Correct Use of “Ultimate”: BC Bike Race Really is the Ultimate Singletrack Experience

Race startImagine seven days of riding technical Pacific NW singletrack, enough camaraderie to match the competitive spirit in the air, and racing on trails that you are excited to ride. You might find yourself using descriptors like “ultimate” or “epic” among other words too often misapplied – but not in this case. The BC Bike Race earns its title as the “Ultimate Singletrack Experience,” and what’s more, that experience is more than singletrack alone. For instance, you and 549 of your new-found friends get to live out of a single (if big) duffel bag while traversing the province for a week, but the 10-year old kid in you should be excited about that, too.

There is far too much one could say about the BC Bike Race as a whole, not to mention the individual stages. But with wonderful race reports already available on Bike, Pinkbike and other sites, I offer here my personal impression of this year’s race. See my general event highlights below, followed by more specific stage details and course descriptions.

General Highlights:
• From start to finish, the well-planned 2013 course took riders along beloved trails across Vancouver Island and along the Sunshine Coast, finishing up in the mountain biking Promised Land of Whistler, BC. I did miss racing in Nanaimo this year (which we rode during the 2010 BCBR), but the added stage in Campbell River offered an excellent replacement to round out the Vancouver Island tour.

• The beautiful BC scenery included several stunning ferry rides…


• Participants included super cool, fun people from all over the world: Canadians, Australians, 93 Mexicans (!), and many other nationalities represented. I especially loved riding with my Sturdy Bitch Racing teammates:)

• My Diamondback Axis hardtail handled the BC Bike Race terrain superbly for this second time at the BCBR:

Squamish 2
• The BCBR crew included medical staff kept super busy by riders needing everything from ice to IVs. Thanks goes out to Dr. Colin for his Rocktape applications that helped support my low back and reduced hand fatigue, and surely helped countless other riders besides.
• Thanks to Therm-a-Rest for helping the Sturdy Bitch Racing team sleep in plush comfort…


…and Platypus for outfitting us with well-fitting, women-specific hydration packs.



Waiting for ferry to Cumberland
• The BCBR crew, for thinking of nearly everything and taking such good care of 550 racers.

Race start• The trails! (worth mentioning twice)

• Lots of waiting around
• Trail traffic
• Lots of waiting around


Stage Highlights

Day 1: Cumberland (Distance: 55.5K; Elevation Gain: 1474 meters)
With its slickrock sections, slick roots and mossy rock descents, this stage featuring Cumberland’s Forbidden Plateau was the perfect way to kick off the BC Bike Race: with more than a little adrenaline to crank up the fun factor.

cumberland 2

cumberland 4

Campbell River finishDay 2: Campbell River (Distance: 54K; Elevation Gain: 944 meters)
More of the same… namely, awesome trails and epic riding. From Box Lunch trail to Foreplay (named, I suppose, for the fun, slickrock trail that I love riding up in Whistler), the riding on this stage made me start planning for a return trip to the Snowden Forest.

I even got a brief cameo near the end (4:30) of the BCBR video coverage of that stage:

IMG_1467Day 3: Powell River (Distance: 48.5K; Elevation Gain: 755 meters)
While bit too flat overall for my taste (I found the repetitive, numbing roots hard to sit to on my hardtail), I loved loved loved the steep earthen descent with big roots that characterized the first Enduro (“Death Rattle”). Railing the corners and throwing down feels second nature when you are serenaded by a guy at the finish line wailing on an electric guitar like the 80’s never left. Nice leopard pants and glam rock hair, by the way. While I did get my first flat of the race during this Enduro (Stan’s shot out both side walls like a geyser), I still managed to pull out a 6th place. Thanks for the inspiration, leopard pants.

IMG_1468Day 4: Earl’s Cove to Sechelt (Distance: 61K; Elevation Gain: 1574 meters)
Endless fire road. Four flats. Two miles of walking to Feed Zone 2. You see where this is going. Despite all our pre-race stretching, the mileage – not to mention the mechanical and emotional challenges of this 61K stage (fire road riding can be as deflating as flat tires) – took its toll. But so many people offered their help during my mechanical delays that I now equate this grueling stage with the simple kindness of humanity. Special thanks to Simon, the crew member helping out at Feed Zone 2 who loaned me a tire to finish the stage.

Day 5: Sechelt to Langdale (Distance: 35.9K; Elevation Gain: 1328 meters)
These trails marked our return to what I call mountain biking, with lots of singletrack flow, plus a thrilling descent for the last 10K, including Sprokids Park, my new favorite. sechelt 3(Lowlight: losing my pump during the first Enduro, then stopping to go back to get it, then losing it again on the next Enduro. Doh! But I did get another cameo at 2:46 on the BC Bike Race’s daily video clip–and so did my teammate Katie!)

IMG_1499Day 6: Squamish (Distance: 48.2K; Elevation Gain: 1783 meters)
Pinners and jumpers love Half Nelson, but it’s Powerhouse Plunge that makes me giddy – a rocky mix that just asks you to maintain momentum and pick a decent line for a clean run and a fabulous time. Followed by almost-as-fun Hoods in the Woods, with loamy terrain, fun little bridges and speed you don’t have to check all that much. Ah, Squamish, you are always good to us. While I wish the BCBR video coverage would have captured one of us Sturdy Bitches on a tech section, I did get brief cameos for this stage at 1:06 and 2:02, and Katie had one at 2:53. (I also saw a mermaid on the trail sometime later, but I could have been seeing things.)

squamish bridge 2mermaid


Day 7: Whistler (Distance: 24.8K; Elevation Gain: 775 meters)
I must confess, I didn’t even want to ride another day by the time the Whistler stage rolled around, but thank goodness I did. It was half the length of other stages, with relatively short, easy climbs through the bike park and Lost Lake trails. We did have a scare on Crank It Up, when a big group of us stopped for several minutes to check on a rider who had knocked himself out and was lying across the trail. It was a relief when he regained consciousness, but the experience was a terrifying reminder for us all to take extra care on the trails. Back to the fun: Pinocchio’s Furniture, replete with easy yet really cool ramp work, was a treat to come down, and I found the power moves up the rock sections of the Lost Lake trails to be the perfect way to close out seven days of epic riding. My favorite part of Stage 7: getting a helpful push up a ladder by one rider after slowing down to avoid a group of guys stalled out on the trail. Thanks—I needed that! You helped me clean the Lost Lake trails!

But all good things come must to an end…

To sum up, while I may not have been as fast in 2013 as I was in 2010, I did have more fun this time around—with my teammates, and with all of the other crazy people on the trails. I finished a solid 12th in most of the stages in the open women category (11th in Whistler), while pulling 14th overall due to my problematic Day 4.

Thanks to BCBR for an amazing riding vacation, Diamondback for my dependable, fast bike, Sturdy Bitch Racing for the best teammates a girl could ever hope to ride with, and all our friends, sponsors and supporters who helped us make this amazing week happen.



See you on the trails!

Angela Sucich, freelance writer

Posted in Biking, British Columbia, Racing/Competition, Squamish, BC, Vancouver Island, Whistler, Whistler | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Getting the Party Started: Stottlemeyer 60 Mountain Bike Race (Port Gamble, WA)

Sturdy Bitch Racers at Stottlemeyer 2013

The weather was pretty nice last Saturday—I hope you did something epic with it.

Epic certainly defines the time that I and my fellow Sturdy Bitch Racing teammates had at the NW Epic Series’ Stottlemeyer 30/60 mountain bike race in Port Gamble, WA. Check out their smiling faces above. Although this happens to be a pre-race pic, they had the same expression at the finish line.

The first mountain bike race of the season is always a hurdle, and while most racers I know jumped over theirs months ago, I took my blind leap last Saturday on the Stottlemeyer’s 60-mile course. A favorite XC race for its proximity to Seattle (just an Edmonds ferry ride away) and its healthy balance of terrain (moderately technical singletrack, flowy trail and a few uphill pushes to please the climbers and roadies), Stottlemeyer tends to appear on my race schedule year after year. And this year, the dry and fast conditions, clement weather and enthusiastic race support did not disappoint.

Distance: 60 miles. Four 14.5-mile laps with extra mileage at the start and finish. (A 30-mile course option was also available.)

Elevation: Perhaps 4,000 feet. A good low-altitude start to the season.

The Course: Racers rolled out from the parking lot and Start/Finish on a wide dirt track for the first 1.8 mile section, which transitioned into a lovely forested singletrack trail system. We covered close to 15 miles per lap, with 4 laps for the 60-mile course and 2 laps for the 30-mile course. A few fire road sections allowed for easy passing (actually a really important feature—more on that later), and the race concluded with a short fire road descent to a semi-technical climb back to the Start/Finish area.

Stottlemeyer 2013 map

Terrain: The trails ranged from fast and flowy, to slow and twisty, punctuated with a couple of steep climbs and some thrilling, “I hope there’s no one in my way so I can enjoy this” descents. And while I heard several riders during the race complain about the rooty sections having no flow, I appreciated their technical challenge for encouraging good lines (and occasionally track stands). What’s not to love about riders skipping—or tripping—from root to root? It’s mentally engaging for us…and entertaining for the chipmunks and snakes.

Race Highlights:

• Starting off strong for the first 15-mile lap, maintaining a good pace throughout the second lap, and holding on to a core group of riders I had been trading places with through the beginning of the third lap.
• Recovering from a bad-luck crash on the third lap when passing a rider, and finding new energy during the fourth lap.
• Finding a second wind and rallying up the last short uphill climb to finish 6th in my Open Women category. The course designers thankfully kept a little bit of tech riding from last year for the finish instead of ending on the fire road. Well done for keeping us mountain bikers honest.
• Encountering so many friends and friendly riders during the race. When we are out of breath or in pain, having short, positive exchanges with other riders is fuel for the spirit.
• Receiving such good care from the wonderful guys at FSA (thanks for fixing my bike!)
• Hearing from people on the sidelines. It’s wonderful to hear friends call out your name.


• Epic crash on lap 3. A guy had kindly pulled off the singletrack to let me by on a slight descent, and though we had timed the pass right, he bounced backward into my path, blocking my bike just as I was powering through. I was launched, superman-style over him (he was okay), and crashed onto my left shoulder (injured from an ‘07 surgery). Turns out he had ridden straight into a stump just off the trail and rebounded back onto the trail into me. Bad luck. After the stun wore off, I got up, tried to shake it off, put my chain back on and started up again. While the crash took a bit of wind from my sails, thankfully there was nothing broken on bike or body.

Thanks to the race organizers for another successful Stottlemeyer, to Diamondback Bikes for my Axis XC race steed that just won’t quit, and to my Sturdy Bitch Racing teammates for joining me in this marathon event. There were smiles all around at the end of the race.

Although my training has been delayed this year by the same speed bumps that slow us all down (work, travel and illness–usually in that order), I’m glad I got my party started at the Stottlemeyer last Saturday. Because if you are going to take your training up a notch, you might as well have fun doing it.

See you on the trails.

Angela Sucich, Freelance Writer

Posted in Biking, Port Gamble, Racing/Competition, Washington (Western) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Trying Something New at the Black Diamond XTERRA (Black Diamond, WA)

So I don’t do triathlons (and I haven’t run a 10K-distance in years). Still, at some point, signing up for the Black Diamond XTERRA triathlon on August 5th must have seemed like a good idea, because there I was.

But I wasn’t alone. My sister-in-law, Megan, visiting from Florida with my brother and their two kids, was right there on the line beside me. Coming to my rescue, she agreed to swim the first leg of the event, while I would take up the mountain bike and—God help me—the run.

But I was happy we were doing the relay together. We had signed up for the 2-women category, only to learn after the event that they had thrown all relay groups together. So we two ladies were competing with 3-person and co-ed teams. But we were really in it for the fun, and, as it turns out, the pain.

Event: XTERRA Black Diamond
Legs: 1000-meter swim; 15-mile bike; 6.2-mile run
Location: Lake Sawyer, Black Diamond, WA (23242 SE 312th St)

The Swim
Megan had been a competitive swimmer in school, so she put in an amazingly strong swim over the 1,000-meter course. She claimed afterwards that the water was clean and clear—a nice change from the muddy, sandy mess she was used to swimming through in Florida’s lakes and waterways.

Megan set a good pace out to the turn-around point on a tiny island (swimmers had to climb out and “run” across a carpet laid out on the islet and get back into the water on the other side for the return swim).

After she emerged from the water and jogged to the corral where I was waiting with my mountain bike, she had earned us 2nd place among the relay teams with a time of 20:40, which also put her in 2nd place out of all the individual women racers as well.

The Ride
After grabbing the timing device from Megan and strapping it around my ankle, I took off for the 15-mile bike leg around Lake Sawyer. For those who like to mountain bike in Black Diamond, this is not the course for you. While the XTERRA race officials touted this as the “most technically challenging bike course out of all the XTERRAs,” it’s actually just a bumpy course, with endless tiny rocks and baby heads to jostle your bike. If you ride a full-suspension bike, you’ll barely feel it as you barrel down the trail. If you rock a hardtail like me, you’ll feel every bump, so you’ve got to choose a line, but thanks to my nimble Diamondback Axis, that’s not hard to do.

Still, there wasn’t much technical riding—e.g. difficult rock or root systems, built structures, etc.—on the lake trail. (You’ll find more of this kind of riding on the preferred, Real Life Church-property side of Black Diamond.) Nor was there much flow or elevation change. My vote would be for the event to make use of the much better trail systems in the vicinity.

I will say that it was in fact challenging to try to get up to speed on a trail that had little to no flow. The course wasn’t tiring—I can’t even recall a single hill climb—it was just, well, irritating. Of course, many riders must have been similarly irritated, for when I rolled into the corral after the bike leg, I was in 1st place in the relay event (beating all the boys) and 2nd place out of all individual women (after pro mountain bike racer Karen Dewolfe, who would go on to win the overall).

The Run
Back in the transition corral, I spent two long minutes trying to lace up my running shoes while the other competitive relay teams spent 20-30 seconds passing the timing anklet to their third person. I told myself it didn’t matter—I wasn’t in the run for the race; I just wanted to finish. I hadn’t run 6.2 miles in at least two years, and it was a sweltering 91 degrees outside.

The course took us up short, steep sections of winding singletrack and along easy-grade fire road. We also trotted around a section of lakeshore, and up and down a small, strangely placed wooden ramp. By the second 5K lap, my feet were so tired I neglected to pick them up adequately as I gained momentum running down that ramp, and I tripped up on one well-placed baby head. After my digger, I heard an exclamation behind me and decided to get up before being trampled.

Onward, onward. A few people passed me on the run, and I cheered them on. I do believe my attitude and their motivation helped me to pick up my feet a bit better, despite the protests of a stomach that had painfully rejected two gels downed earlier in the run. With every step I tried to convince myself—a rare jogger these days—that running was fun. The one saving grace was the cup of water that a race volunteer poured down my head and neck.

The finish
I stumbled across the line, finishing the run in 1:05:40.9. That slow, 10 ½ minute-mile split was about the best this non-runner could muster. When I crossed the line, Team Sturdy B’s (Megan and I) had finished the event in 2nd place, just 40 seconds behind the 3-person relay team made up of two men and one woman. For a moment I thought, if only I had tied my shoes faster—or if one of the other top teams had to tie their shoes at all…!

Still, I was happy I did something far outside my comfort zone. It actually took a lot of pressure off and gave me some inspiration for the future. And I got to compete with family on my side. That’s the best.

Maybe someday I’ll even try a swim leg myself, though I think that’s going a bit far.

See you on the trails, Sturdy Bitch Racing-style.

Angela Sucich, Freelance Writer

Posted in Biking, Black Diamond trails, Racing/Competition, Washington (Western) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Sun and Fun at the Stottlemeyer 30/60 Endurance Race (Port Gamble, WA)

We racers could not believe our luck: a bluebird day with mid-60-degree weather instead of the wet, muddy conditions we’d come to expect this time of year. I had forgotten to swap out my heavier mud tires for more appropriate lower profile tread, but nothing could keep me down with the promise of such superb trail conditions.

This was my first race of the season, and there are more than a few reasons why I’ve put Stottlemeyer on my calendar for the last two years.

Distance: 60 miles. Four 14.5-mile laps with some extra mileage at the start and finish. Click here for an enlarged map.

Elevation Gain: Maybe 4,000’, total. The minor elevation gain makes this an excellent early season race for those of you who, like me, can’t seem to get it into gear until mid-July.

Terrain: Nearly 90% singletrack—what’s not to like? Thanks to the recent dry spell, the course was fast. Long sections of flowy trail called for the big-ring, while more tech stretches challenged handling skills. Climbing was minimal—the first two laps I barely noticed any, though in truth there were a few short, steep sections. If there was ever a lap course that felt like it descended more than it climbed, this was it.

The Race: The women’s and men’s singlespeed fields lined up together in a wave start to begin the 60-mile event (30-milers would start approximately 30 minutes later). In total, 336 racers would share the course.

Once we were off and rolling, I held a moderately fast pace, trying to keep the couple of women who darted off ahead of me within view. After an initial dirt road spin we entered the dense wood on twisty singletrack, so it became hard to judge exactly where I was in relation to others. During the first half of the race, I would lose and then retake my position a few times as a few ladies passed me at the aide stations (I stopped a record number of times during the race), but I caught up fast.

Because my cyclometer wasn’t showing mileage, it was nice to have the two aide stations at equidistant points on the course to help orient me. I’d only ridden this trail system once before at last year’s race, when the course seemed easier to anticipate, as the wetter conditions created several memorable boggy sections. This year, a lot of the course blended together in my mind.

Since my brain couldn’t remember what came next, it kept the course endlessly interesting. The terrain often demanded quick, snappy decisions and the occasional track stand to get lined up right. We racers threaded trees, negotiated roots and traversed singletrack cut into steep side slopes. On every lap I was once again surprised by something I’d seen on the trail before, like the screaming descent to a quick right-hander that I’d mentally named “overshot turn.” But no matter how often I was blindsided by one of those steep climbs on the course, I was able to downshift fast and let my nimble Diamondback Axis do its thing.

On the last lap I stopped to get some water at the midpoint aide station. I hadn’t seen a 60-miler woman racer for countless miles, so when she blazed by as I was jumping back on my bike I kicked it into high gear. I caught back up to her and learned it was Sarah Tingey, a super-nice Portland-based rider I had met last year. We kept pace together, trading drafts for the final 7 miles and commiserating when we hit the last groaning, uphill stretch to the finish. Sarah and I rolled across the line together, high-fiving, to take 3rd place in the Open Women’s category (after Natasha Hernday and Alice Drobna), finishing middle of the pack in the men and women’s overall (118 riders).

People on the sidelines had been calling out to Sarah and me to make a sprint to the finish, but after riding the last several miles together, a joint finish just felt right. Just call it “sharing the ride” on a course that was, after all, designed for fun.

Thanks to Diamondback for my awesome ride–my Axis never fails me–and to my racing team’s title sponsor, Sturdy Bitch, which reminds me how to think of myself when I have miles yet to ride. And a big thanks to Kevin Reinkensmeyer and the rest of the NW Epic Series crew–especially the generous volunteers manning the feed stations (hey Patrick and Robert–hope you’re racing with us next year!)

Want to ride the trails we raced? Here are directions:

Directions to Port Gamble Trails from Seattle
1. Take I-5 North
2. Take Exit 177 for WA-104 W toward Edmonds
3. Turn right at WA-104 W/NE 205th St/Lake Ballinger Way
4. Continue to follow WA-104 W, follow signs for WA-104 W/Kingston Ferry
5. Take the WA-104 W/Kingston – Edmonds ferry to Kingston (approx. 30 min. crossing)
6. Continue straight onto WA-104 W
7. Turn right at NE East 1st St, go 0.3 Miles
8. Turn right at WA-104 W, go 3.7 mi
9. Turn right to stay on WA-104 W, go 3.3 mi
10. Turn right onto Event Grounds.

See you on the trails!

Angela Sucich, Freelance Writer

Posted in Biking, Port Gamble, Racing/Competition, Washington (Western) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What are the Duthie Trail Gnomes Building Now?

The forest gnomes are busy building again at Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park. (Did they ever stop?) I caught a glimpse of these magical beings yesterday, after my teammate Katie and I took a fun, swooping run down Ryan’s Eternal Flow. Right at the exit, we found ourselves at the base of a towering, half-constructed wooden structure. What will you be? I wondered silently, but only for a second. Because Mike Westra, Project Manager for Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, and his shovel-swinging work crew were right there, ready to answer.

“It’s going to be an 8-foot drop to flat,” said Westra.

I really didn’t know what to say.

“Just kidding,” said Westra.

Apparently, this new “fly-over” structure will have a ramp up to the apex and another one down the other side, which will feed into a huge, speed-catching berm.

“I like berms,” I said.

The amazing constructed elements are a big reason why riders of every level and style are flocking to Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park. Even people who are reticent about riding ramp work can appreciate how cool it is to ride in a place where natural and constructed trail features seem to work so well together. Clearly there’s an art to trail construction–and to built structures in particular–but one doesn’t need to be so skilled to lend a hand in the building process.

According to Westra, for the next couple of weeks, work party members are needed to help transplant flora–including lush and lovely fiddle-neck ferns–before the plants become too brittle to move. And if you can swing a shovel, that’s really all you need to be put to work.

You also don’t have to wait for a scheduled work party on the Evergreen calendar to get involved. If you can rally your own group, you can set up a time with Westra to come out and dig in. Contact him at

See you on the trail–or at the work party.

Angela Sucich, Freelance Writer

Posted in Biking, Issaquah trails, Washington (Western) | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Seattle Sun Shines on the Urban Coyote ‘Cross Event

Rain is usually a participant in the annual Urban Coyote poker ride, but this time around it was pleasantly absent, making for a glorious Saturday cyclocross tour (and light gambling/drinking session) through the parks and streets of Seattle.

More than a dozen riders gathered at Brouer’s in Fremont for the 11am (sleepy yawn) start. Quite a few characters livened up the crowd, such as Mr. Orange Man, equipped with mimosas, Cheeze-Its and other orange-colored fare:

There was Happy Dead Viking Man–

–and Mr. Congeniality:

But the event really got underway when organizer Colin Meagher arrived (fashionably late) to explain the complicated rules: ride to point A, then to point B, etc.; pick up a poker card at key locations, yadda-yadda.

Actually, there were a couple more rules, most of which centered on drinking etiquette: riders could sprint ahead of the pack to vie for a “wild” card, which promised a better poker hand. Best hand at the end of the day won the pot (i.e. all entry fees). Of course, you had to shotgun a tallboy or shoot whiskey to win a wild card, and your performance mattered. So before the start, riders demonstrated perfect shotgunning technique:

Then we lined up in what passed for a straight line, and off went the Urban Coyote riders! …only to stop a mere fifteen yards away for the first wild card shotgun. (I suppose it’s never too soon.)

Off again, we rode in a motley pack–sometimes a paceline, sometimes a mob–spinning our wheels through Wallingford, the U-district and Capitol Hill, riding on trail wherever we could find it. Dropping down onto Lake Washington Blvd., we followed singletrack along the waterfront all the way to Genesse Park, our turnaround for this year’s course. Then back again, making a round-about Z-line (rather than a B-line) to Kirk Cobain’s house for another shotgun (oops, sorry; too resonant).

A grunt of a climb took us up from LWB up to Plum Tree Park in the Central District, followed by an exhilarating, switch-backing descent along its steep slope. Conscious of the vertical, we navigated our ‘cross bikes along the sometimes narrow singletrack, which was punctuated by slippery steps, roots and rocks that made one a tad wistful for a mountain bike. Near the bottom we stopped for yet another shotgun–whiskey this time.

As we headed towards home, someone had the bright idea to take a short house-party break for beer and Cheeze-Its while we let our bikes take a breather:

Once back on the bike, we couldn’t pass up a lap or two on the XC trails at Colonnade in Eastlake. Then we reluctantly embraced asphalt again for the spin along Westlake over the Fremont Bridge and back to Brouer’s for some grub.

It was a fun event this year, with precious sunshine and plenty of good company. I was particularly happy to stay on course this year (compare my blog post from two years ago), for which I credit the group, which mainly stayed together, only breaking away on a hill or when a wild card was at stake. In fact, that camaraderie was my favorite part. This year, and every year.

See you next year at the Urban Coyote!

Angela Sucich, Freelance Writer

Posted in Biking, Seattle trails, Washington (Western) | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Doing More Than You Think You Can at the Leadville 100 MTB Race (Leadville, CO)

“You’re better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.”

These words of encouragement, famously spoken by race director Ken Chlouber the evening before each Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race, are surprisingly comforting when you find yourself 50 miles – and 12,424 feet – into a high-altitude Rockies ride, knowing full well that you have 50 miles left to go.

So how did I get here? I may be no stranger to endurance events, but high altitude racing is no friend of mine, living as I do at sea level. But Cascade Designs also calls Seattle home, and when I was asked by the company renown for their outdoor gear to ride for their Team Platypus, I couldn’t refuse.

So I packed up the car and headed to Colorado for a week of pre-race training. I couldn’t argue with getting to visit my old haunts, or getting in a mountain bike ride with local flavor (Nederland to Boulder), an epic scenery ride (Monarch Crest Trail) and fun resort riding (Winter Park).

But Leadville was the culmination.

That Saturday morning at 6:30 a.m., I took my place at the starting line with the other members from Team Platypus – a strong collective of riders from Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Colorado – along with 1,892 other participants from 50 states and 24 countries. That’s right: 1,900 racers. And what’s more impressive is that to get into the single largest endurance mountain bike event usually takes some serious luck (i.e. winning a lottery entry). And there’s also the bit of luck it sometimes requires to finish 100 out-and-back mountain miles in under 12 hours.

Back at the start line. With nervous excitement, we waited for the gun. While team member Russell Stevenson got a call-up to head to the front of the pack, the rest of Team Platypus riders, being Leadville-newbies, were stuck at the back of the pack. At the time, I didn’t realize what having 1,750 riders in front of me would actually mean, but it became all-too clear over the next hour.

Then: the race start! We’re off and spinning…

“-Slowing!” … “-Stopping!”

…and going nowhere, it felt like, for 20 miles. I checked my cyclometer during the first five-mile descent on pavement, and at times our dense peloton was moving at a whopping 4 mph. When we hit dirt and a minor climb, instead of thinning us out, it became massive bottleneck.

But what else could possibly happen, given the numbers participating in this epic race event? And how can you deal with an hour of spinning your wheels, with no possibilty of making any headway through the pack without acting like a total jerk, plowing your way through others who are also forced to sit idly by, spinning their wheels?

Well, we laugh. And make jokes about herding cattle. Or cats. Or mountain bikers who don’t know how to ride in a peloton. I had plenty of time to share in good conversation, and it was nice. Probably the best, gentlest warm-up I’ve ever had in a race.

The crowd started to thin when we got to Sugar Loaf Pass at 11,000 feet, about 19 miles in. The descent down Powerline was up next. The day before I got to ride Powerline with my teammates – it was Russell Stevenson’s idea – and Saturday’s wild descent was just as fun as Friday’s, and decidely more challenging. I had to take the ugly lines down the fast, dusty, rutted-out double track in order to dodge around racers hanging on their brake levers for dear life. Now, don’t get me wrong – these super-fit athletes would later come back to teach me a lesson on the pavement and the dirt road climbs – but I have to say, I’ve never seen so many mountain bikers afraid of a mountain before.

Then we were down, headed out on a stretch of pavement, then sailing along a couple miles of smooth, winding singletrack (the only singletrack we would see on the course) towards Twin Lakes Aid Station. And then I had a dream that I was at a mountain stage in the Tour de France, and it was almost true.

I and my fellow two-thousand racers rode along a reservoir crowded with hundreds of tents and a thousand screaming people on either side – cheering for me and for everyone else in this crazy race. I felt so, so – well, cared about. I wasn’t in the lead, I was holding my own in the middle of the pack, but I had this visceral feeling that we were all in this together. With the energy the crowd gave me, I pedaled on past the aid station, en route to the infamous Columbine climb.

Now, it isn’t the fact that Columbine tops out at 12,424 feet that makes my brain revolt even now, a week following the race. No, it’s the fact that I had to hike, dragging my bike up the several vertical miles on that famed mountain climb. And these aren’t normal miles. They’re “Columbine” miles: steep, sandy and rider-congested. Because Columbine featured two-way traffic, riders were relegated to walking on the righthand side, a stream of hundreds of trudging riders that eliminated any possibility of riding uphill. Sigh. It hurt. A lot. But once I hit 50-mile aid station at the top of Columbine, I was on the downhill side, glad not to be in that stream of people still pressing onward and upward.

I did not get a chance for my technical climb until I hit Powerline again around 75 miles. But first I stopped at the Pipeline Aid Station to restock on Perpetuum, cramp-preventing bananas and some great Platypus support from Jim and Jennifer. Then I was off for the final, uphill stretch.

I had been told that the Powerline return would be the make-or-break moment of the race, and it certainly made my race: I had almost as much fun going up it as coming down it. Seriously.

There’s nothing like riding your bike past hundreds of people walking theirs. Their cheers of encouragement were nice, but not as nice as not having to walk my bike uphill. (Don’t these walkers know that it’s harder to walk your bike uphill than ride it?)

Okay, so I did slip out on the steepest section of Powerline and so had to walk a short bit. But it happened right where a woman was passing out cups of Coca-Cola. Ahhh. That hit the spot.

Then I was back on the bike, spinning little circles again, keeping the rear wheel firmly planted as I picked my line around rocks, ruts and riders.

Then it was down Sugarloaf, my intrepid Diamondback Axis hardtail romping its way past all the full-suspension bikes out there. The last 10 miles of the race felt endless, with a last paved road climb, a last fire road climb, and a last effort up the road to Leadville proper and across the red-carpeted finish line. But there I was, finished, in under 11 hours.

When I saw my time, I thought to myself. Hmmm, if I could adjust to the altitude and have a more appropriate start position next time, perhaps I could drop my time by an hour… And then I thought with horror, next time??

Leadville winners Todd Wells and Rebecca Rusch killed the competition. I came in 47th out of the women, 16th in my division, and well in the top half of the overall field. Still, what I really wanted was a silver belt buckle, and I got it:

Thanks so much to our amazing sponsors and support crew, Cascade Designs, and their Platypus hydration systems and bottles that got us through Leadville training and racing. All eight Team Platypus members finished the race, receiving silver (or gold) belt buckles with pride.

Thanks to Jim Meyers for the amazing photography. You can really see what it felt like out there.

Thanks to the Leadville organizers and all the people scattered across the hundred-mile course who cheered us on – and doused us with ice water when we needed it.

And finally, thank you to that guy who passed me on a flat, lonely, paved section, then slowed and called out, “Get on!” Because of that blessed moment when he gave me his wheel, I was able to face the bane of my existence (i.e. pavement) and get back up to speed.

I never thought I would race the Leadville 100. I had heard that it was a “roadie race” over fire roads and pavement, requiring little skill on a mountain bike. And, honestly, that part’s true. It is a road race that happens to be on dirt. But as it turns out, it’s worth something invaluable to tackle something outside of your element:

“You’re better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.”

It took racing the Leadville 100 to realize that I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. What matters at Leadville isn’t so much about the terrain as the experience itself: the people, the riders, the fans, the heaven-seeking Rockies, the literal push uphill – and, of course, the grateful return home.

See you on the trails (and maybe next year at Leadville),

Angela Sucich, Freelance Writer

“You’re better than you think you are. You can do more than you think you can.”

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