sad day. So while all of my faithful readers know, I like to support the small races and their promoters, I pulled the trigger and entered this race that cost $40 and included T-shirts and a pig roast post race feed in a really cool and laid back barn/farm atmosphere. There was also a $100 KOM/QOM award along with $250 to the male and female winners.

I drove up Friday and did a course recon. I almost shit! First of all I couldn't believe the enourmous playground that someone had clearly designed specificly for mountain biking, but also for how friggen hard it was gonna be. As fun as it is to bomb down a mountain into 180s with huge berms, it takes a lot of upper body strength and hand pressure to drive it, especially if you want to stay agressive to keep the fun as high as possible. The initial climb went on for an hour, and I finally popped out onto the treeless peak to be rewarded with phenominal views.
Once again the pictures don't do justice to the views I had up there. So that would be the KOM line. At race pace it'd still take close to 40 minutes, maybe even more. I sort of thought it'd drop right back down to the start, but the course has been lengthened to almost 9 miles over the last few years. There was a rolling section at the top that required a lot of physicality. Greeeeat! Then the Down hill started and it was glorious. Finally, at the bottom we got deposited into a field that gave you the first legit drinking area, only to face 2 hard, steep dirt road ramps that bring you back to the start finish. Which is at Amee Farm right on the world famous Rt. 100 in Pittsfield, VT.

At 8:45 we had a pre race meeting and there was maybe 75 or 80 of us. The start would be LeMans style. Great, I wanted to do some running before 6+ hours of mountain bike racing on a savage mountain. The way the end works is that whoever goes the farthest in 6 hours wins. Well thats a little confusing to determine a clear cut winner. If I roll in after 5 hours and 50 minutes and 2nd place rolls in 2 minutes later on the same lap, then I win.... right? Wrong. You can start another lap as long as you're under 6 hours at that point.

We had to run around part of the farm to spread the field out before we jumped on bikes and started right into the single track. I put my bike as far away as possible, right at the entrance to the single track. I had to run further yes, but once I got my bike I didn't have to worry about someone screwing up in front of me. It was really silly looking at the start. A bunch of cyclist with gear packed all over their bodies for a 6 hour greulathon, complete with helmets, camel backs, pumps and all sorts of shit sticking out of pockets sprinting around greenhouses and compost piles. What a bunch of wierdos!

At the horn 2 guys took off like a shot. One was a big dude that seemed to be going a bit too hard. He went about 75 meters and then started to slow up. When I passed him he was breathing hard enough to melt ice. The next guy was running kind of duck footed, with a frame pump bouncing around in his jersy's back pocket. I decided to pass him too, before it fell out and tripped me up. In my back pocket, I could hear my CO2 cartridges clinking around. I got to my bike and bolted onto the trail 1st. Mission 1 was complete. The next goal was to go as hard as I needed to go to win the KOM, and then to shut'er down to conserve for what was gonna be a long hard day.

Chris Gagnon (Mt.Bikemind) put up strong resistence to this plan. It took a good 20 minutes of hard riding to put a gap into him, but I still had a long way to go. He wasn't letting up, I could constantly moniter the gap on all the switchbacks. I got up there and took the preme, and immediately shut it down. Chris joined me a few minutes later where we did introductions and chit chatted a bit. He was going good, and I had NO intention of pressing him. After all, I just went really deep and was covered in sweat and mud with the heat of the day coming up, and oh ya, we had more than 5 hours to go.....or so I thought. In reality I had more than 6 hours left to go.

Chris went well for the remainder of that lap. I stayed on his wheel and took a bottle out of my self feeder at the start finish line. He went harder than I wanted to up the climb and I was a little concerned about it. I was gonna let him go for a bit, but I found myself on his wheel again when he made a small mistake. When we got to the top, he stopped at the aid station to fill a bottle and I kept going. I never saw him again. I rode the downhill fast, just because it's so friggen fun (before your arms cramp). I took another bottle at the s/f line and headed up the hill again. It was a little after 11, so the 2 fastest laps of the day took more than 2 hours. I did the math in my head and didn't like the answers I was getting. I didn't exactly train for something this extreme, and I was hoping to squeak by doing as little as possible. I took it super easy on the climb this time up and kept looking for Chris, but I couldn't see him. Up near the top though, I saw another guy that clearly wasn't lapped. He was in ccb kit and he looked solid. You can pass right by eachother by 100 feet or so and be 3 minutes apart on some parts of the course. This was one of those spots. I din't panic, but it definitely gave me pause. Over the top I was in good shape, but just after that, on my least favorite section, I saw him on one of the opposite switchbacks. Holy shit! He's right there now. "OK time to ride JB, you took it easy all the way up, so you should be able to go hard for a while". I did that and then ripped the downhill. I fell off one of the wooden bridges at one point, but recovered well.

At the start of lap 4 I couldn't see him, so I decided to conserve again. I rode the climb at a reasonable pace and kept looking for him. I didn't see him except for long stretches where I could see 4 or 5 switchbacks back. At the top, I needed to fill my bottle up and the gatorade just wasn't flowing fast enough out of the spigot. I finally topped off and got going again. Then on one of the 1st turns in the section I was now starting to hate, I looked over and he was 15 feet away from me, but he still had to go around the muddy turn I had negotiated 10 seconds earlier. I couldn't believe it. This was starting to feel like a horror flick where the relentless monster just won't stop chasing you. I paniced a bit and started riding as hard as I could. Of course I made mistakes all over the place, and the course was starting to deteriorate quite a bit as well. Not to mention I'd been racing for over 4 hours now.

I managed to somehow put some time on him, and then fell off the same stupid bridge again. I felt cramping as I put my foot down to avoid the crash, and thought, "this is starting to go badly". On the descent it's a little harder to check on him because I had to look up instead of down, but of course I was still doing it.....until I almost smucked a tree when I should have been looking at the trail. That sort of shocked me into focusing on myself a little better and committed to doing my own thing as well as I could and stop worrying about him. But make no mistake, he was on my mind.

The bottom of the descent was my favorite part. There was one spot where I could finnaly let it go a bit and speeds were easily 30+ mph. I shot another gel, and battled up the 2 climbs going out of the field and took another bottle at the s/f line. I also reloaded my self feeder. I guess I finally got my shit together, because lap 5 was maybe my best of the race. Definitely not as fast as laps 1 or 2, but my best in terms of managing myself. I rode smart and clean. I knew smoothness was the key to saving energy. At the top I had a solid lead again and I was looking forward to the descent. Of course I messed up the same bridge again. When I say I fell off of it I don't mean that I crashed. You know when your line is bad and the balance isn't gonna correct it in time, without wiping out, so you jump the bike off, down into the mud and rocks instead of going off like a cat out the window. Theres always a chance you could crash doing that and it seems to be an ideal spot for cramps to make their presence known. That happened this time. My left hamstring turned into a clenched fist, complete with blinding pain. I tried to stretch it out the best I could, but after 5+ hours, that doesn't do much. Somehow I got it to stop and and continued on the descent.

Near the bottom, I remember my eyes feeling like they were sinking into my head. That's because they were. It's when you run out of carbs, fuel, and fat and your body starts burning muscle for energy. Lovely! I was sort of hoping that was gonna be enough to clinch it, but I feared the math I had done earlier in the day. Just before the last climb I passed a guy with a watch on, so I asked him what time it was. 2:40 was the answer. Just what I figured. If I stop now, then the horror movie monster will surely ride up the hill into the sunset taking the win with him.

I stopped at my cooler and had to fill a bottle with water, and grab 2 more gels. My friend Glen was sitting there in his chair with a few other people around and he asked why I was doing another lap. As I was trying to explain it to him, my hammy siezed up again and I dropped the bottle I just filled with my last electrolyte in it. I saved half of it and topped it off again. He was still quizzing me, when I said, "I gotta go".

I was almost resentful of having to do another lap. I considered that he might not have started the 6th lap, and that I was in fact already the winner. I actually considered waiting on one of the switchbacks to see if he was coming, and if he didn't, then I'd know he didn't start another lap and I could just ride down and park it. But I did know. I knew he was just around the corner tailing me from just out of sight, like a good horror movie monster would do. Waiting to actually see him would only increase my fear and shorten my lead. I had to commit to another 70-80 minutes of this torture. I was seeing spots now, and the trail had deteriorated to complete rubbish in places. I was burning muscle and my bike was completely caked in thick mud from the 3 or 4 short mud sectoins on the course. Good Times!

I didn't have much choice on this last lap about effort output, because some of the sections were all I could do to get up there. I thought back to flying up them 6 hours earlier with Chris and that seemed like 1000 years ago. I kept looking back for the monster, but didn't see him 'til one of those really long view sections I mentioned. The gap was solid and barring accidents I should be able to hold it, but this was clearly thin ice territory and anthing could happen. At this point whoever gets to the line 1st is the winner. I feared the worst from the cramps, so I wisely dismounted for tough sections rather than trying to dig into muscles that were clearly already pissed at me, and for good reason too!

Near the top, I heard an engine running. I knew what it was. The guy that had been on top of this mountain all day, at the kom/aid station, was getting off of it on his quad. It's funny when I get this far gone, that I actually realize to myself that I'm still having coherent thoughts running through my warped brain....almost like I shouldn't. I just hoped he wouldn't run me over. He tip toed around the corner, just in case there was a rider there, he left me a line and said there's still water up there if you need it. That was good news, because I was planning on it, and he had one of the two, 10 gallon coolers on the back of the quad. I got up there and tried to fill my bottle, but there was only a weak trickle coming from it. I knew I had to use my other arm to lean the cooler toward me, but I can't tell you how impossible that seemed. I chose not to as I could barely lift my arm off the handlebars. I settled for half a bottle and carried on. I was starting to panic a little in the section I had grown to loathe, that I might see Mr. ccb stalking me, but he didn't pop into view on any of my feared sections. I just had to get to the descent without cramping. I had the dreaded tricky bridge left between me and the start of the descent. I obsessed about it, of course. We all know thats the perfect way to botch it, which I did. My legs cramped almost everywhere when I had to make my best attempt at athleticism to avoid the crash, but it was so widespread that it was almost better than having one specific spot attacked by the big C.

I got back rolling again, knowing that I was in serious trouble and on my last few breaths of sporting life. Soon, no more would be possible. I died 1000 deaths on the downhill berms. What was tons of fun all day was now terror filled, running for your life with even my arms cramping now, in my triceps. I could feel the huge blisters under my gloves throbbing. I had 10,000 little scratches from all the thorn bushes lining the course on my sunburned, old man's skin. I had mud in my eyes, ears, nose, sphincter and every other place you can think of. My shoulder blades felt like 1 continuous piece of steel welded to my neck and spine like gussets on the Golden Gate Bridge. My bike weighed 1000 lbs, and I swear there was a grand piano hovering over my head in the sky, just waiting for the perfect moment to crush me. It was friggen glorious! I saw the monster on one of the switchbacks overhead, and I thought to myself..."of course, how could it be any other way?" He had gained considerable time on me YET AGAIN, and 1 mistake would be catostrophic. I may have forgotten to mention the fact that the winner gets $250 dollars and the 2nd placed rider gets ZERO. Ya, that would really suck to lose in the last 5 minutes of what was now close to 7 hours of racing. These sorts of races are usually separated by huge time gaps, but no....I got to race and strategize for 7 hours straight.

I bombed the last fun part of the descent onto the field. I waited a bit to look back and there coming out of the woods was my monster, only a couple hundred meters behind me.....if that. I still had the last 2 brutal dirt road ramps to polish off. I didn't look back on the first one, but half way up the last one, I looked back to see him at the bottom. At the top I looked again, he was half way up. I knew I had it now. I would normally have put in a little pace to close the deal and cross the line with some sort of speed and style, but I simply couldn't. I limped along the last 200 meters and crossed the line. The horror movie monster, who turned out to be Kurt Schmid crossed the line 10 seconds later. After 6 hours and 52 minutes of racing the winning gap was 10 seconds. You gotta be absolutely shitting me, right?

We shook hands, and then I tried to get off my bike. That didn't go too well, but I finally managed. Most of the pig was already eaten by everyone else who had been finished for hours. I ate my first bite of solid food in 8 hours. It was a pile of cookies with m&ms as chips. I can't tell you how delicious those were. In the race, I drank about 10 or 12 bottles, mostly gatorade with electrolytes, some water and about 12 gels. I'd definitely try to drink more next time and try to get some solid food in as well.

UPDATE: Here's a cool video of the first few minutes from the start from Steve Segenchuk. Thanks Steve!

This type of racing isn't for everyone, and I'm not sure it's for me, but you don't have to do this race to enjoy these trails. They're eager to spread the word about what they've got there, and I'm trying to help with that here. If you consider yourself a serious mountain biker or trail runner, then you owe it to yourself to go check this place out. You won't be sorry.

Thanks for reading, if you made it this far. JB


Matt said...

Congrats on an amazing race, and thanks a whole bunch for the props on the trails that I've been working on for the last couple years. Its great to hear!

Jonny Bold said...

Hey Matt,

Thanks, and thanks for the hospitality Friday and Saturday. You should be so proud of the work you've done on that mountain. It's something lots of people will enjoy for the rest of time. What a gift to give that is!

I'm so envious of the life you guys live up there.

See ya soon, JB

SteveS said...

Great write-up.

Here's the video from the start before I came to my senses and stopped trying to ride with you guys.

finn maguire said...

Great race report!

Cathy said...

but it was fun, right? Right? ;) Nice job, JB!

Alby King said...

Excellent recount - not sure how you remember all these details. Sounds like a "must do" for next year.

Hill Junkie said...

A great read Jonny, and nice work! Now I have to sample those trails before this summer closes out.

icycle said...

Nice work on the recent MTB races JB. Been following your blog for a long time, great race content. Wondering what race(s) (if any) you're planning for this coming wknd? SteveS and the rest of Team BUMS will be helping me put on the Treasure Valley Rally for our 4th year, be great to meet you.

Jonny Bold said...


Thanks man. This weekend is tough with so many quality events. I was gonna try to get to TVR originally since I'm leading the efta series, but I think I'm leaning toward racing the road bike Saturday and the TT bike on Sunday. Of course, all bribes are being are being seriously considered though;~]

Eiric said...

Cookies make the best recovery food
Hellva' ride JB

John McGarry said...

Excellent retelling of the fun and agony to be had on that awesome course. You write well! I survived 4 laps in 6:45 and despite the exhaustion, had a blast the whole day! Huge thanks to Jason, Matt, Joe, Andy and all who have done so much to bring a great mtn biking vibe and resource to Pittsfield.
John Mcgarry

Chris Gagnon said...

Hey Jonny- It was great to officially meet you during our first 2 laps together. I was on your tail on lap 3 and closed the gap back to within 50 feet when my muddy chain folded into my front derailleur. It literally took me 15 minutes to get it lose - had to wait for someone to ride by and give me a tool so I could move up my derailleur. By that point Kurt had passed me, caught up to you, and then I was playing catch up. I was pissed and knew it would have been a tight finish. Sunday's race was horrid for me.

neverforgranted said...

I was waiting for the part where you dig through a garbage can looking for food.

Jonathan said...

Any idea how this amazing looking place faired when Irene passed through? Scarry to think what might have become of such a special place.

Matt Baatz said...

I'm the trailkeeper and I live in the barn, so I know. Five houses to the north of the village green were destroyed. Bridges are out on either side of town and there will be little access for weeks...We've banded together as a community like no other place I've seen. I'd say we've become even more of a special place, and its still beautiful. The trails fared pretty well, though Fusters Bridge (the metal one across Tweed) is long gone and the ravine is much deeper now. Once the public has access again I'd love some help on the trails to get this place thriving again. Thanks!