After scoring some hardware at Powder Mountain (a bit of a surprise), I was happy with my season. I could’ve ended it right there and then, but for one fact: I’d spent the whole year thinking about that snow-laden finish on the top of Hidden Peak last year.
Besides, I’d started nearly every weekend in July by doing hill repeats up my favorite trail. On that trail is a super-steep section that I’d only ridden once or twice before. But then I started doing repeats on the trail. The second weekend I rode there, someone had dropped a log across the lower sections, but that didn’t stop me from cleaning the entire trail three times in a row. I stuck the steep section every single time.
So when the date for Widow Maker came, I packed up a one-man tent in my trunk and drove down to Utah. But I nearly ran into trouble the night before the race. My planned campsite had a “full” sign in front of it. Because I was desperate, I drove up to the window anyway and found the campsite manager in the booth.
“Is it really full?” I said as the sun began setting behind me.
“Seriously? What’s the occasion? This campsite’s usually empty this time of year.”
“Yeah, it is. We had a bunch of Boy Scout troops who just showed up today. You know what, though? There might be a site open. I think they were just hiking during the day. Why don’t you go check site 23?”
So I drove over there. There was a car parked but the site was indeed empty. I asked around, and no one had seen anyone there. I unpacked my stuff and set up my tent. The camp manager even gave me the site for free, which was awfully nice of her.
I’d found a place to sleep for the night, but it wasn’t until I was comfortable in my sleeping bag that I realized I’d camped in the middle of a bunch of noisy Boy Scout troops. So even though I’d gone to bed at 8:30 (I was tired, okay?), I got woken up every couple of hours by some noisy scouts who’d wander through my campsite.
Nonetheless, I was fresh as a daisy when the sun peaked over the mountains and woke me the next morning.
I was taking a relaxed approach to the race. I did my warm up on the singletracks that I never get to ride up there, and I didn’t plan to take the start too aggressively. I bumped into Laura H., Mike J. and a handful of other folks—i.e. the Hawaiian shirt guy—I’d seen at races before. It seemed everyone else was making it a casual, relaxed affair as well.
When the RD shouted go, I went straight to Laura’s wheel instead of bursting off the front and burning all of my fuel early. Laura, I should explain, has a history of starting slower than me but finishing faster than me nearly every year. So I decided I’d take a “let’s see how Laura does this” approach this time and maybe get the payoff in the second half of the race. But after the first half-mile, I wound up unintentionally building a bit of a gap on Laura anyway.
I lost traction in one spot on one climb in the first mile and a half, and at that moment, the lead girl created a gap on me. I didn’t know it at the time, but I’d outraced the same girl by a minute the week before at Powder Mountain. But this week, playing it conservatively, I let her get away rather than chasing her down.
There’s one section on Widow Maker that has forced me to walk every single year, and this year, I really wanted to ride the whole thing. Just as I started on that section, Laura caught up with me and the two of us took on one of the longest steep sections on the course. When she tried to cross over to my side of the trail at one point, she lost traction and I gapped her a bit again. I knew at that moment that I was having a great day on the mountain bike. I completed that section without putting a foot down once.
Just after that, the final switchbacks and the finish came into view. But that was when my troubles began. See, I rarely ride over an hour anymore. And something I’m discovering is that when I get to the 60-minute mark, it’s like the clock strikes midnight and I turn into a pumpkin—I just start to lose steam. Powder Mountain was short enough that I didn’t have that problem; my finish time was under 56 minutes. But on the final switchbacks at Widow Maker, I found myself shifting into survival mode. I got passed by two people and lost contact with Laura. I limited the damage somewhat, but I definitely slowed down.
I crossed the finish line parched and pooped, but I’d done it: I completed three hill climbs in five weeks, all with average gradients of over 7%. I’d knocked off a brutal triple.
While I was gorging myself on the apple juice and goodies at the finish, it became clear the race organizers were having issues with their timing system. Needing to get home, I hopped on the tram with no idea where I’d finished relative to my age group.
On the way down, I met one of the two guys who’d passed me in the final mile. He’d been riding a big-travel freeride bike. He let me pick it up, and when I did, I was surprised to discover that it weighed about the same as my bike—my rigid ’90s hardtail. Needless to say I came home thinking it’s time to build up the lightweight bike frame I bought last year.
Despite those failings, I made a pleasant discovery when I checked the computer results the next day: I’d managed another 3rd place!