Monday, February 13, 2012

2012 Bushwhack Mountain Bike Challenge....Check.

My plan was to spend the night at my brother's house so we didn't have as far to drive in the morning to get to the event. The night before the race, a cold front blew in. And some of the craziest biting wind we've experienced so far this year decided to tag along with it for the ride. I listened to the wind howl the whole day and obsessed about the next day's weather forecast. I started to read about a few race entrants announcing they were going to bail because it was just "too cold".  On top of that, my brother was telling me in typical supportive brother fashion that I was "crazy to ride in this weather" and warning me how cold it was going to feel with the wind chill. Big brothers... always offering sage advice even when no one asks for it. I dismissed his protestations and told him that it would  warm up once we got going on the ride. It always does.

I am no stranger to riding in the cold, so there is no way I'd bail on any race for that. Cold and rain, maybe, but cold and wind, not a chance.  Ideas of which clothing I should pack to wear for the day were all over the place. I didn't want to be too cold, but overheating in a race really can mess you up too. So I packed everything in my duffel bag, including 4 different weights of gloves, a wind breaker, a polar fleece vest, several base layers, wool socks, knickers, wind proof tights and two "turtle fur" neck gaiters. Not sure why I packed two neck warmers, but for some reason I felt I needed a backup in case one of them spontaneously disintegrated in my bag ....I am sure it has been known to happen....somewhere. Not everything gets posted on the internet you know.

When I woke up, I checked the weather one last time before I got dressed. I decided to wear all the layers I'd brought and choose a jacket when I arrived there. The problem with getting dressed in a warm house is that quite quickly, you start second guessing your well considered choices as you are already sweating just putting on all your layers. That wavering quickly dissipated as soon as I stepped outside though.  Man, it was a cold one. About 3/4 of the way to the race, I realized I'd left my race snack back at the house. My plan was to bring a frozen Snickers and use that for fuel alongside my hard as a rock, left out in the car, and now frozen Cliff Blok gels. I was bummed. I didn't have any food now in my camelbak. The good thing about using everyday candy as your endurance race snack is that they can be picked up and replaced at just about any convenience store. We passed a gas station and my husband jumped out and came back with not one but two Snickers. (I think he secretly wanted one for himself). I was back in action.

Upon arrival at the race, it seemed like a light turnout, but in true mountain biker fashion, most racers were just fashionably late. By the time the race started, 91 of the 100 participants showed up to brave the cold miles which is a very impressive turnout. After the racer pep talk and the warning to be courteous to all trail users since it was an open course, they sent us off in the usual waves, Expert, Sport and finally Beginner. I chose Beginner so I was the last wave to start.

Pavement Slog Start
The first part of the course was a long road stretch into the single track which was nicely frozen and hard packed. The 2nd part of the course was on hard packed fire roads which seemed like a never ending series of climbs and the finish was to go back through the original single track one more time.

I had been to this place a few years back and was humbled by the "fire road" difficulty so I went in with a little more respect this time. I rushed into the single track and tried to keep my "race pace" forgetting that this was an endurance event. Not long in,  I passed a stopped racer who proclaimed he was going to quit because his hands were just too cold. About 6 miles into the course, my own gloves were warming up my hands so much and I couldn't take the sweating anymore so I removed them and rode bare-handed which generated a few raised brows. I rode the entire remainder of the race with no gloves at all and I was amazed at how that small clothing shed was enough to regulate my temperature for the whole race.

The course markings on the fire roads were just white painted arrows on the ground and easy to miss. I missed a few and had to turn around to back track my pedal strokes and get back on course. About halfway through the fire road portion, I made the mistake of looking at my odometer. Not only was I not even half way through this race, but there were no other participants in sight. Somehow, I was too slow to keep up with the front of the pack, but too fast to be with the back. I waved at all the runners/walkers I saw and just kept my head down and pedaled trying not to concentrate too much on how many miles I still had to complete. I don't like to pre-ride race courses because for me there is something cool about not knowing what is coming up around the next bend that appeals to me. If I know there is a monster climb up ahead, it is easy for that to play havoc in my head and psyche my will out. So I just kept riding and pedaling and waving at the other trail users trying to have a good time in the process. They must have thought I was crazy because it didn't occur to me until the 4th or 5th odd look I got, that I was in fact wearing a race number which clearly indicated I was in an actual race. I forgot about that. I am pretty sure racers don't use valuable energy to wave at other users in general while in an event, but that's my style. While I like to race and push myself, I don't have that killer instinct. Technically, I am racing, but I still want to have fun in the end. I always want to have a smile on my face and if it comes a time when racing and smiling can't be on the same team, then I just won't race anymore.

Water Crossing in Winter....Brrrr.
I came around a bend and I saw the water crossing I'd heard about. Brrrrr....I panicked because it was still very cold and I had many miles to go if I got soaked. I spied a lone photographer perched at the bottom and I knew that my effort would be caught on camera, so I'd better make this look good. I touched the brakes a bit to slow myself down, let them go just before I hit, and then splashed through the water with child like abandon. My shoes got drenched, my wheels got clean, but thanks to the miracle of wool, my feet barely felt the cold and my socks dried very quickly. Score one for the lambs.

Since I didn't know anything about the course as far as where we had to go and was just blindly following painted arrows, I started to get a little apprehensive when I saw riders wearing race numbers coming toward me in the opposite direction. Either I was going the wrong way or we had to double back the same way we came. I really should have paid attention to the map. Uggh, that meant we had to do the water crossing, again. I kept riding and passed a turnoff. One of the other racer women came riding toward me and shared that I just missed the turn. She proceeded to tell me that not only did she miss it too, but she had gone 10 minutes up the road past it already before she got back to me and that time lost meant that her own race was over. I could tell that she was frustrated and we rode together for a couple minutes chatting while we headed back toward the correct turn off. She said that just once she would like to do a race and not get lost and I totally understood.  I asked her if she was in the Sport class and said yes, but that she should have signed up for Beginner class. For a minute I realized that now I was actually keeping up with  someone from the Sport class and would have someone to ride with to the end. Well, that didn't last long. As soon as the climb started again, she pulled away from me like she had an engine on her bike. And then she was gone. Beginner class, my arse.
Stayin' Strong
Once I finished the fire road portion, I headed back into the single track. I realized that I hadn't stopped even once to eat anything. I was still carrying all my snacks in my pack. Somehow, incredibly, I hadn't bonked yet. I was not sure if so late in the game whether taking the time to eat something would actually outweigh the time lost from stopping to eat the snack. I decided to carry on and skip the food. Water had gotten me this far and it would have to do. By the time we got back to the trail for round two, the temperature had warmed up enough to start thawing out the trail. Now many of the really fast spots had turned to slick peanut butter. Luckily, for me, I didn't have enough energy to fly through the trails as fast as the first time, so I was perfectly happy riding slowly and cautiously. At this point, finishing was my only goal.

I am almost done.
Once I exited the single track for the last time, the race volunteers told me to ride the road down to the original start for the finish line. I spied my husband up ahead in the woods with his camera and gave him a big wave. I was so excited to see him because I knew I must be close to the end. I was almost done.

I was somewhat delirious and could not remember where the heck I started the race though. I started riding down the road which was seeming only vaguely familiar to me. I was convinced that I was going the wrong way again and must have missed yet another turn. I just wanted this race to end already and now hunger was creeping into my thoughts. So instead of just going with the simple instruction they gave me upon exiting the single track, I over thought it. I  kept turning into every parking lot I came to only to have to u-turn out of it and keep going to the next one. I started to get frustrated and then started furiously pedaling down the road figuring it had to be the one place I didn't think to go first.

Please tell me this is the Finish Line.
Finally, I saw the race organizers and the clip boards. I was home free. I passed through the little crowd who braved the cold and cheered my finish as I crossed the line. It literally was a white line painted in the parking lot. Exactly 3.5 hours later from when I started, my race was over. I ended up with 35 miles total, a mile more than the official course, which I can only attribute to my poor navigational skills. I felt good despite being cold and was still able to finish with a huge smile on my face. I got to the car and started layering on any remaining additional clothing I brought because I was now feeling the cold. I ripped into that Snickers bar I'd been towing around for 35 miles. Best......Snickers......Ever.  After the race we all headed over for some free grub at a local sport's bar for some pasta and conversation. All and all a great day, a great course and a great experience for me. It definitely highlighted how much work I need to do for the Fool's Gold. For the first time, I pushed myself to a) 3.5 hours of non stop riding with no breaks and b) using only the fuel I had for breakfast to get me through the event. So now,  if I ever find myself forgetting food, I am confident I can get through my ride without it for at least 3.5 hours of exertion. That's good to know. Go Kashi Cinnamon Harvest!!

A big thank you to those wonderful volunteers who donated their time to stand in the cold to help the racers who chose to race in these conditions. I am sure there are many things that they'd rather do on a freezing cold Sunday morning.  And, of course, a huge thank you to my loving husband who always supports my own racing endeavors, keeps my bike running smoothly, and takes his own time out to photograph these events for either myself and/or the other racers. I couldn't do it without him.


  1. Nice write up! Now I do remember seeing you out there, and at the pub afterward. Can't believe you rode without gloves...does your husband know he married a crazy, masochistic person? My hands were stinging from cold for the first 45 minutes. Come to think of it, I had 'Hot Hands' in my gloves, so maybe they were stinging from being to hot?!? Anyway, congrats on a nice ride, though you lose some street cred for not riding your SS. ;)
    I will try to say hello at the next event, but my posse is very protective and rarely lets the fans get to close. Don't worry, I will let them know that you are a podium finisher at Winter Short Track Series and then they will know you are alright. :)

  2. LOL...Yeah, he pretty much knows that. He's starting to get a little nervous now because I am reading a lot about the Tour Divide's just the little twinkle in my eye that's raised his suspicions....:-) Maybe someday. :-)

    I will see if I can get past the SOB Security to say hello to you next time. I'll just lie and tell them "No really, I am on the list"....and if that doesn't work, I am not ashamed to pull out my medal. :-)