Monday, June 3, 2013

Stone Temple Pilot Hills: A Wyoming Triathlon

Pilot Hill 25k (1:50 / 7th)

Curt Gowdy State Park Mt. Bike (Specialized Demo Days courtesy of Bicycle Station)
Stone Temple Circuit (Map)

A windy Wyoming Saturday was on tap, with the famous Pilot Hill 25k continuing its streak as Wyoming's oldest consecutive footrace.  Seemingly more Fort Collins runners than ever (and some Denverites as well) made the trip up north to join our High Plains Harriers brethren, for an always enjoyable jaunt through field and rock in swirling gale-force winds.  Additionally, Alex, Nora, and I had learned of a bike demo day at Curt Gowdy State Park, which is known for fabulous mt. biking trails within 90 minutes of Fort Collins (but pretty much along our return drive from Laramie), so it seemed like an even better usage of fuel and time to check that out as well.

2013 Pilot Hill 25k

This was the 37th Annual Pilot Hill 25k, and my 3rd in 4 years.  The first time I ran it, in 2010, I wore a maxi pad, and then fared better last year.  I hoped to improve upon that.

In previous Wyoming races, we've left decent weather in Fort Collins, only to have the weather turn worse as we cross the border.  This time was no different, but at least the winds and clouds gave us warning by being generally terrible even before the border.

Pilot Hill Summit Pic courtesy of Marie-Hélène Faurie

Thankfully, precipation stayed mostly at bay (with only a slight, quick drizzle/mist near the top), so it was otherwise a battle for positioning; not only in the race itself, but in a battle to stay upright.

I forced myself to start more conservatively this year, since I shot out a bit too fast last year, and hoped to run the downhill more aggressively.  We all watched Nick lead and he had no takers on his coattails, so then we had a couple separate groups of 3 that split off.  I remained between 6th and 8th on the climb, hoping to settle in consistently and save something for the downhill.

Three of us essentially arrived at the top at the same time, in the same positioning.  I grabbed some quick Gatorade (actually, one of the fellow racers handed it to me), then headed downhill.  It was nice to see some competitors and friends directly behind and along the course, and I suppose I got so distracted that I missed a flagged left turn just a few minutes below the summit.  Luckily, some other racers shouted my to my attention, as I promptly lost about 40 seconds and almost 2 spots.

I had trouble being battered by the headwinds in some of the flatter areas, wishing I were more compact, but enjoyed pushing the rocky technical areas.  Without sunglasses in the stiff wind, I only had a blurry sense of the terrain, so it was mostly running by faith.  Lee mentioned that in-the-know Wyoming harriers run with clear safety glasses.

We settled into position and I gave up on catching anyone, which meant being out of the top 5, but just wanted to stay where I was -- with long, exposed views across the prairie, there's nowhere to hide.  I had another goal of beating 1:50 (which was good enough in previous years for 3rd place), but just missed that, finishing behind a bevy of talented Wyoming XC runners.  And Nick.

Plus, Alex and I saved some energy for mountain biking.

On the exposed prairie, you can't hide your heel-striking
Photo courtesy of Nora

Mostly, though, it's about a fun, low-key race with friends on both sides of the border, which also has Jeff's great microbrew and an awesome breakfast from Turtle Rock Cafe.
I'd rather be winded by a buffet than buffeted by the wind!

I should also mention that I'm quite a fan of the t-shirts: soft cotton, nice fit, understated and classic design in muted tones.  I am quite pleased with this year's handsome blue version.

A convenient extra layer to put around after the race to avoid freezing!
And still one of the best bargains around at a buck per kilometer: $25 and a stamp for race entry.

Curt Gowdy Mountain Biking

And then it was off to Curt Gowdy.

We brought our bikes with us, just in case, but Bicycle Station and Specialized had a great setup in the parking lot for checking out demo bikes, so we left ours on the hitch, and grabbed an assortment of $4000-$6000+ bikes(!), with Alex and I on respective Stumpjumpers.

Although happy to pay the State Park entrance fee ($6), we were additionally pleased to learn that it was a free entrance day.

We had our free reign of the park for a few hours, and the classic intermediate suggestion from Nora, Caleb, and the guys in the parking lot was the Stone Temple circuit.

    Castle Greyskull?

I think Alex and I both realized that "Stone Temple" after "Pilot Hill" was a natural combination.

Where'd you go with that mask I found?

So it was settled.

Riding counterclockwise, we enjoyed nice gradual climbs through meadow and woods, stopping often at trail junctions for pictures.

The buff trail quickly gave way to moderately challenging rocks, and then even tighter features.  I could see how it would be a fun challenge, but beyond my pay grade, to clean it all -- but note that there are miles of even more challenging trails and play areas that we did not explore!

Definitely a lot of potential there.  

We added "Albert's Alley" and "Pinball" was well, which eventually took us to a spur junction with Hidden Falls.

Nora recalled barely a trickle in a previous visit, but like many front range flows with the late snows this year, the falls were going full blast, and were a worthy diversion at the end of a small slot canyon.

Despite freezing earlier in the day, with the sun now out, it was too tempting not to take a dip.  Plus -- albeit in the opposite order -- no triathlon is complete without a swim.  It took a little courage to take the final leap into the swirling punchbowl (in late summer, it might be a calm swim), but the faith paid off by finding a small hidden cave behind the falls.

We looped back to the parking lot and tacked on some leisurely riding along the lakeshore, before reluctantly turning in our expensive steeds, knowing that there were many more miles of trail to explore.

It's not the best place for the long but less-technical cross country rides that I generally prefer, but it's definitely a place worthy of its reputation for well-constructed and well-signed trails specific to mountain biking, and definitely a great place to hone the technical skills I don't have.  Being an easy drive from Fort Collins, with ample camping and fishing opportunites without being overly crowded, I look forward to more exploration.

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff Mike. An all around perfect day on the trails in beautiful places with wonderful people. I couldn't have asked for a better way to begin the summer break. I think this should be a tradition. How often can you be buffeted by wind and winded by a buffet at the same time? Too good to pass up.