Mud on Evo's face and glasses. Lump on bicep
I hope you enjoyed El Jefe’s succinct race report. My race went unusually well, and it was an experience worth sharing, so regardless of your level of interest, strap in because here we go.
Saturday gave us deluge intensity rain and wind. For the uninitiated; the combination of strong wind and rain is known as a “storm.” Casa de Evo is an older house and it makes some poltergeist type sounds in strong winds. The rain gutters were overflowing and the wind had the place howling in a way Stephen King would love. Hottie and I exchanged knowing looks with an expression somewhere between fear and humor that conveyed our expectation of epic racing on Sunday.
To prepare for the forecasted harsh conditions I mixed up a monster pot of Lentil soup and put it in the crock pot for a twenty hour simmer. I packed up the war wagon with extra tent stakes and rope to prevent any “tumbleweed” episodes with the team shelter on Sunday.
On Sunday morning, in the pre-dawn twilight, Hottie, The Beast and I rolled toward the shores of Lake Sammamish and found a prime spot. With the help of the ever willing and cheery Willard, we staked down the tent during a brief respite from the rain and then braced for the worst.
I have been trying to throw in one easier training week every three to four weeks and this was one of those weeks so my legs were a tad “fresher” than usual. I wondered if that would make a difference. Read on…
The rain necessitated me carrying the umbrella for Hottie as she photographed the first race. The rain got harder as the race unfolded and watching the riders sliding around in the ever increasingly challenging conditions, I knew my race would be one to remember.
I pulled the bike out of the car and into the elements and rode a couple warm up laps to check out the course. It proved to be everything I hoped for and everything I dreaded. The grass was transitioning from golf course like beauty into Portland International Raceway soft cream cheese-like mud bogs. At first it was just a spot here and there, but the mud was multiplying fast and those “spots” were growing minute by minute and new ones were popping up everywhere.
My teammates were out on the course warming up as well and it was clear we would have a large contingent of brown for the 11:00 race. El Chefe’ brought along several strips of pipe insulation and electrical tape for padding the underside of our top tubes for carrying on the signature feature of the venue; the long sand purgatory known as Normandie Beach to some and Omaha Beach to others. That padding made a difference in the long carry that was huge. While others might say the pad didn’t matter I would paraphrase their words by quoting Moonlight Burnside, “Blah, blah, blah.”
I made my final clothing selection and donned my costume with number and quickly covered up with a rain jacket and pants. I reluctantly removed my warm up fender only to cringe as the cold water soaked my chamois twenty seconds after rolling toward the start line. I had slapped some embrocation on my legs and it was kicking in. I was ready to rumble.
El Chefe’ was a champ and gathered our clothing at the start line and I got a great (random) call up in vivid contrast to my earlier races. At the whistle I clipped in and was cranking quickly as I scrunched my face to try and avoid the rooster tails of water fountaining off the rear wheels of those who started in front of me.
As I always say, you race those around you, and I was hoping to take advantage of my great starting position to improve my placing. The first sweeper onto the dirt was uneventful but the greasy right turn around the first tree was not. Riders went sideways in the mud and I avoided collisions and tried to build up speed. Despite my low pressure the bumps were like punches being thrown at my body and it was hard to build any momentum. This was going to be a long day at the offices of Mud, Sand and Rain LLC.
I found myself in a good spot and the slippery off cambers proved adventuresome. When we hit the sand for the first time I veered left and dismounted keeping my momentum and got the bike locked on my shoulder and sprinted. Yes that is right I sprinted, I sprinted and passed three or five riders. I could hear friends yelling and others noting my moving up in the sand and shouting encouragement. Evo was racing today.
I remounted and pushed for the couple hundred meters before the slippery mud made turning an exciting endeavor. There was a lot of “hook and ladder” action where a rider’s back wheel goes sideways as it loses traction but the rider keeps it upright. Some did not keep it upright. We call that crashing. For this reason you had to be careful not to get too close to the ride in front on dicey corners or his fate could be yours.
After the first lap I was on the wheel of Terry Buchanan and decided to try and sit there. Terry is a strong rider who took some good lines and I followed them to my benefit. I again moved up in the sand and then later at a particularly muddy slow corner I followed El Jefe’s advice and ran the inside line with the bike in my right hand while hooking my left hand on a tree and whipping around the corner (crack the whip style) gaining two places much to the dismay of my competitors who were slogging wide in the mud bog.
Feral Dave caught and passed me and I wondered where El Jefe’ and Big John were as they typically are ahead of me by the second lap. I do fancy myself a “mudder” so it was not a complete surprise. I tried not to let Feral Dave get away and caught up in the sand on the next lap and pulled ahead after remounting. As always he gave me words of encouragement as I passed. Dave is just a classy guy.
The race was about survival now as I adopted a selfish race outlook. I would ride past a guy on my left who was stopped, struggling to get his chain back on. Then I passed a rider on my right who had just slid out in a corner. I wasn’t bunny-hopping bodies or anything, but I did try and keep my focus and ignore the misfortune of others. There would be plenty of time for empathy after the race.
If you crashed, or even if you dabbed (put a foot down), building your speed back up (or what we called speed on this slow motion mud day) took a ton of effort. Effort equals pain after the first lap by the way. The race was summed up best by a downed Cucina rider who slid out and rolled onto his back and looked up at the sky motionless.
“You okay?” I shouted as I approached.
“Yeah….. This just..Sucks!” He yelled, accent on the last word, still without moving. He wasn’t hurt; he just didn’t want to get up. I understood.
I was using all of my skills to try and avoid the same fate. I was shape shifting and channeling my inner Sven Nys to keep the bike upright. I moved my weight back to try and maintain traction when things got slick. I was trying to keep my power going throughout my pedal stroke to avoid sliding out. I was quick to run and I embraced the sand. Everything I had learned riding tight turns in Mazama, commuting across loose gravel, and hanging on wheels doing the Thrilla was in play during the race. The bike was functioning well, the tires were working, the pad for shouldering the bike was wonderful. Everything within my control was working.
One of the things I love about cycling, and particularly Cyclocross, is getting the variables right. The right clothing, the right bike set up, the right pressure the bike handling skills, all make a difference. When someone feels they were cheated because they crashed (on their own) or flatted because their pressure was too low I just shrug my shoulders as I think these things are generally within their control. This isn’t to say I don’t make mistakes because I sure do, but there is a learning curve in this sport and that is part of the charm. If experience came in a can I’d be first in line to buy some. It doesn’t and learning from your mistakes and experience is an advantage.
When I saw three to go I was (as always) wishing for two to go. To my surprise Terry turned off. I still don’t know why, but I kept on pushing. There were about two hundred riders on course and the mud was getting worse every lap. There were stretches of grass that remained ridable, but every sharp corner was now soft and while you could RIDE the mud you couldn’t TURN in the mud. A sharp turn in a mud bog at the end of the pits saw riders enter at every angle and if you had any speed coming in you rode into the tape on the far side and then stopped and either rode or ran the rest of the turn.
The course suited me as the technical portions allowed me some aerobic recovery and a chance to use my handling skills. The carnage continued and I was moving up through the back of the 35plus cat 3’s.
By the last lap there was camaraderie in the corners as riders would announce their intentions and hope that was how it played out for them. “I’m coming inside,” and the like. My glasses were so spotted with mud I could barely see. My gloves were coated with mud so I didn’t dare wipe my glasses. The mud was flying up so removing the glasses wasn’t a realistic option either.
On the cement I dropped my head and pedaled for all I was worth. I looked at my legs and there was so much mud on my shins you couldn’t tell where my black socks ended and my once white legs started. On my sixth time through the sand I didn’t sprint, but held my spot and tried to gather my energy for the final half lap. I remounted and pushed hard. I passed riders but most were in other categories. The mud bogs were now more suitable for running and I obliged. Others worn down by their effort rode them which was easier but much slower.
Over the barriers then I was onto the final serpentine corners which were slippery when I spotted my friend Alex a single turn ahead of me. Onto the pavement of the final straight and I got out of the saddle and pushed. Alex was well ahead of me and there was no chance of catching him. I looked back and didn’t see anyone who might challenge me, but I didn’t let up. ALL DONE said the sign at the line. Although it was intended for everyone, it sure summed up EXACTLY how I felt.
Feral Dave rolled in a couple places behind me and we took a short warm down before entering our second race of the day, the race with hypothermia. Post race in cold wet weather is a funny thing as there are a couple minutes where you are still warm from the effort even with cold rain falling on you. A smart racer will warm down a bit then race, and I mean race, to get cold wet clothes off and warm dry clothes on before your core temperature drops. When my body realizes the big effort is done it shuts down and that includes shutting down heat production. I stripped off my costume and put on a wool shirt and my team jacket. I pulled off my socks and tried to wipe the mud and remains of embrocation from my legs. The mud and embo had combined to form a substance that did not want to come off. I put on a pair of sweat pants so I didn’t defile my clean pants.
I enjoyed one of the last cups of the lentil soup and it wasn’t the best thing I’ve ever made, but I was sure glad to have it. Taking a tent down in the rain is always a battle with denial as you want to enjoy the shelter and take it down at the same time. We loaded up our stuff and drove home listening to the Seattle Seahawks score in overtime to win their game.