That's what this weekend felt like. Not only in terms of a wam bam thank you mam, down and dirty trip, but also in terms of overcoming yet even more problems to somehow manage a good result. I seem to be problem prone, but I will say I've become much better in dealing with problems since having so many over the years. Now days if a trip comes without problems it's a suprise.
This weekend consisted of heading down solo to Huntsville, AL for the US Cup #9. I had one goal, a top 5 in the Cat 1 class. It would be no easy feat on a good day, and forget it on a bad day. There's some fast cats down there, with some baggin ex-pros who make it even tougher to get a good result.
I stayed in COMO Friday night and had a nice dinner with the Mum and Sis, followed by some sweet bowling in which I hit my normal score (77), and some laser tag after that which ended up being a blast.
Woke up in the early AM, and hit the road about 8:30. The 8 hour drive was seemingly easy and fairly fast, and before I knew it I was setting up camp and getting ready for a pre-ride.
I jumped in with a group of three guys who I recognized from Bump and Grind, and we hit the loop railing what would become a very difficult course. I enjoyed the shit out of it pre-riding, but would find out come race day that some sections were much much harder when you've been pegging all race. Riding easyily along was fun though.
The track was a great mix of wide open drag race singletrack, and then it dumped into very tight and rocky singletrack that was a real challenge. The rocks were slick, but they played to my advantage being I was on the rock slaying Epic. Some sweet downhills, some techy uphills, more drag racing, and then it ended with this long, old run down road climb. That thing seemed to go on forever, and it would be here that I would conquer my demons the following day.
Towards the end of the lap, I'm hammering along feeling great when I hear a loud pop, and my cranks seize. I look back and at first it looked like I had torn the shit out of my rear derailleur. After a little further inspection I found out that I had only sheered the bolt that holds the hanger. What little luck was to be found in this situation was that that was the best case scenario. I could have easily ripped the derailluer beyond fixing. Luckily I stopped quick enough to save it.
So long story short, I didn't have a spare. Neither did any of the three guys I was riding with who all happend to be on Epics. Neither did the Kenday/Tomac crew who had a full shop trailer. Neither did Home Depot. I looked for an hour trying to find a metric fine thread bolt that would work. It's 9:30pm and I still havent had dinner. I manage to stumble into a pub which happend to have very good fish taco's, sweet potatoe chips, and a local stout brew. I never drink before races. I didn't care at this point...
Enter My Hero
Justin Marquand. The equivalent of MacGyver. Several riders told me to see him. I knew him from a few races we raced together this year. He told me he had a ton of those bolts... At home. He was on his frankenbike, a 650B Cannondale carbon Flash. So he left the bolts at home that he would have had if he would have been racing his Epic. But he had a million other bolts, and in less than 5 minutes he had me fixed up. I'm still not sure what he did. I know it involved screwing two different bolts together, to create one bolt that in the end ended up being stock like perfect. Thanks again Justin, without you, I would have drove 16 hours to not even be able to race. Note to self, always have extra bolts. I'm a ex-singlespeeder who hasn't raced gears in years, so it was a common problem I overlooked.
There's something else that Justin saved me with. I thought the race started at 11:30. Not this week he said, we race early, 9:30. Great, I would have woke up and totally missed it all together. I'm a mess sometimes...
The next morning I woke up and headed down to town to grab some breakfast. My phone was dead so I couldn't look up any good breakfast places, so I just resorted to a loaded breakfast burrito and tots from Hardees. I don't recommend them for race day fuel. My warm up was warm. At 8:30 it already seemed to be real feel 100 degrees. The woods were ridiculous. I rode the road climb for the first time, since the day before I had to hike it out.
Enter Problem #2
I've had a slight issue of my chain getting lodged in between my lower derailluer jocky and the cage. Turns out it was getting worse. This isn't a deal breaker, but it makes pedaling a little harder, and you can't back pedal because the chain sucks the derailleur forward. It was stuck after just a short rocky section.
I figured I'd race it anyways... I've already been blessed with the luck of getting one problem fixed, and the bike still shifted and worked, so I hoped for the best and rolled it anyways.
It was a long way to travel not to start.
There were 10 or so 19-29 experts, and 25+ total experts or so that lined up to start. They started us off in waves, with one minute gaps. I managed to get the holeshot, which was suprising because back at Bump and Grind I could barely hang on at the start. It seemed like no one wanted to take the lead so I decided it was time to see what my legs could do.
I was flying through the first section feeling PRO. I could hear the riders behind me getting shelled off the back, popping like pop corn. I hit the open park area and had to slow down a bit to re-think of where the trail entered. I noticed only one rider had my wheel, Seth Kemp. Some 19 something ex-pro... Ya, ex-pro.
Anyways I find the trail, hammer some more, and then in a moment of G-Wiz glory I do what I do best. Hit the deck. Hard. Like GMapes, head to the earth in a very hard and quick fashion. Sorry G, but you land on your head more than anyone I know.
Seth asked if I was good. I think I said yes. I was seeing stars. Luckily I've wrecked so many times this year that I've become very good about dealing with it, picking up the pieces (which usually means bottles, and glasses) and moving on. Another rider made his way past me, and I slowly began the chase.
I could see them up the trail about 10 seconds after entering the real mans singletrack. It was the rockiest part of the trail, and also the most overgrown. Pretty crazy overgrown actually. It was a constant barrage of getting hit by tree limbs and bushes. It was so overgrown it was hard to see what was around each corner. It was also stupid hot. No air movement, humid, and extremely stuffy. It was night and day the difference between the open singletrack in the beginning of the loop, and the jungle track.
So they pass a pro rider, and I quickly catch his wheel. Somehow I become content in riding his wheel. It was about the time the techy climbs started, and the adrenaline rush had worn off leaving me huffing and puffing in the heat with the hills. I also bobbled on one of the climbs, jamming my left knee firmly into my handlbar,breaking open skin and allowing more adrenaline to flush the system. The saving grace of riding his wheel was he let me draft him up the pavement climb. I actually did pass him, but he caught back up and rode my wheel for a bit of that first hell climb, but saw I was struggling a bit so he took the lead and made sure I stayed with him. He even slowed down once to let me catch back on.
So the beginning of the second lap was uneventful. We caught 2nd place in my age group in the open park, and quickly put in a gap. I kept on his wheel until the middle/end of the lap when I hit a wall. That was about the time Andy Johnston passed me. He was the overall Cat 1 winner, and also an ex-pro. I remember reading on his blog one day that the only reason he races Cat 1 is because it pays better, but preferred the pro races because they were funner. That should have been motivation enough for me to keep his wheel and lay down the wood, but unforunately at this point my wood was getting water logged and I didn't have much to lay down.
It took a lot of self talk motivation to get through that lap. But the motivation quickly picked up when I passed Seth, who had a flat. At this point I was sitting 1st in my age group, and 2nd overall. There's no way in hell I came all the way down here to quit while being in such a good postition.
It was at the moment that I began to face my demons.
These demons have been more prevalent as of late. It seems with the recent change in life, and a few rough races, that I have had doubts and less motivation. It was time to break a few walls down like Berlin and find out just what I was made of. These demons had to meet their maker.
The third lap started out fairly well, and I was still able to power through most of the sections fairly well. Then I hit the jungle. Luckily the first rocky section went fairly smoothly and I stayed very consistant. Then the back half started. It was a section that had no flow if you weren't on it, and I wasn't on it.
I got passed by a 40-49 expert, which then put in me in 3rd overall. I couldn't keep his wheel, and I felt like I was baking in the oven like the Phillsburry Dough Boy. It was hot, I was low on water, and cramps were sitting in. I was fading worse than Lindsey Lohans career.
Then Seth passes.
At this point I have about 3 miles left to go, and I knew that I couldn't give up any more postitions, because even after the finish you have to watch for the guys that started behind you but finish with a better time due to the time splits. I wish I could have stayed on his wheel, but I was in survive mode at this point. I just didn't have it.
I pushed hard, and then pushed harder. I imagine that I spent more time with my eyes closed, teeth clinched then not. I was entering what would turn out to be a deep, dark, extremely difficult pain cave. The last singletrack section consisted of a few decent hills and lots of power flats. I just keep turning pedals, knowing I would pop out on the road soon enough.
And I did... And that's where I met Jesus.
The last time up the road climb was unlike anything I've ever experienced in racing. I was so close to the end, with this cracked, weathered, and worn out road being the only thing standing in my way. I started out fine, but minutes later I felt like stopping and dying on the side of this stupid fucking road. I closed my eyes and thought about every painful interval I've done this year, every power hour, the 14 second lose to 5th place at Bump and Grind. I had less than 10 minutes till the finish on what could have been the missing half of my upgrade, and I was for damn sure not going to let this road get in my way.
So I manned up. I dug so deep that I was either going to finish the climb in glory or break down and have to be hauled off in an ambulance.
I eventually made it to the top, and just like that it was all over.
I collapsed my bike and fell upon a picknick table asking a gentleman for his assistance in filling up my water bottle. I was so drained I couldn't move. 10 waterbottles drank later, and I finally started to come around. I had been severaly dehydrated, and I'm lucky I didn't have to go to the hospital. I knew it, but I pushed on anyways. Two and a half water bottles for a 2 hour and 15 minute race in that heat wasn't near enough. I should have done two bottles an hour. But when you don't have a bottle handuper, you deal with what you have in order to save as much time as possible.
In the end one other 30-39 racer did pass me in the overall, finishing around 30 seconds after me, putting him 30 seconds in front of me with his 1 minute time split.
I finished 2nd in my age group, and 5th overall. Mission accomplished.
I broke down camp, took a quick shower, and drove the 8 hours back to Columbia where I quickly passed out, woke up, and drove the hour to work making it in at 8:30 for our Monday morning meeting.
The guantlet is done. It was success. It was filled with problems, glory, and most of all adventure.
Toss another great memory into the memory bank.
Now I need to get some serious rest and recovery, lick my wounds, and get ready for Nationals Saturday...
Yet another battle looms on the horizon.
Let there be fight left, for I'll need every bit I can muster for this one.
I had every intention of taking lots of photos, but due to the craziness of the situation I only managed to snap one. It truely was a beautiful place.