Sunday, August 14, 2011

Salsa Two-Four and my Battle with Afton Alps

The Salsa Two-Four venue. That hill in the back ground just keeps going up.
Last year the mountain that is Afton Alps nearly took my will to live as I fought my way through the 8 hour solo race, ultimately pulling the plug after 5 hours. I blamed it on my cut side wall, but deep down I wondered if I quit the race, because I knew I was slowly dying while doing it. I vowed I'd be back.

I did come back and I came back with a different bike, a different plan, and a different attitude. I'd climb the hills of Afton on my super light El Mariachi Ti, with the Spearfish sitting on the bike rack of the car wondering why she wasn't in the game. Don't worry ole girl your time is coming. With two bikes on hand and a mantra of "I will ride 8 hours on this course today" playing in my head, I was prepared for the long haul.

An early morning drive to the Twin Cities area bolstered by good coffee from my house and really crappy coffee from Tobie's (Hinkley, MN) and I was pulling into the daunting "Alps". Immediately, I sought out the Salsa boys, Eric Fredrickson, Bobby Dahlberg, and John Gaddo as they'd be holding court under the Salsa tents. They were kind enough to allow me to set up some of my stuff under their shelter as well as offer me any mechanical support I may need. These guys gave me the friendly support I needed, but deep down I hoped I wouldn't see them until we were crackin' open some suds together around 6:00 p.m., in other words, the end of the race.

My nerve center.
A short break down of the race goes something like this. We were forced to run up a ski hill for an uncomfortably long time carrying our front wheels. I thought this was some kind of sick joke, but Bobby informed me that, "No, she's not kidding", referring to Amanda (I hope I have her name right), the race director's instructions. So, there I stood in the back of the pack thinking about Kid Riemer's words last year, "Eki, No Pressure", waiting for the start when I noticed Stan's No Tubes solution leaking out of my valve stem. "Awesome!", I thought as I embarrassingly whipped my wheel up and down trying to get the sealant to do it's thing. I figured it would straighten itself out once I got going. I jogged up the hill after we were under way, then slowly got my front wheel on my bike, then I slowly blended in with the masses. I felt totally under control and happy to be riding without the max heart rate and the ricocheting off tree thing going on. My plan consisted of riding the first half of the race under control, letting the climbs come to me, then managing them, not attacking them. I promised myself I'd stay in the saddle for the first three laps and if I did rise from it, it would be for a short burst. The plan was working and I was conserving energy in a good way. However, the dreaded "man handler" climb was taking chunks out of me each time I went up it. This is a sun drenched climb that goes straight up a ski run from the bottom to the top. I timed the climb at 4 1/2 minutes. That may not seem like much, but we're talkin' granny gear slow going. It's steep! Oh, and the greatest part is at the top was a spectator with a bull horn who yelled things at you about how much you sucked. "Why don't you just quit?", "I've seen 12 year olds who can climb faster than you." "You're in last place, just give up". I couldn't figure it out. He was easy to ignore though, because it was taking all the concentration I had to keep turning the cranks over.

The laps went on an on and I firmed my dislike for lap style races, especially on ski hills. Nevertheless, I saw a lot of wild life and the scenery was beautiful. Over half way through the race I decided to focus on keeping my lap times within 5 minutes of my first lap and make this whole thing about managing MY race, not other people's. I was doing it, I was really "shooting a tight group" of lap times. In fact, I put a number of laps together that were landing on the same minute each time. Meanwhile, I was moving through the field of 8 hour solo riders without really knowing it. I never took a break and kept my pit stops under 30 seconds. Oh, and a special thanks to the nice woman who helped me with my bottles when I needed refills, as Amy was not available at the time. It was nice to know they (the bottles) were all topped off and waiting for me.

The policy for the end of the race was that if you finished a lap before 6 p.m. you were allowed to head out for another one. This is common in these types of races, but I prefer when you have to be done by a certain time as this gives you a concrete end to the race. So, as luck would have it, I finished a lap at 5:50 p.m.. I could have gone out for another, but at 1,500 feet of climbing per lap and 10 laps under my belt, I decided I was done. I met my goal of riding Afton Alps for 8 hours. I never stopped and I never let the "Alps" intimidate me. I finished 3rd overall, with 64 miles on the gps.

Me, after receiving my 3rd place award.
I rolled into "home base", told the boys I was done. They grabbed a chair for me, and I had a cold one in my hand. I'd say that's a good day on the bike. Next stop, South Dakota for the Dakota Five-O.

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