So I decided to pedal in my first mountain bike race this past Sunday. Interesting it twas.
Macky Franklin (college student and pro mountain biker for Yeti) convinced myself and two other Midd students here over the summer, Syd Schulz and Alex Jopek, to head down with him. I entered the Expert Cat 1 race which consisted of 2 laps around a 10 mile loop of trail (20 miles total). Macky, in the Pro division of course, rode the same amount, and Alex Jopek and Syd Shulz both registered for the Sport Cat 2 race (single 10 mile loop). I was way out of my league, but I wasn’t worried. 10 miles simply wasn’t enough riding for me, I wanted more.
Woke up at 6am to find Alex Jopek wasn’t sleeping on the couch in the living room and his car was nowhere to be seen. The day before, he had been in Northern VT with his family, but had apparently never come…back to his couch home. Macky stopped in, we stuffed the car full of important racing stuff (but forgot the PBR!), and headed to pick up Syd. 3.5 hours of driving and we pulled in to the grass lot with barely enough time to get ready. Fun stuff. Alex showed up minutes before my race started (15 minutes till his started) and ran up to the line to wish us luck. Off went the Pros. A minute later, I hopped on my bike taking off at the back of the pack, hoping I could manage to keep out of everyone’s way and avoid a major pile up.
The race wound on wide track for about 60m before it shot into single track in the woods and immediately began climbing…steeply…and my bike doesn’t like to shift. Basically I need to give my faithful steed a bit of loving and replace some drivetrain parts (read: the entire drivetrain!). I’ve been avoiding it for over a year, and it certainly showed on Sunday. Finally my chain snapped into the right gear and I huffed my way uphill, noticeably suffering because we had lacked the time to warm up. Once the terrain leveled out, and I had thoroughly warmed up, I began to feel a bit better. Keeping with the last few guys in my group, I felt confident that I could stay at our pace and perhaps pick it up on the second lap to improve my time (ahhh, the advantages to being an ultramarathoner). Wicked twisty singletrack wound for quite a ways and eventually spit us out onto wide dirt track that turned out to be rather unstable thanks to large loose rocks and too many options for the best rideable line. Having a hard time choosing which side of the dirt roads I wanted to ride lost me a bit of time, which I managed to make up on climbs. It was all going quite well until a few miles from the end of lap 1 when I noticed my rear tire was losing air. I rode it out for a while, but soon enough it got quite squirrelly on the downhills fishtailing my rear end around. So I stopped to change tubes. I learned quickly why XC racer’s A) ride tubeless setups B) carry CO2 cartridges instead of handpumps C) bring extra tubes. I had one extra tube thanks to Macky (I had neglected to bring any so he tossed me one right before the start). I slowly took out my tube, popped off my wheel, and began changing everything up. One by one loads of riders passed me, some asking if I needed anything. Knowing my race was done for (competitively at least) I took my time enjoying the break. Finally I got everything changed up, and took off again. Soon enough I came upon a rider who had passed me a bit before. I rode easily behind him figuring I’d rest up and prepare to make an epic go on the 2nd lap in hopes of catching back up (unlikely…but still possible). Quite close to the end, I came to a large stream crossing with spectators standing around. Apparently I had missed the race director mentioning which side of the huge, deep, completely opaque-with-mud stream to cross. He said go left even though right looked better. I only found this out after the race. So I gave a loud whoop to the small crowd and jumped full speed into the right side of the creek bed. BASH! THUMP! PSSSPOP! My tube was completely flat by the time I made it out of the other side of the water and the spectators cringed at my mangled tire. Laughing, I pedaled on as the ground was flat and quite soft with mud. No need to change my tire yet. Soon enough though, I pulled over and hopped off as the trail began to slope downwards. Now this is where that PBR would have come in handy. If only I had remembered to bring ’em along and stuff one in my water bottle cage! This flat would be a bit more interesting this time around as I had already used my spare tube and would now need to patch my previously popped tube. My race was definitely over at this point. Relaxing, I moved slowly through the procedure, enjoying the chance to watch racers pass me. In the middle of my tire change, two riders approached the stream back on the trail, and the first shouted suddenly.
Rider 1: “F***! D***!” “How the h*** did that happen!?!
Rider 2: “Dude, just keep going. We’re super close to the start line.”
Rider 1: “AAARRRRGHHHH!”
I couldn’t help but laugh quite a bit at his unfortunate luck. It made my flat a little easier to patch up. Finally I got my my act together and pedaled down the hill to the end of the first lap. Well, two flats in the first lap and a bike that didn’t want to shift. I surely wasn’t going anywhere fast.
The second lap began rather slowly as I started the long series of climbs again. Slowly I picked off a racer ahead of me. Then another one, and finally another. Sweet. I’ve knocked off 3 people that passed me. Of course as soon as I pass everyone, I manage to flip over my handlebars crossing a mud bog, and land face first in the muck. Whoooops. Now I get a large chunk of singletrack (to go with the large chunks of mud still stuck in my teeth) without another racer in sight. This time around, I have a bit more time to take in the trail and scenery around me, far less concerned with my finishing time. Eventually I come upon another racer who I tail along with for a while. She makes a hobby out of “accidentally” cutting me off and sounds like she’s losing brain cells with each pedal. I wonder if I should give her a Clif Shot…or maybe if I had another PBR… I manage to finally get around her, but only after bunny hopping off a drop into a deceivingly deep puddle (try calf deep…with my feet on the pedals still). She speeds way ahead on a road decent, but I catch her quickly as we begin climbing and let her eat my dust. That’s right, I burned her on a climb. Later on in my climb, I come upon anther rider, and slowly but surely put trail in between my tires and his. That makes me feel even better! I’ve put 4 or 5 riders behind me and manage to pick off one more before the final descent comes into view. Of course I managed to take a big spill on a super slippery rock slab first. Guess I should have changed my rear tire back when it went bald two months ago (ahh, the joys of neglecting parts). Shooting through the stream again, I take the same path, but stop in the middle, fall over, and stumble my way out. Flying down the trail at a dull pace, I pop out of the woods onto the finish straight, to Macky and Sid hollering up from below. I crash the finish line at a rather uninteresting pace whooping and flailing my one arm (I don’t have skills like those other dudes who can take both hands off and whip them around).
I ride down to meet them and holler in disgust about my pathetic rear wheel and its ability to flat wayyyy too often. I then discover that Alex’s “mechanical” failures far outweigh mine. He managed to catch a bit too much air on one of the dirt road descents. Flying through the wind, he looked down to realize that he was about to land in a huge gully that had formed from draining rainwater in the middle of the road. His tires landed on a large boulder bulging out of the track, and he flipped head over heels down into the rather large hole. His racing attire was destroyed-a flannel shirt covering suspenders holding up bike shorts- and his back was entirely shredded. And his front wheel had taken quite the beating, and was literally crushed in half by the impact. Taco’d so bad, the rim literally broke after twisting into an aluminum pretzel. He had walked the last 2 miles and crossed the finish line carrying his bike, tattered flannel still on his back.
Macky, out of racing shape at the moment, didn’t do too well in his Pro category taking 2nd to last (20 minutes behind 1st), and Syd loved her race. We stuffed our faces with food, sat around causing a series of shenanigans, and eventually ran over to the pond to jump in and clean off just as a tornado watch was issued. Macky ended up winning $10 for completing a lap in under an hour, and Alex was given a $1 for his epic crash. All in all it was a great time and we all left with smiles on our faces despite our poor showings, mechanical failures, and straight up silliness. Let’s do it again chaps!