California Enduro Series: Ashland Mountain Challenge!

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Okay! So I’m on a roll here folks! Seems this is my usual routine, but winters I go into seeming hibernation mode (since the last two I’ve spent recovering from injury) and summers I go hyperactive. (Hopefully I can get onto a more balanced yearly plan and not have to go through such highs and lows!) I got on the bike about 2 months ago and started pedaling my way back to health and sanity and the momentum is overwhelming. My first enduro race was a bit of a wash but it got me going. The second one I tried was a technical disaster and learning experience that I felt like catapulted my riding to a forth dimension!  The quaint little southern Oregon mountain town of Ashland, all tucked into the Siskiyous, hosted the fourth round of the California Enduro Series.

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The drive from Bellingham, WA to Ashland is long. It seems shorter when you leave later and drive into the night. Or at least it didn’t seem as grueling of a trek heading down on Tuesday, than the drive home did after 5 days, 95 miles on the bike, 12 hrs in a shammy, 13,000 ft of climbing, 3 mid-ride hailstorms, about 3 1/2 hrs of racing, tons of rad social interacting, and really good coffee to try to stay awake through Portland, Tacoma and Seattle traffic. I returned on Monday, thoroughly baptized in mountain bike induced euphoria, which was great except it made driving from 10am till 9pm particularly exhausting. The way home also included a necessary stop at my local urgent care to pick up some steroid pills for the poison oak I’d acquired on the Sunday ride, but it was well worth it. (Reason #227 I love Washington State better: no poison oak)

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Anxious to get there and get this party started, I drove straight down I-5 with practically no stops and pulled into the Ashland Mountain Adventures parking lot late Tuesday night at 2:45am. AMA is the shuttle company run by ‘Wild Bill’ and Sue, who also helped put on the race. I climbed into the bed of my  pickup and curled up under my tent and sleeping bag that I was too tired to actually set up anywhere. I had sort of planned on camping but when I found out the local spot’s gone up to $20/night I figured I’d wait and see about a room at the local hostel for $25/bunk instead. But this night I figured I was safe enough in the parking lot ’till 9am. Well, more like 7am when folks started showing up and bustling! Popping up from the back of the truck, rubbing my sleepy eyes, the first face I saw was Bill’s and he greeted me with a warm “Well hello there Adrian! You made it!” I lived in Ashland for a year, about four years ago, and took advantage of the town’s shuttle system as a season pass holder, and I got to know these folks pretty well. I volunteered for Bill and Sue to help put on the Ashland Super D race years back, help with work parties to maintain trails and do clean up. They’ve lent me bikes, shown me new trails, let us blast Lady Gaga in the van on the drive up and basically hosted the mtb community for years. Ashland, it’s residents and it’s beauty hold a special place in my heart. I return every year to ride and revisit friends and trails. It’s another fun way to see my progression as well. That’s really where I began learning how to ride bikes after I left Marin County and sought out a bigger hill besides Mt. Tam. I was tired of being ostracized, yelled at by hikers, scaring Sierra Club folks with wooden canes heading up the trail, threatened to be ticketed and being called a “Nazi”. I just wanted to ride my bike and without a car, Ashland seemed like the perfect small town to move to, where I could ride all I wanted, without really getting in anyone’s way. Fast forward to now, after moving even further north to Washington State to find more technical and progressive riding, I get to go back and rally my trailbike on stuff I used to be nervous to take my Santa Cruz Driver 8 down. (That was their park bike, a little less than the V10 but a little more than the Nomad, that they eventually took off their production line, but pedaled well for what it was and I rode that thing everywhere on Mt. A. XC guys’ mouths would drop when they saw me standing up pedaling a 40 lb “downhill bike” up Bull Gap or all the way up to Timewarp from the ski lodge lot. The group of guys I used to ride with were DH superstars, usually just linking together steep skid trails, to bombing fireroad, to Marty’s jumpline they built with 30-40 ft gaps, rockgarden and out the bottom fast trails to eat lunch and catch another shuttle up to do it again, and again. They’d heckle me when I wanted to climb more to make it a longer ride. But I stuck with them enough and learned a lot. And now I know where all the goods are when I come back, especially when the racing’s only being done on the “tamer” trails (which are also the legal trails that they’re able to get permission to use in a race.) This trip I was lucky enough to hook up with an old riding partner, Josh Kahn, who showed me all the stages and who I got to practice with a couple days. Then on Sunday after the race I got to go shred all my old favorites ; )

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So I talk a lot and I’m realising this is getting a little winded and nostalgic….so the race was 4 stages. 1&2 were on one side of the mountain and 3&4 were on the other. We (Pro & Cat I) took a shuttle up to the top of Mt. A to start on the more “dh” stages 3&4, while the other categories simultaneously got through the opposite side climbing an hour up to 1&2. And then we switched. I was concerned about what category to race, since my first enduro race experience two weeks prior in Port Angeles, WA was a bit of a let down. My fitness hadn’t had time to advance as far as these ladies and I didn’t want to be the ‘Ass’ who entered in and lost in Pro as well as finishing DFL in Cat I! I heard there were a lot of female entrants, about 15 per category, which is awesome, but I had a feeling many were California XC pedal machines who were all just going to destroy me. Without any real technical descents on the course and three times as pedally as the last race, I was sure I would just get creamed. But I still wanted to race! I just thought maybe I’d downgrade to play it safe. And then when I told the guys they all gave me the same look of disappointment! And when I told the girls they all said “What?! No way, race Pro!” As it seems, other people have more faith in me sometimes than I have in myself. So I finally figured I’d rather be put more to the challenge and work my way up in Pro then move down and up again all wishy washy or unintentionally sandbagging or something. I don’t care if I lose. I just want to get better. And I worked hard and paid for that Pro license this year, and want to ride with the Pro ladies, so dammit I guess I’d better just go with what it reads on the card. It says “Pro”. Downhill may be my primary discipline but I’m certain once I get my body back in shape after that long slow winter of pain, rest, swelling, healing, acupuncture, rolfing, epsom salt baths and yoga, I’ll get up to a top spot in this race format as well.

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Stage 3 that we started on was Bull Gap to a long fireroad section to Catwalk. Very unfortunately that was not ever made clear to me and I assumed it would be more obvious in the race where the start and finish lines were. I lost a ton of time slowing down and coming to a full stop in the middle of this stage, thinking I was crossing a finish line. I had always practiced stopping at 4 Corners, the intersection of trail and fireroad where Catwalk begins, and I didn’t realize that the entire stage linked all three sections together. The other stages were shorter and for some reason in my mind I thought we stopped there and started again. Thinking back later I was so mad at myself for being such a space cadet that I couldn’t figure out that that would make for 5 stages not 4. But in my defense, there was a spectator waiving his arms confusing me so I stopped and asked “Is this it? Did I cross the finish?” (And I heard other folks had the same experience there.) I guess he was actually cheering me on and he yelled “No, it’s way down there!” Everything was different here than the first enduro race I did, and you rode through an invisible finish line that caught your time. There were no obvious or bright indicators however, trails weren’t marked super well or hardly at all in practice and some people were missing trails or going the wrong way since the stages didn’t list what trails connected where. I got back on the gas as quickly as I could, jumped that double perfectly! raced to the bottom and dropped my chain! I hopped off the bike and had to run with it up a hill to the finish and got set way back. I got over it and continued on to Stage 4, BTI, and the chain came off near the very top after a couple jumps into switchbacks. I got off and pulled it back on, nervous it could tangle up and cause more damage or injury, & knowing I’d need it for a big pedal finish on the road. So that cost me bigtime. I had some hugs and support at the bottom, saw a bunch of ladies bandaged up from crashes, got my head on straight and started the hour plus climb to Stages 1&2. I decided even if I got a crappy result I needed the practice for the next one. So I finished. On the final stage I dropped my chain again and had to pump to the finish. So kids, lesson learned: a fancy new derailleur with a clutch and tensioner, narrow-wide ring, brand new chain & cassette, means nothing in an enduro race without at least a top guide. (Or the SRAM rep was showing me a super cool new chainring they designed around the chain and it locks on there pretty darn tight!) I got 12th out of 15, walked away without any scrapes, got beat by 4 Cat I ladies, and got heaps of compliments on my race jersey, the rad rainbow tiger tee from Forever 21. (It was just TOO hot to wear the long sleeve Hi-5  jersey! I tried it at the Cascadia Dirt Cup and thought I was going to hyperventilate!) I got to see some awesome women throw down some amazing times and make some new friends. But most of all I got to ride. A ton. And the more I ride the more I want to ride. And my ‘easy day’ before the race was what I used to think of as a ‘good solid day on the bike’. And if I hadn’t had all those mishaps I could have had a much better result. I was three minutes behind the top spot but the 11 women ahead of me were pretty close in times, so with each disappointing scenario I just kept falling further back. But hey! I didn’t lose!

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And like I said, Sunday was the real day. I got to hop on a noon shuttle, ride my favorite steep  skid trail off the top, catch some of the prime singletrack we skipped in the race, tried some new little jumps on Lower Links, and ran into some folks on Marty’s to follow. I’d been wanting to do those jumps, but especially the step-down at the end of the trail (which is smaller and more manageable for me, 25-30 ft.) for years and was ready to at least do something cool this trip and cross something off my list! After watching a couple of these friends turn the step-down into a step-UP (what??!!! They fully mashed on the flats into this huge gap and landed on top! It was unbelievable but there’s video proof and I witnessed it! So I got to jump it the normal way down and got just as many cheers and hi-fives from these guys. Stokage was on max. : ) Rock garden, Sketchy, Caterpillar to Jaberwocky out and all was right in the world.

Check out 4th place Pro Men Cory Sullivan’s crazy time! :

https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=1022294464457207

I got to eat real good. I was offered an incredible place to stay with the most hospitable friends. I connected with old and new acquaintances. I visited my miracle healer chiropractor who helps keep this body in the right place. I got to enjoy the calmness and tranquility of this beautiful area, remember how to relax and recharge.  And start getting comfortable with speed again. And get excited to start pushing myself again. I’m looking forward to each new adventure. Like tomorrow morning’s!!! Night!

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-Adrian



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