Bend, OR. Ginger and I have been here for 4 days now. Raced 2 days ago. I was told before I came that once I visited Bend I'd want to move here. They were correct. This city of 80,000 is one of the most progressive places we have been. Very laid back and no one seems to be in a hurry. Every, and I mean every, street has a bike lane. The outdoor recreation opportunities are endless and right out of your door, literally. The climate is damn near perfect. There are four seasons here, but it being high desert it's arid without a ton of precipitation. The summer's not too hot and the winter's, I'm told, are milder than Tulsa's. It's no wonder so many pros call Bend home.
I came to Bend with just a little expectation...maybe a top 10. A top 5 would be amazing, but I was realistic. Mostly, I wanted to gain some experience with the travel, course and competition. I was not sure how my body would respond to the travel and altitude. While Bend is not crazy high, 3600', we would climb to over 6000'. Not crazy high, but again, I have never raced there.
The course was one big 52 mile 'loop'. Not really a loop, but not quite and out and back either. The start was in the Old Mill District in town. We climbed the first 18 miles out of Bend to the first aid station. Rode some sweet singletrack back to the same aid station then wound our way through the woods before the crazy long decent back to town.
I have always thought the mountain bike national championship races were somewhat of a farce. They are usually held at high altitude, and in this case on the west coast. Not really ideal for a flatlander from Florida who may not have the means for the travel across the entire country. All the same, the stars and stripes jerseys are not easy to get. The 40-49 field here was stacked with 50 very fit and capable riders.
Our group stayed together on the road out of Bend. I stayed in the top 10 as we hit the doubletrack and it was game on. There was a huge surge in the field and it was a fight for position and the dust kicked up made visibility nearly nonexistent. The riders started to string out as we climbed. I was dangling on the back of the top 10. Soon I was struggling to maintain contact and then I started to go backwards. Hard to explain, but it was like I could only go so hard, no more. Like I had a throttle limiter. Going backwards sucks, but I tried to keep my focus, settle in, and ride smooth.
After the first feed I slowly started to come around and move forward again, but it was well over 2 hours in and too late. But, I made a go of it anyway and picked my way up a few spots to the 2nd feed. Eventually coming to the descent back to Bend. I can go downhill, but where in Tulsa can you practice 30 minute descents. I actually got passed going down. Afterwards, the guy said, "you can tell people who aren't used to the descending, they aren't pedaling". I'm thinking, shit, I was just hanging on!
I finished 19 out of 50. I'm still trying to digest the race experience, but am a little disappointed. I'm not positive what the cause of my malfunction was, but have a good idea. The race is here again next year. I may be back, a little wiser. It has been a great trip with perfect weather. Ginger and I got a great ride in yesterday up high and are going to get another in today.
The aftermath, a little dusty...
Ginger, riding high...