On good days, I'm the windshield. Not today... I was the bug. A big, fat, muddy junebug that left a greasy splot on said windshield.
The site of the collision was the MABRA championships at Taneytown. The Lea family and friends - you may have heard of the Leas, they are pretty fair bicyclists - put on a nice cross race. The venue was gorgeous - lots of little twists, little ups and downs, plenty of bike handling but no pure climbing. On a nice dry day, I can positively hammer on a course like that.
Unfortunately, it had been raining for about 24 hours by the time I rolled into the parking lot with Official Distaff Docent of Squadra, Uff Da. Jon Seibold, Competitive Beard Grower Extraordinaire and Bike Dealer to the Stars, could not make the trip with us due to a virus pretty much decimating his family, along with a whole other series of woes plaguing him this week. Hang in there Jon!
The pre-ride was pretty effin' miserable. The temperature was in the low 30s, and there was a little bit of wind. The course was already getting very muddy prior to the Cat IV race running on it. Not good. I also had a bit of a bummer stomach. After pre-loading on excuses, I did a lap or two, then stood around shivering. The cheap trainer has a problem with securing the bike (it doesn't, basically) so I tried doing some efforts on the road. That was really sucky and I was getting hypothermic so I just changed into my race jersey and sat in the car. At race time, I got out and started riding to the staging area, and it was too cold. So I U-turned, made a beeline for the car, and put on a second base layer. I decided this was going to be a race about survival, not prospering. Good choice, as it turns out; avoided disappointments later on.
The start was uneventful, we hit the grass and motored to these two steep little up-downs. On top of the second one the guy in front of me stopped dead in his tracks. I was mid pack at this point. I nearly fell off, since my rear wheel was still on the steeply pitched slop, but I saved and ran across the top, got back on, tried to pedal down the off camber, and ate it hard.
This was an utterly fatal mistake, the one place and time in the race I could not afford to crash. The pack was tightly clustered, and going down right then and there let 50% of the pack - the back half - just jet by. My race wasn't over, but it was damn near over and I knew it.
I got untangled from the bike and started running, clearing the little uphill and remounting, DFL by about 10 feet. This was bad. It didn't really get any better.
I jetted up past a few guys pretty quickly and tried to find a pace. I grabbed on to the back of the string and kept riding. No problem, right? Matter of fact I stayed upright all across the rest of the front of the course and found the pace quite comfortable. This was going to work; I was going to start passing some people and have a good race.
We got to an off-camber on the back side, behind these little barns. You ride across the face of a hill; at the end, you drop to the bottom and hairpin turn back up. In practice I had ridden a high line, pedaled most of the way, took two steps and was remounted.
This was before the Men's IV race had turned that off-camber hairpin into a slop chute. I rode into it at decent speed and went hindquarters over tea receptacle, back down, bike up, still clipped in. I slid under the tape, probably sliding 15-20 feet total. Um, about all those nice white colors on the Squadra Coppi kit...
By the time I untangled and got running, most of the dudes I had passed, had passed me back. This was grim. Not to mention that Fred Wittwer shot on by like he had afterburners.
Still I kept at it, hope once again triumphing over experience.
I'd pass one or two guys, then crash, and lose the ground I had just gained. I went down a total of 6 or 8 times, two or three of them hard, leaving lumps and bruises I didn't detect until hitting the showers.
Some good things came of it though. I figured out how to corner in the mud - you keep the gas on, pedal steadily, and don't worry about the slip. I figured out how to traverse a curvy off-camber by following a pack of canny 55+ racers - again, keep on the gas with the soft-pedal, clip the apexes, and exit on a straight line, don't try to turn directly up the hill. I also provided endless amusement to a group at the steep little mud runup, which was a three-legged run (two feet and one hand) for most of the race. On the last lap, it seemed feasible to ride the thing. It was small enough that if you carried momentum and pedaled once or twice you could go straight up. So I gassed it hard down an off camber, turned left, and found myself moving to my right, at an angle perpendicular to the bike. I tried to step off but went upside down and landed with a huge "Ooooof!" The crowd went wild, or at least the people assembled at the runup, and Joe Jefferson did. Making people smile is a good thing, right?
After the race I changed into thermals, carhart pants, wool sweater, parka, wooly hat and snowmobile boots. I was still cold all day. But at least I had something to do, pitting for Judd (who had a nice race in the Master A's), cheering for various friends, and watching Melanie Swartz and the Uff Da take second in their respective classes. They both rode super well. Along the way I had many pleasant chats with people, and particularly appreciated some kind words that a few people laid on me, as well as some advice from Mark Gwadz.
Other folks had a great day. Chris Auer tore it up in the Faster Geezer class, running away from Gunnar Shogren. Fat Marc was an excellent third. In my race Joe Lillibridge continued his dominance and Peter Jensen - a good guy I've gotten to know better this year at random between 'cross and MTB racing - took a strong second. A couple other folks - Nystrom and Birner - didn't look like they were having their strongest races of the year but were pushing themselves so hard that it hurt to look at them. On days when the absolute speed isn't there, utmost effort is enough to earn my respect and those two guys showed it. Can't say too much about the other races; I was too cold to remember many details.
It was a pretty good day in a lot of respects. I doomed myself by getting behind the wrong guy from the start and then pressing really hard in the technical sections trying to catch up and pass folks. That guaranteed my usual mediocre race would wind up being a bad race. It was very cold and quite rainy. I didn't eat enough and my back hurts from all the crashes. But still it was a lot of fun, and long after my cold feet are warmed up and the creeping, cloying wetness of the day is forgotten, I'll remember about the fun we had in the ridiculous mud slop fest and cold weather. In the abstract, the day will seem more pleasant than it probably was to live through in reality, but the small pleasures - a cheer from friends, nailing a corner, cleaning that off-camber not long after the start - were genuine. Yeah, I was every bit the bug today. But even bugs have a good life, if you look at it from the bug's perspective.