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Butte 100 Race Report: Doubled Down In a Big Mining Town

“Never (huff)…. do (gasp)… the (wheez)…100 (ugh)…ever !” That’s what I kept telling myself as I worked through last year’s Butte 50 MTB race. Relentless +7,000 vertical feet of climbing. Never ending singletrack. Countless switchbacks. Carefully, gingerly, painfully working through leg cramps. Trying to maintain some semblance of sharpness on a fast, loose and scratchy descent toward the end. I had come to do the 50 mile version of this annual Mining City enduro in anticipation of possibly taking a shot at the 100 miler sometime in the future. I left thinking there’s no way I’d be able to pull off a hundred miler here. Returning home that evening, lucky to have survived the 50 miler, I reminded myself…“stay away from the Butte 100.”

Well, I’d have to say that the troubles began early for me in the off-season of this subject. Particularly when I got to looking at that nice race jersey the organizers gave to all the participants at last summer’s race. It sez, right across the chest in black lettering, blocked boldly against a crisp background of red & white…BUTTE 100. I couldn’t get myself to don a jersey inferring completion of, in the mountain biking vernacular, a full “dirty century”. I tried adding it in with my regular rotation of jerseys in the hopes that, eventually, I would come around and just start wearing it. Couldn’t do it. Preparing for a ride, I’d see it hangin’ there in my closet and, each time, opt for another. The sense that there was unfinished business in Butte only grew stronger. So there it hung, all off-season, in the closet…and in my mind. Unused. Untouched. Unrelenting. Mockingly, it dared me to pull it on & take it for a ride. My “Maillot Rouge, Blanc & Noir.” To earn it, I’d have to double down last year’s bet & complete the Butte 100. Preparations were made, a plan was assembled & training began shortly thereafter for the effort in 2010…

A 6:00 am start near the top of Homestake Pass (elev. 6,329’) is a cold one, even on the last day of July. That’s where I joined up with 55+ other racers this Saturday at the start line of the 2010 Butte 100. This year’s route would take us down to Butte, up to Elk Park, over to the Pipestone recreation area, back up to Homestake Pass, back down to Butte, over to & through Thompson Park, to Basin Creek Reservoir, up to Highlands Campground, on to Limekiln, over Pipestone Pass and, with a little luck, back to Homestake Pass. A 100 mile figure-eight, with 14,792 feet of elevation gained & lost along the way.

With such a long introduction here, I’ll cut to the chase & report that I did finish Saturday’s Butte 100 (~14 hours & 20 minutes). If you’re interested in further details, here’s how it went…

Homestake Lake to the Nez Perce Trailhead: Racers start out with a nasty, sandy descent down Blacktail Canyon that takes you back into Butte. This section was so washed & sandy organizers talked about having a neutral start for safety purposes. While they opted not to do this, I opted to…stayin’ way in the back of the pack on this one. My thought was that for those racers stronger than me I wasn’t gonna catch them anyways. See ya’, Tinker! For those that weren’t stronger than me, well, I had all day to reel them back in. From Butte, the climb up to Elk Park & the start of Nez Perce went smoothly. Got in a nice paceline of 10 racers along the frontage road portion to conserve energy. Arrived at the Nez Perce TH @ 7:45.

Nez Perce to Pipestone Four Corners: The climb up Nez Perce is where I brought back many of the racers that had jumped ahead early. A steady climbing pace seemed to do the trick. I can report that the downhill off the Nez Perce is the only stretch of the 1st 50 miles that’s any fun. The rest is just up, up, up with intermittent downhill that’s very sandy & sketchy. The Pipestone area is very exposed, so this was the stretch of the race where you can really feel the heat…even in the morning. By the time I reached Four Corners (10:30 am) it was starting to get warm. Countless bottles of water & Powerbar Endurance (fruit blend), coupled with Hammer Endurolytes, kept me from experiencing any cramping the whole day.

Pipestone to Homestake Pass: This is a tough stretch of climbin’. Basically, you climb up to Homestake Pass twice. After working your way up to the Whiskey Gulch TH initially (about 2 miles away from Homestake Lodge), you plunge back down to a turn off on Rader Creek Road. From there, you work your way back up under some power lines. Sandy, exposed & pretty relentless. When you do finally reach Homestake Pass, you’re half way done with the race. However, some may actually decide that they’re ALL the way done at this point and call it a day. I arrived into Homestake @ 12:30 “for lunch” and then quickly pressed on. Knowing that my truck, and escape, was only a few yards away, I figured I’d better not spend too much time considering this option here.

Homestake Pass to Basin Creek: Once again, I safely rolled down Blacktail Canyon. Only this time, swinging a left at the bottom to begin a climb that took me to the Silver Bow Archery Range, Thompson Park, Herman Gulch & into the Basin Creek area. The stretch of Archery & up to Thompson Park was the strongest for me…best I felt all race. This quickly ended at the top of the climb after Thompson Park as, after all that work climbing up, I was greeted by a huge thunderstorm which “dampened” hopes of a quick descent into Basin Creek. The wind & horizontal rain made the normally quick trip down Herman Gulch a real struggle. By the time I reached Basin Creek (2:30 pm), the rain had stopped.

Basin Creek to Limekiln: This is the stretch that race organizers tell both 50 & 100 milers is the biggest challenge. If there’s any downhill portion in this section, I certainly don’t recall it. Plenty of hike-a-bike “opportunities” along the way here until you reach the Continental Divide Trail (CDT). From there, getting to the Highlands Campground seems to take forever. When I did finally reach Highlands, I was greeted by another thunderstorm. This one was unbelievable! Lightening strikes & torrential (I mean TORRENTIAL) rain. There was a canopy set up at this aid station, but with the lightening present I opted to seek shelter in the campground outhouse. Race Registration – $140. Preparation Training – 38 Weeks. 20 minutes at the Highlands Campground , holed up in an outhouse & scared out of your wits – that’s right, Pricless! The rain eventually tapered off, so I began what is affectionately referred to as “The Eight Miles of Hell” portion of the race. A brutal climb of switchbacks on extremely uneven terrain that will, eventually, get you to Limekiln Road. Adding to this difficult stretch for me was the wet rocks & roots from the rain. And, yes, there was mud. Mud that the tread on my Small Block 8’s simply couldn’t handle. While these tires served me well for most of the day, they’d met their match here. Struggling through this, I was beginning to consider more & more the prospect of not making that mandatory 7:00 o’clock cutoff at Limekiln. Come into this aid station after this time and go home with nothing to show for the effort but a DNF. Up to this point, I hadn’t wanted to think about this prospect. I hadn’t looked at my watch all day (Chris wrote down the times for me at various spots along the way).

Figured that “watch watching” would only add to the stess of the race. To my relief, when I did arrive at the cutoff and finally check the time it read 6:15. Good news – I made it. Bad news – I gotta couple more hours of riding ahead of me!?!

Limekiln to Finish: The descent down Fish Creek was a good one, and the switchy climb back up via the Toll Canyon wasn’t too bad either. The four mile stretch after that to Pipestone Pass is the best part of the entire race. This must be the trail that mountain bikers get to take all the time if they’re good and go to heaven. After crossing Highway 2, you continue up/down the CDT until you reach the finish back at Homestake Lake. I rolled in at 8:30…done & done!

The highlight of the finish, the whole day for that matter, was that I had a team of friends & family there to greet me. I knew Chris would be there. When I attempt one of these big races I always do the following two things: 1) put together a detailed plan of attack and 2) take hostages. If you think riding a bike for 13 ½ hours is tough, try spending a whole day sittin’ around waiting for your mangy husband to battle through another mid-life crisis in the hills of Montana. I couldn’t have done it without Chris’ assistance & support. She’s unbelievably tolerant & supportive and I’m the lucky beneficiary. Joining Chris at the finish line were Team BSC members Melinda, Debra, Willie & Jim. Melinda & Debra had completed the Butte 50 earlier in the day (…and I’m looking forward to reading their race report as well), so to wait around another couple of hours for me to finish was really great & is truly appreciated. Congrats to Melinda on enduring through her first enduro…you could have picked an easier one to start with, Melinda! Also at the finish line was a co-worker of mine, Jean, and her daughter. Jean lives in Butte & drove up to Homestake to watch me come in. Jean & I have worked together for almost 20 years & to see her at the finish line was a wonderful surprise. Thanks to everyone for their great support!

Afterwards, I loaded up the bike & (finally) pulled on that Butte 100 jersey. A perfect fit. After a post-race celebratory dinner in Butte with friends and family, it was a late night trip back to Helena (midnight). On the drive back, I was reminded about that warning I made to myself a year ago, “stay away from the Butte 100.” I couldn’t have been more wrong…

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4 Comments

  1. Good Job Mr Dex. Cannot say I could do that. However, I still will wear the Butte 50 jersey and be the poser that I am. It also goes good with my Hammer shorts. Congrats. And Congrat to Chris for waiting around for you. It sounded like a real treat and all those long hours on the bike paid off. You have been in top secret mode. York 76 next weekend with me?

  2. Chad, you are awesome! I remember conning you into doing the 50 last year, and after our pre ride I thought you would be skipping it. Now look at you!

  3. Chad you are the man. I could only have a glimmer of hope to be the rider you are. Great job, and your race report was perfectly written. I give you an A+ for english composition.

  4. Chad, what a great accomplishment. I could maybe ride it, but never within the time limit. Here’s my race report: what you said times one-half!


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