Dakota Five-O, Take Two

I don’t have as much to write about the Dakota Five-O as I did last year. In fact, at the last minute, I almost didn’t go. Well, I’m really glad I went. I had a really good race. Not too hard, not too exhausting, a good deal faster than last year, and finished feeling confident in my riding abilities, not defeated. 
 Beautiful sunset in Halsey National Forest, Nebraska Sandhills.

Full moon rising over the Sandhills, between Thedford and Valentine.

Splitting the drive to Spearfish into two days was nice. Stayed at Smith Falls near Valentine after a beautiful sunset and full moon drive through the Sandhills Friday evening. Saturday morning brought a very somber drive through Whiteclay and Pine Ridge before entering the Black Hills, taking the scenic route north from Hot Springs, past Mt. Rushmore, and stopping at a very rocky trail near Rapid City. 

Riding near Rapid City on Saturday, line reading.

Getting out of the car felt good, and the sharp shale on the trail had me on my toes right away. Though it took fifteen minutes or so to warm up, I suddenly had this moment where I came up on a bunch of rocks with no obvious line (to novice eyes) and I popped up onto this big rock, down through a couple small ones and realized that that would have stopped me dead in my tracks a couple months ago. I kept riding, and it was like a warp speed tunnel opened in front of my eyes. I knew where to ride, my tires were gripping the rocks, and I felt awesome. I’ve described it since as somewhat akin to reading and understanding a new language for the first time (and then realized that maybe that’s not an analogy that works for a lot of people…go learn a new language, it’s great). Needless to say, my confidence for Sunday’s race was now where it needed to be.

Pre-race face, tent hair, Sunday, early morning. Photo by Mark Emery.
Camp was quiet early on Saturday night, save for being near some sort of generator. Woke up to crisp air, but nothing like the freezing cold from last year. Coffee, breakfast, tying back that tent hair, ditching the hoodie, and it was off to the start to see off Wave 1. I lined up with some excellent Nebraska women — Casey Sheppard, Whitney Porn, and Carly Thompsen — and we headed out of town and up the hill. Going up, Carly asked if I had a strategy. “Nope, just ride,” I said, “try not to blow up. Enjoy it.” I have a feeling the upcoming cyclocross season will change my JRA* attitude, but that’s all I’ve been wanting to do recently.
I rode with Whitney up until the first aid station, where her camelbak still had water and I needed to refill my bottles. Bummer, because I was having fun riding and chatting with her. But I was really happy not to have the pack on my back this year. I was happy to see where I’d missed the turn last year, knowing right there that that was a 20-minute bonus. For much of the race, I had people following me, and got my choice of the line. Many sections I remembered being unrideable and terrifying were fun this time. 
The climbs did wear on me, though, and I spent a good deal of time wondering about switching up the 1×10 for a double up front and a bit of time thinking about how much more comfortable the ride would be with a rear shock.

Riding the ridge, not walking it.

This ridge and descent after the Bacon Station provided the most satisfaction of the whole day. I walked this whole thing last year, not wanting to faceplant. After my Colorado adventure in June — and in no small part due to watching my idol Georgia Gould and the rest of the racers in the Women’s World Cup and Olympic MTB races — I slid my behind back off the seat and over my rear wheel and carefully, cleanly made my way down through the very-tight-for-a-29er switchbacks. After we were through it, the woman behind me said “Wow, I’m really glad I was behind you. You rode that great, it was awesome to follow your line.” I thanked her, saying I was a Nebraskan who didn’t get much of a chance for this kind of riding. “I’m from the mountains,” she replied, “and I can’t ride like that.” Well, that felt great. I popped over a couple jumps on the last descents down through the singletrack, just having fun. I ended up sprinting the woman who complimented me for the finish, 6:14 this year. Nice improvement, and I know where I can make up more time. For one, I need to get better at passing. 

Post-race, tacos and beer. Covered in dust, coughing.

It was so dusty and dry that I was coughing like a miner. Beers, tacos, and then taking in the park atmosphere and strider kids races. I was tired, but not completely wrecked. Yeah, I could’ve gone harder. But I didn’t. One interesting thing about the way I did this race was that I used the course feature on the Garmin, a new device for me. I set my goal time for 6:30, and so I had a little pace arrow telling me if I was on track. I passed the pace arrow about halfway through the race, and I kept my eye on the countdown time, seeing if it might be possible to make it in 6 hours. With better passing early on and one aid station stop that I didn’t really need to make, I probably could have. Should I have set a more ambitious pace for myself? Hard to say if that would have been demotivating if I hadn’t caught the arrow or if it would have pushed me harder.

Double rainbow, what does it mean?

The drive home on Monday was long, as expected. Had a really nice breakfast at Talley’s Silver Spoon in Rapid City (hey Lincoln, someone open something like this, please?), drove through the Badlands for the first time since I was a kid, had a mint chip root beer float in Winner (and it was a winner), took a swim in the Niobrara, and returned to eastern Nebraska to be greeted by storm clouds and a double rainbow. What does it mean?

*JRA — just ridin’ around

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