Round three of the Sierra Cup Series would take me way up North to Weaverville, CA. About 45 minutes west of Redding, near Whiskeytown Lake where I had raced a month earlier at the Shasta Lemurian (Hard and VERY fun). Don't let this spec on the map fool you though, not only is there some of the best MTB riding but the Trinity Valley is absolutely gorgeous!
La Grange, the fall version, was one of my first few races way back in 2006 when I was still a Clydesdale. I remembered that the trails were very fun, despite an endo on a downhill switchback (yep, sucked at those back then too!). And I think my finish time was 2hrs and 13min if I remember correctly. So I had a target time to beat at least.
After the 3 1/2 hour drive up and an adaquate amount of coffee... I swung a leg over the Highball and set out for a warm up and to check out as much of the course as I could. It's a "lollypop" style course where we'd head out about 3 miles on the same trail we'd return after riding the big loop. It's funny how well I remembered the trails after so many years, and they were still great. It wasn't like I remembered where every bump, rock, root, etc. was but more the general stuff like creek crossings and the general topography. Race time came under cloudy skies and I sprinted up the first hill and set into 3rd wheel. Once we got to the plateau, I was able to keep that pace and pulled up into the lead and made sure to hold it long enough to be first into the singletrack. I kept the pace high but Billy Damon, last year's Open Category 30-39 Super D National Champion and shredder from Auburn (so he can climb too), was right on my wheel. At least I could hear him breathing hard... I certainly was! I stayed in the lead and we put a big gap on the rest of the field in short time, railing the twisting trails of the rolling hills and I only slid off the trail once after overcooking a switchback. After crossing a road we turned up, and I mean really up on a steep climb that just seemed to get steeper until finally giving a little break and a bit of fun downhill which landed us on another dirt road for more, and more climbing. Billy pulled up alongside on his Santa Cruz Blur TRc and we chatted a bit on the steady incline. I asked if he was going to put me to shame today but he said "Nah 45 minutes is about all I've got at this pace." Of course I didn't believe him, but we were about 45 minutes in when the climbing got steep again and I made sure to keep the pace up. He slowly faded back as I climbed the ridge up to the top of the course and was maybe 30 seconds back before most of the climbing was done and out of sight when we'd get into the trees.
The course transitioned to contouring fire road as it began to sprinkle lightly. I came up over a knoll and around a right hand corner when a black bear cub went running across the trail about 30 yards in front of me... WHOA!! Uhh... where's mama bear?!?! I immediately sat up and was looking around for the big beast but didn't see her as I kept rolling and yelling "HEY BEAR!!" loudly hoping to scare them off. As I continued down the trail I was wondering to myself if it was possible to outrun a bear on a mountain bike. They can take shortcuts... hmm. We'll thankfully I didn't have to answer this question, but needless to say this put new meaning to the term "racing scared." The pull tag the promoter had us pin to our shoulder flapping in the wind was freaking me out too, right next to my ear. It sounded like a bear running through the leaves... must, ride, faster! It wasn't long before I rolled down into a creek crossing which required a dissmount, trapsing through ankle high freezing cold water and running up the steep trail on the other side. Good thing that imaginary bear was chasing me or I might have let it get to me how much I hate having cold wet feet!
The course then gave me something else to focus on though as it got back into singletrack, and I mean single. Hardly cut in wide enough for a tire width in places and riding on the spine of an old mining flume was pretty tricky at race speed, especially when it started sleeting! And then hailing! What happened to 67 and sunny?! Weather forcast fail... you never know what you're going to get in the Trinity Valley though. The frozen precipitation only lasted for a few minutes however and turned into a steady light rain as I turned downhill on those tight switchbacks that claimed some of my skin five years ago. I think there's about 10 of them with a few sweepers thrown in the mix that add to the fun, and no crashing this time, guess I've improved a bit. Turns out the rain tacked up the trail PERFECTLY! The Nano's held the dirt like velcro all the way down to the creek trail which resembled the trails I have back home out my front door. Like a giant pump track, twisting around trees with small climbs, descents and tons of flow. I remembered this trail, but forgot how fun it was! About a mile on this one and it was back onto the stem of the "lollypop" and I was boosting the water bars on the descent back to the finish line where they told me I had set a new course record. 1hr 36min... a bit of an improvement over the last time I was here!