Held just outside of MTB mecca Oakridge, Oregon at Willamette Pass Ski Area is one of the most amazing lift accessed mountain bike areas in the United States. For $12(USD) you can ride endless trails of varying degree in difficulty with views that will knock your socks off. For the racers, it has the best courses to challenge anyone- wide open sections, to technical turns, drops and line options galore. Adding to the race excitement- it was the last weekend to get points for the overalls.
The event was very dollar friendly- you get major bang for your buck. Practice on Saturday is endless. Start at 11am, and have your run dialed by 7pm. I made several runs, I counted 8 (including a very hairball run with Eddie Roach down “Dirty Sanchez” that ate up 60% of my rear brake. I did have the typical crash too, first run, came into a section sorta hot and as I was turning my front wheel through axle deep dust- I hit a rock and go OTB. I jam my thumb into something. I do remember the slam in slow motion, the dust was like a giant pillow- it didn’t hurt even with the bike slamming me in the back and forcing my face further into the dirt’wich. Yum.
Now my left thumb is throbbing. I grab it and scream a nice verbal profanity that is customary in this situation. It rhymes with truck, buck, luck- you get the picture. I collect myself by removing a good pound of dirt from my armor, my helmet- I look over my bike- headset/stem twisted a bit, correct that, everything seems fine. I get back on it and it hits me- Thank god it was my “left” thumb I say to myself.
Why you ask? Well I don’t need use the “left” thumb to shift too much in DH- I start in 7th, maybe might gear up to 7th in my run if I have to pedal and that would be my “right” thumb doing all the work, you can be assured 9th gear is where most of the work is done. DH racers rarely get in a granny gear requiring my newly damaged “left” thumb to push a lever. That would be like slamming your finger in the car door for fun. I can still grip the handlebars like a lobster, “So lets get down” I say to myself- I head to the pits. This is where I confess to the wife “I’m hurt” (only do this if you are hurt). She lectured me all the way to the pits, so let this be a lesson to you all- be prepared for the slam. I was, and so was she- I sat in the chair and here comes the aspirin, the water- she actually calmed me down by telling me “It’ll be fine- get hydrated and get up for another run”. I had no “Athletic Tape” so I went to the toolbox and grabbed the “Duct” tape and did my best to support my damaged left thumb- swelling was evident already.
Back up I go. I was so nervous about getting down the “Sport” course that I took way longer than I normally do- it was very humbling. Eventually I was ready to drop in. About halfway into the first section there were 4 log drops- the true test for the “left” thumb. I drop the first one slow, not bad. Second one easier, I relax, third one was harder and there was a little pain but nothing I couldn’t handle and flew the 4th. I was re-assured that I can reach podium when I did a pain-less run- well so I thought.
Sunday morning, the parking lot of Willamette Pass starts coming alive around 8am, you can smell the coffee brewing and breakfast cooking all around you. You can also hear the laughter of several racers waking up to zip tyed bikes and fingers pointing all afternoon long. I wish I got a shot of the bikes next to my camp-site, those boys from Redding, CA sure like to have fun. I start off by taking a good look at my “left” thumb- she’s damaged and swollen- definite sprain. I hunt down the duct tape and fast release gel aspirin. I’ve been running the course in my head all night, creating an insomniac like state- but I’m there to race and I know I can pull a fast, clean run. My wife is amazing, she gets breakfast going, and some-how manages to get my two and half year old up and dressed as I focus on getting myself race ready.
Practice starts at 9am, with my “left” thumb duct taped like a victim in a robbery, I head up, unexpectedly I get paired up with the points leader and man to beat in my class. We chat it up like nervous people at an audition for a movie. I believe (pro) Nathan Riddle was in the gondola with us as well and he had his race face on. I took one good run and headed back to the pits with confidence of a clean run. Riders can get up to 3 practice runs before Randy (race director and organizer) hosts the race meeting. When he says 10:30 sharp, he gets it done by 10:31. When he says race starts at 10:45- the first pro guy is on course.
It was hot, dry, dusty, loose, rocky, with tree roots galore. I did not go down the “Pro/Expert” course because I focused on my course, (duh!) but I have been nicely pestering Vic Sandrin at Ride-this.com to email me something. Here it is:
“The Expert course was loose to say the least. The top started down a road before crossing into the side of the mountain with some steep loose, rutted out turns and some man-made wood and natural rock drops. The middle section is fast with a 6 foot ladder drop then it turns down into some fast rutted out switch backs before finishing with a fast fire road to the finish. The start of the season is usually tacky and fast but get to August it turns into a dry, loose, crazy ride.” VicHere’s a description for the Sport Course
3,2,1,Go! Pedal into narrow track, into the most blown-out, bottom bracket deep rutted first turn known to man. Traverse away, narrow large braking bumps into sweeping left turn. Sheep all stay to the right in the brake bumps. I shark it onto the grass to bypass this crap, into the split for beginners, and rail medium size turns with 4 log drops out onto the road. Pedal hard, a long fast part of the course. Into another junction, and enter the first technical section, narrow deep ruts with braking bumps swallow you up if you run the sheep lines. Hard drop into hard left, sharp right after a tree to avoid several rocks and drop quickly into steep deep ruts, avoid the stump in the center of the course and let it go into the next berm. Long traverse over 4 more log drops and one rock garden to quickly maneuver, over a log, pedal hard here. More traversing and blown out sections, braking bumps are causing serious arm pump. Enter the area of the crash, deep rutted out steeps, grab the inside line to avoid crap, hit the log drop, cautiously enter last section of super loose, blown out berms. Inside line across last traverse, pinned into last steep narrow “s” drops, make one last sweeping right, hit the log on the inside, land on rock, anchor brake down last rutted out turn, hit the fire-road for a small taste of speed, the last 4 turns, so many riders crashed right there and out to the finish line which is marked by an open passenger door of a red SUV.
I won’t go into details regarding my time, but I was in 3rd on my first run and 3 guys lit it up on the 2nd run, myself included and I got bumped off the podium. I did find the terrain to be amazing for racing DH, the event staff was very nice, the lift crew was very entertaining, and it seemed everyone had a great time. Awards, well, everyone has their own way of doing it and Randy gave us the message that he was pretty much ready to go on vacation, it was quick, and joyless, hard to get podium shots with no podium.
A huge thanks to all the riders (95 in all) that attended and a huge high five to Vic at Ride-this.com for being the man who gets us all the treats and goodies from these very generous sponsors (PLEASE CONSIDER THESE BRANDS ON YOUR NEXT BIKE SHOP PURCHASE!!): Protec, crankbros, Goldtooth Mafia, Rockgardn, Pryme, Atomlab and Grubworks