Monday, September 24, 2012

{Guest Post} Start to Finish: The 2012 Alpine Odyssey 100k

Although it's taken me what seems like an eternity to get this up, I wanted Sam to have the opportunity to share his day at the Alpine Odyssey for those who may have interest. If you happen to be considering participating in this event, I think it's a wonderful opportunity to be able to hear/read about others' experiences. If you don't happen to have any desire to do this sort of mountain bike race, well, let's just view it as another bicycle story. :O)  Without further delay...

As usual, I needed to be early to the September 15th race day.  I left around 9am from our home in Longmont, and headed to Crested Butte.  I chose the more scenic, but shorter route through Golden, Conifer, Fairplay, and Gunnison.  It was a great, relaxing 4 hour drive.

Upon arrival in Crested Butte, I found myself mildly lost while attempting to find the B&B I had reserved (surprise!). Yes, I get lost everywhere.  Kat (the owner), was there to greet me.  She had to be the most agreeable person in Crested Butte, and within 20 minutes I knew nearly everything about her home, the last 2 days of her life, and it seemed like we knew each other for 20 years.
Kat's house AKA the B&B
The house was both charming and rustic - and had been ransacked by a bear the previous night to include a large bear poop on the kitchen dining table.  This part of the trip was both interesting, and exhausting.  I was able to see Kat’s art studio down the street, and the co-op where she worked.
After the arrival festivities and the rider “meeting” up at the mountain, I came back down, ate dinner, and wound down.

Saturday- Race day 
I was unusually organized for this day.  I got up about 2.5 hours before the race, had all my stuff ready to go, and cooked some scrambled eggs in Kat’s cabin kitchen (cast iron skillet: check).  Afterwards, I cleaned and put everything away. Apparently, I did this so well that she called me at 8:15am to ask where I was, and if I had had any breakfast.
Kat's kitchen at the B&B
At about 7am, I rolled up the hill to the parking area for the Alpine Odyssey 100k.  I took my time, attached my race number, checked out the bike, my gear, and applied a 3 inch thick layer of poisonous SPF 50 sunscreen {G.E.'s note: Sam enjoys mocking me because I tell him the sunscreen he uses has cancer causing agents, and while we have sunscreen in the house that would be better to use, he refuses to use it (sigh)}.

The grey goose, ready.  I received a ton of comments on the number "69."
So this was it; I was ready to go.  I drifted over to the start area just after 8:15am for the 9am start in the hopes of not being at the back (it turns out, this did not matter, but it was cool to be there first).  I also was set to meet up with Chris and Mandy of From the Pavement's Edge, as we missed each other on Friday night due to locations of our stay over.
Base of the ski mountain and starting line
The Climbing Begins
 At 9am, we started, and meandered through the town to the breakaway point, where everyone exploded at approximately 25mph.  This is the point at which I knew I just wanted to finish!

Shortly thereafter, we began the climb that would pull us up 4200 feet in elevation, taking us about 15 miles up to the first aid station, and cause me the most sit bone pain I have ever experienced in my life.  This part of the ride was all fire road, and very steep most of the way.  No matter what I did, it seemed I could not roll over 3-5mph for the entire climb.  It took close to 1.5 hours to reach the pseudo summit at just over 11,000 feet. (Sidebar:  You don’t know what that elevation will do until you get there, I felt “ok”, but not great, I was short of breath, and was feeling a bit woozy when I arrived  - even beyond the rear pain).  To my surprise, I was about 5 minutes behind Chris at that point, so it was cool to see a familiar face "up there."  I proceeded to get off the bike, eat, drink, use the facilities, and get back on the bike within 5 minutes. Chris had taken off at about the same time we had greeted each other, which was a wise move - always ride your own race). At that point, I was thinking that I have never climbed this far or long - ever - and then I thought, "I’m going downhill now, right?"

Sorta Downhill
There was some decent downhill after the first summit.  Not killer, but some rolling hills in-between.  This area, along with the rest of the ride had the most beautiful views I have ever seen, particularly during September in the Rockies.  The leaves were turning, and my body was dying - one pedal stroke at a time.

After the sorta downhill, the ride took me to the opposite side of the town of Crested Butte where we would climb partially through a residential area, back to another up-down fire road route that led to the next area, which would be the “single track” mountain bike trails leading around Mt Crested Butte itself and the start/finish area. This was the halfway mark.

Single track for every appetite
The single track spanned the gamut of what I had ridden:  rocky loose gravel, tree roots with little climbs, and mossy areas that crossed streams and woods.  This was a 7-mile or so jaunt that criss-crossed up and across Mt Crested Butte, and spanned 3 MTB trails.  The absolute worst part of this section was the very end, right before the start/finish line.  At about 1 mile out the route takes riders to a section where we could SEE the start/finish line, but we aren’t there yet!

I rolled to the base area at approximately 3hrs 28mins; 32 minutes under the 4 hour cutoff time.  I ate everything I touched, had my camelback refilled, and took about 10 minutes to regain my composure.  Luckily, by this point my butt felt normal, and I was generally doing okay.  I thought there was a chance I could finish in around 7 hours total.  Why wouldn’t the 2nd half be faster?  I had already done it once….

The Second Half: my death was high exaggerated
I did not realize how difficult it would be to do the exact same route again.  I started the climb to the summit, AGAIN!  Another 4200 feet of elevation gain, but this time my body was playing the “I want to sleep now” game.  I had been doing a physical activity for more than 4 hours, and I was moving at a snail’s pace up the hill - even slower than lap one.  It seemed like it took forever, and I was alone most of the time, but managed to push on.  There was only one point during the ride where I walked, and it was a very steep section of the climb of about 30 yards.  I reached the summit at approximately 3:15pm.  

Once again, I fed myself, drank, and paid a visit to the little boys room.  I spoke to a couple of the volunteers, and another rider who was contemplating our timing, and where we were.  One of the volunteers suggested that we were about 1:45 away from the finish (this is at 3:15), and I knew the cutoff was 5pm for the 8 hour limit.  I was somewhat panicked that I could not make this time, so I split, and headed down the hill for my second descent to the single track.

Race to the finish
I’m in trouble.  I perceived that I had no time at this point.  On the downhill sections, I do as much as my beat body would allow.  I arrived at the single track just after 4pm with another racer.  We lamented that it was going to be very close, and we may not even make it.  Something triggered in my mind at that point, and I knew I needed to kick it as hard as I could for the next 7 miles.  So there it was. I began the race to the end, and rode through (quickly as I could) the various terrain, criss-crossing, tearing through trees, climbing, descending, hopping, and finally arriving to see that single track view of the start/finish line.

The Finish
During the last couple of miles were mostly descending on the single track.  I had tasted the start/finish and I could hear music and people.  It was approximately 15 minutes to 5pm according to my Droid bike computer (more about this later), and I’m frantic. I hit the turns fast; the dirt is soft, and WHAM!  I went down for the first time that day.  It hurt. I was a mess, but I didn’t waste more than 5 seconds hopping back up, and continuing.  I finally rounded the corner that brought me to the base, and spun to the finish.  I could hear the announcer saying that another rider was coming in (me), but I could not see the time.  I painfully crossed at 7hrs, 31mins (all approximates).  I was dead, but I was greeted by Chris and Mandy, and the support crew that anointed me with my finisher’s medal!
Sam crossing the finish at the Alpine Odyssey
Post Race, and Musings
I won’t bore you with too many detail, as I’m a terrible writer, and I’m sure there are a metric ton of details I have left out or remember incorrectly.  What is only a short musing here seemed like a 7.5 hour lifetime to me.

Post race, we cooled down, I called G.E., spoke to other riders, and hung out with Mandy and Chris.  We all ate whatever was there (believe me, we ate all that was available), enjoyed the awards ceremony, and the lottery for Leadville that followed.

Chris made the lottery, and I was so happy for him. He honestly really deserved it!  Mandy said he’s just lucky that way, and unfortunately for me, I know that I am not.  Luck wasn't on my side that day, as I didn’t get one of the slots in the lottery.  I know Chris must've felt like he couldn’t really celebrate, but the non-lottery for me didn’t hurt my feelings.  I was just so happy for him.  Personally, I could not help but think I didn’t deserve to get in that easily.  I may still get in for 2013, with a little help from my friends, or by shooting for the next couple of qualifying races. Only time will tell.

My bike computer obviously had some things wrong with it, as I thought I was pushing the 5pm/8 hour cutoff, but I managed to come in 30 minutes ahead of it.  I’ll have to figure that sucker out before my next ride, and I'll probably include the use of Strava as well. 

This was, without question, the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life.  For reference, I have run a marathon, I’m an Army vet, I was a high school football player, and I have dislocated both my left elbow, and my left shoulder in the past (among many other difficult things).  I feel like I just keep saying that over and over, but it’s been many days since the race, and I still feel it’s true.  I cannot believe that I finished something so tough.

Seriously, I have to thank some special people in my life.  First and foremost my seriously better half G.E., who has pushed me this year. We have both improved ourselves, and I would suggest that she has worked at least 30% harder than I have.  Without her, I would not have been able to do something like this, or have even bothered.  My friend Will, who was simply around, but provided encouragement in his own way, other friends from kickboxing, and especially my new friends Chris and Mandy!

What's Next?
The Cougar Slayer.  I won't describe it further, but suffice it to say it's a nasty, unsupported endurance mountain bike ride, and I'll be riding it with Chris in less than one week. The bike is improved, and has a new fork (thanks, Craigslist!), my right hand is still a bit of a claw, but my rear is definitely doing better. Will I make it to Leadville? We will see, but if not, I will volunteer and will probably ride the Alpine again.

Crested Butte was awesome.

Sam, thanks so much for taking the time to detail out your day at the Alpine Odyssey. While I am still feeling guilty for not being able to physically be present during the ride, I am beyond impressed with all you've accomplished in what is truly a very short amount of time. Your strength and endurance never cease to amaze me. I know you'll achieve all of your goals. :O)


  1. Wow! So inspiring. I know you've probably heard this a ton, but really you should be so proud!! Few can accomplish such a feat, and you're planning something else (crazy) right on it's heels. ;o) But, being a girl, I would have loved to see a proud finish line picture with your well deserved and I'm sure super cool medal. :o) G.E. make sure you get one after the Cougar Slayer!! :o)

    1. I have a shot of Sam (thanks to Mandy) crossing the finish line at the Alpine race. I should probably add it to Sam's post (evidence of the finish, certainly). I'm going to attempt to get a shot this coming weekend, but I actually have yet another commitment on Saturday, so I probably won't be there for this one either. :O( I need more time to plan for these rides! :O)

    2. Oh perfect!! That is a great picture! :o)

  2. So cool to see it again from your point of view! You did amazingly well considering the late hour. I know you'll do fine when you get into Leadville. And that's a whole different animal...harder in some ways and easier in some ways.

    The sit bone pain goes away after about 15,000 miles of riding.

  3. Holy mother of cat.
    What a race and what a story.
    Great job, Sam!

  4. It was an exciting/painful event, and unfortunately now I want to do more. I find myself daydreaming of Crested Butte, while sitting at my painful desk chair.... Now if I can just log another 14k of miles on that saddle before this weekend, maybe my sit bones won't hurt as much!


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