Super DHisappointed

I’ve had a my fair share of setbacks this season: a prolonged cold this spring in the thick of training, the rib-breaking, lung-collapsing crash, and then another rib-breaking accident six weeks later at the Trans BC (that race deserves a long post - it’s coming!). But dang, I feel like I’m riding well, yet I haven’t had a single race this year that I can look back on and say “crushed it!” More often it’s “WTF happened?” In racing, one of the hardest things to deal with is feeling like you’ve had a good race - but your time says you sucked. That was the case today.

2011. Air DH. Back when the event was called Crankworx Colorado and people rode 26" wheels. Photo: Connor Walberg / VitalMTB

2011. Air DH. Back when the event was called Crankworx Colorado and people rode 26" wheels. Photo: Connor Walberg / VitalMTB

Colorado Freeride Fest. It’s got an awful, generic name, but it’s a pretty good time. The four-day festival at my home-away-from-home, Winter Park, offers several races and the marquee-event, an FMB-level Slopestyle. In addition to some novelty events, like the Interglatic Pond Crossing, on the schedule are the Air DH, Super DH, and (regular?) DH. A few years ago, pre-EWS, they also had an Enduro race. I’ve been participating for probably close to ten years - going back to the Crankworx Colorado days.

Whereas I’m usually down for at least two of the events, this year I only enrolled in the Super DH; a four mile, 1,700’ descent down a variety of the mountain's trails. I was pretty amped on the course this year, it started above the lift on some natural singletrack, made its way into some bike-parky terrain, then got into some serious chunk before finishing on the high-speed final stretch of Boulevard (which I’ve probably ridden 1,000 times).

I did a few laps on Thursday, mostly intending to get up to speed and put together the course's trail connections more than anything. Having ridden here for so long, I didn’t feel it was necessary to practice quite as much as a typical race. I know the lines and get through the relatively few “gnar” sections with pretty good pace - even on my 116mm-travel Pivot 429 Trail. I ran into my buddy Bryce and we did a few quicker laps in the afternoon. My Strava results were encouraging, saying I’d put in my second or third fastest times on some pretty lengthy sections of the mountain. Having raced here on so many occasions, that told me I was on form.

In the evening there was a Prologue meant to seed us for the race. It used a short green trail away from the base that I’d never ridden before, Green Hornet. I gave it one practice lap, but there wasn’t much to it. As soon as I could, I lined up to get my timed run in. I put the power down like mad for the first 20-30 seconds of the minute and a half track and, to my surprise, I put down the fastest time. Now, several of the other pros skipped the prologue altogether having just gotten done with Air DH, but I took nothing but encouragement from being fastest of the rest!

Taking the “W” in that was supposed to mean I went last for the big show this morning, however, for whatever reason, a fellow racer ended up not being on the start list, so the officials slotted him in after me. So in the end, the prologue was completely meaningless, cool (at least I got some Maxxis tires out of it).

I did a single warm-up lap before the race this morning, I felt good and didn’t feel like another would be of any benefit - plus, there was a “mandatory" rider’s meeting at the start of the course at 9:45, so I didn’t have much time to mess around anyway. Even after all these years, I’m still the sucker who goes to these “mandatory” rider’s meetings where basically all they say is “so, we’re doing a race, don’t cheat, here’s the schedule and start list.” Glad I got up there for that groundbreaking information, totally worth the hour and half I would then have to wait to get started. The other pros were way smarter and didn’t show up until about fifteen minutes before our start. 

Five. Four. Three. Two. One. Go.

My race started off pretty good. The first stretch was very pedally and I had opted for my short-travel bike and donned my XC kit to try and gain an aero advantage on the high-speed, wide-open stretches later in the course, so I was right at home. Strava says I KOM’d that bit, so that’s cool. Apparently I kinda sucked everywhere else though. It sure didn’t feel like it at the time though, I thought I was on a heater of a run!

A trail called Shy Ann followed, it’s a pretty basic affair with some small jumps and berms followed by a mellow, but not exactly short, climb. I remember tangling bars with Jesse Swift on this section years ago in a mass-start Super D. We both went down pretty hard, but neither of us blamed each other and he was super nice about it - he’s a class act. Crazy story, earlier this year he was stabbed at home and critically wounded by some shithead druggies in a case of mistaken identity. Thankfully he survived and is on the mend.

 The third stretch of the course took us down Double Jeopardy, one of my faves. I’d say it’s one step rougher than the two preceding segments. It features some pretty sandy, bermed corners and a chunky rock garden featuring two prominent lines. I forget exactly which corner got me, but in one of those sandy corners I lost the rear and nearly oversteered right into the inside edge of the trail. I saved it without major catastrophe, but my pedal or something must’ve jumped up and nailed my upper shin, because it was leakin' pretty good at the bottom. I lost a bit of momentum, but I thought it was pretty minor and I rallied the subsequent, aforementioned rock garden pretty dang good. I must take the slow line though, because looking at Strava I lost about 5 seconds to my competitors here and that little bobble wasn’t worth that much. I know I take the easy, less-risky line, but I must have been wrong in thinking that, done correctly, it was roughly equal to the other option. There is somewhat of a tight squeeze to get into the more technical line and I saw Adam Craig eat shit there at EWS practice a couple years ago, so I've kinda avoided it since.

In the middle of Double Jeopardy's rock lines - just after my bobble.

So, I was about halfway done with the course at that point and just had that one bobble. No big deal, I thought, it’s a long course, so you can’t expect to get every single bit of it perfectly. What was left was no joke though, so I couldn’t relax too much. Up next was Pipe Cut, a balls-out section of trail linking Five Points to Boulevard and Trestle. It features a long boardwalk stretch, a la Ft. William, that always kicks my rear a little bit on entry — it’s a little unnerving at 28mph. It also has two or three wash crossings that at that speed you can just bunny hop. However, there are boulders on both sides, so if you mistime it, things can get bucky real quick. I’m happy to say I greased this section pretty dang well, at most maybe a fraction off my best.

From there, an awkward turn drops you into a short bit of Trestle DH — you guessed it — the traditional DH trail on the mountain. Now, I love, love, love this section, but it’s a little cray on a short-travel bike. It’s pretty choppy and rough and there's a sequence that features a rock drop to two tight, bombed-out corners that then leads you to a short runway for a fifteen to twenty foot long step down (@ ~1:00 in this video I made five years ago). It’s pretty easy to get off line in there and then be desperately searching for a few pedal strokes to clear the landing. I aced this section too about as well as I could’ve hoped, but I was getting worked by this point!

What followed was some more high-speed straight forward bike part stuff to connect us to Bear Arms - another fave. Bear Arms is rad. It’s kinda like a pump track, but instead of dirt rollers you’ve got rocks. Rocks to rocks. There are two key rock gaps that if you can nail, you can really carry speed. I got a little funky between them and only barely made the second. Still, pretty good.

All that was left was the high-speed punishment of Boulevard. This is one of three of the most common finishing stretches of the mountain, so it gets used and abused. There are some seriously unforgiving braking bumps and 11 minutes into a run at race pace, my dainty little Monarch XX shock’s damping system had pretty much called it a day. That, along with my trembling hands, made it miraculous that I survived this bit —  but I did, and here too I felt I was on great pace. There are two quick rises towards the end, and if I I’m "on it", I can usually double them. Today I soared over them, no problem.

Boom. Finish line. Race done. Right on. Not perfect, but pretty dang good. Let’s check the time. Last place? Are you kidding me?

That was a real kick in nuts, quite frankly. Aside from the winner, Dillon Lemarr, who scorched everyone, times were pretty close considering the length of the race. There were just 36 seconds (and four other racers) between me and second (Alex Willie), 12:10 and 11:34 respectively. Seventh of seven in the class, dang.

I really wanted to get one of those big novelty checks today, I’ve never gotten one and it would look so good in my workshop! I guess I’ll have to wait until next year — as I think this race is still probably my best shot at claiming one. In a way, I wish I had made a bigger mistake or had a legitimate crash so I had something to point to and say “aha, that’s why I lost.” But when you feel like you had a good race and can only think of a few instances where you think you were only marginally slower, it’s a little bewildering. Guess it’s time to get back in the gym to get stronger and get on the bike and focus on getting faster everywhere. Sounds easy.

Having Another Crack At It

It’s been a rather eventful month since the Grand Junction Off-road, a period that kicked off with me doing a pile-driver into the concrete-hard single track of Joe’s Ridge at 25mph.

It started out as a nice ride. I was excited to end the year’s endurance campaign – that culminated with a less-than-stellar finish at the Grand Junction Off-road – and get back to my “endurbro” roots. I was over-enjoying the combination of peak fitness and being reunited with my Pivot 429 Trail, that had been gathering dust while I put the miles in on my Mach 4 leading up to the GJOR, and I attacked the blue-groove single track at 18rd with a vengeance. It was two days after the race, which I would later come to find, thanks to reading Joe Friel’s Cyclist’s Training Bible, is specifically the most likely time to get injured.  With my buddy Dan in tow, I set out on one of my favorite counter-clockwise loops in the North Fruita Desert: up Down Uppity, West on Chutes and Ladders, and over to the Joe’s/Mojoes duo (AKA Hojoes). I blazed up the first two segments of the route and turned it up to 11 on the way down Joe’s. Coming off the ridgeline to a sweeping right hand corner I felt the sickening sensation of both tires simultaneously losing traction. In an instant, I was down. I didn’t really slide, instead, I wadded into the trail: an instantaneous deceleration akin to pitching a raw meatball at a wall.

I was gasping for air for the better part of a minute and simultaneously wondering what kind of irreparable damage I’d just done. It was almost a year to the day that I’d separated my shoulder in Whistler on day one, run one of that trip. And here I was, 72 hours away from another trip to Whistler, all knackered up. With my breath restored, I did the usually “joint checking, shoulder rolling, pressing here and there,” self-physical to inspect the bodily harm. It wasn’t good; I knew I’d done my ribs in.

With assistance from several friends – who happened to be up there for our local CBB shop ride – I stridered my sad, disheveled bike down the trail and loaded up in a buddy’s truck. He brought me to the parking lot where Sparky was waiting, also ready to go home after her own unplanned get-off. With few words exchanged, we loaded up and started heading home. The bumpy, washboarded road made the ride nearly unbearable. Even worse was any cause of acceleration or deceleration: stop signs, turns, etc. As we got closer to town, it became harder and harder to breathe. A trip to the ER was no longer a wait and see affair.

Joe Friel actually says this in the  Cyclists Training Bible . Huh, go figure.

Joe Friel actually says this in the Cyclists Training Bible. Huh, go figure.

Stoked on the IV drip.

Stoked on the IV drip.

A note on that. How much does it suck that when you’re, for lack of a better term, FUCKED-UP, that you have to think about how much a trip to the ER is gonna cost? I have insurance, but an ER trip is a costly endeavor anyway, and with belabored breathing involved, I knew at the very least that I’d be dropping a couple thousand bucks out of the blue. Fun!

I’ll spare you the details, but in a nutshell, I had a collapsed lung and broken rib (EDIT: I've come to find out I actually broke two ribs, very clearly, in an x-ray done today) – a really lovely, comfortable combination. Unequipped to handle a pneumothorax, the docs at our local Fruita ER facility had me ambulanced (is that a word?) to Grand Junction. I spent the next few days holed up in St. Mary’s hospital, subjected to repeated imaging to check the little air-bubble buddy that had taken residence in my torso. Those days were tough and very painful, even for this veteran of severe injuries.

This photo is totally staged. I never grind any gravel on my road bike.

This photo is totally staged. I never grind any gravel on my road bike.

A few more lazy days of bed rest and then I got back to work. After about ten days of inactivity I was jonesing to move, so I carefully boarded my road bike. Mounting, dismounting, getting out of the saddle, and turning weren’t so fun, but when I was riding in a straight line I was surprisingly comfortable. Not really “comfortable” but it was no worse than normal and was way better than how I felt after walking for very long.

In the following weeks I rode my skinny-tired steed more than I think I ever had before. I managed to clock about 150 miles a week for a few weeks, alternating between the rolling farm roads north of town and out to the Utah border and doing seated hill repeats up the Colorado National Monument.

About this time I also sought chiropractic help at the suggestion of my friend Dee Tidwell. I started having weekly sessions with John Blaha at Feel Good Fruita. These sessions definitely accelerated my recovery and gave sweet relief to my out-of-whack body. Additionally, he tamed an inflamed IT band that was giving me a helluva time and making the flexion of my right knee unbearable.


I do occasionally gravel grind on this whip, however. Midway between Fraser and Granby, CO.

I do occasionally gravel grind on this whip, however. Midway between Fraser and Granby, CO.

Just under four weeks from the accident, Sparky and I sought escape from the sky-rocketing temperatures and headed to Winter Park to visit my family and put in a nice block of training. I tested the water a little bit and did a little trail riding in the St. Louis Creek area, but despite no problems climbing the trail, the descent down Zoom triggered some un-ignorable soreness. I sent Sparky on her way; she was antsy to acclimate to altitude and get in some true mountain riding ahead of the Crested Butte Fat Tire 40 (at that point one week away). I explored some dirt roads around Fraser and jumped on the Fraser-Granby gravel bike path. Bummed that I couldn’t shred, I still had a blast just being on my trusty mountain bike again. The following day, I logged 50 miles on the road bike, riding from my parent’s home, through Granby, and part way up HWY 125. It was nice to be in the cooler mountain temps, but I can’t say I recommend riding on HWY 40. There were one-too-many closer-than-comfortable passes by RVs and boat-hauling trucks.

Last week, at about four and a half weeks out from my injury, I finally felt mostly back to normal and was able to comfortably ride trails again. Sparky and I hit up a Turkey Flats – a cool, green oasis at 9k’ just an hour away from GJ, one night after work. A couple days later I was off to Snowmass for work. While there I barely got off my bike, giddy to be back and even giddier to have a brand new Pivot Switchblade to acquaint myself with. By the last few lift runs of the weekend I can report that I felt almost back up to pre-accident speed and close to being at one with the new ride.

I built up Sparky's new  Switchblade  on Monday night and we got up early to shred the Loops a few mornings this week - the best way to start your day!

I built up Sparky's new Switchblade on Monday night and we got up early to shred the Loops a few mornings this week - the best way to start your day!

Tomorrow, Sparky and I head to the interior of BC for the Trans BC - a six-day backcountry enduro. We’ll try to post updates when we have internet access.

Happy trails!