This photograph has jumped out of a perfectly good airplane, gone ice climbing, won bike races, lost bike races, seen the birth of my daughter, been intoxicated in Dublin, bought hash in Amsterdam (sorry mom), and joined the Army.
It’s been on the worlds hardest bike race, inside the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, ridden the Eurostar train underneath the English Channel, climbed Mt Rainier, and was once lost in the mail.
This photograph has skied powder in Steamboat, bumps at Mary Jane, back bowls at Vail, weathered the arctic cold in Wisconsin, the incredibly ridiculous slopes of Austria, and the “don’t fall” runs in France.
It’s spent a month backpacking through Europe. It’s been sea sick off the coast of Ireland. It’s attended a taping of Letterman in NYC and has visited almost every state.
It’s seen the Redwoods, the Golden Gate Bridge, the Great Salt Lake, the Aurora Borealis, the Louvre, Mont Blanc, Stonehenge, the Statue of Liberty, and the splendor that is Kansas.
Twenty years ago today, the man in the photo told me all about wanting to travel and that his greatest wish was to spend as much time as possible in the outdoors. He commented that nothing made him feel more alive than to be outside and that nothing scared him more than the thought of living a normal, routine life. He talked reflectively about the time he had spent in Europe and how he felt he had taken it for granted but vowed to return as soon as he could. We were 19, fearless, and had it all.
We were taking photographs as we chatted, high on a cliff band overlooking a valley. It was a very warm December day with a gentle breeze, and I’d walked a short distance to climb out on an adjacent ledge. I snapped some photo’s and walked back to where we’d split up. It annoyed me that he wasn’t there…that maybe he’d found something cool to look at and hadn’t included me. I sat on a stump and waited. After maybe 10 minutes I got increasingly annoyed and gave him a shout, “Jeff!” There was no response, so I got up and walked out onto the cliff to see if he was walking on the game trail that we had seen in the woods next to us. Still no Jeff. It was only when frustration kicked in and my head started swirling in all directions that I crawled out to the edge and looked straight down.
There he was.
I so wanted him to move…or shout…or something, but he didn’t.
During all of my crazy exploits over the past 20 years, I’ve made it a habit to stick this photograph in my pack, in my pocket, or stuck behind the visor of my car. It’s the one thing that goes with me on every wacky adventure, every trip abroad, and every foray into the unknown. It’s my constant reminder to take the chance, to push the boundaries, and to experience things that make people gasp, shudder, and flinch. I know that he would approve and honestly, he would of been right next to me anyway.
Saturday brought the first organized mtb race at Cane Creek State Park in Star City, AR. It also brought a 70% chance of rain and as I loaded up my bike at 6am Saturday morning it was already pouring in Little Rock. Text’s from friends confirmed the worst, that it indeed did rain most of the night in Pine Bluff, but the promoter was saying that it only drizzled for a few minutes in Star City. The Jeep loaded, I headed south into more rain but held on to the hope that the course would remain semi-intact for the 10 AM start.
I geared up and hit the trail for a bit of a recon. The trail was in fantastic shape and it was apparent that it had only sprinkled a bit and maybe even made the trail better traction wise. When I pre-rode it the day before, there was a good amount of organic material on the trails that made the corners and such a little slick but the rain had firmed everything up remarkably. There was also a new section of trail that I was afraid was going to be absolutely grease but I was pleasantly surprised to find it in good shape as well. The trails at Cane Creek are a little bit of Springhill mixed with Hobbs, except there are absolutely zero rock gardens and more smooth straight-a-ways. The trail system here also includes a ton of bridges, which when wet would make things completely miserable. This race was going to be a big ring spinfest with the 8 mile loop capable of being covered in 30 minutes if the short, steep climbs didn’t catch anyone by surprise.
I returned to the pavilion and found out that there were almost 30 registered and ready to race. A great turn out for a first year, grass roots race that wasn’t being held under the iron fist of USA Cycling. Factor in the rain and the turnout was borderline remarkable. It was also great to see so many families in attendance and a good field of younger riders.
The Cat 3′s were off at 9 and I volunteered to be the course sweep. The decision was made not to start the 1/2′s until all the 3′s were back, which allowed the beginner racers all the time they needed to ride and not worry about the faster riders catching them. It worked out really well and I was able to take a full lap as a warm up. I settled in behind the younger of the Arkansas Mountain Biking Family and watched in amazement as these two kids were in complete control of themselves on the trail. The course was in really good shape and I realized that the 1/2 race was going to be fast! I hit the brakes hard on a couple of the wooden bridges and things seemed to be better than the hockey rink conditions I was expecting.
I got back to the finish/start line, grabbed a couple of gels and made my way to the starting line. I’d met another racer, Craig Roberson from Blood, Sweat, and Gears earlier in the day, and we chit-chatted a bit waiting for the rest of the riders to line up. He mentioned that he had a big off road triathlon next weekend and that he was going to ride smart…which is code for I’m going to test my legs and go mach one.
The course started with a half mile of paved road and then we hit the trail for two laps for the Cat 2′s and three laps for the Cat 1′s. Things were fast from the gun, with road speeds in the 20′s and trail speeds around 16. This was a big fitness check for everyone and we settled into the race with a bit of hesitation, as we were all unsure about those bridges. There were four of us in the lead group, three of us from CARVE and Craig from Blood, Sweat, and Gears I’d mentioned earlier. In one of the early corners Craig washed out his front tire and took a tumble. He jumped up quickly and was able to catch back on without too much effort. We hit a few more bridges and traction was not a problem, so the pace went up to about 17 mph. We started to get strung out a bit on the hills as one minute you were in a valley, crossing a bridge and the next you were climbing a short but rather steep grade. I came into a bridge way too hot and smacked the inside of my left knee…dumb Brent, dumb. Right after my mishap, Scott Penrod from CARVE slid his front tire out on a hard angled approach to another bridge and found that his front tire was actually wedged into the timbers. He was in the lead so we all pulled the emergency brake and came to an abrupt stop! Luckily he was able to free his wheel after a few seconds and we all had a laugh. Once again, the pace went right back to terminal velocity. Craig took a great line through a corner and went right to the front. A perfect move as this lead right up to another short, sharp climb. We all bunched up again and I ran right up into the guy in front of me. “SHHHHHEEEEIT!” I had to bail off while the rest rode away. I ran up the hill, jumped back on and proceeded to chase like hell.
Lap one went by in a little over 30 minutes. I felt good but the knee that I’d hit earlier was letting me know that it wasn’t happy. I continued to chase, holding the lead group just in sight entering the second lap. When I hit the tree’s I went to a huge gear and gave it all I had. There was a nice sweeping downhill and I was flying to get back on. I came across an intersection and the course marshall said the group was right around the corner. “Sweet!” I dug a little harder and then the one thing that I let slip out of my mind happened, it started pouring like hell! The trail held up for the most part but the bridges went to treacherous quickly, meaning that you really had to pay attention to your angle of approach or you were going to find yourself on the ground. I ended up second, a few minutes down on Craig from BSG. He rode a great race and definitely showed up to win! Scott Penrod ended up with the win in the Cat 1 field.
The rain eventually came to a stop right after the race, allowing us all to hang out and give a few high-fives. We had the award ceremony, some of us snagged some swag, and then headed out. It was great to be a part of the first mtb race at Cane Creek and I hold high hopes for it in the future as low and behold, the one and only Fred Phillips not only came to check it out but he also raced with the Cat 3′s. I think he liked what he saw and we’ll all have to stay tuned to see if the race gets a more official status next year. In the mean time, check out Cane Creek State Park, I think you’ll like it!
Overall results here.
More pics will be linked as soon as they’re posted.
It’s 3:40 AM and my brain suddenly clicks into “race mode.” I fidget and roll until I eventually find myself staring at the ceiling. I do the math: To bed at 9:30 awake at 3:30, that gives me 6 hours. Looks like it’s going to have to be enough. I get up and head to the coffee pot, check the interwebs, and eat my first Powerbar of the day.
The good news is that I suddenly remember that the the local Lions Club is having a pancake breakfast at registration. I pull up the site and see that it’s scheduled to begin at 6:30 and the race start is at 8:30.
Cool, I drink my normal pot of coffee, re-pack my race bag, and load up for the hour drive to Perryville.
This will be my first foray into the “Endurance” side of mountain bike racing. The Slobberknocker is a 75 mile gravel grinder with 8,000 feet of climbing and absolutely zero single track. There will be about 15 total miles of pavement, mostly to get in and out of the start town. The rest will be fire roads and wilderness access roads for the National Forest Service. I’ve ridden here several times and know how easy it is to blow up on the climbs or go all out, way too early. I’d never done the run in from Perryville, which was new to the race this year. As I said earlier, half of the run in will be pavement, which will be an added blessing for the run back into town after fighting the climbs for 50 miles.
I get to registration and see many familiar faces. I shake a few hands and talk some trash with some team mates. I pick up my number and proceed to check out breakfast. The Lions did it up right. Pancakes, eggs, biscuits, gravy, toast…you name it. Plus the added bonus of all you can drink coffee and OJ. A big thumbs up and a very happy belly. I check out the course map and make a few new friends.
After breakfast I kit up, get the bike ready, and plan out my nutrition for the race. I decide to run a pretty high psi in both tires, 40 front and 45 rear. I give my shock a couple of additional pumps too and load my pockets full of gels and blocks.
The start line was in the center of town and they started everyone at once, about 110 racers total. There was a neutral roll-out behind a team car for a mile and after that it was full throttle from the gun. I settled in with a group of 4 guys and we started alternating pulls in a rotating paceline. This worked for about 4 miles until 2 guys got shelled and fell off the back. I started talking to the other guy and we shot the shit for the next 10 miles or so, until he fell off right after hitting the fire road to Flatside Pinnacle. I knew this part of the route well and I settled into the hour of climbing ahead of me. Check point one was at 27 miles and I hit it right at an hour and a half. The legs were feeling good and body was coping well and I recovered a bit on the downhills. My goal was to hit CP2 (mile 40) right at 3 hours and I was spot on. So far, so good. I topped off my bottles, put on more chamois cream, and headed back to the hills. I climbed well back to CP1 (we were looping back on the same road we’d come in on). I took a hand up and realized that after this point it was mostly downhill for the next 30 miles. Sweet! Right around mile 52 or so, I started to feel a little bit of a bonk. I’d taken a gel about 3 miles prior and was staying up on my hydration. Things got a little fuzzy for a bit. I had zero power and didn’t feel like spinning the downhills. I got really depressed for about 5 minutes and even started to tear up thinking about seemingly routine things. Luckily the caffeine from the gel kicked me right in the ass, right when I needed it. I hit the big ring and get down to the valley below.
I was soon out of the hills of Lake Sylvia and headed back west to Perryville. The gravel road became pavement for a few miles and then once again, I got spacey for a few miles. I was spinning along at about 15 miles an hour but my mind was adrift somewhere. I zoned for the next 6 miles or so until I realized I was about to get off the gravel for good. I snap back to reality and start spinning fluidly again.
Ahead of me, the clouds parted and a lone sunbeam shone down to alert me that the pavement was around the next corner. From here, it was 5 miles of good downhills and a damned headwind. I had to laugh at the wind, no rest for the wicked. My average immediately picked up and I passed a few competitors ahead of me. I hit the line at 5 hours, 30 minutes. 75 miles seemed like a blur and my body was pretty well spent. I think I came in around 25th, which was a success in my book. I was happy with the almost 14 mph average that I attained and that I wasn’t DFL. There was food and drink at the finish but I didn’t feel like sticking around. I was beat and I knew there was a Sonic right around the corner. I’ve never had a better Cherry-Limeade in my life.
Course map here.
Ah yes, back from a week in the Northwoods of Wisconsin. The snow was pretty good for skiing and the temperatures were nowhere near the normal single digit freeze fests that normally accompany outdoor endeavors this time of year.
Like most of the United States, Wisconsin has had a mild winter that has made it rather tough on seasonal outdoor tourism and if you’re a purveyor or an outfitter that caters to those tourists, you’ve had a tough year. Guides and lodges for ice fishing are fighting to make a nickel and snow fall that brings in the snowmobiles has been hit and miss (mostly miss.) I was frequently asked how the weather had been in the south and I joked with a colleague that I had used my ice scraper on my car twice so far this winter, and that the second time had been that morning. Skiing is the only other sport that I’ve found that I can say I deeply love to do. It may be 30 below and sleeting but a day on skis will make it magical.
I once had the pleasure of being stuck on the Peak 10 lift at Breckenridge for about 20 minutes. The weather was absolutely brutal and we figured that the wind gusts probably kept tripping the safety’s on the lift controls as there were times when the gust would actually stop the life from moving. There were 4 of us on the chair and we had nothing better to do than bitch about the weather, that was until the one older man that had remained rather quiet said, ” It sure as hell beats a day at work though.” Truer words were never spoken and the times that I find myself doing something I love in less than ideal situations, I always thing of that one simple sentence.
Might need to look into making one of these. Get out and ride!
I normally spend a good part of the winter skiing but this year with it being so warm basically everywhere, I spent most of the winter on the bike. I arrived in Wausau, Wisconsin in Monday and have skied everyday since, trying to make the best use of my week sabbatical. Lucky for me, Ullr brought us 8″ of freshies over night and the skiing has never been better.
Like marathon mountain bike races? Gravel grinders? Ultra-endurance? Like the pain and satisfaction that all of these provide? Then have a look at XXC Magazine. It’s available in print as well as a digital download and will provide you with more content and insight than your know-it-all uncle.
A frosty (29 degrees) ride at Lake Sylvia.