I hadn’t been to Vegas since my 8th birthday, and I hate to admit it, but that was 40 years ago. So this time I only took the view from the airport and the highway. It was 101 degrees (but dry) as Art and I made our way north towards southern Utah. The flashy hotel billboards eventually gave way to retirement community billboards and 3 hours later we pulled off at the Parowan exit where the car thermometer now read 71 degrees. We purchased our groceries for the week and headed 12 miles up the mountain to Brianhead Resort where the temp was a brisk 51 degrees. We put together our bikes and went to bed dreaming of the Utah single-track we hoped to find the next day.
Since Brianhead sat at 10,000 feet elevation, we decided to do our sightseeing on an acclimation day. We drove to Bryce Canyon to take in the sights and it was truly spectacular! It is certainly something everyone should see once. We hiked around the rim for about a mile and had a picnic lunch at the rim. It was probably the most scenic meal I have ever experienced! On the way home we stopped at Red Canyon for a ride on the Thunder Mt Trail, which was slightly lower elevation. The trail had just enough technical to keep us busy, but not to over tax our systems too soon. The scenery, the colors and the rock formations were out of this world. We did get caught in a thunderstorm, but as quick as it came, it was gone. It was a perfect first ride day of the trip.
Course inspection – The cool part about the XC course at Brianhead is that it is a one big 27-mile loop. Although a little disappointing to start on pavement, I was sucking wind so bad from the elevation, that the pavement seemed quite acceptable at that time.. The climbs and descents were sustained, and it was pretty discouraging to think about racing at this altitude. I had to stop several times to catch my breath on one steep climb, which is something I don’t usually have to do. Finally we reached some dark slimy single-track and by this time I had given up, and was not making the effort to ride stuff. I balked at a simple downhill, and had to go back to try it again. By the time I went back, a pro women came by, so I slipped in behind her. Thankfully I felt enough encouragement to be able to follow a woman’s line. I ended up getting sandwiched in between two pros. I looked for a place to pull off, but it was so narrow and demanding. The technical began to build and before I could find an out, I was looking for lines and riding over rocks and through mud one after another. I guess I just needed a slap in the face to get my low self-esteemed head straightened out. From here on, I rode sure. Boy, was I glad, because the rest of the course was so much fun. We ended up taking 4 hours to do that lap. It’s funny, but sometimes just pre riding the course can be like a race in itself.
Come race day, the promoters cut down my race to a short 16-mile loop. I was actually relieved. The pros would go off an hour before, in hopes that they finish the extra 11 miles before the older experts got to the merge point. With the high altitude, I didn’t have much expectations of being competitive climbing, but after I settled in, I felt good and climbed my way into third position, just ahead of a woman that usually beats me. It was cool to start with Art. I was able to keep him in sight on the opening 4-mile climb.
As I entered the merge to the long loop, I was surprised to find out that I was right in front of the lead pro women and had to get out of the way in a hurry. The next few pro women that came by were very spread out, which made me feel as if I was doing better than I expected. By the time I arrived at the dark slimy single-track, I had reeled in my second place expert woman, and noticed she was walking the technical stuff. Although, I was still riding, I could not go much faster than her because it was so technical. Eventually she slipped and was blocking the trail. I was able to ride onto a big flat rock on the side of the trail and find a great line to pass without even a dab. As I continued, the pro women continued to come by, and I found I was hanging with some of them for a bit. It was pretty cool to pretend being a pro for a day.
By the last climb I was gassed and gasping for breath. I had more than a moment of mental weakness and the other women passed me back a few hundred feet before the finish. I was kicking myself for not trying to play with my cadence or something on the last climb. But that’s behind me now and I can only learn from what I did or did not do.