Slippin and Sliding Through the Texas Hill Country Gnar!!
Round 2 Kodiak Tough Southern Enduro Tour: Camp Eagle, Rock Springs TX March 3-5
WOW! What a crazy weekend this turned out to be! There are races, and then there are incredible adventures that actually change you a little bit as a rider and a person. This was the latter and I’m stoked that I was able to share the experience with so many super cool people!
The weekend started off with a 7 hour drive from Dallas down to Rock Springs and the beautiful facility known as Camp Eagle 2017. Word on the street was that the gnar factor here was going up exponentially and I was pumped to put in some work on the Giant Bicycles USA Trance Advanced. It would also be the first ride on the new Ano Lab designed Industry Nine Enduro 305 wheels. We awoke on Friday to darn near perfect weather for our pre ride of the 8 all new stages. “Wind Zip” was the first stage I dropped into and it was quickly evident that the Trance was the right choice! Chunky, loose, and fast were the first three words that came to mind. Run after run, the smiles just grew and all I heard were sentiments of pure enduro stoke coming from all those who’d ripped down these killer runs!
We finally took a break to fuel up on some Skratch Labs hydration and a serving of Endurance Recovery Mix. The plan was to chill for a bit, check out the facility, then rip the final 3 stages after some lunch. Camp Eagle is an adventure camp “nestled in a beautiful and rugged environment that is perfect for the casual camper, outdoor adventurer, or extreme sports enthusiast.” In a single word, it’s RAD!! Imagine the coolest summer camp you can think of, throw in an incredible staff of outdoor oriented and incredibly friendly young people, added to some awesome accommodations, and cap it off with a LEGIT race setup from Kodiak Tough!
The Barn area that housed the Expo was totally next level! Right outside of it was a new pump track that would actually be the finish of the final stage of the weekend. Just walking around and checking out the vendor promenade, I couldn’t help but smile and think about how much this sport has grown the past few years!
The rest of the afternoon’s pre riding was awesome and it was time to get the steed cleaned up and ready for the long weekend of racing. Talk of impending weather floated around the facility and people were game planning on what to do when the rain rolled in. After feasting on some food my amazing wife had prepared, it was off to bed early for me.
We awoke to a heavy mist and made our way to the Expo area as it blanketed the terrain. The looks of concern were abundant as the riders meeting concluded and we headed off to the first liaison. It was only a matter of time before the heavier rain rolled in and the mindset was to get the day’s runs completed as quickly as possible. The group headed up the mountain to Stage 1, Amphitheater: After doing all I could to alleviate my Trance of the muddy buildup, I affixed my goggles and got set to drop in and start what would surely be a race to remember. I knew conditions would be slick and the plan was to play it safe and keep it upright. With this in my mind, I watched young gun @jimmy smith ABSOLUTELY rip into the start immediately in front of me. I was shell shocked as the starter counted me down “3,2,1, GO!” As I crept through the first few turns, I couldn’t help but think about how fast Jimmy had just gone through this same section. Knowing that’s no way to race a stage, I did my best to put it out of my mind. It didn’t work. Mistake after mistake mounted and I actually missed a clearly marked turn. I tried to stay calm as I counted the seconds I was losing and got back on the trail. I rounded the final right hander and headed toward what might be the gnarliest section of the run; a super steep A/B line with a rock drop into the finish. I charged into as the crowd cheered and my heart sank as my left foot came out of the pedal just as I dropped off. I knew it was gonna end badly, but I kept my wits about me and did everything I could to keep my bike pointed towards the finish. As I was flipping over onto my back and hoping not to break anything, I heard that familiar sound of my timing chip beeping. I jumped up, dusted off my ZOIC Clothing and rolled over to group of riders that had assembled to see the carnage. Certainly not a good way to start, but it could’ve been WAY worse.
The transfer up to Stage 2, “Wind Zip,” wasn’t bad. I was ready for this one! By far the most pedaly stage of the race, I dropped in and tried to lay it down! It just wasn’t there. Try as I might, my legs just felt like concrete. It’s such a horrible feeling to know mid stage that you are giving up valuable seconds to some fast dudes. I focused on staying clean and not adding insult to injury. The finish couldn’t come quickly enough and I put it behind me as I headed to the next stage.
Stage 3, “Antenna Express,” was super cool and had some rowdy sections. My thought process was to do all I could to maintain speed and pump through as many sections as possible. The trail was incredibly slick and you had to finesse it as much as you could to keep it upright. I headed into a section of switchbacks, looking ahead, I eyed my exit point and kept me feet in the pedals and stayed as smooth as possible. I hit the last turn, a loose right hander, and opened it up through the finish. I finally felt decent about a run as I transitioned to the fourth and final stage of the day.
“Armadillo Slide” would be the final stage of the day and although the shortest, it would certainly be a test of bike handling ability. Slow rocky swithbacks and slick rock shelves made up the majority of this one. I took quite a bit of time during the pre ride to eye up as many lines as possible and all I wanted to do at this point was hit each one them…speed be damned. Turn after turn, slowly picking my way through, I got to the bottom basically unscathed and had to be happy the day was complete without any major carnage to speak of.
Straight back to one of the 3 bike washes the folks at Camp Eagle had set up for us and there it was time to take stock of my bike and body to see what I’d need to do in preparation for an even spicier day tomorrow. After replenishing my body with some Skratch ERM and an over ripe banana, I got the Trance ready for day 2 and rolled in to shower the muck off.
Although I wanted to head straight to bed, there was no way I was missing one of the coolest components of these Kodiak Tough events, the Saturday evening “Enduro Fellowship!” Hanging out and hearing all the crazy stories and seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces is what this game is all about! From big wheel drift races, to one upping OTB stories, it was all there amongst this group hardcore adventure seekers! After a great dinner in the massive dining hall, I had no choice but to retire my aching body back to our room for what I hoped would be a night of restful and recuperative sleep. To no avail, I tossed and turned all night, no doubt in anticipation of what was to come.
The morning sun rose to reveal rain soaked trails and promises of certain tribulation. I accepted it would be a day filled with challenges, but I couldn’t help but chuckle as I made my way over to the riders meeting and saw faces with deep smiles etched into them. Mother nature, you may have rained on our parade so to speak, but you won’t soak our spirit!
Out we forged, as a collective of riders, into the unknown. Many expressed concern, some were downright scared, but it was to be epic for sure! The transfer up to Stage 5 was brutal. Bike’s were broken and the mud was collecting at a furious pace. Some people literally stopped rolling at times and had to do what they could to scrape it off and keep pushing upward. The top of the first climb was a minefield of riders scavenging for anything they could find to help coerce the debris from their drive trains. After doing my due diligence in this regard, I made my way to the start of “Warp.” Such a fitting name for stage that starts pointed straight down a super steep jeep road! Talk of speeds well into the 40’s rang in my ear as I clipped into the HT-components T1 pedals and ripped it for all I was worth. About 30 pedal strokes in, and with speed rapidly increasing, I looked to my left and thought to myself “You have to be kidding me!” As I made eye contact with the deer that was quickly intersecting the same section of real estate I was headed, I couldn’t help but think about how cool this actually was! Come on, how often do you almost hit a deer IN A RACE RUN!? I hit the brakes, avoided disaster and did everything I could to try and minimize the time I’d surely just lost. I took a bit of solace in the fact that a group of spectators actually witnessed this event and could corroborate my story. Once you drop into the single track, things got interesting. This was by far my favorite stage during pre riding, but that’s when things were dry and now it felt like a sheet of ice. Mistake after mistake, but I kept it upright and slowly worked through the finish. Its times like these where the frustration can really get the best of you. I started the day well over 40 seconds back of Jimmy Smith and only 3 ahead of Jeremiah Work, and I was quite sure I’d just given more time up to each of them. It didn’t take long for me to come back to an all important mantra: You can’t win the Championship at this race, but you can sure as heck lose it!
It was back up the mountain to Stage 6, Oh Shoot. Another shorter, but rowdy stage nonetheless. The top is super rocky with some switchbacks and you just couldn’t over ride it. After getting that section out of the way, I navigated the rocky split and tried to open it up on the short jeep road section before turning left and dropping down in to the bottom of the stage. Speed picks up quickly here and there’s a loose left through a few trees that can be fairly treacherous. No worries though as a quick feather of the rear brake would sort me out…nope. My stomach sank for a second as my finger buried the lever nearly against the handlebar. I pumped it a few times and got some feel back before I ripped into the two jump section immediately before the finish. It’s pretty amazing how a cheering crowd and camera flash can INSTANTLY make things better. Another fun run that I stayed up right, and that’s all I could ask for.
I took a look at my covered Trance and knew it needed a mid race cleaning. Over to the Team Trail Party pit is where I headed and we laughed about the weekends events as we did our best to get the steeds ready for two more stages. We arrived at Stage 7, “Wagon Horn,” and were met with about 6 abandoned bikes. Not really sure what to think, we quickly found out that riders were surveying the scene of the A/B line soon after the start. What to do?? I dropped in, planning full well to stick with the line I’d pre ridden, and did just that. But I let the conditions get in my head and scrubbed way more speed than I needed. Once I was through it, it was back on the gas as hard as could to get to the jeep road and pedal like mad. The bottom flow track section of berms and jumps was brutal but fun, and the ending was a welcome relief. ONE MORE LEFT!
We all knew Texas Moon had the potential to be carnage. We transitioned up it on day 1 and it was brutal. More rain would only make it worse and my thought as we rolled up to the start was simple, just get down in one piece. I dropped in and immediately felt like a pin ball. I was along for the ride and just tried to keep my weight neutral, look ahead, and maintain what little speed I could. After what seemed like an eternity, I hit the grassy section and opened it up with every last ounce of adrenaline I had left. I could hear the cheers and cowbells coming from the expo area and was nearly vomiting as I hit the pump track. It felt like Velcro, but I just kept pushing forward through the finish flags. Five minutes of collecting myself was enough to let me reflect on what had just transpired. Surviving that race, in those conditions, with that group of people, was an experience I’ll likely never forget.
As I stood there and watched rider after rider come through, digging deeper than they’d ever had, fighting for those last few seconds, that damn smile just kept getting bigger and bigger. I love this sport. I love this community. I was proud to stand on that podium in 3rd place, surrounded by a group of crazy fast guys. However, I couldn’t but be as proud of all the riders around me. Just finishing was an absolute win for many and that’s where the celebration is.
Looking forward to Round 3 at Iron Mountain Arkansas April 2-4, gonna be another crazy battle!!
As always, a MASSIVE thank you to the people and companies that have given me the amazing support and allowed me to be a part of all this: Plano Cycling & Fitness Giant Bicycles Allmountainstyle.com Stikrd.com 7 Protection Skratch Labs Zoic Clothing HT Components Salomon Suunto