Monday, June 9, 2008

Mud, Sweat & Tears

Big Bear 2008 has come and gone and what a good time we had......when we weren't bitching about the mud, heat or screaming badger ass. As the team captain of our 5 person co-ed team I had the dubious honor of trying to get a consensus for the team name. DKEG had several, ah hem, interesting ideas he ran up the flag pole. Squadra Ballon Knotti was one he really pushed for, but, after my teammates learned a bit more of its meaning, they quickly dismissed the notion. "Fat people are hard to kidnap" was another little gem from the team sawer that didn't pass muster. Running out of time, and patience, I suggested a theme based on an excuse DaveG has used to bail on rides when the weather turns foul. An excuse so ridiculous we seldom give him crap for using it because what do you tell a guy who is "Staying at home with the latest romance novel, a glass of white zinfandel while wearing a pair of Fuzzy Pink Bunny Slippers".

Team Fuzzy Pink Bunny Slippers (FPBS) consisted of DKEG, DaveG, Shannon, Dr. Longtravel (Frank) and myself in the 5 person co-ed class. It was this race and a bet between the two David's that spawned three blogs and a whole lot of trash talk....between teammates. Good natured ribbing intended to motivate each other to train harder, or at all, in some cases. DaveG had a plan for the entire season. He was going to Crush Kegley at Big Bear and then put a hurting on me at the Wilderness 101. He would attain his evil goals through the use of advanced technology, good diet and a bag of dirty tricks if needed. DKEG took a different approach and tried the "trailwork and beer" system of training. An average of 15 minutes per lap was the bet that would determine if DaveG could in fact "kick David's ass" all over Big Bear. I love the side of people that comes out in competition, it's so .....primal. Long story short, DaveG lost. 15 minutes was just too much and DKEG really does race well, despite his training....or lack there of. The same party that hatched the David's little bet also got Frank to sign on as the 4th member of what was originally planned to be a 4 man sport class team. The beers were flowing and the good doctor, who never raced before, yielded to our pleas and solidified the original plan. After kicking ass at the Bakers Dozen a few months later, the race bug really bit Shannon and our 4 man team welcomed her addition and the rest is history.

The week leading up to the race saw some interesting developments on the weather front. Already a very wet spring in Hazzelton WV, the site of Big Bear campgrounds and the race venue, the trails got an additional 8 inches of rain just 3 days before the race. Normally the rocky terrain drains well, however, the saturated ground could do little to move the water off the trails prior to the onslaught of racers. Of course, if DaveG wasn't racing the trails probably would have been dry and perfect, but that's a different story.

Frank and I got up to the campsite about 9:30 Friday night. Our teammates arrived earlier that day and did a great job picking a site and setting up our stuff. By the time we got there the only thing to do was eat a couple burgers and drink a couple beers. You know, carbo loading. Unlike my teammates I slept great and awoke to a brilliant morning. Sunny skies and a nice mountain breeze. As my teammates emerged from their nylon shelters, breakfast was the first order of business and espressos with Krispy Kreme donuts got our motors running. Several pre-race checks of equipment were also in order as was the mounting of our mascots to our shoes. Unable to get "man sized" bunny slippers, Frank had the brilliant idea to mount small infant sized slippers to the velcro straps on our shoes. Dave and Shannon took a different approach and "skinned" a pair of adult size hides for their footwear. A some what disturbing image if you stop to think about it. Bunnies mounted, we were ready to race.

I was unanimously elected to take the lead-out lap which consisted of a run around half the airstrip, followed by a ride around the entire strip and then off into the single track. Running in general sucks ass, strap on a pair of stiff soled, floppy bunny eared bike shoes and you might as well put me in the inquisition. Stuck with the lead-out lap last year I knew there are only two choices, go balls-out and get to the front of the pack or suffer in a donkey herd of novice riders who don't know shit about racing. I went with the former and got into good position before the herd made it's way into the woods. The first two miles are normally very fast with little gain in elevation. Well, the first mile was still a fast and fun run down a trail that parallels the road, however, the fast, easy passing lanes on the climb were replaced with mud bogs this year. On this first lap the bogs weren't quite so deep or wide, but, this would change as the race progressed. I slogged my way up past the first check point only to find more mud that was already getting very rutted and soupy. This was going to be the theme throughout the entire course, occasional sections of fast single track sprinkled with large, deep and wide mud bogs that sapped energy with every pedal stroke. It was going to be an interesting weekend. Past bog #2 and back on firm ground you have a series of small climbs that really thin the field out. It is around this point you settle in with a couple guys you play leap-frog throughout the lap. One such guy for me was a rider from Plum Grove who was a talented rock crawler. While most people portaged their bikes through the large boulder field at mile 10, I got to witness him clean the whole run with smooth finesse. Out of the boulder field, the climb out of the valley was soft and muddy, too hard and draining on the single so I walked as my new friend slowly pulled away and out of sight. I would see him again at the bike wash at the completion of lap one. One hour, twenty five minutes and forty seconds was the official time of my opening lap......geez, I was cooked! I grabbed a beer, a shower and a burrito (in that order) and hoped lap two would be a little better.

"Go straight down the middle" were Davids words of wisdom when dealing with the bogs. Sure, I know that. That strategy worked on my first lap, when I could keep my bike in a straight line, and was to be my mantra for the second lap. About a mile into this lap I encountered one mother of a mud hole. I know it was there the last time I came through, but, somehow it was now different. Larger, deeper and very rutted across the entire width. My mantra in place, I aim for a watery section in the middle and held on.........for about two seconds. As my front wheel entered the hole, it quickly dropped down to the hub at which time the mud liked my tire so much that it decided to hold onto it for a little while. With all the momentum my body was carrying I had little choice but to let go and sail over my bars, superman style, into the muddy water below. My arms sank down to the shoulder and I quickly pulled myself from the muck to find my bike partially submerged like its rider. My bike groaned as it tried to shed several pounds of West Virginia mud from every rotating surface imaginable. To add insult to injury I can't even blow a good snot rocket or wipe the sweat from my brow without smearing more of the miserable gunk all over my face. As the lap progressed I notice one more situation developing from my mishap, my right grip begins to rotate under my hand .......and I don't have Grip-Shifters. Apparently the adhesive has broken down and the water has facilitated an easy and pre-mature removal of that grip. For the remainder of lap two I had to be very careful with force applied to my handlebars, never a good thing for a single speeder. I was so dirty that my teammates didn't recognize me as I came down the bridge towards the timing tent. Before the shower I did a pre-wash in the small puddle behind our camp, now that is sad. Somehow this would still be my fastest lap of the race at 1:21:48.

Lap 3, 4am Sunday morning. I was in my tent trying to get some sleep before heading out for my early morning and entirely in the dark lap. I think I nodded off for several fleeting moments, however, a deep restorative sleep was not to be. Worried about missing my next shift and a hundred other things that go through your mind kept me awake and somewhat alert. I set my alarm for 3 am and have everything ready to go the moment I wake up. As the early morning hour approaches I hear Frank outside the tent and start my preparation. He informs me that he had a rough lap with a flat and then stopped to help out another rider with a similar problem. These two incidents resulted in a 1:49 and meant I could go back to sleep. I try only to stare at the ceiling for another 30 minutes. Frank stays up to make sure I don't miss my shift and I send him to bed once I emerge for my lap. At the timing tent I see Liz again who is very much on the same schedule as me. She has a jacket and a warm cup of coffee and I can't help but feel a little envious. Just about 4 am Shannon rolls over the bridge and I go out for what will be my last lap of the race. It's pitch black, wet from the evening dew and the mud it as bad as ever. Now, even the fast sections have become a traverse of wet rocks and roots that send your wheels off in any direction with little notice. My goal for this lap is to take it steady, ride consistently and stay out of the mud bogs. Unlike lap two, I go out very conservatively and try to ride with a steady pace. Nightmares of my two flats during this lap last year still haunt me and I was not looking for a repeat. Much like my second lap I pass numerous people on this early morning run. The difference this time is most of these people looked whipped. Their spirits broken under the thick mud and oppressive heat. Many of my competitors simply pulled off to the side of the trail to rest or take in a goo pack. People seem all too eager to stop and yield when they are about to be overtaken by faster riders. Nighttime laps are hard, when you are 18 hours into an event of this magnitude, the dark can play tricks on your mind. My mind was focused on a single goal, to get through this lap without incident and keep my team in the running for a podium spot. Prior to the night laps we we in second place and looking very good to maintain. A couple "slower than expected" laps moved us down into the fifth spot with a slight chance to move up....if things went well for us and poorly for our competition. This third lap went by as I had hoped, without incident. I rode steady and smart and came in with a 1:32 for what became my final lap.

Everyone on my team gave 100% to the effort and I couldn't be happier or prouder. We had a great time cheering each other on and busting each others chops while hanging out between laps. For different and various reasons I was happy that Dave, Frank and Shannon had good final laps on Sunday. Dave felt like he was cursed when he raced in WVa, Frank was a bit dejected after his night lap and you should always end your first race on a high note and Shannon brought in the teams last lap with a smile on her face. What more could we ask for? 5th place for a bunch of 40 something Dad's and a mom (David is actually 39) is not too shabby. We rode to the whole time and never gave up, even when the podium slipped away. I can't say the same for some of our competition and I think that is sad. Ride your bike, have fun and don't sweat the small'll be waiting in your office Monday morning.

Check out all the pictures here.


Hjalti said...

Excellent! Thanks for the report.

DaveG said...

Nice writeup! It was a blast racing with you; here's to next year!

Icon O. Classt said...

Great write-up, Todd!

You (and your teammates) had some exceptional lap times--very impressive, not that I expected anything less.

Nicely done, ridin' and writin'.

Todd said...

Thanks guys. I appreciate the kind words. It was a great time and I'm looking forward to the next time we can all ride our bikes and drink some beers.

Steve, I can't wait to read your full report. I may have to crack an Old Raspy during the read.

Icon O. Classt said...

Hah, I may have to crack an Ol' Raspy to write it!

Gonna try to nail it all down tonight.