The Singlespeed World Championships are hard to describe to your parents. "Yes, it is exciting!" "No, I didn't have to qualify. It's not that kind of world championship." "No, I don't know exactly what day the race is." "Or how long it is." "Or how many people are doing it." "It's funny, winner has to get a tattoo! Yes, a tattoo. Yes, has to. No, like, right then." "Don't worry, there's no chance of me getting a tattoo." The whole thing is, in the words of one of my best friends, "a total goat rodeo" (although some years are worse than others--looking at you Anchorage '14). It's also a total blast, a crystallization of everything that I love most about mountain biking, and I'd recommend it to anyone--or at least anyone who doesn't mind getting passed by the occasional naked guy.
This fall two of my best friends and I took a trip to Bend, OR, to compete in the 2018 edition of the race. It hadn't been held in the US since Anchorage in 2014, so I was excited that it was striking distance from Park City.
Right from the start things couldn't have come together more perfectly. My friends Kevin and Tom--who got me in to mountain biking and then singlespeeding, respectively--were both able to get the time off to meet there, and Tom had a place for us to stay. Bend is striking distance from Park City (although 10 hours pushes even my definition of "striking distance"), and my work situation was flexible enough that I could work remotely for a few days, which made the PTO situation a little easier to manage.
I pulled in Thursday morning, picked Tom up from the airport, and settled in to work for a few hours while he put his bike together. That evening was a brewery crawl hosted by the one and only Carl Decker, a Bend native multi-time winner of both the National (serious) and World (obviously not) singlespeeding titles. Kevin hadn't arrived yet, so Tom and I joined what is undoubtedly the largest bike posse I've ever been a part of (apologies to the good motorists of Bend, and thank you for your patience). We made it to I think 4 stops before I was so cold I thought I was going to crash my bike (desert plateaus man--you'd think I'd know better living in Utah, but they get cold once the sun goes down) and we peeled off to go grab Kevin from his after-work flight.
After a little more work Friday morning we met up with a gaggle of Tom's friends from across the mountain west for one of the best rides I had all season. We rode a 20 mile-ish loop west of town, connecting North Fork Trail to Flagline Trail to South Fork, and it was stellar from start to finish. The climb was great--smooth and rolling, with views of Mt. Bachelor and a water break at a beautiful waterfall overlook. The descent was a high speed pine slalom, with the occasional rock garden that would jump out of nowhere and try to take your lunch money. Fortunately we all kept the rubber side down, and were able to make it to the evening's pre-race party.
In keeping with the spirit of the event, the next year's host nation is decided via a competition held the night before the race. We missed the qualifying rounds of this year's competition, but the finals were spectacular. The two semifinalist delegations were given a cardboard bike box and a few rolls of duct tape, and they had to build a raft and race it across the Deschutes River and back (in an unexpected turn of responsible-ness, there were safety boaters on hand). The delegation from New York State won in a landslide, but in a gesture of magnanimity gave the bid to Slovenia, on the condition that it be held in New York the following year. Although given the nature of the thing, lord knows if that'll be how it ends up going down or not.
The race itself took place Saturday morning. It was a 50-ish mile point-to-point course, purpose built by Carl, and totally unmapped. The race was huge--around 700 people took part, but I'm sure no one has an exact count. We had a neutral roll-out on pavement for a few miles before getting on to some logging roads, at which point things began in earnest.
Almost immediately after the "starting line" was a death pit of huge rocks buried under 10 inches of the finest moon-dust powder I've ever seen. We'd been warned, so everyone came into it at a dead sprint and then tried to bounce/surf their way through. In the exact middle someone had put a twenty on a stick a few inches above the ground and was hassling people to try to grab it. I declined, not wanting to get run over when I inevitably fell trying to grab it, and focused on breathing through my nose while wishing I'd had the foresight to bring a dust mask.
After the dust pit we climbed for probably 15 miles (GPSs were officially frowned upon, so it's hard to say for sure), until we got to the base of a massive pumice cone. Everyone had to dismount and hike-a-bike up the shoulder of the cone, because if you ain't hikin' you ain't bikin'! At the top there was a beer and hotdog feed, followed by the gnarliest descent of my life.
In retrospect I should have been prepared by the first moon-dust pit, but at the time I was surprised by a 700 vertical foot, 25 degree, log-flume style descent down off the cone. I was probably the 200th person through, so the surface had already been churned into a powdery mess and so much dust had been kicked up that you could barely tell where the ground ended and the air began. I decided pretty quickly that I wasn't any less likely to take a digger walking than I was riding, so I more or less sat on my rear wheel and steered with my hips, relying on the endos in front of me to forecast downed trees or particularly immovable rocks.
A few miles after that I reconnected with Kevin, and the remaining 20 miles were (thankfully) tamer (although that admittedly doesn't say much). Highlights included a frozen margarita stop around mile 30, getting a beer hand-up from what I assume was Santa's Dead-head half brother, Carl Decker's father playing trombone in a tuxedo in the middle of goddamn nowhere, being super ready to be done riding around mile 45, and being actually done riding around mile 55 (I think???). The finish-line party ran out of beer in a predictable hurry, so we jumped back on our bikes (hooray....) and pedaled back into town.
That evening the winners (male and female) got their tattoos, and the DFL prize--a chainsaw carving of her face as she crossed the finish line--was given out to a woman on the back of a tandem who apparently has a much stronger marriage than I thought possible.
I'm not sure whether it was everything I expected or something beyond my wildest dreams, or a strange combination of both. Either way it was unforgettable :)