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Category: Race Reports

True Grit Epic

By Julie O’Brien

Three rad, technical desert trails; two washes; one tricky waterfall and wicked fast single track is my memory of the course. That, and abandoning inside rides for Utah sunshine and short sleeves!

The first annual race of the National Ultra Endurance Series, True Grit is a unique combination of terrain. There are 15, 50, and 100-mile distances, but training for a hundy in Oregon winter is beyond me, and driving 16 hours to race 15 miles doesn’t compute, so the 50. True Grit sells itself as a big old beast. But really there’s just three techy trails, each quite workable if pre-ridden. The climbs are gentle, alleviating some winter-time training concerns.
This was my all-time favorite race. For me, it’s the proper ratio of fast trails, ridable rocks, beautiful views, and sunshine.
Given the drive and my pre-ride desires, I dedicated about a week to it. One glorious aspect of St. George is that some of the best trails are a ten minutes pedal to a cluster of affordable air BnB’s. So, I was able to hit 2 out of 3 pre-rides (Zen and Barrel) on arrival day. Zen is almost all rocks – the most important pre-ride. It was too consistently tech to remember the lines, but pre-riding the 6-mile loop gives a solid feel for its character and confidence that everything is roll-able and fun.
The barrel is about a 10 minute pedal from Zen. Rather than Zen’s consistently moderate tech, Barrel is mostly benign single track, with periodic drops and features. The real reason to pre-ride it is the Waterfall, which is noticeably the hardest part of the race. I walked the lines and sessioned the drops … all to then realize that I had conquered just the first tenth of it. This made the decision to hop off and run The Waterfall pretty easy for me.
On day 2 I pre-rode Barrel Roll, a trail that requires a short drive from the air BnB cluster. Again, about 6 miles with only a handful of technical sections; so, easy to recall these lines. This trail is also near the end of the race’s single track, so familiarizing with it was a nice psychological treat on race day.
I ended up skipping the fourth pre-ride that I’d heard could be useful: the Acid Drops. This is where a fast and flowy trail called Bear Claw Poppy splits off 3 ways- rider’s drop choice. Steepest is left, moderate middle, easiest to the right. I’d heard that, if unfamiliar, fear of the unknown might cause racers to veer right, resulting in un-necessary pedaling. Steep left is the straight shot. The rumor was that staying left was fine, so I decided to trust the rumors, which turned out to be wise.
Day 3 was a restful hike, then race morning. The race starts downtown at the town hall. Parking’s hectic, so catching a ride was very nice. After rolling out of town a mile or two, racers enter the first wash- a dried up (or not if its rained) river bed. Since we had recent rain, the wash was a bit sloppy. Wash riding felt unique because it required bumping my tires up and down little ledges through mud, water, stone, and loose. I was slow and uncertain, working to stay perpendicular and avoid muddy slip outs. The locals seemed to shine here.
After the wash and a bit of pedaling, we were at Zen. Unfortunately, right around this time was when my dropper cable snapped. I guess it was better for my saddle to be stuck up than down, but it was a game-changer for me. I’m not so good at descending tech with arse in the air, so at this point, the race became about making the most of the experience.
From Zen on, the course is basically ascending fast (it’s just not steep like Oregon) single track with sweet views to link together those techy pre-ride trails, the Acid Drops, and Bear Claw Poppy- a swoopy, fast, long downhill, but pedal hard trail. This made for an insanely fun day. The pre-rides provided sufficient knowledge for the DH to be fun and confident. The climb grades were gentle relative to Oregon steeps, a huge assist given the difficulty of winter training. Lovely scenery while climbing the ridges didn’t hurt. Sufficient misery did occur when the entire race ran out of water, causing those of us foolish enough to keep pedaling instead of awaiting more supplies to reach new levels of leg cramping. I guess the fact that this race is still a favorite for me despite some fairly stand out hardships is telling.
Barrel Roll was the last of the true tech, followed by a somewhat loose descent before the last wash and more pedaling back to downtown. My Garmin gauged at more like 43 than the 45-50 miles that the race proclaims. 43-45 is probably is accurate. It seemed a pretty perfect early spring endurance distance.
Although I was scheduled to depart a day or so after the race, I really loved those St. George trails under the sunny, blue skies. Plus, there’s another nearby riding area called Hurricane, Utah with some punchy mesas to check out. So, we ended up extending our stay by a few more days to keep adding in more riding. 2020 will include a longer stay, a thorough dropper cable pre-race check, and a full hydration pack.

Cascade Chainbreaker Race Report

By Jonathan Coy

Team Results:

  • Julie Lucas O’Brien CAT 1 – 3rd (4th overall woman)
  • Lora Melkonian CAT 2 50+ – 1st
  • Jonathan Coy CAT 2 19-39 – 3rd

The Chainbreaker is a 24 mile XC MTB race in Bend (race 3 of the Oregon XC Series).

Race/Course Overview:
Bend, Oregon sits at 3,623 feet which can have an impact on performance when all of us train essentially at sea level. Portions of the course exceed 4,500′ in elevation. Higher altitudes cause you to breathe more rapidly due to the decreased amount of oxygen in the air which increases dehydration. It is also easier to get sunburned at higher altitudes, because there is less of the earth’s atmosphere to block sunlight (especially on a cloudless sunny day in Bend). Make sure you bring sunscreen and are well hydrated prior to starting this race.

Pro Tip: make sure to apply sunscreen on your legs and not just your face and arms………fail

The race is hosted by Bend Endurance Academy and was very well run (chip timing, well marked course with volunteers at critical intersections, best podium swag bags of any race I’ve ever attended). The start of the race is a double track climb up a gravel road for about a mile before entering singletrack. I found that the climb sorted the field prior to entering the singletrack but position is important as the course overall has minimal locations to pass.

As mentioned, the course has a lot of singletrack. Many singletrack sections are lined with overgrown shrubs making passing impossible and the potential for your handlebars to catch causing a crash. The course also runs through an area that recently experienced a forest fire, so several of the trails were very primitive (fresh cut stumps, soft lose dirt) which didn’t make for the most enjoyable riding.

The course elevation gain was approximately 1,800′ (not too bad) and most climbs were gradual, not steep. With the amount of climbing we do riding around the Hood River area, use the climbs in this race to your advantage, this is where i was able to make the biggest gains against the competition.

Due to the course being so dry, dust is a factor to consider if you are sensitive. This also made the descents and turns on the course pretty sketch. Recommend a conservative approach to each turn and descent, and making gains on the climbs. The risk is not worth the reward, both Julie and I went over the handlebars and have the scars to show.

The end of the race is very confusing as there are several loops around the “stadium” area designed for spectating but resulted in confused riders wondering where the finish was and when. This section has several very steep short climbs and sharp turns. I found it difficult to finish strong due to the confusion of where the finish was. If you are competing against a rider that knows the finish course, they would certainly have an advantage in this portion of the race and would be something to consider.

Overall, good race, just wish it wasn’t so far away.

Race Website:
https://bendenduranceacademy.org/chainbreaker/

2019 Bear Springs Trap Race Report

by Jonathan Coy

This race is historically known for cold temps and wet weather but this year presented great conditions for racing. The team came out in full force and many riders, including myself, raced this course for the first time.

The race starts with an uphill climb on a paved road followed by a 90 degree turn onto singletrack approximately 1/2 mile into the race. Immediately following the turn is a steep technical climb where riders fight for position and often dismount during the climb. If you are not in good position at this juncture you can easily lose 30-60 seconds on the leaders.

Overall, the upper section of the course is flowy with small berms, short climbs and descents, some roots and large rocks to look out for, but nothing too technical. Passing can be challenging at times due to the single track but call out your passes and most will let you by.

The course changes significantly as you descend and get down by the river later in the race. There are several very technical sections of roots and rock gardens where it is not uncommon to “hike a bike.” There are additional sections were dismounting is required due to having to go through a fence and also cross over a wetland area where logs have been laid down for pedestrian traffic.

The course was very scenic but also poorly marked in several locations (a theme for this race that goes back many years). Many team members made wrong turns on the course as did others I spoke to after the race.

I recommend the race for those who are interested next year just be prepared to position yourself well at the front heading into the turn and be aware of the technical riding late in the race and that even the best of riders are likely dismounting some sections.

The course is friendly to all bikes depending on your preference. 29″ wheels will help your roll faster, and a full suspension will add some comfort but a hard tail is also completely fine.

Results

We had a crew of 20 come out for the race and Cinco de Mayo afterparty! As usual, the ladies squad took home the most hardware! Congrats on the great placings and to everyone for completing a tough course!

  • Julie O’Brien: 3rd Cat 1 Women
  • Pierce Martin: 2nd Cat 2 Men 19-39
  • Terry Mallon: 2nd Cat 2 Men 60+
  • Taylor Kennedy: 1st Cat 2 Women 19-39
  • Valerie Nussbaumer: 3rd Cat 2 Women 19-39
  • Megan Barton: 1st Cat 2 Women 40-49 (Her first MTB race and the first lady across the line in all categories!)
  • Lora Melkonian: 1st Cat 2 Women 50+
  • Ian Stromquist: 2nd Novice Men 40-49
  • Shawn Summersett: 1st Novice Men 50+ (first race!)
  • Danny Schwarz: 3rd Clydesdale
  • Holly LaRue 1st Singlespeed Women (needs more competition)
  • Full Results

Race photos courtesy of Edward Knight

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