BaseCamper Doug Rusho shared his experience at the 2023 Chasm Chaos mountain bike race in Keeseville, New York.
With the awesome addition of our new puppy Murphy, Dog Training Load (DTL) is real. As you can see, training can be difficult (him and me), weekly volume has been cut down to 6-8 hours/week, and I have contrived some workarounds.
I am always looking to do at least one new and different experience a season, and the Chasm Chaos mtb race weekend did not disappoint. Located in the Northern Adirondacks is the Ausable Chasm, not far from Lake Placid. I was given a weekend pass from dog duty and took the scenic 4.5 hour drive through the ADK park and arrived to discover the chasm, the campground, and trails were within spitting distance of each other, sweet. It was also going to be a double, with a 2 person sprint relay Saturday evening and a 20 mile XC race on Sunday (remember those?).
I could not get any teammates to go for the relay, so I was paired up with Torin upon arrival. I was initially disappointed when the email came out stating the relay would use the kids course; I expected a simple loop in the grass, and yes, "cross is coming," but not yet please. I pre-rode the 1.1 mile course with Torin, and it was all single track, flat, with fast turns, going left to right continuously, flying through an open pinewood forest. On top of that it rained earlier, making the sandy ADK soil into hero dirt, how freakin’ fun will this be!
Ironically I noticed Torin was riding a hardtail with 650b wheels, like myself on my Yeti SB5. Very rare these days in XC. So when deciding on our team name, it had to be 650b. A low turnout meant only 5 teams, but fate stepped in again, as we were evenly matched with one of the trail builders and his 20-something teammate. Both paired riders were evenly matched, and Chris (the trail builder) was dialed, glued to my wheel. Both teams were even for the first 4 of 6 laps. Torin put a 10-second gap on his final lap, and I added another 5 seconds to take the win. Racing is hard, flat or not. I put in three 5:40 relay laps at 378, 387, and 394 watts in the woods, on single track, with coasting on every corner …ouch.
A 30-second ride to the campground to set up shop, carb load, and prepare for the XC course pre-ride. I planned on doing this in the dark to fine tune my new light system (Outbound Lights) for the 24 hour race in a few weeks. The race promoters and Chris are in a local heavy metal band (Executive Disorder), and this was a theme of the event. As you can see from the trail map, chaos it is. A rat's nest of trails, all named after heavy metal bands and songs. Being in the Adirondacks, there were constant hills on the drive all the way to the course; I was looking for the climbs. Again pancake flat. Climbs were few, low grade, and less than 40 seconds. Once again, constant turn-on-turn action, most with that perfect radius where you can load your tires and they make that "riiiip" sound and launch you out the exit. Trees everywhere, but somehow just far enough away from the singletrack that with some over/understeer, you were not penalized severely. Even at recovery pre-ride pace, you felt like a rock star. So flippin’ fun. Just three 6.7mi laps for a total of 384 feet of elevation gain; should be easy, right?
Race day arrived, and I watched some of the sport race. The metal theme continued, hand painted trail signs, and death metal mtb rider banner with a face cutout for photo ops. Of course, a nice balance of rock and metal music over the loudspeakers (DJ Doug approved), along with a long-haired color commentator on the mic.
As I was prepping at my car at the campground, I overheard two guys one car down saying, "There is only one guy in my class." "Who is he?" "Doug Rusho, do you know him?" I raised my hand like a shy school kid. "Ah, no way! I am in the 50+ class with you (I just turned 50 three days before), there are only two of us. Do you want to do some party laps?" The look on my face clearly said, What the hell are you talking about? He explained, "Ya know, just cruise the laps, shoot the shit, or did you come to hammer?" A quick glance at his slightly pronounced beer belly, and my answer was unwavered: "Hammer."
A popular gravel race also this weekend in the ADKs hurt attendance, but I lined up with 20 or so Cat 1s in a mass start. Being so much fast twisty single track, passing would be very hard, so I opted for a hard start, be near the front. Perfect starting gear and popped into pedals on first hit. Launched into the woods in third, and a ridiculous pace ensued with 5 of us pulling away.
The two in front were frenetic, and I left a small gap in case they tangled. The rider behind got antsy and asked to pass, which seemed silly (where would he go?), but I tried to oblige, moving to my left and slowing right before a left 180-degree turn. He changed his mind and told me to go through but then decided to pass anyway. We ended up pinning ourselves between two trees on corner entry. I braced (thank you, core strength), broke through, and inadvertently sent him through the outside tape. I yelled sorry immediately, despite my innocence in the situation. He caught back pretty quick and apologized, his fault, "race brain." I know that one well. He said, "Just keep your flow, and we will wait for a straightaway."
Flow I did, and we closed back to the two leaders 2 minutes later. A 30-second straight did arrive, the two leaders surged, I moved over, and he and the 5th rider all pulled away. This was right around 15 minutes, and a post analytic look at my WKO dFRC chart confirmed. I survived the first "chasm" of anaerobic battery drain, but the second was too much, I was riding over my head. Hmm…maybe party laps were not such a bad idea.
I settled into my pace and regrouped for lap 2. I saw the 4th rider heading out on the final lap and attempted a final lap dig just in case he cracked. I did smoke the last lap only 30 seconds slower than the 1st, but no sight of anyone.
I finished in a heap of pain, no different than a race with 8 times the elevation gain. I was pretty happy with 5th overall but of course immediately schemed how I can close the gaps to the fast guys and stay out of no man's land.
Results were posted. I was 4 minutes down from the top 3, 2 minutes from 4th. Turns out they were all in the pro class! This included the winner US cycling star and Zwift superstar Ken Bouchard Hall. I slapped myself on the forehead a la Homer Simpson. "Doh!" In my defense, they all signed up on race day, no idea pros were even there.
What a fantastic, new experience. I really appreciated the organizers' creativity and effort with all the small touches making this race special. The trails were complety unique, at race speed you felt like a Top Gun pilot in a dog fight. Pinned, wired, 100% focused, railing turn after turn after turn.
On to the next adventure on June 23/24: Summer Solstice 24-hour race in Canada, four-person team. I have completed some alternative training due to DTL and in preparation for this specific, giant intervals effort. We will see how it pays off.