Speeding downhill at about 35 miles an hour, I was watching the miles click away, 52, 53, 54. Making sure, at every moment, to keep my eyes peeled for danger, rocks, roots, twigs, flying water bottles from other riders. Mountain biking has the wonderful characteristic of heightening your experience and keeping you in the moment like very few sports. The detriment of not paying attention during a mountain bike race can be bloody and broken. I knew we were heading toward the final hill climb of the race. And these were my last moments to enjoy before I was about to suffer up that last hill and speed down to the finish.
About 750 of my closest friends had entered the Tahoe Trail 100 mountain bike race in Northstar, Lake Tahoe. The race is 100k or 62 miles long and roughly 2 times around the same 30 mile loop with a total of almost 8000 feet of elevation gain. It’s one of the qualifiers for the famed Leadville 100 or The Race Across The Sky. They call it that because the entire race takes place 9500 feet above sea level (I know, it’s high, the air is thin, and you can barely breathe. Feel free to take a deep breath now). If you qualify, meaning you’re in the top 10 percent in your age group, you get a slot in Leadville. They also give away some lottery slots as well. The faster you finish in Tahoe, the closer to the start line in Leadville, which winds up being very important because almost 2000 other crazies do that race and you can avoid some serious bottle necks.
So… there was one big climb to go then a very fast 2 kilometer descent to the finish. I had a very clear thought, “Oh no! After this climb the race will be just about over. I don’t want it to be over. I love riding my bike.” I was overcome by a moment of sadness. Meanwhile, I had already been on my bike for almost 5 hours straight, riding hard, suffering and taking in the dust from riders ahead of me. Thankfully, I had only crashed once, it was pretty hard, but didn’t slow me down. I have a welt on my hip and a bruised shoulder, but I’m sure I’ll be okay.
I made it up the climb which seemed way longer than the first time around and I finished the race in 5 hours and 23 minutes. I made it under the 5:25 goal I set for myself and now I will have a better starting position for Leadville. This is my second year doing the Tahoe race and this year I felt much better. I was stronger, had a new bike and a new nutrition plan. When I crossed the finish line I was tired, but less so than last year. I almost collapsed a year ago. This year that responsibility was apparently left to another guy. He crossed the finish line, was drooling, could barely hold himself up, and did collapse. He wound up needing oxygen to recover, but he’ll be fine. I know, it sounds mad, but there’s something about pushing yourself to, and sometimes beyond, your limits.
I’m 44 years young, my friends Craig, Max and Brett are 47, 48 and 55 respectively. We all did the race, we all got into Leadville and we’re all like big kids, getting muddy, bruised and riding our bikes. Some things never change.
Are we certifiably insane? Definitely not, but there is something to be said for men, and women for that matter, who love to push themselves. We are a breed that loves to reach new heights and we use our physical ability, grit and determination to do it. There is something about setting a goal, training, coordinating details, hanging with friends, racing and accomplishing what you set out to do. It builds character. It makes some of life’s little problems easier to deal with. It forces you to dig deep into your soul and reach heights that you never thought possible.
I’m one of those men. I love a challenge. I love to push myself harder and I love to reach heights that I otherwise wouldn’t accomplish. Thankfully there are events and people who allow me to do it. The staff, volunteers and support crew are among them. My wife is my biggest fan and I cannot thank her enough for supporting my dreams. Ken Chlouber, the founder of the Leadville Racing Series, has a famous quote, “You’re better than you think you are and you can do more than you think you can!” There is no better truth when it comes to pushing yourself and achieving your goals. Now go!
Photo Credit: TeddyMcDonald.com