Month: May 2012

Idyllwild Spring Classic

   Friday night I was dropped off at the Sacramento airport with my gear and my bike all boxed up. Racing for the big-boy team has motivated me to start hitting up the big races, so I was off to the only stop in California for the American Mountain Bike Challenge, the Idyllwild Spring Challenge. Working full time makes the solo 8.5 hr drive from Davis to So-Cal the night before a race pretty much a no-go. Fortunately, I have some friends in Orange County going to the race who were also generous enough to pick me up from the airport and house me (thanks Brendan and Larissa!). The travel and bike assembly made for a late night, with me collapsing into my sleeping bag around 12:30.

At Brendan and Larissa’s house.
Who knew the OC was so green?

   We left early the next morning to make the 2 hr drive out to the San Jacinto Mountains. Ignorant of the degree of variation of southern California biomes, I assumed the race would be in the high desert. I was pleasantly surprised as we approached the venue and climbed into more of a pine forest, not dissimilar from that of the sierras, albeit a little drier. During registration, it became apparent that the attendance at this year’s race was less than that of years past, but with around 30 cat 1 riders, there was still plenty of competition.
   The race started off quick, and immediately went onto winding rolly singletrack. I took an upper-midpack position and settled in. The course, which was one big loop, alternated between doubletrack through alpine meadows, sandy singletrack descents, fireroad climbs, and a technical singletrack climb. A real classic mountain bike course! I was consistently making ground, especially on the climbs, as the course generally climbed up to the high point for the day. Nearing the top, the climb became a pavement, granny ring, gut buster. I took advantage of everyone seeming to be suffering a little more than I, and made some more ground, having been told it was all downhill after the peak. Following, it was a long fast sandy descent. Not knowing the trail, I was a little overly cautious, and lost some time dragging the brakes a little too much. At the bottom, the trail became windy, punchy singletrack. I hit this hard to make up for my perceived lost time, and because I was sure I was near the finish. A few miles later, I passed an aid station and inquired how much was left, fully expecting an answer on the order of 2 miles. “Nine more miles”, shouted the volunteer. Uh oh, in trying to make up time, I had been neglecting to hydrate and I could feel the cramps coming on. I immediately started drinking the rest of my rocktane, upped the cadence, and slowed the pace, but it was too little too late. Further down the trail, I hopped off my bike to run around a women’s pro in a technical section and both hamstrings cramped. I was stuck on the side of the trail for a minute or so while several of my competitors passed me. My muscles finally loosened, I got back on the bike, but I could no longer punch it up the climbs.
    Frustrated that I let myself get into a situation where I was cramping again, just like the previous few races, I pedaled toward the finish as fast as the cramps would allow. On the last small hill near the finish two more racers passed me as I crawled up to the top of the last climb. With 20 seconds on me, I decided that I would pull them back on the descent. A minute later, I pass one on the side of the trail with a mechanical. Opening it up a little more and taking some more risks I was able to pull back the next guy and keep the lead through the last 200 meters to the finish. I finished 3rd for my age group and 12/35 out of all of the cat 1 riders. I really enjoyed the race they put on this weekend and despite the long trip, I would probably go again next year. Also, I think I’ve finally learned my lesson about cramping. Here’s to hoping for some better results in the second half of my season.


2012 Ashland Spring Thaw!

Last weekend was the long anticipated 2012 Ashland Spring Thaw.  This year marked the 21stanniversary of the hometown race, with XC on Saturday and DH on Sunday.  The XC went back to the classic 26 mile course after a change due to snow levels the year prior.  The course started with an endless 9 mile fire road climb followed by another endless false flat 11 mile fire road traverse that finally led to the fast,  long (but not long enough) 6 mile singletrack descent back in to town where it finished in beautiful Lithia park.  After spending all Friday climbing up and down the course with a backpack full of course markings I was pretty tuckered, but a good night’s sleep took care of that.  The best feeling in the world is being able to roll out of bed and ride to the start, and the wait was finally over. After breakfast and a few last minute course tapings it was time to line up.  I jumped into the middle of the pack and before I had a chance to send one last minute text the group was already climbing.  I took off with the group, phone in hand, and of course fumbled with my pocket and had to let the pack go as I picked up the pieces of my phone and scrambled to catch up.  I hit the climb like a bat out of hell, motoring back up to the guys I had started with and hitting the top of the climb with a solid group. 

I knew I had to stay with the group and suck wheel as much as I could, but hitting the top of the climb didn’t mean it was over from there.  As I attempted to suck down a GU I yoyo’d off the group on the false flats and soon found myself in a solo TT.  Not too much longer another train of guys I had struggled to beat up the climb picked me up for a mile of two before I again found myself dropped and Han Solo.  Frustrated and tired I mashed most of the road by myself and finally grabbed a group I could stay with.  We pulled the last few miles of road where the boys let me go ahead and do my thing on the singletrack.  I thanked them as I dumped my gears, let out a few hoots and hollers at the aid station, and headed on my way down the home stretch.  I was so excited to finally hit the downhill I forgot all about the misery I had survived and found my third wind instantly.  I was screaming “rider back” the second I started catching dust from all the roadies that had dropped me on the road.  I was making up gobs of time and could taste the finish when out of nowhere, on a forest service gate go-around I clipped my bars and got ejected.  I got up fast, twisted my bars straight and jumped back on the bike, sprinting back to life only to find I had burped my front tire nearly flat.

Photo by Rick Tillery

It was still ride-able so I pressed on, but as soon as I hit the last technical descent of the race, BTI, I realized how low it was and had to baby the rest of the descent.  I lost most of the time I had made up and got caught by all the brake-riders.  It was a pretty disappointing to finish this way, but I made it in one piece and had the downhill the next day to look forward to.  That night I met up with the Ravina brothers who had brought me up my bike for the downhill; a demo mount vision xm8 (thanks Mark!).  The next morning we showed up with only enough time for one practice run before they closed the course.  After my one run I pedaled back to the top, lost some air in the fork and tires and it was time to race.  I was pretty nervous racing pro for the first time, but moving up is all part of racing and I was also excited for that.  My time had come and before I knew it I was in the start gate telling jokes as the clock hit zero and I was off like I stole it.  I hit all my lines I wanted to with a pedal thrown in anywhere I wasn’t riding the brakes. 

I made a quick detour off the trail that might have cost me a bit but I was focused on finishing strong and fast.  I finished with a 4:10, just barely 11 second off the winning time and new course record.  My time had put me right smack in the middle of the heavily stacked pro field, a decent result for my first pro race and a new bike, but still a lot of room for improvement.  The weekend was finally over and what a weekend it was, so much fun racing mountain bikes!  Big thanks to Marin and the Ravinas for the last minute bike, see ya’ll at the first Oregon Enduro in Bend!!


Shasta Lemurian race at Whiskeytown

The weekend of April 28th I made a last-minute decision to head up towards Whiskeytown (outside of Redding) to do the Shasta Lemurian mountain bike race. The Lemurian is a hard race to say the least. The long course is 26 miles with about 4,500 feet of climbing. Ouch. Due to my hectic school schedule this year (read: inside studying or in Oroville at my internship facilitating family meetings, not outside training and riding my bike 20 hours a week), my spring season has been more or less non-existent. So, I was pretty nervous to line-up for the Lemurian and expected I would be in for a good beating. But, Ethan came back from a 3-week training in Dallas for his new job and we decided we’d both head up and race. I figured if he had the confidence to do the race after not riding at all for 3 weeks, I could do it too!
So, we headed up early Sat morning with Mike Castaldo- a local Chicoan and badass endurance racer. We all got registered and chamoied-up and I said hello to Danny and Bekah, who had driven up from Davis last night and camped at the race site. I did a little spin around the start/ finish area to get warmed up and tried to overcome the nervous cramps my stomach was experiencing. Before I knew it, the whistle had sounded and our large group of riders (maybe 400?) was off onto the road and starting to climb. My starting position wasn’t very strategic, but I kept a steady and painful pace, following Ethan’s wheel. I stayed with Ethan for about the first 15 minutes of the race and cheered Danny on as he passed me. My heart rate continued to pulse on the climbs as I found a group of guys who seemed to be riding at my pace. We stayed together down the descent and across the pavement. Once were on the first section of flumes, we were cruising and cheering each-other on. Once the course shot back onto the dirt road, we mashed into our big rings and were flying up the steady climb. Unfortunately, we blew past the right-turn back onto the singletrack. Thankfully, someone in my group had a team-mate in the group who chased us down to tell us we had gone the WRONG WAY. Thank goodness! Our little diversion cost us a few minutes, but could have been much worse! The rest of the race from there was a blur of fun singletrack, steep painful climbs, and friendly and encouraging exchanges with the guys I was riding with. I got a lot of props for riding up the steep climb sections and felt much more confident on the descents than when
I raced in 2010. I never saw any ladies (past the finish when the top pros crushed it past me). But it was a beautiful day and the trail conditions were perfect. I started to cramp slightly on the last false-flat dirt road climbs, but managed to finish at 3:06, first for expert women 19-34 and 6th overall for women. Not bad for a grad student! Bekah finished 5th for expert women after a crash on a steep descent (still getting used to her new bike). Danny finished 11th for expert men 19-34, despite fighting a cold and having a slow start. Mike (who we drove up with) got 3rd in the veteran’s men category with a smokin’ time of 2:35. We hung around for a bit and enjoyed some burritos and soaked in the sun. It was great to see Danny and Bekah and to chat with Katelyn Hill, a super fast gal from Arcata who has been killing it this season! She got 3rd for pro in the race and improved her time from last year by 23 mins- amazing!
Also- sweet shot of Danny from the race here

Napa Valley Dirt Classic 2012

April 15th was the annual Napa Valley Dirt (more like mud) Classic at Pacific Union College in Angwin. I drove out from Davis the day of and was very excited for my first race of the season, and since last July. The race started off quick up a steep paved road. Never being one quick off the line, I quickly found myself falling backward in the pack. As the course meandered over rolly fire road for the next few miles, I started moving up. The fire road transitioned into tight, windy, forested singletrack with punchy climbs. I was loving life on my 29er hardtail. I was able to turn tighter and quicker than I had last year on my full suspension 29er Fisher, and certainly faster than those around me. Taking advantage of the section I was able to pass several riders. Despite several days of hard rain that had considerably dampened the trails, the route was in pretty good shape but now included 10+ creek crossings. The course became fire road again and began descending, turning into dry rutted, kitty-litter over hardpack (sketchy!). After making it through the last hairy bit of the descent unscathed, it dawned on me that it was hot, and I had not been drinking enough. Enter the death climb. After all the descending, we had to climb all the way back out to the start. I hadn’t looked at the course profile and quickly realized that this climb happened to be quite steep, which didn’t work out well for my dehydrated body. About half way up I popped, resigned to the granniest of granny gear, and set about just trying to finish.  After losing many places slogging up the back side of the hill, I finally made it across the line in 10th for cat 1 (19-34) and about midpick. Will I learn my lesson and study the course profile and drink more for Sea Otter and Idyllwild? (foreshadowing: probably not).


Sea Otter 2012!

After weeks of planning and anticipation Sea Otter weekend had finally arrived. We packed the car to capacity and headed south from Ashland with four pasty Oregonians hungry for sun. On our trip down we made a detour to stretch our legs and enjoy the birthplace of mountain biking, Mount Tamalpias. After we got a good taste of the local trails we scarfed some burritos and continued south to Aptos where our driver Austin’s mother so kindly let us stay for the night.

Where’s Matt?

The next morning we were up bright and early so we could get to the venue, get signed in and settled at our campsite, and relax until the Cat 1 start at 1:30 in the afternoon. Just as we had expected, it was hot, insane hot for us Oregonians. Bekah and Danny were right behind me at registration, signing up to race that afternoon as well. After Matt got done registering for Saturday’s pro race he disappeared in to the land of Sea Otter while Austin, our trusty Rastafarian water boy and cat2 crusher Shane, and I found shade under the only tree in the venue right by the pond. We kept cool just as long as we could until it was time to get a little spin on and make it to the start line. 1:45 ticked around and we were off with just barely over twenty riders in our 19-24 cat1 age group.


For most of the first lap I went back and forth with Austin, doing my best to not boil over in the extreme heat. I was doing fine until about halfway through the lap I charged one of the blind rutted descents and ejected a bottle. It was my only full bottle left so I stopped real quick to pick it up only to have Austin and another rider fly by and the bottle eject for good about thirty feet down the trail. I was frustrated to say the least but I knew the aid station wasn’t too far ahead so I conserved made due with the water I had until the aid station where I had to stop and fill my bottle and again watch Austin and a few riders re-pass me. We had caught up to group of riders from our category and stayed with them until the final climb where Austin was starting to lead them away when I had to stop yet again to relieve myself of the Redbull I had consumed before my race.

Frustrated and thirsty I finished up the lap and to my surprise Shane and Matt were waiting at the lap with two fresh bottles of water for me and news that Austin was about 2 minutes ahead of me. With new water, the first lap behind me, and Austin just ahead of me I felt my second wind. The second lap seemed to be a lot cooler with a slight breeze, full bottles, and faster descents without brake-riding-line-blocking roadies to follow. I managed to keep the rubber side down and get a fresh bottle at the aid station giving me enough water to squeeze down the 500 or so Gu’s I went through and finish the 40 mile course in 3:16, 9th in my age group.

I had survived the heat and had improved on last year’s time. I later found out that Danny didn’t get quite as lucky, he had ejected a bottle early on leaving him parched and nauseas starting his second lap. He made it a few miles and decided to turn back when he started getting dizzy. Bekah had survived the heat and crushed her race, finishing 10th in her age group and just under 2 hours. Like a lot of rider’s she didn’t enjoy the percentage of road there was in the course, but said her new hardtail handled it very well. It was a hot day of racing but a great break from the cold Oregon weather we had been used to riding in. The next day Matt was off in the pro race but got hung up in a crash midway through, dislocating his finger. He used a co2 cartridge to splint his finger and was able to finish the race rubber side down. We spent much of saturday hiding under trees and applying sunscreen since it was another scorcher. That night we went out to dinner with Marin and some of the factory riders. We listened to stories of Steve “Gravy” Gravenites fighting for his right to ride his bike all night and had a great time with the Marin crew. Sunday came around faster than expected and before I knew it we were already packing up, saying our goodbyes in the venue and back on the road north to Ashland. It was another Sea Otter for the books, my first year on a Marin and it was a great to meet some of the faces behind the names, looking forward to the rest of the season! See you at the Ashland Spring Thaw!

Photos by Shane Stiles

Till next time!