Race Report: Beezley Burn

The time had come to shed the winter clothing and leave the fenders and the gore-tex home and head east along I-90 to the land of rolling hills, sand, and sagebrush. Although this wasn't my first trip to eastern Washington, I can't deny my surprise at the sudden shift in environment. One minute you're driving through a quintessential Pacific Northwest scene replete with jagged snow-covered mountains and countless evergreen trees stretching as far as the eye can see; and then, just a few dozen miles later you're in, well, to be perfectly honest, it kind of looks like a hillier version of the Texas panhandle. The shift is incredible, it's otherworldly, it's eastern Washington.

I made the drive out east Friday afternoon to the tiny farming community of Ephrata to race the Beezley Burn mountain bike race. It would be my last short-course race of the year and, since it was nearly 2.5 hours from home, I figured I'd get my money's worth and race in the Expert class. Besides, what's the worst that could happen... other than coming in last place? I struggled with the decision of which bike to bring as I had heard it was a pretty rough, rocky course, but one look at the rich, chocolatey mud that coated my full-suspension bike had me racking the 29er soft-tail afterall. After a quick photo stop at Wild Horses Monument near the Columbia River Gorge, I pulled into Lyon's Park in Ephrata right alongside a couple other racers in an RV.

One of the horses at Wild Horses Monument,
overlooking the Columbia River.

Jeff and Paul were really nice and let me pre-ride the course with them Friday night. Jeff was a former pro, racing in the Pro/Open class and Paul was a Sport racer who I had raced with a couple times already this year. This is a good time to tell you what I learned this weekend: When "soft-pedaling" with a former professional racer, it's only an "easy ride" if you too are a professional bike racer. My heart rate was red-lined trying to keep up with Jeff and it was a good several miles before I decided to just ease it back and study the course and not worry about trying to keep up with him. There was no point in even trying -- the guy had been racing since 1989 and was in awesome shape. Nevertheless, the pre-ride was invaluable. I learned where the hills were, which hills to big-ring and which to not, and, most importantly, where the rocky, technical sections were and how to get through them.

The course was 7 miles long with 755 feet of elevation gain and Expert class would race 3 laps. Based on our pre-ride, I began to have doubts about my ability to finish all three laps before the next race started, some 2.5 hours after my race started. I struggled to sleep through the night for fear of embarrassing myself come morning. Do I belong in the Expert class? Am I going to come in last? Are the Pro/Open guys going to lap me? Actually, I think my fitful sleep was more due to the uncomfortable air mattress I slept on in my Element.

I rolled up to the starting line at 9:30 am under clear, dry skies and temps nearing 70 degrees. The Pro/Open class managed to get the ten entries needed to secure the full $1,000 in prize money (donated from the town managers of Ephrata to the race organizer as an incentive to lure out-of-towners... genius!) and started just a few minutes before us... just enough time for the dust to settle. Literally. There were 16 people racing in the Expert class, with 6 of us in my 30-39 age group. The race started and 7 or so racers immediately sprinted out ahead while I found myself leading the charge in the second pack that had formed. The first half-mile was on a gravel road, then we quickly dive-bombed down a rocky, sandy section of steep singletrack before working around to the main Beezley Hill area. The course was 90% singletrack and, for the most part, the course winded up and down the side of a massive sagebrush-covered hill. As a rule of thumb, an average of 100ft of climbing per mile is considered an overall "hilly" ride. This was hilly.

Catching my breath after a steep down-and-up.

Grinding my way up another climb.
(Loving the way those uniforms came out!)

My goal for the first lap was to simply escape traffic, get into a good groove, and try and put some distance between me and whoever was behind me. I finished the first lap in a time of 39:11 and feeling strong. Another racer was drafting me down the gravel road stretch and my desire to lose him on the singletrack almost led me to wreck on the steep descent leading off the gravel road as I bunnyhopped into the downhill a bit too fast and almost endoed upon hitting a small bush. Fortunately, I was able to pull out of it and keep the rubber side down -- score one for the big wheels! There was a brief canal crossing one-mile into the race and I had time to look back at the guy on my tail -- the blue dot on his number indicated he was in my age-group. I had to drop him and I knew just where to do it.

The early section of singletrack was pretty flat and I was in the big ring pushing a pretty hard gear leading up to a steep climb. The guy behind me was so close to my rear wheel that I didn't want to alert him to the approaching hill by downshifting -- he'd hear the shift -- and I had a feeling that he was probably looking down and not aware of the steep, loose, climb coming up. Not sure if it would work, but I mashed my way up the hill without shifting in hopes of catching him by surprise on a hill he wasn't ready for. When I looked back a minute later, I had put about 50 yards on him. Coincidence? Strategy? I don't know, but I continue to pull away from him throughout the rest of the second lap. I finished my second lap in a time of 40:13, barely a minute slower than my first lap.

The third lap was uneventful. Although one guy passed me late in the second lap, nobody else passed me during the entire race and I reeled back in two people on the third and final lap. I was really pushing hard now, trying to make sure that I finished the race on a good note and, for posterity's sake, finish in under two hours. So much for worrying about not being able to finish before the Sport race began... I finished the third lap in a time of 39:58 for a total time of 1:59:23. 21 miles and 2330 feet of elevation gain and nearly all singletrack in under two hours. Mission accomplished!

I wound up placing 4th out of 6 racers in the Expert 30-39 category, although the two guys I beat both dropped out after the second lap so the official results look as if I came in last. Whatever. More importantly, I finished in the middle of the pack among all Expert racers. Not bad considering I'm not really training for short-course racing at all.

The race organizer, Jake Maedke, did a tremendous job staging this event and for securing a truck-load of free giveaways that were raffled off after the races. Everyone took home something ranging from a socks/lube/grips to a new set of Haye's hydraulic disc brakes or even a Park bike stand. As for me, I won a large tub of HammerGel, a DVD by the Collective, and a pair of socks -- my raffle prizes were worth more than I paid in entry fees! And the fun doesn't stop there! The New Belgium Brewing Company (Fat Tire Ale) sponsored the post-race BBQ. I didn't make it over to Jake's parents' house for the BBQ and beer, but I'm sure it was a good time. As for the Beezley Burn, it was one of the best organized and funnest events I've done. I'll be back next year, for certain!

Special thanks to my sponsors BradyGames and Re/Max on the Ridge for supporting me this racing season -- the uniforms look great! I also want to thank Justin Kooy for graciously sending me the photos he shot while out on the course. Thanks everyone!


Justin said...

Great write up! You describe the drive from the coast to Ephrata so well (as I've taken it hundreds of times). Congrats on finishing the race as well! By the way, its Jake Maedke (his mom is my boss).

Thanks for the photo credits!

E said...

Congrats!!!!!! Great Race Report.

Frank said...

Holy Crap! Those tires are freaking huge!

Maarten said...

Nice race attire you got there!

Doug Walsh said...

Thank you all!