Way back in January or February NorCal based race promoter Murphy Mack announced that he was planning a 100 mile MTB race in the Jackson State Demonstration Forest vicinity between Mendocino and Fort Bragg on the coast on July 21st. Immediately I circled the date on the calender and mentally signed up right then and there. Riding & racing sinewy and loam covered coastal singletrack under a Jurassic Park-like forest canopy, in 50 – 60 degree temperatures at time when the valley here is normally baking under 100 degree temps? Sign me the hell up! Plus, it was my birthday weekend so not a bad place to ride and “celebrate” as well.
Oh and this little gem of a stoker video played a bit of roll in getting me to sign up as well (protip: turn up your speakers and watch it in full HD to get the full effect!):
The night before at registration we all got our first look and description of what the course would entail. Being that this was a first year event, there weren’t many people (if any?) who had linked all these trails together in one single serving, so final mileage, final elevation gain, and estimates on finishing times was mainly educated guess work….which only added to the excitement as many of us were riding these trails for the first time, and the “unknown” adventure factor was high. Due to so many unknowns regarding the race course, I decided to race my full suspension Giant Anthem 29’er X 0, with a grippy Schwalbe Rocket Ron 2.35 in front, and faster rolling Continental RaceKing 2.2 Protection in the year (both tubeless).
Murphy explained that this year the “100” would actually more likely be 90-ish miles due to a lasts minute request from CalFire to alter the route a bit due to some logging activity that was going on.
For a first year event, I was very glad to see that there was a decent number of riders who showed up. It seemed as though 70-ish folks signed up for a mix of either the 100 mile option, a 60 mile option, and also a 40 mile option. And I’d say about half toed the line for the 100 mile version.
The race started at a comfortable “fun fast” kinda pace with local guide and long time pro Brian Astell from Lost Coast Brewery / Marin Bikes leading the way with about 4 of us on his heels. The initial singletrack was loamy twisty and fun and set the tone for the rest of the day. This trail spit us out onto some rutted fireroads and some gravel grinding climbing up to the first checkpoint at about mile 19. One of the riders burped and flatted a tire in a rut, and Brian and I steadily pulled away from the others on the fireroad climbing on the way to the first checkpoint which we reached together at about 1 hour 30 minutes into the race. We didn’t bother stopping, and just shouted out our number plates to the smiling volunteers.
We crossed Route 20 and onto a “bonus” loop on the north side of the road that only the 100 mile riders would be doing. We’d complete about a 20 mile loop and then return back to the same Checkpoint #1. This section had some extremely steep singletrack switchback descending that seems to rarely see any traffic…Brian got a little ahead of me here and if it weren’t for his tire tracks in the loam it would have been pretty tough to see where the trail went so kudos to him for blazing the trail!. After the descending there was another long fire road grinder where I caught back up to Brian, then we road nearly all of it together, but near the top he gapped by about 10 seconds then started descending like a madman and he was gone. I continued on, made a wrong turn that cost me a minute or two then began a long singletrack climb back up to that checkpoint on Route 20. I was about halfway up this climb when I was surprised to hear another rider coming down towards me. It was Brian and he was saying that he thought he made a wrong turn as he topped out on the climb and wasn’t quite sure which way to go so he thought he made a mistake and came back down. I was 99% sure we were on the right route, so he flipped it around and started climbing back up. I felt pretty bad for him that he had to do this climb again! Anyway, both of our wrong turns seemed to cancel each other out here and we finished off this bonus loop together and returned back to the original Checkpoint #1 (which was now our 2nd checkpoint) in a total time of around 3.5 hours to this point. We stopped here a bit and refueled, then continued on towards an area called the Woodlands.
From the Checkpoint on Route 20 over to the Woodlands was some fast big ring gravel road smashing, then led to some even faster twisty gravel road descending. Brian was absolutely destroying the loose gravelly turns in this part and I was happier to tap the brakes a few more times into the turns than he would so he put a gap on me here. But then at about mile 40, we turned off the fireroad and into the Woodlands singletrack. We immediately hit a climb (“Climb to Big Tree” is what I believe it is called) and I began gunning it to catch back up to Brian. I kept it in my big ring and grinded my way to the top until I caught backup to him. When I caught back up we were nearly at the top, but unknown to me, this upper part got extremely STEEP and my legs were already burning too much from going full gas on the lower part. For one of these steep upper bits, I actually hopped off the bike and hiked about 20 yards and Brian got another 15 – 20 seconds on me again….but then that would pretty much be the last I would see of him for the rest of the race. As we started descending the insanely fun singletrack back down (Big Tree descent), Brian disappeared and I was alone in the forest.
At the bottom of the Big Tree descent, was a little aid station checkpoint and I stopped briefly for a Gu and I asked how long ago Brian came through. They said about 2 minutes ago….ouch! He crushed that part! This was right around mile 50 and 4 hrs 15 minutes into the race. My legs were still feeling pretty good, so I began chasing again to see if I could catch back up again. This portion of the trail was so beautiful and fun that part of me wanted to stop “racing” and just slow down and enjoy the deep emerald green, fern lined, and redwood covered forest that we were riding through. I just don’t get the chance to ride terrain like this often enough living in the Sierra foothills. As I was enjoying the scenery and starting the Thompson Gulch Trail Climb, I came to a fork in the trail that had no markings. Hmmm. One trail went to the right and looked a little less used, and what seemed like the main trail kinda veered to the left…but neither of them had markings that I could see and there were no chalk arrows on the ground. I wasted some time trying to decide which way to go and choose left because it seemed to have a little more use on it. I figured that if I choose correctly I’d see a flag or something soon enough. So I continue on, begin climbing still don’t see any flagging. I approach a switchback, look up and around and still don’t see anything, so I assume that I am going the wrong way and turn around and head back down to the fork in the trail. This time I start climbing the other direction, get about 1 minute into it, and tell myself this can’t be the way because the trail is just seems so little used. I turn around AGAIN and start going the other way once more. I climb back up to the switchback where I turned around the first time, keep going, and then a short bit later round a turn and see the familiar white tape hanging from a tree that was marking the course. DANGIT! I just wasted about 7 minutes in that confusion…oh well, nothing to do but press on.
I reached Checkpoint #4 at about 5 hours and 46 minutes. I refilled my Osprey hydration pack and got a time check that Brian came through about 15 minutes ago. Ughh…not so sure I’m going to be catching back up now! But even with that thought, I was extremely happy with my time to this point, was still feeling good, and just set off to keep up a decent pace to put in a respectable finishing time. I smashed my way from Checkpoint 4 along the flat gravel roads past Checkpoint #5 to Hwy 1, enduring the Hwy 1 road portion (wasn’t that bad) and then turned back into the forest. At this point, I knew I was nearly done, didn’t think I’d be getting caught from behind so tried to turn off the racing mindset and just enjoy the last bits of trail to the finish.
I ended up crossing the line with around a 7 hours 22 minute moving time….somewhere around 15 – 20 minutes behind Brian and good for 2nd place overall. My Garmin clocked 81 miles and 11,299 feet of climbing (which isn’t 100% accurate as everyone was experience lots of “GPS drift” in the deep forest). And as happy as I was with that, I was even happier to see my wife at the finish line already all cleaned up from her 60 mile effort and telling me that she won! So it was quite the fun and successful day.
BIG Thanks to Murphy Mack and the SuperPro crew for putting this race, the Mendocino Coast cyclists for their help and all the volunteers. I will definitely be back again…this was one of the most fun races I’ve ever done.
Ron Shevock raced the recent 3-event Bogg’s 8-Hour Enduro held at Bogg’s Demonstration Forest on 5/3 – 5/5/2013. Day 1 consisted of a Hill Climb competition, Day 2 consisted of an 8-Hour solo endurance XC race, and Day 3 consisted of a 15 – 20 minute SuperD race. Ron raced his Giant Anthem Advanced X 29’er 0 in all three events in Pro Open class and tallied a 2nd Place in the Hill Climb, a 3rd Place in the 8-Hour XC, and a 3rd Place in the Super D, good enough for 3rd Place Overall. In the 8-Hour XC event, Ron completed 11 laps for a total of 98 miles and over 12,000 vertical feet of climbing, finishing just a few minutes behind 2nd Place. More detailed race report to come…
For the past five years or so, I’ve primarily been a singlespeed mountain bike racer. This year however, with the addition of a Giant Anthem X Advanced 29’er into my stable, I consciously made the switch to riding and racing gears. I figured it would be a nice break from singlespeeding for so long, and would also help to strengthen up several riding and racing weaknesses that I’ve developed over the years by having such a singular focus for so long (pun intended).
That being said, there are still a few events on the NorCal race calendar that I wanted to race singlespeed. The upcoming Sea Otter Classic is one as it is a massive challenge on the one speed with a gnarly course of 40 miles and about 7,000 feet of climbing. And with that in mind, I recently converted a Giant XTC Composite 29’er hardtail over to a singlespeed with my eyes on using it for Sea Otter.
Sea Otter is coming up extremely fast though (4 days from now!), and I realized that after just recently converting the XTC over to a one speed, I had better get a shakedown race on it in order to get more comfortable on that frame, shake out any issues there might be with using a chain tensioner, and just get used to racing a one speed again after my short break (I hadn’t touched a singlespeed bike since cyclocross season ended in December). So with this in mind, I thought it would wise to race the one speed XTC this weekend at the Napa Valley Dirt Classic.
The Napa Valley Dirt Classic course is unique in that all the different racing categories, from Pro on through to Beginner, all race the same course; the same single lap; the same distance. It’s a bit of a sprint-fest as it’s only about 19 miles in length with the fastest times ending up in the 1 hr 20 min to 1 hr 30 minute range, but it’s extremely fun with a lot of variety along the way from extremely steep and hard climbs to wide open flat passing areas, and lots of forested swooping fast singletrack in between.
The Pro Singlespeed category is in the first start wave along with geared Pro’s and we had a really deep field. The Cat 1 Singlespeed category starts in this wave as well, so at the start it was difficult to tell exactly who was in the Pro SS field and who was in Cat 1. Singlespeeders on the line that I recognized and knew were racing Pro were: my friend Mason Marlow from LeadOut Racing, Chuck Ross from Sert-Sho Air, and Cesar Chavez and Tim Cannard from Ibis / Buy-Cell. There were a few other singlespeeders but I couldn’t see their number plates to see if they were racing Cat 1 or Pro or not.
The start at NVDC is always a little nerve wracking as it is going to be HARD from the gun. It’s a slight uphill start on pavement for a few hundred yards before narrowing down to singletrack, and then a tough fireroad climb that has a mandatory dismount for an extremely steep section that is unrideable so it becomes a quick run-up, then it’s a lot of extremely fast full-throttle dirt service roads as we charge into the singletrack in the forest.
The start gun pops and sure enough, the field explodes hard and fast. I was in the 2nd row next to my team mate Jared Kessler who was racing his Anthem and directly behind Kona Pro, Barry Wicks. I lined up behind Barry knowing that he would accelerate quickly hopefully giving me a clearshot towards the front. Barry did as I suspected, but I botched my start and quickly found myself at the rear of the pack as we sprinted up the pavement. I recovered a bit, accelerated, and made up some ground as we entered the singletrack, and then I really made a surge to the front on the service road climb approaching the run-up. As we hit the run-up, I was in 7th position…and I could tell there were no other singlespeeders in front of me.
We all hopped on our bikes after the run-up, and I dug deep to match the group’s acceleration as I knew if I lost their wheels I would be dead in the water. There is only so fast I can spin my one speed (I choose to run a 36×19 gear), so my goal was to hold on to the wheels of the lead group as long as I possibly could. Luckily for me, I was able to hold them for quite a ways to just past the end of the airstrip on our left..after that the track turns slightly downhill, and I became unattached from the lead group. I was still in 7th overall and in the lead group was Jared Kessler, Barry Wicks, Jim Hewett, Michael Hosey, and a few others I couldn’t quite make out….I was happy to stay with them as long as I could, but had to back off the pace to recover a bit and see if I could find some other wheels to grab onto as we approached the tight confines of the forest.
Soon enough, I was able to recover, and grab on to wheel of Riley Howard as he came cruising by. He was charging pretty good and I was able to stay with him and shout up a few times apologizing for not being able to take a turn pulling as I was totally spun out (hopefully he heard me). We went into the famed series of 3 steep rollers, collectively known as the “whoop section” together and I successfully made it up and over the first one, but on the second one, I hit some rocks and my chain got bounced off the front chainring. So I had to stop, dismount, stick it back on, and getting rolling again. Lost some time, but maybe more importantly lost the wheel of Riley who was charging pretty good and would have been an excellent carrot for me to chase through the forest.
After losing Riley, I raced along with Greg Golet from Chico and one other rider for several miles of single track. We rolled through the flume section and I actually dropped my chain again in this part. Again, I was able to stop and stick it back on, but man I was getting frustrated thinking about the time that I was losing and I was getting worried that it was going to keep happening.
The middle section of the race went fairly smooth as I tried to recall the single speeding technique of standing and charging hard into every hill and then laying off the brakes everywhere else to conserve momentum. I was approaching the bottom of the major obstacle of the day…the heinous climb known as “The Wall”….when I dropped my chain for a 3rd time in the rutted out descent leading into the Wall. Cursing loudly, I stopped for a 3rd time, and luckily was able to get the chain back on again without much drama, but again by doing so I lost the wheels of the other riders that I was chasing and had to try and make up time.
I finally hit the “The Wall” and did everything in my power to get up this thing as quickly as possible. I knew my gear choice wouldn’t allow me to ride every section of it, so I ran some, walked some, rode some, ran some more, and began the dance of dismounting and remounting and running and riding as smoothly as possible. It was at this point, knowing that there were only a few miles left in the race, I began to think that I could actually win this thing and each time I would dismount to run a section I would glance over my shoulder to look for any other singlespeeders but never caught a glimpse of anyone.
I was beginning to feel twinges of cramps in my calves and one of my quads during the last mile or two into the finish, but I tried to keep a smooth cadence and keep the speed up to try and hold onto my position….it’s very easy to become complacent when you’ve been ahead for an entire race, then get nipped near the end by a charging, motivated racer so I dug deep to keep my speed up.
I flowed down the steep section that we used as our run-up at the beginning of the race (actually, “bounced down” is probably more accurate as I came in way too hot for having a rigid fork on the front), and accelerated the last downhill fireroad glancing over my shoulder to check for anyone gaining on me and I still couldn’t see anyone…..I was half a mile away from the finish, with no more climbs, or tricky technical sections to bounce my chain off and it was at this point when I began tasting the win!! Wohoo!
So I flew through the very last singletrack piece and all I had left was a sprint across a short grass field, to the oval track that the race finishes on and I would be done. In my mind, I totally had this won at this point… I was certain that no one was going to catch me now with such a short distance to go.
But then, disaster struck…..
As I bounced down the last bit of singletrack and onto the grassy field before the oval track, my chain bounced off AGAIN!!! NOOOOOO!!!!! Trying to stay calm I told myself that I could quickly get it back on just like the other three times it happened. As calm as I tried to stay however, I couldn’t help but keep losing concentration as other riders exited the singletrack and began passing me….I’d keep checking their drivetrains, “ok that’s a geared guy, and another one, that guy has gears too…..get this chain back on!!! NOW!”
So I kept fiddling with the chain and something wasn’t quite right, it wasn’t going on nearly as easily as the other times, and then I looked closer and noticed that it was completely mangled. Not only did it bounce off from the front chainring, but it completely dislodged and unwrapped itself from the tensioner and twisted around itself several times. If I had been on a leisurely trail ride and this had happened, it would have been no big deal to take the time to fix, but in the heat of battle, the end of the race, the moment of freaking truth right here! where I was in great danger of losing the race right at the worst moment, that I decided I better start running….I only had a few hundred yards to go!!!
So I started sprinting as fast as I could. I used to run years ago when I played soccer, and ran marathons, but I haven’t run in like 6 years and man this hurt! My philosophy now is only run when being chased and holy crap I was being chased now! As I hit the track, I glanced over my shoulder and see what I feared would happen….Cesar Chavez had caught me and passed me and charged around the track to take the win. I kept running as fast as I could, cursing my mechanicals the whole way and trying not to cramp my legs, and luckily crossed the finish line in 2nd only holding off Mason Marlow by a little over a minute after it was all said and done.
So at the end of the day, despite the unfortunate turn of events, I’m extremely pleased with how things turned out. This was after all, a race where my goal was to shake down the XTC and uncover any potential issues with it before Sea Otter…and that clearly was accomplished (I’ll triple check my chainline and add a chain tensioner to the front for the Otter). And I was able to put up a good result…getting 2nd place to Cesar Chavez in SS in a big accomplishment as he seems to get either 1st or 2nd in this race every year, so I’m glad, and not surprised at all, that it was him catching me in the end.
Now off to lick my wounds, and install that chain guide for Sea Otter….