It may have been a “roadie” course—with not a rock or root to be seen—but few would call the Echo Valley 30/60 Endurance Race an “easy” ride. Last weekend’s race certainly made me work for my 3rd place finish.
Host to the second race in the NW Epic Series (and many mountain bike events in years past), the Echo Valley Ski Area trails presented mountain bike racers with miles and miles of smooth, flowy singletrack. Of course, even smooth, flowy singletrack can start to feel hard when you’re 40+ miles into a 60-mile race…
Terrain: Smooth, fast singletrack with some fire road climbs.
Notables: This “fast” course was not without its challenges, from the grueling start up a 2.3-mile gravel road, to the near 2,000’ of elevation gain per lap (which, with the extra climb at the start, ended up totaling more than 8,500’ overall).
The descents were fast and fun—and easy to do on my Diamondback Axis hardtail. Knowing there were zero rocks in my path made descending a simple matter of “point and shoot”, though personally, I’d trade a little speed for a variety of terrain, any day.
The Race: “Brutal” best describes the start of the race: 2.3 miles, straight up. Anyone from Seattle or Issaquah who spent last winter doing Tiger Mountain fire road climbs would have had their training redeemed that morning. I started off slow—not only because it was in my plan (having gone out a bit too fast at last month’s Stottlemeyer 30/60 Endurance Race)—but also because I had no warm-up time. Despite my measured pace, I felt a nausea that would linger well into the second lap.
But once that first big climb was over, there was singletrack to welcome us. Smooth and rolling, the ribbon of trail took us all along the hillside and valley. Throughout the course, the singletrack ranged from narrow to wide, opening up to double track in places, which allowed for easy passing.
As I finished the first lap, I thought to myself that the “roadie” mountain bikers who had signed up for this race were likely in heaven now: the sustained climbs were perfectly suited for über-fit riders, and the course posed no technical challenges to slow them down. But then I passed my friend Carl Hulit, carrying his un-rideable bike back to an aide station. Carl, who last month won the first race in the series for the 30-mile event, somehow had hit a stump while trying to pass one of the race leaders. While I was surprised to learn that he had found a stump somewhere out there to hit, I knew how easy it was for a fast, non-technical course to encourage riders to take even greater risks.
And speaking of safety, there was also a section of singletrack with two-way traffic on it, which could have posed a safety risk. But the race organizers worked to make part of the course safe and navigable by including race tape, signage and other dividing barriers—and all the racers I encountered handled this section conscientiously.
Highlights: The best part of the race was the screaming fast descents (obviously). Apart from Carl’s mystery stump, there were no obstacles to hit, so you could really open it up—as long as you made a few crucial corners. The course topography also made it easy to fuel, which is key to sustaining energy during long races like this one. The aid station volunteers were friendly, and the stations were well-stocked with food, if without a Coke or Pepsi. Sigh.
Lowlights: The low point of the race for me was not the grueling climb at the start of the race, but something that happened during my third lap: mechanical. Something came loose in my bottom bracket. I stopped several times to try to isolate the problem, but neither I nor another kind racer who stopped to help could figure it out. So I got back on, hoping my bike could stick it out for the last two laps. It was a challenging two laps—with every pedal stroke, something internal would catch and shake my entire bike—but my Axis is a tough bike, and it helped me finish the race in 3rd place, in under 6 hours. (It’s appropriate, I think, that I race for Sturdy Bitch Racing…as it turns out, my bike is one, too:)
Natasha Hernday put in a smoking time to win the 60-mile women’s open event, while Russell Stevenson swept the men’s event, and didn’t even look tired doing it.
Although this course may not have played to my technical strengths, it was a fun, well-organized event. And I have to say, it was nice to finally ride under sunny blue skies, given the cold, wet spring we’ve had in Seattle. One word of warning: if you want to ride the nearly tree-free Echo Valley trails, be prepared to go home with indelible tan lines.
Directions: Driving from Chelan, take Hwy 150 towards Manson for about 1 mile and turn right at Bodum Road (look for the “Echo Valley Recreation Area” sign). Follow the Echo Valley signs for about another 6 miles to the Echo Valley Ski Area.
Check out my previous post about the first race in the NW Epic Series, the Stottlemeyer 30/60 Endurance Race.
Update: Yep, turns out my bottom bracket was toast. But I just got a new one, and I’m back in the saddle. See you on the trail!