10 Hours Behind Bars
Race Format and Course:
Multi-lap, endurance mountain bike races provide an equalized battlefield. You may be fast. You may be highly-skilled. You may have grit. But to win these events you’ve got to have a healthy dose of it all. Racers win the first couple of laps, the mentally tough dominate the middle hours, and the technically savvy survive injury free to the finish line. Intimidated yet? Don’t be! Most of these events and the BV Outlaw holds true, welcome the novice and expert alike. Super cool race directors, friendly volunteers, and wild participants create one helluva motley crew.
Recent development to the Buena Vista trail system has elevated the riding experience in a town better known for whitewater and prison labor. Yes, the BV Outlaw gains its name from the State Penitentiary that is responsible for most of the jobs in the area. The race starts with a steep climb up Whipple, then a 2.5-mile fire road hammer to a technical, rocky descent down Django. The second half of the course includes a punchy, twisty, rocky route through Fistful of Dollars and Camp Elevation before returning to the Start/Finish area along the Arkansas River. Navigating each lap requires constant vigilance as the trail flow bounces and twists constantly. If you like mountain biking, this is the course for you. If you’re me, you haven’t pre ridden the course and midway through lap 1 are realizing that a hardtail, singlespeed may not have been the best tool for the job.
Race as many laps as possible in 10 hours. The final lap must be started prior to 5PM. GO!
Race Course Details: 11 miles. 1000’ elevation gain.
Hotels are overrated. With “grit” one of three required elements of a successful endurance racer, never ignore an opportunity to test it. The 8AM Saturday morning start proposed a crux decision: drive up in the morning or head up after Friday sunset. Friday it is. With Abbe out of town, I blasted a coffee and drove the 2.5 hours to BV. Ignoring the no camping signs (is it camping when you’re in the bed of your truck?) I slept at the race venue. Outside Temp: 28. Back of truck Temp: who cares, my eyes are bleeding with exhaustion.
a race ridden in the past:
The BV Outlaw was more than a race, maybe not to the high schoolers who took off sprinting on the Le Mans style race start (you run a small distance to your bike), or to the couples competing in the co-ed division, or even the single Pro rider who was guaranteed a top-box finish by default. No, to them it was surely a bike race, beginning to end. I thought it was for me too… at least at 8AM Saturday morning. With 3 layers of clothing up top fighting against the sub-20 degree air, I chugged my pre-race drink and took off for my bike with the rest of the late-season bike psychos. Racing up the climb on lap 1, I settled into what would be a long day.
Lap 1 came and went without incident. Peeling my jacket, after an hour and seven-minute lap, I attacked the second climb feeling pretty good. I had dropped the rest of the single speeders and knew that I would continue to build my lead over the next few hours. Though I fought against the steep, punchy climbs and formidable rock gardens, I felt pretty confident that this course played to my riding style more than the rest. I wouldn’t catch the Pro riding a geared bike so the race became mine to maintain.
Lap 2, Lap 3, and the temperature rose, and the miles stacked on. Liberally coated in AMP lotion, my legs felt fine, and my nutrition plan was going smoothly. I had a goal of 8 laps and nearing Lap 4 I was ahead of pace. However, my thoughts were starting to wander. Without any direct competition, and muscle-memory taking control of the turns and efforts demanded by the course, I turned an eye to the Buena Vista Correctional Facility set in the valley floor beneath the trail system. From afar it looks like a large manufacturing facility or strange construction company storage lot. Giant white buildings, large, open spaces, and nearly deserted roadways take up a large bit of acreage. Heck, it’s so vanilla that most visitors to the area probably look right past it. Not so easy for me. No. I’m pretty familiar with those white buildings as I spent the better part of 2007 a resident of the Buena Vista Correctional Facility. Unfortunately, I wasn’t part of a “Scared Straight” program for early 20-somethings fresh out of college. The inner walls of those buildings are familiar because, on November 17, 2006, I heard the following words: “Mr. Holle you are sentenced to 4 years in the Colorado State Department of Corrections.”
how to go to prison:
Be consistent. Really not much different than how to win an endurance mountain bike race. If you stay diligent in making egotistical decisions based on immediate pleasures, ignoring consequence, getting to prison isn’t as impossible as you may think. My college education came relatively easy to me so I filled the ample, spare time with the same pleasure-filled activities as my peers. Unfortunately the same commitment I now place in pedaling wheels for hours on end put me on a path to those white buildings. 2 days before Halloween 2004, I found myself at a fraternity party in Ft Collins, CO. The early morning hours, now involving bedroom activities or recreational drug use, failed to grab my interest and led me to the decision to drive (idiot) back to the house I was staying in. Ignoring the open driver side door of my vehicle, ignoring the girl asking me to stay at the party, and singularly focused on leaving I put the car in reverse and left the party. Unfortunately, that girl didn’t seem aware of my commitment to leave and my open door knocked her down, the door hitting her head, and both of our lives became different forever.
Having seen what I did, I stopped and tried to undo the mistake. She seemed alright. We walked back and forth in front of the house and all seemed fine. Sure, none of us, her, myself, or my two friends who saw what happened, were in a mental state suitable for such an assessment, but we thought all was well. They all stayed. I got in the car and left. The next morning I learned she was worse off than we thought. Her head was bleeding and an ambulance was called. The cops showed as well. Nobody knew what happened and the few involved persons didn’t share anything. Fearing nothing more than a reckless driving ticket, I determined that telling the responding officer what happened made sense. So, using the very car that I shouldn’t have been in the night before, I headed to the police station that next afternoon to clear up a few things. After 3 hours of clarifying I was instructed to stand up and put my hands behind my back. My voluntary admission resulted in my involuntary detainment. Inside of 12 hours I had gone from fun-having college kid to an inmate with 2 pending felony charges: Vehicular Assault and Leaving the Scene of an Accident Involving Injury.
hey, we’re still racing bikes here:
Lap 5 hurts. Endurance racers play games and constantly negotiate with themselves. “Just one more lap and you can have a waffle.” “Hammer this climb and you get to relax on the downhill.” We are never content with the status quo and are therefore never calm. “Go! Rest. GO GO!”, and so on. Finally losing my arm sleeves during Lap 5 my hatred for each little rock face grew handsomely. With each passing effort, I begged for a smooth bit of a trail, or a need to stop and pee. Neither came and so on I pedaled. Completing the lap in 1:14 marked my slowest of the day. I snagged a handful of Jamaican jerk flavored plantain chips and squirrel-nibbled my way through the start of Lap 6. Learning I was over an hour ahead, and that my main rival (former winner of the Leadville 100 SS) broke a pedal and was out of contention, worked against my race-mentality. At the first real effort, I popped off the bike and walked. The victory was mine, just keep moving. Into the descent I started picking new lines, ill-advised lines, just to spark engagement. Onto the climbing portion, I daydreamed about writing this report. “How do I tell two stories at once?”
4 years of prison in 3 months:
They don’t throw you in prison immediately. Due process is a process. With my confession being a Friday evening, I sat in the county jail until Monday, when a judge allowed me out on bail, and my dad put me on a plane back to Iowa. Court proceedings were suspended until I finished my senior year of college that Spring. My legal team, character testimony, and first-time offender status didn’t hold a flame to the fact that the victim’s father was the director of the Larimer County Bar Association. Due to his high standing in the local, legal system, the district attorney told me, “…you’d have been better off hitting Jesus Christ with your car than this girl.” Wonderful. Now let me be clear, I am not downplaying the severity of what I did. I’m universally opposed to hitting people with your vehicle. Bad etiquette. However, I wasn’t playing real-life Grand Theft Auto nor did I have malice for this person. Dumb kid, dumb decision. Balancing all of this, the district attorney offered me a 6-month jail sentence with 6-months of a work-release program afterward. We countered with 9-months of jail time. Using the standard “good-time” program in the county jail, I’d be out in a bit over 5 months, barring I didn’t start a jailhouse riot or attack a guard. Terms agreed and I spent August 2005 through January 2006 in the Larimer County Jail, a Convicted Felon (F4 Vehicular Assault – nonviolent).
I learned how to play spades, that ramen noodle soups are currency, commercial level baking skills (my job), and that novels are the greatest escape from reality. Larimer County Jail wasn’t the graduate program I anticipated after college but I made it through and the support of my family proved other-worldly.
Fresh out of the clink I had the option to transfer the additional 4 years of probation anywhere I wanted. Google-powered research weighed the pros and cons of Miami, Chicago, and Denver. Colorado became home when a good friend and I loaded his car and drove West. The paltry $700 I had in my pocket got me through a lease signing and a week of job searching. Broke, under probation, and unable to work in Corporate America (thank you Felony) I pounded the pavement gaining a job bartending in a hip club downtown… perhaps not the best environment for a reckless, party animal. In less than 9 months I managed to violate my probation terms and again found myself in front of the judge in Larimer County. This time there was no mercy. Looking back, I’m convinced I didn’t deserve the second chance that the district attorney assured me I’d get. With the borrowed car I used to drive, illegally, to the courthouse sitting in the lot out front, with my agent expecting me at a photoshoot the following day, and with my family completely unaware of my current situation I heard those fateful words that sent me to a place I’d only seen in the movies.
I’ve attempted to describe the feeling of that moment many times and a single image encapsulates it perfectly. Alone, in the middle of a parking lot of broken concrete, with a gray sky and wind swirling empty grocery bags and tumbleweeds aimlessly. I look around for any companionship and see that I am alone. Completely alone.
Back in Larimer County Jail, awaiting the process of classification in the Department of Corrections system, I broke down staring at my reflection in the polished steel “mirror”. How did I get here? 4 years of prison? I’m a prisoner?! My eyes unloaded a decade’s worth of deceit, idolatry, envy, shame, and fear. Utterly spent I yelled, “this won’t help you!”, to my reflection and fell into an explosive set of pushups. I pushed and pushed until my body gave out and fell onto the steel frame bed. I fell asleep at my rock bottom.
The following morning, over a standard jailhouse breakfast of oatmeal and biscuit (I was baking these less than a year ago), a fellow con asked my charges. Convicts play this game much like yuppies ask each other’s careers over a toss of sandbags at a neighborhood barbecue. Hearing my destination was DOC he told me of a boot camp program for non-violent offenders under 30 on their first offense. If you complete the program, you get out of prison. My belief in the divine doesn’t frame my understanding of the world, at least not initially, but the convict slurping oatmeal may as well have been Jesus offering me a fishing net. I rushed to the guard’s office and asked about this program. After some inquiring, I was handed a form that ultimately led me to the Buena Vista Correctional Facility Bootcamp program, CCAP. A 90-day, intense program based on the 1970’s Marine Corp Bootcamp Program (the Major who founded the program was a vet). If interested, there is a documentary found on the Discovery Channel detailing the camp.
Short Synopsis: through physical, emotional, and mental challenges I learned that while I may walk, talk, or act differently than the person next to me, there’s a crimson thread that unites each of us as the same. Acknowledging that, accepting that we are simply a different version of the same animal that needs love, understanding, and purpose, proved a hard lesson to learn. Broken to my core, I started to appreciate the development I’d need to produce a life of purpose. To this day I rely on those lessons in my personal, professional, and recreational pursuits. The 23-year-old me couldn’t appreciate the gravity of those lessons and how they continue to shape the person I am.
The story doesn’t finish with the 3-month boot camp. It’d be nearly a year before I was released from prison with a reconsideration from the courts. Another 6 months in a halfway house, and another 4 years of successful probation before that fateful evening could be put in the rearview. I’ll share that story soon, but until then, we have a race to win!
between a rock and a hard face:
Mental toughness. That was the requirement of the racers who win the middle hours of an endurance race. Remember? Daydreaming about writing a winning race recap, while sharing your dark past, would hardly be characterized as mentally engaged. Lose focus and you lose. BAM! Mindlessly jamming my handlebars left and right while climbing a steep rock pitch, I hooked my handlebar around a tree and went flying over the front wheel. Air born I focused on protecting my bike, a common reaction to those of us who lust over our wheeled-steeds, and landed face-first on a rock. Hero to zero in a sharp instant. Groaning, and covered in dust, I remounted my unfaithful horse and limed the final 3 miles to the Start/Finish Area. I knew I was busted up but had no idea how obviously until the finish line announcer interrupted his own acknowledgment of my finished lap with a startled, “…oh! Uh, we have medical right here Justin.”
Looks deceiving reality, the nurse gave me a thumbs up after wiping clean my wounds and liberally applying ointment. My race lead still secure, however, I’d need to ride another full lap to secure my first-place finish. My impromptu pit team, merely guys who saw my bike was damaged, finished up bending straight my front brake rotor, and I headed out for a pride-wounded, final lap. I walked the initial climb. I casually chatted with other racers on the fire road connecter to Django, and I descended with caution and contentment. The race was still mine, but the crash reminded me the lesson boot camp showed me: the ride is never over. The challenges brought on by life, through decisions and relationships, have no concrete path. They twist and turn through rocks and trees. A loss of focus or appreciation can send you to a dark place, feeling alone, or drop you face first on a hard truth (or rock). Understanding this, and that you can control just what you set your mindset on, can set up a successful bike race and can let you tell your story. Mine is a story about a first-place finish in a race that started out a 21-year-old without a true identity and ended a dirtbag singlespeeder holding a styrofoam trophy in the middle of a packed parking lot.