It was straight out of “Close Encounters of a Third Kind.” If you were out early Saturday morning, in the vicinity of Walnut Creek Park in North Austin, spotting over 100 searing LED mountain bike lights piercing the dark may well have been frightening.
Exaggerated by an eerie mist that descended over the road, the largest group of Enchilada Buffeteers to date slowly warmed up heading south on city streets towards the Barton Creek Greenbelt trailhead at Zilker Park.
It was full daylight by the time we entered the park. Suddenly, the slow pace and friendly banter that permeated the controlled trip down stopped… and the “race” began. Although it’s not really a race, try telling that to the group of elite-level riders who disappeared in a blink-of-an-eye as they hit the trailhead.
I saw Matt, Josh, Thad and other speed demons for a millisecond as they floated their way over the root and rock gardens that constitute the greenbelt trail. These days my ability to go fast is completely in my head, and as I hit the trails I was right up there, leading from…uh…behind! I could only hope to hold on until the finish some 85 miles later.
The Enchilada Buffet is an endurance event that demands mechanical reliability, physical fitness and mental toughness. Endurance riding/racing is not like your Saturday jaunt on your favorite trail. Those riders that completed this ride are tough and lucky. If your bike held together, all you had to contend with were approximately 40 miles of bone-jarring technical trails, another 45 miles of frightening road sections and four of the steepest, killer hills in Austin.
Put on by a secretive “board of directors” that pioneered the concept of riding all the mountain bike parks and the roads that connects them in just one day, the Enchilada Buffet is typical Austin. It so fits our unofficial motto, “Keep Austin Weird” that I am surprised it maintains its under-the-radar status after four years. That’s a good thing.
I only mention this because this same small group of dedicated people has managed to hold an epic event. It was well organized right from the pre-dawn start at 6:30 am in Walnut Creek Park to the small groups of supporters cheering us on at several key spots, and the wildly imaginative enchilada plate at the finish line for an official photo. There is even a t-shirt for finishers only. It is to be worn with pride at weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals, graduations and at work, of course!
As I was tearing up the greenbelt’s Jedi trail, I suddenly and unexpectedly went down. Fortunately, there were no rocks or trees to collide with me. However, there was an angry cactus family waiting with open spines, and my landing was extremely painful. Ouch!
The cacti spines got me in two sensitive spots – my left hand and my butt. I was able to remove many of the thorns, but spent the rest of the day with a constant, painful reminder of that mishap as the thorns were stuck in my glove. Worse yet, was that no one volunteered to take the spines out of my ass! Where are your friends when you really need them? I still have one thorn deep in my middle finger, I can show you.
My EB riding partner, Wes Duff, and I were very lucky. We had a handful of loyal cheerleaders to root us on, in addition to many other folks we didn’t know who showed up at various points along the way. At the start and finish, Wes’s wife Janice was there and at the top of the Hill of Life, Amy Smith took pictures and cheered us on with a sign that said, “You made it. Now go suffer some more.” Ha!
I never knew so many people knew me. I loved hearing people calling out to me along the route, usually as they were passing me! An appealing aspect of this event was the camaraderie among the participants.
After leaving the Hill of Life, we were cruising along 360 heading for the “hard” part of the day. Four monster street climbs and 3 trail networks: City Park, St. Edwards and Thumper. Then we ground our way up Courtyard and up City Park Road on the way to City Park.
Riding along in the opposite direction, I saw George with a big smile on his face. He had already completed City Park. What? Were Wes and I going that slow? I don’t think so, as there were many riders still behind us, some making long food and water stops.
George is the oldest guy in the Enchilada Buffet. Can you imagine, he’s three years older than me? Everyone should strive to be in George’s condition when they are his age. Now tell me, how the hell did he get almost two hours ahead of me this early in the event?*
After successfully cleaning the City Park trails, we spotted Stumpy with his two kids, Kinsey and Tanner, cheering for us. We stopped for nourishment and high fives. Many people were “following” us on Google Latitude, including Jason, Stephen, Phillip, and Chad (Stumpy’s actual name), which is how he knew where to catch us. That was so cool. Thanks for the support.
After bombing down City Park Rd (what a relief!) and climbing Jester (what a bummer!) we made it back onto 360 when I hear someone else shouting my name from behind. It’s Hoss. He tells me he broke his rear derailleur on Sweet 16, converted to a single speeder and went looking for a nearby bike shop. That’s tenacity.
Lucky for Hoss, the closest shop was Texas Cycle Werks at Ben White and Mopac.** When he came in, Stephen Villegas, TCW’s master mechanic, hopped right on it. According to Hoss, “It was like a NASCAR pit stop. They dropped what they were doing and went right to work. About 15 minutes later I was on my way with a new derailleur, chain, and cable.”
So far we were lucky with the weather. Overcast and cool most of the day, it helped keep us from overheating and personally aided me in warding off cramps. I felt really good all day. It did not look like rain, but some of us experienced a brief but intense rainstorm in the late afternoon.
Wes and I had so far conquered the Courtyard climb, mastered the City Park trails and ascended Jester on our way to St. Eds. While on Spicewood Springs Road, after passing Yaupon, we rode into a rain shower. The St. Eds hill approach was goopy muddy and water was cascading down like a waterfall.
As we were wondering why there was nobody else around, Kent came bombing down the hill looking relieved to be almost finished riding the treacherous roots and slippery rocks characteristic of this trail. My ride wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, even on that nasty exposed section and soon we were headed back towards Yaupon for the final street climb of the day. While cursing the EB gods for their sadistic route planning, in the middle of the hill I had an epiphany – we were almost finished. All we had to do was survive the notorious Thumper!
Knowing how much is over and how much less is left to go is what motivates me. Each little section completed soon adds up to whole lot and before you know it, it’s all over. This technique has worked effectively for me in past endurance events, and was working well today.
Arriving at Thumper, we were regaled with cheers from some other riders and a large group of ladies who had waited patiently all day giving support and nourishment to the riders. I was energized by their presence; it just felt so good. Among the faces I remember were Micki, Amy, Cindy and Valerie. I apologize to the others I didn’t know or remember, but after the last big climb everything was fuzzy.
Cindy deserves special mention for providing food, drinks, ice, fruit, energy bars and water for us. I am sure her efforts helped save a lot of riders in trouble near the end.
Other riders told us how nasty Thumper was. It has rained a little and of course the rocks on those parts of the trail were extremely slippery. Thumper is never for the faint of heart, with huge swoops, dips and drops. Oh, and what’s more – it is confusing. At least one group of riders reportedly quit in disgust because they kept getting lost.
I was lucky my bike performed flawlessly the entire day. I saw several flat tires along the way and felt for those guys, when suddenly I heard shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh coming from my front tire, while I was climbing in Thumper. Oh no! Suddenly the leaking air stopped, my heart resumed beating, and I kept going, without losing a second. Thank you, Orange Seal!
Mountain bikes take an enormous amount of abuse, constantly amazing me with their durability. Of course, when a rock succeeds at knocking off your rear derailleur in the middle of nowhere there is not much most of us can do. That is, unless you are Matt, who took a spare derailleur out of his backpack, popped it on and was on his way again in minutes. That was cool!
After what seemed like an eternity, but was actually less than two hours, we emerged victorious from Thumper. You know what that meant? We did it! We did it! Now all we had left was the easy stuff, getting to and through Walnut Creek and the Enchilada Buffet was ours.
After almost 12 hours from the morning start, we left Thumper on the final leg. I was feeling pretty good now, but whatever Cindy fed Wes really worked! That boy was renewed and kicked it up a notch so that the ride to Walnut Creek flew by and I struggled to stay with him. Wow!
At exactly 9 pm, slightly dazed and confused, I crossed the finish line in Walnut Creek Park. I was not expecting much finish line fanfare at this late hour, so it was exhilarating to hear the cheers of the hard-core EBers who hung around until the very end. Through a cloud of exhaustion I recall about a dozen people, including the tireless Beth (who was there from 6 am), Micki, Kent, Tommie, Janice and others who gave me drinks, food and comfort, and to whom I apologize for not remembering their names. I am very grateful to everyone.
The Enchilada Buffet may be an under-the-radar local event, but for me it was over-the-top in organization, community and novelty. I will never forget coming in under the fantastic home-made “official” finish line with the orange forks hanging down, bright lights and background music blaring. What a grand finale to a truly memorable day!
dennis l lanning
PS: As I mentioned earlier the Enchilada Buffet is no easy jaunt around the park. Just the thought of it turns most people to mush. If you are a pro/1/2 level rider and finish in remarkable time, as many did, y’all have my utmost respect and envy. But for most of us “normal” folks, EB is one long physical and mental grind. Congratulations to everyone who tried and finished. I was lucky to find a partner in Wes Duff who displayed true grit and resilience throughout our ordeal, and I’m hoping he’s looking forward to doing it again with me next year.
Amount of water consumed: 130+/- ozs
Bottles of Cytomax consumed: 4
Number of Clif Bars consumed: 4
Number of Hammer Gels consumed: 3
Number of Uncrustables consumed:*** 5
Number of bananas consumed: can’t remember, but I have a strong urge to swing from a tree!
Number of Oreos eaten at Cindy’s Epic Eatery at Thumper: too many to count!
Number of thorns in my ass: too many to count!
Time spent riding on the bike: 10 hours
Time spent reading, watching videos, texting, eating and drinking: 4½ hours
Number of times I replenished my “butt butter:” 2
Number of times I wanted to quit: 0
* George told me later he started the race at 5 am, 1½ hours ahead of everybody else.
** Texas Cycle Werks is the Giant dealer in South Austin where I bought my Anthem 29er X0. You can read more about that here: http://www.lasplash.com/publish/Spor…t-big-bike.php
*** After the invention of the derailleur, disc brakes and tubeless tires, Uncrustables by Smuckers stands as the mountain biker’s best friend.