Monday, October 31, 2016

Sufferfest Dirt Fondo

This was a total random spur of the moment race/ride that I only really signed up for because I saw an ad in a printed bike publication and thought, why not?! (Am I the only person who still sees events in those printed local newspapery things and makes decisions based on them?!) I had never been to Pedaler's Fork before, and never ridden dirt in Calabasas so it seemed like a good opportunity to do something new/ride with new people. Plus I always heard the food at Pedaler's Fork is out of this world good! And double bonus, there was a cash prize for the first male and female finisher... so that may have been motivation as well :)

Well the Pedaler's Fork did not disappoint in being the cutest restaurant on the planet, and at only an hour and 15 minute drive from Silverado, I was already stoked when I arrived. It did rain a bit as I was sitting in the van getting kitted up, but the rain stopped for the start, and the first hour of the ride was glorious.
Our route and elevation. The loop to the left was the first loop. 
The whole ride was 45 miles made up of two loops, both of which began at Pedaler's Fork. We started with 3 miles of road out to Millennium trail, and when we hit the dirt we were greeted with some awesome switchbacks and a pretty hefty climb. The ride was advertized as a 'gravel/dirt fondo' so a lot of people brough cross bikes, including me. I also happened to bring my race hardtail because the gearing on the cross bike scared me and since I wasn't sure what the weather was going to do. I was pretty stoked on my choice to ride the Felt Nine because the gearing was easy enough that I rode all the switchbacks all those cross nerds had to run :)

The initial climb earned us this amazing descent on a sweet smooth/narrow strip of dirt benched into the hillside, just ripping down to a random dog park.

Now I'm used to dudes passing me on descents, in pretty much every mass start event I do, I climb hard and then get passed a bunch on the descent by dudes who rip. This time there was a very strange turn of events and I was passing dudes on the DH! Not just dudes on cross bikes too!

When we hit the road though I was kinda lost so I sat up and let some of those dudes catch me back, haha. I followed a group of three guys for the next portion of road out to a fire road where there was much course confusion due to missing flags at the turns (rumor has it hikers pulled the course flags?!).

It began raining when we were on the road, a light sprinkle that was just enough to turn the dirt on the remainder of the first loop into thick clay that did NOT like bikes. I have never ridden in conditions like this, so initially it was SUPER frustrating to have the clay pack up so much on my front tire that it literally stopped my bike and no amount of watts could force the bike forward. I would stop, wipe the mud off my tires, start riding again and within 30 seconds come to a complete halt again. I think the most frustrating part was that visually it LOOKED like the trail consisted of primo hero dirt, so inviting and tacky looking, but in reality it was just 2 inches of wet clay. For a little while riding in the grass on the side of the trail worked, but eventually that wasn't an option either and we all ended up shouldering our bikes and walking, clay caking up on the bottom of our shoes with each step. There was much swearing, until we had walked so much that it got ridiculous, and then the swearing and frustration turned to laughs and humor. Thankfully the fire road was littered with dudes walking or stopped wiping off their tires, so I was not alone in the suffering. We weren't even done with the first loop...
At some point we were able to pedal again, but the bike was so caked in clay that it felt like I was riding with a handful of brakes. Also I just have to say I was pretty pleased with my CrankBrothers Candy 11 pedals, even with cleats and pedals caked in clay I just hopped on, pushed down and pretty quickly I was clipped in, didn't have to waste any time cleaning mud out of my pedals. Thanks pedals, for being so freaking awesome!

When the fire road of clay from hell finally spit us out on pavement I was overjoyed. Also lost, again I let some dude catch me so I could use their sense of direction to not get lost.

When we rolled into the Pedaler's Fork parking lot at the end of loop 1 it was pretty clear not very many people had any desire to complete loop 2. I think they all though it would be more hiking in clay. I was too dumb/stubborn to call it a day though (I didn't drive all the way to Calabasas to ride 20 miles!) so I rolled out of the parking lot alone to attempt loop 2.

Well I pretty much immediately got lost and spent about 10 minutes riding in circles looking for course markings, and then consulting strava, where I had downloaded the map ahead of time, but had a hard time finding it.

Eventually a lone rider appeared, the last person to decide to ride the whole Fondo! I don't remember this guy's name (I am a major ass, but I met so many dudes yesterday... it's so hard to keep track of them all!!) but he basically saved the day because his garmin was able to tell us on the fly if we were on course! Without this dude I would have been out there ALL day looking at the map, questioning myself... I am so lucky someone behind me choose to do the whole thing.

Photo cred: Derek's ridic video :)
Anyway, we climbed a HUGE hill, I hit a sweet jump and before we knew it we were back at the Pedaler's Fork! After the huge hill (which was very steep, so thanks again Felt Nine for having such low gearing) I found out I was in 5th place overall, out of 6 but who cares, so I tried to ditch the dude whose Garmin had saved the day, but then I got lost, again, and had to wait for him, hahahahaha. In the end we finished together 5th and 6th of the 6 total people who did both loops (more than 100 people started the ride... 6 finished).

And then I drank a coke, ate the most amazing veggie burger of my life and hung out with Derek (the best mechanic team Ridebiker ever had!) and Roger from Kenda... it doesn't get much better than that!

All in all it was a pretty epic day for a 45 mile 'race'. Between the 3 miles of hiking with 20 extra pounds of mud on my bike, to being lost pretty much the whole time, it was the perfect combination of physical and mental challenge that made such a short distance such a sufferfest. Oh and I got stung by a bee in my butt because I thought I would be cool and rock baggies, which meant the bee flew up my shorts, got stuck, panicked and stung me. As if my butt wasn't big enough already! Thanks baggies.
Why yes, I did steal this from instagram... hence the very poor quality. This is the 'podium' shot... hahaha
I didn't take any pictures because I was busy being lost and trying to conserve cell phone battery and also covered in mud, but I'm kinda bummed now because the scenery was out of this world. Also I've seen pictures from Dirty Kanza (I think in 2015) where the riders have all shouldered their bikes and are walking through a field and I totally had a moment where I felt like I was there... but I didn't have 200 miles to cover. Something about moving so slowly and knowing how far you have to go/not knowing how long it will be muddy makes you feel equal parts despair and panic, I can't imagine that feeling in a 200 mile race!

Moral of the story, add this dirt Fondo to your list of Must Do events for next year! It was a blast, I think because of the suffering but also because there were so many cool people there. There's something about suffering with a big group, sharing a ridiculous mud filled hike a bike heavy day with a bunch of randos who also thought it was a good idea when we started in the am!

Huge thanks to Pedaler's Fork and Sufferfest Brewery for putting on such a fun off season event and getting me out to Calabasas to ride, finally!

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