Well, not really the whole weekend, just Sunday. I skipped Saturday because I was trying to sleep off an injury from Friday night that left me digging a quarter-inch chuck of glass out of my left foot. At 2am Sunday (there was a “The Shield” marathon on), it was hurting like no other, so I cut it back open, peroxided the crap out of it and packed it solid with Neosporin before bed. At 7am, it still hurt too much to really put weight on. But whatever man, just wear like 4 thick socks, and it’s good to go. Rendezvous with Jon Shea at 8 and we’re off to Williston VT on scenic I-89.
Checked out bikereg.com the night before for registration information, but they just sent me to the event webpage, which sent me back to bike reg. So assuming a day-of fee, jshea and I stop for gas and cash. A few minutes up 89 after that, we’re immersed in winter wonderland, looking at 4-6in of heavy wet white stuff. So much for foliage. Images of a superultamega epic day dissolve, though, as just 20 minutes south of our exit, it goes back to being October. In fact, it may have been nicer at the race site than it was in Hanover. Ah well.
Head over to registration, and it’s a nice farmhouse porch (with a roaring fireplace, for some reason…) complete with Alan Atwood. Shea destroys me during the registration form competition, but everyone’s a winner because registration (even day-of) is a mere 10 bucks. Rock on. Only losing a limb or castrating myself of on the top tube could bring me down from that. Bathroom, change up, peer-pressure Jon Shea out of his “get dressed 30 minutes before start” routine and check out the course.
Start was in a swampy field, up some gradual climbing, then two barriers (around a 90-degree corner), run up, more climbs interspeesed with short, but not too challenging downhill corners, then a three-barrier run up, followed by a tricky descent with many tight corners, ending in a no-holds-barred fireroad blast into “the swamp.” In drought conditions, this might (maybe) have been regular grass/dirt. But given recent weather, it was a miracle it was not underwater. Actually, no; some of it was underwater. But for the most part it was a brown slurry the color and consistency of Nutella, occasionally with blades of grass growing out of it. That led into water, which became gravel, then barriers, then a way-sloppy uphill sprint to the finish. And in the middle of all that was what Shea called “The Who-Ha:”
It was, if you can imagine, a 90 turn to the right, about 3 steps
of pure mud downhill, 180 hairpin, 3 steps back up, and back on the
bike. So narrow that it was 1 person at at time, and was completely
unridable. Some people, on first seeing it, would try to ride it
(Steve Weller, me) with usually hilarious results. Most people just
took it all on foot. I tried to coast down it on 1 peddle, and then
plant both my feet into a skidding stop, which was fun if not fast.
Yeah, so technical race, fitness section followed by technical crap with a short bit of power at the end of each lap. Jon and I almost miss the start, but the friendly, rustic atmosphere (and people later than us) kept that from happening. I ditched everything but a jersey and shorts at the line (45 degrees, medium wind, intermittant drizzle) but it was the right call. Alan says go and we do. Having one gear makes for quick-off-the-line starts, but drafting was possible (if only psychologically speaking) on the first light climbs, so I eased off, finally settling for 2nd as the race became a string of riders. My glasses were fogging immediately, so I removed them with seconds to spare before the first barriers/run-up, which cost me a spot or two.
I was riding ok, with a group at the head of the race while some UNH kid got a big old gap (hey, a UNH kid cruising to the podium in a beginner race? What’s next? Knobby tires on ‘cross bikes?). I worked with the dudes around the first lap, taking the lead, even, on the fast part of the descent, but it was pretty clear that, killing myself, I could keep with them for (maybe) one more lap. The fat tires (1.55in) weren’t cutting the nutella as well as real ‘cross tires would, and the smaller wheels (26in) aggravated matters. Plus, though ideal for the dry parts, the 42×18 was plum to big for anything wet. Oh, and finding the hidden rock around off-camber hairpin #2 didn’t help, either.
So I began a nice little slide back through the field, until with two to go, I was in a three man group with Jay-Sheezy and some other guy named John. Now, I wasn’t hurting too bad in this group, but it was that awful, dull, “not fit enough” hurt, rather than the searing-but-satisfying agony of tearing up App Gap earlier this fall. Maybe I could have attacked, but I had faith in my sprint, so I sat on. On the lap before the bell, Shea lost his front wheel on the descent, prompting me to improvise a line through some tall grass, and hammer back to the other John. I think we were all back together again by the last lap.
As the bell rang, I just concerned myself with holding otherJohn’s wheel as we hit the wetter sections of the first climb. That task having been accomplished, I busied myself with mind games, half-wheeling the guy and running up close, but not quite next to or past him, on the run-ups and barriers. It really pisses my sh!t right off when people do that to me, so I’m hoping he found it equally annoying. As we hit the three-barrier run-up, Jon shot around me, bike on shoulder. I had been anticipating this, as Shea’s got way more guts than speed, and didn’t react, leaving the pursuit to otherJohn. Pursue he did, and we roared downhill still pretty close.
Coming out of the “Who-Ha,” Shea surged again. otherJohn followed again and opened up a pretty good gap to me, as this was the slowest part of the course for me. Coming out of the water, Jon was pretty much clear of John, and it was about as far back to me. I glanced down at the bottom bracket for a moment and was inspired by the Paris-Roubaix style mud, and ground as hard as I could through the slop. Clearing the barriers, it was apparent that otherJohn was trying to coast in uptempo, rather than hammer to the line, so I was like “ok, we’ve got a shot, here.” The sloppy “watergrass” (like the aforementioned Nutella, but completely covered with grass) made it hard to get things turning over, but fortune provided a harder surface as we approached the line, and I got it spun up proper, came around like Boonen on Valverde and finished with an absolutely goregous bike throw as insurance for 7th (jshea was one spot up in 6th). I sure hope someone got a picture of that.
Post race, I got washed, cleaned the bike and – get this – they had beer in the hospitality tent. Nice beer. Stella, Urkell, some other stuff. Sweet. So I chilled out (it was a bit chilly) in the pit with some other geeks, sipping brau and talking bike during the women/masters race. Man, what great atmoshpere. Sure beats the heck out of the “hold-your-fÂµÂ¢&ing-line-and-don’t-fÂµÂ¢&ing-talk-to-me” vibe in the pack at Jiminy Peak or Tour of the Hilltowns. Even the fines were assessed with good humor: the Women’s 2nd place finisher was assessed a (meaningless) 20-second penality for (and this was the official language) “dropping an F-bomb.” Yeah. Jon Shea and myself even got official clearance to stand over a shameless cheater line one of the expert men had cut past the toughest off-camber corner. If only such two-wheeled ecstacy could be had for a mere 10 dollars throughout the year.