Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Road to the Barn Burner 104 (Part 1)

The Barn Burner 104 is a Leadville Series race that takes place in Flagstaff, Arizona. Over the weekend, Sam and I ventured out that direction so that he could attempt to score a spot for the Leadville Trail 100 next year. After some investigating, we discovered that not as many folks seem to choose this ride, so we thought the odds could perhaps be in his favor to end up with a lottery spot (Sam was under no delusion that he'd be at the top in his category, so the random lottery for finishers was what he hoped to achieve).
*Image from Barn Burner 104
When he first broached this subject with me of going to Flagstaff, I wasn't super keen on the idea. Finding someone to dog-sit our three, four-legged family members is always a challenge and the thought of dragging them along on this long road trip, followed by the race and subsequent long ride back home seemed impractical. I see lots of people at bike races that have their dogs with them, but their dogs are good mannered, well-behaved, and don't seem to require much of their people.

This in no way describes our dogs. They are perhaps some of the most needy animals on the planet, and a couple of them really don't behave very well in public. Oh, they aren't out to mangle or hurt anyone, but they can be on the loud side at times and very rarely seem to listen. I imagined myself being pulled all over the place as our dogs attempted to smell, fetch, and hunt down whatever suited them in the moment. In between all of this, I would be expected to crew for Sam, making sure he had what he needed... and of course, I'd also need to get some photos to have documentation of the race.

Then there were the sleeping arrangements. We'd be camping in a tent in a parking lot, from my understanding - which is fine in and of itself. However, our dogs are highly sensitive to sound and throughout their history have been known to bark at any little noise that seems out of place. I imagined them barking all night as they listened to the commotion all around us, which I knew would present a problem.

All in all, I was not excited about the prospect of making a family trip out of this race.  After some discussion, I thought it would be best for Sam to head to Arizona on his own.

I could read the disappointment on his face when I uttered these words, so, sucker that I am, I agreed to give this a one-time shot to see if we could possibly make it work. This was the moment in time I was sure I would live to regret.

As the days grew closer to actually leaving, I really started to second guess my decision; but I had committed to going, so I needed to see it through. I tried conning my mother into coming out for a visit to watch the beasts, but she had too many other things going on. Instead, I knew I was going to have to make peace with the idea that it was going to be a hectic weekend.

Our plan was to leave early Friday morning so that we could arrive before the sun went down at the campsite in Flagstaff. This meant that I'd have to go to bed at a reasonable hour and actually get up before the sun. Not being at all a morning person, the thought of getting up at 4a was not exciting. Sam is quite used to being awake at this hour though, so he figured even if he had to clang together garbage can lids to get me up, he'd find a way to make it happen.

Of course, the night before departure neither of us slept much. Is there some sort of law of races that one must be in a lack-of-sleep fog for these events? I woke before the alarm went off, as I had several times over the last few hours, but I was definitely not in a state of awareness. I stumbled through the morning, attempting to get together the few things that needed last minute preparation, though admittedly, Sam did most of the work that morning.

To make matters worse, I was supposed to do the driving so that Sam could rest and prepare for the ride ahead on Saturday, but I was barely awake as we rolled out. Sam said he would drive, at least until I was more awake, and so we got out on the road.

As our bad luck would have it, rain had been falling all night and was still coming down in the early morning hours of our drive. I couldn't really sleep in the car because I felt uneasy about the driving conditions. Sam stayed behind the wheel until we made it across the Colorado/New Mexico state line, at which point I finally felt somewhat alert enough to drive.
*Image from Google Maps
From our home, there are actually three routes we could have taken to get to our destination. One travels south on I-25 through Colorado, into New Mexico, and across I-40 into to Arizona. The second heads west out I-70 through the beautiful Colorado Rockies, into a portion of Utah, south through Moab, and then into Arizona. The final option is to head in a south-west direction (also through the Rockies), traveling through Durango, Colorado, and ultimately down through the north eastern side of Arizona.

Neither of us have ever been to Durango, so we thought that route might be a fun choice. Not only would we be on our way, but we'd get to see another city on our list of places to check out. Because of the rain, however, we made a last minute switch and decided to head down I-25 and go through New Mexico. We figured we could always come back home through Durango, and this way we'd also get to see Albuquerque (we have been to Santa Fe, but never quite made it to Albuquerque).

Traveling with dogs meant that we were going to have to stop every 1-2 hours to let them out. It actually turned out to be a nice way to stretch and not feel as though we were just tearing through to get to Flagstaff. I was surprised to find that they were behaving pretty well in the car on the way as well. Really, two of the three love to go, but the third whines and cries the entire time in anticipation of some activity she thinks she's getting to do. I was shocked to see that they were all pretty much just looking around and/or huddling up together for a nap. Good pups!

For the most part, the traveling portion went as well as could be expected. As we drove into Flagstaff it was interesting to see such a change in geography/topography from most of what we'd seen. Yet another city neither of us had visited, we were surprised to see that it felt a lot like Colorado. There were lots of wooded areas, it was kind of mountainous, and as we rolled through the older portion of town, it could easily have been any of the many older communities at home.

The sun was starting to lower in the sky and I was anxious to get to the campsite to get set up before night fall. We believed that we were almost to the location, but as it turned out, we still had about a 45 minute drive in front of us. It was obvious as we drove through that massive rains had hit this area. The roads were sopping wet and the glare from the sun reflecting on the slick roads was so blinding we were seeing spots for hours afterward.

As we continued to wind through the mountainside, we came across the dirt road where we would turn. This road lead us to the start line of the race and our camping spot for the evening. The road was outrageously difficult to drive. Potholes don't even begin to describe the crater-sized holes in this dirt road. Not to mention that they were full of water from the rain that we had apparently just missed.
That isn't a river or a lake glistening in the remaining daylight - that is the campground we'd be sleeping on.
When we arrived at our spot, we realized that this was essentially a very large, mud pit. The car had a difficult time driving through it, so I couldn't imagine what it was going to be like to walk around in this mess. We found our spot, just as the sky was turning dark. The ground was a muddy, wet mess, but we looked for the driest possible location to set up (which wasn't easy).
They'd been out of the car for all of a few minutes and were already muddy.
The dogs were happy to be able to get out of the car and stretch, but of course, it would be time to hunker down for the night before they knew it. As Sam set up the tent, I worked on feeding the dogs and removing items that we'd need for the evening and early morning hours. Everything was filthy that had touched the ground or been exposed to the outside. Sam's bike already appeared to have been ridden through quite a mess, simply by being on the back of the car.
It didn't take long before the campsite was set up for the evening though. I will say this - we are definitely not camping people. I grew up going camping all the time in the summer, but in adulthood, I can count on one hand the number of times I've packed or unpacked a tent. It seems to be one of those things we always say we'll do and just never get around to actually doing. Because we don't camp, we don't have proper camping equipment, so instead of sleeping bags, we take blankets from the house, and we forget that we'll be outdoors all night and don't pack the proper, warm clothing either.

We went to bed early, knowing that the morning would arrive quickly. It was difficult to sleep though because, as I'd predicted before we'd even arrived, people were up laughing, talking, and having a good time (nothing wrong with that - this is advertised as a party ride of sorts anyway). I waited for the dogs to start barking, but something magical happened: they remained quiet. Maybe they were scared we were going to leave them there, or perhaps they've just matured since our last camping adventure, but either way, I was happy to have them behaving like well-mannered dogs - even if it was just an act.

We both should have been exhausted, as neither of us really slept the night before. I'll re-phrase that - we were both exhausted from not sleeping the night before. It's difficult to remember what it's like to sleep in a tent when we only do it once every 4-5 years. People were chatting most of the night, some more loudly than others. Cars continued to pour into the camp well into the late evening hours. Animals and insects were making their typical noises. With all of the sounds, it was difficult to get any kind of sustained sleep.

By morning, we hadn't slept for long, but it was time to get up and get ready for the big race.

And... that's where we'll pick up the next time. You can look forward to more of Sam's thoughts during the race for the next installment, though I definitely have my own side of the story as well. :O)

Part 2 of this series can be found by clicking here.

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