Ouch! That hurt! Not just because it is the toughest 34 miles have ever ridden, but also because I rode it aggressively. Well, I rode aggressively until the bottom fell out. But yeah, that race hurt!
I show up at 7:45 to the expo center up in Dalton, GA. Crowds milling about, volunteers directing people and a guy with a bullhorn “Be sure to get on the buses by 9 o’clock. The buses are leaving at 9 o’clock. If you are not on them by 9 o’clock, they will leave with out you." It was a point-to-point race, so you load up your bikes on trailers and trucks and before 9 o’clock, get on one of the buses and they take you to your starting point- one for the 17 miler and one for the 34 miler.
I register and load my bike up and then go back to change into race gear. You want to be cold before you start, so you do not overheat on the bike. I was very cold, but I dressed perfectly for the ride- one of the few things to go right on the day. So there is a big group in the parking lot getting ready and the guy, actually a pretty cool guy, with the bullhorn still going on “Be sure to get on the buses by 9 o’clock….” He is about 6 cars away from me and suddenly there is a lull in the announcements. So being me, I yell a question at him, “Hey, what time are we leaving.” Everybody is laughing. Now this is the difference between triathlons and mountain biking. At a triathlon my smart-ass remarks are met with a dirty glance. This guy turned to face me, looked at me, and flipped one big ol’ bird, grinning. Then he says, “Do we have a smart-ass riding the 17?” I answered, “No, the 34.” He just muttered okay, smiled and started with the bullhorn again. Hilarious!
We bus over to the start, and since we are the first bus, wait for the bikes, chit chatting and stuff until they arrive. When they do arrive everybody scrambles to get out on the trail early to avoid the crowd. In no time I am off onto the Pinhoti Trail. I was kind of taking it easy until we hit the big stream crossing, which is rather anti-climactic. It is just a foot deep and an easy ride. Nice trails and I am moving along pretty good. I lost a little bit of time on a few poorly marked turns, but am feeling good.
Then the first bad thing happen, I flat at mile 7. Usually a flat is no big deal, but a month ago I went through the I-can’t-fix-this-flat-because-the-spares-keep-getting-holes-before-they-are-halfway-inflated at Blankets. I did not think this would be a problem because I checked out the rims and the tires, and put in new rim strips. Well, it became a problem. The first spare started leaking halfway inflated. I checked the rim and tire, and thought I found the culprit, because suddenly there is blood running down my finger. Try a patch and pumped it up with my pump instead of my last CO2 cartridge. No go. I check again, seems I found a little piece of metal. I use my last spare and last CO2. It holds. 10+ minutes lost, and lots of people passing me, but I am back. BTW, over 90% of the people passing are asking if I am okay. Great folks. Before rolling, I turn to pee in the woods. About that time the 20-something girl in the pink tutu with a pink pillbox hat on her helmet comes racing by yelling, “I see you peeing!”
So I am now pushing it a little to make up some time, but my early start time to avoid the crowds is negated. I am working hard to pass lots of people. I am fully aware that I have no spares or CO2s, only patches and a small pump, so I am also trying to avoid flatting again. I hit the halfway point, 17 miles, grab my new bottles from the SAG/Special Needs folk and continue. I start to cramp. No the full on stand-on-the-side-of-the-trail-and-scream cramp, but the lighter if-you-don’t-take-it-easy-you-will-be-standing-on-the-side-of-the-trail-screaming cramp. I start trying to regulate my efforts, but I am in a little deep and am starting to hurt. At about mile 26 I am screaming down a very rocky hill, going way to fast, and I nail a rock with the front wheel. It blows. I do not go down, and get off the trail so the guys right behind me can ride by. I pull out the tube and start trying to find the hole. I can’t. People are coming by asking if I am okay, and I start asking for a 26-inch tube. Most folk seem to be on 29ers, but I finally get one. I pump it up and take off.
Shortly after that the serious stretch of rock gardens show up. Damn, these things are the worst yet! Lots of people are walking up the steep sections, me included. I am cramping bad when off the bike now. The right leg is cramping while on the bike as well. My forearms are cramping, and I am having trouble straightening my fingers. At about mile 27, the guy behind me points out that the sole of my shoe is separating from the upper. I say, “Looks like the cleat is keeping it attached, I should be okay.” -famous last words. Minutes later, it completely separates. Miles of rock gardens ahead, and there is no way I can ride them. I walk until a little before mile 31. The girl with the tutu passes me again, but I wasn’t peeing. I show the sole, cleat and toecap that I am carrying to few people who ask. One girl says “I don’t have a spare one of those” and we both laugh. At about mile 31 it is smooth enough that I can use the toecap to lightly hold the sole in place enough to clip in and ride. It is mostly downhill from there and I finish. I was snake bit but I made it to the end. I have no idea of the time, well over 4 hours I am sure, but lets say it was a little slow.
This exchange comes to mind:
“It’s a bollocks, this race!” said [Theo] de Rooy. “You’re working like an animal, you don’t have time to piss, you wet your pants. You’re riding in mud like this, you’re slipping … it’s a pile of shit.”
[A]fter laughing and regaining his composure, [John} Tesh had the good sense to ask a follow-up.
“Will you ever ride it again?” he asked the mud-covered Dutchman.
“Sure, it’s the most beautiful race in the world!” said de Rooy without a second’s hesitation.
I will be back in February and March with problems fixed. It is a tough, painful race, but I will be back.
Update: Ouch! 5 hours and 36 minutes! No wonder it seemed like I was out there all damn day!