Bill Martin, Norman Singley, Ross Brown, Garland Thayer, Lydia Larson, Alden Wright, Julie Huck Ed Stalling, Laurie Stalling
Event Report | Blog
(Remember Marcy Vision Quest) took place on October 8th and 9th and included the usual suspects and some new adventurers. Returning for the 4th year in a row for the University Beacon section was Julie Huck and Laurie Stalling, the RMVQ’s sunshine and mountain top dance party originals. One year Julie brought glow sticks … fun times. Another 4th year veteran Garland Thayer snuck in the Sheep Mountain leg, Mr. Sheephead himself, who has posted a great post already. Other returning veterans were Lydia Larson who was involved in pit crew and support last year and it was so nice to see her bite off a large night chunk. Alden Wright and Ed Stalling also returned for some more late season mountain bike goodness. New to the event was Ross Brown who snuck in a last minute Blue Mountain section. Come to think of it most everything else about this years installment was new.
The newest thing about this years vision quest is that I don’t live in Missoula any more. So that means the organization of the event fell on my Missoula Friends. Julie and Norman gathered the troops and all I did was show up willing to ride. Usually I am planning beta parties and gathering everyone.
Also new this year was someone dedicated to finishing the entire route. So far I am the only person to complete the RMVQ in 24 hours. This year Norman went for it and I wanted to be part of his adventure. So I baked up a scheme where I started 6 hours after him and would try and catch him by the time he hit the Turah aid station. So there I was freshly shuttled by Mo to the Blue Mountain Recreation Area parking lot. I stood there waiting for the noon start when Ross Brown showed up.
At first I started off strong determined to set a new course record and soon I caught up to Ross who took a bit of a head start. Then something happened, I cant quite pin it down. Maybe I have learned the value of a good friend. I decided to ride with Ross as far as he would go.
“How far you going”, I polled him as we rode up the access road towards 50 Dollar Hill.
“Don’t worry about me slowing you down. You go and do your thing. Go ahead”, Ross pulled over and slowed down.
But I didn’t pass. I rode behind him a few more seconds.
“How far do YOU plan to go”?
“University Beacon … but you go. Have a great ride”, Ross said in a more stern voice.
“No … I miss you. I will ride you to the top”, and there was silence and he processed my plans. It seems as though people are taken back when I don’t go full out. It didn’t seem as though he was liking my idea.
“I miss you too”, and we rode on.
An hour and a half later we were still trudging up Blue Mountain and was finally nearing the turn onto the final accent.
“Have a good ride … see you later” Ross shouted.
“What? Aren’t you going to the top”?
“Well”, a long pause, “I was just stating a general intention. Maybe not to the top.”
“Naw … we are almost there. I will ride you to the top. Go for it.”, and then no more words. we kept climbing together. Silent conversations in a beautiful settings. Our riding together was all the conversation needed. We spoke in togetherness and riding buddy speak. Soon we were at the top and said our goodbyes. I posted a Marcy photo and shot down the Grave Range Trail.
Riding to the top of Blue Mountain with my friend was great, I wouldn’t change that. But there are some side-effects to joy riding the first 3 hours of the RMVQ. Specially when your desire is to set a new record. I needed to make up a half hour by the time I hit the first aid station on Kona Bridge. I rode at a higher intensity then the previous year but when I reached the end of the Grave Range I was even further behind pace. The big snow storm the days leading up to the event had the course super saturated and there were lots of huge puddles, each at the bottom of a screaming downhill. I had to slow down and find a way around. Then start a fresh up the next climb without enjoying the benefit of momentum from the speedy downhill. So the puddles got me.
I pulled into the first aid station with the idea in my head that this would be an epic RMVQ instead of a record breaking one. Already out was Norman who was determined to be the first non-Bill finisher. He took one look at the snow and bypassed the a-frame on top of Snow Bowl. I was anxious to see this snow and see if I could make it to the next aid station without abandoning the course. The RMVQ has been completed by yours truly every year since I started it and this year I wasn’t about to let it be the first to have no finishers. I was the only one left. I spent minimal time with my lovely aid person and headed up the long climb to the a-frame.
The climb was long but I expected it to be. What I never ran into was the huge snow pack reported earlier in the day. But as I climbed up the mountain everything got wetter and wetter. When I swung around the last switchback to the a-frame there was around 4-6 inches of snow. It was easy enough to pedal through but when I arrived at the a-frame it was apparent that I was going to have a “interesting” time descending the “Bear grass Highway” (A sweet single track section that in the summer is a hoot). I shoveled the snow from the front of the door and went in.
It seemed warm inside. That is because it was 34 degrees outside and dropping as the sun started to set.
“A frame snow bowl. 60 miles 10000 feet vert so far
I typed this out on my phone and tweeted before I went out on the deck to post a “Marcy Photo”.
I put on every piece of clothing I had but as I descended I became cold. Add to that numerous crashes due to deep snow that had blown into the bowl. It was like descending a luge track that had 3 inches of fresh snow on top. The decent was tricky … but fun too. I reached Snow Bowl Lodge and ripped down to the Ravine Trail to begin my final ascent to get to Aid Station 2 in the Rattlesnake.
The sun had set and my lights burned into the dark ravine as I climbed a local trail known as, interestingly enough, the “Ravine Trail”. My goal was to make up time even though hopes of setting a new record had vanished with my slow decent into Snow Bowl. Now I was just trying to finish the RMVQ in 24 hours. Any more lost time and I would fail. I climbed fairly well and reached the top to post another “Marcy Photo”. Soon I would be in the Rattlesnake Recreation Area parking lot.
I shot down the “Drop Out” trail and my mind drifted to aid station 2. Would the parking lot party still be raging? How much snow would be on top of Sheep mountain? Would I be able to stay warm enough on the next leg?
“Shit”, I screamed as I neared “Sawmill Gulch”.
I left my flat pedals and snow boots in Bozeman. Now the question was how to get my booties to survive some extreme hiking on rocky terrain. The Sheep mountain leg was going to be epic enough. Now I had to do it with my bike shoes and clipless pedals. I shuttered and I though of how long of a hike might be in store for me on shoes designed to never touch the ground.
Soon the trail took its toll on my concentration to worry. I started grinning wildly and screamed excited phrases into the night air as I ripped around corners and dropped off the ridge. I raced down “Sawmill Gulch” taking air off the big water bars and dashed into the “Maditory Singletrack”. This twisty piece of goodness took away all the pains of the previous 9 hours. I swerved around the trees as blissful and nimble as an owl. Music blaring in my ears I finally broke out into the parking lot and skidded to a stop. No one there except for one car, a recognizable car. It was Mo and Norman.
“Holy cow that was fast, I mean we figured it would take you 15 minutes to get off from Ravine but had no idea”
“It was fun, I am having a great time”
Shivers were rippling through my body. All the descending had frozen me to the core. Still … What a great ride so far.
So many good things have happened to me in the last 4 months. Every time I start to get depressed because I am not “organized” or my “training plan” has been disorganized I have to remember that the root causes are really good things. One good thing, meeting someone very special, is a perfect example. I am also learning and discovering more new things. Like my ability to love and care. And because every good person in your life will add good qualities to ones life you pick up new things. Like courage, the courage to know when what you are doing is more harmful then the excitement of pushing the limits.
As I stood in the Rattlesnake Recreation Area parking lot the night was in full swing. The temps were dropping and it was darker than my favorite coffee. I had been quickly trying to prepare for the Sheep Mountain leg and stay warm at the same time. Another cold tremor came over me as I looked up in the sky for my friend the Big Dipper. Nothing there. The decision was mine alone. The question which seems simple was a complex one for me.
Continue and slog for 5 or 6 hours with minimal gear. I could carry a down coat in case of an emergency and could sustain myself easily over night until help arrived. So in reality my life was not in too much danger. It would be uncomfortable, sure. But what part of the RMVQ is comfortable? I was perfectly willing to take the risk. I wondered if this type of drive and intensity is the very thing that set my end to be somewhere deep in the woods alone. Is it the very thing that keeps loved ones at a distance in fear they would be the ones to come and find my body. Is it why up until last year I have been pretty much alone and single?
I could stop and call it a night, giving up on the RMVQ. This would be something new to me and the thought of it sent another round of shivers throughout my body. This was something I could not bear to think about. No way I would give up. And normally those thoughts would keep me going but this weekend I was not alone. Two good friends stood in the parking lot in front of me. I shined my headlamp in their direction once again, giving up on finding the Big Dipper. I saw concern and despair. It broke my heart. I couldn’t quit this effort because of discomfort but I didn’t want to cause pain in the ones that loved me. I decided upon a plan. But this plan would take courage, the courage to walk away from intensity and focus. To walk away from the Sheep Mountain leg.
“How about this”, I sat against Mo’s car, shivering out another bout of tremors.
“I don’t do this leg. I go warm up, eat, and then Norman and I will resume from Aid Station 3. Norman, can you do the rest of the RMVQ if I ride with you?”
“I can do that, yes”
So we packed up everything and headed off to eat brats and organize and comeback for the rest of the event. Norman busily conjured up some contacts on his smart phone and began the process of organizing aid stations with riders for the last half of the ride. I downed 6 brats and everything that Mo could cook up. Then we rested and waited for our planned 1 AM departure. Our plan was to meet Alden and Lydia at aid station 4 in Turah. From there we would finish the RMVQ and turn a small setback into a successful effort. Norman dozed off and began to snore while I snuggled closer to Mo as silence filled the air.
Norman had set a phone alarm and when it went off all my ambition and focus was no where to be seen. I secretly wanted to get to it before everyone woke up and turn it off. I had been sitting there quietly contemplating what had happened so far and it startled me. I did not want to leave a warm house and food behind for some ten thousand more feet of climbing and tons of miles. And it was cold outside to boot.
Norman took off 20 minutes before me and I promised to catch up. And that I did, after freaking out he went the wrong way, right in the middle of the MitTower climb.
Norman & I just topped out on MitTower and posted a cp Marcy Pic – 2:09 am via twitter
I twittered our check point arrival and posted a Marcy photo as Norman caught up to me at the top. We had a short moment discussion on “what the hell we were doing” and started our decent to the Blackfoot River. The downhill was chilly and I stopped a couple times in fear that Norman was involved in a mishap. But he always popped around the next corner shivering violently. I could tell he was getting cold and his figures were becoming a problem. Soon enough we reached the valley floor where it was way colder then expected.
It was so cold the river was giving off fog which made all the trees and landmarks a ghostly white. The ride to the swinging bridge was very eerie but soon enough we did indeed arrived. We were all frosted over ourselves.
Norm and I at swinging bridge – 3:10 am via twitter
It wasn’t long before we were approaching Turah and in doing so a car started to pass us. I figured it was either a drunk driver coming home from the bar at 4 am or Lydia and Alden. I got over as far as I could and prayed. As the vehicle passed I saw Alden’s gleaming face. He was totally stoked to ride.
And so we meat our compatriots for the last two legs of the RMVQ. The band of riders prepared and I downed about 4 Lara bars and a bunch of Jerky. Carbo Rocket was still keeping me going but I was ravished and needed something solid … and … YUMMY.
The climb from Turah is brutal. It climbs consistently for 3000 vertical feet except near the top where it kicks up for good measure. I was glad to have company because last year I got to the top and passed out until a cold breeze woke me up. The toll started weighing heavy on Norman.
“I am falling asleep while biking”, he gasped as he bent over his handlebars.
It wasn’t long though before we were all riding again and I was the first to reach the top. I had a moment until they reached me so I wet forth in posting a Marcy photo and tried to tweet/post.
Can see dawn now. on 5 corners pass waiting for Alden, Lydia, & Norman to summit. Hour or two from Deer Creek. – 6:29 am via twitter
While I did finally manage to get something sent off via cell phone it wasn’t as smooth as one would think. Three times I fell asleep while typing the message out. Thankfully my companions of the night showed up and I came back to life.
The rest of the journey over to Pattee Canyon involved logging roads near Miller Peak. It was cold so we stayed together for the simple warmth of our company and friendship. Soon the day light filtered out the darkness and our spirits lifted. Once again we started chatting as the anticipation of sunrise seeped into our consciousness like a good cup of morning coffee. Lydia pedaled by me signing some tune. These guys were doing great.
“This is what it looked like when I was going up Blue Mountain yesterday … about this time … um … was that me”, Norman seemed to be caught in a parallel world that many of us 24 hour racers know so well.
We stood at the top of the Sam Braxton Trail enjoying the sunrise. I had been messaging the aid station people that we were arriving early.
My text messages were getting a little hard to read. But I am sure everyone understood. We were approaching the end of a long 24 hour ride. But we had one more leg to do. As I approached the last aid station a lone figure appeared in the empty lot. I jumped off my bike and threw my arms around her. It was a good feeling, probably the best of the ride.
Then the others arrived. Julie … Ed … Laurie all trickled out of a car and gave everyone congratulation hugs. It was a good scene. Mo served me up some more food and explained that we arrived so early she didn’t have time to stop for coffees or anything else. Julie did manage to grab some joe but most importantly out fashioned Lydia as the best dressed rider of the event. There is no way to explain the outfit … had to be there … it was awesome.
What is commonly known as the Thursday Night Ride crew did the last leg with me. Norman, Lydia, Alden, Ed, Julie, and Laurie all stood with me on University Mountain to post the last Marcy photo. Then it was all downhill from there. Icing on the cake as you will, or the RMVQ’s version of Champs Elysées. There was the congratulatory meet up at the base of MoZ and the finish just as previous years. And of course the breakfast at the Uptown Café. All good stuff.
The end went down as it always does in years past but this year it was new. This year no one finished the RMVQ but it was successful in many ways. Mostly though, I found the courage to stop the madness before it consumed me. I am not riding solo any more, I have others in my life.
Maybe the RMVQ will never be finished again. Maybe … but I cant wait for next year. Sheep Mountain and I have a score to settle.
- Bill Martin (Everything except Sheep Mountain).
- Norman Singley (Grave Range Growler, Snow Bowl*, Woody Mountain, Alp De Turah, University Beacon) Photos
- Ross Brown (Blue Mountain Fire Tower)
- Garland Thayer (Sheep Mountain)
- Lydia Larson (Alp De Turah, University Beacon)
- Alden Wright (Alp De Turah, University Beacon)
- Julie Huck (University Beacon)
- Ed Stalling (University Beacon) Laurie Stalling (University Beacon)
- Mo Mislivets my lovely pit crew