Tuesday, September 1, 2009

black bear 40k: part one + deux

edit: this be both parts now

(I’m starting to get carried away with these race reports. Understanding the short attention span of the average reader, I’m going to break it up over two days. So there will be more talk about races and less bs-ing about new tires and training rides. That’s a good thing right? Nobody wants to hear me cry over a punctured rubber.)

The Black Bear is billed as the hardest race in the WVMBA series. The race t-shirt (which was awesome) claims it is the “scariest mountain bike race in the world.” Not having ridden every mountain bike race in the world, I can’t attest to that, but it is a pretty damn scary course, from both an elevated heart rate and technical ridiculousness standpoint.

The experts started 1 hour before the other classes. We were to ride two loops, the first one small, and the second larger. We lined up on the far bank of a creek. “Is this all the experts that came this year?” the promoter questioned, “they must be too afraid of the Bear...”

When the starter gave the go ahead, we splashed across in a fury of clicking gears and straining chains. Don from Pro Bikes had given me a little bit of info about the course, so I wasn’t overly surprised when we began a 3-ish mile climb on the opposite bank.

The field started up the steep fire road at a fast clip, but before long was strung out in single file. Every few hundred feet the road would level out, giving a moment’s reprieve before turning again turning skyward, steeper than before. I alternated standing and mashing in the saddle in an attempt to keep my legs from exploding in the first 10 minutes of the race. I was a little behind the lead pack, but before long I caught up to Rob Loehr, the SS leader.

He was off his bike hiking, and taking the cue, I dismounted and tried to recover while walking up the pebbled road. A string of 3 geared riders started to spin by me, so I took a deep breath and began to run. Within a few feet, I caught them and remounted my bike in one lightning fast motion. I put my head down blasted the rest of the way up the hill at a space-time continuum bending 4 miles per hour.

Somewhere before the top I caught Rob, and I was the first SS into the single track. The trails were fast, dry and smooth. It was vaguely reminiscent of the riding at Raystown Lake. I was still a little lightheaded from the effort on the first climb, so at that point I wasn’t exactly carving the best corners.

Eventually I heard someone ask to get around me, and being the upstanding gentleman I am, I obliged. Unfortunately, it was Mr. Robert (who will henceforth be referred to as the Dread Pirate Roberts. but not the original one.) ‘Dammit’ I muttered, ‘I have to quit letting people in my class have the pass like that...’ The Dread Pirate Roberts rolled away as I made a feeble attempt at chasing him.

Don was riding close behind me and giving some trips about the up coming trail features, which up to that point were not to numerous. Then we hit the first of six (I think) downhills. The trail dropped.

Roots and loose dirt filled my vision as I struggled to maintain control of my bike. I took the wrong line around a switchback and locked up both wheels in an attempt to stay on the trail. I failed, and started sliding down the hill. Pulling my feet out of the pedals and digging in my heels, I finally arrested my sliding. Don took the correct line and shot by me down the hill. I hopped back on and completed the descent. The trail spilled out onto a paved road. I tried to stay on Don’s wheel across the bottom. We hit another gravel climb. The gravel was deep and energy zapping. The Bear was starting to remind me of a miniature Wilderness 101 with its steep road climbs followed by steeper singletrack declines.

The next downhill was similar to the first with loose chunk and roots a plenty. We climbed up another hill and completed the first lap (I think. The details got real fuzzy at that point. Oxygen deprivation. The legs are more important than the brain anyway right?)

At some point we climbed up a short-ish grade, and I proceeded to make a wrong turn. I didn’t realize my error until I saw two riders that were behind me go the opposite direction. I think it was at that point that Aron passed me, and I dropped into third place. I cursed, smacked myself in the helmet, and turned back.

The guys had dismounted their bikes, and I did the same and proceeded to hike around. If there were any “hike while pushing a bicycle that racers are forbidden to mount at any time” races, I would absolutely kill. Maybe I need to get into burro racing.
From Drop Box
We were hiking up a super steep rooty section, and a rider came by spinning his granny ring and climbing like his tires had fingers. “Yeah! Get it get it!” we shouted, and by some miracle, the guy cleaned the section. I was thoroughly impressed.

Another piece of single track flew by, and I was feeling less than stellar. I got over to the side and let Don speed by, as he was pinning the turns. Finally I hit the long anticipated Black Bear downhill. Rocks were everywhere. Big, big, sharp, pointy rocks. My brain couldn’t process the information my eyes were sending it, so I just got my ass behind the saddle and hoped for the best. As usual, having my seat anterior to my posterior pulled me through. I dropped off rock after rock, but managed to stay in control and alive.

(the black bear downhill. it looks worse in person)

Again I ascended, and at the top turned onto pine ridge trail. I had heard the promoter say before the race that this was the hardest descent of the day, but at the moment I had no idea why. I flew by a sign that exclaimed “SSS (very scary.)” I rolled onto the top of a rock, and suddenly the trail disappeared. I almost shit my pants.

“Holy Shit!” I exclaimed as I grabbed two fist full’s of brakes. There was a four plus foot drop inches from my front wheel. “You got it!” yelled a woman 10 feet below the level of my head. I got my butt back, stuck my tongue out (I’m guessing I did that so I could bite it off if I crashed) and proceeded not to think. I rolled the drop, and honestly, I have no idea how. Somehow I avoided what should have been a spectacular endo, and laughed delightedly that I had cheated certain mangling. I felt like a loon.

More switchbacked descending followed, and I must say I’ve made some big improvements in that area. There’s no way that I would have made a single one of those sharp turns at the beginning of the season.

We hit the bottom and Brad from Bikeman informed me that we had one climb, one descent, and one big hike a bike left. He then told me that he thought his rib was broken and was finding it hard to breathe. I acted on his first bit of information and tried to catch Aaron for the third time. I got him on the up hill, but when we hit the down he pulled out of sight again. It wasn’t quite fair. I did hard work to catch him, and he got the pleasure of passing me on the fun sections. A mighty harrumph to that.

I hit the hike a bike and Brad was close behind. “Hey you found the hike a bike!” he exclaimed. “No shit.” I thought to myself. We trudged up the incredibly steep incline. “I always thought this would be the worst place to get attacked by bees.” Brad chirped “You’re a sitting duck. You can’t go down, and you can’t run up” I laughed. He had a point. Or I think he had a point. It seemed relevant at the time.

We went down a swoopy down hill and spilled out on to the road. “Whoohoo! Almos there!” shouted a large man with suspenders wearing a beard. We rode up a steep climb, and then rolled back down to a stream.

I pedaled along the stream and at last the finish line appeared. I rolled across and jumped off my bike. I was beat.

From Drop Box

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