Lanny Gower’s Race Report for the 2014 St Helens Epic – August 2, 2014
Well… I’m finally recovered enough to do my race report 🙂
We met at Swift Creek bright and early Saturday. Luckily I was able to locate Mike, Shari and Eric in the crowd prior to the race start so we could start out together. Looking around at the other racers… I noticed tons of carbon full suspension bikes and realized… Shari and I were the only two riders on hard tails. Seemed like a bad sign. But at least my bike was freshly tuned by the Farm and ready to go. Unfortunately my shoe buckle broke off but a handy roll of duct tape fixed that problem.
Next thing I know… we are saying good luck to the other riders and the gun goes off. Shep goes off like a rocket and with the first 3 miles on the road… Shari, Eric and I jump on his wheel to get a free tow. The rest of the field was caught off guard and I look around to see the 4 of us and one other guy in a front pack getting some easy miles of drafting off Shep. The 5th guy in our group turned out to be Scott from Arizona (just moved here) and he was fast.
After a few miles of drafting we hit a gravel road and start climbing. Shep tells us we have 14 miles of this so we all settle into a steady rhythm. Scott starts pulling away and before you know it is off the front. The four of us make up the lead chase group. After a few miles our pleasant gravel road turns to railroad grade rock which is soft and bouncy. We spend the next 5 miles on that stuff going back and forth between riding in the gravel or riding in the ditch next to the road trying to figure which is easier. Neither was good. But we are rewarded for the long slog when we hit Ape Canyon trail.
What a great trail. Smooth, flowy and in the shade. Now the miles are flying by and we have opened a sizeable lead over any possible chase groups from behind. We come out of the trees to see the Plains of Abraham before us. We can see Scott in the distance and he now has 6 minutes on us. We start across the plains and it’s like riding on the moon… The soft pumice makes climbing tough but it is cool to ride a different style of trail. Up on Windy Ridge.. we are rewarded with the best views of the day. We can see every landmark on our route from up there and it looks like a dang long way to ride a bikeJ The view of Spirit Lake is outstanding.
After a nice stretch on the road to chew up some miles.. we hit the Boundary trail where the real work begins. We say a glimpse of the race leader (Scott) as he started down the descent and the 1st Chase group was still Eric, Shep, Shari and me. We had traded places off and on to this point. The Boundary is very cool but challenging riding. With Motor cycles allowed… it can get pretty rutted out. Both climbing and descending require you to keep your focus so your front wheel doesn’t wander in the ruts. Shari was a machine at climbing in these ruts. While I was beating up my front tire bouncing off the sides of the ruts she calmly steered a smooth path over the climbs. The trail alternates from great views on the climbs to cool mountain meadows. We actually caught Scott again through this section as he was stopping for some food and to refill water bottles from the creek. Shep stopped to top off his water but Shari, Eric and I rolled through with a quick “hi” as all had plenty of water and knew Scott and Shep would quickly run us down. But… for that one stretch of the trail… Shari, Eric and I were off and on the “race leader”. Of course as expected Scott flew by us on the next climb and as he started down the decent… Eric went with him.
We are now about 7 hours into the race and as hot as it was…. Everyone is starting to suffer a bit. But… we hit the Craggy Peak junction and now all the major climbing is behind us and we have about a 8 mile downhill in front of us. Normally I’d be excited but Shep had warned us about this downhill and I remembered it fondly from 25 years ago. Unfortunately the ruts and root drops have gotten worse in the last 25 years and this downhill was 7 miles of sheer terror and a physical beating for Shari and I on our hard tails. It seemed as if every root drop or rutted slide was on the verge of what I would attempt to ride and it just kept coming mile after mile. By the bottom I was praying for an uphill. The only good thing is by the end… we were all much better at riding rutted chutes and root drops. Stuff that early in the ride would have seemed sketchy was just another obstacle to enjoyJ
We came off Wright Meadow to the top of the Lewis River trail to find smooth, flowy single track and… we met back up with Eric so we started the Lewis River section with the 4 of us in a chase group behind the leader (Scott from AZ). Eric drops us on the first descent and we never see him again. He must have been flying as I thought Shep, Shari and I killed the Lewis River. It seems like a paved bike path compared to Craggy Peak so we are letting our speed run and chewing up the miles. I thought for sure we would catch Eric back. But not a chance.
Too soon the Lewis River trail ended and we were faced with the last climb of the day up a gravel road.. then a little paved climb before a 5 mile downhill/flat run to the finish line. Shep, Shari and I all realize the final spot on the podium is on the line and we know if anyone can break the group on the climb.. they can pretty much coast to a spot on the podium. So… we all three climb like maniacs trying to get a small break. But… it’s to no avail as each of us was unwilling to drop off the pace. We crest the hill as one and start down to the finish line. Shep is a machine at this point. Shari and I are on his wheel and killing ourselves not to get dropped. He pulls us for 5 miles and we are set up perfect to slingshot around him at the finish. Just as I think I should start my finishing sprint… Shari comes around me in a blur and Shep stands and starts his sprint. Even from the draft I can’t match him now and they both start pulling away. I think Shep just got her at the line for 3rd place.
I found out later Eric had actually caught Scott on the Lewis River section and they had a similar race to the finish line with Scott holding Eric off by a wheel.
I was so tired at the finish I didn’t even see any of the other racers come in. I’m sure they all had as good a day as we did.
Shep… thanks for putting this on and shaming me into riding. Eric and Shari… thanks for riding with me most of the day helping to keep me going when I really wanted to pull over and take a napJ
For the final results… Scott of course won the overall and Shari won the woman’s race. But… Shep, Eric and I each won our age groups so I’m feeling pretty good about our effort. Can’t wait for the next oneJ And best of all…. No real crashes for me. Sure I tipped over in my pedals a few times on climbs when I just couldn’t get over the last root… but those don’t really count.