Gowdy Grinder – A Race Review

I should have known how my race would end when I missed the turn off Highway 210 for Curt Gowdy State Park.  Or maybe I should have known when the friendly folks working the number pick-up table couldn’t find my race number, despite the fact I was “on the list.”  Or maybe I should have known how the race would end back on April 23 when my pre-ride was cancelled because the trails were covered with snow.  These are just a few of the signs as to how my race would end right up to the seconds after the race director yelled “go”.  However, this post is intended to be more of a race review than the excuses for my 8th place finish in the Advanced Women category.  On some level, they do go hand-in-hand.

I left the house very early on May 13 for the drive from Arvada, Colorado to Curt Gowdy State Park in southeastern Wyoming.  My race started at 11:01 AM, and I planned to arrive before 10.  I was grateful to have left enough of a cushion in my drive time to accommodate the missed turn off highway 210 which added about 30 extra minutes to my drive.  The signage within the park directing race traffic was obvious and easy to follow.  Because the number of race registrants is limited to just 325, there was ample parking as competitors arrived and departed throughout the day.

This race is self described as a “bare bones” race and as such, there were only a handful of tents setup at the Aspen Grove Trailhead, making it easy to figure out which one was the registration tent.  Despite a thorough search, the registration volunteer was unable to locate my number and waiver.  The race director quickly got involved and reassigned me to another number.  This left me with about an hour to kill before start time.  I busied myself with applying sunscreen, suiting up, checking tire pressure, taking in some calories, and a half-hearted warm up on and off the race course.  The Advanced Women’s race consisted of two loops, one ~5 mile loop, and another ~8 mile loop.  The two loops overlapped in part.  My goal was to finish the race in under two hours even though I’d never ridden the trails before.

The start line was situated on an uphill jeep trail so as to thin the flow of racers before arriving at the single track on top of the hill.  I was thrilled that mom’s were called up to the front of the 10 person peloton.  That thrill quickly passed when I realized that I was the only mom.  I knew all those other women had spent less time in a hockey rink and more time pedaling their bikes than I had.  I was even less thrilled when I got passed within the first 5 pedal strokes after the race started.  (audible sigh)

Because the April snow had foiled my plans at a pre-ride, I was very concerned about how I would find my way through the race course.  The Gowdy Grinder was quite possibly the best marked mountain bike race I have done.  There were signs at every fork in the trail as well as ribbons tied to tree branches.   Despite all this great signage, I made a wrong turn during the long loop of my race.  (I’d give specifics on exactly where this happened, but I neglected to turn on my Garmin at the start of the race.)  I back tracked and found the turn.  I’m still scratching my head as to how I missed it given the great signage.

At some point into the second loop I began to recognize the terrain from the previous loop and I knew I didn’t have too much further to go.  The terrain at Curt Gowdy was an interesting mix of flowy single track and funky rock formations that were incorporated into the trails.  It was more technical than I had anticipated, but very fun riding nonetheless.  I uncerimoniously crossed the finish line in eighth place of 10 racers and went directly to my car to change.

At the food tent, the race crew actually made sandwiches for participants.  Being that I am responsible for the cooking at our house, I was beyond thrilled to have someone build a sandwich for me.  It was quite possibly the best turkey sandwich I’ve ever had!  They also had the best macarons west of Paris.  These alone would draw me back for the race next year! Thanks Pedalhouse and Laramie Racing for a fantastic experience!

Riding the Beartooth Pass

Riding the Beartooth Pass

The Beartooth Pass is on US Highway 212 between Red Lodge, Montana and Cooke City, Montana.  The highway meanders along the borders of Montana and Wyoming high on the plateau of the Beartooth Mountains and eventually leads right into Yellowstone Park.  It’s closed in the winter and occasionally on other days throughout the year, given the right weather conditions.  The day before I pedaled up the pass on July 30, it was closed due to snow.  At its summit, this road is the highest elevation highway in both Montana and Wyoming.

I’ve driven over Beartooth Pass several times on my way to or from Yellowstone Park over the years.  The views never disappoint despite the wind and cool temperatures on top of the plateau.  When I started this cycling journey four years ago, riding up Beartooth Pass on my bike was  always a thought in the back of my mind.  I guess you could say it was on my “ride bucket list”.  Yes, cyclists have such a thing as I suppose motorcyclists do as well.  However, each summer when I returned to Montana, there was always some reason why I couldn’t do the ride: last year, I brought a mountain bike, the year before I was too busy… the list goes on.  This year I was feeling overwhelmed with all that is involved with moving from one home to another and felt a sense of urgency about returning to Colorado.  However, after seeing the weather forecast for the remaining week of my visit, I decided to stay just long enough to fit in the ascent.

I got up early on the morning of July 30, loaded my bike into the car, and departed Billings for Red Lodge.  As I

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

The sign just outside Red Lodge where I parked nearby and started my ride.

approached the mountains I realized there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.  I unloaded my bike, suited up, and pedaled away.  I had done better research for this ride than my previous ride on Alkali Creek Road and knew that I could expect to pedal for about 25 miles to the summit on a paved road.  I could expect the ride to take me approximately 2.5 hours based on the results of other cyclists I had seen on Strava.  I also knew that the climb to the summit would be gradual, at about 4% on average.

As I pedaled along, traffic was minimal on this beautiful late July day.  I saw many more motorcycles than cars.  The switchbacks started at nearly 7 miles into the ride.  As I approached the scenic overlook turnout, I passed 5 other cyclists, all of whom pulled off into the overlook parking area.  I kept going because I knew it was about halfway to the summit and I don’t like starting and stopping on prolonged climbs; it’s hard to get the legs going again.  Besides, there was no need.  I had plenty of fluids and food tucked in my pockets.

At about 19.5 miles into the ascent, I came to a place where I had to descend and then climb again to reach the summit.  I’m not going to lie, I was cold and considered calling it good and turning around.  But then that little voice in my head chimed in with “I didn’t come this far just to turn back now, especially when I can see the summit in the distance.”  I got as aero as I dared and

Elevation 10,947 feet

Elevation 10,947 feet

descended as quickly as possible, so as to minimize how much colder I would become before the final climb.  My garmin showed about 23 miles at the summit.  I took turns with all the motorcyclists taking pictures in front of the summit sign.  Then I slipped on my wind jacket for the descent.

What I didn’t realize when I had done my ride research was exactly how much climbing the ride would entail.  The total elevation gained was 5,262 feet… just 18 feet shy of a mile, give or take.  Hmmm.  That’s interesting considering the fact that I now reside in the “mile high city”.  A city known for more than just it’s elevation,  if ya know what I’m sayin‘.

On the descent, I stopped and took some pictures along the way…Enjoy!

So many motorcycles up there!

So many motorcycles up there!

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The Beartooth Mountain range. Look closely for the triangle shaped precipice on the horizon over the upper right corner of the sign. That’s the bear’s tooth. The next picture zooms in on it.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.

A closer/cropped shot of the bear tooth.