True Grit 50….or less

This past weekend was the True Grit 50 down in St. George, UT.  I flew out of Roanoke, VA Friday at 6 a.m. and met Mike H. and the Club Ride van in Salt Lake City somewhere around noon.  It was snowing in Salt Lake and continued to do so for the next 100 miles to the south. Finally, as we dropped down in elevation south of Cedar City, the snow tapered off and the clouds broke up.  There were ‘high-fives’ all around as racers were speculating on just how good the dirt was going to be the next day for the race.

Thanks to Dave Harris for this "dry & clean" pic from the Starting line

Saturday morning the skies were cloudy and we were dry as we rolled out for the 9 a.m. start.  That lasted for about a half an hour.  After that, it rained, and rained some more, and some more.  Soon, there was water flowing down the trails, muddy clay coating every inch of your bike and riding was difficult in some spots and super fun in others.  For me, I was cold.  I wasn’t carrying any extra layers and I was soaked from head to toe in what felt like a 42 degree, windy, rainstorm.  I was cold.  I tried to ride harder, but still could not warm up.  I knew I had only one option, keep riding as hard as I could.  I was still cold.  Then, as if through some ‘spit in your face’ twisted sense of humor sort of way, my brake pads shed the last of their ‘pad’ and the retaining clips sucked into the rotors.  I’d had this happen before (ironically enough in another windy rainstorm at the 24 Hrs of Targhee) and was fairly certain that I knew what I had just heard happen.  My brakes were essentially non-functioning, but somehow were dragging quite noticeably on the rotors.  Great!  Now I have brakes that drag on the climbs, but don’t offer much assistance on the descents.  I kept riding.  I was still cold. The riding was still fun!

Thanks to Bryce for documenting the misery. I believe there's "spittle" hanging from my chin.

Somewhere in the darkest & most miserable moments out there, I decided that I was going to finish this race, no matter what.  If I had to carry my bike, so be it.  I had to pick a single goal and focus entirely on it, and ‘finishing’ was it.  It was the only way to block out the misery and discomfort that I was physically experiencing.  Besides, I was pretty sure I was the 2nd place SS, the riding was still quite fun, and I kind of wanted that result!  While my fitness and speed are surely lacking right now, I do know that I can be tough and can be as stubborn as I need to be, and I figured that either would get me through.

Thanks to Dave Harris for this photo of the desert mud!

After finishing my second lap on Barrel Roll, I was psyched to ride the last 8 miles generally back toward the finish line.  When I rolled through the Aid Station, they told me that the race was ‘canceled’ and that everyone was being pulled from the course.  To that, I replied “So, if I keep riding and do the last 8 miles, it won’t count?”  The answer was “Nope.”  I was a little peaved, but didn’t have time to dwell on it because every second I stood there, I was shaking more and more.  I hopped on my bike, dropped down to the highway and began pedaling.  The 6 miles or so back to the Finish area gave me a chance to reflect on what had transpired.

...headed to the Perch for some TLC.

The race was canceled because of deteriorating trail conditions and dangerously wet & cold conditions for the riders.  I agree with the first one, but personally, I disagree with the second one.  I can only speak for myself, but I was fully aware of what I was doing out there.  I knew that I was flirting with the edge of what I could tolerate.  I knew that keeping moving was my only option and, even that, was barely enough to keep me from becoming hypothermic.  I was aware of it, and I embraced it.  I decided to accept the risks of riding with numb hands knowing that, if I had a mechanical, I wouldn’t be able to fix it and would just have to push or carry my bike.  I simply don’t like someone telling me when something is too bad for me to handle.  That’s my decision to make.  However, I also understand that, as a Race Director, you can’t have that mentality and that there has to be a higher level of safety there.  The other thing that the organization had the foresight to realize was that they and their EMS staffing could’ve quickly found themselves overwhelmed by the number of racers needing attention/evacuation if the race had been allowed to continue. They absolutely made the right call.

The second, and much more compelling reason, for canceling the race was due to the increasing level of potential trail damage that was occurring.  This one, I definitely get.  If you want to keep your event ‘alive’ and happening year after year, you’d best not destroy the public trails on which your given permission to race!  It’s simple, really.  There is already the misperception by many land managers that mountain bikes cause significant trail impact.  The last thing we need to do is showcase just how much damage we can do to a trail when racing in wet conditions in the desert.  As I later discovered, there was a BLM employee on the course who made the call of when to cancel the race.  I was glad to hear that the call was made by the land management agency themselves.

In the end, I wish there had been a way to abbreviate the race and still give everyone the opportunity to ‘finish’.  This would have at least provided a finishing ‘order’ and given racers some sort of closure or vision on how their race went.  In hindsight, it’s probably easy to pick a few things that could’ve been done differently.  However, in the moment, you don’t have the luxury of hindsight and decisions must be made quickly based on a dynamic situation.  The folks at GroPromotions made the right decisions and did a fantastic job in putting together a great event.  The permitting for this event would have been enough to scare off many race promoters.  Instead, GroPromotions creatively found solutions to every hurdle they faced and were able to put together an incredible 50 mile course consisting of some of the best and most technical trail I’ve ever seen on a race course.  It’s full of steep punchy climbs, high speed descending, and copious amounts of technical challenges.  There’s no doubt, I’ll be back in 2012!


~ by ketchumgreg on March 29, 2011.

4 Responses to “True Grit 50….or less”

  1. Eloquent post

    • Wow! Thanks Lynda! I really struggle with writing. It does not come easily and I usually feel like I didn’t really say what I was trying to say….!
      Anyway, it was great seeing you and Dave out there. Nice riding through Zen, BTW! You were flying through there!


  2. Nice writeup Greg and great attitude. It is always easy to criticise a race director but very few are willing to wear that hat. I hope Gro Promotions moves forward with the race next year. Love the red Black Cat.

    • Thanks Dave-
      Yeah, a lot of ‘racers’ are….well, um, how you say…”self-absorbed idiots!” 🙂 Many have no idea of what is involved with even getting permission to put on a race, let alone executing one.

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