Prior to participating in the NUE Series my notable 100-mile experience had been a couple Leadville 100's. While it's an impressive event, the pomp and emotion is there, I learned after my very first NUE Race that there are some aggressive race directors out there. And that the NUE had gotten them ALL TO PLAY! The 2018 Tatanka 100 slapped me in the face. From then on I knew that if you wanted the toughest 100-mile MTB challenge available, look no further than the NUE. True Grit in 2019 cemented that attitude. So, in 2020 I decided to go for the series and was fortunate to win the Singlespeed Championship in 4 races. However, 2020 was a unique season. Did I really have the gas to compete in this series when the races were fully back online? So I committed. 6 races. None of them in my home state. Time to rack up some airline miles. (NOTE: it's much easier to travel with your bike than you think.)
Race 1: Lumberjack 100. Quick thought: ATTACK THE STORM! On the second, of a 3-lap format, a monsoon-like rain clouded the course and being on a singlespeed became a huge advantage. While most of the racers around, and ahead of me, backed off for safety, I attacked! That second lap put me out off the front and though I was shivering, soaked, and feeling the burn, I cruised to the finish happy with the gutsy tactic. 1st place. 10th overall.
Race 2: High Cascades 100. Quick thought: GUTSY GEARING, UNTESTED. Never having been to Bend, OR I relied on the course profile for my rarely-changed gear ratio choice. After the pre-ride I felt a bit spun out and fortunately bumped into a former SS HC racer who hinted at a 2:1 ratio. Not even owning that gear, I bought a cog, had the sponsor shop install it and gave 'er a rip. Thankfully it was THE MOVE that gave me my edge. 34x17. Sounds impossible became possible. 1st place. 12th overall.
Race 3: Pierre's Hole 100. Quick thought: EMOTIONAL ENERGY CAN'T BE BEAT. The week of PH100 my brother-in-law tragically passed. My attendance at the race was in question and at the urging of my wife I chose to go. The gravity of my loss sat at the back of my throat the entire week and at the start line, I went through the paces of a warmup with lukewarm energy at best. Just minutes before the start I realized I didn't even have a repair kit in my jersey. That first hill is a doozy and I begged for my chain to snap so I could call it for the day. When it held stong that energy must've translated to my legs. After the 1st lap downhill (on purpose-built DH trails and that alone is worth the visit!) I called upon that emotional energy and it punched back. Hard. Partway through the lap I looked back to see Eli, a SS stud, only a minute or two behind. That spark, the energy from our family pain, and the insane high-alpine views of Alta, WY combined for one of my strongest efforts of the season. That 1 minute gap became nearly an hour by race end. 1st place. 6th overall. Race 4: Shenandoah 100. Quick thought: THE RACEY-IST RACE I'VE EVER RACED! A field of nearly 40 singlespeed weirdos? And the fastest SS'ers on the NUE circuit? Uh-oh. No matter the successes I've had, I still get butterfly guts at the start line, and with the intimidating field, those butterflies were jacked up. From the start I decided to push my gear and not be influenced and it works. The first paved climb into doubletrack I saw the field, not just the SSer's but the entire field, disappear behind me. Not until partway through the fist singletrack climb did anyone bridge. Nearly 20 miles in and I was surely minutes ahead of these SS monsters. Nope. By mile 50 1st - 4th place SSers, we were stacked up. As a pack we rode to mile 85 before anything happened and at mile 94 Lance and I were wheel-to-wheel for the lead. He slipped a tire, allowing me to pass, and with every leg muscled seizing I yelled them into compliance to cross the line first, only 100 seconds before Lance. I've never had such an intense level of riding over a 100-mile course. Nascar in the woods. Epic. 1st place. 10th overall.
Race 5: Marji Gesick 100. Quick thought: ADVENTURE 1ST, SURVIVE 2ND, and RACE 3RD. It deserves its legendary status. That's the hardest 100-miler I've ever done. Creative course markings have you racing on your GPS computer and debating your route. Limited official race support forces a full-day fuel strategy to be carried on your back. Unrelenting, twisty trails of rock make the only reliable thing, riding a bike, damn difficult. Yeah, it's hard. Numbers don't lie. This race took me 40% longer than any other NUE this season. Oh, the race effort? No easy feat. Putting in hard efforts becomes tough with your head on a constant swivel and my battle with A. Toops lasted until just 5 or so miles from the finish line. Another to-the-wire race showing how impressive these SS racers are! 1st place. 4th overall.
Race 6: Grizzly 100. Quick thought: A "JUST FOR FUN" ATTITUDE NEED NOT APPLY. With the NUE title in the bag, I had hoped returning to Big Bear for the Grizzly 100 would be a nice, enjoyable, celebratory effort. This racecourse may be one of the prettiest in the NUE series. The views, the trails, and the town are all out of a storybook. The small SS field, the grand prize announced at the start line by Ryan O'Dell, and the laid-back CA vibe didn't, however, stand a chance to my race mindset once Derek said GO! 1 of 2 repeated races on the NUE circuit for me, familiarity goes a LONG way on these races. Local knowledge is invaluable. I decided early on to race myself (my time from 2020) and I enjoyed a 22 minute PR over last year and capped off a rare, perfect season. 1st place. 6th overall.
The NUE doesn't celebrate the grand spotlight like a USAC Nationals or a UCI race, however, it has something those events could never match. Spirit. Each of these events can be races to some, but they are adventures to all. Rural courses, limited engagement with support crews, and damn beautiful parts of the country seen via singletrack are all reasons why the race winners and the barely-finishers can link arms and feel part of the same community. If you LOVE MOUNTAIN BIKING these races are must-do's. Granted it's easy to feel good when the season shapes up to be as good as it can be but I look forward to the next one whether it's another podium or a 16-hour slugfest lost in the woods around Marquette, MI. Either way, I'm on the bike, surrounded by like-minded adventurers, and all I have to worry about is continuing to go forward. See you next year.