The Bowl and I met at walmart at around 8:00 to head to the big bear race. (big bear, race. not to be confused with a race of large furry mammals)(although some of the SS racers could be described as large furry mammals.) But anyway. Enough parenthetical use. Back on topic.
The Bowl and I left walmart at 8:10 for the big race. We headed down the long and winding road to Bruceton Mills, WV full of anticipation, coffee, and eggs. I forgot the directions.
We reached Bruceton Mills without much incident, and having forgotten the cue sheet prepared by the lovely people at google maps, I had to try to recall what the Big Bear Campground instructions said. After much meditation I remembered what was written. It was: "look for signs to campground." So look we did.
We searched and searched but could not find a single sign. The inability to read signs would prove to be Bowl's downfall later in the day. Finally I stopped at a gas station and asked for directions. "Go dawn to road ta hazleton and follow the signs. But I'm not to good with directions." said the attendant. A ha! My memory had served me. We were supposed to follow the signs... they were just in a town six miles from where we were.
We finally arrived at the campground with one hour to race time. We unloaded the Grumbler, and since Bowl had never ridden a mountain bike before, he pedaled around the parking lot in an attempt to familiarize himself with his new steed.
Experts lined up first, with the SS group starting 15 seconds behind. I stood near the back of the pack, assuming that I would finish the same. The man on the line said "Go!" and the experts were off. The SS class started rolling up, and after what I'm guessing was about 5 to 45 seconds, we left as well.
We shot across 200 meters of open field before being funneled into the woods. I tried for the hole shot, but since I had lined up in the back, it was impossible. The first mile of the course was tight and smooth single track with almost no room to pass. Things were getting a little jammed up and I tried to get around people, but I was racing a little conservatively at that point.
When we left the little tree patch the course opened into a longish fire road climb. I gunned it and passed a huge portion of the pack. The trail slowly narrowed down, but I stayed on the gas and kept passing. I was feeling good.
The Meat of the Bear
At the top of the climb, I latched onto a blue (I think) jerseyed man's wheel and we started chasing the rider in front of us. I eventually passed blue jersey man and caught the red and white clothed guy ahead of me. The trail was still pointing up, but big embedded rocks were becoming more numerous.
I got into a rhythm and kept pushing, trying to catch a Speedgoat rider that was off in the distance. The course was twisty and rocky, there was never a dull moment, and I felt like I was riding great. After a while I started to notice that most of the guys around me were running gears. I had not seen a SS in a while. I assumed that I was way behind.
The trail was still climbing, and I knew in the back of my mind that I was eventually going to have to descend. I tried not to think about it, because I knew that it was going to be an arm pumping death fest without front suspension. The trail smoothed out and leveled off with some nice bermed corners and swoopy sections through a pine forest. Then, finally, it pointed down.
And it pointed down steeply. The smooth dirt turned into a mess of leaves and loose chunk rock about the size of softballs. It sucked. My arms were dieing and my hands could barely hold the bars. I was getting bounced in every direction and I could hear the big rocks shooting up and smacking my frame. It was all I could do to keep the bike on the trail.
I made it around the first two big turns switchbacks, but on the third I lost it. I was going to fast, and my front wheel was bouncing to much. I careened off the side of the trail. Two experts and one SS shot past.
I hopped back on my bike and started wobbling down the trail. That little slide really took me out of it mentally. I tried to catch the guys who passed me, but they kept getting farther away.
A few minutes later, I was able to collect myself and get back in the race. On a little climb, I re- passed one racer and got back in my groove. For the next few rocky miles, I rode alone.
Pretty soon I realized that my homemade saddle bag was loose. I grabbed it and realized with a start, that my multi tool had jumped out. Yarg! I privately screamed. I tried to keep riding, but the loose saddlebag was driving me nuts. I did not want to lose anything else. So I stopped to tighten it. A SS trucked on by. I got on my bike and started chasing him. At least now I had someone to race.
I saw trailers off to my right and realized that we were getting very close to the finish. My legs and hands began feeling better and I pushed hard to stay with the guy that I just let pass. We hit a little fire road and I caught him, but when the trail turned back to a rocky single track descent, he pulled away. Damn people and their squishy forks.
We shot back across the damn and down the fire road that we started on. I sprinted hard to make up a little time, but he was rolling down the hill faster than me. We crossed the line and I got off and started drinking some water. I was mighty parched. The 16 mile course had not let up enough for me to drink more than a few times.
I looked around me, and there were not any single speeds, other than the racer who edged me out. I started to wonder where I finished.
I walked over the the score board they had set up and started watching for my name. Eventually it showed up.
Miller, Montana 4th SS
Holy crap! 4th! Which meant that if I would not have stopped to tighten my saddlebag, I might have been third. And before I slid off the trail, I was in second! I had no idea that I was that close to the front. I was stoked.
Meanwhile, Bowl had still not made it back from his eight mile beginner race. I started getting a little worried. But since awards would start soon, I headed to the building.
45 minutes later, and two hours after he started his 8 mile race, Bowl walked in, covered in mud, blood trickling down his shin. "Where the hells were you?" I asked. "I took a detor." was his reply.
They started giving awards, and I was given a big mug (with a small bear on it) and fifty dollars. First prize money I've ever won. Huzzah!