Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day 5 - I think i saw a big white squirrel

Day 5
It’s the day after day 5, so I’ve been sleeping, eating, celebrating, socializing and basically enjoying the company of other similarly weird masocylcists (a new word combining masochism and cycling used to describe a cycling endurance competitor). The last day. There’s a podium spot on the line for me (since the race directors podium has two more spots than most) so I have to give it my all. Day three was my rest and relaxation day. I’m not sure why it ended up like that but sometimes things don’t always work out like we planned, like a career path or a marriage. So now I have no excuses for slow pedaling with a self-defeating attitude. We had a 6 mile paved road start then some technical climbing, followed by gravel climbing, more technical climbing, a super technical downhill, gravel, more technical up and down then gravel up and one last hurrah of a technical down. Overall, today’s course was on par with the four prior days but slightly leaning towards the technical side of things. I consider myself a good technical rider. I can climb things that don’t look climbable and descend sloppy, loose rock piles, hop logs and scurry over roots. I’m not the best but I can keep the cranks spinning over tricky terrain. In my formative days of mountain bike racing I used to ride with people many years my senior, who were also “lifers” of the sport. One fellow stands out in my memory…a barbarian, he could be termed, who NEVER stopped pedaling. No matter what obstacle he had to cross, hop, navigate or slide through he never stopped pedaling. I’d follow this long haired cannabis fiend as closely as I could, in awe of how he seemed to “hover” over the trail, wanting to acquire this smoothness and agility on the bike. After six years of living next door to and riding in Pisgah my hovering skills must rate equal to an IQ of a mensa prospect. Every dog has their day and our great creator injects a dose of humility upon us with perfect timing. On day four, I realized that I was “hovering” at a pace I had rarely entertained. I was cranking over things that I usually walk around or over and wasn’t even giving them a second thought. It was see and conquer. My eyes were piecing lines on the trail like perfectly picking each new piece in a 3d puzzle of a never ending stair case that was drawn by some guy long dead who is probably pissed that his art ended up on countless mouse pads. Along I motored until bam! - I hit a rock with my right pedal when it was at the lowest point of the pedal circle. “No big deal” slipped through my mind until I realized that I was now pedaling sans right shoe. I chuckled mid trail, dropped the bike and crossed my fingers hoping that my shoe didn’t tumble down the hillside into the under growth and dead vegetation. My sloppy, dirty, stinky, BROWN shoe was somewhere twenty some odd feet behind me. I walked to it sock footed and gigged from inside. Not just a polite surface giggle to acknowledge a co-workers quip at the water cooler, but a deep down inside, true giggle – the kind of feeling that rips you off your cloud and grounds you to this unreal reality we call life. I needed grounding, as usual.
Day five gave me additional grounding in a more literal sense than the shoe incident. As mentioned earlier, my best skills are in technical areas. So in order to place well in day five, I had to ride the technical sections better than my competitors. Coming up Bradley Creek trail, I spotted the number two fellow in my class. I kept gaining on him at each creek crossing and I knew I’d be up on his wheel by the beginning of a thirty minute gravel climb up forest service road 5015. I also knew that he could drop me on the gravel climb – so I kept my distance. If he would have seen me, he may have increased his pace and put more time on me on the climb so I stayed just out of sight. I hit the climb at a good pace and as I rounded the last turn I saw him and the fourth place fellow in my class just leaving the rest stop. Good I thought because next was a seven mile technical climb followed by a 4 mile screaming technical descent on one of the best skill testing, hand numbing, bike and body breaking trails in Pisgah. Now was my chance. What am I made of? My buddy and often race partner Yuri was there and was “keeping it real” for me like in the Dave Chappelle skits. He asked me if I minded I he rode with me and I said “come on”. Yuri did just that. He was behind me keeping it real. “Come on Dave, pedal this faster – this section is flat”. “Drink now before the climb. Eat something so you can digest on the downhill” I kept hearing things like these direct to me. It took my mind off the pain and also made me realize I could go faster than I was going. I picked it up a notch and up in the distance saw the number four guy in my class. He had just finished walking over a large rock and I yelled “coming through”. He moved up the hillside as I hovered over the rock and never missed a pedal stroke. He complimented me on the move and said “keep it up” or some other encouraging words in a fashion similar to me when somebody has the ability to speed by me. Not long after that I came up on the number three guy in my class. It was on now. There was no way my ego was allowing this guy to beat me at my game. He heard my freight train of a bike rattling and pounding the trail and stepped up hillside to let me by. I said “thanks”, sped by and acted like I was in no pain. Oh yeah, Yuri was still behind me “keeping it real”. I made it to the top of the climb, quickly stopped to press the sweat out of the pads in my helmet, slipped my glasses on and hit the downhill known as Pilot Rock trail. I know this trail well. It holds claim to thousands of milligrams of ibuprofen, x-rays, broken bikes, dislocated shoulders, great stories and the beginning of wonderful friendships. I was on and descending like I had two competitors directly behind me. The sound of Yuri’s bike faded behind me and now it was nothing but rocky switchbacks, rutted downhill terrain and focus. I aced all the switchbacks with the exception of the second to last in which I had to lay the most pussy footed, ever so slight dab on the side of the trail. I cussed. Loudly. Mainly because I’ve never cleaned this trail from top to bottom and I was on course to accomplish that in this run, in day 5 of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race. I lost my cool, kept pedaling and hit the last right hand switchback before the rock garden. Bam. Stopped. Not moving. Pain. What’s broken? Me? Bike or both? I let out a yell equal to the suddenness of the stop. I was face down, tucked up under some large rocks to the upside of the trail and somehow managed to stop my forward progress with my hip lodged into a large chunk of granite with curves that somehow received the curves of my hip to inflict pain over the widest area possible. I wiggled this and that before I tried to get up. My first thought was “great. I’m out on day five of a five day race”. I took a breath, stood up, grabbed my bike and rode on through the rock garden with such vigor that I cleaned the last log like I’d done it a hundred times, when in fact I’d never done it prior. My handle bars were off center from the crash. I passed a huge white squirrel on the side of the trail and thought I must be delirious because it was uncomfortable large for a squirrel. Oh well – must move forward. I still didn’t hear Yuri so I must have made some time on the two guys behind me. I hit the next rest stop, got water, a quick adjustment on the handle bars and motored on. Yuri caught me and kept me going on the rest of the gravel. Thanks Yuri, you’re a true friend. I needed to keep a good pace because there was still a five to six mile gravel climb ahead. I made it to the end of the gravel climb, rode and hiked the last climb of the five day race, then against my better judgment, looked behind me down the trail to see if anybody was coming. I saw, nor heard no one. Excellent. With my side aching, body beat up, legs throbbing, sweat pouring and stomach churning, I dropped Black Mountain trail at a fast yet comfortable pace. I crossed the finish line in third place in my class for the day – I held off fourth and fifth in my class. Pain comes in many forms. In this five day mountain bike stage race in Pisgah National Forest, I believe I met most of them.
Peace. Congrats to all the competitors, volunteers, race director Todd, the Forest Service and the good ole U. S. of A. for having a National Forest system to use.

5th in class for the race.

4th place in class for the day. 42.31 miles. Max speed of 36. Race time of just under five hours. 8.8 avg speed for the day.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Day 4

Ok. So I finally rode like I know I can. It took three days in a five day stage race to get some legs under me. Today’s route started from the Black Mountain Trailhead, otherwise known as “smokers cove”. The route included some of the second most technical trails in the forest I call home. We climbed up over Black Mountain via Thrift Cove then crossed Turkey Pen to Squirrel Gap. Lots of single track! Since I had my little vacation ride yesterday it was time to move. I started near the front of the pack and settled in around 15th or so. We had a rough climb up to Turkey Pen but I’ve completed that climb at race pace over eight times for other events, so I was ready for the ensuing pain for the next two hours. To my advantage, many of the other fellows in my class did not know what was before them and how to gage their effort. I finished the climb, crossed the 7 mile ridge and continued. Another twenty minutes of gear grinding went by and in the middle of the forest, I heard cowbells a whistle and loud obnoxious cheering. My friends were around the corner! Sure enough! Some of my friends had taken off work to come and cheer on the racers. Their cheering came at a perfect time. What a ruckus. What a wonderful ruckus. Sometimes chaos is beautiful for exactly what it is. Often in long races, I’ll find myself so focused on only the trail in front of me. It’s my euphoria. It’s where time disappears for me. Sometimes I couldn’t guess how long I’ve been at it, and those are the sweet moments. Simple. Nothing else in the world. Silence. Sweat. Pain. It’s a good day in the woods. Thanks to all that offered pep talks to help me bump the funk I was in. Times weren’t posted by this writing but I think I got third in the class and am uncertain about the overall ranking. We will know tomorrow.

39.83 miles. 31.5 max speed. Race time of 5 hours 31 minutes. 7.5 avg speed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Day 3

Day 3
All I can compare this feeling to is 2-a-day summer football practices. Although I definitely do not hate cycling. Today was billed as 9,000 feet elevation gain and 40 miles. My legs feel otherwise.
Since the first two days of this adventure were rough, I decided to chill today. Chill I did. We had a running start to the bikes then a quick downhill to the main trail. Often a race promoter will make the racers run to their bikes from a distance of up to ¼ mile +/- but in todays start we had to do a summersault of some sort in the middle of the run. With me, summersaults died out with the last days of park rides that go round and round. Needless to say, my start was slow. I predetermined starting at the back of the pack and keeping myself from the front line hoopla. Trying to maintain a pace I’m not used to kicked my butt the last two days. My theory is that if you start in the back the only way you can go is up. My plan worked and I took my sweet time. I lost two spots in the overall but no big deal. It just does not seem like my week on the bike. Technically, I’m on. Physically, I’m off. I’m thankful for all the other races where those two were partnered perfectly – so far, this race is not one of em. Life goes on. Work continues. A bunch of crazy people bike in the woods. We all do our stuff. This is mine.

6th in class. 44.68 miles. Max speed 31. Race time of 5 hours 41 minutes. 8.2 avg speed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PMBSR - Day 2

Day 2
Felt better this morning and actually got a good warm up under my belt. Thought it was going to be a better day then yesterday then cramps set in on the first third of squirrel gap. I passed a few fellows in my class and thought it was all coming together then crash - not into a tree, not like Dave Mathews but like I was going to barf or who knows what. I kept going, despite how horrible I felt. I guess I was dehydrated. Hammer Gel products in liquid form other than gels evidently disagree with my stomach. I can’t seem to absorb heed or any of that stuff. We’ll see if that was a contributing factor to my slow, slow, slow time today. I’m still in 4th due to some unfortunate mechanical problem to the fellow who was in first. I’ll try to bust a move tomorrow. Maybe the legs will cooperate. Off to bed.
4th in class. 40.31 miles. Max speed of 29.5. race time of 5 hours 12 minutes. 8.4 avg speed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race Day 1

PMBST –Day 1
“Look mummy , there’s an aero plane up in the sky” – this lyric from oh so long ago sums up my somber mood for the beginning of the first day of the Pisgah Mountain Bike Stage Race. Most was perfect: the sky, the temperature, trail conditions, bike…everything except for my somber, melancholy attitude. I felt peaceful, speculative, wondering, almost out of sorts with the world and just there. I should be happy. I mean another week off work, 5 days on the bike, the best trails I know, the trails I love most…my trails. Maybe I need a lift. Spirits low, non-existent, where are you spirits? This is my first stage race. How should I feel? What does the rule book say? Is there an emotional rule book? There’s a book on etiquette but that won’t suit the situation. No. I have my own rules. And my rules are fine. There’s no right or wrong, just be and enjoy. A somber start on day one is no big deal. There’s still day 2, 3, 4 and 5, God willing. Hopefully the caldera known as Yellowstone won’t blow up this week and mess up our breathing and oh yeah, kill a bunch of folks. I guess that’s what it takes to be a stage racer – focus on self and the task at hand. I focused on riding without judgment and succeeded. I didn’t dab but once all day (and of course it was while posing for a picture) and cleared some technical parts that I usually “almost” clear. About mid ride the chorus to “bring the boys back home” from the same album as the first song mentioned in this blurb of semi –conscious thought, popped into my head. This tune poses a request, which if answered would be a solution to a terrible mental dilemma the musician was obviously suffering while writing the song. Too me, it meant light at the end of the melancholy tunnel. I finally found my pace of “no pace” and rolled with it. Twas a beautiful day on the bike.

Today everything is a step toward tomorrow. “Back off a little you’re going too hard for day one, eat some pasta and bird, eat some pineapple, clean the bike, wash the clothes and line up mornings’ departure necessities.”
I’m tired and want to whip some ass tomorrow. So I’ll end my ramble and head for the pillow and hopefully to dream land full of bike jumps that flow like they can only in dreams.

4th in class. 12.78 miles. Max speed of 43. Race time of 1 hour 15 minute(ish). 9.5 avg speed.