Art, Dave B and I formed Squadra Sporcizia (Team Dirt) for the 12 Hours of Lodi Farm MTB race; we took third in our class.
It kicked off at on Saturday and ran through to about today. We raced Beginner 3-man class, a relay style class. Dave and I hadn’t raced MTB before so I don’t think we were sandbagging, though the Sport class beckons. The course was incredibly tight, twisty single track, and extremely climby - imagine the rougher trails at Patapsco, only half the width, with a hairpin every 50 or 100 yards, and you'll have a good idea. I rode the single speed rigid 29'er. Dave rode his for part of the race then went geared, Art was on a geared, full-suspended magic carpet bike. I don’t know the details of what Dave did, we were too tired to sit there re-hashing everything, but I know that somewhere in the dark around 2:30 AM, when the rear wheel was falling off his bike and his light failed, he was cursing my name for having entered us. Art was solid, turning in workmanlike-laps. The report on Art from a guy on another team was "it looked like he was working *really* hard out there." That’s high praise. Art and Dave came through like studs. As of or so, we were in last place in our class. Everybody just kept grinding along though, riding harder in the daylight, and starting to pick people off. By we finished in third in our class. I'm *extremely* proud of my teammates, it was tough out there and they did great, Art was steady as all hell and I'm going to call Dave Tenacious D from now on.
I can't really share race details with you because it's a miasma of suffering and disorientation, struggling to spot lines in the dark, a flat and a complete loss of brakes on my last lap (that made it interesting) and a visit I made to some dark psychological places during my night laps. The details would bore you and you wouldn't really understand anyhow, you had to be there. It was really f***ing hard, physically the hardest ride I've ever been on, and I feel like I played in a rugby tournament over the weekend. I went into the pain cave and brought a lawn chair and a cooler filled with tall boys of ice cold hurt, and proceeded to drinkin'.
How bad did it get? On my first lap in the middle of the night, I crested a whoop that had a big root on it, lofted the front wheel, and dropped it right down into a root on the downward side, crashing hard, going Superman over the bars. 90 minutes later, at the exact same spot, I decided I needed to carry more speed, so I hit it really fast… and crashed really f***ing hard. This time I went Superman over the bars, total lunchbox, but managed to stick my leg through the frame, pin it in place with the handlebars, and to be laying there face down on the ground, unable to move. I was really shook up from the crash, and on the way back into the camp, kept repeating to myself, “Superman yardsale, Wonder Woman’s lunch pail.” Yeah, I was sort of f***ed in the head at that point. I openly admit this.
It wasn't all hell - I found my daylight lap pleasant, actually had a good rhythm going, and not withstanding a flat tire and total loss of brakes (that was interesting) got into a good flow and cleared almost all the hills, which was significant since the climbing was *so* technical and doing it on a single speed took huge neuromuscular power and VO2 efforts. Did you ever do big ring intervals on hills? This ride pushed me so far out of my comfort zone physically and skills-wise that it was constant "improve or die" moments, and I managed to pick up a lot of new skills. I have to give more credit to my teammates than to myself. My lap times sucked. At night, the reason for this was pretty simple. As a big guy I rely on carrying speed. I couldn't do that on a tight, twisty course at night. Then my day lap - when I actually got into a really rockin' rhythm, went to hell when I flatted and lost my brakes. The boys carried the day though.
Funny things did happen, but it was mostly about finding unique ways to crash, run into trees, or fall off the bike. This kind of MTB racing is aptly named "endurance" racing. It's not the kind of race that you get on top of, take a strategy into and kick the race's butt; it's about "enduring," just eating your suffering for hours at a time, outlasting the other guys and the course. Our comeback in the morning hours, when the others in our class were weakening illustrates what you can take away from this kind of racing - it teaches suffering and perseverance, keeping on when it would be easier to quit. It's amazing what you're capable of when you just decide you're going to stick it out. Add in some other rewarding aspects - hanging out with your teammates, a genuinely warm and quirky MTB racing atmosphere, and it's the kind of experience I'd like to repeat, though a suspension fork may be in the cards.
Other highlights - we set up a compound with the Family Bike Shop guys, including Jon Seibold (Cat 3 Road, MTB Expert), Trevor Miller, and Tom McKay (ABRT Junior, Jeff Cup winner). On metal single speeds they took first in the Single Speed class, 3d overall behind two teams comprised of local pro-level experts riding geared full suspension $5 - $7k carbon fiber rigs. Keep an eye out for Tom - he is in his first 12 months of real racing, and he has exceptional talent. Joel Gwadz ("Gwadzilla" blogger and bike advocate) was also there and while he's good on a cross bike, you should see him hammering on a single speed MTB - he is 6'4" 230 and he flies, throwing dirt and rocks like a rolling avalanche as he hammers around. Also present were some MORE stalwarts like Ricky DiLeo, he won the Fixed Gear Solo class (yep...) completing as many laps on his Matt Chester rigid Ti rig as we completed as a team... an impossibly difficult task on a fixed gear. I can't comprehend it - it would be like riding a roadbike on a skating rink.
Bottom line is there's supposed to be some huge rivalry between road and MTB riders. While we sometimes enjoy joking with each other I can't help but have enormous respect when I see the skill level and fitness of the guys who are really committed to riding dirty. It refreshes my love for the bike to be around them.