The Pflug meets me in Ohiopyle at 8:00 on Saturday morning.
"Alright man. I'll follow you down there. It's fine if you need to open it up a little," he says.
I'm not going to waste an invitation like that from an officer of the law. We rip out of the parking lot in front of a line of cars that are stopped at the railroad crossing gate. Up 381 and out Dinner Bell Road. I stop for gas at the top of the mountain on Rt. 40.
I forget for the 57th time that the gas tank of the tiny gay convertible is on the passenger side. I've already put my card in, so I have to swing around. As soon as I pull away from the pump a guy in a Chevy Lumina shoots into the space. I have to walk over and tell him to move. There's a Charlie Daniels looking guy in a big golf cart thing waiting in front of my pump.
"That idiot thought he was cutting me off. Do I have 'cut me off written on my face?' A guy in a big Dodge tried to do that to me once. I told him 'you back that truck up before we have a problem buddy.' What an asshole. Where you guys goin with them bikes?" he says.
Maybe the 'cut me off' is written on the golf cart you're driving on the road.
"We're going Big Bear. There's a duo team race today. Three 12 mile laps a piece," I say
"Oh yeah? Big Bear. That's a nice place," he says.
We pull into the airfield at the far end of the Big Bear campground. Tim de la Garcon and Rob Spreng have a little pop-up tent set up next to the showers. We park next to them.
Sam and Deidre ride over. They're back from the western lands of boca burgers, medicinal marijuana, pretension, and big mountains for a few days.
Sam and I ride down the gravel hill to the start. "So I got this super comfy futon. I haven't slept on it, but I've sat on it. It's all soft and stuff. I hate bike racing. I'm doing Breck Epic this year. Bikes suck," he says.
We line up. I look around. The teams we're going to have to watch for are probably Morgan Miller and Benji, and Marc Glass and the Dread Pirate Roberts.
"Alright, I'm gonna give you a ten count. 10. 5." The promoter revs the throttle of his quad. "3,2,1." He guns it and motors up the hill. We clip in and go. Everybody is going hard for the hole shot. After this road, it's single track for the next 12 miles. Not good to get caught in the back.
This is killing me. I'm in the top five, but this gravel climb is way too long for a flat out sprint. But we're still sprinting. I see the top of the hill. Almost there. Keep drilling it. We crest the hill and turn left into the woods.
Everybody slows down for a few seconds to get tuned into the rocks. Then we're moving at full speed again. I'm getting dropped on the flat sections by geared guys. I can usually keep up in the woods. I guess a $1200 prize check is a powerful motivator.
I get behind Sam and follow him up the first little rocky climb. He loses traction and hops off his bike.
"Look at you Colorado boy. Can't ride rocks anymore?" I yell to him.
"Stupid bikes. Bikes are stupid. Stupid bike racing," he says. He gets back on his bike and rides away from me.
We cruise through the flowing section in the pine trees, then start the long downhill. I get of the saddle, bend my arms, and let go of the brakes. I'm bouncing and skipping over the loose rocks. I couldn't be going any faster.
I shake my hands out at the bottom of the hill and climb up the other side. I pass Sam as he's fiddling with his derailleur. A few more rock gardens to go. My back wheel locks up and skids in the dirt. I look back. There's a log jammed into the rear triangle of my bike. Really? I try to yank the thing out, but it's the same length as my rear wheel. This is ridiculous. I finally yank it free and get moving again.
One more twisty trail to the transition area. There's a tall bridge over the road. I hammer up it, carefully make the turn at the top, and ride down the other side. I hand the baton off to the Pflug, and head back to the tent.
That lap was a 1:04. That made me the 6th rider in, and the first single speeder by two minutes. That'll do. Colleen should be here to rub my feet and feed me grapes soon. I call her. "Where you at ho?" I say
"I don't know. On 26," she says. Crap. She's lost again. I give her directions, then go sit down on Rob's tool box. I lend Sam a wrench so he can to fix his unbreakable titanium derailleur hanger. We talk about how hard the lap was for a few minutes, then it's time to go again.
"This is always the shortest hour, then out there it's the longest hour." Rob says. I head over to the transition area. Pflug rolls in and hands me the baton.
"Ride smart." he instructs. Sure thing Pflugger. I roll back out into the rocks at a good pace. I'm gonna try to make this a smart lap. We have a nice lead at this point. I'm alone for most of the lap. Back through the rock gardens, around the pines, and to the start of the downhill. I'm feeling good. I boost off a little rock as I'm ripping down the hill. Thunk. Shit. That's a bad noise.
I know I hit my rim on that landing. I hear a little hiss. Oh crap. It's going flat. I stop before the steep part of the hill and hit it with a CO2. It just makes the air come out faster. I squirt my water bottle on the tire to find the leak and shake it to try to get the Stan's to seal. A little puff of water squirts out the side. Sidewall tear. That's never going to seal.
I ride down the hill anyway, hoping that it will. It doesn't. I pull off into the woods to put a tube in. Our lead is shrinking fast. Marc Glass rides by. Now we're in second. I use my last CO2 to fill the tube. I stand up and sprint down the trail. Crack! My wheel skids to a stop. The tube blew out. Now I'm in trouble. No C02 left, no tubes left. I start begging for stuff from passing riders.
A girl stops and gives me a tube and CO2. I'm extremely grateful. Morgan Miller passes me. Now we're in third. Dammit. I fumble with the tube and CO2. Finally I get it in and start rolling again. I pedal as hard as I can. I've gotta make that time up. The Pflug is waiting for me at the finish line with his gun. I'm too young to be shot.
I catch Morgan before the end of the lap, but I can't get Marc. I give the Pflug the baton and head back to the tent. Colleen is finally here, but there's no time for foot rubs and fruits now.
I've gotta fix this stupid bike. I grab my spare set of I9s from the car and start to air them up. The back tire hisses. Shit. My spare wheels have a ripped sidewall.
I enlist Sam's help and we swap my spare rear Mountain King to the front, and my primary rear Race King to the rear. Beads pop on, tires air up, and I put the wheels on my bike. Now I can try to eat something real quick. Colleen grabs me a peanut butter sandwich and I sit down on the toolbox. I look at my watch. I need to be back over to the tent in 10 minutes.
The Pflug rolls across the bridge before the Dread Pirate Roberts. Nice. He made up a bunch of time. I take the baton and head out.
The whistling starts immediately. A loud, high pitched whine that gets louder as I go faster. I didn't adjust my brakes. Both of my rotors are rubbing bad. Dammit. My bike feels like it's barely moving.
I look back in the pine section and see Marc Glass. I'm going as hard as I can, and he's still catching up. He passes me. How the hell is this guy going so fast?
I hang with Marc as long as I'm able, but he drops me a mile or two before the transition area. I roll into the finish and hand the baton off to a very un-happy looking Pflug. I feel like I'm going to die. I've never pushed that hard on a lap and gone so slow. I check the time sheet. 1:08. Four minutes slower than my first lap.
I walk over to the tent and sit down with Colleen. I'm registered for the Stoopid 50 tomorrow. There's no way in hell I feel like doing that. I close my eyes.
"Was the Pflug super pissed with my flatting?" I ask Colleen.
"No, but he told me about this time a dog tried to bite him. He cracked it in the head with a nightstick. Now dogs don't bite him anymore," she says. Oh boy. That's how he treats things that make him angry. I really hope we don't lose. I better keep my helmet on just in case.
We walk back over to the big tent. Man I hope the Pflugger was able to catch up again. We see a silver kit in the distance. The Pflug rolls up the ramp. Victory! I get to live to race another day.
In celebration, I pull on my Canadian tuxedo. The Pflug hikes up his shorts, tucks in his t-shirt, tightens his belt, and puts on a plaid hat that looks like a cross between a radar cap and a beret. He looks like a white Urkle. We're given enormous mugs and checks for $600.00. That was a solid day's work. I'm not going to Stoopid 50. I go fill up my victory mug.