I was standing in the shower at 11:00 the night before the Hilly Billy. Why am I going to do this on a fixed gear? This isn't gonna to be any fun at all. After I dried off, I went downstairs to throw the rigid fork on my bike. I fiddled around with getting the front brake adjusted for 15 minutes. When I finally got to bed, I was much less nervous. Knowing I would be able to coast at the race felt good.
In the morning, I packed up my bike and headed to Pittsburgh to pick up Don and Stick. We made it to the horse arena outside Morgantown with an hour to go before the race. I rushed around to fill gel flasks, change my gear from a 38X20 to a 38X18, and shorten my chain.
All photos by Ben Stephens
With a couple minutes to go before the race, I'm dressed and my chain is back together. Looks like the majority of riders are on cross bikes or mountain bikes with cross tires. Few guys on wide-tire road bikes. There are only two other people riding mountain bike knobbies. I'm still optimistic that the fat tires won't be too much slower.
The suspension on the official moto is sagging with two guys on the little dirt bike. JR "the promoter" Petsko wishes us luck, then hops in his green Subaru. We roll out and everybody kills it down the paved hill. Back at the other side, the moto stops. "All right, that was the neutral start, now we're going to let everybody bunch back up." The field groans. That was a waste of a hard effort.
We start for the second time. Everybody kills it down another paved hill. I tuck down with my hands on the inside of my bars. The pack stays bunched up when we hit the first section of rolling gravel roads. Don is out in front of everybody pulling the big number one. A few minutes later, I see him on the side of the trail puking.
The road flattens out, and I try to hop into a pace line. Almost immediately I'm spit out the back. The same thing happens when another line of guys roll by. Now I realize that the mountain bike was a bad choice. Even when I'm drafting, my big knobby Ignitors have too much rolling resistance. I feel good, but I just can't go as fast as the guys on skinny tires. This is going to be a long day.
We hit one of the bombed out roads, and for a mile or two, my mountain bike is fast again. I aim for the center of the big murky puddles and blast right through. Wee! I pass most of the guys that blew by me on the road. Then we hit more pavement.
The guys I just passed pass me again. I wish I could go faster. Don tells me to grab onto his wheel, but I can't put down enough power. I ride the pavement for miles. There's another single speeder riding with me for a while, but he has skinny tires and is rolling away from me on all the downhills.
I climb up to the top of a ridge, and start one of the first of many sketchy gravel downhills. The road is rutted out with a layer of Eggbeater sized chunks of loose rock. The descent isn't bad on my mountain bike, but I imagine it's crazy for the guys on cross bikes. I pass a bunch of guys fixing flats.
More miles of road and gravel fall away as time presses on and the day gets hotter. I reach the "Una-fishal Ade Station" where the girls are handing out Heed jello shots. They're saving the whiskey ones for after the race. The cold jello is super refreshing. It has to be over 90 humid degrees now.
I go through a mining area on a dusty road full of coal trucks, then make a left up a steep gravel hill. After the hill, "CAUTION! BLAST ZONE" signs start popping up next to the road. I look over at a huge open pit in the earth as I pedal up the hill.
My friend Nate is on the road up ahead, and I catch up to him. "I got four flats. I kept trying to chase up to the front, but now I'm just cracked." he tells me. We crest the hill and roll down to the final aid station. I grab a cup of m&m's and a big chunk of cake. Only 11ish miles to go to the finish. The bumpy road bounces all my m&m's out of the cup. Ow.
I always expect the worst at the end of an endurance race. It's like a little game for the promoters. They put the hardest stuff at the end in an attempt to break racers before they finish. With 11 miles to go, I figure that JR will be able to squeeze in three more huge climbs. I'm not disappointed.
The first climb starts on loose dirt. Half way up, it turns into a bumpy quad trail that winds along the top of the ridge. Down the other side, I roll along the flat for a while, then hit an intersection. The road goes straight up. I smile and shake my head. I figured this was coming. 65 miles in, it's the steepest hill of the day.
On the rolling road that follows, Nate catches back up to me before putting it in the big ring and hammering away. A few minutes later, Chis McGill rolls up behind me. He's the only other guy I've seen on a mountain bike. Now the race is on. There's now way I'm going to loose to another fat tired machine.
I hop onto his wheel, and we start to catch back up to Nate. I stay right behind him on the final road climb. On last section of flat ground before the horse arena, I attack and bridge up to Nate. I follow him down the hill then up the other side.
With a few hundred yards to go, I start a sprint. Nate goes with me. We give it all we have until the line. Blow past the timer and Nate edges me out by a quarter of a wheel length. I feel like I'm gonna throw up.
All of us lay around and eat pizza. It's still super hot out. That was great race. JR did an awesome job marking the course with painted arrows, sign arrows, and marshals at all the turns. The mountain bike was a better choice than my fixed gear, but I'm going to have to find myself a real 'cross bike for next year.