Facebook deserves some credit for my recent trip to Utah. Early in the summer, fellow cross racer Amanda Carey posted enthusiastically about the Mt. Ogden 100k mountain bike race in Huntsville, UT. The singletrack course with ~10,000 feet of climbing at altitude kept beckoning to me all mountain bike season. So, when I started getting updates from my principal about the impending start of school and I still hadn’t found a trip inspiration for summer vacation, I decided to go for it.
Someone wrote once (probably on Facebook as well, or maybe it was in the Bhagavad Gita?) that bigger decisions should be made swiftly by relying upon gut instinct, while more mundane decisions should be made deliberately by weighing options and judging pros and cons. There were a whole list of logical reasons not to go to Utah: the Hampshire 100 was the same weekend, close-by with tons of great competition; my car had just eaten up tons of cash I’d intended to use toward travel; August in Utah is hot and not ideal for mountain bike vacationing; no one else I knew was going out there; etc. My heart was set on it, however, so I decided hell just make it work. Of course none of it would have worked without the help of several people.
Amanda connected me with the race director Steve “Yeti” Andrus who is just terrific and I encourage you to go to his race if you too are jonsing for the west. He was extremely welcoming and offered to provide race entry and host housing. Another draw was his guarantee of equal payout to men and women. Riverside Cycles came through in a huge way with travel assistance and a bike tune-up. Scott spent the better part of an afternoon replacing anything that was not a permanent feature of the frame. When he took a mallet to the bottom bracket I gasped a little, but in the end the bike worked fabulously all week.
Another fellow cross racer Rebecca Wellons for her thorough instructions (including photos) on how to pack a Lefty in a bike case. Fortunately I have a little bike and it fit very easily into the Trico case. On the way to the airport, Dave gave some tips about “supporting” the bike case on the scale, and off I went.
The security line at Logan was a mess. Directly in from of me, three young lads struggled unsuccessfully to cram six regulation size plastic ziplock bags stuffed with minis into their backpacks. It was as if they were toting along conversation-starting handsome canines: many ladies, young and old alike, offered to be of assistance or to come along with the lads on their travels. The boys strew their belongings into the aisle and kicked them along as the line crept forward. Interrupting the entertainment, an attendant began to berate us loudly: “If you want to know why this line is moving so slowly, it’s because you aren’t removing your liquids. So if you don’t want to stand here forever, get them out now. And by liquid I mean anything you can stick your finger in and swirl it around. Gels. Pastes. Gelatins. Mousses…” Several people ducked under the belt railings and scurried off to retrieve plastic bags. After I finally made it to the checkpoint, my Tupperware of Cytomax powder caused alarm: “I’m going to take this back for testing” the agent told me and disappeared for about ten minutes before begrudgingly returning it.
If you’re going to fly with a bike, Jet Blue is a great choice. They only charge $50 each way for up to 100 pounds, and besides that they have fairly comfortable seats, snacks, personal TVs, and generally pleasant service. They are super accommodating to unexpected developments. My connecting flight at JFK was delayed an hour and a half because the aircraft was coming in from Barbados, “and so they have to go through customs which is going to take a long time,” announced the attendant who seemed surprised by the international status of this daily incoming flight. “But we’ll be providing free movies during the flight.”
In any case, by the time I flew into Salt Lake City, it was 2am there. The man at the Avis rental booth pulled up my reservation and made a snide remark about perhaps I should upgrade to a car that would actually fit my bike case. “It fits in my Honda Fit,” I retorted, “so as long as the seats fold down it will be fine.” Which he assured me they did. I dragged all my luggage about ¼ mile across the parking lot only to discover that my assigned car was a two door Ford Mustang. While I could probably have fit the case easily under the enormous hood of the car, the seats did not fold down and the fancy trunk was completely useless. Back I marched, with a little less enthusiasm, only to discover a line of five customers at the counter. Why all the bustle at a quarter til three in the morning? The first man’s credit card was not working, and I began to feel dizzy. Fortunately, the attendant called me up out of order and offered a discount on a larger car, without even saying I told you so.
It was about 4 am when I finally walked in the door to the condo where I was staying in Huntsville, but it was worth it! It was huge and gorgeous, with a Jacuzzi, several large TVs, and lovely scented hand soaps. Well, ok I noticed all of this around 11 am when I finally awoke from my exhausted sleep.
Since the race was at altitude – between 6,500 and 8,500 feet – I was curious as to how I would feel being a sea level gal. I’d heard that when tackling a race at elevation there are two options: either go several weeks early to fully acclimate or go as close to race time as possible. I went super easy on my day before spin Friday, just enough to loosen up my legs, take some pictures, and check that my bike was working properly. While I felt no ill affects from altitude, my bike was not exactly working since I had put the derailleur on askew and it looked like a withered lobster claw. Also, my brake had smushed back together. Dave patiently texted me through fixing all of that.
The race course was about 7 miles from the condo, and I considered riding there as a warm-up on race day. That was, until I drove the route Friday night to pick up my packet and realized those 7 miles ascended about 2,000 feet a steady 8% grade.
The road up to Mt. Ogden
Race morning came and I was grateful to be nervous! It meant I was ready. To clarify nervous… I asked 6 different people to borrow their pumps and one other woman to use her pressure gage, because I didn’t trust any of them. I peed about eight times. I started chatting with my neighboring racers (I am not outgoing).
Finally, we were off with the bang of Steve Andrus’ shotgun!
Our 2-lap course traversed 62 miles of single track beginning immediately with an 11.5 mile climb. We did that climb, a 2.5 mile, and a 1.5 mile climb each lap plus an additional 2.5 mile 7% climb once.
The long climbs out west are just… epic. When you attempt and finish them, you feel as if you have done something. They start off nicely enough, bopping around, gently climbing and leveling off. Then once you are lulled into thinking you have made a nice new friend the evil temper comes out. Suddenly, you are working a lot harder and are hunched over with your chin nearly touching your handlebars because the pitch is so steep. And you realize there are no more recovery flats. Also, the oxygen is disappearing. “Just keep pedaling. Keep fighting.” I kept saying to myself. Which of course means I was suffering like a dog and not feeling so very well. I kept my heartrate below my red zone because from what I understood, if you aren’t used to altitude and you go into the red, you won’t recover!
Every once in a while, I caught a glimpse of the stunning scenery below. As the trail wound up over 8,000 feet, rocky slopes descended into a patchwork of pastel greens and blues. That’s about all I noticed as things were fairly time-sensitive during the race.
Finally I reached the descent, and could let my cardiovascular system recover a bit while my arms got a workout navigating the switchbacks and steep sections.
I had crested the first climb in second place, but after two descents had dropped to fourth! I steadily made my way back to 2nd over the next series of climbs, and entered lap two 5 minutes back of Jenny Smith in 1st. The volunteer ticked off my race number with a sharpie which distracted me from noticing the water bottles being handed out at the start of lap two. Things began to fall apart. My first sip from my camelbak induced a dreaded gurgling noise and I felt myself sucking against plastic as a rising sun aimed heat rays down like a giant, glowing hairdryer. The next aid station was 11.5 miles away at the top of the climb so that gave me something to think about. Bingo. I had remembered seeing scattered water bottles the first time up the climb, ones that had jumped ship as riders bounced over rocks or shakily retrieved them for hydration. Project: select water bottle to snatch. Several were nearly empty but I shortly decided upon a clear bottle full of pink liquid. At first I tried squirting it into my mouth to avoid contact with the nozzle part. That might work on a road bike along the newly paved roads in Boxford, but not while mountain biking over roots and rocks and I gave up and hoped I didn’t contract some horrible disease from mystery pink liquid rider. It had a watered down bubble gum flavor. I wasn’t sure where to store the bottle so I shoved it down the front of my jersey.
That settled, I had bigger problems, mainly that I couldn’t get my heartrate up. My legs just couldn’t push the way they could the first time up the climb. Evelyn the 3rd place rider – who I had been outclimbing all day – came sailing by me about halfway up the climb and I never saw her again.
I was determined to hang on to the last podium spot, and I kept going as hard as I could even though it didn’t really feel like racing at that point. I did hold on to 3rd, in a time of 6:18, which was about 9 minutes behind 1st and 2nd place who had crossed less than a minute apart.
All in all the race was amazing and I definitely recommend it! It was the longest race I’ve ever done time-wise and the first one at altitude, and I think more experience with both will help.
I’m including some photos of my trip to Moab after the race because if you like to ride mountain bikes that is another place you should definitely go!
The new Moab brand trails
Andrea on “The Whole Enchilada” ride. Descends from ~11,000 feet to ~3,500 feet in just over 30 miles of varied trails!
Such a unique place to ride!