Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Methow Cycle and Sport Mountain Challenge Race and Riding Weekend

Methow Valley woke me from the growing nightmare of lingering mud, monochrome and precipitation that the 2010 spring and early summer had become. Loup Loup pass was the gateway to a westside mountain biker's paradise. Thankfully, we had budgeted some time to ride outside of the race.

Courtney and I departed from Olympia Thursday morning, her Subaru splitting at the seams with two racers, our camping and bike gear, firewood, food, two medium sized dogs and of course our bikes. Our plan was to secure a site at Loup Loup campground, which was right next to the new race venue at Loup Loup ski bowl, get a ride in before nightfall, and meet up with Theresa and Bernie the following day. In past years, the campground next to the Methow race venue was packed with mountain bikers in the days previous to the race, so I assumed that this year would be no different, even if the venue had changed. Not so this year; when Courtney and I arrived the campground was nearly empty. We set up camp with just enough daylight left for a short ride, so we headed out to last year's race venue for a quick spin around the beautiful Black Bear trail. Those 6.5 miles were all it took for us to fall in love with the panoramic views, wildflowers, and dry trails of the Methow Valley.

The next day, we picked up Theresa at the Twisp River Pub and fueled up for our pre-ride of the new race course. Theresa was waiting on Bernie to bring the rest of her stuff, including her bike, so she explored parts of the course on foot while Courtney and I set off on our bikes. We learned that the course had been shorted at the last minute; Sport riders now had to complete only one 12.8 mile lap instead of two. I was initially a little disappointed, but disappointment was replaced by relief the further I pedaled (or walked) along the course. The course opened with a doubletrack climb on XC ski trails, with brief sections of newly-built singletrack thrown in. The singletrack trails were fresh and therefore soft and loose, which sponged energy from my legs as a I strugged to maintain traction up the steep sections and around the numerous switchbacks. In two miles and 800ish feet of gain, we arrived at a viewpoint of the ski runs and mountains in the background. After just two miles, I was completely out of breath, which did not bode well for the race the following day. The trail continued to climb, but there were sections grade become a little more manageable and easier to sustain. The climbing became peppered with short steep downhill sections, and after a sustained doubletrack descent, the course turned on the Bear Mountain trail, the only real, previously established singletrack of the entire course. After navigating a bog reminiscent of Cap. Forest, the trail descended through somewhat technical terrain for three miles; the trail was loose and dry, off-camber and exposed at times, with rock gardens that begged to puncture tires and tubes. The Bear Montain trail ended on a long, ponderous stretch of fire road, and then, much to my dismay, another section of climbing. The grade wasn't nearly as bad as at the beginning of the race, but I was so tired by that point it was all I could do to keep spinning in granny gear. I knew Courtney was probably waiting way ahead of me somewhere, but I couldn't go much faster than a crawl. And this was only the pre-ride! The course ended in yet another doubletrack descent, this one gravelly and sketchy; at speed, I felt like was riding on large ball bearings. By this point the evening sun was falling through the trees on the blue carpet of lupine that fringed the trail, filling the air with the fragrance of pine and flowers, which was pleasant after such a hellish ride. Back at the camp, Courtney and I shared our trail beta with Theresa: the course was brutal. I dreaded the thought of racing it the next day, against other people, without taking breaks to snap pictures or catch my breath.

In a bizarre turn of events, Bernie ended up not being able to make the drive to the race, leaving Theresa with no gear and no ride. Jamie came out to pick her up in the wee hours of the morning, leaving just Courtney and I to race the following morning. Both of us pondered scrapping the race altogether and just riding instead, but having already ponied up the entry fee, we were already committed to endure the course one more time. Once on the course, I was grateful for the pre-ride, not that it improved my performance, as I was passed by nearly all racers in my field within the first two miles, but knowing what was ahead allowed me to budget my energy better and I had way more fun descending the Bear Mountain trail. However, during the fire road section I began to feel a little nauseous and weak, a feeling which got worse once I hit the last section of climbing before the final doubletrack descent. I grannied it through to the descent, where I was passed by the Open class race leaders who had started a full hour after I did. I heard later that their average lap times were just over an hour. I crossed the finish line and tried to catch my breath. My lungs felt constricted and the nauseous feeling I tried to keep at bay for most of the race was back in full force. I could barely talk to Courtney, who had finished the race a full 20 minutes before I did, and only felt better after ten minutes sitting the shade drinking water. Apparently going from sea level to high levels of exertion without a break at 5600 feet does have some effects.

We went back to the campsite to change and recuperate before the awards, raffle and the beer garden. Courtney rocked the course and took third place for Sport women 19-34 with a time of 1:40, only a few minutes behind the second place winner. I came in 5th of 6 and couldn't have been happier; I didn't finish last!

Courtney and I stayed two more days and rode as much as we could in this breathtaking area. We did two rides on Sunday, Buck Mountain and Pipestone Canyon. Both were incredible. Nothing can match the flowy descent down Buck Mountain, or traversing the rim of a Pipestone Canyon to later drop down and ride through the bottom of it. Before returning to Olympia on Monday, we returned to the Sun Mountain trail system and rode the lower loop of last year's race course, around the Black Bear, Patterson Lake, Rader Creek and Magpie trails. I could have stayed another week.


Sport Women 19-34
Courtney Anderson, 3rd
Erin Roe, 5th

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