by Paul Ruchlin
The snow was angry that day, my friends….
The official name was SNOTCYCLE. It could just have easily been called SNOWCYCLE, or SLICKCYCLE, or SLIDECYCLE, or ICECYCLE….. See where I’m going with this?
Start time temperature was 22 degrees. Who knew I’d somehow driven to Green Bay for a mountain bike race. Being held out in Leesburg, there was still a good 6 inches of snow covering the ground, trails and all. Luckily, there were only slight gusts of a breeze every now and then, because it was certainly chill enough without. Dressed ninja style, I shivered up to the start for the Cat 2 Male 40+ start. A hearty clanging of cowbell and off we went.
Those familiar with the Freedom Center know that the first 2 miles of that trail are by far the most difficult, with the longest and steepest of the hills with most of it well off camber. Our sub freezing temps the last week have kept the snow dry, light and fluffy. In other words, tractionless. And in snow, with 50-ish of your closest competitors, it went up exponentially. On the flats, in the snow packed down only by the riders in front of me (which was most of them) the riding, though a bit unnerving, was doable as long as I did not get myself into a situation requiring any quick corrections. Anything off camber, and any exposed wood (root, branch or twig) encountered even the slightest bit off 90 degrees resulted in assured wheel slide out.
The first half of the first lap was your typically frustrating traffic jam and jockeying for position as nearly everyone but the best of the class tried desperately to deal with the crowd as well as figuring out how best to negotiate the conditions. Those of us “in the pack” did not negotiate so well to begin with. A lot of slipping, a lot of sliding, a lot of cursing and grunting and falling. I must admit my ire was up, with myself, the race organizers and all my fellow competitors as I struggled mightily through these first two miles. I probably walked as much as I rode, as evidenced by my 13+ minute miles. Adding to my thoughts of bailing after only one lap were my nearly frozen finger tips. I was NOT having fun! In fact, my fingers were the only part of me uncomfortable from the weather. My heart rate and body temp and probably blood pressure were already up given the effort.
Slowly but surely the crowd thinned out and I managed to begin to figure out what speeds, lines and techniques gave me the best shot at remaining upright. By halfway through lap 1 I could feel my fingertips again. By mile 4 my attitude had greatly improved and thoughts of stopping after this initial lap had virtually evaporated. As I passed through the Start/Finish my thoughts had come round to taking what I’d learned to make lap 2 faster. Fast, of course being relative to the conditions.
And so it was, though not without it’s own challenges. Less crowd was certainly a factor in this, but so was my riding. This time around my greatest efforts came in trying to manage my desire to go faster with being conservative to avoid falling. At first I wasn’t too good at this either, but I eventually figured it out. And then my competitive side kicked in. There were three other riders, all of whom made their way around the laps within a few hundred feet of me. One in particular drove my spirit (and admittedly my ego driven anger) as he was clearly not in racing, but more like survival mode. Peddling easily around, he gave no indication of a racing attitude. Each time I would pass him I would let myself out a bit and ride more aggressively. And sure enough, I’d soon make a mistake and end up face down in the snow, or slid out off trail and there he would go past.
And this would only fuel my fury. Not only having to pass him again, but knowing that I was a faster (and in my mind better) rider. Everything became about beating him across the finish line. At the halfway point through lap 2 there is a rather large ditch crossing. I crashed here on lap 1; I was determined, having just recently past my ever increasing nemesis, to glide right through it this time. But no!!! Despite my best effort to glide on a straight line, I somehow found myself faceplanted against the far side. Getting out of this 5 ft ditch proved a challenge in itself, as there went that guy, by me again, along with a couple of others. ARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!
Once back on my bike it was a short climb and then a long steady downhill on which I discovered that something was wrong with my rear brake. Squeeze….nothing. Huh. Squeeze…..nothing. Uh oh. Well, I’ve only got about 2.5 miles left, and half of that is flat or uphill. No sense in stopping now to figure this out, not to mention its way to friggin cold. Guess the front brakes will have to do.
It took me a little while to catch up to my enemies. Two obliged me nicely, allowing me to pass. Ahead was Mr Sunday Rider. Over the next mile we swapped places twice, each time expletives leaking past my gritted teeth. And finally, with a half mile to go, he slid out on an uphill and I scooted on past. I made sure I was out of earshot before I said to myself aloud, “easy Paul. Nice and conservative to the finish and he won’t be able pass you.” Nice when a plan comes together.
1:51:01 for a 9.6 mile course is certainly no land speed record, but when all was said and done the results are quite satisfying, having shaved more than 7 minutes off my time between lap 1 and lap 2. My bike performed great. Especially being to be able to run my Stan’s No Tubes Crest wheels at such a low tire pressure to give me as much traction as possible. I LOVE those wheels! Snotcycle box….Check!