Al’s Ride Report

This may be the Enchilada Buffet’s sixth year, but it was only my first time participating in the event. I considered attempting it in the past and was actually preparing for it in 2012, but two weeks before the event I realized I had to be in Houston the same weekend. Fortunately, I had no such conflicts this year. A few people were surprised to learn that I hadn’t yet ridden the EB!

I was a bit apprehensive about this event. I’ve done plenty of 60+ mile rides, but nothing quite like the EB with its fine selection of torturous climbs and demanding, technical, singletrack. I rode the entire road portion of the trail two weeks prior to the event, and was able to climb all the long, steep hills without walking any of them. But I knew they’d be much tougher after riding the Greenbelt, St. Edwards and City Park! I also rode the original BCGB EB route and am grateful it was changed a few days before the event, as it was tough, made tougher by the flooding we had recently.

I didn’t really do much in terms of training, and in fact, the month leading up to the EB I only had the opportunity to ride three times! Those rides were: 1) The EB road route, 2) A lap at RPR, and 3) The original BCGB EB route. My primary concern was avoiding leg cramps, especially with all the climbing involved (on road and off). Poor nutrition would be the one thing to prevent me from finishing, so I made sure to stay well hydrated and well fed.

I woke up at 4:30am on Saturday and arrived at Walnut Creek around 5:45am. I was expecting temperatures to be cooler and was pleasantly surprised that the weather was near perfect. There was a chance for rain in the forecast, and given how many people got caught in St. Eds and Thumper in rain last year, I was hoping that wouldn’t happen again! Fortunately it turned out to be an incredibly nice day, and the rain held off until very early Sunday morning. Really couldn’t have asked for better weather!

All the riders lined up at 6:30am, eager for the mass launch towards an unsuspecting Barton Creek Greenbelt. It was amazing to see so many mountain bikers in the Walnut Creek parking lot at 6:30am with the sun yet to rise. After a few words from the organizers, ~125 riders departed. We almost immediately hit a choke point getting through the gate by the bridge on the park road, proceeding down the trail two and three abreast. The creek crossing caused us to bunch up again, and I decided to just ride through the creek, wasting no time at all in getting my feet soaked. Had it been colder, I would have opted to find a drier route across.

Once we hit the streets, we rode en masse all the way down to Barton Creek. I’ve pedaled this route many times solo, but it’s quite a different experience being in such a large pack, and even more so in the dark. I can’t imagine what this mob of mountain bikers, most with lights on handlebars and/or helmets, must have looked like to traffic coming in the opposite direction, or cars waiting at intersections as we passed by. We maintained a fairly steady pace all the way down to Zilker, and I even jumped in front on a short section of Shoal Creek to sail up that short hill before you dip into Shoal Creek Greenbelt. But as we got closer to Zilker, you could see the faster riders jockeying for position up front.

Once we hit Zilker, the relative order of the ride thus far was abandoned, with people launching onto the grushed granite that welcomes riders into the Greenbelt. While I enjoy sprinting and can maintain a fast pace for a good bit, I knew if I played that game during this ride I’d be toast well before the end. Still, I entered the Greenbelt at a fairly fast clip, punctuated by slower, more deliberate riding through the rock gardens and creek crossings that litter the first few miles of the trail.

I ended up riding most of Barton Creek with Cindy Abbott, who is a damn strong rider. Every now and again we’d get separated, but repeatedly wound up paired up again after passing other riders. Barton Creek wasn’t terribly eventful, as I was still fresh and probably climbed things I shouldn’t have. For instance, there’s a ledgy limestone climb near the beginning of Jedi. And of course there was a rather large repository of water and mud at the bottom of this climb, making the rocks very slippery. Rather than get off my bike and walking (as the people ahead of me were doing), I was determined to ride up the entire thing, which I did. I knew if I kept doing that I’d be in serious trouble later!

Coming down Mulch Hill was a bit exciting, as I perhaps had more speed than I should have. I inadvertently lined myself up for a jump at one point, and was forced to commit or I would have gone down hard! I was more concerned with getting a pinch flat, though. Fortunately, I made it down to the bottom without drama. This was soon followed by the only wet crossing we had to deal with at the dam. After stopping briefly on the other side of the dam, we began our slog up the Hill of Life. I climbed all of it, except for three ledges that stymied me. I was thankful to see Trail Angels at the top with water and beverages. After a brief break here and we started up 360.

Cindy set a fast pace on 360, and we quickly left some other riders behind us. When we turned onto Courtyard (along with some other riders), Cindy would leave me behind. While we would cross paths again, that would be the last time we rode together. The remainder of my ride was a solo affair, not including brief stints in trails and roads where I rode with one or more other riders. So, back to Courtyard. I ended up walking about 100 feet in the last, steepest section of Courtyard before hopping back on the bike near the top. The downhill on the other side was great! Wish I could have maintained that speed turning onto City Park Road! I made this climb without stopping, and continued on to City Park.

Arriving at City Park at 10:15am I saw several riders and more Trail Angels, armed with a wide variety of food, snacks and drinks. It was a glorious buffet for the endurance mountain biker. I stopped for a few minutes, finally changed out my wet socks (which I meant to do at the top of the Hill of Life) and then dove into the park, figuring I could take a longer break once I got CP under my belt. City Park was uneventful, and I finished my lap in 50 minutes. I walked a fair bit more than I would have normally, and I had the first signs of cramping while fighting limestone and gravity. I passed about 15 riders while in the trail, including George, who is a huge inspiration. I can only hope that I’m still riding my bike (any bike) when I’m his age, much less riding trails of this technical nature. Upon my exit from the trail I stopped for a longer break, ate some food, topped off my bladder, and then departed the parking lot at 11:25am.

The climb out of City Park is considerably more noticeable on a bike than when I’m in my car! I was glad when the hills stopped, and I enjoyed the terribly fast run down to 2222. I stopped briefly in the Jester Mart parking lot to imbibe a small bottle of “Pickle Juice Sport”, watching as other riders started their crawl up Jester. I soon followed suit, knowing this was going to be a tedious and painful ascent. I made the complete climb without stopping or cramps, although there certainly was some zig-zagging involved. I then enjoyed the fast downhill runs of Beauford and Lakewood, and at the bottom I caught up with some other riders waiting at the light.

Once reunited with 360, most of the riders set a fairly fast pace and I slowly fell behind them, only to catch up with them again at the Old Spicewood Springs intersection. This is the only road portion I’m really not a fan of given the lack of a shoulder and the tight, blind turns. Somewhere along Spicewood Springs road I passed Cindy going the other way. She probably had 30 minutes on me at that point. The group ahead of me wasted no time in building a sizable gap, but I tried to keep them in sight as I wasn’t exactly sure where the St. Edwards trail entrance was.

I’m familiar with the two parking lot trailheads for St. Edwards, but I knew there was an entrance before that. Well, I failed at keeping the group of riders ahead of me in sight, and of course I missed the trail entrance. At the first (smaller) parking lot I met up with a small group of other riders who also didn’t see the trail. We all entered the trailhead at the parking lot together, and after a short bit of confusion, I directed them onto the correct trail and we started uphill. I only dismounted twice on the climb, and for a few tricky spots on the other side. I hadn’t ridden the cliff portion of this trail in probably a decade, so it was interesting to experience that again after so many years.

Exiting St. Edwards I was back on Old Spicewood Springs road and passed several riders heading towards St. Eds. After a short bit, I turned left onto the last road climb nemesis, Yaupon. I gave up early on the first half of the Yaupon climb (around the mailboxes) and walked to the plateau in the middle. I then hopped back on the bike and climbed the remainder, and in the distance I could see a large group of riders further down the hill behind me. I arrived at Thumper at 1:15pm and was greeted by an almost party-like atmosphere with tons of volunteers, bountiful food and drink, and mountain bikes splayed on the ground. I stopped here for a few minutes, girding my strength for the upcoming challenge, and then headed towards the Thumper trail entrance.

Ahhh, Thumper. I had ridden Thumper only once earlier in the year, on another relatively cool day (really the only time you want to ride this trail). There were several new loops I hadn’t seen before, adding more length and difficulty to an already challenging trail. I did mostly enjoy myself on that day, but I hadn’t previously ridden 60 miles on my bike to get there! Thankfully, the new loops were not part of the EB ride. It didn’t take long at all before I dismounted my bike for the first of what would be many such dismounts. My legs started to cramp up a bit again in Thumper, so I tried to take it relatively easy on the climbs. I walked any significantly steep climbs, as well as many technically difficult ascents. Thumper was easily the toughest part of the EB for me, and it just keeps giving and giving and giving. I have never been happier to see that electrical tower at the exit as I was this day.

I did run into confused riders at a few points in Thumper and helped them as best as I could. I also passed several people, which says a lot since I wasn’t making great time. I believe I exited in about an hour and twenty minutes. When I arrived back at the Trail Angel oasis, I grabbed some food and drink, removed my heavy CamelBak and sat my ass down. With the most challenging section of the EB behind me, I knew I’d finish, barring any catastrophic mechanicals. I relaxed for a bit, put my gear back on, and then jumped onto Yaupon.

The ride to Walnut Creek was a decent pace. I rode most of this section with someone who had never ridden the EB before, nor any of the mountain bike trails that are part of the route! I heard this repeatedly throughout the day–people who had never ridden all or most of the trails on the route. Along the way we picked up another rider who also hadn’t ridden many of the trails before. I really have to give people credit for coming out and doing a ride of this nature, with no prior firsthand experience of the trails and sticking it through to the end.

At some point on the road portion to Walnut Creek, Hoss caught up to us. Once we got onto Parmer, he started pulling strong and away from me. He and one of the other riders would eventually get away from me, but I still had one other rider with me when I entered Walnut Creek.

Somewhere along the way I decided I wanted to complete the ride in under 10 hours. The time was about 3:30pm when I got back to Walnut Creek, and I only spent a minute in the parking lot before heading back out. I had no idea how long it was going to take me to do the lap at Walnut Creek, but I knew I needed to finish by 4:40pm if I wanted to beat the 10 hour mark. Shortly after entering Walnut Creek, the rider who arrived at the park with me caught up to me, and I rode a good portion of the trail with him.

I pushed myself through Walnut Creek singularly focused on getting through as quickly as possible given my diminished strength, stamina and mental acuity by this point. I was grateful that the Windy and BMX loops were not part of this route, not to mention some other sections I normally ride (such as the Church climb). I really felt that last climb that returns you to the parking lot! I ended up finishing Walnut in about 50 minutes, which gave me a total time of 9:35.

It was certainly very satisfying to go through the finish at the end. I just wanted to shed my bike and my bike gear, sit down for a few minutes, and then eat some food. Ended up hanging out for several hours before I headed back home, long enough to see George finish before nightfall.

I didn’t have any mechanicals or crashes during the entire ride, so I consider myself lucky in those aspects. Later in the ride my back was sore, especially when I got off my bike to walk various (uhrr, many) climbs in Thumper. As soon as I took my pack off when I finished at Walnut Creek, my back started to feel better. Perhaps next year I’ll attempt the ride without a CamelBak, especially if the Trail Angel locations are similar to this year’s event. I believe that could make a significant difference on such a long ride, although some of that weight would be transfered to the bike in terms of water bottles and a saddle back for tools and supplies.

Although a very tough and grueling ride, overall I enjoyed it. Of course, that’s easier to say now that it’s over, as there certainly were moments when I was thinking, “This sucks!” But seeing so many other riders going through the same grind as you is a good motivator, as well as all the chats I had with riders along the way. Even though people were suffering, everyone I spoke to was more positive than one would expect! I guess there’s something to be said for sharing of misery!

I have to give huge props to everyone involved in organizing this event, as well as all the Trail Angels who spent their Saturday providing support to riders at the Hill of Life, City Park, Thumper, and Walnut Creek. Without the Trail Angels this already gargantuan ride would be that much more challenging. And it’s not just the supplies they bring, but their words of encouragement and enthusiasm that helps push you along to the next milestone. Thank you!

See you in 2014!