Gravel grinding – Ghost of the Gravel recap

A new addition to the ABA racing calendar is always welcome in my books. Especially when it’s a bit different from a standard XC mountain bike, cyclocross, or road event, I’m typically keen to give it a try. Anyone that had the pain and pleasure to experience the Kettle Cross bicycle race will tell you what a unique and great event it was, and it also was able to attract a large number of cyclists not part of the regular licensed racer crowd. This is a win in my opinion, since it gets those who cannot be coaxed to line up to an ABA race to come out and see what it’s all about.

Sadly, the Kettle Cross is on hiatus this year, but the Deadgoats threw in a late edition to the calendar of a comparable flavour – the Ghost of the Gravel road race/fondo. Promising to be something completely different and targeted at racers and non-racers, and also an area I haven’t had a chance to cycle through, I signed up and put some 28mm slicks on my trusty Van Dessel FTB cyclocross bike as suggested by the race organizers to tackle the various types of road surfaces and 1500 m of climbing.

The 144km route was a challenging, yet enjoyable and very scenic mix of rolling pavement and gravel/dirt roads that looped through the foothills northwest of Cochrane via Water Valley and Waiparous Village (Strava route here). 28 mm slicks were perfect even along the wet dirt roads, and none of the climbs were too steep or long for my single ring cyclocross 40/11-32 set up to manage comfortably. Two neutral feedzones were provided at 70 and 94 kms, which were well stocked with basic cyclist-style energy products like Clif bars, bananas, and water or Gatorade. Weather was a mixed bag on the day, starting out on the meagre side with rain and strong winds and audible cursing by some, but there were eventually a few sunny moments in there and luckily some sweet tailwinds most of the way home. I started the day off with a rain jacket, which I was glad I packed, and it was shed and re-donned during the day with the variable weather conditions. I’ve left the rain jacket in the car one too many times, and now don’t mind dealing with the extra pocket bulk in exchange for the chance to stay a bit warmer when the rain hits. The roads were essentially quiet, with the exception of a few over-aggressive redneck Alberta land trains, appropriately named by Katy Curtis, who couldn’t get their ATVs and dirt bikes to the various trailheads along Highway 40 fast enough. I’m sure most of them had never witnessed that many spandex-clad men in all their lives and were concerned if they didn’t drive fast enough away it may affect their masculinity somehow.

Interestingly, although not really pushed heavily by organizers as a race, the event was part of the ABA Road Cup points series. Unfortunately for me, this made the start way too fast on a day that I was more interested in a pleasure cruise, and after a few kms of trying to sit in riding a tempo that clearly wasn’t sustainable for 144km and getting constantly sprayed with water and road grime on this particularly rainy and windy day, Katy and I settled into a much more enjoyable and civilized pace that allowed for conversation and to enjoy the magnificent views. We happened upon more than a few riders along the way who had cracked from starting too hard, and even witnessed one overly dramatic bike toss at a feed zone. There were a fair number of DNFs, which I will tentatively blame on the weather conditions and under-preparedness, but for those that stuck it out, finishing times ranged from 4:30 hours for the Cat 1/2 winner to around 7 hours for some. This made it hard to coordinate any of the podium presentations, and maybe next year it would be worthwhile to reverse the staging and start the slower groups first so the race ends more or less at the same time of the day for everyone.

For a first time event, it was well organized and attended, and I hope the Deadgoats bring it back next year so a few more Edmonton riders make the trip down and try something different out. It’s the kind of riding that we certainly don’t have around here, and an event like this makes it easy to get a flavour and taste for long and epic gravel grinds.

My favourite way to end a big ride day - pizza from Leva

My favourite way to end a big ride day – pizza from Leva

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Don’t Bring a Knife to A Gun Fight

I had the pleasure of travelling to Victoria for a week of work this past month on a retreat of sorts up at Bear Mountain.

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Sweet Bunker Sand Pit Action (Yes those are my road shoes!) [Photo: Patrick Burnham]

 

 

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Slow and steady off the start [Photo: Patrick Burnham]

 

 

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2 Time World MTB Champion Catharine Pendrel [Photo: Patrick Burnham]

 

 

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Drew did and excellent job with creative use of the driving range space [Photo: Patrick Burnham]

 

 

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Knife at a Gun Fight

Banner Day at XC Provincials

What a great day for the Kokanee Redbike crew competing in the 2014 Perogy XC Provincial Championships!

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Sarns took the win in the Open Men Category Capturing His First Provincial Champion Jersey

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Take Off for Mark

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Fear the Beard!

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Shanny Lapping Thru

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On to the Finish

 

 

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Derek 2nd in Master 30-39

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Shanny Takes Home the Silver in Open Women

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Mark Takes Home the Silver in Master 40+

The Coulee Cruiser Race Report aka Spa Weekend in Calgary

I don’t want to think that I was at all prescient about what happened during the weekend of the Coulee Cruiser race in Lethbridge, but wow, talk about a spring snowstorm!  If you had read my previous blog about how the arrival of spring snowstorms reminds me that the first ABA cross country mountain bike race was upon us, you could say that I jinxed the race because it was cancelled due to rain and snow, making the trails un-rideable.

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On the Friday of the race weekend, Shantel, Brad and I loaded up the Subaru with our mountain bikes and race gear to head down to Lethbridge and enjoy the first road trip of the year.  With our travel mugs filled with coffee and heading down south on the QE2, I received an ominous phone call from Josh from the ABA.  Now, we are friends, but for him to call me at 11:00am, it didn’t feel like a social call, and it wasn’t.  He told me that he was standing in the coulees at Lethbridge College and the trails were so muddy and slick that he was barely able to stand still to take a picture.   I told him to cancel the race immediately even though the race was Sunday and there was a slim chance of the trails drying out.  But similar to Edmonton trails, the Lethbridge trails are composed of clay, and when it gets wet, the clay turns soft, slick and soupy.  Josh had another meeting planned with the race organizers to discuss the race conditions, but he promised they would make a decision within the hour.

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Now, we had to make a decision with the impending cancellation:  Do we just cancel our accommodations in Lethbridge and Calgary and stay home or do we just spend the weekend in Calgary and have a fun team building weekend?  Well, by the time we received the official cancellation notice, we were near Red Deer so the three of us decided to travel on and spend the weekend in Calgary for some quality bonding time.  Brad is originally from Calgary so we had a place to stay for the weekend, which assuaged the disappointment of the cancelled race.  When we arrived at Brad’s parent’s house, it was snowing moderately hard and we were tired from the drive.  As cyclists, we decided that the best way to get our motivation up is to get out there and ride in the snow and 3 degree temperature.  Of course, we didn’t have fenders or booties, so within 5 minutes of the ride, we were completely soaked top to bottom. Shantel forgot her glasses so her eyeballs were being pelted by snowflakes while my toes and fingers started to freeze.  Brad gave us a lovely tour of the Calgary suburban neighborhoods while barely avoiding getting hit by cars that were surprised to see cyclists out during a snowstorm.

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When we arrived back to the house, we decided that the only remedy for our dour moods was for us to hit the Calgary nightlife and get completely inebriated with sweet, sweet beer.  After a hot shower, we headed out to The National on 17th.  I knew it was going to be an epic night when we walked in and immediately saw Colm Meaney from Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Commitments fame.  I mean, he was a big deal and a big man, literally, as I texted all my Trekkie friends and they went completely nerd crazy.  Can you imagine if I ran into Patrick Stewart?

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Shantel and I were quite pleased that The National’s beer prices were based on volume and not on the type of beer.  So, we ordered the Ommegang Saison and the Dieu du Ciel Rosee Hibiscus in pints, and that was the beginning of the end.  The rest of the night was quite foggy as I must have been in a fugue state, but I did manage to get to the Brad’s parent’s place in the correct bed thus avoid a “Three’s Company” mix up.  All that winter training really paid off.
I woke up the next morning at 10:00am to the smell of the most glorious scent in the world, sausages.  Brad’s dad, George, made us breakfast as he knew full well of our morning impairment.  With our bellies filled with sausages and waffles, we had to decide whether or not were going for another urban bike ride, but after a quick deliberation, we headed to some hippie yoga studio for an hour and a half of Yin yoga.  This was the mellowest yoga class I had ever been to, ever.  We put ourselves in a total of 10 poses for the entire hour and a half, and one woman just slept for the entire class (one would have to assume that she had a yearly pass).  It was basically nap time for adults, a sweaty one at that as it was one of those “hot yoga” places where they needed to have special tags just so you don’t get your awful UGGs mixed up at the door.  I do love yoga, but I think I will stick to the power yoga next time and just take my naps at home.  It’s cheaper and less embarrassing.

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After another night of beer drinking at the awful Craft pub, we load up the car and headed home. During the drive, we were reminiscing about our relaxing weekend of November urban cycling in May, being Star Trek struck, being feed waffles and sausages, bike shop perusing and going to the laziest yoga class ever and we decided that it was a great start to our race season.  Bring on the Royal River Valley Rumble III, baby!!!

Devon-ately a Cyclocross Town

This past weekend Alberta CX racers congregated in the scenic town of Devon, aka Biketown, for races 10 and 11 of the ABA calendar. The racing promised to be fast and furious with only a handful of races left before the Provincial championships and the end of another Alberta CX season. Bicycle races in Devon have always ranked among my favourites – no matter what the discipline, racers and spectators can count on an enjoyable day and leave feeling inspired by a community in love with bicycles.

Sadly, The United Cycle race team was forced to move their race from the Devon Lions Campground (my personal favourite) due to some flooding and erosion issues, but luckily an equally cross-worthy backdrop exists just up the river at Voyageur Park. This venue was introduced last year, and from memory I knew it would provide plenty of variety and challenging terrain to make for a satisfying doubleheader. Special mention should be made of the town’s very impressive bike skills park at Voyageur Park. What was just a small park with some skinnies and teeter-totters last year, is now a fully developed park complete with jumps, a flow trail, and plenty of features to practice and build skills on. I know more than a few of us were wishing we had brought our mountain bikes along; however, the distraction of the bike park quickly faded as racers donned their skinsuits and focused on the task at hand.

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Task number one for me was to get in solid warm ups this weekend. As I get older and older, it takes me longer and longer to get warmed up. Despite knowing this, I’ve been rather lacksidasical with regards to warming up all season, and you really pay the price for this in cross. So, as opposed to just squeaking in one lap before my race, I arrived early enough to get in a pre-ride a full race before my own and then concentrated on pedaling to keep the legs warm and on staying hydrated until my race.

The pre-ride helped to highlight the technical nature of the course – lots of corners, loose soil, bumpy grass sections, a sandpit with a challenging entry, and a super steep run/ride up – all features that gave me hope I could finally bag my first win of the season. I tried to remain positive but realistic, since anything can happen during a race, especially on a course such as this one.

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The skills park at Voyageur park even found its way into a section of the course. Photo courtesy Chris Hubick.
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Josh murdering the steep climb. Photo courtesy Chris Hubick.

The promise of a holeshot prize made for a fast and furious start, and without even knowing what prize I was racing for I went for it and made it to the woods first to score a ginormous 750g Toblerone. Podi-yum! I maintained the lead until the first time through the sand pit, where what I had cleared without too much difficulty during pre-ride punished me for not choosing the proper line. I stalled out magnificently, getting caught up in my bike in the process, and watched Andrea sprint past me in what has become a sort of first lap Groundhog Day pattern for me: lead it out, screw it up, spend rest of race trying to make it back up. Only difference was that in this race I was actually able to make back up enough time in the corners and on the climb, and by the last lap I was back with Andrea and pretty confident I could make a dig for the win when the timing was right. Unfortunately though, I was a bit too hesitant and sat back too long, and when we got to the final time up the steep climb, Andrea stalled out just as she got to the top. She was able to foot push over the top, but positioned right behind her I was forced to stop and hop off my bike and scramble up. The gap was made, and Andrea earned the win. Drat. The sting didn’t last though, as deep down I knew I had the steam to win, and it only made me more hungry for a win the next day.

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The holeshot Toblerone. Victory never tasted so sweet. Photo courtesy Chris Hubick.

I stayed smart about warming up again on Sunday, and once again the pre-ride revealed a course well-suited to donkeys. Essentially the previous day run in reverse, the Devon Bicycle Association had strategically rerouted a couple sections to include the full length of the sandpit, a riverside beach section, and a stair run up out of the beach section. These alterations also allowed the reinsertion of the previous day’s steep climb, although now much trickier to ride since you approached it from an awkward angle. I had a feeling this was the feature that was going to make or break the race.

Race started fast again, and not wanting to ruin my streak, I led it out and proceeded to screw up the steep climb magnificently, taking the opportunity to step on my bike and rear wheel in the process, and just like so many times before watched Andrea run by and get a gap. I shrugged it off and focused on keeping her in sight, but my attention on her was quickly replaced by what was happening behind me – wonder kid and wonder lady cyclocross phenoms Sidney McGill and Marg Fedyna were just behind me and chasing at a furious pace. I knew I couldn’t afford to make a mistake, for they were both there ready to capitalize on any seconds I was willing to give up. Luckily, this initiative from behind inspired me to go a little faster, and as the race wore on I was able to latch back on to Andrea about halfway through the second last lap. I hesitated here for a bit, but knew I couldn’t play it safe if I really wanted the win and made a dig so I could lead going into the last lap. We stayed together, and as we approached the steep climb I knew this was the deal maker/breaker. Clean it and I would have a gap and an essentially clear run to the finish, or dab and likely have to settle for second yet again. No dab. Made it up and over and headed for home as fast as I could muster, finally earning a spot on the top step of the podium.

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Being tailed by Sidney, who is more than 20 years younger than me. Where’s my botox. Photo courtesy Brent Topilko.

I wasn’t the only one scoring a personal victory. Mighty mite Sydney came in 3rd, and barely in her teens she will surely prove to be a force to be reckoned with in the next couple of years. It was an excellent showing by new racers also, including a group of local ladies who looked like pros using all the skills cross champ Pepper Harlton had taught them in the weeks leading up to the race. I bet they’re as excited for next year as I am!

I’m really loving how the smaller Alberta communities are embracing cyclocross. Everybody wins – we get awesome courses and can visit new communities, and the communities get to experience the excitement of our sport and hopefully also get caught up with a healthy dose of cycling fever. For some great video action from the weekend, check out Sheldon’s video here:

Donkeykoenig’s Cyclocross Season So Far…

And just like that, we’re already a third of the way through the ABA cyclocross season with five races done and about ten to go.  Cyclocross is a funny beast; it’s kind of like a cycling version of what the average non-cyclist would think about a weekend trip to Vegas – when it happens it hurts like hell, you don’t really remember much about what actually transpired during the whole thing, and your body hates you Monday morning, but for some reason you’re able to laugh about it after and even secretly look forward to the next time.  Also along the same lines, you suddenly notice you’re making a lot of new friends on social media, and pictures of you (both good and bad) keep popping up of you from your weekend endeavours…

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Shanny rippin’ (Photo: Bill Quinney via Social Media)

My thought on the season as a whole so far is the events have all really been top notch.  It’s great to see the registration fees have come down to a reasonable amount from the staggering heights they had climbed to last year, and I would say everyone’s enjoyment factor is the same if not even higher, which goes to show you don’t need a ton of money to host a great event if you know how to budget and put your registration dollars in the right places.  Another highlight so far this season has been the inclusion of some new locations for events.  RMCC came through on short notice to host a fabulously fun and scenic race in Canmore, and despite being faced with an unsympathetic Parks Department in Calgary, Crave Racing and Bicisport used some great initiative to find and transform the Airdrie Pro Rodeo Grounds into a great cyclocross venue.  Finally, the addition of the Novice Men and Sport Women categories have really been successful at getting new and inexperienced cross racers to the line.

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New locations have added serious spice to the ABA calendar!

Now on to some on the ground reporting from this past weekend’s races, the Crave Cupcake Cross and the Bicisport Rodeo Cross, both held at the Airdrie Pro Rodeo Grounds.  I’ll admit to being a bit hesitant when I first heard about the venue – as a kid I saw my fair share of rodeo grounds while spending my summer holidays travelling around Alberta in a motorhome with my Grandma, and my now distant memories of them are two: 1. Flat and open, and 2. Dry, dusty, and windy.  Bicisport organizer Brent Topilko’s directions to the site: “Follow the signs to the Airdrie Waste Transfer Station!” only added to my anxiety, but upon arrival and survey of the course all my fears faded quickly as racers were treated to a fun and dynamic course with several elements that highlighted the unique flavour the grounds had to offer.  Yes, it was still windy and dusty, but you can’t really control that.  Yet.  I think everyone agreed the section through the gymkhana corral (see, I wasn’t lying about knowing rodeo sites) was a definite highlight and test of skill – the loosely packed dirt meant you couldn’t take the corners too fast, and I noticed more than a few people must have slid out on those corners judging from the dusty thighs I saw.  Maybe chaps are in order for next year.  The back section provided some punishing and bumpy climbing and descending, which rewarded those with the endurance to suffer consistently through the 6 to 10 laps of the course.  Several long, fast swoopy turns and a couple of punchy ride/run-ups also helped to keep things interesting for racers and fans alike.  It was definitely one of those courses where a couple of mistakes could cost you a few places as I quickly found out dabbing on the run-up, watching my gap become someone else’s.  Especially with the wind making it hard to close any gaps that opened up, once people became isolated not much changed between racers, and when it was all said and done I ended up second to the super fast Andrea Bunnin (curse those super-fit Bunnins!).  We all got delicious Crave cupcakes on the podium though, so it didn’t take long to turn my frown upside down.  Crave Racing hosted a super day, and while I didn’t indulge on a cupcake hand up during the race (I’ve made that mistake before), it was fun seeing the photos of all those that did.

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The tricky corral section. Next year remember to pack yer chaps!

The next day we were treated to even stronger winds (boo-urns) and the course run in reverse.  The lap was equally fun and challenging backwards, a true testament to the well planned out course design.  The previous day’s long, rough descent now became a leg-sapping climb, and a tricky off camber descent with a sharp corner became an even trickier, short, punchy climb up.  Despite riding a much cleaner and solid race, I finished a step lower in third as I find I am still lacking that extra gear in the speed and fitness department I’ll need if I’m to climb up onto the top step of the podium this season.  Maybe next year I’ll actually start cyclocross training early like you’re supposed to instead of trying to race myself into shape.  Who am I kidding?  I’m just going to stick with the “I’m looking to peak a little later in the season” façade.  Toy ponies instead of cupcakes were our reward on the day, with Pepper Harlton claiming the largest and most glorious pony for finishing first, although she very graciously surrendered it to some little girls who mobbed her when she was least expecting it.  I’m all for the crazy novelty podium prizes in cross, and Bicisport really came through with the podium ponies in addition to a very well organized and run event.  Looking forward to coming back to this venue next year for sure.  Next up on the calendar, the Dark Knight Cross, which I am forced to sit out due to my night vision akin to that of a naked mole rat, and the Cadence Coffee Cross Classic at Canada Olympic Park, a course that with it’s super long sand pit and punchy climbs is one of my favourites.

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Josh testing the limits of his new carbon steed. (Photo: Masa Higuchi)
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What every girl wishes for: a third place pony.
 

Kootenay Krusher

Josh & I decided early on this winter when we were planning our race calendar to be sure to not miss the Kootenay Krusher for another year.  The Kootenay Krusher is a 50 km single track mountain bike race at the beautiful Nipika Mountain Resort.

Along with guest Evan Wishloff (Pedalhead – watch for his guest post coming soon), Josh and headed out to Nipika Moutain resort.

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Team camp for the weekend.

Most of the 25 km course paralleled the Kootenay River, with is turquoise blue waters and undulated up and down with a total of 800m of climbing for the 50 km race.  Rough and bump fun I must say!

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Josh & Mike on one of the many sections of course with sweet views of the Kootenay River.

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Pre-riding the course

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Loving every meter of trail

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Spectacular views of the Kootenay River

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Get that guy a beer!

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Can’t beat the views of this place

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Rocky Mountain Element & Instinct ready to rock

Off the start the start I went to the front and spun out my 32-11 gear as best I could and figured this was as fast as I would go to lead out the group.  The 1st couple of kilometres were on the XC ski trail, so there was lots of room to move around.

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Starting out at Nipika

As the course turned a sharp right and climbed it’s way up, a few guys pushed the pace, including Peter Knight who put in a solid dig up the climb.  I knew the ski trail got steep just before entering the singletrack, so I launched an attach up the steepest pitch and entered the rough and bumpy false flat trail in 1st position.

From there I just kept the throttle close to the redline for a few minutes and I opened up a decent sized gap on 2nd position.  I never new what the time split was however I was able to get out of sight – which is almost more important.  It’s hard to chase down someone you can’t see in a race.

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Lettuce Hamburger for the pretend glutarded

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Sorry buddy, theme the rules

I had one minor crash up top on the ’15km’ loop of the course, where a moment of inattention resulted in washing out my front wheel, which evolved into me eating a Kootenay dirt sandwich.  I picked myself up and dusted myself off and got going again…slowly trying to find my rhythm.  It was a good reminder to always stay focused during the race and try to stop your mind from wandering to waffles and maple syrup.

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This was thoroughly entertaining

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Chillin’ before awards

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Great loot for the win – Beer and a Pillow.  Drink the beer, then use the pillow – in that order

In the end, I won the race with a time just over 2:45 – setting a new course record.  For my efforts I received a rather large bottle of beer and a camp pillow to sleep the beer off with afterwards.  Riches in deed.IMG 2474

Fastest Man and Women on the day posing with Race Organizer Lyle

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New Course Record

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Josh scored some sweet swag too…a Magestic Horse decorative Flag.

This was a really great event and I plan to be back.  This is a great place to go where everyone can camp at the venue, enjoy a few brews around a campfire, and rip some sweet singletrack.

See you at the races!

-Mike