Thursday, August 18, 2005

Leadville 100 Bicycle Race

At last: the chronicle of our trip out west August 12-15 to crew my brother in his 11th Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race in Leadville, Colorado.

Helen and I flew to Denver on Friday, August 12. My mom picked us up at the airport and we spent the afternoon with her cousin and old friend Marie, who has lived in Denver since the 1940s. Then Helen and I set off for Leadville in my mom's Nissan Sentra; we arrived at about 7:00 pm. That night I couldn't sleep so I walked down Harrison Ave. and into the Scarlet Bar, a seemingly rough-and-tumble place that was actually quite friendly.

As I walked in, a 300-pound mountain of a guy growled at me, "How old are you?" Surely I didn't look underage. Then I thought I caught a twinkle in his eye so I answered in my best prospector voice, "I'm as old as the hills." He squinted, grinned almost imperceptibly, and then waved me in.

I ordered a drink and then played, and lost, a game of 8-ball with a Latino dude who was miles better than me. The game was pretty close only because I sank three balls on three straight slop shots -- shots where I missed my intended target but one of my other balls dropped anyway. I sank another ball on a scratch. You don't get to shoot again after a slop shot or scratch, but without them I probably would have left all my balls on the table. This guy dispatched me with cool efficiency.

After the pool game I raised my mug of PBR to a skinny chap with a big bushy cowboy mustache and he came over. "Wild Bill's my name," he said. "What's yours?" "Mild Chris," I replied. "Oh, O.K., well, I won't hold that against you," he said with a smile.

We had a lovely chat. Wild Bill is a former barback and bouncer (surely the world's smallest bouncer ever) who now makes a living leading a concrete finishing crew that works all over the Colorado high country. We got to talking about his family. He has eight sisters. His lone brother was killed in a solo motorcycle accident a week after returning home from Desert Storm in 1991. "When I see him again in Heaven, I'm going to kick his ass," he said.

The next morning, Saturday August 13, we got up at 5:30 am to see Greg and his friends Kevin and Jeremy off from the starting line at 6:30 am. Then Helen and I went for our traditional post-start breakfast at the Columbine Cafe on Harrison Ave.

I drove Helen ahead to the 40 mile checkpoint at Twin Lakes, dropped her off there along with various provisions, and then headed back toward Leadville and the 24-mile checkpoint at Pipeline. Greg came through the checkpoint in good shape at about 8:30 am, and then I had to really hustle in order to get back to the 40-mile checkpoint at Twin Lakes in time for Greg to roll through. It's only 10 miles by car but due to limited parking at Twin Lakes, it takes forever to walk from the car to the race course, especially loaded down with tools, supplies, and two spare wheels. (This is why we have to drop Helen off at this second checkpoint beforehand.) As it happened, Greg came through the checkpoint at about 9:40 am, just as I was walking up to our spot by the side of the road. I served as buffet manager, holding up a green duffel bag filled with various hi-energy foods for Greg to choose from to fuel his assault on Columbine Mine, a 10-mile climb through aspen and pine forest to a point near the summit of a 13,000 foot mountain, well above the treeline.

After he pedaled off, Helen and I had a couple of hours to wait before he would return via the same route. We bought bratwurst lunches from a local day care that was selling food at the checkpoint as a fund-raiser and then we lounged in the sun, enjoying the cool air. At 11:30 Helen fired up a Coleman Canister stove and began boiling water in a skillet for Greg's nutrition innovation for 2005: hot ramen noodles. Ten minutes later they were done and we put them in little ziploc baggies for easy transfer. (Later we learned that Greg was unaware that one can purchase the little styrofoam ramen cups...would have been much easier...just pour in boiling water...but no problem, making ramen in a skillet over an open flame by the side of a road in a moderate-fire-danger area had its own charms.)

Greg rumbled back down the mountain and through the checkpoint (having now covered 60 miles from the start point) at about noon. He sucked up the ramen, switched out his water bottles, got his Camelback filled, and zoomed off again for the return trip through Pipeline at the 76-mile point. Helen and I lugged the supplies down the hill to our car and drove over to Pipeline; got there with about 15 minutes to spare. Greg came through at 1:10 pm, feeling good.

After Greg cranked off toward the final 24 miles with one more challenge ahead -- the grueling, steep, Powerline Climb -- Helen and I headed back to Leadville to wait for him at the finish line. We again had a couple of hours before we'd see him, so Helen went to get some ice cream while I returned to the Matchless Treasures thrift shop (this is where last year I found my black "CAT Scale" Dickies work shirt, much admired among the smart set in Boston) to see what I could find. I had picked out an electric green polyester soccer shirt, a blue polyester short-sleeve Kramer-type shirt, and a Land's End flannel shirt when Helen entered with my cousins Raelene and Amy along. They had made the trip up from Denver where Raelene works for the Colorado DOT while studying for her engineering degree and where Amy is a high-school student.

We all trooped over to the finish line at about 3:00 pm. Greg came back up the 6th street hill at 4:14, finishing the 100-mile race in 9:44, his best showing since 2000.

I had bought a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of cheap champagne so that we could have a post-race Lance Armstrong moment with Greg, but I was unable to find two leggy blondes to stand on the dais with him. So we just handed him the flowers and showed him the bottle of champagne. When Greg's friend Kevin followed forty minutes later, we simply re-gifted the flowers to him, and once more to Jeremy when he came through soon after that. The flowers finally ended up with Jeremy's wife, which was appropriate because she crewed her husband all day with a one-year old in tow.

For dinner that evening we had delicious pizza and Tecate beer at the Tennessee Pass Cafe on Harrison Ave. The meal was free because the restaurant is part-owned by Greg's ex-wife Rebecca and she graciously invited us to a post-race celebration at her establishment. In my opinion, this is the best restaurant in Leadville; don't miss it if you are ever there.

After dinner we all repaired to the Columbine Hotel and watched "Ray" on HBO until about midnight.

Next morning, Sunday August 14, we assembled at the Leadville City Gymnasium for the awards ceremony. To a rousing round of applause, Greg received a chafing-dish-sized belt buckle to commemorate 10 years / 1,000 miles of Leadville 100 races. (Helen and I have crewed for all ten of those races. His first race, in 1995, didn't count toward the 1,000 mile belt buckle because he finished in over 12 hours, but cousins Raelene and Amy were right there at the finish line in 1995 along with Raelene's baby son Joey (now a 10-year old), Amy's dad, my uncle Al, and Aunt Lorraine, all from Denver.)

After the ceremony six of us (the five-person Greg contingent plus Greg's friend Kevin) piled into Raelene's Ford Explorer and drove part-way up the race route to Columbine Mine. It was amazing to see the route that these cyclists have to conquer -- 10 miles of unrelenting climbing followed by a white-knuckle tumble back down the same way.

Near the mine shaft we got out for a hike toward the 13,000 foot summit. After a while, we split into three groups of two and went our separate ways, always in sight of one another. Raelene and Kevin visited a demi-summit and Helen and Amy chilled out in the meadow. Meanwhile, Greg and I summited the sucker, trekking upward through one of my favorite biomes: Alpine Meadow (which is right up there with Pinon-Juniper Forest and Salt Marsh). Helen, watching from below, said that our silhouetted figures climbing up the ridge called to mind the scene at the end of "The Seventh Seal."

After I climbed up on the highest rock at the summit and executed what was certainly my highest pee ever while not in an aircraft, we re-assembled at about 12,000 feet and I pulled out the bottle of champagne from yesterday for a proper toast of our intrepid cyclists.

We returned to Leadville for dinner of greasy food and milkshakes at Wild Bill's (no relation to my new friend at the bar) and then our hardy band split up: Greg back home to Del Norte, Kevin back home to Gunnison, Raelene and Amy back to their homes in Aurora and Denver. Helen and I motored to an Embassy Suites hotel near where my mom was staying with her cousin Marie.

All in all, this day, Sunday, August 14, 2005 -- with its crystal-clear but cool mountain weather, stunning alpine scenery, and hilarious set of companions -- has entered my Top 10 Days of All Time list at number 3 or 4, with a bullet. (I just thought of creating this list so I don't know exactly where this day falls yet. But it's definitely 3 or 4.) I can easily see why, once my brother did his first Leadville 100 in 1995, that he quickly moved from Tulsa to settle in Colorado.

Next morning, Monday, August 15, Helen and I went over to Marie's apartment to visit a while before picking up Mom. The three of us went for coffee at the Tattered Cover bookstore in the revitalized LoDo section of Denver. Mom remembered this part of town as a seedy skid row when she lived in Denver as an 18-year-old insurance-company secretary fresh out of Menlo, Kansas High School in the late 1950s. Thankfully, the 1950s mode of urban renewal did not get a chance to knock down all the beautiful old warehouses in this district, which has become energetic, interesting, and safe without being overly trendy or cutesy. Kudos to the Denver authorities and developers who made LoDo happen.

At 1:15 we left for the airport and our 3:45 pm flight back to Boston. My mom came into the airport for a smoothie at TCBY and then drove down to Colorado Springs to surprise her brother Denny for an overnight visit. We got back to Boston right on time at 9:30 pm. What an awesome weekend.

View and order prints of photos from the race at While viewing photos, to order a print, click on the "Add to Basket" button next to the photo you want.


Anonymous said...

IT HAS BEEN SAID "A PICTURE PAINTS A THOUSAND WORDS" (or something like that) AND I SAY "YOUR WORDS PAINT A THOUSAND PICTURES" Super good descriptive writing, Chris. Worth reading and re-reading in the days ahead. RmH

C - Log said...

Thanks, RmH!

Anonymous said...

I just received my email for 2010 leadville, IM IN Heyoo. any inside info you might be able to give me for my pit crew etc.. Thanks Mike Ray

C - Log said...

Hi Mike,

Congrats on getting in to 2010 Leadville. My bro hasn't done it since 2006, so I'm not super up to date on the latest tips. A lot depends on how fast you think you can complete it. My brother usually did it in about 10 hours, and our day would go like this:

6:00 watch start, crew goes and gets breakfast at local diner

7:30 drop off half of crew, plus chairs, sun shield, crew refreshments, etc. at Twin Lakes, driver then turns around and heads back to Pipeline

8:00 arrive at Pipeline to meet rider. Have tool box and one or two spare wheels on hand, plus whatever special nutrition you're doing

9:00 drive back to Twin Lakes, park probably a long way away from the dam, lug stuff up to rest of crew, wait for rider there

10:00 - 1:00 rider climbs and descends Columbine Mine. Crew chills out at Twin Lakes. Picnic lunch is nice to have, no nearby restaurants.

1:00 rider comes back through Twin Lakes; everybody climbs in vehicle and heads back to Pipeline

2:00 rider comes through Pipeline, yay! crew's work is done, head back to Leadville and the start-finish line. crew gets lunch in town if they haven't yet.

The biggest hassle by far is the lack of a proper parking lot at Twin Lakes, which means parking along the side of the road, which means a LONG walk. That's why it can be necessary to drop off half the crew there as early as possible: you can get much closer to the dam and if you have any kids or older folks the walk won't be so long.

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