This past Saturday was Excruciation Exam. It’s a race that’s been on our bucket list and things finally fell into place to do it…well, sort of. It was a 78 mile xc mountain bike race which starts in Warda, TX at Bluff Creek Ranch with about 8 miles of single track, then heads out on paved and jeep roads for a 30 mile trip to Smithville, TX to ride 19 more miles of single track at Rockyhill Ranch, turn back around for 20 more miles on the roads back to Warda, and then finish off with a final mile of single track heading to the finish. Two weeks before this race we had gone back home to El Paso for Christmas. We got to enjoy the wonderful climb through Transmountain over and over and over. On the last day there, we attempted a super steep, mean joke of a climb, on a road that is only POINT eight miles to the top to get to the El Paso Tramway. The AVERAGE grade on this climb is a mere 13.5%! Long story short, we made it not only once, but twice up to the top, and the mean joke part is that the final ascent tops out at a whopping 21% grade…OUCH! That hurt! We made sure to take plenty of pictures at the top because I really don’t know if I want to do that again..EVER. Ha!
Soooo, we drove back from El Paso the Saturday after Christmas, and on Sunday night, Monday morning, Carlos was welcomed home with the stomach flu. 😦 Poor guy was SO sick as we rang in the New Year on the couch under the blankets. He quickly bounced back in a day and a half and next thing you know we were riding New Year’s Day at Solavaca Ranch. When we got home we checked the 10 day forecast for Smithville and Warda. Through the past week WeatherChannel.com had been teasing us with a chance of rain. It would go from 60% to 30% to 10%, and at the last-minute went back to 30%. We decided to bite the bullet and wish for the best so we signed up for the race. When we raced Tyler in the fall there was a high chance of rain and the morning of race day it came down just enough to make the trail perfectly tacky, so we were hoping for a repeat! Unfortunately, Wednesday was now my special day to get the stomach flu. Dang. My only hope to race was watching Carlos bounce back so fast from his stomach flu. In the back of my mind I really wasn’t sure if I would be healthy enough, but I wanted to at least give my body the opportunity to get well. So, chicken soup, Sprite Zero mixed with Elete, along with Vitamin C, Una de Gato tea, and B-12 were my weapons in battle. On Friday I kept telling Carlos that by Saturday morning I would be GOLDEN! I figured if I kept repeating it to myself surely it would happen!
We headed out to Warda early Friday afternoon. Nearly the entire drive down there it was raining. Things were not looking very promising. On a more positive note, as the day went on I was feeling better and better, and my energy seemed to be coming back. We picked up our race numbers at the ranch that evening and to our surprise the ground was fairly dry. Yay! We had a good night’s sleep and woke up bright and early for the 7:30am start. Walking outside the door of our hotel we could see that it had rained a little over night. Hopefully it was just enough to make the trail nice.
In the pre-race meeting they announced that not only was it going to be a le mans start, but we were going to be running half a mile around a field before hoping on our bikes! What?!? That’s the reason I started riding a bicycle in the first place, because I wasn’t able to run anymore. Now we were going to have to do it in a WET field, with CARBON shoes…perfect! So they blew the whistle and nearly 100 of us took off together through the field. With every step I was praying to God that I wouldn’t twist an ankle, or eat it in the dirt. As I jumped on my bike I took off hard through the field fighting for a solid position into single track. I saw Carlos up ahead, and as far as I could see I was the second girl entering into the trail behind Sarah. As I rode through Bluff Creek I was amazed at how awesome my legs felt! I made a pass a few miles into the trail and I was in first, but there was still a lot of race left! I made my way out of the ranch and headed onto the road. I was in a group of about eight guys and we had a pretty fancy pace. We were slowly inching in on riders up the road and the pace line was getting longer and longer. Our group grew into about fifteen of us and when I looked up to the front, what do ya know? It was CARLOS and he was pulling; but when I looked a few minutes later, he was still pulling, and then a few minutes later he was STILL pulling! I knew he must have been feeling good, but there were plenty of people for only one to do all the work. So I put in an effort to get close enough to the front so that I could yell at him and that I did! 🙂 “CARLOS get out of the front!!!! Quit doing all the work!” He glanced over his shoulder and peeled off toward the back like a little kid that just got in trouble. Hehe The guys behind him looked back at me and chuckled. I looked at them and said, “I know what you guys are doing! We all need to share the load!” From that point on the group worked together pretty well and we booked it pretty good to Smithville. Somewhere along the 30 mile ride a rain cloud decided to join us and tag along the rest of the day. Therefore, this made Rockyhill Ranch a bit more interesting. The trail was slick as could be, and our experience on mud (which is none) didn’t help us at all! We kept the pace pretty chill and just went with the flow. Everything was okay until we got to this tiny punchy climb that Carlos spun out of at the top. He made it over, but I had to unclip mid climb. When I put my foot down the mud was so slippery that my foot slipped! I put my hand down to catch myself and then my hand slipped, and there I went rolling onto my side full of mud! When I was finally able to unclip my other foot out of my pedal, it took me several tries before I could get my bike and myself over the hill. I kept falling over and over and over! Now my shoes had about a two-inch layer of mud at the bottom and I couldn’t clip in. Carlos patiently waited for me to finish throwing a fit and we finally got going again. A few miles later a fellow rider, and someone we know, crashed right in front of us. He was laying on his back, bike on one side and him on the other screaming, “My leg! My leg!” We moved all our bikes out of the trail and checked out the situation. We asked if he was injured or just cramping. He said he thought he might be just cramping. So we reached into our jersey and gave him one of our pocket flasks of Elete Add-in, told him to put a few drops under his tongue and his cramps would be gone soon. At this time two riders came up and a girl asked, “Is everybody all right?” As soon as we responded, her and the the guy with her zoomed on by. I quickly looked over to Carlos with anxiety in my face and said, “She’s in my group!!! What do I do?!?” He said, “Go Baby! GO! I’ll make sure he’s ok! You go catch her!” So I took off and in no time I was right behind them! The guy was leading and asked her if she wanted to pass. She said no, but he slowed and pulled to the side anyway. I knew this was my chance, so I said, “I’ll go! You two have a good ride!” I kept a pretty good pace, but I put my foot down on some slick roots and had to get off my bike. Next thing I knew the choo choo train of Kim, the guy who was in front of her, and Carlos caught me. The two went by and Carlos waited for me again.
Most of Rockyhill seems like a muddy blur to me. All I remember after that is the last two miles of muddy, clay like madness! It was like Ute Valley all over again! My wheels wouldn’t roll, my shoes wouldn’t clip in, and from all the caked up mud I was carrying around a 30+ lbs bike. It was a suffer fest! Every 10 feet or so I was grabbing another stick to chunk the gobs off my wheels. I knew Kim was probably long gone by then and as I became more frustrated with the damage that was being done right in front of my eyes to our once pristine bikes, we shifted our focus to just finishing and not letting any other girls catch us. The last two miles of the trail were absolutely brutal. I think I even almost cried. I was so thankful to be back on the jeep road headed back to the transition area. We switched out our bottles and stopped at the bike wash before leaving the ranch.
The roads were wet and mud was flicking in our faces left and right on the way back to Warda. We were in a small group of about six guys and we all worked together. It seemed like the only hills of the whole road course were strategically placed on the way back instead of on the way out. In the last half mile before entering the ranch we toned down the pace to start cooling down. The final mile of single track was like a breath of fresh air just knowing it was almost over. Crossing through the finish line we had one arm around each other as we rolled through together. It was such an emotional moment for me to finish this grueling journey side by side next to the man who rocks my world. That day he was just that, my rock! We were frozen muddy popsicles and it was hours before we got all the feeling back in our fingers. The gentleman of the ranch house had such amazing hospitality that when he saw Carlos starting to turn colors he rushed him to a warm shower to thaw off. A hot shower sure does have new meaning!
I guess this race officially marks the end of our “base miles.” As for now it’s time to shift our focus toward the upcoming race season which is right around the corner. Four and a half weeks and counting…until next time!