The Original Growler
My Growler race report is coming in seriously late. But it is all good because serious amounts of awesome have been keeping me occupied. The past week has been a blur of riding, training, writing training, and a trip home to Kansas City thrown in for good measure. And I do have a day job! But like I said, it has been all good and loving every minute of it. I am happy to take the time now to think back on the race and the lessons learned and the fun I had.
As most of you reading this know I wrecked hard last summer and fractured bones in my neck and two places in my back. It wasn't good but in the grand scheme of things it wasn't that big of a deal either. Although it hijacked my summer I did heal quicker than was expected and have made a full recovery to the point I have no residual pain at this point. You do think a lot while you are laying on the couch in a neck brace. I spent a lot of time thinking about what is important to me, what I value, and the direction of my life. One thing that I thought a lot about was being healthy and fit for the Gunnison Growler.
I know a lot of people like this race but I think I am on a bit of a higher level than most. I straight love it. The course, the town, the volunteers, the bacon station, and most importantly the ripping descents. It might be my favorite day on the bike of the year. It is very much a lifestlye event in my mind. For me it is an event that represents a community that loves trails and particularly trails for mountain bikes and is hard at work to grow expand their vision of the good life. I am very much on board with this! When people use MTB racing as a way to grow awareness and financial support for the lifestyle of mountain biking I get all misty eyed with happiness and hope.
In short I really wanted to be ready to make a run at winning this race. Two years ago I won the singlespeed class, last year I got second by a few seconds, so really there was only one thing left and that was to win. Training through the spring has gone well and I felt that I had a good taper down in training for the event. Commuting back and forth to work I had that good feeling you want on recovery rides in a taper week, where you are just holding the reigns back. I smashed my openers on Saturday afternoon and felt extremely confident.
Race morning was gross, rain and very cold. I was not loving that but I did adjust pretty quick and by the time we took off from the line I really had no concern about the cold. Due to wet and cold conditions we rode from town out to Hartman rocks significantly faster than I remember the past two years. In just a matter of minutes we were turning up Kill Hill and beginning the battle. I knew Bryan Dillon was my main rival to watch, he is a local and riding great this season. He and I were at the front quickly and I felt pretty good about riding away with a gap to win the Kill Hill prem.
I wanted to follow Brian for the first lap before attempting any kind of attack. He came around me and we fell into a groove with fellow singlespeeder (and my house mate for upcoming SS worlds) Cameron Brenneman in tow. All seemed like it was shaping up to be a great day of riding bikes and I felt relaxed warm and happy. Maybe I was too relaxed as we came through one of the hundred rock slab piles and made a step up onto the rock, I hit my rear wheel harder than expected. I didn't flat immediately but I was concerned with how hard I hit and told myself to start paying more attention. Rolling along down the course I felt that dreaded squish in the rear tire, I tried to chalk it up to the wet and borderline muddy conditions of the trail but the truth was soon apparent that I had cut a hole in the top of my tire - from what I think is the hookless bead of my rim bottoming out hard against the tire. It was a slow leak and I tried to get it to seal with one cartridge like what worked for me at Whiskey 50. It didn't seal, so I had to pull of the tire and put in a tube and use my other CO2. Major bummer, and of course I was in a horrible mood thinking the sky was falling.
I changed it and took off but it was a slow change and that early in the race I was behind lots of people. I was riding patient but hard trying to pass every where I could. I worked back up into the top 10 range when I came across a cattle guard that I hit harder than I expected and pinch flatted the tube. I had not done a good job of airing it up with my lone CO2 and it was running to low - and I was again being dumb.
Local young ripper Graham gave me his tube and CO2 and kept his racing going. That was awesome. I got it in but had the same low pressure innertube, so instead of forging on I walked back to an aid station not far behind me where I figured they had a floor pump. Sure enough - they had a floor pump and a Coke and after pumping it up I chilled for a minute because I anticipated my Dad rolling along soon. He was doing the Late Bus 32 race and I had seen him on the out and back into Skull Valley, so I knew he was in the vicinity. He did come quickly and I hopped in with him to ride the rest of the race with my Dad. At this point my disappointment had me ready to abandon after one lap.
We got cruising along and my Dad is a heck of a MTB rider. At 56 he has incredible power on punchy step climbs and he descends really well, especially fast open trail. We were ripping along and I was excited to see his style and coach him through a few of the tougher lines. I saw him commit to a steep drop in at one point that I thought he was about to abandon and walk down, when all I said was "relax and let it roll, you got it." I visibly saw him relax his shoulders and soak in the rock and roll the exact line right down. That was pretty awesome.
We caught and moved through a big group of riders towards the end of the lap and my Dad was still charging strong when he came across for the WIN in the Late Bus 32 class.
The last few miles of riding awesome trail had boosted my spirits. Seeing my Dad going strong also rallied my mood. I sat in the pits for a few minutes but quickly knew I wanted to go out for a second lap and finish the race. I ate roughly 1k of Honey Stinger calories and headed out into the now sunshine soaked course. Since I was really in no hurry I just fell into my groove an started ticking out my rhythm. A few miles in I was cruising good and having a blast. Half way around I was straight flogging the bike and smashing the descents for all I was worth. I didn't care if I flatted again. I had took my dads pump and it really didn't matter if it cost me more time. The highlight was rolling down a trail (don't know the name but it is right before you pop out onto the paved road and start the really steep jeep road climb) and caught another rider obviously skilled in the ways of the ninja descender - we hit some smaller jumps up top and I was laughing and whooping when he got stoked as well, the next compression we dropped through he sent it out of the gully and I followed suit, we were both in the air together and went a long freaking ways sailing. It was totally awesome. That is the stuff that really ramps me up, two guys in all lycra in the middle of a 70 mile race just boosting jumps for all they are worth. He gave me a solid bump at the bottom and told me he would not be following me up the climb.
I felt good the last miles of the course and had a good clean run through the notch (captured in Hi Res glory at the top of the post). I came across the finish line and was greeted with BBQ chicken from KOA Dave and ate another rough 15 Honey Stinger waffles. I rolled on my bike back into town thoroughly content on the days work.
It doesn't always work out. In fact in bike racing it rarely all works out. The important part is knowing what you believe in and sticking that. I have not finished races before and I have finished extremely long hard races that I suffered horribly through. I probably won't finish a race again at some point, but I do know I believe in the what the Growler stands for. An active and supportive community that fosters great athletes like Bryan Dillon, Brian Smith, and Amy Biesel - among COUNTLESS others - and supports raising funds for trails through providing the value of a great race experience. Those are things I definitely don't quit on.
I will be back to fight (and hit some jumps) again next year.