“Well surely there won’t be any wind at 7:30 in the morning….” I said to pro-racer Olivia Dillon as we chatted across tables at the Firken Fox in downtown Carson City. She was kind enough to preview the course for us in her lovely Irish brogue, after having just taken fourth in the women’s crit race a few feet away. As she looked at me sideways and began to speak, a gust materialized, lifting and dropping anything not tightly secured
“Oh no, it’s windy then too.”
Carson City, Nevada is just over the California line: 14 miles from Lake Tahoe, 30 miles from Reno. Namesake Kit Carson sat astride horses, not bikes, and the city has an earnest western frontier feel. Locals overheard at the bar gave a tip of the hat to our presence: “All these bikers are great for business,” “This event’s bringing some spark to our town!” and the like. This welcoming is always a little mental sigh of relief. As we know from experience as well as Greg Heil’s article “Mountain Towns Don’t Always Welcome Mountain Bikers,” it is not always so. Locals can feel overrun by the surge of fit foreigners.
The inaugural Carson City Off Road is the last stop in a three-event series cooked up by Epic Rides, a race promoter whose focus is on the fun. With events like the Klunker Crit and Fat Tire Crit, “where roadies and mountain bikers peacefully co-exist,” lapping through the heart of Carson’s historic neighborhood and past the governor’s mansion, with a few beer tents along the way, downtown was a cowbell cacophony. On the front page of the event newspaper, snuggled up next to welcome messages from Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and Carson City Mayor Robert Crowell, was the invitation to consume alcohol freely, as the town had been designated “open container” all weekend long. But don’t be lulled into a false sense of mellow–with $100,000 in prize money distributed throughout the series, it’s no surprise we heard names like Katerina Nash, Todd Wells, and Carl Decker as an accompaniment to the clang of cowbell.
With three course distances on offer–15, 35, and 50 miles–there was something for everyone. However, with the seven-day Trans Alp stage race fast-approaching for my partner and I, we were in for 50. The long-since sold-out race began at 7:30am on Saturday morning, clear, sunny… and windy. It occurred to me that this particular wind was like that socially awkward friend we’ve all had at one time or another—mostly quiet, mumbles on occasion, and then suddenly blurts out something inappropriate in a really loud voice, like yelling, “SMELLS LIKE GOAT BALLS!” in the middle of a garden party. It was thus on the first long climb of the day. With a striking view of the Sierra Nevada transitioning to foothills, valleys, and lakes below, wind-friend jumped in suddenly from the west, flailing, shouting nonsense: “ASS HAT POOPSTAIN! LOOK AT ME!!!” and then sat back down laughing hysterically to himself, hands fluttering around his face.
As we left the dry, spare, short shrubbery landscape and tapered up into the classic pine forests of the Tahoe Rim Trail, the wind became our peaceful, soothing spiritual friend, speaking of mindfulness and nature’s curative powers. The Spooner Lake comfort station featured mean icy howlers that had the (magical!) volunteers bundled up in parkas, knit hats, and gloves. I fretted regarding the addition of a windbreaker, forgoing it with the assumption it would require removal in short order. When I saw the snowfield, a shiver passed from nose to toes, but I was riding strong and thought I might graze the bottom of the podium if I didn’t fart around with a jacket. Jackets are for sissies.
The “rules” of the Epic Rides are this: Have Fun. Be Nice. With the exception of one grumpy-pants who wouldn’t say “hello” as I passed him, every one of the 550+ riders in attendance adhered to these simple rules with gusto. Locals were out on course with cowbells and kind words, and other riders were happy to chat, yield, or request a pass. The final split for the 35 vs. 50 milers came at an inopportune time at the bottom of a four-mile climb. Much like wind-friend who spoke at the beginning, at mile thirty-something with a shit-ton of climbing in the bag (and my legs, lungs, back, etc.) another voice now took center stage–the voice of temptation.
“You know, 35-miles is good! That’s HUGE! You should do THAT.”
“No. I signed on for 50, I’ll do 50,” I replied
“But doesn’t your back/knee/thigh/earlobe hurt? This really can’t be good for you.”
“Shut up! 50!”
I didn’t actually know it was a four-mile climb, and that’s a good thing. The grade was fairly mellow, and I chirped along, deluding myself about its duration. “Gotta be just about there!” Another switchback, another smudge of fluorescent yellow ahead and above me on the trail, the jersey of the man who would unwittingly become my lighthouse, my signal for the end of what was quickly becoming a curse-inducing climb. All I wanted to see was his bright color leveling off, descending, in the distance. I’m sure he was/is a great guy, but he gained my wrath every time I looked up to see him still ascending, as if it were he who created this mountain we volunteered to flail against.
“Dude! Are you kidding me with this? How is it possible we’re still going up?”
Half of this was verbalized, half held internal. As it finally, finally leveled off, I nearly caught him, wanted to share my thoughts, to commiserate, but he was off like a cheetah. As he powered down and swooped away, I saw that the right leg of my lighthouse was carbon from the knee down. And now he was a different kind of lighthouse—an inspiration as well as a guide.
Zooming down into town, it was a relief to see that the contingent of orange-clad law enforcement was there to cheer me on and usher me toward the finish, versus chasing me down to give me a ticket for riding my bike, as can be the case in Marin. Or at least that’s what I hear…
Under the Maxxis tube arc I passed, saw my man cheering for me from the bleachers. What was he saying? Keep pedaling? Why? Oh, cause I wasn’t through the actual finish yet. Much as I’d like to say that it was these 4.6 bungled seconds that kept me off the podium, with a finish time of 6:07:03 and first through third Master’s Women at 4:23:51, 5:17:39 and 5:30:17 respectively, it was frankly laughable that I thought I had a shot at it. But when I was handed an engraved, silver railroad spike by a young boy whose delight in his task made him fairly glow, a hearty smile graced my weary 7th-place face.
From the pro side of the aisle, Katerina Nash (3:52:50) and Geoff Kabush (3:18:15) won their respective backcountry races on Sunday, and were also both winners of their Friday night crits. However, for the overall series that included the Whiskey Off Road in Prescott, Arizona and the Grand Junction Off Road in Colorado, Rose Grant from Whitefish, Montana took home the bacon for the women and Todd Wells from Durango
North Vancouver for the men.
Based on gossip, the rise of enduro events, and my recent experience at one of my favorite local races, the Shasta Lemurian, my Singletracks “drafts” folder contains a story entitled “Is XC Racing Dead?” If the sold-out Carson City Off Road with its beautifully-electric race scene is any measure, the answer, thankfully, is “no.” The live music, the vendors, hearing famous names over the PA, the well-marked course, and the earnest welcome from Carson City (open container or no), mean that this riding writer will be back next year.
But maybe for 35.
Last updated by Greg Heil on 06/24/2016 at 9:34am MDT.