93 miles of gravel and dirt roads and 7000 or so feet of elevation gain, with a few creek crossings and washed out two tracks thrown in for good measure. The event t-shirt also hinted to the infamous 'vicious cows' section of the ride, where belligerent bovine encounters were said to be almost as perilous as the inevitable leg cramps at mile 75. With empty valleys devoid of any civilization and 6 hours of riding uninterrupted by cars, the 2017 Lost and Found Gravel Race was an event that promised to have every participant lost at some point on the ride, either physically or mentally, then reel them back in to a 'found' state, either with the occasional orange ribbon on course peeking from behind the next corner, or the bacon and bourbon handups at one of the 5 aid stations on course.
I had heard murmurings of the good times that were had at last year's rendition of the Lost and Found, an event that I missed due to other commitments. The stories of perfectly stocked aid stations, gourmet meals before and after the race, and late night dance offs, all set within the idyllic mountain setting of Lake Davis had me eager to test my mettle. After all, this event is put on by Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship, the same folks who bring us the infamous Downieville Classic, a 'cross country' mountain bike race more akin to a weekend long frat-party than a top notch XC affair, but that's beside the point. Somehow, after talking myself into registering only a few weeks prior to the event and only hours before it sold out and hit its 1000 rider cap, all I seemed to remember of the stories were the good parts of the weekend, and mentally blocked out the other stories of what it takes to complete 93 miles at race pace on dirt. Oh well, I figured, it's just a bike race, how bad could it be?
After spending all of Thursday getting my Scott Addict CX dialed in for the event, with fresh brake pads and a bleed for my SRAM Force brakes and much-needed bottom bracket and headset overhaul after the harsh winter of cross racing, I loaded up my truck with all the essentials for a weekend of good times, like several pounds of breakfast meats, a fishing pole, and my trusty morning coffee supplies. I was going to have a good time; regardless of whatever happened on Saturday. After pitching my tent and setting up a camp all too big for one man, I rolled over to registration and rendezvoused with all the characters of the sport that races like these pull together. After a short pre-ride to scope out the first and last climbs of the next day's monstrous course, I settled in to camp, threw my line in the water, and waited for night to fall.
Laying in my tent that night it finally hit me, I wasn't here just for the camaraderie and fun, I had to ride 93 miles tomorrow. And not just ride 93 miles, which I hadn't done for over a year, but race 93 miles, a feat I had never before attempted. Nevertheless I hit the hay with the assurance of the safety net of 999 fellow racers and 5 well stocked aid stations and party stops, should the need arise. The next morning I awoke to the sun at a well-timed 6 am, minutes before my alarm was set to go off and shatter the calm atmosphere of the campground. After a well cooked camp breakfast, 8 am rolled around all too quickly and it was time to set off. I rolled over to Coot Bay staging area and took the front line with around 50 or so other Pro racers heading out for around 5-6 hours of pain and punishment. After the neutral start following the Yuba Expeditions shuttle van, we hit the first obstacle of the day, the first dirt climb, and the race was on. Immediately the pace was upped, and I was working really hard to stay within sight of the front group. After I crested the first climb, I was within sight of the lead group of around 7 and I knew I had to catch them or I'd be in no man's land. I pedaled as fast as my gear would allow on the next descent and into the base of the second climb and caught back on to the lead group. After extending our lead on the second climb, the group set a blistering pace on the gravel and dirt fire roads through the valley. I was reduced to following the faint outline of the jersey in front of me, matching his body movements to avoid obstacles and ditches hidden by the massive cloud of dust in his wake. After reaching the first aid station, the pace let up just enough for me to look around and realize the company I was keeping. The group consisted of Geoff Kabush (Scott-Maxxis), eventual winner Carl Decker (Giant), Barry Wicks (Kona), Tobin Ortenblad (Santa Cruz), Jamey Driscoll (Raleigh Clement), Anthony Clarke (Squid Bikes), and Chris Jones (United Health Care). This was a group of dudes who knew how to ride. And how to ride fast. After a brief breather where riders hopped off to take bathroom breaks and the group kept rolling at a conversation pace, discussing upcoming races and plans for summer, a chase group caught back on to us, and we were now a group of 20 or so.
The pace continued to be relaxed, and I took a few turns up front, getting to know other racers and taking my turn in the wind. Eventually, Carl and Geoff decided it was time to really race, and moved up front to attack on one of the rolling descents. I jumped up and joined the group, moving at breakneck speed through the loose and rocky forest. Just as we were approaching the second aid station, around mile 35 or so, disaster struck. On one of the high speed descents, my front tire, obscured by dust, hit a rock or rut and I was hurled into a barrel roll on the ground at 30 mph. After rolling off the trail as not to be run over by the group (one guy still managed to hit me), I laid there for a few minutes assessing the damage to make sure I was still in one piece. After assuring every thing was still functional, I rolled onto the next aid station, where I fixed my bike and took copious amounts of sour patch kid hand ups and watched most of my race pass me by.
The next 15 miles were some of the toughest of the race, as I had no one to ride with and was seriously contemplating the meaning of life as I rolled though the forest, alone, bruised, bleeding, and hungry. After another refuel at mile 50, I caught a group of local guys I knew and joined in and rode the next 25 miles with them, hanging in and hiding from the wind. At this point my legs were on the edge of cramping and I had to ride right at the edge of cramps to balance speed and hopes of finishing cramp-free. After a much needed bacon handup from Paul of Paul Components at mile 75, I was energized and motivated to finish. After a few creek crossings and navigating the notorious 'vicious cows' section (I saw no cows), I was within spitting distance of the finish. I got so excited I decided to lay down the power up the second to last climb on the pavement, a choice I would soon regret. Right as I hit the final dirt climb of the day, my legs started cramping, an eventuality I had been trying to fend off for the last 85 miles. After climbing that section 3 times slower than I had in pre ride the day prior (check Strava, it happened), I limped up the pavement and across the finish line in 5 hours and 52 minutes.
After spending half an hour laying on the ground, I finally got some food in me and began the recovery cycle. Luckily for me there was a catered post race meal, and plenty of food being made back at camp, so all I had to worry about in my cracked state was staying upright, which I did, but barely. That evening people from campsites all over gathered around the campfire as we all took turns telling our stories of the day's adventure and what we faced out on the race course. Snacks and drinks were passed around and everyone soaked up the outrageous tales of triple flats, racers drinking entire bottles of liquor on course, and the fine art of peeing from a bib short. As the sun set over the lake I thought back on my effort and what I had accomplished. Maybe next year I'll do some bigger rides before Lost and Found to help me prepare. Or maybe not, seeing as I didn't die this year and it all just adds to the adventure. Either way I know I'll definitely be back!