Thursday, June 28, 2012

WORS#5: FireCracker

I’m a little behind in my race reporting, but it’s been a busy week.

On Friday morning, I woke up in Iceland (but that's a different story).  
Ten hours later I was in a Dodge Town and Country heading away from O’Hare.  My girlfriend picked me up, and our plan was to head back into the city to my Apartment and hang out while the Pride parade went past my house and 200,000 people came to visit my neighborhood.  That was the plan anyway.
I had been in the car for less than five minutes, we weren’t even out of the airport and Morleigh asked me:
“Do you want to go race this weekend?”

Pause.

Shake cobwebs out of head.

"What did you just say?"

Did my Non-cyclist girlfriend just ask me if we would change our plans from doing something that was non-cycling related to going to a bike race?

Yes.  She did.

Best.
Girlfriend.
Ever.

Saturday morning we were up early, loading up the minivan.  We had stopped by Johnny Sprockets on Friday when we got back to my place to pick up the tent and actually pay for my new Carbon Stump Jumper.  The new rocket-ship was officially mine, and I was going to go break it in (again). 


We were about a half an hour “late” leaving the house, but still well within our window of opportunity.  We also had a third wheel with us, Morleigh’s “puppy” Kipper.  We put his mat down on the floor behind the driver’s seat and he slept most of the way enjoying the ride. 


We made it to Eau Claire without incident, unloaded the bike, and I got ready to pre-ride.  I stopped by registration first, and then made my way out to the course.  The first mile was very flat, very open, and I knew it would be very fast.  After a few right turns, we ended up on a novel obstacle, and 200 yard long pump track.  I have to admit, the pump track was more than a little scary.  It reminded me of the pump track that I found in Albany, NY where I broke my collar bone, and the trail in Golden Valley, MN where I almost died.  So I took it easy the first time through.  After the pump track the course dove into an alternating set of swooping downhill single track with short climbs, and open double track with the occasional steep and sandy climb.  It was a long loop, taking about 40 minutes to go from beginning to end.


I found Morleigh sitting on a park bench with Kipper, holding a book, talking to some locals.  When they asked me what it was like I told them that it was like being trapped in an M. C. Esher drawing, it felt like there was way more downhill sections than uphill sections.  I decided since I had not ridden all week (except for the Midnight Ride on Wed night in Iceland), I would take another prelap.  There was also a loop of single track that was marked “2nd, 3rd, and 4th laps” and I wanted to hit that section of trail.  I had my first major wipe out of the season on that lap.  The pump track ended, and went up a hill into a banked 90 degree right turn.  I built up a lot of speed on the small straight, and hammered into the banked curve counting on the bank to hold my wheel.  Instead the sand slipped out and I went down on my right side.  I scraped up the side of my knee, and dropped a chain, but no major damage.  I picked myself up, dusted myself off, and carried on when I caught my breath again.  I made my second lap, and started to get tired about ¾ of the way through, I tried to cut onto the citizens course and make my way out, but failed.  I ended up riding most of the way back.  Before we left we set the tent partially up, and marked a spot for the morning along the course.


I wiped off, and we went to find a Pet Smart for some puppy food, and a restaurant for some people food.  We found another small town gem, an Italian place with dated d├ęcor, but great service and food.  We went check into our hotel, and found the pet friendly room to also be dated.  But as my father says all hotel rooms look the same after you close your eyes. 


Unfortunately not all hotels are the same at providing a “free” breakfast.  The “make your own” waffles of the Hampton Inn were replaced with foamy pre-formed ones, and the eggs were of questionable origin.  Morleigh’s “yogurt” was an odd mix of food and chemicals, none of which were actually yogurt cultures.  But we made due, and made our way to the race. 


Once there we set up the tent, I changed and got ready for my race.  Having made my preparations I went to warm up, and rode down to the pump track to take some photos.  After the pump track I made my way to the stream and took more pictures.  Unfortunately most of them, the vast majority of them were terrible.  The lighting was awful and the camera couldn’t adjust to the heavy shadows and large patches of direct sunlight streaming into the woods.  Finally I gave up, and made my way back out to the race.  I had some time so I hung out and finished final preparations, warmed up, and headed to the starting coral. 


As I was sitting in a solid third place for the series, I knew I would be getting a call up.  Unfortunately the Clydesdales get called up last out of all the Masters categories that we race with, and I generally get stuck with a second row call up.  It’s not bad, but as one of my strengths is accelerating from zero to 20, it’s hard to be stuck behind some old dudes who do not have the same low-end torque.  But it was pretty windy in the open, so I was content with getting out, and getting to second wheel heading down the first straight away.  I followed the same rider I was following for most of the first lap the week before down the straight away.  When he started to fade out in front I took the lead and pulled the rest of the field down the straight aways into the pump track.  I looked down at my Garmin and we were doing 24mph into the wind, at one point hitting 26mph. 
I was in the lead of my wave through the pump track, and had no issues.  (see 2:25)




Having pushed myself beyond the edge of traction the day before I knew how to ride the pump track, and how fast to exit.  When we hit the post-track single track, I continued to push the pace.  I was not alone out front, there was a C40+ who was still with me, so we drove onward through the first lap.  I took the stream crossing very carefully having watched two different riders wipe out there during the citizen’s race.  Somewhere about halfway through the lap someone went down hard at the end of a man-made banked turn/bridge.  The word came back up the trail “rider down” but at the bottom (I was leading a few riders) we found him sprawled out in the middle of the trail.  I jumped down off the corner of the bridge and rode around him off into the fringe.  The C40+ and I alternated the lead a few times, but mostly he let me lead through the single track.


Before the race, Morleigh and I had talked about possible scenarios for me dropping a water bottle after one lap so she could fill it and hand it to me on the third lap.  At the start Don announced it was a 2 lap race (each lap was 7+ miles) negating our strategy.  When we made it to the start to end the lap, I knew the second lap was going to be really difficult.  I let the C40+ take the lead down the straight aways, and I just clung to his wheel as he pulled into the wind.  At that point we were out off the front by a ways, and catching riders from earlier waves.  I was not as excited about passing riders in the single track as I had been the week before in part because there were fewer safe opportunities and in part because I had a limited supply of matches.


It turned out that there were two parts of the course that were different on the second lap than the first lap.  The first section was right after the start, diving into the woods on some winding single track (which I had ridden the night before) which took us through a mature grove of red pines.  The second was right after the pump track, and it took me by surprise.  When we came out we veered left instead of right.  Out of the corner of my eye I saw a rider heading to the right and paused, but the course marshal told us we were heading in the correct direction.  This loop started out on double track, but the single track was twitchy, a technical rocky downhill and a rock garden. I had not seen this part of the course before so I was hitting it blind. The C40+ and I were still together, and had bunched up on some slower riders, so I just followed their wheel at a safe distance and rolled through everything.  I didn’t really have time to think, just let the 29er do its thing.


The rest of the race was a blur, we hit the double track sections and I could tell my top end speed was down, and my heart was still racing.  There were times when I couldn’t catch my breath and finally I pulled over in the single track to the C40+ to take the lead. I told him I was tweeked, and let him ride off.  I couldn’t stay on his wheel anymore.  I hoped that I might be able to back off the speed and then catch him again, but that was the last time I saw him.  Shortly thereafter I bonked completely, and the race turned into a suffer fest.


It was a good thing that so much of the course was downhill, dropping into the valley because I was at least able to maintain some speed on the down hills.  The up-hills were a struggle, and at times it felt like I was moving backwards relative to my first lap.  I knew I was losing time, but somehow I managed to maintain my place in the race, continuing to pass, but rarely being passed.  I mentally let go of any hope of finishing high in the sport field, and just focused on keeping ahead of any riders from within my class.


When we came to the finish line I was completely done.  I looked back over my shoulder, and was glad to see there were no other riders.  I tried to stand up and make a good effort of a finish, but I went nowhere.  I could not even feint a sprint.  I rolled across the line, into the finish shoot, and then was spit out into the crowd.  I stopped where I was and got off my bike.  I bent over resting my arms and head on the handlebars.  I wanted to do the unthinkable and sit down.  I couldn’t catch my breath.  My heart was still pounding.  But as it tends to do that feeling passed and I started to feel human again (i.e., human = hungry).  I started to look around for the C40+ I had been following to congratulate him on a great ride, but couldn’t find him in the crowd.  I ran into my friend Rich who told me about his race.  He felt like he had a great race and improved in his placing.  I knew my placing, but didn’t feel like I had a great race.  It’s funny how the two are independent from one another.


They posted the preliminary results and I was first in my category.  We didn’t stay for the awards this week.  We headed South and swung by my parent’s house to say “Hi”, and I ended up helping my Mom wash her deck.  When we got back to Chicago I looked up the full results online.  I did not do as well as the week before overall, but did finish 28th overall in sport. 

WORS #4: The Battle of CamRock


The weekend certainly did not start out on the right foot.  Circumstances beyond our control delayed our departure from Chicago until early afternoon.  This of course meant that we got caught up in traffic getting out of Chicago.  It took almost an hour to get to the airport.  I was also running behind on my preparations for my trip.  Saturday drive to Wisconsin, Sunday drive back, Monday board plane for Iceland.  It was going to be a busy week.  Morleigh was kind enough to drive most of the way allowing me to work on a poster for the conference I was attending.  I made good progress as we headed north.  I did not finish the poster, but I pushed it as far as I needed to before we arrived in Camrock Park #3. 
We got to the park relatively late, at 4PM.  So I got dressed quickly, unloaded the bikes, and went off to try and find Mike and Jackie who were doing the “learning to race” clinic.  I didn’t find them.  I went down to the bottom and traced the gravel path as far back uphill as I could go.  I did not find a group, I did not find them.  When the path crossed the bridge over the river, I dropped onto the course, and road the single track back out.  I passed a wave of clinic goers, and kept on toward the finish thinking they might have been ahead of the kids.  I looped back up a redesigned last climb (switchbacks instead of a straight shot), back up the starting hill, and headed to the car.  They were nowhere to be found.  I did find Morleigh relaxing in the car, resting and reading.  She was okay, but had not seen anyone.  Just as I was getting ready to ride the rest of course Mike texted me.  They were at the finish.  So I rode back down, and caught up with them again.
Mike showed off his mighty steed, a 15 year old Bontraiger mountain bike that he won as a prize for finishing half a hard behind the leader in a race.  It had sat unused in his closet for 15 years.  This was the first time it had seen any dirt at all.  We started up the course together.  The citizen course diverged from the sport course early on, just after the parking lot.  Mike and Jackie stayed on their course, and I followed the signs for the sport.  When I caught up with Mike, Jackie was long gone, and he was taking it very easy.  His bike was twitchy, and hard to control, but he did okay on the climbs and the straights.  We went at his pace, which was slow.  That was perfectly fine, as it was late in the day, short window to recover, and my primary goal was to learn the course.  Mike went down hard once, getting washed out as he tried to pass someone.  His wheel didn’t bite into the edge, so he bit it at a high speed.  I was worried he was hurt because he wasn’t moving.  I doubled back, and he was smiling up at me.  Could I give him a hand?  He didn’t have leverage to pop out of his cleats.  I grabbed his foot and twisted.  He was up and we were going again.
We finished the rest of the lap without major incident.  We went back to the car, and I rode his bike for the first time.  It was REALLY twitchy.  I could not fathom how different his bike was with its narrow tires and strange geometry.  We decided that we would swap out tires from my 26” to his 26”.  Tires from this millennium onto a bike from the previous one.  I could hardly fathom when he told me that we couldn’t just switch wheels.  His brake pads and rims were ceramic.  It was state of the art braking technology before brakes were disked.
We packed up our things, took the tent out of the truck to hold our spot, and then left to Madison.  We checked into the hotel rinsed off, and then headed across the street to the Olive Garden for a nice dinner.  It was late, we were hungry, and the garden was the closest pasta.
When we made it back to the hotel, Mike and I hung out in the parking lot working on his bike.  We took off the tires and swapped them out.  We made short work of it, and the handling on his bike.  We returned to our rooms, and crawled into bed.

The next morning we were up early for breakfast, and out the door before the two Lacross teams and one basketball team cloggled up the single waffle maker.  What kind of crap is that? A single waffle maker?  Even the Best Western in Waupaca had two waffle makers.  Better pick up the pace Madison.  You will lose your status as the crwn jewel fo the state .

After breakfast we headed outside, loaded up the cars, and drove to Cambridge with Mike following close behind in the car bequithed to him by a friendly neighbor.  We made it with out incident, ignoring the potential omen created by the dozen or so vultures circling the dump west of Madison.  When we arrived our spots right alongside the course, reserved by our tent, were still open.  We pulled in, set up the tent, and started to prepare.  We set up the tent, and got Mike ready to ride.  The juniors were coming by soon, so I also got out my camera to snap some photos.  I wasn’t thrilled with the prospect of shooting all of my photos from the tent, but I didn’t want to wander too far before I was more than 90% ready for my own race.  I knew that I wanted to be out in the woods for when my friends raced, looking for the perfect shot.
Mike and Jackie headed down to the start, and Morleigh and I headed south across the parking lot to find the spot where they would come out of the first section of single track.  The course doubled back on itself, and it was the only spot on the course where a person could see the riders twice on the same lap with minimal movement.  I took my camera into the woods and set up the tripod behind a tree.  The “woodchuck” section of trail was pretty white birch trees framed against a beautiful blue sky.  The vision of the shot was better than the execution.  I was hoping the curve I was on would lead to slower speeds, but I miss judged and riders were flying by.  I had a lot of premature and “post-mature” shutter clicks.  Also?  I missed all of my friends.  After the first lap I stepped out of the woods and switched lens because I wanted to guarantee that I got some good shots of my friends.
Jackie came by as expected, the third woman, she was smiling and having a good time.  Mike on the other hand did not come by as expected.  We were standing there watching the guys come by, and Mike did not emerge from the woods.  We knew that he was not planning on riding fast or hard, but when the ambulance sirens started to approach, and Mike still did not appear, I became nervous.
Riders were still streaming by, so it was not yet hopeless, but each as each minute passed I became a little more anxious.  Then across the parking lot I saw the blue Half-Acre kit steaming uphill at full speed.  A few minutes later a smiling Mike came out of the Woodchucker single track, and we got a couple great pics.  After the race he said he fell down more today than he did yesterday, but still had a great time. 
Then it was my turn.  I returned to the tent to get ready, and ran into my Mom.  I told her where Morleigh was stationed, and headed off to the starting line to find my Dad (she left him near the finish).  I found him, and gave him a run-down of the race course (i.e., where to stand), and then headed down the hill for the start. 
When it was time for my wave to go off, I got my first WORS call-up, It wasn’t in the front line because the older guys got their call-ups first, but it was something.  The whistle blew, and we surged up hill.  I did not get into good enough position to get the hole shot, and instead settled in to the number three spot as we headed up the second hill.  The rider in front of me was a C39-, and I knew I would need to get past him at some point, but I was trying to remember that it was a three lap race, and I had plenty of time.  I was content then to sit in third place as we looped past the empty tent, and around the parking lot.  When we came through the Woodchuck I intentionally backed off his wheel.  I knew Morleigh was standing at the end waiting to take pictures of me, and it would not have done well by my photographer to come screaming out the trail eating someone else’s dust.  So I backed off in the single track, smiled pretty, and then hammered hard trying to make a move on the short section of double track before the single track.  I didn’t make it.  I ended up following the C39- down through the rock garden where a year ago I crashed and instantly bruised my leg.  We were moving slow enough that I was able to see the exact rock I fell on (it matches the scar on my leg). 
We were moving slower than I would have liked, but there were no opportunities to pass, so I was content to catch my breath and recover as we switch-backed down the hill.  When we got to the bottom, and looped around to the next section of double track I burned a match and pulled around him.  I caught back up with the leader of my wave on the climb back up to where Morleigh was standing.  We had already caught the tail end of the wave in front of us.
The rest of the race went smoothly.  The rest of the first lap, I stayed behind the 50-54 rider I had been following from the beginning.  The two of us worked our way through the pack together, climbing past the slower riders from earlier waves.  When we hit the second hill at the start of the second lap we switched positions.  I said that I would pull for a while, but instead I pulled away.  The second lap went pretty smooth, but I got pinched in some key places behind slower riders.  I remember almost crashing as I passed Morleigh the second time on the second lap, as the rider in front did not power up a hill leaving me trying to slow down on a steep roller.  I remember being caught behind a slower rider during the very tight S-turns through a small dry creek bed, and having to put on the brakes more than necessary.  But after that I made a move to pass him before hitting “Raseberry fields forever” and found an open space where I was really able to ride my own pace for a while.  I ran into some more riders before the awesomely fun “rip and ride” section of single track, and was not able to pass them until we hit the crushed gravel trail leading back to the start line.  I reeved it up to 24mph and made it past another half dozen riders who were cruising.  The climb back to the starting plateau was much gentler this year, with seven or eight switchbacks replacing a single double track straight up.  The third lap I continued to ride strong, finding more and more stretches where I could ride at my own pace. 
On the third lap I continued to climb up in the field, and felt very good about my race as I started to get into riders who started three and four waves ahead of me.  The lap went smoothly and I was able to finish the race strong. 
I pedaled around the starting area until I could find my Dad, then we both headed back up to the tent.  I sat down to cool down, and then took a ready wipe shower.  I changed and my parents and I headed back down to the podium for awards.  My friend Jackie was sitting there, so we talked about our races (she finished 3rd), and she introduced me to the friends that she came to the race with.  In a very “small world moment” one of her friends was also the C39- that I passed on the first lap.  I think he was a little disappointed because he didn’t see me pass, and finished the race thinking he was in first place. 
I waited for my call, posed on the podium, and then we all returned to the tent.  I was pleasantly surprised to find a crowd had gathered.  The girlfriend of one of my Chicago CX friends, and the wife and son of another had joined Morleigh in the shade of the Sprockets tent.   They made great company as we waited for their significant others to pass by for hand-ups and cheers. 
With two laps left in the race we had another unexpected visitor.  An exhausted Mumford, as he was riding past our tent slammed on the brakes and veered under into the shade.  He asked me if I had any water or any food, and he was lucky that Morleigh is so good at preparing for races because we had plenty of both.  I filled up his water bottle at least twice, and found in the bottom of our bag of treats some organic animal crackers.  He ate and drank, saying that “He didn’t come to WI to torture himself.”  With a little water and a few calories, we returned Mumford back to the wild.  He ended up finishing thirty eighth. 
On the ride home, Morleigh was cracking up as she described the mental picture she had of Mumford standing in our tent grabbing handfuls of animal crackers and shoving then partially into his mouth leaving some legs and heads jutting out as he crushed their bodies with his teeth.  She also said that it was by far the most fun she had ever had at a race. 

Saturday, June 9, 2012

WORS#3: Nine Miles of Dust and Glory

It's been a busy week at work, so I have not had much time for writing about last week's race.  My girlfriend and I went North early, departing on Friday afternoon instead of Saturday.  It was a long enough drive that we wanted to make a weekend out of it.  So she drove, and I spent the car ride working on my laptop.  We made it all the way to Wausau before getting hungry, and ended up in a restaurant/brewery that was decorated with a collection of rare and vintage bicycles.  The one above our table had wooden rims.  It was a far cry from the carbon fiber frame, aluminum rims, pneumatic front suspension, and fat tires I would be riding that weekend, and my bike a gray-market carbon frame with 26" wheels and v-brakes is a far cry from the top of the line 29ers with carbon frames, carbon rims, tubeless tires, and hydraulic disc brakes.

After dinner we retired back to our hotel, kicking ourselves yet again for forgetting swimsuits.  A dip in the hot tub would have been a nice way to relax.  But we were in bed fairly early, and we were up for the hotel breakfast (we <3 waffle bar), and back to the room for lazy a Saturday morning.  She napped, and I put some more time working on a solution concept for a problem at work.  When afternoon came we packed up, and headed over to Nine-mile Forest Preserve to pre-ride the course.  

We found parking in the shade, applied liberal doses of sunscreen, and I saddled up and headed out into the woods.  Rich, one of guys I ride with on Monday and Wednesday night, had been talking up how much he likes riding at Nine-mile since I met him last spring.  It was partly his feedback that led me to choose this race instead of going up to Rhinelander two weeks early for my second WORS race of the season.  He ran into us on Saturday as I was getting ready, and talked about how this year the Sport course was easier than it had been in the past because they were routing us away from some of the most technical rock sections.  

Rich went off to ride some of the non-race trails, and I headed to the starting line to drop into the official course for the race.  It was the first WORS race I had been to when the race did not begin with a hill climb.  It faded downhill, and took a sharp left into the woods.  I tried to keep the pace easy for my first lap, especially the first 20 minutes as I had just gotten onto the bike.  There had been no warm-up.  The forest was deep and luscious as it rolled by, the blotches of shade and sunlight on the trail made it difficult at time to differentiate between rocks and shadows, causing a disconnect between the anticipation of being jolted and the actual occurrence.  Rocks I couldn't see hit me hard, and shadows that looked like rocks faded without so much as a whimper.  As I rode I tried to pay attention to the features of the course, to learn it's ins and outs.  My garmin struggled in the first 10 minutes of the ride to get an accurate bearing.  Ten minutes into the ride my map still showed a flashing question mark in my Chicago neighborhood, but the miles still accumulated.  

I was a little taken aback at the midpoint when I hit a fairly steep climb.  It was unexpected given Rich's assessment of the course.  Then things got a little rough.  Giant freaking boulders rough.  Really skinny guys blowing by me on 29ers while I get the stuffing knocked out of me, rough.  Then things got long.  Normally a pre-ride practice lap takes no more than a half an hour for a five mile loop.  I hit a half an hour and then some.  I was starting to wonder if the course was every going to finish.  As advertised there was plenty of double track, but easy?  I was starting to question Rich's sanity.  

Finally I arrived back at the finish and found my girlfriend waiting at a picnic table with a water bottle.  She had been talking with riders coming off their laps, and everyone had said the Sport course was 5.1 miles.  My garmin said 7.58.  I told her about the problem getting signal, I checked my rear wheel magnet, and shrugged my shoulders.  I reset the Garmin, and returned to the woods to try a second lap.  The course was the same, I was more warmed up but still kept my speed relatively slow.  Again I found myself thinking, "Gee...this is hard" and then "Gosh, this is long."   I finished the second pre-lap, and again my garmin came out at 7.48 miles. I was seriously wondering if I would be able to ride that course 3 times at race speed.  I'd have to go out super chill if I was going to be able to finish with any steam at all.  It was going to be a long race.  

We ran into Rich in the parking lot, and were talking about the pre-ride.  I told him he had a strange definition of "easy" there was at least one serious climb, and some really rocky sections.  Also? It was long, seven and a half miles.  He said "7.48 miles?  You must have ridden the full expert course."  

Facepalm.  

The girlfriend, "I TOLD you that everyone else was saying the sport loop was 5.1 miles".  

Facepalm.  

The next morning we were up early for breakfast, and to the race course by 8:30AM.  I geared up to head out into the woods to find some places to shoot the Juniors in the singletrack, and she stayed with the car to "rest".  I came back after shooting some photos, helping a waylaid Junior with a mechanical get back on his bike, and helping the MTB Patrol get an injured kid out of the woods.  Justin took a handle-bar in the stomach, and was in tears.  We walked him out of the single track, and by the time we got back to double track he was ready to saddle up again.  

I returned to the car, and once again time started slipping away.  I was able to stay better organized this race and not destroy the car, but the decisions about camelpak vs water bottle with hand-up, and getting everything in it's proper place still took time.  My mom arrived as we were getting ready, so there was some greeting and chit-chatting to be done.  

Once I was ready I headed up to the starting line and tried to find my wave.  Things were a little bit less organized this week, and it took a little bit more time to find the rest of my wave.  I was there in time for the national anthem, but not in time to guarantee a spot on the line.  They were doing call-ups, but my name was not called.  Winning the first race and skipping the second did not give me enough points to make it to the line.  No worries though, it was a long race today.  Three full laps of a 5+ mile loop.  

When Don said "GOOOOOOO!!!" and the pack surged forward I maintained my place in about the third row for the first 50 yds, then I made a break to the outside and put on the gas to pull ahead of most of the pack.  When we started to narrow down and spread out there were only two riders ahead of me from my wave, neither in my category.  We all settled in as it was going to be a long race.  I was content holding their wheels, as at Iola both of these men finished ahead of me.  So we looped around, and I noticed that certain features (e.g., the steep climb, the rock garden) were noticeably absent.  I thought I did a really good job of not staying stuck behind slower riders from earlier waves, which was in part pacing myself appropriately so I had energy to squeeze by guys in the single track, and part of having the confidence to know how and when to pass.  Not that passing was a big deal at Wausau.  Half, if not more, of each lap was on double track cross country ski trails, so there was plenty of room to leap frog slower riders.  This of course plays into my strengths (i.e., low-end torque + good legs) as I could spin my way up hills and still make up ground.  I was surprised how quickly we came into the pine trees near the finish on the first lap.  I remember thinking to myself "wow, that was a LOT easier" (than my pre-ride the day before).  I smiled and looked forward to the rest of the race.  I was still dogging the wheel of the leader of the C40+, and was content to follow him around the pine trees and back down to through the finish.  As we made our way through the second lap we were overcoming more and more riders from earlier waves.  The wide double track made easy work of passing and maintaining my momentum, and the single track offered short respites to catch my breath.  

I had a few dicy moments making my way through some of the more gnarly obstacles, with a foot down here, and lost momentum there.  At one point on the first lap the trail curved to the right and I lost my balance and had to put a foot down and ended up straddling a stump just to the left of the trail.  I tweaked my ankle a bit, but was able to get back onto my bike without losing speed, and the guy behind me cheered "That was a great save".  It was not a flawless race, but it was still a fast race.  As we came to the end of the second lap, I still had plenty of gas in the tank and overtook the leader of the C40+ as we made our way past the start.  I burned a little match to get around him, and he did not challenge.  The third lap was about as smooth as the first two.  Not perfect, but was able to maintain speed, pass when I needed, and pick off slower guys on the double track.  As I came back into the pine trees near the finish I came up on another rider from the 45-40 age group.  I followed him through the pines and up around the loop into the finish straight.  I got out of the saddle and started hammering, and he did the same.  We ended the race with a full sprint to the finish, and I took the not one but two riders in front of me before crossing into the shoot and being waved to a stop.  I was huffing and puffing something fierce, but when I caught my breath I had a little time to enjoy the moment.  

I was pretty certain that I was the first Clydesdale across the line, and the results, when posted, confirmed the expectation.  I was pleasantly surprise to see that I had also moved up in the Sport field overall.  Last year when I finished first at Treadfest in my category, I was 96th overall in the sport field, and finished 10+ minutes behind the leader.  This race I was 36th overall, and a scant 5+ minutes off the leader.  I am looking forward to CamRock next weekend, as it will be the first MTB race where I have a direct (contingent on weather) comparison between last year's time and this year's time.  Hopefully I can avoid the crash and injury though.  

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A moment of silence

Last Wednesday night I went on my typical Wednesday night date, a group ride with the CCC.  It was typical in pretty much every way.  I screwed around waiting until the last minute to get ready, and get out the door, I arrived at the start about a minute before the group rolled out.  

We rode as we typically do, like people possessed, like men and women who love to ride bikes fast.  We went North, then West, then North again, finally turning south on Green Bay Road.  We cut back east on Winetka Rd, hitting Sheridan just in time for everyone's favorite hammerfest, the Baha'i temple sprint.  We turned on Sheridan, and I remember that one of the guys who is not the strongest took a really long pull for the good of the group, and then fell off when we got to the hill, he burned his match so the rest of us could shine bright.  I had ridden with him before, and was probably exchanged first names sometime last summer, but we reintroduced ourselves.  His name was Mark V.  

Tonight I went on my typical Wednesday night date, a group ride with the CCC.  It was typical in pretty much every way except one.  I screwed around waiting until the last minute to get ready and get out the door, I arrived at the start about a minute before the group rolled out.  This ride was different because Mark V. was not there.  He passed away this week from a sudden heart attack.  He was only 43 with a wife and two young boys left behind.  We rode in his memory, in his honor.  We poured one out for him at JJ Peppers, and then gathered at a local bar to reminisce and to find comfort.  

I have been struggling for 30 minutes trying to find the right words to close out this post.  And now I realize there are no words to say.  I can't help you grieve, I can't help you understand, I can't tell you why he has fallen beyond the thin veiled curtain that separates life from death.  The world lost a father, husband, friend and cyclist, a candle sitting next to an half-empty box of matches has been snuffed out, and there is no reason for it.  There is no answer to the ultimate question, only silence.  

....