This was not the confidence booster of a ride I had envisioned one week before TransRockies.
If there was ever any need for further proof that when it comes to sports, you're only as good as the people you practice with, then this ride was it. A lot of the people I ride with regularly (namely, the BBTC crowd) think I'm pretty fast. Or that I'm at least above-average fast. I often try to politely deflect their compliments or simply thank them. But the honest truth is most of my friends have no idea what fast is.
Brett invited me to join him on a shakedown ride at Mad Lake yesterday with some of his ride buddies. The six of us met at the Starbucks in Monroe and although I arrived at the appointed 8:30 meeting time, I was the only one. It would be 9:30 before we were back on the road and heading over Steven's Pass to the Lake Wenatchee area. In hindsight, at least I can say I had to wait on these guys once yesterday.
The group consisted of myself, my TR partner Brett, Nat (finished 4th in the SS division at TOE 50), Rick (accomplished cyclocross racer), Chris (expert SS endurance racer & freerider, works for FSA), and Craig (Open class XC racer and Cat 2 cyclcocross champ and SS cyclocross champ). Basically, I was out for a ride with a handful of the fastest freaks in western Washington. And although two of them were on single-speeds, that would certainly not prove helpful to my cause.
We started with a four mile road climb and within minutes of starting, my heart rate was already pegged at 182 and I was falling behind. Brett dropped back to see how I was doing and commented that Nat's heart rate was only 140, while his was at 160. I was already redlined and we hadn't even reached the trail yet. The temperature was rising, I was getting really hot, and I was already starting to worry if I would have enough water. The first few miles were a harbinger of what was to come.
The road turned to dirt and we climbed another mile or so to the Chiwawa/Chickamin trailhead. We turned left onto the trail and within seconds, four of the riders were gone. Just like that. The trail was super fun and roller-coastery and although I felt like I was riding along at a good clip, if not for Brett hanging back a bit, I would have been alone. My mind was short-circuiting. Had this have been a BBTC ride, I would have certainly been off the front at this pace. Yet, here I was, going pretty fast and I couldn't even see the guys ahead of me. One second they were describing the next turn, then they were gone.
My heart rate was able to settle back around 160bpm during this first singletrack section and although it didn't require much pedaling, we only dropped 200 feet in elevation -- this was good, as I didn't want to give up too much of what we had gained just yet. We regrouped at an intersection and turned left to begin the climb towards Mad Lake. Again, everyone disappeared. My heart rate was back up to 182bpm and I couldn't see or hear a soul. This next stretch climbed about 700 feet in a mile and a half and completely sapped my strength. When I had finally arrived at the cross-road a little over a mile later, I imagine the other guys were waiting for over 15 minutes. They were all really positive and said they didn't mind waiting and tried making excuses for me, saying "everyone has an off day". They were super nice. Yet, the truth was, I didn't think I was having that bad of a day. It was just that these guys were unbelievably fast.
Brett hung back with me for the next section, which was the final several miles of climbing up to Mad Lake. The other four took off like rockets and were out of sight within seconds. Brett is a great guy and super positive and supportive no matter the situation and although I was having a mini nervous breakdown in my mind about what this ride meant for TransRockies, Brett was ever cheerful and telling me not to sweat it. He's going to be a great teammate next week. The gradient eased up a bit and although we were still rapidly ascending, it was easier going and my heart rate was low enough that I could talk. Also, fortunately, we were in the shade and the rising elevation meant it was cooling off a bit. I was just about starting to feel like I could pick up the pace when we passed a pair of hikers. I asked how far ahead the other guys were and their reply was, "they're about 20 minutes of hard riding ahead of you." Who says that? 20 minutes of hard riding? Aye-carumba!
It wasn't long after that when we started to hear some pretty loud rumblings of thunder. None of us had raingear with us as it was bright blue skies at the car -- I actually took my rain jacket out of my bag before heading out -- but the high temps didn't have me too concerned about getting wet. I was more afraid of the signs we saw saying "etreme fire risk". The last thing I want is for us to get caught in a lightning-induced forest fire.
We continued on, ignoring the intermittent thunder, and eventually came to the large boulder field on the side of the mountain. We were picking our way up the rock field switchbacks, at 5900 feet elevation when we saw Nat and the others coming back down. They had gone to the lake, waited a few minutes, and then decided to just start back down. They were a sight for sore eyes, let me tell you. And just as we stopped to talk to them, the skies started to open and the rain came down. That settled it: Brett and I would turn around and not reach the lake. Thankfully, I might add.
It poured on us during the descent. And then when it wasn't raining, it was hailing. Pea-size hail was pelting us from all sides and the flour-like silt we climbed up in was turning into a bike-plastering compound that really started to gum up the drivetrain. But man was that descent fun. I did end up falling down a waterfall and slamming my bike so hard on a rock that I certainly would have broken my carbon fibre bike if I was on it. "That's why you buy titanium," said Brett. Yep! I landed on my feet, as I did with the two or three crashes still to come this day.
We made our way back to the crossroad and the continued down the 1.5 miles that saw my undoing earlier on in the day. Once at the intersection though, we didn't turn right to return the way we came. No, we would be going further. With more climbing! And all singletrack! Yay! Not.
The last ten miles to the car were tough. I was out of water. My heartrate was once again ticking upwards of 175bpm, and I was alone. Brett finally stopped waiting for me and just enjoyed the ride at his own pace -- not quite as fast as the other guys, but definitely faster than me. By now I had to walk a few of the uphills and my body was sore as hell. Even my arms were sore. And, like I said, I crashed multiple times. Heck, I crashed my Moots more times on this ride than I did in the previous 4 months I've owned the bike. I contemplated bushwacking out to the road and descending the pavement back to the car, but chose not to in case Brett was waiting on the trail up ahead. Good decision too, because he was doing just that at an intersection close to the cars.
All in all, this was an epic ride done at a superhuman pace. We rode 29 miles (25 of which were singletrack), climbed 5200 feet, and my pedal time was just 4:20. I imagine the four guys up front, who rode even further and climbed more, pedaled for less than 4 hours. They spent the rest of the time waiting on me. I went through all 120 ounces of fluid on the ride, didn't take any pictures, and never ate my PB&J burrito. I'm not a fan of social rides, as they tend to feature way too much standing around, but I can't say I'm a big fan of the hammerfest either.
Note: I just want to add that all of the groups of the guys on the dirt bikes we encountered on the trail yesterday were super friendly and polite. Even when they sat with their engines off probably for 5 to 10 minutes waiting for me to pass them. It's customary to tell people you're passing how many are still behind you and when Brett told them "one more behind me" I doubt the guys on the moto-bikes thought that would require waiting for so long. Yet, in each encounter, when I finally came pedaling past they always said they didn't mind waiting and that they hoped I had a nice ride. Way too much bad energy is spent "battling" other user groups these days and trying to find bullshit reasons why only your preferred means of travel on trail should be allowed. Sure, the dirt bikes might chew up the trails a bit, but I'm more than happy to endure a little trench flour on the trails if it means meeting a bunch of really nice people who are just as happy to be out there in the backcountry as I am.