Who knew racing could be as fun as riding? Cross-country mountain bike racers know what I’m talking about: the courses we race around these parts tend to be devoid of the technical challenges we actually love to ride.
There are a number of factors to explain why races in Washington State—and most XC races in the western U.S.—are this way, including race logistics and safety reasons. But for those who lament the lack of technical XC courses, here’s one that’s actually fun to ride: the Stottlemeyer 30/60 Endurance Race, held May 14th in Port Gamble, Washington.
Before you get super-excited for next year’s event, this is not a Whistler-, Squamish-, or BC-styled XC course, routed over startling features and built structures that you’re amazed you can ride—not to mention clear at speed. But Stottlemeyer boasts the kind of singletrack that got you hooked on riding in the first place: twisty, rooted trail through thick stands of trees, fast open sections you can ride in the big ring, and plunging descents that make all the climbing worth it.
That’s the kind of mountain bike race I can sign up for. The first race in the NW Epic Series, Stottlemeyer is an annual endurance race that lets riders choose between two race course lengths: 30 miles, or an epic 60 miles. That translates into 2-4 laps on a 15-mile course. And with the hard climbs, snappy descents, and a spider web of roots to navigate, this course had something for every kind of rider to love.
Terrain: twisty, rooty forest; several very steep but short singletrack climbs; some fire road.
The Race: This was first race of the season, and my first chance to represent Sturdy Bitch Racing, and it may have started off a bit too fast, given my limited warm-up. But it’s hard not to get caught up in the charge of adrenaline and nerves at the start of any race. However, I maintained a good, solid pace during my first and second laps.
For the first 30 miles, the course was crowded, filled with 30-mile racers plus my own 60-mile contingent. Often I would find myself in a train of riders, weaving in a graceful line along forested switchbacks. Then we’d be jockeying for new positions, depending on whether the terrain started to climb or descend.
By the third and fourth laps, the riders had spread out, and most of us 60-mile racers were riding alone or in pairs. By the third lap, I had slowed to a crawl before I realized that I had forgotten to fuel appropriately. My friend Brian, who was riding with me for a while, kept me going. It was very kind of him, especially considering how I had accidentally led him astray in one section by taking a right instead of a left at a crucial moment. But that’s what fatigue does to my brain—makes it impossible to see the big sign with the arrow, pointing out the course direction.( Thankfully, we only lost 5-10 minutes at the most.)
Pounding some GU and chewing a few Cliff Blocks helped me find my second wind for the final lap. Having learned every corner of those trails by the third lap, I powered through the fourth like I was riding in my backyard. I snapped up fourth place just a few minutes ahead of the next open/pro women.
Highlights: My Diamondback Axis was nimble on the twists and turns, responsive on the climbs and dependable on the steep climbing sections. And it was rock-solid on that super fun, flowy singletrack descent (sure, there were others, but you racers know the one I’m talking about) that dumped you out—grinning from ear to ear—at the fire road to the finish.
Lowlights: Deep in the forest, there were several route options, and at one crucial T, I tried to take the wrong path. As I over-corrected, I banged my knee against the top tube, and, finding the one sharp corner of my housing guide, cut myself. My knee wouldn’t stop aching until the following lap, but it was merely a flesh wound, after all. It’s not mountain biking until someone draws blood:)
Directions 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, Trip Time roughly 30 Minutes
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 trail!