Bicycle.Punk Rock.Action

"Go Straight To Hell, Boy..."

Posted May 14, 2014 @ 12:01pm | by Hurl


I’m damn near hypothermic riding in white-out conditions at the Whiskey 50 Offroad race, and I’ve got one song stuck in my head:

“Clear as winter ice
this is your paradise…
Straight to hell boy
Go straight to hell boy”

Flying to Arizona in late April for a mountain bike race, you imagine warm temperatures and bright sunshine. The one and only Lance “LanceScaping” Larson had invited me down to ride the Whiskey 50 with him. After our brutal Midwest winter, how could I say no? But as race day dawned Saturday morning, it was looking grim.; 39° and driving rain at the 7:30 am start. Riders in all kinds of makeshift headgear and rainwear toed the line. Shower caps, tinfoil-covered helmets, Day-Glo plastic garbage bags called into service as rain gear.

The Whiskey Offroad is in its 11th year, starting and finishing on the infamous South Montezuma Street in Prescott, Arizona, a single downtown block that was once home to 40 saloons, known as “Whiskey Row.” 

The starting chute was self-policed by your estimated speed. Though I’ve been riding a fair amount, both in Santa Fe, and Minneapolis, I had no aspirations to barge into the “Fast” (or even “Faster”) groups that assembled in front of us. Lance & I took our slots at the back of the bunch with a handfull of secret weapons: Atomic Fireballs!

With the rain showing no sign of subsiding, the starting cannon bellowed through the saturated air, and while those of us in back had to wait for the front of the group to get rolling, eventually we pedaled into the downpour edging up and out of town climbing Copper Basin Road, 6 miles of steep pavement before turning onto the dirt at Camp Pearlstein. Two-track turned to one-track. We had pre-rode this first section twice the day before so I knew there was nothing too technical to contend with but almost immediately the bottlenecks began. By now the sleet had started and so we sputtered and stuttered in a stop-and-go conga line. A spectator trackside produced a bottle of Fireball whiskey right next to my station. I took a slug and warmed my core before rolling on again into the stop/start section. At one point there is a rock face that you must carry momentum into to get up and over. I stopped and leaned against a tree to give the merry makers in front of me a chance to clear out when two impatient D-bags rode around me, off course. The second guy feebed on the rock, forcing me to wait for him to move his carcass out of the way, but I finally got rolling and roosted down the trail on the Santa Cruz Bantam loaner I was enjoying, courtesy of One On One Bike Studio.

Exiting the first singletrack section, we crossed a fire road before dropping into section two. This portion of the trail was markedly more technical with exposed rock faces, expert lines, and more climbing. The sleet turned to full-on snow as we climbed up and up, maneuvering around and over railroad tie water bars. Forced off the bike at one point my cleats clogged with snowy mud; I could not get clipped back in to my XT pedals and cussed like a stevedore as several riders passed me by. There were some dicey moments as I tried to descend some of the up and down rollers with just the carbon sole of my Giro Empires resting on top of the pedals. Ultimately I got one foot locked in and banged the other one on the pedal until they rejoined with a solid click. I settled into a smooth cadence, churning up the greasy climb. More bottlenecks formed on a not-so-technical section. I followed another rider, descending around the stopped riders on the option line as the wind increased and we’re riding through whiteout conditions. Soon we were descending East Copper Trail, a fast ridgeline descent. Riders in front of me were being cautious in the conditions. Too cautious, I thought, so I went around them, funduroing alternate lines on the Bantam, getting loose, moving the bike in the air, the riders behind me hootin’ and a’ hollerin’. Coming off the descent there was a defacto checkpoint. Shivering riders all around. My hands were so cold I had to use my teeth to open my trail bar. Two volunteers popped the hoods on their trucks as we tried drying our gloves on the engine block and warmed our hands on the radiator hose.

Really shivering now, I could only think of the 2011 edition of the Almanzo 100, featuring rain, sleet, and demoralization around every corner. A meandering, but steady climb brought us to the next actual aid station, fully stocked with gels, bananas, pretzels, and pickles. It was also here where you could make a right turn for the 25 Proof race, or for the 50 Proof, a left turn. In retrospect, I would have gladly chosen the 25 Proof version, had I known that the additional mileage of the 50 amounted to charging down the 9-mile fire road descent to Skull Valley, only to ride around an orange safety cone, and then climb back out 18 miles to the top. On the way down the road was a soupy mess, into a solid headwind. By the return, the sun had made an appearance, and surprisingly, my internal speaker inexplicably switched from The Clash to Jay Ferguson’s “Thunder Island,” parsing the lyrics in my fatigued state:

"She was the color of the Indian summer 

In the sun with your dress undone 

Makin’ love out on Thunder Island…”

The key to maintaining momentum on the climb was to keep telling myself small lies, leap frogging past a few riders while the road mockingly refused to plateau.

The kind volunteer near the top told me it was “all downhill to downtown.” “How many times do you think I’ve heard that,” I replied, secretly wishing she was telling the truth. When the singletrack did re-emerge, I was nonplussed. Stopping to get a gel in my neck, I attacked the brown dirt ribbon cursing the fact that it had an uphill entrance.

The single track was fast, fun, and technical and I was shredding, when like an illusion, a sign for the Blackburn Bacon Station appeared. Thinking the bacon stop was long gone by this point. I skid the Bantam to a stop, labored to unclip my pedal, then high-fived all in attendance. Bacon was stuffed into my mouth, salty pork fat giving much needed energy to continue. A quick snapshot against their photo backdrop with a Blackburn hatchet, and I was off, hoping with all my heart that Thumb Butte parking lot would materialize since it truly was all downhill on the pavement from that point. A few more techy singletrack jams later, including being caught and passed by a young Dave Wiens doppleganger, and I was turning my biggest gear down the asphalt for the 2-mile descent into downtown Prescott and the finish line on Whiskey Row, where race staff unironically handed us pint glasses. Filled with water. At an event named “Whiskey.”

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