This edition of Groad Trip was supposed to be about ramping up for the restart of races. I’d been busy, and by early July I had been in contact with numerous race organizers and was ready to announce a revised gravel racing calendar. I was excited to travel around in my van and race every weekend. I was happy to start with a mask. Maybe even in my bid to ruin gravel I would just attack from the gun under the guise of obtaining social distance. In all seriousness though, I finally had the motivation to train hard, and was looking forward to hanging out with the community that I love again, responsibly. But yet.
Then the second coronavirus wave happened and everyone had to cancel their (already postponed!) events. It has been frustrating, to say the least. I found myself enraged at the sight of people going to bars and house parties, linking their actions directly to my inability to do my job. I went to a dark place, and eventually realized that I cannot hold my breath for races anymore. I’ve done adventure rides and media gigs, which I thoroughly enjoy, but I’m still a racer at heart. It is time to do something fast. More for myself than any sponsor or accolade.
You may recall I announced my plans to target and establish certain Fastest Known Time (FKT) records in my last piece. Well yesterday I knocked out my first one: The Rose to Toads route in Lake Tahoe.
Rose to Toads, in my mind, fits the bill for an iconic FKT, one that should stand next to the White Rim. This route is the love child between Tahoe Area Mountain Biking Association (TAMBA) and the Rim Trail Association. It blends the best of both group’s trail work into an unforgettable ride that straddles the Nevada desert and Tahoe’s blue waters. It includes the renowned Flume Trail and finishes with a delightful descent down Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. It’s 60 miles of high alpine bliss where often the hardest part is keeping your eyes on the trail!
To give it a proper go, I needed course beta: Where to get water, what to watch out for, the logistics of this point-to-point effort, who has the record, etc. This is crucial as this route doesn’t have any water spigots unless you make a 3-mile detour to a market at the halfway point.
I reached out to TAMBA guru Ben Fish and also my good friend Levi Leipheimer, who had the record via Strava. TAMBA has hosted an annual event for years, and if the “F” in “FKT” stands for “Funnest” instead of “Fastest” for you, I recommend their event with its aid stations and camaraderie.
Ben sent me the course maps, and also gave me some crucial intel: It’s a popular route for many Rim Trail hikers. It became clear rule #1 would be “don’t ride like a trail jerk.” It’s OK to pull the brakes and be courteous a few times over the course of 6+ hours. They’re doing something just as strenuous, and trail etiquette goes a long way in our outdoor heaven.
Levi told me how he had stashed bottles at a few road crossings en route. Thus, the FKT guidelines were set: This effort would pay homage to TAMBA’s event, by riding the same course and it would be done “self-supported,” meaning you can cache gear and supplies or stop by the market, but cannot receive outside help from aid stations or hand-ups from a support crew.
On Tuesday morning I was simmering. I’d received notice that another of my holdout races was cancelled. Spontaneously, I decided to go for the Rose to Toads FKT on Wednesday. The weather was forecasted to be 10 degrees cooler than it had been. Remember weather conditions are another intricate part of FKT planning. Unrestrained by set event dates, you can profit from studying the forecast and watching for just the right combination of factors. I studied Levi’s time and had a mental plan of where I needed to be at certain points of the course. I also drove to the halfway point and stashed two bottles in a bush up the hillside for a cache refuel.
To avoid most of the day trippers, I set off just after 6 a.m. while most through-hikers were still breaking camp. I was rewarded with a spiritual experience: A sunrise rip along an empty Flume Trail. The day wasn’t a clean run, there were a few bobbles and a short stop due to a mechanical issue, but by the time I banked the last berms of Mr. Toad’s, I stopped the clock at 5:31:39 (including stops), securing the new FKT.
I am not under any illusion that I will retain the record forever, and records are meant to be broken. This is a proper MTB course, and I am scared to see how fast some of the real mountain bikers go. I think sub 5:20 is definitely possible. The gauntlet has been thrown: I’m looking at you Keegan Swenson, Payson McElveen and Geoff Kabush. Although I hope the day you take your shot, a bear finds your cache, there are lots of off-leash dogs, and 100 degree temps. That way, my record may live on a little bit longer.
Next week I set off in my van to Colorado, there might be another FKT in the cards. Road, mountain, gravel… all the tire widths. That’s my form of competition this season. This season-long column was supposed to be about following along my transition to gravel, hence “Groad Trip.” Maybe it’s time to change it to FKT Trip… Given 2020 so far, it’s fitting, don’t you think?