Monday, 12 July 2010

Up in Downieville

This could be a very short blog post. I could summarise my Downieville XC race experience with one word - Incredible. And that would be almost enough. I'd pop a few black and whites on here and that'd be that. But I feel compelled to expand. If only to serve as a reminder to myself of how amazing this past weekend's adventure really was. PS.... I didn't get many pictures during the race. Normally I grab a few shots whilst hanging onto a tree, trying not to faint and/or vomit whilst forcing more electrolytes down my gullet to satiate the cramps. However, during this race, I simply didn't have the time :o)

So, on the Friday me and Spangles hit the road with various choices of cycle wear, scooby snacks and painstakingly detailed rides. We arrived in Downieville, grabbed some carbage and watched the town get set for the next day's event whilst we ate. The town had been transformed into a race village with banners and sponsor tents covering the streets. The atmosphere was near electric. We all knew we were in for a treat the next day.

Saturday, we got up early and took the short ride to Sierra City for the race start. After a bit of warming up and chatting to like minded folks, it was time to saddle up and jostle with the other sport category dudes. 9:35 arrives - and we start the epic 29 mile Downieville Classic Cross Country Race! Now, I'd been looking forward to this race for quite a while. More importantly I'd trained for it. Up to now, I've enjoyed the racing as an extension to my regular riding activities. They've been a good opportunity to ride harder and longer on trails I wouldn't normally hit. But I've been resigned to the fact that my skills and fitness would always mean the rides were extremely hard and that I'd never really be competitive. And that's been fine. Perfectly enjoyable and satisfying. But for some reason I wanted this one to be different. I wanted to see if I could get over the self imposed plateau and actually do well. So we've been doing rides specifically targeted at weaknesses and riding harder to build up some racing grit. Did it pay off? As we started the 3000ft, 8 mile ascent, I was about to find out.

Mile 1 is paved road. Mile 2 - you hit dirt. By mile 3 you're pushing your steed uphill with everyone else. Fortunately the pushing was shortlived. Back in the saddle and spinning the granny gear we snaked our way through the beautiful Sierras. But something was different. My pace was no longer being set by my fitness. It was being set by the throng in front. When opportunity presented I tapped into my plentiful reserves and overtook. Mile 4 came and went with water and goodies - I declined and kept on. Before I knew it, we were being offered bacon and margheritas (?!?!?) at the 8 mile aid station. This wasn't an exhaustion induced sight either. I was fine. The climb had taken place mainly in the shade - which helped. But putting mileage into climbs over the last few weeks clearly helped more.

The first section of singletrack is a rolling, bermed track through felled trees. Some neat technicals, switchbacks and jumps warm the kung fu up a treat. Next, its onto the famous baby head rocks. Now, this section is almost a blur. Partly because the vibration renders you senseless, but also because it was so... much... fun! I exclaimed - out loud - on more than one occasion "this bike is awesome!" And the first time those words escaped me was here. The baby head section is so freakin' fast. Big boulders, drops, ruts, loose shale.... What the Nomad didn't plough through aggressively it would skip over with amazing grace. A raking head angle, 6 inches front and back + loooong fast rocky sections of trail = ENORMOUS FUN!

Once you hit Gold Valley and cross the creek its onto the Pauley Creek trail. 17 miles of blissfull singletrack. Fast, at times sketchy and full of huge drops and hurdles that come out of nowhere. But you don't have time to plan a route or strategise. You're going way too fast and having too good a time. So I let the Nomad do its thing and employed some confidence to hammer the cranks and push on. I really only stopped a couple of times. The first one, a steep drop, I could've easily taken but for the two dismounted dudes picking their way down on foot. The second, a blunt wall that appears immediately after a blind bend. Doable if you're prepared but impossible for those of us without Jedi reflexes. But everything else I tackled with ever growing confidence. Looking ahead of the sketchy stuff, trusting that my brain had done the maths and my rig would fill in the blanks. Getting giddy everytime I skipped by some other dude who'd balked and decided to dismount. This was awesome!

After this epic trail, it was time for some more climbing. Up to the Third Divide trailhead. A full on downhill section covered in magic carpet to help with the sketchier sections. By now my brain was overloaded with riding joy. Blissed out at what had been - by far, my best ride ever. After this final descent, we hit the road into downtown Downieville to be greeted by a cheering crowd and a well earned beer!

The rest of the weekend was spent enjoying the festival, sun and spectacle. My time? Based on past performance I was expecting anything up to 5 hours. Definitely over 4 hours. I pulled into Downieville just shy of 3 hours 38 minutes. The longest race I've done and the quickest time I've ridden by quite a margin. It's added fuel to my already burning passion for the sport. I still have a ways to go. Next year I want to finish in less than 3 and a half hours for a start. But I'm feeling the rewards from hard work - and a few hard falls. I can't wait to keep hitting the trails, working hard, and seeing what next year's race brings.

1 comment:

  1. you are making this sound so much fun. Glad you had a good time.