The aid stations were stacked with everything you'd ever want and the volunteers go above and beyond to ensure your day of ultimate suffering goes foreword without hesitation or holdups.
The race - damn hard. Classic Tahoe dust, sketchy descents on both singletrack and Jeep trail. Ridiculously hard climbs. Chilly temps at the start that turned into plenty hot for me by mid day. Mmmm. I can almost taste the warm water in my bottles as I type.
The excitement at the start was electrifying. Or at least it must've been. I was actually at Sakos' truck shedding a layer when I heard everyone hooping and hollering. Sheeiite! I hopped on my bike and made it about halfway back to the start when I saw the pack coming at me full bore. I pulled in between two cars, got myself turned around and hopped in the front third-ish of the pack.
After a mile or so of pavement the course hit the dirt through some of the ski trails at Royal Gorge. Dusty. I was glad I had a bandanna tied around my neck that I could pull up over my nose and mouth to filter at least some of the dust. I probably re-passed most of the people that passed me at the start and was told about an hour into the race that I was 40th.
At this point of the day (7:00am) I was still uncertain as to how hard I wanted to push for what I thought would be about 9 more hours.
I spent the next hour riding at a medium pace and started to feel pretty good. At one point I saw Obie Miller get waaayy out of control on a fast rocky fireroad descent. His bike was swapping so far sideways left to right that I could read the letters on his downtube! I don't know how he saved it but I'm damn glad he did. We would end up riding quite a bit together throughout the day - sometimes talking, other times just pedaling along in survival mode with the classic "100 mile stare" in the eyes.
I didn't have enough time to get my ipod filled with music so I left it up to chance that I'd have some killer tunes in my head. This can be a deadly gamble. Seriously, one wrong thought on a tough climb will have you humming "don't worry be happy" over and over and over again until it makes you half crazy. Fortunately, I dodged that bullet and lucked out with stuff that didn't suck.... at least to me.
So, on and on. More aid stations. More drink mix. More gel packs. A nibble of PB&J. Perhaps a banana. Occasionally, two cookies - one for now and one in the leg of my shorts for later. Hate to eat and run but.....
At some point we got to the section of the course that I'd done a few weeks prior. This was both good and bad. The good thing was that I knew what was coming up. The bad thing was that I knew what was coming up.
All hundred milers (or at least the good ones) have an element on the course that "stands out" from the rest of its route. For the Tahoe Sierra 100 it's the last three climbs that takes this ride to eleven.
After a descent that overheats brakes and tests the limits of suspension you have 15 miles to go when you face the first of the last three climbs. It's 1,600 vertical ft in 1.5 miles. Plenty steep. 75% hike a bike even on a good day. The blood drains from your arms as you push your bike up this ungrateful ascension to Devils Thumb. Sweat stings your eyes as tiny flies buzz your head making an already tough situation even harder. You pray for the climbing to stop - and it will.
You'll have just enough time to get a few quick drinks from your water bottles before a second helping of ledgy, loose and steep switchbacks descend to yet another canyon. You'll need two fingers on your brake levers this time. Partly because it's steeper but mostly because your entire hands will be stinging from the constant beating their dealing with on this downhill.
Not to worry though, the pendulum of gravity will start to swing the other way once again and you'll be faced with your next climb. This one isn't quite as bad as the last but you'll still have to dig deep to get yourself out. 2,000ft in 3.5 miles. You'll be pedalling a little more on this climb but still be off the bike pushing for more time than you probably will the rest of the season. The last "kick up" on this one is a real monster. You round each corner hoping that you'll see the top of the climb... but you won't. Hang in there.
Thank you ma'am may I have another. Yep, one more time. Another descent and another climb. The last climb isn't as hard as the first two but it's still a soul crusher. You'll be glad to see the pavement near the top of this one and even more stoked to see the finish.
Full Epic. The course is hard. The help is amazing. You get fed after the race. There's beer. I mean, what more could you ask for out of a bike ride.
I would definitely recommend this race to a friend.