Singlespeed is fun to ride but it's not that hard.
This race is the best experience on a bike that a human can have. This is why IMBA has designated Paul's as an "Epic Ride." Now I'm from the mountain west. I've ridden in Fruita, Moab, and the mountains of Utah and Idaho. Sorry to say, the stuff I've ridden there is truly transcendent and usually beats the tar out of riding in Ontario. However, the riding at Paul's is something beyond all of that. While there are no breathtaking canyon or mountain vistas, the arcing trail of Paul's resembles a roller coaster for 100k. Kinetically, the bike, body, and trail meld. Perfect-length climbs lead to flowing descents. Over 100k, the course builds drama. For me, its a four-act play:
The first 40k act is a brawl. No time to rest, just fight in the west forest. The second act, the north and north-east forests, are a time to collect, enjoy the natural beauty, and conserve. By the north east aid station (4th I think) one starts to think about upping the speed a bit. By then you are digging into the bottom 1/3 of your energy reserves. You know bonk town is off in the distance. The challenge is to tune your efforts so bonk town comes just as you cross the finish. As you travel south on the east part of the course, the fatigue sets in, but the arcing turns and ups and downs require full attention. It is here that time can be made if you can keep your momentum, ride the logs, and bank all the S-curves like you are riding on rails!
The last act is electric, and for me, roughly starts on the only long straight fire-road on the course, located in the south central region. This road has a series of straightforward hills. If you have the legs you can keep the pressure on and ride hard. If not, you will cramp up and have to walk. Several times on this death march I had to stop briefly and pull out my bag of E-load tablets and eat a whole gob of them to fight the cramps. Luckily it worked, but not everyone was so lucky. At the end of the road, there is a 90-degree left turn to a large and steep hill. As I crested the hill, there lay another rider splayed on the ground massaging his pained left leg. Race carnage! It was a triumph for me to ride this hill because last year I had to stumble-bonk-walk all the way up it.
The denouement of the course---where a close race can be won or lost---is the "never ending climb." The climb is not hard per-se, but builds in intensity over the course of 5 minutes. Going too hard at the bottom is tempting, but you need to save it. At the foot of the climb I was fully recovered and ticking by at 140 bpm. Every minute the angle increased and I'd up the heart 10 bpm. Legs aching, heart pounding, I crested the top at 190, but with no visible struggle. I tried to keep each peddle stroke smooth, my back and shoulders relaxed, no huge gyrations back and forth. I kept trying to visualize Shleck or Contador's climbing, trying to model their cool collectedness.
The accumulated efforts of 100k and over 7000 feet of climbing lead to the festive atmosphere of the finish. Feeling absolutely ecstatic I sprinted to the line at top speed, locked the rear brake and laid down a huge power slide. Like a track stand at 20 mph, I was able to tilt the bike to and fro, modulating my balance as I came to a stop. I had much to be happy with. I knocked off more than an hour from my race time from last year. I didn't win any medals or impress anybody---my 7.5 hour finish put me squarely mid-pack overall, and 4th in the singlespeed category (out of 5 riders) and 20 minutes from a singlespeed podium finish. Next year I'll try for another half-hour time reduction. Course times were fast this year, with 4 riders pulling sub-six-hour times on the course, including Ottawa's own Matt Surch of Tall Tree Cycles, who came in second overall. Congrats Matt! Impressive!
At the finish I drank coffee and watched other Ottawa riders I knew come in:
Matt of Rated M Biking. The smile says Matt had fun. I only met Matt for the first time on the trail. He was looking for his friends. I asked him what his friends look like and he described a green 29er rider. I said "do you mean Rob, I know Rob." What a coincidence. This further affirms that Ottawa riders are the friendliest, most social riders around.
I saw Heather ripping it up on the course early on. Still smiling...
Mary Ann, Rob's sister, was glad it was over. Rob is the disembodied coffee cup.
I also saw some cool bikes. This guy went 60k on a Pugsley!
I would take this bike off some sweet jumps.