The Gear Grinder at the Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana. Just about an hour away from Glacier Nat'l Park and the Canadian border, a heck of a long drive from Idaho Falls - almost 500 miles. And being that it was Montana I'd be driving through, I just had to take the Audi for a spin.
Without even any confrontations with revenue enhancement officers, I arrived at the Big Mountain in about six hours, well before dark (when reasonable-and-prudent turns into 65mph, poof). Accommodations were at the same nordic-ski mini-lodge as last year. Though I have yet to write the report for last year's race at Whitefish. The Big Mountain is pretty big, with the resort proper located about halfway up, at an elevation of 4500'.
The race course started in a lower parking lot (where I spotted another Audi like mine, only 1000 imported that year, with MS plates), up past the finish line in the upper lot, some switchbacks up the (big) mountain, lots of sidehill singletrack action going on here. This part was not a particularly steep climb, in fact I did the whole first lap in my middle ring last year. Then there is a bit of doubletrack descent and some rolling singletrack back and forth on the mountain. Extending the lap from last year, the course crosses a bridge at the resort entrance and goes down the mountain for a bit, winding around down there and then finally coming back through the start line towards the finish again. About 6 miles per lap.
Beginners went at 10, one lap, then experts and sports at noon for three and two laps. Yet another small rider turnout, and Ron was once more unhappy. But off I went with the several vet sports and one other sport/expert clydesdale. This race was pretty much just for fun, since I didn't know the other guy and there weren't any of my usual buddies to race against. Super Dave was missing in action again, this time in observance of the anniversary of not going to Whitefish the previous year.
Dum de dum, up the big mountain I go, dropped the other clydesdale pretty fast, settled into a nice rhythm with the occasional pass or be-passed. Still counts as a healing race, the wrist feels better than last week and I even let loose a bit on some downhills. One downhill section is still very loose, fine dirt, and I walk some of it both times. No crashes, and the wrist remains the same, so count that as a success.
Down in the extended part were some steeper climbs though mostly short except for the one going back to the start line, and a few little mud puddles to spoil what would have been a very pleasant and dry race. Weather was beautiful all weekend, but what's a mountain bike race without a little mud?
One lap done, second is more of the same. I'm certainly sweating, but not pushing really hard on climbs or descents. Still no crashes. Ok, now I'm done. Wait for all the experts to finish, then come awards. Nobody else seems to want to help Ron hand out prizes, so I am his Vanna. For my prize I get a big orange HammerGel shirt and some pancake mix. Mmm, pancakes. Thirsty work, handing out medals in the hot sun.
Back to the nordic house for dinner, and a movie. I experience _Forrest Gump_ for the first time. Run, Forrest, run.
Sunday is a the final North series downhill, as Saturday was the final North series cross-country (regular season). We try out a different timing method that cuts the manual data entry in half, and the field is small, so there is even less work than usual. Oh well. It still takes most of the day. I get to Vanna again. One guy is a sore loser and refuses his second-place prize money, so the fourth place guy takes it. Some people.
All packed up and headed down the mountain, I stop for late lunch/early dinner in Whitefish with the Yosts and crew. Mmm, hot wings. Then drive home, arriving late at night as usual.