The Truth is at the Face
The night before the Leadville 100, Ken Chlouber talked to us about “digging deep’, and explained that “The truth is at the face”. I could try to recite it, but I’m sure you’d rather hear his version.
I already had a pretty good idea what he was going to say, but the more Ken talked, the more pumped up I got about this race. He’s one hell of a motivational speaker. The hair was standing up on the back of my neck when I walked out of there. I spent the rest of that night with Ken’s voice in my head. The truth is at the face.
At 4:15 a.m. my alarm went off. Not that it mattered, I was lying awake staring at the ceiling anyway. It was gameday, and judging from the sounds and smells coming from the room above me, Don was awake too. We’d carb-loaded the night before at the best damn restaurant in Leadville . If you want to see what real food looks like, you need to hit the Tennessee Pass Cafe: Look at this!!
Apparently there were over 1300 racers starting that day representing over 20 countries. Names like Tinker Juarez, Levi Leipheimer, Don Daly, Rebecca Rush, and Dave Wiens were there to take care of business. “Pro” was in the air, but there was something else there too… a large number of P.A.M.’s.
What’s that, you’ve never heard of a P.A.M?
PAM stands for Poser-Ass-Motherphucker. PAM’s are typically seen on $10,000 full carbon race bikes wearing $500 helmets and rubbing Nair on their legs 5 minutes before their “first ever” mountain bike race. PAM’s are easily spotted, as there is naught a fleck of dirt on any part of their gear… This is clearly an indication that it’s never been used. I even heard one PAM saying, “I’m a CAT 1 criterium racer but this is my 1st mountain bike race.”
He was riding one of these. I vomited in my mouth a little. What a prick.
During the last 5 minutes before the shotgun start, I think I experienced every possible human emotion and narrowly avoided a stress-induced heart attack…..I felt like a woman on menopause. To calm my nerves, I thought it’d be a good idea to pick someone out of the crowd I thought I could outrun. Hmm…#455 looks like he’s about my size….I’ll try to beat that guy today.
The countdown began, and with 8 seconds to go I locked away all the anxiety. I didn’t come here all the way from Missouri just to shit myself and pass out, so it was time to be a man. I knew noone would hear me, so I just said it out loud, “I’m gonna ride 100 miles today.”
I never heard the gun, but I saw people at the front pulling away and I heard the roar of the crowd. It was real now; The Leadville 100 was underway. The field of racers was enormous, and bouncing off of the other riders was a bit tricky at first. Our good friend Todd Holtmann hooked us up with this cool video, and if you look in the bottom-right corner at 2 secs and then at…. like 1:37 or so, you’ll see me trying to look like a real mountain biker.
The first 6 miles of the race is a casual downhill “rolling start”. It’s supposed to be a neutral ride to get everyone moving before the race actually “starts,” but a lot of riders didn’t see it that way. The vast majority of people around me used this section as an all-out sprint to get in front of as many people as early as possible. I couldn’t help but laugh and wonder what those idiots were thinking. The race is 100 miles for a reason, and sprinting at 10,200 ft above sea level is just plain stupid this early in the game. I knew I’d see them again.
I ‘spose I didn’t mention that the temp was 36 degrees that morning. When you’re used to being in missouri in August, 36 degrees is pretty effin’ cold. It didn’t take long before I couldn’t feel my fingers and was freezing my ass off. I made the most of it by drafting one of the larger riders ahead of me.
All the way down the paved road, I kept thinking about how hard it was gonna be to climb back up this same road later in the day….assuming that I’d make it that far.
When we got to St. Kevin’s, (the first real climb), the PAM’s were already suffering their glorious PAM fate. Most were standing next to the trail, hunched over their carbon frames trying to breathe. Some of the “sprinters” were already vomiting, and a few others were lying in the rocks. It was a bad day to be a PAM.
The road was narrow and very washed out, causing a serious bottleneck. We spent a lot of time track-standing while people towards the front got their shit together. At one point, a rider in front of me fell over right in the middle of the trail. The poor guy couldn’t get his feet out of the pedals, and some of the racers behind us were getting really pissed. Me and another guy helped him up, but not before some asshole yelled at him for falling over. He was pretty embarrassed, but we reminded him that he had all day to redeem himself.
After that fiasco, we had to hike-a-bike for a while. Too many riders and not enough trail…it was frustrating. I noticed a shoe cover laying on the ground in front of me, but didn’t pick it up. A little while later I realized it belonged to the guy right in front of me. I told him about the shoe cover falling off and between pants he said, ” Phuck it, I’m not going back.”
That sort of became the theme for the day. Everywhere you looked, the trail was littered with expensive jackets, vests, shoe covers, waterbottles, etc. It was shocking at first, but then it just started to piss me off. Mountain bikers are supposed to be stewards of the land, and here we are at “the” mtn biking ultra-endurance race and people are just throwing their trash all over the place. Pretty disappointing.
After we got to the top of St Kevin’s, people started to space out a little bit. When you got to the top and realized you could ride in something other than your granny-gear, it was hard not to get excited and just take off. We skirted through the woods for a while and wound down a fast downhill onto some pavement.
NOTE * I’m not going to lie, my memory gets a bit hazy as to the order of how things occured during this race. You spend a lot of time out there in your lowest gear, climbing at a snail’s pace trying not to hyperventilate. If any of this is out of order and it offends you, please feel free to do the race next year and correct me.
I seem to remember climbing for a few miles up a paved section next to a cliff overlooking torquoise lake:
That particular climb wasn’t too terrible, but if you let yourself go just a little too fast, it was easy to get waaay out of breath.
At one point of the climb, there was a beautfil waterfall/creek next to the road:
The first aid station is about 11 miles into the race, (I think.) Cara and Don’s dad were running support for Don and I there. I decided to cut weight by dropping off my Camelbak. Seems like it would have been a good idea to grab a few water bottles before I left….. but I guess I got caught up in the moment. It only took about 10 minutes for me to realize I only had one water bottle, but I got lucky and found a few full bottles along the trail. I guess sometimes things just have a way of working out.
At some point you just have to shut your brain off and ride, so that’s what I did ’til I got to the Powerline downhill. This was my favorite part of the race. It’s fast…scary fast. It’s also very bumpy with lots of good-sized rocks that want to kill you. You don’t go too far before you start seeing a lot of dropped water bottles, CO2 cartridges, gu packs…anything that can vibrate out of your pack is probably going to be lost.
Some people call Powerline a gravel road, and those people are wrong. I’d call it a Jeep road. There’s definitely a safe path, but the problem is that there are a billion people on the safe path going about 4mph. If you want to go fast, you have to go where it’s nasty.
I’m sure you’re looking at that photo and you’re thinking, “Wow, that Bob Jenkins is so full of shit, that doesn’t look scary at all.” Am I right?
Well, try to imagine that hill with a clusterfuck of riders all trying to get to the bottom alive. The hill is really wavy, and if you’re not careful you can get airborne and into some serious trouble. See that groove in the middle, there? That’s the groove of death. I saw one guy lying on the trail with his nose laid across the side of his blood-streaked face because he got in that groove, and there were about 10 people trying to drag his ass off the trail before he got trampled. Some other guy was sitting on the ground a few feet from the trail…staring into outer space with an obvious concussion. Later on down the trail, I saw our very own Barbie Miller getting loaded onto a backboard wearing a cervical collar. People were getting hauled out of there left and right, and apparently some poor bastard is still in the hospital in a coma.
After seeing all of that carnage, a lot of riders chose to take it slow and be careful. I don’t have any kids to worry about, so I decided to tempt fate. I realized I could use the groove to my advantage; since the trail was so wavy I could jump across it from side-to-side to get around slower riders. It worked perfectly. I was really in the zone for this part of the course, and I absolutely owned it. It was the most fast, fun and scary downhill I’d ever ridden. I was passing people 3, 4, 5 at a time. I literally couldn’t call out “On your left” fast enough, so I just started calling out, “I’m on everybody’s left!!” and blasted my way past. I’m sure it sounds like a bullshit story, but I passed at least 50 people on that section of trail.
At the bottom of the downhill, I came around a fast corner and saw a large group of riders in some sort of weird bottleneck. There was a footbridge to the left, and a small body of shallow water on the right. There was also a large group of spectators hanging out, beckoning for people to ride through the water.
It was the most weak-sauce thing I’ve ever witnessed in mountain biking. Will someone please explain to me why any legit mountain biker would be afraid to ride through a little puddle during the Leadville 100? It was 80 frickin’ degrees outside by now!!
I couldn’t believe it. I rode through a line of standing “bikers” waiting to cross the little pussy-ass foot bridge and plunged into the puddle. Onlookers roared in approval as I yelled to the PAM’s, “THIS IS A MOUNTAIN BIKE RACE!!!!, THIS IS A MOUNTAIN BIKE RACE!!!”
PAM’s…. That shit was disgraceful. I mean, heaven forbid your socks gets wet.
Due to my theatrics, I now had a wet ass, a squeaky chain and a new outlook on life. I knew I’d just passed a whole gang of candy-asses, and I felt really strong. I was now starting the “flat section” of the LT 100, and it was time to buckle in and haul ass. A few short rollers and I was past the fish hatchery and on my way to Twin Lakes. This section was decidedly uneventful, save for a few PAMs dying in the bushes. After a quick inventory I realized I was way behind on my calorie intake, so I started slamming Chomps and drinking water. The trail went from pavement to gravel, to dirt, to gravel again. I was having a good time, the weather was perfect, and I really felt like I was doing everything right so far.
The Twin Lakes time cutoff was 10:30. The time was 10:15, so I asked the guy next to me how many miles we had left until the cutoff. .
His response: 5 miles.
I was pretty much devastated. I couldn’t believe I was going to be pulled from the course at the first time cutoff. Everything had seemed to be going so well, I just couldn’t believe it. The looks on the faces of the people around me echoed my thoughts: 5 miles in 15 minutes doesn’t happen, least of all in these conditions. 40 miles out of 100 was going to be absolutely humiliating.
I asked if anyone wanted to form a pace line and try to make it on time….no takers. Chlouber’s voice rang in my head about “the truth being at the face”, and I realized that’s exactly where I was right now. I decided that if I was getting pulled from the race this early, I was going to do it with barf on my jersey. I gulped some water and started what would only be an exercise in futility. Much to my surprise, I crested a hill and saw a LONG paved downhill ahead of me.
This was my shot. No brakes, I can’t use the brakes.
I used the whole road, riding blindly into the curves and passing people like they werent even there. I don’t know what speed we were holding, but I know for sure that I’ve never gone that fast on a bike in my life. We rounded the final curve and Twin Lakes came into view. Someone next to the road shouted “4 minutes“.
Holy shit, this might actually happen.
I tried to pedal but I was out of gears. Nothing to do but tuck in and hope for the best.
Levi Leipheimer passed me going the other way, closely followed by JHK. Then the 3rd place rider screamed past. Those guys had already been up Columbine and were on their way back!!
There was a quick highway crossing and then I was on the Twin Lakes levee. The crowd on either side of the trail was getting larger, people screaming and ringing cowbells.
Some guy yells out, “Let’s see you fly, 687!!!”
I wondered what he meant..
I figured it out about 2 seconds too late. See, there’s a part of the trail by the Levee where a fairly decent ramp has been worn into the trail. There was no time to hesitate, no time to slow down….only enough time to lean back, hit the ramp and live in the moment. I’d trade my left nut for a picture of that jump.
No offense, Lance.
By some miracle, I landed on both wheels and came back to reality. The crowd kept getting larger and louder, the noise was incredible. Somebody was bbq’ing…..damn it smelled so gooood.
“One minute!!” came a cry from the sideline.
Where the hell is the cutoff?!?
That’s when I saw Dave Weins. Holy friggin shit, it’s Dave Weins.
I was star-struck for a moment, but soon realized we were playing chicken. The crowd had closed in on the trail so much that it couldn’t have been more than 5 feet wide. Dave was running 5th place, and I was just trying to survive. He wanted to win, and I wanted to hit the 1st time cutoff. We were both locked inside our own pain caves and nothing else mattered.
I wasn’t getting out of his way and he sure as hell wasn’t getting out of mine.
We crossed paths with maybe 4 inches separating us, easily one of the coolest things I’ve ever done on a bike. I’m sure I was just one more PAM to him, but it was a big deal to me.
Now I was choking back the dry heaves. All around me I could hear other riders calling out “Where’s the cutoff?!?!?”
Nobody seemed to know, so we all just kept grinding away until one-by-one each rider succumbed to the exhaustion or vomiting.
I got to the end of the levee and decided that we had somehow already passed it and not known. Judging from the number of riders lying on the ground vomiting, I had to be in the right spot. A woman ran to me with grapes, granola, water, anything I asked for. She was a God-send, cuz I was in serious trouble by this point. I ate what I could and tried not to puke. There was a lot of gagging,burping and trembling, but I was completely psyched to have made the cutoff.
I thanked the woman repeatedly, then rode onward to Columbine. My initial plan to “represent Missouri” was completely shot to shit and there was no way I’d finish the race. All the same, I had made the cutoff and there was no choice but to climb the mountain.
More downed riders.
More people getting hauled to the hospital.
About 2 miles up Columbine, I saw the guy who rides the LT 100 every year on a Huffy. What a badass. He was coming back down the mountain like a damn lightning bolt. I mean seriously, he rides a Huffy and wears a workshirt for a jersey. I got a picture of him later in the day, check it out:
Up, up, and up some more. Columbine is not a fun place to be. It’s not that the climb is super-steep or that the road is overly sketchy, it’s just the fact that it goes on FOR 10 F*CKING MILES!!! It seems to never end. There is no fun part, nothing to look forward to. Just pain.
After a while, riding the bike wasn’t an option anymore. The inevitable “Columbine hike-a-bike” begins, and that’s when you really start to ask yourself why you entered in this race in the first place. I mean, what’s it all about, anyway?
Oh hey, it’s another switchback!! I saw one of these in a dream I had once….about being in hell..
Then I saw a sign that said, “Free hot dogs and Beer”.
Great, now I’m hallucinating.
Two guys decked out like waiters at a high-dollar restaurant offered me a hot dog and a PBR. What was I supposed to do, say no? There were some photos, but I can’t seem to find them anymore. Either way, those guys are my heroes.
After a few more miles of that, I came across a guy sitting next to his bike in a pile of his own vomit. It just didnt seem right to leave him there, so I sat down for a minute. The poor bastard couldn’t even talk, every time he opened his mouth he either dry-heaved or blew chunks. I gagged a few times myself, mostly just out of sympathy.
I admired the view and pondered the day’s events. A few minutes ticked by and some guy in yellow comes strolling along. With a thick New york accent, he says to us, “ I hate to tell you this, but it’s time to get up and keep moving.”
I responded, “Dude, we’ve got like 20 minutes to ride 20 miles. We’re not making the cutoff.”
He laughs at me and says, “We knew we weren’t making the cutoff when we sprinted across the dam. I tell you what we’re gonna do… we’re gonna push our bikes another 2 miles, then ride .8 miles across the top, then we’re gonna ride down to the Aid Station. We’ll hang out there for a minute, eat some chips….then ride to the bottom of this thing and get pulled from the course with honor.”
When he said “Honor” it really sounded like “Awwnuh”.
The New Yorker’s speech was strangely inspiring, so I got my shit together and followed him up the hill….for a while. I hit the ground a few more times before I got to the top, but the view from up there was worth all the pain.
At the turn-around station, I laid down on the ground and tried to take it all in. Ever since I watched the movie “Race Across the Sky,” I had fantasized about making it to this very spot. Some guy to my left asked if it had been a hard day. I told him that the top of this mountain was my finish line. All I had ever wanted to do was make it right here, and I’d given up hope at least a dozen times. I got a little choked up for minute, but figured I better dry up before someone thought I was one of those sensitive types.
Then I turned my head and saw a TV camera in my face.
Great. Just great.
They had a lot of Sierra-Nevada beer at that aid station…..so I did what I had to do.
Since I knew I wasn’t going to finish, I decided to try to just enjoy the ride back down the mountain. What a view.
I also did a little bit of shopping….I picked up a pair of Pearl Izumi leg warmers, a Hammer Gel flask, a pair of ByKyle shoe covers, a couple of water bottles….you name it. It’s amazing what people will throw away:)
It was only right to make one last trip to the hot dog stand to tell those guys how cool they were. I really wish I could find their photos, but they’ve been removed from mtbr.com. I think I ate 2 more hot dogs and drank at least one more can of PBR before saying goodbye.
A few pics from the ride down:
Here’s a little something to keep Don Daly warm on those cold winter nights..
At the bottom of Columbine I met with Vince and Janet, who were our support crew. I unloaded all of the gear I’d picked up off the trail and started making my way back to what would be my final checkpoint of the day. 60 miles out of 100 isn’t anything to be ashamed of, so I felt pretty good about myself.
I met a few other riders along that final stretch of trail, and we all kind of became instant friends. Of note, one was a Canadian and the other a bankruptcy lawyer from West Virginia. After a while it became just the 3 of us, trying to help the Canadian get to the cutoff. The guy was completely smoked, he couldn’t even pedal downhill. We were considering calling in some help when a trail runner showed up and PUSHED HIM for the last 2 miles of trail.
And so, we all left the course “with awnuh“. The volunteer took my armband and handed me an ice cold bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
Me and the bankruptcy lawyer made sure our Canadian friend had made it back alright, and then it was time to head for the finish line and start clappin’.
I made about 6 trips to the food tent before I got to see this guy cross the finsh line.
If you look directly below the traffic light on the left, you’ll see a very proud wife. It was a good day to be Don Daly.
This guy looked pretty excited when Don came through the finish line…not sure why he’s watching from way up there, though..
When it comes to fashion sense, Mr. Chlouber is definitely a man ahead of his time.
I spent nearly 2 weeks in Colorado riding with friends, eating fabulous food and crashing at a condo with Don, his friends and family. I didn’t finish the race, but I spent some time “at the face” that day and I feel like I walked away a better man. We all made it home in one piece, and Don scored a sweet belt buckle for his sub 12-hour finish.
And if that’s not epic I’ll kiss your ass.