The Last Best Ride
Big announcement time... I'm a gravel racer now! Just kidding, I'm still a mountain biker who did a rad local gravel event.
I headed up to Whitefish, MT on Friday the 20th from my home in Missoula, MT. A new friend and competitor Andrew Frank generously offered to host me for the weekend so I rolled to his place and then headed out to ride some of the course. Unsurprisingly, it was stunning. Flathead National Forest is incredible, particularly the North Fork area where the first loop of the race was. I avoided some road closures but not the rain, did my intervals, and head home.
On Saturday, did an easy spin down to pick up my registration, washed my bikes, wrote some Forward Endurance training plans, and organized my gear for Sunday.
At 4:45 my alarm went off and I assumed my pre-race ritual of consuming grotesque amounts of oatmeal paired with two eggs and two cups of coffee. Two hours later Andrew and I rolled out the door and coasted down the mountain a few miles to the start.
There was a neutral rollout for the first six miles and once we hit the dirt things kicked into gear. The field separated out quickly and as we did the first series of climbs and rollers I settled into the top ten. We worked through the rest of the first 30-ish mile loop and I suffered on the climbs but did my best to use my mountain to my advantage on the descent.
We came back through town and did 10ish miles of pavement before hitting the dirt again. It was no joke trying to keep up with gravel bikes on these rolling climbs, and Howard even gave my a slingshot back onto the group once when I was starting to be gapped off lol! We did the first 1000ft gravel climb and one guy dropped off our group. We also called a brief truce for a group pee break. Then we descended again before starting into a brutal 2500ft climb. Howard hit the gas there and Ted King was the only once to go with him. Our group shattered and I climbed at my own pace in around 7th place for the sake of survival.
We basically rode all the way up into the clouds and could only see a 10 yards ahead at a time, making it difficult to know if there was anyone to chase. I was able to claw back a few riders and made it up into 5th place. As we hit the "Big Horn Sheep Scramble," a 27% hike-a-bike section my mountain bike finally came in handy. I was able to ride it and moved into fourth place. I also separated myself from those behind me and I bombed back down the mountain solo. Then it was a ten mile solo time trial back into town to finish off the brutal day.
I rolled in for fourth place and enjoyed the great festivities put on by the race promoters Jess and Sam. Nothing better than great food, ice cream and beer after a big day on the bike! I shared the podium with some mighty fine company and then hit the road back home to Missoula.
Huge thanks to Sam and Jess for a wonderful event and to Andrew and his family for their hospitality. Lastly, I think this was my last race ever in the Bear National Team jersey. It has been a wonderful three years and I cannot thank Julia, Jason, our sponsors and everyone else for being so instrumental in my development as a rider. It has been a ride I will never forget.