Thursday, July 12, 2018

Tatanka 100 Race Report

Let me preface this by saying that all hundie mountain bike races are hard ... damn hard.  If you can finish any of these, you are one tough athlete.  The past few years, I have sought out hundies that are particularly brutal:  100+ miles, shit ton of climbing, point to point, extreme temperatures, huge percentage of single track ... all the things that would push me to my limits and find new ones, and make me cry for my mommy in the process.

So my new hundie in a new state was the Tatanka in South Dakota.  Hosted by the town of Sturgis, the format was different this year.  Instead of a point to point, it would be 3 loops, with each one finishing downtown.  The majority of single track was still the Centennial Trail,  but new this year would be some purpose built single track in Sturgis.  The hundie was actually 90 miles, but with 12,500 feet of climbing and sweltering temperatures, it would be plenty long enough to destroy bodies and minds.

The degree of brutality that this race dishes out was further evident when I rolled downtown to the start line 20 minutes before, the temperature was already 82 degrees (with a high of 99 expected). There was nary a soul, just a few tumbleweeds. My first thought was that the 7 am start was delayed; it wasn't until 5 minutes before the gun went off that the total field of 60 showed up.

The police escorted us out of town at a pretty casual pace.  After an easy 2 mile pedal, we were unleashed onto the first dusty double track that headed up into the Black Hills.  I must make mention that my definition and a SoDak's definition of a "hill" are as different as night and day.  These "hills" were mountains and the dirt and gravel took us straight up.

Aid station at end of each profile

This first double track was steep and loose.  I had managed to stay up with the first 10 or so during the lead out, but ended up getting passed by quite a few on this first section. Having done these races for so long, I paid them no mind; it was going to be a long day and I knew I would see many of them later in the race, hollow shells of their former selves.  I kept to my "slow is fast" pace.  I was rewarded with my efforts by being able to ride with Kevin, the previous director of this race and Perry, the director of the Dakota 5-0.  They were gracious in offering up tons of beta on this new course, as well as taking the time to discuss their passions of being race directors.

Photo Credit:  Randy Ericksen

There were some really sweet hard packed, dirt roads that had been sprayed with a dust retardant.  I was able to make good time along this section, save for the sweeping downhill turn where I lost every stinkin' bit of my momentum due to a group of black angus calves that decided to play in the middle of the road.  Thanks, future rib-eye steak guys, for making me pedal all the way up the big ass hill on the other side.

After a short bit of racing on a paved road, I was dumped onto another double track road that morphed into a ORV chunk and gnar.  After feeling like I was on a rodeo bull, I eventually hit the Centennial Trail.  This first section was high in the Black Hills and was absolutely a hoot.  With a rocky base, exposure, and twisty turny, uppy-downy, I had to be on my toes.  It was similar to Live Wire 2, East Rim, and Grindstone Trails at Raccoon Mountain.  I had my first mechanical here when a dildo shaped rock flew up and wedged itself between my frame and chainring.  WTF!  It was a wonder my turning of the cranks did not break my chain ring or the frame.  I dismounted, said a few choice words, and unwedged the rock, finally getting it out of my bike.

After a few creek crossings which were most welcoming as the temps began to creep up into the 90's, I began a long hard climb up to the Bulldog aid station.  Wishing for switchbacks to lessen the steep grade, I slowly ground my granny until I saw the first welcoming sign that cold Cokes were just ahead.  And chocolate milk!?!  Yeah, I'll take the Coke.  The volunteers were there in force.  My neck was immediately draped with an icy cold wet bandana.  Another volunteer grabbed my CamelBak (which had been dry for the past 2 miles) and refilled it with ice and Heed.  I chugged half a Coke, took a gel shot, and headed back to the bike.  Ryan was there getting brief interviews on his iPhone.  I told him to not count this old mare out yet.  I wasn't quite ready to be a pasture ornament.

Photo Credit:  Randy Ericksen

The 3 mile descent after the aid station was a welcome sight.  It was not easy by any means, as it was steep and loose.  But I did have fun without any squirrely moments.  I knew all this free speed had to come to an end.  It did, with a "kick in the ____" one and a half mile climb up a wall.  But then my favorite part of the course:  a 6 mile flowy descent from the rocky hills to the highway fast single track through the prairie.  Of course, there were some short ups, but with a quick stand and hammer out of the saddle, I was up and over the small bump and on to the next shits and giggles section.

At the bottom, I rode through a culvert under the highway (or maybe some railroad tracks) in which the temperature dropped 20 degrees.  I wondered how many racers bivy'd here, because I could feel the heat rise as the elevation dropped.  I caught up to fellow Rescue Racing team mate Alan Miner in the open fields.  We rode together through the post-holed trail which felt like riding across railroad ties.  While the cows moo'd and watched us from the pond, we slogged our way through the sandy hoof trodden Rough Rider Trail.  At the road crossing, trail angels handed us a bottle of water.  Then on to the hotter than Hades Gasline Trail with its switchbacks of death.  At 95 degrees, I don't care if it is a dry heat or just stupid humid, hot is hot! And my CamelBak ran dry again.

Once on the PeaceKeeper Trail, ice cold water was just a technical descent back into town.  Just had to rail down this one and the Main Trail.  Nailing it, I was on Main Street.  Luckily, the airBNB I had rented was on Main as well.  I had a nice little stockpile of ice cold life-giving goodness in my Yeti.

The only time you will catch me in panty hose.

I refilled my CamelBak with my custom Infinit Endurance liquid gold, ate 1/2 a banana, and wrapped one ice filled panty hose around my neck and underneath the back side of my jersey.  Then I motored on to the start/finish to begin my second loop.  I managed to find a windbreaker and stuck behind him through town, until the interstate crossing, when he started going backwards.  I broke free and was on my own for the 5 mile climb up Vanocker Canyon.

This was an exposed paved climb.  Fortunately the asphalt was light in color or else my tires or brain may have melted.  I repeated a little mantra I had picked up from John Lewer, whom I met and rode with during the Pisgah Stage Race.  "Yard by hard it is hard, but inch by inch, it is a cinch."  I just focused on puting one pedal in front of the other.  Having a couple racers just ahead of me was what I needed to keep me motivated.  I slowly reeled them in.  At the top, where the course peeled off onto double track, there was a pipe coming out of the mountain.  Having my ice filled nylon sock wrapped around me kept me from stopping and perhaps laying in that flow of water for who knows how long.

The double track descent was welcoming but short lived.  Within 1/4 mile, I was once again pedaling uphill ... on Unnamed Trail #1.  After about a half a mile, I named it ... Little Focker!  It was at times an off-camber loose steep grind.  Blessed with an uncanny ability to pedal at 40 rpm on 12% grades, I put my head down to give me an illusion that the trail was flat.  I was granted a 1 mile respite with some beautiful views before hitting Unnamed Trail #2.  I quickly named this one Mother Focker!  Another upward grind.  My teammate Alan managed to get ahead of me during my last stop, as I saw him just ahead ... well, more like overhead.  I could see this dang trail high above where I currently was.  Inch by inch ... I caught him, exchanged a few words, and motored on.

Finally I topped out onto the Horse Trail.  This trail was half-track and appeared to be fresh cut, or perhaps it just wasn't ridden much.  Having a rocky base, it meandered between two peaks, crossing a few low lying wet areas.  It was really pretty, but still really hard.  I was thinking this was more of a game trail than bike trail and had my suspicion affirmed when I passed by a tree stand.  This trail then had one grassy steep ass pitch around mile 60 that went upward to the heavens.  This was my low spot, as once again my CamelBak had run dry and I had a raging head ache.  There was water in my bottle on the bike, but was just too hot to stomach.

I think a tear (just one as that was all my body could afford) came to my eye when I saw the paper plate signs that indicated the BullDog aid station was just ahead.  The first and second loops merged here and followed the same trails back down to town.  I rolled up, dropped my bike, and repeated the process I had done 3 1/2 hours ago.  Funny, but the Coke I had half drank the first time was still in the same spot and half full.  Down the hatch it went.

Rolling down the technical loose, rocky descent, I banged my pedal hard, so hard that it knocked me slightly off course.  And then about 2-3 minutes later, my rear tire got squishy.  I stopped, found the puncture in the tread, whipped out my DynaPlug, plugged it, fired the tire up with CO2, and within 2 minutes, I was rolling downhill.  That was by far the smoothest and quickest flat I had ever fixed.

Unfortunately, my self confidence took a hit with that flat, and made me more cautious than I needed to be on finishing that descent.  Hitting the Bulldog wall climb for the second time, my legs filled up with peanut butter!  That 1/2 mile climb was super painful, but I managed to stay on the bike, knowing that my Walt Disney World ride lay just ahead.  Cresting the Wall, a smile quickly spread across my face as I "whoo hoo'd" my way down over the next 15 minutes.

Then onto the open prairie with the sun baking the landscape.  This was my low spot, but having had this feeling many times before, I knew it would pass.  I focused on drinking and eating and managing what energy I had left.  I ran my CamelBak dry at almost the same exact spot on the Gasline Trail.  I hit the final descent without incident and soon saw my little Oasis on Main Street.  Zeke was there this time. As usual, he gave me encouragement.  After a quick pit stop, I rolled to the start/finish to begin my final loop, with my ice filled panty hose keeping the engine from blowing a gasket.

Rolling through the start/finish and heading out for the final loop.

13 miles and 1600 feet of climbing left.  I was currently in second and realistically had no hopes of catching.  But I could still reach my goal of finishing within an hour of her, which would be a huge accomplishment as she is a maniac on two wheels.  I passed by a father and daughter (who was pedaling a Trail A Bike) on the pavement out of town.  The little girl and I discussed how awesome our bikes were and how fun it is to pedal them.  I bid good day to them as I hit the final bit of gravel to the Sabre Trail.  This paralleled I-70 and had a huge kicker in the middle.  I just stuck my front wheel in the deep groove of the trail and clawed my way to the top.  A left on the Centennial Trail put me on a doozy of a climb up to the ridge.  As I was moving on up, my right pedal felt wonky.  Suspecting that my cleat bolts were loose, I hopped off and checked.  Nope!  Uh, oh!  I grabbed my pedal and it wiggled ... a lot!  Oh, crap!  Upon closer inspection, it appeared that the crank thread insert into the carbon crank arm had broke free.  I had 9 miles to go.  Hopping back on the bike, I gingerly clipped back in.  Fearing that any force applied when unclipping just might completely break the insert and I would be left with only one functioning pedal, I babied the drive side and did not unclip again.  And there was still some steep trail ahead.  I had to go into Mighty Mouse mode!

I saw time slipping away from me during the remainder of the Centennial and Anthem Trail.  I gritted my teeth when sections pitched up to 15% and greater.  But ... I ... stayed ... on ... the ... bike!  Once I hit the Main Trail, I knew I could run it back to the finish should my pedal explode!

I hit Main Street and enjoyed the slow pedal towards the finish with a huge sense of accomplishment.  Earlier that day I had no expectations of a podium finish. I just wanted a fun day on the trail and would let the chips fall where they may.  So when I rolled across in second (10:12:56) with Larissa my biggest fan, I was overwhelmed with emotion.

Just a couple of kids that like to ride bikes ... all day!

Five minutes later, once the adrenalin wore off, I was a wreck.  Funny how focused and intense I can be on the bike, but once my body knows the race is over, it has a major meltdown.  I managed to pedal back to the house and clean my bike and gear.  I then crawled to the shower/tub, turned the cold water on, and laid down in the bathtub for 20 minutes while cold water from the shower head rained down upon me.

I want to thank all involved in bringing this race to fruition.  I could see the tons of love and work that went into it.  I was treated like a rock star out on the trail.  I never had that sinking feeling of being off course; there was plenty of affirmation tape.  The ice at the aid stations was a life saver!  I am not sure if the peel away elevation profile top tube sticker was a blessing or a curse, but it garnered a lot of attention.

I was grateful to be whooped up on by Larissa.  I didn't meet that goal, but should our paths cross in the future, I will try again.  Her bubbliness was contagious and I managed to smile 95% of the race.  Thanks for being an inspiration to all women.

Thank you, Alan, for the words of encouragement out on the trail, even when you were not feeling super duper yourself.

Over the course of 10+ hours, I consumed 230 ounces of Infinit and water.  It took me two hours, 1 Coke, and 1 bottle of water, to work up to a pee.  Unbelievable!