As my alarm buzzed yet again at 5:15 in the morning, I seriously considered turning it off and just skipping the race. And if I didn’t have to write these blogs about my experiences, I might have done just that.
For me, the hardest part about racing the five-day Crested Butte Ultra Enduro wasn’t the technical downhills and it wasn’t the long miles: it was the mental fatigue from rising well before the sun every morning, preparing mentally to race my bike all day long, recovering from the exhaustion at the end of the day, and prepping all of my bike and gear to repeat the process the next morning… and the next and the next and the next. The mental strain of competing and riding day after day, at maximum intensity, shouldn’t be underestimated. This was my first stage race, and I’ve gained a new-found respect for the hardcore stage racers who live and breathe this life of eternal struggle. Let’s just say, I don’t know if it’s for me!
As a result, when I showed up for the shuttle on the morning of the third day and learned the start had been pushed back and that our first stage of the day was going to be canceled, I had absolutely no complaint–despite a small voice in the back of my head that wanted to ride a trail I hadn’t ridden before. But after perusing the map, I realized that dropping the first of three stages was effectively cutting our mileage for the day in half, and I was totally in favor of a little respite!
A soaking rain had set up right after we finished racing the day before, and unlike most high mountain storms, this one just sat in the valley, dumping rain all day and all night. The sky was clear the next morning, but the trails were completely saturated with water… and the forecast threatened more rain that afternoon. We began our truncated day of racing with a heinous hike-a-bike climb up a steep, slimy, washed out trench of a trail. If stage 1 was as fast and rooty as everyone claimed, but this wet… we were in for one crazy day of racing!
After slowly sliding our way up the mountain with a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process, we finally gained a saddle and got to pedal a bit of the transition stage. Once we rounded the final corner, we were confronted by a massive view of Mount Crested Butte and the valley below us, with big clouds from the dissipating storm blowing around. Thankfully we had one stunner of a view to look at, as the start of stage 1 was delayed about an hour and a half in an effort to let the trail dry more.
While I can’t say whether or not the waiting around allowed the trail to dry a bit, since I hadn’t ridden it before, on stage 1 I set a new personal record for pinning it in the wet. Mud flew everywhere as I blasted down the trail, excavated and redistributed by the massive WTB Breakout tires I was running. Trail 409.5 was one heck of a fast stage, especially if it would have been dry, but trying to ride it slowly, even as sketchy as it was that day, may have been even harder. As I slipped and skimmed over endless root webs in a waterfall section of trail below the boughs of a stand of tall pine trees, I felt like a downhill racer in the world cup, channeling Danny Hart’s muddy mountain biking prowess. Of course, when I slid out in a muddy, sharp corner, Danny’s spirit skipped a beat—but I got up quickly and back on my way.
In fact, when I checked my times a few weeks after the event as I prepared to write this article, I discovered that the muddiest, sketchiest stage of the week turned out to be my single best finish, with a 10th place result in my category, cracking the top third. Not bad at all!
After wiping the muck off my face and gathering myself mentally, I began the pedal up the Farris Creek trail. While I would have much rather descended Farris Creek than climbed it, it still made for quite a pleasant transition stage, with only a few moderate pushes mixed in with the pedaling. A snapped chain put a small hiccup in the climb, but thankfully it wasn’t on a timed stage! After a quick repair courtesy of a power link I’ve had stashed in my pack for, probably, years, I was back on my way again. (Always bring your repair parts, kiddos!)
The second and final stage of the day was the Caves Trail. One of the smoothest stages of the week, the challenge of the Caves Trail came from blind hairpin switchbacks hidden in the tall grass–some of which, if you missed them, would result in the rider flying off of a cliff. Needless to say, I played this one pretty safe, but had a blast ripping down the mountainside, with a clean finish.
Despite a small crash in stage 1, day 3 went off pretty smoothly: all stages completed, and no major injuries or mechanicals. Success!
Physically, the hardest part of the race was over, with an even shorter day in store for day 4. But day 5 loomed on the horizon, and I wondered to myself, “How am I going to race a lightweight, 140mm trail bike down double black diamond DH race runs that I’ve never ridden before?” I had a lot to figure out before Sunday arrived…