For the record, this was Christin's idea.
After a successful High Cascades last year, I wanted to share the joy* of riding a hundred miles on a mountain bike with her, and due to everyone I know getting married this August we couldn't go back to HC 100. So she found Wildnerness 101, and that was that. At no point, I swear, did I say "Wilderness will be fun" or "I've heard great things about Wildnerness."
The nice thing about doing a hundred miler within driving distance of home is ACTUALLY KNOWING PEOPLE at the race. The downside there, of course, is that when your two teammates (Hughes and Brian) drop you on the first climb, you KNOW WHO THEY ARE and it's annoying and makes you immediately question the wisdom of sticking to the "slow start" plan.
The first climb, like every climb at Wilderness 101, is long and on gravel. In this case, 20 minutes and 1000 vertical feet, but who's
counting Strava-ing? The difference is that on the first climb, you're still fresh and excited and surrounded by people and you have no idea that this is actually going to be one of the easiest climbs you do all day.
Nevertheless I let Brian and Hughes ride away.
However, when we hit the top and progressed into rolling gravel roads, things got a bit racey-drafty and I started to think that going harder to make it into something resembling a group would have been a idea. Luckily a large man was enjoying the reduction in climbing and towed me along most usefully.
On a day that ended up having some really, really sketchy descending, it seemed only appropriate that even the gravel road descents would be hairball. Some guy were braking on the first one, but c'mon, we're RACING and I'm sure if a car comes up this one-lane road I can stop, I'm only passing dudes on marbled gravel at 45 mph.
Any illusion of control I had was entirely swept away by a TERRIFYING outrigger on a right bend, when I discovered how much loose gravel and a cambered road want to you put you in the ditch.
The reward for this was catching the tail of the Hughes-Brian group at the bottom. It was 15-20 guys strong and being driven by some FIT BROS at the front, so it made for a great ride. Obviously we were still on gravel roads so it was "easy" to sit in, except on the climbs when it was "way above my hundred mile pace, but I won't admit it" to sit in. Whee!
|Guess who doesn't take pulls |
I realized I was hungry, and being hungry at mile 15 is bad, so I sat up to eat a (terrible Starbucks oh god why did I buy that) breakfast sandwich and let the group ride away once more.
Any sadness from this was counteracted by reaching aid 1 and discovering that my teammates were "waiting" for me!
|"I've had this foot down for like five minutes, man"|
Then we rode off up the next long climb (there's always a next long climb) and we talked about STUFF! I think this was one of my favorite parts of the race, actually, because I wasn't in a world of pain yet. We talked about normal bike racers stuff, which is to say Deiter Drake.
After this climb comes the first thing on the course (at mile 22) that could be considered a "mountain biking." It is actually a wide doubletrack that you could drive a Honda Fit down, but the key word is "down," as it drops 800 feet in 3.2 miles without a single turn, and thus is FAST. I immediately tried to drop Brian and Hughes to see if I could make some changes to Brian's "heart rate zone," but it didn't work. The brutality of bombing eroded doubletrack at 20+ mph did however make me glad that I was running LUDICROUSLY HIGH TIRE PRESSURE.
At the bottom of the trail we started climbing and there was a very loud metal-on-metal sound. Brian said "um I just broke my crank" and I said "are you sure?" because I'm an idiot.
Brian had lost a chainring bolt at some point and then lost another by BREAKING HIS SPIDER. We all stopped and looked at his bike dumbly for a minute before concluding that he was totally hosed and going about our business.
The thing that makes me most sad about this was that now I'll never know if Brian's superior fitness was going to crush us all.
Hughes and I rode the next gravel climb together, but then we hit an even more real-section of trail (like, it had a "singletrack" spot) and I put a rider between us, and it was downhill, and that was the end of that. I saw him about a minute back on the next gravel climb, but it's not like he waited for me at the last aid station, so why would I wait for him now? Exactly.
I was now without teammates, but not alone. I linked up with a dude from Arizona as we headed into another bone-shaking doubletrack descent just in time to get TOTALLY FREAKING DUSTED by him on the way down.
Like every downhill at W101, this one started out fun, but averaging 22mph for 4 miles on rocky doubletrack has its price, and by the end I was in disbelief that my hands could hurt so much while riding in a straight line without braking. Arizona bro was on a dualie, and I clung to the hope that he was only dusting me due to the equipment advantage, because DAMN, I thought I was good at this.
Guess what comes after this? A GRAVEL CLIMB! In fact, this part of the course was so uniquely evil, I'm just gonna give you the stats, starting at mile 40:
34 minute gravel road climb, followed by...
7 minutes of descending straight down the fall line, followed by....
31 minute gravel road climb, followed by
6 minutes of descending straight down the fall line, followed by....
30 minute gravel road climb.
The fall line descents were BANANAS. Once again, I thought I was a good descender, but hanging onto the brakes for 6 minutes down a hiking trail at race pace was enough to have me on the verge of tears from the pain in my hands. Seriously, I was doing that thing (I know I'm not the only guy out there who must do this) where you have to make some kind of manly expression of pain (I prefer "aaaaaaaaahhhh!!") because it you don't, you're going to start whimpering.
ANYWAY. It was mean. I would like to go back with a trail bike and real brakes sometime though.
I rode most of that section with Mike Maggs, and by the third climb he was starting to kill me, because I just wasn't that interested in pushing hard for half an hour up a gravel road climb yet again. He was on a singlespeed, so he didn't really have that kind of luxury.
He did wait for me a bit on the way up, so we could keep discussing our "opinions" of the course. I was relieved to find that he was also trying to figure out why people think this race is fun; if he had told me he was having a blast at that point I would probably have dropped out.
We topped out that last climb at mile 60 and went onto the first flat singletrack trail of the day. At this point, if my ENTIRE BODY wasn't trashed (you ever had your triceps ache while climbing seated? yeah, me neither) I would have characterized this flat, rocky trail as "fun."
Maggs and I rolled along for a while. Eventually the trail started to tip downwards a bit, and we realized that were starting to enjoy ourselves. Of course by the end of that trail we were back to ripping a doubletrack descent so fast you had to ride the brakes, and my hands were basically locked into sad little claws on the bars, but whatever, we both agreed we had experienced a fleeting taste of "fun "back there.
A while later, we turned onto another trail and headed toward the bottom of Cooper's Gap. This trail had turns, and a grade that allowed for some pedaling instead of braking, and I got SO CONFUSED that I started f-ing HAMMERING. Because mountain biking is actually a pretty fun thing when you have corners and gradient changes and whatnot. Using my GEAR DOPING I dropped Maggs and put in a legitimate 10 minutes of super-fun shredding.
I hit the next gravel climb (how many times am I doing to type "next gravel climb" here?) and DESTROYED IT. I realized, halfway up, that I am a purely adrenaline-based racer. When I'm having fun I can push SO HARD. When I'm not having fun, I pretty much suck. It took me 60+ miles to find the fun in this race, but I finally found it and now it's ON!
After this climb we hit the rocky ridgetop of Beautiful Trail, which only added to my fun-drenaline, and then the crazy sidehill rockslide descent on No Name Trail. This was another 4 minute ride-your-brakes-and-don't-die descent, but now I had my FUN going and I legitimately enjoyed this one. Of course my hands were still trashed at the end of four minutes (really, that was only four minutes?!), but no
A few miles of gravel road later and I was at the fourth aid station (mile 75)! I got this!
I had received some intel from Jimbo about the excruciating number of false summits between aid 4 and aid 5. It's funny how, even with this information in hand, there was STILL a heartbreaking number of false summits on this stretch of the course.
While this part was not FUN, I could sense the finish approaching and thus had a level of adrenaline that allowed me to steadily pass people. Around mile 90, I made a left turn onto a doubletrack ("Panther Run Rd") and caught my Arizona bro from, like, 5 hours ago!
It was now 1200 vertical feet over 5 miles down to the final aid station so this part was going to be totally easy, I thought, forgetting that every single downhill at W101 is NOT EASY.
This section turned out to be a rocky, straight-line doubletrack descent just like every other doubletrack descent, with the added bonus of being flat enough that you basically had to pedal the whole thing. Arizona bro quickly set about embarrassing me in the same manner as he had at mile 30, but THIS TIME I WAS MOTIVATED. So I drafted him while trying to pedal and dodge rocks I couldn't really see on the trail that went on forever.
After like 10 minutes of this nonsense I was hurting like hell, and the trail got steeper, and I was getting seriously concerned about flatting on a rock I couldn't see. Arizona bro gapped me once more, and as soon as I was out of the draft he pedaled off into the sunset. ARIZONA RIDE BRO NOOOOOO!
Somewhere in here I broke a spoke, too, which makes me feel a bit better about the droppage.
And when I got to the bottom, Arizona bro was fixing a flat, which made me feel even better!
At this point it's mile 95 and I'm delirious and the finish is so close I can taste it, so obviously we now have a section of trail that is mandatory hike-a-bike through a giant sidehill boulder field on wet rock faces with slippery bike shoes and cramping legs and seriously I was more afraid of breaking and ankle here than getting hurt anywhere else.
This final stupid section of trail pretty much summed up Wilderness 101: super hard, super challenging, super rewarding to finish, and not even remotely fun while you're doing it.
I finished in 8:38, good enough for 45th overall (out of 200ish? 250?) and my brain immediately started erasing how horrible it was. It's been 3 days now, and my brain is already back to "oh yeah, I'd totally do that again if Christin wanted to," which either means my brain is stupid or I really like my girlfriend.
Speaking of my girlfriend, after all kinds of pre-race apprehension about not being able to climb, getting time cut, or needing lights, she TOTALLY CRUSHED IT and finished hours ahead of the time cutoff in 12:11. And this was achieved with a blowing-up rear freehub that was forcing her to PEDAL WHILE BRAKING on the steep descents so her drivetrain didn't explode.
|Also, she can drink beer five minutes after finishing, instead wondering if she's going to puke for an hour like some people in this blog.|