27,789 Miles – The journey sometimes is more excited than the racing

Grab five of your closest friends and drive 27,789 miles together throughout the United States – that’s exactly what we did in 2017 and we can’t wait to do it again.

After spending the winter backcountry skiing the greatest snow on earth, I get a call from my teammate and he tells me he’s headed to Florida for a winter block of training. Within a minute I’m looking at my work calendar and booking a flight – time to get this year started! Make another call to another teammate, and he in turn does the exact same thing – now we have a group! As much as I enjoy the snow, I was excited to exchange the cold for some fun in the sun.

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Battling a storm @ 10,000ft with Martin Leska

The adventure began before we even rode our bikes. It turned out the simple apartment rental we had in South Beach, Miami was directly above a nightclub – not the best conditions for the cyclist who’s meeting at 5:30am for the group ride. Luckily Martin could get a different rental that was further away from the noise. We borrow my friend’s convertible and load up. Yes, we drove like this over the MacArther Causeway at about 10pm at night. The week was off to a perfect start!

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Slight change of plans – South Beach Miami, FL

Later that winter, Ian flew out for a week of riding Moab with our friend Josh Tostado. We had the opportunity to camp out, visit Arches National Park, and ride 4-6 hours each day. Josh amazed us each day with his incredible riding skills and we had a blast getting a true VIP tour of Moab.

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Blue Dot Trail – Moab, UT – Ian Spivack

March 2017 marked our first NUE team race, True Grit Epic, in St. George, Utah. The crew flew into Salt Lake City and unbeknownst to us, Salt Lake City would become our 2017 racing hub of the west. We packed the Subaru down, loaded all 4 bikes on the rack, and hit the open road. This was our first time doing the True Grit Epic and visiting St. George, Utah – wow, what an incredible area. The team had a blast, shared far too many laughs, and agreed this was one tough course! Considering this was a race weekend, we all ended up riding a lot between pre-riding, the race itself, and catching up with some friends for a post-Sunday race around Hurricane, UT.

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Post True Grit Epic w/ Taylor Lideen, Dylan Johnson, and Josh Tostado

We all arrived back to Salt Lake City and quickly realized we all had one exciting year ahead of us! Everyone flew back to the East Coast while I was planning another exciting road trip. After the group left, I decided to make the 2,000-mile drive (each way) in late-April to Ducktown, TN for Cohutta and to support teammate Dylan Johnson at USAC Marathon Nationals in Arkadelphia, AR.

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House Party! – Cohutta Group Picture – John Rogers, John Petrylak, Martin Leska, Roger Masse, Ian Spivack, and Michael Smart – April 2017

On the way home from Marathon Nationals, I stopped by Wilson State Park in just outside of Wilson, Kansas to ride the Switchgrass IMBA Epic Trails. Wow, was I surprised! If you are ever driving across the country through Kansas with your mountain bike, stop at this park! Easily accessible off I-70, has camping options, and you’ll be blown away that you’re in Kansas. I rode for well over three hours and could have ridden more – easily.

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Switchgrass Trail – Wilson State Park, Kansas

Back in Salt Lake City the snow was starting to clear from the high altitudes and it was time to get serious about training for the rest of the year. I spent a considerable amount of timing riding all over Park City and it’s easy to see why Outside Magazine named it The Best Town in America in 2013. Every single day riding here is almost unreal and continuously amazes me. Park City’s trail network has everything to keep everyone satisfied, whether you are brand new to mountain biking or you’re an expert downhill rider. You’ll run into the nicest people who are also out  exploring all over the beautiful mountain range. You may even run into a moose!

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Matt Merkel and a Moose – Park City, UT

Flash forward a few hundred hours of training, countless calories, endless smiles, and the team is back out for a mid-summer stint of racing – Tatanka, High Cascades, Breck 100, and Pierre’s Hole all within a month of each other! Oh, and all within an eight-hour radius.

Load up the car again and it’s off the legendary Sturgis, South Dakota – the city of riders – for the Tatanka Epic. We leave Salt Lake City a little behind schedule, so Matt ended up arriving a little early to the house rental and quickly finds out there is a problem – it was the wrong house! I sent him the address of a different house that we didn’t have a reservation for – so Matt’s in the house getting unloaded and unpacking his bike when he gets a frantic call from me telling him to “Get out of there!” We lucked out because we were just about to hit a stretch of no cell service for a few hours while driving through rural Wyoming – whew! The start of the Tatanka Epic has to be one of the most iconic starts in the NUE Mountain Bike Series. The race is point-to-point which means you are literally dropped off at the start and ride home. But unlike any other start, this was Mount Rushmore – drop us off and we race back to Sturgis through the beautiful and rural Black Hills Forest network.

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Welcome to Legendary Sturgis, SD – Martin Leska, Michael Smart, Dylan Johnson, Matt Merkel
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Tatanka Epic Start – Mount Rushmore, SD

Matt and Martin few home from South Dakota leaving Dylan and I to drive back to Salt Lake City – the halfway point – before hitting the road and heading to Bend, OR for High Cascades. Dylan and I had no clue that the craziness of road travel would continue.

A few days after getting back from South Dakota, Dylan and I load the Subaru our bikes, and our backup bike, for another long drive to Bend, OR. The drive from Salt Lake City to Bend is beautiful, very rural, and has limited cell and service station service. About three hours away from Bend, OR the Subaru’s AT Fluid Check light comes on, which triggers the Check Engine light to go off and a series of other dash lights to illuminate. So, we are in the middle of nowhere with no service and an instrument cluster going off like a disco. We were about an hour away from the closest small town and decide to drive the car to a dealership. Meanwhile I’m worried that we’re doing long-term damage to car, but also realizing we really don’t have a choice but to drive it.

The dealership gets the car and drives it into their workshop to read off the diagnostic codes to see what may be going on. Since they were not a Subaru dealer, they were only able to give me the codes but mentioned they could not work on my car. While in their shop, the technician accidently backed the car into a box truck, destroying a 5-Star RKT build, bending the 4-tray hitch rack, and denting the trunk of the car! Our problem just got a lot worse! The only good news was the destroyed bike was our back up, so we could still race! The shop may have not believed me when I told them there were about $18,000 worth of bikes on the back of that car – but they did the right thing and resolved everything very smoothly.

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Dylan Johnson – Bend, OR

We leave the shop still with transmission issues and now with even more problems! Somehow, the car makes it to Bend and we get it to a Subaru shop to get its proper service done. For our stay in Oregon we just had our bikes, and the broken bike, for transportation – which ended up being a fascinating way to explore and enjoy the beautiful city. In the end, the car got repaired, we raced, had a blast, and made it back to Salt Lake City.

Four NUE races down and two more to go on the year. It’s mid-July and I decide to make the drive to Crested Butte, CO to prepare for the notoriously difficult, high-altitude, Breck 100. I spent two weeks working, riding, and relaxing in Crested Butte – a city that amazes me every year when I visit. I spent time riding all over the mountain ranges and even enjoyed a hike up and down Mt. Crested Butte – well worth the views!

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2017 Niner Rip 9 RDO on Trail 401 – Crested Butte, CO

Ended up breaking a rear hub shell around mile 45 of the Breck 100 which was both a letdown and a blessing in disguise. Ask anyone who raced the Breck 100 how the conditions were this year and you’re likely to hear stories of hypothermia and misery. I really enjoyed my extended few weeks in the high-altitude towns of Colorado, despite the race ending earlier than I had anticipated. I camped every single night during the two weeks in Crested Butte and the following week in Breckenridge. Camping in these areas is cost-effective, accessible, and simple – plus, you get wonderful views every single day.

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Secret Camping Spot – Breckenridge, CO

A week after Breck 100, Matt and Martin flew out, once again to Salt Lake City, for Pierre’s Hole Epic in Alta, Wyoming. Matt arrived a few days early and we got the chance to hike and explore what Salt Lake City has to offer. We had time to relax before hitting the road and even squeezed in a hike overlooking the valley. Pierre’s Hole was located at the Grand Targhee Resort in Wyoming – a hidden gem to for anyone who has not visited that part of the country. The resort is almost hidden away but still has beautiful views of the Grand Tetons.

Six NUE races down – we’re back in Salt Lake City – Matt and Martin fly home and I start to reflect on how good the season was and how it’s just about over. Or is it?

I get a call from Dylan and he tells me he’s coming out west in September to ride and race the NUE Finale in Big Bear Lake, CA. Well, I guess I have one NUE left in me, right? So, six NUE’s down, and now one to go! I spent the month of August getting ready for Dylan’s arrival. I knew if we were going to be riding together, then I better get in the best shape I possibly can! Most of August was full of intensive training, sport climbing, and a quick detour to Grand Teton National Park for the Solar Eclipse. There are not many better places to catch the path of totality than above 13,000ft.

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2017 Solar Eclipse – Grand Teton, Wyoming

Dylan arrives early September and we spend the first week and a half in Moab. While most decide to shuttle up the legendary whole enchilada, we ride the entire climb which consists of 7,073 feet of ascent and takes at least 2.5 hours. A few shuttle vans with loads of bikes passed us while giving us a big thumb’s up! The brave who complete the entire climb are rewarded with well over 2 hours of downhill and 6,615 feet of descent. Talk about fun! Two days later and we’re already in Fort Collins to visit our friends at Niner Bikes.

Niner Bikes invited us out after catching word that we were once again traveling the west. After arriving at the corporate office, we get a tour of the facility which ended up being very interesting. We saw all of Niner’s top secret projects – sike – we were not allowed in that area! But we did get to tour the showroom, photo studio, engineering lab, mechanics area, along with the employee offices. Dylan and I both met far too many Niner employees to count and each one of them was passionate about bikes and hearing about our journey. We all exchanged riding stories and commented on what a great office environment they have. The icing on the cake was getting to meet CEO Chris Sugai – my only regret was not getting a picture with him! After finishing up the Niner tour, we slowly make our way back to Utah.

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Niner Corporate Headquarters – Fort Collins, CO – Michael Smart and Dylan Johnson

Back in Salt Lake City, Dylan and I put our final training preparations together for the NUE Series Finale in Big Bear Lake, CA. Utah is perfect training grounds for racing out west. Outside our door we have hours’ worth of continuous climbs, high altitudes, and single track for years. Temperatures dropped unusually low during the month and we ended up battling snow for our last week of training.

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September Training Ride – Salt Lake City, Utah – Dylan Johnson

We load the car for our final trip of the year and make our way to California. We spent a few days in Big Bear Lake prior to the race and had the chance to pre-ride a majority of the course – we were both impressed! A few locals heard we were in town and reached out to us to meet – one of which was the legendary Derek Hermon who owns Bear Valley Bikes. Derek was nice enough to invite us over to his house – we spent hours talking about bikes, racing, life, and inventions – it turns out Derek is quite the inventor. He has an entire line of high-end, niche, bike parts for the serious cyclist. We both really enjoyed our time with Derek and quickly realized that we would be back to this cycling town sooner rather than later. The San Bernardino Forest not only has an extensive mountain bike network, but there are camping options, sport climbing routes, and day hikes all around with fantastic views – all within a few hours of the Los Angeles coast.

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Skyline Trail – Big Bear Lake, CA – Michael Smart

Race day went smooth for both Dylan and myself – Dylan ended up taking the 2017 NUE Series Championship for his second consecutive year. Whew, what a year of racing! During our drive back to Salt Lake City, we reflect on what an incredible year we had. But why was it incredible? Sure, our entire team had our best race results ever, but there was something more that made it special. The journey. The journey can be more exciting than the racing, but you need the racing to experience the journey.

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Dylan Johnson takes the NUE 100 mile series title overall win at Big Bear

Dylan Johnson finishing up the Big Bear Mountain Bike Gran Fondo race in 3rd place with team mate Mike Smart in 11th place. This secures the National Ultra Endurance Mountain Bike Race Series overall win for the 100 mile series and second consecutive series win. Thanks to our amazing sponsors Niner Bikes with the amazing bikes that keep our team rolling all season long. Familybikeshop CroftonMd for taking care of the maintenance and parts and support and our title sponsors Cameron Building Envelope Specialist and Leska Restoration LLC with the financial support to help us get what we need for success. Overall National Ultra Endurance Mountain Bike Race Series results will be posted soon for the entire team.

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Cameron MTB Racing take 1, 3 and 4 at Crotched Mountain 100

Dylan gets his fourth NUE 100 Mile win at the CM100, followed by teammates Ian and Matt in 3rd and 4th. These guys toughed out wet and slick conditions early on, but their riding paid off with the excellent results. Congrats to all finishers and look forward to next year. Next up for the team the Shenandoah 100.

Photo’s thanks to Earl Studios

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Full results can be found here: http://www.barttiming.com/summer/results17/hamp2017-1.pdf

 

Tatanka Epic – NUE Series

I was excited to line up for the 2017 Tatanka Epic NUE mountain bike race in Sturgis, SD. This event is unique as it is a point to point race and loses elevation – despite the 10,000ft of climbing – over the 80 miles of technical, rocky, hot, and remote Black Hill’s forest. Personally, I had never visited Mount Rushmore even though I can remember wanting to see it since I was a kid.

Our team traveled together to South Dakota days before the event. We arrived in town and had ample time to pre-ride the final part of the course and even snap a picture in front of the legendary Welcome to Sturgis sign.

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With a 5 am shuttle departure from Sturgis to Mount Rushmore, we all woke up at 3:30 am to get ready for the day. The shuttle bus ride was quite scenic as it traveled south and met the morning sunrise in the gorgeous Black Hills of South Dakota. After rolling hills and beautiful countryside, we rounded the mountain to see the sunrise illuminating the granite faces of the monument – Mount Rushmore! Our team unloaded from the bus to get ready for the start.

The race starts and we take off with Mount Rushmore behind us. The start was much more relaxed than in other NUE races. Thankfully, no rush for a hole shot or fight for position since this race would travel over 80 miles on technical single track with temperatures reaching over 94 degrees Fahrenheit. We enter the Centennial Trail after a mile or two of winding paved road – I’m sitting in about 10th position.

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Technical rocks, unrideable terrain, and steep descending await us almost immediately. For today’s race, I chose the Niner Rip 9 RDO with 160mm of front travel equipped with Stans Valor Carbon Wheels. The bike can climb well and descend like an all-day downhill bike. It’s CVA suspension is incredibly reassuring as I rip each technical descent and begin making up time on my competitors.

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Around mile 35 I begin picking off other riders who were ahead of me. I safely paced my climbs in a zone which could be recreated all day and left plenty of energy to focus fully on the downhills. The dense and remote forests allow for very little room to comprehend which place you are in and the time gaps between riders. I started to think that I was in podium contention as I passed more and more riders as we hit the five and six-hour marks. Volunteers at the aid stations would rush to me at each stop like a NASCAR pit crew – placing cold towels on my neck and asking what they could do to help. Positive energy is contagious – a big thanks to every single volunteer for spending their Saturday supporting our race!

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Tatanka Epic defines what I enjoy most about endurance mountain bike racing. It combines travel, friends, technical mountain biking, and vacation all into one experience. The entire team had a wonderful experience in the city of Sturgis. Cameron MTB Racing had three team members placed 1st, 3rd, and 6th. Most exciting for myself was to share the podium with Jonathan Modig and teammate Dylan Johnson.

Dylan Johnson Cohutta 100 Win Race Report

83 fast-paced miles. Hit the gas at the start. Don’t let up. That’s what Dylan Johnson of Cameron Mountain Bike Racing did this past weekend. Here’s his recap:

The Cohutta 100 is often one of the more tactical of the National Ultra Endurance Race Series (NUE) races with over 65 miles of gravel between the opening and closing singletrack sections. In 2016 there was a peloton-sized lead group until about mile 75.

This year would be different though, in part because the race was shortened to 83 miles. Most would assume this would make the race easier, but I knew that it would only make the pace higher. My suspicions were proven correct. After an hour of racing Brian Schworm, Christian Tanguy, and I found ourselves out front.

We worked together nicely, trading pulls but trying to keep something in reserve for the inevitable attacks that were to come in the last 20 miles. At mile 60 Christian started to drop off but Brian seemed unshakable. At one point I had maybe 30 seconds on Brian but he reeled me in and we entered the final single track together.

I felt good, so I surged passed Brian and put my head down to try to create some distance. The final 10 miles is mostly downhill and the RKT 9 RDO was eating it up. The late race fatigue, however, was creeping up on me at this point so my riding wasn’t perfect, but the bike allowed me to make small mistakes and keep momentum. The RKT 9 RDO is the best descending cross country bike I’ve ever ridden and I was happy to have it at that point in the race. With a couple miles to go I felt cramps coming on but at that point I had a gap on Brian and was able to keep him at bay and maintain my lead for the win.

cohuttafinishA Repeat Win: Dylan stands on top after 83 miles.

I’m thrilled to have been able to defend my Cohutta 100 win this year and I hope to maintain this fitness for the NUE races still to come this season. The RKT 9 RDO has proven to be the tool for the job in these long races. Beyond being efficient and having a great suspension platform for climbing, it’s just plain fun. I’ve been riding the RKT 9 RDO in Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina and have been loving it!

Finally, I want to thank Niner for a great sponsorship and supporting the sport, the organizers of the Cohutta 100, who had to make a lot of last minute adjustments to make the race happen, and all the other racers who did the Cohutta 100 and the Big Frog 65 (and their families) for helping to create a wonderful atmosphere and great time in the beautiful Appalachian Mountains!