Guest blog post by Myth rider Sam Vickery (@slam_vick)
Ahh nationals..the pinnacle of the season for many racers around the country and one of my main goals for the year as well. I always laugh ’cause it’s like you just name a race “nationals” and people go nuts for it. It is pretty damn cool to see so many people race their hearts out though. This year, the big dance was to be held in Winter Park, Colorado. This is a special place for me because its where I caught the mountain bike bug a few years back after renting bikes while on vacation with my family, the place where I said yep this is my thing now. After finding out nationals were going to be in WP, I felt as though it would be neat to kind of bring things full circle and take aim at the single speed title. The second and most important reason for me to head to nationals was as a coach for the Durango DEVO team. DEVO brought out 20+ athletes 14-19 years old for the race this year, all of whom had marked this day on their calendar 8 months ago and did everything they could in that time frame to make it count. From swimming and running through the winter months to grinding it out everyday on the bike through the school year, it was an impressive level of commitment from these young guns. I am crazy proud of them and thankful for their motivation.
After a heavily front loaded season of longer endurance events, I knew I was going to need some more snap to compete in the short-n-spicy nationals distance event (typically around 1.5hrs). I switched up the weekly routine a bit to help me dial in some specific stuff to work the top end more. Luckily in Durango, there are high level group training opportunities galore like the Tuesday Night Worlds road rides, a weekly short track series, plus some friends and I did some top secret high altitude training on a course built as close to nationals spec as possible (WP is at about 9,000ft). I even did some intervals, which isn’t my usual style but in this case necessary. I had a lot of fun in the weeks training for nationals. There is a really rad group of guys that would all train together and push each other all with a common goal in mind. Just another special part about the Durango cycling community. In the lead up to the race, I was feeling super prepared physically. It’s amazing what buckling down and focusing on something specific can do for your game and a really good feeling mentally to know you’ve done what you can to be at your best.
Finally race day rolled around and it was time to pull out my favorite sleeveless Hawaiian shirt and lay it all out there. I had my Devo coach partner-in-crime and general Single Speed legend, Chad “Chainsaw” Cheeney in the field with me too which was sweet. SIDE NOTE: Chad and I were the only ones wearing any sort of costume in the entire race…buncha serious sallys out there. There were definitely a couple guys on the start list that I had my eye on as contenders. Carl Decker who has a couple of those tattoos that say he’s the best 1 gear mountain cyclist in the world and a couple Single Speed nationals titles to his name and also Cody Phillips who has spent plenty of time at the top level of XC racing as a U23 and also as an Enduro World Series regular for a few years too. Also, the nationals single speed races tend to bring out the low-key hitters so I knew it was shaping up to be a bloodbath.
The course in Winter Park started with a 9ish min climb half fire road and half single track that lead into a flowy descent and then an awkward false flat uphill traverse back to the finish line. I chose to run 36×22 ratio. An easy course technically with not much to select out the field. My plan was to make the guys from lower elevations breath heavy from the start and try to make gaps on the descent. At the gun I went HARD. When we hit the single track portion of the climb, It was just me and 1 other gentleman (I later found out his name was JJ Clark) and he was fast! I attacked the first descent to try and get some time but a few back markers of the earlier starting masters categories made this move tough and JJ stuck with me all the way around the first lap. At the start of the second lap the warning lights came on and I knew immediately I had made a tactical error forcing the pace on lap one. JJ had the beans and slowly faded into the distance and not much longer after that Decker picked me off and that’s where the race stayed through the end, JJ, Carl and myself 1-2-3. My favorite part of the race was all of the cheers from kids, fellow coaches and my Mom and Brother were out supporting too.
SO, I am proud of my first nationals podium but I can’t help but feel I came up short of my goal. At the end of the day though, it’s just single speedin and with the hype around the event and USA Cycling it’s easy to lose track of how far removed it all is from the true single speed ethos of just showing up, throwing down with your homies and cracking a cold one after-and we all did just that! Lucky for me, a couple hours later I saw some of the most impressive riding from the DEVO juniors and my race quickly melted into the past. The nationals venue will remain the same next year and I will take another stab at it.
About a month ago I asked my friend Howard Grotts if he would be interested in bike packing back to Durango from Winter Park after nationals and he said something along the lines of “hell yeah” and that was that. We devised a 400 mile route covering dirt road, 4×4, some of the Colorado Trail and a little piecing together with pavement. We would plan on 4 days of riding to get home. The perfect way to decompress from the Nationals hype and see some new parts of Colorado at the same time. Howie and I ride really well together in these kind of situations. We have similar thoughts on using the bike to connect with the land and big days on the bike are our favorite. He is a well versed bike packer and an easy person to count on if things get hairy. Plus as a former Olympian, Leadville 100 champ and Cape Epic winner, I knew he would tap out a pace to keep us on track to make it home in a timely manner (for better or for worse).
After a night of post race celebration, we slowly rolled out of Winter Park for our first leg. We rode from WP over Ute Pass, joining the Great Divide route through Summit County to Breckenridge, Over Boreas Pass, saw one of the most spectacular sunsets ever and a moose! The perfect hangover cure. After an uneventful first day, we camped the first night a bit past Como a top a ridge that looked far into the valley below. Truly amazing scenery having gone from high alpine to high plains. I think my favorite part of bike packing is to look back and think “damn we came from all the way over there completely on our own” it’s a good feeling.
Day 2 started with a 5 mile spin into Hartsel for a breakfast burrito and coffee. We then continued on the Great Divide route on some amazing dirt roads, to Salida and over to Poncha where we made our first slight mistake by not restocking on food. We ate but didn’t really take anything to pack. Then went over Marshall Pass where we intersected with the Colorado Trail. This was easily the best part of the trip. We timed it perfectly ripping classic CT single track through the golden evening light, stopping to chat with CTR racers going the opposite direction and we even crossed paths with Alexandra Houchin who is the BADDEST ASS on a single speed bike (or any bike really) at the moment and while writing this, found out she won the damn thing! So Sweet. Learn more about her HERE (https://bikepacking.com/news/alexandera-houchin-2019-tour-divide/). I am also SO surprised at how well my Myth bike was handling single track fully loaded, It is the first time I had ridden this bike with bags attached and the geo felt totally balanced and “shredable” even with a lil extra weight around the edges. We found a nice trailside camp spot and despite running out of water in the previous hours, slept like babies.
Day 3 was the hardest day for me physically and mentally. Calling back to the quick pace, I woke up with heavy heavy legs, it was also slated to be our biggest day mileage and climbing wise. We took the CT a few more miles and dropped back out the the high way about 10 miles west of Saguache where we linked into the Rio Grand National Forest and went over Cochetopa Pass. About 75 miles into the day we had eaten the last of our snacks and had realized our mistake of not stocking up in Poncha the previous day. This was the one day of the trip that was nearly 100% back country with no stores or gas stations along the way. Furthermore, we made a bit of a navigation blunder and realized there was no way we would be able to make it to Lake City before dark for some grub. I would like to take this time to publicly apologize to Howard for some things I said that day #hangry. After slogging over Los Pinos Pass, we decided to cut our losses and rest up for an empty stomach push over Slumgullion pass in the morning. All in all it wasn’t that bad and we woke up feeling much better and ready to take it home.
Day 3 had started with single track for breakfast and day 4 started with a mountain pass for breakfast and high motivation for food. We made the best of it pushing over Slumgullion to Lake City where we ate ALLLLLLL the food. Glorious glorious calories. With full stomaches we got extra motivated and it was full gas to our finish line in Durango. I had to laugh when Howard politely asked me if I would mind if he rode tempo pace over Engineer Pass as he was preparing for the Leadville 100 the following weekend. I think said and done he probably beat me to the top by 30+ minutes. It was a big day climbing wise going up and over the amazing Engineer Pass to Silverton and then Molas and Coal Bank back home making it not only mountain passes for breakfast but for lunch and dinner too! A square four pass day for optimal health. It’s funny because the strongest I felt the entire trip was the stretch from Silverton to Durango. We made it back into town around 6pm just in time to shower up and head to the El Rancho Tavern for Pint Night.
This was such a rad route and the best way I could think of to unwind. In the future I would like to keep up the race/bikepack combo deal. They really do balance each other perfectly. Racing is very focused on closed course and the best outlet for my competitive personality while bikepacking is completely free spirited no rules. It’s good for the mind to do both. I am also keen to do some ultra distance races down the road. The CTR has been on my mind for a long time and I finally feel like I am developing the skills to give it a proper go. It has been fun to get into bikepacking this year (and thanks Eric for all the loaner gear!). I am always puzzling over bike set up and the packing element has added a whole nother thing for me to think about late at night. I love reading about pack lists and gear so reach out to me if you’re doing anything unique!
I have no real plans for races the rest of the Summer besides some local Colorado events here and there and possibly the OZ Trails Offroad in Bentonville, AR. Hopefully some more bike packing and big days in the high country now that the snow has become manageable.
Race Set Up:
-Myth Ti Trail Slayer
-Fox 34 SC
-Fox Transfer Seatpost
-Carbon Wheels with Maxxis IKON 2.35s F/R
-Rotor Power Meter
Same as above but I slapped the gears on and a rigid Seatpost, custom King Cage set up for Specialized Swat Box.
–Handle bar roll: Sleeping Bag, lightweight tarp
–Seatbag: Down Jacket, Wool pullover, Riding Vest, Extra Socks, Winter Gloves, Leg Warmers, Rain Jacket
-Top Tube Bag: Phone, Charger, Knife, Snacks
–Osprey Raptor 13: Sleeping Pad, Stove, Arm Warmers, Headlamp, tool, pump, zipties, brake pads, Food.
-2 Big water bottles in the frame and tube/tire lever in the SWAT box
Thanks to Sam Vickery for the blog contribution, and thanks to Howard Grotts (@howardgrotts) for the great photos.