Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Who you callin a Cream Puff?

Sunday, June 29th was the 2008 version of the Cascade Creampuff 100, a 100-mile Mountain Bike race in Westfir Or. This was my first time racing the Cream Puff, and my first 100-miler, so I don’t have anything to compare it to, but from what I have been told from others, this is one of the hardest 100-mile races around. I was also told by many of the race veterans and regular volunteers that this year’s course was one of the hardest. I think in the end it was 106 miles with somewhere between 16-18,000 feet of climbing, over 50% of that on single track.

All of this begs the question of why in god’s name I would choose to do this race?

While the race takes place on Sunday, it is really a weekend long affair. This year they had taken over the Westfir School, allowing free camping Fri, Sat and Sunday nights, plus access to the school’s showers. With a mandatory pre-race meeting at 4pm followed by a racer dinner at the school, I headed down Saturday afternoon. I’ve been to a couple running Marathons and countless Ultimate tourneys, and attended the meetings and all that. So I thought I had an idea of what to expect. Let me tell you, the Cream Puff is not like anything else. Some one seriously needs to make a documentary of this race. Think Best In Show meets bike racing. No kidding, the entertainment value here is high. But in a good way. The folks who put this together are pretty amazing. It really is a community effort. Even the mayor of Oakridge was there serving dinner. I won’t try to explain it all, you just need to go check it out.

With a 5:15 am start time, and a promised 4am wake-up call from the Race Director, the campground was quiet awful early. The only sounds were the occasional freight train and over-hydrated riders getting out of tents to go pee all night, myself included.

4am came early, and I found myself wandering around aimlessly, trying to figure out what I needed to do. Put on cycling clothes, no wait eat breakfast. That’s right, food, must eat lots of food before 12 hours of riding. That one hour went pretty quick and it was soon time to ride the 2miles to the race start. Yeah, besides riding 106 miles, we also were riding another 4 to get to and from the race. In my book it was the Cascade Cream Puff 110.

Anyhow, the race got going soon enough. I actually started the day with arm warmers as it was a little chilly following some thunderstorms that passed through overnight after a scorching 95 degree day. That would change soon enough, and we all knew it. The race was roughly set-up as a 53-mile “figure 8” loop that we were to do twice. Starting at the bottom of the eight, we rode counter clock-wise up an 8 mile climb to the crossing, to where the famous Aid Station 2 is located. Due to the remoteness of the course, we then did the upper half of the course twice (counterclockwise) finishing with a loop and a half of the lower section. I know, sounds confusing, what can I say, you had to be there. I’ll save you all a mile by mile recount of the race, and since I have blocked some sections out of my mind and others have all melted together, I couldn’t do that if I wanted to. I will say that the single track on this course is absolutely amazing. The work the locals do to maintain these trails is quite envious. We had some incredibly long stretches of just pristine single track, winding through and around old-growth trees, open vistas and fields of wildflowers. Essentially the race went like this:
Neutral” 2-mile paved start
8-mile gravel climb
Aide station 2
Long long long stretch of descending single track with 3 brutal climbs/hike-a-bikes
Aide station 3
11 mile gravel climb
Aid station 4
6 more miles of gravel, mostly climbing
Aid station 2
Long long long stretch of descending single track with 3 soul crushing brutal hike-a-bikes
Aide station 3
11 mile gravel climb baking in the sun
Aid station 4 (thank god)
6 more miles of gravel, mostly climbing in the cursed sun
Aid station 2
Long descent on Alpine trail
Aid station 1
2 miles on riverside trail
8 mile climb sizzling like bacon
Aid station 2
Long descent on Alpine trail

Check the course here

My whole game plan and objective for the race was to pace myself. I really didn’t want to go out too hard and then have hours of suffering to finish the race. I wanted to have some fun. Overall, I think I did a good job. I kept my effort low for the first two climbs and was feeling great. I knew the second time on the long climb from Aid 3 to Aide 2 was going to be the crux of the race. And sure enough, about 4 miles out of aid 3 I started to unravel. My speed dropped to 3-4 mph. as I crawled up the hot muggy valley. Watching guys I had passed early ride by me. I had to be about 6 or 7 hours in by this time and bonked hard. I had a hard time drinking and my stomach wouldn’t let me eat anything. I forced myself to eat a bar and kept trying to drink. It was rough, I could barely see straight, and the theme song to the Odd Couple was caught in my head, it was miserable. I felt as though I was crossing the river Styx and back. But then like a light switch I felt good again, until my hamstrings cramped a mile later. So I walked for a bit until they loosened back up and I was able to ride at a decent pace to Aid 4, which was like an oasis out there. I also found a few of the guys that passed me recovering in chairs, looking as bad as I had felt a short time ago. After cooling off and getting some more food in me, I felt real good (relatively speaking mind you) and rode a good pace up to Aid 2, then had a blast going down the Alpine trail to Aid 1. By the time I got there it was the hottest part of the day. They told me it was about 87 degrees, and the valley was just muggy from the rain the night before. But I knew I had some energy left and some of the guys that passed me while I bonked were up the road, and I figured they would be hurting now. Sure enough, I passed over 5 guys on the final 8-mile climb, which had to be the longest 8-miles of my life, especially miles 2-6. They were just miserable. And it seemed to take forever. By the time I got to aid 2 again, I could barely talk. The folks at the aid station were asking what I wanted for food and water and all I could do was bend over and try to recollect myself. Luckily I knew all I had left were a few short efforts on the Alpine trail and I would be done. Some awesome volunteer put a cold wet towel on my neck and I started to feel human again. Found some food I could stomach for the last 40 minutes, grabbed some water and headed out. I made it all the way to literally the last switch back, and while trying to take it easy I screwed up and crashed for the first time. As I got back up I looked back up the trail and this guy I had been going back and forth with all day was barreling down the trail! With another rider behind him! I grabbed the bike and let ‘er rip for the last 10th of a mile. Literally at the end of the trail is a short 5 foot steep up, and the guy on my wheel broke his chain! I started to look back, heard the other guy go around and tell him to just coast it in, so I kept going and held them off through the finish. I did it!

Even though it was the hardest race I have ever done, I also think it was one of the most fun. Even with all the pain, I had a great time. The single track is amazing, bar none. No matter how tired I was, it put a smile on my face. The support for the race was also amazing. I had heard this before the race, but until you experience it, you just can’t know it. My second time through Aid 2, I had Matt Slaven and Brad Ross taking care of me. They took my bike, lubed the chain, someone gave me bottles, someone else pulled a bunch of GU packs from their pocket and gave them to me. It was great. It was described to me as being similar to a NASCAR pit stop. You roll in and a whole crew runs up and helps you out. Pouring cold water you, and getting you refueled, and then cheer you on as you roll back out. You gotta do it at least once.

It’s not say that the whole thing ran perfectly. After I sent in my registration, I never heard a thing back from the promoter. No e-mails or nothing. I only knew I was in when I saw the check was cashed. The website was also lacking what I would consider timely updates. We didn’t know what the official course was going to be until a week before the race. Granted there was, and still is, a lot of snow from a record year, and he had to do a lot of re-arranging this year, but it would have been nice to hear more about it. But that’s also part of the Cream Puff. If your looking for a fancy race with all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed, stick to Leadville. But if you want some small town fun and lots of single track, check out the Cream Puff

Will I do it again? I’m not sure, but probably. Rumor has it that Scott has a one-loop course planned out for next year. I also overheard someone say it was 140 miles. Uphill the whole way. Count me in!

Oh, that’s right, how’d I do? I am not sure, but I think I was around 25th at just under 12 hours. I can live with that.