So I decided to race the Big Sandy this past weekend located up in Auberry CA (east of Fresno). Though some may think of Fresno as flat and bare, this area is particularly beautiful with its rolling hills surrounding Millerton Lake. I had three choices of races this weekend, Fontana Pro xct, the local Fort Ord CCCX or this one. I could not resist the Big Sandy because it is one of the last point to point races in California plus a real mountain bike race with big climbs and long downhills, just what I am good at. Also, my buddy Menso (and overall winner in 2011) told me, do not miss out on racing the Big Sandy if I could help it, so I saddled up my gear in my van and left Friday around noon. I planned on getting there with just enough light to pre-ride for about an hour, then hang out make some new friends and camp.

My plans were panning out perfectly with only a couple things that tried to slow down my arrival. At the crowded gas station in Vallejo, a young man’s car had run out of gas so I helped him try and jump start it while spraying some starter fluid into the intake. No dice, there must have been something else wrong as his car failed to start. I wished him good luck as he called his tow company and I was officially on my way eastbound. I felt good about trying to help, and maybe the good karma would come to me on race day. That it did…

I arrived around 6:30 as the sun began to hide behind the big western mountainside. I pulled up beside a fellow racer who had a similar white van as me. I guess we both had the same idea, make it an overnight trip. Turns out I was parked next to Brian Butler, a fast Cat 1 rider who ended up winning his category the next day. From first saying hi we became friends and both learned we had more in common than expected. He and I both have a dirt bike background, white vans and we both ride because we love going fast! Being so new to the racing scene, I love meeting and chatting with fellow racers.

Brian just got back from a pre-ride when I arrived, so he pointed me in the direction of the Squaw Leap Pa’San Ridge Loop. A 4 mile loop with about 1,300 feet of climbing. It is the first loop the Pros/experts would be completing in the morning before heading off down the River trail towards Finegold Bay on the southern end of Millerton Lake. I geared up and set off on my short pre-ride down the first descent that was filled with awesome water bars flowy bermed corners and sketchy stairstep obstacles that I was having so much fun hammering on after sitting in the car for over five hours. Soon enough I came to a huge bridge that passes over the river. What an amazing view! I continued on, but was not totally sure which direction the loop went. Clockwise or counterclockwise? So I rode up both ways for a short distance so that I would know the up and down of at least the first section of both. I was told there may be some hike-a-bike areas, and that was for sure. Stairs and big rocks filled many sections, but as I progressed further up the trail it smoothed out. I couldn’t stop thinking how awesome tomorrow will be!

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View from bridge

I rode back to the parking lot and Brian mentioned I should head down the river trail a bit. I was off again, scoping out the fast singletrack that undulated up and down as I made my way further and further down the trail. I knew by this time in the race after completing the ridge loop, each of these punchy climbs would be another knife in my legs. I would need to leave enough gas in the tank for the final one mile climb at about mile 19 tomorrow. I thought to myself that luckily it ends on a downhill, yippee!  I made my way back to the van where I cleaned up, re-fueled with some pasta and rice I made earlier in the day, and hung out and talked with Brian and his brother Brett. I could already feel the nerves in my stomach thinking about the race in the morning.

After a pretty awesome sleep in the van, I woke up and said good morning to the new faces who arrived early that morning. Racers were walking around and scoping out the start line and beginning of the ridge loop. I began setting up my gear, wiped down my Tallboy and Kashima Stanchions of my Fox fork. I was still debating how I should do my water feed. Bottles or camel back? I decided I would use one bottle for the Ridge loop, and then grab my Camel back off the bumper of my van that was perfectly situated in the parking lot for a quick “handoff”. Then I would not have to carry excess weight up the massive start climb. I taped a couple Espresso Clif Shots to my top tube in a way that I could easily tear them off and slurp them down on the fly. A proven method I learned last season. I threw two Mountain Berry Clif Shot Bloks in my jersey pocket, one that I would eat 45 minutes before start and one for post race (that came in very handy, as you will read later).

I began warming up around 9:45 (the race started at 10:45) by riding down the river trail for a while and then doing some high intensity sprints to get me ready for the painful road start. I wanted to be first in line to the single-track. While I was riding around and I saw a fast buddy of mine, Andrio from San Francisco. I was stoked he was racing because I was unsure he was going to make it out to this one, but like me he decided how could he miss it. Andrio managed to take the first place win in Cat 1 19-34 category! His climbing prowess definitely paid off in this event.

With a 10-15 minute delay, we began lining up at the start a little later than expected. The beginners and sport class took off first since they only race the River Trail. As we pulled up to the line, the announcer was giving us guidelines and telling us to watch out for cow paddies and poison oak (two things of which my bike and I had already experienced earlier in the morning, yuk). Then he said “there is a 100.00 preme for the first pro/expert racer to finish the Ridge Loop first! SWEEEET, I thought to myself! I would give it my all to take the hundred bucks. I could hear people yell “Jeremiah Root!” uh oh, maybe I do have some fierce competition!

GO! We were off! Three riders pulled ahead of me as we sprinted up the road toward the start of the singletrack. I managed to pass one of them on the inside corner just before the dirt started. Dang, I am not first to the singletrack like I hoped for! I focused on recovering a bit while I descended behind Root who was leading and Giant rider Kessler. We made it to the bridge and I could tell that we had already made a gap on the field. Dismounting rapidly for the first hike-a-bike section, we all jumped off our bikes. Luckily Root knew the direction we were supposed to “run” because Kessler almost started the loop in the wrong direction, man, I would have followed too! I managed to sprint (literally running with my bike) in front of Kessler and take the second position behind Root. The climb had begun and I could feel my heart in my throat. A couple minutes into the climb I snuck into the front of the line, with Kessler right behind. I cautiously kept my pace as high as possible and managed to put a on a pretty solid gap (maybe 30-45 seconds). I felt comfortable cresting the peak of the climb, knowing I was in first place and I could now rely on my technical descending skills. Man that descent was fun! There were plenty of obstacles, rocks and sandy burmed corners that tested my Tallboy and its 120mm Fox fork. Squeek, Squeek I could hear waning breaks behind me and I caught a glimpse of Kessler making up time! Oh no, this can’t happen, how did he make time on the descent?! Later I learned he was running a dropper post, something that maybe I should have been running for this race. But luckily my climbing ability outwitted him as I hammered over the bridge, doubling back on our tracks up the next climb. Oh no! Up the trail I could see that a hiker must have closed the gate behind them! Would this be the turning point that would let me lose the lead? I jumped off my bike as quick as I could, unlatched the gate, threw it open, and sped off rapidly. I looked back but still could not see my opponent behind me, phew! Woohoo, I could hear people cheering me on as I was the first one to make it through the ridge loop, cha-ching!

I managed to swiftly grab my CamelBak off the bumper of my van and throw my water bottle at the same time and off I was to start the River trail! Man, my legs were already in pain and I was thinking to myself how I would hold my position. I continued to hammer through the flowy singletrack while I pounded down one of my Clif Shots to keep my energy pumping. At about mile 17 I began catching the other riders who were making their ways to the finish line. I was dreading the finishing climb that was coming up quickly. My legs were so shot by this time, and truthfully I felt like giving up and walking down to the water for a much needed bath. But, my conscious said no way, and I continued pedaling. I glanced back more than I needed to and could catch glimpses of Kessler across the coves of the lake, probably less than minute behind.

The last climb was now staring me in the face, and I had nothing left to throw at it! I pedaled with the last of my ability and pleaded to the riders I was passing that this is so painful! But they could not help me, so I moved on. Cresting the top of the hill I could see the finish line, tents, and imagined how tasty a cold beer would be right at this time. Regaining my composure I raced down the decent to the awkward finishing turn where I almost went the wrong direction. People were cheering as I sped up the boat ramp as I threw up a hand and celebrated the victory I fought so hard for!

The post race party was a great one. Tasty free beer, hotdogs and water waited for the racers as we hobbled over the finish line. I met so many new people, and all the local racers were enthused about the turnout and competition of this race. Each year it is growing! The comradery is what I love so much about the bicycle industry. Everybody seems to get along, and that’s definitely what it is all about! Many people congratulated me and asked what bike and gear I was running. I heard a lot of people say this race was a hardtail race, but I acknowledged that the Tallboy was the right choice of bike for me. Maybe next time I will even run a dropper post so I can really rail the downhill!

During the awards ceremony everybody celebrated their efforts and I was astounded by the huge payout this race provides! Thanks to Zavorek Insurance and Dr Lester’s Natural Chia Energy for throwing down close to 300 bucks for first place! Kessler managed to take second, and Root took third. Little did I know I set the course record today! Wow!

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The “podium” with cash in hand!

The day was winding down, and the shuttle service back to camp was not working as planned. Brian Butler and I brought up the crazy idea that we should ride the 15 mile River Trail back to camp. After many people saying we were crazy and that it would take 2.5 hrs to get back, Brian and I set off! About 7 miles in, my legs were “numb” and I pulled out the Clif Shot that I saved for post race. Sharing with Brian we consumed the last of them and continued on our way. We managed to make it back in 1.5 hrs with just enough energy to wash off and pack up our gear. Oh boy my legs were tired! What an awesome weekend, till next time Big Sandy!

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