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Sunday, September 6, 2020

2020 DaCOVID Five-O

It's been such a long time
I think I should be goin', yeah
And time doesn't wait for me, it keeps on rollin'

Long Time, Tom Scholtz, Boston (1976)

After moving back to South Dakota, I raced the Dakota Five-O three times in the 00's on my rigid single speed. Drifting away from mountain bike racing, I have not returned since 2009. Now, the 20th Anniversary edition beckons. I think I should be going. Yeah.

Back on the Dakota Five-O course in 2020.

The Dakota Five-O is the event of the season for Black Hills mountain biking. Hundreds of avid mountain bikers from 30 states flock to Spearfish, South Dakota every Labor Day weekend, eager to take on 50 miles of sweet, singular, sumptuous single track. Race Directors Kristi and Perry Jewett amp up the enthusiasm with Smokey The Bear at the start, boisterous volunteers at the aid stations, and many others joining racers at a rollicking after-party featuring live music, local micro-brews, catered dinner, kids' races, and generous prize drawings. All in all, it's the annual Black Hills par-tay for mountain bikers.

This year, Kristi and Perry reluctantly cancelled the Dakota Five-O due to COVID-19 virus issues. Although the event would not happen in person, they announced a virtual one. Cyclists could ride any 50 mile mountain bike ride on their own schedule, submit documentation, and be eligible for prize drawings. In a classic turn-of-phrase, the Jewett's tab the virtual event as the DaCOVID Five-O.

What about just riding the actual race course? Well, a freak summer tornado wiped out thousands of trees that blocked many miles of the course. To open as much as possible, Kristi and Perry, along with the Ridge Riders Mountain Bike Club, rousted a big crew to clear debris, create detours, and mark intersections. They also distributed digital maps of the re-routes so that folks could ride the actual race course on their own time, if desired. 

Well, alrighty then. Let's ride.

The Ridge Riders have actively built and maintained trails in the Black Hills for over 20 years.

So, early Saturday morning, I head to the start at Spearfish City Park. With forecasts approaching 100 degrees and no aid stations on the fifty mile course, I want to knock off much of that initial 2,500+ foot elevation gain before the heat hits. Others must think the same, as the parking lot is sprinkled with cyclists at a dark 05:30.

I don't wait for the sun. The first several miles pass through town and then a graveled Tinton Road before finally jumping onto the legendary Tinton Trail. The sun can meet me there.

Winding up Tinton Trail, I quickly re-discover that climbing skinny single track requires an endless series of short bursts of energy. I've been away from this too long. Although I work to develop a steady effort, the trail dictates what it takes to clear each pitch. All those miles of steady, rhythmic pedaling on gravel do not help much for what effectively is hundreds of short intervals. 

As I seek my pace, a parade of others catch up. Energetic locals Lucas Haan and Bob Prann stop to check on me, before vanishing up the hill. Shortly after, spunky Spearfish sisters Jen DeHueck and Kim Kinney fly by with good cheer and encouragement. Later, I meet Tony and Sullivan Graham, a father-son team from Minnesota, testing themselves on the Five-O course on their first trip to the Black Hills. Over the next few hours several others also pass, including a festive group of 8 from Colorado. It's nowhere near a normal Dakota Five-O, but I'm not alone out there.

Bob Prann and Lucas Haan are all smiles riding up Tinton Trail early on the Dakota Five-O course.

Eventually, the trail starts a roll a bit. Good. It's heating up quickly as I pass what would be the Old Baldy Aid Station at about Mile 22. I miss the enthusiastic volunteers and the brief interactions with other riders. On this day, I also miss the chance to cool off by dumping water over my steaming noggin. 

Leading into that Aid Station, the traditional Five-O course bounces over rock-infused single track through an aspen forest. Not today. Even with logging crews feverishly working to salvage lumber from that tornado and the Ridge Riders clearing miles of trail, this part of the course could not be opened by race day. So, we bypassed the havoc with a re-route on some rock-infused double track.

For those out riding the Five-O course, all those piles of chain-sawed trees along the trail were cleared by someone working to make your ride possible. And that someone was likely Kristi and Perry Jewett, the Ridge Riders, and lots of other volunteers. That's why you support your local people and groups improving your community. That's why you ride the Dakota Five-O and, this year, the DaCOVID Five-O.

Some of the tornado damage in the aspen forest around the Old Baldy Aid Station.

Now, it is hot. No getting around it. No getting out of it. I leap frog with a few others and stop at a sign for a half-mile detour off-course to the Iron Creek Lake Campground & Store for re-supply. With every mile hard earned, I cannot bring myself to add another, not even one. That is a mistake.

Although the finish lies far below, I still have at least two significant climbs ahead, plus some inconvenient bumps. But at about Mile 29, the course turns decidedly downward for a welcomed 5 mile drop on new single track. Ridge Riders will laugh, but that sweet stretch of single track is new to me. The last time I rode this course in 2009, that stretch dropped down a gravel road.

At the bottom of that drop normally would be the Ball Park Aid Station. It's really too bad to be empty now, as the next climb is the hardest of the day, about 700 feet of elevation gain in the first mile and more after that. I could use a cold dousing and a longer break. I stop briefly for a gel and check water. It's getting low, but OK. I start up.

No bacon. No station. Very sad.

This climb turns brutal. Accumulated fatigue from hours of effort, the oppressive heat, and now the relentless pitch of this climb drag me down. Yes, it is relatively short. But not short enough. I end up taking several breaks and walking part of it. But I finally summit.

Somewhere in the wind, I hear cheers at the Bacon Station. Party hearty volunteers at this quasi-aid station have handed out bacon strips and cold beer to racers since the very beginning of the Dakota Five-O. If nothing else, their enthusiasm and encouragement injects a powerful boost at a desperate time. As I ride past the famous spot, the spirit of the Bacon Station spirit conjures a much needed smile.

2020 DaCOVID Five-O. A missed turn and a warmdown pushed it over 50 miles.

The rest of the ride is a hot, tired blur. I ration water and energy. I seek shade for frequent breaks, even downhill. Maybe especially downhill, as the risk of crashing is certainly greater when this tired.

Coasting down Tinton Road back to Spearfish, I realize the wind is not cooling me down. I am way overcooked. On pavement near the finish, the course passes through a neighborhood with a final uphill for a block or two. I drop another gear, and my head, and plod forward. I must look pretty beat. Abruptly, a voice belts out, "You're doing great! You're almost there! At the top, you'll be shouting 'WHEEEEE!' to the finish! GO! GO! GO!" It was a woman in her front yard on that final hill, cheering me on. 

Nothing virtual about that.

Thank you, Kristi and Perry Jewett for making the most of the situation by hosting the DaCOVID Five-O. Same for the Ridge Riders and the other volunteers that made all this possible. And thank you all for 20+ years of serving the cycling community.

Foreplay/Long Time, Boston (1976).

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