Saturday, August 4, 2012

Racing?

It’s been nearly a week since my both-footed jump back into mountain bike racing. “Racing?” Okay, well racing is like when it’s you against the other riders in the race-right? Point to point events are more like that, or maybe the weekend WORS races, but for me, in an endurance race, it was more survival in a way. Oh, nothing so dramatic- I would make it, and I’d live to ride another day, but an endurance event like the “Wausau 24” does have a much different feeling that a “normal race.”
We did have a four man team for the 12 hour fat bike -that sounded like fun, but a lack of other teams within that category forced a shuffle of our assets (riders) into 2 two man fatbike teams. That little change meant twice as many laps (as I planned) and guaranteed very little rest from 10:00am to 10:00pm. “Okay…I can do this”- besides, it means I’m done in the evening and can enjoy some welcome beverages with my team mates, not like the 24 hour folks who’ll be pounding the pedals all night into the following day.

Bike riders are not runners…there is a reason for that, but endurance races typically use a Le Man start-riders running a short distance in stiff bike shoes, usually getting passed by 12 year old twig girls, find their bikes and then are off, turning pedals instead and headed for singletrack. My partner Joe, being younger “volunteered” to start the race for us (whew…dodged a bullet there) and was soon engulfed in a cloud of dust threading his way though the field on lap one. We all had pre-ridden a lap the day before, and the Wausau 24 is a worthy course by mountain (and fatbike) standards. Plenty of singletrack and rock gardens, some double track to spin the legs out and a very tough climb about halfway through.

The butterflies gathering in the gut I remembered from years ago as I stood anxiously waiting in the transition area for Joe to return. We’d guessed around an hour + per lap, so about on cue, the new highly fashionable black “fat hyphen dot com” jersey appeared over the finishing rise and with a swift tag, I was off for my turn. Long distance racing plays funny games with your brain-and early in an event, ones mind is going much faster than the bike usually. “Oh-there’s a guy right ahead…I’m faster and will pull him in here soon.” Sometimes that plays out, sometimes they disappear over the next climb never to be seen again. Since everyone is in this thing for the long haul, there is a much more civil discourse out on the trail than in other events-if someone catches you, most are happy to pull over and let them pass, with a “go get ‘em!” and a “thanks bud!” as they go by and out of sight. For us on big bikes, we might also hear “Alright !-rock on fatties!” (talking about the bike, not us).

I ended up, as Joe mentioned I would, counting down the laps in my head. Yeah, we’d do five or six laps out here, so the game became one of checking off each section of memorable trail-“Only 4 more times thru this boulder field.” Or only 2 more “Ho Chi Min da*m climbs!” Traffic sorts itself out after a few laps and it becomes quieter out there. The 24 hour solos are a sick breed, and would fly by with nary a word…I didn’t find that stuck up at all-they are just seriously focused or in a tiny world of survival, and I swear rarely notice other racers as they carve lap after lap. In the dark hours, it really becomes silent, the six hour racers are gone, so one usually has a lot of alone time.

Binking red LED lights appear in the darkness as other riders thread the trail ahead, and occasionally the ground around my bike would be lit up by an overtaking racer. A very surreal world. The only sound is gear changes and breathing and saying to myself- “only one lap to go.” Survival in these races isn’t always the pedaling part, but also that hour break between laps. You have to eat and have to drink and very quickly energy bars, bananas and Gu packs become a sickening necessity to pound down your gullet to make it though the next lap. A new mind game creeps in at that point-the “real food” one….where all I could think of is a burger or brat and cold beer. For now however, it was just working out during the first half of each lap, all the so-called “energy” sloshing around inside. Yuck.

As it ended up, our other 4 man teammates, Andy and Butch (who are bike animals-one of them on a singlespeed!) were a lap or two up on Joe and I and we had a 45 minute lead on 3rd place, so using our very best race delirious math skills, we’d determined that I’d not have to venture out for another lap nearing the 10:00pm finish time. At 10:01, Joe and a tide of another racers crossed the line to conclude the event. We’d keep our second place and represented the fat bike scene very well. The bikes handled this course superbly, slinging around tight twisty singletrack with ease and only the climbing sections hindering (me) during the laps. For myself, the event wasn’t so much about racing other riders- sure, we wanted to finish on the podium if we could to represent the fat bike category, but it was about fun, about pushing oneself (cliché, I know), but mostly about spending a weekend with friends and riding-riding with great effort and living to tell about it, to laugh about about it and be humbled by it-I may just have to do this all again!

1 comment:

  1. Bike racing is such a wonderful game. I games which is full of adventures. I always take part in adventurous event like mud race miami, bike racing, car racing. I really like your post its full of adventure and thrill.

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