Ahh the great American road trip… a monument to the expanse of the USA and our sense of independence. When I started racing nearly fifteen years ago, every race was a road trip; we drove to Sea Otter, we drove to Deer Valley and down to Mammoth. We’d hit Yosemite or Crater Lake or the Great Salt Flats as we crisscrossed the Western US. But over the past ten years, I’ve been traveling at a frenetic pace, jet-setting across the globe, chasing UCI points and World Cups, often hitting two or three continents in as many weeks. All that has left a lot less time to enjoy one of our favorite institutions, the road trip.
This year I’m not chasing those World Cups, and racing seems to be happening at little more comprehendible pace. I think that my quality of life seems to be inversely proportional to my frequent flier status. And finally I’ve had some time for a good ‘ol road trip.
Over ten days my Subaru’s tires rolled over fifteen hundred miles or so of tarmac, crossing from Bellingham to my parents place in Cashmere, to Missoula, MT, down to Trout Lake, WA, then to Bend, OR and finally, Carson City, NV. I traveled from coastal rain forests, across fertile farmlands, to the Rocky Mountains, through the Cascades and on to the high desert.
In Missoula, I checked in with old friends, including my childhood best friend and #1 partner in crime, Allen. I skipped a short track race to go for an actual ride instead of chasing around in little circles. Ryan Douglas came along, another old face from Bozeman I’d last seen when I left Durango in 2010… The guy finally went to law school, he's gonna be terribly good at it. And we had an all-time tour guide and Ron Jeremy doppelgänger (until he shaves his mustache) Sam Schultz. It was so sweet to be riding with friends instead of riding around that gravel parking lot on Sunday morning. This sport (and life) is all about who you share it with right?
From Missoula, I drove seven hours (only stopping briefly once to pee) straight to Trout Lake, WA. I arrived at Spencer Paxson’s parents place just in time for some homemade pizza and a good look at Mt. Adams (our next day’s objective) as the sun was setting on its flanks. Spencer couldn’t join Ryan and I, which was a bit of a heart-breaker, but c’est la vie. I wouldn't have wanted to subject the father to be to a 4am wake up anyways. He needs all the sleep he can get over the next two weeks…. But Ryan and I suffered through it so we could go harvest corn all afternoon on Mt. Adams. At 12,000+ ft its the second highest peak in the Cascades and one that I’ve always dreamed about going up. And it did NOT disappoint. it seemed like all of Washington was under a layer of clouds below us, but on the mountain, it was sunny and warm. It stayed frozen above 11,000ft but everything below that was amaze-balls. I think that’s the technical term for how good the skiing was. The sensation of skiing thousands of vertical feet at a time, down the seemly unending expanse of a glacier, has to be about as close to flying at you can get without wings; there's nothing but mountain and sky below.
From Trout Lake it was onwards to Bend, OR, for The Blitz; an hour long race from near Mt. Bachelor down to Bend. Its half enduro, half XC, with a big stepdown at the end. Oh and your time doesn't stop until you finish your beer at the end. So sick. It was about as fun as any race I’ve ever done. And yeah, I hit the big step down. I didn't manage to make it out of the first bracket in the arm wrestling comp however, so I gotta work on that before beach season is here in full swing.
I think that a few of my all-time favorite drives have taken me through south eastern Oregon, and so I relished the solo drive through that lonely corner of the county, listening to Stegner’s Angle of Repose, and watching hundreds of miles of sage and mountains pass by my windows. I rolled into Carson City in time to take a lap on the weekends XC course, as the sun was setting, and it was just purrrfect. I’ve driven through Carson City a dozen times or more, and never even considered stopping to ride, but I will next time I come through town, and you should too. The racing was HOT, and I rolled the dice a bit in the XC. Fortunately things panned out for me. I set the pace early, and ended up riding with Keegan and Howie until part of the way through our second lap, and then when the two mountain goats rode away, I just had to put my head down and go. It was a long two hours being solo, but somehow, it suck and I finished third, nearly 4 hours after we’d started. I definitely did it the hard way.
I love what promotors like Sadow at Epic Rides and Eric at The Blitz are doing for the sport right now, and the turnout, media attention, and events atmospheres all demonstrate that a lot of others feel the same way. It’s refreshing for me to personally be racing in some events where people are really excited about the courses and venues, and at this chapter in my career, I’d prefer to race 50 miles over varied terrain, than in a little 3 mile XC loop any day. But I do worry about where this leaves us for athlete development. As a coach, I take issue with sending young athletes out on long, hot 4+ hour races, particularly when many of their goals are more in line with a tradition XCO type event. They want to race World Cups and compete against the best in the World, just as I did when I was 19 years old. And its damn important that they do! It’s not to say that there aren’t still really good XCO races in the US, but I think its clear to anyone who’s paying attention that type of racing is falling out of fashion, and we are progressing (or regressing) to longer, marathon type events here in the US. People talk about they ‘hayday’ of MTB making a resurgence, and that would be awesome, but it doesn't solve the fundamental that we are slowly loosing a the platform for young XC riders to develop in an environment thats most conducive to them racing against the best at the World Cup level. And so short of sending every kid who shows some potential to European and Canadian training camps, what do we do? More road trips?