"Three...two...one...GO!" I heard those words shouted over the PA system (well, just a bull horn really), from the 'throne' of one of those plastic potties behind the starting line of the Vision Quest. It was still dark, my flashlight I had strapped to my helmet had the lumens output of a pair of excited fireflies, I was missing the start of the race, and as I hurried to re-assemble my clothing post-nature call, my windbreaker unzipped from the bottom up. Nice. Great start (or non-start, as if were).
KT, Rich, and Ron, the guys I came up here with, were long gone.
So, I had about 135 riders ahead of me as I began my quest. Nowhere to go but up in the ranks! And up it was. The ride began easily along Blackstar Rd. The climbing started soon enough and as the morning sky broke into dawn, we topped out on the first ascent. The fast guys were off the front, so I was passing slower folks all along the way and I felt quite good. I was riding pretty conservatively since I did not want to burn the candle too brightly, too early, but my pace felt in control and smooth.
The previous night while setting up camp, I was regretting not running the Edge carbon wheelset with some of the Fastrak LK tires. It certainly would have been fast. I had passed on that for a couple of reasons: not being able to go tubeless and thinking I might have wanted a bigger tire for the rougher sections of trail. What made me feel better was counting 12 riders alongside the road repairing flat tires before the Main Divide Rd. Why so many flats? Dunno. Thorns on a fireroad that sees all kinds of vehicle traffic? Unlikely. Pinch flats on a fireroad climb? Never heard of that. Whatever it was, I never felt like the Hope/Flows/2.2 Captain Control combo was an issue. They rolled well and absolutely shined in the techy, rocky trails in the race. Next time I would possibly downsize to a slightly smaller tire, but I would not give up tubeless for the world.
I hit the top of the first climb, peeled out of the windbreaker, spun up the Ipod and pushed shuffle-all songs. On the virtual turntable: Third Day...'Cry Out To Jesus'. That may happen any time now.
A lot more climbing followed on the Main Divide Rd and it was still cold. Frost on the ground attested to that, but it was going to be a beautiful day. I was glad I had the long sleeve jersey on. Brrr. Each climb was followed by a quick drop and it was chilly up there.
Now I had picked a somewhat arbitrary goal of eight hours as a finishing time. Honestly, I expected to be a nine hour finisher, but better to aim high. I also decided to leave the camera in the camper and stop as little as possible at any aid station, etc. This really paid off as I will see later on.
More climbing...Ipod rockin' to the Soundtrack from Madagascar: 'I Like To Move It, Move It'.
It took me three hours to get to Maple Springs Aid Station #1. That was one hour before the cut off time. I thought that was a bit slow, but if I could hold a one hour cushion to each cutoff point, I would be OK. I fueled up at Maple Springs and rolled out on the paved road. About 100 yards out, I had a big old leg cramp, right leg, inner thigh, knee to crotch. WHAAaaa? Three hours!!!! I did not even feel all that bad otherwise. I got off of the bike and tried to stretch it out but the cramp just got worse. So, I got back on the bike to see if I could pedal. I could, so off I went, but I was very concerned and I was really trying to soft pedal for a while. I could see cramps at eight hours, but three? Not a good sign. Oddly enough, I never had another cramp all day. The paved road was deceptively steep. It kinda hurt. But as soon as the road turned to dirt, the pace picked up and I felt better. I had a feeling that we were headed to some serious elevation gains and every so often I could see a peak with antennas, etc. I figured this: If it was high, had a road on it, and was in the direction of travel, we were heading up it. I accepted that and smiled. Let's go.
Tune of the moment...'I Play Chicken With The Train', Cowboy Troy.
Modjeska Peak, Santiago Peak...first one then the other. Excellent views. It felt like we climbed forever, but it had an end at last. There were a few patches of ice and snow on the North side as we began the descent.
Pink was 'Gettin' The Party Started' on the Ipod and promising to "kick my ***". Motivating, indeed.
Upper Holy Jim trail began the singletrack section and it was chock full of something I truly suck at: switchbacks. Toss in a bunch of rock steps to drop off of and add fatigue and I was not happy. I am glad that Lenzsport bends that top tube as I tested the clearance once in a painful way. Every so often the 29er feels a little big and awkward and this was one of them, but really I was just riding like a beginner...all brakes, no balance, no flow. I let one rider pass and he just danced by. Crap! OK, self, time to get your act together. It got better from there...relax, look ahead, less brakes, more faith in your bike. Lower Holy Jim was very fun. By then I was riding like I had a clue again. The trail crossed the creek many times and it was just beautiful in there although I was not looking around much.
James Taylor was talkin' 'bout 'Mexico'.
One rider asked when the cutoff time was and I said 12:30. Oops. Sorry dude. I got that wrong as I was soon to discover.
I hit the go/no-go cutoff point at aid station #2. If you do not beat the cutoff time, you are denied continuing on the Vision Quest course and you are directed to the Counting Coup finish. When I rolled up, someone shouted, "You better hurry, you have seven minutes till the cut-off time!" WHAAAATTTT!!!!???? I stuffed my face with an orange slice, filled up my water needs and ran past the checkpoint like I was escaping East Berlin before the wall went up.
Seven minutes. Seven. Seven minutes nearly separated me from that feather. That was about ten pictures worth of time if I had brought the camera. One flat tire. Maybe two or three minutes here or there to look at the views or stretch my legs. If I had not set a goal of eight hours, I would have been way less focused on moving along. So even though eight hours was not realistic, it made nine hours possible and for that I was glad. I did not come that far to take the lesser path.
From here, I rode/pushed/rode up Trabuco to the beginning of Horse Thief trail. I had expected the hike-a-bike. It was pretty heinous from what I had heard and it was. Still, I knew that there was an end to it. A top to the mountain. And all I had to do to get there was to keep moving. I could do that. I would push for a few minutes and rest for a few seconds, but I was a happy man. I was going to make it. The Ipod spit out songs at random and they all flowed into some surreal mix: Casting Crowns, Soul Control, Shakira, & Phillips, Craig and Dean.
There were a lot of riders below me that had made the cutoff too. Surprising. Forty Five minutes later I topped out on the hike-a-bike and I knew I had it in the bag. That feather was mine. I took a bit more time here at the aid station. I had earned it. At this point I was fighting for 110th position or whatever, but as long as I did not crash or get lost, I was a finisher and that, after all, was my ultimate goal.
I really enjoyed the trail down Trabuco. That is some sweet stuff. Fast, wide, under the trees...wow.
Michael Buble stepped up to the mic as the scene blurred by...: "When marimba rhythms start to play..." Somehow it seemed like a good time to dance.
From there it was just a matter of head down and hammer to the end. Why hammer? I dunno, cuz I could, I guess. I felt pretty good so I just flew and crossed the line five minutes before 03:00. Someone was shouting "Rider number 100!". I am not sure if that is significant, but they seemed excited. More than likely they shouted that when rider number 1 and 10 and 32 and 65 and 72 and 125 came across the line. I took the finisher's badge of honor; the feather.
Fifty six point five miles, 11,000+' of climbing, 9.5 hours. Six Gu's, two Snickers bars, one Payday, ten electrolyte capsules, three bottles of Accelerade, lots of songs played. Where did the day go?
I filled up a couple of bottles of Fluid recovery drink and sat for a minute, still buzzing from the whole thing. It was time for a shower, food, and swapping stories among the group. I hung the feather on the edge of my gear bag and walked away a tired, happy man. Next goal? Well, I have some ideas.