After finishing the Surly build I've been itching to race it, and when I saw this race posted on a local forum I knew it was meant to be- 50 miles of dirt road with a ton of climbing, just the kind of ride I like to do. I signed up and headed towards Ft Bragg, which is a beautiful drive no matter the route- a sign of what was to come on the race course. The race had free camping at the race start, in a redwood grove, right where the race starts. After arriving I went to loosen up my legs on the course, and immediately started a decent climb with hardened ruts, water bars, overgrown sections, and dust on the flats, I was sliding everywhere on my Stans Crows. If the whole course was like this I would have been suffering badly on the Cross Check, fortunately this wasn't the case.
I woke up at 8am (awesome) to a damp, cool morning. I wasn't complaining, I figured the mist from the night before would at least tack up the dirt on the starting climb. There was a short meeting with the small field and we headed off at 9:09 sharp. The field stayed pretty condensed on the more technical starting climb, but as we descended a few broke off and I found myself in a small group of 8 or so chasers. We hit the dirt road and several miles of flat, which was the only flat ground on the course. Pack riding on wet gravel and dirt is interesting to say the least, but somehow it stayed tight and fast. At the bottom of the first climb I made a move and a maniac on a singlespeed spinning about 200rpm came with me, after a few pulls we had put some time on the rest of the pack, I didn't know if we could bridge to the leaders anytime soon but I was ready to give it a go. Just as I am contemplating this a few riders come back down the climb followed by the RD in a car - we'd all made a wrong turn... about a mile and a half of tough climbing in the wrong way. We regrouped and headed back past the turn which I didn't see a mark on, which was a recurring theme, you really had to look hard and hope you were going the right way.
The climb in the correct direction was a bit more mellow, I tried to ride off the front a few times but was eventually caught. Soon though we hit the real climb, which kicked up at about 8-10% right away and stayed pretty steady for around 1100ft of climbing. The group disintegrated as everyone found their pace, the singlespeed maniac passed me and I settled in to my cadence and passed a few more on the way up. When I hit the first aid station they said there were 5 ahead of me, so thoughts of top 3 fueled my legs a bit. The top of the climb is at just under 3k feet, and with a few short descent breaks there is a total of 3700ft on the main climb. The Surly isn't particularly light but it's a comfortable climber, I felt strong on it the whole way up. The Stan's Crows were perfect, they handled everything on the way up and destroy slight grades and flat sections. I passed one more close to the top, then saw two riders right at the peak, and we arrived at the aid station at the top together. I knew I would lose time to one rider who was on a full suspension on the descent so I skipped the aid station, still had enough nutrition to make it to the next one but it didn't help, he blew by me a few minutes later.
Most of the descent was a dream, fast dirt roads, the cantis were enough to handle them. Towards the bottom though there were some areas that had been torn up a lot by 4 wheelers, you found yourself descending at 15-25mph riding between two deep ruts, pretty interesting experience on a balloon tire cross bike. There were several mud and sand pits and this is where the Stans tires are completely incompetent- if you even look sideways they wash out. I kept it on two wheels but the lines I took to do so were highly questionable, with these tires all you can do is keep going straight or fall, so I went straight through the deepest, softest parts of the mud and sand at times without much of a choice to change course. All in all my descent wasn't bad though, especially considering the bike. I was in 5th at this point and that wouldn't change, there were a few miles of easy roads where I could make up some time but then we had to ride back through the waterbar climb/descent section which I would end up handling much worse than the first time around with 7400ft and 52 miles already behind me. I rolled into the campground and there I found my placing did not matter, all were rewarded with an incredible barbecue and several kegs of craft beer, the perfect recovery concoction.
I loved this race, just the camping and BBQ is worth the entry fee, the incredible course is just an added bonus. Hopefully the field will be a bit deeper next year as the race grows. One of the most interesting things on this course is the bike choice, nobody rode the same setup, there were 16lb single speed rigid climbing machines, carbon full suspension 26ers, a true cross bike, and everything in between, and all excelled in different areas of the course. Choosing the bike that plays to your strengths really adds to the race experience/strategy, and isn't something you can do in most races. For me as more of a TT guy than a climber I loved the monster cross, and will likely be riding it again next year and for any other race similar to this, nothing like hammering on the drops on a gravel road in the middle of Sasquatch country.