Monday, August 29, 2011

Photos: xXx Relay Cross

Here are my photos from Relay Cross. They are of the women's, the men's Cat 4s, and the Co-ed race.

xXx Relay Cross

Relay Cross

I take my preparation for competition seriously. I have always been careful to not let my rituals of preparation develop into superstitions, but I have always been deliberate. Senior year of high school it was the trip to the Subway in a neighboring town on Friday after school. In college I had a habit of going into the stands a few hours before home football games and meditating. As a competitive cyclist Saturday has become my day for preparation. It started in the morning with laundry and a fresh clean kit. Saturday afternoon I took my bikes (both the Falcon and the QuBe) into the sink room downstairs to give them a bath. (I had been a bad bike owner and not properly washed my mountain bike after my last race. I hung it on the wall caked in mud and dirt.)

The Falcon had never been properly washed after last weekend's aborted Church Cross. I brushed most of the grass off, but did not get the underlying layer of mud and dirt removed. I didn't want to be the kid got picked on the first day of school because he didn't have a clean bike. It was also time to mount cross-tires on my new Fulcrum Racing 1s. Given the dry and grassy course I opted for the Michelin Jet-S tires I bought from Michael C at the team Johnny Sprocket Summer Bar-B-Que and parts swap. When the bikes were ready it was time for fuel. I put water bottles into the freezer, mixed up a batch of energy gel, and baked two loaves of bread for pre- and post-race roast beef sandwiches with cheddar cheese.

Sunday morning I woke up at about 8AM, and was really excited for the start of cyclocross season. I have spent a lot of time in the saddle trying to make my body better at cross-racing, and this was the first real test of whether or not that work would bare fruit. My preparations were simply stuffing items into a backpack, making sure I had all my essential (helmet, gloves, kit, shoes, bike, wallet) and non-essential (phones, foodstuff, camera, towels, sunscreen, pancho, etc) packed and ready to go.

In 2010 I learned a valuable lesson about riding to races.


Living a car-free lifestyle puts a damper on my freedom of movement at times, but Jackson Park is a one-transfer bus-ride. I loaded up my gear and headed to the bus-stop. As I hit the street a bus was cruising south on Broadway, so I hopped on and caught it at the Diversey stop before the light could turn green.

The bus ride was uneventful except that somehow I managed to lose one of my gloves. The gloves were velcroed to the helmet, the helmet was clipped to the handle on the top of my backpack. When I reached back to unclip my helmet at 63rd St S, I was one glove short. A sacrificial offering made to the Public Transportation Gods for the sake of a good race. I rode the short distance east to the start of the race, and unlike last year at this time I knew exactly where to go, and exactly what to do. It felt really good to know where I was going (team tent) and what I needed to do to get ready to race.

I arrived just at the end of the Master's 40+ race, so my first task was to drop my gear at the tent and take a tour of the course. The transition area was almost identical to last year, except it was about thirty degrees cooler this year than it was last year. I was disappointed to find the course somewhat truncated with a substantial northern loop cut out of the course. I don't know how much of the distance was lost, but it was the place where I got a flat last year thus the only place I remembered clearly (other than the transition area). I made it back to the start, grabbed my camera and started shooting the women's race.

While the women's race was running, I started to become a little concerned that my partner for the day's festivities was not there. So I sent him a text message.

Me: I am at the park. Short fast track.
Sean: Great news, I am on my way down.

I was much relieved. It was the first time that I had heard from him since Friday when he was supposed to pick up a mutual friend's cross bike from the North Shop, but could not get the bike because it wasn't ready yet.

Forty five minutes later he texted me again.

Sean: Ugh I cannot get my pedal to thread onto the right crank arm. I am dying here.

I provided some useless advise reminding him that pedals are reverse threaded, a fact that he needed to know to be able to get the original pedal off the bike. Then reminded him that the South Shop was open on Sundays.

Sean: I put on flat pedals to ride to the South Shop. Manuel is sorting this out.

I take my race preparation seriously, so I was seriously freaking out that my partner was not at the race yet. His continued absence was seriously disturbing my sense of calm. It was only 12:45pm at that point it time, so it wasn't a huge deal that he wasn't there, but I was really looking forward to racing, and wanted to do well. Given my anal retentive routines of preparation, I was less than thrilled about the prospect of being sidelined by a pedal problem that could have easily been resolved the day before. I took my mind off the issue by taking more pictures of the women's race. I did a second pre-ride lap after the women's race, and a third after the juniors race. Before I knew it the fours race was beginning which meant that we were next on the track. My partner was still not there.

Registration closed 20 minutes before each race started, and I watched the clock tick-toc the seconds away until they were making last call for number pick-up. I asked the official if we were done, but given that we had pre-registered it was an easier prospect for her to not automatically DNS us both. A few minutes later Sean called to say he was at UIC and headed south. About 10 minutes away. They paged him over the PA while I was on the phone with him, and I told him that he had to hurry. I changed into my racing kit, had Becky pin my number on, and went to do some sprints and warm up a bit. Sean arrived, I took him to packet pick-up, and we were good to go. They were just ringing the bell lap for the 4s race when he arrived.

Sean was already warm from the uptempo ride to the race, so someone pinned his number on, and I sent him out on the track to ride a pre-lap. He had not been on a cross bike off-road since last November. He didn't even have time to ride a full lap. They started to call us to the starting line before he made it over the triple barriers. I explained there was just a little bit left, and we went for our starting instructions. Given that I was the senior partner, and had some idea of how the Relay worked, I took the first leg. That is to say I took the sprint. Also, since he had just ridden a hard hour plus 5 minutes, I figured the 7-8 minutes of rest would do him well.

So we lined up at the start, I made sure to find a spot in the front, knowing how important starts are in Cyclocross races. I went down in a 3 point stance, and at the whistle I was off. It was not a great sprint start. I stood up to fast, but I was running. At the first barrier I looked like a freakin' gazelle.

I was the fifth guy out of the transition area onto my bike. I pedaled hard, and was able to keep contact with the lead riders for the first lap. Towards the end I slipped a bit, as a few of the faster riders (e.g., the Cat 1 and 2 riders) came up from behind, but when I hit the first barrier into the transition I was in eight place.

Sean tagged in and took off. I huffed and puffed, got some water, and nutrients into my system, and waited for him to come around. He rode hard, but the lack of practice showed, we slipped another 6 places to 14th after his first lap. I tagged back in, tried to catch some guys, but ended up being either neutral or losing an additional place or two. The end of my second lap was marred by trying to ride very fast through the start-finish area, and coming onto the first barrier into the transition area with way too much speed, and not enough time to slow down, dismount, and get into a proper position. Instead, I did this.

Let's call it the steer-wrestle technique. It was not all that effective. I found out two laps later that I knocked my wheel out of true, and my brake pad was rubbing on my third and fourth laps. I was pedaling really hard, and not going very fast at all. I was doubting my fitness and my ability half-way through my fourth lap. I should have been doubting my equipment. I lost a few places, most notably to Forest and Austin, but I kept on moving. When I got back to the pit and realized my mechanical difficulty, I loosened the brake cable enough so it wasn't rubbing, and my last two laps were 3-4 mph faster than my previous laps. Clearly it didn't hurt on the cornering or deceleration, but on the long straight-aways I could really feel a difference without the brake rubbing.

On the last lap I was finally lapped by a number of the leaders which meant that Sean missed his opportunity to run the final lap. We ended up in 26th place out of 35 Cat 1-2-3 teams, and all in all I was pretty happy with that finish. We had some logistical and mechanical issues which kept us from performing at our best, and still finished not in DFL. I was especially happy with my first lap, and the last two laps after fixing my mechanical. Simply put it felt really good to be out racing with such a cool crowd of people, and I can't wait to do it again. Next cross-race is Sept 10-11th near where I grew up. I'm having crazy thoughts of racing two cross races, and then sprinting to Lake Geneva for a mountain bike race. I probably won't. Simply because there won't be time to adequately prepare. ;)


Sean wanted to ride home, so I rode with him. It wasn't a great idea, but given that I had a fairly low-milage week, I figured it wouldn't hurt.

It hurt. I started out riding with my backpack on my back, my camera bag on my front. That lasted from the start finish-line until we got to the LSP. I reorganized my belongings and got everything onto my back. That made it easier to pedal, but that allowed us to pedal much harder and much faster. There was a 10-15 mph strong and consistent head-wind the whole way north. We caught up with Nico, and the three of us worked together to fight the wind until we hit downtown. The it was Sean and I alone. I suggested heading inland to get behind some buildings, but Sean insisted the wind would let up when we got past Oak Street Beach. He was wrong, but it was okay. We rode north until it was time for me to turn off and head home. When I got home I was curious to know how much I was carrying, net amount of gear was 36 lbs including clothes and helmets. It was a long haul and my legs are sore tonight.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Photos: Palos Meltdown

I have finally gotten around to posting my photographs from the Palos Meltdown.

These photos are some of the best of the summer. Lots of keepers, very few discards. Enjoy.

Palos Meltdown

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Sticks and Stones: An Epilogue

Raced on Sunday at Cam-Rock. Busted up my shin.
Monday: Rode to and from work.
Tuesday: At Johnny Sprocket's cross practice in the morning, then work from home. Take the Falcon into the shop for a scheduled overhaul.
Wednesday and Thursday: Wake up in the morning and ride to work.
Friday morning

Something gave way during the night, and the piled up fluid drained into my ankle causing bruising in my foot. It's hard to see in the above picture, but I have a nice crisp tan line on my feet. The yellow, red, blues and purples are not supposed to be there.

The swelling in the ankle caused pain. Pain that woke up up on Friday night, Saturday night, and Sunday night. But for some reason it did not hurt enough to stop me from racing at the meltdown.

But Monday morning it hurt had hurt long enough to get it checked out. So I rode the QuBe to my Primary Care physician for walk in hours.

My Facebook status updates from Monday:
Woke up this morning at 8AM with an invitation in his BB for an 8AM conference call. Was on the call by 8:04AM, on his way to return the rental van by 8:17AM, at the Drs by 8:39AM, appointment with an orthopedic surgeon by 9:16AM, at the radiologist by 10:02AM, had six X-rays by 10:56AM, home for breakfast by 11:10AM where 20 new emails from work await.

Afternoon: Called my Primary Dr back for a different referral. Called the new Orthopedic and earliest appointment was Friday. Called back the Primary to get a new referral, and before I could press a button the PA from the new Orthopedic surgeon called me back and said, "Compartment syndrome? How soon can you get here?" He came out in to the waiting room as soon as he saw me walk in to poke my leg. He didn't think so. I filled out my paperwork, went back in, a resident then the Dr. poked my leg. Looked at the X-ray.

All three said: You have a bruise.

The quote of the day came from the Orthopedic Surgeon: "We saw nothing abnormal in your X-rays except your massive calves. You must be pretty fast."

I hope so. I certainly hope so.

Photos: WORS Cam-Rock

So my primary hobby (My Racing Thoughts: Sticks and stones) interfered with my ability and motivation to participate in my secondary hobby.

Thus, the quantify of photos is sparse. To start some horses who were excited by all the visitors to their little corner of the world. Then a few shot that I grabbed of the Citizen's race from near where I was parked while I was getting ready to race. I was hoping to get back into the Veritas loop and Raspberry Fields Forever during the comp and elite races and see what I could find. Instead I found an ice-bag, a Culvers, and 2 hrs of driving left-footed back to Chicago. The final shots are looking backwards, to the West from the Des Plaines Oasis on I-90. Just imagine me riding off into the sunset as fast as I could pedal with one leg.

WORS: Battle at Cam-Rock

Photos: Alterra Coffee Bean Classic

WORS: Alterra

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Catching up

One of my hobbies in addition to racing bikes is photography, especially action photography.

I have some Picasa web albums here and I am working on sorting through this summers MTB photos and posting them. I have some really good ones from the Palos Meltdown that I will post soon.

Here are the Jubilee Challenge shots.

I raced as a novice (see below), so most of these shots are from the Sport/Comp/Expert race.

Jubilee Challenge


Tuesday, August 16, 2011


"So there I was...zooming by the buried remains of the world's first nuclear reactor at break neck speeds."

The weekend adventure for Palos starts on Saturday afternoon when I go to Enterprise to pick up a rental car. I had reserved a standard car, knowing I had two people and two bikes to get to Palos. For some reason, they only had cars with hatchbacks or big faux-spoilers. So Gabe at Enterprise hooked me up with a Dodge Caravan with fully stowable seating. Two in the front, two whole bikes in the back.

I picked up Jason at his place, and we went south on I-55. It did not look good. Dark and stormy clouds to the north of the interstate, light and puffy to the south. We hoped for light and puffy. We made it to the forest preserve with scant few raindrops hitting our windshield. As soon as we rolled in, a cloud opened up and it started to rain. It lasted a few minutes, and then let up. We piled out, got changed, got the bikes out, and before we could get into the woods a second cloud opened up. We loaded the bikes back into the van, and drove around a bit trying to find a good enough signal to check a radar map. We found an updated map, a hole between clouds, and went back to the parking lot. We pulled out the bikes again, and dropped into the trail. We had a few minutes of clear before it started to rain again, for real. We were able to pre-ride one of the tricky sections (step gravel downhill in the starting loop), and some of the main loop, but not all of it. We ended up turning around and heading back to the van defeated. No full pre-ride for this race.

Then next morning the weather looked better. The forecast was sunny all morning except for 11:00am - 12:00pm. Oh wait, my race starts at 11:30am. Crap. I packed a poncho in my MWS back pack, and loaded up my bike. Jason and I made it to the race course with plenty of time to spare. We made it to the top, found some of the rest of our team who were sent up in a tent city, and started with the business of preparing. I registered as a day-of racer and got my number, I switched from my dry-condition tires to my wet condition tires, had a sandwich, got my race kit on, and started to warm up. I forewent any pre-riding the course as the novice race had already started, and I was worried about my energy levels and also my leg.

(Medical condition sidebar: The welt I had earned a week earlier had kept me off the bike and away from any serious riding. I skipped my normal Monday night long ride, hit up JS practice on Tuesday AM, but then dropped The Falcon (my tri-cross) off at the shop for an overall. I commuted to work on the QuBe (my mountain bike) Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, but did not put on any extra miles. It was the first sub-100 mile week since the week of April 18th). The bruise healed and felt better Mon - Thurs, but Friday I woke up and the outside of my foot was purple. The fluid had drained down into my foot. The build-up of fluid in my ankle caused great discomfort on both Friday and Saturday night, waking me up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain. Ironically it felt the best when my foot was clipped to a pedal. The shin was still swollen and sensitive too. I bumped into it a few times during the week and dropped myself in pain. But on Sunday I could walk, I could pedal, and I was entered into a MTB race. Try not to fall on it though.)

I decided early on not to get my camera out and try and take pictures of the novice racers. Even though I knew a couple of people who were riding I wanted to focus on getting mentally ready and putting to the back of my mind some disappointments in my personal life. My goal was to be 100% ready to race at 11AM, and lined up at 11:10AM. I was pretty much on target, but made a late decision to forgo a camelpak for a water bottle with a hand-up bottle given the very moderate temperatures.

Jason and I were in the starting pen by 11:10AM before anyone knew where they were supposed to be. We slide into the middle of the pen, and waited for someone to help organize us. After a few minutes the sign-bearers came and we lucked out that our age group (30-39) was the first wave. We moved about 10 feet forward, and we were on the starting line. It was at that point that I A) felt pretty good about my chances for the day and B) really wished I had an opportunity to pre-ride the course. As Chris had been coaching Jason, the start of a MTB race is uber important. As important as in cross because once you get into the single track, everyone pretty much goes the same speed. It's hard to pass, and it's hard to ride as fast as you can with slower people in front. As always the time passed quickly. Soon we were hearing pre-race announcements, and a count down.

My start was sloppy. I made the same mistake I generally make when I mess up a start in that I tried to push too hard on my second foot, and slipped off the front of the pedal and hit the ground. I missed my opportunity at the hole-shot, but I was still able to power up to 4th place heading into the first turn. Unlike the last two races the start of the race was not a long uphill climb. It was a long downhill with some sweeping bends and S-curves then a sprint through grass around a parking lot. In other words it was a cyclocross race. I was content with the fourth position until we hit the bottom of the hill. I was just pacing the guys in front until we hit the slight-uphill in the grass. They started to burn out, and I started to push harder. I took advantage of having a 3-tooth front chain-ring and put it in the 44 and powered past the three leaders. When we hit the single track I was leading the race. The blue loop contained a dangerous downhill on very loose gravel. I made it safely through. The rest of the blue-starter loop went by quickly and we were coming down the hill around bullfrog pond before we knew it. I think I led all the way to the top of the hill climb, and it was on the wide section before a long straight downhill that I let the first ride or two pass me. It was part because they were going faster than I could go, and it was in part because I kind of wanted to have someone to shadow through the mostly unknown orange loop.

The orange loop was wet. It was very slippery, and most of the trail it seemed was an off-camber to the right. Miles and miles of leaning left. It highlighted everything that I don't like about Palos. The blue-loop: loose rocks. The orange loop: Exposed tree-roots. Tree-roots that were slimy with rain that got no traction. More than once my back wheel slipped laterally (mostly to the right) because it couldn't bite up and over a root. My left shin hit the ground on a soft muddy patch. Had I gone the other way it would have most likely stopped me for a few minutes to scream and perform McManus's "one-legged-crotch-hop". There were a few sections of trails that had names. There were the three ravines which I did not make it through very well because the guy I was following stumbled on the first two which made me stumble. There was the "gravity cavity" which is a fairly long uphill punctuated by lots of impossible to climb roots. The first time I stepped off, and remounted to pass the guy who I had been dogging who was running up the hill. He and a few more people passed me on the orange loop and I fell back into what I think was 5th or 6th place by the time we hit the pre-finish cross-course. The last 3/4 of a mile was on grass and then grass or gravel paths back up to the starting line. I had tried to drink as much water as I could, but single-track plus water-bottle is hard to do. The grassy strip gave me some time to drink up, but I was also trying to make a move on the guy I had been following, who opened up a gap. He was ahead of me at the finish line when I made a seamless very-pro exchange with Chris for my second water bottle. I flipped the 1/4 full one at his feet, grabbed the full one and tucked it away and hammered down. The trail out of the start took a sharp left down a hill followed by an off-camber back up the hill to the right. When I got to the left I was just able to see the guy who had been in front of me wipe out severely into the grass. A big baseball slide. I braked hard, and stayed up powering back down the hill and then back up. When I got to the flat at the top of the hill I reached down for my full cool water. I pulled it clear of the bottle cage, and then in an very-unpro manner fumbled it, and watched it tumble harmlessly to the side of the track. I looked back, and made a split second decision to let it go. Ride on without water, it was cool, I had only about 30 minutes left to race, and I had had some water already. Besides, that straight away was my one opportunity to get a drink before the finish cross-section anyway.

The second lap was very lonely, and very messy. I believe I got passed by only one or two more riders, most likely the fastest riders from later waves making their way up through the crowds. The rain had let up, the sun was out kind of, but the trail was still greasy. My hands were also at the point of fatigue. At one point my right hand just slipped off the handlebar, and had there still been a weak correlation between handlebar and wheel, I would have crashed big-time. I was able to hold it with my left and re-grip. But I did take the rest of the lap with a great deal more caution. One guy did pass me, and he made me feel like I was standing still, and he showed no signs of fatigue. I knew he had to come from a later wave and was just that much better. See ya.

When I came out of the Orange section onto the final grass-gravel section I could see three or four hundred yards ahead of me, and there was no one to chase. When I got to that point and looked back, no one was behind me. I was safe in my place and rode hard to the finish but did not do an all out sprint. I finished the race strong and pedaling hard but not the hard hill climbs of the last two races.

so although this was the first race that I did not make it onto the podium and get a metal, it was by far my best overall finish. I noticed that my first lap speed of 40 minutes would have been about 4 minutes faster than the fastest novice racer. Whereas in the Wors races I finished 2nd in my category both times I was 97th and 82nd overall for Cat 2 sport. In the Meltdown I was 6th in my age category and 8th overall. I wonder how that would have changed had I ridden in a later wave and had to fight through crowds to maintain my pace? It's telling that the fastest of the 20-29 year old riders was the 10th spot.

After the race I cooled off for a bit by the tent, and decided that was too cold. I went to the van, rinsed off the mud, and put on some dry clothes. It feels so good to get clean and dry when the wind is chilly. The sun came out for the elite/comp race, and I got out my camera and cheered on my teammates.

Jason volunteered to hand up some water bottles, and there was some drama as he missed Hemme's (i.e., one of the Half-Acre elite racers) hand up on his second or third lap. I grabbed his water bottle and went to catch him on the climb back up before he dropped into single track. Meanwhile one of his teammates preceded to chew Jason out for missing the handout that was not actually missed. It was just delayed a few minutes. Meanwhile, I took a bunch of really good photos. I have not been doing a very good job of posting mountain bike photos, so I will spend some time going through my library now and posting photos from this season. Look for an update here sometime later.

We stayed around and watched our teammates and friends finish. Hemme had an incredible finish closing a minute and thirty second gap on a legitimate professional MTB racer down to two seconds for a close finish. Julia finished third in the elite women and both Brent (21) and Chris (35) finished respectably in their fields. It was a good start to cyclocross season. Except for Jason. He fell hard on one of his laps and landed on a root on his right hip. He has a welt and a bruise which has kept him off the bike for at least 2 days. Get well soon!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Get Ready

Get Ready from Heather Jurewicz on Vimeo.

I just spent 20 minutes watching this video over and over again at work. I recognize the location of almost every shot from Manuel's living room to the parking lot across the street from the shop. I may have actually grabbed the pink socks with mustaches featured at 1:53 as a handout at practice on Tuesday morning.

Awesome job Heather!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sticks and stones

As I contemplate writing for this blog, I am always struggling with slicing the events in my life between racing and non-racing. What is worthy of including here vs. not? Let's find out, shall we?

This weekend was the number seven race (my second race) in the WORS series, the Battle of Cam Rock. For those of you who don't know, Cam-Rock Park is situated about 25 minutes north of the ancestral manse where I was raised and educated as a lad. I did not know anyone going to this race, so I rented a car on Saturday and drove up by myself. I had seen on the WORS website that every Saturday before the race there was a "Learn to Ride" clinic, and I had it in my mind as something I would like to attend. I had only competed in two mountain bike races, so I thought that a tutorial from a veteran may provide useful. Thus, I set my sights on arriving at the race venue in time to attend the clinic. I arrived at about 2:30PM, and by the time I got unloaded, bike set up, changed into riding clothes, and warmed up just a little bit it was already 3PM. I am always amazed at how quickly a half-hour disappears when there there is a bike involved.

I made it down to the staging area for the clinic, pulled up to the back of the pack and looked at the crowd assembled.


This was a clinic for children. There was roughly one adult per child (i.e., parents), but there were no single adult men over the age of 12 hanging out to learn about racing. I thought maybe I was not the target audience. The nail in the coffin was the first topic for the day. Registration. How DO you register for a race? And like that...I was gone.

I pealed off the group, and headed out to the trail. I held in my mind my pre-ride from the week before in which I ended up following the junior's race around the course. Moving at a slow speed, seeing the course, learning the bends and passing zones, etc. and set out to do that again. I was fortunate to find myself very shortly behind a pair of riders, a man who later introduced himself as Dan, and a woman. Dan had ridden the trails before, the woman had not. He was racing the next day, she was not. He was in the lead, calling out features and obstacles, and she was following him providing some color commentary, gasps, and other amusing exclamations about the course. They were not moving terribly fast, so I settled in behind them, and used the two of them as my governor to keep myself from burning out too quickly. The course was dry, hard, and smooth. We were passed by some, but I don't remember catching anyone. There was a moment of hilarity when she was passing through two rocks set very close together, and somehow emerged on the other side on her bike, pedaling up the hill, without her shoe. The shoe was stripped away by the rock without doing any damage to her. I didn't see exactly how it happened, but I played the role of a shoe salesman and opened the velcro, dumped out the rocks, and gracefully placed the shoe back on her foot. Before long we were back at the start. According to my garmin, it was roughly 5.5 miles, and 36 minutes. I took a break, and then decided to do another loop. I wanted to pick up the speed a bit the second loop. The second loop went faster than the first. I took off hard, and then backed off to a cruising speed. I don't remember much about it, other than feeling like I was starting to get to know the course, reading the trail segments, and finished roughly 5 minutes faster than I had the lap before. I then went and test-climbed the starting hill, and headed to the car. I was a little worried that I might have over done it, but there wasn't anything I could do at that point but re-hydrate, get cleaned up, and get plenty of rest. I have an Uncle who lives in Cambridge, about 2 miles from the venue, and I stopped by to see if they were home. I was running low on water, and thought I might hose off a bit. Instead I was offered a shower with warm water and a towel, invited to dinner, and played cribbage until the wee hours of the early evening. I made my excuses and left for my parent's house at 9:30pm. I was in bed by midnight.

Race day I was up at 7:30am. Breakfast was a heavy dose of nostalgia with some sugary treats (Lucky Charms) combined with my adult staple (Smart Start). I did my food prep with some PB sandwiches on 100% wheat bread, refilled my energy gels, retrieved my water and ice, and filled my camelpak. I was on the road by 8:15 and at the venue by 9AM leaving me a full 2.5 hrs until I raced. I found a parking spot at up the road at the top of the hill from the parking lot and the start of the race. I pulled my bike out out of the rental car, got everything set up to my satisfaction, and then took a few minutes for some photography of the citizen racers as they were coming up the hill. I would have liked to explore some of the other portions of the course with my camera, but decided that my own preparations were more important, and tucked the camera away to start warming up. I hopped onto the course and did a small loop near the road to work up a sweat and test out the bike on some easy single track (a section of double track that led to a portion of single track called "Wood...Chuck?"). When I made it back to the car after two such laps, it just so happened that my parents were walking down the road, just by my car. I called to them, and then hung out with them wasting away the minutes until 11AM and it was time to start heading down to the starting line. It was all the little last minute things. Making a decision for camelpak or water bottles (relying on my parents to hand-up). Pinning my number on my camelpak. Looking for a safety pin that I dropped in the grass because I only had four. Pulling out one safety pin so I could put back on my finish-line pull tag. Getting my energy gels organized. Getting a tube, pump, and irons to my Dad just in case. In case of what? I don't know. Mountain biking isn't like cross. Hard to run 5 miles with a flat, and there seems to be no neutral pit area. (Maybe I should have read the rules). I told Mom and Dad where some of the best places to watch might be, and before long I could hear the announcer from down below making the announcement that all Sport riders should be making their way to the starting area. That was me. Said good bye to Mom and Dad and headed downhill.

I made it to the start line, and there were already lots of guys queued up. Being in the back of the pack, with the 50 plus the Clydesdale field does not fill up as quickly. The 10 minutes of announcements, National Anthem, and hub-ub passed quickly. This week I was not pumped fill of adrenaline as I had been two weeks before in Milwaukee. The one catch that I learned in the starting gates was the race was going to be three laps. I did the math. 5.5 miles on Saturday, 31 minutes as a "not slow" lap meant that this was going to be a 17.5 mile race that was going to take an hour and a half minimum. I started to worry just a bit. I needed to take this first lap, nice and easy. Also, no passing on the downhill single track on this course.


So I climbed. I put my bike in a low gear and spun up the hill in my pack, not trying to get ahead of it. I knew the first hill was not the killer, but it would be the second hill. If I could save something for the top of the hill I would be able to make up ground in the double track. I was confused during the first lap because, although I had already used up too much O2 to process effectively, we stayed on the double track for longer than the pre-riders had done. We cut out a whole loop of "Wood...Chuck?" that the citizen trail rode on. Regardless, of feeling weird and wondering if I had missed a turn, I recognized that I was in a pack of people who all followed the same course. I pressed onward. I started the game of cat-and-mouse that is mountain bike racing. Come up behind a guy, ride his wheel, find a moment, sprint past. Wait too long and the guy behind you will jump you both, go to fast and burn yourself out and get passed right back. Go at the wrong time, hit a tree. The first lap was fairly uneventful. I was keeping an eye on my Garmin, looking at my heart rate and realizing that I was sitting between 165 and 170 and I was burning way too hot. I tried as much as possible to relax, but it was hard because the field was moving. It was at the beginning of the second lap that trouble started. I wanted to see if I could ride some negative splits, or at least ride a 3rd lap faster than a second lap, so I was planning on using the lap timer on the garmin. In my deoxygenated state though, I hit the wrong button. I didn't realize it at the time, but I actually stopped the timer, and did not notice it. I crawled up the second hill past my parents again, and the course had changed. We dropped into the single track the second lap. My second lap was going pretty well. I felt strong still, and it felt like I was passing guys who started in waves before me. I know I saw some single speed bikes as I went buy, and noticed some younger age numbers on the back of some of the numbers as I went by. I didn't worry too much about it, as I was just trying to take that lap easy. I wanted to get my heart rate under 160 whenever possible. I made a few technical mistakes here and there, and was a complete ass to one guy. I was coming up behind him, on his wheel, he acknowledged my presence and said he was ready to be passed, and I yelled out "Right" as in, "Yes, you are right I will pass you" and proceeded to pass him on his left side. I tried to yell an apology when I was ahead of him and realized my error, but the words might not have come out right. I was not functioning at a high level.

It was shortly after this moment that my ride took a turn for the worse. When I say "turn" I am really talking about forward rotation, more so than left or right. We entered a loop called "Veritas" which is latin for "Truth". The truth is that Veritas was one of the more technical sections of the trail with some piled log barriers. One such barrier was a double barrier with logs spaced about 8 ft apart. I cleared the first one at speed, but was a little out of position for the second one. My weight was too high so when my front wheel came down off the second barrier, I went over my handlebars. Thankfully I do a lot of push-ups, so I was able to catch the weight of my body with my arms and not my face. Unfortunately my body still came down on my bike, and pile-drove my stem into the ground. I was kind of a mess. I had tipped over into the the yellow caution tape, and down the far side of a slight bank that was also incredibly loose dirty. I got up and untangled from the tape, got my bike wheels down again, and oriented myself, and hoped back on. I was not injured terribly, just a bruise on my left leg, and was pedaling again.

Then I started to notice the problems. First of all, I was covered in dirt. My hands, handlebars, gloves, arms, were all coated with sandy grit. That was annoying. I was able to get some of it off when we passed a water station, and I yelled to the guys "Hands" and they threw cups of water at my hand washing off the grit (mostly my left hand). It was shorty down the road from that on the "Raspberry fields forever" trail that my garmin asked me if it was okay for it to shut down, thus cluing me into the fact that I had just skipped 15 minutes of my race. I said "No" and started it again, cursing the thing for causing problems. Shortly after that, the third, and most severe problem emerged.

My handlebars were refusing to stay parallel to my front wheel. If I jerked on the wheel while I was cornering, I could slip the stem on the steer-tube. It was bad. At one point I was riding and my handlebar was at 45 degrees to the wheel. I had to stop a number of times to jerk it back close to straight. At times I was kicking my front wheel with one foot (trying not to spoke myself) or just jerking it while I was turning to try to use the ground as leverage. It made riding much more difficult, much slower. I still made good time, as guys who's legs and lungs were not in as good of shape wilted. I made it back up past my parents, so I asked Mom to go to the car and get me a water bottle for when I came by again. I could feel the camelpak running light, and I knew that I had emptied it at Milwaukee in an hour so I did not want to be dry in that dust. I thought I could probably make it, but did not want to risk it in the heat. I dropped down into the last bit of single track before the climb up, and started to have real problems. This was the part of the course that was covered in loose rocks and shale, and the rocks were playing havok with my steering. The alignment problems were really bad, and it was hard to navigate. I had to keep an eye on my front wheel instead of looking where I wanted to turn, I had to watch where I was turning. I was also starting to feel the fatigue in the arms from having to hold on so tight and work so hard to steer.

I did make it down, around the bend, across the starting line, and back up the climb to the finish area. I stumbled a bit, having to put a foot down on the loose gravel climb towards my parents, but had a flawless handoff with my Mom as I grabbed a bottle of cold water. I drank some of that while I was on the double track because it was colder than what I had. It was about this time that I noticed my right thumb had stopped working. I couldn't really shift anymore without stretching my thumb all the way back, and using my arm to push forward. I couldn't pull it with my thumb muscles. As I dropped into the single track again, and was more cautious but was still making up some ground on some guys. Passing people. I made it through Veritas and the logs that did me in without incident (though somewhat more cautious given the steering issues I continued to have), and when I passed the neutral water station I said "Hit me" and tapped my chest. Five or six cups of water were emptied onto my shirt, and one directly in my ear. it was good because the water washed off some more of the grit. It was after that point that the ride started to deteriorate. While I was on the relatively flat long descent of "Raspberry fields" I let go of the handlebar to grab some of the cold water, and the front wheel hit a bump, it turned one way but the handlebar stayed stright, and I ended up doing a quick dismount and stumble. I don't think I went to the ground, but I remember hitting my knee on something and nicking it open. I was bleeding and swearing at cheap Chinese gray market carbon fiber crap. That crash did it in for me. My mindset changed from doing well to just finishing. I was not worried about passing guys, I was not worried about being passed, I was just trying to limp into the finish on a broken bike.

The one section of the course that was the most fun was called the "Rip and Ride" It was a downhill on the inside of a valley that can only be described as being like a water-slide without the water. On this last lap I as I was coming down into one of the "rips" I could see a photographer waiting at the top of the hill, so I did something ill-advised as I was coming up the hill towards him. I got "some air". By some, I was maybe 4-5 inches off the ground. But you can't really tell in the awesome picture he took.

(I need a new jump face though).

After the rip and ride, I got a fourth or fifth wind and worked my way past another single speed on the climb back up the top to loop back past my parents again. They had moved so I was on my own dropping into the last bit of single track. This was the section that had me most worried on the third lap. My arms were completely limp by this point, my wheel was dangerous loose, and the two things combined on a downhill section for a critical failure. I hit a rock with the front tire, and the wheel jackknifed. The bike slide out to the right and before I could unclip I had come down full force onto a rock. My leg swelled up instantly. The welt was sticking a half an inch within the first 10 seconds. I looked down at it once. I wanted to see if it was bleeding. There was a small abrasion, lots of dirt, but no rupture. My biggest concern at that moment was that the vein could rupture as had happened to one of my athletes in 2001 when she fell on a plyometric box. I was a long haul away from first aid, in a very awkward place to be carried out. I was not bleeding, so I grabbed my bike and wrestled the handlebar back into alignment and limped along a few steps. The pain was excruciating. I knew the adrenaline would last me for a bit, so I hoped back on the bike and started pedaling. It was rough going. There was an cornering ascent I had to limp up. There was another rocky ascent where there were people standing. I honored their devotion to the sport by giving the a spectacle to see. Large man falls over groaning in pain. Limps to his feet, gets back on broken bike. That was the last section of technical riding. There was one swooping descent, and the climb back to the finish. I put it in granny gear and spun for my life. I think I even passed some dudes on the ascent. Although I don't know that I finished ahead of them because I had nothing left at the top. I put it in cruise and headed to the finish. As soon as I crossed the finish-line I started asking for a medic. I asked 10 people, handed my bike to my dad, and limped forward a few steps. A medic came and grabbed me, and guided me over to the tent. I laid down on a cot. I told them what happened as they took my contact information, they took a look at it, washed it off, and taped an ice-pack to it. Ironically they spent more time dressing the scratch on my left knee that I would not have even bothered to bandage from when I fell of my bike the second time than they did cleaning the right shin. I lay on the cot in the medical tent for a while. Five to 15 minutes...I'm not certain. The exertion, the heat, and the pain were making it hard to want to stand up and move, but eventually I did stand up. I must have gotten pretty pale because the medic was standing there with his hands up waiting to see if I was going to crumple. Despite the odds being in favor of it, I did not faint, and returned with my parents to the finish area. Results had been posted, and by some strange twist of fate although my experience of the race was pretty terrible, my performance was not. I finished second in my class again, behind the same guy who won at Milwaukee.

Once again my "portable shower" came in very handy. Spraying myself down with warm water, getting the grit and dirt off my body, made me feel just a little bit human again. A little bit, but not much. This is what my shin looked like.

Earlier in the day I had wanted to take some photos of the elite race. But at that point I was done with racing for the day. My parents hung out with me while I very slowly cleaned up, changed, put my bike in the back of the car, and loaded up my stuff. We went back down to the starting line at about 2:30pm for the Sport podiums. My name was called, I hobbled up to the second tier, and put my hands over my head. It was the first time that I stood on a podium for a bicycle race ever (I missed my opportunity for last week's race).

We ended the trip by heading to the World's LARGEST Culvers for some high fat, high sugar junk food. I forwent a trip back to the manse, and instead hopped on the interstate headed East to Chicago. I drove most of the way with my left foot on the brake and my right foot on the gas. This made for some really sudden "student-driver-esque" stops as traffic backed up for tolls and construction. But by the time I had gotten home the swelling had gone down enough that I was able to carry everything into the house in a single trip. I hung the broken and dusty QuBe back on it's rack in the living room, unpacked my things, and was finally able to rest, ice, compress, and elevate my leg for a little bit. Some days, I think I need to get a new hobby.

Monday, August 8, 2011

My first WORS


I was up and running, pretty quickly. I did not have to mess around too much. Threw on the clothes that I had left piled on the floor the night before, ate two bowls of cereal and a cold pancake from the night before. I pulled the sandwiches and gels out of the fridge along with the frozen bottles of water from the freezer and shoved them in a cooler. I filled my camelpak with water and ice, and as I was putting on my backpack Chris called to say he was in the neighborhood. I came out the back door (did not use the freight elevator), and we loaded up and were gone.

The drive went quickly. We stopped once for ice and water for Chris at an Oasis. We continued onto the destination south west of Milwaukee. Conversation was light and pretty good on the way up. No awkward silences, and I did not have time to even pull out my phone and write an emails or blog posts.

We arrived at the venue well before any racing started, which left us plenty of time to prepare. I was cognizant of the fact that I did not pace my preparations well for my last race, and even though my starting time was not until 11:30AM I mentally set my preparation schedule to be ready at 11AM. We picked up our registration materials, and set about puttering and getting ready. Chris had never ridden his bike before (having just finished building it the week before), and had some tuning up to do. I was worried about my seat shifting on me again, so I made certain to tighten the seat bolt down as tight as humanly possible. I changed into my pre-ride kit (Old JS kit) and went down to pre-ride the course. As I got to the start of the course, the junior race had just begun, so I hopped on the end of that pack and followed the sweepers around the course. Very early on, one of the kids went down hard, and took a seat post or a handlebar to his abdomen. Two course marshals and I stayed with him for a while, and when he was good enough to walk, one of the sweepers walked him back to the starting line. I went ahead with the second sweeper. We were following along with a fairly young racer, all of eight years old for the next 45 minutes to an hour. There were actually two of them for the most part. The younger one in the tail end who kept complaining that every time he caught up to the rider in front of him, he would stop, and then he would have to stop. We tried to gently explain to him as it was a race, it was okay for him to try and pass the other kid, and not simply complain about being stopped by him. It was kind of an adorable discourse of the "kids say the darn-dest things" variety.

So my pre-ride took a lot longer than I anticipated, but at the same time the fact that I was going as slow as the slowest junior meant 1. I got to see the course at a pace that I could remember, and 2. I did not burn myself out riding too hard or two fast on the pre-ride. By the time I had gotten back to the start the citizens class race had started. Becky (formerly of team sprocket) was racing so I interrupted my preparations to try and take some pictures of her. I found a convenient (not good) location to take pictures, and when she came by I tried to snap some of her. Except she didn't cooperate. she decided to pass some dude who was in her way on the other side. So instead of a good photo of Becky I got a good photo of some dude who was not as fast as she was.

After that I put my camera down and went to work. I switched kits, put on my race number, did some final system-checks, ate a sandwich (an hour before the start of my race), and generally was amazed at how quickly a morning can disappear when there is a start-line in your future, and bicycles to be raced. The time whipped away as I decided to lug the extra weight and convenience of a camelpak, pinned and twisted my numbers on, and finally, at 11:15AM made my way down to the starting line. They were already starting to line up. However, what I didn't realize is that racing as a clydesdale I would be starting at the back of the pack with the 50+ men. So my 11:30AM start time was actually about 11:40AM. At 11:20 AM I sensed something off to my right and looked up. There were my parents, looking a little shell-shocked and out of place. They were excited to actually have found me (I had warned Chris that my Mom might come up to him and ask him if he knew me, not because he did know me, but because my mom was probably going to be asking everyone). So I went over, gave them a hug, thanked them for coming and headed back to the starting line. I started to get nervous. When the first wave took off, I was really nervous. I had to laugh and let those jitters go.

For some strange reason the starting line was half-way up a hill, so the staging area was almost at 75% of the way down, so the first part of the race was a extended climb up a pretty steep grade. I made it to the top of the hill in about 4th place in my wave, and I was pretty happy with that. I was able to keep up with the top three around the upper edge, but as we dropped down some gravelly switch backs I started to fade a bit. I closed the gap tight again before entering some single track, but then the worst happened. I clipped a tree and went down hard. I was up and back on my bike in a flash, without even losing a spot, but my handlebars were crooked by about 45 degrees. I rode like that for a few more turns the pulled off to straighten them. Before I could get back on six or seven guys whizzed past me and I almost got hit trying to hop back on. My bars were still not straight, but they were close enough, and I started to try to catch back up some of the time that I had lost. I rode hard the first lap, keeping my heart rate between 160 and 170. I pushed myself up the big hill (Fatman's Misery) and made up some spots there, and would have rode it clean had one of the men who had passed me when I was fixing my mechanical not stalled out at the very top. The hill was a steep grade (maybe 20-30% that then had a small vertical lip at the very top. A little "forget you" from the trail designers if you will. Once we got clean of that, I was quicker than some to recover and was able to make up more spots as we zoomed up top back by the ski-lodge before looping back away to some more single track. During my first lap I had a second mechanical problem that cost me precious seconds as my garmin sensor was sucked into my rear wheel and began banging on spokes. I had to stop to pull that out. I could have kicked myself for not taping it down when my bike was clean. But I got back on, and just kept pedaling.

The second lap was hot, and there wasn't much drama. I felt like I continued to pass people in front of me, making up spots that I had lost on the first lap, but it was impossible to tell where I was in my wave as during the second lap, we started to pass the tail end of other waves. The dominant though of my second lap was to try and keep my heart rate below 160 so I did not blow up, and also the fact that my seat post was betraying me. My seat was slowly going "nose-up" forcing me to perch more and more on the nose of my saddle. This was very ironic given that I had just bought a nose-less saddle for my cross-bike to try and reduce pressure to the perineum. My second lap was where I found it was not my legs that were the weakest link in the body chain but my lower back (from having to stand-hunch for most of the lap) and my wrist, fingers, and arms, from not having the requisite condition of riding a MTB for an extended period of time. Miles and trial on the road were great for my legs, but mountain biking is a total body workout. Remember that younglings.

The final FU from the course designers was the fact that the finish line was at the top of the starting hill which means we had to climb the same hill three times on two laps of the course. My final time up the hill my willpower faltered. I had to dismount and push my bike for a bit, before remounting to ride across the finish line. It was not the most honorable finish, but I finished and I did not puke. I had consumed my entire 100oz camelpak, one salt pill, and two whole energy gels. I had finished the race and went to find my parents. I stood around with them talking about the race, waiting for oxygen to soak back into my system. I tried to use my multi-tool to adjust my seat back down so I could cool down a bit, and ended up handing the task to my father as I had lost fine motor control in my wrists and fingers. He struggled until that time as he figured out I had handed him the tool with the wrong wrench pointed upward. Chris told me he put my camera back in the car under my shorts, and gave me the quote of the day.

Quote of the day: "I took a bunch of pictures of some guy who had a kit that kind of looked like yours or two pictures of you."

I went and tooled around the parking lot for a few minutes, to work my legs out, and by the time I made it back they had posted results for my race. My dad gave me a big grin and a handshake, my Mom said Congratulations! I finished second in my class in 1:08 minutes. Overall in all of Cat2 sport that was good enough for 97th place out of 170 some entered riders. Not bad for it being my second race ever, my fourth day mountain biking in the last four years. Shaving off 2 minutes would have improved my finish by 30 or so places in the overall, and I was only 8 minutes behind the leader.

I went back to the car, used my portable spray bottle with clean water to give myself a quick portable shower, and changed into street clothes. I stayed with my parents talking about the race, and they watched Jenson's race start. I was tasked with being Jenson's water boy, so I was planted near the start of the race at the beginning and during the first lap. I took pictures from the start, but it was hardly the most interesting place on the course. After he passed the first time and I swapped out his first water bottle, my parents decided to take off and head home, and I went up to the top of the ski lodge to take more pictures. I definitely need to get a new camera. I am not happy with the quality of most of my shots. My vision and my ability is surpassing my equipment. The sensor is not sensitive enough, and I am getting lots of grainy blurry photos. I entered some into the race sponsor's photo contest, but most of them are not good quality. Looks like it's time to spend some of that End of year bonus. I stayed up top taking pictures until Chris passed by on his first climb up the hill. I immediately went down to the car, grabbed his water bottle, and headed to the starting line. I waited what seemed like an eternity and he did not show up again. I did not think I could have taken too long because I saw some riders ahead of Chris climb the hill, so I must have been standing there and simply missed him. Maybe I turned around when he was climbing or was so wrapped up in photography that I did not notice.

Regardless, Chris finally finished (he was racing single speed, on a bike he built this week, and was probably racing a category too high given his training and gearing, but he finished on his bike. Except that he took a staged dive (think World Cup soccer dive) and fell off his bike on the finish line.

Chris got cleaned up and we started packing up our stuff. I remembered to take a picture of my medal with my good camera and with my camera phone to text to HW, and I made a mental note that I needed to write an email on the way home and send the picture to Tim, Abbas, and Bear. A minute later the phone rang. Bear called because she knew I had something to share with her. I told her that I was going to send her a picture, and I needed to concentrate on packing, but it definitely put a smile on my face that she heard me and reached out. We ended up sticking around to have a beer and see some guys we know from Half Acre (Chris knows them) get their medals and their pictures taken, and I went over to the awards stand to pick up my medal. We stopped at the brand new Mars Cheese Castle where we had an extremely good grilled roast beef sandwich that was on special (ironically my fourth roast beef sandwich of the day), and Chris picked up some curds for Ellie. We hopped in the car and headed south. I joked with Chris about stopping at the Bristol Renaissance festival and kiting up and riding through, remembering my one trip there with Kelly in my youth.

We got to my house, and we happened to run into Forest. He was leaving work to walk home, and he recognized Jenson's car as he was walking by. We talked for a bit. I came in the house and started the process of getting stuff put away in my apartment and getting ready for a new day.


(Originally posted as a Note on facebook. Pictures may be added later)

I don't know if you really know what this means to me. I am not really certain that I know what it means to me yet. But four years and 13 days ago I wrote a note called "The Whole Story" in which I detailed the aftermath of what happened the last time that I rode a mountain bike on single track. I say the aftermath because, among other things I woke up in the hospital with, I woke up in the hospital with amnesia and to this day do not remember anything about the accident. I just know that a few days later I looked like this.

The only think I remember about that night was mounting new tires. Knobby ones to replace the file tread that was slipping in the sand. Who knows? If someone had told me that maximum pressure was not the best tire pressure for single track, then I might not have changed them. I might not have crashed that night. I might not be where I am today. Regardless I tried out my Specialized Hardrockers that night. I tried them out, but don't remember if they were worth the investment.

After that accident, my second serious MTB accident, my wife at the time put a prohibition on me riding a bike...well...ever again. We didn't realize it until almost 2 years after the accident, but we broke our marriage on May 22, 2007 as well. Our marriage took longer to completely break that it did for my body to heal, but when it finally did, so did the prohibition against riding bikes.

I took the knobby tires I had no memory of riding of the bike I had not ridden (Michael put some miles on it in LaCrosse), put on the file-treds I had removed on May 22, 2007, and started riding again. It was about that time that I started a new relationship. A relationship with my local bike store. The GT needed a new chain and rear cassette, a new wheel set because I snapped two irreplaceable spokes, new tires because those file treads were paper thin and I was replacing inner tubes twice a week, and finally after all that investment and upgrading and finally running out of components to break...This happened.

The bike that tried to kill me twice finally died. A fatality. I went to the local GT dealer trying to get it repaired or replaced. No dice. The fact that I bought it off Ebay invalidated the warranty. So I went back into friendly neighborhood bike store and showed them my problem. They had a solution. This.
The Falcon
So I got it. I rode it a lot last summer. In the fall I did this.
© William Draper
Then in March I did that.
Barry-Roubaix 2011
Then in April I did this.
The QuBe arrives.
And here it sat for the last few months. Waiting for an opportunity, trying to find a place to get dirty.

The last two weekends I have "tried" to find rides to "local" races. My efforts included posting a single facebook status update hoping for a ride, and messaging teammates looking for someone else to accompany me on an ill-concieved last minute plan. I have waited to the last minute in part because of other complexities in my life. There have been a series of plans that have been continuously delayed. But at the same time, I have been held back by fear.

I have been afraid to leave my house alone to go and do something I used to love doing alone or with someone. I have been afraid of trying this new-old thing without someone there to keep me company and to keep me sane. Between the accidents and the marriage crashing there has been so much baggage attached to this activity that I have been afraid to try to do it without someone there to lean on and keep me strong. But this weekend was different. This weekend I decided when my Plan A fell through that I would "fake it" until I made it. Friday night at almost midnight I made a reservation to pick up a car at 10AM on Saturday. Saturday I woke up early, and packed almost everything I needed in two bags, my new 14 gallon capacity Mission Workshop backpack and the bag I won for finishing second at the Chicago Bicycle Film Festival gold sprints. I strapped my two almost new hardrocker tires onto the backpack, threw it on, and I rode to the Enterprise on Shefield. Gabe upgraded me to an SUV (it was all they had), I threw my bike and bag in, and drove southwest to outside of Peoria.

I made it to Jubilee College State Park, I toured the whole park, drove up and down every road looking for mountain bikers or mountain bike trails. I found none. I started to wonder if it was the wrong weekend, the wrong place, or maybe I was just the wrong person. I crashed emotionally. I panicked. I fell into the deepest darkness. It has been a hard week at work, and I had all that I could bear. I was hoping to find some sign, literal or figurative that others were gathering to mountain bike the next day. I couldn't find anything or anyone and left the park wondering wether or not I should just turn around and head home. Thankfully I have a partner who was there to help pick me up. I texted her, and she called me. She looked up the the website (I also didn't have phone signal), and found the place where I needed to be. She picked me up, dusted me off, and sent me on my way with a text-message-kiss (:-*). I went back to the picnic area and found the sign marking the trail head. I had looked at the sign from a distance, but did not read it. I unloaded my bike, put on my team Johnny Sprockets kit and dove into the woods.

It's a silly little thing, but I also drew strength from knowing the words "Try Not to Suck" were pressed into the back of my neck as I clipped in. I had found a group of really cool, like-minded people who had welcomed me into their small circle with open arms. I had a place to take my bike if it broke, and people to talk with about how it got broke. They taught me to build and fix my own bike, and knowing that I was represented something larger than myself, that I had their implicit and explicit support also gave me strength.

So two paths diverged in the woods, and once again I took the road less traveled by. The path to the left was double-wide and marked with hoof prints. I took the path to the right. Narrow, twisting, overgrown, with a single dirt line wrapping that wrote it's sweet poetry around trees and over the undulating landscape. I dropped onto that line, and read that poem.

There in the woods west of Peoria, i found myself again. Zooming through the trees, with green lush vegetation slapping and scratching at my skin, I felt alive in that way that only a select set of activities make us feel alive. I don't know why I am wired to enjoy XC mountain biking so much, but I am. I rode the outer perimeter and found no signs of a race happening that night. I went up and down the steepest and scariest descents in the park. I found the trails that were closed and the trail that should have been closed (oh, hello fallen tree!). I had ridden all the trail loops I could looking for signs of a race, and as I dropped onto the last stretch of trail, about 45 minutes after I started, I came upon my first piece of red-tape and a sign with an arrow. This way it point. So I followed it, and eventually caught up with the two men who were there to mark tomorrow's course. Finally I felt like I was in the right place at the right time. I asked them a few logistical questions, and found my swagger again. I followed the loop, back out to the parking lot.

I found the starting line, and another guy was there unloading his bike. His name was Mike and we chatted for quite a while. He showed me where the start line was, and I followed him across the bulk of the loop. By that time we got back to where I ran into the two men flagging the course, I had already exceeded my hour time limit for riding. So I stopped and I let him go do a loop by himself. I cut across the tape to where the loop came out, and stood waiting for him for about 20 minutes. I stood in the quiet woods, and listened. I was not riding hard, just standing and reconnecting with the green and the quiet life of the forest. Feeding on the solitude, and feeding the mosquitos. When I realized the bug-spray had worn off I decided to wait for him by the cars. This was the Qube after that ride.

This was the first "real" single track mountain biking I had done in more than four years. I cleaned up the bike with the brush I bought at the Ace in Peoria on the way through town, and set it on the tarp I had bought to protect the rental car. I felt like a genius for thinking enough to stop at the hardware store and get a tarp and a brush before the race. The only problem with the QuBe after it's first real test was a flat tire, and the shifting was a little off. I went into Peoria and found a Dick's Sporting goods and bought some tubes, and made a game plan that if it rained that night I would change from file tread to Hard Rockers.

The next morning I was up at 7AM, I ate breakfast at the hotel, packed my bags, and was on my way to the car. It has rained, so I knew I had to change both tires, not just fix the flat. I went back to the State Park and was one of the first to arrive. I went about my race prep. Putting on the tires and new tube on the front. Yes, those tires. The tires that I put on the night of May 22nd. The tires with only one doomed ride on them. How is that for tempting fate? I mounted the tires and tuned my rear-derailuer (Phil and Justin would be so proud!).
Before: New tires and race number
I then put on "my" new team kit, and started rolling around in the grass with a camera in my hand.
Before: New kit
As I was warming up I started to see the competition for my race arriving and starting to prep their bikes. Like any good cyclist I started to judge them the quality of their bikes. There were some nice bikes, I started to worry. 29ers and 29 in Specialized in different models. But when I saw a few of the novice riders warming up with a pre-race cigarette, I started to myself. "A rabbit? I nearly wet myself." I reminded myself that I was at a local MTB race in Peoria. I had ridden almost 140 miles that week, and yesterday's hour and 15 minutes in the woods did not even leave me sore. I was probably going to be okay. Heck, I might even win! Win! I could do that! Win! Win! Win! Opps. That's not a good mind-set either I thought.

So I took a deep breath, and stepped away from that line of thought. I got back to what I needed to do. Maintain good speed into the uphills, downshift early, downshift often. Riding my own race, and don't blow up riding someone else's. I was doing such a good job of getting in the right state of mind and not psyching myself out that I made a beginner's mistake. I was not paying close enough attention to the starting line. They made an announcement that there was 8 minutes to the start and it was already too late. The starting line was packed and I was relegated to the back of the heap. It was me and a 10 year old boy side-by-side at the back of the pack. The countdown was quick and an airhorn signaled the start of the race.

I rode hard. I made up some ground on the leaders, took a gamble and tried to pass some people by dropping off the road into the grass on the outside edge of the turn. The gamble paid off as I was able to maintain acceleration in the grass and pass some people. By the time we hit the narrowing and the sharp left hand curve onto the course I was in 5th place. This is where I knew that I was going to be in a good position at the end of the race. During the first 400 yards, on a pretty easy section of course, I had to ride the brakes to keep from running up the back of the guy in front of me. The first quarter mile was narrow, so there were few passing opportunities, and I was okay with sitting where I was to catch my breath after the start. When the course widened out at the finish line I jumped forward into 4th place. I grabbed the wheel of number four and followed him all the way down the big drop (the one thing I had trouble with the night before) and again recovered my breath.

I knew the course flattened out and widened out at the bottom along the stream, and there would be plenty of room to pass on the bottom. So I waited patiently storing up energy. When I hit the bottom, I shifted into a lower gear and started to spin faster and build up speed to pass two people to move into second place. The leader of the race had opened up a small gap on second place when I moved into that position, but we were coming to the first really "big" (relatively speaking) climb. The big climb was double track, and I pushed myself into the pain cave to get past him before the top. I knew from watching his initial descent that if I could get into the lead going into the long single track loop, I would be able to pull away from him on the downhill. I dug myself a pretty deep hole, on that first hill, but recovered nicely on the downhill and was able to continue pushing forward. It wasn't until the big hill on the second lap that I started to break down.

I really pushed myself into the red making the second climb, trying to open the gap further, and even on the descents I could not get my heart rate down out of the 160s-170s. Climbing back out of the valley I started to break down mentally and was wondering where the hell was the top, just wanting the race to be over, and not knowing if I could finish. I could not catch my breath. It got so bad that on one particularly steep part of the ascent I did the unthinkable, and dismounted. I had to push my bike during a race. The choice was that indignity or vomit. I was that deep into the pain cave. As soon as I got around the next switchback the course leveled out, and I hoped back into the saddle and continued limping back up toward the finish. When I hit the double track at the top I started to recover mentally because I regained my sense of how much more I had left to go. I also knew that my nearest competitor was also far behind. I could no longer hear his disk brake squeaking. Tt was like the day before when I was all alone in the woods. Just me and the QuBe.

When I came through the opening into the finish the small gathered crowd of wives and children and sport/expert racers cheered courteously. I pumped one hand into the air as I went under the inflatable blue arch marked "FINISH". I wanted to go freaking ballistic. Not only had I finally entered a MTB race more than 4 years after I first had the idea, but I won said race. I wanted to scream and yell and jump with joy. I wanted to celebrate like I had just won something more important than a local novice mountain bike race. I wanted to celebrate like I had just won back a part of myself. But nobody there would have really understood that. So I refrained from an outward display of emotion. But now maybe...just maybe you do?

This was my bike post race.

These were my legs post race.

Who's the chief-sandbagger now bitches?

This guy.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The first week

Summer came and went with me holding this seed of a thought of starting something new in the back of my mind. At the time I thought I was riding a lot. I thought I was riding hard. I thought that I was training and getting read to be a cycloross racer. But the classic problem in meta-cognition is that you don't know what you don't know until you learn something that you didn't know. My moment of insight came at a completely random and fortuitous way. Like most unexpected things it happened on a Tuesday. I could never quiet get the hang of Tuesdays.

I was in Lincoln Park just north of Montrose Harbor. I had ridden to the north end of the path form work, and was on my way back home again when I decided to pull off and do some "sprints" up the big hill. Instead I found to guys who were riding in a big loop on the grass. I had a sense that I knew what they were up to, and so I joined in. When they stopped, I stopped, and I introduced myself. They were like me in that they were noobs training for their first cyclocross race. They told me that their team, Triple X racing, was sponsoring an open cyclocross practice the following night at the same spot.

So I went.

It was at that practice I learned just how much I did not know, and just how little I had been riding and training. Fifteen minutes, half of a beginner race, kicked my ass. I was wheezing and coughing. I couldn't breathe and my legs were on fire. Also, the whole getting off and getting on the bike thing. Not as graceful as I imagined myself to be. I also learned that on Sunday of that week there was going to be a cyclocross race in Jackson Park (not that I knew where Jackson Park was), but there was a catch. It was a relay race, and you had to have a partner to enter. One guy there, Ryan, was pretty certain that his partner was not going to be able to make it. He was looking for someone who might be able to fill in if he couldn't make it. I said I might be able to, and in doing so I committed to going to the first cyclocross race and possibly racing. On Sunday I wrote this:

Sunday Aug 29, 2010

Today was the day of the big race. Not THE big race, but a big race. Not a BIG race, but A big race for me. It was the first race. I woke up this morning fully intending to go to my first cyclocross (CX) race every.
Last night I did not get to bed early (Bad NS) because I got wrapped up in a movie. After I woke up I puttered around the house getting things ready and packing my belongings. I knew there was a chance I was racing, so I packed my "kit" which is racing slang for cycling clothing. Although as I was brand new my kit was not a kit. It was some bib-shorts and an underarmor T-shirt. It was not a kit because it was not a standard 3 pocket cycling jersey that matched the bibs. My preparations were interrupted by a phone call. When I got off the phone it was about 11AM. I checked the race schedule and the bus schedule and did two quick pieces of math.

If there WAS a chance that I was going to race, and I had to register, my race started a little earlier than I had been thinking all morning. The race started at 12:45 PM which means registration closed at 12:20PM. The bus times for me to get there put me arriving were saying "1 hr and 15 minutes" it was 11AM and I was not out of the house yet. If I took public transit there would be no chance of me making it. So I hurried up and finished my prep, got out on the street, and as I was thinking about this fact I realized I would have to ride if I was going to make it there on time. (Yes, yes, yes. When I got home...I realized I could have taken a taxi. But finding one big enough for my bike? Not exactly easy...but more importantly, I just consistently forget about I forget they exist entirely and are available for me to use. But I digress...).

So I hopped on my bike and I rode south. Well, east first, and then south. It was headed east toward the lake when I saw that part of Lake Shore drive was blocked off and bicycles were racing up and down the road. I was a little confused by that, and was jealous because I was like..."i wanna hop on LSD too!" But I took to the path because traffic was relegated to the outer lanes and bikes were racing on the inner lanes. It did not take long to figure out what was going on.

The Chicago triathlon was going on.

The Lake Shore path, my "Express way" to the race was clogged with runners and spectators for miles. I got lost at McCormick Place trying to find a way around the west side of the building (doesn't exist) and had to double back to the path which was clogged with triathletes and fans. I basically did a cross race from McCormick to Jackson Park. I made it to the park before the start of the category 4 race, I even made it before registration. But I was freaking tired. It was at least 90 degrees by that point in time, and I had just spent an hour on a bike. I found the far end of the course and rode around to find the starting line. Just as I pulled up and was trying to get oriented, Ryan from the triple X practice came up and asked me if I wanted to race. His partner was a "no-show", and I was his last chance.

I know that when I got on my bike at Surf and Broadway there was a chance I could be racing, so my decision to ride down was self-handicapping at it's finest. I was setting myself up to not be in a place to perform at my best. My girlfriend noted that probably NO one else rode to that race...certainly not 15 hard miles in the heat. So Ryan asked me if I wanted to race, and I told him that I wasn't really planning on it, I had just finished riding there, but I said yes anyway. I knew I could do it, and just needed to get registered, get changed into my kit, clear the unnecessary crap off my bike, ride a practice lap, figure out how the race starts, get physically and mentally ready to ride, and start the race. How long do we have until the start of the race?

30 minutes.

Okay, GO!

The drama did not start immediately. Ryan said the race was a Le Mans-style start, did I want to start or ride the second lap. I had NO idea what a Le Mans-style was, so I opted to take the second lap. Ryan started off on foot a hundred yards East of the exchange zone. The exchange zone was between two barriers, and was the place where partners tagged one another to "hand-off" for the next lap. The start went well, Ryan was in good position when he took his bike, and I was ready for my first every race lap. I navigated the course cautiously, and rather slowly because my tires were too full of air. While he was on his second lap, I let some out, too much, I realized, and grabbed my pump to put some air back in. It was at that time I discovered the gauge on my pump was no longer functioning, and I didn't know how much pressure I was putting in my tires. There not time to find a different pump (I should have yelled for one) before Ryan was back and it was my turn for a second lap. As soon as I cleared the barrier and hit the first turn, I knew it was going to be bad. I was riding on with too low tire pressure, I started to slide out on the first corner, and had to slow way down. I was able to limp around the first 1/3 of the course. Then I got to a section of the track with a small concrete curb, and that was it. Pinch flat. I was on the exact back side of the course, so I picked up my bike and started to run. That didn't last very long. It was too hot, I was too tired, and I had too far to go. Then I started to walk at a brisk pace. I would jog when I had energy, but that was not going so well. I could feel the fatigue and the heat getting to me, and I knew I didn't want to blow my entire load on the portion of the race. So I walked most of the 2/3rds of the course back to tag Ryan. The race was still going on, so I immediately ran back to my backpack, grabbed my spare inner tube, and started to work. I pulled the old tube, put a new one in, got the wheel beaded, and was just finishing off the inflation when Ryan came into the pit. I went for one last swig water from a stolen bottle (I did have enough with me) when it was time to pedal. I raced one more lap (my third total) and my tires were a little too full and my gas tank very too much empty. I was certain I was not going to make it if I pushed it, I could feel the heat exhaustion building and I tried to ride the fine line between speed and death. I erred on the not death side though. I made it to the finish line and was told the leaders had lapped me enough that I was done with the race. I got off my bike, got in the shade, found some water (thanks to Manuel from Johny Sprockets, you saved my life literally) and drank 3-4 bottle of water. I kept drinking the whole time, knowing that I was 13 miles away from home with no ride. Ryan did offer me a ride home, but he also did not have room in his car. I didn't know anyone else and had mentally committed to riding home by that point anyway. But once I had a sandwich and some water, and some rest I started to feel better. So I thought. I stayed around for the cat 1/2/3 (fast men) and the co-ed race. Not just because of a desire to show support and interest, but also because I couldn't have moved if I wanted to. Not to ride home or to find a bus. When the race was over, I turned my bike North and rode the 13 miles back home (thank god there was a tail wind). I showered, cleaned up, and treated myself to a dinner out at a restaurant I had not visited in a while: Wilde for their mac-and-cheese and Bobtails ice cream for desert. A little treat for a job well done.

So my first race was beset with some mechanical difficulties, but not as bad as the guy who flatted on a tubeless tire, crashed, bent his derailed, and then broke his chain...all in the same race. Ryan and I ended up finishing 28th out of about 40 teams despite the difficulties. I had assumed that we finished dead, and was pleasantly surprised that we were not at the bottom of the heap. Just near the bottom.