Coming into the Grand Junction Off Road I was expecting an easier time than the last Epic Rides event, the Whiskey, with only 40 ish miles on tap and 'only' 5500 ft of climbing. Boy was I wrong. To make the most out of the 1000 mile journey to Colorado's western desert I decided to make a road trip of it with a friend, leaving as soon as I finished up my last final exam, officially starting off Summer break with a bang. When we arrived on Friday, after the 2 day, 1000 mile drive over, I was pretty tired but excited to be racing in such a cool place. Racing kicked off Friday night with the Fat Tire Crit and it did not fail to disappoint.
I was able to start on the front line of the race, which was a major help in a race which consisted of endless .75 mile laps with 8 turns, sprint, turn, sprint, turn. The race started really fast, and I was working my hardest to stay at the front of it, ready to respond but out of trouble in the back. About halfway through, Geoff Kabush (Scott-Maxxis) jumped off the front and started a solo attack, and the pace really picked up. I jumped to the front and did my best to help reel him back in, taking my turn making pulls when needed. After a few laps, Todd Wells (TLD-SRAM) and Carl Decker (Giant) broke away and splintered our chase group. I did what I could to stay in the front, but was afraid of getting caught in a crash, navigating the many corners and curbs, and rolled across the line in 20th after 25 minutes of anaerobic awesomeness.
After a bit of a preride Saturday, Sunday was the backcountry race. Going into it I was expecting a real challenge with all of the technical rock and slab riding Grand Junction has on tap, but also looking forward to the new experience. The most treacherous part of the whole race was the first 3 miles on pavement, as the massive peloton weaved around traffic pylons and dodged parked cars, everyone on red alert for the next hidden obstacle. Luckily no one went down but it was really close a few times. Once we hit the dirt the race was on. A few bottlenecks up the road caused a traffic jam and I was forced off my bike to run up the first few climbs. After settling back in we hit the major hike-a-bike section of the day with a solid several hundred yard rock ascent, everyone settling in and just trying to make it up the loose and rocky trail. After the stop and go nature of the beginning, we hit the first descent of the day, Butterknife trail. I was sitting mid pack or so going on and feeling pretty good. In that 10 mile section of trail I passed probably 15 people stopped with flat tires from the super chunky terrain. Luckily my Stan's No Tubes Valors and Maxxis Icons helped carry me to a flat-free race. As soon as I hit the first major climb at mile 20 I knew I was cooked. I was out of water and my upper body was mush from the 20-mile rock garden I had just ridden. I ate some food and settled in, riding a pace I knew I could sustain at my current cracked state but still move decently quick. By mile 30 everything had changed. My legs had started cramping and any hopes of a speedy finish were dashed. I just wanted to finish. After taking handups of cupcakes, pickles, and coke, I got a second wind at mile 35 and felt like things were starting to turn around. Unfortunately though a few rock gardens later my legs began their vicious cramp cycle again and I was forced into limp mode. My only motivation came at mile 40, with the finish line only a few miles away when a racer from behind yelled," the women are right behind us, let's go!" Somehow I found enough strength within to drill the last section of pavement and not get passed by the women, although they are super fast and I think the winner probably beat me with our staggered start time taken into account, these gals are cray!
Overall though it was a race of mental strength and one I'm just glad I could finish. It was humbling to be put in my place by a race again and be reminded of what this is all about. The fun, and the pain. These endurance races haven't gotten any easier yet, just more educational. Hopefully I can put it all together for Lost and Found and Carson City the next few weekends!
After the race we rounded out the road trip by spending some time in Durango, riding the epic mountain singletrack around there, including the famed Colorado Trail, as well as some in-town trails Quinn Simmons was kind enough to show to me. After a hard weekend of racing; relaxation by the lake, some fishing, and a whole lot of gourmet camp cooking was also in order. On the return trip home we were able to stop in Moab for a quick rip around some of their local trails and it was amazing. The views were incredible and the trails were world class. I wish I could've spent more time there but I'm glad I got to see what it was all about at least. My biggest takeaway from the week though, besides the fun, was the capability of my Scott Spark WC. Riding trails on my XC race bike most people were riding on full on trail bikes was pretty rewarding. The spark made the climbs nice and easy but still was able to hang when the trail got rough. Super impressed with this bike! That's it for now, stay tuned for the next summer adventure!