Vertically Challenged: Beartooth Blitz Hill Climb Report

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Race Report submitted by Chad Dexter.


The town of Red Lodge hosted its annual road bike race over the weekend. While this year’s version was a 2-day stage race offering, the star of this event is, was & always will be…the Beartooth All-American Highway. Sunday morning, starting at 8:30 am sharp, racers were sent up Highway 212 from the Rock Creek Resort at 30 second intervals. Our individual time trials would take us 25 miles, up over 5,200 feet of climbing & into another state (…of both mind & jurisdiction). My journey began this day at 8:35:00 am…”5, 4, 3, 2, 1, roll…”

Elevate to the Gate (7,567 ft)
6,204’ is the elevation at the start, six miles out of town at the Rock Creek Resort. As luck would have it, I was listed as the first overall male competitor to start today. This meant, for me, that all the talented male competitors from the pool of Category 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, & Masters A/B road racers were lining up behind this Cat 2 mountain biker…who’d probably been on his road bike total of 3-4 times this summer. There was blood in the water & the sharks were circling early. Rolling out from the start, I could feel the “rabbit ears” sprouting out my head as I prepared for the chase that would follow. I did have the advantage of pre-riding the climb the day before while these “roadies” were racing Stage 1 of the Beartooth Blitz from Dean, MT to Nye, to Fishtail and back into Dean. With this in mind, my “mini-goal” for today’s stage was to reach the east gate of the Beartooth Pass (~Mile 7) before being passed by anyone. Hittin’ it hard early on a big, long climb can be a recipe for disaster. However, I thought the positive mojo I’d have from getting to the gate first would bolster me mentally against the negative of being dropped by so many so often the rest of the way up. Down in the handlebar drops, trying to stay aerodynamic into the wind, I was racin’ hard to get to that gate before anyone else behind me. Well, I could see the dang thing just in the distance ahead as a couple of racers rolled on by & past. Clean shaven legs. Tucked into aero-bars? Tear drop helmets!?!? Perfect cadence. I managed to keep the field behind me for about 30 minutes, but my personal “breakaway” ended just before the gate.

Vista Point (9,190 ft)

vista-point

Fully settled into confirmation that I wasn’t gonna be the first to the top today, I focused on getting up the four switchbacks to Vista Point at Mile 15. This stretch is the steepest of the day’s route, hitting gradients of 11% at times. Just a word of advice when riding this part…don’t look up! If you do, you’ll see the road winding its way, way, way up there & it’s a long, long, long way to go still from this vantage point. It is best to keep your eyes pretty much down while both watching (& listening) for any cars, RVs & Harleys you’re sharing the road with. No, they don’t close this All-American Highway for this race. Vista Point is where many traveling on this famous road stop for breathtaking views of Rock Creek Canyon & the Hell Roaring Plateau. It’s also the only stop along the way with restrooms, which is perhaps the biggest attraction for road weary travelers. No stopping for racers here, however. Make that sweeping hard right, see that “10 Miles to Go” sign, grab a gear & just keep on churnin’ those pedals!

 

Greetings From Wyoming! (10,231 ft)
Just before finishing Mile 19, you cross the Montana/Wyoming border. I can share a couple of personal observations from reaching this particular accomplishment. First, the road in Wyoming is much nicer (newer) than its neighboring state to the north. Very smooth. Second, and unfortunately, the climbing remains the same experienced in Big Sky County…long, steady, unrelenting. Maybe this is why Wyoming is called “The Equality State”?

wyoming

As I worked my way past the “Bear’s Tooth” landmark pullout, I could hear AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” blaring. I looked up and my daughter, MacKenzie, is sitting in the Tacoma with the stereo cranked “to 11” while Chris is outside yelling at me to “get going!” Coming up on almost two full hours of climbing, this shot of inspiration from the family worked for all about 10 seconds as the suffering quickly seeped back in as I continued to work my way up.

West Summit (10,947 ft)

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At around Mile 22, the route takes on a rather unique change in character. Something that doesn’t seem possible. Something thrilling happens. Something improbable. It actually goes downhill…yippee! Hey, my bike has a big ring on it!! ~36 mph…wahoo!!! And then, as quickly as it starts, it quickly ends and you’re back to climbing again. Only now the legs are REALLY mad about the short break and are rebelling in all kinds of ways painful. This muscle-twistin’ torture continues for the remaining 1.5 miles, right up until you reach the end. The West Summit. The absolute highest point on the Beartooth Highway that race organizers could push you to. Welcomed by family, race volunteers and a few unimpressed round-eared pikas, my journey up the Beartooth Highway ended at 10:50:34 am…some 2 hours & 15 minutes from when I started below.

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Learn more at http://www.strava.com/runs/16789503.

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