Sunday, August 30, 2009

Racing South of the Border

I ventured south of the Michigan border this weekend into enemy territory (OSU Buckeyes) to do a race I have wanted to try for several years, the Big Valley race at Camp Manatoc in the Cuyahoga Valley National Recreation Area. The course is at a Boy Scout camp and is only open to bikes the one weekend of the year. The fact that it is less than 30 minutes from my parent's house makes it even better.

I arrived at the course on Saturday afternoon to preride and pick up my registration materials. The area had received a lot of rain overnight and I could see the bikes coming off the course were muddy. I decided to do the preride on the singlespeed to save the wear on the drive trains of the geared bikes. I also had the SS set up with mud tires.

The start of the course wandered through the camp on the roads and two track before entering the singletrack. At first the trails were dry but soon I came to the first wet and rooty downhill. Other riders were standing around figuring out the best line. I decided to just walk it, a decision I would make many more times during my ride.

The trails were not build for bikes but for hiking; many of the sections were straight up or straight down hills with a narrow bridge across a creek at the bottom. Other sections were long stretches of roots and off camber corners, up and down. In other words, technical and fun if it was dry, but slick and slow when wet. But other sections of the course were very fast, flowing sections of singletrack or open road so there was a chance to get some speed.

When I go to my parents the first thing I did was to change the gearing on the SS to make it a little easier to handle the steep hills. I figured if I was going to be riding in the mud I wanted to make it a little easier. Before going to bed I checked on the internet and people were saying the the course had really dried out later in the day. With no rain in the forecast I figured I would be able to use a geared bike instead. But I changed the rear tire on the SS to a slightly less knobby one in case I wanted to use it on the geared bike.

Sunday morning it was very cloudy and cool but no rain. My race didn't start until 1:00 in the afternoon so I had plenty of time to hang out at my parents. But about 10:00 am, the time the Beginners were to start, it began to rain. At first it was a light mist but then became harder with occasional hard showers. I figured I was back to the SS.

I left for the race and was surprised that as I got close to the race site the roads became drier. At the course there was very little evidence of rain and it was still fairly dry. I pulled out the Scalpel and then it started to sprinkle with what looked like more coming. Back in the van went the Scalpel and out came the geared F29 with slightly knobbier tires. I went out for a ride to warm up and check out the singletrack. I was pleased to find that it really had dried and the point that everything I had walked yesterday I was now able to ride.

About 20 minutes before the start of the race it started to rain again, this time a little harder. I dashed back to the van to swap wheels from the SS. Of course that also meant I had to put the cassette on the back as well. I wish I had kept track how many times the bikes were in and out of the van. Anyone around me that was watching must have thought I was nuts. Sometimes so many choices is not a good thing.

We had a large class and were the last to go off. Of course I didn't know anyone but at the start it didn't take long to find out who the local fast guys were. I missed the clip in and got away a little behind, about 10th but soon worked may way up to 5th and then 4th. When we got to one of the open hills I managed to pass two more and sat in 2nd. It didn't take us long before we started running into back markers in the singletrack from the earlier classes. Many times we would get stuck on the uphills and be forced off our bikes.

In one of these sections I heard a lot of shouting in front of me and assumed someone was upset with another rider but soon I realized they were yelling about bees. At that point I looked down at my left wrist to see a bee hanging on, stinging me. I brushed it off and continued; I heard later that others received quite a few stings. I saw one guy throw down his bike and rip his helmet off as he was getting stung. Thank goodness for the screen mesh in the front of the Uvex helmet to keep the bees out.

It was during the mad scramble up the hills that second and third passed me as they ran around the other riders. I didn't make the right moves and I lost them. Later in the lap I caught back up the third place rider and passed him. I didn't see him behind me but then somehow he was back, like a bad penny.

I stayed on his tail until we had an open uphill again and I put down the power to make the pass. I could tell he was not able to respond and I kept the power on as long as I could to try to get out of his line of sight. About this time I started to hear a pinging noise in may back wheel every so often. I couldn't really place it but thought it might be the derailleur or a broken spoke. I looked back but the wheel seemed to be straight so I pressed on, but the noise was making me wonder if I would soon have a problem.

I was relieved to see the final section of uphill switchbacks before the finish. I thought that maybe the derailleur was hitting the wheel in the larger cogs so I shifted down to try and save it. It made the climb a little more of a struggle but I just wanted the bike to survive. I ended up crossing the line to hang on to third. After the race I checked the bike and sure enough, I had a broken spoke on the rear wheel. This was the first spoke I have ever broken where it broke in the middle, not at the head or nipple. I can't figure that one out unless something got caught in the spoke.

The race was fun, definitely a type of trail that I don't get to ride in Michigan. I'm not sure I would want to do it in the rain but plan on keeping it on the list for next year. For those of us in the Detroit area the drive is about the same as going to Boyne. And for the same entry fee I got a t-shirt, a chance to enter a raffle, free energy drinks after the race and a huge burrito from Chipotle.

Thanks to my Mom and Dad for coming out to the race and providing dinner and a place to sleep. As the ad goes, "priceless".

No comments: