Why – The Inaugural Mountain View Epic

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I was thinking, since the Mountain View Epic is the only race in Arkansas I know that has “Epic” in the race title, I have to do this story on “What is Epic?” …and why is the most demanding mountain bike race in the state deserving of this title?  That was the plan, and then the race began…

It was the inaugural event, the very first one put on by the famous Frank Webber and his amazing sidekick (wife) Sarah.  Considering the choice between 68 challenging miles or 68 challenging miles with 32 bonus challenging miles (100 miler) it drew a very strong first time crowd.  Around 50 riders signed up and were poised at the starting line for the neutral roll out.

MVEpic-Start

The weather was….sketchy, and that means it had rained 7” in the last day or so and all the creeks were high, all the trails we soaked including the awesome slippery-as-snot granite on the Syllamo Blue and Yellow trails.  The forecast was for rain most of the day and the start did not disappoint.  A little lightning off in the distance as we left the Mountain View town square and it started coming down.

The pace car weaved us all over north central Arkansas taking us to a dirt road in the middle nowhere and waved us good luck.  The group steadily dropped me as we climbed a few hills and dales, shot down a muddy road with blind corners and into our first creek crossing.  Todd Henne was there waiting with a rope to help those that felt uneasy about forging the 12”+ deep 30 yards crossing.  I was already wet and the weather wasn’t cold so what the heck, I leveled my feet and pumped my pedals trying to maximize the height between both feet and the ground.  That was hopeless as both feet did a submarine maneuver as the water depth increased, so I just pedaled with my feet under water for the duration and hoped my tires would not slip against the current.  A prayer and some steady underwater pedaling later I made it out of the other side with my feet just a little soggier (sarcasm) than when I entered the creek.  What a way to start a race.

As I climbed the first good hill I noticed a guy walking his single speed fat bike up the steepest part of the hill….he was moving faster than I was pedaling my bike in its granny gear (the lowest possible gear providing the least forward motion).  “Hmmm” I said to myself, “This could be a long day…possibly significantly longer than anticipated” and I had anticipated it would take 7-8 hours to finish the course.  Joe Jacobs, Worldwide Chief Editor of Arkansas Outside met me at the top of the hill.

MTVEpic-118

The conversation went like this…

James: “Hey Joe! Great to see you.  I think I might be in last place already”
Joe:     “Sorry I missed you guys at the creek crossing; I had to go way around because I was afraid my car could not get across.”
James: “Well, I’m hot now after that climb.  I think it’s going to be a long day.  Should I give you my rain jacket?”
Joe:      “You should probably keep it in case you have to walk yourself out, you don’t want to get chilled”
James:  “Good point”

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At this time I realized…

  • I still have almost all the miles to go
  • It’s going to rain most of the day
  • There is the very real probability at Syllamo of suffering a catastrophic bike failure resulting in a long, long walk…pushing a broken bike… to a place where people are located (yes, I know this from experience).
  • It’s really going to be a slog

I trudged on.

It was 1:20 into the event, and I was sluicing down the steep freshly paved road that is Blanchard Springs with the pouring down rain creating waves of water across the pavement.  Traveling about 15 mph I had to tilt my bike to the left and lean to the right so the rooster tail spray from the tires would not hit me square in the face.  At that precise moment was when I realized this is not about being ”epic” or doing something crazy, the real question is ….why?….why do it at all….

You might be saying to yourself after reading this far…”why?”  That’s a logical and rational response to so many facets of this situation….Why do a 68 mile (or a 100 mile!) mountain bike race? …and the secondary question, aren’t road bikes better suited to riding 100 miles?  Wait that is another silly question, why…why ride a bike 100 miles?  Why go for a bike ride in the rain?  Why would 50 people sign up and pay money (whaaatttt?) to ride their bike in the rain on trails that are freely accessible?  I’m sure I left some “why’s” out…Please, add them to the comments section below.

At age 9 I had a bicycle like everyone else.  It was orange (side note: maybe that’s why I love my current orange bike!) and I rode it all over Pleasant Valley, even on the golf course cart paths (ha!, take that PV Infractions Committee) to the extent my dad had to go explain how he was going to stop his son from riding his orange bike all over the golf course to the PV Infractions Committee.  Then I was run over by a car.  Nothing broken except the bike, but it really shook me up…and I stopped riding a bicycle.

I started riding again when I was in high school.  I loved going fast and feeling the wind in my hair (no one wore helmets back in the 80’s).  While out riding one day I took a corner too fast and my front tire slipped on some gravel on top of the asphalt and I slid on my left leg creating a painful “road rash” (don’t google that!).   It hurt so badly I thought “I never want that to happen again!” so I sold my Ironman road bike to a buddy for $120 and that was that.

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In the early 90’s I had the opportunity to buy a mountain bike, it was light blue and had big tires and lots of gears.  I liked the idea of being able to go off-road away from asphalt and tires that were big and grippy.  Shortly after I acquired the bike it was stolen off my back porch.  Not riding, again.  A decade passed.

It pains me to admit this, but Lance inspired me (ugghhhh).  Yes, the lying, cheating doper made cycling look fun, and around 2000 after his “performance” in the Olympics and Tour de France I wanted to ride again.  I borrowed a bike that was too small for me, rode a year on it, bought a used bike that was too big for $300, rode two years on it, then Frank Webber (yes, the same as mentioned above and responsible for the Mountain View Epic) sold me a brand new shiny, super-duper, carbon fiber, (did I mention fast), $3,200 road racing bicycle.  I loved riding that bike.  Then I got hit by a car from behind and could not ride for a while.

A few weeks after getting hit, I began to wrestle with the thought of cycling.  I had to admit I love riding a bicycle…it is joyous, freeing, fun, inspirational, exciting, etc…but the idea of riding in traffic again made (makes) me cringe.  I accepted the fact that I love to ride my bicycle, I also accepted the fact that I don’t want to die (early).  How to resolve this dilemma….Then it occurred to me… cars could not hit me if I was riding a mountain bike through the trees!  Ahaaa! A solution!

Shortly thereafter I bought a demonstration mountain bike with low miles for $1,800, took it for a ride on Pfeiffer Loop (the best MTB trail in central Arkansas) and I was ecstatic.  I had a couple in the Big Dam Bridge parking lot take a picture of me I because I did not want to forget the moment.

James-Gaston-first-MTB-ride-4-7-2010

Did someone ask ….why?

I found something that makes me happy, I get excited thinking about riding my bike, I get excited when I ride my bike regardless of the conditions, I…love to ride my bike and it can’t be denied.

The Mountain View Epic was a tough event with over 5,000 feet of vertical climbing, some of the State’s most amazing and beautiful single track trail, and great camaraderie with friends.   I was happy (very happy) to finish in 10:02 on my super-duper orange mountain bike (that I am too embarrassed to tell you how much it costs)… with a guy riding a single speed fat bike finishing just barely ahead of me.  It was glorious.  Thank you Frank (and Sarah) Webber.

Fleet Feet Little Rock

Find your “Why”

– James Gaston

 

 

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