Monday, October 12, 2009

Burnin' at the Bluff 2009 Recap

This weekend was the 6th annual Burnin' at the Bluff 12 hour mountain bike race at Council Bluff Lake Park near Potosi Mo. The event is organized by Mesa Cycles and is one of the premier mountain bike races in the midwest. This was my first Burnin'; but it won't be my last.

I signed up for the Fast class with teammates Stephen Venters and Zdenek Palecek. This is basically the equivalent of the Sport class. The race was from 9am to 9 pm and our plan was to have Zdenek do the start then switch riders each lap and shoot for a total of 10 laps over the 12 hour span. The course was just over 13 miles looping around the lake. It's a very technical trail with many dips, water crossings and huge rocks where mechanical problems are a big concern. It was going to take a good deal of luck to make it through unscathed.

I arrived at the park on Friday afternoon with Stephen showing up at our campsite a few minutes later. Walking around the campground I noticed that Specialized had set up a demo booth with a ton of 2010 S-Works bikes. I've been drooling over the new S-Works epic and was very excited to check it out in person. After setting up my tent I headed out to look over the bikes. While talking to the mechanic I asked when they were going to let us ride them and he said I could take one out then if I wanted. I immediately went and changed into my riding clothes, put on my helmet mounted light and went to get the bike. After the mechanic set up the suspension for my weight I took off; full of enthusiasm. The sun was setting and I decided to do a reconnaissance lap around the lake to see what all the recent rain had done. I'm going to save my impressions of the Epic for another post (it's worth it) but my impression of the trail that night; wet. Every ditch that drains into the lake (and there are a lot of them) had standing water. Most of them were over a foot deep and there was even a full fledged creek crossing. But aside from that the trail was in great shape. There was a tree down across the trail at about the 5.5 mile mark which required a dismount since the main part of the tree was about 3.5 feet off the ground, but the rest of the trail was clear. Right around the 8 mile mark something bad happened; my headlamp ran out of juice. Crap. I was in the middle of the woods a long way from the campground and I couldn't see ANYTHING. I didn't think there would be anyone else coming along on the trail so I started walking doing my best to stay on the trail. When I ran into something I'd back up a little and try a right turn and if that didn't work I'd go to the left. Somehow I was able to stay on the trail until the clearing at the dam. Unfortunately it was a very cloudy night so I didn't even have moonlight to help. But I knew that past the dam there was one more section of trail before the beach area where I could get to a road. So after the dam I ducked back into the woods. It took me over an hour to get the approximately 1 mile to the overflow creek near the beach. Just on the other side of the overflow was a gravel road that would get me out of there. The only problem was there was a line of brush between me and the road and I couldn't find the trail that would get me through it. I tried muscling my way through but it was too thick. So I just kept walking back and forth through the weeds until I finally crossed the trail and made it to the gravel road. I got back on the bike, rode it to the beach area then to the parking lot and on the road that would get me to the campground. There was still a problem though. It was a long road and when we drove down it earlier there was a barrier across the entrance and I didn't think I'd be able to see it in the dark. But it was too far to walk and my feet were freezing from all the water crossings, so I rode the bike straining to pick out the barrier in the darkness. Then after about 15 minutes of riding I saw a light around the next turn. I cautiously rode on and discovered it was the park rangers opening the gate. I rode up next to them, told them my light wasn't working and they offered to drive me back to the campground. Thank God! So after a chilly ride in the back of the truck I was back safe and sound at my campsite where I was greeted by a very nervous Stephen. It was right around 9:30. After calming Stephen down I rode the bike back to the race staging area where the Specialized folks had set up shop. They were very happy to see me. After telling the race officials about the downed tree I reluctantly gave the Epic back. The Spesh rep told me we could take the bikes out for a race lap the next day so I told him I'd be back in the morning, got my bike and headed back to the campsite to warm my feet.

Now the only problem was that Zdenek hadn't shown up yet. The pre-race meeting was at 7am the next morning and Z had told Stephen that if he didn't come Friday evening he would drive in the morning but not having him there made us a little nervous. But on the bright side our support team had come in my absence; Stacy, Brian and Anne.

I turned in around 11pm but didn't sleep very well; I was anxious about the race and couldn't really relax but I eventually calmed down and woke up the next morning ready to go.

Zdenek showed up right on time, Brian made some of the best coffee I've ever had, we got our timing chips for the race and settled on the following order for the race; Zdenek, Stephen then me.

The race start was really cool. It was a Le Mans start and the Mesa folks put down several smoke bombs around the bikes and played Ride of the Valkyries as everyone sprinted to their bikes. Here's a picture of Z getting to his bike:

We were off to a good start.

Zdenek finished his first lap very quickly in about 1:09 and Stephen took off. After Z's lap we had about a 5 minute lead. Stephen turned in a very respectable 1:24 (his personal best) and I took off, riding the Epic. Here's a picture of me waiting for Stephen:

I felt really strong and passed several riders during the lap. The epic is an amazing bike and I was flying up the hills. My time for the lap was 1:11 and that set the tone for the day. After the first rotation we had about a 20 minute lead in our class so barring a mechanical problem we were sitting in good shape. Here's a picture of me finishing the lap:

In the time between laps I tried to eat a little and stay well hydrated. The skies were clear and when standing in the sun it was a very nice, warm day.

Zdenek finished his second lap in about 1:13 and Stephen's second lap was consistant with his first around 1:25. On my second lap I was back on my bike and had a great time. I think I descended the hills much better than the first lap; mostly because I know my bike so well and know how it's going to handle the terrain, and I think I climbed reasonably well, though not nearly as fast as I had on the Epic. I finished the lap at about 1:13.

At that point, leading to the night laps we had over a half hour lead so our main focus was not to do anything that would jeopardize it; meaning ride cautiously to avoid wrecks and mechanical's.

Z's third lap was around 1:15 and Stephen's (the first night lap) was just over 1:30. I headed out for my night lap pretty nervous about my lights. I had my handlebar mounted lights on but it was my first time using them, and I kept my helmet light on it's lowest setting since on high it didn't last the full lap the night before. I kept the handlebar light shining right in front of me and used the helmet light to look further up the trail. But with the low setting it wasn't very bright so I had to ride pretty slowly because I didn't want to wreck and ruin our chance of winning the race. It was a little hairy at places; especially in the rock outcroppings, but I was able to avoid any wrecks and felt okay. Then, leading to the last mile of the course which was mostly uphill I had a bad feeling; my legs were dead. It came on me all of a sudden and as I approached the last climb I was afraid I wasn't going to make it. So I dropped to my granny gear and started spinning. It was very painful and I just kept saying to myself, "almost there". After what felt like an eternity I made it to the top and approached the finish line about 5 minutes before 9. Zdenek was ready to go out for our 10th lap but Stephen stopped me from crossing the line. We believed that if you crossed before 9pm and didn't do another lap you would be DNF'd and since we had a big lead we didn't need to do another lap. While I was waiting to cross the line Stacy got me a bowl of pasta because I was feeling very weak. It was possibly the best pasta and meatballs I've ever had. While we were waiting a couple guys crossed the line without going out for another lap so I guess we were wrong about the DNF thing.

At 9:01 I finished our race:

We ended up winning by 36 minutes.

After the race I sat by the campfire for about 30 minutes warming my feet and recovering. It was a great feeling and I'm very proud of my teammates. We raced a great race and best of all had a great time doing it. As Stephen said afterwards; only 364 more days to Burnin VII.

The awards ceremony was very entertaining and consisted of lots of funny commentary a burning sheep ("Don't be like that burnin' ass, gas ass sheep") some good fireworks and lots of PBR:

Here's our podium shot:

Here we are again:

Here are some photo galleries from the weekend:
If you want to read a great account of this race, go here.

The folks at Mesa really know how to put on a good race. Here's a link to the official results and individual lap times.

Next up for me is my last race of the year; the BT Epic in two weeks. Then I've got to figure out how to get my hands on one of those Specialized S-Works Epic's!

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