Stage seven: One final push

Jon and I woke at 6:00 am for an early breakfast before breaking camp and kitting up. There was a...

July 8, 2008

Jon and I woke at 6:00 am for an early breakfast before breaking camp and kitting up. There was a nervous energy in the air as this would be the last day of our epic adventure. We boarded busses headed for Whistler and after a scenic ride we arrived to the home of the 2010 Winter Olympics where we began staging. Due to our spirited ride the day before which landed us in 34th position, Poz and I moved into the "A" staging group! We were thrilled to be lining up just behind Chris and Jeff, along side Kelly & Sara and ahead of a few hundred tired and anxious racers.

We figured this would be the edge we needed to catch the team in front of us by not having to battle so hard at the start. The day was to be shorter than the rest but we would soon find out that did not mean it would be any easier.

The start of this final day of racing was demoralizing to say the least. We climbed straight up what will be the finish of the Olympic downhill course - a hideously steep and loose-gravel climb that lasted over an hour for me. No warm up, breaks, no end in sight. Each crest offered only a cruel view of racers hundreds of yards ahead still climbing. Poz had again found his race-legs early and was walking away from me only to wait ahead yelling my name (which can sometimes be helpful, other times extremely frustrating).

I was digging deep and while my legs felt ok, they could give no more. I watched helplessly as racer after racer from the "B" staging passed me by. I knew I had to save something in the basket and just settled in to survive the rest of that unforgiving, lung-searing-leg-roasting vertical march. Once cresting the climb, I was quasi-rewarded with a section of tight, narrow singletrack strewn with logs and rocks that proved to be just as challenging as the climb.

When we finally began the downhill, I was so blasted I came into a corner too fast and overshot a short wood bridge and found myself falling eight feet or so down into a small creek. It could have been a day-ending fall but luckily my feet landed first, then bike on top of me so all was good. I took a breath, climbed out and kept at it.

Coming from a filming background it was exceptionally hard to not stop often to shoot photos; however, I had made Poz a promise - no photos this last day. It was all about racing and moving up a few more spots in the GC. I made mental notes of the unrelenting beauty of the landscape around me: a barren rocky knob hill with an old, gray, weathered log laying half-covered in moss with a short, bright green pine keeping it company flanked by snow-capped mountains in the distance...or a rushing stream with class three rapids of glacial-green waters and quiet, mossy banks through which the singletrack wove a rolling and manicured trail of dark soil like a snake quietly meandering through a jungle. There was so much to take in visually but I fought gawking to focus on pushing the pedals as fast as I could.

Poz often led the way calling out the obstacles as they quickly appeared, "Skinny Bridge!" or "Steep Up - Granny!" Hairpin switchbacks have been my nemesis - causing me more than a couple of uncomfortable slide-outs and high-side crashes, so this day I was putting every ounce of concentration and energy into them. Getting the seat on my sternum, butt grazing the rear wheel, I realized how much my tricep muscles were burning causing problems shifting as my fingers were fully numb.

The week of racing was also taking it's toll on my mind as both climbs and descents found me cursing internally. Were it not for the constant positive energy of Jon Posner I would have surely fallen deep into an evil world of hurt. When your racing partner is literally laughing out loud and screaming things like, "That was absolutely insane! I love this trail!" it would just be wrong to reply with anything negative.

Poz would often look back after cleaning a skinny bridge or tricky step-up to see if I'd made it and cheer wildly if I did. I honestly have never had someone cheer me on like he did. At one point, after I led us cleanly around a tight corner, up a steep wood-plank bridge and over a treacherous 10 inches wide log that went some 30 feet over a raging creek with nothing but a rope on each side for protection he yelled from behind me, "I LOVE YOU BERRY!" Through the pain and suffering I was smiling, until the next climb.

Nearing the end we were building off Poz's energy, charging hard, passing riders with unfamiliar jerseys - a sure sign that we were moving through the upper ranks! Our m.o. of suffering through the climbs and catching others on the descent turned into nipping at the wheels of other riders on the climbs then attacking when we saw the trail break off the dirt roads into the woods which would set us up for a solid attack into the downhills. We caught group after group ahead of us and we were on fire - but so were my legs.

I was pinned to the absolute limit of my ability, replaying in my head the advice of every pro-rider I've ever talked to. With me on those climbs were Alison Dunlap, Jon Stamstad and even Filip [Meirhage] talking about how he loved to suffer when he knew others were also suffering - they all cheered me on in my head and for a while it helped.

Then the bottom fell out as Poz and I exited the woods and saw tables and volunteers. Poz yelled back to me, "It's the finish line! We're done man! It's over!" But the reality of it was this was no finish line, only aid station two some six kilometers from the end. We pushed on and my anger welled up new energy as I took the lead pull. Where was the end? My GPS said we were already on the 48th kilometer and the stage was due to end at 45!?

More climbing, and Poz moved ahead pleading with me to give it everything I had, not to leave anything else. He somehow found the strength to lend a hand on my back pushing me up some of the fireroad hills. More singletrack climbing and the gut-wrenching sound of the team behind us closing forced me to a medieval place - dark and painful, angry and insane.

More trail - more pedaling - give more for Poz - don't let them catch us! Keep moving up, around, over. Don't fall, don't fall!! The roots and rocks conspired to keep me from my goal. The beautiful woods turned against me, misleading me off the trail, off the bridges, off the slippery rocks. I whipped the bike like a horse jockey, yanking it back into line and over anything that got in my way. The trail turned downhill and the sounds of the finish line hoopla filled my ears. We blasted out of the woods and over the finish line. My hands were over my face to hide the tears of joy and pain. It was over.

Poz hugged his wife, and I dropped to the ground not wanting to ever move again. A few cold Cokes later and I came back to life. Jon's mother noticed half the foam in his seat was missing and I noticed my granny was held on with one crank bolt! My smile returned, and soon it was off to a hot shower then an amazing banquet at the top of the mountain with close friends new and old. Poz showed up late and when Steve Bork yelled, "It's Bill Cosby," our entire table lost it laughing.

In the end, Chris and Jeff held on to second place and Poz and I somehow dropped a place to 35th. I have to give a huge shout out to all who helped put this race together - I cannot say enough good things about the organizers, sponsors, volunteers, supporters and participants. The quality of this experience from logistics to food to venues and most of all quality of trail was absolutely first class. I've been mountain biking for 10 years now and some of the trials in this course were the best I have ever had the pleasure of riding - bar none. Thanks for following this amazing adventure, we hope to see you at the BC Bike Race next year.

Jason Berry
GFK Racing Team

Trek / VW Team:
Jeff Schalk (USA), 34, Harrisonburg, Virginia
Chris Eatough (USA), 33, Oella, Maryland

GFK Racing Team:
Jason Berry (USA), 33, Arlington, Virginia
Jon Posner aka "Poz" (USA), 33, Catonsville, Maryland

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