My first enduro meant a trip down memory lane, back to Oakridge. Last year Oakridge was a highlight for Stewart on our 2-week adventure, for me, let’s just say I was a bit nervous. We arrived Thursday to a ‘dirt lot’ that would play home for the next few days. We set up Bruce (our new addition to the family, F150). Friday morning we loaded into old school buses to shuttle up to the mountain for a test run of the Enduro course on Alpine Trail. 5 Stages, all with their very own personalities, challenges, and awesome descents.
Meet Echo, an S-Works 2018 Stumpjumper FSR. A work of art. Friday marked my third time riding the bike, so we were still getting acquainted. The ride started with a couple of hiccups, as I reached down to adjust my rear suspension I wasn’t aware of the different placement and nicely smashed my fingers between the switch and water bottle, this threw me off guard and like a newbie, I nearly crashed. Fingers tingling, we continued up hill to the first transition. Half way down the mountain and we were finally a team. Hitting little (baby) jumps, speeding down long stretches of trails, only putting my foot down for a couple right-hand turns. I felt great. Saturday’s race might just work out.
Stage 1 Sourgrass Meadow to NF-1912 crossing
Start this stage off in stunning fashion with an “is this real life?” blast through Sourgrass Meadow on fast rocky (and narrow!) singletrack before descending into iconic Alpine Trail flow with occasional roots, bumps, and several tight switchbacks. We could say this for all of our timed segments: you will get cookin’, so be sure to look ahead and be ready for sudden and abrupt switchbacks.
I’ve never raced an Enduro before. I raced a few downhill events in College, but nothing too technical. When I registered I initially put beginner. Stewart quickly corrected me and made me register in Sport but I still had no idea how I was going to compare. As we began lining up at the first stage, a couple of women went off a head. We were all trying to get a feel for pacing and who would pass who. It was my turn and almost immediately I passed the person 30-seconds ahead of me. Quickly after that passed another. And right before the finish, passed one more. Okay, maybe I do know what I am doing.
Stage 1 was the longest stages out of the 5, it took me 7:46.77 to complete the stage, despite getting held up three times. Its a flowy descent with a few switch backs near the finish. Great single track, the kind of descent that you don’t want to end. Luckily I was going to have 4 most equally as awesome trails to come. It was a great way to start the race off as we hit our next transition.
Stage 2 Jedi to NF-1912/Windy Pass crossing
Ever wanted to ride like Leia? Pump and bump your way through a section of Alpine locals refer to simply as “Jedi” – a nod to the old-growth trees that the trail twists and turns through. Smiles, shout-inducing berms, and quick techy changes in direction are key features on this segment.
You can’t go wrong with a description like that! You really do feel like you are in episode 6, fighting off the storm troopers, weaving between trees. This portion has some great rolling rocky sessions, things I would never had ridden in years past but now absolutely eat up. There is a little kicker in the middle to remind you that this isn’t all fun and games, as you actually need to pedal a bit too. We learned but the previous stage to have me out in front, so I only passed one person before reaching the finish. 4:09.83 was the shortest and quickest portion of the race.
Next, we had a long transition to do, with some left hand ‘cliffs’ I wasn’t too fond of but knew I needed to ride. I was pumped. I was riding the best I’ve ever ridden and feeling incredible. Stage 3 had everyone in my little pedal group a bit nervous. It starts off with some sharp turns that threw you a bit off course, but after that, you could fly…
Apparently, I still had my XC experience in my head, keep moving. I didn’t stop at the rest stops, I just keep riding through to the transitions onto the next stage. I don’t like stopping, even for normal rides, so adding in the pressure of a race, there was no way I was going to stop. This put me quite a ways in front of the main field. Luckily I had two awesome women to ride with for the transitions but there is no telling how far ahead we were for the duration of the race.
As we reached Stage 3, the volunteers were a bit shocked to already see some riders, see….you are supposed to stop and hang out, take a shot, chug a beer at these rest stations….oh well, not my style I guess. We hung out a bit at the start of stage 3 to let them get settled and radio ahead. Then I took to the course.
Stage 3 Vista Meadow to NF-683 crossing
After you stop for a couple of selfies with your friends and drink in the absolutely ridiculous views of Transition 3, power up a climb and get ready to start your engines again (after catching your breath). There are several tight switchbacks along this section, so check yo’self before you wreck yo’self!
They aren’t joking about the switchbacks, they definitely keep you in check. It was a good reminder to slow down and not get over confident. After the switch backs were done I had full run of the course. This was only my second time down this section and loved it! 6:46.05
Stage 4 Buckhead Shelter to NF-5828 crossing
One word describes this segment: FAST! Long corridors of straight-ish trail allow you to pickup crazy amounts of speed. The exposure may give you pause to take it down a notch, and there are several sections of loose srabbly shale to test your handling skills.
Fast is right. One of the most fun stages on the whole course. There are some technical loose rocks that make things a little interesting but the long descent is epic. Built for speed. 6:00.82.
When we were test riding this stage on Friday, Stewart actually told me to slow down a bit, that is how comfortable I started feeling on Echo. The bike just rolled over the technical sections and never once did I feel out of control or going above my limited skill level. When I finished the stage I was tempted to hike my bike back up and do it all over again.
Stage 5 Jurassic Park to Westfir Portal
No, a T-Rex may not be chasing you…but if one was….you could probably pick up enough speed in this section for that tiny-armed fella to eat your dust. This segment basically follows the mountainside one direction before a sharp left brings you back down the other way. Short punchy ups keep you on your toes until you get the once-in-a-lifetime experience of throwing down the hammer as you finish the course in an all-out-sprint along the fire road which brings you right back where it all started with a screaming crowd of your #1 fans and of course, cold beer!
After winding your way through ferns, you come to the realization that the race is almost over. Most races I’m praying that the finish line is just a bit closer or that I’m magically transported to the end. But the Enduro was different….here I was wishing that there was a surprise bonus stage or that I would have to do it a second time before crossing the finish line. Regardless, I gave it all I had left on Stage 5. Maybe a bit too much to be honest, I forgot about a couple of turns and nearly washed out. By this point, the course had seen some better days and was getting washed out in some corners and sandy sections. I wasn’t paying much attention and pushed myself a little too hard. I was brought back down to reality when I ran into a blackberry bush (I swear it wasn’t there the day before) and I almost missed a quick climb by being in the wrong gear…5:43.87
I was the first one down. Yay, I won! Oh wait, this isn’t like other races…this is a timed event. I crossed the line and it was like a ghost town, guess they weren’t expecting people to be down so quick. Again…..rest stops, I’m not used to that. Total race time: 30:27.34. I felt great. I was a little overly confident in my finish time, especially in comparison to the first couple of riders. Then I quickly got pushed down to 4th. I was a little upset, it was the first time I’ve ever finished a race and actually thought I stood a chance. Stewart reassured me that 4th was very impressive for my first Enduro, but I still don’t know….Regardless it was extremely fun and I can’t wait to race again! Going downhill sure beats climbing on a MTB!