Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Leadville 100 MTB Race

2013 Leadville 100 MTB race (um, ride) report

Life is indeed a journey.  One incredible segment of the journey has finally reached its conclusion.  Even though the epic Leadville 100 is now in the rear view mirror and it is time to move on to another adventure, memories that will last a lifetime have been made.  In case time fades my memory, and in case other first timers or flatlanders are embarking on the same great journey, I have done my best to put this experience into words.

If you are a fellow dreamer in the beginning or middle or almost to the end of your own quest for a buckle, let me say to you:  You can do it!  Go for it.  Dream big, work hard, and enjoy every moment.

Thoughts and Pictures from before Race Day...

Pictures from Race Weekend...

Training Plan...

WARNING:  This sucker is one long narrative.  For the nuts and bolts, see the links above.

What should I wear? 

The alarm went off at 4:00 a.m.  I started the coffee pot in the little cabin in Buena Vista, made one last almond butter, blueberry, and honey sandwich, and grabbed my bag of race clothes.  The rest of my gear and fuel was already in the car.  My freshly cleaned and lubed bike went on the rack and away we drove ("we" being my racing friend Jen and her boyfriend Jason, aka our crew, and I.  My precious husband was back home at football practice.) 

We arrived in town shortly after 5:30 a.m., a little concerned about parking, but it wasn't a problem.  We parked on the street next to a gas station only a few blocks from the start.  I went inside, put on my shorts and jersey, plenty of chammy butter and sunscreen, and my warm capris and jacket to wear until right before the gun was scheduled to go off.   I kept an eye on the clock as I attached my race plate, put on my shoes and helmet, and made sure my back pockets and camelbak were all situated with my first round of fuel.  Jen went on ahead to the start line as I finished getting myself together.  I was trying to avoid standing around in the sub-40 degree weather too long, but I actually cut it kind of close.

By the time I rolled up to 6th street, everyone seemed set and ready.  I barely had enough time to find the green corral and get myself under the ropes, shed my outer layer, start my strava, buckle my camelbak, and put my hand over my pounding heart for the beautiful anthem.  I chatted with a few of the fellow riders around me as we each got ready for our own journeys.  It was difficult to decide how warm to dress and how much to carry with me.  Since I hate getting hot (ironic since I'm from Texas) and didn't want to have to stop on St. Kevin's climb to shed, I dressed light.  Quite light, that is.  I hoped I wasn't a recipe for hypothermia as I looked around and seemed to be the only person with no arm warmers, leg warmers, vest, jacket, baklava, mittens, snowsuit, mummy bag.  Heck, even all the pros had warm stuff on.  Oh well, to each his own.  I did wear my warm beanie on my head, figuring as long as my head stayed toasty, I'd survive.  After all, the colder I got, the more I'd look forward to the first climb, right?

After the moment we had all been waiting months for, the countdown and shotgun BOOM!!...well, we just stood there.  The ripple effect was in play as we had to wait for the riders in the corrals in front to get going.  Soon enough, we were off.  It was actually happening.

The air was cool and the pace was brisk.  The sunlight escaping from the mountains behind us shed enough light for us to see the morning hues on the mountains in front of us.  I kept to the left on the outbound road to allow a little wiggle room on the upcoming right hand turns.  From the beginning of the race, I embraced riding in a pack, and for much of the day, I was glued to someone else's wheel and someone was glued to mine.  Even when the crowd thinned, I was always in sight of other riders.  There was only one brief moment toward the end when I seemed to be alone.

My feet were numb and my hands a bit chilled.  My arms stung a little, like when you roll your window down in the winter and an awakening rush of air comes over your whole body.  Nevertheless, I was not too uncomfortable, and was glad I had opted to go light.  The beanie kept necessary heat in, and I determined I would keep it on my head until I could feel my toes again.  (This occurred at the the beginning of Columbine when the lovely sunshine thawed us out.)

Get in line

I had heard several times regarding the initial climb of St. Kevin's "don't burn all your fuel at the beginning," "pace yourself," and "take it easy."  No problem!  The pace line was so slow that you couldn't go faster if your finish time depended on it.  (If you have read the book Into Thin Air or the likes about the commercialization of Mt. Everest, I thought of the log jams that happen on the Hilary step.  Only I was thankful the slow pace wasn't putting my life in jeopardy.)  A few antsy riders tried to work their way through the dense, slowly ascending mob.  My friend Jen told me after the race that one such hammerhead who had nearly knocked her over ended up snapping his chain as he cranked down a little too impatiently. Oops.

The climb went by rather fast, and before I knew it, we were passing the Carter Summit mini aid station at mile 11.  The guy immediately in front of me started frantically hollering, "Mechanic!"  I can't remember what he needed, but I was getting frustrated because he was slowing our line way down and swerving, and there were too many people to simply move around.  The huge herd was starting to spread out and speed up, and I was anxious to stay as far ahead in the masses as possible going into the Powerline descent, which I figured would be a bottleneck.  He eventually realized he was clogging the lane and pulled to the side.  It was time to take off.  

Steady, boys.  We're not even to Powerline yet.

The section between St. Kevin's and Sugarloaf was absolutely gorgeous.  The route wrapped around Turquoise Lake.  I rubbernecked as much as I dared the whole time.  The fast pavement ended soon enough and we turned onto number two climb of the day.  (I mentally broke the race into the 6 climbs, the obvious ones and also the finish).  Sugarloaf was not quite as steep as St. Kevin's, and there seemed to be more room to maneuver. 

Ascending in a pack is a little tricky in some ways, but especially so is descending.  Unlike the pavement, which is wide and predictable, the "pre-Powerline descents" were something to be respected.  I was glad Jen and I had pre-ridden this section.  On our pre-ride, we had encountered one not-to-happy rider walking his bike after a ripped sidewall cut his day short.  I also called to mind the friend of a friend of Jen who had endoed somewhere in the area a few days earlier.  Apparently he was going too fast, hit a small rut, and flipped over his bike.  He also dislocated his shoulder.  I think he got it back in place and was still planning to race, although I never heard a follow up.

Needless to say, I was on high alert.  The left side of the washed out rocky road was the "smoothest," so I joined the steady stream of downhillers on the inside line.  This is when I nearly witnessed disaster.  Some dude was trying to pass everyone on the right.  The only problem is- according to the law of mountain bike physics- it is hard, while on a rocky, rutted, loose, off-camber line that is within a foot of the side of a mountain, to pass those on a smooth line.  The teetering, off-balance rider who came careening by on the right managed to slide his way into the line of traffic toward the bottom of the steep pitch without a disastrous wreck.  Whew!

After a short punchy climb up, it was time for Powerline.  Again, due to the steady stream of riders, it was nearly impossible to go too fast, and the descent came and went without a hitch.  I was grateful to be safely through what I thought would be the two most precocious places on the course:  the mass start and Powerline.  As I hit flat ground and turned right on the road that would take me to the Pipeline aid station, I realized I was more out of breath than I had been on either of the first two climbs.

Pit stop

Another valuable piece of advice I had read was to never get caught alone in the flats.  Taking this as gospel, I quickly found a wheel and hooked on.  There was twice during the second half of the race that I did get caught with some distance between me and the rider(s) ahead, and both times I made the decision to find a faster gear and catch up.  Even if it cost me some energy, I knew it was well worth it.  Especially on the return in this same section between Pipeline and Powerline, when a strong headwind was blowing.

Wow, this is a really long write up.  If you are still reading you are either a blood relative (hi Carolyn) or you are a fellow Leadhead who will read anything you can get your hands on that relates to this crazy race, including a rambling blog.  Speaking of rambling, I better continue.  I'm just now getting to the first aid station!

The first aid station was a welcomed sight as I was anxious to check my first split time.  I had the 11 and 12 hour times on my bike.  My overall goal was to finish in under 12, but my "if I'm feeling really good" goal was 11 hours.  Plus, this early in the game, I was trying to buy as much time as possible in case I hit a wall late in the day, or had a mechanical.  The first split times were 8:55 and 9:05 respectively.  I rolled in at 9:00 a.m. and made a quick stop to refill my heed/perpetuem bottle and grab some food and jumped back on my bike quickly.  Poor Jason had carried my whole crew bag, full of heavy bottles, only to see me pass by and wave.  I had panicked when I didn't see him right away and stopped short of where he was waiting.  When I did see him, I felt bad I had missed him and made a note to be more patient at Twin Lakes.

Just eat it

The rest of the course going out was uncharted territory since I hadn't preridden any of it.  Not that I had time to do so in a week, but I kind of liked the fact that I would be riding about 60% of the course unseen.  I knew it would keep my brain engaged as it soaked in the new scenery.  The course was extremely well marked by the incredible Mr. Art.  (Art raced his way into the books this day, with 10 finishes and 1,000 miles under his belt, or buckle(s) I should say.  Three gentlemen would cross the line for finish number 20!)  With all the pink flags and volunteers directing the way, I wasn't worried about taking a wrong turn.

I had made it a point in my preparation to fuel a lot early, especially in the section between Pipeline and Twin Lakes, as this is the "flattest" part of the course.  There is never a time in the day when you can use hunger as a guide.  I won't go into nutrition plans as there is a lot of information already out there, but will repeat what I've heard quite a bit, because it is imperative.  Eat and drink!  (Maybe not drink as much as you think, more on that later.  But eat, yes.)  If you wait too long, the nausea will set in and it will be even more difficult.  We talked to a guy a few days before the race who had been on a 9 hour pace in 2012, but didn't eat enough early on.  After battling his stomach, he barely recovered to make it in under 12 hours.  In both the Silver Rush and 100, I didn't eat or drink as much as I had planned, but nevertheless, I felt like I was constantly making myself force in calories.  (You don't hear that too often.)  It is so easy to look down and realize you've been riding an hour and haven't consumed anything, because you never actually get hungry.  It is also really difficult to eat when you are climbing, since you can't breath and eat at the same time.  And it's hard to eat while descending.  So whatever your thing is, gu's or gels, waffles or bars, a philly cheese steak or apple pie, shove it in and keep moving.  In the last hours of the race when you can't stomach much at all, hopefully you have put enough fuel in the tank to make it to the finish.  (I think the child-size stromboli I ate the night before helped.  I should probably clarify- the portion wasn't child-size.  The stromboli itself was about the size of a child.)

Population=Elevation

It's funny to me.  In Texas, when you drive through a town and look at the green sign letting you know where you are, the population is also listed.  It's different in Colorado.  Instead of population, the green signs give the elevation.  For example, Leadville:  Elevation 10,200.  I missed the sign going into Twin Lakes, but the population and the elevation were probably one and the same.

Twin Lakes comes fairly quickly after Pipeline.  I started seeing a small city lined up by a lake, and asked another rider, "Is that Twin Lakes?"  "Yep."  He was nice enough not to add a smart remark, like, "No, actually that's Denver" since it was a dumb question.  I think I was surprised it had come so soon.

I was determined to find Jason, even though I didn't need anything from my "crew bag" until the return trip from Columbine.  Holy cow did the line of spectators go on forever!  What an incredible experience to be racing through such a long line of excited friends and family.  I will have to interject here that this unbridled and continual enthusiasm seen all day long is what makes this race bucket list status.  More times than I can count, I heard people encourage me.  There was extra encouragement because I was a lady.  "Girl powerrr!!  Yeah!!!" was a theme from female fanatics.  I also loved it when I saw a little hand sticking out, asking for some skin (glove). 

I didn't see Jason at any point through the half a mile long crowd, and figured he got hung up at Pipeline.  Each tent I passed, I contemplated stopping for water.  I spotted a "Skratch" tent with big coolers on a table, so I pulled over.  I still had a bit of mix left in the bottom of my bottle, and I knew I would be refilling my camelbak at the top of Columbine (I didn't want to carry a full bladder on the 10 mile climb), so I asked the volunteer to top off my bottle with whatever he had.

Apparently, the overflow of Twin Lakes was so massive there was a secondary town a little further down.  Here is where I saw Jason.  It was good to know exactly where he was for the return.  "I'm good for now, but I'll grab a bottle and bag when I come back through."  My reserve bonk bar, waffle, and honeystinger gels were gone since I had missed Jason at the first stop.  That turned out quite well, however, since it meant my pack was about as light as it could be, barring my spare tube and all.

Up, up, up

The Columbine climb was a beast.  I realized it would take some fortitude and patience as I glanced down at my split times and realized I had a couple of hours before the summit was within reach.  One guy joked, "Now time for the worst stretch of trail in Colorado."  Once more, I was in a climbing congo line and could do nothing more than put my head down, find my happy place, and keep pedaling.  One event that broke up the climb was Ken Chlouber on his four wheeler revving up the mountain around us.  The leaders of the race had already begun to pass us on their way down, and there were extremely small and perilous windows of opportunity to pass.  Therefore, Ken would have to bide his time passing a few riders at a clip, then stall the over-sized 4-wheel machine in between the upward crawlers.  When he nudged in only one bike ahead of me and had to creep along for a while to let the descending pros fly by, all of us within 20 yards of his tailpipe were breathing exhaust.  When a long view showed no dowhnill flyers in sight, several in our pack encouraged Ken, "Go!!  Rev that thang and go!!"  Soon enough he did and disappeared around the mountain, only to reappear a few miles later.  This time he was perched on a big boulder on the side of the mountain cheering us on.  "Hey Ken!" Riders greeted the boisterous and iconic Leadville founder as if he was a longtime friend.

I didn't recognize who the leaders were as they descended since they came by like freight trains, but it was neat to witness a pro race while riding in my own amateur one.  I do remember seeing the first female (Sally Bigham) in line.  The Leadville legend, Rebecca Rusch, came by a few minutes later in third.  I yelled some encouragement at her, even though it seemed out of character for me.  I don't normally get hyped by "famous people," although she is such an ambassador of the race and the sport, and was uncharacteristically behind, I felt the impulse to shout something like, "You got it!"  (She shared at the racer's meeting, with tears in her eyes and a heavy heart, that a dear friend of hers had passed away earlier that week.  I found out later her friend had been struck by a vehicle while out riding a bike.  She had contemplated not racing at all, but decided to go ahead and do so.  Not only did she race like the champion she is, I saw her after I had crossed the finish line ((4 hours after she did)) greeting fellow finishers.)

Toward the top of Columbine, the grade steepened and the trees disappeared.  There were a few parts that may have been rideable, but the slow crowd (Into Thin Air flashbacks again) and oncoming left-hand lane traffic dictated walking most of it.  I thought it was funny when hardcore small bucklers like me would yell out, "Rider!"  (Translation:  "Move over walkers, I'm coming through!")  Technically, those pushing bikes must yield to anyone riding who wants to pass.  The funny thing is, there was no room on the right to move, and those riding weren't moving much faster than those pushing.  I think sometimes during the steep sections of uphill, starting at Columbine and continuing a few places on the return, getting off and hiking were actually a nice break.  My motto for the 100 was the same as it was for the 50.  SPKM.  Stay Positive and Keep Moving.  I figured as long as I kept forward momentum and rode whenever possible, I'd be alright.

Txtng from Clmbine

At the top of Columbine, I really wanted to text my husband.  I had told him the day before that I would try to send him an update at the halfway point.  Since I was right on target with the 11 hour split, I decided to take the time to send him some love.  I had imagined the top of Columbine to be a bit bigger, where riders fanned out and took a little break.  It wasn't like that at all.  In fact, it was more like the perfect hybrid between a buffet line and a full-service gas station.  Let me say in case I fail to mention it elsewhere, you won't find better volunteers anywhere than you do at Leadville.  The army of them worked fast and as a unit to get riders their needed supplies without hardly slowing pace.

My first to-do at the top was to refill my camelbak.  Not one, but two gentlemen worked to help me get my pack off and refilled.  A little girl brought a pitcher of water.  While this was going on, a blue plate was shoved in front of me.  "Fig newton?"  I grabbed two and shoved them in my mouth.

I looked around for a place to take out my phone.  Less than 15 yards away, the mountain dropped off into a beautiful deep-cut valley.  I turned against the flow of traffic in the summit cul-de-sac, stood on the edge, and pulled out my phone.  One volunteer joked with me, "This is no time to be texting young lady!"  I smiled as I took my riding gloves off and thumbed to my beloved:  "At Columbine.  Feeling good.  Love you!"  Before getting back in line for the descent, I looked up at the view.  I was anxious to get going and glad to be halfway home, but sad there wasn't time to circumnavigate the small summit and soak in the 360 degrees of gorgeous.

Fresh brake pads are good

The first part of the descent down Columbine left me fearful for the first time in the race I might not be able to finish, and not for any reason I would have anticipated.

Three ahead of me, a rider was descending the steepest part of the mountain like she was going through a school zone speed trap.  I started smelling rubber burning.  Literally.  And the odor was strong.  I couldn't tell whose bike it was coming from, but I knew my brakes had to be smoking.  When they started feeling a little squishy in my sweaty palms, I got nervous.  There was thick, oncoming traffic to our left, and an etched wall of dirt to our right.  With no where to go but into the spandex of the rider in front of me, I held my brakes tight and prayed they would hold out until I could get around.  If I let go for even a millisecond to "feather" the brakes, my front tire would catch too much speed and surge forward.  About the time I thought my brakes were on the verge of failure, the double track widened and an opening presented itself.  Without a moment's hesitation, I hollered, "On your left!!"and passed all three riders at once.  Finally, open road! 

The descent down Columbine was one of the best parts of the race.  I guess the cut off time at Twin Lakes outbound had taken place because not too long after the trees reappeared did the riders going up disappear.  That meant those of us heading down had full use of both sides of the road and could take the switchback turns wide.  I felt like an alpine skiier blazing down the mountain.  Before I even knew it, I was back at Twin Lakes.  Jason was waiting with a full bottle of my special mixture and bags of food.  Since Pipeline aid station was not far ahead and I knew it would be a time crunch for him to get everything to the car and out to Pipeline, I grabbed an extra bag of food and told him I would be good for the rest of the way.  I asked him how Jen was doing, and he said good.  I had seen her shortly after making the turn at Columbine, but barely got her name out.  Amy, another friend from Texas, and I leapfrogged the whole race.  We pulled into Twin Lakes about the same time.  Right before I rode off, I saw her boyfriend hand her a bagel sandwich and encourage her to get it down.  "See you guys at the finish line!" I said as I jumped back on my bike, checked my time split, and hit the road.  I was a few minutes over the 11-hour pace.  

Wheel-sucker

At the Pipeline return station, I pulled aside and topped off my bottle.  I folded up a honey stinger waffle, gave it a few chews, and swallowed.  After making sure I had one last bag of gels in my back pocket, I took off.  I was still hovering at the 11 hour mark and figured I might as well go for it.  Before the jeep road turned to asphalt leaving Pipeline, I got stuck behind two guys who were shooting the breeze like it was Sunday morning at the local donut shop.  I followed one of their wheels for a few minutes before I realized they were going extremely slow.  Since they were taking up both lanes, I had to speak up to get by.  When I asked if I could sneak around, they apologized for blocking the way.   I thought it was cool that they were enjoying some mid-race conversation.

When I got around them, it dawned on me I was out of wheels to follow.  Like a child without her blanket, I felt some minor angst.  The long, flat road between Pipeline and Powerline was on the horizon and the closest rider was over 50 yards ahead.  "Crap" I thought.  I sped up my pace and turned left onto the pavement and into a headwind.  I revved up my cadence even more to hopefully catch the rider ahead ASAP.  In only a couple of minutes I tagged on, relaxed, and enjoyed the draft.

In a huge mass of amateur riders, it is easy to hide and not feel obligated to take a turn at the front of the pack.  I was amazed several times during the race how many people were obviously uninterested in drafting.  (These are good people to follow, as long as they can hold their line and are steady, because you can tail them as long as you like without feeling guilty.  If the line is shaky and the pace shifty, then plan B is to look for shaved legs.  On males, that is.  These guys usually pull you along quite nicely.  The trade off is a turn at the front:)  In either scenario, when there are only two of you and the person to whom you are being a "wheel sucker" is a total stranger, even if he has hairy legs, it is more difficult to hide.  I was hoping the guy I had caught up to wouldn't notice my heavy breathing or my shadow.  But after a few glances back, he finally said, "Are you going to pull or what?"  As I sheepishly moved up, I excused, "Sorry.  I just busted my butt to catch up to you."  Out of shame or maybe pride, I took the lead and set the pace high enough that: 1)  I could bridge the gap between me and the next available riders who were another 40-50 yards ahead, and 2) I'd drop hairy legs.  (I ran into the guy on the last stretch of the race, "the Boulevard" and thought about apologizing, but when he started pulling ahead and I couldn't keep up, I figured it had all worked out okay.)  With several miles to go into the strong headwind, I found myself in a new group of four or five.  We actually worked like a mini peloton and rotated through, each taking short turns at the front.  Amy was in the group as well.  She had passed me at the Pipeline Aid station and eventually pulled ahead for good. 

Free-loading beverage connoisseur

On the last road mile leading up to the Powerline climb, I noticed a huge orange Strava tent on the right side of the road.  Two Strava guys, with the enthusiasm of over-sized cardboard sidewalk advertisers, were practically blocking the path of riders.  With mini coke cans in their outstretched arms, they offered up some needed caffeine with lots of love.  By the time I dodged the zealous volunteers, I realized they had picked their spot with intention.  We were minutes away from the steepest climb of the day.  And stupid me, I just stared as the other members of my makeshift group took the free hand-ups.

There was a guy immediately to my right sipping the sugary goodness, and another imbiber about 10 yards ahead.  (Is it obvious I'm married to a coach?  All my distance describers are in yards.)  The one in front took a couple of swigs, then chunked the rest aside.  The can practically exploded as it landed among the growing pile of red aluminum.  It occurred to me that most riders didn't drink the whole can.  I looked wantingly to the guy on my right as he took a second sip.  "Are you going to drink all of that?" I  asked.  "No."  He said as he finished his sip with a smile and handed me the can in mid flight.  As I guzzled the coke and felt proud of my resourcefulness, he quipped with a grin before speeding away, "As long as you don't mind oral herpes."  I laughed out loud.  There was no time for cheap laughter though, as the Powerline barbarian was looming.

A trio of dressed up chics with a boombox blaring like it was the '80's helped distract me on the lower section of the climb.  I did my best to dance with them as I passed.  My lack of dancing skill was masked since it was only my right arm and head that were moving to the beat of their music.  I pedaled onward, until it was time to dismount and start the slow trudge upwards.  Toward the top, a kind bystander asked me if I wanted a push.  "Sure!"  "Just tell me when," she offered.  When I could manage enough balance to get clipped back in, I said "Okay!" and she gave me a big shove.  I was afraid I might fall over, but it actually was a nice surge of momentum.  "Thanks!!" I yelled as I moved on down the line. 

Nature calls.  Why is she so persistent?

Somewhere towards the top of Sugarloaf, I figured I had about 2 hours left.  With now over 9 hours elapsed, I had another small game-day decision to make.   (What can I say?  I'm a coach, too.)  Should I take one final break, or embrace a little agony and go for a sub-11 hour finish?  I kind of had to pee, again, and if I was going to pee I might as well reapply my chammy butter and take a few deep breaths.  Maybe even stretch a minute.  Perhaps I'm losing some of my competitiveness as I get older, but once more during the epic day I asked myself which was more important to me: a certain  finish time, or the enjoyment of the final hours of the race.  If I took a moment to get off the bike and gather myself one last time, I knew I would feel better for the last, and maybe hardest, stretch. 

I really don't want to confess this, but it might be the final tip that helps someone in a future Leadville 100 with a small bladder like me save some precious time.  After all, it would be a sad day if a call from nature is what kept someone from getting a buckle.  I read some guy's blog in my preparations who made the comment about how "next time" he won't wear bibs.  It can take a lot of time to shed an outer layer, camelbak, jersey, et al. in order to get bibs down and use the bathroom.  Since I pee a lot anyways, I made the decision to wear shorts, even though I much prefer bibs.  And even though I drank half the coffee I usually do before the race, I had to pee four times during the race.  (I made that small so you might accidentally skip it.)  When I decided to wear shorts instead of bibs, I figured I would stop once, maybe twice.  But four times!  After the first stop, I actually told myself not to drink as much.   Nevertheless, nature refused to listen.  It wasn't too big of a deal, as there were many pine trees along the way.  Stopping along the course is a better option than stopping at the aid stations.  There aren't many port-o-potties out there anyhow.  And you don't have to worry about waiting in line.

The final hour

Feeling light and fast, ok maybe just light, I set my sights on the finish line.  Two more climbs, and the red carpet would be in view.

The backside of St. Kevin's is a paved road, the one that winds around the lake.  I tried to take in the views as I did on the outward trip, but it was a little harder this go around.  I seemed to get surges of energy, followed by a sluggish turning over of the pedals.  I ran into Rain from Boulder again, and more conversation with her helped make the climb go by faster.  She didn't seemed to be too labored in her efforts.  This was her third time to do the LT100, and probably her last.  A friend of hers, who was somewhere not too far behind us, was also going for finish number 10.  After this year, Rain said if she returned it would be as a crew volunteer.  "It's really a blast to crew for someone."

Rain and I parted ways at Carter Summit.  She dropped off to wait for her friend and encouraged me an 11-hour finish was still within reach.  I knew it was a long shot at this point, but figured I should make one final push.  With a few sips of mix in my bottle and some water in my camelbak to spare, I blasted through the last-chance aid station.

For the first time all day, I was seemingly alone.  Even though there were riders ahead and behind, the forested surroundings over and down St. Kevin's offered a solitary surreality.   The light at the end of the tunnel was beginning to shine and a new wave of energy came over me (ok, so the perceived energy was really from me going downhill, but it was nice).  In the middle of my daydream of buckles and a beer, I reached for my camelbak hose to take a long pull.  Now that one bladder was empty, I could drink liberally from the other.  The long drink was cut short however.  A gurgled slurping in my hose signaled empty.  Realizing my bottle only had a couple of hits left and I had an hour to go, I momentarily worried.  "Should I turn around and get water?" "You're crazy!! Just keep going, you don't have that long to go."  Yes, I was having a conversation with myself.  Not out loud of course.  Or maybe it was.  I suddenly remembered the dozens of accidentally-dropped bottles I had been seeing all over the course.   Downhill sections seemed to be the best attractors, so I figured I'd be in luck.  Sure enough I was, and with a quick hop off the bike, I had a full bottle.  I would have opted for straight water, but when you are desperate, anything will do.  Including lukewarm, mocha-flavored endurance mix, topped off with a smidgen of a stranger's germs and dirt.  At least the bottle was cool (from Absolute Bikes in Salida, green color) and I was energized for the last hour.

One of my favorite views on the course was the open field at the base of St. Kevin's.  The mountains set behind the green and golden flats were particularly beautiful.  I knew this would be my last day in the mountains for quite a while, so I tried to savor the moment.  I was riding alone and my pace had unknowingly slowed quite a bit.  An older gentlemen in a bright and colorful jersey came by me with the speed of a horse heading for home.  I jumped on his wheel.  Before crossing the railroad tracks, I glanced down at the river flowing beside me and gave a nod to the fishing hole that had brought such peace a few days before.

The older gentleman and I swapped places and I led us to a group of three more.  At the pebbly base of the Boulevard, I bounced my way to the other side of the road in order to have a line all to myself.  I powered up the rocks and then settled back into a steady cadence the rest of the way up the Boulevard.  A few riders passed me, and I didn't care.  I knew I was going over the 11 hour mark, but was far enough away from 12 hours that even if I had a mechanical, I could run it in. 

One final right hand turn onto 6th street brought a view that was 11 hours and 8 minutes in the making.  I could see the finish line.  A smile broke on my gritty face as the spectators grew closer and louder.  One husband was waiting by the wayside a hundred yards from the finish.  His wife was still pedaling forward when he gave her a running hug and yelled, "You did it honey!!!" All around me finishers were crossing over into mountain bike history.  It was cool to witness all the other gloriously depleted yet victorious riders realizing their own hard-fought and long-sought dream.  For me, I can honestly say I enjoyed every moment of it.

The hug I was most looking forward to would have to wait another day until I made it back to Texas.  I got the next best thing, though:  high fives from a long line of children and loved ones who had been waiting patiently at the finish to welcome each and every weary traveler home.

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