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Togwotee Winter Classic

The new Bill showed up in the Teton Valley this past weekend. Screw competitiveness and hello fun was now the new motto. Learn, observe, and soak it up. Being almost 48 now it is a must. Enjoy it while you can remember the good times, right?

We stopped into the Togwotee Lodge to grab a map. And then drove over the pass to our cabin we rented. Shocker … at 3 in the afternoon. If anyone knows us at all then they know we don’t arrive until like 10 or 11 in the evening. Being there so early and in daylight was weird. So we went on a quickie fat bike ride and took a look around.

When we returned we partied like it was 1999. Beer, brats, and staying up late doing cross words. Like I said party!

The next morning we woke up and drove to the start of the The Togwotee Winter Classic and prepared for our race, me the 35 miler, and my partner the 25. Without nerves everything was easy. Get the bike out jump on and start. For me I just wanted to ride the loop and have fun. To be in the moment and not expect to keep up with the leaders or go for the win. Nothing to fuss over and no scrambling with last minute details. If I needed to adjust the air in my tire then I could do it out on the trail.

And we were off like a swarm of bees making our way up the initial climbs. The race director had mentioned that the lodge groomer had broke down and the trails were not groomed. But thankfully the great folks at Togwotee Lodge did do a last minute groom the night before after their rig got fixed. So at least the start was groomed. That meant a fast front group followed by all the stragglers. I choose straggler for a bit.

Soon though the front group slowed down to a reasonable pace and I joined them. I wondered to myself why all these years I worry about starting so fast. So this time I did not burry myself and still made it to the front feeling fresh and excited. Very fun to be riding with blue skies overhead and the most beautiful scenery around.

There is a beast of a climb just before the 35 miler turn. JayP actually climbed the beast and left everyone for dead while we just trudged up on foot. Some even managed to do a respectable job getting back on and climbing the rest. Me, I just walked up it thinking that I was on my own from here. That was OK, in fact I didn’t expect to stay with the lead. I was right where I wanted to be. Riding my bike in a beautiful place. Well … soon would be riding.

On top of the climb I saw Jay and a bunch others heading up the 25 mile route. They turned to see who would go off to do the 35. I stopped and looked left down the hill. OMG, no fresh snowmobile tracks, just powder. Now I understood the directors warning that it wasn’t groomed. I waved good bye to the group and bombed down the hill. I was in the lead.

For a while I wondered if I was the only fool to take on this walk-fest 35 mile today. Last week I did JayP’s Backyard Fat Pursuit so I was no stranger to walking. And I did not have any expectations. Just wanted to be out there. And I was … alone. Now walking.

My elbows started to hurt. And for the rest of the day this was the only lagging problem. It felt like tennis elbow, probably the effects from the week prior at the Pursuit.

Then I was caught by a rider, I think Paul Nash. Then two more, Adam and Chris Leiferman. The day even got better. People to ride with … walk with.

Two of us had like 4.0 wide tires and the others, Adam and Paul, had real fatties. I am guessing 5.0’s. Every time I got off to walk Paul would catch me and Adam and his brother would extend their lead. I did not expect to ride and got on when I could but I did have that observation. This fits into my new motto. Fatter tires for more riding pleasure. I made note to get fatter next year. But no worries. It seemed Paul and I were putting out the same effort and would end up riding together today.

At the end of the valley farthest from the lodge I went poking around and found a half buried solid track. I was able to ride back to Adam and Chris. This was fantastic, what a bit of luck. All three of us walked the next series of hills coming out of the valley.

Soon it became apparent that we could ride and to our joy we could. The day was turning out fabulous. As we headed back towards the CDT trail Paul caught back up to us and then we became the 4 amigos out on a sunny winter day. The next hour or so was filled with fun decents, animal tracking, and funny jokes.

There was a pause at the CDT junction for a bit while we debated on which way to go. I reported that we were to go right due to my recollection from two previous years. Finally we found a sign to validate my claim and we were off again, this time with a rider trailing us. Wow, could this party arrive at the finish line with 5 riders?

The pace slowed so I took the lead. I reported that someone was joining us but no one looked back. It seemed as if everyone was kid of at the end of their rope. So I just set a reasonable but quick pace. Nothing that would burry me but enough to at least have a fun race to the lodge.

“Your’e dropping everyone”, came a voice behind me. I just pedaled on figuring I could make a little break and make it interesting. It was close enough to the finish I could get a little competitive and still have fun. Not like starting out wanting to win and getting buried and passed like the year before. I was having a blast.

I pulled away and had a sizable gap. I had tested my legs on a couple climbs and realized I should settle down a bit. Then it came to me … I was going to win. But thinking that was a mistake.

It was a mistake because I formulated an expectation. I was leading and far enough out to assume I would win, right? Soon I started seeing things I have never seen. And making climbs that were not in previous year’s courses. Yep, I was lost. Seems like the old Bill showed up just in time to mess up the expected win.

So I slipped back into my new self, stopped caring, and just enjoyed the ride. The view was outstanding and the sun was out. Fabulous day. I was able to determine I had passed the cut off to the lodge and rode backwards on the trail we started on. The view of the Tetons was outstanding.

I rolled into Togwotee Lodge and took a moment to turn off my GPS. I was dragging my feet because I was a little embarrassed to go inside. I got lost while leading the race. And by now everyone I had been riding with was probably waiting for me. I went in to the “sign in sheet”.

“The winner!”, someone yelled from across the room. Everyone started clapping. All racers seemed to make the wrong turn and do the extra 4 miles. And as a bonus, I won.

And that is the most interesting part of the weekend. But not all of the fun. The entire weekend was fun, and relaxing. We hung out at the lodge and ate Elk Burgers. Then we stayed another night at the cabin and enjoyed a scenic drive home the next day. All fun. Not just fun “except for the race where I got waisted”. Without expectations fun just happens.

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Togwotee Winter Classic

According to my GPS I had another 8 hours until I got back to Togwotee Lodge (track).  That is the last time I saw Mo … back at the start of the race. But now I was out in the middle of nowhere in a snow storm. I had been warned that if I took a certain turn onto the 35 mile course I was “on my own” and that no one would come to my rescue. And now there was a legand, one that has won Tour Divide and Idatasport Invitational, in front of me. I followed Jay Petervary’s every move learning how to race across snow.

The first 2 hours of the 2012 Togwotee Classic I was being schooled by everyone. In that time I learned some valuable lessons. And with everything I learned it was my turn to work a little for the cause. I pedaled ahead of Jay to take a turn into the fierce headwind down the South Fork Spread Creek drainage. I quickly realized that it was a lot tougher to lead into the wind and waited for the inevitable to happen. Jay would just roll by and drop me.

Up to this point I was wondering what the hell I was thinking, trying to be a snow bike racer. At the start I was stopped about a half dozen times to let air out of my tires. Everyone was riding their bikes and I was running. WTF? Lesson number one was learned pretty fast.  As low as you can go with tire pressure.  I notice instant improvement but the damage had been done and Jay was no where in sight.  I lumbered along and tried to fake it but it was obvious I was a greenhorn.

Lesson number two soon came out of necessity rather then watching one of my heroes do it correctly.  I wanted to be a student of Jay P but found him to fast to follow.  My problem … couldn’t stay on my bike. No traction. So when the trail turned downhill for a moment I risked my life and let it rip.  Soon enough I had the leader in sight again but my tank was getting empty from all the effort. One other rider Adam Leifelman used my wheel to gap up with me and we had exchanged comments on how fast Jay was going. My contribution was that I needed to loose some weight and that I as to fat to be a snow bike racer. He just laughed and agreed.  How  was Jay riding everything we had to push?

As we bombed into the valley we were now in control of the event and pulling away ever so slowly.  A great turning point for me is when jay started pushing the hills and I was able to catch up finally.  It was time to learn and I mimicked all his movements.  How he used the trail markers to navigate instead of the most recent snowmobile track.  His ever so light pedal stroke to stay on top of the fluff and keep the precious momentum going.  And now I had learned enough and was feeling like a big part of the race.  Even leading for now.  I was in heaven. Then the consistant Carbo Rocket intake started to pay dividends and I found a little more speed.  An hour passed and no Jay powering by. I stopped breathing heavily and tried looked back along this huge plateau.  Nothing!

I couldn’t see him anywhere. My heart started pounding with that warm fluttery excitement that you get when you finally learn you are doing well.  Out in front.  I jumped back on and collected my thoughts.  I needed to stay calm and not blow up. There was 15 miles to go and this was no time for excitement.  I went into business mode which took me over numerous hills and valleys … each time looking back for the inevitable Jay to come powering by.  But that did not come. I counted down the miles and connected on the CD trail. 10 miles from the finish.  I saw snowmobilers stopped and cheering me on. Someone took my photo.  I kept it as strong as I could through numerous crashes. Could this really be happening I wondered. Could I get back to the lodge before Jay?

Then I saw them. Two figures standing in the highway in front of Togwotee Lodge. It was Mo and Dave. I fished the loop. My first snow bike race. I held my bike over my head and celibrated my best effort of the year so far. And the best part … it didnt take me 8 hours to get back. I ended the loop in just a second under 7 hours.

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Togwotee training

In two weeks we will be in our first snow bike race somewhere near Togwotee Pass and today was good training. We “tried” my urban loop which comprises mostly green space fitness paths. In the winter these become pretty fun snow biking opportunities.  Today dodging the poop bombs (bad dog owners) was not a problem but interestingly enough it actually snowed in Bozeman. Enough to test our resolve on these inner city trails.

Whenever we turned West the fierce wind blew snow into our faces so hard that the snow stung like hail and opening the eyes was a trick.  It was hard to see and with the snow piling up the trails started to disappear.

Once home the storm subsided and stopped. Maybe 3 inches fell during our ride but it was enough to give us a taste of riding for multiple hours in challenging conditions.  In two weeks we find out if this toughened us up.  Maybe next time I can actually show my girlfriend around Bozeman. Today was just a complete white out which made it seem more like Togwotee Pass.