Browsing the Facebook news feed a few weeks ago I came across a 100 mile MTB race about to happen in Santa Barbara. Caught my attention right off — the event was only an hour away from my house and I’ve really wanted to explore more trails and mountains in that area. The big man Ryan Steers, a Pedalers Fork teammate, and my good buddy Jack Nosco wanted in too. Jack and I drove up to Santa Barbara the day before in his RV, bringing back some good — and bad — flashbacks of RAAM. I took Jack to one of my favorite vegan restaurants in Santa Barbara. It’s slow, quiet, laid back atmosphere reminds me of lazy afternoons in Spain. After eating, we picked up our numbers and went to the start/finish line to set up camp. As we were unpacking and getting ready for some R and R, Jack went to get the bikes off the rack and somehow lost the key to one of the locks. He had to pack up a bit and drive down the road to find some bolt cutters. I stayed back to finish setting up. Relaxed on my hammock and chatted with Ryan who had brought me a really funny shirt. Jack came back and cooked up a really nice pasta dinner, and then we chatted some more and crawled into the camper and fell asleep. It was a nice advantage to sleep on the start line as the race was called for 6:30 am.
Five A.M. came all too quickly. But when doing these events the excitement overcomes the sleepiness. Jack was pulling shots on his espresso machine, taking a page out of the Jens Voight playbook as he kept saying “I’ll have another and another!” Actually it turned out it was lucky the start was early since we were in an October heatwave, with temperatures about to rise over 100 degrees.
We spotted Tinker Juarez on the start line. We rolled up to the dirt and had a tiny downhill and Tinker attacked at the bottom into a climb. I was right there so I was thinking no big deal — Ryan and I will bring that back. I went anaroebic pretty quick and wasn’t gaining any ground on him. It was very impressive to see his rate of speed up the climb. I almost came off Ryan’s wheel at the top, and he encouraged me to dig a bit. Ryan was putting some time into me on the downhills and waiting a bit at the bottom for me. I was very aware of how long and hot a day it was going to be and was trying to eat every hour and drink as much skratch as I could. Tinker was gone but we kept pressing on. At one point there was a fork in the road that wasn’t marked and we were trying to decide which way to go when Tinker popped up behind us also trying to make a decision. Well, we all decided on the wrong way — being led right into a dead end. This seemed to deflate Tinker a little bit. At one point Tinker was going to be behind me on a downhill and I waved him passed — it would’ve freaked me out to have him behind me. We got to an aid station and I stopped, but Ryan and Tinker continued on. I think this was a good move for me as I got two cold bottles and drank them on the way up the climb. I was almost to the top and Tinker came bombing down, which made me think the turnaround was soon. Then I saw Ryan and he said something about a turnaround. At the top of the climb, there was nothing to indicate a turnaround, so I kept going down the other side of the mountain. Finally I stopped, thinking there was no way the other guys came down this far. Then Ryan came by and we decided we would just go for it and go to the bottom and if that’s not the turnaround, then –oh well. We got to the bottom, and it turned out we had done it right. Ryan was excited to be back in the hunt for the win. It was getting very hot, but my legs started feeling better. The heat was getting to Ryan, so I thought I would just push on and he could catch me on the downhills. He wasn’t catching me, so I just kept going and drinking as much as I could. I was hoping my body wouldn’t give out. At the 94-mile mark I had just passed two guys in another category and they asked if I was leading the 100 miler. I said yes, but then I cramped badly and had to get off the bike and start walking. When the cramp subsided a bit, I got back on the bike but could barely push the pedals. The forest service had closed the gates to the fire roads, and it was an art form to dismount the bike and crawl through the gates without cramping. The last 5 miles took forever and it was mostly downhill, the tiniest roller was killing me. I was having visions of my wife and myself when she was going through labor with our first child. This made me smile and simply feel that life is amazing, helping me push on and on. I got lucky and made it to the line for the win! Really, Tinker could have won but he turned too early and didn’t do the full distance which was a DQ. I took a long sit down with the other competitors and started feeling better – the way one will with a few cold beers!