Saturday, December 8, 2012

The end of the road

My cyclocross season had been a struggle. It almost felt as if the tribulations (#firstworldproblems) of my cross season were karmatic retribution for how smoothly my Mountain bike season went. I fully admit that one of the biggest issues was my own inability to let go of my goals when I was plagued with injury and illness and jest have fun riding. I couldn't let go of how I would have preferred doing and enjoy what I was actually doing. But after Woodstock I was actually looking forward to Indian Lakes. I had done well enough, felt strong enough, that I thought maybe I could handle the challenge of a double-race weekend and have some fun. Use that weekend as a building block to some hard training and try to make a good showing at the State Championship.

Then on Monday night everything shifted again. I was hanging out on Facebook and a relative posted an unambiguous status update that let me know my grandmother was no longer with us.

A bell that has been rung cannot be unrung.  I had just learned of my grandmother's passing through Facebook.

My Mom called me about 15 minutes later to offically share the news with me. The visitation was scheduled for Friday, the Funeral on Saturday. I cancelled the room I had reserved at Indian Lakes, and Morleigh and I spent the weekend in Wisconsin with family. The following weekend (Nov 17th) was the kick-off of the 9 day gun deer season, and I felt an obligation to make sure my father was not sitting alone on grandma's farm on the opening day of deer season. So I spent that Saturday and six of the next nine days chasing deer with my father.

Last March I had purchased a pair of tickets for my Mom to see one of her favorite singers, Andreas Bochelli, on Sun Dec 2nd. I bought the tickets without even thinking about cross, but even when I learned of the conflicting date it seemed like there would be time to do both, but as December approached and we started to work out the logistics, it seemed like it would be very hard to show my Mom a good time and also make it to Montrose to race. It was a confluence of familial responsibilities, if not a storm of them. I perhaps I could have squeezed space for myself to continue racing cross around those responsibilities, but it didn’t feel like the right thing to do. So in the days leading up to my Grandma's visitation I decided the right thing to do was to hang up my Cross shoes for the season, spend November focusing on my family, and start riding again in December.

In addition, I was just burnt out. I did some Google mapping a few days ago and confirmed that Morleigh and I drove more than 3,000 miles to race about 100 miles in the WORS series this summer. This were addition to the local race at Palos, a pair of gravel metric centuries, and seven cross races. It felt like I just needed some time out of the saddle. So between the last race in Woodstock and November 27th I rode less than 10 miles in total, one day of commuting in the city to the loop and back. I started back up again on the 27th with a 20 miles outing in the blackness of rural McHenry County

Riding in the dark, after some time off the saddle, on a chilly night, in an area with hills, was disorienting. I did not know those roads well enough to feel totally comfortable being out there in the dark. It felt like I was going up hill and into the wind the whole way.

I did go to Montrose with my camera on Sunday.  I was able to shoot from the first race until the middle of what would have been my race before leaving to head out to the burbs.  I needed to get cleaned up and ready to be a good host for my Mom.  I wanted to make it a special night.  I know I missed an exciting finish in the Men's 1/2/3 race and the spectacle of the 4bs, but when my Mom said she had the experience of a lifetime it was a no-brainer.  I made the right choice.

So my next race is going to be the Barry Roubaix.  Lots of cold hard miles between now and then.  Time to HTFU and start over again for next year.  "You don't wrestle until you get tired, you wrestle until the Gorilla gets tired."

CCC#8 Woodstock

It’s been a long time since I have raced, a long time since I have written about racing. For those of you who have been keeping up with my season, you know it’s been at times challenging.

The next race in the CCC series was in Woodstock, which is where Morleigh grew up, and where her daughter went to high school. She had been looking forward to seeing me race in her “hometown” since the year before when medical issues kept her from coming to watch.

We spent the night in LITH, and went to a diner on the Square in Woodstock (where they filmed Groundhog’s Day), and had breakfast at a little diner on the town square. We then headed to the park.

We arrived during the middle of the men’s 40+, and while we were unloading the car I realized that I had forgotten my helmet. Under normal circumstances this would be a very bad thing, but given our proximity to the home Morleigh generously offered to run back and get it. I wasn’t too worried about not having a helmet, figuring I could borrow one from a teammate, but it’s always good to have one’s own equipment so I took her up on her offer and went about to take some photos of the men’s 30+.

I took photos of the men’s 30+, and by the time that race was done Morleigh was back with my helmet so I shifted into full race mode. Morleigh grabbed my camera and took a few photos of the women’s 1-2-3 while I was out warming up and trying to get into the groove. The field was relatively small and with my 3 points from the first race, I had a good starting position in the fourth or fifth row. When the whistle sounded I pushed forward, and as is typical moved up into the top 30 of the field. I was able to hold that position through the climbs in the woods, but once we were out on the flats behind the tennis court the long slow fall started once again. But this time it was a slower and more gradual slide towards the back of the field. Morleigh was there by the tent every lap with camera in hand capturing photos of me , my teammates, and our compatriots in the Men’s 3 who have been under-represented @SnowyMtnPhotos because I’ve “been busy”. I remember thinking on my first 2 laps that she was in a bad spot shooting into the sun, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to mess with her creative process by arm-chair photographing. She did get some great shots from that spot despite my fears, and moved around the corner and got even more great shots.

The race itself, removed from my expectations and desires for a top 20 finish, went well. I was stronger and rode faster than I had the week before, and finished about 10 places higher. On the last lap I was able to do something I had not done in a long time, I was actually able to make up a spot and reel in someone who had passed me earlier in the race. I don’t feel bad that was a junior who may very well have been in his first race longer than 30 minutes, because hey…It’s cross. It was touch and go after the last barrier because he was trying to close the gap, but I left it all on the course with a strong push down the hill, around our tent to the finish.

Morleigh was really excited about how well I did, I was pretty happy with how the race went, and it felt like I was starting to finally recover from the flu. We stayed around for two more races, the Men’s 1-2-3 and the women’s 4+/juniors races, and then we both ran out of steam. We love watching and photographing the 4s (it’s Morleigh’s favorite), but did not have the required energy. We returned home, napped, and then I spent the night and most of the next night editing. There were a lot of photos to go through, some of them very good.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

CCC#7 Campton Cross (It's Halloween!)

When we walked out of the house, there were snow flakes fluttering down from on high. They sparkled like diamonds in the rays of early morning light, but they did not even last long enough for us to get to the car before winter ceded the day back to fall. The temperatures climbed into the 40s as we headed south along Randall Rd, stopping for breakfast at a place called Burnt Toast.

Part of our “night-before-a-race” ritual is to plan out our morning together. Morleigh usually opens the discussion by asking me what time I want to arrive at the venue, and we work backwards allotting time for all the things we need to do in the morning. We account for travel time, loading the car, packing our stuff so we can load it in the car, any bike maintenance that needs to happen, breakfast, getting dressed, and the ever foreboding actually getting out of bed. We’ve done this so many times together in the last 10 months that it’s become a science. If we want to get to the venue between 9:10am and 9:15am, we arrive at the venue between 9:10am and 9:15am.

So we arrived at the park at about 9:13 AM, and coming over the hill we could see the Master’s 40+ racers winding their way about the course. We made our way into the parking lot, and then I loaded with our gear and we made our way to the team tent. I pulled out my camera first thing and snapped some photos of the master’s riders. As I watched the field go by, I became really confused. I couldn’t figure out who was leading because this man: 

was absent. I found out later that he had a mechanical and DNF’d his race, so being the badass that he is, he got his bike fixed and just hopped into the next race with the young guns.

I took a pre-ride lap between races, and was feeling marginally better than the week before, but still a long way from where I felt at Jackson Park. During the 30+ race I went to registration, picked up my number, and started to get ready for my race. The last few races I have taken lots of pictures during the 30+ race, and waited until the Women’s 123s to start getting ready for my race. While this has provided an abundance of great photos of Matt Silva, John Gotto, and company, I wanted to push for greater gender equity in my photo library. So I front-loaded my prep in the early race. Thankfully I have a wonderful and capable assistant, and together we captured some fine moments from the 30+ race despite my desire to focus on the women’s races.

After the 30+ finished it was time for another pre-lap with my Cat 3 teammates. Alas, I remember a time when I could keep up with them and not get dropped pre-riding.

After returning to the tent, it was time for the mish-mash race. I headed over to the starting area to try and capture some of the women’s 1-2-3, Master’s Men 50+, and Single Speed category race. The women definitely brought their A game when it came to costumes. There were a handful of men who were willing to dress up, but it was mostly skin-suits and race cut jerseys.

Before I knew it, the bell was ringing for their final lap, and I was scrambling to get ready for my race. Don’t forget to take off those commuter lights! As we were circling the soccer field, I would be lying if I said I did not contemplate trading my number and 45 minutes of suffering in for another 45 minutes of taking pictures. But I was there to race, I had a number pinned on, and I was on my bike. My three early season points were still enough to get me in a decent place in the starting grid, and while waiting for our race to start we were treated to a wonderful monologue by Jostein Alvestad dressed as Thor.


The whistle blew, and we were off. I had enough gas in the tank to move up in the starting grid, to avoid the charlie foxtrot at the railroad ties, but as the course continued to wind up hill, the rest of the field accelerated and I stood still. I could not push my pedals hard enough, spin my legs fast enough, to hold onto my early gains.

It felt like the entire field swam by on my first two laps. It was hard to keep riding, but I kept telling myself the only way to get back to where I wanted to be was to keep riding. There is no other way, so I pressed forward.

I had no mechanicals, took my corners clean, had good remounts, kept my heart rate above 160, and just got destroyed on the hill climb and the straight aways. To paraphrase a line from a Python movie: I sailed as fast I as could without any sails.

The bell lap was the most exciting lap of my race. I had a lead of about 50 yds on another rider, and watched helplessly as he chewed away the gap on the hill climb and the long power straight away. I was standing up, in my big-ring, and could not preserve the gap. He closed in before we hit the double barriers. He passed me going in to the double barriers, and I passed him again on the remount, he passed me back on the straight away, and I passed him back climbing the hill after the end of the off-camber chicane. I was able to hold him off as we wound back down the hill, and back up around the rock piles where Katie was throwing out twizzlers like they were going out of style. As we neared the top of the hill my body started to warn me that if I kept it up, I was going to start puking. I tried to keep pushing but it didn’t matter, he passed me just at the top again. I fought to maintain contact on the way down the hill, and around the 180 degree corner as we went through the woods. I closed the gap on the final off-camber S-turns by the tent, but as we hit the final two straight aways he had the lead and I was out of chips. He looked back, and started to stand up. I waved him off. I told him that he had it. I wasn’t going to kill myself to try and out sprint him at the line for whatever place we were at in the race. There was no one behind us, everyone else had been pulled.

We didn’t stop riding by any means, we kept on at about the same pace. He looked back at one more time at final corner, and I waved him off again. I had made my move, and I couldn’t hold onto it. He beat me fair and square, and I wasn’t going to puke over what turned out to be 56th place. I was kind of happy that I didn’t get pulled. I was really happy that my back did not cramp up or otherwise give out. I had some side-stitches during the middle, but nothing like the suffering that I was dealing with during mid-late September. I was actually able to enjoy the rest of the day hanging out with my friends and girlfriend.

I changed into warm dry clothes, took more photos (450+ on the day), ate a pulled rib sandwich, and had a great time hanging out. I am blessed to be a part of a creative vibrant community of people, and I promise next year I will try my best to come up with a good idea for a costume far enough in advance to actually race in said costume.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

CCC#6 Hopkins Park

So Thursday (Oct 18) night I rode 2 miles, the next day I commuted 4miles each way to and from work.  Those were the first 10 miles I had ridden since racing at Dan Ryan Woods just shy of two weeks earlier.  In the mean time I had been completely beaten down by the stomach flu.  Friday night I swung by the shop to pick up my team order and get some bar end caps put into the Falcon (one popped out at DRW and I had to steal a cap from my road bike).  So Saturday I did something completely unadvisable and the day before a race.  I rode 30 miles in the morning nice and easy, and then switched from tubes to tubeless tires in the afternoon.  I was pretty happy that I was able to do it all myself with only a hand-pump, but this information is clearly provided as foreshadowing.

Sunday morning my girlfriend drove into the city to pick me up, and we went out for breakfast at a local diner converted to...a diner.  The Golden Pancake House redecorated, changed it's name to "The Edge" and opened a bar inside the pancake house.  The food is still great but the concept is a little bit of a hot mess.

We drove to Sunset Park and found parking on the North side of the pond, where we could see most of the course.  After the storms of the weekend before, it was a beautiful fall day, sunny with temperatures approaching the high 60s in the afternoon.  We arrived during the 40+ race, and I had time to pick up my number, change, and get onto the course for the first pre-ride.  It was bad.  I could feel there was just nothing in my legs.  The tires felt good, I didn't have any problems other than having a little bit too much air in them to start, but it's easy to let air out of a tire.

I made it back to the tent, got out my camera and snapped some photos of the 30+ racers heading around the course.  Morleigh took some photos too while I was tinkering and getting ready.  I got my number situated so I could spend a little time during the women's 1/2/3 race taking pictures, and went out for my second pre-ride at the end of the 30+.  It was cool because most of my teammates are also 3s and we rolled out together for our second preride as a big group.  The were sitting up and taking it easy, I was head down and pushing hard.  I could not keep up with them.  I got dropped by my teammates during a warm-up lap.

I had a conversation with my teammate Phil about my flu.

Me: I was pretty sick.  I lost 8lbs in about 4 days.
Phil: 8 lbs?  That's a lot.  Was it just water?
Me: No, I think it was all power.

You can watch part of my race here.

For reference the cameraman is Omar.  The guy directly in front of Omar is my friend Bryan Lee.  I am directly in front of Bryan (and high-five him at .09).  At 4:05 Omar passes my teammate Joe B who had an unfortunate incident with course tape getting wrapped up around his rear cassette.  It cost him a few minutes at least.

Omar catches up to me heading up a hill at about 7:20.  I am in the Sprockets kit just ahead of Omar until he passes me to "help" at 12:40.  He helped me for a few seconds, but I could not hold on.  I was pretty much out of gas at that point.  I continued to slide backwards in the pack for another two or three laps in which I had two "hiccups" or burps rather.  The first happened when I was making a 180 degree right turn off the pavement into the grass at the bottom of the hill just after the lone barrier.  As I reached the apex on the asphalt my wheel "slipped" a little bit, but I don't think it slipped, I think I twisted the bead and let some air out.   I almost lost control, had to alter my line and almost took out Derek.  The second, and fatal burp happened coming off of heckle hill with two laps to go.  I was rounding the course on the off camber (where Newt rolled a tubular 2 year earlier) and had a full loss of pressure.  I was 100yds short of the wheel pit so I ran my bike over there and found a pump to see if I could re-inflate my  wheel and keep going.  When I could not get the bead to catch, I decided to throw in the towel.  By the time I made it to our tent and back with a new wheel, the leaders would be by with one to go, and I would most likely have been in DFL with less than a lap to try and get back up into the pack.  I told the official I was done, and walked back to the tent to get cleaned up.  It was my first ever DNF in any race, but I think I'm okay with that.  Had I not had the mechanical, based on the guys I was riding with at the time of my exit, I estimate I would have been somewhere between 60-65th place.

Earlier this week I was comparing the 34 minutes of that race to some of the other races I have done this year.  Despite Sunset Park being a fast and relatively flat course my average speed was slower (12.7 vs 12.8mph) than Day 2 at Sun Prairie where I crashed twice and injured my back.

It looks like all the hard work and training that I put in during the winter, spring, summer and fall have now evaporated.  It's time to crawl out of my pity pool and start over for next year.

"Training is like wrestling with a gorilla.  You don't wrestle until you get tired, you wrestle until the gorilla gets tired." - Greg Lemond

Delinquent: CCC#3 Dan Ryan Woods

I've been a more than a little bit delinquent in writing about my races.  The last races I wrote about were  more than a month ago, and I have taped three more numbers to my wall since then.  I will try to be quick about it.
But as I sat down to try to somehow catch up with my season, I immediately started to procrastinate by re-reading the post I wrote in early September about my last WORS race.  I found this quote: 

"I hope my cross season goes half as well (as my WORS season)."

So far, my cyclocross season has lived up to that mark.  It's been about 50% as good as my mtb season.
The week after the USGP I was in so much pain that I couldn't even get on a bike.  My back went from being in hurt to being injured.  I pulled a muscle on the lower left side in one of my falls.  I seriously considered going to the Doctor.  My girlfriend was pushing for it, but I knew that the Doctor would only tell me to give it a few days.  So I RICE'd the shit out of my back and hung out in the suburbs with my girlfriend all week.  Before we left the city I dropped the Falcon off at the shop.  At the beginning of the season I ordered a new AL Crux elite frame as an upgrade for my Tricross.  I got word that it had shipped, so I left my bike in anticipation of it arriving sometime that week.  I didn't make it back into the city to pick up my rebuilt bike until Saturday.  Even though it was only a new frame, everything felt new.  The shifting was amazing.  Sunday we drove to Hopkin's Park, and I registered to race.

I had a decent enough start, but by the time we hit the first turn, my race started to take a turn.  I think it was a six lap race.  I don't know because I totally messed up my garmin by stopping instead of hitting the lap counter, so I pretty much was stopped for the entire race, and then started again at the end.  Which, by the way, was pretty much how my actual race went.

It is a common story for the season.  The first two-three laps were "okay" but the last two-three laps my back started to give out and I could not put out any power.  I remember John from Half Acre heckling me: "You know Phil is in front of you" and me thinking, "Yes, yes he is, and there is nothing I can do about it."  Him and 36 other Cat 3s.  I finished 37th.
After Dekalb we came back into the city.  I practiced twice on Tuesday, once on Thursday, rode my bike to work on Friday, and did nothing on Saturday.  Sunday it was time to race again.

Dan Ryan Woods is a long flat course with a ridge that has to be climbed 3 times per lap.  The Elevation chart for my race looks like an EKG.

The race started rough, with a crash right in front of me.  I did not get tangled up in it, but it was more than a little harry to track stand and swerve around, and rebuild momentum.  One of my teammates, Joe B, got caught up in it and got bit on the arm by someone's front chainring.  I was back out in the pack by the time we finished the brief prologue and started to wind through the trees along the parking lot.

The "technical" feature of the course were a series of three obstacles spaced evenly apart on a straight away.  I wrote my thoughts about those mini-barriers here (at so will not repeat myself.  Regardless, on my first lap I DID accidentally unclip on the landing between the first and second barriers and did almost endo over the second.  Jumping a barrier with one foot clipped in was not fun.  I thought for sure I pinch-flatted given how hard my rear wheel slammed into the barrier.

On subsequent laps though I found my rhythm, the front-rear pull-tuck with two pedal strokes between barriers.  I didn't make much time, but nor did I lose it.  I continued to race solidly mid-pack.  Finished three places ahead of the week before, but felt nothing but exhausted at the end of the race.  There was no post-race rush of "that was awesome."  I felt worn out.

Then everything fell apart.  My girlfriend and I left the race as the 4bs were finishing, and headed back to my apartment.  She took a nap, while I did the laundry, dishes, and straightened up my apartment, and packed to spend a day or two out with her in the suburbs.  I woke her up at about 9PM and I drove us out to LITH.  When we arrived at her house, I was exhausted, and had a breakdown.  I started to shiver uncontrollably.  She put a thermometer in my ear and it read 103.9F.

I spent the next four days with a fever, and stomach flu. I was too sick to watch TV, too sick to eat or drink, too sick to do much of anything but lay on the couch and shiver and sweat. My fever peaked on Tuesday while my girlfriend was out running errands at 106F.  That was the highlight of the week, and the next day my fever receeded down into the 103-105 range. Thursday I woke up and felt human again despite the fact that my temperature was at 101F.  Friday I was at a normal temperature and could start the process of healing.

We skipped the races in Wacaunda and Carpentersville that weekend, despite their proximity (the latter was 15minutes away) as the rain and cold and mud did not seem conducive to a continued recovery.  I stayed off the bike for another four days, and did pedal anywhere until Morleigh dropped me off at the train station on Thursday night so I could head into the office for a meeting on Friday.  The two miles I pedaled home, and the 8 miles to and from the office on Friday was the first I had ridden in almost two weeks.  During that time off the bike I was seriously contemplating bagging the rest of cross season.  Between the back injuries and the flu, it has been a miserable year.  But after a pep-talk from Morleigh about not quitting for the wrong reasons, I registered for Sunset Park.  More misery awaits.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

USGP Day 1

I generally like to write things in chronological order, but as the time spent on photography has increased my time for writing has decreased.  Somehow I missed writing anything about the first day of the USGP race.

We arrived in Sun Prairie on Friday night later than we had planned (traffic), but still with enough time to check into the hotel, and head to SP for a few loops around the course.  The course started out virtually identical as to what I remember from last year, but the back half was more than a little bit different.  The approach to the Hillside Strangler involved an extra trip from the bottom to the top before dropping back down and in for a run-up with three railroad ties as opposed to the two of the previous year.

Honestly at this point I don't remember much about the race.  Because I registered a few days before close, I was solidly at the back of the pack starting in 99th place.  I got into the starting grid on the left side, so I could make a move around the outside, but when the time came for an all-out sprint to move up I opted to move up a little bit, but not completely burn a match and just move with the flow of the group.  There were some back-ups and slow-downs that can be expected from being in the back 25% of a pack, but when things started to clear up it left me with some gas in the tank and some opportunities to move up.

I ran a clean race, and even rode the strangler one or two times.  My back tightened up on me after the first lap making it very difficult to dismount, remount, and run.  Granted that CX makes it difficult to dismount, remount, and run in general, but the back pain took away the high end speed.  I was also working with a pretty significant side-stitch during the middle of the race.  But I rode pretty well, didn't crash, had only one mechanical.  As I was coming up the Strangler the final time I shouldered my bike to run it, and as I was setting it down the rear brake got caught on my speedsuit, and I ended up hitting my bike with my thigh dropping the chain.  As I paused to fix it, I was passed by a single rider, who I then set in my mind to try to get back before the finish.  I tried to make a move on the inside and beat him to the last corner before the home straight, but he felt me coming and took an early apex pinching me into the fence.  It was by no means a dirty move, it was no dirtier than the pass I was attempting.  But I ended up slamming on my brakes and having to let him go buy before I could finish.  I could have tried to hammer it and out sprint him, but seriously, did I really want to try to out sprint a guy for 67th place on day one of a two day race?  Had I not dropped my chain, the spot would have been mine to lose, but he passed me fair and square, and took a good line into the last corner.  He could have 67th place.  I was happy that I was able to move up 32 spots in the field.  An accomplishment I certainly did not take for granted the next day.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Chicrosscup #1: Jackson Park - The Grind

The Chicrosscup season started on a Saturday this year because of a scheduling conflict in the park.  It was really different having to get ready on Friday for a Saturday AM Chicross race.  I had to bake my traditional sandwich bread in the evening, and get the Falcon cleaned and tuned up to the best of my ability after commuting home from work.

My girlfriend Morleigh had made other plans that Saturday, so I was expecting to strap on a heavy backpack and make my way south by CTA bus and by pedal.  My morning did not start out well, having awoke before my alarm to troubling dreams.  But as I was eating breakfast on Saturday morning I got a text from my girlfriend.

Morleigh: You are not going to believe who I found?
Me: Who?
Morleigh: Look out into the courtyard!!!!

So I looked out into the courtyard, and there she sat, holding one of my pillows that had ended up at her house after the WORS race the weekend before.  She had teased me about it being absorbed into her Borg-like collection of pillows all week.  Her plans had fallen through that morning so she decided to surprise me with a ride to my race.

We loaded up her car, strapping a trunk rack onto her trunk, and headed south.  We had more trouble finding parking this time than we did at the Relay, but we found parking by the golden statue, and made our way back to the venue.

We arrived in the middle of the Master's 40+ race and saw Newt crushing the field, and shortly there-after hopped onto the course for a quick pre-ride.  The course was different, with the short-back and forth section being greatly improved by being rotated 90 degrees and filling the same space with longer straights, wider corners, and more opportunity for passing. 

Chernoh and I took off for an extended warm-up, making the same loop we had two weeks before but in reverse.  We returned to the starting area and waited for our time to roll into the starting grid.  Based on my cross-results points I was being loaded in 51st out of about 90 riders.  I chose a position on the inside fence in the seventh row, in what felt like a very narrow lane.  My strategy was to sprint out in the clear as people pushed to the outside of the course to get a good line on the first turn.  The whistle blew, the field surged and I sprinted to the best of my ability.  Clearly there wasn't time to count, but it felt like I had moved up from the 50s into the 20s. 

From there on it was just a grind around the course, working on standing up on each of the corners and pushing it on the straights.  I tried to hold off faster riders, and maintain contact and reel in the rider who was in front of me.  The race was smooth and blurry with vibrant greens and blue skies replacing the dreary gray rainy memories from the relays. 

There were only two moments moments of note.  On my second lap, as I was navigating the steep off-camber hairpin turn on the far south end of the course I pedalled too soon and ended up pedaling into the ground and lifting my rear wheel off the ground.  I didn't wash out, but did lose all momentum and was standing there on the uphill straddling my bike.  It was too steep to put a foot on the pedal and try to ride, so I had that momentary pause as I wondered how to extricate myself.  Do I dismount or waddle? I waddled a few steps up this hill, and hopped back up on my saddle and kept going. 

The second moment was on the final lap, I was about 3 seconds behind a teammate, and was wondering whether or not I could close the gap before the finish.  When he washed out in the long grass I had my answer. I continued to push the pace around the corner, and just as he was getting back up to speed I coming out of the final corner and building up a head of steam.  I did have a moment of guilt passing a teammate after a moment of misfortune, but it passed as I hammered down the home straight and crossed the finish line. 

My goal for the race was to get into the top 30 and earn some ChiCrossCup points so I could get better staging.  I finished 28th, and transitioned into photography mode very happy with my performance. 

USGP Planet Bike Cup Day 2: Worst. Race. Ever.

The second day of the Planet Bike Cup started off well.  Morleigh and I slept in a few extra minutes before getting up for breakfast, and starting our day.  This compressed our time at the park before my race started so we did not see the beginning of the first race.  We arrived in the middle of the Cat 4 race, but instead of rushing to get ready to pre-ride I decided that I wasn't going to go out for a pre-ride and get warm-and-then-cold.  So it hit me rather suddenly after the lady's first lap that my race was up next and felt a moment of panic.  I put my pre-race prep into high gear getting my layers sorted out, heading out around the block for a long slow warm-up, and then making my way back to the staging area to line up at the back of the field. 

My strategy was going to be similar to the day before, work my way to the outside, and power past as many as I could around the first turn.  But I had already made a tactical mistake, in that I picked a spot in the center of the starting grid.  The whistle blew and the mass of men and bikes surged forward, I tried to work my way to the outside.  It wsa then that I discovered my second tactical mistake.  I had forgotten to shift from my small to large front chain ring while I was waiting for the race to start.  I had not been having any problems shifting so I decided to sacrifice a little speed on the pavement and power-down to shift up.  However, I couldn't get it to grab on the top ring.  It was skipping and jumping.  After about 5 pedal strokes I decided to give up, and just drop back down on the small ring, but in doing so my chain fell off to the inside.  As we rolled over the starting line the field pulled away as I was spinning my cranks trying to get a tooth to catch.  As we turned the corner I dismounted, fixed my chain, and then remounted now 100 yds back in DFL.

I shook my head and thought about the nice training ride I had before me.

Because I didn't pre-ride I was taken completely surprise by the changes in the course from Day 1 to Day 2.  I was expecting to gain some ground winding through the pine-trees and instead turned sharp left and had yet another straight-away to deal with.  Once I made it through the modified sections though, it didn't actually take all that long to re-attach to the field.  I caught back up to the first riders as we headed back down through the long straight-away that went past the wheel pit and the starting area.  I could see my friend Mike half-a-dozen riders ahead.  As we made our way down to the bottom of the hill by the playground equipment, I started to catch and pass riders.  On the way up past the playground equipment I got ahead of Mike and in the middle of four or five riders moving together.  As we speed back down along the edge of the parking lot and around the final curve before the big uphill I was on the inside line surrounded by riders.

I was aggressively leaning into the corner, at the edge of friction when the worst possible thing happened.

I hit a bump.

I did not have enough weight forward and my front wheel bounced off the bump and went airborne, and my bike went all Newtonian mechanics on me.  It flew out sideways and I piled straight into the ground.

Kudos to those riding around me that my wash-out did not turn into a huge pile up.  Somehow neither I nor my bike were ridden over, which I considered to be somewhat of a miracle.  As I stood up and dusted myself off, checking myself and then my bike for damage, I passed the initial flight check, got on the correct side of my bike, and then remounted.

I tried to pedal and looked down.  My chain had dropped again.  I dismounted, fixed my chain, and then remounted again.  I was once again DFL.

I scrambled to the top of the hill, and saw my girlfriend taking pictures of me.  I got off the main line, rolled close to her and tried to, without screaming at her, ask her to stop documenting this, the worst race ever, with photos.

I made it down to the bottom of the hill and decided to spite the course by riding up the hillside strangler.  I almost lost it, having to put a foot down after the second railroad tie, but I was able to put down enough power to get moving, clipped in, and make it up to the top.  It was one small personal victory on what was shaping up to be a very bad day.

Once I made it to the top of the hill and rolled out past the starting line, I started the difficult task of trying to mentally reengage in a race that had gone horribly wrong, and reconnecting with a pack that was long gone.  It was as I started to try and put down power on the "roadie-friendly" straights and the initial adrenaline of crashing had worn off that I discovered a host of "engine" problems.  I had a big painful charlie-horse on my right calf that was preventing me from putting down power, and my back was knotted up with spasms which was also making it difficult to pedal.  Of the 10 units of suffering I had available for pushing my bike forward, I was now using about six units coping with the physical pain I was in.  To put it in more concrete terms, on a flat straight away a tail wind I was struggling to get over 15mph.

On my second lap, as I looped back around the top of the strangler I saw the lens of my camera pointed at me again.  Once again, I pulled off the well worn line, over to the fence and asked my girlfriend as politely as I could muster to please put the camera down.  I needed no photos of myself remind me of this fiasco.  

The pain was too much and I was unable to ride the strangler a second time.  Instead I dismounted, and pushed my bike up the hill.  Running felt oddly better than walking, so I sprinted up the hill to the best of my ability.  Over the next two laps I pushed forward trying to reconnect with the end of the field, and it felt like I was able to shrink the gap on the shaded "low" technical section of the course, but I would lose those gains on the sunny roadie-friendly "high" plains.

There was another 8 minutes of suffering alone, as I wondered if I would be able to finish the race.  I kept picturing my name at the bottom of the list of results and wondered in the back corners of my mind what the difference was between DNF and DFL, and if it mattered whether or not it was one or the other.  I kept working to shake those images from my head, and self-talk myself through the course one straight away at a time.  I also thought about next week, and whether or not I would even be able to ride again in seven days.  I made the decision that I was not going to preregister for Hopkin's Park in the middle of my third lap.

When I got to the backside of the strangler I saw my girlfriend standing there, and instead of being obscured by a camera lens, I saw her face, and she had a big smile on her face as she cheered "Let's goooooo Gra!  I'm so proud of you!"  

I took a mental picture of that smile, and seeing that smile again became my motivation for riding another lap.  That smile was definitely worth another 8 minutes of suffering.  I dismounted and ran the strangler again, and pressed on committed now to finishing another lap. 

The fourth lap, I had finally closed the gap to the point where it felt like I might be able to reconnect with the end of the field, and get out of DFL.  As I was rounding the final curve to head on the long straightaway that ran out to the pine-trees, I put my head down and started to block out the pain so I could hammer as hard as I could, and instead of hammering I got hammered.  Somehow I swerved inward just enough to catch one of 2-inch square wooden stakes that was holding up course tape.  I hit it hard enough that it twisted my handlebars out of alignment with my fork.  I hit it hard enough to rip it out of the ground.  Needless to say I crashed in epic fashion.  I heard a collective groan from the mechanics in the pit, and Rosanna yelled at me...asking if I was okay.  I picked myself up, picked my bike up, and looked down to see that my chain had fallen off again.  I reached down, and put my chain back little ring yet again.  As I started to ride away and one of the mechanics yelled that I should not leave the stake at an angle like it was so I looped back, and ripped it out completely and threw it on the ground.  I then pushed off again.  I wanted to see that smile one more time.

I swung through the pit and had the SRAM neutral support re-align my handlebars, and talked with Roseanna a bit.  The mechanic finished his adjustment and said "This should be good enough to finish the race" and I laughed to myself because I knew my race was kind of over before it started.   When I made it down to the bottom of the hill by the playground equipment the leaders lapped me, and I knew from the starting instructions they were going to pull people who were lapped to make the last lap clean for the leaders.  I figure this meant it was my last lap, so as I circled the top of the hill above the strangler, I soaked in my girlfriend's smile, and passed a single rider with a flat tubular before heading back down to tackle the Strangler one last time.  I decided as a matter of principle to ride it, and without even so much as a foot down I burned my final match getting to the top.  I wound my way down the hill to the pavement as before rounding the final corner I made eye contact with the official, and she whistled me off the course after just 34 minutes.  It was by all accounts the worst race ever.  It was the most physically painful, mentally draining, and emotionally disheartening race of my short career as a bike racer.  But my girlfriend still kissed me, she still told me she was proud of the fact that I finished, she told me was amazed that I was able to finish with my head held high and she was proud that I displayed nothing but class in the face of so much pain and adversity.  Yeah, I guess I did. 

Friday, September 14, 2012


In March I sat down with my girlfriend and explained that I wanted to register for the WORS series, and see what I could do about maybe trying to win my category.  I pulled out the new WORS handbook and we looked at what it would take.  For sport racers the series was scored as a best of seven series.  Last year I made it to four WORS races, so my goal was to race seven races, and see how I did.

I was surprised when her response to my idea was "Okay, let's do it."  

I was like "Do what?"  

She told me that she would go with me to the WORS races, all seven of them.  We could make weekends out of it, driving up on Saturday to pre-ride and racing on Sunday.  She'd take care of transportation and I could take care of lodging.  So we made plans and I drew seven circles around seven numbers on the back of the handbook.  The last of which was the number 10.  Although there are 12 races in the WORS series, my MTB season ends when the Chicrosscup begins.  It was a risky plan, I would have to race well at every race to hit my goal, and cross my fingers there were no bad mechanicals.  

The last race on the calendar was Treadfest.  When I explained that Treadfest took place at the Grand Geneva lodge, she jumped on the opportunity and asked me if a stay at a nice resort, could be her treat for being good race support all season.  I told her it was a deal.  

If you've been reading any of my entries you know that she has been amazing race support all season long, so our trip to Lake Geneva started with a day off of work on Friday, and a quick drive up I-94N to Hwy 50W.  We spent two night at the resort enjoying the amenities and taking advantage of the proximity to get a pre-ride in much earlier in the day than normal.  On Saturday I was done riding by 2PM whereas many WORS weekends we haven't even arrived at the venue until after 3PM.  The extra time to recover definitely seemed to help on Sunday.  Our room had a patio off the back, and so as it rained early on Saturday night we went and sat on the patio and enjoyed the sounds of guitar music wafting over from the bar.  It was very relaxing and tranquil looking over the lake with the lit fountain in the lake, and the sound of gentle rain washing over the world.  The rain clouds broke at 11PM and I couldn't help but sneak down by the water and capture some images from the wild.  

The proximity also helped on Sunday morning.  The resort offered a trolley service so guests could get around the resort.  We hatched a plan to use this to our advantage.  I woke up early on Sunday (at 6AM) and drove our minivan up to ski-lodge and got the best parking spot in the house.  It was literally the only car in the lot.  I then rode my bike back to our room, and found Morleigh waiting for me on the veranda.  We went to the resort's Cafe and enjoyed a nice buffet breakfast, and went back to bed for a little nap.  At 9AM we woke again, this time for real, and I packed up the remaining belongings into my Mission Workshop bag, and I rode my bike back up the road.  Morleigh took the shuttle to the ski lodge.  Of course in all of my planning for our long weekend, I forgot to pre-reg and had to borrow a check from Morleigh to pay for registration.  

From there it was a pretty normal race day.  I helped Morleigh get her spectating gear to the best spot in the house, the top of the ski hill, and she camped out up there all day with my parents.  I returned to the parking lot to get ready, but there wasn't much left to do.  The weather was cool enough that I was not planning on carrying a Camelpak, in fact I didn't even fill my nutrient bottles all the way.  I figured I would take half a bottle with nutrients to start, and then if I needed I would grab water from the aid station, and a second half-bottle of nutrients from my race-support on a latter lap.  I did put a tube and CO2 into my jersey pocket, just in case.  

For my pre-ride I headed back down the road leading to the resort, and got to do something I had never done before which was ride a bicycle down a runway.  The runway at the Resort was closed this year, and riders were streaming up and down both sides.  It was an "I wish I had my camera" moment, but I had not taken any photos that morning, as I was solely focused on getting myself ready to race. I had already cut it a little close before getting out to warm up.  By the time I made it back to the starting area I had time for one quick burn up the hill to get my legs ready, and then returned to the starting line to wait for my race to begin.  

I was relieved at the starting line when Don announced there would be only two laps.  I had spent the day before mentally girding myself for three laps and nine times up the hill, and I am not ashamed to admit I was happy that I did not have to face those demons.  The leaders of the age groups get their call-ups ahead of the leaders for the clydesdales, so a clydesdale call-up is almost always worth a spot on the second row.  Its a little bit of a guessing game as to which of the riders in the front is going to get a good shot off the line, or where the best place is to be to get an opportunity to squeeze out or around someone.  I lined up behind Todd because I knew he was generally one of the fastest in my wave, but it turned out to be a bit of a mistake because he was in the middle.  Starting on an edge opens up an opportunity to go out and around, but it I chanced the middle.  I kept reminding myself to stay calm.  It wasn't the first time up the hill that mattered, it was the third.  

I love that Don reminds us "to treat each other kind" before he screams "GOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!"

As the pack surged forward I found myself kind of trapped in the middle as we went up and over the first ridge.  As we hit the second and more significant slope, a break opened up and I pushed my way up to maintain contact with the leaders.  My girlfriend took these photos of the start of the first lap:

I was right where I wanted to be, and in pretty much the same position as I was in at Cam Rock, following Aaron and Todd up the hill (I pushed the pace to keep ahead of Marcus before we made the corner at the top).  Despite my attempts to not over do it on the first climb, the cool air was very hard on my throat and I was breathing heavy, panting as we made the 90 degree turn onto the level before the first descent.  At the top of the first hill I was third in my wave, but Aaron and Todd were already at the bottom of the hill again before I really started to descend.  Thankfully I'm very good at going downhills and was able to carry momentum around the corner, and caught up to both of them at the base of the second climb.

When we hit the second climb we were already running into stragglers from the prior wave.  I pushed it a little harder up the second climb to make certain to get clear of the riders from my wave, and to get around some riders from the next wave.  I was concerned about getting stuck behind slower riders on the downhill single track.  So I got into the clear at the top of the second hill and zoomed down the single track shoot again, and immediately went to work on the third climb.  I had not shaken the competition.  I could hear gears and pedals and heavy breathing right behind me, so I kept pushing it to the top.  We passed another bunch of riders from earlier waves before we hit the top of the third climb.  When we hit the single track at the top I needed to pause for a moment because my throat was raw.  Cycling competitively for the last few years has made me acutely aware of how much of a challenge it is for my body to transition from warm weather adaptation to cold.  My throat and lungs were rubbed raw from sucking in the relatively cool air.  But there was no time to rest.

Todd was right on my tail, and anxious to keep going.  In the first few sections of single track, when we would come up on slower riders I would pause behind them for a moment trying to catch enough of a breath to announce "leader of next wave" or "when you find a spot I'd like to pass", but before I could Todd would already have announced our presence.  It was then up to me to find a place to squeeze by.  On the "Son of a Butch" climb I finally asked him if he wanted to pass me, because I needed to catch my breath, but he said I was doing just fine so we continued on, riding behind some slower riders up the hill and down through the rockless garden (they took all the rocks out of the sport section this year) into "Heartbreak canyon".  We hit some double track and we were able to jump that group of riders before getting into the next section of single track which happened to be where I was stung by a bee and crashed the year before.  By the time we hit the next pile up of riders, the course opened into a long section of double track.  I stood up and hammered, and was so happy to have taken the week off because in doing so I found my high-gear again.  I passed another handful of riders from an earlier wave.  Todd stayed right with me.  The trails were in incredible condition.  They were damp but not muddy, tacky without being slippery, and compared to the dry dusty mess they could have been (i.e., think Subaru Cup)  it was really great conditions for a race.

We continued working together like this, me in front doing the pulling, and him on my wheel calling out our presence and helping to push me forward.  It felt like we were making really great time.  As we were approaching the end of the first lap, I started to hit my first wall.  Todd made a move to pass me when we hit the first climb of the second lap.

Todd made his move, and I got a really bad "side-stitch" (i.e., cramping in my abdomen).  This was of course not a good sign for me.  Todd also started to play good chess, putting slower riders between us, but the course was still open as I struggled up the second hill.  The side-stitch had abated by the time I reached to top of the third climb, and I had only lost a few spots.  Fortunately for me, the gentlemen between us were uber-courteous and made plenty of room for me to squeeze by.  I think I was on Todd's wheel again before the "Son of a Butch" climb or shortly there after.  I followed Todd's wheel for maybe half of the second lap or a little bit longer, and all along the way we found either open space to ride at our own speed, or courteous riders who made space for us to pass in the single track.  I was a little surprised at how much the some parts of the course had dried between our first lap and our second lap.  There were places where the color of the single track changed from dark moist chocolate brown to dry ash already.  In another few hours they might even start to get dusty and slippery again.  But that was someone else's worry.  My race was "almost" over.  As we were approaching the "Roller Coaster" I had a thought that I wanted to ride that section of trail at least one time without anyone in front of me.  I called out to Todd that I was ready to take the lead and surged by him as we were transition from double to single track.

My first thought was that I just wanted to take that descent as fast as I could knowing the uphill was steeper and longer and would absorb any extra speed.  I wanted the Roller Coaster all to myself.  After enjoying that little thrill ride, my second thought was of Alterra and how I caught up to Todd at the bottom of the hill and then watched him surge away from me up the hill while I bonked.  He had a great finishing kick, and I thought I had better open up some space between us in the single track.  It felt like when I was behind him that I could ride faster than him through the technical stuff, so I took off.  It took a while for a gap to open up, and I was once again aided by the kindness of my competitors who went out of their way to work with me on tight single track to allow me to sneak by them.  I'm sure they did the same for Todd, but it seemed like I never had to wait much for an opening, and there were not that many people in the single track.  For most of the second lap it was just Todd and I riding together at our own pace, and not being slowed down by anyone.

As the course opened up into the final double-track section leading to the finish I did not look back.  I stood up and hammered up the hill passing at least four riders who were huffing and puffing their way to the finish.  As I rolled down the hill and around the last corner towards the finish my speed hit 25mph and I crossed the line ahead of everyone from my wave.  I could tell from the running time which was at 1h11min that I had a phenomenal race.  It was the perfect icing on a great WORS season.

I knew from Excel work earlier in the week that I already clinched the Series lead and the title as the "Fastest fat-kid in the 3rd grade".  This was my 8th win in my category, and my overall time of 1:03:29.3 gave me the highest finish I have ever had in a WORS race which was 16th place in the Sport category, and for the first time I came in ahead of every other rider in my age category.  This means that I met all of my goals for my MTB season (Series championship, breaking into the top 20 of sport, qualifying for Nationals next year, and taking some incredible photographs). I hope my cross season goes half as well.

It took me a while to make it back up the hill to greet Morleigh and my family as I stopped and chatted with other riders I knew from Chicago about the races they had just had and the races they were about to have.

This season has been truly blessed and I am grateful for the hard work of WORS staffers and volunteers for making the races possible.  I would like to extend thanks to all the riders who start before and after I do in different category and the same.  You are an incredible bunch of people, gifted and beautiful, and it is the generous and kind spirit of WORS racers that keeps me coming back for more.  The vibe of road racing and crits in Chicago is uber-competitive and even a causal weeknight group road-ride here can get more tense than the most serious WORS race.  As I waited to step on the podium and watch the top 60+ riders accept their medals, I can only hope that I am fortunate enough to still be racing WORS in another 25 years.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

So it begins. xXx Relay Cross

The choice was pretty easy to make.  Drive to Green Bay and race in the lone "marathon-style" WORS race, or partner up with my friend Chernoh and take on Chicago at the first cross-race in the Midwest.  With my solid performance at the Subaru Cup, my goals for the WORS series which I committed to last winter were wrapped up.  The cost of driving to Northern WI week after week was taking it's toll, and I was very much looking forward to a nice little race against friends near home.

My friend Chernoh and I have been talking about racing relay cross together for since our first car-ride to a race together in 2010 (he was out of town for RCX last year), so I asked him to go with me to the dance and he said "Yes".  My girlfriend, always the best race support, offered to drive us both, so I put the trunk rack on the car Sunday AM and Chernoh met us at my place.  The morning was nice, but as I was putting on the trunk rack it started to sprinkle.  That sprinkle turned into a steady rain by the time we hit LSD and made our way to the south side.  Our fairly late arrival (we left my house at about 11:10AM) gave us a fortunate parking spot, right in the front row about as close as we could get to the starting area.  We carried our stuff over to the Sprocket's tent and set up camp.

The women were finishing up as we arrived, so it was a quick "drop everything and get a pre-ride in" as the rain fell steady on us.  The course was fairly short and compacted into a very small, unused corner of the park.  It seems our reputation as being "non-destructive" has been damaged with the Chicago Parks District, and we lost our more prime site from the last two years. 

The first pre-ride lap was uneventful.  I got a good sense of the layout of the course, and started to get my legs back under me.  They didn't feel great, like I had never really recovered from the week before.  I took it fairly easy, and tried to spend a little bit more time warming up, but there was still something amiss.

I came back to the tent, registered, and cheered at the Juniors who were starting their races.  The rain had really picked up by that point in time, and I did not feel like trying to dodge the raindrops with my camera equipment so I left my camera in the bag under my sprawled out poncho.

After the Junior's race we got back on the course and tested out the worsening conditions.  There were a number of significant holes in the course, one of which in the starting straightaway that took out a team-Pegasus rider on this prelap.  He was a bit ahead of me so all I saw was legs in the air as he tumbled across the grass, but he was okay and his bike was okay.

I didn't feel "warm" yet, so after watching the start of the Men's 4's race Chernoh and I tooled out of the parking lot and made a loop to the west, north, east, and south making it almost to the Museum of Science and Industry, and when we got back we decided to do it again.  Riding south on the woodchip path near the lake I turned on the gas a bit to try to wake up my heavy legs.  It worked somewhat and Chernoh and I headed back to the tent to finish preparations.

The rain was steady on now, but it was still very warm both the water and the air, so it was not unpleasant getting soaked.  We headed to the starting line, got our instructions, and waited for time to tick away.  It was, as in years past, a Le Mans start.  One partner would be sprinting across the starting line, around a tree and back into the transition zone where the second partner waited with the first partner's bike.  There were a couple of new Cat 3s, and juniors who got call-ups, including one of the fastest guys there, the 17yr old phenom David Lombardo.  There was some definite heckling and chattering about one of the fastest guys in the field getting a 10m head start.  I was happy that I had a spot on the front-row, where I could (hopefully) show off some of that residual explosive power I spent all those years building back in college.

The whistle blew, and we all surged forward.   My vision was narrowly focused on the the three or four guys who had a headstart, and I closed the distance before we hit the tree to turn around.  I followed exactly in the footsteps of the guy in red and white ahead of me who made a bee-line for the inside of the tree, and grabbed a handful of bark to help pivot around and then sprint forward again.  When we made it out of the transition area, there was only one person in front, the younger Lombardo.  I had a great start, which of course meant things could only get worse.

Memories from the first lap: I did not feel any pressure behind me until we hit the second corner, then I could see the entire field bearing down on me waiting for any mistake to swallow me up.  No pressure.  I remember that on one of the early corners that was somewhat of an "S" curve, with really sharp corners and I took a line through the first one, and John Gatto came up on my outside as I was exiting the apex wide toward the outside.  He leaned into my hip with his shoulder, but I was right on the edge of traction and could not change my line.  He tried to push me, but I was not moving.  He ended up bailing on the turn and busting through the tape off the course.  Undaunted he just kept riding and busted back in on the other side of the second corner.  Part of me was hoping that the tape wouldn't break and he would be slung backwards like a cartoon villain.  It did, he wasn't, and that was the last that I saw of John Gatto until the race was over.  Well, that's not entirely true.  I got to see him charge out of the transition area every lap as I waited for my partner to arrive. 

The second memorable part of the first lap was being accused of cutting the course by someone else on the race course.  On the far south end of the course there was a single barrier right before a sharp 180 degree off-camber corner.  The well worn line followed the inside edge of the hill on the outside of a bushy little tree.  However, the course designers did not wrap tape around the tree instead routing it to the inside of the corner meaning the tree was square in the course and it was an option to take an inside line.  That part of the course flattened out earlier, so I made a move on a tight inside line and was able to re-pass a rider who had just passed me.  It didn't last long and he accused me of cheating as he sped by me again on the straight-away but I retorted that I was squarely between the course tape, and he dropped the issue.  Okay, he may not have dropped the issue, but he dropped me.  I never saw him again either.

That was really the last memory I have from the first lap.  It may have had something to do with this. Or the part of this that shows my heart rate was was flat-lined between 93-96% of max for the first six minutes of the race (note that my HR monitor slipped down my chest in the rain and was not accurate for the rest of the race.  I did not fall off that much during any of my subsequent laps).  Morleigh told me on the way home that I had somehow managed to cling to a 5th spot during the first lap. I had lost track by that point in time. 

The second lap was uneventful, or at least nothing happened that was memorable.  Rain and wet grass.  The third lap was the lap that as I was coming back toward the transition area I saw my nemesis-for-a-race for the first time.  I was riding on the straight that was immediately inside the exit to the transition area parallel to the starting line and this man was coming out of the transition area. 

Newtron Cole was, for some strange reason, behind me.  My first thought was confusion.  There was something very wrong with the natural order of things.  I have an exercise ball in my cubical, he has a squat rack in his office.  My job is pushing number around, his job is pushing people to excel.  My thought was not one of survival, I knew that he would eat up the 200 or so yards between us most likely before the end of the lap.  My only thought was "make him earn it."  I wasn't giving up MY spot without a fight.  I stood up and started hammering again.  I just kept repeating those words ("make him earn it") over and over again as Newt swallowed the gap between us. 

I almost made it back to the transition area, but it was not to be.  Newt caught me just before the wide round off-camber 180 degree turn that lead into the final chicane before the home straight-away.  I stood up and hammered on the straight but he was into the pit well before me.  I tagged Chernoh and collapsed to one knee.  Newt was standing nearby with a smile on his face.  I knew it was all an act, he was hiding the serious hurt I put on him. 

After a few minutes I caught my breath, got up and got some water from Morleigh, grabbed my portable shower and I got the built up grass off of my brakes and out of my derailleur, and waited for Chernoh to come around again.  It didn't take long.  He was looking really strong as he was coming down the home straight away, and as he rounded the corner and came over the barrier I saw something that blew my mind.  Newt was still in the pit.  Chernoh had made up the place that I had lost, and as I was taking his handoff and leaving the pit, I left with this thought.

"Oh no...not again." 

I hammered out, but Newt's partner was right behind Chernoh, and before we hit the laser gates from Star-Wars, Newt was on me, and we were piled behind someone else who was a little bit slower than either of us on the sharp winding corners.  Unfortunately I couldn't get around him, and when we reached the end, I couldn't match either of them on the straight aways.  My high-end gear fell off, and I could not get up to speed.  I don't remember how many more spots I lost after that, or how many more I gained.  I was in a lot of pain and as the leaders hit their last lap right after I made it to the pit I found myself hoping that my partner got lapped and we finished the race one lap down instead of having to ride a sixth lap mostly alone.  I would have gone out for sure, but I had already ridden my half hour (34minutes total) and I was ready for the first cross-race of the season to be over. 

The leaders pulled a few hundred yards ahead of Chernoh, he was the fourth rider to finish the race, who was one lap behind.  We finished in 22nd place overall, the 20th and 21st Cat 3 riders across the line.  That was a big improvement for me from the last year, so I left happy with our race.  I didn't fall down, Chernoh's new tubulars performed well, and left we did.  We watched the start of the co-ed race, but as the rain was starting to fall harder we took advantage of the proximity to home, and headed back North. 

WORS #8: Postlude

After finishing my race, I started the slow transition between racer and photographer. It's not easy to think about taking pictures, or anything really, when the blood is deprived of oxygen and glycogen. So I made it back to our tent, sat down for a while, ate some food, and started to feel human again. The Cat 1 race started, and I had my camera out shooting some of my friends as they screamed by.

 I also washed off the dust and dirt off of myself, and off of my bike.

By the time I was really ready and able to shoot, the Cat 1 race was over, and the Pro women had started. 

I got some great photos of the pro women coming down through "Roots Rocks" (the section of single track immediately above the hill from our tent) including a series of photos of the series winner going up and over her handlebars on the first lap.

My girlfriend wanted to take the ski-lift up to the top at least once, so we did this during the women's race, and then worked our way back down.  Morleigh had a great time (my parents came up in the lift a few minutes after us) and she hung out with them while I ran back and forth across the slopes ambushing riders on various climbs and descents.  I learned a valuable lesson the previous year at the second cyclcross race.  If you stand next to another photographer while you take pictures, your pictures will indistinguishable from one another.  So I avoided the crowded places, and sought to find places where no one else would go.

I got more beat up and scratched up running through the woods taking photos than I did racing.

We made it back down by the time the women finished, and my parents were ready to leave.  I escorted them to the parking lot, and brought our van back to the top near our tent so it would be easier to break down.  Morleigh was pretty tired at that point, so she stayed in the tent while I went to shoot the start of the men's race.

Sam Schultz (Subaru Trek) scans the course ahead as he waits for the starter's pistol.

I got some great shots of the men racing, again focusing on the places that others were not going.  The one regret I have was never making it back over to Fern Gully as I think there were some amazing shots waiting to be captured.  But even before the men were done racing, I reached a point where I felt like I had captured enough images, and put my camera away so I could pack up the tent. 

I had more than 600+ shots to sort through and edit already, so my week ahead was going to be a full one. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

WORS #8: The Subaru Cup Legacy XC

The Subaru Cup was not the end of the WORS season, but definitely the pinnacle.  There were some really big names in town, fresh off performances on a grand and international stage in London.  Even the amateur races has a little bit extra weight as these races were for USAC Midwest Regional Championships as well as WORS points.  

We drove up to WI on Sunday night, taking the day off from work.  We made it without incident, a stop or two, but mostly smooth sailing.  We found a parking spot, I unloaded and got ready, and went to check out the venue while Morleigh rested in the car.  We made her a nice little nest in the back of the rented mini-van where she could lay down for a bit.  I went and explored the venue, and found the course.  

I hopped on the trail to pre-ride, and fell in love with the course.  The starting loop was not straight up a hill for a change, a little sprint off camber into a hill climb that was again, not straight up.  It climbed, turned, descended, climbed again as we wound along the side of the ski hill.  We then dropped into a valley named "Fern Gully" which was beautifully carpeted with rich verdant green ferns.  It was my favorite part of the course to pre-ride.  The loop continued up the hill, but never straight, small punch switchbacks which were perfect for me.  I finished the first lap and was surprised that the loop was only  3.81 miles.  I was expecting at that point a 4 - 5 lap race, so I immediately went around again.  Halfway through I let a little more air out of my tires which helped immensely.  They were a little firm and I was bouncing off stuff rocks instead of rolling over them.  

I went down and registered, returned to the car and found Morleigh as well as some of my Chicago friends (Mike, Matt, and Mumford) had just arrived to pre-ride, so we chatted with them for a bit, and Mumford and Matt borrowed my pump.  Mumford said he didn't bring one because someone always brings a pump.  Morleigh and I always bring everything.  

Our last act before leaving was to drive part-way up the ski-hill and stake a claim for a spot with our tent.  We had to lug everything down and through a shallow drainage ditch, but it was by all accounts a great spot as the the Cat 1-2 course wound by 3 times within less than 30 yds, and the tent was visible from the parking lot / road.  

We headed back to Wautoma, checked into the hotel, and went to get something to eat.  Our food took forever to arrive, but was at least good.  After a good night sleep, a quick hotel breakfast, we were back at the venue early the next morning.  We carried everything we needed up to the tent, and got set up for a full day of racing.  

The fact that this was a sanctioned USAC Midwest Regional Championship meant that it had to be run under USAC rules.  The normal division between "Sport" Cat 2s and "Comp" Cat 2s was erased, and all Cat 2s were run together.  However, the Cat 2 field was too big to fit into a single race course, so the Cat 2s were divided into two races by age category, with the men under 40 racing at 8:30AM and the men over 40, Single-speeds, clydesdales, and women racing at 10AM.  Needless to say, I was happy I was not racing at 8AM.  

We were set up at the tent before the first wave of Cat 2's went off.  I was out in the woods nearby with my camera snapping some photos when they arrived at our corner of the course. As they rode I changed, got everything ready for the race, had Morleigh pin my number on my jersey (I had decided the night before to do hand-ups instead of a camelpak), and started to tool around.  Morleigh was in the woods with my camera when I went down to the tent to start my final warm-up.  My parents, Mel and Jane, were just crossing the drainage ditch.  I said my hellos and then went out to the roads to warm up for 15-20 minutes or so.  I came back, spent a few minutes chatting, and was off to staging.  There were no call-ups for the combined field, so it was just a regular CX-style pile up.  

I was there at a good time, and in a good position, most of the riders were piled on the downhill side of the course so I rolled in on the uphill.  As the waves shifted forward I maintained my position in the front row of clydesdales, and when we were invited to the starting line I surged forward and claimed a spot on the front line.  


I surged off the line and easily moved to the front.  When the course turned up hill I burned a match and powered through knowing that if I could hold the lead until we hit the single-track I would be in a good position for the rest of the race.  I burned a second match climbing up and over the bridge as I passed the first stragglers from the previous wave.  Warning flags were raised in my head that we were coming up on slower riders already.  My fears were realized when we made the sharp downhill turn into Fern Gully and I had to slam on the brakes on a downhill and come to a complete stop because a single-file line was backed up from the turn.  I waited and rode at this slow pace until we hit the uphill and the line came to a halt.  When I dismounted I grabbed my bike and ran up the inside, on the off-camber leaves while others plodded on the main trail.  The rest of the first lap was like this, no matter how many people I passed, just when I got to the kind of technical section I excel at, I slammed into slower riders. In that sense it was a rather frustrating race.  But still no riders came up from behind, and I continued to burn at a high speed trying to maintain my lead.  

When I made it to our tent, my girlfriend had my camera shooting photos and my Mom and Dad were working as a team to see if I needed hand-ups.  I was one well-supported Sprocketeer.  I had one bottle with me, and I realized that in my first lap I had not taken a single drink instead grabbing a cup at the feed-zone at the top of the hill and pushing on to pass a few more people before getting into the single track.  

It was halfway through my second lap that I saw him.  I was going up a switchback and I could see another guy in a red-kit whom I did not recently pass.  He was not bulky but he was tall, and I guess (correctly) must have been from my wave, one of the Comp Clydesdales who was trying to close the gap.  I put my head down and started to grind onward.  I just kept trying to pass people, climbing up the field one person at a time.  There were a lot of slower riders still, guys who were fading from earlier waves, and even on the third time through Fern Gully I was held up by a slower rider as we crashed into the back of the Sport women.  Despite that section of the course being my favorite in pre-riding it was the bane of my race.  I made it past the woman, and caught up to a group of men who were riding only marginally slower than I wanted to ride.  That meant passing them was a challenge, it required matches I had already burned, matches I didn't have left.  My blood O2 levels were low enough that my handling was also starting to get shaky.  I could sense the delayed reaction time, so I was trying to make up ground and put more distance between me and Mr Red, I was trying to crawl past these riders who were moving at basically the same speed as I was, and I was also trying to slow down enough to let more O2 get to my brain.  

It did not at all help the cause that heading up a steep and tight switchback I jammed my front wheel on a rock and went down.  I lost two spots that I had just burned matches to claim, and worst of all I had the adrenaline shock of crashing, and couldn't catch my breath or get my legs underneath me.  Mr. Red made his move and passed me.  I tried to contest it, but I could only spin up the hill.  When I reached the top, at the water station I could still see him, and I mentally re-engaged and committed to not letting him have his podium spot uncontested.  I got lucky a couple of times, and got in the clear on the single-track descents and closed the gap to the point where I was immediately behind him as we headed up a small climbing section.  

Here he played a better game of chess than I did, as he passed a slower rider heading across an open ski-run and squeezed in just as he hit the single track, leaving me pinched behind this slower rider on a technical descent.  He opened up the gap to 10 seconds like that.  By the time I got around that rider, he had put two more between us.  As I was passing our tent I jettisoned my water bottle looking for any savings in weight.  There were now three riders between us, and I struggled to get around them in the campground.  I finally made it passed on the way back up the hill, but the gap had only increased.  I wove through "more fun" and grabbed a hand-up from my Mom, taking a quick drink and then dropping the bottle as I entered the final two climbs.  

Here it was my legs that gave out.  It was everything I could do to keep on the bike, and keep them spinning much less worry about closing the gap.  I did not give up, the race by any stretch, but my thoughts of closing the gap became thoughts of finishing, and finishing 2nd among all Cat 2 clydesdales.  I kept an eye out behind me but saw only the riders I had just passed.  I crossed the finish line just 21 seconds behind first place, but I was really happy with my performance.  With zero mechanicals and only one fall it felt like a pretty good effort.  I was a little frustrated that I lost the chess game at the end, but Eric raced a great race.  

I also looked at the final results for the earlier race and placed Eric and I in the total pool of Cat 2 men aged 30-39.  He had the 14th fastest time and I had the 15th fastest time.  This means that, in addition to being the first Sport Clydesdale across the line I was also one of the top 15 finishers in my age group.  According to my understanding of things, this means I qualified for Nationals in Leigh, PA next summer. Goals accomplished.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Palos Meltdown: Racing...home.

Hold on, to me as we go 
As we roll down this unfamiliar road ,

My girlfriend and I have driven thousands of miles this summer just so I could race my mountain bike fifty eight.  This weekend we only had to drive 26 miles to get to the nearest race, but circumstance took us far afield anyway.  We drove close to 700 miles on Friday and Saturday to get to Des Moines and back in time for a race in our own backyard.  It was an emotional journey, one filled with new hopes and grieving for opportunities lost.  A race was just the kind of distraction we both needed to keep our minds from thinking of the pain in our hearts.

And although this wave is stringing us along 

We got back into town (Lake in the Hills = LITH) on Saturday evening, and commenced race preparations.  I went for a quick spin to try to get the 10 hrs of driving out of my legs, and my MTB was still coated with dust and grime from my last outing in WI, so Morleigh helped me wash it in her driveway before we went to bed.  We organized everything we would need for the next day including clothes, shoes, helmets, food, water, and chairs.  After some Olympic viewing we tucked ourselves into bed.  I had not pre-registered for the Meltdown because I was uncertain if our trip to Des Moines would interfere with my ability / motivation to race.  As I had not yet registered so I was still trying to decide which category I wanted to race.  I had done the sport the previous year and done well in the field (it was the race in which I qualified for nationals), but was curious to know what I could do if I raced in a higher category.  So I had it in my mind to race in the Comp field at the longer Cat 2 distance with the faster riders.

Just know you’re not alone 

My decision to race Comp changed our race timing.  We did not have to be there as early because my race went from 11:30AM to 1:36PM, leaving us more than enough time to get there in the AM.  But we backed it out to be there by the time the first race started, because racing Comp meant that I would not be able to take photos of the pros / experts this time.  They would be in front of me, as I tackled a 22 mile race for the first time.

Cause I’m going to make this place your home 

We got up a little bit behind schedule, but got our stuff together and got out of the house fairly quickly. We did not have any milk, so we ended up stopping for breakfast along the way at a great little place called "Burnt Toast" on Randall Rd (there are actually two of them on the same road.  We ended up at the second one).  After some delicious pancakes, eggs, and french toast, we were back on the highway.

We arrived at Palos and found parking at the bottom of the hill where Jason and I had parked the year before.  It was a long haul up to the top, but with a little help from some friends (Thanks Michael and Jackie) we made it with all of our gear (heavy cooler, chairs, food, bike, racing gear).

Settle down, it'll all be clear 

We then went about the business of getting ready for a race.  For the first few hours that meant chit-chatting and cheering for the Citizen and Sport classes.  I missed the photo opps for the Citizen class, but did get a handful of good shots for the Sport class.  I did not stray far from the starting area, as I had to register and wanted to stay off my feet as much as possible.

Don't pay no mind to the demons 

The start of the race was kind of like a WORS race.  A LONG uphill climb to start and spread out the field.  It was different from a WORS race in that instead of multiple starting waves for each category, it was a mass start for pretty much everyone.  I tried to do a good warm-up, tooling up and down the roads at first.  Then as I went past our car, I made a game-time decision to drop into the prologue and get some single-track warm-up instead of trying to do it all on the road.  I was glad I did.  There were some cobwebs to be shaken off from the 2 weeks off the mountain bike, and there were also some twitchy sections of loose gravel and big unexpected rocks.  It gave me a little more confidence having not ridden the course since last year's race.  I anticipated a cyclocross-style pile up 15 minutes before the race started, so I warmed up good and early.  I made it to the bottom of the hill, and took cover with the other early birds under the shade of a tall oak tree.  There was not really much clear direction, but the pros lined up first, then the women behind them, and before my garmin said 1:30PM the pros were off, followed quickly by the women (one of whom had to fight her way through the Comp horde to get to the start of her race late).

They fill you with fear 

As noted the Comp field was officially a horde.  I had gotten there early enough to assure a good starting position, second line toward the inside edge, so when the countdown ended, and the whistle blew, I was able to surge toward the top.  I did not go for a full out sprint, instead reminding myself over and over again that it was going to be a long race.  It was a long race, there was no need to blow up in the first minute.  Don't blow up. But I did surge forward with the pack and made to the top with the top 20-25 riders.  As we strung out into the narrow CX section of the course I was just a few riders back from Paul-Brian which was right where I wanted to be.  I surged up as we headed around the final bend, and got behind him as we dropped into the Prologue.

The trouble it might drag you down 

I once again was happy with the decision to pre-ride this section of the course.  I was not able to stay with the leaders, but I felt like I was able to hold my own on the downhill sections.  When the course turned up, I started to slow (stupid gravity), but I made it out of the woods relatively unscathed.  I was breathing heavy, and working on calming down my heart-rate as we came around the lake, in anticipation of the big winding climb back to the top.  I held my own on that first trip up the grassy hill even making up a few spots, and getting to the top with enough gas to put the hammer down on the flat and make up a few more spots heading into the single track.

If you get lost, you can always be found 

The single track, as Palos is known to be, was fast and flowing.  However, my legs started to fill up with lead.  I held my ground on the downhills, but whenever the ground turned upwards, a few more guys slipped by me.  It was here that this song started to course through my head, and became my anthem for the day.  I have never been an American Idol fan, but between the Olympics Gymnastic's promo, and a heavy rotation on Satellite radio it had gotten into my head.

Just know you’re not alone 
Cause I’m going to make this place your home 

Over and over the refrain looped as I dug deep and waited to get my second wind.  I knew it was coming, but as I waited there was only suffering and pain.  I could not will it to come, so I focused on keeping the wheels down, and cranks turning.  As the oxygen drained from my blood, my field of vision narrowed to the wheel in front of me and the twisting brown snake who's back I was desperately clinging.  I lost track of where I was in the field, I had little sense of where I was in the woods.  I recognized a few of the riders who caught me, and continued to catch a few riders here and there.  Disorientation set in.

Settle down, it'll all be clear 
Don't pay no mind to the demons 
They fill you with fear 

When the course dropped off to the left into what had to be the first of the three ravines, I followed the wheel in front of me and took a line way to the right down and in.  I don't know if it was the "right" line, but I made it up and out without much incident.  It wasn't a perfectly smooth exit, but I did not stop or fall down.  When we approached the second ravine, I remembered Rich warning me that they had put a "jump" in the middle of the second ravine.  It didn't make sense to me, and he suggested I avoid it.  When I finally saw what he was talking about I had too much speed and no time to swerve so went straight over.  Again, I made it safely through the ravine and kept pedaling. At some point my teammate Brent came up behind me, I asked him if he wanted to pass and he said he was fine for the moment recovering on my wheel. too.

The trouble it might drag you down 

On the next big uphill Brent stormed past me.  I was hoping to be the first finisher on my team, and Brent passing me did not sit well with my ego.  My legs told my ego to fuck-off.  My second wind was not quite ready to make an appearance.  Suffer onward.  The first part of the gravity cavity was decorated with streamers, a portable generator and a boom box blasting tunes.  It was a little deceiving because they actually set up their little support/cheering station a few dozen yards in front of the worst part of the cavity.  The hard climb was mostly unobserved and unadorned.  It was you vs the loose dirty and roots all alone.  But the cavity also signaled the beginning of the end of the first lap. A few more turns and ascents and the trail opened up into the picnic area, wide and grassy, which allowed me to finally catch my breath, and then sur la plaque, and reel in a few more of those places that had slipped away at the end of the first line.

If you get lost, you can always be found 

As I passed the start-finish area Morleigh was standing along the side ready for a hand-up, but I waved her off.  It was not terribly hot, so I was not drinking as much as I had anticipated.  My camelpak was still mostly full, and my first bottle of energy drink was still half-full.  I made a note to try to drink more on the second lap, as I dropped down the hill again.  The second lap was a blur.  I remember a few notable things, in spurts on flat ground I was finding ways to get past some people, even as other passed me.  I passed a few of the Elite women, and at least one of the Elite men.  Paolo had some mechanical difficulties (racing on a brand new bike), and ended up DNFing after getting tangled up in someone else's wheel.  I said something to him as I passed, trying to be encouraging, to which he ratted me out to my girlfriend telling her to tell me if I had enough oxygen to chit-chat out there I was "doing it wrong".

Just know you’re not alone 

Toward the end of the second lap, I had my only "issue" of note.  I was going around a banked corner and hit a bump while pedaling, and ended up driving my right patella into corner of my shift-lever.  The pain was instant and felt like a hit to the "funny bone".  My whole leg went numb.  I didn't crash or lose control, but I could not put down any force with my right leg.  I looked down, trying to see how badly I broke the skin, but there was only a little patch of broken skin, so I knew I would be alright.

Cause I’m going to make this place your home

It took a good 2 minutes or so to recover, and we were of course heading into an uphill section.  I lost about 4 spots and I don't know how much time soft-pedaling waiting for the nerve pain to fade and stop interfering with my regularly scheduled muscle pain.

The gravity cavity was brutal the second time through.  I downshifted and spun up, losing a place or two along the way.  It wasn't until we cleared the single track and returned to the double that I started to  feel strong again.  I started to feel like it was "just one more lap".  Once again I caught a few guys through the double track and as we approached the gravel hill leading through the woods back to the start/finish area.  It was here that I had a moment of "genius".  I was feeling my camelpak, still more than half-full of water, and decided since I did not need it for my race number, and I did not need it for water, that I would drop it at the top and risk a lap without a tube or CO2 for the advantage of not having the extra weight on those climbs.

As I climbed the hill I drank as much energy drink and water as I could hold, in preparation to jettison them both.  So as I rolled past the lap marker, I pulled over to the right and started soft pedalling.  I looked down, didn't get the top clip immediately, looked up, saw Morleigh, looked down and got the top and bottom clip.  I armed out of the left side, and let the right slide down my shoulder.  Michael, bless him, saw exactly what I was trying to do and grabbed the camelpak so I could pull my arm out, grab and toss my empty bottle, and immediately grabbed the energy drink that Morleigh was holding.  All without missing a pedal stroke.

Just know you’re not alone 

Morleigh told me later that someone in the crowd exclaimed:

"Holy hell!!! Did you see that guy?  He dropped his camelpak and picked up a handup at the same time.  Screw Michael Phelps, that's an Olympic move, a perfect 10!"

I was just happy I didn't crash or fumble the bottle.  The it was down to the bottom of the hill for one more climb up through the grassy plains.  My third lap felt like the fastest lap.  I spent the most time alone with no one in front of me to slow me down, and no one behind me chasing me.  My hands and arms were completely exhausted, and all I could do was try to hold on and just let the big wheels do their thing.  I remember having almost an out of body experience as we dropped into the very rough and root-filled descent between the three ravines.  My bike was rattling over drop after drop, and all I could do was hang on loosely and try to stay on the brown snake's back, but he was twisting and rolling something fierce.  I was jockeying back and forth with a few riders at various times during the third lap.  When we came out of the cavity into the double track, there was one rider who had about 20 second gap on me.  I stood up and set my mind on catching him.  I revved up my speed on the flat, and stood up into the climb, as we came out of the woods to hear and see the cheering crowd I had closed the gap to a single bike-length.  He stood up, I stood up, but I had more left in the tank.  In a sprint to the finished I moved ahead.

Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Morleigh was there with open arms to greet and congratulate me at the finish.  My head was pounding with the sound of my own heart beat, and my lungs screamed for more air.  I leaned on my bike, and resisted the urge to fall over.  We made it back to the tent and I sunk down in a chair.  It took about 5 minutes before I started to feel human again.  I made the rounds congratulating the other rides who finished ahead of me and behind me.  When the high-fives were over, we started to undo the preparations and reverse course.  Morleigh was amazing post-race support.  She was right there with water, food, a towel, exactly what I needed before I knew I needed it.  She helped me wash up a bit by squeezing water from my camelpak onto my legs and sharing some tea-scented wipes.  I changed into civilian clothes, and packed everything away.  We hung out for a little longer, looking at the final results (I was 30th out of 104) and then made our way back to my apartment.

Cause I’m going to make this place your home