Sunday, May 27, 2012

An Ode to the Gravel Metric: A dirge in E-flat major

For a bike race that wasn't a race, I sure spent a lot of time on Saturday getting ready for Sunday.  I washed two (cross + road) bikes, swapped  my commuting wheels for my race wheels, tuned my cross bike, packed tools and gear, bought food, bought a new under seat bag for a spare tube, mixed up some of my home brew energy gel + energy drink, and then at 10pm realized I hadn't packed any clothes and my team kit was dirty.  I was hoping to be in bed by 10pm.  It was after 12AM when my head hit the pillow.

My alarm was ringing at 5:45AM, and I was up.  I did finish packing everything the night before, so my to-do list was short.  I had to put on my kit (with a still damp shammy, blergh), have some breakfast, throw on my backpack, and headed out the door with the Falcon.  I was getting a ride from my friend Jackie which meant I had a short pedal to get downtown so I could take the blue line West to  Forest Park.  This time I skipped the Grand stop and took a shortcut across the blue-line loop downtown and picked up a train at Halsted and UIC.  Jackie picked me up at 7:30am, and we headed west to Dekalb.  Traffic was good, the company was even better, and the miles went fast.  We arrived at NCC with what seemed like plenty of time.  Instead of registering right then, we ran to Walgreens for sunscreen and extra water (both turned out to be absolute necessities), and returned to the parking lot at 8:45am, and made it over to registration at 8:55AM.  The race started at 9AM so we cut it a little close for comfort, but I had time for one last visit to the bedroom before we rolled out.

Although I came in late to the line-up I pulled up near the front of the pack off to the side.  I did not want to get shuffled off the back at the start, as I was hoping to ride well, and stay near the front for a while.  I probably should have explained my goals to Jackie prior to the start, who was kind of taken aback when I suggested I take the keys since I would most likely be the first person back to the car.  The neutral roll-out with police escort was really fun.  It was slow, only about 15mph, so there was lots of time to banter back and forth, and we all talked a mean game.  The weather was warm, but the sky was still a little overcast and the sun was still low in the east behind us.

We made it to Twomblee Road without incident, and although the race was supposed to start when the police escort left, we continued to tool onward at 15-16mph.  So we continued down the road like a spark traveling down a cartoon fuse looking for a bomb to explode.  I had never been to this race before, so I wasn't sure at first what that bomb looked like.  I didn't know what was going to set loose the pent up fury in this calm pack of riders.  But as we rode into the westerly wind on Twomblee Rd we came over a ridge, and I saw it in the distance.  A few miles ahead there was a stark line of contrast between the black asphalt and the shimmering white gravel.  That was our bomb.

When we hit the edge of pavement the field exploded forward.  The leaders surged forward the field followed like a stretched slinky, and the road got gnarly.  I was more than a little surprised by the condition of the road.  I was expecting gravel like I had seen before, at the Killer Gravel Road race or on the Des Plaines River trail, but this wasn't a gravel road as much as it was just a pile of loose gravel between two grassy banks.  It was like a river of gravel washing downhill in the lowest spot of the country.  It had a liquid consistency, and was more like riding on sand, big, angry, and sharp pieces of sand, than it was like riding on a road.  Some took to the grass margins to avoid it, but most plowed down the two tire tracks that were available.  I saw it clearly when a rider in red and white moved across from the left line to the right line to fill a perceived gap, and clipped my teammate Robbie's front wheel.  Robbie went down, and I thought about stopping to check on him, but he was up quickly, and was back on his bike in a flash.  In that case the softness of the gravel probably helped in that it moved beneath his hand like sand to "cushion" his fall.  You know, as much as gravel can be cushy.

The field surged on.  We hit our first turn and caught our first breath of tail wind.  The leaders started to push the pace, and I clung to them like a burr on the tail of a dog.  I pushed with them for a solid two miles watching my heart rate climb out of the safe zone into the red zone.  When my turn came I pulled around in front and took a turn pulling, but for the most part I tried to be smart and just hang on, as the gap continued to widen between the lead pack of 11 riders, and the rest of the field.  We opened up a wide enough gap that we felt comfortable stopping even, to take a bio-break at a nice drainage ditch.  It was the last time I would need to relieve myself until I got home at 7:30pm, nine and a half hours later.

Shortly thereafter, my race took a turn for the worst.  It started with the remount.  I revved up my motor and climbed back up to speed quickly, more quickly than the rest of the field and ended up out front.  The course took a turn to the left, and started uphill into the wind.  I was feeling pretty good, so I didn't mind starting out on the front.  Except the front turned out to be a "break away."  So I ended up pulling another rider who went with me on this faux-break (no one really expects the big Cat 3 guy to sustain a breakaway including the big Cat 3 guy), when I was ready to fall back, the field was 100-150yds behind.  So what did I do?  I kept on grinding.  I knew they would catch me eventually.  And catch me they did.  Just in time for a downhill sprint, then a right turn onto the first REALLY abusive stretch of "road".  It wasn't a road really, just two hard-dried muddy ruts over grown with grass through a field.  It was here that I started to suffer, and to fall off the pack.  There was no one within sight, and it was way too early to be riding alone.  I pushed back into the red to hang on.  I fell off for a bit, but we came up on another hill, and the field slowed down, and I got washed out into the lead again.  So I pulled the field up another hill.  This time?  I slowed down.  Way down.  You want to ride the big mule until he dies?  That's fine.  But he's going out on his own terms.  Mumford eventually got twitchy and came out to take the lead, to sprint to the top of the overpass before we dropped down into Creston.

I almost had a big break in Creston.  We made it across IL-38 with only a minor pause for traffic, but as we were leaving town, just as we were pulling up to the train tracks, the lights started flashing and the crossing guards came down.  I was in the lead again (fast off the line again), and I did not hesitate, I slowed a little to see the train was still 300 yds away, and swerved around the barriers and kept riding.  One other guy came with me, and the rest of the lead pack paused.  They head faked twice, and then snuck through before the train.  We found out later that those behind us had to wait 10 minutes for the trains to pass.  If I had a 10 minute gap on the leaders?  Well.  Remember this is a dirge.

The leaders did stare down that oncoming train and sneak through, and as the land continued to climb, I started to fade.  This time I was really fading.  I could not stay with the lead pack and fell off for what I feared was for good.  I was saved momentarily by the first rest stop.  As I pulled up to get some water, the leaders were still there filling bottles and taking in fruit.  I didn't have more than a minute standing and catching my breath before they were off again.  I didn't even get to top off a water bottle. I hopped back on my bike and headed down a freshly grated dirt road.  It was rough, and my efforts seemed in vain.  I fell off the leaders before we made the next turn south to ride into the wind again.  There were a couple other stragglers who I glommed onto for a while as we headed through some very loose gravel, but soon passed them to try and re-attach.  It was then that I saw a forboding sign.


The route on my garmin ran straight down this so-called "dead end" road onto the next turn.  The quality of the road got poor again, a choice of three ruts.  At one point I remember being in a rut, trying to pedal and ending up catching my left pedal on the edge of the rut and actually having enough momentum to pedal up and over, lifting my back wheel off the ground.  Somehow I didn't wipe out and die.

I kept on riding and when I came to the river crossing, I could see no one ahead of me, so I didn't know what to do.  It looked ride able, and I did not see wet footsteps on the  other side, so I picked what looked to be a clean line to the left, and hit it.  It was rough, but I made it through without tumbling.  Unfortunately I did not make it through unscathed.


Before I was 20 yds on the other side of the stream my rear rim clanking against the gravel.  I swore, pulled over, and went to work.  I remember that my legs were involuntarily spasming so badly that I could hardly stand.  I tried to breathe, and just do my work.  I got the tube changed, and one of the guys who was there taking pictures came over to help out.  He remounted my tire after I inflated it, while I wrangled stuff.  The kindness of a stranger was enough to get me going again.  I knew I wasn't going to catch the leaders again, not that I was ever going to catch them, but I had only been passed by a handful of riders, and I could maybe catch them again.

So I headed up the hill.  I made up and over the railroad tracks, and when I remounted, I realized my front wheel started to make a metalic crunching in the gravel.

The second flat.  A-flat.  

I was 38 miles into a 62mile race, and my second spare tube never made it out of the my backpack in the car.  In my haste to get to the start I did not dig out out.  So I mentally kicked myself and start walking.  I walked for about 5 minutes before the first rider passed me. I think four or five guys (who I will not call out by name for leaving me to die in the desert) went by without slowing down before a teammate came by and saved my life.  Robbie had a spare tube in his jersey pocket, and he slowed long enough to pull it out and toss it to me.  I had everything else I needed, a CO2 cartridge, levers, I was just just 1 tube short of making a change.

I looked at the tube, and it looked a little narrow, like maybe it was a 20-28mm tube, and thought about my big 32 mm wheels, but it was the only option I had.  So I put it in, carefully checking the inner tirewall for obstructions, and then I used my second CO2 to carefully re-inflate and get riding.

So I started grinding alone again.  Up until the first flat, I felt like I was having a really good race.  Even if I couldn't stay with the leaders until the finish, I expected that we were plenty far ahead of the rest of the field that I could grind it out.  After my second flat, my spirits went flat.  There were a lot of guys ahead of me that I was hoping to beat.  But I didn't give up.  There were only two ways back to Dekalb, the short way and the race course.  We were approaching the farthest point, so there wasn't much difference at the time.  So I ground on.   I made up time, I caught riders, I gained on the field.

The most emotionally painful part of the course was Woodlawn Road.  It was a 4 mile down and back, so as I was grinding up a hill the leaders, guys who I had been riding with 15 minutes earlier started passing me on the way down.  They looked fresh and fast still, and I felt dead and slow.  But I kept riding.  It was a long slow grind up hill.  At some point I realized that I was horripulating and shivering.  My garmin read 98 degrees and I was cold.  Conventional wisdom was consulted and this was not considered a good sign.  I pulled up to the rest station and there was a crowd.  A crowd of guys that I knew including Chris Jensen, PB, the younger Lombardo, and others.  They were still snacking on oranges so I went straight for what I needed, water in my camelpak.  I only had a few minutes before they were ready to shove off so I went to pick up my bike.

The final flat.  B-flat.

My front wheel had gone again.  I had noticed on the way up the hill that the sidewall was rubbing on the brake and had loosened the adjust to make them as wide as possible.  I'm not certain if the tube ruptured and filled up tire (wheels are tubeless compatible) which then leaked because there was no sealant, or what.  But the third flat was a crushing blow.  I was fortunate that the rest stop had a full supply of tubes, and a pump (that was broken) but I was able to sit down on the tailgate, get a tube in my tire, and put enough pressure in it to ride.  Thankfully the worst of the roads were over, I had some spare tubes (so only needed to borrow a pump if the race was going to shift to the key of F minor), but my spirits were broken. 

My spirits were broken, the temperature was in the hundreds, and I was 25 miles from the finish.

In the bar after the race Chris Jensen summarized it thusly: "We came out here this morning to do something hard, and damn it, it was hard."

Those were the hardest 25 miles of my life.

My heart rate which was pushing 160-170 for the first 30 miles would not go above 140 without causing me to feel nauseous and light headed.  My shoulders ached, my sit bones brutalized, and my stomach was full of water, and gels, and energy drink.  I couldn't drink anymore, so I would suck the hot water out of my hose, blow it into my lap, then pull a mouthful of cool water and swish it in my mouth until it started to get warm.  I would then blow it onto an arm, a leg, my chest, or the road doing anything I could to get some heat, any heat at all, to leave my body.

I was able to reel in a few riders on the way back into town, and did not lose ground to any, but it wasn't about placing anymore.  It wasn't even really about finishing anymore.  It had devolved into an exercise of simple physical survival.

I pulled into the parking lot behind NCC, and was warmly congratulated by those who had already had time to cool off and change.  I sat down in the shade for a minute and tried successfully not to vomit.  After sitting for a few minutes I realized I had not, in the hustle and bustle of the morning even bothered to fire off a quick "I love you" text message to my girlfriend Morleigh who was planning on meeting me at the finish.  So I did.  Right then.

"Lpbe you"

Clearly I was not functioning at a high level.  I got up to look for her, dug my phone out of the waterproof bag, and just as I dialed her, I spotted her car under the shade of a tree.  She got out, came over to me, and started nursing me back from the dead.  We walked around the building and found the hose.  It was broken, leaking cool clear water onto the ground, so when it was my turn I just grabbed the break and held it first to my legs, then my arms, and then finally across the back of my neck.  My girlfriend told me after the fact that, at that exact moment I let out a guttural animal growl that kind of frightened her.  All I remember is that it felt sooooooo good.  I washed off my legs, then my arm, and then moved up to splash water over the back of my neck and finally into my hair.  I didn't hog the good feeling wanting to share it with others who straggled around the corner.  Morleigh and I headed back to my her car, and then to Jackie's car.  I had her keys so I was able to change, and we moved back into the shade to sit and cool in the AC while waiting for Jackie to finish.  When she rolled into the parking lot we saw her from a distance, and I got up to go help her, and realized I had dropped the car keys.  After a few frantic minutes of searching I found them under the seat, along with a Coach bracelet.  I kept the keys and gave the bracelet to Morleigh.

Just as I was getting ready to head over to find Jackie she texted me:

"Please go to my car."

I found Jackie at the hose, having just experienced the same baptism and rebirth that I had experienced when I found the hose.  She had just finished dousing herself and was looking like she had just walked out of the ocean in a swimsuit ad.  So I grabbed her helmet and shoes, picked up bike, and walked her back to Morleigh's car.  She was still feeling the effects of the heat, so Morleigh gave her an air conditioned ride for the two blocks to her car while I soft-pedaled her bike.  She changed into people clothes, and we headed off to the bar for post race festivities.  I didn't have my free daisy cutter, but did win a water bottle and a large T-shirt.  A large women's T-shirt.  At that point, I didn't care.  It was time to go to Culvers and engage in my traditional post race debauchery.  Root beer, a buttery burger of some sort, and some cheese curds.  Morleigh and I even split a sundae on the way home.

I didn't win the race that isn't a race, I didn't lose the ride that wasn't just a ride.  Last year's flooding and thunderstorms were replaced by the fires of hell.  The Gravel Metric is nothing if not Epic.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

WORS #1: The Bump and Jump

It had been at least 5 months since I have been on a mountain bike.  So why not start out the year with a race? Not just any race, but a big race.  The first WORS (Wisconsin Off-Road Series) race of the season.  I could have gone south to race in IL, but I had decided earlier this year that I was going to register for the WORS series and race for points.  Morleigh, my girlfriend offered to accompany me as my not-so-neutral support, so we mapped out our plan for hitting at least 7 races.  The Iola Bump and Jump, the first race, was the best place to get our feet wet.  Really wet. 

We drove up on Saturday without incident.  We stopped for gas once, food never (she packs snacks like a champ) and made it to the course at about 2pm.  We got out on foot and explored the grounds.  The ski-jumps were of course the central piece of the course, rising up on the hill behind the lodge.  We walked around to the bottom to get a lay of the course.  I had talked with Amy D on Wednesday night at JJ Peppers, and she gave me a heads up about "the Wall".  It was funny because at the time she was explaining ("You start, go up to the top of the hill, wind down back past the start, into the bowl the first time, then out of the bowl, and then when you drop back into the bowl a second time, you need to build up speed because there is a steep climb")  it made no sense.  But as soon as I turned the corner of the lodge and saw the bowl at the base of the ski-hill it made perfect sense.  There was the oxbow first turn, there was the second drop into the bowl, and there across the other side of the opening was "The Wall", where people were dismounting because they didn't get enough steam coming down the hill. 

Morleigh and I walked around, sat down in the grass for a bit, and talked strategy as we got our bearings. I wanted to take at least a lap, and she would stay near the lodge and check things out on foot.  I went and registered, then back to the truck to pull the QuBe out of her SUV and get my kit on.  I went and found the start and headed up the hill.  The climb was not as steep as some of the other WORS starts (Alterra, Camrock, and Lake Geneva to name a few), but it was a good mix of climbing, plateau, and more climbing.  It was sandy, but it had rained earlier that day so there was plenty of traction.  I made a mental note as I came back down around the corner near the start, as I drifted in the sand and came closer than I like to clipping the fence, that corner was suspect.  I looped back down in the bowl, around the oxbow, and around behind the toolshed.  There was another big climb.  Down a twisting path, and into the straight run-up that led to the wall.  I was in my biggest gear hammering down the hill trying to build up a head of steam.  The flat at the bottom was much wider than it appeared, and the hill steeper.  The trick was maintaining momentum, and finding the right gear on the steep.  I dropped onto my middle front chain ring, and made it up the Wall my first time.  The next section of the first lap was wide open Cross country ski trails.  It felt like I had brought the wrong bike, as this terrain was better suited for my CX bike, but we soon found single track.  Again, nothing too severe, another steep hill (climbable), and then swoopy and fun single track.  I especially liked the sections near the end of the first lap that got flat and wound through some mature red pine plantations.  I finished off the lap, and felt like I had knocked most of the rust off.  I stopped and talked with Morleigh a bit, deciding to take another crack at the Wall, and depending how it went, turn around and come back.  I didn't feel like riding another full lap would help me perform better on Sunday.  So after going through the start, up the ski-jump hill, down through the bowl, and climbing the wall a second time, I turned around and made my way back to the truck.  My girlfriend refused to give me a hug as I was "sweaty and dirty".  So I toweled off,  changed, and we headed back to Waupaca.

After checking into the hotel, we took a look at the materials in the room to find a place to eat.  We picked Simpsons, a 75 yr old restaurant in downtown Waupaca.  Morleigh was anxious to leave.  It was 5:15pm, and she was afraid if we didn't get there early, we would not be able to get a seat.  So we hurried.  I drove us downtown, we found a parking spot out back, and walked around to the front of the restaurant.  The bar was not full, but neither was it empty.  A fair number of people waiting for tables it seemed.  We went to the back of the bar to see about finding a table for dinner.  We found all of them.  The entire restaurant was empty.  Apparently we had beaten the rush. 

Our meal was charming.  It was an old school supper club, with cloth napkins, and a classic menu.  Nothing too fancy, but the food was well prepared.  Morleigh was stunned that our bill, with tip, was only $39 dollars.  We paid $30 for breakfast that morning in Chicago.  When we walked out we noticed a marquee next door.  We walked over to see what was playing and discovered that we were 15 minutes early for the 6:30pm show of the Avengers.  We had talked about seeing that movie sometime on the drive up, but figured we would have to drive to Stevens Point to find a theater.  We bought tickets (at the outside ticket-counter), went into the "adorably cute" theater, and saw a fantastic movie in 3-D.  We went back to the hotel, made our plan of attack for the next day, and settled in for the night. 
The next morning when my alarm went off it was dark in our room.  I went to the window and gently slide open the black out curtains.  It was still dark.  The sky was thick with clouds and rain.  It was gray, overcast, and wet everywhere.  It was the kind of day where a sensible mountain biker would spin inside on a trainer rather than destroy good trails.  But it was not a sensible kind of day.  It was race day. 

We went downstairs for breakfast.  Morleigh won our bet about whether or not the Mexican restaurant attached to the hotel would have pancakes (no).  So instead I tried the square eggo-style waffles fed twice through the conveyor belt toaster, and she had the pre-fab french toast twice fed through the same beast.  She didn't like the french toast, and I couldn't stand the waffles.  We switched plates.  Better.  Much better.  

We then returned to the room where I had a small-to-medium sized panic attack.  What am I doing here?  Why do I think I can race bikes?  With a 26" bike with cantilever brakes, can I even compete against the Wagonwheelers with hydraulic disk brakes?  What about the mud and wet?  Will I be able to stop with my technologically inferior mechanical brakes?  A flood of self doubt almost pinned me to the bed.  If it was my bed?  If I was home safe and sound? Maybe I could have succumbed to it.  I had drug my girlfriend and my ass 4.5 hrs north into the wilds, and it was not the time to wuss out in the hotel.   

Morleigh had received a tip the day before that the lot would fill up early, and we would be relegated to walking down the road if we were not careful.  So we were careful.  We arrived at the venue without incident, got a great parking spot in the grassy lot right by the finish line.  We sat for a moment as rain poured.  I heard Don on the PA so I cracked the window to get a better listen.  He was announcing that the start of the racing would be delayed.  

It was 8:30AM and my race was pushed back until 12pm.  My girlfriend asked me "so what now?" I handed her a pillow.  

Nap. Time.  

We curled up in the front of the truck, and slept for at least an hour.  We woke up, and it was still raining.  I set up the team Johnny Sprockets tent so that it covered the back of her truck, and provided shelter as I was changing and getting my bike out of the back.  I was taking my time, figuring out what to wear.  Once again I had cold feet, wondering if it was really worth it, but it's hard to back out on a race when you know that as you are questioning your resolve to get dirty and wet, 9 year old girls are out there in the mud, suffering.  I am at least as tough as a 9 year old girl.  Okay, not all of them, but definitely at least as tough as some of them.  So I got ready.  It was hard to figure out what to wear in part because I was very cold at that point.  It was damp, breezy, and I was not really dressed for that kind of weather.  I looked at arm warmers, tights, leg warmers, gloves, and dug through all of what I packed trying to find the right combination for this race.  Then my girlfriend / team manager / coach started to metaphorically "tap her watch".  

Somewhere around 11:00AM I went from having plenty of time, to having not enough time.  I moved too slow for too long, and then had to rush at the end.  I didn't get onto my bike until 11:30am. It was not enough time for a good warm-up.  Mental note that I needed to do better at managing my pre-race time.  I had all the time in the world and I shorted myself on a proper warm up. 

It was especially bad since I was cold.  I took my bike out to the road, and started to spin out my heavy frozen limbs.  I was so cold that it took me 3 miles just to get enough moisture on my chest to make my heart-rate monitor read more than "50 bpm".  That was only after my second hill climb.  But after about 15 minutes, I started to work out the sludge, get my core and limb temperature back up, and felt like I could maybe pull off this race-thing that was headed my way.  So I made my way to the starting line, where I found a friendly face.  Rich, the leader of the Monday night rides I have been doing for the last year, was there in the corral.  I chatted with him, and waved to Morleigh and my Mom who had made the trek north to see me go.  As a Clydesdale, was slated to start at the back with the 50+ riders.  We all lined up for the start and waited for Don's GOOOOOOOOOOO!.  He did, and we did.  Huff puff, huff puff. I weaved to the inside on the first big climb, and made a move to to the front.  By the time we got to the top I had escaped my wave.  I was surprised at how muddy it was, even on the top of the hill.  There were sloppy puddles even near the top of this sandy hill.  

I stayed in the front as we came back down past the starting line, eyes glancing laterally for a split second to look for my girls.  I continued down into the big oxbow bend through the bowl, and as I made my way back around the utility shed, I had already started to catch up to the trailing edge of the wave in front of me.  I rode past guys who had dismounted on the steep climb, and made sure that I did not let anyone sneak in front of me as I was going into the downhill for the wall.  I wanted to build a head of steam.  

So I hammered on the pedals on the downhill.  My garmin said I broke 30mph, and when I hit the flat spot at the bottom it had turned into a complete bog.  My wheels started to hydroplane and drift laterally, and I had enough time to think "Well, at least if I go down the landing will be soft" before my tires bit into the soft earth at the farside of the puddle and I attacked the wall.  I did not make it to the top, but I made it 3/4 of the way up, passing a dozen guys who were on foot.  I felt at that point, I had escaped the rest of my category.  It would be difficult for them to weave their way past  that many riders in the single track.  The track opened up into some of the cross country trails but they were completely different, wet and soggy than they were the day before.  They were still wide, but much more dangerous.  We made it back into single track. and immediately into another steep climb.  I could not make it up with my "Dry" rear wheel, and I joined dozens of others hiking up that hill as well.  

On the way down, we fell into another section of single track that was muddy and very slick.  I wiped out in the slick black loam, landing on my hand and thigh.  I got up, grabbed my bike, and started running.  There were dozens in front of me and behind me also on foot.  Maybe 50-100 yds of running.  More running than in any bicycle race I have ever done before.  There was another section of XC ski trails and then a section of sandy single-track about halfway through the first lap where I said to out-loud that it was nice to be actually mountain biking again. 

That was short lived though as the course dropped back down into the pine flats where the sand was covered with mud, and the trees closed in. In was longer and darker than I remembered from the day before.  I wondered if this is what it felt to wander in Fangorn where the very tree-roots reached up to impede progress. It felt like the trees were pulling apart earth and that if we stopped for even a moment we would be swallowed up.  

When I escaped the long double row of beautiful mature pines, I was glad to know I only had to ride through it one more time. At the end of one lap, a three lap race seemed like beyond my abilities. At the end of one lap, a second lap seemed beyond my abilities.  Oh right.  The pain cave.  

I half-joked with the race official who was directing traffic to follow the "Lap" arrow and not the "Finish" Arrow asking her if she was sure that we had to go around again.  But hearing the bell lap, and seeing my girlfriend and my Mom standing there in the rain cheering me one, helped me find my second wind.  I knew that the course opened up here, and this was my best opportunity to make up ground and time on those ahead of me.  So I reved up my engine and attacked the ski hill a second time.  That match burned out before I got to the bowl, and it was good that it dis as I watched  a guy just ahead of me wipe out at the bottom of the oxbow and had to alter my line to avoid him.  I caught up to another mass on the hill behind the maintenance shed, but I was not able to pass them all, so I slowed down near the top and down the backside  so I could get another head of steam as I tried to make it up the wall.  I did not make it as far the second time, but I also did not drift at the bottom and almost crash.  The second lap was very similar to the first except I did not crash just before the death march, and I had moved up enough that I was caught in traffic of the wave ahead for a good chuck of my second lap.  At about the 3/4 lap mark I broke past the last slow rider and was able to my own and was able to ride at my own pace until I hit Fangorn again.  

There I caught up to another guy from my starting wave from the 50-55 age group, and I tried to get into a position where I could get around him before the finish.  I burned a match down Ent's row (the mature double row of red pines), but almost wiped out on the sharp right turn at the exit, and he was gone.  I was out of matches and had no time to make up the gap.  I let him go and looked behind me.  There was no one behind me so I just finished strong, but did not dig deep to burn one last match.  At the finish I was almost certain I had managed to stay ahead of all the other in my Category.  Morleigh and my Mom were there, I greeted them covered in mud and dirt and pine needles.  We went back to the truck and I had Morleigh take a a dozen or so tight head-shots until I got the one that I wanted.  

We hung out near the tent, me working on washing down myself with my "portable shower", and then turning my attention to the CuBe.  The rain had started again, so instead of disappearing into the woods to try and take pictures I stayed under the tent trying to clean my bike so it did not completely soil the car, and waited for the awards.  Morleigh was worried that if we weren't there at exactly 2:30pm when they started we would miss it.  I didn't get to step onto the podium until almost 3pm.  There are lots of categories at a WORS race.   But my time came, and my suspicious at the finish line was confirmed.  I got to stand on top of the podium for the third time as a bicycle racer, taking home first place in the Men's 39 and under Clydesdale division.  I finished in an hour and four minutes, just 8 minutes behind the leader.  When I won my category last year at Treadfest in Lake Geneva, I finished 97th overall in the sport category.  This year at Iola when I won my category I finished 44th overall.  Definite signs of improvement.  

As we were walking away from the awards stand, morleigh let me know that my Mom was interested in leaving, so I hurried.  There was no line at the bike wash so I took the QuBe over and hit her with some pressure on the tires and bits that I couldn't get with the spray bottle.  We said our goodbyes to my Mom, and headed out on the backroads south to Waupaca.  We were planning on going to Culvers (my post race treat), and somehow as we pulled through Waupaca my Mom ended up right behind us.  So we invited her to go to Culvers with us.  There was some drama with our burgers (Morleigh had too many patties and I had not enough, so I performed some open burger surgery to restore balance to the universe), but they were delicious.  We finally said "bye" to my Mom and headed south.  We made it one exit.  We pulled off at the Waupaca Fleet & Farm to look for water proof boots.  We found matching pairs which will be useful for the rest of the spring MTB races and into cross season.  

The drive back was uneventful.  We took turns, stopped for gas in West Bend and groceries at Woodman's in Kenosha.  We hit really bad storms just south of Milwaukee and again when we hit Chicago.  It was 10PM when we finally landed in my apartment I was flat out for three hours putting things away, cleaning bikes, cleaning clothes, cleaning the machine that cleaned the clothes that should have been hosed off in the basement, and cleaning the floors covered by grit and sand carried in the house with my equipment.  At 1AM or so I chased Morleigh to bed, and followed right along.  We were both...exhausted.