I know where it started for me… In 2002 both of my brothers finished The Leadville 100, long before Leadville was the race across the sky. I knew it was rad, I knew they suffered, I knew it was a pinnacle moment for both of them. I knew they both took several IV’s after and I knew it was something I had to experience. The stories were too good, to shake their heads and laugh saying, “I can’t believe we did that, that was amazing”. I wanted to experience that, and I wanted something as cool as that Belt Buckle.
After last years SM100 I came home thrilled with how I felt, how far I had gone, how I had ridden and totally disappointed with not finishing. Getting 60+ miles in and hitting Aid Station 4 was far, and quite an accomplishment… but I was obviously irritated with myself for not keeping on. For the past 360 days I blamed it on my brother, sister and parents for working that aid station and having a Bloody Mary bar and beers waiting for me. I mean, no matter who you are, when you see your Mom after 60 some miles holding a Bloody for you, you’re going to sit down and take your shoes off. I think I may have been one of the first twenty people to register for this years SM, as soon as it opened. I’m pretty sure every one of my friends (all three of them) and my family were tired of hearing me talk about it… I was annoying. I wasn’t ready last year, this year I would be.
If you’re not Jeremiah Bishop, or of that ilk… (and there are plenty who race this event and absolutely crush these trails effortlessly) this event is about finishing, I think. It’s not a “race” for so many of the people who enter, but it’s an event that they’ve said, “I’m going to ****ing do that”. And I know these riders, I’m one of them. We ride when we can, have jobs, kids and every ride is finished with several beers talking about how fast we are, how nice our bikes are or belittling one another to amusement.
The NUE series and Chris Scott, Shenandoah Mountain Touring are pros, by every sense of the word. The event is huge, the trail system is a mix of mechanized screaming downhills, huge fire road climbs and some of the longest, raw technical descents that you’ll ever do, it is absolutely outrageous. Combine the 13.000 feet of cumulative elevation, the technical singletrack along with the distance of a 100 mile backcountry race and you have what many consider the most difficult of the series. Chris and his crew of volunteers make it great and smooth and it is no easy task… it’s a total pro situation.
I went into this year physically prepared, I knew I wasn’t far off last year and I felt great leading up to the SM. The Patapsco Epic a month earlier had given me the confidence physically, I felt strong finishing a very difficult 50 miler and knew that more than anything it would be the mental hurdles that come with being on the bike for 100 miles… and there are plenty.
I’ve thought a lot about the day and how I felt crossing that finish line. The accomplishment, the exhaustion and the excitement of having done something that was so difficult, something I set out to do, something that started for me 13 years ago. I didn’t care about my time (it was 12:50 in case you’re wondering). I remember the downhills being so long and just holding on, so technical and so fun. I remember climbing up Hanky the second time and just looking at those “S” turns up and laughing at how ridiculous that was. I remember telling myself it’s one day out of your life, it’ll be fine and to shut up. I saw my brother at AS5 and there was some relief and we laughed and him telling me that I had this. But, much like my other posts, this race became about something more than the bike…
I’ve seen a lot of wrecks, I’ve wrecked a lot. There is an inherent danger to Mountain Biking, I know that, my kids know that, my friends, family… it’s dangerous. A fatality in a race that you’re in makes you stop and say “what the f***”. I did not know Ross Hansen, I did ride alongside him for about 50 miles. We shared the banter that comes with passing someone back and forth. We’d acknowledge one another, laugh, say “see you in a few”, ask how one another was doing. We didn’t talk much, we just suffered together and loved it, knew exactly what one another was feeling because it was exactly the same. We both were clearly racing to get to the beer. I came upon his wreck pretty quickly down Braley’s, folks were already springing into action, other riders quickly pulling phones, staying with him, like they had been friends on a ride… it wasn’t a race, they were helping their friend.
It wasn’t until the next day that I knew Ross had passed, I still don’t believe it. The degrees of separation are so small in the Mountain Bike community… his friends on Long Island are my brothers friends in Baltimore. From what I’m gathering from social media and communication with folks in both organizations is that he was loved and awesome and fun. I think I knew that after my time with him. Memorial rides are being planned from DC to Long Island, the outpour has been staggering. And I realize, I love the bike, the freedom, being a kid, the suffering, the wandering into the woods… but it’s the community that Mountain Biking brings that does it for me. It’s starting the race with Sean Schmidt who I’ve known for 30 years, it’s acting insane with Todd Bauer, running into Ryan Delaney and suffering up Hanky together, seeing Tom Howe everywhere I go, the familiar face of my brother at mile 80, the awe of Larry Camp riding 17 of these… it’s all of that, and the guys you ride with, if only for a short time.
Thirteen years later I feel so lucky to have had the chance to ride in this race. Things like this that’ll change the way you see. And, I’m not so upset about that Belt Buckle from Leadville anymore… you can’t drink a pint out of that.
Next up… The MOCo…