Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Leadville Trail 100 Support Crew Survivor's Guide

Leadville 100.  The name of this race simultaneously strikes fear and excitement in the hearts of mountain bikers everywhere.  This race has turned into a media circus and a behemoth beyond compare thanks to disgraced roadie Floyd Landis, some guy named Lance and Levi Leipheimer all coming in and tearing the field up and creating way too much interest in a 100 mile mountain bike race.

At the end of 2010 a group of friends decided to get into the lottery for Leadville.  Yes, for those of you that don't know there is a lottery with a fee of $30 just to get a chance to get into Leadville, which will cost you an additional $275 if your name is drawn.  What kind of lottery is that?  Usually when I think of a lottery, I think of actually winning something, not losing $275 just to win 10+ hours of pain and suffering.  When I was asked to sign up with them, I said "no way, I might just get in."  Which is exactly what happened to two of them.  And it was a perfect pick as the two that got in, Cleaver and Al, have been best of friends since they were kids so it was appropriate that they went to suffer together.

Fast forward to August 2011.  Time for the actual race and we (my lovely, the Boy and I) decide to take a little family vacation, go to Leadville and support the guys, so without further ado, here is my survivor's guide to crewing at Leadville.  Bookmark this sombitch and refer to it when someone in your riding group gets all wonky and decides that it would be a good idea to sign up for Leadville and you're going to crew for that knothead.

1. Lodging: It's really going to depend on what you're wanting for accommodations.  If you want a hotel room, the SECOND you find out if you're in, book a room.  Hell, book a room as soon as you put in for the lottery and cancel it when you find out if you're in or not.  If you wanna camp, then by probably May you need to make a reservation.  We had neither and it worked out, but it was sheer dumb luck. The guys saw a small apartment for rent that they called and were able to get it for $100 per night.  We went to a campground and were able to get some overflow camping, which worked out pretty well, but, as I said, was complete luck.

2.  The start of the race: The race starts at 6:30 am.  You need to see this start as there is NOTHING like it in cycling, much less mountain biking.  It took 10-15 minutes after they said "GO" for all the riders to come across the area we were watching from.  You need to have all your shit ready to roll, in your car and as soon as you see your guys/gals roll across the line, you need to high-tail it to your car and bust ass to the first aid station.  Where that first aid station is depends on your previous night's planning.

3. Aid stations:  There are multiple aid stations on the course, all of which are used twice (once on the way out and once on the way back).  Depending on your riders, you might need to go to the Pipeline aid station, but probably just to the Twin Lakes aid station, which is at the 40 and 60 mile mark.  Either way, preparation the night before is a must.  You need to have an EZ-Up style tent and go to Twin Lakes the night before to stake your claim, which is appropriate in this former mining community.  So, Twin Lakes on Friday night, preferably with your racers so they have an idea of where you're at, set up your tent, have it lowered down to lay claim to space at this crucial aid station.  Obviously, we did NOT do this and we had to beg/borrow/steal a 2' wide piece of land between two tents.  We were there with no shade at 10,000', which is why my nose is still peeling right now.

A nice view from Twin Lakes
With land claimed at Twin Lakes, you're free to go to Pipeline first.  Just know if you do, immediately after your riders come through Pipeline you need to boogie to Twin Lakes as it isn't that far (13 miles) for the racers and they turn those miles fairly quickly.  So, back at Twin Lakes, having a wagon or a bike with a B.O.B. trailer would make a LOT of sense as you can't drive to the area where your EZ-Up is located and lugging coolers, chairs, food, gear to this point is a pain in the ass and if you have to make more than one trip, you might miss your racers if you went to Pipeline.

Once your riders have gone through TL, you can relax for a couple hours at least before they come through TL the second time.  If your riders want you to go back to Pipeline have your stuff ready to go and as soon as you fuel up your rider at TL, FLY your gear to the car and haul ass yet once more to Pipeline.  We did this and got to Pipeline literally 30 seconds ahead of Cleaver.

After Pipeline, you can get back to the start at a little more "leisurely" pace as you'll have 2-3 hours to get to town and line up at the finish line to watch your riders come in.

3. Finish line: Did I mention parking in Leadville is a royal pain in the ass?  Odds are you'll need to park a number of blocks away from the 6th & Harrison finish line.  Have whatever your rider wants when they come across the line and any food or drink you'll want.  Now the wait begins.  "Oh, I remember that rider, they came through Pipeline 20 minutes ahead of my rider."  You'll be saying this for about an hour, 'cause it's bullshit as you don't remember anything.  There are 1900 riders for godsakes and there are about 10 of every bike and every clothing combo.  Finally your rider(s) will cross and you can go have a beer (or 10) with them and fall asleep.  If you think crewing for the riders is an easy day, think again.

4. The "awards" ceremony:  On Sunday AM, if your rider finished in under 12 hours, you'll need to hang around the gym on 6th Street to pick up your belt buckle.  This is a complete cluster fuck.  The gym holds about 400 people and there are about 3000 people trying to get in.  It is about 100 degrees inside and smells like sweaty butt-crack.  Have a coffee and hang around outside, poking your head in occasionally to see where they are in the awards.  Since the read off EVERY SINGLE NAME that got a buckle, it takes a few hours and know the slower your rider was, the longer you'll have to wait.

So, there you have it.  The survivor's guide to running a successful pit crew at Leadville.  We weren't able to do all these things and we were still successful, but I'll tell you I'll probably never do it again.  Probably never do it 'cause I'm gonna put my name in the hat for next year's lottery.  But, knowing my luck with lotteries, I'll just probably get in.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Short Way Down III, Part 2

Sunday morning came without much fanfare, although the lightning storm in the middle of the night could count as fanfare.  We arose a bit later than we did the previous day as the campground where we stay has a "mess hall" that they serve breakfast in and that doesn't start until 7:00.  We figured if we're up and ready to go by 7:00, then eat, we can be on the trail by 8:00.

We end up being changed and packed by about 7:10 and we pushed Barney over to the mess hall so we can roll right from there.  The Boy gets an all you can eat pancake breakfast, which I guess for him meant getting two huge pancakes and eating half of them, and I got the "big breakfast" and gave my sausage to the Boy.  Sufficiently fueled up, we stroll out around 8:00, fill our Camelbaks up and hit the trail.
The first stop of the day.
The morning was overcast, which meant cooler temperatures than we had anticipated.  This was a bonus as leaving Hill City means you get a grinder of a climb for about 7 or so miles to the summit at the Crazy Horse Monument and the last thing you want to do is start uphill in the baking sun.  One thing I failed to mention in Part I post was at dinner the previous night, Mom got on the Boy for not helping out with pedaling like he should.  Understand how a tandem works; both cranks have to turn in unison as they are connected by a timing chain, BUT if one person isn't putting their share into it, the effort is all on the other person.  Well, it must have hit home for him as he was a pedaling maniac on the climb!  We were at Crazy Horse before we knew it.
Crazy Horse
After a short break at the monument, we have a nice descent into Custer.  That stretch between Crazy Horse and Custer has some little ranches and houses nestled into the granite outcroppings and I have to say it would be one of the most beautiful places in the Black Hills to live.
Living outside of Custer...
We get to Custer with minimal effort and stop by the grocery store for a quick snack, a bathroom break and a chance to shake the legs out before the last grinder climb of the day.  As we're standing in front of the store, enjoying our snacks by Barney, I hear a mother say to her daughter as they walk by "...you don't get legs like that from going for walks."  I turn to see they're looking at me, or more importantly, my legs.  Stop it some more...

As we ride out of Custer, the clouds are starting to break up.  It is still cool, but I can feel that it is going to warm up in a hurry.  We bust up the last real climb of the day, which is about 3-4 miles worth of climbing.  At the top, we enjoy one last break before the rolling trails to Pringle and beyond. 

About 100 yards before the Pringle TH, we encounter a Mickelson Trail Patrol, as we did the previous day (and I failed to mention).  I realize these people have a job to do, but MAN, do I have to stop 100 yards before the trailhead to get my pass out?  Can't we roll over to the little hut to get out of the sun so I can get my boy something to eat whilst we play ass-grab with each other?  Surely, this cat can see we're loaded for bear and getting the bike rolling is not easy.  Oh well, pass checked we zip to the TH where we take a quick fiver before rolling on.
The Mickelson is a beautiful trail, but after Pringle it gets hot and desolate pretty darn quickly.  Sure, there are some beautiful spots, but it isn't the prettiest part of the trail.  When people from other places ask about it, I usually recommend that, unless they're hell bent on finishing the whole thing, to stop in Pringle and get a ride from there.  That being said, we were hell bent on finishing.  Mentally, I knew we were NOT going to go a third day.  The Boy said he was getting sore in his neck and shoulders, which was partially from not riding enough before the trip and partially from his new position on the bike, as we've removed the child stoker kit and handlebar extensions, so I knew a third day could wreck him mentally so we were not going to continue back to Hill City.

A quick water fill up at the Lien Quarry hut and we we're rolling to the last trailhead called Minnekahta, where Mom was going to meet us.  We met up just as planned and she had some cool drinks for us as now the sun was beating down on us and it kinda felt like we were in the Serengeti.  At this point we decided to ditch our gear in the truck and ride unencumbered for the last 15 miles into Edgemont. 
Look at that smile!  Still happy after all those miles!
We took off down the trail and about two mile in, guess what?  Another DAMN FLAT!  Seriously, who the hell did I piss off?  OK, we can handle this I think.  I pull the rear wheel off and the cassette cogs fall off with the wheel.  HOLY SHIT.  This is NOT GOOD.  Not good indeed.  But, being fairly handy, I was able to reattach the cog's lockring with the plier end of a multi-tool.  After fixing the flat and reinstalling the rear wheel, I discover that the axle is quite loose.  At this point we decide to pull the plug on this section of trail.  There is no access between where we were and Edgemont, so if something drastic happened, we'd end up walking the last 10 miles or so.  Not gonna happen.  So, a quick call to my lovely which netted me no response and a voice mail, and we turned around and rode back to the Minnekahta TH.  We ended up calling and texting her about 10 times before she responded.  She was in the museum in Edgemont...thankfully it is Edgemont and there is more stuff in my house than in that museum, so it didn't take her too long.

After a picnic at the Minnekahta TH, we got the bike loaded up in the truck and we headed for home.  Another Mickelson trip under our belts, this time with a lot more adversity than we've had in the other years combined.   Which made for an interesting trip and will make us all the more prepared for the next time we do it.  And we are already thinking about the next time...and I'll have a gross of tubes waiting.