Doing it all the hard way...

Monday, October 14, 2013

SCX #2 2013 Tall Chief Cyclocross Race Report and Photos

What doesn’t kill you, most likely just shortens your life.

Photos of everyone else can be found here !

Time to get PRIMAL !!

After an odd week I found myself battling to get my head around racing.   If our anniversary trip to Yellowstone had happened, we would have been gone this weekend so we had not expected to be at this race.   Since Yellowstone was closed we took a shorter trip to Bend, Oregon and came back Wednesday. 
Substitute the word "Hospital" where you see "Restroom" for a glimpse of the future.

Thus we found ourselves staring at a cross race opportunity on Sunday.

With all of the mountain biking we had done in Bend, I skipped my typical Thursday Thrilla so I was coming into the weekend with questionable preparation at best.  My food choices for the week were also not those of even a semi-serious racer.   This was going to be a “we’ll just see what happens” kind of race.

Hottie and I had spent some of Saturday at a pumpkin farm with grandkids which doesn’t exactly give you the, “Eye of the Tiger” race mentality.  I’m not making a value judgment or saying good or bad, I’m just telling you where my head was.
Clay baby (KOG) 
King of the Gourd !!

My denial was further illustrated by my total lack of vehicle preparation the night before. We had a painfully early departure planned, yet I just figured I would load the car in the morning assuming I would have more energy and/or motivation on race day.

Out of habit I packed the war wagon in the morning with minimal effort and we left in darkness with Betty the Beast along for the ride. 
When the Beast sports the Buckeye hat, anything can happen

This was a new venue; Tall Chief Golf Course.  The name conjures up images of a fast course on manicured grass.  I brought along my file tread front wheel just in case. The sun was supposed to come out an hour before my race and I was thinking the r ace would be a “grass crit.” 

I could not have been more wrong.

In the dim, foggy twilight of dawn we found a moss covered the sign that bore the “Tall Chief Golf” name.   As it turns out, the golf course closed two years ago.  I like to joke about our front yard by asking, “What is the difference between and English garden and a jungle?...The answer is Two weeks.”   Imagine what two years of abandonment had done to this place.

If you saw the most recent James Bond movie “Skyfall” and can recall the image of the old home in the foggy Scottish moors then you have something to start with.  The chilly, damp fog kept the sun from brightening up the course as well as making everything cold and wet. Thick moss had taken over the few buildings making them appear to have been abandoned for decades.  Blackberry branches were clawing up the sides of buildings and reaching out along the ground like fingers trying to draw everything into their thorny grasp. If you need to dispose of a body or if you are looking to get rid of hundreds of corpses; I can recommend this as the perfect place.

These guys are TRYING to ride...

The ground sunk as you walked or rode on it as if you were walking on a mattress. The thick grass and foliage absorbed sound such that if you got more than a dozen steps away from the fans and cowbells the scene took on the feeling of An American Werewolf in London.  It wasn’t like the place felt haunted as much as it felt as if there were a vacuum that sucked the life and hope from everyone and everything.

After we had our tent set up, another team had their van got stuck in the mud and only a hefty 4x4 truck could get it free. That clearly was a sign of things to come.   I started to wonder if this was the kind of place that would only let you leave when it decided you could go.  What would be the ransom to be paid to leave I wondered.

Turning my attention to the race course I noted the riders warming up seemed to be in slow motion. Men out of the saddle churning hard were going as fast as people walking beside them. This would be a day of potentially limitless pain.

Some of my teammates were out there getting ready for the first race. As they approached the tent they were huffing. Clearly it took a huge effort to just keep moving. They had expressions that were more serious than usual. If I had to describe what their faces and body language were saying, I would paraphrase it as, “This is NOT going to be fun.”  This would be a day I knew we would talk about for years to come.  I imagined the race officials telling the riders, “Master men….you will be doing one lap today…”  If only it could have been that simple.

The mud sucked.  It sucked your shoes, your tires and your strength
My teammate’s bikes had clumps of mud and grass that ranged between the size of a fist and a football.  Their wheels did not spin freely.  Pedals were clumps of grass and mud. It looked like they had collided with a Chewbacca and the Chewbacca lost. Some kind of grass cutting machine had carved the course out of the tall grass leaving a path that could (barely) be ridden.  The center of the ten foot wide swath was rapidly turning muddy and the edges were piles of grass that provided some traction, at the cost of relentlessly clogging up your bike.

As the first race got underway I settled in and began to watch the racers. It quickly became apparent that people were hurting out there. Without much thought as to where to watch the race I had chosen the top of a ten foot hill. The spot was a little more than halfway into the lap.  Preceding the hill was a muddy section that was run by most then followed by a short section that could be ridden leading up to the slippery hill. 

I watched riders finish running the muddy section, drop their mud-laden bikes exhausted and jump on to try and build up the speed necessary to climb the short slippery hill.  Rider after rider rose out of the saddle and cranked hard. Despite their efforts most failed to produce enough speed to climb the hill.  I saw the painful resignation as they realized they would have to dismount and push their way up the short hill.  Those trying to ride the hill contorted their faces as if they were lifting pianos. When their tires would spin on the slippery uphill mud bad things happened fast. They fell onto other riders, or into the mud, or they slid backwards. If they were lucky they could unclip and run the last few feet in the deep mud before launching down the hill they had just climbed only to climb again fifty feet to my left. The mud made clipping back into pedals a challenge.  This torture was repeated three times before the riders were sent out into the slow grass to suffer before entering a muddy chicane of pain accented by a pair of barriers that felt like they were forty INCHES tall instead of forty centimeters tall.  
Evo going wide in the chicane of pain !
The pain and seriousness on the rider’s faces caused even the most callous hecklers to quiet their jeers. Evo had been shouting; “Only seven laps to go; time to pick it up!”  After a while I felt like I was cheering at the scene of an auto accident.  I continued to ring my cowbell and watch the suffering but I was feeling like I was viewing the painful birthing experience of strangers.  I shouted encouragement for the rest of the day. 

I would later be confronted by someone asking if I was the “Seven lap guy?”  I altered my voice and denied everything.

Mr. T claimed a podium spot with a third place finish and Feral Dave took seventh in a loaded field. Guy had a good finish as well and rode some excellent lines on a very difficult day.  After the race, my teammates made their way back to the tent and looked like they had just donated organs.  They were not joking which says a lot.

When my powers of denial gave way to race preparation I took the bike out for a couple laps. When I finished one of the pulleys in my rear derailleur was locked and would not spin.  The particular combination of long grass and sticky mud produced a unique elixir that yielded the same results as riding though a field covered with fourteen inch pieces of glue coated string. 
Give me mud or give me death !!

Getting the mud and grass off of everything that rotated (pedals, hubs, bottom brackets, derailleur pulleys, cassettes) was accurately described by Brad as untangling string tangled in the roller of a vacuum cleaner.  The clumps where the wheel passed the brakes, frame and fork were large and slowed down the bike like flat tires. By the time you unclogged your bike your hands were filthy and the bike would clog up again after two minutes of riding.  There was nothing left to do but prepare to suffer.

Resignation is an emotion that is best shared with friends. Sadly, in the mud you have no friends.  This emotion is captured by Jack London in the short story, “To build a fire.”  I highly recommend it.

Warming up for my race I noticed something odd.  I wasn’t getting warm.  I was getting cold. Sure enough, I was in my costume and had extra layers to drop at the starting line, but as I rode I got colder.  The dampness in the air cut through the plastic of my jacket (hey; don’t ask me to explain the physics, I’m just telling you what I experienced) to chill me to my core.   The sun had not come out and there were no signs we would have anything other than gloom this day.

I told my teammate Brad I though the course was perfect for him. He is a strong rider with a strength to weight ratio that would allow him to float over what others (like me) would sink deep into.  My laps led me to believe this race would feel like an hour of uphill riding in the mud. These two predictions were spot on.

As I pulled off my jacket and pants at the starting line I felt even colder. The mood at the start was how I expect it would be if you were waiting to be executed by a firing squad. We weren’t exactly anxious to get going, but there seemed no alternative.  When people pushed to get to the front, you stepped aside and let them have their wish.

At the whistle I clipped in and got moving fast. The first hundred yards was the only paved section of the course and it was uphill.  After a couple turns I was right in the middle of a field of nearly fifty riders.  I made it down the steep hill and fought my way up the gravel climb and then was launched down into the grassy bog that would be our purgatory for sins committed in several past lives.

The conditions were such that I couldn’t go fast enough to really need to slow down for corners so there was no chance to rest.  After half a lap I wondered if I had gone flat or if mud was clogged between my wheel and frame as it was so hard to pedal I could only hope there was some other force slowing me down.  I hit the long mud run and afterward I didn’t even try and remount, but ran all the way up the hill.  This turned out to be a huge mistake and after the grass and mud chicane when I hit the starting/finishing straight I was totally gassed.
Running here was a mistake for me..
First looks almost....clean.

My friend Quinn was on the straight and yelled for me by name. I threw him a glance that said, “Shut up and please don’t look at me.” I wasn’t going fast.  I felt what I would imagine are the emotions of someone being hanged as he looks at the gathered crowd. “What are you looking at?  Don’t you have something better to do?”  I considered calling it a day.  I assumed I had done too fast of a lap and would pay for it. Maybe I would get lucky and something on my bike would break.  There is a reason they call them mercy mechanicals.

“Five laps to go” read the sign.  I uttered a word under my breath that starts with the same letter as “Five” and also has four letters.

I just kept pedaling and a few riders passed me and I didn’t care.  I had overcooked the first lap and imagined my heart rate was maxed.  I would later look at my data and realize I was again wrong. My HR was low because of my lame warm up and once it got up to where it was supposed to be in another minute or so, I would really get moving. 

I caught my breath and got back to racing.  I caught and passed a few riders and was seeing familiar faces ahead.  After the long mud run I remounted and rode the hill. It made all the difference and I had a better lap time.

Purgatory in the gloom..

On the grass a rider who I beat some of the time and who beats me some of the time passed me and as he passed he said, “I don’t know why I’m passing you, you’ll just get me on the hill.”  I took that as encouragement and sure enough I passed him on the hill and kept going. 

As the suffering went on I figured out the secrets to this course. First, don’t crash; second, know when to run and when to ride, and finally downshift in anticipation of remounting after running.  I watched riders bog down trying to ride the mud and I passed riders each lap who were stomping on their pedals to try and get mud off of their cleats and pedals so they could clip in.  I love my eggbeater pedals.
Evo powering up on the inside

For the first time all year I was lapped. The riders who caught me started two minutes ahead of my race but still it was a first for me in 2013. I was so happy I could have started crying. I wouldn’t have six laps, but only five. As it turns out; only eight riders in my category finished on the lead lap.  I have never seen anything close to that.
Note the mud build up on Evo's leg, shoe and bike

The race felt like it was an endless muddy uphill ridden in the big ring.  I was no longer cold and was moving up. I had mud caked on my bike and shoes that was an inch thick. The bike weighed a ton and I felt it as I lifted it over barriers and carried it across the mud. 

I was on my final lap and I looked ahead to find a rider whose number started with a “4” like mine and spotted a Blue Rooster who would be my target.  I tried to ride smooth as I was making my way through the middle of the 35+ field (guys with numbers that start with “3”).  I caught my target and took my own advice and passed him at the first chance I had as sometimes those chances don’t come again.  He didn’t want to go down without a fight and I could see he was trying to catch me.  
Shoes, pedals, rear brake, bottom bracket, rear derailleur, front get it

As the course doubles back on itself I could see I was building a gap. Entering the chicane of pain I could hear Betty the Beast yelling, “Rip their legs off,” and just like one of Pavlov’s dogs I responded out of habit. 
Can't you just hear her screaming, "Rip their legs off Davo !!!"

I looked ahead for another target but could only see riders from the 35+ field. I rode smart and later learned my final lap was my fastest.  I pushed the final straight and crossed the line and unclipped both feet and dropped my feet outrigger style.  I was so cooked I was worried I would fall over and when I came to a stop I climbed off and draped myself over my bike and tried to breathe.

In almost no time Brad and Keith were across the finish line and Keith asked if I had left it all out there.  “Yes,” I managed to spit out, my shoulders heaving trying to get enough oxygen to see straight.  Brad had listened to me and handily won our race besting a top notch field.  Seph made it to the tent and also had the look of a man that had just been disemboweled. 
This is the look of a winner !
Brad on his way to winning our race.

I wanted to curl up on the ground in a fetal position but some combination of age, pride and habit forced me to change into warmer clothes and jumpstart the selective memory process.  As I type this I can only hope I get to race there next year. 

My rear brake after the race.  
A careful study will reveal that my race was part of the 
earthworm relocation project you have heard about..

Yeah, I raced it like this...
 I will, however, bring my mud tires and leave the filetreads home. 

1 comment:

Miles Graydon said...

That was a very tough day and the slowest race I have ever ridden! It's hard to keep motivated when you put the hammer down and your going 5 mph instead of 4. I road the hill all but two laps, outside line and it was the way to go to keep the effort manageable.