March 5th was the inaugural Climb to the Clouds at Great Glen Trails. The Climb to the Clouds Race was scheduled to happen last year but was canceled due to poor conditions, and 2017’s race was looking like it might go the same way. Rain followed by cold weather obliterated our snow pack and made for icy auto road conditions. This year’s Climb to the Clouds was the first time Great Glen Trails dipped their ski boot-clad toes into the fat bike race scene. With 121 fat bikers, 50 snowshoers, and 20 skiers registered, it appeared to be a good move. I can only hope Great Glen Trails catches the fat bike bug and creates one or two more fat bike races.
The 10k course consisted of a 4k loop on GGT’s groomed carriage roads, followed by a 6k climb up to halfway point on the auto road. The last 6k has an average grade of 12%. I fully anticipated the race being a suffer-fest due to the fast open trails and a field dominated by road racers. On top of that, word was that the road was going to be icy; if you had studded tires you’d better bring ‘em, was the advice circulating.
Race day morning saw a high of 5 degrees and bluebird skies at the starting line. Skiers, snowshoers, and fat bikers left the starting line in 10 minute waves. The race pace was surprisingly mellow. Passing skiers and snowshoers was no problem, in fact most other racers where darn friendly. The well-groomed Nordic ski trails made the race fly by, although the lack of trail features made for a slightly boring ride. I decided to take in the scenery; it was, after all, clear as a bell outside. I started to chat with three other riders that I was swapping places with. They all either got sick of my dull banter or ran out of energy, at about 6 – 7k they dropped back. For the remaining 2k my mind was filled with thoughts of a dearly departed riding friend Pete. Pete raced many GGT events and was always a smiling, encouraging, friendly face. Dang, I missed him a lot that day, he surely would have been racing that day.
Upon arrival at the finish line, I was surprised to find that I had won the fat bike division. I figured there must have surely been a few people ahead of me. Thinking back on the reasons of how I could have won this race led me to some thoughts. The course was really not very icy, it was clear studded tires where an overkill. Most people ran studded tires, which are a fair bit heavier than my tubeless 45north tires. Studded tires add up to a lot of rotational weight to drag up a mountain. I also decided to wear less clothing than a reasonable person would. I lost my neck warmer, nylon wind pants, and thick long underwear top before the race started. When I started to over heat I unzipped my wind shell and continued peddling. On the climb I noticed a many racers fumbling with layers once they started to over heat.
This may have been the first race I’ve done where fitness took a back seat to a few key decisions. While drinking my recovery beer I thought, “Even a blind squirrel finds a nut sometimes.”