First time at this Fat Tire Frenzy for me, but similarities to the previous weekend abound. Another "recovery" race. Another ski resort. Another 7000' base elevation. Another state championship. How many others can you find? I had figured out that if the current points leader of the North series clydesdales didn't show up at this race and the next one, and I won both events, I could sneak by him and win both the North and South series points titles. It Would Be Nice, but probably won't happen.
To get to Red Lodge, I drove through Yellowstone NP, hadn't been there in a while. A fair amount of RVs taking up space, and pretty bumpy roads (connection?). But the GTI handled them both with vigor, heh heh. At the northeast corner of Yellowstone the Beartooth Highway exits into Montana, over of course Beartooth Pass. At 10,900' this is higher even than the High Uintas course, and would also make a great road race. The bulbous switchbacks were vaguely familiar and I realized I had seen them in several car commercials, notably the new LHS/300 ones and maybe the old "excuse me, you dropped your waterbottle" Saturn cycling one from 1996. When I went over the top it was around 40 degrees and wet (one odd little slip), when I arrived in Red Lodge I found that it was actually snowing up there earlier in the day when Jay and crew drove it. Looked like good weather for the weekend.
The staff stayed in a condo on the other side of town from the ski hill, which meant several trips up and down the dirt ski-hill road over the weekend. Good thing I "only" had the GTI, in the Audi I would have had *too* much fun engaging in rally-driving fantasies and even more four-wheel drifts. I caught up with them at the lodge shortly before everybody was about to head down to the condo, so good timing on my part. Dinner and hanging around the condo (perilously near a golf course) ensued.
In the morning, the usual drill: help with registration until it's time to race. There were rumors of many people expected from Billings, only 45 miles away, but they failed to materialize. Another poorly-attended race, too bad for Ron. Similar to the Targhee race, the beginners went off for two laps in the morning at 10am or so, then sports followed experts doing three or four laps respectively at noon.
The course was a real grind, 4.5 miles starting at 7000' elevation, climb for 3.5 miles and 1500' then down for a mile. Most of the climb was doubletrack with some "elk trails" thrown in, and the descent featured switchbacks and lots of loose rock. Time for my start, and it seems there are four other clydesdales, a nearly unprecedented event - the only other occurrence being at McCall. This is the official Montana state championship, after all. Another reason for me to race, this would make the fourth state championship this season if I win. But one guy looks pretty strong, a fireman/motocross racer "just doing this for fun". Yeah right, as we take off across the parking lot to hit the climb he jumps even harder than I do.
Well, I have to chase him, don't I? I catch him going into the first part of the climb and then explode in many pieces as he and many others start going by. Too much altitude, too much climb. I recover a bit but then am stuck behind the only expert woman for a bit on some elk trail. I finally get around her at the next doubletrack only to blow up again. After the last section of the climb mercifully arrives, I then daintily make my way down the rocky descent. Sabrina Yost, 14-year-old downhill maniac sport woman who started behind me, catches me by the time I am coming through the last grassy bump section into the finish area. Ron helpfully announces, "only five more laps to go, Henry!" Oh, I don't think so.
I start to feel a little better, catch Sabrina and ride with her going up the first climb, then rudely ride away from her as her low-pressure-and-getting-lower rear tire makes its presence known. I catch back up to Al, the North points leader who did of course show up. Feeling better until a pro/expert zips by me going uphill way too fast. Lapped already? A steady stream of experts going by is no fun, but this turns out to be no more than a trickle as they are all spread out by the course as well. Second time on the downhill, Al goes by and then wipes out in a rocky switchback, hops back up only to get a flat down at the bottom of the descent. Ok, he's having an even worse day than I am. The fireman is way ahead of me, along with probably two others, so Al is the only one holding me back from last place. Thanks, Al.
Now feeling not too bad as I come through the finish for one last lap. Starting up the climb I reach for a PowerGel but it malfunctions badly, spewing everywhere but in my mouth. I lick as much as I can off the jersey and proceed. Passing a few people now, coming through the elk trail I catch Jay, doing four laps as an expert so he'll be out here a while longer. By the top of the climb I have passed one clydesdale and have the other in sight, but don't even try to catch him on the descent. The fireman is already finished at this time.
Well, there is third place for me, however I didn't crash and didn't reinjure the still-sore wrist so I can count this as a successful outing. A couple small titanium doodads are my prize.
Back to the condo, and the Alaskan salmon I swiped out of Dad's freezer at home is deliciously prepared by Monica and Jay as us kids sit in front of the TV.
Sunday's dual slalom runs, if not extremely smoothly, then at least not terribly. The small number of participants makes it helpfully easy to officiate, of course not in a good way for Ron.
Young Luke gets to ride home with me instead of in the back of Jay's pickup, as my house has been selected as a midway stopover on the long drive back to Boise for them. After the bumpiness of Yellowstone's roads and crowds of touristas stopping to photograph roadside elk are behind us, he even manages to drop off to sleep in the car. His parents roll in a couple hours later, having taken the long way around the park, thereby not amortizing their $20 park entry fee investment as I did so conscientiously. They all leave in the morning, and I go off to work once more.