Last weekend I competed in back to back endurance mountain bike races. The first was the Big Bear 2X12 at Big Bear Lake Campground, just a few miles south of Ohiopyle. The race was a two person 72 mile relay with laps around Big Bear’s awesome twisty single track. My friend Rob and I finished fourth, then immediately drove to State College to do the Stoopid 50 the next morning.
We got into State College at about 9:30, and met our friends Don and Chrissy to share a hotel room. After an inspirational DMC documentary on VH1, we tried to get some sleep before the big race the next day.
I’m up after Rob and Don. My legs don’t want to move. Super sore from yesterday. But the hotel has waffles and muffins, so I get myself out of bed and head downstairs. I make two waffles for breakfast, then a third to carry back to the room. I throw it in my drop bag. Everyone laughs at me and says the waffle will be crushed, but I have more faith in the resilience of the little Belgian fellow.
Rob’s car smells awful from our wet socks and chamois. I elect to ride to the start with Don.
There’s just over an hour until the race begins, so by the time I get changed and hit the bathrooms a few times, it’s time to roll out.
I line up in the front, and just as the green land cruiser pulls away to lead us down the road, the rain starts. It’s coming down pretty heavy. Just one dry race. That’s all I want. Just one.
(photos by bob)
I feel pretty tired. A chain of ten single speeders form and I hop in the middle. We cruise down the road. My friend Aaron uses his road riding skills to pass me, but I don’t worry about it. I know the field is going to grind to a halt as soon as we hit the first section of single track.
We hit the first trail, and it does. Only one person has to slip to make the string of riders behind them also jump off their bikes. I stop to relieve myself next to the trail. I’m in no hurry. It’s impossible to pass anybody.
A guy behind me isn’t so patient. “Hey man, can you pass this guy? Think you can get around him? Can you go?” There’s a string of 15 riders ahead of me. Passing one would get us no where.
“Don’t worry about it man. Just get comfortable where you are.” I tell him.
“But I can’t climb. I’ve gotta make all my time on the downhills.”
I’d like to tell him that if he can’t climb, he shouldn’t be worried about trying to place well. The race is on the climbs. But I keep my mouth shut.
Aaron uses his roadie skills to hold up a long string of riders on the first downhill, and a few smoking brakes later, we hit the bottom of the mountain and first fire road of the day.
Rob catches up to me and we ride together for a few minutes before I take off up the first big climb. I get into a rhythm up the hill and decide to try to enjoy the day instead of crushing myself. I feel a little burnt out from racing so much.
I pass a couple dozen riders on the climb, and at least 6 or 7 single speeders walking their bikes. I’m feeling alright on the steady and steep hill.
The view at the top is all fogged out from the rainy weather, but I remember how pretty it was when I did the race last year. I alternate spinning and tucking down on the descent back to the bottom.
I hit the first aid station and grab a few pb&j finger sandwiches and top off my water bottles. A couple single speeders skip the station and rocket by. I head back onto the paved road.
The sun comes out, and its getting hotter. I hit the single track. It’s rocky and the mountain laurel covers the trail, making it hard to see all the little bumps and pedal snaggers.
I go into a real muddy section of trail, and slid around on all the roots. Still wish it was dry. I run into a big root and my front wheel slips out from under me. I’m able to ditch the bike and hop off, but I land with my foot right in my front wheel, planting all my weight on one side of the rim. Nut sauce. I spin the front wheel to check for damage, but it didn’t even go out of true.
The next hill is really steep and long, so I just hike up it. A guy on gears grunts by, and I yell some encouragement. The climb is super techy and he’s killing it. Kudos.
I can remember what’s coming up on the rest of the single track, and I’m amazed how much better I feel than last year. This is sweet. I hit some technical rock sections and follow a local through them. I’m havin a ball now.
I pass him on a road then cruise along the remaining rocky trails. The trail is flat with a downward trend, and I’m holding 15 mph. I feel better now than I did at Big Bear yesterday.
The trail opens back up to the road, and I spin away. The aid station comes up and I stop for beverage and gel.
“Are you the waffle?” A volunteer shouts to me
“Yes!” I yell back “Do you have any syrup?”
I pull my waffle out of my drop bag (it’s not crushed) and motor up the hill away from the aid.
All smooth to the last downhill. I feel awesome and start catching and passing riders on the long steady climbs. Hit a long downhill trail and I’m able to hold 25 mph the whole way. I ride with a geared guy for a while and we chat. I tell him we only have a few miles to go then take off up the hill.
I turn left and hit the final downhill. It’s pretty gnarly. There are big sharp rocks everywhere, and it’s steep. Ok, just take it easy and finish this out. You don’t have to kill it down this.
Suddenly I feel my front wheel jerk. Oh hell. I know the feeling. I’m already flying forward over the bars. I can’t stop it. The rocks are getting bigger as my face approaches them.
I land in a heap on the jagged rocks. My hip hurts like crazy, and I open palm punched one of the knife rocks. I don’t have any feeling in my left hand. I keep cursing. Crap.
I pick myself up and look at my knee. It sprung a leak, and there’s blood flowing down my leg. I can barely bend it. I try to clip back in and keep riding, but I can’t clip in. I look down. My cleat is still attached to my pedal. There is a big hole in my shoe where the cleat should be.
I ride the rest of the down in with one foot clipped in. I’m in a ton of pain. My left foot keeps slipping off the pedal. I really don’t want to crash again. I see the finish log up ahead. I roll under the thing and hop off my bike. A single speeder behind me blows through the line and keeps going. He doesn’t realize the race is over.
I ride back to the car before my leg stiffens up to much, and use a hose to spray the rock dust out of my knee. That was a good race. And even better, it turned out that I was 3rd in SS and 15th overall out of about 200 riders. That’s my best finish in an endurance race. If I could bend my leg it would be perfect.