Kerry and I flew out Thursday afternoon, and arrived in Leadville around 8pm. Thankfully a fellow camper (Bill in the photo below) from MN provided bike transport services, so the travel was a breeze.
Thursday night included a quick camp kick-off meeting, but the real fun started early Friday morning when we rolled through town just after 8am. Our two day ride plan included covering the entire 100 mile course: Day 1 was 25miles out (down Powerline to Fish Hatchery) and back. Day two started near the Fish Hatchery (also known as the Pipeline) and lead us up to the famous Columbine mine (at 12,600ft) and back.
Although clearly some riders were all business, I was on total casual mode heading out of town. The race starts with a ~3 mile downhill (pavement) section, and from there we turn onto a dirt trail which leads to the first real climb (St. Kevin’s). This is where the group separated in a hurry. With over 35 riders of various riding abilities we simply had to split into small groups. I felt pretty good on the climb and was able to ride St Kevin’s without much trouble. I expect this section of the course will be VERY different on race day as 1500 riders jockey for position early in the race.
The next fun section included 3+ miles of fast downhill known as Sugarloaf. We were flying down that thing. Although I loved the speed, that little voice upstairs was reminding me that I would be climbing all the way back up later (which is about mile 90 in the race)!
I was expecting the impact of the altitude to knock me down in a hurry, but thankfully I was feeling OK. Of course I was breathing like a chain smoker, but I wasn’t feeling nauseous- Huge plus! As we climbed up Hagerman’s Pass I was smiling ear to ear while admiring the beautiful views- It was unreal. Although I loved the climb up, knowing the infamous Powerline descent was just around the corner, was a little nerve wreaking. I had no idea what to expect, but as the stories go, this is the most technical and steepest section of the course. There were a few sketchy sections making my hair stand on end, but I managed to keep the wheels rolling. Not sure how that will be with hundreds of other riders around me- It was tricky enough when I had the liberty of choosing MY own line. Once down Powerline it was a simple road section to the day's turnaround point (and aid station).
Then it was back up Powerline….
I took off behind Cole, and tried my best to keep him in sight as we started upward. The bottom section is the worst, and although many people had already started walking, I tried to stay close and follow Cole's line. I was quickly out of gears and out of lungs, but our videocrew was mid way up the steep section and I didn’t want to dismount in front of them. I pushed myself harder than I think I ever have, and thankfully I saw Cole stop not too far ahead. That was my destination...
Well I made it up to Cole, but to this day, I’m pretty sure I left half my lung in that area. [my breathing has been impaired ever since] My breathing was louder than I think I’ve ever heard it, and I can guarantee that I’ve never pushed myself like that before. From there, it was hike-a-bike for about 10 minutes to the first of 3 (maybe 4) false summits. Once I hopped back on the bike I was thankfully able to keep riding to the top. I believe the climb took over 45minutes (maybe 3 miles). It will be interesting to see how that feels at mile 80 of the race…. Epic indeed.
I felt great the rest of the way back to town, including the long climb back up Sugarloaf. After about 6 hours of riding (we also got lost a few times so ended up riding closer to 58 miles), I was ready to be off the bike.
It was time for Ice Bath #1 and burrito #1… This shack kept us fueled all weekend :-)
We rode 6 miles (all downhill) to get to our ‘official’ start point. We could see off in the distance (up in the mountains) our ultimate destination for the day, and although it was an extremely beautiful view, I knew it would be a real challenge climbing up there. The stories about that climb, about what it takes, the impact of minimal O2 @ 12,600ft got me fired up in a weird way. Bring it on!I rode with Bahram and Jeff to the Twin Lakes rest area. Just as we arrived, the lead group was starting to leave and head up the Mountain. I waited at the aid station for a few minutes, then Kerry and I then set off towards the summit together. From Twin Lakes, I wanted to break 2 hrs to the summit. I was super excited to start the journey, but I had to conserve-had to be patient - Had to fuel and hydrate. It was steady.…. Climbing is definitely the best part for me, as I think my years of high intensity tri training translates perfectly to this department. I just kept trucking along, and before I knew it, I could see the summit. I was able to ride most of the way, but with about one mile to go, there were multiple sections of hike a bike required. I think my Garmin announced a 23 min mile… but as a whole, the trip from Twin Lakes took around 1hr 40 minutes. I felt (relatively) great!
Anyhow once you summit, you get to ride across a flat section (aka, the 'Ride Across the Sky'), then descend down to the old mine shack. That feeling I expereinced while coming down the hill to reach the official turnaround point was unreal. I was so excited. I stayed up there for over 20 minutes taking in the sights. The descent was a little tricky at the top, but not too bad with limited uphill rider traffic…. Again, that will be another story on race day as the packs of riders will be making their way up the small rocky jeep road while riders are descending….
It didn’t take very long to get back down, but my hands cramped from riding the brakes the entire time (I'll be moving my brake levers a little closer to the grips for race day). Once at the bottom, I sort of hit a mental wall - The excitement was over for the day, but we still had to retrace our tracks back to the starting point. That sections seems to drag on forever, but we finally met up with the rest of the crew and called it a day at mile 56.
Time for Ice bath #2, and Burrito #2 of camp…. Then it was time for Burrito #3
I was feeling pretty smoked from the 12+ hrs of riding over the past two days, and was ready for bed.
Although I had plans to 'rest' on Sunday morning, I couldn't stay put... We had some free time to do our own thing, and as most campers left early or did another ride, Kerry and I decided to explore Turquoise Lake. I think the altitude was starting to affect me at this point, but I couldn't pass up the chance to run in such a beautiful area. It was a great opportunity to appreciate the amazing views. I LOVE IT there!
It was such a fun weekend. The Camp support and riders were great, and I can’t wait to head back out there in a few weeks. This time, I know what to expect, and have 35 new fiends to share the experience with.
22 days until race day!! YEAH