Last weekend, the misses and I headed up to Butte so I could participate in some
self flagellation on my bike. Soon after I committed to doing this race, a few things got scheduled at work that meant that the race would be sandwiched between the two busiest weeks of the year for me. The silver lining is that I'd have no choice but to taper before the race (although I think a taper is supposed to be more like a gradual slope rather than falling off a cliff) and recover afterward.
I was going back and forth between doing the 50 and the 100 mile version of Butte... until I took a look at the stats of the 100. 100+ miles with 16k or so climbing. Call me crazy, but when I race my bike, I like to try and go fast and have fun. I had a feeling that the 100 mile version would be neither fast nor fun. So I figured I'd use the 50 as a nice race-pace training ride for Park City Point 2 Point (P2P), and hopefully ride some awesome singletrack in the process.
Since the race happened a week ago, you may have heard some mixed reviews about it. Although you won't hear any complaints from me, some of the complaints may have some merit to them. This was the 4th year of the race, and they keep having the same problems year after year (poor course markings, inadequate aid stations and course information, etc.), so you'd think the organizers would have some of these recurring problems fixed. Shoot, if an official gps track would have been published prior to the race, it would have solved so many problems for so many people. For whatever reason, a gps track was never provided, and instead the racers were assured that the course markings would be so obvious that no gps track would be necessary. Ha.
Anyway, don't interpret the previous paragraph as me complaining. I loved the race. Seriously, every last mile, including the 5 miles I spent off course. All I'm saying is that I can understand some of the gripes. I imagine if I had come into the 50 dead set on winning, or if I had ridden the 100 and got lost 80 miles into it, I'd be pretty ticked too.
The 50 mile version began at 9am, three hours after the 100 mile version started (yet another reason to do the 50). We bombed down the first descent with only minimal carnage (only one crash that I saw) and within 2-3 miles we hit an intersection with a paved road that didn't include any markings. The lead group lollygagged for a while until one of the racers reassured us that we were still heading in the right direction. We surmised that the rumors of locals pulling flags were true and we forged ahead.
The first climb was on some great singletrack and the pace was already high. I pinned it trying to stay with the leaders, and I think I was close to the top 10, with the top 4-5 getting a bit of a gap on the rest of us. Eventually, we reached a T in the trail, and there were no markings anywhere. About 4 of us discussed which way we should go, and one guy said we needed to be heading right to get to the archery range. We started heading down for about 1/4 mile until I thought better of it after the trail conditions started deteriorating and turned around. On my way back up, I ran into about 5 more who had made the same decision. We had a little pow-wow and determined that nobody knew for sure which way we should go.
We headed back up to the intersection, and by then about 15-20 riders had gathered. All had relied on the course markings, and nobody knew which way to go. After much discussion and laughing about being completely lost 7 miles into a 50 mile race, about 1/3 decided to go right, about 1/3 decided to turn around and go back, and about 1/3 decided to follow the main trail which headed left. I chose left. I figured that we'd already past one intersection that didn't have any markings (the paved road above), so we were likely at another, and someone had pulled some flags. I'd follow the main trail to the left since it looked like it had a couple tire tracks on it.
6-7 of us headed down the left fork, which was more amazing 1-track. Unfortunately, we didn't find any flags marking the course. After about 2 miles, we intersected another trail that did have flags... and soon determined that we had circled back on the trail we had just climbed. Good that we had found the trail. Bad that we had lost time.
We started back up the climb, and figured we take a right at the intersection at the top this time. Just before we reached the intersection, I caught a glimpse of some flags out of the corner of my eye. I hit the breaks, turned around and noticed a couple flags half buried in the grass. Next to the flags was some matted down grass, that was apparently a trail. Well that answered why there were no markings at the intersection... because we were off course already. I'm still pissed that I missed the turn the first time, but since 20 or more of us missed it (and I heard that Tinker missed it when he arrived), I guess I can't be too hard on myself.
It felt like I had lost 45 minutes or more on my little detour, but my gps track shows more like 35 minutes. If you've ever been stopped during a race, you know what's going through your head the entire time. Tick tock tick tock. Feels like time is on fast-forward. I knew my chances of a really high placing were shot, but I figured I could still have a fun race and push hard, so that's what I tried to do. It took me a bit before I started catching people who stayed on course, but once I caught back on, it was non-stop passing for a few hours - especially on the endless climb from stations 6 to 7.
About half way between 6 and 7, I had a mechanical that I thought was race-ending. I ran over a branch that got shoved in my derailleur. By the time I stopped, it was wedged between my chain, derailleur, and cogs. I removed it without causing any more damage, but my derailleur looked mangled and was tangled in my spokes. I wasn't sure what to do, but I started yanking on my derailleur and after a few good tugs, it miraculously was sitting in perfect position again. Didn't skip a shift for the rest of the race.
I re-passed the 10 people that passed me during the 5-10 minutes I was working on my bike and I was on my way. I made it to aid station 7 where Wesla was waiting for me. Wesla is the best, and has somehow put up with one more year of this whole racing thing. After station 7 was the inappropriately named "8 Miles of Hell." I may be crazy, but this section should be renamed the 8 Miles of kick-ass singletrack. The climbs were technical and steep, the descents were intense, and it was topped off with a few amazing miles of the Continental Divide trail.
My only complaint about the 8 Miles of Hell is the 5 miles without seeing a course marking (or another racer). I stopped at least 4-5 times with plans to turn around. Unmarked intersections came and went, and my internal voices were reminding me that the last time I didn't see any flags, I should have turned around. Pretty soon, I was doing some serious forensic work on the trail, trying to determine if I could find any tire tracks in front of me. But I forged ahead, mainly because I figured if I was off trail, there would be nothing I could do to salvage my race, so I may as well get a few extra miles in on some great trails. Alas, the 8th aid station finally arrived, much to my relief. Glad I didn't turn around.
The last 16 miles to the finish came and went in a flash. The trail to the finish was without a doubt one of the top 10 trails I've ridden anywhere. And I've only said that about 30-40 trails in my life, so you know I'm not exaggerating. It was a series of fast, flowy trails through thick pine forests, only interrupted by a couple solid climbs and incredible views. I had a second wind at that point and felt pretty good on the climbs, which was nice since I had some pretty bad cramping in both legs during the 8 Miles of Hell section.
I rolled across the line in 8th place overall. Honestly, I can't guess as to whether my result would have been better or worse had I not gotten lost, because so many people did get lost. A lot of people who have heard some of the complaints regarding the organization of the race ask if I'd do it again. Without a doubt I'd do it again. Probably the best trails I've done during a race, although both the American Mountain Classic and P2P probably come close. The thing that puts the trails of Butte above P2P is the fact that you really feel like you're in the middle of nowhere on the Butte trails, which I liked. In P2P, you could be eating a hamburger at a McDonald's in about 20 minutes from just about anywhere on that course. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
Great race, great folks, great trails. Oh and super cheap when compared to other enduro events. Everything I love about mountain biking, rolled into one memorable day. When I come back... I'll probably be racing the 50. Because 50 miles in Butte is far enough.