PORTOLA, CA – May 31, 2014
Food: Mexican breakfast, mass quantities on the bike, followed by lasagna, beer, milkshake, mini-burger, and onion rings.
Race: Went my own pace and spent the better part of the four hours pretty much alone in some beautiful and remote country.
1st Annual Lost & Found – hella long report
I have been excited for this race/event ever since I got the e-mail announcing it a few months ago. It sounded amazing: 100 miles, 80% dirt, with 7,000 of climbing. The race started on the shores of Lake Davis, and would go through low passes and valleys in the alpine area north of Portola (which is about an hour north of Truckee). I had a few setbacks leading up to the race, including realizing the plastic hardtail I intended to ride was cracked three weeks before the event, getting a nasty virus two weeks ago and still wasn’t out of my system, and a diagnosis for asthma on Thursday. The organizers had set up three courses; there was the 100 mile version that I’d registered to do, a 60 mile option, and a 30 mile variant. Each of the lower mileage options was effectively a bail-out along the 100 mile course, so I knew I could call it quits if I wasn’t up to the full distance. I really didn’t want to have a day like I did the previous weekend at Hamilton, where I was pretty much crushed 50 miles into my 100 mile day (thanks again to “big winner Scene” for dragging my carcass home that day through the hot headwinds of Sonol).
This was the inaugural race, so everyone’s strategy was based only the race map and elevation profile that the promoters had provided. The course was super flat by mountain bike standards, but it was expected to be windy. Some sections were long flat single-lane dirt roads through big valleys, so being in a cohesive group was going to be key. At the startline I saw a few pros like Jason Moeschler, and my buddy Chris Kelly – but I just hoped nobody did anything silly like attack the first set of hills. There was an interesting mix of mountain bikes and ‘cross bikes. Most of the cross bike folks were running super fat tires (like 40s). I was on the used S-works hardtail I got the previous weekend – and I set it up with 2.0 low-knob tires. This would be my third ride on that rig – it turns out, the bike was perfect for the course, and I was super stoked to be on a mountain bike rather than a cross bike. I also was happy to have a newly acquired inhaler in my pocket (yay, medically allowed doping!).
The start of the race was mass-start, with all 200 participants heading up the initial 8 miles of pavement together. They said we were only allowed the right lane of traffic, but plenty of “centerline violations” occurred with folks moving up in the oncoming lane – good thing this wasn’t a USAC race, or 20% of the field would have been DQ’d before the first gravel section. The pace increased as we hit the gravel, and as the peloton narrowed, I moved up to the top 20, out of the wind, but on the windward side to eat a little less dust. There was one crash in the first few miles of dirt, but it wasn’t too bad as our speed was under 20, and I think most folks were able to slow a bit before they hit the deck. The crash was right in front of me, but I got around it no problem. The folks leading the race were nice enough to slow a bit to give folks a chance to get back on. At the first left hand turn onto a narrower road, strong riders started to attack, and the bunch funneled into two lines, one for each of the buffed out sections. Of course, this was also where there were some ruts from trucks going through in wet weather. I had slotted in behind Moeshler, about fifth wheel, and Chris was next to me. Sucking wheel at 20mph, on mixed terrain was much nicer on a mountain bike. Some ruts were unavoidable (and invisible) given the dust, and having the flat bars and front suspension really helped. A few folks went down in the dusty ruts, and I think some gaps formed behind us.
As we turned up the first climb, the pace went up again, and I immediately felt the pinch. I knew that wasn’t a sustainable 6+ hour pace for me, so I backed off to something more manageable, and let the front ten roll away. Up ahead, I saw Chris, looking at his powermeter, also let that bunch go. Chris seemed to be holding a similar pace as me, so I closed the 15 second gap up to him, and started riding with him. He was telling me that the leaders’ pace was similar to a 2hr mountain bike race – which made me feel all the better for having let them go. Towards the top a few folks on CX bikes caught us, and we formed a group that ultimately swelled to about 10 as we picked up a few falling back from the first group, and others bridging up. On the first short descent, Chris and I, being the two on mountain bikes, rolled away from the group. It was a fast fire road (30+ mph), but with some decent sized rocks and loose corners, so the fatter tires were a huge advantage. We grouped up again once the road went uphill again, but this time it was steeper, and the group started to split up a bit. Near the top I started to fall off the pace, and a little ways up ahead, Chris got his first flat. My strategy was to stick with him as he is a steady rider and I thought we could work together – but I struck off without him and used the next downhill to catch back on to the group.
In the first valley, we were back on tarmac, and we were a group of 8, doing a nice rotating paceline at about 20mph. Probably the first time I’ve ever done that on a mountain bike before. Workign together, we made short work of the several miles of pavement. At the next hill, there was a small surge, and sticking with my idea of not having anything hurt for the first 60 miles, I let them roll away. I knew there were some really strong riders, like Alan Coates, that I’d left behind on the last climb/decent – so I thought if I got caught, I’d have some more strong people to work with for the coming valleys. In retrospect, letting that group of six go might have been a mistake.
The next hill turned out to be pretty short, and a reasonable grade, and I enjoyed the view as I rode by myself – now at mile 25 or so. At the bottom of the next descent, I took a nature break, and shortly after remounting saw a fellow closing in on me, so I pedaled easily until he bridge up. He turned out to be a strong roadie looking dude on a cross bike in a VW-Raley’s jersey. He’d stopped at the first aid station, near the top of the first climb, as in the early melee, he’d ejected his one water bottle. I introduced myself to AJ, and for a short while we rode next to one another, chatting. Quickly realized that I was going to burn out at AJ’s pace, so I politely told him I was going to suck his wheel for a while, but I’d be happy to return the favor. Only after sucking his wheel for a good few miles, I realized that he still didn’t have a bottle (the aid stations only had cups). I was carrying three bottles, so offered him one of mine. This was for two reasons, 1) we had turned into a tailwind and sitting in was getting harder, so this would be one way to slow him down for a short bit, and 2) I had a vain hope that by giving him a lifeline he’d take pity on my and not drop me like a sack of turnips. In a full tailwind section, we were ripping along at 24mph, and on a paved riser, I got gapped. I don’t think my new friend AJ noticed.
I did catch up to AJ and a pro singlespeeder (yes, there was a monster doing 100 miles with only one gear, a 50x18 or something awful) at the next aid station. I only needed one bottle with water, so managed to roll out before the other two, but into a pancake flat valley into a block headwind. I rode easy knowing the other two would catch up soon. Once they did, AJ went back to the front, and maintained 20mph again. This was awesome. I would have hated to be alone in that section. But all good things come to an end, and the road eventually turned a bit south, put the wind behind us, and started a gentle rise. It was tough with the tailwind and I thought I wouldn’t be able to stick so I said goodbye to my new friends and watched them roll away from me.
At this point, I really was truly and utterly alone. With AJs motor, I was sure I’d put additional distance between whoever might be coming from behind, and I didn’t expect to catch anyone up ahead unless they got shelled out of the front groups. At the next aid station, I refilled my two bottles of water, and picked up a few more packages of cliff blocs. I was told there was a group of four seven minutes up the road, but I didn’t expect to catch that. The next section was mostly downhill, to about mile 75, and then a ten mile, 3000+ ft climb.
Although alone, it was really beautiful. I tried to concentrate on keeping my tempo up, but I did allow myself to enjoy the scenery. About mile 65 the fire road went into a canyon and followed a creek, slightly downhill and undulating at first, and then getting pretty fast and loose. I was using this downhill to rest for the final climb, but keeping it safe and avoiding mishap. Some corners were pretty tight and loose, and would come up without warning – but I could usually gauge those by the skid marks in the dirt on the approach. About 2/3 of the way down I got a rear flat. Somehow I managed to get a nail through my tire in the middle of nowhere, 10 miles from the nearest building. I took my time changing the tube, and unfortunately got passed by a bunch of folks, including the Alan Coates group I was counting on to pull me along if I were to get caught. After fixing my flat, once again I was alone. I caught a group of three at the Pauls Components Aid station, and had to wait a bit for them to fill bottles (they only had one jug of H2O, so we queued up). On the plus side, that aid station had crispy bacon in addition to standard cliff blocs and gels. The bacon was outstanding. They also had cans of beer. That seemed like a bad idea, so I left those in the cooler.
I got out ahead of the group of three, and once again was alone, and had to push four miles through a beautiful valley into a headwind on my way to the final climb.
The climb was long and annoying. It did follow a gushing stream, so it was pretty, but it was hard to get a rhythm as the grade varied from 1% to 14%, and by the top, my legs were telling me that I was close to cramping, so I had to spin an easy gear. I caught and passed two people, and two different people caught and passed me. Very close to the top, Chris caught up to me, and I learned he had a second flat. Turns out his superlight Schwalbe file-tread tires were a poor choice with the sharp stones. Minus the roofing nail, I was happy with my 2.0 tires all day. We rode together for a while, until about 15 miles from the finish where we got another tailwind section, and the benefit of the draft wasn’t enough for me to stick with him. I think he was tired of being on his bike, so he rolled away from me.
I wound up finishing 8th in the 35 – 45 age group, in 6 hours, 45 minutes – achieving my goal of 7 hours (it was 6:30 moving time, says Strava). The fastest times were under 6:00. I think I could do it in under6:30 with the right luck and being healthy.
This was the 1st annual, and hope it isn’t the last. I was surprised how fun it was to ride fire roads all day. The choice of bike is an interesting one. I was very happy to be on my mountain bike for the first 20 miles, and the long descent into the final valley, and the last climb. But for 70% of the course, I think a CX bike with super-fat tires and bar-top brake levers would be superior. My triceps got really sore by mile 50 from trying to get my position low and out of the wind. Drop bars would have been very welcome. But for year 2, I still will take the hardtail mountain bike for overall comfort.
I don’t recommend driving home same day like I did, though. After finishing, socializing a bit, having a bite and a beer, and getting ready to roll, I was on the road about 6, getting into my driveway at 10pm. I was pretty wiped out on Sunday – mostly from sleep deprivation.
Breakfast: Eggs over easy with black beans, rice, and avocado.
On the bike: five scoops of superstarch in first three hours, then four packages (not sure, lost count) of cliff blocs and three gels. I repeatedly flirted with bonking, but managed to get going again when ingesting mass quantities.
After: Promoter-provided beef lasagna and salad (tasty!), washed down with cold beer. Also a chocolate chip cookie. A ½ size cheeseburger, chocolate milkshake, and basket of onion rings from “Burger Me” in Truckee.
- Mike Campbell