School’s out for summer! Even though I haven’t been in school for a couple years, my girlfriend Lauren, completed her first year of teaching last week and we had to celebrate! It just so happened that the Original Growler was the same weekend. I was excited and nervous for this race, because of everything I had heard about the course and how grueling it was going to be. My longest ride prior to the OG was the Whiskey 50. It was sure to be a test of fitness and perseverance.
The weekend came early with a Thursday night celebration for Lauren! We popped a bottle of champagne and sat by the fire in the backyard. It sure seemed like a great idea to finish the bottle and a few beers, until Friday morning rolled around. We had all day to pack the Ele and drive to Gunnison, Colorado. We arrived late in the afternoon feeling tired and just a tad hungover. We checked in at registration and headed out to the mountains where the race course was to find a good spot to set up camp. Hartman Rocks is an amazing piece of BLM land only minutes from downtown Gunnison. The ground is covered in fragrant sage brush and huge granite boulders. With a view of Mount Crested Butte in the background, at the base of “Top of the World” trail and “The Ridge” (both part of the race course) we pitched the tent and I went out for a quick spin. Lauren cooked up some bomber pesto pasta with fish, artichokes, spinach, and goat cheese. It was a great night, calm and cool. We sat around the fire until the wood pile that I gathered was gone.
Saturday morning rolled around and just about the time we rolled out of our bags, the first 25k runner was coming thru. He was hauling ass! We cheered on the trail runners as we cooked up some eggs and bagels. I told Dave Wiens, the race promoter and six-time Leadville Trail 100 winner, that I would be glad to volunteer on Saturday if he needed a hand with the Sage Burner Trail Run 25/50k he also promotes. He needed someone out at the 27 mile aid station to hand out water and encouragement. Lauren and I spent the better part of the day out in the full sun with consistently strong winds. We were both amazed by the competitors in the 50k trail run. By the time these crazy runners arrived at our aid station, they had already completed more than a marathon and still had another 5 miles of rugged trails until the finish. These guys and gals are hard as nails.
Lauren volunteered to sweep the final 5 miles of the course and I opted to go back to camp. I took a short nap under some willow to give the legs a break before the bike race the next day! Standing in the wind and sun all day probably wasn’t the best pre race idea! That night we got a big pizza in town and took it back to camp. Unfortunately, the wind never died down like the night before, so we hit the hay before 8 o’clock. Lauren set her alarm for 5:15 and the race started at 7:00.
I woke up at 5:12 and was ready to roll! We decided to head into town and find a coffee shop to fuel up. It turned out to be a perfect morning, shorts and short sleeves. But, I knew this meant it was going to be a hot one and hydration was going to be key. I decided to run my new Ergon BX2 pack so that I could depend less on the aid stations. I had two bottles of grape nuun on my bike(my new favorite flavor!) and a pocket full of Honey Stinger waffles. The race started in downtown Gunnison where all the riders gathered for a mass start. It was cool lining up with friends, customers from Golden Bike Shop, and fellow Niner enthusiasts. The vibe was awesome.
The mayor of Gunnison pulled the trigger, the cops led us out of town for a neutral roll out, and when we hit the dirt, it was ON! The top 10 guys wasted little time pinning it up the infamous, “Kill Hill” and things strung out right away. I managed to get into the top 5 comfortably before we hit the first single track. Then I picked up a few spots on some techy rock lines that I had to rally! We were probably 45 minutes into the race, I was in third, and the two leaders were out of sight and out of mind. I had put a little time into my chasers (Alders-Epic Endurance, Matheny-Honey Stinger, and Baddick-Epic Endurance) and with my head down on a fire road section, I blew past a turn. A couple minutes later, a truck was behind me honking and yelling. My first reaction was, WTF? Then I heard, “You are off course, turn around!” I had to tell myself to stay calm and just pedal, damn it! It is so frustrating to go off course and lose time, but it got me fired up. I dropped back into the top 10 and had to work extra hard to catch back on. I was able to get around some guys before the technical descent from Skull Pass. This is when I found out that I had ridden into second place. I thought to myself, where’s Kalan? (no longer with Yeti – something to do with him breaking a big top 29 and they wouldn’t warranty it… a factory rider was told to buy a new frame?) It turns out Kalan missed the same turn I did but unfortunately no one chased him down to redirect him. Bummer, because that dude was flying.
The cattle were not shy out there; in fact they were hesitant to move out of the trail at times. The trail was evenly covered with hoof prints and there was only one tire track in front of me. This felt awesome knowing the huge amount of racers that were following; it was almost like getting fresh tracks on the slopes. When I reached the “Top of the World” trail, I knew the finish/lap was less than 4 miles, and Lauren and Moki were just a half a mile down the trail hanging out at camp. I picked up a bottle of nuun and a Stinger waffle before climbing the technical Ridge trail back to the finish. I am so lucky to have the best support ever!
The final lap was intense. We climbed the Notch which is a short, steep and painful grunt. The spectators were pretty stoked when I pedaled past them; I definitely fed off of their energy. I was also looking forward to “Rattlesnake” trail because I pre rode it and it was awesome. This trail defines flow. It’s a little too short but it is amazing how many rock features and creative lines it incorporates. My favorite line on the entire Growler course was up this steep waterfall-like section of decomposing granite. It takes a good punch to clean this and I was afraid I wouldn’t have it in me after 40ish miles of racing. I made it to the top, “Heck Yeah!” After the Notch and Rattlesnake, it was back to the same loop we started with. Basically, to avoid bottlenecks, Wiens put us on the dirt road for the first couple miles and saved the sweet single track for the final lap… brilliant!
By the time I got back out to Skull Pass, my BX2 was empty, and so were both my bottles. I came into the feed zone to grab a bottle, but they couldn’t figure it out quick enough, luckily the Skull pass loop was a short lollipop and I was able to refuel on the way out. Two bottles, another waffle and some Stinger chews.
The race would be incredibly more difficult without the support of these volunteers, huge thanks to them. They even gave me a time split and let me know that Smith, the leader from Team Alpine Orthopedics was 18 minutes ahead of me and Matheny-Stinger was 3 minutes back. This felt like a pretty comfortable second place as long as I stayed consistent and didn’t have any issues.
On the Top of the World, looking back to enjoy the view, I saw someone charging after me, maybe a minute back and had moments of thinking to myself, third would still be sweet. After riding just over 60 miles, my mind and body were feeling weak. All of the sugar made me kind of nauseous and I had trouble finding the motivation to keep the pace high and maintain the gap on third. I still had one gel left. I ate it and glanced down at my top tube… Pedal Damn It. I dug deep all the way to the finish and left it all out there. It’s not over yet, after an interview with Singletrack, I had ride ride back to town to officially finish and receive my very own Gunnison Growler. New Belgium filled it up with Ranger and we hung out the rest of the afternoon to cheer on the podium finishers!
Finishing second place with a time of 5:29, I was stoked! One of my best races ever and definitely one of my favorite races too. I will be back for sure. Thanks to Dave Wiens for hosting such a great event, and to all of my sponsors, friends and family for supporting my hobby! Huge thanks to Sram for all the podium prizes. I won some xx shifters, Reba RLT Ti fork, and a 1091 chain! Mark your calendars and be sure not to miss this event!