Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Echo Red 2 Red

Dead cows tell no tales...

I can't remember the last time I was this nervous for a race. But I guess that's what happens when you step into the unknown. A grand adventure is never something that you've done before. It's breaking new ground. Following a path you haven't gone down before and I've been aching to do something like that for a while now.

I was thinking about it on the drive up. It's been over a year since I've done a new race. So it seemed apropos to do one now. Couple that with it being my first mountain bike race ever and it just doubled up. Of course the nervousness double up as well.

Old church in Echo.

So here JP and I are. In the tiny eastern Oregon town of Echo the night before the race.The land is beautiful and stark. A real ol' western town. It felt remote, kind and experienced.

We headed out to the trail head to preview at least some of the course and to break in JP's new mountain bike. Just like I thought. He and his new ride took to the trails like a fish to water. Hopefully we get him good and hooked on the sport.

But I digress...

It t'were cold.

The terrain wasn't like anything I've ever rode. It's almost all open sweeping prairie land. And the trails lay across them like pieces of spaghetti. They were a lot of fun. Fast and flowy (for the most part.) but the part that was odd to me was that you could always see were the trail was going. It's not like around here (the valley) where you could come smokin' around a corner and miss that hairpin because a tree or bush was obstructing your view. There were no such things out there. Just some sage brush and some Cottonwood trees down by the river.

Once we got our fair share of abuse on the trail we headed into town to the winery where I could sign in and pick up my packet.

I loved the floors.

After that we went to Hermiston (About 5 miles away.) and checked into the motel and headed out to get some dinner.  We found the only western themed Thai food place in town and ordered a shocking amount of food for just two people.

The temperature was already starting to drop as we went back to the hotel for a couple of beers and to get ready for the following day. 

It's amazing how much clothing two humans can bring when they have no idea how cold it could get.

After strategizing about clothes and food for a while we both hit the hay at about 10:30. I know. Real party animals....

We woke up the next morning around 8am or so.

Oh, as a side note. Bravo to the MTB races for starting at a reasonable time of day. For cross I'd have to get up at o'dark thirty to get to the venues on time. At mountain bike races the first race didn't go off until 10 and my race didn't head out until 11:30. Perfection!

Anyway. We woke up and headed down to the breakfast in the hotel. Which for a hotel breakfast was a good spread. Waffle, oatmeal. eggs, fruit, coffee, juice, potatoes, etc. were all available. Once we got our grub on we headed out to Echo and immediately started to feel how truly cold it was.

Freezing your nut sack to the saddle kind of cold.

In a feeble attempt to warm up we headed out the road that the race starts on. After about 20 minutes it was getting pretty close to my start time so I turned around as JP continued on to the trails and the racers that were already on course.

I got back into town with about 10 minutes to spare. As I toodled around the town to keep warm. I tried to soak the vibe in. The nerves, the excitement. Just trying to be with it while it was happening. You know, like a zen master ninja.

With about five minutes to go I headed to the start area. We were paired with the CAT 2 women. There looked to be about 15 women and 15 men at the start.

Next thing I knew we were off.

There was a 2 mile neutral roll out. Then we  hung a left turn on to a gravel road and that is where the race began.

I did my best to stay towards the front and hang with the leaders. Right before the single track started I got passed by three women and three guys. Meh. What do you do? I was already tasting pennies and praying for the sweat release that only death could bring. So I couldn't have pushed any harder without blowing up. I did my level best to stay near them but still keep within myself. But as they were steadily riding away form me I began thinking that perhaps that wasn't really in the cards.

The first part of the course is the "special" section because it is only open during the weekend of the race. The rest of the time they are private trails, maintained by the vineyard that they belong too.

These included the cliffs of insanity. A trail about 10 feet from an actual cliff that was a 30+ foot drop. I believe the good people of Echo could hear my sphincter clench as I was riding that section.

Once you were past that you meandered down towards the Umatilla river. Those trails were a lot of fun. A couple of bridges and lots of flow. Although I did see several people on the side of the trails with flats. So there must have been at least some Goathead thorns like we were warned about. Luckily I didn't have any of those sorts of problems.

As we turned away from the river and got back on the gravel road my left hip started bothering me. Not "Oh my God I'm going to die." But still a little bothersome.  I grabbed a GU and pounded some water in hopes that that would cure the issue.

Being new to this whole mountain bike racing thing there was something I discovered... I can "climb" pretty well for the fat guy category. It's sort of strange. I would have assumed the flat driving power sections would be where I would have excelled. But I guess all us big guys can do that. Huh, who knew?

Anyway, after a bit more up and down on the gravel road we turned into the local trail system which was noticeably smoother and had a bunch more flow than the vineyard section. The trails were basically split into three parts all of which were laid out on the rolling grassy hill sides in a small valley. I honestly don't think that the farthest point of the whole trail system was more than 2 miles from the trail head as the crow flies. But the different sections flopped back on themselves a bunch so there was really quite a lot of mileage out there.

The Clydesdale's did two sections while the Elite men and women, plus those crazy single speeders, did all three sections. I got passed by a couple more people during this first part. Not because I bobbled, I was just slower than they were. I was giving what I had and they had more (At least at the time.).

Towards the end of that section my hip that was "sorta" bothering me before was screaming at me. No amount of adjusting, standing or fidgeting was helping the situation. The pain didn't really feel like a cramp, but more like a shooting pain. But regardless of what it was it wasn't helping me make great bike race. It was just about all I could do to keep going.

As I was putzing along feeling sorry for myself I was already about half way through the final section of single track. This part was quite a bit more technical. Over larger rock gardens and down gullies seemed to be the order of the day around there.

I did notice that I seemed to be gaining on people that had been ahead of me for quite a while. I think mostly they were slowing down more than I was speeding up. Regardless the circumstance I was willing to take whatever motivation I could get at that point.

Once we popped out of the final section of single track we still had the gravel road and highway left. But by this time I could smell the barn. All I wanted to do is have the pain over. I kept my pace up the hills on the gravel road as best I could and I saw my final carrot of the day about 150 yards up the road. I did my best to blow by him with as much power and ease as I could. Which is to say, not much. But luckily he didn't seem to have much fight left in him.

As I was about to get on the asphalt I rolled up to a girl that started to accelerate when she heard me come up on her. I told her that I was a Clyde and she eased up and bit. I asked her if she wanted a draft since the road back into town was in a straight head wind. She said, "Hell yes!" and with that we were off. I got as low as I could and kept my cadence high just to I could eek out as much speed as I had left. I wanted it to end as soon as humanly possible. Everything hurt. My lungs, legs and brain were done. They wanted off. They wanted beer and to warm up, and with that we made the final turn into the shoot to the finish line.

I was done, and I wanted to puke.

"Don't puke, don't puke..."

JP being the nice guy that he is tried to hand me some coffee and in the nicest possible voice I could muster at the time I told him to get that shit out of my face. I just slumped there for a second and tried not to vomit up a lung. After a couple minutes I gratefully took the coffee and headed towards the car so I could get out of the sweaty clothes and into something warmer.

That's when single flakes of snow started to fall out of the sky...

I got cleaned up and changed and felt infinitely better. We headed to the tasting room for the Echo Winery where the awards and raffle were going to take place. And there, like an oasis in a roasting hot desert (Or freezing cold tundra.), was a Ninkasi beer trailer with taps out the side. Giving away free pints to everyone there! God bless that awesome company. JP and I both had a couple beers and headed inside to see what was what.

The place was pretty packed. I would say almost shoulder to shoulder.

I went over to the table where the results were posted. 8th place. Basically right in the middle. Meh. I'll take it. I think with some realistic improvements I could have moved up two places but there was a major time gap between 6th and 5th. But that's the beauty of racing. There is always room for improvement.

The awards ceremony started right on time and the raffle was right after. That's something that MTB racing has figured out as well. If you give free stuff away afterward you'd be amazed at how many people will hang around. Beer included.

Once all the beer was drunk and the swag was had we went back to the hotel to clean up. We ate what was left from our western themed Thai food with our hands since neither one of us had silverware. Whatevs, silverware is highly over rated. Then we went out for dinner. I wanted a steak in the worst kind of way. Ugh, Earl need meat. More beers were consumed and we headed back to the hotel for a soak in the hot tub. The hot water was awesome. The hotel lady telling us the pool was closed was not.

the swag that was had.

So we went back up to the room half-assedly packed for the drive home in the morning and hit the hay.

The next morning we went back to the same restaurant we went too the night before. Mostly because we liked it and we saw their breakfast menu, which looked awesome. Breakfast was in fact awesome.  After we packed our bellies full we headed back out on the road.

The "art" at the restaurant.

Which had freezing rain. Then as we moved west some snow on the sides of the road. Then snow on the sides and in the fast lane. By the time we were in The Dalles it was really accumulating and once we were on the west side of Hood River it was ridiculous. The Team Van performed like a champ despite my anal puckerage. Once we were in Troutdale the weather was getting back to a more balmy 37 degrees and raining and by the time we got home there wasn't any evidence of the added hour and half it took to get home.

The ice on the windshield.

The road just outside of The Dalles

What my bike looked like when we stopped for gas in Hood River.

So a grand adventure was had. Trails were ridden. Great bike racing was had. Beer was drunk. Good food was chowed. All in all a great experience that I fully plan on doing next year.

Thanks for reading.

Rubber side down,

Big E


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