Of the races I committed to this season, I was most excited about the Utah Mixed Epic. Despite Tim Tait’s notoriously difficult events, he’s gained a following of weirdos who crave his style of route. It was the third iteration of the Utah Mixed Epic and each year’s route is different. This year’s 638-mile loop started from Moab and traversed three mountain ranges with remote desert in between. You can find a video with footage I took along the route and my full race report below.
It was 7:10 a.m. on the south side of Moab and Andrew had just dropped me off at the start of the Utah Mixed Epic (UME). I was full of pre-race jitters. It’s not that I was nervous, I was just excited about the route and eager to see places I’d never been before in this part of Utah. I was feeling ready, fast, strong, and focused, a stark contrast from the way I felt during my final bikepacking race of last year’s season.
When I lined up for the Colorado Trail Race (CTR) last year, I felt sluggish, exhausted, and full of self-doubt. By the time I got to the start line, I had completed a bikepacking race or individual time trial (ITT) in February, March, April, and May. I was in denial about the recovery I needed and kept going on long rides between those efforts. I rationalized my exhaustion, telling myself that I needed to experience fatigue in order to improve my fitness. Plus, I wanted to keep saying “yes” to all the races and rides I wanted to do.
I reflected on the differences in the way I treated my body this year as we rolled out on the pavement. We had a few easy miles before the character of this year’s UME was revealed on Flat Pass, a rugged 4×4 road with a section appropriately named Steel Bender. I had ridden this road in the other direction on Bikepacking.com’s Peaks and Plateaus route in the spring, so I knew what was coming: on and off the bike, pushing over big rock ledges, and some rowdy descents. I opted to start with just two liters of water and fill up from Mill Creek at the end of Flat Pass Road so my bike wasn’t too heavy when I had to hoist it over obstacles. I felt a little dumb stopping to get water 10 miles in when I getting passed by a bunch of people, but I know my decision helped me conserve energy on the challenging terrain.
My intention to spend my effort wisely going up Flat Pass was right in line with the choices I made in my racing and training this year. I was much more intentional about how I spent my energy. I chose three bikepacking races to target and I took my recovery between races much more seriously. Watching people pass me when I stopped for water elicited similar feelings as having to say “no” to epic plans with friends when my body needed to rest. But just like I knew saving my energy by planning water stops wisely would help me ride harder later in the race, I knew being selective about my big races would help me to enjoy the rides I did say yes to.
The gravel descent from the creek was smooth and fast and before I knew it, I was back on pavement. I was passed by the occasional Whole Enchilada shuttle van before the route turned onto La Sal Pass Road. Water was flowing all along the climb into the La Sals from the recent rain. I stopped at a couple of sources and chugged close to a liter to keep my body hydrated. To be honest, La Sal Pass road was more difficult than I anticipated. It was steep and rocky in places, and I was on and off my bike frequently. I didn’t feel slow though. I was motivated and just stoked to be out there. The air in the mountains felt perfect. It felt like fall and the aspens were just starting to go off. My work was rewarded with a blissful descent down the other side. I could just coast and take in the views of the San Juan Mountains in the distance.
I spent a few hours climbing up and cruising down the high and rolling terrain until the trees opened up to reveal Paradox Valley. Now in Colorado, I was in awe of the view of the valley below, the San Juans in the distance, and the red rock walls I was hugging along the epic descent to Paradox. Wow, I couldn’t stop saying it. The descent went on and on until finally I could see the tiny town of Paradox. I was looking for the post office, knowing there was a water spigot there. I filled up with enough water to make it to Nucla, checked the time and did some math. The stores in Nucla were open until 9 p.m. I definitely wasn’t going to make it to town before closing time, but since Tim (the mastermind behind the UME) knew the first day of the race was so challenging, he provided an additional resupply after hours at his house in Nucla. Tim’s partner, Nicole, was planning to serve burritos and snacks from 9 p.m.-12 a.m. I’d be pushing it to make it there by midnight. I can maintain about 12 miles per hour on the gear I chose for my singlespeed (32×20) at my typical cadence, so I had to spin my legs as fast as I could to make the most of the flat miles out of Paradox. I was making good time and feeling optimistic that I’d make it but I kept on the gas, just to be sure. The midnight deadline kept me motivated and riding strong.
I wondered if I’d see any other racers out there. I looked ahead and behind and didn’t see any lights. Then I rolled up to what I thought were animal eyes in the distance, “Hey! Hey!” The eyes didn’t blink, and the creature didn’t budge. “HEY!”I was trying to figure out what type of animal the eyes belonged to. Maybe some skunks? Then I heard a voice respond, “What? Who is it?”
“Oh! Is that a person? Sorry. I thought your reflectors were animal eyes.” I felt silly and he was clearly not amused by my yelling at him.
The gravel road continued to deteriorate until I reached the Paradox Trail. It was a horrible excuse for a trail, but I was mentally prepared for it per Tim’s advanced warning. He said the 12-mile section would take about three hours. I rode, and sometimes walked, down chunky, loose descents into washes. Then I’d hike right back out, repeating the procedure over and over. The hiking brought me back to last year’s CTR effort. I smiled thinking about how much stronger and healthier I was and I just had to laugh at the ridiculousness of riding this trail on a fully loaded bike when it would have made so much more sense to just take a gravel road into Nucla.
I arrived at Tim’s house ten minutes before midnight, stoked to be able to pick up a burrito, some snacks, and six liters of water. Artec and Mike were also taking advantage of the late-night resupply. Artec left just a few minutes ahead of me and Mike was planning to camp in Tim’s backyard. I followed Artec’s blinky light as he rode ahead of me from Nucla and through Naturita. Then I saw his blinky light turn off the main road and start gaining elevation fast. I passed him after he stopped to camp in a nice flat spot under a friendly looking tree. I wanted to take advantage of the adrenaline that comes on the first night of a race, so I kept pedaling until I started to feel my body slow down.
I spotted a warm-looking camp spot on a bed of pine needles and set up my bivy. I’d been there for about 30 minutes when I started to hear something tromping around in the woods, crunching over leaves and breaking branches. It sounded big. “Hey! What are you?” I shined my light around but didn’t see anything. It stopped for a second then picked back up when I turned my light off. It sounded like it was digging. It sounded an awful lot like a bear to me.
Whatever it was, it could probably smell my food and I certainly wasn’t going to be able to sleep there. So I begrudgingly shoved my sleep kit back into my bags and kept riding. I pedaled for another hour and a half until 4 a.m. I found an area that was more open and seemingly less bear-y, so I set up my sleep kit for the second time.
As I’ve learned more about my body, I’ve discovered that two hours of sleep is my minimum for an ultra that takes longer than one night. My wheezy lungs take about that long to recover after a full day of riding. And it has to be two consecutive hours, so my half hour before didn’t count. With my newfound respect for rest, I was unwilling to compromise on this. I set my alarm once I was all cozy in my bivy and tried to sleep. It had been a while since I camped out by myself and I’m always on edge the first night. The creature in the woods situation from earlier didn’t help either. I didn’t sleep much, but I told myself stopping and closing my eyes was good for my body too. My blinking became slower and I saw a meteor each time I opened my eyes until I finally drifted off to sleep.
Just before my alarm went off at 6 a.m. I heard a bike roll by. It was Pete! It felt chilly and my Garmin read 36 degrees Fahrenheit, so it was good to have the motivation of another rider to get out of my warm sleeping bag. The sun came out and revealed a wide open valley with dune-looking rock formations. It was exactly where I wanted to be. Gypsum Valley was lit up and the Delores River was steaming in the cold air. I was warm aside from my toes and waited way too long to stop and put plastic bags over my feet. That did the trick and I was comfortable until the sun finally provided enough warmth for me to lose some layers.
The cruisey miles in the valley ended abruptly as we climbed up onto a massive mesa, providing a spectacular view of the valley below. The climb soon became too steep to ride and the couple-hour hike-a-bike made me start to wonder if I should’ve packed more water to get to Monticello. Just as I was contemplating my water situation, I noticed a beautiful sandstone pothole full of water. Jackpot! I went over with my filter to find a big ole pile of cow shit right in the middle of the puddle. I decided I’d rather ration my water than take my chances on Giardia.
The route’s relatively short stint in Colorado was over, and I could see Monticello at the base of the Abajo Mountains for hours before I finally arrived in town. I was all excited about the burrito place inside the Maverick gas station, but it turned out it was closed. They still had some hot food for sale in packaging from the burrito place, so when I saw “Baja wrap,” I picked up four, assuming it was some kind of chicken burrito. It wasn’t until I walked out of the store that I realized that my “Baja wraps” were pigs-in-a-blanket-style hot dogs. As someone who doesn’t eat much meat, I was not stoked. But I already paid for it and it’s better to eat it than to let it go to waste, so I choked down three of those hot dogs in the next 24 hours. I gave one of them to Mike because I just couldn’t stomach a fourth. He gave me a bean and cheese burrito in return — not a bad trade if you ask me!
I left Monticello with 8,000 calories to get to Hanksville and enough water to make it to the next campground spigot in 20 miles. The climb into the Abajos, mountain range number two of three, started almost immediately after leaving town. The heat and water rationing wiped me out more than I realized and my stomach started feeling pretty weird. You know when you feel like you need to pass gas but you’re not really sure what’ll happen if you do? That’s how I was feeling, so I stopped at a campground toilet along the way for some relief. The sun was going down as I approached the top of the climb and I could see a light just behind me. It was Mike. He’d spent a little more time in town than me and crushed the climb. We crested the top at the same time and I watched his blinky light zip down the descent. I wasn’t willing to go quite that fast, so I tried my best to keep him within eyeshot. The long descent was littered with punchy climbs. I felt good. I felt strong. I thought back again to last year at this time. I couldn’t get my body to respond when I said, “Go.” This time I was shocked at how natural a hard effort felt.
The descent was over and I started to climb again. I listened to a standup comedy playlist to keep myself entertained in the dark. I chatted to myself to keep the cats away. The only eyes I saw belonged to deer and a porcupine. The wind picked up and I knew I’d have to be picky about where I slept that night to stay warm and not windblown. Just as I started feeling sleepy, I came across a beautiful flat spot in the pine trees sheltered from the wind. I stopped and before I got my sleep kit out, I took a moment of stillness to feel the air and darkness around me. To look up at the sky and into the abyss and feel a sense of gratitude for all I got to see and feel and experience that day.
I blew up my sleeping pad, counting my breaths. It helps me get an idea of how my lungs are doing. On a day where I’ve done nothing, it takes about 12 breaths. That night, it took double that. I knew some sleep would do me good. I laid down and started hearing leaves crunching again. This time I was able to identify the creature, just a squirrel. As my eyes opened and closed, I saw more meteors and let the wave of gratitude and exhaustion engulf me as I fell asleep. I set my alarm for a luxurious 5 hours knowing that I was counting on a four to six-day effort, which for me requires more substantial sleep. I also knew the heat had been, and would be, draining, so I gave myself extra rest.
Two hours after I stopped for the night, I started having a coughing fit. It’s actually something I look forward to, as odd as that sounds. It happens like clockwork after two hours of rest. My body starts to expel all the mucus it produced in my lungs that day. After 15 minutes of coughing, I was able to breathe better again and the three more hours of sleep gave me enough recovery to feel ready to take on another day of heavy breathing again.
Satisfied with my rest, I got rolling at 5 a.m., and shortly after that, the elk hunters started stirring in their side-by-sides, ATV’s, and pickup trucks. It really surprised me how many people were out there. The sun started to reveal what was hidden from me during the night. There were orange and pink mesas dotted with pine trees for as far as I could see. I heard an elk’s bugle in the distance and saw a mother and calf just off the road in the trees.
I tend to get sleepy right after the sun comes up, so I popped a caffeine pill — not quite as satisfying as a cup of coffee, but it does the trick. I put an earbud in and started listening to my “dance party” playlist with the songs we played during our wedding reception. It was a funny combination, but it made me smile and gave me energy to pedal a little faster. I wondered what Andrew was doing. He had some pretty rad packrafting plans with some friends that I was only moderately jealous I was missing out on.
My next water stop was the spigot at the Kigalia Guard Station. Figuring the number of miles to go was more math than I was willing to do that early in the morning and I knew there would be a big Forest Service sign, so I just kept pedaling, keeping an eye out. The guard station had burned down but there was still a hand pump for water. I was looking around for the pump when I heard someone shout my name. Mike was there drying the condensation from his bivy and sleep kit. The hand pump was larger than I imagined and it took some effort to get the water going. Mike and I took turns pumping and holding bottles. I filled up eight liters there. The next opportunity for water was in Hite, but I was hoping to skip that stop since it was nearly two miles off route. I needed enough water to go 90 miles to the next campground spigot.
I started the bumbly descent that would eventually take me to the Colorado River. It took more pedal power than the elevation profile would lead me to believe. It was starting to get hot, so I made sure to keep my effort in check. I had an incredible view of the final mountain range I’d climb, the Henrys. Below the mountains, there was a network of endless canyons. Wow, wow, wow. I can’t believe I’m here. It was incredibly gorgeous and remote.
I was rolling fast and saw the first vehicle I’d seen in hours camped on a pullout. Hey it’s someone van camping. Then I got closer, Wait a second, that’s MY van. I was a bit confused about why Andrew, my husband, would’ve parked our home on the race course, but I didn’t even slow down when I went by. Well if Andrew is camped there, maybe there’s cell signal. Nope. Then my brain started spiraling. What if Andrew needed to pick me up for some reason? Is everyone in my family okay? I hadn’t had cell signal since Monticello. But I calmed myself down thinking if he needed to contact me, he would’ve sent a message to my inReach.
A handful of miles later, I crossed the Dirty Devil and realized the reason our van was in the middle of nowhere, Andrew just parked there as part of his packraft shuttle. My mind relaxed again. When I talked to him later, Andrew said initially he didn’t realize he was parking on the course. Scott Morris had told him that they were on a dead-end road. When he realized it later, he had to watch my dot to avoid intercepting me when he was going back to get the van on his bike. He thought he was in the clear and I’d be past, but he saw me coming and hid behind some bushes off the road when I went by. I had no idea he was there.
It may seem silly to do that, especially in a race where visitation isn’t against the rules, but I try to adhere to the typical self-supported standards of bikepacking where visitation constitutes support. Plus, Andrew knew that seeing him on the course would potentially be a distraction and especially unhelpful if I was experiencing a low point.
I got to the turn to Hite and checked my water — all good to get to the Lonesome Beaver Campground in the Henrys. A steep downhill led to a bridge across the Colorado River, the low point of the course at 3,700 feet. As I climbed up from the river, I started to sweat more and more. Shade was scarce, so I stopped whenever I found any and ate some electrolyte pills.
Just as the heat was starting to get to me, I dropped into a canyon into a tunnel of shade. It was perfect. There was a creek flowing, though it was low and silty. I did another water check to confirm I had enough to get to the next spigot and continued on the buttery smooth pavement until a gravel turn that pointed straight at the Henrys. I stared up at the mountains I was about to ride into. I looked at my mileage and wondered how I’d end up at the top in such a short distance.
It was just about sunset, so I got ready for nighttime: safety glasses, helmet light, snack, lung vibrator. Okay, I know this probably requires an explanation. It’s actually called an oscillating positive expiratory pressure device, but I think “lung vibrator” is more clever. I breathe into the small contraption and it helps break up the mucus in my lungs so that I can cough it out. It helps me breathe and it helps my asthma medication actually get where it needs to go. But sometimes it really sends me into a terrible coughing spell. That part can be uncomfortable and scary, but once I cough up all I can, I can breathe so much better. This time I coughed so hard I gave myself a bloody nose. I caught my breath. I was starting to feel frustrated that I’m constantly dealing with asthma issues during these things but I tried not to get too hung up on it. I focused on yet another beautiful sunset painting the desert behind me and the mountains in front of me.
The steepness of the road seemed to increase as the darkness swallowed up the light. I was grinding up the mountain until the grade became steep enough that walking was more efficient. I opted for more comedy to keep me company in the dark and giggled my way up the gravel road into the Henrys. The ecosystem had changed yet again and I found myself riding along a creek in the aspens.
I got to a flat spot partway up the climb and contemplated stopping there, but I really wanted to get over this range. I was motivated for about five minutes before I started looking for another place to sleep. A sluggish 20 minutes later I got to an acceptable camp spot 1,000 vertical feet and about three miles from the top of the climb. It was flat enough and I could sleep next to a juniper, taking advantage of the warm pine needles it shed on the ground. This time when I blew up my pad it took 34 breaths. I’d ignored the wheezing in my lungs, but now I could hear it. I got all snuggled up in my sleeping bag, then Ouch!, something poked me. A piece of prickly pear cactus was stuck in my brand-new pad and I didn’t bring the repair kit. I’d thought, “If I get a hole in it, I’ll just deal with it.” It stayed inflated for about an hour and a half, but the pine needles were warm and I didn’t need much padding to sleep. Right about when my pad deflated, my nightly coughing fit started. I felt so loud on such a quiet night. Between coughs I took in the stars and meteors again, feeling tired, just wanting to sleep.
Another 5 a.m. alarm went off but I was more sluggish than the previous morning. I sat in my sleeping bag for a minute before I got up and packed. Evidently I did a poor job picking a camp spot because I found another hunk of cactus in my sleeping pad as I was putting it away.
I finished the final push to the top of the climb before I started the blazing descent down the Henrys. The blue twilight transitioned to red which turned into a pink sunrise lighting up the aspens in the mountains behind me and the massive San Rafael Swell ahead of me. It was all downhill to town. It felt amazing.
I arrived at the grocery store just before 9 a.m., but the shelves were pretty bare and there was no hot food. I was sick of eating sweet snacks, so I got pretzels, goldfish, cheese, and potato chips. I was hoping for a breakfast burrito or something hot, so I went off-route to the gas station. Still no luck, but they at least had frozen bean and cheese burritos and a microwave that I could warm up for breakfast.
The highway out of Hanksville was not ideal to ride on. After a couple miles, there was barely any traffic and a wider shoulder, but just outside of town a person driving an RV decided they didn’t want to wait for the oncoming traffic to pass and they drove within two inches of me. I screamed at them in frustration and fear, despite knowing it didn’t make a difference. They were fully separated from me as a human being, hurtling down the highway in their massive hunk of steel. I was relieved when I turned onto the gravel road leading toward Factory Butte.
I was in my own world gawking at the gorgeous rock formations and thinking about my friend Alexis, a geologist who would know what made these rocks look like this. For now I could just stare in wonder. I snapped right out of my daydream when I came across a group of 15 side-by-sides all parked in the middle of the road. They were lost and asked me for directions. I didn’t know the area well either, but with my GPS, I was able to point them toward the turn they missed. They were all drinking Cokes and Michelob Ultra and I hoped they might offer me one, but no luck. The man I talked to just told me I needed new tires and got back into his side-by-side. Go figure. I gave a man directions he needed and I still got mansplained to. As I rode through their posse, dodging doors, vehicles, and humans, a woman said pitifully, “Ohhh, all alone?” I pitied her for only experiencing this place in a noisy vehicle with 30 other people. I cherished the rest of my time by myself and didn’t see another human for most of the rest of the day.
It was midday and I was in full sun so I kept my energy expenditure reasonable and tried my best not to overheat. I wanted to continue my theme of taking care of my body. I looked continuously for shade and there was none for hours. Finally, I came across a big rock that cast a shadow just off the road. I needed to cool down, so I took out my water and snacks and had a sit. I tried to nap but my brain was too wired, so I kept nibbling on my cheese and pretzels until I felt like my body temperature was back down to normal. I got up and kept rolling through the Mars-like terrain.
As the temperature rose, I started thinking more about my next water stop, the Goblin Valley State Park entrance station. I knew that meant more people and cars, but where there is civilization, there is sometimes ice cream. When I got to the entrance station, I filled up on water. My wishes for ice cream weren’t granted, but the Sprite was a worthy consolation prize.
As I got further from the state park, the road became more rugged until I found myself pushing my bike uphill again. I didn’t mind at all. This place was so spectacular. I always find the names of the rock formations interesting. Sometimes you have to use your imagination to see why it got its name, but Cathedral Rock with its gradients and spires required no imagination at all.
I experienced my third sunset at the top of a climb on Behind the Reef Road, another ideal location to take in the colors and fading light. I started descending down into the canyon floor. I was going fast but felt relaxed and a sense of peace knowing I was likely the only human for miles and miles in this canyon. An inconveniently placed rock that displaced my front wheel jolted my wandering brain back to the moment.
Night took over and all I could see was the tunnel of brightness where I aimed my light. The road was rough with steep hike-a-bike climbs and rugged descents. The unknown exposure and expansiveness of the terrain around me felt spooky. In what felt like the middle of nowhere, I passed an old cabin. Maybe for mining or ranching? I tried not to look for too long, a bit uneasy of what my mind might come up with looking in the windows.
The road seemed endless and the terrain was exhausting. I checked my map and made a goal to get 100 miles for the day before I slept. Behind the Reef Road finally ended and I started a gravel climb on Hidden Splendor Road. I was so worn out from all the hiking that I could barely turn the pedals over on the moderate gravel climb. I checked my mileage — 98. Good enough. I was starting to get into what I call “zombie mode” and it wasn’t worth my time and energy to continue.
It was about 11 p.m. and I found a spot on the side of the road in a warm pocket of air. I counted my breaths as I blew up my sleeping pad. 34, again. Yikes. Again, two hours into my sleep I was hacking. After a good cough session, I could breathe more easily again and let the sleep wash over my brain and body.
Each day when my alarm went off I got slower at packing up. Sleep just feels so good that far into a race. Despite the new moon, the starlight was so bright I could pack up without lights. It was warmer that morning and at 4 a.m. I could start riding in a t-shirt. I watched my map and read the topo lines imagining what the terrain around me must look like.
I was a bit peeved about how my lungs were dealing. It certainly isn’t the worst I’d experienced but just having to manage breathing issues can be frustrating. Then I thought about the word “manage.” I am managing. I’m managing my breathing and my body. Everybody has something they have to manage, whether it’s a picky gut, an old injury, nagging knee pain, psychological challenges, or in my case, breathing. You’re managing it. My frustration turned into gratitude for what I’ve learned about my body over the past year. For the medication and medical devices that help me keep rolling despite my asthma. I teared up and felt so grateful for my body and the miracle of how human bodies can move and breathe and traverse these amazing landscapes. I’m still out here. I’m still breathing. There are still only two tire tracks ahead of mine. I’m managing and I’m doing damn well in this race. I wasn’t sure whether I’d have another sunrise before getting back to Moab, so I stopped, sat on that thought and my feelings of gratitude before I continued down into another lovely canyon.
I rolled through Reds Canyon past a group of young women just waking up after sleeping under the stars. They were on a five-day backpacking trip, and like me, were having bittersweet feelings about coming to the end of their trip. They told me to watch out for the wild horses in the canyon. I didn’t see any, but I saw their poop. Just then, I saw Muddy Creek flowing through the canyon. I did a quick inventory of my water and decided to pick up a couple more liters. Last night’s Behind the Reef Road took a long time, it was already warm, and I didn’t want to be rationing water before I got to Green River.
A section of firm washes and perfectly graded gravel roads followed until I crossed I-70, the interstate cutting across Utah, for the first time. The gravel road turned to sandy double track but it was no problem for my 2.6-inch tires. Up next, the Devil’s Racetrack. It was incredibly fun. Some chunky but swoopy riding where I could keep momentum put a smile right on my face.
Once the Devil’s Racetrack was done, there was more seated pedaling time and my butt was unhappy. The hot sun was cooking my saddle and as someone who chooses to avoid wearing chamois, my butt was so hot. I cringed each time I sat down, yearning for another climb so I could get out of the saddle.
I was in the zone when I heard someone whistle behind me. The first racer I’d seen since the Kigalia Guard Station on the third day. It was Chas, and he was looking fresh. He asked how my ride was going and we had a friendly chat. I don’t really even remember what I said. At that point my voice was about gone from breathing and coughing a lot. After a minute or two of pedaling side by side, he said, “Welp, see you in Green River.” And I don’t know why, but that really set me off. Sure, he caught me, but on this flat gravel road we were pedaling at the same speed and I’d been riding ahead of him for four days now. What I heard when he said, “See you in Green River” was, “Okay, I’m going to drop you now.” Why did he think he could just say the word and drop me? Perplexed and now feeling competitive, I dropped back a bit to give him some space. Alright, I thought, I’ll just keep him within eyesight and whenever he stops to take a piss, I’ll make a move and he won’t see me again until Moab. When he stopped on the side of the road to relieve himself, I took off.
I don’t know why his comment made me feel so hyper-competitive. That’s pretty out of character for me. I don’t tend to get that competitive ever and generally don’t really care when people pass me. I ride my own ride and feel proud of the people around me. But that comment lit a fire under my ass like I’ve never experienced. I left Green River before Chas got there and continued hammering into the night.
Even though I really wanted to be able to push through the last night with no sleep, I made an agreement with myself that if my lungs felt wheezy, I’d stop and sleep for at least two hours. Well, they were wheezy and I was dragging, so I set up my bivy and set my alarm for two hours later. The alarm went off and I pressed snooze…then I pressed snooze again…then a bike passed me. Ack, why did I snooze?! I packed my bivy up for the last time, hacking and trying to get the built-up mucus out of my lungs before I started pedaling again. I’m managing. The road was sandy and I was on and off the bike. I could feel my shoes filling with sand but I wanted to keep that red blinky light of the rider in front of me within eyesight. It was so motivating to be chasing this close to the end of the race. I knew it was either Artec or Chas and that since they caught and passed me, they likely hadn’t slept.
Despite being the middle of the night, I was sweating and sucking down water. I was closing in on the blinky light. It took a while but I finally caught him. “Hey! Is that Artec?” We chatted for a few minutes but my sleep had clearly given me an advantage, so as much as I wanted to ride with my good friend, I pushed a little harder to get ahead. I knew if I wanted to finish ahead of Artec, I’d need a decent gap before we got to the singletrack.
It was so motivating to be competing for third place with half a day to go. This was the closest race I’d ever been in and it showed me that ultra-endurance racing really is such a mental sport. I was undoubtedly no less tired now than at the end of any other ultra I’ve done, but I was able to push myself so much harder and go so much faster trying to stay ahead of Artec and Chas.
I was thinking of other women and their stellar performances this summer. Lauren Brownlee just finished the Smoke ‘n’ Fire 400 as the first woman and second overall finisher. Alexandera Houchin and Ana Jager had an inspiring race on the Colorado Trail back in August. I was trying to channel their energy. I wanted to be that woman. The woman who could be competitive with the dudes. I wanted to make other women feel like they could be competitive with men too. I’ve heard comments that male and female bodies are equal in ultra-endurance races; however, I think that’s untrue and unfair to women racing these things. Male bodies still have an advantage, but there are more factors that start to close the gap.
Knowing that Artec is a strong descender kept me on the gas. I was riding hard and when I had to get off the bike due to deep sand, I was jogging. I worked so hard this year to be ready for this race. Not only to be fit, but also to be recovered from the Tour Divide. My intentional recovery and balanced training was paying off. I could envision the finish. Andrew would be there. He’d have beer and ice cream and a hug. My friends were watching my dot and were rooting for me to hold that third place spot. Women were rooting for me.
I finally got off Dubinky Well Road and onto singletrack. Last spring I went on several rides on this section of trail. I replayed a ride with Eszter, Alexis, Scott, and Denny in my brain. I tried to ride like I rode then. I imagined chasing Eszter up the punchy climbs and following Alexis’ line down the descents. I’ve got this. I was working so hard. Artec was still nowhere in sight but I knew he could catch me any minute if I let up. Since we’re friends and have ridden together outside of bikepack racing, I knew he was also aware that he’s stronger on the singletrack than I am. I passed some people stopped on Bull Run with enduro bikes and full-face helmets. What a contrast.
It felt a bit like Tim was doing a social experiment with his route to see if he could actually get people to ride Bull Run on their loaded bikes at the end of a 600-mile route. I reminded myself that I needed to keep taking care of myself to stay ahead of Artec. The terrain made it difficult to snack and ride at the same time, so I stopped and ate. A group of 15 people rode past me. It felt abrasive to be passed by that many people on the trail after so many days of remote riding. Of course a few minutes later, I came to the same group, stopped. I waited for them to get going again, but the third time they were stopped in the trail I decided I needed to get around, so I put in a big effort to lose them. Once I was confident they wouldn’t catch me again, I checked the tracker. Artec’s dot was four miles behind me but I didn’t see what time it pinged. He could be closer if his dot pinged 10 minutes ago and mine pinged just now. I didn’t bother to figure it out. Go go go go go. I finished the remaining singletrack and popped out on Gemini Bridges Road. I was constantly checking over my shoulder until I had to focus on the descent down to the bike path.
I wasn’t home free yet. My 32×20 gearing was much slower on the bike path than Artec’s full range of gears would be. If he was motivated, he could probably average 25 miles per hour all the way into town and that just wasn’t possible on my gearing. I spun my legs as fast as I could. Bursting then coasting to maintain my speed. I’m sure the people who saw the way I was riding wondered what my problem was. I could see Moab in the distance. Even when I got to town, I still felt like I couldn’t relax until I made it to the finish line at Swanny Park.
I could see it! The park, Andrew, my van. Yessss!!! I did it. I was so proud of myself. I took care of my body this year, I was focused, and it paid off. I got a big hug from Andrew. I was finally off the clock and could relax, 5 days, 5 hours, and 5 minutes since the start. What are the chances of that? Artec rolled in 20 minutes later, and Chas two hours after that. We sat in the park, ate watermelon, and talked about our rides.
The decisions I made at the beginning of the race, like not overcarrying water, following my two hours of sleep rule despite having my plans altered by an animal in the woods, and modulating my effort based on the temperature, helped me to push harder at the end. I had enough energy to finish strong when I found my competitive spirit. Having a close race all the way to the end was a totally different experience than being separated from other racers by hours. I know not all races can end like this one, but I really enjoyed pushing myself all the way to the finish. I’m hoping I can carry all the motivation I channeled during the UME into next year’s race season.
Now it’s the off-season, and again I’m taking my recovery seriously. I’ve been sleeping a lot, eating well (and also eating more potato chips than I usually do), and listening to when my body wants to move and when I need to chill. I’ve just started to think about what next year might hold, but I don’t want to rush into anything. I just want to be here and learn to appreciate the stillness of recovery. I think that’s the only way I’ll find longevity in this sport.
Utah Mixed Epic Stats:
638 miles – 53,800 feet of elevation gain
27 starters, 11 finishers
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