Redstone Cylcery's Memorial Day Deathmarch
Dave over at Redstone Cyclery has earned the moniker of "Deathmarch Dave". He's an ex-semi pro racer with a huge motor. The Tuesday night rides he leads are like a NORBA XC race, and I always get dropped on the first climb of the night. Every year on Memorial Day, Dave plays host to the Lyons Fat Tire Festival, which is basically a small ride on Friday, a deathmarch ride on Saturday and a party Saturday night. For the past 2 years I've wanted to attend, but for various reasons haven't been able to make it. This year I've trained hard, and the schedule was free so I felt it my duty to go get my rear handed to me sufficiently.
The ride was a "Colorado shuttle". A "Colorado shuttle" ride differs from the traditional shuttle as here even though you drop a car at the beginning of the ride and at the end, it isn't all downhill like most shuttle rides. Far from it.
The ride was only supposed to be 25 miles, but the climbing would be the real threat to finishing for me. I'm not a climber, regardless how hard I try. 195lbs plus a 31lb bike just isn't going to beat up the shaved leg, 135lb cross country freaks riding a racing hardtail. As we stood at the starting point for the ride, just south of Estes Park, I scanned the parking lot. 75% of the 41 bikes (yes there were 41 crazy bikers) were short travel dual suspension or hardtails. Uh oh....
Nothing like starting out a long day of riding with a long, steep climb with absolutely no warm up at all. The group rolled out and the groups formed. Shaved leg crowd hammering a race pace up front, downhillers already off the back and then the rest of us in the middle. I tried to keep my pace in check early, but the steep climbs coupled with a starting elevation of 7800 feet meant I was redlining early.
I forced myself to drop to the granny gear and just let the racer types go away. I have nothing to prove to those guys. The only thing I wanted to prove to myself was that all that trainer time and road miles meant something. I had a hard time getting the legs fired up, but I was pleased to see that on the flats I would recover quickly. I just wasn't used to the steep, sustained climbing but I was still moving.
Finally after 4 grueling miles, we got our first downhill. It was a welcome sight, but a bit unnerving as we had the natural progression of all the downhillers zooming past to the front and the hardtail guys moving backward. Again being squarely in the middle, I just tried to hold a line as to not get run over by some of the more overzealous types.
After the 2.5 mile downhill, we hit another 2 mile uphill slog. This one was probably a little tougher than the first as it was looser and probably even more steep than the initial climb. I did my best to ride it all, but eventually succumbed to the burning thighs and heavy breathing and pushed my bike on the really steep stuff. When I would hit a less steep area, I'd remount and ride again till I had to get off and take a break or push for a bit.
The rest of the ride was rolling and somewhat downhill. We got lost a time or two and backtracked a bit, the skies threatened, the group split and lost track of a couple people. All the standard ingredients for a deathmarch. As we stared into the face of Mt. Meeker (a 13,900 foot peak), I was sure the snowstorm was heading right for us and we were a long way from the cars.
Getting 41 people of mixed ability and disciplines through 20+ miles of forested terrain with constant climbing wasn't easy. Regroups took 30 minutes, headcounts took several minutes and both climbs and descents put huge gaps in the group. While all that was a bit taxing, the whole group seemed to get along well and we all just seemed to be glad to be able to have the opportunity to ride in such a gorgeous place. Granted we didn't hammer out secret stashes of singletrack buried deep in the woods, but it was still new terrain and still a lot of fun.
I actually seemed to get a bit stronger as the day went on, which was unusual for me. I ate much better yesterday than on other big rides in the past and I'm sure that helped a ton. I wasn't blown up at the end, and I still felt pretty good except on the steepest climbs. I didn't walk a single section after lunch, which was an improvement over the 1st 7-8 miles for sure.
When it came time for the big decision of "short way or long way", I ultimately chickened out and took the short way. The long way was a trail that I had just ridden two weeks ago, and featured a pretty stiff climb at the end. I think my legs would have handled it just fine (I cleaned the climb 2 weeks ago), but the biggest factor in my decision was time. I left the house at 8am, and it was going on 3:30pm when we were at the short/long route junction. The long route was easily an hour longer than the short, and I really just wanted to be home and showered so I could take Jill out to dinner. So I bailed on the increased mileage and headed for the car, a decision I'm quite fine with 24 hours later.
Was it a deathmarch? Probably not that severe, but it was definitely a test of my fitness. We ended up logging just over 4,000 feet of climbing. Now that number isn't overly huge, but consider that we did 4,000 up and 4,000 down in a 20 mile ride and it starts seeming a bit bigger. The average gradient for the climbs was a huge 8.5%. To put that into perspective, I-70 climbs about 5-6% on the way to Summit County from Denver.
It was a big day for me and Betty the Yeti. She & I both fell squarely into the "middle of the pack" class, and I think we're both damn thrilled to be there.
And the obligatory elevation chart...