First a little bit of background for those of you not familiar with the Vision Quest. It’s a 55 mile endurance mountain bike race put on by the Warrior’s Society here in Southern California. It’s not your average 55 miles though. There’s 11,000 ft of climbing and some really technical single track descending. Now the “VQ” doesn’t draw a lot of out of state competition, but to the huge riding community in SoCal, it is a really big deal. Every year there is a race just to get in the race – on-line registration for the 200 rider field sells out within 5 minutes.
For me the Vision Quest is an event that draws me in, and is a challenge that I just can’t ignore. It’s not so much about racing the other riders, but much more about challenging yourself to your absolute limits out in the mountains. I first rode it in 2005 and had no idea what I was getting myself into. It took me 6:09 to finish that day (which was pretty good!) and I knew then that I wanted, or needed, to one day win the Vision Quest before I was done racing. At the time I would have told you that doing it in sub 5 hours wasn’t even possible.
On Saturday as I climbed Blackstar Canyon in the dark early hours of the morning, going pretty much at my limit, watching Tinker and a couple others ride away, I had no idea it would be my day. But I did know I was riding the pace I should be and there were 5 hours of really tough mountain biking to go. An hour and forty minutes into the race is the first of 2 feed zones. At that point I was riding a somewhat comfortable pace in 3rd and 4th place with top 10 La Ruta finisher Gerry Cody. My 5 month pregnant wife Beth was there as planned and gave me another perfect feed and some much needed moral support. We were told Tinker was 2-3 minutes ahead. Next up was 4,000ft of pure climbing up to Santiago Peak so I figured that time gap was about to double.
50 minutes later I made it to 4 corners, now on my own, and was told the gap to Tinker was 3:30. The peak was only about 30 minutes away from there and I started thinking that anything can still happen…
From Santiago Peak the VQ goes 3,900 vertical feet down one of the best single tracks in all of Southern California – Holy Jim. I thought that if I rode it perfectly I might be able to get Tinker in sight before heading into the last third of the race. Halfway down I spotted him and my day started taking on a whole new meaning. Tinker and I rode the lower half of Holy Jim and went through the 2nd aid station together.
From there it was out to the West Horse Thief – Trabuco loop. A single track climb so ridiculous that everyone considers it a hike-a-bike and pretty much never gets ridden outside of the VQ. 2 weeks prior I did go ride it though… Even though I was in the middle of moving to a new home, I was stubborn enough to go do a 5 hour ride with my good friend Ryan Clark as my final prep for the VQ. We rode more of West Horse Thief than I ever had in the past and built some confidence for the most decisive part of the race.
On Saturday I led Tinker into that last third of the race so I was able to set the pace that worked for me. At that point I was having some pretty severe cramps off and on, but I just kept telling myself that every minute I was able keep leading it was another minute closer to possibly winning. We crested through the last checkpoint onto the main divide road together. From there we had the final climbing of the day, about 10 minutes of fire road, before dropping down the rugged Trabuco singletrack. I was expecting Tinker to attack and set the goal of just keeping him in sight. But I kept forcing the pedals over and we rode side by side until the last few meters where he pulled away into the descent.
Before long I was back on Tinker’s wheel and he let me by for the descent. It was all or nothing – get a gap and hold it – or get a flat or crash trying. The gap opened up pretty quick and the adrenaline took over from there. I came out of the Trabuco loop in one piece and out of sight from Tinker. The final 10-15 minutes of pedaling on the fire road to the finish involved a lot of praying and cramping, but there was no slowing down at that point.
It’s still crazy to me that we went under 5 hours, but I believe God showed me a lot of Grace on Saturday and gave me the strength to have one of the best rides of my life. Days like that are pretty rare and I’m super thankful to have a ride like that and to have amazing friends and family to enjoy it with!
By Dana Weber