Monday, March 26, 2012

San Ysidero Dirty 104

The San Ysidro Dirty Century was my first race this year, and a unique event. The SYDC is mostly a gravel race with a “short” section of singletrack. Historically the course has started and finished from a brewery in Rio Rancho, New Mexico. Due to land access issues there were some last minute course changes. Much respect to Lenny Goodell – the event organizer – for pulling together a great backup plan. In reality, this was probably a better route. (Here’s the route on Garmin) Previously the full version of the course was 123 miles, but the revision reduced that to 98. However, this placed the singletrack at the very end of the course – a devious sting in the tail. Hoping to bring the Mosaic I asked Lenny if this singletrack was CX bike friendly. Here’s his response:
Hey Shane, this is from Chris Hereford who always does SYDC on SS CX. Also he is a very good technical ride, so he may have a different view of White Mesa on CX than others…
“CX bike is the only way for SYDC. The singletrack isn’t severe enough for an MTB. Just my opinion, after five years on a cx bike on the course. And this has all been on a SSCX bike with 42×18. Suspension isn’t necessary for the long day, but many enjoy the comfort of an mtb. Yes, it is mostly dirt road, with occasional sand pits, and that’s when I’ll have to walk sometimes.”
That sounded positive to me. The videos and photos I had seen of the White Mesa trails seemed to confirm that it was mostly flowy mellow trail with just a few rocks tossed in.

Ok, so how did it go?
The day dawned bright, crystal clear and 50 degrees at 7am. After some rushed preparation – my phone/alarm decided to crap out – I was ready to go. The check in and line-up was pretty informal. Lenny called the start and we were off. The lead pack blasted ahead pretty quickly. I managed to keep up for the first 7 miles or so, even leading for a brief ½ mile. This group was going really fast (around 18mph) and I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this pace all day. I fell slightly back just before we turned right on Pipeline Road. This was also the point where we faced a bit of a headwind and I was really wishing to be in the paceline to draft. Alas, this was not to be and facing the headwind alone I fell farther and farther behind. The group was still in sight however until I made a wrong turn.

Lenny starting us off.

Horse play on Pipeline Road. 

A very generous soul was kind enough to drop water and whatever else we wanted about the 18 mile mark in the course – a point where we turn right, make a big loop and reconnect at about 65 miles in.  The drop ended up being closer to the 15 mile mark at a different intersection where we were to turn left. Something felt off but a local I was riding with assured me we were to go straight. Then the Garmin told me I was off route. There were not a lot of tire marks but I did see one rider ahead and three others joining us behind. I asked one who also assured me we were on route. Things didn’t seem right by the mileage when I checked the cue sheet. After asking about the Ridge Road intersection I confirmed that we were indeed off route about 3 miles. I told this to the others around me. They elected to continue on, which would have reduced the distance by ~5 miles, while I turned back to get on the official route and add 6.

Back on the official route and trusting the course in the Garmin all pressure was now off. I was previously struggling in my attempt to keep up with the lead group, but with the added 6 miles and whatever distance they covered I was likely at least 12 miles behind and completely unable to catch up.

Ridge Road
Had I stayed with the shorter course I would have missed ridge road, which was a fantastic a scenic stretch I’m glad I didn’t miss. I took it super easy and rode a couple of very mellow miles chatting with another rider, Charlie, before opening it up and going at my own pace. This big loop of the course wraps around Cabazon Peak. 


After a brief 4 mile paved section I was on the North side of the peak and passed a large group who I later learned had also gotten off route. One rider from this group, Billy, caught up to me and we ended up riding and chatting for most of the rest of the route. I made the decision after my “bonus” miles that I would take the time to be a be a bit more social rather than simply try to keep my own pace the entire ride. I probably could have finished faster had I gone at my own pace the entire time, but I would not have had the same experience. The people I met on the SYDC made the experience special for me at least as much as the fantastic weather and the amazing views.

Billy on the drop bar Niner. I was coveting that fork on the singletrack. 
Billy was on a single speed, drop bar, 29er with skinny tires. I’d often move ahead on many descents and Billy would catch up later. While I can often keep up on the flats, Billy and many other experienced riders always jet past me on the hills. With only 18 months of riding under my belt and only 4 months of actual training it’s becoming rather obvious where I need to focus my training efforts in the future.  For now and the rest of this season I need to focus on my endurance, but hill climbing will be the training menu for next year.

Billy and I finished rounding Cabezon and returned to the drop. After a quick refill, we headed down the last 15 miles before the singletrack. I went off on my own from here at my own pace. I had played tag with a woman on a full sus 29er for the last hour or so. I called tag when I caught here again and sped past down the road. Near our last turn at the natural gas compressor station I met Todd and his squeaky wheel. Todd had kept up with the lead group till a broken spoke and a wounded wheel led his tubeless setup to fail. As luck would have it his spare tube had a broken valve and Todd was forced to hike till another CX bike caught up with a spare tube. He and I rode into the White Mesa Trailhead where he split off to finish and I elected for more punishment. Todd had kindly offered a place to stay in Santa Fe for the night, but losing his number and my dead phone nixed this option.

I rolled into White Mesa at just under 6 hours and around 90 miles. Expecting the last 15 miles to be fun and mellow I figured one water bottle to be enough (big mistake). I wasn’t on the trail for more than 2 miles before I had slowed to a crawl. I was pretty obvious even in this early part of the trail, that while you could ride these trails on a CX bike, it was far from a wise decision. (From what I can tell I was the only fool to ride it on a rigid CX bike this year.) After this first two miles I heard a fast rider come from behind and yell “Tag!” I knew I wouldn’t see her again. Billy caught up shortly after that and we both endured the remaining miles together. Billy had ridden this trail system at least twice before and his wayfinding experience was extremely helpful. White Mesa has a fantastic map at the trailhead and promises numbered intersections with maps at the junctions. Well, some of the junctions were numbered and had those maps, but others were vague. We finished off the route and rolled into the finish together – not DFL. Ironically the first 90 miles took 6 hours while the last 15 took 3.

A true ridge route

Just some of the exposure.

Yup, we came down that amazing trail on the ridge.

The trails at White Mesa are amazing. They really differentiate this route from all other grinders that I know of. The views and exposure are fantastic and scenic, but there are quite a few steep ascents and descents, a lot of rocks, a bit of sand, and the sections which could have been smooth had dried to cement like hardness with many dips and potholes. This was beating me up for the entire 15 miles. It was easy to enjoy the views, but honestly it was hard to enjoy the actual ride on this bike. I’m glad I did it, but wish I had the right bike. (FWIW a hard tail 29er would be perfect for the full ride – I just don’t have one. I have a double squish, but thought that would be overkill on the road. Any time I lost there I would have easily made up on the singletrack.) There’s a reason the vast majority of folks were on mountain bikes. I realized that Chris Hereford (the guy quoted above) really is a complete bad ass.

Climb-a-bike. It's not just a steep gully. The rock Billy is standing on requires some scrambling just to get up on. 

Billy is about 200' below me on that sandy, steep trail.

At the finish I connected with a couple of other Colorado riders Aaron and Phil. I had filled a growler at Oakshire with their Overcast Espresso Stout (my personal favorite) before I left Oregon. I had been looking for an occasion to open this thing and I was certain this was near the end of the shelf  life. I can't really drink more than 2 oz of beer after a long ride, so sharing this at the end of SYDC seems like a good choice. Sadly, some combination of the extra time in the bottle or the extra heat in the back of the car meant that the beer had turned. A quick sip confirmed that. I went to dinner with Aaron and Phile where we replenished some lost salts with the salty rim of a margarita. After breakfast at the Bad Ass Coffee Co we both headed for home, but coincidentally reconnected in Trinidad, CO where I had stopped for lunch.

The cage for this bird is about 15' tall. 
There are many great old buildings in Trinidad, but many appear abandoned. 

Lessons learned: 
  • If you don't put sun screen high enough on your forehead you get little triangle tan lines. 
  • Sun sleeves work fantastic, but slide down in the back sometimes leaving an exposed strip (yup got a burn there too.) 
  • Some really cool people do these rides. 
  • The route loaded in the Garmin is sometimes more accurate that advice from locals.
  • Don't bring a butter knife to a sword fight. 
  • Dark beer lasts a while in a growler, but not six months. 

The AntiEpic is in two weeks. I know the roads there so I’m safe on the Mosaic. I’m hoping to pull off a White Rim trip in another two weeks after that and call it a training ride, but on the 29er.


  1. butter knife...eek. nice job getting through it.

    1. Thanks man. Looking forward to hearing about your slurpie errr fatbike race.