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Friday, August 23, 2013


If you enjoy soul crushing climbs (mile long hike a bike anyone?) and absolutely demoralizing downhill sections, Single Speed USA is the race for you! And you don’t really have to be a single speeder, this was just my second time riding my bike set up single speed, you just have to be completely out of your mind ;) I’m still not sure how I was talked into doing this, but Aaron Robnett must have tricked me into it.

Aaron (aka guy who tricked me into SS USA!) and his
buddies at the pre-race meeting.
This year’s SSUSA was held in Winona, MN, a beautiful city surrounding Lake Winona and bordered by bluffs, most notably, Sugar Loaf. While the bluffs and ridgeline were gorgeous, I also had to cringe at them, knowing we would probably be riding up them…
Sugar Loaf
 Sure enough, at our pre-race meeting they let all 300 of us know we would be making four climbs up during the 35 mile course, and have 4000 ft of elevation gain.

Aaron & I pre-race.
Singlespeed bikes everywhere!
To top it off, we would have a Le Mans start, running to our bikes. GAH! I thought I was going to DNF before even getting to my bike. I must work on running!

 I found my bike quickly and hit the trail. I had a little bobble over a rocky uphill turn and another girl passed me. I rode along with her just ahead and we reached a rocky uphill section too steep and chunky to ride. Everyone was dismounting and pushing their bikes up. There was a long line of us hiking up, up, and up. I eventually was able to hop back on my bike and ride. All the volunteers I went by were letting me know I was the second place women. What?! Up until this point I really hadn’t decided if I was going to race or just ride. Now I felt like I had to race.

Single Speed USA
This climb was much steeper than it looks!
I honestly don’t remember much more about the first bluff besides my arms hurting from squeezing the brakes so hard on the way down. I was behind a group of guys and let them set the pace. It was easy to feel like we could be going faster but then we would come across a sketchy rock section and I was glad I hadn’t hit it with any more speed.  We descended off Holzinger and onto the road for a couple miles to the next bluff.
I made it to the base of the second bluff and the volunteers again told me I was the 2nd place women. I was astonished; before, I thought they must have been mistaken! They sent us up a rocky, sandy, gravel/dirt road, and after some serious climbing, I made it onto fresh cut single track. It was slippery with the loose dirt and pine needles and I went down on a simple corner, sliding out with barely any speed.

Part of the ridgeline 

Eventually, I made it to the first of the aide stations, which was really just water & beer. It was crowded and I had water so I didn’t stop. I wanted to try and keep my momentum up the dirt access road. The sand on the road was pretty deep and the road kept pitching steeply up, then leveling-off, and then starting off with a gradual incline, then another steep pitch before plateauing...over and over again. I road my bike as far as possible, dismounted on the steep section, then hopped back on and repeated the process until I finally made it to a reasonable climb. We rode around some on top of the bluff, where I was passed by another girl, putting me in 3rd place. And then headed back down the same gravel road we first climbed up. I was pretty spent already and felt really bad for the people just starting the climb up – they had no idea what they were in for!
The course led us back down the road, to the area we started at, and to the second aid station. This was around the 20 mile mark, which is the distance of an average XC (women’s) mtb race, and what I’m used to. Only 15 more miles to go! I refilled my bottles and headed back onto the trail to climb up Holzinger for the 2nd time. The road got incredibly steep (not a surprise by this point) and I had to dismount and push my bike up. I kept thinking the steep part would have to be over soon, but it was never ending. It felt like I pushed my bike uphill for 2 miles, so I’m guessing it was around ½-1 mile. Still a ton no matter what it actually was!
At the top we popped out onto the road and took the road to the Sugar Loaf area. I really thought we were past all of the hike a bike sections, but they just kept coming. I just kept reminding myself, “this could be worse, at least you’re not at work, you can do this” But just below the base of the rock outcropping on Sugar Loaf I almost gave up. Thankfully there was another rider with me who encouraged me on. I tackled the steep sand covered last little bit, which would have been hard enough to climb without a bike in tow. And I was rewarded with a spectacular view of the city and the lake. I wish I would have stopped to take a picture!
View from below. Sugar Loaf is the rock outcropping on the far left.
The decent off Sugar Loaf was nasty. There were huge rocks and drop offs that you would expect to see on a DH course. I chose to walk it – I didn’t want to break anything on me or my bike. I made it this far and wanted to be able to finish!! (And there were bikes broken on this section- at least that is what the photographer told me when I jokingly scolded him for photographing me walking my bike!).

  I hit the road again to the start/finish area, knowing I would have about 8 miles left. I felt sick to my stomach at this point and shoved some melted oreo/graham cracker crumbled conglomeration into my mouth, hoping it wouldn’t make me feel worst! (My dear husband gave away my only cereal bar before the start of the race to an intoxicated participant, not realizing it was all I had besides shot bloks…oops). I thought for sure the aide stations would be well stocked, but they barely had enough water, and ZERO food.
At this point I was ready to be done. No other girls had passed me, so I knew I was still in third place (or “on the podium” as all the volunteers yelled as I rode past). I didn’t want to lose my place so I kept pushing on. After another set of endless climbs I was rewarded with the first section of truly fun single track all day. It was towards the top of the bluff, was nice and flowy and everything was a luscious green. It was wonderful…until the log overs started. There were probably 8-10 of them, many too tall for me to ride, or back to back, also not rideable with my 26” wheels, or on a turn with a tree to run into.
After what felt like way more than 8 miles since entering this section of course, I finally hit the final descent to the finish line. Finally a fun and flowy descent! I crossed the finish line as the 3rd place women. I certainly didn’t expect that for my first SS race!
I rode straight to our car and found Aaron there. I promptly kicked off my shoes, laid down on a blanket, and put my feet up. I couldn’t believe  I survived.
Notice Aaron's clean legs? He finished about an hour ahead of me!
Unfortunately the race organizers only kept track of the first 20 or so riders, so I have no idea how many others I finished ahead of, or even how many others even finished before the time cut off.  I kinda wanted some serious bragging rights!
I was all smiles the next day. So happy to have survived SS USA!
Our friend Trevor rode with a GSP on his bike, confirming our thoughts that there were some extra miles and climbing! 38.92 miles & just under 4789 ft of elevation gain!

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