I lined up for the Whiskey 50 along with about 500 other people. I noticed several men with lips quivering in the cold shadows of downtown Prescott. My wind vest and arm warmers will stay on. Local Prescottonian Brad told me that the first climb is in the sun, “don’t worry, you’ll warm up fast.”
A rifle shot from a period costumed cowboy is our starting gun! Lots of people try to click into their pedals in front of me. A few minutes later, I cross the start line and head out onto the course. Riding on pavement for six miles uphill, I resist the urge to chat with my temporary riding companions. Must save breath; we start at an altitude of 5,200 feet and only go up.
Current mantra: breathe in, power out.
The course takes us up and over some mountains, down to Skull Valley, then up and back over some taller mountains. You can view the course map and elevations here.
Lots of Prescott neighbors are out on the course, with cowbells and cheers for everyone passing by. It’s a great day for a race!
We hit the single track and ride for about 100 yards to a bottleneck. The trail U-turns over a creek then heads sharply uphill. Not everyone has the skills to ride this, so we all are brought to a halt as we congregate and wait for our turn. Some people peel off arm warmers and leg warmers. Others snack. I drink some Rango Juice (green energy drink). At last we’re pedaling again.
We continue climbing. There’s a bit of descending and I’m in someone’s way, but there’s nowhere to go due to the narrow trail. Oh, here’s a wide spot where he could pass, but it was uphill, so he dropped farther behind me. I am a climber.
Current mantra: I am a climber.
We hit the section that Brad and I rode a few weeks before when there was patchy snow on the ground. I recall, and not fondly, upcoming water bars (logs or rubber strips built into the trail to keep it from eroding, 12-18 inches high). They are steep and I have to walk them, as do others. Then we descend over some other water bars, some I ride, some I do not. At last, the sweet double track descent! People can pass at will. And a few do, leaving me in clouds of dust.
But I don’t care, descending is fun and the scenery, spectacular. I spot a couple people hiking up the trail and know we must be near the campground. This area signals the beginning of a long and tortuous climb up double track. Slow going, but I actually pass a few people, which affirms I am a climber I am a climber.
We reach the Aid Station on Copper Basin Road. I consume orange slices, granola bar, and pretzels. Now the 9-mile dirt road descent to Skull Valley. What’s this sandy stuff? Can’t fly downhill without traction, so I take it easy for awhile. I see my Southwest Hand CyclingTeammate John and chat briefly. I pass him now, but he passes me later on the climb.
About this “descent,” there are some climbs on the way down. I see the leaders coming back uphill from Skull Valley including enduro kings Beto Villegas and Scott Morris. They finished 5th and 7th, respectively. Great to see familiar faces in the middle of nowhere!
The next Aid Station lacks the promised Port-o-potties, so I don’t stop. Instead, I head back to Copper Basin Road and the climb. I stop to jam a hard-boiled egg in my maw for a protein boost, with Clif Blok chasers. Someone passes and asks if I’m OK, and I sputter “yes” through bits of egg white.
Back on my bike, I pass another woman who I had already passed. She is wearing striped socks. I ask “are you not stopping at Aid Stations?” She replies, “I don’t have a plan,” then adds condescendingly, I think: “I usually ride unsupported.” And I almost had to go off on her and say “Hey, this isn’t my first epic ride, cowgirl.” But instead I said “oh, well there’s pretzels and fruit and stuff if you need it.” Then I pedaled away. Very satisfying.
Of course, she passed me when I had to stop and pee at the tree port-o-pottie, but I eventually passed her again on the endless climb back to the Aid Station. The climb goes slowly, so there is plenty of time to enjoy assorted mountain range views. Some people were walking their bikes. Never!
Current mantra: Breathe in, power out
I thought about the zen of cycling, the circular pedal motion, the circular wheels, I almost put myself to sleep. Need energy.
At last, I see mile post 9 and know the Aid Station is nigh. After that station and more orange slice consumption, the 25 proofers were on the road with us. They were feeling a bit more spry than I. We continued climbing ever upward.
I heard the sound of drums and bells and hoped for the top, but it was just a forest trio hanging out by the road, encouraging all who needed it. I reach the false top, but must continue up a different road to Sierra Prieta overlook. I drink some water and grab a couple orange slices and hit the trail again. Looking forward to a long descent, no matter how sketchy.
I try to stay out of the way on the rocky, narrow trail. I’m bounced around so much that my chain jams and I know if I try to pedal, I will fall. So I coast along at about 20 mph, with jammed chain and a rider right behind me. There is no escape what with the trees and rocks and steep slopes on either side of the trail.
I spot a bail out section and yell “I HAVE TO STOP!” I pull over quickly; he brakes, and narrowly avoids crashing into me. I release my chain from frame bondage and continue on.
The trail widens slightly and I can see farther ahead. I am flying. Riding the endorphin and race is almost over high. Random cheering squad says “this is the last hill, the hill of pleasure.” I ride about 25 yards up it, there is no pleasure. I walk along with everyone else around me. We reach the top and there is more beautiful descending along a creek.
I hit the tricky part of the trail at a creek crossing and walk it. A local photographer has great pictures of the pros at this crossing. A lone spectator encourages me to “ride to the right!” The rest of the trail is a bit rocky and narrow and sort of fun. At last, the pavement of Thumb Butte Road!
Number one race fan Lisa and friend Kerri are there to cheer me on. I fly toward the finish and cross the line in 5 hrs, 53 minutes. Under my 6-hour goal! It’s good enough for 4th place in the Master’s Women Category. I found out later that I might have won a special flask for being on the podium—first five finishers of each category. For complete results, visit the Epic Rides website.
Yay! Another great ride in the mountains of Prescott.
Enjoy my collage of photos and video from amateur and pro races: