Everyone has a race that haunts them. Be it a crash, a bonk, a mechanical, weather, or any other unfavorable circumstance that causes the most horrific combo of letters know to mankind to be associated with that event, it doesn’t matter. I can barely even type them right now as my fingers battle the negativity… DNF. DID NOT FINISH. The unfulfilled, empty pit that comes tandem with those ugly letters is such a powerful feeling – one that I dread as much as having blood drawn.
Cheat sheet. A couple cues I jotted down for the confusing sections of the Dale Ball Trails.
The Santa Fe Big Friggin Loop has haunted me for 3 years. My initial attempt at it left me emptier than I’ve ever felt on a bike and maybe in life. A combo of heat, a hydration bottle mishap (either stolen or taken by animals?), 3 flat tires, and having to be at work early the next day, all played their role in causing me to pull the plug 70% into the race. Really, I’m being dramatic, but even now, it stings to write about it, as it feels like a bunch of excuses rolling off my keyboard tongue.
The “proof shot” taken from the radio towers at the top of Tesuque Peak – 12,051′ high.
VINDICATION. The only way I know to combat demons like these is to go back and crush them. Cut to present, and the 2015 Santa Fe Big Friggin Loop. The course has changed slightly since my last attempt – it’s actually harder now (didn’t know that was possible). The 13k you climb over 65 miles is about as steep, relentless, and techy as you’ll ever find. I stand by my opinion that this is the the hardest one day mountain bike race I’ve ever done (and probably ever will do). You don’t get too many “free” miles – as the climbing is often followed up by tedious, technical descending, that doesn’t allow much rest or speed or flow. You’re probably thinking, “That sounds brutal, and not much fun. Why do it in the first place?”
Summit of Atalaya Mountain after the first big climb of the race.
Well, beside the suffering and torture, there is a bountiful amount of fantastic singletrack and knockout views and the great feeling of fulfillment when you’re at the top of Tesuque Peak (12,051″) looking back down at Santa Fe knowing that you just gained over 8,000′ of elevation to reach this point. Absolutely brilliant. Then the knowledge that you still have around 5k more climbing to go settles in and the “uh oh, maybe we should call it a day” doubts creep in. Feelings of success and accomplishment of completing such a challenge far outweigh the fear or chance of failure. At least for me. But the polar battle keeps it interesting for sure.
The starting locos getting ready to rock at 6:15am.
So at 6:15am on a cool Saturday morning, I towed the start line at 2nd Street Brewery with 26 other people and one goal on my mind. FINISH THIS BITCH. Doing this race off the couch would’ve been a luxury as 14 weeks of filming Longmire has taken it’s toll on my body. I’d just finished a 70 hour work week, and got a 4 hour nap before the race. But I didn’t care how long it took me. Fitness, or lack of, would not stop this train. I decided to ride my new Carver Gnarvester bike which has 10 gears – 9 more than what I’m used to 🙂 No excuses. I would finish. That’s the attitude I kept. A mid-ride hail/rain storm tried to get in the way and stifle the positive vibes. Not a chance. Being soaked to the bone kept me cool and my 29+ bike rolled through the muddy rivers of singletrack and over wet roots and rocks like a big mutha trucka as I grinned from ear to ear. My teeth were muddy, and my resolve sharp. DONE. It took 14 + hours, good enough for 5th place somehow. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments on a bike. Funny how that works. Waiting three years to give it another go only made it that much sweeter. Life is good. Life on a bike is even better.
A sweet section of the Windsor Trail
Sure, it wasn’t all smiles. Bonked hard 5 hours into the race. Been there, done that. Fight the cramps, push forward, chant mantras. Next thing I knew, I was at the Big T campground and a drop bag with a Subway sandwich and lemonade awaited me. Along with my 3 ladies cheering me on!! Shove a 1/2 footlong down the throat and slowly the pickles and mustard did their job along with the 1000 calories of processed meat and semi-fresh veggies. Back on the bike, senses honed – climb to the top of the mountain now.
The sandwich that saved my life. Extra pickles and extra mustard helped bring me back from a near-catastrophic bonk situation at Big T campground.
The other “proof shot” of the radio towers at the high point of the ride.
Next was Rio En Medio. REM is where I had my 3 flats 3 years ago. During a pre-ride of the section two weeks ago, I had another shit situation in this section. I bent my rim, and spewed sealant everywhere. I used the tube I had, which punctured twice more and after failed patching attempts, I wound up hiking my bike out – turning a 1.5 hour ride into a 5 hour ordeal. Trust me, I had plenty of time to think during that hike… and the last thing I wanted to do was have another mechanical in this section.
Dented rim suffered while pre-riding REM section a couple weeks earlier. I hammered it back to nearly true, and it held up for the race.
Rio en Medio was flowing!! The rain had just started falling. Wet rocks and roots abound.
Lucky for me, the rain and hail, and my own fears kept me riding very conservative and I made it through this section unscathed and actually enjoyed it more than ever. I was zen riding as my tires continually found the right lines and rocks and roots seemed to part for me. Hallelujah!!
Watching Jason and Ted descend the Alamos Vista trail off of the Ski Area. I rode off and on with them for a while – good guys and good company.
The rest of the race was enjoyable except for one more encounter with demons climbing the Jawbone Trail to Windsor with about 20 miles to go. I stopped at the Discount Trail bag drop and scarfed some macademia nuts and swiss cheese washed down with a coke. Ahhhh. An hour later, I was pushing my bike for what felt like forever. I couldn’t even turn my granny gear for more than 20 yards without jumping off and saying, “ok, that didn’t work.” By this point, my legs had 12k of climbing in them and were yapping at me like those little dogs that look like rats. As I muttered to myself like a drunken hobo, trying to keep from crossing over to the dark side, I finally stopped and scarfed down a slice of cold pizza that I kept in my pocket for emergencies. That was the ticket. After that, the tide turned in my favor for the rest of the race. The rain stopped. The dirt became velcro and I got to descend Sidewinder on hero dirt as the sun set in front of me. FAN FRICKING TASTIC. By the time I got to the brewery, it was all a dream. These words, photos, lingering emotions, and blurry memories are the only proof it actually happened. I guess I have the Strava File too.
This slice of pizza saved my life as my body was planning a mutiny from my mind, while climbing up Jawbone Trail
This was a battle of me against myself against mother nature against demons. No mechanicals. The dented rim that I hammered back out held up well, no tubeless issues. BTW – Stans sent me out a new rim free of charge when I emailed them about my bent rim – when I get home to Mammoth, I’ll build up the new wheel – great company, great service. Just wanted to give them a shout for that.
On to the next adventure 🙂